Saturday, July 14, 2018

Met Georges Khodr: We are Children of our Fathers

Arabic original here.

We are Children of our Fathers

Today we commemorate the holy fathers. Who are these fathers? There are those whom we call holy fathers, such as John Chrysostom, Gregory the Theologian, Basil the Great, Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus... We do not call all those who wrote about theology fathers, even if they were impressive. Our father is the one who begat us. Our father in the Church is the one who makes us children of God with his teachings.

When the Church needs someone to defend her, when she is in danger, God reveals someone within her who teaches in a manner that supports and clarifies what we have received from the Apostles. Danger to the Church appeared in the late first century from the Jews and Greek philosophers, or from Judaism mixed with Greek philosophy. Therefore clearer teaching about the divinity of the Lord was necessary.

The Church as a body is threatened by illness and in the body itself there are those who defend her. The Church is threatened by teachings foreign to her because Christians are influenced by what is not upright and drift in the wake of the fleeting intellectual fashions of our age. Then God sends, by His inspiration, men who clarify the dogma that we must believe. When the struggle intensifies, they gather in a council where they state their faith.

When Arius appeared in Alexandria and said that Christ is created-- that is, that He was not with the Father from eternity-- the deacon in Alexandria Athanasius went and said, "No indeed, relying on our holy scriptures, Christ is uncreated." The controversy raged in Egypt and spread throughout the empire, so the Emperor Constantine called for a worldwide ecumenical council for the first time. This council enacted the creed that we recite today in the Divine Liturgy.

Some people imagine that in the creed and in the dogma that we teach, we philosophize or bring something difficult. Of course, it is difficult to a great degree and students learn it in theological institutes. But for  the early fathers, these statements were very necessary because the Church was in danger and it was necessary for them to address people in the language and concepts of people at that time.

Those who heard "begotten not made" understood that Christ is eternal with the Father and understood that these words refute the teaching of Arius and confirm the Orthodox faith.

The fathers defended true dogma and Orthodox Christians were pleased to die in order to affirm the truth of the dogma, because they insisted that they had something essential in their faith, which if they lost it, they would die spiritually. If Christ was not God, then the one who died on the cross does not save us. Christians did not debate for the sake of controversy, but if Christ were an ordinary human, then we are without redemption and without hope. What is at stake in the defense of the faith is an issue of life or death, life in Christ or death without Christ. The whole of our salvation is connected to this dogma.

The dogma that we learn and repeat in our prayers is a sort of boundary that if we cross, we fall into the valley of death and darkness. We cannot scatter this inheritance that we have received. If someone comes and tells us, "Your dogma has been cut to pieces. Remove from it what bothers us so that we can live in harmony. Please us and say that Christ is not divine and that he is an ordinary human," we reject it completely. The faith isn't a possession for everyone who wants to squander it. We have received it and we remain with it because from it we have life.

This is the importance of the Feast of the Fathers. We are children of our fathers. We are children of the Apostles, the righteous ones, the saints and the martyrs, and we persist like this in strong sincerity that some call obstinacy. We call it sincerity and we persist in it in humility, since the grace of our Lord has preserved us in it through our fathers.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fr Georges Massouh: Joseph of Damascus, Imam of the Christians

Arabic original here. This essay is taken from his book Here and Now.

Joseph of Damascus, Imam of the Christians

The Holy Martyr Joseph of Damascus, whose name was Father Yusuf Muhanna al-Haddad, was a victim of the sectarian massacres that took place in Damascus on July 10, 1860. His vita, which was edited by Archimandrite Touma (Bitar) in his book Forgotten Saints in the Antiochian Heritage, states that one of his killers shouted when he saw him, "This is the imam of the Christians! If we kill him, we kill all the Christians with him!"

The killers did not know that they could not eliminate the Christians if they killed their imam. The Jews who killed Christ thought that by crucifying him they would save their nation. Their leader said, "It is better that one man should die for the people," and he was disappointed. Killing Christ did not stop Christianity from spreading to every corner of the inhabited world. If plants need water in order to grow and bear fruit, then the Church needs the blood of her martyrs in order to live, sprout, and bear fruit in the saints.

No one can accuse everyone who belongs to the killers' religion of being a partner or accomplice in the massacres Historical studies and documents prove with no room for doubt that many of the Muslims from Damascus and elsewhere, such as the Emir Abdelkader al-Jazairi, helped to save Christians fleeing from the rampaging mob and its leaders. We likewise cannot ignore the fact that some Muslims in many eras down to our present day have been victims of sectarian violence and massacres committed by Christian mobs.

For over a hundred and fifty years at the least, our countries in the Arab Middle East have been witnessed sectarian incidents, in which the extremists make history while the impact of those who call for openness, diversity and respect for the other is completely absent. In every internal crisis, the discourse of sectarian mobilization has the greatest role, which leads to the absence of the voice of reason and the domination of primitive instincts. It is well-known that reason is one of man's attributes, while man shares the instincts with other creatures that crawl upon the earth, swim in the water, and fly through the air.

The state of our country today is no different from how it has been for a long time. Those who have a say today are the extremists who do not hesitate to commit the most heinous crimes under the pretext of defending the dignity of their religion, sect or community. Nor are those who call themselves "secular" innocent of exploiting their religious affiliation in order to themselves commit sectarian massacres against those who disagree with them. All of them, without exception, resort to religious extremism, takfir, and demonization in order to tighten their grip on the country's livelihood and the necks of its people.

Joseph of Damascus is not an isolated case in the history of this region, either before or after his time. Perhaps our fate is that our innocents will pay the price of the extremists' hatred, no matter what group they belong to. Just as the killers of Joseph of Damascus were not able to eliminate his Christians, criminals will not be able to eliminate any of the country's religious groups or its diversity. But the price for remaining seems very high, as we anticipate offering other Josephs on the altar of martyrdom. Nothing will change this inevitable fate unless it is a return to the humanity within us and an end to the inhuman instincts that are empowered within some of us.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Fr Touma (Bitar): Some Words about Man... as Prayer!

Arabic original here.

Some Words about Man... as Prayer!

Life is a project of prayer. It exists for prayer. Man has no value unless he prays. Prayer is the value. In prayer, man becomes man. There is no time for it in principle, because all time is for it. Prayer is to cover all of life. Thus the saying: pray at all times, pray and do not grow weary! This is for everyone, not only for ascetics. Just as breath is for all people, so too is prayer for all people. Without breath, the body dies and without prayer the heart dies. Man is not a body, but a being in a body. The body needs air and the heart needs spirit. In the beginning, God breathed into man the breath of life and Adam became a living soul. After the resurrection, the Lord Jesus breathed upon His disciples: receive the Holy Spirit! At Pentecost, all were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Thus man grows with prayer and life is firmly rooted within him or it decreases and every day he takes a step towards the grave and so after a life without meaning comes a death without meaning. Is it not the case that being of dust cancels every other value in him? Very truly, then, man was created to pray! God, in the superabundance of His love, extended Himself in creation to man in order to allow man, to extend himself, by his "amen", in newness of  life, to God. Fathomless being calls out to fathomless being. This is the language of divine longing.

Life is a project of prayer because life in its entirety is a love story. Or we treat it as vanity, and it is not vanity, because vanity does not sprout life and life is not confirmed by vanity. Vanity, with regard to life, is from death. Love is the content of life or else there is no life. So man is prayer because he is love! And true prayer is the Holy Spirit within us because love subsists in the Holy Spirit. Love alone persists forever because God is love. Only this is the meaning. The purpose of life on earth is for man to acquire the Spirit of God!

In practice, prayer begins as an imposition, but it is completed as a state of prayer. A person prays first of all with his senses, his mind, his feeling... He acts it out, as though standing before the Lord, emulating those who have gone before. His direction of prayer is the icon. He collects himself. He departs from every fantasy. Each time he is displaced, he regains himself. This isn't easy. He practices self-control. Prayer is impossible at first without seizing oneself. This is an experience that does not depend on human conviction, but on expert experience and then on hope. Hope isn't hoping-for. We do not, by seizing the self, hope that arrive at a result that we may or may not arrive at. Hope is, in a sense, certain arrival before departure. The important thing is to proceed in certainty, self-control and persistence. We realize the importance of a new experience when we have reached the goal. Its basis is faith and trust in the Word and the Speaker. But it is difficult to practice faith and trust where there is no good model or blessed upbringing. Sometimes we practice prayer with understanding and other times we practice it without understanding. Sometimes, with something of the senses and other times, without sensation. Sometimes with joy, with a certain consolation, and other times without one or the other. Sometimes, with relaxation and other times, with toil. Sometimes, there is within us something that desires prayer and other times, there is something within us that resists prayer. Sometimes, it is with bodily movements accompanied by a sensation of prayer, and other times it is absolutely without sensation. This is how it is at the start of the path.What then? The important thing is that we pray. The important thing is that we persist in saying the prayer, in the motion of prayer. We have, in the body, an entryway to the heart and, in its time, God descends into the heart. The body is a mystery. If we seize it as something for God, even if only in form, the heart moves. The man of sin is an imitative animal. If we make him imitate what belongs to God, he opens to the Lord without know it. God is alive. No one can imitate divine things as dead ideas and motions. This is because your Lord is in His name, in every motion, image, groan of the heart and thought approaches أim, intentionally or unintentionally, with good motive or evil, in earnestness or jest. You come to Him as though He does not exist but He comes to you because He does exist. You come to Him as a joke and He comes to you with pardon, but severe and causing great pain. A saint named Porphyrius was an actor. He came to Him sarcastically, but his Lord came to him by force, startling him and seizing his guts, so he succumbed, believed and fell into great distress. The love of God in him transformed into pain and burning of the heart, so he was pleased to be martyred and so, mad with love, he overcame disbelief. The mind, in the cyclone of love, proves to be foolish. In this way, play-acting is transformed into what it represents. And in this way, the imposition of prayer grows into the heart's dwelling in the Spirit of God, miraculously... by God's grace.

In prayer, there is something like the gradual motion of the tides, perfectly governed by God's wisdom and tied to the existential state of the person praying, what is beneficial and what is not beneficial to him. It comes to a person from the frequency and regularity that he imposes on himself, as though it is from a machine,  with with a feeling that starts to grow, as though from the motion and from the outside inward. Or rather, as though from the One who moves within us, according to His disposition, holding us while we do not hold Him. We gradually become accustomed to handing over the reins of the soul to Him, soberly observing what is happening inside us and the flexibility of His approach, like someone whose desire it is to cry out with the one singing: my beloved plays his pipe and I follow him! Everything that the one praying had previously heard is one thing and what he observes along the path is something else. It is as though what he had heard or read is tossed aside apart from an itinerary with landmarks to the One who is secretly accompanying you. He looks upon you to be absent from you and He is present with you so that you do not go astray, even if you sometimes wander. There is something personal in your journey, so long as your relationship to the One coming to you remains personal. He approaches you and you are consoled by something that you do not see from where it is coming to you. Then it slips away and you thirst for it, your heart is parched and you are haunted by doubt. But you go forward with resolve. Like someone who is and is not looking for the object of his desire and who gradually learns that she is also seeking him and that he only has to wait for her in silence and steadfastness, practicing patience, far from any imagining or strange sensation that fantasy produces when the soul is hurried in seeking that which is only given at the proper time. Abiding in dryness, monotony, persistence and waiting is hard. To follow the promise, surrendering your control, relinquishing your personal initiatives, this is something new for you! For you to learn to empty yourself as though you are a newborn who knows and does not know that there is someone taking his hand, reassuring him, while the one who whispers fear stands there, encouraging you to turn back, and your senses are helpless. There is no god, says the tempter, but you, in your determination, become aware that the Comforter encourages you to proceed. Do not fear! Behold, I am with you! This strengthens and relaxes you at times. Whenever you are on the precipice of falling, He brings you back together. Whenever you are troubled and cry out, 'Save me,' He guides you. He has taken you by the hand like Peter when he was drowning. Your path, my brother, is to remain steadfast when you are in weakness and even when you are debilitated, otherwise you will not realize any progress. Prayer is for those who are always aware of their nothingness so that the power of the Most High might dwell within them. The important thing is to keep moving forward. The more you uproot from yourself, the more He takes you and makes you by grace into something you never imagined. After that, the path teaches you the path as you walk and do not walk toward the One who has known you and comes to you so that you may know Him. Do not fear and if you fear, when you start to empty yourself, as though you are no longer capable of praying, His Spirit starts to pray within you! From there you transcend fear of skin so that you may be covered by fear of the Beloved. Do not ask, "What then?" This is sufficient for you to come to Him. From there, His hook is in you.

Prayer is the antidote that heals every poison, the alchemy that transforms every metal into gold. Without it, everything turns into poison and every metal is meager. Everything that happens to you happens so that you might pray. Creation is treated as something seasoned with prayer, otherwise it spoils. In prayer there is health and without it illness. Prayer may grant you to live your entire life without getting sick and prayer may grant that your body is ill throughout your life, but your heart is hale. It is as though you are in a body that is not of the same material as the bodies of those who do not believe or as though you are in a body that, if it falls ill, divine grace settles in it, and there is nothing more glorious. Creation is a language of those who love each other or you whither and die. And creation is a temple for God to dwell in by grace. It is true that it is possible for someone to turn his back to God, but he cannot persist for long, or else he encounters injustice, murder, wantonness, and all the abominations of the earth. The heart that insists on estrangement from God seeks death, longs for death, and works for death! Prayer is the greatest of gifts because it is the greatest thing that is given to man as a creature. In prayer, your Lord wanted to give Himself, because He is the foundation of everything, otherwise there is no sense to the words of the Chosen Apostle, "Life for me is Christ and to die is gain." In prayer, we have been granted to become intimates of God. We speak to Him as a friend speaking to a friend, according to the example of Moses. Your Lord's destiny is for you to see Him face to face as He is and for you to meet Him in the throes of love, until you arrive at Him. So start it, so that you do not die of ennui.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite-- Douma, Lebanon
July 1, 2018

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Patriarch John X visits Eastern Ghouta

Arabic original, with video, here.

Patriarch John X makes a Visit inspecting Arbin and Harasta in Eastern Ghouta

To Arbin, Patriarch John X carried his shepherd's staff to inspect what had been left by terror. He carried his staff to affirm that the Christian and the Muslim are the two lungs of this Middle East, especially in this country that is a symbol of mutual brotherhood and coexistence.

Patriarch John X and the accompanying delegation started the first stops of their inspection at the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George, where he was greeted in the outer courtyard of the church by the imam of the Great Mosque in Arbin, Sheikh Ihsan al-Sayyid Hasan, town officials, and parishoners who came to witness the dawning of resurrection. There Patriarch John X said:

"The Church shall remain a witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. She shall remain steadfast in the living faith of her people. Strong winds will not be able to uproot her from this holy land.

We live in Syria as one family, Christians and Muslims. Nothing divides us. We will work hand in hand to rebuild stones and humans all at once. The strange, barbaric spirit of terrorism that destroyed these abodes is a spirit foreign to Syrian culture. It shall find no refuge in this loving country. Therefore we have come today to affirm before all that we are steadfastly remaining and tomorrow shall be better than yesterday.

Syria is a country of peace and coexistence. Syria has been and shall remain the homeland of mutual encounter. Our people are a loving, believing, honest people, who are committed to their faith and always come together in the truth."

In response, Sheikh Ihsan al-Sayyid Hasan thanked His Beatitude, stating that Christians and Muslims in Arbin are brothers and that dark clouds will not be able to sow the seeds of division and promising that life will return to the town, it will be reborn and that this rebirth is close by.

After that, His Beautitude inspected the Great Mosque in Arbin, which was completely destroyed with only the minaret left standing. Patriarch John X then headed to Harasta at the head of a church delegation to inspect the Church of the Prophet Elijah, which was completely destroyed. He regretted what had been done to it by the hand of terror and the language of destruction, which has nothing to do with religion or morals. His Beatitude affirmed, however, that in the end, everything will return-- churches, mosques and homes-- and that this return will be realized through the love and mutual support of the people of Harasta, both Christians and Muslims.

His Beatitude then inspected the tombs that had been defiled by the hand of terror. Patriarch John X likewise inspected the al-Zahra Mosque, observing the extent of the destruction to which it had been subjected.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Episcopacy and Conciliarity

This was published unsigned in al-Karma, the weekly bulletin of the Archdiocese of Tripoli. Arabic original here.

Episcopacy and Synodality

On the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul and all the Apostles, the Church celebrates an important stage of her holy life.

In Christianity, an apostle is someone whom God has entrusted with a divine message or a holy task. The Lord chose His apostles, loved them and taught them. He was a model for them in everything, so that they would become other christs, able to make apostles of all the nations, to baptize them, and to bring them to love of His commandments. The Lord entrusted them with the mystery of man's salvation, with the dogma of the kingdom of heaven. He gave them the authority to loosen and to bind, the authority to heal illnesses and expel demons, to perform the divine mysteries, and, also important, the authority to raise up successors to themselves: "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6).

The gift of apostleship that the Lord Jesus Christ established naturally had to continue after the apostles' death. It was transmitted to their successors whom they themselves chose. This is clear in the epistles of the New Testament, which talk about presbyters, bishops and shepherds, and the early Church was profoundly conscious of this reality.

In his Epistle to the Corinthians, Clement, bishop of Rome at the end of the first century, speaks clearly about how the apostles established successors for themselves to lead the Church. In Orthodoxy, the bishops are direct successors to the apostles. They are the continuation of the apostleship that our Lord chose, through whom He guides the world to the sole truth.

This is what the words of the Lord Jesus mean to them: "Behold I am with you all the days until the end of the age." He is with them through their successors the bishops. These bishops have become not only apostles of Christ, but also prophets of the new covenant. After prophecy stopped as a special gift in the Church in the early second century, the bishops of the new covenant received prophecy along with apostleship.

They are apostles who preach the good news of Jesus Christ. Their role as prophets is to declare His will for the Church and for the people of God. Thus the Church, whose head is the Lord Jesus Christ, is built "on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20). These gifts are transmitted to the priests, the bishops' assistants, through the obedience of these priests to the bishops, when this obedience does not go against the Church's faith, tradition, and canons.

Conciliarity and consultation were an attribute of the early Church of the apostles and the apostles governed the church through councils. The Apostle Paul did not make his own opinion or decision. Rather, he said that he went up to Jerusalem to present his gospel to those held in regard, lest his striving be in vain. The first apostolic Council of Jerusalem realized the perfection of the image of conciliarity for the Church. It revealed that conciliarity is part of the Church's nature. Thus over the centuries, following the model of this council, the Church had held her councils and strives to preserve the spirit of conciliarity.

Councils continued after the age of the apostles, constituting the apostolic form that expresses the gathering of the entire Church. Local and ecumenical councils were held and the bishops who gathered in them represented the people of God with whom they were entrusted. This conciliar spirit is reflected in the whole life of the Church and indeed, in the Church's very faith.

The conciliar spirit is that which allows the Church to grow freely and charismatically, without being ruled by fear of a single head that monopolizes power, who is usually himself dominated by many passions and who is unable to accept those who oppose his style and manner.

It was in this charismatic spirit of conciliarity that the holy dogmas were defined and the Church's theology developed in an upright, Orthodox manner, just as the Church's liturgical life developed in a spiritual and ascetical manner.

It was in this spirit that the canons were formulated, not to frighten the faithful but to protect their path from the weakness of nature and to ease passage to the kingdom. There is no freedom outside of conciliarity, nor is there charismatic theology outside of conciliarity, because the movement of grace is then transformed into the spirit of institutionalized worldliness in the service of the orientation of the domineering head, either fearing him or flattering him.

In true conciliarity, the one Spirit works through the gifts of the many to build up the one body of Christ. It is not possible for this Spirit to be active outside the conciliar life. For this reason, Christ said, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).

All manifestations of the life of the Orthodox Church are conciliar, from the parish to the ecumenical council. Everything that contributes to nourishing domineering individualism among the priests or bishops (or patriarchs at the level of the local church) constitutes a real danger for the entire movement of the Spirit in the holy Church. It disables the gifts of the Holy Spirit among the faithful.

When a bishop is domineering in the Church, it is evidence of the domination of the spirit of pride, of abominable egoism, and of the passion of vainglory in his soul.

Christ first taught His apostles the virtue of self-denial when they were competing for the first places and He said to them, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you" (Matthew 20:25-26).

These are the factors that led to the fall of the Church in the West and turned it from truth into a papist church, where they reduced the entire church to the person of the pope and placed him above the councils, denying the ecclesiological understanding that the Church had followed for a thousand years.

The pope became the church and when he fell with regard to the faith, the entire church over which he was head fell with him and came to be outside the body of Christ. Therefore, where there is no conciliarity, there is no Church.

In Orthodoxy, the local councils have the primary practical role in facing the contemporary challenges that never cease.

The local council of bishops works in the spirit of the holy ecumenical councils, preserving Orthodoxy in its dogmas and canons from twisted teachings and falsely-named theology.

The ecumenical councils are the highest authority in the Orthodox Church and a local council cannot contradict any of their teachings or canons.  It can only apply economy where necessary.

The other role of the local council is to teach this faith to the people of God, how to live it in the spirit of repentance, confession, living participation in the holy mysteries, and to resist the worldly spirit that is spreading in the life of the Church, destroying the spirit of piety within her.

The Church lives this conciliarity in every Eucharistic gathering and from this gathering, the Church extends the foundation of building up her conciliarity.

There, where there is confession of the one Orthodox faith, the Lord is present and the people around Him with the bishop constitute, by the power of the Holy Spirit, a Eucharistic council, in which all the ecumenical dimensions of the conciliarity of the one Church are made manifest. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Met Georges Khodr: We Are One

Arabic original here.

We Are One

It is striking about the Church that it is the only place where unbelievers gather out of desire for love, whether men or women, poor or rich, healthy or disabled, simple or great in understanding. This is because the Lord who was slaughtered for the sake of all lifts them up to the same level, the level of His love, as though He says to the downtrodden wife (and sometimes too the downtrodden husband), "If your husband only sees in you pleasure or a servant for his children and you are of no worth to him, you are My companion because from your rank came Mary, My mother and the mother of the whole world, and so too came the myrrh-bearing women, and from among your companions some have attained great holiness.

The Savior says to the poor man, "I do not make you the equal of the rich man, for I make you equal to Myself. If you have loved, have had patience, and have become a companion to the poor man of Nazareth, then no one surpasses you in glory, because you have ascended the throne of humility and there is no other throne."

The blessed Lord says to the disabled person, "You are healthy in what is deep down and capable of greatness and heart in courage and boldness. If your hands or legs are withered, there is no defect in your mind, because hatred is the only disability and the healthy might be proud, so they are the ones who immobile."

The Lord calls the simple to Himself, saying, "'Everything is heart' and your domain in Christianity is the purity, giving and understanding that God has entrusted to the heart. Very often, the lively mind is against the pure heart. The giving that Christianity knows is an overflowing of love, so if this overflowing is impossible for someone, he is nothing."

All of them head together to the holy chalice in humility. The beautiful woman knows in the presence of Jesus that her beauty is dust until she receives the Eucharist. The rich man tastes that he is poor and in need of his Lord's mercy, that he is the equal of the needy or the least of them, lest the body of Christ judge him. The healthy person sees that he is chastened, lest abundant health bring upon him the calamity of haughtiness. The intellectual is convinced that unless he places his knowledge at the feet of the Crucified, knowledge is rigid.

But after the Divine Liturgy, danger seizes us. The beautiful women leave strutting. The rich leave in splendor or feeling a heightened sense of security. The intellectuals scatter their clever words here and there, bragging and babbling. At that point, the effect of receiving is voided within us, like the dog returning to its own vomit, as the Bible says (cf. 2 Peter 2:22).

In the world where Christians live, nonsense is rampant and blindness widespread, since the healthy person does not know that he is no more glorious than the disabled person, the man does not know that he isn't anything just because he is male and that he only becomes something in Christ's headship over him, and the educated do not sense that a thimbleful of love is more valuable than a bushel of learning. If we have fallen into these abysses, then the Divine Liturgy has transformed into Byzantine chants without any content, as though Christ had not died to gather us to Himself and to unite us with each other.

The world is once more becoming a theater for demons in a Christian society. We have not brought the Church into the world in order to make it the Church and to prepare the kingdom of God in this world. The temple is not the final waystation. It is the point of departure into the world.

Why are we not a divine community within it? Why are we content to be a sect with no holy spirit in it? Love between different groups is the spirit of the enlightening elite that we call Christians.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Obedience

Arabic original here.

Obedience

There are two kinds of obedience:

The first is legal, which requires the servant to obey his teacher, the child his parents, the employee his boss, and the officer his general.

The second is spiritual. Someone defined it by saying that obedience is waiting for God. Another said that obedience is in love and love is in obedience.

This is how the Apostle Paul defined the relationship between a man and the woman joined to him in the sacrament of Christian marriage. He says in this regard, which sometimes bothers contemporary people, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church" (Ephesians 5:22-23).

The word "head" here does not indicate a higher rank. It has a functional meaning, not just a legal meaning. This is because headship, in the spiritual sense, indicates service: "Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant" (Matthew 20:26).

Obedience in the sense of service, in the sense of love-- this is what Christ embodied, as the Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Philippians says, "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8).

From another angle, in the original Greek the word for obedience, ὑπακοή is a word made from the particle ὑπο meaning 'under' and ακοή, which means 'hearing'.

What is intended here is the spiritual meaning of the word. Obedience here indicates that the person who is obedient is always under hearing the word of God, under the obedience of Christ and His words.

This attitude is expressed popularly with the expression "I hear and I obey." This is precisely what happened with the Virgin when she heard the announcement of the Angel Gabriel and said, "I am the handmaiden of the Lord. Let it be for me as you say" (Luke 1:38). This is also what happened with her when she heard the words of the shepherds, "Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).

Last but not least, obedience is tied to humility. When the abbot of a monastery asks something of a monk, the latter responds by saying, "may it be blessed." That is, that he carries it out immediately without discussion. Here again it is not an issue of servitude, nor even an issue of rules. It is an attitude of contrition in the soul, which attracts the grace of God, which sweeps the soul and the conscience.

Someone who is humble imitates Christ his Lord, who "emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant," He who "humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross," which allowed Him to die in order to "gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad" (John 11:52).

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

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Marriage

Arabic original here.

The Mystery of Marriage

Marriage is a holy mystery.

The mystery of divine love is like a channel through which passes the grace of the Holy Spirit. This grace does not eliminate a person's freedom. It works within him like potential energy that is activated through practicing the Christian life in accordance with the Gospel, causing man and woman to walk on the path that brings them to participation in the life of God.

This transformation occurs through the path of constant repentance. This transformation is activated through divine grace. This is what happened with the water and wine at Cana of Galilee.

Marriage is the mystery of the cross. It is the way of emptying the self of the ego: "Through the cross, joy came into all the world," a type of ascetic life in marriage through the spouses' connection with God. The rite of crowning is after the example of the martyrs who gave blood and received the Spirit of holiness.

The Apostle Paul says, "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:32). The husband is required to love his wife and Christ loved the Church and to sacrifice himself for her sake. The Church is nothing other than an extension of Christ's body in the world, obedience in love and love in obedience. Obedience is waiting for God. It is love. The husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the Church. He is like a servant in emptying himself, in denying himself. "Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant" (Matthew 20:26).

The union of husband and wife in Christ constitutes a little church, as in a triangle. The condition is one faith in Jesus Christ. The foundation of the family is Christ. Divorce is a grate tragedy. Divorce comes as a result of hardness of heart.

The dissolution of marriage comes as an exceptional leniency for the salvation of the human soul. The second marriage is another example of the practice of economia. Marriage is in the hands of the bishop, as with all the mysteries. The service of marriage was tied to the Divine Liturgy, with the mystery of the Eucharist. The rite of crowning came to be separated from the Eucharist because of Christians' mixing.

The purpose of the marital relationship is spiritual perfection, the holiness of the husband and wife.

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

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Met Georges Khodr: The True Prophet

Arabic original here.

The True Prophet

Today I will talk to you a little about prophecy, as we celebrate a great prophet. In the Old Covenant, this gift did did not, as most people think, exclusively mean speaking about things in the future. The prophets spoke about the times in which they lived. They spoke first of all about what God wanted to realize in His people. That is, they were God's shepherd's staff over the people. But the days to come were guaranteed in their words.

There is prophecy in the New Covenant. People think that prophecy has ended, but this is not true. The Apostle Paul mentions it as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, because even if Christ had said everything, there still must appear people who remind us of what has been said. Thus, the realization of Christ's words among sinful people in order to bring the recalcitrant back to their Lord, in the moment we are in now, in the circumstances we are going through, is not something that all people possess. There are those who teach, but do not convey the word of God with precision and power. There are those who convey God's will without being theoretical teachers. God sends His Spirit to some in the time of the New Covenant in order to strike people, to uproot evils from their souls, as was said by the tongue of Jeremiah: "I destroy and I build. I uproot and I plant."

It is the role of some strict believers in the Church to ruin the plans of others. It is not that they wish them evil, but so that sin may be destroyed and not rule over the Church. There is holy animosity, divine anger that blows like a storm. Harmful weeds must be uprooted and good plants must be planted. In the Church, there is inevitably authority. There are those who exercise godly, pure, righteous authority and there are those who wield authority over people for their own glory and do not bring them to God's glory. The great sin-- and there is no sin beyond it-- in the Church, in society, in governance, and in the world is for people to lord over other people. Therefore there must appear those who bring low the mighty from their thrones so that the humble may be elevated. This can only happen if we shout the word of God. The word of God must shake souls and bodies. It must break bones and ribs. It must put a limit to sin, lest God's name be exploited for the sake of lusts. This is the role of any prophet in the New Covenant. God is translated day after day, or else He is absent. And it is the occupation of false prophets to make God absent.

In the time of Elijah, there were prophets of Baal and Ishtar. They were Jews who were born into truth and then mixed in their minds the image of the true God with with the image of pagan gods and so the Prophet Elijah fought them. Perhaps deep down the idea is that Elijah put an end to idolatry, and every sin is the worship of an idol. And so John the Baptist was necessary. The Evangelist Luke says that John the Baptist came "with the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17). It was necessary for John to tell Herod that he had transgressed the Law. John knew that it was dangerous to contradict kings. He knew that speaking the truth could lead to being slaughtered, but he was not afraid of anything. He preferred death to keeping silent about sin. There is expiation in Christianity. Not expiation for people's sins that have been hidden, but for their sins have have been declared.

How do we know how to distinguish between righteous prophets and false prophets? How do we know that Elijah was a prophet of God and that the others were prophets of demons? Elijah gave the criterion when he said, "Living is the God before whom I stand" (1 Kings 18:15). That is, if you always see God in the face of Jesus Christ, if your hand does not touch money, if your heart does not beat for authority, if you see God's light before you, then you are a true prophet. Otherwise, you are covering your demon in God's name, you are sanctifying your lusts, you are calling imperiousness obedience, you are calling prudery chastity... In this way, the true prophet is distinguished from the false prophet. The true prophet is poor and does not lord over people... In the end, we have not known prophecy except on the cross. When the Savior was slaughtered, the Word of God was announced, speaking in humankind. It went with love. Those who love are the prophets.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Fr Touma (Bitar): The Forgotten Axiom

Arabic original here.

The Forgotten Axiom: Life Has Become Incarnational!

In the divine incarnation, everything in creation has changed! It has come to swim in God's light (as St Gregory Palamas says). On the surface, to eyes that do not see with faith in the Son of God, creation is still as it was, as though the Son of God did not become human. Corrupt nature, dying in sin and the Fall, has been colonized by God's grace. It has been renewed from above! Man no longer belongs to the earth's crust, as in the beginning-- "you are from dust and to dust you return"-- but rather the earth's crust has, through the Spirit of God, come to belong to Adam, the new man. As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. The healing of the earth has been activated through faith in the Son of God, through love, so rejoice or make an excuse of man's gratitude and wither and die in sin. Not only man has become a temple of the Spirit of the Lord, but also by extension the earth because it is His garment. God's sacramentality has enveloped it. On Tabor, Jesus' garments became white like light. The sacrament is God's invisible presence in visible and tangible things. Creation has become an extension of the body of Christ the Lord. It was enough for the woman with an issue of blood to touch the edge of the Lord's garment in order to be healed. Christ has put on all creation as a garment! Everything in it has become an icon of Him. Thus humanity must deal with creation in all its details apart from sin, or else creation will rebel against the old man and eliminate him as an earnest to the new man. He comes to his senses and repents or his futility brings him annihilation.

Before the incarnation, we ate and drank-- and bread is a symbol of creation-- in order to meet the needs of the flesh. This, in light of the above, is no longer the case. It is still the case for those who do not know. But for those who are numbered among those who know, if they were to place the scope of fleshly things outside the scope of divine things, they would find themselves in heresy! Anyone who treats the historical Jesus separates--even in theory-- from the Son of God falls into 'moral Nestorianism' and has thus effectively denied-- not necessarily in words-- the fact of the incarnation, that God united with man once and for all and heaven is on earth, that Mary became the Mother of God, and that God became man so that man may become god! In the language of bread, this means that before the incarnation, as we said, we ate to met the needs of the body, but after the incarnation it is now to meet the needs of the soul for the Spirit in the body. Whether we eat or not and how much we eat is taken for granted and is not the topic under examination, nor even is the question of what we eat. The object under examination is: why do we eat? And how do we eat? Man's life is not from food. Man, as man, does not increase if he eats more and does not diminish if he eats less. Of course, hunger destroys man's life, but so does gluttony! Total health, including the health of the body, does not come from an obsession for balanced food, as modern nutritional science imagines. Rather, it is from the presence and activity of the Spirit of God in one's heart! Someone who is preoccupied with the health of the body is someone who is ailing, no matter how calculated his diet. The health of the body fundamentally depends on the well-being of the entire entity and not the other way around, taking into account the limits of extremism, of course. Contrary to what we imagine, asceticism in moderation is the best regime for both the soul and the body. But asceticism, generally speaking, is not defined according to rigid rules, but rather according to a firm intention to keep God's commandments and to proceed under the supervision of those who are experienced.

We say, after the incarnation, that "the flesh is of no use. The Spirit is what gives life."  It is not that the flesh has no value. The flesh, as flesh, is for sanctification! But focusing on what belongs to the flesh-- or, one could say "fleshly things"-- is of no use. The new rule in dealing with what pertains to the body is exemplified in the divine commandment: "Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’... But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:31, 33). Of old, a person had to labor in the body in order to eat his bread. After the incarnation, he has to labor in his entirety for the sake of the kingdom-- that is, to keep the commandment-- in order to eat his bread. It is not that idleness has become acceptable. Hard work remains, including hard work of the body. But we now toil to receive the Spirit! We now reach for what is more sublime that fleshly things: heavenly things. "Give blood and receive spirit!" In this framework, obtaining bread is no longer a concern, nor is it a goal in itself. The new man now toils first of all to eat heavenly manna. What's more, bread on the earthly table has become a vehicle to bread on the heavenly table. Your Lord, in your bread, takes care of you. His motto is: I want you to be without care. This, within the framework of your effort to keep the divine commandment. "The eyes of all place their hope in You and You give them their food in its time." The least faith, in keeping the commandment, is for you to toil to obtain your bread and the bread of those who are unable to obtain it for themselves. The greatest is for you to empty yourself in order to obtain the heavenly manna. At that point, your Lord will take care of you directly, even in that which pertains to your bread, without any toil in it, since He sends it to you from His heavenly storehouses.

In light of the above, looking at the affairs of this life comes to be from a comprehensive theanthropic perspective. I deal with everything, but in Christ, because "Life for me is Christ, and to die gain." "In Christ," an expression that means that my concern for something, whatever it may be, is from the perspective that everything is from Him and in Him and by Him and for Him! "From Him," because it is nothing outside God's purpose and providence. "In Him," because it is nothing in itself, but rather in Him. He is the foundation of everything. He is the health of the health of body and soul. He is the mind of the mind. He is the knowledge of knowledge. He is the Spirit and Word of everything. He is the foundation of existence! Without Him, everything is nothing. "By Him," because by Him and Him alone "we live and move and have our being." He is the driving vitality that moves everything in this direction or that. Nothing in creation moves in a brute manner. Everything proceeds by your Lord's decree, or else creatures knock each other without standing still. "For Him," because He, the Lord's Christ, is the purpose of everything! Everything is unto Him, for His sake, that which was and is and shall be, consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally. Even evil things and those who have been led astray serve His purposes without know it! Everything, no matter how distant or estranged from Him, is turned in Him and to Him. The mystery of the resurrection is in the cross. Everything, no matter what, works together for the good of those who love God. Everything is arranged by the Spirit of God. There is no detail, no matter how trivial, that does not have its meaning, value and place in God's plan for the salvation of humanity. Every crisis comes from resisting God's purpose. Every complication, all pain, all suffering. God only permits suffering in order to soften the hardness of the soul, as fire softens iron. Last is the total remedy. This is correction from the right hand of the Most High. Every correction in love is for edification and building up. There are no problems whose roots are not in the heart. So long as the heart is not corrected, intention purified, and deep purpose within a person made upright, then no problem-- not a one-- will be solved or disappear. Instead, it will become a source for countless problems! One's problems do not stop piling up, so long as one remains alien to the sphere of his God's purposes, so that they may be completely resolved.

And so, in the incarnation we deal with the Spirit of God and His Christ in everything or we deal with emptiness, nothingness, and flight... until death. The Holy Trinity, in the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, has taken us on and dwelt among us. We are no longer in a creation held captive by death! We are now in a creation in which God settles as Trinity. In Him we proceed from light to light, from day to day, until the Father is in us, all in all. We no longer abide in what is created, but rather in the uncreated abiding in the created. We here are in Him! We are in the Godhead! The theologian [lahuti, derived from the Arabic word for Godhead, lahut, so literally 'a person of the Godhead'], in all simplicity, directness, and spontaneity is one who deals with the Godhead in creation, in all its details. There is no longer anything closer to us than the Godhead! The theologian is one who loves, who prays, who eats in supplication, who is occupied as for God, who accepts everything, who does not grumble about anything, who gives thanks for everything, who is satisfied with everything, who uses everything in chastity of heart and does not let anything other than his Lord rule over his heart. He receives as though nothing belongs to him and gives as though everything he has belongs to others. He is one who behaves as a poor person in what pertains to this world and is one who realizes, in the conviction of his soul, that he has everything from his Lord. This and incomparably more! He knows in his depths that the one he seeks is none other than Christ, who Himself was earnest in seeking him. Thus, in the incarnation, we now swim in the Godhead. Here and now and in every place and moment, we are "in the Holy Spirit," as Saint Seraphim of Sarov put it to Motovilov. Theology [lahut, i.e., the same word as 'divnity' or 'Godhead'], as a system of study, is not the divinity, as a spiritual approach to life. The former has no value in itself, but rather is derived from the latter for apologetic and educational purposes. In a time of rationalism, if one takes an interest in studying theology without acting according to the Godhead, this is an indicator of decadence supported by the power of study, research, and intellectual scrutiny. Where the study of theology is in isolation, separated from piety and the fear of God, it is a source of heresies and all abuses. Who was a theologian for Saint Athanasius the Great? Saint Anthony the Great! Who do you see who has surpassed Anthony in knowledge of the Godhead? The shoemaker of Alexandria! Theologians are rare in the world today, while theology courses abound. Diplomas, diplomas, diplomas of paper, while the Church only lives in the testimony [shahada, the same word as 'diploma'] of tears, of love, of prayer and of blood. Who do you think still wants to toil in keeping the commandment in order to become a theologian? It is easier to employ the mind. Most seek to become teachers of theology and very few become disciples of knowledge of the Godhead in the flesh. The reason: rarely do we find one who seeks to be changed in the Spirit! Theological knowledge, for the most part, is dealt with in the service of delusion!

But there remain witnesses to God as a "sign which will be resisted" (Luke 2:34). A little flock. But, "do not fear, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom." We talk about the Lord as though He has become incarnate, and we behave towards Him as though He has not become incarnate! This is because we do not want God's grace to settle within us. Woe is me! My body has become flesh (as the Triodion says). We insist on remaining in our old ways. But the powers of rational intellect and surrender to the mastery of the machine bring us to the abyss. Neither the state of animals nor the state of beasts is the limit of humanity's course. But indeed, total spiritual inability. The language of the zeitgeist is rationalism and the sorcery of rationalism is the allure of the machine. The machine, in the name of modernity and relinquishment, has emptied man of his vital powers and he seeks nihilistic comfort. This is the trajectory of materialistic civilization: from the spirit of existence to the spirit of nothingness. Thus it represents a total relinquishment of the incarnation, in which the Son of God came to bring man from nothingness to eternal life.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite-- Douma, Lebanon
June 17, 2018

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Holy Synod of Antioch on Avoiding Schism through Unanimity

Given the recent round of reactions from throughout the Orthodox world to efforts to have the Ecumenical Patriarchate recognize schismatic groups in Ukraine as an autocephalous church, the following passage from the (never-translated) communique issued by the Holy Synod of Antioch on April 30 of this year is of interest. This translation is, of course, unofficial:


The fathers of the synod examined developments occurring in the Orthodox world, where ethnic and nationalist disputes and conflicts are being inflamed and efforts are being made to change the boundaries of patriarchates and autocephalous churches, something that the Church of Antioch experienced and continues to suffer from, on account of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's violation of her canonical borders and the establishment of a so-called "diocese" for it in Qatar. In this context, she calls for a return to the principle of the unanimity of the autocephalous churches in taking critical decisions. It is a principle that has long helped the Orthodox world to avoid further fragmentation and schisms.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Orthodox Patriarchs and Pope Francis make and Appeal for Peace

This is the English text provided by the Patriarchate of Antioch, from here.

Published below is the text of the peacemaking appeal, which was agreed upon during a telephone conversation between Pope Francis of Rome and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia on April 14, 2018.

The text was signed by His Beatitude Pope and Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria and All Africa, His Beatitude Patriarch John X of the Great Antioch and All the East, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos of the Holy City of Jerusalem and All Palestine, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, His Holiness Tawadros II the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark in All Africa and the Middle East, and His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch and All the East.

Joint Statement

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God (Mt 5:9)


Impelled by a sense of responsibility for the millions of Christians that God has entrusted to our spiritual care and for the wellbeing of the entire human family, which shares a common destiny, we join together to speak out at this time of heightened international tension.

The ongoing hostilities in the Middle East, which in recent years have brought immense suffering, claimed the lives of many thousands of people and caused the flight of millions of refugees, now threaten to turn into a global conflict.

Our world has reached a point where there is a real danger of a breakdown in international relations and cooperation for the common good of the human family.

Clearly, the horrors of the world wars of the last century can hardly be compared with the dire consequences of a world war at the present time.

In the face of this terrible threat, we appeal to all world leaders to recognize their responsibility before their respective nations, before mankind and before God.

We likewise appeal to the countries of the United Nations, and particularly members of the Security Council, to recall their duties towards the family of nations, and we implore them, in the name of God, to overcome their disagreements and to work together for peace in the world.

Together we call upon the political leaders to avoid a further escalation of tensions, to eschew confrontation and to embrace dialogue.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Orthodox, Catholic Patriarchs of Antioch Condemn the Attack on Syria

This is the official English version of the statement, available here.

God is with us; Understand all ye nations and submit yourselves!

We, the Patriarchs: John X, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East; Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East; and Joseph Absi, Melkite-Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, condemn and denounce the brutal aggression that took place this morning against our precious country Syria by the USA, France and the UK, under the allegations that the Syrian government used chemical weapons. We raise our voices to affirm the following:

1. The brutal aggression is a clear violation of the international laws and the UN Charter, because it is an unjustified assault on a sovereign country, a member of the UN.

2. It causes us great pain that this assault comes from powerful countries to which Syria did not cause any harm in any way.

3. The allegations of the USA and other countries that the Syrian army is using chemical weapons and that Syria is a country that owns and uses this kind of weapon, is a claim that is unjustified and unsupported by sufficient and clear evidence.

4. The timing of this unjustified aggression against Syria, when the independent International Commission for Inquiry was about to start its work in Syria, undermines the work of this commission.

5. This brutal aggression destroys the chances for a peaceful political solution and leads to escalation and more complications.

6. This unjust aggression encourages the terrorist organizations and gives them momentum to continue their terrorism.

7. We call upon the Security Council of the United Nations to play its natural role in bringing peace rather than contribute to escalation of wars.

8. We call upon all churches in the countries that participated in the aggression, to fulfill their Christian duties, according to the teachings of the Gospel, and condemn this aggression and call to their governments to commit the protection of international peace.

9. We salute the courage, heroism, and sacrifices of the Syrian Arab Army which courageously protects Syria and provides security for its people. We pray for the souls of the martyrs and the recovery of the wounded. We are confident that the army will not bow before the external or internal terrorist aggressions; they will continue to fight courageously against terrorism until every inch of the Syrian land is cleansed from terrorism. We, likewise, commend the brave stand of countries which are friendly to Syria and its people.

We offer our prayers for the safety, victory and deliverance of Syria from all kinds of wars and terrorism. We also pray for peace in Syria and throughout the world, and call for strengthening the efforts of the national reconciliation for the sake of protecting the country and preserving the dignity of all Syrians.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Patriarch John X Deplores American Threats against Syria

Arabic original here. This is an unofficial translation.


Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East:

We condemn America's recent statements and threats against Syria which are based on mere unsubstantiated allegations of the use of prohibited weapons. We deplore any potential American aggression against our people, which will bring more destruction to the country and the region.

April 12, 2018



See also this more recent statement here.

Fr Georges Massouh: The Holy Light and the True Miracle

Arabic original, first published on April 18, 2010, here.

The Holy Light and the True Miracle

When the Pharisees asked Christ the Lord to perform a miracle in front of them, He answered them rebukingly, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:39-41). In this response of His, Christ meant to indicate the prophecies pertaining to His resurrection from the dead after His crucifixion and burial. We find an echo of this rebuke in what the Apostle Paul wrote in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, "Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). Here the Apostle chastises those who still, after Christ's resurrection, ask for a miracle, a sign, or a word of wisdom. The resurrection is the miracle of miracles. It is not in need of additional proofs so that people might believe in it, especially after the multiple testimonies transmitted by witnesses of the resurrection that are found in the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles.

Nevertheless, some people are still waiting for an inevitable "miracle" to occur, as the believe, every year on Holy Saturday right before Pascha. On the morning of that Saturday, the Orthodox patriarch enters into the Holy Sepulcher, where the candles that he is holding light spontaneously, in a "miraculous" way. Those who believe in this miraculous phenomenon, the "Holy Light", resort to attempting to prove the historicity of this miracle by taking it back to the first Christian century, but the proofs that they rely on are weak and borrowed from secondary sources. Either they lack objectivity or they cite texts whose meaning is not clear or which do not confirm the miracle, as in the diary attributed to the pilgrim Egeria during her travels in Palestine.

This phenomenon has become prevalent in Lebanon recently and a crowd of people eagerly awaits it. What we fear in this context is that this acceptance has become popular amidst the growth of popular religion at the expense of theology and correct ecclesial thinking. By popular religion, what we mean is religion that stirs people's feelings with sensual and exotic things that have the feel of magic and often rouse buried impulses. We also fear that the phenomenon of the Holy Light might be placed within the framework of confirming religious identity by reassuring those who believe in the truth of their faith, their superiority over everyone in other churches, the validity of their timing of Pascha and the error of the rest of the Christians, something that strengthens feelings of superiority and arrogance. "Know O you nations and be defeated, for God is with us!", with the decisive proof shining forth from the Holy Sepulchre!

On the other hand, those who believe in this "miracle" forget that God is not the god of a tribe and that He has proven false the belief that He is the god of one nation and not of others. They forget that this "miracle" legitimizes a patriarchal leadership in the hands of a junta of Greek nationalists who exclude Arabs, the people of Palestine, from church leadership. How can God leave  Jewish exclusivism only to enter into Greek exclusivism? That the Holy Light only descends on the Greek patriarch and not other patriarchs, as the Greeks claim, limits God's activity in the universe to them. Is this our holy, living God?

At a time when Arab Christians in Palestine are suffering from the impact of the Israeli occupation and from emigration that has reached the point of the ctotal elimination of their presence in the land of their fathers and forefathers, we find ourselves supplicating God to send down to them what will benefit them and to establish them where they were born, spent their youth and middle age, and grew old. What use is the Holy Light if the land of Christ is emptied of those who believe in Him? Did Jesus not have pity on the widow of Nain and raise her only son from the dead, bringing life back to her? If we want a miracle that truly bears fruit, let us implore Him to raise the victims of the occupation from the dead, especially the children, so that they may bear stones to pelt the army of occupation, that the shameful wall separating members of  the same family may collapse, that He may bring life back to the olive and orange trees that the soldiers cut down, that Palestine may return to her children.

Some people busy themselves with things that don't deserve attention. "Martha, Martha, you worry about many things but one thing is needful." The one thing needful is man. Everything apart from that is vain. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Met Georges Khodr's Eulogy for Fr Georges Massouh

Arabic original here. A video of it is available here.


The eulogy of Met Georges Khodr at the funeral for Fr Georges Massouh on Monday, March 26, 2018 at the Church of Saint George in Aley, Lebanon

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

O tiller of the earth!

This is what the name "Georges" means in Greek.

You cultivated this vineyard of Christ in this town and elsewhere and you were faithful to the inheritance that you received from the saints, and you only knew the saints.


We brought you to this good parish so that you might cultivate it and you did. You walked before them, as sheep blessing Christ the Lord. You walked before them in righteousness. This is the life of a priest, to be righteous first of all and then after that to serve and chant and so forth.

But the fundamental task is to be righteous and pure for Jesus Christ.

You were righteous and the many discussions we had, you and I, focused only on righteousness, on the purity with which we pastors must be garbed and which we must give to the faithful. We both understood this, until the blessed Lord allowed you to be brought to Him. This is His will. May His will be blessed.

Go then and pray there above, where you watch over us, along with the angels.

Go and tell the Lord: those over whom I was entrusted, I tried to raise, for them to be Yours and for You to know if they are Yours.

Our task, O Georges, is to be a flock of Christ's. He knows if we attain this or not. But we will also try to imitate you, so may the priests and laypeople all know that you were a leader on this good journey in the Holy Spirit and that you brought us to the port, to the good haven after you nourished us with things divine.

You are above!

We are here!

Remember us because we are weak.

Remember us, until God removes each one of us from this earth on the day of His choosing.

Georges Massouh is a rare man!

You think that you are sitting with a human like yourself, then you see yourself sitting with an angel in the flesh.

Georges Massouh soared in heaven, in the presence of God constantly, by the power of the blessings that he received from this anointment [misha, a play on the name Massouh]. He lived by the holy anointment.  He went with us behind him, following him in his virtues and trying to get him to stay here with his virtues.

He went, leaving us a great inheritance, with his good example, so that we may not fall behind or grow weary, so that we may be patient and walk behind the saints.

May God alone be in all of this, as He supports you all, as you are with each other on the journey to God's face.

May God be with you in your holy experience, as all of us together pray that the Lord God may accept the priest Georges Massouh in His greatness, His righteousness and His holiness.

May God be with him and with us unto the ages. Amen.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Fr Georges Massouh (1962-2018): Memory Eternal!

Fr Georges Massouh, professor of Islamic Studies at Balamand University and parish priest in Aley, Lebanon fell asleep in the Lord early this morning. He is survived by his wife and three daughters. May his memory be eternal!

Christ is risen!
Indeed He is risen!


An archive of his writings that I've translated over the years can be found here. Below I'm re-posting an essay of his from 2017, Love is Stronger than Death.

Arabic original here.

Love is Stronger than Death

He who loves God sacrifices his entire life, consecrating it to Him. He who loves God strives to constantly abide with Him. He who loves God loves life and does not seek his own death or attempt to hasten it. But he must accept death one day because man cannot live forever. Death becomes for him a transition from life to life. Life on earth becomes a passage to where there is true life. Life on earth becomes a short time in which one is prepared at every moment to face his inevitable destiny. The best preparation is repentance and love for one's neighbor, without which one cannot love God.

It is true that death entered human nature as a punishment from God because of man's fall into sin, but it still contradicts this nature that inclines toward life. So God gave man a covenant and a promise that man would live forever, if he so desired for himself. This human will, whose possessor must refine it so that it will draw closer to God's will, is what made this possible. This correspondence between the two wills, resulting from man's free will, is what makes the encounter between God and man an encounter between lovers who cannot bear to wait for each other.

In this context, we will cite the words of Simeon when he the forty-day old child Jesus in his arms, when Joseph and Mary brought Him to the temple and the Holy Spirit inspired him that he would not taste death before seeing the Lord's Messiah. Simeon said, "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:29-30).

When Simeon saw Jesus, the Savior, the Messiah he had been promised, he became ready to depart for the next life with great joy. He who loves Jesus does not fear death. In the holy martyrs, we have the best examples of this. Their love for Him made them brave enough to face death with great steadfastness and hope. Their love for Him caused them to not betray His Gospel and His teachings. They did not abandon their principles for the sake of this fleeting life, but rather accepted to abandon this fleeting life even if it cost them their life.

The Islamic tradition also takes this approach. There is a story of the Prophet Ibrahim al-Khalil not mentioned in the Torah that is given by al-Ghazali in his Ihya Ulum al-Din in the chapter "On the Servant's Love for God" which goes as follows: 

Ibrahim (peace be upon him) said to the Angel of Death when he came to him to take his soul, "Have you seen a friend kill his friend?"

God (may He be exalted) inspired [the angel] to say, "Have you seen a lover hate his beloved?"

So Ibrahim said, "O Angel of Death, take me now."

We find a similar saying from the famous sufi Sufyan al-Thawri: "Only the doubter hates death, because in no case does the beloved hate to meet his lover."

The struggle between life and death continues and it will go on so long as this world exists. But life is stronger than death because love is stronger than it. Let us love man and sacrifice ourselves for his sake because whether we are believers, atheists or agnostics, in this way, knowing or unknowing, we are loving God.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Theosis

Arabic original here.

Theosis

The purpose of the Christian's life on earth is theosis.

Theosis is our participation in the very life of God. This is accomplished through the divine grace that is active within us after we are purified from passions and lusts: "those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24). According to Saint Maximus the Confessor, God made us in order for us to become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). The sin of contemporary man is that he wants to be self-sufficient without any relationship with God his creator. In the end, this constitutes his real death. Here we recall the words of Saint Irenaeus, "God became man so that man might become a god" (through the uncreated divine grace).

This patristic issue stands against the challenges of rationalist thought. The true challenge lies in the Christian experience that desires a true renewal of man from within. Of course, man's participation in the life of God is possible for human creation. But this human mind, with the struggles of body and soul, is closely linked to the work of divine grace. This leads to the descent of the mind into the heart and to the enlightenment of the mind and the heart through prayer and fasting. That is, through the uncreated divine energies.

This communion with God through divine grace-- that is, theosis-- preserves God's absolute transcendence, something that is called apophatic theology. When we say that God is good, merciful, just... this does not reveal God's true nature. That is, His essence. Rather, it expresses what is around this nature and the positive attributes that come forth from it, in which man participates, but it does not touch upon God's ineffable essence. Participation in what comes forth from God is possible, but God's essence or His true nature completely transcends our perception: this is apophatic truth.

This explanation does not quench the thirst of the human soul that longs for God. It is merely an intellectual preamble, encouragement for the practice of the ascetic spiritual life in this blessed Lenten season, that we may touch God's hand in our life and have a foretaste of the joy of the kingdom.

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

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Met Georges Khodr Resigns as Metropolitan of Mount Lebanon

This translation is unofficial.




Statement issued from the Antiochian Orthodox Media Center
In the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East
Balamand, March 3, 2018

His Beatitude Patriarch John X honored His Eminence Metropolitan Georges Khodr, Metropolitan of Jbeil, Batroun and their Dependencies at the metropolitan's residence in Broumana on March 3, 2018, bestowing him with the Order of Saints Peter and Paul with the rank of great commander (the highest honor in the Patriarchate of Antioch, in appreciation for the great efforts that he made in service of the aforementioned archdiocese and the Church in general for nearly half a century. This honor came after Metropolitan Georges offered his letter of resignation from his responsibilities and his resignation from his responsibilities as metropolitan of the archdiocese. Consequently, His Beatitude will appoint a patriarchal vicar in accordance with ecclesiastical and canonical principles.





Met Georges Khodr on St Gregory Palamas

Arabic original here.

The Divine Light

The fast becomes more severe and we try to mobilize for Christ as though we are crucified with Him. Because of this suffering, the Church increasingly mentions light in our prayers. The word "light" appears frequently during this period. Next Sunday, we venerate the Holy Cross and we offer flowers which say that we rejoice in the cross. For us, adversity is a path to triumph, not as it is known among the people of the world, in pressure and fear, but rather it is the triumph of the humble who have known the path of Christ.

Today, the second Sunday of the fast, because of long debates that took place in the fourteenth century about the place of the divine light, the Holy Church commemorates Saint Gregory Palamas, bishop of Thessalonica.

Gregory was a monk on Mount Athos when a person called Barlaam came from Italy, saying that divine grace is something created. Gregory answered him and said that divine grace is from God Himself and so is uncreated and eternal. The conflict intensified until the Church was forced to hold great councils that are known under the name of Saint Gregory Palamas because they revealed and confirmed his teaching.

Why was this conflict intense? Why was it important? And why did the Church take this position? It is because each of us must receive all of God in himself. God is not only in heaven. All of God is within you, in your heart. He comes down completely into you and this is the meaning of the teaching of Saint Gregory Palamas, whom we commemorate today.

Therefore let us not think that we are only earthly. Rather, from this moment we are heavenly because God dwells within us and makes of our hearts and our souls a divine spirit. Do we appreciate this or do we know ourselves only as creatures of dust? We are all creatures of dust, since God formed us from this earth, but in Christ we have become heavenly. There are dark things within us, but if the grace of Christ comes, it dispels the darkness, forgives sin, and shapes us, not with dust and water, but with light.

This is something very great, which we do not seem to appreciate and we do not seem to perceive. Each of us defines himself as being of flesh and blood and in this way gives himself an excuse to do whatever he likes, while if he were to say, "I am of light. I came from God and I go to God. I am nominated to be a god, as the Bible says," this person would not give himself an excuse, but rather would be demanding with himself, taking account of himself every day in order to be in the image of God.

Our task is not to be good people who don't go to jail. This is the least that is demanded, that one must keep the commandments and not steal, not commit adultery, etc. But one is required to reach higher, to the ceiling, or if there is no ceiling above him, to draw near to heaven, by which he becomes a son of God. You are children of God, just as the Lord was a Son of God from eternity, in his essential nature. Thus He invites us, through good works, upright faith and constant purification, to become, like Him, participants in the divine nature.

This is something unique to Christianity, that we do not remain distant from God, but rather are brought near to God's heart and remain there, within the Lord. Thus, as we move from Sunday to Sunday in this blessed fast, from mention of light to mention of light, from transformation to transformation, we know that we are carried upon divine light to divine light.