from Five Patriarchs of Antioch and All the East
- 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:
“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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
To our dear Antiochian sons and daughters in the Lord
English translation of a French version made at the Apostolic Nunciature in Damascus.