Christmas Epistle of Archbishop Vladimir (2020/2021)

Dear in Christ brothers and sisters, priests and laymen; all the monastics of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia!

Congratulations with the great Feast of Christ’s Nativity!

When celebrating the Feast of the Nativity of Christ (and Matins throughout the year), we hear and sing the joyful and solemn words of angelic chants, the words of the Christmas hymn that have a special meaning for the entire human race: “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will among men”(Luke 2, 13-14).

This benevolent goodwill of our Lord God is fulfilled through His inexpressible, endless Love for people: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). These words unveil the great mystery of the Gospel: The Lord God, out of His great Divine Love, has delivered His Only Begotten Son for suffering and death, to redeem and save the fallen man.

God is Love, therefore the Lord calls everyone to love God and neighbor. According to St. Apostle Paul, love among all virtues is the greatest (1 Cor. 13, 13). But “he that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love,” says the Holy Apostle John the Theologian (1 John 4, 8).

Anything in this world that is not bound by love is indeed insignificant, unreliable and will inevitably be destroyed. “Only things that are cemented by love,” says Saint Filaret, Metropolitan of Moscow, remain forever indestructible; because love is stronger than death, stronger than humanity."

Love that is not governed by the True Light, plunges the soul into various misfortunes. Love that is not governed by Divine Wisdom can easily be deceived, deluded, or seduced. Many people think that they have love for God, while in fact they have love for this material world, for themselves, or even for the evil itself, as, for example, persecutors, unbelievers, heretics or schismatics; as love ”rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth” (1 Cor. 13: 6). He who loves the Lord God solely because of temporary blessings, in reality loves himself more than God, and prefers his own peace and habitual comfort to God. Such love is not true, for a person should love God more than himself, more than all good things; and should treat any fortune or misfortune in his life equally, relying on the Providence of God. For it is in the Providence of God that the Divine Love and Truth, Mercy and Justice are united. Therefore, oftentimes the Providence of God cannot be immediately comprehended by man. All Holy Martyrs, all St. New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia showed us an example of true love by having a greater love for God than for their own lives.

In this temporary life, we are all pilgrims and aliens, we are only temporary guests. This life of ours can be compared to a dream "that passes by," and, when we wake up, we begin to live in full consciousness. The real eternal life will come after awakening from this temporary life. Our present life is like that of a chick still unhatched from his egg; when the temporary shell of this life falls off, only then will the True Life in Eternity begin. We, being expelled from paradise - our true Fatherland - are like the prodigal son who “took his journey into a far country"; and that is why the Lord returns "man to destruction " and says: " Return, ye children of men" (Psalm 90:3).

The Holy Psalmist wisely points out to us the vanity of this temporal life: “Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity” (Ps. 39:5), and even compares a person to a ghost who “disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them” (Ps. 39:6). A man by himself has no life, no strength, no might; but like a shadow from a body completely depends on God, his Creator. When a person forgets that he is dependent on God and begins to think that he is something while he is “nothing”, then he “deceiveth himself” (Gal. 6: 3). Such a person falls away from his Creator and Lawgiver - into lawlessness; from Wisdom - into madness; from Eternal Good - into pernicious sin; from Truth - into lies.

A man turns away from God, “abandons the Stone of Salvation” when he ascribes to himself a great strength, artfulness, power, wisdom, dignity, forgetting that all these qualities are not of creatures - but exclusively of God, and that only in God one can gain strength, dignity, and life; for life without God is death.

This is especially true for a modern man and current circumstances which have impacted the whole world. What a pitiful sight it is when a creature, rebelling against its Creator, relying only on its own strength and not on God's help, attempts to change this world.

The Lord Himself has testified about such people: “the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil; For every one that doeth evil hateth the light.” (John 3: 19-20). That is why modern blind people, who find pleasure more in darkness and sin than in light and good, hate and try to eliminate, in every possible way, Christ and His Holy Church that stand in their way. But their foolish efforts are in vain, for even the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church of Christ (Matt. 16, 18).

Unfortunately, we see that the modern man is falling deeper and deeper, drowning in sensuality and binding himself with worldly passions and sinful pleasures. He even perverts the order of life commanded by the Creator, and thus not only ignores the Divine Plan of our Salvation, but, moreover, destroys it in every possible way. Such a person, who tramples with recklessness and audacity on the helping hand of God and on God's Gifts, Grace and Blessing, is deprived of all God's covenants, support and gifts.

It would seem to be a straightforward calling: repent, oh man who has departed from God, cast away your darkness, come out to the Light, get to know your Heavenly Calling, return to the Heavenly Father, stand up to your passions; repent and unite with God; may He raise you to Heaven and seat you on the Throne of His Kingdom with Him.

"For this reason, God Has come down to earth, so He will raise us to Heaven." These words of the Church hymn point out why the God-Word, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, came to earth and incarnated: so that a man, created for Heaven, but fallen and put to death by sin, enslaved by earthly passions - could be raised again to Heaven - under the fair condition that he, realizing his fall, his error and the perniciousness of his path, turns with all his heart to God from Whom he fell away, sincerely repents of his fall, shalt love God and his neighbor, and conducts his life on earth in a heavenly fashion, as much as it is possible for everyone, with the help of the Divine Grace.

The Lord came to deliver us from the slavery to devil and from the eternal death; to revive us with the Grace of Baptism, to adopt us and to bestow upon us the Holy Spirit, with the help of which we could live on earth worthy of our high calling – as children of God.

Our Lord Jesus Christ founded His Church on earth, entrusted to it the Heavenly Teaching of Salvation, His Saving Sacraments; provided His teachers and shepherds, to whom He delegated the guidance of the redeemed mankind to Heaven. The Divine Plan of Salvation was accomplished in the multitude of saved people; and it is being accomplished today in all those who are obedient to the Voice of God calling for Salvation.

While celebrating each Orthodox Feast, we should strive to reflect on its meaning and purpose, to make out what is our responsibility and what is our Christian duty with respect to this Feast.

So today, celebrating the great Feast of the Nativity of Christ, let us thank the Lord from the bottom of our hearts for His Great Love for the human race and for His Sacrifice, incomprehensible to the human mind, which He made for our Salvation.

May our celebration be pleasing to the Lord, so that the born God-Child Christ may become our Patron, Protector and Savior through our faith in Him, through our hope and love, through our repentance and correction. Amen.

+Archbishop Vladimir

Nativity of Christ, 2020 (Old Calendar).