Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh: Arab Christians are Children of the Resurrection

Arabic original here. For the translations of passages from Theodore Abu Qurrah, I make use of the excellent translation of most of his works by John Lamoreaux, which can be purchased here.

Children of the Resurrection

For the Metropolitans of Aleppo, Boulos Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim

In the early part of the Islamic era, Arab Christian thinkers affirmed in debates with their Muslim counterparts that the origin of the Christian religion is not human, but divine. According to them, Christianity opposes the mentality of this world and requires its followers to renounce power and money, to be humble in the face of arrogance, and not to return evil with evil... Theodore Abu Qurrah of Edessa (d. 825), Orthodox bishop of Harran, who wrote in Arabic, deals with this question and in his essay entitled "On the Existence of God and the True Religion" presents numerous proofs for the divine origin of Christianity.

Theodore summarizes his arguments by saying that Christianity spread at the hands of twelve Jews "and, in the opinion of the Gentiles, the Jews were the most wretched and odious nation in the world. Indeed, these twelve were the most despised and lowly of those in their own nation. They had in this world neither rank nor nobility with which to entice others and make followers of them." Likewise, the Twelve "had in this world neither power nor authority nor influence, neither the ability to compel nor the power to exalt, nothing such that anyone would follow them, whether through compulsion or fear or out of a desire to be exalted through them." They were illiterate, "among them there was none who understood how to write or was possessed of worldly wisdom." They taught abstinence in all things, "permitting no one to indulge their appetites for the world, its many women, its delights, or its glories, such that people might follow them."

Those Twelve did not have anything with which to entice people to enter their new religion, but rather just the opposite. Everything in it is something that people's minds could not accept, across their various levels of learning and knowledge. What made their faith even stranger was their saying that "God sent His Son from heaven. He came to a virgin and took flesh from her. He was born from her both as God and as man... When He summoned the Jews to have faith in Him, they did not heed him. Instead, they rejected Him, they treated Him with insolence, they struck Him, they crucified Him, they killed Him, and they buried Him. After three days, He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven." This is a summary of the Good News that they brought to the entire world.

Theodore's words are true of the first three centuries of Christianity, but the facts show that Christians did not always abide by the requirements of the Gospel and their kingdoms did not measure up to Christ and His teachings. We Arab Christians, however, have not had an empire or a kingdom-- praise be to God!-- after the appearance of Islam. We have passed through difficult circumstances and periods of calm, according to the temperaments of caliphs, sultans, emirs, and governors and we have remained steadfast in our lands, by the grace of God and His blessings.

We, Muslims and Christians, are in a crippling crisis. The violence that we are witnessing between people of different religions and sects has not been seen before in history. A part of Islam has become more violent and hostile. This does not at all exculpate the existing regimes, from the Ocean to the Gulf, from their responsibility for this moral degradation, human backwardness, and religious extremism.

Nothing can discourage Arab Christians, in this time of Islamic extremism, from clinging to their lands and their faith. They are children of the Resurrection, and so necessarily children of the Cross. For this reason they will not be frightened by murder and kidnapping but rather it will make them even more resolute to remain as witnesses to better days that will doubtless come. We have, in Theodore's words, a lesson to emulate: "For this reason we believe in this religion, we accept it, and we hold fast to it. We endure the misfortunes of the world for it, for the hope that was promised to us. We die in this religion and we hope to meet the face of God in it."

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