Friday, October 23, 2015

as-Safir Interviews Met Georges Khodr

Arabic original here.

Metropolitan Khodr: Who Said the President Should be Maronite?

by Gracia Bitar al-Rustum

The "kingdom" of Georges Khodr is not of this world. True, the nonagenarian theologian watches over the affairs and concerns of 94 villages throughout Mount Lebanon, but in reality "He is not here. You seek him and he is not here."

These words from the Holy Gospel come quickly to mind in the presence of the Greek Orthodox metropolitan of Mount Lebanon, Georges Khodr. He erects a sturdy barrier against a barrage of questions related, whether closely or indirectly, to the crisis of Lebanon and its neighbors. "I only have time to read and to follow the affairs of my diocese," says Bishop Khodr. Does this mean that the rumors about dividing the diocese are out of the question? He responds firmly and somewhat sharply: "This is a lie. There is no basis whatsoever for this talk. The whole of Lebanon is just a small spot on the map of the world and they are talking about dividing the diocese!" He continues, removing more of the cloud around what is being said: "None of the assistants takes the place of the bishop who manages everything to leave the little details to the assistants." He stresses that "There is no arrogance in our church between the bishop and the flock."

"God's beloved", as the Orthodox call him, of whom it is said that he "writes theology as poetry" brings to mind the Apostle Paul who said, "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God." He seems haunted by this idea. "There is no joking in that moment before the Almighty and we must prepare the way well." Icons are not in their material but "in the one that they recall."

As "the old bishop" understands it, talking about politics is "a slip-up". He is content to pray for "a miracle from God" so that the general paralysis besetting the country will come to an end. He advances a brief sentence and the merits of its eloquence is clear: "The dangers threatening Christians in the Middle East threaten all inhabitants of this region without exception. As for the presidential crisis in Lebanon, who said the president should be Maronite? The important thing is that he be Lebanese and look to the poor in this country."

Bishop Khodr affects not to comment on the confusion that accompanied the Russian Church's statement about "holy war" in Syria, but he states that "according to Christian principle, there is no such thing as what might be called holy jihad."

Bishop Khodr is silent for a while after we set politics aside. He folds his hands together and states, "In my life, I have not read any book more important than the Gospel." "Love one another as I have loved you" is the passage in the book that is closest to his heart. He sees in beauty "the agreement of lines in man, animals and inanimate objects." He describes the nation as "feeling for a particular land and its people." As for betrayal, it is "the loss of love" and treachery is "the elimination of love." Love, in his view, is God "not explained, but lived."  He realizes that some will not accept what he says about woman, but he says in all the frankness of a clergyman, "she is the perfect being. Man's partner and perfecter in life, the locus of his love."

He looks back with his clear blue eyes at his over ninety years (he was born in 1923) to see "a life lived for love. Years and days are given to us to love others. In response to those who hate us, we have no other way to deter them except by returning them even more kindness. Love alone heals." He does not regret anything in his life. "I suppose I made my own choices consciously."

His entry into theology came through "getting to know my religion through study. This led me to go from knowledge of the Christian faith to striving to serve this faith completely through the priesthood." He studied law at the Université Saint-Joseph before fully engaging in the world of the priesthood, for which he studied in Paris at the Institut Saint-Serge.

Bishop Khodr is reserved about his own stories. He responds in French that they are "a secret". But he states that he has not experienced a love story like any ordinary man. At that time, he enjoyed the songs of Umm Kulthum and the Rahbani brothers, but memory no longer serves him to recall some things. He regularly visits his hometown of Tripoli every weekend, in addition to visiting the villages of his flock throughout the week.

Since 1914, the Orthodox Church has sent its clergy to study in Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Istanbul. He rejects the idea that the majority of them are being sent to Greece specifically. He does not believe that the Greek nationality of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who is selling off lands belonging to the indigenous Christians, is what is causing him to do this, but rather "human lusts." In his opinion, "The issue is not about nationalism so much as about the Patriarch being of his people's nationality and that he dedicate himself to serving the Word."

Bishop Khodr's presence is raucous in its calmness. Who were you influenced by in your life? He responds, "I was not influenced by anyone." Isn't that narcissistic? He comments, "That's an accusation. But I don't feel this in my view of myself. I am a Christian and so I don't worship myself. So who is Georges Khodr? Nobody." Bishop Khodr eats very little. He reads a great deal from the Church Fathers, from Chrysostom to Gregory the Theologian, Basil the Great, and Maximus the Confessor as well as contemporary Orthodox such as Bulgakov, Vladimir Lossky and others. But he does not currently have any book coming out. He once wrote that although he was born in July, it is not a birthday since "a person's feast is his death. We celebrate the saints on the day of their death. That is, the day that their witness to Christ is manifest."

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