Monday, August 17, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: "Behold the Maidservant of the Lord"

Arabic original here.

"Behold the Maidservant of the Lord"

 There is a fundamental difference between the account of the annunciation to Mary in the Gospels and the annunciation to her in the Qur'an. The holy apostle Luke closes his account of the annunciation by the angel Gabriel to Mary with her accepting to give birth to Jesus, the Lord, the "Son of the Most High". When Mary heard God's call to her, she did not hesitate for even a single moment, but rather accepted this divine calling and said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord, may it be for me as you say" (Luke 1:38). Mary's response is not forced. It springs from responsible human freedom. Mary's freedom is safeguarded even before the power of the Most High. Instead of requiring her to give birth to Christ, God respected her freedom which He Himself gave her. God waited for Mary to say yes and it was within her power to say no, but she said yes. Her begins Mary's story with holiness.

As for Surat Maryam, it does not mention the response to the angel when he brought her tidings of "a son most pure" from God. Before Mary who wondered "How can I have a son when no man has touched me nor am I an adulteress?" the angel could find nothing else to say to her but "Thus did your Lord speak: 'It is a matter easy for Me. We shall make him a wonder to mankind and a mercy from Us - a decree ordained'" (Surat Maryam 19-21). Mary's response is missing and God's response is present in force: "a decree ordained" meaning "Jesus' creation was a decree foreordained in eternity and in the knowledge of God, may He be exalted," according to one exegete.

Here lies the fundamental difference between the view of the Gospel and the view of the Qur'an toward the figure of Mary and her free will in accepting and rejecting God's words to her. Where the Qur'an is silent about Mary's response, the Gospel considers Mary's response as something that deserves being mentioned because it is a central response that expresses Mary's obedience and her acceptance, in the fullness of her will and her freedom, to carry out God's will. At the same time, Mary's response expresses God's respect for His creatures and his not compelling them to do something that they do not want to commit to doing.

Therefore, patristic tradition interprets the verse from the Bible that says "God created man in His image and likeness" (Genesis 1:26) such that what is meant by "image" is not corporeal image, but rather the freedom that distinguishes man from all the other creatures. In His exceedingly great love for humankind, God gave man His image-- that is, His freedom. The proof of God's love for man was nothing other than this supreme freedom. However, with this very freedom man chose to depart from God, who is the highest good, and fell into evil. God did not seize this freedom from humankind after their fall, despite their sins, because He remains faithful to the way in which He created them. Ever since He established the human race on earth, He has remained faithful to the freedom that He gave them.

The freedom of Adam and Eve, who symbolize every human being, brought man into perdition, because it deviated from the love that God desired there to be between humans. Freedom came to mean someone doing what he desires and what seems good to him, imagining that he can put himself in God's place. Is this not precisely the temptation that the serpent, the symbol of evil, used when it said to Eve, "On the day that you eat [from the tree] your eyes will open and you will become like gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5)?

Mary, the New Eve, came to return freedom to its proper path. In place of Eve who in her disobedience to God wanted to be a god, Mary said, "I am the maidservant of God" and obeyed God's word. The irony lies in the fall of the one who wanted to be a god and the elevation to heaven of the one who affirmed that she is "the maidservant of the Lord". The first eve was in paradise and fell. She was not protected by the fact that she was in paradise. Mary, however, was in the world and the fact that she was in the world did not prevent her from preserving herself from its stain. Thus we see that Mary's reply in nothing other than a direct response to Eve's answer to the serpent. For this reason, it is fundamental that Mary was free, just as Eve was free. Just as the first Eve's freedom led to her fall, the second's freedom led to life.

Mary's response, "Behold, the maidservant of the Lord, may it be for me as you say," is what made Mary's identity. Mary's response is Mary herself.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Met Georges Khodr on the Intercession of the Saints

Arabic original here.


Traditional Christians, that is Orthodox and Catholics, do not make Mary into a god. This is a false accusation without any historical basis. No one has equated her with Christ. He is the sole mediator between God and man and it is through Him that salvation is realized. If we say that she is an intercessor, we do not attach any meaning to this beyond that she prays for us. There is nothing in our belief that detracts from the fact that we believe that Christ alone mediates salvation. Our belief that Christ alone is the savior of the world does not detract from our belief that those whom God has glorified stand praying in His presence.

We have never said that the saints work salvation. They received it, just like everyone, and have added nothing to it. Mary saw herself as nothing other than the servant of the Lord. Do those who reject our calling upon the saints for intercession really think that we are lacking in our faith that we are detracting from our faith that the Lord Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man? Is it true that those who do not seek the intercession of the saints love the Lord Jesus more? It is clear in our actual practices that our valuing the saints does not detract from Christ.

When we seek the intercession of the saints, we mean that we speak to them as the living speak to one another because everyone in the Church prays for each other, whether they remain in this world or have reached the kingdom. Those who die have passed through death into life, on account of the Savior's resurrection. Mary has passed through death into heaven before the general resurrection.

We speak to Mary because she has passed through death. The fact that we speak to the saints is based on the fact that they are alive with God on account of the Savior's resurrection. It is true that you call upon Christ, but it is also true that you call upon those who loved Him because they are alive in Him. This in no way diminishes the fact that He is unique. For those who love Him, they add nothing to Him. In our calling upon them, we confess that they are with Him.

There is no one in the churches of tradition-- I mean that Orthodox and the Catholics-- who has ever said that the saints add something to Christ. We say that they are with Christ and therefore we speak to them. You do not love Him in isolation from His companions and if you love them, you do not make them equal to Him. If you understand that the saints do not add anything to Christ and that they are in His company, then you have no excuse for lecturing us about them.

What do you have against us if we love Him and we love them together? Who has examined what we say about Mary and can claim that we make her into a god? What do we say about her that makes her into a god? The beautiful words about her are a form of poetry. They in no way imply that we raise her above the station of humans. We say to you that we love her because she loved Jesus. Do you have an objection to this?

I do not know where the myth that we make Mary into a god comes from. This is either said out of ignorance or by the the slander of liars. No one has ever made Mary into  a god. She remains a creature when we say that she is the greatest of creatures.

Orthodox Church in Mhardeh Shelled during Liturgy; No Injuries

From the parish Facebook page of the Church of Sts Joachim and Anna in Mhardeh, here (follow the link for pictures).

One hour ago [i.e, around 11:30 AM local time], the Church of Saints Joachim and Anna in Mhardeh was subjected to rocket fire during the Divine Liturgy for the Feast of the Dormition, causing moderate material damage without there ultimately being any injuries among those praying there. Thanks be to the Virgin, the Protectress of Mhardeh, and may all be well.

UPDATE: The Syrian rebel group "Ajnad al-Sham" has declared its intent to attack the Orthodox towns of Mhardeh and Suqlabiya to avenge prisoners held in the Syrian government's Central Hama Prison.

Translation: "We likewise declare the cities of Mhardeh and Suqlabiya to be military zones and we will target both cities with various weapons and heavy artillery"

 Translation: "[pictures of] preparing to target shabiha militas in Mhardeh."

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Antioch Officially Responds to Jerusalem's Statement

This is the official English version, from here.

A statement from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East

DAMASCUS, 8 August, 2015

The Patriarchate of Jerusalem recently issued a statement claiming that it pretends to «tell the truth with honesty,» regarding its aggression toward the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch and regarding establishing an Archdiocese in Qatar under its jurisdiction. The Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East asserts first of all that it keeps itself above public media debates. However, the Patriarchate now considers itself obliged to clarify certain points regarding the above-mentioned statement in order "to tell the truth with honesty."

1-Partictial conditions did not allow the Church of Antioch to be present in Qatar during the period of time in question. This does not mean that the Church of Antioch is a newly established Church in "Arabia." Suffice it to note that the Church of Antioch has been ministering to the Christians in that region since the dawn of Christianity. In the modern era, the actual presence of Antioch was gradually strengthened in that region. On 1953, the church of Antioch had an Archdiocese there. The Church of Antioch historically and in the present time has an Archdiocese which encompasses the entire region, and is led by a Metropolitan who lives in its midst, and ministers to the Orthodox Christian people of various nationalities. A number of successive Metropolitans have been ministering to this Archdiocese up to this day. Thus, the question must be asked: Why didn’t the Patriarchate of Jerusalem ever object to the presence of Antioch, if it believes that it has ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Qatar?

2) The Patriarchate of Antioch is saddened and dismayed by the fact that the Patriarchate of Jerusalem is at such a loss in its approach to this crisis. Jerusalem has created a crisis. Furthermore, the Patriarchate denounces the fact the Patriarchate of Jerusalem misleads the faithful, as though to appear a battered victim.  In fact, Jerusalem persists in its aggression, quoting an administrative memorandum issued by the Patriarchate of Antioch, and attributing words to the Patriarch of Antioch which he never said at any time, and will never say in the future. Therefore, in order to prevent any confusion, the Patriarchate of Antioch reiterates the fact that it ministers to the faithful who live within the historical and canonical jurisdiction set forth in the Sacred Canons. Currently, the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch does not now include Egypt, Jordan and Jerusalem. Furthermore, the Patriarchate of Antioch points out that some are maliciously mischaracterizing our outstanding relation with the Patriarchate of Alexandria. The Patriarchate of Alexandria ministers to a large number of Antiochian believers, residing in various countries within the African continent.

3) The Patriarchate of Antioch avoids controversial manners of speaking, and draws attention to two important points:

A – To accuse the Patriarchate of Antioch of ethnocentricity is certainly untruthful and disingenuous. The Patriarchate of Antioch simply says to all peoples: "Come and see." This assertion testifies to the openness of the Antiochian Church, and to the equality among its believers, and the diversity that characterizes the Antiochian ministry throughout world.

B- The Patriarchate of Antioch has been accused, among other allegations, that it has renounced “the agreement of Athens.” The Patriarchate of Jerusalem has called "the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs” to witness to this fact.  In Response to this, the Patriarchate of Antioch asks for the permission of the most holy Father the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to quote his Protocol No. 943 dated November 12, 2013. The ecumenical patriarch himself is a guarantor in explaining everything:

“As Your Beatitude, kyr kyr John, has come to realize and assess, we, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in our Mediocrity, have issued many repeated attempts to address the problem at hand.  This problem has arisen suddenly and without warning—so we have made many appeals to our brother, His Beatitude, kyr Theophilos, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, in the following vein: that he not continue on any further in his action to ordain the one whom they call archbishop-elect…

Unfortunately, Your Beatitude, contrary to all the counsels of the Ecumenical Patriarchate which are fraternal and sought after, and for the sake of the common pan-Orthodox good, and the sacred tradition of the Church, and even against Your own personal appeals, the patriarchate of Jerusalem has gone forward in ordaining and establishing the archbishop in question…”

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: Inside and Outside the Boat

Arabic original here.

Inside and Outside the Boat

Today's Gospel reading gives us an image of our constant relationship to the Savior. The storm in Lake Tiberias is like the storm in every place, the storm of life. In our life, the Lord walks on water. That is, He transcends our difficulties, dispels from us the nightmare of evil and causes us to be saved in the boat of the Holy Church, which crosses this life alive in our Lord who dwells within her.

We may wonder why Jesus caused his disciples to head across the lake. Is it perhaps because He wanted to test their faith the next day or that night, during the last watch? Is it perhaps because He wanted to receive them into the secret of His divinity or because He needed this prayer that He made during the night with the Father in order to receive into His humanity all the power from His father? Or is it perhaps because He longed for this conversation with God?

After praying intensely on the hills of Capernaum, He walked on the surface of the water until He reached the disciples' boat. He appeared to them in the fog, when the night had not yet ended. It was as though there was a ghost and they were afraid. If a person is surrounded by the fog of his sins or if the world is blackened in his eyes, he can neither see God as being full of light nor can he see simple things. God must take the initiative and scatter the clouds in the soul and remove all the darkness and mist from our eyes. The Lord Himself is the one who takes the initiative because He is the one who loves.

When Jesus encouraged the disciples saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid,” Peter became excited to go out to the Teacher because he could not stand to wait. He wanted to cleave to the Lord directly and so he said, "Lord, command me to come to you." Peter was an obedient disciple and he did not want to charge out on his own. He wanted to be invited. So the Lord permitted him this.

As long as Peter's gaze was set on the gaze of the Teacher, he walked lightly on the water because he was living through the One who was coming to him. He was strengthened along his way. But when he saw the wind, he started to slip. He had to not see the wind, to transcend every earthly sense that caused him to be bound to the earth, a prisoner of this world. Peter returned to being a prisoner of his troubles. He returned to his doubts and so the world once more appeared overwhelming and powerful. It was only for a few moments that he could see Christ conquering nature, after which he started to sink.

We are all in this state: our lusts and interests dominate us and Christ appears to us like a phantasm-- that is, like He is nothing-- while we claim that we are Christians and have this written on paper. But everything we say and do and the basis for our behavior demonstrates that Christ has not become real in our hearts, that He is still a phantasm. 

However, if we are able to walk on water in Jesus' gentle breeze-- that is, if we overcome the storm and separate ourselves from people's concerns and we cease being captive to anyone, if we submit to the Lord, then He extends His hand to us and keeps us before His face. He brings us into the boat, into the Church of salvation, where we all say to Him, "You are the Son of God." That is, "You are the only king we desire as Lord over hearts that are purified and wills that are strengthened."

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Met Georges Khodr on Hope

Arabic original here.


God does not force Himself on you. He wants you to desire salvation. The salvation that you hope for is perfect in God, He gives it to you perfect and you accept it. If you accept it, this is faith. Faith is defined as you knowing that God is a shelter for you, that He is your place of safety in that you have no existence outside of Him. This is the mystery, that you subsist in God, that He is the space in which you exist. He is only the space in which you exist-- you are not Him even though you are within Him. All this can only be understood in love. Your being in God also means that you are moving toward Him, because all of our relationship to Him is motion. People of love understand these words because they have been liberated from spacial limitation.

Our existence in God is our motion movement towards Him and movement towards Him is also from Him. This movement is the hope that the Lord places within us, if He so wills. We hope. That is, we are going towards what we hope, because God is coming. He has not only come and his arrival has ended. He is constantly coming. You see Him in every glimpse of Him. You see Him anew. God remains fixed in the sense that He is true to Himself. That is, He never reduces what He gives you, since He never gives you less than Himself. He is the same "yesterday, today and forever". If you hope, you know that what you hope for is in your possession and is with you.

You hope for God. That is, you seek what comes from Him every day because you know that He is faithful to Himself and that He gives you what is in His possession-- that is, everything. Hope is for what will come, but in the God who is coming it has come. That is, you ask for continued divine giving. If faith is precisely resting fixed in God, then hope is what you await of the Lord's constant gifts. The true meaning of your hoping is that you are in motion towards what has come to you because what the Lord gives you has been, is and shall be. We are truly with God, not toward what is coming, but toward that which does not change. We are constantly with God.

Hope is not you waiting for a tomorrow that is better than what came to you yesterday. Hope is true faith in the persistence of divine giving and that that which He gives is the same as what He gave yesterday. You hope because you will have tomorrow what you had yesterday because your Lord is the same and He is one in giving.

When we talk about hope, we are not talking about something we have not known, since God is one with Himself. We want the Lord to be Himself with us, and not to add anything to this. Truly and profoundly, then, hope and faith are one. It is nothing but faith, in the sense that you only hope for what you believe in. That is, you only hope for what exists.

The opposite of hope is acquiescence to that which is mutable. You know that God has not only come, but He is forever coming and He shall come as Himself. That is, in love. You do not believe that tomorrow is better than yesterday. You believe that the divine Always accompanies you and causes you to be in agreement with Him and accompany Him. Hope is trust that God is in agreement with Himself because time does not change Him and he accompanies you over your changes.

Hope is not the conviction that tomorrow and the changes that it will bring is better than today. Rather, it means that God in His love is one with Himself today and tomorrow. From this perspective, hope is nothing other than faith. Because He is God, He give you today what He gave you yesterday. You believe one thing, that God is faithful to Himself. From this angle, it is possible to say that hope is the same as faith.