My brother, Your Holiness and Beatitude Patriarch Mar Ignatius Ephrem II Karim,
My brothers the bishops and priests,
People of the Syriac and Greek Church of Antioch who are one and great in their faith and ardent zeal,
Beloved and neighbors of Saint Ephrem,
My beloved who are gathered here under the shelter of Saint George the Victory-Bearer,
It is a great pleasure for me to say to you, “How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together!” The Psalmist once said this and today your sweet faces and the smiles of your children say this. The stone of this holy monastery say this. If they could speak, they would sing of their longing to see loved ones and would chant welcome to them all as living stones in the body of the Antiochian Church that first sang the name of Christ and spread it to the lips of all humankind. We welcome you most warmly. It is better for us to say: welcome to your home in the Monastery of Saint George. Our meeting today is a message to the world that the seeds of Christian unity will by watered first by us in Antioch, just as Jesus’ disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
How good and pleasant it is to meet under the shelter of Saint George, whom the churches of the world know and whose name they take. How beautiful it is to pray in blessed days ruled by the Virgin Mary in the sublimity of her purity and the light of her holiness. How good and pleasant it is to meet in Syria, our homeland and yours, in Syria where they named our ancestors Christians, in this land that has welled forth to the world with the waters of her Euphrates the teaching of Saint Ephrem, the saint of repentance. In this land, Christianity had its infancy and from here the spark of Christian love went out to Rome and all the corners of the earth. This land gave us Ignatius of Antioch, who was bound in the shackles of this present age just as many of us are shackled in these circumstances. However, these shackles did not restrain the determination of faith. These are the same chains and shackles that will shatter before Syria and her steadfastness, the steadfastness of her leaders, her army and her people. Through the work of her good children, Syria shall rise up and shake off the ruin that has come to us from abroad. She herself will bury in her soil all those who permit themselves to tamper with the eternal monuments of her life. We have said and we will continuously say: our salvation is in dialogue and in the political solution, in word and deed. To the outside world we cry out from here in this Valley: look honestly at what is happening in Syria and Iraq, particularly in Mosul, and in every place that has falsely and deceitfully taken up the mantle of “Springtime”. Look honestly at the tragedy of Palestine. Look at Lebanon, which is paying a high price. We have known this land as the birthplace of the alphabet, which is an image of the need to encounter the other. We have not known her to be a hotbed for takfirism, terrorism and kidnapping. We in this Middle East are fed up with language of solidarity and wishful thinking on the part of those who are entrusted with decision and action. We have had enough of slogans while our bishops Youhanna and Paul, our priests and our people are being kidnapped while the world watches. The smile of our children is more precious than the falsehood of the world’s slogans. The soil of this land where we were born, live and die is our treasure, our well-being, and our vessel for passage into true life.
I lift up my prayer in your name to the Mother of Light, Our Lady the Virgin. I lift it up with the candles of the Umm al-Zunnar Church and with all the refugees who have been separated from their families and their people by the present circumstances. I lift up my prayer to the Virgin and say:
O All-Holy Virgin who dwells in the abode of heavenly glory, who protects us and all the children of this Middle East, light of our life and balm of our wounds, companion of the exhausted who wipes away the tears of those who sorrow, we take refuge in you and ask you to place your faith in our hearts. Wipe away our weaknesses with the light of your Son and shelter Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the entire world in the peace of Christ the Lord. Teach us, O Mother, how to be sons and rise above the cares of this world to find in you a lamp to light the paths of our life. Show us, O maiden who adopted simplicity and sweetness, how to make our souls shine with the light of the resurrection, how to make the power of hope in God pulse within us, and how to make our souls into a vessel whose pilot is Christ and whose sail is the imitation of His saints. Be our consolation, our protection and our ardent intercessor.
In these blessed days we give you praise as an offering and candles as a supplication. By our candles make the light of consolation glow in our hearts. Wipe away the tears of this present age and crown the brow of those who love you with the peace of the Child of the manger. We ask you, O daughter of our earthly form, to form our souls with the power of firm hope in the dawn of our resurrection, the resurrection of our people, of our nations, of our Middle East. You who swaddled your heavenly Child and and made your bed beside him in the cave, swaddle our souls in humility and the power of hope. Make your bed beside the land of the Middle East and preserve it. Preserve our precious Valley and pledge your all-surpassing protection to our children in the homeland and the diaspora.
O Mother, be at the side of Mother Thekla and strengthen those who are in hardship. Draw the souls of the departed to your breast and to the breast of your little Son. You who rejoiced to see the resurrection of your Son and our God, make us worthy to rejoice at the return of peace to Syria, Iraq and every corner of the world. O traveling companion of John and Paul, be with our brothers Youhanna and Paul and with all those who have been abducted. Be with them. We say this as we know you are with them where they are. Wipe away from the eyes of humanity the lies and falsehood of these present days. We ask you to bear us all in your prayer to the Lord and to accept our song as incense before your Son.
We ask you, a daughter of this Middle East, to quench the flames of war here. Warm it with the warmth of love. O wellspring of love, cause souls to blaze with its brilliance and by its dew quenches tormented hearts. If these days are the cross for this Middle East, your consolation is what lightens the burden of bearing the cross. Your recollection covers minds with the dew of the resurrection dawn. Following the example of your Son, we do not fear Golgotha in your presence, O Virgin. Be a safe harbor and shelter and preserve this people who seeks the mercies of your Son, to Him be glory unto the ages amen.
Once more, Your Holiness, welcome to your home. May the Lord God grant us to always walk according to the guidance of His teachings. Welcome, beloved, children of the Syriac Church. Welcome to our brothers to whom we are bound by ancientness of faith, the first breaths of holiness, love of monasteries, the prayer of monks, love of the land and the power of hope in Christ the Lord, to Him be glory unto the ages amen.