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Lent Encyclical - January 1, 1998



We extend our apostolic benediction, best wishes and greetings to our venerable brothers, Their Eminencies the Metropolitans; to our spiritual children: the honorable archdiocesan vicars, chor-episcopii, monks, priests and deacons; and to all our esteemed Syrian Orthodox people. May the divine providence of the Lord be bestowed upon them through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and all the martyrs and saints. 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 )

After inquiring about your well being…

Mahatma Gandhi, 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, declaring that he always read it.

Mahatma Gandhi and other such leaders of nations, great thinkers, philosophers and scientists throughout the ages, knew the Lord Jesus through His divine and literary teachings and through His pure and holy reputation. They perceived Him only as a great prophet and outstanding social reformer. However, by such assumptions, some ancient and contemporary pretenders changed the Gospel of salvation into a social gospel.

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; 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 to 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...

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 the disciples were saying concerning His divine person. "Who do men say," he asked, "that I, the Son of Man, am?" 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."

Indeed, preaching about the good life of the Lord Jesus and His grand 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 as our own Savior and of the world?

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 flesh, as well as those who begat in spirit. 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 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.

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, instead of being 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 fasting, 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. The grace of God be with you. Amen.

Our Father Who art in heaven… etc.

Issued from our Patriarchal Residence in Damascus, Syria,
on the 1st day of Second Kanun (January) 1998, the 18th year of our Patriarchate.

Translated from the original by the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of the Eastern United States.

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Last Update: February 25, 1998