O Antioch, Lift Up Your Eyes!
Homily of H.B. Patriarch John X
In the Holy Liturgy celebrated at Balamand
On June 29, 2014
On the Feast of the Antiochian See
"O Antioch lift up your eyes and look around for your sons came like the pearls shining with the light of God from the West and the North from the sea and the East, glorifying Jesus Christ in you to the ages of ages."
With these words of our Saint John of Damascus, the son of Antioch, it is my pleasure to welcome you and say:
Today the heart of our church is beating with love and joy. Today the apostles Peter and Paul are rejoicing to see the light they shed in Antioch glowing in this blessed assembly. The heart of Antioch that beats with Christian zeal, love and leadership is rejoicing to see the gathering of all brothers. Today the walls of Damascus embrace the bells of Beirut and Saint Peter's grotto in Antakya touches the dome of Balamand. Today Zahle greets Lattakia and Akkar sweeps the wounds of Aleppo. Today Homs embraces Mount Lebanon and Hama washes the nets of Tyre and Sidon. Today the bells of Suweidaa play the hymn of love to the churches of Tripoli and Koura. Today our sons in Iraq and the Gulf lean on the chest of their Antiochian church in this blessed gathering of the brothers. Today the church of Antioch in the homeland embraces apostolically the Antiochian church of overseas. Today our sons in North America, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Australia, France, Germany, England, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Austria, all Europe and the four corners of the world embrace their mother church that baptized them and their ancestors and anointed their lives with the name of Christ so they anoint her by their love and giving, by their longing and sacrifice in standing up to its concerns. Today we all bow down to the Lord Jesus our creator and savior in the times of crises, who allowed us to meet here today in Balamand, in this Antiochian University, in Koura, the bride of Lebanon.
The Feast of the Saints Peter and Paul gathered us here today to meet amiable faces that inherited the faith of the elders from their grandfathers and planted it in the hearts of the younger generations; faces of people who use this faith as a sword to fight the difficulties of today, with the help and protection of the Saints Peter and Paul, vanquishing, with the light of this faith, the austerity of life. Antioch is the first to have sculptured the word "Christians" and transformed it into a beautiful melody sung by the lips of the generations. This is what the thrice blessed Patriarch Elias the Fourth Moawad of eternal memory said during the inauguration of the Theological Institute of Balamand. And here we are continuing the legacy and saying: "the church of Antioch is a shell that may look small and hidden in the history and geography of this universe but this shell holds inside it its most precious treasure: the faith in Jesus Christ." This shell spread the beautiful odor of this name to the whole world and it still witnesses to this holy name with love and openness towards the other. With patience it sails in the sea of the temptations of this world trustful in the hope of its Lord and strengthened with the faith of its sons who receive enlightenment for their lives from the face of the Lord.
The Church of Antioch is built with love and this is what the thrice blessed Patriarch Ignatius IV of blessed memory, founder of the University of Balamand, said in the end of the 1980s: "if they were destined to destruct, our destiny is to build and stay." Here we are, after him, continuing this principle and declare: "if you were destined to build, thrice blessed father, our destiny is to continue and raise the construction, to be united and to gather here, each and everyone of us Antiochians in Christ, here where you labored and built."
Faith is a "deposit." This is what our liturgical books say when they talk about "preserving the deposit." This allows us to say that the faith of our ancestors has been preserved as a deposit. It reached us and we received it despite the atrocities of history. And this is our message today: to keep the faith despite the most difficult situations. Keeping our faith means to always be one hand and one body where all the geographical distances melt and the logic of solidarity and being there for the needy prevails. Today we are a united group that tells ourselves and the world that we are one body in whose veins flows one faith and a real brotherhood acquired from being baptized in the same Antiochian basin. Being sons and daughters of the Church of Antioch and All the East does not mean seclusion and isolation but being the first seed of an oriental and Christian unity. It does not mean fanatism towards our brothers the eastern Christians but a foundation for unity and common destiny with all the Christians of the East. In parallel, we are open to the Muslim brother and neighbor and endeavor with all the communities of this East in order to build peace, citizenship and respectful life for the good of all.
Our Antiochian Orthodox Church is a vineyard in the true sense of the word. The vineyard spreads its branches away and the branches grow in a new land and flourish new parishes and dioceses overseas, in the two Americas, Australia and Europe. These dioceses might have a special situation because they are planted in a far away land but they stem from the Antiochian root that provided them with priests, pastors and experience. So it became with its generous sons ambassadors of the spirit of the Antiochian church and a strong supporting arm to the mother church and motherland. Our Antiochian unity, the theme of this conference, is expressed through the presence of the believers from these dioceses with us today. Among them are also brothers and sisters who converted to the Orthodox church through our Antiochian church and of whom we are proud, and for them we permanently pray.
My brothers, we are today in Balamand under the protection of our Lady who leads us and under the dome of her renowned monastery amidst the olive trees of Koura and in the hospitality of its generous communities. We gather today at an Orthodox university born from the womb of an Antiochian church to tell the world that the historical Church of Antioch is one with the Antioch church of the future and that history interests us in as far as we learn lessons from the past and permanently keep our eyes on the present and the future.
If we talk about the Antiochian unity, we find ourselves before the first and most simple rule of its existence: the Christian existence in this East. The essence of the unity of the Orthodox and Christian Antioch is to exist, to be rooted and at the same time to be open to the others in all the countries of this Orient. The first guarantee of this existence is the peace of this land. We are today here praying for the peace in the Orient and in the whole world.
Today we pray to our Lord and our Creator to grant peace to the world. We pray today for Lebanon. We pray that all may remember that this land created the alphabet, which is the expression of the need to meet the other. Our need is great, in this East, and especially in this country to remember that the land who gave us the alphabet deserves from us an alphabet too, i.e. dialogue and encounter. Dialogue and encounter are two important conditions to establish stability in Lebanon. The presidential vacancy in Lebanon paralyses the role of the institutions that are supposed to serve the citizens. We address these words to all politicians without exception: your people entrusted Lebanon to you, so be worthy of this trust.
We pray today for Syria. O Lord, this country is longing for your peace. It is longing for the voice of rationality and moderation for it is not used to the language of destruction and terror. Syria is missing the security it used to enjoy. Syria has always been a stable country that respected all the religions. It has never experienced this "takfeer" which is an attitude accusing the others of unbelief and considering them as opponents. Sheikhs and Bishops have always lived peacefully together under Syria's roof. Murdering of priests or abduction of bishops has never happened. Isn't it our right to long for the days of peace! And to always assure that all difficulties will be swept away by a word of sincere dialogue and overcome by the encounter of the other! Isn't it our right to be proud of a Christian-Muslim brotherhood and partnership that have always been there and will always exist despite the difficulties and the growing extremist ideologies we are witnessing at present! Syria is an olive branch and the peace of Syria's olives will not dry out.
We pray for Iraq, Egypt and Palestine and for every spot of this Orient and of this world that longs for peace and for a decent life. Enough conflicts and slogans. The smile of our children was created to enjoy the peace of this earth not its wars and destruction. The abducting of civilians, among which the two bishops Paul and John and other priests and the international silence towards their case and our concern is a big shame especially for those who talk about human rights and call for their implementation but do nothing to make it happen.
In my name and in the name of my brothers the bishops, I send today from Balamand, my warmest greetings to all our sons in the homeland and abroad. I greet them one by one and I thank all the loving faces that gathered from Lebanon and Syria to participate in this conference and this holy Liturgy in order to draw a clear picture of our love for this land and our deep attachment to it no matter how difficult the situation is. I also thank, in your name, all the unknown soldiers who paid a lot of efforts to make this gathering possible. I thank the Balamand family: monastery, university and college. My thank goes also for the mass media who connect us with our beloved brothers who are not able to be geographically with us but are here present through the holy communion of the church.
"So that they may be one." These are your words O Lord; so grant us to act according to them, to fulfill them and to raise our thank to You with Your Father and Your Holy Spirit, Glory be to Thee forever, Amen.