By the grace of God
Archbishop of Bucharest,
Metropolitan of Muntenia and Dobrudgea,
Locum tenens of the Throne of Caesarea of Cappadocia
Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church
To the venerable monastic order,
The reverend clergy,
The beloved faithful,
Grace, mercy and peace from Christ our Lord,
And from us paternal blessings.
'Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will among mankind!'
Venerable and reverend fathers,
Beloved brothers and sisters,
The Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ has several spiritual meanings, because the embodiment or the incarnation of the eternal Son of God is the source of many gifts and benefits for humankind.
The Son of the eternal living God becomes a mortal Man in order to grant eternal life to mortal humans. The Son of God becomes a Man, so that man may become son of God by grace (John 1:12). In brief, the incarnation of God aims the deification of the human being.
The descent of the Son of God Jesus Christ among humans is the beginning of the ascent of man into the kingdom of the love of the Most Holy Trinity. But this ascent of man is based on the reconciliation between God the Holy One and man, who had fallen from the relationship with God by the sin of disobedience. God’s plan of His reconciliation with the humankind, who had fallen by the sin of disobedience, is being preached by the angels at the Nativity of His Son as a man in Bethlehem. In this respect, St Cyril of Alexandria, in his Commentary on Luke, says that the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among mankind!” (Luke 2:14), because the angels “are at peace with God: for never in any way do they transgress His decision, but are firmly staying in righteousness and holiness. But we, wretched beings, by having set up our own lusts in opposition to the will of our Lord, had put ourselves into the position of enemies unto Him. But by Christ this has been done away: for He is our peace; for He has united us by Himself unto God the Father, having taken away from the middle the cause of enmity, namely sin, and so made us right by faith, and calls near unto Him those who were afar off”.
The Mystery of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ in Bethlehem is symbolically and spiritually represented in the Orthodox Eucharistic service, firstly by the Office of Oblation (Proskomedia), when the liturgical gifts (bread and wine) are being prepared, in order to be brought for sanctification onto the Holy Table of the Altar, at the proper moment of the Divine Liturgy. The Table of Oblation (Prothesis) represents the cave of Bethlehem, while the small cross (asterisk) standing on a hemispheric support, above the bread laid on the Holy Diskos, is called the Star that guided the three Magi from the East, and stopped above the cave of Bethlehem, where Baby Jesus was; the name of the city of Bethlehem means the House of Bread. That is why, when covering the Holy Diskos, the priest says the following words: “the star stood over where the young Child was” (Matthew 2:9). Before the beginning of the Eucharistic Service, the ministrant prays using the same words of the angelic hymn chanted in Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among mankind!” (Luke 2:14).
The Peace of God grantedto men in and by Christ is celebrated during the entire liturgical life of the Orthodox Church, but especially in the Divine Liturgy, when the following words are spoken: Peace be with you all; Peace be with you (to the readers of the Apostolic and Gospel readings); Peace be with all (before the Creed), after the exclamation Through the mercies of Your only begotten Son..., and after the Lord’s prayer Our Father.
Speaking about the peace of God accomplished and brought by Jesus Christ, St Paul the Apostle says that God the Father was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself…and has committed to us the word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). This peace is called the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, and which guards our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).
This peace, granted to humans in and through Christ, is the foundation of the reconciliation of men with God and of the reconciliation and brotherhood of peoples among them. That is why, the Apostle of the gentiles says about Christ that He Himself is our peace, who has made both (the Jews and the gentiles) one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity (Ephesians 2:14-16).
Thus, the new man in Christ is the man in whom dwells the peace of God, and who works for the reconciliation of all people with God and among each other. That is why blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9).
Because God is the God of peace (Romans 15:33; Philippians 4:9), peace is a gift of God and a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22), peace is accompanied by righteousness and joy, for the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).
The gift of the spiritual peace, the gift of the reconciliation of man with God, with himself and with the fellow human beings is asked through prayer and is cultivated through good thoughts, kind words and good deeds, so that the spiritual peace of the soul may become a source of social peace, of family peace, of community peace and of world peace.
The Holy Fathers of the Church teach us that selfish passions such as greed or obsessive love of wealth, of power and pleasure, and the like, produce turmoil in the soul, and this turmoil then reverberates over human relationships, which become tense, conflictual and even violent, especially due to the injustice and the suffering caused by greed. When human intelligence is dominated by egoistical passions of envy, vileness and lie, it produces disorder and much evil in the soul and the society, while the wisdom that is from God is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace and by those who make peace (James 3:17-18).
Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord,
The Holy Gospel warns us that in the last times, which can be also understood as times of spiritual and moral crisis, because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12), while St Paul the Apostle, speaking of the spiritual degradation of the society when the faith of human beings in God weakens and when their freedom is no more united with responsibility, tells to his disciple Timothy, bishop in Ephesus, the following: But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
In front of this spiritual and moral crisis, steadfast and fighting Christians are not discouraged, but answer back by a more intense spiritual and moral life, according to the urge: Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life! (Revelation 2:10).
The greatness of the gift of spiritual peace of the soul and of the gift of social peace within the family, the community and the entire world can be understood especially when this peace is absent, when the peace and joy of the soul are being substituted by turmoil and depression, by quarrel and violence, by rebellion and hate, by enmity and hostility, when everybody judges all the others, without perceiving his or her own flaws.
Today, when verbal and physical violence in the family, in school, in society grows, and when military conflicts and terrorism spread in many parts of the world, when many people, because of the absence of peace and joy in their souls, pursue their happiness in alcohol or drugs, while others commit suicide in order to escape depression and despair, the educational, pastoral and philanthropic activity of the Church must be intensified. Together with the family, the school and other authorized institutions, the Church has to develop even more an education and a culture of interior spiritual peace and of social peace, a culture of mutual respect and of reconciliation, instead of hate, enmity and violence present in today’s world. In this respect, St Paul’s advice to pursue peace with all people and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14) is very topical.
This perspective of a new culture of a spiritual and social peace must be studied and promoted especially starting with the year 2016, declared by the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church the Solemn Year of Religious Education of the Orthodox Christian Youth. The positive way in which the gift of peace is acquired and cultivated by prayer and by personal and community educational activities can become the healthy and harmonious way of life in an individualistic and secularized world, agitated and stressed, technical and robotized, a world in which paradoxically much virtual but less real communication exists; in which the cities are more crowded with people, but there are less remedies for loneliness and depression.
That is why, the gift of peace and of the joy of celebrating the Nativity of Christ the Lord must be shared through prayer and spiritual and material gifts, especially during these days, to orphan children, to lonely elder persons,to the poor, to the bereaved and grieving families, to the ill and to all the troubled and helpless persons.
Thus, the peace and the joy of the angels and of the shepherds from Bethlehem will illumine the souls and the faces of those who can feel that their fellow human beings, having a kind and generous soul, become the hands of the merciful love of Christ towards every disadvantaged person, found in need or difficulty.
As in previous years, in the night of 31 December 2015 to 1 January 2016, we will all gather in churches to thank God for the blessings received from Him, especially for the gift of life, and to ask His help for the New Year that is to come.
On the feasts of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the New Year – 2016, we convey to all wishes of good health and salvation, peace and joy, together with the traditional greeting: Many years to come!
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all! (2 Corinthians 13:14).
Yours intercessor to Christ the Lord and wishing you everything that is good,
Patriarch of Romania
St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, A Commentary upon the Gospel according to St. Luke, transl. R. Payne Smith, part I, University Press, Oxford, 1859, pp. 16-17.
 Cf. Rev. Dr. Ioan Mircea, Dictionary of the New Testament, Publisher EIBMBOR, Bucharest, 1984, p. 351.