Антоний, митрополит Су́рожский

Christmas

SERMON addressed to Russia & Western Europe published in La Pensee Russe, in France.

Christmas 1994

This is Christ's Birthday! The Children's Festival. There are Christmas trees with their candles burning, children are delightedly receiving presents, and friends are happy watching the children's joy. It is warm and cosy in the houses and families are probably more united than they usually are during a working year. Everyone looks with feeling at the icon of the Feast – into the depths of a cave where the Infant Christ sleeps; they share the joy of the Virgin Mother and St Joseph the Betrothed and marvel at the good fortune of the ox and the ass who were found worthy to warm with their own bodies the God who had become man for the salvation of the world.

No one at all remembers that first tragic «Nativity of Christ» so shameful for the incidental participants. It was a frosty, desolate night, when the weary travellers after a long journey reached Bethlehem, the place where, according to the Prophecies, Israel's Messiah, the Saviour of the world, was due to be born. The moment had come for the Mother of God to bear her Son. The travellers were looking for a roof, shelter, warmth, fire, light, and they knocked at one door after another. Doubtless the doors were opened a crack one after the other, but slammed again unfeelingly, mercilessly. In every house a family was gathered; it was warm, it was good for them to be together, without strangers. They did not much want to share with outsiders the comfort of their private rejoicing and their food. People's hearts were closed: what were unknown travellers to them, particularly a pregnant woman who was just about to give birth, and would undoubtedly shatter the quiet and stillness of this night.

We do not remember all this either and remain unmoved by the cry of the tortured world. There is indeed no comer, no country, town, village or street left where people are not starving. Look at the numbers of homeless, hungry, evicted, abandoned adults and children, how many are pining away in hospitals and prisons, how many are shivering with cold or freezing alone in despair. And yet, Christ said to us so clearly in the parable of the Sheep and Goats, that if we are not worthy to be called people, if we are inhuman, there is no way for us into the Kingdom of God.

Let us remember those who are forgotten by everyone not just with irresponsible sympathy, but actively, in a creative way. Let us open our hearts and doors to all those who no longer hope for kindness, compassion, human brotherhood. Let us re-read Christ's parable and at lease in these holy days carry out His plea, His command. Let us become one with Him; after all, He came to bring peace on earth and love. God became man so that the world should change basically, that enmity should disappear, at least in the community of believers, and heartlessness and envy.

Christ's Nativity is the beginning of the way of the Cross, the Lamb of God slain before all worlds comes into this world to lay down His life for His Creation. And in the manger at Bethlehem we actually see Love: defenceless as an Infant, like Him, giving Himself with hope and trust, like Him – vulnerable.

On an ancient Greek icon an Altar is shown in place of the manger, a table of sacrifice on which lies the Infant Christ. But in the Nativity of Christ we witness a wonderful meeting between God and man. St Maxim the Confessor says that the Incarnation of the Word of God would have been just as impossible without the humble, trusting agreement of the Mother of God, as without the wish of Our Heavenly Father and His Only-begotten Son. One ancient writer describes the pre-eternal Council: «And the Father said, 'My Son, let us create the world and man!' and the Son answered, 'Yes, Father,' and the Father continued, 'But man will lose his way, and you will have to become man in order to save him, and die for him.' And the Son answered, 'So be it, Father'. And the world was created».

If all this is so, there can be no room in our hearts for hatred, murder, separation. Let us begin our Way of the Cross together with Christ for the salvation of the world. No one has greater love than the one who is ready to lay down his life for his brother, and his brother is everyone who is in need of anything in simple but Christ-like humanity.

Only if we enter into Christ's way, shall we be able to join the Angels and Saints in all sincerity on Easter night, in singing:"The day of Resurrection falls to-day; Let us shine with the light of the Feast, and embrace one another and say, Brothers and forgive each other everything in the Resurrection.» and so the words of the Angels on this night will be fulfilled, «Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace, good will among men».

Amen. (Translated by A.G.)

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