The Christmas letter of Patriarch Pavle, 1995

The Serbian Orthodox Church to Her Spiritual Children at Christmas, 1995
by the Grace of God
Orthodox Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and Serbian Patriarch,

with all the Hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church—

to all the clergy, monastics, and all the sons and daughters of our Holy Church:


Grace and Peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, with our angelic and most ancient greeting:

Divine Peace—Christ is Born!

You took up residence in the stable, O Christ God,
the manger received You,
and the shepherds and wise men worshipped You.


The announcement of the coming of the Son of God to our planet and of the beginning of our salvation, brothers and sisters, begins with an angel and a young maiden, with a conversation between heavenly purity and earthly purity, and with two of the most desired and comforting phrases in our language: Rejoice and Fear not. With the first the heavenly bearer of glad tidings greets the Most Holy Virgin Mary, informing her of the coming of the heavenly Guest. And with the words Fear not, the angel announces the fulfillment of this message to the shepherds of Bethlehem.


The angels accompanied the greeting at Bethlehem with this song:


Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace
among men of good will.


The coming of our Lord Christ to earth has three purposes: to bring to mankind joy, peace, and good will— ideals for which mankind has yearned for centuries.


Our great poet and thinker, amazed at the greatness of God's sacrifice, cries out in wonder over the cradle of Bethlehem, “What draws You to this earthly human cradle lorded over by Caesar and Alexander to the misfortune of mankind?” What impels You, he is saying, to leave the harmony and light of heaven and come down into this labyrinth of humankind without doors or windows; into this world in which falsehood suppresses truth and malice defies mercy, and despondent slavery merely bears the name of freedom. What brings You to come down into a world which, in the words of the poet, is tyrant to the tyrant, where the soul battles the body, man battles man, nation battles nation, spirits battle heaven, the seas battle the shore, day battles night, where cold battles warmth.


This poet, who wrote a most beautiful hymn of Christmas, knows that only boundless love moved our heavenly Parent to send His Only-begotten Son to save mankind, which had become enslaved in shackles by the prince of this world; to send Him precisely “in the fullness of time,” that is, when there threatened the greatest danger that sin would deform the soul of man: that “hell would devour, Satan kill” His children. And he knows that the love of God's Son drove Him to be born in the utmost poverty in order to enrich mankind; to give eternal life to those who had been condemned to death, to transform the sons of the earth into sons of God.


Peace on earth and good will among men are, therefore, the primary goal and purpose of the coming to earth of the Son of God.


The Gospel teaches us that peace is imposed on the irrational elements and demonic spirits, however to mankind it is given. Christ commanded the storm on the Lake of Gennesaret to be calm, but to people— free and rational creatures— he said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.” If Christ had wanted simply to force peace on people, He would have been born as the Emperor of Rome and by a simple decree would have proclaimed peace.


Peace can be imposed on people, that is, on a person in relation to another person or a nation in relation to another nation, but only when someone cannot be persuaded to love his neighbor and to respect his peace. In that case, his hatred and aggressiveness can only be contained by law and force. For,


“Placing the throat of tyranny underfoot;
leading it to the recognition of law
is the most sacred human duty.” 


However, such a condition cannot be called true peace. It resembles more a prison, whether built of stones or laws, where people enclose themselves and agree not to go to war. But the absence of fighting is by no means the same as having peace, as is demonstrated by countless bloody wars and revolutions throughout the world. A peace maintained by armed force is only a pent-up wind and a calmed storm. For a man who carries hatred in his heart and who only waits for his opportunity to strike is like a snake, which is dangerous not only when it bites, but also as long as it has venom in its fangs. Christ's Church is always for peace— but for true peace which is, first of all, peace with the God of peace, peace in one's soul, and then peace with others. The Holy Apostle Paul teaches us this kind of peace, saying, “As far as it is up to you, be at peace with everyone.” Christ's peace— as we have already said— is not commanded, it is not proclaimed, and it is not imposed. It is given. And who can give peace to another if he does not possess it himself?


Nothing is in the Gospel by accident. Our Savior praised the peacemakers in the seventh place in the Beatitudes. Who can open his mouth and preach peace— and not only peace to a particular house or person, but to the whole world— if he has not first experienced poverty of spirit? If he has not mourned his own sins and tamed the savage nature within himself? If he has not felt hunger and thirst for God's righteousness? If he has not conquered the selfishness within himself with mercy? And if he has not achieved such purity of heart that he can see God?


And so only after progressing to this sixth level, after persistent exercise in transforming the inhuman to the human, can one step up to the seventh level and become a true peacemaker, a child of the God of peace, of righteousness and of love.


lf there were more of such people among today's peace negotiators, success would be more certain and our joy would be greater.


But, brothers and sisters, in this terrible darkness of inhumanity, hatred and evil, in the misfortunes which have befallen our people, with hundreds of thousands driven from their centuries-old homelands in Western Slavonia, Serbian Krajina, Dalmatia, Kordun, Bosnia and Hercegovina, we pray the New-born King of Peace, our Lord Jesus Christ, that we not succumb to faintheartedness and that we not lose our faith in Him and in His unconquerable truth and justice. Let us hold our heads high, listening again and again to His words: Do not fear anything you are called to endure. Behold, the devil will throw some of you into prison, in order to test you.... Fear not, I am the First and the Last and the Life; I was dead yet, behold, I am alive forever, and I hold the keys to death and to hell. Fear not!


Therefore, let us lift up our hearts, brothers and sisters— and all you who have been exiled and wounded, and all you children who have been orphaned, and all you mothers who have been widowed and left childless— lift up our hearts in prayer to the New-born Savior: Glory to God in the highest, and peace among men of good will.


With this message we paternally and warmly greet you on this feast of peace and good will, and we address you with the angelic greeting— both you in the homeland and you dispersed throughout the world:


Divine Peace— Christ is born!


Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade at Christmas, 1995.