Metropolitan William: Keep the Message of Christmas Alive

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Dear People,

After months of waiting for the birth of their first child, Mary and Joseph searched for a place to stay while traveling. Mary was about to give birth to Jesus. They had no reservations in a town where they were strangers. There were no places to stay. Finally, someone offered them a little stable in a cave outside of Bethlehem. Jesus Christ was born into this world in this most humble way. Angels, shepherds, farm animals, and a late arrival of three kings from the Orient were the only witnesses to his arrival into this world.

The Gospel of Saint Luke is our source of a story filled with images which have become a part of our spiritual lives. We hear the gospel story each Christmas and see the nativity icons and crèches in our churches. The images of Jesus being born in Bethlehem used to be visible everywhere during the Christmas Season. Schools, stores, and public places all had the images of the entire Lukan story of the birth of Christ. The story of the Nativity became visible everywhere to remind us and to help proclaim the message to the world that God is with us.

Through political decisions, the display of religious images has been restricted on civil buildings and properties in most cities in the United States. The restriction has influenced businesses to reduce or eliminate religious Christmas decorations which have the true meaning of Christmas. And the trend has influenced many not to display religious images in front of their homes.

We need to keep the true message of Christmas alive. We can continue to try to challenge the secular trend through political means. This may not be successful today. However, we can decorate the outside of our churches and homes with the images and icons of the complete story of Christmas. In history governments have tried to get rid of Christmas, but Christmas has survived and returned in a stronger way through the spiritual power of the message and the devotion of the people.

Saint Francis of Assisi lived in a time similar to ours. The faith of the people was worn down by war and a lack of faith. Near the end of his life, Saint Francis had an idea of how to bring Christ back into the celebration of Christmas. He proposed the reenactment of the story through a living crèche in the town of Greccio Italy. With the help of the people, Saint Francis gathered the people and animals. During that Christmas season, the people and animals were a living crèche. It is a tradition which has continued in Greccio until the present day. Many miracles of healing and spiritual renewal have been credited to the yearly celebration. The tradition spread around the world.

Each year, the Basilian Sisters of Uniontown Pennsylvania with the help of the people continue the tradition of the living crèche before the celebration of Christmas. The faithful and other people travel great distances to attend the event each year. The living crèche makes Saint Luke’s gospel story come alive. Especially for the children, whenever the see the nativity icon, hear the gospel reading or the Christmas hymns, the story is alive and real to them.

Not all Churches are suited for a living crèche. But when we are asked to decorate our churches for Christmas, please help to give honor to the Christ child by responding to the call to bring the spirit of Christmas inside and outside our churches. And when you decorate the inside of your home, you make Christmas come alive in the hearts of your faithful family. When you decorate the outside of your home you invite all to hear and receive the message that Jesus Christ is born and to glorify him.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend William C. Skurla, D.D.
Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh
Apostolic Administrator of Parma

Nativity 2016

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Your Nativity, O Christ our God, / Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom! / For by it, those who worshiped the stars, / Were taught by a Star to adore You, / The Sun of Righteousness, / And to know You, the Orient from on High. / O Lord, glory to You!

Merry Christmas to you and your family! Pray for me.


Orthodox in Communion with Rome…Something To Think About

One of the documents that Eastern Catholics love to use as a defense for the idea of being Orthodox in Communion with Rome is the Ratzinger Solution or Proposal. It says:

Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium. When the Patriarch Athenagoras, on July 25, 1967, on the occasion of the Pope’s visit to Phanar, designated him as the successor of St. Peter, as the most esteemed among us, as one also presides in charity, this great Church leader was expressing the essential content of the doctrine of primacy as it was known in the first millennium. Rome need not ask for more. Reunion could take place in this context if, on the one hand, the East would cease to oppose as heretical the developments that took place in the West in the second millennium and would accept the Catholic Church as legitimate and orthodox in the form she had acquired in the course of that development, while, on the other hand, the West would recognize the Church of the East as orthodox and legitimate in the form she has always had. Ratzinger, Joseph: Principles of Catholic Theology, Ignatius, 1976, page 199

This small citation seems very hopeful for the idea of being Orthodox in Communion with Rome and for Orthodox/Catholic dialogue. BUT, In 1988 Pope Benedict (then still Joseph Ratzinger) explained further what he meant and clarified his earlier statement. This clarification [the bolded parts were bolded by a friend of mine who sent this to me.My friend’s blog can be viewed at ] points to important texts that seem to refute the OICWR idea.

A kind of ecumenical dogma seems to be developing here which needs some attention. Quite likely it began with this train of thought: for intercommunion with the Orthodox, the Catholic Church need not necessarily insist on acceptance of the dogmas of the second millennium. It was presumed that the Eastern Churches have retained the traditional form of the first millennium, which in itself is legitimate and, if rightly understood, contains no contradiction to further developments. The latter after all only unfolded what was already there in principle in the time of the undivided Church. I myself have already taken part in attempts to work out things like this [here he cites what he wrote in 1976 inPrinciples of Catholic Theology]), but meanwhile they have grown out of hand to the point at which councils and the dogmatic decisions of the second millennium are supposed not to be regarded as ecumenical but as particular developments in the Latin Church, constituting its private property in the sense of “our two traditions”. But this distorts the first attempt to think things out into a completely new thesis with far-reaching consequences. For this way of looking at it actually implies a denial of the existence of the Universal Church in the second millennium, while tradition as a living, truth-giving power is frozen at the end of the first. This strikes at the very heart of the idea of Church and tradition, because ultimately such an age test dissolves the full authority of the Church, which is then left without a voice at the present day. Moreover, one might well ask, in reply to such an assertion, with what right people’s consciences, in such a particular Church as the Latin Church would then be, could be bound by such pronouncements. What once appeared as truth would have to be characterized as mere custom. The claim to truth that had hitherto been upheld would thus be disqualified as an abuse.

Unity is a fundamental hermeneutic principle of all theology, and hence we must learn to read the documental that have been handed down to us according to the hermeneutics of unity, which gives us a fresh view of many things and opens doors where only bolts were visible before. Such a hermeneutics of unity will entail reading the statements of both parties in the context of the whole tradition and with a deeper understanding of the Bible. This will include investigating how far decisions since the separation have been stamped with a certain particularization of both language and thought–something that might well be transcended without doing violence to the content of the statements. For hermeneutics is not a skillful device for escaping from burdensome authorities by a change of verbal function (though this abuse has often occurred), but rather apprehending the word with an understanding that at the same time discovers in it new possibilities.

Ecumenical dialogue does not mean to opt out of the living, Christian reality, but rather it means advancing by means of the hermeneutics of unity. To opt out and cut oneself off means artificial withdrawal into a past beyond recall; it means reducing tradition to the past. But that is to transfer ecumenism into an artificial world while one goes on practicing particularization by fencing off one’s own thing. Since this preserve is regarded as immune from dialogue but is still clung to, it is lowered from the realm of truth into the sphere of mere custom. Finally, the question arises of whether it is a matter of truth at all or just a question of comparing different customs and finding a way of reconciling them. In any case, the axiom that introducing dogmatic definitions made since the separation should be regarded as “not in keeping with dialogue” would mean a flight into the artificial, which should be firmly resisted.

Joseph Ratzinger, “Problems and Prospects of the Anglican-Catholic Dialogue,” Church, Ecumenism and Politics, pp. 83-84, 84-85.

We Eastern Catholics should ponder the words of Pope Benedict and really examine our belief in the idea of being Orthodox in Communion with Rome. Not that all Eastern Catholics buy into the OICWR idea. It did strike me to the core and is making me examine my beliefs. The Ratzinger proposal was something I believed in, but it seems that Pope Benedict didn’t mean it as many see it, as his later clarification seems to imply.

I , and many, fully believe[d] that “Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium” but does Rome?

Just something to think about.