Greetings Exchanged with Oriental Churches

Thursday, January 9. Following custom, the Franciscans in the Old City went to give their Christmas greetings to the Oriental Churches with whom they share the Holy Sepulchre.

Led by the Kawas, about thirty friars assembled for the occasion, going in procession first to the Greek Orthodox. They were greeted with warm handshakes and received by Patriarch Theophilos III. As the guest, the Custos spoke and wished “a very holy Christmas to the Orthodox community”. The patriarch responded by underlining, “the importance of this cooperation and respect that animates our respective Churches. The church is too often the last refuge of Christians all over the world; our presence and gathering is a witness to hope. Our mission is important; we must be aware of this.” Then liqueur, coffee and sweets were offered, while five of the Patriarchate’s seminarians sang Christmas songs in Greek, accompanied by a violin.

In the early afternoon, it was the Coptic Orthodox who received the delegation on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre. Brother Custos having had to leave Jerusalem for Beirut in order to participate in the episcopal ordination of the new Latin bishop for Syria, the Franciscan Fra Georges Abu-Khazen, it was his vicar, Fra Dobromir, who headed the procession. He fraternally greeted Mgr. Anba Abraham, Coptic-Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem, who responded with a heartfelt appeal for prayer, prayer for these brothers from Egypt, but also the Syrians and Iraqis. “The Lord calls us to live as brothers from the same Father. We must make every effort to live in peace. The countries at war are giving us new martyrs every day, killed for their faith in the image of Christ. We must continue to pass on our faith for the world; the Church must be the solid Temple that calls on the Lord,” he shared.

At the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate, Armenians and Franciscans rubbed elbows in the reception room. Mgr. Swerios Malki Mourad welcomed the two communities with arms spread wide. Accepting a glass of tea, Fra Dobromir recalled that “even if the Christmas bliss lasts for only a few days and then the difficulties return, we have to remember the deep friendship we are sharing today.” His host received and warmly thanked the community for joining the joy of the Orthodox Christians: “Le whole world looks toward the Holy Land; we must show them Christians united.” He finished by saying, “May your visit be a sign of peace and reconciliation before Judaism and Islam, may we continue to pray, each in our own community, for all the believers who suffer war, violence and division.”

The Franciscans concluded their visits to the sister Churches of the Orient in the yellow, red and green-decorated reception room of the Ethiopian community. For many of them it was their first meeting with Archbishop Daniel Aba, successor of Abouna Mettias, who had become Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. He uncovered the beauty of Christmas in Jerusalem and gave thanks for this fraternal spirit.

Emilie R.

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