Saturday, April 30, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh: Syrians and the Joy of the Resurrection

Arabic original here.

Syrians and the Joy of the Resurrection

"Christ is risen, my joy." This expression never left Saint Seraphim of Sarov. It was his only greeting for the people he would meet day and night.

"Christ is risen, my joy." Where did Seraphim's joy come from? From the hope that Christ's resurrection was meaningless unless its purpose was the resurrection of all people. He was immersed in joy because he realized that he was risen, without a doubt, not only on the last day but from right now. " 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" (John 11:25-26).

"Christ is risen, my joy" is our only weapon in the face of oppressors. "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They have bowed down and fallen; But we shall have risen and stand upright" (Psalm 20:7-8). Yes, some trust in airplanes, tanks, missiles, machetes and knives... but we shall rise and stand upright. 

We do not know what kind of weapon Cain used to kill his brother Abel. Whatever kind it was, it was ineffective. Abel's blood continued to cry out from the earth. His blood remained alive, crying out. Since Abel, blood has never ceased being shed. But all the murdered and murderers have died. Death is just and is not afraid of any human. Even those who slake their thirst with death will be eaten by death.

However, the Lord of Life does not let His saints see corruption. Life cannot coexist with death. He who has abided in  God from today will not be abandoned by God at the moment of death. He will give him life. He will not leave him in hell. Rather, the death of a righteous person is transport from the earthly hell to eternal joy. These words do not mean that we call for craving death. That is a sin. We must love life and work for the reign of peace, love, gentleness and kindness. However, not remembering death is the beginning of falling into sin and transgression. For someone to think that he is eternal on this earth is shirk [i.e., believing that not-God is God] itself.

"Christ is risen, my joy," we say to all who are tormented on the earth and especially to all Syrians, even if this expression is hard on their ears. What does it mean for us to say these words to those who want salvation from the evil surrounding them from every direction? How do we say this to those who want an imminent salvation, a loaf of bread for their children, a roof to shelter them and their family? In reality, we cannot say these words if we do not love them, honor them, and strive to meet their needs-- that is, to bear their cross, the cross of joy that leads to the resurrection.

Syrians are called to hold firm to hope. Despair is a death that is even more bitter than bodily death. Nothing angers the Adversary more than to see those under attack standing courageous, holding to their principles, clinging to hope, unbowed. There is nothing that angers him more than to see them rising from the dead before they die.

"Christ is risen, my joy." The greeting of Seraphim of Sarov is, without a doubt, the greeting of the bishops of Aleppo, Boulos Yazigi and Yuhanna Ibrahim. They are crying out, wherever they are, along with the Holy Apostle Paul, to all Syrians, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand" (Philippians 4:4). 

No one will snatch this joy away from us. Whether we are in this world or the next, our mark is joy. And by their sign you will know them. Christ is risen, my joy. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Met Georges Khodr: The Cross

Arabic original here.

The Cross

For us, victory in the name of religion is a heresy because the Christian is victorious if they strike him unjustly and he is never victorious if he is the one who strikes. If he strives for freedom, it is not only to liberate himself, but in order to liberate his oppressor as well. He does not liberate himself from those who assault him unless he also liberates them as well. He does not seek to be crucified. Seeking out suffering is not a part of our religion. Liberation from suffering is at the heart of our religion. It is an error to say that we welcome suffering. We only welcome patience in it. For this reason, we have many prayers for the sick. We do not thank God for having permitted illness. We give thanks when He heals it. We are not the ones who said that Christianity is the religion of the sick, the insane, the broken. That is an accusation from Nietzsche. We are a religion of well-being, inasmuch as our religion is fundamentally the religion of the resurrection.

You do not have to seek out suffering. It will seek you out. Proof of this is that Christians were the first to establish hospitals and that the Church established prayer for the sick as one of the cornerstones of worship, with its own night during Holy Week. It is clear in the Gospel that one of the chief tasks of Jesus of Nazareth was that He healed the sick. If you want to give a true definition of the Nazarene, say that He is a teacher and healer of the sick. The great focus on the cross among us is not that it is the site of suffering, but that healing begins there. All those who have taught that we enjoy suffering are wrong. Our true teaching is that our enjoyment is in liberation from suffering.

When I was a boy, I hated it when women would wear the cross openly on their chests. Why this display, when the cross is a sign of Christ's hiddenness? This was not an easy question for me, as the son of a jeweler, someone who made his living from selling jewelry to women, to those who were honorable and to those who were immodest. Women required gold, then, in my childhood. And after childhood, I realized that it was the woman who was showing off and that jewelry is secondary for men.

What does the cross mean, apart from that one must die before he can live? Why was there this focus in Western Christianity on the cross and not on the resurrection? This is the reality of Christians in the West-- I did not say that it is the thinking of their church. I know very well that there is no neglect of the resurrection in Western Christianity. Nevertheless, on a popular level the Western Christian's prevailing concern is with the Lord's defeatedness, even though this is absent from dogma and liturgy. Perhaps this came from people taking pleasure in their suffering, thinking that it was God's having mercy on them. I have absolutely no issue with Catholic services in this regard. They are all pure. My issue is with the masses that love suffering. Perhaps many feel that they will acquire piety through their pain.

Of course, we do not look to make ourselves suffer. That is a sick pleasure. But we must remember that suffering exists and that you cannot flee from it. You do not bear it if it doesn't exist. I know that it is always in your being and resting within you. There is absolutely no distinction between the Christian churches with regard to suffering. No church loves it, even if some take pleasure in their suffering, believing that it will necessarily bring them closer to Christ. It is right to say that I will die in the religion of the cross, if through this death I strive for resurrection.