Suzdal and Vladimir
Most Reverend Archpastors, Clergy,and Faithful Children of the Russian Orthodox Church
"Today the Virgin giveth birth to Him Who transcendeth being;and the earth proffereth a cave to Him Who is unapproachable;Angels and shepherds sing praises together;the Magi travel together with a star;for for our sake He Who is Pre-eternal God;is born as a Young Child."(Kontakion of the Nativity of Christ) .
My beloved brethren, Archpastors and Pastors ,and Brothers and Sisters, beloved in the Lord!
On this holy night of the birth of Christ, I extend to you my sincere greetings from the ancient city of Suzdal, which by the providence of God, has been chosen to be the spiritual center of the Orthodox Church of Russia.
In accordance with the will of God, we have again been found worthy to see this wonderful day, upon which heaven and earth together sing praises to Him Who was born in a humble cave in Bethlehem, the divine Christ-Child. This greatest of events had previously been announced by the angel: "For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11-12).
To earth is born the very divine Word Himself, about Whom the holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian so loftily testified saying: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." (John 1: 1, 4-5).
A little more than two thousand years ago, this divine Light came into the world which lay, and even now continues to lie, in the darkness of sin and apostasy from God "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not"-in the words of that same Apostle John, speaking about the incarnation of the Savior,-“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become the sons of God” (John 1:11-12).
The rational mind of man will never be able to attain unto the mystery of God's incarnation in Bethlehem. This mystery requires reverential faith and love in humility, which must proceed not from some expectation for self-enrichment, but from the animated reaction of a beating human heart to the Gospel's good news concerning the Savior.
Indeed, how is it possible for the mind of man to fathom that the Creator of the whole world, of all that is visible and invisible, has Himself come to earth in created human flesh? How can one comprehend that He Who is more expansive than the entire universe, He Whose words cannot be contained even by the whole world, is now placed in a tiny manger in a humble little cave in Bethlehem, after being born from an earthly Virgin? Truly, as St. Gregory the Theologian says, the mystery of the birth of the God-Man is impossible to grasp with the mind, for it transcends the laws of nature. But what is impossible for the mind is nevertheless possible for the heart, and that which wise men cannot accept, is revealed in simplicity to the uneducated shepherds of Bethlehem.
God became incarnate upon earth in order that we, who are born of earth, might become God; being united with Him through His grace. The path of deification, the complete unification of our human nature with God, begins with the humble acceptance of the news of the birth of Christ, with a complete turning away from our former unrighteousness, and with a firm decision to begin life over again, carefully and observantly keeping all of God's commandments.
How grace-filled it would be to begin this new life in Christ on the feast of His holy Nativity, after sincerely repenting of all of one's sins, and having partaken of the divine Body and Blood of the Lord!
But to set out upon the path of deification requires no small amount of labor, and great humility. The labor consists mainly of unceasing prayerful concentration, which begins with the mind and then passes over to the heart, with the constant repetition of the Jesus Prayer. This labor of prayer, however, cannot be successful without abstinence; without a constant spiritual fast. But this little labor, which we bring to God in accordance with the desire of our hearts, over the course of our entire lives, cannot begin to compare with that superabundance of joy, light and warmth, which the Lord grants to His followers here on earth, and a thousand times more, in His heavenly kingdom.
The lives of thousands of Christian saints, who by their experiences attested to the reality of this deification, leave no room for doubt. Let us, therefore, follow their inspired example, for the Lord bids each one of us directly, "Be ye holy, for I am holy." (Lev. 11:44). My fellow worshippers, dearly beloved in the Lord!
The feast of the Nativity of Christ coincides with the beginning of the new year, inasmuch as our modern reckoning of time stems from this event. As we enter the new year, it is essential that we take some stock of the year now drawing to a close. For each one of us, the conclusions that we make should be accompanied by a penitential recognition of our mistakes and sins, which must include a firm decision to never repeat them.
I most humbly, therefore, ask forgiveness from all whom I may have offended during the course of the past year.
Over the course of the past year, the Lord has blessed our holy Orthodox Church with peace and quiet. The horrible campaign of slander that appeared on the scene during the preceding years, has come to nothing. Except for a few minor things, church life in our God-saved city of Suzdal has proceeded well.
However, in many other places and in some of our other dioceses, there were persecutions and attempts to mute the voice of the Russian Orthodox Church. With the collaboration of the apostates of the Moscow Patriarchate, who lay claim to having a religious monopoly in our country, persecutions were intensified on our communities in Zheleznovodsk, in the region of Stavropol, in Kursavka, in the Tver region, in Latvia, and in several other places.
On this day of the great feast of the Nativity of Christ, we especially earnestly offer up our prayers "for all who suffer and are persecuted for the holy Orthodox Faith."
Over the course of the past year, by the will of God, I visited our communities in the USA, in Switzerland, in Bulgaria, and in several of the dioceses of Russia.
I am very happy to be able to report to you that far away, in the land of the Americas, in the country of Haiti, interest in Orthodoxy is growing steadily and the number of those who belong to the Church is growing among people who have never been ethnically or culturally connected to Orthodox tradition. This is an especially interesting development because these newly converted American Haitians have converted to Orthodoxy in its pristine purity, without the baggage of any historical waves of corruption which from time to time, most unfortunately, have prevented even our own countrymen from finding the true Church. We prayerfully greet our brethren in the USA, in Latin America, in Western Europe, in Haiti and in Bulgaria with our whole hearts, and we thank God that He has revealed unto them the true Church. My dear brothers and sisters!
The contemporary world often subjects the Church’s faithful children to various trials and tribulations such as the Church of Christ has never before seen in Her history. Not being able to make the correct response to these trials, some of Her children, unfortunately, have become scandalized and have ended up on the verge of schism. Usually, this situation arises as a result of emotions, passions and ignorance, since, in fact, the universal Church has within its Tradition an answer to every problem that troubles people today.
The Lord said in the Gospel, “Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” (Matt. 18:7). In our days, and not without the participation of certain active persons inside the Moscow Patriarchate, a certain new temptation concerning the introduction of new methods of keeping track of people digitally has begun making the rounds, namely, UPC, bar codes, electronic microchips, magnetic strips in passports, etc. Many see in these things the seal of the Antichrist, and others see in them the precursors of the seal of the Antichrist.
The Jews of antiquity, living at the time of the birth of Christ, also saw a temptation in the “digital IDs” of their day, which was augmented by Augustus Caesar. The Gospel states that our Lord, Jesus Christ, was born in Bethlehem because His Mother, the all-holy Theotokos, and the righteous Joseph, the Betrothed, had returned to their native city of Bethlehem, where their ancestor King David was born, in order to take part in the great census. This was the first time that there had ever been a universal census in the ancient world, and there can be no doubt that had it taken place in our day and age, many would see the seal of the Antichrist in it as well. Nevertheless, the Holy Family, including the newborn Christ-child, did take part in this enrollment.
What objection could a Christian have against any of these numbers and electronic codes? Could it be because they permit the government to control one’s every step, movement, and purchase? But should a true Christian be afraid of such control? In the words of our Savior, “There is nothing hidden that shall not be made manifest.” (Mark 4:22). We do not hold any “secret beliefs.” We do not form any secret underground organizations. We do not take part in any conspiracies. Quite to the contrary! We are called to preach the Gospel to the whole world openly; “from the housetops.” In many instances, thanks to our openness and honesty, many of the smear campaigns that were directed against our Church have fizzled out on their own. If anyone wants to follow us around and spy on us, let him! In the final analysis, a genuine Christian should be ready to endure any sorrow for the sake of Christ, even martyrdom.
But on the other hand, we should not show complacency and carelessness, observing the “signs of the times.” From the moment of the fall of the first human beings, the world has been moving constantly towards its end, for a short time before which, the Antichrist will set up his reign and will perpetrate the worst persecution of Christians ever. Without a doubt, our day and age is closer to the coming of the Antichrist than any other, however, it is not ours to know the “times and the seasons,” and the Gospel expressly forbids us from trying to figure them out. For us individually, the end of the world could come at any time, for at any moment our earthly life could be cut off.
And so, we should expend every effort, as much as is possible, to guard ourselves from the destructive influence of the world. Among the faithful of our Church there are to be found certain ascetics who refuse to carry a passport at all. We respect this decision, but nevertheless, we recognize that not everyone is able to bear it. According to the prophecies of the holy Fathers, on the seal of the Antichrist, which he will cause to be placed upon the forehead and upon the right hand of those who worship him, there will be written, “I come to thee voluntarily.” This means that the Antichrist will require a conscious devotion to him after a conscious rejection of Christ. Accordingly, the main distinguishing characteristic of the seal of the Antichrist will be a conscious rejection of Christ. If then we are not required to renounce our Faith upon receiving these various forms of identification, could they be considered the seal of the Antichrist? It would seem that the ID cards of the old Soviet regime would be closer to fitting that description.
Our Synod of Bishops has examined the issue of today’s forms of digital ID cards, time and again. Our Church recognizes that these IDs are one step in the overall preparation for the coming of the Antichrist, and for this reason, our faithful children should avoid them, if at all possible. It is, however, absolutely forbidden to agree with the idea of implanting microchips under the skin, whereby they become part of the human body, as this infringes upon the integrity of human nature as it was created by God. Other electronic devices which do not have this characteristic, and are therefore less unacceptable, nevertheless do form part of the electronic world which surrounds us, with all of its computers, scanners, and other computational devices, with which we all must live, like it or not. Dearly beloved children of the Church of God!
Once more, with all my heart, I greet you with the present glorious feast, and I wish for you all that no temptation of our present world should darken your spiritual joy, nor should hamper you in your approach to the divine Christ-child.
With abundant love in the Lord,
Valentine,Metropolitan of Suzdal and Vladimir
Suzdal Nativity of Christ2004/2005