Saturday, May 15, 2010

President Medvedev Visits the Patriarchate of Antioch


The Patriarchate of Antioch's website seems to have lapsed or something, and so this is taken from Carol Saba's French translation here. Even if you can't read French, take a look at all the photos there!


Historic Visit of Russian president Dmitri Medvedev to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus

During the course of his official visit to Syria, on Tuesday May 11 2010, Russian president Dmitri Medvedev visited the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, His Beatitude Ignatius IV, at the seat of the patriarchate in Damascus. The Russian president was accompanied by Mansur Azzam, minister for presidential affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic as well as the Russian ambassador to Syria, Sergei Kirbichenko.

Upon his arrival at the patriarchal see, the Russian president was greeted by Patriarch Ignatius IV, accompanied by the patriarchal vicar bishops, Luka (Khouri), Moussa (Khouri), and Ghattas (Hazim), as well as Archimandrites Ibrahim (His Beatitude’s personal secretary) and Alexander (permanent representative of the Patriarchate of Moscow to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch).

The Russian president and His Beatitude evoked the historically close relations that have existed between the Churches of Russia and Antioch for generations and the reciprocal cooperation that has always characterized these relations.

Patriarch Ignatius IV greeted the Russian president saying:

“Welcome your excellence mister president to the seat of the Patriarchate of Antioch, which is tied to Russia by ancient relations full of love and benevolent attention from both sides. We have always been together for a very long time and in all circumstances, without exception. I am personally proud to have myself been the link between our Churches and our two peoples. One cannot help but be proud of the good mark that you have left and that you continue to leave in this country and this region and I do not exaggerate when I say that in our churches many things and many signs show your presence among us. During the recent Paschal season that has just ended, we did not cease saying ‘Christ is risen’, knowing that millions of people, you being the first of them, you were repeating it along with us. The relationship that exists between our Church and your holy Church is a relationship that is at the same time ecclesial and personal. We have known at least three primates of your Church and now we know our friend His Holiness Patriach Kyril, whom we have known for a number of years.

It is important for us, mister president, to thank you for your presence among us as your presence is not important only for our Church but also for the whole of our country. For a while now you have described the tasks and initiatives that you undergo as being done for the sake of peace. And your visit today shows that you continue to seek peace, which is what you are doing here in Syria. When we speak of peace, we wish it for this country and for all countries we do not say it just for ourselves. We pray to our Lord that He will help you in this path and that you will continue to speak and meditate on peace. For us, God is the creator of all human beings. It is for this reason that when we pray for peace, we pray for it for the whole world. I will not mention all the wars in which you have intervened. Usually we mention the knights of that region but we must also mention your heroism and also the fact that Moscow has been the graveyard of all those who wanted to occupy it.

Now our President Bashar, whom we love very much, represents the spirit that we express here to you today. We do not feel like strangers with him nor within this country. We also think that when two or three people are gathered together, as the Gospel says, the Spirit is present with them. For this reason we now pray that the Holy Spirit will guide you and that He will make both of you into leaders for peace on this earth. We thank you very much."

The Russian president responded to the Patriarch’s address saying:

"Your Beatitude, I am very happy to respond to your Paschal address “Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!” I also wish to greet you on the occasion of the feast of Our Lord’s Ascension. The relationship that exists between our sister Churches is ancient and special and has its own traditions that go back far in history. This relationship began to evolve in the 17th Century and was very active in the following centuries. This relationship was strengthened over the course of the 20th Century, particularly when fascist Germany attacked Russia—at the time the Soviet Union—and we remember the fraternal aid that your Church of Antioch provided to the Soviet people at that time.

I have the pleasure of transmitting to you the most amiable greetings from the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, Kyril. I think that the plans for relationships, contacts, meetings, and visits between the leaders of the Orthodox Churches of Antioch and Russia exist and I do not want to intervene into matters that concern the two Churches. But I would like to bring attention to the development of relations between Syria and Russia, which is exemplary. I would also like to point out that that the discussions with President Asad yesterday and today will elevate these relations to a new level. We know that in Syria there exists a peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims. I would like to say that in Russia there also exists the same situation because almost ten percent of our population is Muslims who coexist with Christians and other religions. The ongoing dialogue between the different religions in our country is a good example for others.

Your Beatitude, we know that you have visited Russia many times and that you have known several patriarchs of Moscow and we very much appreciate this precious relationship that exists between us. From the bottom of my heart I wish to congratulate you on your 90th birthday that you recently celebrated and on this occasion and in recognition of the contribution you have made to the strengthening of relations between Russia and Syria and to the development of relations between our Churches, I award to you the Medal of Russian Friendship. Thank you."

Then the proclamation of the granting of the award to Patriarch Ignatius was read by the president of Russia:

"By order of the president of the Russian Federation, His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch and all the Orient for the Greek Orthodox, residing in Damascus in the Syrian Arab Republic, is awarded the Medal of Friendship in recognition of his essential contribution to the strengthening of Russian-Syrian relations and to the maintenance and strengthening of friendship between the peoples."

After this exchange, the two delegations went to the cathedral of the patriarchal see where the president and the delegation accompanying him took a guided tour explaining the history and the foundation of the church. At the end of the visit, presents were exchanged and Patriarch Ignatius IV accompanied his guest to the gates of the patriarchate wishing him a good continuation of his journey and a safe return to his country.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Conversions to Orthodoxy in Turkey

English version originally from pravoslavie.ru, here. A bit like the translation I posted of an article about a convert to Orthodoxy from Islam in the UK, this article is a translation of a translation of a translation. I'm pretty sure the original was in Greek, then translated into Bulgarian, then into Russian, whence the English (for which I am not responsible). It is of high interest for a number of reasons. The most obvious is that it is the first I've heard of conversion of Turks to Orthodoxy, as most missionary activity in the country is done by Evangelicals and Catholics. The second is that it's an interesting comment on current Turkish sociology. As I understand, Turkey is rapidly becoming polarized between secularism and Islam, with Islam gaining ground. It would not surprise me that conversions to Christianity are a result of a reaction to the increasingly ugly face of Turkish Islam. The article highlights the absolute importance of disentangling religion from ethnicity, both on the Greek and the Turkish sides.

Besides Istanbuli Greeks and recently immigrated Russians, the largest group of Orthodox Christians in Turkey is under the Patriarchate of Antioch, in the provinces of Hatay and Mersin. This is the last remnant of the formerly much larger extent of the Patriarchate of Antioch in what is now eastern Turkey, which until early modern times had important dioceses in Diyabakr and along the Turkish-Georgian border. Hatay, comprising Antioch and Alexandretta, is an interesting case because the region's entirely Arabic-speaking population was a part of French-mandate Syria that joined with Turkey on the eve of World War II. For that reason, its Christian population was saved from both the Armenian Genocide / Sayfo and the expulsion of Greek Christians from Asia Minor. Church life in Hatay is quite active, celebrating the liturgy bilingually in Turkish and Arabic unlike the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which only worships in Greek. Even if you don't read Turkish there are lovely websites from parishes there that are worth looking at:


Ortodoksluk (Turkish for Orthodoxy)

The Church of St. Peter and Paul in Antioch, once the seat of the patriarch
-also see NOCTOC's article about this church here

The Church of St. Michael in Mersin

The Church in Samandağ-- be sure to look at their videos!


But without further ado, the article:


A Сonversation with two Orthodox Turks, Ahmet and Necla

In Turkey, which is the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, there are very few Greek parishioners left. The Orthodox community has been supplemented to some degree by Russians who have taken up permanent residence there. However, there are also some Turks who have become Orthodox in the Patriarchate. Lately their numbers have grown. Orthodox literature is being printed for them in Turkish, and articles about the newly-converted are being published. Ahmet and Necla are two of the thousand or so Turks who have changed their faith; and unlike others, they do not hide this at all. They related their stories to one Bulgarian website, ”Dveri na Pravoslavieto”—their spiritual searches which led them to Orthodoxy, and what it means to be a Christian in Turkey. We offer the text of this conversation to the readers of Pravoslavie.ru.

—The Turkish press explains the current numbers of Baptisms in their country as a ”return to their own roots” by Turkish citizens of Greek or Armenian extraction. Did your own nationalities play a decisive role in your conversion to Christianity?

Ahmet: Ethnic origin has played a role in some cases, but not in ours. I myself was born in Cappadocia, and I have relatives who came from the Caucasus. As far as I know, I have no Christians in my family background. Joining the Orthodox Church was the result of my own personal choice.

Necla: My mother is from Kavala, and my father is a Pontian. Some people in my family speak Romeian (the local Greek dialect spoken among the islamacized population. –Y. Maximov). But the decision to leave Islam and become Orthodox was my own personal choice, regardless of my origins.

—Historically, Turkish identity was so tightly bound with Islam that many Turks are completely unable to accept the idea that it is possible to be a Turk without being a Moslem. How do you view this?

N.: It's true, many people do not consider you a ”Turk” if you confess a different religion; especially if you are a Christian or a Jew. They think that you not only belong to another religion, but to another nationality.

A.: This can be explained by historical causes. The Ottoman order divided ethnic groups into millets along religious lines. For example, all the Orthodox comprised an ”Orthodox ethnos,” and the administration did not assign any meaning to their nationality, be it Bulgarian, Serbian, or Greek. In Cappadocia, where I come from, religion was what divided inhabitants between Romeians and Turks. The Orthodox people in the state of Talas, my native land, spoke Turkish as their native language, and even served the Liturgy in Turkish. But their membership in the Orthodox Church is what categorized them as the ”Romeian people.”

Just the same, Turkish history knows other, excellent examples. In the past, in various parts of the Turkish diaspora, Turkish communities accepted Christianity. There are Christian Turks in Central Asia, there are the Orthodox Gagauzians,[1] and there are thousands of Turks who have become Christian in Turkey. That they are Christian does not mean that they are not Turks. I am also a Christian now, but I am also one hundred percent Turkish, and Turkish is my native language. So, this division of people according to religious orientation is becoming more and more outdated. People are still surprised when they hear that one or another Turk is a Christian, but little-by-little, this is becoming more normal.

—What is your occupation?

N.: I am a dietician, and I do volunteer work.

A.: I was a manager in a large government company, and lived for a while in the United States. Later, I had a business in Belgium.

—Ahmet, probably your desire to become a Christian arose while you were living and working in a Christian country?

A.: No, the ground had been cultivated much earlier. Unfortunately, Christianity in Turkey is viewed as something that comes from the ”outside.” This is a mistake, because Orthodoxy is a part of our land's history. This can be seen from the privileges that Mehmet the Conqueror gave to the Constantinople Patriarchate.

I had some idea of Christianity from childhood, although it was through the prism of Islam. Many Moslems have great respect for Christians, which is bound up with the fact that the Koran accepts Jesus as a prophet. In general, Moslems also respect the Most Holy Mother of God. I think that you have seen the crowds of faithful Moslems who gather in the Romeian churches of Istanbul in order to venerate the holy shrines, and ask for help. In Turkey, we are prepared to accept the message of Christianity.

If there are problems, they are bound up with the education that both sides receive, and with ignorance. For example, many Moslems do not understand the meaning of the teaching on the Holy Trinity and think that we worship three gods, and that Christianity is a political religion. I do not say this as a criticism of Islam, but only present the fact as an example to show how uninformed they are.

—Necla, did your search also begin in Turkey?

N.: Yes, when I was studying in the university. My family was on the whole religious, but without following all the precepts of Islam to the letter. I considered myself a Moslem until I began to distance myself from Islam during my studies in Ankara. My parents allowed me the freedom to decide my relationship to religion. While I was in Islam, I felt an emptiness that demanded fulfillment. I read, and searched. I entered upon a path that led me to Orthodoxy.

—It would follow that your path to Orthodoxy was the result of ”local” experience, without any influence from outside of Turkey?

A.: Any influence from American or European Christianity can only do harm. I never felt comfortable with the Christians there. They repelled me from Christianity by turning it into psychotherapy. They go to church on Sundays to talk. However, religion has an aim of filling a certain other emptiness. In Europe, Christianity has been relegated to holidays without any connection to religion. Take the Nativity of Christ, for example. Many people greet each other with the words, ”Happy holidays,” instead of Happy Nativity.” In Europe, people have a superficial connection to Christianity, without an understanding of its spiritual meaning.

—How do the Christians in your country differ from Europeans?

N.: In that they are much closer to the essence and traditions of Christianity.

A.: And in that they are more religious.

N.: We go to church every Sunday, read the Holy Scriptures every evening, pray together, and strive to fulfill all the demands of our religion.

—Are you in contact with the local Orthodox community?

A.: We are in close contact, because we are in church every Sunday. There are many nice people in the Romeian community, and we have found friends. Every person has something to share with us. Liturgy is served in various churches. We often visit the church in Nihori. Lakas Vingas, the president of the community, lets us say the ”Our Father” in Turkish.

N.: Yes, I read for the Turkish-speaking people (she laughs).

—Is it hard for you to follow the services when they are in Greek?

A.: We prepare for each service at home. We also have a dual-language New Testament, so that we can follow the service using the Turkish text. It is important to understand in order to participate.

—The tragic schism of Fr. Euphemios from the Constantinople Patriarchate in the 1920's and the founding of the schismatic ”Turkish Orthodox Church”[2] made it much more difficult to introduce the Turkish language into the parishes of Constantinople, although this has been done long ago by other Christian denominations.

A.: Yes, that is so. We hope that with time there will be services in the Orthodox Church in the Turkish language. Today, only the Symbol of Faith is read in Turkish. It is also necessary that the problem with Fr. Efthimiou's successors be resolved—there can't be enmity between the Churches. All the Orthodox in Turkey should be under the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

—Have you encountered any negative reactions from people in your society after you were baptized? Does anyone harass you?

A.: I have not experienced anything negative and I can't say that I have been harassed.

N.: I have not met with any negative reactions. My family was surprised, but they respect my choice.

—Do you consider that there are many others who would follow your example and convert to Christianity?

A. and N.: Yes, many

—Nevertheless, so far very few have been baptized.

N.: The fact is that there are many more who have been baptized than those who ”show” that they have been baptized. They are afraid of the reaction of those around them. These are secret Christians.

A.: Yes, there is fear. But this should change, just as the attitudes in society toward those who change their religion should change. In any case, the Orthodox Church does not proselytize. To the contrary, there are strict requirements demanded of those who want to come in from another faith. These people have to go through a long catechism, and their sincerity is tested.

—Does that mean that it is not easy to enter the Orthodox Church?

N.: Yes, in past years, but we really pressed for it.

—Do the attacks against Christians, like for example the murder of the Catholic priest, Fr. Santoro, in Trabzond, and the killing of Christians in Malatya make you fearful? Who do you think is behind these attacks?

A.: I do not think that something like that could happen in the capital. The country is visibly changing as the talks concerning the acceptance of Turkey into the European Union continue. Turks are becoming more open and tolerant. Naturally, however, certain radical groups are reacting to these changes. These are dark forces who have nothing in common with the government, and are on the periphery of society.

Original interview in Bulgarian from: Как едно турско семейство откри православието // Двери.Бг Russian translation by Yuri Maximov
English translation from the Russian by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

04 / 05 / 2010




[1] The Gagauz people descend from the SeljukTurks that settled in Dobruja, together with the Pechenegs, Uz (Oghuz) and Cuman (Kipchak) people that followed the Anatolian SeljukSultanIzzeddin Keykavus II (123676). More specifically, one clan of Oghuz Turks migrated to the Balkans during the inter-tribal conflicts with other Turks. This Oghuz Turk clan converted from Islam to Orthodox Christianity after settling in the Eastern Balkans (in Bulgaria) and were called Gagauz Turks. A large group of the Gagauz later left Bulgaria and settled in southern Bessarabia, along with a group of ethnic Bulgarians. — Trans., from, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gagauzia.

[2] The so-called “Turkish Orthodox Church” was begun during the war between Greece and Turkey, by a supporter of the Turkish nationalists named Pavlos Karahisarithis (he later changed his name to Zeki Erenerol). He formed a schismatic church (calling himself “Pope” Eftim (Efthimiou) with the backing of Kemal Ataturk, who used the group as a tool against the Greek population and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The church has very few followers at present, and its spokeswoman, the granddaughter of Pope Eftim, was arrested in 2008 for alleged links with a Turkish nationalist underground organization. It was also suspected that the Turkish church served as headquarters for the organization.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

+Georges Khodr on Iraqi Christians

The original column from al-Nahar, published March 6, 2010 can be found here.


The Christians of Iraq and Elsewhere

It is very easy to say that they are being exterminated or displaced by the civil war in Iraq. I understand that Sunni and Shii combatants die. This is a rule of war. Or I understand that those who resist the American occupation die. This is a story of arms. But the Christians of Mosul and of elsewhere in Iraq did not take part in the civil war and are not in the resistance. For what reason are they lead to their deaths or to expulsion from the country they love and in whose civilization they have taken part since the times of Sumer and Babel?

What has taken hold in Iraq, a country that was once so attached to Arabism and was at the forefront of the Arab countries in civic consciousness? If the government defends all its citizens without regard to religion or sect, then why are attacks focused on them and why do we calmly watch the spilling of this innocent blood? “whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind (Surat al-Ma’ida 32).” I am not comfortable blaming the death of every Christian in Iraq on al-Qaeda or on any revivalist or fundamentalist movement. Al-Qaeda and similar groups also kill Muslims. Is this a matter or religious enmity, outside the scope of the war? I do not know. It is up to the Iraqi government to investigate this. But who will ask the Iraqi government?

It is forbidden for a Christian to take revenge. By definition he forgives those who attack him. However, I cannot accept Arabs killing Arabs because of their religion. First of all this was not present in principle. And to the best of my knowledge the principle of enmity between the majority and the minority did not exist in Iraq prior to this war. There is wanton killing there that I can only understand as intending the scattering of the Christians in that great country.

Who desires this?

I understand that the Americans are not eager to preserve the minorities. They were not interested in this for a single day. We know where their interests lie. I was counting on the minorities being under the care of the state. It does not appear that this will be realized in this brother country or nor is there any indication that this will be realized. I am no psychologist, but I hope to understand from psychologists that the civil war stirred up feelings among some against the minorities. Does the victim in the moments before he is slaughtered feel that his killer truly became an enemy on account of religious feelings within himself? I have no answer to this. However, this must be made clear in order to heal the future of coexistence if there is any hope of coexistence.

***

I will mention something that someone said to me: The current situation is one of general confusion and in this atmosphere Christians are being killed. This argument is refuted by the fact that no Christians are taking part in the war. For sincere, thoughtful, people, this is a threat to the state’s existence as a state. But before they speak with their politicians, all Iraqis must cry out and protest out loud in order to purify their consciences and together build a civilized nation after the end of current events.

I do not scour the newspapers to see if there is a single Muslim in Lebanon crying out in the face of these criminals in Iraq. The important thing is that such a man should testify to his brotherhood with the Christians in Mosul, Baghdad, and elsewhere or that he testify to shared Arabness. Silence is murderous. It makes you feel like you’re a foreigner.

A non-Christian in Lebanon asked me: What will happen to us after this attempt at exterminating the Christians of Iraq? I assured him by saying that the Muslims of Lebanon not only love us but are eager for us to remain here with them. I told him this in order to spread peace in people’s hearts and contentment with cooperation with Muslims. However, I would like to be made surer that there is not the strong desire among certain jihadist, takfiri groups to expel the Christians through terror.

***

What happened in Egypt—I mean the killing of Copts—in terms of means and motive, the main motive being hatred, is nothing new. This has occurred for years and the government also does not act because it seems to fear the masses or some fundamentalist segments. Do you not remember that the Copts were at the forefront of resistance to the English in 1919? Do you not know that the one of the major leaders of the Wafd Party was the Christian Makram Obeid? Have you not read that Pope Shenouda always refused to use the word “minorities” when the Americans were agitating to stir up this question in terms of human rights law? The Christians in historical Palestine have become 2% of the population. Jerusalem, which prior to the occupation had a substantial Christian population while now the Christian population does not surpass one or two large Christian villages in Lebanon.

What is the difference between evacuation and expulsion? Evacuation is a band of silk that does no harm and expulsion is a band of silk that strangles. The solution is in the hands of understanding, pure and strong Muslims. How do you rein in the killing? I do not know. Verbal sympathy is not enough. Loud outcry is not enough. Islam does not reject using power within the state or outside the state. For hundreds of Iraqis to be exterminated is a great problem. For ten or more Copts to be slaughtered every year in Upper Egypt is a question laid before the Egyptian entity and the laws within it. In the face of all these horrors the Islamic conscious cannot just look on, especially since so many tongues and so many pens have talked for a very long time about Islamic tolerance. Does this remain on the wish list or will Islamic societies truly become free societies for all rational creatures within them?

We want to live with Muslims in the European sense of the word “freedom.” We desire God’s peace upon them and for them to flourish in every way. This is at least what pious Christians say. I am not talking here about Lebanon where the hearts are one and in my view they are united whatever the form of the government or its organization may be. I have the right to hope that our Muslim brothers will resist the fanatic movements that work against them with the same power that they work against us. However, the Lebanese model does not protect against the movement that might come from abroad.

This movement needs an Islamic denunciation from here and a Lebanese Islamic movement to teach the Arabs freedom for all kinds of people no matter whether they are close or distant in belief. It is not the place here to point to what happens to Christians in Pakistan and Indonesia. I believe that the Arab Muslims are the teachers or tolerant Islam in the world. However this requires a true belief in complete freedom. How their leaders can derive this from their heritage-- that is their concern. I do not have patience for to wait for the God that the Muslims worship to be my assurance.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Times are Completed

The original can be found here.

There is no doubt that today the development of the sciences, especially the practical sciences, reflect negatively upon man’s view of himself and thus upon his relationship with God. Today man feels that he is more capable and more powerful than at any time in history. Knowledge is power! For this reason man’s arrogance generally speaking has increased because “knowledge puffs up” while his active faith in things divine has become weak. Why has it become weak? Historically, faith in things divine accompanies in the mind man’s reliance on God (or the gods) to meet his needs and to face the dangers of existence., In the past, when the sciences were only beginning and were unavailable except to the elite, mankind’s reliance on heaven was great. When scientific knowledge increased and modern inventions were developed and became available to most people, man’s reliance on them increased and consequentially his reliance on heavenly things weakened. However equilibrium returns when people feel that what they have is insufficient and ineffective and their taking refuge in God increases anew. In the minds of many people, both now and in the past, God is for humanly difficult circumstances. At the deepest level, most people’s reliance on God is of a utilitarian nature. Even if a person prays and refrains from sinning for a time and visits places that are considered holy and makes sacrificial gifts, his aim in most instances is in order to get what he desires and not what he needs and if he receives it, then his coldness towards God quickly returns once more. Of the ten lepers whom the Lord Jesus healed, only one returned and thanked Him. Nothing is new under the sun! A relationship with God has no stable place in one’s consciousness if one wasn’t raised with it and if it is not given from above. This is true even when a person has within himself a natural inclination to divine things. In general, the Fall has made man look at God (or gods…) in a bargaining way: you give me and I’ll give you!

If we go back to the past and examine the relationships of peoples to their idols, we would find that this relationship was always based in their minds on a framework of pleasing and placating the intended gods in order to attain moral or immoral ends and they secure for man protection and his needs that he is unable to secure himself. This is the reason why gods are divided into various specializations, like medicine, agriculture, war, sex, and other things. Every aspect of life and death had its god. Among the Romans, for example, the number of particular gods exceeded three thousand. In this framework, temples were places for erecting images generally resembling the gods and people would frequent them in order to offer the necessary gifts and sacrifices in order to secure their needs and their lives. These gods remain the same to a great degree, even as people adopt contemporary religions. Man’s heart is still the same! Idolatry is not in the material images but in the mental images in the consciousness of the people. Human experience is still the return to the worship of mental idols even though the Lord God has revealed himself! With His self-revelation mankind can even adopt Him as an idol! Thus regardless whether contemporary man divinizes science in one way or another or returns to divine things out of a sense of weakness, his deep problem remains his worship of himself, in his adoption of science or in his reliance on things divine, it’s all the same!

The religions, in the imagination of many today, provide two things: One is securing the needs of people and societies, including moral deterrents and immoral means such as war, for example. The second thing is securing life and happiness after death. In this sense, contemporary religions are continuations of ancient paganism! The issue isn’t whether you say that you worship one god or several gods! The issue us how you deal with the god or gods you worship. What place is there for this god or these gods within yourself? As long as you ask for things for yourself in this world or the next you are in one sense worshiping the god or gods you claim for yourself, but in effect you are worshiping the intellectual, psychological, spiritual or even material embodiment or embodiments, call them what you like, of lusts rooted in yourself that you desire and consider to constitute your life. In reality, people are eclectic, picking what suits them from among available gods and combining or, more honestly, fabricate out of what they borrow, adding to it their own personal whimsies and desires, their own private gods. This is true today even more than in the past because man has become individualistic to an extreme degree and has started to invent his own private gods. Man has always been inclined toward his idols and today we find him thus more than before because he feels more powerful than before and thus he is more able to hone is worship of himself.

In Christianity, to not speak of other religions, there is a strong tendency both within and outside of the Church to make an idol out of the Gospel in practice, to use the Church as a support for the political, social, and economic goals of individuals and groups. The rapprochement between religions or even efforts made to unite them—in the sense of considering what one religion has to be the property of another religion only under another name or another form—is entirely motivated by the human desire to attain a form that would comprise man’s worship of himself. This, it is thought, would unite all mankind in one language and one Babel and one power representing the summit of what the nations desire in an imaginary earthly paradise ruled by peace, harmony, comfort, and affluence among all people. In this framework, no matter what is said of Christianity, it is just one of the religions having its points in common with the others, though there is a small number of people who know that Christianity is not, as is claimed, a religion in the sense common to the other religions because its concern is not the fulfillment of the worldly needs of people and not to prepare them for eternal life and happiness. Just the opposite—Christianity is the call to deny yourself in this world and the next. It does not necessarily offer you what you need or what you want in this world and it does not permit you to make bargains in the pagan way, give me and I’ll give you! Christianity offers you a cross! “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23).” Christianity preaches a crucified God and calls to crucifixion according to the example of its teacher! Who sees Him and can worship on his own a God who empties Himself and takes the form of a servant?! People look for a strong god, not one who makes Himself weak, for an attractive god, not an unattractive god. But Christ the Lord was without form and without beauty! This is a natural stone which the builders reject but He is the same one who became the cornerstone! A crucified God meant and continues to mean a scandal to the Jews and folly to the gentiles! The wise people of this world search for a god made from the stuff of their thoughts, their imaginings, their reckonings. They look to themselves in their worship, but Christ the Lord has made foolish the wisdom of this world. Christ did not stop at healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and raising the dead. He continually desired to bring people to realize that He himself is the healing, feeding, and life of mankind. He is the way and the truth and the life! The God of the Christians came as a stranger and desired to estrange man from his worldly society and its members! “I did not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword!” Not only His disciples left Him and went away. All mankind turned their backs on Him! However, it is precisely through the cross that joy came into all the world! To die to yourself, to your thoughts, to your will, to everything you have, just like your Christ, this is exactly what Christianity calls you to! To empty yourself of your passions and your will! The body is of no use! Christ offers you a cross because He wants to offer you a new life! In exchange for the old man, full of himself and his passions, Christ offers you a new man, a man born of water and the Spirit, a man of the Kingdom, a god in the image of God, not a god according to the image of human lusts. Thus the Gospel is a criticism and a refutation of all human religions! Since the time of the Romans, Christians were considered deviants because they refused to take part in the gatherings of the religions. Today things are exactly the same. Today, however, the assault is coming both from within and outside the Church, threatening to dissolve the Gospel in the acid of other religions. Apostasy is present everywhere and attacks on Christ the Lord culminate from every side. The mystery of sin is at work and God sends workers of delusion to those who are happy with sin in order that they will believe falsehood (2 Thessalonians 2)! But there are seven thousand who have not bent their knee to Baal. The chosen apostle says to them, “ Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work (2 Thessalonians 2:15-17).”

These are days of sifting in the widest sense, but he who perseveres until the end shall be saved!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan, Douma

May 2, 2010