NATIVITY EPISTLE of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church

To the Reverend Pastors, Honorable Monastics, and All Loyal Children of the Church of God

Christ is born–Glorify Him.

Christ is come down from heaven–come to meet Him.

Christ is upon the earth–exalt ye!

With these words, which have come down to us from so many centuries ago, one of the greatest pillars of the Orthodox Church, the God-inspired Gregory the Theologian, greeted the approach of the feast of the Nativity of Christ. And these holy words, undoubtedly inspired by the Spirit of God, once and for all entered into the magnificent jubilation of our Orthodox services, filling the believing heart with spiritual trepidation with the joy of Christmas.

As we draw near to the new year of God’s beneficence, we again hear the jubilant song of the holy angels: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will! Not in the prideful wisdom of the Jewish keepers of the law, nor of the Greek philosophers, did mankind find truth, but in the humble faith of the shepherds and of the Magi; and not from the palace of Herod, but from the manger of Christ did peace radiate forth. Many centuries have passed since that great night, yet still today, and even until the end of the ages, will the holy Church proclaim and preach this sacred and heavenly joy. “Let us celebrate,” says St. Gregory the Theologian, “not sumptuously, but divinely; not as the world celebrates, but in a manner beyond this world; not our own feast, but the feast of Him, Who became our own, or, what is better to say, the feast of our own Master!” The great sign in the heavens–the star–as if with a loud voice, preached to all that the Savior had been revealed to the world, and the season of our salvation had begun. The Prophet Jeremiah calls Him the book of the commandments of God, and the law that endureth forever, shining forth in the darkness of the gentiles. (Baruch 3-4) Isaiah saw Him judging with righteousness, smiting the earth with the word of His mouth, and slaying the wicked with the breath of His lips. (Isaiah 11). Daniel saw Him destroying the earthly kingdoms of unrighteousness and setting up the eternal kingdom of the saints of the God of heaven. (Daniel 2).

Through the all-good providence of God, the burden of bearing the grace-filled mission of confessing holy Orthodoxy in all its purity, which, according to the words of the holy Apostle Paul, is a burden not to be born unequally with unbelievers, has been placed upon the shoulders of our holy and much-suffering Church. (II Cor. 6:14). Throughout the course of the last fateful and apocalyptic century, in spiritual solidarity with the Church Abroad, our holy Church was a heavenly tabernacle upon the earth, preserving the ark of Divine grace, both in full view of all, as on a candle stand, as well as hidden away from the view of this corruptible world in the catacombs. Now however, even as the bishops of the Church Abroad are demonstrating that they do not wish to do as the Magi did and depart from the cave of Bethlehem by another way in order to return to their home countries with the Divine light, which they beheld there, but have decided to return to Herod in his desire to destroy the Infant, it falls to us to show ourselves to the world “as ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses; In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report.” (II Cor. 6:4-8).

We all know, beloved, about the last terrible heresy, the heresy of ecumenism, which dares not only to distort, but even to deny the teaching of the Church and of the holy Fathers. The principal danger of this heresy lies in the fact that it teaches people to be indifferent to the truth, to be apathetic in questions of the Faith, and to be satisfied with the mere externals of religious rituals, with the gratification of one’s own religious needs, and to seek personal spiritual comfort. This heresy teaches love for untruth, the toleration of lies, and it fosters within the heart a kind of alternate Christianity, another “Orthodoxy,” which has nothing in common with the Orthodoxy of the holy Fathers. The new religion of ecumenism has replaced Orthodoxy with itself.

We see how lies, heresy and hypocrisy have come to triumph. A new false church has taken over, dressed in the robes of Orthodoxy. But we know from Holy Scripture that the truth shall always be persecuted, shall always be in the minority, shall always be hated and crucified by this world, for this world has no need of the truth. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself foretold that His true followers would be vilified as servants of the devil, as schismatics, as heretics, and that they would become a defenseless target for the derision and hatred of those who surround them.

Over the course of the last year, the Lord has blessed our Church with new persecutions and attacks from its enemies, who have been trying to rend it into pieces from within, as well as trying to keep new sheep from entering into the sheepfold. Not from the manger of Bethlehem, but from the court of Herod do they disseminate their false testimony about our Church. With ill-meaning lies and with malicious slander, they have been trying to discredit the leadership of the Church over the internet and in print. These attempts do more to show just how far they have departed from the Body of Christ.

However, for patience in enduring persecutions for the sake of the true Faith, the Lord promised and grants happiness and blessedness. (Matt. 5:11). The griefs of the New Martyrs were indeed hard to bear, but great and incalculable is that joy, which God gave them in return. The path is difficult for those who have the courage and the fortitude to depart from the embrace of the false church, to throw off the deception of its spiritual comfort, to embark upon the way of the cross of Christ and join themselves to the small and persecuted Church of the true Orthodox Christians. However, to do so, and begin living in accordance with the commandments of Christ, is a great source of happiness. The kingdom of Christ gives us freedom in the Holy Spirit, gives us the highest purpose of our lives, and gives us eternal joy. Preserve the purity of your faith–and receive a kingdom in return! Endure sorrows and exile for the sake of the pure Orthodox Faith–and enter the wedding feast with the Bridegroom in return! Pray for those who revile you and slander you–and you will be blessed by the Most High in return!

Beloved in the Lord!

Greeting you with the great feast of the birth of our Savior, the Synod of Bishops calls upon all of you to make your journey towards the noetic Bethlehem in simplicity and in humility, and with the same faith as the shepherds of Bethlehem, so that there we might worship the newly-born Christ, and present to Him as gifts our very hearts. While on this journey, let us not turn aside to the left, nor to the right, but tread resolutely upon the thorny path of keeping the truth, fearing nothing. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ remain with us all!

Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church

Christmas, 2006