A new Child, a new creature
Gregorios, by the grace of God,
Patriarch of Antioch and of All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem:
May divine grace and apostolic blessing rest on and embrace my brother bishops, members of the Holy Synod and all the faithful clergy and laity of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church.
“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” (2 Corinthians 5: 17)
“For unto us a new Child is born, God before the ages,” incarnate in the fullness of time. He took on human nature so that each of us might be in him a new creature, the heir of his glory. That is the great announcement peculiar to Christmas, as Saint Paul expresses it, saying, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” (2 Corinthians 5: 17) Christ, the newborn Child, through his incarnation, a new creation, is man deified (θέωσις): that is the mystery hidden from the ages; Christ himself is the new creature.
Renewal and the new creature in Holy Scripture
Let us take a walk together in this Paradise of the holy Word where we find continually repeated such expressions as newness of life, new, renew, renewal, the call to put off the old and put on the new and to spiritual renewal. I am reviewing those passages which all refer to that renewal which is the substance of the Word of God and the goal of divine revelation. Indeed, we find the call to renewal in all the books of the Old and New Testaments. God speaks in the words of Prophet Isaiah, saying, “Remember ye not the former things…Behold, I will do a new thing.” (Isaiah 43: 18-19)
The holy city, Jerusalem, despite her history of holiness, is also called to renewal: “The righteousness [of Jerusalem shall] go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.” (Isaiah 62:1-2)
God himself calls to renewal, as we read in the prophecy of Ezekiel, “And I will give them one heart and I will put a new spirit within you…A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you…” (11:19; 36:26) And again, “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit…” (18:31)
In the Psalms of King David, we find, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 50: 10 LXX) and “Thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 102: 5 LXX)
In other psalms there is always a call to renewal and a new hymnography, new songs: as in (Septuagint) Psalms 32: 3; 39: 3; 95: 1; 97: 1; 143: 9. God himself promises to all humans to bring to pass something new, “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” (Isaiah 65: 17 and 66: 22.) The same prophecy is quoted in the Second Epistle of St. Peter, “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (2 Peter 3: 13) The same verse is also mentioned in the book of Revelation ascribed to Saint John, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away…” (21: 1)
All the books of the New Testament speak of the new, as the whole Testament is new! Gospel is God-spell=Good News, and in Greek the same: Eὐαγγέλιον=Good News. Jesus calls his testament the New Testament, “This is my blood of the new testament…” (Matthew 26: 28) And he promises his disciples a new drink. (Matthew 26: 29) He reminds his disciples not to spoil a piece of new cloth by putting it into an old garment, “No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment…” (Matthew 9: 16-17) The children of the Kingdom always have something new. (Matthew 13: 52) Jesus calls his disciples the new generation, or belonging to the age of renewal, “Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration…” (Matthew 19: 28) We find also similar verses in Mark 2: 21-22 and in Luke 5: 36-38, on the topic of new cloth and old garments, new wine and old bottles.
Saint John links the New Testament with new commandments, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another…” (John 13: 34) and he links together both Testaments, “I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning…the Word which ye have heard from the beginning.” (1 John 2: 7-8)
Saint Paul speaks a great deal about the new creature, and it is the title of our Christmas Letter, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” (2 Corinthians 5: 17) He invites us in his Letter to the Romans “to walk in newness of life,” (Romans 6: 4) and “to serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7: 6) He recommends, speaking of Christ as Passover, “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump…the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5: 7) He affirms that “if any man be [baptized] in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5: 17) Saint Paul invites us to free ourselves from the old: he writes to the Galatians, “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements…” (Galatians 4: 9)
Christ the new Child, God before the ages, “abolished in his flesh the law of [the old] commandments” by his new teachings, “for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.” (Ephesians 2: 15) And as Christ is God and man, the new Adam, Saint Paul invites us to “put off …the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of [our] mind; and that [we] put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ephesians 4: 22-24) And he invites us to “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” (Colossians 3: 10) That gives us strength in the struggle, for “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4: 16) That is the important matter, for, “in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” (Galatians 6: 15-16)
Similarly, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the writer affirms that God, “will make a new covenant with” his people. (Hebrews 8: 8) He explains what the New Testament means: “‘For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ saith the Lord; ‘I will put my laws into their mind and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people’…In that he saith, ‘A new covenant,’ he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8: 10-13) Christ is “the mediator of the New Testament,” (Hebrews 9: 15 and 12:24): “not by works of righteousness, which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration[the new baptism], and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3: 5) There is a danger of the heart becoming very hardened, so that man is incapable of renewing himself. “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost…if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance…” (Hebrews 6: 4-6)
So we see that all the books of the New Testament contain very beautiful expressions on the topic of renewal. We find in the Revelation of Saint John, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” (3: 12) Saint John declares, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.’ And he that sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And he said unto me, ‘Write; for these words are true and faithful’. And he said unto me, ‘It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.'” (Revelation 21: 1-7)
Call to renewal and the new creature in liturgical texts
As I said in the preface to this letter, my letter is based on the words of God, on liturgical texts which in their turn reflect the Word of God and the thought, vision and commentary of the Church Fathers on this divine Word.
My reliance on liturgical texts in my letters appears to some as fanaticism for the liturgy, but it comes from my conviction of the deep relationship between texts from Holy Scripture and those of the liturgical prayers and hymns.
In fact, as I have often mentioned, our Holy Fathers read Holy Scripture in its two Testaments, frequently and even daily. They meditated daily on the Word of God and, through their meditations, composed their sermons and commentaries, taught the people and opened their eyes to the treasures of divine revelation. Later came the monks, who read those sermons and, on that basis, composed the hymns which have been handed down to us in our liturgical books.
It is unthinkable that a sermon, letter, teaching, Gospel evening, conversation or spiritual guidance be devoid of verses from Holy Scripture (especially the Gospel and the Epistles), and all the interlinked liturgical hymns and words of the Holy Fathers.
Thus the Word of God becomes the most significant foundational guide. We read it, meditate upon it, make a sermon on it, or turn it into teaching and spiritual guidance: we sing it and proclaim our faith joyfully, with beautiful hymns, well-chosen melodies that our choirs sing in fine voice; our faithful, similarly, sing of their holy faith of which they are proud, and which they consider as their most precious possession and the light that enlightens their way their whole life long.
Dear brothers and sister, walk with me among the hymns of the Feast of the Renewal and Dedication of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, and of the Feast of the Nativity and Theophany (Epiphany) of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ. We shall discover the meaning of the new creation, the new creature and spiritual renewal, for there is no feast that is not in some way a call to renewal, to new life, new creation, and the new creature.
Feast of the Renewal and Dedication of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem (13 September)
- Lamp-lighting psalm Tone 6
- Let us be dedicated anew, brethren! And, putting off the old man, live in newness of life, placing a bridle on all those things from which death comes. Let us discipline all our members, hating every evil eating of the tree, and so only remembering the old that we may flee it. Thus is mankind renewed, thus the day of the Dedication is honoured.
- Kathismata Tone 4
- Christ has enlightened all things by his presence; he has renewed the world by his divine Spirit; souls are made new; for a house has been dedicated to the glory of the Lord, where too Christ our God makes new the hearts of the faithful for the salvation of mortals.
- O faithful people, the festive day of the Dedication has come to Christ’s chosen flock, and urges us all to be made new and with shining face faithfully to sing from the depths of the heart songs to the Master as deliverer and him who makes us new.
- Ode 8
- Today Christ, the second Adam, has shown a spiritual Paradise, this new tabernacle which contains instead of the tree of knowledge the life-bearing weapon of the Cross for those who sing: All ye works of the Lord, bless the Lord.
- Prosomia Tone 4
- Today the divine, sacred, honoured and light-bearing house of the resurrection of Christ is shiningly renewed; and the divine tomb distributes life to the world and furnishes an immortal fount; it gushes forth streams of grace; bursts forth rivers of wonders; grants healings to those who hymn it with faith.
- The brilliant, shining beam has blazed from on high and enlightens all things; faithfully then let us all honour the Resurrection of Christ the Creator, and let us feast with hymns and celebrate with psalms the life-bearing divine festival of the sacred Renewal, that we find the Saviour and Lord full of mercy.
- Tone 1 by Monk John
- Be renewed, be dedicated, O new Jerusalem; for the glory and light of the Lord have risen upon thee. For the Father has built this house; the Son has established this house; the Holy Spirit has renewed this house, the Spirit which enlightens and strengthens and hallows our souls.
- Tone 3
- Come back to yourself, O mortal; become new instead of old; feast the rededication of your soul. Now is the time: let your way of life be renewed. The ancient things have passed away; lo, all things have become new. Bear this fruit for the feast: making the change to a fair change. In this way is mankind renewed, in this way the day of Renewal honoured.
Royal Hours of the Vigil of the Nativity
- The First Hour
- Stichera by Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem
- And so Adam is renewed with Eve as they cry: God’s good will has appeared on earth to save our race. … Bethlehem… from thee will go forth for me in the flesh a leader of the nations, from a young Virgin, Christ our God, who will shepherd his people, the new Israel.
- The Ninth Hour
- Mortify our carnal will, so that we, having stripped off the old man, may put on the new, and live for thee, our Master and Benefactor.
Feast of the Nativity (25 December)
Ode 4 Second Canon
- For a new babe, even the Word, has now come forth from the mountain that is the Virgin1, unto the renewal of the nations.
- Ode 5
- O Christ, …thou hast set us free, who were servants of the enemy and of sin. Sharing wholly in our poverty, thou hast divinised our clay through thy union and participation in it.
- Kontakion of the Feast Tone 3 by Romanos the Melode
- For unto us is born a new Child, God before the ages.
- “Where is the new-born Child and King, whose star we have seen?” the Wise Men said.
Forefeast (Paramone) of the Theophany
- O Lord my God, I will sing on the Forefeast a new hymn of light to thee, who by thy divine Theophany, dost mystically give me the gift of new birth, recalling me to thy divine splendour.
- Ode 3
- Now, thou hast indeed visibly revealed the hidden mysteries, showing thyself to men today and granting them new birth.
- Ode 5
- O Creator, who art the New Adam, thou dost renew those born on earth, bringing to pass a strange regeneration and wonderful restoration by fire and the Spirit and water, renewing mankind, without destroying or melting down, through the holy sacrament of baptism.
- Through the Spirit thou dost make our souls new and through the water thou dost sanctify our body, compounded from the elements, refashioning man as a living being. For in thy wise economy, as physician alike of souls and bodies, thou dost profitably apply suitable remedies to both.
- ORTHROS (5 January)
- … “Prepare ye the ways and make them straight for Christ who comes, that by baptism he may shape us anew who were growing old, loosing us from the ancient sentence2.”
Feast of Theophany (6 January)
- The blessing of the waters
- [We thank the Lord for having led us on a new way through new birth and restored our first freedom, since through water and the Spirit he renewed human nature which had grown old through sin.]
- The Lord, King of the ages, in the streams of the Jordan formed Adam anew, who was fallen into corruption…
- Second Canon
- O Word without beginning, thou hast buried man with thee in the stream: he was corrupted by error, but thou makest him new again.
- Ode 6
- Christ will baptize in the fire of the last day those who defy him and believe not that he is God: but in the Spirit and by the grace of water he grants new birth to all who acknowledge his divinity, delivering them from all their faults.
- Ode 9
- Fallen Adam, poor man, cried and the Lord heard him: he came and in the streams of the Jordan made him new again…
…For Christ will sprinkle with the water of renewal those who hasten to him with faith and he baptizes them with the Spirit unto life that grows not old.
In the Appendix to this letter you will find a selection of hymns and spiritual songs about renewal and the new creature from the other Feasts of our Lord, of the Virgin and some Saints through the liturgical year.
Reflections on the theme of renewal
“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature,” (2 Corinthians 5: 17) as Saint Paul tells us. When I read this extraordinarily beautiful verse, many thoughts, reflections and feelings come into my heart and I write them to you in this letter’s spiritual meditation.
I begin with a passage from my patron, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, who says, in his First Paschal Oration, “that He who today rose again from the dead may renew me also by His Spirit; and, clothing me with the new Man, may give me to His New Creation, to those who are begotten after God, as a good modeller and teacher for Christ, willingly both dying with Him and rising again with Him.” In his Second Paschal Oration, he adds, “The gates of hell are opened, and death is destroyed, and the old Adam is put aside, and the New is fulfilled; ‘if any man be in Christ he is a new creature;’ (2Corinthians5:17) be ye renewed.”
Jesus Christ is himself the new creature, as we sing at the Feast of the Nativity, “For unto us is born a new child, God before the ages.3“Jesus is a new creature, as he became incarnate. Yet he is God, and that is the new thing, that God became united to man in the person of Jesus Christ, the model for the new creature, by which man would no longer be alone in this world, since God is Emmanuel – God with us. Man is called to be as God created him, in his image and likeness. (Genesis 1: 26-27) That means that man may become God, since God became man, while remaining God, in order that he might unite man to himself and through man, all things in heaven and on earth; so that the whole creation and all people be united in the person of Jesus Christ.
That is the new creature and that is why we find at the beginning of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth,” (Genesis 1: 1) and at the beginning of the Gospel of Saint John, we find, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…” John 1: 1, 14) So Saint John unites two creations, the beginning of humanity and the beginning of Christianity: Jesus is the new creature and Christianity is a call to man to become a new creature.
Christianity, as I like to define it (without calling it better, greater or higher than any other religion) is a new creature. It is something else, as I have mentioned in many talks and meditations. Christ is a new creature and a man different from men: he is somebody else.
Christianity and the New Testament begin from the blood of Christ. “Drink ye all of it..; this cup is the New Testament in my blood; …this is my blood of the New Testament.” Christianity’s real name is the New Testament, the testament of God with man, and the testament of Man with God, the testament of man with his brother-man, with the creation, with the world, the cosmos. Nothing can be new which is not based on the old, and the new has the goal of renewing the old: hence the correlation between the Old and New Testaments, which are in fact one single Testament. Hence too the close relationship between world faiths, for there is much in common between all faiths.
The Holy Gospel is not a book which can become old. It is a book of news, of Good News, the latest news, completely modern and entirely new. It is ever-new and Good News, for its word speaks to people through the Holy Spirit, which as Jesus said, “will teach you all things” and be the “Comforter.” (John 14: 26)
Christianity is a new creature, a new way or method, a new vision, new form or look, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus asks of Nicodemus to be “born again … of water and of the Spirit.” He says, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.'” (John 3: 3-9) Christ is a new creature, every baptized person is a new creature, every true believer is a new creature.
The Church, which is the community of believers, is a new creature and that is why the Church, throughout its history, has never hesitated to renew itself and to admit that it must be new, requiring renewal and restoration in all aspects of its life. It is not afraid either to confess that there are sinners among its children, when they stray from the teachings of their Master, Jesus Christ and do not walk according to the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
That is why Pope John XXIII proclaimed Vatican II (1962-65) under this splendid motto of renewal, aggiornamento and Pope John Paul II advanced the idea of the new evangelization, or the new method of evangelization, and on June 28 2010 Pope Benedict XVI announced the formation of a Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization.
This call for renewal is a continual appeal to man to be in relation with God, who calls him to perfection and who is Perfection beyond the capacities of man’s weak and feeble nature. That is what Jesus said to his disciples, when putting to them an almost impossibly high ideal, in the teaching that concludes his magnificent, unique, lofty, sublime commandments that are both divine and human, “Be ye therefore perfect as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 48)
What Jesus asks of his disciples and all those who follow him, including all those Christians baptized in his name and indeed the whole world, is just based on this theological truth, (to which we attach little importance, as if it were self-evident, though it is very difficult) which lies at the heart of the meaning of our existence and relationship with God and his with us, and is summed up in this relationship (which people nowadays do not wish to acknowledge at all, though it is at the basis of all our relationships): – that God is Creator, he is my Creator, my origin and the goal of my life, above everything that I am capable of imagining, thinking or understanding.
As we say in the anaphora of the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, “thou art God, beyond description, beyond understanding, invisible, incomprehensible, always existing, eternally the same, thou and thine only‐begotten Son and thy Holy Spirit.” That is what is said by the Prophet Isaiah (45:15), “Verily, thou art a God, that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour,” and that is what Saint Paul said on the Areopagus in Athens, faced with the multiplicity of gods worshipped by the Greeks, “As I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To an unknown God: whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him I declare unto you…For in him we live and move and have our being, as certain of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.” (Acts 17: 23, 27)
This unknown God remains so, as we always misjudge him and we always wish to see and reach him, even as we deny him, for denial is a proof of his existence that is superior to ours and unattainable. Yet we always wish to reach him and to know him better, in his perfection.
God the Creator remains always above our understanding and our relationship with him is always something new, ineffable. Yet if God were to be within our reach, thought and understanding, he would be an idol, like those of the Athenians. He becomes an idol when we fail to discover in him something new, that escapes us. He becomes an idol when he becomes a rite, for we fail to understand that he is a “new Child,” close to us, but still “God before the ages,” who raises us to himself, divinises us (θέωσις) and perfects us, making us into “a new creature” of an ineffable newness.
That is what happened to the three apostles on Mount Tabor at the transfiguration. The disciples lived with Jesus and knew him very well, but on Mount Tabor, they saw his glory in an ineffable way, above all their expectations. At first they did not understand the meaning of that vision, and what the presence of Moses and Elijah around Jesus meant. Moreover, though the disciples had remained with Jesus until the last moments of his life here below, yet just before his ascension to heaven they were still in ignorance of just how new Jesus’ mission was, as if they were still under the Old Testament and with a mindset of this world. “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1: 6)
Saint Paul speaks of that in his Epistle to the Ephesians, praying for them “that they may comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, and that [they] might be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3: 18-19) He calls the faithful, saying, “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” (Romans 12: 2) And he says elsewhere, “But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2: 16) So this is not the mind of Aristotle or Kant, but another kind of thinking, an ever-new thinking, the mind of Christ.
Analysis of the meanings of renewal in the texts of Holy Scripture and the liturgy
What do the Biblical and liturgical texts, which we have reviewed, say to us?
The mind and meaning of renewal and the expressions pertaining to the new are all linked to the evangelical, Biblical and liturgical concept found repeatedly in the holy books and in our prayers. From that we return to the first image, the meaning of renewal. At the first stage, the taking stock, metanoia, repentance, the remoulding of the human clay, the return to God, the former beauty, return to Paradise. Metanoia is one of the most important expressions, meaning change of mind, the new mind, a new way of thinking.
Renewal can be realised through the life of faith, hope and charity, through the practice of good works, participation in the sacraments of the Church, reading sacred books, following and living by the teachings of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount and Gospel values.
Through renewal, man becomes a new creature, by being divinised. Renewal is salvation, θέωσις, divinisation, spiritual transfiguration, as if God created man anew in his image and likeness. He is in the act of moulding him again, making his clay anew, refining him like gold in the fire, and making him into his image (icon) once more.
We, as believing Christians, are called to this renewal and θέωσις, or divinisation. We are called to become every day a new creature: that is the strength of the Christian faith. What helps us towards realising this renewal is receiving the sacraments, as we said, especially the Eucharist and confession. That is the goal of Christian perfection and Christian holiness.
Christian renewal leads to a new spiritual policy, as Jesus teaches us, at Mid-Pentecost. We have learnt new, modern politics from Christ: that means, a new way, a new way of dealing with problems and difficulties, crises, calamities, illnesses, temptations, challenges and different circumstances that occur in life. That is the quintessence of Jesus’ teaching and of his Gospel.
Furthermore, we see in that a new vision, as we find in the service of the Man Born Blind, a vision different from physical sight of the material, bodily eye. Our prayers say that the blind man became “a lamp, shining with new light.” New eyes, new ears, new limbs – all renewed!
So the renewal reaches human language and expression or vocabulary: professional, spiritual and social human speech, as we read in the service for Pentecost, which refers to the renewal of tongues, languages, melody, sight and terminology.
Through spiritual renewal, there is renewed in us the knowledge of mysteries, doctrines and teachings. Before our eyes, there shine forth the secret things and symbols of Holy Scripture, all illuminated by the light of new knowledge. The renewal which comes from the Holy Spirit reaches our innermost being, our feelings and aspirations, desires and hopes, as we read at Matins of Pentecost, “Almighty, renew a cherished right spirit within us, to hold it eternally.” (Ode 6)
The prayers of Pentecost express the effects of the renewal by the Holy Spirit: that is, apostles speak and each apostle speaks and each believer speaks with extravagant expressions, extravagant gifts and extravagant visions. Besides, it is such a luminous change, as if the believers were in an estrangement from the world and from a worldly way of thinking or worldly mindset.
That is why the true believer feels that if he wants to live his faith in society, he feels estranged, foreign, and others feel him foreign to them and to their way of thinking. Furthermore, the words, terms, phrases, verses of Holy Scripture, prayers, liturgy and so on, become strange for many and they no longer understand those words.
That presents a great challenge to believers, on the one hand and for their non-believing companions, far from faith, religion or the Church. The great challenge for the Church today and for priests, who are spiritual directors, dispensing the sacraments and preaching, is how to dispel that estrangement, whilst conserving the teaching of the Gospel and of the Church. The challenge is how the Church ought to address the Christian and non-Christian faithful and society with words of life, in the light of the Gospel, but with contemporary language, that of development and continuous, extraordinarily rapid change.
The challenge is how to bring to people the new evangelization as something new, attractive, lively, filled with animation and accepted with love. The object of evangelization is always new, in principle, but it is our duty, our responsibility to present it with a new tunic, a new form and to attract people to hear it and live by its inspiration and resplendent light. Thus it becomes a word of life, as Saint Peter said to Jesus in the name of all the apostles, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6: 68)
Yet we are full of confidence that the world is being renewed by the renewal of the children of faith, as Pope Benedict XVI said, “Those who believe are never alone.4” And “every soul that rises above itself, raises up the world,” in the words of the great thinker Lacordaire (1802-61) whose words we learnt while still a seminarian at the Seminary of Holy Saviour.
It is beautiful to notice how the Feast of Renewal in our Church is linked to the commemoration of the resurrection of Christ and the mother of all Churches throughout the world and of Christianity, the Church of the Resurrection (in the West called the Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem.
Furthermore, renewal is really linked to θέωσις, a term which is the key to (especially Eastern) Christian theology, which means that renewal is linked to union with God. Further, it is as a result of that union that those who are really united to God, always discover the new in their life, enabling them to glorify God, serve him and serve their brothers and sisters in society. Believers in God are creative, full of initiative, working miracles, inventive, with ever-new ways of acting, courageous, full of confidence and optimism and always finding an outlet in life. That is the grace of God and of the Holy Spirit who supports our weakness.
Continual, inspired renewal, to which the Scriptural texts and prayers refer, is in complete conformity with the very high human calling in all its great dignity, as Saint Irenaeus says, that “the glory of God is a living man.”5 So man is always in search of the heights: he seeks self-fulfilment, he aspires always to the new and more perfect. Real dignity is that man should always keep his essential worth, that is the image (icon) and likeness of God in himself, with its beauty and splendour, as we say in the prayer for a saintly monk or nun, “In thee [Name]was accurately preserved that which is according to the image, for thou didst take up the cross and follow Christ.”
So continuous renewal is a very lofty goal, implying renewal for the whole creation, of which man is head, renewal of society, renewal through baptism as second birth, and renewal of the whole cosmos.
Renewal is a source of great joy, an ever-renewed sublimity, but something difficult, requiring much watchfulness, and continuously sustained great effort, for whatever causes death in man must be restricted. Heart, soul, mind and body require an education of all the members and the purification of mind and memory from things that are failing and old, leaving behind what is old and the sins that govern and enslave, lower and degrade man, reducing his stature and making him impure.
All that means that renewal must be from the base, visceral, a rehabilitation, a fresh start, as we say in the prayers, “O chosen apostles, the Holy Spirit ineffably descending upon you has, through your tongues, reformed as in a furnace mankind deformed by sins, and has refashioned them anew for life.” (Paraklitike, Tone 6 Canon of Thursday morning, Ode 3, Troparion 2)
That means that the Law itself is liable to become old and obsolete and that is why Jesus always gives us a new commandment, even if the commandment can already be found elsewhere in the Old Testament and the Holy Apostle John talks of a commandment that has already been made known much earlier, from the beginning (1 John 2: 7-8.)
So the commandment, the order itself must be renewed. The Prince of both Testaments is he who unites both in himself and gives newness to all that might be liable to becoming old and obsolete. We are always in a real, continual and present danger of returning to old principles, the Old Testament, the old vision and old mentality.
People today, as in the time of Jesus Christ, expect outward miracles and apparitions from beyond, a faraway place and we forget that the beauty of the righteous is an inner beauty and that the great miracle lies within people, in the depths of their souls. Human beings make miracles and God helps them to bring about in themselves the miraculous inner change of renewal and as Mary said, “For he that is mighty hath done to me great things.” (Luke 1: 49) The miracle is the renewal and restoration of human nature, as occurred with the blind, the deaf, the dumb and the lame.
So renewal remains always the fruit of union with God, whence comes “every perfect gift,” as Saint James says in his Epistle (1: 17.)
The aim of the feasts that we celebrate during the year, the Dominical and Marian feasts and those of the saints, constitute a continuous renewal for people and a call to unity with God. The feasts are stages in the divine economy, stages of renewal and repeated appeals for renewal, perfection and holiness.
Renewal is also linked to the journey to the Kingdom, as Jesus says to his disciples, that he “will drink no more henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when [he] drink[s] it new with [them] in [his] Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26: 29) We are in a process of continuous renewal, “so that [our] youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 102: 5 LXX)
Without God and without the link to eternal life and the Kingdom, man becomes obsolete and his strength becomes very weak and feeble. Even human life becomes meaningless, the conjugal life, professional life, the priestly vocation, religious consecration all become obsolete and old, when we do not know how to reveal the new in our souls and our surroundings, in nature, in our relations with the world, the cosmos and other people. We become old, grow cold, insipid and insignificant. Charity grows cold, faith weakens, hope grows ever weaker in us and we fall into danger of division, schizophrenia, personality disorders, lies, delusions and can even lose all meaning in life and become suicidal.
That is why God who loves mankind, knowing human nature, weaknesses, strengths and potential, nevertheless, himself still calls people, “Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 48) This call to perfection and holiness is a call to renewal and it is God himself who renews us.
The believing Christian begins the new way forward with the mystery of holy baptism and that is why we sing during baptism, after the three-fold immersion, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.6” That is why the baptized put on new white robes, the symbol of purity, resurrection and new creation: they really are a new creature in Jesus Christ.
Baptism is the entry or introduction to life in Christ and to new life. It is the beginning of the new way, the appearance of the new vision, the first sign of the new mindset and new behaviour. It is really the road to Damascus, like the new way of Saint Paul.
Baptized Christians are then people called to continuous renewal, as new people, to whom is confided a new mission and role, that of renewing society, community and family, work and so baptism becomes the basis of their social responsibility. That is why one cannot be a good Christian, a real Christian without carrying real responsibility towards society, the homeland, the nation, relatives and so on.
And as Jesus himself began his mission after the baptism at the hands of Saint John the Baptist, so believing baptized Christians start their mission with baptism. The baptized in the name of Christ are called to do the works of Christ their master and realise in themselves what Christ said, “I am come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
To realise this goal, Pope Benedict XVI founded, as we mentioned, the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization. How happy I was to see that I have been moving in the same direction as the Holy Father as I began preparing my letter some months ago and glad to read about that foundation. We read in the speech proclaiming His Holiness’ foundation, “The grace of the Holy Spirit … constitutes the force of the new law of the Gospel and who always renews the Church; ‛new’ in the search of ways that correspond to the force of the Holy Spirit and are adapted to the times and the situations; ‛new’ because necessary also in countries which have already received the proclamation of the Gospel.”
The Pope continues,”In this perspective, I have decided to create a new organism, in the form of pontifical council, with the specific task of promoting a renewed evangelization in countries where the first proclamation of the faith already resounded, and where Churches are present of ancient foundation, but which are going through a progressive secularization of society and a sort of ‛eclipse of the sense of God,’ which constitutes a challenge to find the appropriate means to propose again the perennial truth of the Gospel of Christ.7“
In this last part of our letter, we wish to cast light on the significance of the vision of the new creature in the life of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Vatican II was the greatest construction site for renewal in the history of the Catholic Church in east and west. This Council was summoned by blessed Pope John XXIII and I was personally present when the Pope announced that it would be held. He celebrated the Liturgy of the Conversion of Saint Paul on 25 January, 1959 in the Basilica of Saint Paul-without-the-Walls. After having said Mass, the Holy Father went to visit the monastery of the Benedictine Fathers who take care of the liturgical services in the basilica and in the dependency of the basilica. Only the monks living in the monastery were allowed to be present during the reception for the Holy Father’s visit. I was there with eight other of our seminarians from Holy Saviour. We were in the Benedictine monastery during our studies at St. Anselm’s in Rome as the late, Father Gabriel Acacius Coussa, B. A., then Assessor of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church (and future Cardinal and Secretary of the same Congregation) wanted all the monks of the Eastern Greek Catholic and Maronite religious communities to study in Rome and we, as members of the Benedictine community were allowed to welcome the Holy Father into the hall inside the monastery. We were present as the Holy Father announced his decision to hold an ecumenical Council, which would have as its aim to work for Christian unity and renewal of the Church. He put forward his well-known formula of aggiornamento.
In fact, the documents of Vatican II discussed the renewal of thought in the Church, the life of the Church and Church government in all their dimensions. It suffices to review the titles8 of the documents of this Council to be convinced of the breadth of Vatican II’s horizons. Furthermore, the programme of Vatican II can be described as an enduring programme of renewal for the Church in its interaction with the contemporary world as its influence will continue to be felt for a very long time.
In fact these documents of Vatican II reviewed the life of the Church in all its dimensions, liturgical, sacramental life, the preparation of the servants of the Word, seminarians, dedicated men and women, monks, nuns, deacons, priests, bishops, patriarchs, the ministry of service in the Church – the mystical Body of Christ, Christian doctrine, Christian faith in relation to other Christian Churches and communities and other very varied faiths throughout the world, the relationship of the Church with civil, economic, cultural and academic society, the role of lay-people in the Church and the apostolic missionary work of the Church.
These documents are summed up in the first paragraph of the document The Church in the Modern World:
1. The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.
All this requires the Church to be capable of renewal, able to become encultured, acclimatised, interacting in solidarity, with power to influence and desire to develop the world. All this can be done only under the aegis of the Holy Spirit’s work in renewing the Church’s government, as we quoted from the prayer at the Feast of Pentecost. Any true renewal can only be the result of the Holy Spirit’s work through his descent, as we say in our Eastern theology, at the epiclesis. The Church, for its renewal, needs a daily, continuous epiclesis. That is why there is the daily celebration of the Divine Liturgy which is very important, especially in the priest’s life, for he daily invokes the descent of the Holy Spirit on the gifts, on the mystical Body of Christ, on the church, his parish, his pastoral activity and service. Thus he can remain in a continuous process of renewal and can lead the parish on a new way, into the real “new age.” That is why we pray, “Let thy good Spirit lead me in the straight way.” (Psalm 142, LXX) and “Renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 50, LXX)
Renewal in liturgical life
The Saviour ordained, through the decision of the Holy Synod and of my predecessor of happy memory Maximos V, that I should head the Patriarchal and Synodal Liturgical Commission from 1986 onwards. With the Commission, we were able to renew all our liturgical books in a new, attractive presentation and lay the foundational principles for liturgical renewal and animation, and complete renewal in our liturgical services.
We obtained fairly good results in promoting renewal and animation. Yet we aspire to much more and ask our brother bishops and our children, priests, monks and nuns, to become more deeply aware of the significance of renewal in liturgical services, singing, and in administration and celebration of the sacraments, for it is the normal, almost daily place for the relationship with our parish, so that we can bring holiness and new life to it and to all the faithful. Furthermore we think that renewal in prayer and liturgical life amounts to renewal in faith, since lex orandi lex credendi: the rule of prayer is the rule of faith.
Renewal in pastoral work
Besides liturgical life, prayers and sacraments, pastoral work is very important in the priest’s life. It is a very large field for continual renewal and for initiatives for excellent work.
Pastoral work refers to the way of celebrating the Divine Liturgy, the sacraments or mysteries of the Church, as we said above. Similarly it has to do with preaching, spiritual counselling, Gospel evenings, pastoral visits, visiting the sick, suffering and others, guiding the confraternities, groups and youth movements etc.
All that requires a great effort for it all to become the bearer of salvation, redemption and joy, faith and hope and spiritual and social activity and solidarity, mutual help, strength, giving. Otherwise it all becomes void, an empty routine, lacking content, attraction, taste or colour, odourless, colourless and tasteless.
That means that the priest must tackle pastoral work with a great deal of care and attention, knowledge and developed awareness, intellectual training, sufficiently extensive spiritual and pastoral experience, in a constant relationship with people, in their different groups, especially the young and those who are distant from the church and especially those who are far from faith, those who doubt and so forth. The art of pastoral work consists in the priest being able to bring together clarity, limpidity and purity of Christian doctrine at the same time as different new directions in the parish, in order to lead it into the pastures, the Paradise of holy faith.
That is an operation of renewal which must aim to make the parish really into a new creature, an ever-developing swarm in a continuously developing world. We must present the Christian faith, Christian doctrine in an attractive, convincing form that is both pleasing and beautiful. Indeed, in society there are many attractions of all sorts: that is why we must confront these different attractions with the word of God, the Saviour, a living, attractive word that makes our faithful feel that it is the word of life for each and every one of them.
Renewal through apostolic and youth movements
The broadest setting for pastoral work and renewal is really in apostolic and youth work and we cannot exaggerate if we say that youth work is the best springboard to parish renewal. Indeed, young folk are demanding: they have broad horizons; their thoughts do not always originate only in the Gospel and in the Church’s teaching. That is why the priest has to accompany young people and their ideas. He will be in touch with their society, the setting in which they live, their intellectual and social milieu. He must be aware of the things that make an impression on them and guide them and that permeate their thoughts and hearts, their outlook. He must present to them, on the other hand, the Gospel, the Church’s teaching, Christian ethics, spiritual and faith values, so that they become part of their lives and of their spiritual and personal experience of faith. So they can live out these values in their very multicultural society, in the various groupings and trends of everyday living without fear, embarrassment, or restriction, yet without boastfulness or triumphalism.
Here we repeat with pleasure our slogan that all our young people everywhere know, “A Church without young people is a Church without a future, and young people without a Church are young people without a future.”
Priests and bishops must convince young people that they have a role and mission in their society and that they have a future, that they are a Church and that they have a homeland and society. With all that, they have a very great, meaningful and daily responsibility. All this is significant in really lessening the influence and rise of emigration especially of young people, by convincing them of their role and mission of faith in our dear East, amongst all our citizens of another religion than their own and that they have the role of bringing to them the message of holy faith in this land where God has spoken to people in the words of Jesus Christ.
Apostolic movements, catechism, parish activities in their various registers are the most propitious areas for the renewal of faith amongst young people, for strengthening them in their convictions and for awakening in them the vocation to be consecrated in priestly or religious life, so that they find their place and role in the parish and Church, society and homeland.
Renewal in eparchies, religious congregations and among consecrated people
The other areas which are significant for renewal of Church and of society, through the Church, are eparchies, religious congregations and training colleges for priests, monks and nuns and religious.
We call upon our brother bishops, superiors general and all those who direct training colleges and catechetical centres, various adult education centres for the laity, for those establishments to be swarms, basic nuclei for renewal of the Church, for a renewed future for the Church and that through them the pastors of the future and those called to build their homeland and society may be developed.
It is also important to renew the rule for consecrated life in our religious congregations for men and for women, especially from within the mother houses and in the various centres where monks and nuns work. The renewal must be based on the old, original form of religious life, according to sacred, patristic teaching and the outlook of the founders. It is very important to animate liturgical life and communal living and to be faithful to monastic vows and commitments. In fact, monks cannot live as such without being in continuous relations with each other, particularly in small groups in religious centres where there are elements of religious life, so that our parish centres where there are religious become spiritual lighthouses, attracting families, young folk, fraternities, youth groups, and enabling them to live an ecclesial, spiritual, liturgical life there thanks to their visits to these monasteries and centres, praying there and making spiritual retreats in them.
So, our monasteries, our youth centres and male and female religious congregations become centres of spiritual renewal for the Church and renewal of faith in our parishes. It is important for monasteries to play this role in renewal and for them to become really attractive, with a spiritual attraction, for all those seeking spiritual renewal and renewal of faith in our parishes.
We should like the Fathers General, Mothers General and Superiors of the different religious provinces and all our brethren and children, the monks and nuns, especially those working in our parishes, to hear this call. We thank them especially on this occasion for everything they do in the way of service in our eparchies, in Arab countries and in countries of the expansion.
Church renewal, modernity, globalization and advanced technology
The new creature is a creation that must be lived in a modern, developed society. The faithful baptized Christian is that new creature. He or she must live out the faith, the Gospel, the Church’s teaching and faith values in a fast developing, modern society, in a world of globalization and modernity and through freely available technology that opens up new horizons to the view.
The Church is called to accompany modernity, globalization and must use modern, advanced technology, so that working systems can be developed in the eparchies and parishes using new technology. The Servant of God John Paul II issued guidance on “a change of mentality and pastoral renewal” in his Apostolic Letter, The Rapid Development9:
9…..Many Christians are already creatively using [the Internet], exploring its potential to assist in the tasks of evangelization and education, as well as of internal communication, administration and governance. However, alongside the Internet, other new means of communication, as well as traditional ones, should be used…
While the content being communicated must obviously be adapted to the needs of different groups, the goal must always be to make people aware of the ethical and moral dimension of the information….
In the conclusion to this Apostolic Letter, the Pope wrote:
14….To those working in communication, especially to believers involved in this important field of society, I extend the invitation which, from the beginning of my ministry as Pastor of the Universal Church, I have wished to express to the entire world “Do not be afraid!”
Do not be afraid of new technologies! These rank “among the marvellous things” – inter mirifica – which God has placed at our disposal to discover, to use and to make known the truth, also the truth about our dignity and about our destiny as his children, heirs of his eternal Kingdom.
Do not be afraid of being opposed by the world! Jesus has assured us, “I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)
In 2002, Pope John Paul II issued a Message for the 36th. World Communications Day, heralding the Internet as a “New Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel,” while more recently, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI has described the Internet as an “instrument for the proclamation of Christ.10“
Modern communications affect many different areas of church life, liturgical prayers, celebrating the Divine Liturgy, animating the administration of sacraments, organization of pastoral work, parish records, central eparchial records, ways of presenting catechism and Christian education to different groups in the parishes, youth work, ways of bringing the Good News to the different groups that make up our parishes and which are still in part far from the Church and are not reached by the priest’s activities for a variety of reasons. All this must be discovered, so that the priest’s work can attract and reach all the children of his parish. So the parish becomes really a new creature, a new church.
How I wish that the organisation of our patriarchal Church, in all our eparchies, in Arab countries and countries of the expansion could be open to new working methods in communication and information technology, working with precision in these fields, to make use of them, to develop and increase the Church’s effectiveness and its relation with society, and its presence and witness. That is why we are asking specialists in information technology to help us in that direction and the Patriarchal Chancellery is ready to accept the various initiatives or proposals for development so that we can realise this significant, promising idea, so that our Church can really accompany modernity, globalization and advanced technology.
Renewal in our ecclesial and Arab society
The modern development that we desire, and that we have proposed above, is very important if we are to be agents of renewal in our ecclesial society and in our Arab society, this society that is very pluralistic in doctrine and belief, with Churches in their various denominations, influenced positively or negatively by all the various tendencies, by the local or regional context and the global state of affairs. Otherwise, we would be obliged to live as though on an island.
Now the Church cannot live withdrawn on a desert island or in a monastic hermitage in some far off wilderness: the Church must step outside its walls, church halls, presbyteries, monasteries, hermitages, eparchial residences, offices with strength renewed, based on prayer, Eucharist, meditation, spiritual reading or lectio divina, study, research and information. It must throw itself with new power towards meeting with each person, as Saint Paul says, “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 3: 5) So the Church must become strong, renewed, developed, with broad horizons, so as to be “all things to all men.” (1 Corinthians 9: 22)
Thus everyone will be really able to be informed about “the mystery which hath been hid from ages,” (Colossians 1: 26) the mystery of salvation and redemption through the Word of God, who is a word for all people, to enable them to come into the light, and “that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10: 10) For Christ came to give light to those in darkness and to save those who were perishing, and to reunite all the separated children of God into one and to bring about fellowship between them and an interaction in which all of them feel safe, in stability, dignity, happiness and hope.
That is the apostolate of the Church which is a new creature, ever renewed and renewable: it is a continuous renewal, bringing the message of renewal, development, modernity, prosperity, in society, especially in Arab society with its Muslim majority. This renewal must reach all areas of our Arab world, which needs renewal, especially the areas of young generations. Among the areas that need renewal and very balanced development, areas that are common to both Christians and Muslims, citizens of Arab countries through our different doctrines and beliefs which all have a right to exist and develop and to be really citizens’ values.
These values and areas are mainly to do with spiritual values, faith, religion, religious freedom, freedom of worship and of conscience, struggle against religious and social discrimination, and for the rights of women and children, the mentally or physically handicapped, the poor and marginalised, for family values and solidarity, strength and persistence, for a worthy life for every citizen, religious and moral education promoting values of charity and mutual respect, living together, dialogue, acceptance of others and human dignity in an absolute sense (since man is created in the image and likeness of God) and education aimed at eliminating all feelings of hatred, aggressiveness, terrorism, violence, undue influence, persecution, domination and so on.
The work of the Church in all that lies at the heart of its mission and constitutes an area of continuous renewal for its human, spiritual, cultural, faith and social work and activity. Along these lines bishops, priests, monks, nuns, teachers, trainers, catechists must make new Christian generations develop, through preaching, spiritual direction, confraternities, welfare societies, adult education centres, for Christians who are open, aware of their apostolate and the meaning of their presence in society, convinced of the basic elements of their faith and moral behaviour, finding success in their society, being happy, strong and able to withstand the stress of difficulties, pressures, crises, and the pull of various attractions, particularly of emigration, and be strong in the face of temptations to fear, discouragement, despair, isolation and withdrawal. Those Christians are able to live in Christian and non-Christian society and capable of being active apostles, working for good, for the development of Christian society in their church and parish, in their non-Christian society, in their homeland great or small and in the Arab world.
Believing, open renewed Christians are capable of influencing, being in interaction and in joint work. Pastors and Church leaders must really educate such Christians and look to their development. Such Christians can really be the future of their Church and country. Our Melkite Greek Catholic Church needs such faithful Christian citizens.
Our Church cannot renew itself and remain faithful to its Christian apostolate through its Christian children with regard to the Arab world, of which it is an integral part, being in, with and for that homeland; it cannot succeed in its open apostolate except through such Christians, being trained in future frameworks, to be pillars of the Church and society.
To bring about this renewal of Church and Arab society, we pastors, bishops, priests, monks, nuns, influential faithful, business-people, politicians, academics need to be a “strong, coherent Church” if we are to realise the Church’s inner work of renewal in the Holy Spirit, just as we need to be strong and capable of interaction in different areas of our society, so that we can really continue to keep the Church in an effectual relationship with society, so that our institutions and different communities can have a great and effective influence on our society, a Christian influence, a faith influence, through spiritual, social, economic, health and political development. Thus and only thus shall we be reckoned with and thus we shall be able to fulfil our Christian mission, our unique vocation.
We must remain faithful to the Christian faith in the Arab world, so that we can be the little flock, but one which is courageous, fearless, ever-present, ever-faithful to our witness and ready for martyrdom if necessary, ever-faithful to Gospel values of holy faith. Thus we can fulfil the various demands of our vocation which Jesus gives us, and which have been entrusted to us since the day we entered upon the Christian faith through holy baptism. Thus we can be partakers in his holy mission, which is addressed to all people, especially to our fellow-citizens. This is a difficult mission, calling us to forgiveness and reconciliation, to turn the other cheek to be struck, to the love of enemies, to giving without counting the cost, to spontaneity, to not always asking for parity. Through this sublime ethic and spiritual character we can realise that to which Jesus called us, when he said, “Ye are the salt of the earth…Ye are the light of the world…Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 13-14, 48) In the parable of the leaven in the lump (Matthew 13:33), Jesus pictures the Church as leaven working in the world to transform it. Those are the values of true renewal and which characterise the new creature. That is the basis of the new ethic, which makes baptized Christians faithful new creatures in Christ Jesus.
Renewal through the Synod for the Middle East
The Special Assembly for the Middle East also continues the theme of renewal by its appeal to the Churches to take stock of the way they carry out their mission in the Middle East. Guidance on the matter formed part of the Synod of Bishops’ study in relation to the work of the Assembly.
The Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which was held in Rome from 10 to 24 October last, was also concerned with the theme of renewal and asked the Churches to take stock of their mission in the East. The Fathers of the Synod, on 22 October addressed a Message to the People of God11 which emphasised the “renewing force” that our countries’ young men and women represent.
The synodal Assembly, at the end of its work, submitted forty-four proposals to the Holy Father with an eye to the forthcoming Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation.
Propositio 30 refers to Christian Formation:
To help adults to grow in a living faith, our Churches of the Middle East propose the creation of catechetical centres where they are lacking. On-going formation and collaboration between the different Churches at the level of the laity, seminaries and universities are indispensable. All these centres should be open to all the Churches. Catechists in particular must be properly prepared through a suitable formation which takes into account current problems and challenges.
…It is important that formation includes learning about modern technology and communication science. ..
The next Propositio (31) more especially has to do with the formation of Pastoral Workers:
In order to form leaders and pastoral workers in various areas, we recommend the foundation of inter-ecclesial formation centres in each country which employ the new technology of audiovisual communications. The resources they produce should be available on-line and on DVD to make them as cheaply and widely available as possible.
On the topic of social means of communication, we read in Propositio 33:
The synod fathers have noted the pivotal importance of the new means of communication for Christian formation in the Middle East, as well as for the proclamation of the faith. They are communication networks which hold out the promise of special opportunities for the spreading of the
Concretely, the synod fathers advocate the aid and maintenance of the existing structures in this area, such as “Télé-lumière-Noursat,” “la Voix de la Charité” and others, so as to fulfil the objectives for which they have been established in an ecclesial spirit.
Propositio 37 refers to A New Evangelisation:
Our Churches are called upon to adopt the mentality of a New Evangelisation by taking into consideration the cultural and social context in which people live, work and act today. This demands a profound conversion and renewal in light of the Word of God and the sacraments, especially reconciliation and the Eucharist.
Dear friends, the expression “new creature” sums up our Christian faith and our Christian ethics and morals and the nobility of our human and divine vocation and our unique apostolate and also gives a meaning to our presence, life, way and existence on this earth as we make our way towards Paradise, towards the Kingdom.
The birth of Jesus Christ is a continuous call to people to arise and be renewed, raise their sights, ascend, move forward and surpass limitations, weaknesses, sins even, knowing that God is able to work miracles in and through them. He created us from nothing for life and is able to create a new spirit in us, make us into new creatures and raise us to the heights of θέωσις and sharing in the divine life in us. So we return to the state in which God created us in holiness and purity in his image and likeness. To that the magnificent Christmas hymn12 calls us,
“Christ is born! Glorify Him!
Christ descends from the heavens, welcome Him!
Christ is now on earth, lift up your hearts!
Sing to the Lord, all the earth,
And sing praises to Him with joy, O ye people,
For he has been exalted.”
To all that the Feast of the Nativity calls us and to that I call you, dear friends, my beloved brother bishops, my children the priests, the monks and nuns, the faithful, men and women, young people and children of our eparchies and parishes in Arab countries, countries of the expansion and everywhere. Accept these spiritual meditations, everyone, on the topic of the new creature, which is really Christ himself, the “new Child and God before the ages” and who is each of us; accept, receive these meditations as a Christmas present, as a bouquet of intercessions, of cordial good wishes to you all.
May our Church always remain strong and coherent, unafraid, always moving forward unhesitatingly, not growing old, not despairing, not allowing itself to give way to fear, but always open and always renewed by the Holy Spirit. It will thus resemble the person of whom Jesus Christ speaks in the Gospel – that the child of the Kingdom can bring forth from his store things new and old and sow hope, in order that the gifts of God, his grace, may yield abundant fruit in all the Church’s children, thirty-, sixty- and an hundred-fold and eternal life.
Christ is born: glorify him!
Merry Christmas and happy New Year, a year of peace!
With my friendship, my love and blessing,
Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain