20 April 2014
I You too have a resurrection
We are celebrating the Feast of the glorious Resurrection of Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ for the fourth consecutive time while the disastrous events of the so-called “Arab Spring” are destroying thousands of citizens of several Arab countries, from Libya to Egypt, Palestine and Iraq and especially in Syria.
It is precisely in these countries that Christians have been designated “children of the Resurrection.” They are all called to share in Jesus’ Resurrection.
My Paschal Letter this year is divided into two parts: first a general section and spiritual meditation on the Saviour’s Resurrection, in which all those who believe in Jesus Christ have a share, or rather all believers in God and the age to come await a resurrection or renaissance (baath) and renewal (nushur), meaning that Jews, Christians and Muslims all share this expectation.
That is why I address the wish expressed in the title of this letter to all our fellow-Christians and fellow-citizens in our beloved Middle East, affectionately and hopefully telling every man and woman: you have a resurrection too.
The second part of my letter is devoted to the tragic situation of our beloved country, Syria, which is continuing its way of the cross, but which will one day soon we hope reach resurrection joy.
Jesus’ Resurrection is humanity’s resurrection
Arise, O man, from the dead: the risen Christ will shine upon thee! The icon of the Resurrection is a call to resurrection: the risen Christ takes humanity’s (Adam and Eve’s) hands to pull them out of their tomb.
The symbol is clear. As a human being, you are called to resurrection. In the Eastern tradition, every Sunday of the year celebrates the Resurrection. The Resurrection is the centre of Christian life and all life. As a human being, you are daily exposed to death from physical sickness of various kinds and spiritual sickness through sin. Similarly, you are called every day to resist the seeds of mortality in your body and soul. Thus you are in an ever-renewed walk towards resurrection. That means new life, with a new dimension, ascension, new horizons, hope, love, aspirations, a vision of well-being and generosity, a search for holiness. You are called to this resurrection, because you have a share in the Resurrection of Christ.
The Resurrection, foundation of our faith
Saint Paul says: “If Christ be not risen, your faith is vain, and ye are still in your sins.” (I Corinthians 15: 17) Our whole Christian faith is vain without Jesus’s Resurrection. That is why the Resurrection is a foundational article of our Creed: “I believe ... in one Lord, Jesus Christ ...who…was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures…” Then there is the next article: “And I look for the resurrection of the dead…” So Christ’s Resurrection and our own with him are foundational pillars of the Christian faith.
Jesus’ Resurrection also means that human life does not end in failure, sin, despair, illness, suffering, disaster, destruction, nothingness, death and the grave. But, after this life and death, there is life... and resurrection of human beings, body and soul. So, if the saying is true according to which we are born to die, the other saying is even truer: We shall die to live a deathless life without end. Thus, as we mentioned above, the Creed ends: “And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. Amen.” Thus, our end is our beginning.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Church of the Resurrection
In the tradition of the Western Church and in most European languages, this church in Jerusalem is called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Hence the Cross is emphasised just as the Stations of the Cross end with the Station of the Crucifixion. (The Station of the Resurrection was added later, after the Second Vatican Council.)
In the Christian East, we call it in our Arabic, Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Ethiopian languages, the Church of the Resurrection. Easterners are emphasising through this name the empty tomb and the glorious Resurrection. Thus the cycle is continuous in the plan of Christ’s Passion, his Crucifixion, burial, and joyful end that culminates in the Resurrection from the dead. Indeed, the Passion, the Cross, suffering and death are void of hope without the hope of the Resurrection and there is no other way to Resurrection than by passing through the stages of the road to the Cross.
So, through this dual appellation – Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Church of the Resurrection – are combined the basic and loftiest meanings of the life of every human being, as was the case with the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
You too have a cross and resurrection! Golgotha is a stone’s throw from the empty tomb. So it is with life: each person’s Golgotha, cross, suffering, illness, disasters and death are both the way and the entrance to bliss and joy.
Kiss the Cross! Accept it! Venerate the icon of the Resurrection, and accept the mystery of the Resurrection in your daily life! In this way you will unify in your own life the mysteries of the Cross and Resurrection, just as the same Church of the Resurrection has under its roof the sites of Golgotha, the Crucifixion, the empty Tomb and the glorious Resurrection.
Blessed are you, with the cross and resurrection! Be happy, because the Resurrection fills your life with joy, happiness, hope and peace.
The cycle of the Sundays after Easter: a resurrection walk
This cycle of Sundays after Pascha is a forty day walk with the risen Christ, who, after his Resurrection, remained with his disciples for forty days, appearing to them and talking with them about the things of the Kingdom of God.
He is really alive. He participates in meetings with his disciples, who are a prey to doubts and fear. He confirms the faith of Thomas, who doubts more than the others. He gives them his peace and strengthens their will.
He is their companion along the way. He accompanies Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus. He eats with his disciples. With them he shares life’s bitter-sweet.
He guides them towards new life and delegates power to his disciples, filling them with the Holy Spirit so they can be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
He is the founder of a Church which is a living community believing in his Resurrection, new life and a new world. It is founded on Christ, and on Peter’s faith and love. “Lovest thou me?” If you love me, you can be a real shepherd, able to give, serve and save.
He is really alive, as he promised his beloved disciples. He is with them until the end of the ages.
The living Christ enables the faithful and all human beings who move towards him to share in his life and Resurrection.
The commemorations of the Sundays forming the Paschal cycle point us towards that.
Thomas’ Sunday is the confirmation of Jesus’ Resurrection. Next comes the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women, together with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, whom the Church venerates as children of the Resurrection for their faithfulness unto death (and despite death) to Christ.
The Sunday of the Paralysed Man is a splendid commentary on the icon of the Resurrection. Human beings share in the Resurrection of Christ, who raises them from sickness, suffering and the infirmities of body and soul. The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman is an indication which enables us to understand that the beautiful proclamation of new life in Christ is not limited or monopolised by one nation or race.
The Sunday of the Man born Blind teaches us that Christ risen from the dead is the light of the world and thus of our whole life.
Through our Christian life, we are called to walk towards the resurrection, as Jesus walked with his apostles and other companions during his earthly life, before and after the Resurrection, since he wishes to be our travelling companion on the road to new life. We are the sons and daughters of the Resurrection, on the way towards our own resurrection.
The grain of wheat
“Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” (John 12 : 24)
Do you not find the mystery of your life in the story of the grain of wheat, and in Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection? That is what is repeated in the hymns of the Paschal Feast: “Yesterday I was buried with thee, O Christ; but today I rise with thine arising. Yesterday I was crucified with thee; do thou thyself glorify me with thee, O Saviour, in thy kingdom.” (Third Ode of Orthros)
You are a grain of wheat given by God to your fellow humans. You are the grain of wheat for your family, society and country. You are called to be fruitful and life-giving through your endeavour, gift of self, suffering and distress. Then you, with your country and society, will have your resurrection.
The Feast of Pascha means liberation
The prayers of Pascha repeat the expressions of Resurrection and liberation: “By thy Passion, O Christ, thou hast freed us from passions.” (Lamplighting psalm of the Paschal Vigil) And elsewhere: “Thou art risen, O Christ, and hast freed us. Thou hast led humanity to light and freedom.” In these prayers, we find an echo of the saying of Jesus: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples, and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. ...If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8: 31-32 and 36)
At the beginning of his mission, Jesus stated that the aim of the Gospel and his divine mission was to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised…” (Luke 4: 18-19; Isaiah 61: 1-2)
Jesus emphasised human freedom, the freedom of every human being, by saying: “Ye shall be made free.” (John 8 : 33)
Humans have enslaved their fellows, but God has freed them. Our faith, doctrine, holy writ, and all our feasts are a call to freedom and liberation, supporting our efforts for freedom and dignity. Furthermore, they are a summons to free the whole human being, not merely in certain political circumstances. This continual great call is a call to perfect spiritual human freedom, for heart and soul to be free from sin, for liberty of conscience and thought. It is a summons to walk in newness of life, light, real freedom, and to restore the beauty of the image of God in man, an image of glory, dignity, respect, justice, love and peace.
Children of the Resurrection
This is an expression familiar to monastics, especially those of Palestine. The Children of the Resurrection are a Christian group devoted to the liturgical service of the Church. Since they are single and baptised, they constitute a group of monastics and hermits dedicated to this particular service.
Baptism is profoundly linked to the Resurrection. During the early centuries, baptism was carried out at Paschaltide. That is why Saint Paul told us: “So many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into his death. Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6: 3-4)
Saint John the Damascene tells us in the Paschal Canon, “Yesterday I was buried with thee, O Christ; but today I rise with thine arising.” (Third Ode)
The Virgin Martyr Saint Thekla addresses Jesus, her bridegroom, in a hymn, "I love Thee, O my Bridegroom, and, seeking thee, I pass through many struggles: I am crucified and buried with thee in thy baptism, and suffer for thy sake, that I may reign with thee; I die for thee that I might live with thee!”
Baptism is a covenant with the risen, living Christ, and a summons to new life in Christ. That is why the early Christians delayed receiving the sacrament of baptism until the day when they could really fulfil its obligations, that is, rejecting Satan and sin and living a life of grace, so becoming real children of the Resurrection. So, the Church proclaims itself a living community, a resurrection community.
The Church’s sons and daughters, since they are baptised into Christ, are sons and daughters of the Resurrection, the New Testament, the New Covenant with the living Christ and should constitute a holy elect body.
Baptised Christian, child of Jerusalem, city of the Resurrection, child of the Holy Land, the land of the Resurrection, recognize the nobility of your vocation.
The Resurrection is a call to a keen, serious and committed Christian life. To all you sons and daughters of the Resurrection, I address the greeting of the proclamation of the Resurrection: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
The hope of resurrection
We hope that our departed martyrs will enjoy this resurrection and that we now on earth will live to see it! We wish to state that as a nation we believe in resurrection and life. In all living conditions, and despite the tragic circumstances of our current life, we believe that
Death will be overcome
The bow broken
The circle enlarged
And shadows dispelled.
Light will shine
The sun rise
Children laugh and dance
Bereft mothers sing.
New humanity will be born.
The civilisation of love will be built in the land of the prophets, apostles and saints, in the Holy Land and city of Jerusalem, the city of the Resurrection and in our countries of the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity, religions and civilisations.
We Christians and Muslims will stay together on this martyrs’ walk towards a better future, on this walk towards life, dignity and resurrection.
II The Syrian crisis
We offer here some aspects of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et spes. This will be able to cast some light for us on the tragedy of the Syrian crisis:
War destroys hopes of the resurrection
Insofar as men are sinful, the threat of war hangs over them, and hang over them it will until the return of Christ. But insofar as men vanquish sin by a union of love, they will vanquish violence as well and make these words come true: "They shall turn their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into sickles. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4) (N° 78 § 6)
Certainly, war has not been rooted out of human affairs. Nor, by the same token, does the mere fact that war has unhappily begun mean that all is fair between the warring parties. (N° 79 § 4)
Indeed, if the kind of instruments which can now be found in the armories of the great nations were to be employed to their fullest, an almost total and altogether reciprocal slaughter of each side by the other would follow... (N° 80 § 1)
The unique hazard of modern warfare consists in this: it provides those who possess modern scientific weapons with a kind of occasion for perpetrating just such abominations; moreover, through a certain inexorable chain of events, it can catapult men into the most atrocious decisions. (N° 80 § 5)
[Let us] …become more conscious of our own responsibility and to find means for resolving our disputes in a manner more worthy of man. (N° 81 § 3)
The highest existing international centres must devote themselves vigorously to the pursuit of better means for obtaining common security.... Peace must be born of mutual trust between nations and not be imposed on them through a fear of the available weapons and all must work finally to put an end to recourse to weapons. (N° 81 § 4)
The role of believers
[Church members have to] promote among men a sharper insight into their full destiny, and thereby lead them to fashion the world more to man's surpassing dignity, to search for a brotherhood which is universal and more deeply rooted, and to meet the urgencies of our ages with a gallant and unified effort born of love. (N° 91 § 1)
Vision of faith
These evangelical values expressed by the Church in its teachings cited above have inspired my behaviour and statements, talks and interviews of various sorts, as well as my pastoral letters (from 2001 onwards), participation in international gatherings, visits to various capitals and meetings with religious and political leaders belonging to parties of various tendencies.
Through all that I wished to formulate my convictions based on these faith values, and my Christian and national vision as a bishop who, with the eyes of faith, hope and charity, solidarity and responsibility, and wishing to engage in dialogue, solidarity, responsibility and reconciliation, is following this Syrian crisis, which is quite unlike anything previously experienced in the history of Syria and the Middle East as a whole.
On the basis of these spiritual convictions, we are obliged to set aside all feelings of distaste, hatred, violence, revenge, destruction or attack on the life of anyone. Let us as Syrians all together state our faith in resurrection and life. I believe in life, as do we all. I believe, we believe in love, tolerance, mercy, friendship, reconciliation, peace-making, forgiveness, humanity and reciprocal compassion. I do not believe in violence, terror, revenge or massacre.
Danger from the after-effects of the Syrian crisis
So many sufferings have overwhelmed the Syrian nation in all its social constituents and faith groups. Every day, statistics bring us horrendous numbers burdening every Syrian citizen.
We should like especially to draw attention to other dangers threatening our society because of the Syrian crisis and produced by takfiri (extremist) ideas. In fact, there is danger from an increase in feelings of hatred, rancour, revenge, hardness of heart, violence, injustice, repression, extortions, isolation, rejection and disdain for others’ feelings and beliefs, mistrust, suspicion, fundamentalism and a return to the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
We all know that this is more dangerous for our Syrian society than any physical injuries to the bodies of Syrian nationals, more dangerous even than the internecine war that has ravaged Syria over the last three years. That it is why it is vitally important to strengthen and protect our society and homeland from these noisome dangers and destructive ideological tendencies.
We bishops of the Church absolutely must, as I see it, dedicate ourselves to fighting these aberrant tendencies by setting out quite clearly the Holy Gospel’s values and the Church’s (especially the above-mentioned Second Vatican Council’s) teachings relating to these issues and thoughts.
That is why I am working to create a Syrian think-tank of committed Christian intellectuals concerned by the difficulties facing Syrian society. It will work on formulating principles, methods and programmes founded on our national values and the teachings of the holy Gospel. That will all be set out in a charter for Christians’ personal conduct, a programme for the practical involvement of Christians in all sectors of our Syrian society, and for countering the destructive ideas outlined above, which, though originating outside Syria, tend to cause the fragmentation of our society.
We believe that creating such a forum for such ideals and objectives will have a considerable intellectual impact on our Syrian society. It will outline the modalities of Christian interaction with Syrian society and commitment to that society’s causes, within the framework of Muslim-Christian solidarity, in order to work for a better society, founded on evangelical and Christian and Muslim faith values.
God willing, this forum will have a great influence in shaping and developing a Christian perspective on the Syrian crisis, helping to ensure a future for Christians in Syria and other Arab countries, together with their presence, role and mission in Arab society. We hope that this projected think-tank will be discussed and filter through into our parishes, among our clergy and thinkers concerned by the country’s problems.
We should like to express another thought on the topic of takfiri Muslim thought and its consequences. This ideological wave makes Islam look ugly and quite clearly implies an underlying conspiracy against Islam and Muslims, or rather against the whole Arab world with its Muslims and Christians. The Ministry of the Awqaf has hastened to defend Islam and has published two volumes of studies under the title Fiqh [=law] in time of Crisis, rejecting takfiri ideological extremism.
We congratulate the Ministry on this publication, as this is the best way to defend Islam and fight takfiri tendencies.
Love never fails
Love covers a great many sins. Love never fails. Love will rebuild Syria, which will be thereby renewed. That is what Jesus teaches us in his Gospel. I think that that is the best contribution that Christians can offer amidst the Syrian tragedy now entering upon its fourth year.
Yes, the best participation consists in the fact that Christians can spread and propagate this genuine, universal love everywhere in Syria. It is the best we Christians can offer to our beloved country, Syria, to our Syrian brethren and fellow-citizens, without exception or exclusion, right up to the trenches of the front-line of the fight.
Syria, resurrection is thine! Everyone has the right to life and resurrection. May Syria, which has entered upon the fourth year of its way of the cross, continue being the homeland of resurrection, life and love!
We don’t want any more martyrs! We don’t want any more orphans! We don’t want more widows and more mothers losing their children! We don’t want any more millions of children traumatised! Enough wounded! Enough handicapped, mutilated or disfigured! Enough of people haunted by fear, hatred and bitterness! Enough kidnappings and extortions!
We want living witnesses to Syria and its history, civilisation of love, development, knowledge and industry, Syrians who will “beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation: neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2: 4)
We too say: Put down your weapons! Lay aside your arms! Turn them into pruning-hooks, instruments of life, building and development! I am tired of talking about sad, suffering Syria, about displaced persons, the homeless, the injured, victims, slain, martyrs, refugees and the starving. I want to talk about Syrians in safety, happy and content, about their joys, their walks, their celebrations, their weddings. I want to experience the marriage of joyful, risen, living Syria!
I want Syrians to be glad again as they celebrate the Paschal Feast, the Resurrection, as Peter and the other apostles, the two disciples at Emmaus, Mary Magdalene and the myrrh-bearing women were glad.
I want Damascus and the whole of Syria to live again the joy of Paul when he met Christ, risen from the dead, at the gate of Damascus.
The suffering and praying Church of Damascus
The Church of Damascus is proud to be known for the keenness with which the services are celebrated during Great Lent. We can assure you, and we thank God, for the fact that almost every day, almost all our churches are completely full during Lent.
So Damascus’ suffering Church, like the suffering Church of Syria, becomes thousands of hands praying for the victims of war, violence and terror, and imploring peace, security, reconciliation, stability, love and an end to the suffering of millions of refugees and displaced, handicapped, wounded and grieving persons.
So the Church of Damascus and all Syria has continued its way of the cross, with courage, hope and charity during this holy Lent and does not allow the flame of hope to die in the hearts and minds of the faithful, as His Holiness Pope Francis recommended to us, calling upon us to keep “the courage of prayer,” (Message for Lent 2014) hoping that the dawn of peace and resurrection will arise for all our fellow-citizens and for the whole country.
Address to Syrians
Dear fellow Syrians, I love you! God loves you! God asks you to love one another. God wishes you to be reconciled in fellowship, forming a single rank for your dear country, Syria, our single Homeland. It has been our great common Homeland for centuries. Let us be united! Let us be of one heart, one mind, to one end! Let us get together for the sake of love, goodness, harmony, tolerance, reconciliation and peace! Together we are capable of solving our problems, binding our wounds, overcoming our differences and realising everyone’s hopes and aspirations.
Together, we can ensure the future of our young generations. Together, we are capable of rebuilding and renewing Syria, of enabling the refugees to return and rebuilding our homes, schools and vital institutions, our churches and mosques.
As a Syrian citizen, patriarch and bishop, ready to give his life and soul for beloved Syria, I turn to you and beseech you: listen to the voice of history, the inheritance of our parents and ancestors, who lived together, planted together, and together built homes and palaces, wonders of civilisation, development, prosperity, security and stability.
There is a very beautiful doxasticon among the Paschal stichera: “Today is the Day of Resurrection! Let us shine with the light of the Feast; let us embrace one another; let us say, ‘Brethren’ even to those who hate us, and let us forgive all through the Resurrection, so we may cry aloud: Christ is risen from the dead; trampling down death by death, and has freed us from the tomb, bestowing life!”
Yes, let’s forgive! Let us be reconciled! How happy we are when we read or hear news of reconciliation here and there, among citizens, in neighbourhoods and villages... It makes for a promising future! That is the slogan that I launched in August 2012: “For Syria, reconciliation is the only lifeline.” We accompany the efforts expended in support of reconciliation, through our prayers, our participation in various congresses and our interviews with various social media... We bless the efforts of the Syrian government’s Ministry for Reconciliation.
I am no longer afraid
Pope Francis will visit the Holy Land in Jordan and Palestine next May. This is a visit to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the meeting of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964 in Jerusalem, city of the Resurrection. That was the first meeting between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople since the Great Schism of 1054. After that, there were different meetings in Constantinople, Rome and elsewhere.
We wish His Holiness Pope Francis welcome. We thank him for his love and prayer for Syria, and the mentions he has made of Syria on several occasions, calling the world to work for peace in our land. We shall address a message to him in the name of the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria, and we hope that he will come to visit Syria to celebrate its victory and peace.
Here I should like to quote verbatim a splendid spiritual statement by the late Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. May it inspire all Syrians to discover that real power is based on love, as love casts out fear:
“I have waged this war against myself for many years. ...But now I am disarmed. I am no longer frightened of anything because love banishes fear. I am disarmed of the need to be right and to justify myself by disqualifying others. ...I just want to welcome and to share. ... What is good, true and real is always for me the best. That is why I have no fear. When we are disarmed and dispossessed of self, if we open our hearts to the God-Man who makes all things new then He takes away past hurts and reveals a new time where everything is possible.” [Translated by Jean Vanier in Finding Peace]
The Geneva Conference should be held in Syria
We affirm and declare, in truth and sincerity, with respect for all groups in Syria, for the opposition and all factions, and I say this too to other Arab countries, the European Union, the United Nations, the United States of America, the Russian Federation and China: The continuation of the Geneva 2 Conference, or Geneva 3, ought to be held in Syria! We and only we can continue Geneva 2 or make a Geneva 3! We Syrians can enable peace, security and stability to return to Syria!
Appeal to the world
At the start of the fourth year of the bloody, tragic Syrian crisis, I am launching this appeal from the suffering, praying Church of Damascus, which fasted during holy Lent and continues its way of the cross with all citizens of this beloved country, the cradle of Christianity, religions and civilisations.
At this great feast of the Resurrection, in love and hope we again make a heartfelt, powerful, pressing plea.
On the basis of our Christian faith and spiritual mission and role as pastor and Patriarch, we turn to everyone: the President of our country and his colleagues, all Arab countries, the United States of America, the Russian Federation, countries of the European Union, all nations of the world, pacifists, Nobel Peace Prize-winners, all men and women of good will, the pure-hearted, leaders of social media, people of letters, thinkers, captains of industry and commerce, arms merchants... and call upon you all to expend every possible effort for peace in Syria. The Syrian tragedy has exceeded every measure and limit! It has adversely affected nearly every Syrian citizen. We ask God to hear this appeal. May he guide your hearts to heed this appeal from him and from us.
Death reigns in Syria! We cannot continue the death march! We must summon up our efforts, at home and abroad, government, opposition, all parties, and persons of good will, to staunch the flow of Syrian blood and walk towards resurrection! We are all sons and daughters of Syria, to whom God has given the light of life. We are called to life, not death. As a Syrian citizen and Syrian patriarch, I beseech every Syrian to walk, with his fellow-citizens, on the road of resurrection and life, that they all might have life and that they might have it more abundantly (cf. John 10, 10). No more war! No more violence! No more massacres!
We all ought to try to bring about a truce for life. We have to reject the logic of war and power as a selfish, murderous rationale!
I am launching this appeal to the whole world, in the name of the poor, weak, widows, victims, mortally wounded, mutilated, disfigured, displaced persons, refugees, homeless, hungry, children, the elderly, pregnant women, handicapped, all those in despair, pain and discouragement, such as I often encounter at the Syrian-Lebanese border when travelling from Beirut to Damascus, or during my visits to families of victims and disaster-stricken people. They are burdened by fear about the future and the fate of their families, children and young people.
In the face of this dark and bloody image of our beloved country, Syria, I turn to the nations of the whole world and beseech them: Have pity on Syria! Leave Syria to Syrians! That’s enough of your weapons, your fighters, your mercenaries, your armed adventurers, your jihadis, your takfiris!
We tell everyone quite frankly: War has not succeeded! Violence has not succeeded! Weapons have not succeeded! Arming groups with all sorts of weapons hasn’t succeeded! Your visions, theories and prophecies from the beginning of the crisis in 2011 about the fall of Syria’s president and government have not been fulfilled. Your falsified publicity propaganda has not succeeded. The projects and plots of certain Arab and European countries have not succeeded. Economic sanctions have not succeeded. Threats of iron and fire have not succeeded. Alliances have not succeeded.
Given all these failures, isn’t it time for the world to realise that no-one wins through war, that political resolution is best, and that Syrians alone will decide their future and say who ought to be their President and government and what their Constitution ought to be?
Or is the world really determined, as seems to be the case, to continue a war of extermination of the Syrian people and destruction of its institutions, heritage, churches and mosques, a war that starves, impoverishes, scatters and kills our people and children, breaking their resistance and morale, in order to realise its own interests and plans?
And who is the victim? The suffering, wounded Syrian nation, as described above.
In the name of Syria, I beseech the world: Hands off Syria! Stop the war-mongering! Let Syria and all peace-loving countries of the world work together, to allow peace to prevail in Syria, because Syria’s peace means peace for the whole Middle East region, and especially the Holy Land! Syria deserves the interest, love and trust of the whole world!
We do not want Syria to be the land of war, murder, violence and terrorism; but rather, as we read on posters in the streets of Damascus: “Syria, your land is holy, a land of love and peace.”
O Syria, resurrection is yours
Syria is the land of the Resurrection. At the gates of Damascus, Paul of Tarsus saw Christ risen from the dead. He came to Damascus as a persecutor. He left it as an apostle and preacher of the Resurrection. That is why Syria is the land of the Resurrection. As we said: the title of its children is “Children of the Resurrection.”
Today, we are speaking to our fellow-citizens, Syria’s sons and daughters, giving them this splendid historic appellation, O sons and daughters of Syria! You are the children of the Resurrection, children of life. You are neither children of death, nor instruments of death. You are not children of violence, terror, torture and massacres. Be for ever children of the Resurrection and life!
Let those who seek to destroy our love, our living together, by killing and causing bloodshed in our land, and sowing ideas of takfirism, hatred, enmity, division and sedition leave the pure earth of Syria ! They are just agents of death!
We tell Syria what Jesus said in a certain synagogue, when he healed the woman bent double: “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.” (Luke 13: 12)
We tell Syria: you have a resurrection! You have a resurrection, my fellow-Christian! You have a resurrection, Muslim fellow-citizen! You have a resurrection, who lie hidden under the sod! You have a resurrection, my brother in arms!
Good wishes for the feast
Here I offer my good wishes for the Feast of the glorious Resurrection, this Feast of the Lord’s Pascha, celebrated this year on the same date by all our Churches. I offer these good wishes to my brother metropolitans, archbishops and bishops, the members of our Holy Synod, to my brothers and children the priests, deacons, monks, nuns and all the faithful of our parishes in Arab countries and in countries of the expansion (especially those receiving recent Syrian emigrants.) I offer these good wishes to all Christians as we celebrate Pascha together this year, and also to our Muslim fellow-citizens who believe in resurrection, as we can read in this Qur’anic verse: “Peace upon me on the day I was born, and the day of my death and the day when I will be raised to life.” (Surah 19: 33 Maryam)
I end this letter with one of the most beautiful hymns of the celebration of the glorious Resurrection, in which we address the risen Christ, proud of his Resurrection (Ninth Ode of Orthros): “O divine delight, O ineffable sweetness of thy voice! For thou hast truly promised, O Christ, to be with us unto the end of the age; having this foundation of hope, we the faithful exult with joy.”
With my affection and blessing
+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem