Speech of His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios, III
at the opening of the
Holy Synod of the Melkite Church
Beloved brother Bishops,
Members of the Holy Synod and right reverend Fathers,
Beloved Superiors of our religious congregations
We thank the Savior who has brought us together today in this year’s synod as brothers in faith and partners in care, as pastors and servants of the Word of God and of our fellow human beings.
Hearty greetings and best wishes to you, and my prayer for you and the faithful of your eparchies and the members of your religious orders and congregations!
We remember the soul of our deceased brother Archbishop Antoine Hayek who departed into the joy of his Lord on the first Saturday of April. We presided over the funeral in his hometown of Maghdouche with a group of brother bishops.
In this year dedicated to the priest and the priesthood, our parishes have engaged in different activities to commemorate this year. God arranged in his divine mercy for us to encounter this year three Apostles, three Messengers of Jesus Christ’s glory. I would like to review for you aspects of these three Apostles Thomas, Paul and James.
I visited India with my brother His Grace Archbishop Joseph Absi, Patriarchal Vicar General in Damascus, and His Grace Archbishop Jules Zerey, Patriarchal Vicar General in Jerusalem, and Economos Elie Chataoui, Patriarchal Steward and Archimandrite Antoine Dib, Patriarchal Chief of Staff. Together we visited the Church of South India, the Syro- Malankara Church, where the believers are called, “Saint Thomas’ Christians,” because Thomas brought them the Gospel of Jesus Christ in about the year 54 AD! We see Thomas the Apostle doubting as stated in the Gospel. However, we believe in going to India (through Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran) he acquires another aspect! He is the brave, courageous Apostle! And his courage and daring (despite doubt) were the basis of his search for the revealed truth! Besides, this boldness and courage underlay his great struggle for the sake of the Holy Gospel, and the dissemination of its divine values in India, a country with a culture that was completely different from Hellenism or the Middle Eastern culture … He was venturing into the unknown, in order to preach the gospel of the unknown God, to the point of witnessing with his blood. The words of the Apostle Paul seem to apply to him: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love!” (2 Timothy 1: 7) Thomas is an example to us of living in the service of our master, Jesus Christ and living our calling, and withstanding hardships in the service of the Gospel, and spreading the word of God in today’s world.
I visited Malta with my brother, his Grace Archbishop Joseph Absi, Patriarchal Vicar General and Archimandrite Mtanios Haddad, Apocrisary to the Holy See of Rome. The island has 365 churches, of which 50 have the name of St. Paul. Paul arrived in Malta in an extremity of vulnerability, humiliation and shame: he was a prisoner – bound – ashamed – shivering from the cold, caught between barbarians on the one hand and the ruthless Roman soldiers on the other. After he had spent fifteen days in danger of sinking from the waves, his ship was wrecked on the island… as he was on his way to witness for his master and God Jesus Christ! Before him lay a great mission though he was in the depths of misery and humiliation!
When he arrived at the island he changed from a weak, miserable, tremulous, pitiable man into the missionary wonder-worker, leading the island’s governor and all its inhabitants to know Christ and his love! It was like a marvelous, new transformation such as he had undergone at the gates of Damascus, where he was converted from persecutor into preacher of Christ.
And it was as he said, describing the weakness in a letter to the Corinthians: “Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seethe me to be, or that he hearth of me. And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 5-10)
Together with Archimandrite Gabriel Ghanoum and Archimandrite Mtanios Haddad, I visited a great western place of pilgrimage, the largest after the Church of the Resurrection and the Holy Land, the place of St. James the Apostle in Spain in Santiago de Compostela, which translates as: St. James of the field of the star!
We have in him an example: James travelled from the east to the far west, the end of the inhabited world (so-called in the French, Finistères) from the Mediterranean region, to the wide ocean in order to convey the Gospel of his Master Jesus from East to West! …
In all that there is a lesson for us as pastors and successors of the apostles. Here are three exemplary Apostles, and indeed the example of all the apostles provides guidance for us in our Christian life and pastoral ministry, especially at this critical juncture in the Middle East and as we are preparing for the Synod of Bishops on the Middle East. Many feel fear and frustration due to the difficulties faced by the Christian society in particular. We need the courage of the apostles and fathers in the faith!
I would like to be a prophet of optimism and spread optimism around me, in my Church and beyond. As shepherds do not we all wish to have optimism? We want to be optimistic. I want to be optimistic about the issues of our existence and our presence, our history, our testimony and our present and future role and mission in the Arab East, the cradle of Christianity, where the little Arab Christian flock can trace its roots back over more than two thousand years of co-operation in the making of history, civilization and culture, industry, philosophy, science, literature, thought and creativity, architecture, business and politics in the Arab world….
There are undeniable reasons for pessimism, but there are also genuine reasons for optimism. And you and I would prefer to be optimistic, so that our optimism may alleviate the pessimism of others who have genuine reasons to be pessimistic.
For me this was my position throughout my priestly service in southern Lebanon, my episcopate in Palestine, and my Patriarchy, especially in Syria and Lebanon, and at present in the Arab world in Arab countries and among Muslim Arab leaders. I have been in constant dialogue with them at all stages of my life and still am, and in my project and plans for encounter and intellectual exchange in Lebanon (as well as the Encounter Centre in Palestine) and in my views expressed in my letters…
Dearly beloved brothers!
In our Synod, we have to prepare for the Synod of Bishops’ Special Assembly for the Middle East, which is entitled, “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness.”
You have all studied the guidance document (Lineamenta) and the answers sent in late April or early May. On that basis, the first document issued was redrafted into a valuable new document and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI handed over to us Patriarchs this working paper (Instrumentum Laboris) when he invited us to meet him during his pilgrimage to Cyprus in the steps of St. Paul (4 to 6 June 2010.) And no doubt you are aware of this new document.
Now we have to prepare to take part in this Synod and we are all invited to participate. We have the right to give a speech during the Conference in Rome (10-24 October 2010.) It may be a long or a short intervention. It is important not to take more than the allocated time specified for each intervention (there will be help in this regard.)
The topics raised in the paper work are not foreign to us, but are the subject of our constant attention, as we see reflected in the letters of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs since the nineties. My messages and letters (especially those catalogued since 2003) have addressed many of the themes.
I have been considering very carefully the work of our fathers of the Second Vatican Council, and in particular our predecessor the late great Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh and the bishops who participated in the assembly, including especially Bishops Edelby and Zoghby and Tawil and Nijme and Medawar… We all know that among the principal luminaries of the Second Vatican Council numbering over 2500, there were some 15 outstanding persons, including two Greek Catholics: Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh and Archbishop Elias Zoghy.
In the Second Vatican Council our fathers spoke from the Eastern point of view, in the deliberations on the Liturgy, the position of the Church in ecumenical dialogue, and with regard to Islam and Judaism.
The working document that will set the agenda for the Synod for the Middle East is of a pastoral, ecclesial and social nature… Just as our fathers and predecessors participated in the Second Vatican Council, there must be adequate preparation for effective participation in the coming Synod. In fact, the topics of this Synod are topics of concern to us all, in our parishes and our countries, and to our eparchies, as they are especially concerned with our existence, our history and witness and our present and future existence in the Arab East, the cradle of Christianity, where this little flock has been a continual and constant companion of the Arab world, in making history and civilization, culture and industry, trade, philosophy and literature, sciences and thought and poetry and creativity , architecture and medicine and politics.
We need everyone to create the subject-matter for an appropriate intervention. We will examine during the Synod how to divide the topics so that we address the largest number of topics for the Synod without simply repeating them.
I have sent a letter to Arab heads of state about the blockade on our children and our Palestinian brothers in Gaza and the participation of our brother, Bishop Hilarion Capucci in the freedom flotilla, and called for Palestinians to unite in order to obtain success in the defense of their just cause and their usurped rights.
I also sent a letter to the kings, princes and presidents briefing them about the Synod for the Middle East, which included this section:
“The aim of this letter is to tell you, your excellencies, that it is essential for you to acquaint yourselves with this document. It deserves your attention, because it concerns your Christian fellow-citizens, whom you already know and the meaning of whose existence and national, political, religious and social role and mission you appreciate.
” I tell you that you have power and duty to guarantee the continuing Christian presence and the future role of Christians and every Christian’s security, integrity and confidence in the present and future of his family and livelihood … All this is up to you! And it depends on our brothers, the Muslim citizens!”
You leaders! We are with you, and we are a support for our Arab countries in good times and bad, at home and abroad. We have been and still are faithful to our homeland throughout its history up to the present and we shall continue to maintain our service and our witness!
Very many distinguished leaders, writers and intellectuals have been keen to commend unequivocally the Christian role, and the importance of co-existence, and the Christian presence alongside Muslim citizens, saying that it is great loss for the Arab world to lose the presence of Christians…
We are holding our Synod in this dear country of Lebanon, the country of dialogue and meeting between all God’s children. We consider that consensus on major issues of joint concern is the best way to discover factors for cohesion and unity among the variety of political and religious groups, which are essentially the real wealth of this country and region. We are keen to maintain our structure, our civilization and our presence, and anxious at the same time to maintain our living together and interaction with our Muslim fellow-citizens. Good interaction is a bridge linking the hearts and minds of people.
We are gratified at the promise of a return to fraternal relations between Lebanon and Syria, hoping that loving ties will be increasingly consolidated and strengthened, for the good of the two countries.
Our congratulations go to the Maronite Christian Church, its Patriarch, clergy and faithful people, on the occasion of the beatification of the venerable Brother, Blessed Stephen (Nehme).
Christians outside the administration, means Christians outside the country
We encourage our children to get involved in the armed forces and internal security forces, public security and state security and customs, in order to preserve Lebanon and to maintain our role of being in full partnership and responsibility in managing civil society. We call on the faithful to get involved in the civil service and the public sector, because if we are outside the public sector services, we will be outside the country. We call for equity in all sectors and categories of posts in order to preserve the spirit of national reconciliation.
And we thank always the civil leaders in Arab countries wherever our faithful and eparchies are to be found, stressing that we share the same concerns and issues, and that they are at the service of everyone in the community.
Dearly beloved brothers!
As you know during this Synod we shall hold an election of two new hierarchs or bishops of the Archeparchy of Beirut and Tripoli. Perhaps we can agree to add some names to the list of candidates for the episcopate (épiscopables). You will all appreciate the importance of creating good, holy shepherds for our Church, capable of serving the people of God and the wider community. It is most important that we all should create hierarchs of distinction!
We are pleased to inform you that next year (2011) we shall be celebrating the two hundredth centenary of the founding of these summer Patriarchal Headquarters in Ain Traz. We have begun preparations for this event and we shall bring you the details later.
On this occasion, we will encourage agricultural enterprises to invest in the vast territory of Ain Traz with a view to achieving self-sufficiency in our Church. We shall have especially the inauguration of the Al-Liqa’a Encounter Centre for the dialogue of civilizations, God willing, (please distribute the brochure on it) next spring 2011. We’ll hold the first conference in this center after the opening in memory of the late Archbishop Elias Zoghby, one of the luminaries of the International Ecumenical Movement and one of the most distinguished men of the Second Vatican Council, together with our late predecessor, Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh.
On the other hand I am pleased to inform you that I will be visiting our Greek Catholic children in Latin America in August and September next, in each of our parishes in Brazil as guest of His Grace, Bishop, Fares Maakaroun; the exarchate of parishes in Venezuela as guest of His Grace Bishop George Zuhairaty; in Argentina, we shall be hosted by His Grace Archbishop John Abdou Arbash. On this occasion, we shall undertake a visitation of churches and institutions established by our esteemed brother bishops, rejoice with them and congratulate them, as we celebrate the Seventh Conference of Bishops of the Expansion in Argentina. On this occasion of the most intensive efforts to communicate with our children in other parts of South America. I have been working to communicate with the Latin bishops, especially in northern South America.
We must also find ways to connect with our children in the UAE and the Gulf and Africa and everywhere.
At the beginning of this Synod I am bringing you greetings from about two hundred of our sons and brothers, the priests, who met together on the Day for Priests held in the seminary at Rabweh on 16th. June. This meeting was prepared thanks to the animation committee working with His Grace, our brother Bishop Salim Ghazal. It was a very agreeable meeting, in which a number of reverend bishops took part. We thank God very much for our beloved priests, who are our ambassadors, enabling us to spread our wings over our parishes. Ask the faithful to pray for increased vocations to the priesthood and consecrated orders in the holy Church.
In conclusion, may the Savior bless this Holy Synod and its deliberations and decisions, and our people in Lebanon, (which is hosting our Synod), in Syria and all Arab countries, especially Palestine and Iraq, and in countries of the Diaspora, in Europe and North and South America, Australia and New Zealand…
With the Apostle Paul we commend you, beloved brothers and reverend, esteemed members of our Synod, in the holy language of Saint Paul, saying: “I therefore… beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians: 1-6)
Patriarch of Antioch and all the East,
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
English language text, prepared from the Arabic: V. Chamberlain