Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
Repose of H. B. Nerses Bedros XIX of blessed memory,
Armenian Catholic Catholicos Patriarch of Cilicia

“He has gone from celebrating the Divine Liturgy here below
to celebrating the heavenly Liturgy,” says Gregorios III
“We were very sad and upset to learn of the departure from this life of H. B. Nerses Bedros XIX of blessed memory, Armenian Catholic Catholicos Patriarch of Cilicia. He has gone from celebrating the Divine Liturgy here below to celebrating the heavenly Liturgy. “We have lost a brother, friend and dearly loved colleague. We shared a deep ecclesial friendship and saw eye to eye on ecclesial, liturgical and pastoral matters, bouncing ideas off one another and sharing plans and projects. “H. B. Nerses Bedros XIX was a clear-sighted, faithful and caring pastor, an expert in canon law and deeply cultured person. As head of a Church deeply rooted in the Christian East, vigilant over its heritage and legacy, he was at the same time a faithful defender of the See of Rome and of union with Rome, another point on which we found ourselves happily in agreement at assemblies and meetings. “We thank God for such an honourable patriarch devoted to his Church even as we mourn the loss of a friend. “On my own behalf and in the name of the Holy Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, we offer to the beloved Armenian Catholic Church’s bishops and faithful, especially the kinfolk of the late, great patriarch, and to all our brother patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches our most sincere condolences and prayers for the repose of the soul of this dear friend and colleague. May he rest among the saints! “May our Lord God and Saviour, the Shepherd of our souls, receive him in the bridal chamber of the Lamb, whither he has preceded us, and prepare for him the blessing of eternal bliss and rest in a place of brightness, refreshment and repose, whence all sickness, sighing and sorrow have fled away… everything that our Lord who loves mankind has prepared for us and that no eye, heart or reason can imagine. “With the saints give rest, O Christ, to the soul of thy servant, where there is neither pain, nor sorrow, nor sighing, but life everlasting.”
Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
 


On Saturday 20 June, at the summer seat of Ain Traz (Lebanon), the Holy Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church finished the work it had begun on 15 June. A feature of this synod was the arrival of the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima, on the morning of 15 June just a few hours after the opening. Hundreds of faithful turned up to honour Our Lady and to pray for peace. Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, surrounded by the Synod Fathers, confided their meeting to the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima.


The Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, accompanied by bishops of his synod, visited the Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church for the first time. This visit reciprocated one made by Patriarch Gregorios, accompanied by many of his bishops, to the Synod of the Syriac Orthodox Church, meeting at its headquarters at Maarat Saidnaya (Syria). In his address at Maarat, Patriarch Gregorios had emphasised that “what unites us is much greater than what divides us” especially nowadays, when “we are experiencing, in Syria and Iraq, the ecumenism of blood.” As every year, the Apostolic Nuncio to Lebanon, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, honoured the synod with his presence, bringing greetings and blessing from the Holy Father. His Beatitude and the Synod Fathers took the opportunity to express their attachment to Pope Francis and their total support for his initiative on unifying and fixing the date of Pascha. The situation and future of the family was at the heart of the Synod’s concern and the topic of a presentation by Abbot Semaan Abou-Abdo O.M.M., who highlighted the problems and challenges facing the Christian family today in an extremely secularised world that leaves no room for God and Christian values. The Fathers decided to create and develop centres of catechesis and Christian education in all eparchies, for better preparation for marriage and as listening and reception centres for families in crisis. The Syrian crisis and all Middle Eastern crises that are tearing the region apart and adversely affecting all eparchies in the Middle East were discussed at great length by the Fathers, who prayed for the way of dialogue and cease-fire to prevail over everything else and for the coming of a time to rebuild hearts and stones; beseeching those sons and daughters scattered abroad to look to their ancestral land and act as its real ambassadors in their new homeland and lobby for the way of peace to be open to all. The bishops of the expansion profited from being together in Ain Traz to meet and discuss the particular situation of each of their eparchies. The Fathers of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church launched an appeal to all Lebanese political leaders to ensure that Lebanon have a President of the Republic very soon in compliance with constitutional rules; they welcomed reconciliation and dialogue between the various parties and fully supported the Lebanese Army and security forces; recalling that Lebanon’s Melkite Greek Catholics ought, like other communities, to have access to the positions and functions traditionally reserved for them, and wishing to see their lawful quota of vacancies allocated to them. Archimandrite Naim Gharbi, Rector of the Major Seminary of Saint Anna, gave a report to the Synod about the seminary’s growth and development. The Fathers studied several administrative, canonical and pastoral matters, especially those concerning the sacrament of marriage and the family, with an eye to the Synod on the Family next October at the Vatican, in which Patriarch Gregorios III and Archbishop Georges Baccouni, Metropolitan of the Archeparchy of Acre, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee will take part. They decided to add Saints Sharbel Makhluf, Francis of Assisi, Rafqa, Rita, Nimatullah al-Hardini, Don Bosco, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, John Paul II, John XXIII, Vincent de Paul, Mary of Jesus Crucified and Alphonsine to the Ordo of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Those saints will be commemorated on their feast-day according to the Ordo of their original Church so that they can be examples for everyone on the path to holiness. The synod firstly elected the Most Reverend George Baccouni, Metropolitan of the Archeparchy of Acre, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee, to take part, on behalf of the Church, in the Synod on the Family next October in Rome and then designated the Most Reverend George Bakar, Titular Archbishop of Pelusium and Patriarchal Vicar in Cairo as a member of the commission of the Joint Community Fund (JCF). The Most Reverend Elie Beshara Haddad, Archbishop of Sidon and Deir el-Qamar, will continue his mission as patriarchal administrator of Jordan. A list of three names has been submitted to the Holy See for the election of the future holder of the Eparchy of Venezuela. The Synod reiterated warnings against sales or transfers of land and properties belonging to the Church, in violation of the canonical rules and decided to think about a system that respects the rules and interests of the faithful and the Church.
 
Good wishes from His Beatitude Gregorios III on the occasion of the beginning of Ramadan and the Apostles’ Fast, “May this month be one of blessings and consolations, sowing hope in our hearts, so that we can remain united in fellowship.” On the occasion of the beginning of the month of Ramadan this Thursday 18 June 2015, His Beatitude Gregorios III, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, addressed his good wishes to the Muslim community, emphasising that once again, Christians and Muslims are fasting together, since in our Church, the Fast of the Apostles began the day after Pentecost and will end with the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, on 29 June instant. Gregorios III reminds us that, just as this month of fasting is obligatory for our Muslim fellow-citizens and one of the pillars of their faith, requiring them to devote time to prayer and reading the Qur’an, so Our Lord teaches us that only prayer and fasting can overcome Satanic evil, “Howbeit, this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17: 21) His Beatitude is praying for this joint time of prayer and fasting in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and the Holy Land to be abundant in grace for everyone and for us Christians and Muslims to remain always united. May it be a month of blessings and consolations, sowing hope in our hearts, and so that we remain united in fellowship, ready to serve the poor, dispossessed and refugees, putting into action the love and compassion of God for us and never forgetting the Lord’s saying, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25: 40)
For further information, contact Névine Toutounji-Hage Chahine + 961 3 22 64 87
 
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate
Of Antioch and the All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

Monday 15 June 2015 Opening of the Holy Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Gregorios III, “Let’s work unceasingly in our eparchies and parishes to try to stop the haemorrhage of Christian emigration.”

The grace of the Holy Spirit gathers us together in this Holy Synod, symbol of our unity as pastors of our Church and guardians of the deposit of faith ensuring its transmission.

The Holy Father Francis’ concern for the Christian East

On the threshold of this Holy Synod we remember the letter that Pope Francis addressed to us Christians in the Middle East on 21 December 2014, a letter that we must disseminate in our eparchies and parishes to rekindle the flame of hope: “Sadly, afflictions and tribulations have not been lacking, even more recently, in the Middle East. They have been aggravated in the past months because of the continuing hostilities in the region, but especially because of the work of a newer and disturbing terrorist organization, of previously unimaginable dimensions, which has perpetrated all kinds of abuses and inhuman acts. It has particularly affected a number of you, who have been brutally driven out of your native lands, where Christians have been present since apostolic times. “…Every day I follow the new reports of the enormous suffering endured by many people in the Middle East. I think in particular of the children, the young mothers, the elderly, the homeless and all refugees, the starving and those facing the prospect of a hard winter without an adequate shelter. “…Dear brothers and sisters, who courageously bear witness to Jesus in the land blessed by the Lord, our consolation and our hope is Christ himself. I encourage you, then, to remain close to him, like branches on the vine, in the certainty that no tribulation, distress or persecution can separate us from him (cf. Rom 8:35). May the trials which you are presently enduring strengthen the faith and the fidelity of each and all of you! “…The situation in which are you living is a powerful summons to holiness of life, as saints and martyrs of every Christian community have attested. I think with affection and veneration of the pastors and faithful who have lately been killed, often merely for the fact that they were Christians. I think also of those who have been kidnapped, including several Orthodox bishops and priests of various rites. “…In the midst of hostility and conflicts, the communion which you experience in fraternity and simplicity is a sign of God’s Kingdom. I am gratified by the good relations and cooperation which exist between the patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches and those of the Orthodox Churches, and also between the faithful of the different Churches. The sufferings which Christians endure contribute immensely to the cause of unity. It is the ecumenism of blood, which demands a trusting abandonment to the working of the Holy Spirit. “… May you always bear witness to Jesus amid your difficulties! Your very presence is precious for the Middle East. You are a small flock, but one with a great responsibility in the land where Christianity was born and first spread. You are like leaven in the dough. Even more than the many contributions which the Church makes in the areas of education, healthcare and social services, which are esteemed by all, the greatest source of enrichment in the region is the presence of Christians themselves, your presence. Thank you for your perseverance! “… Dear brothers and sisters, almost all of you are native citizens of your respective countries, and as such you have the duty and the right to take full part in the life and progress of your nations. Within the region you are called to be artisans of peace, reconciliation and development, to promote dialogue, to build bridges in the spirit of the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3:12), and to proclaim the Gospel of peace, in a spirit of ready cooperation with all national and international authorities. “…Dear Christian brothers and sisters of the Middle East, you have an enormous responsibility and in meeting it you are not alone. That is why I wanted to write to you, to encourage you and to let you know how precious your presence and your mission are in the land which the Lord has blessed….”

A Church “with” and “for”

The Holy Father’s words are a roadmap for us Christians to remain united and remain united too as Christians and Muslims, citizens of a single country. From our dearly beloved Lebanon we tell all our faithful in the Middle East, of the expansion and all emigration countries:
  • We Muslims and Christians ought to stay together, to build together a better future for our upcoming generations and our shared future.
  • We Christians and Muslims can stay together, to build together a better society for our rising generations and our joint future.
  • We Muslims and Christians want to stay together to build together a better society for our rising generations and our common future.
We recall the words of Pope Saint John Paul II for the 2005 World Day of Peace, “An individual’s … social nature [consists in] his being `with` and `for` others”! Let us never forget that our presence is closely bound up with our mission, role and vocation.

Ecumenism of blood and communion

We Catholics and Orthodox are experiencing an ecumenism of blood and communion primarily in the field, not only undergoing together a daily crisis but also working, meeting and publishing addresses to our Churches together, not to mention also the summit meetings that occur regularly in Lebanon, bringing together Christian and Muslim community leaders representative of all denominations.

Christian Emigration

It is terribly sad to see how the crises that the Middle East is going through are driving an exponential growth in Eastern Christian emigration. Emigration can only have serious consequences for the very essence of their mission in the predominantly Muslim Middle East which is their homeland, a mission that many, following Father Corbon, S.J. have called Church of the Arabs, Church of Islam, phrases that sum up their mission, history and future. But we are even sadder when we see emigration affecting the very balance of Lebanon and its Christian presence. According to the statistics that we have received, 60 % of Lebanese have decided to emigrate and 35 % are waiting for a visa. Most of them are Christian. If that is the case with Lebanon, what then can be the situation and outlook for less stable countries, torn by war and ruled by chaos? We have to work in our eparchies and parishes as well as in our diaspora to try to slow down this movement that can only be described as a haemorrhage.

Christian Emigration at the Sant’ Egidio Conference

On 29 and 30 April 2015, the Sant’Egidio Conference was held at Bari, on “Christians in the Middle East: what Future?” Together with more than fifty other patriarchs, prelates, and representatives of international organisations, we made a contribution to this conference. We are also making this speech available for the consideration of this Holy Synod. (Copies of it are also available from our secretariat.)

Holy Synod’s Agenda

  1. The question of the family in our eparchies and parishes in preparation for the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family next October at the Vatican on the theme of The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and Contemporary World.
  2. The situation of our eparchies and parishes, which are experiencing head-on the consequences of the critical situation prevailing in our countries, starting with Lebanon and passing through Syria, which is in its fifth year of war and Iraq, dealing with the very serious refugee problem which weighs heavily on our eparchies, particularly that of Damascus, which is hosting most displaced person on a monthly budget of between forty and fifty thousand dollars. The bishops of our Syrian eparchies will describe the daily life of their eparchies…
  3. We shall establish the list of our episcopable priests and tackle a range of issues.
  4. We wish success to:
    • The meeting of Melkite Greek Catholic Youth on 5 September next at the Liqa’a Centre in Rabweh, the organisation of which has been entrusted to Archbishop Issam Darwish.
    • The consecrated persons’ congress (bishops, priests, monks, nuns, seminarians, novices…) the organisation of which has been entrusted to Archimandrite Antony Dib B.S., Father General of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour.

Shoulder to shoulder confronting the crisis

We are grateful to everyone who during these crises has stood alongside us, expressing solidarity through action and closeness, and most especially to our dear Lebanon which has received and continues to host the majority of Syrian refugees. As for the expansion… our deep gratitude goes to our Eparchy in the United States and to its bishop, Nicholas Samra, for their unfailing, constant generosity. Thank you to our Eparchy in Canada which has also contributed something towards this surge of solidarity… but what has become of our faithful in the expansion? What are their bishops doing?

Saints for our Church

At the opening of this Holy Synod, we thank the Lord, for the graces he has deigned to grant us and our Christian East, and especially to our Melkite Greek Catholic Church, with the canonisation of the Carmelite Mary of Jesus Crucified, of the Carmel of Bethlehem and founder of the Carmel of Mangalore, parishioner of our parish in Marseille of Saint Nicholas of Myra as well as the canonisation of Marie Alphonsine Danil Ghattas, founder of the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Rosary. We are very attentively following the dossier of the Venerable Father Beshara Abu Mrad. A new miracle has just been added to the dossier. Next 7 August, we shall open the canonisation dossier for Dr. Boutros Wadih Kassab, founder of the Schools at Said in Egypt. Nor can we forget Semaan Sruji, a Salesian, whose dossier is following its course. We thank the media and media outlets accompanying the opening of this Synod and especially Télélumière, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary: a real jubilee of light! May our Lord fill us with his grace, at the intercession of His Most Holy Mother, Our Lady of the Annunciation, patron of our summer residence here at Ain Traz, granting us the grace of living this Holy Synod in a real priestly, pastoral communion and enabling us to be really “of one heart and soul.” May this Holy Synod be blessed, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God! Amen !
Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
Pour tout renseignement
Névine Toutounji-Hage Chahine
+ 961 3 22 64 87
nevinehc@gmail.com
 
Al Maryamiyah Joint Appeal
from Five Patriarchs of Antioch and All the East
  1. On 8 June 2015, at the invitation of Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East, Mar Beshara Boutros Al Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Mor Ignatius Afrem II, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, primate of the worldwide Syriac Orthodox Church, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem and Mar Ignatius Joseph III Younan, Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, met at Al Maryamiyah Church in Damascus. The Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, Archbishop Mario Zenari and other Christian bishops in Damascus also took part in this gathering. The following appeal appeared at the end of this spiritual meeting:
  2. To our dear Antiochian sons and daughters in the Lord
  3. “Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Galatians 1:3-5) First of all, we thank the Lord who has allowed us patriarchs to meet, and has entrusted to us the mission of protecting his Christian people in all the Antiochian East and here in Damascus, this blessed city which hosted Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles. From this flourishing Patriarchate, which down the years has always defended just causes, we raise our voices in unceasing prayer to God for you, because even in these dark days, “you lead your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ,” you bear witness unashamedly for our Lord Jesus Christ, who has “abolished death and brought life to light,” and you bear difficulties, trusting “in the power of God” and armed with “the spirit of power, and of love and of a sound mind.” We hardly need to ask you, dear children, to pray for us, your pastors, that the Lord may grant us the power to “rightly divide the word of truth” and glorify by our actions his holy name, as we steer the ship, which is the Church, in these historic existential circumstances.
  4. Turning to you, we should like to express to you our great joy that, thanks to this brotherly meeting, our exchange has been renewed and deepened and thanks to our co-operation is growing into a single Antiochian Christian witness, since “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch,” (Acts of the Apostles 11:26), where God has willed us to be his witnesses. Therefore, in the context of your wholehearted loyalty to your own Churches, doctrines and teachings, we call upon you to help one another, serve the poor devotedly, find out about our Churches’ spiritual wealth, discover the splendid holiness that it exudes, study our Antiochian heritage, pray for Christian unity and work towards that unity so wished for by the Lord, hoping that it will be realised in our society, beginning from Antioch. We also appeal to you to bear your homelands in mind and in prayer, to ask determinedly for peace to be restored to them, for all our children to experience real joy and live together in the dignity “of the children of God.” Don’t forget to work for the unity of your countries, their modernisation and the establishment of civil status. Preserve diversity in all its richness and lose neither your own uniqueness nor your distinctiveness. Deepen your faith and witness to the “hope that is in you” in all areas of your life. Never use your faith as a divider or screen to hide the splendour and greatness of others.
  5. We invite you, dear children, to continue to remain on very good terms with our Muslim brothers and sisters, who are our partners in our homeland and its destiny and with whom we live in this land, sharing it amid current circumstances, despite these misfortunes of violence and terrorism, born of takfiri ideology and the absurdity of the wars that revitalise the interests of the great powers, which are exploiting religion by disfiguring it. Our partners are aware of your sufferings and sympathise. They are working with their religious leaders to eradicate completely takfiri thought, which has won over and continues to recruit tens of thousands of human beings at every stage. With them, with the faithfulness of our faithful partners, we raise our voices and declare that it is high time to confront takfiri ideology, to dry out its well-springs by teaching the kind of religious education that encourages an attitude of openness, peacefulness and freedom of belief. We have to engage in critical thinking that will lead to the abolition of such phrases as the “abode of war” and “non-Muslim subject in an Islamic State” and establish citizenship.
  6. How horrid it is when terrorists use the name of God to serve their passions and interests and those of the great ones of this world! At present, when fear, violence, slavery of women, abduction, killing, destruction and forced displacement are prevalent, godless and pitiless criminals force people to convert. They have not understood that God in his wisdom has created his worshippers in plurality. Such killers do not understand that in killing you they are being condemned to endless misery and their country to under-development. Amid this oppressive crisis, do not forget that the Lord promised, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) Indeed, dear children, during this difficult period, when we have reached ‘the pinnacle of destruction” and “when people are dragged like lambs to the slaughter,” be strong and do not despair. Be strong and powerful through the grace which makes good any failing. Practise “resistance of soul” based on purification, forgiveness and charity. Follow Gospel ethics. Trust in God who has conquered evil and death as “he will not turn his face from you.” He is your companion on the roads of displacement, departure and emigration. He is your mainstay in poverty, hunger and want. He is your consolation when times become harsh, succour vanishes and doubt in God’s providence gnaws within. He saves you when you are in tribulation. He is your guiding light amid the darkness of this world. He is your resurrection from despair and death. He is your victory over evil, its wiles and instruments.
  7. In these times of tribulation, rally round the Church, which is the extension of Christ God in the world. Follow your Churches, for a spirit of pastoral responsibility compels us to redouble our efforts, working alongside people of good will and undertaking further requisite initiatives to keep our presence in our land, cope with your family’s day to day needs and guarantee a future for our young people. They represent a vital, promising force in our homelands. We express thanks and esteem to all the volunteers who have devoted themselves to charitable service in our institutions. Rally round the Church. Implore the intercession of the martyrs who have died to defend the faith. Follow the example of the martyrs who have undergone physical suffering to strengthen that faith. Pray for persecuted and abducted bishops, particularly Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi and Archbishop Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, both from Aleppo, and also for abducted priests, such as the recently kidnapped Father James Murad. Support one another and share one another’s distress and sufferings, joy and tears. Take care of the poor in their distress, for they are dear to Christ. Console widows and orphans. Share your bread with the hungry. Alleviate the suffering of displaced persons. Get involved in the organisation and social service of your Churches’ charity work. Give your time and money generously for the sake of “Jesus’s little brothers and sisters.”
  8. For our Syrian children: now that the innocent and peaceful nation of Syria has fallen under the yoke of terrorism that the powers of this world are using to remodel Syria, wipe out its civilisation, dominate its particularity and drive it out of its land, we confirm our attachment to this country’s unity and its citizens’ right to live in security, freedom and dignity. We call upon the world to work seriously to find a political solution to this absurd wind of war that is blowing over Syria, a solution that guarantees the establishment of peace, the return of abductees and internally and externally displaced persons, the Syrian nation’s right to self-determination, in complete freedom, far from foreign interference. For Iraq: this country has absorbed the fallout from a succession of wars that have uprooted whole peoples from their ancestral territory, such as the events that took place last year in Mosul and in the villages and cities of the Nineveh Valley. Atrocities have been committed that remind the whole world of the barbarities committed in bygone centuries, but are now destroying antiquities with the goal of serving racist and denominational projects quite foreign to Iraqi civilisation. As for Lebanon: the country is a message. We appeal to you to dedicate complete fidelity to it, to serve it and serve the interests of its people, elect a President of the Republic to restore legality to its constitutional institutions and finally work in order to build a country to gladden the hearts of all Lebanese. To our beloved in Palestine: the fathers assure them emphatically that they remain the lynchpin of their concern. They will never fail to speak up in their defence by advocating their just cause even if the whole world tries to ignore it and weaken it by provoking wars and conflicts, the aim of which consists in allowing illegal occupiers of Palestinian territory to live in peace and quiet.
  9. We ask members of the international community to assume their responsibility by stopping wars in our land, finding peaceful and political solutions to conflicts, working seriously to help displaced persons and emigrants go back to their homes and properties, and protect their rights as citizens. We tell them that we are native inhabitants of this country and have deep roots here. Our ancestors cultivated it in the sweat of their brow. We can assure everyone, more than at any time in the past that we are staying with our fellow-citizens to build it. We have a responsibility to this country for whose defence we have shed our blood. The blood of our martyrs has sanctified it. We appeal to everyone who claims to be concerned about our fate to help us stay and settle down on our land, to plough it, develop it and enjoy its assets, not to facilitate the theft of our inheritance and property, not to destroy our civilisation, not to subject our very being to slavery, nor impose on it the road of exile. We launch an appeal and repeat our request to see an end to war in our land and support for basic stability across the whole region.
  10. Beloved, now that killing is being done in the name of God, we are called to realise that love is stronger than death. Killing in God’s name slights God. Our faithfulness to Christ, who says “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,” constrains us to become messengers of peace in the Middle East. Our role consists of facing up to any mind-set or ideology that glorifies violence, slaughter and revenge. Our faith in God can only be shown by charity and peace towards humankind and protection of our countries and Churches in the context of the freedom of the children of God, of which one of its most basic principles is respect for diversity and difference.
  11. From this Al Maryamiyah church, we implore our Lady, the Mother of God, to intercede fervently with the Lord that we and our countries may be saved from surrounding difficulties, and that we may be granted the strength to be, like her, persons who witness to Christ in the darkness of this world. May God grant you blessing and strength to remain as his witnesses in this region! Your vocation consists in being “salt of the earth” and “leaven in the lump.” Do not neglect this invitation for the salvation of the world. Be sure that in you the Gospel of Christ will remain effective in the Church of Antioch.
English translation of a French version made at the Apostolic Nunciature in Damascus.
 
Protocol 249/2015R
Appeal for human dignity
We have been launching one appeal after another, following criminal acts by takfiri gangster groups - acts which do not spring from religion but from disbelief in God, humanity and all spiritual, humane and social values. Today we launch a cry of conscience before the whole world, threatened as it is by the risk of a tsunami of these variously-named insurgent groups. This is an appeal for our brothers and sisters in faith and humanity, martyrs for their faith, twenty-nine righteous citizens of Ethiopia, belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. We commemorate their pure lives and offer condolences to his Holiness Abune Mathias I, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, to the honourable Ethiopian Government and the Ethiopian people, especially the families bereft of their loved ones. We express our spiritual and human solidarity with them all. We call upon the international community to stand shoulder to shoulder against these criminal organizations. The real deterrent posture is to work to bring peace and stop arms and armaments, weaponry and the destructive war machine. This is the guarantee of human dignity in religion and self-respect, freedom and honour, prosperity, security and trust. May the blood of our martyrs be the seed of our faith and we implore the God of peace to let us enjoy desired peace in our tormented land, saying, “O Lord our God, give us peace, for thou hast given us everything.”
Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem
Greek-Melkite Catholic
Chairman of the Council of Heads of Catholic churches in Syria
 
Protocol 233/2015 D In the face of the horrors of the brutal attacks and bloody massacres that have struck our beloved Aleppo, destroying stones and humans, archdioceses, churches and mosques, charitable, educational and private property, and laying waste entire neighbourhoods, we raise this emotional and existential human appeal on behalf of all the victims whose blood has sprinkled the pure earth of Aleppo, and the innocent people, men, women and children slain, many of whose bodies are still under the rubble of buildings! In the name of humanity, in the name of faith, on behalf of all that is honourable in this world, we raise our voices aloud, calling on the international community to stop the attacks not only on Aleppo, but even on the whole of beloved Syria, and on Iraq, Yemen and the Yarmouk refugee camp, where our abandoned Palestinian brothers are! Is not the world yet painfully convinced of the futility of death and destruction and criminality aimed at Syria, to undermine resilience and principles and the very inclination for peace? Why not participate in the efforts of peace talks recently held in Russia? At Easter, we launched the appeal contained in the Message of Three Patriarchs (Patriarch Gregorios III (Laham), Patriarch of Antioch of the Melkite Greek Catholics, Patriarch John X (Yazigi) Patriarch of Antioch of the Greek Orthodox, Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syriac Orthodox), and on our Pascha, we call on everyone, particularly the militants and their financiers and supporters, and everyone who believes in the value of humanity, whatever his religion and faith, to join the walk towards resurrection and life! “This East is the core of our identity, and the preservation of the leaven of Christianity in our diverse social fabric and among our multicultural residents who all share a common humanity is today the touchstone of the world’s credibility towards this region of the earth and towards its people. The region’s security and peace constitutes a test of conscience in the face of the discourse of interests. “Enough of killing and displacement and enough of our suffering! Enough of intimidation and organized terrorism against the people of this East! Enough of the rape of Palestine and overlooking its just cause! Enough of the bloody wounds inflicted on Syria over the last five years and of the importation of extremist ideologies! Enough of Lebanon seething on the fire of regional point-scoring amid a constitutional vacuum, while Egypt burns on the fire of unrest! Enough of the destruction of abandoned and violated Iraq, with its variously affiliated minorities, now the focus of a dubious international policy.” We call upon all our people in Aleppo and all believers and citizens not to allow the flame of hope to be extinguished in their hearts ... and we assure everyone that we spiritual pastors are with you in your suffering and your pain, and doing our utmost to alleviate this suffering. As we recover from our wounds we share the hopes of resurrection from the dead at the Feast of the Resurrection, the feast of passing over from death to life, slavery to freedom, humiliation to dignity, and war to peace. With all the faithful of our churches and parishes, we raise the shout of victory and life: Christ is risen ... he is risen indeed! With love and appreciation
+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Alexandria and Jerusalem
of the Melkite Greek Catholics
President of the Catholic Churches in Syria
 
the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem for the Melkite Greek Catholics
the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East for the Syriac Orthodox
the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East for the Greek Orthodox

 

Paschal Message
“Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.”
This sacred phrase brings to you the most beautiful good news of resurrection from the dead, dear spiritual sons and daughters, who by the power of your hope in the Lord strengthen us and renew our spiritual force. We greet you in the Lord who is risen and has raised his creatures. We greet you with the bells of our churches that have not stopped pealing their proclamation of the Lord’s resurrection. This year, we have chosen to have one message read in all churches of Antioch to confirm that the Christians of this land are remaining united despite the severity of the crisis, and intense pressure will not silence their hope or stifle their presence in their ancestral land. And addressing you in these words, we invite you all to pray at the Feast of the Resurrection for world peace and security, especially in our beloved East, and we assure you that we are with you in your suffering and your pain, and are doing our utmost in order to alleviate this suffering. This East is the core of our identity, and the preservation of the leaven of Christianity in our diverse social fabric and among our multicultural residents who all share a common humanity is today the touchstone of the world’s credibility towards this region of the earth and towards its people. The region’s security and peace constitutes a test of conscience in the face of the discourse of interests. Enough of killing and displacement and enough of our suffering! Enough of intimidation and organized terrorism against the people of this East! Enough of the rape of Palestine and overlooking its just cause! Enough of the bloody wounds inflicted on Syria over the last five years and of the importation of extremist ideologies! Enough of Lebanon seething on the fire of regional point-scoring amid a constitutional vacuum, while Egypt burns on the fire of agitation! Enough of the destruction of abandoned and violated Iraq, with its variously affiliated minorities, now the focus of a dubious international policy. Pascha today provides an opportunity to reflect on what has been and is still happening and to speak out in the face of falsehood and tell the truth without fear. We do not now see a much-vaunted Arab Spring, because in Spring all flowers bloom without this turning into a bloody struggle that crushes some flowers. As Eastern Christians we have concurred with every voice of moderation in this East and sought to live in longed-for peace with every nation, but terrorism is blind and harnesses religion and concocts slogans as an affront to the sovereignty of States and to accumulate power over oppressed Muslim fellow-citizens too. This is demonstrated in the high price paid by the innumerable families killed, uprooted, and kidnapped all over the Middle East. And we ask today in front of the whole world: Where is Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, Archbishop of Aleppo and Metropolitan Paul Yazigi of Aleppo who have been missing now for nearly two years? Where do the world governments and international organizations keep their files on each one of those kidnapped? Hence we are launching a strong appeal for their release and the release of all abductees and promoting efforts to emphasize our commitment to our country, and our rejection of emigration - despite our understanding of its causes in some cases; but we urge everyone to stay, to be patient and strong and hang on to hope, faith and surrender to the will of Almighty God, and to reject all displacement and terrorism and work hand in hand for the sake of peace in the region, and to put an end to global polarisation and the exploitation of Middle Eastern human beings. We, the people of the Middle East, are invited to persevere with hope and maintain effectively our Christian presence and role, because we are at the heart of its history and issues. We are not present here as temporary visitors and guests or as the remnants of past campaigns. We are sprung from the antiquity of its history and have drawn from its Tigris, Euphrates and Orontes our enduring love for this region: at Antioch we were first called Christians. We are crucified on the cross of its love, and have buried our troubles in the depths of its history. We, with our Muslim brothers and all who trust in God, have crossed the waters of its peace and walked on the road to Golgotha. We yearn for the crown of spiritual victory and aspire to strengthen our resolve and place our hope firmly in the Lord, the Creator who planted us here as brothers, and we, as spiritual leaders, are keen to play our part for our children and the future of our country. In this hope of the Resurrection, we address to you from Damascus this heartfelt greeting on the Feast of Pascha, the feast of passing from death to life, from slavery to freedom, and humiliation to dignity, and war to peace, making supplication for peace in every part of the Middle East and for the peace of the whole of creation and we sing: "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs he has given life."
Patriarch Gregorios III      Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II      Patriarch John X
 
Letter for Pascha 2015 From His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III
Gospel of the Resurrection: Good News of Life
We bring this good news joyfully to all those who will read this letter. We express this good news in this, brief, marvellous and spontaneous Paschal greeting, as we say, “Christ is risen! – He is risen indeed.” This good news is shared between the one who brings it and the one who hears it, good news that is full of faith and joyful, a good news proclaimed by great and small, good news that we repeat hundreds of times on the day of Pascha and the whole paschal period – the good news of life. The Myrrhophoroi, the holy Myrrh-bearing Women who accompanied Christ as he walked and proclaimed the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of Love and Life, were the first to bring the Gospel of the Resurrection to the frightened, doubting apostles. That is why they have been given the beautiful, splendid, glorious title of holy myrrh-bearers, equal to the apostles.

Good News of Life: the Substance of Christianity

That means that the Kingdom, the centre and basis of Christian faith, is the resurrection. That means that life is at the very heart of Jesus Christ’s mission, as he said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) That means that anyone who believes in Jesus believes in life, because the gospel of the resurrection is the good news of life. The good news of the resurrection, having been brought by the myrrh-bearers, became the great news on the lips of the apostles, who spread it from one person to the next – Peter to the twelve, and Mark, Cleopas and Luke to others among the seventy-two apostles. Paul excelled as an apostle of the resurrection, the great teacher of resurrection: such that not one of his epistles omits mentioning the resurrection. He is the great apostle of the resurrection, so that it may be said that resurrection, one of the great concepts in the theology of St Paul, has become an everyday reality in the life of every believer. So resurrection is not just good news about the life to come - as we say in the Creed, “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come,” - but resurrection has been brought about for life for us on earth now. As St Paul says, “Like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) The whole of life is a transition or Passover, a Pascha. We call it fleeting: years have flown by us like a bird in flight. The Jews or Hebrews are so-called after the crossing of the Red Sea, which symbolises our passing over, to freedom, dignity, a better life (from sin to virtue), from evil to good and from falsehood to truth. All our life has as its goal life and resurrection. We do everything possible to grow and develop, and conquer all aspects of death through medicine and other inventions: all aimed at life. St Paul sings a hymn of victory over death, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55) St John Chrysostom repeats these words in his Paschal Homily, “O Death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and ye are overthrown. Christ is risen, and life reigns.” That is why the Great Feast of the Resurrection is generally referred to by two titles or phrases: as Feast of Passover (Pesah=Pascha) and of Life. We must not separate one from the other. Passover is a passage or movement between life on earth and the life to come, eternal life. The Paschal Canon refers to this, “Today is the day of resurrection…for Christ our God has brought us over from death to life, and from earth to heaven, as we sing the triumphal song.” (Ode I, Tone 1) Unfortunately, man invents also instruments of war, death and destruction. Man destroys what God has built and destroys life.

Christ is Resurrection and Life

Jesus states, “I am the resurrection, and the life.” (John 11:25) He also said, “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35) He said, “He that followeth me … shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12) He states, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) The Evangelist John speaks of Christ, who is the life, in these words, “The life was manifested, and we have seen it.” (1 John 1:2) “He that hath the Son hath life.” (1 John 5:12a) “Ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.” (John 14:19b) He reports Jesus saying he would give his life “for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) In the First Epistle of the Apostle John, he writes, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” (1 John 3:14) Paul speaks of his relations with Christ Jesus with expressions in which he explains the depth of his relationship with Christ and with the life of Christ and life in Christ. “For to me to live is Christ.” (Philippians 1:21) “The promise of life … is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:1) “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 2:20b) We are children of the resurrection and of life: we are resurrection people, to coin a phrase.

Incarnation is Life and Resurrection

Humanity’s mission is to preserve life. We are resurrection people, each and every one, meaning that each of us is the child of life, of resurrection, and the bringer of life to others. Thus it was that in the early period of Christianity in the East we were called, “children of the resurrection,” that is children of life and bearers of the culture and civilization of the resurrection and life. So our pastoral activity is resurrection and life. Good education is a factor in resurrection and life. Good charitable actions are resurrection and life. Welfare institutions are resurrection and life. Our various Church institutions are resurrection and life. The aid that we bring to this tragic situation is life and resurrection: when hope is dying in the human heart, we revive it. The expression, “intensive care,” or “reanimation,” suggests restoring human life. Liturgical animation means making the liturgy alive. Reconciliation is a work of resurrection and life, meaning that we restore trust and friendship by bringing confidence and amity to life. Consolation is an act of resurrection, because it revitalises and revives hope in the heart. A smile brings resurrection and life. A warm and loving greeting is resurrection and life. Greeting even a complete stranger in a friendly and considerate way is resurrection and life. Hope comprises several chapters in the book of resurrection and life. The events of the resurrection that we proclaim for twelve weeks during Sunday Orthros (Matins) are all chapters of new life. That is why our Eastern rite is called the rite of resurrection and life. That is why every week ends with the celebration of the resurrection in the Anavathmoi (Songs of Ascent) and begins with the Resurrection, or Descent, so that the whole week is a movement of resurrection and life. In the Christian Creed, we end with mention of our belief in “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come.” So we are born to die and we die to live. Death is not a continuous situation, but a moment of passing on from one life to another. The human body is at the service of life. Human limbs are instruments of piety and life. They are not instruments of evil and corruption. As the Holy Apostle Paul says in the Epistle to the Romans, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” (Romans 6:12-13) What do we see today? People use their limbs, hands, feet, eyes, thoughts, imagination, ingenuity and inventiveness to devise instruments for killing, destruction, terrorism and death. So man destroys what God has created. I would have liked to apply the above only to the criminal acts that we see nowadays on the media and in our countries in recent years, due to the chaos of war, jihadist, takfiri and Daeshist movements, but it could also be applied to education at home, in school, on the streets and at work. That means that parents have great responsibility to educate their children about the importance of how they use their body: feet, hands, sight, hearing, smell, imagination, thoughts and all their limbs and functions, so that they all become instruments of friendship, compassion, help, thanks, solidarity, service, giving and life. It is wonderful to see that our liturgical services make allusion to this education of the human senses and give guidance on how to use these functions, purify them and put them to good use, so that they become instruments of life and not of death. So we read in the Liturgy of the Presanctified, a service to which I referred in my Lenten Letter, and it can be an extraordinary lesson of education for social life and a topic of good advice, which parents can give their children to teach them how to use their limbs and bodily senses for good, learning, edification and life. So we find an instruction for every sense: – sight (“Let the eye be averted from every evil sight…”) - hearing (“…and the ear be deaf to idle talk.”) – speech (“May the tongue be purged of unseemly speech.”) - mouth (“Purify these lips that praise thee, O Lord.”) - hands (“Make our hands abstain from wicked deeds, doing only such things as are pleasing to thee.”) – all our limbs and mind (“..thus sealing with thy grace all our members, and our mind.”) So, in the face of all that we are seeing, in front of the scenes of death and violence, terrorism, killing, throat-cuttings, beheadings, burning of bodies and severing limbs, let us strengthen our faith in life, in the risen Christ who has conquered death and bestowed life and calls us all to be children of the resurrection and life, to be bearers of the Gospel of life and work for success and the conquest of death by life, enmity by love, and hatred and revenge by forgiveness and reconciliation.

Bearers of the Gospel of Life and Resurrection

Today, seeing the very serious escalation in the tragic situation and the suffering of our people – all people – we need people to bring us all the proclamation of the resurrection of Christ, like the Myrrh-bearing Women, like Luke and Cleopas and the other apostles. The eleven apostles and those with them began praying in the Upper Room behind closed doors in their despair, having lost all hope in their great Master, who had assured them on the night of his Passion that he would suffer much, but would rise from the dead on the third day. Well, the third day was passing without anyone seeing him, but then suddenly, the shout goes up as Luke and Cleopas return from Emmaus, “The Lord is risen indeed and hath appeared to Simon.” (Luke 24:34) Each began recounting to the other the events of the resurrection and the appearances of the divine Master in various places. Then, Christ himself, risen from the dead appears to them, entering into the room, though the doors are closed out of fear while waiting in despair. And he says to them, “Peace be unto you.” (Luke 24:36) “Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?  Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see…”(Luke 24:38-39) So he appears in Jerusalem and Emmaus, on the Mount of Olives, on the shore of Lake Tiberias, Bethany and elsewhere. The Church expresses its joy in new life through its hymns of the Resurrection and Pascha that fill us with joy, as we notice on the faces of the faithful as they sing with the choir the most beautiful hymns of the joyful Resurrection written by the inspired pen, mind and heart of the great Saint John of Damascus, son of Sarjun ibn Mansur, minister of the Umayyad caliph, monk and hermit in the desert of Palestine in the monastery of St Saba near Jerusalem.

The Resurrection: Good News of Life for all Citizens

Dear brothers and sisters, we have indeed need today of these summons to joy, as we have entered upon the fifth year of the way of the cross and Golgotha of the suffering of us all. We need to rejoice together, celebrate together, sing together and encourage one another, to convince one another in friendly fashion and bring joy to one another’s heart, visit one another, be in solidarity with one another, helping one another, dancing, singing, especially singing hymns of the Resurrection in our homes, gatherings, meetings, congregations, confraternities, various pastoral activities, youth meetings, scout meetings and all other youth associations. I summon all our faithful to that joy in our parishes everywhere, in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and the world over. Let Christians on the day of Pascha and the glorious Resurrection, set an example of joy and let the contagion of joy, their joy in the Resurrection of Christ, affect their neighbours and all citizens around them! So our children and all citizens of our Middle East will be able to participate in the joy of the resurrection among all Christian communities, whether they follow the Eastern or Western computus or the Gregorian or Julian calendar. We Christians are the bearers of a really splendid message of resurrection and life, hope and gladness in the heart of everyone. May the Feast of the Resurrection this year, the fifth of war and suffering, be a feast of joy for all the children of our suffering East! Joy, gladness, hope, optimism, singing, celebration of the feast-days, family reunions, meetings with friends, acquaintances and neighbours, and especially with those who are afflicted by mourning, the loss of friends and loved ones are really needed by us today to enable us to cope with all the tragic suffering around us. We have spent forty or even fifty days in fasting and prayer, that God may remove from our Eastern countries, especially Syria and Iraq, this evil spirit that can only go out through prayer and fasting. “God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us.” Let us celebrate the feast and let us joyfully receive Christ, risen from the dead. And we call on him, as did the two disciples of Emmaus, to come and abide in our home, our houses, our districts, our hearts, our institutions, saying like them, “Abide with us: for it is towards evening and the day is far spent.” (Luke 24:29) How great our blessedness and joy will be when we hear Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, participating in our festive meal, sitting at table with us, living among our families, breaking bread with us, causing joy and gladness to well up in our hearts through his love so that our hearts will be full of joy and consolation. We feel that Jesus has been our companion on the way of our sufferings and tragedy during the past four years, but we did not know that it was he who was accompanying us along the road and protecting us despite the shells and mortars that were falling on us. We, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke and Cleopas, become in our turn, bearers of the message of joy and we proclaim to others our spiritual experience, our experience of faith. So we really feel the joy of the resurrection and that Jesus has accompanied us in this tragedy and has saved us from various dangers.

The Martyrs are Children of Resurrection and Life

Many of our parishioners and other citizens have fallen as martyrs and victims of savage warfare. We should like to mention especially three groups of events that have really shaken our feelings and destroyed our morale and have caused fear to well up in our hearts, bringing many of us to emigrate because of fear and lack of security. Firstly, our brothers and sisters in Mosul and on the Nineveh Plain have been driven out; secondly, Daesh (ISIS) slaughtered twenty-one Copts who were Egyptian citizens, and thirdly there occurred the expulsion, killing and kidnapping of many of our Assyrian brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters of thirty-five villages along the Khabur River in Northern Syria. We offer our heartfelt condolences to all those who are grieving. We shall remain always trusting in the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, who has destroyed death. Let us not forget, as I mentioned earlier, that we are the children of the resurrection. Nor let us forget that Damascus itself and the surrounding region, which has seen so much fighting, is the place of the appearance of Jesus, risen from the dead, to Saul, the persecutor, who came to Damascus with the intention of destroying the new Church that had been born in Damascus. There he was, on the road to Damascus, to kill, slaughter, abduct and take captive, when he saw Christ himself, risen from the dead, who appeared to him saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4) So Saul continued on his way to Damascus, as mild as a lamb. In Damascus he receives the illumination of holy baptism at the hands of Ananias, the first bishop of Damascus. In Damascus, Saul becomes Paul, the bearer of the good news of the resurrection, and he goes off into the desert of Deraa to Mismiyeh, and there he proclaims the good news of Jesus, risen from the dead, and from the East, he goes into the whole world, to announce the good news of the resurrection and life, which is in Jesus Christ.

Call to Resurrection and Life

From Damascus, on the day of the Resurrection, of glorious Pascha - the passing over from death to life, slavery to freedom, lack of dignity to dignity, war to peace - we proclaim, with all the means at the disposal of our churches and parishes, this shout of victory and life, “Christ is risen!” From suffering Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and our East, especially Jerusalem, the city of resurrection, we launch this appeal to the whole world. Instead of joining the various takfiri and jihadist groups, and other murderous, terrorist, destructive, chaotic groups, we say, “Join the two hundred thousand Christians who are celebrating the Feast of the Resurrection and life, love, solidarity, forgiveness, reconciliation, joy, and universal fraternity.” We address this appeal especially to all those enrolling under the banners of those organisations, telling them to join us, the sons and daughters of the resurrection and life. We tell them, “We should like you also to take part in the joy of the feast. We love you!” In the words of the Church’s doxastikon, “It is the day of Resurrection; let us be radiant for the festival, and let us embrace one another. Let us say, O brethren, even to those that hate us: let us forgive all things on the Resurrection; and thus let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead, by death He hath trampled down death, on those in the tombs bestowing life.” The call to reconciliation means embracing one another and being reconciled. Since the first month of the crisis in Syria, we have not stopped proclaiming that appeal. Today again, we call for there to be a mutual embrace and reconciliation. We address this appeal to all Syria’s sons and daughters, wherever they may be and whatever their affiliations, rites or communities, including the various opposition groups, whoever and wherever they may be: we are all Syria’s children! We are glad about the various meetings that have been organised in Russia and elsewhere aimed at bringing together various perspectives in order to reach the peaceful resolution for which we are all hoping of this very tragic crisis, which has made victims of us all. We in all our churches will remain with hands uplifted in prayer for the realisation of this great goal. We say to everyone in the language of the Qur’an, “Come to a common word between us and you.” (Al-Imran 3:64) God grant that the day of reconciliation, salvation and mutual embrace may come! Then indeed there will be a great feast for the whole of Syria, a feast of resurrection and life. How great will be our joy at this great feast, when joy will enter the hearts of the vast majority of inhabitants of this society so full of human wars and disputes - though masquerading as religious under a kamilavkion or a turban, raising aloft symbols or flags adorned with some slogan or other, yet in the end they can be seen as merely internecine, human wars. So we say to everyone in the East and in the West: dismiss any idea that this conflict is over religion. When I look at what is happening in our countries, it seems to me that Daesh (ISIS) has nothing whatever to do with religion. ISIS is rather an instrument which takes on, very foolishly and insolently, the outward aspect and show of a religious movement. However, in reality they show Islam in a most hideous, deceitful and fraudulent guise. The conflict is not merely a Sunni-Shi’a one, though this aspect has been seen here and there as significant in Syria. Even this conflict has become a tool and a cover for proxy war in our region and at the cost of all its citizens. This is in the line of what Pope Francis said in his New Year’s Day letter for the World Day of Peace (2015) and in his Lenten Letter, in which he draws attention to the fact that humans should not be used. So I say with great certainty and with great pain that religion has become a tool; human beings have been instrumentalised and commoditised. Religious conflict has become marketable. Killing the innocent has become a commodity and instrument and slaughtering Christians has become a tool. The Syrian crisis, or world war on Syria, has become an instrument and commodity. Those who profit from this situation and the tragedy of our Arab world and societies are many amongst us: rows, local, regional and international who make war on humans and instruments of us all. Even killing Christian brothers and sisters and expelling them from their villages, properties and sanctuaries has become a tool for unfathomable ends. Killing our children, Christian children is also a commodity and tool for other reasons. The war on Syria is also a commodity: everyone is buying it; every citizen, one way or another, even among us, is using this crisis as a profitable commodity and we wonder whether something of Daesh ideology has not found its way into every human being nowadays. How greatly we shall rejoice at the great feast, when joy will enter the hearts of all the fighters in Syria and they will discard their weapons and walk all together in the light of resurrection and life.

Being Apostles of Life and Resurrection

You are an apostle if you believe in resurrection and life, and when you proclaim the resurrection and life. Let us be agents of life, prosperity and progress. Let us be agents to build up the culture of life and not be instruments of death, war and destruction. That is the meaning of life: that is its beauty. In conclusion, I offer my heartiest greetings to all those who will read this letter, especially to my venerable, beloved brother bishops, consecrated monks, nuns and religious and all our faithful, especially the lay-persons who are involved in pastoral work, in parish and church activities who are really servants of the resurrection and life. They realise what Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. With my friendship and blessing
+Gregorios III, Patriarch Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem For the Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
Appeal of His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III For a World Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace in Syria 15-16 March 2015
“Howbeit, this kind goeth not out, but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17: 21) This fast is the Fast of Great Lent prior to the Resurrection: a fast that prepares the faithful to celebrate the glorious Feast of the Resurrection. Lent is a way of the cross, and we are in the fifth year of the way of the cross of our Arab countries, especially in Syria, Iraq and Palestine, but also in Lebanon, which is influenced in a dramatic way by the wars that have flared up around it. Today, Lebanon has received at various stages and been hosting refugees and displaced persons from Palestine, dating back to 1949, and from Iraq several times from 2003 onwards and from Syria since 2011. Our countries’ Golgotha is very great: the greatest tragedy of the region’s territories and even of the world since the Second World War. As bishops, our role is to be with our people, alongside our people, before our people, behind our people and in the service of our people. We want to wash the feet of those who suffer, as Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Yet we ask forgiveness from our faithful, because, despite our efforts, we are unable really to meet all their needs which are increasing on a daily basis. We are at a loss before the great pain and great suffering of our people in all its Christian and Muslim communities. This is tragedy and suffering on a global scale, which affects everyone. All have been affected by poverty, hunger, cold, lack of clothing, illness, sufferings and disability. The great majority of our faithful suffer from all that, especially in Syria. All are equal now in this kind of suffering. And as we said, this is the case also for all Arab countries, especially, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, and also Libya, Egypt and the Yemen.

Emigration

We notice with great sadness that many of our faithful are leaving or going away, in various ways, both legal and illegal. How many stories we have heard of their suffering in this flight! Some are going away and leaving the country for good reasons, others, so to speak, without pressing reasons. We urge everyone to stay, to be patient, strong, always to hope and to hang on to hope, faith and trust in God’s will. We can never oblige anyone to stay: but it is a personal decision and is up to each person’s or family’s responsibility. But we, as pastors are staying with all those who are staying, and are serving them whole-heartedly and with all our strength. We are making continuous efforts to help everyone, by all means at our disposal, of communication, travel, correspondence, reports, congresses etc. We thank all those who help us in this difficult task: local and international, civic or religious, Christian or Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran institutes and others.

Pope Francis speaks to us in our difficulties

We thank His Holiness, Pope Francis, especially for his prayers, his concern, his appeals, his speeches and also for his material assistance through the Roman dicasteries and the various organisations related to the Vatican. In particular, we should like to thank him for his special letter that he addressed to the Christians of the Middle East for the occasion of the Feast of the Nativity and the civil New Year, and we have the pleasure of mentioning here passages which are very beautiful and significant for us and for all our fellow-citizens.
“I am gratified by the good relations and cooperation which exist between the patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches and those of the Orthodox Churches, and also between the faithful of the different Churches. It is the ecumenism of blood! “Your very presence is precious for the Middle East. You are a small flock, but one with a great responsibility in the land where Christianity was born and first spread. You are like leaven in the dough. “The greatest source of enrichment in the region is the presence of Christians themselves, your presence. Thank you for your perseverance! “Within the region you are called to be artisans of peace, reconciliation and development, to promote dialogue, to build bridges in the spirit of the Beatitudes (cf. Matthew 5:3-12), and to proclaim the Gospel of peace, in a spirit of ready cooperation with all national and international authorities. “The entire Church is close to you and supports you, with immense respect and affection for your communities and your mission. We will continue to assist you with our prayers and with every other means at our disposal. “You are not alone. I do hope to have the chance to come to you in person and to visit and to comfort you.”

Suffering a school of faith

We say all this in the hope of strengthening the faith of our children. Besides, we hear the witness of many of our faithful who tell us about their faith, resistance and experience of God’s protection, and that He protects and preserves all citizens from many disasters. We as bishops, feel that we are being taught by the faith of our faithful. We thank God for all that, just as we are also rejoicing over the return of some faithful, some citizens to their towns: so for example, at Ma’alula, at Qusayr, some districts of Homs and elsewhere. We are also happy to see and learn that there are now building yards open to begin rebuilding homes and churches at Ma’alula, Nabk, Homs and Yabrud. We are also glad about the compensation given by the State and for the aid of our faithful and we also thank all the international institutions and our friends who are helping us in this direction.

The flame of hope

We turn to all our children and all fellow-citizens, as we did in our previous letters with the Holy Father, Pope Francis who said, “Do not let the flame of hope be extinguished in your hearts.” We launched the initiative, “The flame of hope for peace in Syria” at Christmas time. We again ask everyone to light this flame daily in their homes and hearts, in their souls and feelings. May it be a real inextinguishable light (despite the occasional lack of electricity or gas or oil!) to lighten the way for all citizens.

Fear not! I love you!

I should like to mention some verses from the prophecies of Isaiah, in which we find great consolation and a strong dose of fortitude, of which we have great need:
“I the Lord will hold thine hand, and will keep thee. Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee.. every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory; I have formed him; yea, I have made him..” (Isaiah 42: 6, 43: 5a, 7)

Appeal for a World Day of Prayer for Peace in Syria 15-16 March 2015

From the very depths of our suffering and pain in Syria we cry out with our suffering people, who are walking on the bloody way of the cross, and appeal to the whole world: Enough! Enough! Enough of war on Syria! We believe in the power of the prayer and fasting in this Great Lent, and we call for a day of solidarity with Syria, a day of fasting and prayer for hope and peace in Syria.
+Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and all the East,
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

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