January 3, 2024
Feast of the Holy Prophet Malachi: “True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity” (Malachi 2:6).
Dear beloved clergy, faithful parishioners, and friends,
In the days following the celebration of the Nativity of our Savior, we continue to reflect on the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Savior, the Messiah, and Emmanuel, God with us.
At the birth of Christ, “suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:13-14).
In addition to the glory of this celebration, we also celebrate the glory of the Theophany of Christ, which reinforces the theme of God’s manifestation in our midst. Saint Matthew tells us: “After Jesus was baptized, He came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17).
However, despite the joy and glory of God’s abundant gifts and blessings to us which elevates humanity to a new life with Him, today we are also witnessing the tragedy of humanity and world powers who are unable, or more accurately, unwilling to bring peace to the world.
We see the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continue with no clear end in sight. We see various other conflicts around the world. Also in Jerusalem, the city whose name is the city of peace, in Bethlehem, the house of bread and nourishment, and in the entire region where Jesus, the Prince of Peace (cf. Isaiah 9:6), lived, taught, prayed, healed, died, and rose from the dead, we see no peace, no bread, and no nourishment of justice or basic human rights.
In addition to our prayers for all those suffering everywhere around the world, we as a Melkite Catholic Church turn with focused and intensified prayers toward the Middle East, where our Church’s origins are rooted in the early Christian communities that accompanied Jesus as He walked the land and who have lived and witnessed to His death and resurrection for the past 2,000 years.
As we watch and receive firsthand reports of the devastation in Gaza with destroyed homes, bombed mosques and churches, leveled cities, hundreds of thousands of people displaced, over 22,000 men, women, and children killed, we question how humanity can permit such devastation, and we strongly condemn this tragedy.
Unfortunately, what we are seeing is not new. For the past 75 years, Palestinians have been displaced from their ancestral lands, denied the possibility to return to their homes and villages, or driven into refugee camps in neighboring countries or into the sea to fight for survival or find refuge wherever they can.
Today, we witness what the United Nations, Amnesty International, and international human rights and aid agencies have acknowledged as one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time and have specifically called what we are seeing a war crime, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. We also see growing aggression in the West Bank where Palestinians have for many years been subject to intimidation, injustice, and denial of basic human rights.
We as a Melkite Catholic community of faith pray for immediate peace and an end to all wars. The prophet Isaiah tells us: “The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust for ever” (Isaiah 32:17).
Thus, we call for justice as the only means to resolve the root causes of this ongoing tragedy. We also call for world leaders, politicians, and all men and women of good will to commit immediately to peace and justice for all people. Imagine where the world would be if the resources we spend on war are spent on peace and human development. We reject all violence and the twisted logic of war and instead turn to a logic of peace and the word of God presented to us by the prophets shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
The prophet Isaiah calls for the resources of war to be transformed into resources for peace as he says: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).
He reminds us that peace is overdue and is a blessing for all: “O that you had hearkened to My commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea” (Isaiah 48:18). January 3, 2024
Also, the prophet Hosea reminds us that God wants all humanity to be at peace and love each other: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6).
Since then, many men and women have called and committed their lives to peace. We encourage everyone to look at great men and women in their own traditions who have worked for peace and justice.
In particular, I recommend the book “Blood Brothers” by the retired Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Haifa, Archbishop Elias Chacour. He recounts how, despite his family’s displacement from their home in 1948, he has remained hopeful and committed to peace. This book also contains a foreword by former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III who wrote: “From my perspective, both as a believer and as a diplomat, I take hope and comfort in knowing that amid all the hatred, destruction, and death, Father Chacour continues his patient work, softening one heart at a time.”
I specifically ask all our Melkite Catholic communities to pray for the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank during the Divine Liturgy and to hold a special prayer service dedicated to intense prayer for peace, justice, and an end to all forms of oppression.
Our Melkite Catholic Diocese of Newton, through our generous parishes and faithful, have repeatedly responded throughout the years to challenges in various countries of the Middle East. From the first days of the tragedy in Gaza, our Melkite Catholic diocese set up a “Palestine Relief Fund” at: https://melkite.org/palestine-relief-fund
Every dollar will assist in humanitarian aid and go directly to certified Catholic agencies who have a history of work in Gaza and the West Bank. I ask you to pray and assist in whatever way you can.
On behalf of the clergy and faithful of our Melkite Catholic Diocese of Newton we extend our condolences to all families who have lost loved ones. We also commit to prayer for the men, women, and children who are suffering and patiently searching for peace and justice.