Every second Saturday of the month, 4 pm - Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1K 5BQ. Followed by refreshments.
Next Liturgy: Saturday 14th November, 4pm.

Christopher Morris Lecture 2015

"St Gregory of Narek, Doctor of the Universal Church, with the Canonised Armenian Martyrs - Communion of Saints, Our Ecumenism of Blood"

For the 20th Anniversary of the Apostolic Letter, “Orientale Lumen”
HG Bishop Hovakim Manukian, Primate of the Armenian Churches of the United Kingdom

Tuesday, 24th November 2015

6.15pm - Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom
7.30pm – Lecture, followed by reception. Donation requested.

Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, Duke Street, London W1 (Bond Street Tube). All Welcome - RSVP johnchrysostom@btinternet.com

Monday, 23 November 2015

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Seventh Tone, the Resurrection of Christ and the Massacre in Paris:Homily at Divine Liturgy, Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral London, 14/15 November 2015

The Byzantine Divine Liturgy, in the view of many Western people, is ornate and richly complex. In fact, while the prayers are longer than those in the Latin tradition and an obvious difference is the cumulative and insistent effect of the numerous litanies, its basic shape is quite similar to those of the mass of the Latin rite, suggesting a common tradition in the Church’s early days in the Roman Empire. In the core of the service there is even less variation than at a Roman Catholic Mass. The prayers hardly ever vary; the Introit is always the same – The Trisagion which is the response to Psalm 79; the Great Entrance or Offertory is nearly always the Cherubic Hymn, being the refrain to Psalm 23; and set verses from Psalms 22, 56 and 113 are sung every time –  "Save Your people and bless You inheritance"; "Be exalted, O God above the heavens"; "Blessed be the Name of the Lord!" The Scripture readings and the psalms linked to them for the Sunday or Feast are almost all that changes. This is how it developed in the Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, and this is the Liturgy that was shared across the Eastern Roman Empire and up into Eastern Europe, and now across the world.

Except to say that in the ninth century, a monastic renewal flowered in a monastery in the south-western corner of the vast City of Constantinople, the famous Stoudion, or the Studite monastery led by St Theodore, who with his collaborators gathered together all the Christian hymns from the Greek, Syrian, Jerusalem and Sinai desert monasteries and cathedrals they could find, including those of St Romanos the Melodist, St Ephrem Syrus and St John Damascene. They arranged them into great cycles of weekly, daily, festival and seasonal hymns, mostly to add rich variety to the unchanging psalms of the monastic offices, but also so that great Christian poetry could bring out the meaning of the Scriptures and canticles as they reflect upon Christ and teach reveal His power of redemption. Each Sunday, we notice that these hymns are grouped according to one of the eight tones of Byzantine liturgical musical theory. Today we use Tone 7, which is known as the Grave Tone on account of its sweet but sometimes plaintive tone. In the west, for instance, this is the scale used for the gentle melody that opens the Requiem Mass. But in the East, the eight sets of Sunday hymns, are always about the Resurrection; and they glorify Jesus Christ for being risen from the dead and being the conqueror even of our destruction. So it makes no difference if the Tone uses a musical scale that to our modern Western ears sounds major, or minor, subdued, exotic, plaintive or joyful – each mood is a lens through which to view the Resurrection. Each kind of “mood music” thus becomes yet another way for the Resurrection to approach us and make itself understood whatever our disposition, whatever our circumstances, whatever our personality.

So it is no surprise that the main chants for each Sunday, weekday and feast gained popularity among the faithful. They were borrowed from the services of the monks and added to the Divine Liturgy with the highest place of honour in their own right – the very last of the songs to be sung as the priest arrives at the Altar itself. Thus it has been for over a thousand years; thus we have sung them today. It is as if a different way of praising Christ sets us up each Sunday to hear His Word, to behold Him in His Mysteries, to welcome Him in His Temple, to receive Him Who is our God into our human lives - as He once took the flesh that he raised from the dead, and as He will more and more receive us who are humans into His own life, the very life of God the Trinity.

I cannot help but feel that the chants for this Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, a Sunday of the Seventh Tone, are so deeply poignant this weekend, as we pray in shock at the murder of 127 innocent people in Paris, with many other critically injured too, by cowardly members of a psychopathic death-cult pretending to follow God and the path of Islam. At the same time, we remember the millions displaced and degraded by false Muslims across the Middle East, including our own brothers and sisters who have been called upon to give their lives for others and for Christ.

So today’s Troparion speaks of lamentation, but also how the Cross of Christ destroys death.  Once death has done its worst, what is left is mercy, capable of opening the door of Paradise, just like the stone rolled away from the Tomb that shows to the mourners that God’s new reality for humanity has prevailed, and in the midst of lamentation there can be signs of hope and joy.

Likewise, the Kontakion realises that death has no hold over us. Christ too, it says, “went down”; but the collapse shattered the power that drags humanity down, and falls in on top of it.

Then the Theotokion, the hymn to the Mother of God, confronts the fact that, if all that is true, then it is not just something that happened to Jesus in ancient history, nor is it purely something that we have to look forward to after we have ended life here, and passed upon our way: it turns everything inside out now. For Mary is the treasury of Christ’s Resurrection from before she gave birth, through to this very moment and beyond. It was then that she brought us up from the pit, when our Salvation – not an idea or an act but a Person - was born; and it is now that we are saved as she pushes us out, by our own hope, from the depth, towards the Resurrection. And, again, the Resurrection is no mere idea, nor an act, but a Person. So He says to us, as our hope turns toward His voice, “Come forward – come to the Resurrection”.

The Catholic and Orthodox Churches of Ukraine are conscious of a special bond with “those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness”, by those who “insult… and utter every kind of evil word falsely” (Matthew 5), because less than two years ago 130 defenceless, civilian protesters in Kyiv, mostly Christians seeking a peaceful resolution to their society’s problems - and demonstrating for nothing more than you and I in Britain take for granted as our birth-rights of honesty, truth, freedom and democracy - were killed by the forces of a corrupted state. In Ukraine these innocent, brave and hope-filled people are revered as the Heavenly Hundred. So very many of them were Eastern Christians, Catholics and Orthodox, whose spiritual life was constantly animated by the rhythms, hymns and music of the Byzantine tradition of the Church’s worship. Every eight weeks they will have heard the same songs we have sung today and taken them to heart, living with the Cross, with Salvation, with the Resurrection as second nature - the simple truth of what it is to live in this world as in the next, on earth as it is in heaven, in my own skin as if in Christ’s, joyful in Christ’s life because on my own I can do nothing.

And now in France, as in Iraq and Syria, Egypt and Libya - and also as in London ten years ago and New York in 2001 - more people are being robbed of their lives and hopes, by the enemies of righteousness and the Kingdom of Heaven (The Beatitudes, Matthew 5, Third Antiphon). What does our confidence in Christ say to them and to the devastated friends and family who love them, as well as to the fear of the rest of us who wonder what more lies ahead? There is a message that not many will want to hear at the moment, but it is the message that dwelt in the heart of the Heavenly Hundred in Kyiv and richly with our fellow Christian Copts who, on the seashore of Libya moments before their martyrdom, calmly prayed, “Lord, have mercy.” It is the message of our salvation, the message of the Cross, the message of the Resurrection, the message of the Person who is our life, our hope. Here it is in the readings that, providentially, our Church has appointed for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in uneven years:
"If you want the world to change and for the Kingdom of God to come:

-         Love your enemies and do good. Be children of the Most High who is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6. 35-36)

Why? Because you must never forget, even when you pray for the thorns in the flesh to be taken away:

-         My grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect in weakness. (II Corinthians12. 8-9)

So, "blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." May this Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.

“O Mother of God, all-praised treasury of our Resurrection, we hope in you; bring us from the pit… for you have given birth to our Salvation.”
Fr Mark Woodruff

Saturday, 7 November 2015

New Ukrainian Metropolitan of Poland

It is announced today from the Vatican that Auxiliary-bishop Popovych has been named Metropolitan of Przemysl for Ukrainians in Poland:

His Excellency Kyr Yevhen Myroslav Popovych (Eugeniusz Mirosław Popowicz) was born on 12 October 1961 in Człuchów, in the Province of Pomerania, Poland. After completing high school in 1981 he entered the Lublin Major Seminary and was ordained a priest on 17 October 1986 in Stargard Szczeciński, Poland, by Archbishop Myroslav Marusyn, Secretary of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.

After this ordination he was entrusted with the following offices and responsibilities: curate of Elblag and Pasłęk; judicial vicar and professor at the Greek-Catholic Seminaries of Lviv  and Ternopil and the Theological Academy (which later became the Ukrainian Catholic University) in Lviv (Ukraine); episcopal vicar and parish priest of Górowo Iławeckie and Lelkowo; professor at the Major Seminary of the Basilian Order in Przemyśl; member of the presbyteral council, the college of consulters, and of the financial council of the Archparchy of Przemyśl-Warszawa.

In 1988 he received a bachelors in theology from the Catholic University of Lublin. Subsequently from 1988 to 1993, he studied at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, where he received a doctorate in Oriental Canon Law.

From 1996 to 2013 he fulfilled the office of parish priest of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Cathedral of Przemyśl and Protosyncellus (Vicar General) of the Archeparchy, and was made a mitred archpriest. He was made a canon of the Cathedral Chapter and later became the archpriest (provost) of the chapter.

His years as vicar general enabled Kyr Yehven to gain a wide knowledge and experience in pastoral work. In his sermons he touched on the following themes: that evangelization and catechesis were the foremost necessities in the Church, which must provide pastoral sacramental-liturgical care based on Holy Confession and the Blessed Euchatist. The archeparchial curia entrusted him with organizing parish retreats and pastoral-social assistance initiatives for the needy, for which he organized various welfare associations.
Named Auxiliiary-bishop of the Archeparchy of Przemyśl-Warszawa on 4 November 2013, Bishop-elect Myroslav concelebrated the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at the Papal Altar in the Vatican Basilica of St. Peter's, after which was presented by Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk to Pope Francis.

He received the episcopal ordination on 21 December 2013, at the hands of Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk, with Metropolitan Ivan Martynyak of Przemyśl-Warszawa, and Bishop Volodymyr Yushcak (Juszczak) of Gdansk-Wroclaw co-consecrating.

He knows Polish, Ukrainian, Italian, Russian, and English.   source Vatican Information Service , Wikipedia

Saturday, 24 October 2015

A Response from His Beatitude Sviatoslav to the Moscow Patriarchate

A translation of the full version of the comments of His Beatitude Sviatoslav 
in his September 2015 interview with “Kathpress” 

Question: Metropolitan Antonii said that, during your stay in the Holy Land, your appeals changed from radical (we must fight unto victory) to reconciliation.

Patriarch Sviatoslav: Actually, this was my third appeal for reconciliation during the previous year. It is interesting that they have only now acknowledged it. These appeals to end the war against Ukraine were made last year in an interview with Zenit and George Weigel news agencies.

The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church has consistently denounced the aggression of Russia against Ukraine. I also consider it unacceptable to create an image of Ukrainians as enemies of the Russian people by attaching various labels to those who that assert the right of Ukraine to exist as an independent state.

Our repeated appeals for reconciliation were primarily directed not to the presidents of Ukraine and Russia (as did the Russian Orthodox Church), but to the Ukrainian and the Russian peoples. We believe that Russian propaganda is fuelling mutual ethnic hatred. It does this by arguing that the Ukrainian nation, language, and culture do not exist, and the very existence of the Ukrainian State is a wound on the body of the one Russian people. This propaganda claims that Ukraine is not a nation or state, but only “a territory.” Our appeals' message is to resist this propaganda, because propagandists and politicians come and go, but nations remain. When we are able to see ourselves as neighbours with equal rights, only then can we speak of true reconciliation, and seek the means for peaceful coexistence.

Our appeal from the Holy Land was special in that, it was a call to [recognise] the common spiritual heritage of Ukrainians and Russians, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. [This common heritage includes] the holy martyrs Borys and Hlib/ Boris and Gleb, the first declared saints of Kyivan Rus, the thousandth anniversary of which we are celebrating this year. It is important to note that, this year, the Russian Orthodox Church has paid enormous emphasis to the millennium of the death of St. Vladimir, but completely avoided any attention to Boris and Gleb. Perhaps the example of Saints Boris and Gleb speak to the conscience of Russians and Russian Orthodox, reminding them that we must to obey God rather than men.

The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church has never called for violence and war, contrary to our adversaries accusations. “We have consistently condemned the aggressors and those who supply weapons and illegal armed formation. Also, together with all members National Council of Churches and Religious Organisations, we called upon them to lay down their arms. We affirm the right and duty of Ukrainians to defend their country from foreign invaders, in accordance with the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. We provide chaplains to minister to Ukrainian soldiers who are defenders of a just peace. We educate Ukrainian society based on Christian patriotism, not based on hatred of foreigners, but with Christian love to our people, our country, and our own state.
We believe that Ukrainian victory will be achieved by a just peace, which can never, under any circumstances, be achieve on the terms of an aggressor. We consistently call for reconciliation, but can not accept reconciliation from war, violence, untruth, and the denial of the right of the Ukrainian nation and state to exist.

Question: Metropolitan Antonii explained that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church hold a position to the war in East Ukraine similar to that of Francis Pope and the Vatican, in order to keep the path to dialogue open. What is your comment?

Patriarch Sviatoslav: In the Early Church, especially during the first millennium, the Pope, as successor of the Apostle Peter and Supreme Pontiff, was considered the highest arbiter of the Church of Christ. He was appealed to in cases of dogmatic and administrative disputes among the individual local Churches. According to the ancient rule nemo iudex in causa sua (no one can act as judge over his own case), he performed and continues to perform this ministry today, not as a representative of the Roman Patriarchate, but as Supreme Pontiff. Thus, interestingly, in this vein, we see St. Basil the Great appealing to the Pope to act as arbitrator and mediator in the disputes of the Churches of Asia Minor (4th Century A.D.)

The local Church is of and must stand with its own people. It must act as its voice, its mother, and teacher. This is why, briefly speaking, “the nation’s cause” is “the cause of its Church,” its causa sua. (its own cause). The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church stands with its people. protects their rights and interests, acts as their voice before the Ecumenical Pontiff.  Particularly, in the case of war against its own people, it appeals to the Holy Father, and through him to the entire international community.

In a very similar way, the Russian Orthodox Church is concerned with the “joys and sorrows” of its own Russian nation. For it, even the idea of a “Russian world” is also causa sua. Even though the Moscow Patriarch has claimed authority over  all that was “Rus” and not only “Russia,” according to contemporary reality, this is clearly not possible for him to do. The moral right for him to represent the “pain and joy” of the Ukrainian people is placed in doubt even by faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, who see their patriarch as “patriarch of the aggressor.”

In the matter of the war in East Ukraine, to compare the role of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church's mediatory mission and ministry of the Supreme Pontiff of Christ’s Church is absurd and dangerous. This demonstrates that the pain and suffering of the Ukrainian nation caused by the war, that is “the nation’s cause,” is not the causa sua of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  Therefore, ordinary people are asking the question: if this Church is completely aloof from its people and appears in the position of a  partisan judge or mediator, then whose side is it on? How can a Church that claims to be the only Orthodox Church of this nation, stand aloof from the cause of its life or death? I want to believe that this is just an unfortunate comparison and not a refusal of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be a national Church for Ukrainians.

Question: Metropolitan Antonii equated the subordination of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) to Patriarch Kirill to the subordination of Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to Pope Francis. Is this correct?

Patriarch Sviatoslav: This comparison is also completely inappropriate. Even in the Orthodox world, the Moscow Patriarch never considered himself universal or as having any ministry or jurisdiction outside of his own Patriarchate. Moscow has consistently denied any universal service in the Orthodox Church even to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Indicative in this is the recent theological discussion of the Orthodox-Catholic theological commission of ecumenical dialogue, which the Catholic Church holds with the Orthodox Churches.

The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, a local Church with its own particular law, is in communion with the Holy Father as Universal Pontiff. We do not belong to the “Latin Patriarchate.” According to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, our Church enjoys all the rights patriarchal dignity, except the title "patriarch" for the Head of our Church, and we have steadily been building our own patriarchate.

As to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, despite all its rights and so-called autonomy, it belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate and is not seeking to achieve its own. This dependency on the Moscow Patriarchate for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is an integral part of its ecclesiological identity. Through its very unity with Moscow, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church remains in communion with the rest of world Orthodoxy. A danger should noted: Moscow’s subconscious view of itself as the Third Rome, as much as the Patriarch of Moscow equates itself to the Universal Pontiff [of Old Rome]. So the analogy between the union of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church with the Universal Pontiff and unity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with the Patriarch of Moscow is, to be polite, a failure.

Such an analogy could be seriously considered if the Ukrainian Orthodox Church belonged to the ancient Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Then Patriarch Bartholomew would be truly seen as the “pope of the Orthodox world.” I hope that, here, we are merely dealing with a mistake of an Orthodox spokesman, rather than a “confession of faith” and the real ecclesiology of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

trad. ADM

(original Ukrainian)

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God - Monastery of the Holy Cross, Chevetogne

The monks of Chevetogne now have their own Mixlr channel, broadcasting their celebrations of the Vigils and Divine Liturgies.

Here is the recording of the Liturgy for the Dormition-Assumption, with the friendly visit of a magnificent choir.


Monday, 10 August 2015

Pope Francis extends Orthodox Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation to the Catholic Church; commends to all Christians through WCC

Pope Francis has established a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. It will be celebrated on September 1st every year. The Pope was inspired by the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate, which has celebrated a prayer day for the environment on this date for years. In a letter announcing the observance, Pope Francis said that it "will be a valuable opportunity to bear witness to our growing communion with our Orthodox brothers.”

With this new day of prayer, Pope Francis is making a new call for "ecological conversion.” He wants Christians to help improve the environment and humanity in general. In the letter, he recalled his words in "Laudato Si”: that protecting the environment "is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

The letter was sent to the heads of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Cardinals Turkson and Koch. Pope Francis asked Turkson to make sure all episcopal conferences and international organizations were aware of the new prayer day. He said he wants to ensure that "this annual celebration becomes a powerful moment of prayer, reflection, conversion and the adoption of appropriate life styles.”

The Pope asked Cardinal Koch to involve other Christian denominations, so that the new prayer day "can become the sign of a path along all believers in Christ walk together.”

Pope Francis convenes the first World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation

Text of Decree:

To my Venerable Brothers, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah TURKSON, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; Cardinal Kurt KOCH, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

Sharing with my beloved brother the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew his concerns for the future of creation (cfr Encylical Letter. Laudato Si, 7-9) and taking up the suggestion by his representative, the Metropolitan John [Zizioulas] of Pergamum who took part in the presentation of the Encyclical Laudato Si on the care of our common home, I wish to inform you that I have decided to set up also in the Catholic Church, the "World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation" which, beginning this year, will be celebrated on the 1st of September, as the Orthodox Church has done for some time now.

As Christians we wish to offer our contribution towards overcoming the ecological crisis which humanity is living through. Therefore, first of all we must draw from our rich spiritual heritage the reasons which feed our passion for the care of creation, always remembering that for believers in Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became man for us, "the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us." (ibid., 216). The ecological crisis therefore calls us to a profound spiritual conversion: Christians are called to "an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them." (ibid., 217). Thus, "living our vocation to be protectors of God's handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience."(ibid).

The annual World Day of prayer for the Care of Creation offers to individual believers and to the community a precious opportunity to renew our personal participation in this vocation as custodians of creation, raising to God our thanks for the marvellous works that He has entrusted to our care, invoking his help for the protection of creation and his mercy for the sins committed against the world in which we live. The celebration of the Day on the same date as the Orthodox Church will be a valuable opportunity to bear witness to our growing communion with our orthodox brothers. We live in a time where all Christians are faced with identical and important challenges and we must give common replies to these in order to appear more credible and effective. Therefore it is my hope that this Day can involve, in some way, other Churches and ecclesial Communities and be celebrated in union with the initiatives that the World Council of Churches is promoting on this issue.

Cardinal Turkson, as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, I ask you to inform the Justice and Peace Commissions of the Bishops' Conferences, as well as the national and international Organizations involved in environmental issues about the establishment of the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, so that in union with the needs and the local situation, this celebration can be rightly marked with the participation of the entire People of God: priests, men and women religious and the lay faithful. For this reason, it will be the task of this Dicastery, in collaboration with the Episcopal Conferences to set up relevant initiatives to promote and illustrate this Day, so that this annual celebration becomes a powerful moment of prayer, reflection, conversion and the adoption of appropriate life styles.

Cardinal Koch, as President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, I am asking you to make the necessary contacts with the Ecumenical Patriarchate and with the other ecumenical organisations so that this World Day can become the sign of a path along all believers in Christ walk together. It will also be your Dicastery's task to take care of the coordination with similar initiatives set up by the World Council of Churches.

Whilst I look forward to the widest possible cooperation for the best start and development of the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, I invoke the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God and of St. Francis of Assisi, whose Canticle of the Creatures inspires so many men and women of goodwill to live in praise of the Creator and with respect for creation. I support this pledge along with my Apostolic Blessing which I impart with all my heart to you, my dear Cardinals, and to all those who collaborate in your ministry.


From the Vatican, 6th August 2015

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Festival of Eastern Catholic Churches, 2015

Saturday 1st August saw the Festival of Eastern Catholic Churches, held at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, London, organised by the Society of Saint John Chrysostom, the Catholic society founded in 1926 in the Diocese of Westminster to support and promote the Eastern Catholic Churches and especially the reunion of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The first for decades, the Festival brought together 70 clergy and faithful from various Catholic Churches of both East and West, which are all in full communion with Rome.

After a warm welcome to his Cathedral from Bishop Hlib Lonchyna, the Bishop in the United Kingdom of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which is the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches (Byzantine Rite in common with the Orthodox Churches), the followed the celebration of the Holy Qurbana in English, by three priests of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, the second largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches (East Syrian Rite, in common with the Chaldean Catholic Church), whose direct origins are the apostolic Church founded by St Thomas and which is now spread across the world in diaspora. A beautiful Syro-Malabar choir sang and played instruments throughout the Mass, to a new setting in English devised by the eminent linguist and musicologist, Fr Joseph Palackal, who presided.

The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is one of two Eastern Catholic Churches in India, the other being the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church (Western Syrian Rite in common with the Syriac Catholic and Orthodox Churches).

After Qurbana, Dr Palackal presented two informative films. The first, on the origins, history and culture of the Churches of St Thomas, was Kerala, the Cradle of Christianity in South Asia: A Cultural Interface of Religion and Music. With the second, Aramaic, Jesus and India: A Connection through Language and Music, Dr Palackal showed how the Christians of India still use the language of Christ brought to them in the first century, along with the Syriac music tradition from the Holy Land and Persia, as well India’s own languages and music. Fr Mark Woodruff, Vice Chairman of the Society, said, “Father Joseph has shown us that just as the Latin Roman Catholic Church has spread throughout the world in history, now the Eastern Churches likewise are found everywhere: the global south, north America and Western Europe. This newly shows not only the diversity of Catholic communion, but also that the Eastern Churches are integral to the Catholic Church’s life here, its faith and increasingly its identity. As they grow, too, they are part of a richer presentation to wider society of Christ’s Kingdom. Uniting the patrimony in art, language, liturgy and music from an historic Church with English for the future in a new environment, is vital and teaches us much about how to be the Church in the world.”

In the afternoon, John Newton spoke about Aid to the Church in Need’s presence in the Middle East, helping the local Churches to survive and care for those in need and destitution because of the atrocities in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon towards Christians. The day concluded with Byzantine Vespers of Sunday in English, served by Father Mark. In total the Festival raised £1,500 for Aid to the Church in Need.

Peter Pidjarkowskyj Bykar, Secretary

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Cardinal Nichols: What are our leaders doing about religious persecution? - Telegraph

What are our leaders doing about religious persecution? - Telegraph
Saturday, 25th April, 2015

The recent car bomb explosion in Erbil, in Iraq, came as a particular shock since only five days before I had been on that very street. My heart went out to those killed or injured in the blast. But online reactions were sharply divided: “Close 95 per cent of mosques, transform them into educational and social centres!” was one comment, “Terrorists do not have religion and want only to create hatred and confusion” was another.

They sum up the modern dilemma: is religion an enemy, a dreadful problem which we have to defeat or solve? Or it is a friend, a rich resource for our needed solutions and for our hope for the future?

The historical evidence is clear. Many of humanity’s greatest and noblest achievements have sprung from faith in God. Countless lives of love and service of others have their origins in a depth of religious faith sustained through prayer and community living. This religious instinct to seek meaning and purpose in life seems intrinsic to humanity. In fact, freedom of religion is a fundamental human right because the religious dimension of our lives is central to how we understand ourselves and others.

But this is not a licence for irresponsibility; the right to religious freedom should never be used as a pretext to justify acts that violate the freedoms of others. We all bear a responsibility in working out the place of belief in contemporary society. Religious believers have to give a rational account of their faith – rational not in the narrow sense of “scientific”, but in the broader sense of appealing to and supported by our faculty for reasoned thought. This is its bulwark against fundamentalism. Religious leaders also have to make clear their opposition to irrational fundamentalism and the terrible destruction it ferments.

At the same time, society has a duty to respect the rights of believers. Their legitimate place in society needs to be acknowledged together with their role in forming and nurturing the human spirit, helping to shape and articulate the ethical principles by which a creative society is maintained. When, as a matter of secularist dogma, this respect is missing or denied, society is weakened since reciprocity and mutual trust are undermined.

Religious fundamentalism and secularist ideology are joint contributors to a dangerous spiral of mistrust and antagonism that makes lasting solutions more difficult to attain.

As the election approaches, it’s a good time to reiterate that people of all faiths seek a partnership with government in which their gifts, and responsibilities, can be used productively and with mutual respect, rather than be met with suspicion. All public institutions should recognise that faith is at the core of our society; something seen daily in the actions performed by devoted communities that help sustain the common good of all Britons.

This means that central and local government have certain responsibilities to fulfil. They should strive to understand the coherence of religious beliefs. They should recognise the role of that belief in education, based on parental wishes. They should provide adequately for the meeting of spiritual needs in public services.

They should engage in respectful partnership with religious bodies in the provision of support for the needy and the marginalised, and they should avoid legislative measures that effectively limit freedom of religious expression in matters that do not infringe or impede the rights of those who hold different views. The harassment of those who have wished to provide services in accordance with their beliefs, when alternative services are readily available, has been understandably seen as the pursuit of an ideology and not of the common good. We should be questioning candidates on all these matters.
Equally important is the readiness of a future British government to speak and act in defence of all endangered religious groups who are targeted, persecuted and killed precisely because of their beliefs – something I saw at first-hand with the Yezidi and Christian communities in Iraq. Any reluctance by a UK government to speak and act in this way, especially on behalf of Christian communities facing unprecedented persecution, would be particularly significant. It would undermine the mutual trust between our foremost religious faith and our public representatives that is so necessary for the wellbeing of our society.

The Catholic community in England and Wales is profoundly committed to the common good of our society. Alongside those of other faiths we make substantial contributions to the human capital on which our society depends and to the religious and spiritual capital that nurtures service and human resilience among families and communities today.

Our commitment to our society is clear. I hope that this election will be an opportunity for candidates and parties to make clear their commitment to these partnerships.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols is the Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Society of St John Chrysostom

Monday, 20 April 2015

Mitred Archpriest Alexander Nadson: An Appreciation from Father John Salter, Chairman

I first met Father Alexander fifty-seven years ago, shortly after he came to London. He came to dinner with me at King’s College Hostel, where I was a theological student.

Over the years, I came in touch with him in various places. I remember encountering him at Gatwick airport, when we were about to board a ‘plane for Rome in 1996. He was on his way to an ad limina meeting when bishops and priests of a certain rank have to report to the Holy See. Father Alexander made it quite clear that ad limina visits were not particularly popular to him. “I would rather be in North Finchley,” he quipped.
Father Alexander stood his ground against the Latins when he thought they had overstepped the mark in relation to the Eastern Catholic Churches. I well remember being with him at a gathering of clergy, when I protested at an attempt to impose a Latinisation by a Roman Catholic prelate. “But as a member of the Latin Church, you ought to be used to Latinism,” the prelate admonished me. “But,” I replied, “I have never been a member of the Latin Church” (having passed from Anglicanism to the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate). “And neither am I,” piped up Father Alexander.

Father Alexander worked closely with his friend Bishop Ceslaus Sipovitch, the Apostolic Visitor for Byelorussian (now Belarusian) Catholics at Marian House and the prep school of St Cyric of Turov. Between them they made Marian House a vibrant centre for the Byelorussian Catholics, one of the smallest of the so-called “Uniate” Churches and one which had many difficulties to surmount, particularly in Byelorussia and Poland, countries where the Church was misunderstood by the Orthodox and all the Latins too. Here in England, Alexander and Ceslaus established excellent relations with the Byelorussian Orthodox of both the Synod and the Constantinopolitan jurisdictions; and when the Orthodox established themselves at my Church of St Silas in Islington, Mrs Guy Picarda, an expert on Byelorussian music, was sent from Marian House to train a choir for the parish priest, Father John Pierkarski, who was always a welcome guest at Marian House.

Father Alexander worked hard to make Marian House library a repository of works on Byelorussian culture and I remember giving him a deacon’s robe of red velvet, embroidered with silver, which I had found in a dressing-up box in my first parish.

He will be missed by those who worship at Marian House, but also by those clergy who met him on a regular basis at the Catholic Ethnic Chaplains’ gatherings in London. He himself was, “a great priest, who in his days pleased God.” May the Lord God remember His servant Alexander in His Kingdom, now and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Archpriest Alexander Nadson - Memory Eternal - Вѣчнаѧ память!

Society of St John Chrysostom's photo.

Fr Mark Woodruff, Vice-Chairman, writes:

With great sadness we learn this morning that Father Alexander, our past Chairman, reposed in the Lord late on Wednesday evening 15th April.

For decades he has been the leader of the Belarusian Greek Catholic Church since the passing of Bishop Ceslaus Sipovic, protecting the diaspora from persecution and martyrdom under the Soviet Union, and promoting Belarusian culture, history, identity and freedom from the peerless library and museum collection of Belarusian literature, academic writing, artefacts and manuscripts at Marian House, in North London, a world treasury of Belarusian life and history.

It is not nowadays realised that after links with the Mother Church in Constantinople were lost and became impossible to maintain because of political upheavals dividing Eastern Europe, the ancient unity between Rome and the North East European Byzantine churches was restored and strong. At one point over 90% of the Belarusian Church was Greek-Catholic. With Russian annexation under the tsardom, followed by suppression under the atheist state that followed it, the Belarusian Catholic Church was steadily and ruthlessly persecuted, with forced conversions to Russian Orthodoxy, the expropriation of churches, monasteries and other institutions and assets. Accompanying this at various points were legal dissolution, persecution and imprisonment of clergy and even martyrdoms, as in the neighbouring regions of what is now Ukraine and Russia proper.

Today the Belarusian Catholic church is a shadow of its former self, but maintains some form of life in Belarus and the diaspora. In Britain its life has been placed under the care of the Holy Family eparchy for Ukrainians, so that its value as a body defending freedom and human rights at a time when Belarus remains unfree under a communist-style and corrupt dictatorship, not to mention language and identity, may be strengthened and preserved.

Father Alexander was a vigorous defender of Christian freedom and the civilisation of the land from which he was exiled. He was also a devoted scholar, priest and monk. Until he became infirm in late 2014, he maintained a daily cycle of offices and Liturgy in the chapel of Marian House, working daily, too, in the beloved library. When Belarus and its churches are free again, Father Alexander will be recognised, we trust, as a significant servant of his Church and people, the conservation of their national patrimony, the telling of their true story abroad, and the survival of an almost lost older order to hand over to new generations for its renewal and restoration.

He was also a passionate promoter of the Union of the Churches of east and west. He believed deeply in the integrity and rights of his own Belarusian Greek Catholic Church, but not in the rival interests of churches seeking to justify their separation. He sought and hoped for the reunion of Catholic and Orthodox, not out of the spirit of old resentments but in the spirit of reconciliation that was honest and truthful about the past and its injustices, but concerned out of freedom and mutual respect and charity to make a new future together, for the sake of the people of his land. Having seen a Europe divided, and the divided Church oppressed by fascism and atheist powers, he believed the unity of Christians was vital to the reconstruction of Europe's civilisation and true destiny.

For many years, Father Alexander served as our Society's Chairman, effectively refounding it in the mid 20th century with a new lease of life and purpose, especially considering the plight of the churches oppressed under the Communists and the diaspora in the west. Even in old age, the bond with the Society and the work he invigorated had a daily reminder: at the chapel in Marian House, the iconostasis is that created for the inauguration by Bishop Myers of the Society in 1926 at the Liturgy in Westminster Cathedral.

Father Alexander, may your memory be eternal. Со свѧтыми, упокой, Христе, душу раба Твоєгѡ, протоієреѧ Алеѯандра. Вѣчнаѧ память, Христосъ воскресе!

Our present chairman, Father John Salter, will write a personal appreciation shortly.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Archpriest Alexander Nadson - Memory Eternal

Please follow this link to our Facebook page to read a first appreciation of Father Alexander, who left our world last evening, 15 March 2015. 

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Study Day 28 February: Christianity in the Middle East - Tantur and the Heythrop Centre for Eastern Christianity

"Christianity in the Middle East: present challenges and future possibilities"

Jointly convened by the British Trust for Tantur and the Centre for Eastern Christianity
Saturday 28th February 2015 , at University of Notre Dame London Centre, 1 Suffolk Street, London SW1Y 4HG (off Trafalgar Square)
10.30 arrivals and coffee and registration. From 11 am to 1 pm
  • Bishop Antoine Audo SJ Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, Syria: Christianity in the Middle East: Present Challenges and Future Possibilities read through the Experience of Syria
  • Response by Dr Suha Rassam
  • Mariz Tadros University of Sussex: Coptic Christianity in Egypt Today
Lunch break (bring your own packed lunch, hot drinks provided), from 1-45 pm to 4-15 pm
  • Revd Vrej Nersessian (Former Curator of Eastern Christian Collection The British Library): The Armenian Christian Tradition: history, theology and ecclesiology
  • Anthony O’Mahony (Heythrop College, University of London): Christian Ecumenism in the Middle East past, present and future challenges to the Global Church
  • Any Questions: panel with the speakers
All are welcome: For practical planning we need people to fill in an application form from the Tantur website and return with £5 cheque made out to The British Trust for Tantur and sent to the Right Revd John Went, The Rectory, Latimer, Chesham, Bucks HP5 1UA. Website: http://www.tanturbritishtrust.org.uk/2015/01/conference-invitation-christianity-middle-east-present-challenges-future-possibilities/

Study Day 5 February: Eastern Catholics in the modern Middle East, at Heythrop Centre for Eastern Christianity

The first study day in 2015 has been set for Friday 6th February 2015. The day will be hosted at Heythrop College and will run 11AM - 6PM, commencing with coffee from 10-15 AM:

"Eastern Catholics in the modern Middle East: Diaspora, Ecumenism and emerging identities"
11 am to 1-15 pm
  • A. O'Mahony (Heythrop College, University of London): "Introduction: Eastern Catholicism today between the Middle East, Europe and Diaspora – Challenges and Contexts"
  • Robin Gibbons (Centre for Christianity & Culture, Regent’s College, University of Oxford & Visiting Fellow, Centre for Eastern Christianity, Heythrop College, University of London): "The Melkite Catholic Church between the Middle East and the West: aspects of liturgy, pastoral theology, canon law and ecclesiology"
  • Stefanie Hugh-Donovan (Heythrop College, University of London): "Olivier Clément: A European Theologian between Eastern and Western Christianity - a reflection on ​"the Antiochian Paradigm​" for relations between Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox​, pointers from the Middle East for Europe today"
Lunch break (bring your own packed lunch, hot drinks provided). Then from 2 pm to 3-30 pm
  • Joelle Richa (Heythrop College, University of London): "The Maronites: eremetical identity, spiritual renewal and the laity"
  • Emily Tavcar: (Blackfriars, University of Oxford) "The Association of Hebrew Catholics and Hebrew Catholic Identity"
After tea, from4 pm to 5-30 pm

  • John Whooley (Diocese of Westminster and Independent Scholar): "The Armenian Catholic Church: Present Dilemmas"
  • Kristian Girling (Heythrop College, University of London): "'How can I close the house of God?' Maintaining and consolidating the Chaldean Catholic Church 1914-2014: Ecclesiological, social and political perspectives"
All welcome.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A blessed Nativity Feast to all the Society's friends, readers and followers: Christ is born: Christ is in our midst, and always will be

The Nativity, Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, Istanbul

Christmas 2014 Pastoral Letter of His Beatitude Sviatoslav, Patriarch and Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

Most Reverend Metropolitans, Archbishops and Bishops,
Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, Venerable Religious and Monastics,
Beloved Brothers and Sisters, in Ukraine and throughout the world

Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David
a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:10-11)
Christ is Born!

With these angelic words from heaven, Christ’s Church announces news of salvation. Today for us a Saviour has been born: the Lord descended to earth, appearing in a human body in the city of Bethlehem. This day heaven and earth rejoices, the entire human race rejoices in the knowledge that our Creator has not abandoned His creation, but He came to accept its fate as His own. He became man in order to share our human life: our pains and joys, our fears and insecurities. The Lord became one of us, reveals Himself as our Saviour and Redeemer.

On the feast of Christ’s Nativity, we rejoice in knowing that never again will we feel alone or abandoned. We celebrate that God is with us, that He loves us, and we see God’s love incarnate in the newborn Christ Child, who gently rests in a hay-filled manger. The Mystery of the Birth of our Saviour reveals to us how God’s greatness opens up to us through human frailty, how the humanly small and insignificant can become great in God!

The Holy Gospel tells us that the Lord of the Universe was born in a family of refugees. At first, by Caesar’s decree, and then because of the blood-thirst of King Herod, the Most Holy Family was forced to abandon their home and seek refuge among strangers. Yes, our God chose to be born as a refugee without home! In these strange circumstances of our Saviour’s birth, in addition to the wise men from the East, only those who were not ashamed to be with the needy, with exiles and the persecuted were granted the privilege to approach the Divine Babe. By opening to Him the doors of their hearts, of their home, by recognizing the sign of salvation in the Lord, who was born in a cave, these people were filled with divine joy in the midst of the darkness of night. For the Christmas mystery is found in the ability to enter into God’s presence and encounter the newborn Christ by being able to be close: to be close to those who are weak and without protection, who suffer from cold and the lack of bare necessities.

Ukraine has undergone a strange year in which everything was bigger than life: hope and despair, assuredness and disappointment, gains and losses. But also great was the fear, that Darkness could sense, seeing that our breakthrough towards Light could emerge victorious. And Darkness sent upon us pain and bloodshed, injury and even death, so that the people might recoil in the face of such suffering and return to the same path of silent and uncontested submission.

There is no Ukrainian who did not take part in this test of Divine Providence, which still continues. In some ways today all of us find ourselves in the zone of risk, the zone of the Anti-terrorist operation. Similar to the shepherds, who on the place where they led their flock to pasture heard the song of angels in heaven and received the news of the birth of a Saviour, so too, each one of us, has his or her place of spiritual vigil, his “guard post,” where we all must fulfil our Christian and civic mission. And even if some have become tired and would prefer to avoid this choice, they nonetheless find the strength for the task. Only passivity plays into the hands of evil.

This year our journey to Christmas led us along the path of the wounded and exiled. Our Church literally became a field hospital, set up in order to give refuge to the persecuted and to heal the wounds of the injured. But even after the Maidan, the Church did not cease to function as a hospital, for that is her vocation. Pope Francis reminds us of this: “I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.”

None of us were ready for war, and yet it continues, uninvited – it breaks into virtually every Ukrainian home, especially in the Eastern territories of our Land. There is a danger that the boundary of human sensitivity to the pain and suffering of one’s neighbour will diminish. Christians know that apathy kills no less than “Hrad” missile launchers. The task before the state is to wisely resolve the problem of aid to those citizens who have suffered. While the task before every Christian is to be close, to accompany those who are in dire need. This Christian unity with those in need, which we call solidarity, is what makes us strong. In it are revealed and through it we receive the power of the incarnate God, the action of the Saviour, who was born in order to make us free and undefeatable in God.

In the time of Christmas each one of us looks at the sky in the hope of seeing the light of the star of Bethlehem. For the New Year promises not to be easier or our choice to be simpler. Our greatest task for 2015 is to embark on the path of development of civilisation and a life of dignity. For this we must clothe ourselves in a godly, not worldly manner, by renouncing all unworthy compromises with the evil one. This applies to each one of us – even to the one who considers himself or herself as the least in this world. The task of directing one’s life towards good also makes great civil sense, for when every Ukrainian man and woman will change, the country will also change. Together we must adorn ourselves with effective government structures, which will finally cease to be structures of sin. For government can be a blessing, if it becomes service.

Both tasks are impossible to fulfil if we don’t experience doubt, don’t make mistakes, don’t step back. Let us not carry the pride of perfection, but rather let us admit before God our weaknesses and ask in humility: O God, help me in my weakness! A humble person does not lose faith in his strength, for, in the words of Ivan Franko, one “feels on his shoulder the hand of the Lord.” Therefore, let us remember that despair, disappointment, the impulsive desire to rid ourselves of those, who have not fulfilled our expectations these are the instruments, which allow Darkness to most effectively reacquire its lost positions. Let us not help it undermine our chances for success. Failing to always do everything is not the problem. Allowing our failures to make us lose heart is!

We have before us one task, about which we should never have any doubt. That task is to pray. The Maidan was victorious because people prayer, fervently and sincerely. Today let us not allow for a certain “being used to” war to weaken the intensity of our prayers. Let us direct all the strength of our soul, so that in our families and communities prayers for Ukraine continue to be raised unceasingly, so that our beloved land might be filled with the light of faith, as was the poor cave of Bethlehem, that our hearts might be purified, that a new life may be born. And then, having received God’s blessings, we will be the happiest people on earth.

In the dark night of insecurity and fear, let our ancient koliada dispel all sadness and every worry… With this Christmas greeting I seek to visit each home, filled with good people, who receive the newborn God and Saviour and rejoice with feast of Christ’s Nativity!

Today we extend our Christmas greetings to our soldiers, who celebrate this great feast in cold frontline trenches and shelters, with their chests forward, ready to defend their nation. With festive wishes we greet all those who lost their home and miss the warmth of their families, that all may be good and well in their lives.

 With the song of angels announcing peace on earth and glory in the highest let us today visit those, who mourn the loss of family and friends, who suffer from their battle wounds, who are in captivity or imprisoned. As in this Christmas night joy overcomes sorrow and heavenly light – darkness, so in his Nativity let our Saviour fill us with the strength of his victory, of good over evil, of truth over untruth, and may a heavenly peace overcome war.

To all our faithful in Ukraine and throughout the world I send you my deepest heartfelt wishes for a merry Christmas, a tasty kutia [Christmas Eve pudding], and a resounding koliada [Ukrainian Twelve Days of Christmas festivities].

Christ is born! Glorify Him!


Given in Kyiv
at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ,
on the Feast of the St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia
on the 19th (6th) of December, 2014 A.D.

Christmas 2014 Pastoral Letter of His Beatitude Sviatoslav | Royal Doors

Patriarch Gregorios: LIght a Candle of Peace for Syria

The Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III has launched an initiative entitled, Light a Candle for Hope and Peace in Syria. He has appealed to all the faithful of the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate and all believers throughout the world, including social institutions and humanitarian associations, to light each evening a candle in their homes and offices, and say a prayer for the peace of Syria and the region.
Pray for the peace of Syria: A suggested prayer for Syria

Lord Jesus Christ, who appeared to Paul your apostle in the sky over Damascus and appeared to Ananias in his house,

Just as you gave them your love, power and peace, so we ask you, at their intercession, to save Syria from every evil.

We beseech you, through the intercession of your Mother, Mary ever-Virgin, to whom you never refused grace, to give us and your brothers and sisters in Syria the ability to help bring peace to this land which you made the starting point for your light and love to the whole world.

May it become once more a land of peace, love, fellowship and stability, to be a beacon to the entire world. Amen.

Patriarch Gregorios' magnificent and substantial Nativity Encyclical for Nativity 2014 follows in the next post. Ed.      

Nativity Encyclical Letter from Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch

Letter of His Beatitude Gregorios III
Patriarch Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
For the Feast of the Nativity
25 December 2014
From Gregorios III, servant of Jesus Christ,
by the grace of God, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem,
to our brother bishops, members of our Holy Synod,
and all our children in Christ Jesus, clergy and people, called to be saints with
“all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours;
grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
(1 Corinthians 1: 2-3)

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.” (Luke 2: 29)

The Incarnation as Meeting

"For mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” (Luke 2: 30-32)

Thus exclaims the righteous Elder Simeon, when he takes in his arms the Lord of the universe at the close of the celebrations relating to the Nativity of Christ. Sometimes called the Presentation of the Lord, in the Greek tradition this feast is known as the Hypapante, meaning the Meeting of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ in the Temple: it is primarily the meeting of God and man.

Feast of Meeting

Furthermore, this feast represents the meeting of the Old and New Testaments, or the meeting between Jesus’ infancy, or childhood, and the old age of Simeon and Anna, both advanced in years. It is also the meeting between the Law of the Old Testament and Grace in Jesus’ person, as the Apostle John says at the beginning of his Gospel, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1: 17)

The term “meeting” is more popular than ever nowadays: meetings are organised at all levels. Unfortunately, they do not always bring us the benefits expected: that is because God is a stranger to these meetings. However, God continues going to meet humans, to fill their life with goodness, blessings and happiness. That is precisely the meaning of the Christmas celebrations, of which this Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple marks the close.

Our first meeting with God was when our parents presented us in church, similarly to the way in which Jesus was presented in the temple. Later, we met Jesus at our holy baptism. We often meet him in the other holy sacraments, especially the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist, and also in prayer and the life of grace and again through our Christian vocation in the service of our neighbours.

The meeting of God with us and his entry into our life fills our hearts and gives our life all its existential dimensions. That is what we sing in Ikos 14 of the Akathist hymn, “Seeing a strange childbirth, let us estrange ourselves from the world by transporting our minds to Heaven; to this end the Most High God appeared on earth a lowly man, that He might draw to the heights those who cry out to Him: Alleluia.”

That is what is sung in the services of this feast’s celebration, so rich in figures and comparisons between the meeting of Jesus with Simeon and the various appearances and meetings in the Old Testament.

God’s desire

It was Jesus’ desire that brought Simeon to the temple, a deep desire latent in his heart. There is an interesting legend about this meeting between Simeon and Jesus, represented in the icons of the monastery that bears the name of Simeon the Elder, dating from the eleventh century and situated in Jerusalem on the hill called Simeon’s hill. These icons tell in colour what I consider to be the story of old Simeon’s approach to faith, or the way of the Gospel. This is the tale:

When the Jews were scattered abroad after their exile in Babylon, the Greek language was largely adopted by them. They then felt the need to translate their Scriptures (our Old Testament) into Greek. Their translation is called the Septuagint, and we use it in the Byzantine Greek tradition, for our liturgical readings and prayers. The name Septuagint is derived from the story that there were seventy (or seventy-two) Jewish scholars from the Greek city of Alexandria, (Greek evidently because it was founded by the famous Macedonian military leader and King, Alexander the Great), who were set to the task of translating the Bible – or Torah, Prophets and other Writings - from Hebrew to Greek. When they shared out the work, it fell to one Simeon and another to translate the book of the Prophet Isaiah.

When both translators came to chapter 7, in which we find the well-known verse, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (God with us) (Isaiah 7: 14), it was a problem for them and the translation became arduous. They were confronted with a mystery surpassing their understanding. What was to be done? They were puzzled, but they were obliged to translate the text as it stood in Hebrew, even if that was beyond their understanding.

Simeon was the one who doubted more, hesitating at the text and the mystery hidden in this text, and he meditated at length on the topic. The doubts that assailed him prevented him from sleeping. “A virgin shall conceive...” He sought a sign, evidence, to help him understand this mystery, this wonder... but to no avail. He then thought of a strange way of demonstrating this. “I shall throw my ring into the sea, in Alexandria. If I find it again one day, that will be evidence that this unheard-of marvel will be realised; a virgin will give birth to a child and remain virgin.” So that is what he did.

Once the translation was finished, he returned to Jerusalem and lived in a house, which later became a monastery named after him. There, Simeon’s longing grew day after day, but in vain. However, his faith in God comforted him and gave him hope.

One day when he was dining out, he asked for fish and chose his favourite. As the cook was preparing it for him, to his great astonishment, he found a ring in the fish’s mouth. He brought the fish on a platter with the ring and said to Simeon, “We found this ring in the mouth of the fish you chose: here it is.”

To his great surprise, Simeon discovered that this strange ring was his own. Just as Jesus told Peter that he would find in the mouth of the first fish he caught a coin to pay Caesar’s tribute money, (Matthew 17: 27) so it happened with Simeon’s fish that had in its mouth the ring he had thrown into the sea in Alexandria. For Simeon, this was a sign that Isaiah’s prophecy was not a dream or myth, but a truth and that a miracle would happen.

Thus it was that the Spirit guided him to the temple, carrying him by a great, burning desire to see the Christ, the virgin’s son heralded by Isaiah. That is how Simeon met Mary and Joseph bringing the child Jesus to be presented at the temple. That is when the old man approached to take Jesus in his arms and sing the hymn, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word,” (Luke 2: 29) that we repeat every day at the end of Vespers in the Byzantine Greek rite. It is as though we are bidding farewell to this life in order to receive another each evening, and to welcome the King of all! The priest also recites this thanksgiving hymn at the end of the Divine Liturgy.

Meeting: goal of the Incarnation

The Incarnation – this doctrine very difficult for Christians (and non-Christians, Jews and Muslims) – is the meeting of God with man and the meeting of man with God. God first encounters man through creation. In Michelangelo’s fresco at the Vatican creation can be seen presented as a movement towards meeting, with God stretching out his hand towards Adam’s at creation. The whole collection of events of the Gospel is made up of meetings. Jesus stretches out his hand to humans with their feelings, wounds, souls, pains, doubts…In the icon of the Resurrection, Christ descends into Hades (Sheol), stretching out his hand towards Adam and Eve and raising them from the tombs and death. Thus the events of the Gospel are events of meeting.

Adam and Eve meet each other to give life. They become the first couple in the meeting of soul and body, the meeting of shared lives. In the Bible, God says: “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him an help meet for him.” (Genesis 2: 18)

And God created woman from within the man, from his side (the deepest part of Adam), and gives her to him. God calls the meeting: he sponsors the meeting between Adam and Eve; he accompanies this meeting. We find him walking in Paradise and calling to Adam and Eve, as if he wanted to spend some time with them. But they hide from him. Grace is the basis for meeting with God. Sin causes estrangement from God, loss of contact with him and the divine pact or covenant.

The Old and New Testaments, those holy books, are books of the covenant, meeting. The events of the Old Testament tell us about all God’s meetings with his people, his difficulties, setbacks, and the failures of many of these meetings, and the repeated calls that God made to meet his people.

That is precisely the role of the prophets, to talk of the meeting of man with God; and that is the role of Jesus, which crowns the role of the prophets. He also calls to meeting, for he himself is the focus of meeting. He is the person whom we meet in the incarnation, faith and sacraments. Jesus calls us to meet with him alone, saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” (John 14: 6); and again: “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8: 12)

Jesus: Master of Meeting

Jesus is the great master of meeting. It is he whom we meet. Let us go! For “We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.” (John 1: 41) Messengers from Saint John the Baptist ask him, “Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” (Luke 7: 20; Matthew 11: 3). And Saint Peter exclaims, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6: 68)

“Follow me,” is an oft repeated saying in the Gospel. Jesus lets no occasion slip to meet human beings: great and small, disciples, children, old people, young people, the sick, Pharisees and other sinners and even the dead, whom he meets to raise. And the two disciples at Emmaus...

Jesus was walking on the paths of humanity, of all men and women: he goes to meet them. The examples are numerous, especially of unscheduled visits: the meetings with the Samaritan woman (John 4: 6-26), with the widow of Nain and the raising of her only son (Luke 7: 11-17), with Zacchaeus (Luke 19: 1-10)... Let us say rather that all those cited above were in the schedule of Jesus’ love.

For he loved man to the end: he has never hated any of those whom he created. But rather he came that all “might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10: 10) He came to “gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” (John 11: 52) He did not come then for just one individual or elite group from among the Jewish people who may have sought to claim him exclusively for themselves. Now Jesus can never be limited to one nation, people, individual, society, party, line or view. Furthermore he wished to honour the human being by his divine image.

Jesus calls each one to meet him. “Go and sell that thou hast... and come and follow me.” (Matthew 19: 21) “If anyone wishes to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16: 24; Mark 8: 34; Luke 9: 23). “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him.” (Revelation 3: 20) “Come and see.” (John 1: 39). “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” (Matthew 13: 16) So the eyes, ears and all the human sense organs become an instrument and tool for meeting God, for meeting Jesus.

Jesus speaks to his disciples: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” (John 15: 16) “I am not come to call the just, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5: 32). And Jesus emphasises, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matthew 7: 7) He exhorts us to meet him and meet one another, “Go into the whole world! Preach the Gospel to every creature!” (Mark 16: 15)

Jesus likes private meetings, “If a man love me… my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14: 23)

Jesus meets everyone. But he takes special care of those who do not count on that. So, he leaves the ninety-nine sheep in the fold and goes in search of the lost sheep, which has gone astray, then brings it back on his shoulders. (Matthew 18: 12-14). He is the father daily scanning the horizon to try to catch the outline of his son in the distance, and when at last he does see him is moved to run to meet him as he is still making his way back, kisses him and does not let him finish his rehearsed apology of repentance and remorse. (Luke 15: 11-22)

Can we forget the events of the resurrection? They are above all meetings, affectionate initiatives on the part of Jesus, who promised to his disciples not to leave them comfortless (John 14: 18), but to come to them. After his resurrection, indeed, he does come to them while the doors are shut and says, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24: 36; John 20: 19-20) He speaks to the hesitant and doubtful disciple, Thomas. He accompanies incognito the two disciples, Luke and Cleopas, on the road to Emmaus. (Luke 24: 13-35) He surprises the apostles with an almost mistrustful turn of phrase, “Have ye here any food?” (Luke 24: 41) He appears to them, here and there, as described by the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and Saint Paul. In the end he appears also to Saul, who is not yet Paul, on the road to Damascus, far from the place of the Gospel events in Palestine. (Acts 9: 1-9)

Can we forget his appearance (discreetly passed over in silence in the Gospels) to Mary, his Mother and to Mary of Magdala, the converted sinner, on the resurrection morning? (Mark 16: 9; John 20: 11-18)

So we see Jesus on the paths of each and every man and woman in the hills and valleys of Palestine, from Capernaum to Nazareth in Galilee, through Samaria and as far south as Jerusalem in Judea. He is God on the way - on the paths of humanity.

Before his ascension to heaven, he told his disciples to go and meet others as they went on their way, to preach the Gospel to anyone prepared to listen, and to unwilling listeners, to those who have ears to hear and those who do not. He taught his disciples how to meet others. (Luke 10: 1-16; Mark 6: 7-12)

The Church: meeting place

The meeting of Jesus in the temple is the symbol of his meeting with the community, since the temple is the meeting-place of the community. In the temple, he meets all those who frequent it.

The word “church,” in the etymological sense, in Arabic, Hebrew, Greek and related languages, means a place of gathering and meeting. That is what the word synagogue means (for Jews, the Greek word means meeting-place), as does the Latin ecclesia, whence is derived the word for church in several other languages.

Jesus went frequently to the temple and synagogues. He was presented in the temple at forty days, then he entered the temple at twelve years old, when according to Jewish custom he came of age.

The Evangelist Luke tells how Mary and Joseph lost Jesus in the Passover crowds, then returned to Jerusalem and found their son in the temple, teaching the doctors and priests. (Luke 2: 41-52).

We see him in the Gospel, going often to the temple, where he preaches, works miracles, and drives out the sellers and money-changers. (Mark 11: 15; Luke 19: 45) He compares his body to the temple, where his meeting with Simeon took place.

Similarly, the church is a place of communication, dialogue, teaching, catechesis, meeting with God in prayers, hymns and liturgical celebrations. It is the place where we live out our faith with other believers. This is true also for the mosque and the synagogue, and for all places of worship.

In the temple, in church, God meets man. He asks after man, his situation and problems. So he asks Cain, “Where is Abel, thy brother?” (Genesis 4: 9) He asks Adam, in Paradise, “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3: 9) God meets man. God, the creator, asks about his creature. That is what we call Divine Providence. God is full of mercy, Polyeleos, he loves humans, Philanthropos: he is full of compassion and mercy.

Compassion drives one person to meet another, especially the one who needs love, compassion and assistance. That is what I read in various places during my visit to Taiwan: See, feel, love!

Seeing and meeting

The eye and sight play an important role in meeting. The watchful, loving and affectionate eye discovers what is not visible at first glance. That is what Simeon says on meeting Jesus, “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation... a light to lighten the Gentiles.”

After our meeting with Jesus in communion, we sing, “We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith.”

The eyes speak, as we speak with our tongue. That is what we find in the Gospel. Many events witness to this. Peter saw and believed. (Luke 5: 8-9). Thomas saw and believed: “Unless I see the mark of the nails...” (John 20: 24-29). John the Baptist sees the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. (Matthew 3: 16; Mark 1: 10; Luke 3: 22) Jesus blesses the eyes, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.” (Luke 10: 23) He says to Nathanael, “Because I said to thee that I saw thee under the fig-tree, thou hast believed,” (John 1: 50) and to Thomas, “Happy are they that believe without seeing!” (John 20: 29) The Apostle Saint John writes in his First Epistle, about his experience on the basis of sight, “What we have seen and heard, we preach to you.” (1 John 1: 3)

Mary, Our Lady of Meeting

The whole Gospel is a call to meeting. Mary, at this Feast of the Meeting, delivers Jesus to humanity, the world, through the medium of Simeon. She gives Jesus to the world. She carried him in her womb. She gave birth to him in a cave. Now she delivers him to Simeon in the temple, meaning she gives him to the church.

That is the meaning of Marian iconography in the Byzantine Greek tradition. The Mother of God is never represented alone, but is always with Jesus whom she offers or shows to the world, calling people to meet him. That is why we insist on our faithful observing the very expressive Eastern tradition of iconography of the Mother of God which always represents her with her divine Son, Jesus Christ. Similarly, when their piety incites them to erect a little oratory in the street, or even a statue, we ask them always to let Mary be with her Son, Jesus. So, Mary draws believers to Jesus. Or else she shows him, as we say in the Akathist, as God who loves mankind. This icon is called Hodegetria: she who shows the way.

Humanity is meeting

The Feast of the Meeting is humanity’s feast. God has created us to found together a single human family. The popular proverb says, “Hills do never meet, but acquaintance doth often.” People do meet one another. An Arabic proverb says, “Paradise without humans is uninhabitable.” Surat Al-Hujurat (49: 13) of the Qur’an says, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” Jesus describes how God rejects an offering from a person on bad terms with his brother, not knowing how to make peace with him. “Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” (Matthew 5: 24)

As we mentioned above, the church, as a linguistic term in many languages, means the place where believers meet. So the church of stone and flesh is the meeting-place. Its essential mission and role is to help the faithful meet God and meet one another as brothers and sisters.

The sacraments of the Church are sacraments of meeting

The Second Vatican Council stated, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ,” (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes 1) and of course, of their pastors. Just as Jesus’ mission is the meeting of God with man, so the Church’s mission is the meeting of God with humans and the meeting of people with one another. That is why the sacraments (mysteries) of the Church are sacraments of God meeting people and of their meeting with God and their fellow humans. The Church’s sacraments are the community’s sacraments. 

Thus baptism is the sacrament of meeting with Christ, “For as many of you have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3: 27) It is also the meeting of the community of those who believe in Jesus, which is called the Church. 

The Aghion Myron (or chrismation, confirmation) is the gift of the Spirit to the believing community, for the Spirit animates and forms the community.

The Eucharist is the sacrament of the community in its finest expressions. The term “liturgy” means the work of the community, the people. And communion unites the believer to Christ and to his brother in Christ. That is what Saint Paul states in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, where he discusses at length the relationship between the members of the body to one another, and the relationship of the faithful to Christ and to one another in the Church and through the Church. (1 Corinthians 12: 12-30)

The sacrament of marriage is also the sacrament of meeting par excellence: father, mother, husband, wife, children... The family is the human meeting-place par excellence.

The sacrament of priestly ordination is a sacrament of dedication to the service of God and the community in the Church.

The sacrament of repentance is the community’s progress towards holiness, restoring the faithful’s relations with God and with one another. Sin destroys the relationship with God and other people. Sin is the opposite of encounter, because it distances people from God and from their fellows.

The sacrament of anointing the sick is one of healing among people and the encounter of the Church with suffering humanity, a sacrament of preparation of human beings for meeting with God in eternity.

The Church is the People of God: people meet there

The sacraments of the Church are really the basis for the meeting of the Christian people, of Christians with one another, with all human beings, because the sacraments make up the Church and its unity, so that the faithful can become one people, one nation, as Saint Peter states, “ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people…the people of God.” (1 Peter 2: 9, 10a)

Pope Francis talks about this in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, especially in the following passages,

“The salvation which God has wrought, and the Church joyfully proclaims, is for everyone. God has found a way to unite himself to every human being in every age. He has chosen to call them together as a people and not as isolated individuals. No one is saved by himself or herself, individually, or by his or her own efforts. God attracts us by taking into account the complex interweaving of personal relationships entailed in the life of a human community. This people, which God has chosen and called, is the Church.” (113)  

“Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love. This means that we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way. The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.” (114)

So the Church is a meeting-place, and not one of shrinking inwards and isolation. It represents a constant call to meeting. Added to that internal ad intra mission of the Church, to “gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad” (John 11: 52), as did Jesus, must be added that of the ad extra mission, for the faithful to be light, salt and leaven in society.

Thus the Church shows the meaning of the faithful’s presence in society, because individuals have no meaning without society. Their value lies in their being in society. As Pope Saint John Paul II very well defined in his message for the World Day of Peace in January 2005, “The social nature” of human persons is their “being with and for others.” You are in society, but you are for society. That is the meaning of the saying of Jesus that sums up the ideal for living, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10: 10) It is said that Jesus came to “gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” (John 11: 52) In our Liturgy we say, “He came to gather together what was divided, and bring light to the darkness.”

Jesus prayed for all those who believe in him, for the unity of humanity, encounter, solidarity, mutual help, and especially during the last hours before his passion and death, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee.” (John 17: 21) This constitutes the great Christian vocation, the role of Christians throughout the centuries in East and West: working for meeting, good relations, dialogue, living together and unity.

No salvation for the individual without the community, and no salvation for the community without the individual!

When we were young novices, we were asked why we wanted to enter the monastery. We had to reply, that we wanted to save our souls and those of others. That is the meaning of consecration in the priestly and religious life. As we said above, the sacrament of priestly ordination is one of meeting.

That is what Pope Francis stated in Evangelii Gaudium:

“If we are to share our lives with others and generously give of ourselves, we also have to realize that every person is worthy of our giving. Not for their physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking, or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God’s handiwork, his creation. God created that person in his image, and he or she reflects something of God’s glory. Every human being is the object of God’s infinite tenderness, and he himself is present in their lives. Jesus offered his precious blood on the cross for that person. Appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love.” (274)

All human beings are apostles to their brothers and sisters: hence the importance of education at home and in school, an education in personal responsibility to the community. A responsible person, not an indifferent and irresponsible one, is a person capable of building up society.

In answer to these three questions put to the staff of a German hospital, I saw these three answers:

Who, if not we?
Where, if not here?
When, if not now?

Also in Germany, I read during a congress that many little people, in many little places, taking many little steps, can change the face of the world.

Family: meeting place

Meeting happens in the family, which provides natural daily opportunities for meeting for its members. That is why we encourage our families to intensify opportunities and aspects of family meetings, in gladness, prayer, meditation, Gospel reading, and eating together, making trips and taking walks together, attending the Divine Liturgy together, and in taking part in parish activities.

Saint John Chrysostom speaks of the family as a “domestic church” or “city church”, that is, society’s church, because the power of the Church helps it to fulfil its mission in the city and in society.

Pastoral work is meeting

The Church must go down into the street, to the reality of meeting people, all people, to be aware of situations and help with finding and solving the faithful’s problems.

That is the duty of pastors, especially priests, who are called to meeting the faithful and making their voice heard to the bishops and patriarchs, to the different bodies of the Church. The Holy Father Francis invites us to do that in Evangelii Gaudium, as we find in these extracts below that explain the importance of meeting and contacts between the parish, family and parish clergy:

“To be evangelizers of souls, we need to develop a spiritual taste for being close to people’s lives and to discover that this is itself a source of greater joy. Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people. .. We realize once more that he wants to make use of us to draw closer to his beloved people. He takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity.” (268)

“Jesus himself is the model of this method of evangelization which brings us to the very heart of his people. ... Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is nothing else than the culmination of the way he lived his entire life. Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world.” (269)

“Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others. He hopes that we will stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune and instead enter into the reality of other people’s lives and know the power of tenderness.” (270)

“It is true that in our dealings with the world, we are told to give reasons for our hope, but not as an enemy who critiques and condemns.... Clearly Jesus does not want us to be grandees who look down upon others, but men and women of the people. This is not an idea of the Pope, or one pastoral option among others; they are injunctions contained in the word of God which are so clear, direct and convincing that they need no interpretations which might diminish their power to challenge us.” (271)

“My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it is not an “extra” or just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing. All around us we begin to see nurses with soul, teachers with soul, politicians with soul, people who have chosen deep down to be with others and for others.’’ (273)

Meeting in my life

Meeting is the real meaning of the Feast of the Entry of the Lord into the Temple. Meeting is the great reality of my life and the life of every other human being too. Meeting is the sum total of relations between man and his fellow-man, between the individual and society.

I have only ever felt happy in my relations with people. I understand the importance of meeting in my life, when I reflect on it, from the class-rooms of the noviciate in the monastery of Holy Saviour and later in Rome, then in the very extensive meetings that followed with students from Europe, my German friends, especially on the Pax Christi pilgrimage, in 1959, walking from Metz (France) to Trier (Germany), where Jesus’ Robe was on display. Along this road, we passed through villages where brother fought against brother, villages destroyed by war, and we formed ties with the families under whose roof we spent the night, every time in another village... Also all the friendships that I’ve made in the course of my life with thousands of people: personal, existential friendships, which have formed and shaped the fabric of my life, and stamped my feelings and personality as priest, bishop in my dear Palestine and patriarch.

How sad and poor is life without meeting! How rich is life with and through meeting. The priest is the man of dialogue par excellence.

Meeting has indeed played a great role in my life, of which the very stuff is meeting.

The creation of the review Unity in Faith, in 1961, was founded on the longing to see Christians meeting one another in unity with Jesus and through Jesus, knowing their Eastern heritage and meeting one another through this heritage. For unity amongst Christians is based on mutual acquaintance, mutual enrichment, the discovery of the personality of others, and the wealth of their tradition, liturgy and history.

My pastoral service in the villages of the Shuf, in south Lebanon, east of Saida, enriched my life. Those were my best years for wonderful meetings with people who believed in Jesus, were proud of their faith and open to relations with all other fellow-citizens.

Founding Providence Home

This foundation, (1966) still in south Lebanon and east of Saida, is the fruit of thousands of wonderful meetings with my predominantly German friends, who fill my memory with love, sincerity, faithfulness, gift of self, generosity, dedication, hospitality, faith and devotion. They loved me and I loved them. They venerated me and I them. They enriched me and I enriched them. They generously gave money to help me in my religious, priestly and apostolic work with my very numerous large and small projects for pastoral service in Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, directing the Major Seminary of the Basilian Order of the Holy Saviour, supporting the catechists in the villages, little social projects of the Shuf villages and the rest of South Lebanon and the Unity in Faith review. In return, I enriched them through liturgical celebrations, talks on Eastern heritage, sacraments, Marian devotion, commentary on the Gospel from my Eastern perspective and pictures of rural life in Syria, especially in my mother’s town of Khabab.

Together we constituted an admirable meeting between East and West, which was a school of faith and mutual enrichment. That is the highest meaning of meeting, deepened through mutual giving, friendship, mutual service and respect, esteem, sincere feelings, gifts, feasts, friendly meals... It all goes to making meeting between people a reason for real happiness, where there is no room for selfishness, exploitation, love of money and extortion. There is no room for all that in true and sincere meeting between human beings. It ought to be like that in the case of meeting between priest and people in the parish. Freedom is the basis for meeting, together with spontaneity, simplicity, openness and a smile: they are all the foundational ingredients for meeting, its continuation, fruits, and burgeoning friendships. I’ve experienced all that in a life full of meetings: my pastoral life.

I have always enjoyed pastoral service best: pastoral visits to homes, working with young people, confraternities... These meetings help the priest in his pastoral work of keeping holy faith alive in the hearts and minds of the faithful of our parishes.

Projects for meetings

My life’s projects were the fruit of Meeting. They are centred on meeting. I recall especially projects called Meeting, including the Al-Liqa’ Center (Liqaa = Meeting) for Christian and Muslim heritage in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. With my friend, Dr. Geries Khoury and several Muslim and Christian university professors, I founded it in 1982.

Also in 1982, we started a series of projects called Meeting (Liqaa), including the Liqaa housing project, with thirty-six flats for young families, the Liqaa parish, the Liqaa clinic, the Liqaa pastoral centre and the Liqaa parish hall, all in Jerusalem.

Meeting projects have accompanied me from Jerusalem to Lebanon and Syria. After my patriarchal election in 2000, Divine Providence was pleased to crown all the projects of meeting with the great Liqaa Center for the dialogue of civilisations at Rabweh in Lebanon, fruit of the generosity and magnanimity of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos of Oman. I had only visited him on one occasion, with respect, affection and trust, when he at once opened his heart and mind in favour of my project of our founding together this great centre, named Liqaa which we inaugurated in 2010.

My life, thank God, has been and still is rich, because it has been rich in meetings. I have sought and still look for meeting. Meeting, in my life, is not a fortuitous thing, or a chance, or a propitious occasion. I have sought meeting, always provoked it. I cannot pass by a person without meeting him or her in some way or other, by a smile, wave, nod or other sign. I have never passed close to a person without feeling a relationship of love, of proximity to him or her. I could tell thousands of stories on the topic of the magic, miracle and fruits of these meetings: I could write a book on the topic.

The priests meets people in their weakness

So the Church and priests have to meet the people, especially those who are rejected, poor, marginalised, sick, neglected and elderly, receiving no consideration, enjoying no privileged place or dignity in society, disrespected and feeling excluded and far from the Church. Meeting them all is wonderful as they all have a stake in the meeting.

Pope Francis said the whole Church and all its members are “called to care for the vulnerable of the earth.” (209) Here is a list of those who are most fragile, to be found in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium,

“It is essential to draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability, in which we are called to recognize the suffering Christ, even if this appears to bring us no tangible and immediate benefits. I think of the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others. Migrants present a particular challenge for me, since I am the pastor of a Church without frontiers, a Church which considers herself mother to all. For this reason, I exhort all countries to a generous openness which, rather than fearing the loss of local identity, will prove capable of creating new forms of cultural synthesis.” (210)

“I have always been distressed at the lot of those who are victims of various kinds of human trafficking. How I wish that all of us would hear God’s cry: “Where is your brother?” (Genesis 4:9). Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labour?” (211)

“Doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights. Even so, we constantly witness among them impressive examples of daily heroism in defending and protecting their vulnerable families.” (212)

“Small yet strong in the love of God, like Saint Francis of Assisi, all of us, as Christians, are called to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, and all its peoples.” (216)

Meeting of civilisations and religions

Meeting not strife! That is the great challenge. The theory of Samuel Huntington was of the clash of civilizations (1996). Hitler’s notorious book, Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) was a foundational Nazi document that led to the murderous extermination of communities in the Second World War (1939-1945), in which some ninety million people were killed.

The so-called Arab Spring is based on this destructive theory of struggle, quite contrary to God’s will for humanity in the mystery of Christmas, the incarnation and redemption and in the message of the Gospel. The hymn of the angels is this marvellous human plan, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men.” (Luke 2: 14) This hymn sows the seeds and sets the bases for the meeting between earth’s children, their meeting with each other and God, resulting in happiness!

Meeting means sharing, acceptance of others, their way of thinking, civilisation, faith, culture, mind-set – human, entire, universal – a meeting of civilisations and religions, or rather of people in their civilisations and religions, each one in his own. The whole world is meeting with God, with nature.

It’s very important for us as fathers and mothers, especially priests, missionaries, monks and nuns, to perfect the art and philosophy, spirituality and technique of meeting as human beings. We must all excel in the virtue and charism of meeting: we cannot pass by others without seeing and meeting them.

Meeting is the basis for friendship. Humanity today very much needs this kind of meeting. Meeting arouses trust in others, awareness of the dignity and value of others, as they are our brothers and sisters, partners in life, created in the image and likeness, as icons of God.

Meeting is the foundation of friendship and trust among nations, and therefore the foundation for world peace, as the Second Vatican Council stated. On the other hand, wars are founded on mistrust between peoples, nations, believers of different religions and denominations, tribes, even districts of the same city or members of one family, and are the fruits of envy, individual interests, selfishness and desire for domination.

We very much need this real meeting based on faith and humane and religious values, including the value of the person: we need a cultural and civilizational meeting between nations of East and West.

Meeting centres and initiatives

Today we very much need to create meeting centres in our torn world! I am glad, as I mentioned above, that I was able to found this series of meeting centres. Following the wars and tragedies in our Arab world, we need to found little meeting centres aimed at developing understanding of interpersonal encounter, especially among the inhabitants of a single country, city, district, among members of a single family, to help heal the soul and feelings, to ward off the aftereffects and aftermath of war, violence and terrorism, to wipe out the barbaric, ugly, dirty and inhuman images and scenes that pervade our society and are broadcast by the media. That especially wounds the souls of children and young people and lays the foundations for a generation of violence, terror, killing, hatred and enmity. Wars intensify all that.

We are very much afraid that these destructive feelings and factors are permeating our Arab society and destroying our social and faith values. It is desirable for teachers and psychologists specialising in the family to write booklets for different age levels, with graded courses, on the topic of the principles for meeting, dialogue, reconciliation, mutual help, communication, mutual respect, trust and forgiveness, and for governments to adopt these booklets for official teaching. Recently, in 2014, the Adyan (Interfaith) Foundation published in Arabic a book to this effect.

We are facing a great ideological danger, represented by the so-called Islamic State. This movement disseminates by means of barbaric, hideous videos a strategy, evidently aimed at destroying society and negating the above-mentioned values and principles, by inspiring fear and terror among citizens.

Because of all that, we have to expend great efforts, by all means, to maintain and spread the culture of meeting at all levels: culture, sport, school, university, but also in factories, fraternities, clubs, welfare societies... to break down this wall of enmity between people, of which Saint Paul speaks in his Epistle to the Ephesians (2: 14-16),

“For he [Christ] is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.”

Appeal for the discourse of meeting

Through this Christmas Letter, we are appealing to the whole world, Arab and other countries. We ask them to act on the basis of justice, law, forgiveness, dialogue and meeting, which is preferable to that of war, weapons and armament. We are making this call as Syrian Patriarch and addressing it to our dear Syrian government, states in the region and throughout the whole world. It is absolutely imperative to change our outlook and ways of dealing with disputes and interests. That is the real power of our Christian and Gospel faith values. For faith is part of the solution of problems and clashes of our countries in their diversity.

So we return to the values of the Incarnation, which we celebrate on Christmas Day: it is the mystery of meeting. Christians must highlight the values of our faith to resolve the problems of our countries. The world must find a way other than that of war.

The Berlin Wall stood for many years, but in the end it fell bloodlessly twenty-five years ago, in 1989. In order to protect it, fifty thousand soldiers were stationed there, but it fell. Unfortunately, the Israelis have built a wall eight metres high, which stretches over long distances on the West Bank, separating brethren from one another. But that has not averted the danger of war between Israel and the Palestinians, since the Israelis have not understood that their security and stability are not guaranteed by force and weapons.

We pastors of East and West are called to spread the discourse of dialogue in society, in order to take part effectively in replacing the logic of war.

That is the duty of Christians and Muslims. We must create congresses and summit meetings between Christians, Muslims and Jews to strengthen the attraction of meeting and counter the tendency toward division, partisanship, instinctive withdrawal, fear, hatred, enmity, exclusion of others, even killing, subjugating, stealing money, destroying homes, factories, places of worship and the remnants of their spiritual civilisation.

We participate in many of these meetings in order to build up the civilisation of love, reconciliation and peace.

Longing for God through dying

Simeon’s song – “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word,” – is the expression of longing that can be found in Saint Paul, “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ,” (Philippians 1: 23) “for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1: 21) That is the meaning of the Christmas hymn, a song of preparation for death, to be with Christ.

Every day, in the Divine Liturgy we offer these two petitions, “That we may complete the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance, let us ask of the Lord,” and “A Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful, and a good defence before the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask.”

I should like to apply Simeon’s song and these petitions to my life, especially when I look around me and see that very many people of my age, in my family, religious order, Church, patriarchate, among my friends of various nationalities, responsibilities and dignities, have gone before me to meet the Lord in life eternal.

That is why this prayer is more than ever on my lips and in my heart, as it was with Simeon, and at the end of the daily Divine Liturgy I repeat with longing, abandonment to the will of God, trust and ardour the Nunc dimittis, “Lord, now lettest thou ...” With Saint John, I cry, as at the end of the book of Revelation, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22: 20)

Simeon’s song sums up the spirituality of time, duration and expectation of the wise virgins who go to meet the Bridegroom at midnight. That is the spirituality we find central to our liturgical services of the hours, the midnight office (which has disappeared even in our monasteries), in the Paraklitike and the Menaion. It is a spirituality that strengthens us in the face of life’s difficulties and places us on a constant footing of readiness to welcome the Bridegroom, as we find in the services of Great and Holy Week. “Behold, the bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night and blessed is the servant whom he shall find watching!”

Watch! That is my patriarchal motto. Watching is the programme for my life here below, and for my preparation for life above. Our prayers are very beautiful, especially those of Great and Holy Tuesday, which are most ardent prayers to meet the Lord Jesus! Here are some extracts:

“Brethren, let us love the Bridegroom and prepare our lamps with care, shining with virtues and right faith; that like the wise virgins of the Lord, we may be ready to enter with him into the wedding feast. For God the Bridegroom grants to all the crown incorruptible.” (Kathisma in Tone 4 from Matins of Holy and Great Tuesday)

“Why art thou slothful, O my wretched soul? Why dost thou waste thy days in thinking of unprofitable cares? Why art thou busy with the things that pass away? The last hour is at hand and we shall soon be parted from all that is here. While there is still time, return to soberness and cry: I have sinned against thee, O my Saviour, do not cut me down like the unfruitful fig tree; but, O Christ, in thy compassion take pity on me as I call on thee in fear: May we not be left outside the bridal chamber of Christ!” (Ikos in Tone 2 from Matins of Holy and Great Tuesday)

“I see thy bridal chamber adorned, O my Saviour, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter there. Make the robe of my soul to shine, O Giver of Light, and save me.” (Exapostilarion in Tone 3 of Matins of Holy and Great Tuesday)

"I slumber in slothfulness of soul, O Christ the Bridegroom; I have no lamp that burns with virtue, and like the foolish virgins I go wandering when it is time to act. Close not thy compassionate heart against me, Master, but dispel dark sleep from me and rouse me up ; and lead me with the wise virgins into thy bridal chamber, where those who feast sing with pure voice unceasingly : O Lord, glory to Thee.” (Sticheron in Tone 2 from Lauds of Holy and Great Tuesday)

“Come, ye faithful, and let us serve the Master eagerly, for he gives riches to his servants. Each of us according to the measure that we have received, let us increase the talent of grace. Let one gain wisdom through good deeds; let another celebrate the Liturgy with beauty; let another share his faith by preaching to the uninstructed; let another give his wealth to the poor. So shall we increase what is entrusted to us, and as faithful stewards of his grace we shall be counted worthy of the Master’s joy. Bestow this joy upon us, Christ our God, in thy love for mankind.” (Aposticha in Tone 6 from Matins of Holy and Great Tuesday)

“Behold, my soul, the Master entrusts thee with a talent. Receive his gift with fear; make it gain interest for him ; distribute to the needy, and make the Lord thy friend. So shalt thou stand on his right hand when he comes in glory, and thou shalt hear his blessed words, ‘Enter, servant, into the joy of thy Lord.’ I have gone astray, O Saviour, but in thy great mercy count me worthy of this joy.” (Aposticha in Tone 7 from Matins of Holy Tuesday)

Good wishes for the Feast: wishes for meeting

To you all, my dears, I send best wishes for this Feast of the divine Incarnation at the Feast of the Nativity, Feast of Meeting, of love, mutual enrichment, respect, compassion, pity and love.

We invite you to multiply the various sorts of meetings in your surroundings, especially families, to meet one another at meals, prayers, friendly gatherings, joyfully. Otherwise, our families will become islands, with everyone at his computer or mobile phone or using twitter. Thus we are in contact with those at a distance and neglect those closest to us. Our families need to meet continually. Our children need love from their parents, to meet them, just as parents need their children’s love.

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” God’s great desire becomes an encounter. Simeon invites us to this meeting. He has patiently waited a long time to see the Salvation of God. Saint Paul tells us of the long and painful wait, saying, “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” (Romans 8: 19)

Our Arab world is waiting, very much expecting the birth of a new world, especially in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine, in the expectation of seeing the end of years of war, pain, suffering, harshness, killing, death and destruction.

The way of the cross and prayer

We resort to prayer for salvation to come about and for the way of the cross of our suffering to end. That is why we carried out an initiative for holding prayer services over a period of thirty days, every day in a different church of all Christian communities of Damascus, from 22 September to 22 October. Then, we launched an appeal for prayer in the family, asking every one of them to light a candle every evening and meet to pray for peace in Syria, with a spiritual reading from the Gospel. In that way we respond to the appeal of Pope Francis, asking us never to let the flame of hope be extinguished in our hearts.

Our letter: meeting you all

We should like, through this letter, to meet our beloved brother metropolitans, archbishops and bishops, members of our Holy Synod, our dear brothers and sons the priests, our venerable sisters and daughters the nuns, dear deacons, and all the faithful of our eparchies and parishes, in the patriarchal territory in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine (especially Beit Sahur and Bethlehem), Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, Kuwait and the rest of the Arab countries, where our children work and excel in their societies, with their skills, degrees, presence and role.

Through this letter we meet our eparchies, communities and faithful in the countries of the expansion in Canada and the United States, in Australia and New Zealand, in Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and also the faithful scattered over several other countries of Latin America, where, despite our desire, we still have no organised ecclesiastical hierarchy, but where our faithful are numerous.

We also meet through this letter our faithful scattered over Europe, especially in the context of the organised parishes in Marseilles, Paris, Brussels, London, Stockholm and the faithful in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Austria...

I have been able to visit many of these parishes, near and far. For all men and women, I beseech abundance of grace from the Saviour, that they may abide in faith. And I wish for them to be able, like Simeon, to meet the Lord in their life, with great longing, hope, love and trust.

To everyone everywhere, I wish the potential for meeting to increase in his or her life, that he or she may bring to others the joy of the Gospel and help them to meet in their turn Christ Jesus. Thus the new-born Child, God before the ages, will be for each person a Light to lighten his heart, as Saint Peter says in his Second Epistle, until “the day star arise in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1: 19)

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant...” is the flame of hope, love, passion, happiness and joy. We pray for everyone to meet the Lord and Saviour in his or her life. We invite them to commemorate daily as do we, “our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary, who offered her Son at the Temple, with all the saints, let us commend ourselves, and each other and all our life unto Christ our God .”

"Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace...” At the end of the Divine Liturgy and Vespers, every day we repeat this prayer, daily expecting the coming of God into our life here below, to bring us to life eternal, there to meet the Lord and be always with him.

Merry Christmas! Happy and holy 2015!
With my affection, blessing and prayer

+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem