Friday, February 15, 2013

John X's First Address at Balamand as Patriarch

This translation does no justice to the Arabic original, which can be found here.

Address of His Beatitude John X
Patriarch of Antioch and all the East
Balamand, February 13, 2013

My beloved children,

I come to you with my heart oriented towards you. It touches your hearts, in which the Lord dwells. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this warm welcome on my first visit to Balamand after the celebration of my enthronement. I especially thank His Grace Bishop Ghattas Hazim for his kind words, as I also thank each one of you for your presence and participation. My joy today is great at meeting loved ones and these kind faces. How sweet it is to meet, when it is at Balamand.


I come to you from Damascus, where the Apostle Paul was guided to Christianity and from whence he went to the ends of the earth. I come from Antioch the Great, to reinforce all that is true and great in human life. I come to you today, to Lebanon, the beloved country, whose name is derived from 'whiteness' after the snows that coat its majestic peaks. May the witness that is synonymous with Lebanon return through whiteness of hearts and purity of souls, so that Lebanon may again be and remain as we knew it, a leaven for coexistence, for love, and for all that is good and true.

Here today we are atop the hill at Balamand, whose feet are washed by the endless sea and which is guarded by the cedars of Lebanon that were sung by the prophets and have become a symbol of Lebanon's perseverance, power, and persistence across the ages. I greet you from these sweet breezes, from the sound of the bells of Balamand tower which embraces heaven, from the incense of the beautiful monastery's church, from the serenity of nature's greenery, from the breeze of the chants of the choir of the  Saint John of Damascus Theological Institute, from the heart of the august Balamand University.

This hill has witnessed a spiritual, intellectual, and architectural renaissance. Thanks for this goes, after God, to Patriarch Ignatius IV of thrice-blessed memory. This great man believed in the importance of religious and educational formation and he turned this monastery into the beacon of Antioch. He was the first dean of the Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology, then he revived the Balamand Secondary School, just as he founded, in Lebanon's darkest days, Balamand University, which is the first Orthodox university in the world. He founded it as the Orthodox Church's gift to Lebanon and to the Arab Middle East.


I came to the monastery, to the Institute, and to the University as a student, then as a professor, then as dean and abbot. It pleases me to be the first patriarch that this Balamand institute has offered to the Antiochian Church. Everyone who has served, grown up, and learned at Balamand has a constant yearning to find his way here again. I thank God and my brother bishops on the Holy Synod that I have found my way back to Balamand today as patriarch of Antioch.

You, distinguished people of Koura, have embodied the true faith in your work and your knowledge, and blessed is the one who works and teaches! Blessed is the olive tree that the Bible has blessed and from whose fruit and oil you have received good things and blessings. It is really a part of the Lord's vineyard of which He tells us in the Gospel, "Son, go, work today in my vineyard" (Matthew 21:28).


Given that we are the largest Christian church in the Levant, we shall complete the effort for the hoped-for unity between Christians, so that together we may bear witness to Christ and the Church. We shall always work with our Muslim brothers and partners in the nation in order to lay and strengthen the foundation of honorable coexistence, freedom, citizenship, and equality. Are we not all "either your brother in religion or your counterpart in creation?" In order for this to be achieved in our beloved Lebanon, I must remind you, the children of our Orthodox Church, that we are not a narrow, closed-off, sectarian bloc. So that we do not fall into this sin, let us strive, starting from the basis of our faith, with all Lebanese to make up one nation that is not satisfied to be dictated to from outside but rather is animated by its good children who stand united in its service and loyalty to it alone.

This leads us to be a group with understanding, knowledge, study and giving, a group that is aware of what is necessary for it to give so that the nation will be faithful to all its sons without distinction. The rights of the Lebanese citizen will be our concern because we do not flourish alone. Our desire is the revival of all in a cohesive Lebanese unity.

We do not desire distinction in this nation, since we are not for ourselves but for all citizens. We do not strive for a unique place in the nation, since we work for all its segments. Indeed, we are gladdened by the advancement of every segment of society because the nation is good in all its segments. Spiritual or intellectual leadership comes from where the Spirit wills. We are not merely a human group-- we are also also of the Spirit.

We are called to become great in God, since He alone is our beauty and our strength and in Him alone do we exist and are distinguished and rise above flesh and blood. This ascent is what we offer to the nation as a gift and lift up to God as an offering.

If we become great, we will have accomplished our endeavor, careful to maintain humility that establishes us in loftiness. Do not forget that there is no loftiness without correct belief and the effacement of our life in all-encompassing love. We are servants of all the children of this nation, after the pattern of the One of whom it was said, "He came not to be served but to serve and to sacrifice Himself for the redemption of many." No person is created great. He becomes that way if he sacrifices himself  for brothers. The one who dies, lives. One who loves, lives and gives life because one who loves is a child of the Resurrection. Remember that every living thing comes from His resurrection. Make it so that the stench of death does not emanate from those around you.

In the end, from here, from Balamand, from the hill of love, faith, knowledge, and coexistence, I call upon all in our tormented nations to build bridges out of love because the worst thing that dwells in the heart is hatred and because the Lord affirms that love comes first. It is the mother of faith and the mother of all the virtues. As the Fathers say, it is greater than knowledge and even greater than prayer.

We say to all as it says in the Book of Deuteronomy, "Do not have two differing weights in your bag-- one heavy, one light" (Deuteronomy 25:13). It is good for our weight in this nation to be a single weight for all, whose basis is faith, love, sacrifice, acceptance of the other, and pleasing the face of God. This assumes that every day we are born in the Spirit of the Lord, who sees us aflame with His fire, then we make it a light that renews people. Perhaps in this way we will disperse the dark shadows from our world and Lebanon will have risen from the dead.

May God grant you success, make firm your steps, and make you always work together in love, brotherhood, and peace.

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