Sunday, August 12, 2018

Fr Touma (Bitar) on Chastity and Love

Arabic original here.

Chastity and Love

Why chastity? The fathers say that there is no virtue without it. It is the mother of virtues! This is the experience of the Church. But first, before we go on to discuss it, what is chastity? Is it that someone is not married? Or that he doesn't have sex? Not at all. Even Saint Basil the Great said that although he had never known a woman, he was not chaste. It is possible for a man to know his wife and remain chaste, just as it is possible for someone not to have sex and not be chaste. So chastity does not exclusively mean refraining from sex. The scope of one is not the scope of the other. It is possible for both to be practiced and for neither to be practiced. The role of chastity in the life of the believer is not the role of sex. Sex, in Christ, is for reproduction within the framework of blessed marriage and love. I say "love" after marriage or in marriage because what is known as "love" before marriage might be nothing but illusions, sentiments and feelings. What I mean by "love", particularly in marriage, is existential love, love as a communion of life, putting into action God's saying, "and the two become one flesh."

This is with regard to sex. But with regard to chastity, the purpose of chastity is virtue-- every virtue. If we speak of a virtue, we speak of love. Every virtue's purpose is love, otherwise it is not a virtue and it has no Christian value. For this reason, the Apostle Paul defined the purpose of the divine commandment for his disciple Timothy when he said, "Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith" (1 Timothy 1:5). Thus chastity is for love and there is no love without chastity!

If one wants to take a closer look at the profound relationship between chastity and love, he finds himself from the first moment confronted with a dilemma. Why? Because as we encounter love as a positive gift, we encounter chastity as a negative gift. So how can something positive emerge from something negative? To be chaste means to refrain from something, while to love is to draw near to an existential encounter on the level of the heart, seeking visceral unity between man and God and between man and his neighbor as a result of that, then finally between the individual man and all humanity. In love there is initiative, effort, giving and persistence in that orientation, no matter how much one wavers between success and failure. You have an expression like this about love coming spontaneously from the Apostle Paul to the Philippians in his epistle to them, "I have you in my heart... you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection [the Arabic a7sha' here mirrors the Greek ἐν σπλάγχνοις, literally meaning 'in the inner parts' or 'the viscera'] of Jesus Christ..." (Philippians 1:7-8).

This definition of love, especially pertaining to the visceral affection of Jesus Christ, makes love spring forth from the innermost parts of the incarnate Son of God! So it is God's very own love that He pours out upon us. The innermost parts are at once the home of God's love and His life. So in Jesus Christ God gives us His love so that we may love with it and live in Him. Only His love within us makes our love for Him possible. Otherwise, there is no possibility of us having a relationship with Him. There can fundamentally be no relationship unless it is a relationship of love. The relationship cannot be a reaction. Reaction, in practice, does not constitute a relationship. In the relationship, there is consciousness, initiative, interaction, positivity and existential encounter-- and thus love! And God alone is love. So God alone is aware, takes the initiative and reaches out in the motion of love. If He created us to be in a relationship with Him, this is only possible once love abides in us. He gives us what is His. God is love, so He is a Trinity. The Trinity is perfect, unique love, beyond perfection and uniqueness. The love that exists in the Trinity is itself God's gift, so that we may have not only a relationship with Him, but a relationship according to the model of the Trinity among us. This gift is free. It is not from us, but from Him! Thus, the love of which we speak is not from chastity, but from God, while chastity eliminates what impedes the activity of God's love within us and prepares us for Him. What impedes this activity of love? Our love for ourselves. Our self-worship. This is the world's sin. And so to acquire love, one must die to himself, cause himself to perish, according to the biblical expression. That is, he must escape from the self or, one might say, from self-love, in order to be prepared for God's gift to him-- that is, God's love-- to be active in him, in order for one to be able to love. Otherwise, he cannot love, no matter what he does. This death to the self while seeking love, is precisely chastity and that which is realized by chastity. This is why we said that chastity is for love and there is no love without chastity.

Every person is, in his estrangement from God, full of himself. That's his state. He wants everything for himself. Automatically. Individually and collectively. This is what we call "the fall" and this is what the Book of Genesis expresses when it says, "The Lord said in His heart...'the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth'" (Genesis 8:21). This is a statement of reality. It not only indicates that there was a time when man was not like that, but it also indicates an inherited inclination toward evil with him that precedes consciousness. Otherwise, the world would not have been held captive by sin, evil and death. As soon as a person comes to awareness as a child, you find him becoming self-centered. This appears at first glance to be something natural and expected. We have often heard that a person starts out not distinguishing himself from his surroundings. Then when he becomes conscious of himself, distinguishing himself from his world, he starts to discover himself and then to discover his world and to interact with it. The popular conception is that consciousness implies the child's seeking everything for himself, as though this is the way of nature and as though by this he discovers himself. There is in fact an ambiguity in this conception. There is a need for distinguishing between the ego, the identity of the self, the "I, I, I" and the egotism that is a person's seeking everything for himself, the "mine, mine, mine." At this point of consciousness, I mean the child's first consciousness, egotism is hidden in the ego. If it is left to its own devices and those caring for the child, especially the mother, do not reign it in consciously and wisely within the framework of an early Christian upbringing, then this egotism will find for itself a nurturing environment that will cause it to grow and become by extension not only identical to the person's ego, but also it's driving force!

At that point, one's identity becomes equivalent to what he has, what he acquires. At that point, a person is compared to what he acquires. He is turned into an object! Then free reign is given to the passions hidden within him. He is transformed into an outburst of passions and he loses his identity, as though he were an instrument of passions. In this way one is proven to be not only a sinner, but evil from his conception. When sin is not accidental-- that is, unintentional-- there is no longer any distinction between it and evil. Sin explodes into evil and wickedness according to the circumstances. It is not, then, that a child is born evil, but rather that feeding his selfishness without any supervision or control, as though those around him were expressing their love for him by doing this, not realizing the severity of the harm they are causing him--- I say that feeding the child's selfishness in this manner raises him for brutishness-- that is, for persistence in self-love that, when the occasion arises, produces a brutality towards others, since it diminishes sensitivity to the other and what he suffers, which prepares him to commit every sort of evil.

In Christian terms, upbringing-- let's call it from the start "upbringing in chastity"-- actually starts from the womb [7asha- the same word that translates σπλάγχνον]. And so it does not first of all concern the fetus, but rather the father and the mother-- and especially the mother! The womb was, of old, polluted. Thus the repentance of David. He realized that "in sin did my mother conceive me." He longed from afar for the innermost parts of Christ the Lord. After Christ the Lord came from the virginal womb, we stand before a different horizon. We have come to talk about longing for others with the innermost affection of Christ (cf. Philippians 1:8), the innermost affection of the saints (cf. Philippians 8), and of brothers as innermost parts (cf. Philemon 12). And so, if we realize that Christ came to save sinners of whom I am first, then we also realize that our fundamental task is to acquire the innermost affection of Jesus Christ and that sin, after knowing Christ, can only appropriately be accidental, inadvertent or unintentional.

A woman guards her womb-- that is, her chastity-- first of all for the love of God and then for the future child, as though he is her womb. For his sake, not for her own sake. Only, at that time, what she does she does for God. Here the man is included in the woman. She is the womb par excellence. The way she is supposed to be is the way he is also supposed to be. This principled position is drawn from a new reality, that after being baptized for Christ, we no longer belong to ourselves, but rather have become a temple for God and God's Spirit dwells within us, according to the words of the Apostle Paul in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (3:16). Thus the warning: "If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are." How does a person defile the temple of God which is himself? Through fornication! Do I take members of God and make them members of an adulteress? Fornication is precisely, deep down, for me to act contrary to God in denying His commandment, in straying from His love, in immersing myself in love for myself. In fornication, there is worship of the self instead of God. This is the source of every idol and therefore of every evil. For this reason, God destroys the person. That is, He gives him over to darkness, degradation, perdition and death... And so, it is chastity for one to preserve himself from fornication, in the broadest meaning of the word. Every member within us, we purify through chastity, through the divine commandment, through refraining from what is reprehensible, to prepare it as a temple to God, to sanctify it. That is, we set it apart as a dwelling-place for God through the outpouring of God's love within us, in every member in us, in every one of our cells, so that we may become in our entirety God's inner parts.

An upbringing in chastity can only be, as a rule, by way of osmosis, example, imitation. Chaste behavior by adults, and thence the indwelling of God's love within them and the resting of God's spirit with them, is only transmitted to the young by spiritual seeking. The chastity within us involves a wisdom all of its own and this wisdom is what educates in chastity. In this way chaste adults bring up chaste children. This spreads on the level of the spirit. This is the language of the spirit. It is first of all a question of deep, existential osmosis. In love, one gives his spirit. Thus there was Pentecost. God transmitted His Spirit to us in His perfect love, so that we might extend Pentecost among ourselves, into our souls and our bodies. Caring for one another, bringing up one another, in chastity, for a love that is Pentecostal, or else it falls into the abyss of individual and collective selfishness. The Spirit of God is to be exchanged among ourselves! Christ is with us and among us-- He is and was and shall be! What I have I give to you and what I do not have is impossible for me to give you, no matter how much I talk about it. Scripture speaks of that which exists and does not take the place of that which exists. In the Spirit, each gives the other the spirit that is in him, like the lit candle with the extinguished candle, without diminishing. Otherwise, he has nothing to give apart from futility and non-existence, even if he is adorned with every flourish of knowledge, science and philosophy.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite-- Douma, Lebanon
Sunday, August 5, 2018

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Corruption

Arabic original here.

Corruption

Today we hear a lot of people talk about corruption, competing in research and efforts to combat this corruption, while it nevertheless continues to be prevalent in society.

What is corruption? And how do we treat it?

In his discussion of ancestral sin, Saint Athanasius the Great says that this sin has corrupted human nature. We inherit such a nature from our birth. In this sense we say, "In sins did my mother beget me." Of course, we do not inherit Adam's sin, but rather its consequences, and we add to this our personal sins. All of this brings us to bodily death and our sin brings us to spiritual death.

The Lord Jesus gave Himself over to death, so that He might deliver us through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.

He has sent us the grace of the Holy Spirit so that we may be saved, since baptism, from natural corruption and afterwards, by way of our death to our passions and lusts, we may be saved from spiritual death. So then there is a corruption that comes about due to our attachment to the lusts of this world: money, authority and wicked pleasure.

The Gospel points out such wicked lusts when it says, "You cannot serve two masters, God and money" (Matthew 6:24).

"Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant" (Matthew 20:26). "Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own" (1 Corinthians 6:19)

Bodily purity, integrity in interactions involving money, renunciation of selfishness and dedication to serving others-- all of this is necessary in order to treat all sorts of corruption in society. Naturally, this requires struggle [literally, jihad] in practicing one's profession: in law, in medicine, in education especially, in commerce and in politics. In the language of the Church, we call this struggle "ascesis", renunciation of the love of money and the love of appearances.

Last but not least,  we will cite the prayer that we offer to the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, to be freed from corruption:

"O Virgin, entreat your Lord and your Son, who by surrendering Himself to death saved our nature, dominated by corruption, from death and corruption... we constantly implore you to save us from the corruption of our passions... to raise us up from the corruption of sicknesses" (the Small Paraklesis).

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

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Carol Saba: Who will Prevent the Coming Schism in Orthodoxy?

Arabic original here.

The Ukrainian Crucible between Moscow and Constantinople:
Who will Prevent the Coming Schism in Orthodoxy?

The situation in global Orthodoxy is worrisome. Its catholic unity is threatened while it still has not yet healed from the repercussions of the 2016 "Council of Crete". The manner of preparing it and holding it with the presence of some rather than all of the Orthodox churches and its decisions has resulted in complications and a rift between the fourteen Orthodox patriarchates. It appears that in the Ukrainian crisis raging between the two poles of Orthodoxy, the Greek and the Russian, we are headed for the first application of "majority rule" in universal Orthodox ecclesiastical decisions, at the expense of a logic of unanimity, the standard that must prevail in order to prevent schism, especially with regard to decisions to grant autocephaly to a region within the universal Church.

On the surface, the crisis centers on the intention of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, at the request of Ukrainian political officials, to grant the church in Ukraine ecclesiastical independence and so make it an independent church like the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox patriarchates. Constantinople is acting individualistically in this dangerous endeavor, considering it her right as the "Mother church" of the Church of Kiev, as the process of evangelizing the Slavic countries was launched at her hands from Thessaloniki, from the womb of Byzantine Christianity, by the Byzantine monks Cyril and Methodius. Constantinople adds that it was she who baptized Vladimir the Great on July 28, 988 and through him all the Kievan Rus, an event that changed the entire geopolitical map of Christianity. She continues her case by saying that the metropolitan and metropolis of Kiev were dependent on her for a long period of time.

As for the Russians, they say that the metropolitan of Kiev's glow diminished with the rise of Muscovy, where he sought refuge after the Tatar invasions of the 13th century, placing himself under the protection of the rulers of Russia, first in Vladimir and then in Moscow. The Ukrainian church became increasingly dependent on Moscow when the latter received autocephaly from Constantinople in 1589 as a new patriarchate, and even more so with the rise of the power of the Cossacks in Ukraine, as they defended it from Tatar and Polish attacks. There followed a great deal of give-and-take between Constantinople and Moscow, until the Russians held a local council in 1685 to confirm Moscow's ecclesiastical authority in choosing and electing the new metropolitan of Kiev. Moscow says that Constantinople acquiesced in the end and granted a patriarchal tomos in May of 1686, confirming Moscow's ecclesiastical authority over Kiev and agreeing to the appointment of a metropolitan for it who had been elected in Moscow. Moscow also says that Constantinople's agreement is still in force after more than 330 years by the recognition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate which, despite all the schisms in Ukraine, still recognizes the autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Moscow.

Vacillation began with the fall of the Soviet Union and Ukraine's independence in 1991, when discussions of autocephaly began between Constantinople and some of the schismatic Orthodox in Ukraine. While Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew recognizes the exclusive representation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Patriarchate of Moscow, he has on more than one occasion indicated, criticizing the agreement of 1686, that political interventions made with the Sublime Porte and that the events of 1686 amount to an annexation of Ukraine.

It is evident to everyone today that the driving forces of this crisis are not only ecclesiastical, but also overlap with global political rivalries between Russia and the West. President Poroshenko of Ukraine is acting openly and encouraging the Ukrainian parliament and its Western allies to obtain ecclesiastical independence from Russia. The NATO-aligned West once more wants to encircle Russia and to prevent it from expanding to the west, while Russia wants to foil these schemes in preparation to dominate Eastern Europe and encircle Western Europe using influence and gas. Over the course of history, the geography of Ukraine has been a territory disputed between the East and the West and has been at the heart of Russia's geopolitics of defending the country's interior since the rise of tsarism. The Russians do not forget the words of Bismark, "If you want to defeat Russia, strike her in Ukraine." The fall of tsarist Russia in 1917 awakened a desire for ecclesiastical independence in order to get out from under the mantle of the Russian church that was inseparable from the defeated tsarist state. This desire reappeared after the fall of the Soviet Union and Ukraine's independence in 1991.

Today both Moscow and Constantinople fiercely defend their historical rights in Ukraine, displaying their historical ties and documents. Successive shuttle visits by the foreign ministers of the two patriarchates, the Russian Metropolitan Hilarion and the Constantinopolitan Metropolitan Emmanuel of France to the Orthodox churches in order to mobilize them are merely an indication of the severity of the situation and a prelude to the big confrontation. Deep down, however, Ukraine is only an expression of the general crisis of Orthodoxy. It is not a crisis of unity of faith or ecclesiological unity, but rather a crisis of ecclesiastical governance centered on the sin of love of primacy that strikes at integration between the churches in the interest of competition and opens the way for global geopolitical interventions in the Orthodox Church. It is also a crisis of modernity. The Orthodox Church, which was Eastern in character and geography, in the twentieth century became globalized in form without being globalized in substance and institutionalization. Her governance has remained traditional, without any arrangement for regular meetings between the patriarchs for consultation, integration and prevention of the competition that is pushing the Orthodox Church further and further toward fragmentation and schism instead of integration, collaboration and unity. The responsibility of the ecclesiastical leadership is great because it still acts in a traditional manner and does not rise to the level and dimensions of these dangers.

The question remains today, who will prevent the schism in Ukraine, of which the foreign minister of the Patriarchate of Moscow, Metropolitan Hilarion, spoke, comparing it, if it occurs, to the Great Schism of 1054?

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Conference this November: The Reception of the Balamand Declaration (1993-2018)

For a full program and details, see here.

The reception of the Balamand declaration (1993-2018) and current relations between the Orthodox and Oriental churches and their Catholic sister churches

Leuven, November 26 - 28, 2018

Conference theme

25 years ago the international dialogue commission between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church agreed upon a short document entitled Uniatism, Method of Union of the Past, and the Present Search for Full Communion. The document was written in the hope to smoothen the tensions that had arisen between Orthodox/Oriental churches and their Catholic counterparts in different countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Its reception was quite diverse and also nowadays Orthodox churches such as the Russian Orthodox Church regularly insist that the “problem of uniatism” should be solved before any substantial progress can be made in the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue. In this colloquium we will reread the Balamand declaration after 25 years and will investigate whether the theology of ‘sister churches’ it developed was sufficiently received in Orthodox and Roman Catholic ecclesiology. As far as the “problem of uniatism” is concerned we want to test the hypothesis that it makes more sense to study the reception of the Balamand declaration as well as the history of the relations between Orthodox and Oriental churches and their Catholic sister churches in specific geographical contexts rather than providing a general answer. We will pay specific attention to the contexts of Ukraine, Romania, the Balkans and the Middle East.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Conference in July 2019: Melkite Christianity and the Archaeology of Byzantine Monasteries and Churches in the Levant

From here.

Melkite Christianity and the Archaeology of Byzantine Monasteries and Churches in the Levant, 15th – 18th July 2019, (Oxford University)
ARAM Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Studies is organizing its Fifty Second International Conference on Melkite Christianity (the Patriarchates of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria) and the Archaeology of Byzantine Monasteries and Churches in the Levant, to be held at the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford, on 15th – 18th July 2019.

The conference will start on Monday 15th July at 9pm, finishing on Thursday 18th July at 1pm. Each speaker’s paper is limited to 35 minutes, with an additional 10 minutes for discussion. All papers given at the conference will be considered for publication in a future edition of the ARAM Periodical, subject to editorial review. 

If you wish to participate in the conference, please contact our Oxford address: ARAM, the Oriental Institute, Oxford University, Pusey Lane, Oxford OX1 2LE, England.

Tel. 01865-514041 

Email: aram@orinst.ox.ac.uk

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Met Georges Khodr: The Moral Rule

Arabic original here.

The Moral Rule

Some people have the notion that the Ten Commandments contain all Christian morals. The truth is that they are an example and that there are many sins that these commandments do not mention. Moreover, the Second Commandment, "Keep the Sabbath holy," is a Jewish ritual matter to which we are no longer bound, as the Lord has liberated us from the Sabbath in His resurrection. Our refraining from work on Sunday is not a divine commandment. It is an ecclesiastical order whose basis is performing the Divine Liturgy. In the Old Testament itself, the most comprehensive rule is this: "Love the Lord your God as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus took this up: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment." After that, He added, "And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-40). Then, to sum it all up, He says, "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

But what is the connection between this new commandment and the Ten Commandments? Paul clarifies this: "He who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery. You shall not murder. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:8-10).

A person might start out by keeping the laws and then, if he comes to know Jesus, he understands that our ability to fulfill them comes from God's grace. So that the commandments are not a sword dangling over man's head, they must spring forth from the heart that is illumined by the light of Christ. This is the New Covenent that Jeremiah spoke of when he said, "I will cause them to dwell safely. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart...
I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them" (Jeremiah 32:37-40). Because the Holy Spirit dwells in us and we know the tranquility that we have from God, we carry out every word from Him. If a word comes to be within us, it brings forth good work.

In the kingdom of Christ and in his dominion over us, in our having tasted His love for us, we have come to do what pleases Him and this gives us joy. When the kingdom appeared with Christ, Jesus gave us the law of the kingdom that is expounded in the Gospel of Matthew in what is called the Sermon on the Mount, which appears in Chapters 5, 6, and 7 and the corresponding passages in Luke.

This begins with the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Jesus does not bring a law whose roots are unknown to the Old Covenant. He came to complete it. Jesus fulfills prophecy and brings it to its perfection. He makes it possible through the love that He gave. Jesus fulfills the old law and ties it to the mystery of love. There was a commandment over man. Now it comes from the person who has surrendered himself to the Lord.

Jesus goes to the roots. "You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder...'
But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment. Likewise, you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." It is not a matter of our refraining from something external, but rather that we purify the heart so that it does not incline to evil.

Therefore Christian morals are based on man training his soul to love the Lord and keeping watch over it so that it refrains from sin and loves good. At that point, the commandments spring forth automatically from the purified heart.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Fast of Our Lady and the Marian Spirit

Arabic original here.

The Fast of Our Lady and the Marian Spirit

Fasting in general is the emptying of the soul and the body of everything that comes to them from sin. Emptying the stomach of food is an image of liberating the soul from passions and lusts.

The Fast of Our Lady is tied to Great Lent, that is, the Fast of Our Lord.

The Lord Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights and after that He confronted the devil and defeated him by the power of the word. This is also what Our Lady the Virgin Mary did when she listened to the word of God, pondering it in her heart and acting according to it (cf. Luke 2:19, 8:21 and 10:39).

The Fast of Our Lady is an apostolic institution. Saint Theodore the Studite calls it the Holy Fast of the Mother of God. Believers who love Our Lady and her virtues practice it just as they practice Great Lent. Some zealous ones even from fire! In any case, those who love the Mother of God, Mary, love the Lord Jesus, her son and her God, and study His word, keep it in their heart and act according to it in their life.

The Fast of Our Lady is tied to the Marian spirit, the virginal spirit attached to God and His word. It is the pure, unblemished spirit.

Mary is both mother and virgin. Mary the mother is the model for every pure human, in whom Christ is begotten and from whom He goes out into the world. Purity is that we do not accept within ourselves anything other than the divine seed.

The fast is accompanied by a special prayer to Our Lady that is called the Paraklisis. It is a special supplication addressed to Our Lady and from her to the Lord by virtue of a mother's boldness to her son and her God.

The Church is the mystical body of Christ. In this body, the Mother of God still practices the intercession that she performed on earth, as at the wedding at Cana in Galilee. She is the unfailing intercessor.

In the service of the Small Paraklisis we say, "Listen, O daughter, Consider and incline your ear; Forget your own people also, and your father’s house; So the King will greatly desire your beauty" (Psalm 44/45:10-11).

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Available to Download: Sidney Griffith's Arabic Christianity in the Monasteries of Ninth Century Palestine

Find it on Archive.org here.

The history of Christian literature took a new turn in the 8th century when monks in the monasteries of Palestine began to write theology and saints' lives in Arabic, and they instituted a veritable programme for translating the Bible and other Christian texts from Greek (and Syriac) into the language of the Qur'an, the "lingua franca" of the Islamic caliphate. This is the subject of the present volume. Two key factors leading to this change where that the confrontation with the developing theology of Islam created a direct need for apologetics to face this new religious challenge in its own language; and that as the memory of Byzantine power waned, so too did the knowledge of Greek. Issues of particular interest in this apologetic literature are those of the freedom of the will, a key topic in the controversies between the Melkites and the Muslims, and of the legitimacy of icon veneration, a subject of great contemporary concern at the time of Iconoclasm in the Byzantine Empire.

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