From Rev. Fr. Alexander J. Kurien, Senior Director of the Office of Strategic Planning, United States Department of State, United States Government, Washington D.C., United States of America
Your Beatitude the Patriarch of Antioch and All East Mar Ignatius Aphrem II Karim, I extend my warm congratulations and wish you every strength and joy in the fulfillment of the great task which lies before you as you guide the Syrian Orthodox Church along the path of spiritual growth and unity. In prayer, I ask the Lord to grant Your Beatitude an abundance of wisdom to discern His will, to persevere in loving service of the people entrusted to your patriarchal ministry, and to sustain them in faithfulness to the gospel and the great traditions of Orthodoxy.
As Christ prepared for His Gethsemane experience, He prayed for unity which is recorded in the Gospel of St. John 17: 11: “ … keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” Through the centuries we have, indeed, been kept in the power and love of Christ, and in the proper moment in history the Holy Spirit moved upon us and we began the long journey towards the visible unity that Christ desires.
During your years as the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States, you have distinguished yourself as an ecumenist focused on Christian unity. You have served on both the Executive and Central Committees of the World Council of Churches, attending the 1991 WCC General Assembly in Canberra, the 1998 WCC General Assembly in Harare, and the 2006 Assembly in Porto Alegre. Moreover, you have been an active member of the Executive and Governing Boards of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and serves as a Vice Chairman of the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches in America, where I had the distinct honor of working with you on couple of occasion. Interestingly, in recent years, you have been instrumental in the establishment of a new ecumenical body, Christian Churches Together in the United States of America, of which the Syrian Orthodox Church is a founding member. In all your ecumenical vision and activities, you have most capably represented the Holy Church and have won the admiration and respect of your colleagues and confreres, clearly revealed in choosing you as the Supreme Head of the Church. I am certain that Your Beatitude’s leadership vision has been inspired by the fundamental reality that the Son and incarnate Logos of God is “ … where two or three are gathered in his name” (St. Mathew 18: 20) and that the Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, “ … will guide us into the whole truth” (St. John 16: 13).
The journey for Church Unity has not always been easy or without pain and challenges, for as we know “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way” (St. Matthew 7:14). The essential theology and principal themes – the mystery of the Holy Church and the sacredness of the Liturgy – are difficult to apply in earnest practice, and constitute a life-long and church-wide labor to assimilate. The door, then, must remain open for deeper reception and willing engagement for our Unity for building a stronger unified Church for His Glory.
As we move forward, we the unconditional supporters for Unity offer thanks and glory to the living God Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that Your Beatitude have recognized the importance of reflection and sincere dialogue between our churches. I join in the hope that the barrier dividing our two churches will be removed, and that – at last – there may be but the one dwelling, firmly established on Christ Jesus, the cornerstone, who will make both one. With Christ as our cornerstone and the traditions we share, we shall be able or, rather, enabled by the gift and grace of God – to reach a better appreciation and fuller expression of the Body of Christ. With our continued efforts in accordance with the spirit of the tradition of the early Church, we will experience the visible Unity that lies just beyond us today. The Church always excels in its uniquely prophetic and pastoral dimension, embraces its characteristic meekness and spirituality, and serves with humble sensitivity the “least of these My brethren” (St. Mathew 25:40).
Let us begin with prayers for peace and healing for our Christian brothers and sisters living in the Middle East. I had a blessed opportunity to visit our suffering Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. In the current turmoil of violence, separation, and brokenness that is globaly escalating between peoples and nations, may the love and desire for harmony we profess here, and the understanding we seek through dialogue and mutual respect between our two Churches, serve as a model for our world. May all humanity reach out to ‘the other’ and work together to overcome the suffering of people everywhere, particularly in the face of famine, natural disasters, disease, and war that ultimately touches all of our lives.
May God grant Your Beatitude good health and abundant of spiritual gifts so that you, strengthened by His power, may in peace, unity, and love nourish the Church.
Asking Your Beatitude’s blessing,
I am, Yours respectfully in Christ,
Rev. Fr. Alexander J. Kurien, MA, MSc, MBA, M.Div., CFA, MAI, CBV, FRICS
Senior Priest of the Indian Orthodox Church
Director of the Office of Strategic Planning
United States Department of State
United States Government
United States of America