Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 

This conference is the second organised this year by Al-Azhar on a new international and interfaith platform.

The first such, with the very significant title Religious Freedom: citizenship, diversity and integration, had been held from 28 February to 1 March 2017. My talk at that conference was published in the conference acts, but I further outlined my ideas in a dozen interviews in various media outlets.

Christian and Muslim faith leaders, scholars and political figures were invited to both conferences.

Talks were given by Eastern and Western Christian and Muslim international figures from the Arab world, Asia, Africa and Europe; these were not only in Arabic, but also in English, French and Italian.

Topics dealt with have examined the various aspects of peace: challenges to peace; religion and the misinterpretation of peace; poverty, sickness and peace; the culture of peace and the impact of religions; reality and hope.

Important figures have been participating in the current conference: Coptic, Greek Orthodox and Melkite patriarchs of Alexandria, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, bishops and imams from Egypt, Iraq and other Arab countries of Africa and Asia.

Mutual respect, acceptance of others and frankness characterised the grand opening.

The present congress is a further step, a step forward, an opening, a note of hope…More respect, mutual recognition, and the desire to go forward.

A successful congress!

The visit of His Holiness Pope Francis has given added value to the significance of the current conference. He has come at God’s time (God’s kairos) for peace, dialogue and openness, solidarity, understanding, co-ordination, co-operation, optimism, for all us Christians and Muslims in Egypt and the world.

Thank you, Holy Father!

Thank you, Al-Azhar!

+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
Of Alexandria and Jerusalem
 
“Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:9)

Abandonment of Patriarchal Service is the culmination of my Catholic Christian, monastic and humanitarian life’s work: a period during which the Holy Saviour has bestowed his blessings on me.

On November 29, 2000, I was elected patriarch, so am now in the seventeenth year of my service at the Patriarchate, having completed many projects with the grace of the Saviour and thanks to the generosity and love of friends, especially German ones.

In January 2011, during a private spiritual retreat in Cairo, I wrote down a spiritual prayer and concluded, "I hope to resign from my patriarchal service in due time after seven to ten years.” Then, in the retreat for Damascus priests in Seidnaya in June 2011, I wrote a spiritual meditation saying, "I hope to give up my patriarchal service in either 2014 or 2015, when I am aged 83 or 84 or at most 85." God is behind the intention.

Years passed and because of the failure, for known reasons, to convene the Synod of June 2016, I decided to give up my patriarchal service for the good of the Church. I wrote a letter to that effect to the Congregation for Eastern Churches on 20 June, 2016. We were later able to hold a Synod between 21 and 23 February, 2017. We reached a beautiful ecclesial accord.

On the other hand and for the sake of the Church, which I loved so much, I placed my resignation at the disposition of His Holiness the Pope.

I looked back at my diary as I mentioned above in this statement, and found that the Spirit had guided me on a straight path. I saw that it was time for implementing what I wrote in 2011 and am ready to relinquish my patriarchal service by the age of 85, i.e. 15 December 2017.

This is my decision before the Redeemer and my monastic, priestly, ascetic and patriarchal conscience.

I have written four letters to His Holiness the Pope to explain my reasons, especially the need to live as we stated in the Agreed Synodal Statement (February 23 2017), to live in an atmosphere of companionship and love in June 2017. I explained in these letters the way I proposed to announce my resignation, asking His Holiness to enable this renunciation of office to take place in such a way as to preserve the patriarch’s dignity, preserve the dignity of the Eastern Churches and respect for Eastern traditions, as well as respect for other Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, for Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs of all Churches and for ecumenical dialogue.

The transition from one era to the next is an agreed order of things that was decided upon in February 2017. But coordination on the details of the mode and mechanism of transition has not been properly followed. I will continue to communicate with His Holiness the Pope and with the Congregation for Eastern Churches, to find a suitable outcome to this transition. We will remain in touch in this spirit of love and understanding, for the good of our Church, unity and future, for the glory of God and the welfare of souls.

I conclude by thanking “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1: 3). I also conclude with a phrase from my 2011 meditation on resignation, "`Love never fails!´ Thank you, Jesus, thank you, Mary, and let us commend ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.“

+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
Of Alexandria and Jerusalem
Of the Melkite Greek Catholics
 
His Beatitude Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem


From Gregorios, servant of Jesus Christ,
by the grace of God, Patriarch of Antioch and of All the East,
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem,
to their Graces, the Bishops, members of the Holy Synod,
to our sons and daughters in Jesus Christ,
clergy and people, called holy, and to all those called
by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their and our God,
“grace be unto you and peace from our God and Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
(I Corinthians 1:3)

Children of the Resurrection

“Children of the Resurrection” is a beautiful title first used by Our Lord Jesus Christ in his discussion with a group of Sadducean Jews, who denied the resurrection of the dead. Christ countered their argument by saying that human beings after death “are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being children of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:36) He added, “Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.” (Luke 20: 37-38; cf. Matthew 22: 31-32)

For each of you, this means that because you have been created in the image and likeness of God, you are a child of God, life and resurrection.

“Children of the Resurrection” is the splendid title given in the first centuries to Christians in the East. They are children of life since they participate in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I have great pleasure in addressing you, my dear friends, by this most noble and deathless title. You are children of the resurrection. You are children of Him who said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” (John 11: 25) You are children of Him who rose from the dead: like the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7: 11-15) and Jesus’ friend Lazarus (John 11: 1-43). You are children of the resurrection, children of life.

This expression was widely used to designate the monastics of Palestine and elsewhere. This group of Christian monastics and hermits, bound by the vow of chastity and dedicated to the service of the Church, were Children of the Resurrection. Evidently, the basic condition for membership of this group was holy baptism.

Baptism and the Resurrection

Baptism is closely bound up with the Resurrection. It used to be conferred only on the day of Pascha. As Saint Paul says, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life: for if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” (Romans 6: 3-5)

This is also the chapter we read for the sacrament of baptism, since baptism is a covenant with the risen and ever-living Christ. Baptism is a call to new life in Christ.

That is why the early Christians postponed receiving baptism until the time when they felt able to be faithful to the baptismal promises, especially the rejection of the devil and sin, putting on the life of grace in Christ, thus becoming children of the resurrection. The community of those baptized into Christ is a living community, a resurrection community, comprising children of the Resurrection. The baptized children of the Church are children of the Resurrection, children of a New Covenant with the living Christ. This means that the children of the Church, children of the Resurrection, baptized into the living Christ, must be elect saints and children of life.

Baptized Christians, recognize your nobility as children of the resurrection, children of a city rightly known as City of the Resurrection! Resurrection is a summons to a fervent, serious and committed Christian life. We are all resurrectionists; and, what is more, everyone called to life is a resurrectionist.

Can we forget that Damascus and its surroundings are the place of the appearance of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, to his persecutor, Saul, who had come to Damascus to destroy fledgling Christianity and slaughter the children of the Resurrection? Saul was converted by the light of Christ risen from the dead, and was himself transformed from persecutor of the children of the Resurrection into a child and apostle of the Resurrection. He continually speaks and teaches about the topic of the Resurrection in his Epistles. (See our 2009 Letter for the Year of Saint Paul, entitled, “Paul, Apostle of the Resurrection.”)

Jesus Christ founded a community that believed in resurrection, new life and a new world. Peter, through love that is stronger than death, steers the ship of the Children of the Resurrection.

Jerusalem, City of the Resurrection

The ecclesial rite that is richest in resurrection hymns is the Byzantine Greek rite. Furthermore, the Eastern Churches are Churches of the Resurrection as they all originate in Jerusalem, home of the Church of the Resurrection (called Church of the Holy Sepulchre by Western Christians).

Jerusalem is the Mother of all Churches throughout the world because it is the City of the Resurrection. That is commemorated during Paschal Vespers, “Rejoice, holy Sion, thou Mother of the Churches, and dwelling place of God: for thou wast first to receive remission of sins through the Resurrection.” (Octoechos, Tone 8, Sunday Vespers)

Furthermore, it is recognized that all rites centre on the Church of the Resurrection and the Holy Places. The pilgrim, Egeria, describes all the solemnities and processions that took place in Jerusalem and its environs, with their starting points, and routes all ending in the Church of the Resurrection. Thus, if the procession started in Bethlehem, it would end in the Church of the Resurrection. Similarly, if it started in Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives or on the Mount of the Ascension, or at any other place around Jerusalem, it would always end at the Church of the Resurrection.

The Church of the Resurrection is the great symbol of Christianity. How beautiful it is to hear Jerusalem’s Christians, when asked where they are going, replying, “I’m going to the Resurrection” (and not just “to the Church of the Resurrection)!” They are going towards the Resurrection.

The Church of the Resurrection is also called “the navel of the world.” Medieval cartographers liked to place Jerusalem at the centre of their maps. Similarly, Christian pilgrimages always culminated in the Church of the Resurrection, because they were all focused on the Resurrection.

Indeed, all churches throughout the world are considered to be churches of the Resurrection, because, everywhere, they have the cross and representation of Golgotha and the Resurrection. That is especially evident in Orthodox and Catholic churches of the Byzantine rite, where the representation of Golgotha may be found high up on the iconostasis, while below, the Holy Table is the place of the Tomb and Resurrection in the Byzantine tradition.

In the Eastern tradition too, there is usually on the Holy Table the antimension, depicting Christ being prepared for burial by the Mother of God and Saint John at the foot of the cross. Thus, in the Eastern tradition, every church is the church of the Resurrection.

Resurrection in liturgical services

In the Octoechos, we have thousands of Resurrection hymns in the liturgical services for Sundays, as well as in those for Wednesday and Friday every week.

The first tone

For Sunday in the first tone we find these beautiful themes: the whole universe (heavens, foundations of the earth, mountains and valleys) is called to participate in the resurrection; the resurrection is for the whole world; Jesus himself wants to call everyone to life and resurrection; heavenly Resurrection is present among the souls of the faithful departed; Adam and Eve are children of the Resurrection.

In icons, as in hymns, Jesus holds the hands of Adam and Eve and calls them, as he does all nations, to resurrection. Jesus descends towards man in order to raise him, donning mortal human nature in order to clothe it in immortality.

The second tone

We find in this tone the following themes: Resurrection is a power stronger than “the enemy’s swords”; the risen Christ “leads us out of darkness” and “brings together that which was separated.”

The third tone

Christ is “the first-born of the dead” and of all creation, through his Resurrection. Death does not reign over man, for he is called to be the child of life. Peter being saved from drowning is mentioned in the context of our resurrection. The Chief Shepherd calls his flock to resurrection and life.

The fourth tone

Christ’s tomb has “been revealed as the life-bearing source of our resurrection; more lovely than Paradise.” Jesus is the One who “joins together the separated natures.”

The fifth tone

The faithful are called to walk towards resurrection and light. Resurrection is for everyone. Jesus shows the light of the resurrection to all. Jesus stoops down towards man, without falling; he bore “my foul-smelling corruption unsullied, and hath made me sweet-smelling with the myrrh of [his] divine nature” and Resurrection.

The sixth tone

The faithful is called to the true glory of the Resurrection. Christ “sets us free from the passions” by his Passion and Resurrection.

The seventh tone

Resurrection is the focus of glory for everyone. The faithful are called to “come out to adore the Resurrection.”

The eighth tone

Resurrection is compassion. The Church of the Resurrection is the “Mother of the Churches,” because it is the place of the Resurrection. The hymnographer, Saint Jean Damascene, addresses Christ in these terms, “O Jesus, who came down from heaven, thou didst ascend the Cross and didst come to death, O immortal Life; true Light for those sitting in darkness and Resurrection for all the fallen. Our Saviour, who enlightens us, glory to thee!” (Saturday Vespers, Aposticha)

Resurrection Sunday

The hymns of Paschal Sunday are a spiritual and literary masterpiece. They describe the Resurrection and its relationship with risen humanity. I will quote just this verse, “Yesterday, I was buried with thee, O Christ, today I arise with thee in thy Resurrection; yesterday I was crucified with thee. Glorify me with thee, O Saviour, in thy kingdom.” (Ode 3 of Matins)

The children of the Resurrection, around Christ, are his Apostles Peter, Thomas and John with Luke, Cleopas, Mary and Mary Magdalene. The Gospel chapters recount their spiritual experience of the Resurrection. These stories are read in Sunday Matins in the cycle of eleven Sundays.

Besides, every Sunday of the year is a Sunday of Resurrection. The faithful renew their resurrectional strength by taking part in the Divine Liturgy every Sunday, and singing the hymns of the Resurrection in the eight different tones. Thus the children of the Resurrection celebrate the Resurrection together every Sunday.

They celebrate the feast of their risen family, and every Sunday becomes a Paschal Feast and meeting of the children of the Resurrection around the risen Christ. That is what we feel as we sing the hymns of Sunday Matins.

My experience of the Resurrection in Jerusalem

I should like to speak of my personal experience of resurrection during the twenty-six years that I spent as patriarchal vicar in Jerusalem, City of the Resurrection. The patriarchate is situated some three hundred yards from the Church of the Resurrection.

I used to go to “the Resurrection” every Sunday at quarter to eight in the morning. There I would visit Golgotha, the Stone of Anointing and the Holy Tomb. Then I would go to pray and listen to the singing and prayers of the Resurrection in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Arabic. I shared in the prayers of my brethren of the various venerable communities that celebrate liturgies day and night in this Church of the Resurrection.

How beautiful were the ceremonies of Holy Saturday connected with the bringing out of the Holy Fire, and the Hajme or race to the Resurrection! Then walking with Jerusalem’s faithful of all communities on the night of Pascha, in the streets of the Holy City, towards the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu, Christ’s prison and the Garden of Gethsemane …

Could I forget the hundreds, or rather thousands of talks, given in various languages to pilgrims from around the world, to explain the importance of the Church of Jerusalem and of the presence of Christians as Resurrection witnesses, just like the apostles and the first Christians?

Jesus: Resurrection and Life

Jesus promised resurrection to his disciples (John 6: 39-40) and also told them, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.” (John 6: 51) In Bethany, where he raised Lazarus from the dead, Christ said to Martha, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” (John 11: 25) All the miracles of Jesus are miracles of life, since he restores man to life, by opening ears and eyes, restoring strength to withered hands, enabling the lame and paralytics to walk with head held high, and recalling the dead to life.

Jesus is the Master of life and the guide of the progress of the children of the Resurrection, as he walked on the roads of the Holy Land, in Jerusalem, Galilee, Nazareth, beside the Lake of Tiberias and on the road to Emmaus with his disciples Luke and Cleopas… He continues to walk with the Church, with the sons and daughters of the Resurrection and the Church.

Your responsibility as a child of the Resurrection

Noblesse oblige! The children of the Resurrection are witnesses of the Resurrection (Acts of the Apostles 1: 22). If you are the child of the Resurrection, it means that you are the child of hope, love, devotion, forgiveness, tolerance and giving without counting the cost!

Being a child of the Resurrection means being the child of life, not death. You accept and preserve life, in yourself and with others. You act as Jesus did, that all might have a better, more beautiful, worthy and elevated life and have it more abundantly. (cf. John 10: 10)

Being the child of the Resurrection means being available to serve, help and commit yourself to the welfare of your Church, parish, society and family. You will work hard for and build a better world. You share with others the good things of this earth. You arouse hope for life and happiness, and optimism in others.

Joint Feast of the Resurrection

This year, all Christians of every community, all children of the Resurrection celebrate the great Feast of the Resurrection on the same date.

We offer our good wishes to each and all, hoping that all efforts may combine for the great project: that the day may dawn when the Feast will be joint and fixed. Indeed, we know that efforts have been made towards this objective of fixing the Feast for a Sunday between the 9 and 15 April, but that there are also impediments.

Similarly, we pray, with our children in our Arab Eastern world, for peace to return to our suffering countries, especially Syria, Iraq and Palestine.

We invite everyone to hope, especially in the face of scenes of death, violence, explosions, terrorism, criminal killing and burning…

Despite all these tragic circumstances, let us renew our faith in life, in hopes of the Resurrection, in Jesus Christ who has conquered death and given life and who calls us to be sons and daughters of the Resurrection and life, bearers of the message of life, working for the victory of life over death, love over hatred and bitterness, forgiveness and reconciliation over vengeance.

The children of the Resurrection are builders of Syria of the future. The children of our churches and institutions are builders of love and peace.

Resurrection behaviour

The words of the well-known French Abbé Pierre (1912-2007), one of the first worker-priests, who are worthy to inspire children of the Resurrection, invite us to this:

I shall continue to believe, even if everyone loses hope.
I’ll continue to love, even if others distil hatred.
I’ll continue to build, even if others destroy.
I’ll continue to talk peace even in the midst of a war.
I’ll continue to spread light, even in the midst of darkness.
I’ll continue to sow, even if others trample the harvest.
And I will continue to shout, even if others are silent.
And I shall draw smiles on faces in tears.
And I’ll bring relief, when we see the pain.
And I’ll offer reasons for joy, where there is only sadness.
I will encourage the one who decided to stop to keep walking …
And I’ll stretch out my arms to those who feel exhausted.”

With these feelings, and in hopes of the Resurrection, all we Christians, celebrating Pascha on the same day, proclaim together with but one heart, soul and common hope, and with the joy of Christ risen from the dead, exchange greetings for the Feast: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
Of Alexandria and Jerusalem
 
 
From 21 to 23 February 2017, the Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church took place in Rabweh in the presence of almost all bishops. Also invited and present at this meeting were the Apostolic Nuncio of Syria, Cardinal Mario Zenari and the Apostolic Nuncio of Lebanon, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia.

The Synod thanked the Holy Father Francis for his attention to issues of the Melkite Church’s domestic issues.

During the working sessions, it was noted with regret and concern that serious difficulties had emerged recently over inter-episcopal relations on the one hand, and administrative problems on the other. Frank discussion among the participants allowed consideration of possible solutions.

Some bishops who had either failed to reply to two prior invitations to synod, or who had issued certain inappropriate press statements, admitted that they had acted improperly and wished to express their regret on that account. However, there was acknowledgment that occasional unintentional mistakes had been made in Melkite Church administration.

Finally, a spirit of brotherly reconciliation and renewed commitment to move forward together in communion for the restoration of ecclesial peace prevailed over past misunderstandings and enabled significant decisions to be made for the Melkite community’s welfare.

Election to membership of the permanent synod then took place, with one new member and his deputy being elected. The permanent synod, together with the patriarch, is tasked with taking requisite decisions for the smooth running of the Church.

The synod invites all the faithful to step forward afresh along the way of discipleship to the Lord Jesus and to walk together with their bishops, in order to give the Middle East, deeply troubled by war and violence as it is, a witness to charity and a sign of hope.

May the prayers of our most holy Mother, the Virgin Mary of Nazareth, accompany our Melkite Greek Catholic family and Church so that we may live “the Joy of Love,” which the Holy Spirit pours into the hearts of his loved ones.

On this occasion, at the threshold of Great and Holy Lent, we call upon every pastor and parishioner to offer works of repentance and charity, so that the world may see the light of our Church and glorify God the Father and that we may thus walk together towards the joys of Resurrection.

The Synod concluded with a liturgical service to which the Fathers and Mothers Superior of our monastic orders were invited.
 
Meeting of the Council of Eastern Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Alexandria in St. Stephanos' House, Maadi, Egypt, held on 27-28 December, 2016, under the chairmanship of Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac (Sidrak) and in the presence of Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III. The fathers discussed the importance of the presence and role of Christians in the Middle East where Jesus was born and how Christians can continue their role in Egypt's predominantly Muslim society.
 
Christmas Letter 2016



Gregorios, by the grace of God, Patriarch of Antioch and of All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem:
May divine grace and apostolic blessing rest on and embrace my brother bishops, members of the Holy Synod and all the faithful clergy and laity of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church.



Christ was born in Palestine:
Christianity was born in Syria

These two phrases sum up the most sublime meanings of the glorious Feast of the Nativity. The existence of Jesus is linked to the existence of Christianity, and Christianity’s existence is linked to its relationship with Jesus. There can be no Christianity without Jesus and no Jesus without Christianity and Christians, their presence, role and witness in the world, especially in the Middle East, where Jesus was born. Today in the Middle East, cradle of Christianity, Christian presence is threatened: threatened by wars that have given rise to this terrifying exodus, especially of Christians. That is what we see particularly in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt – countries that represent the core of Christian presence in the Arab world, in our beloved Middle East. Preserving this Christian presence is the joint responsibility of all Christians of every community, just as it is the responsibility of Arab countries to preserve Christianity, which constitutes a most significant regional heritage. If we mind about antiquities, stones, the ancient temples of Baalbek and Palmyra, how much more important it is today to look after the “living stones” of Christian presence. Muslims are responsible for Christian presence, because Christians have excelled in serving their Arab Eastern countries throughout history, before and with Islam. So we may consider the fruits of the Nativity and Incarnation are indeed in the Christian presence and Christian role. There we have a unique model of the Christian role and of the interaction between Christianity and Islam. Indeed, Christian presence was shown in splendid fashion in the circuit of civilisation of the Mediterranean Sea basin. Here is a description of this unique cultural circuit, in its most salient stages:

First stage

The Fathers of the Eastern Churches, Athanasios, Basil, Gregory, Cyril, John Chrysostom and others drew on the Greek or Hellenistic culture that had spread from Athens across the region. They had studied and been in contact with all branches of Greek culture: philosophy, literature, astronomy, architecture, algebra and medicine.

Second stage

The Church Fathers developed this culture, adopting and adapting it through their Christian faith, based on scriptural and evangelical doctrine. They can be said to have baptized Greek culture, philosophy and literature. The birth of Jesus Christ fleshed out this very varied Eastern civilisation, which we have inherited especially from the Greek Church Fathers whose writings can still be found today in the world’s libraries.

Third stage

The process of translation, especially from Greek, began when Islam arrived in the region from the Arabian Peninsula and subsequently interacted with Christianity by various means, including wars, extensive cultural interchange and the spread of the Arabic language. Translation was carried out thanks to Christian scholars well acquainted with Greek, as they used it daily in their services and rites, which they celebrated in Greek, Syriac, Coptic or Armenian and later in Arabic. That is all really the work of Jesus’s birth as it embodies Christmas values. That is how Christians transmitted Greek culture and civilisation in Arabic to Muslim society. That became the basis of Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) and philosophy, and the sciences of astronomy, medicine and so forth.

Fourth stage

As a result of quarrels between Muslim caliphs, some Muslims headed for North Africa and arrived in Andalusia, Spain, where they founded a Muslim caliphate and state. Arabic influenced local languages, especially those derived from Latin, which was the language of culture and learning in Western Europe. Interaction between both Muslim and Christian cultures took place, again showing the influence of the values of Christmas and Jesus’ Incarnation.

Fifth stage

Fruits of this interaction can be seen in the fact that books of Muslim philosophers dealing with philosophy and fiqh were translated into Latin, the scholarly language of Western Europe at that time, rather than into emergent local languages. Through these translations, Hellenistic Greek culture was transmitted to Western Europe and the great theologians of the Christian West via Eastern Christians and the Holy Fathers of the Eastern Churches, and by means of Arab scholars and philosophers, such as Averroes, Avicenna and others. In the writings of the great doctor of the Latin Church, Saint Thomas Aquinas, we find quotations from Greek philosophy through Arab writers. There too, we see, as it were, the Incarnation and Christmas moving from East to West. Neither should we ignore the influence of Jewish scholars in this many-sided pagan, Christian, Greek, Syrian, Muslim, Arabic and Western interaction. This was a really superb circuit and unique interaction between paganism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, a really local and global Christmas circuit, all taking place in the Mediterranean Sea basin with Eastern Christianity playing the leading role in this unique global cultural circuit.

The role of Eastern Christians

We must confess and recognize as a fact, the existence of Christianity and its very distinguished role in all Arab countries. Christianity is the continuation of Christmas and the effects of Jesus Christ’s Incarnation upon our holy land. It is thanks to our ancestors that faith in Jesus spread across all regions: from the bounds of East to West. Christianity spread into the Arabian Peninsula, to Qatar, Bahrain, Arabia (today Saudi Arabia), Kuwait and on into India and China. That means that there were monks, nuns, priests, bishops - and with them intellectual activity, schools, institutions, churches - who participated and continue to participate economically, socially, culturally and constructively in the evolution of these countries. That is what our Christian parents and ancestors have been doing all through history. That is evidence of Christianity’s vitality, even in the face of tragedies and vicissitudes. The Church is indeed as described by Jesus, when he said, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

We are of the same stock

The lesson that should be drawn from the fact of ancient Christianity’s disappearance from the Arabian Peninsula is not bitterness, hatred, aversion and estrangement, despite everything, including Muslim persecution of Christians at various stages, especially in the period of certain caliphs and governors. Despite that, Muslims and Christians have remained together in the same regions. Moreover, many Muslims whom I know personally in Syria, Lebanon and Jerusalem, openly admit that they are of Christian descent. Their ancestors were Christian, which means that we are of the same stock. Indeed, it is well-known that Christians remained in the majority in the Middle East until the thirteenth century. Thus the influence and values of Christmas can still be seen in Muslim society.

An historic document

We should continue this walk together, leaving room for forgiveness, indulgence and compassion, as stated by The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, promulgated by the Second Vatican Council fifty-one years ago (1965). It should be recognized that credit for the publication of this paper should go to Easterners, led by Eastern Catholic patriarchs, especially the hero of Vatican II, Patriarch Maximos IV. I presented this document in a paper entitled, Letter of an Arab Christian Patriarch to his Muslim brethren, and then on 4 June, 2016 at the Damascus Opera. In that document are some splendid passages about openness, respect and consideration. Here I quote a passage relating to Islam:

A Christian perspective on Islam

“The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honour Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the Day of Judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. “Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.” (Nostra Aetate, no. 3)

Discovering the values of our faith: Christmas values

Here and there, yesterday and today, in this war situation, we have great responsibility for discovering the values of our Christian faith, Christmas values: similarly, our Muslim brothers and sisters need to discover the values of their faith, so that together we can confront the Latin dictum – which is not addressed to Christians or Muslims or any nation in particular – but to every person, every human being regardless of religion, gender, colour or ethnicity: “Homo homini lupus. Man is a wolf to man.” Furthermore, by assessing the positive and negative aspects of the various realities of history, we ought to discover together that our future in the Middle East is one and the same. We must build a better future for our rising young generations. The lesson to be drawn from all that is that now more than ever it is time to work together for this common future, especially in the era of globalisation and in the face of the wave of mainly Muslim emigration from our Arab countries to Europe. This emigration is very dangerous for Muslims and Christians as it can spark bloody strife and civil unrest and stir up anti-Christian and anti-Muslim or Islamophobic feelings. That is what we see in Europe at present: murderous attacks in Paris and Brussels, demonstrations and fires in refugee camps in Germany, open hostility in Sweden to welcoming refugees …

On the way together: the Christmas walk

It is time to put into practice the 1994 Christmas appeal launched by the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs: “Together before God for the welfare of the individual and of society: co-existence between Muslims and Christians in the Arab World.” It is still very important today, as was the case throughout history, for Christian educational, cultural, health and social institutions and associations to continue their Christmas mission. The Middle East, cradle of Christianity, is the strategic place for dialogue, interaction, agreement and mutual enrichment. That is our history, heritage and wealth, despite our disagreements, tragedies and martyrs. Here and now in the Middle East, we can and should preserve this very rich patrimony that is the real patrimony of Christmas, incarnate in the life of the Church in society. Outside our holy lands it is far more difficult to live this inheritance, which is special for each one of us and common to us all. Our joint responsibility is to preserve this inheritance here, now and for the future. In all humility, we may say that we are masters at “living together.” It is here that we may realise what Pope Francis said to young Christians, namely, that we ought to preserve our identity and be open to the identity, faith, belief and life-style of others.

Christmas: identity and openness

Identity without openness, co-operation, interaction, mutual respect, recognition and acceptance of others as persons (religion, rights, belief) means ghetto, isolation, which gives rise to fear, hostility, and even violence, terror and war... Similarly, openness without identity means emptiness, absence of personality, dignity and rights. Christmas invites us to be both open to others and true to our identity. We have experience of all this through our long, shared history, despite its tragedies, calamities and crises in relation to citizens of various Muslim and Christian communities. Whatever we think about the circumstances through which we have been going, our Middle East remains the place where we feel that we are in our homeland. Outside our East, we shall perhaps find ease, employment, remuneration, dignity, freedom, but we shall remain guests, foreigners, deprived of much of our personality, heritage, traditions and religious and family values. Our mission in the East is distinctive, unique, global and historic, and no-one but we can fulfil it. We are the children of the prophets, apostles and Holy Scriptures, the children of Christmas, and each one of us is responsible for preserving his or her history, belief, religion and heritage.

You are the child of the East, the land of Christmas

My Christian brother or sister, this mission rests on your shoulders. You are from a country that is the cradle of Christianity: that remains your mission, even if you emigrate or leave. Your homeland and Christianity remain your mission, wherever you are or wherever you go. Why are you afraid of life’s difficulties, crises and misfortunes in your country? Is life anywhere in this world without pain, illness and crises? Is your life far from your homeland, cradle of Christianity, really less difficult than your life here in your homeland? Everywhere else, there are problems, illnesses, crises and all sorts of difficulties. That is why, despite our complete understanding of the reasons for your planning to emigrate, we shall not stop calling on you to try to stay and overcome your fear, misgivings, dangers of war and harsh conditions of your life. Wherever you go, you will be taking the Christmas mission.

Care given to emigrants

I have had a number of meetings with our faithful who have emigrated especially to Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Poland. On the one hand, I understand the reasons for their emigration; on the other, I pray for the days of war to be shortened, so that they can return to their countries. In addition, I am concerned to provide pastoral and spiritual service, which is provided in Sweden. We have begun setting up a parish in Germany, entrusted to the care of Father Mayyas Abboud. Furthermore, Archimandrite Georges Abboud has been tasked by the Bishops’ Conference with travelling around Germany in search of our faithful and preparing a report about this, in order to continue organising pastoral, spiritual and liturgical services for them. We are also organising a parish in the Netherlands. Through it all, we wish to help our émigré faithful, in order to preserve the flame of their ancestral faith, so that it continues to glow in their hearts, lives and conduct. We thank our brother bishops of Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and elsewhere, who are responding to the various spiritual needs of our faithful.

The Church and emigration

In its attitude towards Eastern Christian emigration, the Church and its bishops make a distinction between our Middle East and other regions, due to the uniqueness of Christian presence in the East. Emigration is certainly a natural right for people everywhere, but emigration from the Middle East is something different, because the Middle East is the cradle of Christianity. Eastern Christians incarnate this Christian presence in the cradle of Christianity. So that Christians’ absence from the Middle East means Christianity’s absence, or rather Christ’s absence, because Christ became incarnate in a geographic country and homeland. Jesus is an Eastern citizen, a compatriot of mine, since I am an Easterner. If Christians emigrate, it is as though Christ were leaving his country and homeland. Were Christian presence to disappear from Christ’s homeland, that would mean Christ’s presence disappearing from his own country. We might then wonder whether Christ was really born in this region that was his homeland, and if there were no longer a single Christian citizen there, and traces of Jesus’ followers had disappeared from his homeland, we would be entitled to conclude that Jesus had not been born in this region, and that his very existence was a myth and not a truth.

Christians are evidence of Christmas

Eastern Christians are evidence of Christmas, the birth of Jesus in the East, and the witnesses of his life, Gospel and mission. We are grand-children of Jesus’ disciples and apostles. This suggests the importance of Christian presence in the homeland of Jesus, Palestine, and in the regions or countries where Christianity was born, namely historic Syria, which comprises, besides contemporary Syria, present-day Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq. These countries are the cradle of Christianity, and Christianity’s disappearance from these countries means the disappearance of Jesus’ footsteps. Hence the great concern of Christian bishops for Christian presence in the region. That is why the problem of Easterners’ emigration is understandably significant, as it is very different from Christian migration elsewhere. At this Feast of the Nativity, that is what I wanted to explain to our Christian faithful who have to confront so many calamities and such suffering that causes them to emigrate. We bishops realise the full extent and gravity of their tragedy and understand the reasons that drive them to emigrate. Nevertheless, we want to ask them to resist and remain in their land, this Middle East which is the cradle of Christianity and the homeland of Christ. That is the reason for our position: we recognize every person’s natural right to emigrate to any country. Except in the Middle East, a bishop has no need to worry about the emigration of his faithful, but the matter is quite different for us Easterners. That is what I wanted to make clear in this letter. Once again, I realise and understand the reasons that have driven and continue to drive our faithful to emigrate, especially nowadays from Syria, to so many other countries. In addition, I respect the decision of our faithful and am expending all requisite efforts to ensure their spiritual, pastoral and social care in the countries to which they have emigrated.

We shall stay here, in this land of Christmas

Our presence here is of great, global and historical significance! We are not asked to sacrifice our families, though we must s truggle to remain here despite dangers, difficulties and hardships. I pray for all those who make up their minds to go, but I do call upon them most emphatically to remain here. I shall remain, we shall remain, with those who are staying, and Christianity will remain! The remainder will stay and Jesus will abide with them, and Jesus will remain through those who stay! Stay so that Jesus, Mary, Christianity and Christmas, the feast shared by everyone, can remain!

Christmas considerations

I conclude this letter with three Christmas considerations that represent a map, a roadmap for Christians in our blessed Middle East and for those who have emigrated to other countries.

First consideration

I cite the words of Pope Saint John Paul II, who said that the essential human characteristic is being “with and for.” Eastern Christians are especially called to put this saying into practice, particularly in their countries of origin, with all their fellow-citizens of all persuasions of our Arab countries. They will be with them all, in order to bring them the light of the Gospel by their presence, role, conduct and life-style... Christians are with others, in order for Jesus to be with everyone.

Second consideration

I quote from the speech of the Holy Father, Francis, to the youth of Brazil, telling them that they need two things: identity and openness. This is a motto that Eastern Christians should live by in their Eastern homeland and wherever they may emigrate, because they bear their Eastern identity and live it in their society, whether they are in their country of origin or in their new country. Our identity is Jesus, the new-born Child and God before the ages.

Third consideration

I make my own the famous Latin saying, “Ex Oriente lux.” Wherever you live, wherever you go, you will remain faithful to the East, and children of the Eastern Church, Mother of all Churches. You will remain children of the East, whence comes the light. You are children of the East and bearers of the light of the East, both in your homeland, which is the East and in every other region outside the East, in every country which becomes your new homeland, because Christ, the Light of the whole world, comes from the East. Never forget your extraordinary and unique characteristic as children of the East! Noblesse oblige!

Good wishes and prayer

My Christmas letter for this year represents a meditative pause in front of the Christmas Cave and each Nativity icon or scene in our homes and streets. It is a sorrowful, suffering and at the same time joyful interval. It is a meditative moment in front of the Cave and under the Cross, with all our fellow-citizens, an interval of hope, because Resurrection comes after the Cross. This is a prayer for the peace of Christmas to protect our suffering countries, especially Palestine, Iraq and most especially our beloved Syria. I continue to repeat my motto: give us peace and security, because that is the warranty and condition for Christian resistance, presence, role and witness. We ask the Saviour, born in Palestine, to give peace to his country and stop war in these countries where Christians were born who believe in his name and where Christianity was born. May the hymn of the angels of Beit Sahur and Bethlehem on Christmas night, the night of the Nativity of Jesus, be fulfilled for us and through us Eastern and Western Christians, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men!”
To you all, I wish a glorious Christmas and a holy year, a year of peace, security and prosperity.
+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
For the Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
“O Lord, give peace to our country.” With this prayer, we concluded the autumn session of our Assembly of Catholic Hierarchy in Syria, which took place at the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate in Damascus.   We studied the situation of our eparchies, and especially, ways of promoting our presence and role, as well as ensuring the service of our people in the tragic situation that we have been experiencing for the last five and a half years.   The participants presented reports on the state of their work in the various committees dealing with the Church’s life and mission in Syria, including: justice and peace, mutual welfare (Caritas Syria), Christian education, ecumenical relations, religious orders, Bible, interfaith dialogue, media, youth, family and canon law.   From Damascus, we wanted to greet Aleppo, which is greatly suffering. It had been decided to hold the meeting of our assembly there, but the security situation prevented us from doing that. As Church pastors, we express our love for Aleppo and our solidarity with its people. We pray for Aleppo’s ordeal to end and for peace and security to reign there, as has been the case elsewhere, in Homs and its countryside, in Ma’alula and most recently in Daraya, and for reconciliation to be built up in all regions of our beloved Syria. We also pray for peace to reign in Syria and throughout the world.   We thank all those agencies, organisations and countries that stand with us and have assisted the Church, wherever it has a significant role in Syrian society, in its service to all our fellow countrymen through social, spiritual and material support. The Church desires to help its beloved children, especially young people, in their staunchness and rejection of emigration, which has become a tsunami, sweeping away our children into seas and oceans and towards other shores across the globe. We are looking for ways to help our children to stay and resist, despite the crisis and suffering. Despite circumstances, we must hold fast! We encourage our children to remain where God has planted them, in Syria, cradle of Christianity, as guardians of their ancestral faith. We also appeal to those who have been forced to emigrate to keep alight the flame of their holy faith.   We implore God’s mercy upon our martyrs and the victims of violence and terror. We remember those of our children and priests who have disappeared and been abducted here and there in Syria, including Archbishop Gregorios Yuhanna Ibrahim and Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi. We pray for our President and his ministers and for our army that remains firm in its fidelity to our country’s mission and to its defence.   We should like to thank His Holiness, Pope Francis, for remembering Syria once or twice a week, with the phrase, “My beloved Syria.” And, this month, he showed his love for Syria by promoting the Apostolic Nuncio in Damascus, Archbishop Mario Zenari, to the rank of cardinal, while at the same time His Holiness sought to express his gratitude and appreciation by arranging for him to head the list of new cardinals and deciding that as cardinal he should remain Nuncio to Syria. This arrangement is the sign of solidarity and love for “beloved and wounded Syria.”   We thank the Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, for his concern for his Church in Syria, just as he showed himself here in the sight of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, converting him and making him into the Apostle to the Nations, beginning with Syria. For our Church and our dear country, Syria, we implore the abundance of God’s blessings, and especially for the constant grace of love to overflow into all our hearts throughout all regions of Syria, and for mutual help, solidarity, fraternity and generosity to endure, together with the faith values, patriotism and inheritance characteristic of Syria.   With His Holiness, Pope Francis, we say to all our children and all Syria’s children, “Never allow the flame of hope to be extinguished in your hearts” and here, in beloved Syria, continue to be light, salt and leaven.
Let us pray for peace in your country and in our Middle East!
+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
For the Melkite Greek Catholic Church,
President of the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria in Syria
 

Patriarch Gregorios III visits the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Holy Synod

My brotherly greeting is addressed first of all to His Beatitude Sviatoslav, father and head of the illustrious Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and worthy successor to the Servant of God, Andrey Sheptytsky, heroic Cardinal Yosyf Slipyj, Cardinal Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky (who in Rome gave me the cross of his twenty-fifth anniversary of priestly ordination, and was hailed as patriarch in the Cathedral of Lviv on his triumphant return to the Ukraine) and of His most Eminent Beatitude my dear friend, venerable Cardinal Lubomyr Huzar, who accompanies you in constant prayer and courageous bearing of illness. To your Holy Synod I bring greetings from your Melkite Greek Catholic sister-Church in Damascus, spiritual home of the Holy Apostle Paul, and from Syria, cradle of Christianity, in the name of our Holy Synod and faithful dwelling in the Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem, the countries of the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and other Arab countries), and (as is the case with you) the diaspora on every continent. For the last five and a half years our country, Syria, has been walking the way of the cross. All our Syrian citizens are experiencing this: Churches, patriarchs, hierarchs, priests, monks, nuns and lay-persons of all denominations are supporting one another and bearing this heavy cross together. The theme of this session of your Holy Synod is diakonia: serving one another, being in fellowship, practising mercy in this Jubilee Year of Mercy! The life of our patriarchal Church is permanent diakonia. Our constant concern is to ensure that our diakonia is adequate to cope with the scale of the terrible tragedy of our people. We are all deacons, servants. We are knocking on every door in order to obtain assistance, to cope with urgent day-to-day necessities. A dramatic example of this is the catastrophic situation in Aleppo, the second Syrian city after Damascus. More than ever, our Churches are living the experience of the early Church’s diakonia. About one hundred and fifty churches have been destroyed or seriously damaged. Thousands of homes have been ruined. Around five hundred thousand of our faithful have had to flee their houses and villages. We are undergoing a real tsunami of emigration, which is decimating our communities. These migrants are fleeing terrorism, savagery and the barbarity of so-called Islamic State. They are going to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and then trying to reach Germany, Sweden and other European countries, Canada, the United States and Australia. Despite all these calamities, life continues in Damascus and elsewhere, outside the combat zones. The streets of Damascus’ popular districts are full until evening. Outside the classroom, children play in the courtyards and alleys, as though they could not hear the artillery explosions and aerial bombardments on the capital’s outskirts. Power cuts are increasingly frequent. Shells fired by pockets of rebels around Damascus fall inside the city, killing and injuring people; initially very numerous, they have fortunately become rarer since the end of February, 2016. Our pastoral work is carried on as far as possible. Our churches are full, especially during Lent and the Fast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. We are rebuilding our churches, catechetical centres and the homes of our faithful that have been destroyed by war. However, poverty is becoming more common even among those still living at home. The economic situation is very precarious and price increases are staggering, with continual devaluation of the Syrian currency. Beggary, which no longer existed before the crisis, has reappeared on the streets of the capital. The Church has to face all these tragic conditions. The serving Church, as Pope Francis has said, must touch people’s wounds. We cannot keep our eyes shut. As Scripture says, “If one member of the body suffers, all the other members suffer with it.” (1 Corinthians 12: 26) Inter-Church relations are excellent. In Damascus, there are three of us patriarchs: the Greek Orthodox, the Syriac Orthodox and I, the Greek Catholic. Among us, relations are brotherly and ecumenism in Syria is in good health, as it is everywhere else in the Middle East. We have various levels of encounter and co-operation, the highest being the Middle East Council of Churches and the Council of Eastern Catholic Patriarchs. There are other instances at national level. I am President of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs in Syria. There are also more or less regular meetings of bishops of different denominations in the same city. The Churches in Syria and their Catholic (three of whom live in Lebanon) and Orthodox patriarchs, share a very close and harmonious outlook on the Syrian crisis and war. We exercise an ecumenical diakonia, as we share the same outlook on the current wars in the Middle East (following the so-called “Arab Spring”), emigration, and the Christian role and presence in a predominantly Muslim society. Here, I touch on an important topic: the Church’s diakonia in relations with Islam. On this theme, I have published two letters, one on Christians’ role in the crisis in Syria and the Arab world, and the other Message of an Arab Christian patriarch to his Muslim brethren in the Arab world, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of the Second Vatican Council’s Nostra Ætate. I summarise this relationship between Christians and Muslims in this threefold slogan:

We Christians and Muslims should remain together, to offer our young people a betterfuture; We Christians and Muslims can remain together; We Christians and Muslims want to remain together.

This synodal visit is a grace for both our Churches. It presents an opportunity for us to think about intensifying our sobornost, our ecclesial communion. In this regard, allow me to make the following proposals, which echo the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Church in the Middle East on Communion and Witness:
  1. Set up an agency of regular, continuous communication between our two Churches, which are the two most numerous Greek Catholic Churches.
  2. Work together to create an “Assembly of Greek Catholic Churches,” which could be very useful for our Churches’ development, in the context of our communion with Rome.
  3. Create a joint committee to study some points in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Catholic Churches (CCEC) which are important for our Churches, particularly on the topic of ecclesiology and patriarchal rights.
  4. I founded a Major Seminary in the Holy Land, at Beit Sahur, near Bethlehem, with twenty-five rooms. It is currently empty because I am unable to send Arab seminarians there. I could place it at your Church’s disposal.
  5. Work together to convene an Extraordinary Synod of all Greek Catholic Churches to intensify the role of our Churches in communion with Rome, in terms of our mutual relations and our relations with Rome, the Orthodox Churches, and liturgically.
  6. Form a committee of Eastern theologians and Latin theologians familiar with the Eastern tradition. This committee would aim to clarify the role of the Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine Greek tradition, especially ecclesiologically, and their relations with Rome in the context of our full communion with the Church that “presides in charity.”
I entrust these proposals to your hearts and to the protection of our Lady, the Most Holy Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary. In our reflection on the topic of the Church’s diakonia in society, we are inspired by the words of Pope Saint John Paul II in his last Message for the World Day of Peace (2005), when he said, that, “[Human] social nature...is... being `with´ and `for others.´” Similarly, His Holiness Pope Francis on the Sixth Asian Youth Day said, “That is where encounter, dialogue, will take place. With identity, with openness.” That inspires our diakonia and our presence and role as Christians in the Middle East, in order to realise a celebrated dictum of Metropolitan Neophytos Edelby about our Melkite Greek Catholic Church:

We are Arab, but not Muslim! We are Easterners, but not Orthodox! We are Catholic, but not Latin!

This definition sums up the identity of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church, its role and mission towards Muslims, Orthodox and Latins, and our work for peace in the Middle East. I should like to recall here the words of His Holiness Pope Francis in Amman, during the Jordanian stage of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, (24 May 2014) on the two keys to peace in the Middle East and the world, that “a peaceful solution be found to the crisis in Syria, as well as a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The very wise words of Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Francis help us to fulfil what our Lord Jesus Christ said about us being light, salt and leaven in the lump. For the welfare of the Holy Churches of God and for the union of all, together let us pray!
Let us pray for peace in your country and in our Middle East!
+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
For the Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
Solidarity between Christians in the Middle East and Ukraine in a time of conflict and crisis:
Patriarch Gregorios III addresses the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Synod in Ukraine
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Patriarchal Synod opened today with a celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the historic St. George's Sobor in Lviv. His Beatitude Sviatoslav, father and head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was the main celebrant. Forty bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from Ukraine, Western and Central Europe, North and South America and Australia were joined by His Beatitude Gregory III, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem. The week-long Synod has as its main theme "Diakonia - service to others," particularly significant in a time of war and humanitarian crisis.

Patriarch Gregorios III brought fraternal greetings and emphasised that relations with the UGCC are most important for his Melkite Greek Catholic Church and for other Christian Churches besieged by war in the Middle East. Discussions with the Patriarch centred around the topic of armed conflict and its devastating effect in Syria and Ukraine. Addressing the synodal fathers Patriarch Gregory emphasised that the UGCC is the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches and that closer cooperation between Greek Catholics in the Middle East and Eastern Europe should take the form of regular episcopal encounters. He also proposed the creation of a joint formation programme for future priests conducted in the Holy Land, the creation of joint theological and canonical commissions, and other initiatives.

The leaders of the two Churches expressed heartfelt solidarity with each other's suffering flocks and pledged to foster closer relations. His Beatitude Sviatoslav, on behalf of the bishops, thanked Patriarch Gregorios for his kind words of fraternity and solidarity. This was Patriarch Gregorios's third visit to Ukraine. His charismatic words and energetic manner have endeared him to the people of Ukraine.

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