Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fr Georges Massouh on Gaza

Arabic original here.

In Gaza, an Appointment with Christ

Metropolitan Neophytos Edelby considered Gaza to be one of the ten oldest cities in the world.  He said, "It was inhabited by Caananites from ancient times, and perhaps they were its first builders (Genesis 10:19). Then, around 1800 years before Christ it was settled by Arab tribes. They added to it a particularly Arab character that still lasts until today. It is mentioned in the Tel Amarna letters in the fourteenth century before Christ. Then the tribe of Judah gained control over it after the Hebrew exodus from Egypt, and then the Philistines did not hesitate to regain it (Judges 4:6)...

Christian tradition recounts that as a child, Christ, His mother Mary, and Joseph passed through Gaza shortly before their flight to Egypt from the wrath of the bloodthirsty Herod, or on the way during their return from Egypt to Palestine. Gaza is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles when the deacon Phillip, "along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, which is desert" (Acts 8:26) met an Ethiopian man who was an official of the queen Candace, he told him the good news of Christ and baptized him. According to Christian tradition, the first bishop of Gaza, Church tradition states that it was Philemon, after whom is named one of the letters of the holy Apostle Paul.

Christian history testifies to the many martyrs from Gaza who fell defending the faith. Among them are Saint Silouan (d. 310) and the three brothers Saints Eusebius, Zenon, and Zenas. Paganism did not go extinct in Gaza until the time of the martyred bishop Porphyrius, who died in the year 420. The First Ecumenical Council (325) mentions the presence of bishop Asclepas of Gaza.

At the end of the sixth Christian century an Italian pilgrim named Antonius visited Gaza. He described it as being "a marvelous city, with five beautiful churches. Its people are famous for their hospitality to strangers." At that time there was a prestigious theological school there. Among its famous alumni were Porphyrius of Gaza (d. 528), the great historian and collector of the holy fathers' commentaries on scripture. But the most shining image of Christ in Gaza then was the great ascetic Saint Dorotheus.

Over the generations, the number of Christians in Gaza diminished, especially under the shadow of the Ottoman Empire which imposed a heavy jizya upon them, to the point that they could not bear it... Today their number is no more than two thousand. However, some Christian monuments remain standing to this day in Gaza City, the most prominent of which is the Church of Saint Porphyrius.

The Christ-child did not leave Gaza. He remained living there. He did not just pass through there coming and going between Palestine and Egypt. He settled there. He came there as a child, He walked in her streets as a youth, and He taught there as a man. He joked with her children, had mercy on her widows, fed her hungry, healed her sick, and raised her dead.

He bore His cross in her alleys. He was crucified on her walls. He rose there from the dead and has not departed from her for a day. He wakes up with her people at every daybreak. He accompanies them along their paths. He is the carpenter, son of the carpenter. He is the fisherman. He is the poor. He is the generous. How can He not be a citizen of beloved Gaza?

Every day He is whipped and nailed and crucified. Every day He rises from the tomb. Today is His turn to be in Gaza and He does not break the appointment. He is there. Let those who want to see Christ today go to Gaza.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A non-Chalcedonian Bishop Converts to Orthodoxy in 1912

The following is a translation from Asad Rustum's History, vol. 3 pp. 357-362. It is not only interesting in terms of the description of the ceremony, but also because the conversion seems to have occurred through the Syriac bishop's contact with Russian pilgrims. Recalling this moment of hope for Christian unity in Syria-- just 100 years ago-- can only bring sadness, as Christians have now been virtually eliminated in Homs. The catastrophe that brought Bishop Boutros' Syriac community to the brink of extinction is now being completed.

A Syriac Bishop Joins the Orthodox Church in Homs (1912)

As Beirut was rejoicing over [a letter from] the Patriarch, Shepherd of Shepherds, the Thirteenth Apostle, Homs rejoiced at the reception of Cyril Boutros, bishop of Sadad, and his flock into the Orthodox Catholic Church. On March 4, 1912 all the Orthodox people of Homs gathered in the Cathedral of the Forty Martyrs. After the chanting of "Pasa Pnoi", Athanasius, Metropolitan of Homs, went from the bishop's throne to the royal doors, vested in the epitrachelion and omphorion, then walked to the western door of the church to receive Boutros, Jacobite bishop of Sadad, accompanied by two priests. Boutros made the sign of the cross and waited for the metropolitan to approach as the choir chanted the troparion for the Forty Martyrs.

 The rest of the account is below the jump.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mother Maryam Zakka on Combatting Distracting Thoughts

Arabic original here.

Dear Mother Maryam,
Dear mother, thoughts assault me and I am unable to pray. I ask you, please help me with your prayers. I love you and bow before you,
J. N.

Beloved daughter in the Lord,


Stop praying "traditionally", if we can call it that way, and immerse yourself in the Holy Name alone!

"Jesus- Jesus- Jesus, my Lord and my God, Your mercy and Your protection- Jesus- Jesus- Jesus- Jesus, have mercy on me, forgive me, save me..."

This name conquers every thought that disturbs you and everything in existence... Opposing forces cannot approach it!

The war of thoughts is the war of every serious believer in the Lord Jesus! Do not fear... do not doubt and do not give up... But persist, and when the war besets you, cry you "Lord have mercy on me... Jesus have mercy on me..." At that moment the Lord is able to cause your tears to burst forth... tears of repentance, tears of longing, tears of hope, tears of silence, tears of moving from sorrow to tranquility. Then the Lord comes to console your heart with His presence and you rejoice at His being present with His light in the peace of your heart. The path of prayer is the path of following the Lord up to Golgotha!

There on the cross the Spirit abides and you abide with Him if you are patient and accept every trial that comes to us from Him in order to prove us, so that we can be clean of every semblance of evil.

The Lord Jesus permits these thoughts that attack and disturb your prayer so that your struggle can intensify along your path and you will find angelic brothers along your way who support you because they too suffer from their sins, the ignorance of the people, and the wars waged against them from every direction. They live their life in a strange solitude, even if they were with all their families and among people. You long for those who have preceded you into eternal life. Natural, but you do not stop at departure but rather meet them in prayer, in service in the Church, and standing before the  face of the Lord Jesus.

The praying believer remains alone and a stranger in his world, but he must reach out in silence and tears, to feed the poor and offer to provide for every person in need, to have mercy and give consolation to the oppressed, to quiet the needy's crying out for the mercy of their Lord, in prayer.

In this way you are now a stranger, a prisoner of grace and divine love!

Your participation in the service of your church and its needs makes you an apostle for Christ among those abroad like you, those far from their motherland who nevertheless are close to the alienation of those who love Christ in the world.

"We have no lasting city here..." So let us look to the one to come, to the kingdom, to the new heavenly Jerusalem, the mother of us all, the homeland of the righteous and the saints who went before us. There we shall live without pain and sighing, without sin and repentance, with the songs of those rejoicing, abiding in the joy of the light that knows no evening.

Be in peace, my beloved, and the Lord be with you. He is your shepherd.

Mother Maryam
Abbess of the Monastery of St John the Baptist-- Douma
November 18, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fr Georges Massouh on Religiolatry

Arabic original here. In the Arabic, Fr Georges uses a primarily Muslim religious vocabulary, which should tip the reader off to the point he's trying to make....

Man as a Slave to the Law

Religious moral and ethical concepts and their requirements have been turned on their head. They have deviated from the path that God desired for them. Where these laws, judgments, and commandments were set down to illustrate for man the ways of the exemplary life, they have become chains that shackle man and enslave him to the religious institutions to which they belong.

People of religion all say that religions were made for the service of man, and not man for the service of religion. Man is the pinnacle of creation and the most noble creature. God created him "in His image and likeness" and made him "His representative on earth." He entrusted him with the entire world. The existence of man preceded religions by millions of years. Among all the creatures of the earth, only man has been promised eternal life by God. All things will be destroyed, the religions say, and only God and those humans whom He chooses to live in His company in paradise or the kingdom.

"The Sabbath was made for man. Man was not made for the Sabbath" is a new rule brought by Christ in the face of legalists and literalists who did not realize God's true purpose for the law. This is why Christ reminded them that God said "I desire mercy and not sacrifice." That is, of the priority of man and the necessity of serving him ahead of ritual practice and applying laws. Man goes before the law, not the opposite.

However, the realities of history do not live up to what is required by the foundational texts and theological theory. History shows us how concepts were turned on their head, since instead of man being the focus of concern for religious leaders, he became a malleable tool in their hands. They exploited the religious feelings of their followers and manipulated them, under the guise of defending religion, in the service of their political or military alliances with sultans, kings, princes, and rulers. In this way people came to die for religions and not for God, and there is a big difference between these two things. Religions that were made in principle for the service of man make man into their servant when they turn into ideologies that must be defended at any cost. The conflicts that we have seen over the course of history and up to our own day had religion as their basic motivating factor, which brought about under its slogans wars between nations or within the same country.

In all of these wars, man was crushed in the name of religions. Instead of being the master of creation, as God desired, he became a slave to his religious institutions, their leaders and legal scholars and priests. Man became a slave to his sheik or his teacher, like a novice who has no will of his own, like a ring on the finger of his guide.  Man became a means rather than being the purpose. Man's dying for religion became the purpose and the purpose stopped being life for the sake of man.

Instead of God being the object of worship and veneration, religion takes God's place. Shirk is not only man adopting another god besides God. Shirk is also religion or dogma becoming an object of worship beside God. God created man free, but man enslaves himself by his own will to his religion and his dogmas. Religions will have no real meaning if man is not liberated from worshiping them and if worship is not limited to God alone who has no partner.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

An-Nahar Interviews Rodrigue Khoury

Arabic original here (at least for the week).

Rodrigue Khoury Speaks to an-Nahar: 
The Party of the Levant is Byzantine Orthodox, Not Nazi

An attractive rhetorical tone, teetering between enthusiasm and clarity inflames listeners with an intense impulse. A regular gesture rises and threatens, striking the podium and giving the impression of power. A radical tone mimics instincts and the subconscious, which within seconds produces a clear identification between the speaker and his audience. They become one, united by bonds of sect, roots, identity, and presence under the flag of the "Byzantine emblem."

The scene is not a passing rhetorical moment in the life of the Byzantine Empire, but rather a scene from current Lebanese reality, as made by Rodrigue Khoury, founder of the "Party of the Levant," this rhetorical phenomenon that leads you to recall the speeches of Hitler right before the Second World War. The ideological inheritance of the Byzantine Empire makes is most clearly manifest in Khoury's speeches through his making the sign of the cross and closing his words with "amen." This ideologized discourse immediately places you in the presence of the Fuhrer. As you see him at the podium exchanging the famous greeting with his audience, you completely realize that you are before a Lebanese copy of Hitler.

However, Khoury's propensity to Hitlerian rhetoric is not a factor of weakness, but of strength. As for the content, it is no less radical than Nazi rhetoric. Many regard the positions of the youth, of an extremist Orthodox cast, as rejecting openness and the civil state, but he rejects the idea that his party-- the only Orthodox party in Lebanon-- is extremist. Is he attempting, through his rhetoric that mimics instincts by playing the sectarian card, to fill this void on the Orthodox stage and seize its politican reins? What about his party's plans for Lebanon and the region and the community's position toward its existence?

Khoury explains that "the party began out of the reality that the Orthodox community is living, on account of the pressure put upon it to forget its historical identity and to marginalize it from political life. There is an absence of Christian-- and not only Orthodox-- discourse in the region on account of the Christian subservience to either political Sunnism or political Shi'ism. What caused us to establish this party is the absence of youth from leadership and the absence of an Orthodox political party."

Belief and Identity

According to Khoury, the party starts off from the basis of "a pluralistic vision of the society Lebanese society and of all the Levant. Our society is made up of various cultures and each culture must be represented in the government. Lebanon has come to have the Arabic language, but it does not have an Arab culture. Rather, it is a melting-pot incorporating different cultures. There is no problem in saying that Lebanon is Arab with regard to language, but there is in saying that its culture is Arab because Arab culture is generally Islamic and Lebanon, like the rest of the Middle East, does not belong to Islamic culture, but rather to a diversity of cultures." He dismisses accusations of sectarianism by saying, "This is openness. It is very important that we be familiar with our own culture and cooperate with others on the basis of knowing our roots. On this basis we will establish better forms of dialogue with others. Cultural exchange must take place effectively. We do not want to return the region to Byzantine culture. However, it is important that Arabs do not cover over the entire region in their image, ignoring the other culture that was present in the region." He adds, "The constitution must affirm that Lebanon is a multicultural state in the same manner that it affirms Lebanon's Arab identity and affiliation. If we want to change the face of the region, the Arab Spring must recognize the rights of all cultures and minorities."

"The Levant" in the Region and the World

Khoury states that "the Levant" is in contact with Orthodox youth in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine and that "through Facebook it has been possible to form relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Patriarchates of Alexandria and Russia, and all the patriarchates. The Patriarch of Jerusalem encouraged us after we sent him our party's emblem, which is a two-headed eagle." As for the reason for choosing the Byzantine symbol as the party's emblem, Khoury explains, "This was formerly the symbol of the entire region, so why regard it as a sectarian symbol?"

Khoury describes Turkey as "a state built on the ruins of the cultures and peoples it exterminated. It must confess to the crimes it committed against Armenians and Christians and return the Church of Aya Sofya and other monuments in order for us to establish better relations with it." He adds that "These holy places are the concern of the Christians of the world and consequently a comprehensive Christian policy should be put in place to secure their return. Here lies the importance of our relationships with Orthodox parties, organizations, and personalities in the world, in coordinating shared concerns."

"The Levant" and the Church

There have been reports of opposition to the new party from some priests, and with regard this Khoury says, "Some priests support us openly, and some secretly. The Church does not have a unified position."

As for the position of Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim, Khoury explains, "Patriarch Hazim is neither supportive nor opposed. In principle, we have not yet organized to visit him and present a complete agenda." As to his ties with Russian parties and personalities, he states that "they are concerned with helping the Christians of the Middle East." As for the position of Metropolitan Elias Audi, he says, "I do not know."

Lebanon and "the Levant"

On the level of Lebanon, Khoury explains that he is "for any system that preserves the concerns and rights of the sects. I am for anything that protects the political existence of the sects, in all this word means." He emphasized that federalism is not part of "the Levant"'s plan, explaining that will study the question of participating in the coming elections.

Khoury described his relations with March 14 as being good, "We are in agreement with the call for the sovereignty of the state, limiting weapons to the army, Lebanon's openness to the United Nations, and involvement in legitimate global issues." Regarding March 8, "I agree with them in terms of the basic position towards Israel, however we disagree with them with regard to [Hezbollah's] weapons."

He criticized the naming of Orthodox deputies by non-Orthodox, "In order for the law to be correct, it must allow for the Orthodox to name their own candidates, but not the Church because its role is to guide from a distance, not to turn into a political party."

The party is still a newborn and it finances itself through what the youth can collect among themselves. According to Khoury, "We are currently holding meetings to lay out a clear structure and to hand leadership within the party over to young people from all the Christian communities. We will work to lay out a comprehensive national vision that treats the various issues  in the nation and the Middle East, which we will release over the course of the year."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

More on the Party of the Levant

Arabic original here. All very curious, still....

The Rum Now Have a Party to Represent Them!

The leader of the Orthodox Party of the Levant, Rodrigue Khoury, explained the party to Lebanon Debate as "a new party with youth leadership, whose discourse is Christian and whose goals are to work to ensure a better future for the Christians of the Levant through keeping them in their land and preventing their emigration on the one hand, and making sure that they are not second class citizens used as fodder in others' conflicts on the other hand."

As to the idea of establishing the party, Khoury said that, "The idea has been there for a long time. The basic motivation was that the Rum do not have a party that works for their interest, only individuals who are beholden to political parties. We began three months ago by looking for young people with the same concerns and we discovered that social networking sites are the best way to do this, so we set up a page under the name 'Orthodox Party' on Facebook. From there we held a number of meetings to get to know each other and afterwards formed a committee to set out a political plan for the party. Afterwards, we informed the Ministry of the Interior and on October 15 we were registered officially."

Khoury made it clear that "the party's discourse is a Christian discourse, inspired by Christian principles that we harness for the service of mankind and the service of society in general, on a Christian ideological basis."

He said, "The Christian Rum do not have a political party that makes their presence effective. Such a party is a political necessity in light of the dependence of Maronite parties on political Shi'ism and political Sunnism. Thus we need a political alternative that is beholden to no one and that advocates the discourse of the Christians of the Levant." He indicated that "the parties combines the concerns of March 8 and March 14 in order to create a single Christian discourse emanating from youth leadership with the goal of change, so that Christians will become active rather than passive, as they are accustomed to being."

Regarding the party's future plans, Khoury indicated that the party's goals will focus on: "ensuring a better future though: first of all, an apparatus within the party for ensuring job opportunities for the youth through social networks; second, establishing social aid organizations; third, establishing organizations for preserving Christian heritage and Christian monuments which have no one to defend them; finally and most importantly, preventing the sale of Christians' lands in the Levant by coordination with various Christian organizations in the world."

It should be noted that the Orthodox Party of the Levant recently undertook a political-media campaign and sit-in against the Turkish film "Fetih 1453" which in their opinion falsified history and insulted the Christian religion. With the cooperation of the Catholic center, Orthodox priests, and security officials, they succeeded in stopping the film from being shown.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fr Touma (Bitar) on Sexual Immorality

Arabic original here.

Flee from Fornication

The virtues are interconnected, as are vices. Where a person's treasure is, there will be his heart (Matthew 6:21). If the heart is completely oriented toward even a single virtue, then it cannot help but to work in earnest to gradually acquire the rest of the virtues, because in doing so it preserves the one that is dear to it. The same thing happens when a person's heart is attached to even a single vice. Virtue attracts virtue and vice attracts vice. This does not necessarily mean that if a person holds on to one virtue he possesses all of them-- naturally, perfection is required and is possible through God's grace-- but rather it means that at that point a person tends towards a life of virtue in general and in a serious manner or tends away from a life of vice. The life of virtue is a path, as is the life of vice. This allows for the fact that one following a life of virtue is subject to falling into sins from time to time. Likewise, someone following a life of vice is capable of doing good works. Naturally, there are extreme cases in the direction of a life of virtue without sin  or in the direction of a life of vice without good works, but most people are not like this. At that point, the sin a person falls into isn't vice and the good deeds that come are not virtue. Within a life of virtue, sin is a fault. It is inexcusable, but it is closer to a weakness and at its root does not spring from a corrupt inner life. In this case, sin is treated through repentance and the one committing it is healed through confession. As for a good deed within a life of vice, even if it is luminous, it does not go beyond being an opportunity for true, profound, conversion. In such a case, this good deed is reinforced by sincere repentance, otherwise the soul returns afterward to its own vomit. The good deed may not necessarily be repeated in the future because habituation to a life of vice gradually extinguishes in the soul any inclination toward goodness.

In this framework, a person is not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ unless he holds completely to at least one virtue. In this very virtue his love for God is made manifest and his faith is made active through it, since faith is either active through love or it does not exist. In other words, faith without works is dead, as we read in the Epistle of St James (James 2:7).

No doubt, the little flock of the Lord Christ continues on, invisibly in the world today. Lovers of virtue-- even a single one-- are present before the Lord and He alone knows them. Our proof of their presence is that the world continues to exist! They are the salt of the earth. Without them, it will become completely corrupt and the last judgment will arrive. But let's be frank-- they are very few in number. Faith is greatly diminished. How do we know this? Because to a great degree love is under attack in this world. You might find manifest among many people psychological, emotional, or intellectual faith. However, faith active in love has become today something scarce! Very few today bear fruit in the Spirit to joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Can we be certain of this? Of course! How? Naturally, not on the level of individuals, except by the grace from above, but with all certainty on the level of society. Our world today has lost much of its love, and consequently its faith, because it is afflicted with sterility! Can something that is sterile, in itself, beget? This is how our world is, sterile in its love and sterile in its faith in God because there is one vice that rules its heart and holds it captive with force and violence unprecedented in history, to the point of making it largely incapable of believing in the Lord Jesus or of loving in Christ. What am I referring to? I am referring to the desire of the flesh: fornication, uncleanliness, and lewdness (Galatians 5:19)! I am referring to the spirit of fornication that spreads in this world like a plague! Naturally, the love of money is terrifying and there are many terrifying, widespread vices. However, the most dangerous and terrifying of them is fornication. The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, says that every sin, whatever it may be, is less serious than fornication, because it is outside the body, while the one who fornicates "sins within his body" (1 Corinthians 6:18). For a person to sin within his body is the most serious sin because the body is "the temple of the Holy Spirit who is within you, who is yours from God." This means by extension that fornication undermines the possibility of a person becoming a temple of the Holy Spirit! In other words, through fornication and its effect on a person's heart, he is unable to believe in Spirit and in truth and to love in grace and in deed. Fornication afflicts the heart with sterility just like the east wind afflicts fields with drought! What good is a person with a heart that does not love? "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1).

What the Deceiver is doing today in the world to ignite the spirit of fornication in the world is terrifying. It is rare even to find people who are not affected by it. The world today is under the foot of fornication to a tragic degree. Media and communications work to generalize, facilitate, and elaborate the spread and normalization of fornication throughout the earth. Human sciences, in general, have separated fornication and sin. This has caused fornication to become, in the minds of many, something more like a natural practice, and consequently a social virtue! The need for marriage has started to disappear. The form and content of marriage has become like fornication, consumerist! Love disappears. Fornication, in the understanding of many, has become love. There is no more need for fertility! Children are becoming fewer. They have become a burden. Education in the home is corrupted. Divorce has become easy and very common. Adultery becomes a natural need. Apart from a few rare faithful, the trend is toward replacing marriage with cohabitation. By becoming accustomed to fornication, souls have become too weak to strive, to sacrifice, to love! The unity of the family is now easily shattered. Debauchery, in all its manifestations, has become the general rule for relations between young men and women. Perversion, in its various forms, is spreading. It has become something normal! It has not only increasingly come to be acceptable,  but also excused, treated as natural, and legitimized in some places. "That's how he is," they say!

This is not just the state of the world we are in. Even many who are named after faith in the Lord Jesus have declined to this point! Adultery is common! Perversions are treated as normal! The canons of the Church, in both cases, are disrupted! The children of the Church are in the grip of the spirit of the world and the spirit of fornication! In many cases, the life of the Church turns into outward forms, empty words, rituals, buildings, worldly plans... Only a few understand the meaning and value of chastity, which in the understanding of the Fathers is the mother of all virtues. And only the tiniest minority accept it for themselves and strive to follow it! Chastity has become a by-word for reaction, backwardness, being unrealistic, a neurotic and sick soul that does not know how to keep up with the times! It has become a point of mockery! It has come to be considered undesirable and harmful!

As a result of this, faith becomes theoretical and God's love becomes inactive in a people's lives, as they themselves imagine today! For many, the life of virtue becomes something unattainable. Worship is emptied of its content. Rituals come to be practiced in a pagan manner! Spiritual life, as the Church approaches it, declines and becomes meaningless! In the contemporary consciousness, the monastic life is looked upon as the reserve of pietists, fundamentalists, those opposed to science and modernity, failures, egoists, and neurotics!

The spirit of fornication weakens souls and they are no longer able or no longer desire to spend even a little effort to follow even a single commandment! The commandment becomes a burden! God becomes impossible!

Sensitivity dies. Faith is extinguished. Love is betrayed. Someone who holds to even the simplest of the commandments today is like a martyr!

And so, "Flee from fornication" (1 Corinthians 6:18). If chastity is the seed of life, then fornication is the seed of death. If chastity is the foundation of all the virtues, then fornication is the foundation of all the vices!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan-- Douma
November 11, 2012

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Met. Paul Yazigi on the Rich Man and Lazarus

Arabic original here.

Human Feeling, Between Life and Death

"There was a rich man... and there was a poor man named Lazarus cast at his doorway"

The Lord uses this parable-- and a parable is not an event, but rather a direct teaching. In this parable Jesus gives several contrasting images. There are two views that are completely opposite in every way. There are two settings in time: the time of this present, transient life and in eternal life.

The contrast between the state of the rich man and the state of the poor man after their death is terrifying. It really calls us to meditate on this reversal of things between this age and the age to come. The poor man is in the bosom of Abraham, while the other one looks upon him from afar. The poor man is blessed in the bosom of Abraham, while the other one is tormented in the flame. One is comforted and the other is tormented... This image of enormous contrast sows in our mind a question about the strangeness of how, when he was alive, the rich man did not notice even the first part of these inequalities, that is, the enormous division between him and the poor man. The rich man lived in his world and did not take notice of a completely opposite world, the world of the poor man.

Why did the rich man fall into this state of insensitivity? How many times did he come in and out, in his finery and silks and run into this poor man who had not obtained the slightest means of subsistence in life? And yet this contrast did not cause any questions within him? There are many reasons why the rich man did not sense Lazarus, but the most important are three in number:

The first is ignorance. This rich man was ignorant of the source and purpose of his wealth. He formed for himself an erroneous understanding of what he possessed and of the reason for happiness in life. More clearly put, he was ignorant of Lazarus' reality. He must have not cared for this poor man cast at his door because he fundamentally believed that the poor man had no right to his wealth. That each person is responsible for himself. That each person reaps what he sows. That he has the right to go on with his life, avoiding the other's life. It is an image that is precisely applicable to our society today: "Am I responsible for my brother?" This was the expression on the lips of the murderer in the Bible. It is not an expression for the lips of a brother! This rich man does not know that God will look at him through his own point of view, through how he turns to his neighbor that God left for him in his environment.

The second reason is that the rich man enjoyed great luxury every day. This life of luxury removes a person's attention to the other, and also his attention to himself. A person who defines the ideal image of his life as "luxury" puts this idol in God's place and because of it does without both God and his neighbor. Pleasure in general has an effect on people and makes them selfish. They seek for themselves and they consume everyone around you for its sake. Many people do not feel others' tragedies unless they taste life's bitterness or are in the grip of hardship. Good things were given to us so that we could be liberated from slavery to need. However, sumptuous luxury, as the Gospel describes it, enslaves us to the love of pleasure. The first manifestations of luxury are self-sufficiency, and introversion, even if it does not reach the point of abuse.

The third reason is habit. From the first moment when the rich man ran into the poor man cast at his door and decided to leave him and not take care of him, this habit started to grow in him, to accept his sin without allowing the poor man's presence, crying out, to rebuke him. Thus he accepted himself as lacking compassion. He accepted his condition  and the condition of the poor man. This acceptance becomes a habit that does not allow him to make restitution, even for a moment, or to ask himself, even once, whether his principle in life is true, whether it is right to give no regard to the problem before him. Is all this truth or deception? Is all this good or sin? This sin became a habit that blinded the eyes of the rich man. When we become accustomed to our unjust situation, it becomes acceptable for us!

At that point, we are really in need of a trumpet to warn us or someone to wake us. Here comes God's word, which smashes the crust of habit and by its light reveals the falsehood of ignorance and reverses the meaning of happiness. God's word makes us responsible for the other, for the neighbor. It reminds us that God has sent us as laborers in our environment, as responsible people and not heedless people. Indeed, our loving and responsible relationship to our surroundings is what will judge us. It is what will give us value in God's eyes. God's word puts pleasure in giving and not in taking. It makes keeping the commandments sweeter than honey. God's word is the first enemy of habit! The word is a constant trumpet that calls to repentance, leads to wakefulness, and sets things aright within us.

And so, in response to the rich man's wish after his time had passed, Jesus advised the living before they die to listen to Moses and the prophets, that is to God's word that is with us. This text from the Gospel that we heard today is God's word which by its light reveals the reality of wealth and makes the other on our path a responsibility, and teaches us the meaning of happiness. God's word-- and this text-- is a voice that constantly cries out, calling us to repentance. Amen.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fr Georges Massouh on the Relationship between Peace and Justice

Arabic original here.

The Hoped-for Peace

The Sermon on the Mount contains two things that Christ considered to be at the foundation of His teachings and mission in the world: righteousness (or justice) and peace. The seventh beatitude says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God" (Matthew 5:9). Despite the difficulty of realizing the fullness of peace, Christ expects the faithful to strive to imitate Him in realizing peace. What is meant by striving is nothing other than the conscious and active understanding that righteousness before God and among humans is the sole basis for peace.

Following the Old Testament, which sees in God's presence among His people the loftiest manifestation of peace, the Evangelist John shows that Christ's presence is the source and perfection of peace. One of the distinctive features of his gospel is that when the disciples are sorrowful because of their Teacher's coming departure from among them, Jesus calms their worries, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you" (John 14:27). This peace was no longer tied to His tangible presence on this earth. Instead, it is connected to His victory over death. Thus, after His resurrection, along with His peace Christ gives the disciples the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins (John 20:19-23).

Social justice and peace cannot be separated from each other. The Prophet David says in the Psalms, "Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven" (Psalm 85:11). He also says, "He will judge Your people with righteousness, and Your poor with justice. The mountains will bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. For He will deliver the needy when he cries, the poor also, and him who has no helper" (Psalm 72: 2-3, 12). Thus the opposite of "peace" is not limited to "war". It also includes "evil", "injustice", and "arrogance"...

For the Apostle Paul, it is established that "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). The expressions that accompany "peace" in the Bible are all positive expressions. They include: love, mercy, life, healing, health, blessing, goodness, happiness, tranquility, safety... Are all these things anything other than the fruit of the Spirit which Paul enumerates elsewhere. They include, "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22). And so we understand that Christ's mission in the world is completed in the realization of peace and justice. Through this the world becomes a true place of God's manifestation. It becomes a kingdom.

For Paul, peace is tied to grace and repentance. This is why Paul puts grace together with peace at the beginning of many of his epistles, "peace and grace be upon you." As for the connection between peace and redemption, it is made manifest when he says that Christ realized peace with His blood upon the cross. "God reconciled all things to Himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross" (Colossians 1:20).

But how can a believer face violence? He must confront the enemy by opposing him with goodness, putting a stop to his evil through good. Of this, the Apostle Paul says, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). It should be hoped that we will not only say no to violence or no to evil, but also that we should say yes to peace. However, peace that is based on injustice is a false peace. Peace is not true peace if it is not tied to justice. Let us struggle for the sake of this peace.

Articles by Georges Nahas for Download

Georges Nahas, currently Dean of the Faculty of Library and Information Sciences at Balamand University has put up a number of his theological articles in English, French, and Arabic for download on He is formerly the dean of the St John of Damascus Theological Institute and, from 1976 to 1982 the president of Syndesimos, the international Orthodox youth organization.

In English:

Orthodoxy and Democracy, an Antiochian Experience

The Future of Orthodoxy in the Near East: An Educational Perspective

Orthodox Theology and Modern Challenges: The Ethical Issues

In French:

Une approche orthodoxe des concepts d’Ethique et de Liberté

Théologie Orthodoxe et Modernité

 Les Chrétiens en Terre d’Orient, Une Exception?

 Etre, Ethique et Spiritualité

 Communication et Education dans l’Espace Ecclésial

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Humanitarian Crisis in Aleppo

Arabic original here. Please donate to the International Orthodox Christian Charities Syria relief fund here, by selecting the 'Syria Relief Fund' under 'designations'.

Relief Work in Aleppo

1. Relief Work before the Start of the Clashes
2. The Current Situation in the City and its Effect on the Christian Communities and Parishes
3. The State of the Flock and Relief Work Today

Relief Work before the Start of the Clashes

The formation of a relief committee for endangered Christians-- Homs

By decision of the bishop, a relief committee was formed out of the diocesan council in order to help meet the growing needs of our people in Homs, both those taking refuge in Aleppo and those remaining in Homs, as well as those taking refuge in the area of Marmarita, Mashta el-Helou, annd neighboring villages. The work of the committee was divided into three parts:

A. Help to Refugees in Aleppo
1. Supporting families from Homs who are now in Aleppo, providing lodging or rent support.
2. Ensuring that food supplies are distributed to families in the form of rations.
3. Ensuring medical aid to those with chronic illnesses.

B. Help to Those Remaining in Homs
With the blessing of Metropolitan Georges and in coordination with the priests, especially Fr Boutros Jamal and Fr Maksim Jamal, essential goods such as food, bedding, children's needs, clothing, as well as a shipment of medical supplies were offered. Likewise, direct material support in the form of cash was given to afflicted families in conflict zones.

C. Help to Refugees in Wadi al-Nasara
Material assistance and essential goods were ensured for areas that are overflowing with refugees, especially Marmarita, through Bishop Iliya Tomeh.

The Current Situation in the City and its Effect on the Christian Communities and Parishes

1. Loss of Security and Cutting off of Roads
Since the start of events, around a year and a half ago, the city of Aleppo has been living in a state of hesitation and caution. Explosions began to occur and the elements of security disappeared, especially on the roads. This forced us to temporarily move the location of our school into the building of the Church of Mar Elias, with a severe reduction in the number of students. As the security situation became worse, the school was completely closed in order to protect the safety of the children.

2. The Outbreak of Armed Clashes in the City
For around three and a half months, clashes have broken out in areas surrounding the city on all four sides, following conflagration in the nearby countryside. Armed protests approached densely-populated central zones. This led to the residents of these zones fleeing entirely. The refugees settled in schools, university dormitories, public gardens, or in the homes of their relatives. Initial reports estimated that more than 250 schools were housing refugees, with each school holding approximately 400 to 500 people. University dormitories are estimated to be housing 35,000 people.

3. The Start of Armed Clashes in the Neighborhood of Jdeideh
Towards the end of August, clashes reached the neighborhood of Jdeideh in the Old City of Aleppo, where the archdiocese's headquarters, most of its properties, the Church of Our Lady, and priests' homes are located. This led to the closing of the old archdiocesan headquarters, which had been used to house priests and some students, after an artillery shell fell in it, destroying its west wing and breaking windows and doors in its other parts. Another shell fell in the Church of Our Lady, which led to the destruction of the inner sanctuary, the burning and complete destruction of the electrical panel, and the breaking of glass and windows. The priests were forced to leave their homes after the neighborhood was subjected to shelling and water and electricity was cut off. We ensured that the churches were guarded and we sent away the people, Aleppine icons, the contents of the treasury, and manuscripts to secure locations. Many commercial properties in the area, including archdiosesan properties, were subject to direct attacks from bombs or vandalism.

4. Our Families Flee from the Neighborhood of al-Meidan
In the middle of September, clashes reached the neighborhood of al-Meidan, which led to the people of the area fleeing completely. Some went to coastal cities and to villages in Idlib, such as al-Jdeideh and al-Yaqoubiyya. Others went to relatives' homes in other areas of Aleppo, especially Sulaymaniyya and Suriyan. Another group took refuge in shelters set up in churches.

5. The School Year
The school year in Syria officially began on September 15. In Aleppo, however, schools did not open their doors because of the security situation. It is estimated that 70% of the city's schools did not begin classes for reasons that can be summarized as: falling within the area of clashes, lack of transportation, and the over 250 schools which house refugees.

The State of the Flock and Relief Work Today

Beginning on September 27, the severity of the clashes increased in all areas of the city and shells fell randomly on the city. Sadly, this caused many of our people to be wounded and killed, without them being involved in combat. It also caused the destruction of many homes and businesses owned by residents, most of whom are from our flock.

The Pastoral Situation: The clergy of the archdiocese have organized to serve the spiritual and material needs of those families that remain. Three churches have been closed because they are dangerous to reach and have been directly damaged. Two churches remain in service and the faithful's attendance is good, only slightly less than usual, despite the dangerous security situation and the dangers of traveling on roads, since the Church is the only remaining consolation. Pastoral work has turned completely to relief work, which is distributed in the following ways:

1. The Ecumenical Relief Committee: The Council of Religious Leaders in Aleppo has started a relief committee. Metropolitan Paul Yazigi was elected its leader. Its concern is to coordinate relief work among the churches and to create a communication network for aid. Each community designated centers for its relief activity and services that it will offer. An office for this committee was opened in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Prophet Elias to be a center for communication between each community's relief center.

2. The Diocesan Relief Committee:
The committee for relief in the archdiocese studied the refugee situation among its flock and possibilities for aid. It decided to establish three centers the first in the Faylat neighborhood, the second in al-Suriyan in Jdeideh, and the third in the clinic "Nour el-Ehsan". It investigated providing assistance to families taking refuge within Aleppo, who are currently estimated to number 500 families. The committee undertook securing the arrival of a number of refugees, especially from the neighborhood of al-Meidan, and then the housing of refugees in diocesan halls and monasteries.

Parish councils and priests in afflicted areas were called to do a survey of the refugees' conditions and the needs of their flocks. After research, it became clear that in the area of al-Meidan alone, approximately 250 families had left, for coastal regions or the villages of Idlib, while 250 families took refuge within Aleppo in relatives' homes, and around 100 families took refuge in the archdiocese's headquarters.

The majority of families remaining within the city have taken refuge at the archdiocese's headquarters, seeking food. The relief committee investigated their situation with the priests and parish councils. Rations are provided to needy families, in addition to the 500 families to which it provides monthly assistance through the archdiocese's charitable committees.

The committee has assisted nine schools which are sheltering refugees in damaged areas, up to now. In four of them, food, medical and children's rations are being distributed, while in two medical and children's rations are distributed. Three other schools were visited and work in them was examined. During certain days of the month of Ramadan, youth from the scouts and education at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Prophet Elias offered material assistance and instruction in childcare.

Four years ago, the organization IOCC opened an office for aiding Iraqi refugees. Now, with His Beatitude's blessing and the organization's oversight, a portion of the aid was directed to lodging refugees in Aleppo, through the Patriarchate's Department of Ecumenical Relations. $20,000 was offered in assistance, according to the organization's request. 40% was distributed to public bodies and 60% was added to the work of the Archdiocese of Aleppo's relief committee for its flock. After the events in al-Meidan, the Patriarchate's relief office sent 1,000,000 Syrian lira for the work of the relief committee in Aleppo, to provide for displaced people.

3. The State of the Archdiocese's Properties: Most of the archdiocese's properties are in neighborhoods that are now closed. Thus rent cannot be collected and the archdiocese's most important sources of income have been cut off, not to mention their having been subject to damage that will make investment in them difficult in the future. Likewise, donations have severely decreased due to the departure of wealthy families.

Prices for basic goods (fuel oil, gasoline, cooking gas, water...) have risen sharply, 600%, just as prices for foodstuffs have risen sharply. The is on account of a general shutdown of the city, and securing these goods is at the mercy of the free market.

4. Movement within the City has Stopped: Movement in the city is has been completely paralyzed. Markets are almost completely closed. Likewise, government offices, which are now slowly and partially returning to work are under threat. Roads are dangerous day and night, which renders transportation almost non-existent and thus impacts our flock. Despite all attempts, activity in schools is weak. The major private schools Ecole Francaise and Icarda have closed for the current year. The number of students at other important schools has reduced.

5. Emigration: Because of the length of this troubled period, the shutdown of the city, the burning of many factories and markets, the burning down of key commercial and manufacturing zones in the city, as well as the increase in incidences of kidnapping... most families who are able to live outside Aleppo have departed to the cities and countryside of Syria, then to Lebanon, then to Europe and especially the Americas. The neighborhoods in which most of our people are found can now be described as empty. People will not return to their homes, despite the beginning of the school and university year! Wealthy families have left, while poor and middle-class families remain, in an exceptional state of unemployment and inflation.

6. Unemployment: The unemployment rate in the city has reached enormous figures due to the partial halt to work in the city for a year and a half and the complete halt for three and a half months. The sharp rise in prices and lack of goods, in addition to the cutting off of water and electricity has led to difficulty in securing the basic necessities for daily life for residents. In addition to relief activities, the archdiocese now distributes regular assistance to 500 families, including food, health products, clothing, and other necessities, as well as cash sums as direct material assistance in order to secure other necessities such as bread and medicine.

7. Events: The archdiocese has provided direct cash assistance to many families whose homes or businesses have been destroyed by direct hits from shells. This is in addition to cash assistance to families with members who have been wounded by bullets or shrapnel. It assists in paying for the exorbitant cost of operations, on account of the free government clinics' refusal to take cases and their transfer to private clinics.


Current Events in Aleppo Have Led To:

1. A Cut-off of Financing: The relief committee that was formed to provide assistance during the events in Homs relied chiefly on donations from wealthy members of the flock. However, at the start of clashes in Aleppo, most of these families departed, which has led to a lack of donations for undertaking assistance work in the city of Aleppo.

2. A Drastic Increase in the Number of Afflicted Families: The scope of events has widened to include the areas where our people live, which has led to a mass exodus, great pressure on relief centers, and a severe shortage in supplies, as their numbers are steadily increasing. The vast majority of members of the archdiocese are currently destitute and their needs are continually growing.

3. The End of the Archdiocese's Income: As the scope of events widened and reached Jdeideh, most diocesan properties-- all the shops and restaurants, in addition to the old archdiocesan headquarters and priests' homes-- have cased to function. This has completely ended the archdiocese's material income.

4. The Worsening Situation: Because of the long duration of the current situation, the bishop and the archdiocesan council are worried about falling into bankruptcy. The sums spent in relief efforts equal the total of the archdiocese's budget.

The main needs in relief work are the following:

a) Material support: There are needs for direct sums of money in the following cases:

1. Damaged homes: as a result of robbery, vandalism, and artillery strikes.

2. Wounded in need of operations: As a result of current conditions and an increase in the cost of medical treatment in private clinics.

3. Refugees: Help renting places for refugees to stay.

b) Assistance: There is a growing need for the following:

1. Food: For families who have fled their homes and poor families who have lost their breadwinners or who are facing unemployment on account of the complete shutdown of work in the city.

2. Furnishings: For families who have taken refuge in relatives' homes, as well as relief centers that are sheltering families who have involuntarily fled their homes.

3. Clothing: On account of the poverty caused by being forced to flee from conflict zones, and in relief centers. Also for schools, to continue classes.

4. Medical Supplies: Especially in emergency centers in the archdiocese, numbering three, which take in cases that cannot go to clinics or before they are transferred to clinics, and those residing in the center.

Emergency equipment: sewing kits, oxygen, and burn treatment.

Medicine: For chronic illnesses for cases in the relief centers and medicine for acute cases.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Met. Paul Yazigi on Suffering and Death

Arabic original here.

The Christian Confronting Suffering and Death

In the text of the Gospel [Luke 8:41-55], there are two miracles. The first is the healing of the woman with the issue of blood, which was achieved while Jesus was on the way to heal the daughter of Jairus, the chief of the synagogue. As Chrysostom says, Jesus hesitated on His way, just as He did with Lazarus, in order to raise Jairus' daughter, not from her illness, but from death. Thus the second miracle was achieved as a resurrection from the dead.

At root, illness is the beginning of death. Some philosophers say that birth is the first step towards death. Man is born into the world of corruption, that is "wearing out", and he grows in order to go back, weaken, and come to an end. All healings just delay death; they do not eliminate it. Death is the final enemy of man. It is born with man as a child, in illnesses, grows up, and finally becomes a mature master in old age. Human medicine treats illness-- it extends the years of life and delays death for a bit. But the enemy remains standing and victorious. Human hope for liberation from death is hopeless in the end. For this reason, in these two miracles there is a clear indication that the Lord Jesus is not simply an able physician or someone with the power, authority, and impressive miracles. He is the final hope in the face of the failure of every other hope. This is in regard to the question of illness and death at its most profound.

God has given us reason and intelligence so that we can face the reality of suffering and alleviate it. We build a better world, but who destroys it? Death is an inevitable destiny. Death comes to us by surprise or we go to it with firm, sure steps.

Man, without God and the reality of the Resurrection is a being whose origin is perhaps a monkey and whose end is nothingness. Christ is our hope in the face of death. He is our victory. His presence in these events, and afterwards in His glorious Resurrection and is entrance with His body and our luminous body while the doors were locked, these realities are our healing and our resurrection.

In light of this hope, we understand that birth is not the first step towards death. So we realize that life is a bridge, a passage, and an experience and that suffering in it is not final, but rather one of the shades of experience within it. Man, then, according to our hope in Christ does not die, even if we are worn out through the most difficult illnesses and infirmities, even unto death (that is, falling asleep): he shall rise.

So what is the meaning of suffering, so long as this hope of ours is alive?

First of all, suffering reminds us this condition of ours is not what we were called to. Through suffering we know that we are held hostage by the reality of our sin and through it we are called to repentance. Thus suffering is not the beginning of death, but the beginning of life. The suffering of the present age reminds us while we are here of the eternal city and the awaited eternal state of being. It strengthens our steps towards them. Suffering pushes us to escape from our laziness and to bear the responsibility of using the intellectual gifts that God has granted us, so that we can life in confrontation with the self, creatively striving against it, in order to ensure a better life.

Here Jesus did not give the woman with the issue of blood a promise of being healed. Rather, He treated her suffering as a reward for her faith. As specific cases, these healings and raising from the dead do not eliminate the general condition prevailing over all humankind. However, they indicate God's will to do away with them. We are partners with God in two things. The first is in eliminating suffering and facing death. The second is that we are His partners in the Resurrection and the hope of eternal life.

Thus we must live in earnestness, trying to improve the condition of life and alleviate suffering. In this way we contribute to realizing the divine will and preach the good news of our God's salvation and the hope of the Resurrection. Amen.

Metropolitan Paul Yazigi of Aleppo
October 29, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fr Touma (Bitar) on Politics and the Church

Arabic original here. Part one of this article can be read here.

Towards Elaborating an Orthodox Position toward What is Happening (II)

We are still speaking within the context of politics.

There is a distinction in the Church between the person and his opinion and it is the starting-point for how we deal with each other. In any situation, we are committed to the person without regard to his opinion. No matter how perverse his opinion may be, this should not affect our commitment to him. The correctness of his opinion, in our view, should not increase our commitment to him, nor should the error of his position opinion the power of this commitment. The sole commandment that we believers in Jesus Christ have received is for us to be committed: “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is not the love that members of a tribe have for each other. We are not a tribe. This is our loving the entire world with the love that God has for us. The sign that we practice it in deed and not just in word is that we, as the people of the house of God are bound, in spirit and in truth, to the utmost limits of the commandment of love: “Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who do you harm and persecute you.”

The difference between equating a position with the one holding it and distinguishing the person from his opinion is great. In the first case, we are standing before a human reaction. In the second case, we are before a divine impulse. In the first case, we stand before a human whom we have objectified. In the second case, we are before a being like us, who has what we have, who was brought out of nothing into being by the all-surpassing love of God. In the first case, we honor people because their opinions are compatible with our own. In the second case we honor others as a way of honoring God. In the first case, we fall in our selfishness. In the second case we rise in our otherness. In the first case, we judge people on the basis of our own opinion. In the second case, we respect people's right to have an opinion that is different from our own. In the first case, we stand before our conviction in the absoluteness of our opinion. In the second case, we are before the relative nature of how people express their opinions in truth. In the first case, we act, implicitly, as though we regard ourselves as infallible. In the second case, we act implicitly as though we regard ourselves as subject to making mistakes. In the first case, we act as though we regard ourselves as self-sufficient. In the second case, we act as though we regard ourselves as completed through others. In the first case, we seek our enmity to establish ourselves. In the second case, we seek our brotherhood, to establish that God is with us and among us. In the first case, we are prepared to go so far as to eliminate others, in one way or another, and we think that in this way we make the truth or offer a service to God. In the second case, we are prepared to go so far as to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others, realizing the truth and imitating the Lord Jesus Christ! Finally, in the first case we stand before self-love, while in the second case we stand before God’s love with all our heart and soul and strength.

Relying on the distinction between a person and his opinion and being committed to the person in any situation is something difficult, you say? Indeed, it's humanly impossible! You say that it is theoretical? Not at all, it is spiritual, a work of the Spirit of God! It is theoretical if one does not know or does not follow things spiritual! You say that it is unrealistic? Not at all, it is very realistic! The important thing is which realism you mean. There is realism and then there is realism. There is purely human realism. Perhaps this is what you mean. Within the framework of this realism, what I am saying is naturally unrealistic! But there is theantrhopic realism that responds to the reality that the Son of God entered into our life through His incarnation! Within the framework of this new reality, what I am saying is not only realistic, but also intuitive!

And so, distinguishing between the ruler and his regime or between any group and the political opinions that they adopt is not only necessitated by the nature of the new life, exemplified in the consciousness of the believer, in the Church of Christ—it can only come out of true, authentic love in Christ. This does not come from fabrication, play-acting, or trading in words. It comes from exemplifying God’s love in the heart. And exemplifying God’s love comes from keeping the commandment. At the moment when we follow the commandment, God dwells within us and we are filled with love from His love. “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23).

Either Christ is with us and among us or we have nothing whatsoever to bring us together and unite us. We remain divided in our hearts, opposing each other in our intentions. Either the love of Christ or the stench of death! There is no substitute for divine love! What people say about us is worthless. People make judgments according to appearances. What God says has value, and God is the God of hearts. So the choice is between our authenticity in love and going astray, no matter how elaborate and researched our opinions may be! Then authenticity alone will bring about inner uprightness. When we walk in uprightness we are no longer concerned with pleasing people, but rather we are concerned with pleasing God. We no longer love them as they want, by going along with what they desire, but as God wants us to love them. We do not applaud their desires, fearing them or selling out. Instead, we bear witness to divine truth in their face, for their salvation and to the glory of God. We do not behave hypocritically, seeking cowardly profit, whether personal or for the community, or seeking to protect those in power. “God must be obeyed, not people.” So we obey God’s word and bear witness to it, even if the price is the martyrdom of blood! We have no profits and no privileges here! The people of the house of God are concerned with the kingdom and nothing else!

However, from the love of God and from the love of God alone within us, two things emerge, without which we have no true testimony: divine wisdom and the courage that is from above. If it is wise for us to be silent like the Lord Jesus before Pilate, then wisdom is what will inspire us to this. And if it is wise for us to speak like the Apostle Paul spoke before the ruler Faustus and the governor Felix, then we will speak the divine word of truth and not keep silent. If it is of God’s wisdom for us to say in all courage to those who are dealing with us what we see in them, it is not possible for us to hold back and keep faith in God. In the fourth century, Saint Basil the Great was not afraid of the Arian governor Modestus when he wanted to crush his resistance. Rather he said to him frankly, “The ruler does not believe in the true faith. You are heretics!” In 1922 when Saint Tikhon, the Russian patriarch, was brought before a Soviet tribunal and was asked by its head, “Do you consider the laws in force in the country to be unjust,” he did not hesitate to reply, “Yes, I consider them unjust!”

A beautiful account of the firmness of the faithful, when required, is found in the life of the martyr Saint Christopher, Patriarch of Antioch (d. 967). It is said that a priest who was a physician fell into a minor sin and the patriarch imposed a penance upon him. The priest asked one of the Hamdanid emirs to intervene, as he was a dear physician to him. When the emir asked the patriarch to pardon him, he replied, “It is not possible for me to do that, my lord.” He said, “Do you not fear me? What is it that you cannot do if I command you to do it?” He replied, “That which pertains to my religion, my dogma, and my law, because we are in your obedience and in other matters we cannot disobey you. But regarding that which has been set aside by religion, we are prepared to be imprisoned and beheaded. The emir said, “In any case, let me know what this offence is, that touches upon your religion.” The patriarch responded, “Before this, O emir, it was a minor crime and easy to put aright. But now it is great and impossible to pardon, since it is not permitted for a priest to appeal to you, a Muslim who is against our belief, in a matter that pertains to the Church and no one else.

For this reason we deal with rulers and those in whose midst God has planted us with true, pure, unwavering love. We love them and do not show them favor. We trust them in truth and do not endorse their passions. We pray from the heart that the Lord God will grant them His wisdom, keep them, and repel from them every trick of the Enemy, for their contentment, the people’s good, and God’s glory. We encourage them in truth and do not fear them in falsehood. We participate with them in suffering and sacrifice for the nation, and we share in their consolation.  We weep with those who week and rejoice with those who are joyful. We do not participate in their sins, but we participate in their suffering even if their sins are not our sins! We feed the hungry at all times, give drink to the thirsting, give ointment to the wounded, clothe the naked, and visit the sick. This is not a media posture. This is the life story of the faithful. This is not announced verbally. This is built upon upright behavior in how we deal with those who believe in Jesus Christ and others. All are our neighbors when we love them. Love is initiative and not reaction. Every day we untiringly build these up with others as bridges. These are the building-blocks of our politics at their deepest. From this well we draw our opinions in truth. Otherwise we are hollow and have become trivial among the trivial! What value is there to be sound in body and to be perishing in the soul? “What benefit is it for a person if he gains the whole world but loses his soul”?! One who does not love is not free from his whims. One who walks in passions is a slave to his passions. One who is not free from his whims cannot help to free anyone. True freedom is inner, existential freedom. Civil freedom is not a virtue and has no value in itself! This is our testimony in Christ, that we strive to liberate the world through the divine love that is active within us! Aside from this, we have no testimony to give!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan the Athonite- Douma
July 8, 2012