Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fr Georges Massouh on the Martyrdom of Fr Fadi Haddad

Arabic original here.

The Martyr Father Fadi Haddad, Aptly Named

In the living Christian tradition, the title "Redeemer" [al-Fadi] is given only to Christ, since through Him salvation came to the world. Without a doubt, in Christian terms redemption reached its culmination in Christ's accepting to die upon the cross, giving Himself as a ransom for man and his sins. We cannot understand redemption apart from the ultimate sacrifice that Christ the Lord gave upon the cross.

So ransom, in general understanding, means saving or freeing someone from captivity or from an ordeal by paying a certain sum.

However, Christ redeemed the world on the cross with His blood. The Apostle Peter says in his first epistle, "you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 18-19).

In the Christian tradition, Christ is the sacrificial lamb though whom the New Covenant begins, the covenant of salvation and pure love. "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7). Commenting on this verse, Saint Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373) says, "There are those who triumph through contentions, but our Lord triumphed through His silence... He did not open His mouth except to teach and was silent before the tribunal... the words of His enemies were nothing but a crown upon His head."

The Christian tradition finds the true meaning of the Christian concept of redemption in the prophecy of Isaiah about the "Suffering Servant of God" which was realized in Jesus Christ. This servant of God shall bear the sins of the world in peace and humility and he will be a ransom for them. "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed... My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:5, 11-12).

We cannot separate this ransom from the divine love that makes God hurry to send His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem humankind through Him: "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10) and also, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

The martyr Father Fadi Haddad was aptly named. He was born in the city of Qatana, on the outskirts of Damascus in 1969. He became a servant of his parish after completing his theological studies in the Saint John of Damascus Theological Institute at Balamand University. He went out from his home, after saying goodbye to his wife and children, carrying a sum of money for the release of a member of his parish from the hands of his kidnappers. When he reached them, they seized him, tortured him, gouged out his eyes, and slaughtered him.

Father Fadi is aptly named. He imitated his Teacher, redeeming his flock with the most precious thing he had. He tasted excruciating torments and bore curses and insults. He was generous in giving himself and did not spare his spirit. He went to the ultimate meaning of the name he bore. He realized that he did not deserve it if he did not live it in all its dimensions and requirements. "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends" (John 15:13). The Martyr Fadi attained the fulness of love by his blameless blood. What gives us some comfort is that in the Church, in Syria, and in his family, a new saint is born today.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Fr Georges Massouh on the Dialogue between Timothy I and al-Mahdi

Arabic original here

The dialogue between the Nestorian Patriarch Timothy I and the Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi exists in two versions, Syriac and Arabic. The Syriac version, translated by Alphonse Mingana, can be read here. The Arabic version, translated by Clint Hackenburg, can read here.

The Dialogue of the Caliph and the Patriarch

Perhaps the finest Muslim-Christian dialogue about theological issues is the one in Baghdad that gathered the Patriarch Timothy I and the Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi. In this dialogue,which took place at the beginning of the ninth century, the two sides treated controversial topics, such as the Holy Trinity, the divinity and incarnation of Christ and His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead, and the authenticity of the Gospels... It was dominated by mutual respect and esteem and love of knowledge, something as rare in those days as in our own day.

That said, Timothy's response to al-Mahdi's question "What do you say about Muhammad?" remains the finest thing that was said in the dialogue. The patriarch affirmed that "Muhammad walked in the way of the prophets and lovers of God" because he taught God's oneness, distanced his people from evil and wicked deeds, attracted them to goodness and virtue, and forbade humans from demon-worship and idolatry, and encouraged them to worship God and venerate His majesty.

The prophets of the Old Testament did all these things and for this reason Muhammad, even if he was not a prophet from the Christian perspective, he did what the prophets did and thus walked in the way of the prophets.

Timothy sees an exact parallel between what the prophets, especially Abraham and Moses, did and what the messenger of Islam did. He says, "Just as Abraham, the Friend of God, abandoned idols and the people of his race, followed God and worshiped Him, teaching the oneness of God to the nations, so too did Muhammad when he abandoned the worship of idols and those of his race and others who worshiped them and only honored the one who alone is the true God and worshiped Him."

For this reason, Timothy goes so far as to affirm that "Muhammad was greatly honored by God." He then goes on to wonder emphatically, "Who does not praise, O triumphant king, one whom God has praised? And who does not weave a crown of honor and reverence for one whom God has honored? I and all those who love God say this and things like it about Muhammad." When the caliph asks, "So why then do you not accept Muhammad's words?" Timothy responds decisively, "Belief in one God was taught by the Torah and the Gospel. I held fast to this and for the sake of this I would die."

When al-Mahdi asks Timothy about his not accepting the testimony of Christ and the Gospel to Muhammad, the patriarch responds by citing verses from the Bible that prophecy the coming of Christ and no one else. Timothy says, "I did not see even a single verse in the Gospel or the prophets or elsewhere that bears witness to Muhammad, his deeds, or his name."

Here the caliph mentions that the Christians distorted the scriptures, removing from them all the verses that talk about the coming of Muhammad. Timothy responds by rejecting the accusation, saying, "If mention of Muhammad was found in the Gospel, we would not have removed his name from it. Rather, we would say that he has not yet come, but rather is yet to come. If I were to find (a prophecy about Muhammad in the Gospel), I would not abandon something from which I derive comfort in this world and and by which I am rewarded in the next."

It must be said that the patriarch Timothy represents the model of a faithful Christian who is open to the greatest degree to the Islamic religion without departing from the basis of the Christian faith. Even as he did not recognize Muhammad as a prophet, he affirms without hesitation that he "walked in the way of the prophets." Difference does not prevent closeness. Frankness does not negate love and respect. Recognizing what is good in another does not imply flattery, hypocrisy, and spin.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Met. Elias (Kfoury) on the Martyrdom of Fr Fadi Haddad

Arabic original here. To understand this, it's important to remember that 'Fadi' in Arabic means 'redeemer' and that Fr Fadi was killed attempting to redeem a captive.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

To my dear Priest Fadi Haddad,

I received with great sorrow (even though the Apostle Paul tells us, "do not grieve like others who have no hope") the news of your horrific murder on the road to Mount Hermel. This news hit me like a thunderbolt, I who gave you the mystery of priesthood by the laying on of this humble hand. I  am the one who recognized that you were "one of the poor of the Holy Spirit" who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. I recognized in you the loving son, loyal to his Church and his leaders. I saw innocence in your eyes, purity in your soul, and love in your heart, putting into action the words of Christ the Lord, "With love I have conquered the world"-- and not with any other weapon.

My soul is sorrowful unto death, because innocence is killed by murderous, criminal hands who do not know the sanctity of priesthood or of holy things. My soul is sorrowful unto death, because love is persecuted, love which the Apostle Paul said, "gives everything. Love never fails." The honor of the priesthood is trampled by barbaric feet (even the barbarity of the Zionist Israelis has not done this). I say to the murderous criminals who overcame you: Wait for the Day of Judgment when the Righteous Judge shall sit upon the throne. The river of fire will flow and the book will be opened. The hidden things will be revealed. On that day God Almighty shall ask each of us: What have you done? Cain, Cain, where is your brother?

I say to the friends and loved ones of the Priest Fadi what Christ the Lord said to His loved ones: "Do not fear the one who kills the body, but rather fear the One who can place you in the hell of fire. That is, God." To the murderous criminals, I say: We will not take revenge. We have left that to God, the God who rules heaven and earth and who repays each of us according to his deeds.

The one who kills the body, what can he do after that? Is he able to kill the soul? Of course not. Is he able to kill faith? Of course not. Is he able to kill dignity? Of course not. Then what is he able to do? I say to you, what is he able to do? He dies in his rage. He dies in his hatred, in the mire of sin which chokes him and puts an end to him. Every person without hope has a fate like that of Judas Iscariot, who went and hanged himself because he despaired of God's mercy, while we the faithful live according to the hope of resurrection and eternal life. You, my dear Priest Fadi are transported according to the hope of resurrection and eternal life. We do not obtain our life from ourselves or from the world. Rather, we obtain our life from God, "from whom is every good gift and every perfect gift," according to the Apostle Paul.

But you, O Priest Fadi, have honor, because you accomplished what you were trying to do, saving the life of one of your flock which God entrusted you with, one of the children of your flock which the Holy Spirit (through the laying on of the bishop's hands) gave to you to redeem with your blood (as you did), just as your Teacher, the Great Redeemer [al-Fadi al-Akbar] redeemed them and you, O Fadi redeemer [ayyuha al-Fadi], go to rest beside Him in the Bosom of Abraham among the just and righteous.

To my beloved, the family and flock of Father Fadi, the parish of Saint Elias who went up to heaven alive, I say that the Priest Fadi did not die, but rather went up alive to heaven with the Prophet Elijah. The Priest Fadi did not die, because he was transported from death to life. The Priest Fadi did not die. He is alive with us forever.

I say to you what the righteous Prophet Job repeated when he was struck with disaster: "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

May God pardon the perpetrators. God's mercy be upon you, Father Fadi.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Patriarchate of Antioch's Statement on the Martyrdom of Fr Fadi Haddad

Arabic original here. This translation is in no way official.

"O Lover of Mankind, inasmuch as You are the God of Peace and Father of Mercies"

We turn to you our sorrowful hearts and ask You for mercy, that in Your compassion You will lead us to peace, treat us kindly, have compassion for us, and guide us to reason and awareness, we humans who are created in your divine image and likeness.

On October 18 of this year, the Reverend Father Fadi Haddad, priest of the parish of the Prophet Elias in Qatana went out on a noble humanitarian mission to return a member of his parish who had been kidnapped a few days earlier. What occurred was more difficult than expected and Father Fadi was himself kidnapped along with the other intermediary, the ransom, and a private vehicle. The tragic series of events began with negotiations with the kidnappers who demanded an enormous sum of money.

There had been hope that consciences would be sober, lest a painful tragedy occur, which is what happened, as the body of Father Fadi Haddad was found on the morning of Thursday, October 25 in the region of Drousha. On him were indescribable marks of torture and mutilation. He was identified by the Reverend Father Elias el-Baba, priest of the town of Hina and he was transported to the town clinic. The Patriarchate in Damascus was informed of his martyrdom, that his pure and blameless blood may a sacrifice for reconciliation and harmony.

We turn to God, may He be exalted, asking mercy and forgiveness for him. At the same time, however, we condemn in the harshest terms this beastly and barbaric act aimed at civilians, the innocent, and men of God who strive to be apostles of peace who bring hearts together, dress the wounds of the suffering, comfort the sorrowing, and strengthen the weak in these difficult circumstances. We express the profundity of our pain as our beloved nation witnesses heinous acts that are unprecedented in its long history which has enjoyed a life built on the foundation of love, cooperation, peace, and harmony.

We urge all citizens, humanitarian organizations and all those of good will and good intentions, who are the majority of our kind, peaceful, and life-loving people, to join with us in condemning the kidnapping, murder, destruction, robbery, and assault on the security and well-being of citizens that is taking place. We call them to dialogue, peace, and harmony, especially the men of God among them.

We likewise call children of this country to cooperate and support each other in these difficult circumstances in order to contain the evil that is besetting us in the hope of putting an end to it and to the bath of innocent blood that takes place every day, in which innocent people from all elements of society in the nation are falling. We hope to arrive at putting a final end to it through all humanitarian means which lead to the outbreak of peace instead of war, love instead of hatred, rapprochement instead of estrangement, as our common history has seen and sees.

We turn to our beloved children and affirm that we are children of resurrection and life because our Lord taught us when He said:

"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"

We are children of the hope that conquers all human feeling of weakness. We remind them that the Savior's crucifixion preceded His Resurrection from the dead. The path to Golgotha ends with life bursting forth from the tomb with the light of the Savior's glorious Resurrection.

We affirm to all our children that we remain steadfast in our faith and our hope in the power of our Lord who desired that we have life, and more abundantly (John 10:10). We call on them in the love of Christ to remain in their land and their nation and for us not to stand at the border of tragedy and weep for our dead, since it is the will of Life for us to grow in faith and hope. We urge them to look to our future which we are building by the power of faith, to realize free and dignified life for the children of our nation and our people.

We ask God that the martyrdom of Father Fadi Haddad be a sacrifice offered for the children of this nation and a stopping point to the painful events that we are living in this wicked time.

We ask God's rich and abundant mercy for our beloved departed martyr and we turn to him for mercy for our people, our beloved nation, and for all the peoples and countries of this afflicted Middle East

Issued by the Patriarchate on October 25, 2012.

Father Fadi Haddad Martyred near Damascus

See also the statement from the Patriarchate of Antioch here.

Arabic original here. It's a bit disjointed and compiled from multiple sources, but this is breaking news...

Who is Fr Fadi Haddad, the Priest who was Killed by Terrorists in Qatana?

Father Fadi Jamil Haddad was born in the city of Qatana on February 2, 1969, to zealous Christian parents, Jamil Haddad and Wadia el-Ayn. He studied in schools in Qatana, elementary school at el-Thaura School and middle and high school at Baath Secondary School for Boys.

After obtaining his secondary diploma, he studied at the Saint John of Damascus Theological Institute at Balamand in Lebanon, from which he graduated with good grades in 1994. He married and was ordained deacon in the Maryamiyya Cathedral in Damascus during the celebration of the name's day of His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim.

During the liturgy on July 14, 1995 His Beatitude and Bishop Elias Kfoury, who was the patriarchal vicar and is now metropolitan of Sidon, Tyre, Marjayoun, and Rashaya el-Wadi, laid hands on him, ordaining him to the priesthood.

He took up service in the parish of Qatana as the cornerstone was being laid for the new church by His Beatitude. Father Fadi Haddad was a son of the Qatana parish and participated in the founding of the Orthodox Sunday School there along with other pious sons of the parish and with the help of priests who would come to Qatana, including Father Nicholas Baalbaki and Father Georges Baalbaki.

Terrorists assassinated Father Fadi Haddad, pastor of the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Elias in Qatana, some days after his being kidnapped in the new town, Artouz, by a group of armed terrorists.

A source with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus stated that Father Haddad's body was found shot in the head near Drousha on the Damascus-Quneitra highway.

Fadi Haddad was priest of the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Elias in Qatana in the outskirts of Damascus.

One of the residents of the city told Agence France-Presse that the body was found in the town of Drousha, near Qatana and Damascus, indicating that he was murdered.

He stated that the priest was acting as an intermediary for a doctor from Qatana who was kidnapped over ten days ago. He was communicating with the kidnappers, who demanded from the family more than 50 million lira ($700,000) to release him.

The source, who refused to reveal his identity, stated that Father Haddad succeeded in getting the kidnappers to reduce the sum to 25 million lira ($350,000) but that when he went with the kidnapped doctor's father-in-law to deliver the money, the two men were kidnapped.

The kidnappers returned to demand 750 million lira for the release of all three men. "Negotiations continued until yesterday morning, when the priest's body was found," according to the same source.

The fate of the two other kidnapping victims is not known.

The source indicated that the murder of the priest Fadi Haddad provoked anger in Qatana, because of his praying for all people in the area.

He said, "This is not the first time that he was asked to act as an intermediary in resolving  kidnappings and robberies. He was successful on many occasions in securing the release of kidnap victims and the return of stolen cars. He was a man of God who was trusted by all."

He added, "During Ramadan, he would invite Muslims to break the fast at the church. He was beloved by all religious groups and took no political position in the current conflict in Syria."

When Syrian state television announced that his body had been found, it stated that "He was one of the most prominent workers for national reconciliation and the healing of wounds."

May God have mercy on you, father, and may your memory be eternal now and unto ages of ages. Just as you taught us, holy father, to pardon and forgive all who hurt us in imitation of our Teach the Lord Jesus Christ, may God pardon and forgive you.

From Agenzia Fides, here.

The Orthodox priest kidnapped in Damascus found dead

Damascus (Agenzia Fides) - The body of the greek orthodox priest Fr. Fadi Jamil Haddad, pastor of the church of St. Elias in Qatana, was found today in the Jaramana neighborhood (north of Damascus) not far from the place where he was kidnapped, on October 19, by unidentified armed group (see Fides 24/10/2012). This was confirmed to Fides by Fr. Haddad’s greek-orthodox confrere, who asked for anonymity. "His body was horribly tortured and his eyes gouged out," he told Fides. "It is a purely terrorist act. Fr. Haddad is a martyr of our church. "

With regards to the responsibilities of the terrible act there is an ongoing rebound of responsibilities between the opposition forces and government authorities, that accuse the armed gangs of armed rebellion in the army. According to Fides sources, the kidnappers had asked the priest’s family and his church a ransom of 50 million Syrian pounds (over 550 thousand euro). It was, however, impossible to find the money and meet this exorbitant demand. A source of Fides condemns "the terrible practice, present for months in this dirty war, of kidnapping and then killing innocent civilians."

Among the various Christian communities in Syria, the greek orthodox is the largest (with about 500 thousand faithful) and is concentrated mainly in the western part of the country and in Damascus. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 25/10/2012)

From Saudi-owned al-Arabiya in English, here.

Priest who negotiated Syria hostage releases slain


A Greek Orthodox priest who tried to negotiate the liberation of a Christian doctor in Damascus province was found dead on Thursday, residents and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“The corpse of Fady al-Haddad, kidnapped last Friday (Oct. 19), was found this morning in Damascus province,” said the Britain-based Observatory.

Father Haddad served the St Elie parish in Qatana, a mixed Christian and Muslim town of 15,000 inhabitants 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of Damascus.

One resident said he was found murdered near the town.
“He was negotiating the release of a Christian doctor with the kidnappers, who demanded 50 million Syrian pounds ($660,000). He had managed to reduce their demand” by half, he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Theft and kidnapping have become rampant in Syria, where criminals have taken advantage of the security vacuum caused by the fighting between rebels and the army.

“Last Friday, he went along with the doctor’s stepfather to pay the ransom, but they were also abducted and the kidnappers had increased their demands before the priest's body was found on Thursday,” the resident added.

The murder has sparked outrage in Qatana, where the priest was popular with Christians and Muslims alike for securing the release of a number of people, locals said.

Rare in a country plagued by civil war, state news outlets and opposition websites alike paid tribute to Father Haddad.

The Orthodox Patriarchate condemned the “savage crime” and denounced “attacks against civilians and religious figures who try to be messengers of peace under these difficult circumstances.”

It further called on humanitarian organizations and the public to “condemn all crimes and robberies which undermine the safety of citizens.”

The Syrian National Council, the main opposition bloc in exile, called Father Haddad a “symbol of national unity,” and blamed pro-regime militiamen for his killing.

“The gangs belonging to the regime killed Father Fady Haddad in order to drag the country into sectarian strife,” SNC spokesman George Sabra said, calling for an official judicial investigation into the murder.

“National unity in Syria and in the town of Qatana in particular is too solid to be undermined by ignorant and hateful acts,” Sabra added.

“Father Fady was one of the symbols of national unity. Grant mercy on Father Fady Haddad, a martyr of the nation and humanity, and shame on those criminal killers who are destroying the country.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Met. Georges Khodr on the Judgment

 Arabic original here.

What is the Judgment? 

When I was studying in my youth with French monks, we were told that there is a particular judgment at death and a general judgment on the last day. At that early point, I was continuing Orthodox instruction and I did not come across this duality in it, so I said to myself that there is only the general judgment, and I feared it.

After this, I learned that the Eastern Church says that after death you realize your situation before God. You are in a state of waiting for recompense; if you are not weighed down by sins, this is the beginning of joy, even if it is not total beatitude. During this, you await final retribution, and if you bear many sins this is part of the punishment.

Then, in my old age, I came closer to the idea of the particular judgment, though I did not adopt the expression itself because my Church does not use it. Of late I have become convinced that the hour of death is an hour of encounter with the Creator and that this encounter is terrifying because you appear before Him with the weight of your sins, which are incompatible with the nature of the Lord. You feel that this meeting is part of your eternal destiny, even if God announces His mercy at the beginning of your meeting with Him and at the end.

It does not seem right to me that you have a prosecution that determines your eternal fate. That God is a judge, this is an image from our Holy Scriptures, as these books tell the story of humankind with God starting from the beginning. But the greater story is in the meeting immediately after your departure from this earth. The image that I use is of Christ coming to your side in the coffin and speaking to you in a whisper, a whisper of rebuke. Perhaps Jesus was gentle in the meeting, but in obedience to His Father, sin cannot be minimized with Him because it wounds His Father's compassion toward you. You undertook nothing to mend the Father's wounds. You remain an enemy through sin and the Father still holds you to His breast or the Son places you on His breast and the Father sees this and has compassion without setting aside His blame for you because if He set aside blame, then He would be biased towards you and not towards His law.

It is only through His law that you are able to advance, because you cannot relish sin and remain close to Him. Your closeness is through your own spiritual splendor, because the Lord does not have one clique that He draws close and another He pushes away. If you are His then you become of Him and He sees Himself in you, because if you become pure you become His mirror and the Lord by His nature loves to see Himself in you. He always asks you if you have accepted Him, even though He knows whether you are with Him or have strayed far from Him, seeking to rise up on your own, making your pride your abode as you place God in a far-off house. Your entire story with God is whether or not you put Him towards you. If you put him far away-- which is what we do in sin-- you remove yourself from true existence in order to create for yourself an existence that tricks you, placing yourself in delusion. Sin is what made you think that you exist by your own power, not through the power of your Lord; it is what makes you far from Him, searching after a deceptive mirage.

The whole story is whether you are a guest of the divine being that is within you or a guest of the passions that you manufacture for yourself out of your fear of God. Are you a person of fear or a person of trust? Are you fixated on yourself and the deception nesting within you or are you cast into the Father's bosom, forgetting your own pleasures and luxury so that you can feel that you have become a son-- that is, living on this earth the kingdom of God that comes down upon you through the loving-kindness of the Father?

If you believe in His loving-kindness, it will turn your eyes toward Him and you will realize that you are present in His looking at you. If you lock onto this look, it will make you search your heart, according to the Orthodox expression, or search your conscience, according to the Western expression. Blessed are you if you see God in your heart and you see Him moving the pulse of the Spirit within you and He remains in your soul after the body is extinguished.

If some people talk explicitly about a particular judgment, I say that every moment of our life is a particular judgment if we are aware, in the sense that our spiritual awareness constantly causes us to stand before the presence of God. So we see that our sins afflict us and that separation from Him is death. Every sin is a death, and without coming close to Nietzsche except in expression, I say that the death of sin is the death of God. How hideous is the existence of one who kills God within himself without even knowing that by doing this he removes himself from true existence and erects the Hell of flame within his soul before the demons seize him, if he does not repent.

For the sinner, repentance means for him to discover that his behavior was sinful and that his entire opinion about God was erroneous, because he imagined for himself that sin is not sin and that it is necessary for life. Perhaps he did not strive to preserve God within himself or, beyond this, even considered himself capable of preserving his own being apart from God's being.

Our story of the soul living alongside sin is terrifying because it is based on a serious error, that you are capable of living without God, or at least that you are capable of postponing your meeing with Him, which means that you have no notion of the fear of death and what that entails for you.

A sinner not only deviates in his behavior. He deviates in his thought, in the sense that he has erroneous thinking. Repentance is to remove from yourself this thinking, so that you may have within yourself the mind of Christ Jesus, as the Apostle Paul says, or something similar to this expression, if you are not of Paul's religion.

Lord, save us from sin and draw us near to Your face, so that we may live.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Patriarchate of Jerusalem and Church of Cyprus Help Syrian Refugees in Jordan

From the French, here.

On Thursday, October 18 the Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos was present and the reception of parcels of food, medicine, and clothing sent by the Church of Cyprus for Syrian refugees in Jordan staying at the Zaatari camp. The patriarch had intervened for these refugees, some time ago, with the ambassadors of Great Britain, France, Germany, and Cyprus in Amman. The patriarch then visited the camp and gathered information about the refugees' difficulties. They were at the center of recent discussions between the primates of the Patriarchates of Alexandria and Jerusalem and the Church of Cyprus and representatives of the European Union in Brussels. The Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos additionally called on the Archbishop of Cyprus to organize a collection of funds for Syrian refugees in Jordan.

The Orthodox people of Cyprus as well as their government responded to this call: 10 tons of mineral water, 5 tons of food, and 185 cases of clothing, as well as 15 small refrigerators and 5 computers arrived in Akaba by sea and were then shipped to Zaatari on October 18 in the presence of Patriarch Theophilos and several Jordanian clergy, the ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus, and other Jordanian figures.

The Zaatari camp currently shelters 38,500 out of a total of 210,000 in Jordan. Between 300 and 400 refugees arrive in the camp daily, according to the security conditions on the Syrian-Jordanian border. They arrive at the camp, most often at night, and have nothing with them except their clothes. They are exhausted and often wounded. The first step upon their arrival is to provide them with food and clothing. Great effort is taken to improve the conditions of their stay, as winter is approaching. New roads are being built and covered with gravel in order to protect the camp from dust, which is detrimental to the health of its inhabitants.

75% of the refugees are women and children. A program has been started for the education of between 15,000 and 18,000 children. Schools have been established in tents.

The Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos thanked the representatives of the Jordanian Government, the UNHCR, and UNICEF for the information they transmitted and especially for the humanitarian work that has been accomplished. He declared that the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Church of Cyprus propose to continue actively helping this work through the collaboration of those responsible for the camp and the head of the patriarch's office in Amman, Waffa Ksous.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

In the Cell of Isaac the Athonite

Arabic original here.

The Cell of Fr Isaac (Atallah): "Heaven on Earth"

On the night of the Feast of Saint Isaac the Syrian (old-calendar), we headed into the deep wilderness of Mount Athos, toward the cell of the reposed Hieromonk Isaac (Atallah), in order to share in the table of prayer, the vigil that goes from nine at night until sunrise the following morning. We were a group of believers, eleven people, several of whom were accustomed to going to this cell on this exact night.

It was seven thirty in the evening. We went up in a bus from a nearby monastery on an unpaved road, like all the roads on this mountain. After about half an hour, we stopped at a bridge and went the rest of the way on foot.

It was very dark. We walked one behind the other, relying on flashlights, the sound of crickets filling the space around us.

At first, we were haunted by a feeling of extraordinary fatigue. How can a person spend the entire night standing and sitting without being overwhelmed by tiredness and fatigue?

In human terms, this might be true, but here is the surprise: If a person from the first moment simply leaves himself in the hands of his Creator, he discovers that he is a "liturgical being", carried on the palms of angels and the saints of this mountain, if he decides to be united to God, the intercession of the All-Holy Theotokos will not depart from him for a single moment.

The beauty begins. A few moments before the prayer starts, rows of ascetics walk into the place, as though they had come down from heaven, one group after another, human shadows as though they had come from another world, walking at a quick and steady pace, one after another. You cannot see them well, because the color of their robes mixes with the black of night. You distinguish them by the flash of their faces and their long white beards, since the cell is completely empty of any modern technology. There is no electricity and cars cannot go on its path. Some kerosene lamps, which do not exceed the number of fingers on a hand, are placed in the corners to help us move.

Upon our arrival, with the guidance and warm welcome of the monks who live there, those arriving take up a simple location for themselves to sit and rest a little before the prayer begins.

The seats are wooden boards supported by stone and mud. Overhead was some wood and straw.

At that time the heavenly hosts pass before you, the elders of the desert, moving briskly among the shadows. They are welcomed with warm voices and receive a blessing from those who preceded them in asceticism. You sense the angelic presence, a peace, calm, and joy that is not of this world.

You look at them reflecting the candlelight and the light of the moon and you behold faces upon which are traced ascetic struggles and prayer, a firmness that is not lacking mercy, wrinkles traced by the fingers of grace and brightness.

Total seriousness wrapped in happiness and joy, giving and sacrifice.

"Commandos" who are completely ready, conscripted under the banner of Christ, alert and seasoned in battle, patience, and victory through God's grace. Just their faces exude a power. They immediately expel from your soul any feelings of laxity, hesitation, or fatigue.

Those among them who are advanced in age surpass the young in enthusiasm. Amongst them is an obedience to the spiritually advanced, extreme humility, and things that surpass all consideration or analogy. A venerable elder receives a blessing from a young priest, while the latter bows before the elder like a son to his father. How not, when he is his spiritual father!

They are really a heavenly presence. They embody Christianity and initiate you in the fullness and profundity of theology without speaking a single word. Their eyes are filled with tears from repentance and consolation, whose shine is the light of the Resurrection and victory. If you embrace them, you are touched by holiness and the sweetness of heaven.

They are great elders, before whom heads bow and under whose feet fall all the false and empty pleasures of the world. You realize that you are truly nothing and everything that you revel in is also nothing, possessions, positions, titles. Indeed, everything in life that you consider beautiful and strive to acquire is "emptiness and void". Man has no glory or honor except in being in the presence of God, as a humble and simple human, but at the same time rich in Christ and in all the gifts and graces that God has given him.

The true Christian is this divine presence that takes prayer as nourishment and struggle as a way of life.

After being briefly received with a cup of coffee and a piece of fasting halva, the simandron is strikes for prayer and the ascetic monks' voices break the night's silence with the most beautiful melodies and tones.

You look around and there the elders have scattered around the cell's church, left and right, with a speed that you're eyes have never seen. They disperse and are undivided, as they make up one body in harmony with Christ, the head.

Each one of them knows what to do and what he must do, as Christ's armies standing at the ready. Their tongues surpass the language of the body, heavenly beings who witness with their eyes the spirit of the One whom they address, to whom  and with whom they pray.

My God, what splendor! It is something beyond description. The cell of Father Isaac has become an open heaven. Here the icons joyfully give praise with those chanting and dance with joy with the angels and saints who have come down from heaven so that heaven and earth may become completely as one, filled with the odor of incense and lit beeswax candles in which one savors a taste of the kingdom. You know longer know whether you are standing on earth or present on high.

In the middle of all this angelic buzz, "geronda" moves about like a shadow, circling around the chanters and readers in silence, gesturing. A single gesture from him is enough for everyone to know what must be done. One book is closed and another opened without you knowing how or hearing any commotion that would disturb the purity and holiness of the place. Despite the small size of the church, it has become more expansive than the seas and oceans. A light dawns in every place and you wish for time to grow longer, for tomorrow to not reach you, but you are compelled to depart.

So, if a moment of fatigue comes to you, you resist it and refuse to close your eyes or to take a "nap", lest any of this beauty, splendor and the charm of the place pass you by. Even if you doze off, the heavenly tones take you and incline you to come back, wake up, and discover that you have arrived in a state of the kingdom that surpasses understanding. Truly you say with the Apostles, "Nothing separates me from Christ." I am in the presence of God.

Compline, vespers, readings, matins, the divine liturgy, all of them make up a single prayer-rope, a complete and integral unity, an open and unending table. You no longer realize how it began.

At any moment that you arrive, it has gone on before you, but at the same time it awaits you and there is a place for you there.

In the final moments of the night before sunrise, the kolyva is placed in the middle of the church and a monk distributes candles to the priests. All of them line up side-by-side in a semi-circle, facing the altar, so that the memorial service for the reposed monk Father Isaac (Atallah) can begin.

Why candles? Because they are a sign of Pascha and the shining forth from the tomb. There is no death in Christ. It is falling asleep and being transported.

The service begins with its most glorious beauty within the church and is completed outside, before Father Isaac's grave.

The black of night changes into the daylight of the Resurrection, so you realize in your soul that Father Isaac is participating with you in the very service. He stands beside you and chants with the choir, singing with those rejoicing.

Yes, you feel that he is alive. You want to talk to him and to bow before him to receive his blessing.

The service ends and you are surprised that it is almost six in the morning, so all can share in the agape table. You say to yourself: how did the whole night pass in a single moment without me getting tired?! Truly, "a thousand years are in the eyes of the Lord are like yesterday which has passed." He is the Heavenly Bridegroom, accompanied by the angels.

This is the cell of Father Isaac (Atallah), who left his earthly homeland of Lebanon to enter into the paradise of the Theotokos, to join the caravan of God's holy ones, and to turn a plot of land on Mount Athos into a heavenly elevator, in which one recovers his true, original identity, which is the kingdom.

This is Mount Athos and this is Orthodoxy, a life lived in struggle and blood.

Truly the kingdom begins now. Its gates are wide open. If you attain the Athonite vigil with good patience, then you attain divine longing, you acquire the "art of arts"-- that is, prayer, struggle, repentance, hope, joy, and consolation. Then you belong to the caravans of those struggling. You praise the Lord in repentance and joy and say to Him, "Amen."

Fr Athanasius (Shahwan)
October 11, 2012
Mt Athos, Greece

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Al-Safir on Hamatoura

Arabic original here.

The Monastery of Our Lady of Hamatoura: Firm as an Icon in the Heart of Nature

by Fadia Daboul

The Orthodox monastery of Our Lady of Hamatoura enjoys an outstanding location among the rocks on a mountain overlooking Kousba, standing out like an icon in the heart of nature. It draws the faithful in for prayer and pilgrimage and explorers to immerse themselves in its history, despite the difficulties faced by one aiming to go up the steep trail leading up the mountain.

 The monastery's history goes back to the fifth Christian century. It has remained firm despite the persecutions it has faced in different periods, especially during the Mamluk and Ottoman eras. In the days of the Mamluks, armies plundered the monastery's products and tormented and brutalized its monks. Families from neighboring villages would sneak in young men seeking shelter in the monastery and some families gathered around it and worked with the monks to found the village of Karbaraya, though in the past half-century its residents have moved to neighboring villages for work and education.

In addition to human violence, the monastery has been subject to a number of difficult natural circumstances, including a number of earthquakes, the most famous of which was in 1600, although monks remained there until 1917, when Lebanon was struck by a great earthquake that buried a large part of the monastery. Continuous efforts up to today have only managed to restore ten percent of the monastery's historical size.

 Manuscripts, the oldest of which goes back to the tenth century, testify to the monastery's deep history. A manuscript by a Russian traveller who visited the monasteries of Lebanon affirms that the monastery covered the entire mountain, according to its detailed description of it. The icons on its walls go back to different periods of history. Some are from the fifth and sixth century, but most of them were painted in the tenth century, after the conflict over iconoclasm, which began when the emperor at the time issued an order forbidding icons from being venerated in churches and sent his soldiers to damage and destroy them by various means.

The Monastery of Our Lady of Hamatoura resembles some monasteries in Turkey and others in Palestine with regard to its location and its extent over the entire mountain. From another perspective, it resembles Greek and Russian monasteries which, beside the main monastery, include a number of hermitages, small monasteries, and churches dependent on the one large monastery. Besides the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos of Hamatoura, it includes a hermitage dedicated to Mar Elias and another to St John the Baptist, a church of St Michael, and a monastery of St George dependent on the abbot of the monastery, Archimandrite Pandeleimon Farah.

The number of monks in the monastery approached two hundred, but the number quickly fell following successive periods of persecution. Today there are ten monks. In 1992 a monk came to the monastery from Mount Athos in Greece who attempted to revive it, but he was unable to bear the difficulties of living in it in its ruined state, in addition to its location and the rugged path up to it, transporting things to it on foot or on the back of a donkey. In 1994 Archimandrite Pandeleimon Farah arrived there following a fire caused by candles lit by some of the faithful. He worked to restore it, which has led to the uncovering of icons from the sixth century. The monks had been unable to restore them following attacks by the Ottomans when they were destroyed in 1770, so they covered them with plaster, which cracked due to the heat from the fire.

In 2008, as the monks were completing a restoration project, they came across four bodies buried in the ground. It was clear that they belonged to martyrs who had been beaten, as their bones were broken. The head of one of the bodies was cut off, and it was surrounded by a layer of lime. According to scientists, the presence of a layer of lime on a body can be due to one of two factors-- First, the nature of the soil in which the body is buried, which may include lime. This is not the case with the soil under the church. The second is for bodies to be burned. Thus the monks were sure that one of the bodies belonged to Saint Jacob of Hamatoura, on account of the bodies' presence corresponding to the miraculous appearance of the saint, and the precise history of the martyrdom of the saint, who re-founded monasticism at the monastery during the time of the Mamluks.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fr Pandeleimon (Farah) on St Jacob of Hamatoura

Today is the feast day of St Jacob of Hamatoura, whose life can be read here. The Arabic original of this sermon can be read here.

Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages, amen.

I wanted to congratulate you on this noble feast, since you have come from different places to spend the night, despite the cold, in prayer, to warm yourselves in your prayer and to be made holy through this great saint, the hieromartyr Jacob of Hamatoura.

What strikes in the readings that we heard today from the Gospel and the Epistle, is the part that pertains to education. It says that someone who wants to be an authentic son, not an illegitimate one, must endure his father's corrections and be obedient in order to practice, through this obedience, fulfilling his duty and realizing his sonship. One who is corrected by his father, he is an authentic son, but one who is not corrected is illegitimate-- that is, inauthentic-- and does not have the same traits as his father. Here it means belief and faith, not beauty or appearance or other inherited traits. This is because one who is corrected by the Lord bears and possesses the Lord's traits and in this way he is able to live within society but apart from society. "You are not of the world, though I have chosen you out of the world," but you are distinct from the world in your mentality and your behavior. A Christian cannot resemble the people of the world. People offer you lusts, they offer you whims,  they offer selfishness, and you cannot be that way. You are corrected by the Lord so that you will be different from this society and so that you will rise up to a holy, heavenly, society.

If we compare this text that we are hearing with our life in our Christian society today, we find ourselves embarrassed. This is because Christians in general do not act according to the Gospel, do not adhere to it, and do not practice and learn from it. They are far from it and for this reason witness and holiness are rare and the level of human thought is declining, because it is losing holy illumination. It is losing the effectiveness of grace because it receives it and makes it useless and does not put it into action. But one who practices the Lord's commandments, he receives grace upon grace from God and again and again practices developing this grace, cooperating with it, making it effective in his life in order to attain the holiness that the Lord wills for him.

Saint Jacob, despite the social circumstances  that surrounded his life in those times, practiced the love of the Lord to the utmost limits. This is why he accepted suffering and difficulty with joy and relish, and he did not accept to be saved by society which offered him false faith. He did not accept what reigned in his society. Rather, he accepted to be defiant, not out of selfishness or pride, but because he knew the truth. When we say this verb 'he knows', it means that he has experience with God, because true faith is for them to know that You, the true God, and Your Son whom You sent, Jesus Christ. 'That they know You,' not know about You  intellectually. The human intellect is not capable of comprehending divine thought. However, it is capable of getting to know you, that is to obtain practical, life experience through prayer, through the holy mysteries, and through reading the holy scriptures.

This is how the saint lived, unwavering, bearing suffering and hardships unto death, and slander just like we see today in our day. The thinking is the same because its source is the Evil One. A Christian does not return evil for evil, but he does stay firm in his struggle and rejects sin every day in his home, his work, his business, and his interactions with people. Then he is able to be a martyr. God did not allow persecutions to be continuous because we are weak and because we do not prepare every day to die for the sake of the love of Christ. We persist in our sins, far from His love. So He has mercy on us, since if the Evil One stirred up persecution against us, not one of us would remain steadfast. But we trust in His mercy, He who helps us, makes us capable, and extends His grace to us, so that we might continue in our struggle and be made holy. In the abundance of His love-- indeed, in the excess of His love-- He does not accept for us to perish. Rather, He wants us to be saved and be made holy. He waits for us. When we approach Him even a little, He rushes to meet and embrace us and make us steadfast in our holy struggle.

Be steadfast and learn from the Holy Bible, its morals and teachings, so that in your daily life you will truly be witnesses to Him, so that at your end you will be made worthy of the holy crown of martyrdom, so that you will attain the kingdom of heaven, joyous with the saints whom we celebrate every day, to whom we sing hymns so that we will be encouraged to imitate them and be made holy like them.

May Saint Jacob of Hamatoura intercede for all of us. May he make our way easy in every good work that pleases God. Let us be corrected by Him and let us walk in a way that pleases Him, scorning every lust and every desire that the world offers us, so that we may strip off, as the Lord said, this world, being raised up to His love. Amen.

Archimandrite Pandeleimon (Farah)
Abbot of the Monastery of Hamatoura
October 15, 2011

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mother Maryam Zakka on Evangelism

Arabic original here.

The Bible says that we must evangelize! But our days are difficult now because we must respect people's choices and the various sects?!... and my friend who does not believe in God but rather reason?! And everyone around us?! What should I do?! .... -Yara

The Bible says, in the words of the Lord and of His chosen apostle Paul, "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season." (2 Timothy 4:2)

What is evangelism for us? Is it talking about the Gospel and its word or preaching to those around us? Or is it us replying to the questions people ask us? Or do we live the life of the Gospel in silence, so that those around us will learn from our silence and our behavior? It is all these things!

The true Christian life is itself evangelism. One of the philosophers said, "Tell me how you live and I will tell you who you are." So, evangelism is how we live. The Lord Jesus said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). The important thing is for the Lord our God to be blessed through our actions with those whom we meet in our daily life.

My daughter, be the shining lamp placed on the mountaintops to shine for others in the name of the Lord! Walk in true Christian love with those you interact with... starting with your husband at home, your children, your students, your friends.... Here I'd like to focus on that Christian friend who does not believe in anything other than science and who has lived her life scientifically... The most important thing you can do for her is praying for her, that she will return to knowledge of the Lord in her heart, since He said, "my son, give me your heart" (Proverbs 23:26).

Prayer has a 'miraculous' effect... If it comes from the depths of the heart and total reliance on the Holy Name, then it will bring this person to knowledge of the Lord through you!

Do not discuss faith with her, or she will take a defensive position about her opinions, especially if she is educated and has a scientific worldview... such people discuss faith viciously, because their god is reason! Just love her in silence and be a good model for her of the simple Christian life, perfected in the Lord Jesus... He is the fisherman who will catch her like a fish after nourishing her with His presence in the trials and paradoxes of her life...

You said, Yara, to start with, that we must respect people's choices, their opinions and religions... You're right, but don't forget that any person on the face of the earth, when he sees the goodness of the table spread before him will approach it and eat from it. He will choose what his soul desires and he loves... In the Church we have a blessed, living banquet, richer than the whole world's wealth!

We do not steal people for Christianity! However, we show them the goodness of our God and they will come to wonder and ask, "Who are these people? What is behind them? Who and how do they worship?" Let them know the truth!

"We are the preaching of the Gospel" in the gentle, kind, and loving way we treat others, in our tranquility, in our behavior, in our love for others regardless of their different religions or sects, in our holding fast to what our Church teaches, in our discussing with the 'knowledgeable' if the possibility of discussion is opened to us, in serving the needy, in giving to the poor and helping anyone seeking assistance, in our sober, loving behavior. Not in prideful divisiveness or avoiding sharing in others' suffering, but in our human presence and most importantly in our prayer for all who cross our path without criticizing them.

You say that evangelism has become difficult today. This is true, but that's the challenge! We are not better off today than the first Christians! They mingled with idolators and we today live with them. Do you not notice the idolatry of money and wealth, power, love of appearances, lying and confusion among us? And the other forms of worship that dilute and assault the true faith? Do you not notice the moral and sexual permissiveness, the heresies that affect all classes of people, rich and poor, educated and simple? Do you not witness the violence, drunkenness and wantonness, even among schoolchildren, which destroy moral, spiritual, and social values? Do you not fear the heresy of keeping up with the times, which separates the believer from his faith and cleaves him to false teaching? Do you not weep for the fracturing of the family, the splintering of children, the departure to far-off countries, and the abandonment of the faith? Do you not behold the domination of other religious which wipe out Christianity and kill the seriousness of those who strive for true worship of the Word of the Gospel?

"All the nations surrounded me and in the name of the Lord I conquered them" (Psalm 117:10)

We are approaching the end of times... this is what the holy fathers in our Church say! Even this question was posed by those who surrounded Jesus, and He answered them! We do not know the times or the hours that the Lord has appointed for the end of times and the second coming of Christ... but we do know one thing, that we must remain alert and ready to receive Christ who became incarnate to save us from the Enemy!

This is how we must live, girding our loins and bearing the Gospel of Christ in our hearts and minds, following His steps, praying, fasting, blessing, weeping, repenting for our sins and the ignorance of the people...

Each one of us has his work in this life, but all of us are called to know the truth, that we have one Savior, in whom we know God the Father, the Creator, and through whom we come to Him. He is the second hypostasis or person of the Holy Trinity, the ray of the Father, equal to Him in essence and eternity from all ages, in whom we live and move and have our being. His name is Emmanuel, God is with us, Jesus Christ the Redeemer.

For Him we live, not for any other person, idea, or teaching. To Him alone is due worship. To Him we lift up glory and honor. From Him we await eternal salvation, for us and for all those in existence whom He has called on us to pray for and love!

May the Lord Jesus Christ keep you and yours and all your generation.

Mother Maryam  Zakka
Abbess of the Monastery of St John the Baptist-- Douma
December 19, 2010

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fr. Georges Massouh on Orthodox Ottomanism

Arabic original here.

The Orthodox are Ottomanizing

The campaign against the film "Fetih 1453", which recounts the fall of Constantinople from the Turkish perspective, has led to it being banned from theaters in Lebanon. This campaign was led by some people who considered the film to constitute an "insult" to Christianity in general and to Orthodoxy in particular, so they in turn retaliated against the Turks, the Ottomans, and the Ottoman Empire.  They saw banning this film as a victory for them against the Ottomans, despite the fact that Constantinople is still officially called Istanbul!

This imaginary victory over the Ottomans is nothing but a real defeat for the Orthodox to an Ottoman culture that has been raiding their ranks for quite a while. The campaign against the film is merely a minor detail in the confused state of Orthodoxy in Lebanon. Though the Orthodox struggled to escape from the millet system under the Ottoman Empire to the free spaces of citizenship, belonging to the nation, socialism, and secularism, some find themselves under noble and holy names like "Orthodoxy" fighting to return to that ancien régime.

The Ottoman model is the model that some Orthodox are seeking to apply in public life. Can we categorize the "Orthodox" proposal that each sectarian community elect its own deputies as anything other than a return to the Ottoman millet system? What can we say about the proposal to set up a "civil commission" for the Greek Orthodox community, other than that it is a resurrection of the millet council that used to oversee the community's affairs? What can we say about the establishment of an Orthodox party that raises the banner of the Byzantine Empire, other that that it is a retreat from the concept of the national community in the interest of a sectarianism that has only brought wars and conflicts between the people of the one nation?

The Ottoman pattern is winning and the Orthodox think that they are the victors. Ottomanism in thought, attitude, and behavior has come to dominate some Orthodox. They adopt it after their ancestors combated it. They wanted to escape from the millet system, which turned the Orthodox into a millet under the political and religious leadership of the patriarch of Constantinople as ethnarch, to the nation. Now, after less than a century you see them wanting to escape from the nation back to the shelter of the ethnic millet. For more than a century, their ancestors called for separating religion from the state, and here they are wanting the state to treat them as a sectarian community alongside all the others.

The Ottomans were an umma-empire without geographical limits, a comprehensive umma that did not recognize nations or ethnicities. They were an idea, not an ethnic or a national identity. They identified with a religious umma-empire that attached greater importance to religious solidarity than to ethnic or national solidarity. The Orthodox have become Ottoman insofar as they have come to consider themselves, socially and politically, an umma standing vis-à-vis other sectarian communities! Is it not national regression for a person to be elected solely by members of his sectarian community? Is this not religious bigotry and sectarian isolationism? Does not this all mean that the Orthodox, if some of them get what they want, will become an ethno-religious umma?

In 1899, the first Arab patriarch was elected to the See of Antioch after a few centuries [*] of Greek domination. In 1918, the Ottoman Empire fell. Some of the Orthodox are longing for a lost Byzantine paradise while at the same time are bringing back Ottomanism as a model for imitation in public life. Neither longing for Byzantium nor imitating the Ottoman model will bring glory back to the Orthodox, only striving for true citizenship and keeping the Church pure from the mire of politics and its corruptions.

* This is somewhat inaccurate. Between the return of the patriarchate from exile in Constantinople in 1276 and the Melkite Schism of 1724, the majority of patriarchs of Antioch were Arabic-speakers. In the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, however, domination by ethnic Greeks over the office of patriarch came in 1534, near the beginning of Ottoman rule in Palestine.

Fr. Touma (Bitar) on Activism in the Church

Arabic original here.

Positive Events in the Past Week and the Hope It Brings

Finally, attention was turned from the plan for the basic [electoral] law to what is called the "General Civil Commission for Greek Orthodox in Lebanon"! It was not brought up at the regular session of the Holy Synod (October 2-4)! God's wisdom, in His Beautitude the Patriarch, spared us the consequences of dicussing and deciding on a harsh and ambiguous plan that was unprecedented in the history of the See of Antioch. Thanks and praise be to God and thanks to His Beautitude's insightful view for the fatherly way in which he removed the topic from the realm of discussion and put an end to the painful debate over the issue!

His Beatitude did not say much, but he affirmed three basic things, either directly or indirectly:

First. The issue of the Orthodox community's rights in Lebanon remains within the purview of the advisory committee under his leadership.

Second. The advisory committee is not empowered to prepare drafts of canons on the synodal level particular to any Orthodox body. Within this context, what was proposed with the "General Civil Commission for Greek Orthodox in Lebanon" was treated as ideas for discussion, not as an actual draft for a canon to be adopted.

Third. His Beatitude was careful not to enter into ecclesiological debates of a pastoral nature and related to canon law, preventing confusion within the ranks of Orthodoxy, especially at this difficult period in the history of Lebanon and of the region.

From our standpoint, we declare that acute confrontationalism over the issue, as well as triumphalism, do not befit those discussing it, lest we subject ourselves to insulting each other personally, while the goal is for us to debate the Church's cause within the scope of tradition, in the spirit of brotherly love, preserving the true faith and ensuring that we remain within it in all matters.

From another standpoint, the meeting that was called by the Orthodox Youth Movement and the Orthodox Pastoral Gathering warrants thanks to God for its success.

What happened is of great significance! The spontaneous response by many and the immediate call for meeting to face and forestall this sudden danger (whether aware or unaware) represented by the plan for the "General Civil Commission for Greek Orthodox in Leabnon", this call and this response is an indication that the feeling for right belief among the Orthodox Youth Movement, those who are in agreement with it, sympathize with it, and branch out from it, is deep and sensitive! As the people of God, we must admit that the Movement, despite its difficulties here and there, is the Church's only pastoral body on an Antiochian level that clearly represents the activist spirit of the Church, that spirit that has characterized the people of God in the Orthodox Church in general, generation after generation, and has made them the basic guarantor of Orthodoxy and right belief, especially when the Church was subject to torrents of heresies, strange ideas, distasteful tendencies, and alarming transgressions through her history.

As for the Church's activist spirit, this is a spiritual characteristic and a grace. Its starting-point is living consciousness of traditional Orthodoxy and its sole allegiance is to the Lord Jesus Christ, in spirit and in truth. Within this framework, a dynamic and conscious activism is indispensable. It absolutely cannot be transferred to an individual or to groups, however prominent, lest we fall into favoritism, worship of persons, and idolization of institutions! We must not concede to those whom we entrust with God's affairs, our cooperative and corrective role in running the affairs of the Church, abandoning our activism toward them in the spirit of God, lest we become from one perspective a party animated by the partisanship of this world, and lest, from another perspective, we treat them like some type of gods! We can work with those in whom we discern the spirit of God with greater clarity and complete activism, keeping them and the Church from being dominated by their passions and staving off the temptations of the Stranger (Satan) from them and from us. Within the Church we complete each other and correct each other. We do this so that the Spirit of God alone will be willing and acting within us, for God's good pleasure and so that Christ and Christ alone will remain-- with us, in us, among us-- the final decision-maker! Spiritual activism means preserving, reforming, and perfecting each other lest we stray and perish! Activism is a sign of our love for each other in truth and before all else for our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, to Him be glory!

The Church's spiritual activism is the profound organizing principle for life in Christ's Church. It is the theantrhopic arrangement that calls down divine grace and directs it into the one body, to purify and nourish all members with the life that spreads within it, with the grace that is from above!

If this activism's path is to be love and not favoritism, then those who embrace it cannot cease working fervently on two levels:

-- The level of continuous, humble personal purification, lest we fall into spiritual dryness and our internal springs run dry.

-- The level of continuously trying to forget what we have achieved, like the active bee that reaches forward, and of work in silence and love, like unprofitable servants, to preserve what the Lord has entrusted us with, and to be filled with the spirit of God and to spread the spirit of the Gospel. Otherwise, we inevitably fall into flabbiness and we lose the warmth of the Spirit and God's grace departs from us. At that point, we find ourselves drowning in household cares, we become proud and distracted by externals, and the spirit of competition for authority stirrs within us. We break away from each other and thorns and briars sprout up within us and between us. We take on an attitude of reveling in past glories and none of us desires to seriously combat his personal sin any more. We become insensitive and we no longer calmly move against the real dangers in the Church. We no longer pay attention to matters of our salvation. The scale of priorities for us is reversed, and our honors, glories, and powers become the standard for the revival, in place of keeping the divine commandment, prayer, fasting, and zeal for the house of God.

I hope what happened yesterday will be a lasting return, not a transient boom, to the first love and to continuous true spiritual activism that draws on the wells of repentance and humility and puts an end to intoxicating flabbiness, hollow triumphalism, and tiresome strife. After today, we have no right to return to heedlessness! What happened is that the Church and the Holy Synod, in one way or another, expressed their need for the participation of the people of God-- all the people of God-- but in a sober, loving, and responsible manner, for safeguarding what has been entrusted, preserving tradition, and promoting the spirit of witnessing to the Lord Jesus and to true belief among us, in these lands, and in all the world. Had the Movement not stirred, something with dire consequences would have happened! Activism is a grace from above, a gift, and a commission from the Most High! Let us not take anyone's role, but let no one eliminate or seize our role! Let no one dissipate our activism, but rather let us treat it automatically to preserve ourselves and our role away from excesses and Christ's Church from being slandered, as an index of new life that grows, so that the bride will remain radiant, so that we will have lasting joy, and so salvation extends and flowers radiantly into eternal life!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan- Douma
October 7, 2012

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

An Odd Sub-Plot to the Lebanese Orthodox Search for a Political Identity

So, aside from the major story of the rise and fall of the idea for a "Civil Commission", we have this unexpected news item today, in English here at the Daily Star:

Lebanon Bans 'Fetih 1453' from Theaters

BEIRUT: Turkish director Faruk Aksoy’s “Fetih 1453” has been banned from Lebanon’s theaters because it is offensive to Orthodox Christians.

“Fetih 1453” tells the story of Mehmet II, who ascends to the Ottoman throne after the deaths of his father Murat II and brother Osman Erciyes. More powerful than ever, he inherits the throne with the conquest of Constantinople as his main priority.

With a phenomenal budget estimated at $18 million, Aksoy’s film was well-received in Turkey, but Greece accused it of obscuring key facts.

That same negative perspective has been felt by the Orthodox community in Lebanon, where a sit-in was held on Sept. 29 in Sassine Square to denounce the film’s “offense to Christian civilization” – a reaction which calls to mind recent protests in the Muslim world due to the anti-Islam film.

Local media said the film was banned over its falsification of dates and insults to Christianity. A few days ago, Rodrigue Khoury, a member of the “Al-Machreq” party, said on a local television channel that “the message behind the movie is to bring conflict between cultures.”


Lebanese law basically allows for the banning of any media that anyone could construe as religiously offensive, and it would be hard not to see Fetih 1453's portrayal of Christians as deliberately offensive. The interesting thing, though, is that the impetus for banning the film seems to follow this protest, organized by a group that until recently was called the 'Orthodox Party' but which, as of October 4 of this year is officially registered in Lebanon as Hizb el-Machreq, "Party of the Levant". This group seemed until recently to have largely only had existence on Facebook as a longstanding pet project of a lawyer named Rodrigue Khoury, and so managing to get the film banned is quite a significant public relations victory. Interviews with Khoury about his party can be read here and here. A strong rebuke of the party's principles by Fr. Georges Massouh, originally published in the magazine of the Orthodox Youth Movement, can be read here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Communique from the Meeting of the Holy Synod

This translation is in no way official. The official Arabic can be read here.

Communique from the Holy Synod of Antioch, Meeting at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand October 2-4, 2012

The Holy Synod of Antioch began the work of its  49th regular session at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand, October 2-4, 2012. His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius addressed a word to the metropolitans present in which he stressed the importance of the Christian witness in our countries and the world and the effort to strengthen the Christian presence in them in the face of the challenges facing the children of the Church in their countries.

The fathers of the Holy Synod paused over the events that our region is witnessing and the repercussions they are having for fellow citizens of various affiliations. They supplicate God that He may return peace and tranquility, that the values of freedom, justice, and equality will reign, and that fellow citizens will enjoy a bright tomorrow and a promising future for their children. They affirmed the following points as the starting point for any approach that respects the Christian view of humanity and the Church's role in the world:

-- The importance of the Middle-Eastern Christian Presence. The Christians of the Middle East are children of this region, which is the cradle of Christianity. They have given the Catholic Church some of her most important Fathers and teachers. Their history is a testimony to their openness and engagement in public life and they have enriched Arab civilization through their scientific, intellectual, and literary efforts. Middle-Eastern Christians, the children of various Christian churches, are called to commit themselves to the issues of humanity and of their countries, with faith in the teachings of the Gospel and the tradition of the Church. The Antiochian Orthodox Church, which is rooted in the Arab East, must play a leading role in revealing the authentic face of Christianity, which serves humanity without regard to ethnicity or religion.

The fathers see the increase in emigration, especially among the youth, to the countries of the diaspora as a danger that threatens the active Christian presence in our societies. For this reason they see it necessesary to invest in endowments and to support Church institutions for growing service to the faithful in order to solidify their existence in their homelands and to ensure the bases for their remaining in the countries in which God called us to bear witness.

-- The Spirit of Peace. Middle-Eastern Christians are called to commit to working tirelessly to bring peace to their region. They are children of love and Christian meekness and their Church calls them to be faithful to this special quality. For this reason, the Church denounces the violence that is generally practiced in the Arab world-- killing, expulsion, displacement, chaos, and kidnapping... History has established that violence, wherever it comes from, is not a way of solving problems. Rather, it exacerbates divisions between people of a single country, and pushes towards more conflicts and wars.

-- The Obligation of Citizenship. By the same token, the faithful are called not to withdraw from their duties to the nation because they do not look at the world in terms of numbers and they refuse to consider themselves  a minority or for cooperation with them to happen with a minoritarian mentality. They are responsible, with their partners in the nation, for the political, cultural, and social revival of their country as part of their mission in this world. There is no assurance of the values of sound citizenship and total equality of rights and responsibilities for all citizens without effort to form just laws to which all people of the single country submit without distinction and the realization of true representation for all elements of the nation which opens the fields of service to all citizens according to their abilities.

The Antiochian Orthodox Church is determined to playing a leading role so that her children may perform their role in bearing national responsibilities. Within this context and despite the fact that the Church has not adopted any plan for an electoral law in Lebanon, she affirms the necessity of enacting an electoral law that includes true and just representation for all Lebanese.

-- Media. In a world where media have come to have a decisive role in forming public opinion, transmitting information, and shaping knowledge, the fathers of the Synod paused on the importance that should be given to this element of our society today. And so, religious media is naturally called to spread the values of knowledge, freedom, and openness to accepting the other, and to not use the various media platforms to stir up reactions and traffic in souls. However, it is also called to play a positive role in shedding light on everything that gives dignity to humankind and raises their condition.

On this basis, the Fathers condemn offenses against religious values and symbols and consider this to be a targeted attempt to sew seeds of discord between the children of these two monotheistic religions. They likewise condemn violent reactions against these offenses and see them to be incompatible with the spirits of Christianity and Islam, which both call for appealing to reason and wisdom in any action that the faithful undertake.

In closing, His Beatitude addressed his profound gratitude to their eminences, the honorable fathers who flocked from all corners of the world in order to express their unity, their love, and their solidarity in belonging to their Antiochian Eastern Orthodox Church.

Al-Safir Gives Some Background on the 'Civil Commission' Plan

From yesterday's al-Safir. Arabic original here.

By Ghassan Rifi

The Holy Synod of Antioch is holding its meeting today under the ledership of Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Ignatius IV Hazim at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand with the participation of the metropolitans of Syria, Lebanon, and the diaspora. Although the meeting takes place at its regular date at the beginning of Fall and takes its usual form, it has taken on great importance because it discusses an exceptional item establishing a tranformative stage for the community and for its role on the national level in Lebanon, where it is assumed that the advisory committee that Patriarch Hazim selected at the beginning of this year will put forward its plan which calls for founding a civil commission to organize Orthodox affairs and to esure their active participation in public life.

The committee puts forward its plain amidst a state of division within the community over founding this commission, which is rejected by some Orthodox youth and pastoral organizations which consider it to "constitute a real threat to the unity of the See of Antioch" and that "previous permission to erect representative commissions in Syria and the countries of emmigration will result in a quasi-federation of churches according to each country."

Those who reject it warn "of a dangerous separation between spiritual and temporal matters" as well as "miring the Church into a narrowly sectarian pattern," according to the meeting opposing the civil commission that was held in St Joseph's School in Jbeil on the first.

In  the meantime, sources from the patriarchal advisory commitee indicate to al-Safir that the committe prepared the plan for the civil commission by personal request from the head of the Orthodox Church, and even though it has not gone into effect it will be put forward as a proposal to the Holy Synod of Antioch which will put it under the microscope. It must be mentioned that the Synod has the right to correct it, to add to it, to delete some of its sections, or to put it into practice.

These sources affirm that the plan avoids sectarian logic and is based on a formula that does not exclude anyone, respects existing diversity, and gives a full guarantee to the Church. They indicate that the commission does not have a specifically defined concern, that it is non-political, that there is no political competition within it, that no one will be able to dominate it, and that no one side possesses a decisive vote within it.

These sources say that the plan is for a civil commission that will organize Orthodox affairs in Lebanon and make their participation in public life effective. "This commission will open the path for members of the community to have greater and more effective participation in various positions in the state, in that Orthodox will feel that there is someone gathering them together and taking care of them-- in a sirit of openness far from chauvinism or partisanship, in harmony with Orthodox history, which is completely alien to sectarian chauvinism, isolationism, and insularity."

One of the members of the advisory committee recounts to al-Safir how the idea for the commission came up: "Patriarch Hazim was hearing many complaints from different Orthodox groups about having a weak role, wasted rights, and losing positions. In this regard, he received a number of proposals for creating a commission to represent the Orthodox and to take care of their general concerns. This was accompanied by the creation of groups independent of the Church, distant or critical of it, that raise a voice demanding lost rights in a sectarian manner."

He adds, "At that point, Patriarch Hazim decided to form a personal advisory committee consisting of six people whom he trusts. Meetings started being held under his leadership and with the participation of the Lebanese Orthodox metropolitans. The patriarch requested for an acceptable formula to be prepared to organize Orthodox activity in public life and that it be presented to him. On this basis, lengthy discussions were held and an agreement was reached on ideas that served as the basis for preparing the plan to create the 'Civil Commission'."

Another member of the advisory committee reaveals to al-Safir some of the proposed items and confirms that the commission will be under the Church's patronage and will not be independent from it. It will work under the supervision of the patriarch and its chief concern will be to work to strengthen Orthodox collaboration in the service of Lebanon, especially with regard to participation in bureaucratic positions.

According to the committee member, the commission will be composed of around two hundred people. It will include two types of members: "statutory" members, including deputies, government leaders, general directors, ambassadors, university deans, and those who currently or formerly hold important positions, in addition to twelve members named by the patriarch and three to five members named by the Lebanese metropolitans.

They will constitute two gatherings: the general commission will elect an executive committee which will be in direct contact with the patriarch and will meet under his leadership. It will oversee the development of the Orthodox presence in various fields.

The committee member affirms that the proposed civil commission will not be a replacement for any Orthodox body designated in the canons. Rather, it is a specifically Lebanese body within a specifically defined field. Likewise, it will not be subject to political exploitation of partisanship. Instead, one of its chief concerns will be to demonstrate the political diversity of the Orthodox. 

He says, "We called the commission 'civil' and not 'lay' because the term 'lay' gives the impression of a separation between it and the Church and also because its concerns will be limited to public issues only and not Church matters."

The committee member affirms that opposition to the commission is unjustified as long as it works under the Church's patronage and the patriarch's personal leadership.

It is presumed that when the Holy Synod meets with the participation of the metropolitans of Syria, Lebanon, and the countries of the diaspora, in addition to the civil commission for the Orthodox community, it will discuss general Church matters for a period of two days which may be extended according to the issues that are on the agenda.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Al-Akhbar: Plan for "Civil Commission" Removed from Holy Synod's Agenda

From today's al-Akhbar. Arabic original here.

Orthodox "Uprising" Scuttles Civil Commission

The plan for founding the General Civil Commission for Greek Orthodox in Lebanon was removed from the agenda of the Holy Synod in Balamand after objections to it from members of the community in Lebanon and Syria, since standing guard was "the Holy Spirit who stands as a bulwark against money and power," according to sources opposed to it.

by Joanna Azar

Balamand-- The plan to establish the "General Civil Commission for Greek Orthodox in Lebanon" was not included in the agenda of the Holy Synod of Antioch which began its sessions yesterday at the Saint John of Damascus Theological Institute at Balamand with the attendance of His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch and All the East and the metropolitans of Syria, Lebanon, and the countries of the diaspora.

The plan, which met opposition from the Orthodox Pastoral Gathering and the Orthodox Youth Movement stirred up general opinion within the community in Lebanon and Syria, while sources at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand described it as "a set of ideas that were presented to Patriarch Hazim but which did not originate with him."

Al-Akhbar has learned that the idea of establishing the commission was proposed to Hazim by an advisory committee that he had previously formed but that it was removed from circulation on account of the confusion it had stirred up ever since it was announced. It has been replaced during the Synod's sessions with a study of "meaty" issues such as the See of Antioch's relations with the Vatican and relations with the other Orthodox churches, especially in Istanbul, in addition to internal matters.

The Orthodox Pastoral Gathering and the Orthodox Youth Movement expressed their pleasure with the plan's absense from the Synod's table. Sources with them credited it to "the Holy Spirit who does not err and who  stands as a bulwark against money and power". Hazim commented on the plan to establish the commission saying, "I have my own personal advisory committee. I meet with it when I come to Lebanon. It advises me about the current situation and what has happened during my absence. We continually meet with those who have a connection to the Orthodox in the state." He addressed the politicians saying, "We do not want to take the place of any politician. You are completely free in your politics and whatever your individual politics arrive at, you must look to what the law gives us. We want our share with honor and dignity and this does not mean that I demand a commission for me." In his capacity as patriarch, Hazim welcomed all the organizations and concerned parties in the community who wish to speak. He added, "we listen to all people and we do not say that we are with one against the other."

In addition to Hazim who came from his residence in Damascus, fifteen metropolitans participated, in addition to the patriarchal vicar, dean of the theological institute, and abbot of the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand Bishop Ghattas Hazim and the patriarchal representative in Moscow Archbishop Niphon Saikaly, while the metropolitans of Aleppo and Europe were absent.

Regarding the plan for an electoral law that was put forward by the Orthodox Gathering, he said, "We do not have any laws that we announce.  We listen to all who have laws and examine them. Until today, we are not signing off on any law. To those who put forward a law, we say, 'God give you strength,' since we are not a legal commission."

Metropolitan Georges Khodr of Jbeil and Batroun made it clear to al-Akhbar before the opening of the sessions "that there is no special importance to this meeting of the Synod. Rather, it is one of two meetings that the patriarch and the metropolitans hold annually. As for the agenda that was distributed to the metropolitans, it is provisional at the beginning, before it is approved at the first session." According to Metropolitan Khodr, the Synod's work focuses on the relations between the See of Antioch and the other sees, churches, and patriarchates, as well as taking up internal issues that the metropolitans bring to the table for examination.

It should be mentioned that the Synod did not meet in June because of the situation in Syria and so it meets for the first time this year. Its work finishes tomorrow or the next day and then it will issue recommendations.

Prior to the commencement of the Synod's work, Patriarch Hazim touched upon the Christians' situation , pointing out that, "Not all Christians are among those subject to injury, damage, harm, and soforth. All we know is one thing, that since the beginning of the events in Syria until today, those Christians who are from among us or who have a relationship to us, we see them in their towns and villages and they are not harmed and are not targeted for harm." He mentioned that, "the tragedy exists among Christians apart from the Orthodox, and this is the true picture. If the proportion of Orthodox among those who have died and whose houses have been destroyed is very small, as is the proportion among those who have fled to other places. It is not correct to say that we have been targeted. In Damascus, our twelve churches have not been subject to any damage and we as a patriarchate remain there and our priests are there. All believers perform their religious practices without fear or terror."