You can read the Arabic version here
The Most Reverend
Robert Rabbat, DD
by the Mercy of God
Melkite Greek-Catholic Eparch of Australia and New Zealand
the Clergy, the Religious and All the Faithful of our Holy Eparchy
which is most beloved of Christ.
A Pastoral Letter for the Feast of the Blessed Nativity
of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 2020
and for the Feast of the Glorious Theophany, 2021
24 December 2020
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“Grace and mercy and peace from God the Father, and from Christ Jesus, our Lord, be with you” (2 Tim 1:2)
Twelve months ago, as I prepared some Christmas thoughts to share with you, little could we know what the year ahead would bring. Who would ever have thought that we would find ourselves speaking about the “new normal”. This pandemic year has given us good reason to think upon the uncertainty of our daily affairs, and at the same time, to be keenly aware of the necessity of placing all things before the Good Lord.
For some, a fear-filled pandemic uncertainty has been at times almost overwhelming; however, even in the midst of the greatest difficulties, we know “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rm 8:28) And part of that purpose is for us to be a sign of his love for all humankind, a sign of his abiding providence. As our Lord said to the crowds, “Let your light shine before the people, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.” (Mt 5:16) And indeed, this is what we have often seen – acts of kindness and consideration for others, at times and in places least expected.
The indications of the frenzied commercial Christmas appear ever earlier; and weeks before the Feast, as we visit the shopping centres, we are aware of the canned yuletide music and unceasing loop-repetitive Christmas carols.
Contemporary secularists have been no more able to suppress the celebration of Christmas than were some 17th century Protestants or the Communists of the 20th century. However, in numerous ways fashionable secularism has been successful in emptying the Feast of its essential significance. For many, Christmas is no longer the celebration of the Divine Nativity, but rather a family day, a time for the kiddies. I would urge parents to emphasize the authentic narrative of the Nativity, with its accompanying signs, symbols, and traditions.
This year, with all its consequences, provides us with numerous opportunities to share the many good things of the Feast. Is there a neighbour who has no family – be a family for that person. Is there a shut-in who will have no Christmas visitors – visit that person. Are there those who will not have a feast on Nativity Day – share your feast with them.
It is with much gratitude that we recall the efforts of our clergy and lay people who have put aside their own concerns to visit families at home, especially the sick and the isolated. If anyone has been without a home visit it is because the parish priests have not been alerted to a particular need. The Faithful have but to ask.
Our charity towards others is limited only by the limitations we impose. “A tree is known by its fruit, people by their deeds. A good deed is never lost; they who sow courtesy reap friendship, and they who plant kindness gather love.” (St Basil the Great, AD 330-379)
As we slowly emerge from the restrictions made necessary by the Covid19 pandemic, it is time to renew our commitment to attending the Holy Liturgy and the occasional services. Speak with your parish priest about the pandemic safety requirements that are in place wherever you go to the Holy Liturgy.
I must note that during the pandemic difficulties we have endured, the mainstream churches, and for us that means Catholic and Orthodox, have co-operated with the civil authorities for the common good; and it should be remembered that this was even when our churches were held in lower regard than sporting venues. However, the essential discipline of the Sacraments, including confession, is not negotiable and interference by “well-meaning” but uninformed individuals will be resisted to the utmost. Attempts to criminalize priests who maintain the seal of the confessional will be opposed vigorously. Let us be clear, previous docility should not be taken as present weakness.
As we approach the Days of Light and Glory, we must keep in prayerful remembrance all those who have served at the front line, and who continue to do so. It is through the efforts of so many in the public sector, the biosciences and healthcare that we will enjoy the Nativity Feast, albeit with care and precautions. We commend them to the unfailing intercessions of all the saints who have served the sick throughout the history of the Church.
On 6th January, the Byzantine Churches celebrate the Feast of the Theophany (θεοφάνεια), commemorating the baptism of our Lord and the revelation of the Mystery of the Divine Trinity – the voice of the Father from Heaven, Jesus in the waters of the Jordan, and the Holy Spirit in the form of the descending Dove.
In our Byzantine tradition, the days between Christmas, 25th December and the Theophany, 6th January, are often referred to as the Days of Light and Glory. The Theophany, and the following days, are much favoured for house blessings and it would be good to contact your Melkite parish priest to arrange a time for him to visit and bless your home. In our spiritually directionless society, it is an appropriate way of making our own the words of Joshua, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh 24:15)
My Dear Brothers and Sisters, Faithful Sons and Daughters of our Holy Eparchy,
For many in numerous countries, the situation remains perilous. In Australia, we have been spared the worst possibilities because we live on an island - geography and decisive action have shielded us from an unspeakable disaster. Let us commend to the Good Lord all those, throughout the world, who have died, and all those who have been bereaved.
This Christmas we are surely even more aware than usual of the importance of our families and kinfolk, our friends and those dear to us. Thank the Lord for the many gifts he has given us in, and through, all those we love, both near at hand and far away.
It is my fervent prayer that this Christmas will be for each of you - every family, household and individual, and for the many Friends of the Holy Eparchy - a time of every Heavenly Blessing and Good Gift from Above.
As you gather to celebrate the birth of the Emmanuel, The-God-Who-Is-With-Us, may that same Lord Jesus Christ keep you in peace, health and safety.
With my paternal blessing and with prayers assured,
Christ is born! Glorify Him! Χριστός γεννάται! Δοξάσατε! المسـيحُ وُلِد، فَمَـجِّدُوه
X Robert Rabbat, DD
From our Eparchy at Greenacre, New South Wales