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Orthodox Church in America
927 N. LaSalle St. Chicago, IL 60610

Feast Of The Nativity Of Our Lord, 2003
No. 316

To the Reverend Clergy, Venerable Monastics, and All the Faithful of the Diocese:

Dearly Beloved in the Lord

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!

Grace, mercy and peace be to you on this Great Feast of the Nativity of Our God and Savior, Jesus Christ! My prayer is that each of us may be filled with the inner beauty of this Feast, and that we may all be not only partakers, but also heralds of the true glory of Christmas.

We come to our Christmas celebration this year in a world full of the turmoil of violence and terrorism. Sadly, there is always turmoil somewhere in the world, even at Christmastime, but it is more apparent to most of us now because our own nation is so closely involved. While we are grateful that no horrific acts of terrorism have taken place on our own soil in the past two years, we need pay only the slightest attention to the news to hear constantly of shocking and tragic events worldwide, and we are well aware that those events may visit our shores again. Many of us have loved ones directly in harm's way at this very moment, and we are frightened and disturbed by the state of the world and society. Moreover, while we strive to bring an end to the warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, we know that, as we await the Second Coming of the Lord, there will continue to be "wars and rumors of wars" in a fallen world so susceptible to the wiles of the evil one, who will strive ever more diligently to convince humanity that violence is the answer to its problems.

It is precisely in such circumstances that we must open the eyes and ears of faith to hear the following words of the Prophet Isaiah, taken from the fourth reading at Vespers of the Nativity:

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9)

Here is the promise of hope to which we cling in a world that can so often seem hopeless. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, comes to bring us to the "holy mountian" of God: not the earthly Mount Zion, but the transfigured and sanctified New Jerusalem, where we will finally be free from harm and destruction.

This blessedness and peace will come through the knowledge of the Lord, whose Only-begotten Son comes to take upon Himself our sin (which causes violence, bloodshed, destruction, and terrorism) and by His death to destroy death. When that knowledge fills the earth "as the waters cover the sea" - when we are immersed in the knowledge of God - we will find the peace and assurance that we seek. Therefore, we rejoice in the birth of the Savior, for He not only points the way to the Father, but He is Himself the Way. He not only shows us the image of God, but is Himself the very image of Him upon whom no one can gaze. Christ comes not only to impart the knowledge of God, but to be the very Knowledge of God incarnate in our midst, and to invite us to partake of His life, His holiness, His peace, His love: to be in total communion with the knowledge of God.

It is this knowledge of God that transforms fishermen into eloquent preachers of the Gospel, that turns prostitutes from their sin to the depths of holy asceticism: that fills the hearts of martyrs with joy; that makes barbarian princes to be champions of God's justice; and that can make every one of us the reflection of God in a world that so needs to see His light. And so, even in the midst of so much gone wrong in the world, we can ascend with Christ into the holy mountain of God, where earthly wickedness has not the final word, and with all true faith and depth of heart sing the hymn from the Litya at the Christmas Vigil:

All the angels in heaen are of godd cheer and greatly rejoice today.
The whole creation leaps with joy,
for the Savior and Lord is born in Bethlehem.
Every error of idolatry has ceased,
and Christ reigns unto all ages!

Invoking God's Blessing upon all of you, and with every wish for you celebration on Our Lord's Holy Nativity, I remain

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Bishop of Chicago and the Midwest