In his pastoral Christmas letter, Romanian Orthodox bishop Ioan of Harghita and Covasna had some moving words about children.
Nativity Encyclical from His Beatitude Ioan Selejan
By the grace of God,
Archbishop of Covasna and Harghita counties, Romania
To our beloved clergy and consecrated persons
To the lay faithful
Grace, mercy and peace from God The Father
and from us fatherly blessings.
„…behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.“ (Luke 2, 10-11)
Dear brothers and sisters in God,
Our journey to the Bethlehem Cave has ended. Here we’ve found the Gift from Heaven, Christ the Lord.
We’ve only been on the road for a few weeks, combining prayer and work with our beautiful Romanian Christmas carols, but the journey of our forefathers was much longer.
After the fall from Paradise, man was expelled from the state of freedom and the Earth became a city under siege: it’s besieged by sin.
It took millenia for our forefathers to be made worthy of the Bethlehem joy.
But who made short for us the way to Bethlehem and how?!
It was Christ!
He toiled for us on His journey to Golgotha.
Christ The Lord journeyed in His earthly life between Bethlehem and Golgotha, between the state of gift and that of giving.
These are the two landmarks of Christian life. Only on this road – between Bethlehem and Golgotha and back – can we find Christ today.
In Bethlehem we can see Christ surrounded by angels, shepherds and Magi, while on Golgotha we can see Him surrounded by those who bear swords and nails.
Christ’s birth was not ignored. It is the day when we’ve come out of ignorance.
Man had covered himself with ignorance so as not to know anymore The One Who today has made Himself known to the whole world.
The joy of Bethlehem turns into the joy of sacrifice on Golgotha, for where Christ is there can only be joy in the Holy Spirit.
Beloved traveler who today rejoice with the angels, will you also share the same joy with Christ on Golgotha?
Here, on Earth, the world we live in revolves around an existential axis marked by Bethlehem, the city of David, and by Jerusalem’s Golgotha.
Whoever doesn’t move around this axis will get lost into sidereal space, missing the light given by Christ, the Sun of Righteousness.
Saint John Chrysostom named this godly Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ „mother of all Christian feasts”.
Starting from today, it becomes manifest that man does not feel forsaken by his Creator anymore, since man holds God on his arms. Man has reached the much-desired haven, after having travelled the whole life with the hope to meet some day The One Who will deliver him from the slavery of sin.
Through Virgin Mary, man gives the Son of God a sacred hug.
Today, the Mother Of God holds in Her saintly arms and shows to the world the Godly Wafer to be broken for us in order to bring forgiveness for our sins.
May Good God make you worthy, dear Christian sisters, of carrying in your arms the living wafers of our Church and nation, which are the children. They will be the ones to celebrate over years and centuries the liturgy of the Romanian nation.
Holding in Her arms the Son of God, The One Who became man by being born of Her, Virgin Mary reveals to us a great mystery: that of the Virgin Who gives birth while never consummating wedlock.
Now the Old Testament prophecies and the good tidings brought by the Archangel Gabriel come true.
An Archangel announces the mystery to the Virgin and all the angels express it in their chanting: „Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men“ (Luke – 2, 14).
By taking flesh from Virgin Mary, Christ The Lord shows us the earth as the paradise where He was born so that we may regain the lost Heaven.
Christ blesses this lump of dust we live on and turns it into a garden for the flowers of Eden.
A born infant is a flower raised by Christ for Heaven.
People are the flowers of Heaven. From here, on Earth, God transplants flowers to His Heaven, to rejoice in them together with the angels and the saints.
Man, you’ve been created out of love and dust to the joy of the Holy Trinity and Heaven.
Your fragrance is the delight of angels.
Oh, if we were aware that on this wonderful blue planet God tends to His flowers to replant them in the Paradise of His joy, we’d take our steps more shyly and each step of ours would be more considerate, we would not go astray anymore.
Man, you are living among heavenly flowers.
Don’t crush them!
Don’t cut them, beloved mother!
These are not flowers to be sent to the cemetery, but to Heaven. They have not been planted by God to wilt, but to bring joy and delight to the angels.
Man, through God’s work and his own perseverance, becomes a heavenly flower.
Don’t rip off the Heavenly flowers, good people, don’t rip God’s flowers off!
Live like the flowers, good people, by not hating each other. Instead, partake into the holy joy Christ has brought to us through His Holy Nativity.
Don’t breed hatred, for you’ll reap the fruits of hatred.
God sows the seeds of love and always reaps hatred and contempt from people. This is the paradox of human existence.
Beloved Christian brother, why not become yourself a heavenly flower? You will then not be speaking about God, but with God!
Beloved spiritual children,
A mother is that lump of blessed dust which sprouts the buds of Heaven. She is the first to speak to us about God, but only after she has spoken to God in front of an icon and a mystical votive light, asking Him to give her belly the blessed fruit that afterward she can offer to Heaven.
Is there another ideal in this life for a Christian mother than to get the fruit of her love to Heaven?
The mother is the icon by her child’s cradle.
Oh, mother, holy animated dust, blessed be your belly that bears flowers for the Heaven, the flowers of Paradise!
Oh, such a great gift has been bestowed on the mother, for her to bring joy to the Heaven!
Children are living wafers brought by their parents.
How much our soul rejoices in the flowers of the field! And after a while they wilt and perish.
How much more God rejoices when He sees there has risen a new flower for His Heaven, a flower now carefully held in her arms by a blessed mother!
Saint Paul has reached the third heaven: „I knew a man in Christ (…) such an one caught up to the third heaven (…) and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter“(II Cor.12, 2- 4).
How much he must have seen up there! An yet he returned speechless. He never told us a word, he could not speak anything about Heaven.
But God has left us here, on Earth, one place which is the icon of Heaven – mother’s arms.
As long as you are in her arms, beloved Christian, in her prayers, you are in a small corner of heaven.
Oh, sweet heaven! Oh, sweet mother! I have long left your arms and today I’m travelling towards my Golgotha!
Beloved youth, when you kiss your mother’s hand, you should know you give a sweet kiss to heaven itself. And when the mother kisses her child on the forehead, she is putting a blessing on his mind.
Just as in autumn the grass takes its leave from the sun, so the soul takes its leave from the body before the two will be again reunited in the sweet spring of the Kingdom of God.
When the bell tolls for a mother to leave this world, her children kiss her hand and thus they part with their earthly heaven.
Beloved Christian brothers,
With our Lord’s Incarnation and Nativity, a new infinite begins and „tomorrow“ becomes unknown land.
But to the one who walks in the light of Christ is revealed the divine reasoning by which he can guide himself so as to never lose his way.
After Christ’s Nativity in the Bethlehem cave, the earth will never be terra deserta again, as we see so many examples in our neighboring galaxies.
From today on, the Earth will be laved by the Jordan of grace, while through the River Jordan, which saw The Lord being baptized, is flowing now more history than water.
The Earth becomes now a planet of grace, and a new way of thinking opens for today’s man: one in which Christ’s Gospel shows the path to the gates of Heaven.
Glory to God for our ancestors’ tongue, which comprises this way of thinking.
The Romanian language is a Romanian shrine in which one can only enter with respect and by chanting psalms.
Our Romanian language has many times dressed our wounds, for language can indeed heal a nation.
In this holy night of our Lord’s Nativity, heaven kissed the earth.
Christ comes to restore man and the Garden He has put him into.
The philosophers looked for God throughout the universe and did not find Him, but He was found by the shepherds in the Bethlehem Cave.
We find Him today in the Holy Chalice, on the holy altars of our churches.
God did not release stars from Ursa Major constellation to lead the Magi to Bethlehem. Instead, He lit a new star to announce the dawn of eternity.
Behold, stars are capable of love, too. The star loved the Magi and led them to the Orient of eternity.
The star knocked on Heaven’s door to open for Adam.
Beloved brother, you too have a star in your life – one the size of the tear wept by Christ for you.
Good Lord, release another star today for us, Romanians, so that we do not float astray among galaxies!
The star of the Magi was the Morning Star that led them to Christ, the Sun Who was to consecrate the never-ending daylight of eternity.
Today is the dawn of the eternal daylight. Today Christ the Sun has risen and He will slowly climb on Golgotha, from where He will shed light upon the whole world.
Oh, how high is the Golgotha altar! Here time has been baptized into Christ’s Blood.
God did not create darkness. This was the result of man’s sin. And behold now the man, from vessel of grace turns into vessel of sin and darkness.
When Christ came, the earth was shining in a black lustre.
Today Christ The Sun has risen and Helios becomes a mere shadow of Christ’s light.
Man does not feed on stardust anymore, but on the Heavenly Bread, Who has descended to us today.
From now on, Christ becomes our bread and light, the Rising Sun Which never sets.
Time could not extinguish God’s love for the peak of His creation – man.
Today, the dawn of eternity knocks at the gates of time.
The Bethlehem Cave belongs to the sacred geography of Christ’s native place. He teaches us to live nobody else’s life but His.
To live through Christ so you never die into Him.
A sole light, a sole life into Christ. All the other lives that present themselves to us are pseudo-lives.
Life into Christ is to be lived between the two poles of the sacred geography: Bethlehem and Golgotha.
There is more and more talk about freedom of conscience, but very few mention responsibility.
Europe is the only demographically challenged continent. Who guarantees its future?
Will Christ be banned from Europe as He was once banned from Gadara?
We don’t want priests to become sociologists, we want them to be people who deliver the grace of God to the world.
Man is born with the fear of collapsing into the empty space. We learn all kinds of fear in this life, but let us not be afraid to think in the spirit of Christ’s Gospel.
Do not lend your ear to those who urge us to think outside this spirit, for this is not God’s will.
Christ has come to be born in the dark cave. And tere I was, fallen in the depth of sin.
At Resurrection, Christ descends to Hades to raise the fallen ones, while now, at Nativity, He descends in the depths of the cave to give birth to me for eternal life.
Christ was born into eternity from God The Father and He in turn gave birth to me on the wings of time in the Bethlehem Cave.
As Christians, we are born from Christ through grace in the Bethlehem cave.
On my baptismal certificate it is written I was born in Bethlehem.
Brothers, let’s return now to this Godly Feast, the completion of the beginning of our Christian life.
Lord Jesus Christ, we put clothes on You, while You made us put You on ourselves.
We received You in a cave, while You received us in the Heavenly Jerusalem from above.
Just as marble is the silent witness of history, so the Bethlehem Cave is witness that there Christ was met by shepherds and glorified by angels. It was Him the Magi worshipped, offering their precious gifts from afar, which were nevertheless transient, while He bestowed upon them the grace of eternity.
Christ put on the Magis’ lips a drop of eternity.
All of us who have been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity carry on our foreheads the sign of everlasting life, because the baptism is an action that belongs to eternity.
Christ’ Birth is the beginning of our afterlife.
God has created man to live forever.
You have to burn like a light in a waxen cradle.
Time passes and eternity comes.
Our way under the sun is short and the road to the gates of Heaven is a wafer away.
If you pack a wafer for the journey when you leave the world, it will be enough till you get to Heaven’s doors.
Such a great mystery happens in this paradise we simply call Earth!
Here God feeds His sons with wafers and in Paradise He will feed them on the light of godly grace.
Here wafer, there light! Holy and blessed pair – this is the food of eternity!
Romanians were growing wheat and vine, which made them always think of the wafer and the chalice.
Christ has come to save man, who wanted to escape on the axis of infinity.
In 2014 we commemorate 300 years since, on the day of August 15, 1714, the worthy Prince of Wallachia, Constantin Brancoveanu, together with his four sons and his counselor Ianache, were made martyrs in Constantinople.
Wallachia numbered over 600.000 Christian Romanians at the time.
Then, in Constantinople, death broke a Romanian rock.
We have many examples of martyrs in the history of our nation.
A martyr is a witness of life, while his executioner is the witness of death.
Romania is an antimension full of holy relics and on it we make divine service to God.
God, please take our nation where yearning does not hurt anymore!
Beloved spiritual children,
With fatherly love I urge you to obey and fulfill Christ’s Gospel and the teaching of our Holy Truthfully-Praising Church, because God “the work of a man shall … render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways”(Job 34, 11).
I commit you to our Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrificial love and I put you in the arms of His Mother.
May you have a feast full of spiritual joy!
Let’s remember to pray for each other and for our holy Romanian land, whose flowers planted by God I beseech you not to tear away anymore.
Rejoice you all, who have partaken today on the Chalice of eternity!
wishing you all the best,
† Ioan of the Mountains
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