Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Patriarch John X's Words at the Divine Liturgy in Athens on October 26, 2014

Arabic original here.

The Words of Patriarch John X at the Divine Liturgy on October 26, 2014 in Athens, Greece

Your Beatitude,

Your Eminences,

"Christ is with us and among us." I say this today, beloved, greeting in you, Your Beatitude, every brother in the Church of Greece. I say this greeting your kind people. As I say this, two phrases are intertwined in my mind: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" and "in whom we live and move and have our being." "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" is well-known to the walls of Damascus, whose street called straight I come to you from. It was known to the Great City of God, Antioch, where the name "Christian" was first uttered. This phrase was engraved deeply in Saul's soul, transforming him into Paul. The spirit of Christ pulsed within him and he arrived here to Greece to bring the people of Athens the good news of their unknown God. He proclaimed His good news in words held by the ears of the Acropolis. He proclaimed the good news of Jesus, "in whom we live and move and have our being." I do not feel myself to be a stranger here, since I am, as my predecessor Elias IV of thrice-blessed memory said, "in the second church established by the Apostle Paul after the Church of Antioch."

I  come to you from Cilicia, which gave us the divine Paul, from the Antioch of Peter and Paul, from the country of Ignatius the God-Bearer, Theophilus and Chrysostom. I come to you from Damascus, which was baptized by Ananias and enlightened by John Damascene. I come to you from Seidnaya which borders heaven and from Maaloula, adopted daughter of Saint Thekla. I come to you from the Beirut of the Apostle Quartus and from Sidon where Jesus visited. I come to you from Aleppo, from the shadow of Simeon's pillar. I come to you from the Homs of Elian and Romanos the Melodist. I come to you from the lands that gave us the saint of repentance, Ephrem the Syrian. All of this is to say that we in Antioch bear the glory of Jesus' Church and we continue to bear it, despite all the difficulties, through the power of our faith in God, our hope in Him, the through the help and support of you, our brothers.

Yes, beloved, I also come to you bearing Antioch's agonies, agonies of people in Syria who demand a life with dignity. A people who are being killed and expelled from their homes. Their children are forced to flee into places without shelter. Their homes, churches and mosques are destroyed. Their children are starving and patients are dying on account of the exorbitant cost of medicine or the lack of care. A crucified people, greatly suffering from terrorism and takfirism. A people yearning-- and they have the right to yearn-- to return to safety first, and then to return to their homes. A people fearing for their fate and for the future of their children.

I come to you with a candle lit for Lebanon, which suffers under this Middle East's cross of misery. I come to you from Iraq, which has suffered and is suffering horrors. We bury all the horrors of this world at Golgotha, at the cross of our Lord. We cover them with the stone of His empty tomb. We forget all obstacles when we remember that our ancestors have been there for two thousand years and that their descendants remain there and shall remain there.

Because I bear the glory and the agony of Antioch, this qualifies me to say that Christians are an essential element of the identity and history of the Middle East. Without them, this region not only loses its identity, but also the particular quality of its cultural existence. This leads me to affirm that the bells of our churches, which have hung from time immemorial, will continue to ring in harmony with the mosques' call to prayer and the teachings of other religions. We Christians of this land were planted here and are rooted like the ceders in Lebanon. We shall remain like the olive trees of the Mount of Olives. There we were born and there we shall remain. We hold its soil to our breast when we depart for eternal life. Therefore, the exodus of Christians from the Middle East is the Middle East's exodus from it own history and being. Their estrangement from it is its estrangement from itself. My message here to the entire world is: stopping the hemorrhaging of Christians in the Middle East depends on efforts to establish peace there. The entire international community and governments must play the role needed of them in order to bring peace, stop acts of terrorism against unarmed civilians and obtain the release of those who have been abducted, especially Metropolitans Yuhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, who were kidnapped more than a year and a half ago amidst a terrifying international silence and commitment to interests at the expense of commitment to humanity.

Between Antioch and Athens there is brotherhood of faith and bonds of history. Between them the logic of debt melts away and is replaced by the logic of sincere, mutually-supportive brotherhood. I have known you personally, Your Beatitude, and I have known in you a dear brother who visited our Church and our homes at a time when many were leaving them during the last days of Patriarch Ignatius. I knew your predecessors Christophoros and Seraphim of thrice-blessed memory. I received my theological education in your country and I lived in its monasteries, where I saw how theology is kneaded with the leaven of humility and becomes incarnate as love and prayer. The Church of Greece has given much to the Church of Antioch. She has welcomed many of our children, opening to them the doors of her institutes and universities and graduating from them priests and bishops to pastor Christ's people in their lands. The Church of Greece has especially accompanied Antiochian Orthodoxy's entrance into the modern era. Balamand is the best evidence for this. The Institute of Theology was launched in 1970 and Antioch benefited from Greek expertise, entrusting leadership of the Institute to Metropolitan Pandeleimon Rhodopoulos. The Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology was tied to the Church of Greece which supported it with her best professors and with Greek language programs. The Greek government also contributed, granting our students the opportunity to come to study theology in the language of the fathers. All of this qualifies us to say that that which unites us to Greece as a country and people is a yearning for apostolic zeal for one, Catholic Orthodox faith, where ethnicities melt in the crucible of Orthodoxy and where different languages and customs are interwoven before the Eucharistic table and its Lord who spoke to us in the language of love, which is poured out upon the pages of His Gospel, which used the language of the time, Greek, to make a home for the Lord in people's hearts.

Brothers, at the level of Orthodoxy, we stand before a great test, the Great Orthodox Council that is to be held in two years. Because we desire the success of this council, we will say that it is important to us that this council issue decisions that go beyond the ordering of sees. It is important to us that it touch on issues of life and faith that not only theologians and researchers-- with all the respect that we have for them all-- but as many segments of society as possible. It is important to us that the council be an embodiment of what we call Orthodoxy. For this reason we are careful to resolve all the disagreements that might prevent brothers from sitting down together, perhaps the most serious of which being the issue of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's intervention in Qatar and their sending an "archbishop" into Antiochian territory. It is important to us that the council address an issue that is no less important than anything else on the agendas, the issue of Middle Eastern Christianity, which has come to the forefront after the changes that occurred in 2011 in the so-called "Arab Spring". Why must we always watch history as observers instead of acting in it, especially when Orthodoxy in our days is not without strength? Let us go back a hundred years and look at what happened to the demographics of the four Orthodox patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Do the last hundred years and the events of the past three years not call for putting ways to secure Christians in their first homes as the first item on the agenda of the Great Council? Here we are not thinking of worldly glory, since we have no lasting home. However, we have an identity and it must remain.

The success of this council is a single Orthodox witness in today's world. This witness is also the first brick of Christian witness in today's world. We in Antioch are Greek Orthodoxy's gateway to the non-Chalcedonian Churches. What brings us together with these churches is greater than what separates us. We hope and we constantly work so that everyone will come to understand that the logic of geography, history and present theological reality make it imperative for us to draw closer together and actively strive to eliminate all the dross of history. The Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch is also Orthodoxy's gateway to the Arab and Islamic world on account of factors of history, geography and language. This gateway is part of the great Orthodox body whose head is Christ and whose heart is the faith passed down to us by His pure Apostles.

In my name and in the name of the delegation accompanying me, I would like to address greetings to President Karolos Papoulias and to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, lifting up my prayer to the Lord that He will bless their efforts for the good of Greece.

In closing, I thank you, Your Beatitude, and I pray with you for Greece, which is so dear to our hearts. May God remove every distress from this good people and may He crown your efforts in the service of the people of this country with success. We ask you, in the words of Saint Ignatius of Antioch to "pray for the church that is in Antioch and that is watched over by Christ and your love." We ask God most high to send His peace to hearts and to give us an opportunity to welcome you to Syria and Lebanon.

And, once more, Christ is with us and among us. He was, He is and He shall be.

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