'I was a stranger and you took me in'
Patriarchal Encyclical for the Great Lent 2016
by His Holiness Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II
On the occasion of the Great Lent 2016, His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius
Aphrem II issued the following Patriarchal Encyclical:
No. EN 142/16
March 9, 2016
IN THE NAME OF THE SELF-EXISTENT
SEMPITERNAL OF NECESSARY EXISTENCE THE ALMIGHTY
IGNATIUS APHREM II, PATRIARCH OF THE HOLY SEE OF ANTIOCH AND ALL THE EAST
SUPREME HEAD OF THE UNIVERSAL SYRIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH IN THE WORLD
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: Very Reverend Corepiscopoi,
Reverend priests, monks, nuns, deacons and deaconesses and the entire blessed
Syriac Orthodox people throughout 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.
"I was a stranger and you took me in" (Matthew 25: 35)
Dearly beloved in Christ,
 In a world where a brother becomes a stranger to his own brother, and where
every human being lives alone searching for his own interest, every believer is
reconsidering his relationship with God and with his fellow human being. He is
thus building what hatred and egoism have destroyed, away from personal interest
and racial, religious and confessional discrimination that divide the members of
the one society who feel alienated from each other. Hence, the Holy Bible is
setting for us the way to deal with strangers according to what pleases the Lord
 When the people of God settled in the land of Canaan, their relations with
strangers multiplied; consequently, it became necessary to put rules for
themselves for dealing with them. In the Old Testament, a stranger is the one
who is different in faith, ethnicity or profession. The pagans who worshipped
foreign gods and lived in the vicinity of Palestine, were strangers to the
faithful children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Similarly, the non-Jews were
considered to be strangers because they were descendants of foreign nations.
Most strangers lacked professional skills and worked in slave labor: "There were
still people left from the Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites,
these people were not Israelites, Solomon conscripted the descendants of all
these people remaining in the land — whom the Israelites had not destroyed — to
serve as slave labor, as it is to this day" (II Chronicles 8: 7-8).
Consequently, the life of a stranger in those times was not easy: they were
powerless and had no authority. Their life was under the mercy of the Children
of Israel. The Holy Bible commands: "Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves
know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt."
(Exodus 23: 9). The Book of Exodus also calls for some kind of equality between
the indigenous and the foreigner who lives in the land, recommending that one
law should rule among all: "The same law applies both to the native-born and to
the foreigner residing among you." (Exodus 12: 49).
 In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ becomes a foreigner in the world
of men by His incarnation. By becoming human, Jesus Christ has a new experience
in a world strange to His divinity where He is with the Father and the Holy
Spirit. The world, in which He was incarnated, refused Him: "He came to His own,
but His own did not receive Him." (John 1: 11).
 The Lord Jesus Christ gave a new meaning to the concept of stranger where
true foreignness is to be stranger to God because of sin. Sin separates between
God and men. It renders the sinner stranger to the Holy One. Moreover, living
according to this world is a submission to sin and thus being foreign to God.
Christians are dwellers on this earth but they do not belong to this world. As
our Lord Jesus said: "you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the
world, therefore the world hates you." (John 15: 19). Hence, Christians are
citizens of the Kingdom of God and Jesus affirms: "My kingdom is not of this
world" (John 18: 36). Therefore, in this world, we are strangers, alienated from
our spiritual homeland.
 We notice that the Holy Bible in general, and the New Testament in
particular, teaches us to host strangers and to show philanthropy towards them.
Doubtlessly, the stranger, refugee, immigrant and the internally displaced need
more care than others since their suffering is great and their daily needs
surpass their capabilities. Consequently, they are among those who need greater
care because they are living under severe conditions and they are exposed to
many dangers outside their villages, cities and countries.
 The Holy Church knows no limitation to charity and love: our Lord Jesus
Christ taught us that "no one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life
for one’s friends." (John 15: 13). The Church is a loving mother who cares for
her children without discrimination, and teaches them to serve strangers and to
host them. Since the beginning of Christianity, the apostles and holy fathers
designated special hostels to host strangers. They selected some brethren to
hold this responsibility to host guests and strangers, following the words of
our heavenly teacher: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was
thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me
in" (Matthew 25: 35).
 Today, Christians in the Orient witness a new persecution: killings,
destruction, expulsion, forced emigration, and even uprooting them from their
homeland. A large number of people are leaving their lands forcedly, subject to
fear and anxiety, but led by the hope to live in a better place and under more
humane conditions. Though we urge all to hold firm to the land of our
forefathers, under such persecution, we have the duty to help them. Hence, they
do not feel the indifference that people and even some faithful have sunk into.
In this way, we bring back hope to the hearts of those who are about to loose it
because of the crime and violence that surround them.
 We cannot forget the beloved Archbishops of Aleppo their Eminences Mor
Gregorius Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji who are still forced to be away
from us by those who do not know God and do not respect human beings. We ask you
to pray for their safe return from their foreignness.
 Serving strangers and immigrants gives us the opportunity to serve Christ
our Lord Who Himself was once an immigrant when His mother could not find Him a
home to receive Him on His birth in the flesh, so "she wrapped Him in clothes
and placed Him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them."
(Luke 2: 7). He also experienced emigration when Joseph took Him to Egypt
following the order of the angel to seek refuge there, away from those who
sought His death (cf. Matthew 2: 13-15). At that time, He needed someone to host
Him and offer Him a place to sleep. The holy family may have needed also someone
to offer them a job, food, and other basic needs of life. When the Lord started
preaching the Kingdom of God among people, once again He found Himself as
stranger among His own, and therefore He said: "but the Son of Man has no place
to lay his head." (Matthew 8: 20).
 Therefore, dearly beloved, we are called to offer what we can in the
service of others who are living under hard conditions by providing for them
food, clothes and shelter. Thus, we render a service to the Lord Himself by
fulfilling His will. Then, we will hear Him saying: "Truly I tell you, whatever
you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for
Me" (Matthew 25: 40).
 The culture that the Christians in the Orient were raised into, is
undoubtedly different from the one they find in the West. This difference is
observed in the difficulty which the refugees find in integrating in the western
societies and the incapacity to adapt fully to its requirements. We, therefore,
impress upon our faithful who are resettling in the west to hold on to certain
aspects of our culture that we do not want to change like our identity which we
have to preserve and our Oriental Christian heritage which may be compromised in
the West. We also need to work on reconciling many aspects of our culture with
that of the western society without being affected by western atheism and
secularism which may clash with our Christian values. Most importantly, we need
to find ways to create harmony between the cultures of the East and the West so
that emigration does not become a reason for the extinction of our culture.
 Emigration poses many important questions on the international level which
simultaneously touch upon social, economic, political, cultural and religious
domains. It sheds the light on the absence of social justice in some countries,
or the lack of certain freedoms which are necessary for a dignified life.
Moreover, there is an absence of the basic rights of human beings in certain
countries such as the right to freely choose one’s confession and religion, and
freedom of expression. Therefore, emigration is an action expressing the refusal
of submission and giving up to the conditions imposed on us. It reflects the
desire to lead a dignified life, preserve the basic elements of life and keep
one’s rights and freedoms.
 Officials have started to discuss means of passing laws and constraints to
organize and control emigration. They are doing so because emigration has become
a tool to put pressure on countries which receive the immigrants. Some refugees
are creating problems to the hosting countries which leads to more ethnic
extremism and a growing sense of national fanaticism. Some are politicizing the
matter in order to put pressure on countries, forgetting the human character of
this issue and the necessity to deal with the refugees and immigrants as people
in need of help, acceptance and attention. Refugees are faced mostly with
maltreatment, discrimination, refusal and sometimes persecution. This increases
their suffering after the difficulties and dangers they have gone through to
reach their destinations. We are also aware of cases of persecution based on
religious difference within the refugee camps in Europe. We denounce such acts
and pray that the concerned authorities will take action to prevent such acts.
We see that human trafficking also increased alarmingly lately as well as all
sorts of abuse. We hear about the death of many immigrants or how they are
killed by the smugglers before they reach their destination.
 During this great lent, we call upon our spiritual children to open their
hearts and homes to receive strangers and immigrants, and to help the brethren
who have been forced to leave their houses due to harsh living conditions and
miseries in their homeland. Thus, they can receive the blessing of hosting
strangers, as Abraham was blessed by hosting angels without knowing it (Genesis
 Dearly beloved, let us offer our hearts a place for the Lord to dwell in,
for we read in the book of Revelation: "Here I am! I stand at the door and
knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with
that person, and they with me." (Revelation 3: 20). Thus, we will be ready to
receive the Lord by offering true repentance. Fasting is an opportunity for
almsgiving and charity that show our love towards our fellow human beings.
 May the Lord bless our fasting, accept our prayers and be pleased with our
offerings. We ask Him to have mercy on the souls of our beloved departed ones
and make us worthy to joyfully celebrate the feast of the Resurrection. May His
grace be with you all, Amen. ܘܐܒܘܢ ܕܒܫܡܝܐ ܘܫܪܟܐ
Issued at our Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria
on the ninth of March, 2016,
which is the second year of our Patriarchate
Malankara World Great
Lent Supplement Home
Home | Malankara World Journal | Sermons Home
| General Sermons and Essays | Articles Home | Library -
A service of St. Basil's Syriac Orthodox
Copyright © 2009-2020 - ICBS Group. All Rights Reserved.
Website designed, built, and hosted by
International Cyber Business Services, Inc., Hudson, Ohio