From the Syrus History
The Mourning Knell
The bells of the monastery of St. Barsoum in Antioch (present day Turkey) started to toll in a mourning hymn the whole day. With tears in their eyes and feeling like orphans, the Antiochian people walked fast to the church of the monastery. They all left work and the entrance to the city was crowded with all members of the clergy and people from all countries. They were mourning the passing away of the Holy Father Abba Dinysius the Talhari, Patriarch of Antioch and the east.
Because of such crowds, the deacons had to organize the entrance to the church. The holy body of the Patriarch, wearing his full patriarchal vestments, was placed on the apostolic chair facing the holy Altar. A cross was placed in his right hand and the parochial staff in his left hand. Every believer went in, knelt humbly thrice in front of the Altar with complete acceptance of God’s will and kissed the Holy Bible then the Patriarch’s cross and his right hand, asking for his prayers and that God would repose his soul. Hours or maybe days passed until it was time for the funeral ceremony.
On the appointed day, the Archbishop started the funeral ceremony with the Lord’s Prayer, then the prayers of thanksgiving to the beneficent God, the One who takes care of every body. Those were mixed with psalms of praise and readings from the Holy Bible, giving heavenly condolences to the people of God and revealing the power of resurrection and eternal life. There were also supplications to God to bless the Patriarch’s soul and to ask for his prayers for them. Then the Patriarch was anointed with holy oil three times: on his forehead, his chest and his knees.
The Archbishop delivered a touching speech. He expressed the feelings of loss felt by the clergy and the people due to the passing away of the Patriarch. He praised him and talked much about his holiness and his caring for the parish. He added that the Patriarch’s love would not die and his caring would not stop. He said also that although the Patriarch put of his body, it is to serve at an angelic and heavenly level, a service of prayer and supplication in front of the holy throne. Finally, he ended his speech with thanks to the churches’ representatives who came from all districts to participate in the sorrows of the Antiochian church.
At the end of the prayers, the Patriarch was placed on a chair and carried by the clergy. They went around the church in a great march and many of the people of the congregation wanted to kiss the Patriarch. Finally, the Patriarch was taken to “The house of the saints”, which is the cemetery of the Patriarchs of Antioch situated next to the altar. According to the rituals of the church of Antioch, the Patriarch stayed on his chair holding his cross and his staff. He is not put in a casket, as if he was still alive to continue his work in the church along with previous Patriarchs, participating with them in the caring of his flock and all humanity by praying.
Everybody was waiting to see how would the bishops elect a new Patriarch and who he would be. There was a meeting of the Holy Synod that was attended by all the elders of the clergy. There was only one missing, the Catholicos of Takreet (in Iraq). His name was Abba Thomas and his bishops. They were not told of the meeting because of some problems that took place between them and the Holy Synod in the days of the previous Patriarch.
In a closed session, the names of the candidates were presented. When the name of Father John was mentioned, everybody agreed and each face looked cheerful. In a few moments, the Archbishop went out to announce to the priests, deacons and people the news of the unanimous decision of the Synod to enthrone Father John as Patriarch. This affected the believers for, their sorrow over the Patriarch who passed was transformed into a deep inner joy for the new Father and everybody knew the day of the ordination.
On that day, the bells of St. Barsoum’s monastery were ringing to announce the joy of the people for the ordination of the new Patriarch. The bishops and the representatives of the churches of the east and west walked into the church, along with priests, deacons and some of the congregation.
The elected Patriarch was wearing his full priestly vestments and he was standing at one of the Altar’s corners, waiting for the Holy Mass and the ordination rituals. It was as if he was ready to start his parochial work through the sacrifice and the Altar, to present himself with Jesus to be crucified and to die daily for his beloved children.
He stood with his head down, his eyes were full of tears and many images were passing before him. In one instance, he was facing God, The Supreme Shepherd on Judgment Day. God was asking him to give a report on his service, on the blood of each person he did not take care of in all of Antioch, whether a priest, a deacon or from the people. In another instance, he saw himself kneeling before the Altar, taking all the responsibilities of his work, his service and caring to God to carry them and transfer them into eternal glory. In another thought, he was going back to the life he had before entering the monastery, and the vow he made in his heart not to go back to the world, but to dedicate every breath to prayer and to continuous praise with the angels. In the middle of all these thoughts that filled his head and his soul, Father John was forced to lift his heart along with the bishops and priests in the prayers of the Holy Mass. When they finished the prayers of the Pentecost, the Archbishop approached him, took his hand and started the prayers of the ordination.
All the people attending forgot what was needed at these terrifying moments, that the Catholicos is the one to precede the bishops. But he was not there, since he was not included in the Synod meeting and he was not notified of the day of the ordination. Nevertheless, the happiness of everybody with Father John swallowed the problem completely. Therefore, the ceremony was completed without any question about the Catholicos.
The Archbishop asked Father John, “You were chosen by the Holy Spirit to be the Patriarch of Antioch and the east, in other words you will be father of us all, do you accept?”
The Father was silent for a moment, and then in a soft voice and with tears in his eyes he answered, “Yes.”
At that moment the Archbishop kissed Father John the fifth and then everyone started singing a beautiful and long Syrus hymn, “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find doing his will.” At the end of the hymn, the Fathers brought the parochial staff and moved with it to the table of life. Then, the congregation sang a short hymn: “May God give you the staff of strength from Zion to conquer your enemies and to take care of your people.”
It was a terrifying scene when the Archbishop took the parochial staff and gave it to the youngest of the bishops who held it from its bottom, then the next bishop came and held the staff above the first hand. The third then the fourth bishop followed them and at the end the Archbishop held the staff from its top. Then, all of them walked to Father John the fifth to top all of their hands with his. It was as if the Holy Synod were all together in the responsibility given to them by Jesus Christ, the Highest Shepherd, to care for all, and the Patriarch is the head in Jesus Christ.
After long prayers, four men carried the Patriarch on a chair. Meanwhile, he was reading the following from the Bible,
“Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep … I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep….”
The father was uttering those words pertaining to the good shepherd as if the Holy Spirit was assuring him that he was caring for Jesus’ people. Also he was accepting this duty from Jesus and by Jesus.
It is hard to describe what went on in the father’s mind while he was reading those words in the Bible but soon the ceremony and the mass ended and all the fathers carried the Patriarch in a huge procession inside the church amid happy hymns.
Father John the fifth stayed for hours amid the clergy and the people to accept their congratulations and to pray for them. Then, he was asked by some of the fathers to go to his cell to rest after all this effort. He agreed and went to his cell and closed the door. There, he felt bewildered and fell on the floor near one of the chairs. Very slowly, he lifted his head to rest it on the chair and started to mumble silent words. His heart was kindled, praying for everybody but suddenly he started thinking, “What shall I do about The Catholicos? He was ignored by the Holy Synod concerning choosing and ordaining me as a Patriarch. Shall I rest while he’s suffering? What shall I do when he’s known to be harsh? A split in the church is inevitable and I’m the cause. No, my heart will not rest until the heart of my father The Catholicos rests. I’m a father and it’s my duty to solve the situation. The soul of the Catholicos, his bishops and their people demand this from me.”
Father John prayed with deep tears and in few days he met with the Holy Synod where he talked about the Catholicos. He heard that the Catholicos is splitting from the church because of his ordination as Patriarch without the Catholicos’ presence. He asked for their advice in a Christian spirit. However, noticing that some of the members were quite upset with the Catholicos, he asked them softly and humbly to pray for him. He also asked them to let him solve the problem with the help of God’s guidance. In complete love and trust, they accepted and he assured them that he would find a solution. Finally, every member went back to their parishes and the Patriarch went back to his cell to pray.
Before the beginning of the Holy Mass in Takreet, a Syrian monk walked into the church. He was wearing a cheap costume. He seemed to have come from a distant place since he looked tired and his clothes were dusty from the road. His head was down and he walked decidedly and slowly to the Altar where he knelt three times while praying then he made the sign of the cross. At that moment, he kissed the Bible, the holy icons and finally he stood before the Catholicos. He knelt all the way to the ground, kissed the cross in his hand while saying, “Pray for me Father for I’m a sinner.”
Then, he joined the other monks in praise and song.
Since many monks came to that church for one reason or another, nobody noticed the previous scene. Notwithstanding, the way the monk was standing in fear and rightness, his looks were humble; his voice was sweet and so spiritual that the hearts of the Catholicos and the people were attracted to him. The Catholicos called him, asked about his name and which monastery he came from and if he would stay with him in the church. The monk replied that he was not worthy to find such grace in the eyes of the Catholicos.
At dinner, the Catholicos met with all the priests and the monks and he introduced the new monk to them. Everybody was happy to see him. When the meal was finished they started asking him about the new Patriarch, when they found out that he came from Antioch. He answered that he knew him and that he was a very simple person. Next, they asked about the position of the Holy Synod about the situation with the Catholicos. He replied that he did not really get involved with these matters but he heard that all the members felt sorry and they would like to find a way to apologize to the Catholicos and his bishops. Then, he was able to change the subject in a nice and wise way, and the rest of the time was spent in a wonderful spiritual way.
The Catholicos, the priests and the people were pleased with the monk to the extent that the cell given to him to stay in was transformed into a place of perpetual spiritual meetings. The Catholicos, who enjoyed his company, also visited him. They spent the time talking about God’s words, the life of saints and they sang church hymns of praise. In many instances, the Catholicos used to discuss some of the church’s problems with the monk who replied in soothing words.
Few days later, news came of the passing away of Abba George, the bishop of one of the Arab countries that belonged to the Catholicos. The Catholicos was very saddened and he was forced to leave Takreet so he could preside over the funeral mass. The people were wondering about whom would replace the bishop who had passed away. The Catholicos replied that he would choose the Antiochian monk for that position. By the time the Catholicos came back to Takreet, the news about the newly appointed bishop was spread all over. The priests and some of the people went to congratulate the monk for being chosen as a bishop.
The monk ran to the Catholicos to make condolences for the passing of the bishop. The Catholicos patted him on the shoulder saying that his only condolence is for God to help him in his new position. Tears started running down from the monk’s eyes and he begged the father to excuse him from occupying this position since he was not good for it and it was beyond his capability. The father replied that he knew that the monk was meek and that God would help him because of this. He added that he was sure that God, who bestowed on him a lot of grace in the eyes of the church, would do the same after his ordination and that he would be a source of blessings to so many.
Finally, the monk asked if he could make confession, since the Catholicos did not know him so well. He also asked what a person should do if he had committed a sin. The Catholicos thought for a while and realized that the monk wanted to confess of a specific sin that prevented him from becoming a bishop. He replied that God loves all humans and that He forgives all sins.
Then, the monk made a prostration (Metanyia) saying, “I am your servant, Patriarch John, who accepted the ordination without your advice or blessing. Do you forgive me father?”
The Catholicos was so moved that he embraced the Patriarch crying and asking forgiveness for anything or any word said against the Patriarch.
Go up the Tree
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