Sunday, April 25, 2010

+Georges Khodr on Unifying the Date for Easter

From his column in an-Nahar. The Arabic original can be found here. Perhaps due to the fact that ecumenical relations with the various Catholic churches are quite close in the Patriarchate of Antioch, there is a fair amount of enthusiasm among some Orthodox laity and especially among the Catholics for creating a unified date for Easter. The most extreme example of this is a Greek Catholic woman in Syria named Myrna Nazzour who claims to witness Marian apparitions calling for a unified date for Easter and to experience stigmata on days when the Orthodox and Catholic Easters coincide. The official statement from the ecumenical gathering that took place in Aleppo in 1997 on this topic can be found here. As this article illustrates, there is little enthusiasm for changing the date for Easter among even the more ecumenically-minded Orthodox clergy in Syria and Lebanon.

A Single Date for Easter?

For a number of years I have heard Christians of different churches declare their agreement on a single date for Easter and they add that coming to such an understanding would unify them. My fear is that many are satisfied that there is no other difference between us than this. What is even more dangerous is that many go so far as to say that the dogmas which separate us are the work of theologians and that some bishops feel threatened by the loss of what people call their centers of power even though the churches are content for the Church in its unified state would not require the bishops to quit-- there are a tiny number of them in the world.

Thus my feeling that this rush for a unified date for Easter among some hides an attitude that depreciates the importance of dogmas and so goes beyond the issue of the feast, which is unquestionably at a lower level than the level of dogma.

The unity of Christian sentiments seems to me to be related to problem of Christian unity from the narrowest perspective or from the perspective of someone who is ignorant of the fact that there is a whole basket of disagreements that must be addressed together.

Disagreement over the dating of Easter was known in the second century when the Church was one. In Asia Minor, they celebrated it on the 14th of Nisan while in Alexandria and Rome it was on a Sunday. They worked in unity to establish a single date and arrived at it being on Sunday. They considered a unified date to be preferable, but the difference between the two dates did not constitute a schism.

Of what use has been a single date for the feast among the Catholic Church and the Protestant churches since their disagreements have remained intense for the past four hundred-odd years? In the 1920’s, when the Armenian Orthodox chose the western date for Easter did they then belong to the west on the level of dogma? Of course not. What makes their choosing a common date for Easter with us difficult is their complete unity with the Armenian church in their mother country. The Armenians of Lebanon and the Arab East will not adopt a different date without consulting their mother church and for this reason our Armenian brothers will not be part of any unity for the date of Easter in Lebanon.


The rule for the timing of Easter was set down at the ecumenical council of Nicea in the year 325. It requires that we begin the calculation for Easter from the Spring Equinox that takes place on the 21st of March. Then we wait for the full moon that follows it. The Sunday after the full moon is Easter. This ancient principle was confirmed by the ecumenical gathering that took place in Aleppo in 1997.

After Pope Gregory XIII corrected the Julian calendar in 1582-- a correction which was not accepted by the Orthodox Church—the Julian (Orthodox) 21st of March started to be different from the Gregorian 21st of March that was followed by most countries. So Catholics began to follow their March and to wait for their full moon to start their feast and the Orthodox 14th of March is now in this century 14 days after this and they await their full moon and their Easter is the Sunday after this.

So according to the movement of the moon we have two dates or one date for the feast. If the full moon follows soon after the Gregorian 21st of March, then the Orthodox have to wait until the next full moon to have their feast on the following Sunday and for this reason the Orthodox Easter can be far after from the Catholic one. However, if the full moon is far after the Gregorian Spring Equinox, then the feast is on a single day. The problem, then, is that the Catholics adopted the Gregorian calendar while the Orthodox are still on the Julian calendar which Rome abandoned in the time of Pope Gregory XIII.

It seems to me that if we held to the rule of the First Ecumenical Council—that is, the Spring Equinox then the first full moon—then the Orthodox must abandon the Julian calendar. This would require the mutual understanding of all the Orthodox churches in a general council or the exchange of letters between their heads. This appears difficult at the current time because, even if Orthodox decisions originate canonically from the heads of the churches, they tend the sentiments of their flocks. As far as I can ascertain, their sentiments do not seem to me to be very enthusiastic for change. They are composed of flocks and dioceses that are closer to holding to their heritage and who feel that the date of the feast is a part of this heritage. Our patriarchs and archbishops are not masters over their people in an absolute sense because of the system which coordinates between the clergy and the laity.

At this point in history, the Orthodox churches are enmeshed with ethnicities and in places like the Balkans, there has been bloodshed between Catholic ethnicities such as the Croats and Orthodox ethnicities. This is a grouping of different nations that are not prepared for change because they feel that sometimes it goes against dogma. You deal with peoples and not just with churches. Thus I do not anticipate a sudden change among the Orthodox peoples.

It remains that change, even if it is impossible at the present time, is possible on the regional level.


This is what Pope Paul VI thought in the 60’s during the sessions of Vatican II when he allowed Catholic minorities living in countries with an Orthodox majority to follow the Orthodox Easter, and this is what Catholic Christians do in Egypt and Jordan and Occupied Palestine. The Maronites of Lebanon studied this matter and they were almost at the point of celebrating Easter with the Orthodox after a meeting in Cyprus. I remember that their Patriarchate announced that they would consult Maronite people the about this question, but it appears that the patriarchate never undertook this consultation. Or they did and we don’t know the result.

Then there appeared literature coming from some Maronite intellectuals claiming that the Maronites in Lebanon are not a minority and so Pope Paul VI’s permission did not apply to them. The Orthodox patriarchate did not dispute this position. On the other hand, the opinion of many Orthodox was that Lebanon is not an ecclesial unit but rather that the unit is the Antiochene space. That is, one must consider all of the churches existing in the Antiochene space, Syria and Lebanon, together. If we adopted this principle then Pope Paul VI’s guarantee applies and the Catholics of the region of Syria and Lebanon can celebrate Easter according to the Orthodox calculation.

And now we find ourselves at an impasse. On the international level it would be irrational for the local Orthodox (in Syria and Lebanon) to be divided in their celebration from the Russians and the Greeks in their various countries, the Bulgarians, the Serbs and others by choosing a Lebanese day for the feast.

There are many who call for a unified date for the feast in our regions. As I image it, the Orthodox say to the Catholics—“the bond brotherhood between us requires you to celebrate with us as you were given permission to do so. Understand, beloved, that if we say that we cannot separate ourselves in this matter from our brothers in the Orthodox world. You, on the other hand, are not leaving anything since the matter was decided by your first source of authority. No one’s essential being is tied to the date of the feast and unity in a single date is considered by the people to be a concern about brotherly love. Let us then live this love on a region scale if we cannot live it now on the global level.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Monastic Renewal in the Patriarchate of Antioch Part II: The Monastery of St. George Deir el-Harf

The second part of Carol Saba's series. The French original can be found here.

I. Lazarus Saturday. March 27, 2010. Monastery of St. George . Deir el-Harf. Mount Lebanon.
The monastic community of Deir el-Harf is at a new stage of its long path in the service of the Lord and His Church. The angel of the Greek Orthodox diocese of Mount Lebanon, Metropolitan Georges (Khodr), wearing his Episcopal mandyas (the large mantle colored purple for bishops and black for monks) and the insignias of his station as the pastor of pastors of the diocese of Mount Lebanon, upon which the monastery depends canonically, enthroned the new abbot of the monastery, Joseph, handing him the cross, the symbol of his abbatial authority.

II. The enthronement of the successor in the presence of the predecessor.

Transitions are rarely done this way. This enthronement is very reminiscent of the spirit of the place. A place of succession in monastic service. The enthronement of the new abbot of the monastic community, Archimandrite Joseph (Abdallah), in the presence of the former abbot, Archimandrite Elias (Morcos), who has been at its head of the community since 1961. Great is the grace that allows for spiritual fatherhood to be transmitted in this way to the successor, the elder’s disciple, in the presence of the predecessor! The new abbot prays for the old abbot in his presence! The old abbot receives this prayer and raises his own in turn so that the Lord affirms and strengthens the community’s new pastor who is now in charge of its spiritual direction and its economy.

III. The Pastor’s Cross, the support and symbol of service.

“Take this cross and support yourself with it and keep your community and your parish in peace for you will be responsible our God and you will make an account before our God on Judgment Day.” Metropolitan Georges addressed these important words to Archimandrite Joseph at the moment of his enthronement, a service that resembles the enthronement of a bishop. Archimandrite Elias, weakened by age and illness, had himself wished for this succession and asked for it from his bishop, Met. Georges, one of his first companions in the service of the Lord at the beginning of the Orthodox Youth Movement in the Patriarchate of Antioch. Fr. Joseph, a disciple of Fr. Elias, is a rising figure in contemporary Antiochian monasticism. A man of great spiritual value, of great sweetness, evangelical, a hesychast, a spiritual father to a great many, he is now charged with the spiritual direction of one of the monastic communities that has been a beacon of monastic revival in the Patriarchate of Antioch during the twentieth century. Since then, it has become a center of spirituality and service shining in the heart of Mount Lebanon.

IV. Metroplitan Georges’ Homage to the Elder, Archimandrite Elias. “My brother abbot, before addressing you , my heart compels me to give thanks to our Lord for all the grace he has given Archimandrite Elias (Morcos) and through him this brotherhood. I know his struggle, his obedience to the Lord and his great loyalty and faithfulness. I wish him a long life so that we may continue to benefit from the grace of his prayers.” Father Morcos is one of the most senior elders of the patriarchate. One of the most remarkable spiritual figures in the Patriarchate of Antioch, he is one of the first generation of the pioneering founders of the Orthodox Youth Movement (MJO) of the Patriarchate. Over the course of his life, he has been one of the principle sources of inspiration for the development of the MJO and a tireless spiritual companion through his writings, his lectures, and his spiritual direction, to numerous generations of faithful and members of the Movement. He was one of the four or five volunteers who, carried by the MJO’s wind of renewal, presented themselves before Metropolitan Iliya (Karam) of Mount Lebanon, in the middle part of the 1950’s, in order to reignite the monastic flame at the heart of Mount Lebanon at Deir el-Harf.
V. The bishop’s exhortation to Archimandrite Joseph! Then he addressed the new shepherd of the community and said, “As for you, my brother Joseph, you know all of this. There is no need for me to remind you of anything. You know all the obedience that you monks present to the Lord Jesus and that we will all return with him tomorrow to the Heavenly Jerusalem. You understand the principles and the rules, including those of the liturgical life, so I will not remind you of all that. And you, higumen Joseph, have been graced with the charism of good relations with your spiritual children and your brothers. You have received the gift of sweetness which comes from the Holy Spirit. We have need of another virtue, and it may be that you already have this gift in a certain manner: determination where it is necessary and firmness where firmness is necessary. The act of bearing those brothers who are weak or who are becoming weak. Above all, it is important that you preserve the unity of this brotherhood, the seriousness of each of its members, the purity of its steps, and the simplicity of its life and path of asceticism.” Metropolitan Georges continued his pastoral sermon to the Abbot Joseph saying, “This new responsibility of yours brings forth virtues that maybe were existent or maybe were not in the heart of the community, or maybe they were few in number- I don’t know, God knows. But I pray with the brothers present here that the Lord gives you the grace of direction to be a leader of men, a grace that the Lord exercised. He always had the sweetness which is present in his relations with all people and he also had determination and firmness with impostors. I do not believe that there are any impostors here, but one of the brothers could become weak, could slip, or could experience a pain and become sad. It’s for you to manage this with wisdom. I have no doubt that God will grant you this wisdom. Positions within the Church bring their virtues. This is what I pray for. I remember that the icon of the protector of this monastery represents a knight who has brought down the dragon, that is, sin. From now on you are charged with brining down all the dragons here, so that only the praises the monks sing to our Lord and God Jesus Christ with his Father and his Holy Spirit may remain. Amen.”

VI. Deir el-Harf. A place of spiritual combat in the heart of Mount Lebanon. Between earth and heaven. 27km from Beirut. On one of the hills of Ras el-Matn (literally, head of the Matn), a mountainous region northeast of Beirut characterized by its dense pine forests rising 1040m above sea level. The Monastery of St. George is located in the middle of a pine forest where the monks’ prayers constantly mix, very naturally, with the twittering of the birds of the mountain and with the classic chirping of the cicadas. Everything here leads to contemplation. The beauty of the place favors praise and the action of grace. The monastery’s foundation in the modern era goes back to 1790. At least, that is when the names of the successive abbots of the monastery become known from the archives of the Archdioceses of Beirut and Mount Lebanon. At the time, these two dioceses constituted a single diocese. They were divided in 1905. Oral tradition claims that in the same region there was a monastery founded by Crusaders that was destroyed by the Mamluk sultan Baybars who ruled between 1260 and 1277. Other traditions place the foundation of the monastery further back in history, to the 5th century on top of a former pagan temple.

VII. Legend or not, the monastery is always there, valiantly under the protection of St. George. The legend of the more recent founding of the monastery tells the story of a young Orthodox shepherd born in 1306 in the village of Raha located in Jebel Druze. He fled his family, who desired to force him into marriage to a cousin, something contrary to the canons of the Church. Seeking to escape this fate, he desired to become a monk and took refuge in the ruins of the monastery at Deir el-Harf. One day, a horseman in white appeared to him in his sleep at the foot of a tree and encouraged him to persist in his monastic pursuit, ordering him to remain in this place where, he said, a monastery had been dedicated to him but had been destroyed because of the avarice of the monks who had previously been custodians of the place. Wehbeh ibn Muhsin al-Lakhmi finally remained there for decades, becoming the first monk and superior of the monastery. He was joined by his brother, who discovered the gift of healing that the Lord had granted to Wehbeh. The monastery became a place of pilgrimage because of the many miraculous healings made by the intercession of St. George. Wehbeh died as a monk in the year 1411 at the age of 105. Two years before his repose, in 1409, a Druze prince paid for the construction of a church in this place in honor of St. George who, according to tradition, helped him win in battle against his enemies. The same prince donated the lands that today form a large part of the monastery’s possessions, which allowed the reconstruction of the monastic buildings that had been in ruins.

VIII. Interruption and resumption of monastic life. The monastery’s church, according to an inscription, was rebuilt in 1790 by Jonas, abbot of the monastery, and was once more destroyed during a battle between the two great Druze families in the region, the Yazbakis and the Jumblattis. It was once again destroyed in 1860 and was not again reconstructed until 1890. The monastery never ceased to know the vicissitudes of history, which time and again forced the monks to leave their place and take refuge here and there. The continuity of monastic life in this place thus knew many periods during which monastic life was interrupted. During a brief time at the beginning of the 20th century (1922-1927), the monastery was transformed into a school. Several attempts at refounding the monastery were attempted during the middle of the 20th century, notably two attempts at starting a community of nuns with the blessing of the bishop of Mount Lebanon, Metropolitan Elias (Karam)- in 1939-1941 (Mother Anastiasia, Adele Karam) and again in 1954 under the direction of a Russian nun, Mother Blandine, which eventually moved to the monastery of Mar Yacoub (Deddeh in Koura).

IX. The monastic flame is relit at Deir el-Harf in 1957 and still burns! In 1957, with the blessing of the bishop of Mount Lebanon and predecessor to Archbishop Georges (Khodr), Elias (Karam), a monastic community for men was founded at Deir el-Harf. Its membership was largely drawn from young men belonging to the Orthodox Youth Movement. The first two monks arrived in November 1957: Chafic Mansour (the current Metropolitan of Lattakia) and Elias Yacoub, both from Lattakia. They were soon followed by Habib Fahdeh and Marcel Morcos, (Archimandrite Elias Morcos). During the service of vespers on August 28, 1959, the Feast of the Decapitation of St. John the Baptist, that brothers Chafic, Marcel, and Ibrahim took the monastic habit in the presence of Metropolitan Elias (Karam) of Mount Lebanon, and of Metropolitan Elias (Mouawad) of Aleppo, the future Patriarch Elias IV of Antioch. It is at this time that the monastery invited Fr. Andre Scrima, the Romanian monk and theologian, bearer of the hesychastic tradition throughout the world, who exercised an important role as spiritual father to the fledgling community.

X. Archimandrite Elias, abbot of the monastery. Starting in 1961, Archimandrite Elias (Morcos) was confided with the spiritual direction of the monastery. Under his direction, the monastic community has developed and blossomed and become the spiritual emblem of the monastic renaissance at the heart of the Patriarchate of Antioch during the second half of the 20th century. During the war in Lebanon, the monks had to leave the monastery for four years, from 1983-1987.

XI. The katholikon (principle church) of Deir el-Harf has a very beautiful 19th century wooden iconostasis and frescos painted by Romanian iconographers in 1971, under the direction of the famous Romanian monk and iconographer Fr. Sofian Boghiu, thanks to the help and support of Patriarch Justinian of Romania. The iconostasis also has very beautiful icons painted in the post-Byzantine Cretan style dating to 1815. One is of the Theotokos Hodigitria and the other of Christ Pantokrator. These two icons, very similar in style, seem to have been painted on the premises of the monastery itself by a Cretan deacon named Gideon who lived at the monastery. In their age and their style, these two icons indicate the cooperation between post-Byzantine Greece and the churches and monasteries of the Patriarchate of Antioch.
The monastery also contains a very large library with some 1500 volumes of theology, spirituality, iconography, Church history, and patristics in Arabic, English, French, and Greek. There is also a collection of manuscripts. The oldest, dating to 1704, is a copy of the Ladder or Virtues. From 1959 to 1969, the monks edited a well-respected journal of theology and patristics, “Les Cahiers de Deir el-Harf.”

XII. Deir el-Harf is a center of spiritual regeneration, a place that has been and continues to be not only dedicated to the monastic life, to contemplation and prayer, but also a place open to the entirety of the Church. For a long time the monks have undertaken liturgical and pastoral service in all the villages around the monastery. It is also a place that is open and sensitive to the universal vocation of the Orthodox Church. The famous Romanian theologian and hesychast, Fr. Andre Scrima (1925-2000), was called by the brothers of the nascent community in the late 50’s to spiritually accompany their monastic labor. He stayed there for several long stretches and had very close ties to the community. Deir el-Harf has been and continues to be a nursery for publication, edition, translation, spiritual direction where young people and young monks meet to engage in dialogue and to bear together, in prayer and reflection, the service of the Church of Antioch and its witness in the world.

Friday, April 16, 2010

An Unusual Easter Custom in Lattakia

H/T Moinillon, where if you can read French, the comments are pretty interesting... Apparently at one time in Greece such was common as well.

Needless to say, in Syria such a gathering of Muslims would be discouraged by the state.... with extreme prejudice.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

More on Russian Orthodoxy in the Holy Land

For a while on my list of links, I've had the website for the Sophia Association, a charity run by Fr. Roman Radwan, an Arab priest with Israeli nationality who studied at Jordanville and whose family has a long history of ties to the Russian mission in Palestine. The Sophia Association's work is to repair and rebuild Orthodox churches within the current territory of Israel, most of which were destroyed or put into disuse in 1948 and remain very frequent targets of vandalism and other kinds of abuse from the local Jewish population, as documented on the website, which is in Arabic, Russian (with pre-revolutionary orthography!) and English.

Recently, the Jerusalem Post published a very interesting article about Fr. Roman's parish, St. Nicholas, that is well worth reading. While the Post itself is generally way too right-wing to be reputable, even among Israelis, this article was surprisingly balanced and sympathetic. It highlights the anxiety that many Jewish Israelis have about the strong tendency for Russian immigrants to convert to Christianity- anecdotaly, it probably is rather more than the statistics given by the talking heads toward the end of the article. In a sense, the Orthodox Church is one of the only things that on some level unites the Israelis and the Palestinians....

Read it here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Russian Orthodoxy in the UAE

The original can be found here. H/T Antiochians in Nice.

The Church of St. Phillip in Sharjah

The Church of St. Phillip in the emirate Sharjah of the UAE is the first church representing [Russian] Orthodoxy in the Arabian Peninsula. The decision to build it was adopted in 2005 when the current Patriarch of Moscow Kyrill and all Russia visited the Emirates as the Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad.

On December 9, 2007 the cornerstone for the Church of St. Phillip was laid in the neighborhood of al-Yarmouk in the Emirate of Sharjah, which is a neighborhood that contains a number of churches and places of worship which serve various communities residing in the emirate.

The church was given the name of St. Phillip in honor of Phillip Timona [??], the first Russian priest to set foot on the Arabian Peninsula.

For footage of the partially-completed, 1800m2 church and the Paschal liturgy that took place there this week, see here.

New CSM Articles on Arab Christians

The Christian Science Monitor, despite its current web-only format and creepy denominational affiliation, seems to be the only English-language newspaper written for people who want a perspective wider than their own nose. Lately, they've been on a bit of a roll with articles about Arab Christians.

To wit,

Why Christians are Declining in the Middle East

Arab Christians in Jordan Risk All for Easter Sunday Pilgrimage to Israel

A Syrian Bid to Resurrect Aramaic, the Language of Jesus Christ

In Egypt, Christians Celebrate Easter under Shadow of Christmas Attacks

A Christianity of the Resurrection

The original can be found here.

A Christianity of the Resurrection

Christianity has never been, neither at its inception nor in the end of the matter, a religion among others. It was not concerned with transmitting a new image of a god, known or new. Nor is it a relationship to him from afar or via commandments and decrees. And it is not a teaching that appears for the first time. This is despite the fact that within it there is something of these things. However, this is not its essence or its basis. Christianity, at its deepest level, has no relation to other religions. Naturally, if it is compared with them, one will come across points of intersection and similarities with things found in these religions. This is because there are divine seeds sewn since the dawn of time in all the earth and among all peoples. This was in order to point out the way and to help along what would come in the fullness of time but it is not itself the same thing. Christianity is unique because it does not bring a first step or a new view or a new position or a new idea. Christianity brings a new life! Everything that preceded it or followed it wallows in the old life, the life of this world, even if it believes in the Day of Judgment and preaches the general resurrection on the last day. There is nothing new in the various religions on the level of the nature of the life they offer to mankind. The religions all offer abundant ethics and rituals and customs for their adherents that if they follow faithfully lead to blessings here and a share in paradise hereafter, on the last day. Between what goes on now and what will occur in the hereafter, the nature of human life remains the same for these religions, augmented by some teachings and blessings that are claimed to come down from above. In these religions, some claims that they alone are right and others claims that they is right in their way, allowing each religion to think that it is also right, each one according to its path. Christianity, however, has nothing to do with either and does not belong to this kind of viewpoint.

In Christianity, the Resurrection, the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, did not happen two thousand years ago to cause something to happen that is relegated to the last day. Christ rose to give us a new life now, from the moment in history when the Resurrection occurred until eternity. Christ did not rise like Lazarus or the daughter of the chief of the council or the son of the widow of Nain, as they were before His resurrection. They rose in the sense that the human life that they had had prior to their repose was returned to them but then they died because human life must arrive at an end, as natural human life in the body. The Lord Jesus, however, was resurrected to eternal life. He did not simply return to how things were before His death in the body. Resurrection to eternal life is that the life of God is that by which the Lord Jesus was resurrected in the body. For this reason His body became a body of glory, not susceptible to that to which it was susceptible before His death, no longer susceptible to sickness and death and no longer subject to the needs of the material body. The body of the Lord Jesus was spiritualized through the uncreated divine life by which he rose. The fact that Jesus, after His resurrection in the body, ate and allowed His body to be touched and the marks from the nails and the wound from the spear to be felt, as with the apostle Thomas, was not to affirm the sensibility of the body of the Lord Jesus, but to establish the He is the same one whom the disciples knew and that His body was the same one in which He died. That is, that this very same one is the teacher Jesus whom they had known. But something fundamental had changed in the body—it had become a body of glory. The way in which he appeared to us is not on account of the characteristics of the new body, but on account of the marks of the love of the Lord Jesus for us and His condescension so that we may be assured that the one appearing before us is the same one who came before and whom we knew and so that through this we may come to faith in the new life and in a glorified body given to us in the resurrection, first to the Lord Jesus and then to all mankind who believes in Him according to the divine words, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13).”

The new life, the life that wells forth from within God, the uncreated life, eternal life, this is given to us by the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost Christ our God gave us the Holy Spirit from the Heavenly Father in order to draw us close to the new life and its gifts that came through His resurrection. For this reason, Pentecost occurred and extended itself, through the Divine Mysteries, to all those who believe in Jesus. Through baptism, we are born into this new life. Through chrismation we acquire the divine gifts that are for this life. Through the mystery of the Eucharist, we are nourished by its stream, by the body of the Lord and His blood, by the life which is in it unto eternity. Thus we who believe in Jesus are alive, from this moment, with the new life which we have been given. The divine mysteries are the channels by which this life comes to us along with the spiritual graces which are its fruits, according to the Apostle Paul when he says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23).” These are not moral or social or human values. These are spiritual effects. It is the Holy Spirit who works them, and not a person’s spirit or his thinking. If not for the new spiritual life that settles within us, then these graces would not appear.

Even if this newness of life arises within us, we have this treasure in a vessel of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7). This is our state here on earth. This newness is opened within us, in our body of dust, through repentance, struggle, and chastity—in a word, by keeping the divine commandments. For this reason the Lord said to us that the words which He spoke to us, the commandments that He taught us, are spirit and life. Thus the body we are in now, the body that is from dust and is returning to dust, has been changed by God into a home for life from above. The meaning of this is that every day we partake of Gods life in this body. This marks our body of dust with the divine light despite its being destined for the grave. Thus we partake of eternal life from this moment in a mortal body. We advance toward the grave while we are filled with God’s life. That which is of dust must return to the dust because corruption does not inherit incorruption (1 Corinthians 15:50). The dust returns to dust first in order that the passions and sin that are in it may die then, in order that the body be resurrected, the very same body that we are in, in glory to become a body of glory, when the hour comes. This causes us, in this body of dust, to continue to a more excellent state, in the new life that has been sewn within us, in our consciousness of our selves, and in our own personal virtues. We are not transported, by the death of our body of dust, to a state of hollow anticipation, but rather we ourselves are, in the divine life given to us, with God until our being is made perfect in the resurrection of bodies in glory on the last day according to the model of the body of Christ the Lord. God is not a god of the dead, but of the living. For this reason, in the death of the body of dust, we find ourselves in the depths of the new life, in light, in glory. This makes our death in the flesh a transition to more abundant life. The human body of dust remains, to a great degree, an impediment to openness to the divine life of light within us. Even the saints, though their bodies of dust were spiritualized and enlightened, they still remained of dust and so under the mark of death for the body. This remains a negative factor in the opening of the divine life into the untrammeled passageways within us.

Thus, in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, a new divine life has settled within us, and our life in the body has opened up to it. Our obeying the divine commandments, our involvement in the liturgy, our partaking of the divine mysteries, and our efforts in the evangelical virtues do not have the goal of participating in the resurrection of the Lord and they do not have the goal of bringing the new divine life into us. Rather they are precisely an effect of our previous participation in His resurrection and the settling of the new life in our being. Man, according to the nature of dust that he is in, partakes of the natural intellectual, psychic, and bodily energies and man, according to the new divine life that has been established within him, partakes of the spiritual energies and the divine virtues. For this reason, believers become a gathering of the resurrection, not in the sense that they look to the resurrection coming in the future, but because they now live in the resurrection in the spirit, extending from the resurrection of the Lord in the body, as they are His body, that is, the Church in which He is found and of which He is the head. Glory to the One who made us heavenly on the earth until we arrive in perfection at the new earth and the glorified body in heaven! Christ is risen! This is the only new thing in history and the single truth! God is alive within us! Nothing else among us has value! All else is wandering and shadow!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite—Douma

April 4, 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

يا يسوع الحياة

From perhaps one of the most famous converts to Orthodoxy of modern times.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pray for the Christians of the West Bank

I hadn't wanted to post text during Holy Week, but while we are going about our worship, we need to remember the people of Palestine in our prayers. The Israeli army has sealed the West Bank to all border-crossings this week, until April 6. While this is allegedly on account of the Jewish Passover, it in fact prevents Palestinian Christians from worshiping at the Holy Sepulcher for the Saturday of Light when they receive the Holy Fire.

I haven't found mention of it in English-language MSM. A brief note of this can be found in English on a Russian website here.

It has been mentioned more in the French press, but without reference to Christian Holy Week.
For example, here. (Google "Cisjordanie" and "boucler")

Update: The Ochlophobist has posted an article, apparently from Ecumenical News International, that states that the Israelis have bowed to pressure from Western religious groups and are allowing Christians special permits to go to Jerusalem from the West Bank. However, this article does not yet appear on the ENI website.

Also see today's Reuters article about how Israeli restrictions have greatly diminished participation in Holy Week celebrations in Jerusalem. Here.

اليوم علق على الخشبة الذي علق الارض على المياه