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by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia
to archpastors, pastors, the monastics and all children
of the Russian Orthodox Church

All the angels rejoice in heaven and today men exult,
all creation of the Lord and Saviour Who was born in Bethlehem leaps for joy,
 for all beguilement of the idols has ceased and Christ reigns forever.
(Stanza for the Litiya on the Eve of the Feast)

Beloved in the Lord my brothers your graces the bishops, honourable pastors and all the clergy of the Church, esteemed monks and nuns and laity beloved of God - children of our Holy Mother the Russian Orthodox Church! It is to you, my dear ones living in the Land of Russia, in the countries of the near and far abroad, in the many states of the world on all the continents, that I turn with a word of congratulations on the great and saving feast of the Nativity of Christ.

This day carries us back two thousand years to that sacred and all-joyous event of the Coming into the world of our Lord Jesus Christ and invisibly places us before the cave in Bethlehem. We become witnesses of the wondrous appearance of the Angel of God to the Bethlehem shepherds and with our minds we can together with them harken to the singing of the multitudinous heavenly host: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill to all men' (Lk 2:14). With our inner gaze we see the Wise Men of the East led by a strange star bowing down before the Divine Child and stretching forth to Him their hands with precious gifts of gold, frankincense and sweet-smelling myrrh (Mt 2:1-2, 10-11). And reverently keeping this image in our souls, we 'with one mouth and one heart' praise the Lord and Saviour born in Bethlehem and the Most Pure Mother of God, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, who had aided the great Mystery of the Incarnation of God.

On the feast of the Nativity of Christ our churches are filled with the wonderful sounds of elevated and lofty hymns and ineffable joy fills on this day the hearts of all Orthodox Christians!

Our Saviour has assumed human flesh and blood (Heb 2:14). He was not ashamed to call us His brothers (Heb 2:11), and therefore it is our duty to be worthy of the grace of kinship with of God.

We are to be filled with the deepest amazement at the miracle that has now been accomplished, says St. John Chrysostom: 'that which the forefathers so much strove for, that which the prophets foretold and the righteous desired to see has today come true - God has appeared on earth in the flesh and has abided in people'. St. Philaret of Moscow, as though continuing the words of St. John Chrysostom, remarks: 'this is why our infirmity will be filled with the power of God, our untruth will be eradicated by the truth of God, our darkness will be illumined by the light of God, our death will be abolished by the life of God'.

Beloved in the Lord brothers and sisters! The past year will remain in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church as a year of great accomplishments. Undoubtedly the central event was the Jubilee Bishops' Council which took place in the reborn Christ the Saviour Church. The main act of the Bishops' Council was the glorification of the host of New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, among whom the Imperial Passion-Bearers stand before the Throne of God and pray to Him for their earthly Fatherland. This decision was adopted unanimously by all the bishops participating in the Council. Truly, as the Psalmist says, 'the Lord foresaketh not his saints' (Ps 36:28) and 'let the saints be joyful in glory' (Ps 149:5).

Moreover, the Jubilee Bishops' Council examined the tasks that confront our Holy Church at the turn of the century and adopted documents defining the relationship of the Church towards the many important problems of Church and state interaction as well as towards non-Orthodox Christians. A new version of the Charter of the Russian Orthodox Church was adopted too.

The fine Church Assembly Hall and the beauty and magnificence of the reborn Christ the Saviour Church in no small way contributed to the gathering of the church bishops becoming an unforgettable, truly historical event of the past year.

The high point of the jubilee celebrations was the great consecration of the Christ the Saviour Church, dedicated to the Nativity of Christ. Many Primates and delegations of all the Local Orthodox Churches came for this event, with brotherly love responding to the invitation to share our joy. The consecration of this magnificent church, the symbol of a renascent Orthodox Russia on the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord in the great jubilee year of the 2000th anniversary of the Coming into the world of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a clear sign of the grace of God that has not abandoned our Church and our much-suffering people. And although in the past year our people have had to endure many hardships, the Lord has given us the strength to bear all the difficulties with hope in His ineffable mercy, He has strengthened us in the burden of carrying our cross.

A sign of the great mercies of God was the bringing to the land of the Russian Orthodox Church the venerable head of the great martyr and healer Panteleimon. The relics of the glorious martyr and good warrior of the Heavenly King visited not only the primatial city of Moscow but also the place from which it received baptism - the blessed city of Kiev - as well as the northern capital of Russia - the city of St. Peter. As in 1996, the event was accompanied by many miraculous cures which took place through the prayers of the hundreds of thousands of people who came to the holy relics.

In the past year the Lord has visited us through many hardships and sorrows. The Church shares the pain of society as a whole and of each individual suffering from a chaotic life, poverty, illness, inter-ethnic strife, manifestations of terrorism and extremism. The Church has always been and always will be with her people throughout all the hardships which the Lord will see fit to sent us so that we may come to our senses and repent. The Church will henceforth seek to unite the efforts of the those in power and the many citizens sincerely working for the good of the people, for the building up of a better life in Russia, the countries of the Commonwealth of Indpendent States, Europe and the world, for the attainment of prosperity, the well-being of society on the whole and of every individual.

My dear ones! With faith and hope let us look to the future in the expectation that what we have accomplished in the jubilee year will become the firm foundation upon which our Holy Church will be established and our Fatherland will be reborn in the twenty-first century; that the glorification of the New Martyrs and Confessors for faith in Christ will become a turning point in our history in aiding the people to repent of the sin of apostasy; that the prayers of the newly glorified heroes of faith will help us to stand firm against evil, sin, vice and human frailty.

My beloved! Again and again I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart on the great feast of the Incarnation of God the Word which saves the entire world, as well as on the forthcoming New Year, on the beginning of the twenty-first century and the advent of the third millenium since the Nativity of Christ!

'Rejoice, be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you ' (2 Cor 13:11).


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