Patriarch of Antioch and all the East,
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church
25 December 2015
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)
“unto you is born this day … a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
“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.
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)
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!
+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
For the Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Joy in the Torah (Law and Prophets)
“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)
(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)
(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)
“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)
“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.