|Lent Encyclical - February 7, 2009|
Walking with God
Enoch walked faithfully with God, then he was no more because God took him away (Genesis 5: 24)
We extend our apostolic benediction, benevolent prayers and greetings to our brethren, His Beatitude Mor Baselius Thomas I, Catholicos of India, and their Eminences the Metropolitans; our spiritual children the reverend vicars, priests, monks, nuns, deacons and deaconesses, and our blessed Syrian Orthodox people all over the world. May the divine providence embrace them through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and St. Peter, chief of the apostles, and the rest of the Martyrs and Saints. Amen.
We inquire about your wellbeing and offer our apostolic benediction and benevolent prayers as we say:
How happy are those who revere God and keep His commandments, those who walk in His straight ways. These are people who are blessed by a spiritual communion with God following the manner in which the first man was in the Paradise of Eden before his fall into sin. On the other hand, how desperate is the man when he is in the state of rebellion; he would be far from God, escaping from His holy face. He would be afraid to approach Him for this requires harmony and symphony in righteousness and holiness with Him in thought, in word and in deeds. Thus the Holy Bible teaches: make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12: 14). With holiness, many elites of the Old Testament have satisfied God; they were called Children of God and the good seed. Among them were their heralds which were called the Patriarchs and were simultaneously the leaders of the people and their prelates. They guided the people towards good deeds and charity while prohibiting evil. They honestly reported the Divine Revelation and the predecessor would hand to his successor the divine covenants and the true prophecies about the advent of the Messiah: they did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, and they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth (Hebrews 11: 13).
Famous among these forefathers was Enoch who did not experience death because God took him alive. We read about him in the Holy Bible that Enoch walked faithfully with God, then he was no more because God took him away (Genesis 5: 24). Also, by faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away, for before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God (Hebrews 11: 5). This is what distinguished Enoch from the others of his generation, that he walked with God. In other words, he pleased Him with his deeds and behavior, so he was in a complete communion with Him, in constant prayers and uninterrupted contemplation.
The fact that Enoch was taken alive to the heavens in soul and body is a solid proof that confirms the doctrines of the immortality of the human being and that of eternal life. It is also a calling for Man to walk with God in order to win eternal happiness. Thus he will be the man of God in both worlds, God's alone, as uttered by the apostle St. Paul: if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord, so, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14: 8). Our life on earth is not assessed by its length or brevity, but by its qualities and how close we are to God. However long it stretches, it will come to an end and its duration does not reflect God's satisfaction with us, nor does brevity show His lack of contentment. Indeed, God was satisfied with Enoch and took him even when Enoch was younger than his forefathers. Similarly, our life on earth “ despite its briefness and all the troubles and dilemmas â€“ is hugely precious because it will decide our eternal fate. Let us then seek to inherit the heavens since our Lord Jesus Christ invited us to follow Him carrying His cross without promising us rest in this life; quite the opposite, He clearly showed us that the path to the kingdom of God is very hard. This was the path He took for us. He promised us to be with us and He was called Emanuel which means God is with us (cf. Matthew 1: 23). If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8: 31). How beautiful is the saying of the Psalmist: even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (Psalms 23: 4). Walking with God protects us from the arrows of our enemy Satan. It saves us from both concealed and revealed enemies. It is a fence around us that protects us and grants us victory and comfort, serenity and security, and most of all peace. The righteous Joseph walked with God and it was said about him: the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did (Genesis 39: 23). The secret to Joseph's success in all of his life and his survival from temptations is his attachment to the Lord's law and his reliance on Him, namely walking with God. How inspiring is the Psalmist describing the righteous man: blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers (Psalms 1: 1-3). This is the man who walks with God, in the undeviating path. He remains away from sin and does not commit offenses. He is constant in the meditation on the word of God to better know His will and applies it and grows thus in grace, yielding spiritual fruits.
Let us take the righteous men of God as examples for us. They are those who meditate on the law of the Lord day and night. They are content to be with God in constant prayer, individually and communally, private and public. Their pleasure is in talking to the Lord and listening to His words. They walk thus with Him and do not desire anything in life but the Lord. They converse with Him along with the Psalmist saying: how lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Blessed are those whose strength is in you who have set their hearts on pilgrimage (Psalms 84: 1-5). whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you (Psalms 73: 25). How magnificent is Moses prayer to the Lord: if I have found favor in your heart, then let the Lord go with us (Exodus 34: 9). as God has said: ˜I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people (II Corinthians 6: 16).
The Holy Lent is a golden opportunity and a precious occasion we may seize to renew our promises to God and walk with Him during this period and in all the days of our lives. Let Him be our God and we His people. Let us grasp firmly to the virtue of fasting as is dictated by our Holy Mother Church. Let our fasting be mingled with charity and distribution to the poor. Let it be full of repentance and return to God. Let us be in constant prayer so that the Lord shall submit to us all the obstacles that may interrupt our spiritual journey. May the Lord remove all troubles that attract us to the world and the earthly things and distance us from the heaven and heavenly things. May He entirely uproot what obscures our vision and drives us to the neglect of the spiritual perspectives of our lives. Indeed, let our Lent be blended with steady supplications that the Lord may bless us with spiritual faculties that help us pursue our path with God in permanent meditation on His word, following the righteous and pure who pleased Him with their lives in order to deserve, like them, eternal life.
May our Lord God bless you and accept your fasting, prayers and charitable deeds. May He inspire you with divine wisdom to walk in His divine light so that you will not be shaken from applying His law. May He multiply your talents and adorn you with victory in your spiritual struggles. May He grant you good days to celebrate joyfully His glorious resurrection while He pours mercy on the souls of the faithful departed. Amen.
God bless you all with His grace, Amen. ܘܐܒܘܢ ܕܒܫܡܝ̈ܐ ܘܫܪܟܐ (Our Father Who art in heaven...)
Issued at our Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria
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