April 15, 2001
Common Easter Message
Their Beatitudes the Patriarchs and Their Excellencies the Heads of the Churches of Jerusalem
"Christ is risen." (Luke 24:1-52) Jesus, Lord and Savior, has risen today, just as He had foretold His apostles. "They will put Him to death, and on the third day He will rise again" (Mt 17:23). Indeed, after the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Churches of Jerusalem witness with one voice and one heart to the glory of His Resurrection as they rejoice in the hope and strength that comes from that empty tomb in the heart of our Holy City.
Before bearing the cross Himself, Jesus had called upon His disciples
to carry the cross and follow Him. He had asked them to walk the narrow
path that leads toward salvation. This double vision of the cross and the
Resurrection applies to the situation in which we find ourselves today.
Our suffering and fear in the past few months has increased in view of
the uncertainty of the political situation. We reassure each and every
one of our sons and daughters that we share the pain of every family that
is deprived of hope as they go through their daily lives without jobs and
income or are exposed physically and psychologically to
the painful measures that are imposed upon them. Although the closures that are sealing most of the Palestinian territories bring days of deep despair, we ought to remain committed to hope. "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live." (Deut. 30:19)
In this cycle of struggle and suffering, we detect also the way of the
cross that will ultimately lead toward the glory of the Resurrection. Thus
celebrating Easter means the restoration of our hope that victory of life
over death also will be witnessed in this troubled land of ours. This will
only happen when violence and discrimination give way to a real peace,
between the 'two peoples and the three religions' of this small land where
God chose to reveal His divine will. Such a peace can only be secured through
mutual reconciliation based on the respect for the dignity and value God
has given to all human beings. In no way can
this peace be imposed by sheer force: it is nurtured by an honest application of justice and mercy in line with internationally-accepted legitimate resolutions for the benefit of the weaker part. Therefore, all of us, who claim faith in the Living God who has overcome death and sin, are called today to witness and work with steadfast determination and persistent commitment. The words of the prophet Isaiah come fittingly to mind: "See the former things have come to pass and new
things I now declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them..." (Isaiah 42:9) God speaks to us of a time in which the relationship of creation with the Creator is restored, justice is the benchmark of every nation, and the light of redemption shines in the deepest corners of despair.
As all the Churches of Jerusalem celebrate the paschal festivities together this first year of the new millenium, they also affirm that the experience of Easter is one of liberation. It is a triumph of life over death, of peace over violence. Looking at the One God who manifested His power over servitude and death, we address all secular and political authorities to welcome into their hearts the good will and good faith that builds new generations with renewed hope and sustained confidence.
Today, we ask our faithful in the Holy Land as well as all believers world-wide to share with us in the transformation of hearts and minds so that the true joy that comes with the Risen Lord can also infuse their own lives. We pray for an end to the unjustifiable deaths that plague our societies. We pray for the immediate end of all collective punishments, especially for the lifting of the closures of Palestinian towns and villages. We pray for the good will of Palestinians and Israelis - of Jews, Christians and Moslems alike - in actively working for justice and peace. We pray for equality so that one no longer sees the neighbor as an enemy but rather as a brother or sister with whom to build a new society. Ours is a message of hope and compassion, of reconciliation and joy. To all, we affirm that Easter is the time to become one voice and one heart before the Lord so that "we may come to know Him and the power of the Resurrection" (Phil 3:10) in a genuine, just and comprehensive peace that no longer disparages one God-given life over another.
Our Christian message remains constant year in year out. Life conquers death, and love defeats hatred. Hope tramples desolation, joy overcomes despair, and peace ends violence. So let us all proclaim together: "Where, o death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1Cor. 15:55,57)
The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed.
Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches of Jerusalem
+ Archimandrite Cornelius: Locum Tenens, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.
+ Patriarch Michel Sabbah: Latin Patriarchate.
+ Patriarch Torkom II: Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate.
+ Ignatius VIII Pierre Abdul-Ahad: Syrian Catholic Patriarch.
+ Father Giovanni Battistelli: Custody of the Holy Land.
+ Anba Abraham: Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate.
+ Swerios Malki Mourad: Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate.
+ Abba Gabriel: Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate.
+ Riah Abu Al-Assal: Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East.
+ Mounib Younan: Lutheran Evangelical Church.
+ Maximus Sallum: Greek Catholic (Melkite) Patriarchal Exarchate.
+ Paul Nabil Sayyah: Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate.
+ André Dikran Bedoghlyan: Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarcate.
April 20, 2001
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We cherish your prayers, support and intercession on our behalf. Since we last wrote to you, we've experienced a new wave of violence, increased tension, and despair among the people in this land. Many are feeling the helplessness of the situation, and do not see how we are going to end this cycle of violence and revenge. It is becoming more evident that the leadership from both sides does not know how to get out of this vicious circle.
The last few nights in Jerusalem we could hear the machine gun and tank fire echoing from the Bethlehem area, knowing the despair, concern, and fear that this brings to the people who live there. The Bethlehem Bible College building was hit, breaking many windows and damaging the water tanks. A few weeks ago, here in Jerusalem on the street below our office, a car bomb exploded. Everywhere there is an increased sense of fear and awareness of the fragility of life.
Perservering in a Time of Trial
"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." (James 1:12)
As we planned our spring activities, particularly the desert encounters for youth and students, we thought that many people would be reluctant, fearful and unwilling to meet with each other. It is true that some are hesitant, many ask questions and express apprehension.
While some have been reluctant to participate, others responded overwhelmingly. We were encouraged by the many leaders and parents who, in spite of the situation and fear of travelling, entrusted the members of their Palestinian Christian and Israeli Messianic congregations to us on the recent trips. We can only attribute this to the power of God's love that works in the hearts of people, that same power of the resurrection which gives life and not death, helps us overcome fear and prejudice and enables us to embrace others.
Again we witnessed the power of the Messiah and the impact of being in the desert together, when thirty-five youth and leaders went and spent three days in the desert, focusing on the life of Moses. A unique factor to this year's Youth Desert Encounter was the advanced preparation that we were able to do with the leaders and the youth themselves. Prior to the trip, the participants from both communities met at a youth meeting in Tel Aviv. The young people were introduced to each other before the trip and were acquainted with one another even before going to the desert. This was an excellent way to start.
Some highlights: "After dinner and introductions in Jerusalem, we boarded the bus where each person was assigned a partner, or 'angel' as we called them, to get to know and look after for the entire trip. In the bus they sat together, learning 10 facts about each other, and also teaching and learning basic words in Arabic, Hebrew and English. The language barrier is always difficult on these trips - especially with youth - as it is not easy to befriend people with whom you cannot communicate, especially with the current violence and hatred between our communities.
The next evening around the fire we had an interesting conversation. One girl started asking questions about the political situation; she wanted answers. Some of the others were giving their opinions, and the conversation began to heat up. One of the leaders interjected, 'As Christians we are told to forgive and love, and this is what we must do, even if it is difficult.' Another agreed that our real enemy is hatred, and emphasized that we must be different than the world that teaches us to hate. One of the young people shared, 'When I feel angry at someone and feel hatred towards him, I try to remember to see God in him, to see that he is a creation of God.' We all recognized that we are taught to love each other, but agreed that at times we don't know how to do so; amidst the daily realities and pressures it can be very difficult.
In planning the Student Desert Encounter, we had to deal with the fact that we couldn't meet in Israel or Palestinian areas due to travel restrictions. Palestinian adults are not allowed out of Palestinian areas, and Israelis are not allowed in. Therefore, the best meeting place was in Jordan, where most could enter freely as long as the Jordan-Israel border remained open. Although there was some hesitancy, and a dimension of fear, the Lord blessed the group of 24 students and young adults during their time in Jordan.
One participant reflected on her experience: "The nakedness of the surroundings, the silence so unlike the stressful atmosphere of Jerusalem, hunger and thirst after water, living water, running water, needs that couldn't be postponed or ignored, but became one with us, the group of young people seeking God out there, where prophets and weirdos earlier have sought him...Who were we? Were we building on an illusion of the possibility of reconciliation in the middle of fear and horror? Were we idiots without a finger on the pulse, blind to where the wind blew, deaf to its whisper...I don't believe so. On the contrary I heard - more clearly than ever before - the whisper of the wind, the Spirit over the sand, between the rocks, the tents, and I felt it between us, His children, when we worshipped in languages that we didn't always understand, with words we didn't pronounce correctly, whispered Amen to prayers that we didn't always have a physical understanding of...but united before the throne of God I understood every single word...We returned changed, just a little, just enough to see ourselves more clearly...encouraged and focused upon Jesus Christ. He, the risen one, who comes to us, dwells with us and is not scared off or offended...but encourages us to take another person's hand on a slanting rock, drink from the same water canteen, or share a dry piece of bread with somebody I suddenly dare to call brother, and say, 'This is my body given for you, and me.'"