Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The pushed and the grabbers

Luke 14:7-14

Jesus went to the Blues Festival, and he saw that many were trying to get the attention of their friends on or behind the stage to let them in. Jesus turned to those with him and said, “When you go to a concert, don’t try to get up on stage, or else a security person might come and throw you out because you are being disruptive. Instead, stand back, waiting, until your friend behind the stage sees you and says, ‘Hey, you want to come back here?’ and you will be escorted into the stage area. Even so, where God rules, everyone who grabs for what they want will be pushed back, and everyone who humiliates themselves will be welcomed up.”

Then Jesus said to the one who invited him, “If you go to a concert or have a party, don’t invite your friends or relatives or coworkers. Because they will just invite you to the next event, and so pay you back. Instead, invite the homeless and the handicapped, the impoverished, and people with social and mental disorders. Because they will never be able to pay you back and instead you will gain your repayment from God on the last day.”

Did Jesus go to concerts?

Nope. But he went to a lot of parties. Wherever he went there was a party, and all the best of the town were gathered to hear this famous bright star of Galilee. And Jesus gave these teachings at a party that he was invited to. In all probability, he insulted his hosts, as well as everyone who was invited. He saw people trying to get the best seats, and he unmasked their hidden agendas and told them that they were going about being the best in the room all the wrong way. Then he targeted his hosts and told them that they invited the wrong people. Yet, somehow, Jesus was still popular at these gatherings. You’d think that he would have preached in the wilderness more often.

What’s wrong with wanting to be noticed?

Absolutely nothing. Jesus wanted to be noticed himself. He wasn’t saying that getting the best seats is a bad thing. He was saying that pushing to be noticed is the wrong way to go about it. If you want to get someone’s attention, Jesus says, just whisper. In other words, the way to be important is to put yourself in a ridiculously humiliating position. Most people go straight for the jugular and if they want to be noticed, they do something to get noticed. They hang out with the “right” people, they grease palms, they do favors for those who will do them back. These are the people who figure the way to get up the ladder of success, you need to do something significant so those above you would pull you up.

Again, Jesus didn’t say that achieving success isn’t a good goal. But he is articulating his principle about how to achieve success—If you want to be successful, be a failure first. If you want to be famous, look to be anonymous. If you want to be wealthy, give away everything you have. Is this some sort of mystic principle, or is it actually practical? Jesus actually understands everyone’s sense of justice. If someone is unjustly lowered by society, many within society wishes to bring them up to where they “should” be, or even higher to make up for the low position. But if someone strives for the heights, everyone says, “Who does this guy think he is?” and they push him down.

Getting God’s attention

And this isn’t just a human principle. It is the same with God. God has established a system of justice on the earth, and he wants everyone to get what they deserve. The hard working and righteous should get the best, while the immoral and cheaters should get the worst in life. But what happens when the innocent get the worst out of life? This happens all too often, of course. The best, the brightest of humanity are never heard from. The most talented and most self-sacrificial aren’t ever paid attention to because they didn’t do what the world says and “push themselves.” And many who are innocent and righteous receive the worst treatment from people. But God doesn’t accept this. In fact, He says that He pays more attention to those who don’t get what they deserve. The rest of the world settles itself, but God settles injustice (Exodus 22:21-27; I Samuel 2:8-10; Psalm 37).

So what does God see as His most important work on earth? To pull up the deserving lowly, and to push down the undeserving significant. To welcome the righteous poor and to trip up the self-righteous rich. God doesn’t do miracles for those who don’t need it—he reserves them for people who are desperate and dependant on Him. God doesn’t judge the mediocre bad—he reserves judgment for those who claim to be His but destroy His lowly and His reputation.

Raised, Humbled

Jesus stated the basic principle like this: The lowly get raised and the raised gets lowered. The first shall be last and the last first. When he made these statements, he applied it in very many different contexts:

The repentant receive God’s welcome, while the self-righteous receive God’s rejection. (Luke 18:9-12)

The sinners get an opportunity for afresh start with God, while the already righteous don’t need Jesus. (Mark 2)

The down and out get welcomed into the kingdom, while the invited are out in the cold. (Luke 14:23-24)

Those who seem unrighteous now may get God’s reward (just under the wire) and get the same reward as those who have served God for a long time (Matthew 20)

The one who surrenders all he has to the poor will get God’s kingdom, while God reserves the worst punishments for those who take away from the needy for their own gain. (Luke 12:33; Luke 16)

The one who wants political importance must suffer and possibly die at the hands of the powerful and God will replace the government with the ones who were oppressed (Mark 12)

I’m on the Top—What do I do?

Jesus gives three suggestions to those who are on the top of the heap, the head of the party, the famous, rich and healthy. He says, first of all, welcome the lowly to the club. Make sure that you have the needy people you know welcomed as people who are your equals—invite them to your parties, give them the best seats, let them be your friends. Secondly, Jesus says that those who have greater resources must give their resources to the needy. If you’ve got extra, don’t give it to people who can give you more now, but give it to people who can’t repay you—that way God will do the repayment. Thirdly, Jesus said that to receive God’s full blessing, you must be the lowly. You must accept persecution, suffering, and even poverty, crying out only to God for release. He may or may not release you immediately, but if you stick with God, he will give you the greater reward.

I’m On the Bottom, and it Sucks!

But the good thing about being the insignificant, the poor, the outcast, the persecuted is that you are already (at least) halfway to where God wants you to be! If now you can just dependably cry out to Him, seeking his help and never turning your back on Him—even if it means that you have to suffer more for sticking up for God—then God will give you more than you could ever ask for. He will give you a family to replace the one that rejected you. He will give you a home to replace the one you lost. He will give you an income that will replace your lost employment. He will give you peace where yours is all gone.

Allow yourself to be humiliated and depend on God and He will give you more than you ever asked!


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Riff raff in the Church

Luke 15:1-10

All the homosexuals and the homeless and the drug dealers and sex workers and meth addicts and convicted child pornographers came to Jesus to listen to him. And the conservative evangelicals and the Bible scholars denounced him, “He is opening the door of the church to the wicked.”

But Jesus told them this story, “Look, if you had a hundred cars and one of them was stolen, wouldn’t you forget about all the other ninety nine and just focus on the one until it was found? You’d call the police, call your neighbors and be generally freaked out—not about the ninety nine, but for the one that was lost. Then, when it is found, you would drive it home proudly and happily. And you’d call your neighbors and the police and say, ‘Praise God! My stolen car was found!” It is this very joy that God has when a single sinner repents and comes back to God, away from his sins. He loves that more than ninety nine church-goers who only ever say the right things.

“Suppose there was a woman with ten coins, worth a thousand dollars each and one of them came up missing. Wouldn’t she take out her flashlight and turn all the furniture upside down until it was found? Then, once it’s found then she calls up her neighbors and say, ‘Yeah, I had lost this expensive coin, but praise God, now I’ve found it.’ Even so does God rejoice over one sinner who turns back to God away from his sin.”

Child pornographers?

Okay, so we know that Jesus hung out with tax collectors, but do we have to go so far as to say he hung out with drugies and child pornographers? Oh, yes, these are exactly the kind of folks Jesus hung out with. He welcomed those whom the Standard Religious Society (SRS, or, if you please, the church) didn’t want to have anything to do with. These were the ones that the SRS called “sinners”, but many of them really weren’t, or at least no more than anyone else. The tax collectors were folks who worked for the Romans to collect tolls for their roads. While some tax collectors DID cheat the Romans and others (like Zaccheus in Luke 19), but these toll collectors did no such thing. They didn’t make much, but they didn’t collect enough to cheat the Romans. So they had a job, just a job. But because they worked for the Romans they were automatically rejected by the SRS (i.e. the church).

So Jesus, were he here today, he would hang out with those who were “unacceptable” in the church’s eyes today. He would hang out with the homeless who are often excluded from the church simply because they don’t have good enough hygiene. He would hang out with those who belonged to cult groups like Samaritans (or like Mormons today) and explain to them the heart of God’s truth. He would hang out with the homosexuals and drunks who are unsure of their reception, even if they repent. He would hang out with the druggies and tell them about the gospel, welcoming them, eating with them, hoping to bring them—or to keep them—in God.

Who are the Riff-Raff?

Jesus targeted three groups that were set outside of the church. He welcomed the ones who were just not good enough to be in a “proper” church—Samaritans, the lame, the blind, women, the Gentiles. All of these groups were people who could be in right standing with God, but they were set out of the Temple for one reason or another. The church, like the Temple of old, has a pretty strict idea of who belongs to it. No, they don’t set up rules for it, but they set boundaries through their subtle but negative reactions to those who are poor, of different beliefs, or of a different culture. The church today is as cultural as it is spiritual—sometimes it is more culture than Spirit. And those who do not belong to the culture is outcaste.

Another group that Jesus targeted is the sinner. Some of these are professional sinners, such as prostitutes and tax collectors—those whose very profession excluded them from good graces in God’s community. Some are sinners by what they did—adultery, theft, rebellion—and they are painted as such for the rest of their life for one sin. These are like those who are in jail or prison for crimes done. While some churches might accept them, they certainly don’t allow them near their children. Again, the welcome is only partial

The other group Jesus specifically targeted is the judged. These are people who were judged by God or by people and they have the mark of judgment against them. In Jesus’ day they are the demon possessed or the lepers. Today, they may be sufferers of AIDS or those going through withdrawal from drugs or alcohol or some other addiction. They may be people who have chronic mental illnesses. At first they might be welcome into today’s church, but then they would be rejected because they are “too difficult” or “cause too many disruptions.”

Should the Church Welcome the Riff Raff?

Absolutely. If it was good enough for Jesus, then it is good enough for the church. If God sees sinners repenting as more important than a bunch of people who go to church regularly, then maybe we need to stop growing our churches and getting out on the street. Jesus didn’t just sit in the temple, looking for the riff raff to come to him. He didn’t just have a seeker’s service. Rather, he went out and established a party in every village he went to, and shared the gospel at the party. He attracted the riff raff with the kind of gathering they liked, in their area, and then spoke a message that wasn’t easy for them to hear, but it was the truth. Not everyone believed, but it was important. So the church doesn’t just need to welcome the riff raff, they need to go out where they live and give them a party.

Why should we do this? Because these riff raff—even if they’ve been following Jesus for years, they feel that they are second class Christians, or that they have no chance of being right with God at all. They think that their lives are apart from God and there is no acceptance for them. How is this? Because the church has separated themselves from the riff raff. As long as the church will have nothing to do with the riff raff, the riff raff figure that they don’t need God, either.

Yet Jesus focused his ministry on the riff raff. Jesus loves the riff raff. And Jesus’ first church was full of the riff raff—more than the “normal” folks.

How are the Riff Raff saved?

This is the easiest question to ask, but the hardest one to live out. We know that everyone is saved by faith in Jesus, by their devotion to God, their repentance from sin and their reliance on the Holy Spirit. That’s how everyone is saved, without exception, forever and ever, amen.

But the church doesn’t act that way. Rather they act like the homeless are saved by pushing through paperwork to gain homes. They act like the addict is saved by going to some anonymous group and never relapsing. They act like the homosexual is saved by getting married to someone of the opposite sex. They act like the mentally ill person is saved by taking medication. Now, there’s nothing wrong with these things. But they aren’t THE answers for people with these problems.

The only way anyone is saved is through Jesus and reliance on the Holy Spirit. And Jesus and the Spirit will lead the outcast person to the things they need for their lives. Sometimes the answer will be homes, marriage, medication and dishwashers and everything that makes up a middle class life. But for many people, it won’t.

Jesus, in calling the riff raff, chose to be homeless. He chose to be rejected. He chose to be without a family. And many of his followers went the same way. Jesus became homeless to welcome the homeless. He became familyless to welcome the familyless. He became penniless to welcome the penniless. He became rejected to welcome the rejected. And so we cannot insist that the outcast—or even the middle class—to be a part of the church must have homes, families, money and acceptance.

If the Riff Raff aren’t in the church, the church isn’t of Jesus


Monday, December 28, 2009

True Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ

From the 1998 Patriarchal encyclical of
His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas
Translated and Published by
the Archdiocese Of The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch
For The Eastern USA,
Lent 1998

We extend our apostolic benediction, best wishes and greetings to our brothers, their eminence, the metropolitans; to our spiritual children: The honorable vicars, priests, monks, nuns, deacons and deaconesses; and to all our esteemed Syrian Orthodox faithful. May the divine providence protect you through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, chief of the apostles saint Peter and all the saints and martyrs. Amen.

True Faith In Our Lord Jesus Christ

“Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16).

Mahatma Ghandi, the famous Indian thinker, told some western preachers: " I want your Christ, not your Christianity. " Once, he was asked to speak to a multi ethnic and religious group and he responded by opening the Holy Gospel and proceeding to read the Sermon (of the Lord Jesus) on the Mount, He also declared that he read it always.

Mahatma Ghandi and other such non-Christian leaders of nations, great thinkers, philosophers and scientists throughout the ages, knew the Lord Jesus through His divine and moral teachings and through His pure and holy reputation. They perceived Him only as a great prophet and an outstanding social reformer. Howbeit, by such assumptions, some ancient and contemporary pretenders changed the Gospel of salvation into a social gospel. By so doing, they fell into heresy and strayed from the true path. They pretended to be Christians in order to spread their awful teachings. However, their Christianity is false and Jesus Has distanced Himself from them of whom He had said: " Many will say to Me in that day (Judgment Day), Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness! " (Matthew 7:22-23). The Lord Jesus also warns us against deceivers and those who have gone astray, saying: " Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits " (Matthew 7:15-16). Likewise, concerning this, St. Paul writes to the faithful in Galatia, saying: " But there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed " (Galatians 1:7-9).

Yea, the Lord Jesus elevated humanity to high standards by blessing the poor in spirit, the pure in hearts, the humble and their pious likes. He also hated sin and condemned it, but loved the sinner and called him to repentance. However, Not only did He condemn the sin of adultery, for example, but also denounced the evil and lustful eye, which is both the root of this sin and its origin, by saying: " You have heard that it was said to those of old, you shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell " (Matthew 5:27-29). The Lord Jesus laid down the golden rule on how should one deal with his brother, saying: " Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets " (Matthew 7:12). Obviously, the Lord Jesus lived on earth according to His own divine teachings in a manner that this world had never seen. It shall never again witness such a historical person or even a legendary being who would possess the wonderful traits and noble characteristics of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, He also, made of Himself a true example for humanity through His pure walk and noble character, by which He affirmed the possibility of applying His divine commandments and heavenly teachings, which, when heeded, leads man to evangelical perfection. Because the law of the Lord Jesus is not a fantastic law which one cannot observe! And it is not such a heavy burden which none might bear! On the contrary, the Lord’s burden is easy and His load is light. The Lord Jesus invites us to imitate Him, saying: " Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light " (Matthew 11:28-30).

Indeed, it would be very dangerous, and alien to the spirit of the Holy Gospel, to assume that the Lord Jesus is equivalent to Moses, Elijah and the rest of the prophets. Because He is not simply a just man and a great prophet! On the contrary, He is infallible to the point that He challenged His enemies by declaring to them and His followers: " Which of you convicts Me of sin " (John 8:46)? This infallibility of Christ gives a clear proof that He is superior to man. On one occasion, He said: " No one is good but One, that is, God " (Matthew 19:17). Here, the Apostle Paul clarifies the truth about the Lord’s divinity, by saying: " And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was: manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in by the world, received up in glory " (1 Timothy 3:16), and this verse by St. Paul is a summary of faith in the divine incarnation. Moreover, the Apostle John explains the ultimate purpose for writing the Holy Gospel by saying: " But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His Name " (John 20:31). Even the Lord Jesus did clearly direct the eyes of His followers to reflect on His divine person. For He is God’s Only-begotten Son Who came from heaven for the salvation of humanity, saying: " For God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life " (John 3:16). The Lord even let the world know that He is " The Light of the World " (John 8:12; 9:5), " The Way, The Truth, and The Life " (John 14:6), " The Resurrection and the Life " (John 11:25) and also that: " He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live " (John 11:25).

In the region of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus did not ask for the opinion of His disciples on His noble teachings, neither for their thoughts regarding His amazing miracles, rather He wanted to know what the people and they were saying concerning His divine person, He said: " Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? So they said, Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. He said to them, But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father Who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it " (Matthew 16:13-18). He also blessed Simon Peter because flesh and blood did not reveal to him that divine truth and noble tenet of faith, but heaven did, which also testified concerning Jesus immediately after His baptism by John. For the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit descended on the person of Jesus in the form of a dove to distinguish Him from the people, while the Father’s voice came out from heaven, saying: " You are My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. " (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11 Luke 3:22). The heavenly Father testified again about His Son, on the day when the Lord Jesus was transfigured on the mount, in the presence of three of His disciples, Moses and Elijah appeared with Him, saying: " This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him " (Matthew 17:5)! For our Lord Jesus Christ did surely establish His true religion on the noble doctrine that He is the Only-begotten Son of God. For He came into the world to fill the hearts and minds of mankind with His divine being, and whoever does not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God becomes a stranger to Christ. Likewise, every institution which claims to be as one of the churches of Christ, but does not believe that Jesus Christ is: " God was manifested in the flesh " (1 Timothy 3:16) as expressed by the Apostle Paul, and that: He is of one substance with His Father as put in the canon of the Nicaean Creed, then that institution has no connection with Christ at all. Christ is also eternal and everlasting, as He declared saying: " Before Abraham was, I AM " (John 8:58). Moreover, the word: " I AM " is the same word for " I AM " which God gave for Himself when He told Moses: " Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, " I AM " has sent me to you " (Exodus 3:14). The Lord Jesus even declared that He is of one substance with God the Father, saying: " He who has seen Me has seen the Father " (John 14:9), " All things that the Father Has are Mine " (John 16:15), " No one comes to the Father except through Me " (John 14:6) He also said: " Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going " (John 8:14). Even when He set the sacrament of Holy Baptism making it a gate through which to enter into the sheepfold, meaning His Holy Church He revealed that He is of one substance with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He also explained the doctrine of One God in three persons by saying to His disciples: " Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19)."

True faith in our Lord Jesus Christ was indeed summarized by the First Ecumenical Synod of Nicaea (325 AD) in the Creed of Faith which it authored. It came from the summarized canons of faith originally set by the Holy Apostles and their disciples, the Holy Fathers. This Creed was recited by all who come forward to receive the sacrament of Holy Baptism, at the beginning of the service of this sacrament. This same Nicaean Creed is recited by the faithful every evening and morning, and every occasion in which they prayed to God. By so doing, they confess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ Who Was begotten of the Father before all the worlds. For He is the Only-begotten Son of God and Was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary and saved the world by His suffering, death, resurrection and His ascension into heaven and He will come again, on the Last Day, to judge both the living and the dead, and His kingdom shall have no end.

Indeed, preaching about the good life of the Lord Jesus, and His moral and noble parables, without declaring the true belief in His divinity and His Eternal Sonship to the heavenly Father, diminishes His due honor and is an estrangement from the fountains of His divine teachings and heavenly commandments. It becomes rather a rejection of Him Who says: " Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God " (Luke 12:8-9).

Therefore, as we question our conscience, heart and mind, we must ask ourselves a very important question whose answer will determine our eternal destiny. Do we truly believe in the Only-begotten Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and accept Him also as our own Savior and of the world? Though the Apostle Thomas once doubted the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead, yet he remained among the company of his brothers, the disciples, so the Lord Jesus pitied him and appeared to him on the eighth day after His resurrection. He tenderly talked to him and gently rebuked him, prompting Thomas to worship Him " And Thomas answered and said to Him, My Lord and my God ! Jesus said to him, Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed " (John 20:28-29).

Beloved, we do not behold the Lord Jesus through our mere eyes, but rather we see Him through the eyes of faith, and we believe that He is the Only-begotten Son of God and the Savior of the world! as He taught us by His Holy Gospel, and as we had received from the Holy Apostles and just Fathers. May we then beseech Him to increase our faith and strengthen us to combine faith with good deeds. The Apostle James says: " Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead " (James 2:17-20)! Didn’t the demons confess Him, saying: " What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time " (Matthew 8:29) i.e., before the Day of Judgment? However, He used to rebuke and order them to leave people.

Thus my beloved, in the advent of Holy Lent, let us seize this occasion to renew our covenant with the Lord Jesus, the Only-begotten Son of God, carry His Holy Cross and follow Him, as did our fathers who begat us in the flesh, as well as those who spiritually begat us. For they all were just, heeding the Lord’s commandments and upholding His laws through fasting, prayers and the giving of alms. May we also distance ourselves from the deceived and the deceivers, and from modern deceivers who stray from the true path and renew the ancient cults and heresies which the Holy Church has condemned since its inception throughout ageless time. Let us also plead with God to increase our faith by sending unto us His Holy Spirit which was spoken of by the Lord Jesus: " But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you " (John 14:26). Moreover, the apostle Paul says: " Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit " (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Finally, we should combine our true faith in our Lord Jesus Christ with a holy way of life so that our Christianity may be true and pure, not a false one, approved by our Christ Who commanded us to: " Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). May God accept your fast, your prayers and offerings and bless you with good health, honorable success and long life. May He also prepare you to joyfully and happily celebrate the feast of His resurrection from the dead, and may He be merciful to your faithful departed ones. May the grace of God be with you. Amen.

Our Father Who art in heaven etc.

Issued at our Patriarchal Headquarters
Damascus, Syria
January 1st, 1998
The 18th year of our Patriarchal Reign.
Translated and Published by the Archdiocese Of The Syrian Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States February 9, 1998


Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Concept of Jurisdiction and Authority in the Syrian Orthodox Church on Antioch

Article by His Grace Mor Gregorios Johanna Ibrahim
Metropolitan of Aleppo and Environs The Rev. Fr. Monk Melki assisted with this translation.

Nobody in the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch (S.O.C.A.) has treated, in a separate study, the subject of jurisdiction and authority and how it is practiced today. An order may be issued concerning these two subjects from an authority in the church which is believed to be based on church canon law and its constitution, while the truth is something different. Going back to the sources of church canon laws gives a clear idea about the meaning of jurisdiction and how to practice authority in the church. Our church relies for its canon law on the following:

  1. The rules of the Old and New Testaments.
  2. The pseudo-apocryphal canons of the Apostles including the canons of some local and regional synods.
  3. The decisions of the three Ecumenical Councils which were held in Nicea (325 AD), Constantinople (381 AD) and Ephesus (431 AD).
  4. The canons quoted from the letters of some famous church fathers who lived in the early centuries of Christianity and other canons prescribed by some church fathers as responses to questions they were asked.
  5. Also, the canons of the universal synods which are recognized by the S.O.C.A. after the event of the schism in the year 518 AD, which include decrees and canons enacted by patriarchs on different subjects.

Fortunately a large number of these canons are preserved for us in the Syriac language in manuscripts scattered here and there. The Catholicos of the East, Mar Gregorius Ibn Al-Ibri (Bar Hebraeus, 1286) summarized them in his book known as Nomocanon which is the book the church still depends on and considers one of her most important canonical sources. After the time of Bar Hebraeus there were many efforts and numerous legal opinions, but the church had no occasion to enact a constitution, in which to define jurisdiction and how to practice authority, that was because of the difficult circumstances which the church passed through after the thirteenth century.

The time of Hulagu (1217 – 1265) was the beginning of the destruction in the Syrian Orthodox archdioceses. Firstly, jurisdiction was significantly changed in its geographical form. For example, many important archdioceses were removed from the church map, other small archdioceses were newly formed, and authority was on many occasions connected to the power of personality of church authorities and how close they were to political power.

I don’t want to enter into the details of what happened in the distant past (between the 6th and 18th centuries) so as to show how authority was practiced by the Patriarch to the extent of his jurisdiction and the scope of its effectiveness and his authority within the borders and jurisdiction of the Catholicos, because this subject needs separate research. But after World War I there were many developments forced on the church by political and security circumstances. These were the reasons for the changes of jurisdiction and geographical boundaries many times. The jurisdiction of the Patriarch, which had been limited to a number of Middle Eastern countries and India, was expanded because of the emigration of a large number of church members to the whole world, specifically to every Syrian Orthodox Church which was established on any of the five continents.

The book Nomocanon, in which Bar Hebraeus treated the church, her sacraments and her feasts in the first 8 chapters, is not sufficient to clarify the meaning of jurisdiction and to describe how to practice authority in the church. Due to that a number of synods were held in this century, most importantly: the Synod of Alway in Kerala, India in August 1911 which issued 39 articles, and the Synod of St. Matthew Monastery (Iraq, 1930) which put in place regulations and some articles. But, more important than these two was the Synod of Homs which was held in February 1933 and set out a complete constitution for the church clarifying the jurisdiction of the Patriarch and the metropolitans and explaining how authority should be practiced by the Holy Synod, the Patriarch, the metropolitans and the bishops and what the place of the authority of laity is through the general board of trustees (which does not exist today) and the special board of trustees for each archdiocese. (It has special bi-laws which the synod has decreed and the Patriarch has authenticated.)

There is another point that we will not elaborate on here which is the role of laity in our church (which needs separate research) and its authority which fluctuates from time to time and from Patriarch to Patriarch and from metropolitan to metropolitan.

The articles of the Synod of Homs in the year 1933 became the basis for what is known today as the Church Constitution. In spite of this brief time many amendments have been made to this constitution by several synods which were held after that date. The last one was the Synod of Damascus in 1991 presided over by Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas. We will rely on this updated constitution in our paper on the meaning of jurisdiction and how to practice authority in the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch these days.

(A) (1) The Synod and Its Jurisdiction The Holy Synod is composed of all of the metropolitans and bishops of the archdioceses which come under the Apostolic See of Antioch in the countries of the Middle East, India and the diaspora in addition to the metropolitans who are patriarchal vicars, and the patriarchal assistant in Damascus. The head of the Synod is the Patriarch. From this point the extent of the jurisdiction of the Synod will become clear. Its authority spreads to the extent of the authority of the Patriarch, the metropolitans and the bishops. These decisions are taken whenever two-thirds of the metropolitans meet and the decisions are taken unanimously.

(2) The Jurisdiction of the Patriarch The first article from the general rules in the church constitution says that: The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch is One, Universal, Holy and Apostolic Church. The old patriarchal headquarters was in Antioch where its See was founded by St. Peter, Head of the Apostles in the year 37 AD and its present headquarters (after 1959) is Damascus, the capital of Syria. The second article says: His Holiness the Patriarch is the supreme head over the church and its Holy Synod.

In article 7 we read about the title of the Patriarch: His Holiness Mor Ignatius … Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church.

It is clear from these articles that the jurisdiction of the Patriarch is like the jurisdiction of the Holy Synod: he is the supreme head over the church wherever her sons and daughters are spread, he has the right to be preeminent in the archdioceses that have legal metropolitans and his jurisdiction includes all of the churches whether they are independent or are patriarchal vicariates.

Article 5 of the constitution says: The churches and the institutions and the Evangelistic Associations that are not included in the Syrian archdioceses mentioned in article 4, are administered directly by His Holiness the Patriarch. Since the Patriarch is the symbol of unity of the church and the universal father of all Syrians in the world, so it is necessary he be obeyed by the clergy at all levels and ranks, the deacons, the institutions, the active committees and the people altogether.

(3) The Jurisdiction of the Catholicos The Catholicos (Maphryono) comes second to the Patriarch in rank in the S.O.C.A. and the Catholicos is elected from only those metropolitans who are under the See of the Catholicate, and he should be obeyed by the priests and deacons and the people in the Syrian Orthodox archdioceses in India. And just as the name of the Patriarch is mentioned in all the archdioceses in the world so the name of the Catholicos should be mentioned in all the archdioceses in India after the name of the Patriarch and before the name of the metropolitan of the archdiocese. According to article 20 of the constitution, the jurisdiction of the Catholicos of the East includes all the Syrian Orthodox archdioceses in India. The Syrian Indian diaspora in the Arabian Gulf area comes directly under His Holiness the Patriarch. And the Malankara Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church in North America also comes directly under the Patriarch.

The subject of the Catholicate in India has undergone developments recently. Several synods have been held in the patriarchal residence and in India to resolve the causes of the differences and to return to the unity which had tied together the churches throughout India and the Antiochian See. This is another sensitive subject in need of separate research. Great efforts have been made these days for the sake of coming to an agreement between the two factions, by preparing a draft agreement in which we hope will be defined the jurisdiction of the Catholicate and its authority in light of recent developments, throughout this we have had new information on these two topics.

(4) The Jurisdiction of the Metropolitan The Holy Synod consists of all of the active metropolitans. An active metropolitan is one who has an independent archdiocese which has its own entity and geographical boundaries, or is a vicar or a patriarchal assistant. The jurisdiction of each metropolitan is defined by the church constitution. The geographical boundaries of the archdiocese could include a whole city or part of it, or a number of cities in a state, or many states in one country, or many countries in one continent.

The scope of the geographical area does not necessarily determine the importance of the archdiocese. The boundaries of an archdiocese could be a whole continent as in the situation of Australia but its importance is less than other archdioceses which consist of one city in the Orient. Importance is usually given to the presence of the number of Syrian people, its active institutions and committees and different activities in the archdiocese.

According to the constitution (1991) we have 20 independent archdioceses or patriarchal vicariates. After 1991 the Holy Synod decided to form four archdioceses as patriarchal vicariates. These are all the archdioceses:

1: Damascus, the Patriarchate, its headquarters in Damascus includes the governorate of Damascus and its environs.
2: Homs and Hama and its environs, its headquarters is in Homs, includes the governorate of Homs, Hama and Tartus.
3: Aleppo, its headquarters is in Aleppo, includes the governorates of Aleppo, Idlib, Raqqa, and Latakia.
4: Jezirah and Euphrates, its headquarters is in Hassake, includes the governorates of Hassake and Deir Ez-Zor.
5: Beirut and Zahle, its headquarters is in Beirut, includes the governorates of Beirut and Bekaa.
6: Mount Lebanon, its headquarters is in Bouchrieh, includes the governorates of Mount Lebanon and Tripoli.
7: Baghdad and Basra, its headquarters is in Baghdad, includes the governorates of Baghdad and Basra.
8: Mosul and its environs, its headquarters is in Mosul, includes the cities of Mosul, Sinjar and Qaraqosh and the northern governorates of Irbil, Tamim (that is Karkuk) and Suleimaneye.
9: St. Matthew Monastery, its headquarters is in St. Matthew Monastery, includes Bartilla, Bashika, Bahsahne, Akra and Mergi.
10: Mardin and its environs, its headquarters is in Mardin, includes the villages of Mardin and Qelleth and the governorates of Diyarbakir (Amid), Malateya, Adiaman and Al-Aziz.
11: Turabdin, its headquarters is in Midyat, includes the villages of Turabdin, Beit Zebde, Nusaybis and its villages.
12: Istanbul, it is a Patriarchal Vicariate with its headquarters in Istanbul, includes the governorates of Istanbul and Ankara.
13: Jerusalem and its environs, it is a Patriarchal Vicariate with its headquarters in Jerusalem, includes Palestine and Jordan.
14: The eastern states of the United States, it is a Patriarchal Vicariate with its headquarters in Lodi, New Jersey, includes the eastern states of the United States.
15: The western states of the United States, it is a Patriarchal Vicariate with its headquarters in Los Angeles, includes the western states of the United States.
16: Canada, it is a Patriarchal Vicariate with its headquarters in Montreal.
17: Brazil, it is a Patriarchal Vicariate with its headquarters in Sao Paulo, includes Brazil.
18: Argentina, it is a Patriarchal Vicariate with its headquarters in La Palata, Buenos Aires, includes Argentina.
19: Sweden and the Scandinavian countries has its headquarters in S"dertälje, Sweden.
20: The Patriarchal Vicariate in Sweden has its headquarters in S"dertälje, Sweden.
21: Middle Europe and the Benelux countries, its headquarters is in the St. Ephrem Monastery in Losser, Holland, includes Middle Europe and the Benelux countries.
22: The Knanaya, its headquarters is in Chingavanom, Kerala, includes all the churches of the Knanaya in India.
23: The Churches of the See (Simhasana churches) and its headquarters is in the monastery of St. Ignatius in Omalloor.
24: As for the Catholicate of the East, the constitution has delimited its jurisdiction and authority with the following words: The Catholicate of the East, its headquarters being in Muvattupuzha, includes all the Syrian Orthodox Archdioceses in India except the archdiocese of the Knanaya, the churches of the Patriarchal See and the Evangelistic Associations of the East in India and the Honavar Mission in North Kanara, India.

It is not possible to add a new geographical area to or remove another from the archdioceses except by a decree from the Holy Synod and by authorization of the Patriarch. For example, our churches in Australia were included under article 5 of the constitution which orders that its administration goes back directly to His Holiness the Patriarch, despite the presence of a metropolitan in it who oversees its affairs as a patriarchal delegate. When it was necessary to make the archdiocese a patriarchal vicariate the Synod studied the request of the clergy, the organizations and the people in these churches. Then the Patriarch issued a decree joining it as a patriarchal vicariate to the list of archdioceses of the Patriarchal See.

(B) (1) The Power of the Patriarch and How it is Practiced Today in the Church Who defines the authority of the Patriarch and who can call it into account? And, from where does he have his wide authority in directing the church in its different affairs?

Answer: The constitution of the church declares clearly that the Holy Synod has the right to limit or widen the full authority of the Patriarch in light of the canon law of the church and with a majority of the votes, if two-thirds of the active members are attending a legal session of the Synod.

This is what happened in the amended constitution of the year of 1991, which widened the authority of the Patriarch in the church. As for the subject of calling the Patriarch to account the article 7.g. (7.e. in English) gives to the Holy Synod the full power to investigate the Patriarch if it is needed, but this matter itself cannot take place unless two-thirds of the members of the Synod present a justified written request to two of the senior metropolitans who are members of the Synod. The Patriarch cannot be judged except by the agreement of two-thirds of the members of the Synod. Regarding this matter the constitution says in article 108. d. (108. h. in English) as follows: The Holy Synod issues its judgement on the Patriarch according to the adhered to rules and canons of the church by more than two-thirds of the members who are present. As for the other third, if they cannot attend they can express their opinion in writing and if he was condemned and discharged from his office the Apostolic See shall be considered vacant. In this case the articles pertaining to the election of a locum tenens will be implemented then and the election of a new Patriarch according to this constitution.

It is useful to go back to the Book of Ordination in the church. The study of the prayers which are recited over the Patriarch elect shows the form of the service which the new Patriarch must necessarily carry out. The subject of the patriarchal staff has another meaning. No metropolitan or bishop may hold the staff in the presence of the Patriarch to assure respect of the Patriarchate and its honor. Three privileges of the Patriarch are mentioned in the Book of Ordination :

1: He is to be elected by ballot which means by the agreement of all the chief clergy (metropolitans and bishops) and in that way he becomes a universal father for the whole church and the Father of the Fathers;
2: It is on the Patriarch alone that the prayer of invocation of the Holy Spirit (belonging to St. Clemis) is recited and that is by the chief clergy, that is the metropolitans who are ordaining him;
3: The staff which the head chief clergy are holding onto – each one by the level of the order by which he became a metropolitan or a bishop – one after another takes the right hand of the patriarch elect and raises it up over all of their hands by this it is made clear it is by the free will and agreement of the whole church that he is given full authority over all the orders of the Holy Church of God.

For this reason he himself writes and reads what he has written according to the canon. This means his announcement embracing the constitution of the creed as is fitting to him, that he will behave well in justice and uprightness, walk or act according to the apostolic canons, accept the famous fathers and the three Ecumenical Councils, refute the heretics and dedicate himself to work and sacrifice for the safety and continuance of the Holy Church of God. He will also reconcile between two disputing adversaries in whatever promises are needed. He is never obliged to say: That he obeys an order of any of those who are ordaining him as they are obliged to submit to his order.

The act of kneeling down by the head of the synod and all of the metropolitans who are with him on the ground before the one to be elected and the head of the synod says to him: The Holy Spirit is calling you to become Patriarch, the father of the heads of the city of Antioch and to the whole jurisdiction of this Apostolic See, I mean the father for all of us. In return for that the one elected for the patriarchal see kneels before the synod and says: I have agreed and accepted.

Surely there is no ordination liturgy for the Patriarch but there is an enthronement rite. The one elected Patriarch does not take a new rank in the level of the episcopate. He becomes the first among the metropolitans and bishops, and with calling him Patriarch his name remains the Bishop of Antioch. The boundaries of his jurisdiction and his direct authority in his archdiocese is the patriarchal residence which has been determined by the Holy Synod.

The church constitution defines the authority of the Patriarch as follows: In pastoral affairs: The Patriarch carries out apostolic visits to the archdioceses and churches within the jurisdiction of the See of Antioch at least one time every five years, checking up on their affairs and giving comments on what he sees is necessary. He holds to account the metropolitans and bishops of the archdiocese, the priests, the community committee and all the organizations. He has full authority to dispatch clergy in church and cultural missions like attending conferences of an ecumenical, cultural or church nature. If there are vacant archdioceses the Patriarch appoints reliable clergy for administration of pastoral affairs until a metropolitan is legally elected for it. And in return for that, all archdioceses and churches present a yearly tithe which is known as “zedqe” that he is entitled to from the financial accounts of the archdioceses. Or, it is gathered in the name of the patriarchate in a way which the archdioceses deems appropriate. This practice still exists in some of the archdioceses.

On the subject of faith: The constitution names the Patriarch as the protector of the faith of the church, her holy dogmas, doctrines and her apostolic and patristic traditions. Accordingly, it is included in his authority to investigate, correct and scrutinize all books and articles considering the matter of faith in them and giving his comments. He has the right to permit publication or to forbid printing and distribution. He also has the right to delete or enter new church premises. Here we notice that although it is one of the Synods powers to watch out for religious heresies, contradictions of church traditions and its organizations and condemn those who commit them whether they are clergy or laity with all the sanctions of the church, the Patriarch as the head of this synod carries out this decision. Therefore His Holiness the Patriarch is called: defender of the faith.

In the ordination of priests: the Patriarch has the right to put the monastic cowl on those who have the qualifications from both genders, and to ordain males as priests and to appoint them as it is necessary in appropriate roles. He also responds to the invitations of metropolitans and bishops or archdioceses to ordain others to the priesthood or deaconate. As for the archpriests he elevates them, or the metropolitans elevate them, by his order. The ordination of the legally elected catholicos or metropolitans remains one of his authorities and rightful powers. By his order, or in the case of the vacancy of the See, one of the metropolitans can do this if he has been the dean of the Synod or the oldest of the metropolitans by age.

Right after the ordination, the Patriarch provides them with the Sostateequn and that is the document which defines the jurisdiction and authority of the new metropolitan in light of his service, whether it is a legal archdiocese or patriarchal vicariate. And with this document the metropolitan is endowed with patristic instructions and apostolic advice as he calls the clergy and laity to take care of their new metropolitan. It is within the authority of the Patriarch to approve the election of metropolitans who are under the See of the Catholicate directly after election. Then he grants the new metropolitans with the document Sostateequn after their ordination by the Catholicos and his metropolitans.

On the rest of the Sacraments: The Patriarch, if present, takes the lead in the liturgy except in the sacrament of Holy Oil (Morun). The Patriarch alone has the right to specify the time of the consecration of the Holy Oil (Morun). Its consecration is done under his leadership and in his presence, with the assistance of two of his metropolitans, at least, or one metropolitan in case of dire necessity.

The affairs of organization and administration: The Patriarch has the right to establish relationships between his church and other churches, to negotiate with them on ecumenical affairs, to sign common statements or bilateral agreements and to visit the worldly authorities wherever he is to discuss church affairs in general. He is the one who signs for all documents, contracts of all kinds, records and letters related to the affairs of the See. He announces the decrees of the synods, the election of the Catholicos and metropolitans and he transfers metropolitans from one archdiocese to another.

After taking a decision in the synod his authority gives him the right to receive resignations from the catholicos or metropolitans, and to implement their dismissal. He also orders the correction of geographical borders of the archdioceses. He announces the foundation and establishment of archdioceses or their abolishment, sells part or all of the properties and the endowments of the patriarchate. He has the authority to call for a holding of the Holy Synod and to set the time and the place.

Concerning the church’s court: The Patriarch is the authority to refuse or approve any of the judgements issued by any preliminary court in the countries of the Middle East and the diaspora, and to appoint the head of the court of appeals in the patriarchate or in any other country. He has the right to appoint the head of a preliminary court in the patriarchal vicariates wherever they are found. He also has the right in case of the removal of one of the heads from his position in any spiritual court in the archdioceses to deputize another person for a short time in that case. The Patriarch alone is head of the high court in the church and is the highest level in the churches’ courts and his decisions are legally valid and are not able to be appealed. This is for the subject of personal affairs. But on the subject of church punishments in the lower levels, the Patriarch does not interfere in the rights of the metropolitan or archdioceses but he should be informed of the matter. The subject of church excommunications remains entrusted to the Patriarch and after examination of all of the aspects of the case he will issue a judgement of excommunication on the clergy or the laity and will announce it by known media.

We still have to point out that Syrian monasteries including monastics (men and women) and the theological seminaries which include the seminarians, their affairs, taking care of them, preparing them educationally during their stay in the seminaries or sending them for research studies abroad in the theological colleges in different parts of the world, and the printing and distribution of books, magazines and publications in the patriarchate: All are entrusted to the person of the Patriarch and are within his authority.

(2) The Authority of the Metropolitan and How it is Practiced in the Church Today The election of the metropolitan has changed in the Syrian Church between the past and now. While in the past the archdiocese chose three monks from among the monks. The Patriarch and his synod chose one of them to be the metropolitan for the archdiocese. But, now the Patriarch selects and suggests three candidates from among the monks and the archdiocese chooses one of them. According to the constitution of 1991 the Patriarch must necessarily confer with the members of the Holy Synod about the monks who are candidates and if he gets a majority of the votes he ordains him. This plurality of authority puts the archdiocese in a bind sometimes but most important is that the metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church (except for the patriarchal assistant and the patriarchal vicariates whose names are suggested by the Patriarch and they are appointed by him) is elected by the clergy and believers in the archdiocese. If it is impractical for the believers to do so: Then the clergy of the archdiocese and the community committees and the organizations of the church and the active committees elect him. Then the metropolitan will stay at the head of his archdiocese as long as he remains in good health, does not desire resignation and is not more than 75 years of age when he is to retire. This last point is a new article in the revised constitution of 1991, for article 62 says: The metropolitan has the right to present his resignation to His Holiness the Patriarch or to retire at 70 years of age. He must necessarily retire at the age of 75.

His authority is manifold and various, for the metropolitan holds prime responsibility in the archdiocese, organizes its different affairs and is helped in that by two committees: First, by the laity known as the board of trustees (community committee), for in the committee the metropolitan has an assistant who deputizes for him in the administrative sessions in the committee during his absence according to the bi-laws of the community committees. This committee has a long history in the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch. It is clear from different stages that laity has a great role in the life of the church. If we look at the powers of the committee from the organizational, the social and the financial side we find they are many. All of these powers call for the raising of the level of the archdiocese, to support her unity and preserve her rights. The community committee has the right to preside over the different kinds of activities of the organizations of the archdiocese, to enact suitable bi-laws for them, to call them to account, to supervise them, to look into the affairs of its committees, to change them or they will be disbanded if they commit something wrong which is against what the committee has issued and to intervene and resolve differences between the leaders and members of the administration of these organizations.

The community committee takes care of the cultural and educational movements in the archdiocese and they have the right to oversee in the peoples’ voting to choose a new metropolitan and priests for the archdiocese and all of the financial affairs are within its domain.

Although the committee has special, different smaller committees, and its meetings are considered legal if more than half of the members are present, the new article of the bi-laws of the committees approved that the decisions of these committees will be considered null and void unless the metropolitan of the archdiocese is present. This new article in many cases hinders the working affairs of the committee. So, it makes it necessary that the metropolitan always attend to help these lay organizations in determining the administrative affairs in the archdiocese.

As for the committee of clergy which includes all of the priests of the archdiocese headed by the metropolitan, it is to oversee the spiritual affairs of the metropolitanate. This committee has no bi-laws, and does not take any executive decisions. Its task is limited to studying the spiritual affairs in the archdiocese, developing the activities of spiritual services, treating some of the problems in light of the teachings of the gospel and the canons of the church and putting forward their findings to whomever it may concern.

This clarifies the authority of the metropolitan: Pastorally, the archdiocese is always looking after the members of the metropolitanate, blessing their homes, looking after their affairs, receiving them in the metropolitan’s residence, meeting their needs as he is able. Regarding Sacraments, when he is present he heads spiritual services in the metropolitanate. He alone has the right to build and to renovate the churches and the altars in the metropolitanate. In article 59: No one has the right to build or to renew a church or altar in the church except by the order of the metropolitan of the archdiocese. He alone has the right to consecrate the churches, the altars and the vessels used by the celebrant in them. He also ordains the priests and the deacons. He administers the sacraments and the Holy Oil for the baptism and the anointing of the sick. And it is within his authority to shift a priest from one church to another within the area of his metropolitanate. He has the right to punish deviating clergy and laity through the church’s discipline and informs His Holiness the Patriarch giving the reasons that necessitated the punishment.

It is also within his authority to take care of the affairs of the archdiocese administrationally, financially and educationally. He is the one who holds the official records to register in them events like baptisms, engagements, marriages, deaths, and wills and all of the contracts and bequests and to preserve all of these. He presides over and approves the yearly budgets of the archdiocese and he establishes the schools and he oversees the publications and the circulations in his metropolitanate. He establishes the organizations, committees, clubs and all of the community associations. Article 60.d. (60.i. in English) says: Any of these committees that is not approved by the metropolitan is null and void.

Another authority of the metropolitan is overseeing the affairs of the archdiocese, making sure they don’t go against the constitution of the church, because he is responsible before the Patriarch and the Holy Synod concerning deviations from the church constitution in his metropolitanate. He has the authority in this matter to announce and implement the decisions of the Synod within the boundaries of his archdiocese and to prepare a detailed written report about his archdiocese for His Holiness to show to the Holy Synod in its usual and exceptional sessions which he personally attends.

The constitution defines the authority of the metropolitan on these subjects:

1: He does not negotiate with heads of churches, other religions or other religious organizations about spiritual or church affairs without the permission of His Holiness.
2: He may not lend, borrow, grantee or take a grantee on or rent the endowments of the archdiocese, the churches, the organizations or the charitable associations without a decision of the local board of trustees. 3 — He does not bet, exchange or sell any of the archdiocese’s endowments, churches, organizations or charitable organizations except with a decision from the local community committee and by the approval of His Holiness the Patriarch.

It remains to be pointed out that he alone in the archdiocese has the right to preside over the preliminary court sessions of first order and to choose whoever he prefers from the priests and the laity to be members in the spiritual court. He alone has the right to take suitable decisions according to the proceedings of the case and in light of the church canon law and execute them according to the personal statutes canon except for the decision regarding the dissolution of marriage or divorce, for that decision cannot be taken without the approval of the Patriarch.

In the situation where he is chosen to represent the Patriarch or the Holy Synod in an important church matter, whatever it is, when he returns to the archdiocese he must write a detailed report about the task he was delegated for.

Just as nobody can interfere in the administrative, organizational, spiritual and financial affairs, except as permitted by the constitution, so he has no right to interfere in the matters of another archdiocese nor to take part in practicing or carrying out any church services in it except by permission of the head of that archdiocese and by his satisfaction. If he ordains someone in it, it should be considered as invalid and the Patriarch and the Holy Synod will look into the matter.

(3) The Authority of the Holy Synod Before finishing, I would like to point out some rights which the constitution specifies for the Holy Synod. In all cases these rights supplement those of the Patriarch and the metropolitans and the whole church. The authority of the synod is to:

1: elect the Patriarch and enthrone him in the patriarchal residence at a suitable time and to receive the resignation of the Patriarch and the metropolitans and to order their dismissal.
2: to agree on or to reject the decisions of the Patriarch to candidate the monks for the rank of episcopate in the case of their election and appointment.
3: to investigate the Patriarch and the metropolitans and to judge them according to canon law.
4: to look into the religious heresies which are against the faith and traditions of the church and its by-laws and to issue judgments against whomever committed them, whether clergy or laity, with all of the punishments of the church.
5: to meet, presided over by the oldest metropolitan, if the Patriarch has not called the Synod for three successive sessions.
6: to shift Metropolitans from one archdiocese to another and to establish, to renew and to abolish archdioceses or to change its geographical borders or to sell a part or all of the endowments of the Patriarchate.
7: in case of a vacancy in the See, the Synod is to elect one of the metropolitans as an interim authority according to the principals and articles of the constitution.

This could be enough but I allow myself to add three notes on these two subjects: jurisdiction and authority.

1: The present situation cannot be compared to the distant past, for most of the sees and metropolitanates which were at one time included in the jurisdiction of the See of Antioch and were under the decisions of the Holy Synod are not present in this time. According to two ancient Syrian manuscripts it is clear that seven sees were under the See of the Antiochian Patriarchate and they were: (1) Aleppo, (2) Kanasreen, (3) Jebleh, (4) Sulokiah, (5) Hansarta, (6) Bloutoan, (7) Al Jabul. And there were two other sees in which the Patriarch had the authority to send their metropolitans wherever and they are: (1) Salameia, (2) Brakusun. Four other sees were independent and they are (1) Beirut, (2) Homs, (3) Latakia and (4) Khorus. The number of metropolitanates which were under the Holy See were twelve: (1) Tyre, (2) Tarsus, (3) Al Ruhra (Edessa/Urfa), (4) Aphamia, (5) Manbej, (6) Bosra, (7) Ain Zerba, (8) Sulokia/Isauria, (9) Damascus, (10) Amed, (11) Rasafe, (12) Dara. For each metropolitanate there were many archdioceses.

2: The title metropolitan, bishop, archbishop or episcopus all have been raised to the level of Episcopate. Each metropolitan is an archbishop and a bishop and an episcopus. The episcopus at this time is a widowed priest who has been raised to the level of the episcopacy. The article 91 of the constitution says as for the episcopus he is chosen from among the widowed priests and the garb of the episcopus is not to be different from that of the metropolitans and his rights are equal to their rights. But, he is always last in rank in the Holy Synod even if he was ordained previous to another.

3: Today the Patriarch practices a much wider authority because the revised constitution in previous periods has permitted th"is. The power of the personality of the Patriarch and the metropolitans plays a distinguishing role in widening their authorities. "


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Is There A Place for Jesus in Your Home?

The Patriarchal Journal
Vol. 31 – January/February 1993 – No. 121/122. Pages 2-8
Christmas Sermon – December 1992

“And she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

God on high chose from among all the women of the world the virgin Mary filled with grace. The Holy Spirit came upon her, purified her and made her holy. She was made worthy for the Word of God to take up residence in her and to take from her a complete body. The apostle John described this saying . . . “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1,14). The apostle Paul expressed this amazing matter saying: “Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in the flesh.” (I Timothy 3:16).

It is the miracle of miracles how the virgin Mary endured the greatness of the miracle of God’s incarnation that happened to her, with her and before her! She was just a simple girl whose age was not more than fourteen years! For she was a virgin before she gave birth, during birth and after birth. She was a mother while nursing with her pure milk her holy Son swaddled and laying in a manger. She gave birth to him in the stall of an inn in Bethlehem because there was no place for them in the inn! The day the angel brought her the good news of the holy pregnancy he said to her: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus, He will be great, and he will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God " (Luke 1:30-35).

So, where is the greatness of Jesus, oh angel Gabriel? Where is his kingdom? Where is his throne? Yes, his kingdom is not of this world. So, even though the priests and rulers of this earth ignored his existence, the heavens gave him glory and the angel brought the good news of his birth to the simple shepherds saying to them, “‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And, suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’” (Luke 2:10-14).

When the shepherds went quickly to the place where the king messiah was born, they found him but also found that his kingdom was an animal stall and his throne a manger. So, they worshiped him and they returned telling the good news of his birth. Thus, they were the first to receive the good news and the first to preach the good news of the Savior Messiah. But the chief priests, the scribes, and pharisees and others who were entrusted with keeping the prophets did not know at the time what they missed, even when the Magi came from the east to Jerusalem and asked about the one born the king of the Jews. King Herod inquired of the chief priests about the Messiah’s place of birth. The priests told him that the prophet Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem Ephrata, but they did not trouble themselves to research it. So, it was fulfilled in them what the prophet Isaiah had prophesied about them eight centuries before the birth saying, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib” (Isaiah 1:2-5).

Therefore, it is not surprising that when the virgin Mary and her fiance did not find a place in the inn they took refuge in the stall of an ox and a donkey to give birth to the Messiah. There his mother wrapped and laid him in a manger. Because of his birth the manger was changed into a holy place and became a focus of attention for all Christians so to him the kings of the earth and its great leaders would come and take off their crowns, bow their heads and even worship the one born in a manger. Yes, the manger was a suitable place for the child Jesus the Savior to be placed who on the contrary came down from heaven to teach humility. His humility would be a beneficial medicine for the healing of humanity from the illness of pride and submitting even to death, the death of the cross, to take away the shame of the disobedience of humanity against the commands of their Lord in paradise: “IFor God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

So, the manger was the suitable place for the one who came to serve and not to be served, to sacrifice himself for the redemption of many. He began his divine economy of salvation in the body laid in a simple manger which became on the other side of his life the cross of shame he carried on his shoulder before the malicious crowd shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” He hence would be hung on it and, furthermore, after his death in the flesh he would be laid in a new tomb he did not own. Did he own any worldly possessions? He is the one the scribes asked saying “‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’” (Matthew 8:19, 20).

Yes, the believer who contemplates the events of the birth of the redeemer would give glory to God on high for His holy plan and the delivery of godly truth to the minds of humanity. The prophesies that had been announced on the tongues of the true prophets had been fulfilled to the letter.

Yes, the wisdom of God in managing the universe cannot be grasped by the mind of humanity. The virgin Mary was in Nazareth in the house of her fiance Joseph where the angel Gabriel had told her the good news of her divine pregnancy. When the end of her days of pregnancy came near she was about to give birth to her oldest son, though if she had been given the choice she would have stayed in the house of her fiance Joseph in Nazareth. But, God had ordained from the beginning that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem of Ephrata and the godly inspiration that announced this was on the tongue of the prophet Micah in the 8th century before the birth (Micah 5:2). That his birth was in Bethlehem the city of David assures us that He is from the descendants of David. That Jesus Christ the Savior had been registered on the registry of the tax rolls of the Roman Empire is an irrefutable proof that he had truly come in the flesh from the line of David. Lordly desires enticed Caesar Augustus to issue a decree that the whole inhabited world should be registered, he meant by the whole world those people under control of the Roman nation. God on high ordained that Caesar Augustus’ order would be to register the Jews according to their custom that every one would go to the city of his ancestors to be registered there so as not to make confusion of the descendants and origins.

Yes, the believer will always be amazed and surprised when he reads the story of the birth of the Redeemer for the simplicity of its expression and the easiness of the way of writing so even a child would understand it’s sentences in detail. While at the same time great philosophers are not able to fathom the depth of its meaning and understand its divine secrets. This is what the Lord Jesus meant in his prayer to his Father in the saying about the divine administration in the flesh. “I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed it to infants.” (Matthew 11:25). God has hidden his secrets from those who are wise in their own eyes to put to shame the wisdom of this world. Therefore Jesus didn’t have a place in their houses and was not born of a daughter of the rich or of the great philosophers or scientists, but he was born of a poor, orphan, virgin girl, Mary. Yet she was from the lineage of kings and priests and prophets. He was not lain on a bed made of gold and ivory, neither was his pure body wrapped in soft silk. Rather, he was swaddled in linen and placed in a manger in the stall of an inn in Bethlehem, a humble city, but everyone who would look for him would find him.

He came for all humanity, especially for those who toil, those who are tired and those who are oppressed. I imagine him now, when he was a small child laying in a manger having spread his arms calling people to him as he called them later saying “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11: 28-30).

This is his practical, heavenly message: that we learn meekness and humility from him to lift from our shoulders the heaviness of arrogance, snobbery and pride so we find peace with God and ourselves and with all people; that we learn from him the love made visible in the holy cross that he calls his simple yoke and light burden. He has ordered us to carry it every day and to follow him on the path of Golgotha, the way of suffering, the way of sacrifice and self denial. The manger is the beginning of the way to the cross. The cross is love in two dimensions. The first dimension is the vertical that points toward heaven drawing love from God who first loved us so that we love him from all of our heart, all of our mind and all of our will. The second dimension is the horizontal, which cuts the vertical dimension. Here our love of God is reflected unto all people so we can work by the commandment of God through loving them and sacrificing to lighten their pain in that manner following the Good Samaritan. For he aided the one who fell among the thieves in the parable that the Lord Jesus gave us as an example to teach us mercy that is the fruit of love.

The message of Christmas is the message of love. The child Jesus was born on this very day in a cattle pen and wrapped and laid in a manger because there was no room for him in the inn. We see him today in millions of children who have no place of refuge, who with their mothers and fathers are starving while we are satiated in the luxury of many good things and appear like the rich man in the parable of the rich Lazarus that the Lord Jesus gave us as an example. The rich man did not show concern for the poor Lazarus who was cast in front of the door of his house and was dying of hunger. Both died and the rich man was taken to hell but the angels carried Lazarus’ spirit to the lap of Abraham. So, all those in need, all the poor and all the needy orphans and poor widows are the little brothers of Jesus. Moreover, they represent the poor child Jesus who did not have a place in the inn so he was lain in the manger of an inn’s barn in Bethlehem of Ephrata. So why don’t we adopt the teachings of the Lord Jesus who will judge humanity on the last day on the basis of the good deeds they did along side of their faith in Him. Why don’t we yearn to stand on his right side with those who will hear His beautiful voice saying to them, “‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink I was a stranger and you welcomed me I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…’Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:34-40).

Today while we are celebrating the occasion of the birth of the Lord Jesus. I wonder if we have prepared a place for him to be born in our hearts. Have we told our children about his amazing birth in the flesh? Have we told them about his mother the poor, orphaned, virgin Mary, descendent of kings and priests and prophets and the pure saint who said about herself: “from now on all generations will call me blessed for the Almighty has done great things for me?” Have we told them about her: How she was pondering in her heart all of the words that she heard from heaven and from the sons of the earth, and how she was devoted to the law of the Lord day and night? Or, have we changed the feast of the Birth into a worldly affair that is not connected to the feast spiritually? Have we told them about the love of God for us and his sending his only Son for our salvation and the placing of the Son in the manger in a barn to teach us humility and meekness because he did not have a place in the inn? Does he have a place in our homes and our hearts? Or, are our hearts full of love for things other than God as were the hearts of the scribes and the pharisees and the priests of the Jews who ignored the prophets and were preoccupied with worldly affairs?

I wonder if, as we are celebrating our religious liturgies on this happy occasion, we feel that Christ is with us and among us sharing with us the joy of the feast; or are we strangers to him and he is far from us? He was called Emmanuel, which means God with us (Matt. 1:23) and his name was called Jesus because he saves his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Have we accepted him as our savior and believed in the mystery of the incarnation and redemption? Or do we celebrate this liturgy of his feast as a routine duty that has the appearance of piety but has lost its power? Have the spiritual traditions become converted into mere social customs that are not connected to the Spirit. Do we take advantage of the opportunity of the holiday to spend them enjoying illicit physical pleasures through intoxication, noisy contentiousness, adultery and gambling? These distance Christ from us and distance us from Christ, for he then has no place in our homes and our hearts, and he will not be with us on these occasions because they are far from the spirit of piety, the fear of God, meekness and humility.

Let us prepare a place for Christ in our homes, our hearts and our souls so that it is not we who live but Christ in us (Galatians 2:20). Let us emulate the virgin who kept in her heart what she had heard from the angels, the Magi, and the shepherds and what she had seen of the dazzling miracles and the good news that she had been told. Let’s heed the saying of the Lord Jesus while he was answering the woman who raised her voice from among the crowd and said to him, “‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you.’ But he said,‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’” (Luke 11:27,28). Let us listen to the Word of God, memorize it and do it to deserve the blessing that the virgin Mary had gotten in giving birth to the Lord Christ in the flesh. May this feast be a blessing to you. Amen.


The Holy Eucharist

From the 1991 Patriarchal lental
encyclical of His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East , Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church.

The Lord Jesus set the foundation of the marvelous Sacrament of The Holy Eucharist by declaring Himself truly to be: “The bread that came down from heaven”. This proclamation surprised His listeners, who belonged to different sectors of society of the old order, along with their varied religious, cultural and social levels. Also their opinions, judging the mission of the Lord Jesus, were contradicting. Many of them recognized Him as the expected Messiah: The hope of nations and generations. Others thought He was one of the prophets. Yet, others rejected Him and were waiting for Him trying to trap Him into saying something He could be arrested for. Therefore they asked Him to perform a miracle by reminding Him of the incident of the descent of Manna from heaven upon their forefathers in the wilderness. " Then Jesus said unto them, very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father Who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world " ( John 6:32-33 ). He continued saying: " I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty " ( John 6:35 ).

The multitudes could not comprehend this truth which is beyond the grasp of the human mind. In the Holy Gospel, the apostle John says: “Then the Jews began to complain about Him because He said: I am the bread that came down from heaven.” ( John 6:41 ). These words were even difficult to some of His disciples who interpreted them materially for they were asking each other saying: " how can He give us his body to eat?" And in order to reaffirm this divine teaching to them, our Lord explained it fully, and added further to clarify the effects of the Sacrament of The Holy Eucharist saying, “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood have eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day; for My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me, and I in them” ( John 6:53-56 ).

Yes, whoever contemplates in the Lord’s teaching, the great sacrifice of the Lord, will be transfigured before Him. His self-denial is not only by bearing great pains and dying on the cross for the salvation of the world, but also by giving Himself to the believers, as spiritual food. They will be nourished by receiving Him, and they will grow in grace and be fortified and will abide in Christ, and finally, they will be worthy to inherit with Him His Heavenly Kingdom.

The Lord gave Himself to His pure disciples in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He gave the Eucharist in the form of bread and wine before He delivered Himself willingly into the hands of His enemies the Jews for crucifixion and death, as a redemption for humanity.

On the night of His passion, and after eating the Jewish Passover Meal with His righteous disciples, “Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it He broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said: Take, eat; this is My body. Then He took a cup and after giving thanks He gave it to them, saying: Drink from it all of you; for this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” ( Matthew 26:26-28 ) and ( Mark 14:22-24 ).

Thus, the Lord established the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and granted His pure disciples the authority to offer the bloodless, divine sacrifice by saying to them: “…do this in remembrance of Me.” ( Luke 22:19 ). In fulfillment of this Commandment of the Lord, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the disciples set up the ritual of offering this divine sacrifice which is called The Order of Service of the Divine Eucharist. The Book of Acts of the Apostles mentions that the early Christians “Continued steadfastly in the .. fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers.” ( Acts 2:42 ), which indicates their actual participation in the Divine Sacrament and the receiving of the Holy Eucharist which is His holy body and blood.

This bloodless sacrifice is a remembrance of the Sacrifice on the Cross and an extension of it and the continuation of its benefits. Furthermore, its true offerer is the Lord Christ, who gave Himself as a redemptive offering on the cross.

The Lord Jesus offers Himself on the Holy Altar as a bloodless sacrifice in the form of bread and wine. The Holy Bible said about Him, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” ( Hebrews 5:6 ). Melchizedek was a king of the Holy City and its priest during the time of Abraham, the father of the Patriarchs, and his sacrifice was bread and wine; symbolizing the sacrifice of the new covenant just as he Melchizedek was a symbol of Jesus, the great priest.

The priest who offers the sacrifice of the new covenant, represents the Lord Jesus. Therefore, the believers who participate in the Holy Eucharist, should be of one accord with the priest, who offers the sacrament, in order to receive Christ’s blessings. They should also receive the Holy Communion. For, if the physical food nourishes the body, the Holy Eucharist the body and blood of Christ is the food of the soul which makes its partaker worthy to be united with Christ. Concerning this matter, the Lord says: “Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me and I in them” ( John 6:56 ). St. Paul explains this relationship between Christ and the true believer by saying: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…” ( Galatians 2:20 ).

Therefore, the Holy Eucharist, grants us the Spiritual life in Christ and makes us abide in Him; so we grow and become strengthened spiritually. If that is so, then our abstinence from receiving it will be a terrible and irreplaceable loss. For we will be compared to the branch which is separated from the vine; it will dry up, whither, die and be thrown into the fire. That’s why the Lord Jesus warns and cautions us saying: “Unless you eat the body of the Son Of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” ( John 6:53 ). Hence, the church imposed punishment upon the heretics, schismatics, and criminals by denying them the receiving of the Holy Eucharist and the participation in the Divine Liturgy.

Dearly Beloved; Because of the sacredness of the Holy Eucharist, it is required that the believers be prepared, body and soul, before they receive it. Their bodies must be clean, and they must be in a state of grace; meaning that they had offered a true penance and lawfully confessed before the lawful priest. They must also adhere to the order of communion abstaining. Concerning this matter, Saint Paul says: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner, eats and drinks judgment to himself not discerning the Lord’s body”. ( 1 Corinthians 11:28,29 ). Thus, Whoever comes to receive the Holy Eucharist must gather his thoughts and proceed, with the fear of God, with humility and meekness, and with a burning desire that matches "the desire of the deer to the streams of water " ( Psalms 41:2 ). Thus thanking God for His indescribable grace, for who has redeemed us by His sacrifice on the Cross; and bestowed upon us the sacrifice of the Holy Communion which is called “Eucharist” or the Sacrament of Thanksgiving.

Beloved, it is regrettable that many of the church sons and daughters, nowadays, have neglected to come forth to the table of the Lord, not comprehending that they are exposing their souls to eternal perdition. So, let us all return to God, with true penance, so that we may be worthy of partaking of the Lord’s Table. Let us be united with Him, the Lord of Glory, and He with us, to grow in grace and be worthy to inherit His Heavenly Kingdom.

May the Lord God bless you and accept your prayers and alms. May He have mercy upon your faithful departed. Amen.


The Eucharistic Liturgy of The Syrian Orthodox Church

Written by Very Rev. Chorepiscopus John Meno

The Eucharistic Liturgy of The Syrian Orthodox Church is perhaps the richest in all of Christendom with more than eighty existing anaphoras in testimony. Among these is the Liturgy of St. James, acclaimed by liturgical scholars to be among the earliest, if not the first, liturgies of the Christian Church. We shall attempt in this brief paper to examine the Liturgy of St. James in order to provide a general introduction to the Eucharistic Liturgy of the ancient Church of Antioch.

Liturgies generally agree that the liturgical traditions of the Eastern Churches stem from two basic families, that of Antioch and of Alexandria. The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch is the direct inheritor of the ancient Antiochene liturgical tradition. In speaking of the Eucharistic Liturgy of Antioch, the eminent Dominican liturgical scholar Irenee-Henri Dalmais has remarked: “The Antiochene anaphora stresses the economy of salvation, the looking forward to the end of time, and the splendour of God’s glory, and these characteristics persisted in the Syrian rite.”1 This eschatological thrust is perhaps one f the clearest characteristics of the Liturgy of the Syrian Orthodox Church.

According to the tradition of the early Church Fathers, the Liturgy of St. James, the brother of our Lord, is the original Eucharistic service used by the infant Church in Jerusalem. The Eucharist was instituted by Jesus Christ Himself at the Last Supper when our Lord took bread and a cup of wine, blessed then and gave them to His Disciples, saying: “Do this in remembrance of me.”2 The Fathers of the Syrian Church state that Christ trained the Disciples to celebrate the Lord’s Supper during the forty days He remained with them following the Resurrection and that the first Eucharist, folowint that of the Last Supper, was celebrated under the leadership of St. James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, in the upper room of the home of Mary, mother of John, called Mark, the present site of St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Monastery in the Holy City. This Eucharist was celebrated in Aramaic (Syriac), the language spoken by Jesus Christ and the Disciples. Very Rev. Dr. Kadavil Paul Ramban remarks: “The disciples of Christ used to meet on Sundays to ‘Break Bread’. Readings and sermons were added to this service gradually when the faithful communicants increased.”3

Irenee-Henri Dalmais, The Eastern Liturgies (London: Burns and Oats, 1960), p. 40.
St. Luke, 22:19.
Very Rev. Dr. Kadavil Paul Ramban, The Orthodox Syrian Church It’s Religion and Philosophy (Always: Always Press, 1973), p. 51.

Thus, from the earliest stages, the Liturgy arranged by St. James was expanded by additions, both Scriptural and ecclesiastical. By the Fourth Century, the fundamental parts of the Liturgy were fixed. Dr. Matti Moosa points out that the Liturgy of St. James has thus been preserved in both Syriac and Greek, the two texts reflecting differences due to additions made through the course of time, but maintaining the same basic fundamental structure.

Due to changes over the centuries, the result of continuous liturgical additions, James of Edessa (d. 708) undertook a revision of the Syriac text of the Liturgy of St. James in order to establish a conformity between both the Syriac and Greek texts, while Gregorius Bar Hebraeus (d. 1286) was to abridge the earlier Syriac text. Eventually, the revised version of James of Edessa was to become referred to as the “short” text. Of the many Syriac manuscripts of the Liturgy of St. James, the oldest is composed of a series of fragments contained in the British Museum’s MS 14523, dating back to the Eighth Century.

The usual Syriac word for the Eucharistic Liturgy is either qurobo, meaning “approach” or qurbono, “oblation” or “sacrifice.” The Holy Fathers of the Syrian Church often refer to the Liturgy as the rosae qadeeshae (the Holy Mysteries), signifying the profound mystery of the bread and wine, identified with our human comprehensible to external human senses.

The Liturgy of St. James as used today in the Syrian Orthodox Church consists of two basic parts, the Order of Offering and the Anaphora proper. The Order of Offering is composed of the Liturgy of Preparation and the Liturgy of the Word and concludes with the Creed. The Anaphora opens with the Prayer of Fraction and Commixture, the Lord’s Prayer, the Great Elevation, the Communion, Prayer of Thanksgiving, Dismissal of Faithful and the Post Communion Prayers. The consecratory portion of the Holy Liturgy begins with the Blessing of the Bread and Wine and is completed by the Epiclesis.

The Syrian Orthodox Church uses leavened wheat bread and grape wine for the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy. There is reason to believe that Christ used leavened break, lahmo, at the Last Supper. Having concluded the Passover meal with His Disiples,1 Christ took leavened break into His hands, having already observed the Passover with its required unleavened bread. One loaf is usually offered during the Holy Liturgy to signify the oneness of the Word Who took flesh. When more than one loaf is required, two may be offered to signify that Christ is both the Son of God and the Son of man. Three loaves may also be used when need arises, representing the Holy Trinity.

Dr. Mattie Moosa, “The History of Saint James Liturgy,: the Divine Liturgy of Saint James the First Bishop of Jerusalem According to the Rite of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch (Hackensack: Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the United States and Canada, 1967), p. 88.

Two of the great Church Fathers of the Syrian Orthodox Tradition, Moses Bar Kepho (d. 903) and Dionysius Bar Salibi (d. 1171) have left behind two precious commentaries on the Liturgy of St. James Through these Fathers of the Church one is given an insight into the rich symbolism and profound mysticism of the Liturgy of St. James. Their insights provide the basis of the liturgical commentary to follow.

Two times during the Holy Liturgy the priest washes his hands, once following his vesting as part of the preparation to ready the altar for the Holy Liturgy, and again at the time of the Creed. As the priest washes his hands, he thereby reminds the congregation to leave all worldly thought and become clean in heart, spirit and mind. The second washing reminds all that one should be thoroughly cleansed to offer up and share in the Lord’s Supper.

The Trisagion or Thrice Holy recalls the vision experienced by the Prophet Isaiah of the Lord’s throne and the proclamation of the six-winged seraphim: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.”2 Moreover, the tradition of the Syrian Church of Antioch records that at the time of our Lord’s Crucifixion, the seraphim descended from heaven and encircled the Body of Christ, singing the first three versus of the Thrice Holy, excluding the phrase “Who was crucified for us” as Jesus had died for men and not for the angels. It is said that Joseph of Arimathea, was inspired to complete the seraphim’s chant, singing forth: “You Who were crucified for us, have mercy upon us.” At the Trisagion, the priest touches first the edge of the altar board (tablitho), then the rim of the paten and finally the lip of the chalice. This through three ranks of the angelic choir in three separate stages, and that the mystical presence of the Lord is associated with these three liturgical objects.

Throughout the Liturgy the bending of the knees as the priest kneels before the altar signifies our fall through the transgression of Adam. As the priest arises, our own resurrection through the Resurrection of Christ is symbolized.

I Corinthians, 11:23-26
Isaiah, 6:1-3

The veiling of the altar prior to the Liturgy of the Word represents the time of preparation before the Christ’s coming. The reading from the Old Testament is done at this particular time in the acts taking place behind the altar curtain. The veiling at the Fraction emphasizes the awesome moment of our Lord’s suffering and death upon the Cross. It also represents the darkening of the sun at the time of the Crucifixion. The veiling before the Presentation of the Holy Mysteries signified the darkening of the sun on the last day in prelude to Christ’s Second Coming in glory and majesty.

At the Blessing of the Censer there is profession of the Holy Trinity. The entire congregation responds “Amen” as the priest declares the holiness of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. The censer is dramatically blessed before it is taken about the congregation. The censer signifies the Blessed Virgin who conceived within herself the Son of God, represented by the incense placed in the censer upon burning the coals which symbolizes our humanity. The censer likewise recalls John the Baptist going forth before Christ to prepare His way. The censer is brought into the sanctuary, carried forth to the people and is returned to the altar. This signifies Christ coming into the world and bringing to all mankind the infinite love of His Father, offering up Himself as a sacrifice to us all and returning to the Father, reconciling heaven and earth.

As the Creed is being changed, a deacon goes about the nave of the church with the censer and returns to the altar. This act signifies the goodness of the Holy Trinity which goes forth from Godhead, but is not changed or diminished. It likewise represents God the Word Who came down from heaven and became an incense of reconciliation, offering Himself for us to the Father and making atonement for all humanity by bringing us back to His Father without being changed or losing His Divinity.

By the Kiss of peace is externally shown our inward love and concord with our neighbor. Being made at peace with one another, one is made at peace with God. The peace given to one another does away with mutual enmity, signifying that Jesus has made an end of the enmity between God and man, making peace and love to reign among us. The Kiss of Peace also fulfills the words of our Lords: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”1 It likewise recalls the words of St. Peter: :Greet one another with the kiss of love.”1

St. Matthew, 5:23 and 24.

As the priest folds back the left corner of the chalice veil (shushafo) at the Offertory is symbolized the placing of a deal on the tomb of Christ. The unfolding of the veil at the close of the Preface (Proemion) following the Gospel signifies the Mysteries to symbolize the invisibleness of the Godhead concealed in the Mysteries and to manifest that Christ’s Sacrifice was foreshadowed by the sacrifices of the Old Law. As the chalice veil is lifted and waved over the bread and wine, the Church recalls the angels rolling away the stone from the tomb of our Lord and underlines the flow of grace into the Mysteries and through then to all believers, bestowing upon the faithful forgiveness and salvation. This action also indicated the need to remove from our hearts the blind passions surrounding our human nature in order to truly see and comprehend what is about to take place upon the altar as we relive the Sacrifice of Christ.

Following the words of blessing upon the bread and the cup, the priest lifts up the spoon and it’s small cushion (gmourto) place these to the right. He lifts these over his right shoulder in a quick motion to signify the Second Coming of Christ on the last day which shall be like a flash of lightening in the sky. The spoor here represents our Lord and the cushion His throne. By placing these to the right is revealed that Christ sits at the right hand of the Father.

As the celebrant waves his hands over the bread and wine, he signifies the descent of the Holy Spirit from above and the Spirit’s hovering over the Mysteries, as the Third Person did over Christ in the Jordan. The hands are waved in a fashion to reflect the fluttering of the wings of the Holy Spirit who descended upon the womb of the Virgin Mary and incarnated the Word and Who now descend to make the bread and wine truly the Body and Blood of our Lord.

At the Fraction the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Christ are symbolized with all humanity being turned from evil to salvation as the priest turns the Body from the left to the right with his hands. As the celebrant smears the Blood over the Body, we remember the dreadful and redemptive act of Christ upon the Cross after which the Body is lifted up to signify the Resurrection of our Lord.

Later, at the awesome moment of the Great Elevation, the priest raises up the Holy Mysteries recalling Christ’s Ascension and His glorification before the heavenly host. Two deacons stand with lighted candles, one to the left and the other to the right of the altar as the Mysteries are elevated before the congregation, signifying the two angels who appeared at the Resurrection and who were present at Christ’s Ascension when they proclaimed: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”1

I Peter, 5:14.

As the Holy Mysteries are brought down from the altar to the congregation for the Communion, Christ’s Second Coming is foreshadowed and we are taught that at His coming in glory from heaven, we must stand in awe. As he turns from the altar, the celebrant holds the Mysteries with his hands crossed to signify that these are the united Body and Blood of the crucified Christ.

At the Final Blessing, the faithful are dismissed with the reassurance of our salvation in Christ and our commitment to Him through Baptism, a reassurance extended not only to those present, but encompassing all who have been baptized into Christ, both near and far, living and departed. Sent forth in peace, the faithful are asked to pray for the priest always who will shortly take leave of the holy altar, after consuming the remaining portions of the Holy Mysteries, in the prayerful hope of returning to once again celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

The Eucharistic Liturgy of St. James is a deeply moving and richly symbolic spiritual drama in which the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of our Lord are relived and shared in by all present. More than perhaps any other, the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Syrian Church is directed to the Second Coming. The Liturgy is both in its character of mystery, appealing to all the senses of man both physical and mystical. The symbolism of word and act, of vestment and voice, of jingling censer and fans, of incense and burning sanctuary lamps, of curtain and veil, transports the faithful before the very throne of God and among the elect and praising cherubim and the six-winged seraphim. It is indeed a sanctification of time and space whereby heaven and earth are reconciled about the “table of life” from which we share in the Lord’s Supper and proclaim together with all creation our Lord’s Resurrection until He comes.

Acts, 1:11


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