Sunday, December 16, 2018

Jad Ganem: Let the Church Judge

Arabic original here.

Let the Church Judge

Yesterday, the "unifying council" was held at the Church of Saint Sophia in Kiev, which had been called by the Phanar after its experts decided that Ukraine canonically belongs to Constantinople, relying on a unilateral reading of history that ignores that the church in this country has belonged to Moscow for more than 300 years. As a preliminary analysis of this event, this observer concludes:

The legitimate church in Ukraine, apart from two of its bishops, did not participate in this council, which it regarded as a robbers' council.

The council was able to bring together and unite the two schismatic entities-- that is, the one known as the Kiev Patriarchate and what was known as the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church-- into a single entity.

The holding of this council occurred amidst an obvious political presence and with an open admission of the intervention of politicians in ecclesiastical affairs.

The excommunicated "patriarch" Filaret imposed his conditions on Constantinople and was able to impose his loyal disciple as head of the newly-created “church”.

All of this may lead to the following conclusions:

Constantinople, which expected the participation of at least ten bishops from the legitimate church, failed in realizing its goal and thus failed in holding a "uniting council" as it had planned. It appears that all it was able to achieve was to lend legitimacy to schismatics.

The legitimate church in Ukraine appeared as a church standing firm in her witness, deeply rooted in tradition and preserving the ecclesiastical canons, despite the threats and pressure to which her bishops and faithful were subjected.

The majority of autocephalous Orthodox churches appeared incapable of putting the breaks on Constantinople's rushing or of taking the initiative to make sure that the Orthodox Church avoids the schism and feuding that she is experiencing today.

What happened yesterday will have a negative impact on the entire Orthodox Church in the future and on the faithful in Ukraine who will be subject to pressure and struggle between the two parallel churches.

In closing, whether the autocephalous Orthodox churches will accept the decisions of the "unifying council" and whether Constantinople will be able to impose the head of the newly-created church onto the dyptichs are what will determine the correctness of the steps she has taken.

Orthodox Synaxis: The Special Bishop of Caesar

This overview of the history of the Patriarchate of Constantinople reveals much of the psychology behind why that church caused so much harm to Orthodoxy in the Middle East and the Balkans during the period of Ottoman rule, when the direct oppressors were more often Phanariots than Turks.

While criticism of the close relationship between the Russian Church and state is (with good justification!) common, less attention is paid to the fact that the Patriarchate of Constantinople exists and claims primacy solely due to its relationship with now-extinct civil authorities. But it is only this history that can explain much of Constantinople’s modern-day behavior. There is, to put it bluntly, an emperor-shaped (or, more accurately, a sultan-shaped) hole in Constantinople’s heart that forces Ecumenical Patriarchs to court the support of the most unexpected worldly powers, from Harry Truman in Athenagoras’ day to Petro Poroshenko today. Writing in 1911, the English Roman Catholic scholar Adrian Fortescue sketched the pathos of Constantinople’s role as ‘the special bishop of Caesar’ with equal erudition and acerbity:

Read the rest here.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Jad Ganem: The Conspiracy of Silence

Arabic original here.

The Conspiracy of Silence
For Metropolitan Onufry and his struggling Church

On this sorrowful day for the faithful belonging to the legitimate church in Ukraine, and along with them everyone around the world who loves the Church of Christ; on this sorrowful day that we have reached as a result of the recklessness immersion in the politics of this world of the one called "first" in Orthodoxy and the hiding of those called leaders in the shameful conspiracy of silence; on this day when hatred overcomes love, the desire for revenge overcomes the desire to build up unity, political considerations overcome ecclesiastical considerations, and nationalistic retrenchment and enmity overcome openness and reconciliation between peoples, this words of Metropolitan Georges (Khodr) serve as a reminder for us that "the Church that is impossible by human standards is made possible by the righteous."

"The Church, as the Bible describes her, is something that comes from Christ. In her situations, she is a human gathering that has the fragility of all institutions. In her, you receive the beauty, majesty and truth that come down upon her and in her you suffer your sins and the oppression that besets her sincere children. She is a place of unpleasantness that will repeatedly make you nauseous. This is the paradox. The Church is the place of splendor and stunning liturgies on the one hand and on the other hand the place of oppression and human banality.
The tragedy is that the man of sin sits "as a god in the temple of God" (1 Thessalonians 2:4). This may be related to "the lusts and bodily pleasures", as Chrysostom says, one who is "contentious, a lover of authority" as Ephrem says, irrational, unfit for teaching, intemperate, overbearing (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2-3). At that point, groups are led by the whim and fancy of sects that dream of God, but are a part of society's games and banalities, of influence-peddling, and the slyness of glory. The scepter often breaks the backs of those reaching the threshold of the kingdom. Shepherds relay liturgies that are not from them and might not be within them, if they are immersed in the conspiracy of silence and have traded eternity for the snares of this world... Only by disobedience does the Church devolve into an institution. At that point, her powers are enfeebled, her resources depleted and the Spirit is extinguished within her. She is a theater for great anger, great injustice, scandalous compromises, a playground for authoritarianism, a kingdom of fear.

Jad Ganem: Who will Protect Constantinople from the Phanariots?

Arabic original here.

Who will Protect Constantinople from the Phanariots?

Tomorrow, a "unifying council" will be held in the Church of Holy Wisdom in Kiev, called by His Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The holding of this council comes as the crowning event of a political plan in which Constantinople has become embroiled, with the cooperation of temporal powers in the country, to establish a national church in Ukraine. This plan would have never seen the light of day were it not for the Ecumenical Patriarchate's disappointment with the fact that the Church of Moscow did not go Crete, where the "Great Orthodox Council" was supposed to be held and her desire to take revenge on her especially after this council turned into a meeting of disputed legitimacy that exposed Constantinople's inability to play the role of first among the Orthodox churches, the impotence of Patriarch Bartholomew, and his failure to lead this world and coordinate activities between its various constituent parts. 

All the above, moved Constantinople  complex of inferiority towards Moscow, her pathological fear of the specter of "Third Rome", and the hatred that rules over some of the Phanariots because of the numerical superiority of the Church of Moscow. This is connected to the lack of any critical analysis in Constantinople of the mistakes committed by her delegates during the preparatory meetings for the Great Council, their arrogant behavior and indifference to the concerns of the autocephalous churches, in addition to the hazy image that Constantinople has created of the situation of Orthodoxy in Ukraine.

These accumulating factors drove the Phanar to hastily enter the “Ukrainian minefield”, ignoring all the appeals and warnings from the leaders of the Orthodox world, who warned of the dangers of rewarding schismatics, dividing the Orthodox Church and weakening her unity.

Perhaps Constantinople seized the favorable political opportunity to use Ukraine not only to punish Moscow, but to establish her papism over the Orthodox world and to subjugate the churches and their leaders to the Phanar's synod. But it escapes her that this papism, which is alien to Orthodoxy, will sooner or later be expelled by the ecclesiastical body, just as the body expels strange things. But to describe the punishment and persecution of the faithful in Ukraine on account of being disappointed by Moscow as a "unifying council" that will only unite the schismatics in the face of the Church struggling there is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Hope remains that God will inspire the Phanar's leaders to realize that "hatred only kills the hater" and that repenting of unilateralism and imperiousness would protect the great Constantinople from the inevitable fate that the arrogance and historical hatreds of some Phanariots will bring upon her.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Fr Touma (Bitar) on Partisanship in the Church

Arabic original here.

Lest Vision be Lost in the Church

"...wounded for our transgressions..." (Isaiah 53)

When two people disagree about something in the Church of Christ, if mutual understanding is not reached between them, they go to a third, whom they agree will judge between them and they are completely prepared to accept what he decides, as though it is from God. If they harden their positions and don't agree on any judge as an intermediary, advisors suggest a third party to come to them on their behalf. If they accept him with soundness of heart, because he is delegated by the group and the group has its right and precedence over its members because the spirit of prophecy is in it, as the Lord says to Moses, "Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel... elders of the people and officers over them... I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you" (Numbers 11:16-17). Moses was not reckoned as one of the prophets, but as an image of the coming Messiah, and so the Lord God spoke through Moses, "face to face, even plainly, I speak with him" (Numbers 12:8). I say that if those who are in a disagreement accept the one that the group names, the disagreement is resolved in humility and by imitating the Spirit of the Lord. Otherwise, the entire group must act on its own to settle the matter -- that is, the advisors within it. Call upon each other! First with a verbal call, as a preface to holding a council on the matter. Bilateral meeting is important, but honesty and mutual support is more important. So if the meeting bears fruit, this one and that, that one and this, meeting and understanding each other, the path of truth becomes clear. Otherwise, something hidden and harmful becomes clear in the positions, something alien to the Spirit of the Lord and thus to the Church of Christ. In that case, what should those who are zealous for the house of God do? It is no concern if they are few, nor if they are regarded as small in their nation. Greatness is in truth and not in station. Greatness is in speaking the Spirit and for us to reach in speech and truth the point of saying with the the apostles, the elders and the brothers, "It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us...." (Acts 15:28). Those who are zealous, then, in prayer and fasting, speak the word no matter their number, as a testimony to God. What happens after that? The Spirit and the Word have their own way, and your Lord knows best. But if none of the traditional praiseworthy things happen, then we are without a doubt in a painful place. When witnesses who have been delegated by the group in the Spirit are no longer witnesses to the legitimate truth, God brings forth from the impotent visible presence a fruitful, unseen presence that bears witness. In the end, the word belongs to the Lord and not to those who reckon it to be theirs. The Church perseveres, no matter the circumstances, with the little flock, which your Lord alone knows, forever leavening the dough in the Church and in history until the end.

When two people disagree about something in Christ's Church, and each is hardened in his position, it is no longer possible or permissible for the issue to be, for you and for me, who is right and who is wrong, but rather who is in the truth. Each one regards himself as being right and his own position as correct, otherwise there wouldn't be a disagreement in the first place. The important thing isn't each one's perspective-- this we ear, examine and weigh-- but how they treat the issue. With what spirit? With a spirit of confusion or a spirit of understanding? With a spirit of listening to one another with the heart or a spirit of making pronouncements ex cathedra? With a spirit of aggression or a spirit of harmony? With a spirit of enmity or a spirit of peace? With a spirit of division or a spirit of unity? With a spirit of extermination or a spirit of reverence? With a spirit of submission to the powers of this world or with the fear of God? With a spirit of aversion or a spirit of friendliness? With a spirit of revenge or a spirit of conciliation? In a word, with the spirit of the world or the Spirit of God?

When the dispute broke out, then, I cannot consider myself-- you and I-- unconcerned with what is happening because in truth Christ alone is concerned; as it is neither fitting for me or for you to be partial to one side or the other, even if my conviction as a human inclines me one way or the other. Being satisfied to express an opinion at the level of who I think is in the right and who I think is not right keeps me at the level of human concern for the issues. But is there true human justice? In the Church, our concern rises above that! The question, in a situation of disagreement, is: what must we do to help both sides remain in the truth? That is, to keep the spirit of agreement, peace and unity in Christ between them, despite their disagreement. For us to really have an effective contribution in this regard, we need to mentally distinguish between the person and his position regarding the issue at hand. I am not committed to your opinion, whatever it may be, but I am committed to you. You are my brother by divine appointment! "You are all brothers," said the Lord Jesus. I may or may not like your opinion, I may or may not benefit from it. Here I am not talking about established dogmatic truths, but about procedural positions. And in procedural issues there are different opinions and the space for differences of outlook is wide. Factors of history and temperament, passions, sensitivities and similar things are not easily overcome. The matter requires that they be transcended with great humility and by the power of the Spirit in the soul. Therefore, the important thing in this case, in the absence of agreement, is for the Spirit of God to remain what brings together and for disagreements not to lead us into the depths of conflict. Therefore, you are my goal in the case of conflict, not your opinion. Confronted with people who disagree, you and I no longer have a position about what they say, but about who they are. We work hand in hand to affirm love in truth, despite all the difficulties. It is not only if we leave the disputants to harm Christ and His Church, and thus themselves, but we also participate in doing harm because he who is not with Me, so the Lord says, is against Me.

When the powerful are divided, the little ones are confused. And this at a time of weakness! Most are inclined to hesitation and reservation. They think over the steps to take a thousand times. Their primary concern is keeping what belongs to them. They go along, show deference and do not love. They say what they're not thinking and think what they're not saying. The priority for them is their own gains. Over the course of time, we have become accustomed to fearing the powerful in this world and likewise also in the Church, more than fearing God! This is even true with regard to those who are regarded as good. As for intruders in the Church-- and there are many of them-- there is no point to discussing them. As it appears, the spirit of weakness predominates. A very few walk in the spirit of bearing witness. Only a rare few accept do die for Christ's sake. Politics, in the worldly sense, has become a way of life in the Church, even if it has not generally kept pace with its malignancy and self-striving in the world. Dealing with God's wisdom, in love and truth, in a context of prayer and fasting, has little impact on the people of the Church in general. Most are satisfied with the wisdom of this world. This is because apathy overwhelms their souls. The warmth of the Spirit permits neither fabrication nor bargaining. And bargaining has, for the most part, become the accepted manner for resolving problems in the Church, just as it is in the world today, though naturally wrapped in an empty show of divine words. The exterior speaks of reason, logic, data and history, but where is the Spirit of God? Much talk and many arguments, but they embitter the soul, which means that the spirit behind them is unclean and not from the wisdom of God because the wisdom of God is peaceful, kind, full of mercy, without fear or hypocrisy. Has it not been said, "If you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there..." (James 3:14-16)?

Nothing justifies partisanship in the Church. The people of partisanship do not obey the truth (cf. Romans 2:8). The discussion of partisanship comes in the exposition of contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:20). Partisanship is a work of the flesh and not a fruit of the spirit (cf. Galatians 5:19). Thus there is no praise for partisanship, but rather a warning about it. Let us not consider ourselves better than others. Instead, "let each esteem others better than himself" (Philippians 2:3). Even if there is good in us, let us turn a blind eye to it and look for the good in others without favoritism, to the glory of God, so that the good may be our goal and not love of appearances and superiority over others. What is partisanship? It is when you are attached to a personality and thus to what he says and claim that this is from God and attack others who do not say what he says about procedural matters in the life of the Church! And when you attack him, you accuse him of unbelief, work to defame him, display his flaws, and invent things about him that do not exist in order to tarnish his image. Where does partisanship lead? To schisms and rivalries. Did the Chosen Apostle not warn about them? "May there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10). Neither Paul is what is important nor Apollos, nor Peter, but Christ in all and for all! So unity in Christ refutes partisanship and partisanship topples unity.

In confronting the repercussions of partisanship, holding fast to the spirit of unity, peace and agreement in the Church, you do not stand with someone against someone else, even for a moment. You might point out a point of truth that one side has or a fault in the other side. But in the present context, it comes as a presentation of falsehood even if it's true because it causes harm and is taken differently from its intent. Academic and historical arguments, in the context of an emotional confrontation, inflame the conflict and don't put an end to it. In a case such as this, every argument has its counter-argument. So what's the use? When the heart's intention is in the balance, the voice of reason is of no use. The heart is only calmed, if it is to be calmed, with the balms of gentleness and kindness. At the end of the day, man is a heart. "Give me your heart, my son!"

People form parties against each other out of ignorance of deceit. In either case, because they do not speak with the Spirit of God. If their intentions are good, your Lord finds a way to turn their path toward Him. If their intentions are wicked, they twist in abysses of loss, hatred and emotion, thinking that they are zealous for God in a good way. In the end, they are filled with bitterness and a sense of decline. They blame God's Church and accuse God of being unjust. They turn away from Him, as though they are the ones in the right and surrender themselves to great pains.

Within this framework, the issue of the Church and politics has its own dialectic. From the beginning, the Church suffers from the pressure of politics and politicians on her. In history, religion was a tool in the hand of rulers, to the point that kings sometimes considered themselves gods and demanded that they be offered worship. Authority, in this age, is inclined to seek worship. The temptation has always been that the only purpose for God or the gods is to support authority and those who wield it. This has gone on throughout history. Therefore, politicians have rarely refrained, practically speaking, in the history of the Church, from deifying themselves and then from eagerly working to lobby the Church or subject her to their aims. Since the Church by nature has no master but the One in heaven, even if she commands that what belongs to Caesar be rendered unto Caesar, freedom of conscience in Christ was generally not preserved in her, especially in lean times, except by undergoing violence, persecution, imprisonment, torture or martyrdom of blood. In this regard, there are great models from Saint Athanasius the Great to Saint Ambrose of Milan, Saint Basil the Great, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Mark of Ephesus and many others. Despite the occasional good times and many bad times that the relationship of the Church to the state has known, especially in the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine system made the framework of the empire ecclesiastical and the emperor a representative of Christ in governing the oikoumene, in principle according to the faith of the Church, preserving and supporting her.

Today, with globalization, things have changed. We are faced with a sweeping current that is totally alien to Christianity. Politics has become completely worldly. It no longer has a religious character. It has its aims and its agendas and the Church in itself means nothing for it. Or perhaps, on a personal level, for very few. This being the case, if the Church is anything other than a moral force, politicians will attempt to seize her, wanting to dominate and exploit those belonging to her within the framework of a worldly vision that has absolutely nothing to do with the Church. In this sweeping system of globalization, if the Church holds fast to her traditional identity, she not only annoys policymakers in the world, but also constitutes a threat to their efforts and an impediment to their arrangements. Therefore, the politics of globalization seeks to fragment and dissolve the Church. On the level of the spirit, the Church is in an existential confrontation with the spirit of the world. Convergence is impossible. In a case such as this, without any exaggeration, the Antichrist, in the precise meaning of the term, comes today in the garb of politics, seeking, in disguise and putting on the appearance of Christ, to overthrow Christ the Lord in those who believe in Him.

"I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). This is the credo of one who holds fast to Spirit and to truth, in Christ and in his relationship with people wherever they may be, to whatever nationality they belong, and whatever country they are from. Constantinople, apart from Christ, means nothing to us! But the faithful who are zealous for the Spirit of the Lord, whether or not they are called by the name of Constantinople, wherever they reside, mean everything to us. We belong to them and they belong to us, for we belong to the same land: the land of the living-- that is, Jesus Christ. Everything else is external adornment, chatter and vanity. So too the Moscow of the faithful. They are dear because the Lord's Christ has made us their brothers in His flesh. And Ukraine, which has been sacrificed in history for Christ's sake, with the blood of her martyrs, the sweat of her ascetics and the toils of her faithful. This is what has meaning for us! And so, in this manner, in every place and region. The martyrs of Christ in Russia are our Church. The monks of Mount Athos are the body of Christ within us. The relics of the saints in the Kiev Caves are our bones! If the wounds of history divide us, what will dress the wounds, unless it is the Spirit of Christ, who alone brings us together? A church based on disagreement, coercion, enmity, division, hatred and struggle between brothers is the Church of Satan and not the Church of Christ! If canons, arguments and historical facts lead to estrangement between believers, then what do they have to do with us? Let them fall. Shadows and silhouettes do not quench our thirst for the Spirit of the Lord. Nothing brings together except the crucifiedness of your Lord. But the one who bows before his brother as the Lord bowed His head upon the cross alone stands in the truth. Everything else is false.

Do not call politics your imagining that in it you have a concern other than the concern of your Christ. Christ alone is the concern! Behold, Satan has sought you in order to sift you and beware of letting things go too far!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite-- Douma, Lebanon
Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Patriarch Ignatius IV on Antiochian Identity

Arabic original here, with thanks to Jad Ganem.

Antiochian Identity

In his response to those who think that "If we speak as Orthodox, then we must be like each other," Patriarch Ignatius IV of thrice-blessed memory rejects the opinion that all the world's Orthodox must say the same thing about everything and stresses that Orthodoxy as a faith is one, but the Orthodox are not one. He sharply criticizes those who "believe that if you are different from them, you are not Orthodox enough," regarding this as "evidence that they themselves are not Orthodox enough. People are different and each expresses the one faith in a different way." He pauses on Antiochian identity and opines,

"From the age of the Apostles, Antioch was a bastion of Christians' encounter with peoples of different origins. Our church grew using the Greek language for a long time in an Aramaic and Syriac, then Arabic cultural environment. This multicultural context, alongside the fact that we have never been the church of a state or an empire, helped to form our identity, which is characterized by our deep conviction that the Gospel stands above every racial barrier and our unshaking attachment to Orthodoxy which, with its deep respect for the special gifts of every culture, should not discriminate between Greek, Russian and Arab, but rather just the opposite: it should believe that "Christ is all in all" (Colossians 3:11). Our identity is a loving openness toward the other churches and denominations, in constantly-renewed hope that we are working as servants of reconciliation. Due to historical contingencies, we have become 'the Church of the Arabs'. We have learned to always live face-to-face with believers of other religions and especially with Muslims. Although we have a long list of martyrs, we have chosen by our own free and resolute will to coexist and engage in profound dialogue without hatred, without compromises and without fear. On numerous occasions, when we were confronted with the spirituality of the Crusades and holy war, we chose firmly and without hesitation to commit to the spirit of the Cross. Our mission today is to continue to bear witness to all who speak Arabic in the Antiochian space and the western world, just as our vocation is to perfect this witness through full communion with the other concerned Orthodox Churches and cooperation with all."

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Orthodox Synaxis on the Problem of Romiosyne

The must-read blog Orthodox Synaxis has posted a translation of a speech by Patriarch Bartholomew where he speaks of the "precedence" of his people in Orthodoxy and as the center of "Romiosyne". Because this ideology lies at the heart of the Greek occupation of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, readers of this blog should take note of how His Holiness speaks off cuff on such issues.

 The introduction states:

In addressing the ongoing political and ecclesiastical conflict in Ukraine, many have rightly brought up the Russkiy Mir (“Russian world”) ideology promoted by many in the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church. This ideology, concocted as a reaction to the loss of Russian control over Ukraine and Belarus after the fall of the Soviet Union, seeks to assert a spiritual and cultural unity of the peoples descended from the Kievan Rus, presumably under Russian leadership. Perhaps not totally unexpectedly, there has been much less analysis of the dominant ideology of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the concept of Romiosyne. This culturally and ecclesiastically irredentist ideology seeks to regain the preeminence in the Orthodox world that the Greeks of Constantinople enjoyed under the Ottomans, just as the Russkiy Mir attempts to regain the preeminence that Russia held under the Soviets.

The 75-year period of Soviet rule left an inescapable mark on the leadership of the Church in Russia, Ukraine and the other former-Soviet states and similarly the 500 years of Ottoman rule inevitably left its enduring mark on the worldview of the leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We can see this in the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s reliance on Ottoman-era documents to assert territorial claims in Ukraine and the way that recent statements (e.g., Patriarch Bartholomew’s 1 September address) borrow from the rhetoric of this period to speak of the Patriarchate of Constantinople as the “source” and “beginning” of the Orthodox churches.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s ideology of Romiosyne is a no less desperate attempt to cling to a bygone empire than Russia’s Russkiy Mir ideology even if, in the absence of military strength to back it up, its field of action is largely ecclesiastical. This can be seen on display in a recent speech by Patriarch Bartholomew to an audience of parishioners from Istanbul. In it, he speaks of the preeminence of their common genos in the Orthodox Church and triumphalistically mocks “Slavic” attempts at usurping it. The language that Patriarch Bartholomew uses is somewhat difficult to translate into English precisely because his is a post-imperial ideology rather than a nationalist one of the sort that we are more familiar with. That is, where one might use Hellenismos to describe the nationalism of the Greek nation-state (ethnos), Romiosyne describes a concept of Greekness that transcends nation-states and is centered more on the role of Greeks in the Orthodox Church than in worldly politics. The key term in this speech is the word genos, which is the origin of the word ‘genus’ and could be translated as ‘race’, ‘kind’, ‘sort’ or, as we’ve chosen to translate it below, ‘people’, though it is noteworthy (not to say alarming) that in this speech Patriarch Bartholomew uses the term phyle (‘tribe’ or ‘race’) as a synonym of genos.

Read the speech itself here.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Fr Touma (Bitar): For Those Who Want to See

Arabic original here.

For Those Who Want to See

Today is what is known as the Sunday of the Blind Man. This is the blind man of Jericho. In ancient history, when Joshua led the Hebrew people to the Promised Land, Jericho was a symbol of sin. For this reason, it was completely destroyed, like Sodom and Gomorrah. There are cities and towns which, in the Old Testament, came to have the meaning of sin, such as Jericho, Egypt, Babylon... This blind man was sitting on the road by the entrance to Jericho, as though he were representing, historically, the spiritual reality of that city.

It is true that this man was blind with his sensory eyes, but the discussion is, deep down, about blindness of the heart, which is the blindness of sin. Of course, the Lord raised the dead, healed the sick, returned sight to the blind and cleansed the lepers. His primary intention was not, however, to be a physician of bodies. His profound intention is to be a physician of souls. He healed the sick and raised the dead in order to give proof that he is capable of healing souls. The Lord's primary work is the forgiveness of sins. Absolutely nothing else is more important. If the one who was blind in the body was suffering to this degree, then how much more are we supposed to realize that inner blindness, which is sin, is painful, very painful? Sin is the pain hidden behind all human suffering. So the Lord God came first of all to forgive sins, to wash humanity which was defiled from within. As the Prophet David says in Psalm 50, "Cleanse me from my sin." Man primarily needs to be purified from his sin, to be washed on the level of the heart. On the level of the body, if we are not washed, a stench wafts from us, little by little. If it is not possible for us to bear bodily uncleanliness, then it is supposed that all the more so we will not be able to bear defilements of the heart, which are sin. The odor of sin is like hatred. The man who hates suffers from mold in his heart. The filthy heart hates. The filthy heart fornicates. The filthy heart judges. The filthy heart lies. All of this horrible stenches waft out from the heart. Man is in dire need of being cleansed, of being purified, in the heart, more than of being purified in the body, even if he doesn't know it.

Here in the Gospel, sin is equivalent to blindness and blindness must be healed so that man may see. Man needs to have his sin erased so that he may see in the heart, so that he may see the light. If sin remains, tyrannizing us, then the inner eye does not see. Man needs to be released from his sin so that he may see God's light, and then so that he may see God's light in others. For example, someone who only sees bad things in people is, without a doubt, blind. Of course there are bad things in people. Each of us has his bad things. But there rarely exists a person devoid of good. If the Lord did not find a little bit of good in him, He would not keep him alive. It is very important to see the heart, for one to see the good in others, not just sin. We are always ready to accuse others of being behind not only our personal worries, but also of being behind the world's worries. We rarely see someone blame himself. I remember during the events of 1975, there was an enlightened priest. Once we were talking. He suddenly opened his eyes and said of the civil war, "All this that is happening is my own fault." For him, he was a participant in the suffering happening to others. Let us never imagine that we are cleansing society when we accuse such-and-such and such-and-such of being wicked and it being necessary to get rid of them, at which point society will be made right. This is empty talk! In order for society to be made right, I must learn to see my sin and, at the same time, to see the good in others. When we reach that level of dealing with things, we have really started to be purified. When someone starts to be purified from within, society starts to really be purified because what happens in society is nothing other than the result of what occurs in the heart of man. As we clean the heart, society is cleansed. And as we keep the heart filthy, we find defilement in society to increase.

Let's return to the blind man of Jericho. "He was sitting in the road begging." I would like to linger a bit on the word "begging." He asks for charity. He does this because he is handicapped. He can't work. Perhaps he has a wife and children. In any case, he lives from the charity of others. One who is immersed in his sin lives from begging! In other words, there is no blessing in his life. He toils very much and receives little, like the disciples. Before the Lord Jesus came to them, the said to Him, "We have toiled the whole night and caught nothing." They were talking about fishing. Everyone's sin worries its owner and, in the end, only gives very little. It is as though he is begging, as though he is poor, while the Lord makes man the son of the king! He says, "Seek first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness and everything else will be added unto you." In other words, man's concern must be to sit at the right hand of God the Father. This is the concern. The concern is to be with the king, to be in the royal palace, in the presence of God the king. This is the concern and there is no other concern worthy of man. Everything else is given to us by the Lord from Himself and in abundance: "Everything else is added unto you." What do we need? Anything we may need, the Lord provides us with, in one way or another. Perhaps some of you remember this story: There was an ascetic monk sitting in his cell and he prayed day and night. He prayed and worked and during his work he prayed. Then he prayed and made prostrations and lifted his heart upward. He had only one job: delighting in God. That is, he constantly occupied his heart with the remembrance of God. This was his concern. This was his work. And because this was his work, he didn't work to earn money and eat from his toil. His entire concern was, as I said, delighting in God, praying to God, glorifying God, giving praise. When it was time to eat-- and monks in ancient times would only eat once, after the ninth hour, that is, after three in the afternoon, the time for vespers-- he looked out the window and found that the Lord had given him a loaf of bread. He took it, gave thanks and ate. That would happen every day! Once, he thought in himself about working and earning some money. Of course, the evil one wanted to turn him away from his prayer, so he accepted the idea and started to make baskets to sell and save up money for times of need, doubting in God's care for him. On that very day, he prayed and worked. When it was three in the afternoon, he prayed vespers and then looked out the window, but he did not find any loaf. He was surprised and disturbed and started to cry and say to the Lord, "Why have you deprived me of your grace?!" A voice came to him and said, "When you worked with Me, I sustained you. And now, you work for yourself, so eat from your toil." This is to say that God wanted us to be children of the king. We bear absolutely no concern, so that we may not beg, because we have no need for that. The Lord sends us, in ways that He knows, what we need. Whenever we complete His work as is fitting, whenever we walk in the divine commandment as is necessary, if we delight in God, if we praise, glorify, thank and put all our trust in God, then the Lord takes care of us in hidden ways we don't know. He provides what we need completely. One who works with the Lord is one hundred percent ensured. There is a monk who died in 2006. They asked him, "When you pray, does God answer?" He looked at those asking him with surprise and said, "If the Lord didn't answer, then why would I have anything to do with the Gospel? Of course the Lord answers!" If we do not reach profound conviction that God is alive and that He is in complete control, then what faith do we have? Faith is total surrender to God. If someone does not know how to hand his affairs over to the Lord God completely, let him learn. Such a person cannot truly be a believer. For someone to be a believer in his mind, convinced that there is someone who created the world, this has no value. The faith that we are talking about is surrender: total surrender, total trust in God, in the image of what the Lord Jesus said on the cross, "Into Your hands I commend My spirit." The believer commends his spirit to God every day, every moment. Of course, no one reaches this point without toil. One must toil. He must exercise. He must learn how to walk in the divine things as is proper. Do you believe that those saints are necessarily of better stuff than we are? No. We and they are of the same stuff. Many of them were wicked sinners, sometimes even more than us! But they realized at one point that sin leads them to the abyss. If man does not work to purify his heart, then he lives like an animal and dies like an animal. Those saints realized their true condition and endeavored to change. Then the Lord God saw their good intention and He started to open their hearts for them and clean them. They started to see more and seek Him more. They started to seek more and the Lord gave them more. And thus they grew until they became great saints, like Saint John Chrysostom. Don't think that a saint is someone who has no sin. Never! No one is without sin. A saint is a person who realizes that he is a sinner and is aware of his sin to the degree that he can no longer see any other sin. Indeed, his sin is so that he may say with the Apostle Paul, "Christ came to save sinners of whom I am first." If one does not feel his sin like a knife in his heart, he does not truly know his sin. Does a person know his sin with words? That is never enough. He must know it in his being, in his heart. He must feel it. If one of us gets a tiny splinter two millimeters long in his finger, he can no longer sleep at night because he feels it. We can't know our sin if we don't feel it. Those saints are a bundle of feeling. A saint is a bundle of feeling sin, and at the same time, a bundle of feeling that he is a handful of dust, no more and no less. A bundle of feeling that if the Lord did not build this house-- which is me-- then it will not be built; the builders toil in vain. His entire concern comes to be with what is above: "Help me, O Lord. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." His entire mind and heart come to be above, because he senses death every day. He feels that he is dust every day. He feels that he is nothing. Inasmuch as a person cannot bear something like this, the saint's sense of nothingness is transformed into a sense of the Lord God's greatness. Therefore he magnifies the Lord, glorifies Him, praises Him, remembers Him wherever he goes: "Lord have mercy on me a sinner! O Lord, help me! O Lord, come to my aid!" In this way one grows in grace.

What is man? If we want to define what man is in himself, then in himself he is a handful of dust! But the Lord God was pleased in His great love for His light to dwell in this dust. We are a little bit of clay and light. This is man, if we want to boil him down, and no more. All that you see, after a hundred years, will be dust. All of us will become a bit of bone that gradually disintegrates. In the end, in human terms, we are a handful of dust, but nevertheless the Lord was pleased to dwell within us! Therefore our entire concern, if our path is straight, must be to say and repeat, to pray: "Come and abide in us, cleanse us of every stain, and save our souls, O Good One." The Lord gives us salvation for free! The Lord granted that we become children of the king! What are we worried about? Everything that we see around us, if the Lord did not give it to us, then it would vanish. If the Lord did not give us rain, then people would die of hunger. If He gives us two hours of rain, then we live for the entire year off these two hours. All of this is to show that we live by God's grace, by God's mercy and nothing more. Someone who does not see, whose mind does not go in this orientation, has something deviant in his heart. Sin is truly the distortion of man. For this reason, we do not need to trade the simplest commandment of the Lord Jesus Christ for anything in the world. We hold to the simplest of the commandments completely so that if we die of hunger, since only the Lord can snatch us away, at a time that He knows, and fill us with His heavenly manna, from His body which He gave us, so that it may be heavenly food for us. For this reason, it is not fitting for a believer, if he is a believer in spirit and in truth, to live with worry. What do we worry about if the Lord has provided everything for us, if He has given us everything now, later and forever? He has given us eternal life! We must worry about one thing: how to stay attached to the Lord. This is the only concern and we may have no other concern. This is how one is supposed to live: staying attached to the Lord. So we say to Him, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Have mercy on me. That is, I ask Him to take me so that I may remain attached to Him. What is the deep meaning of "have mercy on me"? Does this mean that He gives me sight? No, for there is much more than that! When I say to the Lord, "have mercy on me, O Lord," I am asking for Him Himself, His Spirit. I am asking for Him! I am not asking for what belongs to God, but rather I am asking for God. When I say, "have mercy on me," I am saying to Him, "take me and place me inside you, in your bosom, in Your womb." The word "mercy" [ra7ma] comes from "womb" [ra7im], the woman's womb, where man comes together. This is his fundamental home, from which he goes out. When I say to Him, "have mercy on me," I say to Him, "Place me in Your bosom! I want to remain attached to You!" I want to be close to His heart just as John the Beloved was close to God's heart, to the heart of Jesus Christ.

So the one thing for which I must toil day and night is to remain enveloped in God's mercy. I must avoid anything that separates me from the Lord's mercy. At that point, I no longer need to worry about anything else at all. So the primary task of the believer in his life in the world is to seek God's mercy in every moment of his life. To strive for God's mercy by keeping the commandment in every moment of his life. To refuse to be separated from God's mercy at every moment of his life. One who proceeds in this manner never has a problem. Wherever he goes, the grace of the Lord precedes him. The grace of the Lord preserves him, carries him. The Lord says in the Sermon on the Mount: "Why do you worry? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Therefore, seek first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness and everything else shall be added unto you!" This blind man, it is true that he became seeing, but more important than that is that his heart became seeing. This is expressed in the text that was read to you today because the Lord said to him first, "Your faith has saved you." He didn't just open his external eyes. The Lord God opened the eyes of his heart. That is, He cleansed him of his sin. He forgave him his sins and saved him. This is truly salvation. The result was, as the text says at the end, "Immediately, he could see." His heart was opened and he followed Him. He went after Him. He ran after Him! He no longer had anything else to follow. He no longer needed to beg. He found the precious treasure. He no longer needed to have any worry. "He followed Him." He followed Him, giving glory to God. "When they saw this, all the people praised God." God is so sweet He makes you cry. Anyone who doesn't see the beauty of the Lord lives and dies without meaning. The important thing is that we behold God in His mercy, in His love, in His light. Glory to God for all He has given us!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan-- Douma, Lebanon
Sunday, December 2, 2018

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Divine Wisdom

Arabic original here.

Divine Wisdom

"Happy is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding" (Proverbs 3:13). The wisdom here is not philosophical wisdom; it is divine wisdom. It is not only intellectual understanding, but rather it is also an understanding that comes from God. It comes from the nearness of the breath of the Spirit who is from God: "the Spirit of understanding, the Spirit of wisdom."

What is the spiritual life, other than that which is according to the Spirit of God and not according to the spirit of the world? The Apostle and Evangelist John says, "Do not love the world or the things in the world... For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life... the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15-17).

The Evangelist John himself says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). And so divine wisdom came into the world to reconcile love for the sinful world with lack of love for its sin. It came to set this balance, this condescension between the world of God and the world of man.

Divine wisdom, the Wisdom of Solomon the Wise, says, "All the words of my mouth are with righteousness; Nothing crooked or perverse is in them. They are all plain to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge. I will teach you what is true so that you may rely upon the Lord and be filled with spirit."
As for the divine wisdom of Solomon regarding the righteous one who departs this earthly life suddenly, "The righteous man, though he die early, will be at rest.There was one who pleased God and was loved by him, and while living among sinners he was taken up. He was caught up lest evil change his understanding or guile deceive his soul... Being perfected in a short time, he fulfilled long years... the peoples saw and did not understand, nor take such a thing to heart, that God's grace and mercy are with his elect, and he watches over his holy ones."

Finally, he says in the Book of Wisdom of Solomon the Wise, "Against wisdom evil does not prevail and so I loved her and sought her from my youth, and I desired to take her for my bride, and I became enamored of her beauty...  her labors are virtues; for she teaches self-control and prudence, justice and courage... so I appealed to the Lord and besought him, and with my whole heart I said: 'Give me the wisdom that sits on Your throne... that I may learn what is pleasing to You. For she knows and understands all things, and she will guide me wisely in my actions and guard me with her glory...'"
Here wisdom is nothing other than the living word of God found in the Gospel: the Good News is a rational, verbal icon.

The Apostle Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). With it, God's power becomes my power; His wisdom, my wisdom; His word, my word; and His love, my love.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Friday, November 30, 2018

Carol Saba: Speak Now... Or Forever Hold Your Peace!

French original below the jump.

Speak Now... Or Forever Hold Your Peace!

"You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18)

The Orthodox Church, which is the Body of Christ, shall never be defeated by the gates of hell. We should, however, admit that the state of world Orthodoxy, which is supposed to reflect the condition and manner of divine life, is badly damaged. A sort of generalized chaos seems to be establishing itself under the cover of the "canonical" theses of some and the "canonical" antitheses of others. They invoke the spirit of unity, while their actions here and there betray and dismantle the Church's witness, discrediting it. The Orthodox Church has certainly experienced better and worse since the glorious resurrection of the Lord, which we tend to box off, at the risk of losing all the meaning and power of the Savior's life-giving Cross.

The Orthodox Church, which has experienced in history worse moments than today, appears to be badly damaged, from the inside out. At the moment when the accelerations of globalization, of the digital revolution and of communication should have appeared to her as a vast field of mission and as manna fallen from heaven, a divine opportunity to bear witness to her unity, Orthodoxy seems to give itself over to the spirit of this world and every form of internal competition, offering itself to every form of political instrumentalization by the powers of this world and every possible form of wrangling, which risk causing schisms and tears within it.

A deleterious showdown from another era appears to be establishing itself between Orthodoxy's poles of "communion", transforming them into poles of "competition" and even of clashes. A warlike language appears to have replaced that of the Gospel. The logic of trench warfare appears to have the upper hand over the dynamic of conciliarity and that of the mutual responsibility of all the autocephalous Churches, a subject dear to the heart of Patriarch Daniel of Romania, of which he recently reminded Patriarch Bartholomew during the consecration of the "national cathedral." 
We build enormous stone churches, but we forget Christ, who suffers from out internal quarrels, as if Orthodoxy were a "game of thrones". A christ of this world appears to overshadow our Lord and our God, who rose from the dead for the life of the world. A ball of fire appears to tumble along at lunatic speed, burning everything in its path. Instead of raising up, it crushes. Instead of enlightening the world with the unfading light of Christ, it worries the little flock...

Should we keep silent and let the leaders on all sides of this descent into hell act? Or should we proclaim to the primates loud and clear their responsibility, regardless of what might otherwise be the validity of their pretexts for justifying their deleterious enterprises when they desire good but do evil?

I am certain that if discernment is set in motion, if the audacity of those in charge of the Lord's flock today was on display for bearing witness to what is essential, to the one thing needful, for mutually correcting and considering each other-- truly and not just in the nice words of nice speeches pronounced in beautiful cathedrals-- as members of one Body, then we shall see the beautiful Face of faces of Christ the Savior and the Cross of the Lord who has already triumphed and shall triumph once more!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Jad Ganem: When Silence is Golden

Arabic original here.

When Silence is Golden

I read an interview with a bishop whom the Ecumenical Patriarchate had imposed on a diocese in Western Europe from outside the list of candidates presented to it by the diocese's nominating conference. At the time, many likened the behavior accompanying his selection-- the deletion of the names of candidates and the addition of his name, followed by his election-- to the behavior of the Ottomans against the Ecumenical Patriarchate during the days of persecution. Perhaps Constantinople took this step out of faith in this person's capabilities and talents. But after some time, it went back and realized it had made the wrong choice, after the aforementioned bishop became an adversary of most elements of his diocese and after his being its head started to threaten the departure of its faithful and the closure of its longstanding institutions, especially given that they had been established and developed in the most dire circumstances and, with the passing of time, were able to make their glory.  The Patriarchate of Constantinople's response to the complaints of the faithful and its taking the decision to transfer him to an administrative job where he would have no direct contact with clergy or ordinary believers came as a tacit admission of his inability to function as a pastor.

Today, in the context of the crisis facing the Orthodox Church, the aforementioned bishop has become a spokesman for the Phanar and has given a television interview in which he expresses severe and irresponsible positions, positions based on legalistic approaches to relationships within the Church that run contrary to her nature, deepen the estrangement between members of the one body, and lack any pastoral sensitivity. I do not know if they express the position of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, but I do know that it is not possible to trust someone who failed in administering a small diocese and led it to the brink of breaking apart with issues that have serious repercussions for the unity of the universal Orthodox Church. In these circumstances, we need the pastoral guidance of experienced men who know that their fundamental role is to preserve the unity of the Church and who work to dress her wounds with the boldness of physicians, the wisdom of saints and the determination of apostles. These difficult times do not call for lawyers who justify schism and glorify unilateral action or juveniles who think that altering reality takes place at the stroke of a pen or through imperious decisions. The faith of millions is in the balance, so enough with irresponsible talk! Enough with scandalizing the faithful! At a time when unity is in danger, "Silence is golden, since there's no danger in it."

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Jad Ganem: The Silence of Mount Athos

Arabic original here.

The Silence of Mount Athos

The voice of the Holy Mountain has long resounded at every important and fateful juncture in the Orthodox Church. The monks of Mount Athos have long addressed the Church's leaders every time they sensed a deviation in practices, a departure from the faith or a threat to unity. Today, in light of the current crisis that the Orthodox Church is experiencing, the faithful are missing the voice of the fathers of the Holy Mountain and are wondering about the reason for their silence. They are missing their voice with regard to what has been said about the papism that is filtering into Orthodox theology and practice. They await their word related to the way of accepting schismatics into the Church, the validity of the ordinations that took place during the schism, the Church's position with regard to a married patriarch and bishops being returned to communion with the Church, and the relationship between Church and state and everything that is being said about the right of presidents, politicians and parliamentarians to impose their agenda on the Church. They await their word on this mess we have gotten ourselves into. They wonder why the monks of the Holy Mountain have refrained from playing this role today. Is it  because their position is different from that of the ecclesiastical authorities on which they depend? Is it because of a difference of opinion about these issues also exists among them? Or is it because they are waiting for the anger of the Lord to pass and for souls to be calm in order to speak their mind?

No matter the reasons, the eyes of the faithful, which are wounded by what is happening today in Christ's Church, look to the holy Mountain. Their prayers embrace its monks' unceasing prayers, that God may keep troubles and schisms away from His Church and that He may send a voice to "rightly divide the word of truth" and bring us from Babel of politics and legalism that is dividing our church to the holy Pentecost.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Jad Ganem: Double Standards

Arabic original here.
Double Standards

The joint statement issued by the Patriarchs of Antioch and Serbia following the irenic visit by Patriarch John X to the Church of Serbia recalled the "Athens Agreement" regarding to Jerusalem's violation of Antioch's territory in Qatar  that was reached under the sponsorship of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The agreement included the following items:

"The Patriarchate of Jerusalem will give another title to the Archbishop of Qatar-elect Makarios.

The Patriarchate of Antioch will accept the presence of an archbishop from the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in Qatar bearing another title.

From now on, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem will in no way attempt to raise demands of an ecclesiastical presence belonging to it in the Arabian Gulf.

A joint committee will be constituted of delegates from the two patriarchates with the presence and participation of representatives from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in order to define the current status of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's presence in Qatar and to formulate the text of the agreement between the two churches."

As is well-known, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem did not keep the content of this agreement, which caused the Patriarchate of Antioch to break communion with it. From the beginning of this violation and through the breaking of communion, the Ecumenical Patriarchate continued to affirm to the Patriarchate of Antioch that its position that Qatar depended ecclesiastically on it is the correct position. It did not, however, take any public position, neither during the preparatory meetings for the Great Council nor at any other occasion, indicating the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's responsibility for the violation or calling it to keep what had been agreed upon with regard to it in Athens. Instead, in May of 2016 its holy synod shockingly adopted a decision, the contents of which Antioch became aware of after its being published on the internet, calling for "forming a committee of representatives from the two concerned patriarchates, which Ecumenical Patriarchate will take responsibility for coordinating so that it will meet immediately following the Great and Holy Council, with the goal of studying the issue and finding a solution acceptable to both parties." It appears that Constantinople's zeal for keeping the canons and its devotion to ensuring the unity of the Church are focused only on dealing with schismatics within the territory of the Patriarchate of Moscow and do not include those patriarchates in the Phanar's orbit. Its actions do not reach the level of confronting the Patriarchate of Jerusalem with the truth and calling on it to implement the agreement reached under the Phanar's sponsorship.  Hope remains that Constantinople will change and no longer be the Patriarchate that applies double standards.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Confession

Arabic original here.


They say that the Orthodox Church doesn't have confession.

But how can this be, when Saint Isaac the Syriac says, "One who confesses his sins is greater than one who raises the dead"? He adds, "One who confesses his sins, repenting of them, is like one brought from death to life."

The Lord Jesus Himself, after the resurrection, appeared to the disciples and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:22-23).

The mystery of repentance and confession is the renewal of our baptism. The priest first of all performs this mystery-- I mean, hearing the confessions of his spiritual children-- by providing them spiritual guidance, keeping up with their life and forgiving their sins.

I know very well that many people go to monasteries and take monks as their spiritual fathers. This is blessed and the Church does not prevent this. But this never negates the fact that the priest of their parish is expected to be, before anyone else, a spiritual father for them in every sense of the word.

The priest's duties are not limited to performing prayers, most importantly the Divine Liturgy, and performing religious duties such as the mystery of baptism, weddings, and funerals. He must keep up with things in the life of his parish from every angle, naturally with the assistance of the members of his parish council.

He is the one primarily responsible for providing instruction, by gathering his flock under the shelter of the Orthodox Church: children, youth and families...

Each parish has an obligation to have continuous weekly instruction of children, youth and families.

Likewise the priest must get to know his parish closely and keep up with the situation and problems of each family, especially problems in marriages, before disputes build up between husband and wife and they resort to the spiritual court.

Of course, he can cooperate with those whom he finds capable of helping him: parishioners, members of the parish council, and specialized diocesan departments.

I will say it again: the priest's calling is first and foremost to be a "father" according to the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, "For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel" (1 Corinthians 4:15).

Of course, the Church saw fit to grant, by way of the bishop, the priest to become a spiritual father and to perform the mystery of confession, on the basis of his discerning and supervising talents.

Beloved, today we live in an age where new difficulties have multiplied for young people and families, whether with regard to electronics and social media or through the spread of heresies and deviant practices.

Therefore we must remain eager to keep the tradition of our holy fathers in our Orthodox Christian Church in which the priest plays a leading role, not only in matters of material administration, but also and especially in matters of social and spiritual behavior.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Friday, November 2, 2018

Jad Ganem: A Prophetic Stance

Arabic original here.

A Prophetic Stance

In a lecture by Patriarch Ignatius IV of blessed memory about "the feelings of the eastern churches" that he gave in Vienna, he lingered on the situation of the Church in Antioch, which "is made up of five churches, each with its own juridical organization and each with its own adherents, synod, patriarch, bishops, liturgy, holy canons and variants in what pertains to the faith and its institutions." He then outlines the historical reasons and crises that led to this situation "without any form of current or retroactive hostility" before summing up by saying, "Let us state it directly: Antioch would not have divided into five patriarchates if an Antiochian council had been held to face each of the crises that we have mentioned, free from any outside political or ecclesiastical pressure." He adds, "Conciliarity must be the starting-point for the new Antiochian unity because the cause of every blow-up was the effacement of the sense of conciliarity. At the foundation of every rift lies a wound in the communion of love, followed by or initiated by opposition in the formulation of the faith. Instead of the pastors' love dressing this double wound, it considered it untreatable and moved on to the level of the canons. The churches on each side withdrew themselves into a sort of canonical self-justification." This prophetic stance, these golden words that do not grow old no matter how much time has passed, must be read by the leaders of the Orthodox world today. Perhaps they might learn a lesson and hurry to hold a Pan Orthodox council that would be free from political pressure and complexes about numbers, a council convened in an atmosphere of prayer, accompanied by the fervent prayer of the faithful, a council open to the activity of the Holy Spirit, whose members lay aside the language of "rights" and go forth like doctors to dress the wounds and work to heal them, a council that transforms the current difficulty into an opportunity to leap forward. Perhaps we will not go on to fragmentation, but rather depart to chant in a harmonious voice, "Christ is risen!"

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Fr. Georges Massouh on Pipe-Dreams of Empire

I am re-posting this article by Fr Georges Massouh, of blessed memory, as it seems pertinent to much that is happening in Orthodoxy today. The Arabic original, published in Majallat al-Nour, can be found here.

Orthodoxy or Pipe-Dreams?

Some Antiochian Orthodox are haunted by dreams of an awakening that sends them off on flights of fancy and estranges them from the surrounding reality. These dreams of an awakening prevent those who are having them from facing reality and cast them into the arms of fanciful illusion that satisfies hidden desires that they cannot satisfy in real life. They flee reality in search of a lost paradise that cannot be realized. They search for an imaginary paradise. But their dreams remain an incoherent collection of images and ideas that reflect symptoms of complexes and psychological problems.

Dreams have led them astray and caused them to search for a useless and pointless role. They chase after a tempting and deceitful mirage like people afflicted with sunstroke. They try to tap into it, but they will only find utter failure. The mirage of empty glory, the lure of power, and the temptation of lucre are what they are seeking under the compelling and noble banner of the Church. Satan clothes himself in a robe of light, is this not what the Apostle Paul says?

There are those who dream of restoring the glory of the Byzantine Empire and its capital Constantinople and proof of this is that they raise the banner of the Byzantine state as their emblem, as though the Orthodox faith were not true without the return of an empire whose behavior was no better than "the kings of this world." How many massacres, crimes, and occupations were committed in the name of Christianity? How many times did the Fathers of the Church, chief among them Saint Ambrose of Milan and Saint John Chrysostom, clash with the emperors on account of their excessive use of power and negligence of the Gospel's teachings.

The Antiochian experience of the state differs from subsequent Byzantine and Russian experience. The Church of Antioch has never ruled in our country, thank God. The Church of Antioch did not sully herself with the stain of this world, its strongmen and tyrants. She could not do anything other than take care of her countries and peoples and to work to realize the Kingdom in the here and now, where she lives awaiting the announcement of the Kingdom that is to come. She could do nothing other than bear witness to her Teacher, her Master, her Redeemer in word, thought, and deed. She did not deny her cross. She bore it in order to be crucified for love, not in order to hatefully crucify others for the sake of earthly glory.

The Orthodox Church has realized that holiness does not belong to land or cities or places. All these things are just dust. Rather, true holiness is a lofty goal that human beings, flesh and blood, are called to acquire. "Neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall you worship the Father... Those who truly worship the Father worship in spirit and in truth," said the Lord firmly to  the Samaritan woman. There where the Church (that is, the group of believers called from that place) is, there the Lord will be among them. Judaism did not comprehend these words and it continued to work to return to Palestine. The price of its return was the removal of an entire people from their land after wars, conflicts and massacres that claimed thousands of victims. How great would the price of a return to Constantinople be, if the means were available? How great do those people estimate the price would be of restoring the glories of their empire?

These fantastical dreams that take the form of associations, groups, and parties seek after an Andalus  that is lost and will never return. They are pipe-dreams at high noon, when laziness and drowsiness overcomes weak souls: "Save us, O Lord, from the noonday demon." Instead of the Orthodox working to fix their presence in Beirut, Tripoli, Akkar, Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, and Hama... and instead of urgently striving to return to villages from which they were expelled in the mountains near Beirut, and instead of working to halt the exodus to countries with strong economies, you see some people entertaining pipe-dreams that do not eliminate hunger.

Particularly deserving censure is the fact that the people who have these fantasies do not hesitate to use holy names which they confer upon themselves, especially the word "Orthodox" and its derivatives, which they hawk in the market of hateful sectarianism that dominates hearts and minds in Lebanon. There is a "Party of God" and a party that appropriates the cross, a party that claims to speak in the name of the Christians, and parties with Islamic names... and now some Orthodox have taken their turn to change the Church of the Lord, which He redeemed with His blood, into a sectarian party. Orthodoxy is far too precious to be distorted and have its history fabricated by a few people who seek to take their turn at the expense of a living tradition marked by true witness to Christ God our Redeemer.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Fr Touma (Bitar): There is No Life without Faith

Arabic original here.

There is No Life without Faith

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Brothers, the subject of the Gospel that was read to you today is faith. There is no doubt that talking about faith requires a great deal of explanation. Most of us say that he is a believer, while in reality he is not necessarily a believer in the way that faith must be. There are people who believe that if someone intellectually believes a certain thing, this means that he has become a believer in it. But faith is one thing and believing is something else. So let us see what faith entails.

In the New Testament, there is a definition of faith. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, faith has two fundamental elements: trust and faith in what is unseen. When we say "trust", this means that there is a relationship. It is not rational for me to trust someone if I don't know him and I have no relationship with him. Then, when someone is certain about something, this means that he in convinced, without the slightest doubt, of the goodness and ability of the person with whom he has a relationship. So if faith requires trust and certainty in what is unseen, then realistically it is impossible for a person to believe! How can he believe in God if he does not know Him and has not had a relationship with Him? Of course, at the same time, for him to know Him and have a relationship with Him requires that he believe in Him. So the relationship requires faith and faith requires a relationship. So how can someone start when he has neither faith nor a relationship? Humanly, then, a person cannot believe on his own. But faith is a grace from God!

But why doesn't the Lord grant for all people to be believers? This is because some people have preparation to believe and others do not have preparation. This is something ordinary. If we have, for example, water, it is very basic for there to be fertile earth. But water doesn't act and doesn't fertilize if there is no soil. So there is a need for soil. If we pour water on the desert, we do not benefit from anything. In this manner, someone is ready for faith if he has a heart that is prepared to benefit and be fertile when the grace of God, which is the grace of faith, comes upon him. The issue here is a person's heart, whether it is ready to believe or not. Of course, this raises the question: when is the heart ready for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? The heart is ready for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ when a person is upright, loves the truth, says that truth is true and falsehood false. A person knows these things according to human nature when he walks in the truth. There is no person in this world who does not distinguish, albeit within certain limits, between right and wrong, between acceptable and unacceptable, between truth and falsehood.  A person who does not possess this distinction is either sick or has lost his mental faculties, since every person by nature has preparation, when he is raised in his environment, to know good from evil, even if it is to a limited degree. If he has walked in uprightness and loved the true and the good, then he becomes ready to accept the grace of faith that comes to him from the Father of Lights. While the person who is hypocritical, impure, twisted and not upright... it is impossible for him to believe. For this reason the devil, for example, knows but does not believe because he is twisted and impure and at the same time hypocritical, lying and murderous. The devil has extremely broad information, but this information does him no good because his heart is not upright. The evil person who walks without uprightness, loves falsehood, is concerned with getting what he wants, does not testify to the truth in any way and is not concerned with the truth but rather is only concerned with himself and his own interests... such a person cannot believe and cannot be ready for faith. In this sense, faith isn't for everyone!

Why do you think that the upright person who love the true and loves the good is ready to accept faith in God? Because uprightness, truth and goodness are flashes of the Lord Jesus Christ who is truth, goodness and life. These are lights from Him, sown in the nature of man who, if he walks in them, is drawn close to God. When the Lord God wants to reveal Himself to him, then he (that is, this person who is upright in his path, a man of truth and goodness) sees that faith is something very normal and natural and he wants to believe but he cannot because of human weakness. It is impossible for someone to believe in God by his own powers. You remember that incident when a man came with his son who had an impure spirit and the Lord asked him, "If you believe, everything is possible for the believer." The father replied, "I believe, O Lord, help my unbelief!" (That is, my entire being is drawn to faith, but I find in myself that I am not e believer. I am too weak to be able to believe in You. I need for You to grant me to believe. As for myself, I am drawn to you and I am completely prepared to believe in You.] At that point, the Lord gave him what he wanted. The weakness within us does not absolutely deprive us of God. We are all weak. The Lord God truly wants to give Himself to weak humans, not to strong humans, since there are no strong humans. So weakness absolutely isn't a problem. Indeed, it helps to attract divine grace, since the Spirit of the Lord settles within us in our weakness and at that point we become strong-- but by God's grace, not in ourselves. For this reason, when the Apostle Paul talks about human weakness, he says, "I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

So the condition for us to be ready to accept faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is for us to be upright in our life. Blessed is the one who bears witness to the truth even at his own expense, for there is no doubt that for God he is a chosen vessel and a blessed man. But why are there not many believers, to the degree that the Lord says, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith upon the earth?" The reason for this is that most people have come to walk in twistedness and without uprightness. They do not love the truth, but rather love their own interests. The truth, today, is equivalent to people's interests. Very, very few people today bear witness to the truth because people look out for their own. Their basic concern is acquisition and avoiding harm. For this reason, it is very hard for them to believe and to accept God's grace. Therefore God's grace is not given to them because God knows the hidden things of their hearts, for He puts His grace is damaged vessels! This is a fundamental aspect of the issue of faith. He is very near to us, but at the same time He is very far from us! Uprightness is needed.

In light of this definition of faith, let us now look at what happened to the woman with the issue of blood and what happened to Jairus the leader of the synagogue. First, the woman with the issue of blood had her issue of blood for twelve years. The number twelve certainly has a meaning. Among numbers, there are perfect numbers. This is a perfect number that indicates that the time for this woman to be visited by God had come. Therefore the Lord came and healed her. Why had He not healed her before? Does He like to leave people to suffer and after that come and heal them? No, He is never like that! The Lord never likes suffering and torment. Those who portray the Lord to you as casting people into hell, roasting them and taking revenge on them are giving you a very mistaken image of God who is love. But why do you think this woman remained in her situation for precisely twelve years? Why was she not healed after one or two or eleven years or just immediately? This is truly because she needed this complete time until her innermost parts were ready for faith in the Lord Jesus! What is meant here is not necessarily twelve years, 365 days each year, 24 hours every day. There are people whom the Lord heals after a day or two, a week or two, a month or two or a week or two. The issue of time isn't what is fundamental. What is fundamental is that each of us needs a period of time particular to him when he is in pain in order to be ready completely to be a believer in the Lord Jesus. The truth is that a person does not become existentially ready for faith in the Lord Jesus except through pain. Therefore it is said in simplicity, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." If someone things that things can come easily, without vexation, he is in serious error. The Lord permits tribulations and suffering because they are fundamental for setting the heart aright, so that one may become upright. So twelve years were necessary for this woman to become ready to believe. Her faith was made clear when it is said, "She came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped." She said to herself that if she touched the border of his garment, she would be healed. This was a very great act of faith! For this reason, when the Lord Jesus uncovered her, He said to her, "Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace." The Lord Jesus Christ bore witness to her faith. He truly bore witness to the uprightness of her soul, on the basis of which He gave her the grace of faith in Him, so she became a believer in Jesus. This was the state of the woman with the issue of blood. Everything is possible for the believer.

As for Jairus, the head of the synagogue, he had an only daughter who was twelve years old. Despite the fact that he was head of the synagogue-- that is, an honored person with a station among people-- out of his pain over his daughter, he came and prostrated at Jesus' feet. This is great humility for an person important in his nation to be humble before a teacher. From where did the head of the synagogue have this humility? He had it from suffering. He was grieving for his daughter and she was at death's door. That is, she was probably seriously ill. She was suffering and he was suffering with her. Notice what the Lord Jesus says to Jairus when He goes to his house, "Do not fear. Only believe and she is healed." These are very great words. First, He told him that he was subject to fear and this is from human weakness. At the same time, He touched his heart so that he would not surrender to fear, then He told him, "Only believe, and she will be healed." This means that if someone is a believer, the effects of his faith are not limited to his own person, but extend to others too! The girl did not rise from the dead from her own faith, but by the faith of her father. So we are capable, by the grace of God, to benefit not only ourselves but also others, if we are believers in Jesus and if they are prepared and ready, exactly like what happened with that paralytic who was brought on a bed by four men. They lowered him through the roof in front of Jesus and when the Lord saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven." Then, after that, He told him, "Arise, carry your bed, and go to your house." For this reason prayer, which is an act of faith par excellence, is what benefits the world more than anything else, so long as the world is ready to accept the grace of God which comes into the world through us, through our faith and through our prayer. Therefore, we pray for the peace of the whole world!

So let no one think that he is separated from others. This isn't true. All people are tied to each other. There is a big family, which is the family of the world, and there is a small family. But for God, there are no individuals. One who thinks that he can be saved alone has no share in salvation. For this reason, each one of us must strive for the salvation of others and seek for them, because faith in itself is individual faith, but within the communion of the family of humanity-- and especially the family of believers who accept the Lord Jesus and walk with Him in integrity and uprightness. Today, the trend is toward the individualization of humankind: each for himself! Therefore each person becomes more and more an island unto himself. Even within a single house, the father comes to be alone, the mother alone and each of the children alone. The important thing for us to know is that this individualism kills man and kills faith in God and any relationship with Him. We must once more overlap with each other. When the Lord asked Cain, "Where is your brother?" He said to Him, "Am I my brother's keeper?" The Lord God didn't answer him, but He answered us indirectly because He made us all keepers of each other. We are all responsible for each other. Absolutely no one can say that he is responsible for himself and not responsible for anyone else. This is talk from the evil one! In Christ, we say something else: "I am responsible for myself, so I am responsible for all of you. The salvation of each one of you is my concern." For this reason, when a monk comes to a monastery, he doesn't pray only for himself, but rather prays for the world. This is why people rush to monasteries and ask the monks for prayer, because the monks' concern is to bear the world and to lift it up to the Lord God with sighing, tears and brokenness of heart. They are the people whose fundamental concern is the salvation of humanity.

So we make a true contribution to each others' salvation. Those who do not work for others' salvation have no salvation to be cut from the Book of Life. For this reason, faith, the faith of one person, benefits all humanity! In the sixth century, Saint Barsanouphius of Gaza said that humanity existed at that time on account of the prayer of three people who prayed for the sake of the world. All who have great standing in the Christian faith bear the entire world in their hearts. Their fundamental concern is to extend the concern of the Lord Jesus, which is the salvation of all humanity. If we understand this matter, each one of us returns from living alone. One must go out and be concerned for others in order to find oneself. Saint Maximus the Confessor clearly and frankly states that what a person receives from this earth is what he has given to others. So as long as we care for one another, we have truly realized our own salvation. Faith, then, is an act of love that binds us to all humanity because it binds us in trust and certainty, in great love for the Lord Jesus.

If any has ears to hear, let him hear.

Archimandrite Touma Bitar
Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan the Athonite
Sunday, October 28, 2018