“… and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever” – Patriarchal Encyclical of the Great Lent 2018

ܒܫܡ ܐܝܬܝܐ ܡܬܘܡܝܐ ܐܠܨܝ ܐܝܬܘܬܐ ܕܟܠ ܐܚܝܕ

ܐܝܓܢܛܝܘܣ ܦܛܪܝܪܟܐ ܕܟܘܪܣܝܐ ܫܠܝܚܝܐ ܕܐܢܛܝܘܟܝܐ ܘܕܟܠܗ̇ ܡܕܢܚܐ

ܘܪܝܫܐ ܓܘܢܝܐ ܕܥܕܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ ܐܪܬܕܘܟܣܝܬܐ ܕܒܟܠܗ̇ ܬܒܝܠ

ܕܗܘ ܐܦܪܝܡ ܬܪܝܢܐ ܡ̄

We extend our apostolic benediction, benevolent prayers and greetings to our brethren, His Beatitude Mor Baselius Thomas I, Catholicos of India, and their Eminences the Metropolitans; our spiritual children: Very Reverend Corepiscopoi, Reverend priests, monks, nuns, deacons and deaconesses and the entire blessed Syriac Orthodox people throughout the world. May the divine providence embrace them through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and St. Peter, Chief of the Apostles, and the rest of the Martyrs and Saints. Amen.

“For great is His steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.” (Psalms 117: 2)

Dearly beloved in Christ,

At the beginning of the Great Lent, let us walk in the footsteps of the Lord, and withdraw ourselves to our spiritual desert, to seek solitude and think about the purpose and mission of our lives. When we meditate the greatness of God’s faithfulness towards us and the salvation He offered us, we go beyond the materialistic things and strive for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (cf. Matthew 6: 33; Luke 12: 31), remembering His life-giving words: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4: 4).

How great is Lent! It is “a weapon against the evil one and a shield which receives the arrows of the adversary” (Aphrahat, Demonstration 3). Through lent, we prepare ourselves to meet the Crucified One at Golgotha, to bow down in front of the Holy Cross and to ponder upon His salvific passion, so that we might die with Him and live with Him (cf. II Timothy 2: 11). Hence, we can proclaim with the Prophet David: “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds, your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep.” (Psalms 36: 5-6).

Dearly beloved, on this Great Lent, let us meditate the faithfulness of the Lord towards us, Who is the keeper of faith forever (cf. Psalms 146: 6), and His faithfulness is firm and endures in the heavens from generation to generation, because He will never be false to His faithfulness (Psalms 89: 2, 33; Psalms 119: 90), and “if we are faithless, He remains faithful – for He cannot deny Himself.” (II Timothy 2: 13).

The faithfulness of “the faithful God” is revealed when He is ever mindful of His covenant and grace to those who love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generation (cf. Deuteronomy 7: 9 and Psalms 111: 5). He fulfills His promises and does not turn back from them (cf. Psalms 132: 11). Certainly, the greatest manifestation of His faithfulness is shown on the cross where salvation and remission of sins were given, because God is “faithful and just, He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1: 9).

We look back at our long human history, with our successes and failures, kindness and wickedness, faithfulness and unfaithfulness; in order to learn indispensable lessons which help us throughout our journey on this earth, walking blamelessly in the Lord’s path with watchfulness and faithfulness. The Lord Himself speaks about watchfulness and faithfulness in a series of parables that begin with the parable of the faithful servant, then the virgins, the talents until He finally sets the stage for the great day of judgement where the faithful and righteous will go to eternal life and the wicked will go away to the eternal punishment (cf. Matthew 24 and 25).

We have, therefore, to lead a life that pleases the Lord and follow His commandments, so that we may grow and come closer to holiness (I Thessalonians 4: 1-2), and not become negligent, but be diligent in proclaiming the word of God faithfully (cf. Jeremiah 23: 28) refusing “to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth” (II Corinthians 4: 2).

We contemplate today on the suffering of our church in the Middle East, a church which is doubtlessly the first servant of the Gospel, and the faithful witness in preaching the Good News to the entire world, where we encounter the example of a true Christian, St. Stephen, Head of the deacons and Protomartyr, who followed the teachings of the Lord, forgave the trespasses of his stoners and remained faithful till death and was granted the crown of life (cf. Acts 7, Revelation 2: 10).

We invite you, dearly beloved members of the Church in the homeland, to remain steadfast till the end (cf. Matthew 24: 12). We feel with you and share in your pain and suffering, and hope to rejoice with you soon (cf. Romans 12: 15). We ask the Lord God to shorten these days (cf. Matthew 24: 22) and to wipe every tear from your eyes (cf. Revelation 21: 4), so that peace and security may return to our countries in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria, the land of the forefathers. We also pray for the return of the two abducted Archbishops of Aleppo, their Eminences Boulos Yaziji and Mor Gregorius Youhanna Ibrahim, who paid the price of their faithfulness and watchfulness over their flocks by sacrificing their own freedom.

Likewise, we look at our church in the diaspora, while it is growing and multiplying quickly because of the immigration of our persecuted children, we recognize that the church faces persecution of a different kind in these countries also. The challenges facing our church in her strive to remain faithful to her Lord and to His teachings are tremendous. However, we have heroes of faith who can inspire the faithful in their spiritual struggle. We have Joseph who remained faithful to his god in the land of Egypt, refusing to go astray from the straight path and stating openly: “How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God” (Genesis 39: 9), and the Lord God made him fruitful in the land of his misfortunes (cf. Genesis 41: 52).

We also see the Prophet Daniel who remained faithful to his god in the land of his captivity and observed the fasts (cf. Daniel 1: 8). He surpassed the ministers in the kingdom because he was virtuous and faithful, and refused to abandon the worship of his god by worshipping King Darius. The Lord God rewarded his faithfulness by saving him from the devouring lions in the den and making him abundantly prosperous (cf. Daniel 6). Therefore, we urge you, dearly beloved members of our church in the diaspora, to walk blamelessly in the path of the Lord, fiercefully fighting against sin and keeping your own bodies in holiness and honor (I Thessalonians 4: 1-4), so you are not enslaved by neither money nor power nor worldly materials nor a foreign habit, rather, you hold firmly to the faith of the church and its holy tradition, keeping the love burning in your hearts towards God and your neighbor, so that you may become a living witness in the eyes of those who are outside the Church (cf. I Thessalonians 4: 12). May you become light in a world that prefers darkness over light, and salt in an earth where the salt lost its saltiness (cf. Matthew 5: 13-16 and John 3: 19).

How great is the faithfulness and loyalty of our Church in India which, for many centuries, remained faithful and steadfast in her loyalty to the Holy Throne of Saint Peter. This relationship was strengthened by the faithfulness and tireless efforts of great church fathers such as Maphriono St. Baselius Shukrallah, who visited India in the 18th century but was met with persecution and imprisonment. However, he remained faithful to his mission and encouraged the members of the church to remain steadfast in their orthodox faith; he ordained priests and deacons, and built churches, thus strengthening their ties with the Holy See of Antioch.

Today, you, beloved spiritual children in India, are being persecuted because of your loyalty and faithfulness to the Holy See of St. Peter in Antioch. We call you all to trust that “suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” (cf. Romans 5: 4-5). We hope that the Lord will help us put an end to the church problem, for the glory of His name, and that peace may reign again in our Church in India.

In this regard, we cannot overlook the small but significant church which is in every family; we contemplate the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and Joseph, who were entrusted by God with His Only Son, and they protected Him from every harm (cf. Matthew 2: 13-23), and raised Him according to the law of the Lord (cf. Luke 2: 21-51). We call upon married couples to faithfully keep their holy marital vows, and be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ (cf. Ephesians 5: 21); thus be able to depict the icon of Christ and of the Church in this world. We also commend the fathers and mothers to faithfully raise their children, teaching them the principles of faith since their early childhood. They shall protect them from strange doctrines and spoiling habits, educate them to be steadfast in their faith, and teach them to observe the fasts and to love prayer and be honest and loving, so that they become holy in all their conduct, because God Who called them is holy (cf. I Peter 1: 15). We, likewise, urge the children to renounce the world or the things in the world, and to do the will of God and live forever (I John 2: 15 and 17). Thus, the family proclaims together: “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24: 15).

Our beloved priests in their various ranks as well as the monks, nuns and deacons, may Mor Severus the Great be a model of faithfulness for all of us, as we are commemorating this year the 1500th Jubilee of his exile to Egypt. He firmly held to the orthodox faith and remained watchful over the Church of Antioch and administered it for 20 years from his exile in Egypt. We exhort you to guard the good treasure entrusted to you (II Timothy 1: 14). May the priests – servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries, be found trustworthy in their priestly ministry (cf. I Corinthians 4: 1-2), watchful over their parishes, and preserving the commandments and the doctrines of the Church. May the monks and nuns be faithful to their monastic vows, continuously seeking holiness and perfection. May the deacons “hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (I Timothy 3: 9).

Dearly beloved,

At the beginning of the Great Lent, we encourage you to remain faithful in prayer and fasting, as well as in reading the special Scripture readings selected by the Church for this holy period. We commend you to be faithful in almsgiving, remembering the widow who put all she had in the treasury of the temple (Mark 12: 41-44; Luke 21: 1-4). We encourage you to do charity and show love to all people, so that you may be a reflection of the image of the Good Master who came to serve and not to be served (cf. Matthew 20: 28; Mark 10: 45). Here is how Mor Jacob of Sarough describes the serving Lord in one of his poems, saying:

ܢܚܶܬ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ ܐܳܣܝܳܐ ܘܗܰܠܶܟ ܒܰܐܪܥܳܐ ܘܰܐܣܺܝ ܟܺܐܒܶܝ̈ܗ̇܆ ܫܩܰܠ ܟܽܘܪ̈ܗܳܢܶܐ ܘܰܥܨܰܒ ܫܽܘ̈ܚܢܶܐ ܘܰܐܦܶܩ ܕܰܝ̈ܘܶܐ.

ܘܰܛܪܰܕ ܫܺܐܕ̈ܶܐ ܘܰܐܚܠܶܡ ܡܰܪ̈ܥܶܐ ܘܕܰܟܺܝ ܓܰܪ̈ܒܶܐ܆ ܦܬܰܚ ܠܰܣ̈ܡܰܝܳܐ ܘܝܰܗ̱ܒ ܚܽܘܠܡܳܢܳܐ ܠܰܡ̈ܡܰܚܰܝܳܐ…

“the Physician came down and walked on earth, and healed its diseases; He removed the illnesses, healed the wounds and drove away evil spirits.

He casted out demons, healed disorders and cleansed the leper; He opened [the eyes of] the blind and offered good health to the sick.

He turned water into good wine and the people drank; He multiplied the bread to the multitudes in the wilderness and thousands became full.

With His garment, He stopped the bleeding of the woman; He gave life to the Samaritan woman when she met Him.

He casted out the demon from the [daughter of the] Canaanite woman; and forgave the sins of the sinner woman who came to Him.

He made the crippled woman’s back straight; and gave forgiveness of sins and healing to the paralytic.

He willed and the leper was cleansed from his uncleanliness; with mud, He opened [the eyes of] the blind and he saw light.

He healed the possessed blind and mute; on the road, He raised the dead one and brought him back to his mother.

He saved the young girl from the mouth of death and returned her to her father; He called Lazarus after he stenched, and he came out [of the tomb].”

(Mimro 29, Ed. 2017)

May the Lord accept your fasting, repentance, prayers and almsgiving. May He make you worthy to celebrate joyfully the Feast of the Resurrection, and may He have mercy on the souls of the faithful departed, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, St. Peter, Chief of the Apostles, St. Severus of Antioch and the rest of the martyrs and saints. May God bless you.  ܘܐܒܘܢ ܕܒܫܡܝܐ ܘܫܪܟܐ


Issued at our Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria

On the 14th of February, 2018,

Which is the 4th year of our Patriarchate