Melkite Greek Catholic Church

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Original letter (PDF, 5 pages, 106KB)
Arabic translation (PDF, 6 pages, 284KB)




Great Lent and Holy Week

Renewal of our Baptismal Commitment

Let us enter the season of the radiant Fast with joy,
Giving ourselves to the spiritual combat. Let us purify our spirit
and cleanse our flesh.
As we fast from food,
let us abstain from every passion. Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit, may we persevere with love
so as to be worthy to see
the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with spiritual gladness
to behold His holy Resurrection.
(Forgiveness Vespers)

In the early Church baptisms took place in connection with the glorious feast of Christ’s Resurrection. The one to be baptized, the catechumen, was plunged into the baptismal pool, symbolic tomb of Christ, only to be raised with Christ from the tomb which now symbolized a womb to new life. Catechumens studied the Christian faith for one to three years, and the last forty days before their baptisms were given more intense instruction on how to live the life of Christ through prayer, fasting and good works, – the basis for a Christian life. So this season was not dismal or sad and gloomy but rather joyful – living Christ was filled with joy.

Over the hundreds of years, the Church extended this 40-day period even to us, the already existing Christians, recognizing that we do not always live our Christ-life as best as we can. We slip: we forget to pray and converse with God as we should. We overindulge much in food and spend more time with gossip and back-biting. We ignore our brothers and sisters in need and forget to care for each other as we should. Our likeness to God gets tarnished and many times we fail to see it – we need a renewal, so the Church proposes to us a more active life in Great Lent to pray more, to fast more, and to perform more good works for 40 days with the hope we are able to renew good habits in our lives in imitation of Jesus Christ, our Lord, model and Savior.

Great Lent opens with Forgiveness Vespers at which we chant: “Let us observe a Fast acceptable and pleasing to the Lord. True fasting is to put away all evil, to control the tongue, to forebear from anger, to abstain from lust, slander, falsehood and perjury. If we renounce these things, then our fasting is true and pleasing to God.”

We welcome Great Lent not as a time for self-inflicted agony or self-improving therapy. We greet this season as a holy time consecrated to the correction, purification and enlightenment of ourselves through the fulfillment of the commandments of the crucified God.

We push out the evil within us and allow the fruits of the Holy Spirit to take deeper root in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22). The forty days are saving days for complete and total dedication to things of God. The forty days are our “tithe” or one tenth of the year to focus more on our godliness. We return to God in the abundance He gives us!

We begin Great Lent with Forgiveness Vespers, properly on Sunday evening or in some parishes on Monday – the first day of Lent. We ask each other for forgiveness as we embark on this intense spiritual journey. God desires our repentance, not our remorse. We express sorrow for our sins but do so in the joy of God’s mercy. We make ready for the Resurrection, both Christ’s and our own. We renew our baptismal promises.

The Church offers us the tools for renewing ourselves and our attempts to be more in conformity with the teachings of Christ. The basic tools are Prayer, Fasting, and Good works – these are essential elements to living a full Christian life. By focusing on them more intensely we begin to renew ourselves to live better lives.

Prayer – Prayer is necessary in Christian life. Jesus Christ himself prayed and taught us how to pray. To be a follower of Christ we must pray – our conversation with God. We lift our minds and hearts to God to have communion with him in order to accomplish his will.

We have personal prayer at home using some formal words or just being informal in dialogue with God. We are urged to pray regularly, secretly, briefly and without many words, trusting that God hears us. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites... so they may be seen by others... rather go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (MT 6:5-6).

A simple prayer for this purpose is the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This can be repeated many times. We invoke the name of God to have communion with him.

Another prayer prayed especially at every liturgical Lenten service is the Prayer of St. Ephrem. Each short paragraph is accompanied with a great prostration. This prayer can be said upon waking, with our family meals, and before sleeping – or any other times during the day:

  • O Lord and Master of my life, grant that I may not be afflicted with a spirit of sloth, inquisitiveness, ambition and vain talking.
  • Instead, bestow upon me, Your servant, a spirit of purity, humility, patience and love.
  • Yes, O Lord and King, grant me the grace to see my own sins and not to judge my brethren., for You are blessed forever and ever. Amen.

During Great Lent the Church offers us public services: Presanctified Liturgy, Great Compline and the Akathist Hymn. We do not go to church to say our private prayers, but we bring ourselves, our cares, desires, troubles, questions and joy and unite them with others to the prayer of the Church, to the prayer of Christ, the Mother of God, the saints, and our brothers and sisters in our particular community. Check your parish bulletins for these enriching community events.

Fasting – Fasting is essential to our Christian life. Christ fasted and taught us to fast. The goal of fasting is to purify our lives, a physical and spiritual liberation from sin. We strengthen ourselves to love God and people. What money we save from fasting on specific foods is shared with others who have a need. We have our Eparchial Shepherd’s Care Program: Each person, old and young, banks the savings in a Lenten mite box and presents it on Pascha to the Church so that the Shepherd, the Bishop, distributes it to the poor and needy. Fasting helps our body and the bodies of others.

Our fasting regulations developed in monasteries and are somewhat mitigated today but it is up to each person individually to adjust the fast to their life and circumstances. Check your parish bulletin for the traditional fast and the mitigated guidelines and make it a better part of your life – the rules are ideals to which we strive.

Jesus reminds us in Mathew’s Gospel: “When you fast, do not look dismal like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting... But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (MT 6:16-18).

St. John Chrysostom also gives us important words on fasting: “Real fasting is not merely abstinence from meats, but from sins as well. Let the hands fast by being pure from plundering and avarice. Let the feet fast by ceasing to run to unlawful spectacles... Let the mouth fast from disgraceful speech, for what does it profit us if we abstain from fish and fowl and yet bite and devour our brothers and sisters.”

Our Lenten Vespers sums this up perfectly: “Let us observe a Fast acceptable and pleasing to the Lord. True fasting is to put away all evil, to control the tongue, to forebear from anger, to abstain from lust, slander, falsehood and perjury. If we renounce these things, then our fasting is true and pleasing to God.” (1st Monday of Lent).

Good Works – Almsgiving – The third arm of Great Lent is a stronger refocus on doing good works. Almsgiving is a daily event, not just done in Lent. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus not only speaks about prayer and fasting, he adds his words or commands of almsgiving as well. “So when you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do... rather do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (MT 6:2-4).

Jesus’ call for us to do good works even confirms God’s law in the old covenant: “Those who despise their neighbors are sinners, but happy are those who are kind to the poor... Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor Him.” (Proverbs 14:21, 31).

Scripture teaches us that to share our possessions to support the needs of others is the most concrete expression of faith and love. Faith is not alive in one who does not help the needy. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead”. (James 2:14-17).

The Fathers of the Church also insist on almsgiving. St. John Chrysostom says: “Feed the needy now or be ready forever to feed the fires of hell!” St. Basil the Great also insists on sharing with others: “The grain in your barn belongs to the hungry. The coat in your closet belongs to the naked. The shoes rotting in your basement belong to the barefoot. The silver (money) hidden in boxes belongs to the needy. You sin against all those whom you are able to help, but fail to do so.”

Our liturgical texts also focus on good works: “In this season of repentance, let us stretch out our hands in works of mercy. Then the ascetic struggles of the Fast will bring us eternal life, for nothing saves the soul so much as generosity to those in need; and almsgiving combined with fasting will deliver us from death. Let us do all this with gladness, for there is no better way, and it will bring salvation to our souls.” (Matins Aposticha, 2nd Thursday of Lent).

Just prior to the Great Fast we recall on Meatfare Sunday the great parable in Matthew’s Gospel of the Last Judgement: Jesus reminds those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed strangers, cloth the naked, visited and cared for the sick, and visited those in prison, “just as you did it to one of the least of those of my brethren, you did it to me...and those that ignored the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick and in prison, “just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do to me.” (MT 25:31-46). Jesus identifies himself as every person in need. Our brothers and sisters are our life – we cannot ignore them or pass by their needs.

Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. On weekdays of the Great Lent, we fast from the full Eucharistic Divine Liturgy. However, it is not fasting from receiving Communion, just from the full joyful Divine Liturgy. The Church does not deprive us from receiving Holy Communion by celebrating a modified Vesper-Liturgy in which we receive the body and blood of Christ consecrated on the previous Sunday.

Generally, in our Melkite Church it is celebrated on Wednesday evening but it can be any weekday evening according to parish schedules. It is truly a beautiful service with the pre- sanctified gifts brought to the Holy Altar in deep silence.

Akathist Hymn – This beautiful Kontakion written by St. Romanos, the author of many long hymns is connected with the Great Feast of Annunciation on March 25, which generally occurs during Great Lent, or Holy Week. In our Melkite Church, on Friday evenings we chant the Odes to the Mother of God and a section of the Akathist Hymn. On the 5th Friday we chant it entirely at night prayer (Compline). Although not directly connected to Lenten services, this expressive theological hymn honors the Mother of God who bore Jesus Christ in her womb. She gave birth to our Savior whose saving actions we will celebrate in Holy Week leading to his glorious Resurrection.

Special commemorations take place on the Saturdays and Sundays of this fasting season and a very long Canon on Repentance written by St. Andrew of Crete is sometimes chanted in some parishes. Check with your parish priest, and if not chanted in the church request this Canon which you can chant or read in your homes.

Great Lent ends with the resurrection of Lazarus on the day before Palm Sunday. However, although the 40 days are complete, we embark on a more intense and expressive week – the Holy and Great Week of the Passion of Christ. During Holy Week our fasting should be a bit more intense. Although we are still somewhat in partial lockdown with COVID-19, most services will be live streamed by our parishes. It is a beautiful week walking with Christ in his passion, proclaiming Him our King on Palm Sunday and Bridegroom of the Church. We are anointed with the oil of the sick since we are all spiritually infirm. We witness his humility by washing his apostles’ feet as a reminder that all of us are called to serve each other. We celebrate his institution of the Eucharist which is our life-giving food. We read the Passion Gospels and enact his crucifixion, meditating on his long-suffering and death on the cross, accomplished for our salvation. We remove the dead Christ from the Cross, prepare the burial and sing the joyful glorifications at His decorated tomb. We process with his burial shroud (epitaphios) around the church and even in some places outside of the church, and upon reentering the church we bow underneath his body as a sign of dying with him and asking to be raised with him too!

On Holy Saturday we bless the new light – the sign that Christ lives and we proclaim his resurrection to the world outside before our Paschal Divine Liturgy. And as we proclaim his resurrection, we too stand upright and proclaim our own renewal of our Christian life which we received at the time of our baptisms. At our baptisms we were asked if we renounce all evil, if we accept Christ and if we will live the Christ life. If we were babies at that time our godparents answered for us. But now as adults we recommit ourselves to living Christ and to being another Christ in our world.

I pray this Holy Season be filled with joy for all of you and I pray that when you shout the first Christ is risen, you can add “and me too,” I’m a renewed follower of Jesus Christ.

A Short Pastoral Letter on Great Lent and Holy Week - 2021
Bishop Nicholas Samra
Eparchial Bishop of Newton

 
O LORD and Master of my life, grant that I may not be afflicted with a spirit of sloth, inquisitiveness, ambition and vain talking. Instead, bestow upon me, Your servant, a spirit of purity, humility, patience and love. Yes, O Lord and King, grant me the grace to see my own sins and not to judge my brethren. For you are blessed forever and ever. Amen. From the Office of Educational Services: Great Lent at Home (PDF, 556KB, 28 pages)
 
Arabic translation (PDF, 2 pages, 252KB)

Christmas 2020

Dear Clergy and Faithful

 

Bethlehem, make ready,
for Eden has been opened for all.
Ephrata, be alert,
for the Tree of Life has blossomed forth from
the Virgin in a cave.
Her womb has become a spiritual Paradise
wherein the divine Fruit was planted –
And if we eat it, we shall live
and not die like Adam.
Christ is coming to restore the image
that had been lost in the beginning.
Troparion for Forefeast of Christmas

 

The season of God’s manifestations in the flesh is upon us. It is not just his birth in Bethlehem’s cave: He is named and circumcised according to his people’s tradition; He enters the temple after 40 days to encounter his people; He is baptized by John in the midst of his people. All these events proclaim and celebrate the gift of the Word of God who is fully revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. As the Troparion above says: Truly Jesus becomes a human being to restore the image lost in the beginning in Paradise with the sin of Adam and Eve. These feasts reveal to us God’s saving work in the world through his Son. They are not just historical narratives, for Jesus is very much alive today in the world through the proclamation of the Gospel – God’s saving action in our lives.

We refer to this entire forty-day season in a general way as the Christmas season.

Christmas means that “The Word (the Eternal God) became flesh and dwelt among us, full of Grace and Truth” (John 1:14).

Christmas means God is not an impersonal machine or super power who runs the universe by remote control. He is a Person “Emmanuel – God with us.” “And you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21).

God is a Person who wants to establish a personal relationship with you. A Person to whom you can pray, a Person who cares for you.

Christmas means that God has visited his people and not just a visit but here to stay. He is with us in joy and sorrow, living and dying, and he will come again at the end of time to judge the living and the dead.

Christmas means that we do not have to be terrorized by the sins of the past. God’s great gift to us is a Savior wrapped in human flesh. He came to wipe out our sins of the past and restore us to holiness.

Christmas means that God cared to give us the Best. “God so loved the world that He gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16).

God did not send an angel or a saint or a prophet – He came HIMSELF IN PERSON.

Christmas means that there are two births of Christ: one in Bethlehem for all; the other in each of us to allow us to be spiritually reborn. He unites our humanity with his divinity – the initial plan for all of us in Paradise. He allows us to be a communicant of the Divine nature through Theosis, becoming GODLY.

He was born in the first Bethlehem so that he might come and be born in the second Bethlehem – your soul and mine!

Our liturgical prayers tell us we “behold a strange and wonderful mystery: The cave is heaven, the Virgin a cherubic throne, the manger, a noble place where reposes Christ, the uncontainable God.” (9th Ode of Nativity).

Accept Christ in, allow Him space in you, and not just will the “cave be heaven,” your body too will be heaven with Christ reposing in you and restoring you to touch the divinity.

I offer all of you my best wishes during this glorious season, asking you to stay safe during this COVID crisis. Pray for each other, care for each other, love each other, for you have Christ living within you.

With my love and prayers, I remain,

Sincerely in Christ God,

Most Rev. Nicholas Samra

Eparchial Bishop of Newton

 
THE AMERICAN SHOPPING SEASON is at hand. Some people will spend it jostling for bargains; others will pass the ime lamenting the commercialization of Christmas. The Eastern Churches, on the other hand, encourage their faithful to prepare for this feast by increasing their involvement with the things of God. Please download this wonderful guide to help you prepare for the glorious coming of our Lord!
 

Original letter (PDF, 3 pages, 114K) [Please click Donate above to use a credit card.]

Oct. 4, 2020

My Dear Melkites Across America,

In today’s Gospel Jesus is telling us what he told us in the Sermon on the Mount: love conquers all: Our enemies, those who hate us, revile us, persecute us, speak evil against us and there is only one way to conquer them. Love them! And that is not impossible because each person gives what he/she has and since we have Christ within us, then we give his love, his care and his forgiveness.

Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful! These words of the Gospel are not impossible to live because the power of God overshadows us and we, having Christ in us, we too can be merciful. Our love needs to spill out.

Today we begin our Annual Bishop’s or Eparchial Appeal and our love for God and the building and growth of his Body, the Church, must spill out of each one of us. The present and the future of our Church are in our hands - all of us together, bishop, priests, deacons, religious and laity. With all of our hands together we can accomplish great things.

You will be receiving a letter from me this week sharing some more information of the “vision” of our Church and your involvement in living this vision. My faith in God is strong and over the many years, 50 as priest and 31 as bishop, I see his guidance in my life, especially the last nine years as your eparchial bishop. I have witnessed your strong faith and commitment to your parish and to the Eparchy. Your involvement in the Body of Christ – the Church is truly a blessing and I thank you sincerely for sharing that blessing by your participation in parish life and your prayerful and financial assistance to the Eparchy. Your assistance is helping us grow our Church, support our seminarians for priesthood and diaconate, develop more resources for our Evangelization and Catechesis, especially on-line, YouTube and family faith celebrations. Your gifts provide us the opportunity to send you Sophia – an award-winning magazine. We have begun to properly develop our archives and digitizing all records along with preserving precious icons, books and memorabilia in an eparchial museum. Even our Annual Calendar that your parish gives you has a catechetical-education approach.

We all need to grow in Christ more and more and your gifts allows me to share this growth and make it possible. I decided to merge the Annual Appeal and the Order of St. Nicholas. At next year’s Convention in Atlanta we will have a luncheon meeting for the Order members – They are those who are able to give $1000 or more each year continuously. We will form a board of directors who will work with the bishop to develop the assistance for mission growth and insurance for the married clergy families. Each Order member will be inducted on the parish level and be given the Cross of St. Nicholas which they wear on special occasions and especially when the bishop makes a parish visitation.

The other donors to the Appeal will be supporting Sophia Magazine, priesthood and deacon formation, charity, religious education, archives, digitizing documents, etc. This year 10% of our Appeal will be sent to our Melkite Metropolitan George Bacouni in Beirut to assist the families hurt severely by the horrific explosion of the 4th of August.

St. Paul in today’s Epistle speaks to us about Giving – God loves the Cheerful Giver. So often people say “money talks.” In a sense it does. If someone glanced at your old checks, they could see the real you, what kind of person you are. They would know if you belonged to a church, how much you gave to God, how much you spent for personal luxuries – so yes, “money talks.” It tells what kind of people we are, what we value most in life, what we love and care for most.

St. Paul says: “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”

The important thing about Christian giving is not “how much” we give but rather “how much in comparison to what God gives us. God blesses us abundantly – so we give in proportion to his love, and we give this lovingly.

Paul says “the one who sows sparingly will reap sparingly” so let us not err but rather give generously – give abundantly and you will receive abundantly.

Let each family make 2 lists: column 1: “What are we living for? Column 2: What are we spending for.” When you realize what you are living for, give wisely and give gladly – be a cheerful giver.

Years ago I got hooked on “tithing” – 10% for God, 10 cents for every dollar I made. I have never felt a loss, in fact I found I could not win with God – He always out gave me. He gave to me physically, financially and in many other ways. He owns me and my income too, all of it. I learned that tithing is just a symbol of my trust in Him.

Proportionally, lovingly, generously, wisely, gladly – and finally give humbly. When we give a gift to God, we bow in deep humility even on our knees because we bring so little when we think of how much He gave for us on the Cross and still gives.

In giving to God to your parish and to this Annual Bishop’s Appeal and Order of St. Nicholas you are assured that God’s good work in us continues to grow in abundance. God promises, says Paul “to provide you with every blessing in abundance” so that you may share this abundance to build his Body on earth.

If our giving is abundant, God’s giving to us will be even more abundant.

I keep you all in my prayers especially during this COVID-19 crisis, asking God to keep you in good health. I ask also that He open your hearts to keep His good work alive in our Eparchy by a generous gift to the Annual Appeal.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Rev. Nicholas Samra

Eparchial Bishop of Newton

 

Original letter (PDF, 2 pages, 76K) [Please click Donate above to use a credit card.]

Rabweh, August 10, 2020

To the faithful and friends of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church

Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ!

Dear all,

The fourth of August 2020 was a catastrophic day in Lebanon due to the criminal explosion that occurred in the port of Beirut, impacting and shocking the capital and the entire country, which we are all still trying to wake up from. The explosion left behind, as the whole world has witnessed, hundreds of victims and more than five thousand wounded, many of whom are in critical condition. The deadly blast destroyed a large number of buildings (70,000 homes estimated so far), leaving thousands of people in the city with a shattered house or no house at all. All of this came amidst an unprecedented and extreme political, economic and health crisis. On Saturday, the eighth of August, we visited our brother, Metropolitan George Baconi, and we inspected together the damage that affected our children and their properties, as well as the damage to the churches and institutions. We saw with our own eyes the horror of the disaster and heard with our own ears people's screams of pain.

Thanks to God Almighty, many individuals and institutions took the initiate to contact the Patriarchate or the Archdiocese of Beirut to express their solidarity and desire to provide moral and material support. From the first day, the Patriarchate, eparchies, and monastic orders placed all their institutions and monasteries at the service of those affected. But this is not enough. The people of Beirut are going through an extremely difficult period psychologically, physically an financially, and this requires us to offer them everything within our power. Thus, we appeal to all of you to take the initiative of extending helping hand in order to show, during these difficulty times, the unity and strength of our Church in the face of this calamity and to stand with the weak who were victims of the tragic explosion.

We ask that everyone who would like to contribute to contact the Chancellery of our Patriarch in Rabweh at this email Patriarcat@melkitepat.org or to call the following numbers: +96176658803; +96179194306.

We pray to the Lord Jesus that the victims may rest in His peace, and be welcomed into His kingdom. We ask that, by His mercy, He heals the wounded, calms hearts. and comforts all those who are sad with His everlasting joy. We also ask Him to reward everyone who gives of their time or their money a hundredfold in return.

With our prayers and love!

+ Youssef
Melkite Greek catholic Patriarch
Of Antioch and All the East

 
As we know, the Great Fast and the Great Week before Pascha are the most diligently observed fasts in the Church. After that, the most thoroughly kept fast is that before the Dormition, which in our Tradition lasts from August 1 through August 14. Like the Great Fast, the Dormition Fast has special services to set this time apart. In our Church an intercession service to the Mother of God, the Paraclisis, is held nightly. This Fast also includes the Great Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ which is kept from August 6 to 13. This feast celebrates Christ as the radiant Light of the Father’s glory while in the Dormition we see Christ, who trampled down Death by His death, take His Mother into the light of His resurrection. This period is so rich in opportunities for prayer and worship that it has traditionally been called our “Summer Pascha.” From the Office of Educational Services: The Fast of the Theotokos in the Home (PDF, 736KB, 18 pages)
 

Many of our parishes "live-stream" the Divine Liturgy. Even if your parish does not, you can still see and hear the Divine Liturgy. You will find a list of Melkite services here.

Attending the services via live-streaming is an aid to sincere devotion. To get the most out of these services, behave exactly as if you were physically in the church and attending the service:

  • Dress as you normally dress to attend a church service.
  • Fast as you normally do prior to a church service.
  • Place the device you are using to view the church service in your icon corner, and disable all notifications on the device.
  • Silence all other devices, and attend to other personal needs before-hand — avoid unintended distractions.

  • Participate as you normally do in a church service: sing, stand, sit, make the sign of the cross and metanies, and so on.
  • Practice prayerful behavior as you normally do in a church service, e.g., no commentary (either online or out loud).

Many thanks to Live Liturgy for their website ministry. These practical tips were adopted from guidelines provided by the OCA Diocese of NY and NJ.

 

His Grace, Bishop Nicholas, sends you his YouTube message for

Pascha, courtesy of Father Hezekias and the Office of Evangelization

and Catechesis. Paschal Odes and Stichera (PDF, 6 pages, 64KB)

 

Paschal Message of H. B. Youssef
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
April 12, 2020

Christ is risen!

With a heavy heart we cry out the cry of victory - which we await from year to year - in empty churches! We miss you dearly, beloved sons and daughters, wherever you may be.

Christ is risen! It is with a heavy heart indeed that we shout out this exclamation of faith and victory, after fifty days of praying and fasting, without finding faithful in our churches to respond: He is truly risen! How can we sing Christ is risen, ‘Christos anesti’, without hearing your voices repeat it vibrantly and joyfully?

It is sad that you were not able to be anointed with the Oil of repentance, nor able to receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in his Pascha, the commemoration of his Passion and Resurrection.

Our Paschal celebrations this year are marred by heartache, as the churches are empty: not only the faithful are missing, but also our cherished children. With their purity, innocence, and smiles, our children are a living sign of hope and joy. They remind us that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them; the future too, a future which we hope will be more humane, with more solidarity, more compassion, and more mutual love; a future in which differences between people will diminish or even disappear, and a new world order will arise with justice, equality, peace and joy, for the Earth has enough room and resources for all peoples.

True, children are silent in this year’s paschal solemnities, but the stones will speak: the stones of our churches will echo their voices which are stored there year after year, proclaiming: He is truly risen!

This year we have especially captured the meaning of the Lords’ saving Cross and Resurrection and how they are intimately related. We entered the Holy Week of the Savior’s Passion with inner joy and peace, not with sadness nor fear, because the Divine Master, by his death on the cross and his Resurrection on the third day, conquered death and filled our hearts with faith and the hope that he would always triumph over pain and evil.

How much we need hope and faith in these difficult days as we experience the pain, anxiety and fear of the corona pandemic that sweeps the world?! We now remember Saint Paul’s words to the Romans: “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Rom 5:3-5). We also remember what he wrote to the Corinthians: “With the trial, God will also provide a way out” (1 Cor 10:13). We believe that God created the world beautiful and good; in no way would He have accepted it otherwise. It’s God’s world before being the world of man; and God loves His world; so how can He let it perish as Evangelist John says: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (Jn 3:16-17).

As we celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ from the dead, a solemnity so dear to our hearts, the whole world is desperately struggling with a pandemic that befell it, sowing death everywhere, oppressive as a horrible nightmare. People are left confused and helpless. As if for the first time, an enemy called death has suddenly appeared in their homes and invaded factories, schools, hospitals, stores and streets, chasing people from place to place and striking at random. They hurriedly marshalled all their scientific and technological capabilities to contain it for they realized it was a matter of life or death.

Death! People seem to have completely forgotten it in the midst of their preoccupations with the affairs of life, feverishly running after their livelihood, or blindly embracing atheism, materialism, agnosticism, and many other frivolous absurdities. They have closed every window that might let in some light from another world or simply remind them that there is another world.

In the year of the corona, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ reminds us, his followers, that death is not an ordinary matter, nor a natural conclusion for human life followed by nothing. Death is not a futility unworthy of attention and concern, but the archenemy of humankind. Fortunately, Our Lord’s Resurrection comes at the right moment to remind us that by his Resurrection, Christ has totally and completely crushed the power of death which Saint Paul calls the last enemy: “(Christ) must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:25-26).

Today’s feast reminds us that the last word is not for death but for life, because Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life. “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22:32). God did not tell man "be" to let him die, but to live forever. And death, no matter how strong is its thorn, is doomed forever: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” exclaims the Apostle Paul (1 Cor 15:54-55).

By his Resurrection, Our Lord rekindled hope in our hearts and gave us strength to fight death in its various threatening forms. The corona that strikes us these days is not the only, nor the most dangerous epidemic: There is death between individuals, family members, parishioners, societies and nations. Death has infiltrated human relations because they are fatally corrupted by selfishness, individualism, tribalism and hostility. We see in the corona crisis some typical examples: Countries that refrain from helping other countries that are in d+ire need because they disagree with their political line or don’t obey their directives or simply because they are considered without value. We see individuals who hoard vital articles as if other people have no right to life.

The Resurrection of Our Lord calls us to restore these perturbed relationships by building trust among people. The Resurrection invites us to view the other as a brother and friend, not an enemy or an adversary. The Resurrection invites us to love the world as the Divine Master loved it.

That is what distinguishes the children of God as St. Augustine says: “He who does not promote justice and does not love his brother is not from God. Therefore, love alone is the distinctive mark that can tell God’s children from the sons of Satan.” Today more than ever before, we need to restore the due respect to the family, to the school and to the parish. We need to recognize their utmost importance and the primary role they play in our societies. They are the most suitable places for promoting good relations among people.

There is death also in our relationship with God, or rather God’s death in our lives, the death of faith. We have eliminated God and everything that reminds us of him. We have excluded him from our lives, and consequently we have suppressed our spiritual and human dimensions. When the corona epidemic stealthily befell us, we were surprised to find ourselves spiritually unprepared to cope with the new situation. We immediately felt the need to pray and return to God. An invisible virus had disrupted our lives and instilled anxiety in our souls!

Nevertheless, with our Lord’s Resurrection we feel strong, despite all our weakness, and able to renew our faith in God and the power of Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead.

However, there are people who question the Resurrection of the Lord; some even categorically deny it or consider it a myth. True, the Resurrection is such an awesome event that it appears too beautiful to be true. In fact, the first to doubt it were the Apostles themselves (Matthew 28:17; Mark 16:11), especially Thomas who declared his doubt and demanded concrete proofs.

The Evangelist Luke says the Apostles considered the story of the women who announced the Resurrection of Jesus to them as "nonsense" (Luke 24:11). Luke adds that “while they were still speaking about this, Jesus stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” (Luke 24:36-37)

Only after the Apostles had examined the empty tomb, and seen, heard, and touched their living Master did they believe. They were thus able to proclaim the Resurrection of the Lord with such a profound conviction that they gave their lives for him. If we are unable to perceive supreme beauty, this does not mean that it doesn’t exist. Rather, in order to see it, we need to have a special kind of eyes, the eyes of faith.

The ones who have received the Christian faith from the Apostles possess such eyes. That’s us. We are the ones about whom Jesus aid: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn 20:29).

We are the ones whom John meant in today’s gospel when he says “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God” (John 1:12- 13). These faithful to whom we belong have overturned the equation: Reflected in their evangelical life, their faith bears evidence to the Resurrection, not the opposite.

That’s the utmost beauty of the Resurrection which we celebrate today. It’s the faith of which the Apostle Paul spoke when he addressed those who questioned the Resurrection in his time: “If Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith... If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:13-17).

It means that there is no Christ, no Christian faith, no Christian religion, and no salvation without the Lord’s Resurrection. The Resurrection is the pillar of the Christian faith and the seal of its integrity. It was the main subject of the Gospel preached by the Apostles. We may call it the “Big Bang” that projected Christian life into an endless space and time. That’s precisely what our liturgy of Pasha calls “The day that has no evening,” or also the “Kingdom,” which Our Lord promised the thief and actually inaugurated as he was still on the cross.

Today, the risen Jesus Christ comes to our cities, towns and neighborhoods, accompanying us in the heart of our lives and offering to save us from servitude, evil and sin; from hatred and oppression; from pride and vanity; from darkness and doubt. He can help us make life more humane, and open up to us divine horizons, with a new Earth and new Heavens.

Today, our lord Jesus comes to us, humble in his victory, carrying salvation within His Resurrection. Let’s open our homes to him and spread our hearts before him and cheer for him. Let’s make a place for him in every house so he can shine his Light upon us today and afterwards, whether the churches are closed or open.

But the churches will not remain closed for long, God willing. We will resume meeting in the church because God has chosen it as his dwelling. It’s the place where the Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus, meets his Bride, the Christian community. The common prayer in the church is a primal and venerable tradition. No other prayer can replace it or abrogate it. Countless sons of ours long to come back to church in these difficult days.

In this salvific season, we pray for each other. We pray that the corona pandemic will not be long; that the Good Lord may heal those who have been affected by it and receive its victims among the Angels and the Saints. We pray for all those who have volunteered to avert the imminent danger: the doctors, the nurses, the scientists, the officials, the technicians, the various governmental and non-governmental institutions, asking God to bless their endeavor for the sake of our country and for the whole world.

We pray God to enable the International Community to overcome the pandemic by setting up a coordinated plan that would be carried out wholeheartedly in a comprehensive act of love beyond all boundaries whatsoever.

We pray the Good Lord to inspire each one of us to do what we can in order to alleviate suffering.

We pray for safety, peace, stability and prosperity in our respective countries. May peace and justice prevail all over the world.

While we pray, we should also sincerely forgive each other. In the paschal service, the Church teaches us that forgiveness gushes from the Lord’s tomb. With the forgiveness coming from the Lord’s tomb, let’s bury our conflicts and differences, our difficulties and problems, our troubles and concerns, our bitterness and disappointments, our sins and weaknesses. Let’s bury death itself! Led by the Church, let’s all join in singing with hope and faith, with joy and exultation, with optimism and determination:

“Today is the day of the Resurrection! Let us glory in the Feast and embrace one another. Brethren, let us say: ‘Because of the Resurrection, we forgive all things to those who hate us.’ And let us all sing together: ‘Christ is risen from the dead and by his death he has trampled upon death and has given life to those who are in the tomb.’”

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