PROPER OF THE SEASON
OIKOYMENIKON TIATPIAPXEIONECUMENICAL PATRIARCHATE
ΙΕΡΑ ΑΡΧΙΕΠΙΣΚΟΠΗ ΘΥΑΤΕΙΡΩΝ ΚΑΙ ΜΕΓΑΛΗΣ ΒΡΕΤΑΝΙΑΣ
ARCHDIOCESE OF THYATEIRA AND GREAT BRITAIN
5 Craven Hill, London
W2 3EN, Tel.: 020
77234787, FAX: 020
Encyclical of the Archbishop marking our entry into the joyful and hope-bearing period which foretells the magnificent feast of Christmas
Namely, from Monday, 15th November until Christmas Eve.
Christians always prepare to celebrate and welcome those events which have left their mark on the history of humanity - and the coming of Christ into the world is the most important event in human history. For this reason, according to tradition all Christians make preparations, preparing their soul and body, revitalising their thoughts and memories, and mentally transferring themselves to the mind of God so as (humanly speaking) to see and draw near to the Divine Love and the providence of God for His creation.
Therefore, forty days before the event that was of such importance for the world, the Church hymns the divine benevolence and invites the Faithful to praise the Creator, Who through His infinite and eternal love granted Creation such a grace and joy. During this period prior to Christmas we Orthodox Christians fast - that is, we abstain from various foods, we do not eat meat, we refrain from fish after the feast of St. Spyridon (12th December), we do not drink milk and we eat neither cheese not eggs. And all this not from vainglory, as in the case of the Pharisees at the time of Christ, but as a form of training and spiritual exercise. We test and exercise our will, we gain mastery in discipline and in the deprivation of various foodstuffs to show that we are ready for great sacrifices and privations when necessary and when circumstances and necessity bring it about that we confess Christ through the shedding of blood. We exercise and instruct ourselves in accordance with the Will of God, as did Christ Himself. He fasted for forty days in the desert and with authority and assurance confronted the demon, when it came to tempt and test Him, but also to discover whether He is God or man.
Never-the-Iess, we must not forget that the Orthodox Church enters the festal period of Christmas from the first week of the Christmas Fast. From the feast of the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple, we will hear the Christmas hymn that is most lyrical and triumphal:
"Christ is born, give glory! Christ comes from heaven go to meet him. Christ is upon earth be exalted! Sing to the Lord all the earth, and all you peoples, raise the hymn with joy: for he has been glorified! "
This hymn reminds us, as does this whole period, of the glory and majesty of God. And the majesty of God and His eternal glory is the coming of "His Only-begotten Son" into the world in the shape and form of man "from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary". Justifiably indeed do western Christians proclaim this truth. They call this period prior to Christmas 'Advent', a significant coming, one that is historical and that has put its mark on the progress of the human race. This is the purpose of this period prior to the majestic holy-days of Christmas, to remind us of the Birth of the God-Man:
As St. Peter characteristically writes:
" You therefore, beloved., since you are forewarned., beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:17.18).
However, entering this especial period of our ecclesiastical life and society, beloved brethren and children in the Lord, we are invited to celebrate these days with humility and sacred reflection, always having Christ and the centuries-long history of the Church as our pattern. Let us foster virtue and sanctity, just as the Saints of God -both male and female- have done since the foundation of the world.
Let us not be afraid or be in two minds as to the anguish that we experience and daily see around us, but always have the gaze of our heart and soul fixed on Him Whose sacred Incarnation and encounter with us will be celebrated by Christians and the rest of humanity in a few weeks' time. Consequently, do not neglect to attend church regularly together with your family and to participate with humility in the sacramental life of our Church. Do not put off sharing your 'good things' with others, 'your neighbours', generously making an offering for the upkeep of the Church and for the spreading of the Gospel of Salvation which Christ brought to the world. Guard the institution of the family as the apple of your eye and surround education and the schools with affection and feelings of generosity. Above all, do not neglect to rely on Him in the hour of temptation and trials and to praise God for the mystery of salvation which He gave us and which was unknown in earlier times, as St. Paul characteristically reminds us when he writes:
"In former generations (this) was not made known to mankind as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (Eph. 3:5-6).
In other words, the Holy Spirit has revealed that the Gentiles (the idolaters), united in a spiritual body with those Christians who were previously Jews, are co-heirs and participants in the redeeming promise of God. The Gentiles, therefore, acquire these privileges through their union with Christ when they reach union in faith with the Gospel. Let us always have this Gospel of divine love in our soul and in our mind, in our life and in our family, to nurture us and renew us all the days of our life.
With these thoughts and sacred expectations, I again have the opportunity of communicating with you. I greet you in the Lord and pray that you will spend this festal period in soundness of both soul and body; and that in health and with peace you may welcome our Lord born in Bethlehem of Judea, and I remain with much love and prayers.
Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain.
Christmas Lent (Advent) 2004.
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