Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Aug 142010
 
Amber toned icon of Saint Paul

St. Paul:

The Apostle of Letter Writing

by Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.

Reprinted with permission from Sophia, Fall 2008

St. Paul's Letters

The inspired letters of St. Paul are a primary source of the history and teaching of the nascent Church and clearly influenced its early development.

With today's rapid and varied styles of communication St. Paul would have a field day with his extensive contacts for the growth and development of the Church. The awesome ease of electronic communication would hold spellbound this inveterate letter writer of the New Testament and master evangelizer.

However, the demanding and rigorous conditions of letter writing in St. Paul 's day in no way diminished his passion for this labor of love.

In the beginnings of Christianity the "city churches" communicated with Paul and other leaders of their time and with each other by letters. Unfortunately many of these letters have been lost. Some of Paul's letters are responses to letters he received, and in his letters he instructs, solves problems, and offers encouragement to the local Christian communities.

Elements of Letter Writing in Ancient Times

Just what did it take to write a letter in the era of the New Testament's formation? The biographical study, Paul the Apostle, published in the mid-19th century by the noted Italian scholar Giuseppe Ricciotti, details some aspects of ancient letter writing.

Usually letters were written on parchment, which was worked leather, or on papyrus. Papyrus was a composition of thin, crossed strips of an Egyptian river reed. It varied in thickness and smoothness, and was formed into sheets measuring about 10 or 12 inches wide. Neither parchment nor papyrus offered the smooth writing surface we expect in paper today.

A pen was made from a split reed or a goose quill. The sticky ink was a mixture of carbon and glue or gum. With rough quality papyrus writ­ing was very difficult and the scribe struggled intently to form each letter.

With a short letter, such as Paul's message to Philemon (25 verses), the finished letter was folded, then sealed with wax or pitch. The name of the intended receiver was written on the outside along with the name of the bearer and the intermediate stops. A long letter would be rolled and enclosed in a sealed envelope, or wrapped in another sheet of papyrus, then tied with a small cord and sealed.

Composing and Handwriting

The actual composition and writing of the letter posed some difficulty. Determining the content of the message, plus the length of the text, required considerable effort, writing space, and time. On average each papyrus sheet held about 140 words. To write three syllables required about one minute, and an hour's work produced about 72 words.

St. Paul's earliest letter, the oldest text in the New Testament, is the First Letter to the Thessalonians. Scholars estimate that this required about 11 sheets of papyrus and 20 hours of writing. His letter to the Romans, his longest, needed 50 sheets and 100 hours to complete. His shortest letter con­tains 335 words to Philemon, but required three sheets and more than four hours. Letter writing was not an easy task. But it was a labor of love.

Because writing was a tedious task, only two or three hours in a working day could be devoted to a letter. It is estimated that the Letter to the Romans must have occupied Paul and his secre­tary at least 32 days at three hours a day, or a maximum of 49 days at two hours a day.

The Mechanics of Writing Influenced the Understanding

These approximate calculations hold special importance for a correct interpretation and understanding of St. Paul 's letters. Apparent interruptions in the development of thought, abrupt transitions, and repetition complicate Paul's theological reflections and exhortations. Considering the time involved in actually composing and writing, and factoring in postponements and interruptions, no wonder Paul's content and style are not always easy to follow or to read aloud.

Another New Testament letter writer, St. Peter, admitted frankly that in the letters of "our beloved brother Paul . . . there are some things hard to understand" (2 Peter 3:15-16).

Recalling the Purpose and Value of Letter Writing

Reviewing these conditions might serve as a reminder for us about the importance of letter writing. This seems to be a lost art among most of the young. The known effects of a handwritten or typed personal letter are remarkable. We are not all like St. Paul , but we do have the ability and oppor­tunity to cheer, con­sole, cajole, congratulate, and encourage each other. Letter writing is a valuable apostolic venture, and an effective tool for promoting justice and peace. Remember that St. Paul inspired and supported Church vocations by his letters to Timothy and Titus, and in all his letters exhorted all the baptized to be faithful to their baptismal consecration.

Writing a personal letter is a wonderful and warm expression of thoughtfulness and courtesy and appreciation. Writing to civil leaders, social organizations, and businesses can produce improvements for society. Letter writing is an inspired apostolate of expressing God's love for us, and our love for one another. Let's take a page from St. Paul and renew this practice in our own lives.

 

Proclamation and Preparation

After the proclamation of the Year of Saint Paul by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, Patriarch Gregorios III and his Vicar General, Archbishop Joseph (Absi) went to the President of the Syrian Arab Republic, Doctor Bashar al Assad to inform him officially about the year and to ask what could be done. His Excellency's reaction was very positive and he offered help in every way, especially from the Ministries of Tourism, Information and others.

The Patriarch wrote a letter in readiness for the Opening of the Year (see the Patriarchal website) to all his bishops, priests and laity in Syria and around the world outlining the plans for the forthcoming year and explaining its spiritual significance.

Opening the Year

The year was opened by His Holiness in Rome. Patriarch Gregorios wished to take part in it personally and to represent Damascus and Syria. So on the evening of 28 June 2008 he attended Solemn Vespers in the Basilica of Saint Paul-without-the-Walls, where Cardinal di Montezemolo is Archpriest. The Pope celebrated Vespers with the participation of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at his side.

In Damascus there was the usual official annual celebration of the Feast of the Holy Apostles at Tel Kawkab, the place of the risen Lord's appearance to Saint Paul. The three Patriarchs (Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Syrian Orthodox) took part in it, Patriarch Gregorios being represented by his Patriarchal Vicar, Archbishop Joseph (Absi). Also present was the Minister of the Awqaf, Muhammad abd-as-Sattar as-Sayyid, and the Grand Mufti of Syria Shaykh Muhammad Badr Hassoun. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ignatios IV (Hazim) spoke, then the Mufti and the Minister.

In Rome, Patriarch Gregorios contacted Cardinal di Montezemolo, (with whom he had maintained a friendship since the latter's time as Papal Nuncio in Jerusalem ) and also the Italian Episcopal Conference, since he knew that an exhibition was being prepared for the Pauline Year. He also was in contact with Mr. Motta for all news relating to Saint Paul and with the review Paulus, founded for the occasion.

The Year takes Shape

After the opening of the year, Patriarch Gregorios sent a letter to all churches under his jurisdiction, giving guidance to their clergy on celebrating the year. (The text was published in Arabic. Ten recommendations for clergy and people were also published in English on the Patriarchal website and on the website of the Eparchy of Newton.) During the year, priests were advised to preach on the Epistle rather than on the Gospel.

In Damascus a committee was set up, presided over by Archimandrite Antoine Mousleh. The committee did all in its power during the year to arrange processions in Straight Street, especially in the vicinity of the Eastern Gate (Bab Sharqi), Saint Ananias' and the Pauline quarter of the Old City. Several parishes held their own processions, always kindly assisted by a police presence. For several months, the committee also published a little monthly bulletin which from time to time carried a word from the Patriarch, who would take an Epistle and choose verses that seemed most relevant to people. Inside the bulletin would be an article headed, Letter of Saint Paul to the Damascenes, in which were set out the main ideas from some Pauline theme found in the Epistles. Thus, the people of Damascus were addressed in the name of Saint Paul by writers hidden by the Apostle. Also inside the bulletin were the Holy Father's discourses and other information on Saint Paul 's life and on related events worldwide.

Walks of Witness

On the evening of Tuesday 23 September 2008, in the old city of Damascus, some 2,500 pilgrims took part in a walk in honor of Saint Paul as part of the celebrations for the Year dedicated to the Apostle of the Gentiles.

The walk, headed by Patriarch Gregorios III, included eleven stations, while meditations, prayers and chants accompanied the way from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch as far as the Melkite Greek Catholic Chapel of Saint Paul-on-the-Wall, via Straight Street and the Eastern Gate (Bab Sharqi.)

The meditations focused on the conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, his baptism in Damascus by Saint Ananias and the faith of the first Christians of Damascus.

The walkers were welcomed on their arrival at the Eastern Gate, by the unfurling of a giant canvas portrait of the Apostle, depicting his return to Damascus, after his flight into the Arabian wilderness (the present day Syrian district of Hauran.)

Syrian television covered the walk, accompanied as it was by choral groups and bands from the city's different Christian communities and by firework displays.

At the conclusion of the walk, in the big square that separates the Chapel of Saint Paul-on-the-Wall from the adjacent children's home and old people's home, the walkers could view on a giant hoarding the different designer posters produced by the Syrian Ministry of Tourism for the Year of Saint Paul.

A brief address from Patriarch Gregorios III closed this walk of witness, which was also part of the celebrations of Damascus, Capital of Arab Culture 2008 – a culture that is both Christian and Muslim.

The next walk in honour of Saint Paul took place on 30 September in Damascus, on the eve of the feast of Saint Ananias, first bishop of the city.

Damascus Conference (23-25 April)

One very important event during the year was the Damascus Conference on Saint Paul held from 23-25 April, Reading Paul from the East.

Scholars from the Middle East, the United States of America, Great Britain and the Netherlands took part in the conference, which was held under the auspices of the Franciscan Centre of Oriental Studies in Cairo, Syriaca, University of Padua, Italy and the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate.

The following program appears with grateful acknowledgment to the website of the Custodie de Terre Sainte:

The conference was held at the Patriarchate where the Patriarch gave a lecture entitled Paul and the Dialogue of Cultures in the Middle East. (The text of the lecture was published in Arabic, and will soon appear in print in French and English. At present it can be read in English on the Patriarchal website.)

On the 25 April, as the conference closed, there was the formal opening of Mr. Eugenio dal Pane's exhibition on Saint Paul, sent courtesy of the Episcopal Conference of Italy.

It so happened that the 26 April was the fourth anniversary of the Holy Father's pontificate, so there was a Liturgy followed by a reception at the Patriarchate in Damascus, which gave the opportunity to ambassadors and other guests from various countries to see the exhibition.

Syrian Films and Exhibitions

Besides the exhibition, there was a very good film on Saint Paul, made by Syrian television and the Syrian Ministry of Tourism, and shot in all the places relating to Paul's life.

There was also a fine art exhibition from the collection of Mr. Salah Muhammad, showing sixty or so significant pictures, portraits and icons of Saint Paul from around the world. Similarly, the Ministry of Tourism produced three posters on Saint Paul, one showing the Pauline places in Damascus, the second, some of the world's most beautiful paintings of Saint Paul, while the third shows the Orthodox Institute of Saint Paul at Tel Kawkab, presented by the Russian Church to the Church of Antioch.

At the Patriarchate, there was created a very beautiful poster that has become well known, entitled Syria, the Cradle of Christianity, showing an icon of the Apostle against the background of Saint Paul-on-the-Wall (Bab Kisan), and surrounded by four medallions showing the scenes from his conversion, while below is the caption, Damascus, City of Saint Paul, Apostle to the Nations. (All the wording on the poster has been translated into English and German and can be seen on the Patriarchal website.)

Patriarch Gregorios was able to show the posters during the Episcopal Synod in Rome in October 2008. They were sent to many envoys, in many embassies. The Ministry of Tourism sent out hundreds of them to various places.

Then there was the well-known film, Damascus, produced by Agape Films, a special institution founded by Pastor Jamal Makar. The film received its world premiere, presided over by Patriarch Gregorios III, on 30 March at the Damascus Opera and was subsequently shown in different parishes in Damascus, other Syrian eparchies, and in Jordan and in Lebanon.

On 16 May, the same film received its European premiere in the Vatican in the Augustinianum, in the presence of His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregorios, Pastor Makar, Cardinal di Montezemolo and three other Cardinals together with representatives from eighty different embassies and countries – a splendid occasion.

So it can be said that Syria did a great deal for this Year of Saint Paul.

Four Patriarchal Letters

The Patriarch also wrote four letters during the Pauline Year: that of Christmas 2008, "For to me, to live is Christ," which mentions how the conversion of Saint Paul gave him a direction in life and a sense of mission.

The second letter, for Lent 2009, "I am crucified with Christ," aims to explain how life in Christ is not easy, but is really a way of the cross, but with Christ.

The third letter, for Pascha "…Ye be risen with Christ," demonstrates how the way of the cross does not end with the cross but with the resurrection and that just as we participate in the resurrection, so we have to enable people, our fellow-citizens, to participate in the resurrection.

Fourthly and lastly, is the letter for the Closure of the Pauline Year, The Collaborators of Saint Paul, in which the Patriarch collected about a hundred names of those whom the Apostle called to collaborate with him, in order to show the importance in apostolic work of all categories of people, mostly laymen and women, and how they too are called to continue that work. (These letters, as well as being published in Arabic, have been translated into English and French and can be found on the Patriarchal website.)

The Closure Month

So we come to the month of June, for which a leaflet containing the whole programme was produced. The Synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church opened with an introductory talk from Bishop Issam (Darwish) of Australia on the characteristics of Saint Paul 's personality.

Then, still on the Pauline theme, there was the annual retreat, (9-12 June) for the priests of Damascus, at which the Patriarch presented his four letters, which enabled the priests of the Eparchy, with the Patriarchal Vicar, really to share, communicate and meditate together on Saint Paul.

On Sunday, 7 June, at six in the evening, the Patriarch, accompanied by the Patriarchal Vicar, and the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Mario Zenari and Archbishop Nicholas (Sambra) from America and Archbishop Issam (Darwish) and some priests from Damascus celebrated in the town of Mismiyeh in the Hauran, being officially received by Archbishop Boulos (Borkhosh), Metropolitan of Hauran and Jabal al Arab and a crowd of faithful, with all the priests of the Eparchy (some twenty). Also present for the official reception was a representative of the Governor of Dara al Swayda. Both at the celebration of the Liturgy in church and afterwards outside in the square there were about four thousand faithful. The place that commemorates Saint Paul 's stay is called Koum Khaled. There were some beautiful banners there, both religious, on Saint Paul, and national. The Patriarch explained the meaning of the Pauline celebrations and (as in his letters) the meaning for Paul's life of his three-year stay in the Hauran and Mismiyeh, during which the Apostle recapitulated the whole Old Testament with a new vision. Archbishop Boulos said a word of welcome. This ceremony thus opened the final month of celebrations of the Pauline Year.

Monday, 8 June at six in the evening the Patriarch, with the Patriarchal Vicar and the parish priest, Father George (Jbeil) and other priests with the faithful celebrated Vespers in the church of Saint Joseph in Tabbaleh in Damascus. Afterwards, souvenir key-rings showing icons of Saint Paul and the Theotokos were distributed. Then they all went in procession from the Church of Saint Joseph to the church at the Memorial Saint Paul, in the care of the Franciscan Fathers. The police accompanied the procession, during which hymns were sung and meditations on the life of Saint Paul were read at each station. The Franciscan Father Romualdo (Fernández) received the pilgrims at the Memorial Saint Paul as they prayed and sang in the church and gave them an explanation about the meaning of the Memorial, which was constructed on the occasion of the visit of Pope Paul VI to the Holy Land in 1964. He also explained the different routes that Saint Paul may have taken from Jerusalem to Damascus. As Father Romualdo spoke in Spanish, the Patriarch translated into Arabic. Afterwards there was a hymn and final blessing.

Friday, 19 June was a big day since at six in the evening there was a celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the patriarchal school at Mleiha in Damascus and the young people from the catechetical classes and their directors participated at their Solemn Communion together with Youth groups, Scouts, Faith and Light groups of handicapped people and other pastoral movements in the Eparchy. In all there were about eighteen hundred persons. The title given to the occasion was Meeting of the Children of Damascus with the Lord Jesus and with the Apostle Paul. To all there were distributed tee-shirts, showing two Saint Paul medallions with the slogan "For to me, to live is Christ," and Saint Paul hats and scarves. All received little souvenir images showing Saint Paul with the background of Saint Paul-on-the-Wall (Bab Kisan). All those were offered by Mr. Kheirallah Khouli, a benefactor of the Church.

The Patriarch, the Patriarchal Vicar and the priests were received by the young people with a great ovation and a speech was given by the Patriarch on The Way of Saint Paul, by analogy with the way of the cross. What the Patriarch calls Saint Paul's way begins with Saint Paul's vision at the place of the appearance on his way to Damascus from Jerusalem, then Straight Street and the House of Ananias, the flight down from the wall, the cave at the Memorial Saint Paul, leading thence to the desert. That is the way of the cross, or Saint Paul 's way in Damascus. The Patriarch above all thanked the Damascenes and especially the President of the Republic who really wished to make this Jubilee a feast for Damascus and Syria. At the end of the celebration refreshments were handed out and sweets distributed. Then a popular dance was held as all rejoiced, like true children of Saint Paul.

On Saturday, 20 June, at about six in the evening, there was a celebration at the same school for all the confraternities for men and women of the Patriarchal Eparchy with the Legio Mariae, about one thousand people in all, who all participated in the Divine Liturgy, with the Patriarch, the Patriarchal Vicar and the priests of the Eparchy. The Patriarch, in his talk, again emphasised the way of Saint Paul and the role, especially of parents – since husbands and wives in the confraternities were present – in keeping the deposit of faith in their children, as Saint Paul did with Timothy, and for continuing too as families to be collaborators in the mission of Saint Paul. Just as Paul needed collaborators, the clergy today need collaborators too, from among the lay-people, the sons and daughters of the Church in Damascus. At the end, refreshments were served and souvenir photos and Saint Paul tee-shirts, hats and scarves distributed. A dance by the young people followed.

On Sunday, 21 at six in the evening there was a celebration unconnected with Saint Paul, at Saint Cyril's at Qasaa, as the patronal feast of the church had been postponed from 9 June to that day. Patriarch Gregorios presided, accompanied by the Patriarchal Vicar and by Archimandrite John Faraj, Superior General of the Basilian Order of the Holy Saviour, since the Salvatorian Basilian Fathers run that parish's pastoral service (Father Joseph Lajin, Father George ‘Abboud and Father Tony AbouArraj.) The Patriarch on that occasion issued a decree to enable those priests of Damascus who wish to wear the cross of the Patriarchal Eparchy of Damascus without the archimandrite's veil to do so – a token of recognition for the work of the Salvatorian Fathers in the Eparchy's parishes.

On Thursday, 25 in the evening there was a celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the Melkite Chapel of Saint Paul-on-the-Wall, Damascus, which is always visited by pilgrims and where there is a beautiful statue of Saint Paul, given some time ago by Mgr. Pierrino Gelmini. The Patriarch was accompanied by the Patriarchal Vicar, some priests and many faithful, especially the Aleppine Sisters and the Council of the centre, who sought to commemorate Saint Paul in the best way, since close by the sanctuary is a small orphanage for thirty orphans and an old people's home, also for thirty, run by this patriarchal commission and the Aleppine Sisters. So the Liturgy to celebrate this place was held a little in advance of its usual feast day, 29 June. There too the Patriarch presented The Way of Saint Paul, to make known the places and their spiritual meaning to the sons and daughters of the Damascus Church. The Patriarch invited the faithful present (as he had at all the other celebrations) to come and take part in the final triduum of the Year of Saint Paul.

By 26 June delegates from fourteen countries had arrived – from Austria, Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, the Maghreb, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Scotland, Spain, and Ukraine. The Patriarch had invited the delegates of thirty Episcopal Conferences which responded by sending about forty people to represent those conferences and their countries. Heading the delegations was the representative of the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, who had decided to send extraordinary delegates in his name to seven different places. The delegate for Damascus was Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, Archbishop of Madrid and President of the Spanish Episcopal Conference. With him came another Cardinal, Cardinal Martínez Sistach, Archbishop of Barcelona and Vice-President of the Spanish Episcopal Conference. (In fact, he practically represented the Conference, since Cardinal Varela represented the Holy Father.) In the evening, then, the Cardinal, as Envoy of the Holy Father, was officially received by the Patriarch, the Patriarchal Vicar and the Apostolic Nuncio and by representatives of the Ministries of Tourism and of the Awqaf and by the Mufti of Damascus. The Ministry of Tourism placed at the Patriarchate's disposal two coaches to receive the delegates, with two guides, speaking English and French, to accompany the delegates during the three days of celebrations.

The delegates were accommodated in two hotels, Bayt Zaman and Bayt Rose, which are both in the Old City, on Straight Street. So the delegates were able to feel physically the holy places associated with Saint Paul, between Bab Touma and Bab Sharqi, not far from Saint Ananias' Chapel, Saint Paul-on-the-Wall and the Melkite Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox Patriarchates and the Syrian Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Latin and Maronite Bishoprics which are all in the Old City. The Patriarchate funded the delegates' stay and some of their meals were offered courtesy of Khayrat Kheirullah while other meals were also offered free of charge.

On the evening of 26, the Syrian National Symphony gave a concert at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Damascus attended by those delegates who had already arrived.

The Final Triduum

So we arrive at the final triduum of the Pauline Year.

On 27 June at 8a.m. the Cardinal presided at the celebration of the Latin Mass in Saint Ananias' Chapel. All the delegates (about forty of them) took part, together with the Patriarch and the Patriarchal Vicar and some priests of the Eparchy. Then the Patriarch spoke, as did the Cardinal. (The latter's talks are available in Spanish and French.)

After a meal at the hotel, at 10:30a.m. the delegates were welcomed by Scouts in the courtyard of the Patriarchate, which was adorned by the flags of the delegates' various countries. There was a short service in the Cathedral to open the conference and explain a little about the Patriarchal Church.

Then followed the study session Paul and Damascus, led by the Patriarch, based on his lecture given during the Conference Reading Paul from the East. He especially wished to set out the rich heritage of Paul, his cultural pluralism and the fact that his spiritual legacy remains till now as a deposit in the hands of the Middle East's Christians and a mission given to the Christian faithful in Syria and other Arab countries for them to continue this multicultural presentation of faith there. In his presentation, the Patriarch wished to emphasise the relationship between cultures in Saint Paul 's day and in our own time in Syria and how Christians are called to continue that enculturation of faith. We could conclude thus: that the triduum and celebration of the Year of Saint Paul is a continuation of the celebration of Damascus, Capital of Arab Culture 2008.

The second session was on Christian Remains in Syria, given in English by Mr. Abdullah Hajjar of Aleppo, which set out the very important sites for historic Christian culture in Syria and how they constitute the vestiges of Christian presence since the first years of Christianity in Syria.

At noon the delegates left Damascus by coach to go to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Theotokos at Saydnaya where they were received by Bishop Ghattas (Hazim), representing Patriarch Ignatios IV (Hazim) and by the Abbess of the Monastery and the many faithful present. They visited the church where the nuns sang a welcoming hymn and Eis polla eti for the Patriarch, the Cardinal and the other bishops. The visitors venerated the holy place, a little cave dedicated to the Mother of God, where they were anointed with holy oil and prayed in Latin and Arabic.

They were invited to dine at Janna Saydnaya, the meal being offered by the owners of the restaurant, Elie Maari and Elie Rahhal. The delegates were delighted to see the big variety of rich Arabic dishes at the restaurant.

After that at about four in the afternoon they arrived at Maaloula, where the priests, Father Faris and Father Tawfiq welcomed them. Other priests accompanied the visitors from the entrance to the town and there was folk singing and dancing. The Scouts were there too and singing in Aramean until the visitors arrived at the parish Church of Saint George, where they were welcomed in for prayers. The Cardinal said a few words, as he had earlier at the Church of Saydnaya. Then they briefly visited the very beautiful little church of Saint Leontius (Lawandios) and the little Monastery of Repentance, both of which were stations on the pilgrim way to Jerusalem.

The delegates then visited the Greek Catholic Monastery of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, which belongs to the Order of the Holy Saviour. There they listened to Aramean chant and Father Tawfiq explained the history of the church and the icons. The Our Father was recited in Arabic and Aramean and Greek and then the Patriarch invited three delegates to say it too, each in his own language. This was very beautiful and witnessed by a little group of faithful there.

On returning to Damascus, everyone gathered at the Patriarchate at about seven in the evening to go in the two coaches to the al Assad Opera, where at eight there was a concert, with the participation of six choral groups from different Christian communities in Damascus, singing religious songs in different languages used in church: Syriac, Aramean, Chaldean, Greek, Assyrian, Arabic, Armenian and Latin. Present in an official capacity was the Vice-President of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Also present were the Patriarch, the Patriarchal Vicar and other bishops from different communities, priests, monks and nuns, so the Opera was full to capacity with one thousand two hundred persons. Between one hundred to one hundred and fifty members of the press were there, (as for the Opening of the Year) invited by the Ministry of Tourism, which also paid for their tickets and stay. At the end of the concert, the Patriarch congratulated the choirs and gave a present - the Patriarchate's poster for the Pauline Year in a framed mosaic - to the Cardinal representing the Pope. The Cardinal replied. The Patriarch gave a presents also to the Vice-President of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Faisal Mikdad and to Mr. Shadi Tharwi who organised the concert.

Mr. Kheirallah Khouli, the great benefactor of the Pauline Year, invited the group to an excellent evening meal. (He had also organised the Christmas Carnival on 23 December, 2008 with a big parade on the Damascus road from 6-9p.m of 3500 Scouts, for whom he provided festive clothing.)

On the morning of Sunday 28 June, there was a Mass at the Franciscan Memorial Saint Paul, presided over by Cardinal Rouco Varela and assisted by the Latin Bishop, Nazzaro. The Patriarch was present and gave a short speech of welcome.

Afterwards the delegates went back to the Patriarchate to continue with the study session. At eleven was the talk The Church in Syria Today in which the Patriarch explained something of relations between Christian groups and Christian-Muslim relations, freedom of conscience and freedom of worship, catechism, the personal statute – everything concerning inter-Christian and Christian-Muslim relations in Arab and Muslim countries.

Then there was a presentation on the Church in Damascus, with different contributions at a round table. Mgr. Samir Nassar gave a presentation on the Maronite Church and Mgr. Joseph Arnaouti on the Armenian Church, Mgr. Joseph Tabi on the Syrian Catholic Church and Mgr. Joseph Absi the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Syria. As the day before, the attention had been focused on the time of Saint Paul and Damascus and the ancient remains of Christianity in Syria, the aim of this day was to look at the Church in Syria today which is still very much alive. So the subject of discussion was today's Church, with its faithful, the schools, clinics, different youth movements, leagues, religious confraternities and so on. At the end of the study session the Patriarch presented different gifts to the delegates and gave a brief talk on Saint Paul and Damascus, stressing the importance of Damascus to the celebration of the whole year.

At 1p.m., the delegates dined at the restaurant and were ready by half-past three in the afternoon to meet at the entrance to the Great Umayyad Mosque. There they were welcomed officially by the Minister of the Awqaf, Muhammad abd-as-Sattar as-Sayyid, together with about twenty shaykhs. In the great hall of the mosque the Minister gave a short speech of welcome to the Cardinal representing the Holy Father, and to the Patriarch and those in attendance, the Patriarchal Vicar, about twenty priests from Damascus and to the delegates. The Cardinal replied to the Minister in a prepared speech. The Patriarch rounded off the exchange with a spiritual word on the meaning of the place and of the meeting and ended by reading Saint Paul 's hymn to love. (I Corinthians 13)

Then the Cardinal, Patriarch and all the delegates went inside the mosque to the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. After a moment of silent prayer, the Minister recited some verses of the venerable Qur'an on the subject of Saint John the Baptist's birth, then the priests recited litanies to which everyone replied by singing, "Kyrie eleison," three times. Then the Patriarch closed with the great litany of Vespers and everyone sang the hymn of the Holy Cross, "Save thy people…" An explanation was given, a tour of the mosque was made and the party left to continue their walk.

They crossed Straight Street to the wonder of the folk on that over-crowded street, and went towards the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Dormition. They were received at the cathedral by two bishops. There they venerated the icons, the Gospel Book on the altar, lit candles and sang a hymn to the Virgin. The bishops gave a little explanation after which everyone went to the reception hall of the Patriarchate. His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatios IV (Hazim) received them in very friendly fashion and informal greetings were exchanged.

Then the delegates returned to their hotels, emerging at about six thirty in the evening to go, led by the Cardinal and the Patriarch, to Tel Kawkab, the traditional Orthodox site of Jesus' appearance to Saint Paul. Vespers were celebrated with the participation of a great crowd of faithful of all denominations. At the end, there was a formal speech from Patriarch Ignatios IV, the Grand Mufti of Syria, Muhammad Badr el-Din Hassoun and the Minister of Tourism.

At nine in the evening Mr. Muhammad abd-as-Sattar as-Sayyid greatly honoured the Cardinal, the Patriarch, some bishops and priests from Damascus, the members of the delegations and some shaykhs by taking them to a fine open air restaurant not far from Ebla, the exhibition centre of Damascus. Throughout the meal, the choir from the Ummayyad Mosque sang religious and national songs and the dervishes danced for the group, gyrating around them – an extraordinary sight. The delegates returned to their hotels at midnight.

On Monday 29 June, after some free time, the Patriarch and Patriarchal Vicar, with some priests, together with the Cardinal and about thirty of the delegates, were received at the presidential palace by the President of the Syrian Arab Republic, Doctor Bashar al Assad. The President gave a short speech of welcome, stressing the importance of dialogue and living together in the country as Christian and Muslim fellow-citizens, the importance of citizenship and the importance of Christianity in the country's culture. The Cardinal also spoke from a prepared text in Spanish, while the Patriarch did his best to provide the translation into English and French in the presence of the President and the delegates. The Cardinal particularly thanked Syria and its President for all that they did during the Pauline Year to make it such an exceptionally enjoyable time. Responding to the Cardinal's conveying the Holy Father's greetings, the President charged him with taking his greetings to the Holy Father together with an invitation to visit Syria.

After the midday meal, all returned to the hotels.

In the afternoon at about four fifteen, the delegates reassembled in the courtyard of the Patriarchate. The Patriarchate and the surrounding streets were decorated by the flags of the delegations, by country and by some banners welcoming the delegates in Arabic and English, with other banners of Saint Paul. From the courtyard of the Patriarchate they went out in procession, dressed in their respective liturgical vestments, whether Eastern or Western. The clergy entered in procession with the Scouts amidst the flags of the different communities. All the squares around the Cathedral were filled with seating in front of television screens so that people could follow the Liturgy taking place inside the Cathedral.

For the Divine Liturgy, there concelebrated the Patriarch, the Patriarchal Vicar, Metropolitan Jean (Jeanbart), Archbishops Issam (Darwish) and Isidore (Battikha) and two Romanian Greek Catholic Bishops, Virgil (Bercea) and Florentin (Crihalmeanu), thirty-one priests of the Damascus Eparchy and others from other eparchies, accompanied by the singing of three choirs. These were: Mr. Bassam ‘Abboud and the choir of Saint Gregory the Theologian from the Patriarchate, the choir of Saint Cyril's, directed by Mr. Wissam and a youth choir. Then the Scouts accompanied and organized everything. As the Liturgy began, the Cardinal was on the parathrone. The delegate bishops were all seated, as were the bishops from Damascus, including Syrian Catholic and Armenian Catholic and there was translation from Arabic to Spanish. Also present were the Greek, Armenian and Syrian Orthodox, so all Christian communities were there.

The Liturgy began in Arabic and Greek. During the Little and Great Entrances, children celebrating their Solemn Communion this year accompanied the processions, carrying their own copies of the New Testament, or other symbols. The Gospel was read in Arabic and Aramean by deacon-elect Sleiman Kalloumeh.

Afterwards, the Cardinal gave a sermon in Spanish translated into Arabic by Mgr. Joseph Arnaouti. The Cardinal especially thanked everyone and was delighted at the brotherly atmosphere and the fact of the different religions living together and the shared Muslim-Christian life, especially under the guidance of the President of the Republic. The Patriarch also gave a sermon about Saint Paul and his collaborators, showing how Saint Paul is not saying farewell but bidding today's Christians to continue his mission. (His words can be found on the Patriarchal website in English, French and Arabic.) Towards the end, the Our Father was recited in Arabic, Greek and Aramean.

During communion, the choirs who had sung at the Opera sang again in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Aramean, Chaldean, Assyrian and Armenian. The Patriarch gave the final blessing and the choir sang the Polychronion for the Pope after which the Cardinal gave his final blessing.

There followed a big procession on this day of Closure. All went out, the confraternities with their flags, Scouts, singers with loudspeakers, some six to eight thousand people, with hymns, prayers, Christian folk-songs, stopping at different stations to commemorate Saint Paul, at the entrance to the Patriarchate, in front of the minaret of the little mosque, then outside the Syrian Catholic church, the Armenian Orthodox church, opposite Saint Ananias' Chapel, then by the Eastern Gate (Bab Sharqi). At this last place there were more prayers and hymns. The police accompanied the whole procession and the Scouts lowered down from the wall a big picture, showing Saint Paul returning to Damascus to remain there always. There followed a firework display. The walk continued outside the walls, with Scouts, singing, prayers, still with the police accompanying as far as the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate's Chapel called Saint Paul-on-the-Wall, at which point the procession came to an end. The Patriarch and Cardinal gave the blessing and thanked all in Syria, beginning with the President of the Republic, who participated in celebrating that year.

A small meal was offered in the orphanage, presented by the committee which runs the establishment. After that, all went by coach to the Citadel of Damascus, which is just by the entrance to the mosque. At the entrance, the Minister for Tourism Saadallah al Qallah al Agha and the representative of the Ministry of the Awqaf welcomed the party. The Patriarch was invited to give a speech to open the evening, which he did, concluding with chanting the hymn to love from the thirteenth chapter of Saint Paul 's First Epistle to the Corinthians - a first in the history of the citadel. After that, the Minister for Tourism spoke a word of welcome to the delegates to explain all that his ministry had done in the course of the year to celebrate Saint Paul, especially as there was about a half million more visitors than usual because of the Pauline Year. Both the Patriarch and the Minister agreed that no other State and Church had done more to celebrate Saint Paul than had Syria 's. The Minister thanked the President of the Republic for the success of this Pauline Jubilee in Syria and the Patriarch for all his efforts to present the year as a continuation of the year of Damascus, Capital of Arab Culture. He thanked him too for inviting the delegates from Episcopal Conferences throughout the world to come and participate in Saint Paul. Saint Paul went out from Damascus into the whole world and the world came to Damascus to celebrate Saint Paul.

After that, came the event which was a great surprise – a ballet arranged and performed by the theatrical company Ornina and representing the life of Saint Paul – very beautiful and impressive. The ballet begins with the persecution of Christians by Saint Paul, then shows his conversion, and baptism on stage in the theatre, when Ananias baptizes him, saying in Arabic, "I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one only God. Amen." It continues by showing all the stages of the life of Saint Paul and his global mission. It also touches upon the Christian-Muslim religious aspect, the political aspect with Damascus and the importance of Syria and above all, of peace in the region. After that, came an address from the Cardinal. Then thanks were exchanged, the Minister took his leave and the Patriarch said farewell to the delegates because that very night he had to leave Damascus to go to Ain Traz, Lebanon.

On the 30 June, the Patriarchal Vicar was left to accompany the delegates, saying his farewells and seeing them to the airport.

Thanksgiving

So let us thank the Lord for the beautiful ending to the Year of Saint Paul! In some small way we have repaid a little of our debt to Saint Paul. Damascus enriched Saint Paul and Paul Damascus. The faith of the first Christians drew Saul the persecutor to Damascus and Paul made Damascus famous throughout the world, by everywhere and always speaking in his Epistles about his experience of having met at Damascus the Lord, risen from the dead, who gave him his mission. Since this meeting with Jesus, Damascus speaks always of Paul and of Jesus. May Damascus, Syria and their Christians continue with Saint Paul 's mission!

Account by Patriarch Gregorios III of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church

July 2009

Translated from the French by V. Chamberlain

 

On Sunday 7th. June, in the evening, His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III, together with four bishops, celebrated the Divine Liturgy at Mismiyeh, where Saint Paul is traditionally thought to have stayed during his three years spent in the Hauran wilderness, meditating on his experience of Christ and working as a tent-maker. Some four thousand people, including troops of scouts, attended the Liturgy.

In the evening of Monday 8th. June, His Beatitude led a pilgrimage, accompanied by prayers and hymns, from the Melkite Greek Catholic Church of Saint Joseph, Damascus, to the sanctuary of Memorial Saint Paul, not far from Bab Sharqi, where he presided at a service initiated by the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate. The Memorial, which is in the care of the Franciscans, was founded by the late Pope Paul VI after his pilgrimage to the Holy Land and his fraternal meeting with the late Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964. The grotto in the garden of the Memorial is traditionally venerated as the place where Saint Paul rested after escaping in a basket down from the walls of the city.

V.C.

Closure of the Year of Saint Paul - Damascus Program

(26-30 June 2009)

Friday 26 June 2009
Delegations arrive. Accommodation in two hotels in the Old City
2000 Concert by the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchal Cathedral
Saturday 27 June
0800 Holy Mass in the Church of Saint Ananias
0930 Hotel breakfast
1030-1230 Study sessions in the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate on the following topics:
  • Paul, spiritual son of Damascus
  • Christian remains in Syria : churches and other ancient buildings
1230 Departure for Saidnaya (visiting the Greek Orthodox monastery of the Mother of God) and Maaloula (visiting the Greek Catholic Monastery of Saints Sergius and Bacchus) Restaurant lunch
2000 Recital of Christian music at the Damascus Opera, by different communities in indigenous languages
2200 Dinner at a villa on the Damascus hills
Sunday 28 June
0700-0900 Holy Mass at the Memorial Saint Paul
0930-1015 Hotel breakfast
1030-1230 Study session in the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate:
  • The Church in Syria today (round table)
1300 Restaurant lunch
1500 Visit to the Umayyad Mosque and the Old City of Damascus (from Bab Touma to Bab Sharqi)
1700 Visit of His Beatitude Ignatius IV (Hazim), Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch
1800 Vespers at the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Tel Kawkab in the presence of the Greek Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchs and of civil authorities
2100 Dinner hosted by the Minister of Awqaf (Islamic charitable endowments)
2215 Showing of the Syrian film on Saint Paul , Damascus, at the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate
Monday, 29 June
0830-900 Hotel breakfast
0915 Leaving Bab Sharqi for the audience granted by His Excellency the President of the Syrian Arab Republic (1000) to His Eminence Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, Envoy of the Holy Father, and the Representatives of the Episcopal Conferences
Free time
Restaurant lunch (if wished)
1700 Solemn Divine Liturgy in the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchal Cathedral of the Dormition, in the presence of His Eminence, Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela (Archbishop of Madrid and President of the Spanish Episcopal Conference), Representative of the Holy Father, of the Apostolic Nuncio, the Right Reverend Archbishop Mario Zenari and of Bishops of Syria and other countries (delegated by their Episcopal Conferences), then a procession to Saint Ananias' and Saint Paul-on-the-Wall. Patriarch's Sermon on the Closure of the Year of St. Paul
2000 Cocktail buffet at the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate
2100 Concert at the Citadel of Damascus
Tuesday, 30 June
Departure
 
Icon of Saint Paul Sermon of His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregorios III

June 29th 2009

On the Closure of the Year of Saint Paul

At the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Dormition

Damascus, Syria

Your Eminence Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela,

Personal Delegate of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop of Madrid, President of the Spanish Episcopal Conference,

Your Eminences, Your Beatitudes, Right Reverend Bishops,

Your Grace, Archbishop Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria,

Dear concelebrant bishops, priests and deacons of our Patriarchal Eparchy of Damascus,

Dear priests, monks and nuns,

Your Excellencies the Ambassadors,

Dear brothers and sisters,

To all of you:

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ."

(Romans 1: 7)

Introduction

At the end of this Year of Saint Paul dedicated to the Bimillennium of his birth, we are meeting in the context of a celebration of the Divine Liturgy to pray together - faithful of East and West, Church Pastors coming from eparchies of about twenty countries and Pastors of Damascus' Churches with their faithful from Catholic and Orthodox parishes.

We thank the Holy Saviour for the grace of this jubilee. We thank the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI who decided that this jubilee should be celebrated throughout the world. For his part, he decided to delegate our dear brother, His Eminence Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, Archbishop of Madrid, President of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, to take part in the Closure of this Pauline Year. We say to you, Ahlan wa sahlan, welcome, with our affection and gratitude.

In connection with your visit, His Holiness, Pope Benedict wrote, and I quote,

As the Year dedicated to Saint Paul is drawing to an end, we are pleased to send Cardinals to those places where that admirable herald of the Gospel of Christ lived and worked and which rightly deserve to be called Pauline Places. Among them, Syria has a special importance, since the Apostle, being near Damascus, saw the Lord, and then in that same city, preached Jesus for some days. (cf. Acts 9:5 and 19-20)

We thought of you, Venerable Brother, who head the Metropolitan Church of Madrid, and by these letters we appoint you Our Envoy Extraordinary to the celebrations of the Closure of the Year of Saint Paul which are to take place in Syria on 29 June next, during the solemn celebrations for the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. …

When in the presence of religious and civil authorities, you will take care to show them both the importance of the person and teaching of the Apostle to the Gentiles and his concern for the salvation of the whole human race.

In our name, you will greet all the Pastors of Syria and the other Hierarchs gathered there, the priests, monks and nuns and faithful lay-persons, encouraging them towards greater spiritual unity and convey to them our kind thoughts.

We thank their Eminences, Beatitudes, Right Reverend Bishops and reverend clergy who have kindly accepted our invitation. They represent the Episcopal Conferences of the following countries: Austria, Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, India, Italy, the Maghreb ( Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Western Sahara), Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Scotland, Spain and Ukraine.

We thank our brothers, their Excellencies the Pastors and bishops who head the Church in Damascus and Syria, in the unity of faith and the plurality of communities, languages and traditions: His Excellency, representative of His Beatitude Ignatius IV (Hazim), Greek Orthodox Patriarch, His Excellency, representative of His Holiness Zakka I (Iwas) Syriac Orthodox Patriarch and Their Excellencies, representatives of the Maronite, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Chaldean, and Latin Churches; their Excellencies from the Armenian Orthodox Church and the Assyrian Church – the latter representing our brothers and sisters from Iraq, numbering about one and a half million, whom Syria has welcomed, as have Churches in Damascus and Syria, which have done much to assist them in their tragic circumstances.

Thanks to all their Excellencies, their countries' Ambassadors present amongst us!

Our great gratitude goes to His Excellency, Doctor Bashar al-Assad, President of the Syrian Arab Republic. Thanks to his guidance this Jubilee of Saint Paul became a most remarkable, unique celebration for State and Church. I can say with great pride that the Syrian State has done more than any other to contribute to the success of this jubilee. Thanks to His Excellency, our beloved President and to his collaborators, especially from the Ministry of Tourism.

All that is but a part of the debt we owe to Saint Paul, spiritual son of Damascus. In fact there are three cities which are among the most important for keeping the memory of Saint Paul : Tarsus, Rome and Damascus.

Tarsus was his birthplace two thousand years ago, Rome the place of his martyrdom or blood baptism and Damascus the place of his encounter with Christ, risen from the dead, place of his conversion, baptism and election for his unique mission.

The Church sings this hymn in honour of Saints Peter and Paul: "What prison did not hold thee as prisoner? What Church does not have thee as preacher? Damascus takes pride in thee, Paul, for it saw thee cast to earth by light, Rome received thy blood and it too is filled with pride; but Tarsus rejoices more than all for it honours thy swaddling clothes. O Peter, rock of faith and thou, Paul, glory of the whole world, come forth together from Rome and strengthen us." (Hypakoë, Tone 8, of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, 29 June)

From Damascus, Paul went out into the world and preached his "gospel," that is to say, his letters (fourteen of them) through which he illustrated the richness of the proclamation of the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory. So Saint Paul became the Apostle to the Nations, the Apostle to the whole world.

Today the world is coming to Damascus to venerate Saint Paul in Damascus, which is the only place outside Palestine that the risen Lord appeared after his resurrection. In Damascus the first sizeable community was founded as early as the year 36 A.D. That is what enabled our Syrian President, Doctor Bashar al-Assad, to declare during the visit of His Holiness John Paul II to Syria in 2001, " Syria is the cradle of Christianity and the meeting place of civilisations." Saint Paul is the character who best integrated in himself those civilisations and cultures of the East.

Dear brothers and sisters!

Today the Church of Damascus welcomes you. Today your hosts are the descendants of Saint Paul 's godparents at his baptism by Saint Ananias, first Bishop of Damascus! You are welcomed today by the descendants of the first Christian community. Today, you are hosted by the Church of Antioch, Eastern capital of the Roman Empire and heir of the great riches of the Church, Greek, Syriac, Aramaic, Armenian and Arab. In fact we have present here today, pastors and faithful who still today in part pray and speak in various languages: Greek, Syriac, Aramean, Assyrian, Armenian and especially Arabic, which is the language of our Christian and Muslim culture and civilisation in Arab countries. That is the language and culture of approximately three hundred and forty million Christians and Muslims who together largely make up our countries in which they have been living together for fourteen hundred and thirty years – and that despite wars, invasions, tensions, crises and even persecutions.

You heard the faithful sing and pray their faith in different languages (some of them Saint Paul 's) on the evening of the twenty-seventh at the Opera. Those choirs are participating in our Closure Liturgy today, as we celebrate together our common faith that has been our ancestral possession from the time of Saint Paul, Apostle to the Nations!

I would like to mention especially the Hauran and the village of Mismiyeh where Saint Paul stayed, not just for some days but for three years, as he tells us himself. (See Acts p.1450 note d and Epistle to the Galatians 1:17-18 p.1537 of the Jerusalem Bible.)

Those three years were Saint Paul 's monastic novitiate of ascesis, meditation and prayer, like that of the prophets who preceded him and the monks who founded after him in Syria many monasteries, of which the remains still exist to this day.

During those three years of solitude in the Hauran, Paul succeeded, by the grace of the Lord Jesus who appeared to him on the road, in unifying everything in Christ: he unified both Testaments, the Old and the New, making them one, breaking down the "wall of partition[1]." Saint Paul enabled Christianity to breathe with both lungs – the Old and the New Testaments which form the great heritage of Christianity and of humanity unified in Jesus Christ.

Today the Eastern and Western Church is breathing together in these holy celebrations. Yes, indeed, the Church breathes with both Eastern and Western lungs, because of your presence with us, dear brothers representing the different Episcopal Conferences of the Christian world, alongside the Pastors of the Church of Damascus and Syria, Church of the Christian East.

Dear brothers!

Allow me to show you the following points forming a fragrant bouquet of Damascus jasmine for the Closure of the Year of Saint Paul:

  1. Paul loved Jesus more than any lover could. Jesus became the center of his whole life and teaching. May we love the Lord as Paul did!
  2. Paul changed from Saul the persecutor to the chosen Apostle. He accomplished the passing over (Pesach or Pascha) from the Old to the New. Am I, c contemporary Christian from Damascus, capable of accomplishing this passing over? Am I capable of putting off the old garment of sin, so as to clothe myself in the new garment of baptism? Can I lay aside the old man, to put on the new man, created in the image and likeness of God, in righteousness and holiness?
  3. The world needs Paul, so as to become that beautiful world of Paul's thought, which is the mind of Christ. May everyone in the world tread the road to Damascus, so that the world may change and people move from shadows to light, from night to day, sin to righteousness, persecution to love, violence to kindness, selfishness to altruism, terrorism to solidarity, fundamentalism to openness, the spirit of vengeance to such feelings as Saint Paul expresses when he exhorts the faithful to have among themselves the thoughts and manners that are in Christ Jesus, and reminds them that the fruits of the Spirit are "love.. gentleness, temperance." (Galatians 5:22-23)
  4. Paul boasts of the cross of Christ, "I am crucified with Christ." (Galatians 2:20) The cross is the symbol of Christianity and is to be found everywhere in our churches and homes. The symbol of the cross is a call to solidarity with our brothers and sisters in humanity, to lighten the suffering of the cross. The cross is everywhere present, reminding us that there is a fellowman or woman, a brother or sister somewhere, nailed to the cross. It is up to me as a Christian to take that person down from the cross.
  5. Paul is the great apostle of the resurrection. He saw the risen Christ on the Damascus road and then the living Christ gave him the mission of the resurrection and life to the world, after the example of his Master, who said, "I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly," (John 10:10) and without distinction. Christianity is the religion of the cross and resurrection, of solidarity and life. Hence, the name for the first Christians in Syria, children of the resurrection. {Insert from Pascha on rising with Christ.}
  6. Paul, the great Apostle needs collaborators to spread the gospel message. In the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Paul can be found a hundred names of men and women who were with Paul preaching. Paul described them in glowing terms: in his Epistles, his fellow-workers are "brethren," "dear," "sisters," "parents," "fellow-labourers in Christ Jesus," "beloved," "first-fruits" of those risen in Christ and elect of Christ, especially in the Epistle to the Romans. (16: 1-16) Today more than ever, we need collaborators, lay-people who are faithful, keen, courageous, active, strong, who are highly capable, be it in business, politics or higher education, who are influential, prudent, wise, loving and selfless, experienced and, as the Psalmist says, "as arrows are in the hand of a mighty man." (Psalm 127: 4)
  7. Christians, children of the resurrection, who follow the "new way," the Damascus road, Paul's way, the way of Christ who said, "I am the way," must be united so as to help one another to carry Jesus' message to the world, so that Jesus may be "the way, the truth and the life" (John 14: 6) and the "light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." (John 1: 9) United, Christians are capable of bearing Jesus' message to the world in the language of people today. We need a new Pentecost, a new epiclesis in the Church. That is what we sing in the kontakion of Pentecost, "When the Most High …dispensed the tongues of fire, He called all to unity."
  8. We Arab Eastern Christians have a special role, excellent for bearing the message of Christ in the world. However, two great dangers threaten that presence and mission: emigration and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which has lasted for more than sixty years. We ask you brothers coming from all over the world to pray and work for peace in Palestine and in the Middle East. Palestine 's and Jerusalem 's peace is peace for the Middle East, for Arabs and for the whole world. Pray for us to remain here where Jesus, the Apostles, Paul and the saints lived and for us to continue to be "a sweet savior of Christ." (II Corinthians 2:15)
  9. Yes! Let us stay together, Christians of East and West, of all Churches, sons and daughters of the one Church of Christ ! Let us stay together to bring about the Kingdom of Jesus Christ upon earth.
  10. Yes! Let us stay together, all Children of Faith, Christians and Muslims, faithful believers of East and West, to work together and build together the civilization of Peace, Love and Life in our world. Damascus will remain faithful to Saint Paul : Syria will always maintain the broad outlook of Saint Paul 's teachings. All we Syrian citizens, both Christian and Muslim, will continue together along the Damascus road in the steps of Saint Paul towards our encounter with Jesus. Damascus will continue to speak to the world, as does Saint Paul from Damascus.

Conclusion

Dear brothers and sisters,

Jesus entrusts his apostolate, his mission, to us. Saint Paul calls us today, at this closure of the celebration of his birth in Tarsus, as he once called his numerous fellow-workers, to continue the mission of Jesus risen from the dead. Jesus calls us, entrusting to each one of us the same mission that he confided to Paul on the road to Damascus, ordaining Saint Ananias, first Bishop of Damascus, to baptize Saul the persecutor, who would change into Paul and be the chosen vessel of God. "He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel : for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." (Acts 9: 15-16)

Dear brothers and sisters, dear friends,

Saint Paul recommends his Epistles to us, as he did to the hearts, souls and minds of the faithful of the first Christian communities, so that his teaching may remain in your hearts. He speaks to us as he did to the faithful of Corinth when he wrote,

"Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart." (II Corinthians 3: 2-3)

With the Apostle, we speak to you, at the end of this Year of Saint Paul …, who had Jesus' heart, as Saint John Chrysostom said. Again with the Apostle, we say to you, (Philippians 4: 7-9)

"And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you."

And also:

"Greet one another with an holy kiss. All the saints salute you." (II Corinthians 13: 12-13)

And finally,

"The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand. If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema. Maranatha. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen." (I Corinthians 16: 21-24)

Gregorios III,

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,

of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain


 
Patriarch Gregory sitting in a chair on a porch

Patriarchal Letter of His Beatitude Gregory III

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem

On the Occasion of the Closure of the Year of Saint Paul

Damascus 2009

"I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace." (Acts of the Apostles 20: 32)

From Gregorios III, servant of Jesus Christ, by the grace of God Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem , to their most Reverend Excellencies the Hierarchs, members of our venerable Holy Synod, and to all the sons and daughters in Christ of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, clergy and people, who are "called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord…, grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ." (I Corinthians 1: 2-3)

On the occasion of the closure of this jubilee year celebrating two thousand years since the Apostle Paul's birth, a year dedicated to knowing and venerating him, he is not bidding us farewell, because he is always among us while we hear his voice, especially on Sundays and indeed during every Divine Liturgy.

"I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace." Saint Paul is not saying good-bye, but thanking us for having venerated him over the course of this year. He commends his call and Gospel and God's word of grace, that our faith be not shallow or vain, nor this jubilee year without fruit in our Church.

What Saint Paul said to his collaborators and to the first Christian community, I am passing on to you, sons and daughters of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church, and to all those who will read this letter, to all who have been celebrating this Pauline Year, meditating on his Epistles or presenting them in their sermons to the people. I would like to mention here especially my brother bishops, priests, monks, nuns, catechists, leaders of brotherhoods, scouts, youth and other movements, who really decided to celebrate this year with a great deal of love, renewing their faith and the faith of God's dear people, who made the spiritual pilgrimage to Damascus and other places which keep the Apostle Paul's memory alive.

The Year of Saint Paul

The Holy Father wanted the Year of Saint Paul to be a celebration that would make our faith live. Yet this celebration is an event in itself. We celebrated this event in a splendid way in Damascus .

I would like to include here, among the collaborators of Saint Paul , those who worked to animate this jubilee especially in Syria , and to mention here in first place His Excellency the President of the Syrian Arab Republic , Doctor Bashar al-Assad, who, with several of his ministers, decided to give this year a special impetus. Also meriting thanks are all the various commissions, which went into action here during this Year of Saint Paul. To all, Paul's blessing and love.

This jubilee is a departure point for Saint Paul and his mission in the third millennium. He has left us his Epistles as a reliquary and he wishes to count us among his collaborators in bearing the Gospel message, just like those who worked with and alongside him. We all – or an elite among us - wish to be numbered with those who have deserved to be called by the beautiful names that Saint Paul gave to his collaborators.

In this fourth letter on Saint Paul in this Pauline Year, I would like to show how Saint Paul enabled the new faithful, whether Jews or Gentiles, to share in the Gospel's message. Although Saint Paul likes to speak of himself always as an "Apostle, called" by Christ Jesus himself, he nevertheless calls the faithful to work with him, at his side and following his guidance.

That is what we shall see in the Acts of the Apostles, which recount the life of Saint Paul in detail, and later in his Epistles.

The Collaborators of Saint Paul in the Acts of the Apostles

The first Christians of Damascus saved Saint Paul from death and enabled him to flee from the walls (Bab Kisan) of their city (Acts 9:25) and escape the King of the Nabateans, Aretas IV, on whom the city's governor depended. (II Corinthians 11:32-33)

In Tarsus , Paul and Barnabas met and both went to Antioch and there collected relief offerings for the new faithful of Jerusalem . (Acts 11:30)

Barnabas remained at Paul's side, thereafter, in many of his missionary journeys. Together, they founded the first Christian communities and "ordained elders in every church." (Acts 14: 23)

Among the Apostle's early collaborators, we find the names of Judas and Silas. (Acts 15: 27) After a while, Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways. (ibid. 15: 39) Later, Paul chose Silas to accompany him. (ibid. 15: 40) Then, in Derbe and Lystra, Paul took Timothy with him. (ibid. 16:1-3)

Near the city of Philippi , Paul and Silas were invited to the home of the seller of purple, Lydia , "whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us saying, ‘If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there.' And she constrained us." (Acts 16: 14-15 and 40)

In Corinth , Saint Paul met Aquila and his wife, Priscilla. "And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers." (Acts 18:1-3) Still in Corinth , Paul "entered into a certain man's house, named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue…. And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them." (ibid. 18: 7, 11)

From Corinth , Paul "sailed thence into Syria , and with him Priscilla and Aquila," (Acts 18: 18) then stopped at Ephesus . There, Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos with them, "an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures," who "was instructed in the way of the Lord" to some degree, "and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly." (ibid. 18:24-26) Then, Apollos went into Achaia, where he "helped them much which had believed through grace." (ibid. 18: 27)

Then in Ephesus , Saint Paul taught for two years in the school of one Tyrannus. (Acts 19: 9-10) A little later, from Ephesus , Paul "sent into Macedonia , two of them that ministered unto him, Timothy and Erastus" to preach there. (ibid. 19: 22)

Still in Ephesus we find "Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia , Paul's companions in travel." (Acts 19: 29)

It is noteworthy that many of Saint Paul 's collaborators have been counted by the Church as disciples and Saints. (For their Feasts and Commemorations according to the Synaxarion of the Churches of Byzantine tradition and according to the Roman Martyrology, see the Appendix.)

In Paul's journey from Ephesus to Macedonia , "there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia , Tychicus and Trophimus." (Acts 20: 4)

Before leaving again for Jerusalem , "from Miletus he sent to Ephesus , and called the elders of the church," (Acts 20: 17) and after their arrival, bade them adieu in a very moving speech. (ibid. 20: 18-35) In it we read, "And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God , shall see my face no more." (ibid. 20: 25) "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God , which he hath purchased with his own blood." (ibid. 20: 28) "Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified." (ibid. 20: 31-32)

"And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship." (Acts 20:36-38)

The Acts of the Apostles gives us another picture of that profound, spiritual friendship during the crossing of Paul and his companions to Tyre . (Acts 21: 3-5)

In Ptolemais (the present day city of Acre, see of our Melkite Greek Catholic eparchy of Galilee in Palestine), there took place another meeting of Paul with the first Christians of that town: "We…saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day." (Acts 21: 7) At Caesarea of Palestine, we find a new companion of Paul: "We entered into the house of Philip, the evangelist, which was one of the seven (first deacons)." (Acts 21: 8) On the way from Caesarea to Jerusalem , Paul and his companions lodge with a disciple called Mnason, of Cyprus . (Acts 21: 16)

In the life of Paul there appears just one of his relatives, whose name is not given: his nephew, his sister's son, who saves him from the hands of the Jews in Jerusalem . (Acts 23: 16-22)

In his journey to Rome to be judged by Caesar, his companions are Aristarchus, a Macedonian, and Luke. At the first stop, in Sidon (Saida), Paul meets friends of his from that city and obtains refreshment from them. (Acts 27: 3)

On his arrival in Rome , the brethren welcome Paul at the entrance to the city, which encourages the Apostle in his last trial. (Acts 28: 15)

The Collaborators of Paul in the Epistles

Epistle to the Romans

In this Epistle, Paul is speaking "to all that be in Rome , beloved of God, called to be saints." (Romans 1: 7)

He tells them that he is praying, "if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; that is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me." (Romans 1:10-12) Here Paul's friendship is expressed, primarily as a friendship in shared faith, expressed in very human yet sublime terms.

Saint Paul alludes, in this Epistle, to a commission of faithful from Macedonia and Achaia who have collected money for distribution to "the poor saints which are at Jerusalem ." (Romans 15: 26-27) In chapter sixteen, the last of this Epistle, there is a long string of greetings and recommendations to do with this group of collaborators dear to Paul, whom he describes in glowing terms:

"I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.

Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the first-fruits of Achaia unto Christ.

Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord. Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus' household. Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord.

Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord. Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them. Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them. Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you." (Romans 16: 1-16)

Then Saint Paul passes on the greetings of his collaborators who are with him,

"Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you. I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord. Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus, the chamberlain of the city, saluteth you, and Quartus, a brother." (Romans 16: 21-23)

First Epistle to the Corinthians

This Epistle begins with the greeting of "Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God" and of a disciple, Sosthenes, of whom we know only the name. (I Corinthians 1: 1)

Further on, we find the names of those whom Paul himself baptised: Crispus, Gaius and "the household of Stephanas." (I Corinthians 1: 14, 16)

We find again the name of Barnabas. (I Corinthians 9: 6) Then there is a whole group of collaborators: Timotheus, who "worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do," (I Corinthians 16:10) Apollos, (ibid. 16: 12) the house of Stephanas, which is "the first-fruits of Achaia, and that (whose members) have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.…Submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth." (ibid. 15-17)

Paul then mentions Fortunatus and Achaicus (I Corinthians 16: 17) and adds, "The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house." (ibid. 16: 19) He concludes in these affectionate terms, "My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen." (ibid. 16: 24)

Second Epistle to the Corinthians

The beginning of this Epistle alludes to the very close collaboration between Paul and his "brother" Timotheus. (II Corinthians 1: 1) Later, we read, "For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus …" (ibid. 1: 19) Then he mentions several times his "brother" Titus. (ibid. 2:13; 7: 6-7; 8: 6, 16-20 and 23: 12, 18)

In chapter eight, there are very plain allusions to a group from the Church of Macedonia who form, apparently, a committee to collect support for the Christians of Jerusalem. (II Corinthians 8: 1-5) In Corinth itself, there is a similar committee, about which Paul says, "And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have." (ibid. 8:10-11)

It seems that the co-ordinator of this committee for the task of collecting the gifts ear-marked for the faithful of Jerusalem , was Titus. (II Corinthians 8: 16, 23)

There is another record of Titus with two other collaborators, which clearly shows that there were committees at work, with or without Paul. In fact, Saint Paul was of course busy preaching the Gospel, but also taking care of material assistance to the poor of Jerusalem .

"But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you. For indeed he accepted the exhortation; but being more forward, of his own accord he went unto you. And we have sent with him the brother [perhaps Luke], whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches; and not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind: avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us: providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have oftentimes proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent, upon the great confidence which I have in you. Whether any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellow-helper concerning you: or our brethren be enquired of, they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ. Wherefore shew ye to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love, and of our boasting on your behalf." (II Corinthians 8: 16-24)

Saint Paul speaks again of these committees in the following chapter,

"For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: for I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many. Yet have I sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this behalf; that, as I said, ye may be ready: lest haply if they of Macedonia come with me, and find you unprepared, we (that we say not, ye) should be ashamed in this same confident boasting. Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up beforehand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness." (II Corinthians 9: 1-5)

Later, Saint Paul observes that he and his collaborators have been trustworthy in the distribution of the gifts,

"But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile. Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a gain of you? Walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps?" (II Corinthians 12: 16-18)

Epistle to the Galatians

At the start of this Epistle, Saint Paul writes, "Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) and all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia ." (Galatians 1: 1-2)

Epistle to the Ephesians

In this Epistle we find mention of another fellow-worker, "But that ye also may know my affairs, and how I do, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things: whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that ye might know our affairs, and that he might comfort your hearts." (Ephesians 6: 21-22)

Epistle to the Philippians

In this Epistle, which begins with the greeting from "Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi," (Philippians 1:1) there is the mention of a group of faithful, "with bishops and deacons," who are Saint Paul 's collaborators,

"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ. Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God." (Philippians 1: 3-11)

Again, Saint Paul recalls the work of Timotheus,

"But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel. Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me." (Philippians 2: 19-23)

Then Saint Paul mentions his "brother" Epaphroditus, with details about his life and health,

"Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellow-soldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants.

For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me." (Philippians 2: 25-30)

Saint Paul then expresses his wishes concerning certain collaborators of his,

"I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life." (Philippians 4: 2-3)

At the end of the Epistle, there is a sign of the presence of a committee helping the "saints" and Paul himself,

"But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God. But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4: 18-19)

The Epistle ends with greetings from the Apostle's fellow-labourers,

"Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you. All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household." (Philippians 4: 21-22)

Epistle to the Colossians

Like the Epistle to the Philippians, this letter starts with the greeting of Paul and his "brother" Timotheus. (Colossians 1: 1) A little further on, Paul mentions another fellow-worker who taught the Colossians, "Epaphras, our dear fellow-servant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit." (Colossians 1: 7-8)

The Epistle ends with greetings and mentions of those working alongside the Apostle, with praise and Paul's testimony on behalf of each of them,

"All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellow-servant in the Lord: whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts; with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here.

Aristarchus my fellow-prisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;) and Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God , which have been a comfort unto me.

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea , and them in Hierapolis . Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you. Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea , and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house. And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea . And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it." (Colossians 4: 7-17)

First Epistle to the Thessalonians

This Epistle starts with greetings, not only from Paul and Timothy, but also from Silvanus, another fellow-worker of the Apostle's. (I Thessalonians 1: 1) Timothy, however, receives special mention in chapter three, when Paul sends him from Athens to Thessalonica,

"Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; and sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow-labourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: that no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto…But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you." (I Thessalonians 3:1-3, 6)

In this Epistle, there is another mention of a committee working in Thessalonica for material concerns and for spiritual guidance, "And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves." (I Thessalonians 5: 12-13)

Second Epistle to the Thessalonians

This Epistle starts, like the First to the Thessalonians, with a greeting from "Paul, and Silvanus and Timotheus."

First Epistle to Timothy

This Epistle, which Saint Paul addresses to the one he calls "my own son in the faith," (I Timothy 1: 1), contains a whole series of pieces of guidance and advice. Saint Paul has complete trust in Timothy and gives him various responsibilities for the service of the community with its different groups.

Second Epistle to Timothy

In this Epistle, which he addresses to the one he calls "my dearly beloved son" (II Timothy 1: 1) and "my son" (ibid. 2:1), Saint Paul praises Timothy for his faith, transmitted from that of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. (ibid. 1: 5) He expresses his longing to see him (ibid. 1: 4) and assures him of his prayers (ibid. 1: 3)

Further on, Saint Paul mentions with deep gratitude his disciple Onesiphorus,

"The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: but, when he was in Rome , he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus , thou knowest very well." (II Timothy 1: 16-18)

Saint Paul asks Timothy to organise the co-ordination of apostolic work,

"Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." (II Timothy 2: 1-2)

In chapter four, Saint Paul mentions several of his fellow-workers, describing their situations and making new recommendations,

"Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: for Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia , Titus unto Dalmatia . Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus . The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments." (II Timothy 4: 9-13)

Finally, Saint Paul sends his personal greetings,

"Salute Prisca and Aquila , and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus abode at Corinth : but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick. Do thy diligence to come before winter. Eubulus greeteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren." (II Timothy 4: 19-21)

Epistle to Titus

In this Epistle, Saint Paul calls his addressee, "Titus, mine own son after the common faith." (Titus 1: 4)

At the end of the Epistle, Saint Paul mentions some of his collaborators,

"When I shall send Artemas unto thee, or Tychicus, be diligent to come unto me to Nicopolis: for I have determined there to winter. Bring Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey diligently, that nothing be wanting unto them." (Titus 3: 12-13)

Epistle to Philemon

In this Epistle, there is a whole group of names of Saint Paul 's collaborators (Philemon 1: 1-7):

"Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow-labourer, and to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in thy house: grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints; that the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother."

Saint Paul then asks Philemon to receive Onesimus (Philemon 1: 10-19):

"I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: but without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.

For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.

If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides."

At the close, Saint Paul passes on the greetings of his co-workers (Philemon 1: 23-24): "There salute thee Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus; Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellow-labourers."

Epistle to the Hebrews

At the end of this Epistle, Saint Paul mentions the leaders of the Hebrew Christians (Hebrews 13: 7, 17) and gives them notice of Timothy's being freed (Hebrews 13: 23-24):

"Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you. Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you."

Attributes and Responsibilities of Saint Paul's Co-workers

Saint Paul describes his co-workers in glowing terms, using touching and affectionate expressions, but assigns them well-defined responsibilities, with precise guidance that is often harsh and demanding.

In his Epistles, his fellow-workers are "brethren," "dear," "sisters," "parents," "fellow-labourers in Christ Jesus," "beloved," "first-fruits" of those risen in Christ and elect of Christ, especially in the Epistle to the Romans. (16: 1-16) They give hospitality, scribe the Apostle's letters, share in preaching the Gospel and are collaborators of grace.

They are the Apostle's joy and crown, being sent by him, as faithful servants, slaves of God with Paul, striving for the Gospel, laborers in preaching the Kingdom, zealous in service.

They are given apostolic, spiritual and material responsibilities, to do with founding, organizing and guiding new communities. Some also offer hospitality to Paul and his companions, putting a school at his disposal; others preach, explaining the new way founded on the teachings of the Gospel; guide new groups of faithful; preside at liturgical celebrations; co-ordinate the work of committees for collecting and distributing aid to the faithful of Jerusalem; choose presbyters; carry letters, messages and news of the Church's life; and are asked by Paul to console and strengthen the faith of those who are suffering or persecuted.

So, Saint Paul has recourse to his collaborators; he asks even those who are new in the way of the Gospel, to help him carry the message. This is due to Paul's ardor, as he writes, "Woe to me if I preach not the Gospel," (I Corinthians 9:16) and tells his disciple Timothy, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season." (II Timothy 4: 2) Paul wants every baptized person to be a bearer of the message with him, giving him or her the same recommendation as he had to his disciple Timothy. That explains why we find such a large number of co-workers with Paul on his apostolic missions and travels, so that no Epistle is without mention of the Apostle's co-workers; there is not a single town where Paul preached that he did not leave fellow-workers or found committees designed to continue the work of Jesus and the Gospel. (Cf. The Catecheses of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI on Paul and His Collaborators in the general audiences of 31 January and 7 and 14 February, 2007.)

It is really amazing to see how many co-workers are gathered around Paul, receiving from him very specific apostolic, sacramental and organizational responsibilities.

The Laity according to Vatican II

In the Decree Apostolicam actuositatem on the Apostolate of the Laity, of 18 November 1965, the Second Vatican Council alludes several times to the collaborators of Saint Paul mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles and points out that the mission of lay-people in the Church is based on their Christian vocation and baptism. That mission relates to various aspects of life, Saint Paul had already described in his Epistles, as we have seen above.

That was emphasized in the decree of Vatican II. In fact, there is not one of the sixteen conciliar documents which, in one way or another, does not allude to the importance of the lay vocation in the Church and in society.

The Conciliar decree on the laity says verbatim (numbers 2 and 3):

In the Church there is a diversity of ministry but a oneness of mission. Christ conferred on the Apostles and their successors the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power. But the laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world.

They exercise the apostolate in fact by their activity directed to the evangelization and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel. In this way, their temporal activity openly bears witness to Christ and promotes the salvation of men. Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ….

One engages in the apostolate through the faith, hope, and charity which the Holy Spirit diffuses in the hearts of all members of the Church.

Furthermore, the Conciliar decree speaks of the family in these terms:

"Christian husbands and wives are co-operators in grace and witnesses of faith for each other, their children, and all others in their household. They are the first to communicate the faith to their children and to educate them by word and example for the Christian and apostolic life. They prudently help them in the choice of their vocation and carefully promote any sacred vocation which they may discern in them….This mission - to be the first and vital cell of society - the family has received from God. It will fulfil this mission if it appears as the domestic sanctuary of the Church." (number11)

So lay-persons, especially in the context of the believing family, become witnesses of the Gospel and Christ. Hence, every faithful person is an apostle.

Let us also note the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II Christifideles Laici (30 December 1988) which contains the charter of the vocation and mission of the faithful in the Church in the steps of Saint Paul .

In fact faithful lay-persons are in a continuous relationship with the world, society and the daily social, political, moral, economic and ecological reality. They are the ones who are putting into practice Jesus' mission and true Gospel values and living them out in the everyday reality of their society.

Canon law underlines the importance of the apostolate of the laity in canon 381 § 3 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEC):

"Clerics are to recognize and promote the dignity of the laity and the particular part that they have in the mission of the Church, especially by testing the multiform gifts of the laity, and also by channeling the experience of these lay-people for the good of the Church, especially in ways provided by the law."

The Mission of Lay-people in our Church

After Vatican II, the mission of lay-people was developed and many apostolic movements were renewed, which had to do with different aspects of the Church's life. Such was the case with the former brotherhoods, which had existed for a long time in our Church, especially those of Our Lady of the Annunciation, founded by Patriarch Maximos III (Mazloum) and by Patriarch Gregorios II (Youssef-Sayyour) and movements of young workers and students, originating in the West, but adapted to Eastern, especially liturgical, spirituality. Thank God, there is a goodly number of these activities in the context of our eparchies, parishes and male and female religious congregations.

These movements are real schools of faith and spiritual life for young people; they are the pillars of parish life and of all liturgical, spiritual, pastoral, social and charitable activities. It should be noted that, among those involved in these movements, are persons called to the consecrated religious life and to the priesthood. We have mentioned several of these movements in the Assembly of the Patriarchal Eparchy in Damascus in 2003, and in the Patriarchal Assembly held in Rabweh in 2007; we noted about a hundred such movements.

We would like here to recommend and encourage most enthusiastically the different activities of these brotherhoods and movements in our eparchies and parishes.

Thus imitating the great Apostle Paul as far as the mission of the laity in the Church is concerned, we call upon the lay-people of our parishes to help us in our pastoral work, alongside priests and consecrated persons, monastic and other, to direct our concern to the needs of all the faithful

It is very important to train in every parish, lay leaders capable of carrying the Church's values into our society, and of being the leaven and the salt in the dough of that society.

Collaborators and Colleagues

A word now to the bishops and priests who pastor our churches and whose experience of collaborating in pastoral service would fill volumes! We exhort them to intensify their relations with all the faithful in their respective communities, to gather around them keen and enthusiastic collaborators who bear with them and under their guidance the burden of the apostolate and message, and who can organise different services needed by the pastoral ministry.

We ask God, at the intercession of Saint Paul , for there to be in our Church between priest and all the faithful, such relations as obtained between the Apostle and his collaborators.

Following Saint Paul 's example, the pastor must not only be father, guide, educator and counsellor, but also vigilant brother and close friend, whilst maintaining the distance that enables him to fulfil his spiritual and pastoral role. The pastor must rely on the lay-people, giving them well-defined roles, remaining always the guide and leader, adjusting the pace and being the watchful companion. He must have the mind of Christ, his teachings and his love for the sons and daughters of his community, especially for his collaborators and colleagues.

May this relationship be also inspired by the liturgical greeting which is exchanged by the concelebrants (and by the faithful among themselves), "Christ is among us. He is and always will be!" Let us be inspired by this final petition from the litany, "Let us entrust ourselves and each other and our whole life unto Christ our God."

Such pastoral guidance is given in Paul's two Epistles to Timothy and in the one to Titus.

Call

We are speaking to our children, in all eparchies and parishes of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church to invite them to listen to the call of Jesus, of Saint Paul , of their pastors and spiritual fathers and to be generous in voluntary service and work alongside the priest and under his direction and guidance.

We tell them, Jesus needs you! Paul is calling you, as he called the faithful of the first Christian communities. The Church is calling you. Your Patriarch, bishops and all your pastors need you.

Today more than ever, we need collaborators, lay-people who are faithful, keen, courageous, active, strong, who are highly capable, be it in business, politics or higher education, who are influential, prudent, wise, loving and selfless, experienced and, as the Psalmist says, "as arrows are in the hand of a mighty man." (Psalm 127: 4)

We pastors need you faithful lay-people. You are our apostles and the apostles of Jesus for the world. You really make up the community, you carry the teachings, guidance and preaching of Jesus, the apostles, saints and monastics out into the world, into your society, among your work-mates and your fellow-citizens (whether or not of your religion.)

Saint Paul said, "We are the ambassadors of Christ." And we say to you, that you are the ambassadors of Christ, our ambassadors as servants of Christ: we entrust you with the mission of carrying the Gospel into your society.

In writing this letter, I remembered a story about the costly struggle over the Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino, south of Rome , during the Second World War. The Allies had to overcome prolonged resistance following the aerial bombardment that reduced the abbey to rubble. A writer summed up this furious combat in these terms, "Great battles are won by little soldiers." We too need each Christian, every believer, every convinced, courageous and enthusiastic person; the world needs children of faith.

I also remembered another story. In July 1987, I took part in the great, biennial festival of German Catholics (Katholikentag) in Dresden , a city that had been completely destroyed towards the end of the Second World War. After a big celebration on the banks of the Elbe, that had lasted till midnight, I was going back alone to my hotel; on the way, I came across a group of young people, sitting on the ground, singing at the tops of their voices, "The Jesus business needs enthusiasm!"

We need young people, those who are ever young in their love of Christ and their zeal to spread the sacred teachings and show the love of God for mankind.

"Ye shall be my witnesses[1]"

Jesus entrusts his apostolate, his mission, to us. Saint Paul calls us today, at this closure of the celebration of his birth in Tarsus , as he once called his numerous fellow-workers, to continue the mission of Jesus risen from the dead. Jesus calls us, entrusting to each one of us the same mission that he confided to Paul on the road to Damascus, ordaining Saint Ananias, first Bishop of Damascus, to baptize Saul the persecutor, who would change into Paul and be the chosen vessel of God."He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel : for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." (Acts 9: 15-16)

Dear brothers and sisters, dear friends, Saint Paul recommends his Epistles to us, as he did to the hearts, souls and minds of the faithful of the first Christian communities, so that his teaching may remain in your hearts. He speaks to us as he did to the faithful of Corinth when he wrote,

"Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart." (II Corinthians 3: 2-3)

With the Apostle, we speak to you, at the end of this Year of Saint Paul as we conclude our spiritual letters, in which we set out the theology of Saint Paul , who had Jesus' heart, as Saint John Chrysostom said. Again with the Apostle, we say to you, (Philippians 4: 7-9)

"And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you."

And also:

"Greet one another with an holy kiss. All the saints salute you." (II Corinthians 13: 12-13)

And finally,

"The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand. If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema. Maranatha. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen." (I Corinthians 16: 21-24)

With my affection and blessing,

+ Gregorios III

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem Damascus, 29 June 2009

Translation from the French V. Chamberlain

APPENDIX

Table of Saint Paul 's Collaborators,

Showing for the majority their Feasts and commemorations in the Churches of East (Synaxarion and Menaion) and West (Roman Martyrology, 1749 and 2001)

NAME SYNAXARION MENAION MARTYROLOGY

Achaicus

4 January

Agabus

8 April

8 April

Amplias (Ampliatus)

31 October

31 October (1749)

Ananias

1 October

25 January

Andronicus

17 May; 30 July

Apelles of Heraklion

31 October

Apelles of Smyrna

10 September

22 April (1749)

Apollos

8 December

Apphia

22 November;

19 February

Aquila

13 February; 14 July

8 July

Archaicus

15 June

Archippus

22 November;

19 February

20 March

Aristarchus

22 September; 14 April

4 August

Aristobulus

31 October; 15 March

15 March (1749)

Artemas

30 October

Asyncritus

8 April

8 April

Barnabas

11 June

11 June

Caius (see Gaius)

Carpus

26 May

Cephas of Iconium

8 December

Claudia

Clement

10 September

Crescens

30 July

Crispus

4 January

4 October (1749)

Damaris

2 October

Demas

Dionysius

the Areopagite

3 October

3 October

Epaenetus

30 July

Epaphras

4 January

19 July

Epaphroditus

8 December

22 March

Erastus

10 November

26 July

Eubulus

22 February

Eunice

Euodias of Antioch

7 September

Fortunatus

15 June; 4 January

Gaius (Caius)

5 November

4 October (1749)

Hermas

5 November

9 May

Hermes

8 April

Herodion

8 April

8 April

Jason

28 April

12 July (1749)

John of Cyprus

Jesus, called Justus

Judas of Damascus

Judas Barsabbas

Julia

Junia

17 May

Justus

30 October

Linus

5 November

23 September

Lois

Luke the Evangelist

18 October

18 October

Lucius of Cyrene

Lucius of Laodicea

4 January

22 April (1749)

Lydia

20 May

20 May

Manaon (Menahem)

24 May (1749)

Mark

27 September

(John) Mark

the Evangelist

25 April

25 April

Mary

23 March

29 June (1749)

Mnason

18 October

Narcissus

31 October

31 October (1749)

Nereus

Nymphas

28 February

Olympas

10 November

Onesimus

22 November;

15 February

15 February

Onesiphorus

7 September

6 September

Patrobas

5 November

4 November (1749)

Persis the deaconess

Philemon

22 November

22 November

Philip the deacon

11 October

11 October

Philologus

5 November

4 November (1749)

Phlegon

8 April

8 April

Phoebe

3 September

3 September

Prisca

14 July

8 July

Priscilla

13 February

8 July

Prochorus the deacon

28 July

Pudens

14 April

Quartus

10 November

3 November (1749)

Rufus

8 April

21 November

Secundus

Silas

30 July

13 July

Silvanus

30 July

Simeon Niger

Sopater

Sosipater

10 November; 28 April

25 June (1749)

Sosthenes

8 December

28 November (1749)

Stachys

31 October

31 October

Stephanas

4 January

Syntyche

22 July (1749)

Tertius

10 November

Tertius of Iconium

30 October

Thecla,

Equal to the Apostles

24 September

23 September (1749)

Timotheus (Timothy)

22 January

26 January

Titus

25 August

26 January

Titus Justus

Trophimus

14 April

29 December (1749)

Tryphena the deaconess

10 November (1749)

Tryphosa the deaconess

10 November (1749)

Tychicus

8 December

29 April

Tyrannus

Urbane

31 October

31 October (1749)

Zenas

4 January

Synaxis of the Seventy Holy Apostles

Icon of the Synaxis of the Seventy Holy Apostles

On 4 January, Churches of the Byzantine tradition celebrate a Synaxis of the Seventy Apostles (Disciples) of Christ. In the lamp-lighting hymns of Vespers of that Synaxis, are to be found most of the names of Saint Paul 's collaborators, elsewhere called, "luminaries of our holy faith."

"Cleopas, Andronicus, Silvanus, Agabus, Ananias, Philip, Prochorus and Nicanor, Sosthenes and Rufus, with Stachys and Linus, Stephen, Timon, Hermes and Phlegon,

Mark and Luke, Sosipater, Tychicus and Philemon, Gaius and Jason, through sacred hymns, we faithful call you blessed.

"Let Narcissus and Trophimus, Caesarius and Zenas, Aristarchus, Silas, with Mark and Gaius, Hermes and Asyncritus, Cephas, Apollos, Clement and Justus, with Erastes and Quartus, Luke, Onesiphorus, Euodias and Carpus, James and Matthias, Aristobulus and Urbane, with Aristarchus and Tychicus, be worthily venerated!

"Pudens, Herodion, Philologus, Artemas, Rodion, Olympas, Apelles, Amplias, Patrobas and Titus, Tertius and Thaddaeus, remarkable Epaenetus, Achaicus, Aquila, Lucius, Barnabas, Fortunatus, Crescens and Apollos, most worthy of our hymns, sacred heralds of our God, we seek to honor you."



[1] Acts 1:8

 
Archbishop Chrysostomos II and Patriarch Gregorios

Cyprus ' Archbishop on Straight Street

in the Steps of Saint Paul

April 2009

Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus, accompanied by an episcopal delegation, has been visiting Damascus in this Year of Saint Paul, in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, as guest of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. He also visited the Greek Catholic Patriarch on Sunday, 3 May.

At 5pm., Archbishop Chrysostomos and his companion bishops were received by Patriarch Gregorios III, together with his Patriarchal Vicar, Bishop Joseph (Absi), the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Mario Zenari and all Catholic bishops in Damascus , first in the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God. There, Archbishop Chrysostomos and his delegation were showered with flowers by a wedding party, and escorted by a Scout group and the choir singing Resurrection hymns. Patriarch Gregorios then invited his guest to enter the sanctuary to venerate the Gospel Book, which Archbishop Chrysostomos was pleased to do. The choir then sang "Many Years" for the Archbishop.

Afterwards Archbishop Chrysostomos and his party made a tour of the Patriarchate where, in the Reception Hall, Patriarch Gregorios addressed his visitors, alluding to the fact that Saul made his first missionary journey to Paphos, (formerly the metropolitan see of Cyprus' Archbishop) as we learn from the thirteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 13: 6-12.) It was also in Paphos that Saul became known as Paul, after encountering the deputy, Sergius Paulus, who "believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord." In reply, Archbishop Chrysostomos expressed himself very happy with the warmth and sincerity of his welcome at the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral in Damascus . He spoke of the importance of the role of Saint Barnabas , Cyprus ' patron and companion of Paul. Patriarch Gregorios presented his distinguished guest and brother hierarch with a complete set of the Liturgical Books in Arabic and Greek, which are the fruit of his own years of service as head of the Patriarchal Commission for Liturgy. For his part, Archbishop Chrysostomos presented a plate with the emblem of an imperial eagle.

Exchnage of gifts between the Archbishop and Patriarch Archbishop Chrysostomos in the Cathedral Friendship shared between Patriarch Gregorios and Archbishop Chysostomos

Earlier on Sunday, Archbishop Chrysostomos and his delegation had concelebrated the Divine Liturgy with Orthodox Patriarch Ignatios IV (Hazim.) Afterwards, Patriarch Ignatios hosted a lunch for eighty at his patriarchal residence. Patriarch Gregorios III was pleased to accept an invitation from Patriarch Ignatios on this occasion.

Sunday's visit of Archbishop Chrysostomos ended with a dinner in his honor, hosted by the Ambassador of Cyprus, Mr. Efstathios Orphanides, at which Patriarch Gregorios III was among the many distinguished clerical guests, both Christian and Muslim.

Reported by Valerie Chamberlain

 
  1. Learn by heart some verses of Saint Paul and repeat them in our daily life, in moments of joy, doubt and sadness
  2. Intensify the feeling of love for Jesus, as we read in the Letters of Saint Paul
  3. Consider Saint Paul's words as addressed to us to strengthen our faith
  4. Be proud of our faith, as Paul was, and like him, be enthusiastic for Jesus' sake
  5. Proclaim Jesus, as Paul did, in our society
  6. Have broad horizons and hopes, like Paul
  7. Understand the meaning of our life, discovering it from a daily reading of Saint Paul's Epistles
  8. Priests – concentrate your sermons this year on the Epistles rather than on the Gospel
  9. Organize in parishes a program of continuous reading of Saint Paul's Epistles through meetings and vigils in churches
  10. In the narthex of parish churches, place icons of Saint Paul and information on Saint Paul's life and Epistles

Dear brothers and sisters,

I hope that through this guidance, you will find a new face, the face of Saint Paul, his personality and more, the face of Jesus.

My wish is for you to be always in a continual meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus, the road of conversion, light, life and resurrection: which is the way of life in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Gregorios III

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East

Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

 
Patriarch Gregory sitting in a chair on a porchPatriarchal Letter of

His Beatitude Gregory III

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem

On the Occasion of the Opening of the Year of Saint Paul

Damascus 2008

To their Excellencies, my beloved brother Bishops, members of the Holy Synod, most reverend Superiors General and Mothers General, and all faithful parishioners of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church,

"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all." (cf. II Corinthians 13:13)

With this Pauline greeting, by which priest, bishop and Patriarch salute the faithful at the beginning of the anaphora during the Divine Liturgy, we greet you, reverend brothers and dear sons and daughters, in Arab countries and throughout the diaspora. At the beginning of this Year of the Holy Apostle Paul, we greet you from our patriarchal residence in Damascus and from the quarter of Saint Paul, spiritual son of Damascus by baptism.

I shall write a special letter for this year, but I believe I have to send this foreword to enable us thereby to begin together the Year of Saint Paul in spiritual and ecclesial fellowship that will give us joy for this blessed jubilee. I am writing this especially to my brother, his Excellency Joseph Absi, Patriarchal Vicar in Damascus, and to all my sons, the priests and monks, as well as to the nuns and lay-people of our Patriarchal Eparchy of Damascus. I am entrusting this year to our Vicar, priests and committees of that eparchy, to work together as a commission under the presidency of our son, Archimandrite Antonios Mousleh, so as to make the celebration of this Pauline Year special in all our parishes in Damascus.

Celebration in Rome

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI will open this jubilee year on Saturday 28 June 2008 in Rome. I shall take part, by special invitation, in the opening on Saturday and on Sunday 29, Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, will concelebrate with His Holiness in the Pontifical Mass in the Basilica of Saint Peter.

I shall be representing our Patriarchal Church, during this opening, in Eternal Rome, place of the martyrdom of Saint Paul; together with the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria, as its president, and our Patriarchal Eparchy in Damascus where the Patriarchal Throne of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church is geographically situated. I shall pray at the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul as we did with my brothers, their Excellencies the Hierarchs, the Superiors General and Mothers General and the groups that accompanied us last May, during our historic visit to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI who welcomed us with their Eminences the Cardinals, his collaborators in the Roman Curia, with an abundance of love and appreciation.

My Beloved,

I believe that the two most important places for the celebration of the Year of Saint Paul are Damascus and Rome. Damascus was his spiritual birthplace through the baptism bestowed by the Holy Apostle Ananias, our predecessor and first Bishop of Damascus. The second is Rome, place where ended Paul's "good fight" as he calls it, with his martyrdom wherein the Apostle shed his blood as a libation for love of Christ. In fact, he says, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain," (Philippians 1:21) "and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)

The Importance of the Celebration in Damascus

I would like to emphasize especially the importance of the celebration of the Year of Saint Paul to Damascus, capital of Syria, which has been chosen this year as capital of Arab culture for the year 2008. During the reception of the late Pope John Paul II in May 2001, President Bashar Al-Assad said that Syria is the "cradle of Christianity." Saint Paul embodies the history of Christianity in Syria and in this very city constitutes one of the distinguishing symbols of culture, civilization, heritage and especially religion, for faith is the source and foundation of civilizations. Damascus is the place of our splendid Antiochian Patriarchal Throne. Antioch, called the Great City of God, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and capital of the Umayyad caliphs, is also the capital of the Christian East, and the most senior bishopric after Jerusalem, the City of the Resurrection. In Antioch, the disciples of Christ were called Christians for the first time. That is the name which preceded every national or communal kind of name for Christians. May this beautiful, blessed, universal name again refer to Christians of all rites, confessions, nationalities, countries and peoples!

Damascus Heir of Antioch

Damascus, today, is the headquarters of three Eastern Patriarchs that are heirs of the Antiochian See: Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Syrian Orthodox. To them may be added the two Patriarchs who bear the title of Antioch but are in Lebanon (at Bkerkeh and Sharfeh): that of the Maronite Church and that of the Syriac Catholic Church.

On this occasion, we wish that Antioch and its five heirs in Damascus and Beirut, in Syria and Lebanon, representing the Christians most involved in the Arab East, its culture, civilization and religious and civil history of faith, and in the multiplicity of its confessions and Christian and Muslim millets, may find the place that is their due! May the Church of the Arab East again play a guiding role in the spiritual, faith, pastoral, civil, cultural, economic, sociological and even political domains!

The Year of Saint Paul and the Role of Christians in the Arab World

May the celebration of the Year of Saint Paul be a stimulus for the Church of the Middle East to play its dynamic role in the Arab Christian and Muslim context, unique in Christian dialogue, of fostering peace in that region, supporting human rights whose basis is in faith in God, such as is found in Christianity and Islam. These rights are capable of opening up in the Arab world new horizons onto that prosperity and flourishing of civilization expected by the young generation of Arabs.

Moreover, very dear reverend brothers, I would like to inform you that His Holiness the Pope will send a representative at the end of the year to Syria, Lebanon and other countries of the region where Saint Paul traveled to proclaim the Gospel of peace and love.

Opening of the Jubilee Year in Syria and Lebanon

Several special events will take place in Syria and the Lebanon. In the latter country, the opening of the year will be celebrated on Saturday 28 June with ecumenical prayer in which all denominations will participate – Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical.

In Damascus itself, for three days, there will take place a series of events shared by all the different Christian communities, with the participation of the Syrian Ministry of Tourism (details of the program are available in Damascus.) These celebrations are related to the places which witnessed the main stages of the conversion and calling of Paul:

  • monastery of the vision of Saint Paul at Tel Kawkab (an important site of the Greek Orthodox Church) where the official opening of the Year of Saint Paul will take place;
  • Church of Saint Ananias, in the care of the Franciscan Fathers;
  • monastery of Saint Paul on the Wall or at the Kisan Gate, whence Saint Paul fled to Hauran (this important site belongs to the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate);
  • cave where Saint Paul took refuge after his flight (in the care of the Franciscan Fathers, Bab Sharqi quarter.)

The program includes a pilgrimage along Straight Street and visits to the great Umayyad Mosque, the citadel of Damascus, the Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Syriac Orthodox Patriarchates, besides the important sites mentioned above.

The celebration also includes a pilgrimage to the Church of Saint Paul at Daraya (an Arab word meaning monastery of the vision, the place where it is thought that the Lord appeared to Saint Paul), as well as in other churches of the capital dedicated to Saint Paul, amongst which is the church shared by Greek Catholics and Orthodox at Dummar, and the cathedral of the Syriac Catholics.

General Program in Damascus

Concerning our Damascene eparchy and Syria in general, we should like to mention the creation of a special committee to work out the details of different programs in the light of the celebrations anticipated this year. Amongst these are being arranged talks, an exhibition on Saint Paul, the publication of a monthly bulletin under the title, "Letter of Saint Paul to the Damascenes," pilgrimages to Damascus itself and the parishes and places in the city that recall Saint Paul, to Turkey (visit to Tarsus, birth city of the Apostle, Cappadocia, Antioch), as well as to Malta, Athens and Italy.

Still on the theme of our Damascene eparchy, we should like to express our gratitude to his Excellency President Bashar Al-Assad, whom we met in company with our brother, Vicar General Joseph Absi, and to whom we explained the whole importance of this anniversary of the second millennium of the birth of the holy Apostle Paul, spiritual son of Damascus. For this jubilee confirms the remark of the President, that we recalled with pride, namely that, "Syria is the cradle of Christianity and the meeting-place of civilizations." His Excellency showed a keen interest in the matter and asked the Ministries of Tourism and Information to undertake substantive measures to co-operate in ensuring the success of this anniversary. For that purpose, the Syrian Ministry of Tourism published three large posters. The patriarchal committee in its turn has created a poster on which Saint Paul is seen looking out from the walls of Damascus at the whole world, both East and West. After his conversion, it was from Damascus that he would carry the light of the Holy Gospel to the four corners of the earth.

We have sent out to several episcopal conferences across the world invitations to come and visit the holy places of the Pauline adventure in Damascus.

Brethren and Beloved Children,

We believe this jubilee year to be a special opportunity to renew holy faith in the hearts of our faithful. That is what His Holiness the Pope recommended when we visited him last May. For that purpose, every bishop in his eparchy ought to find appropriate ways to mark this jubilee year. We hope to remain in contact to exchange services and talks with a view to the success of this jubilee, and that it may bear fruit in our parishes. We pray especially for the Year of Saint Paul to be a year of just, lasting and general peace in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq as throughout all our dear East.

We close this letter in peace and love, after the manner of Saint Paul whose own would conclude in an outpouring of love, kindness, brotherliness and tenderness. We would like these feelings to reach in our name, all those who read and publish this letter. So we wish that all to whom these feelings extend may share them with family, relatives, friends, acquaintances, colleagues and fellow-citizens.

We greet you, brethren, with the words of the Apostle himself, "Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with an holy kiss. All the saints salute you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all! Amen." (II Corinthians 13: 11-13)

With my apostolic blessing

+ Gregorios III

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

Translated from the French by V. Chamberlain

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