Sermon Delivered by His Holiness
Mor Ignatius Aphrem II
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
and Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church
on September 7, 2014, at the Cathedral of our Lady
(Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal) in Antwerp – Belgium
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One True God, Amen
“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20)
Two disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus when a stranger met them. They were talking about the Lord. After walking together for some distance, they sat together and broke bread. From the way that this stranger broke bread with them, they recognized him: He was the Lord (cf. Luke 24: 13-35).
He was present with them all along, but they were not able to see His true identity. His presence among them illustrated what we have heard in today’s gospel: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
Truly, I tell you: our Lord is a god who is not distant; He is among us when we gather in His name. His very name “Emanuel” which was declared by Angel that is “God is with us”, reflects His presence among us and describes His relationship with us. It is a relationship of being with and not for or above.
It shows us, dear brothers and sisters, that our Lord desires to be among us. It shows that He wants to mingle with us in order to enable us to return to the state of glory in which we once were. A fifth century church father, St. Jacob of Sarough, “the Harp of the Holy Spirit” and a great doctor of the Syriac Orthodox Church, depicts this idea as such:
“ܪ̈ܰܚܡܶܐ ܚܰܠܛܽܘܟ ܒܰܒܢܰܝ̈ܢܳܫܳܐ ܕܰܐܒܺܝܕܺܝܢ ܗ̱ܘܰܘ:
ܘܰܒܚܽܘܠܛܳܢܳܟ ܐܶܫܟܰܚܬ ܐܶܢܽܘܢ ܕܬܰܦܢܶܐ ܐܶܢܽܘܢ܀
ܗܘܰܝܬ ܠܳܟ ܡܶܢܰܢ ܘܗܳܐ ܥܰܡܰܢ ܐܰܢ̱ܬ ܒܰܫܒܳܒܽܘܬܰܢ:
ܥܰܡܰܢܽܘܐܶܝܠ ܕܶܐܬܳܐ ܢܚܰܪܰܪ ܥܰܒ̈ܕܶܐ ܕܰܐܒܽܘܗ̱ܝ܀ ”
which can be translated as:
“Compassion mingled you with humans who had gone astray;
With such mingling, You found them in order to bring them back:
You became [one] of us and here You are, our fellow;
Emanuel who came to liberate the slaves of His Father.”
Today, it has become difficult to be aware of God’s presence among us, in the midst of all the trouble and difficulties of life. In reality, our daily lives are congested with eventful experiences such that we become sometimes blinded to the tiny things that clearly show that God is present among us and with His divine providence is looking after us.
To avoid such ‘spiritual blindness’, the Psalmist chanted: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalms 119: 18). Once our minds’ eyes are opened, we can see the presence of God among us in the small events of our lives and appreciate the grandeur and majesty of our Creator.
God is present among us, my brothers and sisters, when we see hope in the eyes of a child forced to become homeless and leave his city Mosul, Iraq to an unknown fate. Such hope which this child holds because he believes that Jesus Christ is with him and will not let him down, just like God went ahead of the people of Israel in a pillar of cloud and fire during their exodus from Egypt (cf. Exodus 13: 21).
God is present among us, when we see a father who lost his whole family – a father, mother, wife and two children – to barbaric acts of killings in Sadad, Syria and still able to peacefully smile and happily submit to the will of God Whom he knows is near him in his distress.
For, what are these examples but the power of the Holy Spirit that strengthens and gives inner peace in the midst of a troubled world?
And what happens when we are able to see that God is with us?
We can harvest the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5: 22-23). I truly tell you: we are able to celebrate despite the misery that we may encounter and the despair that might surround us. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are sweet-tasting and life-affirming. Indeed, they enable us to reveal the true meaning of our lives, which is to celebrate God and His presence among us.
May our Lord Jesus Christ, present among us who gathered in His name, bless us with His grace and grant us to experience again and again His presence among us, Amen.
 Bedjan, P., Homilae Selectae Mar Jacobi Sarugensis, Vol. 2, p. 185.