AT THE FEAST OF THE LORD’S NATIVITY, 2022
† IOAN CASIAN
by the mercies of God,
Bishop of the Romanian Orthodox Diocese of Canada
To our beloved clergy and Orthodox Christians,
peace and joy from Christ the Lord,
and from us, hierarchical Blessings.
“And the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”(I John 1: 2-3).
Most Reverend Fathers,
The joy of the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord overwhelms us all because of the hope it gives us and the perspective it opens for us through the gift of restoring the health and integrity of our human nature, first disfigured by sin, and then progressively weakened by the deeds of the generations that succeeded over time. The spirit of the celebration of the Nativity springs from the joy of the glorification that the Church brings to Christ, the Son of God, born in the cave of Bethlehem from the Virgin Mary.
What significance does the incarnation of the Lord have for us humans?
“This is our feast day, this is what we celebrate today – says St. Gregory of Nazianzus; the coming of God and His time spent together with people, so that we may spend time together with God, or so that we may return to Him (for in this way it is more appropriate to say), so that we reject the old man, and vest in the new one. And as in Adam we were put to death, so in Christ we would live, and together be born in Christ, and together with Him we will rise. For I must receive the good return.”
The Son of God became one of us to restore us and the creation in its entirety, to the state in which God had planned and created it in the beginning. God, through the incarnation of His Son, restores a ‘co-naturalness’ and a face-to-face of us with God. God, in His love and providence, does not just offer us forgiveness of a specific sinful deed committed sometime in the past. He offers us the new, the divine life, a life of communion with Him. Christ, through the incarnation, sets the conditions and invites us to become partakers of His divine life.
If our God is Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – which means communion, this indicates that He invites us to a divine life which is communion; and not just any communion but a communion with Himself, a transfiguring communion externally and internally through the power of divine grace. Through it, He introduces us into His divine intimacy without fear, restraint, mistrust or any shadow of bitterness or regret given our history marked by sin.
Through the incarnation, Christ lays the foundation of the new, true life, the life for which we were created and which we progressively feel as ours naturally as we grow and advance in it.
How does Christ restore and heal our nature through the incarnation?
“Learn the mystery! – St. Basil the Great says. Therefore, God is in the flesh, to kill in Himself the death that was hidden within. … He who rules over death through human nature has shown Himself through the coming of divinity. (…) Learn that for this reason God came in the flesh because he had to sanctify this cursed body, to empower the weak, to familiarize the one alienated from God with Him, to raise to heaven the one who has fallen from heaven. And who is the worker of this economy? The body of the Holy Virgin. What are the origins of birth? The Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High, who overshadowed.”
The Incarnation of the Son of God, – says the great Cappadocian saint – works in several ways for our restoration and healing: firstly, God abolishes the death that had nested in our nature and separated us from Him; secondly, Christ restores in us the holiness of God, the possibility of participating in it again, as He had planned it from the beginning; thirdly, through this gift and through the assuming of human nature in the incarnation, God restores the ontological vigor and verticality of it, made from within according to the model of the divine plan; fourthly, through sin, man had distanced himself from God by alienating himself from Him. God, through incarnation approaches man, familiarizing him again with the divine life for which He created him; and finally, Christ, through the incarnation, restores man to the place he had lost through the fall – the divine heaven and the centrality he had within creation and among the creatures.
Here is the wealth of gifts that God bestows upon us in the incarnation of His Son. He is the path that restores our entire human nature from the ground up. Death is slain, our nature is sanctified and strengthened, we return to the intimacy of face-to-face relationship with God and gain the garden of paradise in which we find the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The true life that the Holy Apostles contemplated in Christ is the one that is offered to us in the Church. Why here? Because the Church is the Body of Christ and Christ is its head. The Person of the Son of God is the foundation of the Church.
The spiritual and concrete laboratory of our restoration is the body of the Virgin that lends our pure humanity to the Son of God, thanks to the wonderful work of the Holy Spirit in her. Christ was “born without passion, because He was conceived without passion” says St. Gregory Palamas.
What is the consequence of the restoration of human nature?
Christ accomplishes the restoration of the humanity in His Person. Man’s nature becomes the temple and house of the Word of God. Thanks to the work of Christ in His Person, each human being in its turn can become the temple or Church of the Word of God because “within them was placed as a gift, the majesty of the creative Word, [becoming] silent acclaimers and loud-voiced preachers of the Author of mighty deeds” says St. Gregory the Theologian. Each person fulfills its purpose by growing from the image of God to its likeness. This growth is done at the same time together, in communion, and relational, as much as internally and personally. The two are not opposed but complement each other because the Church assumes and includes both. “The Church is understood in two ways, in the gathering of believers and in the unity of the soul. When it is referred to human person spiritually, the Church means its whole composition” says St. Macarius the Egyptian. To be the Church or Temple of God is to be both His Church and His temple as an individual and as a community. This means, according to the words of St. Paul, to arrive to the state of “the perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). This condition for man means a total assuming of the spiritual verticality of the relationship with God that gives the human person the necessary depth to its life and at the same time the harmonious and relational horizontality with the neighbor. But both create a communion that is twofold – one with God and one with neighbor.
The Church means our community, of all of us, who build our lives based on Christ’s work done for us. Christ is the One who works in us through grace. “For building now, the new Jerusalem and erecting His temple of living stones and gathering us as the holy Church and of the whole world, lays at its foundation – which is Christ – the eternal flowing source of grace” says St. Gregory Palamas. The true Church of God is created from the souls of men gathered at His call. The Church is the result of God’s care and the work of His providence among us.
In what way can man enter the restorative work of Christ, and how does it work?
St. Macarius the Egyptian shows us the importance of the moment of Christ’s coming and the stages necessary to free man from passion, thus to restore him: “When the kindness of the Savior Jesus Christ was shown and the years of the promise were fulfilled, Christ the King came to deliver and take with Himself the man He made, who for many years was enslaved by his evil masters and those who believed in Him and ran to Him were delivered, and every soul that believed and prayed to Him and that knew his captivity, if he will confess his weakness, that by himself he is powerless to obtain deliverance and escape from the devil’s captivity, and if he will pray in the pain of his heart, he will receive Christ the King coming and doing justice and destroying the tricks and the wiles of the evil master.”
To be freed and restored, man must run to Christ, must seek Him. There are four stages or essential elements that help man to get rid of passions and come closer to God: faith, prayer, (self) knowledge and confession. The four steps help man to receive Christ again as the master of his life, as God, so that He can fulfill the restoration. For Christ is the One who restores everything in our human nature. Faith is what keeps man on the right path and gives him the divine understanding of himself, his life, and the world. Prayer is the permanent dialogue with the Creator and the familiarity that man acquires with the Author of the divine life lost by man through sin. Knowing the state in which man finds himself, already as result of the cleansing and liberating work of grace, makes man understand the distance to the finality for which God created him and the need to grow from the image of God to his likeness with Him, which means his fulfillment. And the confession is the manifestation of the understanding of the fact that the One who fulfills everything in human life in the direction of restoration and salvation is Christ. I confess Him. Through Him I fulfill myself.
St. Macarius says that the work of liberation and restoration requires man to remain open through faith; but the One who accomplishes everything is God: “And the virtuous soul is thus formed in the church, not because it did something, but because it wanted it. For it is not man’s own work that saves man, but He who gave power to man (…)” and “the work is God’s, but the will is man’s (…).”
The year 2022 as a Homage Year of prayer in the life of the Church and of the Christian and Commemorative Year of the hesychast saints Simeon the New Theologian, Gregory Palamas and Paisie from Neamț, was an opportunity to bring us closer to God through common or individual prayer, guided by the Fathers of the hesychast prayer. We learned from them that we need to make room for God in our lives through prayer because through sin we drove Him out. He stands at the door and knocks to enter for the mystical supper with each one of us. We learn to make room for God in our hearts because He made room for us in His heart. He made us His friends: “You are My friends, if you do what I command you” (John 15, 14).
By making room for God in our souls we learn to also make room for our neighbor in our thoughts, preoccupations, and life. We relearn to live our God-created life as it was at the beginning, as a path towards heaven. We learn what God’s kindness meant and means. God the Father offered Himself to us in His Son for our salvation and the Holy Spirit was given to us for renewal, help and restoration. In the same way, let us show, – during this period of joy, waiting for the encounter with Christ at the celebration of His Nativity, – the same self dedication that we see fulfilled in a concrete way on the birth of Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem. The Church, the world, need all of us as witnesses of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea, to make this world into a garden of paradise.
On this festive occasion, I would like to thank the clergy, those responsible at the diocesan and parish level, the representatives of the Ladies’ Organization (AROLA) and the youth (ROYA), the coordinators of the education department and Sunday schools, as well as all the faithful for their generosity, spirit of sacrifice, perseverance in prayer and responsibility towards the Church and the community. I invite everyone on this same occasion to increase your spiritual zeal, help and dedication, patience, joy and peace, love, humility, and courage in view of strengthening the Church towards mission and a renewed life.
On the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the New Year, and the Epiphany, I greet you with St. Paul’s salutation: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus! Amen.” (1 Corinthians 16: 23-24).
May you have a joyous feast of the Lord’s Nativity in faith, with peace and generosity!
A blessed New Year!
Your brother in Christ, constant supplicant, and intercessor in the Holy Spirit to the Lord,
† IOAN CASIAN
 Sermon 30 – On the Theophanies or on the Birth of the Saviour, p. 53 in St. Gregory of Nazianzus. Festive and moral sermons. The Patristic Collection. Ed. Doxology: Iasi 2019.
 Homily at the Holy Nativity of Christ, p. 31 in St. Basil the Great. Unique homilies. Two homilies about Baptism. Ed. Doxology: Iasi 2012
 Homily 58: On the salvific nativity according to the flesh of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, p. 182 in St. Gregory Palamas. Homilies (vol. 3). Ed. Doxology: Iasi 2021
 the people (n.t.)
 Sermon 30, p. 61-62
 Sermon 36: On Heaven and the Law of the Spirit, p. 139, in St. Macarius the Egyptian. Ascetic Sermons and Epistles (vol.2).Ed. Doxology: Iasi 2017
 Homily 58, p. 186-187
 Tit 3, 4
 Luke 18, 7
 Sermon 61: On the economy of the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ, p. 334-335 in St. Macarius the Egyptian. Ibidem.
 Sermon 36, p. 139
 Idem, p. 140
 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3, 20)