”In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” Gospel of Saint Luke 2:1-11
Christ is Born!
We extend to all the blessings that pour out of God’s great gift to the world on the birth of his Son Jesus. We hear the Christmas story in Gospel readings, the hymns, and popular music of the season. For our children, the celebration is fresh and new as if it happened last year. For our senior members, we take the message deeper into our hearts and minds. Our pilgrims to the Holy Land this Autumn were lifted up by their visits to the city of Bethlehem. As did others for thousands of years, they saw the city of Bethlehem, its churches, and the actual grotto cave which marks where Mary gave birth to Jesus. The cave is below the altar in the Basilica of the Nativity. The silver star marks the event where ancient tradition recalls the spot.
The tradition has continued through a succession of Roman, Byzantine, Moslem, Crusaders, and now Palestinian control. Despite the crush of pilgrims past and present, you can see and feel the power of the profound event of birth of the Son of God. The billions and billions of prayers offered by pilgrims have enriched the holiness of Bethlehem and the Holy Land. In his recent trip to Greccio, Italy, our Holy Father Pope Francis wrote how Saint Francis tried to spread the message of the birth of Christ. Because it is not easy or possible to make a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, Saint Francis of Assisi tried to bring the power of his pilgrim experience of the Nativity in Bethlehem to the world. He tried to bring his Bethlehem experience to those who could not make the trip to the Holy Land by recreating a living Crèche in Greccio, Italy in 1224. The tradition has spread across the world and to some of our Byzantine Churches.
For all our Byzantine churches, we bring to life our Nativity Icons and Crèches in our churches and homes. We join in the prayers of Holy Land pilgrims as well as the prayers of the shepherds and wise men. In a way, we become the shepherds and wise men. Our voices sing the words which enlighten our minds and open our hearts to the message that “God is with us.” We thank all who have worked to spread the good news through your personally reaching out to friends and family who have not understood or have forgotten the real meaning of Christmas. We live in hope that everyone who hears will be reborn in the Spirit of Christmas.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend William C. Skurla, D.D.
Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh