His Holiness Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas
Patriarch of Antioch and all the East It would
be most helpful to remind you of the identity of our Holy Church: The Syrian
Orthodox Church of Antioch the apostolic see of which was established in AD
37 by St. Peter, the chief of apostles in Antioch the ancient capital of
Syria. It is therefore a Syrian Church. The faithful of this church are
called Syrians after the name of Syria. At the dawn of Christianity members
of this church were the people who had settled in upper and lower
Mesopotamia and were either Jews or pagans who spoke Aramaic Syriac which
was the vernacular language of ancient Syria. They were converted to
Christianity through the ministry of the apostles and disciples who
scattered after the martyrdom of Archdeacon St. Stephen in Jerusalem. Many
of them came to Antioch to preach the Holy Gospel and multitudes of Jews and
pagans were converted to Christianity by their efforts.
St. Peter consecrated two bishops for them: St. Evodios for the conversion
of Gentiles ant! Pagans and St. Ignatius the Illuminator for the conversion
of Jews into Christianity. St. Ignatius united the two groups after St.
Evodios had departed to his heavenly reward. He was the one who called the
church "universal'' being the first lo use the term as an attribute of the
The vernacular of the Syrian church
Our venerable Syrian Fathers used their Aramaic Syriac in preaching the Holy
Gospel and were capable of ministering the Gospel of salvation in the Middle
East, India. China, Ethiopia and other countries of the world using their
Syriac language clearly and simply. They used this language in writing
hymns, prayers and liturgical books. They also translated universal cultures
into Syriac and afterwards into other various languages. Syriac has been the
official and liturgical language of our church up to the present day. It is
Therefore our sacred duty to maintain it and teach it lo our children. It is
the holy language spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ His blessed mother the
Virgin Mary and His holy apostles.
Jurisdiction of the apostolic see of Antioch
The apostolic see of Antioch occupies a highly esteemed position in
Christendom. Throughout our study of Church history over the ages, we can
see that the geographical content of our church jurisdiction as specified by
the Council of N ices (325) has gone beyond the ancient geographic borders
as Syrians spread throughout the world coming under the jurisdiction of the
apostolic see of Antioch wherever they settled or dwelled.
Active members in the Syrian church
An active member in the body of the Syrian Church is one who adheres to the
true orthodox faith received from our Holy Fathers and the just doctrine
specified in the tree Ecumenical Councils convened in Nicaea 325.
Constantinople 381 and Ephesus 431. He is that member who is well committed
to the Syrian Orthodox tradition and loyal to the legitimate spiritual
leadership of the Church.
DEAR BRETHREN, in my capacity as successor to St. Peter, the chief of the
apostles, I do address you using the same words with which St. Peter
addressed the strangers: " Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the
Father through sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of
the Blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied. (I Peter
We, the Syrian Orthodox, are all one in our Lord Jesus Christ one in our
church which is the mystical body of Christ and one in our holy apostolic
see of Antioch which represents the supreme spiritual authority in the
Church. No matter how varied we are as people and as nationalities, how
different the civilizations we belong to and the languages we speak, we are
one in our apostolic patrimony our religious doctrine our Syriac language
and supreme spiritual leadership.
Our forefathers shed their blood for the sake of preserving these principles
and scouring liberty in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The meaning of freedom
Our spiritual concept of real freedom is to live according to God's law and
abide by His judgment. In other words we follow the orthodox path by being
righteous, holy and God-fearing meanwhile adhering to the true faith and
abiding by the constitution laws and rules of the Church. We thus set a good
example for the citizens in the countries wherever we live.
Church hierarchy and the faithful
Our Church comprises the hierarchy and the faithful. Authority in the Church
is purely religious and restricted to the hierarchy who are in charge of the
Church at the authoritative, teaching and judicial levels. It is the Church
that Jesus Christ referred to when addressing the apostles: "He who hears
you, hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects
Him who sent Me (Luke 10. 16,)" It is also the Church that He referred to
when addressing the person whose brother trespassed against him commending
him to go and tell him his fault: And if lie refuses to hear them, tell it
to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church let him be to you
like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you. Whatever you
bird on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will
be loosed in heaven (Matthew 18. l 7.18)"
The laity, on the other hand, have their role to play in the life of the
Church. However, the Church is not a secular mundane institution nor a
charitable association but a spiritual institution whose authority is
derived from heaven. It is the authority of the clergy only that governs the
Church on the religious spiritual and social levels.
All the institutions within the Church shall must obtain their legitimacy
and their right to function from the clerical authority otherwise, they
shall be deemed as alien to the body of the Church and shall therefore be
rejected whatever purposes they might have been established for in the first
place and regardless o f the objectives they are trying to fulfill They
would still be considered as alien to the Church, no matter how good their
means are unless they derive their legitimacy from the spiritual leadership.
Hence be- ware of those who attempt to break the ranks in the Church under
the false pretext of unifying it.
A crucial point in the life of the church
Our church today is at a crossroads: either to go back to its pure original
sources adheres to its honourable and ancient traditions keep pursuing its
great values as characteristic of our great Fathers, or follow new theories
that attempt to destroy the pillars of God's kingdom, thus cheating cleans
in the divine Church management.
Thanks to God Almighty for helping us reject every weird theory that is
foreign to our patrimony and our glorious Church history. We do absolutely
repudiate any distortion of our identity or any corruption of our precious
civilized heritage. We have deep convictions that the Church established by
the Lord Jesus on the solid rock of faith shall never be shaken and the
gales of hell shall never subdue it. We must look forward to a better future
for our Holy Church, depending on adequate and detailed studies that might
serve as scheduled plans for the spiritual functioning of the Church. We
must moreover, have practical application of these plans.
Church constitution and enforcement
Every institution has a constitution rules and regulations of its own. They
are considered to be binding. Every constitution and every law has three
basic elements: firstly the party establishing the constitution, secondly,
the party declaring it; thirdly, the party abiding by it. The constitution
of our Church has been set up by the Holy Synod presided over by the
Patriarch, who retains the right to amend the constitution and revise it.
The Patriarch is also en sub_titled to have it declared to all the faithful in
the Church so that it becomes binding. All the faithful must obey the
constitution of the Church its laws regulations and pronounced judgments.
Obedience due to the decisions of the Holy General and Local Synods convened
and presided over by the Patriarch has been inherited from our Holy Fathers.
Decisions of these synods arc considered as binding on the part of the
Church in general. Each diocese has a board consisting of the bishop and
clergy and another composed of trustees of the laity. The latter has its own
by-laws set up by the Holy Synod and confirmed by his Holiness the Patriarch
for the government of its members and the regulation of its affairs. Both
the board of clergy and the board of trustees have the power to set up
by-laws that do not conflict with the constitution of the Church its general
law and judgments, nor with the decisions of the Holy Synods or the laws or
the country where the diocese is established.
Prayer and sacrifice
Our Lord Jesus Christ has given us example of giving and sacrificing. It is
therefore mandatory that we in our turn sacrifice our leisure time or rather
the time we consider as greatly valuable, devoting it to the worship of God
Almighty. Spiritually and truthfully, never complaining of lack or time for
participation in the prayer with the congregation. We shall never be able to
have adequate sacrifices to God Almighty if we are incapable of being
generous in devoting time for prayer to God and for the Church.
It is the duty of all the hierarchy to celebrate the daily offices in the
morning and evening according to the tradition of our Holy Church. They must
devote their time to tile glorification of God seeking mercy from him for
themselves and for the community, entrusted to them so that the Church may
enjoy success, progress and prosperity.
We shall not be considered as generous and benefactors before God unless we
devote our time and offer our finances and possessions the widow did
donating the two brass pennies which were all she possessed to the temple.
Likewise local churches will not be considered as loyal to the diocese
unless they fulfill their duties towards it as a whole. The dioceses, in
their turn, must fulfill their duties towards the Holy Patriarchal See. As
such they will set a good example for Church unity. As true believers we are
bound to feel that we are one unified body, as tree and its branches are.
Obedience is better than sacrifice
All followers of Jesus Christ shat l endeavour to have Jesus Christ glory be
to Him as their ideal in His obedience to His heavenly Father. Bearing in
mind that the motto of the Church is the statement: "to obey is better than
sacrifice (1 Samuel 1 5:22).'' It is also the duty of the local spiritual
authorities to have mutual recognition according lo Church laws' and the
laity shall have to pay due respect to Church hierarchies so that order
shall prevail everywhere in the Church.
Jesus Christ is our ideal
Our Lord Jesus Christ is our ideal in His humbleness and His sympathy for
people's suffering, His sharing in their hops, their joys and grievances,
His love for little children, His discourses with young people and His
forgiveness of sinners, he commanded us that we follow in His footsteps
saying: "Take My yoke upon you. And learn of Me; for 1 am gentle and lowly
in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For sly yoke is easy, and my
burden is light. (Matthew l l: 29-30)"
Dear brethren you, as members of your local churches do constitute the local
congregations. You are brothers and sisters who have been called upon to
follow in the Lord Jesus' footsteps wherever you are, in church, at home or
at work. This would imply that each one of you shall have to work for the
glory of God in proportion with the charisma God has endowed you with,
making use of this gift for the benefit of the community in which you lives.
Each one shall have to feel committed to have those sublime virtues
consolidated in their thoughts, minds and hearts in order that their life be
in harmony with God's will.
Congregation and the priest
We do urge you in our sermons to interact in your spiritual life within the
congregation in which you are the living members. Share this spiritual life
with your brothers and sisters so that you all become one heart and one
thought with your priest whom you call 'dour father''. It is worth noting
that what distinguishes our Holy Church from other Churches is the spiritual
role to be played by the priest in the congregation. He is the spiritual
father of every member of the family that belongs lo this congregation. His
relationship with each person must be deep and strong. The tits you
maintained in your home country must be kept in the Diaspora and you mast
desire to preserve this spiritual bond between the priest and members of the
congregation whether young or old male or female. The Church hierarchy shall
have to render their spiritual services to their spiritual children
enthusiastically and zealously because these faithful are the articulate
foundation stones upon which the spiritual edifice of the Church is
The sacrament of matrimony
In the context of our discourse about families we are bound to say something
about the sacrament of matrimony which is one of the seven holy sacraments
of the Church We are obliged to respect this sacrament the example set by
our fathers in our mother countries. Our fathers observed and honored thid
sacrament with solemnity throughout the ages.
Bringing children up
The first and most important objective of the sacrament of matrimony is
giving birth to children, Parents are bound to be not only the biological
parents of their children , but their spiritual ones as well so that these
children be born to God by grace and be heirs of His heavenly kingdom.
It is the responsibility of Church patrons to cooperate in bringing these
children up in a good Christian manner. For Jesus Christ highly regards
children in the community, saying: " Whoever receives one of these little
children in My name receives Me: and whoever receives Me, receives not Me
but Him who sent Me (Mark 9: 37)"
Youth in the church
Young people are so dear to the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus,
glory be to Him became man assuming thus our human nature except sin, He
perforated all His declared divine economy in the flesh on earth as an
adult. Now Christ has keen interest in working through young people for the
salvation of people. Hence we do urge our young spiritual children to get
involved in the spiritual and social activities of the Church. Solomon's
words: "The first step towards wisdom is the fear of God" could serve as a
amender. Furthermore God fearing is, in our opinion the ultimate goal.
Women in the church
Our Syrian Orthodox Churchy has granted women their religious and social
rights recognizing their merit and honouring them in the person of the
Virgin Mary who conceived God incarnate in her womb and gave birth to Christ
miraculously. Thus she was called Theotokos (Mother of God). It was Jesus
Christ's will to reveal Himself after resurrection to women first. Some
women served Him and His disciples when He was in the flesh traveling and
It is clear that women in the Syrian Church occupy a highly elevated
position as deaconesses, nuns' mothers of holy fathers and women dedicating
their lives to chastity and celibacy. When women are good members in the
Church of God their children will consequently be good and virtuous. It is
absolutely true that women eau lend a hand for the progress of the Church
and the community. They are capable of training choirs in the church and
conducting Bible studies in community canters or Sunday schools as they
might be called by some in the Diaspora. They are capable of starting
charitable societies to serve the orphans, widows and the poor. They can
also give good advice for the progress and development of the Church
community. Therefore, we urge our spiritual daughters to do their best lo
fulfill their duties towards serving the Church.
A world in need of peace
One unequivocal and bitter truth is the imbalanced and unstable world of
today. Admittance of such a truth is little more than a confession that the
world is nothing but the reflection of human conscience. This is not
restricted to our generation, but applies to all previous generation and
those to come.
The problems encountering us, materially and spiritually, are more
complicated than those faced by previous generation. In short, technology in
highly civilized counties is advancing rapidly on all levels and in
different settings. The aftermath of this progress, however, is man's
transformation into a dumb machine and his grave spiritual loss, Christ is
the remedy and the solution for our complicated problems and those created
by changes imposed by modern civilization and depriving man of happiness.
This would have a great impact on the life of modern man through this
spiritual peace bestowed on him in his daily life by Christ.
What we are presently in need of is true repentance, that is spiritual
renewal which would be the best impetus that might encourage us to work with
full responsibility and extreme courage for creating a new world full of
peace a peace is the most significant need today , we do exhort you. Dear
faithful, to share in our prayer to God Almighty to enlighten the minds and
hearts of world leaders to work on enhancing social justice and universal
peace throughout the world.
We live in an age of ecumenical movements. The majority of Christians
believe that Christian unity is the main objective the ultimate goal and the
most exalted end leading to the fulfillment of the Lord Jesus' desire in His
last prayer, " that you clay be one''.
Needless to say, our divisions have become a stumbling block since the basis
of Christian unity is the love of God and neighbour. Therefore, if we as
Christians are incapable of loving one another how could we be faithful
witnesses to our Lord Jesus Christ? How could the fruitful real love be
manifested in our daily life? In relevance to this. The Apostle Paul says:
Love suffers long and is kind, love does not envy, and love does not parade
itself is not puffed up; does not behave rudely does not seek its own is not
provoked thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the
truth, Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 1 3: 4-8.)"
Let us keep praying that we may love one another as members in the mystical
body of Christ which is the Church and to love all people. Our top priority
must first be the improvement of mutual relations between churches and then
between believers of good will of other religions as well as the improvement
of our relations with other inter- national communities.
By His Holiness Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas
Patriarch of Antioch and all the East