To download the address please click here

“More than Victorious”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

Our Church Council for the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem for the year 2024 convenes under the theme “More than Victorious,” taken from this key verse in Scripture: “No, in all these things we are more than victorious through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37, NRSV).

This is the forty-sixth Council since the establishment of the Episcopal Province of Jerusalem and the 
Middle East in 1976, and the one-hundred-and-tenth since the establishment of the first national synod 
in 1905.

Our troubled region has been experiencing difficult times for many decades. Far too often, we hear the drums of war beating. We witness killing, destruction, displacement, and homelessness. The present Gaza War is only the latest, though certainly the most horrifying manifestation of this. As the Church always has, we condemn violence in all its forms and sources—especially the targeting of innocent civilians, including children, women, and the elderly. Despite the decades-long occupation, it is painful that our Palestinian people must face a war-machine that shatters the hope for peace among the peoples of the region. This only leads to increased pain, destruction, displacement, extremism, and hunger. 

Therefore, the theme of the Church Council (Majma) for this year emerges from the heart of this suffering—the harsh daily reality that afflicts our Diocese and all of our beloved region of the Middle East. Its call for victory is inspired by the empty tomb and Jesus’ triumph over death through the Resurrection, which illuminates our spiritual and daily reality. Even as we seek the war’s conclusion, 
the light of the Resurrection comes to dispel the darkness of despair—the humiliation and defeat caused by death and sin. The dawn of peace rises after victory and triumph. The risen Christ calls us to a life of victory and triumph through walking in the path of resurrection and holiness. It is essential to emphasize here the importance of divine love and its role in shaping the history of salvation. The law—or rather the commandment of divine love—is the foundation upon which the principles of divine salvation is based. It arises from the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Through these, humanity has been renewed within the eyes of the Divine. And so Saint John writes: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in 
him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16, NRSV).

In other words, victory and triumph are rooted in God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. Our triumph is magnified by the one who loved us, that is, Jesus Christ. This divine love is fortified against all forms of pain, suffering, hardships, dangers, and wars. As Saint Paul tells the Romans, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than victorious through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35, 37, NRSV).

Not only this, but in addition to the grace of God’s love in the face of earthly challenges, this love transcends heavenly and unseen matters such as death, life, and angels. It even surpasses time and space. In short, there is nothing we perceive or beyond our perception that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus!

My address encompasses two fundamental principles that help us to understand the life of triumph and victory amidst pain and suffering. These both delve into the ways of perseverance, endurance, and resilience.

These two principles are Resilience and Presence. Here, we must have Resilience in the face of challenges and suffering. And we must also have the ministry of Presence—the offering of comfort and consolation to others in times of loss. These two principles are intertwined; they complement and reinforce each other.

Resilience. Before delving into the concept of resilience and its benefits in the spiritual and practical life of believers, we must emphasize the importance of resilience in maintaining faith and a sense of triumph and victory. Two of the most common meanings of resilience are:

• The ability to recover from pain and suffering or to adapt and adjust to them easily.
• The art of navigating through life’s storms with grace and courage.

What comes to mind when we hear the word Resilience?

Leadership, courage, hope, flexibility, vision, success, strength, growth, overcoming, victory, determination, hardship, solution, endurance, challenge, perseverance, pressure, change, effort, patience, teamwork, belonging, wisdom, diligence, resistance, faith, support, etc.

Three things that distinguish a resilient person.

The first mark of resilience is a strong acceptance of reality and our submission to the will of God. In both thought and deed, we must believe that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28,  NRSV). Our resilience stems from the living hope that dwells within us, without disconnecting us from our reality and surroundings, no matter what the challenges may be.

The second mark is how we find meaning in the difficult and painful times and circumstances that we live in. This is achieved by transforming our suffering into meaning for others and ourselves. Theodicy is an applied theological subject concerned with proving divine goodness and care in the presence of evil in the world. So, when something bad and severe happens to me, I ask myself and God, “Why me?” In fact, rarely do I ask God or myself whenever evil afflicts a stranger or distant person, “Why not me?” or “Why wasn’t it me?” The resilient person is one who builds bridges between the reality of suffering and a more promising future.

For a person to succeed in achieving this result and making progress, he or she must adhere to individual and collective Christian principles and values that do not change. The same is true for institutions. These principles and values form the foundations and pillars that support them in times of difficulty, particularly in the processes of decision-making and implementation. In reality, our message 
and vision may change, but our principles do not. 

For example, the ministry of the Church and its message in times of either peace or war remains the same because the principles and values of the Church are consistent at all times. That’s because they are noble, faith-based foundations. Another example is that the message of the Church in all circumstances is to work towards achieving justice, peace, and reconciliation among people.

The third mark of resilience is the ability to improvise a solution to a problem or challenge without obvious tools. As we say in an Arabic proverb: “Do good with what you have.” Improvisation is considered a virtue in our Middle Eastern society. For example, the use of proverbs constitutes a cumulative memory of the Arab society—something that is also true for poetry and other areas of life 
where improvisation is considered necessary for progress and overcoming hardship. In such circumstances, we say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

In summary, resilience is the deeply ingrained knowledge or approach to facing and understanding the wounded world. Whether of a person or institution, resilience is confronting reality with steadfastness, both making meaning out of hardship rather than crying in despair and giving up, and improvising solutions from what is not readily available.

This is the nature of resilience. Yet its full meaning cannot be fully understood. Let us contemplate together the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians: “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9, NRSV).

The natural benefit of resilience lies in the ability to quickly recover from adversity and loss. Yet we cannot do this alone: We need God to strengthen our resilience, as our victory is magnified by the One who loves us. The words of the Apostle Paul give us the positive motivation to move forward and rise stronger after a fall or setback.

Therefore, one important step on the path to recovery is facing failure and acknowledging it. Yet failure is just a beginning, not an end. We must look towards the future, focus on the next step, and don’t let ourselves be imprisoned by the past. Resilience is about how you recharge yourself, not about how you endure. Some believe that the longer the duration of difficulties, the stronger and more resilient 
we become—and therefore the more successful we will be. In reality, this notion is incorrect. Lack of recovery and rest stifles our success, resilience, and productivity.

The prophet Isaiah teaches us that a significant part of our resilience and recovery comes from God: 
“He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:29-31, NRSV).

In psychology and sociology, resilience falls under the broader umbrella of Emotional Intelligence. For us, we can call this Spiritual Intelligence or Spiritual Life. With Saint Paul, we can say: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NRSV).

Resilience in the Bible

One of the most beautiful and profound verses that reflects the relationship between resilience and victory is found in St. Matthew’s quote from Isaiah foretelling the arrival of the Lord Jesus: “He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the gentiles will hope” (Matthew 12:20-21, NRSV, quoting Isaiah 42:3). He magnifies our victory through the one who loved us, even as we were drowning in our sins. As Saint Paul writes to the Romans, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died 
for us” (Romans 5:8, NRSV).

Therefore, if we look at many of the characters in the Bible, we will see that they were not perfect, but were shaped by the strength and grace of God into internally courageous figures. Job in the Old Testament and Simon Peter in the New Testament are only two of many examples. While I will come back to talk about the story of Job later in my address, I will remind you of my sermon yesterday where 
I reflected upon the story of Jesus when he walked on the water in the Sea of Galilee—and what happened with Peter when he doubted and began to sink in fear, leading him to cry out for help.

Struggles will always be part of the Christian journey. Sometimes, we find it difficult to understand why we face so many challenges. That’s why we turn to God to ask for God’s help in times of difficulty. The stories of the Bible help us to understand our struggles and to seek healing and recovery. It is this process that leads to resilience—and thus to victory.

The Bible speaks extensively about resilience. It tells us that resilience does not mean avoiding challenges and problems, but rather persevering because we trust and believe in God. 

Here are five examples of the meaning of resilience in the Bible:

1. Faith in God – Amid challenges, God keeps us strong.
2. Perseverance in trials – We do not give up in hardship.
3. Courage to continue – Even when afraid, we are encouraged to move forward.
4. Hope in God’s promises – We believe in God’s plan for us and maintain a living hope within us.
5. Strength from God – When we feel weak, God gives us strength to endure.

Saint John says in his First Epistle: “For whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith” (1 John 5:4, NRSV). In the book of Revelation, it is also written: “Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children” (Revelation 21:7, NRSV).

Presence

After resilience, presence is our next fundamental charge. This call to Christian service is a call to participate in the lives of others. It involves personal presence with people that goes beyond the mere speaking of words. It reflects God’s presence among us, where God shares our lives through the proclamation of God’s immanence among us. Understanding the meaning of this immanence is what 
has given a unique quality to the Christian faith. This closeness was fully manifested in the Incarnation of the Word of God, our Savior Jesus Christ, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah at His birth: “‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23, NRSV). God approaches each of us and all humanity through the 
Incarnation. For although the cross stands by our side for our redemption, God’s presence in the flesh was required. The message to the Hebrews highlights this truth: “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18, NRSV).

The Lord Jesus understood the need that the human race had for God’s presence in their lives. He did not intend to leave his disciples orphaned after His ascension to Heaven. Instead, He promised to send them another advocate, the Spirit of truth (John 14:16-18).

The Holy Spirit became the presence of God in the lives of believers. He was not only with them but also within them. This is what happened on the day of Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. As Jesus promised His disciples when He sent them into the world to preach the Gospel: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, 
NRSV).

In Galatians 6:2, we find one of the most important ways through which we can serve one another: “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV). We therefore fulfill the law of Christ by being present with our neighbors in prayer and by offering personal support.

We should, as much as possible, stand with people amid anxiety and fear by facing reality as it is and not pretending that the situation is better or worse than it actually is. Through our presence, we declare the presence of Jesus, who makes all things new, through the strength of the Holy Spirit living in us.

The Apostle Paul sets a wonderful example of the ministry of presence in the Corinthian church when he writes, “And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of 
God” (1 Corinthians 2:3, 5, NRSV). Paul did not pretend to be strong and courageous, but he served the members of the church in weakness and fear, all in God’s power and for the glory of God’s name.

The Presence of Job’s friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar)

We do not know how long it took for Job’s three friends to search for him in order to stand by him and comfort him in his great affliction. But when they did find him, they could hardly recognize him as he sat among the ashes in great pain due to his wounds and sores.

1- The Wisdom of Job’s Friends
In the first scene of the meeting between Job and his three friends, they showed remarkable wisdom. The three friends empathized with Job’s sorrows. They said to themselves: if Job’s hair and clothes are dirty, we will make our clothes dirty too. If he sits in the ashes, then we will sit with him. In fact, they joined in his grief.

2- They Showed Respect for His Grief
Job’s friends mourned for the death of his children and servants. They sat with him, showing respect for his grief. Have you ever noticed that no one is ever invited to a funeral? Family and friends do everything they can to attend and express their condolences and sympathy.

3- They Allowed Him to Speak First
Do not miss this, and always remember, the best way to help people in pain is simply with your presence there. Speak a little or not at all, and do not try to explain everything. Explanations cannot heal a broken or shattered heart. To practice the ministry of presence, it is not necessary to have an answer to every question or concern. You can inspire others with your silence, while 
making mistakes with your words. There is a saying: “Often I regret what I said, but I’ve never regretted my silence.” And so, the Book of Job describes for us the three friends when they arrived at Job’s place: “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:13).

Indeed, my brothers and sisters, the ministry of presence is a ministry without words. This also reminds us of the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus arrived at the village and found Mary and others weeping, Jesus wept too! So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36, NRSV). Everyone understood Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his sisters through his presence, not 
through his words.

Our Christian presence in this world in general—and our ministry of presence in our beloved and wounded Middle East in particular—is of great importance in the resilience of our countries and communities. Our presence in various places—especially where there is poverty, need, illness, loneliness, and other challenges—serves as a reinforcement for the resilience of students, the sick, the 
elderly, the sinner, the lost, the grieving, the wounded, and the suffering.

For more than a hundred-and-eighty years, our Church Council, for the glory of God, has been offering a ministry of presence to the people it serves, helping foster resilience among them in their respective homelands. The testimony of our institutions, priests, and bishops has always called for peace and harmony among peoples, in order to build societies based on justice, equality, and truth.

One example is Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, which has been operating under exceptional circumstances since last October. Despite closures, war, siege, resource shortages, and amidst the constant fear of death among the staff, the hospital has continued its noble ministry of healing, alleviating the suffering of our people in Gaza. The ministry of Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza has taught us about the meaning of resilience and presence in a distinctive way. With thanks first of all to God, I also extend my gratitude
to the management and staff of this esteemed medical institution. Instead of retreating, withdrawing, or surrendering, they have actually opened a new clinic in Rafah, extending the ministry of Al Ahli Hospital. This marks a significant sign of Christian and humanitarian resilience and presence in Gaza.

In speaking an encouraging word to His disciples, our Lord Jesus Christ said, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).

                                                                               **************************

In conclusion, our individual and collective presence among our congregations and institutions throughout our homelands is a message of resilience to everyone, even in the midst of war, adversity, and death. For it is through all these challenges we are more than victorious through the One who loves us. Amen.