Every second Saturday of the month, 4 pm - Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1

May 10, 2014, Sunday of the Paralytic - June 14, 2014, Sunday of All Saints - July 12, 2014, 5th Sunday after Pentecost - August 9, 2014, Ninth Sunday - 13 September, 2014, 14th Sunday - 11 October, 2014, 18th Sunday (followed by SSJC AGM) - 8 November, 2014, 22nd Sunday - 13 December, 2014, 27th Sunday - 10 January, 2014, Sunday after Christmas

Followed by refreshments

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Homes of Christians Fleeing Iraq Seized by Gangs | Worthy Christian News

Monday, April 21, 2014,  By Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News

BAGHDAD, IRAQ (Worthy News) – Gangs in Baghdad are seizing homes left vacant by Christian families who have been forced to flee from sectarian violence, according to Barnabas Aid.

"Most of them are afraid of submitting complaints to the government because they do not believe they can protect themselves if they file a lawsuit," said William Warda, head of the Baghdad-based Hammurabi Human Rights Organization.

Iraq's Christians are most at risk of having their homes seized as they lack the tribal affiliations that protect their Arab Muslim neighbors.

After the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, there was a surge in anti-Christian threats, kidnappings and murders, prompting thousands of Iraqi Christians to flee. But many who left didn't sell their properties in the hope of one day returning, but eventually they were forced to sell their homes at rates well below market value because Muslim gangs simply took over their properties.

In its 2013 human rights report, the U.S. State Department said that internal corruption prevented the Iraqi government from effectively adjudicating property restitution claims that often disproportionately affected Christian communities.

Many Christians who left their homes fled to the autonomous region of Kurdistan where most now live peacefully in their own neighborhoods.

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Homes of Christians Fleeing Iraq Seized by Gangs | Worthy Christian News

SYRIA For Gregorios III, the destruction of Ma'aloula churches is a "war crime", slams "criminal indifference" of West - Asia News

04/22/2014, by Fady Noun

The patriarch visited the village of Ma'aloula after the army took it back from the Islamist al-Nusra Front. ""An apocalyptic spectacle presented itself," he said. The West is watching the destruction of Syria "with criminal indifference".

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Gregorios III Laham, Greek-Melkite Catholics patriarch of Antioch, described the destruction of Ma'aloula churches as "a war crime".

On Sunday, he was able to visit the historic Christian village, after the Syrian army retook it from the Islamist al-Nusra Front. "It is the mystery of iniquity that one sees at work," he said, unable to find words strong enough to translate the feelings at the sight of desolation before him.

"It is the devastation of the Temple, the mystery of iniquity," he said in a telephone interview from Beirut, the night of his visit.

The Greek-Catholic patriarch travelled to the village with Greek-Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna Yazigi and representatives of the Syriac Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Syriac Catholic Patriarchates, accompanied by some journalists and security officers. A little later, he also paid a visit to the Syrian head of state, who was also visiting the village.

"An apocalyptic spectacle presented itself. Other churches have been destroyed in Syria, but I have never seen anything like this. I cried and I sought in vain a moment of solitude to pray. I am heartbroken," the prelate said again. "Ma'aloula's four historic churches were hit. Our parish church, dedicated to Saint George, is riddled with bullets. The convent's dome was damaged in two places. The walls were ripped open by cannon fire. Some parts of the convent is in danger of collapsing and must be rebuilt. The icons are scattered on the floor, dirty, or stolen. It is currently completely uninhabitable."

"In the Convent of Saints Sarkis and Bakhos (pictured), the historic pagan altar, converted into a Christian altar, the only one of this kind, is broken in two." The same spectacle of devastation can be seen in the Greek-Orthodox churches of St Elijah and St Tecla. In Gregorios III's opinion, Ma'aloula's devastation is "an organised crime," a "war crime."

The London Charter (1946) defines war crimes as "plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity".

"There is no military justification for the vandalism," the patriarch said. "There is an impression that it was orchestrated."

"Why did they turn our churches into defensive positions?" he wondered, as he tried to understand all these destructions. With bitterness, Gregorios III accuses the Western world of being blind about the truth of the war in Syria. In his view, this is absolutely not a "Syrian War" or a "civil war." Of course, the conflict partly involves Muslims fighting among themselves, but it is not a war between Islam and Christianity. It is an "organised crime."

In terms of security, Ma'aloula residents can now think about returning, the patriarch said, despite the uncertainty surrounding the situation of utilities (electricity, water, telephones). Some young people, he added, are returning to inspect the homes and study the possibility of coming back. However, Gregorios III draws attention to the difficulties that there will be "in repairing the social bond" between Ma'aloula Christians and Muslims. Some Muslim families in the village sided with Islamist insurgents and the rebuilding of trust will be a problem. Many young people do not want a superficial reconciliation, and "hypocritical hugs."

The Church has a duty to prevent that the entire Muslim population be assimilated with what some have done. Christians, he believes, should not live in a ghetto.  For him, this is the real conspiracy. It aims at tearing apart the social fabric of Syrian society, which never had discord between Muslims and Christians. Some behaviours, in his eyes, have been barbarous and can only be explained by a desire to destroy "deep" Syria.

In support of his views, he mentioned the atrocious death, in front of witnesses, of a baker in Adra, a small town near Damascus. The unfortunate man was thrown alive along with his children into the bakery oven in which he had freshly baked bread for the Islamist fighters.

Gregorios III slams the "criminal indifference with which the Western world, under the false pretext of defending democracy, continues to watch this spectacle of destruction." Noting that there still is no news about six abducted Ma'aloula residents, or the Greek-Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox bishops of Aleppo, who have been missing for more than a year, he ended saying, "We must absolutely prevent the virus of hatred from spreading".

See online here:

SYRIA For Gregorios III, the destruction of Ma'aloula churches is a "war crime" - Asia News

The Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, reads the Easter Gospel following Metropolitan Methodios of Boston at the Paschal Liturgy in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of New England

The Pappas Post Photos: Good Friday Procession Permitted in Izmir (Smyrna) First Time in 92 Years - The Pappas Post

April 19, 2014

For the first time since 1922, the Greek Orthodox Church of Agia Fotini was granted the permission to hold its Good Friday Epitaphio Service outside on a public street in Izmir, Turkey.

A wonderful turnout was in attendance, including joint-friendship assistance from the Catholic Archdiocese, where the Epitaphion was taken from the Greek Church and escorted over to the Catholic Church of St. John.

The street was blocked off by local police and the people took the streets in joy.

According to Chrysovalantis Stamelos, who shared the photos from the epic liturgy, it was “a wonderful sight to see in this beloved city. Truly a mind-blowing event to which I am incredibly honored to be a part of…Kali Anastasi to all.”

Agia Photini was once the focal point of Greek religious life in Smyrna, a cosmopolitan city that was majority Greek whose residents were victims of the war between Greece and the Ottoman Empire. Like much of the city, it was burned during the war in 1922, when tens of thousands of Greeks fled.

The current Agia Fotini is a Dutch chapel from 1920s-era that survived the fires and was donated to the Greek Consul General’s office in order to hold religious services when needed.

For the first time since 1922, the church now runs independently from the Greek Consulate, functioning as a local church for the local Greek community under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Photos by Chrysovalantis Stamelos, a Greek American filmmaker living in Turkey whose film, Hello Anatolia chronicles his journey from New York City to Izmir, in search of his family roots.

   smyrni7 smyrni6

See more photos here:

The Pappas Post Photos: Good Friday Procession Permitted in Izmir (Smyrna) First Time in 92 Years - The Pappas Post

Cyprus Good Friday Celebration Showing Interfaith Bridges Christians And Muslims Are Building In Ethnically Split Cyprus


FAMAGUSTA, Cyprus (AP) — An unexpected moment during the Good Friday service in a long-abandoned church in Cyprus' breakaway north illustrated how religion is helping to bring together Christian Greek Cypriots and Muslim Turkish Cypriots on this ethnically divided island.

It came when Turkish Cypriot Umit Inatci handed the key of the church of Agios Georgios Exorinos in the medieval center of Famagusta to the city's Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Vasilios, saying: "This is not gift, it's something that is surrendered to its owner."

Rapturous applause greeted the announcement by Inatci, who helped make possible the first Holy Week service at the 14th-century church in nearly 60 years.

Among the hundreds of faithful there was Mikis Lakatamitis, who was baptized at the church eight decades ago. Tears welled up in his eyes as worshippers lined up nearby to kiss an embroidered cloth depicting Christ's preparation for burial.

"I want to live in this moment because I don't know if I'll relive it again," said Lakatamitis, whose family abandoned their nearby home at the start of ethnic strife in the late 1950s.

Cyprus was divided along ethnic lines in 1974 into a Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot north after Turkey invaded following a coup aiming to unite the island with Greece.

For decades, there was no contact between the religious leaders of the two communities. In the north, about 500 churches and monasteries — many hundreds of years old — were left to ruin, looted or converted for other uses. In the south, only eight of about 110 mosques still operate.

But that changed in 2009 with a kind of faith-based diplomacy that has quietly been conducted between the leader of the island's Greek Orthodox Christian Church Archbishop Chrysostomos II and Turkish Cypriot Muslim Grand Mufti Talip Atalay.

"We have to give a good example to the Middle East," Atalay told The Associated Press. "This is our gift to the Middle East."

The Good Friday service was the result of a grassroots initiative by ordinary Greek and Turkish Cypriots seeking to chip away at the wall of mistrust built up over decades.

Visit here for full report and photo gallery:

Good Friday Celebration Showing Interfaith Bridges Christians And Muslims Are Building In Ethnically Split Cyprus

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Fr Frans van der Lugt SJ - Obituary in the Daily Telegraph, Easter Monday

Father Frans van der Lugt was a Jesuit priest who displayed courage, humanity and faith under siege in the Syrian city of Homs. Executed by a single masked gunman, he remained with the people he served, Christians and Muslims alike, faithful to the end.


Easter Sunday: Pope Francis prays for peace in Ukraine, Venezuela and Syria

Before giving his Urbi et Orbi blessing, the Pope prayed for peace in the world. "Help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible,” he said.

"We ask you, Lord Jesus, to put an end to all war and every conflict, whether great or small, ancient or recent”.

"We pray in a particular way for Syria, that all those suffering the effects of the conflict can receive needed humanitarian aid and that neither side will again use deadly force, especially against the defenseless civil population, but instead boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue!”

"We ask that hearts be turned to reconciliation and fraternal concord in Venezuela”.

By your resurrection, which this year we celebrate together with the Churches that follow the Julian calendar, we ask you to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence and, in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country’s future.

Easter Sunday: Pope prays for peace in Ukraine, Venezuela and Syria

Easter Message of His Beatitude Sviatoslav

Christ is risen!

Yesterday we were buried with Thee, O Christ, -
Get up now risen with thee,
Because yesterday we were crucified with You.
Therefore, glorify us, our Saviour, In Thy Kingdom
(Song 3 Canon, Resurrection Matins).

Beloved in Christ!

Despite this year's trial and uncertainty, Easter - "the day which the Lord hath made" (Ps. 117, 24) - is the time for us of unspeakable joy and hope. In the light of the Resurrection Feast the holy Church sings the mystery of the combination of opposites: burial and resurrection, death and life, crucifixion and glory, sorrow and joy. In that lies the great Paschal mystery that the Son of God became one of us, dies, just like us, that we may rise again, as He has! Christ is passing his Way of the Cross for us and for our benefit, giving us His bright resurrection and new life in God. Thus, the cross and resurrection are inseparable. They relate not only to Christ: in the sacramental way affect all the humanity and all of us in particular. The event, which took place in the life of Jesus Christ - His death and resurrection - has incorporated the history of mankind, all the suffering, both past and future, and transfigures them into a new life, a new joy. The Risen Christ enters the heart of the personal history of each of us, He, can say, going through our suffering and humiliation: we also crucified with Him and convicted, and with him mount out of the tomb and resurrect. Yesterday we were buried with Him, and today - we get up with him, resurrected.

Yesterday we were buried with Thee, O Christ... yesterday we were crucified with You.

Jesus Christ is the power and action of the Holy Spirit is present in the history of our Church and our nation. We know that is His and our Way of the Cross. In the recent past, our church and our people were tortured and crucified, falsely testified against, we were shot and thrown into prison. But we all survived and, thank God, reborn to a new life of the community of Christ's disciples. Just this year, is passing the 25th anniversary of the legalization and the revival of the Church in its native land. So we send prayers to the throne of the Almighty, thanking Him for the grace and strength that has helped our people to stand among the awful trials and suffering. This victory – is a sign of the effective presence of the risen Saviour among us in the distant and recent past, and at the same time is the guarantee of the invincibility of our people in the future.

Today Christ is with us! He takes our pain as though He was personally wounded. It was He, despised by youth beating on Maidan ... It's He - the first victim of Heavenly Hundred

Today again we are threatened and intimidated by weapons, the separation of the country and the seizure of churches. But Christ today is with us! He takes our pain as though He was personally wounded. It was He, despised by youth beating on Maidan ... He was made needy when the people’s property was looted by the corrupted government. He was imprisoned and unjustly condemned, exposed naked in the cold and tortured stolen. It is He - the first victim of Heavenly Hundred. His words on the cross, that sound today in the conscience of Ukrainian believers - "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23,34) - especially relating to those government and church leaders, ours and neighbouring, which incite people to hatred and blind aggression, "Crucify him, crucify him" (Luke 23,21). However, the power of human malice, lies and violence is nothing compared to the power of God's truth and love. It is Christ, who raises us today, and as a church and as a people. Like good overcomes evil in the Resurrection, and in our history love will win malice and hatred, and peace - all sorts of threatening by war.

Get up now risen with You.
Power arms droop before the honour of Risen, because "we now stand up with thee risen". We all feel it on our native land and in the settlings. The power of Christ's resurrection is our hope today in church, social and personal life. We have no more certain and more powerful help - in international diplomacy or military force, in human powers or agreements that are ready for thirty pieces of silver to put a price for Invaluable. In his resurrection, Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit has united people who once opposed each other: "There is neither Jew nor Greek..., neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3, 28).

Let’s respect and love a person that is different from us: thinks differently, follows other customs or speak a different language - that it is a testament to the glory of the Risen!

A sign of our "rising" with the risen Saviour who brings us out of the "grave" sin, let become our renewed with God's love attitude to all people without exception. Let’s love and embrace everyone who is near in our village, town, city, and our region and throughout our Earth. Let’s respect and love a person that is different from us: thinks differently, follows other customs or speak a different language - that it is a testament to the glory of the Risen! All people, even those with malice in their heart and those who unjustly accuse us, today we proclaim the good news of the Resurrection. For the sign of resurrection is to conquer the forces of evil and hatred with God's love and mercy.

Therefore, glorify us, our Saviour, in Thy Kingdom

According to ancient church retelling, St.Andrew, standing on the hills of Kyiv, predicted great glory of God for our country: "Do you see those mountains? The grace of God will shine on them, there will be a large city, there will be many buildings and the God will raise many churches". The radiance of the grace of God, which is mentioned by our apostle, is the light of Christ's resurrection, which never ceased to shine over our land, even in the darkest periods of our national and church life. We were filled with evangelical words that we hear in the Paschal Liturgy: "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it" (cf. Jn. 1, 5). The reflection of the heavenly glory of the risen Saviour is our Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, which we have blessed the last year. It is for us the living testimony of Christ's victory, the key to immortality of our people and a sign of unity of all the children of the Church - in Ukraine and the settlings.

Wherever we were - whether in Ukraine or in the settlements - remember our calling, stemming from our Christian and national experience, namely, to indicate the irresistible power of Christ's resurrection, the inevitable triumph of truth over falsehood.

Today, on this joyous day of Resurrection, let’s beseech our Saviour, so that the light of his resurrection with a new force shine over our land, overcome the darkness of sin, disagreement, fear, discouragement and strengthen all of us with the power of the Holy Spirit to build a truly free and blessed by God state. Let us pray especially for the gift of unity and unanimity for our people. And this spiritual unity will allow us to restore and update all state institutions on the basis of God's truth and God's law. Wherever we were - whether in Ukraine or in the settlements - remember our calling, stemming from our Christian and national experience, namely, to indicate the irresistible power of Christ's resurrection, the inevitable triumph of truth over falsehood, love over hate, good over evil, life over death.

With such thoughts I unite with you in prayer and Easter joy, love and hope, wishing all of you a peaceful and blessed Resurrection. With Easter greeting I hug you all! Let this upset day be glad, alarmed feel certainty of Christian hope. With the prayer I flow to the wounded and pained, imprisoned and expelled from their native homes, our soldiers and all who are on the lookout of the dignity of the human person in Ukraine. I wish all of you generously presented by Lord Easter gifts.

Let the grace of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the Eucharist of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Christ is risen! - He is risen indeed!


Given in Kiev
At the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ
The feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
April 7, AD 2014

Easter Message of His Beatitude Sviatoslav

Good Friday Celebration Showing Interfaith Bridges Christians And Muslims Are Building In Ethnically Split Cyprus


Posted: 04/19/2014 8:19 am EDT Updated: 04/19/2014 8:59 am EDT
FAMAGUSTA, Cyprus (AP) — An unexpected moment during the Good Friday service in a long-abandoned church in Cyprus' breakaway north illustrated how religion is helping to bring together Christian Greek Cypriots and Muslim Turkish Cypriots on this ethnically divided island.

It came when Turkish Cypriot Umit Inatci handed the key of the church of Agios Georgios Exorinos in the medieval center of Famagusta to the city's Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Vasilios, saying: "This is not gift, it's something that is surrendered to its owner."

Rapturous applause greeted the announcement by Inatci, who helped make possible the first Holy Week service at the 14th-century church in nearly 60 years.

Among the hundreds of faithful there was Mikis Lakatamitis, who was baptized at the church eight decades ago. Tears welled up in his eyes as worshippers lined up nearby to kiss an embroidered cloth depicting Christ's preparation for burial.

Good Friday Celebration Showing Interfaith Bridges Christians And Muslims Are Building In Ethnically Split Cyprus

PASCHAL MESSAGE by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia / OrthoChristian.Com

Beloved in the Lord
Your Graces the archpastors,
all-honourable pastors and deacons,
God-loving monks and nuns,
dear brothers and sisters!

On ‘this chosen and holy Day’ when the world ‘that is visible and invisible’ (see: the Canon of Holy Pascha) glorifies the Prince of life and Victor over death, I send my heartfelt greetings to all of you through the Paschal exclamation: CHRIST IS RISEN!

From year to year the good news of the Resurrection resounds victoriously, encouraging us to render praise to God and the Saviour, who has trampled down death by death and has made us co-participants in the life eternal which is to come.

As we celebrate this ‘Feast of feasts and Triumph of triumphs,’ it is with a special spiritual feeling that we recall the redemptive act of the Saviour of the world, his sufferings on the Cross and bright resurrection. Pascha is not some beautiful legend, not some theoretical theology and not a nod towards a popular custom established in the distant past. It is the essence and kernel of Christianity. It is the victory that God has granted to us.

From the time of the apostles and up to the present the Church has preached Christ’s resurrection as the greatest miracle in the history of humanity. She speaks of this miracle not only as a fact of the Gospels, but – and what is especially important – as a moment of destiny for all those who have received the Paschal good news. This feast bears the most direct relationship to us, for Christ’s resurrection, the Lord’s redemption of the fallen world, is the greatest joy which the human person can experience. No matter how difficult our life, no matter what everyday troubles besiege us, no matter what grief and imperfections we have to endure from the world around us – all of this is nothing in comparison to the spiritual joy, to the hope of eternal salvation that God gives us.

As St. Paul says, ‘he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken our mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in us’ (cf. Rom 8:11).

On the radiant day of Christ’s resurrection the souls of millions of the faithful are replete with thanksgiving to the Creator, and our earthly life acquires true meaning. Christ’s Passover is the greatest triumph of life, the triumph over death bringing love, peace and spiritual transformation.

In celebrating Pascha we each time open up a new period in our lives, for the risen Lord renews human nature, fortifies us in tribulations, and grants to us the strength to accomplish good deeds.

The Paschal message, which has transformed the whole course of world history, encourages us to be morally transformed, to be spiritually renewed, which is so essential for modern-day society. It reminds all people of the sources of Christianity, as well as of the coming eternal Kingdom where ‘God may be all in all’ (1 Cor 15:28).

During these radiant days of the Paschal feast we are called upon to share our joy with our relatives and those close to us, to show them active love and mercy. Such are the traditions sanctified over the centuries, and in following them we testify to our participation in Christ’s heritage and belief that the Lord has truly risen.

Now, as before, the Russian Orthodox Church diligently carries out her saving mission, tirelessly proclaiming God’s truth, affirming the importance of the Gospel commandments, calling for peace and harmony, serving the spiritual unity of nations living in the countries under the pastoral care of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Our special prayer today is for the peoples of Russia and Ukraine that peace will reign in the minds and hearts of our brothers and sisters by blood and in faith so that the ties that have been lost and co-operation which is so needed may be restored.

In proclaiming the love of God which surpasses all knowledge (cf. Eph 3:19), Christianity brings people together by overcoming national, cultural and state boundaries, for ‘the light of Christ illumines all’ (cf. Jn 1:9).

May the risen Lord grant that we may all with benefit for our souls continue our earthly pilgrimage in recalling our lofty Christian responsibility and vocation to create within ourselves and those around us a strong faith, sincere love and steadfast hope. May the joy of this feast day strengthen and inspire us to accomplish good works, grant to us the courage and strength amidst the stormy waves of the sea of life to retain our endurance and calm, to withstand temptation and trials, to overcome, in the words of St. Sergius of Radonezh, ‘the hateful divisions of this world.’

May the light of Christ’s glory that has shone forth from the Life-bearing Tomb abide with us and illumine our hearts, extending to those who are close to us and those far removed from us, and upon all who are in need of our care and support.

In congratulating all of you on the great feast of Holy Pascha, I prayerfully wish for you generous spiritual gifts, physical strength and the gracious aid which is from above in the triumphant journeying with Christ. Amen.

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia

2014 AD

19 / 04 / 2014

PASCHAL MESSAGE by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia / OrthoChristian.Com

Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Sacrificial Love of Lebanon's Christians - The American Spectator

By Jordan Allott
American Spectator
Posted 2014-04-18 18:24 GMT

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon (photo: Jordan Allott).I recently returned from the Middle East, where I captured stories for a film project about Christians living their faith in the face of crippling persecution. In Beirut, Lebanon, I spoke with two Lebanese Christians, Georges Maalouly -- a 48-year old, Orthodox father of three -- and his friend Father Joseph -- a priest at St. Tetla's Catholic Church. They explained how Christians in Lebanon are coping with the arrival of more than a million refugees from Syria.

Most Syrian exiles are Sunni Muslims, and their arrival has started to drastically alter Lebanon's delicate sectarian balance of Sunnis, Shiites and Christians. Economically, Syrian workers are driving down wages, and refugees place a severe burden on Lebanon's already overtaxed and underfunded infrastructure. Despite this, many Lebanese Christians are choosing to help meet the needs of these refugees.

Jordan: The civil war in Syria has been raging for over three years. How has the conflict affected the Lebanese people? What challenges have you faced? How do you balance fear and compassion?

Fr. Joseph: In the last five to ten years we have had so many people coming from Iraq and now Syria and they have not found many opportunities. But we have done many things to help both Muslims and Christians. We pray with them, we adopt them, we encourage them and we feed them. We will always be here for them.

Georges: If we think in a political way, it's difficult for the Christians of Lebanon to absorb a high number of Muslim refugees because then they will become the majority and everybody knows that it is the wish of other Middle Eastern Muslim countries to transform Lebanon from a Christian country to a Muslim country. In this way Christians will lose all their rights and will not stay free. Also, Muslim refugees will get all the job opportunities and our salaries will become low and prices for food and housing will rise. Despite this, we are ready to receive the Muslim refugees and host them and help them in order to show the love and mercy of Jesus.

Read the full article on AINA here:

The Sacrificial Love of Lebanon's Christians

The Middle East War on Christians - UN Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor, Wall Street Journal

By Ron Prosor, Wall Street Journal
This week, as Jews celebrate the Passover holiday, they are commemorating the Bible's Exodus story describing a series of plagues inflicted on ancient Egypt that freed the Israelites, allowing them to make their way to the Holy Land. But over the past century, another exodus, driven by a plague of persecution, has swept across the Middle East and is emptying the region of its Christian population. The persecution is especially virulent today.

The Middle East may be the birthplace of three monotheistic religions, but some Arab nations appear bent on making it the burial ground for one of them. For 2,000 years, Christian communities dotted the region, enriching the Arab world with literature, culture and commerce. At the turn of the 20th century, Christians made up 26% of the Middle East's population. Today, that figure has dwindled to less than 10%. Intolerant and extremist governments are driving away the Christian communities that have lived in the Middle East since their faith was born.

In the rubble of Syrian cities like Aleppo and Damascus, Christians who refused to convert to Islam have been kidnapped, shot and beheaded by Islamist opposition fighters. In Egypt, mobs of Muslim Brotherhood members burn Coptic Christian churches in the same way they once obliterated Jewish synagogues. And in Iraq, terrorists deliberately target Christian worshippers. This past Christmas, 26 people were killed when a bomb ripped through a crowd of worshipers leaving a church in Baghdad's southern Dora neighborhood.

Christians are losing their lives, liberties, businesses and their houses of worship across the Middle East. It is little wonder that native Christians have sought refuge in neighboring countries--yet in many cases they find themselves equally unwelcome. Over the past 10 years, nearly two-thirds of Iraq's 1.5 million Christians have been driven from their homes. Many settled in Syria before once again becoming victims of unrelenting persecution. Syria's Christian population has dropped from 30% in the 1920s to less than 10% today.

In January, a report by the nondenominational Christian nonprofit organization Open Doors documented the 10 most oppressive countries for Christians; nine were Muslim-majority states noted for Islamic extremism, and the 10th was North Korea. These tyrannical regimes uphold archaic blasphemy and defamation-of-religion laws under the guise of protecting religious expression. In truth, these measures amount to systematic repression of non-Islamic groups.

Last year in Saudi Arabia, two men were prosecuted for the "crime" of converting a woman to Christianity and helping her flee the Islamic kingdom. According to the Saudi Gazette, one of the men, a Lebanese, was sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes, and the other man, a Saudi, was sentenced to two years and 200 lashes. Those are relatively mild sentences in Saudi Arabia, where conversion to another religion is punishable by death.

The "justice system" in other Islamic nations is not particularly just for Arab citizens, but it is uniquely oppressive for Christians. Radical Islamists in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa are using an ancient law called the "dhimmi pact" to extort local Christians. The community is faced with a grim choice: pay a tax and submit to a list of religious restrictions or "face the sword."

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressions of political dissent are regarded as acts of blasphemy. Last summer, three Iranian Christians caught selling Bibles were found guilty of "crimes against state security" and sentenced to 10 years in prison. They were relatively lucky. The regime has executed dozens of people for the so-called crimes of "waging war against God" and "spreading corruption on Earth."

The scene unfolding in the Middle East is ominously familiar. At the end of World War II, almost one million Jews lived in Arab lands. The creation of Israel in 1948 precipitated an invasion of five Arab armies. When they were unable to annihilate the newborn state militarily, Arab leaders launched a campaign of terror and expulsion that decimated their ancient Jewish communities. They succeeded in purging 800,000 Jews from their lands.

Today, Israel, which I represent at the United Nations, is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population. Its Christian community has increased from 34,000 in 1948 to 140,000 today, in large measure because of the freedoms Christians are afforded.

From courtrooms to classrooms and from the chambers of Parliament to chambers of commerce, Israeli Christians are leaders in every field and discipline. Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab Israeli, has served as a Supreme Court justice since 2003 and Makram Khoury is one of the best-known actors in Israel and the youngest artist to win the Israel Prize, our highest civic honor.

Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest living in Israel, recently told me: "Human rights are not something to be taken for granted. Christians in much of the Middle East have been slaughtered and persecuted for their faith, but here in Israel they are protected."

Nations that trample on the rights of their people sow the seeds of instability and violence. The uprisings that have erupted across the Middle East are evidence that the region's Holy Grail has become the pursuit of freedom, democracy and equality. Let us hope that this quest bears fruit before it is too late for the region's remaining Christians.

Ron Prosor is Israel's ambassador to the United Nations.

The Middle East War on Christians

Rate of Christian Girls Abducted and Attacked By Extremists on the Rise in Egypt - Fox News

By Perry Chiaramonte, Fox News

Read online at AINA here:

Rate of Christian Girls Abducted and Attacked By Extremists on the Rise in Egypt

Patriarchal Encyclical for Holy Pascha 2014 - Patriarch Bartholomew

By the mercy of God
Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
to the plenitude of the Church
Grace, Peace and Mercy from Christ risen in glory

Christ is Risen!

Come, brethren and children in the Lord, receive the light from the unwaning Light of the Phanar, the Holy Center of the Orthodox, and let us all together and jointly glorify "Christ, Who is risen from the dead."

The emotional state of the Lord's disciples was grim after His Crucifixion, because by the Lord's death on the Cross the hopes of His disciples were dispersed that He and they would one day prevail as political power. They had perceived the triumphant entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, following the resurrection of Lazarus and the miraculous feeding of five thousand men, with additional women and children, by five loaves of bread and two fish, as a prelude of their conquering of secular authority. The mother of two of them moreover requested that her two sons sit by each side of the Lord, when He came to power. All these, however, dissipated as childish imaginations on account of the awful execution of Jesus Christ.

But, one Saturday morning, the Myrrh Bearers found the tomb empty and heard from an Angel that Jesus was risen from the dead. Shortly after, they saw Him in a different state not allowing the Myrrh Bearers to touch Him. This unexpected development of the situation caused the people close to Jesus to wonder about what was to happen next. They did not receive the answer right away. They were told to wait with patience and endurance until they received strength from above. Obeying the command, they waited until Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down and revealed to them, in fullness, their new mission. This mission did not call for the liberation of one nation from its slavery bondages by another nation; instead it called for the liberation of all humanity from its enslavement by the master of evil and evil itself. This was another great mission and different from the one they had dreamt about.

The inconceivable commandment calling for the preaching of the message of man�s deliverance from the slavery of death took them by surprise; nevertheless they undertook it with zeal and preached the message everywhere and saved and continue to save many from death. There is the first among the dead, the risen Jesus, Who offers to all the gift of resurrection and eternal life, a life that is not subjected any longer to corruptibility, because man in the resurrected state is like an angel of God in heaven who no longer has a fleshly body but a spiritual one.

We experience already the foretaste of this blessed resurrected state when we carry our fleshly garment in a way by which we do not taste the substance of death, that is the distancing from God�s love, but feel that we transition from the natural death of our fleshly body to the higher life of our spiritual body through the loving knowledge of the Person of the Lord, a knowledge which equals towards eternal life.

Therefore, we are not simply in anticipation of the resurrection of the dead as an event that will take place in the distant future, but we partake in it now, and are jubilant and cry out along with Saint John Chrysostom: Death, where is your sting? Hades, where is your victory? We were resurrected alongside Jesus Christ and experience the end of times as present reality and present reality as the end of times. The resurrection permeates our being and fills us with joy. Exactly like the joy the disciples felt when they were saying that the Lord was risen.

We continue the work of the Apostles. We convey to the world the message of the resurrection. We preach knowingly that death must not have a place in our life for it offers no benefit to humanity. The ones who seek to improve social life by killing fellow humans do not offer good service to the living. They rather serve the proliferation of death and prepare their own devouring by death.

In our times, the drums of death and darkness beat frantically. Some fellow men believe that the eradication of other fellow men is a praiseworthy and beneficial act, but they are seriously mistaken. Unfortunately, the annihilation and suppression of the weakest by the strongest dominates in the secular pyramid of today's reality. Often we are shocked by the cruelty and lack of compassion exhibited by the powerful that hold the reins of the world, believing that they are actually the ones ruling it.

However, Christ, by His death on the Cross, reversed this secular pyramid and placed on top of it His Cross. He sits atop, because He suffered most than any man. There was no man in the world who suffered as much as God-Man Christ did: And being founding appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the Cross. Therefore God, the Father, also has given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth (Philippians 2:8-11).

Oftentimes in the history of humanity we see as prevailing forces the darkness of death, injustice over justice, hatred and envy over love, and we see that man chooses the infernal hatred over the light of the Resurrection. Despite the apparent technological progress of human societies, despite the declarations of human rights and religious freedom, racial and religious hatred swells universally and causes dangerous tensions, which exacerbate the dominion of the kingdom of death, Hades, and evil. Unfortunately, people can not tolerate diversity in their fellow human beings. They can not tolerate the different racial origin of other men, the different perceptions and beliefs of them, be it political, religious or social.

History, though, has proven that real progress can not exist without God. Not one society can be truly progressive and happy if there is no freedom. True freedom though is acquired only with our staying close to God. The history of the 20th C. tragically confirms this truth. Humanity experienced a horror that originated from Central Europe and produced millions of victims during WWII and racial persecutions. At the same time, it also experienced the horror that was sown by these so called progressive forces, which committed crimes of equal magnitude and cruelty in Eastern Europe in the name of freedom. Therefore, totalitarianism as an offspring of a humanity without Christ, does not recognize political parties and its natural conclusion becomes destruction and death. All of the above confirm that every attempt to reach freedom without God shall be doomed to tragedy.

To this dominance of the forces of darkness, the Church responds with the grace and power of the Risen Christ. He, Who took upon Himself the afflictions and infirmities of each man, offers to the world through His Resurrection also the certainty that death is vexed.

Resurrection and life are thegifts and the light of Jesus Christ, which "shines upon all." Let us all honor this gift. Let us all thank the Giver Who by His flesh shone in the world like in a mirror, and has presented the light of the resurrection to the world. Let us then receive the light from the unwaning Light of Life. Let us receive and welcome the gift of the resurrection and cry out from the bottom of our hearts:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death, and to those in the grave bestowing Life! Rejoice nations and be happy!

Holy Pascha 2014

+Bartholomew of Constantinople
Your fervent supplicant before God

Russian Orthodox Church Does Not Consider 2016 Orthodox Council Ecumenical

Thanks to our SSJC US Youngstown friends, for drawing our attention to this:

In an interview with the news agency Interfax-Religion, Vladimir Legoyda, head of the Synodal Information Department of the Russian Orthodox Church, described the outcome of the meeting of the Primates and representatives of the Orthodox Churches, which took place last week at the residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople at the Phanar in Istanbul.

The main purpose of the meeting was to prepare for the Pan-Orthodox council. According to the head of the Synodal Department, the Orthodox Churches achieved a consensus at the meeting to convene the council in spring 2016.

“The delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church, headed by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, played a crucial role in this,” said Legoyda. “At the meeting it was decided to intensify preparations for the council. Already this fall a special inter-Orthodox committee, which will consist of one priest and one councilor from each autocephalous church, will be set up. It is expected that by the spring of next year the council will have prepared the foundations for the pan-Orthodox preconiliar meeting. It will have to address the latest issues, and it will be the final step in the preparation for the Pan-Orthodox council.”

“It is worth nothing that the Primates and representatives of the churches clearly supported the position that was initially held by the Russian Church that all decisions of the future Orthodox Council should be taken by consensus,” said the head of the Synodal Information Department of the Russian Orthodox Church. “This means that if any decision is not supported by at least one of the churches, it will not be accepted, meaning no church will remain in the minority. This is an ancient church tradition that characterizes its synodality and distinguishes the latter from parliamentary democracy, where a majority of votes is used in the decision-making procedure.”

When asked whether the forthcoming council is ecumenical, Legoyda said: “The council, the preparation of which is entering its final phase, is called the Holy and Great, sometimes Pan-Orthodox. Calling it ecumenical is not accepted and is incorrect. The last ecumenical council was convened in Nicaea in 787, and since then such councils have not convened. Following the schism in 1054, ecumenical councils were held in the West. However, in the East they are not recognized as such...”

“It is expected that in the Orthodox council in 2016 will be attended by representatives and Primates of all the universally recognized autocephalous Orthodox Churches,” Legoyda said in conclusion, Patriarkhiya.ru reported.

See more on RISU:

Russian Orthodox Church Does Not Consider 2016 Orthodox Council Ecumenical

Friday, 18 April 2014

Passion Thursday Pastoral Letter of His Beatitude Sviatoslav to priests of the Ukrainian Catholic Church

Once again we approach Holy Thursday, when, on the way to His crucifixion and opening the doors to resurrection, our Divine Saviour established the Holy Mystery of the Priesthood. In relation to this, I desire to meditate with you upon this great gift –in which we became participants when Christ called us to have part in His priesthood. He reminds us at the Last Supper: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (Jn. 15:16)

Always at turning points in the history of our nation special signs of Christ’s priesthood have been revealed. When the hearts of the people become filled with uncertainty, anxiety and fear, they first of all turn to spiritual fathers for counsel and support through the Word of God and His grace. We can rightly recognize that through our ministry people seek that which is eternal and righteous… for that which does not pass away. They seek God – by Whom we have been called to witness to them, and to hope in Him. It is in that key that the substance of Christ’s priesthood is revealed to us in the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews. The holy author portrays for us Christ the Eternal High-Priest who in His resurrection entered into the Heavenly Sanctuary, that, “we might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever after the order of Melchiz'edek.” (Heb. 6:18-20)

So many people come to us today in order to once again find that hope – that anchor of their soul! Today’s world and today’s Ukraine thirst for hope. We continuously witness that human suffering, exploitation and fear that generate doubt and despair in the soul. How important it is for us ourselves - who have received the grace of the Christ’s priesthood - to feel within us that anchor of certainty that unites us to Christ by the unseen power of the Holy Spirit. May this feast-day of ours help us - in the midst of the stormy sea of life – to find the anchor of the priestly soul which is Christian Hope. This hope, according to the writing of the holy Apostle Paul, “does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:5)

A Priest is the servant of hope, who witnesses about it before the world and establishes others in hope. That is how the faithful of our Church want to see him. That is how Christ wants to see him… Christ Who called upon His Apostles during various experiences and trials not to lose spirit, but to place their trust in God as He Himself did during His earthly life. The source of our hope is the Lord, His paschal victory over sin and death and over the powers of evil and darkness. United with the Lord, a disciple of Christ does not place his hope in himself, but in God, Who raises the dead and frees from death those who place their complete trust in Him. (cf. 2 Cor. 1:9-10). In this way, the priest’s hope is directed toward Christ the Lord and in Him he seeks his fulfilment. So let our daily praying of the Divine Praises, reflections on the Word of God and our frequent approaching the Holy Mysteries - help us to more deeply unite ourselves with our Lord the Good Shepherd – the very image that we should be for our people. Let us also rediscover the depth of priestly solidarity with our brothers in the priesthood of Christ. Let us strengthen one another in faith and in hope, and in our love toward God and our neighbour, and in our ministry to the needy and the suffering.

I want to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude and recognition for each of you that supported your Faithful during the events of the last months on the squares of Ukraine and who, by your brave disposition, will help them to persist to the end. I am especially thankful to those pastors that did not abandon their sheep in southern and eastern Ukraine, particularly in Crimea. You were the anchor of hope for our Faithful and you radiated for them a loving God. Thanks to you many people received the gift of faith, requested the Sacrament of Baptism, perhaps for the first time in their lives they made a Confession and came to understand the truth of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Such priestly zeal and courage showed that you are worthy sons and heirs of the persecuted Church of martyrs that victoriously came through the furnace of persecution and rose to new life a quarter century ago. We do not know through what trials our Lord will now lead us. But we are certain that as long as our faith in God does not waver, as long as we maintain the anchor of the soul – the certainty of Christian hope in the Lord and His all-powerful grace of the Holy Spirit – as good shepherds, we will be able to, “lay down our lives for the sheep” (cf. Jn. 10:11).

Our people today suffer body and soul. To post-revolutionary wounds was added: the worry of military aggression, the pre-election campaign as well as economic crisis. In your hands, dear Fathers, Jesus Christ has placed the medicine of the Holy Sacraments and the power of the prayer of the Church, pastoral sensitivity and the Word of God as comfort for our suffering nation. Bring them to the people, heal their hearts, teach them how not to fall into anxiety or aggression, hatred and despair.

Today our people pose extraordinarily high moral demands to the government and politicians, civil servants and police officers, desiring a cleansing of society from all injustices and corruption, from untruths and disregard of human dignity. All of this is the echo of the cry of the human soul for the advent of the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. Our response to the trampling of the Divine law, that caused such great damage to our country and to Ukrainian society, must be the renewal of various aspects of national existence in the light of the Decalogue – the Ten Commandments of God. These are the signposts to a person’s true happiness and that of the whole nation. Today’s circumstances encourage us as servants of Christ to preach the Gospel of salvation with a new strength and zeal, confirming our sermons with evidence of the holiness of our own lives.

Dear Fathers and brothers in the priesthood of Christ! Preparing myself for the day of the Last Supper, when following the example of Christ, I wash your feet during the Divine Liturgy, I join with each one of you, I pray for each of you, I rejoice with your joys and I worry with your troubles. At this feast of the Priesthood of Christ, I sincerely greet all the bishops, priests, deacons and seminarians of our Church and assure you of my continuous prayer for you, your families, for the seminary and monastic communities.

With the words of the Apostle I express to you my sincerest wishes: “hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honour…. be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Rom. 12:9-12) And, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Rom. 15:13)

The Blessing of the Lord be upon you!

+ Sviatoslav
Issued in Kyiv, at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ on Akafist Saturday, 5 April 2014 A.D.

Passion Thursday Pastoral Letter of His Beatitude Sviatoslav to priests of the Ukrainian Catholic Church

Meet the Pope's new personal secretary, Yoannis Lahzi Gaid

Read online at Rome Reports here:

Meet the Pope's new personal secretary, Yoannis Lahzi Gaid

Fr Yoannis has previously featured prominently in Papal Audiences, reading the translations of the Holy Father's discourse and greetings in Arabic.

Read the Vatican Insider (La Stampa) report here.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Patriarch Gregorios follows Archbishop Samir and Appeals to the World and to the Pope for Peace and Goodness and Help, after the bloodshed of the Innocent Children

Damascus Old City: 60 children injured by shell-fire from criminal armed bands

Palm Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Church of Damascus celebrated in joy and hope Jesus Christ’s victory, this Palm Sunday, with hundreds of children dressed in their Sunday best. Flowers and olive and palm branches decorated our churches.

Great and Holy Monday, 14 April 2014

The Lord has gladdened our hearts. The Syrian army liberated the town of Ma’alula, to everyone’s joy. General rejoicing! The Lord is good, great is his mercy. The inhabitants of Ma’alula are exultant. Lift up your heads, your deliverance is nigh, and you will soon return to your homes, damaged, pillaged, ransacked though they be!

Great and Holy Tuesday, 15 April 2014

At 8 a.m., in Damascus’ Old City, near Saint Thomas’ Gate, a deadly shell landed in the playground of the Armenian Catholic School at Manar, while the children were singing the national anthem before morning prayers.

One child was killed and sixty others injured. Several had life-changing injuries (cut or broken limbs and injuries to eyes, face, chest and stomach), while others were caught directly by the shell-burst.

Almost at the same time, other shells fell on the Damascus suburb of Duel’a, injuring six children, but this time killing none, thank God.

Such is the criminal reach of terror, hatred, vengeance, violence that attacks the weakest part of society: school-children, spreading fear, consternation and tears.  

Shells fell in front of our church of Saint Abraham, slightly injuring four children. In Jaramana, another suburb of Damascus, for two consecutive days, thirty to forty shells fell each day.

What is the point of all this carnage, tantamount to a war of extermination? These attacks on our schools and children, churches and homes are criminal acts, done with the aim of intimidating Christians, who find themselves increasingly targeted.

As a spiritual father, we appeal to the world’s conscience in the name of our children and all vulnerable persons.

Do they want to destroy this country? Where are the United Nations and the European Union? Do you want to kill this nation?

With the Holy Father, we call on the world to stop the war strategy!

For the world is responsible for this tragedy in Syria. Hands off Syria! We want peace! Save the children whose guardian angels see the face of God in heaven!

Syria appeals to you, Most Holy Father Francis! You love your “beloved Syria.” Help it out of this crisis! We need your prayer, your strong speech, your bold interventions. Send your messengers West and East into the world’s capital cities, to bring your message of peace for Syria! Thank you, Most Holy Father!

May the world heed the cries, tears and prayers of the children of Syria!

                                    + Gregorios III
                                    Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
                                    Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem,
                                    President of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchy in Syria

Stained Pure Red - on the Bloodshed of 55 Children: Second Easter Letter from Maronite Archbishop Samir of Damascus

The Blood of the Children Mixed with the Blood of Christ (Damascus, Syria)


Holy Tuesday April 15, 2014 witnesses the blood of 55 children mingles with the Blood of Christ on the interminable Way of the Cross in Syria. A bloody scene stained pure red soil Damascus.

A shell fell on Monday morning in the courtyard of a school at 7:50 A.M., turning the area into mourning and sowing fear in the hearts and eyes of families already distressed by the assassination of Father Franz one week earlier.


Everyone ran to carry these little ones to St Louis hospital, the nearest place where the struggling Daughters of Charity and the medical staff treat the wounded to save the lives of these angels caught up in senseless violence that strikes Syria in this fourth year. The emergency room was crammed; some students were transferred to other hospitals. Some of these children will become disabled for life bearing the signs of hatred on their bodies.

What an introduction to Holy Week, the sufferings of Christ are printed in the bodies of the innocent children of Damascus. Just as the Holy Innocents, the infant Martyrs of Bethlehem, these children invoke the justice of Heaven.


The blood of these children, in this land already flowing with blood and watered by the thousands of martyrs of 1860[1] fortifies the Biblical Faith that saw the arrival of Christianity even before St. Paul was converted and baptized. These innocent victims confirm the testimony of our heroic faithful who rely on your very welcome friendship and spiritual support.


Tertullian in the second century said: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.”


                                                                            + Samir Nassar

                                                            Maronite Archbishop of Damascus


Easter 2014. (2)


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Syria war: Maaloula's monastery destroyed after Assad forces drive rebels out - Telegraph

By , Maaloula

10:18PM BST, 15 Apr 2014

Read Peter Oborne's full article here:

Syria war: Maaloula's monastery destroyed after Assad forces drive rebels out - Telegraph

Christian School Shelled in Syria - 55 Children injured or dead

We have just received a report from the Maronite Archbishop Samir in Damascus of further tragedy. A shell fell in a school yard on Monday, leaving 55 children badly injured or dead.

Our contacts will send more details tomorrow soon. In the meantime, we ask you to pray for all the Christians of Syria, and all the people of Syria, as the great three days begin and they are faced with so many worries and fears.

Strong Rebuttal to Metropolitan Hilarion's "Offensive Remarks" |Blogs | NCRegister.com

Our Vice Chairman's response to a recent interview given by Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Head of the Department for External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, to the National Catholic Register's Edward Pentin, has itself been taken up by the NCR. Fr Mark Woodruff had found the Metropolitan's statements lacking in a genuine spirit of mutual dialogue and containing a number of historical inaccuracies in order to level criticism - and offensive terms and untruths - at the Ukrainian Catholic Church and, by implication, its Patriarch Sviatoslav.

Edward Pentin's report in turn agrees that the Metrpolitan's words were cutting and unecumical and he has commended Fr Mark's response for a wide readership.

It can be found here, with a link to His Excellency's interview and to Fr Mark's response (which was written in consultation with Fr Athanasius McVay):

Strong Rebuttal to Metropolitan Hilarion's "Offensive Remarks" |Blogs | NCRegister.com

Mar Louis Raphael Sako's Letter at Easter: the power of Christ's broken and risen body pushes Iraq to new life - Asia News

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are now in Holy Week, despite the worrying situation that are currently experiencing in Iraq and the challenges facing our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora; however, these events, which are deeply rooted in the history of salvation, render our Christian memory a living one and give us a living hope .

Jesus is the heart of these events , his broken and resurrected body is the power that leads us toward new life. He is the "center of our faith" , both in meaning and action. Even in the darkest hours, his resurrection makes the sun rise upon us, the people of Iraq, and all humanity.

Faith is a new encounter, a new covenant, a new hope and a new mission, that we live in a radical way in the "here and now", to become a sanctuary in which our brothers can discover with an open heart, the paternal presence of God, who is Love and Liberator. And so they can find freedom and human dignity in us.

So that the Feast of Easter may have its full and all-encompassing meaning and fully disclose its value, we must seek to:
  • Examine our lives and ponder what (Christ) is asking of us, with openness and commitment; renew our faith and live it with enthusiasm and joy in everyday life. Faith invites us to always go beyond what we do in everyday life, with dedication, respect and personal service.
  • Gather in our churches and homes to celebrate, pray, give thanks, rejoice together and help one another. We must tenaciously grow our friendship to achieve our internal unity, because there is no salvation without it . Through solidarity, we will be stronger than our divisions and migrations.
  • Wherever we are, we must be a living example in community life through our behavior, fidelity, our renunciation and our love; We must also build bridges with everyone, to spread a culture of peace and dialogue, reinforcing our belonging to this our homeland and eliminating discord, courageously sowing hope! With this in mind, our existence will not be threatened, despite the fact our number has declined in recent years, because today we have a vocation and a commitment to achieve with renewed vigor.
  • Finally, we must participate in large numbers in the forthcoming elections in a spirit of responsibility, voting for capable and loyal people, committed to the good of their country, its progress, focusing on the true values ​​of freedom, dignity and social justice.
Therefore this holiday season, I hope that all of you can put an end to the suffering of our people and that this be an Easter of resurrection and new life for you all.

Louis-Raphael I
Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon

IRAQ Mar Sako at Easter, the power of Christ's broken and risen body pushes Iraq to new life - Asia News

USCCB Blog, Fr Ron Roberson: Orthodox Church Highlights Synodality, the Holy Spirit Creating Community

Tuesday, April 1, 2014, by Father Ronald Roberson

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published March 5, Pope Francis was asked about the significance of the meeting he was planning to have with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the Holy Land in late May. In his response, the pope said that “Orthodox theology is very rich. And I believe that they have great theologians at this moment. Their vision of the Church and of synodality is marvelous.” What did the pope mean by this?

It has long been recognized that the great Eastern and Western traditions of the Church are different, but that at the deepest level they are not contradictory but complementary. In its 1964 Decree on Ecumenism, the Catholic bishops acknowledged at the Second Vatican Council that the traditions of the East offer a different perspective on our faith that should be respected; that the East has its own ecclesiastical laws and customs, its own spiritual, theological and liturgical heritage. They went on to say in paragraph 16 that “this holy Council solemnly declares that the Churches of the East […] have the power to govern themselves according to the disciplines proper to them, since these are better suited to the character of their faithful, and more for the good of their souls.”

Many theologians in recent times have written that to a large extent these differences between East and West can be traced back to their different perspectives on the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Both of them have their roots in the New Testament and both are equally valid.

Read the full article by Fr Roberson here:
USCCB Blog: Orthodox Church Highlights Synodality, the Holy Spirit Creating Community

An opportunity to relaunch commitment to ecumenism - Pope Francis receives Apostoliki Diakonia delegation

From L'Osservatore Romano, 24 March 2014

An opportunity to relaunch commitment to ecumenism and collaboration with the Holy See. It was in this spirit that a meeting between Pope Francis and the delegation of Apostoliki Diakonia took place on Monday, 24 March. The delegation, led by the director general Bishop Agathanghelos, is an ecumenical organization which promotes pastoral work, cultural and editorial activities for the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece.

Cultural collaboration between the Holy See and Apostolikí Diakonía were discussed, beginning with the improvement of relations which came as a result of John Paul II’s visit to Athens in 2001. And among the most important ecumenical initiatives is the summer programme of the neo-Greek language and Orthodox culture which takes place in the capital where every year the studies of various Catholic students from the Pontifical universities are sponsored. Next summer the programme is celebrating its 10th anniversary which means that hundreds of students have thus been able take advantage of such scholarships offered by Apostolikí Diakonía. Furthermore for two years the Pontifical Oriental Institute holds a professorship for modern Greek language, held by a mother-tongue who hold lessons open to all students who desire to learn the language, better understand the Greek Orthodox Church and her rich theological heritage. The organization is also publishing with the Vatican Apostolic Library a book on ancient Greek manuscripts.

During their stay in Rome from 21-26 March, the group is scheduled to visit the papal Basilicas of St Peter and St Paul Outside-the-Walls — to venerate the tombs of both apostles — and to meet the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Archivist and Librarian of Holy Roman Church, as well as those in charge of the Vatican Publish House (LEV).

An opportunity to relaunch commitment to ecumenism

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

RUSSIA - UKRAINE Obama calls Putin over Ukraine; Orthodox Church warns against separatism - Asia News


Obama calls Putin over Ukraine; Orthodox Church warns against separatism
Tension rises in the south-east of the former Soviet republic, while Moscow rejects accusations of interference. Metropolitan Atony of Boryspil and Brovary : we asked our priests to be patriots and not allow separatism to spread.

Moscow (AsiaNews ) - As tension rises between Russia and Ukraine - where the interim president Alexander Turchynov has signed an order authorizing a special intervention in the East against pro-Russian militias who have occupied several institutional buildings and are demanding autonomy from Kiev - the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate continues to make appeals for peace and the safeguarding of territorial integrity. "We strongly condemn the attempts to deprive Ukraine of its territory and to include them in other states" Metropolitan Atony of Boryspil and Brovary, administrator of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate said in an interview the UNIAN agency. "For this reason - he added - we are deeply concerned about the protests in Kharkov, Donetsk and Lugansk, we believe that they are a real threat to our state".

The Metropolitan has also stressed the importance of good relations between pastors and their faithful particularly now: "We encourage our priests to be patriots and not allow separatist sentiment to spread in the community". Antony then points out that the Ukrainian Church - Moscow Patriarchate (the only one that the latter recognizes canonically) has about 13 thousand parishes throughout the territory of Ukraine and not only in the east and south, traditionally Russian majority areas.

Despite its ties with Moscow - which could suggest an alignment with the Russian positions - the Ukrainian Church has always advocated the importance of territorial integrity against separatist forces, instigated - said the West -by the Kremlin. A few days ago, the leader of the Ukrainian Church, Metropolitan Onufry of Chernovtsy and Bukovina, personally wrote a letter to President Vladimir Putin, with an appeal to "avoid dividing the Ukrainian state and armed conflict between our two peoples."

The Russian leader, in his last call, April 14 , with U.S. President Barack Obama has rejected the accusations of Russian interference in Ukraine aimed at destabilizing the political situation, calling it "unfounded speculation". Moscow calls on the Ukrainian authorities to open up round table talks with all parties present on the ground in the region to draft a new Constitution. The two heads of state were, however, have agreed to meet after the summit on 17 April in Geneva (including the U.S., Russia , Ukraine and the EU) to further discuss a "peaceful" solution to the crisis in Ukraine. (N.A.)

Read online here:

RUSSIA - UKRAINE Obama calls Putin over Ukraine; Orthodox Church warns against separatism - Asia News

Churches devastated and icons desecrated in Maalula - Fides News Agency

Maalula (Agenzia Fides) - After the reconquest of the Christian village of Maalula - 55 km northeast of Damascus - by the Syrian government army, the images and descriptions released by government sources and international news agencies also document the devastation committed against Christian places of worship during the four months in which the city was under the occupation of the rebel militias. In particular, serious damages were carried out against the Greek-Melkite shrine of Mar Sarkis, where the church is destroyed, the floor is covered with religious objects, images and sacred books are damaged, the icons kept in the sacristy are missing and there are no bells or the cross surmounting the dome of the Greek-Melkite monastery. The sanctuary, founded at the end of the fifth century, is dedicated to Saints Sergius and Bacchus, Roman soldiers martyred for their faith under the Emperor Galerius. (A.D. 250-311).

Before being devastated by the civil war, the village of Maalula - which now appears uninhabited – was inhabited by 5 thousand Syrians, the vast majority were Christians (Greek-Catholic and Greek-Orthodox). The reconquest of Sarkha, Maalula and Jibbeh is the result of the offensive with which the Syrian government army took control of almost all of the region of Qalamun. In this offensive the Syrian military units are supported by the Lebanese Shiite militia of Hezbollah. The three operators of the Hezbollah television station al-Manar TV were killed by rounds fired by snipers while they were documenting the reconquest of Maalula. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 15/04/2014)

Churches devastated and icons desecrated in Maalula - Fides News Agency

The Syrian government army regains control of the city of Maalula - Fides News Agency

Damascus (Agenzia Fides) - The Syrian army loyal to President Assad have retaken control of the town of Maalula, 50 kilometers from Damascus. The news comes from Syrian security sources, according to which the army is gaining ground across the disputed region of Qalamun. The town of Maalula, where the monastery of Santa Tecla and the sanctuary dedicated to Saints Sergius and Bacchus are situtated, had been in the hands of rebel militias for about four months. Among the formations that had attacked the city there was also the jihadis militia of Jabhat al-Nusra Front. On 3 December last year 13 Greek-Orthodox nuns of the monastery of Santa Tecla had been kidnapped along with other three people. The seizure ended on Sunday, March 9, when they were all freed in Lebanon. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 14/04/2014).

The government army regains control of the city of Maalula - Fides News Agency

Arrival in Port - a Message from Maronite Archbishop Samir of Damascus

Our Church in Damascus celebrated the evening of Palm Sunday liturgy. The arrival at port on the boat of the Church traveling in time to Lent, arriving at Holy Week, a haven of salvation.

The faithful gather in front of the closed door of the church, lighted lamps in hand as Wise Virgins (Mt.25 1-13) awaiting the Bridegroom. The door of the church is struck three times before it is open to let in the faithful of the Paschal Lamb who will live the sufferings of Holy Week which culminate in the Empty Tomb.

This holy week was introduced by the murder of Father Franz from Homs in the fourth year of war and violence.  Shells raining down on our neighborhoods, schools closed, we cannot give an account of the victims. We are abandoned to Providence.

This small Syrian people, so kind, generous and patient, become accustomed to suffering and die in silence. It is in this spirit that we live Holy Week and Easter holidays, knowing that the Way of the Cross-that has marked our lives for three years, accompanies the fourth year ... the end of the tunnel is invisible. 

At the opening of the door of the Church the congregation implores: 
"O Lord, Mercy Gate, open to those who knock and ask your saving grace, bring us into the light of your kingdom, we are the children of your Church come to our port of welcome, our lamps lit to anchor at your house. "

Our eyes fixed on the Risen Jesus Christ, haven of peace; we entrust ourselves to Our Lady of Martyrs.

Easter 2014.
+Samir Nassar
Maronite Archbishop of Damascus

Encyclical Letter for Pascha 2014, from Patriarch Gregorios III Laham of Antioch and all the East

Paschal Letter 2014
20 April 2014
Of His Beatitude Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

I                                                               You too have a resurrection
We are celebrating the Feast of the glorious Resurrection of Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ for the fourth consecutive time while the disastrous events of the so-called “Arab Spring” are destroying thousands of citizens of several Arab countries, from Libya to Egypt, Palestine and Iraq and especially in Syria.
It is precisely in these countries that Christians have been designated “children of the Resurrection.” They are all called to share in Jesus’ Resurrection.
My Paschal Letter this year is divided into two parts: first a general section and spiritual meditation on the Saviour’s Resurrection, in which all those who believe in Jesus Christ have a share, or rather all believers in God and the age to come await a resurrection or renaissance (baath) and renewal (nushur), meaning that Jews, Christians and Muslims all share this expectation. 
That is why I address the wish expressed in the title of this letter to all our fellow-Christians and fellow-citizens in our beloved Middle East, affectionately and hopefully telling every man and woman: you have a resurrection too.     
The second part of my letter is devoted to the tragic situation of our beloved country, Syria, which is continuing its way of the cross, but which will one day soon we hope reach resurrection joy.      
Jesus’ Resurrection is humanity’s resurrection
Arise, O man, from the dead: the risen Christ will shine upon thee! The icon of the Resurrection is a call to resurrection: the risen Christ takes humanity’s (Adam and Eve’s) hands to pull them out of their tomb.   
The symbol is clear.  As a human being, you are called to resurrection. In the Eastern tradition, every Sunday of the year celebrates the Resurrection. The Resurrection is the centre of Christian life and all life. As a human being, you are daily exposed to death from physical sickness of various kinds and spiritual sickness through sin. Similarly, you are called every day to resist the seeds of mortality in your body and soul. Thus you are in an ever-renewed walk towards resurrection. That means new life, with a new dimension, ascension, new horizons, hope, love, aspirations, a vision of well-being and generosity, a search for holiness. You are called to this resurrection, because you have a share in the Resurrection of Christ.
The Resurrection, foundation of our faith
Saint Paul says: “If Christ be not risen, your faith is vain, and ye are still in your sins.” (I Corinthians 15: 17) Our whole Christian faith is vain without Jesus’s Resurrection. That is why the Resurrection is a foundational article of our Creed: “I believe ... in one Lord, Jesus Christ ...who…was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures…” Then there is the next article: “And I look for the resurrection of the dead…” So Christ’s Resurrection and our own with him are foundational pillars of the Christian faith.
Jesus’ Resurrection also means that human life does not end in failure, sin, despair, illness, suffering, disaster, destruction, nothingness, death and the grave.  But, after this life and death, there is life... and resurrection of human beings, body and soul. So, if the saying is true according to which we are born to die, the other saying is even truer: We shall die to live a deathless life without end. Thus, as we mentioned above, the Creed ends: “And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. Amen.” Thus, our end is our beginning.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Church of the Resurrection
In the tradition of the Western Church and in most European languages, this church in Jerusalem is called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Hence the Cross is emphasised just as the Stations of the Cross end with the Station of the Crucifixion. (The Station of the Resurrection was added later, after the Second Vatican Council.)
In the Christian East, we call it in our Arabic, Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Ethiopian languages, the Church of the Resurrection. Easterners are emphasising through this name the empty tomb and the glorious Resurrection.  Thus the cycle is continuous in the plan of Christ’s Passion, his Crucifixion, burial, and joyful end that culminates in the Resurrection from the dead. Indeed, the Passion, the Cross, suffering and death are void of hope without the hope of the Resurrection and there is no other way to Resurrection than by passing through the stages of the road to the Cross.
So, through this dual appellation – Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Church of the Resurrection – are combined the basic and loftiest meanings of the life of every human being, as was the case with the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
You too have a cross and resurrection!   Golgotha is a stone’s throw from the empty tomb. So it is with life: each person’s Golgotha, cross, suffering, illness, disasters and death are both the way and the entrance to bliss and joy.
Kiss the Cross! Accept it! Venerate the icon of the Resurrection, and accept the mystery of the Resurrection in your daily life! In this way you will unify in your own life the mysteries of the Cross and Resurrection, just as the same Church of the Resurrection has under its roof the sites of Golgotha, the Crucifixion, the empty Tomb and the glorious Resurrection.
Blessed are you, with the cross and resurrection! Be happy, because the Resurrection fills your life with joy, happiness, hope and peace.
The cycle of the Sundays after Easter: a resurrection walk
This cycle of Sundays after Pascha is a forty day walk with the risen Christ, who, after his Resurrection, remained with his disciples for forty days, appearing to them and talking with them about the things of the Kingdom of God.
He is really alive. He participates in meetings with his disciples, who are a prey to doubts and fear.  He confirms the faith of Thomas, who doubts more than the others. He gives them his peace and strengthens their will.
He is their companion along the way. He accompanies Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus. He eats with his disciples. With them he shares life’s bitter-sweet.
He guides them towards new life and delegates power to his disciples, filling them with the Holy Spirit so they can be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
He is the founder of a Church which is a living community believing in his Resurrection, new life and a new world. It is founded on Christ, and on Peter’s faith and love. “Lovest thou me?” If you love me, you can be a real shepherd, able to give, serve and save.
He is really alive, as he promised his beloved disciples. He is with them until the end of the ages.
The living Christ enables the faithful and all human beings who move towards him to share in his life and Resurrection.
The commemorations of the Sundays forming the Paschal cycle point us towards that.      
Thomas’ Sunday is the confirmation of Jesus’ Resurrection.  Next comes the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women, together with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, whom the Church venerates as children of the Resurrection for their faithfulness unto death (and despite death) to Christ.
The Sunday of the Paralysed Man is a splendid commentary on the icon of the Resurrection.       Human beings share in the Resurrection of Christ, who raises them from sickness, suffering and the infirmities of body and soul. The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman is an indication which enables us to understand that the beautiful proclamation of new life in Christ is not limited or monopolised by one nation or race.
The Sunday of the Man born Blind teaches us that Christ risen from the dead is the light of the world and thus of our whole life.      
Through our Christian life, we are called to walk towards the resurrection, as Jesus walked with his apostles and other companions during his earthly life, before and after the Resurrection, since he wishes to be our travelling companion on the road to new life. We are the sons and daughters of the Resurrection, on the way towards our own resurrection.
The grain of wheat
“Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” (John 12 : 24)
Do you not find the mystery of your life in the story of the grain of wheat, and in Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection? That is what is repeated in the hymns of the Paschal Feast: “Yesterday I was buried with thee, O Christ; but today I rise with thine arising. Yesterday I was crucified with thee; do thou thyself glorify me with thee, O Saviour, in thy kingdom.” (Third Ode of Orthros)
You are a grain of wheat given by God to your fellow humans. You are the grain of wheat for your family, society and country. You are called to be fruitful and life-giving through your endeavour, gift of self, suffering and distress. Then you, with your country and society, will have your resurrection.     
The Feast of Pascha means liberation
The prayers of Pascha repeat the expressions of Resurrection and liberation: “By thy Passion, O Christ, thou hast freed us from passions.” (Lamplighting psalm of the Paschal Vigil) And elsewhere: “Thou art risen, O Christ, and hast freed us. Thou hast led humanity to light and freedom.” In these prayers, we find an echo of the saying of Jesus: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples, and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. ...If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8: 31-32 and 36)
At the beginning of his mission, Jesus stated that the aim of the Gospel and his divine mission was to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised…” (Luke 4: 18-19; Isaiah 61: 1-2)
Jesus emphasised human freedom, the freedom of every human being, by saying: “Ye shall be made free.” (John 8 : 33)
 Humans have enslaved their fellows, but God has freed them. Our faith, doctrine, holy writ, and all our feasts are a call to freedom and liberation, supporting our efforts for freedom and dignity. Furthermore, they are a summons to free the whole human being, not merely in certain political circumstances. This continual great call is a call to perfect spiritual human freedom, for heart and soul to be free from sin, for liberty of conscience and thought. It is a summons to walk in newness of life, light, real freedom, and to restore the beauty of the image of God in man, an image of glory, dignity, respect, justice, love and peace.
Children of the Resurrection
This is an expression familiar to monastics, especially those of Palestine. The Children of the Resurrection are a Christian group devoted to the liturgical service of the Church.  Since they are single and baptised, they constitute a group of monastics and hermits dedicated to this particular service.
Baptism is profoundly linked to the Resurrection. During the early centuries, baptism was carried out at Paschaltide. That is why Saint Paul told us: “So many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into his death. Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6: 3-4)
Saint John the Damascene tells us in the Paschal Canon, “Yesterday I was buried with thee, O Christ; but today I rise with thine arising.” (Third Ode)
The Virgin Martyr Saint Thekla addresses Jesus, her bridegroom, in a hymn, "I love Thee, O my Bridegroom, and, seeking thee, I pass through many strug­gles:  I am crucified and buried with thee in thy baptism, and suffer for thy sake, that I may reign with thee; I die for thee that I might live with thee!”
Baptism is a covenant with the risen, living Christ, and a summons to new life in Christ. That is why the early Christians delayed receiving the sacrament of baptism until the day when they could really fulfil its obligations, that is, rejecting Satan and sin and living a life of grace, so becoming real children of the Resurrection. So, the Church proclaims itself a living community, a resurrection community.
The Church’s sons and daughters, since they are baptised into Christ, are sons and daughters of the Resurrection, the New Testament, the New Covenant with the living Christ and should constitute a holy elect body.     
Baptised Christian, child of Jerusalem, city of the Resurrection, child of the Holy Land, the land of the Resurrection, recognize the nobility of your vocation.
The Resurrection is a call to a keen, serious and committed Christian life. To all you sons and daughters of the Resurrection, I address the greeting of the proclamation of the Resurrection: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
The hope of resurrection
We hope that our departed martyrs will enjoy this resurrection and that we now on earth will live to see it! We wish to state that as a nation we believe in resurrection and life. In all living conditions, and despite the tragic circumstances of our current life, we believe that
       Death will be overcome
       Violence repelled
       Might defeated
       The bow broken
       The circle enlarged
       Bonds loosed
       Tombs opened
       And shadows dispelled.
       Light will shine
       The sun rise
       Flowers bloom
       Buds grow
       Shoots ripen
       Children laugh and dance
       Bereft mothers sing.
       New humanity will be born.
The civilisation of love will be built in the land of the prophets, apostles and saints, in the Holy Land and city of Jerusalem, the city of the Resurrection and in our countries of the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity, religions and civilisations.
We Christians and Muslims will stay together on this martyrs’ walk towards a better future, on this walk towards life, dignity and resurrection.      

II                                                             The Syrian crisis
We offer here some aspects of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et spes. This will be able to cast some light for us on the tragedy of the Syrian crisis:
War destroys hopes of the resurrection
Insofar as men are sinful, the threat of war hangs over them, and hang over them it will until the return of Christ. But insofar as men vanquish sin by a union of love, they will vanquish violence as well and make these words come true: "They shall turn their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into sickles. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4) (N° 78 § 6)
Certainly, war has not been rooted out of human affairs. Nor, by the same token, does the mere fact that war has unhappily begun mean that all is fair between the warring parties. (N° 79 § 4)
Indeed, if the kind of instruments which can now be found in the armories of the great nations were to be employed to their fullest, an almost total and altogether reciprocal slaughter of each side by the other would follow... (N° 80 § 1)
The unique hazard of modern warfare consists in this: it provides those who possess modern scientific weapons with a kind of occasion for perpetrating just such abominations; moreover, through a certain inexorable chain of events, it can catapult men into the most atrocious decisions. (N° 80 § 5)
International Trust
[Let us] …become more conscious of our own responsibility and to find means for resolving our disputes in a manner more worthy of man. (N° 81 § 3)
The highest existing international centres must devote themselves vigorously to the pursuit of better means for obtaining common security.... Peace must be born of mutual trust between nations and not be imposed on them through a fear of the available weapons and all must work finally to put an end to recourse to weapons. (N° 81 § 4)
The role of believers
[Church members have to] promote among men a sharper insight into their full destiny, and thereby lead them to fashion the world more to man's surpassing dignity, to search for a brotherhood which is universal and more deeply rooted, and to meet the urgencies of our ages with a gallant and unified effort born of love. (N° 91 § 1)
Vision of faith
These evangelical values expressed by the Church in its teachings cited above have inspired my behaviour and statements, talks and interviews of various sorts, as well as my pastoral letters (from 2001 onwards), participation in international gatherings, visits to various capitals and meetings with religious and political leaders belonging to parties of various tendencies.
Through all that I wished to formulate my convictions based on these faith values, and my Christian and national vision as a bishop who, with the eyes of faith, hope and charity, solidarity and responsibility, and wishing to engage in dialogue, solidarity, responsibility and reconciliation, is following this Syrian crisis, which is quite unlike anything previously   experienced in the history of Syria and the Middle East as a whole.
On the basis of these spiritual convictions, we are obliged to set aside all feelings of distaste, hatred, violence, revenge, destruction or attack on the life of anyone. Let us as Syrians all together state our faith in resurrection and life. I believe in life, as do we all. I believe, we believe in love, tolerance, mercy, friendship, reconciliation, peace-making, forgiveness, humanity and reciprocal compassion. I do not believe in violence, terror, revenge or massacre.  
Danger from the after-effects of the Syrian crisis
So many sufferings have overwhelmed the Syrian nation in all its social constituents and faith groups. Every day, statistics bring us horrendous numbers burdening every Syrian citizen.     
We should like especially to draw attention to other dangers threatening our society because of the Syrian crisis and produced by takfiri (extremist) ideas. In fact, there is danger from an increase in feelings of hatred, rancour, revenge, hardness of heart, violence, injustice, repression, extortions, isolation, rejection and disdain for others’ feelings and beliefs, mistrust, suspicion, fundamentalism and a return to the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 
We all know that this is more dangerous for our Syrian society than any physical injuries to the bodies of Syrian nationals, more dangerous even than the internecine war that has ravaged Syria over the last three years. That it is why it is vitally important to strengthen and protect our society and homeland from these noisome dangers and destructive ideological tendencies.
We bishops of the Church absolutely must, as I see it, dedicate ourselves to fighting these aberrant tendencies by setting out quite clearly the Holy Gospel’s values and the Church’s (especially the above-mentioned Second Vatican Council’s) teachings relating to these issues and thoughts.
That is why I am working to create a Syrian think-tank of committed Christian intellectuals concerned by the difficulties facing Syrian society.  It will work on formulating principles, methods and programmes founded on our national values and the teachings of the holy Gospel.  That will all be set out in a charter for Christians’ personal conduct, a programme for the practical involvement of Christians in all sectors of our Syrian society, and for countering the destructive ideas outlined above, which, though originating outside Syria, tend to cause the fragmentation of our society.
We believe that creating such a forum for such ideals and objectives will have a considerable intellectual impact on our Syrian society.  It will outline the modalities of Christian interaction with Syrian society and commitment to that society’s causes, within the framework of Muslim-Christian solidarity, in order to work for a better society, founded on evangelical and Christian and Muslim faith values.    
God willing, this forum will have a great influence in shaping and developing a Christian perspective on the Syrian crisis, helping to ensure a future for Christians in Syria and other Arab countries, together with their presence, role and mission in Arab society.  We hope that this projected think-tank will be discussed and filter through into our parishes, among our clergy and thinkers concerned by the country’s problems.
We should like to express another thought on the topic of takfiri Muslim thought and its consequences. This ideological wave makes Islam look ugly and quite clearly implies an underlying conspiracy against Islam and Muslims, or rather against the whole Arab world with its Muslims and Christians. The Ministry of the Awqaf has hastened to defend Islam and has published two volumes of studies under the title Fiqh [=law] in time of Crisis, rejecting takfiri ideological extremism.     
We congratulate the Ministry on this publication, as this is the best way to defend Islam and fight takfiri tendencies.      
Love never fails
Love covers a great many sins. Love never fails. Love will rebuild Syria, which will be thereby renewed. That is what Jesus teaches us in his Gospel. I think that that is the best contribution that Christians can offer amidst the Syrian tragedy now entering upon its fourth year.      
Yes, the best participation consists in the fact that Christians can spread and propagate this genuine, universal love everywhere in Syria. It is the best we Christians can offer to our beloved country, Syria, to our Syrian brethren and fellow-citizens, without exception or exclusion, right up to the trenches of the front-line of the fight.     
Syria, resurrection is thine! Everyone has the right to life and resurrection. May Syria, which has entered upon the fourth year of its way of the cross, continue being the homeland of resurrection, life and love!
We don’t want any more martyrs! We don’t want any more orphans! We don’t want more widows and more mothers losing their children! We don’t want any more millions of children traumatised! Enough wounded! Enough handicapped, mutilated or disfigured! Enough of people haunted by fear, hatred and bitterness! Enough kidnappings and extortions!        
We want living witnesses to Syria and its history, civilisation of love, development, knowledge and industry, Syrians who will “beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation: neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2: 4)
We too say: Put down your weapons! Lay aside your arms! Turn them into pruning-hooks, instruments of life, building and development! I am tired of talking about sad, suffering Syria, about displaced persons, the homeless, the injured, victims, slain, martyrs, refugees and the starving. I want to talk about Syrians in safety, happy and content, about their joys, their walks, their celebrations, their weddings. I want to experience the marriage of joyful, risen, living Syria!      
I want Syrians to be glad again as they celebrate the Paschal Feast, the Resurrection, as Peter and the other apostles, the two disciples at Emmaus, Mary Magdalene and the myrrh-bearing women were glad.      
I want Damascus and the whole of Syria to live again the joy of Paul when he met Christ, risen from the dead, at the gate of Damascus.      
The suffering and praying Church of Damascus
The Church of Damascus is proud to be known for the keenness with which the services are celebrated during Great Lent. We can assure you, and we thank God, for the fact that almost every day, almost all our churches are completely full during Lent.
So Damascus’ suffering Church, like the suffering Church of Syria, becomes thousands of hands praying for the victims of war, violence and terror, and imploring peace, security, reconciliation, stability, love and an end to the suffering of millions of refugees and displaced, handicapped, wounded and grieving persons. 
 So the Church of Damascus and all Syria has continued its way of the cross, with courage, hope and charity during this holy Lent and does not allow the flame of hope to die in the hearts and minds of the faithful, as His Holiness Pope Francis recommended to us, calling upon us to keep “the courage of prayer,” (Message for Lent 2014) hoping that the dawn of peace and resurrection will arise for all our fellow-citizens and for the whole country.     
Address to Syrians
Dear fellow Syrians, I love you! God loves you! God asks you to love one another. God wishes you to be reconciled in fellowship, forming a single rank for your dear country, Syria, our single Homeland. It has been our great common Homeland for centuries. Let us be united! Let us be of one heart, one mind, to one end! Let us get together for the sake of love, goodness, harmony, tolerance, reconciliation and peace! Together we are capable of solving our problems, binding our wounds, overcoming our differences and realising everyone’s hopes and aspirations.
Together, we can ensure the future of our young generations. Together, we are capable of rebuilding and renewing Syria, of enabling the refugees to return and rebuilding our homes, schools and vital institutions, our churches and mosques.
As a Syrian citizen, patriarch and bishop, ready to give his life and soul for beloved Syria, I turn to you and beseech you: listen to the voice of history, the inheritance of our parents and ancestors, who lived together, planted together, and together built homes and palaces, wonders of civilisation, development, prosperity, security and stability.
There is a very beautiful doxasticon among the Paschal stichera: “Today is the Day of Resurrection! Let us shine with the light of the Feast; let us embrace one another; let us say, ‘Brethren’ even to those who hate us, and let us forgive all through the Resurrection, so we may cry aloud: Christ is risen from the dead; trampling down death by death, and has freed us from the tomb, bestowing life!”

Yes, let’s forgive! Let us be reconciled! How happy we are when we read or hear news of reconciliation here and there, among citizens, in neighbourhoods and villages... It makes for a promising future! That is the slogan that I launched in August 2012: “For Syria, reconciliation is the only lifeline.” We accompany the efforts expended in support of reconciliation, through our prayers, our participation in various congresses and our interviews with various social media... We bless the efforts of the Syrian government’s Ministry for Reconciliation.
I am no longer afraid
Pope Francis will visit the Holy Land in Jordan and Palestine next May. This is a visit to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the meeting of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical   Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964 in Jerusalem, city of the Resurrection. That was the first meeting between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople since the Great Schism of 1054. After that, there were different meetings in Constantinople, Rome and elsewhere.
We wish His Holiness Pope Francis welcome.  We thank him for his love and prayer for Syria, and the mentions he has made of Syria on several occasions, calling the world to work for peace in our land. We shall address a message to him in the name of the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria, and we hope that he will come to visit Syria to celebrate its victory and peace.
Here I should like to quote verbatim a splendid spiritual statement by the late Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. May it inspire all Syrians to discover that real power is based on love, as love casts out fear:
I have waged this war against myself for many years. ...But now I am disarmed. I am no longer frightened of anything because love banishes fear. I am disarmed of the need to be right and to justify myself by disqualifying others. ...I just want to welcome and to share. ... What is good, true and real is always for me the best. That is why I have no fear. When we are disarmed and dispossessed of self, if we open our hearts to the God-Man who makes all things new then He takes away past hurts and reveals a new time where everything is possible.” [Translated by Jean Vanier in Finding Peace]
The Geneva Conference should be held in Syria
We affirm and declare, in truth and sincerity, with respect for all groups in Syria, for the opposition and all factions, and I say this too to other Arab countries, the European Union, the United Nations, the United States of America, the Russian Federation and China: The continuation of the Geneva 2 Conference, or Geneva 3, ought to be held in Syria! We and only we can continue Geneva 2 or make a Geneva 3! We Syrians can enable peace, security and stability to return to Syria!
Appeal to the world
At the start of the fourth year of the bloody, tragic Syrian crisis, I am launching this appeal from the suffering, praying Church of Damascus, which fasted during holy Lent and continues its way of the cross with all citizens of this beloved country, the cradle of Christianity, religions and civilisations.      
At this great feast of the Resurrection, in love and hope we again make a heartfelt, powerful, pressing plea.
On the basis of our Christian faith and spiritual mission and role as pastor and Patriarch, we turn to everyone: the President of our country and his colleagues, all Arab countries, the United States of America, the Russian Federation, countries of the European Union, all nations of the world, pacifists, Nobel Peace Prize-winners, all men and women of good will, the pure-hearted, leaders of social media, people of letters, thinkers, captains of industry and commerce, arms merchants... and call upon you all to expend every possible effort for peace in Syria. The Syrian tragedy has exceeded every measure and limit! It has adversely affected nearly every Syrian citizen. We ask God to hear this appeal. May he guide your hearts to heed this appeal from him and from us.
Death reigns in Syria! We cannot continue the death march! We must summon up our efforts, at home and abroad, government, opposition, all parties, and persons of good will, to staunch the flow of Syrian blood and walk towards resurrection! We are all sons and daughters of Syria, to whom God has given the light of life. We are called to life, not death. As a Syrian citizen and Syrian patriarch, I beseech every Syrian to walk, with his fellow-citizens, on the road of resurrection and life, that they all might have life and that they might have it more abundantly (cf. John 10, 10). No more war! No more violence! No more massacres!
We all ought to try to bring about a truce for life. We have to reject the logic of war and power as a selfish, murderous rationale!
I am launching this appeal to the whole world, in the name of the poor, weak, widows, victims, mortally wounded, mutilated, disfigured, displaced persons, refugees, homeless, hungry, children, the elderly, pregnant women, handicapped, all those in despair, pain and discouragement, such as I often encounter at the Syrian-Lebanese border when travelling from Beirut to Damascus, or during my visits to families of victims and disaster-stricken people. They are burdened by fear about the future and the fate of their families, children and young people.     
In the face of this dark and bloody image of our beloved country, Syria, I turn to the nations of the whole world and beseech them: Have pity on Syria! Leave Syria to Syrians! That’s enough of your weapons, your fighters, your mercenaries, your armed adventurers, your jihadis, your takfiris!
We tell everyone quite frankly: War has not succeeded! Violence has not succeeded! Weapons have not succeeded! Arming groups with all sorts of weapons hasn’t succeeded! Your visions, theories and prophecies from the beginning of the crisis in 2011 about the fall of Syria’s president and government have not been fulfilled. Your falsified publicity propaganda has not succeeded. The projects and plots of certain Arab and European countries have not succeeded. Economic sanctions have not succeeded. Threats of iron and fire have not succeeded. Alliances have not succeeded.
Given all these failures, isn’t it time for the world to realise that no-one wins through war, that political resolution is best, and that Syrians alone will decide their future and say who ought to be their President and government and what their Constitution ought to be?
Or is the world really determined, as seems to be the case, to continue a war of extermination of the Syrian people and destruction of its institutions, heritage, churches and mosques, a war that starves, impoverishes, scatters and kills our people and children, breaking their resistance and morale, in order to realise its own interests and plans?
And who is the victim? The suffering, wounded Syrian nation, as described above.     
In the name of Syria, I beseech the world: Hands off Syria! Stop the war-mongering! Let Syria and all peace-loving countries of the world work together, to allow peace to prevail in Syria, because Syria’s peace means peace for the whole Middle East region, and especially the Holy Land! Syria deserves the interest, love and trust of the whole world!
We do not want Syria to be the land of war, murder, violence and terrorism; but rather, as we read on posters in the streets of Damascus: “Syria, your land is holy, a land of love and peace.”  
O Syria, resurrection is yours
Syria is the land of the Resurrection. At the gates of Damascus, Paul of Tarsus saw Christ risen from the dead. He came to Damascus as a persecutor. He left it as an apostle and preacher of the Resurrection. That is why Syria is the land of the Resurrection. As we said: the title of its children is “Children of the Resurrection.”
Today, we are speaking to our fellow-citizens, Syria’s sons and daughters, giving them this splendid historic appellation, O sons and daughters of Syria! You are the children of the Resurrection, children of life. You are neither children of death, nor instruments of death. You are not children of violence, terror, torture and massacres. Be for ever children of the Resurrection and life!
Let those who seek to destroy our love, our living together, by killing and causing bloodshed in our land, and sowing ideas of takfirism, hatred, enmity, division and sedition leave the pure earth of Syria ! They are just agents of death!      
We tell Syria what Jesus said in a certain synagogue, when he healed the woman bent double: “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.” (Luke 13: 12)
We tell Syria: you have a resurrection! You have a resurrection, my fellow-Christian! You have a resurrection, Muslim fellow-citizen! You have a resurrection, who lie hidden under the sod! You have a resurrection, my brother in arms!
Good wishes for the feast
Here I offer my good wishes for the Feast of the glorious Resurrection, this Feast of the Lord’s Pascha, celebrated this year on the same date by all our Churches. I offer these good wishes to my brother metropolitans, archbishops and bishops, the members of our Holy Synod, to my brothers and children the priests, deacons, monks, nuns and all the faithful of our parishes in Arab countries and in countries of the expansion (especially those receiving recent Syrian emigrants.) I offer these good wishes to all Christians as we celebrate Pascha together this year, and also to our Muslim fellow-citizens who believe in resurrection, as we can read in this Qur’anic verse: “Peace upon me on the day I was born, and the day of my death and the day when I will be raised to life.” (Surah 19: 33 Maryam)
I end this letter with one of the most beautiful hymns of the celebration of the glorious Resurrection, in which we address the risen Christ, proud of his Resurrection (Ninth Ode of Orthros): “O divine delight, O ineffable sweetness of thy voice! For thou hast truly promised, O Christ, to be with us unto the end of the age; having this foundation of hope, we the faithful exult with joy.”
       With my affection and blessing
                             + Gregorios III
                              Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
                              Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem