An Appeal for Lebanon
Is it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest? And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness. The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 29:17-19). This is a hope that we have in learning that a small monastic project, a skete, is germinating near Aley in Mount Lebanon.
Aley was formerly a small village that transformed, starting in 1892-1895, into a more and more populous city. It’s in a beautiful mountain region of around ten hills, the highest being Ras el-Jabal (Head of the Mountain), 20km from Beirut at an average altitude of 850m. In wintertime, the number of its inhabitants is around 50,000 and in the summertime, more than 100,000. The city is located on the Beirut-Damascus road. During political events in the county, residents have suffered much destruction, as elsewhere in Lebanon. The human toll of the civil war was very heavy: around 150,000 killed, 350,000 wounded, and several thousand people captured and disappeared in a population of about three million.
Since 1990, Aley is a great construction site of renovation. Yes, Lebanon was a paradise of forests and gardens, fabulous springs and a land where milk and honey flowed, where we find olive trees and a carpet of pines covering the mountains and the valleys, bananas, orange-trees, grapevines, apple fig and almond trees…. and above all the giant cedars who, ceaselessly sing psalms and chant hymns to the resurrection of Christ, our Lord and Savior; Ezekiel speaks of them: “To what should we compare you in your grandeur? To a cypress, to a cedar of Lebanon with its magnificent branches, its thick foliage, and great size…” And in Deuteronomy we hear Moses speak to the Lord and say, “Could I not go there, and see that happy country beyond the Jordan, that happy mountain and the Lebanon?”
Aley was formerly a region where a large community of Orthodox Christians lived. Today, the region is populated by people of various beliefs. It should be known that Lebanon is distinguished by the presence of eighteen religions and Christian confessions (Roman Catholics, Maronites, Orthodox Church of Antioch, Greek Catholics, Orthodox and Catholic Armenians, Syriac Orthodox and Catholic) recognized by parliament, in addition to non-recognized sects. The Christian confessions- Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant, live in close quarters… this confessional reality characterizes the world of Orthodox Christians in Lebanon who encounter heterodox people in their daily lives.
Today, as in many countries of the world, many sects and unrecognized movements are gaining strength. It is clear that this is not without influence on weak believers. There is also a Muslim presence, with Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, a Druze population, as well as small number of Jews. In Lebanon, the Christians do not find themselves openly persecuted, like the Copts in Egypt and the Christian communities of Iraq, but they still are in a subtle way, by the media, by the heterodox and their false doctrines, by the sects, all with the desire to kill the Christian faith! But we always see the desire of Orthodox Christians to live in peace, with close relations with all, and especially in the love of Christ. Metropolitan Georges Khodr, very well known in the Orthodox world, takes up this theme in his various writings: “This commandment of Jesus of Nazareth in fact comes from the Old Testament, which however limits its application to the members of the same people: You shall not take vengeance and you will not hold rancor against the children of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The New Testament has enlarged its application, making each human being the subject of love. The way in which this commandment is expressed in the imperative: Love, you shall love, makes it clear that love is a divine order and not just an affective movement. In effect, in loving, the heart can feel such a sentiment or it can also be absent. Love is thus the object of a law whose meaning is summarized in that we must love our neighbors as ourselves.”
And so the construction of a small skete is being planned by the monk Seraphim, attached to the Orthodox Church of Antioch, whose current patriarch is Ignatius IV. After having lived six years at the Monastery of St. George at Dayr el-Harf, in Mount Lebanon, and having received a blessing, he travelled to Europe. Father Seraphim is known by a number of people in Western Europe, from when he visited our countries four years ago. In his last stay in Europe, he recently lived intensely in Romania, receiving much spiritual comfort. There, he was fully introduced to the monastic life at the skete of St. Anthony the Great in the region of Neamţ in Moldavia. He mostly stayed with hermits like the elder Proclus who lives in a wilderness near Neamţ and also among monks and faithful whose Orthodox faith is very much alive. Returning to Lebanon, he received the blessing of elders and abbots great and humble to build a skete where he can develop monastic life in connection with his brothers in Romania.
Today, Father Seraphim lives in Bkheshtey, a small town situated about a kilometer from the city of Aley. Bkheshtey means ‘place of hermits, solitaries, isolated people…’ which is also the meaning of monasticism, an extraordinary coincidence! In this neighborhood, there is a church called ‘of the Monastery of the Holy Savior’, even though there is no monastery. The patronal feast of the church is the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the church where Father Seraphim follows the liturgical services, since his temporary home is not far away. He lives very simply as a monk. Before the war, this small town had a population of two thirds Orthodox Christians and one third Druze. Today, the situation is reversed and the village is populated by one third Protestant Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and some Orthodox in the area. The other two thirds are Druze. The Orthodox populations have a tendency to leave and their properties are bought by Druze and Muslim families. Why do they leave? We can find an answer in the desire to emigrate abroad and also in economic reasons.
But now the Lord calls for the construction of a small monastic place in order to testify to the Orthodox faith and to the Love of Christ, to announce that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; apart from Christ, there is no live, there is no truth.
How will this be done?
The monk Seraphim possesses nothing and puts himself with complete confidence in dependence on the Holy Spirit. His heart weeps and suffers in order to announce the Truth. He needs firm faith to testify to the canons of the Holy Apostles, of the Holy Fathers, and of the martyrs of our Church. He is asked many questions and there are answers for them. Like in the desert, in order to produce fruit, the Gospel says, there is no lack of work! But we all know that the desert in the Bible is the place of all beginnings. “And I am the Eternal One, your God since you were in the Land of Egypt; You will know no other god; there is no savior besides Me; I knew you in the desert, in the land of thirst….’ We also all know St. John the Baptist, the forerunner who in the desert fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, ‘From the desert a voice cries: prepare the way of the Lord.’
Father Seraphim at the Skete of St. Anthony the Great in Romania
What questions challenge Father Seraphim?
How can one proclaim the Orthodox faith in a region swept with multiple currents of non-Christian thought and many ideologies? How to re-evangelize cradle Orthodox? How to protect an Orthodox Christian population that is so often weak, ignorant, and oppressed? The presence and companionship of Christians is of primary importance, according to Metropolitan Georges Khodr, “Remind him of a the fact that he is a child of God. That the Lord greets him as a son, unless he’s a complete atheist. But I do not think that this type of atheism exists in the East. Climb once more with him starting at the level he is at… The most important thing is that from his recognition of the existence of God he makes an act of worship of love for God. It requires a bit of understanding, of progressive understanding so that this brother will arrive at praying. In prayer, by its warmth, that his understanding will deepen. (…) As far as one who was baptized in water but who has not acquired a Christian understanding, you must give birth to him anew through an evangelizing that proceeds from the discovery that his heart is stripped of faith. (…) We cannot let them simply be baptized with water. Without faith, they will not be saved.”
How can one bear witness of the monastic life and of the Good News in a land where many have lost consciousness of the existence of Christ and of the Orthodox faith that animated the lives of their ancestors? It is clear that the monk does not only bear witness to the ways and means borrowed for his personal salvation, but also to a “koinonia – communion – spiritual brotherhood.” He is invited to share with the greatest number the fruits of lived hesychasm (being in peace, keeping silence), of his peace, and to thus show the other brothers and sisters in Christ the steps of spiritual struggle and its requirements, for the monk is called to give others faith and light in this monastic path immersed in the city. Doubtless, in order to keep the flame, he must remember the word of the Lord regarding the prophet Jonah’s hardness of heart! The Savior, full of mercy towards the people of Nineveh, proclaims his love for them and says to Jonah: “Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:10-11).
How should one respond to the hunger for God that men and women of our times suffer? Hunger that today is really existential and that is manifested by so many deviancies and irrational behaviors in this world! Yes, man hungers for what is loftier than himself, but he does not know or does not want to recognize it! But this hunger can help put him on the right path; hunger is the principle of the walk that leads us to the Lord. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me…” “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger; he who believes in me shall never thirst.”
Would this not be the way to unveil the presence of God among us? Is this not an invitation to a life in grace? “He has humbled you, he has made you to hunger, he has given you to eat the manna that neither you nor your fathers had known, to show that man does not live from bread alone, but that man lives from everything that comes from the mouth of God.” Such are the questions and the profound spiritual motivation that push Father Seraphim to desire to plant, with God’s help, a new spiritual garden, a new vineyard in Mount Lebanon. Yes, it is good to respond to respond to the hunger of today’s man in a specific spot: a tiny village of Mount Lebanon.
Fr. Seraphim is in need of financial support. His contact information is below (yes, most Lebanese addresses have general descriptions rather than street numbers).
Father Seraphim (KARAM)
- Near Holy Savior Church -
- Tel: 00961 5 558 513 / Cell +961 71 115 236
Bank Account : BYBLOS BANK SAL /
BEIRUT-LEBANON ALEY BRANCH
SWIFT CODE: BYBALBBX IBAN:
N° compte: 5753215266002
BENEFICIARY NAME: JACQUES MAURICE KARAM