A Pastoral Letter for the Feast of the Blessed Nativity of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 2018

Arabic Version as PDF here

The Most Reverend
Robert Rabbat
by the Mercy of God
Melkite Greek-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, 2018

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

 "Grace to you and Peace from God our Father, and the Lord, Jesus Christ" (2Cor 1:2)

In our prayerful conversation with God, and in our conversation about Him, we become conscious of two dimensions which are seemingly contradictory, apparently at odds with each other - that the God who is absolutely beyond, unlike anything we can imagine, is also closer to us than the air we breathe with every breath.

This is not a paradox peculiar to our religious experience. In the word spoken to the Prophet Isaiah, God says of Himself, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways." (Is 55:8-9) and of God, King Solomon says, "… even the highest heavens cannot contain him." (2Chron 2:6)

Both the complete apartness of God together with His all-embracing nearness, occupied not only certain Greek philosophers, especially in the fifth century before Christ, but was present as a momentary insight even in some ancient polytheism.

At the time of the Exodus, Moses is warned, "You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live." (Ex 33:20) And so, Moses is permitted to glimpse only the Glory as God passes by. The entire Exodus experience is one of transcendent power. "You brought your people Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror." (Jer 32:21)

Yet to the Prophet Elias it was given to know the voice of God in the gentle breeze (1Kgs 19:12) and the God of Exodus can say, "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you." (Is 66:13)

For many this presents a conflict of images and ideas; an irreconcilable divergence best left alone. Others will resolve the matter by creating a God who fits their own preferences. The sectarians will produce a new and distorted translation of Sacred Scripture whilst there have been examples of Catholic schools offering prayers to "our Father-Mother God" - anything but the truth. "Poor human reason, when it trusts in itself, substitutes the strangest absurdities for the highest divine concepts." (St John Chrysostom)

For us, the answer to the quandary - transcendence and immanence, otherness and nearness - is to be found not in theological distortion or trendy liturgics, but authentically in a person. It is in the Divine Nativity, the coming into this world of the Incarnate Word, that our human uncertainties about God are put to rest. As we enter a Byzantine church, the icon of the Ruler of All, the Pantocrator, high in the dome above us, and the icon of the little Child, clinging to his Mother, both reveal the one and the same person.

Of the Eternal Word, who is the Wisdom and the Power of God, St John the Theologian, in the Prologue to his Gospel writes, "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us" - ἐσκήνωσεν, literally pitched his tent; His was no fly-by- night visit, He came to stay, to be one of us. (Jn1:14) The Emmanuel, the God-Who-Is-With-Us, became "like us in all things except sin." (Heb 4:15) The essential message of Christmas is that we are not alone.

For those of us who hold fast to the Faith once delivered to the Saints, the cave at Bethlehem is indeed the place where heaven and earth are joined, the place where time and eternity meet. The light which surrounded the shepherds at Beit Sahour illuminates the whole universe, and the star which led the Magi, summons all humankind throughout the ages.

My Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It has been said that the world in which we live is not markedly different from that of the first century. "And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars… For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places." (Mt 24:6-7) However, the most evident difference is surely the power of the mass media and the instantaneous transmission of information and, unfortunately, misinformation, or even worse, Marxist style "dis-information".

A day does not pass without our being subjected to some new absurdity. Not only are Christian values regularly disputed or dismissed as irrelevant, but the irrational, unsupported or unfounded alternatives are presented as absolute truths to be received with uncritical enthusiasm. There is an unconcealed campaign to silence any dissent by whatever means available and most often with scant regard for the truth. We are living at a time when minority concerns, regardless of validity or legitimacy, are not only proposed but imposed upon the majority.

As we celebrate Christmas, and we have in sight the closing of another year, we would do well to consider in what sort of society we wish to live; and, importantly for those who have children and grandchildren, what is the society that we desire for them.

The question always is where to begin. The first and most productive measures we take must be in our own homes and amongst our own families. It is good to remember that the Universal Church is fundamentally the sum of countless domestic churches, myriads of families, communities and nations, that belong to what St Paul calls the Household of the Faith. (Gal 6:10)

In 1986, Pope St John Paul II said, "... As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." It is also true that as the family goes so goes the Church. Gone are the days when parents could leave the religious formation of their children exclusively to the local Catholic parish or school. If we want our Catholic or Orthodox children to know Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, then that knowledge must begin at home and be nurtured at home.

The local church, in whichever Melkite parish you live, is not an isolated structure, to which we travel each Sunday, having set out from our homes. The family home is the narthex, the vestibule of the church.

At the Divine Nativity, the Theotokos, our Blessed Lady, cradled in her arms the Eternal Word, He whom even the heavens cannot contain. She looked with unimaginable love upon the One through whom all things were made. This is a Truth beyond our comprehension.

At the Divine Liturgy for this most happy Feast, as we approach the Holy Eucharist, let us ask the Theotokos to direct our gaze towards her Son, present upon the altar - as surely and truly present to us as He was to her when, in the Cave at Bethlehem, she held Him close to her heart.

May this Joyful Season be for each household, each family and every person, a time of that peace which is the most precious gift of the One born for us in Bethlehem.

With prayers assured and with my paternal blessing,

Robert Rabbat, DD

From our Eparchy in Greenacre, NSW,
for the Feast of the Divine Nativity, 2018