Nativity Epistle of His Eminence Hilarion, Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad
NEW YORK: Nativity of Christ 2020/2021
Your Graces, brother-archpastors, reverend fathers, beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord!
Greetings on the Nativity of Christ!
By God’s ineffable goodness, we enter once more into the joyous days of the great feasts of Christ’s Nativity and Theophany. I sincerely greet you all with this world-saving joy! The feat of faith and its fruit in life must be this joy: from the triumph of the Theophany — God’s manifestation and incarnation — and the sound of the Heavenly doxology and otherworldly peace being sung over Bethlehem. Everything that transpired in that simple cave in Bethlehem and in the holy River Jordan, both especially revered by the entire Christian world, bore the deep hallmarks of modesty and humility. In His Nativity, the Creator of the universe, Who holds all things in His right hand, becomes creation; the Almighty God becomes a helpless babe. The Most Blessed Virgin Theotokos humbly receives the prophecy of Symeon, which foretells for her the pain of a double-edged sword, which will pierce her motherly heart. The magi from the East humbly adore the Newborn King and bring Him gifts, having been led by a miraculous star. In His Theophany, Christ, receiving baptism of John, humbly bows His head under the hand of the Forerunner. Seeing “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), the Prophet, bewildered, at first refuses to baptize Him, but hearing the words of the Savior: “for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15), humbly agrees.
Humility is the state of reconciling ourselves to God’s will, when man joyously gives himself over to it, fully trusts it, and is grateful for all things: for life’s mercies and trials. Humility is not weakness of character, as one hears again from among secular folk, but rather demands deep faith, courage, and inner strength.
It was this great gift of God that was possessed by the Venerable Nun-Martyrs of Alapaevsk, murdered by the Bolsheviks: Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna and Nun Barbara (Yakovleva), whose relics were triumphally greeted by His Beatitude Damian, Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine, when they were brought to Russian Gethsemane in January 1921. The centennial of this event, as well as of the I All-Diaspora Council, will be prayerfully commemorated in the new year, along with the 40th anniversary of the glorification of the Synaxis of New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church.
Russian Gethsemane — the Convent of the Equal-of-the-Apostles Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem, with its majestic Royal church containing the reliquaries of the New Nun-Martyrs – is an especially precious inheritance of the Russian Church Abroad, which throughout these decades has been protected with great care by her mission in Jerusalem. Thanks to the active involvement of Archbishop Anastassy (Gribanovsky), future First Hierarch of the Russian Church Aboard, who 100 years ago was appointed administrator of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, the latter was able to receive recognition of its rights by the then-English government in Palestine, and not only preserve a significant portion of the Russian churches and holy sites in the Holy Land, but also to fraternally support the Local Church of Jerusalem. For instance,
in 1921, working alongside the Most Blessed Patriarch Damian to overcome strife within the Jerusalem Patriarchate, Archbishop Anastassy took part in the hierarchal consecration of His Grace, Bishop Timotheus, who would later become Primate of the “Mother of Churches.” With the blessing and care of Archbishop Anastassy, new convents were established, including at Gethsemane; a new school was founded in Bethany, and land was acquired on the River Jordan. Having become First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, the Most Blessed Metropolitan Anastassy continued to care for the needs and necessities of the monastics in the Holy Land, until his repose in 1965.
In these holy days of Christmastide, the brethren of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem and the sisters of her convents make haste to Bethlehem and to the sacred banks of the River Jordan, in order to prayerfully honor these holy sites. Uniting in spirit to their veneration, and greeting them with these upcoming festal days, I ask their holy prayers for our Church: for our archpastors, clergy, monastics, parishes, and families! In their minds pressing their lips to the humble manger in Bethlehem, that “container of the Uncontainable,” the Venerable Nun-Martyrs of Alapaevsk accepted grievous sufferings and a martyric death in obedience to God’s will. The above-mentioned Metropolitan Anastassy, as the Holy Hierarch John (Maximovitch) attests, selflessly “shared with the Russian exiles their sorrows and misfortunes,” diluting their burden with the spirit of his humility, meekness, and love. All of this, of course, must also inspire us to humbly bear our current sorrows and temptations. Therefore, piously kissing the Divine Infant depicted on the icon of the Nativity and humbly bowing before His providential right hand, let us with patience await deliverance from the trials that beset us in the past year. And let the new year 2021 be a time of bountifully flowing mercy, strength, and help from God, which I wish for every one of you!
Asking your holy prayers, I remain yours with love in the Newborn Christ,
+Hilarion, Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad