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Message of the Patriarchs and Heads of Christian Communities in Jerusalem on the Occasion of the Great Jubilee in the Year 2000

04 December 1999

Message of the Patriarchs and Heads of Christian Communities in Jerusalem on the Occasion of the Great Jubilee in the Year 2000

 

Beloved Brothers and Sisters

1. To you: “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:2). We addressed our first message to you in 1995 so that we could prepare to welcome the grace of the Great Jubilee of the mystery of the Incarnation and of the Birth of Our Lord and God Jesus Christ. We address this message to you today as we are both celebrating the start of the year of grace and the Jubilee of Bethlehem. We address this message also to the entire world, which looks to our Holy Land and to our Churches, and sees in us the image of the First Church from where the Good News made its way out to the rest of the world.

 

Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God

2. The message for the year 2000 invites us to focus our reflection on the essence of the Jubilee and its primary meaning, that is to say, the anniversary of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God in our Holy Land. Saint John said: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). Saint Paul also said: “In the dispensation of the fullness of time,” God wanted, in His infinite wisdom and goodness, to “make known unto us the mystery of his will” (Ephesians 1:9). He “spoke unto us by his son, the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person” (Hebrews 1:2-3). Born under the Law, He was “like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He freed us from sin, reconciled us with God, and gave us “the power to become the sons of God” (John 1:12). The primary meaning of all the celebrations of the year 2000 is this: We need to prostrate ourselves in adoration before the mystery of God and the mystery of forgiveness and reconciliation that God granted us, rendering us capable of freeing ourselves of the evil in us and around us.

 

The Great Jubilee

3. Christians in the Holy Land, God has granted us the grace to remain, through the difficulties and vicissitudes of history, His witnesses in the land that is ours. We have persevered and with our prayers, our hopes, and our suffering we have surrounded the places that He sanctified by His birth, His passion, His death, and His glorious Resurrection. Today, He grants us the grace of celebrating together, in the very places of his birth and all His holy places as witnesses of His Salvation, the bimillennial anniversary of His Incarnation, which is simultaneously a privilege and a serious responsibility.

In the Bible, Jubilee has the meaning of the return of man and beast to their Creator. From this come the annulment of various human relationships, and the liberation of man and the earth from any alienation or servitude: “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you, and ye shall return every man unto his possession . . .” (Leviticus 25:10). Emancipation means the liberation of man from servitude to and oppression from his brother, as with liberation from servitude to himself, and from sin and from any evil that he harbors within himself.

The verses of Isaiah (61:1-2) read by Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth, and that He applied to Himself, have the same meaning: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He hath sent me to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim a year of grace of the Lord. Afterwards, He added: “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:16-30). Throughout the year 2000, we will meditate on these verses, which will guide us towards true liberty, the liberty that serves the poor, the captives, the blind and oppressed.

 

How should we celebrate the Jubilee and how should we respond to the grace of God?

4. The Jubilee first invites us to remain in continual conversation with God, to place before Him all our efforts and our labors. We listen to God: “Give ear, O earth, for the Lord hath spoken” (Isaiah 1:2), and God listens to us and answers us: “Thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am”  (Isaiah 58:9). We lend our ears to what He says to us in the person through whom his Word has become man. Thus we shall know our faith better, and we shall continue navigating the difficulties of our daily lives.

The Jubilee invites us then to convert: To turn away from our sins and to turn ourselves towards God. The first step to take for this to happen is to recognize that we are sinners, and to have the courage to ask God and each other for forgiveness. The mercy of God is great and passes all understanding. It is He who forgives and who takes pity on all who invoke Him and who return to Him, for “the earth is full of the love of God” (Psalm 32:5). However, in the Lord’s Prayer, the forgiveness of God demands that we forgive our brothers and sisters: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). He who does not forgive his brothers and sisters deprives himself of the forgiveness of God.

On the other hand, God asks us to honestly and frankly confess that we have not perfectly kept “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” throughout our pilgrimage in this Holy Land and that our obedience to the prayer of the Savior at the Last Supper (John 17:9) has been incomplete: “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou has sent me” (John 17:21). Each of us follows his own path, alone, as if Christ were divided (see 1 Corinthians 1:13). We have become strangers to one another, sometimes even rivals.

God has brought our hearts together in these days: We do not want to remain prisoners of our faults and of our past signs. We do not want to be caught up in events or bitter memories in attempting to justify ourselves or to blame our brothers. Today, we ask God to fill us with his mercy and clemency, to give us the grace to re-read our history together, and to give us in our present lives more love and unity so that we may be “joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Today, there is among us, by dint of our faith in the very same Jesus Christ, real community, although it may be imperfect. We aspire to become and to one day appear as that which we really are: One body in Christ (see Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:27), the same house [with] the sentiments of brothers. We will thus begin a new period in our history that will be based upon faith in God and respect for all of God’s creatures.

We direct sincere greetings to the Jewish people. All of us today are fighting for justice and peace. Since the seventh century, we have shared a common history, we Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Together, we Jews, Muslims, and Christians have shared the same faith in Abraham, Father of the Prophets. The conflict between Arabs and Jews only began at the start of this century. Today we are called upon to work together to seek out justice and peace for us all. Today, our history is within our hands to shape according to our response to the Christmas message sung by the angels in the heavens above: “Glory to God and peace on earth to all men of goodwill.”

 

A Welcoming Church

5. Finally, we direct our message to the world and to the pilgrims coming to our Churches. The Church of Jerusalem opens its arms to all the Churches. Together, here, we welcome all who come as pilgrims to our land; we surround them with our veneration and we are happy to welcome them. For Jerusalem is the mother of the Churches and “the place where our roots lie, forever living and nourishing. All Christians are born there” (Memorandum, Nov. 1994).

During the Jubilee year, numerous pilgrims will come to the Holy Land to look for the sources of the Spirit and of their faith. There, they hope to find nourishment, not only through their visits and their prayers at the Holy Places, but also and especially by sharing the prayer and testimony of the local Christian communities, because it is by “the living stones that the archaeological holy places come to life” (Ibid.). We welcome them and we share the renewal of their faith and of their path towards forgiveness in our land, which God wanted to be a land of forgiveness and reconciliation with Him and among men. We offer them the constancy of our faith throughout difficulties, and we will profit from the example of their faith. We offer them the example of our love and the unity our hearts; they will thus discover the mystery of God and His grace in the Holy Places and in the living temples that we are.

 

Conclusion

6. Our message to our Churches and to the world is a message of faith, hope, and charity. It is a message which welcomes the strengthening of the ties of love between our various Churches and the families of Churches to which we all belong, spread throughout the world. Our message, from Bethlehem, the city of the birth of the Prince of Peace, our Lord and God Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God, is a spiritual message direct to the world and to all our faithful in Palestine, Israel, Jordan and all the Arab countries: May we all live in justice and peace.

The celebration of the Great Jubilee invites us to intensify our efforts in the Holy Land so that our Churches remain faithful to their vocation and to their mission and so that our faithful remain attached to their faith, their liberty, and their aspirations in times that never cease to become more and more difficult. God has summoned us to a difficult life of perpetual combat with ourselves and with all manifestations of evil and oppression in the world. However, God is faithful: If we abide in Him, He will abide in us. Let us not be troubled and let us not be afraid. Jesus said: “Be not afraid. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We ask God, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary in all her purity, that the year to come be a year of grace and goodness, a time of liberty and of new dignity with the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

 

+ Diodoros I, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem

+ Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

+ Torkom Manoogian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem

Giovanni Battistelli, OFM, Custos of the Holy Land

+ [Anba] Abraham, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop

+ Sewerius Mourad, Syrian Orthodox Archbishop

+ Gabriel, Ethiopian Orthodox Archbishop

+ Riah Abu El-Assal, Anglican Bishop

+ Lutfi Laham, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchal Vicar

+ Paul Sayah, Maronite Patriarchal Vicar

+ Andre Bedoglouyan, Catholic Armenian Patriarchal Vicar

+ Gregoire Boutros Abdel-Ahad, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Vicar

+ Mounib Younan, Lutheran Bishop

 

Bethlehem, 4 December 1999

 

Further statements from the Heads of Churches and Christian Communities in Jerusalem are available in Jerusalem Testament: Palestinian Christians Speak, 1988-2008 by Melanie May (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2010)