Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Merry Christmas!
Volume 5 No. 320 December 23, 2015

Christmas Greetings

Christmas Message From
HH Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II,
Patriarch of Antioch and All The East
Primate of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church

Patriarch HH Ignatius Aphrem II

"For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

Dear Beloved in Christ,

Each year at this blessed time, the Holy Church relives the Nativity of our Lord, the true Prince of Peace. As on that first Christmas morning, the joyous message of the heavenly hosts is again proclaimed to all mankind: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good hope for men." (St. Luke 2:14) Like the shepherds, we are also told of the glad tidings of great joy that "this day is born to you in the city of David, a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord." (St. Luke 2:11) Today, the infinite God has been born in the flesh, taking upon Himself our very humanity and becoming one with us.

Our prayer for you this Christmas is that the precious blessing of our Lord's coming be with you and your dear ones both now and always. May we all be truly better Christians in the New Year ahead, seeing Christ in all our brothers and sisters. We pray that God may richly bless and keep you in His loving care and that this Christmas season may truly be a time of real peace and joy for you all.

Source: Message adapted from 2010

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.

And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
Isaiah 9:6-7

This is probably the most quoted verse in Christmas Greeting cards, especially in the abridged form

Unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given.

The birth of Jesus was predicted centuries before the birth of the baby in the manger in Bethlehem. Old Testament Prophets gave  details of how Messiah will come:

He will be born of a virgin
He will be born in Bethlehem
He will be born in the family of King David
He will bring peace.

When the Magi went to Herod's palace and asked the king where is the King who was born, we came to worship him, Herod consulted the experts in Jewish scripture (Old Testament) and gave them all the details.

So, it was not that the arrival of Messiah was unexpected or even the details. But when He did come, no one recognized Him or paid any attention to Him. ('The inn was full-' people were too busy with their own affairs.)

The people who had the privilege to see the baby Messiah were the ordinary people:

The lowly shepherds who were on the field tending the sheep. The shepherds are so despised by Jews that their testimony is not accepted in courts. If we recall, after the resurrection of Jesus, the first person who saw Him was Mary Magdalene. Interestingly, the other class of people whose testimony is not accepted in court are the women. In the Patriarchal society of ancient Jews, women were considered the second class citizens.

The other people who saw the baby are the Magi, who saw a star and travelled several months to see the baby as directed by the star. They were not Jews - the chosen people. They were gentiles.

What God wanted to convey to us by these signs is that in front of God, everyone is the same. We are all made in the image of God; Jesus has come to to save us. He has redeemed us of our sins and has got us son-ship or daughter-ship of God. We are now a privileged group of people. The privilege is not just for Jews but for all the creation of God.

If you had been following Malankara World, one of our themes is that God picks ordinary people to do extraordinary things. We can all do extraordinary things if we listen to God and do as He tells us to do.

Knowing, listening and Doing are what separates the privileged from the non-privileged.

The scribes knew all about Messiah; but they missed him completely.
The shepherds did not know anything about prophesies or scriptures; but when the angels appeared to them and announced the birth of the savior, they took action to go and visit him. St. Luke described what they did:

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.
- Luke 2:15-17 (NKJV)

So, what did the shepherds do?

  • They listened carefully to what the angels told them (even though they were very afraid.)
  • They discussed among themselves as to what they heard and came to an agreement on an action plan - to go to Bethlehem and investigate whether what they were told was the truth.
  • They travelled to Bethlehem and located the place where Jesus was born.
  • They worshipped the Son of God, the savior who came to save them according to the angels.
  • They testified. The told everyone the good news - what the angels told them.
  • After doing all these things they returned to their place of work and resumed their job - taking care of their sheep.

If we want to do extraordinary work for God, these are what we need to do too. In other words:

  • Listen to messages from God.
  • Determine what that means.
  • Do what he told us to do.
  • Give testimony to others the blessings we received from God, so they can also benefit from working for God.


Christmas is the season of Joy. It is the time when we eagerly anticipate the birth of the "Prince of Peace", the light of the world. Unfortunately, we do not experience happiness or peace when we the news of terrorism and the Christian Persecution all over the world. Two of our Bishops are still being held after kidnapping by terrorists. We do not even know whether they are still alive. Countless priests are being held. Most of churches in Iraq and Syria are destroyed. Christians are murdered when they refuse to convert to Islam. Millions of Christians have lost all their possessions and are living in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Many of them have taken dangerous trips to Europe in search of a better life. Our Late Lamented Patriarch Ignatius Zakka 1 Iwas told us when he was alive:

Dearly beloved, how can you celebrate this Christmas and New Year with all the happiness when our beloved Archbishops Their Eminences Mor Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Mor Paulose Yazgi are abducted since last April and we lack any kind of true information about them?

Is it possible to celebrate Christmas by immersing in worldly enjoyments when twelve of the humble and saintly nuns of Ma'alula are kidnapped?

How will you welcome the New Year with gladness when thousands and thousands of your brothers and sisters in Syria including innocent children are brutally killed by the evil clutches of terrorism?

Isn't a time to recognize that going after name and fame or money and power is satanic when our brethren in Syria are living in fear and anxiety and expecting death at every moment?

Isn't it too late for us to stretch our helping hand to the victims of violence and to pray for world peace especially in the Middle East?

We exhort all of you to learn from Jesus Christ, who is the true embodiment of humility and poverty, in whom we find true comfort and celebrate Christmas meaningfully.

We are unable to express the pain in our heart for the innocent victims of terrorism and violence. Pray with humility and confidence that they may find solace in the Living Lord. Also beseech the intercession of all the martyrs and saints especially our Holy mother, who is ever-virgin, pure and spotless.

We, with pain in our heart for the wounded and with joy in Holy Spirit, wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We extend our Apostolic Blessings to you. May the Grace of God be with you all.

Interestingly our Holy Father, in an earlier encyclical told us an action plan to face the terrorism, persecution and the difficult time ahead too:

"Our dearly beloved spiritual children, today we face a lot of difficulties and sufferings in every realm of our lives. "We suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 18.17). With the blessed apostles, prophets and martyrs, we may also rejoice in our sufferings as true Christians. The presence of the living Jesus amidst us gives us strength and courage to endure the pains and agonies for the sake of the greater glory of God. At the same time, we should reject every kind of evil in our lives in order to be in the grace of God.

Let this Christmas time be a milestone in our lives to turn away from every sinful attitude and malevolent behavior. Let us hold the helping hands of the Mother of God; through whom the Word became flesh in the world, to live a life of grace and to endure all the sufferings. Mother Mary is the Mother of Glory, Mother of Love, Mother of the Word of God and the Mother of Grace. Let us offer ourselves to Her during this Christmas so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith; that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the power to comprehend the breadth and depth of the love of God and the freedom of the Spirit. We wish you all a Blessed New Year and extend our Apostolic blessings to you. May the grace of God be with you all."

As I write this column, today (Monday, Dec 21) is the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the first day of Summer for the people in the southern hemisphere (Australia, New Zealand, etc.) Thanks to El Nino, a weather pattern, we have 50-55 deg F (10 - 13 deg C) - unseasonably warm. There won't be any snow on this Christmas; many children are unhappy that without a 'white Christmas' Santa Claus may not be able to drive his sled and so they may miss their gifts from Santa. A few years ago we had nearly 6 feet of snow on Christmas Day making travelling very treacherous and almost impossible.

Today morning in the News I heard a story of a small boy, named Zeavon Dobson in Knoxville, Tennessee, who sacrificed his life to save the lives of 3 girls who got in the cross-fire of two rival gangs. He jumped in front of them and shielded them by taking the bullet so that the girls could be saved. Isn't it what Jesus did for us? He paid the ransom for us. He was crucified to pay for our sins so that we can become the sons and daughters of God. That is the true spirit of Christmas. It is not about receiving, but giving. Jesus told us that we should take the cross and be willing to die for Him. Christian life is not a bouquet of roses but a throne of thorns. This is not our world. We look forward to an eternal life with God, angels and our family in heaven.

Look at the manger with the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes beside Mary. What do you learn?

God Loves You.

Look at the cross. What do you learn?

God Loves You.

Yes, Evangelist John had expressed it beautifully:

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
(John 3:16-17)

So, the only message we need to give at Christmas is:

God Loves You.

That is it. But that is everything.

May the blessings of Christmas be yours in abundance this year and always!

And know that God loves you and so are we. Thank you for your support of Malankara World. Please pray for us.

Dr. Jacob Mathew
Malankara World


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