Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch

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The Great Lent (Sawmo Rabo) Sunday, March 1 - Sunday, April 20, 2014

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The Patriarchal Decree of 1994

The Patriarchal Journal
vol.32 – March/April 1994 – No. 133/134. Pages 130-136.

We grant apostolic blessing, invocation and peace in the Lord to our brothers: the most honorable His Beatitude the Catholicos, their Eminences the Metropolitans, the notables, our sons the representatives of the noble Archbishoprics and priests, monks, deacons and the assembled members of our people the Syrian Orthodox in the whole world. May the providence of the Lord be bestowed on them by the mediation of the Virgin Mary and Saint Peter the chief of the Apostles and all the martyrs and saints. Amen.

Saint James said: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

Dearly Beloved:

A violent struggle began between the powers of good and the powers of evil when God created humanity in his image and planted for them the paradise of Eden so they would enjoy it and raise him up as Lord of all creation. So Satan, who was one of the favorite angels, became envious of their happiness and because of his pride and opposition to God on high Satan and his followers fell from heaven and they were changed into evil beings, enemies of God and humanity. Satan deceived our first parents and caused them to fall in the sin of pride and greed, so they were cast out of their paradise into the land of toil. What increases the danger of this mortal enemy is that he himself is an unseen being. His secret is disguise and his power is so great that he can effect the human mind trying to deceive it by deception and if anyone yields to him and believes him he falls into sin.

Satan appears in his work through other beings as he did in paradise when he materialized in a snake which was the most deceptive of all the wild animals (Genesis 3:1). Thus he made our first parents fall in sin. Satan also appears through temptations that come upon our humanity with the permission of God on High, as in what happened to Job the Righteous. Satan’s goal in this is to make humanity fall in sin and sin is transgression of the law of God. In this way it makes sinful humanity enemies of God and friends of Satan and his soldiers who are considered the most dangerous enemies of humanity because they are like ravenous wolves that come in the clothing of sheep to devour the flock. They would not be discovered until after they have annihilated most of the flock.

What makes things worse is that satan deludes some of the people into thinking that he does not exist. In that way he gets rid of their opposition to him. But the Holy Bible tells us about the existence of this evil one and reveals for us his tricks and malevolence for he is a real person without a material body, that is free from any matter. The Bible calls him satan, that is the adversary. It also calls him the devil or the false accuser, because he complains about God to people (Genesis 3:1-5) and complains about people to God (Job 1:9-11, Revelation 12:10). It also calls him the evil one, and gives him similar names. To protect us from him God called him our enemy by saying to the snake which satan materialized in Paradise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). For this enmity protects us from annihilation and warns us about our enemy, the devil.

The Lord Jesus unmasked for us the character of our enemy, the devil, and taught us to pray to the heavenly Father saying: “Do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13 Arabic translation). The Apostle Peter warns us: “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering” (I Peter 5:8-9). Also the Apostle James in the verse of our subject urges us saying, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

Yes, God has created humanity rational: that is able to distinguish the difference between good and evil and know what is permitted and what is forbidden. He has the full freedom to choose whatever he wills so that he will be rewarded for good deeds as he will be punished for evil deeds. Since this fierce battle was established between humanity and its enemy, the devil, it has continued through ages and generations and the devil has been victorious over humanity in many rounds. Most of humanity has yielded to his power and exposed themselves to the wrath of God on high and has been annihilated to the extent that the Apostle Paul says in this respect: “since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). The Lord Jesus said: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). So even God on high hates sin, yet he loves the sinner and does not want him to be annihilated. For that reason he said through the tongue of the prophet Ezekiel: “Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life.” (Ezekiel 18:27).

Because humanity was unable to save itself, God willed from the beginning that the second person of the Holy Trinity would be incarnate and redeem humanity with his precious blood. As the devil hid in paradise when he materialized in a snake, so God on high willed the son of God to cover his divinity with the complete human nature which he took from the Virgin Mary so that the devil would not recognize his true nature but immediately after he came out of the water, after his baptism by John in the Jordan, and while he was praying, the heavens parted, the Holy Spirit like a dove came down and alighted on his head and then Satan heard the voice of the Father from Heaven saying: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).

On that day the devil began to doubt in the truth of the person of Jesus Christ. When Jesus was taken up into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit by his own will to be tempted by the devil and he fasted 40 days and 40 nights and he became hungry at last (Matthew 4:1,2). The devil took advantage of this prime opportunity to discover the identity of the Lord Jesus and to ascertain his character. He wondered if he was a righteous man called the son of God for his righteousness or if he is truly the Son of God by nature? So the devil came close to the Lord Jesus and tempted him with the three main temptations which any person is usually exposed to, which are (1) greed, (2) love of false glory which is pride, and (3) love of money and all the acquisitions of this fading world. The Apostle John summarized them saying: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; … And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever” (1. John 2:15,17).

Some of the commentators say that the wilderness which Jesus was taken up to was the trackless wilderness where Moses was (Exodus 24:18) and Elijah (1.Kings 19:8) had fasted. Some of them mention that it was the wilderness of Judea where John the Baptist preached repentance. The Apostle Matthew mentioned only the last three temptations, and we understand from his words that he was tempted with them at the end of his fast but it is understood from the words of Mark (Mark 1:12-13) and Luke (Luke 4:1-13) that the Lord Jesus was tempted by the devil throughout the 40 days which he fasted and the temptations were many and various, both of thought and action, beside the last three temptations which were distinguished by their intensity through which the tempter appeared to the eye.

Yes, the Lord Jesus had fasted on behalf of humanity to teach us the fast, to reveal to us the secret of the spiritual weapons with which we defeat the devil. He once said to his apostles about a kind of evil spirit: “But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21).

After the Lord Jesus completed his fast, the devil appeared to him in the wilderness first in the shape of a man coming as a friend pretending love and pity for him when he saw him he was about to die of hunger in that wilderness in which it was impossible for anyone to find food. He drew Jesus’ attention to the stones which looked like they were loaves of bread. “The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. But he answered, ’It is written, ’One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:3-4) This severe temptation resembles the temptation of our first parents when they ate of the forbidden fruit. It is the trap which satan sets for humanity usually to make him doubt in the love and care of God for him.

The answer of the Lord Jesus to the tempter teaches us to avoid gluttony because our first two parents ate from the fruit and died morally. Therefore natural death entered the world and humanity became a candidate for eternal death also. When the first humans fell in this temptation, they changed their paradise into a desolate wilderness, where they were cast out into the land of toil to labor in it and to get their bread by the sweat of their brow. But the Lord Jesus was victorious over the tempter and changed the wilderness of the world into the paradise of comfort.

As for the second temptation the devil appeared to the Lord as an angel. He took the Lord to the Holy City and set him on the side of the holy temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, ’Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:5-7). This is the temptation of the love of false glory, pride and boasting about what a person can get from success and spiritual and physical strength in the life of this world. Satan had used verses of the Holy Bible for an evil aim and bad intention. The Lord answered refuting him with a teaching also from the Bible. Whoever exploits verses of the Holy Bible and interprets them according to his erroneous opinions and false beliefs has imitated the devil.

Oh dear believer as for the third temptation, the devil revealed in it his true form and appeared in an ugly form, proud of his shame announcing that he is the devil: “Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘All this I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ’Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him” (Matthew 4:8-11).

>From this temptation we learn that whoever listens to the devil in small things will surely be led to the depths of annihilation, he also would be enslaved by the devil leaving the worship of God. For the devil considers himself as equal to God, and claims deceitfully that all the kingdoms of the world belong to him. All the world was created by God and operates according to the law that God placed in it.

Even though He gave freedom to humanity, some people take advantage of this freedom, and wallow in desires and become enslaved by satan, but that doesn’t mean that satan has been given the whole world. This temptation is the temptation of the love of money, inordinate desire and greed and to get them by legal or illegal ways. The Lord Jesus warned us of this vice saying " You can’t serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13). The apostle Paul said, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (I Timothy 6:10) and in this way the Lord Jesus shamed the devil and defeated him and conquered him. The devil ran away from the presence of the Lord and the angels came and served him and the devil fought the Lord Jesus in the last" round when he entered to Hanan and Caiaphas and Judas and others who cooperated in crucifying the Lord Jesus and in his crucifixion crushed the head of the snake of the ages, the cursed devil, and broke his back and smashed his teeth and gave us victory over him so that even a small child by making the sign of the cross on his face is able to defeat all devils: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:57).

Dearly beloved, in these hard times of ours we are in a severe war with satan and his soldiers. About this the apostle Paul says, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12) who are trying to make us doubt the truth of God’s love for us and want to convince us that he does not protect us and take care of us. They are also trying to cause us to stumble in the truth of his godly promise to his righteous ones. But if we take refuge in the Lord by faith during the tribulations, difficult misfortunes and hard times, He will save us from temptations. What we have to do is pray and fast to defeat the devil and his soldiers.

Dearly beloved, it is a precious opportunity offered to you by the holy church every year during these days by decreeing that you embrace the holy forty days of fasting and the life giving week of passion. So these days will be an arena to fight the devil and defeat him by prayer and fasting and distributing charity to those in need and the poor. (“The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet” Romans 16:20) According to the apostle Paul who urges you also saying, “Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:14-16) and always pray the Lord’s prayer in faith entreating God the Father not to lead you into temptation but to deliver you from the evil one (Matthew 6:13) and to stand against Satan so he flees from you (James 4:7) so the angels will come and serve you.

May God accept your fast and prayers and charities and make you fit to celebrate the feast of his glorious resurrection from the dead and that you may be well and at peace. May the grace of God be with you. Our Father in heaven (etc.).

Issued from the Patriarchal Residence in Damascus, Syria on the sixth of the month of March 1994 which is the fourteenth year of our Patriarchal reign.

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