Arabic original, from al-Akhbar, here.
The Beacons of Georges Khodr:
The Metropolitan who Humanized God
by Hala Nahra
"On June 5, 1967 I chose Arabism because on that day I saw that Jesus of Nazareth had become a Palestinian refugee," said Metropolitan Georges Khodr, examining his wound-- our wound, trying to create a solution for the modern Arab, finding a balance between the spiritual and the rationalist, starting from the history and the cultural and geographic space that he always avidly represents. His view of God and religion is penetrating and open to our common humanity. The enlightened metropolitan inclines toward humanizing and rationalizing God sometimes, so that man may be partially divinized, even if in the monotheistic religions God represents the absolute and the universal intellect. Rationalizing religions is a lofty call to develop what is common, to interpret and explain and to be liberated from dogmatism and the literalistic reading of texts, in order to make the essence of religions overtake their external shell. Here lies the importance of Georges Khodr, who knows that the values of Christianity manifest themselves in regard for the other, in the relationship with the other first of all, and that in Christianity love is not understood as complacency or cheeriness, but rather that it is tied to firmness and human dignity. He is someone who dared to say that he is "from a certain perspective, Marxist by inclination" and that "people will one day come to terms with Marxism in the shadow of the increase in savage capitalism."
Those who are eager to know Khodr's thoughts and the voices that echo them in the Lebanese cultural scene can read the book George Khodr: Bishop of Arabic (Antonine University Publications), where thinkers and researchers examine several aspects of his cultural, philosophical, intellectual, political, and theological output. With simplicity that reveals profundity, Fr Germanos Germanos, president of the Antonine University, defines the metropolitan's exceptional personality, emphasizing the tie between "Arab theologians" and "the contextual theology that gives a leavening role to the presence of Christians in the Middle East." The researcher Antoine Fleyfel shines light on the first places which influenced Khodr's vision and thinking, the identity Orthodox metropolitan's theology, the salient problematics in Lebanon and the Arab World, current and historical, that he touches upon, such as Christian-Muslim dialogue, his method for laying a foundation for theological and political preaching on the conditions of Christian Arabs, especially the issue of Palestine, Arabism, Sionism, sectarianism and secularism... Fleyfel mentions that the Arabism for which Khodr calls is cultural Arabism (arabité), not political or ideological Arabism (Arabisme) and that it represents "the sole domain in which it is possible for Muslims and Christians to live their historic and existential encounter." He repeats Khodr's admonition to Christians that they should not fall (again) into the trap of isolationism and that it is necessary to realize their cultural affiliation. In this sense, "Arabism represents a challenge to Middle Eastern Christians, who are faced with the prevalence of opposing ideas," the most prominent of which is sectarian nationalism. This is one of the most important things proposed by Khodr, who realized that "Sectarian nationalisms help Zionism, which holds that it is impossible for there to be political harmony between religious groups in the Middle East." Thus Khodr's Arabism is humanist, rationalist, critical, and pluralist. As for secularism, he considers it to be a solution to the Palestinian problem and "the nation's liberation from the oppression of sects, the liberation of faith from politics entering into it." Fr Basem Rai treats the topic of the local transition "from historical romanticism to the democratic state" which, according to Khodr, strengthens freedoms and causes pluralism to not be in contradiction with the unity of Lebanon. The metropolitan points to the distinction between religion as a means to realizing goals that nurture political sectarianism and religion as "a wellspring, an inheritance unto life, and a private identity," which requires "re-orienting religion toward its divine basis instead of changing it into a purely sociological affiliation." If we desire to arrive at a common national identity and culture, we must re-read history at a distance from ideologies and "criticize the memory of both sects and the nation, in order to build a state for tomorrow that comes from the will of society."
The monk Michel Jalkh elucidates Khodr's vision of culture and knowledge which cannot be independent from reality and wisdom, touching on the Crusades which targeted Eastern Christianity, as much as it targeted Muslims. Ahmad Baydoun points to Khodr's tendency to compare Christianity and Islam in order to highlight the differences between the two on the level of political theology and theology of the state and in order to demonstrate what he considers necessary in order to create a mutual understanding between the two religions, in order to arrive at "a single flame." For Khodr, the endeavor for peace is attributed to mysticism. The most important thing in Baydoun's study is his realization that the conditions for the (spiritual) revival for which Khodr calls and which the Arab world needs have not yet been met. Pascal Lahoud ably compares Georges Khodr and Emmanuel Levinas, starting from their criticism of Western rationalism, while the papers written by Yusouf Kamal el-Hajj, Amal Dibo, Nada Abu Mrad, Elham Klab, range between the influence of Khodr's language, personality, and presence. Mr Hani Fahs expresses his feeling "his heavy and illuminating presence when Khodr writes his Christian text" and so "the other is realized in the realization of the self." Georges Khodr, the man of letters, the thinker, and the bishop is a singular man in the nation and in history who illumines the word as a candle in the obscure Arab present, and a world that grows in darkness, misery, and division.