Monday, February 28, 2011

Reviving Antiochian Orthodoxy in 1945

The Arabic original, which appeared in a 1945 issue of Majallat al-Nour can be found here.

Who We Are

The Orthodox Youth Movement believe that a certain decadence exists in the Eastern Orthodox Church and our belief in this decadence is the primary reason for our founding the Movement. The Movement does not mean by "decadence" only the weakness that we observe among the Orthodox groups with regard to numbers, money, and administration and the divisions that cause them. Rather, in our eyes the first true decadence is a distance from the Christian life, the tendency to regard religion as old formal customs, and the tendency to treat all problems of the community as administrative or personal problems and not as problems of the Church. The true decadence is that one that sinks down to the foundations of the Church and shakes her structure. We only see the obvious cracks on the walls, while the illness is hidden. When we came to realize the existence of this decadence and made our intention to deal with it, we found ourselves standing before two paths: one path is the path of intense external work, with public and charitable manifestations that would lead to fame and glory. The other path is the path of silent internal work, with no manifestation other than that of modesty and isolation, which leads to nothing... except unending life. One path is the path of material prosperity for the community with sophisticated schools, luxurious churches, and the community having a powerful political bloc. The other path is the path of personal spiritual prosperity that is not concerned with schools or churches except to breathe into them its living spirit. It does not consider the community to be a 'bloc' but instead a vineyard planted by the right hand of that Lord that must grow in every direction through the watering of the Spirit of the Lord. One path is the path of matter and the other path is the path of the Spirit.

So we took the path of the Spirit and from that time our Movement has taken on the coloring that distinguishes it. It believes that internal reform must precede external reform and that personal, individual, revival must precede the social revival of the community. They tell us, "organize the community so we can work." And we respond, "work first so that the organization can happen." A small example: imagine our mother Orthodoxy as a sick woman, laying on a bed, pale and without strength. How do we cure her? Do you put powder on her face to hide her pallor and then get her up out of bed and put her in a carriage to take around town, to fool people, to fool yourselves that her health and her strength has come back? Or do you cure her with rest and tranquility and with healthy, nutritious food so that she will slowly return to her natural color and her true powers?

As for rest and tranquility, it is so that we may contemplate Orthodoxy and sense its beauty. As for healthy and nutritious food, it is examining the Holy Gospel. By this cure alone will life creep into the body of the community and it will live by Orthodoxy. Our entire goal is defined by this expression: "that Orthodoxy may live." We want to live Orthodoxy. That is, for us to tremble in our very core at its mention and contemplation and that this Orthodoxy is our entire life and we will no longer think or feel or work except through its spirit. This is our basic principle and our primary goal that if it is achieved, everything after it is achieved.

However, we do not want to treat the illness alone and we do not believe that we can treat the illness alone. If the community is sleeping, then the entire community must arise. If the sick man does not himself want to be healed then no one can heal him. We do not want to work outside the community, but within it and for its sake. The entire community must feel what we feel and think what we think. The entire community must drink up the Spirit of the Church and enter into the stream of renewal. This is why we have not hesitated since the foundation of the Movement to invite everyone to participate in it. Our conscience will only be at rest once the Movement spreads throughout the community and the community becomes the Movement and the Movement the community. Or rather, there will not be a community nor a movement, but only the universal Orthodox Church.

Our march together towards the desired goal can only take place under spiritual authority and its fatherly guidance. We do not work apart from the clergy and the Church but rather we work within the Church and according to the Spirit of the Church. Our Movement is not a church within the Church: it is a full part of the Church. Our Movement has strong sympathy and esteem that it has attained since the very beginning with the leaders of the Holy Church of Antioch and each center works under the guidance of the bishop of each diocese.

We also want to cooperate with all the clergy who understand us and wants to cooperate with us. We attach great importance to this cooperation.

Our movement has walked until today on this path and in this spirit, relying on God and doing His service and the service of His Church a selfless and sincere service with all the means available to us.

It has now become a strong institution whose influence in the life of the community is recognized and whose word seeks to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. This sound of this word has been answered in valleys and on mountaintops, from center to center and in all areas of the country.
It creates a new atmosphere that connects hearts to it and ties them together in one life.

And so a great song is heard in all the Orthodox countries, a song of hope, a song of awakening and work, a song for the Orthodox youth to seize their life in order to arise with it to the height of glory and perfection. Then this frown will leave Christ's face, when He looks upon sluggish, dilapidated Orthodoxy and sees it strong and prevailing. This frown will cease and the smile of being well-pleased will take its place. So let us work for that smile. We must give our life for its sake.

Marcel Morcos,

Head of the Lattakia Center

The Orthodox Youth Movement in 1944

This article was originally published in the magazine Lumière in 1944. The French original can be found here.

Taking Stock

by Marcel Morcos [the future Archimandrite Elias]

It is good, from time to time, to take stock of things, to stop for a moment, in the shade and in solitude... and to look backwards towards the fog of our yesterdays, this past that we have made with our own hands, and then to turn back forward towards that mysterious horizon where our tomorrows are hidden, our future that we will also make with our own hands.

The Orthodox Youth Movement includes several hundred members grouped together in all corners of Syria and Lebanon. Sections have been meeting for two years and this tireless regularity is not a small thing.... An office and study groups, conferences and bulletins, general and public meetings, church music and choral meetings, sponsorship and family assistance.... sermons and scholarly work...

The gear seems to be well-organized, well-oiled... And we are not always unknown. Our existence is necessary for all-- this is a blinding reality. We could justly be proud of this!
However this does not work adequately! ... This does not work because we have not yet understood the true meaning of the Movement because we are only attached to the bark, to what is outward, to what is vain. Because number has never been quality, because these meetings are not progress, because regularity is not life, because resolutions are not acts, because to be known is not to exist.....

What is needed is a spirit for this machine, that is that the Movement works in us, within each one of us, in that secret abyss where no eye is expected an no vanity is useful. What is needed is for us all to embark upon a new life, a life that is everywhere radiant and always present: a life in Christ. The first Christians, the true Christians, they neither looked at numbers nor success. They lived unknown, hidden by the anonymity of a life of slavery or in the catacombs. They did not proclaim their king in the street- they lived it. They did not show off their charity- they practiced it. They did not call themselves Christians- they were Christians!

And this is the Orthodox Youth Movement, to revive early Christianity, this integral Christianity, repressed in the night of time by so many miseries and shames, from decadence to decadence, from hostility to indifference!... What is needed is to break through this indifference and to fully fall in love.

I would like to say again that "we are pursuing a religious renaissance on the level of the community and beyond. We do not want to awaken the vain and proud feelings of a wealthy and respected community, but rather the vocations and the reality of a felt and lived religion. We would not applaud a successful and sensational public meeting as much as a profound and collected Lenten retreat." The day when we can each call ourselves disciples of Christ, on that day the Orthodox Youth Movement will have succeeded. The day when we all have the life of a Christian, and not the life of the Orthodox Youth Movement, on that day the Orthodox Youth Movement will indeed have worked. Time should work for us and not against us. Monotony and banality do not exist for a deep faith and a sincere love. We shall persevere despite and against everything. Now that vacations have started... dispersed, we will regroup. In calm and rest we will regain our energy and we will prepare ourselves to again take up the struggle, the struggle against ourselves, so that the year that is coming will be for the Movement more active and younger than ever, and for us, more Orthodox than ever....

An Interview with Fr. Elias (Morcos) from 2010

The Arabic original, from issue no. 4, 2010 of Majallat al-Nour, the magazine of the Orthodox Youth Movement, can be found here.

A Walk in the Spiritual Garden of Fr. Elias (Morcos)

Who is Fr. Elias (Morcos)?
Archimandrite Elias (Morcos) is the former abbot of the Monastery of St. George, Deir el-Harf. Prior to tonsure his name was Marcel Morcos. Before becoming a monk he worked in the Syrian Department of the Interior first as chief of service in the province and then as qaimaqam of Safita. He was a trustworthy and conscientious civil servant who combined his duties with Christian piety.

How was the situation in the Church in Lattakia prior to the founding of the Movement?

The general situation was good. Most people prayed and went to the liturgy, however education was weak prior to the founding of the Movement.

With personal piety and serious commitment to the Church, we came to be concerned with the general situation of the Church and we saw that a revival was necessary. So the revival movement began, and we started to gather young people together and to teach and to follow the practices of the Church.

How were your connections to Jibrail Saadeh and Georges Khodr?

We had a strong connection with Jibrail Saadeh and Georges Khodr (the current metropolitan of Mount Lebanon), however it was circumstances of studying that led to a single knowledge and effort. Studying law in Beirut led to the cooperation and common effort led to the particular work of revival.

Does monasticism in Antioch have any particular characteristic? How was the Monastery of St. George, Deir el-Harf founded?

Monasticism in Antioch did not have any particular characteristic other than true zeal and sacrifice for the sake of realizing it. Thus the Monastery of St. George was founded in Deir el-Harf. Met. Elia (Karam) adopted us and offered for us to go to the Monastery of St. George which was empty. We remained there with strong enthousiasm by the grace of the Lord. Monasticism was not very difficult in Deir el-Harf, but it did not attract a large number, perhaps because of our lack of expertise in the work, but the experience was original and profound.

How do you rate the Movement today?

Naturally, things have changed and the Movement does not keep the first spirit. This is something natural. We have been freed from various passions as much as possible, while lust of power has not taken us captive. Perhaps this is because it was a covenant blessed by the will of God. The abbot of the monastery did not act according to passion, by the grace of God, naturally.

How do you see spiritual fatherhood?

As for spiritual fatherhood, I see that it was weak on account of a lack of previous experience. But God provides help.

Is the angelic life really realized in the monastery?

The angelic life must be lived in the monastery, but everything remains a holy effort according to the measure of human ability. The conditions for acceptance into the monastery are first of all a profound desire for life and for liberation from everything, and this is a rare grace.

What is your message to members of the Movement?

My message to members of the Movement is the necessity for constant renewal in continuous practical endeavor and in the life of the heart that is conscious and open to the work of God. The current dispute between the hierarchs and the members of the movement is real to a great extent. However, new heirarchs have started to change this, by God's grace and blessing, and we pray that this change will continue.

What are the monastery's resources?

The monastery's resources come from selling books, icons, honey, and pine nuts, as well donations.

What are the monastery's publications?

Our publications are well-known and they deal with the personal spiritual life, liturgical life, spiritual guidance, and the lives of saints.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fr. Elias (Morcos) Falls Asleep in the Lord

Arabic original here. For more information about Deir el-Harf and its role in reviving Antiochian monasticism, see here.

Carol Saba commented on Fr. Elias' repose saying, "I do not know if we should pray for him or if it's better to continue to ask him to pray for us! Perhaps both at the same time for one who is voyaging towards the contemplation of the Face of faces, Christ risen from the dead!"

The former abbot and spiritual father of the Monastery of St. George, Deir el-Harf, Archimandrite Elias (Morcos) fell asleep in the Lord the morning of Wednesday, February 23. Prayers for the repose of his soul will take place on Thursday, February 24 at 3pm in the monastery.

Fr. Elias Morcos' name in the world was Marcel. He was born in Lattakia on May 5, 1921. He completed his studies in law at the Beirut School of Law in 1942. He worked as a lawyer for a short time, then became an employee for the region of Lattakia. Marcel had various positions until he wound up at the Ministry of the Interior. After a while, he resigned and went to the Monastery of St. George in the village of Deir el-Harf in Mount Lebanon. He established the monastic brotherhood of Deir el-Harf and became its spiritual father and abbot. He translated well-known books, including The Ladder, The Triads of St. Gregory Palamas, and The Fundamentals of the Spiritual Life. He also wrote works such as Christian Worship, In Order to Understand the Liturgy and to Live It, and Thoughts on the Bible, among others.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fr. Touma Bitar- The Goal of Earthly Life: Prayer

The Arabic original can be found here.

The Goal of Earthly Life: Prayer

He came to me with the question, "I do not pray very much lately. I think I'm falling into negligence. What should I do to bring my prayer back?"

If you truly want to bring your prayer back, then you are able to do this in an instant. Through prayer you acquire prayer. Prayer is an act of will. Pray regularly. A little or a lot? It doesn't matter. With feeling or without feeling? That doesn't matter either. You begin with the body, with words and motions. What's important is that you do it attentively. Don't be hasty and don't be slow. Don't raise your voice and don't hush it. Be moderate. Put your mind on what you are saying, on each word. Understand what you are saying. Whenever your mind wanders, even a little bit, bring yourself back. Prayer with the body, with the tongue, the hand, the fingers, bending the body in bows and prostrations, keeping attention and understanding the meanings, all of this and similar things, is the introduction to the prayer of the heart. In prayer, the motion is from the outside towards the inside, and upwards. Prayer through control of the body enters one into tranquility. Tranquility enters him into humility, and humility raises up within him the fragrance of peace. Everything else follows after this.

Prayer is not an issue of temperament. This is why it only comes by force. A person forces himself, and it is given to him. Indeed, it is given to him as a gift from above! Likewise, if one waits to be overcome with a desire for prayer in order to pray, then he will never pray. Prayer with desire is in general psychological prayer with no spiritual value. The basic desire for prayer, or you could say spontaneous prayer, only comes with strength and grace from the Most High. The beginning of prayer is not like this. Zeal for prayer might arise in the soul after encountering a person praying or after hearing or reading words about prayer that move the heart, and then when he begins to pray his interest quickly ceases and he finds prayer monotonous and dry. If he goes back, he loses it and if he stays firm and constant then he arrives at true prayer that spreads its roots in his soul, little by little, until it reaches its depths!

Usually the Lord God comforts one who prays at the beginning of the path, in order for him to stay firm. However, the comfort does not come when watched. You do not know when it will come to you. Pay attention that you do not wander off into imagination. Do not make room for images and feelings to slander you. That will lead you astray! Just the opposite, once you become familiar with prayer, beware of fantasies, images, and feelings because in that is a departure from prayer. Likewise be careful about sentimentality and mental laxity. Prayer is something calm and firm! Standing before God in prayer is something very serious. Naturally, God is not harsh, but He is not indulgent either. Prayer has its own special characteristics. Its joy is tranquil and its peace is alert. Its solace is mixed with thanks, a sense of unworthiness, and repentance.
Prayer connects you to God, to the Holy Trinity, to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Prayer is God's language to man so that he will rise up to Him and enter into a relationship with Him. Thus, Prayer teaches prayer and what comes before in it leads you to what comes after, just as the number one leads you to the number two and on to three and so forth. You do not needs techniques in prayer. It comes to you of itself when you insist on standing in the presence of God and when your Lord gives you what you ask. God seeks communion and calls you to Him and when you take a step in His direction, He leads you to Him, just as a father takes the hand of his child or a guide walks ahead of a traveler. Nothing is closer to the human heart than prayer. Man is put together to be a being of prayer. At the deepest level, man realizes his humanity in which God created him in prayer. Why does the heart not incline to it spontaneously from the very beginning? Because the passions of the soul and the body have murdered man's heart and taken control of it. For this very reason at the beginning a person needs to force himself to prayer, and then his heart will welcome it and take joy in it because it matches what is deeply rooted in him, even if it was hidden at first.

So prayer is the greatest gift to man, not only because it connects man to God, but because it is also the need and the solution for all things that man faces. People imagine that their problems and worries can be solved on the horizontal level, through human capacities. No doubt something of this is necessary, but everything without exception, all the cares and difficulties should first be faced with prayer, that is on the vertical level, by casting them at the feet of Jesus. It is no surprise that the Lord said, "Come to me all who are burdened and heavy-laden and I will give you rest." Our rational solutions and initiatives are not always correct, but the Lord God knows exactly what we need. This is why through prayer, through putting the matter in God's hands, through giving oneself and one's concerns over, one finds the appropriate solution to all one's problems!

However, if you correctly practice prayer, it draws you to the divine commandments, to repentance, to faith, to gentleness, and especially to love. Then if you practice the divine commandments, God's presence will become deeper in your life and the commandments will then nourish your prayer and press you on to prayer. But if you disregard the commandments, then prayer will quickly wither. If the commandments cause the relationship with God to grow, then prayer does too. For this reason, the commandments and prayer support each other so that the faithful will grow and attain the fullness of stature of Christ, love. This support is also accompanied. One prays and one works. One strives to lift his heart upwards at every moment and in every occasion. This is with regard to ordinary believers. But there are those for whom prayer becomes their work. Such people reach the end of prayer and the goal of work at the same time!

The truth is that prayer invites prayer. As long as one is engrossed in prayer, as long as one makes a habit of it, it rules his heart. At the end of the day, it is not as prayer that it satisfies man's being. The way is open for man to drink from prayer as much as he wants. Prayer is the goal of man's path on earth. A person who does not pray and who does not lift his heart and his mind upwards remains just the outline of a person, no matter what he has accomplished! "What use is it for a man if he has gained the whole world but lost his soul?"

Friday, February 18, 2011

Met. Ephrem's Sermon for Feb. 13, 2011

The Arabic original can be found here. Originally given at the Church of St. Marina.

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

Beloved, starting today we begin this Lenten journey and prepare for it during the next three weeks. Today you heard the beautiful chant, "Open to me the gates of repentance, O Giver of Life." This is one of the Church's most beautiful chants during the Lenten season, as the Church gradually prepares us for the fast. Likewise, as we pray in the divine liturgy, the Church prepares us to cast aside all earthly cares because we are about to receive the King of All.

For a Christian person, all of this life is a preparation. One works and toils and prays and marries and raises children. All of this is a preparation. If we are faithful, then we want to go to heaven and to see the face of God. This life is passing, but for the faithful life in heaven is eternal. This is why the Church arranged this period of time that is called the period of repentance. That is, a time of return to God, a time of being transported from earth to heaven.

A Christian person lives in this earth and toils on account of his weakness and on account of the weakness of this world. However, his heart longs for what is beyond, for something more beautiful and more perfect. This is why we hear the Gospel and read it. We believe in the Lord Jesus who came for our sake, as the Evangelist John says, "I came so that you may have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10)". He has prepared for us a better life than the miserable life that we live today. We are comforted when we go to church and hear the Gospel. What does today's Gospel say? It talks about two men, one of whom was called a Pharisee and the other a publican.

From what people could see, the Pharisee was a privileged and important person, respected by people. He had knowledge and wealth and an important position. However, his fault with regard to the Lord was not that he was learned, his fault was that he was proud of what he had. The other man was a publican, that is a tax-collector, he would collect tithes. Today among some protestant heresies they pay tithes. But this publican stole money, that is, he collected more than was required and people considered him to be a thief. Despite this, he came praying and kneeling in repentance and said, "O God forgive me a sinner!" This is why the Lord praised him and justified him. He preferred him over the Pharisee because he said "O God forgive me a sinner!" That is, he confessed his sin.

The noble person who has value before God is the one who when he sins, confesses his sin and does not hide it. This was the virtue of the publican, humility. This is why the Lord Jesus said, and says to us continually, these words from the Gospel that are the opposite of the spirit of the world: "He who humbles himself is raised."

May God grant us in the coming fast to be humble so that He may bless us and lift us up to the kingdom of heaven, amen.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Met. Ephrem's Sermon for Feb. 6, 2011

The Arabic original can be found here. It was given at the parish in Kharnoub.

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

Beloved, I am happy to be among you today in this blessed church. The faithful gather in the church especially on Sunday. The Divine Liturgy gathers us all together. Its aim is for us to become holy. That is, for the Lord Jesus Christ to enter into our heart, into our life and to make us holy, to make our families holy. In the liturgy we remember all the world. We do not only remember ourselves and our family, rather we remember all people-- all the sick, all the suffering-- so that our Lord will put peace into our hearts and the world.

If there were not those who praise the God, the world would become empty, as you see, of anything other than problems and anxieties. We believe that our Lord is the Lord of Peace. He is the one who is able to save us and to save the world. This is why all the holy fathers say that if there were not people who pray and ask for the help of the Lord who created us, this world would be laid to waste. And so with joy we gather every Sunday, whether it is in this church or in any other church, because we feel that when we make Sunday holy (and how many thousands and millions of people are praying at the same time and taking part in the divine sacrifice!) we all become one.

At every liturgy we hear the word of the Gospel, each section of the Gospel. Today you heard the story of the Canaanite woman. This woman is called Canaanite because she, like us, is of a Canaanite-Phonecian background. This woman lived near the region of Tye and Sidon, and the Lord Jesus wanted to meet this woman. What is His purpose with this meeting?

This woman was a pagan. She heared about Him and wanted to meet Him. He wanted to say to her when he met her that He had come to the whole world. However, at the beginning he held back from her and rejected her. But she remained adamant, saying, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

One who prays with all his heart attains his request. This is why the Canaanite woman kept praying from her heart and humbled herself to the point that the Lord Jesus compared her to dogs. Despite this, she said in her humility that dogs can get the crumbs from their masters' tables. The great person in this world is the humble person. The true Christian does not become proud, no matter what happens, no matter what position he takes, no matter how great a fortune he acquires. Because if a person is faithful, he is humble. This is why the Lord Jesus says, "Everyone who humbles himself is raised up." The faithful person comes to be respected and beloved.

Because of the Canaanite woman's humility, our Lord said to her, "Your faith is great. May it be to you as you say," because her daughter was sick and she was healed. The Lord responded to her because she was faithful and humble.

We ask the Lord to give us these virtues so that he may heal us and bless us, amen.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fr. Touma Bitar: The Impasse

The original can be found here.

The Impasse

A few years ago, before the current economic crisis, I had the opportunity to visit Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos. There I was blessed to visit the spiritual elder and ascetic Joseph, who had previously been abbot of the flock of monks of that monastery and who was a member of the spiritual family whose father was the great elder Joseph the Hesychast the Athonite, who died completing his spiritual struggle on August 15, 1959. So let’s call Joseph, whom I was graced to visit by the blessing of the Lord Jesus, Joseph the Lesser. He was over halfway through his eighties and was an unequaled spiritual struggler, even if I may think that he was of a slightly lesser stature than his spiritual father. His physical heart was functioning at less than ten percent, but his spiritual heart was at one hundred percent, by the grace of God, and he did not fall behind with his lengthy nighttime prayers, as though he were still in his youth. He allowed us—there were three of us-- to meet with him for a quarter hour. He reposed in 2009 and in death a stunning smile formed on his face. During that brief meeting he volunteered, without our asking, an answer to a question that perhaps he considered obvious and thought that we should have asked! He said, “It will not be a long time before famine will begin in the world brought on by painful, unfortunate events in every place." I do not know if he meant that the last days are upon us but that is exactly what occurred to us as he spoke!

The year after he said this, the world economic crisis began and it appeared that in the entire world delusional affluence, except for a tiny minority, has seen its last days and that the time of scarcity may have come, leading to destitution and hardship and arriving at a state of bewilderment and then famine. Since then, crises on every level have succeeded each other at an unusual pace, aside from the limited recoveries we hear about here and there, perhaps due to the surplus that was abundant prior to the current worldwide decline. The movement that is observed is generally one of violence and wantonness, whether among people or in the environment. It is as though we have no clear exit from the recession and there is no evidence of an end to it in the foreseeable future. The impoverished increase in numbers while the well-off dissipate in risky investment ventures. The rest sit in fear for their possessions. Between the helplessness of the needy and the caution of the moneyed, after what has been left by the world economic crisis and the resulting enormous losses, oppressive debts, tragic bankruptcies, and consequent general layoffs of employees and workers and massive unemployment, the breaks were pulled on the economic wagon and it was largely prevented from moving. During all this, the natural order has increasingly been shaken, causing disasters the like of which have not occurred in a long time. Man’s avarice has corrupted the balance of the earth, the sea, and the air to a significant degree. Now the spirit of avarice remains, even if it is like a sleeping beast in the souls of many, and the earth and the heavens are seemingly reacting almost spontaneously. What next?

Man’s egoism and self-love preceded his love of money. Love of money gradually progressed into a system of consumption, and the system of consumption made man a prisoner of the logic of profit. The logic of profit transformed the earth’s resources into financial calculations and financial calculations loosened the reins of the passions of soul and body. The passions of soul and body became an uncontrollable harlot and in the absence of internal restraints within people’s souls, the ladder of values and traditional moral restraints collapsed and value and morals came to be centered on purported individual freedom and man’s worship of himself. Then individual freedom and self-worship caused people’s aspirations to become greater than his environment’s capacity to pump vital capital into them and so heaven and earth could no longer match people’s wild cravings. Their storehouses started to be depleted and their balance was thrown off. The environment became ill on account of the illness of man’s heart and the unleashing of his passions beyond any limit.

And now what remains? Souls have become addicted to consumption. Man has become an instrument of consumption! Today man’s worldly identity is in what he consumes! Wills have become feeble and souls have become weak! Man has tasted this number of varieties of selfish freedom and self-worship. He no longer desires or is capable of repentance – that is, of a change of mentality and behavior. For him repentance is identical to death. For this reason he starts to live off of his fantasies, his dreams, his self-esteem, his accomplishments, and his cravings until death. He sees that he is approaching an unstable precipice and he is unable to stop before it, and he doesn’t care! He has become addicted to himself and death has become less painful than resisting his addiction. In letting loose his passions, his will to live starts to die. Death becomes life for him, and he has no other life!

I know a friend who became addicted to drink and his liver was afflicted. His wife kneeled in front of him, weeping, “Stop for my sake and for the sake of your children! You will die.” The doctors said, “Do you not care?!” “Let me die,” he said, “I don’t want to live anymore. Life for me is drinking.” And he died! Addiction to passions is a spider’s web. One is cut off from love. Love becomes for him a consumer good that abets and deepens his addiction. His loved ones die in his eyes unless he humbles himself, gets sober, weeps, and repents. At that point he escapes, naturally not by his own power, but by the power of the Most High! However, the danger is that caught up in his addiction and the weakness of his soul, he will give himself over to despair. Sin always whispers to him, within his being, that he has no salvation in his God! If the Lord God desires salvation for him, then there would be nothing that helps him that he would not fear, like Peter who cries out as he is sinking, “Lord save me!” (Matthew 14:30). The Lord gives himself freely to the one who asks, not to the one who does not ask!

If mankind does not repent with the repentance of Nineveh, they are succeptible to disasters that they caused and wars that they brought upon themselves. Can they continue in their transgression to the point of complete delusion and despair, or will they repent? We do not know how the great days of tribulation will be. One who has drank deeply of the pleasure of the passions generally mocks a chaste life enjoying ordered passions. His conscious is inversed. For him, life becomes death and death life!

This is what sin does to man! The danger of sin to one who persists in it over and over is to provoke in his soul despair over life. For him life without sin becomes death, flavorless.

This persistence in self-worship changed heaven and earth, God and His servants, into consumer goods that man annihilates in satisfying his vanity and fulfilling his desires. The final thing that man consumes is himself and his desire, as though he longs for nothingness! You are of dust, O man, and to dust you return. Sin is a movement toward nothingness within existence. Thus through his persistence in sin from nothingness in existence, man is transported to black existential emptiness. This is the second death that the Book of Revelation speaks about. This is hell. Hell is not created by God. It is man’s creation. The end result of human choices is not a divine punishment!

The earth is limited, but sin does not stop at any limit. There must come a time when it cracks, today or tomorrow!

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth passed away; and there was no more sea” (Revelation 21:1)!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

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

Friday, February 4, 2011

Archimandrite Elisha in an-Nahar

The Arabic original, by Hala Homsi, can be found here.

His abode is a monastery hanging over the sea and his ammunition “divine light”

Archimandrite Elisha: “I have found quiet…. how close is God to us?”

For a monk to leave Mount Athos in Greece is really something rare, “difficult”, says the abbot of the monastery of Simonopetra on the Mountain, Archimandrite Elisha, “since the ideal goal of a monk is to not leave it.” But he found that this difficulty was less stressful for him and the monks accompanying him “because our leaving was in order to go on a visit of love,” as he put it to an-Nahar. Lebanon was his destination and “sometimes love is stronger than desire [to not leave].”

The archimandrite came from the southwestern coast of the peninsula of Mount Athos. There lies his monastery, built in the year 1364 by the ascetic Saint Symeon at the top of a rocky cliff towering like a column 230 meters above the sea. It is one of the most famous of the 20 monasteries on the mountain and is ranked 13th among them. One who leaves the Holy Mountain “bears in his heart divine light and transmits it to the world,” the archimandrite says, “Likewise he bears boldness and gives it to people, regardless of the problems they are facing. He also bears a sense of absolute reliance on God.”

More than a thousand years have passed since monasticism appeared on Mount Athos, which is one of the three Chalkidiki peninsulas in the Aegean Sea. In the opinion of the archimandrite, its continued presence into the 21st century is a sign of “its power of endurance and that it carries meaning and values that transcend time and historical changes. Thus it remains a beacon to the world, into the current century.”

He has been a monk of the Mountain for 37 years. “I do not feel the passing of all these years. It is as though I became a monk yesterday,” he says. What he has found there causes him happiness: “I found quiet and contemplation and the return to the self that helps us to grow spiritually in a way that is not easily possible in the world. On the mountain, we can find a joy that a person in the world cannot find.”

The monks know very well the cares of the world and the problems that people face. “We are not in complete isolation and we have a profound feeling of the unity of the body of the Church,” affirms the archimandrite, “this happens through our connection with visitors coming from various corners of the world.” Though the visitors are only male—because entrance onto the mountain is forbidden to women—they bring to the monks the latest developments. Technology has made its way there: electricity, computers, the internet, but not television. “We do not oppose technology,” he says, “the Mountain always takes care that there is a moderate path without going past the limits. I wish that the whole world adopts this attitude, since man must know the limits within which he can use this technology and use his time in a good way to his benefit and development.”

The archimandrite’s status as being one of the leaders of the Mountain causes him to realize the profundity and importance of what he lives: “First of all, love of the monastic life and joy in it is followed by ascetic struggle. Love alone without joy does not work.” He says, “It is a way of life. When we love something profoundly, we triumph over all the difficulties that we face. Thus we always pay attention to reaching the end, and in this way life becomes easy. When they say that monastic life is hard, this is not true.”

After 37 years, he is tickled by the beautiful feeling that, “I have become closer to God. The thing that I learned on the Mountain is how close God is to us. The secret of this relationship is simple. “I speak to Him in all simplicity. We must express to Him what we feel in our heart. It is certainly possible to use some helpful methods in prayer, fasting, and the services of the Church, but the basic thing is that we express to Him what is in our heart and that we be able to remember Him in every place we might be.”

In the opinion of the archimandrite, what God is saying to mankind in the 21st century is that “we must have zeal and courage in this life. Otherwise, we lose hope in Him. God Himself is yesterday, today and tomorrow. What he expected of man in the first century remains what He expects of him in the 21st century, regardless of all the changes that have taken place.”

The archimandrite follows these changes, and he realizes the anxiety about the existence of Christians in the Middle East, “with the hope that matters will improve.” In his opinion, what will help is “good relations and mutual assistance, so that these Middle Eastern and Islamic countries will see in Orthodoxy an image of openness. Through this, they will see that religious freedom exists and that in order for anything to be true and sincere, it must be free. This is what must be learned more in a real, practical way, and that we be faithful and live our faith sincerely and are true to it.”

The archimandrite offers the Holy Mountain as a model of Orthodox openness. He says, “We believe in our tradition and at the same time we speak with everyone, Christians and non-Christians. We welcome them and tell them about our faith and explain its true meaning. We have many things in common.” When asked about the historic visit made by Pope John Paul II to Greece in 2001 and the monks’ demonstrations against it, he points out that “it is natural for there to be various voices among the Orthodox but it was not very hard for us to see what took place in Greece took place through cooperation between the Greek state and the Church. There will be difficulties, but we will go forward.”

Returning to Greece, the archimandrite takes with him “beautiful memories of the holy places I visited and the different world that I saw, in addition to great thankfulness.” Lebanon will not disappear from his mind, and “we are with you every day,” he says, “and when we pray the Psalms that speak of Lebanon and Mount Hermon, we remember this country every day. As a monk, I say that I desire to return here and to pray for the sake of Lebanon.”

*Archimandrite Elisha visited Syria and Lebanon as the leader of a delegation of monks at the invitation of Metropolitan Basil Mansour of Akkar from the November 28 to January 11.