Tuesday, March 31, 2015

al-Nusra Kidnapps Fr Ibrahim Farah in Idlib

Arabic original here

The head of the Evangelical Church in Aleppo, Fr Ibrahim Nusayr, has confirmed to el-Nashra that Jabhat al-Nusra has kidnapped the Orthodox priest Fr Ibrahim Farah in Idlib: he is the only priest to have remained in the city. Sources exclusive to el-Nashra tell of cries of "Allahu akbar" in the mosques of Idlib, calling on Christians to pay the jizya or leave.

Two members of the al-Khal family, a father and son, liquor sellers, have also been killed.

Sources indicate that a large number of Idlib's Christians have fled to Mhardeh, Ariha, and Banyas, while some have refused to leave and have announced their intention to remain in their land.

Arabic original here.

Reports state that a Syrian priest and some of his flock have been captured after forces from the Islamic opposition backed by countries of the Gulf were able to take control of the city of Idlib near the Turkish border on Saturday.

The reports indicate that Fr Ibrahim Farah, one of the few priests of Idlib, was captured along with part of his small flock by Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian wing of al-Qaeda, and that the prisoners are waiting to appear before the shari'a court in Idlib, which before the conflict began in 2011 has only a few hundred Christians.

By taking Idlib, which is in the province of the same name, Islamist extremists now control a second Syrian province after Raqqa, stronghold of ISIS, which is being targeted by air raids led by the United States.

Sunni Islamist groups have formed an alliance including Jabhat al-Nusra, the extremist Ahrar al-Sham movement and Jund al-Aqsa, however this alliance does not include ISIS, which is the chief competitor of these groups which are supported by the countries of the Gulf and Turkey.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Met. Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Racism

Arabic original here. On the same theme by Met Ephrem, see this.

Racism from the Church's Perspective

"Our life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3)

Christ God came, suffered, was crucified and rose from the dead: all this for the salvation of the world, for the sake of every person.

Therefore, there is no place for nationalism or for sectarianism... Every person is meaningful before God, whether he knows God or does not know Him, whatever his nationality, race or religion. The Holy Bible affirms the dignity of every person created in the image of God. It is true that the Jews were known as God's chosen people. This was only a historical stage when God used them as a means to come in the body and to make every nation that believes in Him His own nation. Therefore,  the Apostle Paul says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). 

Indeed, Christ-- whether a person knows Him and believes in Him or does not know Him and believe in Him-- is sown in the heart in every human and even traced upon every human face.

In his Spiritual Instructions, Saint Dorotheus says, "Suppose a  circle whose center is God and whose rays are different paths. Every person of the created world walks along one of the rays toward the center, where Christ God is (whether the person realizes it or not). He approaches his brother walking along a different ray toward God, the center itself. The more they distance themselves from one another, the more they distance themselves from God."

Racist behavior has been rooted in the reality of sin since the beginning of humanity. A saying known among the Greeks is "he who is not a Greek  is a barbarian". This racism is rooted in our blood, us weak humans, but those who believe in Christ reject it and fight it with the word of the Gospel: "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). 

"All the seed of Adam is intended for salvation, having been renewed in Christ," according to Saint Irenaeus. People saw in the early Christians a "third race", as Tertullian put it, in the spiritual sense. That is, a "new people" in whom the two races, Jews and pagans, meet. Therefore, Christianity rejects every form of racism or religious discrimination. My neighbor is not only the person from my tribe, my neighborhood or my religion. Rather, he is every person that I meet along my way. Therefore we must respect strangers and accept dialogue, participation and cooperation with other ethnicities.

Europe attempted to renounce such distinctions after the French Revolution through embracing secularism but it deviated from the right path by renouncing at the same time all divine, religious values. Christ participated in the salvation of all outcasts, such as the Samaritans and pagans like the Canaanite woman, and so we must emulate Him. Schools have a prominent role in  working to acquire a conscience that is not racist, through education that focuses on what is common to all people and that that which is unique about the other can be a source of richness for us.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, Koura and Dependencies

Monday, March 16, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Fleeing Reality for Imaginary Controversies

Arabic original here.

Fleeing Reality for Imaginary Controversies

Christians divide their Bible into two parts, the New Testament and the Old Testament, though most of them believe that there is a discrepancy between the two testaments. The New testament "abrogated" the Old Testament. That is, Christianity regards the Old Testament, after the coming of Christ, to have taken a secondary place, even if it was kept in the Bible.

Christianity regards Christ as the sole model that Christians must emulate, while the prophets and personalities of the Old Testament are only a model insofar as their words and deeds resemble the words and deeds of Christ. If we take, for example, the Prophet Elijah, we can say that we cannot emulate his killing the pagan priests of Baal, while we can emulate his repentance before God and his zeal for faith.

Likewise, Christianity regards the Old Testament as paving the way for the coming of Christ, especially through the books of prophecies that point to the coming of the Savior who will redeem the world. It is natural for the role of the Old Testament and the era of the prophets to come to an end with the coming of Christ, in whom all the prophecies were realized. With the dawning of Christ, the sun, all the stars and all the moons were outshone...  there is no light apart from His light.

After the Copts, the sheep of Jesus Christ who were slaughtered by ravenous wolves, and after the Assyrians who were expelled from Hessake and Mosul and the assault on Christians in the "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" ... some Muslims who claim to be moderate criticized Christians who wrote about their coreligionists' tragedy under this oppressive state. These Muslims ignored current reality and took refuge in imaginary and sophistic controversies, as though they were justifying the murderers' heinous deeds. They fled from reality and evoked from history  the Crusades and some verses of the Old Testament in order to convince their readers that Christianity also justifies violence!

It is unfair to evoke the Crusades in the context of talking about Eastern Christianity. Eastern Christians suffered from the Crusades (which Muslim historians called the Frankish wars) which invaded our Middle East "under the pretext of defending Christians and Christianity in the face of the oppression and torments caused by Muslim caliphs, sultans and emirs to Eastern Christians or because of their preventing Western pilgrims from arriving in Jerusalem", so they claim. Historians agree that the leaders of the Crusades exploited the religious factor in order to justify their wars, as there were other causes-- economic, commercial, etc-- that led them to wage these wars, especially since Eastern Christians were targeted just as Muslims were.

So is there revenge against the Crusaders in slaughtering Eastern Christians and subjecting them to annihilation? Saladin expelled the Crusaders from Jerusalem in 1187 and Jerusalem today is occupied by the Zionists. Muslims ignore it because they are busy killing each other, Sunnis and Shiis, takfiris and those whom they say are apostates... For this reason, religious minorities apart from the Jews are paying, along with Muslims, the price with their blood and their presence. Where is a Saladin to come to us today to liberate Jerusalem from the new Crusaders?

As for the New Testament, which abrogated the Old Testament, there is not a single verse that begins with the verb "kill" in the imperative. No "kill!" and no "fight!". There is no call in it to invade or wage holy wars... No one can justify violent acts by relying on the Holy Gospel, the Christians' scripture, especially not invasions, killing, slaughter, suicide bombings, stoning, forced expulsion, and the kidnapping of women...

Monday, March 9, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: God is Love

Arabic original here.

God is Love

I have a little office in my village from which I look down at Beirut. I used to take pleasure in it when I was a student in the early 1940s. Achrafiyeh, where I did my university studies, felt small to us as we walked from home to the university. In front of me is an office that does not hold all my books and there are more books behind me. Pens and paper. Why didn't I play in school and out of school? It seems that play was essential for you to have friends. Everything happened to much such as though I had books instead of friends. It was after school that I learned friendship.

Many of those whom I have loved have been called back by their Lord over the decades. I do not arrange life. I submit to the One who has arranged it. There is sorrow in this, but there are also consolations, until your Lord brings us back to the faces that we have loved. Why did he choose this one or that from among my comrades? That is His affair and we remain with those whom He has left for us.

A person is a face toward you. People are in what they face, if God is in them. Everything apart from Him is flesh and blood. If someone does not come to you from God, then you do not have a profound encounter with him. Life is not you, but rather you and the other. You can exercise thinking, but this doesn't change those who are always around you.

I do not know anyone who does not want to be loved. When John the Beloved said, "God is love", he did not mean that it is one of His attributes. He meant that He is love. The Apostle John did not say that God loves. He said that He is love, as though he meant that there is nothing in Him but that. If love is God or God is love, where do you go from there? Is anything possible after that?

What does Beirut know of God? Before old age approached, I came to understand that God is a stranger to many people. They use Him. They want Him for themselves. Who says in himself, "I belong to God alone"? If you say this, you by necessity mean that you belong to all people. If Beirut does not know God alone, higher than all existence, then what does it really know about existence?

We do not have a definition of God. Reason knows that He exists and does not know anything more. Faith knows that He is love. Apart from that are feelings. They are an approach. You are in God and He is in you. This is an experience. The most profound knowledge that you have of Him is that you love Him starting from the knowledge that He loves you. If you say anything else, you are bringing in words from reason alone. Reason is limited in its humanness and knows nothing more than that God exists. As for God's profundity, you may only know it through grace-- that is, if you become divine, resembling God. It is then that it is right for me to say that there is a kinship between God and me.

If you say that between you and God there is a kinship, that you are of His nature, I have no objection to this because in love He has made you of His nature, since He has adopted you. We obediently reciprocate this love from God and it is Christian dogma that we love Him because He loved us first. He is the initiator. "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end." The spiritual life is a journey from Him and to Him. Along the way, we come across the saints, but they are not the end.

When John the Beloved says, "God is love," he means that He is all love and that there is no love except in Him. In it, you do not only convey your feeling. You convey God through grace. In the Eastern Christian understanding, grace is uncreated. That is, you cannot separate it from God. When we say that a person loves, if we intend a divine source for this love, we mean that this person subsists in God and moves by God. To put it directly, we mean that the God who dwells within you is the one who is loving. The sense is thus made complete: if you love, then God is in you and He is the one who is loving.

So if we say, "God is love," and we mean that He is love, then love is everything and the rest of the virtues are its fruits. This becomes true for you in your experiencing divine love, if it is poured out upon you.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Carol Saba on the Meaning of the Plight of Middle Eastern Christianity for the West

French original here. You can also listen to it here.

Middle Eastern Christians: Is there a Pilot on the Plane?

"There are boiling cauldrons," declared former Prime Minister Michel Rocard, grand old man of French social democracy, last Thursday on Europe 1, having just published Le suicide de l'Occident, suicide de l'humanité? with Flammarion. The question-mark implicitly suggests the West's responsibility for the tragedies in the world today. "Our society is in the process of committing suicide. Speculation and greed have strangled the economy. Commodification suffocates humanity and the devastation of the environment threatens life. The precipice is already dangerously close and we blithely continue our march towards collapse." Rocard, who denounces shortsighted visions of the West, calls for awareness of the multiple threats that are arising simultaneously but that do not necessarily have the same causes. "The economic issue should be the priority," he says, because "it is by letting the economy deteriorate that everything else deteriorates. Ukraine, Japan and China, the Middle East..."

Yesterday, also on Europe 1, another grand old man and intellectual denounced the horrors inflicted on the Christians of the Middle East. For Jean d'Ormesson, an academic of the Right who even at 89 has held on to a great intellectual liveliness, "the management of savagery" is a new brand of this nameless horror, while totalitarianism in the past hid itself in order to work its evil. Someone who knows how to measure his words, he does not hesitate to describe the trials of Middle Eastern Christians as a real "genocide". He calls for genuine awareness and, most importantly, for coordinated action that would prevent the "disappearance" of Middle Eastern Christians including, if necessary, military action on the ground.

According to Jean d'Ormesson, the disappearance of Middle Eastern Christians is an orchestrated undertaking, as attested by the horrible reality on the ground, as well as by the studies published in the book Le livre noir de la condition des chrétiens dans le monde (édition XO), which was organized by my friend Samuel Lieven, a journalist at the newspaper La Croix, under the direction of Mgr Jean-Michel di Falco, Timothy Radcliffe, and Andréa Riccardi-- a book that I highly recommend reading. Is it necessary to recall the recent kidnapping of 220 Assyrian Christians in the region of Hessake in Northeast Syria? And before that, the appalling decapitation of Copts? And the exodus of Iraqi Christians? And the kidnapping of the Orthodox nuns of Maaloula, who fortunately were later released? And the emblematic kidnapping, which sadly has gone on for two years, of the two bishops of Aleppo, Paul Yazigi and John Ibrahim?

Of course, we should feel indignation on behalf of all victims, including, Jean d'Ormesson says, for the Jordanian pilot and also for our own here in France killed in early January. However, Jean d'Ormesson is right and, even if he does not put it this way himself, I will say it: it's time to realize that the tragedies of Middle Eastern Christians are harbingers of our own tragedies here in the West, that their descent into hell is our own as well, and that in saving them we also save ourselves.

But be careful not to misread the fight! The beheadings of the Copts in Libya certainly targeted the Christians of Egypt but it also targeted-- in my opinion it especially targeted-- the Egyptian model of Christian-Muslim coexistence which is certainly not perfect but remains the only bulwark against the radical, "monolithic" societies based on terror that are on offer for us. Moreover, by declaring seven days of national mourning to honor the 21 Egyptian Coptic martyrs, Egyptian President al-Sisi perfectly understood the message and has given the correct response. It is perhaps one of the few times that the Copts of Egypt, despite being one of the historical and original components of that nation, have felt themselves honored by their state as citizens.

At the heart of the current dramas in the Arab world, there is certainly a great trial for Middle Eastern Christians. But they are only the symbol of the oak that some are seeking to cut down. The confrontation aims to establish "radically monolithic" societies on the ruins of societies tolerant of diversity. Yes, the Eastern Question is, cruelly and at full speed, catching up with the West which has long kept it at a distance, focusing its energies and political interests elsewhere. At a time when France is wondering about the dialogue with Islam in France, it has become obvious that the pressing issue of what is happening in the Middle East is in the foreground for us as well, here and now. The urgent need, then, for France, for the West in general, and also for Russia would be to resolve on a just basis the nagging problems of the Middle East that feed every radicalism. Then, it is appropriate to actively contribute to the emergence of a new Arab political order, with truly democratic nation-states that respect fundamental rights, rather than to support various local and region powers that are not working in this direction-- in fact, just the opposite.

Only a single form of citizenship with equal rights and responsibilities for all, is the best antidote to the exploitation of religion by politics and vice versa, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere. Only a secularism contextualized within the lived reality of the Arab world is capable-- much more than the military action of all the armies of the world-- of combating religious radicalism and protecting the coexistence of all the elements of the diverse societies of the Middle East. It is clear that the emergency of the Middle East has become our emergency! Let us bring, then, the right responses!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

David Bertaina Reviews The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700-1700

UPDATE: Also, if you read Russian, a more scholarly review by Yulia Petrova has just come out in the Ukrainian journal Східний Світ / The World of the Orient. It can be read here.

The Winter 2015 issue of Sophia, the quarterly journal of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton, features, among other articles of interest, a review by David Bertaina, Associate Professor of Comparative Religions in the History Department of the University of Illinois at Springfield, of The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700-1700: An Anthology of Sources

The entire review can be read in pdf here.


The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700-1700

By David Bertaina, PhD

The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700-1700: An Anthology of Sources. Edited by Samuel Noble and Alexander Treiger. Northern Illinois University Press, 2014. 375 Pages. $35.

The fourth century was an age of conflict between the Nicene faith (which we profess each Sunday at liturgy) and the heresy of Arianism (the belief that Jesus was a lesser deity separate from God). At one point, the Roman Emperor Valens even tried to force his citizens to follow him into Arianism. In response to his coercion, the Roman ally and Arab queen Mavia rebelled against his policies, successfully receiving an orthodox Arab monk named Moses as bishop of her people. Christian Arabic poetry even commemorated this triumph, according the fifth-century Church historian Sozomen. 

Stories such as this one remind us that Arab Christianity is an ancient faith, stretching back millennia into Roman times. With this in mind, The Orthodox Church in the Arab World should be recognized as one of the most important resources published for English-speaking Melkites in recent years. The book reminds its readers that Arab Christians have remained standard bearers for Christianity and contributed to the cultural vibrancy of the Middle East in the midst of Islam. Indeed, the book reminds Melkites about the historical origins and development of their identity.

The Orthodox Church in the Arab World is aimed at non-specialists, including those interested in the history of Christianity and those seeking to increase their faith. It introduces non-Arabic speakers to the biblical studies, theology, lives of the saints, historical writings, poetry, and inter-religious writings of Arab Christians from 700-1700. In other words, it covers Arabic-speaking Christians in the Levant from the rise of Islam until the split of the Church into the Antiochian Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholic Churches.

The introduction to the book, a real gem thanks to the editors, Samuel Noble and Alexander Treiger, provides a concise historical survey of Arab Christianity from its origins to the eighteenth century. They address its origins before the rise of Islam, its significance related to Muhammad, Christian responses to the Muslim conquest, life under the Umayyads in Damascus (661-750), the height of Christian Arabic literature under the Abbasids (750-1258), Arab Christians during the Byzantine reconquest of Antioch, relations with Crusaders, Mongols, and Mamluks, and finally the situation in relation to the Ottomans.


History is one of the most profitable ways of understanding Melkite identity. It enables us to imagine a world greater than the one we presently experience and to empathize with the peoples who have walked the same earth and contributed to its present state. The introductions to each chapter and the quality translations in this book provide moments of entertainment, suspense, historical insight, and a reason to believe in the faith that has been preserved and shared by Arab Christians.

I strongly recommend The Orthodox Church in the Arab World as a way to learn more the Melkite Church, its history, its identity, and what that means for us today. The Orthodox Church in the Arab World is a treasure to be read and shared widely.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Met Georges Khodr on Being Arab

Arabic original here.

Arabity and Islam

I feel myself to be from this Middle East that existed before the Arabs and extends to them. The Middle East was arabized in the conquest, but only partially. It was the Middle East of Christ before the Arab Conquest and remained so to a great extent because the Muslims are also Middle Easterners in the broad sense of the term. They did not come from the Peninsula. The Peninsula is one of our branches, but before that we are from Syria [Bilad al-Sham], which includes Mount Lebanon. Without making things complicated, we are Syrian [min al-Sham] in origin and Arab by adoption and adoption, in the law of the people of this country, is like sonship. These words pertain to culture and sensibility, not to politics.

There should be no division over these words because they do not imply a political choice. This is what we are of. You speak Arabic, and there is no sense in searching for the essence of Arabity. It is a nationality and nationalities do not have essences. The longstanding debate over our arabity or the extent of our arabity is a pointless debate for me, so long as we have been the pioneers of Arabic language and literature and lovers of all its nations. Do you want something stronger than love in order for us to become Arabs?

Any discussion of our Arabity and its extent is a sterile discussion while we are in it. Does a person define his own place? Of course we are Arabs if we consider ourselves to be concerned with the cultural fate of this nation and sympathetic to the Arabs in determining this fate. Arabness, in its cultural and cooperative sense is first and foremost a choice made today and not research into the distant past. I am one with the Arab peoples around me because, like them, I seek the Arab's freedom and their say in international affairs. I am one with them in my Lebanese, Syrian or Palestinian individuality. I am not an Arab in the sense that I consider myself to be the same as an Iraqi or Hejazi. With them I am an Arab because they are with me and because I want them with me in establishing the right of all Arabs  to dignity. Our Arabness is no longer so much a sort of poetic nationalism as it is the commitment of our peoples to their right to life and cultural production.

From this perspective, our arabity is no longer the dissolution of its parts into a dream. It is the realization of its parts in cultural production. From this perspective, arabity is not separate from Lebanese consciousness, since the former does not permit the latter to see itself as separate from it, just as it does not permit it to eliminate itself in order to confirm Arabness.

Arabity is part of world civilization. In this precise sense it is called a culture-- that is, a belonging. This is fundamental to establishing a person's personality. It is something complete, if you understand it as tied to the cultural whole. Nothing in the world is complete unless it is organically tied to other people. However, ties are not the same thing as dissolution.

Therefore there is no room to doubt that we exist on the one hand in ourselves and on the other hand through our participation. Thus there is no dissolving into an arabity that gives no value to the local cultures within it and there is also no arabity that does not have a vision of its own unity-- that is, the unity of its destiny. The world enriched it with diversity, that is, with encounter, and an encounter is not a clash.

I am free to include in my arabity feelings or sentiments unknown to Arabs outside of Syria, as Syria gave arabity something nothing else has given it. Perhaps this was because it is older than the civilization of the Arabs that came to it through conquest. I have always felt that we gave the countries of the Arabs what they had not recieved from the Arabs of the peninsula. Arabity is not what languished in the peninsula after Islam but rather what it extended to the world. Therefore if we speak comprehensively about Arab civilization, we mean that which grew great in Syria and from which others were nourished. Islam itself only attained its cultural extent when it left the peninsula. Arabity, by its nature, is that which extends like the Bedouin. Arabity was only known through Islam, in its leaving the peninsula.

It had not been known in all its senses except as the people of my country adopted it and gave it its Byzantine sense. Arabity became civilized. That is, the cities in Syria became part of it. When it was in the desert, it was not civilized. What has been called the "Arab conquest" in the expansion of language was a Syrian conquest, then an Iraqi one. Arabity appeared in the Arabian Peninsula, then developed in Syria. Everything else is an image borrowed from Syria.

I was sad when I read that Arabs only make up one sixth of all Muslims, but the Muslims of our country are intellectually the heart of Islam. However, there is an overlap and interaction between Islam and arabity that is clear in intellectual life. This was our historical path until God opened other doors to us.

Arabity is a culturally Islamic concept that can be secularized. That is not what I am trying to do. I am happy for the reality of Arabity and the reality of Islam to be closely tied. Historically, this is clear-- and i say this as a committed Christian, signing on to this path in freedom and love. I, a Christian, go down every byway while remaining faithful to how I was raised. Religion moves and flows. Why should we want to limit it within a cultural template?

We in this country know all the byways of Middle Eastern history and move within them, and each one of us remains subject to his religious choice, if we want to be honest. However, religious choice does not impede cultural diversity, all within arabity. Within it, you can be  a strongly-believing Christian, all while loving Muslims and if you do not, then your Christianity is in vain.

We know these things very well, we who are committed to the Christian faith in its Middle-Eastern aspect, because we have kept company with Islam and with Muslims. At the very least, we have come to know that they are our destiny and that we are their destiny. In the best case, we have seen that we love them and that they love us. We, the followers of the Nazarene, have understood that love is all of existence.

You, a deeply-believing Christian, love the Muslims because you see them with you in the city, in the street, in language and also, at a higher level, because you have come to know Islam and that there is something to love in it.