A Pastoral Letter for the Feast of the Blessed Nativity of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 2017

Arabic Version as PDF here

The Most Reverend
Robert Rabbat, DD
by the Mercy of God
Melkite Catholic Eparch of Australia and New Zealand
to
the Clergy, my fellow ministers at the Altar,
the Religious & All the Faithful of our Holy Eparchy.

A Pastoral Letter for the Feast of the Blessed Nativity
of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 2017

Christ is born! Glorify Him! Χριστός γεννάται! Δοξάσατε! المسـيحُ وُلِد، فَمَـجِّدُوه

This Nativity night has bestowed peace on the whole world;
So let no one threaten;
This is the night of the Most Gentle One – Let no one be cruel;
This is the night of the Humble One – Let no one be proud.
Now is the day of joy – Let there be no revenge;
Now is the day of Good Will – Let us not be mean.
In this Day of Peace – Let us not be conquered by anger.
                                                                                           (St Isaac the Syrian, 7th century)

My Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Peace be with you.

Several decades ago, during the cold war, there was a much-believed church urban myth claiming that the abbreviation “Xmas” was a communist inspired plot to remove Christ from Christmas by deleting reference to Him in the very name of the Feast! Of course, the story had no foundation. The “X” in Xmas was actually the customary use of the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, Χριστός, and had been used by Western monastic calligraphers since before the year AD 1000. In upper case form, the first two letters XP were probably the labarum or standard, adopted by St Constantine the Great before his victory at the Milvian Bridge. (AD 312)

The anti-Christmas activists could not delete Christmas from the Christian Calendar, or the Christian psyche, because, together with the Resurrection, it is indispensable to our understanding of salvation. However, our contemporary society which does not know Christ, and feels in no need of salvation, is well on the way to eliminating the reason for the season.

Christmas Day says to us, the Household of the Faith, that the Eternal Son, who is the Logos, the Power and the Wisdom of God, came to us, taking on our nature, in all things except sin. (Heb 4:15)

As any military strategist knows, battles are often not won but, rather, are frequently simply lost by one side. The recent plebiscite on so-called same sex marriage is an example. The proponents of the Yes case shrewdly argued for love, diversity, equality, justice and human rights; and on the surface, who could say No to these positive qualities. Unfortunately, there was much heat and little light. We will see how much tolerance, diversity and freedom the Yes faction will demonstrate towards those who continue to defend traditional heterosexual marriage.

We can view the almost Christless Christmas in much the same way. It is very much a battle almost lost rather than won. It was not an atheistic, Marxist plot to de-form the message of the Divine Nativity. It simply happened whilst we slept – lulled into inactivity by the canned music of the department stores and the hypnotic bombardment of the buy-this, buy-that, media.  

The time has come to reclaim Christmas; and that time must be now before the merry and bright hordes make the task not just difficult but impossible; and this is a battle that must be fought first in the home.
 

In the terms used by sacred architects, the entrance to the church is often an enclosed porch or foyer called the narthex. In reality the family home is the true narthex. The home is the door of the church.

From the very beginning, the gathering of the Community in worship has been at the heart of the Christian experience. In the Acts of the Apostles we read “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)

If our homes are adorned with Christmas decorations that ignore Jesus Christ, what message is being sent to our children and our guests? The Coca-Cola Santa Claus is a nineteenth century parody of the true “Santa Claus”, St Nicholas of Myra (AD 270-343). There is no harm in letting little children believe that St Nicholas brings gifts at Christmas. It is a different matter to tell them that their gifts are brought by a cartoon figure that has nothing to do with the events at Bethlehem. Indeed, the most bizarre sight at Christmas is to see home light displays that merge “Santa” and Nativity symbols.

The first step in reclaiming Christmas is to teach our children that Jesus is the reason for the season, and to evict non-Christian symbols from our homes. As St John Chrysostom urges, “Fathers and mothers: Go and lead your child by the hand into the church.”

And, let the first lesson for our children be one of moderation and generosity. Jesus Christ is not honoured and His birth not glorified if we compete in expensive gift-giving whilst so many of our brothers and sisters are in pressing need. At Christmas, “we receive a Gift for which we did not ask; so let us give alms to those who implore and beg us.” (St Ephrem the Syriac)

If you wish Jesus Christ to be the unseen but truly present guest at your Christmas Feast, I would urge that you calculate the price of supplying your families with a well provided Christmas lunch or dinner, and then donate the cost of at least one person to a charity. And at our Christmas meal, how can we possibly begin to eat if grace has not been said, and the Christmas troparion recited, or preferably, sung.

The Christmas-Theophany Season is an especially fitting time to teach children the importance of generosity and charity. It is good to involve children in the selection of a gift for a wishing tree in the local shopping mall where they can leave a present for a less fortunate child.

The Magi, as we all know, must have been on the road for several weeks before arriving in the Holy Land. Guided by the Star, these mysterious fire-worshippers, had travelled across much of Asia to bring their gifts to Jesus; and by Him their hearts and minds were enlightened. On Christmas Day, and for the services of Theophany, we only have to drive but a few kilometers to meet the same Lord in our church. And, let us not forget that He asks of us only our love.

There are those in our nation who would be pleased to eradicate every trace of Christian morality. Unfortunately, such individuals are often in positions of authority and influence. How sad that many who walk the corridors of power cannot even glimpse the One before whom the pagan Magi knelt, and who they worshipped. If we do not want a Christ-less society, we must first do what is in our power to restore Christ to His rightful place in the public life of our Community; and the place to begin is Christmas. Our greatest challenge is our own indifference and inertia.

Very Dear Friends, Beloved Sons and Daughters of our Holy Eparchy,
May this Blessed Feast of the Divine Nativity be for each of you, and those dear to you, a time of Peace and Great Joy.

With my prayerful best wishes and my paternal blessing,

Robert Rabbat, DD

From our Eparchy in Greenacre, NSW,
for the Feast of the Divine Nativity, 2017