The eternal God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, of angels and humans, of animals and plants, of space and centuries, comes to be born on Earth, to become a human, in order to exalt humanity, so that they may become gods through grace. For this purpose, our Savior chooses the Most Pure Virgin Mary, her purity and virginity, her immaculacy and humility, and She herself accepts to become the Mother of God, so that God may become one with humanity through her body and blood.
As the hymnographer writes: “The One born is God, and the Mother is the Virgin – what a wonder heard by human ears?” In the Virgin Mary, marriage and virginity are united. God becomes a human. The Creator, by voluntarily lowering Himself, by emptying Himself of His divinity, clothes Himself in creation. A wondrous and ineffable act, both for the angels and for humans.
Let every human soul stand and tremble with awe before the great mystery of all times and centuries, but also of all eternity, because according to the Holy Fathers, that mystery of the Divine Kenosis cannot be explained or comprehended even in the infinite future of eternity.
With indescribable freshness and delight in our Holy Abode of St. John the Baptist – Bigorski, a midnight vigil was served on the bright night of the Nativity of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, led by our beloved Elder and Abbot, Bishop Antaniski Partenij, with the clergy of the Monastery. The zealous and numerous faithful, together with the monks and nuns, fervently and reverently praised the newborn King, the Prince of Peace. The majestic adornment of the temple, the festive attire, the sweet-sounding and majestic singing of the psalms were visible and tangible expressions of joy at the meeting with the incarnate Peace, who descended from Heaven to be born on Earth. Therefore, let us all together with the Angels proclaim: “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
True peace, which comes from God, was the theme of the good news through the festive sermon of our Elder, His Grace Bishop Partenij, who directed us towards the Lord Jesus Christ, our supreme peace.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Let us thank God, my dear ones, that He has deemed us worthy to welcome and celebrate this great and holy feast, which holds deep meaning, a joyful and hopeful message, and an abundance of life energy within itself. The Nativity of Christ directly concerns each and every one of us, revealing to us the significance of God’s incarnation.
On this day, the incomprehensible God was confined to a human body; He was born as a Child not in a royal palace, not in a luxurious mansion, not even in an ordinary house, but in a poor cave, in a manger amidst dumb animals. As we read in the Holy Gospel, there was no room for the Most Holy Theotokos and for Christ in the inn in Bethlehem, for the city was overflowing with newcomers due to the census conducted by the Roman Emperor.
It is not by chance that the Creator chose to be born in a humble place, completely unsuitable for His glory. In fact, it was according to His plan, because from the very moment of His coming to Earth, in the way He did it, He began His preaching, His mission that directed all of us towards the path of voluntary humility. He chose the lowest place to be born in this world. He chose the poor cave, the animal manger, the irrational animals, He chose the simple shepherds, the humble wise men, the people who were simple in heart and spirit, and it was they who were deemed worthy to see God’s incarnation and hear the angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
My beloved, God’s love for humanity is immeasurable! He, as omnipotent, could have saved His most beloved creation in any other way, but still, out of His love for mankind, He chose to become one with him, to take on his nature, his pains, joys and sufferings, and as such to receive him with Himself into a renewed and imperishable life. This was how His boundless love for us was shown. First, He created us and gifted us with the gift of freedom, the right to choose, and free will. This gift, given to the first created and to all of us together with them, we abused, choosing to live in disobedience, in the unhealthy ego that is in complete opposition to God’s embrace, His light and joy. However, His width and respect for our freedom still extend over all of us today. Every individual has the right to choose. This, precisely, is God’s greatness, the “crazy love of God” – as some Fathers of the Church express it. That love is the reason why He created us according to His image and likeness, left us His sovereignty, and gifted us with freedom, just as any true parent would leave freedom to their child.
Our loving Heavenly Parent does not advise, instruct, or guide us forcefully, but always respects the freedom with which He created us. It is up to us to choose whether to love Him in return, as He loves us. And so, He dwells among us in a way that demonstrates extreme humility, voluntary meekness, and the self-emptying of His divinity. He does this to show us the way to the higher, heavenly kingdom. He did not come to teach us how to make this world a paradise because, even if we were to succeed in that, it would only be a temporary illusion. Moreover, our fallen nature and the unruliness of our passions simply do not allow this world to become a paradise. The way to reach paradise is shown to us by the Son of God Himself, through His extreme humility, first through His birth in a manger, and then through His entire life on Earth, all the way to His humiliation, suffering, crucifixion, and death. He left us an eternal model of how to navigate this life so that we may grow into the heavenly kingdom.
So, on this day, God was born in Bethlehem, not to display His divine and extraordinary greatness, but to give Himself to humanity. In fact, this is the greatest gift of His incarnation: He Himself, in a visible and tangible form, visited His creation and began, in a mystical and gracious way, to give Himself to us. After Christ’s birth, we all have the opportunity to possess God in our hearts. The potential for divinization has been opened, which is the ultimate fulfillment of our destiny. The purpose of God’s coming into the world is the mystical recreation of humanity; Christ became human to complete what Adam and Eve had started. In Christ, humanity becomes whole. Whoever is “Christened” also becomes divinized. They become one with the divine, united with Him for eternity.
In order to achieve the ultimate goal of worship, it is necessary for us to strive in our relationship with Christ, and to acquire His peace. Today, the angels sing their glorious hymn: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” There is no rational human being who does not value peace as the supreme good. We all strongly feel how much we need God’s peace within us. However, in order to acquire it, effort is required. The consent of our free will, our determination, and concrete steps are necessary. First of all, everything starts with good will towards our fellow human beings. This is the first step of peace: to be in good relations with all people. The Apostle Paul urges us: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone!” (Romans 12:18) and elsewhere: “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11) Therefore, we strive to be at peace with everyone, often at the cost of our own comfort. How many times do we need to be accommodating, humble, to humble ourselves before others, just to have peace between us! This peace, consequently, arises from our interpersonal relationships, our attitude, and our approach towards others, and it is a necessary condition for us to reach higher levels of peace.
The second level of peace comes from our complete surrender to God; when we have complete trust in God. It is primarily the state when we have peace with ourselves. “Make peace with yourself, and the heavens and the earth will make peace with you,” says Saint Isaac the Syrian. It is a peace of the heart that comes after a painful struggle and experience and remains untouched by external events. Whatever happens around us and to us, our heart remains peaceful because it is completely immersed in trust in God. No matter how hard we try, things in life do not always go as we would like them to. We are constantly worried, attacked, and tempted. We often become anxious, filled with negative thoughts, and wonder: Why and from where does all this come? I try to do everything right, to do good deeds, but I am still tempted, attacked, slandered… Regardless of what happens to us, we should constantly calm ourselves, be self-critical to a certain extent, and not blame anyone but ourselves for everything that happens around us. With such thoughts and with complete trust in surrendering ourselves into God’s hands. The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps. 26:1) Therefore, I will emphasize that no matter what happens to us, we completely immerse ourselves in trust in God. Then the peace from above will rest upon us. This is the peace for which we pray daily with the request from the Great Litany: “For peace from above and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.” Interpreting this request, Saint Nicholas Cabasilas says that it is not only about peace with people when we remember no one’s evil, but also about peace with ourselves – when our own heart does not accuse us of anything… Because if someone’s anger troubles them, or if wickedness disturbs the peace of their soul, then they will not receive forgiveness for their sins through prayer, nor will they receive any other grace.
The highest degree of peace is the blessed peace that God bestows as a gift after a person strives through virtuous deeds for the first two types of peace. This is the perfect peace when the soul already dwells with Divinity and is more in the spiritual world than in the material world. For example, remember the three boys from the Old Testament who, because of their unwavering faith in the true God, were thrown by King Nebuchadnezzar into a furnace seven times hotter, after being persuaded in various ways to renounce God. And while the furnace burned so fiercely that everything around it began to melt from the heat, the three righteous boys remained untouched by the flames. Astonished by this sight, the king himself confessed: “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods!” (Dan. 3:25) So, around them was both anger and fire, both material and spiritual, and they were not only at peace but were also visited by some unusual Person Who kept them untouched by great suffering and death. That Person was actually the Word of God, Who descended into the furnace in human form, as a prophecy of His incarnation and gracious presence among people.
Therefore, this highest degree of peace that God gives is undoubtedly Christ Himself. Before His crucifixion, He told His apostles: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Here is the goal of His coming, here is why on this holiday the angels sing: “Peace on earth!” The Lord Christ came into the world as the supreme peace. He is our peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7), Who reconciles previously quarrelsome man with God. Christ as the Son and Word of God is our reconciler with the Trinity of God, after becoming one of us out of love for us, by receiving human nature. Now He is our guide to the Kingdom of Heaven, the absolute peace.
My dear ones, let us learn from the humility of Christ and seek His peace. It is worthwhile to strive for that priceless peace of God. First, let us begin with the recommendation of Saint Apostle Paul, to be at peace with all people. Then, with trust, let us surrender ourselves to the abyss of God’s mercy and providence, so that in the end, the Lord may grant us that wonderful grace of peace, and give Himself to us, entering into our hearts.
Now, we continue with the Holy Liturgy, so let us open our hearts to Christ. And after this wonderful worship is over, let us strive to keep the grace from it and not grieve our merciful Savior. Let us also pray for the whole world, as you can see how much prayer is needed by today’s modern man. Above all, it is needed by us Christians, who unfortunately do not respond worthily to the calling we have. Just look at how much evil has taken root among us. It’s sad. One could just wonder about some people: do they even believe in Christ at all? Maybe they believe formally, go to church, maybe even confess and receive communion, but where is the essence here? Where is the peace of God in them? Do we testify and spread that peace with our lives? Do we, above all, have that peace that the Lord brought to earth within ourselves? May God give us strength to start from the first step of peace and become good Christians, children of peace. Bless you all!
Christ is born!