Thursday, November 1, 2018

Fr. Georges Massouh on Pipe-Dreams of Empire

I am re-posting this article by Fr Georges Massouh, of blessed memory, as it seems pertinent to much that is happening in Orthodoxy today. The Arabic original, published in Majallat al-Nour, can be found here.

Orthodoxy or Pipe-Dreams?

Some Antiochian Orthodox are haunted by dreams of an awakening that sends them off on flights of fancy and estranges them from the surrounding reality. These dreams of an awakening prevent those who are having them from facing reality and cast them into the arms of fanciful illusion that satisfies hidden desires that they cannot satisfy in real life. They flee reality in search of a lost paradise that cannot be realized. They search for an imaginary paradise. But their dreams remain an incoherent collection of images and ideas that reflect symptoms of complexes and psychological problems.

Dreams have led them astray and caused them to search for a useless and pointless role. They chase after a tempting and deceitful mirage like people afflicted with sunstroke. They try to tap into it, but they will only find utter failure. The mirage of empty glory, the lure of power, and the temptation of lucre are what they are seeking under the compelling and noble banner of the Church. Satan clothes himself in a robe of light, is this not what the Apostle Paul says?

There are those who dream of restoring the glory of the Byzantine Empire and its capital Constantinople and proof of this is that they raise the banner of the Byzantine state as their emblem, as though the Orthodox faith were not true without the return of an empire whose behavior was no better than "the kings of this world." How many massacres, crimes, and occupations were committed in the name of Christianity? How many times did the Fathers of the Church, chief among them Saint Ambrose of Milan and Saint John Chrysostom, clash with the emperors on account of their excessive use of power and negligence of the Gospel's teachings.

The Antiochian experience of the state differs from subsequent Byzantine and Russian experience. The Church of Antioch has never ruled in our country, thank God. The Church of Antioch did not sully herself with the stain of this world, its strongmen and tyrants. She could not do anything other than take care of her countries and peoples and to work to realize the Kingdom in the here and now, where she lives awaiting the announcement of the Kingdom that is to come. She could do nothing other than bear witness to her Teacher, her Master, her Redeemer in word, thought, and deed. She did not deny her cross. She bore it in order to be crucified for love, not in order to hatefully crucify others for the sake of earthly glory.

The Orthodox Church has realized that holiness does not belong to land or cities or places. All these things are just dust. Rather, true holiness is a lofty goal that human beings, flesh and blood, are called to acquire. "Neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall you worship the Father... Those who truly worship the Father worship in spirit and in truth," said the Lord firmly to  the Samaritan woman. There where the Church (that is, the group of believers called from that place) is, there the Lord will be among them. Judaism did not comprehend these words and it continued to work to return to Palestine. The price of its return was the removal of an entire people from their land after wars, conflicts and massacres that claimed thousands of victims. How great would the price of a return to Constantinople be, if the means were available? How great do those people estimate the price would be of restoring the glories of their empire?

These fantastical dreams that take the form of associations, groups, and parties seek after an Andalus  that is lost and will never return. They are pipe-dreams at high noon, when laziness and drowsiness overcomes weak souls: "Save us, O Lord, from the noonday demon." Instead of the Orthodox working to fix their presence in Beirut, Tripoli, Akkar, Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, and Hama... and instead of urgently striving to return to villages from which they were expelled in the mountains near Beirut, and instead of working to halt the exodus to countries with strong economies, you see some people entertaining pipe-dreams that do not eliminate hunger.

Particularly deserving censure is the fact that the people who have these fantasies do not hesitate to use holy names which they confer upon themselves, especially the word "Orthodox" and its derivatives, which they hawk in the market of hateful sectarianism that dominates hearts and minds in Lebanon. There is a "Party of God" and a party that appropriates the cross, a party that claims to speak in the name of the Christians, and parties with Islamic names... and now some Orthodox have taken their turn to change the Church of the Lord, which He redeemed with His blood, into a sectarian party. Orthodoxy is far too precious to be distorted and have its history fabricated by a few people who seek to take their turn at the expense of a living tradition marked by true witness to Christ God our Redeemer.

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