Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh: Prayer Alone is Not Enough

Arabic original here.

Prayer Alone is Not Enough

Prayer alone is not enough. Prayer is a means by which the one praying is enlightened with the divine light in order to know Gods  will and to act according to it. Prayer can be sterile, mere words and chants without spirit, if it is not followed with action here and now in the present place and time. Prayer is a reminder to the faithful that they are called to realize God's will in the universe, that they are God's partners in working peace and living the commandment to love to the fullest.

When the Holy Evangelist Luke recorded the story of the first Christians, he said, "Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:44-47).

It is not by chance that Luke talks about communion of physical goods before he talks about spiritual communion. There is no meaning to prayer, liturgy and praise if they are not the culmination of communion in the practice of love, mercy and giving. The Lord Himself says in the Sermon on the Mount, placing action before teaching, "whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19). People do not believe those who teach from the pulpit if they do not act on their teaching and preaching.

Therefore prayer is not the abandonment of the faithful's responsibility toward those for whom they are praying, casting the responsibility on God alone as though God were in need of reminding him of people's suffering. Prayer is an invocation to God for Him to help us to bear the cross of the tormented and persecuted, whatever their religious, sectarian or ethnic affiliation. Our obligation is not fulfilled by praying. Rather, this obligation begins after prayer stops.

The Holy Apostle James says in his Catholic Epistle, "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:15-17).

As for the Holy Apostle Paul, in his numerous missionary journeys he would collect donations and sent them to the poor in Palestine.

Faith and all the acts of worship that follow from it-- prayer, fasting and everything else-- are useless if they are not tied to the works that are an essential part of faith. God has called upon the faithful to imitate Him and His qualities: "Be merciful just as your Father is merciful." "Be perfect just as your Father is Perfect"... There is no use in praying "Lord have mercy" if the one saying it is not merciful toward his fellow human beings.

Prayer, lighting candles, sermons and processions are not enough for the people of Iraq, Syria and Palestine. They are in need of true solidarity, which requires of church leaders and the faithful to invest everything they have in lessening their suffering by putting everything in the possession of the churches-- property, wealth and connections-- to their service.

This  is the least of faith.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh: The Human Person is the Issue

 Arabic original here.

The Human Person is the Issue

Amidst the sequence of events sweeping through our Arab region, we often forget those who are directly concerned with them. In our reaction to them, we address the large issues instead of paying attention to the suffering of individuals who are experiencing the horror of these events. The problem here lies in the absence of the concept of the individual in our societies, our cultures and our way of thinking. According to our predominant culture, a person is not a distinct individual endowed with known gifts, but rather merely a statistic in a religious, sectarian or racial bloc. If he declares his liberation from belonging to any prior classification, there are those who include him, despite himself, in one of these affiliations and deal with him exclusively on this basis. He has no escape from this, as though it is an inevitable fate.

We forget that the people of Iraq are Iraqis whose anscestors have dwelled in that land for thousands of years, since before the rise of the monotheistic religions. They were the people of that country before they became Sunnis and Shiites, Chaldeans and Assyrians, Mandeans and Yezidis, before they were Arabs, Turkomen and Kurds... We forget this unique Iraqi character, compound and diverse, in which have mixed various streams of cultures that have successively formed Iraqi history in civilizational and human aspects in general. We forget this Iraqi uniqueness that is represented in the Iraqi individual and we resort to theorizing about a history that is passed, a history that does not concern most of those who are enduring daily suffering, who are forced to flee their homes, denying those who commit the incessant, unrestrained violence that kills them day and night.

Is there anyone who still believes that Iraqi Christians are concerned with talk about coexistence or about the history of Islamic religious tolerance toward Christians when they see themselves eliminated from their homes and their churches are blown up? Does it mean anything to the murderers for you to lecture them about coexistence and acceptance of those with a different religion in the Islamic tradition, from the Qur'an and hadith through the latest tolerant fatwas so that they will stop committing acts of violence against the People of the Book and other Iraqis? It goes without saying that safeguarding any individual Iraqi in compelling circumstances such as these does not lie in repeated talk of coexistence in the past why today and tomorrow he is being wantonly killed. His concern is to save himself and his children from extermination and extinction.

There is nothing of use to Muslims and Christians in Iraq in talking about glorious history, nor in talking about religious tolerance in Islam. What is beneficial for them is to go back to regarding the individual Iraqi as a citizen in himself and to confront the forces of takfiri darkness that are not concerned with the issues of Muslims, Christians, Mandeans or Yezidis, but rather with laying claim to Iraq's treasures and its oil.

The Iraqi, before belonging to a religious or ethnic bloc, is a unique individual whose memory constantly takes him back to the places of his birth, his flourishing, his play and his worship. Who can erase from the memory of the Mandean the waters of the Tigress and Euphrates where he performed his ablutions? And who can remove from the Yezidi's memory the importance of the temple of Lalesh, where he performed his worship? Who can efface from the memory of the Christian the spread of Christianity into every corner of Iraq? Who can remove from the Shiite's memory Najaf and Karbala? Who can deny the Sunni the importance of Baghdad and all of Iraqi in his heritage? There is no issue, then, other than the issue of the Iraqi person before anything else.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Carol Saba on Particularism and Citizenship

ِArabic original here.

From the Eye of the Middle Eastern Storm:
The Final Round of Confrontation between Particularism and Citizenship

It is not possible to strategically separate what is happening in Gaza, Syria and Iraq from the growth in recent decades of a discourse of religious and sectarian particularism in the Middle East, whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish. Today the repercussions of this are sweeping everyone into the ugliest sort of descent into the inferno. Politically, there is no horizon and no staying power to this implosion. The dark night must have a dawn. In light of the wrangling to bring about a new order in the Middle East, this requires of us great discrimination and total preparedness for a radical course correction.

We must not err in our strategic goals and we must agree on the tactics for attaining them. The focus on particularism today is a focus on the impasse, while what is needed amidst raging sectarianism is to focus on the methods for arriving at the only desirable solution: citizenship. The pluralistic Middle East, first and foremost in Lebanon after the fall of Palestine, has been the most democratically advanced model in the region and the number one rival to unilateralist projects, whether Arab or Zionist.

Our responsibility here as Lebanese Christians is no less important than the daggers pointed at the Lebanese model. During the 70th anniversary of Lebanese independence, I lamented in the pages of an-Nahar the lack of any critical examination of the Christian experience of seizing power in Lebanon and of the path that led to its loss. Despite the spreading flames, we are still without a national vision that presents progressive solutions to the impasse and crisis of Arab political governance. Christians in Lebanon erred by not reinforcing the society of citizenship when they held power and were capable of establishing genuine partnership with Muslims. Instead of developing partnership in life and reinforcing it in law and in practice through the partnership of citizenship, rivalry between the Eddeh and Khoury families and the Christian leaders and their political parties established extremely confrontational approaches between them that are still in effect today. Christian and sectarian particularism grew at the expense of citizenship.

Deadly internal and external alliances arose against them, deepening these particularist approaches. Internally, first there was the Chehabist experience. General Chehab's project, a project of building  the regime within a state of citizenship and of parallel development, was cast aside. Then came the escalation toward the inferno. For all its seriousness, the Lebanese explosion of 1975 did not topple the Model.

The need for a society of coexistence has remained stronger than societies of discrimination. The Taif Accords established the finality of Lebanon and affirmed equal sharing of power in practice, combining consensual democracy that protects the sects and majority rule, which permits electorally the composition of mixed majorities that transcend the sects. The toppling of Taif in practice was the toppling of the possibility of the civil state. After the fall of political Maronism came the rise and fall of political Sunnism, then political Shiism on the scale of its predecessors. Then came the Arab eruption, caused by the increasing decadence of the Arab regimes and their deadly unilateralisms, and this was called the "Arab Spring".

However, its righteous demands were soon tossed aside on account of deadly local, regional, and international policies that desired to install an alternative Arab political system based on religious particularism. Exclusivist particularism erupted and removed some from power. Destructive strife threatens to bring down everyone, including our moderate Muslim partners if they do not speak out boldly today. As for Israel, the same suicidal approach is in effect. The weakening of the Left after the assassination of Rabin and the rise of the Extreme Right has led to the growth of a discourse of religious particularism and the emergence of the idea of the "Jewishness" of the state, a far cry from historical Zionism, which was quasi-secularist.

Today Israel is falling for the temptation of political "Masadism". After the destruction of the Temple, extremist Jews and their families retreated to the historic fortress of Masada. In the year 73 the Romans entered after a three-year seige and they found that everyone-- men, women, elderly, children-- had killed themselves beause they preferred dying in particularism to living in coexistence with others. Gaza today is the name for a pair of crises two similar extremes with no horizons. Each of them looks to their persistent, unilateral particularity as the criterion for dominance over the other. Today there is no horizon for the resistance and enormous sacrifices of the heroic Palestinian people except through translating victory politically through consolidating Palestinian national reconciliation and a state of coexistence, citizenship, and fair and righteous peace. On the other hand, there is no horizon for political Masadism other than suicide.

There is a great difference between security and safety [الامن والامان ]. The latter cannot be imposed by blind weapons of war. Regionally, however, there is no horizon in sight to the hell of deadly particularities. Perhaps at the center of the agenda for the negotiations between America and the West and Iran (and the accompanying tug-of-war with the BRICS countries, especially Russia) is urging  a way to escape the great impasse through a new Arab order that produces stability and does not eliminate competition. There should be no change to the political geography of countries, so as not to open the gates of hell for us all. Another constant is that there is no permanence to any order without recognition of pluralism and diversity and without democratic approaches that create harmony between particularisms rather than eliminating some of them. The idea of the nation-state still abides, despite globalization. It is still suitable for the Middle East as an institutional framework for coexistence and the development of citizenship, since it is the legal dress for a non-assimiliationist incorporation of personal identities in a common life in which the particularisms of one group do not threaten the particularisms of others. Citizenship canonizes distinctiveness while expelling the specter of discrimination because it is the passage from the "I" to the "we", without eliminating the "I", exactly as in the theology of unity and diversity. At that point, we might escape the deadly cleavages of the Middle East and live together in partnership, dignity, freedom, prosperity, stability, and confidence in a promising future for all. Let's dream, since dreaming and wakefulness are neighbors and the Arab world is in such  need of wakefulness today!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Assault on Mhardeh Intensifies

Arabic original here.

What did the Leader of National Defense in Mhardeh Say to an-Nahar about al-Nusra's Assault?

by Faraj Obagi

After declaring the battle to "liberate" Mhardeh, Jabhat al-Nusra has been raining mortars on the city over the past two days and today. However, this assault has remained within the framework of shelling from afar and the Islamist forces have not been able to advance further into the city. Clashes between the militants and the National Defense forces have focused on Tarabi' Hill or Bteich, where the miiltants control an important checkpoint, and the north.

The leader of National Defense in Mhardeh, Simon called "Abu Fahd" who was wounded yesterday in the clashes, has confirmed to an-Nahar that "defense forces have been able to advance toward the Bteich checkpoint that is controlled by the militants. They gained control of it, but due to tactical concerns and the large number of mortars being fired on the city, they abandoned the location. However, we are able to regain it at any time. It is a strategic location for us."

He added that "the militants are trying to advance along a single line, from the east, which is the only outlet through which they can penetrate, that is the Halfaya line." According to Abu Fahd, the clashes are taking place at a very close distance. He stated that, "The clashes from the east are focused on two points. The first point is at a distance of 600 meters and the second at the distance of 3 kilometers. The situation is difficult, especially after the city was targeted by around 100 rockets yesterday. This led to 67 wounded and the death of one soldier in the army and two members of National Defense, one from Mhardeh and the second from the village of Shaqliyya." It is clear that "Halfaya, which has made a truce with the Syrian government, had become a center for refugees. However, two days ago Nusra expelled its population and those who had fled there. There only remain there around 3000 militants who are waging war against us."

Al-Nusra militants are attacking the city from the north, from the villages of Kfar Zeit, Tel Milh, and al-Tamili. Abu Fahd explains that "the battle along the northern front is not as dangerous as the eastern and southern fronts, where they are consistently failing to make an advance. They are attempting to advance by crossing the Orontes individually at night, in order to acheive any penetration, and they are failing."

He stated that the militants are imposing a tight siege on the city. Yesterday they cut off electricity after they attempted to enter the Mhardeh power station from Halfaya, which led to fierce battles between the two sides. The militants were unsuccessful and withdrew, however they caused damage to the station. He added, "the situation on the ground is difficult. We cannot deny this. However, morale is high and we want to say to the Nusra militants and to the international community: We will not depart from here. We will all die in this land."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Patriarch John X's Words of Welcome to Patriarch Ephrem II Karim

This is an unofficial translation. Arabic original here.

Patriarch John X's speech welcoming Patriarch Ephrem II to the Monastery of Saint George al-Homeyra

My brother, Your Holiness and Beatitude Patriarch Mar Ignatius Ephrem II Karim,
My brothers the bishops and priests,
People of the Syriac and Greek Church of Antioch who are one and great in their faith and ardent zeal,
Beloved and neighbors of Saint Ephrem,
My beloved who are gathered here under the shelter of Saint George the Victory-Bearer,

It is a great pleasure for me to say to you, "How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together!" The Psalmist once said this and today your sweet faces and the smiles of your children say this. The stone of this holy monastery say this. If they could speak, they would sing of their longing to see loved ones and would chant welcome to them all as living stones in the body of the Antiochian Church that first sang the name of Christ and spread it to the lips of all humankind. We welcome you most warmly. It is better for us to say: welcome to your home in the Monastery of Saint George. Our meeting today is a message to the world that the seeds of Christian unity will by watered first by us in Antioch, just as Jesus' disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

How good and pleasant it is to meet under the shelter of Saint George, whom the churches of the world know and whose name they take. How beautiful it is to pray in blessed days ruled by the Virgin Mary in the sublimity of her purity and the light of her holiness. How good and pleasant it is to meet in Syria, our homeland and yours, in Syria where they named our ancestors Christians, in this land that has welled forth to the world with the waters of her Euphrates the teaching of Saint Ephrem, the saint of repentance. In this land, Christianity had its infancy and from here the spark of Christian love went out to Rome and all the corners of the earth. This land gave us Ignatius of Antioch, who was bound in the shackles of this present age just as many of us are shackled in these circumstances. However, these shackles did not restrain the determination of faith. These  are the same chains and shackles that will shatter before Syria and her steadfastness, the steadfastness of her leaders, her army and her people. Through the work of her good children, Syria shall rise up and shake off the ruin that has come to us from abroad. She herself will bury in her soil all those who permit themselves to tamper with the eternal monuments of her life. We have said and we will continuously say: our salvation is in dialogue and in the political solution, in word and deed. To the outside world we cry out from here in this Valley: look honestly at what is happening in Syria and Iraq, particularly in Mosul, and in every place that has falsely and deceitfully taken up the mantle of "Springtime". Look honestly at the tragedy of Palestine. Look at Lebanon, which is paying a high price. We have known this land as the birthplace of the alphabet, which is an image of the need to encounter the other. We have not known her to be a hotbed for takfirism, terrorism and kidnapping. We in this Middle East are fed up with language of solidarity and wishful thinking on the part of those who are entrusted with decision and action. We have had enough of slogans while our bishops Youhanna and Paul, our priests and our people are being kidnapped while the world watches. The smile of our children is more precious than the falsehood of the world's slogans. The soil of this land where we were born, live and die is our treasure, our well-being, and our vessel for passage into true life.

I lift up my prayer in your name to the Mother of Light, Our Lady the Virgin. I lift it up with the candles of the Umm al-Zunnar Church and with all the refugees who have been separated from their families and their people by the present circumstances. I lift up my prayer to the Virgin and say:

O All-Holy Virgin who dwells in the abode of heavenly glory, who protects us and all the children of this Middle East, light of our life and balm of our wounds, companion of the exhausted who wipes away the tears of those who sorrow, we take refuge in you and ask you to place your faith in our hearts. Wipe away our weaknesses with the light of your Son and shelter Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the entire world in the peace of Christ the Lord. Teach us, O Mother, how to be sons and rise above the cares of this world to find in you a lamp to light the paths of our life. Show us, O maiden who adopted simplicity and sweetness, how to make our souls shine with the light of the resurrection, how to make the power of hope in God pulse within us, and how to make our souls into a vessel whose pilot is Christ and whose sail is the imitation of His saints. Be our consolation, our protection and our ardent intercessor.

In these blessed days we give you praise as an offering and candles as a supplication. By our candles make the light of consolation glow in our hearts. Wipe away the tears of this present age and crown the brow of those who love you with the peace of the Child of the manger. We ask you, O daughter of our earthly form, to form our souls with the power of firm hope in the dawn of our resurrection, the resurrection of our people, of our nations, of our Middle East. You who swaddled your heavenly Child and and made your bed beside him in the cave, swaddle our souls in humility and the power of hope. Make your bed beside the land of the Middle East and preserve it. Preserve our precious Valley and pledge your all-surpassing protection to our children in the homeland and the diaspora.

O Mother, be at the side of Mother Thekla and strengthen those who are in hardship. Draw the souls of the departed to your breast and to the breast of your little Son. You who rejoiced to see the resurrection of your Son and our God, make us worthy to rejoice at the return of peace to Syria, Iraq and every corner of the world. O traveling companion of John and Paul, be with our brothers Youhanna and Paul and with all those who have been abducted. Be with them. We say this as we know you are with them where they are. Wipe away from the eyes of humanity the lies and falsehood of these present days. We ask you to bear us all in your prayer to the Lord and to accept our song as incense before your Son.

We ask you, a daughter of this Middle East, to quench the flames of war here. Warm it with the warmth of love. O wellspring of love, cause souls to blaze with its brilliance and by its dew quenches tormented hearts. If these days are the cross for this Middle East, your consolation is what lightens the burden of bearing the cross. Your recollection covers minds with the dew of the resurrection dawn. Following the example of your Son, we do not fear Golgotha in your presence, O Virgin. Be a safe harbor and shelter and preserve this people who seeks the mercies of your Son, to Him be glory unto the ages amen.

Once more, Your Holiness, welcome to your home. May the Lord God grant us to always walk according to the guidance of His teachings. Welcome, beloved, children of the Syriac Church. Welcome to our brothers to whom we are bound by ancientness of faith, the first breaths of holiness, love of monasteries, the prayer of monks, love of the land and the power of hope in Christ the Lord, to Him be glory unto the ages amen.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

an-Nahar on the Defense of Mhardeh

Arabic original, with photos, here.

Mhardeh Defiant against al-Nusra... "It Will Not Fall, With God's Permission"
by Faraj Obagi

Mhardeh, the city of the sun along the Orontes, refuses for its fate to be like the fate of Mosul. Its people firmly state that they are prepared to die rather than leave their city. The city is of outstanding archeological importance, with Roman and Byzantine ruins and five churches. It is the home town of the late Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Ignatius IV Hazim. It has now become a scene for the rockets of Jabhat al-Nusrah, whose repeated attempts to enter and sieze the city have not yet succeeded. One week ago they made an attempt, which will not be their last, to enter through the Syrian Army's checkpoint at Tell Dahra to the south of Mhardeh. The checkpoint fell and the National Defense was able to regain it, though it cost them the death of one of the sons of the city, Chahoud Najeh Di'an, whose majestic funeral was just held.

A Defensive War

The leader of national defense in Mhardeh, Simone who is called "Abu Fahd" has not been exhausted by al-Nusrah's repeated attempts to topple the city where some 17 thousand Christians live. He tells an-Nahar that the city "will not fall, with God's permission." He believes that the defensive war that the people of the city are conducting side-by-side with the Syrian Army is a battle for existence in the fullest sense. He does not hesitate to say that "we will not be a second Maaloula and we will certainly not permit our fate to be like that of the people of Mosul. Martyrdom on this land is one hundred times better than whetting the sympathy of the international community in order to fight ISIS or to stay alive." Perhaps this is because the Islamist fighters insist that toppling this region is no less important than toppling Maaloula in order to score points against the Syrian regime by showing that it is incapable of protecting the Christians who stand with it and regard it as their protector.

We Are a Second Line of Defense

However Abu Fahd states that the fighters' will not easily succeed, through he does not deny their control over the eastern and northern edges of the city, and specifically the hill overlooking it. He says that "the fighters dominate the area to the east and north of Mhardeh and are attempting to continue their advance toward the west and south. However, they are failing at this, especially since the Syrian Army is guarding the highway between the city and Hama."

Abu Fahd, as the people of the city call him, explains that "they are all fighting with the National Defense, but those who are actually trained and are able to bring an element of surprise number no more than two hundred. They are well-trained and constitute the fundamental support for the Syrian Army in the event of any assault by Jabhat al-Nusra on the entrances to the city. We have logistical teams and an emergency team to assist victims."

Our Martyr is a Bridegroom

He adds that "National Defense is the second line of defense after the Syrian Army, which constitutes the first line of defense. If any of the army's positions falls, we go directly to support it and regain control."

Regarding the provision of arms and food, he says that "the city has not lacked anything since the start of the crisis. The fact that the western side has remained free has meant that there is an outlet toward Hama for securing the city's daily needs. Were it not for the treacherous shelling everything would be normal and everyone goes about their normal daily activities. Weddings have not ceased in Mhardeh and even at funerals we process our martyr like a bridegroom." He adds, "As for the provision of arms, the Syrian Army arms us. Financial aid comes to us from the city's diaspora, who have not fallen short for a single day with their moral and material support."

The Church is With Us

Abu Fahd affirms that bearing arms is not part of their Christian belief, which calls for mutual forgiveness and peace, however he states that "we were compelled to bear arms in order to defend our history, our civilization and our dignity. We did not choose this of our own free will, but we will not permit our land and our families to be violated." As regards the Church's approval of their bearing arms he says, "even if the Church does not openly support bearing arms, she is with us implicitly because our existence is part of her existence."

Despite the high morale enjoyed by the people of  Mhardeh in the face of what the coming days may bring, they are living day by day in anticipation of a breakthrough in their country's situation and the return of stability.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh: The Yazidis and the Right to be Different

Arabic original here.

The Yazidis and the Right to be Different

Yazidism is a deeply-rooted Kurdish religion which, like the ancient religions, believes in a multiplicity of gods who deserve to be praised and worshiped. It also believes in one god who is more powerful and greater than all the gods, Khodi Yazdan the absolute one who is infinite in existence, and the Peacock Angel, the greatest of the seven angels. Among the Yazidi gods we can mention as examples the sun god, the moon god, the god of horsemanship, the flood god, the god of springs, the god of love...

Yazidism is a religion that is closed in on itself. It does not permit discussion of its beliefs except within its own sphere. The Yazidis hide the secrets of their religion from others. This is affirmed in one of their holy books, where the Peacock Angel commands them, "O you who have followed my commandments, reject all sayings and teachings that are not from me. Do not mention my name and my attributes, lest you sin because you do not know what the foreigners [i.e., followers of other religions] will do."

As for the reasons that led Yazidism to choose to be closed in its transmission of its religious heritage, they are due to its adherents' holding fast to their beliefs under difficult historical circumstances, since they have endured the worst sorts of slaughter and persecution. Thus they are careful not to publish their books and religious texts out of fear that they might be improperly interpreted by others.

Yazidis believe in a duality of good and evil, since they believe that both are found in God's essence and that people must only answer the moral conscience's call to the ideal self in order to spread good and spit in evil's face. In this way, Yazidi dualism differs from Zoroastrian dualism, which believes in two gods, the good Ahura Mazda and the evil Ahriman.

In addition to this, there is the fact that Yazidis are accused of worshiping Satan, which led Ottoman governors and neighboring Kurdish Muslim tribes to persecute them and deem it licit  to take their lives and property. The most important fatwas issued against them came from Sheikh Ahmad ibn Mustafa Abu al-Sa'ud al-'Imadi, who was mufti during the reigns of Sulayman the Magnificent and Selim II in the 16th century. Since he was the official mufti of the empire, his fatwa legitimated the empire's declaring a religious war to exterminate them.

What Yazidis are being subjected to at the present moment is nothing new. Its roots can be found in Islamic history. ISIS and similar groups are not in need of new fatwas in order to behead Yazidis. They already have enough fatwas in order to carry out their crimes.

If a researcher wanted to delve into the Islamic heritage, he would find similar fatwas issued against the Druze, the Alawites and other sects. If it has been declared licit to shed the blood of Christians, who are among the People of the Book whom the Qur'an calls to be treated well in exchange for their paying the jizya, then it is no surprise that it is being declared licit to shed the blood of those whom some Islamic legal scholars-- including Qardawi-- regard as being outside Islam.

The responsibility for preserving religious diversity falls exclusively on Muslims, especially the moderates among them. It is the right of every individual in our countries-- including the Yazidis-- to believe or disbelieve in whatever one wants. No one has the right to eliminate another because of his belief or lack of belief. When will the moderates, who until now have remained quiet, rise up against this systematic distortion of Islam?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Archimandrite Christophoros Atallah's Message to Middle Eastern Christians

Arabic original here.

O Christians of the Middle East,

"Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me" (John 14:1).

When we look at what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Gaza and many of the countries around us and the international silence accompanying it, which is more deadly than instruments of death and destruction, we are confronted with a single fact: the breakdown of the moral, ethical, spiritual and humanitarian order in our world. This is the catastrophe.

The Governor Pontius Pilate, who knew that Jesus had been unjustly handed over for death by the Jews, believed that by washing his hands before the people he would exculpate himself from the sin and crime of giving the Lord and Savior over to death. Today this Pilate-like thinking and behavior has spread and become an approach and an attitude (making an excuse of sin) as though a power that is satanic wants to replace light with darkness, truth with falsehood, religion with ignorance, humanity with bestiality, things divine with things satanic. However, beloved, no matter how much the darkness rules, falsehood and injustice spread, ignorance prevails, the barbarity of killing and destruction grows and Satan rules the world through people whose consciences are darkened and whose hearts are filled with hate, no matter how much evil conquers, there is an end to all this. As long as there are hearts that believe in God, that know the truth, and that live love, the resurrection is inevitably coming.

Beloved, this is the foundation of our Christian faith. We are the children of truth, life, light and resurrection. When they put Christ in the tomb, all the powers of evil and darkness that had conspired to kill and crucify him thought that the voice of truth had been extinguished from the world so that they might rule over the world. But Christ rose from the dead and put all their plans to naught. Thus we are children of hope. We hope and we persevere and "the one who perseveres until the end will be saved."

Our Lord, to Him be glory,  informed us of everything that would happen when He said, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18-20).

Thus Christians are aware that they will be persecuted in this world. The reason for their persecution is that they do not accept the spirit and the mind of this world (the world of sin). Here lies the Christian's spiritual struggle, to not become part of this world because "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other" (Matthew 6:24). Thus the Lord said, "For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice" (John 18:37).

The powers of evil in our world and Zionist interests want to empty the Middle East of Christians. This is very dangerous, not only because these countries are our countries, the land is our land, the holy places are are places, and we are a fundamental part of their civilization. It is also because they want to rob our countries and our people of their civilizational, religious, spiritual and cultural identity, including the culture of Muslim-Christian religious coexistence in its Eastern Orthodox dimension. Both our countries and our people are falling and being subjugated by interests that are foreign to us. Thus they bring politics of division. Despite the presence of many factors for unity that bind us together in our countries, we are being divided instead of searching for what will unite us. Unfortunately, the choice that divides and destroys is being made. "These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.  But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them" (John 16:1-4).

Indeed, beloved, is this not what is happening? Christians are killed and persecuted in God's name. Gaza is bombarded and destroyed and her women, children and elderly are killed in the name of putting an end to terror and extremism. The sovereignty of nations is flagrantly violated and nations are displaced, killed and exterminated in the name of democracy and human rights. The truth is that those who are killing both Christians and the children of Gaza and who are displacing the peoples of neighboring countries are one. Their interests are one. Their goals are one. "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me" (John 14:1). "Take heart, for I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25).

Yes, Lord, we believe this. Grant us faith, hope, and love from You. Give us true repentance so that we may walk according to Your will, obey Your laws and commandments, live the life of the Church as participants in her holy mysteries and be united to You, who alone are the true God, that we may walk along the narrow path that leads to You and to Your kingdom and not be seduced by the wide and welcoming ways of this world that are ephemeral and transient. Amen.

Beloved, at this time and in these circumstances we need to enter into our inner chamber which is our heart and close its door. This takes place through preserving the purity of our hearts from the falsehoods and filthiness of this world. We must pray to "Our Father who sees in secret and who repays us openly" (cf. Matthew 6:6). Only then will we be able to hear without distortion and listen to the voice of God. This also takes place through our repentance and persistence in receiving the Eucharist and participating in the sacramental life of the Church. Then we will be able to discern, through the blessing of the Church and the spiritual father where to direct ourselves and what to do in difficult circumstances, so that we will not lose our life's true compass and so that we will remain witnesses to the truth in our Holy Land where we must remain and not flee, in order to work for its unity and flourishing. We must follow the moderate Hashemite approach of establishing the spirit of love and brotherhood, of deepening dialogue, of reasoning [tafkir] rather than takfir, of lifting high the word of truth in order to live in dignity. We must likewise work persistently to hold on to  and defend our national and ecclesiastical rights, no matter the obstacles that face us, demanding that we compromise our legitimate right to establish the State of Palestine with its capital in Jerusalem and a revival in our national Orthodox church through the participation of the people of this country in managing the affairs of their church and preserving a living Christian presence in our Holy Land. We will assert these just and legitimate rights, no matter what price we have to pay, because every person who holds on to his right and demands that it be realized contributes to the spread of love, justice and divine truth against the falsehood and hatred spread by the powers of evil in our world. It is the responsibility of every person to contribute to saving humanity from destruction and the decay of human, moral and spiritual values.

We lift our prayers to the Lord God for the martyrs of Gaza, Iraq and Syria, for the healing of the wounded, for the release of Metropolitans Paul Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim who have been kidnapped for more than a year and a half. May the Lord preserve the grace of security and stability in our Jordan and preserve our beloved nation from all enemies, seen and unseen. May He grant His grace, blessing, and strength to the fearless Arab army that protects it and to all the security forces that keep watch over the security and stability of the nation under the leadership of His Majesty King Abdallah II, may God preserve and guide him.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.

Archimandrite Christophoros Atallah
Abbot of the Monastery of Our Lady Virgin Mary “The Life-Giving Spring”-- Dibbeen, Jordan
August 5, 2014

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Islamic Failure

Arabic original here.

The Islamic Failure

Islam has been seized by the takfiris who now have the final say in determining the future of nations and peoples. They now have a "state" headed by a "caliph". They deem it lawful to murder, loot and drive people from their homes. They are finally knocking at Lebanon's door. Now they are in our homes. But who is responsible for this hellish situation that we have arrived at?

A year or so ago, we said in an article entitled "The End of Moderation in Islam?" (an-Nahar, June 5, 2013) that the Syrian crisis would put an end to what religious etiquette is in the habit of calling Islamic moderation. The sectarian sorting experienced by religiously-diverse Arab countries including Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain is pushing  many religious authorities to slip into extremism and finally into takfirism.

Today we are paying an exorbitant price for the failure of moderate Islam to provide new Islamic legal reasoning that responds to the challenges that have arisen in the past century, including the end of the  caliphate and the rise of the civil state.

It is true that from the end of the 19th century until today many Muslim thinkers have attempted to practice Islamic legal  reasoning about various issues. However, the actual situation of Muslim societies has declined relative to the new challenges imposed on them by modernity, globalization and the fact that Islamic thought has not kept pace with events and developments happening around it.

Religious institutions have been content to praise traditional moderate thought. They have created a barrier that cannot be breached instead of laying the basis upon which there could be built a contemporary Islamic thought that provides answers relevent to modern life and rescues these societies from what is preventing them from catching up with global civilization.

The religious institutions, which in general are moderate, have not been active in providing answers that meet the requirements of living in the modern age. They needed to do their full part to help the state to free itself from the extremism of the hardliners in order to enact laws that do not distinguish between citizens or religions. However, instead of this there has been collusion between governments  and religious institutions. The governments  subjugated the religious institutions and in exchange have appeased them by not reforming their constitutions. At the same time, the religious institutions have recused themselves from conducting Islamic legal reasoning, their chief-- not to say sole-- task.

Where is the moderate Islam, which has not been able to put an end to the sectarian prejudice that divides Muslims into Sunnis and Shiites? What we are seeing today is the result of elevating the sectarian bond over every other religious, national or patriotic bond. After almost a century from the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the emergence of civil states, sectarian group consciousness and sectarian prejudice remains stronger than national group consciousness, despite honeyed words about the national bond and the lasting, definitive nation.

In this context, Jamad al-Din al-Afghani (d. 1897) believed that there is no bond, not even patriotism, that can take the place of the bond established by Islam in the hearts of Muslims. Today, however, we can say that there is no bond, not even the bond of Islam, that can take the place of the Sunni or Shiite sectarian bond.

The security solution is necessary today, on account of the current situation, but the real solution after the hotbeds of terrorism are eliminated lies in freeing moderate religious institutions from the bonds of governments and putting forward new Islamic legal reasoning that takes into account that Islam is fourteen centuries and not three centuries old.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Met Georges Khodr: Have We Turned God into a Phantasm?

 Arabic original here.

Have We Turned God into a Phantasm?

Today's Gospel reading recounts to us a miracle that occurred after Jesus went up alone to the temple to pray. He spoke to the Father, imploring Him and praising Him. He was alone in prayer. Before this, he had left the boat on the Sea of Tiberias and walked on the water. When the disciples saw Him walking on the water, they were disturbed and said that he was a phantasm, crying out in fear.

It is normal and expected for us to fear, since we are subject to the vicissitudes of time, to war and to death. We fear each other and we fear things that happen to us from outside. No matter which war or which death, there is a tempest within us because we sense life's pleasures and seek them. They cause tempests in our soul. They increase and strengthen the attractiveness of this world, even if the Lord passes before us in our mind, in our prayer, in our conscience, we consider Him to be a phantom also, like these winds that beset us.

What really is a sinner's stance toward God? Deep down, what does it mean for us to live in sin, for us to practice a specific sin day after day, for months or years or an entire life? It means that God has become a phantasm for us. That is, that He does not rule, He is not Lord over our soul. It is in the sinner's own self-interest to turn God into a phantasm, since if he regarded Him as being truly present, then God is ruling and I am subject to Him, obedient before Him. Every sinner turns God into a ghost that he exploits, lest God have dominion over him.

If we closely examine the sin within us, we will go to the priest and say, "Read to me the prayer of absolution and place the epitrachelion over my head," and we think that things pass this simply. If we do not feel that our sins are something terrifying, a deadly tempest, then this means that we do not have knowledge of Jesus Christ. This means that we have not seen Him. If we do not fear a small lie more than we fear war, then we have not seen Jesus Christ. We still fear for our bodies without fearing for our souls, that they be soiled, that they be killed, that our conscience be bought and sold in vain.

The sinner makes God into a phantasm because God rules and the sinner does not want God to rule over him. When Jesus said to the disciples, "Do not fear," they saw that the whole of the Sea of Tiberias was nothing, and that He was not sinking. They saw that Christ is the sea, that He is the mountain, that He is the stars and the sun and the sky. Thus, when Peter forgot that the sea was a sea, when he did not feel that the storm was a storm, and when he stopped understanding that he would sink because the sea no longer existed, the universe no longer existed and Christ became the universe, he said to the Lord, "Let me come to You upon the water" and he walked on the water.

But grace does not last forever. Peter denied his Lord, just as he would deny Him later. He disbelieved, just as he would disbelieve after the Transfiguration. He once more became a man of flesh and blood. Jesus did not want any of us to remain of flesh and blood or of man's lust, but rather for us to be of God. Peter once more saw that there is a sea, that there is a storm, that there is a world and that there is a universe, so he sank in the Sea of Tiberias. That is, he sank in the world.

Then Jesus entered the boat. That's how the story goes. That's how our story goes. The boat of life that each one of us boards comes and goes until the Lord enters it. It is as though Saint Matthew says, "You, O Christians, are liars. You go to a great house that you call a church but you do not go to God because you have erased God  from your life." This is an image of the situation for most people until the Lord enters the boat. That is, until we accept Him and become His disciples. Then there is no longer a storm that disturbs us. We do not fear impending death, nor do we lose our minds  if we lose a relative. We do not fall terribly because we have sinned, but rather we return to the face of God. We have been reading for days in the Gospel that His face became like the sun, so we return to this sun to be enlightened, to rest, to become masters of ourselves, giving praise and drunk on Christ.