[2000 Feb 12] 1500th Anniversary of Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono and Queen Theodora

We offer apostolic benediction and benevolent prayers to our brethren their Eminencies the Metropolitans, our virtuous spiritual children the priests, monks, nuns, deacons and deaconesses, and our venerated Syrian Orthodox people all over the world. 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, Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono, and the rest of the Martyrs and Saints. Amen.


After inquiring about you and offering apostolic benediction we say:

Behold, the ship of our life has anchored in the harbor of the year two thousand of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ in flesh. Some of us consider this year the close of the second Millennium whereas others consider it the beginning of the third Millennium. Whether we accept the first or the second opinion, we must thank God who kept us alive to this day. We ask God to be with us in our new path in the coming year.

We seize the opportunity of the arrival of the Holy Lent for this year to listen carefully to the voice of God with which He called upon men through His prophets, especially Prophet Jonah. Following God’s command, Jonah went to Nineveh and cried against it proclaiming that destruction, perdition and great tribulations were imminent; for the wickedness of its inhabitants had come up before the Lord. The people of Nineveh believed in God and proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. They made ground their bed and heaven their cover. Shedding tears, they turned to God in repentance. And thus God had mercy upon them and they were delivered from destruction. They became an example for all penitents. “God, who spoke of old to the fathers by the prophets,” says Apostle Paul, “has spoken to us by His beloved Son Jesus Christ” the Incarnate God, Whose birth we are celebrating at the close of the second or the beginning of the third millennium.. He is the Word of God Whom John the Apostle describes in the Holy Gospel 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 saw His glory, a glory as of the only Son from the Father full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1&14). “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The Word of God was incarnate for our salvation and redeemed us by His death on the Cross and His resurrection from the dead. He began His loud, open, and corporeal mission by calling people to repentance saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is near; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

This is our Lord Jesus Christ Who put on our own body and became one of us. And like us He was tempted in everything except sin. He suffered, died, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day, according to His will. He ascended to heaven and sat on the right of God the Father. He shall come again with great glory to judge the living and the dead, He Whose kingdom has no end, as confessed in the Nicean Creed. Yes, He promised us that He would come again with His angels in great glory. Some people thought the time of His coming would be the year 2000, although He had, glory to Him, proclaimed the truth of His coming by saying, “But that day and that hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36). He stressed that we must stay awake and be watchful. Staying awake means constant spiritual wakefulness accompanied by earnest repentance and awareness of Gods’ law. It also means reflection on the dispensation, in flesh, of the Lord Jesus and on His work of redemption and accepting Him as our Savior. It further means believing in the doctrine of His second coming which John, the beloved Apostle, sums up in the Book of Revelation saying, “Behold He will come with the clouds; and every eye shall see Him…” (Revelation 1:7). But, when will the time of His second coming be? We do not know. We must believe in what the Lord Jesus has proclaimed regarding the facts of faith and wait in faith and longing for His second coming. Let us follow the steps of Apostle John and say with him, “Come, Lord Jesus” (cf. Revelation 22:20).

Dearly beloved:
How nice it is to seize the opportunity of the arrival of the holy and blessed Lent and repent before God; and to couple the fast with prayer and almsgiving that God may accept them. God thus will forgive our sins and make us worthy to be counted, on the day of His second coming, among the good and the righteous, who will rise in the resurrection of life and inherit, with Him, His heavenly kingdom.

Dearly beloved:
The year 2000 AD marks the fifteenth anniversary of the birth of Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono (St. Jacob Baradaeus), and the righteous and the godly Empress Theodora. In his epistle to the Hebrews, Apostle Paul urges us to remember our instructors who spoke the Word of God to us. He further advises us to reflect on their conduct taking their faith as an example (Hebrew 13:7). Accordingly, we are issuing this fatherly encyclical urging you to ponder over the life story of Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono and that of the righteous and God-fearing Queen Theodora. We exhort you to follow their examples in spiritual struggle and tenacious adherence to the doctrines of faith. For God chose them to be two strong and steadfast pillars in the Holy Church, and they fought to preserve the true faith.

Subsequent to the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, there remained no bishops in the Syrian Orthodox Church towards the middle of the sixth century AD, except for three. Our Holy Church saw in the resolutions of the said Council a deviation from the doctrine it received from the righteous Apostles and holy Fathers, whereas the Byzantine state adopted its resolutions, and thus started persecuting those who rejected them. The Byzantine state killed some of the rejecters and exiled others. Others died as a result of the severity of persecution, and still others were dislodged. In this crucial period, God sent to the church a brave man, Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono, one of the greatest and foremost among the leaders of the Syrian Orthodox Church.

At that crucial time Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono protected the Syrian Orthodox Church against the attempts of its enemies to eradicate it. He encouraged its followers to preserve the jewel of the Orthodox faith that it received from the righteous Apostles and Fathers.

Mor Ya`qub wore the monastic habit in the Monastery of Fsilta near his home town. He mastered the Syriac and the Greek languages. He was known by his piety and working miracles. He was a hermit and an ascetic. His rough garments became like saddle-cloth, hence he was called Burd`ono.

Mor Ya`qub was a great scholar, a successful preacher and a capable theologian. He went to Constantinople and was received with great honor by Empress Theodora, the daughter of a Syrian priest from Mabug (Manbej) and the wife of Emperor Justinian.

Empress Theodora served the non-Chalcedonian bishops in distress. These were the Syrian and Coptic bishops, who were being persecuted and executed. Thanks to Empress Theodora’s efforts, Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono was ordained a universal bishop in 544 AD by Mor Theodosius, Patriarch of Alexandria who was exiled at the time in Constantinople. Three imprisoned bishops participated with Patriarch Athanasius in laying hand. Mor Ya`qub, the universal bishop, set out on his mission touring Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia. He visited and ministered to churches and confirmed the faithful in the Orthodox faith. He ordained seventeen Metropolitans and hundreds of priests and deacons. He went up to his Lord on the 30th of July, 578 AD, and the Holy Church celebrates a feast in his memory.

The righteous Queen Theodora, the Empress of Byzantium from 523 to 548, was born in 500 AD in the Syrian city Mabug (Manbej), the same year in which Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono was born in the city of Tel Mawzalt (known today as “Viran Sehir”) in Turkey. Her father was Theophil, son of Me’no, a Syrian priest from the village of Kamua in the Azal mountain adjacent to the Syrian district of Jazirah. Theodora was brought up in a Christian environment at the home of her father, the virtuous Syrian Orthodox priest. She married Caesar Justinian, the protector of the faith of the Council of Chalcedon, which the Byzantine state had adopted. In spite of this, Queen Theodora held to the faith of her Syrian fathers who rejected this Council and its resolutions. The tempests of ferocious persecution and their sweeping torrents failed to shake her faith. She was known by her intelligence and fear of God. She helped her husband rule the country and run its affairs, and saved him from plots planned against him by his enemies, who almost destroyed him. Theodora also passed laws that are held in high esteem to this day.

In that crucial period, the righteous Queen Theodora hosted in her palace the persecuted fathers of the two churches, the Syrian Orthodox and the Coptic Orthodox, relieving their suffering from the Byzantine state, but she could not, however, stop the persecution. Instead, she herself suffered, and bore many of her husband’s enemies who accused him of bias in favor of the Syrian Orthodox Church of his wife.

The Lord saved Queen Theodora from the conspiracies plotted by the enemies of the Church to destroy her. By her courage and firm determination she never tarried behind in marching forward on her thorny path. She departed to the heavenly chambers, and her pure spirit joined the spirits of the godly women in the Paradise of delight. Among those, are the spirit of Queen Helen, the Syrian Orthodox daughter of an Edessan priest and the mother of Emperor Constantine. Her spirit also joined the spirits of the rest of the righteous and the pious, that she may wait in faith for the second coming of the Lord when her pure spirit will unite with her body and she will rise in the resurrection of the righteous and the pious. There she will receive the reward that the Lord God has prepared for spiritual fighters who will be crowned with the crowns of glory on that great day.

Contemporary, reliable, and honest historians who have full knowledge of her life have provided credible accounts on her origin, early life, pure conduct and her immaculate inner self and thoughts. At the forefront of those, was the Syrian Chronicler St. John of Ephesus who had close relationship with her family and knew her quite well. He wrote about her childhood and her marriage to Justinian the Caesar. The latter had promised her father that he would not force her to change her faith which rejects the Council of Chalcedon and its resolutions. He delivered his promise, indeed. Her staunch enemy, who was also an enemy of truth, the Chronicler Procopius, failed to deny her the glory that she earned with her wisdom and her courage in helping her husband Caesar Justinian. The dishonest and unjust Chronicler Procopius, tried to smear her virtuous conduct. But the saying, “the sieve cannot coneal the sunlight in the middle of the day” remains true.

It gives us pleasure in this encyclical of ours to exhort the children of our church, both clergy and laity, to dedicate this year, the year 2000 AD to reflecting on the wondrous mysteries of divine Incarnation and Redemption, and to learning lessons from the struggle of the righteous Martyrs, Saints and Confessors who bore the Cross of the Lord and followed Him on the way to Golgotha. They suffered torture for the sake of adhering to faith in Him through the last twenty centuries and, as such, they were shining stars that radiated light in the sky of our Syrian Orthodox Church. They inscribed their spiritual struggle with characters of light on the pages of the history of the Church and that of the world. At the forefront, was the Apostolic warrior Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono who was able to expose the evil intentions of the tyrannical Byzantine state that robbed Syria and Egypt of their resources and used religion to serve its political ends. The Byzantine state caused divisions in the ranks of the Christian Church in the East to ensure the survival of its colonization of that blessed region. It tried to obliterate the characteristics of the Syrian Church, distort its history, and destroy its heritage and culture. The Byzantine state further accused its fathers with heresies of which they were as innocent as the wolf was of the blood of Jacob’s son.

Dearly beloved:
Let us all take resemblance to Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono in trading with the evangelical talents, and let us ask for his intercession. Let us beatify the righteous Queen Theodora who preferred the disgrace of Christ, that is, the bearing of the Holy Cross, to all the glories of the world, that our names may be inscribed, as was hers, with the names of the Saints in the Church of the first born in heaven.

On the occasion of the fifteen hundreth anniversary of Queen Theodora’s birth and that of Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono, we command that this encyclical of ours be read in all our Syrian Orthodox Churches in the world. We command that this be done during the Holy Mass of the first Sunday of the Holy Lent, and once again on the 30th of July which marks the feast of Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono. Let our religious, educational, cultural and social institutions organize spiritual seminars on their life. Let us take them as examples in holding to the true faith and swerving not even by a hairbreadth from the faith and doctrines that we received from our fathers. Let us do this so that we may be worthy, like them, to receive the crown of glory that Apostle Paul mentions when he talks about himself saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Let this happy commemoration be a cause for blessing to you all, and may the grace of our Lord be with you. Amen.

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

Issued at our Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria
on the 12th day of February, in the year two thousand
which is the 20th year of our Patriarchal reign.


[1999 Mar 14] Eight Hundredth Anniversary of Patriarch Mor Mikhoel Rabo


We extend our apostolic benediction, best wishes and greetings to our venerable brothers, Their Eminencies the Metropolitans; to our spiritual children: the honorable archdiocesan vicars, chor-episcopii, monks, priests and deacons; and to all our esteemed Syrian Orthodox people. May the divine providence of the Lord be bestowed upon them through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and St. Peter and Paul the Heads of the Apostles, and the rest of the martyrs and saints. Amen.

After inquiring about your well being…

As the twelfth century AD approached, it found Syria and Upper and Lower Mesopotamia in a deplorable state of misery. The Frank occupiers were ravaging the region in its entirety, killing, robbing and bringing destruction everywhere. They were establishing competing mini states that fought against each other. One would not hear but news of turmoil, wars and fighting. The Syrian Orthodox Church was an integral part of this corrupt and unstable social mileau. As a consequence, some of the faithful became weak in their faith, their hearts became troubled and their thoughts were in a state of confusion. A large number of them lost hope in salvation as a result of distress and the continuous change in the political, social, as well as ecclesiastical situation.

Mor Mikhayel Rabo (St. Michael the Great) was born during this time, in 1126 AD, in Melitine (Malatya, Turkey)—at the time, one of the famous Archdioceses of the Syrian Orthodox Apostolic See of Antioch. His birth took place during the reign of Patriarch Mor Athanasius VII Abu Al-Faraj, son of Kamoor (1091-1129 AD). Patriarch Athanasius was said to be perfect in all virtues and a great scholar. Because of his passion for knowledge and virtue, the Patriarch ordained the great scholar Malphono Sayd Ibn Al-Sabouni as Metropolitan of Melitine, who, in less than forty days after his ordination, was martyred at the hands of Gabriel, the unjust and brutal Byzantine ruler of Melitine. The latter accused him of some political matter of which the Metropolitan was as innocent as the wolf was of the blood of the son of Jacob. Further, Patriarch Athanasius himself suffered severe hardships in administering the Church internally as well as externally.

During his youth, Michael was raised in a Syrian home from which the sweet fragrance of Christ emanated. His father, Elia of Melitine, was a virtuous and pious priest and a descendent of the Qandasi family which produced many servants for the Church. Among them were Athanasius Zakka, Metropolitan of Ayn Zarba (+1166); Patriarch Michael the Great’s uncle, Mapheryono (Catholicos) Gregorios Jacob; and Patriarch Michael II Junior, the nephew of Mor Michael the Great, also known as Yeshou Sephtono.

Young Michael became a monk at Mor Barsawmo’s Monastery near Melitine, after which he was ordained a priest and appointed Abbot of the monastery. During his term as Abbot, he made arrangements to bring running water to the monastery. When the Patriarchal See became vacant following the death of Patriarch Athanasius VIII, the Holy Synod of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, consisting of eighteen Metropolitans, convened in the Monastery of Fesqeen near Gargar on Pentecost Day. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Synod elected unanimously Raban Michael to the Patriarchate of the Apostolic See of Antioch. When Raban Michael learned of this, he ran away and disappeared as he thought he was unworthy of this most exalted position. However, Mor Dionysius Ya`qub Bar Salibi, Metropolitan of Amid (+1171) and one of the Holy Synod’s members persuaded him to perform his duty. On Tuesday, October 18, 1166, Michael was consecrated Patriarch at Mor Barsawmo’s Monastery with the laying on of the hands of the Mapheryono along with twelve other bishops. The new Patriarch passed thirty-one laws in the Monastery of Hananya.

Among the most glorious pastoral works of Patriarch Mor Michael the Great was the moving of the headquarters of the Patriarchal See of Antioch from Amid to Mor Hananya Monastery, known as “Zafaran”. On the day of his arrival at this Monastery and the celebration of his enthronement on the Patriarchal Seat in the new headquarters, Metropolitan Mor Dionysius Ya`qub Bar Salibi delivered a fascinating speech that began with “My beloved, today is the day of joy; today is the day of delight”. In his invaluable speech he enumerated the praiseworthy virtues of Patriarch Michael.

Patriarch Michael paid Apostolic visits to his Archdioceses that were widespread at that period of time. In 1168, he headed for Jerusalem and stayed at the Monastery of Mary Magdalene near Damascus Gate (Bab al-caamuud). There he consecrated the Holy Murun (Chrism) and ordained John (Yohanna) as Metropolitan for Damascus on Easter day. He then returned to the headquarters of his Apostolic See at the Monastery of Hananya. There he passed a number of ecclesiastical canons, as reported by the great scholar Mapheryono Mor Gregorios Bar Ebroyo. He also held a Synod meeting in 1169 at Mor Barsawmo’s Monastery. In the following year, Emperor Manuel dispatched a messenger named Theoryanos to the Syrians and Armenians. Patriarch Mor Michael answered him through John, bishop of Khayshum, and the monk Theodoros Bar Wahbun.

In 1180 AD, Mor Michael held another Synod meeting where Theodoros Bar Wahbun of Melitine was excommunicated. Although Bar Wahbun was a great scholar, he was arrogant and devoid of godliness and fear of God. Bar Wahbun rebelled against his superior and was later ordained as anti-Patriarch by four castaway bishops. Although he was a disciple of Patriarch Michael the Great and was educated in the Patriarchal house, Bar Wahbun denied the favor of Michael, and in the end, was excommunicated and dislodged. Bar Wahbun died in 1193.

Mor Michael wrote a book on the ranks of priesthood, liturgical texts on preparing for receiving the Holy Qurbono (Eucharist), the duties of man, how to be a disciple of Jesus, and the need for repentance and confession. The greatest of his works, however, is the ecclesiastical and secular Chronicle that begins from Creation until the year 1193 AD. A unique manuscript of this great work is kept to this day in a book-case at St. George’s Church in the Syrian Quarter (hay al-suryaan) of Aleppo.

Following his consecration and according to the ancient custom followed by the Syrian and Coptic Churches, Patriarch Michael sent a letter of fellowship to the Patriarch of Alexandria, Pope Yohanna I Ibn Abi Ghalib, known as Aba Al-Majd, in which he included his confession of faith. He also authored another letter to Yuhanna’s successor, the Alexandrine Pope Mark III Ibn Zar’ah, on the Sacrament of Confession. This is the Sacrament that was rejected by the heretic Mark Ibn Qanbar the blind who created confusion in the minds of the children of the sister Coptic Church for a long time by his false teaching. In doing so, Ibn Qanbar had renewed the heresy of the followers of Origen and the Messalians. Patriarch Mor Michael the Great refuted the weak reasoning of Ibn Qanbar as well as his false teachings, proving the necessity of practicing the Holy Sacrament of Confession. He also supported the excommunication of Ibn Qanbar and his abhorrent heresy.

Patriarch Michael ordained one Mapheryono and fifty-four bishops. He departed to the Heavenly Chambers on Monday, the seventh day of Second Tishrin (November) in the year 1199, at the age of seventy-three, thirty-three of which he was Patriarch. He was buried in the new church at Mor Barsawmo’s Monastery in the tomb that he had prepared for himself.

Indeed, the life of the commemorated Patriarch Mor Michael the Great, was one of righteousness and holiness. He led the life of the good confessors who were persecuted for the sake of righteousness following the example of most of the Patriarchs and many bishops of our Holy Church. Likewise, he was an honorable scholar and renowned researcher. Patriarch Ephrem Barsoum describes him as “one of the greatest pontiffs of the Church of God, the finest of the Patriarchs of Antioch, a scholar, and a famous chronicler; of everlasting name, of graceful pursuit, and of uncommon qualities, of widely known virtues, and of good deeds”. Patriarch Barsoum converses with him saying, “Is it not right for the general history of the world to remember your honorable name since you have written those volumes that are full of the events of the ages, from their inception until your happy reign, for you have brought to life what took place, and had it not been for you, these would have been totally forgotten? Indeed, it is befitting to do so for the world in general and for your nation in particular. Your greatness is manifest not only in this, but also in the fact that you were magnificent in your virtues, endurance and self-esteem. You were great in your Patriarchal works. It is no wonder that history describes you as The Great”.

Dearly beloved: On the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the departure of the Patriarch and the Saint Mor Michael the Great to the heavenly chambers, we command, by our Apostolic authority, that our Holy Church across the whole world celebrate this commemoration on the 17th of Second Tishrin (October) of this year 1999, which we consider the Year of Patriarch Michael the Great. We further command that the celebration of this happy occasion begin with the Divine Liturgy which we too will celebrate, God willing, at St. Ephrem’s Monastery in Ma’arrat Saydnaya. Their Eminences, the Metropolitans of the Syrian Orthodox Church and her priests shall celebrate the Divine Liturgy all over the world on the same day, which should be dedicated for worshipping God and soliciting the intercession of Mor Michael the Great. The preachers are to speak about the biography of the honorable, who is commemorated, in their sermons. This Apostolic Encyclical of ours is to be read once again on that day for our faithful, after it has been read for the first time on Sunday, Ayyar (May) 23, this year. We also command that the clergy and people come forward for canonical confession offering to God true repentance and partake of the Holy Communion with faith, godliness and fear of God so that they may have the blessing of the Lord, for “the memory of the righteous is blessed” (Proverbs 10:7), as the author of Proverbs says. Let honorary celebrations, scholarly seminars, and symposia be held on his pure and godly life and precious works. In the forefront of this is the Symposium of scholars and orientalists that was scheduled to convene in Aleppo, but now has been moved to our Theological Seminary at St. Ephrem’s Monastery in Saydnaya between October 1 and 8, 1999.

Dearly beloved: When we reflect on the biography of Patriarch St. Michael the Great and the secular and religious events that were contemporaneous to the stages of his life, from his birth until his departure to the heavenly chambers in the twelfth century AD, we find that our Syrian Orthodox Church in that crucial time of her history was like the boat that the Lord Jesus took, as narrated in the Holy Gospel, to cross to the other shore of the sea. His disciples were with Him. A great windstorm arose and waves beat into the boat so that it began to fill. He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him “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. 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 can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey him!” (Mark 4:35-41).

Yes, lack of faith in difficult circumstances such as these leads to fear and terror. However, true believers in Jesus Christ our Lord, who place their confidence in His Divine capability and His Divine providence do not become frightened and their hearts do not become troubled no matter what happens in the universe since Christ has promised them to be with them even to the end of age. They ought to remain in faith in Him for He is the Almighty God. They will never be frightened and “their hearts never become troubled” (John 14:1) so long as Christ is with them in His church. Regardless of how grave the distress and how relentless the persecutions waged against the Church of Christ become, She will remain steadfast and will never be shaken, for God is in her midst (Psalm 46:5). When the Lord Christ founded Her on the rock of faith that heavens proclaimed through Peter, the head of the Apostles, He promised Her saying, “and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Even though the accursed Devil is still trying to “deceive, if possible, even the elect,” (Matthew 24:24) but he will always be defeated in the face of the power of Christ Jesus and His righteous followers. Nevertheless, we should not be surprised if we find sometimes some of those whom the Lord selected to become a light for the world follow the seduction of the Devil, the light in them turning into darkness. They cause trouble to the good shepherds of the church. The Lord in His sermon on the last days has said to us, “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end should be saved (Matthew 24:12-13).

We thank God, may He be exalted, Who looks at His church with the eye of His mercy, embrace Her with His care and constitutes in Her good shepherds such as the commemorated Patriarch Mor Michael the Great, to shepherd his sheep, ewes and rams with good care and offer His servants their spiritual food on time. Those are the holy fathers who live according to the Gospel of Christ and act in accordance with the law of the Lord Jesus, His enjoinments, and Canon of His holy church for which he gave his precious blood. In doing this, they bear hardships, fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith like St. Paul the Apostle. The Lord, the righteous judge, will lay up for them in Heaven the crown of righteousness which He will give to each one of them, and not to them only but also to all who await His second coming.

How happy then will we be, shepherds and flocks, if we make Patriarch Mor Michael the Great an example to us in holding to the faith, working according to the law of the Lord persisting in it day and night, and complying with the Canon of the Church which has been enacted by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that it may keep us within the fold of Christ Jesus, our Lord.

May God make this happy memory a cause of blessings for you all, through the prayer of our Lady the Virgin Mary, that of the holy Patriarch Mor Michael the great, the righteous martyrs, and all the Saints. May the grace of the Lord embrace you always and forever. Amen.

Our Father Who art in heaven, …

Issued at our Patriarchal house in Damascus, Syria
on the 14th day of March, in the year one thousand nine hundred and ninety nine
which is the 19th year of our Patriarchate.


[1981 Nov 29] On the name of the Church

We extend our apostolic benediction, best wishes and greetings to our venerable brothers, His Beatitude Mor Baselius Paulos II, Catholicos of the East, and Their Eminencies the Metropolitans; to our spiritual children: the honorable archdiocesan vicars, chor-episcopii, monks, priests and deacons; and to all our esteemed Syrian Orthodox people. May the divine providence of the Lord be bestowed upon them through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and all the martyrs and saints. Amen.

After inquiring about your well being… It is our pleasure to inform you that we held our Syrian Orthodox Holy Synod of Antioch between the third and fifteenth day of Second Tishrin (November) 1981 at the headquarters of our Apostolic See in Damascus, Syria, where we placed the benefit of our Church and its advancement as our main concern, regardless of the efforts which it may require or the sacrifices which may have to be endured to achieve this, following the footsteps of our blessed predecessors. In order for the outcome of the Synod to be at the level of our spiritual aspiration, and in order for the Holy Synod to become a milestone in the modern history of our Church, each of its members took on his behalf his historical duties. Starting with our pastoral responsibilities, the salvation of souls, the maintenance of the true Orthodox faith and tradition, the revival of our Holy Syriac language, and the resurrection of our glorious Syrian Antiochean tradition, we studied a condensed agenda which included various matters: The budget of the Patriarchate, its internal organization, its endowments and institutions, and all what relates to its affairs. We looked into the case of St. Ephrem’s Seminary in Atchane, Lebanon, and the importance of advancing it spiritually and educationally in order to bring it to a good academic level; for this, we appointed a bishopric committee under our chairmanship. We also studied the affairs of our Church in India and its relation to our Apostolic See of Antioch in the presence of His Beatitude, the Catholicos, and our bishops in India during a General Synod which we held in the headquarters of our Apostolic See from the seventeenth day of Second Tishrin (November) till the twenty seventh of the same month, during which we wrote a constitution for our Church in India, stating its relation with our Apostolic See. Further, we discussed the relation of our Church with sister Orthodox Churches and other Churches and communities, as well as the role of our Church in the ecumenical movement. The Synod then looked into the issue of the date of Easter and decided to keep it according to the tradition of our Church, raising no objections against changing it once all the Churches in the Middle East agree on a specific Sunday in the month of Nisan (April). The Synod then made the final touches to the Constitution of our Holy Church and the Canons of Personal Affairs, taking into consideration the requirements of the modern age. It also examined the affairs of the archdioceses in general, pointing out the role of the priest in the Church and the importance of the individual; in this respect, it declared that the Sunday of Priests of every year is to be dedicated for supplications for priests. It also declared the Sunday which follows the Feast of the Cross, the anniversary of our installation, to be the Patriarchal Day. The Holy Synod insisted on the importance of preparing a new generation filled with faith, as well as spiritual, humanitarian and patriotic values, where individuals learn religion at religious centers and Sunday schools which are associated with the leadership of each archdiocese. The Synod also found it appropriated to reexamine the liturgical texts and to publish them; for this purpose, it appointed a special committee. Here, we take the opportunity to order our children, the priests, to perform the Church rites in dignity, to observe fasting and perform prayers at the designated times according to the traditions of the Church, and to visit the faithful continuously creating a spiritual atmosphere in each family during such visits. We also urge our children, the deacons, to master the rites, practicing them with faith, piety and obedience, and to be committed to serving the house of God according to their spiritual mission.

The Holy Synod paid special attention to the issue of the true name of our Church. The Synod is of the following opinion: it is well established that from the very dawn of Christianity, and since St. Peter, Head of the Apostles, established its See in Antioch-Syria until this day, our Church is known as the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch (`idto suryoyto orthodoxoyto d’Antiokh), and its language is known as the Syriac language; (leshono suryoyo), and its people by the Syrian people (`amo suryoyo). By this name of noble origin, which stems from our ancient history, our Apostolic faith, and our proud civilization, we are known as a Church, our language is known, and we are known as people [the original reads] amongst all religious, educational and social circles, locally and internationally. We do not accept any other name.

What appeared and appears contrary to this name is not only alien and foreign, but also a distortion, falsification and forgery of the historical truth. We, in our Apostolic power, declare our distress and disapproval to the new names which have appeared lately and which have been attached to our Church and our people such as ‘Assyrian’, ‘Aramaean’ and the like. These names aim at distracting the existence of our Church, dividing its children, destroying the landmarks of its glories, and annihilating its civilization and its spiritual and humanitarian traditions. But Christ is in its midst and she is unshakable; its shepherds are vigilant and awake, protecting its walls, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Therefore, we warn all the faithful of our Church, especially priests and deacons, regardless of their hierarchical offices, against adopting these ideologies which are in opposition to the Holy Church and its faith, and which are disgraceful to its reputation. We notify you that our Holy Synod granted power to the heads of archdioceses to take the appropriate ecclesiastical actions to deter those who entice so that they return to the path of truth, especially in archdioceses in which these ideologies have started to appear and have become dreadful, turning into grave danger for the Church.

Our dear spiritual children: In the endeavor to maintain the unity of our Church, vigilantly caring for our children, and out of our fatherly love to you, we appeal to you all, clergy and people, to care of your spiritual and social responsibilities, and to appreciate the sacrifices which your blessed forefathers endured to keep the jewels of faith which were entrusted unto us, and to maintain the sacred things which our Church prides itself with. We also appeal to you to distinguish the voices of the true shepherds and to stay away from the wolves which aims at ravaging you, you the blessed flock of Christ. And we advice, for the second time, those who entice and have gone astray from the Church to return to its bosom and to live side by side with their brothers in love and trust as members of one Syrian family [  ].

May the Grace of the Lord be with all of you. Amen.

Issued from our Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria,
on the 29th day of Second Tishrin (November) 1981,
the second year of our Patriarchate.


The Reason of Christmas is Redemption

Jesus Christ was born to die for the sins of the world. He was doing it willingly and He knew that it was the will of the Father. That was the whole point of the incarnation or Christmas. But the important fact of Christmas is ‘why Jesus came’? There is no salvation in His birth, rather there was a price to be paid for our sins. Someone had to die. Only the Son of God could do it. 

Angel Gabriel appeared to Virgin Mary, and delivered the heavenly message, she accepted it and obeyed. Joseph, the Just, who believed the dream which he saw and accepted it and obeyed, the shepherds in the wilderness were convinced of the message of the messenger of the Lord and obeyed, the three kings who followed the sign of the star trusted, and believed Him, gave their gifts to Him and bowed before Him. Christmas is not only a festival of obedience but also a festival of “the people sitting in the darkness have seen a great light, and on those sitting in the land of the shadows of death a light has dawned” (St. Matt. 4: 16).

Norman Cousins said, “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live”. Similarly, we should not astray our love towards God and bury our faith in God. That is why King David proclaims: Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers”. 

During this Lenten season, we have to keep in mind that His birth was the first step in God’s glorious plan for redemption. That is the love of our God. Wishing a Merry Christmas to you all.


Jesus’ Genealogy: Why is it important for us?

The Gospel writers St. Matthew and St. Luke included the genealogy of Jesus Christ in their Gospels (St. Matt. 1: 1-17 & St. Lk. 3: 23-28). What is the relevance of it? How is it important to us?

St. Matthew shows that Jesus is the Messiah who descended from Abraham, to whom it was promised that in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed (Gen. 18: 18). It was promised to Abraham that Christ would descend from him, “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12: 3); “By your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessings for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice”(Gen. 22: 18). St. Matthew assures that Jesus was Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah.

From David, for it was from David’s line that the Messiah was to be born (2 Sam. 7: 12-16). The genealogy list is divided into the three periods of Jewish history: Fourteen generations from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the captivity; and fourteen from the captivity to Jesus. However, five names have been omitted from the second part in the order arrive at 14. This Gospel shows that Christ is the Son of David, rightful heir to the Messianic throne. The royal genealogy of Christ is depicted in this.

While in the records of St. Luke, the genealogy starts with a reverse order beginning with Joseph and ends with Adam. St. Matthew has a very theological trace of Jesus’ forefathers and even foremothers, which is very unusual in the Jewish genealogy, even though St. Luke has a very historical and detailed account. Another question which arises here is whether Jacob (St. Matt. 1: 16) or Heli (St. Lk. 3: 23) is the father of Joseph? St. Matthew’s ancestry records shows Jesus’ legal father as Joseph and leads from David’s son Solomon. Whereas, St. Luke records the lineage through his biological mother Holy Virgin Mary back to David’s son Nathan.
What is the connection of Nathan and Holy Virgin Mary? The scriptures are silent about Holy Virgin Mary’s descendance from David. However, there are two possibilities. Firstly, tradition tells that, through her betrothal with Joseph she enters his family and legally becomes the part of the House of David. In Numbers 36: 6-12 it is stated that the daughters married within the clans and their inheritance remained in their father’s tribe and clan. This is example of how females might have married from their own families in order to secure the right of inheritance. Secondly, St. Ignatius of Antioch in his ‘Letter to the Ephesians 18’ says, “For our God, Jesus Christ, was according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Spirit”.  Here the tradition and the Scripture presents the Holy Virgin Mary, the Mother of God as descending from David through Nathan.
In other words, St. Matthew emphasizes on Joseph’s perspective, whereas St. Luke speaks of the virgin birth story wholly from Mary’s point of view. Then another logical question arises here, why is Joseph, not Mary, mentioned as Heli’s son in St. Luke’s genealogy? In the book The Virgin Birth of Christ by J. Gresham Machen, it is stated that, “While the Matthean genealogy traces the successive heirs to the throne of David from David to Joseph, the Lucan genealogy traces the ancestors of Joseph back to David”. He explains, “The Lucan genealogy, in other words, starts with the question, ‘Who was Joseph’s “father”?’ The answer to that question is, ‘Heli’ . . . In the Matthean genealogy, on the other hand, we start with the question, ‘Who was the heir to David’s throne?’ The answer is, “Solomon, and so on down to Joseph”.

In Hebrew tradition, only the names of males are mentioned in their genealogy list, which Luke follows. A virgin birth is generally not acceptable. Therefore, we can assume that Mary is designated by her husband’s name in this case. Interestingly the word “son” is not in the Greek text as well (literally it is “Joseph of Heli”), though it is implied. Why was Joseph’s (earthly father of Jesus) name included in the genealogy? Jews have a custom of keeping records to trace the descent through their fathers. Legally, they looked on Jesus as son of Joseph (Jn. 6: 42). The genealogy in Matthew clearly states that of Joseph, Mary’s husband and he is writing to prove to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah, who had been born of a Virgin (Isa. 7: 14). Matthew’s genealogy is directed towards Joseph, not Mary. Therefore, it is through Joseph Jesus was the son of David. One interpretation states that the Jewish law at that time allowed a man to adopt a boy by a solemn declaration as his son. In such circumstances, the boy is then declared as his son for all intents and interpretations. As a ‘Just’ man, Joseph obeyed God’s command, and acted accordingly to accept Mary. Thus, Joseph became the earthly father of Jesus.

Usually the names of women are not included in the Jewish genealogy. But the names Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the wife of Uriah, Bathsheba, are mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel. These women were sinners, or their marital unions were irregular. Why then are their names included in the genealogy? Even if these women were sinners, they had an important role in God’s plan and God used these people to accomplish His purposes. Moreover, He saves His people from their sins. In other words, these four Gentile women and their presence foreshadows the universal salvation of the humanity, which God promised to Abraham. As St. Paul said, “There is neither Jew or pagan, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus the Messiah” (Gal. 3: 28). Jews and Gentiles, male and female, people of faith and people of questionable character are all used by God to carry out His salvation plan.

The names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba being included in the genealogy assures that God will fulfill His purposes with us even though we are imperfect. The list of names in the genealogy are lengthy but it encourages us, if we have faith in Christ, we will be saved regardless of who we are, as well as to obey and follow His commandments. Jesus’ genealogy teaches us, always be with God, and be a part of His mission and be a model of Joseph, the just. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55: 9). Sometimes it is difficult for us to understand the full plan of God. Our hearts should long for faithfulness to God and submit to the will of God.


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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