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Patriarch John X and the God Who is With Us

Patriarch John X has come to us while his country is under attack by terrorist groups, his brother and other churchmen remain captive, he and his people face the constant threat of martyrdom, and lands belonging to the Patriarchate are being imposed upon by other Orthodox churches. Despite all this, the Patriarch rejoiced in us and with us, preached peace and love, spoke truth in love and expressed true Christian joy. What a witness of faith! 

Echoing in my mind is the Patriarch’s plea for Americans of faith to call upon our governments of the U.S. and Canada to support peace.  The Patriarch said that we are not looking for protection. Protection for us, while peaceful Muslim brothers and sisters who lived with us for centuries remain unprotected, is not enough. We need peace. We need outside powers to stop interfering in Syria and stop imposing their own agenda. Syria needs peace.

The Patriarch spoke constantly about God’s presence with us, a presence made evident by his smile and loving posture. He spoke of the centrality of the Eucharist and the importance of worship. He offered constant images of the mystical reality of the Church shown by our being together. Together we worship in heaven with the angels and saints. Our Church of centuries and in all places is united.

Sayidna John shared the importance of our love for each other and reminded us that our unity is essential now, as the Church in the holy lands is under siege.  This unity is manifested in our bishops and people as we gather together and lift each other up.  This unity is essential as the ancient church of Antioch continues to emphasize the Incarnation of Christ. From this emphasis come all the good works of Christianity as an expression of God's love and His working with us.  This is the message that Antiochians contribute throughout the world where they have settled, to which they witness through worship and diaconia (service).  The Antiochian Church is not limited to the Middle East: Antiochians are in every corner of the earth.

Patriarch John encourages Orthodox Christians in Syria to stay in their homes so that the world can have a living witness that Christ walked these lands, and that the faith and love he gave mankind is still alive in the land on which He walked and where he preached. Without this witness, the truths of Christ born and ministering in the holy lands will be reduced to something from story books. Modern man needs the historic connection and witness of the Antiochian Church. Christians need to be in the holy lands.

Patriarch John was was not all consumed with the problems of the Church in the mother lands. He addressed America, calling us to holiness, faith, and worship. He stressed the importance of moral living and encouraged us to fight the evils that rage within us, even as we fight the evils that are outside of us. Happiness can only come through self-control and making good choices. We need to focus on our relationship with Christ and continue to develop ways to support each other in our spiritual journeys. We need to overcome sin in us.

Our father, Patriarch John, called us to care for our children and families. Men must give spiritual life to their families and women must nurture and teach the faith. Faith must be a priority over secular and non- essential things. We need to continue the life-giving tradition, delivered to Antioch by Saints Peter and Paul and preserved in every generation. We must emulate Christian pioneers like St. Raphael and others, who came to America and brought the faith and piety of Antioch with them.

I am inspired by the witness of Patriarch John X and the bishops and helpers of his entourage.  They shared the joy of Christ which burns brightly amidst persecution and martyrdom. I covet their holy prayers for America, which faces a persecution of sorts by immorality and apathy. I appreciate their witness and their love, and their emphasis on our unity with each other. I am invigorated to serve better because of this historic visit, and I hope that the little we are able to share in this edition of  The WORD will give readers an opportunity to share just a bit of the holy joy of our saintly father John X and his entourage.