The Franciscans visit the Orthodox Churches for Christmas greetings

After welcoming Orthodox Church leaders for greetings on the occasion of the Catholic Christmas celebrations in December, the Franciscan friars of the Custody visited the Orthodox Church communities for Christmas according to the Julian calendar. On the morning of January 9. the sound of the Kawas’ sticks were heard several times to announce the arrival of the Franciscan delegation. The honorary guards of the Custody, in fact, precede the friars’ procession every time they go somewhere for an official visit.

As is customary, in addition to the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Patton, and the Vicar of the Custody, Fr. Dobromir Jasztal, there were other friars, including several seminarians from St. Savior international Seminary. For all of them, every year, exchanging greetings with their brothers in the Orthodox churches is a unique experience of sharing that unites them as Christians, despite their many differences.

The visit to the Greek Orthodox in the early hours of the morning was accompanied by a cordial and fraternal atmosphere. The Custos of the Holy Land expressed his feelings of gratitude for the mutual cooperation that allows them to work together in the most important shrines, such as the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Fr. Patton also spoke about the event that during the first days of January, involved the Greek Patriarch Theophilus III, who was harshly protested by a group of Greek-Orthodox Palestinian Christians, during his entrance into Bethlehem for the Christmas celebrations. “I want to express my closeness and solidarity to His Beatitude, Patriarch Theophilus,” said Br. Patton. “We reject, condemn and cannot accept any kind of violence against his person.” Patriarch Theophilus III thanked [them] for the solidarity shown to him and he spoke about other positive opportunities for the two communities to come together in the course of the year.

With the friars of the Coptic Church, the Franciscan friars shared a beautiful moment by exchanging their well wishes and listening to stories from Egypt, of which the Coptic Church is the official church. Mons. Anba Antonius, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, spoke about the persecutions of Christians in Egypt, thanks to the translation by Br. Ibrahim Faltas, the head of the Terra Santa Schools. The Patriarch also spoke about the meaning of Christmas and the new year that just began, hoping that it will be “a year of good and peace for humanity.” The Vicar of the Custody, Fr. Dobromir Jasztal, brought the wishes of the Franciscans and also those of the Custos, who could not be present at the gathering: “These visits are not part of the protocol, but the result of the desire to share what we believe together.”

During the visit to the Syriac community, the Custodial Vicar recalled the tensions in the Middle East and expressed his closeness to the large community of Syriacs who are still suffering today in Syria. This was echoed by the Syrian Patriarch, Mons. Swerios Malki Mourad, who said he was happy to be able to share the joy of Christmas with the Franciscans. He also expressed solidarity with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch for the protests, because he claimed to have been in a similar situation in the past: “We must pray for the faithful to listen to the heads of the Churches.” With the representatives of the Ethiopian Church, the Franciscans exchanged Christmas greetings immediately after leaving the Syriacs. Fr. Dobromir reiterated that what drives these visits is the desire to share the joy of Christmas. In his speech, Mons. Aba Embakob, of the Orthodox Ethiopian Patriarchate, highlighted the beauty of Jesus’ humble birth and thanked the Franciscan friars for their visit.

Coffee, liqueurs and chocolates followed each meeting, in the spirit of sharing that unites the friars in faith for this celebration.

Beatrice Guarrera