Friday, September 23, 2011

Met. Ephrem's Sermon for September 18, 2011

The Arabic original can be found here.

Beloved, today on this Sunday after the Feast of the Elevation of the Honorable Cross, you heard this passage from the Gospel that talks about the Cross. From it you can derive an understanding of the Cross of Christ and of his Cross in our life. The Church chose this passage from the Gospel of Mark chapter 8, and Mark has 16 chapters so it is the middle of this gospel. It is a symbol of the Cross’ place in the Church which is always, as you see, placed in the center of the church. Moreover, it is placed at the center of being and it is placed in the center of our life and the center of our heart. Those who believe in the Cross, that is, in the One Crucified, and those who do not believe in the Cross, they live at the center of our life-- this cross, the Cross of Christ, who is the Creator of being.

If we meditate upon this passage from the Gospel and its place in the eighth chapter, we see that there is a chapter that precedes it wherein the Lord Jesus talks with his disciples and prophecies to them that he will suffer and die and rise on the third day. Peter was amazed by these words and said to him, “God forbid that this happen to you.” The Lord Jesus replied to him, “Get behind me, Satan. Your words are the words of men and not the words of God.” After that comes the passage where Jesus says, “Let him who wants to follow me deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Saint John Chrysostom says, “Christ was not satisfied to prophecy to his disciples about what would happen to him. Instead, he called them to the very same path, if they wanted to follow him.” He cites the words of the Lord in the Gospel of John: “A grain of wheat that falls to the earth, if it does not die, it will not bring much fruit.” He adds, “Christ not only prepares them for his death, but for their death as well!”

We know from the holy fathers that self-denial is the hardest thing for a human. Who is able to deny himself? What does it mean for a person to deny himself, if he wants to follow Christ? A person can push away and avoid the temptations of this life, but for him to deny himself, to hold himself of no account, for him to not cling to his own will and opinion, this is something very difficult. Something that helps a person in this work—according to the monastic fathers—is for him to cut off his will. Cutting off one’s will in other words is obedience and submission. But obedience to whom, in the end? To God’s word, to God’s will!

Let us obey our leader. It is only a kind of training, that is a practical way for us to be able to obey God. This is the true faith, not for us to obey the experts of the world and what people say, but to have conviction, to believe, and to live the world of God, the commandments of the Lord Jesus. However, it is not enough for a person to obey and it is not enough to submit. Saint Cyril of Alexandria says, “In order for a person to be able to obey and to deny himself, he must love, he must have love of God and love of neighbor.” Love alone helps us to deny ourselves and to sacrifice for the sake of others.

Thus, beloved, the Cross reminds us of this truth, the truth of obedience to the word of God and the truth of great love. In this way we come to resemble the Lord Jesus Christ who was obedient to the point of death, death upon the Cross. Amen.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

An Interesting Take on the Orthodox in Lebanese Politics

This article is by Philippe Skaff, president of the Lebanese Green Party. It is within the context of recent demands by Orthodox leaders for greater representation Lebanese government and administration. For example, this. The Arabic original, published in an-Nahar, can be found here.

Not Us Orthodox Too!

Although I am among those who use three fingers to make the sign of the cross over their face, I allow myself to begin with this frank title, first of all because I still believe in Arabism, second because I still believe in Lebanon, and third because I am convinced that sectarian representation turns the principles of democracy into an unexemplary farce… I did not believe it when communiqués were issued by Orthodox dignitaries under the banner “We are not sectarian but we want sectarian representation.” The story of the three-finger group is close to the oft-told story of a tall, good-looking young man who anxiously asked a fortune teller, “I am alone in this world even though I am wealthy and cultured. Read for me the coffee-grounds about my love life.”

The fortune teller looked at what was left of the coffee and said, “I see a beautiful girl… You will fall in love with her.”

He asked her, “Will we get married?”

“Of course!” came the reply.

“Will we have a long life together?”

“Unfortunately, no. You will get divorced, because she’s very bad-natured.”

“And I will remain alone?!”

“Of course not! You will fall in love with and marry a woman even more beautiful than the first.”

“And will we remain together?”

“No, because this one will have an even worse nature than the one before her… You will divorce her too.”

“And I will not marry again after that?”

“No, no… You will get married to a third woman.”


“You will not divorce her because you will have gotten used to bad-natured, uncouth women.”

It appears that in Lebanon the history of the Orthodox has reached this third stage. They have passed through two divorces, the first with the Rome of the West because their Eastern Christianity refused to allow the West to conquer the East. So they helped Saladdin to liberate Jerusalem in 1187 and fought in his army against the Crusaders. However, this unorthodox marriage faltered with the fall of Constantinople. Their second divorce was with the oppressive Turks, and so the Orthodox revived Arabism during the time of the Nahda , for which they were the undisputable pioneers. Their third marriage was to intellectual and political secularism and the call to build up Lebanon within the framework of an Arab nationalism that ties together language, land, history, and a common destiny. Today there can be no divorce because they have gotten used to the evils of religious and sectarian prejudice that surround them. Why are they desperate and miserable, those who were the first to believe that deviation in religion leads to division and to a decline of the people and that it is the weapon of the mobs who when they revolt become ferocious beasts…. My fear is that the sole remaining intellect in Middle East will become ignorant!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Two Sermons on the Cross by Met. Ephrem

This sermon was originally given on September, 11 2011 at the Church of the Dormition, Kfar Aqqa.The Arabic original can be found here.

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

Beloved, we meet today in this beautiful, blessed church consecrated in the name of the Theotokos Mary, and on this occasion you have heard a passage from the Gospel that talks about the Cross because today is the Sunday before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. It is possible for a faithful person to think, “Why did the Church establish these feasts and arrange them in the summertime, such as the Feast of the Transfiguration and then the Dormition of the Theotokos, then the Nativity of Our Lady and the Feast of the Cross?” The Church arranged these feasts in a logical manner, since each feast is connected to the last and all the feasts are connected to each other and complete each other because “the mystery of God” is one in the Church and we come to know it and live it in all its aspects. Today it is the aspect of the Cross and the Virgin is the aspect of the saints, since she is the holiest of the saints, that is the person who has most come to resemble the crucified Christ and who has been glorified as he was glorified on the Cross. So first of all let us understand the Feast of the Cross, which we will celebrate this coming Wednesday. Every feast has two aspects. One is the historical aspect which is the event that happened in the past, for example Christ’s crucifixion. The commemoration of the “Exaltation of the Honorable Cross” occurred historically when it was found by Saint Helen, the mother of Saint Constantine the Great, and you can read the story in the Synaxarion.

The other aspect of the feast is the essential part, the concept that the feast teaches us. What is the meaning of the Cross and of the Exaltation of the Cross? As you see, in every church we raise it up above the iconostasis, in the hope that we will raise it up in our life! What is the importance of the Cross? And why do Christians hold fast to their faith in the Cross? This is an important and central question. The faith of the Christian in the Cross is not faith in a piece of wood or metal or in the sign of the cross. It is faith in the crucified one, in the Lord Jesus. This is why in our Church we do not use the Cross without the one crucified and so the cross in our church is either painted or engraved because our faith is that the Lord Jesus Christ is God and not only man. For this reason he is able to save us, since he saved us through his death on the Cross, where he manifested his ultimate love. He suffered and was crucified for our sake. You heard in this gospel passage this important phrase that we also say in the divine liturgy, if we listen closely to the hymns, “You loved your world so much that you sacrificed your only-begotten son so that those who believe in him will not perish but will have eternal life.” The Apostle John says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten son so that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” God manifested His ultimate love for the world, for every one of us, for those within the Church and those outside it, for every Christian and for every person in the world! Our Creator who created existence came and manifested His love for the whole world. Eternal life is the life that transcends this earthly life and it transcends death because for the Christian there is no death, since death is always tied to the Resurrection and suffering is tied to joy. There is no joy without suffering. There is no resurrection without death. This is why we also say, “Having seen the Resurrection of Christ let us bow down to the Holy Lord who alone is free of sin… To your Cross, O Christ, we bow down and we glorify your Resurrection.” We also say, “Through the Cross joy came to the whole world.” For this reason we hold fast to the Cross and wear it upon our breasts. Every baptized person is given a cross by their godfather to accompany him throughout his life. One who knows to bear the Cross and to bear the pains of this world, to be patient with them without grumbling, will have joy, because through your cross comes joy, not the joy of this passing world, but true joy, and one who believes in Christ crucified will acquire true, eternal joy and when he reposes will be transported to eternal life. Amen.

This sermon was originally given on September 14, 2011 at Holy Cross Church, el-Danniyeh. The Arabic original can be found here.

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

Today is the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy, Honorable Cross. You heard today in this gospel passage that talks about the Crucifixion about how the Lord Jesus was lifted up and died on the Cross. During the year, there are a number of feasts for the Cross. In the middle of Lent we commemorate the Cross and during the Summer we commemorate the Elevation of the Cross.

Our faith is that the Lord Jesus is the Son of God. He is God who became man and did not abandon his divinity. The Jews crucified him because he claimed to be equal to the Father, that is equal to God. We believe that the Lord Jesus is man and is God and that he is our God. But why does our God die no the Cross?! The great, basic reason for this death is his love for man who fell in the time of Adam through the trickery of the serpent, who symbolizes the devil and evil.

The Lord Jesus was raised up on the Cross on the day of Good Friday and this is why a believer fasts every Friday, because Christ was crucified at the sixth hour, which is at mid-day, which is the same hour when Adam fell, being tricked by the serpent through Eve. The Lord wanted to be crucified at the same hour that Adam fell. This is what the Evangelist John means when he says, “It was the sixth hour when they crucified him.” According to the Gospel, the Lord was crucified at Golgotha, meaning the place of the skull because according to tradition Christ was crucified in the place where Adam was buried, that is the place where Adam’s skull was. This also means that the Lord Jesus came to give life to fallen Adam and the Church calls Christ “the New Adam.”

Adam represents every person because every one of us is fallen and sinful. Every person who believes that the Lord Jesus was crucified for our sake becomes “a new Adam,” that is he becomes a new person. This is the meaning of the gospel passage that you heard today! This is the meaning of today’s feast.

Every person who believes in the Lord Jesus, if he keeps the commandments, becomes a new person and is victorious over evil just as he was victorious! We hope that this feast will renew our souls so that we can live a new life with the Lord Jesus. Amen.

Met. Georges Khodr on the Feast of the Cross

The Arabic original is from here.

The Feast of the Cross

On the fourteenth of September the churches celebrate the Elevation of the Cross. It goes without saying that Christians do not worship the wood of the Cross, and they only put it in their churches when there is an icon, that is a drawing, of Christ on it. Every mention of the Cross during worship brings us back to the one who died on it. Why do we have this feast? There are two types of Christian feasts: Feasts of concepts, like the Nativity and Easter, and feasts celebrating historical events to which a theological concept has been attached.

What we call the Elevation of the Cross commemorates first of all the discovery of the Savior’s Cross buried under the ground of Golgotha where he died. It was discovered by Helene, mother of the Emperor Constantine, who built the Church of the Resurrection and the Church of the Cradle. The wood of the Cross was placed in the Church of the Resurrection until May 4, when the Persians stole it during the time following their occupation of Jerusalem. In 628, after defeating the Persians the Emperor Heraclius returned it to the Holy City. The Church elevated the Cross before the faithful, and the feast began. The Cross was divided into very tiny pieces and was distributed to believers throughout world, meaning that today it is mere relics for thousands of Christians.

The liturgical aspect of this feast is extremely beautiful in the Orthodox tradition. Before the liturgy, the priest raises the Cross above his head and lowers it to the ground five times, amidst lengthy chanting. After each believer kisses the cross, the priest gives him a flower that had been placed around the Cross while it was carried in the procession that brought it to the table where the veneration takes place.

With varying levels of liturgical pomp and splendor, all Christians express their faith, not only with words and hymns, but also with symbols, to the point that it could be said that eastern liturgy is a kind of religious theater in which there are various art forms, prostrations, bows, and motions such as making the sign of the cross over the face and chest. In worship there is also water, bread, wine, oil, flowers, crowns for the bride and groom, oil and soil for a corpse, and robes of different colors according to the season, robes particular to each rank of clergy, icons and wall paintings, so that the faithful feel that they are giving glory to God with their souls and their bodies together—this is because of their belief in the resurrection of the body.

There is a necessary tangible quality that you have to know in order to understand Christianity as it was embodied in the first millennium—and everything we do today existed in the first millennium. You should understand people as they understand themselves.

You can accept Christ’s death or you can reject it, I won’t debate you. However, if you want to coexist with Christians, you have to understand their profound faith in the Crucified One. You will not understand a single speck of their faith and you will not be able to love them unless you understand their secret, namely what profoundly motivates them, and you remain free to believe or disbelieve in the event of the crucifixion. All the warmth of love in Christianity has only come to them through the crucifixion of the Savior. All their prayer, the purity of some of them, their intellectual achievements east and west, the testimony of millions of martyrs, generation after generation, their abstinence and asceticism, all forgiveness and peace in the soul and loves that sacrifice to the point of death, all of this comes down to them from the Crucified One. If it were not for him, then Christianity would be just another Jewish sect.

There is nothing in their Gospel apart from this event, whatever the language or styles of the Gospels. Their language appears simple but their theological content is extremely complicated. It is based on the dialectic of Christ’s death and resurrection, that is his glorious manifestation and his lordship over hearts.

This crucifixion is what makes Christianity a faith in a person named Jesus of Nazareth and not the basis for belief in books. The Nazarene did not write a single letter and his followers believe in him because he did and then rose. They wrote down the Gospels a few decades after his death (the fourth gospel after the year 90). Before they wrote them down, the single faith existed and the blood of the martyrs flowed not because of books but because of love for that person.

Through his passion, he became the high priest and took upon himself the sins of mankind in order to end them through the new life that he gives them through his entrance into the kingdom of death and his descent into hell, to the depth of the curse that affects all those who died before and after him. This is because “the wage of sin is death,” which became the death of the Son of Man.

These pains that he bore are the pains of all people, their transgressions. He took them upon himself in order to save them from them. “In baptism buried with him to death so that just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too can walk in renewal of life.”

However, before you receive eternal life, your condition is that of fallen, suffering man. This means that you too are crucified and you will not be saved from any cross that is put on your shoulders except through his cross and you will rise from the life you are in to his life so that you can become a new creation. You did not invent suffering. It comes from this world that is under the power of the evil one. It causes you pain and anxiety until Christ’s Resurrection falls upon you with repentance, which is you returning with all your wounds to his face. This is perfect faith, which spurs you on to hope and in love for Jesus, which it pours bountifully upon you so that you go to him and become a Paschal being.

“Let him who wants to follow me deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Christ does not put a cross on you. It comes to you from the circumstances of your existence on earth. If you bear it, you will become a heavenly person. This is why the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross has always been your path. Every day you are burdened and every day the Resurrection lifts your burdens from you.

From this vantage point, this feast extends through you every day. Do the children who light fires on the evening of this day know that they are thus called to carry light to the world, to become people of the Resurrection? Does that reflect their identity?

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross is nothing else but a love story, the greatest love story in history because it was written in blood. It is the marriage of the Savior with all humanity. His beloved is not limited to the Christian groups. It is purified mankind, from all corners of the earth. It is his body, that is his being, baptized in water or baptized in the Spirit. Those who believe in Jesus believe in love and all people are their beloved because all people come from Christ in one way or another and by his blood he carries them to his Father and his Spirit, so that God may be all in all.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Met. Ephrem on the Nativity of the Theotokos

The Arabic original can be found here. This sermon was given in Tripoli on September 8, 2011.

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

Beloved, we are still at the beginning of the Church year, since the year begins for the Church in September. The first great feast is the one that we celebrate today, the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos. You notice that on all the feasts of Our Lady Mary, her Nativity, her Dormition, her Entrance into the Temple, this passage from the Gospel is read and along with it this passage from the Letter of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians. This Epistle says that the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man, emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, becoming like a human, and humbled himself to the point of death, death on the cross. Why do you think that the Church chooses this Epistle for the feasts of Our Lady Mary? And what is the intimate bond between the Lord Jesus and the Virgin Mary? And what is the importance of the Virgin Mary in the economy of salvation?

This Epistle is connected to the mystery of the Incarnation. The Lord Jesus is the Son of God who was incarnate and became man in order to suffer, to rise, and to save us from the weight of death and sin. And so he came down! This divine self-abasement is what the Apostle Paul is expressing when he says “He emptied himself”. This is the mystery of the divine plan, how the God empties himself , “He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, becoming like a human, and humbled himself to the point of death, death on the cross.” But what did the Virgin do? The Virgin is a human like us, but in her purity, faith, and obedience she did more than any person on the earth in the past, present, or future, and resembled the Lord Jesus in self-abasement, obedience, humility, and self-emptying. The Bible describes this human person as the divine ladder, Jacob’s ladder, that connects earth to heaven and also connects us to heaven because by the grace of God she did what Christ did, but in the opposite direction, since she began as a human person and was elevated and divinized by God’s grace. This is the teaching of the Church, that this woman “the Virgin Mary” was divinized and elevated from earth to heaven and thus by God’s grace became a divinized person.

This is the way that we must look at Mary. We must come to resemble her, that is, be obedient. The Gospel says that she is blessed through all generations, but the Lord says is today’s Gospel passage, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” This means that the Virgin Marry is blessed because she heard the word of God and kept it. She was obedient to God’s word and to the Gospel and his is what gave her patience, love, and obedience and this is why she said “behold I am the handmaiden of the Lord”—the word ‘handmaiden’ means ‘servant’. That is, she came to resemble Christ who became a servant in order to save us. How lovely it would be if we had this grace to be humble and to heed the word of God, to keep it, and to apply it in our life. Amen.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fr. Georges Massouh: No to Tolerance, Yes to Citizenship

The Arabic original can be found here.

No to Tolerance, Yes to Citizenship

Most religious discourse about the other is dominated by the concept of “tolerance.” Religious jurists and thinkers never tire from repeating and popularizing the story about Islamic tolerance over the ages for those belonging to the “People of the Book.” We may concede, for the sake of the argument, the textual and theoretical truth of this story, even though its truth is weakened if we look at some periods of Islamic history when religious extremism dominated and the other was rejected to the point of total annihilation.

In our critique of the concept of tolerance, we cannot ignore a basic question that is connected to tolerance being imposed under certain unjust conditions concerning the right and freedom of groups. At the head of these conditions come things related to the building of churches and the role of worship, the exclusion from certain positions in the state, mixed marriage, and everything resulting from it. If we look back at times when extremism grew strong, we can mention poor treatment of dhimmis who were required to wear specific types of clothing and to carry weights around their necks, and were not allowed to ride horses as a form of humiliation and insult.

Then they never tire of talking about tolerance! Their evident proof is that non-Muslims were permitted to practice their rituals and worship and to have their personal status regulated by according to the rules and customs of their religious communities on the condition that they paid the jizya in exchange for not entering the army for the protection with Muslims of their homes. Any person who strives for full citizenship will reject this tolerance. It is not acceptable to any person who rejects conditions that fall short of complete equality for individuals within a single society, without any distinction on the basis of religion, creed, ethnicity, or sex.

Even if this tolerance was useful in bygone days, it is still something that belongs to bygone days. Our societies cannot remain backward relative to a modernity whose most important components include respect for the individual as a basic social value for human society, without which no society can stand. In our countries, the individual still has no value. He is incorporated, whether he likes it or not, into his religious, sectarian, or ethnic group. No weight is given to this individual unless he is included within his group and his weight comes from its weight. Whatever he may create or express within his field, he will remain relegated and marginalized within the boundaries of his group.

A healthy society is based on mutual rights and responsibilities among all its individuals, without dismissing any of them. In our age, it has become harmful to use an expression like “religious or ethnic minorities” and to negotiate over their rights and responsibilities and over tolerance for their existence and their religious practices and worship. Those who belong to these “religious minorities” long for a state in which they can live as individual citizens on the basis of equality with their partners in the nation, without pleading for tolerance or terms resembling it.

Islamic thinkers continue to approach the topic of the state and society through the lens of relations between religious and sectarian groups and not through the lens of the individual citizen and they still approach it through the lens of the majority’s toleration of the minority. This will return us to the era before the modern state, to the age of tribes and clans and ignorance.

Citizenship is what we desire and it requires universal respect and total equality without legislative or judicial reservations. In his book “Islam is Freedom and Dialogue” (Dar an-Nahar, 1999, p. 95), the Tunisian thinker Muhammad el-Talebi says, “Religious freedom is not a gift of charitable or benevolent tolerance that we grant to people who are in error.” We hope that we will arrive at a day when no citizen grants another citizen tolerance as an act of charity on account of the predominance of his religious or sectarian group.

Met. Ephrem on the Rich Young Man

The Arabic original can be found here. This sermon was originally given on September 4, 2011 in Rashayya el-Wadi.

As you can sense, I am very happy to be with you and I hope I will be even more so. We have a secret key through which we connect to the whole world, especially to those we love, and this key is prayer. This prayer that gathers us together today, it is not only human prayer and this joy is not human joy. It is heavenly joy. We in the Orthodox Church celebrate—especially on every Sunday—what we call “the Mystical Wedding.” This is because of our faith that this liturgical gathering transcends time and space and that a Christian person ascends in his thought and his heart toward what is beyond this world. This is part of God’s bounteous grace.

To return to the passage from the Gospel and to connect it to this prologue, the Gospel talks about this rich young man, who comes to the Lord Jesus through the crowd. He is a young person like the young people of today. Earnest, intelligent young people today search for truth, for sincerity, because in this world we see a lot of artificial, untruthful things. The new generation today searches for something true and sincere. This young man comes and asks Jesus, “What must I do in order to inherit eternal life?” This young man was Jewish, and the Jews, according to their law, searched for eternal life and said that it could be acquired through good deeds. But what is the meaning of eternal life? Eternal life is life that transcends death and transcends this earthly life.

You know how attached we are to this life. All of us are attached to this life. Why? Psychologists say that it is because of the fear of death that we cling to it and enjoy it. We cling to our wealth as if it will last forever. We cling to our pleasures as if they were true joy. But at root man strives for eternal life, and this is deep in the conscience of everyone. Man feels as though he will live forever, but illness comes and death comes and they strike him.

This young man comes with this spontaneous question and the Lord says to him, “Do you know the commandments? Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and your mother…” And the young man responds, “I have done all these things.” And perhaps most of us do them. But the young man is not satisfied with the law, with these commandments. It is not enough for him. He wants something more that will satisfy his thirst and give him a better life. So the Lord Jesus says to him, “If you want to become perfect—if you are searching for this life that lasts forever-- sell everything, distribute it to the poor, and come follow me.”

But how can a person strip himself of all his wealth? How can a person strip himself of all his lusts? This is something that is difficult for every one of us. Man is attached to this material life and this is what is destroying the world today. They have wars and fight for material goods, but we Christians are not satisfied with this worldly life. We want more. This is why the Lord Jesus came, but this more costs us much…

“If you want to be perfect, sell everything, distribute it to the poor, and come follow me.” This does not mean that we no longer work, that we no longer earn money, that we no longer get married, that we no longer acquire a home, etc. It means that every Christian, every person who looks beyond, must constantly try to not be attached to his possessions, to not be a prisoner of his possessions. At that point he becomes free and tastes this divine grace. We believe that if we want to rise up and rejoice, we must empty ourselves. The person who does not strip himself of his selfishness will not taste eternal life. This is why we ask the Lord to give us this Orthodox point of view, so that we can have unending life. Amen.

Met. Ephrem's Sermon for the Feast of St. Moses the Ethiopian

The Arabic original can be found here. This sermon was given on Sunday, August 28, 2011 in Qalhat el-Koura.

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

Beloved, in this first part of the Divine Liturgy we always hear the word of the Gospel. The Gospel does not only speak of events that actually, historically happened. It speaks for the sake of each one of us. This requires us to listen attentively- for this reason we publish our newsletter “The Vineyard” as a companion to your reading of the Epistle and the Gospel. Today you heard this parable that says that the Kingdom of Heaven resembles a king who goes to call his servants into account. Naturally, the king is a symbol for God who will call us into account on the last day, each one of us according to our works. The first servant comes and he has a great debt. What is this debt? According to the interpretation of some of the Fathers, the debt is the sins that we have committed against God through our actions in this life. His debt is great, and so he casts himself at the feet of the king and asks for forgiveness. He pleads so much that the king, that is God, has pity on him—the Bible says that he has pity on him, that his heart was touched and so he forgave him all his debt. Then this first servant goes to his fellow servant who owed him a small debt. That is, he had committed some small sin against his comrade and he asks his forgiveness. But the first servant does not forgive him but rather compels him to pay his debt. The king hears, God hears, of how the servant upon whom he had had mercy and forgiven did not forgive his comrade a small debt. The king came to him on the day of reckoning and said to him, “You wicked servant, were you not obligated to forgive your comrade a small debt just as I forgave you all your debt?” This is what God does with those who do not forgive each other. Peter went and asked the Lord, “How many times must we forgive our brother for sinning against us?” The Lord replied, “Seven times, nay seventy times seven times.” That is, we must always forgive our brothers. The big question that many people ask is, “How will the Lord call us into account on the last day?” We say, and the other religions say as well, that He is merciful, that is forgiving, and that He is just, that is He calls us into account. So how does God harmonize mercy, calling into account, and judgment? This is God’s wisdom. Those who read “The Vineyard” can find there an attempt to explain this divine wisdom, this divine forgiveness, that the Lord forgives us our sins but at the very same time He will call us into account for everything we do in this life.

At the end of the Gospel passage, the Lord punishes this wicked servant and the wicked servant goes off to torment.

Does God punish, does God torment a person who sins? This is a question to which our holy Fathers say that a person through his sin torments himself. On the last day, God will appear to him face to face. His face will be light to those who did good deeds and at the same time it will be a fire burning those who sinned and did not repent of their sin. Beloved, this is the parable from the Gospel on this day when we celebrate this righteous and great one of the Church, so that we will have an example in Saint Moses the Ethiopian, who sinned and had a great debt before God but who despite this repented and became one of the holiest saints. Also, the Holy Fathers explain to us that this divine forgiveness, God’s mercy, is connected to our prayer. This saint spent his life in prayer. One who prays from the heart is easily forgiven, not because he is good but because he draws divine goodness and forgiveness from the Lord. When one prays, God’s mercy comes down upon him and he begins to forgive others easily and have mercy on them. Amen.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Independent on Christian Fears for Syria's Future

Life after Assad looks ominous for Syria's Christian minority

Not everyone is supporting the uprising against the country's brutal regime. Khalid Ali reports from Damascus

Monday, 5 September 2011

In the gift shop of Damascus' Chapel of Ananias, a middle-aged Christian man called Sari explained who he thought was to blame for the stories of government brutality emerging from his country.

"All the international media are liars," he said. "Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN – they are all lying. There is no trouble here in Damascus."

Syria's more than 2 million Christians account for around 10 per cent of the total population and are just one minority in patchwork of different creeds. But in interviews this week, some of them said many in their community were uneasy about the anti-government protests convulsing their country.

Read the rest here.