BISHOP OF THE ROMANIAN ORTHODOX DIOCESE OF NORTHERN EUROPE
PASTORAL LETTER FOR THE LORD’S NATIVITY
FOR WHOM DOES YOUR HEART BEAT?
By the mercy and providence of the Almerciful God, Bishop of the Romanian Orthodox Diocese of Northern Europe,
To the beloved brethren priests and deacons, to the faithful of the holy monasteries and to the chosen people of the Orthodox Church, grace, peace, harmony and joy from Christ, and my fatherly blessing and brotherly embrace!
Beloved ministers of the Holy Altars,
beloved people of God,
The Nativity of the Saviour was from the very beginning a “sign which aroused much opposition” (cf. Luke 2:34), according to the prophetic words of the Righteous Simeon. Herod committed the massacre of the innocents, the city of Jerusalem was troubled, and the Virgin Mary with the Child in her arms, together with the Righteous Elder Joseph, were forced into exile, and took refuge in Egypt.
The Joy and Mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God were revealed only to a few shepherds, to the three Wise Men who arrived from afar, guided by the star, and to the heavenly hosts, while His preternatural birth occurred in perfect anonymity, in a stable on the outskirts of Bethlehem, near the crowded city of Jerusalem.
We are thus presented with two parallel histories: while empires, rulers and the world pursue their petty interests, crushing the souls of the weak and the oppressed, the Lord Himself lies in a humble manger, coming among us, for us, to deliver us from the trouble, the sorrow, the unkindness which have overtaken us and with which we struggle helplessly.
For this world, beloved brother and sister, is no different from the historical world of Emperor Augustus or King Herod. Now, just like then, there is no room for the heart. This world is spiritually blind. It has no eyes for God, nor for one’s neighbour. Our souls grow callous and selfish, and eventually the world stifles our longing for heaven.
We continue to live in times of great turmoil. There was the pandemic crisis, now there is the crisis of the war in the near East, we hear incessantly of a crisis of energy, of economy, of climate. But the greatest crisis in the world today is the inner crisis caused by the war being waged … within the human heart. There, in your heart, beloved brother and beloved sister, is waged the decisive battle between good and evil, between truth and lie, between light and darkness.
All this turmoil, all this factual and virtual information overload, aim to alienate us from our own nature, from our own deepest selves, to make us deaf to the beating of our own spiritual heart, so that we may become malleable and come under the control of those who want to rule the world like self-proclaimed gods.
For whom does your heart beat, dear brother? For whom does your heart beat, dear sister? This is a question to ponder in sorrow on this Christmas of 2022. In other words, what kind of thoughts most often fill your mind and capture your attention? Are we still alive in spirit? Does our soul still ache for our neighbour? Are we willing to bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)? Those of our wife, husband, child or parent? Is our heart filled with understanding and Christian love, at least towards those closest to us?
The main challenge we face today is “love growing cold” (cf. Matthew 24:12) because of so much evil happening around us, but also because we neglect our souls. And when the heart grows cold and no longer loves with Christian, sacrificial love, we feel dull, deprived of the true joy, lonely and estranged, orphans wandering aimlessly in an absurd universe, caring only about ephemeral pleasures or satisfactions that become the drug by which we try to forget about ourselves and about the burden of our existence.
And the most visible sign of this spiritual crisis is loneliness. We feel lonely even when we are in the midst of our family. Alone together, each of us absorbed by the screen of our personal phone or tablet. Alone and misunderstood, alone and constantly discontent. This feeling is amplified, especially for us Romanians in the diaspora, by the fact that we live in a foreign country, far from our parents’ home and the land our childhood and youth.
For love to remain alive it must be like the love of our God, willing to reach the cross and go beyond cross and death. It must be like unconditional mother love. “The sword will pierce your soul” (Luke 2:35), said the Righteous Prophet Simeon to the Blessed Virgin Mary who was holding the Infant in her arms. The sword will pierce your souls too, if you love authentically.
Oh! Mother and father, brother and sister, son and daughter! It’s not easy to watch your loved ones go astray and take dangerous paths. It is not easy to bear the burden of being rejected or even oppressed by your own. But it all becomes redemptive when we realize that this is our purpose and salvation and that of those with us. When we become aware that, to our own measure, we participate through this suffering of love in the great love of the Mother of God and the redemptive love of her Son Himself.
We have a choice between two sufferings: the one arising from selfishness, from self-love, and the selfless one, of love for God and for our neighbour. To the former we are called by everyone and everything that surrounds us, body and soul. Today’s world is idolatrous, and the great idol, the new Baal, is the self, the self-centeredness to which we sacrifice everything: our country, community, family, soul.
To the latter, Christ the Saviour Emmanuel calls us discreetly, He who today was born for our sake, taking upon Himself our human nature. And when we gain a little awareness, when we manage to tear ourselves away from the madness around us, from the interplay of dazzling and deafening lights and sounds with which the ephemera of the day bedazzle us, then we feel again our spiritual heart beating.
We feel how this Child brings us back to ourselves, opens a door, a long-forgotten window unto the heaven within. Let us walk confidently towards this little piece of heaven, asking for the aid of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the one whose soul was pierced by the sword of tribulations, but who has overcome them all in the joy of her Son.
Your servant, brother and friend, devoted supporter and fervent supplicant to God,
† Bishop Macarie
Issued at the Bishop’s Residence in Stockholm, the Kingdom of Sweden, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord, in the year of salvation 2022