Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fr. Georges Massouh on Citizenship in an Islamic State

The Arabic original, from today's an-Nahar, can be found here. Fr. Georges Massouh is professor of Islamic studies at Balamand University.

One Citizenship or Two?

Islamic jurisprudence does not admit-- either in the past or today-- to equality of rights and responsibilities among the citizens of a state based on Islamic law. This jurisprudence, even if it claims to accept citizenship as the basis for governance, continues to distinguish between citizens on a religious and sectarian basis. When some Muslim jurists and intellectuals talk about citizenship, you see them making exceptions and legal reservations about the participation of non-Muslims. If we take as an example the issue of the positions of authority in the state in which Christians can occupy, the Muslim jurists make a distinction between positions that non-Muslims can have and positions that only Muslims can have. A leader of the moderates in Islam, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qardawi says about this, "Dhimmis have the right to have positions in the state just like Muslims, excepting those that have a religious aspect, such as being imams, president of the state, leadership in the army, being judges over Muslims, management of alms, and the like."

Muslim scholars make a distinction between what are called "implementing ministries" and "authorizing ministries". They say that they allow non-Muslims to have implementing ministries but not authorizing ministries. This is because "an implementing minister", according to Qaradawi, "carries out and implements the orders of the imam... while an authorizing ministry is intrusted by the imam to arrange political, administrative, and economic affairs as it sees fit." Likewise, Sheikh Rashed al-Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Tunisian Renaissance Party affirms that there are special privileges that Muslims enjoy in the Islamic state from which non-Muslims are restricted, and he sees no objections to this. He considers the Muslim, by right of his being a Muslim and belonging to Islam, to be above non-Muslims and to have the right to positions that others do not have. In his opinion, there are two kinds of citizenship, one specific to Muslims and a second specific to non-Muslims.

In reality, Ghannouchi's theory of citizenship is based on the statement that "citizenship in the [Islamic] state is acquired by fulfilling two requirements: belonging to Islam and residing in the territory of the Islamic State. This means that it is possible to imagine a kind of citizenship specific to those who only fulfill one requirement, in the case of a Muslim living outside the territory of the state or in the case of a non-Muslim living in the territory of the state and subject to its authority. Each of these two kinds of citizenship acquires for the one who posses them rights different from the rights of citizens who fulfill both requirements. Each one of the two can fulfill both requirements, the first by moving to the territory of the state and the latter by converting to Islam. If they prefer otherwise, then they naturally have to bear responsibility for their decision."

As for the positions forbidden to non-Muslims to have in the Islamic state, according to Ghannouchi they are positions of leadership with authority "by virtue of their definition" such as the general presidency, for example. In another place Ghannouchi says, "Equality of rights and responsibilities on the basis of citizenship is the principle. The distinctions that are required by the creedal nature of the Islamic state does not do away with this. The non-Muslim has the right to have all positions, except those that are specifically Islamic."

These exceptions which abound in the writings of Islamic jurists and intellectuals and the legal reservations made by some others regarding the participation of "People of the Book" in the Islamic state empty the expression 'citizenship' of all meaning and make it into an edifice of bones, without life. In a word, full citizenship is either the same for everyone or it does not exist.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Met. Ephrem's Talk at Saint-Serge: Monastic Renewal

Here is a translation of Met. Ephrem's talk at Saint-Serge. It's a little bit loose, since it is from an extemporaneous talk. I've also realized that my French spelling is nowhere near good enough to provide a transcription of the original French... Met. Ephrem makes frequent oblique reference to Met. John (Yazigi) of Central and Western Europe, who is sitting with him during the talk.

Renewal of the Monastic Life

I would like to thank once more Fr. Nicholas and to use this occasion to thank him doubly, since he has now come and participated in several meetings with the young, with students and priests, and with all the people of our Archdiocese of Tripoli and al-Koura. Now I have been asked to talk about the monastic renewal in the Patriarchate of Antioch. It is a subject that is very difficult to discuss. I hope it will be a conversation between us with dialogue and questions. I'm going to try and give an introduction. I do not consider myself to be a monk anymore, but thanks be to God I have always had the desire to become one. It's hard to talk about monks. Our region in which the Patriarchate of Antioch is found really has a very important and precious tradition and today we are not at that level where the ancient monks lived in our region where our Lord God was born. But we must say that very early on monasticism began in the region of Syria, formerly Greater Syria, starting from the third century. One can speak, for example, to have an idea of the Orthodox Syrian monastic tradition, one can read, for example, the History of Philotheus. If you have heard of it, it is a book that was written by Theodoret of Cyr who succinctly recounted the lives of several monks who were better described as ascetics, but ascetics of a varied and particular form. It's very interesting to see how these ingenious people lived. It began in the third and fourth centuries, and continued especially through the fourth and fifth centuries up to the eighth century, when this monastic life had a spectacular boom. At least one can recall St. Symeon the Stylite, but also monks like Saint Maron as well as other monks and even women who were ascetics in Syria, which is something somewhat rare in the history of Christianity and of Christian monasticism.

Yes, it's an ancient and very precious tradition, but unfortunately it began to weaken not only in Syria but also in the whole region, in what is now Iraq, in Asia Minor, even in what is now Iran, ancient Persia. Clearly it was weakened by the Arab conquest, but it continued with many monks up to maybe the thirteenth century. Then there was a kind of decline, this movement of monks in the Middle Ages and then later in the seventeenth century. The Mamluks, then the Catholics and Protestants came to Syria and Lebanon, but nevertheless there remained a few monasteries, like for example especially the Monastery of Saydnayya where there have long been nuns and the Monastery of St. George, which are the very ancient monasteries that date to the time of Justinian and where there have especially always been nuns. In Lebanon, some monasteries have remained since ancient times.

Thus, if one wants to talk about monastic renewal, one must begin by entering into details. One must begin in the twentieth century in the forties, when there was a renewal through the appearance of the Orthodox Youth Movement. Of course this occurred after the Ottoman period, during which there was further decline in the entire situation of our Church. The Orthodox Youth Movement really gave impetus for recovering not only the monastic tradition, but the entire tradition of our Church, with regard to history, with regard to theology, with regard to liturgy, and also with regard to monasticism. Obviously, starting from zero it is difficult to arrive at a certain degree of development, a great development of monastic life, but there were two monasteries in particular which began in the forties, the Monastery of St. George at Deir el-Harf-- the abbot, Fr. Elias, unfortunately he died, he left us, about two months ago,it was mostly people from the city of Lattakia in Syria-- and the women's monastery of Saint Jacob which is in North Lebanon, which continues to prosper, currently with around thirty nuns. These are the two monasteries that continue, that exist, and which are essentially products of the Orthodox Youth Movement. Now there are other activities, other aspects as well of renewal besides the monasteries, which are results of this renewal of the young people of our Church.
This was one aspect of the beginning of the monastic renewal. Now there is another aspect, which began with the war. There was a civil war that lasted for about fifteen years in Lebanon, and it forced the students of the Theological Faculty of Balamand-- and I was studying there then-- to close that Theological Faculty on account of the war. The Church of Greece welcomed us to continue our theological studies there. It was really something that came from God, since many young people who went to Greece, men as well as some women, came into contact with the monasteries of Greece, men's monasteries and women's monasteries, and especially those of Mount Athos. I personally went with another person who was then a deacon-- I was at the time a priest-- and we met in one of these monasteries with a monk of the Monastery of Saint Paul and we stayed there. It was really a discovery for me. I was not thinking of monasticism. I was in the Youth Movement. I only wanted to serve my Church and I was thinking of working, of pastoral activity, since we were very enthusiastic young people who wanted to work... But I can tell a little story of how it happened. We were studying for two years in the Theological Faculty in Thessaloniki. At the end of the first year, I fell ill with a stomach problem and that annoyed me a lot. The dean there, who was Bishop Rhodopoulos, a Greek bishop.... yes, a canonist, he was in charge and he organized things with his assistant, Father Isaac. Father Isaac was an ascetic monk from our country who had some into contact with Mount Athos and his spiritual father, if you have heard of him, was Father Paissios. So he was practically the person in charge of us students. Bishop Rhodopoulos was only occupied with being dean of the institute. So at the time I was ill, they had organized a tour of all of Greece at the end of studies in June. Then, Father Isaac said to me, he said to me, "You're sick. You should rest. You can't make this tour. Come, I'll take you to rest on Mount Athos." It was the first time I went there. We went to a small monastery that is called the monastery of the Cross, Stavronikita, and I really spent a while there, about ten days and I rested. I discovered something that for me was really a new discovery. With God's help it was an aspiration since my childhood and it was what I was waiting to see, and little by little I had to become a monk. I spoke of it to Metropolitan Georges, who was responsible for me in Lebanon, and he got angry with me. He said, "We have need of priests..." I told him, "I want to be a monk. I do not want to be a parish priest." Then he said, "It seems there is a tradition that when one wants to be a monk, at that moment the bishop no longer has authority. He should grant liberty." At that time, my spiritual father was the then-bishop of Lattakia, who is also the spiritual father of His Eminence, who is from Lattakia. He said, "If the bishop says anything to you, tell me..." I was going to become a monk and he would not have the right to interfere.

And like that, I decided to go to Mount Athos. I spent two years and three months there and then, on the advice of the fathers there, to me and to the deacon, they advised us to go to our country and to found monasteries, monastic communities. And that is in fact what was done. Myself, I returned to Lebanon despite the war. It was the height of the civil war and it was very, very dangerous. Despite that, I returned to Lebanon. In Syria, there was no war. Metropolitan John [Mansour], he was in charge of a large women's monastery in Syria, women who had gone to Thessaloniki, also to gain experience in those years, and he could add much to my words.
In short, what I wanted to say in this introduction is that when we returned to Lebanon, God helped us to create a kind of synthesis, to bring back the tradition of our Church, the Antiochian tradition and the Athonite tradition. This is something very important, speaking of God, I do not know the opinion of His Eminence, I think we managed to take a lot of Athonite experience and to adapt ourselves to the Antiochian situation. The tradition of Mount Athos is really worth it, I think, for any Orthodox. Unfortunately, women cannot go there, speaking of tradition, but it is worth it for any Orthodox to get to know this monastic experience. I do not know how to explain this experience. You have to get to know it. You have to meet monks, real monks, and especially those who live in secret, which is to say not only those who have a reputation. We say in Greek, for those who know Greek, a kind of advice that they say on Mount Athos. They say "stin aphania", which is to say that one must live, the monk most live, in non-appearing. This prefix 'a' means that he tries in his life to not appear, which is why in the large monasteries-- I was a priest and a priest is going to appear-- one preferred to remain a monk. There were few priests. Now things have changed a little. There were many ascetics who lived alone and there were several types of monk. There are monasteries, the large cenobitic monasteries, where there are many monks, fifty or a hundred monks who live together. There are ascetics who live alone since there are what are called sketes, which is to say small families, small houses in the mountain where there is a small community. So there are several types of monks. One can even meet monks that are called in the Syrian tradition fools for Christ. You have heard how they can behave and it is very interesting to meet this kind of person. And so in our Church, with God's help His Eminence has founded communities of monks and of nuns, and I have done likewise in Lebanon. And now, to finish this little summary, there are monasteries that were in ruins or were abandoned that have been renewed once more as I said beginning with the Orthodox Youth Movement as well as by the encounter with monks who have had experience in the monasteries of Greece. There is also a monastery of monks and nuns in a village called Douma. They were helped by the experience of Father Sophrony, who you have heard of in England. There are around maybe ten living monasteries in Lebanon, where there are monks and nuns, and a few fewer in Syria.

Now, to conclude, one must say that monasteries currently face difficulties. One can't live without difficulties but there are new things and I think that these new things aren't only happening in Lebanon, but in all the Orthodox countries, and this poses a problem. I've not myself been to Russia and I've not been to Romania, but I've heard and it seems that because of contemporary life, because of contemporary life in the world, many people come to monasteries, which is to say that the visitors are becoming more and more numerous, even on Mount Athos, from year to year. The people of the Church find refuge in the monasteries as visitors, as a retreat, for spiritual advice, for confession, or at least to find a little bit of rest, with all the stress that comes in the world. And this causes problems. That is, all monasteries, are in one way obligated to help all these people. It's an obligation. From another perspective, they have to keep their program of life. It's an essential program of prayer, of personal prayer, which is called the monk's canon, personal meditation, and everything there is like fasting and also liturgical prayer since in the monastery they celebrate all the liturgical services in their entirety, which is no longer done in parishes in the world. This creates the danger that the monastery becomes a sort of visitor's center for the world. It is especially dangerous for the young monks who are always in contact with the visitors, that they might lose that spirit of asceticism that characterizes our Orthodox tradition of asceticism and of interior peace that especially comes from prayer. This is the current situation of difficulties, but one can't predict what there will be in the near future. But I think of the synthesis that there must always be of monks in the world and that there should be people who have their joy in God, who are detached. There is not this feeling of detachment from the pleasures of the world. Saint John Climacus said very openly and very frankly, he said that there are two states for a monk. The first state is that he be detached from the world, from the pleasures of the world. The second is that he be detached from his own will, which is one of the most difficult things and it is exactly done in the cenobitic life, in the common life of the monastery where before all obedience is demanded. I will end here. Perhaps His Eminence will say something to open a dialogue on this subject or maybe on another subject.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Met. Ephrem Visits Saint-Serge in Paris

Metropolitan Ephrem of Tripoli recently visited Saint-Serge seminary in Paris. For those of you that understand French, here is part 1 of his talk, entitled "The Renewal of Monastic Life".

Visite de Mgr Ephrem de Tripoli à l'Institut Saint-Serge 1ère partie from J. Panev on Vimeo.

Pictures of his visit can be found here.

Update: More pictures of Met. Ephrem's trip to France available here.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fr. Elias Morcos on Revival in Antioch, 1964

This is a talk given by Archimandrite Elias Morcos in 1964. The Arabic original, from Majallat al-Nour, the magazine of the Orthodox Youth Movement, can be found here.

The Revival as a Return to God

The Church in her human reality is always something less than her perfect true reality. We must always surpass our human weakness within her in order to arrive at her prefect true reality. This is the revival: this constant effort, this continuous movement from the way we are to the way we should be.

The Church is the salt of the earth and completes the work of Christ in the world. The Church works, she is present, for the sake of the salvation of the world. We can say that she is the center of being, in her its destiny is achieved. The world corrupts and ages, but the Church is continuously renewed for the sake of the salvation of the world. But if the salt is corrupted, then how can it be salty?

The Church is the group of those who believe in the Lord Jesus and who have united around him to live the life of the Gospel, the life of God. They have no concern except to follow the Lord’s teaching and to follow in his footsteps. The group is in the world and for the world, but at the same time it is not of the world. From the beginning, from the ascension of the Lord to heaven, it is oriented toward the age to come, awaiting the return of the heavenly bridegroom and hastening him on. From now on, it lives in the last days, in the fullness of time, “it uses this world as though it doesn’t use it, and buys as though it doesn’t own.”

However, the coarseness and weakness of human nature weigh upon the Church, since she is made up of humans. Sins and failings and imperfections remain, and doubles will continue to remain as long as human beings are human. But the Lord has born all things and taken them all upon himself, and as a result there is no barrier.

The Lord Jesus has passed over our life and has cleansed us and taken us from weakness to strength and from corruption to life. In order for the Church to continue to be the Church, she must follow the Lord and cleave to a continuous Pascha, surpassing the self and constantly passing from the weight of the world and its many varied temptations to the victory of the Lord and the purity of the divine life.

Everything that exists is in a state of motion and progress. Vegetable, biological, and social life, the sciences… everything grows and is perfected. And how much more so the spiritual life. It is progress and growth, an infinite reaching toward God’s life. For that reason it is said that, “one who looks back is not suitable for the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The temptations of this world are many and varied. They take an evil appearance just as they take a good appearance. All of them are clear in their result, in that they are a stopping in the world, a stopping along the way, a stopping in the exodus, the passing over, Pascha. They are an obstruction to God’s eternal Pascha. The journey to God is a journey without end. Every stopping along it leads us to the corruption of the world.

We acquire upright faith. We build churches. We hold services and prayers. We celebrate the feasts. We have all the richness of Orthodoxy, its liturgical and spiritual and ascetic treasures… But naturally, if all this remains external it is not enough. There is no doubt that the journey towards God is at its base an inner striving of the heart, in God’s being a God to us, living, personal, inner. It is said, “If you want to kill God, then kill man’s inner life.”

No, the Church is not in the externals, it is in the heart. As the Bible says, “One who does not meditate in his heart has no knowledge and no understanding” (Isaiah 44:19). We know this, but in our habitual action we very often forget it. We know that the Church is not in the stone and not in the chants and not in the institutions and what is visible, but all its beauty is from within. If we are satisfied with the externals and we do not understand them and do not enter into their deep, living meaning, then the externals become something dead and superficial that comes between us and God rather than leading us to Him. It turns into an absolute value or an obsession or a reason to be distracted from God. Then we confuse the externals and the true, unseen glory, forgetting the words of the Bible, “On that day the glory of Jacob will grow lean” (Isaiah 17:4).

But if we transcend appearances and desire to live and inter into the essence, there is a Gospel that we must follow. There are teachings and divine commandments that we have abandoned for the sake of the commandments of men. Unfortunately, not only have we abandoned them, but often we have mocked them and we have mocked those who keep them. The logic of the world here is the logic of wealth and lust and it glorifies a lifestyle that dominates our entire life. No, the Church is not in hearing the Gospel but in applying it. If we do not maintain our chastity, our poverty, our humility, our mercy, then where is the Church? If we do not desire righteousness and purify our hearts and we do not do good works, but rather tear each other apart, then where is the Church? It is something difficult and ineffective? But have we tried? Have we experienced the Lord’s commandments to the very end in order to taste their sweetness and effectiveness? Or have we preferred the bitterness and emptiness of the pleasures of the world to the very end? The Lord put a great deal of emphasis on keeping his commandments and he strongly urged this in his final sermon since he knew that “the prince of this world” will prevail over hearts. But if we are of the Lord and not of the prince of this world, should our faith not start from this? Does our Lord not deserve that we trust in his word and try to act according to his commandments so that we will be blessed? “If one loves me, he will keep my word. If you keep my commandments, then you shall be established in my love.”

But the Church herself is not commandments and ordinances so much as Love of the Lord and striving for his face. For this reason we do not understand the commandments if we see them as dry ideas, devoid of their marrow and their taste. Virtue is not in actions but in the movement of the heart within the actions. It is through actions oriented toward the Lord, cleaving to him and longing for him. How can the Church be commandments when the Lord said through the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept. Line upon line, line upon line. Here a little, there a little. For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, to whom He said, ‘This is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest,’ and, ‘This is the refreshing’; yet they would not hear. But the word of the Lord was to them, ‘Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little,’ that they might go and fall backward, and be broken and snared and caught” (Isaiah 28:10-13). And to the youth who had kept the commandments from his infancy, the Lord said, “You lack one thing.” That one thing remaining is love: to long for the Lord in our heart and to desire him alone.

This is not for some people and not for others. It is a call, it is an invitation, to all. All of us are called to love the Lord with the love of life. All the life of the Church is the life of invitation: “’I have redeemed you and I have called you by your name. You are mine,’ says the Lord to his people” (Isaiah 43:1). Likewise the Apostle Paul says, “We also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). The people without a calling and love is “a people ravaged and plundered,” the Bible says. The Church does not exist without the visible Church, the Christian people. Our religion is a religion of incarnation. If we do not embody it, if we do not follow the Lord, then where is the Church? “Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power” (1 Thessalonians 1:5), says the Apostle, but out of habit and the passing of time, we often take the words without their true meanings, the shadow instead of the person and thus we mock the Lord. We might hear the call and do something. We might go for a part of the way. We might be given the grace of prayer if we ask for it, the fathers say. But if we do not do all the Lord’s will, there will come a day when we discover that we have no faith and no forgiveness. “Woe to the person whose reputation surpasses his reality,” says Fr. Silouan. But the Lord says, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God” (Revelation 3:1-3).

In order for us to truly follow the Lord, we must have force and self-emptying. Jesus came to be crucified, not to talk. If talking was enough, then Jesus would not have been crucified. He said, “He who wants to follow me, let him take up his cross and follow me.” This total commitment, the commitment of the cross is doubtless painful and scandalous. But it is the only way in the Church. Pain here is a birth pang, and a birth pang is the beginning of any existence. We have no existence in the Church and the Church has no existence in us without the cross of commitment and its pains. But those who abide will be wiped out: “They slept a heavy sleep,” says the Psalmist, “and they found their hands empty” (Psalm 72:18). The issue is the issue of true commitment that we plunge ourselves into. We do not love our life to the point of death, a commitment in which we break the barriers of our freedom like breaking the sound barrier: in our freedom, we empty ourselves of our freedom in order to follow the Lord, and only then does he open before us the way into space.

This ultimate commitment is what makes the Church the Church. Everyone can contribute in this commitment to the Church of Antioch, each one in his field and surroundings and profession, fathers and sons according to the gift of the Lord. It is within the ability of fathers to offer the best and most precious gift, if the Lord wills. I would like to repeat to you what a Coptic monk, a friend of mine, wrote, “O people of Antioch, the voice of the Lord to you, as from the voice of the great prophet Samuel: offer, offer the good vessels that you have, which through all these years have become empty. Offer them so that they can be filled with God’s oil. Do not be stingy with your sons and daughters, so that they can become your vessels of salvation on your day of hardship and so that they can become oil of joy and gladness in the time of war. The Lord will be pleased with you and your times of relief will come from him. Do not say enough, enough. The world looks upon you. Yes, enlighten once more, O Lord, Antioch so that the world will be enlightened by its light as in the first days.”

As for those who have truly committed to the Lord and have gone into the great depths—and among you are many of them—they do not stop along the way. If we have done something, we are not satisfied with it, as every stopping is a fall. No one is better than another. “All the Church is a Church of penitents. All the Church is a Church of mortals,” says Ephrem the Syrian. We have not yet begun to repent. We have not struggled against sin to the point of blood. If we stop and we haven’t bled, then we have not brought it to the end and commitment, the revival, and the Church become mere expressions and empty clichés that we repeat in order to quiet our conscience. Our giving must increase in order to remain. May the spirit’s be to vigorously move forward and not stop short like Lot who remained alive while his wife looked back and died. We must renew our will like the stroke of a hammer in the soul so that it arrives at the profundities of existence. “So the craftsman encouraged the goldsmith; He who smooths with the hammer inspired him who strikes the anvil, saying, “It is ready for the soldering”; then he fastened it with pegs, that it might not totter” (Isaiah 41:7). The danger of lethargy confronts us at every moment, “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:30-31).
Brothers, if we understand the revival on this basis, and we walk in it with faith, steadfastness, and alertness, by His grace, He, for the sake of His glory, for the sake of His love and the Love of His holy Church which is above all and for all, He will allow the revival to be. At that point the revival will be at its true extent, proceeding after the Lord risen from the dead. Then each one of us will rise from his death. In an eternal exodus we shall follow him in his Pascha, he whose life has no end, amen.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fr. Georges Massouh: Arab Christians and their Rights

Arabic original here.

Arab Christians and their Rights

Some writers and journalists criticize the positions of church leadership toward the uprisings, demonstrations, and protests that are occurring in our Arab countries under different names. Their criticisms might be true if we looked at them in an abstract, intellectual way that did not take into account how the situation will be when after the success or failure of these movements in achieving their stated goals. Arab Christians are anxious about their future. Yes, they are anxious. The reasons for their anxiety continue to be demonstrated to them and every day they become more convinced that the events and opinions that they are witnessing will either cause them to have virtually no influence over the course of events or will cause them to become second-class citizens. They are anxious about the fate that awaits them, if they are to become like their brothers in Iraq and in Palestine. They are anxious because for some extremists there is no reason for their existence.

Christians, like Muslims in these countries, long for freedom and equality for all the people of the same nation. They desire an end to the authoritarian regimes that for their own benefit made them hide behind them as a bulwark against movements of religious extremism. However, if they long for freedom, they long for a regime that respects freedoms, not only freedoms of religion and worship, but also political freedoms as well. They long for a civil state that does not deny the rights of any person just because he has a different religion from the majority of citizens.

Why are Christians and Muslims subjected to the inevitable choice between an authoritarian non-religious state and a religious state that is no less authoritarian and no less denies rights? Why must we choose between the custodianship of a party or of the security service and the custodianship of religious scholars who speak in the name of God who is free of all human reason and seeks to monopolize it? Why do some of them what a state that treats its Christians in a way that diminishes their citizenship leading to doubt about their national identity and their readiness to die for the nation and all its sons? Is there not a third solution based on respect for human rights without regard to religious affiliation?

We were very happy that the Egyptians rose up and were successful in what they struggled for. However, what we are witnessing now is completely different from the promises of reform for the entire regime that we had seen. The appointment of Emad Shehata Michael as governor of Qena stirred up a wave of demonstrations and protests against it. The protestors carried banners with slogans that are not fitting for a civil state that claims to have equality for all its citizens, such as "no authority for an unbeliever over believers", "no authority for a dhimmi over a Muslim", "there is no god but God, Michael is the enemy of God"... The worst is that the military regime in Egypt backed down in fear of the demonstrations and withdrew the appointment and froze it for three months.

It seems apparent that Salafist movements are growing in Egypt and that they declare all those who differ with them to be apostates. In the Friday sermon given by Ibrahim al-Khouly, a prominent member of the Salafist group, he stated that, "We shall absolutely not neglect Egypt's Islamic identity. Anyone who calls for secularism is outside the faith and the community." Likewise, thousands of Salafists protested in front of the Coptic Orthodox cathedral, accusing the church of kidnapping Christian women who "announced their conversion to Islam." All of this does not point to a promising future.

The situation in other countries that witness protests and demonstrations worries Christians. Uncertainty surrounds what current events will lead to. However, despite everything, Christians long for a state of freedom and equality, of rights and responsibilities.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Meeting of Arab Orthodox Living in Romania

Romanian original here.

Meeting of Arab Orthodox of Romania

Around the great feasts, the community of Arab Orthodox Christians in Romania meets at the Patriarchal Palace. On the occasion of Holy Pascha, representatives of the community were received in the “Christian Europe” hall by patriarchal vicar, His Grace Ciprian Câmpineanul, reports Trinitas TV.

“Every year, with the blessing of Patriarch Daniel, there is a meeting at the patriarchal palace on the occasion of Easter between the bishop of the place or the bishop’s delegate and the community of Arab believers who are also to some degree pastored by an archimandrite, Father Qays, sent by Patriarch Ignatius of Antioch. On Thomas Sunday, with the blessing of Patriarch Daniel, I met with them at the patriarchal palace and gave them a message from the patriarch and from myself. Then we began to discuss various problems. It is something extraordinary, since they try to be together as much in the church as outside of it, which contributes to their maintaining both their national identity and the identity of their faith,” said His Grace Ciprian Câmpineanu.

Recently, the Arab Orthodox community in Bucharest has grown, which has led to the allocation of a designated space for their liturgical activities.

“We should mention that in Bucharest there are very many Christians of different confessions, including Arab Orthodox Christians from many countries, from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, or from Palestine. They have become established in Bucharest for a long time on account of their work or because they have married Romanian Orthodox, they have children whom they educate in the spirit of Christian faith. They study in Romanian schools and participate in services on Sundays and feast days for the most part at the church of St. Dumitru-Poştă, though also in other churches. However, on the two greatest feats, the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Resurrection of the Savior, Archimandrite Qays comes specially to perform the services in Arabic, to hear their confessions, and to listen to their problems,” His Grace said.

The Patriarchate of Antioch has delegated an archimandrite who comes to Romania on various occasions and officiates services for the Arab Orthodox.

“They are very happy when they hear the service in their native language, as in the Romanian proverb ‘blood doesn’t become water’ and it is very important for them to be able to pray the liturgy also in their own language. This has been possible through the blessing of the .Patriarch of Romania, who has allowed them to meet at the church of St. Dumitru- Poştă,” pointed out Bishop Ciprian Câmpineanul

“It is something normal for the flock to meet with shepherds and it is a space for meeting and communication with the Church’s hierarchy, that is, between the flock and the shepherds in order to discuss all the challenges that the Arab Orthodox community of Romania faces,” said Archimandrite Qays Sadiq.

The reunion at the Patriarchal palace has become a tradition that seeks to strengthen relations between Arab Orthodox believers.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fr. Touma Bitar: What Comes After Pascha

The Arabic original can be found here.

What Comes After Pascha

In order for the Pascha that we celebrated to be a true Pascha, then every day after Pascha must be a Pascha. Every day since the resurrection of Jesus Christ has become a feast! The feast is not purely celebration, like the parties and festivals that are held and then left to be anticipated for the next year. Neither is it a celebration of a memory that has past, only the meaning of which remains, nor a celebration of one who was here and then departed. It is true that the feast comes in time. Everything before it comes together toward it and everything after it transmits its sweetness, even if only for a while. However, the feast in Christ has become a new existential reality that remains, a transformational event on the level of creation in its entirety. Pascha, a passing from the old to the new, from a life that dies to a death that lives. Life has become new! Christ rose in the body after having died in the very same body. He only died in the body because out of love he wanted to unite himself to human suffering. The Cross, the cross of the Lord Jesus, is in its most precise definition is an expression of the ultimate divine love for humanity. There is no genuine, profound love that can be sought which is deeper than unity of suffering. Man’s condition was not like this at the time of creation. No, suffering is not from God. But this is how man’s state became after he ended up, in history, nailed to the cross of pain and death because he was separated from God and cut off from Him. He was no longer God’s companion, out of love. When man was nourished with the love of God, as they say “in Paradise”, there was no place for pain or death. However, after man turned his back to God and did without His love, which is what in any situation we call sin, he entered into a sphere that his own action brought about. That is, the sphere of death. This caused everything in man’s life to become a factor of death. Internal suffering, the pains of the body and the illnesses of the soul and ailments of the body, all came about because the heart became unwell and impure. Confronted with this reality, man finds himself before two possible results: either to be destroyed because he is created, or for the Lord God, the Creator, to take the initiative to return him and give him life so he does not pass out of existence. We do not believe that the soul in itself is immortal. Even if we believe that before the Lord Christ there was some remnant that persists, it would almost be without any value worth mentioning!

The solution was humanity’s renewal as mortal creation and the bringing forth of a completely new life by the grace of God and His establishment of a new creation. This only happened because God is love. All of Him is love, and love is always creative and there is no death in love. But how? How does the Lord make man new? Does He take him apart and put him back together again? This could not be a solution, because man, in the way that God created him, could once more turn his back on God like he did the first time, which would mean once more a fall into what he had already fallen into. So what is the solution? Since man did not have the will to leave sin, and through sin suffering and death, there was nothing that could help him! And so the Lord God relied on something that did not occur to the mind of man. This is the mystery—which is beyond understanding—which was concealed in eternity but has now appeared… in Jesus Christ, glory to him forever (Romans 16:25, 26, 27). The Lord changed the nature of death by accepting death! Death, prior to Jesus, was the end of man’s life on earth. But after Jesus it became a crowning of man’s life in Christ on the earth, unto eternal life. How did the Lord God achieve this? He prepared humanity, after their wandering away from him, through a very long journey along the path of promise and covenant, reward and recompense, in this age, toward the coming of the Savior. The Savior was the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God or the Word of God who is God Himself in essence. Here, so that things do not become mixed up in our minds, we make a distinction between essence and person. The person of God the Father is not the person of God the Son, but the essence of one is the essence of the other. And so, because the essence is one, everything that is the Father’s is the Son’s and everything that is the Son’s is the Father’s. This means that the Savior is God the Son not God the Father despite the fact that salvation, as a divine energy realized in humanity, is from the single activity and according to the single will that is of the Father and of the Son…. In this way God desired by His love, for the Son of God to become incarnate from a woman, considered to be the flower of humanity, the Virgin Mary, through the Holy Spirit who rested upon her. This event, at a specific point in history, in a specific place, and under specific circumstances, was hidden from the eyes of the people. So Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, was a human being like other humans, except in sin, since it was impossible for him to know sin because he was himself God and sin is separation from the love of God! Jesus suffered everything that humanity suffers as a result of sin, and thus suffering and death. He suffered it providentially, in order to unite himself to humanity, out of love for humanity, in order to draw humanity out of suffering. After designating the markers along the path of salvation, with the new commandment, and making it clear that “there is no salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12), and giving proofs that what he was saying is true with the sings and miracles that he worked—including healings and expulsion of unclean spirits and dominion over the elements of nature and raising the dead—I say that after Jesus designated the markers along the path of salvation, he tasted death on the cross as a righteous man. The death of the Lord Jesus was the completion of God’s purpose and the most perfect manifestation of God’s love for mankind. Since Jesus died in the body, being the incarnate God, through him death became a new reality, different from what it had been before. Death—his death—became, following his example, a composition with human and divine aspects together. Jesus experienced death as a human and through it—that is, through death—his life reached all the earth, that is its ends, but as God he made death into a Passover, a crossing into new life, into eternal life, the very life that God has!

This is what the Lord Jesus achieved in the body, glory be to him. But how did he bring what he realized close to people? Through two necessary things: through faith and through the Holy Spirit. Through faith, that is, through knowledge of Jesus, through obedience. This occurs profoundly to those who love the truth, through the word of God and the grace of God. If one becomes sure of what Jesus said and acts on it, that he, that is Jesus, is in truth and submits to it and practices what he commanded, naturally this is not without faith from above, then at that point the Holy Spirit dwells within him. In reality, to be more precise, the Holy Spirit mystically dwells within him through baptism and is activated within him through keeping the commandments. This is what makes one, through the Holy Spirit, a participant in Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ’s death in the body means that death is active in the body but leads to eternal life and the resurrection means an experience of all the success and failure, hardships and breakthroughs, sorrows and joys, health and illness, anxiety and relaxation, fear and calm, that can happen to a person on earth. I say the resurrection meaning the experience of all this and the like as existential loci of God’s hidden presence and activity in one’s life toward a life of holiness through total submission and reliance on God, toward a life that is formed by death to this world in the body in the mold of the divine light and eternal life!

All of this leads us to a new reality for the feast. The feast that we have is called an entrance into new life! However, for the feast to come and go, this has no value and no meaning in itself because it does not change man’s deep reality in any way. Naturally, at the time efforts toward pursuing newness of life increase with regard to preparation for the feast and one rushes to renew the hoped-for endeavor and toward sharpening the focus on a new life. This is because each one of us, under the influence of the hardships and pleasures and experiences of worldly life are susceptible to wavering, laxity, and heedlessness. And so we put all our focus on the feast, on the lightening of penitential effort away from the path of persistence in imitating the cross of Christ, that is following his example at all times, in order to reach a resurrection that will gradually become established within us, not as an event, but as a state of being that will become established and remain. So long as the resurrection does not become a state of being within us, then we treat it, if we treat it at all, as a pagan state of being. If the heart is not converted upwards, everything that it receives externally is a pronouncement of the passions of soul and body that possess it. Indeed, God can be treated in a pagan manner, and this is the most dangerous kind of paganism because at that point one worships idols, the idols of his soul, under the name of God! But the time has come when we no longer worship God, as Jesus said, in this mountain or in Jerusalem, since true worshippers worship God in spirit and in truth because the Father sought such worshipers for Himself. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth (John 4: 21, 23, 24).

The Jews of old would celebrate feats with burnt offerings, sacrifices, riches, and music. Despite all this, the Lord God said to them though His prophet Amos, “I hate, I despise your feasts… may truth flow like water and righteousness like a constant stream” (Amos 5). The feast is a feast toward a change of heart in one’s life. So how is this, if the fullness of time came and the Son of God became incarnate and gave us His Spirit and the commandment of new life? There is no longer value for a feast except within the framework of complete repentance unto the new life and the new way of life that we have gained through the Lord Jesus Christ, extending to the life of evangelical perfection in holiness!

The Pascha that we just came through is precisely the dividing line between the paganism of the feast and worship in spirit and in truth, between worldliness and otherworldliness, between the old and the new, between wretched joys and bright sadness, between a life of constant decrease until death and a life of constant growth unto eternal life, passing through death, between becoming like the devil and theosis! There is no neutrality in things divine. Either one or the other. We have either learned or we have not learned.