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Christmas 1999

“Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son,and His name shall be called Emmanuel, which means "God with us." (Matthew 1:23)

To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Day and Afternoon Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

On the bright and joyous Feast of the Nativity according to the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, we worship and praise and glorify the God who hears and answers prayer. "In the fullness of time," the Scriptures say (Gal. 4:4), the Creator of the world responded in love to the prayers of all people: the people of ancient Israel longed for a deliverer; the Magi of the East sought a king; the poor of the earth cried out for a benefactor; the ill and infirm prayed for a healer; the entire human race longed for a Saviour-God. And on this night of the Nativity some two thousand years ago, God answered their prayers and their intense longing by giving them His Son, a Son whose name according to the prophecy of Isaiah would be Emmanuel, which means "God with us."

To natural eyes this babe in the arms of the Virgin Mother was simply another human being born into a troubled and suffering world. But to the eyes of faith, this child reveals the very person of the Lord Himself, God-With-Us. His presence constitutes the satisfaction of every human desire, the fulfillment of every human longing.

For this child Emmanuel manifests to us that God our Creator is with us in utmost truth—not simply in an abstract or nebulous sense, but in a manner that is real, immediate, and absolute. "He who was from the beginning, whom we have heard, whom we have seen with our eyes, whom we have looked upon and touched with our hands," says the Apostle John (I John 1:1), was nothing less than the Word of God Incarnate. The Son of God came to be with us in the form of our own human flesh, so that we might be assured beyond all doubt or contradiction that the God of love is with us intimately, tangibly, and personally. He is with us and He will be with us as He promised, "Behold, I am with you always even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). We experience His immediate presence, we experience His name Emmanuel, in the ineffable condescension shown in every celebration of the Divine Liturgy, where we live the perfect fulfillment of the promise of His promise, by being united to Him through our participation in the Holy Eucharist.

In the superb name Emmanuel—"God with us"—given to the newborn Christ, God manifests also the tremendous fervor of His love for us. His is not a passive and dormant love that waits to be recognized and accepted. His is a love that reaches out, that moves beyond all conceivable boundaries and limitations, that energetically and insistently draws near to us. God did not demand that the fallen race of men should lift themselves up to heaven to enter into a relationship of peace and reconciliation with Him. Instead, He bridged the essential gap between the Creator and the created, He abolished the circumscriptions of nature, He broke down the dividing wall of partition between God and man. He Himself made the first and decisive move by entering physically into our realm of existence so that we might enter by grace into the eternal Kingdom of His love and enjoy His fellowship with us forever.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

"God with us," this is our hope for the coming year and century and millennium until the day of the Lord's return. Though the fate of our race may seem to change daily, though the face of the world may change a thousand times, though humanity may advance into an era of unimaginable and even fearful technological power, the people of God are not dismayed. We hear and obey still the command that the angels gave to the shepherds: "Be not afraid!" We receive still the good news of great joy that Emmanuel is born in the flesh. We trust still in Him who hears and answers our prayers, Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Forever with us, forever among us, forever within us by the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ embraces and blesses us, sanctifies and satisfies us with His loving presence. On this Christmas 1999, may our celebration of the Feast of the Nativity fill our hearts with faith, our minds with hope, and our souls with love for our Triune God and for one another; and for all of you may the New Year be happy, healthy, and rich in the blessings of our ever-present God. 

With paternal love in Christ,

DEMETRIOS
Archbishop of America