Thursday, August 13, 2020

Interview: Hope from the Ruins of Beirut

Hope from the Ruins of Beirut

August 12, 2020 Length: 40:26
Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick hosts a moving interview with Deacon Gabriel Abdel Nour of St. Demetrios Orthodox Church in Beirut (Achrafieh), Lebanon, sounding notes of both sorrow and hope in the midst of destruction from the recent explosions, economic desperation and pandemic.

Listen to it here.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Galadza and van Vogelpoel: Multilingualism in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom Among the Melkites

Daniel Galadza and Alex C. J. Neroth van Vogelpoel, “Multilingualism in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom Among the Melkites,” ARAM 31:1-2 (2019), 35–50


This paper examines elements of multilingualism in the text and celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom among the Melkites, from the eighth to thirteenth centuries. The main focus for this investigation is the manuscript Sinai Gr. N.E. X 239, a thirteenth-century bilingual Greek-Syriac manuscript with Arabic marginal notes found among the Sinai New Finds in 1975, which contains the text of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The fourteen paper folios of the booklet containing the Divine Liturgy include a particular zeon rite during the Communion of the clergy. The texts and rubrics of the liturgical service are often repeated in Greek and Syriac, along with three Arabic marginal notes, which suggest the copyist and those praying from the manuscript were more familiar with Arabic and Syriac than they were with Greek. Nevertheless, Greek was used as a liturgical language. Comparison with other Syriac Melkite liturgical manuscripts, in particular with the thirteenth-century Euchologion Vatican Borg. Syr. 13, brings forward certain peculiarities of Melkite liturgical practice. Many of these Syriac Melkite liturgical texts have been examined by Cyrille Korolevsky, Joseph Nasrallah, and Heinrich Husmann, but their observations remain only preliminary to this day. The study of Syriac Melkite liturgical texts is accompanied by a comparison with Greek and Georgian liturgical texts originating in the Chalcedonian Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem, facilitated by recent research on the Greek and Georgian Euchologion from Jerusalem and Palestine by Heinzgerd Brakmann and Tinatin Chronz. The paper concludes by outlining what elements constitute unique Melkite liturgical practices in the Divine Liturgy, how they were celebrated in the multilingual environment in which Melkite Christians lived and prayed, and how the liturgical practices and rites were related to the liturgy of the Byzantine Rite in Constantinople and elsewhere.

 Read the entire article here.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Donations for Saint George Hospital, Beirut

From their website:

Dear Friends,
Saint George Hospital University Medical Center (SGHUMC), the first hospital in the region that has been serving people for more than 150 years now, sustained severe damages during the 4th of August explosion in Beirut. Since its formation SGHUMC has relied on the generous donations of its benefactors which enabled it to become a leading hospital in Lebanon, serving the entire Lebanese population. Most recently, SGHUMC has been at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19 pandemic. Following the recent ravaging explosion, the hospital was rendered non-operational and 160 inpatients had to be evacuated from the floors to the Emergency Room (ER) and then to their homes or to other hospitals. The 400-bed hospital who has always been providing high quality care was suddenly transformed into a field hospital providing urgent care to the injured on the floor using all available means, including rudimentary ones such as cell phones. The devastating loss hit the heart of SGHUMC. Four of our cherished nursing staff lost their lives, as they were getting on with their work. In addition, 12 patients and one visitor were also killed. More than 100 of our healthcare professionals, doctors, residents, nurses and administrative staff, sustained injuries ranging from mild to critical.

In order to resume its mission of providing excellent healthcare services to our community, a lot of work is needed on different levels of the hospital and the cost of this rehabilitation runs into an estimate of more than ten million US Dollars and may even reach twenty million.

Your prayers and support is highly appreciated. We sincerely hope that you will be able to help us realize this very worthy cause!


The Antiochian Archdiocese of North America's Collection for Beirut

By now, the world has seen videos of a mushroom cloud soaring over the Lebanese capital of Beirut, which explosions rocked today, August 4. People fled in terror, homes have been destroyed, and countless lives were ended or ruined. St. George Hospital in Beirut was without power and treating casualties in the darkness.

His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, leader of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, issued the following message:

“It is with a sense of shock and awe that I learned of the tragic explosions in Beirut today. I have been in contact with the Archdiocese of Beirut and am thankful that His Eminence Metropolitan Elias of Beirut is safe. At this moment, all of the clergy of his archdiocese are safe. However, churches in Beirut including St. George Cathedral in downtown and especially St. Nicholas Church in Ashrafiyah suffered severe damage. There was also significant damage to Metropolitan Elias’ archdiocesan headquarters as well as St. George Hospital. We will send out an immediate appeal to our parishes requesting funds to aid our brothers and sisters in Lebanon. If you want to give directly, please send your donations to the Archdiocesan Headquarters (P.O. Box 5238, Englewood, NJ 07631-5238) and put “Beirut” in the memo of the check. In the meantime, please keep all of our Lebanese brothers and sisters – and their families on this continent and overseas – in your prayers as they endure yet another tragedy and hardship in their history.”

Friday, July 24, 2020

Hasan Çolak: Catholic Infiltration in the Ottoman Levant and Responses of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchates during the late 17th and early 18th Centuries

Catholic Infiltration in the Ottoman Levant and Responses of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchates during the late 17th and early 18th Centuries


During the long reign of the French King Louis IV (1638-1715), there was a great influx of Catholic conversion activities among not only the Greek Orthodox flock, but also the hierarchs, including priests,  bishops and even patriarchs in the Ottoman Empire. The present paper focuses on two major fields: Firstly, it discusses the positive and negative reception of this Catholic infiltration among the Ottoman Christians in general, and the Greek Orthodox population and hierarchy in the Ottoman Empire in  particular. Secondly, it analyses the parallel policies that the Ottoman central administration, the Greek Orthodox lay elites and the Patriarchates came to follow after the catastrophic effects of the Catholic infiltration. The essay points out how the flourishing of Catholicism in the Ottoman Levant led to the formation of a new group by introducing the concept of patriarchal elites—in parallel to the lay elites— with close association with Istanbul, the core of ecclesiastical and political centre in the Ottoman Empire. In particular, it provides a discussion of the nature of the relations between the Patriarchs of Constantinople, and the Eastern Patriarchs in whose appointment the former began to take more determined role. In addition to the already-published sources, namely the reports written by Jesuit missionaries in the Levant, and Greek patriarchal documents, this essay brings to the fore unpublished and unused correspondence between the Ottoman central administration, and the Patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria preserved in the Prime Ministerial Ottoman Archives in Istanbul.

Read the whole article here

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Retired Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregorius III on Hagia Sophia

Arabic original here.

Gregorius III Calls on Muslims to Reject the Turkish Court's Decision to Transform the Church of Hagia Sophia

Former Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem, Gregory III commented on the decision to change the Hagia Sophia Museum into a mosque, saying, "Today the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed a decree opening the Hagia Sophia historical museum for Muslim to perform prayers following the Higher Administrative Court's ruling requiring that the Church of Hagia Sophia historical monument so that the Church of Hagia Sophia once more becomes a mosque, after having been a museum and shared world heritage since 1934, during the time of Ataturk, the founder of modern, secular Turkey. The church is a holy place and the mosque is a holy place. The church and the mosque are a place of prayer. We respect mosques just as we respect churches."

He continued, "But what is unfortunate is that the mosque will be a commodity and instrument for politics, a manifestation of chauvinism, a call for extremism and hatred between people and fellow-citizens, a cause for stirring up feelings and a reason for erecting psychological and nationalistic barriers between people.

Are we in need today of an additional church or an additional mosque, of thousands of mosques and churches? Or do we need to develop faith and love, solidarity, brotherhood, communication and mutual respect between people in Turkey or in any other place in the world? I address my words to my Muslim brothers whom I love, in our Arab countries and throughout the world. I call upon them with the feelings of mercy and compassion which fill the pages of the Noble Qur'an.... to be the first to reject this new situation on the basis of the values that Muslims and Christians hold in common in the comprehensive human rights document that His Holiness Pope Francis and the honorable sheikh of al-Azhar jointly signed."

He closed by calling "in particular on my Muslim brothers and fellow-citizens in Syria, Lebanon and our other Arab countries to reject this decree and to demand that the Turkish court's decision be cancelled. May the attitude of my Muslim brothers toward this decision be a building-block of love, compassion, respect and esteem among fellow-citizens in our blessed Arab nations. May this position be a pillar of support for the dialogue of religions and civilizations and for the building-up of the civilization of love to which our holy faith calls us."

Thursday, June 25, 2020

New Open-Access Book: Ambassadors, Artists, Theologians: Byzantine Relations with the Near East from the 9th to the 13th Centuries

Download it here.

Ambassadors, Artists, Theologians

Byzantine Relations with the Near East from the Ninth to the Thirteenth Centuries

edited by Zachary Chitwood and Johannes Pahlitzsch

The authors of the collective volume Ambassadors, Artists, Theologians: Byzantine Relations with the Near East from the Ninth to the Thirteenth Centuries examine the complex dynamic between the Byzantine Empire and the Near East. The contributions gathered here go beyond the tradition of histoire événementielle and clarify the transmission of artistic practices, ideas and interlocutors between Byzantium and the Islamic world. In this way, this volume attempts to nuance and contextualize our understanding of the relationship between these two medieval cultural zones.

Table of Contents: 

Zachary Chitwood, Johannes Pahlitzsch: Introduction
Asa Eger: The Agricultural Landscape of the Umayyad North and the Islamic-Byzantine Frontier
Ute Versteegen: How to Share a Sacred Place – The Parallel Christian and Muslim Use of the Major Christian Holy Sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem
Robert Schick: The Christian Presence in Jordan in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries
Nicolas Drocourt: Arabic-speaking Ambassadors in the Byzantine Empire (from the Ninth to Eleventh Centuries)
Bettina Krönung: The Employment of Christian Mediators by Muslim Rulers in Arab-Byzantine Diplomatic Relations in the Tenth and Early Eleventh Centuries
Alexander Beihammer: Changing Strategies and Ideological Concepts in Byzantine-Arab Relations in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries
Mat Immerzeel: Painters, Patrons, and Patriarchs Byzantine Artists in the Latin and Islamic Middle East of the Thirteenth Century
Lucy-Anne Hunt: The Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII (1261-1282) and Greek Orthodox / Melkite-Genoese Cultural Agency in a Globalised World: Art at Sinai, Behdaidat, of the pallio of San Lorenzo in Genoa, and in Mamluk Egypt
Elizabeth Dospěl Williams: Dressing the Part: Jewelry as Fashion in the Medieval Middle East
Alicia Walker: Pseudo-Arabic as a Christian Sign: Monks, Manuscripts, and the Iconographic Program of Hosios Loukas
Robert Hillenbrand: The Lure of the Exotic: The Byzantine Heritage in Islamic Book Painting
Benjamin de Lee: Niketas Byzantios, Islam, and the Aristotelian Shift in Ninth-century Byzantium
Alexander Treiger: Greek into Arabic in Byzantine Antioch: ʿAbdallāh ibn al-Faḍl’s »Book of the Garden« (Kitāb ar-rawḍa)
Sidney Griffith: Islam and Orthodox Theology in Arabic: The »Melkite« Tradition from the Ninth to the Thirteenth Centuries


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Open-access Articles from Chronos

Chronos, the history journal of the University of Balamand, has made all of its issues from 2008 to the present open-access online. This journal, which publishes in French, English and Arabic, is  useful for the history of the Levant and the broader Eastern Mediterranean, particularly during the Ottoman period. Below are links to some English-language articles that may be of interest to readers of this blog:

Rand Abou Ackl, The Construction of the Architectural Background in Melkite Annunciation Icons

Spyridoula Athanasopoulou-Kypriou, A Theological Commentary on the Idea of 'Greekness' of the Ancient Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Antonios Chaldeos, The Greek Community in Tunis through 16th – 17th Centuries

Nicholas Coureas, The Syrian Melkites of the Lusignan Kingdom of Cyprus (1192-1474)

Ionana Feodorov, Rumanian Pioneers of Oriental Studies in the 18th Century: Dimitrie Cantemir and Ianache Văcărescu

Hilary Kilpatrick, From Venice to Aleppo: Early Printing of Scripture in the Orthodox World

Christoph Leonhardt, The Greek- and the Syriac-Orthodox Patriarchates of Antioch in the context of the Syrian Conflict

Imad Rubeiz, Protestant Missionaries Perspectives on the Arab Orthodox and Orthodoxy at the Turn of the 20th Century 

Alexander Treiger, Unpublished Texts from the Arab Orthodox Tradition (1): On the Origin of the Term "Melkite" and On the Destruction of the Maryamiyya Cathedrale in Damascus

Alexander Treiger, Unpublished Texts from the Arab Orthodox Tradition (2): Miracles of St. Eustratius of Mar Saba (written ca. 860)

Alexander Treiger, Unpublished Texts from the Arab Orthodox Tradition (3): The Paterikon of the Palestinian Lavra of Mar Chariton

Monday, June 22, 2020

Met Antonius (el-Souri): Prophecy

Arabic original here.


"Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!" (Numbers 11:29)

Prophecy is a gift of the Spirit of the Lord, who sends the word of God down upon the lips of the prophet. The prophet only utters what he was inspired with. He says nothing from himself because he has no word apart from the word of the Most High-- "What the Lord says, that I must speak" (Numbers 24:13)-- which is active and effective-- "And you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed" (Joshua 23:14).

In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God chose the prophets and caused them to bear the message of the Most High. The Spirit of the Lord did not, afterwards, remain settled in man because the true man had not yet come into the world. The Holy Spirit dwells in Christ Jesus and those who are in Him  bear His Spirit. At Pentecost, the Spirit of the Lord came to be upon us and in us and us in Him...

"Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy" (1Corinthians 14:1). Prophecy, in its essence, is living for the divine word and proclaiming it. It is the revelation of God's mysteries to the faithful to build them up and to build up the Church.

God's word builds man up in righteousness, truth, piety and love, since it calls upon man to depart from the path of evil, to abandon and reject thoughts of sin, and to walk in obedience to the Spirit of the Lord who speaks the commandment. The purpose of the word is man's salvation by guiding him along the path and revealing the secrets of spiritual warfare. It lifts the veil from the truth of existence so that man will not deceive himself and so that he will know the path that leads to eternal life.

The divine word is an icon of God and His living and active presence in those pronouncing it and hearing it, because "As the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:10-11).

Without the spirit of prophecy, life in the Church and her witness in the world cannot be correct. The prophet does not fear and is not a respecter of persons because God's word is decisive, dividing truth from falsehood, light and darkness, good and evil... God sends it "To root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant" (Jeremiah 1:10). God does not endeavor to build in man on any foundation apart from His word. Everything that is not from God must be removed because the act of building must place its foundation on the rock that is Christ. Otherwise, it has no stability and cannot rise upwards...

Everyone who believes in God incarnate and everyone who has been baptized in the name of the Trinity has become a dwelling-place for God's Spirit. The desire of the Prophet Moses has been realized, since all of God's people have become prophets. But does anyone realize the magnitude of the grace that dwells within us Christians and the seriousness of the responsibility laid on our shoulders, which requires of us the love of the Trinity?! God has given us Himself by His divine, uncreated grace. His Word has dwelt among us in the Holy Spirit. We bear within ourselves the mystery of divinity as "in jars of clay" (2 Corinthians 4:7), so that we may know our own fragility and weakness, our tenacity and our strength all at once...

The Lord tells each one of us: "Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you" (Jeremiah 1:7-8). We must be obedient to the Spirit of the Lord within us by following the commandment to have an upright and pure heart and the Lord will send His word, fulfill it, and preserve His beloved who are faithful to Him...

He who can accept it, let him accept it.

Metropolitan of Zahle, Baalbek and their Dependencies

Friday, June 19, 2020

Nabil Matar: The Protestant Reformation through Arab Eyes

The very important article "The Protestant Reformation through Arab Eyes: 1517-1698" by Nabil Matar, originally given as the 2018 Josephine Water Bennett Lecture to the Renaissance Society of America, is now available for download online. In it, Matar describes Arab Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox attitudes toward Protestantism in the early Ottoman period, emphasizing how these views were conditioned by religious conflicts in Europe, with both Catholic and Protestant missionaries attempting to export the Reformation and Counter-Reformation to the Eastern Mediterranean. The discussion of Arab Orthodox views of Protestantism during this period begins on page 790.


The Protestant missionary effort was met with resistance by the Orthodox Christians (Orthodoxiyyūn), who belonged to the patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem. These Christian Arabs were concentrated in the major urban centers of Aleppo—the third largest city in the Ottoman Empire—and Damascus, with communities in Lebanon and Palestine. Since the Arab conquest in the seventh century, these Orthodoxiyyūn had developed their own linguistic and theological traditions in Arabic, and with the demographic and cultural revival of the seventeenth century, they saw themselves as separate in their arabicity from the other Orthodox ethnicities in the Ottoman Empire (Greek, Slavic, Serbian, and others). In 1612, Patriarch Meletius (1572–1635) wrote that he found a Greek typikon, which he translated into the language of “the Arabians [I‘rāb] so it could correct the errors in the churches of the Arabs [‘Arab]”; in his travelogue of the 1650s, Bulus (1627–69), son of Macarius, 141st patriarch of Antioch (Ibn al-Za’īm, r. 1647–72), referred to the “land of the Arabs”(“arḍ al-‘Arab”); and when five monks wrote to Rome, in 1704, they presented themselves as belonging to the “denomination of the Rumi Arabs”(“millat al-rūm al-‘Arab”). Two years later, the first publication in Arabic by an Orthodox press appeared in Aleppo: it was the book of Psalms, and in the dedication, there was a prayer to God to protect the believers in “al-bilād al-‘arabiyya,” or Arab lands. Arabic was a determining factor in self-definition.


Download and read the entire article here.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Racism and Reconciliation: Three Sermons

Arabic original here.

Racism from the Church's Perspective

"Our life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3)

Christ God came, suffered, was crucified and rose from the dead: all this for the salvation of the world, for the sake of every person.

Therefore, there is no place for nationalism or for sectarianism... Every person is meaningful before God, whether he knows God or does not know Him, whatever his nationality, race or religion. The Holy Bible affirms the dignity of every person created in the image of God. It is true that the Jews were known as God's chosen people. This was only a historical stage when God used them as a means to come in the body and to make every nation that believes in Him His own nation. Therefore,  the Apostle Paul says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). 

Indeed, Christ-- whether a person knows Him and believes in Him or does not know Him and believe in Him-- is sown in the heart in every human and even traced upon every human face.

In his Spiritual Instructions, Saint Dorotheus says, "Suppose a  circle whose center is God and whose rays are different paths. Every person of the created world walks along one of the rays toward the center, where Christ God is (whether the person realizes it or not). He approaches his brother walking along a different ray toward God, the center itself. The more they distance themselves from one another, the more they distance themselves from God."

Racist behavior has been rooted in the reality of sin since the beginning of humanity. A saying known among the Greeks is "he who is not a Greek  is a barbarian". This racism is rooted in our blood, us weak humans, but those who believe in Christ reject it and fight it with the word of the Gospel: "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). 

"All the seed of Adam is intended for salvation, having been renewed in Christ," according to Saint Irenaeus. People saw in the early Christians a "third race", as Tertullian put it, in the spiritual sense. That is, a "new people" in whom the two races, Jews and pagans, meet. Therefore, Christianity rejects every form of racism or religious discrimination. My neighbor is not only the person from my tribe, my neighborhood or my religion. Rather, he is every person that I meet along my way. Therefore we must respect strangers and accept dialogue, participation and cooperation with other ethnicities.

Europe attempted to renounce such distinctions after the French Revolution through embracing secularism but it deviated from the right path by renouncing at the same time all divine, religious values. Christ participated in the salvation of all outcasts, such as the Samaritans and pagans like the Canaanite woman, and so we must emulate Him. Schools have a prominent role in  working to acquire a conscience that is not racist, through education that focuses on what is common to all people and that that which is unique about the other can be a source of richness for us.

Arabic original here.

The Poor are Invading Lebanon

Does this call for fear, for anxiety? Not necessarily. This more so calls for hope! The Christian never despairs. "All things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28).

The Christian is prepared for death at all times, for death to his selfishness. Does he lose his land? The land is for all people and it is most of all for the needy. Is the number of Christians shrinking? The issue is not one of quantity, but one of quality.

The Apostles were twelve in number and they won the entire world for Christ. What is important is that we remain faithful with a little. The poor and needy person standing before us is Christ, even if it is difficult for us.

Our presence is like leaven in the dough. What is important is that the leaven be good, so that the entire dough will be leavened (cf. Matthew 13:33). There is no meaning to our existence as Christians unless we are this way.

The Lord also says to us, "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).

Who knows? Perhaps a new people will come to Christ through this witness, through faithfulness to the truth. "Know the truth and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:32).

"And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom (that is, the Christians) will be cast out into outer darkness" (Matthew 8:11-12).

Do you fear extinction? "I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones" (Matthew 3:9).

Never be selfish and proud. We Christians are not necessarily being haughty if we take pride in our faith or in our humility. The new Saint Porphyrios said, "Pride (selfishness) is ignorance and humility is intelligence and wisdom. The proud (the selfish) person is not sated and so he is always sad, while the humble person is always pleased."

Beloved, always act according to hope in the Lord who rose from the dead. Through this faith, always transform your sorrow into joy. This is the way of the saints, so let it always be your way.

Arabic original here.


Again and again this topic is raised today in public and private, whether in the world of politics, the domain of the Church, in the universal Church or especially in our local church.

The Apostle says, "Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24).

Do you see that the Lord has permitted this global and local crisis, internal and external, in order to chasten us to refrain from our passions and lusts?! So we will be liberated by faith and works.

And what is the climate of this upright faith if not what the Apostle also explains when he says, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus... There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26, 28).

All of this frees us from the scourge of racism: there is neither Russian nor Greek... neither Syrian nor Lebanese...

The Apostle Paul elaborates this topic more and more deeply when he says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation... God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself...
and has committed to us the word of reconciliation" (Galatians 2 Corinthians 5:15-17).

The Evangelist John explains after his own manner, "When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).

This spirit of truth is this word:

The word of reconciliation, the spirit of meekness, humbleness of heart, the spirit of peace, not of enmity and partisanship (saying 'I am for so-and-so and not for someone else,' even if he is a great leader or even a famous spiritual father), the spirit of love, not of hatred, jealousy and revenge, the spirit of sacrifice and dedication, not of pride and egotism, the spirit of self-denial and taking up the cross of Christ, the spirit of faith in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

The word 'good' [salih] appears in the verse "No one is good but One, that is, God" (Matthew 19:17). The word 'prerogative' [salahiyya] in the ecclesiastical sense is that no leader has any prerogative apart from self-sacrifice, love and service.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Friday, June 12, 2020

Fr Touma (Bitar): Seeing God and Teaching the Angels

Arabic original here.

Seeing God and Teaching the Angels

"You only discover the four rivers of Eden when thirst afflicts your heart..."

Offer a good intention and the Lord God will either give you an appropriate word, if the word suits  the circumstances you are in, or He will give you silence, if silence is more fitting. In any case, you are not alone. You are not on your own. Love has another language. You have your Lord as a partner in your life. Love, by its nature, is togetherness. "I and the Father are one." "You are not on your own." "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). Through love, for love, is God glorified. You do everything for the glory of God if your concern is to please Him. Pleased with pleasing. "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification" (Romans 15:2). And your Lord is your closest neighbor! So do not please God like slaves please their masters, with "service of the eye," but as a friend, like Moses spoke to his Lord as a friend, or as a brother, since Jesus made us His brothers!

In relationships there is service and then there is service!

There is the service in which one is concerned with pleasing people (Ephesians 6:6). He does this out of fear, out of what he considers to be a duty, seeking reward, avoiding punishment, because he is forced, or because he is weak and knows he is weak and without any power or strength, or to give the impression to the one he serves that he is loyal or that he loves them. None of these things is from his heart or according to his heart. How do we know? On the surface, we cannot know. His deeds, in such a case, do not express what is in the depths of his heart. Nor can he act according to what is in his heart because his concern is to please people. In practice, he lies, acts hypocritically, pretends, deceives, and changes colors like a chameleon according to the ground he treads. From having roamed so much in foreign lands, he thinks that they are home and there is nothing else on the horizon and so that he is right. In any event, he is not right and does not know the truth. He accepts with his lips and rejects in his heart. He blesses with his lips and curses in his heart. He makes a show of sweetness while in his heart there is bitterness. He smirks while in his soul there is mockery and rage. He gives the appearance of loyalty while he harbors vengeance. He gives the impression of eagerness while hiding malice. "This people worships e with their lips but their heart is far from Me."

As for the other service, it is from the heart, as for Christ Himself, on every occasion. Christ alone is the knower of hearts. He cannot be lied to. How does one know if he is telling the truth or lying to Christ? There is a measure. The commandment is the measure, just like length and width have a measure. If you follow the commandment with complete faithfulness, then you are in certainty. Without equivocation. Without adulteration. Even if you stray, you are still in a state of uprightness. How? You stray out of human weakness. What does your Lord look at? At your aim, your intention, your heart! He justifies you. But in such a case, straying is an error, not a sin. Your Lord, who is master of all, permits it for nothing else than your own good, perhaps so that you will not fall into the abyss and think yourself to be perfect or a saint. Let your sin remain before you at all times!

God makes error into a cause for righteousness and not for judgement. It is to root you in humility preemptively, to prevent Satan from tempting you with hubris, vanity and pride. He wants to defend you, to protect you. You are very dear to Him. He protects you with good things and protects you with pain, if it is necessary. The important thing is that you understand, during the dark night, that He loves you! Therefore He protects you with antibodies. If you accept and agree to His purpose, you grow in humility and then in discernment between what belongs to Him and what belongs to the enemy of the good. And if you don't accept positively, then you can at least realize, if you want, that there is within you a foreign impulse, an inclination towards self-righteousness and this estranges you from your Lord if it persists within you. You feel yourself constrained, bitter, agitated, stung in your very being. When this happens to you, you are given an opportunity to know something hidden within yourself, a sort of corrupt passion. What do you do then? You blame yourself. You judge yourself. The righteous person abides in hell and does not despair. He lives among beasts and is safe. So give thanks to God when this happens to you... when you regain consciousness. Awake, O sleeper, for Christ shines upon you! Do not blame anyone else then, or even your circumstances. The most important thing is that you are free from blaming God!

Whenever a person grows in hubris, reaching the point of pride, he becomes ready to blame his Lord, even if he doesn't know it. Is this not what Job did, in a sense? The Lord told him, "You blame me to justify yourself." God did not permit Satan to test Job, starting with his possessions, then his family, then his health merely because Satan is the accuser of God's servants, but because the Lord God, by accepting Satan's accusation, wanted to liberate Job completely from any trace of self-righteousness in his soul, so that he could be a model for all God's people for all generations. What God wanted was to cause him to attain utmost humility. And Job reached this, in a sense, when God revealed Himself to him. At that moment, Job said to Him, "I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see You. Therefore I abhor myself and I repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:4-5).

Job was an image of the Messiah to come. The one speaking to him was the Father. Only Jesus, as the firstborn, attained utmost humility, as God in the flesh. Job would not have attained it had he not beheld the likeness of God. This, in any case, is an image, an icon.

As for the Father, no one has seen Him. The Son, who is in the Father's bosom, reported. The disciples of the Lord Jesus, after Him, were the first to see the Father. Jesus told them, "No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him" (John 14:6-7). When Philip objected, "
Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us," the Lord Jesus' response to him, to the other disciples and to us was: "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?"

In a very profound sense, the disciples saw the Father and did not see Him at the same time. How so? Seeing Him in the body, directly in this way is not possible. So the disciples' seeing Him was a process, beginning with Jesus' words to them, then through their seeing Jesus in the upper room, after His resurrection from the dead, and then it was completed with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them at Pentecost.

 The words of the Lord Jesus are not like the words of humans. When people talk, they transmit meanings and perhaps feelings. But when Jesus speaks, he transmits to people an earnest of what is to come for them. With your Lord, the present and the future are both present for Him alike. When your Lord transmits His word to you, he deposits, through prophecy, what is to come for you. Every divine word is prophetic by nature. Your own conviction, then, does not get a say. You are confronted with an act of faith deeper than intellectual conviction. You are confronted with an inner vision, with a revelation. You treasure the prophecy in your heart, like the Mother of God who kept everything in her heart, and you prepare yourself for it, by being present before Him. Only when the prophecy is fulfilled do you recall it. Before that, you remain between dread and hope.

Everyday concerns seize you and one thinks the words of prophecy never happened. But they exist and are hidden. They sleep in a wakeful heart like Jesus on the boat as the sea raged. Suddenly, the humble, broken heart recalls, at precisely the right moment, what it had been told, when the prophecy is fulfilled. That whole time between the word and its fulfillment, it is as though you are unaware of it. It does not grow within you into perceptible things. The most important thing is that it is not unaware of you. It holds on to you while you do not hold on to it, because when God's word diffuses within you, His Spirit diffuses within you! This is the rule of God's word, in any case. And the spirit of the word within you remains burning with a subtle fire that does not burn, like the burning bush, while you don't know or perhaps you are covered in a deep sleep, like the disciples were covered as their Master poured out sweat like blood. The Spirit remains hidden in you until the hour comes and that which is within you is fulfilled. Then, you awaken because spirit is only pierced by spirit. "Comparing spiritual things with spiritual things" (1 Corinthians 2:13).

In this way you see Him in the spirit-- in the body or outside the body, only God knows! Even if it is a fullness, here it is only an anticipation of a greater fullness there. "we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:20-3). Brother sees brother. He grants us to become His brother! "I said you are gods." In this way we forever proceed from fullness to fullness to fullness. Your time in the perfect presence of your Lord, eternally, here and now, is in your progress in knowledge of Him, eternally, from knowledge to knowledge to knowledge. 

You do not take in all of God. Nevertheless, He gives you Himself completely. "Take, eat, this is My body... !" You live forever in a paradox that you do not comprehend, not now and not in the future. Your story is the story of a creature who bears within his vessel something that is greater and beyond his createdness. Man remains man, even if he is spiritualized. Man sees God as He is, but as a man, and God remains in a luminous darkness. Thus man progresses from wonder to wonder, from surprise to surprise, like a child who sees everything, every day, anew. Great art Thou O Lord, and wondrous are Thy works and no speech sufficiently praises Thy wonders!!! Beyond praise and beyond transcendence forever!!!

Along this progression, the angels teach humankind on earth how to give praise. Then humankind gives praise with the angels. Then humankind, when they are spiritualized and behold God as He is, teach the angels how to give praise! The angels now look upon the face of the Heavenly Father. But they look upon it from the outside, even if it is spiritually. Man, however, when he is perfected, is granted to see Him from within, in Jesus, in the God-man. Jesus, the Son of God, did not become an angel, but rather a human! Therefore, there will come a time when man teaches the angels how to give praise beyond the Cherubic Hymn. In this way, man came to grow through the angels into the new man, then after that the angels grow in the new man until they are renewed in the knowledge of God, forever.

Thus man comes from saying to saying.  From "What is man that You are mindful of him... For You have made him a little lower than the angels" (Psalm 8:4-5) to "The Father raised Himand seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion..." (Ephesians 1:20-21)!

This is how man was and what he is becoming.., in Christ: a teacher to the angels!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite
Sunday, June 7, 2020 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Orthodox History: How US Slavery Undermined Protestant Missionaries in 1860 Beirut

The important blog Orthodox History has recently posted a very interesting account by an English Protestant missionary in Beirut about how the issue of slavery undermined the efforts of primarily American Protestant missionaries, who overwhelmingly targeted Orthodox for conversion.

In the 19th century, American and English Protestant denominations sent loads of missionaries to the Ottoman Empire in an effort to convert the native Christian population — most of whom were Orthodox — to Protestantism. These missionaries would write letters to be published back home, usually condemning the “ignorant” Orthodox for idol worship, etc., and excitedly reporting back whenever they managed to win a convert.

Things weren’t going so well for those Protestant missionaries in 1860, though. On May 31, 1860, the New York Evangelist published excerpts from a letter written by an English missionary in Beirut complaining that the existence of slavery in the United States was undermining Protestant efforts to convert the native population in Syria. This letter was first published in the Levant Herald of Constantinople.

Read the account here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Fr Jack (Khalil): The Feast of Pentecost

Arabic original here.

The Feast of Pentecost

It is the fiftieth day, which was the second most important feast in the Old Covenant, which was celebrated on the fiftieth day or, after seven weeks, from the Feast of Passover (Leviticus 23:15-16, Deuteronomy 16:9-10), so it was also called the "Feast of Weeks" (cf. 2 Chronicles 8:12-13).

On the fiftieth day, all members of the people were to appear before the Lord in His temple (Exodus 34:22-23). The people kept this feast just as it kept the Sabbath and it was not permitted to undertake any work, but rather they had to go to the House of the Lord to offer thanks.

The Arabic word 3ansara [i.e., Pentecost] comes from the Hebrew 3asrit, which is derived from the Hebrew verb 3isar, which means 'to gather, to collect'.

The word means "gathering," which in the usage of the Old Testament indicates the "feast," a day when the people gather in joyous celebration of thanksgiving to God. According to later Jewish tradition, Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai on the fiftieth day after the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.

Then, after the Savior's ascension, the fiftieth day acquired a new meaning with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit whom Christ had promised to the Apostles. The Apostles looked out in prayer and patience for the fulfillment of Christ's promise to them (Acts 1:4, 14) and the Holy Spirit came upon them like power poured out within them. On the fiftieth day, the Holy Spirit revealed Himself in person, enlightening the minds and hearts of the Apostles and changing their life. He likewise made them worthy of the hard work of evangelizing, to which they were committed until the last breath of their life, becoming witnesses to God the Word incarnate who conquered death, so that the borders of the Church might extend and encompass the corners of the earth, as Christ our God commanded.

At the completion of the days of celebrating glorious Pascha, as the souls of believers are immersed in holy joy on account of Christ's resurrection and ascension to heaven, the spiritual exultation reaches its peak on the Day of Pentecost. The fathers of the Church gave great importance to this feast in their sermons, which abounded in explanations of the holiness of this day. Just like the great Feasts of the Lord, the Church dedicated an entire week to celebrating this feast and singing its hymns.

When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and upon us who are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, Christ came to be within us by His Spirit who dwells within us (Romans8:9-11), enlightening out minds, speaking to us, inspiring our thoughts, encouraging us to everything that is peace, love and holiness, and making "everything work together for the good of those who love God." By the grace of God's spirit, the concern of those who believe that Christ is the Savior of the world turns from that which is fleshly and selfish, fixed on earthly benefits, fragile material security and bodily pleasures to that which is spiritual, directed by the voice of the Spirit, who, if one loves and follows Him, one experiences power, happiness, peace, tranquility, and holiness that the world is unable to give.

The Holy Spirit has given us a new spiritual law that achieves justification from sins and holiness and guarantees salvation if we faithfully follow this way of life, obeying Christ who dwells within us by His Spirit and bearing witness in the world by word and deed.

Archimandrite Jack (Khalil)
Saint John of Damascus Theological Institute

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Jad Ganem: The Pastoral Handling of Distributing Communion

Arabic original here.

The Pastoral Handling of Distributing Communion

Yesterday some church websites published the text of the letter that His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew sent on May 17, 2020 to the patriarchs and primates of the Orthodox Churches regarding "certain unseemly points of view have been heard on how to approach the immaculate mysteries" during the Corona crisis, which make it "impossible for us to remain silent and foreign to such an ambiguous situation, and inactive in the face of development and related government regulations and prohibitions."

 His Holiness declared in his letter that "we have no intention of renouncing what was bequeathed to all of us by our blessed Fathers. In the light of the circumstances that have arisen, we wish to listen to Your fraternal opinion and Your thoughts so that we may commonly walk in the pastoral approach to controversies over the established mode of the distribution of divine communion."

If one closely examines what is stated in His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew's letter, one will notice that, contrary to the previous letters that he has sent on other occasions, it does not contain any practical suggestion or proposal from Constantinople, but rather it aims to solicit the opinions of the heads of the churches about how to find a pastoral approach to distributing holy communion to the faithful. Perhaps:

-- This stems from Constantinople's experience over the past months, when it witnessed a heated discussion within its jurisdiction between various tendencies, some of which call for changing the manner of distributing communion and others categorically reject anything that would affect the manner traditionally practiced.

-- This is based on the various and sundry ways it has witnessed its own dioceses manage the issue of distributing holy communion during the pandemic, which may leave negative effects and doubts among the faithful in the future.

-- It takes into account the experience of the Orthodox Church in past centuries when she undertook to modify the calendar without the unanimous consensus of the local churches, with all the accompanying disagreement over which calendar to follow within the family of Orthodox churches and the schisms and disputes within individual churches, some of which continue until today.

Perhaps it has not eluded His Holiness that the current situation of Orthodoxy, which is witnessing a sharp division on account of the Ukrainian crisis between the Russian Church and a number of Greek-speaking churches headed by Constantinople, does not permit any unilateral recklessness in changing the manner of distributing communion, lest this change turn into a cause for deepening the disagreement and maybe even for sealing the schism, as happened in the first millennium, when the discussion over issues such as leavened and unleavened bread, tonsure, single immersion, and other non-dogmatic differences became fuel for deepening the schism between Rome and Constantinople.

Therefore, the issue of the manner of distributing communion, with all its significance for very many of the faithful today, remains a pastoral issue that requires great wisdom and serious consultation and coordination between the Orthodox churches, as well as a bold and transparent dialogue with the faithful, so that the Church does not lose everything in her effort to change everything with speed approaching hastiness.

Of course, these words are not a call for accepting ossification and surrender to an inability to make any change, but they are a call to find a pastoral treatment of the issue of distributing holy communion to the faithful based on instruction, constructive dialogue, historical experience and the overcoming of disagreements, lest we go from inertia to recklessness and from fragmentation to schism! History, both recent and ancient, is the best teacher.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Christian Sahner: Martyrdom and Conversion

Christian Sahner, author of the excellent monograph Christian Martyrs under Islam: Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World, has posted on an article summarizing the findings in his book. 


Despite the steady pace of Islamisation, the conversion of the Christian population was not inevitable, especially at the beginning of the Islamic period. Indeed, history furnishes numerous examples of the process unfolding in reverse, in which instead of conversion to Islam,  we find Muslim conversion to Christianity. Along with this, we also find examples of Christians challenging the Islamic social and political order through acts of blasphemy. Christians sometimes recorded these episodes in the form of martyrdom narratives, that is, stylised hagiographical accounts of violence, often but not exclusively at the hands of Muslim officials. The subjects of these narratives were revered as saints, with annual feasts and pilgrimages held and churches built in their honour.

Read the whole article here.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Jad Ganem: Everybody's Crisis

Arabic original here.

Everybody's Crisis
I was struck by a comment a friend wrote on Facebook with regard to what he called "the heresy of primus sine paribus" that has been promoted for years by the literature and practices of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, where he indicated in a response to a reader's disapproval of the content of several articles defending this "heresy"-- especially the speech stating "in the beginning was the Patriarchate of Constantinople... and in it is life and this life is the light of the churches"-- that "those who follow the positions coming out of the Fanar notice that they lost their minds after the complete failure of what happened on Crete. Unfortunately, their sickness is everybody's problem."
Perhaps this diagnosis encapsulates the dilemma of the Orthodox world today, which is suffering:

-- From the megalomania affecting the Phanariots, represented by their abandonment of Orthodox tradition that has been constant for two thousand years in favor of a theology of "the Throne of Constantinople" and the one sitting upon it, with everything that accompanies that in terms of damage to conciliarity and disregard for the holy mysteries, especially the mysteries of the priesthood and the Eucharist, which have become something like a "commodity" tied to the Patriarch of the Fanar's fiat.

-- From the tendency of this madness to use politics and politicians in order to establish the "Constantinople's primacy without equals" as a fait accompli, either through direct pressure on the local churches to entice or intimidate them to step into line behind the Fanar or through exploiting existing schisms as leverage to force them to submit or to break them up in favor of the emergence of national churches in the Fanar's orbit.

Constantinople's madness, however, which affects the body of the Orthodox Church, has turned into a problem for the entire family of Orthodox churches, which are now confronted with limited choices:

-- Either they turn a blind eye to what is happening, written and said, each of them turning to the daily affairs of their local church as though nothing has happened, with all the dangers that go along with this, including fragmentation, the weakening of common witness, and the risk of consecrating this deviance with time as a fait accompli.

-- Or they confront this madness by holding fast to tradition and putting into practice true conciliarity. That is, that which includes all Orthodox bishops in the world, removed from any balancing of sees and the logic of representation, in order to solve the crises that exist, formulate a viable ecclesiastical order and clarify the role of the primus in the Orthodox Church.

-- Or they go into effective schism, with those who agree with the new Orthodox order following the Fanar and submitting to its leadership while those who oppose this regime and are faithful to Orthodox tradition remain within Orthodox conciliarity as it is currently practiced.

Whichever choice is followed, there is no doubt that its repercussions will not be easy for the Orthodox Church, which has come to be in the eye of the storm of schism now that the Fanar's sickness has seeped into all parts of the body and nothing will help except to remove the rot to save the body from certain death. Will the Orthodox take heed from the Corona crisis that has struck the world today and hurry to heal the wounds and unite in order to face the challenges that await the Church in the coming days?

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

Arabic original here.

The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

The enmity between Jews and Samaritans was something well-known. This enmity explains when the Samaritan woman says to Jesus, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?" (John 4:9). Jesus, for His part, is not concerned with this distinction between Jews and Samaritans, just as He pays no heed to any sort of social distinction between people, such as the distinction between men and women, etc.

Then the Evangelist John recounts to us how went from talking about drinking water to talking about living water, since He told the Samaritan woman, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water" (John 4:10). The woman thought that he meant running water, but He meant the water of eternal life.

Later on, the Evangelist says, "On the last day, that great day of the feast... Jesus said, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me... out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' But this He spoke concerning the [Holy] Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive" (John 7:37-39).

This reminds of us what John the Baptist said, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me... will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Matthew 3:11). Man is constantly thirsting for happiness, but for earthly happiness. We are concerned with things of this material world and forget that we Christians are people who do not die, who are called to live eternal life.

Every believer becomes like Jesus, a spring of living water; the life of divine grace and waters of consolation well up from him.

In order to lead the woman from misunderstanding to true knowledge, Jesus invites her to bring her husband. The five husbands who are mentioned are a reference to the pagan peoples mentioned in 2 Kings 17:24, where it says "Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities." This is why Jesus says, "the one who is with you now is not your husband" (John 4:18), indicating that the religion of the Samaritans is not true.

From here, Jesus goes on to talk about true worship. He tells her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father... But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth."

Here is an indication of the coming of the hour of Jesus' death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, an indication of the coming of new times when worship comes to be not in temples made with hands, but in spirit and truth, worship in Christ Himself, the true temple, as inner worship, a fervent, spiritual encounter, not merely just dogmatic, verbal, formal and ritual worship, but bowing down from the heart. This emphasis on the inner quality, on the spirit and not only on the body, this is what reminds us of what the Prophet Ezekiel said, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them" (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

 Then the woman left her jug. She became a new person named Photini. That is, enlightener or enlightened, evangelizing the world with this new inner worship which gives us eternal life, a foretaste of the kingdom that is to come.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Monday, April 27, 2020

Fr Touma (Bitar): Apathy and the Schism that is Taking Place

Arabic original here.

Apathy and the Schism that is Taking Place

"... that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you."
(Galatians 2:5)

Today the Orthodox world is in a state of division and perhaps of peril. There are cascading collapses. Until now, the fire is lit. Starting a fire is one thing and putting it out is another.

What is happening, if it is not treated, will establish a rift that will require a long time to be healed and if the right circumstances do not arise, it may not be possible for it to be healed. The current crisis, as its is being dealt with, does not leave room for a clear ecclesiastical solution on the horizon. Even if all the information about it is not sufficiently visible to our eyes, the political dimension, whose effects most people are noticing, appears to be more painful and fiercer than other dimensions of the problem. This is in addition to the explosion of the struggle, deep down, over ecclesiastical authority between the two competing poles and the historical, national and personal sensitivities in a climate of no slight "spiritual sickness". Its fate, inevitably, is to spread hazy vision and dull feeling that will impede the work of the Spirit of the Lord to no small degree, apathy in zeal for the truth, and a not insignificant loss of love. This causes what the Chosen Apostle feared with regard to the Corinthians, "contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults" (2 Corinthians 12:20).

Between a one-sided position based on careless logic that can only permitted by the convictions of its own partisans, devoid of anything of the tradition of the Church, as the tradition is recognized, which has no regard for others-- in a Church whose foundation is consultation!-- and the hasty, stubborn reaction to it, it is impossible, or nearly impossible, so far as we know, for there to be a margin within which others may to act to bring the two opposing sides closer to each other.

On the other hand, you find the rest of the churches themselves completely embarrassed by what has been happening, especially since until now both sides only accept the positions they are obstinately sticking to, in the manner of the saying, "he who is not with me is against me." In such an atmosphere, the political factors that constitute the real substance of the confrontation are reflected in the ecclesiastical domain, as are nationalist sensitivities, special interests, and fears of reprisal. This is reflected as confusion in the rest of the churches, leading most to take a position of "self-distancing" in a context of fragmented positions and wasteful talk in public, evoking a half-hearted, bashful request for a general council, which those who call for feel is out of reach, in order to deal with the crisis, and it does not seem that the two sides that are primarily concerned do not seem to be listening, until further notice.

In the meantime, many contradictions that until now were hidden are exploding into view in the Orthodox world in the background of the emerging problem, such that they easily become fuel for the raging crisis. Because of this, not only does unity between the autocephalous churches appear to be threatened, but also unity within a single local church and even a single diocese, and perhaps also within a single parish in some places!

Yesterday a Russian woman called us in tears: for many years she has been receiving the sacraments at a monastery in France. Today, she is no longer able to partake of the common cup with the monastery's nuns because of the schism!

Words for the Conscience in Christ

Who is right and who is not right? As a Church, this is not something that concerns us except within the framework of unity in love. "Let all that you do be done with love" (1 Corinthians 16:14). Neither unilateralism nor breaking communion is out of love! So what concerns us-- and this is the right of each one of us in Orthodoxy-- is for the two sides to remain in the truth. Truth in the form of falsehood is falsehood, no matter who commits it.

"Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another" (Romans 14:19) and we give greater honor to the small members (1 Corinthians 12:23)! There is no great and despised, powerful and weak. "You are all brothers!" Bullying and indifference toward others are of the spirit of the world. This condemns empty words and worldly honorifics because the foundation of primacy among us is not only service-- anyone, in his place, can claim service-- but rather Christ the Servant! "I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:27). The issue, from beginning to end, is an issue of imitating Christ the Servant who emptied Himself and took on the image of a slave, since He loved His own until the end, until He sacrificed Himself for them. This is something that permits no bargaining. "Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters." Let us look at the two terms that the Lord uses here: "against Me" means "against Christ" and "scatters" means, in an Orthodox context, that he is a "hireling" who does not care about the sheep (cf. John 10:13).

That which is happening at the present time, what spirit does it come from? What wisdom lies behind measures and behaviors of the sort that have been practiced? There are just two kinds of wisdom for us, in Christ, and no more: the wisdom that is from above, from God's Spirit, and the wisdom that is from below, which the Apostle James describes as "earthly, sensual, demonic" (James 3:15). How do we know the sort of wisdom that is governing what is happening? From the distinctive features of each sort of wisdom.

When the wisdom is based on bitter envy, it is, according to the Arabic language, in a "filthy and hateful" soul. Bitterness is a metaphor. This leads to partisanship. And according to the Epistle of James, "where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there" (James 3:16).

The wisdom that is from above has other distinctive features. Take a look at James 3:17.

First of all, it is pure.

Second, it is peaceable.

Third, it is gentle.

Fourth, it is willing to yield.

Fifth, it is full of mercy and good fruits.

Sixth, it is without suspicion and without hypocrisy.

What spiritual fruits are born by either of the competing positions? Purity? I don't think so! Peacefulness, when we are in a state of declared war? Gentleness, when each one pounces on the other to strangle him in the name of truth? Willingness to yield? What does willingness to yield mean in the present context? This is how brothers behave when they are willing to yield: each one is prepared to condescend to the other and tell him, "Your brotherhood to me, for Christ's sake, is more important than anything else!" Is this the situation at the present time? What about the wisdom filled with mercy and good fruits? Until now, we see nothing but cruelty. No trace of mercy is evident on the horizon, let alone the fullness of mercy! And good fruits? What good fruits? I only know the fruits mentioned by the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians: "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). Because they are all connected to each other, we do not see, or can barely see, anything other than an east wind that is blowing through them, desiccating them. Last but not least, what about the quality of lack of suspicion and hypocrisy? Hypocrisy? Only God is the Knower of Hearts. Diffidence does not permit us to say anything about it. As for suspicion, what is happening in parts of the Orthodox world today is loaded with suspiciousness. It's all suspicious!

Perhaps the complexity of the matter permits, exceptionally, the imposition of extreme measures of the sort that have been taken? Such talk is filled with ambiguity and completely unacceptable. If, in the Church of Christ, we are confront a difficult and longstanding organizational issue between two local churches, then it is not reasonable from an ecclesiastical perspective for each to be intent on cancelling the other and to take positions that make the issue more complicated, such that the solution and the reaction to it are incomparably more complicated than the issue that was at the root of the current repercussions! The entire Orthodox world must now suffer the consequences of an issue about which its say is not heard, accepted or even permitted by two sides that are primarily concerned. The policy of "breaking the vessel" is an unacceptable, worldly policy. Even the wisdom of this world rejects it because it means implosion and suicide. So how, when we are a church, do we accept such a solution? How, when we have hope in God, who is capable of all things? When, in human terms, we are confronted with an impassible wall, then there is no other solution than to return to the One who entered in to the disciples while the doors were locked! Any other solution is of the spirit of failure.

Ecclesiastically and traditionally, if two churches disagree over an organizational matter, they take recourse to the other churches to help them find a solution to their problem. If, for one reason or another, no matter what they reason, they do not take the initiative, the other churches come together, with or without the two churches concerned, to examine the problem in the Spirit of the Lord. Simply because love of Christ and His Church requires it! It is not fitting for someone to take the initiative to make an invitation because he wants to please one of the two sides, so long as it is in his interest, because this is abhorrent politics, without love or the zeal of Elijah. Likewise, it is not fitting for someone else to refrain from attending out of eagerness to please or go along with one of the sides or out of fear of it. This is dependence on humans and an abandonment of the bishop's role and responsibility toward the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church!"For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).

The policy of "self-distancing", which is stained by political games and going along with one group or the other, influencing public discourse and  the suspicious silence, is of the worldly and not divine wisdom. It undermines the witness to Christ the Lord, since it is a far cry from the position of Paul and the Apostles, who were brought before the assembly of the Jews and threatened so that they would not teach in Jesus' name. How did they respond? "We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered... And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:29-30, 32).

There is a weighty responsibility in these words! One who bears witness to the Lord's Christ is a partner of the Holy Spirit in bearing witness! If he is not a successor of the Apostles, faithful to the Faithful Witness (cf. Revelation 1:5), obedient to God, then He does not bear witness with him! What did Jesus say to Peter when he displayed ignorant zeal toward Him, when Jesus spoke about how His departure from the world was drawing near? Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men" Matthew 16:23).

Is Christ's truth within us not supposed to be above every consideration? We are not charged with preserving our church buildings, their assets, or privileges, or acquisitions, our honors or even our life! We are charged with preserving the truth: "May the truth of the Gospel continue with you" (Galatians 2:5). Because the Truth is the Lord's Christ! There is no greater proof of zeal for the truth than the attitude of Saint Abda the Persian, who destroyed a temple of idols. The shah told him to rebuild it or he would destroy thirty churches. He did not agree to this because his motto, which is the motto of all who are zealous for the truth of the Gospel, was: it is better for us that all the world's churches of stone be destroyed, all worldly privileges be lost, than for Christ's truth to be squandered on the altar of a single soul in this world.

It is not fitting for children of the New Adam, after He repelled the devil at his third temptation, according to Matthew-- "All the kingdoms of the world and their glory I give to You if You bow down and worship me"-- I say again, it is not fitting for His children to collaborate with Satan in even the tiniest thing! The devil comes, says the Lord Jesus, and has nothing to do with Me. This is how all who, in their conscience, are called by the name of the Lord's Christ should behave as shepherds, so that they are not numbered in the lineage of Judas Iscariot! This is the Church's capital and she has no other capital.

When Saint Polycarp of Smyrna and Nicetas of Rome disagreed about the dating of Pascha, as Saint Irenaeus of Lyon recounted, they did not split over the disagreement, but rather Nicetas had Polycarp preside over the Eucharist before him, so that the difference over the fast would not be a cause for division, but rather a reason for strengthening faith. When Victor of Rome broke communion with Asia Minor for the very same reason, Saint Irenaeus confronted him to bring him back from his error.

Behind every problem in Christ's Church is the devil and also a shortcoming in love for God. But the devil is only expelled through prayer and fasting and shortcoming in love is only treated through sincere repentance. We are in need of collective repentance so that we do not die in our insensitivity. We need prayer, fasting, tears, sackcloth and ashes! We have reached the point of insensitivity and, as it appears, we are condemned either to die in it or to follow the way of Nineveh so that God may pardon us!

Do we not have in God's saints and God's works a model and lesson so that we may reform ourselves and follow guidance? So why is there this dullness in our souls, as though they have come to love death?

We stand before the danger of a great going astray!

It is as though we did not read Isaiah, who cries out, "Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment" (Isaiah 1:5-6).

Or it as though we paid no attention when Jesus cried out to His disciples, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?" (Matthew 17:17).

Or perhaps we missed Saint Paul as he cried out to the Galatians, "I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain" (Galatians 4:11).

Honorable shepherds,

If what we are saying is not the gospel of truth, if we so dare, then tell us what is. Correct us! Improve us! Forgive us! Teach us! And if it is the gospel of truth, then why is what read so far removed from what we see?

In the end, "God has not given us a spirit of failure, but of power and of love and of  advice" (2 Timothy 1:7). The statement is clear, no matter what degree of futility has been reached: "We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth" (2 Corinthians 14:8). If those who have been raised up to speak the truth fall silent, "then the stone shall cry out" (Luke 9:40)! "Be instructed O Jerusalem, lest My soul desiccate you..." (Jeremiah 6:8)!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan the Athonite
Sunday, March 15, 2020