Monday, February 27, 2012

Met. Ephrem: The Fast is for Purifying the Heart

The Arabic original, published in the newsletter al-Karmeh, can be found here.

The Fast is for Purifying the Heart

Beloved, at the beginning of the fast we are placed before this struggle that comes to us anew. We receive it with gladness, joy, and enthusiasm of heart. We have been preparing for it for over a month. We must be prepared for struggle throughout our life. The fast, in itself, does not mean anything unless it is a channel that delivers us to attachment to Christ. If you do not eat, your health weakens and you die. And so, when you approach this fast, you approach the fact that you will die. However, you will die for Christ's sake and at that moment you will realize that Christ is the source of life, not the food, possessions, and pleasures that are in this world.

This is why the Church comes today to teach us what the Lord said: When you fast, wash your face and anoint your head. Do not grimace and show people that you are fasting, as though you will get people to think well of you. This is because your worship should be in the heart. Worship of the heart does not negate external worship. There are those who say, "do not fast, rather let your tongue fast," but these are meaningless expressions. When you fast, your entire being fasts, not just your tongue and not just your stomach. Your entire being distances itself from sin.

So let us strive to purify our hearts, so that the Lord will make us worthy of His kingdom after this life that we lead here in struggle and enthusiasm-- out of love, and not out of revulsion, fatigue, or weariness. We approach the fast and the struggle with joy and enthusiasm. The first thing that we must undertake or achieve in order to purify our hearts is for us to forgive people, to pardon them for having behaved in a sinful manner with us. And in return, we ask them to forgive us so that we will be freed from the claims that we hold against each other. However, we will not fully enjoy God's forgiveness if our hearts are not pure like His heart and forgiving like His forgiveness. He no longer recalls the evil deeds we did against Him, the lack of honor that we gave Him when we offended Him with our sins.

And so the purpose is not to eat fasting foods, in as much as through our enduring these foods and the like, we express our longing and our hunger for Christ. Instead, we sit at our table, we take out the Bible and we read it carefully, eagerly, and with longing, so that we can eat and be sated from it. In consequence, when we have discovered all the richness, abundance, and great love that Christ offers us, we are no longer able to hold on to bitterness, hatred, or hardness in our heart toward others. And so we forgive and we cry out to Him, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us. So let us repair this interior relationship between us and Christ.

May the Holy Lord make us worthy to receive forgiveness for our sins and purification of our hearts from every bitterness, hatred, and harmful desire, so that we can desire Him and keep Him in our hearts as an everlasting treasure. Amen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Met. Ephrem's Sermon for Meatfare 2012

The Arabic original, given in the Church of St. Nicholas in Barsa, can be found here.

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

This Sunday is known in the Church as the Sunday of the Judgment because on this day the Gospel passage about the judgment is read to us. We know that immediately before this day comes the Saturday designated for the dead. This is because on the last day, when all the dead rise from the ends of the earth, the Bible says that all people, living and dead, will be gathered together for judgment, for the accounting that is at the very same time the resurrection! This is why Soul Saturday is an image of the Saturday of Light and so the Sunday of the Judgment is also an image of Easter because, as the dead are in the graves, so too was Christ in the tomb on the Saturday of Light before the resurrection was proclaimed on the day of Easter.

The Day of the Judgment preceding the great fast is also known as Meatfare Sunday, in which we eat meat for the last time, since it is required in the Church for the committed faithful to fast from meat starting tomorrow. This coming Sunday is Cheesefare Sunday and after it we fast for forty days from meat and cheese.

What does the Gospel teach us today?

It teaches us something basic, that after our sojourn on this earth we will be judged in particular about our love for others, especially the people in need who are around us. As one of the fathers says, the fast is nothing other than abstinence for the sake of love. That is, we deny ourselves in order to give to others this true love that the Lord Jesus revealed to us when He came into the world. We pray in order to purify ourselves and become united to the Lord Jesus. We fast from material things and not only from fatty foods. Indeed, we fast from superfluous luxuries that are not necessary in our life! The person who is faithful in the fast abandons everything external in order to focus on himself and especially if he has sins he should attempt to be freed of them, to cleanse himself, just as when someone cleans their house, they clean everything so that the house will be "clean." What is more important, a house or a person's interior soul, which is much more important than material, external things?

This is the time in which the Church has arranged for us to purify, to cleanse our hearts. Let every person who has jealousy, envy, or any idle quality, try during the fast to become free of it, or at the very least to combat them and control them in order to become someone who is pure, loving, generous, open-minded, and with a heart for all people. This is Christianity. If we are not like this, we are not Christians and we are lying to God and to the people. We ask God to open our hearts and for this fast to be an opportunity for us to glorify God and to live with Him, amen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fr. Georges Massouh: Our Demons

The Arabic original, first published in the newspaper al-Nahar, can be found here.

Our Demons

Some Christians have begun the great forty-day fast, and others will start it next Monday. For them, the fast is abstinence from food and drink at certain times and refraining from certain kinds of foods. In this fast Christians prepare to receive the Christ the Lord risen from the dead on the glorious feast of Easter.

The basic lesson of the fast is repentance. That is, a return to God after an absence caused by sin. A person who is fasting struggles in his fast to practice combating sin and eliminating it. The purpose of the fast is not abstinence from food and drink, but rather the higher purpose is repentance, and, consequently, holiness.  Fasting from food is just one of the many means of achieving this desired goal. This is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, "Food is for the belly and the belly for food. God will destroy both together. But the human body is not for fornication, but rather it is for the Lord and the Lord is for the body" (1 Corinthians 6:13).

Without denying the importance of the fast as it is practiced today, is there a need for a simultaneous fast from various things that happen to us in our daily life that cause us to be estranged from God and His commandments? There is no doubt that the answer is that there is indeed an urgent need for other forms of fasting. In many religious traditions there are accounts of fasts practiced by the faithful in times of trial and hardship. Are our current days not times of trial and hardship, that we shouldn't go fast as demanded of us by the painful circumstances that threaten our future from every direction?

Christ the Lord criticizes the Pharisees, the scholars and teachers of the Law, for being attached to the literal sense of the Law but ignoring its spirit. He says, "Hypocrites! You give tithes of mint, thyme, and cumin but you ignore the most important thing in the Law: justice and mercy and righteousness. These are the things that you should have done, without ignoring the rest" (Matthew 23:23). He also says, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" (Matthew 9:13). Mercy is what is desired by the commandments of the Law, rites, rituals, and worship, all of it. One who possesses mercy possesses the other virtues and values, especially justice and righteousness.

The fast is for the sake of acquiring mercy, justice and righteousness. The fast precludes violence, resentment, and hatred, enmity, combativeness, and fighting between brothers or between fellow-citizens. It precludes working for or engaging in strife with words or actions. It precludes religious hatred, sectarian division, and religious triumphalism. It precludes religious radicalism and extremism. It precludes racism and discriminating between God's creation. It precludes corruption, exploitation, the worship of power and wealth. It precludes lying, which is the gate of all vices.

These are the demons that sing and dance through the air of our country. They will not be eliminated except through fasting from the plagues that afflict our societies, which sew in the souls of our children the seeds of backwardness, intolerance, and moral decline. Christ said, "This kind (of demon) does not go out except through prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:29), meaning by demons all sorts of sins and transgressions. He Himself enumerates them when he says, "Out of the hearts of men come evil thoughts: debauchery, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, fraud, fornication, jealousy, slander, pride, and ignorance. All these evil things come from within man and make him unclean" (Mark 7:21-23).

Man is more cunning than the demons. Man has become the demons' teacher. But the doors of repentance are open to him, when he desires out of his own freedom and free will. Our country is in need of its children repenting of the inclinations they have acquired from the demons. So let the fast be consecrated to destroying them so that we might be worthy of life, in truth.

  Fr. Georges Massouh is professor of Islamic Studies at Balamand University.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Another View of Orthodoxy, Sectarianism, and Secularism in Lebanon

The Arabic original, which appeared in the newspaper an-Nahar, can be read here.

Lebanon: The Orthodox not Responsible for "the Dignitaries of the Salons"
by Emile Chahine

Historically, each of the six major religious communities in Lebanon enjoyed the support (protection) of a foreign state and tsarist Russia was the protector of the Orthodox community. After the triumph of the Bolsheviek Revolution in 1917, they  no longer had any international support to speak of (Greece's support being weak). When France established the state of greater Lebanon, it made sure that the Maronite community was the largest community within it. This is why it detached the regions of Safayta and Mar Jerjes el-Hisn from the district of Tripoli and gave them to Syria and also why they considered the Armenian Orthodox to be an ethnic group that could not be counted in the census of religious communities. In the year of national independence, 1943, came the "national covenant" between the Maronites and the Sunnis in order to weaken the position of the other communities.

Thus the Orthodox had no other recourse than to be concerned with intellectual life as a means of achieving a dignified life. There was no longer a bond to tie them to the leaders of their community or to their political representatives, as all of them were powerless. The Orthodox community consitently had more intellectuals than the other communities and, historically, the Orthodox regions (el-Koura, Marjayoun, and Souq el-Gharb) have been more advanced than their surrounding regions in intellectual life and civilization.

And so it is not strange that ideologies of liberation in the Arab world arose from the ideas of sons of this community: the ideology of Syrian nationalism was led by Antoun Saadeh, the Arab Baath by Michel Aflaq, progressive Communist ideologies developed with Nicholas Chaoui, a partner with the national leader Riyad el-Solh in realizing the withdrawal of foreign armies (1946), and with George Hawi, founder of the National Resistance Front in the face of the Israeli occupation (1982).

The Orthodox community did not enter into the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. They did not form militias or sectarian political parties or even sectarian movements. Their neutrality cost them dearly. This is why it seems strange to hear "dignitaries of the salons" speak in their name and put forward sectarian concerns the like of which no member of the community of intellectualism has ever spoken before. To wit, "a modern law which preserves the rights of each religious community and returns to our community its lost rights by securing sound representation and creating leaders capable of  defending the existence of Orthodox in the institutions of the state and the administration."

Has it not been enough for Lebanese to have sectarian laws that have resulted in nothing but war after war? Then how are these leaders going to return to the community its rights? There have always been leaders from various communities who defend their violation of the rights of the weakened Orthodox community. The Orthodox are weak in the conflict among communities but they are strong in rights of "citizenship" based on looking at the individual Lebanese-- any Lebanese-- with rights and responsibilities that are equal before the law.

The "dignitaries of the salons" have spoken in the Orthodox Gathering about their conviction that "the idea of a Christian state was a suicidal plan that was unrealizable" and they have witnessed its death. But I shall add: the plan of an Islamic state in Lebanon is equally unrealizable. The only realizable plan is that of a modern, secular state. Its electoral law is based on Lebanon being a single sphere, outside the bounds of sect and relying on proportionality.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Met. Ephrem: What Can the Church Offer the Youth of Today?

The Arabic original, published in the Archdiocese of Tripoli's newsletter, al-Karmeh, can be found here.

What Can the Church Offer the Youth of Today?

Where are the dangers hidden? Are they in having fun and going out at night, and constant attachment to television, cell phones, or the internet? Or is it more than this, the danger of drunkenness and drugs?

Is it also the result of parents' indifference toward raising and caring for their children because men and women are occupied with other things, with their jobs? Or, more than this, is it on account of disagreement between parents and their constant quarreling? If a divorce does not occur, whatever the causes may be, the Church has a role that she must play, and in many cases it is deficient. Usually, we attribute this deficiency to priests' not giving sufficient pastoral care. So let's pose the question to ourselves: What should we do?

Despite what we usually think, the youth are searching for the truth of a life different from the life of present society. They are looking for absolute truth, for the Truth, for something sincere, for something free. They reject false, relative principles, even if they are trapped within them. This earthly life does not satisfy them. At the same time, they are in need of someone to guide them to something better, to something more perfect. Is the Church able to do this? This is the question.

You might object that I am posing questions but not giving answers. Yes! Because the issue requires careful examination. There is no ready, complete answer that can be offered. There are only some suggestions.

1. One must dare, whether one is clergy or laity, to expose what is false in the Church and in society without losing humility. True joy comes from the empty tomb, not from the empty promises of drunkenness and drugs.

2. A focus on family education, the family as a little church.

3. The youth of today are in need of guides, and even more than this, they are in need of spiritual fathers, whether clergy or lay, monastics or non-monastics, men or women. They are in need of models, of examples in their life, not just words. You wait for this to come from the bishop and from the priests only.

Yes! I say this to myself and to others: the bishop must be close to his flock. And this can happen in many ways. However, allow me to say also, do not always wait for the bishop to carry out the people's desires and interests. Allow me also, in a fatherly spirit, to remind you that the Church is not limited to the bishop and the priests. Every member of the faithful, according to his ability, is obliged to be a model and guide to others, and to the youth especially, whether as a father, a mother, a schoolmate, a fellow student at university, or a colleague at work. This is extremely important because laypeople have wider opportunities to shun material things and bear witness within this secular world of today, among people, through their careers and occupations. The path is the path of hope and it  always remains open.

Fr. Georges Massouh: The Requirement for Obedience is Love and Humility

The Arabic original, which appeared in the newspaper al-Nahar, can be found here.

The Requirement for Obedience is Love and Humility

In their foundational texts, all religions teach the necessity of obedience to those in charge- rulers, imams, bishops, fathers, husbands... It appears at first glance that those to whom obedience is due are of the male gender, and that there is no place for women who are leaders and holders of authority in society. However, the religions themselves put limits on this obedience on the principle that one should not go against  God's will in obeying someone with authority.

Thus, the type of obedience that is desirable is not blind obedience that negates the intellect, an obedience that one follows in the same way that water follows the course of a river. Absolute obedience to those in authority is nothing other than pure compulsion, something that contradicts the practice of religions, when they speak of believers' freedom, free will, and personal responsibility, and consequently about their actions and the works of their hands.

Obedience that is imposed by religious or social or political force becomes oppressive to humans, repressing their freedom, murdering their intellect, and eliminating everything by which God distinguished humans from other creatures. Obedience must be out of total conviction or it cannot exist at all. Human beings are not deaf instruments in the hands of those in charge to be manipulated as they wish. Rather, they are humans with complete humanity, equal to them in createdness. Nor are those in charge gods whose commands are absolute and not subject to discussion or idols that cannot be contradicted in any matter.

God Himself does not compel humans to obey Him by force. He leaves them freedom of obedience or disobedience. God speaks to humans through reason and calls them to accept His words through His good counsel. He holds off judgment until the last day, leaving open the door of repentance so that one can enter through it at the time when he chooses to return to Him. He does not require humans to believe in Him, nor does He forcibly subject them to His teachings and commandments. He does not compel them to obey His commands and prohibitions. God wants humans to come to Him out of their freedom and their personal will.

However, none of the Arab societies see things from God's perspective. Instead they see things from the perspective of absolute totalitarian authority. Those in charge of the state compel people to obey them by force and religious authorities compel believers' obedience through intimidation and threats of reprisal. Men compel women's obedience through authoritarian patriarchy. Political leaders, religious leaders, in each of their spheres occupy God's throne and compel the absolute obedience of those below them.

However, in the religious texts there are numerous verses that place conditions on one servant of God's obedience to another. The apostle of the Muslims says, "There is no obedience to a creature in disobeying the Creator." He also says, "There is no obedience except in what is accepted to be good." Thus, one cannot evade one's responsibility for disobeying the Creator if one obeys someone who commands disobedience to God.

Saint Paul the Apostle appeals to "the mind of Christ Jesus" speak about obedience. He says that Christ "emptied Himself and took the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humans and appearing in the image of man. He humbled Himself and was obedient to the point of death, death on the cross." And so obedience requires self-abasement and humility on the part of those in charge. Christ who, according to the Christian faith, is God incarnate, was obedient, offering Himself as a sacrifice on the cross. He did not impose obedience to Him through His divine authority but rather through His love for humankind that surpasses all. Obedience must be in love or it cannot exist. The Christians only came to follow Christ when they saw Him hanging on the cross out of love for all humanity. Likewise, we can only obey our leaders if we find them to be submitting in love, and in no other circumstances.

Fr. Georges Massouh is professor of Islamic Studies at Balamand University.

Open to me the doors of repentance- Fr. Pandeleimon (Farah)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Two Sermons by Met. Ephrem

Sermon for the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector, Kfarsaroun, February 5, 2012 Arabic original here.

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

Beloved, today we begin preparation for the great and holy fast. This preparation takes three weeks and four Sundays: the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector, the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, Meatfare Sunday, and Forgiveness Sunday, or Cheesefare Sunday.

This Sunday, the Church reads the parable of the pharisee and the tax-collector. This passage is found in the Gospel of Luke. Before the Lord Jesus tells this parable, He says it to those who consider themselves righteous and holy and hold others in contempt.

You know the story of how the Pharisee and the tax-collector entered into the temple to pray. The parable is not just a story that was told in the past. It speaks to every one of us. Every one of us sees which person he is when he enters the church to pray. The Pharisee went to boast of himself that he prays and follows all the canons of the Church and that he helps the poor and the needy, that he is not like this sinful tax-collector, since tax collectors were considered sinners who extorted taxes and stole people's wealth. The Pharisee glorifies in himself, but when the tax-collector entered he felt his sin and stopped in the back of the church. Out of his shame, he began to beat his breast and say, "O God, have mercy on me the sinner!" At that moment, the Lord Jesus justified the tax-collector but he did not justify the Pharisee. What does this parable teach us?

It teaches us two things:

First, that we Christians should enter the fast in humility. If there is prayer and fasting but there is not humility, all our fasting or prayer is of no use. Man is lifted up before God because of his humility.

Second, the parable teaches us prayer. This is the prayer that you constantly hear in the Church, "Lord have mercy on me the sinner." In the great fast, St Ephrem teaches us the prayer of repentance: "O Lord and Master of my life, take away from me the spirit of idleness, curiousity, love of power, and idle talk. Grant me, your sinful servant, the spirit of chastity, humbleness of thought, patience, and love. Yes, my King and my God, grant me to know my sins and faults, and to not judge my brother."

The Pharisee judged his brother and because of that our Lord did not praise him. As the Lord Jesus said, "Judge not, so that you might not be judged."

Likewise, the tax-collector prayed with all his heart and confessed his sin. At that moment, the Lord justified him and said these words, which are a summary of this parable: "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled..." Exalting yourself means being proud before God and before others. To humble yourself means to no longer hold youself to be of value before yourself and before God. But the one who humbles himself is exalted before God. We learn from this parable to be humble, loving, prayerful. This is how the Lord lifts us up to Himself and gives us His great glory, amen.

Sunday of the Prodigal Son, Qarabash, 12 February, 2012 Arabic original here.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit

Beloved, we are that this stage that prepares us for the great fast, which is an occasion for each one of us to benefit from this season. This is why the Church reads to us these parables.

Last Sunday it was the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector and today it is the parable of the prodigal son. This coming Sunday, it will be the parable of the judgment. The parable of the Pharasee and the tax-collector focuses on the issue of humility and says that one who exalts himself (meaning, who is proud) is humbled-- is lowered, and one who humbles himself is lifted up.

Today is the story of the prodigal son who leaves his father and his house and goes "willy-nilly" in the world, giving himself over to his desires. He then becomes poor and has to herd pigs, but then regrets it and returns to his father and repents. The parable teaches us repentence. Parables in the Gospel are not just stories that happened in the past or that the Lord told in the past. They are addressed to each one of us. This means that the Lord asks us to prepare for this season and to learn to repent.

The prodigal son teaches us how to repent. Repentance, as the story demonstrates, is a return to the Father, to God, to our Father. This return requires us to regret our sins. No person exists in this world who does not sin. The great person in this world, as our holy fathers teach us, is one who repents of his sin. Normally, a person hides his sins and weaknesses, but the Church as well as psychologists advise us to acknowledge our weaknesses and confess them.

The sick man comes to the doctor in order to uncover his illness. Sickness of soul is more important, deeper, and more dangerous than sickness of body. The fast is an occasion in the Church for each one of us to examine our heart and see what it is: its faults, its weaknesses, and to repent of them-- not only between ourselves and God, but also confess them and if we have injured another person, to go and make things right, confessing it and asking  for forgiveness.  Such is a person great before God. At that point, God, who is symbolized in this parable by the merciful father, accepts our confession. This requires one to be boldly courageous. In this season, we in the Church must confess, and then God will accept us and bless us and we will live anew, glorifying God and in this way we will remain joyful in our life in peace, amen.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Wealth of Arab Orthodox History, for Free!

Parole de l'Orient and its predecessor Melto is one of the most important journals for the study of Arabic and Syriac Christianity. Fortunately, its entire run up to 2009 is available in pdf's free online. Below I have linked to all the available articles dealing with  Orthodox Christianity. Anyone interested in the history of Arab Orthodoxy would do well to browse through this literature........

In English:

Brock, Sebastian- A short melkite baptismal service in syriac (1972)

Makhlouf, Avril Mary- The trinitarian doctrine of Eutychius of Alexandria, 877 - 940 A.D. (1974)

Griffith, Sidney- Free will in christian kalam : the doctrine of Theodore Abu Qurrah (1987)

Sepmeijer, Floris- The book of splendor of the believer by Abdallah Ibn al-Fadl (1990)

Swanson, Mark- Some considerations for the dating of Fi tatlit allah al-wahid (Sin. ar. 154) and al-gami wuguh al-iman (London, british library or. 4950)  (1993)

Griffith, Sidney-  Reflections on the biography of Theodore Abu Qurrah (1993)

Sminé, Rima- The miniatures of a christian arabic barlaam and joasaph, Balamand 147 (1993)

Portillo, Rocio Daga- The arabic life of St. John of Damascus (1996)

Walbiner, Carsten-Michael- Accounts on Georgia in the works of Makariyus Ibn al-Zaim (1996)

Eid Bualuan, Hayat-  Mikha'il Breik, a chronicler and historian in 18th century Bilad Al-Sam (1996)

Sahas, Daniel- Why did Heraclius not defend Jerusalem and fight the arabs ? (1998)

Griffith, Sidney-  The Qur'an in arab christian texts : the development of an apologetical argument : Abu Qurrah in the maglis of al-ma'mun (1998)

Nassif, Bassam- Religious Dialogue in the Eighth Century : Example from Theodore Abu Qurrah Treatise (2005)

Khalifeh, Elia- A Project on the Antiochian Chalcedonian Orthodox Manuscripts : Syriac, Arabic, Cpa and Greek (2006)

Wannous, Ramy-  Abdallah Ibn al-Fadl Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (2007)

Varsanyi, Orsolya- The Role of the Intellect in Theodore Abu Qurrah's On the True Religion (2009)

Righi, Davide-  The Dialog Attributed to Abraham of Tiberias : new Research of his historical Environment (2009)

Nasry, Wafik-  Is there a Relationship between Al-Mugadalah and Gami Wuguh al-Iman ? (2009)
Bualuan, Hayat el-Eid-  The Rise of Druzism in Tarih bin Said al-Antaki Silat Tarih Utiha  (2009)

Youssef, Youhanna Nessim-  Melkites in Egypt According to Abu al-Makarim (XII Century) (2009)

Bahkou, Abjar-  Kitab al-kafi fi al-mana al-safi, the Complete Book of the Proper Meaning : the Christian Apology of Gerasimus (2009)

Kaidbey, Naila- Melkites in the Writings of Muslim Historians of Bilad al-Sam (2009)

Walbiner, Carsten-Michael- Preserving the Past and Enlightening the Present : Macarius B. al-Zaim and Medieval Melkite Literature  (2009)

After the jump, articles in French and a few in Italian and German:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fr. Georges Massouh: Basilios Nassar and the Best Jihad

 The Arabic original can be found here.

Basilios Nassar and the Best Jihad

He was a fighter, but he was not like other fighters. He was a warrior, but he did not resemble any other warrior. He was armed, but his weapons are not of this world. He was a revolutionary, but his revolution was not of this world, even if it was in this world. He followed the example of his Jesus. His age was on the threshhold of thirty years. His name was Basilios Nassar and it has become the Martyr Basilios Nassar.

He was from the village of Kfarbahom in the district of Hama. He grew up in his village and studied theology in the St. John of Damascus Institute at Balamand University. He obtained a master's degree in theology and then returned to serve his village church. He was killed by treacherous bullets last week while performing  humanitarian work, attempting to bring relief to a wounded member of his flock.

Father Baslios' weapon was the Holy Gospel and his armor the life-giving Cross. His sword was absolute truth and his arrow righteousness and piety. His citadel was the Holy Church which the Lord acquired with His holy blood. He carried love as a banner that sheltered him against hatred and prejudice. He raised up hope as a wall against oppression and coercion. He declared his faith in a teacher who left no law other than a single commandment: "Love each other as I have loved you."

Basilios believed that "the servant is not greater than his Master." Christ spoke these words when He washed the feet of His disciples on the night of His crucifixion. Basilios carried his apron and went around serving the poor, the destitute, the needy, the indigent, the sick, the widows, the orphans, the elderly... On his final trip, he wanted to be like that Samaritan who cared for the one who had "fallen among robbers," wounded and struggling with death. He went beyond what the Samaritan did, since it was not enough for him to give money for the wounded man's care. He paid for redemption with his blood, to save a person from death. He died so that someone else may live and so reached the limits of martyrdom.

Like his crucified teacher, Basilios did not believe in violence as a way to defend the oppressed. He believed in the Word of Truth and in human dignity and in the freedom that is the image of God in humankind. He did not carry a weapon to defend the children of his flock, but he carried his white shroud. He did not carry a white flag with which to surrender before blind hatred and the strife that has ignited among the children of a single nation and a single city and a single village. Rather, he carried the banner of love which alone destroys hatred and conquers it. A person does not conquer hatred with hatred. This is what Basilios said to us in his martyrdom.

Basilios comes from a Church that has produced thousands of holy martyrs, from a Church that considers bearing witness with blood to be the loftiest witness. He comes from a Church whose golden age was not an age of alliance with the state. Rather, her golden age was when she lived and spread and evangelized in the shadow of persecutions that the tyrannical Roman state  unleashed against her children. He comes from a Church whose children say, "In Him (that is, the Lord) we live and move and have existence" and in no other.

It is important for us to know which side killed the Father Basilios the New Martyr, even if that is difficult in the midst of civil wars. However, it is more important for us not to traffic in his pure blood and not to profit from it in the bazaar of internal conflict.  That said, the bitter reality indicates that an honorable Syrian citizen was killed by Syrian bullets fired by a Syrian citizen. This is the most painful thing, that the children of a single nation attack each other with bullets.

Blessed is the Orthodox Church to whom the beloved Basilios belongs, in the ranks of her righteous martyrs. Blessed is he because he completed his quest and fought the good fight. Is there anything more glorious than this jihad?

Fr. Georges Massouh is Professor of Islamic Studies at Balamand University.

Met. Elia (Saliba) of Hama's Eulogy for Fr. Basilios Nassar

The Arabic original can be found here. I can't tell if this is the entire eulogy or simply excerpts. If anyone can find a more complete Arabic version, please let me know. 

All thanks, gratitude, and respect to our master His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim, who, from the very first moment he heard about our loss contacted me to console his family and the faithful, and sent Bishops Mousa and Ghattas to participate in the prayers. I thank them and I thank you all for taking part and I ask God to comfort us all.

The loss of the dear spiritual son Father Basilios Nassar is a difficult experience for all of us, especially for his family and for his metropolitan. But what can be done, this has occurred and there is no power and no strength except in God, from Whom we  draw help, strength, and patience and in Whom alone we take refuge in hardship and adversity, saying with the Psalmist, "O Lord of Hosts, be with us for there is no helper in sorrows but You. O Lord of Hosts, have mercy on us." We are in need of help and of God's mercy at every stage of our life, in joy and sorrow.

Beloved, all of you know Father Basilios, this dear son among the clergy, disciplined, intelligent, gifted, enthusiastic, helpful... He was undertaking a service for others when he was martyred... He went as a sacrifice to undertaking his duty, knowing precisely that our Church is the Church of martyrdom and bearing witness, bearing witness to the Lord Jesus and martyrdom for the sake of faith in Him.

I am puzzled, dear ones, as to whom to console. Should I console his family? I am even more in need of consolation. His family offered him to the Church and he was a point of love and appreciation. All know this, whether he was here or in the metropolitan's residence. He brought his enthusiasm to all the Archdiocese...

Let us all ask for great mercy and rest in the Kingdom for him and consolation and patience for all of us. God is the only comforter and He is with those who are patient.

Elia (Saliba)
Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Hama
January 26, 2012

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Communiqué from the Patriarchate of Antioch on Violence in Syria and the Killing of Fr. Basilios Nassar

The Arabic original  can be found here. This English translation is unofficial.

Communiqué from the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch

As the Orthodox Church of Antioch looks at what is occurring in Syria, she regrets that the language of violence is overcoming the language of love and brotherhood, which we have long believed in on the basis of our deep eastern roots which bear the message of love, brotherhood, and interconnectedness.

At the very heart of Orthodoxy there is a yearning to build a single humanity united by faith in the one God, without making any distinction within God's creation, regardless of color, race, or religion. Orthodoxy has practiced this faith in her relations with the members of the single national family.

As we stand shocked at the killing of innocents and the increase in bloodshed, this is because every drop of blood which falls on the soil of this nation from which we come and to which we belong pains and sorrows us. Here we refer to the killing of one of the priests of our Church in Hama, the Reverend Father Basilios Nassar who offered himself as a martyr on the altar of service, imitating the Lord who said, "The Good Shepherd lays down his life the sake of the sheep."

Also, we condemn any attack on holy places and religious symbols such as the Monastery of Saydnaya, as they are holy and inviolable.

We are a community that is conscious of its faith and of the fact that its children belong to their various nations where they work with their brothers in citizenship, trusting and hoping to establish peace and stability.

Beloved, let us stand firm in our faith, lifting up prayer to God with fervor so that He will inspire all to what is right and to proceed with a message of love and brotherhood.

Damascus, January 31, 2012
Office of the Patriarch