Monday, July 31, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: Let Us Make Palestine in Our Image and Likeness

Arabic original here.

Let Us Make Palestine in our Image and Likeness

Since the first Jewish settlers and colonialists set foot in the land of Palestine, the Christians have been aware that those coming from every corner of the earth are not heralds of peace and brotherhood among the people of that land, but armies willing to commit the most heinous crimes in order to gain control over the land by force. They want the land and nothing but the land and so they permitted attacks on people and property, they committed massacres, they emptied towns and villages of their people... and they continue the same policy.

Christians and Muslims have stood together to defend their right to exist and their right to return to their homes. They stood side by side when the struggle was dominated by a nationalist orientation and total cooperation on the basis of equality. The Christians' resolve did not waver when the struggle for Palestine started to take on an Islamic orientation. However, they took a principled stand in 2010 and openly stated their opinion that they were with the right to resist but, at the same time, they declared that they were against the establishment of a religious state, whether Islamic or Jewish, in Palestine.

Kairos Palestine is a document issued in 2010 by a select group of Palestinian Christians, clergy and lay, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant, in which they agreed unanimously on the right of the Palestinian people to peace, justice, and freedom and their right to an independent civil state for all its citizens. We return to this document today, given what is happening in Jerusalem, in order to recall that the Christian struggle is not incidental. It is not merely an emotional response to current circumstances. Rather, it is rooted in Christian thought, life and present reality. Permit us here to cite an article of ours entitled "Thank You, Palestine" (an-Nahar, March 14, 2010) in which we summarized what pertains to the right to resist and the right to full, undiminished citizenship.

As we re-read the document more than seven years after it was issued, we find that certain practices of the Israeli state have not changed. As we read the introduction, we think that it presents the Palestinians' current reality of deprivation of freedom, dividing walls "turning our cities and towns into prisons", settlements "seizing our land in the name of God and the name of force", daily humiliation "at military checkpoints", the impossibility of reaching holy sites, camps filled with refugees, prisons full of prisoners, stripping residents of Jerusalem of their identity cards, the seizure of homes, Arab impotence, human rights violations, and emigration... The document rejects the Israelis' claim "justifying their actions as self-defense" and regards this claim as inverting the actual situation. The document affirms Palestinians' right to resist since "if it were not for the occupation, there would be no resistance."

The document then calls on Christians to stand firm in resisting the occupation, "since resistance is a right and duty for Christians." However, this resistance is subject to a logic of love and not responding to evil with evil. Therefore it relies on non-violence as its means for regaining land, freedom, dignity and independence. The document recognizes the usefulness of civil disobedience, the economic and commercial boycott of the occupation, and withdrawing investments from it... but it reserves all respect and esteem "for those who have given their life for the sake of the nation." The document adopts a program of non-violence, but at the same time it does not condemn the armed resistance. It is a call for pluralism in the resistance that permits each individual to resist in the manner appropriate to his convictions.

The Christian choice for the promised Palestinian state or for the State of Israel is clear, since the document rejects "the religious state, whether Jewish or Islamic." The religious state is "a state that favors one citizen over another, makes exceptions, and divides its citizens." The document calls for a state that will be for all its citizens, a state "based on equality, justice, freedom, and respect for diversity, not or numeric or religious dominance." There is no doubt that the document here expresses Christian general opinion, which rejects the religious state no matter what its name is. It is committed to the struggle against Israel as a racist religious state, not so that its place will be taken by an Islamic state that will diminish their citizenship, but rather so that they may live in a civil, secular state that respects their rights as full citizens who have what other citizens have and must do what other citizens must do.

The image that brought Christians and Muslims together in Jerusalem is not an image for memory or a passing image. It is a deeply-rooted image that expresses the unity of the Palestinian people in defense of their right to life. Their image reminds us of God's words "Let us make man in our image and our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). God's image in man, according to the tradition of the Church, is nothing other than freedom. Your image, people of Palestine, is the image of God regained. It is freedom. Be this image, so that you may have freedom.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: Love and Giving

Arabic original here.

Love and Giving

We understand from today's Gospel that the Lord was with the people, He was attentive to them. After He healed their illnesses, He saw that they were hungry and took pity on them and multiplied the bread. Relations between people, in order to be meaningful, must be based on tenderness. It must not only be a relationship of law, so we do not say that these are my boundaries and those are your boundaries, this is might right and that is your right. This language is current among the people of the world, but it is not sufficient. The healing language is the language that comes from the heart and goes to the heart.

Jesus had pity on them, then He took five loaves and two fishes. We notice that the two things that He took were from the people's life. Around the Sea of Tiberias, people ate bread and fish. But the Gospel goes further than this, since bread is taken later on to become Jesus' body and the fish is adopted by the early Christians as a symbol for the Lord, an image of Him because the five letters of the word "fish" in Greek are the first letters of the words in the phrase "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior".

Jesus wanted to prepare them for the fact that He would give them something greater than bread and fish. The Gospel indicates this symbolic meaning when it says, "He blessed, broke and gave," which are the words it uses at the Last Supper, when He gave the disciples His body and blood.

John the Beloved notes in the fourth Gospel, when he presents the miracle that we read about today from the Gospel of Matthew, that it means something beyond the multiplication of bread. For this reason he presents a sermon known as the sermon about the bread that comes down from heaven: not like your fathers who ate and die, but he who eats of this bread will live forever. He then explains to them that He will remain with them and they will remain with Him if they know that He is the one who will redeem mankind and He will leave to His disciples His presence among them in the form of bread and wine.

Here let us pay attention to the fact that Jesus looked up to heaven then gave. A person only gives from heaven. What comes out of one hand is placed in another hand and what comes out of a heart is placed in another heart. But what comes from the heart can be impure. Out of the abundance of the heart the tongue speaks (cf. Luke 6:45). The heart gives purity or it gives corruption. The heart has the entire world within it, its storms, its lusts. Therefore it doesn't mean anything if I say to another person, "I love you with all my heart." I may love him with a self-interested, acquisitive, totalitarian, lustful love. The important thing is that God comes out of our heart, that the Holy Spirit pours out from our heart so that we may love. For this reason it says, "He blessed, then He broke and gave." The important thing is that we give while we are in a state of blessings, in divine grace, in holiness. Any other giving is simply scattering, a whim, or exploitation.

The important thing is not that I remain in people's hearts, since I am passing. The important thing is that they turn to God who gives to them, that they know that they have received the bread through a miracle. The encounter is not between one person and another, the encounter is between God in a person who transmits Him to another person, if he loves him. Material giving is only a symbol, a style, a preparation so that our hearts may be trained for total giving, the giving of love and purity from a heart that has become divine to a heart that we wish to become divine.

Any giving apart from this has no value. For us to give means that we give everything: our attention, our concern, our health, our days and our nights. We give our whole life in imitation of the Teacher or it is not giving.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pantelis Kalaitzidis on the Patriarchate of Jerusalem

From the French version, here. The title of this article was apparently chosen by the editors of the Service Orthodoxe de Presse. It originally appeared in Greek in the newspaper Thessalia on March 29, 2005. For another article on Middle Eastern Christianity by the same author, see here.

The Current Situation in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem:
An Ecclesiastical Neocolonialism?

by Pantelis Kalaitzidis

After various stormy events and the revelations regarding the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, we will dare to wonder: does not the most glaring scandal of recent times ultimately lie in the impermissible contempt evinced by the Greek leadership of the the Patriarchate of Jerusalem toward the Arabic-speaking faithful and in the reduction to zero of the "theology of the local church" in favor of a"Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher" which, imposed from the outside and constituted on the principle and basis of the (Greek) national community of origin of its members, pursues the defense of the corporate interests of a closed group of celibate clergy? Does the scandal not thus lie in the replacement of the "ecclesiological" criterion with "national" and economic interests which go so far as the sale of lands and the transfer of the Patriarchate's lands and properties on behalf of Israeli economic interests in the (Arab) Old City of Jerusalem?

As many here have said and claimed in all the debates about this situation, the scandal of international dimensions that is rocking the Patriarchate of Jerusalem represents a "taboo subject" and a "delicate national question" that is better not touched or delved into further. Reasons of national interest, which are constantly evoked, prohibit almost any discussion of the background and especially avoid touching the taboo of the Patriarchate's "Hellenism", which should be maintained at any price, even at the price of measures that run contrary to its "ecclesiality." It is characteristic that the most tenacious adversaries of the ecclesiastical hierarchy in Greece (which has also been very recently criticized and severely challenged on the basis of the implication of certain of its members in moral and financial scandals) and the most radical anti-clerical criticism in Greece in no way consider challenging this famous "Hellenism" of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which all consider to be a national "cause" or "patrimony", while the progressive or enlightened theologians, for their part, until now avoid broaching the question, contenting themselves with general considerations about a "universal Hellenism"-- which they affirm is different from nationalism-- and a "universal Byzantine tradition" to which the current patriarchate is one of the heirs.

In this way we close our eyes to the fact that this concept of "Hellenism"-- and its concrete application-- not only breaks apart and dissolves the Body of Christ (and introduces into it as definitive the criteria of nation, race, language, civilization, etc. which divide its unity) but moreover also reduces the Arabic-speaking faithful to the rank of second-class Christians, to ecclesiastical "subjects", good for serving the uniqueness and longevity of a cultural or even phyletist Hellenism, for assisting the servants of this Hellenism, the Greek upper clergy. With methods and processes that leave nothing to envy over the worst periods of colonialism and imperialism, the latter, the members of the "Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher" are imposed upon the body of Arabic-speaking faithful of the Church of Jerusalem, systematically and by every means excluding from the episcopate the native Orthodox of the Holy Land, out of fear of an Arabization of the Patriarchate, without taking into account that in proceeding this way they only accelerate it.

So why do we still today persist in denying the Orthodox of Palestine and Jordan their natural right to choose their pastors themselves and for how long will we continue to organize the recruitment of celibate clergy, sent from Greece, in order to administer the Patriarchate of Jerusalem? For how long will we continue to evoke the delicate question of the status of the Holy Places in order to prolong-- at the expense of the Palestinians, whose national rights we are supposed to be defending-- a "Greek" ecclesiastical dominance in Palestine and Jordan? Would it not be good for us to remember everywhere those words of Christ: "whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them" (Matthew 7:12)? How would we behave, we "haughty Greeks," if someone imposed on us here an imported sort of ecclesiastical administration of a colonial type?

Are we unable to perceive that the Palestinian Orthodox, these distant heirs of the first Christian community of Jerusalem, may resent it when, after so many occupations, martyrdoms and persecutions, they are experiencing the domination and occupation of "Greek Orthodoxy" and have become strangers and servants in their own home, deprived of any responsibility or any participation in the life of their Church, all because we present ourselves as the sole and ultimate heirs of Byzantium, as the defenders and heralds par excellence of Orthodoxy? Indeed, in the name of what logic or what historical reality can one justify the notion that the Christians of Palestine are less "Byzantine" and less Christian than us? So are we consistent with our proclamations-- either naive or triumphalist--  such as that Orthodoxy has always respected the local traditions and peculiarities of peoples and that is never had the least resemblance to any colonialism? Yes or no: does the ecclesiological situation of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem represent an ecclesiastical colonialism and a cultural imperialism?

Does the fact that one endeavors to assure at any price Hellenism  in the Holy Places and to keep sites of Christian pilgrimage under Greek control bear witness to our ecclesiological sensibility and to the priority given to theological criteria or does it not rather confirm the subordination of these criteria to priorities of a national, neocolonialist, racist, and, in the final analysis neo-pagan sort? Are we incapable of understanding that Arabization cannot be avoided and is already under way? And that the faster and more smoothly it takes place, the less the price that "Greek" interests will have to pay, while the more it is delayed the more the justifiable anger of the Arabic-speaking Orthodox masses grows, as well as the inevitable exploitation of their feelings by Russian "ecclesiastical" diplomacy? Are we really incapable of learning all the lessons from what happened, in a context of tensions and disputes, during the Arabization of the Patriarchate of Antioch a century ago? Do we know that through the racist and neocolonialist behavior that we display, we are denying the Palestinian Orthodox community the cultivated elites, the clergy, the theologians, and the intellectuals of which they are in urgent need? Have we realized the dire consequences, of which there will be no lack, of the proselytism carried out among the Arabic-speaking Orthodox by the Roman Catholic Church which, for many decades, has encouraged the promotion of Arabic-speaking clergy to the highest ecclesiastical offices and which, contrary to the smug and pretentious behavior of our "Greek Orthodox" monks, has really contributed to the advent of a theologically-formed clerical and lay Palestinian elite and has truly put itself-- without hijinks or dubious transactions-- shoulder-to-shoulder with the Palestinian people?

I think that the moment has come to answer courageously and sincerely a whole series of crucial questions such as these: To what should we ultimately grant priority, to "the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?" (Matthew 23:17). In other words, to impersonal principles-- such as the "Hellenism" of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem-- or to living images of God? To guarding the "Holy Sepulcher" or to the spiritual growth and maturation of the "living body of Christ"? To the idols of nation and race or to the truth of this God who illumines the truth of man? To the longevity and safeguarding at any price of Hellenism in the Holy Places or to the rebirth of the local Church? It is, of course, entirely possible that the long-awaited rebirth of the local Church in Palestine and Jordan will be accompanied by phenomena of rejection-- as in almost all the local Churches that surround us-- that is to say, by a religious nationalism and an identification with the state. As condemnable and regrettable as these phenomena may be, they will ultimately be less repugnant than the  neocolonialism or religious imperialism which, imposed in the name of Christ and Orthodoxy, aim to transform living icons of God, baptized members of the ecclesiastical body, into house slaves and objects of domination and power.

Fr Georges Massouh on Giving

Arabic original here.

The Theology of the Morsel

Christ was generous, giving, unsparing, bountiful, distributing freely... His disciples were miserly, slow to give, closed-fisted, lovers of money... The saints and righteous ones among them sacrificed like their Master, imitating Him in all things, but most of them, including those who held primary positions in the early Church, remained stingy, tight-fisted and insensitive to the poor.

This is what led Saint Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), in his commentary on the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and the feeding of the five thousand men and their families (John 6:1-15), to say, "We find in the beginning that the disciples were by their nature hesitated to give to the hungry, but the Savior gave them an abundance from which there was a surplus of crumbs. This teaches us also that if we give a little money for the glory of God, we will receive richer grace... Therefore we must not be hesitant regarding sharing love towards the brothers, but rather we must cast off  hesitation and fear which lead to being ungenerous to the guest and put on good courage. Thus we stand firm in hope in firm faith in God's ability to multiply the smallest of our good deeds."

There are three pillars in Christianity: faith, hope and love. The destructive temptation that might shake any one of these or all three and so shake the entire faith is the temptation of money. The miser, if he prefers miserliness to love of the poor, cannot rely on love. The rich and self-satisfied person lacks hope. The faith of both the miser and the rich person is stronger in what they own than in God: "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). There is either faith in God or faith in this perishing world.

What Jesus' disciples failed to do was done by the poor widow whom Jesus praised with these words: "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had" (Luke 21:3-4). This box was dedicated to helping the poor and needy and was there anyone who was poorer than a widow who had no support and no provider? Nevertheless, a poor widow gave everything she had for the sustenance of the poor. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Christianity!

Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan (d. 397), sees that the widow symbolizes the Church. She is a symbol of the entire Church. The Church is not a church if she is not like the widow who gives everything she possesses to the poor. Ambrose says, "The widow symbolizes the Church because she cast into the holy treasury a gift by which she heals the wounds of the poor and eases the sighing of every wayfarer." We may add to Ambrose's words the persecuted, those expelled from their homes, the victims of wars, and refugees...

Blessed Augustine, bishop of Annaba [i.e., Hippo] (d. 430), believes that prayer has two wings, without which we cannot reach God. In his explanation of the Lord's words "Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you" (Luke 6:37-38), Augustine surmises, "These are the two wings of prayer by which it flies to God. Forgive wrongdoers what they have done and give to those in need... What do you want from the Lord? Mercy. Give, and  it will be given to you. What do you want from the Lord? Pardon. Pardon, so that you may be pardoned."

From beginning to end, at no point is there in the Bible a single word that justifies not giving. Any discourse that calls for not giving and excuses the hesitancy of the reluctant to show mercy and love is not a Christian discourse, even if it is pronounced from the highest pulpits of teaching in the Church. "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). This, ladies and gentlemen, is Christianity!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Met Saba (Esber) on Demons

Arabic original here.

On Demons

There is a strong tendency toward denying the devil and not regarding him as an existent being. Some people, especially those regarded as intellectuals, believe that the devil is a human creation and that evil fundamentally only exists in man and not outside him. But those of this inclination do not sufficiently explain the reason for the inclination toward evil in man and they do not give a clear answer to the constantly-raised question, "Where does limited man get this terribly destructive boundless capacity for evil?"

This is all normal if those who deny the devil's existence are nonbelievers, but it seems in recent times that some preachers and teachers have come to deny the devil or they erase him and his effect on the life of believers. They are motivated in this either by personal conviction, forgetting that they belong to an integrated system of faith, or out of a desire to remove fear of him from the consciousness of the faithful. The influence of worldly thinking has started to invade the Church and what we are talking about right now is just one sign of that invasion.

This tendency is countered by another tendency toward blaming all the causes of evil on the devil,  exculpating man from any personal responsibility for it, and neglecting effort toward explaining actual evils and identifying their various causes. What does the Christian faith say about these two contrary tendencies?

Demons, according to the Christian faith, are living, bodiless beings. They were originally angels who rejected God, so they fell from His presence and became enemies to Him and to anyone who follows Him.

Divine revelation does not disclose to us how and why the demons fell. The Bible merely hints at a great catastrophe at the dawn of creation, before the creation of the visible world and after the creation of the angels, about which we only know the consequences and results. Some angels placed themselves in a position of opposing God, so they fell and became enemies of all that is good and holy. "And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12:7-9).

In the Revelation of John it likewise says, "A great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water" (Revelation 8:10).

Therefore Christian tradition calls the leader of this rebellion "Lucifer," which means "light-bearer," meaning that he was an angel and fell because he transformed by his personal will from his natural state to an unnatural state. He placed himself against God and fell from good to evil.

Denying the existence, activity and influence of the devil is incompatible with the Gospel. The Lord Jesus' teaching is very clear in this matter. He called him "the ruler of this world" (John 14:30) and He confronted him personally during the temptation after His baptism and forty days of fasting (cf. Matthew 4: 1-11, Luke 4:1-13). He likewise spoke frankly of him in the parable of the sower, "The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels" (Matthew 13:38-39).

We will limit ourselves to two citations from the Apostle Paul. "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:11-12). "Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light"(2 Corinthians 11:14).

The word "satan" in its Hebrew and Greek roots means a number of things, all of which relate to evil: the adversary, because he is the enemy of man; the recalcitrant, because he resists God and His will; the divider, because he is behind every schism and division; the swindler, because he defrauds man in order to cause him to fall into sin in countless ways. In the Gospel, Christ calls him "a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44).

The question many people ask is, "Why do we not see the devil or confront him personally?" The Christian response is very simple: he doesn't need to reveal himself to humans. Instead, it is enough for him to beckon them or to suggest an idea to them so that they can easily respond to it. Here response in the sense of human weakness spiritually, not that they invite the devil into their homes personally. Nevertheless, we know from the experiences of great spiritual figures that they confronted him personally and that he opposed and fought them. This is because he could not defeat them with thoughts and suggestions.

All this does not mean that ordinary people do not experience the devil's presence and activity around them and in them. This is because any one of us is capable of observing himself spiritually, of noticing an invisible power that pushes him toward evil, either completely or partially. Decide to give an amount of money to a person in need who deserves it, then notice how many thoughts come to you, pushing you to reduce the amount, from the moment that you make the decision until you carry it out!

It remains a live question, what is the attitude that we should take towards the devil? The Eastern Christian spiritual tradition in particular advises on the one hand that we do not exaggerate his role and on the other hand that we do not take him and his activities lightly. Likewise, we should not use him as an excuse not to look for personal, individual and social causes that lead to evil and misery or for natural causes that lead to disasters, plagues and diseases.

Exaggerating the devil's role and avoiding personal responsibility for the evil that besets us contributes to the growth of the tendency to deny his existence and puts man in a position of being unable to resist him. Likewise, taking the devil and his influence lightly places us unconsciously under his influence and authority. In such a case, he guides us without our being aware.

Our spiritual tradition also advises us not to use him as an excuse to exculpate ourselves from our personal responsibility for the evil that is around us. We believe that man, after the fall of Adam and Eve, became subject to the evil that dominated him. However, we also believe that through Christ risen from the dead we are no longer under the direct authority of the evil one, so long as we do not renounce Christ and our baptism and willingly give ourselves over to the devil.

So the Christian must confront the evil that is within him and strive earnestly to be rid of it, replacing it with the good that is opposite to it. Our spiritual heritage says that it is not enough to uproot evil from the soul, but rather calls for replacing it with the corresponding virtue. Therefore a person's effort to purify and elevate his soul is based on taking care to acquire the virtues. The relationship is positive in this regard: to the extent that you are filled with love for God and the virtues, the evil within you is lessened.

Our world will remain a battleground between the victorious power of God and the powers of the demons until the last day. We face this struggle first of all within ourselves and on a personal level. The Lord taught us with the parable of the sower, where the wheat and the tares will be separated on the last day.

The great spiritual figures attribute every evil in the world to themselves, believing that if they were purified in the necessary manner then things in this world would be better. A contemporary theologian has said, "The problem is not that everyone isn't a Christian. It's that not all Christians are saints." This is how believers deal with the evil one.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Bishops

Arabic original here.

The Bishop: A Spiritual, Patristic Approach

There is a deep bond between the bishop and the local church. He is tied to a specific, real diocese (bishop over a territory).

Saint Cyprian says, "The bishop exists in the church and the church exists in him." Saint Ignatius of Antioch says, "Follow the bishop as  the Lord Jesus Christ follows His father..." (Epistle to the People of Smyrna 8:1-2).

He is the priest par excellence, the successor of the apostles, and the teacher who watches over the upright faith as well as the Orthodox ethos. The word 'episkopos' means someone who watches over, the overseer, the one who preserves and protects. The bishop presides over the eucharistic gathering and distributes the holy mysteries that are the source of grace and life. The bishop remains, despite everything, a mere servant of the mysteries because Christ Himself is the true source of the grace that is bestowed by the Holy Spirit Himself.

The bishop as teacher:

"Rightly dividing the word of truth" (cf. Canon 19 of the Council in Trullo). This responsibility requires of him great humility, simplicity of life, and an upright ethos.

The bishop does not speak in his own personal name, but in the name of the Church. That is, in the name of the community of the Church, the body of Christ, as well as in the name of holy tradition. He receives this grace from Christ Himself through apostolic succession.

The bishop as shepherd:

He is the the shepherd of rational sheep who watches over them: "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). The bishop is the image of Christ when he follows God's will in the Church by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then "obedience to the bishop is obedience to God," as Saint Ignatius of Antioch says in his Epistle to the Ephesians (5:2) and his Epistle to the Magnesians (3:2).

He is the guard who takes care of his sheep. He strengthens the weak, treats the sick, and strives after the lost sheep.

In the prayer of consecration of a bishop we pray, "Grant, O Father, to Your servant whom You have chosen for the episcopate that he may shepherd Your holy flock."

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Monday, July 17, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: Our Call to True Sonship

Arabic original here.

Our Call to True Sonship

Today we commemorate the fathers who gathered at the Fourth Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon 451), who taught that Christ is both God and man and that He has two natures, divine and human. They are our fathers in the faith and they begat us in Christ Jesus. We come from them, from their positions and their words, and we constitute a right-believing Church, which is the Church of Christ.

With regard to those who left the Church because they did not believe in the Most Holy Trinity and in Christ as God and man, the Apostle Paul says in today's Epistle to Titus to stay away from them, turn away from them. Do not have dealings with the heretic, anyone with deviant dogma. You have your path and he has his. Of course, you love him and you serve him, but you do not think like him. You are a child of the living, right-believing Church, which Christ renews in the one true faith.

The faith is upright and pure when you nourish it with your love for Christ, with your obedience to Him and your persistence in the Church. You are a member in the Church and you must practice your membership in her. If you are absent and your absence is repeated, you will not be known as a brother. How are you known to be Christians with upright dogma if you are not present in the gathering of the faithful at every feast and every Sunday morning? Those who are absence have their business, but they are not of us. For this reason in ancient times they said that anyone who is absent three consecutive times from the Divine Liturgy is cut off from the community.

The Church is not a building and walls. It is the people. The building is called a church because the church is where they gather. It is where the faithful people come together. The Church is the body of Christ and this means that Christ looks out to people through those who believe in Him, as He says, "I am the vine and you are the branches" (John 15:5). Christ came, was crucified, died, arose and ascended into heaven, so He is invisible, yet He must be known. He must be preached. Who preaches Christ? Who knows Him? Who loves Him? How do strangers know Him? Christ is known through those who love Him if they are gathered to be renewed by His blood. We need a connection to Him. It is not true that someone who stays at home is connected to Christ. This is an excuse for his laziness. But when we are together in one place we drink from one source, we receive one word, our minds are molded by the words of the Gospel, our thoughts are fused with the dictates of the Gospel, and at that point we are one.

We give life to the Church when we are gathered in her, we follow the same words, and we receive the one body of Christ and the precious blood of Christ into our souls, into our spirits, into our bodies.

When we say in family life, "This child comes from his father's blood and from his mother's blood,"we mean that he is connected to them. He is one with them on account of having the same blood. In this sense we receive Christ's blood in order to be one with Him. If the blood of Christ is not in us, then we do not belong to Him. And if we do not receive Christ's body, then we do not belong to Him.

Therefore the Church is our mother who waits for us at every divine sacrifice, in order to embrace us, in order to feel that we are her children, so that Christ may see from heaven that we are under His banner and under His wings. So we must gather together to say to Him, "We are Your children. We are here with You in Your house, before the Holy Gospel and before the holy chalice from which we are nourished." At that point we are in one spirit and one mind and we look for the benefit of all the brothers, great and small, men and women, and we are truly a single community in love for all, holding fast to daily obedience to Christ in His love.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

al-Monitor: Jerusalem Patriachate Sells Church Lands (Again...)

Read the whole thing here

In Jerusalem, secret sale of church land to developers revealed

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Greek Orthodox Church secretly sold 500 dunams (124 acres) of land in West Jerusalem to undisclosed Israeli developers, giving rise to angry calls for the patriarch to be removed.

The leading Israeli financial newspaper Calcalist revealed the story June 27, though the sale quietly took place in August 2016. The deal is sparking controversy within official and nonofficial Orthodox groups in Palestine and Jordan, and stoking worry among the 1,500 households whose subleases will expire in about 30 years. The church in the 1950s granted a 99-year lease to the Jewish National Fund. Typically, such leases on church-owned property are renewed, and the people who subleased the property, along with their families, had expected to remain there.

The secret deal came to light after the church filed a complaint with the District Court of Jerusalem against the Israeli municipality, seeking documents proving the church is no longer bound to pay taxes to the municipality when ownership is transferred.

The Orthodox community in Palestine and Jordan is accusing Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, Palestine and Jordan of diverting church lands to Israel and is demanding he be removed from office.
In a July 3 meeting, 14 local Orthodox institutions agreed to stop all forms of dialogue with Theophilos III and the synod, and to form a mini-secretariat to follow up on all protest actions and popular movements, calling for withholding Palestinian and Jordanian recognition of Theophilos III.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: Jesus Expels Evil Completely

Arabic original here.

Jesus Expels Evil Completely

Jesus was in Capernaum, on the west bank of the Sea of Tiberius, where He lived and from where He started preaching in Galilee. As though He wanted to confront the devil directly, He went across to the other shore and there appeared two madmen before Him. The devil tormented people and still does, and so many cases of illness were attributed to the devil.

Here the two men were being tormented because they faced the Lord and the evil spirit did not want to surrender, so they said, "What business do we have with you O Jesus, Son of God? Did you come here to torment us before the time?" in the sense of saying, "the time has not come for Your kingdom, so we want to rule in the world." But Jesus the Lord came to scatter the devil's kingdom, to put an end to evil, to erase sin, so He expelled the evil spirits from the two sick men until they asked to be cast into the pigs and were drowned in the lake. It is forbidden to eat pigs according to Jewish law and raising them was prohibited.

Jesus expels evil completely and the symbol of this is that the animals die in the lake and then He returns to Capernaum and preaches.

Each of us harbors evil within. It is not that we have caused the devil to dwell in our hearts, but that sometimes we collude with him and very often our demons seem attractive to us.

Close companionship with the Lord is not pleasant for the heart because the Lord is demanding and insistent. He wants us for Himself and not for our demons. He does not want to share us with anyone. For this reason we often say to the Lord, "Why did you come to torment us? Go back to Your heaven and leave our hearts to us so we can hand them over to demons."

When someone gives himself over to lying, he gives himself over to the devil. When someone gives his soul over to any form of falsehood, aggression or anger, he is simply giving it over to the devil. Every bad thing we do is simply an alliance with the devil. This is why when someone justifies his wicked deeds, it is simply the devil speaking through him.

Everyone who believes in his heart and confesses with his tongue that Jesus Christ rose from the dead will rise. Anyone who believes in his heart and confesses with his tongue that Jesus can raise us up from the dead and that He saves us from our sins today before every temptation is someone who is saved. But the one who claims to be Christian and prays in our churches but justifies wicked things, endorses transgressions, and sings the praises of sins is not being saved and is not a Christian.

Therefore, if we want to be saved and we want to be serious and are not part of this Christianity of empty words, then let us bow down and say to the Lord, "You are the Savior." "Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help" (Psalm 146:3). This is what the Bible says. Humankind does not save humankind. Weapons do not save humankind. Politics do not save humankind. Christ saves humankind.

Give yourselves over to Christ and then your demons will leave you and be cast into lakes and unclean pigs. Then you will be purified. Stay firm in truth, in the purity of the Gospel and do not let your minds be defiled by people's words, but let your words spring forth from the words of the Lord and let your feelings come from the feelings of the Lord. Anyone who feels contrary to Jesus is unclean. A person is responsible for his feelings, through what goes on in his mind and in his heart. Whoever sullies himself with any dark feelings toward another creature for any reason whatsoever is a defiled person. Expel your demons from your hearts and expel them from your minds, that the Lord alone might dwell in your minds and your hearts and you may be children of the Most High.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Met Saba (Esber): The Consolations of Homs

Arabic original, published June 5, 2017, here.

The Consolations of Homs

The Archdiocese of Homs is the second most numerous after that of Damascus. The destruction and displacement that has afflicted the city of Homs has afflicted it. Many of its people have fled it, for the most part heading for neighboring regions that are safer, particularly Wadi al-Nasara. Half of our diocesan complex has been destroyed there. The damage affecting some churches ranges from almost complete to partial, but its great loss is represented by the emptying-out of the Old City and neighborhoods adjacent to it of their inhabitants. Stone brings back people and becomes empty ruins without them.

Therefore her bishop and priests did not leave her. Those who were in the combat zone, along with their parishes, took refuge in safe areas within Homs. He has continued to care for the flock entrusted to him with the strength, ability and acumen given to him.

Despite the current hardship, some of the priests, with the blessing of their bishop and with the cooperation of donor organizations, have initiated development projects in support of those who have been affected. Around 92 people live there: a year-round nursery in the Church of Our Lady (the Armenian Quarter) takes in 150 boys and girls. There is a sewing and embroidery workshop that produces ecclesiastical vestments, a factory for producing sponges and upholstery, a workshop for producing winter clothing, and a cattle farm. It should be mentioned that the income from these projects is dedicated to supporting affected families and to encourage them to set up small businesses.

Needs are great and varied and require enormous budgets. But the believer trades with the balance given to him and offers it to God, who blesses and multiplies honest effort, no matter how humble. Let the believer not forget the words of the Lord, "And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward" (Matthew 10:42).

Likewise the Patriarchate, in cooperation with donor organizations, has launched the "Let's Build" campaign to help the families of the Old City to rebuild their homes and return to them. 751 houses and three schools have been rebuilt in addition to a shelter center as of the time of this writing. By the end of this month, 110 more houses will have been rebuilt.

You may hear some grumbling here and there. Those who lack love justify their laziness with criticism, not caring for those who are exhausted, whose frustration and despair increase on account of his negativity. Those who are thankful and understanding, though they are few, have the blessing of contributing to raising the spirits of those who are exhausted by their examples, strengthening their hopes in their Church and their nation.

The zeal of the priests and the flock, particularly the youth, spreads consolation, lessens suffering, and bears witness to the terrifying destruction and its horrors. From the grave of the martyred Father Frans in his monastery in the heart of the Old City, I raised a prayer for the repose of his soul, for the souls of those who have died, for the strengthening of those who still struggle, refusing to leave their precious land of Syria, watered with the blood of martyrs and saints.

It is recounted in the life of St Paisios the Athonite (d. 1993) that on a visit to Australia he felt, while on the airplane, a powerful spiritual stirring. So he asked his companions, "Where are we flying  now?" The response: "Over Syria." He wept and said, "It is the land of martyrs and saints."

I was blessed to share with the people of Homs in their joy at the return of their diocesan complex to life. The patriarchate, by direction of His Beatitude John X, has taken on the costs of rebuilding the diocesan complex, located in Old Homs, refurnishing it, and restoring its service to what it was before 2012.

The diocesan choir served the prayer of thanksgiving. More than 60 young people, performing impeccably, makes you feel optimistic when you learn that they did not cease their study of music even in the most difficult times through which the city passed. Choirs of adults and young people that would be dreamed of in any diocese.

You could feel in the eyes of the faithful who had come to celebrate the occasion a clear joy that was at the same time mixed with a deep sorrow. There is no doubt that what the people of Old Homs and its surroundings experienced was very bitter and hard to forget. But the desire to return and build anew was stronger for them than the sorrow over what had passed. Their enthusiasm and determination inspires confidence not only in the return of Homs, but of all Syria. There is no doubt that the return of the diocesan complex to serving it, starting from its original location, will encourage many to return to their homes.

The Church of Saint George in the Hamidiyya neighborhood, which was almost entirely destroyed, has a different story. In 2005 the bishop of the diocese laid the cornerstone for a new church that was bigger than the old and crumbling one. By 2012, infrastructure work had been completed. But work stopped as our country entered into its trial and the old church was completely destroyed. As soon as the area was regained and Old Homs was liberated, work to rebuild it began. Many benefactors contributed to this symbolic project and it was brought back better than it had been before it was destroyed. The first liturgy was celebrated in it, after the completion of construction work, this past April 23, on the occasion of the feast day of its patron, Saint George the Victorious.

The church's pastor informed me that approximately 450 families have returned to live in the neighborhood, or about a third of the parish that had previously existed. It is a good number in record time. Despite the many blows that have struck the city, hope still remains strong among its people that she will return to life. In the Old City, you see closed shops and homes beside others that have been rebuilt and reopened. People have come back to live their and to lead their previous life on their land.

Our country has passed through extremely difficult historical circumstances. What it is going through now may be the most dangerous. One who observes the history of the Levant realizes that its fate is to be the battleground of great powers. This has happened on its land since the third millennium before Christ and continues to today. But the Christians have remained there, despite the agony of history and its sorrows for them. It is a great miracle and palpable proof of the activity of the Holy Spirit. Someone rightly said, and this in any case is our faith, that God is the Master of history and that He often bends it at the last minute, turning the course of its evil in the opposite direction.

In light of this faith, we read our history, our present and our future as a message of witness to the power and importance of love and of living witness to the one who conquered death and gave us new life. For you to believe in the risen Christ means that you rise after every fall to live anew.

I was still studying theology at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand in Lebanon when His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV laid the cornerstone of Balamand University. This was in 1988, when Lebanon was ablaze from the war that began in 1975. Journalists asked him, "You're building a university as the country is collapsing?" He replied, "If the fate of others is to destroy, our fate is to build."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on How to Bear Witness to Christ

Arabic original here.

The Perfection of Bearing Witness to Christ is in Martyrdom for His Sake

How do we bear witness to Christ before a hostile world? It happens by way of a calm attitude that accepts such hostility with meekness and love for those who fight against us. What is the motivation for such an attitude? It is our faith that Christ died and defeated death by His resurrection.

There is, among us, a person consumed by vain delusion and another person who longs for eternal life. The comforting good news remains that Christ is risen from the dead and defeated sin, evil, and death. Therefore He is able to raise us up with Him and grant us eternal life anew, that life that we lost in the Fall. And so it is for us to love and so live. Death is no longer before us, it is now behind us!

Today holiness comes by way of repentance, by way of humility and brokenness. Christ Himself became poor for our sake.

In this way we bear witness to true joy, the joy of the resurrection, the joy that springs forth from a heart broken before God and before others.

Have we thus shown service to others freely and with nothing in exchange? Our struggle lasts until death without our waiting for any final triumph. This is because the kingdom is in Christ who will come again outside of time and history, raising us up for good and bearing the fruits of our struggle for His sake. Do you see how we accept upon ourselves such a suffering person and joy at the same time?! This remains our witness before those who are despairing, despondent, broken and weeping. We bear witness through our holiness, through our joy, not through worldly authority and establishing magnificent institutions. The man standing before death, before losing love in this world, how can he not long for life, for love, for true joy?!

Only a praying person can bear witness to the incarnate Word, the Word who became a silent face in whom there is true worship, the presence that is attentive to others, in which there is live, hope and beauty.

The Jesus Prayer is nothing other than an internal cry, a hymn of love by which our heart is enlightened and enlightens others: the witness that God is love challenges others and angers no one. This is love of enemies. The witness is love above everything and before everything, a communion of reunion with others, though which one knows in his live how to speak with one who is suffering, how to console him with the living water that wells up from within him.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies