Beloved in Christ clergy, brothers and sisters of our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad!
I greet you on this Great and All-Joyful Feast of Christ's Nativity!
Christ is born! Praise Him!
"And the angel said unto them, fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2: 10, 11)
In this manner for the first time, in the environs of Bethlehem, was announced the wonderful event of the incarnation of the Son of God. And to whom was it announced the first time? To simple shepherds, leaders of voiceless animals, simple people who in their position were removed from all worldly enlightenment.
Blessed Theophilact of Bulgaria said: "The angel appears to the shepherds for the simplicity of their outlook and gentleness since they, apparently, imitate the life of the righteous, as the ancient patriarchs Jacob, Moses and David were also shepherds. The angel did not appear in Jerusalem to the pharisees or the scribes since they were hateful; and those, not being perfidious, were rewarded with heavenly visions. The Lord showed these, that from the very beginning He chose and made preachers those who were more kindhearted than the others since they went and began to preach about all of this.”
These shepherds of Bethlehem, not only because of their simplicity, but also due to this God-pleasing heartfelt simplicity, immediately understood the secret of the happiness that the Angel had announced to them and, leaving everything, hurried to delight themselves in this joyful announcement. "Said the shepherds one to another. Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass which the Lord hath made known unto us.” (Luke 2: 15)
These simple-hearted shepherds, who kept watch over their sheep in the field at night (Luke 2: 8), become, in a manner, symbols of spiritual vigilance and separation from the structured life of the citizens of Bethlehem, the hectic life of this world and the worldly comforts of their homes.
On the one hand we also see the simplicity at the incarnation of the Saviour in the manger of Bethlehem and on the other the greatness in the announcement of the angels at which time the glory of the Lord shone on the shepherds to help them comprehend the grandness of what had happened, since the apostle Paul calls the Saviour the Light of this glory which was allowed to be seen by these shepherds and which foretold of the cleansing of the sins of humanity: "Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high.” (Heb 1: 3)
The residents of Bethlehem, who symbolize the organized life of this world in which we usually participate in our desire to live a comfortable life, were not chosen for such an angelic apparition although among them were a large number of David's descendants by blood and who in the future will not accept the New Testament. The humble shepherds were chosen according to the foretelling of the prophet Isaiah, in which the Lord said about Himself in the Gospel of Luke (4: 18-19): "The spirit of the Lord God is upon Me; because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent Me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” (Is: 61,1) The poor in spirit shepherds acknowledged their spiritual inadequacy and thus became blessed, since they learned of the Saviour's birth in such a special manner: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mat. 5,3).
This narrative from the Gospel contains within itself not only a great angelic announcement about the Saviour's birth but it also calls us to take advantage of Christ's birth for the hopes of our own salvation which can be obtained only in a true Church into which do not enter those who betrayed the Orthodox faith before God-fighting authorities. To take advantage of the Saviour's coming is intended for all people: "And the angel said unto them: fear not for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2, 10) But this was possible for them only when they sincerely understood their spiritual inadequacy and were able to greatly grieve about it in their hearts, to free themselves from the bonds of their sins and to leave the prisons of their established hectic worldly life according to the Saviour's words.
From that time nothing has changed and the opportunity to obtain salvation in the Church will not be possible for those who did not understand this and did not heed the apostle Peter's warning: "Knowing this first that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,” (2 Peter 3, 3) since such a way of life became for them a natural delusion.
This is especially pertinent to different heretics and schismatics from whom one should turn away in all possible manner, just as from those who stepped away from the path of salvation, according to the words of St. Ignatius, the God-Bearer: "Do not delude yourselves my brethren! Who follows those that start a schism will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Epistle to the Philadelphians, 4)
After the solemn Feast of Nativity, the day of our spiritual laboring continues; therefore, let us be according to the Apostle: "Let us walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying" but to put on "our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 13, 13-14).
+ Archbishop Vladimir
Christ's Nativity 25 December 2015 o.s.