Sunday, November 26, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: Meditations on Death and the Resurrection

Arabic original here.

Meditations on Death and the Resurrection

There is an inevitable truth that death lies in wait for us at some moment of our life. So how must one deal with this eventuality? Do we surrender to it and live our life in fear of it happening sooner or later? Or should we face it with courage and live as though it could happen at any moment? Do we live this coming death in constant fear or do we regard it as something natural and go about our daily life in a normal manner?

Kallistos Ware begins his article "'Go Joyfully:' The Mystery of Death and the Resurrection", which appears in his book The Inner Kingdom as follows: "In the worship of the Russian Orthodox Church, while the prayers of preparation are being said before the start of the Eucharist, the doors in the center of the icon screen remain closed. Then comes the time for the Divine Liturgy itself to begin: the doors are opened, the sanctuary stands revealed, and the celebrant sings the initial blessing. It was precisely this moment that the religious philosopher Prince Evgeny Trubetskoy recalled as he lay dying. These were his last words: 'The royal doors are opening! The Great Liturgy is about to begin.' For him death was not the closing but the opening of the door, not an end but a beginning. Like the early Christians, he saw his death-day as his birthday."

These words remind us of what Simeon the Elder proclaimed when he held the child Jesus during His presentation in the temple. He said, "Now let your servant depart in peace, O Lord, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation" (Luke 2:29-30). Simeon saw the Savior, the awaited Messiah, and so he lacked nothing in this world, so he asked God to release him from this world to the world of salvation. Evgeny Trubetskoy also saw that his departure from this world was a departure to participation in the Divine Liturgy, which is communion between the living and the dead. He saw that death is the true beginning of new life in the eternal presence of God.

In the same article, the author quotes Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, "Death is the touchstone of our attitude toward life. People who are afraid of death are afraid of life. It is impossible not to be afraid of life with all its complexity and dangers if one is afraid of death... It is only if we can face death, make sense of it, determine its place and our place in regard to it, that we will be able to live in a fearless way and to the fullness of our ability." But he is quick to warn us not to ignore the mysterious nature of death and so we must not treat death lightly. It is, of course, an inevitable reality, but at the same time it is the great unknown.

How does the resurrection relate to all of this? Kallistos Ware responds, "For Christians, the constantly-repeated pattern of death-resurrection within our own lives is given fuller meaning by the life, death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. Our own story is to be understood in light of His story-- that story which we celebrate annually during Holy Week... Christ's dying, in the words of the Liturgy of Saint Basil, is a 'life-creating death'... As we Orthodox affirm at the Paschal midnight service, in words attributed to St John Chrysostom, 'Let none fear death, for the death of the Savior has set us free. He has destroyed death by undergoing death... Christ is risen and life reigns in freedom. Christ is risen, and there is none left dead in the tomb.'"

What is our attitude? Let us pray with those who pray, asking God to answer this supplication: "Let the end of our life be peaceful, without sorrow or shame before the judgment-seat of Christ." This requires us to be prepared through living a life of constant repentance, that we may stand not with those who are disappointed, but with those who are saved.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: The Question of Life

Arabic original here.

The Question of Life

This is the question of life: who is my neighbor? People think that the neighbor is a spouse, a child or an uncle, all those we call "relatives," and people distinguish between neighbors and strangers. A neighbor is someone with whom we share our tastes, our religion, or kinship and a stranger is someone with whom we differ and whom we find foreign.

Here the teacher of the law comes to Jesus, a theologian in Israel who had to have known the answer to the question before asking, and so the Bible says that he came to test Jesus and asked him, "How may I be saved?" Jesus replies, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself." The man knew that the Law of Moses commands love, but it distinguishes neighbor from foreigner. The Law says, "Only love the Jew." Non-Jews are called "gentiles" and Jews had nothing to do with them.

Although the Samaritans lived near the Jews in the land of Samaria, they were regarded as foreigners because they believed only in the five books of Moses and did not accept the Jews' prophets and because their blood had been mixed in marriage with foreign blood. Therefore the Jews regarded them as foreigners, had nothing to do with them and did not care for them.

When the teacher of the law asked Him, "Who is my neighbor?," Jesus told him the parable that appears in today's Gospel reading. Jesus did not answer the lawyer's question directly, but rather responded to the question with a question: who do you reckon became a neighbor to that wounded man? He said, "The one who worked mercy for him." This Samaritan, the hated, damned foreigner, became a neighbor to the injured Jew through love. The barriers between nations dissolved when Jesus came teaching mercy. The barrier between neighbor and stranger dissolved, between one neighborhood and another, between one region and another, between one village and another, between an old family and newcomers.

All of these worldly, self-interested concerns were destroyed by Christ. He said to us, "Before you is a specific person who needs you": the poor or injured or lonely, or the one who feels that no one loves him. God has designated this person as your neighbor, if you go out to him. Thus the question "who is my neighbor?" is irrelevant. Go out to the person who you see in need of you, the one whom circumstances have placed along your path of life, no matter what his nationality, his religion, or... If you go out to him and love him, you make him your neighbor.

The fathers of the Church say that the Good Samaritan is an image of Christ because he is the one one who breaks the barriers between people and goes to all people. He sent his apostles into the entire world to create love between all people. Those who love each other are the ones who became the Church of Christ in love. It is naturally supposed that those who are baptized will love each other, to be a model for people, so that the light that is in them will shine forth and go out to others by way of love. In this way the true Church spreads, the Church of those who love.

The remedy is love. This means that after we encounter each other, we care, we serve, we sacrifice, and in this way the other person gets better because we have loved him.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: George, Saint of Nonviolence

Arabic original here.

George, Saint of Nonviolence

Yesterday [i.e., November 3], the Orthodox Church celebrated the commemoration of the rebuilding of the church of the Holy Great-martyr George in Lydda and the transfer of his relics there. This Palestinian saint took Christ as his sole model in order to live according to His teachings and to bring his life into harmony with them, especially the cross, the distinguishing sign of true Christianity, not of just any Christianity that raises it as a slogan for sectarian mobilization.

George, the officer in the Roman army, was martyred because he refused to offer sacrifices in pagan rites, just as he refused to confess the divinity of the emperor. He willingly accepted martyrdom, abandoning his weapon and casting it aside. He did not resist with violence, but rather his resistance was non-violent, a simple declaration of his faith in Christ the Lord, Redeemer and Savior. He accepted martyrdom in order not to betray his faith and its fundamental principles or act against his firm conviction.

The majority of Christians have made George into a different person who has nothing to do with the martyr George. They have turned his icon, which is rich in symbolism, into a legendary hero and denied his martyrdom. They have made him into a warrior, when he refused to use his weapon against those who tormented him, beat him, and caused him to experience every sort of torture. This legendary icon has contributed to making many people say, as a reaction, that George never lived because he fought and felled the dragon. So if dragon is a legend, then the whole thing is a legend. But George the officer lived under the Roman Empire and was martyred during the era of persecutions (303-304).

There are two fundamental elements that we see in the icon: the dragon, which symbolizes evil, and the young woman, who symbolizes the Church. This dragon (the Evil One) demanded that the people of the city offer him a young virgin every day as a ransom for the entire city. George rejected this communal concession to evil and he endeavored to resist it. He defended the young woman (the Church) that the dragon wanted to kill and destroy. His war was not of this world. It was a war imposed upon him by his zeal for the Church, so that she would not be transformed into an institution of this world. He wanted the Church not to offer any concession, no matter how simple, to the forces of evil, but rather for her to resist them and eliminate them.

There is an essential lesson provided by this icon, which is ignored by many people who act contrary to it. The icon intends to remind the faithful that the essential less of George's martyrdom lies in that his steadfastness in faith and martyrdom and his refusal to submit to his tormentors are what made Christianity endure. The only thing that destroys Christianity is its transformation into one of the institutions of this transient world.

The distortion of George's image was increased through its use in launching wars and massacres that have nothing to do with the Christian faith or the teachings of the Church. If someone wants the great powers of the world to launch a war in the political, economic and military interest of his country, you see him taking the place of George on the back of the horse and killing the dragon. In fact, it would be more appropriate to draw a picture showing a dragon fighting another dragon, not a saint who has committed many crimes against the innocent people of the country targeted for war. But the dragons are many and there is a battle of dragons without saints or righteous ones.

Christianity does not accept any distinction between an ordinary evil and a greater evil. Evil is evil, so putting it into degrees as though that legitimizes the evil that we see as ordinary and acceptable in order to prevent a greater evil, but which others might see as a great evil, and what we see as normal they see as something great that must be eliminated. This happens because we don't agree on what is the ordinary evil and what is the greater evil. So dragons battle with a clear conscience.

Saint George is the saint of nonviolence who through nonviolence defeated the Roman Empire. The empire that wanted to put an end to Christianity was went extinct, while the Church was victorious over the great empire through nonviolence and continues to live by the grace of her Lord. Do not insult us, O dragons of this world, by using the image of Saint George or of any other saint in your wars and assaults. George is nobler than you and immeasurably superior. Leave him in peace, lest your condemnation be multiplied.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Shepherd

Arabic original here.

The Shepherd

The true Shepherd is Christ and so the true priest is the one who resembles Christ because he receives his priesthood from Him.

"The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

The priest is numbered among the clergy. This word indicates ecclesiastical service. In our true reckoning, there are not classes in the church: between the patriarch, metropolitan (or bishop), priest, deacon, and layman...all of these are various vocations according to the service of each one of them. They are all equal before the Lord.

His calling is to lead his children to repentance. That is, continuous transformation into the mind of Christ. He does this through teaching and offering a model of life.

In this process, the priest always respects the freedom of the other. He wins him over with his love and dedication.

The true priest washes the feet of the faithful. We call him "father" because he points us to the fatherhood of God. He begets spiritual children by God's grace. He always strives to speak with God's words.

The prophet Ezekiel says, "'But you, son of man, hear what I say to you... open your mouth and eat what I give you.' Now when I looked, there was a hand stretched out to me; and behold, a scroll of a book was in it... Moreover He said to me, 'Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.' So I ate, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness." (Ezekiel 2:8, 3:1-3).

A priest does not lead anyone to himself, but rather to Christ the Savior. This is the work of every spiritual father. The prophet also says, "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves!" (Ezekiel 34:2) and adds, "I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down. I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment (Ezekiel 34:15-16). He does all of this out of his love.

Beloved, we are in dire need of such shepherds as these today in our age of materialism and selfishness. People today, especially the youth, seek to have a living model to imitate before them, to "leave everything and follow Christ." It is true that a shepherd needs much knowledge of God's word, but what attracts the person of today more than anything else is his free service in meekness and love.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies