Washington (AsiaNews) - Arab Christians living in the Middle East have "a special vocation: to love each other, to show solidarity with others and help each other, so that Muslims help and defend Christians." This, according to the Melkite Patriarch Gregory III Laham, is the path to follow to "overcome our regional differences and realize an Arab unity which would be the warranty for really finding a just, general and lasting solution to this conflict". The patriarch spoke at the ecumenical conference held in Washington (9-11 September) by the group In Defense of Christians (IDF). Below we publish the full text of Gregory III Laham, entitled "An invitation to unity".
1-Incarnation an invitation to unity
Incarnation and monotheism (or oneness) are two expressions which are mutually attractive. We see them as signs of the will of God to unify all his creatures, unifying them amongst themselves in the depths of divine revelation.
So we find this in the New Testament, in the message of Jesus, his teachings and miracles, parables of the Kingdom of God amongst men, discourse before the life-giving and saving passion and above all in the solemn, mysterious, sacrificial, sacerdotal prayer that Jesus made for the union of all believing Christians, in which he says, "Father, that they may be one as we are." (cf. John 17:21) So we see throughout the whole life of Jesus, a leitmotiv linking all the events in it, a divine concern, that does not wish to see man lost, isolated, scattered, divided against himself in his mind and heart, aspirations and personal life, employment, family and social life.
2- The Unifying Role of our Church
The realization of the goals of the unifying incarnation is our most important obligation both inside and outside our Church: inside our Eastern ecclesial society and on the level of the universal Church. It has been the task of our Antiochian Church and its role throughout history, since the time of Patriarch Peter III of Antioch who drew to the attention of Patriarch Michael Cerularius, the damage and the unhappy consequences of breaking union with Rome in 1054.
When we consider this impressive inheritance, we cannot appear fearful or discouraged in the face of the demands of Christian unity. We don't have the right to doubt our unifying ecumenical role on all levels, especially Eastern and Western.
3- Unity in Commitment and Solidarity
Among the fruits of the unifying incarnation is the internal unity of the Church, because the Church is the body of Christ as St. Paul says, very clearly, showing that the unity of the Church is the unity of the faithful in Christ, the unity of man and woman, the unity of the family, unity of the members of the one body. As he says, "For as the body is one, with its many limbs, which, many as they are, together are one body, so is Christ.
This unity is necessary at the social level: it means social and sociological involvement in the work place and in political life, at every level in the life of our Church. Our society needs us all and together we can build a better world, a saved and redeemed world, a world which lives out the values and virtues of the Church and the Gospel, the virtues of the incarnate and unifying Christ.
4- Call for Unity in the Arab World
The expression "Church of the Arabs" means in a unique manner, the Church of Jesus Christ, living in an Arab milieu and in a deep and intimate relationship with this Arab world, with its sufferings and hopes, its joys and pains, its problems and crises. The Church is Emmanuel, Church with and for this Arab society and in this Arab society, without forgetting its Arab roots and Arab nature, due to history and geography. The most important thing is not to affirm that the Church is Arab, but rather that the Church has a mission in the Arab world and society. In fact, this Arab world in which the Church lives, in which it is planted as in its own soil, sealed into the depths of its history and geography, is in its vast majority the world of Islam The Church constitutes fifteen million out of 400 hundred people. This Church of the Arab world and society is a Church of Islam, of Muslim society, a Church that lives with the Arab and Islamic world It is the Church that lives in this Arab, Islamic world, which is in interaction with it, suffers and rejoices with it, builds with it, hopes and grows with it, loves and serves with it: it is truly the Emmanuel Church, a Church with and for this world.
That is why the Eastern Church, or Church of the Arabs, Church of Islam, is really thereby in the school of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel God, Love God, Redeemer God, Saviour God. It is he who defined the goal of his incarnation, of Christmas, of his birth, by saying, "The Son of God came, not to be served, but to serve and to give his life for the redemption of many," (Mark 10:45) and "I am come that they might have life and have it in abundance," (John 10:10) and it is as St. Paul said, "For even Christ pleased not himself," (Romans 15:3).
These holy verses are a true and clear call for each Christian to go outside himself, his isolation, his tribe, as Abraham was told," Go out from your tribe, from your people and from your father's house." (Gen. 12:1) So the Christian must go out from all that can form an obstacle between himself and another, in order to meet the other and be himself Emmanuel, a man "with and for."
Our Christian faith in the unifying incarnation cannot confine itself to efforts for Christian unity. Belief in one God becomes a call for unity among humankind and the unity of the incarnation calls for the unification of our common goals in society in order to face up to different challenges that are common to us all, both Muslims and Christians. Unity in God, unification from God must be a call for unity amongst men, to solidarity between them and todeepen the links of love between them.
We Arab Christians who live in an Arab society which is largely Muslim have a special mission in that sense in a society which is from us, as we are from it, and which is for us, as we are for it.
We Arab Christians are in a very deep relationship with the Muslim Arabs in our Arab countries: we are of their flesh and blood, their ethnicity, tribe, society, civilization, culture and traditions. We are a Church which daily, for the last fourteen hundred years has been living side by side with Islam, profoundly influenced by Islam and in turn influencing Islam. This Church has borne throughout history very serious social and national responsibilities and even of war with Muslim fellow-citizens. In fact, Islam is present to our whole society and to our families, to our cares, congresses, studies, sermons, speeches, to our way of thinking and social projects.
Yes, we have a special vocation to face up to this great challenge. We ought to love one another, to show solidarity with each other and help each other, so that Muslims help Christians and Christians help Muslims, so that Muslims defend Christians and Christians Muslims, so that Christians show the best aspects of their Christianity and Muslims the best of their Islam.
Let us say to everyone in the Arab world that the solution to our problems lies in our faith as Muslims and Christians. If we succeed in facing up to this challenge in a positive and decisive way, we shall bring about a unique victory and surely be an example to the whole world as agents of peace and salvation in our world, both Eastern and Western against all movement of takifirism.
The fruits of the unifying incarnation also touch all the nations of the whole world and it is as Jesus said, or rather as is said about Jesus, that he will "die for the nation," but not only for one nation, but also to unify all the scattered children of this world. That is why it is the duty of Christians to be the initiators, the heralds of unity for the entire world.
We have, in the past years and before the actual crisis, addressed multiple appeals to all the kings and heads of state of the Arab world calling them to realize as much as possible unity amongst themselves, so that all together we can meet the challenges of division and destruction and which really threatens the unity of peoples of the whole world. Indeed, we have many unified and unifying factors amongst us: our Arab nature, Islam, language, culture, civilization, history, and especially the fact that our lands are holy for Christians and Muslims and even for Jews.
Noblesse oblige. If our lands are called "the cradle of religions" and if we are all proud of being monotheists and worshipping one God alone, then we shall succeed in realizing unity between our peoples, and respond to the appeal of new generations and their aspirations to faith in God, by living together side by side, in common service and solidarity, in human dignity, in co-citizenship, in freedom of worship and conscience in a society which is more and more divided, in justice, equality, safety and just peace, which is the key to peace for the whole world and the warranty for starting new progress towards finding a way to development and prosperity in the region.
The Arab countries ask America and Europe and all countries of the world to help them conclude and resolve the Palestinian Arab and Israeli conflict, which envelops and destroys the region, subjecting it to terror and violence and which has been at the root of all our problems, wars and crises for the last fifty years and more. I, as Patriarch of a Church which feels itself in profound solidarity with the Arab world, think that we should overcome our regional differences and realize an Arab unity which would be the warranty for really finding a just, general and lasting solution to this conflict and also assuring a brilliant future for the Arab world, meeting the aspirations of our young generation.
I am absolutely convinced that our faith, Christian and Muslim, is our greatest weapon both today and tomorrow to realize the different aspects of our holy mission and for preserving the values of our common, holy faith. I refuse absolutely to allow our countries to be considered the home of fundamentalism, violence, terrorism, aggressiveness theory, extremism and religious war. These expressions and situations are absolutely contrary to our values, faith, tradition and civilization. And in all that, unity is the foundation which can help us to repel these accusations hurled at the Arab world.
We are all unifying monotheists. Through our common faith, we must be strong enough to reject these charges and besides, be creative in finding solutions for Arab-Muslim Arab-Christian, Arab Palestinian-Israeli conflicts and also for the bloody situation in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon, for all the other social and sociological, economic, religious and spiritual crises which threaten our societies and families, young people and cultural institutions and which touch all aspects of life in the homelands of our Arab world.
So our churches are working very hard to realize their spiritual service, of being places where one can address the problems of Arab countries from the point of view of religion and spirituality, of dialogue and culture and through that we become world spokesmen for the defence of the values of faith of us all, Christians and Muslims in the Arab world.