Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh on the Martyrdom of Fr Jacques Hamel

Arabic original here.

The Priest Slaughtered at his Last Supper

The slaughter of the Catholic priest Father Jacques Hamel (aged 84) yesterday reminds me of the martyrdom of one of the great fathers of the Church, Polycarp of Smyrna in the year 154, who was martyred at the age of 86. Yes, what caused me to compare the two events was the similar ages of the two martyrs. Likewise, his French nationality reminds me of the martyrdom of a friend of mine, Father Christian Chessel, an engineer in his thirties who was sent to Algeria by the White Fathers to work at a social center and was killed by one of the extremist Islamist groups along with three companions in 1994.

There is an account of the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp written by an eyewitness from among the believers in Smyrna in which the writer of the account compares Polycarp's martyrdom to Christ's passion and crucifixion, saying "It was Friday and the hour for the supper had drawn near... He could have fled... but he did not want to. Rather, he said, 'may God's will be done.'" Father Jacques Hamel was at the Lord's Supper (the Mass), his last supper and no doubt the last thing he said before being slaughtered was "may the Lord's will be done." But is it true that it is the Lord's will that the servant of His temple be slaughtered? The Lord's will is that man may live, not that he die. Death is alien to human nature and everything that is alien is not of God. It is not necessary, then, that the Lord's will be achieved in human time.

After seizing Polycarp and leading him to the place where he would be executed, one of his persecutors asked him to renounce his faith and curse Christ. He responded with a deep sigh, gesturing to the crowds and looking to heaven, "I have spent eighty-six years in the service of Christ and He has never hurt me. So how can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?" Jacque Hamel, who spent eighty-four years in the service of Christ, after the model of Polycarp, would not renounce Christ after those long years. He would not hand Him over to be crucified, but rather went to be crucified with Him.

What was the reaction of the crowds? The roar of he crowds went up demanding that he be killed: "This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, the destroyer of our gods!" Here also comes to mind the martyrdom of Saint Joseph of Damascus, Father Yusuf Muhanna al-Haddad, a victim of the sectarian massacres that occurred in Damascus on July 10, 1860. His biography, which was edited by Archimandrite Touma Bitar in his book Forgotten Saints in the Antiochian Heritage, says that one of his killers cried out upon seeing him, "This is the imam of the Christians. If we kill him, we kill with him all the Christians!"

The killers of Saint Polycarp, the killers of Father Joseph of Damascus, the killers of Father Frans van der Lucht (aged 76) who chose Homs as his home and was martyred there in 2014, and the killers of Father Jacques Hamel do not know that they cannot put an end to the Christians if they kill their imam. The Jews thought that by crucifying Christ they would save their people and put an end to His message. Their leader said, "It is better for one to die for the sake of the people," and he was disappointed. Christ's crucifixion did not prevent Christianity from spreading to every part of the inhabited world.

These are the true Christians, those who stay firm in their faith until the end, who offer themselves as a ransom for their loved ones-- that is, for the entire world. These are the true Christians, who do not betray their mission and their principles under any pretext and so resemble Christ, their only Teacher, bearing their cross and following Him, walking in His footsteps on the path to Golgotha. They are buried with Him and shall rise with Him. The time of the true martyrs-- the martyrs of peace, love, hope and faith-- has not ended and will not end until the entire world repents before the face of the Almighty.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Poor are Engulfing Lebanon

Arabic original here.

The Poor are Engulfing Lebanon

According to the official statistics, the number of refugees on Lebanese territory is more than 40% of the population and most of them are poor. What should we do? What should the state do? What should the people do?

For our part, we Christians will accept them, willingly or unwillingly.

The Gospel tells us, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." (Matthew 25:40).

I know that we Christians have come to be few in our country of Lebanon, but let us not forget that a little good leaven leavens the whole dough. Do not forget what the Gospel reminds us, "You are the salt of the earth... you are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:13-14).

Middle Eastern Christians in this land that we hold dear constitute a heavenly kingdom that has lasted longer than any earthly kingdom, more than two thousand years, and it shall not go extinct. Over the long years, it has witnessed blessed, peaceful coexistence with other religions, especially with our Muslim brothers. But those who have been forced to leave the homeland are also a good leaven, wherever they abide, east and west.

Our Gospel is our standard. It is our point of reference in the end. It tells us explicitly: "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).

*     *     *     *

I know, beloved, that some will not share my opinion. By in it I rely on the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth and the life.

The Apostle Paul also encourages me when he says, "Love never fails...  And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:8, 13).

Have patience. Have faith. Love. You will receive nothing but good.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and Their Dependencies

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Met Georges Khodr: You Stand where the Fathers Stand in Glory

Arabic original here.

You Stand where the Fathers Stand in Glory

Today we commemorate the fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which was held in Chalcedon in the year 451. The council examined a heresy that had filtered into the Church, claiming that Christ had one nature, a divine nature that eclipsed the human nature. When they gathered together, the fathers, who numbered 630, affirmed the Church's faith in the only-begotten Son of God who is perfect in His divinity and perfect in His humanity, without separation or division, "true God and true man... in one person."

The importance of this commemoration is so that we realize that we are people who have fathers, that we came from the beginning and started out from the Gospel, so therefore our dogma is rooted in the Gospel and in what the fathers wrote and taught about the Gospel. The fathers are people inspired by the Holy Spirit and in this, like the Apostles and the Scriptures, they are a a good vessel that has preserved for us upright dogma. For this reason, we celebrate the fathers who revealed Christianity, demonstrated it, taught it, and died for it. For this reason we are not prepared to compromise dogma.

In his Epistle to Titus, which we read today, the Apostle Paul commands us, "But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless" (Titus 3:9). Dogma was handed down to you from the Apostles. It was handed down to you from the martyrs-- and their blood is not so cheap that you can compromise dogma.

 In today's Gospel reading, we read that the Lord said to His disciples, "You are the light of the world" (John 8:12), similar to when He said, "I am the light of the world." When Christ talks about Himself, He says that He is the light of the Father, that He is the good face of humanity. He tells His loved ones who gathered around Him on the mountain, "You are the light of the world." That is: you have received Me and My light is marked upon your faces; you and I are one. This means first of all that if you have been purified, you are the light of the world. If you have resisted your passions and have abandoned your sins, then you become the light of the world.

But this also means that through Orthodox (upright) dogma, you are the light of the world. You are the light of the world because you believe as the Apostles believed. You are the light of the world because you bear the Gospel. You are the light of the world because you have fathers who in their life were a living Gospel.

Heretics distort the Gospel, as the Apostle Paul also told us today, "Reject a divisive man." That is, leave him, do not go along with him. Reject the heretic because you bear the upright faith that you must proclaim before people. If you love people, proclaim the truth to them until they live from it, until they make it their starting-point. 

But you must have fathers. That is, you must have support. You must be a successor to people who loved and died and because of this gave us good teachings that forever amaze us.

You are the light of the world by this dogma that you have received. With it you confront people and struggle against evil. By it you stand where the fathers stand in glory.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Carol Saba: Deciphering Orthodoxy's Current Conciliar Crisis

This is a slightly expanded version (provided by the author) of an article that will appear in this Thursday's issue in the leading French Protestant magazine, Réforme.

Crete 2016: 
Deciphering Orthodoxy's Current Conciliar Crisis 
And How to Overcome It

All Orthodox had been waiting for the the pan-Orthodox council since the 1960s. Visiting all the Orthodox sees in 1959, Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople explained that the council was not an end in itself, but rather a "common path" so that "the Orthodox may learn to work together." He insisted on the necessity of "having everybody on board." Thus the council should have brought together all 14 autocephalous Orthodox churches who, acting together, constitute and engage the pleroma of Orthodoxy. This long-awaited meeting took place from June 16 to 27, 2016, but what should have been the "gathering of Orthodoxy" was, in the end, merely the representation of an incomplete unity. Certain churches took part. Others abstained for reasons they deem well-founded. The council was not to decide any doctrinal issue, but to affirm Orthodox unity on common issues. In accordance with the established rules, the council could only be held and engage the fullness of the Chruch with the assent and unanimous participation of the 14 Orthodox churches.

Would it be anachronistic here to evoke [French Protestant politician] Michel Rocard, the man of the New Left, who just passed away? Not at all. His requiring truth in action, connecting truth in word to truth in deed, is a spiritual requirement that challenges Orthodox ambivalences and an interpretive framework for understanding the conciliar crisis. "What gives meaning to my life?" the illustrious believing-agnostic constantly asked himself. My friend Laurent Schlumberger recalled this question in his sermon at the Temple, before the national tribute at the Invalides, where those who had buried Rocard politically while he was alive were present. Those representatives of the institutional establishment were completely wrong. The author of Suicide of the West, Suicide of Humanity was completely right. The structural depression in politics attests to this.

As in politics, Crete 2016 reveals worrying gaps within the Church between an institutional "establishment" that is traditional in its approach and disconnected from the real issues, centered on itself an unable to see crises as they are coming, and those "whistleblowers," both clergy and laity, who in truth decipher "the signs of the times" (Matthew 16) and propose significant correctives to the Church's problems. Thus the establishment did not see the conciliar crisis coming, nor did it know how to determine its magnitude or manage its implications. Its official communications trivialized the complaints of the absent churches and constantly repeated untruths. In place of ecclesiastical discernment, an autistic triumphalism took over, as if the slogan were to be "move along, there is nothing to see and nothing to find fault with here." The concern for coming together disappeared, but not the allegations at the meeting against the absent churches, accusing them of every evil and conspiracy!

Several indications already foreshadowed the conciliar crisis. Several warnings had been given very early. The Church of Antioch did so at the synaxis of March 2014, with regard to the conflict with Jerusalem, the progress of the preparatory work, and the Council's conception, organization and manner of making decisions in terms of Orthodox ecclesiology. She noted that relations between the Orthodox churches are relations of communion requiring the accession of each and that unanimity must preside over the convocation of the council, the quorum of holding it, the undertaking of its activities, and the taking of its decisions. "Consensus" (understood by some as a rule of vote by majority) should have been clarified as signifying unanimity, a weapon to be wielded not abusively but responsibly. Mere arithmetic is incompatible with the life of the Church. With the numbers game, everyone loses, since if ten of the fourteen Orthodox churches constituted a relative majority, this was not the case for the churches absent from Crete, which alone accounted for more than half of the world's Orthodox! So it was false what they kept insisting on Crete, that the convocation for the council was valid since the rules for the council required the agreement of all the autocephalous churches but Antioch had not signed the resolutions of the Synaxes of 2014 (Istanbul) and 2016 (Chambésy). Clearly, it would have been wiser to take a couple steps back in order to move forward all together rather than making a misstep forward that will mark the Orthodox world with new fronts/borders and new fractures. The rift is there between those churches that recognize the validity of Crete 2016 and those that reject it.

The historic march towards the council was not a systematic, uninterrupted effort over fifty years. The established preconciliar rule was unanimity, as the communiqué of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Antioch of June 27, 2016 recalls. The preconciliar preparation, which was not always consequential, remained in the hands of insiders, greased for the preconciliar work. Texts redacted in the style of the 1970s were fixed too early, excluding any possibility of change apart from a superficial "refreshing". The old textual ambiguities, particularly in the text "Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World," which was the object of lively debates, blew up in mid-air before and during the debates of Crete 2016. All these texts require a critical re-reading in light of the minutes of Crete 2016, if they are to be published. They are already the object of a systematic critique from the part of several bishops who took part in Crete 2016, who explain why they did not sign certain documents, pointing to their theological and ecclesiological risks. Such is the case with Amfilohije of Montenegro and Irenej of Bachka (Church of Serbia), Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Jeremiah of Gortys and Megalopolis (Church of Greece), Athanasius of Limassol (Church of Cyprus), etc. Another interesting and critical testimony about the conciliar process and its documents is that of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (Ecumenical Patriarchate).

The issue was raised on Crete of systematizing the council, which would meet every five or seven years. This is an innovation with respect to the tradition of the Orthodox Church, something that is not without significant ecclesiological implications. This is not only burdensome and costly; it could also jeopardize the historical rules of autocephaly since no authority, conciliar or otherwise, had jurisdictional primacy in Orthodoxy over the holy synods of the autocephalous churches, which remain sovereign unless there is voluntary adherence to a decision. On the other hand, systematizing the work of the synaxis of primates is not without interest. The Orthodox conciliar crisis has revealed the inability of the fourteen Orthodox churches to resolve their differences together on time, to face the hard questions, and to manage crises. What they are missing is an ordinary, regular structure for internal dialogue, a sort of round table or G8 that would allow for regular exchanges without waiting for super-councils that never manage to meet.

In conclusion, the two parties-- for and against Crete-- are at an impasse. My roadmap for getting out of the crisis? The emergency convocation of an exceptional synaxis of primates around the following agenda:

  1. Enact the principle of shared responsibility for causing the current conciliar crisis and the necessity of a review of the processes that led to this result.
  2. Enact the principle of a coordinated exit from the crisis by way of (a) immediately resolving the disagreement over Qatar in order to reestablish communion between Antioch and Jerusalem, (b) the recognition of a certain legitimacy for Crete and its documents by the churches that were absent, (c) in exchange, the churches that were present on Crete renounce qualifying Crete 2016 as a council, with all its implications in terms of the process of reception.
  3. Review the politics of competition over the past twenty years between the main poles of Orthodoxy in order to replace it with a politics of complimentary, requiring the unanimous cooperation of all autocephalous Orthodox churches.
  4. Reflect on renewing the governance of the Orthodox Church by systematizing the work of the synaxis without transforming it into a super-synod.
I have often mentioned to the press the existence of an "official agenda of the council," but also an agenda of the Holy Spirit. Will the churches know how to join the Holy Spirit's agenda and rise to the level of Christ's seamless garment? Kyrie eleison!

Carol Saba
Paris, July 12, 2016
The Feast of Saint Paisios the Athonite (1924-1994)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh: Worship without Love is Useless

Arabic original here.

Worship without Love is Useless

"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. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24).

Christianity does not accept a duality or multiplicity of gods. There is not a god for every human lust. There is not a good and another of evil. There is not a god of war and another of wine and another of fertility... Nor is Christianity a religion that accepts duplicity of behavior in life according to the needs of worldly life. In Christianity, worshiping God requires you to put your hope nowhere else but in Him.

Worshiping God means that you worship nothing apart from Him. But also, according to the words of the Lord Christ, there are two inseparable commandments that cannot be fulfilled one without the other, and unless they are practiced, this worship is not sound: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

We do not need to be reminded the neighbor is not only our neighbor in the flesh, but every person we encounter in our daily life. Our neighbors are not only those who share our religion, our sect, our nation, our color, our race or our sex... Our neighbor is every person created by God in His image and likeness. The quality of being a neighbor increases the more this person needs us.

Worshiping God, then, first of all requires you to love your fellow man, not only in word but in deed. This means that you prefer nothing over him, not even your money. For this reason Christ indicated that the sole impediment preventing someone from loving his fellow man is his idolatrous attachment to his money. Christ made Himself equal to the needy when He said, "For I was hungry, and you gave Me food... I was a stranger and you took Me in" (cf. Matthew 25:31-46). Truly loving God requires you to love the hungry and the refugee who has no shelter, not only in word or thought, but in deed-- that is, with your money, with everything you possess.

Saint John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 407) said, "Here Christ calls money a lord not because of its own nature, but because of the wretchedness of those who submit to its yoke... How wretched are those condemned from the likes of those who abandon God as their Lord so that they may be painfully ruled by money." In reality, money is not an evil in itself, but it becomes an evil when one treats it as an end, rather than a means to a higher end: the love of man. Money becomes an evil when the love of it becomes stronger than people's love for each other.

At the end of his discourse about money, Jesus says, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). Of this saying, the Blessed Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (d. 435), says, "When Jesus said, 'Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,' He clearly indicated that seeking other things comes after that, not in the sense of seeking them at a later time, but because they are of secondary importance. What we seek first is the Good and what we seek after that is what we need. But seeking what we need comes by way of realizing the Good."

Truly worshiping God requires one to regard money as a trust from God that he spends in the places where it must be spent, for Jesus' beloved ones: the needed, the vulnerable, refugees, those who are tormented... One only owns his money if he spends it. One is owned by money-- and is not its owner-- when he saves it for himself, thinking that it ensures his future and the future of his children and grandchildren... Truly worshiping God requires you to love man first. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Carol Saba: Should We Revisit Athenagoras I to Get Past the Impasse of Crete 2016?

 French original here.

Should We Revisit Athenagoras I to Get Past the Impasse of Crete 2016?

Crete 2016: A leaven of concord or of discord? A sign of Orthodox unity or of fracture? A Step forward or an ecclesiastical impasse?

Carol Saba on Radio Notre Dame with the program "Lumière de l’Orthodoxie" Sunday, July 3, 2016*

The inter-Orthodox meeting of Crete 2016 has just finished. Beyond the intense hype that was deployed on Crete, which was often not without a dose of disinformation and not without misrepresentation of the arguments of the churches that were forced to not be there, the fact remains that, quite obviously, the family photo will remain marked by the indelible stain of unachieved unity. Whether you like it or not, the council that was meant to bring together the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches, turned into a meeting, albeit an important one, of ten of these churches. Four churches, and not the smallest (the Apostolic Church of Antioch and the Russian, Georgian and Bulgarian Churches) were forced to not be there. Their sister Orthodox churches literally turned their back to them and decided to go forward all alone, without them, no matter the cost. Nevertheless, the grievances of those who did not attend, which were valid and justified, only sought to better consolidate Orthodox unity and its manifestation by the fourteen churches that constitute the "togetherness", the pleroma of Orthodoxy. They sought to make sure that the Orthodox world-- already largely under trial-- avoids new fractures and tears such as those that would result from Crete 2016.

It is not a question here of making an initial, critical reading of the Crete meeting, nor of its documents which continue even after the meeting to provoke serious, justified criticisms, even from some of the hierarchs who were on Crete. Nor is it a question of deciphering the juridical and canonical implications of that Crete meeting and the underlying risks that it implies for the unity of the fullness of the Orthodox Church. Nor is it, at this stage, a question of undertaking a defense of the valid and well-founded arguments of the churches that were forced to  not be there, despite the fact that they represent not only Apostolic churches, as is the case with the Church of Antioch, but also churches that represent a great many Orthodox faithful throughout the world, the Russian Church alone representing well more than half of the world's Orthodox. Each of these churches will make its own case through its own authorities and its holy synod. Besides, the Holy Synod of Antioch just released a long and detailed explanatory statement of that church's well-founded position.

There is space simply for warning against the serious risks, present and implied, of a certain totaly inappropriate triumphalism that was manifest on Crete, a triumphalism devoid of the spirit of the Gospel, that does not at all care about the urgent necessity to bring back together what was broken and to restore the full conciliarity of the Orthodox Church-- which can only be that of the fourteen churches-- that was largely on display on Crete. Here I will not cite the hurtful comments of a primate on Crete when he spoke of the four primates of the churches not present there, because we must bring back together what was broken.

Indeed, any Orthodox leader who is conscious of the risks that now threaten Orthodox unity cannot disregard the fractures before, during and after Crete 2016, which are multiplying here and there between the churches because of Crete 2016, which was more a sign of fracture than a leaven of unity, whatever might be said in nice interviews on official lips, hammering home the meeting's slogans.

The first fault line is between those churches that were present on Crete and those that were not there. The second fault line-- which has more serious consequences-- is the one between the churches that will call Crete 2016 a "council" and those that will call it a "meeting." A council, then, at any cost for the ones that want it to be binding, in the name of ten autocephalous Orthodox churches, for the fourteen autocephalous churches! And for the others, a non-binding preconciliar meeting, since they rightly believe that only the unanimity and agreement of the fourteen churches can be binding for the fullness of Orthodoxy. A third fault line, even more dynamic than that, runs through each church that was on Crete, a fault line that is rising into a crescendo and that constitutes an internal opposition within the signatory churches of Crete, openly manifesting its criticism of these documents and their validity.

All these fractures-- which are moving, dynamic and dangerous-- are the unfortunate results of that "bulldozer" logic that, not without tension, sought to move forward at any cost, without hearing or listening to the deep grievances of the sister churches preventing them from being at the conciliar discussions and, for Antioch, at the eucharistic table, a necessary condition for any conciliar discussion, unless for those churches present on Crete eucharistic communion is only a minor detail that does not invalidate the discussions at the summit! It is this logic that sought to go forward without the other brothers that is in question, and is, of course, unfortunate, since obviously the council itself is not the goal, but conciliarity, which today is under attack. Is it true that they "have eyes and do not see, ears and do not hear," in the words of the Prophet Jeremiah?

So how do we get past the ecclesiastical impasse of Crete 2016? My Antiochian charism, which has and will always remain a charism of "gathering together", which goes beyond one or another's analyses and positions, tells me to say that ecclesiastical intelligence means today that those churches that were not on Crete should not question the "legitimacy" of the meeting of ten autocephalous Orthodox churches that met on Crete, but rather to recognize that legitimacy and to treat it in an irenic manner. Likewise, in my opinion, the same considerations of Orthodox unity and ecclesiastical intelligence require the Orthodox churches that met on Crete not to insist on canonically characterizing Crete as a "council," as it no longer is one. This would be because at least one of the autocephalous Orthodox churches, that of Antioch, did not sign the decisions of Chambésy  2016, including the rules for the council, which could only be convoked, according to the very terms of these rules, "with the agreement of all the primates of the autocephalous Orthodox churches." The equation is simple: validity of the council? No. Legitimacy of the summit meeting of the ten churches? Yes! Here there is food for thought for peacemakers on both sides!

Crete 2016: a deep fracture that affects Orthodox unity. But nothing is irreversible. There is still time to get past the impasse and reduce this fracture. In order to do this, it is necessary to escape the triumphalism of one side over another, so that the total fullness of Orthodoxy can win... We must not forget that Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople went to Antioch first, at the beginning of his tour of the local churches in November 1959 to defend the idea of the pan-Orthodox Council. He began his journey in Aleppo, then in the patriarchal cathedral of Antioch in Damascus he addressed that apostolic church and its patriarch, Theodosius of Antioch, saying, "Our Apostolic and Ecumenical See, on the basis of the historical relations that unite it to the See of Antioch, attaches the greatest importance to their common effort to resolve the problems that concern the Orthodox Church and the Christian world in general." (1) We must also not forget that this same Athenagoras repeatedly said, "Acting without Russia, that is schism" and never stopped repeating, "the Greeks, as I have told you, often criticize my love for the Russian people. I love Holy Russia, that Russia which today is secret, but will one day resume her spiritual mission on the stage of history. I love her for her saints, for her theologically deepening Orthodoxy, but especially for her martyrs... This is why we must have the Russian Church with us." (2) So, should we revisit Athenagoras in order to get past the impasse of Crete 2016? If not, a power struggle will begin and everyone will lose-- even the side that thinks it has triumphed!

*In this program, Carol Saba is only speaking in a personal capacity.
(1) Olivier Clément, Dialogues avec le Patriarche ATHENAGORAS. (Paris: Fayard, 1969), p. 542
(2) Ibid. p. 541

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Met Saba (Esber): "Little Churches"

Arabic original here.

Little "Churches"

The family is considered to be the believer's first church. In it, he learns the first steps of faith, piety and virtue. The big church, the parish church, is just a collection of these little churches. To the degree that our home churches are faithful to their life of faith, they will put forward men and women filled with love, zeal and piety and so the Church of God will be strengthened and produce saints and martyrs, zealous workers committed to the fields of God and society.

In the Church, believers experience sharing one faith, which makes them one body-- that is, one family. It is supposed that believers will become acutely and delicately aware of their spiritual closeness and that they will live it, since Christ is given to them in the mystery of the Eucharist. He abides among them as a bond stronger than the bond of blood or tribe.

This communion of believers must be manifest and truly lived among them. If an offense mars this communion, the Gospel demands refraining from approaching the holy chalice and from offering sacrifice until this communion is regained. "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24).

Thus, in pastoral teaching, there comes the concept of the parish, which calls for one temple for a group of believers located in a single area, since when a believer prays in his parish church, he necessarily establishes ties and spiritual relationships with its members. His commitment to his parish strengthens his commitment to his brothers and sisters in it and so he grows his churchly sense of the importance of Christian communion, his responsibility toward his brothers and sisters and their responsibility toward him. It is likewise assumed that this experience will become a way to extend brotherhood to include all humankind.

Currently, this sense is weak. Among the reasons it is weak is that fact that not all believers practice their group prayers with understanding, those who pray are content to fulfill what they regard as their religious "obligation" and a spiritual consciousness of embodying this faith and this communion in daily life is absent.

Likewise, a tyranny of the spirit of ritualism and celebrations at the expense of personally living the spiritual communion that must exist between the believer and God and between him and other believers and thus with the rest of humankind, contributes to confirming the absence of this spiritual consciousness.

From this comes the importance of forming small groups made up of a few families that share one concern, goal or service. These are prayer groups, first of all, and then they come together for a specific humanitarian or spiritual service. Since they are brought together by a single concern that they seek to embody in their life, the relationships between them will strengthen and deepen. They will experience, if they base themselves on sincerity, living the spiritual dimension of the Gospel and their spiritual closeness and they will be strengthened by this.

Emphasis on the experience of communion in a small group is considered the most important thing brought about by the Antiochian Orthodox Youth Movement. The Movement undertook to live churchly communion among the brothers and for many this was a way to discover general churchly communion. Many of those who lived in the Movement experienced the sweetness and beauty of churchly communion. Like the first Christians, they shared in bearing each others' burdens. They understood-- in action, not just in theory-- how the Church is truly God's family.

In our own time, which elevates the spirit of individualism over all values, man lives in society in a deadly loneliness. He has neighbors or colleagues at work or school, but what he is missing most is a solid relationship of the heart with other people, a relationship on a spiritual basis, where one feels the group that supports him and himself shares in supporting it. Even authentic friendship has become rare in our contemporary world. Some sociologists use the expression "isolation in the crowd" to describe the loneliness that contemporary man is suffering from.

In the 1970s, the Communist newspaper Pravda recounted the following story in the context of a broad investigation about the reasons why Russians were returning to the Church after reaching retirement age:

The manager of a large factory was referred for retirement and after receiving honors and an award, he went back to live by himself. He and his wife had divorced several years before his retirement and his two sons worked in regions far from where he lived. He started to frequent the neighborhood cafe to read the newspaper and sip coffee, and day after day the signs of sadness and depression grew on his face. Another retiree like himself noticed him and asked him the reason for his preoccupation and sadness. The man responded honestly about his loneliness he was suffering from. He said, "Come to church and you won't be alone anymore," and this is what happened, since he was surrounded by people praying with care who established friendships with him.

Is not the presence of the warmth of concern and care for the person what attracts many to some of the Protestant churches that are small in number but newly active?

Many seek this concern from the Church, but limit it to the person of the priest, forgetting that their love for the Lord requires them to also love each other and to embody that love in care for each other. Not everything is required of the priest alone. The church is not his personal garden, but the Church of Christ and all His children. In Orthodox churches especially, performing prayer services, in houses, takes up all the priest's time, while social, pastoral, and humanitarian services are provided by the faithful.

Effort on the part of the faithful to form small groups in which they share, in addition to the faith, a common concern that the cooperate in order to realize, has become necessary and urgent matter. How great are the needs and the services required, especially in this difficult time! 

You will sacrifice if you stay with your concern, but you will bring forth green shoots and flourish, if you join with brothers who share in it with you and you work together with them under the guidance of a spiritual father, to bring joy to others. Then you will rejoice in the measure that you bring joy to others. Then you will experience the warmth of communion, the joy of giving.

What is needed of the faithful is for them to form groups for prayer and work, to spread the joy of Christ's resurrection in this tormented world. Groups based on prayer and meditation on the word of God that strive to embody it in daily life and in the society in which they live, and to embody it before all else in their personal life.

These "little churches" will become a leaven for a more effective presence of Christ in our life, our family and our society.