Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Patriarch John X on the Silver Jubilee of GOPA-DERD

Arabic original here.

Speech of Patriarch John X
At the Silver Jubilee of the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development 

Damascus, November 9, 2019


Though the compassionate Samaritan, the Lord poured out His mercy, treating the wounds of the other man with the wine of love that annointed his afflictionsand the oil of kindness from his heart to the broken heart and from the Good Samaritan and through him, an intercessor and a symbol. The Church of Antioch and All the East has chosen to extend to the world her charitable arm, represented by the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development. The Church of Antioch has chosen and desired to embody God's love, translated into love of the neighbor from any background. The Church of Antioch has chosen to look at man's suffering and pour out upon it the oil of God's mercy, from the One who with whom are gifts, offerings and help. She has desired to sprinkle his wounds with kindness and compassion because she sees in him the holy face of the Creator and an act of charity well-pleasing to Him, may He be exalted,

A quarter-century ago, the Iraq crisis broke out and Iraqi brothers streamed into Syria. This was the birth of this department by the Church of Antioch with the blessing of Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim of thrice-blessed memory and the efforts of many, including his spiritual son Samer Lahham.
Today, after a quarter-century, the Church of Antioch continues, through the Department of Relief , to seek the face of her Lord in the face of man. The Text of the Gospel says, "The Samaritan.. came to [the wounded man] and when he saw him, took pity." And this, brothers, is the essence of our mission. The Church strives first and foremost for and approaches wounded man. The Church is the one to take the initiative, before he even sets out. She comes first, sees and feels the reality, the need and what is hoped for. Then, since she sees and beholds, she has pity and compassion. Her pity and compassion are not a kindness from her, but rather an outpouring of God's compassion, which he pours out upon souls as their Creator and Lord.

Since 2011 and the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, our Church has been striving to attain God's good pleasure in the face of suffering people, no matter what group they belong to. We extend a helping hand as much as we are able to our Christian children and to the people of the Middle East from every community. This is what the Lord wills in the Gospel. The Samaritan in Jesus' parable did not extend a helping hand only to people of his own race, but to the other. This other is our brother. We are enriched by him and he is enriched by us. We may fall short on one side and advance on another. We may sometimes make mistakes and we may sometimes be correct because perfection belongs to God alone. What we seek, however, is to wipe a tear from the face of those suffering.

From the mid-1990s until today, the number of those working in the department has grown and in 2019 it reached 1700 people. The department has expanded from Damascus and has centers in all of Syria's governorates. Amidst the present crisis, and despite communications being cut in some places, the department has been able, through its team, to be in every place and every region of Syrian territory, even in the most dangerous and complicated circumstances. Two martyrs have arisen from its ranks: the martyr Bassam Kanhouche and the martyr Yasar Mu'ammar. Its Christian staff stands side by side with its Muslim staff and its services reach both George and Ahmad. That has earned the trust of international agencies in the field of relief and its motto is what the Apostle Paul says: "God loves a cheerful giver."


We as Christians in this Middle East are an ember of its fire that illuminates and burns all at once. We are from the heart of this Middle East and from its very being. Our Christ's feet walked here and the feet of His Apostles were firmly planted in the soil. From here, His Gospel went out to all the world. We are not here as visitors, but as part of the household. All the clamor of our hardship is effaced before the cross of the Nazarene and His Golgotha. They bind us to our Muslim brother, our partner in the nation, in the kindest relationship. This relationship is over a thousand years old. Despite all the ups and downs, Christianity and Christians in general remain with the Muslims and all strata of society as children of one nation and one house, brothers in history and geography in this Middle East, which God willed to be the womb of heaven in our world. Wars come and go, conflicts and unrest pass, delight and hardship comes along on this earth in every one of its countries and our motto remains despite everything and despite all the emigration, forced expulsion, violence and kidnapping; our motto remains, despite everthing: here we were born, here we live and here we shall die next to the dust of our ancestors.

Our prayer today is also for peace in Syria and stability in Lebanon. Our prayer is for this Middle East in all its countries and for peace in the whole world. Our prayer is for every kidnapped person, homeless person, refugee and suffering person. Our prayer is for our brothers the kidnapped metropolitans of Aleppo Yuhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi who are languishing in the obscurity of kidnapping, disappearance and the farce of their plight being ignored internationally, which epitomizes a little bit of the suffering of the people of the Middle East. All are called, within and without, to adopt the logic of dialogue and political solution as a way to preserve the unity of this country. This is Syria! Our children are from its every region. Look at them, they are our children from every corner and direction, starting from Khabur and the Jazira along the Euphrates to Lattakia, the Bride of the Coast, to Qalamoun, Damascus and Mount Qassioun and the proud, immortal Golan. This country is one, united in the hearts of its children and its geography.


Ask the Old City of Damascus and its walls and alleys will speak to you of our predecessor, the Patriarch of Mercy, Gregory IV Haddad. Ask them, and they will tell you abuot his loaf of bread, which did not distinguish between Muslim and Christian during the days of the First World War. Ask them, and they will tell you about his cross, with which he fed the poor, and since I mention this, I would be pleased to say something about the life of this great man.

Once, Gregory Haddad, who was metropolitan of Tripoli, interceded on behalf of the Muslim qadi of Tripoli, who had been summoned before the governor. Metropolitan Gregory was the only one, among all the people who were certain of his innocence, who visited him in jail and offered him help and money. He did not stop at that, but defended him in Tripoli and in the capital, until his innocence became obvious. After that, years passed and Gregory became patriarch. The qadi died and years passed. The son of that qadi came to Damascus in the company of the notables of his city and visited the patriarch, saying:

"I come from the capital to fulfill the command of my departed father, who said to me, 'Go to Damascus and before your visit to the Umayyad Mosque, go and kiss the hand of the Patriarch of the Rum.'"

When he asked him about his father, he learned that he was the one who had helped him when he was imprisoned. A simple story, but it encapsulates the reality and the history of coexistence that was and remains and which must be experienced. Gregory's hand is the hand of the Church of Antioch, which has only ever reached out to encounter the other and live with him.

In closing, my deepest thanks go to our children in the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development and I first of all salute the efforts of the Rev Archimandrite Alexi Shehadeh, its director and I salute all his assistants and all who have worked there. I salute you, beloved children, with love. Your efforts have been blessed and every soul has been blessed that acquires with its earthly treasure the treasure of heaven. I likewise thank the Syrian government and all the ministries and official bodies that have facilitated the world of the Department of Relief in all governates, and I should not forget all the donors and international organizations in every place.

Congratulations. May there be more giving and advancement with God's help and protection. Amen.

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