This morning, we received an unofficial translation of the final statement for the spiritual summit held at the Mariamite Church in Damascus on 8 June. The patriarchs sent a call to the world and to the people of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine to hold on in their homelands and to preserve good relations with their compatriots the Muslims.
The full text of the document is below.
Statement of the Spiritual Christian Summit
At the invitation of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi, the Patriarchs of Antioch attended a spiritual summit held at the Mariamite Church in Damascus on 8 June 2015. Present were: Patriarch Bechara Rai, the Maronite patriarch of Antioch and head of the Maronite Church in Lebanon, Ignatius Ephrem II, patriarch of Antioch and all the East of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Gregory III Laham, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, Alexandria and Jerusalem Melkite, Ignace Joseph III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East for the Syriac Catholic Church, Msgr. Mario Zenari, the Apostolic Nuncio in Damascus, in addition to the heads of the different Christian communities in Damascus.
As a result of the summit, the following statement was released:
To our dear children in the Lord in the Antioch Churches
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, for who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Galatians 1:3-5)
We, first of all, thank the Lord who allowed us to come together, we the Patriarchs to whom was entrusted the care of the Christian people in the widespread Antioch, in Damascus, this blessed city that has embraced Paul the Apostle of all nations. We, from this Patriarchate which has long defended the righteous humanitarian causes over time, raise our voice and pray for you, so that in these calamities, “you live a life worthy of the Gospel,” not ashamed to bear witness of Jesus Christ who “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light.” We pray that you endure the hardships, relying on “God’s power”, fortified “with strength, love and insight”. There is no need, dear beloved, to remind you to pray for us, so that God helps us “cut in a straight line the word of truth” and glorify His Holy name in our works, while we accompany the Church in these crucial historical circumstances.
We wish to tell you that: by our encounter, our joy is renewed, by our consultations it is deepened, by our cooperation it is increasing, to be testimonies of the Christian Antioch unity in the extent in which “the disciples were called Christians first” (Acts 11:16), and where God wanted us to be witnesses. For this reason, based on your full loyalty to your Churches, its beliefs and teachings, we invite you to come together and serve the poor with dedication, acquaint yourselves with the valuable thought of our Churches, discover its holiness, deepen your knowledge of the Antiochian heritage, pray for the “unity of Christians” and work to achieve this desired unity commanded by the Lord, with the hope that it will be attained in our world today, starting from Antioch.
We also invite you to bear your countries in your thoughts and prayers, and to pray with persistence for peace to prevail, so that everyone could experience the true sense of happiness and live in dignity “as children of God.” Do not forget to work hard for the unity of your country, for its progress and the establishment of a civil state. Preserve the pluralism in all its richness without losing your distinctions. Strengthen your faith and bear witness of the “hope in you.” Don’t let your faith be the reason for divisions or from banning others.
We invite you, dear beloved, to preserve the best relations with our Muslim brothers, our national partners, with whom we share this land and the trials and ordeals of violence and terrorism, consequences of takfiris who are trying to distort Islam. These same partners feel your pain. They are working with their religious authorities to eradicate the takfiri thought, the cause of the loss of thousands of lives. We, together with our partners, raise our voice and declare that it is time to confront the takfiri thought through a religious education calling for openness, peace, and freedom of belief.
In these times of adversity, terrorists are exerting their hideous acts in the name of God. In times of fear, violence, kidnapping, murder, displacement, people are being forced to change their religion by individuals who do know neither God nor His mercy. By killing you, your murderers do not realize that they have brought eternal misery to themselves and defectiveness to their countries. In the midst of all this, do not forget what the Lord has promised “Fear not, little flock, for your Father desires to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Yes, dear beloved, in these times of adversity, where “desolation” prevails, where people are being “driven as sheep to slaughter,” remain strong, do not despair. Be strong and hold on to the Grace which complements each deficiency. Commit to “refinement of your soul” based on purification, forgiveness and love. Impersonate the Gospel’s mores. Trust in the Lord who conquered evil and death, as He will not “turn his face away from you.” He is your companion along the paths of displacement and migration. He is your support in poverty and hunger. He is your consolation in times of tribulation when grievance prevails and qualms in God’s care for his loved ones overwhelm you. He is your peace in your ordeal; He is the Light who leads you in darkness of this world. He is your Resurrection from every despair and death. He is your victory against the evil and his malice.
In these times of adversity, rally around the Church, the extension of Jesus Christ in the world. Accompany your Churches, as we are all bound by the spirit of pastoral responsibility and committed to double our efforts in solidarity with the people of good will, to take further and necessary initiatives to maintain our presence in our homelands and look after the needs of your families and your well being and secure the future of our youth who are our vital and promising strength. We express our thanks and appreciation to all the volunteers who are dedicated to serve with love in our institutions. Gather around the Church and pray its martyrs who have fallen in defense of their faith to intercede for you. Pray for all those persecuted and abducted, especially for Mgr Boulos Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim from Aleppo, and all the abducted priests, especially Fr. Jack Mourad, who was the last one to be kidnapped. Sustain each other and carry the burdens of one another. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Look after the poor in their torment, as they are God’s beloved. Care for the widows and the orphans. Share your bread with the hungry. Ease the pain of the displaced and refugees. Assist your Churches in its relief and social work. Generously dedicate your time and effort for the “young brothers of Jesus.”
And to our children in Syria, who fell in the grip of terrorism, manipulated by the forces of this world to fragment their country, displace them and expel them from their land, we confirm our commitment to the unity of this country and to the right of its people to live safely, freely and with dignity. We call on the world to work seriously to find a political solution to this senseless war that has ravaged Syria, to reach a solution that guarantees peace and the return of the abductees, the refugees and the displaced and the right of the Syrian people to decide their fate, away from any external interference.
For Iraq, suffering from the scourge of successive wars which uprooted generations and generations from their ancestors’ land, as it happened last year in Mosul and the towns and villages of the Nineveh Plain who have been witnesses to the horrors that reminded the world of the brutality of past centuries’ wars and which continues to destroy ancient civilizations.
As for Lebanon, the country, the message, we ask for faithfulness to this country alone, to a sense of dedication to work for its unity, serve the best interest of its people and elect a President for the Republic who restores the Constitutional Institutions’ role, building a nation in which its people can rejoice.
For our beloved ones in Palestine, the heads of the Church promise that they will remain the focus of their attention and will not back from defending them and their righteous cause, no matter how much the world tries to weaken it through wars and conflicts.
We ask the international community to assume its responsibility and stop the wars on our lands, find peaceful and political solutions to the existing conflicts and work seriously on repatriating the displaced and refugees to their homes and properties, protecting their rights as citizens.
We are the people of this land, deep-rooted in its earth, watered by the sweat of our fathers and ancestors. We declare that we are here to stay in our land, to build it with our partners in citizenship. This land has been entrusted to us; we have shed our blood to defend it, sanctifying it by the blood of our martyrs.
We invite all those who pretend to care about our destiny to help us stay rooted in our land, to take care of it, preserve it and benefit from its resources and not facilitate the looting of our heritage and resources, the destruction of our civilization and the expatriation of our people, by forcing them to migrate. We raise our voice and demand the end of war on our land and the support of the foundations of stability in the entire region.
Dear beloved, at a time when man is being killed in the name of God, we are required, more than ever, to learn that “Love is stronger than death.” Killing in the name of God is stabbing God in His essence. Our faithfulness to Jesus who said “Blessed are the peacemakers, they are called the sons of God,” makes it imperative to be messengers of peace in this East. Our role is to face every thought or ideology that sanctifies violence, killing and revenge. Our faith in God cannot but be translated in love and peace to all, in defense of our land and churches, respecting the freedom of God’s children, while maintaining diversity and differences.
From this Mariamite Church, we pray the Mother of God, the mother of us all, our trusted advocate, to save us and our homelands from all adversities surrounding us, and help us be at her image, as people who bear witness to Christ in our darkest moments. May God bless you and may you remain bearers of His witnesses in this land. Your vocation is to remain “the salt of the Earth” and the “small yeast that permeates the dough.” Do not underestimate this call for the salvation of the world. Trust that with you and through you the Gospel of Jesus Christ will remain vital in our Church of Antioch.
Unofficial translation from the original Arabic text by Lara Cordahi, CRS, Lebanon.