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Rewriting the Letter to Philemon in a Modern/pastoral Approach

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In this paper, I will rewrite St. Paul’s letter to Philemon, using the same spirit but in a different context, both from time and pastoral perspectives.

The main characters of this letter are:

Bishop Paulose, Bishop of Palmyra. In late May 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized Palmyra, home to a UNESCO world heritage site, sparking fears that its ancient buildings and artefacts could now be destroyed.[1] Syria's army has been in overdrive recently in their effort to wrestle territory back from the Islamic State. They took the historic city of Palmyra back from ISIS at the end of March, discovering horrific evidence of atrocities committed there by the jihadists, including a mass grave.[2]

George Thomma, owner of the famous Syrian bakery stores in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.

Mariam Thomma, his wife

Ahmed, Syrian refugee in Canada

Fr. Youhanna, Priest of St. Mary’s Church – Homs, Syria.

The letter:

Bishop Paulose, a prisoner of Christ Jesus and Father Youhanna our brother, to George Thomma, our beloved dear friend, and fellow laborer, to the beloved Mariam, and to everyone in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus. I remember the first time we met at Homs, I was just ordained a priest, after spending three years in the monastery, and my bishop sent me to serve at St. Mary’s church in Homs. On my first day after vespers, a widow approached me, with tears, bagging to help her only son who was spending all his time drinking and gambling with his friends. Moreover, while coming back home, he will beat her asking for money. I was taken by these tears and this love, and could not do anything other than go and find this young man. She told me where to find him: in a house where he spends his time with his friends. I went there and it was totally uncomfortable and embarrassing for a monk like me to be in such a place. I found him, and it was my first time to meet him.  I asked him how long is he planning  to live like that, dishonoring his late father and his poor mother. To my surprise, he did not utter a word and followed me silently, spending his night in a room beside mine in the church. The following day, we heard in the news that the police arrested a few young men accused of robbing and killing a man working at a gas station. These were his friends and he was supposed to join them that night. This was the beginning of a new life to you my dear George, a beginning of a new journey together, that started that night in Homs, and continued even when you went to Canada as a refugee. We served together in many ways in Homs and Ottawa. I remember after late evening services such as the glorious Feast of the Holy Resurrection and the Feast of the Nativity, you used to go around the congregation and give out food and gifts to the needy, you were not fond of materialistic things but helped all those who asked. I also witnessed at the beginning of your journey in Canada, as you were starting your own business and were struggling financially, one night, a young woman came asking for financial help, and on the same night, a college student came and asked for money to pay his tuition fees. You asked them for patience, and finally a little girl came in with an envelope containing enough money to solve both their problems. When you asked what her name was, the little girl only said, “My mother, Mary, sends this to you.” Indeed, you were, and always are, helping everyone, especially young people, with all your love and care.

As you are aware, my dear beloved George, ISIS seized Palmyra and put  me in prison. Although the suffering is greater than words can describe, it is a time for gaining more souls to Christ. Writing this letter and sending it to you while in prison is a miracle, and behind it is a story that I would like to share. Everyday, in my cell, I used to pray vespers in a loud voice, so all other prisoners, all of them were Christians, could find comfort and peace during these hard times. After vespers, I used to say a homily about the gospel of the day, and even answer questions from my fellow brethren asking each from his cell. God gave us grace in the eyes of the guards, and they did not object to what I was doing. One night the homily was about the prodigal son and how he went to the father just as he was, penitent, sorrowful, and unclean. He touched his father's heart with his remorseful repentance, received a new robe, shoes for his bare feet, and a gold ring for his finger. The Prodigal Son was reunited once again with his father and evil did not overtake his thoughts and actions permanently because of his repentance.

After I finished my homily, late at night, the door of my cell was opened and one of the guards entered and locked the door behind him. I made the sign of the cross on myself and I knew it was my time to depart this world. To my surprise, this young man kneeled down and started to cry bitterly. I gave him his time, while praying asking for God’s help and guidance. After more than an hour, he started whispering his story in my ears . Here is the story as per his own words: My name is Ahmed, an engineer who graduated from Carleton University in Ottawa. I escaped from Syria and was accepted as a refugee in Canada. While arriving to its capital, my fellow Syrian refugees told me to go to a man called George, a wealthy Syrian man owning a series of bakery stores. At the beginning, I hesitated going there, being a Muslim and him a Christian. I was sure he would never help me, nevertheless I had no other option. When I  went to meet him, to my great surprise he welcomed me and gave me a job. Moreover he found me a place to stay and paid my first semester tuition fee. The years passed, and things went great for me in all aspects. However I was not faithful to this righteous man, I defiled his daughters’ honor, and she became pregnant. Before it was known, I took the first flight and came back to Syria, joined ISIS trying to forget what I did. Day after day, while hearing your words every night, I started to think about my life, especially my eternal one. After today’s example of that son, me, I am here in front of you, confessing my sins, and asking you to accept me as a servant to my Lord Jesus Christ.



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