Friday, May 25, 2012

Fr. Georges Massouh on Orthodox Christians and the Arab Spring

 Arabic original, published in Majallat al-Nour, here.

For God So Loved the World

"The Movement rejects blind prejudice and sectarian politics..."
-The fifth principle of the Orthodox Youth Movement

In the midst of the serious events that are occuring in the Arab world, there are considerable questions that pose themselves to the consciences of Christians in general and Orthodox Christians in particular and there are challenges that face them in the course of their decisions and destinies. These questions and challenges require profound consideration and answers that spring from the heart of the tradition of our Orthodox Church. However, as far as what concerns us here, what is the role of the Orthodox Youth Movement and of our young people amidst these circumstances that surround us?

We must begin by pointing out the two open wounds on the body of this region: tyranny in all its forms and sectarianism or confessionalism. These two wounds, from which result all the other wounds and which are behind all the wars and internal conflicts, are steadily growing to the point that they are nearly putting an end to the diverse and pluralistic societies in which we have lived for centuries. And this is something that is born of revulsion and refusal to stay in our countries. It is something that constitutes a basic cause of emigration and the emptying of the region of a good portion of its faithful children.

Putting an end to these two wounds requires on the part of Christians boldness and fearlessness about the future. Political domination or grasping after a monopoly on authority is not what will protect the Christians or give them security in difficult days to come. Empires have vanished, sultanates have ceased, and many dictatorial regimes have disappeared, the last of which was the mighty Soviet Union. Whenever we cast an eye around us, we see the fate of the Christians of Iraq after the collapse of the regime that claimed to protect them, as they believed what was nothing but a mirage, pipe-dreams, and fantasies.

Neither is sectarianism what will secure the rights of Christians within the state and its institutions. The regime-- any regime-- cannot last forever. The sectarian solution has done harm to the Christian presence and to the witness of Christians in our diverse society and it has in no way secured their existence or their effectiveness. Because it is a balance of numbers and figures, sectarianism is of no use to those whose numbers are lacking or whose numerical proportion relative to others is lacking for a variety of reasons, including emigration and imbalance in birth rates, and the search for economic and social well-being.

We do not see ourselves as required to make a choice between tyrannies hovering over our necks and tyrannies emerging on the horizon. We reject them both, because they kill the freedom that God sowed within the human person to distinguish him from other creatures. They are both evil, but there is no "one of them is unavoidable." Tyranny, whether political, partisan, or religious, remains tyranny and there is no differentiation between them. To make one look good in comparison to the other is to accept the suppression of freedom-- the suppression of the image of God in man.

We do not see ourselves compelled to choose between various proposals, each one based on sectarian divisions. Sectarianism, in turn, is not "a necessary evil." Rather, it is an absolute evil because it is contrary to the spirit of citizenship based on absolute equality of rights and responsibilities for all children of the nation. Any discrimination in rights and responsibilities on the basis of religion, creed, or sect, is no less of an evil than racial and ethnic discrimination. Perhaps it even surpasses them in evil because it takes the principle of faith that is equal among all God's creation and makes it into the basis of superiority, arrogance, and bullying.

We are not required merely to make a single choice with two mutually necessary aspects, one of which cannot be complete without the other. Freedom and citizenship are our only choice, the sole basis on which we can build our views and opinions. Every viewpoint that ignores freedom and citizenship, or even that simply minimizes them, is treachery to the Christian presence and to the Christian tradition, which is based on the principle of the centrality of humankind to God's ordering of existence. It was for humankind and not for anything else, that the Eternal Word became incarnate, was crucified, and rose on the third day.

The basis of God's ordering of existence is that "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). How did God love the world? He had mercy on the sick and healed them. He dressed their wounds. He washed their feet. He fed them in the desert. He helped the poor, the wretched, widows and orphans. He consoled the sorrowful and the forlorn... He was the Good Samaritan, the host of the party to which "the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame" were invited.

Thus love is nothing other than the opposite of tyranny and injustice. Saint Ambrose of Milan said something to the effect that, "One who stays silent in the face of injustice is a partner with the unjust." So what about someone who is not silent but is even outspoken in his support of the unjust? This is why we must cast aside fear from our souls. Fear is the opposite of hope, one of the three pillars of Christianity: faith, hope, and love, which if one falls, they all fall.

"In the world you will have tribulations. Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Trusting in the Lord means, first of all, that we are not afraid to speak the word of truth in a time of hypocrisy. Beyond that, we must rely on God.

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