The Most Reverend
Robert Rabbat, DD
by the Mercy of God
Melkite Greek-Catholic Eparch of Australia, New Zealand and All Oceania
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, 2023 and for the Feast of the Glorious Theophany, 2024.
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“The pre-eternal and unlimited and almighty Word is now born according to the flesh, without home, without shelter, without dwelling, and placed as a babe in the manger…”
(St Gregory Palamas, 1296-1357, Homily on the Holy Nativity)
There was a time when, amongst older Australians, one would occasionally hear an individual described as a “no-hoper”. That is certainly a rather pessimistic assessment of anybody, and one which is not consistent with our Christian understanding of personhood.
In Sacred Scripture, hope (ἐλπίς-elpis) is mentioned some 143 times. For the modern reader the difficulty with biblical hope (ἐλπίς) is that it allows for no other outcome than the one intended by Providence; there is no perhaps or maybe. It is God’s will (insha’allah) with no possible alternative. “It is impossible for God to be proved false…” (Heb 6:18)
Thus, St Paul can speak of our hope being sure and certain because Christian hope is in Jesus Christ. It is good for us to keep this in mind so that we are not overwhelmed by the apparent hopelessness that seems to cover the world with a “shroud of despair enveloping all peoples.” (Is 25:7-8)
Today, there are many who have succumbed to that very mood of hope-less-ness spoken of by Prophet Isaiah, however without hoping for its inevitable end. The situation in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East, Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh, much of Africa, and in Latin America does not encourage worldly hope. The Geneva Academy lists some one hundred and ten armed conflicts currently active across the globe.
At his coming into this world, the Emmanuel gifted us with an unfailing hope. St Luke, the collector of eyewitness accounts, describes a night of “mystical encounter.” At Beit Sahour, angels, the bodiless-powers, bring good news to shepherds who then hasten to the stable-cave at Bethlehem where they again appear. At this second appearance the angels sing the doxology, “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to all upon whom his favour rests.” (Lk 2: 13-14)
At the Nativity, the angels not only glorify their Lord, but also convey to the shepherds the divine intention for humankind - the peace, which only God can give and which no one can take away; peace between God and humankind, and peace amongst God’s people.
For whatever reason, many of us simply allow these angelic words to float past us! Perhaps we have been anaesthetised by the carols piped through the shopping centre. However, these words are just not the lyrics of an edifying hymn, the angels are singing words given to them by God. At the birth of Jesus, there was fulfilled that hope which had sustained the Covenantal People throughout the centuries of waiting.
This Christmas we, who are the People of Hope, should find some time to pray for the ultimate victory; the triumph of peace and reconciliation. Perhaps before we sit down to our Christmas lunch or dinner, we could pause for a few moments for silent prayer for peace.
And as you do so keep in mind that there is no person or nation, no ethnic or cultural community, that we should ever consider as a “no-hoper”.
May this Christmas and Theophany Season, the Days of Light and Glory, be for each of you a time of every Heavenly Blessing and Good Gift from Above.
With my paternal blessing and with prayers assured,
Christ is born! Glorify Him! Χριστός γεννάται! Δοξάσατε! المسـيحُ وُلِد، فَمَـجِّدُوه
✠ Robert Rabbat DD
From our Eparchy at Greenacre, New South Wales
24 December 2023