IN THE NAME OF THE SELF-EXISTENT
SEMPITERNAL OF NECESSARY EXISTENCE THE ALMIGHTY
IGNATIUS PATRIARCH OF THE HOLY SEE OF ANTIOCH AND ALL THE EAST
SUPREME HEAD OF THE UNIVERSAL SYRIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH IN THE WORLD
ZAKKA I IWAS
|January 21, 2006
We offer apostolic benediction, and benevolent prayers, to our brethren, His Beatitude Mor Baselius Thomas I, Catholicos of India, and their Eminence the Metropolitans, our spiritual children the venerable priests, monks, nuns, deacons and deaconess, and our venerated Syriac Orthodox people all over the world. May the divine providence embrace them through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, and St. Peter, the Head of the Apostles, and the rest of the Martyrs and Saints. Amen.
"Maran - a'tha. The Lord had come (and will come)" 1 Cor 6:22
"And those who were ready went in with him to the wedding" Matthew 25:10
It is a heavenly wedding when the victorious Holy Church is wedded to her groom and her redeemer our Lord Jesus Christ, at the end of ages.
How happy would be those who would share in this heavenly wedding. Yes indeed, in His first coming, the Lord did establish His kingdom on earth and called her His Church. And He delegated His apostles and disciples to shepherd her on His behalf He gave them authority to teach and preach so that the sons of perdition will become the children of His kingdom and active members in His Holy Church that He founded on the rock of faith in Him as "the Son of the Living God" (Mathew 16:16), the hope of all generations, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who descended from heaven and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and saved us from our three enemies: Death, Sin and Satan. He started His holy mission calling openly on all mankind to "Repent, for the kingdom of heave is at hand" (Matthew 4:17), and He invited everyone to His kingdom.
The Lord gave us many parables in this regard. The kingdom of God is a fish net that caught many fishes, large and small, good and bad. The kingdom of God includes the righteous and the bad people on this earth. The Lord likened that to a man who sowed good seeds but with it tares appeared. To us, my beloved, it represents that in the Holy Church there are people who are true believers who stick firmly to the church constitution of faith and its doctrines and translates into good deeds that a believer lives by. And there are also those who do not deserve to be called "Christians" and are not considered followers of Christ. They are tares planted among the seeds by an enemy who is against the owner of the field. "When the grain had sprouted and produced a crop then the tares also appeared. Then the servants of the owner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares'? He said to them, 'An enemy has done this'. The servants said to him, 'Do you want us then to go and gather them up? 'But he said, 'No. lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest'" (Mathew 13: 24-30). In the Church there are good and bad people. They both belong to and are members in the Church until the day when the Lord Jesus comes again, a second time, in His Father's glory and His angels with Him to judge the world. He shall send His angels to separate the good from the bad.
The good shall inherit His heavenly kingdom and the bad shall be thrown to the outside darkness to inherit hell and the worst destiny. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. We also notice in the parable of the ten wise and foolish virgins that the foolish ones were believers in the Lord Jesus as the Savior of the world and were awaiting His second coming, same as the wise ones, but did not keep the oil of mercy, love and good deeds in their lamps. And when their lamps ran out of oil and were going out, they had no extra oil and couldn't buy oil because the markets were closed for it was late. The wise and ready virgins went in to the wedding and the foolish ones stood outside the door knocking with pain and sorrow but the door didn't open, Rather they heard the bridegroom's voice saying, "I do not know you". The door is closed and there is no more time for anybody's repentance after the departure from this life because the bridegroom has already entered the wedding and those who were ready have entered with him. How miserable are those who even though believers in the kingdom of God on earth, the Holy Church, and even though their lamps are lit with apparent faith, but did not translate their faith into good works, the works of mercy that is described by St. James: "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and keep oneself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27)
The Lord said, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" (Mathew 12:7). And St. James the apostle said. "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? ... Faith by itself, if it doesn't have works, is dead" (James 2: 14&20). The Lord gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan in order to teach us to have mercy on those who need it. The Good Samaritan who heard the moaning of the victim of thieves while no one came to his help, he, the Good Samaritan took the risk and bandaged his wounds and poured the wine of his heart and the oil of his inner self, set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn. He paid two denarii on his behalf and said to the innkeeper, "Take care of him and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you" (Luke 10:35). The Good Samaritan was praised by the Lord who taught us that mercy is better than sacrifice. According to the parable, the Lord Jesus condemned the priest who passed by the wounded man and did not rescue him. He also condemned the Levite, or the deacon, who was supposedly serving the altar of God because he also heard the groaning, looked and passed by. The Lord praised the Good Samaritan although he was a stranger because he took care of the wounded man, proving that mercy deeds accompanied by faith find favor in the eyes of God. We should have mercy in our hearts that is proven by help and service to the needy, regardless of their religion, denomination or race.
Yes, indeed, the Lord Jesus gave us a great opportunity in His kingdom on earth to believe in Him and keep His commandments in order to inherit His heavenly kingdom. His wedding, for which He invited all mankind, starts by believing that He is the Only-Begotten Son of God, and showing this faith by keeping all His commandments, trusting that our life on earth, no matter how long it is, it is short indeed, we shall depart when death comes, or it will end upon the second coming of Christ, in an hour we do not know as He said, "Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into, Therefore, you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Mathew 24: 42-44). This readiness is the same readiness of the five wise virgins, by having good works and good faith we become His witnesses on earth because He is our Good Samaritan who descended from heaven and saved us from the thieves or Satan who try to lead us into temptations. If we believe him (Satan) as our first parents did, we shall lose the grace of God and shall be left half dead like the wounded man who fell among thieves and we shall be in need of the Lord Jesus, the Good Samaritan to save us, heal our wounds and take us into His Holy Church.
My beloved, when Jesus left our world, in flesh, after completing His redemption and went back to His heavenly Father and sat on His right hand side, He bade farewell to His disciples by lifting His hands and blessing them on the Mount of Olives. He ascended to heaven in His glorified body while the disciples were watching. A cloud received Him out of their sight. St. Luke who described the scene said that two angels appeared as two men in white apparel and said to the disciples, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will also come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). The disciples not only rejoiced on hearing about the second coming of Christ but they also worshipped Him and thus confessed that He was the "God who appeared in flesh". They returned happily to Jerusalem and since that time the Church represented by her disciples and fathers and the whole group of believers standing alert, have looked upward toward heaven and await the second coming of Jesus. In His first coming He redeemed us and defeated our enemies: Death, Satan and sin. He also blessed us by bestowing upon us the grace of adoption, the sons of heaven. But in His second coming, as we believe and confess in the Nicene Creed that we recite at the beginning and the end of the holy Eucharist, "the Lord shall come to judge the world". St. Paul definitely believes in this truth and he preached it to the faithful as was received by the other apostles by the Lord. They taught us to say, in deacon's voice every time we celebrate the holy Eucharist, "O Lord Jesus, we remember your death and we believe in your resurrection and we wait Your second coming. Have mercy upon us." The early Christians and their followers used to greet one another by saying in Syriac-Aramaic, 'Maran-A'tha - Our Lord has come and shall come again.' Yes we are awaiting with faith His second coming. St Paul says that if we are alive in flesh when He comes again, we shall be caught up with Him in the air after having our bodies glorified. If we have already slept in the Lord, our souls shall remain alive and we shall hear His voice and shall be resurrected and united with our bodies to inherit His heavenly kingdom.
How happy we shall be if we behave like the five wise virgins who were ready. We shall watch with them and await His second coming while our lamps are lit with good works. We shall be worthy to welcome Him with joy and shall enter with Him to His kingdom where we shall share in His wedding and shall celebrate. How happy we shall be if we are among that blessed group of people.
My beloved, Christ will definitely come again to judge the worlds. If we believe in His second coming and ready as the five wise virgins, then our lamps shall stay lit and we shall enter into His heavenly wedding and inherit His kingdom on the day when the Lord shall call upon the righteous on His right hand side by saying, "Come you blessed of My Father inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world"... He also says to the ones on His left hand side, "Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels... And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Mathew 25:34&41&46).
Dearly beloved, let us be like the five wise virgins and let us hold dear to our doctrine of faith and walk in the light of Jesus, in order to be filled with the flame of faith. Real faith is the one accompanied by good works, otherwise it is a dead faith. And whenever He comes, He will find us ready, alert and awaiting Him with lamps full with oil. He shall invite us to go into His wedding with the five wise virgins and we shall enjoy His heavenly table forever.
May God accept your fasting, prayers and charity deeds. May He have mercy upon the souls of your beloved departed, and may He make you worthy to celebrate His glorious resurrection with spiritual joy, good health and prosperity. May His grace embrace you all, Amen.
Our Father Who art in heaven...
Issued at our Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria
On the 21st day of January, in the year two thousand six of our Lord
which is the 26th year of our Patriarchal reign.