[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


[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.


[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.


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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