Tag Archives: Syriac tradition

Jesus Christ is our light

Baptism of Christ AVerrocchio.jpgThe days following the feasts of the Epiphany (Theophany) and the Baptism of the Lord, the Church focuses her attention on a relationship with the Lord as the Way, the Light and the Truth. The biblical narratives at Mass this week have us praying with the scenes of Christ the healer. With His baptism, Jesus’ ministry inaugurated and his light now shines more brightly for us to see the path to salvation.

Jesuit Father Steven Bonian tells us that “In … Syriac Spirituality we find St. Ephrem speaking
in mystical poetry of the light of Christ residing in every Christian: the same
light that Moses saw on the mountain at the burning bush; that gleamed through
Mary at his incarnation, and the river Jordan at his baptism. Ephrem envisions
that we too will shine forth with Christ’s light at our resurrection – for all

It is very important for us to come to know Jesus Christ, our Lord,
in his true light: as he really lives in the light of the Trinity. It is the
ultimate grace from God the Father to have Jesus revealed to us in his true
Light. This grace can only be given to those who are willing to seek it: ‘ask
and it will be given to you,’ the Lord says.”

Asma al-Assad on St John the Baptist

Syria should be on your radar screen if you have an interest in the life of the Church. It’s openness to
Christianity today is startling bad. Freedom of religion and human rights lack;
political oppression and basic needs are always in question. The current regime
very likely nervous given the recent wave of political take-back. John Juliet
Buck’s Vogue magazine article on the Syrian First Lady, Asma al-Assad, “
A Rose in
the Desert
” speaks to many issues in Syria, not least is religion. Thoughts of
St John the Baptist’s tomb hearken back to when in 2001 Pope John Paul II visited Syria
and prayed at the tomb of the Baptist.

At first thought Ms al-Assad’s deference to the importance of the Baptist is impressive but there’s something that strikes me as false given recent history of her husband’s family’s rule of Syria viz. religious freedom. Plus, her interest in Christianity in Syria is not because the gospel is true, good and beautiful; her interest in the Church is cultural. The gospel in this context has been reduced to a system of culture and ethics –exactly what it’s not. Syria is  Indeed, many religions have passed through those lands and one seems fairly certain that the current regime wants religions like Christianity to leave Syria and not turn back. Historically, Christianity has been in Syria since St Paul visited the country. It is the place, as we know, where the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians.” Christians in Syria comprise 10% of the population with the largest group being the Greek Orthodox Church.

For me here’s the relevant paragraph in the article:

Back in the car, Buck was answered about
his investigation “what religion the orphans are?” “It’s not relevant,” says
Asma al-Assad. “Let me try to explain it to you. That church is a part of my
heritage because it’s a Syrian church. The Umayyad Mosque is the
third-most-important holy Muslim site, but within the mosque is the tomb of
Saint John the Baptist. We all kneel in the mosque in front of the tomb of
Saint John the Baptist.
That’s how religions live together in Syria–a way that
I have never seen anywhere else in the world. We live side by side, and have
historically. All the religions and cultures that have passed through these
lands–the Armenians, Islam, Christianity, the Umayyads, the Ottomans–make up
who I am.”

Yousif Habash as new bishop for Syrian Catholics elected

Habash.jpgThe Holy Father consented to the election of Chor-bishop Yousif (Joseph) Habash, pastor of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Los Angeles) as 2nd bishop of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance (Newark) by the Patriarch and bishops of the Syrian Catholic Church.

Habash succeeds Bishop Joseph Younan (and read here) who was elected Patriarch of the Syrians in January 2009.
Bishop-elect Habash was born in Iraq in 1951 and ordained a priest in 1975. He’s served the US eparchy since 2001.
A 2004 census notes the Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance having 13,000 faithful.

Lent in the Western Syriac Tradition: Blessed are your guests, beautiful city of Cana

Archimandrite Manuel Nin, rector of the Pontifical Greek College, Rome, Italy, published the following article in L’Osservatore Romano English Edition on February 24, 2010. The Church is more than a western experience and Nin’s article brings a richness here for reflection and appreciation.


Lent in the Western Syriac tradition is preceded by a tradition that begins with the Fast of the Ninevites, which has as its reference and model the people of Niniveh who converted after hearing the Prophet Jonah’s preaching.


In these days of fasting the deceased -priests, foreigners and faithful– are commemorated and this means that the Church and Western Syriac liturgical tradition are closely bound to pilgrimages to the holy places and the tombs of martyrs.


The Lenten Liturgy begins with what is called the “Monday of oil” and one of the hymns of St Ephrem gives us the key to its interpretation: “stained bodies are anointed with sanctifying oil with a view to expiation. They are purified but not destroyed. They descend marked by sin and arise as a child.”


This was originally a rite of anointing for catechumens that was later extended to all the faithful: the Liturgy also links it to the anointing at Bethany: “How gentle is the voice of the sinful woman when she says to the perfumer: “Give me the oil and tell me the price; give me the best quality oil and with it I shall mingle the sorrow of my tears, the better to anoint the first-born of the Most High; I trust in the Lord that through this oil he will forgive me my sins. The Lord see her faith and forgives her.”


The six Sundays of Lent take the name of the Gospel passage that is read: the miracle of Cana, the healing of the leper, the healing of the paralytic; the healing of the Centurian’s servant, the raising of the son of the widow Nain; the healing of the blind Bartimaeus. The Syriac Liturgy is intended to shed light light on the thaumaturgical and judicial aspects of Christ.


Rabbula Cana Feast.jpgThe miracle of Cana of Galilee begins the series of miracles contemplated in Lent to indicate mercy, forgiveness, salvation and life, which are given to us by Christ, the physician of humankind.


At Vespers of the First Sunday of Lent this aspect is developed at length: “Good Physician who heals all through repentance, Lord, sovereignly good and the First Physician, source of life and fount of healing, who heals our souls through our physical illness. You who have been called our true Samaritan and who, to deliver us from the wounds of our sins, have poured upon them mysterious oil and wine. You, Doctor of hearts and Healer of suffering, have marked us with the sign of the Cross, sealed with the seal of the holy oil, nourished with your Body and your Blood; embellish our souls with the splendor of your holiness; protect us from every fall and every blemish and bring us to the blessed inheritance reserved for those who have done acts of penance.”


Furthermore, the Syriac tradition sees in the miracle of Cana the spousal union of Christ with his Church, and with the whole of humanity; at Cana the true Spouse  is Christ himself who invites suffering and sinful humanity to be united with him in order to bring it to the true nuptial chamber which is the Garden of Eden.


St Ephrem.jpgSt Ephrem sings: “Blessed are your guests, beautiful city of Cana! They enjoy your blessing and the jars filled with your word proclaim that in you are found the heavenly gifts that gladden the heavenly banquet.”


The new wine that unites the fellow guests at the banquet is a symbol of the precious Blood that unites us with Christ himself: “You who, as the promised Spouse redeem the Church with your Blood, you who gladden the wedding guests of Cana, may you make your Church rejoice with your Body.” The Syriac Liturgy still sees the jars as a model of the soul that becomes the place of a wonderful transformation in which Christ himself renews all that is old.


On all the Sundays in Lent prior to the celebration of the Lord’s Passion, death and Resurrection, the Western Syriac tradition wishes to celebrate the miracles with which the Savior desired to manifest his divine mission among human beings. The Morning Office of all the Sundays in Lent contains this prayer:


“Merciful Lord, who came down to earth, in your compassion for human nature, you who purified the leper, opened the eyes of the blind and raised the dead, obtain that our souls may be purified and bodies sanctified; that the eyes of our hearts may be opened to understand your teachings so that, with repentant sinners, we may raise our praise.”


The miracles recounted and celebrated on these Sundays lead us to contemplate the wonders of divine grace in human souls; thus many of the liturgical texts of Lent always end with the same conclusive refrain:


“We, too, Lord pray to you: touch our spirit and purify it from every stain, from every impurity of sin, and have mercy on us.”

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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