With God’s mercy
Patriarch of Antioch and all the East
To my brethren, the Shepherds of the Holy Antiochian Church
And my children who belong to this Apostolic See
We approach these Holy and Blessed Feasts as we witness the crucial events our Antiochian Church has gone through recently, first and foremost with the departure of our Father, Patriarch Ignatius IVth who ministered the Church with patience and faithfulness for several decades. His memory shall remain alive in our minds and hearts, and shall be eternal before the Lord Whom he served all his life. At this time, our Church and our people are experiencing dramatic situations caused by violence and troubles shaking our region.
The Holy Spirit has willed that I be elected by my brothers, the members of the Holy Synod, to succeed this great Minister, in spite of my unworthiness. However, I rely on God and on you, my brothers and children of my Church, and this shall make me expect, with great hope, divine help, which will enable us to overcome these hard tests and look for a better future.
In the midst of these events, you have left in my heart the feeling that you have lived in this period as the people of the living God; you have expressed this reality in three responses: You were deeply moved at the departure of our great Patriarch; You maintained your fasting, prayers and hope before the elections; and finally you showed joy, exultation and peace after the elections. For all these three responses and your care, allow me to express my deep thanks to you, convey my pride in you and my steadfast hope in the one body of our Church.
Behold, the Child Who is coming to us in the cave to die for us; is reminding us that He is with us, talking to us, and entrusting us with conveying the message of peace and love, which He addressed to each and every one of us and to the whole world. He is coming to us as a humble one, knocking at the door of our heart with gentility as if He wanted to be born in it. The feast of Nativity is not a mere remembrance of Jesus’ birth in a cradle from the Virgin Mother of God; it was meant to be the feast of His birth in us, a birth that can only occur if we seek the purity that distinguished the Virgin Mary. The Birth of Jesus in us will invite us to renew our commitment to His teachings, and our struggle to become His unblemished Church, a Church that is free of weaknesses, pure in everything, and shining with the Holy Spirit. Together we shall be aware that the Church of Christ is our mother, and that the shepherds and the believers are called to be Christ’s messengers inviting their brethren in the world to reconciliation and to the rejection of violence so that His peace may prevail.
The world will not be convinced unless it feels that it is much loved by the followers of Jesus and that they are its servants.
The Church is our mother. Each and every one of you is important and has a unique position in it. You have the right to be ministered by its shepherds. All ministers, at all ranks, should go out to you, listen to you, to your problems, and should seek to help you and answer all your crucial questions.
You have the right, as believers who submitted themselves to the Word of God and sought to be like Him in everything, that you be included in consultations and the resolution of its issues; all the children together with the father, are supposed to keep vigilance for the future under God of the family.
We approach this feast as many of the children of our Church are displaced, away from their homes, enduring much suffering. Our duty as brothers and sisters is to support them and give them consolation, not only with money and necessary material help, but also by showing them care, love and compassion.
We approach the feast as our people are facing many changes and challenges in a world that is departing increasingly from traditional concepts, making violence, consumption and possession a new law for this life. Needless to say, the luxury with which we celebrate this feast, the feast of the poverty of Bethlehem, is a clear sign that we, also, have adopted this law in the conduct of our lives. As we are accustomed to exchange gifts in the manner of the kings who visited the Lord Jesus at His birth, let us express our love to the Divine Child, coming to us, by feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, offering a shelter to the homeless and doing whatever we can do.
We approach this feast as many in our countries are asking what might happen to them.
Brethren, the Child of the cave is saying to us: “Do not fear, I am with you. Do not fear because your brothers and sisters are called to help one another and support one another. Do not fear because you are the people of this region, in which God willed you to be born since ancient times. Do not fear, because you have in it many brethren who believe in love and peaceful co-existence.
Do not fear, lest you lose your dynamism; instead go to meet all with love, joy and full trust in your God, who is the God of love, Who is love itself. Be the heralds of reconciliation, and of a dialogue in depth.”
We celebrate this feast with our other Christian brethren. We pray to God that he may give us to deepen our dialogue with them all, in order to reach the unity God desires, the unity without which the world will not believe that Jesus was sent by God.
Let us also celebrate with our Muslim brethren who look highly at Jesus Christ and confess his birth from the Virgin Mary according to the will of God. This feast is in common with them if we know how to make with them a dialogue of life and co-existence on the notions that bring us together in our religion and in our world.
Brothers and Sisters, bow down before the Child of the cradle who willed to dwell in you.
I cannot but think here of our children who are awaiting us all over the world, our children in the Arab Gulf, Europe, Australia and the Americas. You are in my heart since I met you during my journeys and during my ministry of your churches. You are a real expression of the apostolic spirit of Antioch in the countries in which you are living. Your love for Antioch and the faith you are living makes me feel, more than ever, the necessity of working together in the service of the Church and of offering a living witness to our unity and love.
Thus we become true witnesses to the Lord in the world, and thus our Antiochian Church becomes faithful to its history which shines with the light of the martyrs and the saints. We have no other way but holiness, which makes everything possible.
I send to you the apostolic blessing assuring you that I carry each and every one of you in my heart, asking God to make me His faithful servant in you and to enable us to work together so that God may be glorified in the humanity he loved and in the Church which carries His name in this world.
Addressed from our patriarchal residence in Damascus.
On 20th December 2012.