Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Met. Ephrem's Sermon for July 17, 2011

This sermon was given on Sunday, July 17 in the Church of St. Marina in Amioun. The Arabic original can be found here.

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

Beloved, you heard this passage from the Gospel of Matthew that is taken from the Sermon on the Mount. It is one of the most important passages from the Gospel, beginning with the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." And he says in this passage from the Gospel ,"You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before the people so that they may see your good works and praise your Father who is in heaven."

"You are the light of the world," he says to the disciples. Everyone who follows Christ is expected to be light for the world, to shine into the world because this world, as you often see, is in darkness and perdition and is in need of people to illuminate them, to show them the right way. Christ comes to the disciples, meaning to the Christians, that is to us, and you must shine into the world, show them the right way. How can a person be light?!

Is ther light in your eyes? One who studies physics knows that the eye does not have any light in it- it reflects outside light! It reflects the light of the sun and likewise we are expected to reflect the light of Christ. Just as the sun is the source, so Christ is the source of light, because he says, "I am the light of the world." Those who among us can reflect the light, can be light, if their heart is pure. If, like the eastern Fathers say, Grace is active in us, then each one of us who has God's grace has the Holy Spirit whom we received through baptism. However, God's grace is not active in each one of us! The Lord gave us freedom. Some accept for the Lord Jesus to be active in them and some refuse! Some love to come to church and some do not like to come to church. Those who want the grace of God that is present in their hearts to be active within them, at that point their mind is illumined, at that point grace is active. How is grace active? When we give a good example in order to "shine your light before the people so that they see your good works and praise your Father in heaven." There are Christian people who live Christ's commandments and give a good example in their life and there are those who do not care and God's grace is not active in them. Today we celebrate first of all the holy fathers at the Fourth Ecumenical Council. What is the meaning of the holy fathers from all the world who gathered at the Fourth Ecumenical Council in a city called Chalcedon, near Constantinople, today Istanbul? What was their decision? They decided the basic belief of the Church, which is that Christ is perfect God and perfect man.

The Christ in whom we believe is first of all God. The Jehovah's Witnesses say that Christ is not God, but our Orthodox belief says in the First and the Fourth Councils that our Christ is our God and he is our savior. If he were not God, then he would not be able to save us. Second of all, he is perfect man. In some sects, they believe that Christ is God who outwardly became incarnate, meaning that he is not fully human, that is he did not take on all our being, all our human weaknesses. This is something very important, because it shows us the way that we must follow in order to be saved. He came and lived as a human just like us on this earth. One who reads the Gospels knows that he got tired and wept and was sad... he had all human emotions and at the same time he was God.

For this reason he suffered on the cross and died, but by his divine power he rose from the dead. This is the teaching of the Fourth Ecumenical Council. However, the second feast, and the one that you are celebrating today is your feast of Saint Marina. Who is a martyr? How can a virgin or a lady become a holy martyr? Every one of us can become a saint! In foreign languages they say 'martyr' [the Arabic is shahid] and in the original language it is 'martyr'. A martyr means one who bears witness and a martyr is one who is prepared to die for Christ's sake! At the same time, he lives his Christianity and is a martyr,that is a witness, meaning that he witnesses through his life that he is a Christian. This is found in the Gospel passage that you heard today, which says at the end of the sentence, "One who does and teaches is called great in the Kingdom of Heaven." It is not enough to teach as we are. It is not enough for one to teach and preach and chant. We must live the words that we read and chant. One who teaches them must live them, otherwise he will develop schizophrenia, saying one thing and living something else. No, a holy martyr is one who believes and lives and embodies his faith, so God makes him holy by His grace. We celebrate and remember him and he intercedes for us, amen.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Met. Ephrem on the Feast of Saint Sisoes

This sermon was originally given at the Church of St. Sisoes (Sassine) in Afsadiq, Lebanon on July 19. The Arabic original can be found here.

On this day we celebrate this saint ,the righteous Sisoes who lived in Egypt in the fourth and fifth centuries and who is one of the great, righteous saints! In Egypt, among the Copts they call him Bishoy and here in our country we call him Sassine. He was a disciple of Saint Anthony the Great as well as of Saint Macarius the Great, who are two of the greatest monastic saints who lived in the desert. This Sisoes or Bishoy is known as the penitent of the desert, which means that he went to the wilderness, to the desert to repent to the point that at the time of his death they asked him, "father, what do you see?" His response was, "I see a group coming to take me and I hope they will give me a moment to repent before I leave this life." For this reason he is called the penitent of the desert.

You heard this reading from the Gospel-- the Church always chooses for righteous ones, that is monks who live almost without sin in repentance and so were in the desert far from life's comforts and temptations-- you heard this reading from the Gospel of Matthew, which says "Come unto me you who are heavy-laden." People today are tired, and why is that? The heavy-laden, they are the ones who feel that they are carrying a burden, and in reality they bear their sins, their weaknesses, their passions. "And I will give you rest." The one who is speaking is the Lord Jesus Christ. "Learn from me." How simple the Gospel is, but it is also very profound. "Learn from Me, I am meek and humble of heart." One who is humble is gentle, calm, not anxious, agitated, and fearful. One who is humble of heart does not take account of his condition and does not consider himself to be the center of existence. Whether or not we exist would not change very much and so we have no reason to be proud. This is the only sentence in the Gospel where the Lord Jesus speaks about himself, about his virtues and qualities, to show that they are the most important thing and that they can be the most difficult thing for people because every one of us is attached to himself, while a meek, humble person looks to the other and has the humility to accept and to love the other. "Learn from me, I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest within yourselves." If we heard today how our holy fathers lived-- and our saint was known for denying his own heart-- if we only learned this lesson then we would know that when we are weary, that we come to church, we confess, we pray, we cast this burden off our back and we have rest in our soul. It is only Christ's teaching that gives rest! The person who is gentle and humble is at rest and gives others rest. This is in all the simplicity and brevity of the teaching that the Lord Jesus gives us and that the saints lived so that we might learn and seek their intercession, amen.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Fr, Touma (Bitar) on Virginity, Marriage, and Reproduction

The Arabic original can be found here.

Virginity and the Correct View of Fertility

Have you ever wondered why Adam did not know Eve in the Garden of Eden, in the sense of entering into physical intimacy with her, but rather it was only after they were expelled from there (Genesis 3:23-24, 4:1)? Then would it have been possible for them to have children had they remained in Paradise and had not been placed outside?

If your response to the second question is yes, they could have had children if they had remained in Paradise, then this raises the question: Why did the Bible not indicate this? Perhaps there is an omission about this matter? I don't think so! There are no omissions in what pertains to God! If your response is no, they could not have children, then why did the Lord God create them capable of fertility and of having children?

My answer to you, starting from the last question, is that the Lord God, in His foreknowledge, knew that Adam and Eve would fall and would be expelled from the Garden of Eden. For this reason He created them capable of fertility and of having natural, human children. As for the actual reproduction, this was was to come after the Fall, for a very worthy purpose! This does not at all mean that sex, insofar as it is the physical faculty of fertility and the means of having children, and so bodily intimacy, is something connected to corruption or is something fallen. Not at all! Sex is from God and physical intimacy is from God, even if they are often used contrary to God's purpose! So both of them are blessed. Both are signs of God's love for humanity, in that God's love was behind His creating man. However, what was God's purpose in creating what would come into effect after the Fall? And going on, why was the capability for fertility and having children not activated in Paradise, before the Fall?

The response that sheds light on all the above questions is that Adam and Eve in Paradise did not need to activate human, natural fertility and having children because they enjoyed another kind of fertility on account of which in Paradise there was no need for natural fertility. This is spiritual fertility, in that they were enveloped in God's grace. Spiritual fertility causes natural human fertility to lack divine value. This is why the Lord said in the Gospel of Matthew, "In the Ressurection they do not marry or are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven (Matthew 22:30)." Thus the Book of Genesis did not mention Adam's knowledge of Eve and his begetting children with her. As for why this matter is mentioned after the Fall, it is first of all because Adam and Eve were excluded from spiritual fertility, and secondly because within God's purpose, the precise goal of human, natural fertility is the restoration, or more exactly the attainment of the state of spiritual fertility in the most perfect way possible. The purpose of natural fertility and this state is exactly so that humanity could reach the time of the Lord's Christ! The Lord's Christ came, humanly, through natural fertility (Matthew 1:1-17) and in God's economy for humanity, He did not come, as is clear, except in this way. Then, after the Lord's Christ came, that is after the incarnation of the Son of God, He entered us, through faith in Him, into divine, spiritual fertility, since following His ascent into heaven He sent us from the Heavenly Father, the comforting Spirit, the Lord's Holy Spirit. This is exactly the Spirit of divine fertility. Thus man has been given the gift of spiritual fertility, the gift of the Kingdom of Heaven, through the acquisition of the Holy Spirit!

All this means that human marriage, or you could call it natural fertility, and the sex and having children that are connected to it, are no longer obligatory after the coming of Christ the Lord. For this very reason the Lord Jesus did not marry, as a human, because He is the fullness of divine, spiritual fertility and because there is no longer any necessity for human fertility. For this reason also, many in the Church of Christ spontaneously inclined toward refraining from natural marriage and toward being content with the struggle toward spiritual marriage, that is toward spiritual fertility, through being engrossed in the principles of the spiritual life-- keeping the commandments, striving to acquire the Gospel virtues, and participating in the divine mysteries. This refraining from marriage had not been known prior to the coming of Christ to the degree that we notice after His coming or according to the new spirit in man's life with regard to spiritual fertility that came to us through the Lord Jesus Christ and through Him alone!

Naturally, here the question is posed: If there natural marriage and natural fertility are no longer required and necessary after divine, spiritual fertility became available, then does this mean that marriage and having children were abolished? Why do Christians still marry and give in marriage? No, until the general resurrection Christian marriage is not abolished, but it takes on a new orientation! Marriage, in Christ, is blessed and so is not marrying! Naturally, it is more virtuous for a person to empty himself completely for the struggle of spiritual fertility, that is working for holiness and the acquisition of the Spirit of the Lord without entering into natural marriage, because he has redoubled his effort toward the One! Let us not forget the reason, as the Apostle Paul presented it in his first letter to the Corinthians: "He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife (1 Corinthians 7:32-33)." The Apostle Paul said this while giving advice that "I want you to be without care (verse 32)," despite that what is sought in both states, marriage or being unmarried, is the same: spiritual fertility, the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, holiness, the Kingdom of Heaven, eternal life... This makes natural fertility within the framework of Christian marriage into a new reality! Natural fertility, or you could say natural marriage, has no Christian value in itself. Its value, in Christian terms, is with the goal and within the framework of lively striving toward spiritual fertility, toward holiness, toward caring for "what is the Lord's" (1 Corinthians 7:32)! So what has become available and required in Christ of both the married and the unmarried all at once is the same thing! The difference for one or the other is in the degree and not in the type of new life! Both of them must be for the Lord. "For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord" (Romans 14:8). However, the unmarried pray more, fast more, worship more, and practice asceticism more... Married people practice this things, but to a lesser degree because they have to provide for a family and because there are social obligations and a job. However, in principle both are fully and completely committed to the principles of the spiritual life, each according to his ability and the situation he finds himself in.

I will add to this that the ultimate goal of Christian marriage or its most prominent gift is to leaven the world in which those married in Christ exist, the world that has not yet come to the knowledge of Christ in spirit and in truth. I say leavening it with new leaven for Christ, whether through following the divine commandments, in love, or in the other Christian virtues, and especially in preaching the divine word wherever possible! Unmarried believers also work in all these evangelistic fields, but within different frameworks and measures than the frameworks and measures of married believers. So, as long as the Word of salvation has not reached all the earth, we are ever in need of apostles of the Word and for witnesses of Jesus' love. Thus we are in need of Christian families to have children and to make generation after generation, according to Jesus' love, who will become new servants for Him, fulfilling his command to go forth and make disciples of all the nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20).

This is the framework of Christian marriage for us and this is its purpose. It is not fitting for Christians to treat natural marriage and natural fertility as though it was a value in itself, disconnected from spiritual fertility in the way that unbelievers treat it, because they-- that is Christians-- are chosen to become living temples of God so that God might dwell within them. All Christians, whether married or unmarried are all called in this way, not necessarily to celibacy but to virginity, insofar as the deep meaning of virginity is for a person to become a temple of God. The word "batoul" [i.e. 'virgin] comes from "beit El", that is the house of God! But as for those Christians who practice sex for its own sake or who enter into mixed marriages on the basis of human, natural fertility without Christ,the spiritual life, and lively effort toward holiness, even if they still consider themselves to be formally Christians, they are deceiving themselves and effectively practicing paganism, which is the worship of the self, the passions of soul and body under the guise of God and His Christ! And so they are living in clear, practical error!

In short, the purpose and framework of natural fertility and natural marriage in Christ is spiritual fertility and an entrance into the wedding-chamber of Christ. This is the very same goal and framework as that which the unmarried and those not seeking natural fertility seek, if they believe in Christ. And so we seek the face of God, Jesus' word and God's spirit in every matter, and after this we do as the Spirit inspires us. If not, we go astray and fall into error!

There are those who might wonder after this exposition: What about how to treat the body within the framework of Christian marriage, outside the bounds of begetting children, or if one or both of the spouses is unable to have children? Indeed, we do not have a response to give about this. The questions are related to personal conscience and the Church does not legislate about it for us. Indeed, she leaves it for those within the relationship themselves. She only confirms that spiritual fertility is the framework and goal of every physical relation between husband and wife and hands them over to mature, competent spiritual fathers to arrange the matter between them for their well-being, building them up, and rooting them in making an effort toward holiness in their life, insofar as those fathers are our experts in the struggle for spiritual fertility, its details, and the principles of the spiritual life.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite- Douma
May 29, 2011

Met. Ephrem's Sermon at the Diocesan Parish Life Conference, Irving, CA

Here is my transcription of the sermon that Met. Ephrem gave at the Diocese of Los Angeles' Parish Life Conference on July 3, 2011. The audio recording of it, which has some quality issues, can be found in Real Audio format here. Pictures of his visit to California can be found here and from his recent visit to Canada here.

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

Dear brothers in Christ, you already heard the Gospel today, which, this Gospel is taken from the Sermon on the Mountain and Jesus is talking, is speaking for those who want to walk in the way of the Kingdom and we as Christians recognize that we are supposed to take this way, this way of the Kingdom because we are living in a new testament, in a new life in Christ, in the Church. What is the Kingdom? Our fathers say that the Kingdom of God is not a place. It's like Hell. It's not just a place, it's a sort of state in the heart of man, of the created man. And they say it is an uncreated divine energy, a grace of God. This is what we are searching for in our life. If we are really Christians, believers, we are searching through all our life, through all our earthly life, for salvation, for sanctification, for holiness. This life is not enough for us. It is just a preparation for the true life, which will be after death.

What is Jesus saying in this Gospel? I take only two sentences. The one that says "you cannot serve two masters" we have to choose. You cannot serve god, and he says "mamona", which means money, which means riches. Because we are weak, we are serving the two, but we have to give a priority in our life, if we are really Christians, if we have a certain search for the Kingdom in our life, we'll get there by following these commandments, to the Kingdom of God.

I know and you know that in this world today money is governing. We cannot, we don't have to be slaves to the world. We have to walk with the commandments of God. Then what is he saying? He's saying not to be, not to worry about what we eat, what we drink, what we wear. This is also difficult because we are worrying most of the time about what we eat, we drink, we wear. He says, "Look to the birds in the sky. Consider the lilies in the field. God is feeding them and is clothing them. They do not have to work" It doesn't mean that we do not have to eat, that we do not have to drink and to wear clothes, but once again we have to get the important thing, not for our bodies. We do not have to be slaves to our bodies. What he is eating, drinking, and clothes.

The Christian life is a simple life. We have to give importance to our soul first and to live a simple life. It is not necessary to change clothes every day. We have to be aware of this. Think, worry about the Kingdom of God and God will give you all the rest. This is what we have to see, to remember in all our life, because if we live with these commandments, with this Sermon on the Mountain, if we live with the new commandments of Christ, we will be filled by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit will give our life love. It will give us peace.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

George Ghandour on Auxiliary Bishops in Antioch

The Arabic original can be found here. George Ghandour is he most prominent canonist in the Church of Antioch. He is the author of Antioch and Canon Law: An Introduction to Antiochian Canons and their Application in the 20th Century.

Bishops or Auxiliary Bishops?

In its most recent session at the patriarchal residence at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand, the Holy Synod of Antioch elected twelve auxiliary bishops to work in the patriarchate and in the archdioceses of Akkar, Europe, Brazil, and Mexico. This election represents and important turning point in the history in the See of Antioch since from one perspective it leads to a renewal of the episcopal body in the See of Antioch and a strengthening of the See with youthful capabilities with great intellectual and theological qualifications. However, from another perspective it has led to the consecration of the "titular episcopacy" as a live reality without any effort to bring any order to this institution. In this quickly compiled report, we will review the development of the concept of the titual episcopacy in the See of Antioch and we will suggest some organizational steps that we hope will help in the new bishops' success.

The "titular bishop"-- the phrase also refers to an auxiliary bishop, assistant bishop, or representational bishop-- is a category of bishop who do not enjoy the same rights that proper to the metropolitans of archdioceses. According to standing custom and the system currently in effect in the Patriarchate of Antioch, they are nominated by the patriarch and elected by the Holy Synod for titular bishoprics, that is for bishoprics that existed in the past but that no longer exist in the present day, either on account of the smallness of the Orthodox presence there or on account of the annilhilation of that presence. Antiochian custom has established that they enjoy the right to membership in the Holy Synod and that they submit directly to the patriarch or to the metropolitan of the archdiocese whom they assist.

The titular bishopric first emerged as an institution in the Russian Church in the days of Peter the Great and was defined in the year 1708. After that, it developed rapidly, insofar as it spread to most large Russian archdioceses. From Russia, it went on to be found in the various Orthodox Churches. In our own times, the majority of patriarchates and autocephalous Orthodox Churches have titular or auxiliary bishops. Their canonical position and designated competencies differ from church to church.

In the Church of Antioch, we find the first indication of titular bishops in the basic patriarchal canon issued in 1900, the first basic canon that the patriarchate knew after its re-arabization. This canon gave the patriarch the right to nominate three clergymen, from which the Holy Synod would elect a titular bishop to assist the patriarch. The canon likewise permitted this titular bishop to be nominated in the event of the vacancy of one of the patriarchate's archdioceses. The canon of 1900 did not limit the number of titular bishops, but it appears that patriarchs' resorting to consecrating a large number of these bishops led the Orthodox assembly that issued the next patriarchal canon in the year 1929 to restrict the patriarch's right to choose titular bishops, since this canon limited the number of titular bishops to one titular bishop to assist the patriarch and required the prior agreement of the Holy Synod in the event that the patriarch desired to elevate a second titular bishop to assist him. As for the office of the patriarchal vicar that came into being at this time, it is a new position that was created in response to the request of the people of Damascus to have a voice in the process of electing the patriarch and metropolitans. The patriarchal vical, according to Antiochian practice, is a titular bishop elevated to a titular bishopric, but his situation differs from that of his colleagues in that he participates in the activities of the Holy Synod and bears the patriarch's vote in the election of metropolitans for vacant archdioceses and in his capacity as metropolitan for Damascus, he participates in the process of electing the patriarch.

Despite the 1929 canon's limiting the number of titular bishops to only two, the period following its publication saw an noticeable increase in their number, since a large number of titular bishops were created to pastor the Antiochian diaspora in the emigration after the intense emigration movement that the See of Antioch experienced at the beginning of the 20th century. The increase in the number of titular bishops led the general Orthodox assembly that met in 1955 to seek to put order to their status. The assembly's recommendations included a text that explicitly advised the Holy Synod to limit the number of titular bishoprics by an official decision so that it will proceed to elect bishops for them, even though the right to nominate and elect is limited to the Synod itself . This canon left the patriarch the right to nominate three clergymen from among which the Holy Synod would elect the patriarchal vicar and the head of the patriarchal diwan. The Synod did not undertake to limit the number of titular bishoprics as was in the text of the 1955 canon, and instead a large number of these bishoprics were created so that bishops could be elevated to them during the crises that shook the Patriarchate of Antioch during the 1960's.

The canon that is currently in effect, issued in 1972, does not mention titular bishops, ignoring the existence of a large number of them at the time of its adoption. However, the supplementary internal statute that was subsequently issued in 1982 could not ignore their existence and dedicated one of its sections for the bishops. In this section, it states that "The patriarch is the point of reference for all the bishops and they are at his disposal" and that the bishop "is entrusted with leadership of the patriarchal diwan, leadership of a patriarchal monastery, or with one of the representations or one of the other ecclesial institutions. The patriarchal vicar is elected to this office." In accordance with the decisions of this statute, the bishops are elected by the Holy Synod from among three names that are nominated by the patriarch. In this regard, one notices that the internal statute did not mention bishops assisting the metropolitans of archdioceses, who remain subordinate to the patriarch who appoints them to assist one of the metropolitans. At the end of the 20th century, the number of titular bishops decreased, with the transformation of patriarchal representations existing in the emigration into independent archdioceses and the elevation of the representational bishops in them to full members of the Holy Synod of Antioch. In the first decade of this century, the number of titular bishops decreased with the election of the bishops of al-Hisn and Tartous as metropolitans for the archdioceses of Akkar and Western Europe and the existence of titular bishops was limited to a small number who assisted the metropolitan and were dependent upon him.

In 2009, the Holy Synod modified the section of the internal statute pertaining to the bishops, adding material stating, "The metropolitan is the point of reference for all the bishops in his archdiocese, who are at his disposal" and another stating, "All bishops in the See of Antioch are assistant bishops and they depend directly on their point of reference." This modification came about because of a crisis that broke out in the Archdiocese of America between the metropolitan and his bishops. This crisis ended with the decision of the Holy Synod published in August 2010, which stated explicitly that "the bishops of the Archdiocese of North America are auxiliary bishops elevated to bishoprics and delegated by the metropolitan of the archdiocese to bishoprics. They depend on their spiritual point of reference, the metropolitan of the archdiocese, who has general authority in the entire archdiocese. The metropolitan has the right and authority, with reference to the synod of the archdiocese, to transfer a bishop dependent upon him from one bishopric to another, when necessary and for the good of the archdiocese."

Today, after the Synod's latest decision, the number of auxiliary bishops in the See of Antioch has increased to 20 bishops divided as follows: 6 in the patriarchate, 5 in the Archdiocese of North America, 3 in the Archdiocese of Akkar, 3 in the Archdiocese of Europe, 2 in the Archdiocese of Brazil, and 1 in the Archdiocese of Mexico. It is expected that this number will rise to 22 with the election of two auxiliary bishops in the Archdiocese of North America this coming July.

From the above, it is clear that the way of dealing with the institution of titular bishops in the See of Antioch during the 20th century has been pulled in two main directions. The first direction inclines toward reducing the number of titular bishops and limiting them to two at most to assist the patriarch. Those who follow this direction have insisted on restricting the patriarchs' competencies in the process of choosing titular bishops so that they do not use the institution of titular bishop as a way to nominate and consecrate whoever they desire in order to subsequently impose them on vacant archdioceses. The advocates of the second direction have inclined toward strengthening this institution but have not attempted to canonize it, insofar as resorting to it in many situations afforded solutions to crises or to reward certain members of the clergy. The canons issued before 1982 expressed the first direction, despite all the exceptions that undermined application of these canons. The internal statue of 1982 expressed the second direction, as it legitimized the situation prevailing at the time of its preparation and did not stipulate any controls or conditions in what pertains to the number of titular bishoprics, the manner of election of the titular bishops, or their competencies.

As for what led to the spread of the institution of titular bishop, it can be summarized in the following: reasons related to the creation of bishops assisting the patriarch; reasons related to the pastoral care of Damascus and securing its representation in the Synod of Antioch during the election of metropolitans and patriarchs; reasons going back to the pastoral care for the Antiochian diaspora in the emigration; reasons related to the senility of some bishops and their inability to minister to their archdioceses; reasons going back to the expansion of the territory of some archdioceses; reasons related to the elevation of bishops to take care of Antiochian institutions and patriarchal monasteries.

At the present, now that the need for elevating representational bishops in the emigration has ceased,and if we take into account that retirement of a metropolitan who is unable to care for his archdiocese remains the ideal solution for him and for his archdiocese, we find that impetus for elevating auxiliary bishops is limited to the expansion of the territory of some archdioceses and the synod's lack of desire to review their boundaries for various reasons. Consequently, auxiliary bishops are only elevated for the pastoral care of a definite group of people, and this makes them bishops of bishoprics and prevents them from being described as auxiliary bishops. Naturally, there remains to review the boundaries of some far-flung archdioceses and the elevation of metropolitans for them is the best pastoral solution. However, during a transitional period, it is possibly to rely on the metropolitan system that Orthodox has known and that is practiced in other Orthodox Churches. This system maintains the basic theological principles that pertain to the bishop, namely that the episcopacy is one, that bishops are equal in episcopal dignity, that bishoprics are not equal in terms of historical, geographical, or numerical importance, and that a bishop does not exist apart from a synod, whether it be metropolitan or patriarchal.

The above maintains Orthodox tradition with regard to bishops. If it is accompanied by a review of the role of the Holy Synod, insofar as membership in it comes to be open to all the metropolitans in the See of Antioch, aside from the exceptional roles relating to the election of the patriarch and metropolitans, whose membership is limited to metropolitans of archdioceses, it can lead to the pastoral revival that was intended by the Holy Synod's election of this large number of bishops.

Surpassing the current canonical weakness in matters relating to auxiliary bishops-- so that they are considered bishops, elevated to actual sees, belong to a local synod, and participate in the Synod of Antioch-- is a salient issue. It makes these bishops feel that they are equal in episcopal dignity to the See's metropolitans, and that they are not second-class bishops. It will avert from them and from the Church of Antioch crises like those that shook the Archdiocese of North America in years past. To bring this about, we suggest that what pertains to bishops in the sixth section of the internal statute be modified as follows:

Section Six: Bishops

1. Bishops are elevated to bishoprics dependent "on the Archdiocese of Antioch, Damascus, and their dependencies" or on one of the other archdioceses of the See of Antioch.

2. The number of bishoprics dependent on "the Archdiocese of Antioch, Damascus, and their dependencies" is defined according to the suggestion of the patriarch and with a decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch that is adopted by a two-thirds majority of the members who compose the Holy Synod. The decision specifies the geographical boundaries of the bishoprics, monasteries, and institutions dependent on each of them.

3. The patriarch can ask the Holy Synod to create a new bishopric or to modify the borders of one of the existing bishoprics through division and merger. In these situations, the Synod's decision is subject to the same conditions enumerated in section two of this statute.

4. The Holy Synod defines the archdioceses that are composed of bishoprics and it defines the number of these bishoprics based on the suggestion of the metropolitan of the archdiocese and with a decision of the Holy Synod adopted by a two-thirds majority of the members who compose the Holy Synod. The decision specifies the geographical boundaries of the bishoprics, monasteries, and institutions dependent on each of them.

5. The metropolitan can ask the Holy Synod to create a new bishopric or to modify the borders of one of the existing bishoprics through division and merger. In these situations, the Synod's decision is subject to the same conditions enumerated in section two of this statute.

6. The bishops dependent on "the Archdiocese of Antioch, Damascus, and their dependencies" constitute a metropolitan synod presided over by His Beatitude the patriarch. The bishops of other archdioceses constitute a metropolitan synod presided over by the metropolitan of the archdiocese.

7. The patriarchal vicar is considered an active member of the metropolitan synod of "the Archdiocese of Antioch, Damascus, and their dependencies."

8. The bishops of the archdiocese commemorate the metropolitan and the metropolitan commemorates the patriarch in divine services.

9. A single archdiocese is represented by a single vote in the Holy Synod of Antioch, the vote of the metropolitan of the archdiocese. In extenuating circumstances preventing the metropolitan's participation in the synod, he can delegate, by formal delegation, one of the bishops of his archdiocese.

10. The bishops participate in the activities of the Holy Synod of Antioch without the right to vote and they can be elected to synodal committees.

11. The patriarchal vicar participates in the appointment and election of the patriarch, metropolitans, and bishops.

12. The patriarch nominates three names from among which the Synod elects a bishop to be patriarchal vicar.

13. A nominating assembly is convened in the bishopric to undertake the nomination of three clergymen from among those who fulfill the conditions for nomination to the episcopate who are included in the synodal list of appropriate candidates. The nominating assembly is composed of the bishops of the archdiocese, the clergy of the vacant bishopric, and lay representatives elected by the parish councils in the bishopric. The number of laypeople is limited by a decision from the metropolitan of the archdiocese according to the numerical proportion of each parish, so that the number of clergymen does not surpass a quarter of the members of the nominating assembly. The nominating assembly meets under the presidency of the metropolitan of the archdiocese. The holy synod undertakes the process of nomination in the case that the nominating assembly cannot be formed.

14. The consecration of a bishop takes place in the patriarchal cathedral by the laying on of hands of the patriarch, the metropolitan of the archdiocese, and the metropolitans of the See of Antioch. The pastoral staff is handed over in the cathedral of the bishopric by the metropolitan of the archdiocese.

15. The metropolitan of the archdiocese is considered to be the symbol of its unity and the instrument of its connectedness to the communion of the Church. He is its official representative before the state and he has general authority and direct oversight over the charities, monasteries, churches, institutions, places of pilgrimage, and "shrines" therein. He is the president of its councils, organizations, institutions and all other community bodies. He forms and directs them according to the decrees of the statute of councils and the internal statute.

16. The bishop represents the metropolitan in presiding over councils, organizations, institutions, and community bodies dependent on his bishopric and he is considered president of the parish councils dependent on his bishopric.

17. The bishop makes pastoral visits to the parishes of his bishopric and he is vigilant to preserve the integrity of the Orthodox faith and to secure celebration of the mysteries, preaching, and teaching in them.

18. The bishop consecrates new churches within the borders of his bishopric. He approves of all plans related to new buildings in his bishopric and likewise oversees all works of restoration and preservation of churches and endowments in his bishopric.

19. The metropolitan convenes the initial spiritual court in his archdiocese which is composed of himself as president and of two of the bishops of his archdiocese as principal members. He applies the "canon or statute of personal statuses."

20. The bishop organizes registries of baptism, betrothal, marriage, the financial records for endowments and properties, holy vessels, manuscripts, and icons in his bishopric and files a copy of them with the secretariat of the Synod via the metropolitan of the archdiocese.

21. With the cooperation of the metropolitan, the bishop looks after the priests of his bishopric and secures their livelihood. He meets with them regularly and sees to their pastoral zeal.

22. The bishop recommends to the synod of the archdiocese the names of students nominated for theological study and the names of individuals suitable for ordination to the priesthood. The bishop ordains deacons and priests for his bishopric and sends the metropolitan of the archdiocese their clerical documentation. The bishop elevates priests in his bishopric to the rank of archimandrite with the agreement of the metropolitan of the archdiocese.

23. The bishop does not accept a priest into his bishopric without a letter of formal release, and this is only after the consent of the metropolitan of the archdiocese. As for transfer of priests within the bishoprics of a single archdiocese, this is undertaken by the archdiocesan synod. As for the release of priests of the bishoprics to outside the metropolitanate, this only takes place on the basis of a letter of release issued by the metropolitan of the archdiocese.

24. The bishop is responsible for general preaching and guidance within his bishopric, for visiting its people as he is able, and for the ordering of schedules for these things.

25. He exercises his membership in the archdiocesan synod through his presence at its sessions and his carrying out its decisions. He participates in sessions of the Holy Synod of Antioch as an observer and he applies the decisions, statutes, and canons of the See.

26. With the consultation of the metropolitan of the archdiocese, he organizes an annual budget for the bishopric that is presented to the synod of the archdiocese and the archdiocesan council.

27. He is forbidden from belonging to political parties or secret societies.

28. He directs and invests the bishopric's endowments with the agreement of the metropolitan of the archdiocese. He is forbidden from disposing of the bishopric's endowments. All activity contrary to the decrees of this section are considered void.

29. The bishop upholds the canons of the ecumenical and local councils and the canons and statutes of the See of Antioch.

30. In the event of the bishop's disability, the metropolitan undertakes management of the bishopric. In the event of permanent disabilities, the bishop is placed in one of the patriarchal monasteries and his archdiocese provides all appropriate care to support him.

31. The bishops are included in the synodal list of suitable candidates and they can be elected to vacant metropolitan sees.

32. A bishop who is engaged in active episcopal ministry is considered to be the equivalent of an active metropolitan and can be nominated to the office of patriarch if he has spent five years in his bishopric.

33. The metropolitan punishes a bishop with private rebuke and reproach or with formal rebuke and reproach.

34. Bishops are judged before the Holy Synod, following a formal complaint.

35. The synod punishes a bishop with formal rebuke and reproach or with deposition and laicization if he committed a serious offense.

36. The bishop punishes a transgressing clergyman in his bishopric with rebuke and censure or with suspension from the divine services for a period between one and five months.

37. An initial disciplinary council within a bishopric is composed of the metropolitan and two bishops elected by the synod of the archdiocese. This disciplinary council punishes a priest or deacon, married or celibate, by suspension from the divine services for a period of six months and no more, by putting him in compulsory residency in a location specified by the pastor of the archdiocese for a period of six months and no more, or by expulsion from the priesthood.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Met. Georges Khodr on Domestic Violence

From his column in an-Nahar. Arabic original here.

Domestic Violence

It appears that we are witnessing a competition taking root between Muslim scholars or preachers and the state over the question of domestic violence. These brothers see the proposed legislation to be mutually exclusive with Islamic law and appeal to the latter for a woman's obedience to her husband. This is what little I read in the press. In the absence of the complete text you cannot take a position, even if you are a non-Muslim. However, I anticipate a major division in the country, not only dividing between the sects but also dividing between segments within a single religion.

No doubt, only the powerful practice violence. They assert themselves with the means at their disposal, with their muscles for example. Modern society emphatically speaks of dialogue, but dialogue is not always a meeting of equals except superficially, because the strong often show kindness in order to assert themselves. Violence of different levels is rooted in nature, but it must be overturned by the justice and equality that God wants to be universal among us.

Violence is intensified by the law or by the social order which the strong benefit from and hide behind. Spousal violence is wrapped in divine words in this or that religion until man discovers the depth of equality in grace and gain the experience that mercy is more powerful than physical strength or legal power. Here again we return to the ego. Am I, for example, the arbiter of what appears from God or is it possible to commit brutality in defense of the authority of law and to apply it in practice against a citizen who has transgressed the interpretation of this arbiter of the laws expressions? It is the temptation of the possessor of the law that it is his and its reality is that it is delegated to him to carry out God's authority, or, you might say, the authority of truth.

If we return to the topic of the family, Christianity calls for a wife to submit to her husband, but it softens this by saying that the husband must love his wife just as Christ loved the Church: to the point of death. But I have rarely found a man who has read this part of the divine text and who is not just content to demand obedience from his wife. Naturally, texts are read by humans and if they do not love very much, they use them for their own benefit.

What about Islam? The clearest thing about the matter is aya 34 of Surat al-Nisa': "If you fear their recalcitrance, admonish them then avoid them in bed, then beat them." I posed the question of beating to Sheikh Sobhi el-Saleh, may God have mercy on him. The problem is that after his passing, I do not have a witness. He said that the beating does not have to be intense, and this is supported by the Tafsir of al-Jalalayn, which means that this is a form of admonition and not true violence. Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Tabataba'i deals with it graciously and considers it to be a means of rebuking, which means that in Surat al-Nisa' we do not have something that must be understood as being violence. I understand it to soften the beating when the Qur'an says, "It is made lawful for you to go in unto your wives on the night of the fast. They are raiment for you and ye are raiment for them (Surat al-Baqara 187)". In philosophical language, this symmetry, this meeting in love, absolutely precludes violent beating.

I do not at all see anything in the Qur'anic revelation that would permit domestic violence. How should we treat each other when there are verses of mercy, of which there are dozens, to the point that it's possible to say that Islam is a religion of mercy? It is required in every place, not only in the home. The great question is what is the place of contemporary sensibility with regard to what God has said. How should we approach contemporary civilization insofar as it is against violence? Is it committing disbelief to insist on peace in every place? Can there be interpretation within time and within every period of time? Does the contemporary sentiment for domestic peace not please God?

Will the country really be divided? This time, people will not fight according to sect. To my mind, there will appear a group that sees statutory law as against Islamic law and another Lebanese group that includes both Christian and Muslim liberals who hold to their faith but pay no attention to think that they have gone against religious dogma if they say that they are against domestic violence and who are closer to believing in equality between husband and wife in ordering the affairs of the family. There is tradition, and there is modernity or reform of Islamic thought that is close to contemporary civilization. This reformist thought has roots in Islam in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere.

Woman's march toward equality with men is a significant phenomenon in modern Islam. It will not stop while it raises the banner of an Islam that is true to itself but is also developing according to the development of civilization that is enveloping the world today. Within this civilization, no one understands a man's violence or a woman's violence. Domestic violence is against them both. I have witnessed before a woman's cruelty to her husband and her ruthless behavior. The idea is that the law protects well-being and is aimed against either party persecuting the other. The obedience to the husband that religious teaching calls for does not include the right to punish her and he cannot be a party to the dispute and the judge at the same time. This is naturally contrary to mercy. Neither of the two can in any way subjugate the other. Union is not subjugation. It is a dual motion and a mutually exchanged love. The woman does not just receive affection from her spouse, she also gives it and expects a response from her companion in existence, until they both become one being.

My dream is for those with strong muscles and those with wealth will understand that the other might be greater spiritually and culturally and that they will receive as they give.

This leads me to say that we do not have a common life if we remain divided between traditionalists and reformists. Yes, I know that all societies are divided along these lines. However, if we remain divided between people of text and people of spirit, the country will have a long wait before it sees its revival. However, I am happy that the dispute is not between Christians and Muslims, but between rigorists and people who believe in development, growth, and progress. The two groups exist in both religions. However slowly, a true civil society will take shape along with an old, outmoded society, until the society that progresses toward truth is victorious, tomorrow or the next day. There is no doubt that within human reality there are spiritualities, but there are also lived realities that keep man from rigidity or delusion.

We must look at the issue of violence, in the home and outside the home, in light of a profound reform of humanity. If there does not come a unity based on understanding, we will continue to proceed in a state of false calm based on platitudes. Without a profundity based on heritage and a general revival based on truth, love, fearlessness, and confidence in others' ability to advance, we have no life.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fr. Boulos Wehbe Remembers Fr. Elias Morcos

Continuing translations of reflections on the life of Fr. Elias Morcos published in Majallat al-Nur. This one is by Fr. Boulos Wehbe, priest of Sts. Michael and Gabriel Church in Mazra'a, Beirut and a professor at Notre Dame de Louaize University. My apologies for the roughness of the translation of this very personal, heartfelt reflection. The rather more eloquent Arabic original can be found here.

Abouna Elias as He Is, Abouna Elias as I Knew Him

“I had not seen God with joy like I did on the day that He brought Abouna Elias back to Himself…”
I felt this at the moment that I learned that Abouna Elias had reposed in the body and this expression hasn’t stopped repeating itself in my consciousness until I started writing these paragraphs, two months after that moment. To return to that moment, I felt then that God was speaking to me, opening His arms to embrace me: ‘I joined with people during your stay with them, and now that you are with Me in My house, I pour out upon you all the compassion and love that I have while you sit on the throne of sonship that many have not deserved.’
However, I also felt at that moment a sensation that brought much relief, which at first seemed strange: I only wept a certain number of tears for him and a feeling more resembling numbness crept in, a feeling of happiness in the certainty that Abouna Elias is still present, that indeed he is still strongly present in my life, in the life of the faithful and of the Church. This feeling was confirmed when I was near his pure body, during the funeral prayers and afterwards when he was carried to his body’s final resting place. During the prayers, I looked at him and he appeared to be sleeping (the expression used by Jesus to describe Lazarus’ repose), just a nap nothing more. When he was brought out of the church, I did not say goodbye to him because I did not feel that he was leaving me, leaving us. He left, but he is still present…
And what do I feel now? Exactly the same feelings. Abouna Elias is still present with an intensity that does not diminish, a presence that did not fade while his body had a pulse (that is, in a more usual expression: when he was still alive. And he is still alive). I did not always manage to see him in the manner that I hoped to, but I was always close to him, asking for his prayers from afar (without necessarily talking to him on the telephone, only by means of prayer), calling out in prayer: “Abouna Elias”, Lord Jesus have mercy on me (forgive me). And now I will continue to repeat the same prayer because his intercession, which sheltered me during his life, will continue to shelter me during his bodily absence. I feel precisely that Abouna Elias is still present in my life, full stop.
I can declare in all simplicity that Abouna Elias had a presence, a savor, an impact in my life more than any other person. He had and still has the greatest impact in a great deal of what he said and in a great deal of what I took from him without his speaking. His example was my greatest teacher. I stored away his words and movements, his tenderness and mirth and blessings within my consciousness, my heart, my intellect, my being, since I had the greatest teacher and the sweetest balm. I cannot describe this in words. He taught me that love has no horizon and no limits, that love does not know judgment, that love is the password. He loved me as I am, and did not “philosophize” about me or judge me once! One time, after a bitter confession, I waited for what he would say to me. When he opened his mouth, he said, ‘We are all sinners. I ask you to remember me in your prayers,’ and that was it. I felt that I had been forgiven and that my sins had fallen away from me. He accepted me as I am even in my darkest days and would often tell me, ‘you are my comfort.’ When I saw him for the last time, carried on a bed from the hospital to the monastery, he said to me in French, ‘Thank you for everything.’ He was thanking me? What should I say?
He hid his humility with mirth, and it increased because he hid it. Can I speak of his presence? Yes, I have spoken of his presence, but it is not from my own words, but rather from what is stored away within me from God’s presence, His knowledge, His compassion, His love, and ardent love for everything connected to Him. He taught me command of the liturgy and God’s companionship in others. He taught me to be on intimate terms with the Bible through his discussing it in preaching, meditation, and wonder. Despite all this, he always acted according to the Lord’s teaching that the Sabbath was made for the service of man, not man for the service of the Sabbath, and so I often saw him go against convention or go outside the texts or what is customary and is usually done for the sake of others’ joy. I have many examples of this sort.
Joy was his basic characteristic, joy coming from daily surprise at God and His children, at being, at everything that God created. Once he told me a joke about a person who was always felt surprise when he got up from sleep. One day he didn’t feel this… and he was surprised! Is it possible to imagine what Abouna Elias experienced from the moment he entered the monastery, all the difficulties and disappointment, exile and bitterness? And is it possible for one to measure what this giant was able to accomplish? A single person the size of a church. He spread revival in the See of Antioch and in Antiochian Orthodox monasticism. He wrote, lectured, and represented the See in forums and conferences. He traveled and toured, sought sons and daughters, kept vigil and labored. He toiled and was not exhausted. Thousands were spiritually reborn at his hands. He consecrated hundreds and guided hundreds. His light shined beyond the boundaries of his Church. He became a father to those who came from east and west to the bosom of Abraham.
And so, what he accomplished was a heritage in a single person and what he established remains as long as his spirit remains alive in the consciousness of those who became disciples at his hands, who drank from his provisions, who walked in his footsteps. He is a saint from Antioch, an icon engraved in our hearts and in the depth of the Church’s being, a pillar of the fire of compassion and a bridge to Jesus’ love.
You will remain, father, a beacon for me by which I will be guided through the darkness of days, and in which I will rejoice through life’s journey. You reside in me like perfume resides in a rose and I will continue to savor you despite the thorns’ pricks and the roughness of the path because you are engraved on my heart, my mind, my memories, my present, my tomorrow, constant and active. This happened since I met you as a student preparing to enter university and it will continue by your supplication, God willing, until I meet you in the bosom of the Lord Jesus, whom you loved to your last breath.