[2006 Jan 21] Lent Encyclical

We offer apostolic benediction, and benevolent prayers, to our brethren, His Beatitude Mor Baselius Thomas I, Catholicos of India, and their Eminence the Metropolitans, our spiritual children the venerable priests, monks, nuns, deacons and deaconess, and our venerated 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.

“Mar’an – a’tha. The Lord had come (and will come)” 1 Cor 6:22
“And those who were ready went in with him to the wedding” 
Mathew 25:10

It is a heavenly wedding when the victorious holy church is wedded to her groom and her redeemer our Lord Jesus Christ, at the end of ages.

How happy would be those who would share in this heavenly wedding. Yes indeed, in His first coming, the Lord did establish His kingdom on earth and called her, His church. And He delegated His apostles and disciples to shepherd her on His behalf He gave them authority to teach and preach so that the sons of perdition will become the children of His kingdom and active members in His holy church that He founded on the rock of faith in Him as “the Son of the Living God” (Mathew 16: 16), the hope of all generations, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who descended from heaven and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and saved us from our three enemies: Death, Sin and Satan. He started His holy mission calling openly on all mankind to “Repent, for the kingdom of heave is at hand” (Mathew 4: 17), and He invited everyone to His kingdom.

The Lord gave us many parables in this regard. The kingdom of God is a fish net that caught many fishes, large and small, good and bad. The kingdom of God includes the righteous and the bad people on this earth. The Lord likened that to a man who sowed good seeds but with it tares appeared. To us, my beloved, it represents that in the holy church there are people who are true believers who stick firmly to the church constitution of faith and its doctrines and translates intogood deeds that a believer lives by. And there is also those who do not deserve to be called “Christians” and are not considered as Christ followers. They are tares planted among the seeds by an enemy who is against the owner of the field. When the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. Then the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares’? He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this’. The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?  ‘But he said, ‘No. lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest’ (Mathew 13: 24-30). In the church there are good and bad people. They both belong to and are members in the church until the day when the Lord Jesus comes again, a second time, in His father’s glory and His angels with Him to judge the world. He shall send His angels to separate the good from the bad.

The good shall inherit His heavenly kingdom and the bad shall be thrown to the outside darkness to inherit hell and worst destiny. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. We also notice in the parable of the ten wise and foolish virgins that the foolish ones, even though they were believers in the Lord Jesus as the Savior of the world and were awaiting His second coming, same as the wise ones, but they did not keep the oil of mercy, love and good deeds in their lamps. And when their lamps ran out of oil and were going out because they had no extra oil and couldn’t buy oil because the market were closed for it was late, the wise and ready virgins went in to the wedding and the foolish ones stood outside the door knocking with pain and sorrow but the door didn’t open but they rather heard the bridegroom’s voice saying, “I do not know you”. The door is closed and no more time for anybody’s repentance after the departure from this life because the bridegroom has already entered the wedding and those who were ready entered also with him. How miserable are those who even though are believers in the kingdom of God on earth, the holy church, and even though their lamps are lit with apparent faith, but they did not translate their faith into good works, the works of mercy that is described by St. James: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27)

The Lord said, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Mathew 12:7). And St. James the apostle said. “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? . . . Faith by itself, if it doesn’t have works, is dead” (James 2: 14 & 20). The Lord gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan in order to teach us to have mercy on those who need it. The Good Samaritan who heard the moaning of the victim of thieves while no one came to his help, he, the Good Samaritan took the risk and bandaged his wounds and poured the wine of his heart and the oil of his inner self, set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn. He paid two denarii on his behalf and said to the innkeeper, “Take care of him and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you” (Luke 10:35). The Good Samaritan was praised by the Lord who taught us that mercy is better than sacrifice. According to the parable, the Lord Jesus condemned the priest who passed by the wounded man and did not rescue him. He also condemned the Levite, or the deacon, who was supposedly serving the altar of God because he also heard the groaning, looked and passed by. The Lord praised the Good Samaritan although he was a stranger because he took care of the wounded man, proving that mercy deeds accompanied by faith find favor in the eyes of God. We should have mercy in our hearts that is proven by help and service to the needy, regardless of their religion, denomination or race.

Yes, indeed, the Lord Jesus gave us a great opportunity in His kingdom on earth to believe in Him and keep His commandments in order to inherit His heavenly kingdom. His wedding, for which He invited the whole mankind, that holy wedding starts by believing that He is the Only-Begotten Son of God, and showing this faith by keeping all His commandments, trusting that our life on earth, no matter how long it is, it is short indeed, and we shall depart when death comes, or it will end upon the second coming of Christ, in an hour we do not know as He said, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into, Therefore, you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Mathew 24: 42-44). This readiness is the same readiness of the five wise virgins, by having good works and good faith we become His witnesses on earth because He is our Good Samaritan who descended from heaven and saved us from the thieves or Satan who try to lead us into temptations. If we believe him (Satan) as our first parents did, we shall lose the grace of God and shall be left half dead like the wounded man who fell among thieves and we shall be in need of the Lord Jesus, the Good Samaritan to save us, heal our wounds and take us into His holy church.

My beloved, when Jesus left our world, in flesh, after completing His redemption and went back to His heavenly Father and sat on His right hand side, He bed farewell to His disciples by lifting His hands and blessing them on the Mount of Olives. He ascended in heaven in His glorified body and the disciples were watching. A cloud received Him out of their sight. St. Luke who described the scene said that two angels appeared as two men in white apparel and said to the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The disciples not only rejoiced for hearing about the second coming of Christ but they also worshipped Him and thus confessed that He was the “God who appeared in flesh”. They returned happily to Jerusalem and since that time the church represented by her disciples and fathers and the whole group of believers standing alert, looking upward toward heaven and awaiting the second coming of Jesus. In His first coming He redeemed us and defeated our enemies: Death, Satan and sin. He also blessed us by bestowing upon us the grace of adoption, the sons of heaven. But in His second coming, as we believe and confess in the Nicene Creed that we recite at the beginning and the end of the holy Eucharist, “the Lord shall come to judge the world”. St. Paul definitely believes in this truth and he preached it to the faithful as was received by the other apostles by the Lord. They taught us every time we celebrate the holy Eucharist, to say in deacon’s voice, ‘O Lord Jesus, we remember your death and we believe in your resurrection and we wait Your second coming. Have mercy upon us’. The early Christians and their followers used to greet one another by saying in Syriac-Aramaic, ‘Mar’an – A’tha – ‘Our Lord has come and shall com again. Yes we are awaiting with faith His second coming. St Paul says that if we are alive in flesh when He comes again, we shall be caught up with Him in the air after having our bodies glorified. If we had already slept in the Lord, our souls shall remain alive and we shall hear His voice and shall be resurrected and united with our bodies to inherit His heavenly kingdom.

How happy we shall be if we behave like the five wise virgins who were ready. We shall watch with them and await His second coming while our lamps are lit with good works. We shall be worthy to welcome Him with joy and shall enter with Him to His kingdom where we shall share in His wedding and shall celebrate. How happy we shall be if we are among that blessed group of people.

My beloved, Christ will definitely come again to judge the worlds. If we believe in His second coming and ready as the five wise virgins, then our lamps shall stay lit and we shall enter into His heavenly wedding and inherit His kingdom on the day when the Lord shall call upon the righteous on His right hand side by saying, “Come you blessed of My Father inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”. . . and He also says to the ones on His left hand side, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. . . .And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Mathew 25:34&41&46).

Dearly beloved, let us be like the five wise virgins and let us hold dear to our doctrine of faith and walk in the light of Jesus, in order to be filled with the flame of faith. Real faith is the one accompanied by good works otherwise it is a dead faith. And whenever He comes, He will find us ready, alert and awaiting Him with lamps full with oil. He shall invite us to go into His wedding with the five wise virgins and we shall enjoy His heavenly table forever.

May God accept your fasting, prayers and charity deeds. May He have mercy upon the souls of your beloved departed, and may He make you worthy to celebrate His glorious resurrection with spiritual joy, good health and prosperity. May His grace embrace you all, 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 21st day of January, in the year two thousand six of our Lord
which is the 26h year of our Patriarchal reign


Holy Saturday or Gospel Saturday

Holy Saturday is the day between Good Friday and Easter.

The service of the Holy Saturday in the Syriac Orthodox Church begins around 11:30 am with Noon prayer, then the 9th hour prayers, followed by Holy Qurbono. Holy Qurbono is conducted on this day in the same ‘pattern’ of Pesaho Qurbono (Holy Thursday). But the Qaumo of the day (i.e. Holy Saturday Qaumo) must be chanted. 

The Holy Qurbono shall not be celebrated on the same altar where the burial service of our Lord Jesus Christ was conducted on Great Friday (Good Friday). It can be celebrated on another altar or a temporary altar can be arranged for it.

In the Syriac Orthodox Church,   the Holy Saturday is observed as the day of commemoration of all the departed ones. (We also remember all our departed ones  just before the Great Lent begins, which is also called Aneede Sunday).

The Holy Saturday is also known as the Gospel Saturday. Because after the crucifixion, Christ went to Sheol, (the word ‘Sheol’ means  the grave or the abode of the dead) to preach the Gospel to the departed souls (1 Peter 3:19, 4:6). The Holy Qurbono celebrated on the Holy Saturday gives us an opportunity to pray for all the departed souls. 

The Syriac Orthodox Church teaches that Christ descended to the sheol of the dead on Holy Saturday to save the righteous souls. An ancient homily for Holy Saturday states – “a great silence stilled the world while Christ searched for Adam, ‘our first father,’ as for a lost sheep.” 

Syriac Church father Mor Ephraim says, “This is the Son of the carpenter, wWho skilfully made His Cross as a bridge over Sheol that swallows up all, and brought over mankind into the dwelling of life”.

Let us pray to God for all our beloved departed souls on this day for His grace and mercy.


Conducting of the Holy Qurbono Service

As per the Syriac Orthodox tradition, Holy Qurbono of the Holy Thursday (Pesaho) is normally  celebrated in the early morning hours. 

When the celebrant enters the Sanctuary, the  acolyte opens the veil (curtain) and lights the candles in the altar. 

1) The Holy Qurbono will begin as usual, with “May Mary, who bore you…” (Mariam Deeletok…”) and the congregation chants, “By the prayers of Your Mother…” (Nin mathavu visuddanmar….”). 

2) The Qaumo for the Pesaho is recited instead of  the Trisagion (Holy are You O God). 

3) General Epistle and Pauline Epistle are read as usual.

4) Gospel must be read as per the tone of Hasho (Passion Week).(La Moriyo Shubo…, etc.)

5) Promion & Sedra particular to Pesaho may be used.

6) During the blessing of the Censer, the celebrant recites the Qaumo of the Pesaho instead of “Holy is the Holy Father…Amen”.

7) After the Nicene Creed, i.e., the first prayer of the Anaphora must be the special prayer of the Pesaho, which is specifically mentioned in the Holy Qurbono book/The book of Anaphora.

8) There is no “Peace be with you” during the Holy Qurbono. So no “kiss of peace” during the liturgy of Pesaho. 

9) The celebrant has to do all the three ‘Subakono’ as usual during the liturgy of Pesaho. But don’t give kiss of peace to the other clergy, if present. 

10)  No Quqliyon during the Holy Qurbono. Instead, Pesaho Qaumo can be chanted. 

11) The three Benedictions (Slomo Hoobo, Nehavoon & Thehave) and the final benediction must do done as usual. 

12) The prayers of the Procession of the Mysteries is done as usual and the congregation can chant the Pesaho Qaumo instead of the usual hymns. 


The Significance of Red in the Syriac Orthodox Church Tradition

Colours are very important in everyday life. Now a days, people choose favourite colours for their attire, cars, houses etc., so, we can say that colours have at least some importance or significance in our life. Red is the colour of fire, passion, love, and of victory over death. Red represents courage and bravery. So, it is used in shields, flags, 

and achievement awards. When we look at the Bible, we can observe the importance of different colours, especially of red (including scarlet and crimson); these have some significance in the Christian liturgy and traditions as well. 

Biblical Narratives

Red is a very powerful colour in the Bible. In the books of the Old Testament, Saul dressed the daughters of Israel in red garments: “Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul who gave you scarlet clothes, as your dyed raiment, set golden embroidery on your apparel” (2 Samuel 1: 24).

In the book of Exodus, the Israelites were told to kill an unblemished lamb and put the lamb’s red blood on their doorposts. It reads, “And they shall take some of its blood and sprinkle it upon the two doorposts, and upon the lintels, and upon the houses in which they will eat it” (Exodus 12:7). This was so that the spirit of God would pass over the houses and spare them from death. We can interpret the blood in two different ways – firstly as death, because the lamb shed its blood. Secondly as redemption, because it spared those who had it on their doorposts. 

In the Old Testament the colour red is used to describe sin. In Proverbs red is mentioned in the passage, “She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet”(Proverb 31: 21). Prophet Nahum says in 2:3, “The shields of their mighty men are reddened…”. In Isaiah 1:18, “Come, let us speak with each other, says the Lord: if your sins should be as scarlet, they will be made white as snow; if they should turn red as scarlet dye, they will be like wool”. It shows that God has the ability to blot away sins and purify the person.

Theological Narratives

The colour of blood is red, and it is a very powerful colour: it speaks of the sin that all mankind holds. At the same time, it is also pointing to the redemption that everyone has access to, because of Jesus’ shedding His blood on the Cross. In the Old Testament, people slaughtered goats and other animals to perform a sacrifice. Christ, through the shedding of His blood, made the final sacrifice, once and for all. So the colour red in the Bible can symbolize both sin and redemption. Either way it point to some type of blood sacrifice and the need for redemption. Those who trust and partake of Christ’s blood can be sure that they have eternal life with Christ because the blood of Christ guarantees everlasting life. Christ’s blood has transformed us into new creations; those who are covered by His blood will certainly live forever.

Red also symbolizes fire, and therefore is the colour of the Holy Spirit. “You had put on the scarlet robe, with humiliation and mocking of the Jews in order to clothe us with the Holy Spirit, from whom we were stripped off in the woods by the jealousy of the serpent”. So, the red garment symbolizes the Holy Spirit which Adam and Eve discarded in the Garden of Eden. 

In Christian tradition, martyr’s clothes are red and red is also considered as the colour that depicts health, fire and the final judgment. Red evokes the colour of the blood of Christ, shed for our sins and therefore it is the colour used to represent martyrs. This colour foreshadows Christ’s death on the Cross which the Church calls Great Friday or Good Friday. 

Liturgical Narratives

In the Syriac Orthodox liturgy, red is mentioned in different ways which are connected with the Bible and the redemptive works of Christ. In St. Matthew 27: 28, we read, “And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe upon Him”. In the Sedro of the Holy Week it is stated, “They clothed You with a red garment, and You have clothed us with the garment of glory which we have stripped off by the transgression of the commandment”.Here red represents royal power and the garment of glory.

A wooden Cross is usually placed on the altar in the middle of the eastern edge of the top tier of the altar. The Cross may be plain or ornamental, but not with a image on it because it represents the Cross on which Jesus was crucified. In the Syriac Orthodox 

Church tradition, a red uroro (red stole) is not put on the Cross which is placed on the altar because we focus on the risen Christ, represented by the empty Cross. This is the key which opens the gate of the Paradise. Mor Ephrem writes, “Blessed is He who through His Cross has flung open Paradise”. Christ the King is carrying the Cross, which is the key to the gate of Paradise and He will open the great gate, by the sign of the Cross. 

The raising of the Cross elevated in the middle of the church on the mid-lent day of the Great Lent is symbolic of the raising of the bronze serpent by Moses in the middle of the Israelite camp. In John 3: 14 we read, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man is going to be lifted up”. The relationship between the bronze serpent and Jesus is evident here. Just as Moses pleaded for the Israelites, Jesus pleads on behalf of us. A red cloth covers the wooden stand and a red uroro (red stole) is 

put on the Cross from the mid-lent day until Palm Sunday. This represents the hanging of the slaughtered lamb on the wood while skinning it. The Cross here symbolizes firstly, the wood of which the Cross of Christ was made, and secondly, the lamb which is a symbol of Christ, who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world through His precious blood (St. John 1: 29 and 1 John 1: 7).6 The uroro represents the loin cloth that Jesus was covered with while on the cross.

On the day of Resurrection, the Church uses a red scarf to symbolise the prophesy of the Prophet Isaiah, saying, “Who is this who comes from Edom, his garments blood-red from Bozrah, adorned by his clothing, mighty in his great strength?”(Isaiah 63:1). Jesus was wrapped with a cloth when He was buried. So, after His resurrection, Hisgarments – were red or dipped in blood because it reminds us that He sweated great drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and later when He suffered for the sins of humanity on the Cross. Similarly St. John says of the Heavenly Warrior who defeats the beast in the Book of Revelation 19:13, “And He was clothed with a garment soaked in blood, and His name is called ‘The Word of God’”. The Great Warrior Jesus Christ, the one who has supremely witnessed to the truth of God in His life and death, and who is the Word of God in person.

In the Syriac Orthodox Church, the different utensils and things are of red colour. Some of them are listed below. 

1. Chithol: This is the cloth decorated with red and green colours that is used to cover the altar. The altar cloth is of fine high quality linen, with a lot of artwork on it; it is usually divided into three sections representing the Holy Trinity, each of which has artwork on it.

2. Tricolour Spread (Virikoottu): This rectangular piece of cloth covering the tablito(altar stone) is made of red, green and white parts. Red represents the universe, green the world and white the Holy Church. The paten and chalice are placed on this three coloured spread. 

3. The Cushion (Gmurtho): This small cushion covered with red cloth is a substitute for the sponge which was used originally in the Church. It is used to wipe the paten and chalice, and the celebrant dries his fingers with it after touching the Holy body. This sponge symbolizes the sponge which was dipped in vinegar and given by the soldiers to Jesus while He was on the Cross (St. Matthew 27: 48).

4. M’kablono: The decorated square-shaped covers for the chalice and paten are made of fine red silk. The covers of the Holy vessels were foreshadowed by the clouds that shadowed the Tabernacle and also represent the Ark of the Covenant with the Manna jar (Exodus 16: 33).

5. Veil (Curtain): Syriac Orthodox churches have a red veil (curtain) covering the Sanctuary. The veil is made of smooth red linen and can be likened to one of the colours of the veils of the tabernacle. “And you shall make the tabernacle ten curtains of fine woven linen – blue, and purple, and scarlet yarns” (Exodus 26:1).

6. The red robe of the Prelate: The Prelate wears a red robe with a red belt. The red colour of the robe represents the scarlet robe which the soldiers made Jesus wear during His trial. 

7. The kerchief of the Hand-Cross: The Prelate holds in his right hand a Cross to the 

bottom of which a red kerchief is fastened which represents the Holy Church.

8. The Flags, Umbrellas and Canopy: Church festivals are beautified with colourfully decorated flags, umbrellas and canopy. The different coloured flags including red represent the martyrs of the Church and especially John the Baptist. This is the reason why these flags are similar to the shape of the English letter ‘M’. This letter doesn’t have a ‘head’. The umbrellas are also in different colours including red representing the clouds as described by St Mark, “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds, with great power and with glory” (St. Mark 13: 26).

9. Wedding Saree or Manthrakodi of the bride: The Syriac Orthodox Church in India adopted two Indian customs which are incorporated during the wedding ceremony. First, is the tying of ‘Thali’ (Minnu) by the groom around the bride’s neck. Thali (Minnu) is a small heart shaped gold pendant with a cross embossed on it. Second one is draping the bride’s head with a colourful bridal saree  known as the Manthrakodi.

The white bridal dress popular today originated from Great Britain, many years ago. However, red was the most usual colour for wedding dresses before this, connecting with the groom (Christ) who weds His Church and cleanses her through His blood. Red is considered auspicious and the bride and groom are united by it in a sacred bond of love. The colour of the post-wedding saree (the Manthrakodi), that is today worn to the wedding feast, has to be red. It is also a common practice among the faithful that the Manthrakodi is worn by the person at her funeral. (Manthrakodi: This is a saree that is presented by the groom’s family to the bride. The saree is a garment consisting of a length of cotton or silk elaborately draped around the body, traditionally worn by women from India).

The liturgy of the Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the most ancient, and it has been handed from one generation to another. The Church believes that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into the world and died for humanity to save us from the bondage of Satan and to lead us to eternal life. For Christians, red is a propitious colour. It shows the importance of the Blood of Christ which was shed during His Passion, and which was the price paid for the redemption of mankind. The Syriac Orthodox Church has given it great respect and awe, such that several of the vestments used in the services and several of the prayers during Lent time and Holy Week reference the ‘heaven-sent’ red colour. The Church believes in the Second Coming of Christ, when He will come with His garment soaked in blood, for the redemption of those who believe in Him. Kyrie eleison! Lord Have Mercy!


[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


[2004 Jan 30] Lent Encyclical

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

 The Holy Bible

Our beloved: In response to the call by the Holy Bible institutions of the world, our Holy Antiochian Syrian Orthodox Holy Synod presided over by us and held 9-12 September 2003, had decided that this year, 2004, to be considered the year of the Holy Bible. The reason is to urge the faithful to have faith that the Holy Bible in our hands in its original languages, is the exact same written by the prophets and apostles, and delivered to our ancestors who delivered it to us without any addition or omission.  All Christians, regardless of their denominations, language, or civilization, have agreed that God inspires the Holy Bible, that is, it is the living word of God. In that regard, the apostle Paul says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The meaning of “by inspiration of God”, is that the Almighty guided the minds of true prophets and Jesus apostles in a special way, and gave them His Holy instructions, and religious doctrines they should believe in. And they relayed His will to all mankind. He also commanded them to write down these facts in a book to be a beacon, not only to their generation, but also to all generations, and forever. No one disputes what all churches agreed upon, that the center of gravity in the Holy Bible is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. And the ultimate goal for writing down the Holy inspiration is to inform the world about true faith that should be believed in, commandments that should be followed and practiced, and Christian virtues that should be adopted in order to obtain salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle John explained in his Gospel, saying, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name”  (John 20:31).

The Holy Bible has indeed a special high rank in our Syriac church because it is the word of the Living God and the first and most important source to our doctrine of faith and heavenly laws. The Holy Bible testifies to that in some of its verses. Jeremiah said, “The Lord saying: Write in a book for yourself all the words that I have spoken to you” (Jeremiah 30:2). St. Paul the apostle said, “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12). St. Peter the apostle said, “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). By his words, St. Peter aimed to say that God Almighty has chosen pious men and relayed through them what He wanted people to know about His Holy Self and His heavenly laws. Through those pious men, God declared His promise to send His Only Begotten Son to the world. They announced it and wrote down their true prophecies in the books of the Holy Bible. That promise was completely fulfilled, verbatim, through Christ in all steps of His mission of salvation. In this regard, St. Paul said, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power. When He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrew 1:1-3).

The Holy Bible being the source of all facts of faith has total authority in faith matters. Faithful should submit themselves to its Holy teachings and keep the commandments of faith and good conduct in tact.

Yes indeed, our sainted fathers, through all their teachings did rely on the holy inspiration written in the Holy Bible. They dipped down in the depths of the Holy Bible and picked precious jewels that prove the rightness of our doctrine of faith. From its words they also obtained innumerable number of books they authored. For example, it was said that, “If we assume an impossible assumption that the Holy Bible written in Syriac, somehow was to be lost or missing, we could find it in the writings of St. Ephraim the Syriac, compiled and collected from the Holy Bible in the forth century”.

The church history testifies that our fathers were the first to study, explain and translate the Holy Bible to many languages. Our monasteries and churches were filled with copies written by monks, priests, and others in our holy Syriac language. The oldest and most important copy found today in the museums of the world is in this language. Not only that, but our fathers also carried the torch of the Holy Gospel to many areas of the world. They depicted special chapters from the books of the Holy Bible to be recited during Sundays and church feasts at the beginning of the Holy Mass Service. They also authored special prayers to be read before reading from the Gospel and during their spiritual mediations. These are all supplications to God to enlighten their minds to understand the meanings of the words of life, because, as we mentioned earlier, they Holy Bible has the high rank in our holy church. According to our Syriac tradition and in every church, a small wooden podium is set in the center of the middle alter on which the Holy Gospel is laid. The outside cover of the gospel is gold or silver-plated, and a drawing of the four apostles and a cross are carved on it. It is for the faithful to kiss and be blessed when they enter the church at the beginning of the service, and when they leave at the end of the service. Thus honoring the word of God – the Holy Bible – and get the blessings and grace of Jesus Christ who is the Word of God, who was in the beginning, “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 1:14). The church also singled out a special prayer to be recited by a deacon in whom he calls on the faithful to stand up and listen with fear and wisdom to the word of salvation while the fragrance of incense fills up the air. According to our Syriac tradition, the reader of the holy gospel is the one performing the Holy Eucharist, whether he is a Patriarch or a Bishop, or a Priest.

Yes, indeed, our Holy Church urges the clergy and the faithful in general to study the Holy Bible and read it during individual and collective prayers. They should learn a lesson from Psalm 1 in which the author gives the beatitude to the righteous man who walks in God’s law and utters continually its words day and night (Psalm 1-2). And in Psalm 119, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn and confirmed that I will keep Your righteous judgments” (Psalm 119: 105-106).

My beloved;

It is a golden opportunity that we now have in the upcoming great Lent, and we shouldn’t waste it. We should come closer to Jesus Christ, in strong faith and good works, setting His life and mission on earth in flesh, as an example, carrying His Holy Cross and following Him. Let us learn from Him about fasting and prayers, for He fasted forty days and forty nights on our behalf and allowed Himself to be tempted by Satan. He repeated the words of the Holy Bible and defeated the devil. And He revealed to us the secret of how to defeat Satan by saying, “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). Therefore we should keep praying and abide by the law of fasting, and give charity to the needy especially during days of the Holy Great Lent. The church teaches and commands us to keep ourselves in the company of the books of the Holy Bible, making it the subject of our meditations especially during the quietness of the night. If we, through prayer, beseech and thank God for all His gifts, we should also participate with angels in glorifying and worshiping Him. We should listen intently, with faith, hope and love, to His holy words written by prophets, apostles, and sainted fathers. The Almighty, after speaking to the fathers through prophets, spoke to us through His Only Begotten Son who is His Holy Word…. “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). We should have faith in Him and obey Him as instructed by the Heavenly Father through His voice from heaven during the transfiguration of the Lord on the Mount, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him” (Matthew 17:5).

So let us listen to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God who commanded us to fast, pray, and have mercy on our fellow needy man in order to be worthy to inherit the heavenly kingdom with him.

God bless you, my beloved, and may He make you worthy to renew your spiritual relation with Him. Continue to listen to His holy voice, and know His will through the study of the Holy Bible, in which the Lord addresses and enlightens us. He is the lamp to our feet, which prevents us from falling. May God accept your fasting and prayers, 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 are in Heaven…), Amen.

Issued at our Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria
on the 30th day of January, in the year two thousand and four
which is the 24th year of our Patriarchal reign.


[2003 Feb 07] Lent Encyclical

We offer apostolic benediction, prayer, and greetings in the Lord to our brethren, their Eminencies the Metropolitans, our spiritual children the venerable priests, monks, nuns, deacons, deaconesses, and our blessed Syrian Orthodox people. May the divine providence embrace them through the prayers of the Virgin Mary the Mother of God and St. Peter the head of the apostles, and the rest of the Martyrs and Saints. Amen.


 The Lord Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:18).

In the hardship of life in this world and its pitch-darkness, after the fall of man in the sin of arrogance and his separation from heaven and dismissal from Paradise to the land of misery, humanity in its entirety wandered aimlessly in the dark night burdened under the yoke of the accursed Devil, as St. Paul says, “For all have sinned and are short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Mankind became badly in need of God of glory, the Savior whom God the Father promised to send in order to reconcile heaven with earth and make peace between the Creator of heaven and earth and man, the highest among His creation. In this connection, St. Paul the Apostle says, “But the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son Who, born of a woman, became subject to the law, to redeem them who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Galatians 4: 4,5), “For we do not have a High Priest Who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).

Yes, the Lord Jesus sensed practically, during His public divine dispensation in flesh, the misery of Mankind and their suffering in their bitter clash with their bitter enemy the Devil, who always tries to enter them into severe temptation. St. Peter, the head of the apostles, warns us against him saying, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the Devil walks about like a roaming lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” (1 Peter 5:8,9).

How often the Devil and his hosts used natural factors to destroy the souls of man! How much severe pain, violent suffering, distresses, severe hardships he caused to them! How many of them he deceived and thus they left the house of the Heavenly Father just as the prodigal son did. They squandered the graces that were showered upon them! and wallowed in sin in strange land and consequently anxiety, worry, despair, and pangs of remorse ruled over them because they separated from God. In this connection prophet Isaia tells people like those, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden his face from you, so that He will not hear.” (Isaia 59: 1,2). God spoke to the fathers throughout the ages and generations through prophets, and brought inspired through them to humanity laws and codes and passed ordinances so that they might be close to God. But some of those who were entrusted with the task of preservation of the laws and teaching them to humanity added to these laws their own human commandments that were hard to observe. The Lord Jesus therefore, scolded them saying, “Woe to you also, you lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.” (Luke 11:46). Accordingly, the Lord Jesus called all men burdened with hardships of life to follow Him so that they may find full rest in flesh and spirit, He said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Yes, in all the stages of our life on earth as individuals and as groups we enter into severe and different temptations, and face very many hard obstacles. It is not easy to break through these obstacles by ourselves unless we answer the call of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is calling us to follow Him and carry His pleasant and light yoke, which is the cross of sacrifice and self-denial. In this way we will be liberated from the heavy yoke of the Devil, taking Jesus as example learning from Him meekness, humbleness so that we may gain from him real comfort and happiness, in both worlds.

Dearly beloved: once the Lord Jesus spent a whole day teaching people and healing their sick until He got tired. When evening approached, He commanded His disciples to cross to the other side of the lake. The disciples dismissed the crowed and took small a boat that was kept ready for Him (Mark 3:9). The Lord Jesus slept on a pillow at the stern of the boat. A great windstorm arose. The sea grew rough and the waves surged. The waves beat into the boat and almost sank it. The disciples sensed the danger and were terrified. After they exerted their utmost effort using all their expertise in sailing to save the boat and failed, and hence lost hope of escaping, they turned to the Lord Jesus and awoke Him saying, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? Then He rose and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still! And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. And He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “who this can be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him! (Mark 4:38-41). This is first time the holy Gospel mentions that the Lord slept, and the Devil seized the opportunity of the sleeping of the Lord, and caused the sea to be agitated so that the righteous disciples of the Lord may perish. But it is said that the Lord never sleeps or slumbers and He is the mighty guard of His followers, as prophet David said in his intimate discourse with Him, “who is mighty like you? You rule over the splendor of the sea, when its waves mount up, you still them” (Psalm 89:8,9). So, the Lord rose up immediately and rebuked the wind saying to the sea, “Quiet! Be still” Then the wind died down and there was a great calm. The great power of the Lord on the forces of great nature over which man has no authority was manifested. The Lord rebuked His disciples saying, “why do you have no faith’.

I this crooked generation of ours, and in the hardship of our life as individuals or groups, we, who have received the grace of Holy Baptism in the name of Jesus, often look like His righteous disciples and become worried when we are faced with misfortune and hardships, and forget that the ship will never sink as long as the Lord is on board. The holy church of the Lord, which resembles a ship in the high seas, will never shake no matter how small it is, and no matter how much it is tossed about by furious winds. But when we distance ourselves from the Lord and the Lord stands away from us and from our ship, then we will sense the danger because the Devil then would roar like a wild beast wanting to swallow us.

Let us then, our dearly beloved, be with the Lord always in word and in deed so that we may receive from Him divine power and feel that His divine providence embraces us, and His tending eye looking at us. He saves us from hardship and distress that we may not become shaken no matter how fierce the battle with the Devil and his hosts of devils and men is. We have to remain steadfast and firm in our strong faith. Christ is with us and He promised us saying, “For wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20). Therefore, He never neglects us nor He abandons us; rather he is “Emanuel”,  God is with us. He will not take His Holy Spirit away from us. Even though God sometimes allows the Devil to enter us into the trial of temptation, but He does not allow him to destroy us. In this regard, St. Paul the Apostle says, “But God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13).

Dearly beloved: in the present hard circumstances that our world is going through today, when violence, injustice and tyranny is widespread, and most people have distanced themselves from God, let us answer the call of our Lord Jesus Christ and turn to Him. Let us recite the prayer of one of the righteous in his intimate discourse with Jesus as he says, “I have believed in you Lord, strengthen my faith. I have trusted you, strengthen my trust”. Let us say with the composer of the Psalms, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want….He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:1-4).

Let us seize the opportunity of the arrival of the blessed Lent and couple our fast with prayer, earnest repentance, and almsgiving, asking the Lord to spread his peace and security over all regions of the globe, and enter us not into temptations, but deliver us from the evil one.

May God accept your fast, prayers, and alms, dear faithful, and make you worthy to celebrate the feast of His resurrection from the dead joyfully and happily.

May the grace be with you. Abun d-bashmayo w-sharko (Our Father Who art in Heaven…).

Issued at our Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria
on the 07th day of February, in the year two thousand and three
which is the 23rd year of our Patriarchal reign.


[2002 Jan 24] Lent Encyclical

On Prayer

We offer apostolic benediction, benevolent prayers, and greetings in the Lord to our brethren, their Eminencies the Metropolitans, our spiritual children the venerable priests, the devout monks, nuns, deacons, and our blessed Syriac Orthodox people. May the divine providence embrace them through the prayers of the Virgin Mary the Mother of God and St. Peter, the head of the apostles, and the rest of the Martyrs and Saints. Amen.

The Lord Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:6,8).

Lend your ears all you travelers on the road of life in this world, you whom the different burdens of life have worn out and its varied worries have troubled. The Lord Jesus prescribes to you the medicine for this ailment, which is to raise prayers in His name to the heavenly Father. Jesus promises that your fervent petitions will be answered if presented with solid faith. Apostle Paul defines this faith saying, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). To have faith in God is to acknowledge, in thought, in heart and in tongue, His existence and in all the facts of faith which His beloved Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, has revealed to us. Pour, therefore, your souls, hearts and minds before Him in humility, meekness, repentance and total remorse for all the trespasses you have committed, and He will conceal your sins and give you rest from your labors. He will rejoice by you returning to Him in repentance, just as the father of the prodigal son rejoiced by the return of his son in repentance. The father forgave his disobedience and his squandering his wealth in extravagance and sinful living, and accepted his confession of his sins and his repentance. The prodigal son had said to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no more worthy to be called your son.” The father said to his servants, “Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let us have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:21-24).

The Lord Jesus taught us to call the heavenly Father “Our Father in heaven” so that we may address Him with the liberty of His children. The Lord Jesus did so to encourage us to stand before the heavenly Father as His children in grace and beseech Him in the name of His beloved Son. He did so also to encourage us to worship the heavenly Father in spirit and truth, and to unload our distress before Him.

The Lord Jesus compared the righteousness of the Heavenly Father with the compassion of human father towards his children saying, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matthew 7:9-11).

Dearly beloved:

No two believers will disagree that man, since the beginning of his existence, has been clashing with the devil and his forces in a relentless war. In this connection, Apostle Peter urges us to resist our enemy, the devil, saying, “Be vigilant and alert, because your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, knowing that your brethren who are in the world also suffer these same afflictions.” (I Peter 5: 8, 9).

Praying to God is thus very necessary, and seeking the help of God is always a must, so that God may save us from our vicious enemy, the devil. The Lord describes the devil saying to the Jews, “You are of your father, the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was murderer from the beginning, and has never stood by the truth, for there is no truth in him.” (John 8:44). This accursed devil is still setting traps for us trying to catch and enter us into temptation that we may fall into the chasm of sin, as he did to Adam, the father of mankind. For this reason, the Lord Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to ask the Heavenly Father and say, “Enter us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” The Lord Jesus proclaimed to us the love of God saying, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only one begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). The Lord Jesus redeemed us by His precious Blood and gave us victory over the devil. He, like us, entered into temptation in everything except sin, and gave us victory over the devil. Therefore, if we persist on praying to the heavenly Father in His name, He will definitely be with us in our struggle with the devil, and we will conquer the enemy of God and man with the power of the Lord Jesus. Jesus commands us saying, “Wake up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is indeed ready, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Jesus likewise says about some kind of devils who enter men and torture them, “Nevertheless, this kind does not come out except by fasting and prayer.” (Matthew 17:21). How powerful, therefore, the prayer of the repenting, even the righteous, believer is when he raises his heart, mind and soul to heaven. In doing so, his prayer may enter before the throne of mightiness as sweet smelling incense, and be answered.

Concerning the power of prayer, Apostle James teaches us a timeless lesson, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a weak man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruits.” (James 5:16-18). When a believer raises his heart, soul and mind to God in solid faith, firm hope, and pure love, God answers his prayer and forgives his trespasses, after he himself has forgiven those who trespassed against him. The repenting tax collector prayed to God in the temple in humility and with contrite heart, standing in awe, beating his heart and saying, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus said about him, “I tell you that this man went home justified” (Luke 18: 13, 14). Also, the repenting thief who was crucified with the Lord Jesus and announced his faith in Him while on the Cross, raised his prayer to Him in firm hope saying, “remember me when you come in your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). His request was granted immediately, and he became worthy to hear the Lord’s true promise, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

If, however, our prayer is not answered, let us then examine ourselves and see if we prayed in faith or not, and if we repented to our Lord or not. The Lord does not accept the prayer of a sinner except in one case, that is, when a sinner asks God for forgiveness with earnest repentance, abundant tear, and determination not to return to sin. God, however, may not answer our prayer for there could be certain harm against the salvation of our souls, if prayer were to be answered. God knows what is best for us. God also may delay answering our prayer so that we may show the strength of our belief in His power. The Holy Gospel makes mention of the Canaanite woman who followed the Lord Jesus when He was in the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon. The woman was crying, “Have mercy on me, O my Lord, Son of David, my daughter is severely possessed by a demon” (Matthew 15:22). Jesus did not answer her right away. Rather, He delayed as if He did not want to grant her request, so that he might show the strength of her faith to the crowd. She kept persistently and insistently crying. After He spoke to her, it became evident to the people, from her answer, that she told the truth and that her faith in Jesus was firm. The woman answered the Lord humbly and wisely, and the Lord praised her faith and healed her daughter possessed by demons. The Canaanite woman is an example for us to follow. We should pray without tepidity, and object not the will of God, but rather submit to it. If we ever show any objection to whatever happens to us, let it be in humility and wisdom, saying, “Let your will be done, O Lord”. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray the way He Himself did. He used to, glory to Him, retire with the heavenly Father for several times everyday in fervent prayers. When Jesus prayed, His prayer was intimate discourse with His own self, for He and the Father are one in substance. He is in the Father and the Father is in Him, as He said about Himself (John 14:10). When His disciples once asked Him to teach them how to pray, He taught them to direct their prayer to the heavenly Father, “When you pray, pray like this; Our Father in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1- 4). Jesus taught us and His disciples this very short prayer, which we call “the Lord’s prayer” and presented it as a model for us from which we adopt our own petitions which we present to God. In this prayer, He incorporated themes embracing thanking God for His graces, which he always bestows on us, glorification of His name, and our petition to Him to fulfill the needs of our souls and bodies, and thus we worship Him in spirit and truth.

We must, therefore, persevere in public prayer together with all the faithful in the holy church, and in partaking in the holy Mass. Also, we must follow the steps of our fathers in performing prayer in mornings and evenings in our homes for the entire household, in addition to our own solitary prayers, so that we may continue to communicate with our great God. By doing so, we draw from Him strength, wisdom and triumph over our enemy, the devil, and his hosts, and protection against his followers, evil men.

Because we are in need to know the will of our Lord, we must carry on reading the holy Bible, and listen well that we may hear the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ in piety and fear of God. We must observe these commandments avoiding what is forbidden in the commandments of the Lord, presenting to Him prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude, and believing that He is our God, savior and redeemer. For without faith, there is no prayer. How can we pray to Him whom we do not believe in. The Lord commanded us saying, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24).

May the Lord God bless you, and make you worthy to renew your spiritual relationship with Him, glory to Him. May He accept your fast, prayers and almsgivings, and make you worthy to celebrate the feast of His glorious resurrection from the dead in joy, happiness, good health, and great success. May His grace be with you.
Abun d-bashmayo w-sharko (Our Father Who art in Heaven…).

Issued at our Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria
on the 24th day of January, in the year two thousand and two
which is the 22nd year of our Patriarchal reign.


[2001 Sep] Condemning Attack on the World Trade Center, New York

We offer apostolic benediction and benevolent prayers to our brothers in Christ their Eminencies Mor Clemis Eugene Kaplan and Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim and to our spiritual children the priests, deacons and deaconesses, and the entire Syrian Orthodox faithful in the United States of America. May the divine providence embrace them through the prayers of Virgin Mary, Mother of God,
and Sts. Peter and Paul, the heads of the Apostles, and the rest of the martyrs and saints. Amen.

We recoil in horror and disbelief at the injury and loss of life caused by the recent bombings in the cities of New York and Washington D.C. Countless innocent people going to work and school had their lives torn apart. We are indeed saddened by this tragic event and strongly condemn this barbaric attack against humanity. We remember all the victims in sorrow and we lift up in prayer their families and loved ones.

These tragic events invite us all to reflect on how such tragedies, both in the United States of America and elsewhere in the world, might be prevented in the future. Our hope and prayer is that such horrendous crimes will never occur in the torture. At this time of mourning we pray God to grant your leaders wisdom that in their pursuit of justice they may not afflict suffering on other innocent people. We also ask all of you to be God’s agents of peace and reconciliation and to remind everybody that evil can be only overcome by goodness.

In closing, we convey to you our paternal benediction. asking the Lord Almighty to heal the wounds and infirmities of all.

Abun d-bashmayo w-sharko (Our Father Who art in Heaven…).

Issued at our Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria
on the th day of , in the year two thousand and one
which is the 21st year of our Patriarchal reign.


[2001 Feb 10] Lent Encyclical

(Galatians 5:6)

We offer apostolic benediction, benevolent prayers, and greetings in the Lord to our brethren, their Eminencies the Metropolitans, our spiritual children the venerable priests, the devout monks, nuns, deacons, and our blessed Syriac Orthodox people. May the divine providence embrace them through the prayers of the Virgin Mary the Mother of God and St. Peter, the head of the apostles,
and the rest of the Martyrs and Saints. Amen.

“For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5: 6).

Apostle Paul in this statement of his, which he forwarded at the time to the faithful in Galatia, emphasizes the importance of faith that is coupled with good works in the true Christian life. He thus makes faith that is coupled with good works a fact of faith in the lucid Christian religion. In doing so, he reveals the nullity of the law of circumcision which was the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham, the father of fathers, and between God and prophet Moses and his people. Moreover, he shows that this law of circumcision, like uncircumcision, has neither a spiritual value nor any importance in Christendom anymore; rather, it renders him who practices it as a religious duty alien to Christ. In this connection, Apostle Paul says elsewhere, “If you become circumcised, Christ will be of no advantage to you” (Galatians 5:2).

The important thing in Christianity is the faith that one declares once he becomes a follower of Christ Jesus. Equally important is faith which is made effective by love; that is, faith which is coupled with good works, after one has made a covenant with God by his rebirth of heaven through the Sacrament of the Holy Baptism, thus becoming justified, sanctified and a son of God in grace. He then proves the trueness of his faith by adorning himself with good works, especially with the virtue of true love, which the Lord Jesus considered a clear sign distinctive of His disciples, saying “By this every one will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Yes, by our love for God, which is made manifest through our love for the neighbor, we adorn ourselves with faith that is made effective by love.

Apostle Paul further defines faith saying, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). In other words, faith is acceptance of all that God has proclaimed to us on the facts of faith through His prophets in the books of the Old Testament, and through His righteous apostles and disciples in the books of the New Testaments, even if they were beyond the comprehension of our human minds. These include also the creeds of the Christian faith defined by the three Ecumenical Councils: that of Nicea (AD 325), that of Constantinople (AD 381) and that of Ephesus (AD 431). The acceptance of these creeds by the faithful has thus become obligatory.

Faith also is certainty of the things hoped for in such a way that we see them as if they were actually fulfilled. Christian faith, therefore, combines in itself the submission to the doctrines of faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God and Redeemer of human race. The power of the living Christian faith is made manifest when coupled with good works, its parallel, which, like faith, are necessary for salvation. In this regard, Apostle James asks those who claim they are believers: “What is the use, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but has not works? Can his faith save him?… You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe, and tremble. Would you know, O frail man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone” (James 2:14-25).

Yes, the statement of Apostle James may seem to contradict the words of Apostle Paul, who says: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; Whom God has preconstituted a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God…Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law” (Romans 3:24-31). Then, Apostle Paul takes Abraham, just as Apostle James did, as an example for this, saying: “Abraham believed in God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness…How was it then reckoned to him? Was it when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? It was not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. He received circumcision as a sign or a seal of the righteousness which he had by faith, while he was still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all who believe, without being circumcised, and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them also, and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith of our father Abraham” (Romans 4:1-12). In this connection, Patriarch St. Severius the Great, the Crown of the Syrians, wrote to Julian, the bishop of Halicarnassus, on the reconciliation between the writings of the two Apostles on the matter of justification by faith and deeds. The explanation he gave can be summarized as follows: A non-Christian upon believing in Christ, even though he has no good works, receives remission of sins, whether it be serious or personal, through faith alone. After he is baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, he attains salvation according to the saying of the Lord Jesus, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does not believe, shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Through baptism he is born of heaven and becomes a son of God through grace and starts a new covenant with God. He is determined to walk according to the Gospel of Christ coupling his faith with good works, otherwise his faith would be of no avail, as put by St. James, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). The case is just as that of Abraham. Abraham’s faith was counted righteousness while uncircumcised. After he was circumcised he offered to God good deeds coupled with faith. He obeyed God and offered his only son Isaac to be slaughtered.

We have seen the Lord Jesus laying emphasis on the works of Abraham by saying to the Jews in response to their claim that their father was Abraham, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (John 8:38 & 39). The faith of a man, therefore, must be a “faith that is made effective by love” (Galatians 5:6), as also expressed by St. Paul, who says: “It is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the Law who will be justified” (Romans 2:13). This statement is based upon the teaching of the Lord Jesus, who says: “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father Who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). The Lord, glory to Him, upheld this teaching of His in putting it to practice when “His mother and His brothers came to Him once, but they could not reach Him for the crowd. And He was told, ‘Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you. But He said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:19-21). No wonder then the Lord of glory proclaimed the law of ruling in the judgment of the worlds in heaven to be the law of “faith working in love”. The distinguishing sign of this love is serving the least of His brethren. For on the Day of the Judgment, the Lord Jesus will say to the righteous faithful, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me? (Matthew 25:34-40). To the wicked then He will say, “Depart from me, you accursed, to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

The Lord justifies pronouncing this judgment against the wicked by the fact that they did not do good to those who were in need, as if they did not do it to the Lord Jesus Himself. The wicked thus shall go into everlasting torment, and the righteous into eternal life (Matthew 25:46). In this connection, Apostle Paul says to the Corinthians, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive according to what he has done in the body whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). In his epistle to the Hebrews, Apostle Paul wrote, “For God is not so unjust as to forget your work and labor of love which you showed toward His name, in that you served the Saints and you still do” (Hebrews 6:10).

From here we know that the Lord Jesus wants us to serve saints and His needy brethren and feel with them. He wants us to look after them, lend a helping hand to the poor, and call on the widows and orphans, considering our service to them a service to the Lord Jesus Himself, for they are His little brethren. We should consider what we do with and to them as if we were doing it to Him. This kind of work is considered to be the heart of the Christian faith, as indicated by Apostle James, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). Moreover, mercy is the daughter of love; therefore, he whose heart thrives with love of God, this love shall be manifested in his love for the neighbor.

We see our teacher Apostle Paul singing the praises of the virtue of love in chapter thirteen of his epistle to the faithful in Corinthos. From here, this chapter is called “the song of love”, where the works, fruits and sacrifices of love are favored over martyrdom for the faith, working dazzling miracles, even moving mountains, and speaking in numerous tongues. The Apostle concludes this chapter saying, “And now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Love, therefore, is the greatest among virtues. It is the cream of the divine commandments. How sublime the answer of the Lord Jesus was to the lawyer who asked Him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus said to him, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets”. (Matthew 22:35-40). How splendid the love, which Apostle John described is, when he said “God is love”.

Dearly beloved:

In the parable of the ten virgins, the five wise and the five foolish, the Lord Jesus teaches us a lesson in faith, hope and love. All the ten virgins were believers and waiting for the Second Coming of the Lord in solid faith and unfailing hope. When the Lord delayed His coming, they all slumbered and slept. When the Bridegroom (The Lord) came, the five wise virgins entered with Him to the marriage feast. Now, the five foolish virgins, who had faith and hope, like their other five wise friends, had no oil of good deeds, especially oil of love and that of its daughter, mercy; consequently, their lamps went out. They went to sellers to buy oil. While they went to buy, the bridegroom came and the five wise virgins, who were ready, and who had, besides faith, love and hope, good deeds, the deeds of mercy and love, entered with Him to the marriage feast. As for the foolish virgins, they were expelled to the outer darkness.

Faith, therefore, without works is dead. The Lord teaches us this also in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). On this parable, the Doctor of the Church, St. Jacob of Saroug, constructed a magnificent spiritual sermon in a meemro (metrical homily) that ranks among the top in the world of Syriac spiritual literature. In this homily, St. Jacob maintains that no sin was ever recorded against this rich man, and he was never noted with any abominable act. Rather, he adhered tenaciously to the Mosaic Law. Moreover, he called Abraham “my father Abraham”. Nevertheless, when he died, he saw himself being tormented in Hell, the reason being that he had no mercy upon Lazarus the poor who was laid down at his door desiring to fill his stomach with the crumbs that fell from his table.

Dearly beloved:

The arrival of the Holy Lent is considered a golden opportunity for us to enter into a spiritual struggle against the devil and overcome him by our faith, which is the sign of victory. Let us then keep on observing the Law of the Lord day and night and practice the exalted virtues. Let us couple our faith with good deeds, particularly the deeds of mercy, such as giving out alms, helping the poor, and tending to the orphans and widows. In doing so, our faith would work in love, indeed, and we will attain victory in faith.

May God accept your fasting and prayers, and make you worthy to celebrate the feast of His resurrection from the dead with joy and delight. May grace be with you.

Abun d-bashmayo w-sharko (Our Father Who art in Heaven…).

Issued at our Patriarchal house in Damascus, Syria
on the 10th day of February, in the year two thousand and one
which is the 21st year of our Patriarchal reign.


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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