Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 

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.
 
“This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21)
On the threshold of this Marian month of August and as we are about to begin holding Paraklesis services, we summon the faithful of all our eparchies to prayer and fasting, in order to counter by prayer and fasting this wave of terrorism that is affecting one country after another around the world. During this month of July, Germany was hit three times on successive days by this blind terrorism and today it was France, where Father Jacques Hamel was decapitated, just after celebrating Holy Mass. Then there were the dramas experienced by our dear Syria, especially over recent days in Aleppo and Qamishli, and by our dear Lebanon, with the tragedy that struck Qaa, not forgetting the assassination attempt upon our brother, the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch, Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II. We are deeply saddened by these tragedies, (especially when Syrian refugees are involved) since they tend to provoke a backlash of hatred and racism towards other, peaceful refugees. We discussed this during our visits to our faithful who have taken refuge in Germany. Echoing the words of our Lord, Jesus Christ, “This sort goeth not out but by prayer and fasting,” (Matthew 17: 21) we call once more for fasting and prayer to prepare for the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, so that, at her intercession, we may drive out these crimes of terrorism and violence, through fasting and prayer. In our own name and on behalf of our faithful, we offer our deep condolences to France and Germany, praying for the repose of the souls of all victims, the speedy recovery of the injured and the return of peace to all our countries.
+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
For the Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
Greetings for Eid ul-Fitr
1 Shawwal 1437 AH / 6 July 2016 AD
Eid ul-Fitr concludes the fasting month of Ramadan, during which we have been witnessing a tragic situation. Nevertheless we send our Muslim fellow-citizens and companions in history and destiny sincere congratulations on Eid al-Fitr, together with prayers for safety and security, reconciliation, love and peace in our Arab countries, especially in Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. Today, more than ever before, all we Christians and Muslims need a new spirituality to bring us from exclusion to inclusion, rejection to acceptance, stereotyping to understanding and from distortion to respect; from condemnation to compassion, hostility to friendship, competition to integration, and from hatred to love and the broad bosom of God, because God is love. This spirituality will help us rebuild our homes that are currently threatened with physical and spiritual destruction, and enable us together to rebuild what has been broken down spiritually in our society, and reconstruct its material and human social fabric. I invited everyone to this in my most recent letter entitled, "Message of an Arab Christian Patriarch to his Muslim brethren." I hope this letter has reached its designated readership. I close my greetings with a passage from the above-mentioned letter:
“The task entrusted to us in the Middle East is to challenge the West and the whole Muslim world by our Eastern Christian-Muslim unity, based on a new type of civilization: the civilization of love.”
Happy Feast!
With love and prayer
+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
For the Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
Way of the Resurrection: Road to Jerusalem! Road to Damascus!

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!


To all of you, dear brothers and sisters, your Graces the Bishops, Superiors General, Mothers General, priests, deacons, monks, nuns and all the sons and daughters of our Melkite Greek Catholic parishes in Arab countries, the countries of the expansion and throughout the world, best wishes for the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who is the Way and Companion of all our ways.
When I started creating this letter, I found myself on the way, like Luke and Cleopas, on the road with Jesus, who encounters me with love and kindness, mercy, humility, care, consideration and compassion. He comes to me and goes with me, he who is everywhere present and fills all things, Jesus, the gracious and merciful companion who loves mankind, the friend and brother, divine and human. He became man, and wants to go on the way to every human being, to bring everyone to happiness, joy and resurrection to eternal life.

Way of the Resurrection

This message takes me back in particular to Jerusalem and back to my memories of the Holy Land, and walking on the road taken by the disciples to Emmaus; walking on the road to Emmaus or El Qubeibeh (convent of the Franciscan Fathers), where there is a nursing home for the disabled and elderly under the auspices of the Sisters of the Redeemer; on the road to Emmaus (Latroun) near the monastery of the Trappist fathers, where, on the most sacred Feast of Pascha, I used to celebrate the Divine Liturgy; and I go with Luke and Cleopas, as they set off from Emmaus to return to Jerusalem, the city of the Resurrection to preach the gospel of the resurrection! And Jesus accompanies me in this letter just as he accompanied them. Through this letter, I should like every reader - especially my brothers, the members of the Holy Synod, and every believer and every human being - I should like everyone to feel that he or she is not alone on the road. God became a route! Companion! Path! A way! Road map! Jesus emptied himself, declaring to all of us, "I am the way, the truth and the life." (John 14:6) He addresses all human beings and addresses you today through this letter, saying, "I am the way, the truth and the life.” And, “I am the resurrection and the life!""He that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life!" (John 8:12) Beloved, through this letter, walk with Jesus! Open the eyes of faith to see Jesus as the disciples of Emmaus first saw him, then with your bodily eyes explaining to you the economy of salvation, the story of God walking with his people. Jesus is the way! He is the way, the companion of humans in this life! He accompanies us humans on the way to the Promised Land, which does not have geographic borders as does human society, but is limitless, not bound by human borders! But it is a way for all us humans that unites us to everybody and with the Father and leads us to the Father!

Patriarchal letters

My patriarchal letters are a continuous spiritual dialogue with my Church, with my brother bishops, priests, and deacons, monks, nuns and faithful, young people and families. So I am working on drafting letters throughout the year over the months! For example during 2015: I began the Christmas Letter in October 2015, began the Lent Letter in December 2015, began the 2016 Paschal Letter in late December, 2015 together with the Lent Letter! I am in continuous dialogue with you! I try to address you, my people, bearing in mind the kind of spiritual food needed! I am really always in dialogue with my Church, because my Church is my obsession and the subject of my constant love and permanent interest! I live my Church one hundred percent in dress and comportment, wherever I may be, whether in Damascus, in Beirut, in Egypt or abroad! In all these places and countries I'm always with the beloved Church!

My experience on the road, with Jesus the Way

I remember I was once on a road in Germany at midnight in total darkness! Ahead of me was a hole ... I drove the car to another place and found another hole! What to do? I said to Jesus, addressing him, “Guide me now on the way!” And would the petrol last until wherever? It was the right way. And I completed my way with Jesus the way! How many times have I experienced such events! I visit parishes in Germany: foreign priests! Foreign people! Foreign churches! Foreign customs! Foreign streets! In everything Jesus was on my way. That is what I’ve experienced for more than fifty years, since the summer of 1959, the year I was ordained to the holy priesthood. And yet Jesus was on my way, and Jesus was my way! My way towards people’s aspirations, needs, hopes and pain...

The Way in the Holy Bible

The Bible with the Old and New Testaments is a description of the way of God with man. In fact the word "way" is contained hundreds of thousands of times throughout both parts of the Holy Scriptures: the Torah and the Gospel with the Epistles. The Lord went on the road with the patriarch Abraham. (Genesis 24:27) And he kept Jacob in the way. (Genesis 28:20) The Lord walked with his people when they came out of Egypt. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them in the way. And by night in a column of fire, to give them light, so they could walk day and night. He saved them from the hardship they endured along the way. (Exodus 18:8)

The Torah

The Old Testament reminds people of this wonderful accompaniment. Thus we read, "Thou hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came into this place." (Deuteronomy 1:31) We also read, "Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldst keep his commandments, or no." (Deuteronomy 8:2) There are many verses in which the Lord reminds people that he has walked along the road with his people or in which he sent his angel to go with them (Exodus 23:20), (Numbers 22:23) And there are verses that remind people that they need to walk along the way, which the Lord has laid down before his people. He has informed them of "the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do." (Exodus 18:20) And also, "Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess." (Deuteronomy 5:33) And one verse recommends the people to do as follows, saying, "Thou shalt teach [these commandments] diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." (Deuteronomy 6:7) Parents are recommended to talk to their children, on the way, and everywhere, about God, and his word, and his work, "And ye shall teach [the commandments] to your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." (Deuteronomy 11:19) Do not fail to heed this wonderful recommendation, beloved parents, but speak to your children about the word of God, and the teachings of the Bible! The Lord admonishes his people because they did not walk in the way of God, "Ye will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you." (Deuteronomy 11:28) "They turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the Lord; but they did not so." (Judges 2:17) We see again how the Lord intervenes in the lives of the people, in the life of every human being, indicating to him or her when to change the course that they are on, in order to shield them from danger and be guided in their work by the divine will. Thus, we read: "Do not turn again by the way thou camest." (1 Kings 13:9, 17:9) This reminds us of the Magi who had come to worship the child Jesus being "warned of God in a dream" to depart "into their country another way." (Matthew 2:12) How many verses indicate that God is always showing humans the way, the straight path! He sends the angel to Tobias, the son of blind Tobit, to accompany him on the road. How beautiful is this story, where the angel tries to hide his angelic identity and the fact that he is an angel, and not a man. It is good to read the story in the Book of Tobit, in particular Chapter 5. It is also good to see, besides the angel, a dog accompanying the young man. (Tobit 5:16) It is as if God wants to tell us this to enable us to appreciate all the creatures who share his divine attention as we go along our way on this earth! There is no harm in mentioning the affectionate tone of this verse, So they went their way, and the dog went along behind them as though illustrating God’s desire to forgive those who go astray. (Tobit 11:9)

The Prophets

Following the progress on the way in the Bible, I should like to dwell on the voice of the great prophet Isaiah! He predicts the new road, and the Lord Jesus Christ who is the way, and how we should act to prepare the world to make ready for the new way. These are some of the verses of this prophecy, "And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." (Isaiah 35:8). He says, "Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumbling-block out of the way of my people." (Isaiah 57:14) We read in the prophecy of the prophet Jeremiah about the way, "Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein!" (Jeremiah 6:16) and again, "Walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you." (Jeremiah 7:23) and addressing us personally, saying, "Set thine heart toward the highway, even the way which thou wentest." (Jeremiah 31:21) People asked the prophet, "That the Lord thy God may shew us the way wherein we may walk, and the thing that we may do." (Jeremiah 42:3) The prophet Ezekiel speaks about being guided to the way (Christ) that looks eastward. (Ezekiel 47:2). The prophet Malachi speaks about preparing the way for Christ, "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts." (Malachi 3:1)

The Psalms

The anthology of the Psalter contains a great deal of discussion of the way. Here are a few selections, including, in the first Psalm the account of the man who walks on the path to God, "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish." (Psalm 1:1–3,6) This psalm is a brief way to distinguish between the good and evil way. There are many verses, including the following, "I will instruct thee and guide thee in this way wherein thou shalt go: I will fix mine eyes upon thee." (Psalm 31:8 LXX) "When my spirit was fainting within me, then thou knewest my paths; in the very way wherein I was walking, they hid a snare for me." (Psalm 141:3 LXX) "Make known to me, O Lord, the way wherein I should walk; for I have lifted up my soul to thee." (Psalm 142:8 LXX) Among the Psalms, Psalm 118 is that of the way par excellence. It is a psalm with a passion for the way of God, and God’s law, and his word ... Let us familiarise ourselves with the prayer of Psalm 118:
"Blessed are the blameless in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. (1)
For they that work iniquity have not walked in his ways (3).
O that my ways were directed to keep thine ordinances (5).
Wherewith shall a young man direct his way? by keeping thy words (9).
I have delighted in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches (14).
I will meditate on thy commandment, and consider thy ways (15).
Instruct me in the way of thine ordinances; and I will meditate on thy wondrous works (27).
Remove me from the way of iniquity; and be merciful to me by thy law (29).
I have chosen the way of truth; and have not forgotten thy judgments (30).
I ran the way of thy commandments, when thou didst enlarge my heart (32).
Teach me O Lord the way of thine ordinances, and I will seek it out continually (33).
Guide me in the path of thy commandments, for I have delighted in it (35).
I thought on thy ways, and turned my feet to thy testimonies (59).
I have kept back my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy words (101).
I gain understanding by thy commandments; therefore I have hated every way of unrighteousness (104).
Thy law is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths (105).
Thou art near, O Lord; and all thy ways are truth (151).
I have kept thy commandments and thy testimonies; for all my ways are before thee, O Lord (168)." Would that this psalm could be the psalm for consecrated men and women, the clergy, and pious souls ... And would that this Psalm might return to use in our Church, according to the rubrics for the season. In fact I wish it could become the subject of meditation, prayer times, and programmes for spiritual retreats, meetings of confraternities... Note: the term path is a synonym for the word way, also contained in the Testaments, especially in the Psalms.

The New Testament

In the New Testament there is much discussion about the road. In a fundamental phrase, Christ declares, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6) Jesus invites us to enter into the Kingdom through the strait gate, because "wide is the gate and broad is the way" that leads to destruction. (Matthew 7:13) In contrast, "straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life." (Matthew 7:14) In the parable of the sower, Jesus mentions the categories or groups that hear his words and teachings, saying, "when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up." (Matthew 13:4). The meaning of the parable is that, "When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side." (Matthew 13:19, Mark 4:3-20) In his farewell address to his disciples before his Passion, Jesus calls upon his disciples to be united with him and with the Father. He will lead them on the way. This is an extract from his beautiful dialogue with them, "And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:4-6) There are several references to the way in the Holy Gospel, and discussion is focused on the way in the Bible in the following passages:
  1. There are repeated references to the prophecy of Isaiah, and to John the Baptist, who echoed verses of the prophecy of Isaiah in his preaching to the people. (Matthew 3:3, 11:10, Mark 1:2-3)
  2. In the parable of the sower, and on the significance of the seed sown, which fell by the wayside.
  3. Jesus invites us to follow the strait way, which leads to life and avoid the broad road that leads to perdition. (Matthew 7:13-14)
  4. There is an emphasis on Jesus "teaching the way of God in truth" (Matthew 22:16, Mark 12:14, Luke 20:21)
  5. The discourse of Jesus with his disciples about his going on his way to the Father, and emphasizing that this is the way. (John 16)
  6. Jesus accompanies all the other disciples on the way with his teachings, as they go on their way (and not only on the way to Emmaus with Luke and Cleopas after the resurrection).
  7. Jesus instructed the apostles not to carry provisions with them on the road, as though telling them, "I'm with you, so there is no need for you to have provisions with you." As he said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you." (Matthew 10:10, Mark 6:8, Luke 9:3, 10:4)
  8. Jesus goes on the road to people, and when encountering them, talks with them, and listens to their requests, works miracles, preaches to them, asking them questions and conversing with them.

The Acts of the Apostles

In the Acts of the Apostles, and in the Epistles, the road acquires a moral and spiritual and evangelical sense: it signifies a moral, evangelical attitude and behaviour, a way and style of life according to the teachings of the Gospel, as outlined in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Thus we read in the Acts of the Apostles that Saul "desired of [the high priest] letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem." (Acts 9:2) "These men [Paul and Silas] are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation." (Acts 16:17) It is said about Apollos that he was "instructed in the way of the Lord." (Acts 18:25) And we see, "when Aquila and Priscilla had heard [Apollos], they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly." (Acts 18:26) In Ephesus when some people heard the words of Paul they resisted and "spake evil of that way before the multitude." (Acts 19:9) And a riot occurred among the people on account of this way. (Acts 19:23) Paul recognizes how he was before his conversion, saying, "I persecuted this way unto the death." (Acts 22:4) He says later in his case before the governor Felix, "But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets." (Acts 24:14) Later, the book of Acts says "when Felix heard these things, [he had] more perfect knowledge of that way." (Acts 24:22)

The Pauline Epistles

Paul, who recounted his experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus and at its gates in the Acts of the Apostles, describes in his letters what he calls the better way. He says, "But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way." (1 Corinthians 12:31) It is the way of love. St. Paul's General Epistles, and the Epistles of the other Apostles, is the explanation of this way, of how to follow Christ, and walk on the path of Christ, who is the way. Those who follow it will not go astray, but will have the light of life. "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12)

The economy of salvation

During our tour of the meaning of the word through the Old and New Testaments, we discovered different meanings which are interrelated and integrated in their approach to this phrase. The "road" means the dispensation of God for man and the plan of salvation for man. (Oikonomia) The road is the law of God; it is the teachings of the Bible. It is the teachings of the Church derived from the Bible. The road is God's covenant with man, for human salvation. There is a corporal way, and a spiritual way, in the life and teachings of Teresa of the Child Jesus. And we are speaking about the way of humility, and of course the "straight way," in the words of Jesus Christ. This all means that we are in a perpetual spiritual journey throughout our lives. As we said: another journey, another march, another road, another way is the way of death to life. In the funeral service we sing the psalm, "Blessed are the blameless in the way," (Psalm 118) and address the departed, saying, "Blessed is the way on which thou dost journey today, for a place of rest has been prepared for thee." (Funeral Service) God is on our way from the beginning of our journey, "Before I formed thee in the womb I knew thee." (Jeremiah 1:5) He is on the road in our last journey from temporal life to everlasting life, from terrestrial to eternal life, from earth to heaven.

Reflections on the road

Out of this journey, from this spiritual journey through the Old Testament and the New, I would like to cite some spiritual reflections. Indeed the entire holy Bible, in both Testaments, is the progress on the way! Revelation is God walking with his people, with the whole of humanity. The Apostle Paul says, "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds." (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Pascha is a crossroad

Pascha is the crossroad, a way of life. Passover, the principal feast in Judaism and Christianity, is the way! It is the commemoration of people’s walk to freedom, to life! The Apostle Paul says, "For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come." (Hebrews 13:14) Jesus walked the roads of Palestine with his disciples, with poor people who came to him, and followed him ... and he is walking with us today. Just as God walked along the way of the people of the Old Testament, so the same Christ the way, who walked with Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, is walking with us today. The same Jesus, who appeared to the sinful Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus, is himself walking with us today. As he did with Saul who became Paul, Jesus is walking with us on the way of the resurrection, the path of a new life. Brothers and sisters! The One who walked on the road to Emmaus, is walking with you today! Have you not been aware of that? Just as God once carried his people, (as we saw in Isaiah's prophecy) so he carries you today! Have you not sensed that? Have you not put it to the test? When you look at your life, you discover God's care, and realise that he was always on the road with you. Examine your life, test your own life experiences to see whether Jesus is with you, and be sure that he really is the way and the truth and the life.

Christ on the Road to Damascus

Christ was on the road to Damascus to find Saul the persecutor, in order to change his mode of being and outlook, his vision and his life ... and Saul met Christ risen from the dead, on the road to Damascus, just as the two disciples, Luke and Cleopas, met him on the way in Palestine. The Palestine Road goes to Damascus, and the Damascus Road is the way to Palestine, and the way to Jerusalem. Jesus invites us to walk with him on every road, not only on the road to Emmaus, or Jerusalem or Palestine or Damascus. Christian life is a journey, walking along the way! The Holy Bible beatifies the person who does not follow the path of sinners but the road of the saints, of righteousness and holiness. God is going, and wants to go on the road of all persons, all people, and every human being, because he is the light that enlightens every human being who comes into the world. Even those who are not on the path of Jesus, and do not know Jesus, and do not know him to be the way - he goes to them to follow in their paths, to be on their way. As we read in the Akathist to the Mother of God (Oikos 22) "Wishing to forgive the ancient debts of all mankind, the Creditor himself [Jesus] came and dwelt among those who had departed from his grace, and tearing up the written charge he hears from all."

Salvation on the way

Through the roads and paths of our lives, God is on the road! Jesus sent his apostles on the road, on the roads of the people, in order to meet people. The apostle Philip in the south of Palestine is told by the Spirit, "Go near to this chariot." (Acts 8:29) The chariot belonged to the eunuch of the Queen of the Ethiopians. And Philip responds to the call and stops the vehicle, as if he wanted to reach somewhere, and immediately starts explaining Scripture to the treasurer of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians, and guiding him to Jesus. He baptized him in the spring which still to this day bears Philip’s name. After the baptism the steward saw Philip no more, as he had completed his mission to him. An angel accompanied Joseph on the road as he escaped to Egypt and guided him on the safest road as he went to Egypt, and when he returned home. The angel Raphael in human form also accompanied Tobias (blind Tobit’s son), together with the latter’s dog! It is good to find the mention of the dog ... to indicate that other animals accompany the work of God and his care. And then, just as our guardian angels may become humanlike, so we humans ought to be angelic in accompanying our fellows. We should not be like Cain who killed his brother Abel, and when God asked him, "Where is thy brother?" brazenly replied, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9)

God’s care

The way in the life of each of us is a big, perpetual, daunting and dangerous adventure! It is difficult to know the truth about God's purpose for us as our lives progress. It is difficult for us to learn about the ways of God whether winding and narrow, or pleasant and straightforward. Therefore, Jesus tells us, with great wisdom, "Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth." (John 12:35b) This means that we walk under the auspices of God’s care, from day to day. Let us thank God that we do not know all the twists and turns of our lives on this earth! Were we to know everything at once, both its quiet times and bad times, such as persecution or illness, and its pleasant surprises ... we might go mad with frustration, confusion and despair. Therefore as the Psalmist says, "Make known to me, O Lord, the way wherein I should walk." (Psalm 142:8 LXX) According to Isaiah, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord." (Isaiah 55:8) Yet in spite of these difficulties and twists, the ways of God who loves mankind are compassionate. Thus, "Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set his steps in the way." (Psalm 84:13 LXX) "All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth to them that seek his covenant and his testimonies."(Psalm 24:10 LXX)

Road with God, blessed way!

Though the road may be difficult, yet we are happy because we are with God. This is what St. Augustine says: "Sing, and walk onwards!"1 When we go astray from God, we fall into calamities, as stated repeatedly in the Old Testament. So in the Canticle of Deuteronomy, Moses recounts how God cared for his people accompanying them through the desert, "He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him. He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock; butter of kine, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat; and thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape." (Deuteronomy 32:10-14)

The evil way: the way to perdition

But what was the attitude of the people of God, who had taken them and walked with them on the road to freedom from slavery? We read in Deuteronomy itself, "But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger. They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee. And when the Lord saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters." (Deuteronomy 32:15-19) and the book refers to the miseries of the people because they deviated from the way of God the Creator. (See further chapters of Deuteronomy.) We read in the Book of Judith, "But when they departed from the way which he had appointed for them, they were utterly defeated in many battles…" (5:18) There is no way to salvation unless God's people walk on the path. Without God, the people are on the way to perdition.

Road to Jerusalem: way to the resurrection

Jesus walked on the path of the people in his life on this earth. After the Resurrection he also walked along the paths of his apostles and disciples on the road to Emmaus, in Galilee, and on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and on the streets of Jerusalem ... he also appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus. We all need to take the Jerusalem road, and to meet Christ along the Jerusalem road, as well as on the road to Damascus! The road to Damascus and Jerusalem are both the way to the resurrection. We all need this encounter with Christ, risen from the dead, whether on the road to Jerusalem, or on the road to Damascus, and all the other roads and paths of our lives. Today, in the face of the tragedies of the peoples of our Middle Eastern countries, especially in Syria and Iraq, we are all walking on the path of Golgotha. But as the way of the cross led to the glorious Resurrection, so we pray to get through the way of the cross in Syria, especially to the joys of the Resurrection. In this sense, Pope Francis said during his visit and his pilgrimage to Jordan (24 May 2014), "Lasting peace for the entire region…urgently requires that a peaceful solution be found to the crisis in Syria, as well as a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." 2 So His Holiness linked the road to Jerusalem with the road to Damascus. Today the road to Damascus has become the road to world peace, peace for our country and the whole world! Jerusalem is considered, in the tradition of the Eastern Churches, to be the mother of all cities, for it is the place of the resurrection. Jerusalem is still the way to resurrection and peace in the whole world. The good news of the Holy Resurrection began from Jerusalem, Damascus and Antioch. It is precisely from Damascus that Christianity and the proclamation of the resurrection were launched to the world.

The Road to Damascus: the road to peace

Today, we feel that the way of the Resurrection passes via Damascus, Syria, and from there to the East, and to the whole world. With regret after five years of violence, war, destruction and bloodshed, the world discovers the road to Damascus, the Jerusalem road, and the road to Palestine. These roads are interconnected! They are more important than the Silk Road, the roads of oil and gas and routes of interest. This is the way of faith, and the values of faith and cultural heritage. The road of Saul, the way of Paul, the spiritual son of Damascus! And the road of the resurrection! We pray for the world to discover this truth of spiritual faith, not political belief, that the road to peace is the road to Damascus! And that the Damascus road is the path of resurrection for the Syrian people, and the peoples of the region! And the path of resurrection for the entire world is the road to Damascus! The way of Paul! The way of the Resurrection! The way of life! The way of love! The road to peace!

All countries of the world on the road together

Together on the way! This is the reality of our lives as human beings on this earth. In all walks of life we are walking together! The lesson is for us to walk with God, and with our fellow human beings and for our fellow human beings, that they might have life, and have it more abundantly. This is what Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his 2005 Message for the World Day of Peace, "Can an individual find complete fulfilment without taking account of his social nature, that is, his being `with´ and `for´ others?" It is beautiful to walk together: God is with us and we are with God, we are with our fellow human beings. How much we need this walk together, in order to build a better world, where justice, love, peace, mutual respect and fellowship, solidarity, brotherhood, networking, service, generosity, compassion and kindness prevail...in order to build together a world of love and the civilization of love. Christ sent his disciples out onto the road, onto people’s paths. Pope Francis has called on everyone, particularly missionaries, priests and pastors, to go to different groups of people, especially the poor, the sick, the outcasts, the marginalized, the dispossessed and refugees and displaced persons, kidnapped and disabled ... Jesus asks us to go to all of them, and walk along their paths, their ways ... Jesus wants us to be priests and apostles on the way!

Footprints

In this letter on the way of the Resurrection, the way of the apostles, Luke and Cleopas, the Jerusalem road, the road to Damascus and the paths of people in this life, I was reminded of the poem, entitled Footprints3.
"One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
             Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
                  In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
                       Sometimes there were two sets of footprints,
                           other times there was one set of footprints.
 
                                  This bothered me because I noticed
                                that during the low periods of my life,
                             when I was suffering from
                         anguish, sorrow or defeat,
                     I could see only one set of footprints."
 
          So I said to the Lord,
      "You promised me Lord,
         that if I followed you,
             you would walk with me always.
                   But I have noticed that during
                          the most trying periods of my life
                                 there has only been one
                                       set of footprints in the sand.
                                           Why, when I needed you most,
                                          have you not been there for me?"
 
                                 The Lord replied,
                          "The times when you have
                  seen only one set of footprints,
          is when I carried you."
This is what we see in the logo graphic for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, where Jesus like the Good Samaritan is carrying the injured human sufferer over his shoulders as he walks on the paths of life. (This logo was explained in our Lenten Letter.) The figures are side by side, united by a strong sense of compassion, mercy, and love. It is noticeable that there are three, not four eyes: the eye of Jesus and the human eye, and then a central one combining Jesus, the God-Man, Adam and every human being ... Jesus the Son of Man looks at the child of Adam and Adam considers the human Jesus. The following popular hymn explains this story:
  • You are my Lord, my way through the vicissitudes of life! Lord, you are my way at the hour of death!
  • I have called upon you alone! You alone have I implored! You are the end of my desire; you are the source of happiness!
  • You sustain the suffering! Help the desperate! Satisfy the hungry! Pardon the sinners!
  • You're the fire in my heart! You are also breath! You are a guide to my way! You are my beautiful dawn!
  • You are the love in my heart! You are the fire and the light! You are a guide to my feet, the source of joy!
  • You are the heavenly bread! You are the bread of life! Lord, you are my hope for eternal life!
  • Lord, forgive my sins! For you are a merciful Lord! You always overlook my faults and have mercy on your sinful servant!
  • You inebriate me with heavenly good things! You fill my cup with the wine of hope!

Christ risen from the dead changes our way

Jesus walks with Luke and Cleopas, changing their fear, despondency, and their frustration, to strength, to hope, to joy. They returned that night to Jerusalem to preach the resurrection to the rest of the apostles who were frightened of the authorities. They instilled in the apostles faith in the resurrection and life and launched a new way, a new way of life! The apostles emerged from the upper room where they were hiding, and preached the resurrection and the new life in Christ Jesus. The same thing happened on the road to Damascus, where Saul was riding his horse arrogantly, his heart filled with a storm of animosity, hatred, violence, terrorism, murder and displacement. So he wanted to seize the new Christians in Damascus. Christianity had reached there a few weeks after the Passover and Pentecost (in 33 AD), where a congregation of Jews had converted to Christianity after hearing the preaching of the Apostle Peter about the risen Christ, on the Feast of Pentecost. So they took with them the new way of faith in Christ to Damascus. This is what we read in the Acts of the Apostles, "Saul, still breathing out threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord…" (9:1) This transformation that took place on the road to Damascus when Jesus met Saul on the road saved Christianity from extinction. Conversely, Saul’s meeting with Christ on the road to Damascus launched Christianity worldwide, through this great Apostle Paul, the spiritual son of Damascus, who changed from a persecutor to an apostle, even the apostle to the nations, starting from Damascus. He stayed three years in Mismiyeh in the Hauran (Galatians 1:17), enabling him to discover a new way, the Gospel.

The beauty of the Gospel, the power of the Gospel

This is the real resurrection: Christ is risen! The apostles are risen! Paul is risen! The Christians of Damascus become children of the resurrection, which, according to tradition, is the title generally given to the Christians of the East. Indeed, Eastern Christianity is the fruit of a meeting with the risen Christ on the road, the way to Emmaus, the road to Jerusalem, Damascus Road, Antioch Road, and from there the road to Asia, Greece, Macedonia, and finally the Via Roma, and the West at large. This is the fruit of the encounter of Chris with the disciples. It made them apostles of the new way, which is life in Christ ... So Paul was able to say with all pride, "Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20) Christ died for the whole of humanity, in order to be their resurrection and that they may might have life, and have it in abundance. Christ is walking on the path, with you, next to you, but have you discovered him? Did you feel his closeness? He died for you, and wants to redeem you through his resurrection, and become your way through life, with hope and joy, optimism, and courage, walking with you. "Come, O faithful, to receive the Resurrection," as the liturgical prayer summons us. This is our hope for our suffering Eastern region as it emerges from the painfully long Way of the Cross - especially in Iraq, in Syria, in Palestine, in Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Yemen -for this whole wounded region, resurrection joy! Christ was born in Palestine! Christianity was born in Syria, in our East. Christianity was born and spread through the way of the cross and resurrection! Through the resurrection came good news for all the people! The resurrection was the determining factor in the spread of Christianity, as the Apostle Paul says, "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. "(1 Corinthians 15:14-17)
  1. St. Augustine: Sermon 256, I.2.3.: PL 38, 1191-1193  
  2. href='http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/may/documents/papa-francesco_20140524_terra-santa-autorita-amman.html'>http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/may/documents/papa-francesco_20140524_terra-santa-autorita-amman.html  
  3. Copyright © 1984 Mary Stevenson, from original 1936 text, All rights reserved.  
 
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, President of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs in Syria, has launched a prayer appeal to obtain Divine Mercy for the people of Syria as they walk the way of the cross and to accompany the international efforts for peace in Syria, Iraq and Palestine. This service will be held on 18 February 2016 at 6 p.m., mainly in the Melkite Greek Catholic patriarchal cathedral of Damascus, with the participation of the leaders of the various Christian denominations and communities, in the presence of Archbishop Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria and Mgr Stanisław Gądecki, Archbishop of Poznań and President of the Polish Episcopal Conference, who is currently visiting Syria to pray with the Syrian people. Prayers will also be said for these intentions in the parishes of all Syria’s eparchies. We invite our friends and benefactors to join in our prayer on 18 February. Source: Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate, Damascus 15 February 2016
  1. St. Augustine: Sermon 256, I.2.3.: PL 38, 1191-1193  
  2. href='http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/may/documents/papa-francesco_20140524_terra-santa-autorita-amman.html'>http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/may/documents/papa-francesco_20140524_terra-santa-autorita-amman.html  
  3. Copyright © 1984 Mary Stevenson, from original 1936 text, All rights reserved.  
 
Letter of His Beatitude
Patriarch Gregorios III
On the Occasion of Great and Holy Lent
8 February 2016


From Gregorios, Servant of Jesus Christ
By the mercy of Almighty God
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
To my brother bishops, members of the Holy Synod
And my sons and daughters in Christ Jesus, clergy and people
Called to be saints, with all those who call upon the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ,
“Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:3)
Divine and Human Mercy
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
(Matthew 5:7)
We are contemplating an early fast for this year. And I must, as is customary for me, address a personal letter to you to accompany this annual spiritual journey, which we call the Great Lent Fast. I want this message to echo the sentiments expressed by his Holiness Pope Francis recently in the Bull of Indiction entitled The Face of Mercy, assigned to the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, and also in his Message issued on 1 January, 2016 to celebrate the XLIX World Day of Peace.

Mercy in the liturgical services

In every prayer of the liturgical services, we are knocking at the door of Divine Mercy, singing, “Lord, have mercy!” This moving chant is common to East and West, as the Greek Kyrie eleison is to be found in all rites: Byzantine, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic, Armenian, Assyrian and Aramaean. Not surprisingly, the mercy of God is inexhaustible because God is love and mercy! As the Byzantine or Antiochian rite is characterized by urgency in requesting divine mercy, both in the Divine Liturgy (or Mass), and in the liturgical services day and night, the term Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy) occurs in our prayers about 500 times a day! Many prayers are for help, the most notable of which include the popular, beloved anthem of mercy which is sung every day in Lent and consists of three sections: the first and second we address to the Lord:
  1. “Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us; for we sinners, lacking all defence, offer to thee, as our Master, this supplication: have mercy on us.”
  2. “Lord, have mercy on us, for in thee we have put our trust. Do not be very angry with us, nor remember our iniquities. But look on us now, as thou art compassionate, and rescue us from our enemies. For thou art our God, we are thy people, all the work of thy hands, and we call upon thy name.”
  3. The third section is devoted to a petition to the heavenly Mother, the Mother of God, which could worthily be called an anthem for the Jubilee of Mercy: “Open the gate of compassion to us, blessed Mother of God; hoping in thee, may we not fail. Through thee may we be delivered from adversities, for thou art the salvation of all Christians.”
It is well-known that the Psalms, the cornerstone of our liturgical prayers, are overflowing with references to the mercy of God. One such is the so-called Polyeleos or psalm of many mercies, due to its refrain which is sung after each verse, “For his mercy endures forever. Alleluia.” The other psalm of mercy, which is characterized by a profound appeal from the repentant soul, is the familiar fiftieth psalm: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy.” Yes, the mercy of Almighty God is immeasurable. And the papal message appeals to us urgently to open our hearts to God's mercy, so that it fills our being and makes us merciful as God is, as required by our Lord Jesus, “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) Our hope is that the world may hear the call, turning petrified, disgruntled, hateful hearts into compassionate, forgiving, peaceful human hearts of flesh and blood. We have so much need of the mercy of God, who blessed the merciful, the pure in heart, and philanthropists: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy!” (Matthew 5:7) “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God!” (Matthew 5:9) Compassion, in all its dimensions, sums up the Sermon on the Mount and expresses the will of God, who says, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13)

Mercy the message of all religions

Manifestations of faith in all religions highlight the mercy of God to man, and appeal to humans to deal mercifully with their fellows. The basic message of mercy is not limited to any one religion. The Pope has confirmed this fact, saying, “There is an aspect of mercy that goes beyond the confines of the Church. It relates us to Judaism and Islam, both of which consider mercy to be one of God’s most important attributes...The pages of the Old Testament are steeped in mercy. Among the privileged names that Islam attributes to the Creator are “Merciful and Kind”. This invocation is often on the lips of faithful Muslims who feel themselves accompanied and sustained by mercy in their daily weakness. They too believe that no one can place a limit on divine mercy because its doors are always open.” (Misericordiae Vultus No. 23) His Holiness says, “I trust that this Jubilee year celebrating the mercy of God will foster an encounter with these religions and with other noble religious traditions; may it open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; may it eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination.” (ibid. No. 23)

New spirituality

The Pope's message is more than an incitement to exercise mercy. It is an affirmation that a new spirituality should characterize the Church - pastors and people - in its relations with the world, its communication between its children, in the life of ecclesial and monastic communities, in parishes, in the family, in civil society ... so that mercy is to be the watchword, the roadmap, the key to dialogue with others, the vision of a new world, the panacea for all ills. The objective of the Encyclical, then, is for the mercy of God the Creator to permeate human relationships, man’s relations to his fellow-man. That is why I have chosen to summarise in this letter the relational aspects of the Jubilee of Mercy Bull.

The medicine of mercy

“Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity... The old story of the Good Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the [Second Vatican] Council… Errors were condemned, indeed, because charity demanded this no less than did truth, but for individuals themselves there was only admonition, respect and love.”

Jesus’ example of compassion

The Pope invites us to contemplate the face of Jesus Christ the Merciful, and meditate on the nature of God, as expressed in John the Beloved’s finest expression, “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) “Jesus, seeing the crowds of people who followed him, realized that they were tired and exhausted, lost and without a guide, and he felt deep compassion for them (cf. Matthew 9:36). On the basis of this compassionate love he healed the sick who were presented to him (cf. Matthew 14:14), and with just a few loaves of bread and fish he satisfied the enormous crowd (cf. Matthew 15:37). What moved Jesus in all of these situations was nothing other than mercy, with which he read the hearts of those he encountered and responded to their deepest need.” (ibid. No. 8) “When he came upon the widow of Nain taking her son out for burial, he felt great compassion for the immense suffering of this grieving mother, and he gave back her son by raising him from the dead (cf. Luke 7:15). After freeing the demoniac in the country of the Gerasenes, Jesus transformed him into an apostle of the Gospel. In the parables devoted to mercy, Jesus reveals the nature of God as that of a Father who never gives up until he has forgiven the wrong and overcome rejection with compassion and mercy. We know these parables well, three in particular: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the father with two sons (cf. Luke 15:1-32, popularly known as the Prodigal Son). In these parables, God is always presented as full of joy, especially when he pardons. In them we find the core of the Gospel and of our faith, because mercy is presented as a force that overcomes everything, filling the heart with love and bringing consolation through pardon.) (ibid. No. 9)

Forgiveness in the Jubilee

The Pope continues to refer to compassion in the Gospel, such as the hard-hearted servant whose master had forgiven him a large debt, but who almost choked his companion because he had failed to repay a small debt. And the Pope dwells in wonderful words on the concept of pardon and forgiveness, and its concomitant peace and serenity for man. “This parable contains a profound teaching for all of us. Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father; it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are. In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us. Pardoning offences becomes the clearest expression of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves. At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence, and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully. Let us therefore heed the Apostle’s exhortation: `Do not let the sun go down on your anger.´ (Ephesians 4:26) Above all, let us listen to the words of Jesus who made mercy an ideal of life and a criterion for the credibility of our faith: `Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy´ (Matthew 5:7): the Beatitude to which we should particularly aspire in this Holy Year.” (ibid. No. 9) The Church, servant of mercy Then the pope addresses the pastors of the Church and says that they must have, not just great- but unlimited - compassion in their dealings with the faithful, and with other people. Thus the Church shows itself through its bishops as the servant of compassion and an example of the divine master, the Merciful God, who loves human beings. Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love. The Church “has an endless desire to show mercy.” Perhaps we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy. The temptation, on the one hand, to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step. But the Church needs to go beyond and strive for a higher and more important goal. On the other hand, sad to say, we must admit that the practice of mercy is waning in the wider culture. In some cases the word seems to have dropped out of use. However, without a witness to mercy, life becomes fruitless and sterile, as if sequestered in a barren desert. The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters. Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instils in us the courage to look to the future with hope.” (ibid. No. 10)

Corporal and spiritual works of mercy

The Holy Father reminds believers of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: “It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty… Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead… Let us not forget the words of Saint John of the Cross, `As we prepare to leave this life, we will be judged on the basis of love.´” (ibid. No. 15)

Fasting and works of mercy

Liturgical prayers in the fasting season of Great Lent are replete with the call to practise acts of compassion. Here are some of the sections, including: “Brethren, while fasting bodily, let us also fast spiritually. Let us loosen every bond of injustice. Let us destroy the strong fetters of violence. Let us tear up every unjust contract. Let us give bread to the hungry and let us welcome the homeless poor into our houses, that from Christ our God we may receive the great mercy.” (Wednesday of the First Week of Great Lent) “Come, O faithful! Let us perform the works of God in the light. Let us walk honestly as in the day. Let us rid ourselves of unjust accusations against our neighbours: let us not place stumbling blocks in their way. Let us put aside the pleasures of the flesh so that we may increase the gifts to our souls. Let us give bread to those in need. Let us draw near to Christ in repentance and say, O our God, have mercy upon us.” (First Friday of Lent, “Lord, I call…” Tone 5)

Isaiah’s prophecy: a call for works of mercy

These prayers are an echo of calls made in the book of Isaiah the Prophet which are, as the Pope said, a road map of mercy: “The pages of the prophet Isaiah can also be meditated upon concretely during this season of prayer, fasting, and works of charity: `Is not this the fast that I choose: to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, here I am. If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.´ [Isaiah 58: 6-11]” (ibid. No. 17)

Initiatives for the Year of Mercy

This was indicated in my letter to my brother bishops on the message of his Holiness the Pope (Protocol 610/2015D 28/11/2015), concerning practical initiatives to animate the Year of Mercy, including:
  1. Pilgrimage to popular shrines in a spirit of repentance and a desire to amend one’s conduct.
  2. Practice of corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
  3. The celebration of a service of collective repentance. We have developed for this purpose an Akathist of petitions for divine mercy, to be recited in the context of repentance, throughout the Jubilee Year.
  4. Instruct the faithful to accept the sacrament of reconciliation (confession), train faithful parish priests to carry out this sacred mystery, and inform believers of the times devoted to hearing confessions during the Divine Liturgy and other liturgical services, and at other times.
  5. The Pope will give exceptional powers for the absolution even of serious sins normally reserved to the Holy See, to priests who have been chosen to be “Missionaries of mercy.” They may move around in all dioceses and parishes for the service of the faithful.
  6. The Pontiff called on us to organise “a mission to the people” for one week in each parish, and to develop a special programme of spiritual retreats, talks, prayers and repentance, to incite the faithful to repent and return to God and the values of the Holy Gospel.

Mercy, rather than indifference

The Pope addresses a kind of neglect of works of mercy, terming it “indifference”. Often this word is contained in his sermons and messages. He asks everyone not to close their eyes to people’s tragedies, especially those who are poor, physically and spiritually, and the marginalized, and neglected ... He has treated the subject of indifference in an open letter entitled “The Joy of the Gospel” and the message issued on the occasion of the celebration of the World Day of Peace at the beginning of the New Year 2016. “How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! How many are the wounds borne by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned out by the indifference of the rich! During this Jubilee, the Church will be called even more to heal these wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care. Let us not fall into humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine that prevents us from discovering what is new! Let us ward off destructive cynicism! Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism!” (ibid. No. 15)

Indifference is the antithesis of mercy

The Pope continues the subject of compassion in a message for the XLIX World Day of Peace entitled “Overcome indifference and win peace.” It is a call to awareness and doing one’s duty in the fight against cynicism. Compassion is indeed one of the most beautiful expressions of responsibility towards others: the poor, the environment, nature, society… Anyone who is callous enslaves others, and exploits nature, authority, and governance ... he does not sympathize with those who are suffering ... But the merciful person feels that he is responsible for other people. As is stated in the document of the Second Vatican Council, entitled Gaudium et Spes: “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.” (XLIX World Day of Peace No. 2) The Pope earlier reviews some of the tragedies of the year 2015, saying: “war and terrorism, accompanied by kidnapping, ethnic or religious persecution and the misuse of power, marked the past year from start to finish. In many parts of the world, these have become so common as to constitute a real `third world war fought piecemeal.´” (ibid.) Despite this bleak picture, the Holy Father calls us to stick with hope and the ability of humans, by the grace of God, to overcome evil and refuse to give in to despair and apathy, reject irresponsibility, but stand by common responsibility and solidarity.

Mercy a collective responsibility

“This attitude of mutual responsibility is rooted in our fundamental vocation to fraternity and a life in common. Personal dignity and interpersonal relationships are what constitute us as human beings whom God willed to create in his own image and likeness. As creatures endowed with inalienable dignity, we are related to all our brothers and sisters, for whom we are responsible and with whom we act in solidarity. Lacking this relationship, we would be less human. We see, then, how indifference represents a menace to the human family. As we approach a new year, I would ask everyone to take stock of this reality, in order to overcome indifference and to win peace.” (ibid.)

Some forms of indifference

His Holiness describes certain forms of apathy, saying, “indifference is [when] people…close their hearts to the needs of others, ...close their eyes to what is happening around them, [and] turn aside to avoid encountering other people's problems.´ He indicates that indifference is not new, but “in our day, indifference has ceased to be a purely personal matter and has taken on broader dimensions, producing a certain `globalization of indifference.´.…The first kind of indifference in human society is indifference to God, which then leads to indifference to one’s neighbour and to the environment. This is one of the grave consequences of a false humanism and practical materialism allied to relativism and nihilism.” (ibid. No. 3) “In other cases, indifference shows itself in lack of concern for what is happening around us, especially if it does not touch us directly. Some people prefer not to ask questions or seek answers; they lead lives of comfort, deaf to the cry of those who suffer. Almost imperceptibly, we grow incapable of feeling compassion for others and for their problems; we have no interest in caring for them, as if their troubles were their own responsibility, and none of our business. `When we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure… Our heart grows cold. As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off.´” (ibid.) The Pope reaffirms that peace is in danger due to global indifference. “On the institutional level, indifference to others and to their dignity, their fundamental rights and their freedom, when it is part of a culture shaped by the pursuit of profit and hedonism, can foster and even justify actions and policies which ultimately represent threats to peace. Indifference can even lead to justifying deplorable economic policies which breed injustice, division and violence for the sake of ensuring the wellbeing of individuals or nations.” (ibid. No. 4)

Mercy in the heart of God

In the face of widespread indifference, the Pope calls for compassion to inspire the heart. “Mercy is the heart of God. It must also be the heart of the members of the one great family of his children… [God] he sees, hears, knows, comes down and delivers. God does not remain indifferent. He is attentive and he acts… [Jesus] touched people’s lives, he spoke to them, helped them and showed kindness to those in need. Not only this, but he felt strong emotions and he wept (cf. John 11:33-44).” His Holiness gives these examples inviting people to “stop and to help alleviate the sufferings of this world and the pain of our brothers and sisters, using whatever means are at hand, beginning with our own time, however busy we may be. Indifference often seeks excuses: observing ritual prescriptions, looking to all the things needing to be done, hiding behind hostilities and prejudices which keep us apart.” (ibid. No. 5)

Mercy in the heart of the Church

The Pope calls for the Church, and especially its members, to exercise compassion, saying, “The Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy. We too, then, are called to make compassion, love, mercy and solidarity a true way of life, a rule of conduct in our relationships with one another. This requires the conversion of our hearts: the grace of God has to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh (cf. Ezekiel 36:26), open to others in authentic solidarity. (ibid.)

The logo of the Year of Mercy

The drawing, which figures in this Lenten Letter, is the emblem of the Year of Mercy, which carries in it a message of symbolic meaning, summing up the concepts of the Year of Mercy. In this image, we find Jesus the Merciful God who loves mankind carrying on his shoulders a wounded, sick, errant human being, - and we find in our Eastern rite a beautiful reference to this in the omophorion. It is an item of the bishop’s vestments, covering his shoulders and hanging down on his breast. The bishop says as he dons it, “When thou didst take upon thy shoulders human nature which had gone astray, O Christ, thou didst bear it to heaven unto thy God and Father.” As we say in the Great Doxology of Jesus Christ, “Thou that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” This is what we find also in Jesus as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). The most profound symbol of the graphic is that the figures are side by side, united by a strong sense of compassion, mercy, and love. It is noticeable that there are three, not four eyes: the eye of Jesus and the human eye, and then a central one combining Jesus, the God-Man, Adam and every human being ... Jesus the Son of Man looks at the child of Adam and Adam considers the human Jesus.

Lent a walk towards Mercy

That is the Christian vision, God uniting with man and humans with their fellows! This is the Christian faith, and this is the meaning of the mystery of the divine incarnation, in which the famous theological dictum is realised, “God became man so that man might become god.” God looks towards man and becomes human, humans look towards God and become like him. This Great and Holy Lent is a short walk. It is a walk along the way of the cross and pain, suffering, solidarity, compassion and tenderness, all the way to the euphoria of the victory of the resurrection. But this is a brief for the progress of humans on this earth: that they be merciful toward one another, and love one another, coexisting and co-operating harmoniously. Paul the Apostle said, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” (Romans 12:15) He also said in this connection: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ! …And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12,26)

Conclusion: Blessed Fast!

In conclusion, we congratulate their graces, our beloved fellow-bishops, reverend father and mother superiors, and all our children walking on the way of the Fast. Fasting is an acceptable time. It is a time of salvation. It is indeed a school of compassion and responsibility, and a school of Christian virtues. This is what our liturgical prayers say about the beneficial process of fasting, which is in the eyes of the Holy Fathers, “the spring of the soul.” Let us hear what our Mother Church says, speaking in the words of our holy fathers: “Let us brightly begin the all-honourable abstinence; and let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God, with the brightness of love, the splendour of prayer, the purity of chastity, and the strength of good courage to reach [Christ’s] holy resurrection on the third day, which shines incorruption throughout the inhabited world.” (Prayer from Clean Monday)
With my love and apostolic blessing
+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
For the Melkite Greek Catholic Church

Appendix: Works of corporal and spiritual mercy

The traditional enumeration of the corporal works of mercy is as follows:
  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbour the harbourless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.
The spiritual works of mercy are:
  • To instruct the ignorant;
  • To counsel the doubtful;
  • To admonish sinners;
  • To bear wrongs patiently;
  • To forgive offences willingly;
  • To comfort the afflicted;
  • To pray for the living and the dead.

Appendix: Pope Francis’ Prayer for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy

Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father, and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him. Show us your face and we will be saved. Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured Paradise to the repentant thief. Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God!” You are the visible face of the invisible Father, of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy: let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified. You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God. Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing, so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord, and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed, and restore sight to the blind. We ask this of you, Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy; you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
  1. St. Augustine: Sermon 256, I.2.3.: PL 38, 1191-1193  
  2. href='http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/may/documents/papa-francesco_20140524_terra-santa-autorita-amman.html'>http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/may/documents/papa-francesco_20140524_terra-santa-autorita-amman.html  
  3. Copyright © 1984 Mary Stevenson, from original 1936 text, All rights reserved.  
 
Letter of His Beatitude Gregorios III Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church


On the occasion of the Feast of the Nativity 25 December 2015
From Gregorios, Servant of Jesus Christ By the mercy of Almighty God, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem
To my brothers, their graces the bishops, members of the Holy Synod and our other sons and daughters in Christ Jesus, the clergy and people, called to be saints, with all those who invoke the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, their and our Lord, “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:3)

“I bring you good tidings of great joy.. “unto you is born this day ... a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

The Nativity according to the Flesh of our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ 25 December 2015

“I bring you good tidings of great joy..unto you is born this day ... a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) This verse begins the Holy Gospel, telling the good news of Jesus to people, “all people” of this world, which is God’s domain. Gospel means good news for mankind, news that is beautiful, lovely, joyful, gladsome, comforting, healing, sublime, close to everyone. Glad tidings! Gospel! Great joy! Thus begins the Gospel of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Thus begins Christianity. Thus begins our holy Christian faith. This is the Feast of the Nativity. On this holy day, this year we hear anew the Christmas angel in the dark night, in the fields of Beit Sahur and Bethlehem, and in all parts of the world. We hear again the voice of the angel announcing to us all without exception, and particularly to all those receiving this letter, “I bring you glad tidings of great joy. I bring to you a Gospel, the Gospel of joy. This joy is Jesus himself, the Saviour.” Christ the Lord is Redeemer, Friend, God who loves mankind. The All-merciful is the friend of saints and is compassionate to sinners, calling all to redemption and the heavenly banquet. Today more than ever, the world needs, we need, you, our families need, our country needs, every human being who is afraid, sceptical, hungry, thirsty, displaced, sick, desperate needs joy! That is why I chose this title for the Christmas Letter in this fifth year of our Arab, especially Syrian, way of the cross. The Arab world, our churches, communities, patriarchs, archbishops, priests, deacons, monks, nuns, faithful sons and daughters of our parishes, fellow-citizens and the whole world, all need this joy heralded by the Christmas angel, “I bring you glad tidings of great joy!” This proclamation made to the shepherds also goes out through this letter to all the sons and daughters of the Greek Catholic Church, both clergy and people ... and so to all people, including all who will read this message, in order to bring to everyone’s heart new joy, the joy of the Gospel, the joy of the Lord Jesus the Saviour, the new Child, God before the ages. This is what His Holiness Pope Francis called us to in the Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, (2013), saying, “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” (Evangelii Gaudium 1) The announcement of the Nativity, “I bring you glad tidings of great joy,” echoes what was mentioned in the books of the Old and New Testaments, and expected for generations: this was fulfilled by the birth of Christ.
Joy in the Torah
The Covenant with God in the history of the people of the Old Testament is the era of joy! It is a holiday! A true expression of fidelity! Here are some verses from some of the books that refer to the people’s joy in God’s salvation. (See below, selected verses in the Appendix)
Joy in the New Testament
The Gospel is the good news of joy. Here, too, we should like to cite the verses that call for joy. There is no faith in Christ without joy in Christ Jesus. His Nativity is the birth of joy: “I bring you glad tidings of great joy! For unto you is born a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” There follow some of verses from the Gospels about joy. (See Appendix)
Joy in the Apostolic Epistles
St. Paul is the Apostle of joy. One of his many statements is, “I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation.” (2 Corinthians 7:4) This language expresses the situation of all of us and that is the reason why I chose the subject of this letter, despite the bloody, grievous, sad, tragic circumstances experienced by our country and through which we are all going... And his beautiful, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7) (See more verses in the Appendix)
Joy in the daily service books
Look again here at some verses from the daily prayers, or what we call the Horologion. Our prayers are a permanent invitation to joy. So we can say, “He who prays is joyful!” There is no prayer without joy and no joy without prayer! “They that fear thee will see me and rejoice: for I have hoped in thy words.” (Psalm 119:74 LXX) “O Virgin Mother of God, unassailable wall and fortress of salvation, we beg thee; scatter the counsels of the foe; turn thy people’s grief into joy; restore thy world; strengthen the devout; intercede for the peace of the world; for thou, O Mother of God, art our hope.” (Theotokion from the Midnight Office)
“But let the righteous rejoice; let them exult before God: let them be delighted with joy.” (Psalm 67 LXX)
“Let all that seek thee exult and be glad in thee: and let those that love thy salvation say continually, Let God be magnified.” (Psalm 69:4 LXX) “But the king shall rejoice in God; every one that swears by him shall be praised; for the mouth of them that speak unjust things has been stopped.” (Psalm 62:11 LXX) “Come, all ye faithful. Let us venerate the Holy Resurrection of Christ. For behold, through the cross, joy has come to all the world.” “O sweetness of the angels, joy of all those in distress, Virgin Mother of the Lord, thou art the protection of Christians. Come to my aid, deliver me from the eternal torments.” (Little Paraclesis) Another verse about joy (First Hour): “We have been satisfied in the morning with thy mercy; and we did exult and rejoice: let us rejoice in all our days, in return for the days wherein thou didst afflict us, the years wherein we saw evil. And look upon thy servants, and upon thy works; and guide their children.” (Psalm 89:14-16 LXX) “O Christ our God, who wast voluntarily lifted up on the Cross, grant thy mercies to thy new people named after thee. Gladden with thy power Orthodox Christians and give them victory over their enemies. May they have as an ally that invincible trophy, thy weapon of peace.” (Kontakion for Wednesday) “For thou, O Lord, hast made me glad with thy work: and in the works of thy hands will I exult.” (Psalm 91:4 LXX) “The light of thy countenance, O Lord, has been manifested towards us. Thou hast put gladness into my heart, they have been satisfied with the fruit of their corn and wine and oil. I will both lie down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only hast caused me to dwell securely.” (Psalm 4:6-8 LXX) “Pity me, O Lord, for to thee will I cry all the day. Rejoice the soul of thy servant, for to thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul.” (Psalm 85:3-4 LXX) “Guide me, O Lord, in thy way, and I will walk in thy truth: let my heart rejoice, that I may fear thy name.” (Psalm 85:11-12 LXX) “Let the glory of the Lord be for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works.” (Psalm 103:31 LXX) “Let my meditation be sweet to him: and I will rejoice in the Lord.” (Psalm 103:33 LXX) “Lead us in thy way that we may walk in thy truth. Make glad our hearts, that we may fear thy holy name. ” (The first Prayer of Light at Great Vespers, said by the priest) Our prayers are a permanent invitation to joy. We even have liturgical books named consolation or joy. So the book named comforter (Paraklitike) is the book of eight tones, a book used essentially at Vespers and Matins. We rotate these prayers every eight weeks throughout the year. The hymns and prayers contained in it are really a fountain of consolation, joy, strength, courage and morale ... a companion for a priest, monk or nun! That is why we hope to be faithful and persevere with reading it every day!

Joy of the Gospel

After reviewing this large group of beautiful verses about joy (see Appendix), I should like to offer verses to accompany our daily life and bring joy to our hearts. This group has become our daily bread thanks to our confidence in God's love for us. In this letter, I am pleased to convey to everyone some extracts about joy from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation entitled The Joy of the Gospel. I recommend that everyone read and reflect upon this document. Here are some extracts from it: “...An evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy... The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.” (No. 24) The Pope emphasises the importance of joy in all aspects of life. “Evangelization as ... joyful..preaching...must be a priority.” (No. 110) “The salvation which God has wrought, and the Church joyfully proclaims, is for everyone.” (No. 113) “We will know the missionary joy of sharing life with God’s faithful people as we strive to light a fire in the heart of the world.” (271) His Holiness speaks about the source of joy and happiness, “Only the person who feels happiness in seeking the good of others, in desiring their happiness, can be a missionary. This openness of the heart is a source of joy, since `it is more blessed to give than to receive.´ (Acts 20:35) We do not live better when we flee, hide, refuse to share, stop giving and lock ourselves up in our own comforts. Such a life is nothing less than slow suicide.” (No. 272) On the same topic, His Holiness says, quoting the words of Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Exhortation entitled Proclaiming the Gospel, “Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ.” (Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, 8 December 1975, 80 [No. 10 Evangelii Gaudium]) He says elsewhere: “With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he [Christ]makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will.” (No. 3) And how beautiful the statement in his speech on July 7, 2013 before the Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square for peace in Syria, “Dear friends, be glad! Do not be afraid of being joyful! Don't be afraid of joy! That joy which the Lord gives us when we allow him to enter our life. Let us allow him to enter our lives and invite us to go out to the margins of life and proclaim the Gospel. Don't be afraid of joy. Have joy and courage!” Thus, when others ask the reason for our joy, let us give an account of it to them! And let us try to inspire joy, hope, optimism and a smile in others. Thus we redouble our joy by sharing it with others.

Inner Joy!

This is our human force in the face of distress, pain and sorrow, sickness and hardship of all kinds. This is our strength in the face of the stifling crises that overshadow our life, oppress our spirits and lead us to despair and frustration ... and in the face of the emigration that saps our lifeblood, causing the loss of the finest forces of our society, especially its young people, doctors and thinkers and makers of history and its future! Today, more than ever, we need joy, because there are many causes of sorrow, pain and frustration ... We have to look for, and even devise possible reasons for joy, and we expect and hope for those longed for but unexpected joys! There are small things that can spark an outburst of emotion and feelings of joy and happiness ... We have to discover, and even create them! It often happens that joy springs from the moment, from the present moment, and does not come from without, or from anyone else! That joy lies within and springs from within, so it can be said to be a joy for direct, local, personal consumption... a pure, spontaneous, given joy - deep, personal, stemming from the depth of the human heart, and surpassing all joy! I should like to tell you, beloved, who read this message: The finest moments and experiences of joy in my whole life, the moments of this joy emanating from within, bursting powerfully from within... were not shared with anyone ... but often occurred in hours or moments of inner solitude, or individual, personal reflection ... often in very difficult circumstances ... when I felt surprised by a mysterious joy or shed a tear of joy, hope, faith and love! Fortunately, I still often feel such moments! ... Great joys often arise in our hearts from small joys! So, for example, we want our young children to be glad because we give them big presents and toys ... but if we do not give them our love , we fail to recognize that we may experience moments of joy with them, joy that can become our joy! I recently read a book by the German Benedictine monk named Anselm Grün. I should like to convey some reflections from it to the readers of this Christmas Letter.

Be glad about your life

You do not need unusual reasons to rejoice. Be glad by yourself and with yourself. Rejoice at your life’s memories. Be reconciled to yourself. Take the decision to be happy and joyful. An American writer says, if you take a decision every day to be happy, then you are more powerful than the most powerful force in the world. Be glad that you are who you are! Do not compare yourself with others! And do not be proud, boasting of what you have. And don't be sad because you do not have things that you see others have. Be confident in your identity! It is enough that you can be proud and glad that you are God’s creature! God loves you! Repeat aloud, “God loves me!”

Rejoice in nature

God created man and created a paradise! And put in it all sorts of beautiful creatures! This is not poetry, myth or fiction! But reality. It is to be regretted that we rarely really look at nature. This is what Jesus said: “For this people's ... eyes have closed, but blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” (Matthew 13:15-16) Psalm 103 LXX (104) is paying tribute to God the Creator and we recite it every day at Vespers. And through it we learn about the paradise of this universe which God created for us and for our salvation! Many saints have discovered happiness in their spiritual life and relationship with God and their fellow human beings through nature, including St. Francis of Assisi. And before him the desert fathers and hermits ... including saints of our Church, such as the Arab St. Mary of Jesus Crucified, who was in constant dialogue with the joy of nature. This year in particular Pope Francis issued his Encyclical entitled, Praise be to you, my Lord. “Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption.” (No. 222) “It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.” (No. 222) “Can one needs to live a little too much, especially when it is able to give more space for other pleasure grounds, and to test the satisfaction in fraternal events, service, investment and talent in music, in art, in contact with nature, and in prayer. That happiness lies in knowing the limits of certain needs that confuse us, staying so open to multiple possibilities offered by life. ” (No. 223) “Even living on little, they can live a lot, above all when they cultivate other pleasures and find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer. Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer.” (No. 223) The Pope prays every day the prayer of St. Thomas More, “Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humour...to discover in life a bit of joy and to be able to share it with others.” Pope Francis addressed the Cardinals and members of the Roman Curia just before Christmas 2014, telling them that they were suffering from certain diseases (some fifteen in all) including disease no. 12, “The disease of a lugubrious face... In fact, a show of severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity... An apostle must make an effort to be courteous, serene, enthusiastic and joyful, a person who transmits joy everywhere he goes... A heart filled with God is a happy heart which radiates an infectious joy. How beneficial is a good dose of humour!”

Communing with nature

I do not know whether we commune with nature when we pray (we monks, nuns and priests) the opening lines of this beautiful psalm 103 (104) at Vespers. And here I should like to share its beauty with all the faithful who rarely attend Vespers. The title of the Psalm is hymn to God the creator. Here are some verses from this psalm which describe nature, and we should not close our eyes to its beauties:
“Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great... He sends forth his fountains among the valleys: the waters shall run between the mountains. They shall give drink to all the wild beasts of the field: the wild asses shall take of them to quench their thirst. By them shall the birds of the sky lodge: they shall utter a voice out of the midst of the rocks. He waters the mountains from his chamber: the earth shall be satisfied with the fruit of thy works. He makes grass to grow for the cattle, and green herb for the service of men, To bring bread out of the earth; and wine makes glad the heart of man... The trees of the plain shall be full of sap; even the cedars of Lebanon which he has planted. There the sparrows will build their nests; and the house of the heron takes the lead among them. The high mountains are a refuge for the stags, and the rock for the rabbits. He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knows his going down... How great are thy works, O Lord! In wisdom hast thou wrought them all... All wait upon thee, to give them their food in due season. When thou hast given it them, they will gather it; and when thou hast opened thine hand, they shall all be filled with good. I will sing to the Lord while I live; I will sing praise to my God while I exist. Let my meditation be sweet to him: and I will rejoice in the Lord.”
Thus the human life of the believer and psalmist become an anthem and prayer of joy, gladness and blessedness, through his proximity to God and nature, and his fellow-man ... We need to communicate with the nature that God created for us. We need to “walk” in Paradise, with him who created it, and where he met Adam and Eve, whom he created ... When we walk in nature, we relax, not confining our thinking to our worries and pain ... but we get out of ourselves, for we are met by God in nature, and are happy and joyful at its beauty. .. it is good to go beyond our ideas, projects, problems and concerns of today ... to go into nature, where we meet God its Creator ...

Rejoice in small things

Joy awaits you in the small things of everyday life. Try to be happy with all the work you do, no matter how small. Rejoice ... as you arrange your desk ... or take a morning bath and enjoy breakfast with your family, your wife and children and friends! Be glad when reading a message from a friend, or loved one or relative ... and happily reply to the message with love, thanks, gratitude and congratulations for his or her well-being and so forth or wish them success in a project or work or other ... Rejoice with friends! And try to have fun with them ... And bring them good news or a joke or a spiritual or social idea ... Shed your ego to meet up with others or simply rejoice in bringing joy to others through the details of your everyday life.

Rejoice with friends!

Be glad to recollect time spent with friends and remember the pleasant times spent with dear ones, with friends, relatives or colleagues. So you will move on from a sense of loneliness towards forgetting your worries. Contact friends! This facility is available today through social media. Call them particularly on special occasions: birthdays – anniversaries – illness – travel ... And don't wait for them to call you ... Devote ample time to meeting friends! Even without a plan, object or outline. Meet friends to experience the joy of friendship, without artifice or ulterior motive, without sin, shame or reproach in friendship, just trust, honesty, and loyalty, affection, sympathy and joy! Isn't this what Jesus meant when he said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) And “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven!” (Matthew 18:19) Isn't this what Jesus did with his friend Lazarus, and with the Apostles after the resurrection, when he prepared fish grilled on embers? (John 21:9) ... Isn't this what Jesus said to his disciples at the Mystic (Last) Supper, “Ye are my friends…! Henceforth I call you not servants… but I have called you friends! ” (John 15:14-15) He also said, “ And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again [after the resurrection], and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” (John 16:22) Then he announced,” For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me.” (John 16:27) How beautiful is the prayer of Jesus for his disciples before his saving passion, as we see in Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel! It is a prayer of love and friendship, trust, unity, loyalty, compassion and honesty. “And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. ” (John 17:13-19) “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:23-26) This is the friendship to which Jesus invites us! He invites us to faith! He is a source of joy for all of us! Jesus is the teacher of friendship and joy!

Enjoy giving joy to other people

Enjoy giving joy to others! Try to discover joyful things! I recall that when we were in the process of developing the new liturgical books, we used to spend hours in hard work. We had a list of jokes and funny stories. One or other of our group often used to begin by telling a joke, just to create a comfortable atmosphere of joy and friendship. Then we would resume our work. I remember how His Grace Archbishop John Mansour used to enliven our sessions with something topical from the newspapers, with stories, anecdotes and jokes. I remember my school days at the Major Seminary of Holy Saviour, where there was always pleasant, cheerful joy among the students! The Superior General and the Presbyteral Council would come to take part in the evening study sessions of the older students and hear the jokes told by one of the brothers who was renowned for his humour, and experience the atmosphere of joy that he created among his companions. This is just a matter of human social skill. It should be on the social and moral education curriculum! We can learn sound doctrine from proverbs. Don't forget that proverb, “Don't walk about with your eyes shut!” I mean: keep in touch with love, affection, friendship and attention to others. Rejoice! And give joy to others! One of the senior Druze sheikhs told me, “A comfortable person makes things comfortable, but a complicated person complicates things!”

“Man is created for joy”

That is a phrase from the famous French philosopher Pascal. Indeed, joy is a characteristic of human beings and the aim of Christian spirituality is to attain that joy, which is the essence of man. The celebrated French thinker Paul Claudel says, “Christian mission is an invitation to joy.” The French novelist Georges Bernanos wrote, “The mission of the Church is an invitation to enable the believer to discover the source of joy that was lost through human sin.” And the Gospel is good news of joy to humanity. Therefore, the call to joy is at the core of the Christian faith. That is why the Christian always radiates joy. It is most appropriate to rejoice and express your deep faith. Discover joy in your life.

The road to joy and happiness

And here I am reminded of a letter from a German friend, referring to a text he had found at a barber’s in Cairo. He sent me a copy of the text which he had translated into German. This text is called, The Road to Happiness:
  • Keep far from your heart hatred, enmity and grudges!
  • Don’t overload your thoughts with many worries!
  • Live simply, don’t expect sublime things!
  • Be generous! Hum and sing a lot!
  • Keep going!
  • Fill your life with love!
  • Let your soul shine!
  • Don’t think of yourself, but of others!
  • Treat others as you would be done by!
These are the beads that make up the rosary of happiness. Pope Francis says in his Bull on the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, “To let go of anger, wrath, violence and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully.” (Misericordiae Vultus No. 9)

God bestows joy on people

God sends an angel to announce to people joy at the birth of Jesus Christ, “I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” The Saviour is the greatest joy. People should make God joyful, by loving him, keeping his commandments, and trusting him, and gladdening their fellow human beings. The Christian faith is based on joy. Christian love is joy. A feast of love! The liturgical year is a calendar of feasts. Christian festivals are festivals of joy: the Annunciation of Jesus Christ, his Nativity, his Presentation at the Temple, his Baptism, his Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the Entry to Jerusalem, the Mystic Supper with the disciples, and through Passion Week to Pascha, and the Divine Ascension, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Then there are the principal feast days of the Blessed Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary: her Conception, her Nativity, her Entry into the Temple, the Annunciation, her Birth-giving to Jesus Christ, her Purification, and finally her glorious Dormition. Not to mention the feastdays of the saints whom we commemorate daily, especially during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy: the holy angels, prophets, apostles, martyrs, Church fathers, unmercenary doctors, wonderworking bishops and the male and female martyrs, confessors and ascetics. Church history has always been a festive history! Although it is also a history of struggle, pain, agony and martyrdom. It is a way of the cross, but leading to the joys of the resurrection.

Enjoy the moment

There is a saying in Latin, Carpe diem meaning, “Seize the day.” Enjoy the moment. It's your moment! It's your opportunity! It's your very own! There was a monk in Gaza named Dorotheos (that is, gift of God) who lived in the sixth century. He was an ascetic. People used to visit him or send him messages and he offered them advice according to their needs. His basic advice was usually, “Live today! seize the moment!” I understood this teaching through noticing a man sitting in front of me on the plane. He was wearing a jacket marked, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery. Today is a gift: that’s why it’s called the present!” So the past is over and done for you, and you don’t know what the future holds in store. Now: this is your time! This is your domain! In this regard, I remember a book by Brother Roger Schütz, founder of the Taizé community, entitled: Live God’s today. Enjoy the moment. Vivre l'aujourd'hui de Dieu. Savour the moment while striving for your ultimate goal! This is also the nature of daily liturgical prayers. They always refer both to the here and now, and to eternity. So we pray repeatedly every day, “For an angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and our bodies, let us ask of the Lord! That this whole day may be perfect, holy, peaceful and sinless, let us ask of the Lord.” We pray, “O Lord, keep us thy people this day without sin.” This leads us to joy in our faith! This is what Jesus says to us, “While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.” (John 12:36)

Beloved!

Someone might say on reading this letter about the joy of the Gospel: You, Your Beatitude, are not in the real world, but in your ivory tower! You don’t see the painful reality of bitterness, wormwood and gall! And there is no sign on the horizon of any sign of joy and relief, no end to this dark tunnel, this bloody Way of the Cross which our Middle East, especially Syria, has been treading for the last five years! But I do know all that very well. I experience every day our common tragedy, and walk, as do our people, like a prisoner, with bloodied feet, carrying the daily cross! Yes, this way of the cross is long! This is a harsh Calvary and a dark tunnel! This horizon is overcast ... That is precisely why I have entitled given this title to my letter, echoing the angel’s greeting to all people, “I bring you good news of great joy!” This is what you need, in the face of the tragedies, victims and martyrs and the hundreds or rather thousands of mortars and rockets ... and the scenes of destruction, barbarity, murder, violence and torture ... Yes, what you need today, my beloved, is joy! As the poet said, “In the dark night, the full moon is wanting!” I wanted to contribute to the introduction of spiritual joy, the joy of faith, hope and love, hopefulness and confidence, optimism, happiness and contentment ... I wanted to bring these feelings to your hearts! And to the hearts of the sons and daughters of Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait and the Gulf, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Yemen ... and to the hearts of the children of our Church, pastors and believers everywhere ... and the heart of every human being ... My friends and benefactors of my patriarchal service, and to all of those who relievie people’s suffering and pain ... I want to gladden your hearts with the joy of Jesus! Let us sing joyfully at the Nativity, as the angels did on that saving night, singing the Christmas hymn with the angels, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people...” Thus we echo the words of the angels of Beit Sahour, Bethlehem and Jerusalem and all our churches and our guardian angels and say, Brother! Sister! I bring you good tidings of great joy! God knows your name! You are the apple his eyes! God loves you! Repeat over and over again, “God loves me!” And allow happiness to enter into your heart. With the Apostle Paul, repeat, “Rejoice, and again I say, rejoice!” And Merry Christmas! In peace, security and love! May the New Year 2016 be a year of peace for Syria, the whole region and the world!
With my love and apostolic blessing
+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
For the Melkite Greek Catholic Church

Appendix

Joy in the Torah (Law and Prophets)

Leviticus

(Rejoicing) “And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.” (Leviticus 23:40)

Numbers

(Rejoicing on feast days) “Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the Lord your God.” (Numbers 10:10)

Deuteronomy

(The whole family rejoices before God) “And thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you, in the place which the Lord thy God hath chosen to place his name there.” (Deuteronomy 16:11) “Seven days shalt thou keep a solemn feast unto the Lord thy God in the place which the Lord shall choose: because the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase, and in all the works of thine hands, therefore thou shalt surely rejoice.” (Deuteronomy 16:15) “And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you.” (Deuteronomy 26:11) (Enjoyment of all the Lord’s gifts) “[Thou art cursed] because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things.” (Deuteronomy 28:47) “[Thou shalt return] and the Lord thy God will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land, for good: for the Lord will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers.” (Deuteronomy 30:9)

Isaiah

“Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.” (Isaiah 9:3) (Joy in waiting for God in our lives) “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:3) “Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us.” (Isaiah 14:8) “And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9) “Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the Lord, to the mighty One of Israel.“ (Isaiah 30:29) (General joy) “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.” (Isaiah 35:1) “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10) (God giving joy to his creatures) “For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.” (Isaiah 51:3) “But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.” (Isaiah 65:18) “And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.” (Isaiah 65:19) “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her.” (Isaiah 66:10)

Joy in the New Testament

The Gospel of Matthew

“When they [the wise men] saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” (Matthew 2:10) “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:12//Luke 6:23) “But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it.” (Matthew 13:21//Luke 8:13) “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” (Matthew 13:44) “And if so be that he find it [the stray sheep], verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.” (Matthew 13:18) “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matthew 25:21) “And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.” (Matthew 8:28)

The Gospel of Mark

“And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness.” (Mark 4:16)

The Gospel of Luke

Joy begins with the Annunciation to Mary (John rejoices in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth) “For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy [Mary’s]salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. ” (Luke 1:44) (Surprised by joy, Mary exclaims) “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1:46-47) “And the angel said unto them [the shepherds], Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10) “And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.” (Luke 17:10) “Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17) “And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:5-7) “And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. ” (Luke 15:8-10) “And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:23-24) “And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen.” (Luke 19:37) “And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.” (Luke 24:15)

The Gospel of John

“He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.” (John 3:29) “And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.” (John 4:36) “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.” (John 8:56) “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” (John 15:11) “Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28) “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” (John 11:15) “Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” (John 16:20-22) “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24) “And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 13:17) “And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:20)

Acts of the Apostles

(Joy of the first Christian community) The first Christian community was, like Paul, overflowing with joy, despite harassment and persecution. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41) “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.“ (Acts 5:41) “And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:39) “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48) “And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 13:52) “So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle.” (Acts 15:30) “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)

The Holy Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans

“Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” (Romans 12:15) “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Romans 14:17)

The Holy Apostle Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians

“[It remaineth that both] they that weep, [be]as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not.” (1 Corinthians 7:30) “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26) “[Charity] rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6)

The Holy Apostle Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians

“For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me?” (2 Corinthians 2:2) “As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” (2 Corinthians 6:10) “How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.” (2 Corinthians 8:2) “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” (2 Corinthians 11:13)

The Holy Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith...” (Galatians 5:22)

The Holy Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Philippians

“Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” (Philippians 2:2)

The Holy Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Colossians

“[I, Paul] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the Church.” (Colossians 1:24)

The Holy Apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians

“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy.” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20) “For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God?” (1 Thessalonians 3:9) “Rejoice evermore.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

The Holy Apostle Peter’s First Epistle

“[Jesus Christ] whom, having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” (1 Peter 1:8) “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” (1 Peter 4:13)

The Holy Apostle John’s First Epistle

“And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” (1 John 1:4)

The Holy Apostle John’s Third Epistle

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” (3 John 1:4) So we can clearly see that faith is the real road to joy. And joy is a genuine expression of faith and salvation.
  1. St. Augustine: Sermon 256, I.2.3.: PL 38, 1191-1193  
  2. href='http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/may/documents/papa-francesco_20140524_terra-santa-autorita-amman.html'>http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/may/documents/papa-francesco_20140524_terra-santa-autorita-amman.html  
  3. Copyright © 1984 Mary Stevenson, from original 1936 text, All rights reserved.  
 
Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchs in Syria
Closing Statement
The Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchs in Syria met on 17, 18 and 19 of November 2015, presided over by Patriarch Gregorios III, with the participation of the Apostolic Nuncio in Syria, Archbishop Mario Zenari, to hold its regular annual meeting for autumn 2015 in the Headquarters of the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate in Damascus. On its agenda were various topics of national, ecclesial and social living conditions. The Fathers reviewed the general situation in Syria, and considered especially living conditions, studying ways to be closer to their fellow-citizens and their faithful, and provide them with the means to live in dignity and help them cope with various difficulties and problems that they face in light of their dire circumstances given the harsh conditions prevailing in Syria, and urged all the Church’s charitable and social institutions, especially Caritas Syria, which had provided a statement on its work, to be more effective, comprehensive and useful in their services, so as to reflect in their own aspect the face of merciful Jesus who loves mankind.
  • The Fathers also studied the phenomenon of emigration that has recently been sweeping away the people of Syria in general and the Church’s members in particular, and worked to develop a vision for dealing with this, both in terms of limiting it, or in terms of looking for ways to help those who have already emigrated in the countries where they have emigrated and settled.
  • The Fathers also studied the subject of the call-up of young reservists, in order to find ways to offer them assistance in the matter of reconciling the exigencies of national duty with earning a living.
  • Patriarch Gregorios III presented a summary of the work and decisions taken at the Synod on the Family held this October in the Vatican, and Archbishop Samir Nassar, head of the Commission on the Family in Syria, summarized the views and recommendations of the group with regard to Christian families. The Fathers discussed various aspects of the subject and agreed on a national and social plan to support excommunicated families.
  • In conclusion those assembled raised their prayers for the Syrian Government, the army and people, especially for the martyrs, asking God to restore harmony and peace, stability and prosperity to Syria, and they appealed to the conscience of the whole world, deeming it responsible for the destructive chaos underlying the tragedies that are destroying human beings and stones in our country and in other countries. They said, “We confront the whole world with its responsibility for igniting the conflagration in our Middle East, which has consumed everything and everybody and presages more violence and terror, destruction, hatred and hostility between the various persuasions and denominations of Eastern society. We appeal to Eastern and Western countries to work together, united in solidarity, to stop the war on our peoples, our culture and our common homeland in this holy land, cradle of religions and civilizations. Let us show compassion for the victims and implore healing for the wounded and extend condolences to every family that has lost a dear one.”
  • On this occasion the Fathers appeal to their sons and daughters, inviting them adhere to hope and staying in the country, and to do everything to enhance its unity and sovereignty, stability and prosperity. And they offer them warm congratulations upon the coming Season of the Advent of the Lord Jesus, hoping that he will protect Syria, where the Gospel of peace was first announced at his Nativity.
Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchs in Syria
  1. St. Augustine: Sermon 256, I.2.3.: PL 38, 1191-1193  
  2. href='http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/may/documents/papa-francesco_20140524_terra-santa-autorita-amman.html'>http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/may/documents/papa-francesco_20140524_terra-santa-autorita-amman.html  
  3. Copyright © 1984 Mary Stevenson, from original 1936 text, All rights reserved.  
 
His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III (Laham)
On Lebanese Independence Day
Thus sang Fairuz, our ambassador to heaven! In many of her songs Fairuz sings about Jerusalem, and faced with the complex conundrum of peace for Jerusalem, she finally declares, “I’m going to pray!” The solution is found in prayer. Today we offer congratulations to “prayerful” Fairuz on the occasion of her eightieth birthday. Today on Independence Day, when Lebanon faces one crisis after another and the Arab world too faces the most severe crises of its history, let us recall Fairuz and learn from prayerful Fairuz to resort to prayer on Sunday, the Lord’s day, for security, peace and Lebanese independence, so that Lebanon may learn how to keep Lebanon’s Cedar bright! I offer my congratulations for Independence Day and say to the Lebanese people, I’m going to pray for love, solidarity, harmony, sincerity, honesty, unity and union: this is the salvation of Lebanon! This is road map for Lebanon, “the message”! And all good wishes to you, my beloved Lebanese people, on this anniversary. With my love and blessing
Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
  1. St. Augustine: Sermon 256, I.2.3.: PL 38, 1191-1193  
  2. href='http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/may/documents/papa-francesco_20140524_terra-santa-autorita-amman.html'>http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/may/documents/papa-francesco_20140524_terra-santa-autorita-amman.html  
  3. Copyright © 1984 Mary Stevenson, from original 1936 text, All rights reserved.  

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