December 25, 2008
Nativity of the Lord
To the Esteemed Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful in the Diocese of the Midwest:
“And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit Whom He has given us. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God”
[1 John 3:24b-4:3a].
My Beloved in the Lord,
CHRIST IS BORN!
It is well known that we, as the Orthodox Church in America, have recently undergone – and continue to endure – a period of intense testing. Spirits that were foreign to our life in Christ, our life in the Church, have been discerned and confronted. We have been tested. Our focus once again turns to confessing Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who has come in the flesh, Who has taken on our humanity so that we might become “partakers of His divine nature” [2 Peter 1:4].
Yet other “alien spirits” abound. For months now, we have been inundated with advertisements, commercials, decorations, and enticements to spend money “in a spirit of giving” in an effort to acquire the “Christmas spirit.” It seems as if a quarter of the year is devoted to pursuit of this spirit – which begs the question: If the coming in the flesh of the Son of God is truly the pivotal and joyful occasion that it is, then why is so much attention given to pursuing the “Christmas spirit”? And why is it that, once we’ve succumbed to this spirit, our attention is immediately shifted to catching the “Valentine’s Day spirit”.
For a society that seemingly prides itself in being secular, it seems odd that we are preoccupied with spirits – the holiday spirit, school spirit, civic spirit, political spirit, in fact any spirit that happens our way. How odd that a culture which prides itself in materialism is so obsessed with something that is, by definition, immaterial!
There are those who, in light of this, denounce society, or attempt to flee it. Yet Saint Paul wisely observes that, while we are not of this world, we are certainly in it – and for a reason. Or we can “test the spirits” and conclude that in such things as “New Age spirituality” and the growing interest in the existence of angels we find a yearning for something that we, as Orthodox Christians, believe has already been revealed and delivered through the incarnation of Christ.
“Now, by the will of God and for the sake of the human race, He has become man” writes Saint Justin Martyr. “No one knows the Father except the son, nor the Son except the Father, and those to whom the Son has given a revelation.” Jesus Christ took on our human nature and entered our human history at a time that was not unlike our own: confused, fearful, searching and seeking, chasing and catching spirits. He did not condemn the society in which He lived; rather, He transformed it “for the sake of the human race.” He recognized that a searching people cannot be ignored, that they must be led to the one, true Spirit – the Holy Spirit. Eyes and ears need to be opened, not to accept something “new,” but to discover something that was, and remains, “everywhere present, filling all things.”
We can hardly condemn the world for pursuing the “Christmas spirit.” However, as the very ones “to whom the Son has given a revelation,” we can be condemned for not revealing and sharing and proclaiming the true Spirit of this feast – and of our very faith in the incarnate Son of God. Saint Seraphim reminds us that the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is at the very center of the Christian life and faith; it is the very definition of the much heralded “Orthodox Christian spirituality.” But this is something that by nature requires testing, vigilance, discernment, and the desire to seek and do God’s will, rather than our own; to “catch” the Spirit of Truth, rather than mere “spirits” that promise some earthly, self-serving joy today, only to leave us empty and spiritless tomorrow.
For some time, we have endured an assault on the Spirit – as a Church, as a Diocese, as parishes, and as individuals. Alien spirits have broken us to varying degrees. We are called to constant vigilance – vigilance rooted in a conviction that by taking on our human flesh, Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to receive the “Spirit of Truth,” to test those spirits that are alien to Him, and to challenge ourselves and the world around us to look beyond that which is superficial to the essential, and only, Truth that endures forever: God made man.
May we, my beloved, celebrate the Nativity of Jesus Christ “in Spirit and in truth,” making that which He first revealed to us the desire and pursuit of those who so desperately struggle to find it! And may we remain ever vigilant to combat those spirits that would turn us away from the “one thing needful” – living in the Holy Spirit, so that through the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ we might enter into the eternal Kingdom of our heavenly Father.
With every good wish for a peaceful and blessed celebration of the Winter Pascha, I remain
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest