Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Met Saba (Esber): The God of the Bible

Arabic original here.

The God of the Bible

There are certain erroneous or distorted beliefs that are widespread among the faithful. In this brief note, I am concerned with the one that starts out from the basis of the Bible to erroneously state that the face of God in the Old Testament is not the same as in the New Testament. Some believe that God in the Old Testament is only a god of war, cruelty, violence and racism, while in the New Testament, He is only a god of love, forgiveness, mercy and kindness.

This erroneous belief is the result either out of ignorance of the Old Testament, its interpretation and its structure or under the influence of misconceptions similar to the approach of those critics of the Bible who attack it for reasons too numerous to refute here. In each case, the approach to the bible is wrong because it is not a theological approach to a religious book. Many also arrive at erroneous conclusions because they do not understand the essence of inspiration in Christianity or because they take a merely historical approach to the Bible.

In Christianity, divine inspiration has taken place over the course of a long pedagogical relationship of about eighteen and a half centuries. God inspired humankind with what He wanted to say through the historical events that they experienced, speaking to them in their language and according to their understanding, gradually bringing them toward Him. The Bible is not a book of history, even though it uses history to speak theology.

By way of example and not exclusively, I will cite some verses of the Old Testament where God's face appears merciful, loving and forgiving:

"And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, 'The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin...'" (Exodus 34:6-7, see also Numbers 14:18, Deuteronomy 4:31, Psalm 86:5 and 108:4, Joel 2:13).

God says, "I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love... I will not execute the fierceness of My anger... For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come with terror" (Hosea 11:4 and 9).

"... But You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and did not forsake them" (Nehemiah 9:17).

"The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works" (Psalm 145:8-9).

And some verses of the New Testament show another face:

"Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God" (Revelation 19:13-15).

"Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’" (Matthew 22:13). 

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18).

Christ says, "Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels..." (Matthew 25:41).

"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites" (Matthew 23:13).

These verses, and many others besides in both testaments, show us that relying on an individual verse in isolation from its context leads to misunderstanding, very often completely contrary to its intended meaning. Scriptural inspiration was first of all inspiration in action and not in writing. God intervened in the lives of people and then a group first of all. He set their life straight. He educated them. He disciplined them. He changed their way of thinking, revealing Himself to them to the degree that they could bear His light until inspiration reached its apex with total divine disclosure in the person of Jesus Christ. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." (John 1:14).

God incarnate spent around thirty-three years on our earth teaching, preaching, guiding, saving and fulfilling the dispensation of salvation completely. He did not leave us a single sheet of paper written by His hand. Rather, He sent the Holy Spirit to His apostles and His Church. He inspired some of them to preserve in writing what He taught them by word and deed.

The writers of the Bible in both its testaments read their experience with God and came to understand it by the Holy Spirit not at the time of its happening, but afterwards, then they learned God's intent and transmitted it to the faithful people.

How many times did Christ rebuke His disciples with harsh words because they did not understand what He meant?

God is the same in both testaments. His true image becomes clear in his accompanying sinful humankind until they reach the point of abandoning sin. Some find fault with the existence of sinful people-- and what human is without sin?!-- who played an important role in the history of salvation but they forget that God accompanies sinners in order to save them from their sin and has mercy on them with longsuffering until they repent and change. Dwelling on the sins that appear in the stories of people in the Bible is not important. The important thing is focusing on the grace that changes and transforms these sinners.

God has undertaken-- and continues to undertake-- the task of saving humankind. The Bible came into existence for their salvation because they languished under sin and were enslaved to the devil.

It is also necessary to pay active attention to reading the texts, especially the Old Testament, in a manner consonant with its genre. That is, not reading narratives, poetry, stories, proverbs and wisdom literature all in the same way. Rather, give each genre its due. Poetry is not direct speech like explicit commandments are.

It is likewise very necessary to know that in the Old Testament especially, history was the theater that God used to discipline humankind and to show them gradually through its events His pure divine image until it was completed in their eyes. The Bible very often uses historical events to give a religious-- that is, theological-- lesson.

Here is an example. The Book of Judges speaks of people playing an important role in trying times. It magnifies some of them, such as Samson, and attributes superhuman characteristics to them. All of this is with the intent of making it clear that God's hand, when it intervenes, reigns over all other powers. As for the theology intended by the recounting of events and wars that the judges waged, whether they really waged them as it appears or as it was preserved in the popular memory, it is the following:

When the people sins toward God, they break the covenant and God abandons them, handing them over to their enemies.The people become aware of their error and cry out to God, repenting and confessing, so God sends them a judge to save them from the oppression that has befallen them.

God is a father and a pedagogue. He is a lover and a judge. He is just and forgiving. He is kind and disciplines. He is powerful and tender. Does education not requires firmness and intensity, suppleness and tenderness? To the degree that a person is course and crude and cruel, he benefits from firmness, just as he benefits from sternness. Love is God's essence. His power is the power of love.

As for the superficial teaching that is popular among us, which focuses only on mercy, love and forgiveness, it is incomplete because it does away with the teaching and rebuking face of God who accompanies humankind until they reach the desired ideal.

Education's reliance in the past on fear, violence and punishment and its excessive use of this style does not mean that the correct manner of education today should ignore other aspects, such as judgment, justice and good or evil deeds casting man and all creation into heaven or hell.

May he who realizes his sins, is pained by them and sincerely walks in the way of repentance understand the meaning of the Bible and the essence of God's word and may he have constant nourishment.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Met Georges Khodr: The Path of Giving

Arabic original here.

The Path of Giving

A rich young man asks Jesus, "What should I do to inherit eternal life?" The Lord responds, "In order to enter the kingdom of heaven, you must keep the commandments," and He listed some of them. The young man said, "I have fulfilled these since my childhood," as though he was searching for something else in order to enter the kingdom of his Lord, which this new Teacher came to proclaim in Galilee and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Then Jesus replied, "You lack one thing: that you sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Then, come and follow Me."

What does this mean, "Sell everything you have and give it to the poor"? Does it mean that the rich must sell their homes and possessions? What do these words mean? Jesus didn't compromise with anyone. He explicitly stated to the rich young man that that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. He then continued firmly, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." The Lord placed us before a great difficulty that we cannot downplay. The Gospel is not negligible. It is difficult and we must storm into the difficulty and understand how we can be saved despite the difficulty.

The needle means a needle and not anything else. So the Lord made a comparison and said that the camel-- and we can read it [in Arabic] as the very thick rope used to pull ships-- does not enter the eye of the needle. However we interpret it and however we read it in Arabic or Greek, it means at the very least that it is very difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.

So what should we do, then? God said through David, "He has dispersed abroad, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be exalted with honor" (Psalm 112:9). That is, you cannot stay rich without sharing. The Lord's first intent is that we make people partners in the wealth with which we have been entrusted. Christianity has given this a clear interpretation through the fathers, when they said that the wealth that you have is fundamentally for all people. "The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein" (Psalm 24:1). The wealth that you have has been delegated to you to administer it for the sake of people and their benefit. Do not monopolize it for luxury and extravagance; this is unacceptable because luxury does not make people your partners. 

This means, at the very least, that one who is wealthy in terms of food, household goods and appearance should live like other people. He should not enjoy material things more than anyone else, nor should he take pleasure in an image that hurts the poor. At the very least, then, let us not would the poor with displays of luxury. At the very least, let us not live with an indecent image. You can own, but you must not enjoy, you must not take pleasure in what exceeds even what is imaginable. In the society in which you live, you must share with the people around you by giving liberally.

The Old Testament commands the believer to give a tenth of his earnings to the poor. This is no longer a command in the New Testament. In the Church, giving is not a specific number. We do not lessen what was required of the Hebrews, but rather we add to it. It is not true that it is imposed on each person who does not desire for it to be imposed upon him.

Therefore the issue is a command, a final command and not advice. It was a divine command, so that we may feel that others are our partners in God's inheritance and that they are one with us. So come, open your pocket. Open your heart. Give. Disperse. Distribute. Love the humanity to whom you give. Love the people to whom you stretch out your hand in giving. Consider the poor person to be master over you because he gave you the opportunity to give. If you walk in this way along the great and wide path of giving, if you give and disperse, do not consider yourself to be anything, but tremble because God said that it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Memory Eternal: Irfan Shahid (1926-2016)

It has been brought to my attention that the great Palestinian-American scholar Irfan Shahid passed away earlier this month, on November 9. His funeral was held at Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Potomac, Maryland on November 18. A brief sketch of his life and career can be found here and a wonderfully-detailed interview about his scholarly career can be found here.

His multi-volume Byzantium and the Arabs is foundational for the study of Christianity among pre-Islamic Arabs:

Rome and the Arabs
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fifth Century
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 1
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 2, Part 1
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 2, Part 2

Monday, November 21, 2016

Carol Saba: Eternal Russia- Her Saints and Demons

French original here.

Eternal Russia: Her Saints and Demons

Russia has been causing a lot of ink to be spilled lately. Particularly in France, on account of the new spiritual and cultural center that was just opened on October 19 of this year at the former sight of the headquarters of Météo France. The complex, which belongs to the Russian state, was set to be formally opened by the French and Russian heads of state but diplomatic tensions between the two countries reduced the scope of the official representation at the event. In an innovation at the level of diplomatic protocol, France, through the voice of her president, publicly questioned the advisability of the Russian president's coming to Paris in this context and then the latter decided to sulk. The new Russian cathedral dedicated to the Holy Trinity, one of the buildings of the complex next to the Eiffel Tower, is to be consecrated in December by Patriarch Cyril of Moscow. It now sits with its five golden onion domes on Quai Branly, not far from the place where President Jacques Chirac put the Museum of the Arts and Civilizations of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas now bearing the former head of state's name. The whole thing is thus a new tourist attraction, this time Russian, on the map of Paris monuments. Even before the Napoleonic military campaigns, Franco-Russian relations have always been of the love-hate variety and since then they have known cycles of rejection and attraction.

Russia is indeed fascinating. The Russia of yesterday and today is intriguing. Russia provokes a lot of ambivalence. Some idealize her. Others demonize her. General De Gaulle, who only ever called the Soviets "the Russians," refused to see in Soviet Russian anything other than "a temporary avatar of eternal Russia" and in her government "a modernized form of a deadly autocracy." The latest book by Pierre Goneau, published by Editions Tallandier, is dedicated to a study of the historical, political, cultural, artistic and spiritual depths of this eternal Russia, of this czarist Russia and its four centuries of imperial autocracy. The title chosen by this great specialist on Russia, professor at the University of Paris-Sorbonne and director of studies of the section for historical and philological sciences at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, already declares the enormous scope of the project: Histoire de la Russie, d'Ivan le Terrible à Nicolas II, 1547-1917. It is a wealth of information. A historical fresco that depicts the three times-- long, medium and short-- of Russian history. Writing that combines a novelistic style with the demands of historicity. A style that knows how to "enclose" personalities and periods, like Russian dolls, the great and the little history of eternal Russia. All the czars pass through it, the great and the less great, the glorious, the mysterious, the erased, the modest, the illumined, and the reasonable. A fresco also rich in portraits of emblematic figures of czarist Russia.

First, of course, Ivan the Terrible. This ambiguous, constantly tormented personality who in an excess of madness founded and combined political terror and a sort of radical mysticism whose secret and recipe only the Russians know. Then passing by Peter the Great, the builder, who constantly looked to Europe but who also embodied the Russian ambivalence, constantly oscillating between East and West. And how can we not mention Catherine II, that originally German czarina, an iron fist in a velvet glove, who knew how to not be a foreigner to the Russians, but rather knew how to fully embrace Orthodoxy and make herself to be seen by the Russians as one of their own. Then comes the figure of czar Alexander II, the civilized man, who dared to emancipate the serfs, one of the last great czars before the rumblings in the empire, before ending with the last of the czars, Nicholas II, the last of the Romanovs to sit on the throne, who distilled in the Russian subconscious the entirety of the Russian tragedy, the double image of the czar upon the throne and the Christ-like czar who experiences martyrdom along with his family in extremely dramatic circumstances.

Gonneau's book is a fresco that also arouses real reflection on the Russian syntheses that have been wrought century after century between different confluences and inspirations, those coming from the European, Germanic and Latin, Catholic and Protestant West and those coming from the Asiatic Mongol and Tatar East. The whole of Russia, past and present, is in the crucible of these different confluences. The Russian millefeuille can be discerned in these different historical and sociopolitical strata. This work also and especially provides a framework for understanding today's Russia, which is also, in its own way, decidedly czarist. It informs us of the major characteristic traits of this czarist Russia and of the typical profile that marks its political governance. It reveals the factors of continuity and the factors of discontinuity of such autocratic and imperial, centralized and decentralized governance and its strategies of influence and mental geopolitics. It also informs us of the universal, spiritual and cultural tensions that animates these monarchs and of the geopolitical and geostrategic projection of their influence in the world.

Gonneau's book is not just a book of history, but also one of useful keys for deciphering the reality of Russia today. The book begins with a question: how does one become czar, extending the question with a historical account of the coronation of Ivan the Terrible on January 16, 1547, before affirming that change is continuity in Russia and continuity is change. Eras and personalities change. What underlies them remains. "The Russia of the czars perpetuates itself until the abdication of Nicholas II on March 2, 1917. Then, everything changes... or nothing changes. Stalin was often described as a red czar and Moscow's Kremlin has always been the site of power par excellence." For those who wish to conduct an objective and dispassionate analysis of today's Russia, this historical fresco offered to us by Pierre Gonneau is an ideal help for reflection, analysis, deciphering and questioning. There remain questions that speak to Russia's today.

How does the eternal Russia evoked by De Gaulle extend into Soviet Russia, then post-Soviet Russia, then Putin's Russia? Is there a historical determinism to be seen in the endless repetition of these cycles of attraction and repulsion between Russia and the Europe that she nevertheless claims? How can the factors of incomprehension and misunderstanding that develop be defused? Is there in principle an incompatibility between Russia and Europe? The demonization of Russia by some is just as dangerous for world security as the idealization of Russia by others. In any case, Gonneau's book, which contains valuable keys for further study including maps, an impressive bibliography, a chronological guide to the czars, and an index [embarrassingly rare in French publications], as well as a genealogy of the Romanovs is enlightening in its attempt at better understanding Russia, her saints and her demons, her deadly ambiguities and creative inspirations. It invites the reader to see Russia differently from the black and white of the approximate analyses of the moment, because beyond persons and conjectures, what remains and abides is indeed eternal Russia.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh: Beware of Religious Nationalisms

Arabic original here.

Beware of Religious Nationalisms

Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim (d. 2012) believed that the chief task of Arab Christians lies in translating Christianity for the Arab world, a Christianity that addresses the Arab mind and Arab culture. By this he did not mean translating ancient, particularly Greek, texts into Arabic, but rather by this call he meant that "we arrive at there being a Christianity in which the one being addressed is the Arab person." In his opinion, Christianity is still intellectually closed-off and "Christians still speak to Christians, as though they were living in a bygone era." Therefore, Hazim believed that "our duty is to be able to speak to Muslims" (Ignatius IV, Mawaqif wa-Aqwal, Balamand University, 2001, p. 103). The question then for him is a question of formulating Christian discourse in clear Arabic language that reaches the mind of the Arab and also his heart.

Patriarch Hazim is a great figure of the Orthodox Church who contributed to the Church's revival during the second half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century. He played a major role in ecumenical work and the rapprochement between the churches, especially in the World Council of Churches and the Middle Eastern Council of Churches and he was open to dialogue with Muslims about fundamental issues with which people are occupied in their daily lives. For this reason, he set his sights on working for a Christianity that speaks in Arabic and is understood by Christians, Muslims, Jews and all those who live in the Arab world.

Hazim did not speak of "Arab nationalism," but he did speak of "Arab Christians" and did not attack Arab nationalism. He was not an Arab nationalist, but he was an Arab and he did not boycott Arab nationalists. The priority for him was Christ and His Church and therefore he did not believe in other ideologies that might hide Christ from others. For him, the Arabic language was a means and not an end in itself. It is a means for conveying Christ as Christians believe in Him to the hearts and minds of Muslims. The Arabic language is the vehicle of Christian evangelism in this region because it is the language shared with the majority of Muslims.

Some Christians in our country, rejecting any common denominator with non-Christians, claim that their roots are non-Arab and this is their own affair that we will not discuss here. At the same time, they claim that they have nothing to do with anything that is Arab, since they are Greek-Byzantine-Romans, Syriac-Assyrian-Chaldean-Arameans, or Phoenician Maronites, and God knows best... All of them criticize any national belonging, affirming their ecclesio-cultural choices while adopting a religious nationalism that is closed in on itself. They flee from a nationalism that brings Muslims and Christians together to a unilateralist nationalism that only unites them with members of their sect. A nationalist ideology in the face of a nationalist ideology!

In reality, this nationalism resembles nothing other than Jewish religious nationalism. About this, Patriarch Hazim said, "Those who isolate themselves, whoever they may be, internalize a sort of admission that they are 'God's own chosen people.' This is what the Jews fell into doing, but Christians may also fall into this and Muslims may fall into it as well. Therefore in this region we must a laboratory in which no one may isolate himself, lest each community come to reject the other communities and instead of being receptive to them and dialoguing with them."

The only thing that distinguishes Arab Christians from other Christians in the world is their Arabic language, which makes them responsible for conveying Christ to all who speak it. Is it possible in our country to spread the Good News of Christ in Greek, Aramaic, Armenian or any other ancient language? We are proud of our Church's history, her heritage and her ancient language, but we do not want to kill our present and our present mission in order to revive languages that make us prisoners to history.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh: Christianity in the Cradle of Islam

Arabic original here.

Christianity in the Cradle of Islam

Muslim historians testify to the presence of Christianity in the Arabian Peninsula from its start and spread at the hands of the Apostles. Here we will only present the presence of Christianity in Mecca, the cradle of Islam. Christianity entered the Hijaz, the region that includes Mecca, Yathrib (Medina), Taif, and other cities, at the beginning of the Christian era.

Ibn al-Athir, Ibn Khaldun and others recount that the sixth of the kings of Jurham, whose reign began shortly before the appearance of Christianity, was called by a Christian name, Abd al-Masih bin Baqiya bin Jurham, which means that Christianity entered the Hijaz very shortly after the beginning of Christianity. In his Book of Songs, al-Isfahani states that under the descendants of Jurham, the Bayt al-Haram (the Kaaba) "had a storehouse, a well into which were thrown jewelry and heirlooms that were offered to it, and at that time the bishop (the imam and religious leader of the Christians) was over it."

No doubt the most important testimony to a Christian presence in Mecca shortly before Islam is what appears in the Book of Reports about Mecca of Ibn al-Walid Muhammad bin Abdallah bin Ahmad al-Azraqi, where it states that on the columns of the Kaaba there were "images of the prophets, images of the tree, images of the angels, the image of Abraham, the Friend of the Merciful, and the image of Jesus, son of Mary. Then al-Azraqi mentions that Muhammad, on the day he conquered Mecca, "ordered that all these images be whitewashed, and they were whitewashed. He placed his arms of the image of Jesus son of Mary and his mother (peace be upon them) and said, 'Erase all the images except for what is under my hands,' and he lifted his hands [to reveal] Jesus son of Mary and his mother." The image was destroyed more than sixty years after the conquest of Mecca, in the time of Abdallah ibn al-Zubayr who fought against the Umayyad Caliphate. The Umayyads laid siege to Mecca under the leadership of al-Hajjaj, who did not hesitate to bombard the city with catapults and destroy the Kaaba.

Some Muslim historians speak of part of Quraysh having become Christian. Al-Ya'qubi confirms this in his History and says, "As for those from among the Arabs who became Christians, there was part of the Quraysh, from among the descendants of Asad bin Abd al-Uzza, including Uthman bin al-Huwayrith bin Asad and Waraqa bin Nawfal bin Asad." Likewise, in Ibn Hisham's Life of the Prophet it says of Waraqa that he "converted to Christianity, read the scriptures and listened to the people of the Torah and the Gospel." It also mentions Ubayd Allah bin Jahsh bin Riab, who immigrated to Ethiopia some some of Muhammad's followers. When he arrived there, he converted to Christianity and left Islam. There is also the famous story of Abu Qays bin Sarima bin Abi Anis, who was said by Ibn al-Athir to have "become a monk in the period before Islam and to have put on sackcloth." Among evidence for Christian monuments in Mecca, there is what al-Azraqi said about the presence of "the cemetery of the Christians, on the hill at the bottom of which is Mecca, on the right going out towards Medina."

What we have presented above, especially the fact that an image of the Lord Christ and His mother remained in the Kaaba, confirms the continuation of Christian existence in the Arabian Peninsula in general and Mecca in particular for almost a century. It is certain that the prophet of Islam allowed Christians to remain in Mecca, as evidenced by the statement of Abu Yusuf in his Kitab al-Kharaj that Muhammad "levied a tax of one dinar per year on the Christians of Mecca." As for the disappearance of Christianity from the Arabian Peninsula, this is a story for another time.

*My article "Arabism as a Christian Choice" provoked many questions among its readers. Therefore I will present from time to time various aspects of Arab Christianity.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on the Immaculate Conception

Arabic original here.

The Immaculate Conception

The Orthodox Church especially honors the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and chants to her at every Divine Liturgy, "More honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, who without corruption gave birth to God the Word, true Theotokos we magnify thee." Our Church also teaches that the First Woman, Eve, formed disobedience for the human race, while the New Eve, the Virgin Mary, formed salvation-- that is, our God and Savior Christ-- for the human race. Thus she became a mother for every Christian, who is a brother to our Lord and Savior Jesus.

The Virgin Mary received divinity into her body without losing her human nature, which was united to the divine nature. She is the one who "without corruption gave birth to God the Word." She became the first woman who embodied the words of the Apostle Peter, "that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature" (1 Peter 1:4). And so humanity's divinization was achieved in the person of the Virgin Mary.

It is said that a young monk was praying before an icon of the Theotokos on the Holy Mountain and an angel appeared to him and started teaching him how best to magnify the Virgin Mother of God, telling him as follows: "It is truly meet to bless thee, O Theotokos, ever-blessed and most pure and the mother of our God..." This icon that is known as "It is Meet (Axion Estin)" is kept until today in the chief church on the Holy Mountain.

This exceedingly great honor for the Theotokos did not prevent us Orthodox Christians from rejecting the decision issued by the Vatican in 1854 known as the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This decision claims that at the moment of her conception in the womb of her mother Anne, she was exempt from any stain of ancestral sin, as a gift from God Almighty.

The decision declares that it is a dogma announced by God and that all the faithful most hold to it.

It is our duty as right-believing Orthodox Christians to declare in turn that this dogma does not honor the Virgin Mary, but rather, to the contrary, it degrades her honor by making her into a sort of superwoman, has though she had magically become a demigod. This decision distorts the personality of the Virgin, the magnitude of her love for God, and her freedom to not accept any sin in her human struggle. Like every human, she inherited the results of original sin, especially the experience of pain and death, as Christ Himself tasted them. Like her Son and Creator, she bore the fullness of human nature without attachment to sin.

All this does not mean that we Orthodox do not confess Mary's virginity, which was declared at the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553, which declared that she is a virgin before begetting, in the act of begetting, and after begetting. The sign of this appears on her icon in the form of three stars: one on her brow and one on each of her shoulders.

In the Orthodox Church, we never diminish the holiness of the Virgin Mary, but at the same time we do not make exaggerated claims that she is exempt from ancestral sin and its consequences, which strips her of the virtue of her human struggle that made her immune to falling into sin, so that she may remain ever pure. We refuse to regard her as a total partner in salvation in the manner of the Holy Trinity, which alone is Creator and is completely distinct from creation, which includes the nature of Mary, our mother and first intercessor and the holiest of all the saints.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies