Thursday, November 6, 2014

Holy Trinity Family, Douma Launches an English-Language Website

The Holy Trinity Family of Monasteries, which includes the women's Monastery of Saint John the Baptist and the men's Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite have launched an English-language website here. In particular take a look at the first major post to the site, a wonderful overview of the two monasteries.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Poor are Invading Lebanon

Arabic original here.

The Poor are Invading Lebanon

Does this call for fear, for anxiety? Not necessarily. This more so calls for hope! The Christian never despairs. "All things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28).

The Christian is prepared for death at all times, for death to his selfishness. Does he lose his land? The land is for all people and it is most of all for the needy. Is the number of Christians shrinking? The issue is not one of quantity, but one of quality.

The Apostles were twelve in number and they won the entire world for Christ. What is important is that we remain faithful with a little. The poor and needy person standing before us is Christ, even if it is difficult for us.

Our presence is like leaven in the dough. What is important is that the leaven be good, so that the entire dough will be leavened (cf. Matthew 13:33). There is no meaning to our existence as Christians unless we are this way.

The Lord also says to us, "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).

Who knows? Perhaps a new people will come to Christ through this witness, through faithfulness to the truth. "Know the truth and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:32).

"And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom (that is, the Christians) will be cast out into outer darkness" (Matthew 8:11-12).

Do you fear extinction? "I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones" (Matthew 3:9).

Never be selfish and proud. We Christians are not necessarily being haughty if we take pride in our faith or in our humility. The new Saint Porphyrios said, "Pride (selfishness) is ignorance and humility is intelligence and wisdom. The proud (the selfish) person is not sated and so he is always sad, while the humble person is always pleased."

Beloved, always act according to hope in the Lord who rose from the dead. Through this faith, always transform your sorrow into joy. This is the way of the saints, so let it always be your way.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and Their Dependencies

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Patriarch John X's Speech on Mount Athos

Arabic original here.

The Speech Patriarch John X from Mount Athos
October 27, 2014

"At night when human voices, movements and tumult are clothed in stillness, enlighten every movement of my soul with Yourself, O Jesus, Light of the Righteous. At the hour when you give rest to the weary, O my Lord, let our thoughts of you be intoxicated with the sweetest dream, O sweetness of the saints. At the time of going to sleep, when the drunk repose through temporary artifice, awaken in us, O Lord, that eternal knowledge.

At the start of the day, when all are concerned with earthly things, make us worthy, O our Lord, to enjoy following the heavenly path. At the hour when all remove their nightclothes, remove from our heart, O Lord, remembrance of the world that is passing. At daybreak when sailors set out upon the sea of this world, give rest, my Lord, to souls in your haven. In your mysteries, we embrace you every day and receive you in our body. Make us worthy to feel in our souls the hope that we have in the resurrection. Be, O Lord, wings for our mind, so that it will fly in the gentle breeze until by these wings we reach our true nest."

Brothers and beloved,

I could not have found more beautiful words than these by Saint Isaac the Syrian with which to begin my speech here. I have found none better than them, a sincere prayer that encapsulates the spiritual experience of Athos and describes the state of the human soul caught up in divine love.

These words of Isaac the Syrian, are embodied by people I have known and among whom I have lived, unworthily, as a monk on Athos.

Athos embodies the experience of the Church praying and worshiping before the cross of her Lord, in constant prayer for the entire world.

Athos is incense of supplication before the Sacrificial Lamb for the salvation of the world.

Athos is a candle of prayer before the Virgin's purity, nourished with the oil of obedience and non-acquisitiveness and the wick of virginity. From its well the flame of holiness extends and its light shines out to the world. 

This Athos is the safe harbor of the Virgin in the bottomless sea of this world. The mighty waves of time break before one who is moored with the Virgin.

It is a pleasure to me to send greetings to my brother His All-Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople - New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch from this church, and to light a candle of prayer for him on my behalf and on the behalf of the delegation accompanying me, as he watches over this monastic republic.

I have known this blessed land for over thirty years. I came to know it, and here I came to know theology at prayer.

I came to know it as a school of theology, where all theories melt away in the reality of life. In these monasteries, theology is kneaded with the life of prayer. Here, as in many places, theological knowledge is mixed with piety and all these things come together at the glorious living liturgy.

The mountain is a prayer-rope for the entire world. At the same time, it is an oasis from which Orthodoxy throughout the world drinks. I drank from it myself personally and learned here and in the Athonite Monastery of Saint Paul that this mountain with its monasteries, sketes and cells is the place where the dough of theology is kneaded with prayer. I learned that the theologian is the one who prays and loves. He does not disdain the knowledge that he acquires in school and he does not disdain the piety and prayer that he sees in monasteries. Rather, he arrives at both in the symphony of his life in order to become a being who hymns God Most High, in every resting-place of the Spirit over the course of his life.

In our modern era, the Holy Mountain has had an enormous impact on the Patriarchate of Antioch.

In Antioch today, there are people who have lived and fallen asleep here.

In Antioch today, there are patriarchs, bishops and priests who have passed through and learned from the monks in the Garden of the Virgin.

In Antioch today, there are brotherhoods and monasteries whose founders have drunk heavily of the well of Athonite Orthodox monasticism and have spread life into the stones of her monasteries.

In the 1970s, Father Isaac Atallah came here. He came to you bearing the suffering of Lebanon, which was reeling under the impact of a war that had expelled its children.

Today I come to you asking for your prayers for Syria and for all the Middle East which are being tossed about by the tumult of wars.

I come to you today asking your prayers for the cradle of Christianity, the bride of the Orthodox East, the Church of Antioch.

I come to you bearing the wounds of your family and loved ones in Syria.

I come to you from the land of Ephrem the Syrian and of the Damascenes Andrew, John, Cosmas and Peter.

I come to you from the land of Simeon the Stylite to ask you to pray for the land that was first baptized in Christ's name.

I ask you to pray for people who have been driven from their homes and kidnapped.

I ask you to pray for the kidnapped archpastors of Aleppo and priests.

I ask your fervent prayers for Metropolitan Yuhanna Ibrahim and Metropolitan Paul Yazigi, who is known to the soil of this Holy Mountain, its cells and monasteries.

I ask you to pray for innocent people who are paying the price of cruel days, terrorism and blind takfirism. I ask for these prayers filled with firm hope that the Middle East will return to being a source of light and the homeland of the peace of the Child in the manger.

I ask your prayers for Lebanon, Lebanon which is languishing under a certain degree of unrest, including random kidnappings and a vacuum in its constitutional institutions.

We say this with the hope-- indeed, the certainty-- that Lord hears the prayer of the righteous.

I come bearing to you the prayers of the monks in our country and I bear to you the bells of its love.

I bear to you the love of great and small in Antioch, Antioch which is great in the faith of her children and in the power of her rootedness in her land, Antioch the great which has been smashed against the rocks of her history, the cruelty of days long past and present, Antioch which has anointed the inhabited world with the light of Christ.

It is a great blessing for the Patriarch of Antioch and the Church of Antioch to be here and to join our prayer with your prayer, my brothers, and for us to all cast ourselves before the icon of the Virgin "Axios Estin" and say:

Protect O Mother of God, O hope of the faithful,

From all the harm of this life, those who ask you with certainty

God bless you.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Joint Statement by the Churches of Antioch and Greece on Patriarch John X's Visit

Arabic original here. This translation is unofficial.

Joint Statement on the Occasion of the Irenic Visit of His Beatitude John X, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, to the Church of Greece, October 23-27, 2014

His Beatitude John X, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East conducted his irenic first visit to the Church of Greece from October 23 to 27 at the invitation of His Beatitude Ieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, accompanied by a delegation of Antiochian bishops, priests, deacons and laity.

During the visit, His Beatitude was informed by Archbishop Ieronymos II and the members of the Synod of the Church of Greece about the current state of the Greek Church, which is experiencing remarkable growth and a radiant spiritual life. They also examined the suffering of the Greek people, who are suffering from severe economic distress, which is threatening people's livelihood. His Beatitude and the Antiochian delegation likewise assessed the efforts being undertaken by the Greek Orthodox Church through Apostoliki Diakonia to serve the needy, anoint the wounds of the suffering, and console the sorrowing. They prayed for its leaders and benefactors, that God may grant them further grace and blessings and strengthen them in the service of Jesus' little brothers. Their Beatitudes then prayed that God may strengthen the Greek people to get through this crisis and to continue to have the generosity and honor that have distinguished them throughout history.

While he attended an extraordinary session of the Synod of the Church of Greece, His Beatitude and the accompanying delegation examined with their brothers how to make shared cooperation between the two sister churches effective at the pastoral, theological and social levels. They assessed the ongoing cooperation that exists between their two churches on the one hand, and between the Church of Antioch and the Greek state on the other hand, by exchanging common experiences at the level of theological studies. They expressed their aspiration for ongoing cooperation in the scholarly and cultural fields and in the field of Greek language instruction, a a common Orthodox witness in today's world.

The two sides agreed on the necessity of proper preparation for the Great and Holy Council that is to be held in the city of Istanbul (Constantinople) in 2016. They stressed the necessity of eliminating all impediments that might impede its being held. His Beatitude the Patriarch of Antioch asked both the Church of Greece and the Greek Foreign Ministry to continue their mediation in order to find a solution to the crisis concocted by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem between herself and the Patriarchate of Antioch, so that this problem will not constitute an impediment to holding the Great and Holy Council.

Concern for the Christians of the Middle East, especially the children of the See of Antioch in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq was not absent from His Beatitude's meeting with the Holy Synod of Greece. His Beatitude also bore this concern to His Excellency the President of Greece, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, informing them about the suffering of Christians who are weighed down by the horror of terrorism, takfirism, lack of freedom, and the obstruction of prospects for a peaceful solution in their region. His Beatitude stated that this region is being buffeted by interests of nations in changing its borders, obliterating its civilization and dividing up its wealth, exploiting the peoples of the region, with their various religions, sects and affiliations as human shields and fuel to stoke the flames of these conflicts. In this regard, the Chuch of Greece expressed her bitterness over the position of developed countries toward everything that is happening today in the Middle East.

His Beatitude went over with all the officials whom he met the repercussions of the crisis that is sweeping the region for the Church and in particular for her children, whose homes, churches and monasteries have been destroyed and who themselves have been displaced. During their meetings, the heads of the two churches contemplated the bleeding wound of the Antiochian Church and expressed their profound pain on account of the kidnapping of Bishops Paul and Yuhanna of Aleppo over a year and a half ago. The peaceful history of this region has never known a tragedy like this. Even worse, the international community responds to the fate of the kidnapped bishops with a shameful silence that has had a painful impact on the faithful.

The fathers of the Greek Holy Synod and the officials met by His Beatitude assessed the positions and fixed principles of the Antiochian Church, which does not approach the crisis in the Middle East according to a narrow sectarian logic, but rather regards it as a war between the great powers of the world who are exploiting religion in their struggle. In this regard, the Archbishop of Greece said, "The Church of Greece has always been and will always be at the side of her sister, the Church of Antioch in her effort to stop the wars and spread peace with the goal of reconciliation between the country's inhabitants of various religions. You know very well that anyone who worships God the Creator does not desire this war that is unfortunately supported with extremist and intolerant ideas backed by foreign religious centers."

Syria and her wounds, Lebanon and her cares, Iraq and Palestine were present in the prayers of Their Beatitudes and those accompanying them in all the places that they visited, especially in the Church of Saint John the Russian on the island of Evia. During their celebration of the Divine Liturgy for the Feast of Saint Demetrius the Myrrh-Streamer, they prayed that peace will prevail in these countries and that God will console their children and strengthen them during their time of trial.

In closing, His Beatitude thanked his brother, the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece and the Greek government and people for the warm reception, hospitality and good organization as well as for for the medal of honor granted to him by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, giving this award to all of his children in the See of Antioch who are suffering.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Patriarch John X's Words at the Divine Liturgy in Athens on October 26, 2014

Arabic original here.

The Words of Patriarch John X at the Divine Liturgy on October 26, 2014 in Athens, Greece

Your Beatitude,

Your Eminences,

"Christ is with us and among us." I say this today, beloved, greeting in you, Your Beatitude, every brother in the Church of Greece. I say this greeting your kind people. As I say this, two phrases are intertwined in my mind: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" and "in whom we live and move and have our being." "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" is well-known to the walls of Damascus, whose street called straight I come to you from. It was known to the Great City of God, Antioch, where the name "Christian" was first uttered. This phrase was engraved deeply in Saul's soul, transforming him into Paul. The spirit of Christ pulsed within him and he arrived here to Greece to bring the people of Athens the good news of their unknown God. He proclaimed His good news in words held by the ears of the Acropolis. He proclaimed the good news of Jesus, "in whom we live and move and have our being." I do not feel myself to be a stranger here, since I am, as my predecessor Elias IV of thrice-blessed memory said, "in the second church established by the Apostle Paul after the Church of Antioch."

I  come to you from Cilicia, which gave us the divine Paul, from the Antioch of Peter and Paul, from the country of Ignatius the God-Bearer, Theophilus and Chrysostom. I come to you from Damascus, which was baptized by Ananias and enlightened by John Damascene. I come to you from Seidnaya which borders heaven and from Maaloula, adopted daughter of Saint Thekla. I come to you from the Beirut of the Apostle Quartus and from Sidon where Jesus visited. I come to you from Aleppo, from the shadow of Simeon's pillar. I come to you from the Homs of Elian and Romanos the Melodist. I come to you from the lands that gave us the saint of repentance, Ephrem the Syrian. All of this is to say that we in Antioch bear the glory of Jesus' Church and we continue to bear it, despite all the difficulties, through the power of our faith in God, our hope in Him, the through the help and support of you, our brothers.

Yes, beloved, I also come to you bearing Antioch's agonies, agonies of people in Syria who demand a life with dignity. A people who are being killed and expelled from their homes. Their children are forced to flee into places without shelter. Their homes, churches and mosques are destroyed. Their children are starving and patients are dying on account of the exorbitant cost of medicine or the lack of care. A crucified people, greatly suffering from terrorism and takfirism. A people yearning-- and they have the right to yearn-- to return to safety first, and then to return to their homes. A people fearing for their fate and for the future of their children.

I come to you with a candle lit for Lebanon, which suffers under this Middle East's cross of misery. I come to you from Iraq, which has suffered and is suffering horrors. We bury all the horrors of this world at Golgotha, at the cross of our Lord. We cover them with the stone of His empty tomb. We forget all obstacles when we remember that our ancestors have been there for two thousand years and that their descendants remain there and shall remain there.

Because I bear the glory and the agony of Antioch, this qualifies me to say that Christians are an essential element of the identity and history of the Middle East. Without them, this region not only loses its identity, but also the particular quality of its cultural existence. This leads me to affirm that the bells of our churches, which have hung from time immemorial, will continue to ring in harmony with the mosques' call to prayer and the teachings of other religions. We Christians of this land were planted here and are rooted like the ceders in Lebanon. We shall remain like the olive trees of the Mount of Olives. There we were born and there we shall remain. We hold its soil to our breast when we depart for eternal life. Therefore, the exodus of Christians from the Middle East is the Middle East's exodus from it own history and being. Their estrangement from it is its estrangement from itself. My message here to the entire world is: stopping the hemorrhaging of Christians in the Middle East depends on efforts to establish peace there. The entire international community and governments must play the role needed of them in order to bring peace, stop acts of terrorism against unarmed civilians and obtain the release of those who have been abducted, especially Metropolitans Yuhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, who were kidnapped more than a year and a half ago amidst a terrifying international silence and commitment to interests at the expense of commitment to humanity.

Between Antioch and Athens there is brotherhood of faith and bonds of history. Between them the logic of debt melts away and is replaced by the logic of sincere, mutually-supportive brotherhood. I have known you personally, Your Beatitude, and I have known in you a dear brother who visited our Church and our homes at a time when many were leaving them during the last days of Patriarch Ignatius. I knew your predecessors Christophoros and Seraphim of thrice-blessed memory. I received my theological education in your country and I lived in its monasteries, where I saw how theology is kneaded with the leaven of humility and becomes incarnate as love and prayer. The Church of Greece has given much to the Church of Antioch. She has welcomed many of our children, opening to them the doors of her institutes and universities and graduating from them priests and bishops to pastor Christ's people in their lands. The Church of Greece has especially accompanied Antiochian Orthodoxy's entrance into the modern era. Balamand is the best evidence for this. The Institute of Theology was launched in 1970 and Antioch benefited from Greek expertise, entrusting leadership of the Institute to Metropolitan Pandeleimon Rhodopoulos. The Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology was tied to the Church of Greece which supported it with her best professors and with Greek language programs. The Greek government also contributed, granting our students the opportunity to come to study theology in the language of the fathers. All of this qualifies us to say that that which unites us to Greece as a country and people is a yearning for apostolic zeal for one, Catholic Orthodox faith, where ethnicities melt in the crucible of Orthodoxy and where different languages and customs are interwoven before the Eucharistic table and its Lord who spoke to us in the language of love, which is poured out upon the pages of His Gospel, which used the language of the time, Greek, to make a home for the Lord in people's hearts.

Brothers, at the level of Orthodoxy, we stand before a great test, the Great Orthodox Council that is to be held in two years. Because we desire the success of this council, we will say that it is important to us that this council issue decisions that go beyond the ordering of sees. It is important to us that it touch on issues of life and faith that not only theologians and researchers-- with all the respect that we have for them all-- but as many segments of society as possible. It is important to us that the council be an embodiment of what we call Orthodoxy. For this reason we are careful to resolve all the disagreements that might prevent brothers from sitting down together, perhaps the most serious of which being the issue of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's intervention in Qatar and their sending an "archbishop" into Antiochian territory. It is important to us that the council address an issue that is no less important than anything else on the agendas, the issue of Middle Eastern Christianity, which has come to the forefront after the changes that occurred in 2011 in the so-called "Arab Spring". Why must we always watch history as observers instead of acting in it, especially when Orthodoxy in our days is not without strength? Let us go back a hundred years and look at what happened to the demographics of the four Orthodox patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Do the last hundred years and the events of the past three years not call for putting ways to secure Christians in their first homes as the first item on the agenda of the Great Council? Here we are not thinking of worldly glory, since we have no lasting home. However, we have an identity and it must remain.

The success of this council is a single Orthodox witness in today's world. This witness is also the first brick of Christian witness in today's world. We in Antioch are Greek Orthodoxy's gateway to the non-Chalcedonian Churches. What brings us together with these churches is greater than what separates us. We hope and we constantly work so that everyone will come to understand that the logic of geography, history and present theological reality make it imperative for us to draw closer together and actively strive to eliminate all the dross of history. The Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch is also Orthodoxy's gateway to the Arab and Islamic world on account of factors of history, geography and language. This gateway is part of the great Orthodox body whose head is Christ and whose heart is the faith passed down to us by His pure Apostles.

In my name and in the name of the delegation accompanying me, I would like to address greetings to President Karolos Papoulias and to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, lifting up my prayer to the Lord that He will bless their efforts for the good of Greece.

In closing, I thank you, Your Beatitude, and I pray with you for Greece, which is so dear to our hearts. May God remove every distress from this good people and may He crown your efforts in the service of the people of this country with success. We ask you, in the words of Saint Ignatius of Antioch to "pray for the church that is in Antioch and that is watched over by Christ and your love." We ask God most high to send His peace to hearts and to give us an opportunity to welcome you to Syria and Lebanon.

And, once more, Christ is with us and among us. He was, He is and He shall be.

Fr Georges Massouh: When Our Religions Enslave Us

Arabic original here.

When Our Religions Enslave Us

Religious people in general all agree that religions were founded for man, not man for religions. Man is the summit of creation and the noblest of creatures, God created him "in his image and likeness", made him His "vicegerent on earth" and entrusted him with the entire world.

Let us also not forget that man existed for millions of years before the appearance of religions. Man alone, among all the visible creatures, has been promised eternal life by God. Everything will pass away, say the religions, and nothing will remain except for God and those humans He has chosen to live in His presence forever. Then, even the religions, laws and commandments will pass away, because in the presence of God they are pointless.

Nevertheless, historical realities are not so glorious as the intentions of foundational texts and theological theories. History shows us how concepts have been turned on their head. Instead of being the central point of concern for those in charge of religions, man has become a pliable tool in the hands of religious decision-makers. They have exploited religious sentiments among their followers and manipulated them, under the guise of defending religion, in the service of their political  or military alliances with the princes of this world.

Religions, which were founded in principle for the service of man, make man their servant when they transform into ideologies that must be defended at any price. The conflicts that we have seen over the course of history until today have religion as their basic motivating force, under whose banners wars have been waged between nations or within a single country.

In all these wars, man has been crushed in the name of religions. Instead of being master over creation, like God intended, he became a servant to his religious institution through its clergy, jurists, priests and leaders. Man has become a slave to his sheikh and his teacher, like a disciple who has no will of his own, like a ring on the finger of his master. Man became the means instead of the end. Man's death for the sake of religion is the end and it came to no longer be the case that the end is life for man's sake.

As for us Lebanese, we are not different from this description. People are provoked over time in order to protect the honor of the sect or religion. The sect's glory or the religion's honor deserve to have lives sacrificed for their sake. Instead of God being the object of veneration and worship, the religious sect takes God's place. Shirk is not only when one takes another god besides God. Shirk is also when sect or dogma becomes an object of worship alongside God. God created man free, but man enslaves himself of his own will to his religion and its dogmas.

Man is in a state of idolatry, in a state of slavery. He can only be saved from it by reconsidering reason, something praised by all religious texts. Instead of reason, ignorance and superstition prevail. Instead of building the future, the return to a distant past prevails, and the evocation of conflicts.

If religious discourse remains as it is today, inflammatory and divisive for the sake of boosting religions or sects, then people will lose more and more of their humanity that God created them with. Religions will not have any true meaning if people are not liberated from worshiping them and religion does not return to God alone who has no partner.