By Archmandrite Alexi, Patriarchate of Antioch
“Heaven and Earth are made one today, for Christ is born. Today God is come upon the earth, and man is gone up into the Heavens. Today He Who by nature is invisible, for man’s sake is seen in the flesh. For this cause, let us also give glory and cry out to Him: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, which Thy coming hath bestowed upon us O our Savior, glory be to Thee.”
This is what our church chants on this glorious day, the day of the Creator’s presence in the flesh: the Nativity of Jesus Christ. His presence glows with peace. O Christ, how much we need Thy peaceful presence on earth, from which Thy glad tidings have gone forth unto the whole universe! O Treasure of Mercy, O Sun of Righteousness, how greatly do we need Thy presence, in a land, which has grown weary of the drums of war, of dismemberment, and of abduction! The land that welcomed the apostles two thousand years ago lies wounded and hemorrhages! It is wounded, as its people are inflicted by terrorism, abduction, and unprecedented takfirism. This land and its marvelous people, however, have passed through enormous difficulties throughout history. Today they carry to the Child of the cave all their concerns, placing before His divine Cradle all their burdens, and igniting before His holy manger all the lamps of their souls. They ignite them with robust hope and the power of being made one again.
Every winter, the Baby of the cave visits us to wipe away with His simplicity, our distress and difficulties, to touch with His humility our souls, and to illumine our world with His divine peace.
The Lord used the cave to walk into the caves of our souls, to clean them and to crystallize them with His divine love.
He dwelt in a cave so we may become citizens of Heavens. Jesus came looking for the humanity that was wounded with Adam and strayed with Eve. His incarnation reminds us of dispensation. It is the stamp of the divine love that looks for censed souls, like Mary’s, that spread Creator’s scent worldwide. This is the case of Virgin Mary, the censor that spread the light of God for the mankind.
On Christmas, we are always called to remember that the Lord of the cave has come to join us and to be with us, to build up his home in our souls, and plant His seeds in the heart and in the whole human person. He has come to overwhelm our souls with the brilliance of His love and with the outflow of his compassion and tenderness.
On Christmas we are called as were our ancestors, to be written down for the sake of Christ. This is what the psalmist says and what the church chants on Christmas. The day Christ was born, a census was made and this was by the order of Caesar. From this census the psalmist starts inviting the soul to be written down, branded, sealed and registered in the book of Life with Christ. We are called as he says elsewhere, in order to be written down, and in order to remember that this has been done that we are “written down on the name of Christ’s Divinity”.
We as Antiochian Christians don’t count our belonging to Christ as an old fashioned pride, nor do we count it as well, as a superior belonging, or as a literal privilege that has been mentioned throughout the pages of the Holy Gospel. It is in fact further than mere denominational or sectarian belonging that is sectarian and isolated at the same time. We are always called to remember that we have taken the Holy Gospel from the mouths of the Apostles, and that we did not hear it from anyone else.
We are called to know that the hardest circumstances would not take out from our hearts and our ancestors’ a confession other than what we received and preserved. We are written down for the sake of Christ. And we received our baptism 2000 years ago. For 2000 years, we have been ringing the bells of our love for the neighbor, and have been expressing our open hearts to him, whosoever he might be from all the social spectra and religions. but at the same time, we are called to know that we belong here to this land to the land, we were planted and in which we stick to our faith.
Brethren, the Child of the cave is saying to us: “Do not fear, I am with you. Do not fear because your brothers and sisters are called to help one another and support one another. Do not fear because you are the people of this region, in which God willed you to be born since ancient times. Do not fear, because you have in it many brethren who believe in love and peaceful co-existence.
Do not fear, lest you lose your dynamism instead go to meet all with love, joy and full trust in your God, who is the God of love, Who is love itself. Be the heralds of reconciliation, and of a dialogue in depth.”
We celebrate this feast with our other Christian brethren. We pray to God that he may give us to deepen our dialogue with them all, in order to reach the unity God desires, the unity without which the world will not believe that Jesus was sent by God.
Let us also celebrate with our Muslim brethren who look highly at Jesus Christ and confess his birth from the Virgin Mary according to the will of God. This feast is in common with them if we know how to make with them a dialogue of life and co-existence on the notions that bring us together in our religion and in our world.
You are in my heart since I met you during my journeys and during my ministry of your churches. You are a real expression of the apostolic spirit of Antioch in the countries in which you are living. Your love for Antioch and the faith you are living makes me feel, more than ever, the necessity of working together in the service of the Church and of offering a living witness to our unity and love.
Thus, we become true witnesses to the Lord in the world, and thus our Antiochian Church becomes faithful to its history, which shines with the light of the martyrs and the saints. We have no other way but holiness, which makes everything possible.
I send to you my brotherly assuring you that I carry each and every one of you in my heart, asking God to make me His faithful servant in you and to enable us to work together so that God may be glorified in the humanity he loved and in the Church which carries His name in this world.
We are called upon nowadays to follow the example of Virgin Mary and all the disciples. Their unity was mixed with an undoubted hope in God Who had victory over death. They buried fear because of their unity and love. And we are called upon, as much as possible, to bury our afflictions by keeping the unity of souls and hearts regardless of the geographical distances. Antioch is those hearts that are tied to Jesus. Before these bounds egoism, races, cracks and disputed melt out in order to make Jesus shine on the front.
O Christ, how much we need Thy peaceful presence on earth, from which Thy glad tidings have gone forth unto the whole universe! O Treasure of Mercy, O Sun of Righteousness, how greatly do we need Thy presence, in a land, which has grown weary of the drums of war, of dismemberment, and of abduction! The land that welcomed the apostles two thousand years ago lies wounded and hemorrhages! It is wounded, as its people are inflicted by terrorism, abduction, and unprecedented takfirism. This land and its marvelous people, however, have passed through enormous difficulties throughout history. Today they carry to the Child of the cave all their concerns, placing before His divine Cradle all their burdens, and igniting before His holy manger all the lamps of their souls. They ignite them with robust hope and the power of being made one again.
We pray today for the peace in Syria, and for stability of each land. We pray for the suffering East and West. We pray for the homeless, for the displaced, for the lost, for the abducted and for the martyr. We pray to Virgin Mary to send peace to the souls, because it is the seed of peace on earth. We pray to protect all Her abducted children, amongst them the two bishops of Aleppo Youhanna Ibraheem and Boulos Yazigi. We pray to Her to be with our people everywhere bestowing humanity the mercy of the Child of peace and the father of mercies.
We should know that the Nativity of Christ is the feast of the incarnation of ultimate love, charity and almsgiving, in which God descended even to the abysses of the earth, and found only a cave to shelter Him, and only a humble manger in which to recline. He has done all of this out of love, out of charity and mercy toward us men. Under today’s grievous circumstances in our lands, how greatly do we Antiochian Christians need to learn how to embody this act of the Lord and how to be a practical financial relief and moral uplift for our neighbor, our relative, our brother, and for our motherland! Through these acts of mercy, extended to one another and to everyone, no matter what race we belong to, we implore the tender mercies of the divine Child, Whose springs of mercies and bounties we will never be able to surpass. The pious Augustine says:
“Charity” in Greek means “Mercy”. What mercy toward those who are miserable is greater than the Mercy that descended from heaven, from the Creator of heaven, and vested the Creator of earth with an earthly flesh and made Him who is consubstantial with the Father also to be consubstantial with us in our mortal state, and further, for the Lord of the universe to condescend to take the form of a servant (Phil 2: 7)?
What mercy is greater that the birth of the Creator, as the Master becomes a servant and the Redeemer is sold He Who elevates is degraded and He Who raises up is slain? All this happened, so that He might feed our hunger, quench our thirst, console our weakness, and wipe out our iniquities, so that the lamp of our love may be rekindled. Thus, the lamp of our love toward our neighbors causes the divine compassion to abide in this creation.”
O divine Child, Who anointed us with Thy light two thousand years ago, be with our crucified homeland which will certainly be resurrected. O Lord, be with Syria, and by Thy watchful eye upon its borders and its people, make it worthy to regain the security which we once knew! Be with the displaced and kidnapped! Keep each land safe and stable, spare it from the spectre of sedition and constitutional vacuum! Be with wounded Iraq and with every region of the East. O Lord, be with every bereaved mother, and with every innocent child whose school was targeted. As always, be with those who are kidnapped and displaced, and console our hearts by bringing them once again to be seen among us!
On the day of His advent, angels expected good tidings and peace they chanted as well, and said: “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and joy among people”. Many people read these words and think that the peace of the whole creation is restricted to enjoying security, prosperity and easiness in life.
Brothers and Sisters let us bow down before the Child of the cradle and ask Him for peace for the entire world. Amen.
We wish you a Merry Christmas!”