June 2, 2013
Your Beatitude Patriarch John of Antioch, honorable brother in Christ,
Christ is Risen!
In the early morning, Your Beatitude, like the Myrrh-bearing women on that first day after the Sabbath, with Mary the mother of the Lord leading them, you also came with myrrh and tears to this Tomb of the Resurrection “in order that we might together anoint Jesus with oil” through the mysteries of the Divine Eucharist and life. The Myrrh-bearing women encountered an empty tomb and a radiant angel, who told them: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” because the living God, the God of our Father, is not to be found among the dead; nor is He an ideology or abstraction; rather, He is living and gives life to the dead. Indeed, those of us who bear testimony to Him speak from personal witness. Thus, we witness, declare and confess, in accordance with His word: “Do not be afraid; I am the first, the last and the living; I was dead and, behold, I am alive to the ages of ages, for I hold the keys of death and hades.” (Rev. 1.17-19)
Truly, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must do so is spirit and truth” (John 4.24-25), as the Lord said to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well; this we, too, confess through our personal witness of the events that occurred. More specifically, whoever believes in spirit, truth and heart, is a genuine laborer, while whoever believes in word alone and in heart is empty in deeds: “These people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.” (Is. 29.13)
Today’s Gospel reading, read and experienced within the general context of joy in this paschal period, boldly bears witness to the inexpressible condescension of our Lord, who “willingly grew tired” and “asked to drink water.”
The maker and creator of the universe, who “covers the earth with clouds,” asks for water from a woman; “the one who pours out water on springs and lakes,” “who hung the earth on water.” In reality, however, He is not asking for created water, but for salvation of the soul; He asks the woman, who “is terribly consumed by sin” – namely, the man and woman of every age – “to give Him to drink from the water of life,” as the only compassionate and loving Lord.
Thus, the Lord becomes – for the Samaritan woman and for every faithful person – “a source of living water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4.14)
Indeed, the body of the living Christ extended to the ages, the Orthodox Church, is a source of living water. On the one hand, one is Holy, one is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father; on the other, there is only One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Christ the Lord and Church, as the servant of humanity, are together identified absolutely. Wherever Christ is, there too is the Church; and wherever the Church is, there too is Christ.
In this way, for us all, the Holy and Great Church of Christ, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, together with the most Holy and ancient Church of Antioch, Your Beatitude, but also every local canonical Orthodox Church, is a personal spring, a personal well, where the Lord Jesus offers – without hesitation or reservation – water gushing up to eternal life, so long as we approach Him in prayer “with clean souls and pure lips,” “neither talking as if to human beings and seeking to avoid notice,” but as being “surprised by the word of the Lord.” This is precisely our prayer and wish for Metropolitan John of the Syro-Jacobite Church, who is kidnapped with your brother.
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The other feast, which we are co-celebrating during the mystery of mysteries before the sacred altar with Your beloved and esteemed Beatitude, brother Patriarch John, namely the commemoration of the cloud of Saints, Patriarchs of Constantinople who are numbered and honored among the saints, while at the same time also invoking the intercession of your saintly predecessors on the martyric Throne of Antioch, reminds us of the obligation and need for the examples of heroic and martyric ethos as well as the personal testimony of the living faith of the Saints. For we are called to follow, even in our day – despite what many suppose and believe to be the multitude of difficulties and changing circumstances of our age – the shining example of the Fathers of our Orthodox Church: of the Hieromartyrs, like Ignatius the God-bearer; of the Confessors, like Patriarch Germanos of Constantinople; of the ascetics, like John the Faster; of the great Teachers of Faith and opponents of heresy, like the glorious John Chrysostom, the common glory of both our sister Churches, and Gregory the Theologian, together with all the saints, who fought the good fight and were crowned. If we apply not simply the exhibit but also the example of these Saints, only then can we attract the mercy, grace and alliance of God, becoming “a welcome sacrifice, acceptable to the Lord.”
We are certain that these saintly Patriarchs care for and unceasingly support our two ancient Patriarchates in Constantinople and Antioch, together with their entire institution. This is why both of these Churches “went through fire and steel” with so many difficult conditions and trials through the centuries; yet, behold, both are living, providing a witness and example – as they should, and as everyone should – “recognizing the Lord’s might” and our human frailty and weakness.
As we reflect on the truly critical conditions and circumstances, which your Church is undergoing, Your Beatitude, for reasons known only to God, we recall the words of St. Ignatius, the first bishop of Antioch ordained by the holy Apostles, as he was being led captive to Rome: “Remember the Church of Syria in your prayer, which has God as its shepherd in my place. Only Jesus Christ will supervise it as its bishop, together with your love.”
Convinced about this supervision as bishop by Christ Himself, we experience great joy at your irenic visit here in person, bearing the witness of the places and regions sanctified by the steps of the Apostles. It is there that St. Paul’s vocation occurred in the brilliant light of the cross and resurrection; it is there that the blood of the martyrs watered the earth: St. Drosis, the hieromartyrs Babylas and Lucian, the martyrs Sergius and Bacchus, Julian, Barlaam, the neomartyr Jacob, abbot of the Monastery of our Lady of Hamatoura, and so many others, both known and unknown; those lands washed by the sweat of the ascetics and the bold struggle of countless monks, nuns and saints, like Symeon the Stylite, the fiery pillar and unconsumed skyscraper, who supported the whole world with his prayers.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate and our Modesty deeply honor the Christ-like countenance, the unfeigned piety, the ecclesiastical ethos, the ascetic lifestyle, the traditional custom, the insistence on tradition and on monasticism, the learning at the school of virtue, Mt. Athos, the sincerity and consequence of words and actions on the part of Your Beatitude, and especially the “confession of unity” toward all; and we regard you as a precious brother, friend and colleague in our work in the Lord’s field. We assure you that, in your particularly difficult Patriarchal ministry, replete with danger and sorrow, and especially at this present time, you will always have the Great Church that dwells in Constantinople as your co-traveller and co-sojourner, just as the long tradition of fraternal relations, solidarity and mutual support among our two Churches surely demands and reflects.
Our encounter and concelebration in the Divine Liturgy “for the life and salvation of the world” strengthens the traditional bonds of our two Churches, but also reminds both of us, as first-hierarchs of the One and United Church, on the one hand of our obligation to rise to the level of the circumstances that we face in order to preserve the unity that we share like the core of our eye inasmuch as without this unity it is impossible for God to work among our people; and on the other hand, it reminds us of the necessity for a genuine personal witness not so much of the empty tomb but of the suffering and plagued human race, which has recently been beset with “many trials.”
We are daily informed about the martyrdom of suffering and sorrow, which Christians – especially in the Middle East – are undergoing; and we hasten to offer our prayers to the Lord, who is able to remove all tears from the face of every person, that He might reduce the time of our trial and swiftly grant peace to your troubled and martyric land, as the only mighty and powerful One.
Most especially, for over a month now, we have intensely prayed and remembered the bond and captivity of your own brother and our dearly beloved concelebrant, the Most Reverend Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo, who has experienced the terrible trial of kidnapping. We wholeheartedly pray that the Lord, who “put death to death by death,” may protect him whole, healthy and unharmed from every assault, lightening his yoke and granting him a swift, sound and safe return to the flock that anxiously awaits and is deprived of such a spiritual leader, characterized by such spiritual and social activity, who has transformed the holy Metropolis of Aleppo into a genuinely spiritual oasis in the midst of the Syrian desert. We beseech the Lord in prayerful petition to grant enlightenment and prudence to those who hold him captive and “that they might cease their injustice.”
* * *
Your Beatitude, beloved brother Patriarch John of Antioch,
As we wait in supplication and petition for the whole world in this upper room of the Phanar, we fervently pray to the Risen and All-good Lord that “He may not abandon us to the end, for the sake of His Name, that He may not remove from us His covenant or withdraw from us His mercy.” Instead, we pray that He will constantly supervise and bless the most holy Church of Antioch, while strengthening Your Beatitude in unflinching health and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, in order that you may always exercise your calling and ministry in a God-loving and God-pleasing manner for the sake of your pious flock of Antioch throughout the world with fear of God, faith and love, being worthy of the task and always providing support and refuge to all people in our times of trial and injustice.
We are saddened when we hear the destructive consequences of war, not only in Syria but also throughout the world, and of the “waves of life’s sea” crashing over human lives. Nevertheless, every effort to discover a way out of the painful impasse of the contemporary world can surely never succeed unless there is repentance before the Creator and the creation of His hands, namely humanity. War and all manner of crises will persist so long as people’s spirit, especially of those in affluence that control the “movement of evil,” remains unchanged, unrepentant and unenlightened; or while people’s “eyes are not removed from evil sights, hearing from idle words, tongue from inappropriate utterances; until “our lips are cleansed to praise the Lord,” “our hands desist from evil deeds, performing only acts pleasing to the Lord,” and “all of the members of our body, together with our mind, are protected by His grace.”
Then, we shall see – and humanity will see – light; for us, that light is Christ, who “shone as light from light upon the world.” Only beside Him can we find light, labor and fruit. As for the rest, the “sinful pretexts” and justification of “evil deeds and acts,” they cannot endure the light because they are of the evil one and not from God’s wisdom, the “word of truth.”
The risen Lord has paid a ransom for us, just as He did for the sinful and iniquitous Samaritan woman, whom he converted to St. Photini, delivering us from the curse of evil by His precious Blood, His suffering, and His sacred words. We are grateful to our benefactor and redeemer. Moreover, we owe it to Him in practice to demonstrate through purity of life and in conviction that He is long-suffering and forgiving toward everyone, so long as we show signs of repentance, “journeying the ocean of healing” in order to restore – all of us, and especially we, who care for God’s creation, namely humanity.
May the light of the Lord’s Resurrection, which invites us to “forgive everything” within us and among us, brighten the life, light and heart of Your Beatitude, delivering you from what we believe is a temporary “cry of mourning” and granting “sacred waters” to all your people suffering from the “envy of evil.” And may the Risen Lord vouchsafe your vocation and ministry with all that is good, pure, just and honorable, with the virtue and glory that do not derive from below, but with His grace and mercy. Amen.
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