The visitor to Christ Cathedral gazed in wonder at the interior of the church, the afternoon light filtering through the 10,000-plus quatrefoilsabove him. 

 “By the grace of God, we are all assembled here together,” he said in his native tongue, Syriac, a dialect of Eastern Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. “May God’s blessings be upon you and this house.” 

This was no ordinary visitor, but rather His Holiness Mar Gewargis III Sliwa, is the Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East – the pope, in effect, of one of the major branches of Christianity, whose numbers have been decimated due to conflict in the Middle East but who still total some 450,000 today. 

Gewargis III and his entourage, as well as his high-ranking Christ Cathedral tour guides, spoke in hushed tones during his historic visit Tuesday, Sept. 17, since the cathedral officially was closed for ongoing “voicing” of the Hazel Wright organ, in which complete silence is desired. 

But the occasion spoke loudly to ongoing efforts between the Assyrian Church of the East and the Catholic Church to someday come into complete communion with each other. 

Gewargis III spent about 90 minutes at Christ Cathedral, one of his final stops on a three-month tour of 20 Church of the East parishes throughout the United States before he returned to Iraq. 

Following the tour, they engaged in evening vespers in Aramaic and some English in the Chapel in the Sky, located on the top floor of the Tower of Hope. 

“It brings me joy that we are all able to pray together in this house of God,” Gewargis III said. “I will take with me many memories from this visit. It was a blessing.” 

The ecumenical chapel boasts panoramic views of Orange County, which did not go unnoticed by Gewargis III. 

“We are close to heaven,” he said, provoking light laughter and smiles. 

Full story at OC Catholic.