25th Anniversary of the Department of Ecumenical…
His Beatitude John X on the 25th Anniversary of the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development at the Conference Palace.
Damascus November 9 -2019
Through the Good Samaritan has the Lord bestowed His Mercy as a balm to heal the wounds of our human neighbor, as pure love to scrub his strife, and as an oil of mercy from His heart to the broken heart. From the Good Samaritan and through him as an intercessor and symbol, the Church of Antioch and all the East chose to manifest itself to the world, using the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development as a bountiful hand. The Church of Antioch chose to incarnate the love of God expressed by the love of one’s neighbor, from any color and background. The Church of Antioch chose to look at the suffering of the human being and to bring down on him the oil of God’s mercies as gifts, offerings and aids. She has been desiring to soothe human wounds with compassion and tenderness, because she sees the face of the Holy Creator in this human being and considers this pleasing to God.
Twenty-five years ago, the Iraqi crisis began and our Iraqi brethren started immigrating to Syria. At that moment, we decided to launch this Department, from the womb of the Church of Antioch with the blessings of His Beatitude Ignatius IV Hazim of thrice blessed memory, and with the help of many, among whom is our spiritual son Samer Laham.
Today, twenty-five years later, the Church seeks the face of the Lord in the face the human being. The Gospel passage says: “But a Samaritan… came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. This is our main message. The Church is first and foremost seeking to come itself towards the wounded human being. She takes the initiative before he knocks.
She comes to him first, then examines and investigates the facts, the needs, and the expectations. After that, she takes a look, observes, and has compassions. This compassion is not hers, but rather gushes out from God’s tenderness, which he pours into the souls as Creator and Lord.
Since 2011, when the Syrian crisis broke out, our Church has been seeking God's pleasures in the face of the suffering humans of any color. We do our possible to extend our helping hand to our Christian children and to the people Levant from all walks of life. This is what the Lord wanted in the Gospel. The Samaritan in the parable of Jesus did not extend a hand only to his kin but also to the different other. And this different other is our brother. We enrich him and are enriched by him. We may fall short on one side and advance on another. Sometimes we may make mistakes and sometimes we are right, because perfection is for God alone. But all we want is how to wipe a tear off a sore face.
Since the mid 90’s, until this very day, the number of people active in this department reached 1700 in 2019. The Department expanded from Damascus and settled in all the Syrian Provinces. In the present crisis, despite some disconnections, the Department was able to be present everywhere in Syria through its team even in most dangerous conditions. Hence we had two martyrs from the team: Bassam Kanhouch and Yasar Mouammar. The staff included Christians and Muslims; we could see George working with Ahmad. Thus, the Department gained trust within the international NGOs for Relief, implementing the word of St Paul: “God loves the joyful giver”.
As Christians in this Levant, we are a part of its fire that both illuminates and burns. We are from the heart and quintessence of this Levant. It is the soil trodden by Christ, where the feet of His Apostles were implanted, from where Christ’s gospel came out to all the world. We are not visitors, but house lords. All the Golgothas of our agony fade away before the Cross and Golgotha of Jesus of Nazareth. We entertain such good relations with our Muslim brother and fellow citizen. This relationship is more than a thousand years old. In spite of all the ups and downs, Christianity and Christians in general, together with Muslims and the rest of society, are the sons of one nation, one homeland, the historical and geographical brothers in this Levant, which God wills to be the heavenly womb in our world. No matter if wars happen, if conflicts and tribulations pass by this land and all its countries, we keep saying, despite migration, displacement, violence and kidnapping, despite everything: here we were born and here we live and here we will die next to our ancestors.
Today we also lift our prayers for peace and stability in Syria and Lebanon. We pray for the Middle East, for all its countries, and for the peace of the whole world. We pray for every kidnapped, homeless, displaced and suffering person. We pray for our brothers the kidnapped Archbishops of Aleppo, John Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, who lay in the darkness of abduction, absenteeism and the absurd international negligence of their cause, which is only a brief example of what people are suffering in the Levant. Everyone, in the homeland and abroad, is called to embrace the logic of dialogue and political solution as a way to preserve the unity of this country. This is Syria! Here are our children from all its good provinces. Look! here they are, our children from every side, starting from Khabur and the island of Euphrates to Latakia, the bride of the coast, to Qalamoun of Damascus and Qasioun, to the immortal intrepid Golan. This country is one, united in the hearts and geography of its children.
Ask old Damascus, that she might tell you of her walls, of her lanes, of His Beatitude Gregory IV Haddad, our merciful Patriarch. Ask her, that she might tell you about his bread, how he did not discriminate between a Christian and a Muslim. Ask her so that it tells you about his cross by which he fed the poor. As I say this, I would love to relate some of this great man’s life.
Once, while Gregory Haddad was bishop of Tripoli, he interceded for the sake of the Muslim judge of Tripoli who was victim of calumny from the rulers. He was the only bishop among the people who knew of his innocence, who visited him in his prison and offered him help and money. He kept defending him in Tripoli and in Astana until his innocence appeared. Then Gregory was raised onto the Patriarchal See. The judge died and the years passed. The son of that judge came to Damascus with the notables of the city and said to the Patriarch:
“I am coming from Astana to carry out the will of my deceased father. He said: go to Damascus and before your visit to the Umayyad Mosque go and kiss the hand of the Rum Patriarch”. When the Patriarch asked him about his father, he learned that it was the one whom he had helped when arrested.
This simple story summarizes the reality and history of coexistence that was, remains and must still be experienced. The hand of Gregory is the hand of the Church of Antioch, which always stretched to the neighbor for relief and coexistence.
In conclusion, I extend my thanks to our children in the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development, and I salute first the efforts of the Holy Archimandrite Alexei Shehadeh, its Director, and I warmly thank all his assistants as well as former and current staff. I greet you with love, my beloved sons. God bless your efforts. May God blessed every soul that acquires the heavenly wealth with earthly riches. I also thank the Syrian government and other ministries and official bodies that facilitate the work of the relief department in all governorates, without forgetting all donors and international organizations everywhere.
Best wishes for many years of charity and development with God’s grace and protection.
Professor Habib Lavant
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