Pastoral Letter of the Holy Nativity of Christ — 2018 By the Grace of God John X Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Antioch To my Brothers, the Hierarchs and Shepherds of the Holy Church of Antioch, My Beloved Spiritual Children throughout the Apostolic See “I hear the angels sing today in Bethlehem: ‘Glory to Him whose good pleasure it was that peace should come on earth!’” (Litya of the Holy Nativity of Christ’s Feast).
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An increasing number of Christians have come to believe that Christmas is derived from paganism. They’ve heard that the timing of Christmas may have been borrowed from Roman sun god worship. Or that Christmas trees come from German paganism. Or that the star on top of the Christmas tree comes from astrological worship. But these myths are all so wrong. Christmas—the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord—is a thoroughly Christians celebration. Here’s why.
Scripture has numerous ways of describing the relationship between God and mankind. The relationship is described as unity and oneness. It is described as partaking of Divinity. And sometimes it is described as being dressed or clothed in God’s righteousness. All these metaphors express an unfathomable truth as to how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit come to abide in the life of a Christian.
“Joyful” is the most suitable word to describe Metropolitan Basilios’ inaugural visit to The Good Shepherd. His Eminence gently and skillfully guided the choir and the clergy through our first Hierarchical Matins and Hierarchical Divine Liturgy in several years. The entire congregation then retreated to a lunch in honour of His Eminence where we sang for him our traditional celebratory song, “Many Years.” Following the lunch, His Eminence sat with the parish committee for an hour.
I’d like to share with you the story of a family of first century Christians whose names and history have been forgotten by many, if not most, Christians in the West. Six sisters, and two sons of the eldest sister, eight people altogether, all of them Samaritan. These people were in Jerusalem on the day of the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended from the Father and sealed the earthly Body of Christ, the Church. On that day, 3,000 people were baptised by the Apostles who had just received the Holy Spirit.
This last week I have been meditating on the difference between the ethics of the Old Covenant and those of the New. Old Covenant ethics, for the most part, is grounded in behavioural rules. “Do not murder.” “Tithe the increase of one’s flock.” “Do not plant mixed seeds in a field.” “Send a menstruating woman outside the camp.” Under this system, observing the set of prescribed behaviours constitutes righteousness, regardless of how the rule-observance affects human flourishing.
At the beginning of Netflix’s historical drama “The Crown,” King George VI is describing the mystery of coronation to a very young Princess Elizabeth: “Unless I am anointed, I cannot be King.” “Do you understand?” “When the holy oil touches me, I am transformed: brought into direct contact with the Divine — forever changed — bound to God. It is the most important part of the entire ceremony.”
Under the banner of “personal choice,” the State of Victoria is winding the clock back. Way, way back to the social ethics of Ancient Rome. While Australian society has been the envy of the world, Victoria is willingly walking away from the Christian influence in law, morality, ethics and religion that has contributed so much to the great society in which we presently live.