Sunday, November 29, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: Come, Follow Me

Arabic original here.

Come, Follow Me

A man comes to the Lord to test Him. This man was good because he kept the commandments and followed all of them: thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not bear false witness... Nevertheless, the Lord said to him, "One thing you lack: sell whatever you have and distribute it to the poor... and come, follow Me." That is, you are not perfect if you have only kept the commandments.

If the poor have accept you in their hearts, then My Father will accept you in His kingdom. That is, if the poor are not pleased with someone, then God is not pleased with him. He who pleases the poor pleases God. 

David said in the Psalm about the righteous man, "He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever" (Psalm 112:9). He did not say that he gave one thousand or five thousand lira as charity. He said "He has dispersed." What do we say today when the system is a system of seeking to accumulating money, the financial system and financial abundance? So long as this system exists, how can a person disperse? Our  fathers, great theologians such as Basil the Great and John Chrysostom, said that each one of us is a steward of what he possesses. You are entrusted with your possessions for the common good.

The rich person is really the one in whose eyes God is great. He is fervent like the prophets, not a flatterer and not one who speaks idly. In our minds we must hold the rich and the poor to be equal. We must magnify those who follow the path of the prophets and be attracted to those who are righteous. The weak, the sick, the wretched, the needy and the outcasts in our society are the ones who are made great. 

Why do people jealously guard what they possess? Why do they refrain from giving? It is because they fear death. They fear that they will meet death without any money in their fists. They know that they will go to the grave naked and barefoot, but they still do not learn. He who has seeks more, he who does not have seeks more, and it's all a race to be shrewd. It's all competitions for glory and the game ends in the grave.

So what should we do? We should open hearts to hearts. The issue is not one of us giving a little or a lot. The issue is that the heart must break before the sick, the weak, the outcast and the despised. The great issue is for us to consider ourselves as nothing. He who considers himself as nothing will be made something by his Lord. Hearts are closed and stony because they are proud. But one who wants to resemble Christ should consider himself as nothing. Our Lord was broken on the cross and trampled under the cross and so was lifted up to the highest heavens. Our great calling is to love people-- all people. Our great strength is that we lift them up over our own heads. Our honor is in that we love; it is in that we forget people's transgressions. You are great if people trample you down. When they persecute you, you know that you are loved by Christ. What is your concern with people. That they say something nice about you? This is a satanic temptation. "Woe to you when all people speak well of you" (Luke 6:26). This means that you desire praise. The righteous person rejects praise.

For us to enter into the kingdom means that we behold the good. The kingdom of God means love and truth. For us to enter into the kingdom means that we enter into the domain of truth, the domain of righteousness and that we are truly good. This means that our hearts are broken before all people, that we stand firm, that we love, that we obey, that we reach out in love to the ends of the earth, and that we open our hearts to let enter the poor, the oppressed, the outcasts and those who have no name, no glory and no honor. If they enter into our hearts and we become united to them, love them, and attached to them, at that point we will be like Christ and arrive at the apex of glory.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Individualism

Arabic original here.


"By brother is my life," go the famous words of Saint Silouan the Athonite, meaning that the other, my neighbor, my colleague at work, and all the people that I meet are my life. Let us contemplate these words. Despite the fact that our society is moving in the direction of individualism, our Orthodox faith is an effort in the opposite direction. We Christians believe that humans are closely bound to each other. This is clear in the teaching of our Lord and God Jesus Christ, who said, "I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was sick and in prison-- everything you have done to these My brothers, you have done to Me."

Likewise, there are many parables in the Holy Bible through which Christ wanted to indicate this important fact-- that my brother's comfort and happiness are an essential part of my own comfort and happiness. Indeed, my brother's comfort and happiness at the expense of my own comfort and happiness is the guarantee of my eternal comfort and happiness. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is very clear with regard to this fundamental matter for the success of our spiritual life. The rich man did not notice the existence of Lazarus, the poor sick man at his door, ignoring him completely. Christ condemned the rich man and blessed Lazarus, but why? To be sure, Jesus did not condemn the rich man because of his riches, and the Church does not consider wealth and the acquisition of property to be a sin. Nevertheless, the Author of the Bible warns us of the danger of being rich. Why? Because wealth tries to make us its slaves so that we will rely on it and not on God. Wealth can blind our hearts and make us callous before the sobs of the needy and their need for help. Brothers, comfort and security for ourselves makes us feel that we are invincible and this causes vanity and pride to take root in us. We start by thinking that we have obtained this wealth and this empire by our own personal intellectual abilities and competencies, forgetting that "every perfect gift comes down from God." Thus, we often deceive ourselves when we think that happiness and security come through wealth. Wealth and money are a dangerous temptation because they try to take the place of God and His commandment in our life. From the very beginning, Cain asked God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" God responded with total frankness, "Yes, each one of us is his brother's keeper." This is a practical responsibility that is urgent and necessary in our spiritual life, which is perfected through good works, according to the words of the Apostle James in his Catholic Epistle, and which make perfect everything beneficial for our souls.

Let us always remember that our brothers are our life because they are the image of our God who gave us life and who continues to give us life. Let us share every good thing with others, who are the image of our Creator, so that the Lord may permit us to share in His heavenly kingdom because in all simplicity, if we love His children, then we have loved Him in them. Without loving what is seen, it is not possible to love what is not seen, according to the words of the Holy Evangelist John.

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura, and Their Dependencies

Friday, November 27, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: In Hope of the Resurrection

Arabic original here.

In Hope of the Resurrection

The Church has no bridegroom but Christ because He alone is perfect. The Church is only a perfect bride for Him in terms of hope, because she is of history and because there are sins in her members. In reality, the Church is a hope that is only realized on the last day. All of us are marching in her in hope of the resurrection and eternal life.

In  a real sense, the Church is a plan and a plan by nature is not perfect. The Church is only perfected on the last day, when incorrupt bodies rise. Because it is the plan of salvation, we are within it. We are in it on our way to resurrection.

You arrive at the resurrection if you are enlightened. That is, if you receive the body and blood of the Lord because the Lord said "I am the resurrection and the life." The Bible teaches that those who receive the body of the Savior are called to the resurrection. We have no teaching about those who have not received the body of the Savior here. They are in His mercy. Therefore in hope we say that the Lord extends His mercy to those whom He wills. In faith in the Savior and His mercy we hope for the salvation of those whom He has loved. He receives all people in His mercy. Perhaps His mercy is the resurrection for those who did not know the teaching of the resurrection. They are most of humanity.

In profound, authentic theology we do not have a teaching about the eternity of the soul. This is a teaching of Greek philosophy. Our teaching is about the resurrection of the dead in their bodies, as Paul clearly states. In other words, there is nothing in the Holy Bible about the eternity of the soul. It speaks of the resurrection of bodies inasmuch as there are souls within them. We are not eternal. We are people of the resurrection. That is another teaching.

We pass through death as an inevitable punishment and there is no end to death until the final resurrection. Before that, there is no total victory. The perfect divine order after sin is death, and before the last day the resurrection is a promise. And a promise is about something that will happen.

The resurrection within us today is nothing other than love. Before that, bodies are still in their graves. Through the Holy Spirit who is in us, we become people of the resurrection. That is, we have a foretaste of the power of the resurrection. First of all, repentance is the first resurrection. Through it, we proceed to the resurrection of our bodies.

When you who are in Christ hope, something of your hope is realized through holiness. To speak deeply, holiness is a true anticipation of the resurrection because holiness is the will of God. In other words, holiness is the beginning of the kingdom within you. In it, our unity with the people of heaven peeks through, our holiness and their holiness.

Grace is a promise of what is to come. It is a murmur of the resurrection. Christ who will raise us from the dead raises us up today from sin. "The soul tastes death," but through faith, hope and love it also tastes the resurrection because Christ is alive forever and He causes us to taste His resurrection every day we are live.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: The Foolish Rich Man

Arabic original here.

The Foolish Rich Man

Today's Gospel reading tells us about a rich man who was preoccupied with his wealth. Jesus explains to us in this parable that when someone sets his heart on money, he will not have room in his heart for anything else. And in general, if we place anything or anyone in our heart to rule over us, there does not remain in the heart a place for anything else.

The meaning of this text from the Gospel is that money is subject to man, that money is something that we use, not something that uses us. Money is acquired, not loved. Therefore it must be distributed from time to time, under the current system in which we live, when it becomes an impediment to our moral life.

The Gospel talks about a person who wanted to accumulate possessions for himself without anyone sharing in them. So that they would remain his alone, he wanted to build storehouses and warehouses larger than what he already had. He said to himself, "Enjoy this life. Eat, drink. All of life is food and pleasure. All of life is riches and what they buy."

So spoke this man, whom the Bible describes as foolish. The foolishness is that he only approached pleasures and did not take pleasure in God. He did not love the Creator. His soul was empty of his Lord and full of lust. That is, in reality it was nothing. It vanished with the vanishing of lusts; it degenerated with the degeneration of pleasures.

How is money an instrument and not the goal of our efforts? Everyone knows that they can become possessed by money rather than remaining master over it. Money is in principle a servant which can transform into an object of worship. Because the Master knows this, He said, "You cannot serve both God and money." Whether or not you have much or little money, if you love it like it is the object of your longing-- that is, if you live not only with it but for it-- it takes God's place in your heart. At that point it governs your actions insofar as at the height of your longing for it, it becomes the object of worship in your heart, even if it is hard for you to admit this. This is, however, how things are. Money is the object of worship for many, both rich and poor. They sorrow to the point of fear when they lose it and it is their only real source of happiness; no other happiness is equal to it.

In the actual situation of the soul, it is possible for money to rule over you and for you to lead your life only in order to acquire it, for your happiness to end at that point. In the ultimate fall, you prefer nothing over it, no matter what you claim. At that point, you have no place for emotion and in your great attachment to it, you have no family and no friendship and perhaps you have no place for piety towards them. Money becomes a real god in the sense that it occupies all your interest, all your mind, all your heart and everything else becomes for you a fantasy, a myth or a lie. In the most extreme attachment to it, you will sacrifice all people, even those closest to you. It is like a living person for you. When people say that someone is a 'lover' of money, they are not exaggerating. The word is apt.

Even romantic love fades when it is eclipsed by the love of money.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Terrorism

Arabic original here. Bear in mind that Met Ephrem's flock in Tripoli have long lived in the shadow of terrorism.

Terrorism

The root of the word is "to be terrified [rahiba]" in the sense of "fear" and "terrorize [arhaba]" in the sense of "cause to fear." From this is derived the work "monk [rahib]," one who fears God. The Bible says "the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God."

Terrorism takes the form of violence and killing and often this behavior comes about because of a deviation of thought and belief. Thus the importance of the Apostle Paul's words: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus..." (Philippians 2:5).

Terrorism has become a major concern for the entire world. Very often, it is a "reaction" to injustice (the suppression of freedoms) and poverty. At other times, it is the result of an inner emptiness in a person who is tending toward despair in his life. Or it can also be the result of lust for money and power. Therefore we must treat the roots and causes of terrorism and not content ourselves with combating and exterminating it as all the countries do, pretending that this is effective.

In the Epistle of the Apostle James it says: "Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth... Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!" (James 5:4,9). Here it is speaking of injustice.

Therefore, during this time of terror, the voice of truth must be strong.  Let us say once more that injustice, poverty, and ignorance can be breeding-grounds for extremism.

*   *   *

Extremism in religion, excessive fanaticism for it, is exploited in order to realize political and material interests. 

Today this trend of terrorism is enticing many young men and even some young women and is often the result of a broken family life... A deviant or libertine sexual culture, alongside the consumption of drugs and alcohol, play an important role in creating and inflaming a spirit of revenge against real or imagined injustice or a violent obsession with seeking extreme pleasure that does not fear death and suicide, but rather chases after it.

A person brings forth good or evil after practicing devotion and sacrifice. God is the wellspring of Good and the Devil is the source of evil. Both of them seek sacrifice and devotion. The holy fathers, physicians of the soul, work hard to treat and cure man's illnesses. They guide people in order to transform man's negative powers into positive, constructive powers.

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, Koura and Their Dependencies

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Let us not be Firewood!

Arabic original here.

Let Us not be Firewood!

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser... you are the branches" (John 15:1,5). No doubt, by the Parable of the Vine and the Branches, Jesus intended to "explain to us the importance of love that is connected to Him and the measure of what we gain by being united to Him. Therefore He says that He is the vine as a lesson and a parable. The branches represent those who are united to Him, tied to Him, attached to Him, and who share in His nature by their acquisition of the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Saint Cyril of Alexandria).

"Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:2). Saint Cyril warns the faithful about not tying faith to works and says, "[If we content ourselves with] bare, abstract confessions of faith, without holding it with the bond of unity to courageous works springing forth from Love, then we will be dead and fruitless branches. Faith without works is dead, as the Holy Apostle James says [in his Catholic Epistle 2:20]. So if the branch remains attached to the vine without fruit, know that such a person shall face the shears of the vinedresser. He will cut him off and throw him into the fire, like useless trash." Clement of Alexandria (d. 216) says, "The vine that is not pruned becomes firewood. Such is the state of man. The word is a sword [yes, in the Holy Gospel, the sword symbolizes the word of God] that cleanses the deformation of the branches and drives the soul to bear fruit and to not be absorbed in pleasures."

The sole condition of the bond of unity between Christians is "piety and holiness," not any other worldly thing. Therefore, Cyril himself says, "Christ wants His disciples to be garbed in unity of thought and will and to be united in soul and spirit by the bonds of peace and love for one another. He wants them to enjoy an inseparable and indissoluble unity, that their wills might not resemble that which is in the world, attached to seeking pleasures, but that they maintain the power of love in the unity of piety and holiness." Christian unity must not eliminate diversity, following the model of the Most Holy Trinity, where there is unity in diversity and diversity in unity.

"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me" (John 15:4). Blessed Augustine (d. 430) says, "One who thinks that he bears fruit of himself and not from the vine is not a Christian.... Those who say 'We are righteous of ourselves'... This is the height of pride."

In view of the difficult circumstances through which our countries are passing, we must cite the words of Saint Justin Martyr (d. 165), the philosopher who was born in Palestine, as through he were addressing them to us, so that we might face these circumstances steadfast in faith. Justin says, "It is clear that no one is able to terrify and subjugate those of us throughout the world who believe in Christ. Despite our being beheaded, crucified, cast to wild beasts, chains and fire and every other type of torment, we do not abandon our confession. It is clear that the more these things happen, those who are pious before God increase in the name of Jesus. If someone severs parts from a fruitful vine, it will sprout more branches, flourishing and bearing fruit. This very thing is what happens to us. The vine that Christ our God and Savior planted is His people."

Justin's words come true if Christians remain faithful to their Lord and His teachings and if their unity is not based on plans that contradict their Gospel principles. Christian unity is either based on faithfulness to Jesus Christ or you should call it something else.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Be of Good Cheer, I have Overcome the World

Arabic original here.


Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

Jesus said to His disciples in His farewell address, "These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you" (John 16:1-4).

Under the current circumstances in our pillaged countries where civil strife is constant, sectarian division is sharply increasing, and random, gratuitous killing is rampant... we, the friends of Jesus, return to the word of God in order to be inspired by it, that our behavior may conform to this word so that we do not fall into temptation, but rather remain faithful to the Gospel, the teachings of the Lord, and the witness of the Church. Across the ages, the history of the Church has been a history of martyrs who suffered bitter persecutions and stood firm in hope, faith and love. They did not abandon their convictions. They offered themselves up upon the altar of the Lord. We are called to imitate them, just as they imitated the Lord.

The Lord Christ prophesied to us that we would face many difficulties, tribulations and persecutions, so that even if we are beset with trials, they should not lessen our resolve and we should not submit to despair and frustration. He prophesied to us about all of this, so that we may have courage and take strength in the Lord "at all times." In the days of the Apostles, the Jews persecuted those of their nation who embraced Christianity and expelled them from their synagogues, thinking that by expelling and killing the Christians, they were offering worship to God. The Holy Apostle Paul says of them, "I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge" (Romans 10:2), as though he were saying to us today, "You will endure afflictions from your people, but you must accept them steadfastly. Do not hate them under the pretext of your zeal for your faith." Saint Stephen, the first martyr, prayed for those who sentenced him to death: "Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not charge them with this sin.' And when he had said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:59-60). Those who were zealous for the Law reckoned themselves to be offering worship to God when they went to kill those bearing the message of Jesus risen from the dead.

In this context, Saint Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258) says, "Let no one be surprised if we constantly meet with persecutions, for we are constantly put to the test by many hardships, especially since Christ prophecies about their occurring in the last days. The Lord trained us with His teaching and preaching, how to face these wars. The Apostle Paul also taught us that persecutions would happen in order to test us. So we must look to the example of the righteous ones who came before us and hold fast to the love of God in death and suffering. Christ's name will be blasphemed against, but Christ will be glorified in us."

Building on Jesus' words to His disciples, "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33), Saint Maximus the Confessor (d. 662) warns his audience not to fall into the trap of fear and says, "If we want to be called by the name of God, let us struggle not to betray the Word like Judas, in the passions and let us not deny Him like Peter. Denying the Word is refusing to do good as a result of fear. Our betraying Him is a deliberate sin and an impulse toward sin." Maximus closes by stating, "Glory is the elimination of every sin."

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak" (Matthew 10:16-19). Jesus did not speak these words with the Holy Apostles only, but also with us, the children of this generation, as well, so that we may not sorrow, fear, or despair because our consolation lies in our faith that "the day of the Lord is near." Come, Lord Jesus.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Met Younan el-Souri: The Peacemakers

Arabic original here.

The Peacemakers

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9).

Can a person make peace!? And what do you think peace is...?!

The Lord says, " Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). No one makes peace-- that is, no one gives peace-- apart from those who have peace, Christ's peace. One who has Christ's peace is not troubled and is not afraid existentially, because he entrusts himself to Christ...

*   *   *

What is the peace that the Lord has given us? It is an intrinsic and substantial peace. That is, it is within us and from us in our nature that has been renewed through Christ in the Holy Spirit by the will of the Father. Christ's peace is, in reality, Christ's dwelling within us by divine grace. Wherever Christ rests and settles, there is the fullness of grace. This is an experience that one lives in the heart, where one enters into the company and the knowledge of God. 

He who has not made peace with himself-- that is, who has not repented-- cannot attain peace and so is unable to be a peacemaker. Therefore, one who does not know himself in repentance only knows God according to his passions. That is, he is immersed in himself and incapable of reaching outside himself in the pure love that is from above, from the Father of Lights. He cannot be a peacemaker.

*   *   *

The peace of the world that we hear about is security, a limited reigning-in of evil, as represented by wars, killing, destruction and what results from that. This is what the world calls peace. We do not disparage the importance of this for all human life. But what do we do with the evil lying within souls, such as selfishness, pride, hatred, enslavement to the pleasures of the flesh, love of possessions, vainglory, seeking praise and domination....?! These are the roots of evil in all human life. These are what destroys relationships between humans and sows division, strife and enmity among them. Here is the hiding-place of evil: the human heart "for from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within..." (Mark 7:21-23). 

*   *   *

From divine love springs forth every good thing, joy and peace. In Christ, we are a "new creation." Through the Holy Spirit, the Lord "who is good and the maker of peace" we live in newness of life. We have been granted the grace of the renewal of our existence through the incarnate Son of God and the grace to share with Him the power to create spiritually, since divine grace has become hypostasized within us. Through the breath of the Holy Spirit that is within us, the spirit of peace overflows into the world and we become peacemakers... So let us ask for the indwelling of the Spirit of the Lord within us through the obedience of the Word, loving in God the Father, along the path of true repentance and our abiding in God through our surrendering ourselves completely to Him, so that God may be "all in all"...

Archimandrite Younan al-Souri
Abbot of the Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos-- Bkaftin
[And as of this week, Metropolitan of Zahleh]

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Raising Children

Arabic original here.


Raising Children in the Family


Saint Porphyrios says, "Children's upbringing begins from the moment of their conception. The fetus hears and feels when he is in his mother's womb." A mother must pray much during the period of pregnancy. What sanctifies children and makes them good is their parents' life in the home. Children's behavior is directly connected to the state of the family.

*  *  *

Prayer in the family, in the house and in the church makes a child feel secure because prayer goes into the heart. It is very useful for the family to gather together with the children in order to pray together. A child must be trained to participate with his parents in prayer, even if it is for only a little part or a hymn that he has learned by heart. It is very useful for a child to see his father and mother praying in front of him. This picture in childhood will not leave him during his entire life.

Children today need people who provide them with a model and with prayer. Everything happens through prayer, silence and love: much prayer and little talking for children. If we constantly give them advice, them we will become overbearing to them. Family should not pressure children in order to make them good by force. We must let God speak in their souls. In the Book of Wisdom, Solomon says, "One who watches for Wisdom (i.e., Christ) at dawn will not be disappointed, for she will be found sitting at the gate" (Wisdom of Solomon 6:14) that is, present near him. A good upbringing in the Lord from infancy causes children not to be influenced by any of the bad influences coming from their surroundings.

*  *  *

There is no doubt that the priest has an important role in raising children spiritually, culturally and socially. Today children are absorbed with the lures of worldly things, with consumer society and with attractive modern technology. A priest must know in his wisdom how to guide a child along with his family, so that they will not drown in this consumerist social vortex. He must earn the family's trust, making him a spiritual father to every member of the family. Then they consult him in matters relating to the children and their problems at home, in church and at school. He must make use of knowledge of pedagogy and psychology relating to children and the family.

Here we want to call attention to and stress what what Saint Paisios advised about raising children, in terms of both family and priests. That is, providing the virtue of devotion (philotimia), which requires sacrifice, persistence and patience alongside instruction and guidance so that we may attain healing from all the maladies of sin.

So let us resemble the Lord Jesus Christ who " went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people" (Matthew 9:35).

By the grace of the Holy Spirit, this virtue of devotion makes the one who possesses it into a saint who is capable, by the healing power of the Lord Jesus, to comfort others, cause them to grow, and make them holy. 

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh on Christ with a Whip

Arabic original here.

Christ with a Whip

In order to justify their offenses in general and in particular their wars, some resort to this text from the Gospel: "Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves" (Mark 11:15 and equivalent passages in the other three Gospels). They put themselves in Christ's place in the story and put their enemies in the place of those who deserve to be killed and expelled. But is there a way of reading this text that is closer to the mind of the fathers?

The fathers found in this event a warning for themselves and for Christians in general-- not for others-- that gives them guidance in order not to fall into temptation, in order not to become merchants who traffic in holy things rather than faithful servants of the Church according to God's heart. They found that this event is concerned with them, the children of the Church, more than it concerns others who do not belong to the Church. Contrary to what happens today, they placed themselves in the place of the merchants, not in the place of Christ, so that they might benefit from repentance before Christ comes and expels them.

The fathers, then, asked their followers to be careful not to fall into the trap that the temple merchants fell, lest Christ come and expel them just as He expelled those who preceded them in defiling God's temple. Saint Ambrose of Milan (d. 397) says, rejecting human infallibility, "God does not want His temple to be a market, but a house of holiness. He does not preserve the priestly ministry as a religious duty without sincerity, but as willful obedience... He taught that the Church should not make a place for worldly commerce, and so He expelled the money-changers in particular, those who seek profit from God's money and are unable to distinguish between good and evil."

The Venerable Bede (d. 735), a doctor of the church, also calls believers to repent and to not behave like the merchants and money-changers in the temple so that Christ will not come and expel them. Bede says, "Christ cast the merchants and con-artists and all their lot outside, along with all those who are attached to the goods of commerce... We must avoid evil actions with great care and diligent perseverance, lest Christ come suddenly and find something evil in us as a result of which we will truly be worthy of whipping and expulsion from the Church."

Saint Irenaeus of Lyon (d. 202) affirms this patristic interpretation that calls for cleansing the temple of those who conduct commerce and wreak havoc within it. He employs a symbolic reading of the events and sees in the temple nothing other than the human body. "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). So according to Irenaeus' reading of the event, man is called to expel sin from his body and repent.

Origen (d. 235) has the same reading, as he states that, "He is zealous for God's house in each one of us. He does not want the house of prayer to be a place for money-changers or to become a den of thieves, as He is the Son of a jealous God... These words make it clear that God does not want anything foreign to mix with His will in the soul of any one of us, especially the souls of those who desire to accept the teachings of the divine faith."

According to these readings of the Church, we conclude that the fathers found in this passage a call to purify the Church from the money-changers who exploit their positions within it for their own interests and worldly purposes. Christ did not come to expel the children of foreign nations. He came and expelled from the temple the children of the temple who did not deserve to be children of the temple. This is confirmed by what Jesus said, citing the Old Testament: "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a den of thieves" (Mark 11:17).

Is it permissible to remain silent before the money-changers and thieves who occupy the temples of God? Is it permissible to remain silent before the money-changers and thieves who claim that they are doing Jesus' work since they are expelling other money-changers and thieves in their image and likeness? Is it permissible to remain silent before those who do not clothe themselves in Christ's humility but who use His name as an excuse to launch their wars?

Fr. Georges Massouh: Holy War isn't Holy

Arabic original here.

Holy War isn't Holy

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is." (Mark 13:32-33)

No one knows the hour when the end of times will come, when it will be. No one can prophecy about the end of times. The Gospel is clear and Christ even rules Himself out from having such knowledge. So how can a person claim that he will reveal the times and prophecy about the fall of nations, the rise of others, earthly Christian victories that we do not know from the One who says that His kingdom is not of this world?!

The occasion for these words is the rise of a certain apocalypticism among some Christians in historical Syria, especially after Russia's entrance into the war in Syria, since some believe that this intervention is the beginning of the realization of the prophecy of Saint Paisios the Athonite and others believe that the president of Russia is the "faithful Orthodox leader" who has come to save the Christians from Islamic terrorism. 

Saint Paisios

In an article published in an-Nahar under the title "Paisios, the newest Orthodox saint... What did he prophecy about the Middle East?", relying on the website of one of the Orthodox monasteries, it says that the most famous of Paisios' prophecies is related to the Middle East and states that "the Russians will take Turkey and the Chinese will cross the Euphrates. Divine providence has informed me that many events will occur. The Russians will take Turkey and Turkey will be wiped off the map because a third of the Turks will become Christians, another third will die in war, and the last third will depart to Mesopotamia. The Middle East will become a theater for war in which Russia will play a great role. Much blood will be spilled. The Chinese will cross the Euphrates with an army numbering 200 million and they will advance to Jerusalem."

The sign that these events are approaching will be "the destruction of the Mosque of Umar because its destruction will herald the beginning of the Jews' work to rebuild the Temple of Solomon which was built in that very location. Many wars will break out between the Russians and the Europeans. Much blood will be spilled. Greece will not play a big role in this war. However, the Russians will give it Constantinople, not because they love Greece, but because they will not find a better solution. They will hand the city over to the Greek army even before it arrives there."

Then Paisios prophecies about the Jews and says, "The Jews will increase in strength and the Europeans will help them, so arrogance will increase unimaginably. They will act with impunity and even try to rule Europe. They will try all kinds of tricks. But the resulting persecution will completely unite the Christians. This unity, however, will not be in the form desired by those who are attempting in various ways to unite the churches under a single religious leadership. The Christians will unite because the events that will be revealed will automatically divide the sheep from the goats. Then the prophecy shall be realized: 'One sheepfold and one Shepherd.'"

The Ecumenical Patriarchate recognized the sainthood of Paisios early this year, almost twenty years after his repose-- this is an unusually short span of time by the Church's standards. His widespread popularity among the faithful as a "prophet" and wise man was one of the most prominent factors in declaring his sainthood. The aforementioned article states that "the Monk Paisios, who lived on Mount Athos in Greece, became famous for his teachings, spiritual gifts and prophecies. Even before the declaration of his sainthood, the faithful regarded him as one of the greatest saints on Mount Athos in the 20th century. Over the years, thousands sought him out for his advice and prophecies and his fame spread beyond Greece to various parts of the world."

The Russian intervention in Syria has awakened among some the religious feeling that Paisios' prophecy has begun to be realized and that the president of Russia is none other than a divine instrument for returning the glory of Constantinople and returning the great city to Greek control. We have started to hear talk of a "holy war" taking place in Syria with this orientation, even though in reality it does not represent the official view of any church. In the icon of Saint George, Putin replaces the Greatmartyr and Obama or a terrorist takes the place of the dragon. We have started to see other images of the "believing president", the "tsar", and under his picture the troparion of the Feast of the Cross: "O Lord save thy people and bless thine inheritance. Grant victory to our faithful kings over the barbarians and by the power of thy cross preserve those who belong to it."

It must be stated that the faithful are not bound to accept everything that the saints said during their lives. The faithful are only bound by what pertains to the faith and their salvation, that is, to their spiritual edification. Therefore, we have the right to doubt Paisius' prophecy-- not his personal sanctity and not the majority of his spiritual teachings-- especially since many of his followers doubt the veracity of this prophecy attributed to him. Our support in this is that Christ Himself called for not calculating times and seasons. Everyone of every religion-- whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim--and every sect or religious group-- such as the Jehova's Witnesses and the chiliasts-- who has set a time has been met with failure.

Most of the patristic heritage goes so far as to say that all prophecies were realized in the coming of Christ the Lord and that prophecy continues in another form, whose standard is its veracity, as the Apostle Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans, "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith" (Romans 12:6). Something that is not in accord with the basic principles of Christian faith, then, is not a prophecy, especially that which is not in accord with the fundamental dogmas on which this faith is based, such as the Most Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection... For this reason, those who do not believe in Paisius' prophecy remain Orthodox, since they believe in the fundamentals and the prophecy is a secondary matter! The Church, then, is not bound to accept all the sayings of the saints, whether ancient or modern, at the same level that it submits to the text of the Holy Bible. Of course, it bears repeating so that we will not be misunderstood: those things that the Church universally agrees upon, especially the Seven Ecumenical Councils, are indeed binding.

The Book of Revelation

Here we must turn to the Apocalypse of John, which some people turn to in order to affirm the truth of certain prophecies relating to the last day. Those who think that the book of the Apocalypse of John prophecies about the end of times are mistaken. Those who read it literally, as though it is a journalistic report about an event that has happened or as though they are watching a news report, are mistaken. The Apocalypse of John does not offer its readers an image of the end of the world, but rather it speaks in symbolic language about the Christians of its era who were suffering persecutions and thus about every similar era.

The concern of Revelation's author was not to instruct his readers about the signs of the end of times, but rather to encourage them to stand firm in faith and not to apostasize before the Roman state and its rulers, who opposed the Christians, persecuted them, and subjected them to the most heinous tortures so that they would deny their faith and offer allegiance and worship to them and not to God. It is possible for us to say that Revelation is a great text in praise of bearing witness and martyrdom and lack of cowardice, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

The Book of Revelation was written at the end of the first Christian century, during the rule of the emperor Domitian, who gave himself the title "lord and god". Worship and veneration of the emperor became the distinguishing signs of a good citizen and thus the only way once could practice certain professions or engage in commerce. Thus Christians found themselves before a bitter, uncompromising choice: either perform the obligatory worship of Caesar or reject this paganism and live accused of disobedience to the state and be prepared for martyrdom by lions' teeth or beheading by the sword...

The Book of Revelation is a book of revolution against tyrannical authorities. Christians did not placate the emperors and oppressors, but rather faced them with firmness of faith and loyalty to the teachings of Christ the Lord and the exigencies of the Gospel. They did not practice dissimulation in order to preserve themselves, they had no exoteric and esoteric. They spoke the faith openly in the squares and streets and in the fields of martyrdom. They did not retreat from their convictions. They remained faithful to their Lord and Master to the last breath because they did not lose hope in the coming salvation.

The Book of Revelation is a revolutionary book because it did not hesitate to liken the authority in power to a beast and from likening the god-emperor to Satan. The Book of Revelation says, "Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666" (Revelation 13:18) or, in some manuscripts, "616." The Book of Revelation calls on its readers to uncover the hidden symbol behind 666 (or 616). If we calculate them according to the system where every letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a numeric value, we find that 666 means "Nero Caesar", while the number 616 according to the Greek system means "Caesar is god."

The Book of Revelation is not a book that talks about the unseen or about times that have not yet come. It does not invite Christians to eternal life through laziness, cowardice and not taking a stand with regard to the persecutions that are happening in their world. It is not a book that calls them to fear, isolation and flight from facing reality. It is a book that calls them to the freedom that God planted in man to distinguish between the rest of creation. It calls them to defend this freedom even if the cost is exorbitant, even at the price of their lives. However, the book is also a book of hope, of hope in the Lord, not in the ruler or in authority or power. It is not right for Christians to ignore hope by taking refuge in fear and by tying their survival to the survival of a regime or a ruler. They did not seek refuge in Nero, Domitian or any of the other tyrants, but rather they took refuge in the Lord and they remained. Times of persecution did not put an end to them, nor shall they. The Book of Revelation is the book of "the new heaven and the new earth."

Months ago, we wrote an article entitled "Gone is the Glory of Constantinople... But Christ Remains" (Lebanon Files, May 13, 2015), in which we said, "Gone is the glory of Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians. Gone is the glory of Constantinople, the great capital of Orthodoxy. Gone is the glory of Cappadocia, Nicea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, Smyrna, Rusafa and Palmyra... but the glory of the Christians shall not end so long as they hold fast to faith in Jesus Christ and carry Him with them wherever they wander, wherever they are taken, wherever they settle. Jesus alone is their glory." Now we say these same words and we pray that no one is killed in wars. Not in Syria, not in Lebanon, and not in Palestine... We pray that "a third of the Turks" will not be killed, nor of Greeks, for our glory is not in empire but in bearing true witness.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

as-Safir on the Destruction of Monasteries and Churches in Syria

Arabic original here.


Destruction of Historic Monasteries in Syria: 
The War on the Past

by Wissam Abdallah

Christian antiquities are spread throughout the geography of Syria. Some are an extension of ancient civilizations, while others were built by early Christians. The war in Syria poses a danger for these antiquities, such as monasteries, icons and manuscripts which are being destroyed or looted by antiquities dealers.

Christian antiquities are considered part of the landscape of cultural heritage in Syria, where most of them fit the ten criteria for inclusion on UNESCO's world heritage list.

In Northern Syria, between the hinterlands of Idlib and Aleppo, stretches what is known as the limestone massif, which contains a collection of historic sites such as the church of Qalb Lozeh, Serjilla, and the Church of Saint Simeon Stylites.  This region is considered to be the original home of the "stylite monks" when asceticism spread around the world and the history of the monuments there goes back more than 1400 years. Information from the area indicates that the Church of Saint Simeon Stylites has been damaged when it was turned into a training-ground by a group called Liwa' al-Tawhid ["The Monotheism Brigade"] and the interior of the monastery and church was damaged. This is in addition to digging and exploration work in the monastery, which also caused damage.

The Directorate for Antiquities and Museums in Syria states that in the region of Jisr al-Shughur, a rebel group has attacked two churches and a monastery in the village of Jdaydeh and the theft of 11 icons registered with the Department of Antiquities in Idlib. The church of Qalb Lozeh, one of the most important Byzantine sites in Northern Syria, has been damaged as a result of excavations and vandalism to the church's stone facade.

In Aleppo, where both man and stone suffers from the war, the Armenian Catholic Archdiocese has suffered the partial destruction of a 200 year-old church, and the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and the Armenian Orthodox Cathedral have been targeted by rockets.

The Syrian Desert was the final destination for Armenians fleeing the Ottoman massacres in the early 20th century. They took shelter in Deir ez-Zor and built the Church of the Armenian Martyrs there, which housed relics and documents from the time of the massacres. After it entered the city, ISIS published pictures of the destruction of the church in the Rashidiya neighborhood, known as the Church of the "Martyrs of the Land", and extremist groups raised their flag over the rubble of the church. Liwa Ansar al-Sunna ["The Advocates of the Sunnis Brigade"] published a video showing members of the group in possession of manuscripts belonging to one of the churches of Deir ez-Zor, where they discussed with an antiquities dealer the price for their sale.

Churches in Homs have been damaged in various combat zones and the churches in the Old City of Homs in particular were burned and destroyed as a result of their lying along the line of fire between rebel groups and the Syrian Army. The Umm al-Zunnar Church, the Church of the Forty Martyrs, the Greek Catholic church, the Protestant church and others were looted and damaged. After the conclusion of the ceasefire and the withdrawal of the rebels, work began to rebuild the buildings that were destroyed as well as the gradual return of the area's residents to life there, with prayers and religious services, even before rebuilding was completed.

The latest thing ISIS has done is to destroy the historic Monastery of Saint Elian in the town of al-Qaryatayn to the south of Homs, where they used bulldozers to destroy the walls of the monastery, which dates to the 5th century. They also kidnapped a number of the town's residents and published pictures of "the establishment of God's rule over the Christians of the city of al-Qaryatayn", imposing the restrictions for dhimmis on them.

In the province of Hassake, villages along the Khabour river have been subjected to attacks from ISIS. These villages are populated for the most part by Assyrians and Chaldeans who are the continuation of Mesopotamian civilization. Historic churches in the region have been destroyed and more than 100 people have been kidnapped.

Monasteries are sheltered along the slopes of the Qalamoun Mountains, but as a result of their proximity to the Lebanese border, the fires of the Battle of Qalamoun have reached them. Located in the region of Nabak, the Syriac Orthodox Monastery of Mar Mousa the Ethiopian sits on a mountain peak 1320 meters above sea level. It has been attacked by rebels who stormed it in search of money and weapons, stealing as much food as possible from the monastery's farm. Close by lies the Monastery of Saint James the Persian in the region of Qara, which has also had its possessions and icons pillaged. In Maaloula, churches were burned and historic icons were stolen. The Monastery of Saint Thekla was burned and the Tomb of Saint Thekla was destroyed. The Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, one of the oldest churches in the world, was shelled and its contents were looted. With the return of the village's inhabitants, reconstruction work has begun and efforts have been made to recover what was stolen, some of which had reached the area of Arsal in Lebanon.

Monday, November 2, 2015

as-Safir on the History of Antiochian Orthodox Iconography

Arabic original here.

The Arabic Icon... In Athens

by Walid Nasib Elias

Tripoli native Emma Ghorayeb Khoury gave a lecture at the University of Athens about iconography in the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch during the 17th and 18th centuries.

As-Safir met with Khoury in Athens and she spoke about Antiochian iconography, revealing the secrets of the Arabic icon and its home in the Monastery of Our Lady of Kaftoun in Koura. She mentions that it is not possible to talk about icon painting before the 17th century, with the appearance of the art of the Aleppo School of icons which was founded by the family of the priest Yusuf al-Musawwir, who was born in Aleppo in the mid-17th century. He was followed by his son the priest Ni'mat Allah al-Musawwir, his grandson the deacon Hanania al-Musawwir and his great-grandson the deacon Jirjis al-Musawwir.

The iconographer Michael Polychronis transmitted the secrets of the Cretan School of iconography by painting the Church of Saint Nicholas in Tripoli, which contains 120 icons, in 1809 and the Church of Saint George, which was erected in 1862 by a decree from the Ottoman sultan.

She adds that according to the memoirs of her grandfather, Abdallah Ghorayeb, the painter lived in Tripoli from 1809 to 1821 and left a valuable legacy of icons. Thanks to him, the most important icons in the Patriarchate of Antioch were painted, especially those found on the iconostasis of the church in Maaloula.

The painter Hanna al-Qudsi transmitted the art of the Jerusalem School to the Church of Antioch, signing his work "the wretched painter."

According to the author, the most important schools of art in the Patriarchate of Antioch are the Aleppo School and the Jerusalem School, whose icons circulated in most churches and monasteries but whose artistic importance is less than that of the Aleppo School. The icons of the Church of Saint Nicholas resemble those of the Aleppo School and are of an excellent artistic quality. Very old icons are also found in the Church of Saint George in Mina.

With the coming to power of the Russian Empress Catherine II in the 17th century, iconography started to decline-- after having been at its apex-- because she preferred the tradition of Italian painting and so iconography changed and was no longer as authentic as before.

The rarest and most important icon in the Patriarchate of Antioch is found at the Monastery of Our Lady of Kaftoun and dates to the 13th century. It has numerous distinct features that are different from other icons depicting Theophany. The icon has two sides. One side is an icon of the Theotokos and the other is an icon of Theophany. Its importance is due to three texts written in three languages: Arabic, Syriac and Greek.

Despite the lack of any book on the subject, the writer stresses that its painter is unknown because originally icons were not signed. They only started being signed in the 17th century. For example, the famous icon of the Holy Trinity painted by the Russian Andrei Rublev was not signed.

Khoury mentions that Greek influence on Antiochian art is very clear because of the presence of Greek bishops and patriarchs in positions of ecclesiastical authority up to 1850 [in fact, until 1899]. People from Aleppo would go to Mount Athos and the Greek islands, including Crete, bringing with them the style of iconography that does not differ from the eastern, Antiochian style.

[...]

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Met Georges Khodr on Giving

Arabic original here.

On Giving

Today's Gospel reading speaks to us about the material giving that causes the giver to stand in the presence of God until the end of the age. However, the discussion is broader than material giving and those who practice it. As for the generous person, one with a generous spirit, "he righteousness endures forever" (2 Corinthians 9:9) because he breaks his heart in order to give it to people and to spread generosity of spirit among them.

If the human heart folds in on itself, it withers. God does not abide in a solitary heart, but comes to the heart whenever it is open. Inasmuch as it gives of itself, it is given. In this sense, "For to everyone who has, more will be given" (Matthew 25:29).

God always wants the one with a generous spirit to be in beauty and splendor. If the Lord comes down into the heart, then He is capable of demolishing all barriers. God is transmitted from heart to heart. He has no throne apart from the human soul. He sits within it and treats it kindly, causing it to be kind to other souls.

At the liturgy, we recline together upon the breast of the Beloved at the Mystical Supper. The holy supper that we perform is a call for us all to recline upon Jesus' breast as John did on a blessed day for human history.

It is today and not tomorrow that we come to the Lord to hear from Him words of kindness and for Him to hear from us a word of repentance. If we have returned to God, then we return to all human beings because they are the children of God. How can someone who does not love the person he sees love God, whom he does not see?

We must love person who is seeking God, the person who is with us. We do not have to go very far in order to find the person that we must love. The first who should be mentioned is the one whom we have harmed or who has been harmed without our intending to harm him. The human soul is fragile and breakable. It may be that this is no one's fault. It may be that through laziness, negligence, disregard, or forgetfulness we are all responsible
for any soul that suffers on account of this. Therefore we are all implicated in one responsibility in His presence, may He be exalted, under sin and under mercy so that we may appear to those who have suffered and so that we may cast them as well upon Jesus' breast, as He can heal every soul. He came, as He said, to heal the brokenhearted (Psalm 146:3), to make people pleased with existing.

"Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your heart" (Hebrews 3:7-8). Today, if you will hear His voice, His voice is sweet and His melodies will place you in paradise. Therefore, let us purify ourselves by repenting to Him, may He be exalted, and fall together at His feet. Let our hearts be victorious through the mercy that we ask of Him. 

If our spirits are open to the Lord's giving, then we are generous and then we give and our righteousness endures forever. 

Christ our Lord, Christ our Shepherd, let us go to Him as He came to us. And in this He will be pleased and in this we will rejoice and be as He wanted us to be, enjoying joy, peace and grace.