News from Syria and Lebanon

Saturday 9 February 2013 was a busy day in the diary of Patriarch Gregorios III.

The day began with His Beatitude celebrating the Divine Liturgy in the church of the Carmelite Monastery of Unity, in Harissa, on the occasion of the solemn profession of Sister Marina of the Mother of God. Participating in the Divine Liturgy was Metropolitan Cyril Salim Bustros of Beirut and Byblos, the father of the monastery, together with Paulist, Carmelite, Mariamite and Soarite priests. The church, decorated with beautiful icons painted by the nuns, was full of friends of the monastery and relatives of Sister Marina.

His Beatitude spoke about the Year of Faith, saying that the object of our faith will always be the subject of our admiration and called for more candidates to devote themselves to priestly and monastic life. The Patriarch asked those assembled to pray for peace in Lebanon and especially Syria.

After the Divine Liturgy, His Beatitude went to Bkerkeh, to visit his brother Patriarch Cardinal Beshara Boutros Rai and wish him happy feast on the occasion of the feast of Saint Maron, patron of the Maronite Church. This was an opportunity to talk about a projected meeting for Eastern Patriarchs of all denominations to pray and think together about how to strengthen the role of Christians in the current regional crisis.

In the afternoon, the Patriarch left the Patriarchate in Rabweh for Damascus, where at 5 p.m., accompanied by eparchial priests, he led a candlelit walk of faith. A crowd of some fifteen hundred men and women, confraternities, young people and children, processed with prayers and hymns, from the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Dormition down the Via Recta (Straight Street), into the side-streets of the Old City to Bab Touma square, stopping in front of the Syriac Orthodox, Franciscan and Maronite churches. Prayers were offered for the intentions of peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, repentance, war victims, dialogue…Also accompanying the walk were Syrian media and Télélumière and other news channels. In Saint Thomas’ Square, the Patriarch explained the meaning of the candles carried on the walk: they represented Light, reminiscent of Jesus’ words, “I am the Light of the world” and “Let your light so shine before men…” They were also reminiscent of the Qur’anic verse, “God, Light of the heavens and the earth…”(Surah 24: 35 The Light) …The Patriarch called for the setting up of walks of light and hope for dialogue and reconciliation in all parts of Syria, saying that it was better to bear candles than weapons.

After this procession, His Beatitude, the priests and many other participants went to the Maronite cathedral, where the Maronite Patriarch celebrated the Liturgy for the Feast of Saint Maron.

Next day, Sunday 10, His Beatitude, accompanied by the Patriarchal Vicar, Archbishop Joseph (Absi), attended the enthronement of the new Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, His Beatitude John X (Yazigi) in the Church of the Holy Cross. Patriarch Gregorios III was invited to give a congratulatory speech in the name of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.

This day was a really historic day, with the new Greek Orthodox Patriarch and the historic visit to Syria by the Maronite Patriarch. The Church has been giving courageous witness of faith, hope and support for all Christians, not only in Syria, but also in Lebanon and elsewhere. The Church’s role has become more visible than ever: a role of peace-making, reconciliation, rejection of violence and appeal for dialogue…

Below is a summary of our Patriarch’s words spoken at the enthronement of the new Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch:

“‘This is the day that the Lord hath made. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.’

“Congratulations, dearly beloved brother, in my own name and in the name of our brother bishops, members of the Holy Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Arab countries and throughout the world, and in the name of the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria, and in the name of the priests, monks and nuns of our parishes, especially in Damascus.

“We tell you as a brother: we love you! In the spirit of charity, we tell you that all of us here are with all of you in your Church, both in spiritual faith and love for our homeland.

“We express our joy to you, as Melkite Greek Catholics, and our feeling that we are in a unique fellowship with our Orthodox sister-Church. We rejoice in everything that unites us, and we shall strive for greater unity.

“We shall work together – Your Beatitude, His Holiness Patriarch Ignatios Zakka (Iwas[note Absent this day due to illness]) and I – as we did with your late predecessor of blessed memory, Patriarch Ignatios IV (Hazim). We shall work together in these difficult times to support our faithful and all our fellow-citizens and for security, solidarity, mutual assistance, dialogue, reconciliation and peace in our countries, especially in Syria and for Syria to remain one, united and our homeland for ever, where we shall abide in communion, witness and love.”

Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate, Lebanon

French translation: V. Chamberlain