Can America Now Say, “Merry Christmas”?
By Chor-Episcopos Dr. Kyriakos of Chicago, Chief Editor
VOLUME XX FALL 2016 ISSUE 4
There was a concerted effort from the part of the liberal progressive media and atheistic groups in America to dethrone Jesus of Nazareth as a historical person, and even if his historicity is recognized, to reduce Him as merely the son of a carpenter and as a country preacher who lived at the turn of the Common Era (they were particularly cautious not to use Christian Era). Their attempt was basically focused on delegitimizing the claims of Jesus as the Son of God, one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Triune God and the Redeemer of the world.
I still remember, when Christmas or Pascha approaches, Newsweek magazine, a very liberal publication, publishing articles and cover stories on the life of Jesus of Nazareth offending millions of Christians. Normally Christians or their leaders do not respond to such attempts publicly; primarily because Jesus of Nazareth can be understood only in the perspective of faith, and the realm of faith these liberal so-called researchers cannot comprehend or contain, and faith is not generally a subject matter of rational scrutiny although it is not opposed to faith. However, in our churches our pastors and priests openly discuss the intent of these liberals and expose the real Jesus in order to strengthen the faith of their flock. The frightening truth is that such attacks are only against Christ, Who was the purest, and Who never possessed a sword to spread His message, not even to defend Himself, nor did He permit His followers to defend Him with any weapon. These liberals do not have the courage of offending any other founders of religion, including Mohammed, the acclaimed prophet of Muslims, who not only carried a sword but also killed thousands of his enemies without mercy, always ascribing his deeds to some divine revelations, whom not even a Muslim can defend as the purest.
In order to delegitimize Jesus further and to be more politically correct the emerging liberal culture introduced a new phrase to cover the two feasts of Christians, the Nativity of Jesus the Christ on the 25th of December and His circumcision on the 1st of January, which is also the Western New Year. Parenthetically, this period is also set apart for the Jewish Hanukah, the festival of lights, which is historically the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C.
From the time of its founding the United Stats of America has been understood as a Christian country, although Christianity has never been considered a state religion, as the government does not promote any religion or discriminate against any religion. It simply meant that the state will not meddle with any religion as the Constitution of this country guarantees this nation as a secular democracy. The Constitution does not promote a God-less society either. Everyone respected the religious belief his neighbor, whether he is a Jew or Christian or Mormon, and even a Muslim as long he was willing to assimilate into the American culture wherein every citizen is respected regardless of his religious belief. Even an atheist was respected without prejudice as he had the right to profess what he chose to believe.
This peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic society has been shaken during the past decade as a result of intolerance towards Christians. Slowly the tone of some political leaders began to change, and the academicians in our colleges and universities had already begun to spit out radical humanism in their class-rooms wildly influencing and poisoning our young minds under the guise of academic freedom; they all began to interpret American secularism as a political or atheistic weapon to suppress all references to religious beliefs, particularly the Christian hegemony of this country. The outgoing U. S. President, once reportedly a Muslim and later converted to liberal Protestant Christianity, had the audacity to declare on many occasions that America was never a Christian nation, nor is now a Christian country. This intelligentsia has been deliberately forcing our society, our schools, and our businesses to get rid of all references to religious realities in connection with the feasts and festivals that we celebrate. They coined a new neutral phrase to connote all these feasts/ festivals and to force us to greet our neighbors, which is “Happy Holidays”. They welcome the wealth generated in the name of these feasts, because they bring money to the state as taxes, and they also get enriched with the money they generate. However the real reason behind these “Holidays” they frown upon is Jesus of Nazareth who divided human history.
Twenty years ago when I visited Wal-Mart, Sears, Costco, and any other major retail stores during the Christmas season, I was welcomed with the sign “Merry Christmas”! I am a conservative Orthodox Christian, but I am not devoid of the generosity to greet a Jew during this season, with “’Happy Hanukkah’ my brother”, or to say to a Hindu “Happy Diwali”. When I was an officially invited participant in the World Peace Conference in Istanbul, a young Muslim came to my room in the conference hall which was provided for me rest and asked me if he could pray (because it was his prayer time then) in my room while I was resting after the morning sessions. I let him pray in my room. Similarly, when I was a college administrator I used to go out of my inside office for a Muslim employee on Friday afternoons in order for him to do his routine prayers. Although I am a strong Christian who believe that Jesus Christ is the only path to redemption, as a social being I also understand the importance of tolerance and respect for my neighbor in a pluralistic society; my fraternal attitude is not an indication of an approval of his prayer as a genuine path towards his salvation. For me Christ still remains the ultimate Redeemer. However, we have to realize that tolerance is a social virtue, if not always a religious virtue, and tolerance is not an indicator of compromise in terms of one’s absolute values required for his salvation. A good Christian leaves it to God to judge his neighbor in a religious plurality. Having said this, the reader should not misjudge that evangelism is obsolete or outdated in such societies.
The radical Left on the other hand is so intolerant that they would not even permit a believer to declare his faith publicly. They do not want to hear the name of Jesus! Period!! The radical Left would tolerate you to practice your religion in your home or in your church or synagogue or temple. That is the extent of freedom of worship the Left would grant you. The progressives are worried if “Christmas” becomes a public affair of the society. Christmas may change the ethos of the people from hedonistic, atheistic and amoral, if not immoral, and permissive way of life. Because Christ represents not just a person, but a moral code that disciplines the entire man, not only for his sojourn on earth but also prepares him for his entry after his death into His kingdom. Christmas is a message against the worldly, lustful, selfish, bestial, and sensual culture they have been trying erect in America for the past few decades. Their intent was to demolish the social and cultural structure founded on the ethical principles based on the Old Testament and on Christ Himself, who is the Messiah predicted in the Scriptures. It is reported that President Obama, when he was at Georgetown University to give an address, demanded that all references to Christ in the stage area be removed! One of the easy ways seems to be slowly wiping out Christ and His symbols from all public places; for that the first step would be to dissuade the community from using the word “Christmas”. Would they succeed?
The Left does everything in its power to ostracize anyone who promotes religious symbols and values. The progressives ruthlessly defame those who hold the traditional values and morals that shape a disciplined society and take positions different from what they preach by declaring them guilty of xenophobia, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and other horrible things. In other words, they impose their ultra-progressive views on the society by even denying the freedom of others who oppose them.
It is at this juncture the new President-elect gives us some hope. During his presidential campaign he promised: “Now we could say, “Merry Christmas”! Will he be able to “Make America Great Again”? Donald Trump, the new President-elect may not be a perfect man. His rise was not a “one-man movement” in American history. It was a popular movement. A person with no political experience, his uprising was against the establishment elites of both parties. His own party did not endorse him in the primaries. However, the majority of voters of his party embraced him. There were many attempts from his own party to stop him; and finally his party could not but endorse him as their nominee for president, because he won the ticket by ejecting 17 presidential hopefuls in the primaries. In the history of American presidential election there was no candidate like Trump who was personally and negatively attacked not only by the opponents but also by ninety-five percent of the mainstream media. Even Republican-leaning newspapers endorsed other less significant candidates who had not a chance of getting even ten percent of popular votes. Almost all opinion surveys predicted his opponent to be the winner. His opponent even had a victory celebration on the eve of Election Day lining up artists and popular singers on the stage mocking Trump as a loser. It is reported that even before the election some popular magazines had printed his picture on millions of copies of their cover page with the caption “LOSER” to mock him. Despite these unfavorable trend behind him, Trump did not lose hope; he vigorously campaigned, and led rallies at multiple locations on a day; whereas his opponent was relaxing and attended only fewer rallies even within a week.
As part of a faith community, we believe that God was with him; millions of people with faith had been praying behind for a new leadership in this great nation. When the votes were counted on Election Day evening Americans realized that God was rescuing America. It indeed was a miracle on the first degree; God chose a new administration to lead His people in America. During his victory speech the president-elect declared that he will be the president of all people regardless of their racial or ethnic background and religious affiliation. Will he “Make America Great Again”? It depends upon his leadership in delivering what he had promised to the American people. It depends upon his loyalty and fidelity to God. The wisest ruler on earth, Solomon saw his kingdom crumbling in front of his own eyes after he deviated from fidelity and loyalty to Yahweh, the God of Israel.
We pray for God’s assistance to our new president so that he may lead His people in America, who had been divided on racial and ethnic lines and on America’s moral identity during the past decade. The new president’s number one job is strengthening the American Constitution and uniting the people of America under that Constitution.
We want to make our intent very clear in this editorial: we at The Voice of Orthodoxy are not highlighting a political party or its nominee or the new president-elect; we do not support any party; we are not eager for a candidate; ours is a call to defend the moral and ethical foundations that uphold a well-disciplined and orderly society in this free world and the Constitution that defends our freedom to defend them. We are highlighting only the blessing God gave to this country with the new election. We believe God chose a new direction by bringing up a new leader despite his personal inadequacies if there are any. He is not an incarnation of every desirable quality in a president; but we believe he will try to defend our religious freedom and the freedom of expressing our eternal truths without the fear of being socially ostracized or criminally imputed.
Happy Birthday, Jesus the Incarnate Word of God Whom the Left Are Afraid of!
In the context of the recent American presidential election and the election of a majority in both houses for the new president, when we declare “Merry Christmas” to our neighbor, as a Christian journal we like to emphasize a few very important postulates in a free democratic society. If we do not internalize and uphold these postulates we cannot in our good Christian conscience say “Merry Christmas” or “Christ is born; Glorify Him!” to anyone around us. Moreover, it would become very offensive to the Lord of the universe Whose birthday we celebrate.
Our Orthodox faith transcends all the political parties and their platforms. Our struggle was not against any party; it was against certain ideology that began to limit or negate the traditionally enjoyed freedom of this country in the various realms of our life and tried to wipe out or minimize the influence of private and public morality. We are being forbidden to teach publicly that homosexuality is inherently evil and sinful, and that a legally contracted union between a man and woman is a ‘marriage’ and that the so-called sexual relationship between two persons of the same gender is intrinsically evil and sinful, and that this relationship is not a marriage at all according to nature and the true purpose of human sexuality. In other words, we are being denied to preach the core teachings of our religion according to the Bible. We are also restricted to practice such moral principles due to regulations in the various sectors of public life that interfere with the practice of our faith. This is the culture which has been promoted by the Left that we are trying to dismantle by voting for a change in the central administration of this land. We believe our attempts and prayers have been realized in the recent election.
In morality, our Orthodox system of faith and thought does not support “both/and” or “either/or”. Morality has only one option: Practice and teach whatever the Bible teaches and the Holy Fathers practiced and taught us through their inspiration and deep meditation on the teachings of our Holy Scriptures. In Orthodoxy we are concerned only about objective truth, and Orthodoxy also contains the plenitude of truth. That is why we abhor relativism and permissivism in morality. A society at large may become relative or permissive in their moral behavior, but that does not invalidate the intrinsic veracity of an objective truth; in Christianity truth remains always truth; truth is not plastic. Orthodox Christianity cannot embrace utilitarianism or pragmatism as a moral alternative. Orthodox Church is fundamentally in the business of leading mankind to eternal life, which is guaranteed only by sticking to God’s eternal truth and by obeying the commandments of God pertaining to faith and morality.
Like I proposed in my earlier editorial, every human being has an eternal value attached to him because he is a rational being made in the image of God. That value has been fortified in grace by the incarnation of the Word of God, Who redeemed him and gave him eternal life. In other words, this human being has an added value and worth with the coming of Christ, the Word of God, into this world. In order for him achieve eternal life he has to tread a moral path as required by the Holy Scriptures. Every human being is part and parcel of this plan of God irrespective of his color or ethnicity.
After the recent U.S election many think that it is a referendum ratified to divide the people of America on racial lines or on other affiliations. Of course, it is the duty of a responsible government to protect its citizens from terrorists, particularly those that may come from foreign lands with the purpose of destroying the tranquility and security of this country and the safety of its citizens. If an alien group does not assimilate into the community and culture of the host society, that group may become a likely threat to that society. We believe that it is ultimately the government of the country that has the discretion to judge which group would be detrimental to the safety of its population. We believe that the U.S. government has this discretionary power when it comes to the protection and safety its citizens and the well-being and prosperity of the nation.
However, any discrimination on account of one’s color or race is anti-Christian and Orthodoxy has no room to tolerate it. All human beings are beneficiaries of the mercy and love of God regardless of their differences. Even a non-Christian has to be respected for his human personhood, because it is also for him that the Word of God took the form of a man in Jesus. We do not consider him as “other person” in the context of holy Christmas; every human being should be “with us” as God is “with us” (Emmanuel) in Christ the Incarnate. We also have a mission to the world as worshippers of the Babe in the manger. We have to show God’s love to every one of our neighbors which the Incarnate Jesus brought to us through His descending from heaven. We impart our love by bringing light to darkness, by trying to heal the wounds of sin and division among us and by preaching the good news of the Incarnation of God Who dwells with us.
Within Orthodox perspective Christmas is also the feast of light that dispel darkness. Traditionally Orthodox Christmas takes place only after Epiphany (literally, a great manifestation or appearance), the feast of the baptism of Jesus at which the heavenly Father declared the sonship of Jesus and presented Him to the world. But the Orthodox Church calls the feast “Theophany”, which literally means the ‘manifestation of God’. These are western terminologies. But in the Aramaic Church the feast is called “Denaho”, which literally means “rising” of sun or light in early morning to dispel darkness. Christmas is celebrated after the Father has presented the “true light of light” (to take the phrase from the symbol of faith- Nicene Creed) to the world and that light is confirmed by the Father. In the Syrian (Aramaic) Church during Christmas liturgy light produced by burning the palms blessed on previous Palm Sunday (or firewood in the absence of palms) and the faithful offer their gift of incense on to the burning fire to represent the Magi who offered incense to Baby Jesus. Look at the beautiful symbolism to truly signify the true light, which is Christ Jesus. We need to bring this Light, which is Christ, to a society which is broken and divided, in the form of compassion, understanding, tolerance, brotherliness, acceptance, and ultimately love which the Father presented through Christ. As Christians become a light to the world around us which is struggling in the darkness of discrimination and prejudices
After the election the Time magazine’s cover qualified the president-elect as the “President-elect of the Divided States of America”! Yes, America has been going through a process of division for almost a decade; race relations have not been any better during this period. We hope the recent election and the new administration will heal the division among us. As Orthodox Christians we need to be part of this healing process. We should welcome anyone into our midst who wants to be with us and to assimilate into our culture without prejudice; however we believe as citizens of this country that the laws of this country are to be strictly adhered to before anyone entering this country, because it is crucial that we honor the integrity of borders of this country; otherwise America cannot be a sovereign nation. A loving God also demands us to abide by His commandments, and also the laws of the country we live in. To change any law is not the task of an individual; it is the concerted action of the legislatures of his country. However, as Christians we need to share the love of God to everyone regardless of his complexion or ethnicity as much as legally possible, because all men are equal before God. The point is: Do we possess a clear conscience to say, “Happy Birthday Jesus!”?
The Gospel of Christ starts with His Incarnation; Gospel means good news and as Orthodox Christians it is our vocation to share the good news of God’s incarnation to everyone around us regardless of his color, ethnicity, or even religion. Jesus is the Gospel of God the Father, and He is the Father’s gift to our fallen humanity. It is to commemorate this sublime gift of the Father that we exchange gifts during the Christmas season. The rush in our stores to buy various gifts for our loved ones and neighbors during this season is to declare the great Gift of the Father to our humanity.
The Christmas season is an ideal occasion to show the world that we are against prejudices based on our neighbor’s color or ethnicity. This is the time for us to share the good news of divine truth and mercy to not only a world that has known Christ but also to a world that had no chance of knowing Him. The fabric of our present society seems to have been damaged. Orthodoxy is all-embracive and all-encompassing and it is the call of the Church to be all-embracive and all-encompassing; the history of Orthodoxy is a strong witness to this unique characteristic. This is to be practiced in our own neighborhood among our neighbors who are of diverse backgrounds, not only during the season of Christmas but also every day of our life. This is our baptismal call. Accept this call now more than ever by giving hope for the despairing who are tortured in our divisions.
Become the salt that flavors a world around us that lost its taste and is tormented by discrimination based on their differences. The incarnate Lord emphatically declared that we should be the light and salt of the earth. We pray the new administration will ensure that every American is treated and supported equally and without discrimination as the Constitution guarantees.
This Christmas editorial is prepared in the context of recent presidential campaign and election in the United States. As said earlier, we supported a change in administration. However, many on the left became jittery after the election, because we got a president-elect, Donald Trump, against all odds and predictions. Most of them became anxious about the new administration and its policies, particularly its treatment of minorities and those of color; that is why we had to address such issues in a Christian perspective and in the context of Christmas.
We should greet our Lord in the manger with purity of heart. If we put down our neighbors because of their difference in color or complexion we lose our privilege to greet our Lord in the manger and in full honesty we cannot say: “Happy Birthday Jesus!”.
Theologically speaking, no one can greet Baby Jesus with a soul and mind tainted by hate and prejudice or any other sins that separate him from His presence. Western celebration of the Nativity of the Lord took place a week ago, and soon within a few days the East will also solemnize the feast of Nativity. Hence, get ready to greet the Lord in the manger with a heart full of love of God and a heart willing to share that love with our neighbors next door. Let us make redemption by this miraculous Baby a real tangible experience for our neighbors.
God alone knew how He shaped a womb for this baby to be born. He shaped an untainted virgin to carry that womb; her name was Mary. When this baby was conceived in her womb without a human seed and was born, again, without violating her virginal seal, he was not a mere man, but a God-man; this was anomaly of the first grade which pales all anomalies that took place in the history of the universe. She called Him Jesus. Only God quite knew the full beauty of His redeeming promise in the garden of Eden, which is now uncovering in this little baby, Who is the Second Person of His Trinity, Who had always been His Son, and now in front of human eyes a Child, and Who would lead the entire distorted cosmos back to His Father restored because this Child Himself is true God. As the Book of Wisdom of Solomon had predicted: “… while gentle silence embraced everything and night at its own speed was half over, Your all-powerful (Almighty) Word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne into the a doomed land” (The Orthodox Study Bible; Wisdom of Solomon, 18: 14, 15). Yes, “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”
Now, can we say: “Happy Birthday to You, Jesus!”? Yes, no matter which administration is over our head, whether an intolerant tyrant that restricts the freedom of Christians or a benevolent one that respects our freedom, with all joy filled in your heart, say: “Happy Birthday, Jesus!”
Lord, we acknowledge that You are the Redeemer and Healer of mankind!
CHRIST IS BORN; GLORIFY HIM AND ADORE HIM!