Monday, July 30, 2018

Conference in July 2019: Melkite Christianity and the Archaeology of Byzantine Monasteries and Churches in the Levant

From here.

Melkite Christianity and the Archaeology of Byzantine Monasteries and Churches in the Levant, 15th – 18th July 2019, (Oxford University)
ARAM Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Studies is organizing its Fifty Second International Conference on Melkite Christianity (the Patriarchates of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria) and the Archaeology of Byzantine Monasteries and Churches in the Levant, to be held at the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford, on 15th – 18th July 2019.

The conference will start on Monday 15th July at 9pm, finishing on Thursday 18th July at 1pm. Each speaker’s paper is limited to 35 minutes, with an additional 10 minutes for discussion. All papers given at the conference will be considered for publication in a future edition of the ARAM Periodical, subject to editorial review. 

If you wish to participate in the conference, please contact our Oxford address: ARAM, the Oriental Institute, Oxford University, Pusey Lane, Oxford OX1 2LE, England.

Tel. 01865-514041 


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Met Georges Khodr: The Moral Rule

Arabic original here.

The Moral Rule

Some people have the notion that the Ten Commandments contain all Christian morals. The truth is that they are an example and that there are many sins that these commandments do not mention. Moreover, the Second Commandment, "Keep the Sabbath holy," is a Jewish ritual matter to which we are no longer bound, as the Lord has liberated us from the Sabbath in His resurrection. Our refraining from work on Sunday is not a divine commandment. It is an ecclesiastical order whose basis is performing the Divine Liturgy. In the Old Testament itself, the most comprehensive rule is this: "Love the Lord your God as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus took this up: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment." After that, He added, "And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-40). Then, to sum it all up, He says, "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

But what is the connection between this new commandment and the Ten Commandments? Paul clarifies this: "He who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery. You shall not murder. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:8-10).

A person might start out by keeping the laws and then, if he comes to know Jesus, he understands that our ability to fulfill them comes from God's grace. So that the commandments are not a sword dangling over man's head, they must spring forth from the heart that is illumined by the light of Christ. This is the New Covenent that Jeremiah spoke of when he said, "I will cause them to dwell safely. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart...
I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them" (Jeremiah 32:37-40). Because the Holy Spirit dwells in us and we know the tranquility that we have from God, we carry out every word from Him. If a word comes to be within us, it brings forth good work.

In the kingdom of Christ and in his dominion over us, in our having tasted His love for us, we have come to do what pleases Him and this gives us joy. When the kingdom appeared with Christ, Jesus gave us the law of the kingdom that is expounded in the Gospel of Matthew in what is called the Sermon on the Mount, which appears in Chapters 5, 6, and 7 and the corresponding passages in Luke.

This begins with the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Jesus does not bring a law whose roots are unknown to the Old Covenant. He came to complete it. Jesus fulfills prophecy and brings it to its perfection. He makes it possible through the love that He gave. Jesus fulfills the old law and ties it to the mystery of love. There was a commandment over man. Now it comes from the person who has surrendered himself to the Lord.

Jesus goes to the roots. "You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder...'
But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment. Likewise, you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." It is not a matter of our refraining from something external, but rather that we purify the heart so that it does not incline to evil.

Therefore Christian morals are based on man training his soul to love the Lord and keeping watch over it so that it refrains from sin and loves good. At that point, the commandments spring forth automatically from the purified heart.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Fast of Our Lady and the Marian Spirit

Arabic original here.

The Fast of Our Lady and the Marian Spirit

Fasting in general is the emptying of the soul and the body of everything that comes to them from sin. Emptying the stomach of food is an image of liberating the soul from passions and lusts.

The Fast of Our Lady is tied to Great Lent, that is, the Fast of Our Lord.

The Lord Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights and after that He confronted the devil and defeated him by the power of the word. This is also what Our Lady the Virgin Mary did when she listened to the word of God, pondering it in her heart and acting according to it (cf. Luke 2:19, 8:21 and 10:39).

The Fast of Our Lady is an apostolic institution. Saint Theodore the Studite calls it the Holy Fast of the Mother of God. Believers who love Our Lady and her virtues practice it just as they practice Great Lent. Some zealous ones even from fire! In any case, those who love the Mother of God, Mary, love the Lord Jesus, her son and her God, and study His word, keep it in their heart and act according to it in their life.

The Fast of Our Lady is tied to the Marian spirit, the virginal spirit attached to God and His word. It is the pure, unblemished spirit.

Mary is both mother and virgin. Mary the mother is the model for every pure human, in whom Christ is begotten and from whom He goes out into the world. Purity is that we do not accept within ourselves anything other than the divine seed.

The fast is accompanied by a special prayer to Our Lady that is called the Paraklisis. It is a special supplication addressed to Our Lady and from her to the Lord by virtue of a mother's boldness to her son and her God.

The Church is the mystical body of Christ. In this body, the Mother of God still practices the intercession that she performed on earth, as at the wedding at Cana in Galilee. She is the unfailing intercessor.

In the service of the Small Paraklisis we say, "Listen, O daughter, Consider and incline your ear; Forget your own people also, and your father’s house; So the King will greatly desire your beauty" (Psalm 44/45:10-11).

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Available to Download: Sidney Griffith's Arabic Christianity in the Monasteries of Ninth Century Palestine

Find it on here.

The history of Christian literature took a new turn in the 8th century when monks in the monasteries of Palestine began to write theology and saints' lives in Arabic, and they instituted a veritable programme for translating the Bible and other Christian texts from Greek (and Syriac) into the language of the Qur'an, the "lingua franca" of the Islamic caliphate. This is the subject of the present volume. Two key factors leading to this change where that the confrontation with the developing theology of Islam created a direct need for apologetics to face this new religious challenge in its own language; and that as the memory of Byzantine power waned, so too did the knowledge of Greek. Issues of particular interest in this apologetic literature are those of the freedom of the will, a key topic in the controversies between the Melkites and the Muslims, and of the legitimacy of icon veneration, a subject of great contemporary concern at the time of Iconoclasm in the Byzantine Empire.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Met Georges Khodr: We are Children of our Fathers

Arabic original here.

We are Children of our Fathers

Today we commemorate the holy fathers. Who are these fathers? There are those whom we call holy fathers, such as John Chrysostom, Gregory the Theologian, Basil the Great, Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus... We do not call all those who wrote about theology fathers, even if they were impressive. Our father is the one who begat us. Our father in the Church is the one who makes us children of God with his teachings.

When the Church needs someone to defend her, when she is in danger, God reveals someone within her who teaches in a manner that supports and clarifies what we have received from the Apostles. Danger to the Church appeared in the late first century from the Jews and Greek philosophers, or from Judaism mixed with Greek philosophy. Therefore clearer teaching about the divinity of the Lord was necessary.

The Church as a body is threatened by illness and in the body itself there are those who defend her. The Church is threatened by teachings foreign to her because Christians are influenced by what is not upright and drift in the wake of the fleeting intellectual fashions of our age. Then God sends, by His inspiration, men who clarify the dogma that we must believe. When the struggle intensifies, they gather in a council where they state their faith.

When Arius appeared in Alexandria and said that Christ is created-- that is, that He was not with the Father from eternity-- the deacon in Alexandria Athanasius went and said, "No indeed, relying on our holy scriptures, Christ is uncreated." The controversy raged in Egypt and spread throughout the empire, so the Emperor Constantine called for a worldwide ecumenical council for the first time. This council enacted the creed that we recite today in the Divine Liturgy.

Some people imagine that in the creed and in the dogma that we teach, we philosophize or bring something difficult. Of course, it is difficult to a great degree and students learn it in theological institutes. But for  the early fathers, these statements were very necessary because the Church was in danger and it was necessary for them to address people in the language and concepts of people at that time.

Those who heard "begotten not made" understood that Christ is eternal with the Father and understood that these words refute the teaching of Arius and confirm the Orthodox faith.

The fathers defended true dogma and Orthodox Christians were pleased to die in order to affirm the truth of the dogma, because they insisted that they had something essential in their faith, which if they lost it, they would die spiritually. If Christ was not God, then the one who died on the cross does not save us. Christians did not debate for the sake of controversy, but if Christ were an ordinary human, then we are without redemption and without hope. What is at stake in the defense of the faith is an issue of life or death, life in Christ or death without Christ. The whole of our salvation is connected to this dogma.

The dogma that we learn and repeat in our prayers is a sort of boundary that if we cross, we fall into the valley of death and darkness. We cannot scatter this inheritance that we have received. If someone comes and tells us, "Your dogma has been cut to pieces. Remove from it what bothers us so that we can live in harmony. Please us and say that Christ is not divine and that he is an ordinary human," we reject it completely. The faith isn't a possession for everyone who wants to squander it. We have received it and we remain with it because from it we have life.

This is the importance of the Feast of the Fathers. We are children of our fathers. We are children of the Apostles, the righteous ones, the saints and the martyrs, and we persist like this in strong sincerity that some call obstinacy. We call it sincerity and we persist in it in humility, since the grace of our Lord has preserved us in it through our fathers.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fr Georges Massouh: Joseph of Damascus, Imam of the Christians

Arabic original here. This essay is taken from his book Here and Now.

Joseph of Damascus, Imam of the Christians

The Holy Martyr Joseph of Damascus, whose name was Father Yusuf Muhanna al-Haddad, was a victim of the sectarian massacres that took place in Damascus on July 10, 1860. His vita, which was edited by Archimandrite Touma (Bitar) in his book Forgotten Saints in the Antiochian Heritage, states that one of his killers shouted when he saw him, "This is the imam of the Christians! If we kill him, we kill all the Christians with him!"

The killers did not know that they could not eliminate the Christians if they killed their imam. The Jews who killed Christ thought that by crucifying him they would save their nation. Their leader said, "It is better that one man should die for the people," and he was disappointed. Killing Christ did not stop Christianity from spreading to every corner of the inhabited world. If plants need water in order to grow and bear fruit, then the Church needs the blood of her martyrs in order to live, sprout, and bear fruit in the saints.

No one can accuse everyone who belongs to the killers' religion of being a partner or accomplice in the massacres Historical studies and documents prove with no room for doubt that many of the Muslims from Damascus and elsewhere, such as the Emir Abdelkader al-Jazairi, helped to save Christians fleeing from the rampaging mob and its leaders. We likewise cannot ignore the fact that some Muslims in many eras down to our present day have been victims of sectarian violence and massacres committed by Christian mobs.

For over a hundred and fifty years at the least, our countries in the Arab Middle East have been witnessed sectarian incidents, in which the extremists make history while the impact of those who call for openness, diversity and respect for the other is completely absent. In every internal crisis, the discourse of sectarian mobilization has the greatest role, which leads to the absence of the voice of reason and the domination of primitive instincts. It is well-known that reason is one of man's attributes, while man shares the instincts with other creatures that crawl upon the earth, swim in the water, and fly through the air.

The state of our country today is no different from how it has been for a long time. Those who have a say today are the extremists who do not hesitate to commit the most heinous crimes under the pretext of defending the dignity of their religion, sect or community. Nor are those who call themselves "secular" innocent of exploiting their religious affiliation in order to themselves commit sectarian massacres against those who disagree with them. All of them, without exception, resort to religious extremism, takfir, and demonization in order to tighten their grip on the country's livelihood and the necks of its people.

Joseph of Damascus is not an isolated case in the history of this region, either before or after his time. Perhaps our fate is that our innocents will pay the price of the extremists' hatred, no matter what group they belong to. Just as the killers of Joseph of Damascus were not able to eliminate his Christians, criminals will not be able to eliminate any of the country's religious groups or its diversity. But the price for remaining seems very high, as we anticipate offering other Josephs on the altar of martyrdom. Nothing will change this inevitable fate unless it is a return to the humanity within us and an end to the inhuman instincts that are empowered within some of us.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Fr Touma (Bitar): Some Words about Man... as Prayer!

Arabic original here.

Some Words about Man... as Prayer!

Life is a project of prayer. It exists for prayer. Man has no value unless he prays. Prayer is the value. In prayer, man becomes man. There is no time for it in principle, because all time is for it. Prayer is to cover all of life. Thus the saying: pray at all times, pray and do not grow weary! This is for everyone, not only for ascetics. Just as breath is for all people, so too is prayer for all people. Without breath, the body dies and without prayer the heart dies. Man is not a body, but a being in a body. The body needs air and the heart needs spirit. In the beginning, God breathed into man the breath of life and Adam became a living soul. After the resurrection, the Lord Jesus breathed upon His disciples: receive the Holy Spirit! At Pentecost, all were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Thus man grows with prayer and life is firmly rooted within him or it decreases and every day he takes a step towards the grave and so after a life without meaning comes a death without meaning. Is it not the case that being of dust cancels every other value in him? Very truly, then, man was created to pray! God, in the superabundance of His love, extended Himself in creation to man in order to allow man, to extend himself, by his "amen", in newness of  life, to God. Fathomless being calls out to fathomless being. This is the language of divine longing.

Life is a project of prayer because life in its entirety is a love story. Or we treat it as vanity, and it is not vanity, because vanity does not sprout life and life is not confirmed by vanity. Vanity, with regard to life, is from death. Love is the content of life or else there is no life. So man is prayer because he is love! And true prayer is the Holy Spirit within us because love subsists in the Holy Spirit. Love alone persists forever because God is love. Only this is the meaning. The purpose of life on earth is for man to acquire the Spirit of God!

In practice, prayer begins as an imposition, but it is completed as a state of prayer. A person prays first of all with his senses, his mind, his feeling... He acts it out, as though standing before the Lord, emulating those who have gone before. His direction of prayer is the icon. He collects himself. He departs from every fantasy. Each time he is displaced, he regains himself. This isn't easy. He practices self-control. Prayer is impossible at first without seizing oneself. This is an experience that does not depend on human conviction, but on expert experience and then on hope. Hope isn't hoping-for. We do not, by seizing the self, hope that arrive at a result that we may or may not arrive at. Hope is, in a sense, certain arrival before departure. The important thing is to proceed in certainty, self-control and persistence. We realize the importance of a new experience when we have reached the goal. Its basis is faith and trust in the Word and the Speaker. But it is difficult to practice faith and trust where there is no good model or blessed upbringing. Sometimes we practice prayer with understanding and other times we practice it without understanding. Sometimes, with something of the senses and other times, without sensation. Sometimes with joy, with a certain consolation, and other times without one or the other. Sometimes, with relaxation and other times, with toil. Sometimes, there is within us something that desires prayer and other times, there is something within us that resists prayer. Sometimes, it is with bodily movements accompanied by a sensation of prayer, and other times it is absolutely without sensation. This is how it is at the start of the path.What then? The important thing is that we pray. The important thing is that we persist in saying the prayer, in the motion of prayer. We have, in the body, an entryway to the heart and, in its time, God descends into the heart. The body is a mystery. If we seize it as something for God, even if only in form, the heart moves. The man of sin is an imitative animal. If we make him imitate what belongs to God, he opens to the Lord without know it. God is alive. No one can imitate divine things as dead ideas and motions. This is because your Lord is in His name, in every motion, image, groan of the heart and thought approaches أim, intentionally or unintentionally, with good motive or evil, in earnestness or jest. You come to Him as though He does not exist but He comes to you because He does exist. You come to Him as a joke and He comes to you with pardon, but severe and causing great pain. A saint named Porphyrius was an actor. He came to Him sarcastically, but his Lord came to him by force, startling him and seizing his guts, so he succumbed, believed and fell into great distress. The love of God in him transformed into pain and burning of the heart, so he was pleased to be martyred and so, mad with love, he overcame disbelief. The mind, in the cyclone of love, proves to be foolish. In this way, play-acting is transformed into what it represents. And in this way, the imposition of prayer grows into the heart's dwelling in the Spirit of God, miraculously... by God's grace.

In prayer, there is something like the gradual motion of the tides, perfectly governed by God's wisdom and tied to the existential state of the person praying, what is beneficial and what is not beneficial to him. It comes to a person from the frequency and regularity that he imposes on himself, as though it is from a machine,  with with a feeling that starts to grow, as though from the motion and from the outside inward. Or rather, as though from the One who moves within us, according to His disposition, holding us while we do not hold Him. We gradually become accustomed to handing over the reins of the soul to Him, soberly observing what is happening inside us and the flexibility of His approach, like someone whose desire it is to cry out with the one singing: my beloved plays his pipe and I follow him! Everything that the one praying had previously heard is one thing and what he observes along the path is something else. It is as though what he had heard or read is tossed aside apart from an itinerary with landmarks to the One who is secretly accompanying you. He looks upon you to be absent from you and He is present with you so that you do not go astray, even if you sometimes wander. There is something personal in your journey, so long as your relationship to the One coming to you remains personal. He approaches you and you are consoled by something that you do not see from where it is coming to you. Then it slips away and you thirst for it, your heart is parched and you are haunted by doubt. But you go forward with resolve. Like someone who is and is not looking for the object of his desire and who gradually learns that she is also seeking him and that he only has to wait for her in silence and steadfastness, practicing patience, far from any imagining or strange sensation that fantasy produces when the soul is hurried in seeking that which is only given at the proper time. Abiding in dryness, monotony, persistence and waiting is hard. To follow the promise, surrendering your control, relinquishing your personal initiatives, this is something new for you! For you to learn to empty yourself as though you are a newborn who knows and does not know that there is someone taking his hand, reassuring him, while the one who whispers fear stands there, encouraging you to turn back, and your senses are helpless. There is no god, says the tempter, but you, in your determination, become aware that the Comforter encourages you to proceed. Do not fear! Behold, I am with you! This strengthens and relaxes you at times. Whenever you are on the precipice of falling, He brings you back together. Whenever you are troubled and cry out, 'Save me,' He guides you. He has taken you by the hand like Peter when he was drowning. Your path, my brother, is to remain steadfast when you are in weakness and even when you are debilitated, otherwise you will not realize any progress. Prayer is for those who are always aware of their nothingness so that the power of the Most High might dwell within them. The important thing is to keep moving forward. The more you uproot from yourself, the more He takes you and makes you by grace into something you never imagined. After that, the path teaches you the path as you walk and do not walk toward the One who has known you and comes to you so that you may know Him. Do not fear and if you fear, when you start to empty yourself, as though you are no longer capable of praying, His Spirit starts to pray within you! From there you transcend fear of skin so that you may be covered by fear of the Beloved. Do not ask, "What then?" This is sufficient for you to come to Him. From there, His hook is in you.

Prayer is the antidote that heals every poison, the alchemy that transforms every metal into gold. Without it, everything turns into poison and every metal is meager. Everything that happens to you happens so that you might pray. Creation is treated as something seasoned with prayer, otherwise it spoils. In prayer there is health and without it illness. Prayer may grant you to live your entire life without getting sick and prayer may grant that your body is ill throughout your life, but your heart is hale. It is as though you are in a body that is not of the same material as the bodies of those who do not believe or as though you are in a body that, if it falls ill, divine grace settles in it, and there is nothing more glorious. Creation is a language of those who love each other or you whither and die. And creation is a temple for God to dwell in by grace. It is true that it is possible for someone to turn his back to God, but he cannot persist for long, or else he encounters injustice, murder, wantonness, and all the abominations of the earth. The heart that insists on estrangement from God seeks death, longs for death, and works for death! Prayer is the greatest of gifts because it is the greatest thing that is given to man as a creature. In prayer, your Lord wanted to give Himself, because He is the foundation of everything, otherwise there is no sense to the words of the Chosen Apostle, "Life for me is Christ and to die is gain." In prayer, we have been granted to become intimates of God. We speak to Him as a friend speaking to a friend, according to the example of Moses. Your Lord's destiny is for you to see Him face to face as He is and for you to meet Him in the throes of love, until you arrive at Him. So start it, so that you do not die of ennui.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite-- Douma, Lebanon
July 1, 2018

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Patriarch John X visits Eastern Ghouta

Arabic original, with video, here.

Patriarch John X makes a Visit inspecting Arbin and Harasta in Eastern Ghouta

To Arbin, Patriarch John X carried his shepherd's staff to inspect what had been left by terror. He carried his staff to affirm that the Christian and the Muslim are the two lungs of this Middle East, especially in this country that is a symbol of mutual brotherhood and coexistence.

Patriarch John X and the accompanying delegation started the first stops of their inspection at the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George, where he was greeted in the outer courtyard of the church by the imam of the Great Mosque in Arbin, Sheikh Ihsan al-Sayyid Hasan, town officials, and parishoners who came to witness the dawning of resurrection. There Patriarch John X said:

"The Church shall remain a witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. She shall remain steadfast in the living faith of her people. Strong winds will not be able to uproot her from this holy land.

We live in Syria as one family, Christians and Muslims. Nothing divides us. We will work hand in hand to rebuild stones and humans all at once. The strange, barbaric spirit of terrorism that destroyed these abodes is a spirit foreign to Syrian culture. It shall find no refuge in this loving country. Therefore we have come today to affirm before all that we are steadfastly remaining and tomorrow shall be better than yesterday.

Syria is a country of peace and coexistence. Syria has been and shall remain the homeland of mutual encounter. Our people are a loving, believing, honest people, who are committed to their faith and always come together in the truth."

In response, Sheikh Ihsan al-Sayyid Hasan thanked His Beatitude, stating that Christians and Muslims in Arbin are brothers and that dark clouds will not be able to sow the seeds of division and promising that life will return to the town, it will be reborn and that this rebirth is close by.

After that, His Beautitude inspected the Great Mosque in Arbin, which was completely destroyed with only the minaret left standing. Patriarch John X then headed to Harasta at the head of a church delegation to inspect the Church of the Prophet Elijah, which was completely destroyed. He regretted what had been done to it by the hand of terror and the language of destruction, which has nothing to do with religion or morals. His Beatitude affirmed, however, that in the end, everything will return-- churches, mosques and homes-- and that this return will be realized through the love and mutual support of the people of Harasta, both Christians and Muslims.

His Beatitude then inspected the tombs that had been defiled by the hand of terror. Patriarch John X likewise inspected the al-Zahra Mosque, observing the extent of the destruction to which it had been subjected.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Episcopacy and Conciliarity

This was published unsigned in al-Karma, the weekly bulletin of the Archdiocese of Tripoli. Arabic original here.

Episcopacy and Synodality

On the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul and all the Apostles, the Church celebrates an important stage of her holy life.

In Christianity, an apostle is someone whom God has entrusted with a divine message or a holy task. The Lord chose His apostles, loved them and taught them. He was a model for them in everything, so that they would become other christs, able to make apostles of all the nations, to baptize them, and to bring them to love of His commandments. The Lord entrusted them with the mystery of man's salvation, with the dogma of the kingdom of heaven. He gave them the authority to loosen and to bind, the authority to heal illnesses and expel demons, to perform the divine mysteries, and, also important, the authority to raise up successors to themselves: "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6).

The gift of apostleship that the Lord Jesus Christ established naturally had to continue after the apostles' death. It was transmitted to their successors whom they themselves chose. This is clear in the epistles of the New Testament, which talk about presbyters, bishops and shepherds, and the early Church was profoundly conscious of this reality.

In his Epistle to the Corinthians, Clement, bishop of Rome at the end of the first century, speaks clearly about how the apostles established successors for themselves to lead the Church. In Orthodoxy, the bishops are direct successors to the apostles. They are the continuation of the apostleship that our Lord chose, through whom He guides the world to the sole truth.

This is what the words of the Lord Jesus mean to them: "Behold I am with you all the days until the end of the age." He is with them through their successors the bishops. These bishops have become not only apostles of Christ, but also prophets of the new covenant. After prophecy stopped as a special gift in the Church in the early second century, the bishops of the new covenant received prophecy along with apostleship.

They are apostles who preach the good news of Jesus Christ. Their role as prophets is to declare His will for the Church and for the people of God. Thus the Church, whose head is the Lord Jesus Christ, is built "on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20). These gifts are transmitted to the priests, the bishops' assistants, through the obedience of these priests to the bishops, when this obedience does not go against the Church's faith, tradition, and canons.

Conciliarity and consultation were an attribute of the early Church of the apostles and the apostles governed the church through councils. The Apostle Paul did not make his own opinion or decision. Rather, he said that he went up to Jerusalem to present his gospel to those held in regard, lest his striving be in vain. The first apostolic Council of Jerusalem realized the perfection of the image of conciliarity for the Church. It revealed that conciliarity is part of the Church's nature. Thus over the centuries, following the model of this council, the Church had held her councils and strives to preserve the spirit of conciliarity.

Councils continued after the age of the apostles, constituting the apostolic form that expresses the gathering of the entire Church. Local and ecumenical councils were held and the bishops who gathered in them represented the people of God with whom they were entrusted. This conciliar spirit is reflected in the whole life of the Church and indeed, in the Church's very faith.

The conciliar spirit is that which allows the Church to grow freely and charismatically, without being ruled by fear of a single head that monopolizes power, who is usually himself dominated by many passions and who is unable to accept those who oppose his style and manner.

It was in this charismatic spirit of conciliarity that the holy dogmas were defined and the Church's theology developed in an upright, Orthodox manner, just as the Church's liturgical life developed in a spiritual and ascetical manner.

It was in this spirit that the canons were formulated, not to frighten the faithful but to protect their path from the weakness of nature and to ease passage to the kingdom. There is no freedom outside of conciliarity, nor is there charismatic theology outside of conciliarity, because the movement of grace is then transformed into the spirit of institutionalized worldliness in the service of the orientation of the domineering head, either fearing him or flattering him.

In true conciliarity, the one Spirit works through the gifts of the many to build up the one body of Christ. It is not possible for this Spirit to be active outside the conciliar life. For this reason, Christ said, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).

All manifestations of the life of the Orthodox Church are conciliar, from the parish to the ecumenical council. Everything that contributes to nourishing domineering individualism among the priests or bishops (or patriarchs at the level of the local church) constitutes a real danger for the entire movement of the Spirit in the holy Church. It disables the gifts of the Holy Spirit among the faithful.

When a bishop is domineering in the Church, it is evidence of the domination of the spirit of pride, of abominable egoism, and of the passion of vainglory in his soul.

Christ first taught His apostles the virtue of self-denial when they were competing for the first places and He said to them, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you" (Matthew 20:25-26).

These are the factors that led to the fall of the Church in the West and turned it from truth into a papist church, where they reduced the entire church to the person of the pope and placed him above the councils, denying the ecclesiological understanding that the Church had followed for a thousand years.

The pope became the church and when he fell with regard to the faith, the entire church over which he was head fell with him and came to be outside the body of Christ. Therefore, where there is no conciliarity, there is no Church.

In Orthodoxy, the local councils have the primary practical role in facing the contemporary challenges that never cease.

The local council of bishops works in the spirit of the holy ecumenical councils, preserving Orthodoxy in its dogmas and canons from twisted teachings and falsely-named theology.

The ecumenical councils are the highest authority in the Orthodox Church and a local council cannot contradict any of their teachings or canons.  It can only apply economy where necessary.

The other role of the local council is to teach this faith to the people of God, how to live it in the spirit of repentance, confession, living participation in the holy mysteries, and to resist the worldly spirit that is spreading in the life of the Church, destroying the spirit of piety within her.

The Church lives this conciliarity in every Eucharistic gathering and from this gathering, the Church extends the foundation of building up her conciliarity.

There, where there is confession of the one Orthodox faith, the Lord is present and the people around Him with the bishop constitute, by the power of the Holy Spirit, a Eucharistic council, in which all the ecumenical dimensions of the conciliarity of the one Church are made manifest. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Met Georges Khodr: We Are One

Arabic original here.

We Are One

It is striking about the Church that it is the only place where unbelievers gather out of desire for love, whether men or women, poor or rich, healthy or disabled, simple or great in understanding. This is because the Lord who was slaughtered for the sake of all lifts them up to the same level, the level of His love, as though He says to the downtrodden wife (and sometimes too the downtrodden husband), "If your husband only sees in you pleasure or a servant for his children and you are of no worth to him, you are My companion because from your rank came Mary, My mother and the mother of the whole world, and so too came the myrrh-bearing women, and from among your companions some have attained great holiness.

The Savior says to the poor man, "I do not make you the equal of the rich man, for I make you equal to Myself. If you have loved, have had patience, and have become a companion to the poor man of Nazareth, then no one surpasses you in glory, because you have ascended the throne of humility and there is no other throne."

The blessed Lord says to the disabled person, "You are healthy in what is deep down and capable of greatness and heart in courage and boldness. If your hands or legs are withered, there is no defect in your mind, because hatred is the only disability and the healthy might be proud, so they are the ones who immobile."

The Lord calls the simple to Himself, saying, "'Everything is heart' and your domain in Christianity is the purity, giving and understanding that God has entrusted to the heart. Very often, the lively mind is against the pure heart. The giving that Christianity knows is an overflowing of love, so if this overflowing is impossible for someone, he is nothing."

All of them head together to the holy chalice in humility. The beautiful woman knows in the presence of Jesus that her beauty is dust until she receives the Eucharist. The rich man tastes that he is poor and in need of his Lord's mercy, that he is the equal of the needy or the least of them, lest the body of Christ judge him. The healthy person sees that he is chastened, lest abundant health bring upon him the calamity of haughtiness. The intellectual is convinced that unless he places his knowledge at the feet of the Crucified, knowledge is rigid.

But after the Divine Liturgy, danger seizes us. The beautiful women leave strutting. The rich leave in splendor or feeling a heightened sense of security. The intellectuals scatter their clever words here and there, bragging and babbling. At that point, the effect of receiving is voided within us, like the dog returning to its own vomit, as the Bible says (cf. 2 Peter 2:22).

In the world where Christians live, nonsense is rampant and blindness widespread, since the healthy person does not know that he is no more glorious than the disabled person, the man does not know that he isn't anything just because he is male and that he only becomes something in Christ's headship over him, and the educated do not sense that a thimbleful of love is more valuable than a bushel of learning. If we have fallen into these abysses, then the Divine Liturgy has transformed into Byzantine chants without any content, as though Christ had not died to gather us to Himself and to unite us with each other.

The world is once more becoming a theater for demons in a Christian society. We have not brought the Church into the world in order to make it the Church and to prepare the kingdom of God in this world. The temple is not the final waystation. It is the point of departure into the world.

Why are we not a divine community within it? Why are we content to be a sect with no holy spirit in it? Love between different groups is the spirit of the enlightening elite that we call Christians.