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.


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.

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.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Sergei Brun on the Cathedral of Saint Peter / Church of Cassian in Antioch

This is excerpt, translated by the author, from his book, The Byzantines and the Franks in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. 2015,  Vol. II. Chapter 1, sec. 5. P.41-55,  and his article  'The Vanished Churches of Antioch‘ in Panorama Iskysstv, 2017. Read the entire article, with notes and bibliography, here

Brun also informs us that:

Currently a research project is underway, led by myself and some of the most prominent church architects, to create a computer model and full reconstruction of St. Peter‘s Cathedral. God willing, we will complete our work by June of 2018, before the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, making an online source and a book available to the public. There one could finally be able to find detailed imagery from various stages of the Cathedral‘s history, of its panoramic views, exteriors and interiors. The project will be known as Lost Shrines of the Church of Antioch©

Antioch's Lost Shrine:
The Cathedral of St. Peter/Church of Al-Kusyan


The foundation of the Cathedral and the consecration of its first altar was attributed to the Apostle Peter himself. The 10th century Melkite chronicler and Metropolitan – Agapius of Hierapolis (Menbidj), drawing on earlier legends and accounts, claims that the Apostle Peter ―laid the foundations of the church‖ and ―established the altar there. Another Levantine chronicler – the Coptic deacon Abu‘l-Makarim – obviously pulling on similar sources and historic tradition, gives the exact date of the church‘s foundation: according to his narrative, St. Peter established the al-Kusyan Church in the first year of Emperor Claudius‘s reign (A.D. 41). Originally the church was known as 'The Church of Cassian‘ (al-Kusyan). This name derives from a legend, popular among the Levantine Christians. According to this legend, the Apostle Peter raised the son of the local king, named Cassian, from the dead. When the youth was brought back to life, the king allowed Peter to establish a church in the place of the miracle (in another version – in the king‘s palace). This is obviously a later day apocrypha, since there clearly was no 'king‘ in Antioch since the fall of the Seleucid state (64 B.C.). Moreover, there was not a single Seleucid king nor Roman prefect with the name of Cassian. One way or another, this legend was treated as history and dogma by the Christians in the Middle East (both – Chalcedonian and Miaphysite). The legend of Cassian survives in various versions; the better known ones can be found in the 11th century narrative of the Melkite physician Yuhanna ibn Bhutlan, and in the late 12th century account of the aforementioned Coptic author – Abu‘l-Makarim4. One should also note that the church was never known as 'St. Cassian‘, since Cassian – whether it was the legendary king or his resurrected son – was never venerated as a saint. The name of 'Cassian‘ or 'al-Kusyan‘ was given to the shrine because of Peter‘s miracle, not the resurrected boy or king in question.

Despite its antiquity and ties to the Apostle Peter, the Church of Al-Kusyan was not Antioch‘s cathedral church in the Early Byzantine period. From the times of Constantine the Great and up to the Arabic Conquest that honor belonged to the Golden (or Octagonal) Basilica, the Domus Aurea, built by Saint Constantine and his Arian son and successor – Constantius II. Yet the Church of al-Kusyan was held in great veneration by both – the Christians of Antioch and the Roman/Byzantine Emperors. When, in the reign of Emperor Theodosius II, the body of St. Simeon the Stylite (Simeon the Elder) was brought to Antioch, it was placed for several days in the Church of Cassian, before being transferred for the last funeral service to the Domus Aurea and then – returned to Kalaat Samaan. In the 6th century Emperor Justinian I donated his imperial vestments to the shrine, which was hung in the church for display, drawing the attention of the local congregation and the pilgrims.

 After the final abandonment and destruction of the Domus Aurea in the 7th-8th centuries, the Church of Cassian – 'the House of Mar Peter‘ – finally assumed its long-awaited and well-deserved role as the Cathedral Church, the Patriarchal See, the place of enthronement and burial of the Patriarchs of Antioch all the East. The Arabic geographer Al-Masudi, writing in the 10th century, left a detailed account of how the Melkite Christians in Antioch gathered on the Calends of January (the Roman New Year) before the Church of Al-Kusyan, lit candles and lamps, and served a midnight Liturgy. It is noteworthy that Al-Masudi speaks of the gathering taking place before the cathedral; this might in fact indicate that originally the church was in fact not very large, and not sufficient enough to accept all of the faithful.

The year 969 inaugurated a new era for Antioch and its cathedral. The city was taken by the Byzantine army; Syria‘s greatest Christian center – after  three centuries of Arab domination – returned to the Empire. With the Byzantine conquest of the city, the Emperor and the Ecumenical Patriarch were faced with a new challenge – a challenge of re-organizing the Patriarchate of Antioch and its cathedral in accordance with the new aesthetic, liturgical and political ideas, long harbored in Constantinople. The Byzantinization‘ of the Church of Antioch has begun. According to the Melkite chronicler Yahya of Antioch, Emperor John I Tzimisces ordered the newly-instated Patriarch of Antioch – Theodore II – to ―make/fashion the Cathedral of Cassian in the likeness of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. This simple phrase ―to make/fashion the Cathedral (…) in the likeness of Hagia Sophia‖ has several of meanings. It most definitely applies to liturgical reform, to the liturgical Byzantinization of the Chalcedonian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, as well as to the physical rebuilding and redecorating of the Patriarchal Cathedral itself.

It is more than possible that the early Christian church (even if it underwent some reconstruction in the 6th century or in the later period of Arab rule) did not accord with the Byzantine Imperial ideas on how a grand Patriarchal Cathedral was supposed to look like. After all, even if nothing could ever rival Constantinople‘s Hagia Sophia, the Melkite Patriarchal Seats of Alexandria and Jerusalem were still located in the great shrines of the Roman Empire (the Caesareum in Alexandria, Constantine‘s Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem – rebuilt by the Byzantine Emperors after its destruction by Al-Hakim in 1009). Antioch was clearly different. We should seriously take note of the fact that in Arabic sources, the Church of Al-Kusyan, while mentioned as one of the highly-venerated Christian shrines, is never listed among the most beautiful or spacious churches of the East. Constantine‘s Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, the Basilica of Hagia Sophia in Edessa, the Church of St. George in Lydda, Justinian‘s Round Church of the Theotokos in Antioch were all considered the jewels of Dar-al-Islam. The Church of Al-Kusyan was never mentioned alongside.

We do not have a single description of the original Al-Kusyan shrine and its architecture. The first detailed account of Antioch‘s cathedral only comes down to us from the mid-11th century – the period after the grand rebuilding, initiated by Emperor John I Tzimisces and Patriarch Theodore II. The account was written by the aforementioned Melkite doctor – Yuhanna ibn Butlan, who visited Antioch and its cathedral in 1052. ―In the centre of the city is the church of Al Kusyan (…). It consists of a chapel, the length of which is 100 paces,, and the breadth of it is 80, and over it is a church, supported on columns‖9. This description‘s significance is beyond value. First of all, it gives us the exact measurements of the lower (possibly – Early Christian/Late Antique) church, which Ibn Butlan calls a 'chapel'. Judging by the fact that a medieval pace is usually equal to about 71 cm, the length of the lower church was 71 meters, the width – 56,8 meters, and the overall floor space – 4032,8 square meters. Thus, the lower church of the Patriarchal Cathedral at Antioch was about a quarter smaller than Constantinople‘s Hagia Sophia. Second, Yuhanna ibn Butlan is in fact the first author who speaks of the Cathedral of St. Peter/Church of Al-Kusyan as a two-story structure, consisting of a lower church (again, most probably the Early Byzantine church, founded on the place of the Early Christian site), and the imposing upper cathedral church, built on pillars and beams over the original shrine.

Now let us turn to the interior decoration and relics of the Antiochian Patriarchal Cathedral. Yuhanna ibn Butlan tells us that all of the churches at Antioch, including the city‘s cathedral, were decorated with ―gold and silver, and colored glass, meaning – mosaics. If we take into account that the Cathedral was rebuilt and refurnished in the reign of John I Tzimisces and his immediate successor Basil II (in the last decades of the 10th century), it would be fair to assume that the closest surviving parallel of monumental Byzantine art would be the mosaics of Hosios Loukas in Phokida (1011). Yet it is also possible that the mosaics at St. Peter‘s reflected an earlier period of Macedonian art, a period that is reflected in a handful of surviving icons and the mosaic depiction of Emperor Leo VI the Wise at the feet of Christ in Hagia Sophia. Ibn Butlan also left us a unique, highly detailed description of the Cathedral‘s décor and altar furnishings. The templon, according to the Melkite doctor, was incrusted with mother-of-pearl. The ciborium stood over the altar table on four marble columns, crowned with a dome of silver. Brocade liturgical veils flowed down from the arches of the ciborium. Before the altar there hung a great silver 'crown‘ (either a great polycandelon or an early choros), suspended on chains. A large silver tray (most likely a large lampadophore) with glass lamps hung on a hemp rope near the altar. Three silver gilt processional crosses, adorned with precious stones (crux gemmata) stood beyond the altar table, on square wood-carved stools.

The major part of the treasures, described by Ibn Butlan, were looted by the Sultan of Rum after he took the city in 1084. Yet in the era of Latin Rule (1098-1268) the Cathedral of St. Peter accumulated new treasures and furnishings. Wilbrand of Oldenburg, who visited Antioch in 1211, remarks that the city‘s main shrine was a ―greatly decorated church‖13. In this last period of its history, the Cathedral was adorned with the works of both – Western (Frankish and Italian) as well as Eastern (Byzantine, Syrian, Georgian) masters. A registry of items from the Patriarchal sacristy, entrusted to the Knights Hospitaller and returned to Patriarch Peter II of Ivrea in 1209, mentions various precious vestments and veils, reliquaries, covers and liturgical objects, made of gold and silver, adorned with gems and ivory. There was a large altar cross and a chalice – both made of gold, covered with pearls and precious stones; there were censers and vessels for myrrh made of pure silver; liturgical books (the Altar Gospel, Apostle, Missal) in silver casings; a brocade antependium; covers for chalices embroidered with silver; three episcopal miters, embroidered with gold; a crosier made of gold and ivory; an icon cast of pure silver; ivory combs; gold rings crowned with topazes; patriarchal seals; numerous liturgical vestments (dalmatics, stoles, maniples, chasubles, a cappa magna, liturgical gloves, mantles, tunics), died into precious purple, embroidered with gold and silver threads and gems14. Again, these items formed only a part of the Patriarchate‘s (and the Cathedral‘s) treasures.
Along with her Roman sister-basilica, the Cathedral at Antioch was one of the two principal shrines of the Christian world, dedicated to Saint Peter, the Rock of the Church, the Prince of the Apostles. Over the gate that let into the atrium of the Cathedral and to the Patriarchate there was a sign in gold lettering: ―Depart from here Iezi, for here stands the Throne of Law and Truth; and the Third part of the Earth is obedient to it‖ (Sit procul hinc Iezi, thronus hic sit iuris et aequi; Tercia pars mundi iure tenetur ei). The Cathedral held three great relics, associated with the Prince of the Apostles: the cathedra or Episcopal Throne of Saint Peter (that very 'Throne of Law and Truth‘ mentioned at the Gate), the chains of Saint Peter and the cage, where the Apostle was said to be held during his stay at Antioch. The Throne of St. Peter was described in detail by Melkite authors of the 11th century (Ibrahim ibn Yuhanna and Yahya of Antioch). It was a throne of palm wood, incrusted and elaborately decorated with silver16. St. Peter‘s Throne, on which the Orthodox (and later – the Latin) Patriarchs would preside on, was seen as the central relic of the Cathedral and of the entire Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East; a relic which symbolically and physically connected the eastern successors of St. Peter with the Prince of the Apostles himself. The Protospapharios Ibrahim ibn Yuhanna in his Life of Christophore, the Patriarch of Antioch, gives us a partial list of the main relics, kept at the Cathedral and the Patriarchal Sacristy. These included ―the staff and throne (…) of the Foremost of the Apostles, the relics and vestments of several Father Patriarchs – including Ignatius, the relics of Mar John the Baptist, the venerable Spear of Our Lord, the staff of John Chrysostom, the belt of Mar Simeon the Stylite of Aleppo, and other sacred objects.


Read the entire article here.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Met Georges Khodr: May Our Faces Become Icons

Arabic original here.

May Our Faces Become Icons

The first Sunday of Lent is known as the Sunday of Orthodoxy because the veneration of icons triumphed in 843, after war having been waged against it for a century, greatly preoccupying the Eastern Christian world. The Orthodox were fiercely persecuted, killed and driven from their homes for their veneration of the holy icons until the Byzantine Empire finally became convinced that it must preserve this dogma. Then icons were lifted up in the churches, just as we process with them today, confessing our Orthodox faith.

But what does it mean for us today to be Orthodox? The word, as you know, means a person with correct belief, who has sound and undeviating faith in what Christ once delivered to the saints. It is someone who sees that novel opinions have nothing to do with the faith and that they might be harmful. The faith is confronted by many false dogmas that come to us from outside the Church, brought by man's lusts, such as lust for glory, lust for money and the like.

An Orthodox person is not content to only have sound dogma, but properly glorifies God, because if dogma is not transformed into worship, it is a useless belief. The fundamental thing for the believer is to become a worshiper of his Lord. He hands his soul over to Him in obedience and at that point he is transfigured, is enlightened and becomes a new creation. Therefore we can boast that we have creatures that preceded us and that God carved the saints and made them living images of Himself, good models for us to imitate. And so today's Gospel reading says that when one of the apostles was amazed that a prophet came from Nazareth, another apostle answered him, "come and see."

It is possible for the Son of God to appear from a poor and wretched place. He appeared from this dust that we wear. From this flesh and these bones, it is possible for a saint to emerge, someone who has purified himself for God, in whose heart the graces of God have been poured, like a new god appearing in the universe. Did our Lord, may He be exalted, not say, "You are gods and children of the Most High"? Our calling is to become like God, filled with His holiness and wondrous light. It is said at the end of today's Gospel reading, "you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

The Orthodox faith was delivered to us once and we do not deviate from it for another dogma. The splendor of this faith first of all means that we have come to resemble God. Heaven is full and God pours it all out upon us as grace and peace. An Orthodox person is precisely someone who believes that he has a connection with God and that God is not merely an alien power resting in the heavens whom we cannot attain. God is given, poured out, extended to us and He is here in hearts, flesh and bone. For this reason we symbolize our faith with icons, because they reveal to us the face of Christ. They tell us that His face looks down upon us not only in a picture, but His light is depicted on our faces.

The question doesn't stop at our venerating icons. The question begins with our faces becoming icons of God. That is, if someone looks at our faces, he will see God depicted upon them as grace and light.

The light of the holy Church must shine in this erring world. Your light must "shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Therefore, if we all become animate icons the world can confess that the Orthodox faith is the faith delivered by the apostles for the salvation of the world.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Sergei Brun on the Patriarchate of Antioch in Medieval Central Asia

Read the entire article here. It is an excerpt, translated by the author, from: The Byzantines and Franks in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia (11th-13th centuries). A study of the history of Latin and Byzantine Christians’ contacts and interaction in the East by S.P. Brun (Moscow, 2015).



The Catholicosate of Irinopolis, which united the „Rum‟ of Baghdad and the Melkites of the surrounding Mesopotamian region, survived either until the Mongol destruction of Baghdad in 1258, or even until the early 15th century. The fact that an Orthodox Catholicos resided in Baghdad is attested to by such authors as Al-Biruni (11th century) and the Greek archimandrite Nilus Doxapatrius (12th century) . It is interesting to note that a part of Baghdad‟s Orthodox population consisted of Greek-speaking „Rum‟ Christians. The Orthodox community in Baghdad originally consisted of prisoners, taken to the Abbasid capital from the inner provinces of the Byzantine Empire, namely from the Greek-speaking regions of Asia Minor, which were regularly devastated by  Arab raids. It is quite possible that not all of the Orthodox in Baghdad were equally subject to ongoing arabization, and along with Arabic or Syriac-speaking Melkites there were families and communities that preserved Greek, at least as the liturgical language. Such co-existence of Arabic, Syriac and Greek-speaking communities was typical for Antioch itself and for other regions of the medieval Levant. The well-known ascetic author of the 11th century –  Nikon of the Black Mountain  –  mentions that Patriarch Theodosius III of Antioch wanted to ordain him and sent him off to serve  in Baghdad. It would be hard to believe that Patriarch Theodosius III would try to send a well-educated Constantinopolitan, Greek-speaking cleric, such as Nikon, to become as a parish priest, not a bishop, in Mesopotamia, if the communities of that region did not understand Greek services and pastors. Melkites also sustained a notable presence in other centers of Mesopotamia and Persia. For example, a rather numerous community of Melkites survived, until the late 13th century, in the Persian town of Tabriz.

The Catholicos of Romagira enjoyed a privileged place among the hierarchs of the Church of Antioch, spreading his pastoral jurisdiction over the Melkite communities in the vast regions of Persia and Central Asia. The heart of the Catholicosate of Romagira and the home of the majority of its flock lay in the rich merchant cities of the Khorasan, which included the above-mentioned region of Shash. Patriarch Peter III of Antioch, writing in the early 1050-s to Patriarch Dominic II of Grado (Venice), proudly mentions the fact that he and his predecessors ordain and send to Romagira and Khorasan “an archbishop-catholicos, who ordains metropolitans for that land, which, in turn, hold numerous bishops in their obedience”. The See of the Catholicos of Romagira was located either in the region of Shash, near Tashkent, or in Nishapur. The city of Merv was also a See of an Orthodox metropolitan, subject to the Catholicos of Romagira.

A highly-illustrative account of these long-gone Melkite communities in Central Asia can be found in the writings of the famous medieval scholar Al-Biruni, who dedicated an entire chapter of his Chronology of the Ancient Nations to the „Festivals and Memorial Days of the Syrian Calendar, celebrated by the Melkite Christians‟. Al-Biruni's work allows us to have at least a glimpse at the unique traditions of this distant group of Chalcedonian Orthodox Christians on the Great Silk Road. For example, he mentions the „Feast of Roses‟, when, in memory of the Meeting of the Theotokos and Saint Elizabeth, the Melkites of Khorezm would go in procession from church to church, bearing fresh blossoms of juri roses (red and white Persian roses, renowned for their beauty and  smell). Among other traditions and feasts, unique to the Catholicosate of Romagira, one can name the feasts of local saints (such as the Seven Martyrs of Nishapur), and the celebration of the Second Dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, when the Melkites of Persia and the Khorasan would ceremonially cleanse and wash their churches.

A significant part of the faithful in the Catholicosate of Romagira was comprised not only of Syriac and Arabic-speaking Melkites, but also of Sogdian Orthodox. The latter formed a unique part among the medieval „Rum‟, since they shared neither the Greek, nor the Syriac liturgical language of their Orthodox co-religionists. They served in Sogdian, but followed the Byzantine rite, and lived far beyond the easternmost borders of the historic Roman Empire. Their communities, spread from the banks of Syr Darya to Eastern Turkestan and the borders of the Chinese Empire, formed the most remote and unique part of the „Byzantine‟ world. Fragments of several manuscripts, found during the archaeological investigations in the library of an abandoned monastery in the village of Bulaik, near Turfan (1904-1907) –  namely a fragment of Psalm 32 from a 8th-9th century Greek manuscript, and a 10th century letter, written in Syriac but composed in a highly-recognizable Byzantine manner, addressing an official of the Roman Empire –  attest to Melkite presence on the Great Silk Road, up to the Turfan oasis. An Armenian author –  Hethum of Korikos (died ante 1307), writing his well-known Flowers of the Histories of the East , later presented to Pope Clement V and King Philip IV the Beautiful, mentions Orthodox Sogdian communities living in Khorasan, belonging to the Greek Church, but sustaining their own language, which was different to the Greek, Arabic and Syriac (the latter three were known to the Cilician monk). According to Hethum, Melkites of Khorasan, which he calls „Soldani‟, were obedient to the Patriarch of Antioch and “served as the Greeks, but their language is not Greek”.


Read the whole excerpt, with footnotes and bibliography, here.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Met Siluan (Muci)'s Message for Lent 2018

Spanish original here.

The Pastoral Letter for Great Lent by Metropolitan Siluan of Buenos Aires

The Yoke of Forgiveness and the Burden of Repentance

"Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men." (Matthew 12:31)

On the path of preparation for Great Lent, the readings from the Gospel for the four Sundays that precede it show us successively that the Lord is our only justification and teach us how we must live in accordance with this justification.

As a matter of fact, the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14) shows us how the Lord justified the publican but not the Pharisee as soon as both finished their prayer and left the temple. By condemning himself as a sinner and seeking the Lord's forgiveness with contrition, the publican was justified by the Lord, but the Pharisee who wrapped himself in the justification of his own virtue as compared to the sinfulness of others found himself deprived of the eternal justification that only God offers.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) shows us how the prodigal son discovers his father, not for what he has or for what he can give, but for who he is and for his paternal love, and how he in turn discovers himself as a person who does not deserve this love or this filial relationship. When he returns home, is he surprised by how his father justifies him and restores him to the dignity and authority of a son who is no longer prodigal or dead, but who has been found and is alive.

In the Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), the "sheep"who justified themselves as not having done anything for Christ were justified and blessed by the Father because they served Him through the needy, while the "goats", who justified themselves as not having seen Christ to serve Him personally, were condemned and cursed by the Father for not having served Him through the needy.

On the fourth Sunday of the Triodion, Forgiveness Sunday, which inaugurates the beginning of the fast of Great Lent, we hear the Lord Himself, who asks us to go out and justify our neighbor by practicing forgiveness, since if we do not justify and forgive our neighbor, we cannot be justified or pardoned by God. If God indeed justifies us gratuitously, this nevertheless requires us to live and practice this gratuitousness in our daily life.

In daily life, many people are in the habit of justifying themselves with regard to themselves, their neighbor and God. They hurt themselves and they hurt others by not discovering the gratuitousness of the justification that God offers, by not accepting it as a gift from the Lord, and by not living in accordance with it in their daily lives. By holding on to self-justification, they remain locked in the earthly sphere and fail to see the transcendence of their lives in the love of God and in the justification that Jesus Christ offers by His love and His sacrifice on the cross.

In order to escape this vicious circle of self-justification, the Lord exhorts us to accept His "yoke", which is to say the practice of forgiveness, and His "burden", which is to say the life of repentance, inspiring us in the motto of our archdiocese: "Learn from Me... for My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:29-30). On the one hand, forgiveness seems to be a yoke of Christ because as Christians, we cannot escape practicing it, since it is the basis of our prayer, the Our Father, when we ask God to forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (Matthew 6:12). On the other hand, repentance seems to be a burden because we have to constantly watch and correct ourselves without justifying ourselves, but rather seeking the justification that comes from the Father.

Accepting this yoke that is forgiveness and this burden that is repentance, with the practice of love and hope that each one respectively entails, is possible and necessary through the love that the Lord has for us and the hope that we place in the Lord and His mercy. Living in accordance with this lesson, that is, practicing forgiveness and repentance, allows us to live in its fullness the justification that we receive from the Lord every time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy. This is how the procession with the holy gifts is understood, in what is called the "Great Entrance", in their subsequent consecration as the body and blood of Christ, and finally in our partaking of the Holy Chalice with the feeling of the publican, the prodigal son and the sheep at the right hand of the Father. Otherwise, we will be rejecting our own salvation and denying the work of the Holy Spirit and thus we will come under the categorical sentence of the Lord: "Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men" (Matthew 12:31).

God wants us to dedicate ourselves during Great Lent to working decisively for the sanctification of our will, of our intellect and of our heart by duly celebrating the justification that Christ offers us and by participating in it, through the persistent practice of forgiveness and repentance. Amen.

Metropolitan of Buenos Aires and All Argentina

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos)'s Message for Lent 2018

Arabic original here.

Message for Lent

All of us need repentance, a return to God. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32). So enough with demolishing each other! Do not judge, so that you won't be judged: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner..."

The Church's canon and its rules for the fast are not to destroy the person or eliminate him. They are for discipline and education. All of us need discipline. How are we disciplined except through fasting and prayer? "This kind can only be expelled through prayer and fasting." Fasting is nothing less than refraining from everything that does not belong to God.

"O Lord and Master of my life, grant me not a spirit of sloth, meddling, love of power, and idle talk. But give to me, your servant, a spirit of sober-mindedness, humility, patience, and love..."

The purpose of the fast is for us to understand the mystery of God's expansive love. Look at the merciful father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Come to know the Heavenly Father through the Son. That is, through the Lord Jesus Christ who revealed Himself by saying, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest... learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29).

Who of us does not want to truly have rest in his soul?! Who of us does not want to know God truly? To touch His presence in the calm of his heart? "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3)...

"Love seeks nothing for itself" (1 Corinthians 13:5). "Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad" (John 11:51-52).

Today this message of ours must be in the Church and in the world. The Apostle Paul raises his voice and cries, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus... He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 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: 5, 7-8).

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Met Georges Khodr: Man's Treasure

Arabic original here.

Man's Treasure

"Where your treasure is, there your hearts will be also." This is the closing to the passage of the Gospel that the Church reads to us today to prepare us for the fast tomorrow. It is as though the whole purpose of the struggle of fasting is for us to be trained in the fact that the Lord is our treasure, so if He truly becomes our treasure, then our hearts will be attached to Him.

What is man's treasure? What does he love? Of course, he loves the flesh, the thing that is connected to him when he is born and which remains, until he is buried in a grave, connected to him. With it he sees, he hears, he senses and reproduces. A terrible, tempestuous force moves the universe. The flesh, then, is something we are attached to. Each of us is attached to his flesh, to one degree or another. The fast comes and tells us to cancel all of this. Man is attached to his flesh because he does not love to die. The believer loves to die, because he meets Christ, his Beloved.

Therefore, we refrain from food until we strike down the authority of the flesh over us, so that we may have authority over it.

What does man also love? Money. All people are attached to money. The saints do not love money; they trample it under their feet. For this reason, the Lord said, "Do not store up treasures for yourself on earth," meaning do not let your hearts be attached to money. What is meant by this is that even if you accumulate money, do not love it, do not desire it, and do not let it rule over your hearts. Let your hearts be free. Everyone needs money and the Lord did not say that you must be poor, but He did say not to be attached to money and that we should not let it have authority over us.

Man's worth is in that he is Christ's beloved and that he tries to implement the Gospel alone. So we have abundant money and give it to the poor. This was the first goal of the fast at the dawn of Christianity.

The third thing that man loves and is attached to is authority, the love of glory, the love of appearances, the love of lording over people. When Jesus confronted the devil in the wilderness, Satan said, "I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth," and Jesus drove him away from His face. Jesus does not want to be king like earthly kings. He wants to be king over hearts. He gained this kingdom at the crucifixion. When He loved, He became king.

And so let us train ourselves in humility as we hold the flesh in contempt and hold in contempt along with it the soul that incites evil, that is greedy and lords over people. We must learn that what we desire might be realized. We must learn not to hold any opinion unless it is attached to Christ by dogma, faith, and that which is not vain.

We must refrain from attachment to our opinion. By denying erroneous opinion or being free from erroneous opinion, we walk with the Lord towards Pascha, so that we may see His light.

We and those preceded us to heaven together welcome Christ. They went to His light and so we commemorated them last week on Soul Saturday, in order to remind ourselves that we and they are one Church.

We train ourselves in the fast in order to arrive at vision of the glory of the resurrection in love. If love remains in our hearts, and you polish and refine it, it will bring us to the Pascha that we hope for.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Review of 'Guide for a Church under Islam'

This review, by Sam Noble, appeared in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 57.1-4 (2016): 309-327. The entire review is available here.

Patrick Demetrius Viscuso, Guide for a Church under Islām: The Sixty-Six Canonical Questions Attributed to Thodōros Balsamōn (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2014)

In 1195, the people of Constantinople were witness to a singularly rare event. Patriarch Mark III of Alexandria (r. 1180-1209), visiting from Muslim-controlled Egypt, concelebrated the liturgy at Hagia Sophia with the Patriarch of Constantinople, George II Xiphilinos (r. 1191-1198), and the Patriarch of Antioch, Theodore Balsamon (r. 1193-after 1195). Much to the shock of his fellow patriarchs, he attempted to serve the traditional liturgy of his see, the Liturgy of Saint Mark but they prevented from doing so. It seems that this incident brought to the attention of everyone involved that practices in the Churches of Constantinople and Alexandria diverged on a wide variety of points and so Mark submitted to the patriarch and synod of Constantinople a list of sixty-six questions for clarification. The end result of this was a series of questions and responses prepared by Balsamon (a native of Constantinople who, though officially the absentee patriarch of Antioch, seems to have never left the city) on the synod’s behalf.

The issue of cultural, linguistic, and liturgical diversity and uniformity is a perennial point of contention in the Orthodox churches and so Patrick Demetrius Viscuso’s translation of Balsamon’s Sixty-Six Canonical Questions under the title Guide for a Church under Islam is a welcome contribution to the history of how the Byzantine Church understood Orthodox Christians living outside the boundaries of the empire. Throughout the volume, Viscuso demonstrates his expertise in Byzantine canon law by thoroughly cross-referencing passages from the Questions to the entire corpus of Balsamon’s works as well as to other pertinent Byzantine legal texts. He also provides extensive notes explaining the reasoning behind some of the more difficult-to-understand rulings, such as the Galenic theory lying behind the prohibition against communing on the same day as having bathed (78-80), as well as several of the rulings related to marriage, sexuality and gender in a manner that is clear and accessible for non-specialists. However, the reader might have appreciated further explanation of two of Balsamon’s more disturbing rulings, permitting a man to sell off a female slave with whom he has fornicated (118) and declaring betrothal to a girl of seven to be valid on the grounds that girls of that age are subject to concupiscence (119)

Nevertheless, even as he expertly explains the peculiarities of the Questions in relation to the broader corpus of Byzantine canon law, Viscuso fails to situate the text within its Middle Eastern dimension. In particular, he does not even so much as cite any of the substantial literature on Melkite canonical collections and the history of the reception of Byzantine legal texts among Middle Eastern Christians. This leads to a reading of the text that, while grounded in the history of Byzantine law, makes very little effort to understand it in terms beyond Balsamon’s own limited horizons. In choosing to give his translation the title Guide for a Church under Islam, Viscuso highlights precisely the dimension of the text that he least examines.


The Questions are doubtless an important source for the history of Byzantine canon law—especially as regards important contemporary issues such as the question of deaconesses, the reception of converts, and relations with the non-Orthodox-- and Viscuso has performed a great service in producing this clear, accessible English translation. Nevertheless, as is very often the case in studies of both Byzantium and the Christian Middle East, we are in need of further basic philological work in order to be able to have a proper understanding of this text. Without a critical edition of both versions of the Questions and a comprehensive comparison between them, it is difficult to tease out what in belongs to Mark and his Melkite Alexandrian context and what belongs to Balsamon. One can indeed discern some echoes of the daily life and problems of medieval Melkites from the text presented in this volume, but by and large these echoes are drowned out by Balsamon’s wholly Constantinopolitan frame of reference. Rather than an authentic “guide for a church under Islam,” what we have here is a foundational text in the Byzantine imaginary of Orthodoxy outside the bounds of empire.

Read the rest here.