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Festal Letter for the Glorious Feast of the Nativity 1999

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Our Good Shepherd

My Beloved, the Children of the Christ-Loving Diocese of Los Angeles,

It is my pleasure to congratulate you on the Feast of the Nativity wishing you all a holy and blessed life, which befits the name of Emmanuel, Christ our Lord, Who loved us and, without sin, was incarnate and came to our world.

We are happy today and our hearts are joyful with the birth of Christ, “The Good Shepherd”. In fact, our hearts are exalted with the birth of Christ, “Our Good Shepherd”. Christ, the Good Shepherd came for us, for the sake of every one. He is our Shepherd, as well as the Shepherd of everyone. Today, as we celebrate the Nativity of Christ, it is appropriate to say with David the Prophet, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
(Ps. 23: 1)

My beloved, today we see both ourselves, as well as the Church in dire need for our Good Shepherd. The Church is fleeing in the wilderness of this world (Rev. 12: 6), and Satan (the dragon) is enraged with the Church and is making war with Her and the rest of Her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (Rev. 12: 17). Satan, who accuses us night and day (Rev. 12: 10), is not calm, but is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he can devour (1 Pet. 5: 8). The war will continue between Satan and the Church until the end of ages.

Today, we witness persecution against those who carry the Name of Christ. It comes in many forms varying from killing to persecution and imprisonment. Those who want to keep the commandments of Christ struggle against the many temptations and the various principles, which are in opposition to the teachings of Christ. The Church is in pain and aches for Her children, who left the Christian faith and Christ, for the broken families, and for the youth who run after the pleasures and desires of this world.

The Church, in Her continuous war against Satan, finds Her victory in Her Good Shepherd. The woman, who is clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars, is the Holy Theotokos and is also the Church, the true people of God. This woman bore a male Child, Who is to rule all nations (Rev. 12: 5), and He is the One who prepared a place for her and feeds Her during Her pilgrimage on earth (Rev. 12: 6).

Christ, our Good Shepherd, the Baby of the manger in Bethlehem, is our victory in our continuous war with the devil. Today, although we ache and suffer from the severity of Satan’s war against us, yet we are happy and joyful with the birth of our Good Shepherd, Christ our Lord and Savior.

With the birth of our Good Shepherd, the prophecy of Ezekiel is fulfilled; he said, “I will establish one shepherd over them and he shall feed them-My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd.” (Ezek. 34: 23).

Our Good Shepherd is Our Gate to Heaven
The birth of Christ opened heaven to mankind. After hundreds of years, the angels started to appear to humans. Gabriel the Archangel came to Zachariah the priest to announce the birth of John the Baptist. Then he went to the Holy Virgin Mary announcing to her, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son, and shall call His name Jesus.” (Luke 1: 31). The angel of the Lord went to the shepherds and told them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2: 10-11) Then with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts praised God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” (Luke 2: 12-14)

With the birth of Christ, the vision of Jacob was fulfilled. In his dream, he saw a ladder set up on earth, and its top reached to heaven. There the angels of God were ascending and descending on it and behold, the Lord stood above it. Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” (Gen. 28: 16-17)

In talking to Nathaniel, Christ revealed the true meaning of Jacob’s dream by saying, “Most assuredly I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1: 51) In offering Himself to us as our true Shepherd, He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you. I am the door of the sheep.” (John 10: 7)

Christ, our Good Shepherd, is the door to heaven for us, His sheep. St. Peter the Apostle said, “For so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 1: 11)

Although the gate to heaven is narrow, the way to the kingdom is difficult (Matt. 7: 14), and we must endure many tribulations to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14: 22), yet Christ, our Good Shepherd, carries us on His shoulders and helps us to enter into His Kingdom with abundance (2 Pet. 1: 11) “For through Him we both have access by one spirit to the Fr..” (Eph. 2: 18)

Our Good Shepherd loves us to the point of giving Himself up for us
Christ, our Good Shepherd said of Himself, “I am the good Shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (John 10: 11) He indicated His love and care for us by giving Himself up on the Cross.

Our Good Shepherd protects us from the snatching wolves
The hireling when he sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them (John 10:
12) On the other hand, our Good Shepherd when he sees the snatching wolves surrounding us, He fights on our behalf, protects us, and prevents the wolves from making the flock perish. Therefore, no matter how many wolves surround us, we are not afraid. Let us listen joyfully to what our Good Shepherd said by Moses the prophet, “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today…. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” (Ex. 14: 13-14)

Our Good Shepherd guides us in the wilderness of this world
Our Good Shepherd is our leader and we follow Him. He is not like the ordinary shepherd who walks behind the sheep, but He walks ahead of us for He is the True Light, which guides us in the midst of the darkness of this world. He prepares the road in front of us and makes the great mountain a plain. (Zach. 4: 7)

Our Good Shepherd is merciful and accepts us so we can return to Him
He is the compassionate father who saw his son coming, had compassion, ran towards him, fell on his neck, and kissed him (Luke 15: 20). He said, “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37)

Let us rejoice today with the birth of our Good Shepherd, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Who opened for us the road to the Kingdom by His incarnation and birth from our Mother, the Holy Virgin Mary;

Who loved us and on our behalf gave Himself up on the Cross;
Who protects us from the snatching wolves by His mighty hand;
Who leads us through the wilderness of this world by the light of His life-giving teachings;

Who opens His arms and happily accepts our return to Him, lifts us up from the defilement of this world, and gives us the pleasure of sitting with Him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2: 6).

Let us pray to our Good Shepherd to guard His Church and His people and keep Her peace and unity and to keep for us our beloved father, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III. May He guard you all by His mighty hand.

 

Wishing you all many happy returns

Bishop Serapion
Servant of the Diocese of Los Angeles
January 1999

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