A NATIVITY EPISTLE of
HIS EMINENCE VALENTIN, METROPOLITAN OF SUZDAL AND VLADIMIR
To their graces the archpastors, the honorable pastors, and the honorable monastics
Today the Divinity placed upon Itself a seal of humanity
So that humanity be adorned with the seal of Divinity,
(Ven. Ephrem the Syrian).
Again and again the twilight of a wintry night learns of the ray of the brilliant Divine announcement of the Good News: the great mystery, the God-Logos was manifest in the flesh (I Tim. 3:16), the Son of God has become incarnate and become the Son of Man, while remaining the Son of God, in order to uplift us fallen into sin, to the 'first blessedness'. God becomes the son of the All-pure Virgin, being like us in everything, except sin, to call us to be God-like. 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered: into the heart of man' (I Cor. 2:9) this blessed condition of life with God and in God, the path to which is revealed to us through the Nativity of Christ.
How disgusting and worthless turn out to be the supposed 'pleasures' in whose pursuit a miserable man multiplies the number of his sins, if only we would keep in mind the genuine good-fortune of sanctity, of the joy of communion with God, of eternal life with God, for which purpose God has created us!
As result of the fall into sin by the first human beings, which was multiplied by more and more new sins of later generations, humanity has lost its original ability to see God 'face to face'. Its 'eye of the heart' became clouded, became veiled with the crude covering of flesh which forced it to seek only the consolations of fleshly joys.
Human beings-the best and supreme creation of God, which carries the image and likeness of the Creator Himself-was irresponsibly immersed in the abyss of non-existence. Even the greatest righteous ones of the Old Testament who sat 'in the darkness and shadow of death' (Ps. 107:10) while waiting for Christ's incarnation, understood that after death they would share in the condemnation which was drawn down upon the entire human race by sin. 'I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning' said the righteous Fore-father Jacob (Gen. 37:35).
There was no possibility for the human race to be able to prevent the unavoidable perishing of humanity-temporal as well as eternal. Only the Divine Incarnation could save humanity from condemnation and eternal death-through the change of the entire sinful nature of humanity through union with the sinless and utterly all-perfect God.
Our Lord Jesus Christ accepted the flesh of His fallen slaves, whom He Himself had created. He became man and suffered in the flesh in order to redeem our unfortunate flesh from condemnation and death and to regenerate us unto eternal life.
It is necessary to remember that the union of human nature with God and which was revealed to us through the sacred mystery of the Nativity is a two-fold process. The Lord, Who has condescended to us, and accepted the image of the slave, died for us by the shameful death on the Cross, calls to us to take the small step toward Him.
We should not 'rest on the laurels' that He has redeemed us and has saved us. The sin ruling the human race and the redeeming podvig [ascetic struggle] of Christ, the Savior of the world, only opens for us the path for salvation through participation in this podvig, through union with Christ. Whether we go down this path or not depends upon the free will of each one of us and the Lord, Who knows all hearts, does not force us to make such a decision.
We are surrounded by the world in storm, whose prince is the God-hating devil. This world presents to us many tempting images, which advertise crime and sin. The overwhelming majority of our unfortunate countrymen and contemporaries are fascinated by these images and like a thoughtless herd goes where the enemy of our salvation, the devil, invites them.
He invites humanity to his banquet - to hell, whispering to them to part from Christ and the Kingdom of God. He draws us pictures of worldly well-being, comfort, material achievements, cozy home, much good-tasting food, expensive and seductive clothing.
It is hard, very hard, to make a proper choice under these conditions, especially, if those close to one in every way try convince one 'to live like anybody else does'. A Christian in the contemporary world seems like 'a heterogeneous body,' a fool. But Christ the Savior has told us: 'If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world... therefore the world hateth you' (Jn.15:19).
He draws our sacred Christian holidays within the orbit of his demonic power, to emasculate their spiritual content and to turn them into a reason for secular delights, a means for more new sins.
In the West, 'Christmas' is celebrated everywhere, i.e, 'the Nativity'. However, this 'Christmas' is least of all connected with the spiritual experience of the mystery of the Nativity. This is a commercial show, when the number of sold products brings in a ten-fold income, through a flood of tempting advertisements, and people engage in senseless amusements and sins during 'Christmas vacation'.
The main personality of this 'Christmas' is a half-pagan 'Santa Claus' who is a blasphemously distorted image of St. Nicholas. He advertises various drinks, cigarettes, clothing and, in general, calls people to spiritual relaxation and sin. For us in Russia, most regrettably, Christmas gradually has become a commercial holiday.
Despite all these temptations, let us try again and again to concentrate on the great mystery of God's Nativity. In this mystery we are amazed and astounded by the especial self-effacement of the Son of God, who accepted the 'form of a slave'. In the irmos of the Nativity canon we sing: 'I see an unusual and most glorified mystery: the heavens-a cave, the throne of the cherubim-a Virgin, the manger-the vessel in which lies the uncontainable Christ God.:' The cradle of the Christ Child in the poor Bethlehem cave carried in it the beginning of the deprivations and sufferings of the God-Man. Bethlehem was the threshold of Gethsemane and Golgotha!
Today the mercy of God has led us to the sacred cave and we with the eyes of our faith contemplate the wonderful image of Christ's Nativity. We become the participants in this saving event, but what did we bring as a gift to the Child Christ? Unfortunately, nothing but our sins!
We see that in those places where Christ was born blood is flowing today, tears are flowing. The fields of Bethlehem, which once heard the angelic song 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace', today resounds with cannon fire, bringing not peace, but death and destruction.
May the Child God teach the unwise and save the world which has sunk into darkness and the shadow of death [sin].
My beloved in God Archpastors, pastors, venerable Monastics, brothers and sisters!
On the day of the all-joyous Feast when Orthodox Christians glorify the Christ Child, born from the unwedded ever Virgin Mary, with a feeling of great spiritual joy I greet all of you who are endlessly dear to my heart on the day of our salvation.
In the upcoming New Year may the Child God Who has been born grant a blessed peace on earth and peace to our souls and our homes.
May the Lord God give to all of us saving love for each other, so we can sing of the Trinity in one essence-Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit! Amen.
+ Humble Valentin, Metropolitan of Suzdal and Vladimir
Suzdal, 2002 / 2003