The Love of God the Father, and the grace of the only-begotten Son, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you, my beloved and blessed brothers and sisters in the Lord.
It is a pleasure to join you for the third time in this blessed pilgrimage. With me, from my Diocese of Homs, Hama and Tartus, is Fr. Antoine Jarada.
I thank the association of True Life in God, presided by Mrs. Vassula Ryden, who organized this pilgrimage.
I am pleased to be in Greece to discover with you the land of the great saints. I spent five years in this country studying pastoral theology at the University of Athens, Faculty of Theology. I studied religious sciences, philosophy and sociology. I visited most of its religious landmarks and its famous monasteries, and I still have an intimate relationship with its clergy and people. I would like to add for your information that the Fathers of my Syriac Orthodox Church were influenced by Greek theology and culture, and they translated the works of the Greek civilization into Syriac and then into Arabic.
The land of Greece is the land of holiness smelling of the fragrance of our Fathers, the Apostles. During our pilgrimage, we will hear the voice of St. Paul the Apostle, shouting, teaching, reprimanding, writing to various places in Greece, Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, as well as other places. His voice destroyed the stone idols and pagan devotions. We will remember the times of the Early Church as well as our guides who spoke the word of truth to us to be affirmed in our faith and to imitate them.
The title of my speech today is: Divine Love For One Another Binds Us In Unity Together With God.
Beloved brothers and sisters, our meeting today is a confirmation of our love for each other. This love that has been consolidated in our hearts from the day these pilgrimages started; and it has continued in our individual, group or local meetings. That is the sign that through love we can forget all the differences, disparities and even the distances between us and that we can come closer to one another. Love is above all the virtues; it is the first virtue in Christianity.
When Christ was asked about the greatest commandment in the law, He said that it was love:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5) And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He concluded saying: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22: 35-40). Paul the Apostle made it greater than faith and hope. He said:
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13) In his explanation, he said: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13: 1-2)
So, how wondrous is this love that is greater than faith that can move mountains. Love is the first fruit of the Spirit and therefore it is the sign of the Holy Spirit’s work in us. The Apostle said: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance…” (Gal 5:22)
Love is the last commandment the Lord gave to His disciples. He told them: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34).
Scriptures explain how He loved them: “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) Also, He loved them by sacrificing Himself for them. That is the Love that the Lord asks for. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:13-14)
Many pretend that they love people. The expression of love is a mere word on their tongues, not feelings from their hearts; thus’ that love does not show in the way they treat others!! They may also say that they love God, but they daily break His commandments!! That is why St John the beloved says: “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)
The Lord gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan, and how his love was practical. In his love we find care, consideration and spending. (Luke 10) The Lord said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) St. John the Apostle made love the sign of our birth of God saying: “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)
The Lord God showed His love for us in a concrete way when He first created everything for us; then He created us to enjoy the works of His providence. He is still taking care of us. In the work of redemption we read: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.” (John 3:16) Also we read: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) So, love that does not express itself in a concrete (practical) way, is not true love.
Love is the highest value in Christianity on which Christ has built His teachings, based on His love for humans; a love that encompasses the love of God, of neighbor, the love of man for his fellow man and the love of enemies to the point that love has become the symbol of Christianity and the highest virtue. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus says “But I tell you: Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you.” So, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who do you wrong and banish you.
Beloved brothers and sisters, today’s world is hungry for the lost religious values and exalted virtues. Humans today are in dire need of these values and principles. We see them confused due to fake teachings and ideas that consider others as infidel, ideas far from God who has become the prey of those teachings and a machine moved according to the pleasure of those who invent those ideas. Therefore, we see that evil has increased more and crimes against humanity are committed everywhere and the human being no longer has any value. We see how murder and criminality are allowed and humans are legally killed everywhere.
Today, it is clear how much we need to turn on the light in this world of total darkness and to consolidate the values of human love, the love of man for his fellow man, and how much burden and responsibility we carry to enlighten dark and hardened minds to know that no one has authority over anyone except God Almighty. The world of today has lost all moral and human values and principles having already lost its religious values. Therefore, our role is essential and everyone who finds themselves loving their neighbor has the responsibility to play their part in their society. Let everyone know that God is love and that true life with Him is based on the depth of love and “Love does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor 13: 4-7)
It is from this place that we must call on international organizations in all their forms, demanding the right of citizens to live in dignity in their homelands and to obtain their rights in their countries. We call for the lifting of economic embargoes on countries suffering wars, such as my beloved country, Syria, from which they cut off all supplies, even infant formula, for political purposes.
I am confident that if we play our role, even in a small part, to strengthen the bonds of love between people, we will achieve the desired goal of God – to love each other. Thank you for listening and His grace be with us all. Amen.
Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh
The Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs, Hama and Tartus.