The joyous holiday season now at hand presents us with two significant occasions that we celebrate as families and as communities: the Feast of the Nativity and the arrival of the New Year. These festive holidays present us with wonderful opportunities to cherish the presence of our loved ones and to consider the perpetual presence of Christ in our midst. They are also important occasions to consider more closely the important question, “How do our relationships with others reflect the infinite love and everlasting peace of Jesus Christ?”
At the foundation of this question rests our belief as Orthodox Christians that God, the Logos, became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), that He loved us so much that He became one of us, indelibly imparting His loving presence upon the entirety of creation. This miraculous triumph of love, the Incarnation, continues to affect us; it continues to hold tremendous practical implications for us in our relationships with others since the presence of the Lord Christ in our midst presents us with a paradigm par excellence of love.
These implications are particularly and clearly seen in situations marked by the presence of conflict or hostility in our relationships. In times where there might be discord or friction in our relationships with members of our family, our friends, our spouses, or our children, we may look to the model that Christ offers to us—a model of overcoming conflict through patience, love, and understanding.
Unfortunately, it is all too simple to turn to argument or to coercive tactics with our loved ones in the face of disagreement; it is far more difficult to cultivate an attitude of respect for the other person, rooted in a genuine commitment to understand him or her. Yet, it is this latter way of relating to others that is the way of Christ, a way of relating rooted in the knowledge that we are all children of God created in His image and likeness, and that His presence imbues all of our relationships with His pure love and peace. It is this way of relating to others that God revealed to the world perfectly and innocently in the humble birth of His only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is called Emmanuel [which means, God with us] (Matthew 1:23).
In the face of such an incredible blessing, we are challenged to demonstrate our love for others accordingly; we are called to love others with our whole hearts and minds, to allow our souls to be transformed by the love of Christ. Relating to others, then, is not a simple task. Rather, it is a methodical spiritual discipline that demands our patience in building up one another in faith and in trust; it is also a challenging undertaking that requires us to be voices of courage in the face of conflict, boldly confronting abusive or destructive patterns of behavior, which are contrary to the way of God, wherever they might exist.
These voices of courage are especially appropriate to consider during this season of the New Year, a time that inspires genuine love and goodwill not only amidst families and communities, but also amongst peoples and nations throughout our world. It is my heartfelt prayer that this spirit of love and goodwill, so clearly made manifest in the birth of Christ, may be with you this and every year, and that your relationships with one another might be elevated toward a lasting realization of the perfect love and peace of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Archbishop of America