IN THE NAME OF THE SELF-EXISTENT
SEMPITERNAL OF NECESSARY EXISTENCE THE ALMIGHTY
IGNATIUS ZAKKA I IWAS PATRIARCH OF THE HOLY SEE OF ANTIOCH AND ALL THE
EAST, SUPREME HEAD OF THE UNIVERSAL SYRIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH IN THE WORLD
||February 12, 2000
We offer apostolic benediction and benevolent prayers to our brethren
their Eminencies the Metropolitans, our virtuous spiritual children the
priests, monks, nuns, deacons and deaconesses, and our venerated Syrian
Orthodox people all over the world. May the divine providence embrace
them through the prayers of Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and Sts. Peter
and Paul, the heads of the Apostles, Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono, and the rest
of the Martyrs and Saints. Amen.
THE FIFTEEN HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BIRTH
OF MOR YA`QUB BURD`ONO AND THE RIGHTEOUS QUEEN THEODORA
After inquiring about you and offering apostolic benediction we say:
Behold, the ship of our life has anchored in the harbor of the year
two thousand of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ in flesh. Some of
us consider this year the close of the second Millennium whereas others
consider it the beginning of the third Millennium. Whether we accept the
first or the second opinion, we must thank God who kept us alive to this
day. We ask God to be with us in our new path in the coming year.
We seize the opportunity of the arrival of the Holy Lent for this year
to listen carefully to the voice of God with which He called upon men
through His prophets, especially Prophet Jonah. Following God's command,
Jonah went to Nineveh and cried against it proclaiming that destruction,
perdition and great tribulations were imminent; for the wickedness of
its inhabitants had come up before the Lord. The people of Nineveh believed
in God and proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to
the least of them. They made ground their bed and heaven their cover.
Shedding tears, they turned to God in repentance. And thus God had mercy
upon them and they were delivered from destruction. They became an example
for all penitents. "God, who spoke of old to the fathers by the prophets,"
says Apostle Paul, "has spoken to us by His beloved Son Jesus Christ"
the Incarnate God, Whose birth we are celebrating at the close of the
second or the beginning of the third millenium.. He is the Word of God
Whom John the Apostle describes in the Holy Gospel saying, "In the beginning
was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... and the
Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, a glory as
of the only Son from the Father full of grace and truth." (John 1:1&14).
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that
whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John
3:16). The Word of God was incarnate for our salvation and redeemed us
by His death on the Cross and His resurrection from the dead. He began
His loud, open, and corporeal mission by calling people to repentance
saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is near; repent
and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15).
This is our Lord Jesus Christ Who put on our own body and became one
of us. And like us He was tempted in everything except sin. He suffered,
died, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day, according to
His will. He ascended to heaven and sat on the right of God the Father.
He shall come again with great glory to judge the living and the dead,
He Whose kingdom has no end, as confessed in the Nicean Creed. Yes, He
promised us that He would come again with His angels in great glory. Some
people thought the time of His coming would be the year 2000, although
He had, glory to Him, proclaimed the truth of His coming by saying, "But
that day and that hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but
My Father only" (Matthew 24:36). He stressed that we must stay awake and
be watchful. Staying awake means constant spiritual wakefulness accompanied
by earnest repentance and awareness of Gods' law. It also means reflection
on the dispensation, in flesh, of the Lord Jesus and on His work of redemption
and accepting Him as our Savior. It further means believing in the doctrine
of His second coming which John, the beloved Apostle, sums up in the Book
of Revelation saying, "Behold He will come with the clouds; and every
eye shall see Him..." (Revelation 1:7). But, when will the time of His
second coming be? We do not know. We must believe in what the Lord Jesus
has proclaimed regarding the facts of faith and wait in faith and longing
for His second coming. Let us follow the steps of Apostle John and say
with him, "Come, Lord Jesus" (cf. Revelation 22:20).
How nice it is to seize the opportunity of the arrival of the holy and
blessed Lent and repent before God; and to couple the fast with prayer
and almsgiving that God may accept them. God thus will forgive our sins
and make us worthy to be counted, on the day of His second coming, among
the good and the righteous, who will rise in the resurrection of life
and inherit, with Him, His heavenly kingdom.
The year 2000 AD marks the fifteenth anniversary of the birth of Mor Ya`qub
Burd`ono (St. Jacob Baradaeus), and the righteous and the godly Empress
Theodora. In his epistle to the Hebrews, Apostle Paul urges us to remember
our instructors who spoke the Word of God to us. He further advises us
to reflect on their conduct taking their faith as an example (Hebrew 13:7).
Accordingly, we are issuing this fatherly encyclical urging you to ponder
over the life story of Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono and that of the righteous and
God-fearing Queen Theodora. We exhort you to follow their examples in
spiritual struggle and tenacious adherence to the doctrines of faith.
For God chose them to be two strong and steadfast pillars in the Holy
Church, and they fought to preserve the true faith.
Subsequent to the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, there remained no
bishops in the Syrian Orthodox Church towards the middle of the sixth
century AD, except for three. Our Holy Church saw in the resolutions of
the said Council a deviation from the doctrine it received from the righteous
Apostles and holy Fathers, whereas the Byzantine state adopted its resolutions,
and thus started persecuting those who rejected them. The Byzantine state
killed some of the rejecters and exiled others. Others died as a result
of the severity of persecution, and still others were dislodged. In this
crucial period, God sent to the church a brave man, Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono,
one of the greatest and foremost among the leaders of the Syrian Orthodox
At that crucial time Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono protected the Syrian Orthodox
Church against the attempts of its enemies to eradicate it. He encouraged
its followers to preserve the jewel of the Orthodox faith that it received
from the righteous Apostles and Fathers.
Mor Ya`qub wore the monastic habit in the Monastery of Fsilta near his
home town. He mastered the Syriac and the Greek languages. He was known
by his piety and working miracles. He was a hermit and an ascetic. His
rough garments became like saddle-cloth, hence he was called Burd`ono.
Mor Ya`qub was a great scholar, a successful preacher and a capable
theologian. He went to Constantinople and was received with great honor
by Empress Theodora, the daughter of a Syrian priest from Mabug (Manbej)
and the wife of Emperor Justinian.
Empress Theodora served the non-Chalcedonian bishops in distress. These
were the Syrian and Coptic bishops, who were being persecuted and executed.
Thanks to Empress Theodora's efforts, Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono was ordained
a universal bishop in 544 AD by Mor Theodosius, Patriarch of Alexandria
who was exiled at the time in Constantinople. Three imprisoned bishops
participated with Patriarch Athanasius in laying hand. Mor Ya`qub, the
universal bishop, set out on his mission touring Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor
and Mesopotamia. He visited and ministered to churches and confirmed the
faithful in the Orthodox faith. He ordained seventeen Metropolitans and
hundreds of priests and deacons. He went up to his Lord on the 30th of
July, 578 AD, and the Holy Church celebrates a feast in his memory.
The righteous Queen Theodora, the Empress of Byzantium from 523 to 548,
was born in 500 AD in the Syrian city Mabug (Manbej), the same year in
which Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono was born in the city of Tel Mawzalt (known today
as "Viran Sehir") in Turkey. Her father was Theophil, son of Me'no, a
Syrian priest from the village of Kamua in the Azal mountain adjacent
to the Syrian district of Jazirah. Theodora was brought up in a Christian
environment at the home of her father, the virtuous Syrian Orthodox priest.
She married Caesar Justinian, the protector of the faith of the Council
of Chalcedon, which the Byzantine state had adopted. In spite of this,
Queen Theodora held to the faith of her Syrian fathers who rejected this
Council and its resolutions. The tempests of ferocious persecution and
their sweeping torrents failed to shake her faith. She was known by her
intelligence and fear of God. She helped her husband rule the country
and run its affairs, and saved him from plots planned against him by his
enemies, who almost destroyed him. Theodora also passed laws that are
held in high esteem to this day.
In that crucial period, the righteous Queen Theodora hosted in her palace
the persecuted fathers of the two churches, the Syrian Orthodox and the
Coptic Orthodox, relieving their suffering from the Byzantine state, but
she could not, however, stop the persecution. Instead, she herself suffered,
and bore many of her husband's enemies who accused him of bias in favor
of the Syrian Orthodox Church of his wife.
The Lord saved Queen Theodora from the conspiracies plotted by the enemies
of the Church to destroy her. By her courage and firm determination she
never tarried behind in marching forward on her thorny path. She departed
to the heavenly chambers, and her pure spirit joined the spirits of the
godly women in the Paradise of delight. Among those, are the spirit of
Queen Helen, the Syrian Orthodox daughter of an Edessan priest and the
mother of Emperor Constantine. Her spirit also joined the spirits of the
rest of the righteous and the pious, that she may wait in faith for the
second coming of the Lord when her pure spirit will unite with her body
and she will rise in the resurrection of the righteous and the pious.
There she will receive the reward that the Lord God has prepared for spiritual
fighters who will be crowned with the crowns of glory on that great day.
Contemporary, reliable, and honest historians who have full knowledge
of her life have provided credible accounts on her origin, early life,
pure conduct and her immaculate inner self and thoughts. At the forefront
of those, was the Syrian Chronicler St. John of Ephesus who had close
relationship with her family and knew her quite well. He wrote about her
childhood and her marriage to Justinian the Caesar. The latter had promised
her father that he would not force her to change her faith which rejects
the Council of Chalcedon and its resolutions. He delivered his promise,
indeed. Her staunch enemy, who was also an enemy of truth, the Chronicler
Procopius, failed to deny her the glory that she earned with her wisdom
and her courage in helping her husband Caesar Justinian. The dishonest
and unjust Chronicler Procopius, tried to smear her virtuous conduct.
But the saying, "the sieve cannot coneal the sunlight in the middle of
the day" remains true.
It gives us pleasure in this encyclical of ours to exhort the children
of our church, both clergy and laity, to dedicate this year, the year
2000 AD to reflecting on the wondrous mysteries of divine Incarnation
and Redemption, and to learning lessons from the struggle of the righteous
Martyrs, Saints and Confessors who bore the Cross of the Lord and followed
Him on the way to Golgotha. They suffered torture for the sake of adhering
to faith in Him through the last twenty centuries and, as such, they were
shining stars that radiated light in the sky of our Syrian Orthodox Church.
They inscribed their spiritual struggle with characters of light on the
pages of the history of the Church and that of the world. At the forefront,
was the Apostolic warrior Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono who was able to expose the
evil intentions of the tyrannical Byzantine state that robbed Syria and
Egypt of their resources and used religion to serve its political ends.
The Byzantine state caused divisions in the ranks of the Christian Church
in the East to ensure the survival of its colonization of that blessed
region. It tried to obliterate the characteristics of the Syrian Church,
distort its history, and destroy its heritage and culture. The Byzantine
state further accused its fathers with heresies of which they were as
innocent as the wolf was of the blood of Jacob's son.
Let us all take resemblance to Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono in trading with the
evangelical talents, and let us ask for his intercession. Let us beatify
the righteous Queen Theodora who preferred the disgrace of Christ, that
is, the bearing of the Holy Cross, to all the glories of the world, that
our names may be inscribed, as was hers, with the names of the Saints
in the Church of the first born in heaven.
On the occasion of the fifteen hundreth anniversary of Queen Theodora's
birth and that of Mor Ya`qub Burd`ono, we command that this encyclical
of ours be read in all our Syrian Orthodox Churches in the world. We command
that this be done during the Holy Mass of the first Sunday of the Holy
Lent, and once again on the 30th of July which marks the feast of Mor
Ya`qub Burd`ono. Let our religious, educational, cultural and social institutions
organize spiritual seminars on their life. Let us take them as examples
in holding to the true faith and swerving not even by a hairbreadth from
the faith and doctrines that we received from our fathers. Let us do this
so that we may be worthy, like them, to receive the crown of glory that
Apostle Paul mentions when he talks about himself saying, "I have fought
the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there
is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous
Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all
who have longed for His appearing." (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Let this happy commemoration be a cause for blessing to you all, and
may the grace of our Lord be with you. Amen.
Abun d-bashmayo w-sharko (Our Father Who art in Heaven...).
Issued at our Patriarchal
house in Damascus, Syria
on the 12th day of February, in the year two thousand
which is the 20th year of our Patriarchal reign.