Sunday, June 24, 2018

Met Georges Khodr: The True Prophet

Arabic original here.

The True Prophet

Today I will talk to you a little about prophecy, as we celebrate a great prophet. In the Old Covenant, this gift did did not, as most people think, exclusively mean speaking about things in the future. The prophets spoke about the times in which they lived. They spoke first of all about what God wanted to realize in His people. That is, they were God's shepherd's staff over the people. But the days to come were guaranteed in their words.

There is prophecy in the New Covenant. People think that prophecy has ended, but this is not true. The Apostle Paul mentions it as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, because even if Christ had said everything, there still must appear people who remind us of what has been said. Thus, the realization of Christ's words among sinful people in order to bring the recalcitrant back to their Lord, in the moment we are in now, in the circumstances we are going through, is not something that all people possess. There are those who teach, but do not convey the word of God with precision and power. There are those who convey God's will without being theoretical teachers. God sends His Spirit to some in the time of the New Covenant in order to strike people, to uproot evils from their souls, as was said by the tongue of Jeremiah: "I destroy and I build. I uproot and I plant."

It is the role of some strict believers in the Church to ruin the plans of others. It is not that they wish them evil, but so that sin may be destroyed and not rule over the Church. There is holy animosity, divine anger that blows like a storm. Harmful weeds must be uprooted and good plants must be planted. In the Church, there is inevitably authority. There are those who exercise godly, pure, righteous authority and there are those who wield authority over people for their own glory and do not bring them to God's glory. The great sin-- and there is no sin beyond it-- in the Church, in society, in governance, and in the world is for people to lord over other people. Therefore there must appear those who bring low the mighty from their thrones so that the humble may be elevated. This can only happen if we shout the word of God. The word of God must shake souls and bodies. It must break bones and ribs. It must put a limit to sin, lest God's name be exploited for the sake of lusts. This is the role of any prophet in the New Covenant. God is translated day after day, or else He is absent. And it is the occupation of false prophets to make God absent.

In the time of Elijah, there were prophets of Baal and Ishtar. They were Jews who were born into truth and then mixed in their minds the image of the true God with with the image of pagan gods and so the Prophet Elijah fought them. Perhaps deep down the idea is that Elijah put an end to idolatry, and every sin is the worship of an idol. And so John the Baptist was necessary. The Evangelist Luke says that John the Baptist came "with the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17). It was necessary for John to tell Herod that he had transgressed the Law. John knew that it was dangerous to contradict kings. He knew that speaking the truth could lead to being slaughtered, but he was not afraid of anything. He preferred death to keeping silent about sin. There is expiation in Christianity. Not expiation for people's sins that have been hidden, but for their sins have have been declared.

How do we know how to distinguish between righteous prophets and false prophets? How do we know that Elijah was a prophet of God and that the others were prophets of demons? Elijah gave the criterion when he said, "Living is the God before whom I stand" (1 Kings 18:15). That is, if you always see God in the face of Jesus Christ, if your hand does not touch money, if your heart does not beat for authority, if you see God's light before you, then you are a true prophet. Otherwise, you are covering your demon in God's name, you are sanctifying your lusts, you are calling imperiousness obedience, you are calling prudery chastity... In this way, the true prophet is distinguished from the false prophet. The true prophet is poor and does not lord over people... In the end, we have not known prophecy except on the cross. When the Savior was slaughtered, the Word of God was announced, speaking in humankind. It went with love. Those who love are the prophets.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Fr Touma (Bitar): The Forgotten Axiom

Arabic original here.

The Forgotten Axiom: Life Has Become Incarnational!

In the divine incarnation, everything in creation has changed! It has come to swim in God's light (as St Gregory Palamas says). On the surface, to eyes that do not see with faith in the Son of God, creation is still as it was, as though the Son of God did not become human. Corrupt nature, dying in sin and the Fall, has been colonized by God's grace. It has been renewed from above! Man no longer belongs to the earth's crust, as in the beginning-- "you are from dust and to dust you return"-- but rather the earth's crust has, through the Spirit of God, come to belong to Adam, the new man. As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. The healing of the earth has been activated through faith in the Son of God, through love, so rejoice or make an excuse of man's gratitude and wither and die in sin. Not only man has become a temple of the Spirit of the Lord, but also by extension the earth because it is His garment. God's sacramentality has enveloped it. On Tabor, Jesus' garments became white like light. The sacrament is God's invisible presence in visible and tangible things. Creation has become an extension of the body of Christ the Lord. It was enough for the woman with an issue of blood to touch the edge of the Lord's garment in order to be healed. Christ has put on all creation as a garment! Everything in it has become an icon of Him. Thus humanity must deal with creation in all its details apart from sin, or else creation will rebel against the old man and eliminate him as an earnest to the new man. He comes to his senses and repents or his futility brings him annihilation.

Before the incarnation, we ate and drank-- and bread is a symbol of creation-- in order to meet the needs of the flesh. This, in light of the above, is no longer the case. It is still the case for those who do not know. But for those who are numbered among those who know, if they were to place the scope of fleshly things outside the scope of divine things, they would find themselves in heresy! Anyone who treats the historical Jesus separates--even in theory-- from the Son of God falls into 'moral Nestorianism' and has thus effectively denied-- not necessarily in words-- the fact of the incarnation, that God united with man once and for all and heaven is on earth, that Mary became the Mother of God, and that God became man so that man may become god! In the language of bread, this means that before the incarnation, as we said, we ate to met the needs of the body, but after the incarnation it is now to meet the needs of the soul for the Spirit in the body. Whether we eat or not and how much we eat is taken for granted and is not the topic under examination, nor even is the question of what we eat. The object under examination is: why do we eat? And how do we eat? Man's life is not from food. Man, as man, does not increase if he eats more and does not diminish if he eats less. Of course, hunger destroys man's life, but so does gluttony! Total health, including the health of the body, does not come from an obsession for balanced food, as modern nutritional science imagines. Rather, it is from the presence and activity of the Spirit of God in one's heart! Someone who is preoccupied with the health of the body is someone who is ailing, no matter how calculated his diet. The health of the body fundamentally depends on the well-being of the entire entity and not the other way around, taking into account the limits of extremism, of course. Contrary to what we imagine, asceticism in moderation is the best regime for both the soul and the body. But asceticism, generally speaking, is not defined according to rigid rules, but rather according to a firm intention to keep God's commandments and to proceed under the supervision of those who are experienced.

We say, after the incarnation, that "the flesh is of no use. The Spirit is what gives life."  It is not that the flesh has no value. The flesh, as flesh, is for sanctification! But focusing on what belongs to the flesh-- or, one could say "fleshly things"-- is of no use. The new rule in dealing with what pertains to the body is exemplified in the divine commandment: "Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’... But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:31, 33). Of old, a person had to labor in the body in order to eat his bread. After the incarnation, he has to labor in his entirety for the sake of the kingdom-- that is, to keep the commandment-- in order to eat his bread. It is not that idleness has become acceptable. Hard work remains, including hard work of the body. But we now toil to receive the Spirit! We now reach for what is more sublime that fleshly things: heavenly things. "Give blood and receive spirit!" In this framework, obtaining bread is no longer a concern, nor is it a goal in itself. The new man now toils first of all to eat heavenly manna. What's more, bread on the earthly table has become a vehicle to bread on the heavenly table. Your Lord, in your bread, takes care of you. His motto is: I want you to be without care. This, within the framework of your effort to keep the divine commandment. "The eyes of all place their hope in You and You give them their food in its time." The least faith, in keeping the commandment, is for you to toil to obtain your bread and the bread of those who are unable to obtain it for themselves. The greatest is for you to empty yourself in order to obtain the heavenly manna. At that point, your Lord will take care of you directly, even in that which pertains to your bread, without any toil in it, since He sends it to you from His heavenly storehouses.

In light of the above, looking at the affairs of this life comes to be from a comprehensive theanthropic perspective. I deal with everything, but in Christ, because "Life for me is Christ, and to die gain." "In Christ," an expression that means that my concern for something, whatever it may be, is from the perspective that everything is from Him and in Him and by Him and for Him! "From Him," because it is nothing outside God's purpose and providence. "In Him," because it is nothing in itself, but rather in Him. He is the foundation of everything. He is the health of the health of body and soul. He is the mind of the mind. He is the knowledge of knowledge. He is the Spirit and Word of everything. He is the foundation of existence! Without Him, everything is nothing. "By Him," because by Him and Him alone "we live and move and have our being." He is the driving vitality that moves everything in this direction or that. Nothing in creation moves in a brute manner. Everything proceeds by your Lord's decree, or else creatures knock each other without standing still. "For Him," because He, the Lord's Christ, is the purpose of everything! Everything is unto Him, for His sake, that which was and is and shall be, consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally. Even evil things and those who have been led astray serve His purposes without know it! Everything, no matter how distant or estranged from Him, is turned in Him and to Him. The mystery of the resurrection is in the cross. Everything, no matter what, works together for the good of those who love God. Everything is arranged by the Spirit of God. There is no detail, no matter how trivial, that does not have its meaning, value and place in God's plan for the salvation of humanity. Every crisis comes from resisting God's purpose. Every complication, all pain, all suffering. God only permits suffering in order to soften the hardness of the soul, as fire softens iron. Last is the total remedy. This is correction from the right hand of the Most High. Every correction in love is for edification and building up. There are no problems whose roots are not in the heart. So long as the heart is not corrected, intention purified, and deep purpose within a person made upright, then no problem-- not a one-- will be solved or disappear. Instead, it will become a source for countless problems! One's problems do not stop piling up, so long as one remains alien to the sphere of his God's purposes, so that they may be completely resolved.

And so, in the incarnation we deal with the Spirit of God and His Christ in everything or we deal with emptiness, nothingness, and flight... until death. The Holy Trinity, in the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, has taken us on and dwelt among us. We are no longer in a creation held captive by death! We are now in a creation in which God settles as Trinity. In Him we proceed from light to light, from day to day, until the Father is in us, all in all. We no longer abide in what is created, but rather in the uncreated abiding in the created. We here are in Him! We are in the Godhead! The theologian [lahuti, derived from the Arabic word for Godhead, lahut, so literally 'a person of the Godhead'], in all simplicity, directness, and spontaneity is one who deals with the Godhead in creation, in all its details. There is no longer anything closer to us than the Godhead! The theologian is one who loves, who prays, who eats in supplication, who is occupied as for God, who accepts everything, who does not grumble about anything, who gives thanks for everything, who is satisfied with everything, who uses everything in chastity of heart and does not let anything other than his Lord rule over his heart. He receives as though nothing belongs to him and gives as though everything he has belongs to others. He is one who behaves as a poor person in what pertains to this world and is one who realizes, in the conviction of his soul, that he has everything from his Lord. This and incomparably more! He knows in his depths that the one he seeks is none other than Christ, who Himself was earnest in seeking him. Thus, in the incarnation, we now swim in the Godhead. Here and now and in every place and moment, we are "in the Holy Spirit," as Saint Seraphim of Sarov put it to Motovilov. Theology [lahut, i.e., the same word as 'divnity' or 'Godhead'], as a system of study, is not the divinity, as a spiritual approach to life. The former has no value in itself, but rather is derived from the latter for apologetic and educational purposes. In a time of rationalism, if one takes an interest in studying theology without acting according to the Godhead, this is an indicator of decadence supported by the power of study, research, and intellectual scrutiny. Where the study of theology is in isolation, separated from piety and the fear of God, it is a source of heresies and all abuses. Who was a theologian for Saint Athanasius the Great? Saint Anthony the Great! Who do you see who has surpassed Anthony in knowledge of the Godhead? The shoemaker of Alexandria! Theologians are rare in the world today, while theology courses abound. Diplomas, diplomas, diplomas of paper, while the Church only lives in the testimony [shahada, the same word as 'diploma'] of tears, of love, of prayer and of blood. Who do you think still wants to toil in keeping the commandment in order to become a theologian? It is easier to employ the mind. Most seek to become teachers of theology and very few become disciples of knowledge of the Godhead in the flesh. The reason: rarely do we find one who seeks to be changed in the Spirit! Theological knowledge, for the most part, is dealt with in the service of delusion!

But there remain witnesses to God as a "sign which will be resisted" (Luke 2:34). A little flock. But, "do not fear, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom." We talk about the Lord as though He has become incarnate, and we behave towards Him as though He has not become incarnate! This is because we do not want God's grace to settle within us. Woe is me! My body has become flesh (as the Triodion says). We insist on remaining in our old ways. But the powers of rational intellect and surrender to the mastery of the machine bring us to the abyss. Neither the state of animals nor the state of beasts is the limit of humanity's course. But indeed, total spiritual inability. The language of the zeitgeist is rationalism and the sorcery of rationalism is the allure of the machine. The machine, in the name of modernity and relinquishment, has emptied man of his vital powers and he seeks nihilistic comfort. This is the trajectory of materialistic civilization: from the spirit of existence to the spirit of nothingness. Thus it represents a total relinquishment of the incarnation, in which the Son of God came to bring man from nothingness to eternal life.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite-- Douma, Lebanon
June 17, 2018

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Holy Synod of Antioch on Avoiding Schism through Unanimity

Given the recent round of reactions from throughout the Orthodox world to efforts to have the Ecumenical Patriarchate recognize schismatic groups in Ukraine as an autocephalous church, the following passage from the (never-translated) communique issued by the Holy Synod of Antioch on April 30 of this year is of interest. This translation is, of course, unofficial:


The fathers of the synod examined developments occurring in the Orthodox world, where ethnic and nationalist disputes and conflicts are being inflamed and efforts are being made to change the boundaries of patriarchates and autocephalous churches, something that the Church of Antioch experienced and continues to suffer from, on account of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's violation of her canonical borders and the establishment of a so-called "diocese" for it in Qatar. In this context, she calls for a return to the principle of the unanimity of the autocephalous churches in taking critical decisions. It is a principle that has long helped the Orthodox world to avoid further fragmentation and schisms.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Orthodox Patriarchs and Pope Francis make and Appeal for Peace

This is the English text provided by the Patriarchate of Antioch, from here.

Published below is the text of the peacemaking appeal, which was agreed upon during a telephone conversation between Pope Francis of Rome and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia on April 14, 2018.

The text was signed by His Beatitude Pope and Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria and All Africa, His Beatitude Patriarch John X of the Great Antioch and All the East, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos of the Holy City of Jerusalem and All Palestine, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, His Holiness Tawadros II the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark in All Africa and the Middle East, and His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch and All the East.

Joint Statement

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God (Mt 5:9)


Impelled by a sense of responsibility for the millions of Christians that God has entrusted to our spiritual care and for the wellbeing of the entire human family, which shares a common destiny, we join together to speak out at this time of heightened international tension.

The ongoing hostilities in the Middle East, which in recent years have brought immense suffering, claimed the lives of many thousands of people and caused the flight of millions of refugees, now threaten to turn into a global conflict.

Our world has reached a point where there is a real danger of a breakdown in international relations and cooperation for the common good of the human family.

Clearly, the horrors of the world wars of the last century can hardly be compared with the dire consequences of a world war at the present time.

In the face of this terrible threat, we appeal to all world leaders to recognize their responsibility before their respective nations, before mankind and before God.

We likewise appeal to the countries of the United Nations, and particularly members of the Security Council, to recall their duties towards the family of nations, and we implore them, in the name of God, to overcome their disagreements and to work together for peace in the world.

Together we call upon the political leaders to avoid a further escalation of tensions, to eschew confrontation and to embrace dialogue.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Orthodox, Catholic Patriarchs of Antioch Condemn the Attack on Syria

This is the official English version of the statement, available here.

God is with us; Understand all ye nations and submit yourselves!

We, the Patriarchs: John X, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East; Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East; and Joseph Absi, Melkite-Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, condemn and denounce the brutal aggression that took place this morning against our precious country Syria by the USA, France and the UK, under the allegations that the Syrian government used chemical weapons. We raise our voices to affirm the following:

1. The brutal aggression is a clear violation of the international laws and the UN Charter, because it is an unjustified assault on a sovereign country, a member of the UN.

2. It causes us great pain that this assault comes from powerful countries to which Syria did not cause any harm in any way.

3. The allegations of the USA and other countries that the Syrian army is using chemical weapons and that Syria is a country that owns and uses this kind of weapon, is a claim that is unjustified and unsupported by sufficient and clear evidence.

4. The timing of this unjustified aggression against Syria, when the independent International Commission for Inquiry was about to start its work in Syria, undermines the work of this commission.

5. This brutal aggression destroys the chances for a peaceful political solution and leads to escalation and more complications.

6. This unjust aggression encourages the terrorist organizations and gives them momentum to continue their terrorism.

7. We call upon the Security Council of the United Nations to play its natural role in bringing peace rather than contribute to escalation of wars.

8. We call upon all churches in the countries that participated in the aggression, to fulfill their Christian duties, according to the teachings of the Gospel, and condemn this aggression and call to their governments to commit the protection of international peace.

9. We salute the courage, heroism, and sacrifices of the Syrian Arab Army which courageously protects Syria and provides security for its people. We pray for the souls of the martyrs and the recovery of the wounded. We are confident that the army will not bow before the external or internal terrorist aggressions; they will continue to fight courageously against terrorism until every inch of the Syrian land is cleansed from terrorism. We, likewise, commend the brave stand of countries which are friendly to Syria and its people.

We offer our prayers for the safety, victory and deliverance of Syria from all kinds of wars and terrorism. We also pray for peace in Syria and throughout the world, and call for strengthening the efforts of the national reconciliation for the sake of protecting the country and preserving the dignity of all Syrians.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Patriarch John X Deplores American Threats against Syria

Arabic original here. This is an unofficial translation.


Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East:

We condemn America's recent statements and threats against Syria which are based on mere unsubstantiated allegations of the use of prohibited weapons. We deplore any potential American aggression against our people, which will bring more destruction to the country and the region.

April 12, 2018



See also this more recent statement here.

Fr Georges Massouh: The Holy Light and the True Miracle

Arabic original, first published on April 18, 2010, here.

The Holy Light and the True Miracle

When the Pharisees asked Christ the Lord to perform a miracle in front of them, He answered them rebukingly, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:39-41). In this response of His, Christ meant to indicate the prophecies pertaining to His resurrection from the dead after His crucifixion and burial. We find an echo of this rebuke in what the Apostle Paul wrote in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, "Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). Here the Apostle chastises those who still, after Christ's resurrection, ask for a miracle, a sign, or a word of wisdom. The resurrection is the miracle of miracles. It is not in need of additional proofs so that people might believe in it, especially after the multiple testimonies transmitted by witnesses of the resurrection that are found in the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles.

Nevertheless, some people are still waiting for an inevitable "miracle" to occur, as the believe, every year on Holy Saturday right before Pascha. On the morning of that Saturday, the Orthodox patriarch enters into the Holy Sepulcher, where the candles that he is holding light spontaneously, in a "miraculous" way. Those who believe in this miraculous phenomenon, the "Holy Light", resort to attempting to prove the historicity of this miracle by taking it back to the first Christian century, but the proofs that they rely on are weak and borrowed from secondary sources. Either they lack objectivity or they cite texts whose meaning is not clear or which do not confirm the miracle, as in the diary attributed to the pilgrim Egeria during her travels in Palestine.

This phenomenon has become prevalent in Lebanon recently and a crowd of people eagerly awaits it. What we fear in this context is that this acceptance has become popular amidst the growth of popular religion at the expense of theology and correct ecclesial thinking. By popular religion, what we mean is religion that stirs people's feelings with sensual and exotic things that have the feel of magic and often rouse buried impulses. We also fear that the phenomenon of the Holy Light might be placed within the framework of confirming religious identity by reassuring those who believe in the truth of their faith, their superiority over everyone in other churches, the validity of their timing of Pascha and the error of the rest of the Christians, something that strengthens feelings of superiority and arrogance. "Know O you nations and be defeated, for God is with us!", with the decisive proof shining forth from the Holy Sepulchre!

On the other hand, those who believe in this "miracle" forget that God is not the god of a tribe and that He has proven false the belief that He is the god of one nation and not of others. They forget that this "miracle" legitimizes a patriarchal leadership in the hands of a junta of Greek nationalists who exclude Arabs, the people of Palestine, from church leadership. How can God leave  Jewish exclusivism only to enter into Greek exclusivism? That the Holy Light only descends on the Greek patriarch and not other patriarchs, as the Greeks claim, limits God's activity in the universe to them. Is this our holy, living God?

At a time when Arab Christians in Palestine are suffering from the impact of the Israeli occupation and from emigration that has reached the point of the ctotal elimination of their presence in the land of their fathers and forefathers, we find ourselves supplicating God to send down to them what will benefit them and to establish them where they were born, spent their youth and middle age, and grew old. What use is the Holy Light if the land of Christ is emptied of those who believe in Him? Did Jesus not have pity on the widow of Nain and raise her only son from the dead, bringing life back to her? If we want a miracle that truly bears fruit, let us implore Him to raise the victims of the occupation from the dead, especially the children, so that they may bear stones to pelt the army of occupation, that the shameful wall separating members of  the same family may collapse, that He may bring life back to the olive and orange trees that the soldiers cut down, that Palestine may return to her children.

Some people busy themselves with things that don't deserve attention. "Martha, Martha, you worry about many things but one thing is needful." The one thing needful is man. Everything apart from that is vain. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.