Orthodox America

  Glory to God in the Highest

Excerpt from the Nativity Epistle of His Eminence Archbishop Anthony of Geneve and Western Europe

And there were shepherds abiding in the field... and lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them... and said unto them: Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.(Luke 2:8-10)

The shepherds, in the night of Christ's Nativity, were evidently not the only worthy representatives of the chosen people, capable of accepting with their whole heart the great joy declared by the angel. Undoubtedly, among this people there were other pious and righteous men who knew the writings of the Prophets concerning the Savior of the world and who awaited their fulfillment with trembling. The angels could have found them keeping vigil in the holy night, praying and ready to accept the good news!

However, the angels appeared not to them, but to the shepherds, who by chance were not sleeping but were awake by their flocks. They appeared to the shepherds evidently because in this night the shepherds were the image of Him Who lay in a manger in order to become the Great Shepherd of the whole of mankind.

The Prophets spoke of Him so much and so often as a Shepherd Who would shepherd His flock, gather sinners like lambs with His own arms, and carry them in His bosom (Is. 40:11)...

The Saviour Himself, desiring to make clear the purpose of His Nativity on earth and His relationship to men, said: I am the Good. Shepherd. (Who) giveth His life for the sheep (John 10:l1),Who came to seek the lost sheep and, having found it, to rejoice more over it than over those that have not gone astray (Matt. 18:12).

The Apostles responded to His call, as did the small flock of the first Christians, and then the unrestrained torrent of martyrs, the multitude of the fathers of the desert, and all the rational sheep, seeking the Good Shepherd. And He gathered His flock-His Church-and there shall be one fold and One Shepherd (John 10:16). By His love He begat Spirit-bearing shepherds like Himself and sent them to the ends of the earth to seek the lost sheep, to instruct, preserve, and love them'.

But he who cried, through the mouths of the Pharisees and scribes, "Crucify Him!" hated His disciples also. Forty years after Christ almost all the Apostles had been killed, and after them thousands of the shepherds of the Church. The evil one knew that the flock is strengthened and held together by them, and he hoped that by striking the shepherd the sheep might be scattered(Zach.)

The killing of the shepherds has passed as a central theme through the whole history of the Church, even down to our own days. Just in the Russian land in the past decades thousands of shepherds have been killed, blasphemously and with evil joy, as a mockery against the Chief Shepherd... [Now] the shepherds are absent, the flock is broken but not annihilated, because with it is the One Who has truly said: I am with you always even unto the end of the world. (Matt.28:20)...

And love for the shepherd-martyrs moves the flock to pray to them, issuing in the prayerful cry: "Holy martyrs ,pray to God for us!"' The Great Shepherd Himself glorifies His shepherds on earth, as He has glorified them in heaven!

I greet all, beloved brothers and sisters, on the great Feast of our salvation in Christ and our victory with Him!