Saturday, April 30, 2011

Melkite Greek Catholics and the Life-Giving Spring

So in one of my several day-jobs, I'm helping to catalog Arabic manuscripts from a Greek-Catholic monastery in Lebanon. Most of the manuscripts I've dealt with so far are liturgical, and somewhat repetitive, but they do occasionally provide interesting insights about the relationship between the Orthodox and Greek Catholic communities in the Levant. Here is an announcement made by the Greek Catholic Patriarch Maximos Mazloum (d. 1855), where he gives his reasoning for replacing the Feast of the Theotokos of the Life-Giving Spring, found in a manuscript from 1888.

Glory to God forever, by the Mercy of God, may He be exalted

Maximus, Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and all the East

An Announcement in the Lord to the order of clergy of the Rum Melkite Catholic Community, esteemed generally and individually.

We have found that in most books of the Pentecostarion on Friday the sixth day after glorious Pascha there is a canon to the Mother of God called the Spring of Life or the Life-Giving Spring . First of all, this canon is not originally found in the Typicon, as the Pentecostarion itself explicitly states. Second of all, many of the priests read it, either out of a spirit of worship toward the Mother of God or because they find it written there for the appointed day, without knowing the reason, even though the majority of the priests ignore it. However, the schismatic Rum [i.e., the Orthodox] vainly celebrate this day and on it perform this service in addition to the ritual for Easter.

When we ourselves looked for information on the matter, we learned with certainty that these aforementioned Rum only celebrate this day vainly and celebrate the aforementioned service in celebration of the consecration of their church in Constantinople in the district named Balikli where there is a spring of water that is drank from as holy water in worship, with the intention of healing illnesses through the intercession of the Virgin, the patron of the aforementioned church.

From one perspective, we recognize the desire of many people from our Rum Catholic parishes to honor Our Lady the Mother of God on the aforementioned day with a special service to the point that some of them take part in vainly celebrating this feast to Our Lady. From another perspective, we cannot participate in honoring the consecration of a church for people who have left the communion of the Catholic Church and from our holy Catholic Communion. Thus we designate by our patriarchal authority Friday, the sixth day after Pascha as a remembrance of the visit of Our Lady the Mother of God to her kinswoman Saint Elizabeth, especially since it falls at an appropriate time, because the appointed day always comes very shortly after the Annunciation, as according to the text of the Gospel Our Lady’s visit to the house of Zacharia, the father of the Forerunner came after the Angel Gabriel announced to her that she was with child. For this reason we have released the following canon about this visit, officially registering it with this announcement of ours in all books of the Pentecostarion in place of the canon of the aforementioned spring, which we order to be immediately removed wherever it is found in all dioceses subject to our patriarchal authority through the honorable deputies just as we hope will be achieved in other dioceses by our dear brothers their honorable metropolitans so that throughout the community there will be the same order for the liturgy and the feasts and commemorations and so that it will be preserved forever without differences according to the priority of our community and of our Greek church or of all the eastern churches.

Sent from the Patriarchal Diwan on April 1, 1844 in Constantinople.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Met. Georges Khodr: The Resurrection

Arabic original can be found here.

The Resurrection

Tomorrow we commemorate the event of the Resurrection and we strive toward its meaning. The event is that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead and conquered death according to the words of the paschal hymn of our Church, “trampling down death by death.”

The people who wrote the New Testament were concerned with explaining this event on account of how hard it is to believe and on account of their belief that it is the foundation of the Christian faith. If it did not occur then there is no faith and preaching the gospel of Christ is in vain. The issue is that the Resurrection is a reality but its reality has to be established. This is from one perspective, and from another perspective is firmness of faith. Thus we have two perspectives on this issue. The first is the testimony of witnesses to the appearances of Christ and the second is certainty in faith.

This is the heart of the Christian faith and the Apostle Paul takes this up because he is the first person in Christianity to write, meaning that this resurrection about which he taught he received from his predecessors and he did not separate the event from its meaning. He set down a theology that can be summarized in these words: “If it is preached that Christ rose from the dead, how can some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” Belief in the resurrection is supported by the words of the Apostle, that “He was buried and that he rose again on the third day and that he appeared to Peter, then to the twelve apostles, then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still alive and some have died, then he appeared to Jacob, then to all the apostles until he finally appeared to me as well, as one out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:4-8).

To make this clear, we have eyewitnesses of his death who remained eyewitnesses of his appearances after the resurrection, meaning that they knew that the one who appeared to them was the same one who was hung on the wood. These are Mary Magdalene and the Myrrh-bearing Women, Simon Peter, the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, the apostles gathered in Thomas’ absence then in his presence, some of the apostles on Lake Tiberias, the apostles in Galilee. He also appeared to them when he ascended to heaven. These appearances number eleven, and we read about each one on a Sunday in the Orthodox Church.

Mention of these appearances shows the critical spirit of the apostles. It is obvious to me in this account that the apostles were free of any reckless popular mentality. They were far from believing hastily out of excitement.

Thomas’ denial of the resurrection at the beginning shows that he had a strongly critical spirit and that he was not convinced by the words of the disciples. The next week he appeared to them while Thomas was with them.

+ + +

However, the feast is not limited to the departure of the Nazarene from the tomb, which is a cave and not a hole in the ground. The feast is an expression of all the salvation that has been brought to us since the incarnation of the Son of God, and especially that which we received from the cross. Before the moment of the crucifixion, Jesus said “it is completed” that is to say, I have completed everything my Father sent me to do and I have fulfilled every word of the prophets. We must understand that everything that is sublime, pure, and true after Christ we owe to him. That is to say that completeness of thought, artistic and intellectual production, the victory of oppressed humanity, all of it draws its inspiration from the life and words of Jesus. From this angle we hope on this day for a resurrection from personal toil and the fall, and for glimpses of heaven. From the angle of dogma, we have in Easter a promise that we shall rise on the last day. God’s perfection has appeared in Christ. The Savior’s resurrection shows us that Jesus’ call to us is to “be perfect.”

The feast is salvation from every kind of death in our personal life and in the life of those around us and those we serve. It is a continuous event within us unto the end of the age. This is why the Feast of the Resurrection extends from Good Friday until the morning of the feast. If we strongly enter into each of these three days, then we will have celebrated the feast and promised that every day of our life will be an eternal Pascha. Our joy is established in Jesus’ victory, and we do not accept joy on one day and grief on another. “Rejoice also at all times, and again I say rejoice!” This is why if some people say that we suffer with Christ, we do not mean that bodily or psychological pain is better than health. We must accept the sufferings because they brought us life through one kind or another of internal health. If heaven in the end is our victory over sin and death, then we are in it, and if heaven pours out to us in our daily life, then we become a paschal people and at that point we must sing, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death”.

For that reason, it is not true what was once said to me, that “Christianity is a religion of tragedy.” I said to the person who told me this that tragedy, in its Greek sense, means for you to be imprisoned in a locked room. At least we do not have a roof above us. There is nothing above us except for the roof of heaven. We have left all prisons into “the freedom of the sons of God.” This is why one of our recent saints greeted every friend he met saying, “My joy, Christ is risen.”

This is the word that I submit to all who read me between today and tomorrow, until sorrow passes out of existence.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another Difficult Holy Week in the Middle East

From here:

Celebrations for Easter in Syria Will be Limited to Prayers inside Churches

The heads of the Christian churches in Syria announced that celebrations of the feast of Easter for all Christian groups will be limited this year to prayers inside churches on account of the current circumstances occurring in Syria. The leaders of Christian churches in Damascus announced that celebrations of the glorious feast of Easter will be limited this year to prayers and religious ceremonies in the churches. The announcement stated that this is on account of the current circumstances occurring in Syria and in honor of the souls of the martyrs and innocents who fell during the recent painful events and as an expression of the unity of the Syrian people. In their announcement, the heads of the churches expressed their hope that security and peace will envelope Syria and that God will return this feast to Syria, its leaders and its people, with goodness and blessings.

From the LA times Middle East blog, here:

WEST BANK: Palestinian Christians denied access to holy places in Jerusalem during Easter

As Christians get ready to celebrate Easter, Palestinian Christians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are envious of fellow Christians from all over the world who are able to visit Jerusalem’s holy Christian sites and worship freely while they cannot.

Since Israel cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories in the early 1990s, Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been required to get Israeli army permission before they can enter Jerusalem.

The situation worsened since the turn of the century and restrictions got tighter after a 20-foot concrete wall was built all around East Jerusalem barring both Muslim and Christian Palestinians from reaching their holy sites in Jerusalem and its Old City.

“For Christians, Holy Week in Jerusalem has a special spiritual connection,” said a statement issued by the Christian community in the West Bank. “The Old City, its gates and roads, the Mount of Olives, Via Dolorosa and the Holy Sepulchre Church, where pilgrims from all over the world journey to, are equally important to the Palestinian Christians of Gaza and the West Bank, who want to join their Jerusalemite Christian brethren in the liturgical events leading to the resurrection, the holiest celebration in Christianity.”

But West Bank and Gaza Christians reaching Jerusalem even during holidays has become a privilege, rather than a spiritual right. To get to Jerusalem, any Palestinian resident of the West Bank or Gaza of any age or religion has first to get a permit issued by the Israeli military government.

These permits do not come easily. They are usually issued to sick people trying to get treatment in Jerusalem or Israeli hospitals, or to businesspeople. Often they are given to workers because Israel can use the cheap West Bank and Gaza labor force. But for people who want to visit family members living in East Jerusalem or take a tour of the Old City or pray at their holy sites, permits become a scarcity.

“In every country that respects and implements freedom of worship, worshipers of different faiths live their faith and express their prayers without restrictions from the governing authorities,” said the Christians' statement. “In Jerusalem, and for the past decade, this has not been the case. The occupying power is denying free access to holy places of worship to both Christians and Muslims on several important occasions,” the statement said.

“The local faithful … see that the restrictions made against them are violations of basic human rights and religious freedom as well as a violation of … centuries of religious traditions for the indigenous Christians of this land,” the statement continued.

Though Israel began recently issuing between 2,000 and 3,000 permits for Christians to visit Jerusalem holy sites during Christmas and Easter, the figures remain relatively small compared with the number of Palestinian Christians, and permits are issued only to older married people, not the young and single. Christians also have to apply through their churches to get the permit, a process Christians say is done on a first-come first-served basis.

“The permit system instated by Israel is in obvious violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants and treaties to which Israel is a signatory,” said the Christian community. “Regardless of the number of people from the local congregation allowed to participate in the celebrations, we reject the imposition of a permit/quota system to access our churches.”

Unfortunately for Palestinian Christians, Easter coincides with the Jewish Passover holiday. Israel usually imposes a closure on the occupied territories during Jewish holidays, which means permits are automatically canceled and people with permits will not be able to cross checkpoints into East Jerusalem, which Israel considers part of its territory since it annexed it after its occupation in June 1967.

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

Not to mention Egypt.....