Phanar, June 1, 2013
Your Beatitude, Patriarch John of Antioch and brother in Christ, together with your honorable entourage,
Christ is Risen!
“We hymn the incomprehensible might and invincible power” of the Risen Lord” as we receive Your most holy Beatitude to this courtyard of the most holy Church of Constantinople, as you arrive bearing good news and gifts of endurance, patience and resurrection within the confusion of “the trials of this world.”
You are welcome, Your Beatitude and precious brother, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, where the sighs and tears of centuries flow for the life and salvation of the world; where sometimes deep darkness, cross, death, influences and circumstances of life strike the note and expectation of hope; where lies the light, life, peace, consolation, coordination and the center of Orthodoxy and orthopraxy; and where we hold the source, from which the wise Creator funnels sweet tidings in search of the eternal water.
You are welcome, beloved Brother, as you bring us the mystical grace of the sacred places of your homeland as dew from the cedars of Mt. Lebanon, descending peacefully on this Bosphorus coast. It comes from Damascus, where the Lord appeared to his persecutor Saul and converted him to Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles; it comes from the sacred pilgrimage in Sentaya, where the miracle of the Theotokos is daily revealed; it comes from the sacred pilgrimage of St. Thekla the Protomartyr in Maaloula, where the language used by our Lord in His incarnate life is still spoken; it comes from the region that comprises a genuine golden chain of saintly and martyred predecessors of Your Beatitude; it comes from the tomb of the holy martyr Julian in Emessa, the pillar of St. Symeon near Aleppo, and the caves of the fiery ascetics in the Syrian desert. Thus, you bring to us “the ongoing life of the ages,” which is preserved in the land of your ministry.
* * *
You are welcome, precious brother, for you also bring us the burden of darkness: of the sorrow, suffering and trials of your pious people, who find themselves amid a fratricidal war and, despite a peaceful and calm existence, undergo unjust assaults, violence, and other horrible things, like a vertiginous wind, culminating in the kidnapping of our dearly beloved brother and concelebrant, and still more beloved to you as your very brother, His Eminence Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo and Alexandretta, such a distinguished pastor, who has already offered so much that is good and beneficial to the people of Syria as well as to the Church in general, by becoming an example and model for Christians and non-Christians, leading people to Christ through teaching but also through his good and righteous life.
As your people experience these circumstances and conditions, but also so much more, Your Beatitude, they often encounter this vertiginous darkness before the “council of vainglory,” awaiting the “surprise” and power of the “awesome mystery” of the Resurrection, which “will fill the universe with spiritual fragrance.”
* * *
Your Beatitude, you have come here so that we may together emphasize and express once again the existing unity of the Orthodox Christians, which springs from the very unity of the three Persons of the Triune God, who established the one and united Orthodox Church from one end of the universe to the other.
It is true that you have been called to serve the task of salvation in Christ during very difficult times and in circumstances scarcely favorable for the most holy Church in Antioch. You have been placed “on a bushel” in order to support, protect, care, consolation, practical assistance, and encouragement of your people so that they might remain in their traditional homeland, where they have lived to this day despite numerous persecutions as the leaven of the Holy Gospel, to leaven the whole mix, as well as to provide the eternal witness of the true faith to the ends of the world from this sacred region.
According to His inscrutable judgment and great mercy, then, the Great High Priest returned you from the West and placed you as a light to shine upon all in the house and as a witness to the truth.
As we reflect with heart and lips upon the hierarchal ministry entrusted to you, Your Beatitude, we hear the unceasing echo of the prophet with the inner ears of our soul: “I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 13.47) as well as the encouraging words of the apostle: “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14.22) These trials may originate from outside the boundaries of the Church or else from those who deliberately seek to crucify the Church. Indeed, sometimes, “the boldness of the disciples ceases” and the “pure temple is shattered” in order for “Joseph of Arimathea to excel” and for the Lord “to raise the fallen tabernacle.” Every form of evil may reign, just violence, terror, murder, kidnapping, revenge, endless slander and myth cultivated by the mass media, together with all kinds of human torture against God’s image, even its death and burial. Nevertheless, evil “is not eternal” and hell cannot shame the human race. Truth is victorious and shines; evil can never overcome it. (See 1 Esdras 3.13)
Yet, Your Beatitude, “ who can separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8.35), when “we suffer with Him in order to be glorified with Him.” (Rom. 8.17-18) Indeed, Your Beatitude also follows in the footsteps of the persecuted Apostles, your predecessors who were martyred for the Lord Jesus, the “cloud of martyrs” in the Church. This is the glory of Orthodoxy: “All who want to live a godly life in Jesus Christ will be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3.12) Truly, for the sake of our Lord Jesus who was incarnate, crucified and risen in order to deify our nature and for the sake of His spotless Bride, the Church, it is meet and worthy for us, too, to ascend the cross and descend to hell, always “enriched by God” and serving the unity of the Churches within and among themselves; and from the perspective of this unity and the unity of humanity, we are convinced that in the end “our sorrow will be converted to joy.” (John 16.21)
* * *
Your Beatitude, you are a man known for your devotion, chosen from childhood to serve the Church, nurtured in a deeply pious family, enjoying the respect and love of the plenitude of the Church for your conduct, contribution and charisma to date, and especially for your monastic ethos, which you acquired and cultivated on the beautiful Holy Mountain Athos, as well as for your ecclesiastical ethos. Therefore, for the Christian faithful of your Church but also for all of Orthodoxy, you comprise the inspired hope, pillar and certainty of the Catholic Church, which was first called “Christian” in Antioch and thenceforth extended the salvific work of our Lord Jesus Christ throughout the entire world through the Apostles and their successors.
Thus, both of us continue the journey of unity, each of us from our own position to which we have been called, in the conviction that, whenever we are humanly fearful or frail, “consumed by the envy of evil, which paralyzes our soul,” “God will come from the land of Tema and the Holy One will come from the shady forest in the mountain.” Then we shall truly echo in one heart and with one mouth: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to all people.”
Christ is risen! Your Beatitude, welcome. Christ is in our midst and in the midst of our most holy Churches of Constantinople and Antioch. He is and was and ever shall be, now and to the ages. Amen.
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