ܒܫܡ ܐܝܬܝܐ ܡܬܘܡܝܐ ܐܠܨܝ ܐܝܬܘܬܐ ܕܟܠ ܐܚܝܕ
ܐܝܓܢܛܝܘܣ ܦܛܪܝܪܟܐ ܕܟܘܪܣܝܐ ܫܠܝܚܝܐ ܕܐܢܛܝܘܟܝܐ ܘܕܟܠܗ̇ ܡܕܢܚܐ
ܘܪܝܫܐ ܓܘܢܝܐ ܕܥܕܬܐ ܣܘܪܝܝܬܐ ܐܪܬܕܘܟܣܝܬܐ ܕܒܟܠܗ̇ ܬܒܝܠ
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 and deacons 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, St. Philoxenus of Mabbug and the rest of the Martyrs and Saints. Amen.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:10)
Dearly beloved in Christ,
Once again, the season of the Holy Lent shines upon us with its blessings, grace, and spiritual fruits which lift us and help us rise above all which burdens our soul and body. The Holy Church has assigned readings from the Scriptures for this season so that we may read and contemplate how our Lord Jesus went around all the towns and villages doing good (cf. Mt 9: 35; Acts 10: 38). He healed the sick and showed mercy to the weak and the marginalized. We also ponder on the parables He gave, such as the Good Samaritan who treated his enemy with mercy and love (cf. Lk 10: 25-37). All these works and teachings were symbols and types of the Love of God towards us. He is the Heavenly Physician Who came to heal our humankind from the poisonous bite of the serpent (cf. Gen 2). He loved us to the end (Jn 3: 16, 13: 1), to death, even death on the cross (Philippians 2: 8); He redeemed us and became like us, a brother of us, so that we may become His brothers and sisters and the children of His heavenly Father.
Therefore, we acknowledge the common and unique responsibility entrusted to us as followers and disciples of Christ, to love one another and work together for the good of our humankind and to serve of the weak and oppressed. Throughout the Holy Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, especially in the life of our Lord Jesus on earth, and later in the example of the holy Apostles and their ministries, we see how God supports the poor, widows, and strangers, which was contrary to most of the dominant cultures and religions, where we find the principle of the survival of the strongest prevailing while the poor and the weak were pushed to the margins of the societies. In some societies, the sick were isolated or left behind or even regarded as a source of shame to their families. Women were also treated with inferiority as if they were lesser creatures who have no value in society. Thus, humans oppressed and enslaved their fellow humans; they even established special categories and classified people according to money, authority, education, or whatever they deemed culturally valuable. They forgot that God created everyone in His image and likeness and gave them all the same freedom and dignity without any form of favoritism or discrimination.
God’s question to Cain, in the Book of Genesis, continues to echo today: “where is your brother Abel?” (Gen 4: 9), reminding us of our brotherhood and responsibility toward one another as humans. Our answer should not be that of Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (v. 10). Rather, we have to accept that we are keepers of one another and thus responsible for each other. We are connected to one another by love and brotherhood. We ought to respond spontaneously to the needs of our brothers and sisters with brotherly love, generosity, enthusiasm and devotion, as Mor Philoxenos of Mabbug taught in his homily on simplicity: “Abel in his innocence heard and obeyed like a child, for his simplicity had not considered evil. He had not wondered in his heart why [Cain] was calling him to the valley, nor was he conscious of Cain’s hatred toward him, because simplicity does not know how to see these things. Nevertheless, he was dealing with him through the innocence of his heart and through the love of his brother, and wherever he would call him, he would readily obey.”
The recent earthquake which hit many regions in Syria and Turkey resulted in tens of thousands of casualties, as well as tens of thousands of wounded and millions of displaced and homeless people. This current situation in our countries requires that we all show our faith through our deeds. We should feel the responsibility we have towards each other, thus say, “yes, I am my brother’s and sister’s keeper! I am responsible for their wellbeing” regardless of their closeness, religion, color, or race. Thus, we truly become children of the Good Lord Who does not withhold His blessings even from those who are evil. During our visits to the areas hit by the earthquake both in Turkey and Syria, we witnessed and sensed the high level of compassion and responsibility that many have shown. Individuals, churches, communities, organizations, and countries, have all come together to provide all means of help, each according to their capabilities. Thus, the kindness which God instilled in humans when He created them in His image and likeness, was revealed and portrayed at its best. Feeling for one another and considering ourselves keepers of each other bring back reassurance and hope for a better future for our humanity.
Therefore, dearly beloved children in Christ, we should take care of one another, comfort those in pain, console those in grief, support, love, and serve the weak, and show compassion towards them. We should do this not only to those with whom we share the same ethnicity, nationality, faith, or language. Our love should overflow to embrace those who are beyond the doors of the Church, all those who are sick, oppressed, or suffering. Thus, we uphold the values of the religion that is pure is “to care for orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1: 27), to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, shelter to the strangers, clothes to the naked, and to care for the sick, and visit those who are imprisoned (cf. Mt 25: 35-36). Let us serve everyone, treat them with mercy, and take care of them wholeheartedly. Serving one another with love makes Christ present among us and gives us the opportunity to get closer to our Lord. Moreover, we understand our neighbor to be anyone we encounter during our lifetime. We also realize the true meaning of the words of God, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hos 6: 6; Mt 12: 7); therefore, we follow the commandment of our Lord Jesus and treat one another with mercy (cf. Lk 10: 29-37) to bring back hope to our humanity, which is wounded by selfishness and abuse of freedom.
Dear spiritual children,
We invite you during this Holy Lent to join us in meditating on our human responsibility toward one another. This responsibility comes from the Christian faith, which calls us not to discriminate but to treat everyone with unconditional and brotherly love. Indeed, love is unconditional; it is not concerned with the worthiness of the other but originates from our faith in God and communion with the assembly of the faithful.
The Holy Lent is an opportunity for us to renew our covenant with God and follow His greatest commandment: “love one another” (Jn 13: 34). Let us observe fasting as ordained by the Holy Church and “do works giving evidence of repentance” (Acts 26: 20). Let us give alms to the poor and the needy, and persevere in fervent prayer so that the Lord may remove all the obstacles from our spiritual path which prevent us from rising above the earthly matters and ascend toward the heavenly things.
May the Lord God bless you and accept your fasting, prayers, and almsgiving. May He grant you the heavenly wisdom by which you may walk in His divine light and never go astray from His laws. May He crown your spiritual struggle with victory and decorate you with all good virtues. May He give you peaceful days so that we may altogether celebrate with joy, purity and holiness His glorious resurrection. We ask Him to keep you safe from all kinds of illness and pain through the intercession of the ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of God, St. Peter, Chief of the Apostles, St. Philoxenus of Mabbug, and all the martyrs and saints, Amen. ܘܐܒܘܢ ܕܒܫܡܝܐ ܘܫܪܟܐ
Issued at our Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria
On the 23rd of February 2023,
Which is the Ninth Year of our Patriarchate