Arabic version available here.
The Most Reverend
Robert Rabbat, DD
by the Mercy of God
Melkite Greek-Catholic Eparch of Australia, New Zealand and All Oceania
the Clergy, the Religious and All the Faithful of our Holy Eparchy
which is most beloved of Christ.
A Pastoral Letter for the Feast of the Blessed Nativity
of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 2022
and for the Feast of the Glorious Theophany, 2023
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.” (2Th 1:2)
Theology - θεολογία is the conversation about God and, we sometimes forget, it is also a conversation with God. An authentic theology can only arise from a conversation that is founded firmly on faith. An unbeliever can discuss theology however it has no more intrinsic value than a conversation about mathematics or science. We should note that sometimes what is classed as theology is actually polemics, a religious debate, or apologetics, a reasoned defence of belief.
We quickly realise the difference between theology and polemics when we discuss the things of God with those who have already closed their minds even to the existence of anything or anyone beyond their immediate ken. The outlets of mass communication have provided the platform for contemporary secularism and neo-atheism to present what is for many a convincing argument against God and religious faith; however, that argument invariably proves itself to be essentially shallow and uninformed. The Psalmist is rather blunt in his assessment of such unbelievers, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps 14:1)
With the possible exception of Buddhism, the several faith communities that can be called the world’s great religions, are each concerned with a personal God. Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam profess a transcendent God who is nevertheless knowable and near; a God with whom we can establish a coherent conversation.
During the eighteenth century, the western world was awash with the belief system called Deism. Throughout such places as England, France and America, intellectuals adopted the idea that there was a God who made all things, but having done so, left creation to fend for itself. The God of Deism was like a clockmaker who having built the most beautiful and complicated chronometer simply wound it up and walked away.
Of course, this is not the teaching of Sacred Scripture. Jews and Christians believe that the Lord God not only created “all things seen and unseen”, but that he has formed a special relationship with humankind. Islam likewise holds that God intervenes in human affairs, especially through the intermediary of numerous prophets.
Fundamental to the understanding of God in the three monotheistic religions is the belief that God has revealed himself in several ways. For the People of the Old Covenant, God could be known in the wonders of his creation, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens…” (Prov 3:19) and in the many mercies shown to the House of Israel, especially the Exodus, “You have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” (Exod 19:4)
Christianity however goes beyond the revelation made to Israel in the “many signs and wonders” of the Old Covenant; we find the finality of revelation not primarily in the created cosmos or even in the manifold salvific deeds recorded in the covenantal scriptures, but most perfectly in a person, Jesus Christ, God the Son, the Son of God, come into this world. In him the divine conversation is most intelligible and most consistent.
St John the Evangelist in the Prologue to the fourth Gospel says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us - καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν. The words ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν, which we translate as “dwelt amongst us” literally mean “pitched his tent amongst us.”
The Eternal Word did not come into human history as a disinterested traveller passing through town, he did not come to us on a tourist visa, he came to live amongst us, to share our human condition, even to enter the mystery of death – “even death upon a cross.” (Phil 2:8)
It is in Jesus Christ that the conversation with God reaches its most complete level. On Mt Sinai, God tells Moses, “You cannot see my face. No man can see me and live.” (Exod 33:20) However, what was not permitted for Moses and all the prophets is given to us for Jesus says, “[They] who have seen me have seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9)
Likewise, the occasional uncertainty of the Jewish people towards their covenantal relationship with God is put aside in the life and ministry of Jesus. The “sacramental” signs of the Old Covenant were fulfilled in him, “Since we have a High Priest who has passed beyond the Heavens, Jesus the Son of God.” (Heb 4:14)
The encounter of the Jewish People with God was often one of fear and trembling. On Mt Sinai, God is present in the midst of fire, lightning, and earthquake (Ex 19:18). Yet as the Emmanuel, God-Who-Is-With-Us, Jesus walks in our midst and says, “Come to me, all you who labour and who carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt 11:28-29)
We live in what might well be called “interesting times.” Some often quote our Lord, “There will be wars and rumours of wars…” however they often do not add the next few words, “…but see to it that you are not alarmed.” (Mt 24:6) Jesus calls us out from the innate pessimism inherited from our First Parents when he says, “Trust in God still and trust in me.” (Jn 14:1)
May the year ahead be for all, our clergy and faithful, together with our many friends, a time of renewed strength and courage. If we would choose a watchword for this year of Grace 2023, let it be the words of St Peter to Jesus after the feeding of the five thousand, “Lord, to whom should we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68)
With my prayers and paternal blessing,
Christ is born! Glorify Him! Χριστός γεννάται! Δοξάσατε! المسـيحُ وُلِد، فَمَـجِّدُوه
Robert Rabbat, DD
From our Eparchy at Greenacre, New South Wales
20 December 2022