Friday, November 18, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh: Beware of Religious Nationalisms

Arabic original here.

Beware of Religious Nationalisms

Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim (d. 2012) believed that the chief task of Arab Christians lies in translating Christianity for the Arab world, a Christianity that addresses the Arab mind and Arab culture. By this he did not mean translating ancient, particularly Greek, texts into Arabic, but rather by this call he meant that "we arrive at there being a Christianity in which the one being addressed is the Arab person." In his opinion, Christianity is still intellectually closed-off and "Christians still speak to Christians, as though they were living in a bygone era." Therefore, Hazim believed that "our duty is to be able to speak to Muslims" (Ignatius IV, Mawaqif wa-Aqwal, Balamand University, 2001, p. 103). The question then for him is a question of formulating Christian discourse in clear Arabic language that reaches the mind of the Arab and also his heart.

Patriarch Hazim is a great figure of the Orthodox Church who contributed to the Church's revival during the second half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century. He played a major role in ecumenical work and the rapprochement between the churches, especially in the World Council of Churches and the Middle Eastern Council of Churches and he was open to dialogue with Muslims about fundamental issues with which people are occupied in their daily lives. For this reason, he set his sights on working for a Christianity that speaks in Arabic and is understood by Christians, Muslims, Jews and all those who live in the Arab world.

Hazim did not speak of "Arab nationalism," but he did speak of "Arab Christians" and did not attack Arab nationalism. He was not an Arab nationalist, but he was an Arab and he did not boycott Arab nationalists. The priority for him was Christ and His Church and therefore he did not believe in other ideologies that might hide Christ from others. For him, the Arabic language was a means and not an end in itself. It is a means for conveying Christ as Christians believe in Him to the hearts and minds of Muslims. The Arabic language is the vehicle of Christian evangelism in this region because it is the language shared with the majority of Muslims.

Some Christians in our country, rejecting any common denominator with non-Christians, claim that their roots are non-Arab and this is their own affair that we will not discuss here. At the same time, they claim that they have nothing to do with anything that is Arab, since they are Greek-Byzantine-Romans, Syriac-Assyrian-Chaldean-Arameans, or Phoenician Maronites, and God knows best... All of them criticize any national belonging, affirming their ecclesio-cultural choices while adopting a religious nationalism that is closed in on itself. They flee from a nationalism that brings Muslims and Christians together to a unilateralist nationalism that only unites them with members of their sect. A nationalist ideology in the face of a nationalist ideology!

In reality, this nationalism resembles nothing other than Jewish religious nationalism. About this, Patriarch Hazim said, "Those who isolate themselves, whoever they may be, internalize a sort of admission that they are 'God's own chosen people.' This is what the Jews fell into doing, but Christians may also fall into this and Muslims may fall into it as well. Therefore in this region we must a laboratory in which no one may isolate himself, lest each community come to reject the other communities and instead of being receptive to them and dialoguing with them."

The only thing that distinguishes Arab Christians from other Christians in the world is their Arabic language, which makes them responsible for conveying Christ to all who speak it. Is it possible in our country to spread the Good News of Christ in Greek, Aramaic, Armenian or any other ancient language? We are proud of our Church's history, her heritage and her ancient language, but we do not want to kill our present and our present mission in order to revive languages that make us prisoners to history.

1 comment:

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Ironic, arguing for pan-Arabic nationalism in response to Byzantine, Syriac nationalism.