True Orthodoxy in Russia

Christmas Epistle
Of His Eminence,
Metropolitan Valentine,
of Suzdal and Vladimir,
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

My beloved brethren in the Lord, Archpastors and Pastors, Right
Honorable Monastics, Brothers and Sisters, beloved of God!

“Christ is born, praise Him,
Christ is come to earth, exult ye,
sing to the Lord all the earth,
and chant unto Him with rejoicing, ye people,
for He is glorified.”
(Irmos of the Canon for the Nativity of Christ, Ode I)

By the mercy of God, we have become partakers, yet again, in the great
mystery of the birth of the Divine Christ-Child. Again and again, the
holy Church, and all heavenly and earthly creatures together with Her,
offer thanksgiving to the newly born Divine Christ-Child, for having
saved the race of man from sinfulness and the curse of death.

Both angels and men brought praises in song to the Divine Child, to
Him Who brought peace, calm, and good will. The earth gave the
newborn Christ-Child a cave. The skies sent a star to shine upon the
Christ-Child. Wise men hurried from the ends of the earth bringing
their gifts. Shepherds were in amazement, and glorified the humility of
the newborn Christ the King.

The eternal and ever-lasting light, which shines forth from the light
of God the Father, appeared under the cover of flesh in order to
enlighten
all creation, to open up the minds of men, to rouse their consciences,
and to open the way for us that leads to our heavenly Father. The Son
of God becomes incarnate in a world, which had been taken captive by
evil,
amongst people who had lost their inheritance, and were exiled from
their kingdom. “For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and
gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his
glory
shall be seen upon thee,” said the prophet (Is. 60:2). The Virgin,
like the cherubim, brings forth out of her pure bosom the
unapproachable God,
Who has become approachable, visible, and palpable.

No one was aware that God had revealed Himself in the flesh (1Tim.
3:16), neither in Judea, where “God is known,” (Ps. 75:1), nor in
the city of God, Jerusalem, where Herod has his throne. Only to the
Magi, who had
been enlightened by spiritual wisdom, and to the simple and purehearted
shepherds, was this great mystery revealed.

For what reason did the Almighty God find it desirable to reduce
Himself to the form of a slave, and to be born in the poor little town
of Bethlehem, on the very edge of the civilized world? In order to
reveal
to man the bounteousness of His love. The great kingdoms of this world
did not merit of this love of God’s, neither by the great
philosophies of man’s mind can it be attained, nor can it be measured
by the depth of
human sorrow and sufferings. There is only one thing of value worthy of
God’s love, and that is man himself; all of him, in his entirety. As
the holy Fathers of the Church teach us: God desired to give Himself
entirely to man, so that man might give himself entirely to God.

The infant Jesus is born in the bowels of the earth, in a tiny little
Palestinian cave, for the sake of His love for man, and for his
salvation. He came in order to teach us, and to heal our spiritual and
bodily
ailments.

The Word became flesh; the Divinity was melded together with
humanity in an indivisible unity; God took into Himself, into His
hypostasis, the flesh and blood of human nature, having become in all
things like unto us, in order to destroy the sinful passions that dwell
in us, and by His voluntary death, to kill, that is to render powerless
and without authority, him who had the power of death, that is, the
devil.
(Heb. 2:14-17). How beautifully the services of the Church intone that
the incorruptible God was wrapped in swaddling clothes, in order to
loosen man’s bonds of death; the Word was laid in a manger of
irrational beasts, in order to abolish the irrational passions of
rational man;
was born in a desert, in order to enliven the barren nature of man; God
was
registered as a citizen of an earthly kingdom, so that we may be
registered as citizens of the kingdom of heaven; the Son of God became
the Son of man, in order to make us sons of the Most High.

There is nothing higher and more salvific than this mystery of God’s
love, and all that is left for us to do, is to thank Him, with tears,
for His great mercy towards us, prodigal and fallen, having lost our
divine
glory, and gone to work for “the citizens of a foreign country.” (Lk.
15:15). God gives us salvation freely; all He wants from us in return
is love and
humility. As long as we are encumbered with the things of this world,
as long as we think that we are smart, strong, and healthy, and that we
are capable of arranging our lives like we want them to be, God waits
to
begin His activity inside us, which is the work of our salvation. But
as soon as we recognize that before God we are nothing but dust and
ashes,
that our righteousness is unrighteousness in the eyes of God, that
nothing that we have here really belongs to us, but that we received it
from Him (1Cor. 4:7), then we turn our eyes to the Lord and offer Him
tears of repentance and of gratitude.

It is difficult for a rich man to be saved; and so God shows us the way
to voluntary poverty. It is difficult for a man to be save when he is
“on top of the world,” steeped in power and honors; and so, God leads
us
along the path of persecutions, patient endurance, insults, slanders,
and
ridicule. This is the path of Christ, the path of His entire life on
earth; it is a path strewn with thorns, but it is a path, which saves.

>From the

very beginning, from His birth right through to His death on the Cross,
the
Lord showed us the path of humility. For humility brings God to dwell
in us, but pridefulness brings the devil to dwell in us.

Of late, those difficult times experienced by Orthodox Christians have
gradually started to make their way back, when, for the sake of the
Orthodox Faith, many were put to death as “counterrevolutionaries,”
after being blamed for having political motives. The days are coming,
when under pressure from the leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate, our
Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church will have its churches taken
away, will have its incorporated status revoked, will have its prayer
houses closed, thinking that in so doing, they will deprive us of a
place to say our prayers. But we must remember the words of Christ,
that the
gates of hell shall not prevail, and that we don’t need to be
incorporated, or registered with the government, in order to pray to
the Lord God.

Over the past year of 2006, the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church
has had to endure enormous pressure on the part of the local, regional
and provincial authorities of the Russian Federation. They won’t
allow us to incorporate our dioceses, they have illegally taken away
our
church of St. Olga in the city of Zheleznovodsk, in the Stavropol
region, have
been hindering us in every way possible when we try to open new
parishes, have been turning up the pressure on us, making threats,
provoking personal attacks upon our clergy, and much, much more.

The year 2006 has seen the Vladimir regional administration sending us
one commission after another with the aim of quietly taking away from
us the churches that we have restored, in a way that would not require
them to use to the courts.

My beloved pastors and flock! I call upon you all to be vigilant and
prudent, recalling the advice of our holy Fathers, that discretion is
the mother of virtue. It is essential that all legal methods be
employed to
safeguard the churches that we have been given, and to simultaneously
prepare ourselves for the return to saying our prayers in the
catacombs, remembering the way of the cross of Christ our Savior.

In order to be able to withstand in times of trouble, my dear ones, we
must remember that it is essential to constantly give each other those
divine gifts, the gifts of humility and of love, which we were given by
the Divine Christ-Child.

I warmly greet you, my flock, beloved of God, both in Russia and
abroad, with the great feast of the Nativity of Christ. I prayerfully
wish you patience, humility, mutual love, and salvation from the Lord.

+VALENTINE,
Metropolitan of Suzdal and Vladimir,
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church

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