Sunday, September 29, 2013

Met. Georges Khodr on Christian Ethics

Arabic original here.

The Rules of Christian Ethics

The Gospel passage today, taken from the Gospel of Luke, tells us that "Do unto others as you would like others to do unto you." We also find this saying of the Lord in the Gospel of Matthew (7:12). This is the second saying. The first saying, which was not read today is "What you do not want people to do unto you, do not do unto them."

Here in the Gospel today we have two basic rules of Christian behavior. The first rule is that we refrain from hurting people: We do not slander anyone. We do not lie. We do not steal. We do not kill. Anything that we do not wish to be done to us, we do not do to others, because others-- all others-- are the children of God and the Lord rejoices in them. His face shines upon all of them, regardless of what neighborhood they belong to or what group they come from. All people belong to God, whether they like it or not, whether they know Him or not. Just as children in a family might not know that their father and their mother love them-- they might not feel in themselves their parents' love even though the parents love them and want every good thing for them-- so also is God with us: He loves. He loves those who know themselves to be His children and those who do not know themselves to be his children because this is God's way.

The second rule of Christian behavior was summed up by the Lord when He said, "Be merciful just as your Father is merciful." This is how today's Gospel closed, after the Lord gave examples of His teaching: If you lend to someone and he does not pay it back, do not hold it against him. Do not expect to be repaid anything, since people might not give back in kind.

Christ did not say to us, "If you love people, they will necessarily love you." Naturally, this is the general rule, that if we love truly, deeply and sincerely they will return our love. This is not, however, an absolute rule: they may give us hatred in return. A person may not be able to love. But we must imitate Christ who loved His enemies and forgave them while He was on the cross because love is triumphant in the other. It is always victorious.

This means that we cannot cut anyone off from our hearts. We cannot put some people in our heart and others outside it. All are on the inside and we treat them on this basis. We are the ones who establish closeness. We take the initiative to draw near to people and we do not expect anything from them. Humans, by nature, are not open to others. They are prejudiced in favor of their family or their village or their sect. They think that their family is better than every other family, that their village is better than others, and that their sect is better than every other sect. The reality is that all of us are of this clay, all of us are shaped with sins.

What the Gospel is telling us is that there is no human group that stands out for its morality. Yes, there are different circumstances and emotions, but human beings, no matter what group they belong to, have many sinners among them and also many who love. No one has a monopoly on sin or righteousness. Sin is spread out, as is holiness.

When we gather together to perform the Divine Sacrifice, we declare that we are all one in Christ, one in His love. Our hearts are given to all people, from one side of the world to the other, so that we might remain faithful to the end, with love as the final word for us.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Patriarchate of Antioch Makes an Appeal for Maloula

This is the official translation, from the Patriarchate's Facebook page here.

Appeal issued from the Geek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East
24 September 2013


Military acts are increasing in our beloved country Syria and Man pays a high price for this tragedy. So we see destruction prevailing in all the country and we see Man pained, displaced, hungry, thirsty and missing life in all places and at all times. One aspect of this tragedy touches the village Maloula and her Monastery of St. Thekla, a place of pilgrimage which witnesses to the continuous Christian presence of love from the first centuries of the Christendom, in the one part, and testifies also to the deep relationship which links citizens to whatever religion they might belong.

The Monastery of St. Thekla in Maloula, a cultural monument, which belongs to all Syrian citizens, and at the same time, an international heritage belonging to all the humanity, lives difficult and painful days at this time. The monastery is located in a region where there is exchange of fire and this renders it very difficult and dangerous for it to be provided and supplied. Recently, this exchange of fire damaged totally the electrical generator rendering it impossible to supply the monastery with water and threatening, therefore, the survival of this place.
We know that the presence of monastery is clear reminder of Love, peace and brotherhood between all citizens. We insist that we remain there to witness to our love in the country and to its sons and to express to all our total refusal of violence and its damaging effects toward people and the physical environment.

Mindful of this, we appeal officially and urgently to the Syrian Red Crescent, the International Red Cross and all the governmental and non-governmental organizations with capacity in human affairs to provide those living in the monastery, namely, the nuns and the orphans, whose number is 40 persons, with essential supplies by sending one or more relief cargoes. In this way, the inhabitants will remain in their monastery and village to witness to our close relations with each other deep rooted in this land which we love.

We appeal to the consciences of all in the saving of blood, the refusal of violence, the laying waste of all the monuments of the splendor of Syria and the avoidance of their damage and destruction. We repeat our invitation to all the sons of the same country to adopt dialogue as the only way to deal with the debated issues so that the respect, freedom and dignity of men shall be observed always.

In these difficult days, the hearts of the faithful in the church of Antioch pray to St. Thekla, whom we commemorate today, and they ask her to protect Maloula and the sons of Maloula and to overshadow her monastery, her nuns and her orphans with her protection. May God protect Maloula, Syria and all the world and overshadow the creation with His Divine Peace.

Friday, September 20, 2013

An-Nahar on Syrian Christian Refugees

Arabic original, from an-Nahar here.

Displacement and Emigration of Christians from Syria-- Between Reality and Assumptions

by Pierre Atallah

The claim that there are 450 thousand Syrian Christians who have fled Syria provokes doubt and horror and bears interpretation and a suspicion of exaggeration in its political, social, and psychological aspects, that some are trying to profit from historical Christian fears of a repeat of the massacres of 1860. The claim that such a dangerously large number has emigrated would mean that around a quarter of Syrian Christians have fled a country where 10% of the population was made up of various Christian groups, or around two million Syrian nationals. If the recent situation in Maaloula is taken into account, along with its serious psychological impact, then one can understand the background of the psychological war and terror that is being waged against Syrian Christians to force them to leave their land.

In accounts of the reality of the situation of Syrian Christians in regions subject to displacement during the war, a dark image appears which might not be acceptable to some politicians, especially in Lebanon, which is divided between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime. The gist of these reports is that the approximate number of 450 thousand refugees is a speculation, given the absence of any body conducting a census or monitoring or any social or political organization concerned with the state of Christian refugees apart from refugees from all sects. Thus there has been no account made of who has fled and who has remained, only anecdotal accounts and general information.

Aleppo and Northeast Syria are the Worst Cases

The worst case of displacement of Christians is the city of Aleppo, whose Christians numbered 150 thousand before the Civil War, while only 70 to 80 thousand now remain. The kidnapping of Metropolitans Boulos Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim lead to exacerbated tension, feelings of fear and insecurity. One of the most prominent groups to emigrate is the Armenians, many of whom have left to Armenia after the government in Yerevan offered them easier immigration, despite the Armenian political parties' rejecting this. Many of those concerned with the Christian emigrants from Aleppo and its surroundings say that half of those who have left Aleppo have headed to Turkey, Sweden, and Greece, using every possible means to depart, some using illegal means or practicing forgery. The other half of those who left Aleppo-- some 35 thousand people-- "live on rumors, awaiting developments in the situation in Syria or the arrangement of papers for emigration."

The second region whose Christians have been struck with the catastrophe of displacement and emigration, just like all Syrians, is the strip along the Turkish border stretching from Ras el-Ayn, recently enveloped in fighting between Jabhat el-Nusra and Kurdish fighters over control over the town, due to its strategic location. This fighting has led to the displacement of all Christians toward Aleppo and the interior of Syria, seeking safety. Along the border there is also a village called al-Darbasiyah, populated by Syriac and Armenian Catholics, all of whose Christians have fled due to military activity and the actions of al-Nusra and similar groups. The adjacent village of Amouda has also been abandoned by Christians. As for Qamishly, a large proportion of its Christians have remained, under the protection of the Kurds. The same applies to Hesake, over half of whose Christians have fled. In the story of displacement from the region bordering Turkey, residents of Assyrian towns and villages like Tel Juma, Tel Tamr, Tel el-Tawil and others have almost been emptied of residents after a large proportion of them moved to Lebanon, spurred on by a desire to go to Sweden, which shelters a large Syriac and Assyrian diaspora from Iraq and Syria. Reports indicate that the city of Bu Kamal and the Syriac towns and villages around it have been almost completely emptied of Christians because of the domination of the region by extremists, even though the Syriacs and Assyrians stood alongside the opposition when it was launched peacefully.

In sum, it appears that there is a campaign to cleanse the region east of the Euphrates of Christians and moderate Muslims.

Christians in the region of Homs have been struck with the scourge of displacement, starting with that city whose neighborhoods were populated with Christians, Sunnis, and Alawites, and then on to the countryside. The most prominent village subject to displacement is Qusayr, whose Muslim and Christians residents fled after it became a war zone, while Rablah and other Christian and Shiite towns and villages in the area survived.

Varying Situations

In further accounts, the Christian presence in Hama has always been weak and few Christian families live there. The large Christian presence in that region is centered in the cities of Mhardeh (hometown of Patriarch Hazim) and Suqaylabiya, whose residents are Greek Orthodox. Even though the two towns have been subject to attack, they have persevered, have not fallen, and have not fled. According to reports, to the Northwest of Aleppo two Christian towns near Ariha, al-Ghanimiya and Kanasda, have been displaced. Their residents, who are Roman Catholic, were subjected to attacks and so fled to other areas of Syria, especially Wadi al-Nasara and the coastal region.

In southern Syria, along the Jordanian border, in Hawran, Derah and Swayda reports indicate that the Christians' situation is somewhat stable, resembling the situation of all Syrians. It is said that the presence of a liberal opposition and the weak presence of Islamist extremists has led to an absence of kidnappings, extortion and the destruction of churches witnessed in northern Syria and so consequently a modicum of calm.

"Getting Along with All"

The Syrian writer Gebran Saad describes the situation of Christian Syrians, "They have lived in Northeast Syria with Kurds and Bedouin, along the coast with Alawites, with Druze in the South, and in the cities with Sunnis, getting along with all elements of Syrian society in a civil and peaceful way, even as those elements did not get along with each other. This is the strongest and most important point in their personality and their civilizational presence. Thus they do not have their own isolated entities, with the exception of Wadi al-Nasara."

In his view, "The Christians have tried to work within secular political organizations to express their non-sectarian position, but the price was great. As for Georges Sabra or Michel Kilo, they do not express the position of the Christian grassroots." Saad accuses the Syrian opposition of "causing Christians and minorities to refrain from supporting it because of the vagueness of its plan. Sometimes they call for a civil Syrian state within an Islamic vision, while sometimes they call for Islam to be the source of legislation or other such word games."

Embassies Deny Facilitating Emigration

Embassies that grant emigration visas in Lebanon say that they do not distinguish between Muslim and Christian Syrians and that all who meet the conditions obtain visas. The embassies deny rumors that they facilitate emigration for Christians. This is the position given by the American, French, and Canadian diplomatic missions when they were contacted, with the observation that they have not noticed any increased application for visas from Syrians. With the exception of Germany, which has allowed five thousand Syrians to enter as refugees, things continue as normal. There remains Sweden and the Scandinavian countries, where it is said that many Syriacs have arrived, legally or illegally.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Saudi Arabia's Campaign to Silence Arab Christians

Arabic original in al-Akhbar, here. The message from Metropolitan Antonio Chedraoui that so offended the Saudis can be read here.

Saudi Arabia to Christians: Shut Up!

From Lebanon to... Mexico, Saudi Arabia is waging a hidden campaign to stifle any Christian voice expressing anxiety about the existential threat to Christians in Syria and the Middle East at the hands of Takfiris. As far as Riyadh is concerned, no voice should rise above the din of battle, even if this requires departing from the usual minimal standards of diplomatic work.

The Saudi ambassador in Beirut, Ali Iwad al-Asiri mustered all his influence to frustrate a consultative meeting for Arab ambassadors in Lebanon called by Cardinal Beshara Rai on August 27, which he hosted in Dimane. The goal of the meeting was to encourage some Arab countries to stop supporting the Takfiris who, under the banner of the "Arab Spring", are destroying the Christian presence in Syria, Lebanon, and the Middle East in general. Al-Asiri boycotted the gathering and pressured ambassadors from countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council to boycot it. The manner in which the Kuweiti ambassador, Abdul'al al-Qana'ei, was absent from the gathering gives the impression that it was due to Saudi pressure. Up until the night before the meeting, al-Qana'ei affirmed his intent to be present but shortly before it began he gave his regrets under the pretext of security concerns. The message sent by al-Asiri's behavior is that Riyadh is opposed to Middle Eastern Christians raising their voice against the fundamentalists because no sound should rise above the din of battle in Syria. In order to achieve this, Riyadh will not shy away from pressing all its weight to silence any voice that might ask about the future of the Christians of the Middle East in the shadow of the expansion of Takfirism in the region.

It appears that the Saudi campaign to silence expressions of Christian anxieties has been effective on the ground. Al-Akhbar has information that there has been a recent Christian trend in Lebanon to organize a movement in solidarity with the Christians of the town of Maloula in the face of the "invasion" to which it has recently been subjected, however those calling for this activity have received advice to cancel it out of fears that it might provoke the ire of Riyadh, which was originally roused against the Maronite Patriarchate's statement, and is currently spreading accusations in international gatherings that Bkerki supports the Syrian regime, in violation of the principle of "self-distancing" practiced by the Lebanese state.

And in Mexico...

Last week, the Saudi position in Lebanon was continued in Mexico, leb by Riyadh's ambassador in Mexico City, Hussein al-Asiri. The story began on the ninth of this month when the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Mexico, Antonius Chedraoui, published in the Mexican newspaper La Reforma, the most widely-read newspaper in Mexico, a letter to the world's Christians and to supporters of the Takfiris in the White House, the Elysee, and the Gulf countries, in which he spoke of "a plot to eliminate the Christian presence in the Middle East, under the pretext of supporting the Arab Spring." The Saudi ambassador in Mexico immediately reacted to Chedraoui. In the days following the publication of Chedraoui's message, Ambassador al-Asiri waged a media and diplomatic campaign and applied hidden pressure on Chedraoui, on the newspaper that published his message, and on the television channels that invited him to discuss it. One day after the publication of the message, the Saudi ambassador went to ambassadors to Mexico from Islamic countries in order to ask them to hold an urgent meeting to present a unified position against the contents of Chedraoui's message and against the Mexican satellite TV channels that hosted him. The Saudi ambassador characterized the journalist Carlos Marin who conducted the interview as being "sympathetic to Israel and Zionism". During the discussion, an opinion emerged at the meeting-- against al-Asiri's opinion, that advised not exaggerating the matter and treating it with wisdom, but the Saudi ambassador insisted that the gathering issue a statement condemning Chedraoui's message and asking the Mexican newspaper that published it and the television station that interviewed Chedraoui to give space to opinions refuting the head of the Orthodox Church in Mexico, as well as proposing the idea of sending a delegation to raise the matter with the Mexican Foreign Ministry in order to make the issue a point of concern for the Mexican government because it "touches upon its interests with the Islamic countries, especially with Saudi Arabia." Al-Asiri, however, was satisfied with the advice from his Lebanese counterpart, Hisham Hamdan, that "exaggerating the issue will lead to widening its media and political scope in Mexico" and he agreed to cancel the idea of raising the issue formally with the Mexican Foreign Ministry, even though he invited the Mexican foreign minister to a special dinner where he encouraged the Mexican state to apply pressure to silence Chedraoui and the media that covered his views.

It is worth mentioning in this context Hamdan did not defend the right of his citizen Chedraoui to present his opinion and express his fears. Quite the contrary, he lent his support to the Saudi ambassador's effort to belittle Chedraoui's message. In order to acheive this, he sent a message to the Lebanese diaspora, the diplomatic community, the Mexican Foreign Ministry and the newspaper La Reforma wherein he stressed that the Lebanese government distances itself from Chedraoui's message and the positions he expressed in it. The Lebanese ambassador added in his message, just before closing, that the Lebanese government "condemns terrorism against Christians" even though he followed it directly with "and other civilians, whether in Syria, occupied Palestine, or any place in the world." He closed-- and here is the bottom line in terms of the Saudi demand-- by stating that "Lebanon does not accept laying blame on Islam or Muslims (...) the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the countries of the Gulf have also condemned these crimes." He did not forget to mention "the positions of the sister countries of the Gulf alongside Lebanon." The coordination between the Saudi and Lebanese embassies was prominent to the extent that Hamdan asked al-Asiri give his opinion about the message he was preparing to send to the Mexican Foreign Ministry against Chedraoui.

The services rendered by our ambassador in Mexico for the Saudi kingdom did not stop at this. He even asked concerned parties in Beirut to communicate with the Orthodox patriarch to express support for the Saudi position against Chedraoui's message, on the grounds that it "addressed the Arab countries, especially [naturally!] Saudi Arabia"!

Met. Antonio Chedraoui's Message to the World's Christians

Spanish original here. After this message was published in La Reforma and other Mexican newspapers, the Saudi ambassador in Mexico City apparently had a fit. More about that soon...

A Message to World Christianity, September 2013

What is the lot of the Christians of the Middle East? This is a question that I direct to the Christians of the world. In reality, we are re-living the past. Henry Kissinger proposed to the late President of Lebanon Suleiman Frangieh in 1973: empty Lebanon of Christians. The ex-president of France, Mr. Sarkozy made the same proposal to His Beatitude, the current Maronite patriarch.

After the first proposal, the United States gave us the War of 1975 and as a result of the second proposal, reeking of oil and the chemical weapons that the United States and the oil-producing countries gave real murderers in order to kill real innocent victims: priests and unarmed civilians, as the Christians are; kidnapping two bishops four months ago and treating them in the worst manner, a kidnapping perpetrated by these groups and the Turkish government, as their Prime Minister Erdogan admitted to the President of Lebanon, a prime minister whose life has been distinguished by being opposed to Christians and other minorities, a prime minister who is certainly aware that previous rulers opened the tombs of the patriarchs and bishops in Istanbul and Smyrna.

Among other abuses and outrages, a group of fanatics set upon a monastery of nuns and orphans, the Monastery of Saint Thekla in Maloula, which is one of the oldest in the Middle East.

The world is silent, Mr. Obama and Mr. Hollande shut their eyes before what is happening, blaming a legitimate government, not even opening their mouths to condemn the burning and destruction of churches, the murder of priests, or the calls of muftis (religious leaders of Muslim fanatics) to do away with old churches and to not permit the construction of new ones.

Just today, they burned down the church and school of the city of Arbin, home city of our Orthodox metropolitan of Brazil, which is under the domination of the murderous gangs.

They condemn the acts of September 11, but today they ally themselves with its authors in order to work against the Christians. The dead from their graves and the blood spilled on that fatal day demand justice from Mr. Obama and Mr. Hollande.

We find bizarre this inhuman position that is rejected by all religions. There are threats of war. It is inexplicable that those who speak of liberty and democracy form an alliance with cannibals and savages and remind us of what Tshombi did when he ate the heart of Lumumba to assure himself that he was dead.

We deeply lament the fact that these things are happening in the 21st century, that these alliances are formed and threaten war to safeguard crime and ensure the safety of criminals!

His Holiness, Pope Francis, along with all the world's religious leaders and the majority of political leaders, prays for peace, while Messrs. Obama and Hollande beat the drums of war.

They can rest assured that evil will never do away with the Christian spirit of love and peace. They can rest assured that the voice of Christ Crucified and Resurrected will continue to ring in the ears and to move the hearts (if they still have them) of the cultivators of evil and, as He promessed: He will always be with His followers, His Christians, with His Church.

Antionio Chedraoui
Antiochian Orthodox Metropolitan of Mexico, Venezuela, and the Carribean

Saturday, September 14, 2013

In Memoriam: Albert Laham, 1924-2013

Unofficial translation. Arabic original here.

Communique from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East
September 14, 2013

"No one is holy like You, O Lord our God. O You who raised up the faithful, O Good One, and established them on the rock of Your confession" (from the funeral service).

Albert Laham, whom the Church of Antioch entrusts today to the hope of resurrection and eternal life, is one of those whom the Lord God established "on the rock of His confession". He became a rock and a cornerstone through which the Church of Christ was strengthened in Antioch. In the 1940's, Albert and his companions stood up and breathed life into the body of the Church the spark of whose spirit had been covered by the roughness of history and the features of whose face had been swept away by the flaccidity of the past.

Albert and his companions founded the Orthodox Youth Movement, which set out from the past to adorn the present with the splendor of Orthodoxy. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East mourns on this blessed day, the day of the Elevation of the Life-Giving Cross, one of her finest sons, who took his talent and multiplied it, working in the field of the Lord. Today she loses one of those who supported her with their generous giving. Today she confers to the hope of resurrection one of those who conferred to her the abundance of their toils. As she extends her condolences to his small family, the Church, his large family, consoles herself with such men who watered the Church of Christ with the sweat of their brow.

Christ is risen. Indeed He is risen.

Raymond Rizk Remembers Albert Laham

French original here.

On September 10, 2013, Albert Laham, one of the principle founders of the Orthodox Youth Movement (MJO) and a great figure in the contemporary Antiochian Orthodox Church, fell asleep in the Lord.

I was barely 16 when I met him at my first visit to an MJO meeting in Beirut. He was giving a lecture. With his typical fervor, he encouraged the young people who were listening to him to not be scandalized by the various shortcomings of their Church of Antioch, still only just awakened from a state of somnolence caused by centuries of Ottoman domination, but rather to join ranks in her service, following Christ and giving Him their heart. I remember that he said that "you do not leave your mother when she falls ill but you love her and care for her all the more." This was the first time that I heard such words. I was enthralled by them. Through Albert Laham, the Lord entered into my life and invited me into the service of His Church.

From then on, he was for the young people of our generation the very model of a layperson engaged in the renewal of the Church. Although still young, he had rediscovered the significance of the royal priesthood and while having filial respect for the hierarchy he also had an acute sense for the responsibility of the laity and of their necessary brotherly collaboration with the clergy in order to ensure a true Christian witness. From the first days of the MJO, already in 1944 he wrote:  "The work of renewal must take place within the Church and send its roots down to the very source...

Our station as members of the Church invested us with a sacred mission and makes us fully responsible for the entire Body. It is not as a result of delegation or condescension on the part of ecclesial authorities that one is allowed to contribute to the Christian effort. Neither is it so one can make up for the inactivity of that authority. In the Body of Christ there cannot be delegation, representation, or substitution... Outside of any mandate... young people are active members of the Church of Christ and possess a sacred mission, having become 'a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim His praises...' (1 Peter 11:3) (Revue Lumière', no. 16, Feb. 1944, in an article entitled "Fondement de notre action").

He was nourished by the Gospel. Father Lev Gillet, whose disciple he was, taught him to find the face of Christ through its texts and to enter into dialogue with Him. He very likely knew the entire New Testament by heart and he constantly referred to it. He was, par excellence, the very model of the first generation of the MJO, who never travelled without having the New Testament on their person. During the many lectures that he gave in the various MJO centers in these last years, the young people were excited by the enthusiasm of this old man (he was older than 80), and left impressed by the way he talked about Jesus. He once told me that he wanted to spend his last years in Lebanon, just to be able to speak to the young people of the MJO, in some sense to win forgiveness for the many years of his life passed far from them, and to share with them his "life in Christ." He was granted that consolation, and despite his physical state of general weakness these past months, he never missed an opportunity to do this.

He strengthened his life in Christ, nourished by the Word of God, through his continual participation in the liturgical life of the Church. Apart from when he was ill, I do not think that he missed a single Divine Liturgy. His attitude at church, often standing in a corner humbly and attentively, gave the same witness. Two days before his death, we were at the same church, where despite his evident tiredness, he was entirely taken up in the encounter with the One to whom he had given his heart.

He had asked that at his funeral a passage from the Epistle to the Romans be read, which gives, I think, a compelling notion of the way in which he lived. It says, "He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s" (Romans 14:6-8). This text characterizes Albert. Yes, in effect, he did not live for himself and he did not die for himself. He always lived, despite his social status, fleeing honors and withdrawn into his hidden life with his Lord, of which one caught a glimpse when he spoke of Him with passion.

During the 1960's he was incontestably one of those who led the struggle within the Church of Antioch between the forces of renewal and those of an arid status quo, tainted at a time of Soviet influence by the intermediary of the Russian Church. He was the spirit of the resistance. An experienced lawyer, head of one of the most important law firms of the city, he was always available when it came to matters of the Church. He became the councilor for all the clergy working for renewal. He received more every day. They were all attracted by the profundity of his thought, his measuredness, his determination to always preach reconciliation without that affecting his firmness when it came to "that which has been given one time for all to the saints." We learned much from his deep sense of belonging to the Church, from his dedication through all trials, from the patience that made us all listen. I remember once, during a meeting of the General Secretariat of the MJO, when we were debating the strategy to take in a matter of importance for the Church. Everyone had their opinion and Albert had his which was different from most of the young people present.

Despite his experience that was recognized by all, his age, and his obvious quality of leadership in such matters, he willingly bowed to the opinion of the majority and began to expand on their proposal. This made a great impression on us. One of the young people present there, Georges Nahas, wrote me to give news of Albert's death: "We passed through difficult days with him; we know how much he was 'consacrated' to the Church. He contributed the most to prepare the ground for the entrance into the episcopate of several 'heavyweights' of the renewal movement, in particular the late Patriarch Ignatius IV and Metropolitan Georges (Khodr), may he be granted to live many years, since he is one of the last representatives of the founding generation of the MJO.

Albert long campaigned for changing the Antiochian canons in order to permit laypersons engaged in the life of the Church to be elected and become members of the Majles el-Milli [diocesan council], called to help the bishop in the management of his eparchy. He was elected to it with a large majority, as many saw in him an authentic representative of the renewal of the diocese of Beirut for which they were calling. He played a leading role there and achieved numerous reforms.

His rootedness in the Church of Christ pushed him to not restrict himself to the Antiochian sphere. He bore witness to the entirety of Orthodoxy and worked for the rapprochement of Christians. One of the founders of Syndesmos, the International Federation of Orthodox Youth Movements, he was for a long time its president and initiated many of its activities. Concerned by the absence of young Russians, he was behind the decision to open membership of Syndesmos to faculties of Orthodox theology in order to allow young Russians to communicate with the rest of the Orthodox youth and to have them share the difficulties that they lived under state communism. Throughout his life, he remained interested in the development of that organization, which he continued to support financially. He was made happy by its successes and pained and saddened by its recent difficulties. He was close to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which he never once hesitated to consult and which named him archon. He also had deep relations of friendship with numerous Orthodox hierarchs and theologians throughout the world, not to mention numerous Catholic and Protestant figures.

His contribution to the preparatory work for the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church, where he represented the Patriarchate of Antioch, was always to bring together different points of view, to always work for more reconciliation and brotherhood between the Orthodox Churches. In doing this, he embodied the age-old irenic tradition of his Patriarchate. He often enjoyed recalling the memory of the patriarch Peter III of Antioch who, in the 11th century, tempered the bellicose attitude of the Ecumenical Patriarch Michael Cerullarius, urging him to forget the little things so as to only consider those differences truly related to the faith.

He was the founder of the Saint Irenaeus group in Lebanon, which was the first circle of ecumenical dialogue there where one would see rubbing shoulders many of those who would later rise to the highest ranks of their respective churches. He was one of the principle organizers, always advocating the healing of our memories in order to go towards the other, adorned only with the presence of Christ.

He was also founder of the Lebanese Cenacle, led by the late Michel Asmar, which wanted to promote a real encounter between Lebanese centered around culture and an irenic approach to religions, where he gave several foundational lectures.

Up to his last days, he continued to listen to the youth. His greatest joy was to discover with them the impulse towards the Lord that dwelled in him from the youngest age. He eagerly read An-Nour magazine, the official organ of the MJO, welcoming the spiritual insights that he perceived there and criticizing what he sometimes considered to be idle chatter.

Out of his desire to continue to encourage, even after his death, authentic initiatives for Christian witness and evangelization, he founded an association to which he left a substantial endowment, in order to use the proceeds to aid the MJO, Syndesmos, numerous churches in Eastern Europe, and renewal projects in the fields of Christian education and publishing.

It is not, however, only these funds that will perpetuate his memory. His memory will remain in the hearts of all those whom he oriented towards not living for themselves, but for the Lord, and through and in Him, for all His brothers. And they are many. All those who turn in prayer to the Lord that his memory may be eternal!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh: Is Christianity Doomed to Disappear?

Arabic original here.

Is Christianity Doomed to Disappear?

Christianity has gone extinct in many countries whose people had adopted the Christian faith from the very beginning of the Church. We can mention, for example, North Africa from Libya to Morocco, passing through Tunisia, Algeria, and Mauritania, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), and the Arabian Peninsula... We can also mention Iraq and Palestine, where the Christian presence has almost disappeared.

Christianity began its decline in North Africa with the Islamic conquest until it completely disappeared in the twelfth century with the attacks of the Almohads who were distinguished by their intolerance. The African church witnessed great flourishing in the first centuries, when its bishops numbered around seven hundred. It gave birth to great teachers who even today remain points of reference in theology, such as Tertullian (d. 240), Saint Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258), and the Blessed Augustine, bishop of Hippo (d. 430). 

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 at the hands of the Ottomans, Christianity started to disappear from Asia Minor. Ataturk's "secularism" was not any better for Christians than Ottoman Islam and those who survived the oppression of the sultanate were annihilated by intolerant Turkish nationalism with the complicity of the West, especially France which stripped Antioch and its surroundings (the Sanjak of Alexandretta) from Syria and gave it to Kemalist Turkey. Here we may recall the Armenians, Syriacs, and Greek Orthodox over the entire geographic expanse of Turkey from Anatolia, Cappadocia, and Antioch to every village and town.

Researchers agree that the demise of Christianity in these countries is the result of multiple causes: political, religious, social, cultural and economic and this demise cannot be blamed solely on the spread of Islam. It is true that the prejudice of some intolerant Muslim rulers contributed at certain times to tightening the noose around Christians. However, other causes also caused them to abandon the faith of their fathers and grandfathers.

What is happening in Syria right now forces us to ask the following question: Is Christianity doomed to disappear in the land of its birth? Historical experience tells us that anything may happen. Who would have thought that North Africa and Asia Minor, which witnessed golden ages of Christianity, would see Christianity completely annihilated there? Who would have thought only a century ago that Palestine, where Christianity had remained through thirteen centuries of Islamic caliphates, would nearly be emptied of its Christians on account of the Israeli occupation? Who would have thought that Iraq, which at the apex of the Abbasid Caliphate witnessed unparalleled Christian flourishing, would find its Christian presence in immanent danger?

The survival of Christianity in Syria and other countries of the Arab Middle East depends on them and their steadfastness. It also depends on the openness of Muslims and their willingness to ensure the survival of their countrymen. It is a grave error for Christians to link their survival to the survival of a regime that protects them or to a foreign intervention that would prop them up. However, the most serious danger is for Christians to abandon their mission and their witness, which can be summed up as bearing the cross, for the sake of their survival. The entire Syrian people, not only the Christians, is paying the price for rampant, uncontrolled madness. The village of Maloula is a dear part of Syria. What is happening there cannot be permitted to happen elsewhere. The blood of Christians is not more valuable than the blood of Muslims. Their churches are not more valuable than Muslims' mosques. The Christians must hold fast to their faith, hope, love and patience to the point of martyrdom, until these black days end and they can return to being the good leaven that leavens the whole loaf. As for Christianity, it will not be disappear if we do not want it to disappear.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tarif Khalidi Appeals to Muslim Leaders for Maloula

h/t As'ad Abu Khalil.  I had the privilege of studing with Tarif Khalidi some ten years ago. There are very few academics for whom I have more respect. Arabic original in al-Akhbar here.

An Appeal to Muslim Clerics and Rulers: Save Our Christian Heritage!

An appeal to Muslim clerics and rulers, women and men:

What is happening today in Maloula and other Christian cities and areas in Syria, Egypt, and other Arab countries transcends any political opinions about what is going on in this or that tormented country, whether the opinions oppose or support the political regime in those countries. The repeated assaults on Christian holy sites that are happening today and the forced expulsion of Christians is a flagrant assault on our Islamic heritage itself and on the precedent of our venerable Prophet, his noble hadith, his life, and the lives of those followed him in doing good. The destruction of churches and Christian holy sites that we are witnessing is a barbaric, pagan assault on our Islamic civilization  which, over the ages, has given a central place to Jesus son of Mary and his virgin mother (peace be upon them) at the heart of our teaching, rooted in the long and glorious history of coexistance and love between Islam and Christianity, this coexistance that is one of our greatest point of pride when we express our pride among civilizations.

Any attack on these holy places is part of a campaign against Islam, aiming to disfigure this love and coexistence. This campaign is now being waged by those who have been overcome first of all by ignorance, then by blind prejudice, then by rejection of the other, even when this other is "the closest in affection to those who believed." In light of all the above and before it is too late, we call upon Muslim clerics and rulers, women and men, to join their voices with this cry, that perhaps someone may heed it in the lands of Arabity and Islam... "O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul."

Tarif Khalidi is a Palestinian academic and professor at the American University of Beirut.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Bishop Basil of Wichita on the Syria Crisis

For more on the situation in Maloula, see the BBC here and al-Akhbar here.

The following is the address given by His Grace Bishop Basil to the parish of St Mary Orthodox Church in Wichita, Kansas regarding the crisis in Syria, on the morning of their patronal feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, September 8, 2013.

This week will be a very important week, an historical week, one way or another--our church, our Patriarchate in particular, and this world in general. This week our elected representatives will be asked to vote either for or against supporting aggression in the Holy Land. As I said it’s important first and foremost for our church. It’s where our spiritual roots are, the roots of all Christians. Not just us, but we as Antiochian Orthodox in particular, as our Father in God (Patriarch John of Antioch) lives there along with a million and a half Orthodox Christians.That’s more than we have total in the US. The Orthodox in Syria and Lebanon is not negligible, it’s 10 percent of the population. In our country, we’re less than 1 percent, our country being the United States.

Syria in particular but Lebanon as well, which is an integral part of greater Syria just by its geography and the majority of its history, is dotted with holy places. Holy places made holy by the presence of our Savior. Remember his conversation with the Canaanite woman, the Syro-Phoenician woman when he visited Tyre and Sidon in south Lebanon. It’s not in Disney World or Never Never Land. Its a real place with real people with real Orthodox Christians living there. You've heard of Caesarea Philippi, where our Savior went and had conversation with his 12 apostles saying, “Who do men say that I am?” and then to Peter “Who do you say that I am?” Caesarea Philippi is in Golan Heights, what now is the occupied portion of the Golan Heights. It belongs to our sister archdiocese, the archdiocese of Bosra-Hauran. And the Golan Heights itself is dotted with now empty, they were depocketed by the Israelis, Christian villages, Orthodox villages, whose churches during the occupation have been totally desecrated. Stripped. Not only of the icons and the chandeliers, but of windows, and water faucets. Their dead in Konetra were taken out of their graves, and teeth--gold teeth--taken from their mouths and wedding rings taken from the corpses’ fingers. These are holy places. Our Saviour walked there, the apostles walked there. Sweida, Bosra-Hauran in south Syria is where Timon, one of the original seven deacons as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, one of the original seven deacons was the first bishop. Paul the apostle made his way from Jerusalem up to Damascus, and the road is still there, the spot where he was knocked off his horse by the presence of our Saviour Jesus Christ when he was struck blind. There’s a monastery there, an Orthodox monastery. These are not just places in books, brothers and sisters. These are holy places where Christians, your spiritual ancestors, and for many of you your physical ancestors have lived the Holy Orthodoxy for the past 2,000 years. It’s why what happens this week is important. It’s important.

We ask your prayers first and foremost for our president. That God might speak as we say in the liturgy “good things to his heart. That God might speak reasonableness and peace to the heart of our president. That he might speak peace to the heart of our elected officials, that they indeed become our representatives, that they speak the voice of the people. God speaks through his people, not through a congressman alone, or a president alone. He speaks through his people. May God hear our prayer for our armed forces. Men and women who sit on the edges of their seats to know whether they will be going to war or not. And don’t believe this “no boots on the ground.” It’s impossible. We’ve  heard the promise many times. May God give strength to the parents. The spouses first and foremost of those soldiers, and their children, and their parents and their families, that he might grant them grace during these next coming days to prepare for the tension that must be laid upon them. And God be with the people of Syria. All of them, whether they’re Muslim, they’re Druze, Christians, Orthodox and not. May he be with our Father in God (Patriarch John of Antioch) who has already lost thousands of his people, and priests and deacons and monks and nuns in the war already. Whose monasteries and churches have been occupied and many destroyed by the so-called Free Syrian Army. Whose own brother was kidnapped and still remains kidnapped, Metropolitan Paul along with Archbishop Yohanna, since April 22 by freedom fighters. Freedom fighters--people who rape women, abduct bishops, desecrate churches, open peoples’ chests and pull their beating heart out and eat it in their presence. That’s the Free Syrian Army and their allies, Al Qaeda.

Two days ago I received a call from our Metropolitan Saba Esper, who you know, he has visited here. He is the archbishop of our own Wichita diocese’s sister diocese in south Syria. He spoke by telephone, right before he called me, with Mother Belagia. Mother Belagia is the abbess of the monastery of Saint Thekla in Maalula. It’s only like a 20-30 minute drive north of Damascus. It had been occupied for 3 days (the town). The town is one of three where they still speak Aramaic--Aramaic which our Saviour spoke. The only 3 towns left in the world. The majority of the people in Maaloula are Christians--Orthodox Christians. There’s a smattering of Catholics there, and there’s also some Muslims there, and they live there in peace. The beginning of this week they were occupied by the Free Syrian Army. It turned out to be Al Qaeda, and they turned out to be Chechens--the same ones who abducted our 2 bishops. The nuns took the children there, orphan girls there of St. Thekla, and they and the nuns, many who are aging, into the caves of the village to hide for 4 days. They didn’t even go out to buy bread. The villagers didn’t leave their homes for 4 days. And if you’ve never been to the Middle East, they don’t shop like we do. They go every morning to buy their bread and food for the day. So they were locked in their homes for 4 days. Those who went out were shot, so they knew to stay in their homes. Saba called me on Wednesday. Mother Belagia, and they were ringing all the bells in the town’s churches--the Syrian Army, you know the one that we’re told is so bad. The Syrian Army finally came and drove Al Qaeda out. And what did they find? They found 2 churches in the village completely destroyed. St. Elias, which is ours, the Orthodox church in the village, and St. Rita, which is a Catholic church in the village--completely destroyed. On the inside, the icons, the holy books, everything had been desecrated. Not just ripped off the walls, but covered in urine. Real desecration by that wing of the Free Syrian Army. God knows what the people of Syria, and by extension the people of Jordan, the people of Lebanon, the people of Turkey and the people of Iraq--because if there’s a war there’s a regional war--God knows the burden they may have to carry this week. Lighten their burden as you can. And that’s by your prayers. Have a soft heart towards the people. Wrongs were done on both sides--vicious wrongs on both sides. But as we’ve heard from some honest politicians this past week, there’s really no good armed force over there. No one we can trust. None. So the choice is between the evil that we know and that we’ve had for 30-40 years in that part of the world, or another evil we don’t know about except what they’ve shown us in this awful civil war for the past 2 and a half years.

So this week, really pray. Thank God that we live in a country that is safe. Where we can send our children to school, where you can go out and buy your groceries. But realize that that blessed country where we live can also be a disruptive force in other parts of the world, as it has been. Remember Bosnia. Remember Kosovo. Remember what happened in Belgrade, the capital of an Orthodox country, bombed by our armed forces on Pascha night, while people were going to church for the midnight service. God bless America--but a lot of evils have been done in her name. We pray that God will restrain our leaders from being the cause for any more evil and sorrow and hurt in this world. That we might extend a healing hand, to bring enemies together like we’re supposed to. Where we teach people to turn the other cheek, where we teach people to bless those who curse them, to love our enemies. That’s the gospel we preach, the gospel we die for. It’s the gospel which Orthodox Christians have been and I guess will continue to die for. Remember them in your prayers, and as I said, most especially our leaders, who will make the decisions. That God might pour out his Holy Spirit on them, and speak good things to their hearts.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Significance of What Happened in Maloula

By far, the most detailed analysis of Jabhat al-Nusra's incursion into Maloula can be found at Joshua Landis' blog, Syria Comment here.



The video and photographic evidence available after the attack indicates that the operation was a coordinated effort between (at least) the following groups: Ahrar al-Sham, Jabhat al-Nusra, the Baba ‘Amr Brigades (a rebel group possibly affiliated with the SIF – Syrian Islamic Front), FSA Commandos Unit, and Soqour al-Sham. A video from Ahrar al-Sham can be found here. A video of shooting, apparently as part of the initial attack, is here.

My own Ma’loulan sources tell me that displaced people from Duma (between Ma’loula and Damascus) had taken up residence in Ma’loula, and cooperated with the rebels to facilitate their entrance. Ma’loulans now resent them for acting as a 5th column inside the very community that gave them shelter when they fled their own town as refugees. The danger with such cases is that it will generate suspicion and ill-will toward refugees generally.

Other photos of rebels posted online after taking Ma’loula can be found here, here, and here. One poster of photos from the operation to take the checkpoint refers to the soldiers as “apostates.” One poster seems to be from Somalia (unknown if he participated in the attack).
A Facebook page shows an alleged photo of one of the soldiers killed in the attack. Reportedly, at least 8 soldiers were killed on the first day.

Ma’loula only has one mosque. When the rebels entered the city center, they went to that mosque to declare victory and perform a typical chorus of takbiir (the shouting of Allahu Akbar). [...]

The big question is: Why Ma’loula? What need is there for rebels to capture this town? Talk of “liberation” certainly has no currency when the local residents aren’t asking for any and would prefer to be left alone. Was there any strategic importance to the town? Or was it merely an easy target for “victory,” not well-guarded and unable to resist being taken over? Some have suggested that taking the town was needed in order to link to opposition resistance efforts in the nearby Qalamoon region. Jabhat al-Nusra’s official account, however, referred to the attack as part of the “Eye-for-an-Eye” revenge campaign, initially declared after the chemical weapons attacks in the Ghouta.
Al-Jazeera’s reporting was one-sided, as usual. It explained the attack exclusively in strategic terms, noting the town’s connections to other nearby communities with a rebel presence. They failed even to mention Jabhat al-Nusra’s presence in this campaign, instead referring only to the FSA’s involvement and ignoring the central role of Islamists in the operation.
When the rebels first came into the town, they reportedly told people “Don’t be afraid; stay inside your homes.” A video posted online by the Katibat Souwar Bab ‘Amr shows a rebel speaking to his men, affirming that (paraphrase, not verbatim):
We don’t shoot at any church or at civilians; we’re only here to push back against the oppression and will only target those who target us. They (the people of the town) are our people and part of our country. The regime has persecuted everyone, from all sects. Here we are in front of the church and everything is safe and the houses are safe.
Despite the affirmation of goodwill toward civilians and the pledge to not harm churches, I was told that the first mortar fired by rebels hit a church. Since then, others have conveyed to me that churches and monasteries have been damaged in yesterday and today’s fighting. Even if the damage is unintentional, local residents will likely not feel very understanding toward their uninvited “liberators.” I was told that at least some of the rebels cursed some Christians and threatened to kill them for being infidels. The rebel speaking in the video quoted above may reflect one group’s approach to taking the town, but several groups with different ideologies were participating, and Nusra’s presence confuses things. When Nusra’s revenge campaign began, many threats were voiced against towns and civilians. Though it seems that civilians survived largely unscathed in the events in Ma’loula, it is disconcerting to see the attack associated with a revenge campaign. One of Nusra’s photos for the attack on Ma’loula was published on Facebook with a verse from the Qur’an stating: “Allah give us patience and victory over the infidels”—perhaps not the best slogan to use when launching an al-Qaida-led attack in which a Jordanian Islamist blows himself up at the gate of the oldest Christian village in the country. [...]

Earlier this week, before the attack, Robert Fisk reported form Maloula here..



So I chat to old Father Fayez who's serving time as the local priest and he refuses to talk politics, but insists that his people, in their old, blue-painted houses, live side-by-side with their Muslim neighbours; indeed, the 20,000 Christians and Muslims living in three villages all speak Aramaic. But the sunlight and sharply-defined shade in the church courtyard reflect the darkness that has fallen across the lives of these people. There had been three kidnappings of Christians, the priest says; all had been released after ransom was paid.

Then the owner of a Christian restaurant set off last month to collect some Muslim workers from a neighbouring village, and he'd been abducted on the way. The Free Syria Army brought the kidnapped man back to Maaloula. I drive to Seydnaya where the church is built, Peter-like, on a rock, the basilica of Seyd Naya – the Holy Virgin in Syriac – with a clutch of orphans and an off-duty Syrian army conscript cleaning the floors and bringing water for the children.
And then an angry nun approaches in her black habit, flapping like a blackbird, frameless spectacles pinned to the outside of her head covering. "You journalists want to harm this country," she chirps. "Before the war, we lived in peace. We had holidays, vacations, women and children could walk in the street at midnight." She stalked off, only to return – as I knew she would – for a second assault. She had a story to tell, for the Holy Spirit – while it may drift through the narrow cold stone corridors of Seyd Naya - cannot prevent violence from touching the church. "A boy wanted to come here to pray for his marriage because he was marrying a local girl," the nun said. "But then we heard today that his father has been killed in the massacre at Deraya…"

So I consulted Sister Stephanie Haddad who said that Seyd Naya was peaceful – she passed over the shells which hit the monastery seven months ago, supposedly fired by the Free Syria Army – and was now sheltering refugees from Homs and Hama and Tell and from Deraya itself. So I asked the obvious question. What would Jesus say if he turned up in Syria today? "If he came now, he would tell the people: don't kill, burn, shoot, kidnap or steal. All these things are mentioned in the Bible."


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh on the Ruler of this World and his Willing Servants

Arabic original here.

The Ruler of this World

There is nothing strange about the fact that Christ placed power as one of the most serious temptations for those who seek it, leading them to eternal perdition. Satan sought Him out and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and said to Him, "I will give all of this to you if you bow down and worship me." Jesus replied, "Away with you, Satan, for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and Him alone shall you serve'" (Matthew 4:8-10). For the same reason, Christ said that the devil is the "ruler of this world."

The devil is still "the ruler of this world" (John 16:11). In order to maintain power or in the attempt to take possession of it, the greedy do not hesitate to commit massacres, to expel people from their homes, and to burn countries. For them, every heinous act becomes permissible. People's lives become cheap. Hundreds of thousands die slaughtered, bombed, strangled, eliminated... and the devil sits happy because he was able to make some of them willing servants of him and his lures.

Jesus says, "You cannot serve two masters, God and wealth" (Matthew 6:24). Jesus realized that wealth and power are twins and that in most cases wealth distances a person from the worship of God. If not for wealth, the combatants would not be able to do anything. They would not be able to obtain the deadly instruments of war and munitions. They would not be able to replenish their arsenals with the latest and most lethal weapons. Instead of investing wealth in the service of the poor, the needy, the sick, orphans and widows, they spend it in order to kill and annihilate them.

Power and wealth are not evil in themselves, but they become evil on account of the way in which they are used. In our churches, we pray for those who govern in the way of every good work, the the Lord will strengthen their steps in the fear of God. But the current reality and historical experience teaches us that vanishingly few rulers or those eager to rule fear God and His judgment. The ruler must be a saint in order to be free from the lures of power and wealth and not fall into temptation.

Those who justify the blood of innocent people and their immolation upon the altars of their sins and passions are not sincere. Nothing is worth more than the human person, whom God made in His image and likeness. Nothing is worth the killing of a single child and how much more so the thousands of children being killed without a dog in the fight for power! Power has become an idol upon whose altar human sacrifices are offered. They say that they worship God while in fact they worship others in His place. They worship the devil and offer up human sacrifices to him. They take pleasure in the sight of spilled blood. They give praise to the devil and join with him in the crimes and sins of their own hands. They are devil-worshipers. They are his faithful disciples. They have surpassed the devil in the ingenuity of their evil ways. They have raised paganism from its grave  and brought it back to life through their heinous deeds.

If only we were all poor, without any money other than what we need to ease our hunger and pay for our food. If only we were all poor, with no greed for the things of this world, with no desire for anything other than God's expansive mercy and all-surpassing love. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice," says Jesus of Nazareth, which means that man's service to his fellow man takes precedence over serving God.

Having mercy on people is more important, in the eyes of God, than bearing witness verbally, than prayer, fasting, alms or pilgrimage. It is more important than any standard defined by faith or dogma. Mercy is the only proof that we are human and not beasts ravenous for human flesh.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

From Patriarch John X's Speech in Amman

This is the official translation posted to the Patriarchate's Facebook page, here. The speech was given earlier today at a conference entitled "The Challenges Facing Arab Christians" held in Amman and sponsored by King Abdullah of Jordan.

Your Majesty,

Your Beatitudes and Holinesses, in virtue and with great respect,

Your Highnesses, Excellencies and Eminences, honored congregation,

After rendering thanks to His Majesty, and to his Regal Council for the kind invitation delivered to us, I should like to address you from here in Amman, and also the world affirming some ideas, principles and aspirations which may portray vividly in your memory a recollection of what we were, what we are and how we shall remain as Christians, an inseparable organic constituent of this Islamo-Christian East.

I come to you, to Jordan from Damascus, which includes between us the tomb of Saladin and the sepulcher of the prophet Youhanna (Yahia). I come from the Mariamite church of Damascus, the neighbor of the Omayyad Mosque; I come from the wounded Homs, the city of St. Elian and the embracer of Khaled Ibn Elwalid. I come from the brightness of the snow of Lebanon and from the height of her mountains. I come from Beirut, the city of laws and from Tyre, the bride of southern Lebanon. I come to Hashemite Jordan, the neighbor of Palestine, famous for her Islamic and Christian places. I come to kiss the edge of Jordan River, where Christ the Lord was baptized.
I am a Christian from the Levant, the Levant was the first to call the followers of Jesus Christ “Christian”. I come from the womb of this land and, in front of the manger of Bethlehem I stand. Then I seek protection from Herod fleeing to Egypt. And from Egypt I return to Palestine and I follow Christ to the Edge of Jordan River, and from Jordan River, I accompany him to the lake of Tiberias. From there I go to Sidon in the south of Lebanon. Then, I follow him in his Via Crucis and I kneel in front of his life-giving sepulcher in Al-Kuds. From there I go back to Damascus, to see Paul converted within its walls and baptized by the hands of Ananias. From Damascus I go to Antioch to receive there the name “Christian” and to evangelize in company with Paul from its port all the earth with the teaching of Jesus Christ. All this, enables me to say that I come from this land; I was born in it, I live in it and I take its precious sands close to my heart when I leave for eternal life. All this is to say that we, the Christians of this East, are well rooted in our land, as the olive in the mountainside and we are ingrained in it, as the cedars in Lebanon.

To be well rooted in our lands, means, first of all, to have very good relations with those with whom we submit ourselves to the will of God Almighty, with our brothers, the Muslims, with whom we share not only a coexistence but a real mutual life, not a spirit of confraternity but a real brotherhood, not only an alliance but a concrete unity unbreakable by the machinations of the spoilers. The events of history are witnessing to all of this.

I, as a Christian of this East, testify to good relations and fraternity with Muslims, our dear brothers. I testify to this in the Promise of the Prophet, sealed by him, in which he asked the conquerors to deal well with the Christians. I see it in the wisdom of Omar Ibn Alkhattab, who, for his deep wisdom, did not respond to the demand of Patriarch Sophronios when he invited him to pray in the Church of the Resurrection. I see it in the case of the great ministers of the Omayyads, in the case of Mansour Ibn Sarjoun and his grandfather. I see it in a real fraternity transfigured through history in spite of difficulties sometimes. I see it in recent history, when Abed Alkader Aljazaeri protected some of the Christians in the events of 1860. I see it in the hand of Patriarch Gregorios IV Haddad, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, whose hand was the first and the last to salute the prince Faisal in the train station of Hijaz in Damascus 1920. On that day he said to him: “this hand which is extended to you will be extended to you always”. I am a son of the pious Antioch which opened her churches for Muslims in 1937, when the mosques of the Alexandretta region were closed to the Muslims. The hand of our predecessor, Patriarch Gregorios, which was extended to the King Faisal will be extended always to every Muslim in order to build with him a bright future.

We refuse that anyone should dress himself in the clothes of religion to cultivate a separation between people and thereby falsify the image of tolerant Islam and loving Christianity as we knew them and still know them. We also strongly resist that anyone should keep repeating vacuous sayings in order to try and break the sovereignty of states. We, in this beloved East, are not strangers to the Declaration of Human Rights. Charles Malik, of Lebanese identity, eastern birth and Orthodox belief, had a great role in formulating it in its recent form.

We do not see in religion a motive for separation and division, but a way for unity in the same country.

We do not accept that the face of Christ should be absent from the Levant and from the Arabic East, the blessed land of the prophets. Christians and Muslims of this East are the two lungs of a bright eastern body, which cannot survive except by the cooperation of these two lungs. Thus, the immigration of Christians from this east is an immigration of the same East from itself. This immigration (of Christians) is departure and distancing from its historic ethos. We and our brother Muslims have built the culture of our countries as a basis for the culture of the whole world.
From here, from the dear Jordan, neighbor of the beloved Syria, I address the internal and the external realities of Syria; I address all the world and the international family and I say: the land of Syria has conveyed to all the world the strength of culture, not the culture of strength. The Levant, Syria included, exported to the world the alphabet and the culture of letters not the culture of conflict. Do not export to Syria the culture of strength, but uphold for her the logic of peace. “Let my country live” said one of the sons of my Church concerning the beloved Lebanon, more than 30 years before. Now, and from Amman, the bride of Jordan, I say the same sentence to all the world “let our countries, in all this region, live”. Do not make of them a game in the hands of the great powers and a theater for their own self-interest. Do your best to render it a lighthouse for all the earth. We reject the logic of violence, killing and kidnapping, and we invite all the world to do more than its best to release the two kidnapped Metropolitans, Paul Yazigi and Youhanna Ebrahim and all those abducted. We also invite them to use all their efforts to push all parties into adopting the logic of dialog, political solutions, the refusal of violence and a refusal to use religion as a way of effecting division and separation.

O God bless the bright heaven of Jordan and its giving land. Provide its people and its governors with your divine gifts. God protect and keep the flowers of Damascus and keep its land united and safe. God bless the cedars of Lebanon, protect her citizens and give her the spring of your peace. God bless the land of the pure Palestine, give their children your divine breath and protect its sand. God, visit the Land of Nile, Egypt, as you visited it as a small child, bless its sons and cover it with your divine consolation. God visit, from your highest heaven, the beloved Iraq, dress her land with your divine grace. God fill your world with your divine peace and illuminate our souls to accomplish all this, for the goodness and peace of all your creatures.

God unify the hearts of your sons in the Levant and gather them to the one stream in permanent harmony, exactly as you gathered into one stream the eternal water of the Jordan River, from the Golan of Syria, the mountains of south Lebanon, the Galilee of Palestine and the verge of the Jordan.

O God grant us to receive your divine peace, so that at last we shall be transfigured as a spring of constant peace for all the earth. To thee be the glory unto ages of ages, Amen.