The holy Synod of our Antiochian Syriac Orthodox Church, that we presided over on September 9-12, 2003, had decided to designate the present year of 2004 as the Year of the Bible in response to the request of the Holy Bible Societies worldwide.
The purpose is to urge the believers to continue in their faith that the Bible, today available to us in its original languages, is true since it was written by the Prophets and Apostles, and handed down to our Holy Fathers who, in turn, delivered it unto us, whole and accurate, without addition or subtraction.
Furthermore, all Christians, according to all their different nationalities, languages and cultures, have agreed that the Holy Bible was inspired by God, and that it is: the Word of the Living God! In this regard, St. Paul, says: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16 & 17). These words “given by the inspiration of God” mean that the Almighty had specially inspired the minds of the true Prophets and holy Apostles of the Lord Jesus. He dictated unto them His divine commandments and doctrines of faith in which they ought to believe, and they in turn delivered His divine will unto humankind. Moreover, God commanded them to record those truths that were inspired by Him in a book to be the beacon of light to their generation and all generations to come forever and ever.
Clearly, Christian Churches everywhere have undoubtedly affirmed that the focus of the Holy Bible is Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World.
Surely, the ultimate purpose for writing this divine inspiration was to inform the world of the tenets of faith which we ought to believe in; the divine commandments which we should uphold; and the noble Christian virtues with which we ought to be adorned to obtain salvation through the faith in the Lord Jesus, the Savior of the world. The Apostle John, toward the end of his Gospel, explains this, saying: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
Certainly, the Holy Bible holds a high position in our holy Syriac Church, because it is the words of the Living God and the first and foremost source of our articles of faith and heavenly laws. The Holy Bible testifies to this in various places, such as in the book of Jeremiah (30:2):“Thus speaks the Lord God of Israel, saying: Write in a book for yourself all the words that I have spoken to you”. Also St. Paul declares (Galatians 1:11 & 12): “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ”. Moreover, the Apostle Peter adds: “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit”(2 Peter 1:21). By these, St. Peter explains that the Almighty God had chosen righteous people and inspired them to deliver His message to humanity that they might learn about His divine nature and heavenly statutes. Through them, God even revealed His divine promise to send His Only-begotten Son to save the world. Thus, they declared it and recorded their accurate prophecies all through the Holy Scriptures which, word by word, came to be fulfilled in the person of our Lord Jesus throughout the period of His dispensation in the flesh. Concerning this, St. Paul tells us: “God, Who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, Whom He has appointed heir of all things, through Whom also He made the worlds; Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Thus, the Holy Bible, the sure source of the tenets of beliefs for the noble Christian faith, is the absolute authority concerning matters of the faith. And hence, all believers ought to follow its divine teachings and abide by it entirely in matters of faith and good deeds, that is, to uphold all principles of faith and virtuous conduct.
Our fathers had based all their teachings upon the divine inspiration recorded in the books of the Holy Bible. They dived into the depths of the Holy Scriptures and plucked out the precious and valuable pearls that established our true tenets of the faith. They did indeed apply the holy verses into their innumerable spiritual writings. As an example, it has been said: “supposedly, if all the Syriac Bibles in the world were to vanish, we could re-assemble the Holy Bible from the quotations that St. Ephraim had used in his writings in the fourth century”.
Indeed, church history testifies that our fathers were the leaders in the study of and commentary on the Holy Bible. They translated it into other tongues, and our monasteries and churches were overfilled with its copies that our monks, priests and others had written in the holy Syriac tongue. Thus, you will find the most important and ancient copies in museums worldwide written in this language. Moreover, it is notable to know that our fathers had also carried the torchlight of the Holy Bible into many regions of the world. They even appointed specific Holy Scripture readings for Sundays and holidays to be read at the start of the Holy Eucharist service. They even composed specific prayers to be recited prior to the reading of the gospel, during their private, public and liturgical meditations. By these prayers they implored the Lord to enlighten their minds to understand the words of eternal life.
This venerated position which the Holy Bible had attained in our holy Church, is witnessed, according to our Syriac rite, by the placement of the Holy Bible on a wooden podium at the center of the holy sanctuary’s entrance in every church. The face of the Holy Bible is usually covered with a silver or golden plate upon which icons of the four Evangelists and the Holy Cross are engraved; it is set to be kissed in order to obtain blessings by the believers at the start and conclusion of prayer services. Thus they venerate God’s word, the Holy Bible, and hence receive by it the blessings of Christ Jesus, God’s Word Who was from the beginning, as stated by the Apostle John in his Gospel: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The Church has also composed special chants through which they invite the believers to: stand in attention and to reverently listen, in wisdom, and hear the words of the gospel of salvation, as the incense fills the air. And, according to our Syriac tradition, whoever celebrates the Holy Liturgy is to read the Holy Gospel; be it a patriarch, bishop or priest.
Therefore, our Holy Church does indeed urge all clergy and believers to study the Holy Bible; to read it in public and in private. Let us learn from the first Psalm (v.2) in which David promises blessings to the righteous man who’s “delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night”. Similarly, David praises God, saying: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn and confirmed that I will keep Your righteous judgments” (Psalm 119:105 & 106). Undoubtedly then, the righteous are diligent in studying the Holy Bible. They also apply God’s precepts in their minds, words and deeds. According to St. Paul’s instruction: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Philippians 1:27).
The advent of Holy Lent, beloved, gives us a golden opportunity to come closer to our Lord Jesus through a strong faith and good deeds; emulating His life in the flesh; bearing His Holy Cross and following Him. Let us learn from Him fasting and prayer, for He fasted forty days and forty nights for our sake; He let Satan tempt Him; and He quoted the Holy Scripture to confound the cursed devil, thus showing us the secret for defeating the Devil, saying: “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21).
Hence, my beloved, persevere in prayer and uphold the requirement of fasting; be generous with the needy, especially during these holy days which the Church designated as Holy Lent.
Mother Church instructs us to gather around the Holy Scriptures and meditate upon them notably in the serenity of the night. Since by prayers we commune with Almighty God and offer Him thanksgiving for all His spiritual and worldly gifts, thus we must also join with the angels in praising and worshipping Him. In addition, we have to keenly listen in faith, hope and love for His holy words which the Prophets, Apostles and Holy Fathers have recorded in the Holy Scriptures. For: “God, Who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1), Who is His divine Word, about Whom John the divine spoke, 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 beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1 & 14). That is why we ought to believe in Him and obey Him. Because the heavenly Father testified about Him by the voice that came from heaven during the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus on the mountain, declaring: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased, hear Him”(Matthew 17:5).
May we therefore listen to the Lord Jesus, the Only-begotten Son of God, Who commands us to fast and pray, and to have mercy on the poor and needy brothers that we may be worthy to inherit with Him His heavenly kingdom.
Dearly beloved, may God bless you, and enable you to renew your spiritual relashionship with Him, that you may endeavor to listen to His divine call; that you might understand His heavenly will through the study of the Holy Bible by which God speaks to us, leads us and enlightens our paths. For He is the Light to our steps, which we may uphold faithfully, that we may not stumble on our ways.
May God accept your fast and prayers, and make you worthy to celebrate His Holy Resurrection from the dead in holiness, purity and joy. May His grace abide with you.
Our Father Who art in heaven…
Issued at our Patriarchal Headquarters in Damascus, Syria, on the 30th day of January in the year of our Lord of 2004, which is the 24th year of our Patriarchal reign.