Pastoral Letter Year of Grace 2017

Arabic Version as PDF here

Reverend and Dear Fathers, Dear Deacons,

All the Clergy and Religious,
and All the Faithful and Friends of our Holy Melkite Eparchy.

Many thousands of years ago, our remote ancestors looked skyward and there began an enduring fascination with the movement of the heavens. We could say that once we looked above the horizon, Humankind became Astronomical Man, homo astronomicus, star-gazing man. And, of course, it was soon obvious that the apparent movement of the heavens was related to events here on earth; certain things happened “up there” that seemed related to events in our world. Most obvious, of course, was the occurrence of the seasons as the year unfolded.

The response of the Old Testament people to the created reality that is the universe is succinctly expressed in Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (v.1)

The passing of the seasons, and the recurring cycle of the year, continue to be marked in all communities with celebrations, feasts and fasts, observances religious and secular. Even amongst those who would not identify with any particular religion, certain festivals are still kept, even if in a diluted form. A good example is the so-called “secular Christmas” – Christmas without Christ; gifts, sumptuous lunch, good cheer, but no Infant Jesus!

The beginning of the civil New Year is no longer generally kept as a partly religious event, even amongst Christians. Yet consider the prayerful tone of the hymn for the New Year, “Creator of the universe, setting times and seasons by Your sole authority, bless the cycle of the year of Your grace, O Lord, guarding our rulers and Your nation in peace, at the intercession of the Theotokos, and save us.” (Apolytikion)

In whatever way we mark the New Year, an almost universal custom is to look ahead by making resolutions, decisions by which we will change course, as it were – completing things undone, putting aside the non-productive, embracing the positive, reforming inappropriate habits! In all the things we decide to accomplish in the New Year, there should be, above all else, a determination to come closer to God. Our New Year’s resolutions should be God-centered.

As we enter this year of 2017. I would propose that foremost amongst our resolutions there should be the completion of the Church of St Elias the Prophet at Guildford (NSW). What better New Year’s gift could we give the Good Lord than the fulfillment of the promise made when the construction works first began?

For our Community in Sydney, St Elias Church has special significance – it was the second church established in this City (1992) after a hundred years of reliance on the inner-city church, and later cathedral, of St Michael.

 

- 2 -

I would impress upon all our Melkite Faithful that every Church of the Eparchy, regardless of location, is of equal importance in our lives as the People of God. There could be no clearer call to action than the words of St Paul to the Galatians, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the Household of the Faith.” (6:10) We should be of the same mind as the Faithful of the first century, especially those visited by St Paul, who when difficult times approached, did not hesitate to make collections for the needs of other communities, even those at a great distance.

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle, does not characterize the generosity of the Faithful, one community for another, simply as charity but also as service. (15:25) And amongst all the opportunities of service, διακονία, few could match the construction of a new church.

We should never forget that the church building is truly the place at which Christ "unites all things in himself, things in heaven and things on earth," (Eph 1:10) and that in him we are all "filled with all the fullness of God." (Eph 3:19) It is the place in which the awesome mysteries are fulfilled; it is here that all mortal flesh keeps silence as Christ descends from the realms of endless day. (Liturgy of St Basil)

Our lives should center on the Church, especially our parish churches. Think but for a moment of the family joys and sorrows that are associated with the parish church – baptisms, weddings and finally, funerals; and, of course, we must note the feast days that we celebrate as a Community, and especially Glorious Pascha. The parish church is truly the House of God, and truly our home. “It is none other but the house of God, it is the gate of heaven.” (Gen 28:17)

And in the midst of a troubled world, our churches, and those of other Christian communities, should be, and indeed are, beacons of peace, calling all to fraternal charity, kindness and mutual respect. As the ancient Latin hymn, Ubi Caritas, teaches, “Where there is charity and love, there the God of love abides.”  

I would hope that I have only to mention this blessed project, and our Melkite Faithful throughout Australia and New Zealand will respond with that selfless generosity characteristic of our Community in the two Southern Lands since the beginning of our migration.

In the Byzantine Churches, New Year’s Day, is the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord at the eighth day. In this He subjected himself to the Law even though He was above the Law. It is the also the Feast of St Basil the Great – a saint noted for his generosity, and often for his blunt advice. I will offer you a quotation from his treatise On Charity, (3.6), what it says to you is for you to decide! “You are going to leave your money behind you here whether you wish to or not. On the other hand, you will take with you to the Lord the honour that you have won through good works. In the presence of the universal judge, all the people will surround you, acclaim you as a public benefactor, and tell of your generosity and kindness.”

My very dear Friends, Sons and daughters of the Holy Eparchy,

As we enter this Year of Grace, 2017, it is my fervent prayer for each of you that the coming twelve months will be blessed with that Peace which only the Lord, Jesus Christ, can give, and which no one can take away.

 “Now to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1Tim 1:17)

 With prayers assured and with my paternal blessing,

Robert Rabbat, DD

 

From our Eparchy, at Greenacre, NSW
1 January 2017