Closing exhortation

I am praying for us to arrive, as we follow the highways and byways of our journeys, at Straight Street, the Damascus road.

We all need to walk along the road to Damascus: not the earthly city of Damascus, a political entity, delineated by history and geography, but Damascus, city of encounter with the living Christ, risen from the dead, who calls us to salvation, redemption, love, hope and peace.

We need the Damascus road. May everyone in the world tread the road to Damascus, so that the world may change and people move from shadows to light, from night to day, sin to righteousness, persecution to love, violence to kindness, selfishness to altruism, terrorism to solidarity, fundamentalism to openness, the spirit of vengeance to such feelings as Saint Paul expresses when he exhorts the faithful to have among themselves the thoughts and manners that are in Christ Jesus, and reminds them that the fruits of the Spirit are “love.. gentleness, temperance.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

And with Saint Paul, we say to all those who will read this Pauline Christmas Letter, “…now it is high time to awake out of sleep: … The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly... But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” (Romans 13:11-14)

What a beautiful world is Paul’s! May the world of Saint Paul’s Epistles invade our suffering world today that lies in darkness, in revolt, hateful, vindictive, combative, exploitative, materialistic, carnal, obsessed with sex, superficial, egotistic, vacillating, erring, disorientated, without reference points, aimless: our world has such need of Paul! Beyond Paul, it needs Christ, the Gospel, the Good News. It needs God. It is really athirst and ahungered for God, but the tragedy is that the world is unaware of the fact that it is athirst and ahungered, for its cares, passions, depravation, futility and lifestyle stifle the Word of God planted in the human heart and hence it cannot bear fruit. This world does not hear the voice of the living and risen Jesus, who is waiting for each one of us on the road to our Damascus, on the Via Recta, and calling us by name, begging, challenging, chiding, awakening us from sleep, stupor, insensibility, hardness of heart, to tell us this, “Thou art mine; I have loved thee; I love thee; I know thee by name; thou art a chosen vessel for me; I have chosen thee; I have sought thee; I have called thee. Why dost thou persecute me? Why dost thou stray from me? Why dost thou not acknowledge me in thy life? Why hast thou struck off my name and dwelling-place from thy list of thy friends and companions in times of joy and gladness? Restore my name to the addresses on thy mobile and email. Set me as a seal upon thine heart. Open to me the door of thine heart: I stand at the door and knock.

Happy is he who opens to me! Happy art thou, if thou dost open, for I am coming to thee, I want to stay with thee and fill thine heart, soul, mind and entire life with joy, happiness and hope and open wide thine eyes with love and faith.”

Brothers and sisters, I would like you to feel, as you read this letter, the same strong emotion that I felt while reading the Letters of Saint Paul and gradually writing this letter over recent months in Lebanon, Syria, the Vatican, Germany, England, the United States of America and Mexico.

In all those countries I wrote pages of this letter, which was for me a matter of great joy, gladness, incredible rapture and incomparable sweetness.

Try it. Taste and see how good and gracious the Lord is and how sweet his words. Don’t be afraid of experiencing in your own life what Saint Paul went through: the real experience of the Christian apostles, saints, martyrs, ascetics and monastics down the ages and of every Christian baptized in Christ Jesus.

That is what I wish for you and pray for this to be realised in you, at the intercession of our Most Holy Mother, the Theotokos and at the intercession of Saint Paul. May this letter bring you greetings for the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ and our very cordial good wishes for the New Year 2009!

With my friendship and blessing,

+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

Translated from the French by V. Chamberlain