Sunday, December 13, 2020

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Tranquility

 Arabic original here.


Once I asked an elder, "Why do you flee to the desert? Why don't you remain in the world where you can benefit and be of benefit?"

The elder replied, "If a person does not become like an angel, then he will not gain anything from the world. As for me, a wretched son of Adam, when I see the fruit of sin I desire it, I eat it and I die."

What did the Lord Jesus do?

"When He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray" (Matthew 14:23). This is to teach us that if we want to turn to God with a pure heart, we must remove ourselves a little from the din of the crowd.

Solitude helps us to be continually united to God. It helps one who prays to be more united to the hidden world within himself, so that he can struggle against various thoughts and inner temptations, imitating Christ in the salvific confrontation with temptations.

It is difficult for contemporary man to attain such inner experience while he is occupied with various outward concerns that prevent him from securing this outward tranquility as a prelude to attaining inner tranquility through prayer without distraction.

Attention to the inside produces inner wakefulness where the Holy Spirit becomes the starting-point for all activities and "those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:`4).

The spiritual father possesses the virtue of discerning spirits.

This gift causes one to no longer regard the self as the center of the world, but to look to the other and become a being of communion.

Saint Macarius the Egyptian describes hell as "no longer being able to see the face of the other."

The work of the hesychast in his prayer is to unite the body to the soul under divine watch. Purity of heart in the ascetic struggle and hesychastic prayer do not aim to mortify sensation and erase the will, but just the opposite, to tame the human animal nature.

In this way savage beasts become tame and prayer causes man's passions to transform into a capacity for love of God and the neighbor.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Christian Arabic Bible Translations at the British Library

The blog of the British Library has posted a wonderful, illustrated, overview of the manuscripts of Arabic bibles in their collection written by Miriam Hjälm

Christian Arabic Bible Translations in the British Library Collections

The British Library holds an impressive collection of Christian Arabic texts, including many Bible translations which served a variety of communal interests. The character of the translations varies greatly. Most were based on Greek and Syriac Vorlagen but Hebrew, Latin, and Coptic source texts were also sometimes consulted. The communities were often bilingual – or even trilingual – which is reflected in many manuscripts.


Read the rest here.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Fr Oleg Davydenkov on Theodore Abu Qurrah

 Russian original here.

"Whatever Abu Qurra wrote about, he always had in mind a potential Muslim looking over his shoulder." An Interview with Archpriest Oleg Davydenkov

At the publishing house of PSTGU there have appeared two new books by Archpriest Oleg Davydenkov, a doctor of theology and head of the Department of Eastern Christian Philology and Eastern Churches at PSTGU: the scholarly monograph The Theology of Abu Qurra, Bishop of Harran and a book of translations, The Arabic Works of Theodore Abu Qurra, Bishop of Harran.

In connection with this, we interviewed Fr Oleg about the outstanding Arabic-speaking theologian, his literary legacy, the specifics of his theological thought and the world in which he lived.

Could you briefly describe the activities of the bishop Theodore Abu Qurrah so the readers can understand the historical dimensions of this figure?

Theodore Abu Qurrah, the most significant Melkite-- that is, Arabic-speaking Orthodox-- lived in the second half of the 8th and the early 9th century and presumably died around 830. Theodore was a native of the city of Edessa (today Urfa in Turkey). Most likely, he was a monk at the Lavra of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified in Palestine and then he became bishop of the city of Harran (in modern times a small village in Turkey near the Turkish-Syrian border).

Abbu Qurrah was a very prolific writer. The greater part of his immense literary legacy was composed and preserved in Arabic. Additionally, he was the author of a few dozen short theological-polemical treatises (opuscula) in Greek.

Thus, Theodore was the last Melkite author to write in Greek as well as the first famous Christian writer who began to compose theological works in Arabic. In one of his Arabic writings, Abu Qurrah also reports that he composed around 30 theological treatises in Syriac, but not one of them has survived down to our time. Several works of the bishop of Harran have survived only in Georgian translation.

What are the main orientations of Abu Qurrah's literary activity?

Bishop Theodore's sphere of interests is very extensive. He has many reflections on general philosophical topics: rational proof of God's existence, the nature of religious faith, the preconditions and methods of knowledge of God, the question of man's free will. In a few of his works, Abu Qurrah attempts to substantiate Christianity's superiority over other religions (he argues most of all with Judaism and Manichaeism) and to prove the truth and divinely-revealed nature of the Gospel.

A significant part of his literary legacy is made up of Christological polemics with both the Jacobites-Severians and the Nestorians, as well as the defense of icon veneration. Separate theological treatises are dedicated to presenting the Orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the Church Councils and the authority of Church teaching.

A theme that runs throughout Theodore Abu Qurrah's works is the defense of the Christian faith in the face of Islam. Even when discussing purely Christian topics, he always has a potential Muslim reader in mind. The contemporary American scholar Mark Swanson comments that, "Whatever Abu Qurrah wrote about, he always had in mind a potential Muslim looking over his shoulder."

Even purely Christian topics, Bishop Theodore attempts to present in an apologetic manner, and not only with the aim of protecting certain positions of the Christian faith from Muslim criticism, but also to present Christian doctrine as a whole to Muslim readers as logically substantiated and consistent, to show that Christianity is not a superstition or a pagan relic, as Christian doctrine was often perceived by Muslim polemicists, but a serious theological and philosophical doctrine, meeting all the criteria of rationality and "science".

Did his polemic with Islam have success?

Undoubtedly, Abu Qurrah's opponents regarded him as a serious and dangerous antagonist. He was widely known in the Muslim environment and highly authoritative Muslim thinkers composed polemical works against him in particular.

Are any conversions of Muslims perhaps known?

It is difficult to speak of conversions. Only a few cases of conversion from Islam to Christianity in the Arab Caliphate of the 7th-9th centuries are known (the martyrs Abo of Tbilisi and Anthony Rawh). Even if such events did take place, they were carefully hidden because, according to Muslim law, conversion from Islam to any other religion was punishable by death.

To what degree was he known in Byzantium?

It cannot be said that he was well-known in Byzantium because his life took place during a period when contacts between Orthodox Christians living in the territory of the Arab Caliphate and their Byzantine correligionists were reduced to a minimum. Abu Qurrah himself, known as a zealous defender of icon veneration, apparently did not know anything about the Seventh Ecumenical Council! There are mentions of him specifically in some Byzantine authors, but they belong to a later time. The Greeks' interest in his writings emerged in the second millennium in connection with the development of polemic with Islam. Theodore was much better known in the Georgian Church and many of his works were translated into Georgian.

It should be mentioned that in the Melkite community itself, Abu Qurrah was not very well known after his death. The contemporary American specialist in Christian Arabic literature Thomas Ricks notes that Muslim writers played a greater role in preserving the memory of Abu Qurrah than the Orthodox community of the Caliphate: Muslim authors mention Theodore much more often than Melkite authors.

Judging by your words, Abu Qurrah was well-acquainted with the Arab world.

And not only the Arab [world]. Apparently, Theodore traveled a great deal. There is reason to believe that he visited Egypt. At least, there is evidence for this in authors of a later period and indirect evidence in Abu Qurrah's own works. If he traveled to Egypt, he probably also visited Sinai. After visiting Egypt, he undertook a journey to Armenia. In Theodore's works, there are references to his visit to Jerusalem, the Palestinian city of Azot, the village of Salkin, and the vicinity of Antioch.

Some historians believe that Abu Qurrah, as someone brilliantly-educated and with a fluent command of the Arabic literary language, must have studied for some time in one of the major centers of Arabic education, perhaps even in Baghdad, however nothing about this is known for certain.

How did Christians live in that Muslim world?

It would be incorrect to call this world purely Muslim, since in the late 8th and the first half of the 9th century-- this is the period of the Abbasid Caliphate's cultural flowering-- Christians made up no less than half the population within Greater Syria. Of course, the state was Muslim but the population largely remained Christian. Moreover, Christians occupied many important niches in public life.

For example, in science and education, Christians played a significant role and had an enormous impact on the development of Arab culture. The assimilation of the ancient Greek heritage by the Arabs took place precisely through Christians living in the Caliphate, among them Abu Qurrah: it is mentioned that he was the Arabic translator of some of Aristotle's works.

In both your doctoral dissertation and the book that we are discussing, the first parts are dedicated to the authors' philosophical terminology. It seemed to me that you are showing that the division between the dyophysites and monophysites at this philosophical level. I will allow myself a lengthy quote from your monograph: "In questions of ontology, Abu Qurrah acts as a principled and consistent opponent of the doctrine of personal substances (natures). The concept of personal nature, which in one way or another was inherent to practically all Monophysite theologians, received philosophical formulation in the works of John Philoponus and was the ontological basis for the doctrine of Christ's synthetic nature, which was fundamental for Severian monophysitism." Is it possible to say that the differences between the Christological systems was initially due to different philosophical positions?

I would not oversimplify the problem because these things are interconnected. On the one hand, it is not correct to underestimate the importance of the philosophical factor. Philosophy can indeed influence theology, especially during periods of crisis when a certain weakness appears in theological thought, when immunity to external influences decreases, philosophical ideas can penetrate into theology, leading to serious consequences. The 6th century is precisely a period when the philosophical influence on theology manifested itself very clearly.

On the other hand, I would not exaggerate the importance of philosophical influences. Philosophical ideas could lead to false theological views, but also the reverse: a given theological view could require appropriate philosophical arguments to justify it. Thus, out of that huge arsenal of means offered by ancient philosophy, theologians chose precisely those ideas and arguments that corresponded to their theological position. It is therefore extremely difficult to say which was primary in a given instance.

It should also not be forgotten that authors of that era were not "professional" philosophers and their worldview was based on Divine Revelation. As Protopresbyter John Meyendorf wrote, Byzantine theological thought was open to Greek philosophical problems, but it avoided being captured by philosophical systems. It would be completely incorrect to characterize ancient Christian writers as Neoplatonists, Stoics or Aristotelians. Being philosophically well-educated, the Fathers of the Church nevertheless did not bind themselves to any philosophical systems and they were able to choose from the entire ancient philosophical tradition those means that seemed useful to them for resolving this or that theological problem, for justifying their own position or criticizing their opponents.

Let's proceed directly to theological problems. In the chapter on Abu Qurrah's triadology, I found the most unexpected section, "On Logical Proof of God's Trinity." Could you briefly describe the tradition of logical proof and talk about Bishop Theodore's position within this tradition?

This is a feature of Arab Christian Trinitarian thought. For Byzantine theology, it was uncharacteristic to substantiate God's Trinity in a logical manner, since no one questioned this truth. All Christian heresies, apart from completely marginal anti-Trinitarians, accepted the Trinity as a fact given in Revelation, so there was no point in logically justifying why God is specifically a Trinity and not a duality or quadernity. The only meditation on this topic known to me is by Gregory the Theologian.

In a Muslim environment, everything was different. Christian Revelation had no authority for Muslims and they asked the question: "Supposing you believe that God is multiple in Persons, why precisely in three Persons and not four or ten?" It was necessary to find an answer to that question based not on Revelation, but on logical arguments. Many Arab Christian authors pay a great deal of attention to substantiating the thesis of God's Trinity. Abu Qurrah is one of the first to starting thinking about these issues.

Is it possible to draw an analogy between Arabic-speaking Triadology and the Western Scholastic tradition, which also attempts to rationally substantiate God's Trinity?

It is scarcely possible to speak of Arabic-speaking Christian thought having an influence on the Western Scholastics, although some parallels can be drawn. For example, Abu Qurrah's doctrine of the redemption somewhat similar to Anselm of Canterbury's juridical theory.

How self-evident is it that Europe did not know Melkite authors? After all, it received Aristotle through the Arabs...

Eastern Christian authors were perceived as schismatics in Europe, so their theological writings could not be authoritative for the Latin Scholastics. Exceptions are quite rare-- for example, the Orthodox author Qusta ibn Luqa (9th-early 10th century). His treatise, "On the Difference between the Spirit and the Soul," translated into Latin, was well-known in Medieval Europe and had a significant impact on Western anthropology and psychology (on the doctrine of the spirit). In terms of content, however, this treatise was primarily philosophical and not theological.

Let's discuss a little more the doctrine of redemption that you just mentioned. Here's a quote: "Thus Abu Qurrah demolishes the contradiction between the rigor of Divine Law, which unconditionally demands the punishment of a sinner, and God's mercy, which seeks his forgiveness, by means of substitutionary sacrifice: sin must necessarily be punished, but the punishment can be transferred from one person to another. Christ takes upon Himself the punishment that we deserve." You spoke of parallels with Anselm of Canterbury. To what degree is such a teaching traditional in Orthodox theology?

Certainly, juridical images have been used by the Fathers of the Church since ancient times-- the very word "redemption" is of a purely juridical character. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself uses this juridical term. We see the same thing in the Apostle Paul and many ancient authors, for example Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. Nevertheless, among Byzantine authors there is no attempt to present the mystery of redemption in the form of a strictly logical system constructed exclusively in juridical terms.

The Greek Fathers usually present the doctrine of redemption either as a complex of biblical soteriological images such as Christ the High Priest, Christ the King, Christ the Prophet and others, or historically. That is, as a sequence of biblical events, each of which having a certain redemptive significance, starting with the eternal Council, then further through the Incarnation, life and teaching among people, through death on the Cross, the Descent into Hell, the Resurrection of the dead, down to the Ascension into heaven.

Abu Qurrah was one of the first authors of the Byzantine tradition (which he can, without a doubt be called, despite the peculiarities due to his place of residence, language and specific apologetic tasks), who tried to present the doctrine of redemption as a coherent logical system.

To what extent was his approach taken up afterwards?

If we are talking about our own time, the emphasis on substitutionary sacrifice, characteristic of Bishop Theodore, is not typical of contemporary Orthodox theology. In the first half of the 20th century, the juridical theory came under very harsh criticism for some of its extremes. This is not to say that  ideas contained within this theory have been totally rejected, but nevertheless, alternative theories appear in the 20th century. Some, such as the moral theory of redemption, have not been successful. There have also been more interesting attempts to return to patristic doctrine and find other principles for constructing a theory of redemption.

Nowadays they talk about the organic theory of redemption-- this term is used, for example, in the Orthodox Encyclopedia. In accordance with this theory, sin is understood not in the juridical sense and not as an immoral act, but primarily as a sickness of nature. We see this approach in Vladimir Lossky, Archpriest George Florovsky and some contemporary Greek theologians.

This, however, also has its own limitations: it is hardly possible to express the mystery of redemption only in natural categories, since sin also affects man's personal sphere. Thus, although the organic theory made it possible to better see the weaknesses of both the moral and the juridical theories and contributed to a deeper understanding of patristic doctrine, it is not obvious that it can be accepted as an adequate expression of the Tradition.

Many thanks! I would like to ask two more questions: one about the Christological section and another about ecclesiology. You entitled first section in the chapter "Christology" "Abu Qurrah's Formal Christology." In what sense "formal"?

In the sense that Christology, like some other elements of dogmatic teaching, find expression in specific theological formulas. Moreover, the set of these formulas is quite limited. In order to understand the Christological doctrine of this or that author, it is first of all necessary to establish the set of Christological formulas that he uses. Then it is necessary to determine how he uses them because one and the same formula can be understood by different authors in significantly different ways. Thus, in the section you mentioned, the discussion is about the theological-Christological formulas used by Abu Qurrah and unpacking their content.

The concluding section of your monograph is dedicated to ecclesiology. It seemed to me that Theodore Abu Qurra's doctrine of the Church is very consonant with the current situation: his ecclesiology is a response to a significant amount of division within the Church. Could you describe the characteristic features of his doctrine of the Church?

His ecclesiological views are quite original and we find no analogues for them either among Byzantine or Arabic-speaking authors of that time. Abu Qurrah very carefully elaborates a theology of the Councils into which he embeds a specific idea of papal "primacy." He does not, of course, use the word "primacy," and Abu Qurrah's doctrine can in no way be equated with the later Roman Catholic doctrine of papal primacy, which some Catholic authors attempt to deduce in him. Nevertheless, Abu Qurrah clearly speaks about the Bishop of Rome's special place in the Church and his special powers, stressing the role of the Popes of Rome in the history of the Ecumenical Councils. What aims was Theodore pursuing with this?

Most likely, it was an apologetic device directed against both Muslims and non-Orthodox Christians, primarily Monophysites and Nestorians. They both had a common argument according to which the Ecumenical Councils were manifestations of the political life of Byzantium, since they were called by the emperors. In their rhetoric, the Councils' participants appeared to be unfree in their decisions because they were under pressure from the emperor and his administration and therefore their decisions could not have religious authority.

It was therefore necessary to find some external authority who, on the one hand, had great importance in the life of the Church and on the other hand was located outside the jurisdiction of the Byzantine emperor. In Theodore's doctrine, the Bishop of Rome becomes the bearer of such authority.

Thus, Abu Qurrah's doctrine of the Councils is supplemented by the concept of the special powers of the Bishop of Rome who, according to Abu Qurrah, convened the Ecumenical Councils, no Council could take place without his consent, and who had a special charism to preserve intact the Orthodox faith as formulated by the Councils and to instruct his fellow bishops in the faith. We note that Theodore does not place the Pope above the Councils. He does not claim that the Bishop of Rome himself infallibly formulates the common faith of the Church. In his system, the Church's infallible authority is the Councils themselves, not the Pope of Rome.

Turning to your book of translations, I will start with a somewhat provocative question: why would a contemporary Russian-speaking reader read an Arab theologian of the 9th century?

Why should he read the great Cappadocians, John of Damascus, Maximus the Confessor? Abu Qurrah is a prominent representative of the Christian theological tradition, one of the authors who concludes the era of the Ecumenical Councils. In terms of his theological level, he is not inferior to the Greek Fathers. The prominent German scholar of Christian Arabic literature, Georg Graf (the first scholar of Abu Qurrah's works who translated a large part of his treatises into German and also wrote an essay in which he gives an outline of his theological system) places Abu Qurrah as a thinker above John of Damascus. That is a very high assessment!

That is, it cannot be said that his merit is in systematizing and translating into Arabic?

Theodore did not actually translate the Greek Fathers. He was the first to establish a conceptual-terminological system of Christian theology in Arabic and that was very important. Moreover, he one of the ones who laid the foundations of Christian apologetics against Islam. Since Abu Qurrah was a very independent and original thinker, his theological thought may be of interest to those concerned with the patristic heritage, no less than the theology of the most significant Byzantine Fathers.

Which of Abu Qurra's works did you translate?

The goal was to translate all of Abu Qurrah's Arabic works that have been published to date, a total of 19 texts, ranging from huge treatises that span dozens of pages in translation to short excerpts of one or two pages.

This, of course, is not all of Abu Qurrah's legacy. In addition to the Greek treatises published by Jacques Paul Migne, several not-yet published Arabic texts are known. John Lamoreaux, a prominent American scholar of the theology of Abu Qurrah's, writes that he knows of at least six unpublished Arabic works of Abu Qurrah, some of which, from his point of view, contain interesting dogmatic material.

The Priest Alexander Treiger, also a prominent specialist of Eastern Christian literature from Halifax in Canada, has put forward the hypothesis, which is plausible in my opinion, that some of Abu Qurrah's works have been preserved under the name Thaddeus of Edessa. At least two such works are known, dating from the early 9th century, and they quite plausibly belong to Abu Qurrah.

In fact, you have opened him up to the Russian reader.

Out of Abu Qurrah's Greek works, three treatises have been recently translated into Russian by Grigory Benevich and Fedor Benevich. They accompanied their translations with short articles giving a very general idea of Abu Qurrah's theology. To date, however, there have been no systematic studies of Abu Qurrah's work in Russian. And non of his Arabic works-- not even a small fragment-- had been translated into Russian.

In conclusion, is it possible to all Abu Qurrah's system fully Orthodox?

Without a doubt, he is an absolutely Orthodox author, a continuator of the Byzantine patristic tradition. It must be said that what largely prompted me to write this work was a study by a Protestant scholar from Syria, Najib George Awad, the author of one of the most comprehensive studies of Abu Qurrah's theology. It is typical for Awad to contrast Arab Christian theological thought to Byzantine [theological thought]. In my opinion he differentiates them too sharply. My conclusions are precisely the opposite: with all the peculiarities of the theological discourse due to external circumstances, Theodore Abu Qurrah's dogmatic system, Trinitarian doctrine and Christology are fully Orthodox.

Father Oleg, thank you very much for the conversation!

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Jad Ganem: Conciliarity or Ottomanism?

 Arabic original here.

Conciliarity or Ottomanism?

It is difficult for anyone who follows the news of the Orthodox Church to believe the depths to which conciliarity has fallen in this church in recent years. It is equally difficult to imagine the level that had reached this conciliarity because of the destructive politics pursued by a number of the church's primates who pathologically equate their own persons, their whims and the interests of the churches that they claim to serve.

After Patriarch Bartholomew decided in 2016 that the Great Orthodox Council, for which successive generations of pastors had been preparing in patience, wisdom and deliberation, had to be held with those who attended, contrary to all the ecclesiastical canons, customs and agreed-upon rules, proceeded with his plan and held the "Council of Crete" in the absence of four churches which constitute the majority of the world's Orthodox, just so it could be said that the council was held under him, after he started to claim that he is the head of the Orthodox Church, he proceeded to the second stage of marginalizing others and monopolizing authority along with his entourage when he abolished the role of the primates of the autocephalous churches in participating in crucial decisions relating to the universal Orthodox Church and decided to grant autocephaly to schismatics from the Church in Ukraine, contrary to all ecclesiastical canons and despite the rejection and fierce opposition to this from a majority of them.

After the "Council of Crete", where less than one quarter of the world's Orthodox bishops were invited to the proceedings, was turned into a "great Orthodox council", contrary to all ecclesiastical logic, Constantinople's court theologians began taking pride in justifying something that cannot be justified and started to distort the nature of conciliarity and to disavow their own earlier writings and positions about ecclesiology and councils. From there, the crisis of authoritarianism and the absence of the conciliarity in the Church moved to the local churches, especially the Greek ones, which do not dare to confront the Phanar. Thus the Patriarch of Alexandria, after renouncing his positions on the Ukrainian issue, recognized Epifany without a conciliar decision. He was followed by the Archbishop of Greece, who snuck in the same decision, contrary to his synod's Internal Statutes. Finally, the Archbishop of Cyrprus recently ignored the opinion of his Holy Synod and proceeded, against its recommendations, to commemorate Epifany.

On the basis of the above, it is possible to say that Greek-speaking Orthodoxy, apart from the voices of a small number of bishops, has come to practically disavow Orthodoxy conciliarity, which holds:

- that all the world's bishops are invited to an ecumenical council and make decisions on the basis of a majority of those present.

- that its presidency is not monopolized by a particular bishop, but rather the council chooses its president.

- that a patriarch or archbishop is not the ruler of his church and does not control its decision-making. He is the one who implements the decisions made by the council which meets with its president.

The Greek-speaking churches have made it clear that they all submit to the opinion of the Patriarch of Constantinople and support him even if he is wrong. No doubt, with the majority of bishops who are today defending the Phanar's behavior, they have departed from Orthodox conciliar thinking and have approached an Ottoman system that requires them to line up behind the opinion of the millet-başı.

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 Antonios (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