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

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Fr Touma (Bitar): Thomas Revealed the Nature of Resurrection in the Body

Arabic original here.

Thomas Revealed the Nature of Resurrection in the Body

Brothers, on this blessed day known as the Sunday of the Apostle Thomas every believer wonders, "Do you think what Thomas did was helpful or harmful? Do you think it's right for us to stand at the borderline of what some people consider to be 'lack of faith', what some people consider to be 'doubt'?" In truth, what happened with Thomas is never the work of humans, but rather by God's dispensation. Thomas is human, in every sense of the word, and it is not expected that a human would believe divine things, relying on his human reality. Human reality remains limited, within the limits of skin, within the limits of sensible things, within the limits of what people's hands, eyes, senses and thoughts can reach. For a human to reach divinity, this is something impossible. Therefore, if Thomas, as a human, showed lack of faith, doubted what he was told, this is in fact the reality of all humanity. Anyone in Thomas' place would have the exact same reaction. He might perhaps speak and he might perhaps not speak. But the question remains in the human heart about this topic. The Lord Jesus came while the doors were locked. This means that His body, in which He came, was changed because we as humans cannot pass through walls. We remain within the limits of what we can do as humans. The Lord Jesus, however, did not enter through the door, but rather came as though He passed through everything that was material and came to settle in the presence of the disciples. This is, in truth, because the body of the Lord Jesus Christ became spiritual. That is, it acquired a new quality: it became a body of glory and was filled with the Lord's spirit. So when Thomas touched the Lord Jesus Christ's body, he was in practice touching two fundamental things:

First, he was touching the body of the Lord Jesus Christ which the Lord God granted to Thomas to feel in its materiality. This in itself amounts to a miracle. If Thomas felt the body's materiality, this is not because the body remained material as it had been before the Lord Jesus died on the cross. Rather, it is because the Lord God allowed Thomas at that moment to feel, as a human, His body to confirm to him-- and through him, to all of us-- that this is the very same body of the Lord Jesus Christ, the body in which the disciples knew Him, the body in which the Lord Jesus Christ lived upon the earth. It is not another body. So this is a miracle. Its purpose, however, is to confirm the Lord Jesus' identity and that His resurrection was a resurrection in the body and not a resurrection without the body. This is with the understanding that a change, as I said, occurred to the Lord Jesus' body on account of the spiritualization that took place and made it a spiritualized body or a spiritual body in a certain sense. Of course, this is very important because the disciples, in another place in the Gospels, entertained the idea that they were in the Lord Jesus Christ's presence as though they were in the presence of a phantasm, an illusion or a spirit. It was necessary to confirm the disciples in faith, so the Lord Jesus gave them proof that He had risen and that the one whom the disciples saw was not an illusion, a phantasm or a spirit, but rather the very Lord Jesus Himself, who had risen in the very same body! So Thomas was the instrument that the Lord's Holy Spirit used to prove this and to dispel from their minds any possibility that this was not the very same Lord Jesus Christ whom they knew, to dispel from their minds that this was an illusion. Therefore, when Thomas touched the Lord Jesus' body, he felt that he was touching a body. Human nature is never up for cancellation in the Lord Jesus! It is never true that He put on a body for a period of time and then cast it off like someone casts of a robe. The Lord Jesus took on a body once and forever. In other words, the second hypostasis of the Holy Trinity-- that is, the Son of God-- was united to human nature forever. When the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven and was seated at the right hand of God the Father, He ascended and was seated in His human body! That is, however, of course, in His glorified, spiritualized human body because corruption does not inherit incorruption. That which is corrupt within us-- that is, that which is subject to dissolution-- absolutely cannot be seated, in its dissolute state, at the right hand of God the Father. Therefore, the body itself was glorified, spiritualized. So Thomas confirmed to us that this is Jesus Himself and that he touched the body with his hand, beheld it and touched it! After that, then, there is no possibility of there being any illusion in the relationship between us and the Lord Jesus, God incarnate forever. We are not in a relationship with the Lord Jesus in the spirit only, but at the level of His incarnate divinity. Of course, the Apostle Paul says clearly that if we knew the Lord Jesus in the body on earth, we do not know Him after that. This in no way means that the body fell away. The body did not fall away. Nevertheless, it is no longer possible for us to interact with the spiritualized body in the same way we interact with material bodies subject to corruption and death. It is in this sense that the Lord Jesus Christ told Mary Magdalene, "Do not touch me!," because He wanted to tell her and us that the relationship to Him, from now on, cannot be as it was before His crucifixion and death. We now interact with the Lord Jesus, God incarnate, in the Lord's Holy Spirit, not in the corruption of the matter that is subject to death on earth. This is, of course, something very important and was revealed to Thomas.

The second thing, which is also very important, is that when Thomas touched the Lord Jesus, he did not remain within the limits of material touching-- that is, it did not remain within the limits of Jesus' human nature. He also touched the Lord Jesus Christ's divinity because the Lord Jesus is God incarnate. Thomas did not touch a body, he did not touch matter, but rather he touched God incarnate. So he also touched godhood. In other words, godhood is what touched him. The Lord Jesus condescended to the point that He allowed Thomas to touch divinity. And what was the result?! The result was that Thomas cried out, "my Lord and my God." In Arabic, when we say, "my Lord and my God," this implies that I am talking about my own lord or my own god. Is the same one your lord and your god? In Arabic, the sense is narrow and limited. In Greek, however, the sense is much clearer because the word lord and the word god are preceded by the definite article. That is, instead of being "my lord and my god," the sense becomes, "You are the Lord and God whom I worship and, through me, whom all humankind worships." So, the emphasis is on the Lord Jesus Christ being "Lord and God," in the total sense of the word. Of course, this declaration that the Apostle Thomas made could not have been made if he had not touched divinity. Or rather, if divinity had not touched Thomas and caused him to speak of divine things. What Thomas touched is Lord and God! For this reason, in all the Gospels we do not find any clearer, more explicit and more precise declaration that the Lord Jesus Christ is Lord and God than the declaration that the Apostle Thomas made. Thomas' declaration is therefore very important because it affirms the Lord Jesus' humanity and it affirms that humanity is called in Him to be glorified, to be divinized, to be spiritualized! It likewise affirms that this is Lord and God. Of course, the Lord Jesus avoided speaking directly about His being Lord and God when He went about His earthly path before the cross. But now, with His having risen from the dead, Thomas has been given an anointing from the Lord's Holy Spirit to announce to us all that this one in whom we believe is perfect man and perfect God, He is God and Lord, and that His humanity has united with His godhood. All of this is so that we may know that all of us, in the Lord Jesus Christ, are called to be divinized, to be spiritualized. We become spiritualized and divinized in this body. But first of all this body must die. It must disintegrate. Why?! Because death lies within this body, and so too the passions and sin. So one must die first in the body so that one's sin and passions may die. Then, after that, the Lord Jesus Christ gathers up this very body and brings it back, in the image of what the Prophet Ezekiel said. Then, our bodies all become bodies of glory, as the Lord Jesus' body was shown to be a body of glory when He stood before Thomas.

What happened to the Lord Jesus will happen to all who believe in Jesus Christ on the Day of Resurrection. But what happens between now and the general resurrection? Do we stay waiting in the grave? Not at all! The body must remain in the ground, but the Lord God has given man new life. What was said of the Lord Jesus, when He was hanged upon the cross, that He gave up His spirit, means that the Lord God has given us the Spirit of Life. The Spirit of Life is diffused within us. The primary sign that we have received new life from now on is that we are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Baptism is precisely our receiving the new life that the Lord Jesus Christ has given us. Therefore, when someone dies, his body remains in the grave. But his life that is tied to his personality, his consciousness, his identity, this life of his extends, continues, goes out and is filled with life and light, since each of us, in death, is in the bosom of the Heavenly Father and is in heavenly mansions, is alive, because our God is not God of the dead, but God of the living. In death, then, we remain alive and indeed, we are filled with God's life, until the hour of the general resurrection comes. Then, the Lord Jesus will raise us up in the bodies that had disintegrated and we shall become perfect humans in the body, we shall be in bodies of glory, we shall be like the Lord Jesus. All this, then, was revealed to us in one form or another, in one manner or another, through the Apostle Thomas. For this reason, the Holy Church decided to make his commemoration on the first Sunday after the glorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Glory to the one who granted us to know, to be filled with His divine promises and His life, because we who have known the Lord Jesus have come to be in the fullness of His life and He has come to dwell within us and shall remain dwelling within us in the Spirit forever!


Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite
Sunday, April 26, 2020

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Theodore Abu Qurrah and an Origenist

Taken from: Theodore Abu Qurrah, translated by John C. Lamoreaux, pp. 248-249 and 254.

A Question to the Same Theodore

Origenist: For a person who has sinned for ten or fifty years, what manner of justice would it be if that person were to be punished for ten thousand eons, or rather, for an infinite number of eons?

Abu Qurrah: You tell me what you think justice would be.

Origenist: It would be to effec a punishment that accords with the sin-- that is, if a person sinned for fifty years, that person should be punished for the same number of years.

Abu Qurrah: From how many different sources do we learn what justice is? And where did you learn this?

Origenist: You tell me! How many?

Abu Qurrah: We know what every form of justice is either from the law of God or from the laws instituted by human beings or from the nature of material objects. Not one of these would suggest that justice effects a punishment that accords with time. For instance, let's imagine someone who fornicates, steals, or kills-- but does so for just one hour. Both the law of God and the laws of human beings, when they kill a killer and punish a transgressor, do so not just for a single hour; rather, by killing him, they punish him for eternity, and by beating him, they cause him to suffer from wounds for a very long time. You also, if someone committed adultery with your wife or raped your daughter, you wouldn't think that he should be punished for just a single hour, but that he should be handed over to death, which is an eternal punishment. The nature of material objects teaches the same. Suppose, for instance, that we're advised not to drink cold water or touch something harmful. If we do so anyway, are we not subject to a protracted punishment? Indeed, it's often the case that we're punished with a chronic illness if we drink cold water or touch fire or partake of vinegar-- and nature is most just. Tell me then, on what basis do you hold to your definition of justice? Where did you find it?

Abu Qurrah was Questioned by an Unbeliever

Unbeliever: Christ declared, "Whoever has not been begotten of water and Spirit will not enter the kingdom of heaven." What of the righteous who lived before his coming and were not baptized? How can they enter it?

Christian: Christ was baptized for them, even as he died for all. It is as he said, "I sanctify myself for them." At the same time, they too were baptized in a bodily manner.

Unbeliever: How can this be?

Christian: Don't you know that those who die are not completely destroyed? Rather, they are dissolved into their composite elements.

Unbeliever: That's true.

Christian: It is written that when he was pierced in the side by the lance, water and blood flowed from his side.

Unbeliever: Indeed.

Christian: Accordingly, when that water was dissolved into the elements, he sanctified all things and baptized those who had been dispersed and dissolved into the elements.

Unbeliever: On this account, unbelievers and absolutely all who died before his coming were baptized.

Christian: Not at all. Rather, only the bodies of believers, whose souls had faith in Christ when he (that is, his holy soul) descended into hell. Here's an analogy. Imagine an aqueduct or river of fresh water, one with many trees planted along its banks. Some of these trees are dead and totally desiccated; others are still alive. What do you think? When the water touches them, will all the trees benefit by drawing up water and life, or only those with the ability to receive and attract it? Those that are completely dry will benefit not in the least from the water. In the same way, unbelievers will benefit not in the least from the dissolution of that water into the elements.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Paschal Message 2020

Arabic original here.

Paschal Message

Christ's death and resurrection are the content and foundation of our faith; a historical event with many witnesses, it is the faith rule for our life.

The Apostle Paul says, "I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve" (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

Christ's body did not putrify, but rather was glorified while He was on the cross. Everything was completed there.

Despite all the fatigue, suffering and sorrow that He experienced... all that passed and there was no longer any excuse for sorrow. Rather, there came great joy, which became universal joy for all creation. Christ's love for us to the point of death defeated "corona" and all other illnesses, burdens and sorrows because His death is crowned by the glorious resurrection.

The Evangelist John says, "the Word became flesh" (John 1:14). Indeed, this means that the expression "Christ is risen" means that He is alive, God and man, body and spirit together. The holy deacon Stephen bore witness to this when he said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" (Acts 7:56) and at the Divine Liturgy we eat His risen body and drink His risen blood.

The Apostle Paul affirms that Christianity, without faith in Christ's resurrection is useless and without any foundation. "And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty" (1 Corinthians 15:14). The essence of our faith, then, is that we believe in the truth of Jesus' rising in the body from the dead. On this basis, we become able to participate also ourselves in eternal life.

Saint Symeon the New Theologian writes: let us see what is the mystery of the resurrection of Christ our God, the mystery that we desire to take place within us... Now after our departure from the world of sin and our entrance, in the semblance of Christ's passion, into the tomb of humility and repentance...

The resurrection of Christ is the resurrection of us sinners.

Many are those who believe in Christ's resurrection but few are those who see it clearly: "No one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord [that is, risen] except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3).

As for us, at every Sunday service of the resurrection, we do not say, "having believed in the resurrection of Christ..." but rather "having seen the resurrection of Christ, let us worship the Holy Lord, the only sinless one..."

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Monday, April 13, 2020

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Palm Sunday (St Paul's Epistle)

Arabic original here.

Palm Sunday (St Paul's Epistle)

"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand." (Philippians 4:4-5)

These words of the Apostle Paul are amazing as we celebrate Palm Sunday: an invitation to joy, while Jesus has volunteered for death and we are at our entrance into Jerusalem, into Passion Week, and into the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross?! Yes, the Lord is at hand, nearing His passion and our passion, but at the same time nearing joy and the resurrection. Christ is the bridegroom. Rejoice, then, at the marriage of the lamb. This is the marriage with the entire Church, with every soul.

It is joy in the Lord who suffers with us and rises with us again. It is joy with great patience all at once. The passion is at hand and the resurrection is also at hand. It is a passage from suffering to joy, from death to life. This is the cross of Christ and the cross of each one of us. It is suffering and death and it is also joy and resurrection. "Let your forebearance be known to all people." Forebearance is patience, patience with Christ tied to meekness and humility, tied to prayer and hope.

"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7)

Peace, for Paul, means salvation, this salvation that we look to in difficult days. Peace is also reconciliation with God and with the soul too, and consequently with others. As for the heart and mind, they are the entire inner world. The saved person demonstrates his forebearance toward all people, peace surpassing everything.

After that, the Apostle calls for practicing all the virtues: "Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely..." that is, all the virtues, all natural morals according to the interpretation of some.

We know that the truth is Christ Himself. "I am the truth" (John 14:6). He is also "the word of truth, the gospel of salvation" (Ephesians 1:13). He is thus the truth of the Gospel. As for the word "noble," in general it means cultured, respectable, refined. But in Christianity, it indicates the life of holiness, the life in accordance with God's will. "Just" is everything that stems from faith in Christ. "Pure" indicates the soul's purity from sin. "Lovely" is that which pleases God.

The word "virtue" in the text does not have a philosophical or even ethical sense. It is everything in man that springs forth from the Holy Spirit, that which makes man a new creation.
Paul gives each of these virtues his new experience of salvation in Jesus Christ.

So the virtues mentioned here in the epistle are not only connected to natural morals. For the Apostle Paul, they spring from the divine declaration that is in Jesus Christ. Natural morals do not constitute a main element of Christianity, since the root goes back to man's rebirth in Christ within the Church. "If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

This is true peace, this is true joy for Paul.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Fr Bassam Nassif: How do We Live "The Church at Home"?

The Arabic original is below the jump.

 How do We Live "The Church at Home"?

Christians are going through difficult times on account of the spread of the pandemic, which is preventing the faithful from participating in prayers at church, especially during this season rich in daily prayers.

At the threshold of Holy Week, are we content to listen to prayers transmitted over social media such as Facebook? How can we really experience these prayers, when we are forbidden for health reasons from really participating?

In times of hardship, persecution and sicknesses as well as in times of ease, health and peace, the voice of Saint John Chrysostom is heard, calling to Christians: "Let your home be a church!" How can our home be a church? What did Saint John Chrysostom mean?

There is no general general prescription for all homes on this topic. Every home has its distinct quality, in terms of location and inhabitants.. But there are broad guidelines for living out the church at home and if we follow them, we will experience Christian life in its profundity... So what are they?

It should first be pointed out that the purpose of the Christian life is to acquire the Holy Spirit and to live in Christ. For example, the purpose of our educating our children is not limited to their becoming people of good standing in society, polite and cultured... Our purpose as Christians is for our children to be projects of holiness, filled with the Holy Spirit and love for God and humankind. We should also mention that the Church is not limited to the building of stone, but rather it is the Body of Christ and we are members of this body. In this way the family is a little church, the body of Christ. So where do we begin in setting up the church at home?

First of all, the Christian's life is centered around prayer and this is something he learns at home. I remember how my grandmother would pray the prayers upon waking and the psalms of matins by memory as she stood in front of an icon that my grandfather brought back from his pilgrimage to the Church of the Resurrection as a blessing for the family. So the matter is first of all arranged by dedicating one of the corners of the house where icons are hung of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Mother of God Mary and the patron saints of the home and the parish. The father, mother and children arrange this space that is special for the family together. It is the home altar before which we stand and pray as a family, as one family gathered together in the real presence of the Lord! How is that? The Lord Jesus says, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). The Lord Jesus is present and blesses us and He blesses our home, our family, our street, our village and our country... The power of the grace of the Holy Spirit, whom we invite to dwell within us, immerses us in these blessed moments when we come together to pray.

Second, what do we pray? If we take the prayers for Holy Week, we see that digital copies are available for us and we can pray from them. There is no single recipe for everyone, but quality is the foundation, along with the children's participating in reading and prostrations and the reading of the Gospel, led by the father with the support of the mother and help of the children, placing before us a lit candle and fragrant incense, love for the Lord and His saints. The parish priest can indicate passages for the family to read or to chant together... But the most important thing is for the parents not to impose participating in prayer on the children, but rather for them to be a model for them to gradually imitate. This requires patience, effort and persuasion through calm dialogue, like many things in education in general. Reading the lives of saints to children can help them to understand the importance of prayer in their life, so that they may become shining lights for the Lord.

Third, when should we pray? During these days, there must be a special time dedicated to prayer in the life of the family, a time that the family chooses and is appropriate to their daily schedule. There is no doubt that the choice of a time for prayer is not easy. The Church's experience emphasizes becoming accustomed to a rhythm of prayer. That is, for everyone to dedicate a specific time every day to prayer, just like there is a time for gathering around the table for a meal or for watching a favorite program on television. It is a time when we set aside every earthly care, whether listening to music or watching television or using the phone,  in order to be completely devoted to the Lord.

Fourth, one learns constant prayer in the home. How? When the father faces a stumbling-block in his work, he looks to the Lord, thanks Him and seeks His help, saying: "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy." And when the mother gets tired of housework and teaching the children, she looks to an icon of Our Lady, draws inspiration from her tenderness and grace and sighs: "Most Holy Mother of God, help me."

Fifth, prayer should be accompanied by living out the Lord's commandments and self-examination. One should return to himself, be alone with himself, and not permit anger to take control if he has a disagreement with his wife or children. With the Lord's help, he can spread peace in the home. Saint Porphyrios the Seer warned about mothers and fathers bickering every day or week in front of their children. Dealing with everyday differences and not letting them turn into profound disagreements, by relying on one's spiritual father and self-reflection,  is the most important spiritual lesson for children. The children absorb how to live the Gospel through how their mother and father behaving with each other in a Christian manner. An attitude of mutual forgiveness and a spirituality of humility spread the aroma of joy through every corner of the home.

In this way, we will grow together in love of Christ and build in the home a little church that gives glory to God!

Fr Bassam Nassif

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Ioana Feodorov: The Arabic Book of the Divine Liturgies Printed in 1745 in Iași by Patriarch Sylvester of Antioch

The open access journal Scrinium has just published an article by the Romanian scholar Ioana Feodorov on the Arabic Book of the Divine Liturgies published by the Patriarch Sylvester in Iasi in 1745. It can be read and downloaded in full here.


The following article focuses on a printed text of the Arabic Book of the Divine Liturgies, produced in 1745 in Iași (Jassy), capital of Moldavia, by Sylvester, the Patriarch of the Greek-Orthodox Church of Antioch (1724-1766), which is comprised, together with a section of a Syriac and Arabic manuscript commentary on some Gospel passages, in MS 15 of the library of Dayr Sayyidat al-Balamand (near Tripoli, Lebanon). It is a rare copy of this early Arabic printed book, whose existence was recently established. The study encloses an outline – based on Romanian, Greek and Arabic sources – of Patriarch Sylvester’s printing activity in Iași and Bucharest in 1745-1747, a description of the Book of the Divine Liturgies (Iași, 1745) preserved in the Balamand codex, and comments on the value of this finding for future research on the printing work carried out in the Romanian Principalities, in 1701-1747, for the Arabic-speaking Christians of Ottoman Syria.