Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fr. Georges Massouh: The Primacy of Peace or of Justice?

This column appeared in an-Nahar this past week. The Arabic original can be found here. Fr. Georges Massouh is professor of Islamic Studies at Balamand University.

The Primacy of Peace or of Justice?

Christ called for peace. He believed in the human capacity to realize peace ‘here and now’ in the present world for every generation that followed on the earth after His days until our own time. However, all generations have failed in establishing peace, contrary to the hopes of the inhabited world. The world continues to witness struggles and conflicts and wars and the military occupations, massacres, atrocities, forced expulsions, and ethnic cleanings that result from them.

In reality, the role that religions play is the opposite of what their founders intended for them. Christian institutions have disobeyed the divine commandment about this over and over again when they bless fighters and exhort them to battle and raiding, taking captives, plunder and robbery. Even worse than this is when wars are civil wars, where sons of a single country and neighbors from the same street fight each other.

Christ did not call for justice to the same degree that He called for peace. If He had only called for justice, would he have said in His famous Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who does evil to you. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek to him. And if someone wants to take your tunic, give your cloak to him as well. And if someone forces you do go one mile with him, go a second one as well” (Matthew 5:38-41). And did He say, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)?

Naturally, in quoting these words here we intend to point out the relationship between brotherhood within one house or between individuals of the same nation. When someone asked Christ to tell his brother to share his inheritance with him, He responded, “Man, who made me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14). Christ refused to be an earthly judge who is concerned with the affairs of the world and its dirt. Christ realized that human justice is a mirage, a fantasy, grasping at the wind. What He truly wanted is peace among brothers, even at the expense of justice and equity between them.

However, Christ asks brothers to be concerned about each other’s affairs. Care for the poor, the impoverished, the crippled, the orphans, and those suffering is at the heart of His message. This is not based on applying justice, but rather on love, peace, and giving freely. And where is the concern of the Church’s institutions for all that? At a time when our countries are being drained by continuous emigration because of wars and military occupations, we see some of them ruling out the options of peace and stability, no doubt on account of a just cause. But is this cause worth civil strife that would turn the Christian presence into dead ashes? Christ did not remain quiet when he was struck by one of the guards of the high priest Ananias. He said to him, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?” (John 18:23). Christ defended himself and asked for the reason he was subject to the blow. But he suffered the pains alone and did not put others in danger because of His beliefs. He redeemed all mankind since He accepted to die for their sake, not because they died for His sake or for the sake of His cause.

Likewise St. John the Baptist realized his purpose when he spoke the truth before the face of Herod who had transgressed the Law. John realized that he would die if he continued to chastise Herod, but even so he did not give up and resolutely continued to remind Herod of the requirements of the Law and the teachings of the prophets until he cut off John’s head and offered it on a plate as a gift to the wealthy and decadent.

John’s convictions asked an exorbitant price of him . His life was the price. The price was not someone else’s life. He would not have been pleased for someone else to pay the price. He redeemed the word of truth with his head and his blood and not with the head of another. He did not gamble with other people’s heads and spirits, nor with the spirits of their wives and children, their youth and their elderly, nor with their homes, their livelihoods, and their possessions. He faced the anger of the judge with his bare head, covered only with the cloth of purity and chastity. He faced the anger that was coming for him armed only with his faith that could not be shaken by fear or adversity.

One who desires to strive until the end for a cause he believes in should be like Christ or John the Baptist and be pleased to suffer martyrdom for the sake of his lofty cause. He should not put at risk people who have no say in the events that future generations will discuss, just as we today discuss the horrors and tragedies of the history that has precedes us.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Dissertation on Contemporary Orthodox-Muslim Relations

Apparently, the University of Birmingham posts PhD dissertations for free download online. Here is one by Andrew Martin Sharpe entitled Eastern Orthodox Theological and Ecclesiological Thought on Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations in the Contemporary World (1975-2008). I haven't yet gone through it, but it looks to be very interesting. David Thomas, a very competent scholar of medieval Christian-Muslim relations, supervised it.

It can be downloaded here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fr. Touma Explains

The Arabic original can be found here. The synodal decision in question can be found here.

Update: Fr. Touma himself has corrected my translation. Please disregard previous versions. This corrected version is also available here.

The Holy Synod’s Decision about North America: In Search of the Truth

In the issue for last Sunday, November 14 2010, of the column “Dots on the Letters” I spoke
about a protest of the forgery that occurred to the synodal decision that the Holy Synod of Antioch adopted in its 46th regular session between the 17th and the 20th of August of this year regarding the Orthodox Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. My concern with this topic comes out of the fact that the decision raises a delicate and sensitive question about the future of the American Archdiocese and the whole Antiochian See, with dangerous repercussions, especially after the travails which the Archdiocese went through during the past seven years.
After reading what I posted last week, many people wondered and asked me what was the
forgery I was talking about. What I meant by “forgery” is not malice and deception. There is not
necessarily a bad intention in this matter. Just the opposite, what happened could have happened in good intention. And so my statement is not an accusation against anyone. My focus is on the text, not on the intent. I am concerned about the distortion that took place about its meaning and the change that took place to its form.

As for the distortion of its meaning, this occurred to an essential passage of the text and as
for the change of form, it is with the parallel placement of the two texts of the decision, one of them official in Arabic and the other unofficial in English as well as with the signatures that were
included after both texts together. In the Arabic text of the decision, as it appears on the official website of the Archdiocese of North America, there is the following passage: “The Metropolitan has the right and the authority, in going back to the Archdiocesan Synod, to transfer a bishop dependent on him from one diocese to another when necessary, and for the good of the Archdiocese.” The text of this passage could have been clearer and more precise since there is a certain ambiguity in it. Whatever the case may be, the question that imposes itself here is: from whom does the decision to transfer come? Is it from the metropolitan or from the Archdiocesan Synod? If we say that it comes from the metropolitan, the meaning is that the role of the Archdiocesan Synod is purely consultative. This means that the metropolitan exchanges opinions with the bishops then he adopts the decision that appears to him to be appropriate according to how he sees things, without his necessarily having to adhere to the opinions of the bishops either individually or as a group. However, if we say that the Archdiocesan Synod is the one to take the decision, even if we consider the bishops to be the metropolitan’s auxiliary bishops, then the picture changes completely since the decision is taken from the Archdiocesan Synod and the Metropolitan adheres to it as the head and member of the Archdiocesan Synod. In that way the decision made by the entire Archdiocesan Synod, not by the metropolitan individually. This better expresses the conciliar principle, which we have long vaunted but rarely embodied.

The unofficial English text which corresponds to the same passage of the official synodal
decision in Arabic, as it appears, again and again, on the website of the Archdiocese of North
America, is not a literal translation of the Arabic text of that passage. Rather, it is a distortion, or
one could say an interpretive version. Here is how the English text literally reads [here Fr. Touma gives his literal rendering of the English back into Arabic]: “the Metropolitan possesses the right and the authority to transfer a bishop from one diocese to another, as he deems necessary for the benefit of the Archdiocese, and after deliberating with the Archdiocesan Synod.” The words here are explicit and clear: the decision is the metropolitan’s and the role of the Archdiocesan Synod is purely limited to deliberation of the matter at hand. Here the question arises: Was the intent of the Holy Synod of Antioch what is expressed in explicit terms by the author of the English text of this passage or not? I asked more than one trusted source of the Synod, they said something other than what appears in the English text translated above! One of the leaders of the Synod literally said to me: “The words of the Holy Synod of Antioch mean that the transfer of a bishop in North America from one region to another does not take place after the metropolitan deliberates with his Archdiocesan Synod, as it appears in the English text on the website of the American Archdiocese. Rather, it comes from a decision of the Archdiocesan Synod, as it appears in the decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch.”

This is with regard to distortion of meaning. As for the change of the form of the synodal
decision, the form in which this decision appears on the official website of the Archdiocese of
North America puts the official text in Arabic parallel to the unofficial English text as though it
were an approved translation, at least in the Archdiocese of North America, especially since the
signatures that appear on the lower half of the sheet cover the lower portion of both texts together. This creates confusion for the ordinary reader, especially one who does not know Arabic, since it states at the end of the synodal decision that the Holy Synod of Antioch affirms that “the Arabic text is considered the only reference.” Naturally, one wonders here why the Holy Synod does not rely on an official, canonical translation staff?! The signatures give the impression, where they appear, that the Holy Synod relied on both texts together and signed them both, even though the English text of the decision is considered unofficial!

Added to this matter, the signatures as they are on the paper of the synodal decision posted
on the official website of the Archdiocese of North America, in the form in which they appear there, cause one to wonder: did those who sign the decision actually and personally sign it or not? I asked one of the members of the Holy Synod of Antioch if he had signed the decision pertaining to North America and his response was absolutely in the negative, despite the fact that his signature appears under the text of the decision! Another member told me that a well-known priest told him that theyintended to photographically insert the signatures into the decision. He responded to him saying “but you know that this is something uncanonical that is not done!” He replied that it is done!!!

What happened to the first member of the Holy Synod and what the second member confirmed
gives the impression that the signatures were photographically added and that members of the HolySynod did not actually sign the decision! A third member of the Holy Synod who allowed me tospeak with him has exactly this impression. His comment was (and the words are his): “The act ofdepicting the signatures of the Antiochian metropolitans at the bottom of the synodal decision is something very strange because it goes against all principles. A text of the decision that the metropolitans did not sign should not be attributed to them on the American screen!”

With all respect,
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan
the Athonite, Douma

Friday, November 19, 2010

Met. Georges Khodr on Christians in the Middle East

The Arabic original can be found here.

The Christians in the East

"You are the best community that has been created for mankind,
enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong."

Are those who killed people praying in Iraq still part of the Muslim community? Who will tell them that they have left this community since they have committed evil? From al-Azhar to Najaf, passing through all the Muslims of the world, who will read to them from their Book: "if anyone kills a person- unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed all mankind (Surat al-Ma'ida 32)"?

I cannot believe that a billion or more Muslims are unable to stop these murderers. A Friday sermon against these butchers of innocent people at prayer is not enough. In the best case, denouncement means that your mind or your conscience does not accept the massacre of people worshiping their Lord during the time of worship. Condemnation is a necessary first step at best, but spilled blood is still blood.

Muslims are a tenacious community who do not accept injustice and do not allow themselves to be humiliated. They have a strong sense of unity and a sense of their power and they reject any injustice that is committed against them. However, this community commits injustice against itself and allows its image to be distorted when it allows those criminals to have control over its reputation. I do not understand why Muslims from Mecca to Indonesia do not move to cut these murderers off from the community, whatever legal term is used for expelling them.
The place where the leaders of this terrorist movement live is not unknown. The leaders walk about with complete freedom in some mountainous regions of Asia that are not far from the eyes of the authorities. They do not escape the view of satellites. Who is watching these satellites? Neighboring countries and far-off countries have certain knowledge of their presence, but remain silent and uninvolved. The question is who who had something to gain from the massacre of those people who were praying in the Church of Our Lady of Deliverance? Who benefits from the killing of these martyrs? What are the countries that are overseeing the territory of that church in Baghdad? The martyrs have gone on to heavenly glory, and they join us to the face of the Father and they strengthen the Church because we are joined to their glorious bodies. Their voices went silent in the moments when they were slaughtered and their Savior took them to His breast because they have become beloved.

Their blood sanctified Iraq and lifted its righteous people up to the bosom of God. Iraq is made great through their blood and good, sincere Muslims are made great because the people are united together in their testimony that has placed a certain degree of righteousness in this Arab people who are threatened by the swords of lawless men until the day when God arises and judges the earth and we make our pilgrimage together to the Holy City.

If the sanctuaries of the east sowed righteousness in its land, why must righteous people die? Why must children be trampled? But God, may He be blessed and exalted, sends down His grace upon innocent blood and it speaks the truth.

After my pain, I have pity for those murderers who are commanded by their Book to not clothe truth in falsehood (Surat al-Baqara 42). However, I would like to say to them that they will never be able to put an end to the Christians because they have a secret in their history, and it is that martyrdom, from the time of the Romans increased their numbers, because it is a witness to their love of those who hate them. They are always forgiving and do not hate because hatred is a denial of a person's humanity and one makes a mistake to think that it ever bears fruit. "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). One who destroys others will be destroyed by God and for one who does not use the sword, God is his only kingdom, and God alone.

We try very hard to convince ourselves that we are not in the minority when we have faith that in this modern era people believe that religion is in the heart and that it is not a tool for domination or division and that people are able, in the company of their Lord, to live together and to truly cooperate, to stand out in all fields of human knowledge and to use them for everyone's benefit. We see that here in this country and we rejoice in it. The model we have here of national cooperation can be exported to the entire Arab world in which we live together to this day. However, we have an eye on Iraq and an eye on Egypt, where some of our beloved Copts are martyred every year. If you knew them as I myself know them, you would see that there is no one who surpasses them in their love for Egypt and in their intellectual service to that great country. That said, we are certain that Syria, Lebanon, and what remains of Palestine are safe from sectarian hatred and there is no place for fear on the level of citizenship. It is our hope that the sickness of Iraq does not reach here, lest Arabness loses the Christian splendor that it has. But if people fear for the future of their children, then they are liable to emigrate. That is a great illness.

In July or August of 1975, Metropolitan Eliya Saliba, the Orthodox bishop of Beirut, gathered at his residence a group of Lebanese personalities, Muslim and Christian and I was there. Pierre al-Jamil stood up and said, "We Christians are afraid." Taqi al-Din al-Solh, may God have mercy on them both, responded, "Is it not shameful for a person to be afraid?" Pierre al-Jamil replied, "Is it not shameful for a person to cause fear?" My point now is not to support one or the other, but I will say that fear is shameful for one who uses it and one who receives it because we are all exempt in our citizenship from human fear. In my reckoning, we in Lebanon believe in each other. However I would like to emphasize here that no group governs another group and that the nation is enough to govern us all. Dhimmitude no longer exists because the Ottoman state it in the 19th century abolished it from the law. I hope that it no longer exists in anyone's mind, because if it did, it would be a danger both to those who remain in the country and those who have emigrated.

I would like to believe that there is not a plan for the Islamization of this land, since it ultimately means that Christians would leave their homes quietly and politely.

I believe that Lebanese Muslims are honest and sincere when they affirm their commitment to Christians' remaining. Love has grown between us for a very long time, as well as friendships and family relationships.

However, these relationships must be protected politically and economically as we strengthen all aspects of the country.

However, we are brothers with the Christians of Iraq and Egypt and Israel. There there is special fear since the declaration of the Jewish state and I do not in any way exculpate them in any way from being categorized alongside extremist Islamic movements.

As an epilogue, we cling to the bosom of Christ who promised us that He will be with us until the end of the ages. It is He and not us who is the entire age. We are certain that we will remain until His coming, whether we are alive in the body or outside the body. This is a matter of piety for Christians and Muslims until God inherits the earth and all that is in it.

Met. Ephrem's Sermon to the Priests of Tripoli

This sermon was given at the regular meeting of the priests of the Archdiocese of Tripoli, Nov. 13, 2010. The Arabic original can be found here.

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

Today, beloved, we celebrate the great feast of Saint John Chrysostom who is considered the hierarch par excellence. On this occasion, and on the occasion of every feast of a hierarch, the gospel passage is read to us from the Evangelist John where he says "I am the Good Shepherd."
In the Gospel of John, as you notice in a number of places in it, Jesus says "I am the Light", "I am the Vineyard", "I am the door", "I am the Good Shepherd". We notice in these expressions the centrality of the "I". This is to emphasize that the axis, the pillar, the center is the Lord Jesus Christ.

He is the door. You know that in ancient times doors were not made of wood or of iron. Usually, a door is like what you see with the royal doors, something that you can push open and then freely enter. This means that the Lord Jesus is the passageway, He is the straight path, the true path that we Christians follow. We must follow Him so that we do not go astray, so that we will arrive at the desired destination.

He also says "I am the Good Shepherd" and this reminds us of the beautiful song in the Psalms: "The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want, he has settled me in green pastures." The Lord Jesus is the pasture and He leads us to the good pasture, the place where the sheep find good food, true, nourishing food. This pasture is Himself, where we find nourishment and we also find in Him our rest. We find in Him our true life,true happiness because He says in the same passage of the Gospel, "I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly." We Christians must take pride in the fact that we have the best path, the best happiness, the best joy. We often forget this and we enter through other paths.

So that He may give us life, and give it more abundantly, He says that "the Good Shepherd sacrifices himself for the sake of the sheep." This is the new thing that was not mentioned in the Old Testament, where the prophets talked about shepherd as we find, for example, in Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and others. However, these prophets did not mention that this Good Shepherd sacrifices Himself for the sheep! This is the distinguishing sign that He is liberator and that he is the center of our life.

This is what our holy fathers affirm when they say that human life is Christocentric. If a Christian knows this key, he will not go astray in his life, in any aspect of his life, but rather will return to this center and will once more find his rest.

This is what is mentioned in the Epistle for today, from the Book of Hebrews, which is read on the feasts of hierarchs, where its author talks about the new high priest who offered Himself one time upon the cross in order to give us this eternal life.

Let us learn and let us remember throughout our life that the Lord Jesus Christ is the center of our life and of our happiness, amen.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

From the British Press on Middle Eastern Christians

From Ed West of the Telegraph,

The Left's delusion over Islam is baffling to Middle Eastern Christians

And from the ever-interesting, sometimes blindingly insightful and sometimes blindingly stupid Robert Fisk, now of the Independent:

Exodus. The changing map of the Middle East

Only justice can bring peace to this benighted region

West's swipe at Fisk is quite off the mark, I think, but the general drift of his article does have a point.... all three articles are reading.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Met. Georges on Angels and the Angelic Life

The Arabic original can be found here.

The sermon of His Eminence Met. Georges (Khodr) on the Feast of the Archangel Michael at the Monastery of the Archangel Michael, Biq'ata, November 8, 2010

Beloved, I will take as my starting point the name of the saint whom we celebrate today, Michael, which means: who is like God. If we remember Michael, we remember his service to God! Among the saints, there is no one who is not His servant. The primary service of the angels is to give praise to the Lord. They soar around the heavenly throne and recall God. This is the most important work that can be undertaken. As a consequence, they remind us humans that our most important posture before God is to give Him praise! The second thing is that they are spirits sent to serve us. That is, since they love God and glorify him above in the heavens, they descend from that praise to serve us. The angels are our servants, we are not their servants. And Michael is one of these servants. However, if we serve a messenger from God who returns us to God, the important thing is that he returns us to God with repentance. There is no other return. In reality, we have no existence except when we follow God and when we continue to follow Him. This is everything. We do not exist through anything else. We were created for divine love and to spread this love among us. We see that you came for this day-- Is it a crowd around Michael? Or a crowd around the One to whom Michael gives praise?

The final thing is that the work of the brotherhood established here is angelic in the sense that it was born for praise! You hear in this country and in this region "You Orthodox's monks, do they do anything?" No one believes that giving praise is something. It is the most important thing. If you make cars and airplanes or if you talk about politics, this is more important than giving praise?! Indeed, Orthodox monks do not do anything other than give praise. They soar or they try to soar like the angels. If you come across in this diocese or elsewhere people who love God in this way, the way of giving praise, what do we say to them? "Come, work in government as ministers and deputies because this is how you will be useful to mankind! Because when you pray, you are not useful to mankind." This is tremendously corrupt thinking, that speaking with God is secondary work because what is important is that we make cars and planes and so on.... This brotherhood is established here in order to remember us who are bogged down in the works of the world, to remember that this world which God created in order to extract praise from it is not what is important. We want to live and to raise our children, but the most important thing is the love of God. We will try, we who live in the world-- we will try because it is hard-- we will try to give thanks to God because He gave us those who undertake the greatest endeavor, which is to be submerged in God! Whether you understood this or you understood little, you feel on this day that your glorifying the Lord in this place is what you primarily love to do.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Feast of St. Michael in Baskinta

The Arabic original is from here. I'll get to work on translating the sermons mentioned....

The Monastery of St. Michael celebrated its annual feast this year on Friday, November 5, 2010. Vespers were celebrated at 5PM and afterwards the annual exhibition was opened by the people of the town in the presence of His Emminence Metropolitan Ephrem, the abbot of the monastery. At 9PM the vigil for the feast was celebrated by Met. Ephrem, lasting all night until 5AM the next morning. After the Gospel reading, His Eminence spoke about the angels, their role, and how we can resemble them.

On Monday the 8th of this month Metropolitan Georges presided at the service of the feast, assisted by Metropolitan Ephrem and a number of priests and in the presence of a large crowd of faithful who overflowed out of the church and the area around it. This feast had a special flavor to it, because it was attended by a choir from Moscow made up of thirty-five people, including a number of Russian priests and archimandrites who served the divine liturgy in the Slavonic language and who created a new and special atmosphere for the ears of the faithful.

After the Gospel reading, Metropolitan Georges spoke about the Archangel Michael and about his service, asking why the faithful gathered in such a crowd today and speaking about "The Role of Monasticism in Giving Praise."

Many more pictures can be seen here.

For our Eastern Christian Brothers

From the opinion page of Le Monde on November 9, 2010. French original here.

Would that editorials like this were printed in American newspapers! As the essay by Jacques Jouillard that I recently translated also indicates, the gravity of the situation of Middle Eastern Christians is coming to be realized by in France.

For Our Eastern Christian Brothers

There is no longer any day that passes without the Christians of the East, in permanent survival mode, do not pay the price of intolerance and fanaticism with their flesh. There is no longer any passing day that does not dig the grave a little more for a long-anticipated death.
An extinction to which we remain dramatically deaf and blind. This annihilation that is taking place before our eyes is extremely serious, on the level of the human conscience but also for the future of the entire East. Today,who bothers with this Arab minority? The ancestral land upon which the Christians of the East are disappearing, is it too far-off or "too complicated"? These non-Muslim Arabs, are they too eastern to be understood by westerners? Too Christian for Muslims and progressive secularists?

After women, whom fanatics try to marginalize and to exclude from society and the world, the Christians of the East, who, somewhat ironically,were the first to discuss the issue of women, have become the new scapegoat, the new symbol of a modernity that they cannot bear. These Arab Christians who are murdered and cast off onto the road of exile have their home in the East, where their two-millennium long presence precedes Islam. Their role and their influence has been determinative in the history of the Arab world. This is why, with the disappearance of the Christians of the East, a dynamic element of Arab society disappears. Without even going back to the essential place of Christian intellectuals in the Arab cultural and political renaissance of the 19th century, the Nahda, the Christian communities played a decisive role in the great national movement that has marked the region.

With regard to secularization, they were the first to think of the political integration of all religious minorities in the same movement of national revendication, anticolonialist struggle, and emancipation. They were the first to elaborate a constitution where the essential reference would no longer be to religion, but to Arab nationalism, stripped of all religious inequalities. Today, this movement towards modernity is stopped in its tracks by an often murderous identitarian and religious reaction. These reactions from another age have relegated the Christians, who share with other inhabitants of the region the same language, the same culture, and often live through the same difficulties, to second-class citizenship. The ability of the Christians of the East to overcome their challenges, their fear and their isolation, will not only determine their chance of survival, but will also determine the question of peace in this region where the world's destiny is in play, and also our ability to live together in the West.
Like in a mirror, the Christians of the East return us to our own alterity and to the place of Muslims in our western societies. The Christians of the East and the Muslims of France and of the West represent in their respective societies the image of the other. They owe to the society which is theirs to be ramparts against all forms of regression and fanaticism, to be instruments of dialogue and convivencia. Both of these are the safeguards against intolerance and obscurantism. In this way, the future of the Christian communities is inseparable from our own future. Their disappearance risks proving right those who believe in the "clash of civilizations" that crystallizes that pseudo-fracture between East and West. A disastrous thesis, but one that unfortunately is establishing itself more and more in the imagination of certain people in the West.

Our silence, our ignorance, and what is left unsaid are just as much deadly threats, no less than the "crusade" and "jihad" that some people want to wage. That is why here, in France, we citizens of France, militant secularists and of the Muslim faith, cry out our pain and anger against what is unjustifiable. Arab Christians or Christian Arabs, we do not dissociate one from the other, we denounce this barbarism and call upon all citizens who love justice and liberty. If we do not react, there will soon be no Christians in the East. It is thus extremely urgent that we put ourselves to work to help the Christians of Iraq and of Egypt to remain in their home, on their land. It is not through organizing their escape from the East that we will end the source of the murders and the exodus. To crush the infamous, as Voltaire would say, all enlightened spirits must mobilize so that barbarism does not dictate its own law. The Christians of the East are in the process of dying. This concerns all of us.

Nadia Hammour and Muhammad Abdi, advisers to Fadela Amara

Also look at this from The Independent and this from the Christian Science Monitor.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Breaking News: Fr. Touma Reports that Part of the Holy Synod's Decision was Forged

This message was posted this morning on the website of the Holy Trinity Family monasteries:

The column "Dots on the Letters" will not appear this week in protest of the forgery of the Synod's recent decision about the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, unknown to most of the fathers of the Holy Synod. We ask our readers and our beloved in Christ to fast and pray for the preservation of our faithful brothers in that Archdiocese from the dangers and painful consequences resulting from the forgery.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

In related news, see here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fr. Pandeleimon (Farah) on the Angels

This sermon was originally given on November 8, 2009. The Arabic original can be found here.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages, amen.

Today we celebrate the holy angels and archangels. In truth, even if they are not seen they are present with us and always surrounding us. Every one of us has a guardian angel entrusted to us by the Lord from the time we were in our mother's womb, before we even became a complete person in body and spirit to watch over us until we reach our final end, glorifying in paradise with the Lord Jesus. At that time the angels come to take us with them and accompany us to our final destination on the path of holiness. If we notice that there are many things that happen in existence like injustice and abuse, and you do not have anyone to support you and give you your right, but they have no power over you. As a result, you accept what you must accept, and you remain in your peace and do not fear, as the Lord commanded to the one who had heard about his daughter's death. He said to him: Do not fear. Even standing on the verge of the abyss, do not fear. Stay firm in your faith. Only trust. At that point, the angels whom the Lord has entrusted cannot delay or be negligent in guarding you. They are able because they have grace and power and they are not ever defeated. It remains for you to not fear and to not be anxious. This anxiety is the way in which the Devil takes control over our minds and our life. He has no power and is not able to do anything except to cause us fear, and when we are weak, he dominates us. The angels, in their holy presence, do not let you feel their presence. They do not cause you fear, but rather fill your heart and your conscience with light, peace, and tranquility, and the anxiety stops. "Do not let your hearts be troubled," says the Lord, "because I give you peace, not as the world." The world greets you with peace to your face, but behind your back they betray you. They angels do not betray, because they have no other weapon besides obedience to the will of God. God sends them to serve you, and so do not have fear, because they will not abandon you and they have the power to fulfill the will of God. It is for you to respond to them and to imitate them in constant, unceasing prayer. Their constant work is to pray, to praise God, to glorify Him. So you respond with them in prayer. Perhaps a person's circumstances will put him under pressure and not allow him to pray with calmness, as we are doing today with long, blessed prayers, taking our time. However, when one is traveling, one is under specific pressure and has a reason for being disturbed and maybe cannot stand for an hour and pray. However at every moment, if he remembers that he is under the Lord's protection, he can give thanks to Him and praise Him, and so he prays more than one who stands for an hours while his mind is far from prayer. He imitates the angelic powers with constant prayer. Always, as when you're breathing, cry out to Him: Lord have mercy on me! May your name be praised, O Lord! Your will be done. Simple words. Easy expressions, but they pierce the heart and bring the Holy Spirit inside our being ,and they do not allow us to be far from Christ's love and care.

Thus we should celebrate these holy angels who are unseen but who are present with us at every moment when we are in danger or difficulty, helping us and sustaining us. This is not even to speak of the many situations where a person is at the limits of his weakness and doctors give up on him and friends pray for the rest of his soul, but God gives him strength and life because his angel did not yet want to let him die. Do you know why? Because he did not want to surrender him, or to let him fall into sin. As long as the holy angels hold on to him, they will not release him or fail him and the Evil One will not have power over him. This is how the Lord preserves us in all the circumstances of our life, with these holy lights and piercing intellects. They are bodiless, but they reach us and understand us and help us and they know how to achieve God's purpose for our salvation in this life.

Likewise, when we come across a good, holy, righteous person, a loving servant, we consider him to be an angel. He is a person, but his behavior is in this way beneficial to others and so we consider him to be an angel, like the honorable forerunner who lived a life full of purity and holiness and who was given the honor of baptizing Christ in the river Jordan. His life was angelic. Likewise likewise we consider angels the many fathers and martyrs who distinguished themselves with this rigor and purity in their conscience, their life, and their behavior. Even the Lord Jesus, when He wanted to describe human life in the Kingdom, He said that they will become like the angels, not marrying and not being given in marriage, which is to say that they have no bodily concerns but rather are like the angels. With what are the angels concerned? They are concerned with giving praise to the Lord, continuously chanting Holy Holy Holy Lord of Sabaoth. And so, beloved, when prayer becomes heavy for us, we must repeat part of this chant so that we remember that the angels are in heaven right now. Our angels are always in Christ's presence, bearing up to Him our hopes and our prayers, all our life. They cry out to Him: Holy Holy Holy Lord of Sabaoth. So then why should we not resemble those who intercede for us without ceasing, especially since their prayers do not stop!

Our hope in this feast is that we begin to take care to give praise to the Lord even more rigorously in our life, in our words, in our thoughts, and in all our behavior. This coming Sunday, by the grace of the Lord, the Nativity Fast begins, during which we prepare to receive the birth in the flesh of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So we must be attentive to this and begin with sincerity and enthusiasm. From today, we prepare for this blessed fast, accepting it with zeal and enthusiasm, so that we may pass every day of this life like the angels, cut off from pleasures and with continuous prayer so that our mind and our being will rise up to glorify the Lord, amen.

-Archimandrite Pandeleimon Farah, Abbot of the Monastery of the Dormition, Hamatoura

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fr. Georges Massouh on the Christian Martyrs in Iraq

The Arabic original, published in an-Nahar is available here. Fr. Georges Massouh is professor of Islamic Studies at Balamand University.

The Christians whom the Church numbers among the holy martyrs usually suffered martyrdom with complete freedom, not by compulsion. They submitted to interrogations and torments in an attempt to force them to deny their faith in Jesus Christ and to reject any connection with Christianity. Those who held fast to their faith and did not give themselves over to their tormenters’ desires were finally beheaded or burned alive or killed by some other terrible means. Those who rejected their faith, however, returned to their family and their everyday life safe and sound.

The victims of the massacre in Karrada are not lesser than the martyrs. We are not able to know what went on while they were taken hostage. Did the lawless men ask them to deny their faith? Did some stay firm and others deny it? Perhaps the answer is only known to God. However, even regardless of what happened to those praying at the Church of Our Lady of Deliverance, they are martyrs. It is enough that they did not leave the hell of Iraq, staying in their home and going to church and practicing their religion. It is enough that they remained in hell without losing hope in life for them to be considered martyrs.

It is true of these martyrs what the Psalmist said: “Those rely upon chariots, and those upon horses, but as for us, we call upon the name of the Lord our God. They stumbled and fell, but we rose and stood upright.” Indeed, they rose and stood upright in the presence of God. But why did they have to go to their final destination in such an heinous way, when they could have stood in the presence of God “here and now” in Iraq in the company of their brothers of the different religions and sects? Why, when God is present in this world and we seek His face with every step we take and in everything we do?

We Christians of the lands between the Tigress and the Nile are more in need of the living than we are of martyrs who join those who preceded them in the way of the best jihad. The Church does not remain solely through the blood of martyrs, but through every living soul who enters her to pray, to contemplate, to bow and do prostrations, to kiss the icons and light candles and lamps. Without those worshipers, the Church becomes an arid desert, a pile of cold stones, a place without holiness. It is not places which make people holy but rather people gathered to pray who make the place where they gather holy in the truest sense of the word. God is a God of people, not a god of stones. This is why He prefers to live in human hearts, rather than in structures built by humans.

In early Christianity, it was said of the monks who sought isolated solitude in order to worship God that they turned the desert into a city. That is, that they brought it to life through their presence there. It was empty, but it became a garden brought to life by the spirit of those who chose it as the place where they would reach the Living God, Master of the Heavens and the Earth. Those first monks were able to make the desert into a place where God made Himself manifest. Christ preceded them in this and gave them an example. If you want to see God, go to the desert. Flee the city and its clamor, tie your sandals and your belt, and go seek Him there.

Middle Eastern Christians do not need to leave their cities for the deserts. They are in the heart of the desert because they have no city now. We would be adding heavy weights to the burden that the Christians bear if we called on them to stay in this desert and to plant roses and flowers. Our presence in this land is not by chance. We do not believe in luck or chance or fate. Rather, we believe that behind everything that happens to us, the will of God does not prevent us from going against it if we do not wish to fulfill it, because God created us free and rational.

“Like a lamb he was led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before his shearers he did not open his mouth.” Christian tradition agrees that this prophecy was fulfilled on the day Jesus Christ was crucified, as He is the sacrificial lamb who redeemed the whole world through His blood. However, Christ said to His disciples that their fate would not be better than His fate: “They will put you out of the synagogues and indeed, the time will come when whoever kills you thinks that he is offering a sacrifice to God.” The vortex of violence will remain as long as the powerful of this world desire for it to remain. Blessed are those who remain to the end and take hope as their shield.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fr. Touma (Bitar) on Why God Allows Wicked Bishops

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. The Arabic original can be found here.

The Mystery of Sin in of the Mystery of Salvation

This coming Saturday, with God's permission, the thirteenth of November, is the feast of St. John Chrysostom .

He was a good shepherd who was sent by the Good Shepherd. The Lord God provides us with special shepherds so that we may be comforted and strengthened, and so that we may learn. But not always. However, the true shepherd here in any case remains the Lord Jesus Christ. The one who said he will be with us every day until the end of the ages, He is the same one who is and was and will remain the Shepherd of His flock. Regardless of the identities of the shepherds who guide the flock of Christ, Jesus remains personally the eternal Shepherd who cares for all His flock individually, both through His shepherds and apart from them. There are shepherds from above who when they watch us, we see the Good Shepherd who is above and here at once. There are also shepherds who are not from above and are not headed upwards, who are chosen by people's passions and behave according to their own passions. Those also guide Christ's flock in His name by His permission, even if they are closer to being hired servants or wolves than shepherds. They obstruct the work of Jesus for a time, but they are unable to derail it. Whatever bad things they do against the work of God, the Good Shepherd will cause them to be for the good of those who seek the face of their Lord, whatever it may be, through ways that we know and through other ways that we do not know. But the question remains: why does the Lord God permit people such as these to govern his sheep and his flock?! Here is precisely where is hidden the mystery of evil harnessed in the service of the mystery of salvation.

The mystery, when looking at salvation, is the way in which the Lord God works, which is beyond human perception. The mystery, when looking at sin, is the way in which the devil works which is achieved secretly, away from human eyes, but is revealed to the eyes of God. Sin would not occur if the Lord God did not permit it, since He is the Master of All, and if He did not put it into the service of salvation, out of regard for the state of humanity after the Fall, by changing it into a remedy, just as serpents' poison is changes into medicine in the hands of skilled physicians.
There is no doubt that the Lord God did not eradicate sin from the world through His death and resurrection. Had He done this, then there would be no end to sin, but rather its eternal recurrence because the source of sin, after Satan, is the human heart and if a heart does not renounce sin, then sin does not leave it, and thus does not leave the world. This is how the Lord God created man: susceptible to sin when he wills to, because there is no value to man's acceptance of God in love if he cannot accept sin if he desires. For this reason salvation is a grace from above, but not without man's acceptance of it, his will and his cooperation. He will either accept the word of salvation and walk in its path by the grace of God so that grace will be active in him and cause him to imitate the example of his Lord, and thus become a god by grace from the God by nature, or sin will leave the man because of the reaction of his heart's will to gentle prodding that deters him through pain, and he repents because he knows the harm of sin, its emptiness and falsehood and ugliness, and out of self-preservation he returns, through God's help, to what is against sin, so that he may not die despairing in his sin. Grace is a support which opens his eyes to the degree that he is disposed and ready for this. Grace also brings about a feeling and vision of his own sin and the swinefulness of his previous way of life. Inward suffering during all this, even if it is after a while, pushes him to purity, humility and repentance and he trembles before his Lord, lowly and in pain. If pain does not deter him, then he only has some moments before death. The ultimate weakness is the final opportunity to prod the heart. The Lord hears a leaping within, or man dies in his sin.

Sin was and still is present and active and it will remain until the Lord sends His angels with a great sound of a trumpet to gather His elect from the four winds and from one end of the heavens to the other (Matthew 24:31). This is why Judas Iscariot was within the circle of the Lord Jesus' disciples. Jesus knew exactly what was within Judas' heart, what he was planning to do, and what he was lacking. Jesus also chose him out of esteem for the freedom which He gave to human nature. Freedom, even if it can bring forth sin can also give birth to precious love. The most precious things always turn on the risk of falling into defilement, otherwise they would not be precious. Judas Iscariot was necessary because if not for him there would be no cross and thus no Resurrection. It is assumed that he would have been an apostle and a shepherd had he accepted to be, and he could have accepted had he desired. Naturally, we want all the shepherds in the Church of Christ at every time and place to be good, but this is not realistic. It is inescapable that there will be corrupt shepherds. However, in a way that they do not wish and do not know, they call down grace upon the flock of God in abundance, since "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20). And so the flock remains secure despite everything. Grace abounds upon grace since it needs a shepherd of souls and bodies. The Lord God does not want us to rely on people. He does not want us to treat good shepherds as idols and to treat the corrupt ones with despair. "Behold the man!" He does not want us to depend on anyone other than Himself. He is active through the sheepliness of man and through the sheepliness of his shepherds, and through their passions and wolfishness as well!

Naturally, the weak stumble. And so the strong must always strengthen them so that the face of the Most High always remains the one thing that is sought. "Be watchful and strengthen what remains" (Revelation 3:2). "When you are converted, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:33). Through patience and humility, through pain and suffering, through the cross joy comes into the world. The Lord comforts souls and strengthens broken backs. They think that delusional, wolf-like shepherds corrupt the Church of Christ and undermined her, but they are unable to do so. The Lord God allows scandalous shepherds to wreak open corruption in the Church but only for a time and out of His dispensation, since the purpose, on the spiritual level, is the sifting. Why does the Most High permit the devil to cause people to stumble? It is not because he has abandoned His flock. These are the ones for whom He shed His blood! God is jealous of all his flock, of every hair on the head of His beloved ones. He is the Master of All and no one can snatch anything out of His hand (John 10:28), whatever they may think or attempt. He is the one who preserves us and who seizes the clever in their tricks! I need, what evil people believe to have been done for the sake of their passions is without a doubt a means to purify the Church and to make the faithful holy. If Satan did not tempt, then no soul would be saved and if not for unjust shepherds, then the flock would not cling to its first and final true Shepherd.

The Lord God guides us in various ways, through direct care, through consolations when souls are wounded and ulcered, when they do not stand firm in faith. He also guides them in silence and accidental circumstances, so that they will cry out and be patient and stand firm and be purified. His intention is for us to strive in all situations. Likewise, the Lord God guides us by giving us over to shepherds who are like Pharaoh who do us harm and we are ashamed and thirsty and hungry, so we may know that salvation from humans is in vain and so we may orient our hearts upward, placing our hope in the Shepherd of our souls alone. "Everything works together for good for those who love God." "Through your patience your souls are made pure." In any case, we are not left alone. He comes to us at an hour that we are not expecting. The tables will be turned! He will change the situation! "I saw a wicked man strong and haughty like a cedar of Lebanon, then he was struck and he is no longer and he has no place."

The Church of Christ has no fear of those who enter her stealthily and make her into a vehicle for their passions. God will not be mocked! They will lick their own blood and will not pollute the body of Christ, as long as the faithful call upon God with patience, tears, and steadfastness! Times of difficulty are better than times of ease because ease, even if it comforts, always carries the danger of laxity of soul. But difficulty, even if it is painful, makes secure with the Spirit of strength those who rely on their Lord and do not leave Him. The Lord God knows those who are His. And to those who are not His, He sends them a drought because He wants them to be dessicated. "Every seed that is not sown by the Heavenly Father is plucked out." God is demanding. Love is demanding. Faith is demanding! "It is a frightful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God!" He is a jealous God! He asks for every heart and every person. He does not need anything from man. For this reason, he strengthens those who need strengthening, and those who fall behind he subjects to the scourge of sin so that they will cease their slowness ... or cease to exist!!! There must be Babel, and suffering!

However, we do not forsake the Church of Christ during troubles. We bear witness to truth and remain. We are not complacent and we do not give ourselves over equally to fear and despair. If the Church was based on the wisdom of the wise men of this world who govern the Church, then the Church would not remain. Our first and final support is the wisdom of God, which is considered to be folly in the world. He guides us in every situation and His ways are not our ways. It is not important for us to understand. The important thing is to accept. "Into your hands I commend my spirit."

In sum, let no one despair. Satan takes us through despair! However, when his yoke tightens upon us, our salvation through Jesus Christ has come closer! Let none harm their souls by giving them over to fear and despair, sorrow and death and loss of hope. When the noose tightens around you,"look up and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws near" (Luke 21:28)!
The cross is necessary every day so that we may be renewed. But our Lord sends us consolations in their time, so that we will not despair. However, we do not grow through consolations, but through the cross! Without the cross, every new thing becomes stagnant and then rotten. There must be pain and suffering for purification and cleansing. This bears fruit in joy. "Put your mind in hell, but despair not." God is glorified in His economy of salvation!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite, Douma
November 7, 2010

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lebanese Bishops Meet to Discuss the Recent Catholic Synod for the Middle East

The Arabic original, by Hala Himsi in an-Nahar can be found here.

Patriarch IV and the Metropolitans of Lebanon Discuss the Suggestions of the Synod

Khodr: Our Hope is that the Pope will accept what the Arab Bishops said

On Thursday Rum Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East Ignatius IV met with his metropolitans in Lebanon, at the patriarchal residence in Balamand. The recommendations of the special synod of the Catholic Church for the Middle East was the topic of discussion. "The basic purpose of the meeting was to discuss the synod," Met. Georges Khodr, who represented the Antiochian Orthodox Church at the synod, told an-Nahar, explaining that, "the fathers at the meeting examined the synod and discussed some of its recommendations."

He said, "What has been understood and decided upon since the end of the Second Vatican Council during the time of Pope Paul VI is that the Catholic Church does not have councils which make decisions and instead have consultative councils. For this reason, the attitude that people take towards the synod has to be modest, in the sense that they cannot take its recommendations as final and Pope Benedict XVI will publish what he considers to be essential with regard to the Catholic Church in the Middle East during the coming year. From the very beginning, it must be said that this synod is a Catholic discussion of the Middle East, based to a certain degree on Western theology. However, at the primary level it is a reading of the reality in this part of the world."

Within these limits, the fathers who were gathered discussed the topic. "We have the recommendations that were sent by the fathers of the council to their parishes in the Middle East," he said. In this he saw "something new which shows that the fathers of the synod have something to say to their parishes. And this is a good thing." This leads him to say that, "it was not clearly understood what those who attended and took part in the synod know, that the council was a consultative meeting for the Pope. In my opinion, this is the right thing."
For Met. Khodr, the expression "Catholic synod" means "the rest of the Christians in the region were not consulted about anything at all. However, the synod greeted them and called them brothers and said that the Orthodox are almost in complete communion with the Papal See, and also greeted the Protestants with a few words. They largely focused on the Jews and the Muslims." The synod's cooperation with the latter two "was outstanding," as he described it. "They gave organized lectures, while no lecture was requested from the rest of the Christians."
Because of this, Met. Khodr finds "they have started to see their partners in cooperation as being the Jews and Muslims. There is no sentiment, given this absence in the text, that the Christian view of Jews in Palestine and Muslims was undertaken in brotherhood and with the study and analysis of Christians gathered together. Just the Catholics. We must rectify this."

Does this cause the Orthodox any disappointment? He responds, "No. From the beginning, we were not consulted about anything. In the tradition of the Catholic Church, for hundreds of years they have held meetings where the Orthodox were concerned, and they did not confer with them about anything and so the Orthodox look on from outside as matters are finalized. However, the Orthodox fathers who were gathered yesterday were pleased that a part of the Christians here in the East-- and it is the part that is smallest numerically if we look at the Copts-- studied the affairs of the region."

"Something completely new"

Met. Khodr talks about "something completely new" that is noticed by one who follows goings on in the Vatican, which is that "the statement about Judaism and the Jews which was prominent in the basic statement which was presented to those gathered was greatly diminished in the synod's final communique while the portions dedicated to the Muslims were increased in terms of the number and amount of pages." He also notices that "The role of the Arab Catholics, especially the Maronites, was important in making this correction."

In his opinion, the most important thing is that "it appears that the Arab Catholics do not feel that great importance that Western theology gives to the Jews. It was clear that they are loyal to the heritage of the Fathers which does away with Judaism completely. A propos of this, it is also remarkable that some of the Arab Catholics rejected the violence of the Jewish god and the idea of a promised land."

With regard to the Orthodox Church, "Prudence requires that we wait for what the Pope will say and what he will publish in what might be called an apostolic directive. We are following with love what goes on in the thought about the Catholic about this region," says Khodr. When asked what are its hopes in this matter, he says, "I do not believe that they will meet to define their position. It is not a subject defined by the synod. It is the Catholic Church that wanted to directly engage the Arab people in general and her parishes in specific. If the Catholic parishes return the synod's engagement, then they will have come into an active role."

With regard to putting the suggestions into effect, "we must look at the text, at each individual suggestion," he said. "The text is not a mountain, but there are many useful and constructive words." During Thursday's meeting, Patriarch Ignatius IV and the metropolitan "went over the suggestions in detail... and naturally we were pleased, especially that the fathers of the synod did not pay much attention to Judaism and the Jews, as they had in the original report. This is something very important."

After the meeting, the Patriarch will discuss various matters with the Orthodox metropolitans in Syria, especially about the texts coming from the Vatican about the synod and "during our annual meeting after Easter we must look at what was said." In this regard, what attracted Met. Khodr's attention the most was "the statement of the Catholics' synod that you must from now on look after politics and society, after your freedom and the rights which you have in your countries and your safety in carrying out your mission and living your life. Indeed, you must look after the rights of all citizens together, Muslims and Christians, and after your freedoms. These are new words coming from the Catholics."

Met. Khodr's reading of this matter leads him to believe that "the Papacy wanted to get Catholics out of their great interest in themselves and to cast them into the national field in every society in which they live." With regard to this, it can be said that, "The Pope will pay special attention to this synod... after he heard that his Arab flocks are more concerned about Islam (than about the Jews), it was no longer possible for him to escape this framework. I believe that he will introduce the Catholics into Arab life." He realizes that "the time has come for the Catholics to realize that they are part of the Christian world and that they are talking with all the Christians and the other, non-Christian world. Our hope is that the Pope will accept much of what his brothers, the Arab patriarchs and metropolitans said."