Orthodox Christians celebrated Christmas on Monday following the Julian calendar, with the heads of churches delivering the broader message of the birth of Jesus Christ while also focusing on providing comfort to people facing challenges in their respective nations.
Fr. John Matusiak of the Orthodox Church in America says that while estimates in some media reports of Orthodox membership run as high as 300 million, in his view the number is closer to 200 million.
In Russia, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia celebrated Christmas liturgy in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, delivering a message on salvation and touching upon the importance of adoptions, an issue linked to a recent government ban of adoptions by Americans.
"This festival connects us with the most significant event in history, the birth of the Son of God and the Son of Man, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world in Bethlehem," Patriarch Kirill said. "The word 'Savior' reveals the mystery of His birth and His mission to us. Every man dreams of salvation in many life circumstances but we do not always use this word. Most often we use it in matters of life and death. However, we frequently have to settle conflicts, master difficulties and cope with diseases, we want to make a contribution to the improvement of our family life or the life of the entire society. We do not use the word 'salvation' in this context but this word reveals all human desires best of all. Our Lord came to save us and the main meaning of His salvation is that He gives us strength to conquer evil and consequently inherit the Kingdom of God."
He also touched on the adoption issue.
"It is very important for our people to adopt orphans into their families, with joy and a special sense of gratitude to God, giving them not only shelter and an upbringing but also giving them their love," said Patriarch Kirill.
"[T]he Lord tells His followers that if they want to reach the Kingdom of God they must … share their opportunities with the needy – primarily invalids, the elderly, and children," he said.
"'Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them,' says the Lord. These words from Him should ... make us all realize how important children are in the eyes of God," he said."
"And as we celebrate Christmas I would like to appeal to everyone with a request: If you can take this important step in life aimed at adopting children, supporting orphans, take this step," Kirill said. "There should be no orphans in our country."
The head of Egypt's Coptic Church, Pope Tawardros II, placed his message within the context of his nation's political struggles, as Egypt's citizens begin life under a constitution passed by an Islamist legislature which many liberals and Christians say does not respect pluralism.
Pope Tawadros II urged congregants to be joyful and "not be afraid in his Mass for Coptic Christians.
"Don't be afraid," Tawadros said in the midnight sermon. "Even if humans feel lots of fear, remember God will take care of you. This is a collective message because fear is contagious. … This is a message of reassurance."
He also prayed for the nation's political leader and the rest of its citizens.
"We pray for this beloved country, Egypt, for God to protect her safety, security, stability; to protect her unity and more so, her image," Pope Tawadros said, according to the Associated Press. "We don't pray for the land. We pray for the humans, all humans ... starting with the president, Mohammed Morsi, and all officials, and for God to give everyone wisdom and responsibility to manage the affairs of this country and its people in true Egyptian spirit."
Serbia and Latvia
The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej served Christmas liturgy at S. Sava's Temple, delivering a message in the context of the country's humanitarian challenges, according B92.
"Christmas is a day of consolation and hope for all people driven away from their homes and refugees, including all those of our kin who are eating the bitter refugee bread," he said.
He told citizens of Kosovo and Metohija that Christmas is a day when Easter also begins, that resurrection does not happen without sacrifice and that on the 100th anniversary of the liberation of Kosovo, "the faith must be put in the Lord."
Riga and all-Latvia Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church Alexander wished for peace love and prosperity for all on the holiday and the new year, according to LETA, the news agency of Latvia.