Monday, February 26, 2018

Sergei Brun on the Cathedral of Saint Peter / Church of Cassian in Antioch

This is excerpt, translated by the author, from his book, The Byzantines and the Franks in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. 2015,  Vol. II. Chapter 1, sec. 5. P.41-55,  and his article  'The Vanished Churches of Antioch‘ in Panorama Iskysstv, 2017. Read the entire article, with notes and bibliography, here

Brun also informs us that:

Currently a research project is underway, led by myself and some of the most prominent church architects, to create a computer model and full reconstruction of St. Peter‘s Cathedral. God willing, we will complete our work by June of 2018, before the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, making an online source and a book available to the public. There one could finally be able to find detailed imagery from various stages of the Cathedral‘s history, of its panoramic views, exteriors and interiors. The project will be known as Lost Shrines of the Church of Antioch©

Antioch's Lost Shrine:
The Cathedral of St. Peter/Church of Al-Kusyan


The foundation of the Cathedral and the consecration of its first altar was attributed to the Apostle Peter himself. The 10th century Melkite chronicler and Metropolitan – Agapius of Hierapolis (Menbidj), drawing on earlier legends and accounts, claims that the Apostle Peter ―laid the foundations of the church‖ and ―established the altar there. Another Levantine chronicler – the Coptic deacon Abu‘l-Makarim – obviously pulling on similar sources and historic tradition, gives the exact date of the church‘s foundation: according to his narrative, St. Peter established the al-Kusyan Church in the first year of Emperor Claudius‘s reign (A.D. 41). Originally the church was known as 'The Church of Cassian‘ (al-Kusyan). This name derives from a legend, popular among the Levantine Christians. According to this legend, the Apostle Peter raised the son of the local king, named Cassian, from the dead. When the youth was brought back to life, the king allowed Peter to establish a church in the place of the miracle (in another version – in the king‘s palace). This is obviously a later day apocrypha, since there clearly was no 'king‘ in Antioch since the fall of the Seleucid state (64 B.C.). Moreover, there was not a single Seleucid king nor Roman prefect with the name of Cassian. One way or another, this legend was treated as history and dogma by the Christians in the Middle East (both – Chalcedonian and Miaphysite). The legend of Cassian survives in various versions; the better known ones can be found in the 11th century narrative of the Melkite physician Yuhanna ibn Bhutlan, and in the late 12th century account of the aforementioned Coptic author – Abu‘l-Makarim4. One should also note that the church was never known as 'St. Cassian‘, since Cassian – whether it was the legendary king or his resurrected son – was never venerated as a saint. The name of 'Cassian‘ or 'al-Kusyan‘ was given to the shrine because of Peter‘s miracle, not the resurrected boy or king in question.

Despite its antiquity and ties to the Apostle Peter, the Church of Al-Kusyan was not Antioch‘s cathedral church in the Early Byzantine period. From the times of Constantine the Great and up to the Arabic Conquest that honor belonged to the Golden (or Octagonal) Basilica, the Domus Aurea, built by Saint Constantine and his Arian son and successor – Constantius II. Yet the Church of al-Kusyan was held in great veneration by both – the Christians of Antioch and the Roman/Byzantine Emperors. When, in the reign of Emperor Theodosius II, the body of St. Simeon the Stylite (Simeon the Elder) was brought to Antioch, it was placed for several days in the Church of Cassian, before being transferred for the last funeral service to the Domus Aurea and then – returned to Kalaat Samaan. In the 6th century Emperor Justinian I donated his imperial vestments to the shrine, which was hung in the church for display, drawing the attention of the local congregation and the pilgrims.

 After the final abandonment and destruction of the Domus Aurea in the 7th-8th centuries, the Church of Cassian – 'the House of Mar Peter‘ – finally assumed its long-awaited and well-deserved role as the Cathedral Church, the Patriarchal See, the place of enthronement and burial of the Patriarchs of Antioch all the East. The Arabic geographer Al-Masudi, writing in the 10th century, left a detailed account of how the Melkite Christians in Antioch gathered on the Calends of January (the Roman New Year) before the Church of Al-Kusyan, lit candles and lamps, and served a midnight Liturgy. It is noteworthy that Al-Masudi speaks of the gathering taking place before the cathedral; this might in fact indicate that originally the church was in fact not very large, and not sufficient enough to accept all of the faithful.

The year 969 inaugurated a new era for Antioch and its cathedral. The city was taken by the Byzantine army; Syria‘s greatest Christian center – after  three centuries of Arab domination – returned to the Empire. With the Byzantine conquest of the city, the Emperor and the Ecumenical Patriarch were faced with a new challenge – a challenge of re-organizing the Patriarchate of Antioch and its cathedral in accordance with the new aesthetic, liturgical and political ideas, long harbored in Constantinople. The Byzantinization‘ of the Church of Antioch has begun. According to the Melkite chronicler Yahya of Antioch, Emperor John I Tzimisces ordered the newly-instated Patriarch of Antioch – Theodore II – to ―make/fashion the Cathedral of Cassian in the likeness of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. This simple phrase ―to make/fashion the Cathedral (…) in the likeness of Hagia Sophia‖ has several of meanings. It most definitely applies to liturgical reform, to the liturgical Byzantinization of the Chalcedonian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, as well as to the physical rebuilding and redecorating of the Patriarchal Cathedral itself.

It is more than possible that the early Christian church (even if it underwent some reconstruction in the 6th century or in the later period of Arab rule) did not accord with the Byzantine Imperial ideas on how a grand Patriarchal Cathedral was supposed to look like. After all, even if nothing could ever rival Constantinople‘s Hagia Sophia, the Melkite Patriarchal Seats of Alexandria and Jerusalem were still located in the great shrines of the Roman Empire (the Caesareum in Alexandria, Constantine‘s Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem – rebuilt by the Byzantine Emperors after its destruction by Al-Hakim in 1009). Antioch was clearly different. We should seriously take note of the fact that in Arabic sources, the Church of Al-Kusyan, while mentioned as one of the highly-venerated Christian shrines, is never listed among the most beautiful or spacious churches of the East. Constantine‘s Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, the Basilica of Hagia Sophia in Edessa, the Church of St. George in Lydda, Justinian‘s Round Church of the Theotokos in Antioch were all considered the jewels of Dar-al-Islam. The Church of Al-Kusyan was never mentioned alongside.

We do not have a single description of the original Al-Kusyan shrine and its architecture. The first detailed account of Antioch‘s cathedral only comes down to us from the mid-11th century – the period after the grand rebuilding, initiated by Emperor John I Tzimisces and Patriarch Theodore II. The account was written by the aforementioned Melkite doctor – Yuhanna ibn Butlan, who visited Antioch and its cathedral in 1052. ―In the centre of the city is the church of Al Kusyan (…). It consists of a chapel, the length of which is 100 paces,, and the breadth of it is 80, and over it is a church, supported on columns‖9. This description‘s significance is beyond value. First of all, it gives us the exact measurements of the lower (possibly – Early Christian/Late Antique) church, which Ibn Butlan calls a 'chapel'. Judging by the fact that a medieval pace is usually equal to about 71 cm, the length of the lower church was 71 meters, the width – 56,8 meters, and the overall floor space – 4032,8 square meters. Thus, the lower church of the Patriarchal Cathedral at Antioch was about a quarter smaller than Constantinople‘s Hagia Sophia. Second, Yuhanna ibn Butlan is in fact the first author who speaks of the Cathedral of St. Peter/Church of Al-Kusyan as a two-story structure, consisting of a lower church (again, most probably the Early Byzantine church, founded on the place of the Early Christian site), and the imposing upper cathedral church, built on pillars and beams over the original shrine.

Now let us turn to the interior decoration and relics of the Antiochian Patriarchal Cathedral. Yuhanna ibn Butlan tells us that all of the churches at Antioch, including the city‘s cathedral, were decorated with ―gold and silver, and colored glass, meaning – mosaics. If we take into account that the Cathedral was rebuilt and refurnished in the reign of John I Tzimisces and his immediate successor Basil II (in the last decades of the 10th century), it would be fair to assume that the closest surviving parallel of monumental Byzantine art would be the mosaics of Hosios Loukas in Phokida (1011). Yet it is also possible that the mosaics at St. Peter‘s reflected an earlier period of Macedonian art, a period that is reflected in a handful of surviving icons and the mosaic depiction of Emperor Leo VI the Wise at the feet of Christ in Hagia Sophia. Ibn Butlan also left us a unique, highly detailed description of the Cathedral‘s décor and altar furnishings. The templon, according to the Melkite doctor, was incrusted with mother-of-pearl. The ciborium stood over the altar table on four marble columns, crowned with a dome of silver. Brocade liturgical veils flowed down from the arches of the ciborium. Before the altar there hung a great silver 'crown‘ (either a great polycandelon or an early choros), suspended on chains. A large silver tray (most likely a large lampadophore) with glass lamps hung on a hemp rope near the altar. Three silver gilt processional crosses, adorned with precious stones (crux gemmata) stood beyond the altar table, on square wood-carved stools.

The major part of the treasures, described by Ibn Butlan, were looted by the Sultan of Rum after he took the city in 1084. Yet in the era of Latin Rule (1098-1268) the Cathedral of St. Peter accumulated new treasures and furnishings. Wilbrand of Oldenburg, who visited Antioch in 1211, remarks that the city‘s main shrine was a ―greatly decorated church‖13. In this last period of its history, the Cathedral was adorned with the works of both – Western (Frankish and Italian) as well as Eastern (Byzantine, Syrian, Georgian) masters. A registry of items from the Patriarchal sacristy, entrusted to the Knights Hospitaller and returned to Patriarch Peter II of Ivrea in 1209, mentions various precious vestments and veils, reliquaries, covers and liturgical objects, made of gold and silver, adorned with gems and ivory. There was a large altar cross and a chalice – both made of gold, covered with pearls and precious stones; there were censers and vessels for myrrh made of pure silver; liturgical books (the Altar Gospel, Apostle, Missal) in silver casings; a brocade antependium; covers for chalices embroidered with silver; three episcopal miters, embroidered with gold; a crosier made of gold and ivory; an icon cast of pure silver; ivory combs; gold rings crowned with topazes; patriarchal seals; numerous liturgical vestments (dalmatics, stoles, maniples, chasubles, a cappa magna, liturgical gloves, mantles, tunics), died into precious purple, embroidered with gold and silver threads and gems14. Again, these items formed only a part of the Patriarchate‘s (and the Cathedral‘s) treasures.
Along with her Roman sister-basilica, the Cathedral at Antioch was one of the two principal shrines of the Christian world, dedicated to Saint Peter, the Rock of the Church, the Prince of the Apostles. Over the gate that let into the atrium of the Cathedral and to the Patriarchate there was a sign in gold lettering: ―Depart from here Iezi, for here stands the Throne of Law and Truth; and the Third part of the Earth is obedient to it‖ (Sit procul hinc Iezi, thronus hic sit iuris et aequi; Tercia pars mundi iure tenetur ei). The Cathedral held three great relics, associated with the Prince of the Apostles: the cathedra or Episcopal Throne of Saint Peter (that very 'Throne of Law and Truth‘ mentioned at the Gate), the chains of Saint Peter and the cage, where the Apostle was said to be held during his stay at Antioch. The Throne of St. Peter was described in detail by Melkite authors of the 11th century (Ibrahim ibn Yuhanna and Yahya of Antioch). It was a throne of palm wood, incrusted and elaborately decorated with silver16. St. Peter‘s Throne, on which the Orthodox (and later – the Latin) Patriarchs would preside on, was seen as the central relic of the Cathedral and of the entire Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East; a relic which symbolically and physically connected the eastern successors of St. Peter with the Prince of the Apostles himself. The Protospapharios Ibrahim ibn Yuhanna in his Life of Christophore, the Patriarch of Antioch, gives us a partial list of the main relics, kept at the Cathedral and the Patriarchal Sacristy. These included ―the staff and throne (…) of the Foremost of the Apostles, the relics and vestments of several Father Patriarchs – including Ignatius, the relics of Mar John the Baptist, the venerable Spear of Our Lord, the staff of John Chrysostom, the belt of Mar Simeon the Stylite of Aleppo, and other sacred objects.


Read the entire article here.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Met Georges Khodr: May Our Faces Become Icons

Arabic original here.

May Our Faces Become Icons

The first Sunday of Lent is known as the Sunday of Orthodoxy because the veneration of icons triumphed in 843, after war having been waged against it for a century, greatly preoccupying the Eastern Christian world. The Orthodox were fiercely persecuted, killed and driven from their homes for their veneration of the holy icons until the Byzantine Empire finally became convinced that it must preserve this dogma. Then icons were lifted up in the churches, just as we process with them today, confessing our Orthodox faith.

But what does it mean for us today to be Orthodox? The word, as you know, means a person with correct belief, who has sound and undeviating faith in what Christ once delivered to the saints. It is someone who sees that novel opinions have nothing to do with the faith and that they might be harmful. The faith is confronted by many false dogmas that come to us from outside the Church, brought by man's lusts, such as lust for glory, lust for money and the like.

An Orthodox person is not content to only have sound dogma, but properly glorifies God, because if dogma is not transformed into worship, it is a useless belief. The fundamental thing for the believer is to become a worshiper of his Lord. He hands his soul over to Him in obedience and at that point he is transfigured, is enlightened and becomes a new creation. Therefore we can boast that we have creatures that preceded us and that God carved the saints and made them living images of Himself, good models for us to imitate. And so today's Gospel reading says that when one of the apostles was amazed that a prophet came from Nazareth, another apostle answered him, "come and see."

It is possible for the Son of God to appear from a poor and wretched place. He appeared from this dust that we wear. From this flesh and these bones, it is possible for a saint to emerge, someone who has purified himself for God, in whose heart the graces of God have been poured, like a new god appearing in the universe. Did our Lord, may He be exalted, not say, "You are gods and children of the Most High"? Our calling is to become like God, filled with His holiness and wondrous light. It is said at the end of today's Gospel reading, "you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

The Orthodox faith was delivered to us once and we do not deviate from it for another dogma. The splendor of this faith first of all means that we have come to resemble God. Heaven is full and God pours it all out upon us as grace and peace. An Orthodox person is precisely someone who believes that he has a connection with God and that God is not merely an alien power resting in the heavens whom we cannot attain. God is given, poured out, extended to us and He is here in hearts, flesh and bone. For this reason we symbolize our faith with icons, because they reveal to us the face of Christ. They tell us that His face looks down upon us not only in a picture, but His light is depicted on our faces.

The question doesn't stop at our venerating icons. The question begins with our faces becoming icons of God. That is, if someone looks at our faces, he will see God depicted upon them as grace and light.

The light of the holy Church must shine in this erring world. Your light must "shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Therefore, if we all become animate icons the world can confess that the Orthodox faith is the faith delivered by the apostles for the salvation of the world.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Sergei Brun on the Patriarchate of Antioch in Medieval Central Asia

Read the entire article here. It is an excerpt, translated by the author, from: The Byzantines and Franks in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia (11th-13th centuries). A study of the history of Latin and Byzantine Christians’ contacts and interaction in the East by S.P. Brun (Moscow, 2015).



The Catholicosate of Irinopolis, which united the „Rum‟ of Baghdad and the Melkites of the surrounding Mesopotamian region, survived either until the Mongol destruction of Baghdad in 1258, or even until the early 15th century. The fact that an Orthodox Catholicos resided in Baghdad is attested to by such authors as Al-Biruni (11th century) and the Greek archimandrite Nilus Doxapatrius (12th century) . It is interesting to note that a part of Baghdad‟s Orthodox population consisted of Greek-speaking „Rum‟ Christians. The Orthodox community in Baghdad originally consisted of prisoners, taken to the Abbasid capital from the inner provinces of the Byzantine Empire, namely from the Greek-speaking regions of Asia Minor, which were regularly devastated by  Arab raids. It is quite possible that not all of the Orthodox in Baghdad were equally subject to ongoing arabization, and along with Arabic or Syriac-speaking Melkites there were families and communities that preserved Greek, at least as the liturgical language. Such co-existence of Arabic, Syriac and Greek-speaking communities was typical for Antioch itself and for other regions of the medieval Levant. The well-known ascetic author of the 11th century –  Nikon of the Black Mountain  –  mentions that Patriarch Theodosius III of Antioch wanted to ordain him and sent him off to serve  in Baghdad. It would be hard to believe that Patriarch Theodosius III would try to send a well-educated Constantinopolitan, Greek-speaking cleric, such as Nikon, to become as a parish priest, not a bishop, in Mesopotamia, if the communities of that region did not understand Greek services and pastors. Melkites also sustained a notable presence in other centers of Mesopotamia and Persia. For example, a rather numerous community of Melkites survived, until the late 13th century, in the Persian town of Tabriz.

The Catholicos of Romagira enjoyed a privileged place among the hierarchs of the Church of Antioch, spreading his pastoral jurisdiction over the Melkite communities in the vast regions of Persia and Central Asia. The heart of the Catholicosate of Romagira and the home of the majority of its flock lay in the rich merchant cities of the Khorasan, which included the above-mentioned region of Shash. Patriarch Peter III of Antioch, writing in the early 1050-s to Patriarch Dominic II of Grado (Venice), proudly mentions the fact that he and his predecessors ordain and send to Romagira and Khorasan “an archbishop-catholicos, who ordains metropolitans for that land, which, in turn, hold numerous bishops in their obedience”. The See of the Catholicos of Romagira was located either in the region of Shash, near Tashkent, or in Nishapur. The city of Merv was also a See of an Orthodox metropolitan, subject to the Catholicos of Romagira.

A highly-illustrative account of these long-gone Melkite communities in Central Asia can be found in the writings of the famous medieval scholar Al-Biruni, who dedicated an entire chapter of his Chronology of the Ancient Nations to the „Festivals and Memorial Days of the Syrian Calendar, celebrated by the Melkite Christians‟. Al-Biruni's work allows us to have at least a glimpse at the unique traditions of this distant group of Chalcedonian Orthodox Christians on the Great Silk Road. For example, he mentions the „Feast of Roses‟, when, in memory of the Meeting of the Theotokos and Saint Elizabeth, the Melkites of Khorezm would go in procession from church to church, bearing fresh blossoms of juri roses (red and white Persian roses, renowned for their beauty and  smell). Among other traditions and feasts, unique to the Catholicosate of Romagira, one can name the feasts of local saints (such as the Seven Martyrs of Nishapur), and the celebration of the Second Dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, when the Melkites of Persia and the Khorasan would ceremonially cleanse and wash their churches.

A significant part of the faithful in the Catholicosate of Romagira was comprised not only of Syriac and Arabic-speaking Melkites, but also of Sogdian Orthodox. The latter formed a unique part among the medieval „Rum‟, since they shared neither the Greek, nor the Syriac liturgical language of their Orthodox co-religionists. They served in Sogdian, but followed the Byzantine rite, and lived far beyond the easternmost borders of the historic Roman Empire. Their communities, spread from the banks of Syr Darya to Eastern Turkestan and the borders of the Chinese Empire, formed the most remote and unique part of the „Byzantine‟ world. Fragments of several manuscripts, found during the archaeological investigations in the library of an abandoned monastery in the village of Bulaik, near Turfan (1904-1907) –  namely a fragment of Psalm 32 from a 8th-9th century Greek manuscript, and a 10th century letter, written in Syriac but composed in a highly-recognizable Byzantine manner, addressing an official of the Roman Empire –  attest to Melkite presence on the Great Silk Road, up to the Turfan oasis. An Armenian author –  Hethum of Korikos (died ante 1307), writing his well-known Flowers of the Histories of the East , later presented to Pope Clement V and King Philip IV the Beautiful, mentions Orthodox Sogdian communities living in Khorasan, belonging to the Greek Church, but sustaining their own language, which was different to the Greek, Arabic and Syriac (the latter three were known to the Cilician monk). According to Hethum, Melkites of Khorasan, which he calls „Soldani‟, were obedient to the Patriarch of Antioch and “served as the Greeks, but their language is not Greek”.


Read the whole excerpt, with footnotes and bibliography, here.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Met Siluan (Muci)'s Message for Lent 2018

Spanish original here.

The Pastoral Letter for Great Lent by Metropolitan Siluan of Buenos Aires

The Yoke of Forgiveness and the Burden of Repentance

"Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men." (Matthew 12:31)

On the path of preparation for Great Lent, the readings from the Gospel for the four Sundays that precede it show us successively that the Lord is our only justification and teach us how we must live in accordance with this justification.

As a matter of fact, the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14) shows us how the Lord justified the publican but not the Pharisee as soon as both finished their prayer and left the temple. By condemning himself as a sinner and seeking the Lord's forgiveness with contrition, the publican was justified by the Lord, but the Pharisee who wrapped himself in the justification of his own virtue as compared to the sinfulness of others found himself deprived of the eternal justification that only God offers.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) shows us how the prodigal son discovers his father, not for what he has or for what he can give, but for who he is and for his paternal love, and how he in turn discovers himself as a person who does not deserve this love or this filial relationship. When he returns home, is he surprised by how his father justifies him and restores him to the dignity and authority of a son who is no longer prodigal or dead, but who has been found and is alive.

In the Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), the "sheep"who justified themselves as not having done anything for Christ were justified and blessed by the Father because they served Him through the needy, while the "goats", who justified themselves as not having seen Christ to serve Him personally, were condemned and cursed by the Father for not having served Him through the needy.

On the fourth Sunday of the Triodion, Forgiveness Sunday, which inaugurates the beginning of the fast of Great Lent, we hear the Lord Himself, who asks us to go out and justify our neighbor by practicing forgiveness, since if we do not justify and forgive our neighbor, we cannot be justified or pardoned by God. If God indeed justifies us gratuitously, this nevertheless requires us to live and practice this gratuitousness in our daily life.

In daily life, many people are in the habit of justifying themselves with regard to themselves, their neighbor and God. They hurt themselves and they hurt others by not discovering the gratuitousness of the justification that God offers, by not accepting it as a gift from the Lord, and by not living in accordance with it in their daily lives. By holding on to self-justification, they remain locked in the earthly sphere and fail to see the transcendence of their lives in the love of God and in the justification that Jesus Christ offers by His love and His sacrifice on the cross.

In order to escape this vicious circle of self-justification, the Lord exhorts us to accept His "yoke", which is to say the practice of forgiveness, and His "burden", which is to say the life of repentance, inspiring us in the motto of our archdiocese: "Learn from Me... for My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:29-30). On the one hand, forgiveness seems to be a yoke of Christ because as Christians, we cannot escape practicing it, since it is the basis of our prayer, the Our Father, when we ask God to forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (Matthew 6:12). On the other hand, repentance seems to be a burden because we have to constantly watch and correct ourselves without justifying ourselves, but rather seeking the justification that comes from the Father.

Accepting this yoke that is forgiveness and this burden that is repentance, with the practice of love and hope that each one respectively entails, is possible and necessary through the love that the Lord has for us and the hope that we place in the Lord and His mercy. Living in accordance with this lesson, that is, practicing forgiveness and repentance, allows us to live in its fullness the justification that we receive from the Lord every time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy. This is how the procession with the holy gifts is understood, in what is called the "Great Entrance", in their subsequent consecration as the body and blood of Christ, and finally in our partaking of the Holy Chalice with the feeling of the publican, the prodigal son and the sheep at the right hand of the Father. Otherwise, we will be rejecting our own salvation and denying the work of the Holy Spirit and thus we will come under the categorical sentence of the Lord: "Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men" (Matthew 12:31).

God wants us to dedicate ourselves during Great Lent to working decisively for the sanctification of our will, of our intellect and of our heart by duly celebrating the justification that Christ offers us and by participating in it, through the persistent practice of forgiveness and repentance. Amen.

Metropolitan of Buenos Aires and All Argentina

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos)'s Message for Lent 2018

Arabic original here.

Message for Lent

All of us need repentance, a return to God. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32). So enough with demolishing each other! Do not judge, so that you won't be judged: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner..."

The Church's canon and its rules for the fast are not to destroy the person or eliminate him. They are for discipline and education. All of us need discipline. How are we disciplined except through fasting and prayer? "This kind can only be expelled through prayer and fasting." Fasting is nothing less than refraining from everything that does not belong to God.

"O Lord and Master of my life, grant me not a spirit of sloth, meddling, love of power, and idle talk. But give to me, your servant, a spirit of sober-mindedness, humility, patience, and love..."

The purpose of the fast is for us to understand the mystery of God's expansive love. Look at the merciful father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Come to know the Heavenly Father through the Son. That is, through the Lord Jesus Christ who revealed Himself by saying, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest... learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29).

Who of us does not want to truly have rest in his soul?! Who of us does not want to know God truly? To touch His presence in the calm of his heart? "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3)...

"Love seeks nothing for itself" (1 Corinthians 13:5). "Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad" (John 11:51-52).

Today this message of ours must be in the Church and in the world. The Apostle Paul raises his voice and cries, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus... He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2: 5, 7-8).

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Met Georges Khodr: Man's Treasure

Arabic original here.

Man's Treasure

"Where your treasure is, there your hearts will be also." This is the closing to the passage of the Gospel that the Church reads to us today to prepare us for the fast tomorrow. It is as though the whole purpose of the struggle of fasting is for us to be trained in the fact that the Lord is our treasure, so if He truly becomes our treasure, then our hearts will be attached to Him.

What is man's treasure? What does he love? Of course, he loves the flesh, the thing that is connected to him when he is born and which remains, until he is buried in a grave, connected to him. With it he sees, he hears, he senses and reproduces. A terrible, tempestuous force moves the universe. The flesh, then, is something we are attached to. Each of us is attached to his flesh, to one degree or another. The fast comes and tells us to cancel all of this. Man is attached to his flesh because he does not love to die. The believer loves to die, because he meets Christ, his Beloved.

Therefore, we refrain from food until we strike down the authority of the flesh over us, so that we may have authority over it.

What does man also love? Money. All people are attached to money. The saints do not love money; they trample it under their feet. For this reason, the Lord said, "Do not store up treasures for yourself on earth," meaning do not let your hearts be attached to money. What is meant by this is that even if you accumulate money, do not love it, do not desire it, and do not let it rule over your hearts. Let your hearts be free. Everyone needs money and the Lord did not say that you must be poor, but He did say not to be attached to money and that we should not let it have authority over us.

Man's worth is in that he is Christ's beloved and that he tries to implement the Gospel alone. So we have abundant money and give it to the poor. This was the first goal of the fast at the dawn of Christianity.

The third thing that man loves and is attached to is authority, the love of glory, the love of appearances, the love of lording over people. When Jesus confronted the devil in the wilderness, Satan said, "I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth," and Jesus drove him away from His face. Jesus does not want to be king like earthly kings. He wants to be king over hearts. He gained this kingdom at the crucifixion. When He loved, He became king.

And so let us train ourselves in humility as we hold the flesh in contempt and hold in contempt along with it the soul that incites evil, that is greedy and lords over people. We must learn that what we desire might be realized. We must learn not to hold any opinion unless it is attached to Christ by dogma, faith, and that which is not vain.

We must refrain from attachment to our opinion. By denying erroneous opinion or being free from erroneous opinion, we walk with the Lord towards Pascha, so that we may see His light.

We and those preceded us to heaven together welcome Christ. They went to His light and so we commemorated them last week on Soul Saturday, in order to remind ourselves that we and they are one Church.

We train ourselves in the fast in order to arrive at vision of the glory of the resurrection in love. If love remains in our hearts, and you polish and refine it, it will bring us to the Pascha that we hope for.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Review of 'Guide for a Church under Islam'

This review, by Sam Noble, appeared in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 57.1-4 (2016): 309-327. The entire review is available here.

Patrick Demetrius Viscuso, Guide for a Church under Islām: The Sixty-Six Canonical Questions Attributed to Thodōros Balsamōn (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2014)

In 1195, the people of Constantinople were witness to a singularly rare event. Patriarch Mark III of Alexandria (r. 1180-1209), visiting from Muslim-controlled Egypt, concelebrated the liturgy at Hagia Sophia with the Patriarch of Constantinople, George II Xiphilinos (r. 1191-1198), and the Patriarch of Antioch, Theodore Balsamon (r. 1193-after 1195). Much to the shock of his fellow patriarchs, he attempted to serve the traditional liturgy of his see, the Liturgy of Saint Mark but they prevented from doing so. It seems that this incident brought to the attention of everyone involved that practices in the Churches of Constantinople and Alexandria diverged on a wide variety of points and so Mark submitted to the patriarch and synod of Constantinople a list of sixty-six questions for clarification. The end result of this was a series of questions and responses prepared by Balsamon (a native of Constantinople who, though officially the absentee patriarch of Antioch, seems to have never left the city) on the synod’s behalf.

The issue of cultural, linguistic, and liturgical diversity and uniformity is a perennial point of contention in the Orthodox churches and so Patrick Demetrius Viscuso’s translation of Balsamon’s Sixty-Six Canonical Questions under the title Guide for a Church under Islam is a welcome contribution to the history of how the Byzantine Church understood Orthodox Christians living outside the boundaries of the empire. Throughout the volume, Viscuso demonstrates his expertise in Byzantine canon law by thoroughly cross-referencing passages from the Questions to the entire corpus of Balsamon’s works as well as to other pertinent Byzantine legal texts. He also provides extensive notes explaining the reasoning behind some of the more difficult-to-understand rulings, such as the Galenic theory lying behind the prohibition against communing on the same day as having bathed (78-80), as well as several of the rulings related to marriage, sexuality and gender in a manner that is clear and accessible for non-specialists. However, the reader might have appreciated further explanation of two of Balsamon’s more disturbing rulings, permitting a man to sell off a female slave with whom he has fornicated (118) and declaring betrothal to a girl of seven to be valid on the grounds that girls of that age are subject to concupiscence (119)

Nevertheless, even as he expertly explains the peculiarities of the Questions in relation to the broader corpus of Byzantine canon law, Viscuso fails to situate the text within its Middle Eastern dimension. In particular, he does not even so much as cite any of the substantial literature on Melkite canonical collections and the history of the reception of Byzantine legal texts among Middle Eastern Christians. This leads to a reading of the text that, while grounded in the history of Byzantine law, makes very little effort to understand it in terms beyond Balsamon’s own limited horizons. In choosing to give his translation the title Guide for a Church under Islam, Viscuso highlights precisely the dimension of the text that he least examines.


The Questions are doubtless an important source for the history of Byzantine canon law—especially as regards important contemporary issues such as the question of deaconesses, the reception of converts, and relations with the non-Orthodox-- and Viscuso has performed a great service in producing this clear, accessible English translation. Nevertheless, as is very often the case in studies of both Byzantium and the Christian Middle East, we are in need of further basic philological work in order to be able to have a proper understanding of this text. Without a critical edition of both versions of the Questions and a comprehensive comparison between them, it is difficult to tease out what in belongs to Mark and his Melkite Alexandrian context and what belongs to Balsamon. One can indeed discern some echoes of the daily life and problems of medieval Melkites from the text presented in this volume, but by and large these echoes are drowned out by Balsamon’s wholly Constantinopolitan frame of reference. Rather than an authentic “guide for a church under Islam,” what we have here is a foundational text in the Byzantine imaginary of Orthodoxy outside the bounds of empire.

Read the rest here.