Friday, July 26, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh: Love Never Fails

Arabic original here.

Love Never Fails

Christianity is based on the imitation of Christ and love is the pinnacle of that imitation. If we wanted to give a summary of the Christian religion in a single expression, we would say “Christianity is the religion of love.” There is no surprise in this, since Christ Jesus left only one commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

There is nothing in this commandment that is impossible and unrealizable, since Christ is certain that humans are capable of reaching the highest levels of love, of sacrificing themselves just as Christ sacrificed Himself freely on the cross: “No one has a greater love than to sacrifice himself for his loved ones” (John 15:13). But the sole standard for true love is not words but deeds: “Let us not love in word or tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).

The Apostle Paul draws believers’ attention to the importance of their acquiring the grace of love, without which their various gifts become useless and devoid of their inherent spiritual content. After the Apostle enumerates the gifts necessary for building up the Church, he says, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).

The important thing, then, is not for a person to be a brilliant teacher or a great prophet, scholar or person of prayer or faster or giver or even believer… but rather for him to be this in addition to having acquired love. The Apostle Paul repeats many times in the text of the epistle that any good thing that a person may do, if it is not based on love, is of no use.

The Apostle Paul teaches his pupils not to treat divine commandments as statutes or laws that must be fulfilled to the letter, but rather to apply them existentially and to practice them with total love and conviction. “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” This is how the Lord wants people to interact with the law—to adopt it and implement it with utmost love, as is necessary for their salvation and eternal life with God.

The Apostle Paul continues his words about love and defines it in the following way: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). It is not possible for one who is prideful, hateful, selfish, jealous, oppressive, or who thinks ill to love sincerely, even if from time to time he practices what looks like acts of love.
Love is a constant commitment to the human person that requires joy in giving without taking account and serving freely: “Freely you have received, give freely.” This requires refining nature and behavior and guarding the heart and mind against the passions.

As for acquiring all the virtues and their pinnacle, love, it begins with true repentance and submission to God’s will in all things. Acquiring love means acquiring Christ Himself.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Kidnapped Bishops: Three Months and No Word

 French original here.

Three months after their abduction, hopes of finding the two Syrian bishops alive diminish

by Claire Lesegretain

In the absence of proof of their death, it is not possible to confirm that they were killed by their kidnappers.

But we can wonder why international authorities, who are in contact with the Syrian rebels, are not demanding proof that they are alive or evidence that negotiations are ongoing.

This past Monday, July 22, made three months that we are without any news of Bishop Paul Yazigi, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, and Bishop John Ibrahim, Syriac Orthodox bishop of the same city. “We have no information,” confirms Mgr Pascal Gollnisch, director of Œuvre d’Orient, who emphasizes the urgency and seriousness of this question. “Since seizing bishops demonstrates that priests and faithful are no longer safe in Syria, it threatens all the Christians of this country,” he says.

This absence of information has not prevented the most contradictory rumors from circulating since the announcement of the abduction of the two bishops on April 22 in the region of Aleppo. The day after their disappearance, the release of the two men had been briefly announced before being disproven. “If they had been murdered, we doubtless would have found out,” said Carol Saba, a Franco-Lebanese lawyer and head of communications for the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of France, at a time when Orthodox the world over were preparing to celebrate Easter.

However, last month the British Catholic weekly The Tablet, citing a source in the region, suggested that the two are “probably dead” and would have been “killed the same day as their abduction.”

Total Obscurity about the Kidnappers’ Identity

This is a direction that Œuvre d’Orient is refusing to go down. “As long as we do not have proof of their death, we cannot confirm that they have been killed,” continues Mgr Gollnisch, who prefers to emphasize the responsibilities that international authorities have to act, specifically to come forward with proof that the two bishops are alive and that negotiations are in progress.

“Has there been any action by the UN? And the Turkish government, which implied that it could act, where is it? And the so-called ‘rebel’ authorities, are they taking action?” the French priest asks. Growing impatient with this silence that has lasted for three months, “Not openly publicizing ongoing negotiations, this is normal! But the Westerners who are necessarily in contact with the rebel authorities absolutely must ask them if they have someone that they are negotiating with” for the liberation of the two bishops.

As for the identity of the kidnappers, it remains completely unknown. Even so,  at Œuvre d’Orient they consider it very unlikely that the regime had the bishops kidnapped in order to blame it on the rebels. “The kidnappers are without a doubt from groups close to the rebels who could have acted for money, because of ethnic conflict, or even because of neighborhood disputes…” proposes Mgr Gollnisch. For him it is clear that those who have the ability to bring forward proof that the bishops are alive with their kidnappers must act as quickly as possible.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh: Syria of Mary and the Saints

Arabic original here.

Syria of Mary and the Saints

They cut the head off of the statute of Mary, “Chief of the Women of the Universe.”* They cut it off in the area of Jisr el-Shughur in Syria. The statue did not bleed. It did not feel pain. It did not shed a tear. It did not fear them. It did not bat an eyelid. It did not cry out for help. Its pulse did not race. It did not plead with them to not cut its head off of its body. It did not resist them. It did not try to flee. It met its fate with eloquent silence.

Cutting  the head off of a statue of Mary or of any of the holy ones of God is better, if it is possible to make such a comparison, than for them to slaughter a human being. The statue can be replaced with another or with more. But as for a human being, who can give a widow back her husband, an orphan back his father, or the bereaved back her child…? Mary will not be sorrowed by the destruction of her statue. But she will inevitably grieve until the end for every human who kills his fellow human.

Their cutting the head off of a statue of Mary will not hurt her in any way and will not reduce her place by even the breadth of a hair. No doubt, Mary will weep for their sins and ask her Lord to pardon them and forgive them for the harm they did to themselves. The harm will not reach Mary, whom God “chose and purified over all the women of the universe.” She will not be tarnished by their filthy hands but rather those who seek to insult her will be the only ones to be insulted.

Mary, whom God “chose and purified over all the women of the universe,” the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an, Our Lady the Virgin, chaste and pure, “whom no human has touched,” the mother of Isa ibn Maryam, whom God made “a sign to people and a mercy from Us”—they dare to tarnish and desecrate! But they were driven off and their deeds will perish in this world and the next.

It was not Muslims who destroyed the statue of Mary, even if they had Islamic names and followed some of the precepts of Islam. Destroying the statue is explicitly contrary to the exemplary ethical behavior of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, who distinguished between the idols of the polytheists and the images of the Christians. He commanded the former to be destroyed and the latter to be preserved because he realized that the Christians do not worship images but rather through them honor those that they depict.

It is important to mention here that in the book “Akhbar Makka” by Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn Ahmad al-Azraqi it states that on the pillars of the Kaaba there were “images of the prophets, images of the Tree, images of angels, an image of Abraham the Friend of God, and an image of Isa ibn Maryam.” Then al-Azraqi mentions that on the day Muhammad conquered Mecca, he “ordered these images to be effaced, and they were effaced. But he put his hands over the image of Isa ibn Maryam and his mother—peace be upon them, and said, ‘Erase all the images except for what is under my hands’ and he lifted his hands to reveal Isa ibn Maryam and his mother.” The image remained for more than sixty years after the conquest of Mecca, until al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi, the Umayyad governor of Iraq, bombarded Mecca with catapults, destroying the Kaaba and burning everything in it.

And so if the purpose of attacking the statue of Mary was to terrorize Christians, we say that the Syria of Paul, of Ananias, of Symeon Stylites of Aleppo, of Elian of Homs, of Sergius and Bacchus of Rusafa, of Chrysostom of Antioch, of Maron of Hama, of Maximus of the Golan, of John of Damascus, the Syria of the martyrs, the saints, the ascetics and the righteous, the Syria whose every speck of dust bears witness to her Christianity, shall continue to have within her Christians as witnesses of love and peace, witnesses of Christ’s constant presence in them and in Syria.

*This title is often applied to Fatima, Muhammad's daughter, in Islam.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Met Ephrem Kyriakos on How We Relate to Creation

Arabic original here.

“And God saw that it was good.” Man was created free for the sake of love. He is the link between the Creator and creation. His feet are on the earth and his thought is directed toward heaven. He is body and spirit, manifest and hidden.

Saint Irenaeus says, “God created man so that He could offer him wondrous gifts.” Creation is an act of love from one side, for the sake of communion, exchange, and affection. This initiative invites acceptance or rejection.

Man was created, then, in order to participate in divine love. Contemporary civilization refuses communion with God because it uses creation without reference to the Creator, which causes contemporary man to reject the other.

Rejecting immortality causes man to search for his happiness through earthly possessions. His sin is that he is mistaken about the goal: this is the source of human tragedy.

When man opens his heart to God, the uncreated divine energies grip him from within and change his being without altering his nature, like iron heated in fire, becoming red-hot and glowing: an image of divinization. Man accepts communion with God without becoming a god by nature.

The Christian East always looked to creation for contemplation and giving praise.

The Christian West preferred to consume it. This is a summary of the history of science.

The West, starting in the second millennium, directed itself towards technological activity that caused it to long for “the created rather instead of the Creator.”

“How great are your works, O Lord. In wisdom You made them all.”

From the start, man possesses not only bodily eyes but also spiritual eyes that help him to understand the meanings of the symbols in God’s creation.

All this does not negate the importance of matter, the material of nature, but it causes us to look at it from a different perspective and to deal with it from this perspective.

God is always present in all creation. “Everywhere present and filling all things.” Contemporary scientists have learned, through the examination of particles, that all things are connected to each other.

Man is a microcosm. He is a bridge between earth and heaven, a message of love. Love alone leads to freedom. If man is united, he is able to unite creation, since he leads creation to its creator. He does this through his giving thanks for the blessings he enjoys. With humility he recognizes the Creator’s generous giving.

If a person enjoys this giving thanks and this humility, he comes to be in the image of Christ, the priest of creation, offering everything to God, including the natural environment. In return, God gives him joy and holiness: “Your own of Your own, we offer to you on behalf of all and for all.”

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh against the Takfiris

Arabic original here.

Fie on You, Takfiris!

The god of the Takfiris is a weak and helpless god. Their god is incapable of acting. Their god is their own whim and desires. Their god is a letter without word, without activity, without spirit. Their god is an idol made from stone like their hearts. Their god has no connection to humanity. Their god is without mercy, without compassion, without kindness. Their god is hateful, brutal, murderous.

The Takfiris have made God in their own image and likeness. In the image of their sins, their crimes, and their vices. In the image of their hatred and bloodthirstiness. They have distorted Him. They have disfigured Him. They have made Him into a thug, a butcher, a murderer, a slaughterer, a criminal, a torturer, an executioner, a beheader, a dismemberer.

The Takfiris sit on His throne. They judge in his place. They designate themselves the exclusive spokesmen in His name. They judge His servants. They send them to hell. They lay exclusive claim to heaven for themselves. They have shut the gates of heaven and the kingdom in the face of His beloved ones. They confiscate His paradise. They abduct Him with their sectarian discourse.

Takfiris insult God more than atheists do. Atheists openly declare that they do not believe in God and do not belong to any of the world’s religions and so they do not commit their crimes in God’s name, but rather in the name of their ideologies or political parties. On the other hand, the Takfiris claim that they believe in God and follow His commandments and prohibitions even as they only follow their own distorted reading and false understanding of God’s commandments and decrees.

The insult to God lies in that the Takrifis attribute their crimes to Him. They say that it is in God’s name that they are killing the righteous, justifying murder, committing massacres, setting car bombs in quiet neighborhoods and in places of worship… in this way there are two insults: the first in the crime that they commit and the second in their self-justification and attributing it to God.

The words of the Beloved Prophet Abraham to his father Azar and his people when he saw them bowing in worship to idols apply to the Takfiris: “What are these images unto which you pay devotion?” (Surat al-Abiya 52). Takfiris do not worship God. They worship their idols that they have made with their hands. Thus what Abrahim said to his people also applies to them: “Do you then instead of Allah that which cannot profit you at all, nor harm you? Fie on you and all that you worship instead of Allah! Have you then no sense?” (Surat al-Anbiya 66-67).

Fie on you, Takfiris, idolaters and devil-worshipers. Fie on you, because what you worship will do you no good and without any doubt it will harm you. If the idols of Abraham’s people “cannot profit them, nor harm them” this is because they did not attribute their passions to God, while the Takfiris will be harmed by their actions because they attach them to God, who is innocent of them, until Judgment Day.

Fie on you, because you are not the ones meant by the verse from the Qur’an, “And there may spring from you a nation who invite to goodness, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency. Such are they who are successful” (Surat Al Imran 104). Perhaps rather the verse that applies to them is “The hypocrites, both men and women, proceed one from another. They enjoin the wrong, and they forbid the right, and they withhold their hands. They forget God, so He has forgotten them. Lo! the hypocrites, they are the transgressors” (Surat al-Tawba 67).

Fie on you, Takfiris. What good do you do for God and for humankind? Where is the good that you do and to which you call us? How will you forbid us from wrong while you are wallowing in its paths? You shall not have success, by God’s permission, because you do not exemplify the people of mercy and goodness.