Monday, June 27, 2016

Carol Saba: Return, O Paul, so that Aleppo may once more...

Arabic original in an-Nahar here.

Return, O Paul, so that Aleppo may once more be a Place of Diversity and Encounter!

Master, you who are a prisoner for Christ and yet released while even still in captivity, the first year passed and then was followed by the second and the third has passed while you are still absent and hidden with your companion Metropolitan Yuhanna Ibrahim somewhere in this Middle East in forced imprisonment by worldly hands that have no pity and do not comprehend the profundity of spiritual fatherhood and its implications. We and Aleppo still wait for you. Although you are bound, your freedom remains. You journey between earth and heaven, set free, soaring like an eagle in the heights whose freedom cannot be bound by worldly bonds or human chains.

Aleppo the Gray, master, Aleppo the white city, still waits for you. Aleppo, the meeting-place of religions, cultures and civilizations that have followed one after the other, still waits for you. She does not forget that every civilization that has tried one way or another to swallow her, Aleppo herself absorbed with her accustomed cleverness and opened to it heart and mind together. Aleppo drank from them and they drank from her vineyard and the vineyard of her good character, so Aleppo became a place of unity in diversity and diversity in unity. Aleppo-- the strategic eastern crossing by land, the inescapable open passageway, from inside the Middle East, from outside, and to it-- still waits for you. Aleppo-- the rallying-point for rising influences coming eastward from the Mediterranean and westward from the Syrian interior, the deep Middle East and Mesopotamia-- still waits for you. Aleppo, the sweetheart of culture, the colors of thought, the art of speaking and speech-making; Aleppo, the diverse Middle-Eastern Music, poetry and figures that raise the spirit a magic lever, still waits for you. Aleppo-- the mental geography for the art of eating well, where foods and cuisines, perfumes, spices and aromatic herbs are wed-- still waits for you. Aleppo, director of trade along the Silk Road and meeting-point of industries in the present day, still waits for you. Antiochian Aleppo-- intrinsically bound to the geography of Antioch, the Great City of God, where Christians were first called Christians, which became Christianity's passageway to the world and the world's to Christianity-- still waits for you. The Aleppo of Simeon Stylites and his beautiful cathedral, the finest masterpiece of fifth century Byzantine architecture, the Aleppo of Simeon Stylites, father of the stylites east and west, who tied earth to heaven and was also, like you, a traveler between earth and heaven-- still waits for you. The Aleppo of Nizar Qabbani-- who regretted his great mistake "when he did not put her on his poetic map," before admitting in front of God and man that "she was always on the map of his emotions" and that "she was hiding in in his arteries like kohl hides on a dusky eye"-- still waits for you.

All Aleppo in her numerous numbers, in her churches and mosques, in her muezzins and bells, in her narrow streets and neighborhoods, in her ancient markets and green spaces, all of her, master, still waits for you, longing for you and missing you. Her torrents of tears have become a sea watering the rivers of tormented Syria. Aleppo, master, standing resolute and silent in woundedness and suffering, waits for your return so that she may forget the time of trial and suffering, so that she may forgive and cast aside and shake off the dust of years of separation. She has not grown accustomed to your separation ever since you were joined to her, through thick and thin, since 2000, when you ascended he throne of her episcopacy in Christ. At that time the Lord yoked you together and you received her as a woman to care for, protect, preserve and honor like a wife, for you to nurture her in youth and old age. She received you as a guardian angel, a protector of the Lord's land in her. Aleppo, whom you loved "just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her," as your patron the Apostle Paul wrote to the people of Ephesus (Ephesians 5:25),  is still waiting and longing.

My friend and master, you must know in one way or another, of the passing of your mother Rose, mother also of His Beatitude our father and beloved Patriarch John, to the heavenly abodes to encounter the Face of Faces, the Lord of Lords, the Master of Masters. The entire Church, visible and invisible, present and hidden, was in attendance in the coastal city of Lattakia, adjacent to the sea and what lies beyond it, in the Cathedral of Saint George the Dragon-Slayer. You were the greatest absence and the one who was most present at that prayer that accompanied to the house of the Father the one who offered Him her own flesh and blood as servants of His holy altar and His holy word. She has departed and she is also a traveler between earth and heaven. Her heart weeps and bleeds. Her wounded heart hopes and knows the prayer of ceaseless hope, the hope of seeing you return safe and sound, hale with many days to rightly divide the word of truth, hope that you will return to your flock, your Church, your diocese. Your absence was like a sword drawn at her heart over the past three years. Though she has passed to her Lord, this sword has not dared to pass into her heart and our hearts. Her hope was stronger and so too is our hope. Her wait is still our wait and we still stand firm in hope, waiting for you.

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