The Serbian Orthodox Church to her spiritual children at Christmas, 2001

PAVLE

By the grace of God Orthodox Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and Serbian Patriarch, with all the Hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church to all the clergy, monastics, and all the sons and daughters of our holy Church: grace, mercy and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, with the joyous Christmas greeting:

Peace from God - Christ is born!

Christ is born, glorify Him! Christ is come from heaven, welcome Him. . . (Ode 1, The Christmas Canon)

Dear brothers and sisters, on this night the dearest Guest ever came to visit the earth. The Son of God Himself came in the person of the Divine Infant Christ. He came as a Child to give Himself as joy to the pure and innocent hearts of children. He came as the Son of Man to bring joy to every person, to every human being in every time and place. He came as One coming to His own people, and in Himself He brought to earth all of Heaven and all the heavenly and eternal treasures: eternal truth, eternal justice, eternal love, eternal peace, eternal life. Today took place the event to which His beloved disciple John the Evangelist would later give witness: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

But also, brothers and sisters, from this day it became evident that people were not prepared to receive such an exalted Guest in a way fitting for Him. There were few who immediately recognized Him and rejoiced at His coming. Those with pure hearts and humble spirits, such as the shepherds of Bethlehem, received Him with child-like joy. The innocent sheep gave Him hospitality and gave Him their cave for a house, and their manger with its soft straw for His first bed. The learned wise men from the East also rejoiced at His coming, who determined from a wondrous star the day when God visits His people. Much greater was the number of those who were frightened and disturbed by the Birth of the Son of God. First of all King Herod and all of Jerusalem with him were filled with fear. Later those pharisees and sadducees, those lawyers and chief priests, and finally all those people would cry out before Pilate's palace, "Crucify Him, crucify Him!"

How to understand this" The question itself witnesses to the depths of this mystery, the mystery of the Incarnation and Nativity of the Son of God that exceeds the limits of the human mind, which perceives this mystery as simply another natural birth. This is why neither then nor now in our own time do people realize that God is speaking to them through His own Son Himself. Therefore the disciple whom Jesus loved sadly concluded, "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him." (John 1:10-11)

Our own time is no exception. There are also among our own people those who do not receive Him. And this is no small number, and not for a short period of time. For decades Christmas was hidden from the children, from those to whom the Divine Infant Christ is the closest and dearest. It was hidden also from parents and teachers. The message of God and Christmas was not heard where there were the most children in Serbian schools. Quietly, as on the first Christmas night, the news of the Birth of the Divine Child managed to reach the schools and to penetrate into the hearts of some children from their friends, other children in whose homes the faith was preserved, where Christmas Eve was celebrated; where they heard from their elders, as the Badnjak crackled on the fire, the story about the miraculous birth of the Savior in a cave, in a stable, among good-hearted shepherds. In those moments of celebrations it is difficult to grasp just how much the wonder and awe touched those delicate children"s feelings as they heard about the Divine Child Who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Those feelings bear witness to and reveal to every pure heart that, truly, God is with us (Emmanuel).

Every year at this time Christ is once again, through His grace and our faith, born in our hearts, our souls, our senses, in the joy of children. Today all of nature takes on a mystical thankfulness, for everything and everyone senses that today is born to us the Savior. And today, in the deafening din of human history, through the noise of the factories and the explosions of bombs throughout the world, the words of our Savior Himself, the God-Man Jesus Christ, come to our ears: "Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of God." (Matthew 18:3) Only when a person cleanses his mind and heart of vain thoughts and leaves behind evil deeds just like an innocent child, then, and only then, can he experience all the beauty and truth of God"s words and truly celebrate Christmas.

By the grace of God, through the efforts of responsible church and religious leaders, as well as of certain zealous and able workers for normalization of life in our Homeland, this year this holy day will be closer and warmer for children who decided to avail themselves of religious instruction in the schools. It will awaken and bring to life scenes and childhood memories for many parents, and for many of our older people. This year many will realize what they were deprived of as children, and, perhaps, what they themselves deprived their own children of.

Many parents will, alas, continue to deprive their children of religious education and the joy of Christmas, pushing their offspring down the paths of false happiness and false freedom, allowing their sons and daughters to follow their every whim. How many have destroyed their children"s lives in this way, both in this world and in the Kingdom of God! How many young people in our own country (as well as other countries) have stumbled morally, giving themselves over to alcohol, to drugs, and to perversion, thereby destroying the beauty, modesty and joy of youth! Many have mutilated themselves and disabled themselves for life with drugs and other intoxicants, and many who have barely begun their lives have ended them horribly at too young an age.

God gave freedom to mankind, but with that gift mankind became responsible for its actions and behavior. Today many are struggling for freedom, for individual and group rights, but in their sinful understanding this freedom means the right to do anything they want, even taking away the freedom and the very lives of others. The struggle for this kind of "freedom" often goes by high-sounding names: the struggle for human rights, the struggle against oppression, revolution, and so on. Few realize that the only true revolution worthy of approval and blessing is the rebellion against sin within ourselves, because it offers the law of love and forgiveness instead of force and revenge. Instead of changing the world by force and tailoring it to one"s own specifications, it offers the changing of oneself and the purification of self through true spiritual struggle and repentance.

Again this year the joy brought by the Feast of the Nativity of the Divine Christ Child is assaulted by the waves of hatred which are inundating the whole world through heightened insecurity, terrorism and the thirst for revenge, so much so that it is difficult to hear the eternal joyous greeting of the angels announced on that first Christmas night in the fields of Bethlehem: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good will." (Luke 2:14) People have lost sight of the fact that by His birth Christ brought the peace of God into the world. That peace from God is an inner peace, a peace which comes into the soul to make it holy and to prepare it for the Kingdom of Heaven. It is that peace of which the Lord later spoke to His disciples at the Last Supper: "Peace I leave to you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you." (John 14:27)

The joy of this Christmas, our dear spiritual children, is increased by the fact that we can announce to you that, through gifts from here and abroad, we have acquired the bells for the Church of Saint Sava on Vracar, and that they were recently blessed in the presence of the faithful and of representatives of the government. The bells were first rung last night, on Christmas Eve. Following their joyous pealing, through the prayers of Saint Sava, we hope that work on the completion of the Church will proceed more quickly, and that the situation in our country may become better day by day. We invite you to continue, as much as you are able, to donate towards the building of the Church which, in the words of the poet, builds us up and will raise up our posterity forever.

Those bells invite us to return to the path which Saint Sava followed, and which he showed to his people. That is the path of peace and reconciliation among ourselves and with others. That is the path of oneness, unity and of spiritual renaissance for the entire Serbian Orthodox people. That is the path which leads to eternal life and the Kingdom of Heaven. That is the path which leads through the cave of Bethlehem where the Divine Christ Child awaits us, ready to help us to return spiritually to the True and Living God and to become again like children. For it is only as children that we can enter into His Kingdom and inherit everlasting and blessed life.

With these thoughts and prayerful wishes we, your pastors, again congratulate all of you here and abroad on Christmas and the New Year, greeting you, with one mouth and with one heart, with words of the most joyous and ancient Christian greeting:

Peace from God - Christ is born!

Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade at Christmas, 2001.

Your intercessors before the Divine Infant of Bethlehem:

Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and Serbian Patriarch PAVLE
Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana JOVAN
Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Coastlands AMPHILOHIJE
Metropolitan of Midwestern America CHRISTOPHER
Metropolitan of Dabro-Bosna NIKOLAJ
Bishop of Zica STEFAN
Bishop of Shabac-Valjevo LAVRENTIJE
Bishop of Buda DANILO
Bishop of Nish IRINEJ
Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla VASILIJE
Bishop of Srem VASILIJE
Bishop of Banja Luka JEFREM
Bishop-Administrator of Temisvar LUKIJAN
Bishop of Canada GEORGIJE
Bishop of Australia and New Zealand (New Gracanica Metropolitanate)
NIKANOR
Bishop for America and Canada (New Gracanica Metropolitanate) LONGIN
Bishop of Eastern America MITROPHAN
Bishop of Banat CHRYSOSTOM
Bishop of Backa IRINEJ
Bishop of Great Britain and Scandinavia DOSITEJ
Bishop of Ras and Prizren ARTEMIJE
Retired Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina ATANASIJE
Bishop of Bihac and Petrovac CHRYSOSTOM
Bishop of Osijek and Baranja LUKIJAN
Bishop of Central Europe CONSTANTINE
Retired Bishop of Western Europe DAMASKIN
Bishop of Western Europe LUKA
Bishop of Timok JUSTIN
Bishop of Vranje PAHOMIJE
Bishop of Western America JOVAN
Bishop of Slavonia SAVA
Bishop of Branicevo IGNATIJE
Bishop of Milesevo FILARET
Bishop of Dalmatia FOTIJE
Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina GRIGORIJE
Vicar Bishop of Budimlje JOANIKIJE
Vicar Bishop of Jegar PORFIRIJE
Vicar Bishop of Hvostno ATANASIJE





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