Thursday, April 9, 2020

Fr Bassam Nassif: How do We Live "The Church at Home"?

The Arabic original is below the jump.

 How do We Live "The Church at Home"?

Christians are going through difficult times on account of the spread of the pandemic, which is preventing the faithful from participating in prayers at church, especially during this season rich in daily prayers.

At the threshold of Holy Week, are we content to listen to prayers transmitted over social media such as Facebook? How can we really experience these prayers, when we are forbidden for health reasons from really participating?

In times of hardship, persecution and sicknesses as well as in times of ease, health and peace, the voice of Saint John Chrysostom is heard, calling to Christians: "Let your home be a church!" How can our home be a church? What did Saint John Chrysostom mean?

There is no general general prescription for all homes on this topic. Every home has its distinct quality, in terms of location and inhabitants.. But there are broad guidelines for living out the church at home and if we follow them, we will experience Christian life in its profundity... So what are they?

It should first be pointed out that the purpose of the Christian life is to acquire the Holy Spirit and to live in Christ. For example, the purpose of our educating our children is not limited to their becoming people of good standing in society, polite and cultured... Our purpose as Christians is for our children to be projects of holiness, filled with the Holy Spirit and love for God and humankind. We should also mention that the Church is not limited to the building of stone, but rather it is the Body of Christ and we are members of this body. In this way the family is a little church, the body of Christ. So where do we begin in setting up the church at home?

First of all, the Christian's life is centered around prayer and this is something he learns at home. I remember how my grandmother would pray the prayers upon waking and the psalms of matins by memory as she stood in front of an icon that my grandfather brought back from his pilgrimage to the Church of the Resurrection as a blessing for the family. So the matter is first of all arranged by dedicating one of the corners of the house where icons are hung of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Mother of God Mary and the patron saints of the home and the parish. The father, mother and children arrange this space that is special for the family together. It is the home altar before which we stand and pray as a family, as one family gathered together in the real presence of the Lord! How is that? The Lord Jesus says, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). The Lord Jesus is present and blesses us and He blesses our home, our family, our street, our village and our country... The power of the grace of the Holy Spirit, whom we invite to dwell within us, immerses us in these blessed moments when we come together to pray.

Second, what do we pray? If we take the prayers for Holy Week, we see that digital copies are available for us and we can pray from them. There is no single recipe for everyone, but quality is the foundation, along with the children's participating in reading and prostrations and the reading of the Gospel, led by the father with the support of the mother and help of the children, placing before us a lit candle and fragrant incense, love for the Lord and His saints. The parish priest can indicate passages for the family to read or to chant together... But the most important thing is for the parents not to impose participating in prayer on the children, but rather for them to be a model for them to gradually imitate. This requires patience, effort and persuasion through calm dialogue, like many things in education in general. Reading the lives of saints to children can help them to understand the importance of prayer in their life, so that they may become shining lights for the Lord.

Third, when should we pray? During these days, there must be a special time dedicated to prayer in the life of the family, a time that the family chooses and is appropriate to their daily schedule. There is no doubt that the choice of a time for prayer is not easy. The Church's experience emphasizes becoming accustomed to a rhythm of prayer. That is, for everyone to dedicate a specific time every day to prayer, just like there is a time for gathering around the table for a meal or for watching a favorite program on television. It is a time when we set aside every earthly care, whether listening to music or watching television or using the phone,  in order to be completely devoted to the Lord.

Fourth, one learns constant prayer in the home. How? When the father faces a stumbling-block in his work, he looks to the Lord, thanks Him and seeks His help, saying: "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy." And when the mother gets tired of housework and teaching the children, she looks to an icon of Our Lady, draws inspiration from her tenderness and grace and sighs: "Most Holy Mother of God, help me."

Fifth, prayer should be accompanied by living out the Lord's commandments and self-examination. One should return to himself, be alone with himself, and not permit anger to take control if he has a disagreement with his wife or children. With the Lord's help, he can spread peace in the home. Saint Porphyrios the Seer warned about mothers and fathers bickering every day or week in front of their children. Dealing with everyday differences and not letting them turn into profound disagreements, by relying on one's spiritual father and self-reflection,  is the most important spiritual lesson for children. The children absorb how to live the Gospel through how their mother and father behaving with each other in a Christian manner. An attitude of mutual forgiveness and a spirituality of humility spread the aroma of joy through every corner of the home.

In this way, we will grow together in love of Christ and build in the home a little church that gives glory to God!

Fr Bassam Nassif

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Ioana Feodorov: The Arabic Book of the Divine Liturgies Printed in 1745 in Iași by Patriarch Sylvester of Antioch

The open access journal Scrinium has just published an article by the Romanian scholar Ioana Feodorov on the Arabic Book of the Divine Liturgies published by the Patriarch Sylvester in Iasi in 1745. It can be read and downloaded in full here.


The following article focuses on a printed text of the Arabic Book of the Divine Liturgies, produced in 1745 in Iași (Jassy), capital of Moldavia, by Sylvester, the Patriarch of the Greek-Orthodox Church of Antioch (1724-1766), which is comprised, together with a section of a Syriac and Arabic manuscript commentary on some Gospel passages, in MS 15 of the library of Dayr Sayyidat al-Balamand (near Tripoli, Lebanon). It is a rare copy of this early Arabic printed book, whose existence was recently established. The study encloses an outline – based on Romanian, Greek and Arabic sources – of Patriarch Sylvester’s printing activity in Iași and Bucharest in 1745-1747, a description of the Book of the Divine Liturgies (Iași, 1745) preserved in the Balamand codex, and comments on the value of this finding for future research on the printing work carried out in the Romanian Principalities, in 1701-1747, for the Arabic-speaking Christians of Ottoman Syria.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Met Antonius (el-Souri): Why the Cross?

Arabic original here.

Why the Cross?

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" (Revelation 5:12)

Our God came to us humbly, knowing that He would be slaughtered for our sins. He came knowing that we would crucify Him. Nevertheless, He did not refuse to die for us because He loves us. "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name" (Philippians 2:9).

God, who is glorified in Himself, was brought low to the point of death, the death of the cross, so the cross became the throne of His glory. God does not need us to glorify Him: He is glorified in Himself. He does not need us to love because He is love lived in the unity of the Trinity.

It adds nothing and takes nothing away if we exist or do not exist. He does not need us for anything, but rather we need Him in order to exist and despite that, He made Himself into a "beggar" out of love for us:

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me" (Revelation 3:20). The Lord knocks on the door of our heart. If we open it to Him, He enters and if we do not open it, He continues to stand and knock. This is infinite love and ultimate humility, God seeks us in His mad love, and what do we give in return? This is the cross in God's heart, the lamb slaughtered from the foundation of the world.

"My people, what have I done to you..." In this way the Church expresses the pain of the Lord who sacrificed Himself for His own, who did not know Him (cf. John 1:10-11). Love is crucified in this world because because humankind does not know how to love. Love for them is possession, domination, consumption. This is not how God loves us. He reaches out to us and we refuse Him. He sacrifices Himself for us and we flee from Him. He gives us Himself and we turn away from Him... What is this man, who has in this way become subject to his passions, enslaved by imaginary pleasures?

God's love accepted nothing less than to save man. Therefore, the cross of Christ became a victory for divine love over the hatred, enmity and jealousy of the devil and those who follow him. The cross snapped the thorn of the death of sin and enslavement to the passions. He who desires to live in love-- that is, to follow Christ-- must bear the cross.

This is not a question of masochism, but rather one of walking in the path of pure love-- that is, love which has no ulterior interests in the other, but rather is realized in the live-giving reaching out, which generates joy in the soul on account of building up a real relationship and connection with the other because this other is loved on account of himself, since man is a being created to realize unity in distinction with God and with every human.

This is what Christ God realized in Himself and granted for us humans to participate in through our union with Him or rather, His union with us. Christ on the cross united earth to heaven and mankind to each other in Himself.

He who follows Him out of love upon the cross is worthy of glory.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

Metropolitan of Zahle, Baalbek and their Dependencies

Friday, March 20, 2020

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Thoughts during this Time

Arabic original here.

Thoughts during this Time

This is a golden opportunity for us to purify ourselves of our faults through fervent prayer, fasting and austerity.

I have contemplated a great deal seeing Christians wanting to close the churches during a time of distress.

Pray and do not weary: this is an opportunity that God allowed for us to be chastened and indeed, for us to be sanctified.

We do not judge anyone.  The Lord alone judges. He is the Judge. We want the leaven to stay true upon this earth. "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).

Do not fear the one who kills the body, but fear the one that kills the soul.

Yes, we have sinned. We have departed from God. Awaken from your misstep: the Lord is generous, the Lord is sweet: "taste and see how good is the Lord."

How can they prevent us from tasting Him?! He is the source of life! We Christians have departed from God, not only here but throughout the world. We have longed for the world. We have longed for science alone. We have forgotten the Creator. We have ignored Him.

What remains for us but spiritual death and also bodily death or repentance, repentance so that we may be saved?!!!

Tripoli, 20.3.2020
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Fr Georges Massouh: Health, Sickness and Closeness to God

Arabic original here. This was originally published in an-Nahar on October 28, 2017, a few months before Fr Georges reposed in the Lord on the Feast of Annunciation, 2018 following an extended struggle with cancer.

"Brother Georges, your struggle is a path to God, like health. Don't miss the grace that is coming to you from the struggle. Your trial is one of the ways of this world. You get along with it just like you get along with health. The rest is on the Lord." - Metropolitan Georges Khodr of Mount Lebanon

Metropolitan Georges Khodr, the beacon of Orthodox theology, does not limit his theology to just the theoretical aspects, since theory remains sterile if it does not come down to the ground of human reality. What is the use of talking about, for example, the cross and its theology if it is not connected to reminding Christians of the Lord's words: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24)? Bearing the cross is the best jihad.

Metropolitan Khodr believes that there is one struggle and we are all called to bear the arms of righteousness and piety, so he makes no distinction between one whose body is healthy and one who is sick. They are both required to strive in the struggle against sin. The trial of sickness is one of the ways of this world, so Metropolitan Khodr does not consider it important because the most important thing is the struggle to walk in the path to God, who crowns this struggle with eternal life. A person lives in health imagining that it will last forever, but everything of this world will end because this entire world will end. So how can something temporary give eternal life to something temporary?

"Don't miss the grace that is coming to you from the struggle." In general people think that worldly sustenance is "grace from God", even if it is acquired by crooked means. "Grace" for them is limited to material aquisition, good health, exceptional beauty or high intelligence. There is no doubt that "grace" like these graces increases the pride of people who possess them and makes them think that they are gods who will not some day pass away. This is the fantasy in which man immerses himself, but he only reaps the dust scattered by the wind.

True grace, however, is that which "comes to you from the struggle", the struggle over which nothing else is a priority: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). The fruit of the good struggle is the kingdom of God, the heavenly kindgom in which man lives unto life eternal. True grace is that which lasts unceasingly, while the graces of this world disappear with the passing of the present world. The true believer is the one who believes that grace in life is with God and His saints because God created man to love Him and live with Him forever.

"Redeem the time, for the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:16), says the Apostle Paul. Time races and man races, but time only stops on the last day but man's time stops when his hour comes. So man must redeem his time, whatever his situation in terms of health and wealth, with deeds that are good in the eyes of the Lord. Time has mercy on no one and the days are evil, increasing their evil day after day. Thus the necessity of struggle not to let our time run out.

The believer is the one who can "get along with sickness just like he gets along with health", so health and sickness are not the standard in God's eyes, but rather the struggle under any circumstance to reach the loftiest goal. "And the rest is on the Lord."

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Icons and St Gregory Palamas

Arabic original here.

Icons and St Gregory Palamas

The veneration of icons is tied to the mystery of the incarnation. In the Old Testament, God was invisible, so at that time he forbade us to make an image of Him, lest we fall into idolatry. Through the incarnation of the Son of God, God became visible to us, "he who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).

With regard to St Gregory Palamas, this saint struggled with all his strength throughout his teachings and life to affirm that it is possible for man in his body, soul and spirit to be united to God and not only to depict Him.

"God became man so that man may become divine," says Saint Athanasius the Great. Christianity is not limited to good morals. Rather, before all else it is God's gift in Christ, His giving the Holy Spirit after the Resurrection, this gift which completes the economy of our salvation.

Today, in the heart of every baptized Christian, there is a divine light hidden in the depths of the heart, a power capable of making us christs by grace.

After thirteen centuries, the Church placed her seal on the complete, true Christian dogma.

This took place through the Ecumenical Councils which were held over the years: she first fought the various main heresies such as Arianism (and today's Jehovah's Witnesses), as well as all those who opposed the holy icons and she confirmed the Orthodoxy of Saint Gregory Palamas' teaching. She added nothing to the Gospel, but expressed the purity of the Christian faith and cast away from it and from us every heresy that would corrupt it.

The fourteenth century was distinguished by the appearance of great saints, as the Byzantine Empire was falling to the Turks. This holiness branched out on Mount Athos, whose monks unleashed the practice of the Jesus Prayer in all its spiritual dimensions.

Among them was Gregory Palamas, who became Archbishop of Thessalonica after having been an ascetic monk on the Holy Mountain.

There was also Saint Gregory the Sinaite, who brought together the spiritual experience of Sinai and of the Holy Mountain an, through the Jesus Prayer, passed their torch to the Slavic lands: Bulgaria, Russia, Romania and Serbia.

Saint Palamas established the theological principles of  Hesychasm when he spoke of the divinization of the Christian, enlightened by the divine, uncreated energies of the Holy Spirit which radiate from the tomb of Jesus Christ risen from the dead. This divine radiance illumined the apostles on Mount Tabor at the Divine Transfiguration when the power of the Holy Spirit covered Christ's human body.

This spiritual tradition, which goes back to the fourth century with the monks of the Egyptian Desert, was brilliantly awakened in the fourteenth century when Orthodoxy was clothed in all her splendor.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Saturday, March 7, 2020

New Book: Arabic and its Alternatives

The new volume Arabic and its Alternatives: Religious Minorities and their Languages in the Emerging Nation States of the Middle East (1920-1950), edited by Heleen Murre-van den Berg, Karène Sanchez Summerer and Tijmen Baarda,  has just been released by Brill in open access. About it:

Arabic and its Alternatives discusses the complicated relationships between language, religion and communal identities in the Middle East in the period following the First World War. This volume takes its starting point in the non-Arabic and non-Muslim communities, tracing their linguistic and literary practices as part of a number of interlinked processes, including that of religious modernization, of new types of communal identity politics and of socio-political engagement with the emerging nation states and their accompanying nationalisms. These twentieth-century developments are firmly rooted in literary and linguistic practices of the Ottoman period, but take new turns under influence of colonization and decolonization, showing the versatility and resilience as much as the vulnerability of these linguistic and religious minorities in the region. 

Two articles about the Orthodox community in Palestine are of particular interest:

"United by Faith, Divided by Language: the Orthodox in Jerusalem" by Merav Mack

The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, known also as the Greek Orthodox or Rum Orthodox Church, is home to a number of ethnic communities speaking different languages, including Greek, Arabic, Russian, Georgian, Romanian and Serbian, and more recently Hebrew as well. This chapter focuses on the grassroots of the two main communities, the Greek-speaking Hellenic community and the Arabic-speaking Palestinian one, in the first decades of the twentieth century.

The first half of the twentieth century was a period of growing tension between the leaders of the Arab community and the senior Greek clergy, i.e., members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre and the Synod of the Church; the scope and depth of this tension is well analysed by Konstantinos Papastathis in his contribution to this book. In this chapter, however, I would like to shift the attention from the leadership to the members of the community and ask: how does a community function when united by religion but divided by language? In other words, I question the relationship between the Greeks and the Arabs at the community level, with an emphasis on the role of the language barrier between them. The focus is on the axis of religion and language and examining the Greek community against migration theories and the studies of language shift and language loyalty, and I concentrate on three expressions of the language divide: the choice of churches, liturgical preferences, and naming patterns.


"Arabic vs. Greek: the Linguistic Aspect of the Jerusalem Orthodox Church Controversy in Late Ottoman Times and the British Mandate" by Konstantinos Papastathis

The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem has had a continuous historical presence in Palestine, recognized by the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451) as the fifth See in the hierarchy of the Christian Church. It enjoys extensive custodianship rights over the Holy Places according to the so-called status quo agreement, and up until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the great majority of the local Christians belonged to the Orthodox creed. From early Ottoman times, the patriarchate was institutionally structured as a monastic brotherhood. This means that the Patriarch, i.e., the Head of the Fraternity, exercises more or less absolute power over all the affairs of the institution. Moreover, during Ottoman times the Patriarchate acquired an ethnically Greek character, to the detriment of the other national Orthodox groups, and especially the indigenous population. Theoretically any Orthodox individual can become member of the brotherhood. In practice, however, since the mid-nineteenth century the basic criterion for admission to the Brotherhood has been loyalty to the Greek national idea. Overall, the Arab Orthodox movement represented the great majority of the native lay members of the Church from all over Palestine. It was closely related to the Arab national cause, which explains partially its close bonds with the Muslim element of the population as well. In the Mandate period, the native Orthodox were organized in local clubs and were represented at a central level by the Arab Orthodox Executive, except of a small minority that formed the so-called “Moderate party.” The Arab Orthodox viewed the Greek rule as cultural imperialism and demanded their emancipation from Greek control, as well as the abolishment of the centralized structure of the institution via Arab inclusion in decision-making processes. Overall, the Arab Orthodox demands were for: a) the establishment of a mixed council for the administration of communal affairs, including finances; b) the free admission of Arab Orthodox people to the patriarchal organization; and c) active participation in the electoral processes of the high clergy. The role of Russian diplomacy and religious apparatus in the affair was crucial, and fuelled the intercommunal division along ethnic lines as a means to strengthen the Russian position with regard to the inter-Orthodox power competition, as well as to promote Saint Petersburg strategic goals in relation to the Ottoman Empire.