Sunday, November 20, 2022

Hasan Çolak: Ottoman Central Administration and Primacy in the Orthodox Church

Hasan Çolak, "Ottoman Central Administration and Primacy in the Orthodox Church: Sources and Agents of Knowledge and Inter-Patriarchal Conflicts" in P. V. Ermilov and M. B. Gratsianskii (eds.), Poniatie pervenstva: Istoki i konteksty (Moscow: PTGSU, 2022): 539-562. 

Çolak is one of the only scholars working on the history of the Orthodox Church as an Ottoman institution on the basis of Ottoman archival sources, so anything he publishes is of extreme interest.

[...]

Bearing in mind all that has been said above, it may be concluded that, throughout its history as part of the Ottoman state, the Orthodox Church was an active agent in its dealings with the state, rather than a passive receiver of its demands. As part of its interaction with the Otto-man state, the large network of the Orthodox Church, consisting both of clergymen and laymen, Christians and non-Christians, and formal and informal agents, made it possible for the Ottoman state to form its knowledge on the Orthodox Church. As the above examples illustrate, the primacy of the patriarchate of Constantinople was not a point of reference for the Ottoman central administration in its dealings with ecclesiastical matters in its domains between the fifteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

[...]

Read the entire article here.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Vevian Zaki on the Arabic Translation of the Epistles in Sinai 151

The website Biblia Arabica has posted a nicely-illustrated piece by Vevian Zaki about MS Sinai Arabic 151, which contains an Arabic version of the Epistles and was copied by its translator, Bishr ibn al-Sirri in Damascus in the year 869.  Read it here.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Met Antonios (el-Souri): ُExile from the World

 Arabic original here, originally published in an-Nahar on March 2, 2019, here.

Exile from the World

I write these words while I am on the Holy Mountain, Athos. For those who do not know, this peninsula in Greece is considered a monastic state and is only inhabited by monks. The monastic life began in earnest on this mountain starting in the tenth century. According to Church tradition, the Virgin Mary visited this mountain and regarded it as a spiritual garden for herself and so women are not permitted to enter it.

One who comes to practice monasticism on this mountain chooses complete exile from the world and, to live out the struggle of spiritual purification. The purpose of exile is to be cut off from everything connected to man's life, that is cutting off the old bonds to the world in order to create new bonds. Just as a man must leave his father and mother to become attached to his wife so that, by God's grace and presence with them, between them and in them, they may constitute one body, so too must one who seeks to be a monk leave his father, his mother, his possessions, his money, his rank and his authority in order to become attached to God and become one with Him. Thus monks are called 'mutawahhidun' [lit.'solitaries'], that is, those who seek unity with God. One of the prayers of the Orthodox Church says, "Blessed is the life of the people of the deserts, for the rise and ascend in divine love," and in another prayer we hear that monks "return love for love."

The principle behind this estrangement is that the Kingdom of God is not food or drink, but rather righteousness and holiness. This means that man leaves what is passing and impermanent in order to seek that which is lasting and eternal. And there is nothing that is lasting except the face of your Lord. This world will come to an end because it came from nothing and it has no existence except by the will of God. But God did not create man out of nothing to return him to nothing, but just the opposite: He created him out of nothing to grant him eternal life. Had man not rejected God as the source of his life, then death would not have entered our body. But the spirit remains, even if the body passes away because God "is the God of the living, not the God of the dead."

What monks experience in estrangement from the world is death to all that is old and a reaching in repentance toward the purification of existence in prayer, fasting and service with voluntary poverty and non-acquisitiveness (that is, renouncing one's own will) in obedience to a pure and illumined spiritual father. "The eye has not seen and the ear has not heard what God has prepared for His chosen ones." This is what the believer seeks and this is what the monk struggles for with greater longing, perhaps.

In general, the experience of serious monks in choosing this life greatly transcends the experiences of those in the world (this is not, of course, to negate the existence of exceptions) in what pertains to knowledge of the human soul and the spiritual war with the spirits of evil and demons and in acquiring the divine love that grants them joy and inner peace with kindness, meekness, humility, patience, chastity, and deep-rooted, firm faith in all circumstances. This makes them beacons that shine in the darkness of this world and attracts to them the weary and heavy-laden who come from every direction to be healed, strengthened and comforted and to face hardships with patience, hope and trust that are not ashamed of God.

The Holy Mountain welcomes to its twenty monasteries and its sketes millions every year. They come to seek a word useful for salvation and return strengthened and comforted by God's presence and activity in the life of man through the power of prayer and unconditional love. The world today is in the greatest possible need of monasteries and monks because those who are sincere and courageous are rarer day by day and those who bear witness to the truth of the Gospel through total renunciation and estrangement from the world and its spirit grow fewer and fewer.

All are called to exile in one way or another because he who seeks to settle down forever in that which is impermanent will be put to shame and he who dies to that which is passing away while seeking what is eternal will not be put to shame unto ages of ages. Who do you think is the wise one?

Met Antonios (el-Souri): Dialogue in Truth and Common Life

 Arabic original here, originally published on March 25, 2019 in an-Nahar here.

Dialogue in Truth and Common Life

Most of the time, people lie to each other and do not dialogue, because dialogue either exists in truth or it does not exist. But there being dialogue in truth does not mean that people are in agreement on what they are dialoguing about, but rather that they understand each other to be different and to gladly and joyfully accept their difference as a gift from above so that they may learn freedom in love for every person, since where there is love from above there is freedom.

The purpose of dialogue is not to establish one opinion over and against another, but to communicate in love to arrive at an opinion upon which this mutual understanding is achieved, if possible, or to accept the difference in respect for the freedom of each of those engaging in dialogue. But those who wish to live together must have dialogue and mutual understanding, even if just on the most basic common denominator between them, in order to lay a foundation for common life. What is required of people is not to apply principles and dogmas, because these differ across different religions and philosophical, dogmatic and social systems. What is required is mutual understanding of human truth in freedom of expression and respect for opinions.

*     *     *

It is certain that there are natural and social axioms tied to man's true reality and respect for his being, his choices and his right to a dignified life according to God's will. These are subject to dialogue in the context of clarification and respecting each other's existence. There exist, however, things that are non-negotiable. This is what comes within the framework of truth and falsehood with regard to everything that distorts man's humanity and deprives him of his rights contained in the constitution and the law. By way of example and not exclusively:

1. Corruption, which destroys the state and increases destitution and injustice.

2. Monopolizing a specific domain, which leads to a handful of people controlling the fates of the majority.

3. Distorting the man's true ontological reality in legislation or practice, under the pretext of personal freedom, etc.

What is intended here is that dialogue between people is for building up the structure of common life upon a single solid foundation, where all people live regardless of their faith or their , political, ethnic or ideological affiliation... on the condition that all of this is based on respect for opinion and belief and the other's freedom to live his life in the manner he sees appropriate which does not affect or injure the image of God in his partner, and so long as it is within the law.

*     *     *

The fundamental issue that impedes every serious dialogue between people is their disagreeing about the truth, even if they are superficially in agreement about seeking the truth or think that the truth is evident. Matters are relative in the eyes of people, but in the eyes of God the truth is one. Thus, when the Lord Jesus Christ answered Pontius Pilate, who was judging Him, who asked Him whether He was a king, He said to him, "You say that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." Then Pilate responded, "What is truth?" (John 18:37 and 38).

This is the dilemma in dialogue between people: "What is truth?" Hence, true dialogue cannot exist in truth between people except from each side's view of the truth. And is the truth with people pure, or is it based on their passions and their interests?

On account of this, people's dialogue in truth about the good of their common life is based on rules recognized by everyone, which become the universal standard for elucidating and devising the principles by which is erected the common home, that is the nation, in which all come together according to the principle of equality in rights and responsibilities for the good of society and dignified life for individuals in a framework of respecting individual and collective freedom in order to build up a communion of one life in distinction and distinction in unity.

Met Antonios (el-Souri): The War against the Church

 Arabic original here.

The War against the Church

The devil has not and will not cease from waging war against man, or rather, the project of man in humankind because he wages war against God. The war of the evil one is dangerous because it clothes itself in the mark of civilization and human progress.

Why this war on man? Because he is the "church of God", the "temple of the Lord." The war is against Christ Jesus, the sole true man.

This war also bears the mark of exterminating humankind through wars, sicknesses and sterility. It has two aspects: one that is superficially positive but negative in essence and another that is negative in both appearance and actuality.

The devil works in direct and indirect ways. The direct way is through spreading his perverse ideas in weak souls and the indirect way is through people who have been taken captive by him, who spread his wickedness, lies and destruction through false promises of freedom, dignified life and happiness.

*     *     *

The sole bulwark in the world against the devil is the Church, the Body of Christ, the Church that is orthodox in belief, life and tradition. Some think themselves orthodox while they are perverse and accuse others of perversity. This is one of the most difficult wars, because the devil leads these people to believe that they are in the right when they are wrong and they make those who are in the right to appear wrong. The devil's war within the Church is one of distortion because, as the Apostle Paul says after experience with evil spirits, "Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). The measure of orthodoxy in faith is love, that is, tenderness and the renunciation of judgment. One cannot stand in truth without being merciful. The war of fundamentalism against and within the Church is from the evil one who tricks the inexperienced, leading them to believe that they are spiritual because they scrupulously hold to the law to the letter without spirit, casting them into hateful Pharasaism and self-deception, while they are filled with complexes and passions. This is the war from the right.

The standard of spiritual soundness is equilibrium and equilibrium is justice and mercy, exertion and chastisement, judging the self and pardoning the sinner, total obedience to the divine commandment and bearing the other's weakness.

*     *     *

Happiness among humankind is an illusion, for the Book of Ecclesiastes says, "Vanity of vanities... vanity and grasping the wind..." (Ecclesiastes 1:1 and 12). Man seeks happiness in comfort and comfort is tied to development and flourishing. Civilization claims to give man progress and joy. But the so-called civilized peoples have distorted humanity, destroyed the family and the bond of love between brothers with claims of freedom and independence.

Independence and individualism are the fantasy of a deadly freedom, because man does not exist without the bond of love with others and love is not sentiment, emotions and the titillation of feelings. Love is self-emptying, death to the ego and joy for the other in God. Civilization today constructs man on the basis of his being self-subsistent for himself. This leads people and societies to greater self-isolation and collapse, self-isolation because of the centrality of the ego and the cancellation of the other and collapse because of the objectification of the self and the other and their consumption for the sake of some pleasure. The war of the world and the "prince of this world", that is, Satan, is against the building up of man upon the Rock, that is Christ. Everything that is done to man and everything that is offered to him today is so that he will forget Christ. This is the war from the left.

*     *     *

"For to me, to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21). So declared the Apostle Paul and so he experienced after wars, struggles and persecutions. This is the essence of existence: Christ is life. He who has come to know Christ has found what he was searching for and the answers to all his existential questions and has entered into the mystery of everlasting joy and he who has rejected Him has entered into permanent suffering and infinite loss.

Let him who has ears, hear.

+Antonios

Metropolitan of Zahle, Baalbek and their Dependencies

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Met Antonios (el-Souri): The Judgment

 Arabic original here.

The Judgment

"... on the day when God will judge the secret thoughts of all." (Romans 2:16)

The judgment is not according to appearances, but according to the hidden things in the hearts of humankind. People live for people, generally speaking, forgetting that their life is from God and not from a creature. People bow down to things that are not gods, to flesh and blood, because they seek power and authority and when they find it with other people, they enslave themselves to them. Miserable is he who does not know that God will "judge the secret thoughts of all."

People, in general, are judgmental. He who judges is himself judged in the same manner: "for the measure you give will be the measure you get back" (Luke 6:38). People do not know the secrets of hearts, but God know everything. He is the one who "tests minds and hearts" (Psalm 7:9).

How does God judge us and for what are we held accountable?

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:37). One who does not judgements on people, on their persons, but rather seeks excuses for them in their mistakes in order to learn himself and preserve himself, is not judged by God because he himself does not judge others. As for one who holds people's mistakes against them, however, on the basis of his own assessment of the truth apart from love, his truth is false. How can a person judge another when he does not know himself? How can he distinguish truth from falsehood when he has not yet been purified? The foundation for the capacity to judge is discernment and discernment is a gift from God to the pure. He whose heart has not been purified and who has not been cleansed of his passions cannot discern matters with the eye of God. "Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny" (1 Corinthians 2:15).

The foundation of spiritual work is striving to save the sinner, not to judge him. The Lord Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners" (Mark 2:17). One who does not see himself as sick and sinful does not need the Lord Jesus Christ, but is satisfied with himself. This is the one who judges people, the one who is satisfied with, in and of himself. He does not know to seek forgiveness and consequently he is not capable of forgiving.

He who has a law is judged according to the law because the law does not bring salvation, but rather brings condemnation because there does not exist any person capable of fulfilling everything that is in the law: "For 'no human being will be justified in his sight' by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). As for one who is without a law, he has the universe as an earnest of the Creator's love and as proof of His works of surpassing goodness: "Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse" (Romans 1:20).

In any case, the judgement is in the measure of the gift, so if those who are still under the law or those who are under the judgment of human conscience have no excuse, then how great will be the judgment of us Christians to whom everything has been revealed in Christ Jesus?

*     *     *

Beloved, let us not delude ourselves or claim what does not belong to us, but rather be humble in prayer, fasting and spiritual struggle, for we are in the time of the Apostles' Fast, so let us judge ourselves so that God might justify us, He who knows everything about us more than we do and He is the Merciful who accepts the penitent in every moment. Let us forgive, pardon and not judge people, but rather let us leave judgment to God. In repentance let us enter into the mystery of man and bear all of humanity in our repentance, because our sins extend into the world to increase its evil and our righteousness extends into it too, to increase its good. Our responsibility as believers in Christ is to increase the positivity and light in the world because the evil one sends corruption, destruction and ruin into the world, desiring to destroy the human race, so let us be children of light, bearing the suffering world and nailing our sins upon the cross of Christ, so that Christ may bear us upon the cross, saving the world in us and granting forgiveness to those who seek it.

Christ judgment is a fire of divine love, burning the wicked and granting warmth and tenderness to the righteous. Wicked is one who judges others and the righteous is the one who judges himself.

Let him who can accept, accept.

+Antonios

Metropolitan of Zahle, Baalbek and their Dependencies

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Met Antonios (el-Souri): The Mystery of Marriage

 Arabic original here.

The Mystery of Marriage

"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). This was the establishment of the mystery of marriage with humankind as the mystery of the unity of man and woman. This is what God wanted since the beginning. For this reason the Lord Jesus Christ says in the Gospel about this issue, "So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (Matthew 19:6).

Do people treat marriage on the basis of it being a mystery and the gift of unity from God, in Him and through Him, between man and woman? Do they start off in establishing it on the principle of its unicity and its eternal permanence as a covenant between people, among themselves and with God, before Him and for His sake, or do they treat it as though it is something that can be broken, like a human contract with conditions and stipulations?

*     *     *

Marriage is not a need in the sense of man not being able to live and exist without being married. It is a path of holiness and longing for unity with God through the practice of purifying human love from attachment to self, that is, from possessiveness, domination and lust, by means of love of God and obedience to Him in the commandment that is the path to unity between the partners though union with God in the sacrament. Existentially, man's sole true need is for the infinite love that is God Himself. Why? Because man is in God's image and this is God's image in him: love (agape).

In ancient Greek, there are three expressions that indicate love: eros, philia and agape. The first expression is tied to bodily lusts, the second to friendship and the third to the existential love with which God loves us. Thus, many marriages take place on the basis of eros, having no spiritual or true human foundation, but rather are essentially tied to the delight of the eye and lust of the body. Other marriages are based on philia, in which there is mutual understanding and harmony, but within a human and social framework that does not endure, perhaps breaking up due to infidelity or due to attraction to another person due to the influence of eros and philia existing together. In the first two cases, even if the partners have faith in God and in the sacrament of marriage, because it is difficult to keep faithfulness in them or to preserve them because they are not built upon the infinite and unconditional love that is in agape, where the essence is to realize that the other is my life.

If love in marriage does not develop with knowledge and faith to ascend from eros to philia and then agape, the marriage remains within the limits of human relationships, even though it is fundamentally tied to God's presence through the grace that comes down upon the bride and bridegroom in the sacrament, which makes the marriage a covenant between them and God to be faithful and to strive to purify the love through sacrifice and giving of the self in tenderness that cleanses desire from its enslavement to the pleasure of the body and elevates it to a pouring out of one into the other in humility and self-emptying by the grace of God, and a covenant between God and the bride and bridegroom for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them in their obedience to the divine word which makes them "one body" in unity with God and between themselves. This unity cannot exist without God and apart from this sacrament there is no true unity between the spouses. Only God is able to make the two one and what God unites, no human can separate. But if it is not God who brings them together, then the marriage is not built upon rock and has no permanence in itself.

*     *     *

If God is not the foundation of the marriage, then there is no firm construction to face the earthquakes, storms and raging winds, on the inside and the outside, that must inevitably come over the course of purifying human love from the ego so that it may be elevated by grace and transformed into love from God. "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain..." (Psalm 127:1).

 Returning to God sincerely and profoundly and commitment to the other in the love that is by divine grace is the response to eternal, heavenly joy, from this moment, in marital life that is a little icon of the beauty of the Kingdom of God and its radiation into the world through unity consisting of three elements, between the man, the woman and God. This is the salvific faithfulness.