Second pastoral letter
“In Grace we grow
In service we transcend
And in love the structure is strengthened”
With the mercy of God
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East
To all our beloved in the Lord
The children of the Holy Antiochian See
Clergy and lay people,
" Grace be to you, and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave himself for our sins, "
(Galatians 1: 3-4)
My beloved ones,
Remember that I have taken the dictum “In Grace we grow, in service we transcend, and in love the structure is strengthened” a slogan for the patriarchal ministry entrusted to me by the Holy Spirit through the election of my brethren the metropolitans of the Holy Synod of Antioch. By this slogan, I have been striving to emphasize that we are invited, throughout the Antiochian See, to obtain God’s grace, and to turn it into ministry within the body of Christ, each according to the gift given to him, with an ambiance of love which alone is "the bond of perfection," as we are taught by the Apostle. As we have been striving together in the past years to make this slogan a reality, we have succeeded many times, though sometimes we faltered, but we will be always steady in our journey until we see the Church of Antioch a bride of Christ pure and without blemish. Therefore, I now present to you these words, as responsible members of the Church of Christ, because of your Baptism and of the Holy Chrism with which you have been anointed, to make you aware of the state of affairs of your Church, so that you may keep these affairs in your prayers, and consider them as your main fundamental concern.
1. We give thanks to God who gave us, as a Church, "the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind," to give witness in the difficult conditions of our world, and our countries, which caused us to go through many wars, waged by others on our land, which have destroyed the infrastructure, and displaced, crushed and killed people.
2. We are saddened that the hands of the evil one have reached our Church, and have kidnapped our brother Paul (Yazji), the Metropolitan of Aleppo, more than four years ago. We are saddened by the fact that, despite our many and continuing endeavors with all international and domestic bodies and organizations, we are still deprived of any news of him. We ask that you add your prayers to ours, so that God may restore him to us and to his people in Aleppo safe and healthy. And we pray for his companion in captivity, Archbishop John and for all the kidnapped priests and laity, imploring God to strengthen them. And we appeal to the civilized world to give consideration to their tragedy, and to work towards their deliverance them from captivity, and return again to their loved ones’ safe.
3. We have suffered with you from tribulations of wars that have afflicted our East and particularly our country. These wars have been instigated by the interests of the great powers of this world. These wars are associated with violence, terrorism, destruction, devastation, displacement, dislodgment, poverty, hunger and worry about the future. We have intensified our efforts to take the necessary initiatives to establish and make our presence active in our land, to ease the harsh conditions, working with good people to face the living needs of our people, and to ensure the future of our youth, so that they may live in dignity and peace in their home countries. In this regard, we have not spared any international forum to raise our voices with the intention to bring the destructive war on Syria to an end, and to preserve the unity of this country. We have also supported Lebanon and its people wherever we land, raising our voice for normalizing the constitutional and institutional work in this country, setting sights on its growth and development.
4. Because of the difficult circumstances in which we live, we have made the relief of the needy our top priority, and we gave it the utmost importance in our daily ministry. We are working at the level of patriarchal institutions and archdioceses to set the ministry of love in motion and to find new mechanisms and a flexible framework that supports mutual support among the sons of the one body, so that no one among us remains in need, or feels that he is cast off from the hearts in the Church of Christ. We thank God for the Antiochian unity which was manifested during this ordeal. The parishes and the archdioceses in Syria and Lebanon embraced the displaced and the dislocated people, nurtured them with love, thus alleviating their pain. The archdioceses abroad also have mobilized all their energies to serve those who have come to them and have supported the relief ministry undertaken by the mother Church.
5. At a time when the world has turned into a village, the reality of media and communication has become a major part of our ministry. We have created the Antiochian Orthodox Information Center and the “Voice of Grace” radio, and have enhanced our online presence and social networking sites to convey the good news which is the goal of every Christian media. The efforts of our children from various parts of the Antiochian Church have merged in making our ministry successful and its benefits well-spread. Here, I must note the capabilities offered by modern means of communication in our missionary ministry. These means, when used well and right, become an effective and successful tool for transmitting the good news and witnessing to the joy of the resurrection and the beauty of Christianity. Be on your guard not to allow these means to turn into a place of grumbling, destructive criticism, and gossip and slander.
6. We have endeavored to strengthen and activate Antiochian unity, giving great importance to the oneness of our witness to the risen and victorious Christ in the Antiochian jurisdiction and all the East, where God intended us to witness. We have intensified our meetings and our joint work with our brethren in the other Christian churches with which we share the unity of life and destiny.
7. We have intensified our work with our Muslim brethren, our compatriots and partners in the same destiny, to spread the culture of peace, brotherhood and coexistence among the people and to stand together in the face of all those who abuse religion and misuse it to ignite conflicts and wars.
8. We sought to establish cooperation and interaction with the Orthodox Churches around the world. We have paid peaceful visits to many patriarchates and visited the Holy Mountain (Athos). We have requested the prayers of the Fathers of the Holy Mountain for our people and placed their suffering and fate in the custody of the Virgin Mary. Delegations from our Church participated in all occasions and in pan-Orthodox meetings to strengthen Orthodoxy unity in today's world. We have devoted considerable energy and effort towards preparing for the great Pan-Orthodox Synod that the Orthodox world is waiting for, but we have refrained from participating in this Synod held in Crete in the summer of 2016, for reasons that we have declared to you at that time. The encroachment of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem on the jurisdiction of the Antiochian Patriarchate in the State of Qatar has taken a great deal of our attention and effort, so we have undertaken numerous peaceful initiatives in order not to reach the breach of communion between the two Apostolic Churches. But, all our attempts have been confronted by the insistence of the Jerusalem Patriarchate to continue the encroachment. Our various contacts with religious and political authorities in finding a solution to this infringement did not bear any fruit.
9. In the past years, we have rejuvenated the whole body of the Antiochian episcopate, and have enriched it with an educated and experienced youthful energy, after the retirement of some of our elders and the falling asleep of those who have departed to the heavenly mansions. The election of the new metropolitans has shown the Antiochian unity, as they were chosen to take care of archdioceses other than those in which they grew up. The Antiochian Synod took into consideration the requirements of the Gospel, the ecclesiastical canons and the constitution of the Antiochian throne, regardless of any political, national or racial considerations. We are pleased to inform you that these brethren are leading the ministry in their newly assigned archdioceses, providing a new foundation to the hard work of their predecessors. We are delighted to see the faithful people surrounding them and supporting them in their ministry.
10. The election of these brethren has been accompanied by revitalization of the synodical ministry. We are one Church, and not a confederation of different archdioceses that congregate and do not meet. The Holy Synod is the place of our meeting, where each metropolitan conveys to it the mind of the church he leads. The common testimony of these archdioceses constitutes the One Church of Antioch. The metropolitan is elected in the Synod, and he abides in the Synod, where he observes and is observed, and he may be tried by the Synod whenever he violates the canons. This mind was received by the apostles who recommended that " It befits us bishops of every nation to know the one among them who is the premier or chief, and to recognize him as their head, and to refrain from doing anything superfluous without his advice and approval: but, instead, each of them should do only whatever is necessitated by his own region, and by the territories under him. Let not even such a one do anything without the advice, consent and approval of all. For thus will there be concord, and God will be glorified through the Lord in the Holy Spirit, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit." (Canon 34 of the Holy Apostles).
11. The one mind which the Church forms synodically, is translated by clergy and laity, as the Apostle recommends, by pronouncing "the oneness of the word." In other words, since we are established by spiritual enlightenment, we seek to acquire grace and translate it into “orthodoxia,” acts of ministry, and brotherly love.
12. We translate the “oneness of mind” through our unity and solidarity, which allow us to fulfill the will of our Lord, who wants us to love one another, as He loves the Father. These are indispensable prerequisites for confirming our existence in the East, and for reducing the mass departure of human “energies” from our countries and our Church. In this regard, we have worked and continue to strengthen cooperation with our brethren abroad, who are the apostles of Antioch and the Antiochian heritage to the whole world. They have transmitted their Christian commitment to the countries to which they have arrived and built their churches in conjunction with the building of their homes. Their close ties with Antioch, their Mother Church, strengthen us, fortify us, and, in turn, these ties with Antioch strengthen these churches themselves. We continue to see among them the apostolicity of the Church of Antioch, which remain open to evangelize the world, enriching themselves with the energies of the faithful of the nations and continents in which they are present. The oneness of the language of Antioch has been expressed in many languages of the world, and will continue to call for deepening the heritage and tradition and extending it to the world today with openness to translate our sincerity to the Master who ordered us to convey his good and peaceful news to the ends of the world.
13 – The effort to preserve “oneness of mind” consists of an uninterrupted quest to overcome obstacles in our path through consultation and awareness, resorting to the congregations’ opinion in building consensus and unity in a variety of experience. Life in the Church is based on consultation, not on negotiation. It is based on integration not on rivalry, on honest encounter not on destructive conflict, on forgiveness not on oppressing others for their mistakes. It is based on ingenuousness not on condemning intentions, on sacrifice and not on distribution of benefits and gains.
14 - Therefore, we must commit to this spirituality in our relationships, in order to strengthen the bonds of our unity. This unity begins when each parish follows its pastor, taking care of the development of the parish with complete sincerity. This unity is lived at the level of the archdiocese, where the believers contribute with their metropolitans in building the spiritual and material capacities of the archdiocese, and breathing life in them in a spirit of cooperation and participation. This unity, which the Holy Synod of Antioch leads in a joint ministry, will benefit the Oneness of the Antiochian Church, strengthening its unity and making its testimony active in our world today.
The above-mentioned elements constitute the spiritual form of our system adopted in the early seventies, which include the formation of a council for each parish, and the formation of a convention in each archdiocese, in which priests, monks and laymen are represented. From this convention emerges an elected Board of Trustees. We convened a General Conference of all the energies of the Antiochian See, which we held in 2014.
Many circumstances, here and there, have prevented the full formation of the bodies which were provided for by the constitution of the See of Antioch, thereby reducing the effective participation of the children of the Church in managing their parishes and archdioceses. This has led to many complaints, or to cluster extra-ecclesiastical bodies to express their opinion. Therefore, we, as a Church, must overcome this controversy over the constitution that our Church has defined since the 1950s. Now we must turn to the consolidation of our unity and the unity of “our word” through establishing the bodies provided for by our system and through implementing the decisions of the last Antiochian Conference. It has been almost 50 years since our system was adopted, and undoubtedly it needs to be modified and updated to keep abreast of the renaissance to which we are all witnessing at the level of the Antiochian throne. But the test of all of us remains in our commitment now to implement the existing regulations and experiences that will benefit us in any amendment we make in the future, because canons are forged to rid a group of despondency and individuality.
15. We have translated the “oneness of mind” that brings us together in our approach to the human state of affairs that have been raised in the conscience of our Church at home and abroad. We have worked wherever we are for the benefit of man, and every human being, and for the benefit of all humanity. We have been careful not to be engaged in political intrigues that adopt the language of the sons of this age, and not to dictate to our children specific political positions. But we tried, wherever we land, to guide our children to baptize their political thought and their national commitment with the right of the Gospel, and with the saving and sacrificial Christian love of all.
I have mentioned the above points to express to you my joy in what we have achieved together. My desire is to join our efforts in love, and to remain unified to build up the body unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. I thank God who sent us shepherds who love their church, and who put her interest above all else, and believers who give witness to the joy of the resurrection, and work to renew the Church, according to their gifts and talents.
I know that today's world is awaiting from us "the word of life," since today's human being is in desperate need of a cure that only the witness of those who were risen from the dead with their Lord can give. This is what our forefathers accomplished before us, as they transmitted our living tradition to the language of their time, and so we must do today. So:
1- Let us deepen our knowledge in the science of our time, to convey the eternal message in a new language that communicates its requirements.
2- Let us work together in re-evangelizing our children, especially those who move away from the Church, because of devastating secularism.
3- Let us convey to our young adults who are no longer wedded in the Church, and to those who no longer baptize their children, the meaning of the mystery of love and the mystery of communal life.
4- Let us enter the depth of our theological beliefs, without relying upon the external manifestations of piety. Let us guide the world to our living and life-creating God, the God of freedom and love, who loves us with great love and who wants us to become gods by adoption.
5- Let us work with God and make the world a Church and the earth a heaven.
6- Let us make the presence of God active wherever we are and in whatever we do, to let the world know that we are disciples of the Teacher.
7- Let us extend the altar beyond the Church, where the poor and the homeless, the miserable and the depressed need our care and our love which will deliver them from death.
8- Let us not be satisfied with just holding prayers, but let us make our presence in history a daily prayer to save the world and history.
9 - Let us move away from the ways of the world, and preclude them from slipping into our ecclesiastical life, so that we do not create enemies and burden them with our concern, because Christ does not know enmity, but has commanded us, "to love one another."
10- Let us cleanse our hearts so that they may become fertile soil in which the word of God grows and bears fruit, lest they become dry and are chocked by thorns.
11- Let our witness to our neighbor come from Jesus and from the Gospel which fills our hearts and changes our lives and frees us from grief, fear, emptiness and isolation.
12- Let us all speak “one word,” and reject the differences and divisions that divide us. Let us be filled with one mind and one opinion, agreeing with one another according to Christ Jesus, to glorify God with one spirit and one mouth.
You are the guardians of the faith which you have received from your fathers and forefathers, which was delivered to us by the saints. You are responsible to give witness to the risen Christ wherever you are. Work to have Christ always in the midst of the Church. Invite Him to the ship of the Church by your prayers, especially when you feel that you are in the midst of a storm. You are aware that He is always with us, even when you are in the wilderness. Be confident that He has compassion on us, in our pain, hunger, thirst, and grief. For He does not neglect us even when we were in the wilderness, away from Him. Be with Him, beloved ones, so that He will be with you, and your mind will be one, and your language one, which will be understood by all.
Love so much and be watchful that our responsibility as shepherds and your responsibility as believers is in affirming that Christ alone remains the Master of His Church, lest the Cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
May the blessing of the Lord encompass you.
Issued at our patriarchal headquarters in Damascus
On the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, in the year 2017
Patriarch of Antioch and the all the East
Second pastoral letter