2011 Archpastoral Letter from Metropolitan Jonah on the Feast of Christ’s Nativity

To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of The Orthodox Church in America

Nativity Icon

Dearly beloved in the Lord,

Christ is Born!

I greet you with the love, joy and hope that is so graciously granted to us with the Incarnation of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Today, we celebrate the “Winter Pascha,” proclaiming that God is indeed with us! Today, the only-begotten Son of God takes on our human nature, enabling us to become partakers of His divine nature. Today, the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled as, in the “fullness of time,” the long-awaited Messiah ushers in that peace which is beyond all understanding!

And today, we celebrate that for which we have prepared during the Nativity Fast. Our fasting, intensified prayer, and almsgiving find their meaning and fulfillment in the Mystery of the Incarnation: All that we have is a gift from God, given to us as faithful stewards, that we might proclaim God’s very presence in our midst. Our calling is to “incarnate” the Incarnate Word into our lives, our actions, our very being, at all times, and in everything we do. This, to be sure, is not easy. The world will challenge those who embrace “The Way” at every turn. Yet, it is the world that, in its self-proclaimed emptiness, precisely reveals its thirst for “something more,” a “sign” or “reality” that gives meaning to life beyond the superficial trappings of the “holiday season.”

In rendering thanks to God for His manifest love for His People, and in strengthening ourselves to proclaim the Incarnation in our lives, it is crucial for every member of the Church to discern his or her gifts and to employ them for the building up of the Body of Christ. How? One of the Nativity hymns gives us a clue.

What shall we offer Thee, O Christ, Who for our sake has appeared on earth as man?
Every creature which Thou hast made offers thanks.
The angels offer Thee a song. The heavens, their star. The wise men, their gifts. The shepherds, their wonder.
The earth, its cave. The wilderness, the manger.
And we offer Thee a Virgin Mother!

It is the Mother of God, the Theotokos, who is the very model of stewardship, of discernment, of embracing all that the heavenly Father called her to do. Where the first Eve said “no” to God, she responded positively. And in so doing, she embraced all that her Son accomplished by His birth in time and space, becoming an example for us.

As we continue our celebration, let not our faith be “shelved” with our ornaments and seasonal decorations. Let not the flame of our commitment wax cold. Let not our devotion to serving the Incarnate Word, even as His Mother served Him. May the grace and peace from above, so abundantly given by our all-merciful Savior, remain with us throughout this most glorious feast, and be strengthened within us in the days, weeks and months beyond!

Let us glorify Him!
Faithfully yours in Christ,

SIGNATURE
+JONAH
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

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Sourcehttp://oca.org/holy-synod/statements/metropolitan-jonah/nativity-of-christ-2011

2011 Pastoral Letter from Metropolitan Jonah on the Great Feast of the Dormition

The Great Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God

August 15, 2011

“He made thy body into a throne, and thy womb he made more spacious than the heavens.”

—Hymn to the Theotokos at St. Basil’s Liturgy

Dearly beloved in the Lord:

All of Creation rejoices in the Mother of God. This woman, full of the grace of God, shows us through her silence and humility what great glory is laid up for those who do not shut the door of their hearts to this grace. In the preceding feast, we stood with the disciples, falling to the ground with them as we beheld the flesh of Christ radiant with this glory on Mount Tabor. Today, in her accustomed modesty, the Mother of God veils the glory she shares with Christ, concealing it by the death which she also shares with Him. Yet through faith in the Church’s witness, we know that as she partook of Christ’s death, so also she partook of His resurrection, for death could have no power over her who bore our Life; and that body, from which God himself borrowed human flesh, could not see corruption in the grave.

All of us baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians are stewards of God’s grace (cf. 1 Peter 4:10), and in the Mother of God we possess a flawless icon of this stewardship. Though the height of her unmitigated dedication to God is unique, still we must make a daily, unrelenting effort to offer more of ourselves than we did the day before. We must give of ourselves, our lives, our goods, our money, and – as we see so beautifully in this feast – our bodies. The Holy Virgin shows us how deserving of care and respect is the human body. She perfectly fulfills the Apostle’s words: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

Our culture places very high demands on our bodies. On the one hand, the pursuit of physical health can become an end in itself, independent of the goal of glorifying God in our body; and the drive to retain the allure of youth long into adulthood fills many with an ascetic zeal that would be far more worthwhile if poured out in desire for God. On the other hand, so often our culture cheapens the body by treating it as a mere vehicle for pleasure to be altered or disposed of at will when it no longer gratifies the passions. And, ironically, such exploitation goes hand-in-hand with the fashionable courting of non-Christian forms of mysticism which dismiss the body as irrelevant or illusory.

This attitude is a grave symptom of the deep self-loathing that grips much of Western society. But a healthy respect for our bodies, born of the knowledge that “we are not our own,” can help us become more aware of our true human dignity and worth, a dignity wholly dependent upon God, for it is God’s free and irrevocable gift in the bestowal of His divine image upon our nature. Christ alone is the key to this dignity; therefore it is our task, as the members of his Body, to cultivate awareness of this in our own lives and share it with those around us in our ailing society.

We do this by manifesting our bodies – both in life and in death – as precious vessels of the priceless grace of God. In life: by our honest and godly labor; by chastity, either in holy celibacy or godly marriage; by modest appearance free from distracting dress or bodily disfigurement; by avoiding activities or substances harmful to our health; by fasting and vigil; by decorous speech; and by custody of the senses. And also in death: by giving proper love and attention to the bodies of the newly-departed, preparing them for honorable burial in a way that clearly reveals the intimacy of the Church community that bridges the gap between life and death. Such was the care the Apostles showed for the Mother of their Savior.

Ultimately, the dignity of the human body is fully realized in the Resurrection of Christ – in the very flesh He shares with us. He has already translated His Mother to the glory of this Resurrection, but our bodies too will be imbued with this glory after His second and glorious Coming. Today, as we celebrate this joyful summer Pascha of the Mother of God, let us anticipate our own coming resurrection – with fear, with faith, and with love, knowing that we are stewards of a great mystery.

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your rational worship (Romans 12:1).

The Mother of God is praying for us that we may come to entrust our whole lives to the loving care of her Son.

With love in Christ,

+JONAH

 Archbishop of WashingtonMetropolitan of All America and Canada