[2005 Feb 25] Lent Encyclical

We offer apostolic benediction, and benevolent prayers, to our brethren, His Beatitude Mor Baselius Thomas I, Catholicos of India, and their Eminences the Metropolitans, our spiritual children the venerable priests, monks, nuns, deacons and deaconess, and our blessed Syriac Orthodox people all over the world. May the divine providence embrace them through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, and St. Peter, the head of the apostles, and the rest of the Martyrs and Saints. Amen.

 The Lord Jesus said,

                 “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep” (John 10:10,11).

In chapter ten of the Gospel of John, the Lord Jesus Christ summarized the ultimate goal for His Divine Incarnation through which He revealed the truth about His heavenly mission. The mission that He first declared when He entered the synagogue in Nazareth, “And stood up to read, and He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me, to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD. Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them: Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21). With this the Lord declared that the prophecy of Isaiah as was mentioned in the eighth century B.C. now has been fulfilled through Him. He was the only One sent to the world by God, the Father, to save mankind from the bondage of sin, death and Satan. He also explained later to Nicodemus by saying, “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have ever lasting life” (John 3:16). But the false prophets who came before Him and proclaimed themselves as “Messiah”, were really those mentioned in the book of Jeremiah in the seventh century B.C. as spoken by God, saying: “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in My counsel, and had caused My people to hear My words, then they would have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their doings” (Jeremiah 23:21, 22). Those words apply on the false prophets and fake Messiahs who appeared just before the start of the Lord’s holy mission on earth through His Divine Incarnation, and soon after, they led bloody rebellions that caused many people to perish, those people who were patiently awaiting the coming of the true Messiah. They were tricked by those fake Messiahs who, according to some Jewish elders, believed that the long awaited Messiah would come as a political savior. They were deceivers and thus were called by the Lord, “thieves” and “robbers”. The prophecy of Ezekiel, “Thus says The Lord God to the shepherds: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings but you do not feed the flock” (Ezekiel 34:2,3) applies to them. Those so-called Messiahs and wicked shepherds had caused the sheep of the Lord to perish, both spiritually and physically. But the Lord Jesus the True Messiah and the Good Shepherd truthfully proclaimed Himself by saying: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep” (John 10:10,11).

Yes indeed, He is the Word of the Eternal God as described by John the apostle in the beginning of his holy Gospel, by saying: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-14). He is the wish of all generations, the hope of all nations and the center of the Holy Bible from A to Z, from Genesis to Revelation, and the core around which all prophesies, symbols and signs proclaimed by true prophets sent by God and written in the books of the Old Testament rotates. All were fulfilled verbatim in the Lord Jesus Christ upon the fullness of time that God had set from the beginning for the Holy Incarnation of His Beloved Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. The timing was called by St. Paul: “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), and was declared by Archangel Gabriel to the prophet Daniel about five hundred years B.C, by saying: “Seventy weeks are determined for your people and your holy city to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation of iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most  Holy” (Daniel 9:24). Also was proclaimed by the angel when he gave the message of incarnation to Virgin Mary, that He is Holy and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And He was described by St. Paul: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory” (1Timothy 3:16).

The goal for His Holy Incarnation was to save mankind from the most serious original sin and bring back the eternal spiritual life that was lost in paradise when Satan deceived Adam, the first man. In this regard, St. Paul said: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12), and he continued saying: “For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many…. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:15-17).

The Lord of glory summed up His holy earthly mission by saying: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10), and also saying: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16,17).

So, Jesus is the only true savior who descended from His Holy abodes and took flesh. He reconciled heaven and earth because He represents heaven and earth all together. He represents God against Whom Adam’s offense was directed, and He represents all sinners who inherited the most serious sin, and He became a sacrifice for us, “He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world, but now once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26). In this regard St. Paul said about God the Father: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). And thus, He became, by His own will, a sacrifice on behalf of Adam’s descendants, and He made us holy, righteous and gave us the gift of adoption, the grace by which we became worthy to inherit His heavenly kingdom. Those faithful believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, who accepted Him as their only savior, are: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13).

Yes truly, the Lord showed the way to heaven and proclaimed Himself, the way, the truth and life. He proved the truthfulness of His mission through His heavenly commandments and by His miracles and wonders. He proved His authority on people and nature, and declared to the multitude that followed Him to the tomb of Lazarus that He is the resurrection and life, and that “whoever believes in Him, though he may die, he shall live, and whoever lives and believes in Him shall never die” (John 11:26). He declared His authority over all kinds of death: a) Death of sin, which is the separation from God, and that was abolished as Jesus accepted the true repentance of many. b) The natural death which is the separation of the soul from the body, and the Lord raised the dead and brought their souls back to their bodies. c) The eternal death which is the everlasting suffering in hell, and the Lord can give eternal life to whoever He wills.

That was clear when He described Himself as “the bread of life that came down from heaven”, and that bread is His Holy Body, and, “Whoever eats My Body and drinks My Blood, has everlasting life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:54), that means: I shall save him from eternal death and give him eternal life.

Yes in reality, Jesus died for us on the cross and was buried in a new tomb. He rose from the dead on the third day with glory by His own power. He gave us victory over Satan, death and sin. In this regard, St. Paul wrote saying: “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). All we need to be worthy of living through Christ is to die with Him on the cross. St. Paul made himself an example for us by saying: “I have been crucified; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The will of the Lord is to have His life being lived through all believers. His life in us should be manifested in our daily life as mentioned by St. Paul: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). This conduct requires the complete knowledge of the teachings of the gospel, knowing His holy will, keeping His commandments such as fasting, prayers and charity. And when we plan to do any work or take any decision regarding our spiritual or physical life, we must ask ourselves: what would Jesus do in that case? And we must act accordingly. This is when we feel that Jesus is really living in us. We abide by Him as He abides in us. We love Him from all our hearts, all our souls and thoughts, and love our neighbor as ourselves (Mathew 22:37-39), and stick to the golden rule set by the Lord, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” (Mathew 7:12).

The Lord came down from heaven to our world to give us abundant life, and He declared to us that He is the way, the truth and the life. We must walk the way He provided us with. We should believe the facts of faith that He gave even though our minds sometimes are unable to realize. He declared Himself as the good shepherd Who gives Himself or His flock (John 10:11), and He gave Himself indeed for us and redeemed us by His divine blood. How joyful we must feel to have our Lord Jesus Christ as our shepherd Who cares for us, Who makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us to the living waters, Who mightily guards us against the vicious wolves of Satan and his legions. Let everyone of us cry out in great faith saying with David, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. . . Yea, through I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (psalm 23; 1-4). He is Emanuel and it translates: God is with us.

My dearly beloved: The great Lent is the best occasion for us to repent and come back to God with regret for our sins and transgressions which separated us from our God, and turned His mercy from us. Let us repent and continue praying and giving charity to the poor and needy so that God will have mercy upon us and absolve our sins, and put the best robe on us, and a ring of covenant on our hand, just as the merciful father did to his lost son when he came back to him repentant (Luke 15: 11-32).  And when we do really repent, God will give us back the robe of righteousness and holiness and we shall be counted among His flock, the flock that knows His voice and follows Him because He is the good shepherd who knows His flock by name and protects it. He looks after the sheep that has gone astray and finds it, He carries it on His shoulders and brings it back to His yard, and there, “is a joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

May God accept your fasting, prayers, alms, and true repentance, and make you worthy to celebrate His resurrection with purity, holiness, and joy, and may the grace of our Lord be with you. Amen. ܐܒܘܢ ܕܒܫܡܝܐ ܘܫܪܟܐ Aboun d’ Bashmayo w’sharko (Our Father Who art in Heaven…), Amen.

Issued at our Patriarchal residence in Damascus, Syria
on the 25th day of February, in the year two thousand five of our Lord
which is the 25th year of our Patriarchal reign

And it is, by His Grace of God, the year of our Patriarchal Silver Jubilee

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Ayub Silvanos is the Metropolitan of the Knanaya Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. H. E. is currently serving as the Metropolitan of the North American & Europe Region of the Knanaya Archdiocese since 2009.

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