Eparch’s Christmas 2004 Letter

Archbishop Cyril Bustros’ Christmas Letter

To the Clergy, Laity and Friends of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton

December, 2004

“When the fullness of time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as sons” (Gal. 4:4). The expression “fullness of time” designates a new quality of the time. It is a time full of the presence of God. St. John writes in the prologue of his Gospel: “No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, Who is nearest to the Father’s heart, Who has made Him known” (Jn. 1:18). Jesus Christ is the manifestation of God. He is the Word of God Who “was in the beginning with God” (Jn 1:1), and Who “was made flesh, lived among us, and we saw His glory, the glory that is His as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1,14).

Christmas is the feast of the appearance of God in the flesh through His Word and Son, Jesus Christ. It is the feast of our salvation: the name of “Jesus” (in Hebrew “Yeshua”) means “God saves”. This name was given at the command of God’s angel: “The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said: Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name Him Jesus, because He is the One who is to save His people from their sins” (Mat. 1:2-21). That is why He is also called “Emmanuel”, a name which means “God-is-with-us” (Mt. 1:23).

If we ask why the Word of God became man? The answer of the Holy Scripture is this: “to make us partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). St. Athanasius writes: The Son of God became man so that we might become sons of God”.

By nature we are created in God’s image and likeness. God’s image is in our nature, that means in our reason which seeks the truth, in our love which is the reflection of God’s love, and in our ability to do good. God is absolute truth, absolute love, and absolute goodness. God’s likeness is in our holiness. By sin, we lost God’s likeness, although His image remains engraved in our nature. Jesus Christ came to restore God’s likeness. That is what He called “born again” (Jn. 3:3). In St. Paul’s terms, our destiny is to be not merely “flesh” but “Spirit”. He writes to the Galatians: “My point is that you should live in accord with the Spirit and you will not yield to the cravings of the flesh… It is obvious what proceeds from the flesh: lewd conduct, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, bickering, jealousy, outbursts of rage, selfish rivalries, dissentions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I have warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness, and chastity. Against such there is no law! Those who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s lead” (Gal. 5:16-25).

That is a good description of what Jesus said to Nicodemus in the Gospel of St. John: “I tell you solemnly, unless a man is born through water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God; what is born of the flesh is flesh; what is born of the Spirit is Spirit. Do not be surprised when I say: you must be born from above” (Jn. 3:5-7).

“In this faithless and corrupt age” (Mark 8:38), in this society which calls for immoral and corrupt behavior, we need to hear again and again these Divine words which lift us up to the perfection of our human nature, lead to peace between the peoples of this world, and contribute to the realization of the hymn which the angels sang at the birth of Jesus: “Glory to God in high heaven, peace on earth to those on whom His favor rests”. (Luke 2:14).

Merry Christmas, Happy and holy New Year!

+ Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros

Eparch of Newton