"Behold, I am about to do something new!
Now it already springs forth; do you not see it?
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We are commencing the Fast of St. Philip, embarking on a journey that culminates in the contemplation of an indescribable mystery – God's condescension to humanity. It is at the Nativity of Our Lord that God draws near to us, for "In the union of the divine and human, ‘the incorporeal one takes on flesh, the Word becomes approachable, the invisible one is seen, the impalpable one is touched, the one beyond time enters time, the Son of God becomes the Son of Man.’" (Christ Our Pascha, §179). In this divine event, God not only reveals His name but also makes Himself visible, inviting us to recognize Him.
For the second consecutive year, we, Ukrainians in the US, find ourselves preparing for Christmas amidst a full-scale war with the Russian aggressor. Our Ukrainian soil is soaked in the blood of heroes, and our cities and villages under occupation are shrouded under the black pall of the "Russian world." We continually pose questions to each other and to God: "How much longer will this endure? Why, O God, does this war persist?"
Let us consider the circumstances in which our Lord came to the world. Humanity, perpetually anxious and born in fear, anticipated the coming of the Messiah, each person harboring their own expectations of His identity. Who among them recognized Him as the "something new [that] springs forth," as prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah? (Is. 43:19) The initial witnesses to the choir of angels were humble shepherds, for "Many are the high and exalted, but God reveals his mysteries to the humble." (Sir. 3:19)
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matt. 5:8). Pure in heart shepherds became the symbol of those who were capable to see God. However, the path to purity of heart is arduous, demanding profound introspection. We often find ourselves dissatisfied with our circumstances. This war, while manifestly physical and visible, also has deep spiritual ramifications. We yearn for change, for someone to rise against injustice and corruption, yet we tend to overlook that the journey begins within ourselves, with our heart.
"Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Cor. 6:2) The day of salvation marks the inception of our inner journey. The Apostle Paul calls us to bear witness, to be people of hope who endure "in steadfast perseverance; in afflictions, hardships, and distress.” As we embark on the path to the Nativity, we strive to "open wide our hearts" (2 Cor. 6:13).
The time is opportune for us to begin. Our first task is the transformation of our hearts. When we delve into the lives of the saints, we often marvel at how they found spiritual equilibrium amidst sorrow, mastering themselves and receiving the strength of Christ, "who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and obtained promises. They closed the mouths of lions, quenched raging fires, and escaped the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned into strength…" (Heb. 11:33-34) Today, our front-line defenders demonstrate that heroes are not born but are instead forged through daily toil and self-sacrifice, proving their unwavering commitment to our homeland.
As we commence this journey to the Nativity, we invite you to fathom the depths of this mystery. A single child altered the course of human history with His birth. The tapestry of human history is interwoven with the thread of Jesus Christ. We are also capable and called to change our personal stories and big history. When we gather in the Name of Jesus Christ, each one of us can contribute with the gifts bestowed upon us by the Lord, thereby effecting change in the world around us.
The venerable Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, in his address to the faithful on Christmas Day 1942, amidst the tumult of the Second World War, exhorted us to struggle: "Those who, with Christ, have battled the passions that lead to sin within their own hearts, who have tasted the power of Christ in victories over themselves, do not merely believe in Christ's victory but know it from personal experience… the cause of our sorrow will pass, and the day of joy will dawn."
Dear brothers and sisters, during this Nativity fast, we urge you to engage in intentional spiritual exercises aimed at overcoming sin in your lives, leading you into the battle for the purity of your hearts. As Jesus teaches, "For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, perjury, slander." (Matt. 15:19)
Much work lies ahead, but it is the sole path to a genuine experience of the Nativity of Our Lord. We are called to comprehend the gift of patience, for in God's timing, everything unfolds according to His divine plan. While we may ardently desire swift change and accomplishment, true transformation occurs when we cooperate with God's grace, serving our neighbors with fervor "in afflictions, hardships, and distress." Thus, we become like those who are "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything." (2 Cor. 6:4-10)
At the liturgical prayers of the Feast of the Nativity, the Church proclaims, "For the Father’s express Image, the Imprint of His eternity, takes the form of a servant, and without undergoing change He comes forth from a Mother who knew not wedlock. For what He was, He has remained, true God: and what He was not, He has taken upon Himself, becoming man through love for mankind." (Stichera of the Great Vespers of the Nativity of Our Lord)
The radiant light of God will illuminate our countenances, and our virtuous deeds will shine as the star of Bethlehem, guiding us to the manger where the Savior of the world lies.
+ Borys Gudziak
Metropolitan Archbishop of Philadelphia
of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the USA
+ Paul Chomnycky
Bishop of the Eparchy of Stamford
+ Benedict Aleksiychuk (author)
Bishop of Saint Nicholas Eparchy of Chicago
+ Bohdan Danylo
Bishop of Saint Josaphat Eparchy of Parma