Sunday, June 26, 2011

Press Release from the Holy Synod of Antioch's Recent Session--- Political Issues in the Middle East

This translation is very much unofficial. The Arabic original is available here.

Press Relase from the Holy Synod of Antioch
at its 47th regular session at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand
July 23, 2011

The following statement was released by the secretariat of the Holy Synod of Antioch:

On the bases of its rootedness in the Middle East, bearing a message of love, brotherhood, and interconnectedness with others, and interacting creatively with our Muslim brothers, our partners in the nation, to build an Arab civilization deeply rooted in this Middle East, and an effective Orthodox contribution, the Holy Synod affirms the centrality of the Muslim-Christian encounter as the bright side of the mission of the Arab Middle East.

At the heart of Orthodoxy is an intense desire to build a single humanity united by faith in the one God. It does not discriminate among God's creation according to color, race or religion and has practiced this belief through its relationships with Muslims and with all the churches and Christian groups.

The future of the Orthodox in the region is tied to the rootedness and history of their presence, a presence that has been built for centuries on the foundation of total cooperation with all their brothers. There will be no true revival for the region without common effort in courage and objectivity about the domination, subjugation, ignorance, poverty, and unemployment that our countries suffer.

The Holy Synod calls upon its children to engage with the issues facing our countries and peoples, to hold fast to their land, and to develop their societies through the establishment of economic, civil, and educational institutions that will bring general benefit to all and will secure their existence in their land.

The Synod hopes that the political leaders and their peoples in all the Arab Middle East will rely on a language of dialogue and reason in resolving the problems that face them and that they will apply a policy of securing the citizens' interests, especially those directly affecting them, such as free education, health insurance, and an abundance of opportunities for jobs that provide suitible income and a dignified living in order to preserve stability and civil peace, economic flourishing, and to combat emigration.

In Lebanon, the Orthodox have continuously striven to build up a nation for all, not to divide it or to create distinctions within it. Their basic goal was to erect a regime based on equality and competence. However, faced with the current sectarian logic in Lebanon, we insist that our rights to political and administrative positions within the state not be encroached upon and we ask for assurance of total equity and a return to applying the principle of equality in appointments, especially in high administrative positions (first-class positions).

The Orthodox look to the state as an institution that embraces all its citizens within a framework of freedom and responsibility. For them, the state ensures the freedom of religious groups and individuals and it is not the religious groups that secure the freedom of the state. When Orthodox citizens had a distinguished role in establishing and spreading the Lebanese message of tolerance in the Arab Middle East, they established the political and administrative responsibilities that they set up as a means to build the foundations of the state and not as a means to attack it.

With regard to the composition of the new government in Lebanon, the Synod hopes that it will succeed in its difficult economic, social, and administrative tasks and it calls for earnest work to solve people's problems and concerns through the realization of justice, stability, and flourishing for the mighty Lebanese people.

In light of the circumstances and current developments that the Arab world is witnessing, the Synod hopes that Syria, this Arab nation heroic both in its contemporary history and in its glorious past, will return internal stability in order to make it possible, through corresponding realization of the desired reforms, to fulfill its active role on the regional stage that has been and continues to be the pivotal point of its zeal and conscience.

The Synod believes that just and comprehensive peace in the region will not be realized except through a solution to the Palestinian issue that allows the Palestinians to reside in their own sovereign and independent country within the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as their capital. The Palestinian state is a national right whose time for realization has come, so that the Palestinian people, wherever they are found, can return to their nation to live in honor, peace, and stability.

The Synod believes that the Arab world is urgently in need of of general calm in which the leaders and authorities will apply themselves to developing their societies, modernizing the state, educating the people, and respecting the legitimacy of human rights. It calls upon the Arab states to effectively collaborate to anchor a world civilization in which the Middle Eastern spirit by which we are distinguished has the lofty position that it deserves.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fr. Pandeleimon Farah Remembers Fr. Elias Morcos

The newest issue of the Orthodox Youth Movement's magazine is dedicated to recollections of the recently departed abbot of Deir el-Harf, Fr. Elias Morcos. I will translate a few of them, I think, as together they provide substantial testimony to the profound impact of Fr. Elias and the monastic renewal which he was a part on the contemporary life of the Church of Antioch. Fr. Pandeleimon Farah is abbot of the Monastery of Hamatoura. The Arabic original can be found here.

Blessed is the one You have chosen and accepted, O Lord, his memory is unto generations (Psalm 64:4)

After the repose of the esteemed Father Elias (Morcos), doyen of monks in all of Antioch, I wanted to recall some of his qualities that deserve attention that attracting souls to him so he in turn could draw them to God, like the expert fisherman who understands that his role is to work with God for our salvation.

Thus I will not write about what I heard from people, who are truthful in how they describe him, but rather about what I myself saw and experienced of him, leaving others open to talk about their own experiences. The first thing that attracted me to him was his apostolic simplicity that caused him to flee worldly glories, even though he was of a high station in his society, and to live in simplicity of heart and way of life, with humble clothing, food, and speech, such that he taught with his silence as much as with his words, without affectation or platitudes. He was precise in his analysis. He did not harm the listener, even if he chastised him. He did not exaggerate or use hyperbole, because he spoke in order to comfort and not to dispel hope. His hope was continuous, tied to faith and love.

In his meditations, he was precise, with an enthusiasm that did not allow for boredom. He encouraged his listeners and readers, spreading hope, because the people are our people, children of our Church that we must teach with love, patience, and faith.

He loved all, even at the cost of his rest and his schedule, despite the fact that he was precise and orderly. He loved them and them with patience and joy. This shows his humility and self-renunciation.

His clinging to the lord in deep and ardent prayer manifested itself the most at times of hardship and bitter crises, whether in the Church or the nation. At those times, you would find him calm, inviting you to prayer and reliance on God. He was not proud and made no account of himself, but he bore all in his heart, in imitation of his teacher Jesus, lifting them up in prayer with submission and contentment.

Work for him was first, with prayer and service, then the teaching came to you, "blessed is he who works and teaches" (Matthew 5:19).

He would surprise us with his reaction and response, as though he anticipated what was going through your mind. He always insisted on the connection to Christ, because he was sure in his experience of this two-way motion (as you strive to draw near to Christ, you find yourself being drawn to him. The more you draw near to the other, the more rooted you become in Christ.)

If one day I went to him to complain about some injustice, he would return me to myself to complain about myself instead, and so I was freed and could rest. He very often made us laugh with his habitual wit (a sign of his lively intelligence), replacing of our destructive grumbling with self-examination. Because he relied upon God, he spread within us this hope that is not afflicted with disappointment.

Finally, I will write about his pushing those with talents to work and to employ them in service of the Church. He helped every person to find himself within the Church through work that serves all.

To put it simply, he bore the heritage of the first monks and he honestly epitomized in himself philocalic experiences. I remember an article of our beloved Metropolitan Georges (Khodr) in an issue of our magazine "al-Nour" with the title "What We Need is a New St. Anthony" and there we had this obvious trailblazer answering the call in silence and humility.

I also must extol his graciousness in supporting Antiochian monasticism with prayer and work, and likewise his attracting the youth and children to the Church through his honorable behavior, his writings, his translations, his listening, and especially his simple and cogent solutions.

I call out to the Lord who granted him this qualities and virtues to make his memory to be eternal, joining with the joyous in heaven with abundant truth, and that He will grace us in the Church of Antioch with more like him so that the gift will continue to abound and the harvest will continue to be blessed, amen.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Holy Synod of Antioch's Spring Session: Official Communique

Official communique, but unofficial translation, of course. The original, official Arabic can be found here.

The 47th session of the Holy Synod of Antioch meeting at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand.

June 2011

Pastoral Communique

The forty-seventh session of the Holy Synod of Antioch met on the grounds of the Patriarchal Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand from the 21st to the 23rd of June, 2011, presided by His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV (Hazim) with the attendance of their eminences, the fathers of the Holy Synod of Antioch, the metropolitans:

Spiridon (Khoury) of Zahleh and Baalbek, Georges (Khodr) of Jbeil, Batroun and their dependencies, Yuhanna (Mansour) of Lattakia, Elias (Audi) of Beirut, Iliya (Saliba) of Hama, Elias (Kfoury) of Tyre, Sidon, and Marjayoun, Antonio (Chedraoui) of Mexico, Venezuela,and the Caribbean Islands, Sergio (Abad) of Santiago and Chile, Damaskinos (Mansour) of Sao Paulo and Brazil, Saba (Esber) of Bosra, Jebel al-Arab, and Hawran, Paul (Saliba) of Australia and New Zealand, George (Abu Zakhm) of Homs, Boulos (Yazigi) of Aleppo and Alexandretta, Silouan (Mousa) of Argentina, Youhanna (Yazigi) of Europe, Basil (Mansour) of Akkar, Ephrem (Kyriakos) of Tripoli and al-Koura, as well as Archbishop Niphon (Saikali), patriarchal representative in Moscow, Bishop Ghattas (Hazim), abbot of the Patriarchal Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand and dean of the St. John of Damascus Theological Institute, and Economos Georges Dimas, secretary of the Synod.

Metropolitan Philip (Saliba) of New York and North America gave his regrets and Metropolitan Constantine (Papastephanou) of Baghdad and Kuwait was unable to attend.

After prayer and calling upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, especially because we are still in the atmosphere of Glorious Pentecost, and asking the blessing of Our Lady the Virgin, protectress of the monastery, the fathers of the Synod began discussion of the agenda covering various ecclesial, local, national, and ecumenical topics.

The fathers gave their attention to all the issues that concern the faithful from spiritual, pastoral, social, and national perspectives. Together they carefully studied pastoral needs in the home countries and the diaspora in order for the Church to have an effective presence in serving her children, paying heed to their needs and concerns.

The fathers saw that the service of the Church in all its aspects and especially in the countries of the diaspora is in need of a living witness and an effective revival that would embrace all aspects of pastoral, social, and humanitarian work. They praised the effective revival of the Church working within the societies in which her children live in the countries of the diaspora, which causes them to rejoice with their brother bishops wherever they are found renewing the announcement of the Gospel with a spirit of faith and modernity that is attuned to new generations.

During an extensive and profound inquiry into the concept of pastoral and evangelical work, the fathers of the Synod paused over the topic of communications and its importance in all media. They found that this matter is in need of an extensive inquiry with reliance on experts in that field. His Eminence Metropolitan Boulos of Aleppo was asked to review his study offered at the October session of the Holy Synod in 2010, with the consultation of concerned media specialists in order to submit it again at the regular session of the Synod this coming October.
The fathers also decided to congratulate their brother bishop Ghattas (Hazim) in his new responsibility as abbot of the Patriarchal Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand and dean of the St. John of Damascus Institute of Theology and they wished him God-granted success in his work. Then His Grace gave a detailed report about the academic year 2010-2011.

When the fathers of the Synod looked at the areas of this and that archdiocese and their expansiveness both in the home country and abroad, they decided to elect, each of which will be an auxiliary to the metropolitan of the archdiocese in all pastoral, educational, and administrative matters. Each of them is well-educated in theological and worldly affairs.

The Synod elected these bishops to be entrusted with the service and pastoring of souls in the patriarchal residence and the archdioceses of the home country and the diaspora. Those elected are:

Archimandrite Doctor Nicholas (Baalbaki)- the patriarchal residence in Damascus
Archimandrite Constantine (Kayal)- the patriarchal residence in Damascus
Archimandrite Isaac (Barakat)- the patriarchal residence in Damascus
Archimandrite Antonius (Fahd)- Archdiocese of Akkar- Tartous
Archimandrite Demitrius (Sharbak)- Archdiocese of Akkar- Safayta
Archimandrite Iliya (Tohme)- Archdiocese of Akkar- Marmarita
Archimandrite Ignatius (Samaan)- Archdiocese of Mexico
Archimandrite Ignatius (al-Hoshi)- Archdiocese of Western Europe- Berlin, Germany
Archimandrite Ephrem (Maalouli)- Archdiocese of Western Europe- London, UK
Archimandrite Romanos (Daoud)- Archdiocese of Brazil- Sao Paulo
Archimandrite Morcos (Khoury)- Archdiocese of Brazil- Sao Paulo

Each of them will be attached to the archdiocese to which they were appointed after they receive episcopal consecration from the hand of Patriarch Ignatius IV.

At the closing of the session, the bishops-elect present in the home country were invited to attend. They offered their obedience and thanks to His Beatitude the Patriarch and to the fathers of the Synod. The Synod closed its work with prayer for His Beatitude our father Ignatius IV.

Released by the secretariat of the Holy Synod of Antioch,
Patriarchal Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand, June 23, 2011.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Holy Synod of Antioch Elects 12 New Auxiliary Bishops

Arabic original here. I had to guess at the spellings of a lot of these names. Also, the original only contained biographies for six of the bishops.

The Holy Synod of Antioch met in its regular session on Tuesday, June 21, in the patriarchal residence at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand. During its first sessions, six auxiliary bishops were elected: Archimandrite Kosta Kayal, Archimandrite Isaac Barakat, and Archimandrite Nicholas Baalbeki as patriarchal assistant bishops, and Archimandrite Demitri Sharbak, Archimandrite Iliya Tomeh, and Archimandrite Athanasius Fahd as auxiliiary bishops to the Metropolitan of Akkar in Safayta, al-Hisn, and Tartus, respectively.

Likewise, in the second session in the extraordinary meeting six other bishops were elected:

Three of them as auxiliary bishops in Europe:
Archimandrite Yuhanna (Haykal)
Archimandrite Ephrem (Ma'louli)
Archimandrite Ignatius (al-Hawshi)

An auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Mexico:
Archimandrite Ignatius (Samaan)

Two auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Brazil:
Archimandrite Romanos (Dawoud)
Archimandrite Morqos (Khoury)

We wish their graces, the bishops elect, blessed service and fruitful pastorship in their new service in the Lord's field. We call out to them with one voice: Axios.... mustahiq!
Here follows a bit about the life of the bishops:

Bishop-elect Kosta Kayal
He studied theology and earned doctoral degree in the field of liturgical studies at the University of Thessaloniki in Greece. He serves in the Archdiocese of Mount Lebanon as pastor of the Church of St. George the Victorious in Brumana and is professor of liturgics at the Saint John of Damascus Theological Institute in the Faculty of Theology of Balamand University.

Bishop-elect Isaac Barakat
He studied theology and recieved a doctoral degree in homiletics from the University of Thessaloniki in Greece. He serves in the Church of the Holy Cross in Damascus. He held the position of abbot of the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand and professor at the Saint John of Damascus Theological Institute in the Faculty of Theology of Balamand University from 2005 to 2010.

Bishop-elect Nicholas Baalbeki
He completed his studies in human medicine and then studied theology at the Saint John of Damascus Institute in the Faculty of Theology of Balamand University. He served as a priest in the Archdiocese of Damascus, and then served as the general director of the Patriarchal Hospital of al-Hisn.

Bishop-elect Demitri Sharbak
He holds a degree in civil engineering from Tishreen University in Lattakia. He studied theology at the St. John of Damascus Theological Institute and then earned a doctoral degree in the field of ecumenical studies from the University of Thessaloniki in Greece. He served for two years in the Archdiocese of Aleppo, then Metropolitan of Akkar Basil Mansour appointed him as his representative in Safayta in 2008. He teaches the subject of ecumenics at the St. John of Damascus Theological Institute in the Faculty of Theology of Balamand University.

Bishop-elect Iliya Tomeh
He holds a degree in civil engineering from Tishreen University in Lattakia. He studied theology at the St. John of Damascus Theological Institute and then earned a master's degree in Islamic Studies from the Pontifical Institute PISAI in Rome and a diploma in Religious Studies from the Jesuit Gregoriana University in Rome. He earned a doctorate in Religious and Islamic Studies from the University of Thessaloniki in Greece. He served for two years in the Archdiocese of Aleppo and then Metropolitan of Akkar Basil Mansour appointed him representative in the bishopric of al-Hisn in 2008.

Bishop-elect Athanasius Fahd
He holds a degree in agricultural engineering from Tishreen University in Lattakia. He studied theology and earned a master's degree from the University of Thessaloniki in Greece. He served in the bishopric of al-Hisn then in the Archdiocese of Western and Central Europe. Metropolitan of Akkar Basil Mansour then appointed him as his representative in Tartus in 2011.

Fr. Georges Massouh: The Civil State and the Crisis of Religous Thought

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

The Civil State and the Crisis of Religious Thought

Among those who long for a civil state in the full meaning meaning of the term, many are skeptical about the future of current developments in the Arab countries that are witnessing the seeds of immanent change, sooner or later, in their system of government. The eventual outcome of things is not clear. It is covered with a blurry fog. Those skeptics, Muslims and non-Muslims, do not support the current authoritarian states and are among those who hope for their passing, in word and in deed, for the betterment of a state of the citizen, a human state.
The source of this doubt is fear of a second autumn setting in after the autumn of authoritarianism. Its name is the religious government or the government that appeals to religion to impose itself and its religious law upon people and worshipers. The preachers of the religious state that we read about in papers and see on satellite tv leave no room for doubt about the legitimacy of this skepticism about the alternative plans that will take us backward a few centuries that we believed had passed never to return.

The participation of those who call for a civil state in movements against the authoritarian state does not at all mean that they are pleased to see a religious state that is no less authoritarian. They see themselves as the first who will pay the price of the establishment of this religious state that will subjugate them and persecute them just like the lack of rights and freedom that they are suffering today. What is the Iranian example if not testimony to the fears of those who work for a civil state? After the victory of the Iranian Revolution, all the secular and leftist parties and movements that had taken part in working for the Revolution were excluded for the establishment of regime of "Vilayat-e Faqih", which takes its legitimacy, according to what it says, from divine authority and not from any other basis.

The basic problem for those who call for a religious state resides in their lack of respect for political, social, and religious diversity and for their lack of respect for the uniqueness of the groups that form the national fabric that includes all citizens. The religious state is absolutely not neutral because according to its constitution and its law it separates people into classes and makes those who do not belong to the single religion or single sect into mere nationals [i.e., as opposed to citizens]. The religious state promises us the imposition of a theocratic state (divine governance or governance in God's name) or a nomocratic state (rule of religious law) in place of the autocratic state (the state that derives its authority from itself) or the dictatorial state.

All these forms of government are unacceptable for those who promote a civil state that treats all individuals equally. There cannot be respect for human dignity without the establishment of a just civil state that does not include a religious authority that imposes itself and its ideas on all the people. If the civil state respects the different religious and sectarian affiliations of all her sons, then why would one of the religions or sects seek to impose itself and its religious law on the other religions and sects? Is this not what is called the dictatorship of the majority that does not respect minorities, those minorities whose love and ardor for their country no one can deny.

The crisis is not in secular thought that calls for respect for diversity. The crisis is in certain Islamic thinking that has not yet managed to take into account civil people, including all Muslims and non-Muslims, who do not desire religious government. The time has come for civil dialogue including all elements of society-- we do not say Muslim-Christian dialogue or dialogue between the religions-- so that we can hope for the establishment of a regime of equal rights and human dignity and so that we can hope for the burial of all authoritarian regimes, whether they clothe themselves in religion or in secularism.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Carol Saba on the Upcoming Spring Meeting of the Holy Synod of Antioch

The 42nd installment of Carol Saba's essential Chroniques Antiochiennes came out today. In it are two editorials by Mr. Saba that are must-reads. One, translated below, is a discussion of the need for a long-term vision for the Church of Antioch, occasioned by the upcoming meeting of the Holy Synod. Read it below. The second, which I will translate as soon as I can, is a discussion of wider issues facing the Christians of the Middle East, bringing into account issues that might be new for Anglophone readers. Read all the new issue of Chroniques Antiochiennes in French here.

The coming meeting of the Holy Synod of Antioch!
Hopes are high. So are the expectations and aspirations. Let us, all together, give an Antiochian ecclesial response to current and future challenges and starting today, let us chart tomorrow’s actions.
1. Our Lady of Balamand. North Lebanon. The monastery awaits the master of the house, Ignatius IV, Patriarch of Antioch, and the metropolitans coming from dioceses throughout the world. Next week, His Beatitude will preside over the ordinary spring session of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Antioch. An ordinary session in an extraordinary climate! A climate of great regional tensions. Of worries. Of uncertainties about the future. A word from the Synod is expected. A necessary word to recall what is essential. Our level of hope and our mission as Antiochians in these ancestral lands of the East and in the world.
2. Several projects of the Church remain essential for the present and the future of our Antiochian ecclesial life in Christ on account of the challenges of today and those to come. At stake are the vitality of our Church and the sustainability of her mission here and now. More than ever, today a roadmap is needed from the Synod. More than ever, initiative is needed from the Synod to bring together an expanded consultative body for our Church, an assembly of clergy and laity, for reflection at once looking back and looking forward, and to put into action the decisions of the assembly. A task of taking stock of our strengths and weaknesses. Of discerning dangers and opportunities. Of gathering together our means and resources. And then to examine the future and to bring into being a vision of the entirety of our mission, of the forms of our witness here and now and of planned actions that need to be made concrete! At stake is our witness as a living Church that faces her future in Christ and builds it without anxieties or worries! Four projects seem vital to me:
First of all, the governance of the Church and her institutions. Institutionalizing our action is not a goal in itself, but it is a means so that the Antiochian mission will not depend only on individual people, but also on a well-ordered body that carries it along and continues it. And there, only conciliarity and a good application of the ecclesiology of communion allow the mystery of unity in diversity to be realized. Thus it is indispensible to extend and multiply the spheres of communion between the different members of the Antiochian ecclesial body. It is indispensible to give responsibility to and to associate all the priesthoods and charisms, clergy and lay, in building up the Church and in the dynamic of her development.
Second, the ministry of the Church. There too, there is need for a pastoral vision that is ceaselessly renewed and re-adapted to the pastoral needs of liturgical and spiritual life today.
Third, the Church’s expression and mission in the world. At stake is the Church’s influence in the world. At this level, there is need for an ecclesial expression of otherness that forms engaged Christians, Christian elites who project themselves into the world and bear witness at the heart of the city to a Christian vision of ethics, to respect for the dignity of the person, to a Christian development of scientific research, and to a bioethics that takes into account the dignity of the human person, to the construction of responsible and civil political behavior, to a responsible society, to an ethical and solidary economy, to a willingness to live in common among communities and religions founded upon brotherhood, mutual respect, and equality of rights and responsibilities, to charitable activity to develop solidarities and to struggle against exclusion and poverty, to the preservation of the environment and natural resources, etc. If Christians are no longer one of the driving forces in the city and in our societies that anticipates, organizes, and develops, then they are no longer the leaven in the bread or the salt of the earth or the light of the world of which the Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks. If our parishes are closed communities turned inward on themselves, functioning self-sufficiently and in closed circles within the boundaries of their identity, within a life that is more communal than ecclesial, then they are no longer the Church, the Body of Christ. To be a Christian is to be called to bear witness with audacity, intelligence, and tact in order to transfigure the world. Otherwise, it is a cultural and ritual expression like so many others.
And, last of all, a dynamic and audacious communication of the Church. A visible, aesthetic, and intelligent reinterpretation of the Gospel’s “Come and See.”
3. In a word, we need to reconnect with the Church in mission and more and more come out of the Church in management. The Church in mission privileges movement and tension over stagnation. Vision over management. Talents and charisms over expertises. A Church that puts herself in motion, people and institutions, not only in her monuments but also and especially in her movement toward the Kingdom, here and now. A Church that is fully citizen, without an identity complex but also without aggressiveness, since Christians are men and women of peace the peace that comes from above! Let us abandon a certain “pyramidal” ecclesiology that makes false the true conciliar sense of the Church and her identity that is founded on communion. Impetus and example certainly should come from above. The times require it. But the People of God—all the People of God—should feel themselves invested in the building up of the Church at all times and in every place, as a single body, the body of Christ, for the Church is not a democracy torn between majorities and minorities, but rather a fullness in Christ!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fr. Touma Bitar on the Feast of All Saints

The Arabic original can be found here. My apologies for the roughness of the translations at some points. Also, today is a good day to remember all the saints of the Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem who have been forgotten. Fr. Touma, if you remember, has written a book about the Forgotten Saints in the Antiochian Heritage.

All Saints Sunday

Today is All Saints Sunday. Holiness is the fruit of Pentecost. The Spirit of the Lord brought forth the new creation from the old creation. Through sin created life turned to death and through grace death turns into eternal, uncreated life!

On this Sunday, there is a place for all the saints, those we know and those we do not know. Those that are unknown to us are known to God. All of them are active among us because they are from among us and in holiness they love us, in God’s love for us that is beyond what we know to love and beyond what we imagine. They are all found together with us in Christ the Lord. Waves upon waves of saints invite us and encourage us on to sanctity!

Why did creation happen? Precisely for sanctity! Love by its very nature is outflowing and so it begat us. Holiness is the scope of God, and so it attracts us to Him!

What is holiness? If we express it according to the senses, it is God’s aroma, His taste, His feel, His voice, and His very light. It is thought and feeling of Him. It is His Spirit! All this is His flame. No one can abide in His fire because He is fire, but one can abide in His warmth and in His dew, if the Lord draws him near to Himself. This is His scope and His presence extended to us. “Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest.” I will make you spiritual, I will strengthen you, I will abide with you. My love spreads within you. I will give you my Spirit!

But alas, where is holiness and where are we? Adam languishes outside and his existence is a sea of suffering and tears! But tears cry out in longing for holiness, needing mercy! Adam’s tears were more faithful than him. He turned his back to his Lord because his Lord was a given for him, while his tears cried out from the heart, “Come to my aid O Lord, hasten to my relief!” because Adam’s paradise was ruined and destined to become hell.

The time came and love listened—there is nothing dearer to love than to listen! And love only listens in order to respond! Here I am! And the Lord God responded! If we had to summarize the history of humanity in a few words, we would say that man is a light that came out of the darkness of nothing by the light of God. Then it went astray through treachery and delusion, going out into the darkness to search for a semblance of the light that is within his breast to the point of anguish, without finding it. All the while, God’s light follows him in his wandering from nearby, like his shadow, until the time came to visit him. His burden was complete and He manifested Himself to him and delivered him. God delivers you. He gives you the opportunity to repent to Him. He was as close to him as his shadow, nearer to him than his jugular vein. He remains his close companion until he repents, in order to bring back the light, in order for the light to bring him up to God’s heart.

I am the way… You do not come to Me by just any way. You come to Me through Me. And so the way is: “They will be done.” Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory! His will does not come as though from a stranger or as from one lofty or as a decree. The One who is near is the echo of your soul, the breath of your nose, the self that you lost when you exited the Beloved’s paradise. He does not come to you as one lofty because He does not desire to suppress you or to conquer you or to force Himself upon you. God is spirit, so there is nothing lighter! A butterfly who remains hovering over a garden whose flowers are lost and been replaced by thorns. Your Lord comes to you as a slave, as a servant. He washes your feet and wipes away the sweat from your brow. He puts ointment on your wounds and remains your companion until sorrow has no power over you. He remains weeping over you, hoping that you will not wound your soul and more! For Him you are more precious and more beloved than everything He created because you are the like pupil of His eye. “One who touches you touches the iris of his eye,” He said! He does not force the matter upon you because He is behind your heart, with the subtlest shyness and with transparency followed by close companionship. “Oh my son, give me your heart!” And a heart is not taken by force!

The Lord God gives you His will and He also gives you the grace to realize it. He is a pearl trader and He knows that there is none poorer and more helpless than you, so he gives you the money to buy. You only have to want it! “Let it be to me according to your word.” And all the rest is given to you freely! “Do you desire to be healed?” “Arise, take up your bed and go to your home!” I am your home! Are you poor? “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich” (Revelation 3:18). Are you all black with the shame of sin? I counsel you to buy from Me “a white robe for you to wear so that the shame of your nakedness does not show.” Only let not your face be hidden from Me!

But how does a person turn from the desire for sin to the desire for sanctity? “Come and see!” In holiness, words are of use, but only a little bit. Holiness speaks from itself! It spouts forth profound peace, calm joy, radiant purity, and friendly kindness. Presence is more eloquent than words! It is there in silence. The kingdom streams forth from the saint. You see it for real at once or you do not see it and you do not know holiness, despite whatever irrefutable proofs or strong arguments. But where do you find the saints? Show me where they are so I can go to them! The crisis of holiness is the crisis of saints. But we know that they are here and there, hidden! We deduce this from the fact that the world has not ceased to exist. It would not remain if there were not saints in it. At times of overt oppression, the Lord’s Christ is lost and various Christianities dominate, each according to the image of its adherents. The Christianity of Christ is the Lord’s Christ, and holiness is a saint. If you have not tasted it, how can you desire it? If you have not beheld it, how can you recognize it? At times when there is a paucity of saints, desire for sin remains oppressive in a flood of catchwords of holiness. What can you do in this case except to carry the banner of truth and cry out to the Lord for help? Draw me near to you! Pull me to your breast! Put me, O Lord, on the path of one of your holy ones! And he will send you a person who has been made holy or a holy angel in the form of a person. Ask, and it shall be given to you! Books and words show the way, but only your existential cry will bring you what you read about, as a gift from your God! When a holy one of the Holy One is with you, his presence satisfies you and his existence takes you out of your hesitation. At that point, your entire existence is overturned. It changes, opening up to something that had never occurred to you before—that he exists.

The holy things are for the holy. But they are also from the holy, so they do not remain at the level of an idea or a picture and so they approach the reality of the incarnate Christ!

On the Sunday of the Saints, you are given the blessing of a taste of eternal life, and if your heart is touched, follow after what has come to you. Seek after it with burning because it only comes like a flash of lightening, but with gentleness and mildness. Something touches you with a word, with a brief glimpse, with a light, subtle sensation, with a sudden sweetness! Cling to what has come to you, if only at first in mind, let your heart cry out and the One who touched your heart will come as a heavenly melody. Here I am! At that moment He will make it sweet for you to be with Him!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan—Douma

June 19, 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Fr. Georges Massouh Reviews the Book "Arab Contextual Theology"

The Arabic original, published in today's al-Nahar, can be found here.

Christian Theology in its Arab Context

There is no consensus among theologians about the necessary attitude to take towards contextual theology. There are those who make theology essential, unchanging in the face of changes in the historical, social, and cultural context and there are those who say that a theology without regard to the surrounding context is a sterile theology with no impact on the life of believers and society. This is why, for example, there is still no consensus about liberation theology in Latin America and Africa.

The researcher Antoine Fleyfel, in his book Arab Contextual Theology: The Lebanese Model (Theologie Contextuelle Arabe Modele Libanais, Paris: Harmattan, 2011) plunges into this theology and extracts the basic ideas from the works of five Lebanese theologians whose theological views were formed by their historical, civilizational, cultural, social, and political contexts and who worked to elucidate a Christian theology that responds to the concerns of their peoples and their region. These five theologians are: Fr. Michel Hayek, Fr. Youakim Moubarac, Met. Gregory Haddad, and Met. Georges Khodr.

Through his lively research, Fleyfel uncovers the distinguishing features of Arab contextual theology that are specific to the Arab environment. The concerns of this Arab contextual theology differ from comparable contextual theologies such as feminist theology, liberation theology, or Black theology which are concerned with the societies in which they are active or which occupy the minds of the theologians. This Arab distinctiveness is the result of the circumstances and events that pass through the Arab world and which must be addressed by Arab theological thought.

The five theologians are brought together by a number of issues, the absolutely most prominent of which is the issue of the Palestinian people who were forcibly and unjustly expelled. They work to dismantle Zionist claims and to refute them theologically and disprove their premises. These theologians also deal with the subject of sectarianism in Lebanon and the paths to improving relations between Lebanese and moving from a state of sectarianism to a state of universal citizenship. Likewise social issues do not escape their concern and social injustice and the gap between the rich and the poor form a focal point for their concerns.

A return to unity among Christians occupies a major place among these theologians’ concerns. The multiplicity of churches all rooted in this land causes them to search for mutual rapprochement within contexts different from countries that do not know such a multiplicity. For this reason there is an ecumenical peculiarity in the Arab world caused by the various Christian experiences that cannot exist in other countries.

The most important characteristic of Arab Christianities is their existing in human, political, social, civilizational, and cultural partnership with Muslims, especially since Arab Christians speak the language of the Qur’an, the glorious book of the Muslims. Hence the importance of Arab Christian theology with regard to Muslim-Christian dialogue and with regard to the concerns of Muslims and Arabs. These Arab theologians were among the first to point out the common ground that joins Muslims and Christians on the level of faith in the one God, in salvation, in common work for the sake of developing the earth and the benefit of man.

Antoine Fleyfel’s book is an obvious accomplishment among studies that deal with the importance of theology in the Arab and Lebanese contexts. Despite his addressing it to the French reader, it is a service to Christian Arab thought and we await its publication in Arabic translation so that it will be a testimony for Christians to take pride in, and a reminder to them that the path ahead is not yet finished.