Having participated in the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops held at the Vatican from 10-24 October 2010, on the theme of The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness, H. B. Patriarch Gregorios III undertook a number of activities to publicise this event.

Patriarch Gregorios called this Synod for the Middle East "a great gift of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Christian East, showing his special esteem for the Eastern Catholic Churches" and "an historic initiative."

Letter to Arab Heads of State

The Melkite Patriarch then undertook a series of post-synodal activities, through which he spoke to the Christian faithful. But he also wanted to challenge his Muslim brothers in Arab countries. He therefore wrote a letter to the Kings and Presidents of Arab countries before the Synodal Assembly (18 June 2010) and once it had been held (24 October 2010). He gave talks especially for Muslims in Beirut and Saida, Lebanon, and will be doing the same next month in Egypt (in Cairo and Alexandria) and in Jordan (Amman).

International Congress in Damascus

The biggest post-synodal event was the holding of an International Congress in Damascus, Syria, on 15 December 2010 entitled, The Impact of the Synod for the Middle East on Arab countries. This congress was organised jointly by the Syrian Ministry of the Awqaf and the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate.

Attending the congress from about thirty countries were some three thousand persons, including three Damascus based Patriarchs (Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholic) the Syrian Catholic Patriarch (from Lebanon), representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Patriarchates of Russia and Romania, the Orthodox Churches of Cyprus and Greece, the Holy Apostolic See of Rome (the Archbishop Secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches), as well as the Apostolic Nuncio to Syria and about twenty-five members of Episcopates of thirteen Orthodox and Catholic Churches from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Armenia, Jordan, Iran and Israel.

On the Muslim side, as well as the Syrian Ministers of the Awqaf and of Information, and the Grand Mufti of Syria, many religious and political personalities from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, Libya and Iran attended, besides representatives of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Muslim-Christian dialogue centres and various Islamic institutions.

Christmas Plea for Peace to Western Heads of State

This week, Patriarch Gregorios III has written to Western leaders to apprise them of the Synod's importance with respect to three issues:

1. The importance of the Christian presence in the Middle East and the challenges facing it

2. Muslim-Christian dialogue

3. The impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the two preceding issues, and thus the urgent need for peace.

Patriarch Gregorios argues that if Western leaders "wish there still to be Christians in the Middle East in the Holy Land, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and the countries of the Gulf," they should help with efforts towards peace and stopping Israeli settlements on the West Bank, recognized in international law as Palestinian land. He adds that Christians and Muslims are concerned about the apparent inequity of imposing sanctions on "Syria, Iraq, and Iran, but never any that affect Israel."

V. C.

Teachings of Christ

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’" (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV)

Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem

O Lord and Master of my life, drive away from me the spirit of despondency, carelessness, love of power, and idle chatter. (Prostration)

Rather grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humility, patience, and love. (Prostration)

Yes, O Lord and King, grant that I may see my own faults and not condemn my brother; for You are blessed to the ages of ages. Amen. (Prostration)

Random Proverb

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7 ESV)

Pray Without Ceasing

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

No one has to be embarrassed over his sinful state. ‘There is no man who, while living, does not sin,’ and the more sinful the man, the stronger will be God’s help in leading him out of his sinful mire. But the help of God comes only when the sinner repents with heartfelt contrition and has the will to reform. Not seeing in himself enough strength of soul to break away from sinful deeds, he asks for God’s help. This is where the mercy of God, Who does not wish the death of the sinner but wants him to be converted and live, is often evident.… If the voice of conscience awakens in us a feeling of remorse or repentance, then we must pray fervently to the Guardian Angel of our human existence that he may keep us from corrupt downfalls and help us ‘serve God with fear and trembling.’

Elder Macarius of Optina