The East, the lighthouse of all the world, is…
The speech of His Beatitude John X
At the Enthronement of His Eminence Joseph Zehlaoui
Your Eminence, Metropolitan Joseph,
Brother hierarchs and beloved clergy,
Your Excellencies, and beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
I address you with the peace of Christ. I address you with the word of the Word who lived among us. "My peace I leave to you, my peace I give to you" (John 14:27). The enthronement of a bishop in the church is the enthronement of peace and love in her midst. Now, the Church expresses her full essence within a community governed with love. O Sayedna, Joseph, in the name of all your brothers in the Antiochian Orthodox Church, I address you personally:
Here, we stand now before the throne of the church. This throne will be honored with your love, covered with your wisdom and ardent with your apostolic Antiochian zeal. Bless this throne, be blessed with this throne through your sacrificial ministry and bless the church entrusted to your paternal care. Your predecessor, Metropolitan Philip of blessed memory whom you know very well and whom we appreciate, had offered his life and consecrated it for the welfare of the church. We are totally confident that Your Eminence shall be continuing the work of Metropolitan Philip collaborating with the other bishops of the Archdiocese, to whom we send our cordial greetings. We also take the opportunity to mention the importance of the development of the missionary, social, educational, monastic and cultural work through well-established centers in the Archdiocese.
The Antiochian Church is the Church of the Word. She is the church of the incarnated Word and of theology applied in life. This same church extended her branches here in America and addressed herself to her sons and to the world with "The Word" in the year 1904 and onward. All these facts affirm that Antioch is a word of truth. Antioch is armed with the pacific word, the word of peace. This pacific word has an eastern identity. This eastern identity does not contradict the fact that the Antiochian faithful are spread out over all the world. The Antiochian church has a right and a duty, at all times and in all places, to take care of her sons wherever they exist and whenever necessary.
Over a century ago, our predecessor, Patriarch Meletius II said this: "How greatly the heart of a man rejoices when, having planted a tree, he sees it grow, flourish and bring forth fruit! Or better, how glad is the heart of a father who has laboured to raise a son, when he sees that his son justifies his hopes, as well as the hopes of his brothers and friends! In the same fashion, the heart of the holy Church of Antioch is glad today." These were the words of our predecessor so long ago, at the time he was proud to see the efforts of that great man, Raphael (Hawaweeny). Now, allow me to say, dear brothers and sisters, that the same words hold true today. They express the pride of the mother Church of Antioch when seeing the implanted tree, the Archdiocese of New York and All North America, flourishing and bringing forth fruit. This tree came to flower with the divine grace in her pious men sent earlier: Raphael Hawaweeny, Victor Abou-Assali, Antonios Bashir, Philip Saliba and now Joseph Zehlaoui, whose enthronement we celebrate.
I come to you from the Mariamite Church of Damascus, from the "strada recta", “the street called Straight” (Acts 9:11). I come to you carrying in my heart the symphony of love, steadiness and the strength of hope played by the bells of our churches in the East. I come to say that the historical territory of the Patriarchate of Antioch is not merely a symbolic aspect in our life. It is an essential part of our identity. This identity was baptized with Peter and Paul and immersed with the blood of the holy martyrs. This identity began with the first steps of those disciples called Christians in Antioch, continued with our ancestors who guarded their faith intact; and it now continues on, and it will continue on, despite all the tragedies taking place in our homeland. This identity is carved on the mountain of Lebanon and implanted in her coasts and valleys. This identity embraces the sunrise of Syria and the sunrise of the history of Syria. This identity comes from the neighborhood of Bethlehem. It comes from Christian Jerusalem. It pours forth with waters of the Euphrates, the Jordan, the Nile and the Tigris, and with them, it gives life to the soil of Iraq, Egypt, Palestine and Jordan.
We come to the United States to be enriched with the presence of our beloved community. Fifth and sixth generation American, but still Antiochian, the Church of Antioch and the homeland of Antioch in the heart of every single individual in the midst of the Eucharistic assembly.
In this beloved community the borders of the countries of this homeland are dissolved in ardent love for each other and in prayer for peace in our beloved homeland. In this beloved Archdiocese evangelism realizes a full sense of the historic missionary vocation of Antioch. This Archdiocese does not know any difference between convert and cradle, but rather she truly acknowledges the Chalice of love, in which everybody is a part of the glorified Christ. Our people and clergy acknowledge and live their Christianity by maintaining a good and deep interrelationship, and a brotherhood with the other Christian confessions here present.
The East, the lighthouse of all the world, is wounded. Instead of peace, we hear the drums of war. Instead of a policy of extinguishing conflicts, we hear about supporting a specific group of militants. Our appeal reaches out to all humanity.
Let our people live! Let Syria live! Let Lebanon live! Let Iraq live! Let Jordan live! Let wounded Palestine be healed and let her live! Let Egypt live! Some say that the crisis in Syria has only a domestic character, that it is civil war. But nobody in the world really believes that this supposed domestic character of the crisis can explain the obvious foreign character of it. I will be more frank: our sons are killed with bombs sent from outside. Spare our sons from the brainwashing of extreme ideologies. Let them see efforts to establish peace. They do not need ships of war, nor ships for transportation abroad. They need an olive branch and a will toward peace. Our sons are sick and tired of platitudes used as slogans. Our sons do not need lines of demarcation, but rather respect for the borders of their neighboring countries. Our children were born to know about the beauties of our East, not about terrorism. Takfirism prevails; that is, the practice of condemning another man’s religion as falsehood or an infidelity. This attitude, coupled with blind religiosity holds the day. Now, all the world can see what is happening in Syria and in all the East. The case of the kidnapped Metropolitans of Aleppo, Youhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, along with many others, sets before our eyes a clear scene of what is happening in our homeland. The international silence regarding this kidnapping is a profound shame and wordlessly condemns those unwilling to see what is going on. Let the world see this concrete and real tragedy, as it truly is. Let the world see with both eyes wide open, not through a perspective of some special interest. When we think about the USA, we highlight the principle of self-determination adopted in this nation from its foundation. This principle, self-determination of all the peoples of this Earth, is precious to us Antiochians. We pray, work and hope that this principle of respect for all human beings be upheld everywhere.
Beloved brothers, I take the opportunity of this lovely assembly to thank His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph who gathered all of us here together. I take the opportunity to express my paternal love to all our faithful in America and Canada. I take the opportunity to greet all our brothers, the representatives of the sister churches. I bring you the warmest greetings and the ardent prayer from your brothers in our homeland. May the merciful God bless your families and bless all of us to abide evermore in a symphony of love and with a unity in our support to our homelands, to the holy apostolic Church of Antioch and to all the East. Be confident, beloved, that your Mother Church is a pillar of strength for you and you are a strength for Her. May the Lord enable us to live in concord with each other always, to Whom be glory and power, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Professor Habib Lavant
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