Nativity Epistle of His Eminence +HILARION Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
Most Reverend Brother-Archpastors, most-honored Fathers, dear Brothers and Sisters!
With a feeling of humble gratitude and love toward the Lord I greet you all with the “beginning of all feasts,” as the Golden-tongued1St John Chrysostomcalls the Nativity of Christ, which we now celebrate! Let not the grace of God, which shines for us from the lowly cave in Bethlehem and appears on the banks of the Jordan, cease to pour forth upon us, warming our spirits that carry the woeful inheritance of Adam through heavenly comfort and peace, blessing our personal, family, parish-church and monastery lives, our routine labor and every charitable, societal, and especially ecclesial activity!
May this New Year become a time of God’s good pleasure, and of His all-powerful aid, and may He renew and fortify our strength for the worthy offering of thanks to Him and prayerful commemoration of our predecessors in the Jubilee year of the centenary of the Russian Church Abroad!
How did the Russian Church Abroad come to be? In November, 1920, a defeated but unyielding Russian Orthodox people abandoned the borders of their beloved land, and into exile went hundreds of thousands of officers, soldiers, cossacks, peasants, landowners, and laborers. With them went the pastors who cared for them. These archpastors and clergy did not depart in a disorganized fashion for whilethey were still in the territory of the Fatherland, with the blessing of the Holy Hierarch Tikhon, the Patriarch-Confessor of All Russia, they created the Supreme Church Authority in the south of Russia.
How were the leaders of the Russian Church supposed to act, finding themselves abroad? Guided by love toward the persecuted Mother Church and the 39th Canon of the VI Ecumenical Council which spoke of an analogous case, when part of the population of Cyprus abandoned its homeland, “in order to free themselves from heathen slavery”, and thus the Russian hierarchs re-formed the Supreme Church Authority abroad. Besides this, chasing the fleeing masses of emigrants the famous and clearly divinely inspired Ukaz No. 3622https://www.synod.com/synod/engdocuments/enuk_ukaz362.html of 7/20 November, 1920 is sent by the Holy Hierarch Tikhon and the Holy Synod with him. The bishops outside of Russia took the first steps of their unique service in the Royal City3Constantinopleacting on the blessing of the Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne of Constantinople, Metropolitan Dorotheos, who wrote at that time with respect to Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev and Galicia: “Under your guidance the Patriarchate allows every beginning, for the Patriarchate knows that Your Eminence will not commit any uncanonical act.” Later this Supreme Church Authority abroad, renamed as the Russian Church Abroad, was transferred to Serbia, where it found itself under the truly fraternal protection of the Serbian Orthodox Church, with whom we now share common fathers and teachers.
In 1924, when Patriarch Gregory of Constantinople supported the renovationists and demanded that the Holy Hierarch and Confessor Tikhon ” immediately remove yourself from the administration of the Church,” many understood the fervent desire of the exiled hierarchs of the Russian Church not to be dissolved into the existing Local Churches, but in all things to preserve the living and organic bond with the persecuted Church in Russia. Since that time, the Russian Church Abroad, with loving and dedicated eye, kept watch over the Church’s life in the Fatherland, rejoiced in Her successes, mourned over Her temptations, and forcefully witnessed to Her sufferings, piously venerating the struggles of those, who fearlessly went to their death for the sake of Christ.
And let us also beg for this all-encompassing renewal as we noetically worship the Divine Christ-child, born now in Bethlehem, with which feast I again congratulate all of you, sincerely wishing that we spend these holy days, and the jubilee year, with Joy in the Lord, as a family, in philial manner, prayerfully, and in an ecclesial spirit!
Marking this glorious jubilee, which will continue with the celebration of next year’s centenary of the I All-Diaspora Council, we do not plan to celebrate either the fearsome events, as a result of which many Russian Orthodox people found themselves in a strange land, nor the bitter division of the Mother Church thrown under persecution. The chief aim of our celebration is to raise up thanksgiving to God, who abundantly pours forth on us His rich mercies and to prayerfully honor our predecessors, who in complex circumstances abroad held high the banner of our Holy Russian Orthodoxy and imparted to us a great inheritance. Let not the flames upon their graves be extinguished! Besides this, every jubilee must force each and every one to once again interest himself in his history and reflect on the human figures being commemorated. Only such an approach to celebrating the jubilee, joined to prayer and a humble hope in God’s aid, can ensure the renewal of our hearts, all our strength and all the paths of our lowly service to God and men.
May our fathers among the saints John the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco, and Jonah, Bishop of Hankou, Holy Hierarch Serafim (Sobolev), and Martyr Alexander (Schmorell) of Munich, along with the innumerable “Everyday Saints”, our predecessors, intercede for this renewal! And let us also beg for this all-encompassing renewal as we noetically worship the Divine Christ-child, born now in Bethlehem, with which feast I again congratulate all of you, sincerely wishing that we spend these holy days, and the jubilee year, with Joy in the Lord, as a family, in philial manner, prayerfully, and in an ecclesial spirit!
With love in Christ,
Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia