On the morning of Tuesday 9 January, the Franciscan friars guided by the Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land, Fra Ibrahim Faltas, were welcomed by the 3 Orthodox Patriarchates in Jerusalem, the Greek Orthodox one, the Coptic one and the Syriac one, to extend their Christmas greetings as the Orthodox Churches celebrated the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord on Sunday 7 January.
The friar’s visit of greetings traditionally follows the heads of the Orthodox Churches being welcomed to the Curia, on 27 December, bringing their wishes after the Christmas of the Latins. While on 19 January next it will then be the Armenian Orthodox Church of the Holy Land to celebrate Christmas and the Epiphany on the same day.
At these mutual receptions, which have always represented an opportunity for the different Christian communities of Jerusalem to meet and experience together a fraternal moment of conviviality, the different Christian confessions emphasized – in particular this year – their union and their common commitment to a dialogue for peace and the reconciliation of the peoples of the Holy Land.
The first visit was to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, and then followed by the Coptic and, lastly, the Syriac ones.
Visit to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
With the kawas at their head, the Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land and the procession of the friars reaches the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate where His Beatitude, Theophilos III was waiting for them.
Fra Faltas wanted to express his gratitude “for the fraternal relations between the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land,” mentioning in this regard the historic meeting of Pope St Paul VI with Athenàgoras, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople under the hospitality of the great predecessor of Theophilos III, the Patriarch Benedict I. Paul VI had insisted on the importance of the collaboration of the Christians, despite the burden of history and the numerous difficulties, especially concerning the restoration work in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. “Let us pray,” added the Vicar, “that the Christmas message reaches in depth the hearts of all men and women of goodwill, bringing peace to this region, the Middle East and the whole world.”
“Even when the land of the Prince of Peace is devastated by war,” the Greek Orthodox Patriarch began, “the world looks to this Land because this is where hope was born so that the human family can find true reconciliation, on a path of mutual respect and reciprocal understanding.” “Let us remain united,” Theophilos III exhorted. “In a single objective of being not only the custodians of the Holy Places but also in that of fostering dialogue. Let us take this opportunity to insist on our desire for peace and an immediate ceasefire.” “We are also grateful,” he concluded, “for your attentive participation in the renovation of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, in which we are all involved.”
Visit to the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch
It was then the turn of the Christmas greetings for the Coptic Orthodox, whose Patriarchate is in the area facing the apse of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, near the 9th station of the Via Dolorosa.
The friars and the Vicar were warmly welcomed by the Coptic Orthodox archbishop, Antonious.
Extending his greetings, Antonious underlined how “the meetings of fraternity are a great gift for us to meet and meditate together on the Christmas of Christ. Let us remember that, as God brought Eve out of Adam’s rib, the Church was born out of Christ: and in it, each person finds their place.”
Visit to the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate
Lastly, the friars reached the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate, where the bishop Jakub Jack, together with the Syriac community, was waiting for them.
First of all the Vicar extended greetings on behalf of the whole of the Franciscan community and then wanted to remember all the victims of the conflict and those who are suffering greatly due to the war, including the communities that are suffering because of the absence of pilgrims: “We always have to continue working and praying for peace: peace built on a sincere desire for encounter, welcome and fraternity.”
Mons. Jakub Jack thanked the Franciscans for their greetings: “The Lord reminds us that we have to cross many ordeals: however, he defeated the world. This is our faith, which must make us remain firm, even in the face of adversity.”