TO OUR CLERGY, HIEROMONKS AND BROTHERS, RELIGIOUS SISTERS, SEMINARIANS
AND BELOVED FAITHFUL.
Praise Be Jesus Christ!
When a child is to be born, family and friends throw a baby shower. The shower helps the new mother with baby clothes and other necessary items. I wonder if Mary's' relatives were able to provide her with some of the necessary baby items as she and Joseph began their journey to Bethlehem.
Distinguished persons in the East were greeted with gifts. Three wise men travel to Bethlehem bearing gifts. They are highly respected men, educated, students of philosophy, nature, astrology. Some even call them kings. They had heard of Israel's expectation of a Messiah. They studied the stars and the prophesies. The expectation was well known by surrounding neighbors: Persia, Chaldea, Mesopotamia and Arabia.
An unusual and bright star appears in the heavens. The three wise men travel west to Judea. No obstacles impede their journey. They hurry to Bethlehem, and lo, in a poor stable, they find the infant Jesus. "They prostrated themselves and did Him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh" (Mt. 2:11). Gold for the King. Incense for God. Myrrh for the Man.
Our journey to Christmas — the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ — begins now with St. Phillip's Fast (Pylypivka) November 15th. This is a time of penitence and lasts until the Eve of Christmas. Voluntary abstinence (meatless meals) and acts of penance (prayer, fasting, charitable works) are encouraged. Abstinence from meat, and one full meal and a snack (milk products allowed according to local custom) is permitted on Christmas Eve.
And as we prepare to celebrate Christmas again, we think of gifts. But what gifts will we offer Jesus? Already the psalmist King David (Ps. 71 :10) and the prophet Isaiah (6:16) had foretold the gifts of the wise men. The pagan world pays homage to the Lord. What about us? What will we give Jesus? Can we do no less? You know what gift God wants most? God wants you and me.
Believe it or not, we also can bring gold. Who? How? Gold is brought by those who offer for the glory of God and in the service of their neighbor their resources and goods. Helping the needy is gold. Do many people offer gold to the Lord? Unfortunately more is squandered on worthless and fleeting things. Such is our attitude to the One who "became poor although He was rich, so that by His poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9).
And who offers the Lord frankincense? Frankincense is offered by those who use their talents and abilities to praise God and for the benefit of their neighbor. Talents and abilities are not bought. They are more precious than silver and gold. They are God-given gifts. Using them properly pleases the Lord like fragrant incense. All of us have received certain talents. Therefore we all have the responsibility to use these talents, to bring incense to the Lord.
The third gift which the wise men brought to Jesus in Bethlehem was myrrh, possibly the best gift. Who offers this gift today? Myrrh, like incense, is fragrant. But myrrh is also bitter. It may well represent our afflictions, our sorrows, our anxieties. Preoccupations that laden our day. It is clear who offers myrrh to the Lord. The one who has had a bad day or suffers a tragedy, the one who is unjustly accused, the lonely and the sick, and who do not despair but place all their hope in the Lord, in His healing grace, Myrrh can be bitter, but it is sweetened by the Lord. Not all understand this. Blessed are they who understand and accept it for they offer a precious gift to Jesus. They offer Him fragrant myrrh.
We, your bishops, hope and pray that you may be able to renew yourself during this season of preparation for the birth of our Lord. Before we celebrate Christmas, prepare yourself and become precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Lord.
Metropolitan-Archbishop of Philadelphia
Eparch of St. Nicholas in Chicago
+Paul Chomnycky, OSBM
Eparch of Stamford
+John Bura (author)
of St. Josaphat in Parma