Reception to welcome the newly ordained Patriarch of the Assyrian Ancient Church of the East

Members of the Wellington Abrahamic Council were invited to attend a reception to welcome the newly ordained Patriarch of the Assyrian Ancient Church of the East, His Holiness, Mar Gewargis III Younan, as part of his tour of the South Pacific (Australia and New Zealand).

The reception was held on Friday 1st March 2024, beginning at 7pm at the Samoan Presbyterian Church located at 55 Daniell St in Newtown, Wellington.

The invitation came from Phil Pithyou, whose dad, Father Aprem Pithyou (now living in Australia), had been a member of the Abrahamic Council some years ago and held our Council in high regard for the inter-faith dialogues and meetings, which we either organised or attended.

Ann Desmond and Rev Rota Stone attended as representatives of the Abrahamic Council. We were made very welcome and given ‘front row’ seats where we had unobliterated views of all the proceedings.

Approximately 300 men, women, and children plus special guests, packed the hall attached to the Samoan Presbyterian Church in Newtown.

It was a very interesting evening with Phil Pithyou acting as MC. Many of those present were members of the Assyrian Ancient church of the East in Miramar. Supporting guests included Community based organisations, representatives from the Police, local government, other churches, the Jewish community, and the Wellington Abrahamic Council. Phil opened the evening by welcoming everyone, naming all the special guests.

The event proceeded with a number of speeches – all of which were spoken in Assyrian (a derivative of Aramaic). Fortunately, these were followed by an English summary for the benefit of those who did not speak or understand Assyrian.

A group of children and women entertained us by signing / chanting an Assyrian song. The children were delightful and coped very well considering this was the first time that they had performed their song in public.

The Patriarch was the last to speak, prior to the cake cutting ceremony. All the special guests were invited to cut the cake!

The evening proceeded with the main meal – a full meal of Assyrian / middle eastern foods – a veritable feast.

It was an honour to participate in the event. I have written to Phil Pithyou thanking him for the invitation and the welcome which was extended wholeheartedly to us.

Ann Desmond

Footnote: the new patriarch is described as ‘educated’ and ‘young’ (or younger than previous patriarchs). Although born in Iraq, he has lived his entire life in the USA, in Chicago. His ordination took place in Baghdad on 6 June 2023. The visiting delegation included the Vice-patriarch from Iraq, plus a number of other dignitaries.

The Calling of Moses – Ann Desmond

The following is a reflection by Abrahamic Council member Ann Desmond, given at our Council Meeting in May 2022.

The calling of Moses in Exodus, Chapters 3 and 4 is one of the most striking passages and important moments in the Biblical Story and is common to each of our Abrahamic faiths.

God appears to Moses at the burning bush. It is a holy moment. God reveals his mission, to rescue the Hebrew people out of Egypt. This is a wondrous moment … until, that is, God reveals that he wants to send Moses to implement and share in this deliverance.

That is when the excuses start. Moses contends that he could not possibly be the right person. We would find it comical if it were not so painfully close to home for so many. How many times have we used similar excuses before God, rationalising that the Almighty has somehow got it wrong?

In the middle of this discussion, God asks Moses a very important question: ‘What is in your hand?’ Moses’ shepherd’s staff is in his hand. It is a symbol of his gifts, his skills, his occupation, how he spends his time.

In our imagination we can picture Moses getting up each morning and walking with that staff as he shepherds the sheep under his care. At this point he may have been doing this for forty years The staff, in one sense is a symbol of what Moses can do, what he can uniquely offer.

Might we ask the same question of ourselves: What is in our hand?
What is it that we can do or offer?

The interesting thing is that God next asks Moses to give him the stick, to hand it over, surrender it by casting it on to the ground. On the ground, in front of the burning bush it is now in the hands of God. It turns into a snake. God invites Moses then to pick the snake up by the tail, and it returns to being a stick.

What can we learn from this? Here are a few thoughts that might be useful to think about in terms of God’s call on our lives. Firstly, God is as much on mission today as he was in the day of Moses, and still invites the ordinary people of this world to surrender who they are and what they can do – to place all into his hand.

Secondly, it is our availability and not our ability that matters. In fact, when we think we can carry out God’s plan on our own, when we rely on our own ability, we miss out on so much of what might be possible through partnering with God.

Thirdly, when you do answer the call, it is amazing what God can do with it. Using our imaginations once again can we see that staff in Moses’ hand as he makes his way to connect with his brother? Perhaps it is in his hand as he walks into the presence of Pharaoh and says, “Let my people go!”

Perhaps it is in his hand as those plagues are enacted, or as he embarks in leadership of the people in their Exodus from Egypt. Was it in his hand when the sea was parted? We’re told that he struck a rock and water came from it. Did he carry it to help him climb Sinai to collect the tablets of stone inscribed with the law? Did he have it in his hand when he took in the view of the promised land just before his death?

A friend, who is a retired Presbyterian Moderator and Minister, was on a retreat many years ago at one of those beautiful retreat places where there was lots of country path and native trees, but also some, deciduous trees. She was out walking, contemplating, and enjoying nature, and took a turn around a corner. She was absolutely struck by a bright red maple with the sun shining on it.

She cried out, ”God, you’re amazing. Look at your beauty”!

And she felt something like electricity going through her. When relating this to her spiritual director, she was asked to re-read the story of Moses and the Burning Bush to see if God was saying something to her. And of course that’s the call of Moses to free the slaves.

And as she prayed into it, something that had been very slowly, but at the bottom of her gut, began to come up and it was a new call on her life.

I wonder how many of us have had Burning Bush moments – might not necessarily have been a Burning Bush, but that deep sense that one minute your life’s going this way and the next minute you are turned around and you know that there’s a call on your life, which is maybe very different.

The point is simple: you have no idea or control over what God has planned for you, when he calls on you.

The Methodist Church, UK,
Keynote Speaker, GA18, 5 Oct 2018, Very Rev Marg Schrader