Thursday, October 28, 2010

an-Nahar on Announcing Sainthood in the Orthodox Church

Especially since Pope John Paul II went on a veritable spree of canonizations, including a number of Maronites, the fact that the Orthodox seemingly have so few saints is often the topic of village polemic in the Middle East, so the scenario at the beginning is quite realistic, even if it's folksy....
The Arabic original, by Mazen Abboud in this past Monday's an-Nahar, can be found here.

Announcing Sainthood in the Orthodox Church
Rose said to her neighbor Leila, "What's wrong with you Rum that your church doesn't produce saints? Have Jesus son of Joseph the Carpenter and His mother Mary left your church? The church that doesn't produce saints is barren, according to my father. Look how we have celebrations of beatifications and canonizations come every year. Convert, or at least break off your poision like the Greek Catholics so that heaven will grant you at least the idea of a saint!"

Leila got angry with Rose and war broke out between the two using all the water buckets and old pots available... The struggle almost turned into sectarian strife, even if it didn't reach the police office. Leila took her neighbor's comments to the archimandrite of her village, hoping he would explain about the announcement of saints and this apparent infertility in the Orthodox Church.
The embarrassed Orthodox woman went inside the monastery gate and solemnly entered the church. She followed the service of vespers until its end in order to meet the archimandrite who was praying inside the altar.

The service soon ended and the simandron sounded and everyone went to the monastery's reception hall. Leila quickly asked the monastery's elder the question that had been troubling her. The priest explained to her in simple terms the substance of the standards for glorifying a saint in the Orthodox Church and it heartened her to hear that the Antiochian Orthodox Church has recently announced the sanctity of a number or martyrs, such as Joseph of Damascus who was martyred defending his faith at the end of the nineteenth century and the martyrs of Hamatoura who were also martyred defending their religion in the time of the Mamluks. He informed her that the ways of declaring a saint are different between different churches, such as publishing reports of miracles. However, she was surprised to hear him say that there are saints whose sanctity is still hidden, undiscovered and unannounced. Here is some of what she heard about this....

The model of the martyrs for Christ is the original path of sanctity in the universal Church and the Deacon Stephen was the first of them. According to the universal Church they purchased paradise with their blood. Through this they joined the choirs of the angels, the apostles, and the prophets. The first Christians had the custom of erecting the altars of the churches upon the graves of their martyrs. With the end of persecution, that is after the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, confessors like Ephrem the Syrian and some of the monks of the desert of Egypt were added to the list of saints.

Likewise the ancient custom in the Church was for the sanctity of someone departed tobe declared by one of the successors of the apostles, that is the local bishops and the heads of local churches, until Pope Alexander III proclaimed in 1170 that all questions of veneration and beatification and announcements of sainthood in the Catholic Church would belong to the Vatican.

The Pope at that time was focused on emphasizing his role in making decisions on account of the reality of abuses by certain hierarchs of the authority granted to them in such matters, as well as political and administrative circumstances that led to the strengthening of the pope’s power over authorities in the Catholic Church and their flocks. The issue of announcing sainthood was gradually regularized until it became mandatory for the person seeking veneration to make an appeal for beatification before the council for saints in the Vatican, which has the competency to study the dossier before raising the subject before the Pontiff, as the basis for the final decision about announcing sainthood.

It is clear that the means of declaring sainthood in the Vatican obey intellectual and canonical standards and expend a great deal of effort and money. The custom arose for every appeal to have an advocate. Before 1983, each appeal had a defense attorney as well, who rebutted the claims made before the council. This required convincing the fathers of the truth of the matter in declaring sainthood. After listening to the rebuttals and the rebuttals of the rebuttals, the fathers of the council vote on the matter, and report the results of the vote to the Pontiff to serve as the basis for declaring sainthood, which takes place in a celebration at St. Peter’s Cathedral.

It should be pointed out that Udalric, Bishop of Augsburg was the first saint (outside Rome) whose sainthood was announced by Pope John XV in the year 993. Likewise, Gautier du Pontoise, was the last western saint whose sainthood was announced by a bishop (Hugh du Boves, Archbishop of Rouen) in the year 1153.

The standards for Sainthood in the Orthodox Church

The Eastern Church is distinct from the Western Church in the ways that she understands sainthood and announcing it, to a great degree, is not an essential part of the question.

Saint Symeon, called the New Theologian, talks about new saints in the Orthodox Church and says, "The new saint in the Church belongs to the congregation of the saints across history who in their own way have been filled with divine light. All of them make up a golden chain, each saint forming a link that connects to the others through faith and work and love. Yes, the saints in our Church form a chain of faith that is never broken.”

As for the definition of saint in the Church, Archimandrite Touma Bitar defines the announcement of sainthood in the Orthodox Church in the following way: “The saint is the one who becomes, in Spirit and in truth, a temple for God. He becomes a vessel for the godhead. He becomes an icon of God... a living Gospel. His life is a word and his story is a model. For this reason he is an intercessor before God who raises prayer up on behalf of the faithful in the Church.”

As for the philosophy of announcing sainthood among the Orthodox, on the topic of the Orthodox Church and announcement of sainthood, the writer Brother Alex Yang reports about Saint John Maximovitch that he said that the sainthood of one who has reposed in the Church does not come from the admission of religious authorities, but from the grace of God. The concern of the authorities in the Church for the Orthodox in the matter of declaring saints is limited to discovering and honoring those whom God has sanctified from among His flock.

The Orthodox Church distinguishes between sainthood, its discovery, and its announcement. She holds that in the Church there are saints who are still undiscovered by the Church on this earth, though they live in the presence of their Lord with all the saints and angels and intercede for us before Him. The announcement of sainthood for the Orthodox begins on an individual basis. That is, when an individual within the Church starts to ask the intercession of someone who is departed and is considered to be close to God.

As for the method of announcing sainthood among the Orthodox: Archimandrite Bitar says about the announcement of sainthood among the Orthodox that whenever the Church notices the someone who has reposed was a person of Christ in Spirit and in truth, and that his life was distinguished by a number for Christian virtues (humility, prayer, poverty, love....), and that he is present in the consciousness of the faithful as a model and teacher and intercessor, then the Church undertakes a study of the possibility of honoring him. However, according to the Orthodox tradition, the Holy Spirit sometimes decides to work miracles (such as healings, apparitions, bodily incorruptibility, the flow of myrrh...) through a person, living or reposed. This is in order to confirm the presence of this person in the life of the Church and the fact of his having become a living icon. Miracles are not absolutely necessary in the Church to announce sainthood.

For the Orthodox, the announcement of sainthood is still not limited to a single authority under whose competency are the heads of the churches. As for the preparations that precede the announcement of sainthood, they are not subject to academic and canonical standards, but rather purely to standards of faith.

Archimandrite Bitar places the question of announcing sainthood in the Orthodox Church in the framework of the living, dynamic relationship between the local church and the saint. He considers the announcement of sainthood in his church to not be an academic matter, and not something that usually depends on the desire of the leaders and influential people to honor a specific personality as a saint, but rather on the desire of the people and the clergy. For this reason, the announcement of sainthood according to him must be accompanied by an abundance of prayer and fasting in the Church and must spring from the grace of God.

Even though the general principles for the announcement of sainthood are the same in the two churches, the difference is embodied in the practice and understanding of the announcement of sainthood. The Church's role for the Orthodox is limited to uncovering the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctifying one of the departed. For this reason, the methods followed in the Orthodox Church are simpler and less academic.

It is noted that the local saints whose sanctity has been announced by the Antiochian Orthodox Church of late have for the most part been martyrs who defended their belief and faith in a clear way, like for example Joseph of Damascus.

On the Announcement of Sainthood Among the Orthodox

Mother Maryam Zakka says about the celebration of the announcement of sainthood among the Orthodox that, "After a series of prayers and fasts and after consultation with the pillars of the Church among the spiritual fathers, monks, and laypeople known for their piety, and after establishing the life story of the one who has departed and their characteristics and their presence and impact upon the life of the gathering of the faithful (that is the Church), the Patriarch calls the Holy Synod to a session (on the basis of the request of at least one bishop) to study the dossier about the announcement of the sainthood of a given person. The Holy Synod makes its decision about this matter, and if they agree to it, then the Patriarch orders an iconographer to make an icon of the saint and permits one of the monasteries to write a special service for the saint.

On the evening of the commemoration of the repose of the new saint, a special vespers is held and the relics and icon of the saint are taken into the cathedral. The icon and the relics are carried during the service of breaking the bread around the altar of the church and are placed next to the iconostasis while the choir sings the troparion of the saint for the first time. The patriarch reveals the image and breaks the five loaves which are distributed to the people who come up to kiss the relics and the icon. The morning of the next day, the commemoration of the new saint is made for the first time in the divine liturgy, along with the other saints, as an intercessor before God for all the faithful. After celebrating the announcement, the Church permits the faithful to build new churches in the name of the new saint, just as she permits them to hang icons of the saint in their homes as a blessing. She asks for the saint’s intercession before God for the sake of the faithful as a whole in the churches.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Archdiocese of Aleppo holds a conference on St. Isaac the Syrian

The Arabic original can be found here. Photos can be found here, here, here, and here.

With the guidance and blessing of His Emminence Metropolitan Boulos, a practical theological symposium about Saint Isaac the Syrian was held on Friday, October 22, organized by the nuns of the Monastery of the Annunciation in Aleppo. It was part of the celebrations under the patronage of St. Simeon the Stylite which are organized annually by the archdiocese.

The symposum was richly attended by prominent Antiochian personalities from among the clergy and monastics and all those attending profited from learning about the life of Saint Isaac the Syrian, his asceticism, his theology, and his unique place in the history of the Eastern Orthodox Church in general.

The symposium was exceptionally well-atteneded. Representatives came from the leaders of the other confessions as well as members of our own flock in Aleppo whose number was around 350 participants who enriched the symposium with their coments and questions. A dinner was served, which a large number of the faithful shared with the attendees and guests.

The symposium began with a word from His Eminence, the shepherd of the archdiocese, and the program was presented by Sister Paula from the nuns of the Monastery of the Annunciation. Then the work of the symposium began, which was divided into three sessions, two in the morning and the third in the evening. In each session, there were three talks.

The first sessions was called "Saint Isaac the Syrian in the Patristic and Scriptural Tradition" and was chaired by His Emminence Ephrem Kyriakos, Metropolitan of Tripoli and al-Koura. Participating in it were:

His Emminence Metropolitan Boulos, with a talk entitled "The Life, Personality, and Works of Saint Isaac the Syrian in the Orthodox Tradition." He talked in it about the life of Saint Isaac, his origins, and his practice of monasticism according to the testimony of saints and theologians. He explained the basic points of the saint's theology, which has remained a valuable treasure and resource for Christians.

Chorepiscopus Joseph Shabo, assistent to His Emminence Yuhanna Imbrahim, metropolitan of Aleppo for the Syrian Orthodox, gave a talk entitled "The Life, Personality, and Works of St. Isaac the Syrian in the Syriac Tradition." In it he talked about the life of St. Isaac in the Syriac tradition and the most important works which influenced the saint's writings as well as the most important writers who studied and wrote about the works of St. Isaac.

Archimandrite Mousa al-Khasi, assistent to the metropolitan of Aleppo gave a talk entitled "The Use of the Bible in the Works of St. Isaac the Syrian." In it he talked about the place and importance of the Bible in the works of St. Isaac the Syrian and its influence on the the saint's writings. The clearest approach that St. Isaac takes to the Bible is as an otherworldly Christological book which is understood within the Christological life within the Church. It is explained by the Spirit which dwells in her and it becomes a means for God and the faithful to address and draw near to each other. The gifts of God are active in their daily life on earth and they remain until the Second Coming when they will live through it the otherworldly salvation of Christ.

There followed after the session a discussion about its topics, and the crowd asked questions to the participants.

After a short pause, the work of the conference resumed with the second session, entitled "Saint Isaac the Syrian and the Spiritual Life." It was chaired by Fr. Sim'an Nasri, and in it participated:

His Emminence Ephrem Kyriakos, metropolitan of Tripoli and al-Koura gave a talk entitled "The Contribution of St. Isaac the Syrian to the Contemporary Monastic Tradition." In it he explained the saint's thought about monastic solitude, which is distancing oneself from the world and unity with God. He also explained that the world goes at a pace accelerated by technology, but the monk is outside the world and even as he is contemporary to the world because he has risen above the material world.

Archimandrite Pandeleimon Farah, abbot of the Monastery of the Dormition- Hamatoura, gave a talk entitled "Spirituality and Social Life in the Works of St. Isaac the Syrian." He talked in it about the orders in the Church which are the clergy and the laity. The monk belongs to the rank of the laity, but he is also different from them. He explained the way of life that is explained in the "rule" of St. Isaac and commented on its way of living within the monastic life, as within the society of the faithful.

Brother Gregorius Estefan of the Monastery of St. Michael- Biq'ata gave a talk entitled "The Levels of Spiritual Knowledge according to St. Isaac the Syrian." In it he explained the three stages of knowledge-- bodily, psychic, and spiritual. He also explained faith's relationship to knowledge. Knowledge begets faith and faith is the basis of knowledge. Knowledge is the wall that preserves man's way, while faith is the heavenly way.

After the session there was time for discussion and questions, then there was a meal in the church hall.

At six in the evening, vespers was celebrated by Fr. Pandeleimon Farah and the choir of the Monastery of the Dormition- Hamatoura chanted.

After vespers came the third session, entitled "Saint Isaac the Syrian in the Life of the Church." It was chaired by Fr. Ghassan Ward and speaking in it were:

Archimandrite Andraous Morcos, Abbot of the Monastery of St. Anthony the Great- Mexico gave a talk entitled "St. Isaac the Syrian in Orthodox Hymns and Liturgy" in which he explained the liturgical services and the various traditions associated with the feast of St. Isaac the Syrian.

Archimandrite Youhanna al-Telli, abbot of the Monastery of St. George- Seidnaya, gave a talk entitled "The Pastoral Aspect of the Works of St. Isaac the Syrian." In it he talked about pastoral thinking according to the writings of St. Isaac the Syrian and he approached pastoral thought from the perspective of the monastic thought of St. Isaac.

Sister Anna Kafa of the Monastery of the Annunciation-- Aleppo, gave a talk entitled "Iconographic Portrayals of St. Isaac the Syrian." In it she showed examples of Byzantine icons which portray St. Isaac the Syrian.

After the session there was time for questions and discussion, and then the conference closed.
The next morning, Sunday, October 23, orthros and the divine liturgy were celebrated in the presence of all the participants and guests at the conference, as well as members of the archdiocese. It was served by Metropolitan Ephrem and Metropolitan Boulos, as well as a number of priests. The choir of the Monastery of the Dormition-- Hamatoura chanted. Then the participants went on a pilgrimage to the ruins of the Monastery of St. Simeon the Stylite to be blessed by the patron of the archdiocese. Afterwards, they had dinner and then departed.
The conference had particular resonance because it dealt with one of the great saints of the East who enriched the Orthodox heritage with his writings and left a treasure and inheritance for the Christians of every age.

Athonite Monks to Visit the Patriarchate of Antioch

I can't find the original source for this news item, but it was posted in Arabic here. This is presumably in response to the recent visit to the Holy Mountain by Antiochian metropolitans.

The abbot of the Monastery of Simonopetra on the Holy Mountain, Archimandrite Elisha will visit the Patriarchate of Antioch with six monks from his monastery. This is in response to an invitation from His Eminence Metropolitan Basil (Mansour) of Akkar, who has close relations with them.
The Archdiocese of Akkar will receive the greater part of their visit which will last two weeks.
They will also visit His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius in the patriarchal residence in Damascus, in addition to the monasteries in the area of Damascus. They will likewise visit the Archdiocese of Tripoli and the Monastery of St. Michael, the Archdiocese of Mt. Lebanon and its monasteries, including the Monastery of Hamatoura, and the Archdiocese of Aleppo. The visit will last from October 30 to November 14.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Jacques Julliard on the Persecution of Christians

The original essay, published in French in Le Nouvel Observateur, can be found here.

La chasse aux chrétiens

Christianity has become by far the most persecuted religion. But the West keeps its head in the sand.

It is nothing. Nothing but Christians being slaughtered. Religious communities being persecuted. Where is this happening? A bit everywhere. In India, in Bangladesh, in China, in Vietnam, in Indonesia, in North Korea. And especially in Muslim countries. Not only in Saudi Arabia, where the practice of Christianity is punishable by death, but also in Egypt, in Turkey, in Algeria. In the world today, Christianity is by far the most persecuted religion.

It is in the Middle East, the same place where Christianity was born, that the situation is most serious. In Turkey, the Christian communities, which are the oldest communities predating Islam, are threatened with extinction. In Egypt (Copts), in Lebanon (Maronites in particular), they fold back on themselves or emigrate to the West. In Iraq, the war has thrust Christians into troubles. Almost 2000 killed, hundreds of thousands displaced, notably towards the more welcoming Turkish Kurdistan. One can no longer keep count of the communities across the Middle East that are attacked, the religious dignitaries killed, the churches burned, people blacklisted from employment by law or de facto, to which Christians are subjected. Small-time religious genocide.

Add to this that the divisions are countless and dizzying, compared to the weakness in numbers. Of about 14 million Christians in the East, about 5 million are Catholics. The others, Orthodox, Monophysites, Nestorians, bear the mark of the immense Christological debate of the fourth and fifth centuries of our era. The Nestorians affirm the duality of persons in Christ: one divine person, the logos, one human person, Jesus. On the other hand the Monophysites affirm that the human and the divine constitute one sole nature in Christ. This is the case of the Coptic Orthodox.

For centuries, Muslims, newcomers at first and later a majority, have gotten along with Christians. So what has been going on in the past fifty years? First, the re-awakening of Islam in an aggressive and chauvinist form, as though the Middle East only belonged to Muslims. This is the Muslim Brotherhood which leads attacks against the Egyptian Copts: at Nag Hammadi, 60km from Luxor in Upper Egypt a car machine-gunned the faithful who were coming out of a Christmas mass (January 6, 2010). The toll: six dead. Through a paradox that is not obvious, the democratization of regimes reinforces Muslims’ intolerance and exclusivism: the Christians of Iraq were less threatened under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein than they are today. The despots were more often the inheritors of the traditional pluralism. In almost the entire country, Islam is now the state religion. The jihad against the west as well as the American aggression in Iraq have turned the Christians into representatives of the hated West.

During this time, the West keeps its head in the sand. For my part, having spent the better part of my life as an activist defending Muslim populations (Tunisia, Algeria, Bosnia, Darfour), I can note that every time it was necessary to do this for Christians (Lebanon, South Sudan) one can see with only a few exceptions (Bernard-Henri Lévy, Bernard Kouchner) human rights professionals shirk their duty. A new sort of cultural Yalta is being established in practice: in the East, the monopoly of a single religion which grows more and more intolerant, Islam. In the West, pluralism, tolerance, and secularism. This Yalta, like the other one, will cause a cold war, to not say even more. Thus it is necessary, without hesitation or complacent weakness, to defend the rights of the Christians of the East to exist.

Met. Ephrem on the Parable of the Sower

This sermon was given in the village of Batroumine on October 17, 2010. The Arabic original can be found here.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Beloved, you have heard the parable about the sower. The Lord Jesus took this parable from natural, agricultural life. He took it as a means to achieve his goal and to teach the people how to live.

The parable talks about the seed that fell on the road, that fell on the rock, that fell among the thorns, and that fell on good soil. This is an image of people in their differences and different situations. First off, it talks about the seed that fell on the road and is trampled by all, then the seed that fell on the rock, then the seed that fell among the thorns. Finally, it talks about the seed that fell on good and well-tended soil, ready for grain to sprout from it in the right way.

In the parable, what does the rock represent? It represents those people, and perhaps we are among them, whose hearts are hard. How can one whose heart is like rock bear fruit? There is no moisture in it, as the Gospel says, and no softness. It has no feeling and is insensitive to others. It only thinks of itself and its own good. This is the stone. Stony souls cannot bear fruit, even if they hear the words of God! As for, “among the thorns” and most thorns are in this age and this material world, means the cares of life. Man, in general, is a material man and is overtaken by many cares. Naturally, it is legitimate for someone to care about his livelihood, but it is unacceptable for someone to go overboard in comfortable living and many useless concerns—parties, pleasures, clothes, food, banquets, all of which are useless while there are poor people who cannot live with their families and who cannot educate their children in schools and universities. How can someone be distracted by these thorns of the world? If someone is worldly, he cannot bear fruit, he cannot give something good in this world!

As for “the good soil”, this is the person who hears the word of God and follows it. The opposite of this is the person who hears the words of people—he cannot bear fruit. And what fruit does the good person bear? He bears fruit in virtues. He bears fruit in love. Our God is a God of love. If a person does not have love, he is not a believer. He also bears fruit in patience. He bears fruit in every good virtue.

For this reason we come here to the Church and we hear the word of God. We have no other purpose. Coming to the Church is not a formality and only an obligation. We hear the word of God in order to learn how to live and in order to bear witness in our lives, in our families, in our country, and in the whole world.

How wonderful it would be if we were people whose heart was not hard and stony, who did not care for the things of this life, who were not strongly attached to the things of this life because we will leave them behind and each one of us will be judged according to his works. How wonderful it would be if we had a heart of flesh, as the prophets say, a heart that feels with others. This is God’s teaching. This is the Christian teaching, the teaching of the believing person. In this way we bear fruit, we give something to others and then the Lord blesses us and blesses our families and blesses our nation and our village and everything that pertains to us. Amen.

Met. Georges Khodr at the Catholic Synod for the Middle East

Met. Georges Khodr is the official observer for the Patriarchate of Antioch at the Catholic Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. This is the summary of his intervention that was published on the Vatican website. English version from here.

- H. Em. Georges KHODRE, Greek-Orthodox Metropolitan of Byblos, Botrys and Mount Lebanon (LEBANON)

“This communion within the Universal Church is manifested in two ways: firstly, communion in the Eucharist; secondly, communion with the Bishop of Rome”.
The ambiguity of this statement rotates around the use of the term Catholic Church as well as the tie of the Eucharist with the Pope. Now, the expression begins with Saint Ignatius of Antioch, and designates communion in a local Church united in Orthodox faith to his bishop in such a way that the liturgy mentions him without referring to another ecclesial authority. The mention of the Bishop of Rome in the liturgy outside of one’s own diocese introduces the idea of a universal Church mentioned in the Instrumentum laboris and repeated in the inaugural Mass of this synod. The word introduces a numeric, spacial, sociological note while the Catholic Church is constituted herself first locally by Lord as His Body. Does not the Universal Church have as her corollary the existence of a universal bishop who would exercise a jurisdiction over a world independently of the Eucharist, the only sign of communion between Christians? It is the Eucharist that makes us everywhere a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”.
In mentioning the Pope of Rome in the Eastern liturgies we are inviting the Churches to a practice the East has never known.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kuwaiti Converts to Christianity

Although this isn't about a conversion to Orthodoxy, it's still very interesting for the future of freedom of religion in the Middle East and the Gulf region especially. The following is a translation of an article that appeared in August in the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Jarida, here. It's worth noting that of the eight reader comments for it, two call for the death penalty for the young man, while the other six argue for freedom of religion, even in Kuwait.

A Soldier in the Internal Security asks the Judges to Change his Religion from Islam to Christianity

He Affirmed in his Appeal that he Converted to Christianity and Holds to all its Teachings

In an event that is the first of its kind and without judicial precedent in the country, a Kuwaiti citizen who works as a soldier for the Interior Ministry submitted a judicial complaint by name against the ministers of the Interior and of Health and Labor, as well as the director of the General Authority for Civil Information, asking for his religion to be changed from Muslim to Christian in all pertinent official documents.

This was recorded in the bulletin of judicial complaints, which was obtained by al-Jarida, and it was designated to be at examined at the end of this coming November. The citizen, born in 1983 and living in the al-Ahmadi district, a Kuwaiti by nationality and a Muslim by religion, upon reaching the age of majority chose the Christian religion and converted to it and holds to all its teachings and principles. He desires to change his religion in all official documents pertaining to him and this necessarily requires this complaint.

The citizen said in his complaint that he is seeking a decision to change his religion from Muslim to Christian in all official documents pertaining to him in the ministries of the Interior and Health and Labor and in the General Authority for Civil Information.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fr. Touma (Bitar) on Tribalism in the Church

The Arabic original can be found here.

The Church and the Spirit of the Tribe
What is tribalism, through the human spiritual lens? It is the convergence of selfishnesses on a common bond. And what is the Church, existentially? She is the convergence of altruisms on the love of Jesus. And so the Church is a rejection of tribalism and tribalism is a rejection of the spirit of the Church. This is why the Lord said, “If someone loves his father or mother… more than Me, then he does not deserve Me.” And this is why He commended the centurion, saying that He did not see in Israel faith like his faith and why he praised the faith of the Canaanite woman and revealed Himself to the Samaritan woman in a way that He did not reveal himself to any of the Jews. Christ did all of this in contradiction to the customs of the Jewish tribalism which dominated in those days. And so, if an individual or a group treat the Church with the spirit of tribalism, they corrupt, or they try to corrupt many souls within her, in the measure of the dominance of the spirit of tribalism within her.
That is in principle, but what about the details?
There are national identities in the Church. There is no doubt that national identities cause scandal and disrupt the work of the Spirit of the Lord! This might not be completely clear in a church with a single national identity. However, it becomes clear as a point of conflict, hidden or open, in the relations between churches with different national identities. The same thing may be said of churches which are considered to be historical inheritors of local churches which were known in the past. The nationalist spirit might not be active within them, but they nevertheless tend towards a kind of tribalism insofar as they consider themselves to be a continuation of deeply-rooted historical churches. This is, for example, the situation in the Church of Antioch to a certain degree. The relations between churches with different national identities or different historical affiliations can become sharp and the cause of discord, provoking fragmentation in relatively new geographical regions, in which are found people belonging to this church or that, namely the church groups in the diaspora. Within the borders of these regions, you find Orthodox itself to be cruelly held captive by the nationalism which is adopted by some individuals or attributed to them. Through this, the Church is captive of political dependencies, even if only partial, on the states or regimes from which that nationality first spread and which are consider these groups to be their colonies. This situation causes the relationship between these groups in the diaspora to be especially complicated because it is based on combining being Orthodox with belonging to a certain nationality, secretly infiltrating both with political issues. For this reason it is currently impossible to unite the Orthodox who belong to different nationalities or quasi-nationalities into one independent Orthodox Church with its own leader, as it is assumed things should be. This mean that if we want to be realistic then we need to, in a positive spirit, be satisfied with doing what is possible to order the relationships between these groups so as not to cause worse crises than we already face. Currently, Orthodoxy in the diaspora is to a significant degree subject to nationalisms and politics and her freedom of spirit is hindered, including with regard to her apostolic work with the non-Orthodox and the non-Christians. However, this does not prevent the field from being open for each group to individually bear good fruit and for individual effort from those enlightened among them to cultivate renewal. Perhaps if significant numbers of non-Orthodox are guided to Orthodoxy and join this or that Orthodox group in the diaspora, it would constitute, for these enlightened ones, a truly transformative reality which would rescue Orthodoxy from this bottleneck, out of the current captivity to tribal or quasi-tribal national identities, in the same way that the Apostle Paul and his companions’ going out among the gentiles rescued her in the past from Judaizing Christianity!
In addition to tribal nationalisms, there are tribalisms within the local churches which reach even into the parishes and organizations active within them. Perhaps it would not be an exaggeration if we were to say that every group within a parish, or in a diocese, or on the level of an independent local church in its entirety, is strongly subject to the temptation of tribalism. In this way, the spirit of tribalism is no small thing within the See of Antioch, and at times it can reach the level of tragedy. Family bonds, for example, can very often come to dominate a parish. This engenders quarrels and disputes and frustration which has a negative impact on the health of the parish and its rootedness in Orthodoxy. The finances of parishes at times create strains and refuse to let go of the reins of these parishes, controlling the priests. And then, most parishes remain as though they were independent entities and they rarely engage in cooperation. Because of this, you will rarely find a rich parish helping a poor parish. Even the parishes which contribute to the revival of the finances of the same diocese, their support will rarely be comparable to the size of their assets or income. Tribalism in our parishes, in general, is centered on the subject of money and its connection to endowments (awqaf). There is a great ignorance of Orthodoxy among us! It’s as though the Church, in most people’s minds, is an endowed institution (waqf), and the one who controls the endowment—and there are many who seek control over money—controls the parish! Even the patriarch and the bishops find themselves bound to a significant degree by this painful pastoral reality, which reflects a difficult problem on the level of spiritual life. There is need for general re-evangelization that would take us out of this state of fragmentation into a state of unity in faith and true cooperation in love, whether it’s on the level of a single parish or on the level of relationships between our parishes.
And what is said about parishes corresponds to the situation in all church organizations. Such organizations are subject to the temptation to consider themselves independent of the ecclesial structure within the Church. Even any circle that might gather around a given person might be poisoned by the tribal spirit. Because of this, members of an organization or a circle can develop tribal bonds and their souls can be overtaken by haughtiness and they can easily be led on by a mentality of “support your brother, right or wrong.” There is no doubt that the Apostle Paul discussed a temptation of this sort when he wrote to the people of Corinth, warning them, “If there is jealousy or rivalry or schism among you, are you not fleshly and behaving according to the way of the flesh? Because when someone says, ‘I am of Paul’ and another ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not fleshly? Who is Paul and who is Apollos? They are servants through whom you believed… Let no one take pride in people, for everything is yours’, Paul, Appolos, or Cephas… but as for you, you are of Christ and Christ is of God” (1 Corinthians 3:3-5, 21-22, 23). There is nothing easier, in such an environment, than for everyone among us to consider himself to be right and others wrong. Only if someone falls into heresy or goes against the canons of the Church should we correct him, if possible, and if he does not accept correction we should work to thwart what he says or does. In all other situations, we should practice humility, self-knowledge, and love. If only everyone would look for the wrong in himself to correct himself, and for the truth in others, and for others’ justification for the glory of God and the joy of the spirit. So let us avoid this severe temptation! Often you find people who consider themselves to be right but rarely will you find someone who says,
“Forgive me! I was wrong.” This is a sign of great decline and a readiness to accept the spirit of the tribe and to act in its way!
And so, if we keep at it, we have this warning from the Apostle Paul: If you bite and devour one other, watch out lest you destroy one another! (Galatians 5:15).

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite- Douma
October 10, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fr. Touma (Bitar) to the Priests of Tripoli

The original can be found here. A pdf of this can be downloaded here. Content originally posted on the website of the Archdiocese of Tripoli.

A Talk by Archimandrite Touma Bitar, abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite and founder of the Holy Trinity Family—Douma at the meeting of the priests of the Archdiocese of Tripoli, al-Koura, and their dependencies at the parish of Bshamzin on August 8, 2010, entitled:

A Letter to the Priest

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God, amen.

The subject which they asked me to discuss has two parts:

The first part: the life of the priest,

The second part: pastoral care for the priest.

Naturally, when you ponder these two subjects or these two parts you notice that they are interconnected with each other. And so the way in which I would like to discuss them is one that takes account of the interconnectedness of both parts.

I do not want to give you a talk or a lecture. I will just give you some observations which have struck me, in fact, from my experiences, my knowledge, my reflections, and my studies.

To start off, I would like to let you know a little about myself. Some people think that I have been a monk for twenty years and do not know what I was doing before I became a monk. I was a parish priest like yourselves for fourteen years. I served parishes whose numbers ranged from fifteen families to fifteen hundred families. After fourteen years in parishes, I turned to monasticism and for the past twenty years I have been a part of the Holy Trinity Family community in Douma. So what I am going to talk about with you is not only what I found in books and it is not abstract theories. Rather, it springs forth together from expertise, from tradition and from knowledge coming out of personal experience.

Within this framework, I will focus on the bases of priesthood. Within the bases of priesthood, the life of the priest and the work of the priest are interconnected. In order to talk to you about the bases, I want you to understand “basis” according to its basic meaning. “Basis” means what the priesthood is based on. And what is priesthood based on?

The priesthood is based on six basic things out of which many secondary things arise.

The first basis of priesthood: Holiness.

The priest begins with a strong preoccupation for holiness. Naturally, the strong preoccupation of the saint is to first of all be a faithful person in every meaning of the word. We consider faith to be axiomatic with regard to a priest. If a person becomes a priest, it means that he is faithful. The truth, however, is otherwise. The truth is that there are a number of priests become priests without being faithful. They only have feelings and sentiments, and this does not mean faith in the strict sense of the word.

What is the meaning of the word “faith”? When we say that the priest has faith in the Lord Jesus and that means that the priest or one who wants to become a priest starts off from belonging to Christ and being a servant of Christ and submitting his life to the Lord Jesus Christ and staying within the orbit of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is alpha and omega for him, He is the starting off point and He is the endpoint. And so faith is a very practical life. Faith is not abstract belief. Faith is not abstract feelings. Faith is an existential position relative to the Lord Jesus Christ. When one takes the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and God, when he considers himself to be a servant in every sense of the word, as dust and ashes before the Lord Jesus, when the Lord moves his heart and his soul in one way or another in his leadership of the Church, when one is able to speak about true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, from this point it is possible for this person who is faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ to become a priest or not.

It is not enough for one to hope to become a priest! The priesthood has prerequisites and they must abound in that person. Not every faithful person can become a priest! There are faithful people who are able to become other things, but the one who wants to become a priest must have specific qualities in abundance. For this reason I said that I will talk about the many bases of priesthood.

The basic starting off point is that the priest or the one seeking to be a priest must be concerned with holiness, he must be preoccupied with holiness. Holiness must be his central preoccupation. When we say central preoccupation, this means that all his life must be a struggle for holiness, that his life is centered on Jesus Christ, that his first and last concern is the Lord Jesus Christ, that his heart belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ, that his effort in his every thought and deed is towards what will lead him to the Lord Jesus Christ.

The priest is the one who strives for holiness and is not concerned with anything else other than holiness! If he has a concern other than holiness than he deviates from the priesthood towards something else! He becomes a person alien to his place even if he is wearing a kamelaukion and a riassa and he has a beard and he presides over a service. If he does not have an upright heart, if he does not have a sincere heart, then the person becomes an alien, a mercenary, a stranger, out of place, and he is not working for Christ and Christ’s Church but against Christ! If holiness is not the basic concern for a priest, then his concern becomes what wages he can extract from priesthood and what he can gain from it: his position! People’s high regard for him! His honor among people! His glory! His concern is not what draws him to Christ and what draws his flock to Christ! If his center is not the Lord Jesus, then the priest clothes himself in necessities and forms and principles other than what pertains to the Spirit of Christ! His priestly life becomes one in form, but he is empty on the inside and there is nothing divine within him. If what is in him is not holiness, than it becomes worldliness—this world, love of this world, love of the self, love of the glories of the world!

And so the first primary basis is holiness. We start off from here. If this preoccupation is present then from there we can talk about the priesthood. And if this preoccupation is not there, then we cannot talk about the priesthood.

The second basis of priesthood: poverty.

It is not reasonably for a person to seek holiness without also at the same time seeking poverty. His profound internal attitude should be that of one poor before the Lord who considers his wealth to be from God “my strength is from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” The priest is one who adopts poverty voluntarily. For him, Christ is riches. He always strives to be filled with these riches, the riches of the Lord. Even if he has much, he strives to live on little and he requires of himself a life of poverty. He might be able to buy a silk robe, for example, but he will not buy it and spend five thousand dollars because this is contrary to the spirit of poverty. The question is not whether or not he is able to provide himself with comfort, the question is whether he can use what little he has to keep himself in the deepest sense poor, because if he does not strive to keep himself poor then he simply cannot strive for the riches of the Lord! On the subject of poverty, there is a nice saying from Metropolitan Georges Khodr in one of the issues the bulletin of his archdiocese from 1995. He said, “One who volunteers for the priesthood and is chosen for it cannot but love poverty as a path to freedom. It is not permitted for a priest to seek affluence and luxury, even while it is necessary for the parish to save him from being destitute. He should be pleased with what God brings him. He should rely on Him and give thanks for everything.”

And so, as I said, the priest adopts poverty voluntarily but no one can say to him, ‘you are a priest and so you have to be poor and for this reason we will only give you 400,000 Lebanese Lira (= $267) a month to live. That is unacceptable! The parish must surround its priest with great love and give him everything he requires! But as for him, he must treat what he receives with a spirit of poverty, whether it is a little or a lot. The question is not related to the amount that the priest receives or what he can receive, the question is a question of his internal, personal attitude. The priest must choose to live on a little because he wants that, so that his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is a relationship characterized by divine riches, be it in prayer or in fasting or in every remembrance of God! Afterwards, if the priest has a surplus, there is never any need for this and it is inappropriate for him to store it up for the future as though he has become able to take care of his own needs, thinking that when he gets old that he will use it and that he needs to plan to make his future secure with it. This kind of thinking is unacceptable. This is an impure attitude and it never corresponds with the spirit of poverty and reliance upon God.

There are some priests who think that since they have a family, they need to secure the family’s livelihood. They need a house because if anything bad happens to the priest, that the parish can ask the family to move out of the rectory. And this happens sometimes. For this reason priests are afraid and fear leads them to rationalization and rationalization leads them to inappropriate behavior. At this point they exploit their stole in a way damaging to Christ’s Church and gradually the priest’s concern becomes centered on how to secure his position and his life, now and in the future.

I remember that when I was responsible for the office of priests in the Archdiocese of Mount Lebanon, once it was pointed out to the metropolitan that there was a priest who was misusing his stole. The metropolitan told me to go and ask him what he was in need of. He told me to offer him an increase of his stipend and to make the parish council give him twice what he needed so that he would stop exploiting his stole because this was scandalizing people. I went to him. I sat down with him and talked to him. I offered him six thousand lira a month (the priest at that time was receiving one thousand lira and living off this) so that he could be at ease and so that he and his family’s livelihood would be secure. His response was “God provides”! For him, this was God’s way of providing! He said exactly these words to me! For him, this was God’s way of providing and he wanted to live off of it! When a priest reaches this level of decadence in the way he deals with money, this means that he has fallen greatly and from that point on he cannot pastor anyone. He pastors his passions and passions his own desires, and by chance he might pastor some people here and there. Even when he does tend to some people, he does so for the sake of his honor and his personal ego, for the sake of self-conceit and promoting his leadership role in the parish. In reality, all these things necessarily occur when the priest leaves the path of holiness, when he leaves the path of voluntary poverty and submission to God.

This point that I mention is not something optional, that if a priest wants he can act in this way and if it’s not necessary he can be an employee. Unfortunately, there are many priests who have the mentality of an employee and go do their job then go home. Their concern is their leisure more than their parish.

The priest is not at all an employee. A priest is able, in addition to his priestly service, to work with his hands to make things easier on his parish. That is, to take a specific profession to provide for himself and his family and to help the parish as he is able. This is possible. But for us to consider the priesthood to be a profession as though the priest is simply hired labor is completely unacceptable!

The priest submits his life to the Lord, whether he has much or he has little. His heart trusts on the Lord. He has faith in the One who said, “I will not neglect you and I will not leave you.” He has faith in the One who said, “Do not worry, saying ‘what shall we eat?’ or ‘what shall we drink?’ or ‘what shall we wear?’ because your heavenly Father knows that you are in need of all of this. Rather, seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of these things will be added unto you.”

It is natural for a priest to feel fear, but it is unacceptable if he has faith in the Lord Jesus to give himself over to fear. He must put himself at all times in the hands of the Living God. If he sometimes passes into difficulties and fear or he faces a serious problem with regard to his livelihood, then this need is from God so that he might learn how to submit himself in a more complete fashion. Fear for the future, as I said a little earlier, paralyses faith. The One who feeds us now is able to do this later. The One who takes care of us now is able to take care of us in the future. Perhaps you remember in the Paradise of the Fathers the elder who was walking with his disciple once and it happened that the disciple got thirsty. Then the elder prayed and water flowed out in front of them. The disciple drank as much as he could and then he filled a flask he had with him. The elder asked him, “My son, why did you do this?” He responded, “So that we do not get thirsty again along the way.” He answered, “The one who satisfied your thirst now is able to satisfy it later.”

What is important is that one must learn to submit oneself to God. If not, he will not be faithful at all. He must always hold fast to his personal relationship with the Lord when he is in a dangerous situation. If he does not put himself in God’s hands and he is in such a situation, if he does not submit himself to the Lord and accept that he is in danger, then his faith will gradually die. There is no such thing as theoretical faith. In order for the Lord to remain alive within us, we must always pass through pains and troubles without giving ourselves over to fear and anxiety. Instead, we must give ourselves over to prayer. We must give ourselves over to God and the Lord God will always takes care of us because He said, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and everything else will be added unto you.”

Fear for the future not only paralyses faith, it also leads to sin and it leads to selfishness. In the Archdiocese of Mount Lebanon, they were always holding priests’ meetings. Not a one of these meetings happened, as far as I remember, without the problem of priests’ livelihoods being raised. The question was always “How can we live?” If one’s priestly life is centered on this concern, then at this point it has lost one of the bases of priesthood.

Giving ourselves over to fear always leads to seeking wealth and in reality seeking wealth becomes limitless. One who is not filled with God, even if he ate Egypt and drank the Nile would not be sated! Giving ourselves over to fear makes us fall into the love of money, into the worship of Mammon. So for this reason, adopt poverty, trusting in God and seeking His riches. This is one of the basic signs of love, and so one of the basic and essential signs of the priesthood. I will once more say that the priest is one who seeks poverty voluntarily and no one forces him into it, not the bishop and not the trustees of the Church and not influential people. They should provide him with everything he needs with generosity and godly zeal. Virtues are not forced on people, virtues are accepted freely. All this is regarding the priest’s internal life, not his external life!

The third basis of priesthood: Prayer and Fasting.

The basic work of the priest is prayer and fasting. All pastoral work that he undertakes must be anointed with prayer and fasting! If a priest who does not have personal prayer, then his group prayer is not for him but against him. The basis for leading the group in prayer is his expertise in personal prayer. This means quite simply that a priest must have a daily rule. He must pray and do prostrations and fast during all the fasts. Where there are extraordinary circumstances which keep him from completely performing his rule, this is another issue. However, he must practice prayer and persevere in fasting. When his personal prayer is alive and the Lord Jesus Christ moves his soul, and Jesus Christ breathes His spirit into him, then that man becomes able to truly pray with the group. There is a great difference between Liturgy and rituals. Anyone is able to perform rituals, that is to memorize them and perform: “Again and again in peace let us pray to the Lord…” for example. Sometimes a person does not notice himself or is unaware, and despite this he is able to easily perform the rituals. The Devil himself is able perform rituals. Indeed, in reality the Devil participates in every Liturgy that turns into mere empty ritual devoid of prayer.

Prayer comes first of all to hearts that are oriented upwards. When one seeks prayer, that is a connection to God, sincerely and faithfully, at that point his prayer comes alive and the group prayer becomes very effective. But if this element is not there abundantly, then it is natural for him to become distracted by other things: noises, the vessels, gossip, if the service is long or short, etc. At that point one leaves prayer for formalities. Ritual, in itself, is nothing but a vessel which is filled with prayer through the Spirit. If it is not like this, then ritual can become very deadly and scandalous.

Personal prayer is very basic in order for the Spirit to be ignited in the heart of the priest, who is chosen to be a prayer leader. From there comes one of the basic concerns of a priest with regard to prayer and fasting, which is sanctifying the life of the faithful and the world! This means that the priest makes the people and their needs holy and puts everything which they undertake into the framework of prayer. The priest must pay attention to all human needs or else he will be worried about a need and not put it into the framework of prayer. The work of the priest is to surround his parish with constant diligence so that the Spirit of God will spread among them through prayer and blessing. The priest sanctifies the world—homes, crops, all human works. Naturally, this means that people pay attention to what is appropriate to this sanctification. He prays with people, for people, and over people. Every issue that is presented to the priest, ever problem that faces the parish, or that faces one of the sons or daughters of the parish, is taken up by the priest in personal prayer, and if necessary in fasting for its sake. The sanctification of the people and of the world must be the chief concern and occupation of the priest. Then the priest keeps track of all the concerns and issues that the people have. Everything finds its appropriate place in prayer. For this reason we find in the Epistle to the Philippians, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.”

As for fasting, it is the constant companion of prayer. Fasting aids prayer and accompanies prayer because true prayer comes from hunger and not from satiety. This means that we fast, in truth, in order to be made able to pray in freedom and power. Prayer does not come out of full stomachs. Stomachs need a certain amount of hunger. Through the course of the year, there are a great many days set aside for fasting. The Church arranged all of this so that we can practice continuous, living, effective prayer.

The fourth basis of priesthood: Personal Qualities Specific to the Priest

There are personal qualities and there is spiritual maturity. There is a distinction between the two. There are some people who want to become priests who have favorable qualities which are appropriate to the priesthood and some people have unfavorable qualities which are inappropriate for the priesthood. For example, it is very necessary that one who accepts the priesthood to have self control and to accept to learn self control. If one does not know self control, this means that he is liable to quarrel with anyone. If he is a person who is quick to anger, then he will enter into quarrels with others for the slightest reason. This means that he is not able to pastor anyone. So, it is necessary for one who advances to the priesthood to be able to control himself.

He must be gentle in how he treats others. He must be ready to listen. Most priests love to talk but don’t love to listen. The priest must not only listen, he must also be a good listener in the sense that he must be prepared to listen to others and to what others say to him, and what others express to him.

Then he must be respectful of others. When a priest makes fun of someone, this means that the priest has lost him. The priest must have a very respectful attitude towards people because he is Christ’s servant and he must treat every person with the regard he has for an icon of Christ! On this basis he honors people, but without flattery. He treats people well, or strives to treat people well, but without being overbearing. And so he must be patient, especially in times of temptation.

The priest must have a sharp and well-ordered intellect. If he does not have a well-ordered intellect, this is a great hindrance which hurts his ability to pastor. Likewise he needs to be able to express himself clearly. If he has a problem in doing this, like if he does not know how to speak or to express himself, then he will say something but mean something else. Such a person can’t enter into sharing words with another.

Next, one of the personal qualities that is important for the priest is a spirit of leadership. A spirit of leadership needs a steady personality and the ability to take initiative, but with great humility and great love. Otherwise, his leadership will become oppressive and damaging to people and they will avoid him! So it is necessary for a priest to have leadership qualities without oppressiveness and without being trivial, and he must always be ready to serve people and not people’s passions.

The priest needs to be someone that people are comfortable with and not someone they flee from. The presence of the priest must cause love in people. They should rejoice at his presence and existence. Naturally, this comes to a great degree from his being a man of God and from his being loving and from his breathing the Spirit of God to others! He cannot accept to be too eager to please people and he should not be interested in giving in to people’s passions. Many times people the people want the priest to be as they like, and so they make him be as they like. They encourage him to do things that they want, and then they make fun of him for having done them.

The priest must not be pugnacious and he must not be a lover of conflict. Naturally, for a priest to not be a lover of conflict this does not mean that he cannot have convictions or that he cannot be firm in his convictions as long as he is not oppressive with them. Also, the priest must be flexible in his dealing with people without changing his opinion in accordance with the dominant atmosphere in order to please people and their desires.

The priest must be a reliable person. This means that when people need a person to rely on, to bring them up from a situation or a problem or a worry, it is very important that they think of the priest right away and regard him as the first person they can rely on to help his parishioners and also those outside his parish to solve their problems. It is important for the priest to be trustworthy with people. For example, Father Habib Khashi, that saint and martyr from Damascus, the priests would complain about him. Why?! Because all the people gave to the poor through him. They did not have trust in the other priests because when they would give through them at least a little of the money would wind up in their pockets when they assumed that it would go to the poor! It is important for the priest to be trustworthy in the eyes of the parish and for him to have a balanced personality and to not have prominent or acute issues. This is something that needs to be taken up with care when we prepare our priests, either at Balamand or elsewhere. In general, we do not look to see if the priest has a balanced personality or not! There are priests with issues. It is possible that a priest suffered from an oppressive father and so his personality reprises this and he himself is overbearing. Without a doubt a certain kind of scrutiny needs to be applied on a personal level to find out if the one seeking the priesthood is a person with a balanced personality or not! Sometimes someone seeking the priesthood grew up in a poor household and so he became extravagant or miserly. Sometimes he suffered from his father’s abuse of his mother, and so he comes to hate the image of fatherhood in general! In reality, there are many things that can have an impact on the personality of someone seeking the priesthood. If careful attention is not paid to them, then the Church can greatly suffer from this person’s issues. For example, someone can become a bishop and if he has issues of this sort then he could become miserly with his people and his priests and think that it’s something very natural because this is the usual personal environment in which he lived.

Very often, people who have intractable issues put their issues within a theological framework and give them a theological coloring without even knowing!

Among the personal traits that it is important for a priest to have, he must have a gregarious personality and not be an introvert. He must be inclined towards people and find joy and satisfaction in being open to people. Naturally, this extends to his family. There are priests’ wives who do not like it when people come to their homes because they get bothered and annoyed. Sometimes we limit the priesthood to the priest and we place his wife outside the priesthood and so there comes to be a fissure between the priest, his wife, and his children and this has a negative impact on his priesthood.

The fifth basis of priesthood: Spiritual Maturity

Without a doubt, spiritual maturity softens a person’s temperament but it does not necessarily change him. Spiritual maturity and personal maturity are inevitably interconnected. Among the signs of spiritual maturity is for a priest to be watchful of himself, watchful of his thoughts and behavior, for him to have an inner eye through which he looks within himself and sees what happens there, what the thoughts are that circulate in his mind, what motivations are moving within his heart, etc.

And so, a priest must be watchful of himself, of his thoughts, of his intentions, of his behavior, constantly struggling to correct himself. A priest who is spiritually mature knows where his shortcomings are and his first concern is to observe his personal shortcomings. He is not concerned with defending himself and accusing others, with self-justification. This is not at all a sign of maturity!

The priest must always learn to pay attention to himself, and if he notices that he has done another person wrong he must be prepared to ask forgiveness. Some people consider this to injure their honor. Perhaps it does injure their honor before people, but this raises their honor before the Lord and this is what is most important.

I know a priest who once raised his voice with an elderly person. This elderly man was annoyed with how the priest raised his voice at him, but the priest just had to put his palms on top of the other and go over to him and ask to kiss his hand and ask his forgiveness, confessing his mistake saying, “I sinned against you.”

Naturally, if a person is not mature he won’t do this but will rather seek to whitewash what he did in some way or another. But if a person is great in the Spirit and great before the Lord, then he will be prepared to wash people’s feet. We sometimes talk about washing people’s feet, but in reality we only perform this in words.

One of the signs of spiritual maturity is for a priest to not be self-conceited, that means that he should put his sins before his own eyes rather than his virtues and that he should always be prepared to be humble and to deny himself before both the great and the small and to confess his sins and shortcomings. He should not be concerned with his image others have of him as much as with the image God has of him. Spiritual maturity makes a priest forgive with ease and not bear grudges and it makes him ask for forgiveness with ease. He accepts others however they are and he knows to accept what comes to him. He does not veto anyone. He embraces people but does not always necessarily embrace their ideas. He knows to love his enemy. If he has a difference of opinion with anyone, he loves him more not less!

Here we will move from the subject of spiritual maturity to a subject that has become very familiar to the priest in his parish. The attitude of the priest toward controversies within his parish. If a priest is spiritually mature, then it is not appropriate for him to enter into the parish’s quarrels and it is not permitted for him to enter into partisan activities within his parish. The priest should not enter anything that has anything to do with politics and he should not have any opinion about politics. The priest should not have any political opinion or attitude that he expresses. He can have his personal analysis which is private to him, but he is not permitted to declare it and he is not permitted to convey it to others! Very unfortunately, there are very many priests to deal with politics in a harmful way. This causes many parishes to divide against themselves. Our allegiance is above and not to anyone on this earth! Among the signs of spiritual maturity are also patience, forbearance, piety, mercifulness, love, that the priest be resolute in his determination, that he be tender in his feelings, that tears come easily to his eyes! The priest who loves God must, from time to time, have tears flow from his eyes, even if only internally. Also among the signs of spiritual maturity is that the priest loves peace and is a peacemaker, striving for it, warm in his relationships with people without stickiness and at a distance from people without coldness! He should not deal with people as peers and he should not allow people to treat him as a buddy. With the priest, truth is truth and sin is sin. “Let your words be yes yes and no no.”

The limits of the spiritually mature priest are the Law. Between him and the people there is the Law and the commandment of the Kingdom of Christ. His limits are the Law and God’s love for people. A priest must be a man of confrontation whenever necessity calls for it. One who flatters others is a liar. Whenever necessity calls for confrontation, he must confront. Naturally, he confronts with much calmness, love, and kindness. But he must be able to confront. The priest who cannot confront cannot be a man of God. He is a man of the people! The people buy and sell him at a low price. The priest must correct with mercy and he must be strict when necessity calls for it. At times he must cause people pain like the Apostle Paul caused people pain, but he caused them pain in order to correct them. And so the priest corrects with mercy but he gives comfort generously.

A priest must be modest in his eating, in his clothes, and in his behavior. What applies to him applies to his family as well. It is never true that his family is on one side and he is on another side. Never!! There is no uglier picture than that of the priest who has put on his full outfit while he is on a pastoral visit while his wife is dressed immodestly because that is the fashion. Shameful! A priest like that is in effect condemned for it! He can never talk about anything called modest dress or modest behavior or modest demeanor. He is condemned and people find fault with him on account of his wife. If he is spiritually mature he must have a pious wife who helps him and is concerned with his priesthood and he must arrange his household well and have children who are submitted to him with all honor, as the Apostle said.

These are some aspects of the spiritually mature priest and also of the spiritually mature priestly family.

The sixth basis of priesthood: Theological Education

Theological education is required of the priest. There are two things without which there is no healthy spiritual life.

1- True knowledge of the Orthodox Faith. It is not enough for a person to have piety without knowledge of the Faith. This is false piety. Piety comes from knowledge and not from ignorance. Thus healthy spiritual life does not exist without knowledge of the Orthodox Faith.

2- Theological education is required so that the priest will be able to teach and to defend the faith in the language of the people. If he does not study and read, he will not be able to transmit the faith. The priest must dedicate time to reading every day. He must know how people think and he must learn their language. Otherwise, how can he transmit the divine word to them?! How can he evangelize them with the Gospel?! If a priest goes to the house and he is ignorant, and the people in the house are educated and cultured, then how will he talk to them? He must know how to speak to them and know their language.

Thus we know that in reality knowledge is the bearer of the divine word. And so every priest is required to have attained a certain measure of knowledge of what is in books. From there, every priest must become the student of holy priests. They should study their necessary pastoral experience. For us to ordain a priest and put him in a parish so that he will train himself by himself is unhealthy. This is not a healthy way at all! Many priests, even if they studied theology need to spend some time in training before they enter into parish work. It is best for them to spend some time in a monastery in order to acquire the monastic habits which will be useful for him in his pastoral care and so that he can benefit from holy priests.

This pastoral knowledge does not come intuitively, that is, by the priest visualizing things in his mind. One problem priests have in general is that when they become priests they think that they have graduated from the university of knowledge and now know everything. They no longer ask anyone anything and they play around with the priestly services. For example, we notice that every priest performs the service of baptism in a different way from all the others. He considers himself to be the leader and that he has become his own master. This is a great danger. Some consider it humiliating to ask other priests about a specific question!

There are two temptations with regard to theological education that we always encounter.

The first temptation: To consider theological education to be the basic requirement of preparation for the priesthood and to turn a blind eye, in practice not in theory, to the basics of the spiritual life and the other bases of the priesthood, except in the most general terms. This is a great temptation. In practice, this means that bishops send students to learn theology and after they obtain their degree they often consider them to have obtained all they need. The bishop is in need of a priest in a certain place and so he ordains him to the priesthood. However, before ordaining him has he checked with his spiritual father to see if he is fit for the priesthood or not?! He has studied for many years, do you not want to know if he is mature or not, personally mature or not? Is he prepared or not? Because if we do not pay attention to the quality of the priests, there will come a time when we are no longer able to correct errors that have been committed. It is easy to ordain a priest but it is very hard to depose one! And so, theological education alone is not enough. Those responsible at Balamand are always complaining that the bishops ordain without inquiring about the candidate with those responsible for him, if he is fit for the priesthood or not.

The second temptation: It is contentment with just performing the services and not paying attention to book learning and education in the faith.

Knowledge is very important and the acquisition of experience from prominent or noteworthy priests is something important. And so, both temptations are great dangers for the Church of Christ.

Likewise, there is a need for knowledge of Islam and for knowledge of heresies and novel doctrines and for knowledge of the religious and intellectual movements that exist in our country. It is necessary for there to be a certain amount of attentiveness to them so that the priest will be able to discern the face of the Lord wherever His face appears in a given thought, even if it is outside the Church and so that he will also discern the face of danger to the Church of Christ in the wars that are waged here and there against her, and so that he will be able to defend his Church and resist her detractors in the language that they themselves use and with the ideas they resort to. Naturally, the Lord God gives wisdom to those who fear Him, but the priest must do what he can in earnest to cooperate with his Lord so that he will not be found lacking. Our Lord gives us grace, but with the grace of our Lord we must labor and acquire a certain degree of ability! These are the six bases of priesthood that I wanted to convey to you and naturally much branches out from them.

There are four points of discussion that are necessary and very basic for the priests to examine and which should not be left without study and discussion:

The first point of discussion: Work toward a manual for the priest.

Priests should discuss among themselves the publication of a manual for the priest. Each priest should have a manual so that the practice of priestly service will be one and so that matters will be set straight. There is a need for there to be a manual covering canonical issues, pastoral issues, and liturgical issues so that we will not be like a scattered mosaic and so that we will be prevented from what the Church does not permit and so that we will hold fast to what she teaches us.

The second point of discussion: Media education in the parish.

Today, one of the greatest dangers to the Church is media chaos. What is our role in the parish and in the diocese? There are many people who do not know what is harmful and what is helpful in this regard. There are people who do not know, for example, that if we put a child younger than two years in front of a television that his nervous system will be greatly impacted! Children cannot be put in front of the television because the family has something to do other than to look after their children. This is a sin! There is a culture that must be learned. There are things that are harmful for people to avoid. There are beneficial things that we must encourage people towards. It is very important for people to know that there are very harmful television programs that they may not watch. Churches which respect themselves publish a monthly guide about things that are harmful for the faithful to watch and things that they need to be informed about. Then there is the question of the internet, Facebook, and things like this. All these things need to be studied. The Church needs to enter into these matters so that she will have a role in educating the faithful and in helping them to avoid many of the dangers of the media. If we are able to control things to a certain degree through education, then this greatly helps the parish. It may be necessary to start by extending this topic to thinking about alternatives to watching television, such as organizing weekly activities for the parish. When someone sits in front of the screen for five to six hours a day, he will be deeply influenced by what he watches. We need to find other solutions for entertainment and education besides television and the internet. Unfortunately, we are in a country without public libraries and without public gardens. We must organize appropriate activities in the parish for the benefit of the faithful and gather them around the word of God. The topic of media education in the parish, then, is important.

Here I will point to another issue which some people have been talking about, which is the establishment of a radio station for the Archdiocese. I believe there are people who have worked for years to obtain a license to establish a radio station. This is an important plan. This will establish a connection between the priests, the bishop, and the diocese. Media is important and we cannot see ourselves as unconcerned with it.

The third point of discussion: The priest and pastoral workshops on the diocesan level.

I hope that there will be workshops on the diocesan level at specific times of the year, once or twice, since there are urgent issues that need to be examined. The priests are called to study these issues and there are people who will prepare these studies. The issue of workshops is essential to serious Orthodox churches which respect themselves.

The fourth point of discussion: The priest and his spiritual life.

This point of discussion is connected to the topic of personal retreats for the priest and the topic of group spiritual retreats, confessions, spiritual fatherhood… All aspects of spiritual education are in need of attention. The priests need to pursue things on this level. Does the priest only confess people without needing to confess himself? If a priest wants to be serious and sober, he must constantly practice personal confession!

It is very appropriate to organize a retreat for the priests one or two times a year with prayers and discussions and examination of spiritual issues, not just practical issues, but also issues that are specific to the life of the priest. The priest needs to take care of himself and to be taken care of so that he will be constantly corrected spiritually and grow. All of this is reflected positively in his whole parish.