Road to Jerusalem! Road to Damascus!
your Graces the Bishops,
Superiors General, Mothers General,
priests, deacons, monks, nuns
and all the sons and daughters of our Melkite Greek Catholic parishes
in Arab countries, the countries of the expansion and throughout the world,
best wishes for the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is the Way and Companion of all our ways.
When I started creating this letter, I found myself on the way, like Luke and Cleopas, on the road with Jesus, who encounters me with love and kindness, mercy, humility, care, consideration and compassion. He comes to me and goes with me, he who is everywhere present and fills all things, Jesus, the gracious and merciful companion who loves mankind, the friend and brother, divine and human. He became man, and wants to go on the way to every human being, to bring everyone to happiness, joy and resurrection to eternal life.
Way of the Resurrection
This message takes me back in particular to Jerusalem and back to my memories of the Holy Land, and walking on the road taken by the disciples to Emmaus; walking on the road to Emmaus or El Qubeibeh (convent of the Franciscan Fathers), where there is a nursing home for the disabled and elderly under the auspices of the Sisters of the Redeemer; on the road to Emmaus (Latroun) near the monastery of the Trappist fathers, where, on the most sacred Feast of Pascha, I used to celebrate the Divine Liturgy; and I go with Luke and Cleopas, as they set off from Emmaus to return to Jerusalem, the city of the Resurrection to preach the gospel of the resurrection! And Jesus accompanies me in this letter just as he accompanied them.
Through this letter, I should like every reader – especially my brothers, the members of the Holy Synod, and every believer and every human being – I should like everyone to feel that he or she is not alone on the road. God became a route! Companion! Path! A way! Road map! Jesus emptied himself, declaring to all of us, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) He addresses all human beings and addresses you today through this letter, saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” And, “I am the resurrection and the life!” (John 11:25) and, “He that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life!” (John 8:12)
Beloved, through this letter, walk with Jesus! Open the eyes of faith to see Jesus as the disciples of Emmaus first saw him, then with your bodily eyes explaining to you the economy of salvation, the story of God walking with his people. Jesus is the way! He is the way, the companion of humans in this life! He accompanies us humans on the way to the Promised Land, which does not have geographic borders as does human society, but is limitless, not bound by human borders! But it is a way for all us humans that unites us to everybody and with the Father and leads us to the Father!
My patriarchal letters are a continuous spiritual dialogue with my Church, with my brother bishops, priests, and deacons, monks, nuns and faithful, young people and families. So I am working on drafting letters throughout the year over the months!
For example during 2015: I began the Christmas Letter in October 2015, began the Lent Letter in December 2015, began the 2016 Paschal Letter in late December, 2015 together with the Lent Letter! I am in continuous dialogue with you! I try to address you, my people, bearing in mind the kind of spiritual food needed!
I am really always in dialogue with my Church, because my Church is my obsession and the subject of my constant love and permanent interest! I live my Church one hundred percent in dress and comportment, wherever I may be, whether in Damascus, in Beirut, in Egypt or abroad! In all these places and countries I’m always with the beloved Church!
My experience on the road, with Jesus the Way
I remember I was once on a road in Germany at midnight in total darkness! Ahead of me was a hole … I drove the car to another place and found another hole! What to do? I said to Jesus, addressing him, “Guide me now on the way!” And would the petrol last until wherever? It was the right way. And I completed my way with Jesus the way!
How many times have I experienced such events! I visit parishes in Germany: foreign priests! Foreign people! Foreign churches! Foreign customs! Foreign streets! In everything Jesus was on my way. That is what I’ve experienced for more than fifty years, since the summer of 1959, the year I was ordained to the holy priesthood. And yet Jesus was on my way, and Jesus was my way! My way towards people’s aspirations, needs, hopes and pain…
The Way in the Holy Bible
The Bible with the Old and New Testaments is a description of the way of God with man. In fact the word “way” is contained hundreds of thousands of times throughout both parts of the Holy Scriptures: the Torah and the Gospel with the Epistles.
The Lord went on the road with the patriarch Abraham. (Genesis 24:27) And he kept Jacob in the way. (Genesis 28:20) The Lord walked with his people when they came out of Egypt. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them in the way. And by night in a column of fire, to give them light, so they could walk day and night. He saved them from the hardship they endured along the way. (Exodus 18:8)
The Old Testament reminds people of this wonderful accompaniment. Thus we read, “Thou hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came into this place.” (Deuteronomy 1:31)
We also read, “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldst keep his commandments, or no.” (Deuteronomy 8:2)
There are many verses in which the Lord reminds people that he has walked along the road with his people or in which he sent his angel to go with them (Exodus 23:20), (Numbers 22:23)
And there are verses that remind people that they need to walk along the way, which the Lord has laid down before his people. He has informed them of “the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.” (Exodus 18:20) And also, “Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess.” (Deuteronomy 5:33)
And one verse recommends the people to do as follows, saying, “Thou shalt teach [these commandments] diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7)
Parents are recommended to talk to their children, on the way, and everywhere, about God, and his word, and his work, “And ye shall teach [the commandments] to your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deuteronomy 11:19)
Do not fail to heed this wonderful recommendation, beloved parents, but speak to your children about the word of God, and the teachings of the Bible!
The Lord admonishes his people because they did not walk in the way of God, “Ye will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you.” (Deuteronomy 11:28) “They turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the Lord; but they did not so.” (Judges 2:17)
We see again how the Lord intervenes in the lives of the people, in the life of every human being, indicating to him or her when to change the course that they are on, in order to shield them from danger and be guided in their work by the divine will. Thus, we read: “Do not turn again by the way thou camest.” (1 Kings 13:9, 17:9) This reminds us of the Magi who had come to worship the child Jesus being “warned of God in a dream” to depart “into their country another way.” (Matthew 2:12)
How many verses indicate that God is always showing humans the way, the straight path! He sends the angel to Tobias, the son of blind Tobit, to accompany him on the road. How beautiful is this story, where the angel tries to hide his angelic identity and the fact that he is an angel, and not a man. It is good to read the story in the Book of Tobit, in particular Chapter 5.
It is also good to see, besides the angel, a dog accompanying the young man. (Tobit 5:16) It is as if God wants to tell us this to enable us to appreciate all the creatures who share his divine attention as we go along our way on this earth! There is no harm in mentioning the affectionate tone of this verse, So they went their way, and the dog went along behind them as though illustrating God’s desire to forgive those who go astray. (Tobit 11:9)
Following the progress on the way in the Bible, I should like to dwell on the voice of the great prophet Isaiah! He predicts the new road, and the Lord Jesus Christ who is the way, and how we should act to prepare the world to make ready for the new way. These are some of the verses of this prophecy, “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.” (Isaiah 35:8). He says, “Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumbling-block out of the way of my people.” (Isaiah 57:14)
We read in the prophecy of the prophet Jeremiah about the way, “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein!” (Jeremiah 6:16) and again, “Walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.” (Jeremiah 7:23) and addressing us personally, saying, “Set thine heart toward the highway, even the way which thou wentest.” (Jeremiah 31:21) People asked the prophet, “That the Lord thy God may shew us the way wherein we may walk, and the thing that we may do.” (Jeremiah 42:3)
The prophet Ezekiel speaks about being guided to the way (Christ) that looks eastward. (Ezekiel 47:2). The prophet Malachi speaks about preparing the way for Christ, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1)
The anthology of the Psalter contains a great deal of discussion of the way. Here are a few selections, including, in the first Psalm the account of the man who walks on the path to God, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” (Psalm 1:1–3,6) This psalm is a brief way to distinguish between the good and evil way.
There are many verses, including the following, “I will instruct thee and guide thee in this way wherein thou shalt go: I will fix mine eyes upon thee.” (Psalm 31:8 LXX) “When my spirit was fainting within me, then thou knewest my paths; in the very way wherein I was walking, they hid a snare for me.” (Psalm 141:3 LXX) “Make known to me, O Lord, the way wherein I should walk; for I have lifted up my soul to thee.” (Psalm 142:8 LXX)
Among the Psalms, Psalm 118 is that of the way par excellence. It is a psalm with a passion for the way of God, and God’s law, and his word … Let us familiarise ourselves with the prayer of Psalm 118:
“Blessed are the blameless in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. (1)
For they that work iniquity have not walked in his ways (3).
O that my ways were directed to keep thine ordinances (5).
Wherewith shall a young man direct his way? by keeping thy words (9).
I have delighted in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches (14).
I will meditate on thy commandment, and consider thy ways (15).
Instruct me in the way of thine ordinances; and I will meditate on thy wondrous works (27).
Remove me from the way of iniquity; and be merciful to me by thy law (29).
I have chosen the way of truth; and have not forgotten thy judgments (30).
I ran the way of thy commandments, when thou didst enlarge my heart (32).
Teach me O Lord the way of thine ordinances, and I will seek it out continually (33).
Guide me in the path of thy commandments, for I have delighted in it (35).
I thought on thy ways, and turned my feet to thy testimonies (59).
I have kept back my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy words (101).
I gain understanding by thy commandments; therefore I have hated every way of unrighteousness (104).
Thy law is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths (105).
Thou art near, O Lord; and all thy ways are truth (151).
I have kept thy commandments and thy testimonies; for all my ways are before thee, O Lord (168).”
Would that this psalm could be the psalm for consecrated men and women, the clergy, and pious souls … And would that this Psalm might return to use in our Church, according to the rubrics for the season. In fact I wish it could become the subject of meditation, prayer times, and programmes for spiritual retreats, meetings of confraternities…
Note: the term path is a synonym for the word way, also contained in the Testaments, especially in the Psalms.
The New Testament
In the New Testament there is much discussion about the road. In a fundamental phrase, Christ declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)
Jesus invites us to enter into the Kingdom through the strait gate, because “wide is the gate and broad is the way” that leads to destruction. (Matthew 7:13) In contrast, “straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life.” (Matthew 7:14) In the parable of the sower, Jesus mentions the categories or groups that hear his words and teachings, saying, “when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up.” (Matthew 13:4). The meaning of the parable is that, “When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.” (Matthew 13:19, Mark 4:3-20)
In his farewell address to his disciples before his Passion, Jesus calls upon his disciples to be united with him and with the Father. He will lead them on the way. This is an extract from his beautiful dialogue with them, “And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:4-6)
There are several references to the way in the Holy Gospel, and discussion is focused on the way in the Bible in the following passages:
- There are repeated references to the prophecy of Isaiah, and to John the Baptist, who echoed verses of the prophecy of Isaiah in his preaching to the people. (Matthew 3:3, 11:10, Mark 1:2-3)
- In the parable of the sower, and on the significance of the seed sown, which fell by the wayside.
- Jesus invites us to follow the strait way, which leads to life and avoid the broad road that leads to perdition. (Matthew 7:13-14)
- There is an emphasis on Jesus “teaching the way of God in truth” (Matthew 22:16, Mark 12:14, Luke 20:21)
- The discourse of Jesus with his disciples about his going on his way to the Father, and emphasizing that this is the way. (John 16)
- Jesus accompanies all the other disciples on the way with his teachings, as they go on their way (and not only on the way to Emmaus with Luke and Cleopas after the resurrection).
- Jesus instructed the apostles not to carry provisions with them on the road, as though telling them, “I’m with you, so there is no need for you to have provisions with you.” As he said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” (Matthew 10:10, Mark 6:8, Luke 9:3, 10:4)
- Jesus goes on the road to people, and when encountering them, talks with them, and listens to their requests, works miracles, preaches to them, asking them questions and conversing with them.
The Acts of the Apostles
In the Acts of the Apostles, and in the Epistles, the road acquires a moral and spiritual and evangelical sense: it signifies a moral, evangelical attitude and behaviour, a way and style of life according to the teachings of the Gospel, as outlined in the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Thus we read in the Acts of the Apostles that Saul “desired of [the high priest] letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:2) “These men [Paul and Silas] are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.” (Acts 16:17) It is said about Apollos that he was “instructed in the way of the Lord.” (Acts 18:25) And we see, “when Aquila and Priscilla had heard [Apollos], they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” (Acts 18:26) In Ephesus when some people heard the words of Paul they resisted and “spake evil of that way before the multitude.” (Acts 19:9) And a riot occurred among the people on account of this way. (Acts 19:23)
Paul recognizes how he was before his conversion, saying, “I persecuted this way unto the death.” (Acts 22:4) He says later in his case before the governor Felix, “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets.” (Acts 24:14) Later, the book of Acts says “when Felix heard these things, [he had] more perfect knowledge of that way.” (Acts 24:22)
The Pauline Epistles
Paul, who recounted his experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus and at its gates in the Acts of the Apostles, describes in his letters what he calls the better way. He says, “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31) It is the way of love.
St. Paul’s General Epistles, and the Epistles of the other Apostles, is the explanation of this way, of how to follow Christ, and walk on the path of Christ, who is the way. Those who follow it will not go astray, but will have the light of life. “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
The economy of salvation
During our tour of the meaning of the word through the Old and New Testaments, we discovered different meanings which are interrelated and integrated in their approach to this phrase. The “road” means the dispensation of God for man and the plan of salvation for man. (Oikonomia) The road is the law of God; it is the teachings of the Bible. It is the teachings of the Church derived from the Bible. The road is God’s covenant with man, for human salvation. There is a corporal way, and a spiritual way, in the life and teachings of Teresa of the Child Jesus. And we are speaking about the way of humility, and of course the “straight way,” in the words of Jesus Christ.
This all means that we are in a perpetual spiritual journey throughout our lives. As we said: another journey, another march, another road, another way is the way of death to life.
In the funeral service we sing the psalm, “Blessed are the blameless in the way,” (Psalm 118) and address the departed, saying, “Blessed is the way on which thou dost journey today, for a place of rest has been prepared for thee.” (Funeral Service) God is on our way from the beginning of our journey, “Before I formed thee in the womb I knew thee.” (Jeremiah 1:5) He is on the road in our last journey from temporal life to everlasting life, from terrestrial to eternal life, from earth to heaven.
Reflections on the road
Out of this journey, from this spiritual journey through the Old Testament and the New, I would like to cite some spiritual reflections. Indeed the entire holy Bible, in both Testaments, is the progress on the way!
Revelation is God walking with his people, with the whole of humanity. The Apostle Paul says, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
Pascha is a crossroad
Pascha is the crossroad, a way of life. Passover, the principal feast in Judaism and Christianity, is the way! It is the commemoration of people’s walk to freedom, to life! The Apostle Paul says, “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)
Jesus walked the roads of Palestine with his disciples, with poor people who came to him, and followed him … and he is walking with us today. Just as God walked along the way of the people of the Old Testament, so the same Christ the way, who walked with Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, is walking with us today. The same Jesus, who appeared to the sinful Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus, is himself walking with us today. As he did with Saul who became Paul, Jesus is walking with us on the way of the resurrection, the path of a new life.
Brothers and sisters! The One who walked on the road to Emmaus, is walking with you today! Have you not been aware of that? Just as God once carried his people, (as we saw in Isaiah’s prophecy) so he carries you today! Have you not sensed that? Have you not put it to the test? When you look at your life, you discover God’s care, and realise that he was always on the road with you. Examine your life, test your own life experiences to see whether Jesus is with you, and be sure that he really is the way and the truth and the life.
Christ on the Road to Damascus
Christ was on the road to Damascus to find Saul the persecutor, in order to change his mode of being and outlook, his vision and his life … and Saul met Christ risen from the dead, on the road to Damascus, just as the two disciples, Luke and Cleopas, met him on the way in Palestine. The Palestine Road goes to Damascus, and the Damascus Road is the way to Palestine, and the way to Jerusalem.
Jesus invites us to walk with him on every road, not only on the road to Emmaus, or Jerusalem or Palestine or Damascus.
Christian life is a journey, walking along the way! The Holy Bible beatifies the person who does not follow the path of sinners but the road of the saints, of righteousness and holiness.
God is going, and wants to go on the road of all persons, all people, and every human being, because he is the light that enlightens every human being who comes into the world. Even those who are not on the path of Jesus, and do not know Jesus, and do not know him to be the way – he goes to them to follow in their paths, to be on their way. As we read in the Akathist to the Mother of God (Oikos 22) “Wishing to forgive the ancient debts of all mankind, the Creditor himself [Jesus] came and dwelt among those who had departed from his grace, and tearing up the written charge he hears from all.”
Salvation on the way
Through the roads and paths of our lives, God is on the road! Jesus sent his apostles on the road, on the roads of the people, in order to meet people. The apostle Philip in the south of Palestine is told by the Spirit, “Go near to this chariot.” (Acts 8:29) The chariot belonged to the eunuch of the Queen of the Ethiopians. And Philip responds to the call and stops the vehicle, as if he wanted to reach somewhere, and immediately starts explaining Scripture to the treasurer of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians, and guiding him to Jesus. He baptized him in the spring which still to this day bears Philip’s name. After the baptism the steward saw Philip no more, as he had completed his mission to him.
An angel accompanied Joseph on the road as he escaped to Egypt and guided him on the safest road as he went to Egypt, and when he returned home.
The angel Raphael in human form also accompanied Tobias (blind Tobit’s son), together with the latter’s dog! It is good to find the mention of the dog … to indicate that other animals accompany the work of God and his care. And then, just as our guardian angels may become humanlike, so we humans ought to be angelic in accompanying our fellows. We should not be like Cain who killed his brother Abel, and when God asked him, “Where is thy brother?” brazenly replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)
The way in the life of each of us is a big, perpetual, daunting and dangerous adventure! It is difficult to know the truth about God’s purpose for us as our lives progress. It is difficult for us to learn about the ways of God whether winding and narrow, or pleasant and straightforward. Therefore, Jesus tells us, with great wisdom, “Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.” (John 12:35b)
This means that we walk under the auspices of God’s care, from day to day. Let us thank God that we do not know all the twists and turns of our lives on this earth! Were we to know everything at once, both its quiet times and bad times, such as persecution or illness, and its pleasant surprises … we might go mad with frustration, confusion and despair. Therefore as the Psalmist says, “Make known to me, O Lord, the way wherein I should walk.” (Psalm 142:8 LXX)
According to Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8) Yet in spite of these difficulties and twists, the ways of God who loves mankind are compassionate. Thus, “Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set his steps in the way.” (Psalm 84:13 LXX) “All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth to them that seek his covenant and his testimonies.”(Psalm 24:10 LXX)
Road with God, blessed way!
Though the road may be difficult, yet we are happy because we are with God. This is what St. Augustine says: “Sing, and walk onwards!”[note St. Augustine: Sermon 256, I.2.3.: PL 38, 1191-1193] When we go astray from God, we fall into calamities, as stated repeatedly in the Old Testament. So in the Canticle of Deuteronomy, Moses recounts how God cared for his people accompanying them through the desert, “He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him. He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock; butter of kine, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat; and thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape.” (Deuteronomy 32:10-14)
The evil way: the way to perdition
But what was the attitude of the people of God, who had taken them and walked with them on the road to freedom from slavery? We read in Deuteronomy itself, “But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger. They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee. And when the Lord saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.” (Deuteronomy 32:15-19) and the book refers to the miseries of the people because they deviated from the way of God the Creator. (See further chapters of Deuteronomy.)
We read in the Book of Judith, “But when they departed from the way which he had appointed for them, they were utterly defeated in many battles…” (5:18) There is no way to salvation unless God’s people walk on the path. Without God, the people are on the way to perdition.
Road to Jerusalem: way to the resurrection
Jesus walked on the path of the people in his life on this earth. After the Resurrection he also walked along the paths of his apostles and disciples on the road to Emmaus, in Galilee, and on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and on the streets of Jerusalem … he also appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus.
We all need to take the Jerusalem road, and to meet Christ along the Jerusalem road, as well as on the road to Damascus! The road to Damascus and Jerusalem are both the way to the resurrection. We all need this encounter with Christ, risen from the dead, whether on the road to Jerusalem, or on the road to Damascus, and all the other roads and paths of our lives.
Today, in the face of the tragedies of the peoples of our Middle Eastern countries, especially in Syria and Iraq, we are all walking on the path of Golgotha. But as the way of the cross led to the glorious Resurrection, so we pray to get through the way of the cross in Syria, especially to the joys of the Resurrection.
In this sense, Pope Francis said during his visit and his pilgrimage to Jordan (24 May 2014), “Lasting peace for the entire region…urgently requires that a peaceful solution be found to the crisis in Syria, as well as a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
[note http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/may/documents/papa-francesco_20140524_terra-santa-autorita-amman.html] So His Holiness linked the road to Jerusalem with the road to Damascus. Today the road to Damascus has become the road to world peace, peace for our country and the whole world!
Jerusalem is considered, in the tradition of the Eastern Churches, to be the mother of all cities, for it is the place of the resurrection. Jerusalem is still the way to resurrection and peace in the whole world. The good news of the Holy Resurrection began from Jerusalem, Damascus and Antioch. It is precisely from Damascus that Christianity and the proclamation of the resurrection were launched to the world.
The Road to Damascus: the road to peace
Today, we feel that the way of the Resurrection passes via Damascus, Syria, and from there to the East, and to the whole world. With regret after five years of violence, war, destruction and bloodshed, the world discovers the road to Damascus, the Jerusalem road, and the road to Palestine. These roads are interconnected! They are more important than the Silk Road, the roads of oil and gas and routes of interest. This is the way of faith, and the values of faith and cultural heritage. The road of Saul, the way of Paul, the spiritual son of Damascus! And the road of the resurrection!
We pray for the world to discover this truth of spiritual faith, not political belief, that the road to peace is the road to Damascus! And that the Damascus road is the path of resurrection for the Syrian people, and the peoples of the region! And the path of resurrection for the entire world is the road to Damascus! The way of Paul! The way of the Resurrection! The way of life! The way of love! The road to peace!
All countries of the world on the road together
Together on the way! This is the reality of our lives as human beings on this earth. In all walks of life we are walking together! The lesson is for us to walk with God, and with our fellow human beings and for our fellow human beings, that they might have life, and have it more abundantly. This is what Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his 2005 Message for the World Day of Peace, “Can an individual find complete fulfilment without taking account of his social nature, that is, his being `with´ and `for´ others?” It is beautiful to walk together: God is with us and we are with God, we are with our fellow human beings.
How much we need this walk together, in order to build a better world, where justice, love, peace, mutual respect and fellowship, solidarity, brotherhood, networking, service, generosity, compassion and kindness prevail…in order to build together a world of love and the civilization of love.
Christ sent his disciples out onto the road, onto people’s paths. Pope Francis has called on everyone, particularly missionaries, priests and pastors, to go to different groups of people, especially the poor, the sick, the outcasts, the marginalized, the dispossessed and refugees and displaced persons, kidnapped and disabled … Jesus asks us to go to all of them, and walk along their paths, their ways … Jesus wants us to be priests and apostles on the way!
In this letter on the way of the Resurrection, the way of the apostles, Luke and Cleopas, the Jerusalem road, the road to Damascus and the paths of people in this life, I was reminded of the poem, entitled Footprints[note Copyright © 1984 Mary Stevenson, from original 1936 text, All rights reserved.].
"One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one set of footprints. This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints." So I said to the Lord, "You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?" The Lord replied, "The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you."
This is what we see in the logo graphic for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, where Jesus like the Good Samaritan is carrying the injured human sufferer over his shoulders as he walks on the paths of life. (This logo was explained in our Lenten Letter.) The figures are side by side, united by a strong sense of compassion, mercy, and love. It is noticeable that there are three, not four eyes: the eye of Jesus and the human eye, and then a central one combining Jesus, the God-Man, Adam and every human being … Jesus the Son of Man looks at the child of Adam and Adam considers the human Jesus.
The following popular hymn explains this story:
- You are my Lord, my way through the vicissitudes of life! Lord, you are my way at the hour of death!
- I have called upon you alone! You alone have I implored! You are the end of my desire; you are the source of happiness!
- You sustain the suffering! Help the desperate! Satisfy the hungry! Pardon the sinners!
- You’re the fire in my heart! You are also breath! You are a guide to my way! You are my beautiful dawn!
- You are the love in my heart! You are the fire and the light! You are a guide to my feet, the source of joy!
- You are the heavenly bread! You are the bread of life! Lord, you are my hope for eternal life!
- Lord, forgive my sins! For you are a merciful Lord! You always overlook my faults and have mercy on your sinful servant!
- You inebriate me with heavenly good things! You fill my cup with the wine of hope!
Christ risen from the dead changes our way
Jesus walks with Luke and Cleopas, changing their fear, despondency, and their frustration, to strength, to hope, to joy. They returned that night to Jerusalem to preach the resurrection to the rest of the apostles who were frightened of the authorities. They instilled in the apostles faith in the resurrection and life and launched a new way, a new way of life! The apostles emerged from the upper room where they were hiding, and preached the resurrection and the new life in Christ Jesus.
The same thing happened on the road to Damascus, where Saul was riding his horse arrogantly, his heart filled with a storm of animosity, hatred, violence, terrorism, murder and displacement. So he wanted to seize the new Christians in Damascus. Christianity had reached there a few weeks after the Passover and Pentecost (in 33 AD), where a congregation of Jews had converted to Christianity after hearing the preaching of the Apostle Peter about the risen Christ, on the Feast of Pentecost. So they took with them the new way of faith in Christ to Damascus.
This is what we read in the Acts of the Apostles, “Saul, still breathing out threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord…” (9:1) This transformation that took place on the road to Damascus when Jesus met Saul on the road saved Christianity from extinction. Conversely, Saul’s meeting with Christ on the road to Damascus launched Christianity worldwide, through this great Apostle Paul, the spiritual son of Damascus, who changed from a persecutor to an apostle, even the apostle to the nations, starting from Damascus. He stayed three years in Mismiyeh in the Hauran (Galatians 1:17), enabling him to discover a new way, the Gospel.
The beauty of the Gospel, the power of the Gospel
This is the real resurrection: Christ is risen! The apostles are risen! Paul is risen! The Christians of Damascus become children of the resurrection, which, according to tradition, is the title generally given to the Christians of the East.
Indeed, Eastern Christianity is the fruit of a meeting with the risen Christ on the road, the way to Emmaus, the road to Jerusalem, Damascus Road, Antioch Road, and from there the road to Asia, Greece, Macedonia, and finally the Via Roma, and the West at large.
This is the fruit of the encounter of Chris with the disciples. It made them apostles of the new way, which is life in Christ … So Paul was able to say with all pride, “Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Christ died for the whole of humanity, in order to be their resurrection and that they may might have life, and have it in abundance.
Christ is walking on the path, with you, next to you, but have you discovered him? Did you feel his closeness? He died for you, and wants to redeem you through his resurrection, and become your way through life, with hope and joy, optimism, and courage, walking with you.
“Come, O faithful, to receive the Resurrection,” as the liturgical prayer summons us. This is our hope for our suffering Eastern region as it emerges from the painfully long Way of the Cross – especially in Iraq, in Syria, in Palestine, in Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Yemen -for this whole wounded region, resurrection joy!
Christ was born in Palestine! Christianity was born in Syria, in our East. Christianity was born and spread through the way of the cross and resurrection! Through the resurrection came good news for all the people! The resurrection was the determining factor in the spread of Christianity, as the Apostle Paul says, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. “(1 Corinthians 15:14-17)