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Christmas Message 1997
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By the grace of God Archbishop of
To all the Clergy and devout faithful of our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese
Dear brother Concelebrants and beloved
children in Christ who is born,
"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son,
born of a woman, born under the law,
in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children" (Gal. 4:4-5).
Throughout the Holy Scriptures, in all the books of both the Old and New Testament, another passage which expresses the most inaccessible truths of faith and salvation, with so few and simple words, will surely not be found. What is even more amazing is that these truths are presented by the Apostle Paul with the most crystalline theological coherence, such that they are an endless consolation and edification for all of us.
Time, and especially the meaning of time, sin and repentance (in their mysterious dialectical relationship), the Incarnation of God (as the ultimate glory of kenosis or self-emptying), and its final product -which ensures for the faithful the "adoption" by grace precisely because of the synergy of divine and human factors are all presented in summary form epigrammatically in just three lines. Yet, these three lines must remain separated in the way that they appear above, so that the truths which are so comprehensively contained in them may be accessed more easily and seen more powerfully.
Having separated the three parts, we can clearly discern that the first speaks about the time, the second about the manner, and the third about the purpose of the divine Incarnation. It is of great significance that the truth of the Church concerning these three major points is formulated correctly, otherwise fatal heresies could arise which would make the central mystery of salvation totally unapproachable.
The first line naturally contains the pivotal point of the divine Incarnation itself. However, it does not mention it vaguely and generally, as if it were a timeless, almost mythical, event. Here, what is decisive is when and how. This is why the Incarnation is placed in its salvific context of salvation, which is time and indeed the "fullness of time". If the divine Incarnation occurs for the salvation of people who struggle within time, then it is only natural that the demonic character of mathematical time cannot be conquered without the moral fullness of time, which the Bible describes as "kairos". In other words, time cannot be acknowledged or even experienced as the opportunity given by God to return, unless we are led through the despair of apostasy to the cognition which ultimately confesses that "behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2).
Therefore, the "fullness of time" comes to show us that the entire course of human history before Christ, while full of contradictory elements and tragic retrogressions, did not end in general bankruptcy and total futility, since "God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4).
Thus the meaningless adventures of world history end up with the meaningful history of God, and this is precisely why we speak of "the mystery of the Lord's divine economy according to the flesh".
The second point which speaks of the manner of God's incarnation is no less consoling and encouraging. God tells us that, out of extreme love for humankind, he condescended to "empty Himself' within daily human conditions in order to experience all the pain and affliction of this life, while teaching us to resist whatever would try to separate us from God, which is sin. He who gave the Law in order to instruct us, places His own self "under the Law" out of love for His creation. For our sake, He was willing to undergo utter humility and obedience to the will of the Father in order to lead us through the obstacles of this world to the freedom of being children of God.
When we say "children of God", we already touch upon the theme of the third point, which is "adoption" by Grace. When the incarnate Word of God becomes "obedient unto death", when "the maker of the Law", obeys the Law, when the only sinless One suffers and is crucified "for our sins", then assuredly we have the miracle, beyond all human understanding and expectation, of our transformation from "children of wrath" to children of adoption.
Since the incarnate sinless Lord Himself was "tempted" and "suffered" in the world, not in an imaginary way (by appearance only), but in truth, it follows that His own Passion has a transformative power for our "liberation". This is the essence of the teaching of the Apostle Paul when he states: "for in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted" (Heb. 2:18).
Following all of the above, we can say in conclusion that "the fullness of time" ultimately showed the fullness of the love of God, so that the fullness of the human image in divine likeness could also be revealed.
Therefore, just as they speak of Christ as the "second Adam", the Fathers also speak of the Incarnation as the "second creation".
In response to this 'repetition" of creation on the part of God, we can only pray and repent "again and again", just as we say in the Divine Liturgy.
May God, who has granted everything for our salvation, never exclude us from the peace and goodwill of the divine Incarnation. Amen.
With fervent prayers for all of you.
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia