A Pastoral Letter for the Feast of the Divine Nativity, 2015.

Arabic Version HereChristmas_Pastoral_Letter_2015_Arabic.pdf

The Most Reverend
Robert Rabbat
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 Divine Nativity, 2015.

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

“The people that sat in the darkness of ignorance, let them see the great light of full knowledge. Old things have passed away: behold all things have become new.”

                                                                            -St Gregory Nazianzus (Homily on the Nativity)

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“Grace and mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (2 Tim 1:2)

The Austrian born philosopher and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, (1905-1997) is perhaps most widely remembered for his 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, written in the aftermath of World War II. In 1942, Frankl and his wife were deported to a ghetto by the Nazis, and, that same year, transferred to the death camp at Auschwitz (Poland). The system of death camps and gulags so favoured by the satanic regimes of Hitler and Stalin were surely amongst the most meaningless places in human history. Yet, it is precisely in these meaningless circumstances, apparently devoid of hope, that Frankl says there is to be found meaning and there is hope. Keep in mind that the generally accepted figure of dead in World War II is 70,000,000. Yes, seventy million.

Today, whilst spared a third world war, humankind is still on a search for a meaning for her existence, seemingly as elusive as at any time in the past. Yet, it is an essential search, a journey, which is somehow a fundamental part of what it is to be human. All philosophies, of whatever era, and all religions, of whatever sort, are attempts to find meaning in what so often seems a world without meaning.

For the Christian, however, the search for meaning begins and ends in Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word spoken by the Father. The Greek term Λόγος, Logos or Word, contains the ideas of intelligent order, reason, and the foundational reality. The Logos, the Word, is the creative principle through whom all things were made. In the fullness of time the Logos, God-the-Son, was “born of a woman, born under the Law.” (Gal 4:4) It is that birth which was the fulfilment of the search for meaning by the Old Testament People of God. Indeed, it was the first truly unqualified, universal moment of meaning in human history. The light which shone forth from the Cave at Bethlehem penetrates the entire cosmos.

The Divine Incarnation is the event by which we are able to make sense of the created reality. As St Athanasius of Alexandria says, “The Self-revealing of the Word is in every dimension - above, in creation; below, in the Incarnation; in the depth, in Hades; in the breadth, throughout the world. All things have been filled with the knowledge of God.”  (On the Incarnation) As one contemporary historian-theologian describes the incarnational mystery - in Jesus Christ, God was embedded in history.

The mysterious Magi in Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 2:1-2:12) are in reality seeking “for meaning”. Their star-guided journey takes them from the darkness of paganism to “the house, there they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” – a journey, an encounter with the One who alone gives meaning, then adoration and thanksgiving.  

Today, in many ways the search for a meaning for our existence is more pressing than ever before. We are in a constant state of insecurity made all that more pervasive by the political and religious disturbances which have destabilised much of the Middle East, and much of both Asia and Africa. In many places the stability of the old order has collapsed under fundamentalist extremism which of its nature destroys but cannot build up.

In his 1927 poem, “The Journey of the Magi”, T.S. Elliot has one of the Wise Men say,    

                     “A cold coming we had of it,
                      Just the worst time of the year
                      For a journey, and such a journey:
                      The ways deep and the weather sharp,
                      The very dead of winter.”

Like the Magi, humankind is called to witness the dawn of salvation first revealed to a handful of privileged individuals at Bethlehem some two thousand years ago. Like the Magi, we are called to make that journey at a time when the world feels trapped in “the very dead of winter.”

This Christmas we must greet the new-born Christ-Child, the Emmanuel, with unshakable faith and unfailing hope. The journey in search of meaning is, for various reasons, perhaps more difficult today than at many other times. However, it must be undertaken with steadfast confidence because we know that the darkness, even at its most powerful, cannot overcome the Light.

May this Christmas, the Feast of the Divine Nativity, be a time of great joy for each of you, for every family and for every household. Let it be also an occasion of prayerful thanksgiving for the countless blessings we enjoy in Australia and New Zealand; and let there be many fervent prayers for our brothers and sisters in the Faith, and for all people of good will, for whom there is presently but an uncertain future.

In the words of our Father amongst the Saints, John Chrysostom -“To Him, then, Who in the midst of confusion has revealed (to us) a clear path - to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.”

With my paternal blessing and with prayers assured,

+ Robert Rabbat, DD

From our Eparchy, at Greenacre, NSW
24 December 2015.