— Archbishop Job of Telmessos
As a second wave of the pandemic of the coronavirus is tragically spreading all over the world, more strict restrictions may in many countries jeopardize the celebration of Christmas in Christian Churches. In different parts of the world, some Christians have already expressed their unhappiness about it, although these sanitary measures are imposed by the civil authorities for the common good of the population.
“Religion is needed where there is a wall of separation between God and man. But Christ who is both God and man has broken down the wall between man and God. He has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion. […] Christians had no concern for any sacred geography, no temples, no cult that could be recognized as such by the generations fed with the solemnities of the mystery cults.
[…] The Church itself was the new and heavenly Jerusalem: the Church in Jerusalem was by contrast unimportant. The fact that Christ comes and is present was far more significant than the places where He had been.”
The Church, through the celebration of the mysteries, incorporates us in this new life in Christ. In fact, it is significant that Jesus Christ began his earthly ministry by claiming: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15). One can understand these words as the coming of the end, that the eschatological Kingdom of God is at hand. But later, Christ told his disciples not to look for the Kingdom of God here or there, in a geographical place, since “the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Lk 17,20). In this sense, the incarnation of God is already the manifestation of His Kingdom, in the body of Christ which is the Church. Christ is in our midst within the Church.
But this verse could also be understood slightly differently, as ”the kingdom of God being within you”. Thus, we ought to seek God and his Kingdom not in a geographical place, but within us, in our heart, in inwardness. This actually correlates with Christ’s teaching on prayer: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Mt 6:5-6). The true prayer is the prayer of the heart, when one cuts himself for outwardness and introverts on the presence of God within his heart.
Certainly, Christians need to be nourished and sustained by the mysteries celebrated in the Church, which incorporate us into Christ. But Christians should definitely not live a superficial faith expressed only by rituals, customs or external piety. True faith, deep faith, is the expression of an inner experience. All the mysteries that are celebrated by the Church, and whose celebration begins in the Orthodox Church with the words “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages”, have as their only aim that God may establish his Kingdom within us. May these unusual circumstances of the pandemic, depriving us from celebrating Christmas as we ought or as we are used, help us to reflect on the “one thing needful” (Lk 10:42) and celebrate with inwardness the Emmanuel, the God who is with us (Mt 1:23).