Thursday, January 30, 2014

Met. Georges Khodr: Prayer is Breathing

Arabic original here.

Prayer is Breathing

The way we are with our Lord is that we are always tormented and the Lord always heals us. It is not for us to wonder why we are like this-- why we are in suffering, why we exist in suffering. Divine inspiration does not give an answer to this question. It does not say why we are subjected to pain, to pain of the body, to pain of the soul, to pain of the conscience. The Divine Scripture is content to observe this and to start off on this basis in order to reveal to us how we can leave this suffering, how we can bear it and change it into the power to create and approach God, turning it into a ladder by which we go up to heaven.

In the Divine Scripture we have promises of healing, and of sure salvation from sin. When he promised the joy and revealed the life that will come when we accept the mystery of God and obey him in all the afflictions of the world that we taste, whether in spirit or in body. When we are in such a state, in torment like what those who sought healing from the Lord were in, we cry out like them: "Lord, have mercy!"

"Son of David, have mercy on me." "Lord have mercy on my son, for he suffers greatly..." We observe that all these words are seeking mercy, which is more comprehensive than healing. When we ask for healing, most of us ask for healing of the body, which is something good, but we have not reached the point of suffering from sin leaking in to us, so we ask for it to be removed from us and we remain Christ's. What is our stance toward the stricken after we fall into evil, after darkness engulfs our souls? What prayer do we pray? Do we trust that God Himself will come down to us if we pray? Do we know that God wants us to speak to Him? For us to enter into dialogue with Him?

Naturally, God is capable of responding at all times, and he responds effectively if we ask or if we do not ask because He knows all our needs. However, the Lord prefers for us to speak to Him so that we might be trained in His friendship. He asks this boldness of us, the boldness of children with their Father. This is what we ask him in the Divine Liturgy, before we recite the Lord's Prayer, when we say, "And make us worthy, O Lord, that with boldness we may call You Father..."

God wants to be among us, to be friendly with us, so that we might know that we have risen to the rank of divinity and so we might realize that God has come down to the rank of humanity. If God has come down to our souls as they are, as we know them to be, in their weakness, in their disgrace, in their filthiness, if God visits these souls then He is their Healer.

The problem of modern, contemporary man is that he is content with himself because he has made puppets, toys that he plays with and he thinks that this is enough, especially if he has acquired some wealth and spared himself hard living and so closes himself off and does not ask about anything. This is mankind's evil in this generation that we are in and for this reason the Lord says, "You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" (Matthew 17:17). If a person completely closes  all the windows to himself, he suffocates because he cannot breathe. When we are content with toys that we have made, we close the window to heaven on ourselves and we suffocate. People do not only suffocate through their lungs. Their mind also freezes, their heart withers, their conscience goes idle and they spiritually die.

What is prayer before this situation? Prayer is us opening the windows when we feel shut in. It is us opening the windows of the heart to heaven so that God can visit our souls. Only then are we able to live.

Prayer is breathing. If we are certain of this, we can conquer all the world's trials because our spirits will be filled with the air of grace.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh: The Lamb Shall Defeat the Beast

Arabic original here.

Last week, Christians celebrated the "Week of Prayer for the Unity of Churches," during which they held various activities focusing on prayer for the restoration of the hoped-for unity, enacting the will of the Lord that they be one just as the Most Holy Trinity is one.

This year, the occasion was overshadowed by concerns on the ground.

Christians are under the difficult circumstances that Syria is going through, where Christians, alongside their Muslim fellow-citizens, are subjected to murder, slaughter, expulsion, kidnapping and rape. These things do not discriminate between Christian and Muslim or between Sunni and Alawite, Shiite, Ismaili and Druze, all victims of the blind hatred that makes no exceptions.

It goes without saying that Christians in Syria do not consider themselves greater or more important that their Muslim partners in the one nation. They find themselves in solidarity with all the people of Syria, in the calamities that they share and the strikes that fall upon all their heads. They are patient and pray at all times for the return of peace, stability and security to the land of their fathers and forefathers.

There is no doubt that Christians, when they pray for the unity of their churches, also pray for the unity of their nations and their societies and the consolidation of their bonds of affection and kinship, regardless of religion or ethnicity. Christianity and insularity are opposites that can never come together. Christianity is either a maker of peace and concord or it does not exist at all.

In this world unity on the religious or national level appears to be very difficult to realize because of human sins and moral failures. However, the blood of the righteous that is shed-- Christian, Muslim, atheist and agnostic-- is what creates unity in the world to come. What humankind cannot do, God does through His mercy and power. The innocent are God's pure ones, regardless of their religion, ideology or race.

Here we can make reference to the Revelation of John, where its writers says of the Kingdom, "Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain" (Revelation 21:3-4). This kingdom was not realized by anything other than the blood of Christ shed upon the cross, "Because you, O Lamb, were slain and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Revelation 5:9). The Lamb was victorious over the beast and over those who behaved like the beast.

The two kidnapped bishops, who without a doubt are praying without cease for the Church and the nation, the captured nuns of Maaloula, who have no consolation save the power of the life-giving cross, and all those who have been kidnapped and unjustly detained who have no support save the the Help of those who Sorrow, the innocent victims whose blood cries out to their Creator, they are the ones brought together by the one, invisible Church, made by God alone. They also are the makers of the Syria of land, history, and shared future.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Met. Georges Khodr on Christian Unity

Arabic original here.

Towards Unity

This week we renew our commemoration of the Christian unity for which we yearn. We say that we have one faith in the essentials. It is true that in visible reality we are not one church. This reality is sorrowful, because it is an image of our being torn apart. However, those capable of seeing our innermost parts know that all those who love Jesus Christ, He Himself makes one in Himself.

I do not expect us to ever become one monolithic church with one canonical structure. Did Christ really want that sort of unity? At the very least, He wanted us not to fight each other, even as debate is inevitable. However, there has come to be little debate between us. It is not that we are intellectually content with disagreement-- and there is some disagreement-- but that our hearts have become intertwined despite regarding the other as being in error, great or small. We have come to see that Christ loves us all, even with our differences.

What does it mean for us to become one in reality? What the Catholics yearn for-- the submission of all Christians of all their various races, dogmas and countries to a central authority that commands and forbids is unreasonable in the foreseeable or unforeseeable future. The Orthodox vision, to which I subscribe, appears to me to be the image of unity as Christianity lived it before the schism: the convergence of the world's churches in unity of faith and worship in a universal system of bishops. It does not appear to me that the churches are capable in the foreseeable future of adopting the system of a supreme executive bishop over all the churches. This sort of Christian internationalism has never existed. Apart from all theological discussion, I do not see contemporary human mind accepting the authority of one person over the entire world, bearing in himself divine infallibility, even if it is supposed to derive from the Church's infallibility.

Toward what goal are we yearning, if we speak of the unity of Christians? No one among the Catholics or anyone else dreams that Christians all want to live under one authority. The Orthodox consider themselves to have perfect unity in the existence of churches that are administratively independent and one in faith. Catholics, despite their belief in their unity, know that there is a French theology and a German theology and that the unity of Catholicism itself is a wish and not actual unity before the last day. Humanity is always in a process of making effort.

What appears as visible unity among the Catholics exists along with the multiplicity and diversity of many. What brings together in psychological reality the German Catholic and the South American Catholic? What brings together the Maronites of Bcharre, with whom I have lived and loved, with the Latin Catholics of Munich?

I think the great onus in the effort for unity lies with the Catholic Church, in terms of her recognizing diversity in the administrative concept of the Church. It has become an affront to the feelings of freedom among the peoples for there to exist one sole executive authority in the universal Church. The dominant pattern in humanity is the diversity of nations and their gifts and different styles, despite the quest to unify their consciences and efforts. Thus the Catholic notion of unity based on the infallibility and executive power of one leader in the whole world is unwelcome by most people. For this reason it seems to me that all the papal efforts to unify theological thought, styles of administration, and programs among the peoples, every notion of centralized authority and internationalist vision of governing the Church have become relics of the Middle Ages. Thus the Catholic Church has become perplexed between her authoritarian heritage and the aspirations of local or minority churches to affirm their particular natures in the Holy Spirit.

For Rome to believe that she comes from the churches and does not just go out to the churches is the start of her salvation and of our own. For Rome to uphold the first millennium for us, this is our desire. For the Orthodox churches to become one in their approach to Rome and less fearful, this is our hope. 

For the Orthodox churches to realize that if they are strong in theological knowledge, another church cannot swallow them up and that they have within themselves greatness of spirit and holiness which makes them face the entire Christian world, this is the start of our path.

My prayer to God during this season is that the churches of our region become convinced that they are called to contribute to unity at the regional and global levels. It is not that each group of us has to fall in line behind its counterpart abroad. Rather, we must innovate in our theological output-- and in this we are not lacking training and acumen.

No group among us has to be content with relying on their counterpart abroad for their thought. What is needed is our contribution to creative thought. Friendly relations are good and we have promoted them. But there must be a theology on the global level. It is not good for us to be satisfied with translations. We are capable of innovating.

At the high level of innovation, the features of intellectual unity will start to appear, just as pastoral relations in love will appear.

Love is not limited to us performing religious celebrations like weddings and funerals together. It is us mingling in theological life in terms of presence and production. It is us not being afraid to mix elements of instruction, professors and students. It is us admitting that the other is better than us in this field or that. It is us examining the best theological production from all. It is us frankly criticizing what comes out from us. It is us seeing the Church of Christ in her reality appearing in this church or that. It is us loving the signs of holiness in all of our churches and for us to insist on what brings us together in upright faith among all. 

The Church of the future does not spring from my church alone. It comes from us all, first in love and humility and second in theological study. Some of us like simple rapprochement, after the manner of friendships in Lebanon. This is good but it is not enough. Understanding is the basis of encounter.

The path to unity lies in seriously striving for the truth that is in Christ. That is, in making life holy and deepening theological thought. You will arrive at true theology if you love your Lord. There is not only revelation. There is study. Do not be afraid to rub up against the other's thought. It will discipline you and bring you up to your Lord. Understand that the best way for you to see unity is effort in constant theological study, which will liberate you from isolation and bring you into the freedom of the children of God.

Striving for unity in reality is striving to see God in all His manifestations in the Church and in the world. If you love Him much, you will see much and you will walk a long path.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Carol Saba on Day One of Patriarch John X's Visit to Moscow

French original here.

The Irenic Visit of Patriarch John X to the Patriarchate of Moscow and All Russia: Day One

Moscow-- Saturday, January 25, 2014-- His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch, primate of the Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East, left Beirut today to begin, in response to his official invitation from the Russian Orthodox Church, an irenical visit to his brother His Holiness Cyril, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. This important visit which will continue until January 30 comes in the context of the irenic visits that Patriarch John X is making according to tradition to the primates of the autocephalous Orthodox churches following his accession to the See of Antioch. The importance of this visit lies in the fact that it is an irenical, ecclesial visit that aims to reaffirm the fraternal, bilateral relations between the two churches and the lines of communication between them. It also aims to strengthen relations between the churches in order to face the challenges of today's world by means of a good and edifying understanding of the many changes occurring in this world.

An important delegation from the Orthodox Church of Antioch is accompanying His Beatitude John X of Antioch during this visit. It is composed of Metropolitans Basil and Ephrem, respectively the archbishops of Akkar and Tripoli, Archimandrites Philip (Yazigi) and Parthenios (Ellati), Archdeacon Gerasimos (Kabbas), former minister and ambassador Hassan Richi, Dr Georges Nahas, vice-president of Balamand University, Mr Carol Saba (responsible for the visit's communications), and Mr Taki Louka, photographer.

His Beatitude John X was welcomed at the Moscow airport by a delegation of high dignitaries from the Moscow Patriarchate consisting of Metropolitan Juvenaly of Kroutitsi and Kolomna and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Patriarchate of Moscow's Department of External Relations. Likewise, Metropolitan Niphon Saikali, the Patriarchate of Antioch's vicar for the Patriarchate of Moscow, was also present. Patriarch John X and the accompanying delegation went directly to the patriarchal residence of His Holiness Patriarch Cyril at the Danilovski Monastery, where they were welcomed by His Holiness, along with numerous bishops, priests, deacons and monks who accompanied them to the chapel of the patriarchal residence as they chanted to the Mother of God "It Is Truly Meet To Bless Thee". At the request of His Holiness, Patriarch John X presided at the service of thanksgiving from the throne. Following the service, there was an exchange of speeches during which the patriarchs mentioned the historical relations between the two churches and ways of developing relations further, as well as the difficult situation and trials that the Patriarchate of Antioch is experiencing during the conflict in the Middle East, especially in Syria. Then in the throne-room the two delegations held profound bilateral discussions which, in a frank and brotherly manner,  covered topics as diverse as relations between the two churches and the means of developing them even further, inter-Orthodox relations and the imperatives of Orthodox unity and of Orthodox witness in the world today, the difficult situation of the Middle East and of Syria in particular and the means of dealing with it as well as the need to establish peace in these countries beset with trials, the importance of Muslim-Christian coexistence, the need to establish societies based on citizenship in the Middle East which preserve unity and diversity and guarantee for everyone all freedoms and fundamental rights in terms of equal treatment with regard to rights and responsibilities for each citizen, regardless of religious affiliation. The issue of ecumenical relations was also raised, as well as the imperatives of Christian witness in today's world together with the irenic relations between religions for the service of humanity, their freedoms and dignity of life. All these issues will be raised more extensively during the discussions of the coming days.

Following the discussions, the two parties exchanged gifts. His Holiness Cyril then granted His Beatitude John X the Russian Church's highest honor, presenting him with the first rank of the Order of Saint Vladimir. He likewise granted Metropolitans Basil and Ephrem the second rank of the same order and each member of the delegation the third rank. His Holiness then showed the Antiochian delegation the hall of the Holy Synod of the Russian Church before hosting, with His Beatitude John X, the dinner offered to the Antiochian delegation in the dining hall of the Russian Orthodox Synod.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh: Devotion to God or Devotion to Religious Leaders?

Arabic original here.

Devotion to God or Devotion to Religious Leaders?

It is not enough for a person to have correct belief in order to have true faith. If a person does not practice his belief in his daily life, it becomes merely theoretical and impracticable, a dead thing that is of no use. True faith presupposes a life in harmony with dogma, without any sharp separation between the two. Heresy or error, then, does not only come from dogmatic deviation: it can also result from moral deviation.

What does it mean for someone to believe in the dogma of monotheism when he practices polytheism in his everyday behavior? How can he be a polytheist when he worships his passions and his sins? He worships money. He worships authority. He worships sex. He worships himself... He makes every effort to satisfy his desires, even if he tramples people on his way towards reaching what he aims for.

He says that God is the Provider, even as he spends his life amassing riches out for fear of treachery in days to come.  He says that God is the Generous One at the very same time as he doesn't mind being a miser. He says that God is merciful, but then he spends his days without turning to the poor who are in need of someone to have mercy on them.

He says that God is the Creator while he strives to wreak destruction, murder and corruption on this earth. He says that God has granted him the earth in trust but he does not hesitate to neglect it and to make it an unbearable hell. He says that God is the Lord of Life, then he permits killing, slaughtering and dismemberment. He says that God created man "in His image and His likeness" and created him "in the best form" but then makes people into an object for his perverse pleasure.

If we want to be brief about the reasons for which a person assigns partners to God, we would say that, in addition to pride, which is the root of all evil, there is extravagance in bodily pleasures, vainglory and bowing to money, power and greed.

Error becomes even more influential when religious leaders-- from the lowest to the highest ranks-- place themselves above reckoning or when they when they attempt to dictate every aspect of their followers' lives, ruling over their wills and their conviction and leading them as though they had no other recourse. They have wealth and authority and if this leads them toward their lusts, their pleasures and the illusion of glory, then this is the great disaster.

At that point, the religious and spiritual leader becomes for his followers who are devoted to him a pure and infallible idol. Some of them confuse devotion to God and devotion to their religious leader, even though the two have nothing in common, since "there is no obedience to the creature with regard to the infallibility of the Creator."

The cult of personality is not exclusive to those who are addicted to politics. Indeed, it affects many who claim that they are monotheists who worship no one but God alone. The image, sermons, sayings and praises of the spiritual guide replace God, His prophets and apostles, to the point that some people attribute miracles to the object of their worship.

The religious guide must bring his followers to God and not to himself. He is not the object of desire, but rather God alone who is the beginning and the end. God is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega. He is all in all. The great heresy is when the religious leader takes himself to be the end, leading himself and those brought into false worship of him into perdition.

Monday, January 20, 2014

an-Nahar on Patriarch John X's Upcoming Visit to Moscow

Arabic original, in today's an-Nahar, here.

John X to Moscow for the First Time as Patriarch, In Conjunction with the Start of Geneva 2

by Pierre Atallah

In his first visit to Russia since his enthronement as Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Patriarch John X is leaving for Moscow to meet with Orthodox Church leaders, chiefly Patriarch Kyrill.

Patriarch Kyrill is strong and influential in Russian public life and has pointed stances with regard to rejecting a secular Western-style distancing of the Church from politics and national affairs and with regard to determining the course of the Russian state on various internal and external levels, especially in matters pertaining to the issue of minorities in the Middle East, both Muslim and Christian, since his famous visit to the Syrian capital at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War remains fresh in the mind. Sources following the positions of the Antiochian Orthodox Church see in the visit to Moscow a stance that the Antiochian Orthodox Church has needed to take for a long time, especially after it became clear the American-Western role is indifferent to Christians in the Middle East and that American and European politics place financial and economic interests over any humanitarian or moral considerations, as evidenced by the suffering of Christians during Lebanon's extended civil war and by the post-war period when American policy gave its blessing to the reduction of the Christian presence in the political, economic and administrative institutions of the state, under various pretexts. Sources following the Christian issue are of the opinion that Patriarch John X, who is known for his firm nerves, prudence and calm approach to things, may have chosen to delay the visit in order to distance it from any form of political or even narrowly sectarian investment. This is at the threshold of a new phase initiated by the Geneva 2 conference, which is intended to move toward a political solution to the Syrian Civil War, especially given the Russian role in supporting minorities and announcing their protection and promoting this issue as a strategic issue about which there can be no bargaining. This is something whose effects and aspects the head of the Catholic Church has completely internalized, as evidenced by Pope Francis' position rejecting the war on Syria whose repercussions weighed on the American-European position about attacking Syria, alongside the grave moral harm brought by the Salafi-Jihadi course taken by the Syrian opposition.

The sources are of the opinion that the patriarch of Antioch's visit to Moscow is further confirmation of the importance of the Christian presence in the Middle East, whether in Syria or Lebanon, in conjunction with the beginning of the discussion over the future of Syria, where ten percent of the population is considered to be Christian. Christians and Muslim minorities constitute a heavy weight in the internal Syrian equation, which has been confirmed by events since the beginning of the war in Syria. In this sense, Patriarch John X, by meeting with the head of the Russian Church and her leaders brings with him the concerns of Syrians in general and Christians in particular and their desires, goals and views of Syria's future. This is something that is not the exclusive preserve of the ruling regime nor of the groups that have declared their opposition to it and combat it. Rather, there are forces whose presence should no longer be ignored in the search for the future and its options and no one is better than Russia, as a state, a government and a church to transmit this perspective and place it on the negotiating table and in the proposed formulas.

It should be pointed out that Patriarch John X is one to take the initiative and surmount difficulties, as evidenced by his visit to Pope Francis and their extended meeting to discuss issues between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches and their people, which is said to have contributed to changing the pope's view of many issues related to the Middle East.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Met. Ephrem Kyriakos on the Priesthood

Arabic original here.

The Mystery of the Priesthood

The Church is a theandric organization: divine because she is the living body of Christ and human because she is a particular human society. As a human hierarchical organization, she is tied to the mystery of the priesthood and the synod of bishops. The head of the Church is Jesus Christ, the God-Man and her visible head in the local church is the bishop, the image of Christ locally.

The bishop is a spiritual father and shepherd, on the model of Jesus Christ, "the Good Shepherd." He shepherds his flock "rightly dividing the word of truth." Next to the bishop, there is the priest and the deacon. The priest performs the mysteries such as the divine liturgy and the mystery of baptism, except for the mystery of chiertonia (ordination to the clergy).

The priest is a spiritual father and pastor for his parish. As spiritual father he administers the mystery of repentance and confession.

The deacon helps the bishop or the priest in performing the mysteries and in performing social work.

The priest, according to Saint John Chysostom, enjoys a service that surpasses the service of the holy angels. This come, not from the priest's personal worthiness, but from the divine grace that "in all times heals the sick and perfects the lacking." Thus the Church becomes a hospital where the Gospel of the Kingdom is announced and where the bishop (or priest) pastors the people of God as a spiritual guide and physician of souls by means of the mystery of repentance and confession and psychological and spiritual guidance.

It must be mentioned that the Church, in human terms, is not made up of the clergy (the bishops, priests and deacons) only, but also of the lay faithful. All of them constitute the people of God, the communion of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. According to St Dionysius the Areopagite, the deacon is required to be free of passions, the priest enlightened, and the bishop united to God as "a saint." This is true, but in practice we are all sinners struggling through repentance for the salvation of our souls. Hence we seek inspiration from the following observations: that the clergy without exception remain weak and sinful humans who themselves are also struggling for the salvation of their souls. However, they must, as much as possible, be a model for other people and far from significant, scandalous sins. Thus Saint Gregory the Theologian said that their work is pedagogical in guiding souls to salvation. From all this we understand that the priest's work is not limited to performing the mysteries (the liturgy, baptism, marriage, funerals...) in a routine manner, but rather it also includes, as we mentioned, teaching, guiding and pastoring souls. He is not an employee but rather a pastor and father.

As we said above, this comes from the divine grace that they receive at the time of the laying-on of hands. Last but not least, the Church teaches in all wisdom that the holy mysteries (such as the Eucharist) are active in the faithful by virtue of the grace of priestly service, and not by virtue of the purity of his soul and his general behavior.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh For a Unified Lebanese Religion Curriculum

Arabic original here.

We Are Neighbors but We Don't Know Each Other

We are neighbors but we don't know each other. We live in the same neighborhood or the same village. We visit each other, but we remain ignorant of each other. We frequent the same places and we work together in the same office. We study side by side in public and private schools and universities, but we are still ignorant of each other. We form political alliances and enter into two antagonistic political camps, each of which includes Christians and Muslims. Despite this, we're still mired in mutual ignorance.

Lebanon is the country of Muslim-Christian dialogue. Lebanon is the country of coexistence or shared existance or living together. Lebanon is the country that is the message or the model for the encounter between members of different religions. Lebanon is the center of dialogue between civilizations and religions... These are all slogans that really do not express the bitter reality that Lebanese citizens live. Their country is still suffering from the effects of the successive sectarian wars for nearly the past century and a half. Nevertheless, we want to regard these slogans as the highest goal for which the Lebanese strive in their common political and social life. We cannot accept all these slogans unless it is in the hope that they will be realized in the near future.

I have taught Christianity in an institute of advanced Islamic studies and I have taught Islam in more than one institute of Christian theology and I have found general ignorance among both groups about the most basic traditions, customs, feasts, occasions, dogmas and rituals practiced by the other group. The student of Christian theology does not know the meaning of the commemoration of Ashura, its history and the reason for Shiites' strong feelings about it. He does not know what the five pillars are and there is a generally distorted image among all students when it comes to talking about the Druze and their monotheistic doctrine. As for the student of Islamic law, he knows nothing of the symbols of the liturgy, communion, baptism and the holy sacraments and nothing about Church history and holy orders... Questions whose answers you would imagine should be obvious, whose answers you would think that every Lebanese would know, especially students of Christian theology and Islamic law, because of mixing socially and being each other's neighbors. You will find disappointment wherever you look.

True knowledge is what every Lebanese needs, a knowledge where every religious group presents itself as it is and each church as it is. In this way there will be an end to the distorted prejudices that were formed by the collective imagination of each group about the other group. The importance of this true knowledge is that it leads to the true mutual  familiarity and constructive dialogue that is necessary in order to solidify the national encounter for the good of God's servants and the building-up of the country.

The basic key to this hoped-for knowledge lies in adopting common Muslim-Christian religious education in schools. Religious instruction in Lebanon still divides up a single class according to the religion of the student, and this gives the students the impression that all the academic subjects unite them while God divides them. Thus there has come to be a need for establishing a unified religious curriculum along the pattern of the humanities like philosophy and the history of civilizations that presents without preaching, evangelizing or proselytizing the history, rituals, and dogmas of the religions and the biographies of the most important personalities, as presented by the various religious communities. In this way the schools will contribute to raising students with true knowledge of others with different religions and to eliminating from their minds all the distorted accounts that are based on erroneous prejudices.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Balsamon on the Liturgies of St James and St Mark

During the Crusader period, the patriarchal sees of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem were frequently what amounted to titular sees whose holders were permanently resident at the imperial court. The most famous such patriarch of Antioch, Theodore Balsamon, was a native of Constantinople, a city he is not known to have ever left. After a career as nomophylax and chief canonist in the Empire, he was made patriarch of Antioch in the late 1180's, and held this position until until his death in 1195. Translated below is a famous passage from Balsamon's Responses to the Questions of Mark of Alexandria, written toward the end of his life, where he forbids the use of the liturgies of Saint Mark and Saint James. Although this statement in itself probably had very little impact on actual liturgical practice, it was in the century or so after Balsamon that the liturgies of Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil became the norm in the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.

from PG CXXXVIII col. 953

Question 1: Are the liturgies that are said in the regions of Alexandria and Jerusalem, which are said to have been written by the holy apostles James the Brother of God and Mark acceptable in the Holy Catholic Church or not?

Answer: The great Apostle Paul, the rhetor and teacher of the churches of God, said when writing to the Corinthians, "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." So we say that neither from the Holy Scriptures nor from any synodically published canon have we been informed that a sacred ritual (Gk. ἱεροτελεστίαν) was passed down from the holy apostle Mark. Only Canon 32 of the holy and ecumenical council held in the Trullo of the great palace said that a mystical sacrifice (Gk. ἱερουργία) was composed by James, the Brother of God. However Canon 85 of the Holy and All-Praised Apostles and Canon 59 of the Council of Laodicea, which enumerate the books of the Old and New Testament and those of the apostles that must be in use among us do not make any mention of sacrifices (lit. ἱερουργίας) of Saint James or of Saint Mark. The Catholic church of the Most Holy and Ecumenical See of Constantinople also does not in any way recognize them. Thus we rule that they are not acceptable. If it happens [that they are used], they are ordered to completely cease to use them, and also many other things. It is clear from Canon 85 of the Holy and All-Blessed Apostles and from Canon 2 of of the holy and ecumenical council held in the Trullo of the great palace. One, that is the Apostolic [canon], designates the two epistles of Clement and his constitutions in eight books as to be read but not published, on account of the secret things therein. The other [i.e. the Council in Trullo], however, intends that they should not be read because many corruptions have been introduced into it by the heterodox which are contrary to piety. Therefore, all the churches of God should follow the custom of New Rome, that is Constantinople, and celebrate according to according to the traditions of the great teachers and beacons of piety, Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil, as Chapter 41, Title 1 of Book 2 of the Basilikon says, "With regard to those things for which there is not a written law, the custom followed in Rome should be kept."

from col. 957

Question 5: Is it not possible for the Orthodox Syrians, those from Armenia and faithful from other regions to celebrate in their native language, or must they celebrate with a Greek text?

Answer: The great apostle Paul said when writing to the Romans, "Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also." Therefore, let those who are Orthodox in all things and are completely without the Greek language celebrate in their own language, having precisely similar copies of the usual holy prayers as transcribed from the kontakia in beautifully-written Greek letters.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

17th Century Liturgical Reform in the Patriarchate of Antioch

From time to time in the comments section of this blog there has been discussion of the process by which the Patriarchate of Antioch came to fully adopt the liturgical customs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. A key figure in the final adoption of almost all aspects of Constantinopolitan liturgy was Meletius Karma, Metropolitan of Aleppo from 1612 to 1634 and then patriarch under the name Euthymius II from 1634-1635. Born in Hama in 1572 and known in the world as Abd el-Karim, as a young man he became a monk in Palestine at the Monastery of Mar Saba, where he mastered Greek. Two years later he returned to Hama to begin his clerical career. As metropolitan of Aleppo, Meletius devoted himself to re-translating the service books into Arabic on the basis of Greek texts recently printed in Venice. In this endeavor, he received the support of the Propaganda Fide in Rome and of the Roman Catholic missionaries active in Aleppo, whose activities he strongly encouraged. It was rumored by the Jesuits in Syria then that the reason he did not live long as patriarch was that he had been poisoned by elements opposed to his desired union with Rome. 

Below is my translation of Meletius' introduction to his translation of the Typikon of Mar Saba, which was apparently the first of his liturgical translations. It is very interesting with regard to the attitude toward liturgical variation that it reveals, as well as the evidence it gives to opposition in the Patriarchate of Antioch at that time to applying the monastic typikon in parishes. It is also interesting that Meletius claims that the typikon was not available in Arabic in his time, as the Typikon of Mar Saba had been translated since at least the 14th century. An example of a 14th century manuscript of the Typikon from Mount Sinai can be viewed here. 13th century Syriac examples can be viewed here and here. I am also somewhat mystified by which canon of the 7th Ecumenical Council he is referring to in the text, the only possibility I can see being Canon IX, which prohibits the possession of the books of iconoclasts. (If any readers have a better suggestion, I'd be grateful).

The Arabic text, on the basis of Choueir MS 88 ff. 1v-2v, is below the jump. I have slightly standardized its spelling but otherwise not altered it.

Glory to God who brings creation into being by His creating Word, enlightens the hearts of the faithful with the words of His books which speak the truth, and guides us through His apostles who are sent with the truth and their successors after them, who were created for the benefit of creation. To Him be constant thanks until the Day of Resurrection.

So when we observed the difference among the churches of the Christians in arrangement, ritual and order, the lack of bowing, prostration and fasting that has beset their people, the sincere and true ordinances of the books that they have abrogated, and the changes to the fasts and prayers that they have adopted from the feasts of the transgressors and customs of the heretics over the course of time, I did not cease seeking the root of their transgression and searching for the cause of their trespass until I found that the root of this error and corruption in the churches of the Arabs-- which deserves derision and anger-- that its reason, root and cause is the absence of the ancient Greek typikon, which was begun by the great saint Mar Saba and completed by the active, scholarly priest John of Damascus. I was amazed at how the people of that age neglected to put it into the language of the Arabs after realizing and learning that the Church of Christ was guided by it to the path of truth and correctness and that all Orthodox Christians boast of this book over all the sects of the heretics and the Arians. Since its compiler wrote it in the Greek language and it has never been translated into Arabic, I the wretched Meletius, when I was metropolitan of the city of Aleppo, with great effort and prayer translated it into the language of the Arabs, seeking reward and recompense from God. This was in the year 7120 of the world's creation, which corresponds to 1612 of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. In translating it I was not seeking widespread acclaim, but rather it was out of my fear of being tormented with the one who buried the talent. May no one who looks over this book after my death dare to remove or add anything from its arrangement, because when he removes a single letter from its arrangement and prescriptions should know that in the opinion of the holy Mar Saba he is an ungrateful disbeliever who has departed from the path of right guidance and correctness, deserves humiliation on the Day of Resurrection and Reckoning, has introduced a shameful flaw into the Church of Christ and has caused himself to deserve torment with the transgressors in the fire. May God make us and you among the people of submission and obedience, so that we may act according to all the fasts and prayers in it, according to possibility and ability, as we received from the pure apostles, the holy righteous fathers, the seven greater and seven lesser councils, the great saint Mar Saba and all the doctors whose sayings are adorned in this book and whose testimonies are fixed and realized in it. May God benefit us with the blessings of their prayers and by answering their requests. Amen.

From the holy books, summarizing and repeating testimony to the honor of this glorious and sublime book and its blessing for those who make use of it and the categorical excommunication of those who add to it or subtract from it:

Know, may God grant you success, that this book is ancient, from the era of the holy councils. It is the ornament of the Church, who herself is established upon the rock of faith. Saint Antiochus, at the beginning of his book, praises those who hold fast to it and says that in all of Palestine there is to be found no other acceptable spiritual typikon like it. Saint Sophronius, the patriarch of Jerusalem who is called by the Church the Great Mouth of Christ, held fast to everything in this noble book and said that there has been no change or distortion in its words. Through it have come great fathers, perfect teachers and holy hierarchs like the confessors Kyr Theophanes and his brother Kyr Theodoros, Saint Andrew the Archbishop of Crete and many other holy fathers. All of them held fast to it. Saint Athanasius, the patriarch of Alexandria, says of this book, "I wish to know who are those who destroyed what the holy fathers and arranged and decreed in the typikon of the Holy Church and their words. If you go against this book, with what will you replace it or by what will you be guided, lest you invent for yourselves another typikon, write in it what you fancy and invent in it that which conforms to your desires?" As for myself, I will admonish you so that no one among you might dare to delete what they established or shake what the holy fathers set down in the typikon of the Holy Church, which is the ornament of the Church of Christ and our guide to the path of truth, because from it we have known the order of ritual of the Catholic Apostolic Church. From it we have learned how to celebrate the seven feasts of the Lord Christ. From it we have learned the arrangement of night-time prayers, the chanting of the morning praises, the daytime prayers of the hours, the exaltations of the divine liturgies, the ordering of ascetic life, the feasts of Our Lady the Mother of God, the feasts of the angels and archangels, the feats of the apostles, prophets, martyrs, hierarchs, righteous ones and the lofty ones of the Orthodox, prostration to the wood of the Venerable Cross. From it we have known the days when we must fast and make prostrations and from it also we have known the days when we do not fast or make prostrations because  prayer on those days is better than fasting,  because, even if the Apostles commanded us to fast and celebrate feasts, they neither demonstrated for us how fasting is to be nor how is to be the celebration of feasts. However, we have learned from this typikon how to fast, how to celebrate feasts, how to conduct asceticism, how to break fasts, how to make prostration and how to bow. We have it written with us that in the presence of the great Seventh Ecumenical Council in the city of Nicaea and the presence of the king Constantine the Great and his mother Irene in the year 6320 from the creation of the world which corresponds to the year 812 from the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is said that they summoned all the books of prayers, canons, chants, commentaries, and sermons. They summoned this venerable typikon attributed to Mar Saba and other books of upright faith and refined opinion. They placed their signatures on them and confirmed them and excommunicated and condemned those who alter, mar, add to or subtract from it. Whether patriarch, metropolitan, bishop, priest or deacon, they should be cast out from among the Orthodox, having brought excommunication and deposition from the priesthood upon themselves and upon those laypeople who follow them. Those who want to remove themselves from this categorical excommunication and be saved from this being cut off and expelled should hold fast to everything in this venerable book, follow its ordinances as leader and guide and not transgress a single one of its words, however small, or abandon a single one of its traditions, however large, whether pertaining to prostrating or standing, fasting or breaking fast. They should not incline toward the hypocrites or sympathize with their bitter-tasting words because they speak delusion and pronounce lies and oppression. They say that this typikon was set down for the churches of monks and was not imposed on village churches. They claim that there is one for the churches of monasteries and another for the churches of cities. They lie in their claim and have gone astray in the darkness of their lie because this difference is not fitting for the faithful because it is an innovation of those who are contrary and the transgressors. Each one of their sects is named after the originator of its heresy. The rituals of their churches are different and hideous. The typikon does not exist in their churches and each church of theirs has its own ritual and ordinances. So we must go against their claims and not follow the paths of their error because Orthodox have one faith, our Church is one, the arrangement of our prayers is one, the calculation of our feasts is one, the ritual of our liturgy is one, our opinion is one, and we have one typikon for monasteries and towns, for people of the world and for monks. It is the book of ordinances particular to the Greeks [lit. al-Rum, as all reference to 'Greek' and 'Greeks' in this text]. Those who hold fast to it are blessed and those who go against it are excommunicated-- I mean by the great Seventh Ecumenical Council that was held in the city of Nicaea in the time of Constantine the Great and his mother Irene in the year 6320 from the creation of the world, corresponding to 812 from the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Him be glory unto the ages. Amen.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Met. Georges Khodr: God is Motion

Arabic original here.

God is Motion

I am always struck by the words of the Nazarene, "Love your neighbor as yourself." He never once said, "Strive for your neighbor to love you." Love is an act of going to the other, not of attracting an emotion. Christ never once said, "Seek to be loved." You come into being by abandoning yourself. This is the mystery of humanity, that one of us subsists in himself or for himself. You exist in and with others. Human existence is communion: Your Lord knows you if you love. You exist if you forget yourself in your act of going to the other.

Individualism is true if you mean by it the independence of each one of us from the tyranny of the group, but individualism is not withdrawal or isolation. Personhood is contemporary philosophy does not mean isolation or inward withdrawal. It is the confirmation of the self in love because the self exists in communion.

There is no contradiction between sound individualism and existing in society, because a good society does not eliminate the rational and loving self. Indeed, it can only exist in it. The group is not a herd because the herd has no love in it.

"Love your neighbor as yourself" because he is your equal, because the two of you are one before the Lord. The one whom you love is not necessarily your friend. You love because you come into existence through love insofar as it is going out from the "I" into the "we". Truth is in the "we". Egoism is exclusionary, but love is confirmed and confirms the other at the same time. It is not possible for you to love the other unless you subsist within yourself (and I did not say "subsist in yourself"). For you to subsist within yourself also means that you subsist in the other. You cannot be in yourself if you are not one with the Lord. If the Lord is not within you, you are deadly for yourself, you eat yourself.

Love is not in rejecting the self. It is in rejecting the closed-off ego. If you go out to the other by casting egoism out of yourself, you return to yourself free. The one who loves does not hate himself. He hates to monopolize himself. Loving yourself, insofar as your self is from God, is loving God. It is gaining God for yourself, since if you do not make God your own, how can He be? If you do not understand that He is motion, He will not reach you. He is fixed in His motion.

God is a movement of love. We have only known Him in His supporting His people and no one knows Him unless the Lord Himself moves towards him. God is constantly in a state of coming down. This is the true meaning of inspiration. God is revelation. Yes, the Lord is fixed. This fixedness is His love.

Love is movement. It is you believing that the other is fundamental for you, even for your breathing. If you move toward the face of the other, you find the face of God. In your isolated tower, you have no god. It is your suicide. You do not face God by Himself. You find in Him others, because God is in the group, in love. There is nothing that will be revealed to you if you do not go out of yourself to it and to others.  You have no existence with your Lord if you are not with others. He is on their faces-- it is there that you read Him.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on Adam and Eve's Pride

Arabic original here.

When Will You Become Human, O Gods Whom Humans Have Rejected?

Of old the serpent whispered lies to our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, and they fell into its traps. It still whispers, even now, and we still fall into its traps. The story of Adam and Eve-- which almost all Christians agree is symbolic-- appears as though it is the story of each individual human from the beginning of existence until the present day.

The story says that God, after creating Adam and Eve, commanded them to eat from every fruit of the garden, except for one tree, "lest you die." The serpent seduced them by saying, "God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Cf. Genesis 3:2-5). The serpent tickled Adam and Eve's pride and they believed that they were capable of becoming gods. And so they fell greatly.

In the story, the serpent symbolizes the devil. However, Church tradition is in agreement that man is responsible for his sin. Had there been no serpent in the story, Adam and Eve would have fallen on account of their own lust and greed. The serpent's role in the story is secondary and the sin springs from the will of man. Adam and Eve desired to become gods. They desired to become like the God who created them and the serpent helped them along by embellishing their desire and making it possible for them to reach their goal. In this context, Saint Ephrem the Syrian (d. 374) says, "Gluttony was the reason for their taking the serpent's counsel and it has hurt them more than the serpent's counsel."

Sin was the fruit of Adam and Eve's free will. Had they repented to God, He would have forgiven their disobedience. However, their pride prevented them from following the path of repentance (here the Christian and Islamic traditions differ on the matter of Adam's repentance). Ephrem himself says, "Had Adam and Eve repented after disobedience, then they would have regained what they possessed before their breaking the commandment." Another proof of our first ancestors' pride is that they both excused themselves from the accusation and laid responsibility on the other and on the serpent. So Ephrem continues his exegesis of the story and says, "When Adam did not want to confess his sin, he questioned God about Eve. And instead of supplicating and shedding tears for her sin, that she and her husband would receive mercy, she said that the serpent had seduced her and so she ate."

Pride has reached a terrible point in man. He commits sin and shamelessly attributes it to God. Blessed Augustine (d. 435) says, "Adam tried, in his deception, to attribute his sin to God Himself. He said to God, blaming, 'The woman that you gave me to be with me is the one who seduced me... All sinners who blame God for the sins that they committed are characterized by this behavior. Its source is pride."

The story of Adam and Eve with God and the serpent has not ended. Adam and Eve are the model of every human who commits disobedience and refuses to admit responsibility for what his hands have done. They believe themselves to be gods and so they justify killing, slaughter, forced displacement and destruction. Their pride prevents them from seeing themselves as anything other than gods who hold in their hands the lives and fates of other human beings. When the serpent seduced Adam and Eve, it said to them, "Your eyes will be opened." They were able to see before they thought, because of the serpent's seduction, that their eyes would be opened. They became blind to knowledge of the truth when they thought that through their action they would see it. When will you become human, O gods who whom humans have rejected?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Patriarch Peter III on Primacy in the Church

Patriarch Peter III of Antioch is most famous for his attempt at mediation between Rome and Constantinople during the controversy over ayzmes leading up to the Great Schism. However, in his correspondence about azymes with Archbishop Dominic of Grado, he makes an ecclesiological point that may be relevant to the disagreement between Moscow and Constantinople about the nature of primacy in the Orthodox Church. See Moscow's position here and Constantinople's response here.

The translation below is on the basis of Patrologia Graeca 120, col. 760.

Pay attention to what I say. The human body is governed by one head. In it, there are many parts and all are regulated by only five senses. These are: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Likewise the body of Christ, that of the faithful, the Church, is fitted together from different members and is regulated by five senses, which are called the great sees, and is governed by one head, which is Christ. Just as there is no sense above the five senses, there is no patriarch admitted above the five patriarchs. Thus by these five sees, which are like the senses in the body of Christ, all the parts, that is all the countries of the peoples and the local episcopates, are regulated and guided in a Godly manner. Just as in one head, Christ our true God, they are likewise fitted together and governed by one Orthodox faith.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Met. Ephrem Kyriakos Condemns the Burning of al-Sa'eh Bookstore

Last night, the al-Saeh bookstore in Tripoli, owned by Fr Ibrahim Sarrouj, was burned down after a text insulting Muhammad was allegedly found in it. This is one of the oldest bookstores and publishing houses in Lebanon and it contained many rare books. For an excellent profile of Fr Ibrahim, see here.

More about this crime can be read here and here (note that there is some confusion because "bookstore" and "library" are the same word in Arabic). Arabic original of the text below here.

Communique issued from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Tripoli, Koura and their Dependencies

Before the heinous crime that resulted in the burning of the al-Sa'eh Bookstore owned by the priest Ibrahim Sarrouj, we cannot but denounce this act of vandalism that aims to strike the social fiber of the city of Tripoli and its surroundings. We condemn it in the strongest possible terms insofar as it furthers the plan to sow division in the region and is an assault on reason, culture and humanity in general. It reminds us of the burnings of the libraries of Baghdad and Alexandria and the decline and ignorance left in their wake.

The fingers of civil strife, which have been reaching for our city for many days, have succeeded in weaving lies and fabrications about an article of which they know Fr Ibrahim is innocent, since its author is well-known and published it on his website some time ago. Formal inquiries have proven this.

But those who work for and incite civil strife have persisted in their plans to strike the city and its surroundings and terrorize its residents. This only serves those who plot evil against national unity. It distorts the face for Tripoli and its heritage, built by all our forefathers of all religions and sects.

Regarding what happened, we demand that the judicial authorities conduct a transparent inquiry, discover the perpetrators and instigators of civil strife and division, try them and sentence them to a severe punishment, so that they and others will realize that toying with the city and its residents is a crime and that they will not reach their goal.

We take this occasion to ask all civil and spiritual authorities, leaders of civil society and the media to help to triumph a calm and constructive discourse and to refrain from incitement and spreading poison.
We implore God to preserve Tripoli and Lebanon from every evil.

January 4, 2014