Salhiya December 7, 2023

While watching the tragic scenes of our people in beloved Gaza, I wept repeatedly, especially at the sight of our children and infants, the darlings of their fathers and mothers, covered in rubble, blood and wounds, their cries rising to heaven as they called for help, looking for their parents and siblings.

Today, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Child of the Cave, and approach the commemoration of the Children of Bethlehem, put to death by King Herod, I pray to the Child Jesus for the children caught up in this catastrophically violent, destructive and unjust war, asking Him to be born again in the houses, neighbourhoods, streets, towns and villages of beloved Gaza, bringing to all our people there, good news of peace... good news of security... good news of love... good news of hope... good news of the dawn of a new future, proclaimed by the angelic hymn on Christmas Eve near Bethlehem... so that as the angels sing, the sound of weapons, bombs, missiles, cannons and mines may fall silent.

May the Christmas hymn be sung on the fighting fronts in martyred Gaza... It is a martyr because of its martyrs and a martyr for all its inhabitants, its sons and daughters. It has become a symbol of Palestinian martyrdom, carrying the flag that has represented the Palestinian tragedy since 1947, over seventy-five years ago.

On the Afterfeast of the Nativity, (29 December) the Byzantine Eastern Church commemorates the Fourteen Thousand Holy Infants killed by King Herod in and around Bethlehem (House of Wheat). “In his exceeding wrath, Herod mowed down the infants as wheat.” (Kontakion Tone 6) This hymn describes both the ferocity and brutality of Herod and raises the infants to the level of first martyrs for Christ. Their witness means that, by being killed instead of Him, they participated in the sacrifice offered by the newborn Child Jesus.

This is the reality for the child martyrs in Gaza, whose number stands at 7,112 as of the date of this letter.

I convey to readers of these Christmas thoughts my love for these martyred children, the wounded in hospitals and the disabled... and for their honourable families... and I cite below some passages from these prayers, as an expression of the Church’s solidarity with these children, the martyrs and victims of war in Gaza, and with all the inhabitants of beloved Gaza:

“We beseech and implore thee, O Lord and Lover of mankind, to accept in supplication the suffering that thy holy children endured for thy sake, and to heal all our infirmities (and the sorrows of the children of Gaza.}

“When the King was born in Bethlehem, Herod was troubled and mowed down the children like wheat, lamenting because his power would soon pass away.

“..the lawless Herod …killed the innocent children; he made them martyrs without even realising it. They are now residents of the Kingdom on high, and they reprove his foolishness forever.

“The wicked Herod was enraged and seized the new-born infants from the arms of their mothers.…

“The choir of infants is brought forth from the blood of martyrs. Thou didst justly illumine those untroubled souls whom Thou didst lodge in the dwellings of everlasting life. They continue to reprove the wickedness and harsh foolishness of Herod.

“Your sacrifice has reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts, O honoured child martyrs, because your blood has been shed for him, and you remain in Abraham's arms forever.”

Similarly, the Church honours the child martyrs of Gaza.

How similar is the present to the past, and the past to the present! Today’s Herod has sent an army that has martyred children, women, and men, destroying the roofs over their heads... Today’s Herod is more murderous than the Herod of yesteryear. The Gaza Health Ministry announced an increase in the latest number of victims of Israeli aggression. The number of martyrs since the start of the war has reached 16,248, including 7,112 children and 4,885 women, while the number of injured has reached more than 43,000.

I raise my voice again on the Birthday of Jesus, (the Nativity) the Child of the Cave (manger), in appeal to the Arab countries, the Palestinian factions, the United States of America, the countries of the European Union, the countries of Asia and Africa and the whole world.

And I call on them to hear the cries and tears of the children of Gaza and to see with the eyes of justice and mercy the tragedies of Gaza that have surpassed historic massacres. Indeed, I call on the Jewish congregations throughout the world, on the Churches of the world and on the Islamic organizations of the whole world...

I call upon them all on the Feast of the God of Peace and the Child of the Cave to put an end to war, the logic of war, the war machines and the feelings of racism, bigotry, wickedness and hatred.

I call on them to be sons of peace and peacemakers, and my great hope is, that as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, all parties will reach a long truce, that will be a prelude to the end of the war and the communal strife and lead to the final outcome of a just, lasting and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian question, so that all the inhabitants of this Holy Land may live as Jews, Christians, Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis, in an atmosphere of peace and security, and together realise the Christmas hymn, the song of Bethlehem, the song of heaven and the song of the Holy Land, in fact, the song of peace for the whole world, east, west, south and north. Let us sing it together, and work together for it to become humanity’s constitution and the anthem of peace for all the sons and daughters of humanity.

And with the angel, and the heavenly hosts together, let us sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill among men.”

To all who receive this appeal, best wishes upon the Birthday of the Child of the Cave (the Nativity) and the God of peace, and for the beginning of the new year 2024, wishing you a good year,

Gregorios III
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Emeritus
Of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem