By the Grace of God
Ignatius Aphrem II
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church
Our Beloved Children in Christ,
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you
good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2: 10)
In a world overwhelmed with despair, the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ remains the most joyful and most important event for all. The hearts of people were filled with hope when they heard the angels proclaiming peace at the birth of the Savior. Today, our hearts too are searching for hope in the midst of death and destruction. The joy of Christmas transcends the physical world to touch the souls and hearts of people preparing to celebrate that unique event which changed the course of history forever, when God poured His mercy upon our humanity out of His incomprehensible and indescribable love.
The prophets once set the way for the coming of the Lord and His incarnation in order to prepare the peoples and nations to receive their Savior; nevertheless, we see that “when the fullness of the time was come” (Galatians 4: 4) and the prophecies about His coming were fulfilled, they did not believe. Nonetheless, God was pleased to save human beings. He sent His holy angels to declare His divine plan concerning our salvation. A plan which promises peace in our world and good hope for all. The shepherds heard the echo of their resonant chants and “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2: 10). The Magi saw His sparkling star in the East, and they came to worship Him (cf. Matthew 2: 2). When the Lord was born, darkness was lifted and night faded away, for God appeared in the flesh (cf. I Timothy 13: 6)
The harp of the Holy Spirit, Mor Aphrem the Syrian, describes Nativity in one of his hymns by saying the following:
“ܝܰܘܡܳܢܳܐ ܛܶܒܥܰܬ݀ ܢܰܦܫܳܗ̇܆ ܐܰܠܳܗܽܘܬܳܐ ܒܐ̱ܢܳܫܽܘܬܳܐ. ܕܬܶܨܛܰܒܰܬ݀ ܐܳܦ ܐ̱ܢܳܫܽܘܬܳܐ܆ ܒܓܰܘ ܛܰܒܥܳܗ̇ ܕܰܐܠܳܗܽܘܬܳܐ” which is translated as: “Today divinity sealed itself with humanity so that humanity is adorned within the seal of divinity”. God accepted to appear to us, not with great glory like kings, nor with power like lords, but with a unique simplicity filled with divine mercy and unconditional love. By assuming our human nature He gave us the opportunity to share in His divine nature.
This year, Christmas is approaching while we are suffering from instability and witnessing numeral conflicts among nations and countries. Criminals and terrorists are wreaking havoc almost everywhere. Neither East, nor West is spared from their attacks anymore. No place on this earth is safe from the violence of terrorism. Shall we then give in and allow evil to triumph by depriving our humanity of the spiritual joy of Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ?! When Emmanuel is with us and among us no power can remove the joy of His presence from our hearts. When we chose the ‘better part’ (cf. Luke 10: 42) that is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will not be afraid of any persecution and suffering, nor will we fear any challenges however great or numerous they may be.
Through faith, we walk in the paths of life knowing that God is present in our lives filling us with peace and hope. Only then will spiritual joy fill our hearts and minds. When we meet the Lord like the shepherds and the Magi, our lives change: the evil one will no longer have domain over us and we shall be liberated from our fears and anxieties through Him Who was born for us in Bethlehem.
With hearts full of hope, we call upon our spiritual children in the countries of the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq, to remain hopeful in a better future in the land of their forefathers. Our suffering these days resembles that of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Mary and Joseph could not find a place for Him to be born, therefore, He was delivered in an animals’ manger. As an infant He became a homeless and a refugee in Egypt to avoid violence and death. Today, many are leaving their homes and becoming refugees in foreign countries, others are moving to safer areas and becoming internally displaced. Our hearts are torn between those who are risking their lives trying to make it to safety and those who do not want to leave their homeland and remain in danger on daily basis. Yet, we remain committed to pray and try to help all, no matter what decision they make.
While we denounce the new genocide that is taking place around us and refuse all sorts of violation of human rights, we ask the Lord to inspire decision-makers to work together for peace in our world. We urge them to make the protection of human dignity and peacebuilding their priority and set aside personal interests and national profits. We pray for people of goodwill who are working on the release of the two abducted Archbishops of Aleppo, their Eminences Mor Gregorius Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, as well as all kidnapped people, clergy and laity. We await impatiently their return that our joy may be completed during this Christmas season. We, likewise, ask the Lord to heal the wounded and give eternal repose to the souls of the martyrs and the departed ones.
Finally, we offer you our Apostolic Benediction and best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a healthy and Happy New Year, praying that 2016 will bring you abundance of health and happiness. May the Lord Jesus Christ spread His peace throughout the world.ܘܐܒܘܢ ܕܒܫܡܝܐ ܘܫܪܟܐ