Sunday, December 31, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): John the Forerunner

Arabic original here.

The Sunday after Nativity
The Sunday before Theophany (John the Forerunner)

"Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me." (Malachi 3:1; Mark 1:2)

They asked him, "Who are you?" and he responded, "I am not the Christ." So who are you? Are you Elijah? "I am not him," he replied. Are you the prophet? "No." And he finally answered, "I am a voice crying out in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord." "I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose" (John 1:26-27).

This is the witness of John the Forerunner. When he saw Jesus walking, he sent his disciples to catch up with Jesus, telling them, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" (John 1:29).

Whoever has disciples, let him follow the example of John the Forerunner and encourage his disciples to follow the Lord Jesus and not follow his own person. This is sound spiritual guidance. From another perspective, if we bear truth as an evangelistic, educational message, let us follow the teaching of the Forerunner who evangelized in the wilderness of this world, saying:

"Repent, for the kingdom of God has drawn near" (Matthew 3:2). In this way we prepare, before departing this world, to meet the Lord on the Day of Reckoning.

The call to repentance, to follow the mind of Christ and His commandments, is the foundation of teaching and evangelism. Let the witness and teaching of the Forerunner and Baptist John be our witness in today's world. Just as he preceded in his age, preaching repentance, so let us like him precede Christ's coming into the hearts of others who live amidst the stream of modern life, through confessing sings and repenting of having committed them in order to follow the way of the Lord.

This is what the Church strives for in her soul-healing message, through the way of contemporary spiritual fathers in imitation of the Forerunner and Baptist John, first through preaching repentance and return to the Lord and His commandments.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Met Siluan (Muci)'s Christmas Message 2017

Spanish original here.

The "Living Manger", Our Unfailing Hope

"Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." (Luke 2:10-12)

As we celebrate Christmas, we want to draw near to the manger of Bethlehem with the simplicity and guilelessness of the shepherds as well as with the eagerness and hope of the kings, to receive and worship our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became incarnate for us. 

While unbelievers are scandalized because the Most High is placed in the crib of a manger in the care of His mother, the Virgin Mary, and her betrothed, the righteous Joseph, we believers confess the divine identity of the one born in Bethlehem: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." We likewise recognize that this manger of Bethlehem refers to the immaterial and timeless "manger". That is, the "bosom of the Father", as the Gospel affirms: "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him," with a clear reference to the Son "begotten of the Father before all worlds," in agreement with the confession of our Creed. Between the divine and immaterial manger and the manger of Bethlehem, a third manger is even more noticeable, the "living manger," the manger that we are, each of us as bearers of Christ, marked by the seal of the Holy Spirit and bearing the name that we have, since we are Christians. In the person of the Virgin Mary we have seen this "living manger" in all its reality, splendor and glory as through her the Son of God became incarnate, was conceived, and was born in the cave in Bethlehem.

Through the Virgin and thanks to her, God's providence for humankind became fully manifest. We receive the will of the Father to dwell among us, to live in us, desiring to transform the entire human being who believes in Him and in His "living manger", in a union and communion that express the purpose of His having created us in His image so that we may arrive at being in His likeness. In the manger of Bethlehem, the wall of separation that separates the material from the immaterial, the visible from the invisible, the divine from the human, is broken and a new and unprecedented communion between God and us: the eternal one who is born before all the ages desires to unite Himself with those who believe in Him and do His will. "We are His house," according to the Apostle Paul. Therein lies the whole proclamation of the Gospel of our hope, a hope given that will not be taken away from us, if we work to realize it, to cultivate it, and to stand firm in it.

Although in Christmas visiting family predominates, the exchange of greetings and gifts is prevalent, and the need for rest and peace is emphasized, nevertheless our closeness to the manger of Bethlehem does not permit us to trade our eternal hope for an ephemeral one, to live as if the wall of separation that Christ broke continues to be present and effective in our life. Tearing down this wall of separation that excludes God from our heart and separates us from our neighbor is the mission that we undertake as Christians in order to live Christmas in its most authentic and substantial sense. It is a gestation that we realize day by day, in a commitment of perseverance until the end, which will culminate in our transformation into "living mangers", so that we can say with the Apostle Paul: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."

There is no doubt that this gestation is the most precious offering that we can bring to the One who was cradled in the manger of Bethlehem, as well as to those who are created in His image, especially to the members of our family and parish, to our fellow Argentine citizens, to our brothers in the Middle East, and to all the world. Let us listen, then, as as a sign of the culmination of our gestation, to the angels in heaven singing once more the Christmas hymn: "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, goodwill toward men."

Merry Christmas!

Metropolitan of Buenos Aires and All Argentina 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Fr Touma (Bitar): Let us not Celebrate an Empty Manger!

Arabic original here.

So that we do not celebrate an empty manger!
The love of money and worship of the devil!

The discussion of the love of money in the Holy Bible is in need of a closer look. The only thing that the Lord spoke about in terms of worship, comparing it to Himself, is money: "You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24). And so either God is one's god or money is his god! There is no room here for fibbing. Someone who worships God loves Him, is committed to Him, and thus hates money as a god and despises it. The case is the same with money. Someone who loves money automatically hates God. Likewise, someone who is committed to the love of money despises God, whether or not he realizes it. This is a conclusion. The discussion and expressions are from what appears in Matthew the tax-collector, cited above. Love of money, then, is enmity towards God! In two places, in the Epistle to the Romans and the Epistle of James, there is discussion of what constitutes enmity towards God: being "carnal-minded", that is being exclusively concerned with what is external instead of bring "spiritually-minded". That is, acting according to what pertains to the Spirit of God. This is in Romans 8. Then the love of money is discussed in James 4. The love of money is the middle link that connects carnal-mindedness, which is an expression for man's self-worship, to love of the world, which is the language in which self-love expresses itself in the world that God created.

Love of money from love of the self is like scientific knowledge, while love of money from love of the world is like technology. In practice, these are three aspects of one existential activity. If you mention one of them, your words imply the other two aspects. This single existential activity is not divine because it is inimical to God. Therefore, in all simplicity, it is a contrivance of demonic activity. The devil inspired it in the beginning. Then, it entered into Adam's ear and occupied his mind and then descended into his heart, his very being, and settled there, and then the whole man was affected. From there, this demonic inspiration went forth from man's being into the world. It devised an instrument whose material it extracted from the world and it shaped it with the spirit of man's self-worship. So the love of money-- that is, the love of possessions-- came into existence as an idol in which dwells the spirit of Satan as master and ruler over everything called an institution related to man. Thus the love of money became the root of all evil (cf. 1 Timothy 6:10) and greed the fundamental and only organ, which is idol-worship (cf. Colossians 3:5) and what in practice spreads idol-worship. That is, what extends the spirit of Satan into every person of sin.

We wonder what the dialectic of the relationship between money and the love of money is. Money in itself, theoretically, a means for facilitating commercial interaction and, in a general sense, for trade between people. In itself it is neither good nor evil. The important thing is the manner in which money is used as a means in a person's life. If you use it for service, there is nothing wrong with it. But if you use it to dominate people and the good things of the earth, it is clearly not only harmful but demonic, in every sense of the word! But one rarely uses it to serve one's neighbor and to meet needs. More often, a person uses it to serve his own passions. In general, even if it has uses that appear to be good, deep down what a person is seeking is for himself, even if it appears that he is doing good. I will say it again: this is in general, in most cases and for a majority of people. The reason, as expressed in the Book of Genesis (8:21), is that the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth! An abundance of money in people's hands spontaneously stirs up the love of money in their souls. It is only in three cases that the burning coal of the love of money is extinguished and a person is ascetic, poor in spirit in the way he deals with money: if he has lived closely with an ascetic person who is poor in spirit, especially in his father's house, and has been profoundly influenced by it; if he has received a very strong shock that has changed his view of things; or, if his heart has been touched by God's grace for reasons that God alone knows. Apart from this, dealing with money inevitably brings forth the love of money and money's subjugation of its owner. At that point, the difference between one and another, in this context, is the difference of the degree to which the love of money has come to possess his soul. It may reach the point of obsession and identifying money with one's life. This is what the Lord Jesus warned about when He warned about greed, showing that "one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses," and then told the parable of the rich food (cf. Luke 12).

We also wonder what inspires the soul, on the basis of the love of money, to love of the self. And what role does limitless accumulation play in it? The deep desire for accumulation comes from a profound feeling of poverty and the need for fullness, from a deep feeling of emptiness without any stability. In the fall, man cut the umbilical cord of grace between him and God. The emptiness is a lack of God's presence and the poverty results from the absence of God's grace. Of course, man's continued existence is also from God's grace. God has preserved this for His own purpose. In the fall, knowledge of good and evil trickled into man's life. Before that, there was only knowledge of good because man was enveloped in God's grace. There was only the commandment "do not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on that day you will surely die." I say that there was only the commandment, tied to good will in man, which preserved him. When he fell into transgression, grace departed from him and inner emptiness dominated within him until the hour came that God willed in His dispensation to pour grace upon His servants according to the words of Paul, "by grace you are saved and that is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God." However, until that hour, when it comes personally, man does not change automatically. There needs to be the presence of will in him. The will to love God by faith in Him. By his will man left God's paradise and by his will he returns to Him. As regards God in this, He has His dispensation in this situation or that, in man's departure from Him and in his repentance to Him. Before man is restored and returns, poverty set in within him and he suffered from emptiness in his being, the lack of grace. However it is not possible for him to persist in his poverty and emptiness since he would die and be annihilated. He needed a fraudulent substitute for God, in the image of his passions and the breath of Satan within him, so money and possessions became a fake god, an idol for him. Money, then, is a burden and it bears the capacity for a demonic curse, like an idol, with which every person is increasingly smeared unless he takes up the spirit of asceticism by grace, by imitation, or by suffering. In reality, cursed are all who hang by the thread of the spirit of the spider of money, just as all who were hanged upon a tree were cursed. Just as surrender to God-- into Your hands I commend My spirit-- put an end to the curse of the cross, unto unfading joy-- by the cross joy came into the whole world-- so too, and only in this way, is the curse of money removed through asceticism, the seeking of the Father's face, unto salvation, through the grace of the One for whom all is possible. Otherwise, money remains a curse, spawning wormholes that do not die, even if one has no possessions! His soul, amidst a saturation of love of self, is "tuned" to be wholly enveloped by the passion of the love of money, no matter how poor or even destitute it is. Thus, in every soul, the love of money precedes every possession, and in most cases it does not depart from it until death. Before the love of money is necessarily embodies in a bank account, a real estate portfolio, or things like that, it is a state in the soul, a spiritual ulcer that settles in the soul through the institutionalization of the tendency towards the love of money in society. The rich person, in this sense, is first of all someone who has been overwhelmed in his spirit by this tendency. And then, the more this tendency is activated by his getting his hands on money that piles up and increases, he makes himself into a captive to an experience and to effects on his spirit, mind and soul that he has no control over. The dream of happiness becomes a nightmare for him and the promises of hoped-for peace are aborted. Layers of spiritual sediment build up and prevent him from feeling it. The intellect becomes a broken compass whose needle moves randomly in every direction with nothing to control it. Passion is taken by self-pity towards complete destruction and collapse.

Why does the love of accumulation in the soul not stop at a certain point? Because nothing can fill the void left by the departure of grace from a person. To the contrary, contrary to what the person imagines in his falling, the more he accumulates, the greater the hunger that he feels. Exactly like gluttony. The more a person indulges in gluttony, the greater his feeling of hunger while, on the contrary, the more a person fasts (naturally, according to one's capability), the more full he feels. Thus the person continues to accumulate, and not just what is enough for him, for two reasons: first of all, because accumulation produces pleasure in the self-loving soul and because accumulation sends fear into it if the person does not persist in accumulating. His fear creates for him an imaginary competitor and enemy. Of course, he starts accumulating as though for a need, then little by little accumulation turns into a need. He goes forward, in his stupor, like someone searching for a greater sense of security, while you find him falling unwittingly into greater anxiety and unease. According to the Holy Bible, if you don't believe in God you are not secure, so it's no wonder that earnest striving after money leads to a greater sense of insecurity. A person starts on the basis of his remaining sense, then little by little unfeeling drowns it out. Perhaps he promises himself that when he finds success he will take care of the needy. And if he is successful, his selfishness is awakened even more and feeling for his neighbor dies out within him to the point that he hates him, telling himself that he has the right to enjoy what his own two hands have reaped and he judges his needy neighbor for being idle and insatiable. He spends millions on his own pleasure and it gives his heart no comfort, while a penny for the poor is a heavy burden for him! In practice, he pilfers from what belongs the poor for their subsistence, who are humiliated, since they are put into the position of begging for their right to live. Indeed, he considers them, if they persist in their demand, to be people who want to take from him fraudulently!

The love of money drips a demonic acid into the soul, by which a person increasingly comes to be of the devil's stuff. He becomes a demon, in a sense! This desiccates the content of every relationship with others and it only leaves-- if it leaves anything-- their outward form. He believes the lie that he has friends when, in the depth of his soul, he is isolated and savage. In the end, he shamelessly adopts Satan and crucifies Christ in God's name! The devil becomes the person's father because, through love of money, he does the devil's work at all times. Thus the person is confined between two antichrists: one flows like a stream that draws him to worship the other when the cup of man's sin is full. Then he quickly and completely falls into the third temptation into which the devil tried to cause Christ to fall, as a man, according to the Gospel of Matthew: Satan took Jesus to a high mountain and showed Him the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said to Him, "I will give you all of these if You fall down and worship me" (Matthew 4:8-9)! And so the choice is this: either you bow down to the Lord your God and worship Him alone or you fall down and worship Satan! There is no state between these two. The love of money is walking in the spirit of Satan every day until you come to the hour when one worships the devil face to face and Satan becomes all in all for him as a dark spirit!

What nativity are we working for, then?! This is a question that everyone must ask himself. Beware that the god that we celebrate today born in a manger is not Mammon robed in light!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan-- Douma, Lebanon
December 24, 2017

Met Elias (Audi)'s Christmas Sermon 2017

Arabic original here.

At the Christmas liturgy, Audi calls for strengthening Lebanon:
The world is advancing and we are falling behind.

The metropolitan of Beirut and its dependencies, Elias Audi, presided at the Christmas liturgy at the Cathedral of Saint George in Ashrafiyya.

After the Holy Gospel, he gave a sermon, in the political portion of which he said, "We are living in an age dominated by darkness. Wars, killing, hatred, revenge, deliberate starvation, forced expulsion-- the list is long. Despite the coming of Christ, the evangelism of the apostles, and the piety of the saints, man is still drowning in sin. How can man, who is redeemed by God's blood, abandon his being a son of God and go back to being a slave to his passions and failings. The sun of justice has come to put an end to souls' darkness, but those called are many and those chosen are few, because those who accept grace with the fullness of their wills are few. God's graces are many and He inundates us with them, not because of our worthiness but because of His boundless love and mercy. But He does not violate our freedom."

He continued, "The Lord has given us a beautiful nation whose importance we have not realized and which we have not kept as we should. I fear that we will weep over it if we do not quickly set things aright. Lebanon belongs to us all. It belongs to all its children with all their groups, religious communities, and affiliations. If something bad happens to it, it happens to everyone, not to one group but not others. If we exhaust its finances, the consequences will be reflected on all of us. If we neglect its forests and harm its environment, we will all pay the price. If we break international agreements and the law of the United Nations, then the one accused will be all Lebanon. That is, all Lebanese, not one specific group or religious community. All of us are responsible."

He pointed out that "the world is advancing and developing, while we are increasing in backwardness, poverty, ignorance, economic decline, moral dissolution, and social fracturing. Where is the creative capacity that motivates people and pushes them to pose questions, to rebel, to constructively criticize, to be creative? Where is the faith in God that sews love and hope in the heart?"

He said, "We are all required to work tirelessly to rebuild the united, free, independent, distinguished, democratic Lebanon, far from bargaining, patching up, and special interests. We are required to fortify Lebanon against division, encroachment, auctioning, liabilities, quotas and deals. It must once again become a capital of culture, peace, tolerance, dialogue and freedom-- freedom of belief, freedom of sound and responsible expression, and of justice, the renunciation of violence and extremism, respect for diversity and difference, modernity and creativity. All are required to fight against corruption in the soul first, and then in others. Public debt is piling up and threatening the country's future, while there is enormous wealth, deals and suspicious activities. Why are the laws not enforced? Sloganeering is not enough. What is needed is a serious commitment from everyone and a renunciation of private interests for the sake of the common good, the good of the nation and its citizens."

He pointed out that "constructive criticism corrects deviation, so it is incumbent on all to pay attention to where faults are located and to fix them. Someone might say that Lebanon is living in the middle of a region that is in blazes and no device is at hand. We reply that it is within our capability to reform our internal house by enforcing the laws for everyone without differentiation and not only against the weak while the strong are always exculpated, along with those who are affiliated with them. It is within our capability to spread justice everywhere, to reduce the public debt by adopting transparency in the awarding of contracts in order to remove from the minds of citizens doubt about the conduct of officials, to protect national industry, reduce pollution of the air and water, reforest regions, prevent encroachment on the environment, deal with the traffic crisis, road congestion, unemployment, and other matters necessary for protecting citizens."

"We are in need of an internal workshop to save us from everything that impedes us from attaining the dignified life that every citizen hopes for and which he has a right for the nation to provide him with. This citizen no longer believes in his state's ability to function. This state that has not managed to deal with the electricity problem or the trash for decades, is it capable of eradicating corruption from souls and morals? But we all live in hope."

Audi concluded, "In this blessed feast, we lift up prayer to the divine Child, that He will have compassion for us and help us, both officials and citizens, to work silently and effectively to return Lebanon to the level of advanced, civilized states. We ask Him to inspire officials to cooperate to raise the country up and to change the painful current situation that citizens are enduring with wisdom, integrity, honesty, respect for values and laws, and the fear of God and dependence upon Him because He alone is our help and our Savior. We pray that the Lord will preserve our rulers, our army and all citizens and guide them to do all good. We also pray for all the oppressed, the missing, and the sick, that they may find their consolation in the Lord, the Savior whom we ask to return to us our brothers Metropolitans Paul and Yuhanna safely, to return Jerusalem to its people, and to return all to their homes. At the feast of the birth of the Lord Jesus, our eyes are fixed on Jerusalem and our hearts are lifted to the Lord of Lords, to establish His peace in His holy city and to spread His justice upon it and upon the entire inhabited world because the justice of the land is lacking and Jerusalem is its first victim. Is not the commemoration of the Savior's birth our being transported from the old, corrupt life to newness of life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen."

Monday, December 25, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos)'s Christmas Message 2017

Arabic original here.

Christmas Message

Christmas is the little Pascha. The blackness of the cave is the darkness of our hearts. The light of the little child is the light of our resurrection and the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, is His mother and our mother, as we are Jesus' brothers. The shepherds keep watch and pray and the angels dance and sing, "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace and goodwill to men." The wise men offer gifts: gold for the king, frankincense for the God, and myrrh for the one who will suffer and die for us humans, His creation.

 At Christmas, Christ comes to invite us to a great banquet, to invite everyone without exception. He gathers us from the streets and alleys. Coming in the form of a servant, He says, "Come to Me, I have prepared everything" (Luke 14:17). He comes wrapped in extreme humility. He is always standing at the door of our heart, knocking, "If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me" (Revelation 3:20).

Your Nativity, O Christ our God, has shone to the world the light of wisdom! For by it, those who worshiped the stars, were taught by a star to adore You, the Sun of Righteousness... a new Child, our God who is before the ages.

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). He has come to dwell in the depths of our hearts once more, permanently and from within, as Saint Gregory Palamas says: He dwells within us permanently through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit no longer inspires prophets, as in the Old Testament, from the outside and temporarily: this is the new mystery. This is the great mystery forgotten by Christians occupied with worldly affairs: God Himself, Jesus God and Son of God incarnate Himself, dwells in man, His weak, sinful creation by the power of the uncreated grace of the Holy Spirit. What a great wonder! What surpassing grace! Saint John Chrysostom says: O our joy! O our misery if we do not accept it, if we do not realize it!

Do not fear or despair, O faithful, because even if the world today has rejected the incarnate God, Christ remains our only hope and our savior from the vanity of this empty world. Listen to what the Lord Jesus says to you in the Gospel: "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).

The Word of God was born once according to the flesh. But, in His love for humankind, He wishes to be constantly born by the Spirit in those who love Him. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever."

Why this amazement at the Lord's birth? Some of the fathers say that one son is not born of two fathers. That is, they consider Christ's being Son of the Father as precluding His coming from a man. Christ could not be due to a man's desire.

Therefore Christ God was born of a Father without a mother before the ages and Christ the man was born of a mother without a father when the fullness of time came: "When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). Thus He shows people to be sons. This happened through Christ's humility and through our acting with meekness and humility. In this, His eternity is made new, through His appearance in the flesh while remaining eternal God!

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: Christ is the Feast

Arabic original here

Christ is the Feast

The feast has come, the feast of Christ's nativity in the flesh. Despite the tragedies that are happening in our country, the feast has come. The feast comes, and will come, at its time. No emergency or ongoing event will delay its coming from generation to generation.

The feast has come, as its Master comes in the latter times. Can we prevent Christ from appearing at every feast? Is this not our desire deep down? Is it possible for one of us ask Christ to delay His appearance? Therefore, when the feast arrives, we celebrate no matter the circumstances or the times. He appears to us in the feast, so we celebrate and rejoice, not for Him, but for ourselves. He doesn't need anyone to celebrate Him because He is the feast. But we need the feast in order to rejoice at our salvation that was accomplished through Him.

We will celebrate the feast no matter how oppressive our time. And has there been an age when the time was not oppressive? Was the era of the Roman Empire which witnessed the fiercest persecutions better than the current age of autocrats? Despite that, Christians gathered together at all times to praise God and glorify Him with great joy. In the era of Diocletian, the last persecutor of Christians, Christians faced martyrdom with great longing because it was a passageway to life with the Lord. The first people that the Church honored and recognized as saints and built places of worship over their tombs were martyrs.

The Christians did not cancel the feasts at any time: the time of catacombs, the time of persecutions that turned coliseums into slaughterhouses where Christians were offered as banquets for lions and wild beasts. Some stories and accounts tell us of  the hope with which many of those imprisoned in gulags lived in the time of the Soviet Union, where we see in some testimonies the measure of the faith that characterized some of them and their attachment to their faith and to what awaited them at the end of the tunnel increased.

We will celebrate the feast, even if we are refugees or are expelled from our homes or are without a fixed address-- our address is our face. We will celebrate the feast even if the number of victims of the wars going on in our lands reaches hundreds of thousands... We will celebrate the feast despite the existence of ISIS and plans for sectarian strife that strike here or there. Our identity is that all of us are children of God, Christians and non-Christians, He made us in His image and likeness. A person is born inheriting his parents' identity. It is a decaying identity because it is mutable and liable to change. A Christian is born at baptism and his identity becomes Christ Himself: "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Therefore there is an explicit departure from Christianity when national or ethnic identity supersedes universal human identity for people.

Here it must be pointed out that Christ put an end to Hebrew exclusivity with regard to salvation and opened the door wide for all nations to enter into salvation. All of us have become, thanks to Christ, called from all the nations to receive salvation. Today we are agitated by a pointless argument: what was Christ's original identity? Jewish? Palestinian? Aramaean? Hebrew? Syrian? Lebanese? This is of no concern to Christ and consequently it is of no concern to us in any way. He is outside the geographic, linguistic and historical boundaries that seek to monopolize Him according to one aspect of His life. Christ is all in all, so why insist on reducing or restricting Him?

He is all in all. Let us celebrate the feast with gratitude.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: Christmas

Arabic original here.


The Sunday of the Forefathers, that is the Sunday whose Gospel reading gives Jesus' ancestry back to Abraham and the children of Abraham, does so in order to say that the holiness appearing in the people of God only prepared for the perfect appearance of our Lord in the body of man, in the body of the Son of Man.The spiritual societies revealed by the Old Testament were just flashes that only came together in the person of Jesus and scattered from Him to those we call saints and to believers, because every drop of righteousness in the world and in the history of the world only came from the one who alone is righteous, the Lord Jesus.

He was the light before His Father said "let there be light"and He alone remained the gathering-point of light. We receive His light in the Old Testament starting with Abraham and we bring together in our minds and our meditations all the lights of the spiritual life in Him, whether this is in the people of the Old Testament or in all the peoples of the world, whose lights appeared before Him or appeared after Him because He is their source.

We know that Jesus is everything and that what has appeared here and there has come with Him alone. Therefore, if we seek illumination with this or that saint, we do not add another light to the Lord Jesus.

If we celebrate the feast of His Nativity today, we only do so to confess that it is the first appearance of the light in the world. Thus you have a feast if you feel that though your faith in Him you return to the light that you lost through sin. If you celebrate the feast truly and not merely as a tradition, then you have spread God's truth among people and the Lord has appeared from His feast to all people in love.

Therefore this feast is a little Pascha. That is, a feast of repentance, the day of our being stripped of darkness and of our walking toward the Savior's face. There is only Pascha for us to live it truly. That is, a sincere transformation from sin to the righteousness that has shone forth in the Lord. It appeared in Abraham and the children of Abraham until it became manifest here on earth in the body of the Lord Jesus.

Let us strive to an aspect of it in the feast, to increase in light through repenting every day, so that a new nativity comes every day. Let the Christians be lights that encounter each other and come together, showing the light of the one Lord. We will find this in prayer, in every prayer on every day, especially in the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy drives darkness from our souls and our minds. It is a continuous mobilization for the sake of Christ. Even those who have died, do they not only see before them a light poured upon them from every side that leads them to the light of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Monday, December 18, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: As the Feast Approaches

Arabic original here.

As the Feast Approaches

As the feast approaches, we ask what we can offer to God, the child born for our sake, after the magi confessed, through their gifts, that He is God, king, and readied for sacrifice. What more than this can we say, when we chant on the morning of the feast that what Christ wants of us is "words of right-believing theology"-- that is, that we confess Him to be the eternal divine Redeemer, light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made.

If they are asked, many people think that Christ is a prophet or that He is a great man or a social reformer and other expressions such as these. But we who gather in the Church come to receive Him and confess Him as Lord and God, to affirm that God alone redeems man and that man is floundering in his ignorance and death. But if we want to escape this constant state, this despair and this spiritual death, we only have to confess that there is a power that comes from God Himself through grace to heal us.

 Christ brought good tidings of it. He was it. He poured it out on the cross and caused it to dawn in the resurrection. And what is the Nativity that we will soon celebrate other than the beginning of the good path that He will take from one cave to another, from the cave of birth to the cave of death? Christ in swaddling-clothes as a child and Christ after that in grave-clothes. Christ is a sacrifice from the beginning to the end, appearing to people as a light that shines upon them and as a fire. Those in whom the love of Christ blazes have Christ as the light of the world.

Christ is the perfection of times, as we read in the Epistle for Nativity. Let us not wait for any other time than Him. Let us not live in any place other than the place of Christ. Let us not wait for any other idea. Let us not wait for any other feeling. Everything has been realized and we have nothing to do now but receive, nothing but to listen to Him, to meditate upon His face, to live from this face, and to inspire others to it.

Why can we live by Jesus' face and bring Him to people as life? It is because in Him we have become sons of God. He has breathed the Holy Spirit into us, who causes us to say to God, "Father." Thus we have entered into God's family. After having been born into a family of flesh and blood, we have moved from everything that is earthly and fleshly and from every relationship of flesh and blood to a relationship of worship. In Arabic, the word "worship" comes from the word "slavery". That is, we have made ourselves slaves of God. It is not that we are slaves, but we have made ourselves slaves to the one whom we love, in that we only look into God's eye. Thus we are born anew. We are born of the vision of love with which God sees us, because if He saw us as we are in our sins, if He saw us in all our filthiness, we would die. But He sees us with mercy and receives us according to His fatherly heart.

In the feast, we will be born anew in a world that does not know God and does not know the beauty of the Gospel. We will be a great light in a darkened world. People will see good works and praise our Father in heaven.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Sunday of the Forefathers

Arabic original here.

The Sunday of the Forefathers

Luke has the Lord Jesus come not only from Abraham, but also from Adam. He wanted to highlight the comprehensive human nature of the person of Christ.

Therefore the Church says today in the prayers of vespers, "You have justified by faith the ancient forefathers and through them You have gone before and betrothed unto Yourself the Church of the gentiles." That is, the pagans, among them Melchizedek, who welcomed Abraham and tithed of everything he had to him (cf. Hebrews 1:7). He is the image of the eternal priest.

Before Christ came, His words were planted in some of the writings of the pagan peoples and in their cultures as an heir to the ancient civilizations in what applies to the words of the Gospel.

In today's Gospel, Christ calls all to His kingdom: first His people, then the sinners (the maimed, the lame, the blind), and finally the pagans (in the streets and alleys). It is the mystery of the Eucharist that establishes the Church. We miss the Divine Liturgy on account of worldly concerns: money, activities, family...

The Eucharist is an image of the kingdom to come. Through it, we taste the glory that is to come and eternal life. How is the preparation for this? How do we arrive at true knowledge of God and love of Him? "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God."

This means that we must purify our hearts of every resentment through confession and repentance. Saint Isaac the Syrian says, "He who confesses his sin is greater than one who raises the dead."

Finally, on this Sunday we remember the three youths in the fiery furnace. We celebrate them along with the Prophet Daniel on December 17, before Christmas. They resemble the three angels who appeared to Abraham representing the Trinity.

They walked around in the furnace unconcerned about the fire and indeed, rejoicing at the dew of the Spirit: they represent the victory of faith over death; they extinguish the fire's power through their faith. They represent the bush that burns but is not consumed, the warmth of divine love, and also Christ's birth from the virgin, the fire that does not burn. They were not left alone in the furnace, but rather it is said:

"I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God" (Daniel 3:25). Amidst human suffering, Christ the Son of God accompanies us in the flame of fire and brings us dew.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Monday, December 11, 2017

L'Orient-Le Jour on Jordanian Christians' Reaction to Trump's Statement on Jerusalem

French original here.

"Trump is one of those that they call Christian Zionists"

In an Orthodox church in Amman, during the liturgy, priests and believers criticize the decision of the American president to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

by Laure van Ruymbeke in Amman

It is a Sunday unlike other Sundays for the Christians of Jordan. This morning, all the country's homilies are talking about Jerusalem. In support, they say, of Christians and Muslims throughout the world. Jordanian Christians of all communities represent close to 6% of the population. In Amman's largest church, the Orthodox church of al-Waibdeh, faces are sad. At eight in the morning the regular liturgy begins. A choir sings the prayers. Little by little, the pews fill up. Then, around ten o'clock, Fr Mark starts to preach about Jerusalem. He appears very angry. From behind his pulpit shaped like a bird, he declares, "Trump is one of those that they call Christian Zionists."

The tone is set. "This is a sect of around 40 million people. But Zionism and Christianity don't go together. He is not Christian. So he has no right to speak in the name of Jerusalem, from a religious point of view. No one would dare do what he's doing," he states. Before the very attentive eyes of the community, he continues his sermon for half an hour. He announces that the American decision will only create chaos. "Trump is the leader of the biggest country and everyone is afraid of him. And everyone likes him because everyone has deals with him. He's a luggage carrier." He calls the American president "Antichrist," which provokes laughter from the faithful. A woman whispers, "But he has no right! Why doesn't anyone stop him?" At the end of the sermon, prayers are dedicated to the "prisoners of Palestine."

"It's Jesus' city."
As people leave the church, Jerusalem is one everyone's lips. The sermon was appreciated and shared. One woman says, "Jerusalem is our holy city. For Christians, Muslims and also Jews. Trump has no right to declare that it is only for the Israelis. He should take into account of the people who have rights in Palestine. Jerusalem is an international city." Her neighbor chimes in, "For Christians, it's Jesus' city, the place where he was resurrected... So it cannot just be for the Israelis. He [i.e., Trump] should let go of it now and forever. He has his own vision that favors Israel. Why? We have rights in Palestine! Which go back for more than two thousand years! He has no right to do this." The "illegality" and "injustice" of Trump's decision come up most often. "For us, Jerusalem is the holiest city in the world," says a man around sixty years old wearing a red keffieh. "Mr Trump, with all respect, should try to find a solution rather than create problems. His decision is unjust and illegal."

Fr Salem al-Mdanat agrees to share his point of view. He is the one who leads prayers every Sunday. He is in agreement with the words of the priest who says that Donald Trump is not a Christian. "There are a lot of people who call themselves Christians but who aren't. Someone who seeks to create a war is not, in any sense, a Christian because Jesus Christ said that the peacemakers are blessed. It is not because one wears a cross that one is a Christian. The Zionists insult Jesus Christ." He adds that Jerusalem is the symbol of Christianity and of holiness. According to him, Jerusalem is for Christians what Mecca is for Muslims. "It's the place of the symbolic birth, of the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's the landmark for all Christians throughout the world. Whatever their churches are. So it is not fair for one country to go against the other countries." According to him, this decision will only create problems in the region. "This will create terrorism and, frankly, we don't need it."

Katy Mansour is an 80 year old woman. She has a discrete cross around her neck and is very well-dressed. In her quiet voice, she recounts that she was born in Jerusalem and that she had to flee the city in 1948 because her mother was afraid. The American president's announcement was a great shock for her. "This is a president who doesn't own anything in Palestine and who gives people what he doesn't own... What does he have to do with the people who live in this country? They came from everywhere to live in Palestine. And they say that it's their country... But why? Tell me, why? It's too unjust." She says that she's not speaking as a Christian, but as an Arab. Because before the "occupation," everyone lived together, including the Jews. "I was born in Jerusalem," she continues, "and now I have to request a visa to go to my country?  But why? There are no words for this, it's terrible... This man is terrible. I don't believe that the Americans themselves, except for the Christian Zionists, agree with him. For me, Jerusalem isn't the east. It isn't the west. It doesn't belong to one religion or another."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fr Touma (Bitar) on Saint Nicholas

Arabic original here.

From the Manger to Holiness

Brothers, who is a poor person? A poor person, for us, is someone who hardly possesses anything. And who is a rich person? He is the one who possesses much. This is according to people, but according to God, poverty and wealth have a different meaning. According to the Lord God, the rich person is someone who only loves himself and the poor person is prepared to give everything he has, whether he possesses a little or a lot. The rich person is someone who loves himself and so whether he possesses a little or a lot, he is rich in what he possesses. But the poor person, who is prepared to give everything, is the one to whom the Lord God gives the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, in the Gospel of Matthew, for example, it says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The poor in spirit are like the widow whom the Lord saw giving everything she had into the offering box in the temple. There were many people putting different amounts of money in it. The Lord God doesn't look at the amount that we place in the offering box. It is certain that many people put more than this widow that the Lord Jesus pointed out. The Lord Jesus noticed. Suddenly, He looked to His disciples and said, "Truly I say to you, this widow put more than everyone in the box." Why? Did she have a great amount of money? No, never! She was a poor woman. But she put everything she had with her in the box: two small coins! Then the Lord Jesus added, "These have all contributed from their surplus, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her livelihood." These two mites, for her, were the price of a loaf of bread that she needed in order to eat. Despite this, she offered to the donation box in the temple of her own accord. And so, in the eyes of the Lord God, she contributed more than everyone. Therefore, the result is that she received the kingdom, because He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." At that moment, the Lord Jesus gave her the kingdom. And so, brothers, for the Lord, the poor person is the one who is prepared to give everything. He is the one who is generous in giving. According to the Psalms, "he scattered"-- not spent. That is, he gave without reckoning: "He scattered and gave to the poor, for His righteousness endures forever." This is the person who is poor in the Spirit. Perhaps the person who is poor in the Spirit may possess much and he may possess little. Usually, he possesses little because if he possesses much, then he is subject to the temptation to keep the greater part of what he has for himself. Then, he gives to the poor-- if he gives-- from his surplus. And this is a temptation!

Of course, there are poor people who give everything and there are also wealthy people who give everything. But the latter are extremely few. This is something that is only possible for God. So if we want to know if a person is poor before God, then his poverty is truly evident in his unlimited giving. The one who gives without reckoning, without limit, is the one who is poor before God and so is the one to whom God gives everything. He does not only give him the kingdom, but also everything he needs on earth. For this reason, there is no greater virtue than poverty in the Spirit. This is the greatest virtue. In truth, all virtues come from poverty in spirit. If the Bible said, "The love of money is the root of all evils," then it is possible for one to say in good conscience, "The love of poverty in spirit is the root of all good things and blessings." God came to us as a poor person and not as a rich person. God became incarnate and dwelt in this world as a poor person because He is rich. For this reason, He was born in a cave; He was born in a manger for livestock. He had no place among the wealthy people of this world. When one of them said to Him, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go," the Lord Jesus said to him clearly, "The Son of Man has no place to lay His head." Of course, at the beginning He lived in Nazareth and then moved to Capernaum. And of course He had a place to spend the night. But this was like nothing for Him: "The Son of Man has no place to lay His head." This means in practice that He is completely poor. He only finds rest for Himself in completing the work of the Heavenly Father, on account of which the Father sent Him. Therefore the Lord Jesus said to His disciples, "My food is to do the will of the Father who sent Me." This is My food and this is My work and this is My rest. The Lord Jesus has no food, no drink in this world to fill His existential void. Of course He ate and drank because He was human. Of course He slept. When He was in the boat, He was sleeping. When the storm raged, He was sleeping. But the storm did not affect Him because He abided in the bosom of the Heavenly Father and so was at perfect rest. It was not only that the storm in this world that did not affect Him, but also that He had authority over everything in this world that could be called a "storm". When they told the Lord Jesus that they were at the point of perishing, He got up and rebuked them for their lack of faith and said to the wind, "Be quiet." And there was great calm. The Lord gives such authority to all those who are willingly poor in the Spirit, those who learn day by day to not seek anything apart from the face of God.

Saint Nicholas, whom we celebrate today, was an image of the poor in the Spirit before the Heavenly Father. For this reason, his gifts were without limit and were not only gifts of money. He gave without reckoning. That is, he took care of people without limit. He loved people, kept up with people, and had concern for people. For him, this was his food, his drink, and his rest. Did Saint Nicholas not eat, drink and sleep? Of course. But his true rest was in giving rest to weary people. His true food was in feeding the hungry in this world. His true drink was in giving drink to the thirsty in this world. Above all else, his joy was in bringing the flock of Christ to the true, divine pasture, to the pasture of the Gospel, to the true pasture of the Gospel.

A person's life is for the sake of becoming God's man, someone who is poor before Him. His every concern is to be enriched by the word of God, to be enriched by God's Spirit, by God's light, by God's love. Therefore, love for him is food. It is medicine. It is joy. It is the kingdom. He who does not strive to console the sorrowing, cannot taste the kingdom from this moment. He who does not feed the hungry in this world cannot be filled with the heavenly manna that the Lord Jesus has given to this world and the next.

After the Mother of God, Saint Nicholas is the most prominent saint in history. Despite all that, we only know very little about him. Information about him, if we want to sift it by the standards of historical inquiry today, is of no value. Despite that, this saint has been alive in people's souls for seventeen centuries because he has taken care of them; he had concern for them. In his life, he was bishop of Myra in Lycia and he became, with his repose, a bishop for the entire Church, throughout the world! Every May in Russia, some tens of thousands of believers hold a procession for 170km, carrying an icon of Saint Nicholas, back and forth on foot! Children, the elderly and even the handicapped in carts, walk behind the icon. Are they crazy?! Saint Nicholas is alive in the souls of these people. Why? Because love, God's love, does not die. A person may search in his life for a person who is the model of one who loves: "Teach me to do what pleases You because You are my God." What is the person searching for? Who is the person? What does the person realize? Love, only love! The person is realized through love, through giving, through sacrifice, through poverty for the sake of God. He gives everything without exception. It is certain that Saint Nicholas prayed, but he prayed for the sake of others, for the sake of people. As for himself, he asked for the mercy of his Lord. He sought nothing for himself. The poor person seeks absolutely nothing for himself. He gives everything he has. He learns. Just as someone trains to cross the English Channel, he also trains to cross the sea of poverty. The spiritual life needs boldness and violence with the soul. There is something very important that one must learn before departing this world: poverty for the sake of Christ! When one is pleased to be completely uncovered, with nothing of himself to rely on and nothing but the Lord God to rely on, he has then realized his humanity; he has become a new, complete person in every sense of the word. Then he cries out like the Lord Jesus cried out on the cross, "Into Your hands I commend my spirit!" Saint Nicholas was the model of the new person in the image of his teacher, the Lord Jesus Christ. Does anyone come across a memory of what Saint Nicholas ate or drank, where he slept, what sort of palace he had, what kind of vehicle he traveled in, what enjoyment he had in his bishop's palace? No one remembers absolutely anything of this sort because it is completely without value. Today, in the simple stories that are told about him and in the great presence he has throughout the world, the world's basic interest in Saint Nicholas is his great love for people!

For this reason, the Lord God gave him-- and gave us-- a very important sign. For more than 1600 years, the bones of Saint Nicholas have streamed what is called "myrrh". His bones have not ceased to stream it until today. And so every year on May 9, in the city of Bari where his bones are located, they take some of this stream that has come from his bones during the previous year and distribute it to the faithful and many healings and blessings occur. This is a sign that he is alive and that life abides in his bones. His is alive because the Spirit of the Lord dwells in these bones. The Spirit of the Lord who is in him and whose presence remains in his bones gives this. Do the bones give forth liquid on their own? Of course not! Rather, the Spirit of the Lord, who abides in the man's bones, grants, through this man, for his belly to stream "rivers of living water", rivers of blessing, in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. Saint Nicholas was, still is, and shall remain until the end an image of his Teacher who is poor before the Heavenly Father and also an image of the widow who, with two mites, purchased the kingdom. Saint Nicholas bought the kingdom and he has distributed it over the course of history to all those who seek it and he increases grace upon grace. For this reason, you and others come on the Feast of Saint Nicholas to share in the divine service and to lift up prayers and praises so that the Lord God may give you a blessing through Saint Nicholas. May the Lord God give you and us the grace of His presence through this great saint. Many years. Amen.

This sermon was given on the Feast of Saint Nicholas, December 6, 2017.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan-- Douma, Lebanon
December 10, 2017

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: The Power of Prayer

Arabic original here.

The Power of Prayer

The Holy Spirit who dwells within us is the one who prays, since we say at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, "O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, come and abide in us..." That is, we address Him by the power that He has sent down to us. He is the one who changes us from one state to another and lifts our soul to prayer.

You have stripped your soul of its lusts and caprices and made it a dwelling-place of God. He moves us to Himself, as though God in prayer addresses Himself. The Lord enters into you with the Holy Spirit. He strips your soul of its lusts and makes it capable of talking to Him. When you address the Holy Spirit at the beginning of every prayer, "O Heavenly King, the Comforter..." the spirit of evil flees from you and the Spirit of Christ dwells within you and raises you up. You have no more words because Christ's words come down to you and Christ addresses Himself within you and by this you become Christ Himself.

It is true that prayer is the soul's being lifted up to God, but in the sense that it is lifted up by the power of Christ Himself.

Before the Spirit of God enters into it, the soul is falling, empty, darkened, or broken. And if God's Spirit enters it, it moves by His power to the Father and becomes a soul renewed in the Spirit. It attaches itself to the Lord, joining Him with all its powers and the Holy Spirit prays in it. For this reason we say at the beginning of our prayers, "Come and abide in us and cleans us of every impurity." The meaning of this is that we cannot pray profoundly unless we call upon the Holy Spirit to come down to us and push the soul toward God, so man prays by the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer, then, from the first word, is from the Holy Spirit to the Father.

This means that prayer begins in us when we expel the evil spirits from us. That is, the idea of sin. Man's commitment to the Spirit of God within him is the condition for true prayer. So prayer from the beginning is repentance, in that through it you seek God and expel what is against God. It is possible for you to pray and to accept that sin remains in you. This is a contradiction. Prayer in its essence is repentance and it is clear that one who does not pray does not want to repent. In many cases, someone who neglects his prayer is someone who desires to not repent and someone who returns after neglecting it has decided to return to God. Prayer is the cord that binds us to God. It is to abide in God. It is the strongest proof of faith.

Prayer does not come from the mind alone. It is the power of the Holy Spirit Himself within us. It is our clear proof of our union with God.

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: Let Us Live with Christ

Arabic original here.

Let Us Live with Christ

In today's Gospel reading, there are two miracles: the first miracle is the healing of the woman with the issue of blood which came about by chance, because the intention was for the Lord to heal the daughter of Jairus, the head of the synagogue, who had died as He was on His way to her.What is important for us is to see that each one of us is represented by the woman with the issue of blood and the daughter of the head of the synagogue at the same time.

The woman had been bleeding for twelve years and has spent all her money on doctors. The Evangelist Luke places us before a desperate accident: a woman who is not healed. The Lord comes and immediately heals her when she touches the edge of his garment and He felt that someone had touched Him and that power had gone out from Him.

In our encounter with the Lord, we must first touch Him, draw near to Him like the lover draws near to the beloved. If it can be said, we must struggle with Him, as God said in the Book of Genesis (32:24), when it talks about Jacob struggling with the angel. We must struggle with Him truthfully, a struggle where we meet His power, a struggle where the Lord acquires us completely, then we are sated by His presence, we are sated by His consolations. Then we are healed. Our broken, tormented, bewildered souls are healed. Every soul, when its adversity increases or adversity strengthens around it in the world, is inevitably cast down, as though into a pit. When a person doesn't know his fate, when he neither lives for today or for tomorrow, he is despairing, his strength is drained and he needs to touch Christ. Christ alone is able to lift the nightmare from us and to place us in His sweet presence.

After death came to Jairus' daughter, the Lord took her hand-- here also we have touch-- and called out to her, "Girl, arise." The power of Christ seeps even into the germs of death. Just as the woman with the issue of blood was immediately healed, so too did the girl's spirit return immediately to her. The Evangelist Luke emphasizes the expression "immediately" because the Lord turns to us with all the power and life that is in Him.

In this regard, death does not appear to be something strange. Death was strange before the Lord came. It was our enemy, oppressing us through sin. But after the Lord died on the cross, we all became companions in His death. Therefore He constantly says to us, "Believing son, son for whom I died, arise, arise from your sin first, for this is the great resurrection."

We have trained to rise from sin. If we live with Christ, do we not also rise with Him? Those who despair along the pathways of death or those who renounce their faith when a beloved face disappears from them, they are people who do not draw near to Christ in their life and so death comes to them as a stranger, just as it came to the people of the Old Testament and pagans. We are a people who are not entranced by life until the end and are not drained by life. We are a people who know and taste that this life is passing because if we have touched Christ, nothing and no one else consoles us. If we come to be familiar with Jesus, then we are strangers to our things and to ourselves. Livelihood may go away without regret. So why does life not go away from us also without regret, if we encounter Him after it.

We give things more value than they deserve and so we are afraid at death. We are attached to people as though they are the source of our life and it is difficult for us to depart this world, as though we are torn from death or illness.

If we place ourselves in eternal life, grace persists upon us in prayer that we send to the Lord. We confide in Him and we are intimates of the other life if it is brought to us. We are companions of Christ who beckons us to His face. Therefore we do not falter when someone or something departs, no matter how dear. While this world ends and people leave, we must know where is our life and where is our goal. If we are certain that Christ is our life, then we desire to be seized away to Him in glory.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Haaretz on the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's Real Estate Deals

Taken from here (Israeli website).

New Details Emerge on Greek Orthodox Church's Massive Asset Sell-off in Israel - and the Mystery Only Deepens

Senior official explains the Greek Orthodox church’s position for first time, insisting that sales of properties throughout Israel at seemingly rock-bottom prices are necessary and financially sensible

By Nir Hasson

The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, is in the midst of an international public diplomacy campaign regarding the management of his church’s lands. On Monday he met with Pope Francis at the Vatican, and over the past two weeks he has met with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. Next week he’s scheduled to meet the Greek prime minister and after that, the head of the Anglican Church.

Theophilos is waging war on three different fronts: Against Israeli politicians who are threatening to expropriate church lands to prevent them from falling into the hands of private developers who will undermine the rights of homeowners; against the right-wing Ateret Cohanim association, which is seeking to seize the assets in Jerusalem’s Old City that it bought from the previous patriarch; and against Christian communities in Israel, which are watching helplessly as the patriarch sells off church properties at fire-sale prices. Of these fronts, what worries Theophilos most is confronting the mounting criticism of his asset sales policy within the church itself.
For the first time, a senior church official agreed to explain the church’s position to Haaretz. He insists that the church’s sales of properties throughout the country at seemingly rock-bottom prices were both necessary and financially sensible.

Two weeks ago Haaretz exposed three such sales. The lands were sold at extremely low prices to companies whose unknown are owners because they are registered in tax havens. Some 430 dunams (108 acres) of land were sold in Caesarea for a million dollars, six dunams with commercial tenants at Clock Tower Square in Jaffa went for $1.5 million and an area of Jerusalem's Givat Oranim neighborhood containing 240 apartments was sold for $3.3 million. Even considering that the plots have long-term leases that reduce their values considerably, those prices are still incredibly low.

Other transactions that were conducted seven years ago in Jerusalem have come to light since then. In all cases, the buyer was a company called Koronetti, which is registered in the Virgin Islands and which also purchased the Givat Oranim property. No one knows who the company’s shareholders are.

According to sales contracts obtained by Haaretz, this company purchased a three-story office building on Jerusalem's King David Street, one of the city’s most prestigious locations, for $850,000. Another six-story building on nearby Hess Street, which has stores and the King David Residences luxury residential complex, was bought for $2.5 million; a 2.3-dunam plot in the city's Baka neighborhood was sold for $350,000. All these prices are exceedingly low, despite the decades-long lease agreements for properties there.

“Every square meter here goes for 60,000 [shekels, or $17,000] and there’s potential for 2,000 square meters,” says attorney Yitzhak Henig, whose office is in the building on King David Street. “Someone here won the lottery.”

For the first time since these transactions were publicized, the patriarch is trying to explain his position to the public. He recently engaged a PR firm, Debby Communications. In a conversation with Haaretz, M., a church official who is very close to the patriarch, explains his stance.

“There are no secret transactions,” he says. “There are no shady deals. No one is hiding anything. All the buyers are respected and well-known businessmen who for their own reasons prefer not to be exposed.”

According to M., the church evaluated each property before selling it, got an appraisal and demanded and received a fair price. There are two factors that negatively influence the price of the lands, he says. One is the long-term leasing agreements with the state, some that still have decades to go until they terminate, and the second is the fact that in the future, the state is liable to expropriate the land or otherwise undermine the property rights. The patriarch sees the bill recently proposed by lawmaker Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), under which church lands sold to private developers will be immediately expropriated by the state, as proof of the risk to these church properties in the future.

“We are an organization that’s subject to blackmail in Israel, in the Palestinian Authority and in Jordan,” says M. “Everyone feels they can blackmail us. They’ve turned the patriarchate into a persona non grata.” That’s why he describes these properties as a “disease” that weighs heavily on the church and must be eliminated.

For example, M. says, the original leases signed with the Jewish National Fund for land in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood during the 1950s are like land mines for the church, since they allow the JNF to extend them for many years at very low cost. It seems that the buyers of this land, the Nayot-Komemiyut partnership, don’t agree with him. “We did a terrific deal and I’m not embarrassed to say so,” said attorney Avraham Aberman, who represents the group.

M. goes further in trying to explain the sales. “The patriarchate is an institution spread over three countries; it has no countries behind it, it has no sources of income. Its only sources of income are its properties. It’s an institution that for years bought and sold to fund its expenses. The church owns 10 percent of the land in the Old City and it yields barely a few hundred thousand dollars a year. You ask for rent, but the tenant says, ‘I’m a member of the sect, I’m not paying.’

“When the patriarch assumed his position the church was $40 million in debt; there were properties with liens and in receivership,” M. continues. “He came and instituted a reform. He doubled the salaries of the priests, provided larger budgets to the schools, and for this he needed money. So we have properties that we are interested in from a strategic perspective and there are properties that we sell and from that we support ourselves.”

“We may own the land, but when you have decades-long leases, it’s an abstract ownership,” he says. “Take the deal in Givat Oranim. When we concluded the transaction, there were still 60 years left on the lease. We got an appraisal and we got a price of $6 million. In the end we sold it for $3.3 million but together with the taxes, which the sellers are paying, we ended up getting almost $5 million, which is certainly a reasonable deal. In the Ramle industrial zone we sold 24 dunams for 30 million shekels [$8.6 million]. That’s more than what the Israel Lands Administration is selling for in the same place.”

According to M. the money made through the sales is being invested in yield-bearing real estate in places like Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem and Givat Hamatos in the south of Jerusalem. In both cases, private developers are building hundreds of apartments on church land; in return, the church will get some of them.

Attorney Elias Khoury, a Greek Orthodox Christian and real estate expert, is a sharp critic of the patriarch and rejects M.’s explanations.

“He describes someone bankrupt who wants to sell spoiled goods, but these are the words of someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” says Khoury. “Can you imagine a country selling its lands because it doesn’t want them anymore? These aren’t Theophilos’ private properties, they are the properties of the entire community and they must remain in the community’s hands for generations to come. He’s just trying to minimize the crime they’ve committed.”

In 1999, during the reign of the previous patriarch, Irenaios I, Khoury attended meetings with Rafi Eitan, then the Jerusalem Affairs minister, where they discussed extending the lease on church lands in the Rehavia neighborhood. “Then we calculated that if we took the market value and capitalized it, we would get to hundreds of millions of dollars on Rehavia alone. I told Rafi Eitan to send me the government assessor and he started to laugh. It was clear that the government could never pay that price. Someone trying to get rid of such an asset is a man with no eye to the future.”

Meanwhile, earlier this week, the Jerusalem District Court issued a restraining order on the sale of the Rehavia lands. The patriarchate had filed a petition demanding that the municipality produce a document stating there are no taxes owed on the land. The city argued that it would need a lot more time to gather the information and produce the document. The court accepted this position and froze the transaction for several months.

Next week the patriarchate plans to appeal to the Supreme Court over the sale of three buildings in Jerusalem's Old City to Ateret Cohanim. Two months ago the Jerusalem District Court rejected the patriarchate’s claim that the sales were part of the corrupt operations of the previous patriarch and his treasurer.