Sunday, September 17, 2023

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on the Jesus Prayer

Arabic original here.

The Jesus Prayer

"Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:23-24).

In the Bible, the name is seen and experienced as the presence of God Himself. The name holds a twofold power: on the one hand, feeling the living God , and on the other, knowing Him.

Jesus' name indicates the incarnation:

Before all else, the name 'Jesus' indicates the reason for God's coming in the flesh for our salvation. By taking on our nature, God shows that it is possible for us to also become sons of God. The name 'Jesus' means 'God is the Savior'.

God said to Moses that His name is 'I Am': great is the name of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus is the God-Man. He brings both together in His person and through Him it became possible for us to reach the Father.

Can man ask for anything more than that?

When the personal God, I Am, is revealed to us, the fundamental difference between Him and various deviations like yoga, Buddhism and even Transcendental Meditation, is revealed.

Of course, when our minds are turned away from every image, it is possible for meditation to grant us a sense of rest, peace and liberation from time and place.

But there is no sense of standing before a personal god.

This can lead to a state where the person who practices meditation comes to be content with the psychological results of such experiences.

In this way it turns one away from the living God in order to focus on that "nothingness".

The hesychastic technical method:

The one praying tries, by repeating Jesus' name, to connect the intellect to the heart.

This is after he has already focused on conforming his daily life to Christ's commandments.

The one praying takes an appropriate bodily posture, reciting the prayer while his head is bent towards his chest, taking a breath at the words "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God," and exhaling at the words "have mercy on me a sinner."

In this way, he can keep his focus from wandering.

This method makes it possible for the one praying to keep his attention focused on the heart without resorting to psychosomatic methods.

Nevertheless, it is not possible to acquire true prayer through this technique because this only comes through faith and repentance.

The important thing is that we focus our attention on the name of Jesus Christ and on the words of the prayer.

When you feel the pain of sin crying out, the intellect naturally turns to the heart.

The full form of the Jesus Prayer is, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."

Finally, when prayer becomes an automatic movement, it becomes fixed in the heart without any effort.

After the mind has become focused and at rest, prayer brings blessings. It comes like a delicate flame within us, like inspiration from the Most High, like joy in the heart with a feeling of divine love, delighting the intellect with spiritual contemplation.


Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Friday, September 15, 2023

Maria Mavroudi: Byzantine Translations from Arabic into Greek (Open Access)

Maria Mavroudi, "Byzantine Translations from Arabic into Greek: Old and New Historiography in Confluence and in Conflict," Journal of Late Antique, Islamic and Byzantine Studies 2.1-2 (2023): 215-288.


Scholarly demand to re-evaluate underappreciated cultures has grown since the 1980s. This generated a call to re-write the nineteenth-century narrative on the transmission of knowledge from the ancient Near East to the Graeco-Roman, Islamic, Western medieval, and early modern European world. The paper surveys the modern study of Byzantine translations from Arabic into Greek in order to propose a new narrative frame, no longer linear but attentive to continuous and bi-directional contact between medieval civilisations. The paper offers the contact between Byzantium and various parts of the Islamic world as an example. It discusses the presumed insularity of Byzantine literary culture and its relationship with ancient Greek literary heritage. Problems of dating, localising, and socially contextualising the translations (through information on their authors and patrons) are also examined.

The entire article can be read and downloaded in open access here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Jad Ganem: Two New Saints

 Arabic original here.

Two New Saints

During the divine liturgy that he celebrated for the Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God at the Monastery of Saydnaya, His Beatitude Patriarch John X announced that the Holy Synod of Antioch will discuss at its next regular session declaring the sainthood of the hieromartyr Fr Nicholas Khashsha and his son, the hieromartyr Habib Khashsha, two Damascene priests who were martyred for the faith in the last century.

As a layman, Fr Nicholas was an activist for returning the Patriarchate of Antioch, which had been under Greek domination since the Melkite Catholic schism, to Arab control and was active in establishing and developing schools for the community. He was then ordained to the priesthood, where he served the Archdiocese of Damascus. Patriarch Meletios (al-Doumani) then delegated him as his vicar for the Diocese of Mersin, whose bishop, Alexander (Tahhan) had abandoned it because of its poverty and the disturbances it was experiencing. In Mersin, Fr Nicholas succeeded in reuniting its dispersed flock and caring for and strengthening the faithful, who were subjected to various forms of persecution and ethnic cleansing. The Turkish authorities grew frustrated with Fr Nicholas and arrested him on the basis of slander against him, then tortured him until he was martyred.

Habib, the eldest son of Fr Nicholas, followed in his father's footsteps. Despite his success in business, he decided to be ordained to the priesthood and served as a priest in Damascus and Cairo. His service was distinguished by a life of prayer, devotion to shepherding the faithful with love and self-sacrifice, and his closeness to the poor, who he cared for like he cared for his own family, feeding them with their food and the money that his brothers sent to help them because of his poverty. His life was crowned with a martyric death on Mount Hermon, where smugglers beat him to death because he was a Christian priest, fulfilling his desire to imitate his father.

The faithful have passed down the stories of these two priests and they remain alive in the memory of Antioch because "their blood has attested that the Holy Spirit is in them and because though love they have transcended the barrier of the earthly body and become figures of light." Today, if the Holy Synod decides to declare their sainthood, it is "in obedience to the One of whom they have become worthy."

By declaring their sainthood, the Holy Synod places before the flock and the faithful, at this difficult time, the image of a married priest to whom the Church entrusted the task of shepherding a diocese whose bishop had refused to shepherd it and fled it when its resources became scarce and it started to face difficulties. He shepherded it as though it were his little family. He and his sons lived in it and among its people and he died for it. The Holy Synod also puts forward the image of the son who abandoned worldly success in order to imitate his father and become a shepherd of souls, serving the poor as though they were a little family and dividing his sustenance and that of his family with them. He served them as though they were his masters, not caring about money or worrying about the future, but relying on the mercy and generosity of God, who crowned his life with the crown of martyrdom.

Perhaps, by its effort to declare the sainthood of the hieromartyrs Fathers Nicholas and Habib, following the declaration of the sainthood of the hieromartyr Joseph of Damascus, the Holy Synod desires to emphasize that sanctity is not limited to monks, but rather also exists outside of monasteries, and that the family which is sincerely committed to Christ is also just as much a locus of sancity as anywhere else.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Asad Rustom on the Era of Patriarch Cyril al-Za'im (III): Euthymius al-Sayfi

Translated from: Asad Rustum, Kanisat Madinat Allah Antakya al-'Uzma [The Church of the Great City of God Antioch], Jounieh: Editions St. Paul (1988), vol. 3, pp. 111-119.

Part I here.

Part II here.

Rome completes its mission: Athanasius kept to the truce and was unable to return to the patriarchal see, so Rome undertook to complete its plan and in 1697 the attention of the Jesuit priest Verseau was drawn to Balamand Monastery because he was familiar with the monks and "the schism has a great affair there because they all belong to the Rum millet." Fr Verseau repeatedly attempted to enter Balamand in order to expound on the Catholic faith, but he failed. Then two disciples of the Jesuit fathers felt the monastic calling and chose Balamand as their place to serve God, "and Fr Verseau started to visit them and guide them, warning about the danger in that monastery." It was then confirmed that they were firm in their Catholicism and so he took them on as a tool for Roman propaganda among the monks. He increased his visits to the monastery and became acquainted with all the monks, taking part in the monastery's gatherings without any impediment. "In order to please them all," he praised Saint Basil the Great and read accounts of him to them. He then put into the hands of his two friends books by Fr Clisson and Fr Nau. In 1704, five of the monks of Balamand sent a petition to the Congregation de Propaganda Fide that included the following:

"We present to Your Resplendent Majesty that we are your servants, numbering five people from the millet of the Arab Rum, monks of the path of Saint Basil the Great, who were reared from our childhood in the Catholic religion, always submitting to the Supreme Pontiff, His All-Holiness. Nevertheless, in these lands we have not found the freedom to perfect the way of life for salvation of the soul as is necessary in monasticism due to the country's lack of stability and the rule of the nations over it and the disorder of the monasteries and monks. We have presented our situation to Your Resplendent Majesty so that if you decree and command us, we will come before you about this matter. We ask that you grant us, out of the charity of the Holy Church, a humble place where we may take refuge alone, either in Rome or outside it and for you to grant us there the necessary food and ascetic drink sufficient for the body and nothing else, so that we may serve God in our place as much as possible and pray for Your Resplendent Majesty.

Balamand, in the region of Tripoli of Syria on November 1, 1704. Your servant, the hieromonk Macarius. Your servant, the hieromonk Gerasimus. Your pitiful servant, the hieromonk Hanania. Your pitiful servant the hieromonk Nasrallah. Your servant the hierodeacon George."

The Monastery of Saint John, Choueir: At this very moment, two young men from Aleppo arrived at Balamand, desiring to practice chastity and asceticism. Father Nasrallah from Aleppo advised them "to go to Mount Lebanon and search for an empty place. Afterwards, we will come to you and make a canonical monastic order, because in this monastery one cannot live in freedom of faith because in it there are recalcitrant people and associating with them is not beneficial." They heeded his advice and went and found a monastery called Mar Yuhanna al-Choueir, and sent them news about it.

This monastery was humble in the beginning, only containing a small church named after John the Baptist and a humble room that was home to an ascetic from the Sawaya family of Choueir. Choueir was suffering from a feud between its two big families, the Maja'is and the Sawaya. When the dispute arose between the two patriarchs, Athanasius and Cyril, one group sided with the former and the other with the latter. The Maja'is supported Cyril, so the Sawaya decided to support Athanasius. The Maja'is won over the majority of the families of Choueir and the Sawaya were prevented from praying in the Church of Our Lady, the village church, so they began to pray in the Church of Saint John mentioned above. In this way, the Monastery of Saint John is not named merely after its being found in the area of Choueir, but also after the Choueirite ascetic who founded it and his Choueirite family members who made its church their place of worship, defending those monks claiming obedience to Rome who took refuge there.

Rome's Only Man: One of the individuals in obedience to Rome, submitting to its bishop, was Euthymius al-Sayfi, metropolitan of Tyre and Sidon (1682-1723). He was born in Damascus around the year 1643 with the name Mikhail ibn Musa al-Sayfi, growing up there. He studied in the community's school at the patriarchal residence and received special attention from the priest Jirjis Bariq, imbibing Catholicism from his youth. This priest Jirjis had traveled to Rome and adopted Catholicism there. When Mikhail was young, he frequented the monastery of the Jesuit and Capuchin fathers and they attracted him to themselves, increasing his obedience and submission. He became close with the patriarchal vicar Neophytus al-Saqizi, learning Greek and the art of Byzantine chant from him. Perhaps Neophytus himself ordained Mikhail as a deacon and then priest in 1666.

Jeremiah, the metropolitan of Tyre and Sidon died around 1680 and the Latin missionaries encouraged the Rum notables in Sidon to elect the priest Mikhail al-Sayfi. Patriarch Cyril III agreed and consecrated him as metropolitan of Tyre and Sidon in 1682, giving him the name Euthymius. The first activity that this new bishop undertook was that he hurried to send a copy of his confession of the Catholic faith to Pope Innocent XII, with the Capucin father Accursio. This father Accursio was the teacher of the new bishop's confession in Damascus. Part of what is contained in the confession is as follows:

"I have rejected the error and schism of the Rum for some time and I have confessed the Catholic faith at the hands of the missionary monks in Syria. Now, by the grace of God, I have become bishop over the See of Tyre and Sidon and I must offer the necessary obedience to you and reference to your holy see, imitating the holy fathers Athanasius the Great, John Chrystostom and all the holy fathers whom the Roman Church has received in the time of their struggle and persecution. I do not need to mention the rejection, imprisonment, humiliation, loss of money I have endured and the enmity from the Muslims, along with some of the Rum and their clergy, especially their patriarch called Cyril, on account of my confession of the Catholic faith."

The archdiocese of Tyre and Sidon was large but not very populated, so the new bishop worked to populate it by encouraging migration there. He agreed in May of 1686 with the Rum notables in Sidon to write to those Christians who were willing, to invite them to reside in Sidon. The qadi of Sidon issued a deed for this that still exists to this day. He then rebuilt the Church in Sidon with his own money and formally issued a deed for this on April 11, 1690. It is no surprise that such a deed was necessary because Islamic law forbids the construction of churches and monks' cells but permits the renovation and preservation of old ones.

The most important thing that Euthymius undertook during this initial period of his episcopacy was that he established the Salvatorian monastic order to spread the principles of union with Rome and submission to its bishop. This work started in Sidon where, before 1700, he gathered together a number of monks to live a common, canonically-ordered life with him at the Machmoucha farm near Joun. The Salvatorian priest Constantine Bacha believes that the metropolitan's disciples numbered, at the end of the 17th century, no less than ten and that they were unable to live in Sidon and its surroundings without being subject to every accusation and every hardship from the army and others, so they rented the Machmoucha farm from its owner, the qadi Sheikh Qablan, to live and work there. They did not do this for long before, by the care of the Savior, their monastery in His name was established in 1711. Euthymius composed a special rule for its monks, news of which spread among people until it reached Aleppo. His letter to a friend in Aleppo preserves some of what the Salvatorian monks practiced in the beginning and some of the principles that Euthymius had in mind. His friend, a bishop, wrote in objection to Euthymius' permitting his monks to eat oil and fish during fasts. The latter responded:

"It does not escape your knowledge, if you ponder and see the weakness and decline of the millet and its lack of the necessary knowledge and spiritual sciences. We have seen many with weak temperaments and good zeal, who had a little knowledge and wanted to have a pure life, ordered by keeping the three vows that are the foundation of all monastic orders, so that they might benefit their millet by their activity and knowledge. But they forsook entering monasticism on account of its harshness of living now among us and so fell short of completing their good intention. When I realized that this particular reason was preventing the universal good, I used the authority of binding and loosening given to me by God and His Church to issue an order, indeed to issue a compulsion, known to all on account of its being issued and entering into force. This was so that worship in this manner would be something by choice rather than compulsion. It is not as it is now, practiced by others openly and rejected by the majority in secret. Moreover, so that we would not imitate the harshness of some previous shepherds who used their authority to bind and not to loosen, nor even less should I curse rather than bless those in whom God's words through the Prophet Micah are fulfilled: 'Eat the meat of my people and break their bones.'For this reason, we see their state as they have caused great losses for this pure path and for the excellent Christian faith. My intention as well, if it so happens, is for such as these to be separated from the other monks only in their abode and means of living, and to agree with them in keeping the three vows and the rest of the other rules, since they are under the obedience of one leader. If our intention is not achieved with them, then God has proof against the stubborn."

Euthymius, Bishop of those Submitting to Rome (1702): Some of the bishops rejected the harm that had come to the Church on account of the schism and arrogance stormed in their minds, so they wrote to Euthymius around 1694 so that he would be their leader and the flock would have one shepherd. Then an understanding was reached between Athanasius and Cyril and Cyril became the sole patriarch. His heart was set on hindering the activities of the missionaries and not facilitating their interests. He refrained from sending to the sultan recognition of the priests who befriended the missionaries and worked under their guidance. Athanasius went back on what he had promised Rome at the beginning of the affair. In 1700, Clement XI (1700-1720) took charge of the See of Rome. Euthymius wrote to congratulate the new pope and renew his submission. On February 24, 1701 he composed a new letter in which he explained the situation in the Patriarchate of Antioch and requested to be the "vicar of the pope in the East" in order to give him the authority to recognize Catholic bishops outside his diocese. He mentioned the desire of the metropolitans to install him as patriarch of Antioch and he attached the document that they had signed, but he said that he had little reach and could not accept their request because he was subject to "the authority of the Muslims." Therefore he only sought "the authority of the dhimmis."

The Propaganda Fide studied Euthymius' request in a session held for this purpose on December 6, 1701 and accepted the metropolitan of Tyre and Sidon's request for a period of seven years by a decision brought before the pope. Clement XI accepted the congregation's decision and ordered that it be acted upon and the following message was sent to Euthymius:

"To sayyid Euthymius, metropolitan of Sidon and the Rum in all the Patriarchate of Antioch where there are no Catholic bishops: On Wednesday, July 19, 1702 in the regular audience of the revered father assistant, the Most Holy Father granted, according to what was presented to him, to the aforementioned petitioner these rights for a period of seven years, such that he may in no way exercise them outside the boundaries of the aforementioned patriarchate or in dioceses in which there are Catholic bishops."

The Book al-Dalala al-Lami'a (The Shining Proof, 1710): The Jesuit father Michel Nau resorted to writing in order to convince the Rum to obey and submit to Rome and during the time of the Patriarch Macarius he composed a book entitled The Argument of the Holy Roman Church for its Orthodoxy and Right Worship. The Orthodox fathers were not convinced by this, particularly the monks of the Holy Sepulcher. At the beginning of the 18th century, they translated into Arabic a letter by Zacharias, bishop of Adana, in defense of the holy traditions, explaining Rome's program and revealing the secret falsehoods of its manner of action. They then distributed it in the territory of Antioch and it was on everyone's tongues and was circulated about. On June 10, 1704, Euthymius wrote to the Propaganda Fide saying, "The schismatic members of the eparchy of Jerusalem have prepared the book of Zacharias, the bishop of Adana, which is filled with blasphemies against the opinion of the Church of Rome. They have translated it into Arabic and published it in our country, in the jurisdiction of the See of Antioch, to spread the poison that is found within it." Euthymius adds that he undertook to write a book that "elevates the honor of the Holy Roman Church and puts her opponents to shame." He asked to be supplied with the writings of John Cariafili [?] refuting Zacharias, the refutation of Neilos [Kabasilas] of Thessaloniki, books by (Cardinal) Bessarion, the metropolitan of Nicaea, the books of Demetrius Kydones, and the book of Pierre Courfois [?] about the service of the mysteries and purgatory because they were necessary for him. Euthymius sent his manuscript to Rome and it was approved by Cardinal Barberini and so "The Shining Proof between the two poles of the Universal Church, containing the agreement of the Eastern Rum Orthodox Church with the Universal, Western Church of Rome and their unity in one opinion and one Christian faith" appeared in Rome in 1710 with a subvention from the Propaganda Fide.

It was distributed and so in 1712 the oikonomos of the Church of Aleppo refuted it in a letter which, as it appears, remains in manuscript. This oikonomos was known to Euthymius as "someone with knowledge, keeping the rites of the Rum perfectly, supporting and defending them." The book al-Dalala al-Lami'a attracted the attention of the Orthodox patriarchs and metropolitans and they mention it in the excommunication that was issued in 1718 against Euthymius and those who strayed with him, because he "composed books on his own and drew on testimonies as he saw fit and attributed them to the Holy Eastern Church."

Euthymius Gets Ready: Euthymius issued commands according to whim and in September 1713 observed that "the eparchy of Antioch is good soil in need of workers" and that its patriarch, Cyril, was "a man lacking knowledge who hates the Roman Church" but he did he did not dare to offer offer obedience before the patriarchs of Constantinople and Alexandria. He believed that the bishop of Saydnaya, Gerasimus al-Shami, was "a man at God's gate, his holiness is a measure of wine and the wine remains in his cell, Christ be pleased with him;" that the bishop of Maaloula and Qara was "a recalcitrant, heretical Cypriot;" that the bishop of of Baalbek was "a Cypriot with good intentions, if God blesses him with a teacher he might agree with everything we want;" that the bishop of Homs was "hapless in religion and this world;" that the bishop of Hamat was "a Cypriot strong in unbelief and in insulting the religion of the Church and of us. For two years, he has been present with us in activities of his. We honored him and gave him abundant charity and advised him as much as possible. From that day, he ceased the insults but he remains in his unbelief;" that the metropolitan of Beirut "previously believed in the Church and honored and glorified the Church of Rome. For this reason, we conferred upon him some charitable support and invited him to Sidon. We explained to him the shortcomings and the error that has befallen the Church of the Rum after the schism;" that regarding the bishop of Tripoli "some of the missionary monks have testified that he is Catholic, but I have not discerned any signs of Catholicism in him. Perhaps he had confessed the truth under the influence of a certain hope and when the hope was lost, he returned like a dog to his vomit;" that the metropolitan of Lattakia was a "heretical Chiot, ignorant of religion. He barks and snaps with heresy without being aware of it;" that regarding the Patriarch of Aleppo [i.e., Athanasius Dabbas] "he is known in Rome as a Catholic and is known to me as a climber [? مساقل ];" that the metropolitan of Adana was "an insolent Cypriot, an enemy of God and His Church;" that the metropolitan of Diyarbakir was likewise a Cypriot, that the metropolitan of Erzerum was from its eyalet and the metropolitan of Cyprus was from the eyalet of Erzerum. It is well-known that this traffic was widespread at that time and existed on both sides.

In this way, Euthymius, Rome's only bishop in the dioceses of Antioch, attempted to attract bishops to Catholicism with methods that might not all be legitimate. As for the Jacobites, attracting them was far-off in his view "and would be more attainable through force." Here it should be remarked that true unity is not achieved through money and force, but through the Holy Spirit and love, which does not seek for itself and does not think ill, but takes its time, accompanies, trusts and is patient.

Bp Constantine Kayyal: The Rich Young Man

Arabic original here.

The Rich Young Man

"What should I do to inherit eternal life?" This is the question that every person who aspires to a good life asks, in order to attain the crown of holiness.

The young man in today's Gospel reading is no different from other young men who wish to live a good life, and this desire and longing for a good life is planted in us because we were created in the image and likeness of God.

This is because Jesus waits for all of us. No matter what questions, cares and worries we bear, He wants to hear them with love. He is neither a psychiatrist nor an ethics professor, but rather Lord and Savior, because He is all love and only gives love.

Since doing good deeds and works of mercy does not in itself mean avoiding sin, you must go beyond all these things and follow Jesus, who waits for you. You must become free of your concern for yourself, of your selfishness, of every earthly thing, follow your Teacher and be a living bridge that connects God and people.

Here Jesus focuses on the commandments that order our relationship to our neighbor, among them worship, which requires two things: the first is with regard to God and the second with regard to the neighbor.

In order to proceed towards the kingdom, you must be free of fornication and preserve your life and the life of your neighbor. Otherwise, you are infringing on another's possession. You must be committed to the orphan and honor your parents and support them. The young man responded:

"I have done all this since my childhood. What do I still lack?"

So Jesus said to him, "Sell everything you have and come follow me."

That means, get rid of everything and follow the Lord. Join Him and commit to the path of perfection. But on account of his heart's attachment to what his hands possessed, the young man went away sad.

Therefore, live a life of giving, so that you may feel true happiness. Do not be like this young man who was attached to his wealth. Trust that everything is possible with God and He alone is able to help you, support you and lift you up to Himself.

Yes! The young man went away sad like any person living on earth, while the Christian is a person created for heaven. It is true that the Christian lives on earth, but he is not of the people of the earth. He is a heavenly person born from above, born in water and the Spirit. His concern is heaven and his mind is on heaven.

His faith is translated into good deeds that benefit others so that he may inherit eternal life. But here we must be aware that we do not inherit eternal life while we are sitting in our places, but rather when we are active and act in love, because the kingdom of heaven does not come to us ready-made. The kingdom is taken by force and we must rightly deserve it.

This is eternal life. It is not in obeying the laws and rules and keeping the divine commandments, for the Ten Commandments have no value if word is not attached to deed and if man is not the purpose for which these commandments exit.

Dear reader, always remember the Lord's words in his famous Sermon on the Mount, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Our only treasure is not in banks, in income or in possessions, but rather in heaven. This treasure is good works, mercy and love for one's neighbor. It is faith in God and acting according to His will so that we may inherit the desired kingdom.

Bishop Constantine Kayyal

Abbot of the Patriarchal Monastery of Saint Elias, Shwayya

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Fr Jack (Khalil): The Transfiguration in the Teaching of the Apostle Peter

 Arabic original here.

The Event of the Transfiguration in the Teaching of the Apostle Peter

We read in the first chapter of the Second Epistle of the Apostle Peter a passage that summarizes our steadfast faith in the Lord Jesus as God and Savior and how we act according to His calling us and choosing us to be a chosen people and holy nation for Him.

God has promised us that in His kingdom we will be partakers of the divine nature and He has given us everything for life in knowledge of Christ.

On the basis of this profound knowledge and deeply-rooted faith, we flee the corruption of lust which is in this world, we expend every effort and offer in our faith virtue (2 Peter 4-5) so that we may bear fruit for the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Peter does not stop reminding the faithful of the necessity of remaining steadfast in virtue and truth.

Truth, in the language of the Bible, is God's will, which we do not disappoint if we rely on it as the path for our life.

The Apostle is eager to remind because he feels the approach of his departure from this world and the end of his mission of sharing the good news of what he witnessed with his own eyes and heard himself from Christ.

The Apostle had already informed them verbally of his having beheld the greatness and glory of Christ-- that is, His divinity-- but he repeats the account of the transfiguration that he witnessed on the holy mountain in the company of James and John, because of the importance he attaches to this event on a personal level.

We thank God that we have in this passage an additional narrative of  the Transfiguration alongside the narrative of the Gospels, which makes for multiple testimonies, confirming the historicity of this event according to the standards of historians.

Nevertheless, believers do not need every letter written about Jesus to be confirmed, "for prophecy never came by the will of man," as the Apostle Peter says.

The event of Christ's divinity showing forth before the eyes of His apostles is a sign of power and proof of the never-ending life in Him.

The Apostle Peter looks at this event as a lamp shining forth in a dark place. That is, he walks in life following the light of this event, until daybreak.

Followers of Christ in every time and place must remember these things in order to struggle in virtue and persevere in truth.

The showing forth of Christ's divinity, His cross and His resurrection from the dead, unlike Greek mythology and the mythologies of ancient peoples, are not "fabricated myths" where we do not know who saw them or who reported them. Rather, they are established events that were witnessed and reported by servants of the word and eyewitnesses to them.

We believe that "holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" and they reported the glory that they saw and the voice of the Father which they heard, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased."

This beloved Son is the truth in which we abide by faith, love and virtue.

Archimandrite Jack (Khalil)

Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology-- Balamand

Monday, August 21, 2023

Fr Alexander Treiger: The Macarian Homilies and Maximus the Confessor as Sources of al-Firdaws al-ʿaqlī (The Noetic Paradise)

 The Macarian Homilies and Maximus the Confessor as Sources of al-Firdaws al-ʿaqlī (The Noetic Paradise)


Al-Firdaws al-ʿaqlī (The Noetic Paradise) is an anonymous patristic treatise on spiritual life, which, as far as currently known, is lost in the original Greek and preserved only in Arabic. The purpose of the present contribution is to explore two of the principal sources of the Firdaws: the Macarian Homilies and the writings of St. Maximus the Confessor. This source-critical examination is a crucial preliminary step towards contextualizing the Firdaws and determining more precisely the location and time of its composition.


Read and download the full article here. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Fr Touma (Bitar): Holiness and Sainthood: Fr Elias Morcos

 Arabic original here.

Holiness and Sainthood: Fr Elias Morcos

A saint isn't someone without sin. So he is not a "good person". The Teacher already affirmed that no one is good except for God! A saint is a repentant sinner. In repentance, there are two fundamental things:

A repentant person is someone who is aware of and knows his sin, not only those that he previously committed, but also those that he is committing now. This means that sin is not limited to a certain act, a certain idea, or even disobedience to a certain commandment. Sin is a continuous existential state. Man lives in sin so long as he does not live in love! Of course, sins can appear in deviant behavior, a stray thought, a distorted sense or things like this.

But what does it mean for sin to be a continuous existential state? The inner being is the heart. It is man's central point. It is what makes a person himself. It is you. It is yourself. Your identity is present in it. It is your spirit. It is the deepest thing in you, out of which your intention and all your purposes come, what defines your goals, to which everything returns, as though it squeezes out the sap of everything that comes to you, with or without your awareness. Thus the focus of the light within you is the existential state that you are in.

Sin, as a constant existential state, exposes that God's love is not within you. Perhaps it does not expose you in front of people, but it exposes you in front of your Lord, first and last. Despite this, if I ask, existentially, "What is my sin?," you have the only true answer: there is no love in me! I do not mean by this that I do not love, but that God's love "is not in me" so that I may love with God's love. And if I do not love with God's love, then my love-- if I claim it-- is for myself and from myself and thus is a shortcoming.

But how can I discern whether my love is from God or from myself?

So long as my love is from myself, I feel as though I have achieved my goal and come to be without sin. But if my love is from God, I experience in the deepest and most painful way what sin is. Sin appears to me as harm to the beloved! My sin, whether yesterday or now, is set up before me, at every time and in every situation. Or, in the words of the Prophet David, "My sin is always before me." It is only within this framework that the reality of the Chosen Apostle Paul's words may be understood: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first" (1 Timothy 1:15).

It is worth pointing out that the recollection of sin does not stop with forgiveness, but becomes more painful the more one grows in the love of God. Nothing is more painful than to wound the beloved! This, by your Lord's dispensation, is so that one will not forget his sin, so he will not return to it. God forgives, of course, but He does not forget and He does not want us to forget... for our own good!

The second fundamental thing with regard repentance is that repentance is more than return from sin, whatever that sin may be. Repentance is a constant path in which one seeks God's love in obedience. One does not seek only to repent, but all the more so, one seeks to be repentant. If one sins, one returns from his sin. But if one is repentant, then he constantly seeks love as his own breath.

How can obedience in the relationship with God make love grow? Obedience is the path of effacement for the sake of the beloved, so that he may appear within us. Not my will, but thy will! This is the mystery of perfect existence in perfect self-concealment. Your face, O Lord, I seek! My existence comes to be in you, not in myself. You become the object of my desire. It is you that I seek. This is the mystery of God! The mystery of love! The mystery of His being love! The mystery of the Holy Trinity! Man was created to be an icon of this mystery. Therefore, obedience is greater, in a certain sense, than love. Not love as existence that creates, but love as an unseen existence, completely hidden, in which you seek not yourself, but Him, your Lord. If this were not the case, then "Life for me is Christ" would not mean that obedience is the desire for unity in the Spirit. Not for Christ or in Christ, but Christ Himself! "I in them and You in Me... just as You, O Father, are in Me and I in You."

Obedience in sin is subservience, estrangement, dominance, oppression, something repulsive! While obedience in love is something else entirely: trust, certainty, surrender, and then peace, joy, the realization of existence and eternal life.

So a saint is a model of repentance!

Is Fr Elias (Morcos) a saint in this sense?

Canonically, this is in principle declared by the Holy Synod of Antioch. And this is the tradition as it has come down to us.

Nevertheless, in the deep sense of holiness, without the slightest doubt Fr Elias is a saint.

Four things bear witness to his repentance: his tears, his prayer, his poverty and his love. Assuredly, his tears permeated everything. He acquired them through struggle and toil, through putting his sin and shortcoming before himself at all times, through putting himself below others, forcefully, and then, through his persistence! It does not escape me that he acquired him first of all by God's grace. It is no exaggeration to say that no one crosses the threshold of the kingdom without tears. These are not the tears of emotions or what belongs to the soul and body. These are existential tears. The deep inner heart is in pain: for oneself, for others, for God Himself because we do not love Him enough! For His love, for His kindness, for His gentleness. One who does not cry for God does not know Him!

Among the sayings of St Isaac the Syrian: "He who is able to weep for himself for an hour is greater than one who teaches the entire universe. And he who discerns the depth of his infirmities is greater than one who beholds the angels."

Fr Elias wept as he breathed. He stood at prayer and tears welled up. They flowed quietly. He heard of someone's pain and wept. Like this, automatically. Spontaneously. Without effort. With ease, his heart ached.

He would laugh, joke, chat and play like children then, after a few moments, if he stood to pray or if someone asked him to pray for them, he would find himself in a different existential state and would weep. Strange! His tears were always present. Like something normal in his daily habits. He would appear like everyone and at the same time it was as though, in his being, he was easily moved on another level, steadily, like someone who had no connection to what was around him.

And what should I say about his prayer? His tears revealed the identity of his prayer. He prayed like someone going out from the world into the world. Prayer was always his desired dwelling-place. He was aware that a son of Adam is called to become an instrument of prayer. His concern was not with the form of the prayer, but with standing, in the heart, before the Most High. For him, being a monk is for praying. Prayer was the groundwater of all reading, writing, working, thinking, sowing, building and relationship that he undertook. He wept to pray and prayed to weep. The value of everything that came or was brought to him was for it to be a source of prayer and a scope for prayer. Therefore, his eye was not on anything but to abide in God's eye.

If I had to talk about his poverty, I would say one thing about it: According to him, wherever there was a trace of a possession, there was no place for a monk or for God in his heart. His ragged sock stayed ragged for years. As for the broken chair and the shaky table, he did not think to repair them and was not even feel that there was anything strange about them being in the condition they were in. Nothing here was what he was seeking. "Your face, O Lord, I seek." He accepted everything with its faults and didn't pay attention. According to the image of his Teacher, he wanted to be: "You are of this world but I am not of this world." He accepted. He didn't seek anything. He was content with everything. When he was given, he took. If he was not given, he did not seek. He gave. Things were asked of him or were not asked of him. A little or a lot had the same value for him. Poverty, with him, is concealed by silence. It is not an object of study, but an ordinary part of life with God.

And his love? His heart broke over people's pain, suffering and hardship. In contrast to the monastic way of life, he sought to visit and console people. He would go from house to house. Friendship for him was a holy obligation. He did not avoid what other people considered to be an annoyance. His prayer motivated him to be with people, not to avoid people. The time, for him, was a time of suffering and people need consolation.

Fr Elias was a monk, but not necessarily like other monks in his style. He combined strictness in how he treated himself with compassion for people and animals. He was free in his conscience, easy in his affections. He was not harsh with anyone. He was very merciful. He did not burden anyone by causing him to feel sin. His purpose was to lighten people's loads.

Most of what Fr Elias taught me is that the Lord is near and that it is always possible for you to start anew. But let know one injure the beloved! The pain of sin is in its seed. Your Lord weeps for you! The important thing, O servant, is not to hurt yourself.

Fr Elias was an outstanding teacher, a school of the heart. Therefore, he appeared in my eyes as the image of Antioch, formed by the convolutions of these lands.

Do not forget us, Abouna Elias, even if we have forgotten you! Your prayer is our provision.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan the Athonite-- Douma, Lebanon

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Monday, August 7, 2023

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Transfiguration

 Arabic original here.

The Transfiguration

Christ's human nature was transfigured with the light of the divinity dwelling within Him.

The eyes of the apostles' hearts were opened by the Holy Spirit so that they could see Christ's divinity on His human face.

Today we too can see the face of Christ shining through the mysteries of the Church-- the Eucharist, for example-- and even through the face of our neighbor. This is because our neighbor is also a member in Christ's body, the Church.

There is also, of course, the Bible. Through it, we can discover the face of Christ, if we read it through the lens of the Holy Spirit.

In the Bible, there are lights in Paul's Epistles and in the Psalms, for example. In it, and also in the depths of our heart, we discover the luminous face. It says in the Epistle of the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:19):

"We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts."

The dark place is this world in which we live and the Bible is none other than the luminous lamp which is the face of Christ. The morning star is Christ Himself, the sun of justice made manifest within us.

Saint Silouan says, "Humility is the light through which we can see the true light."

Saint Irenaeus in the second century also says, "The vision of God and His glory is man's perfect life." God created us so that we might see His face. This is the purpose of creation. The purpose of the economy of salvation is for us to see God's eternal face.

On Mount Tabor, the apostles beheld the light of divinity on Christ's face, which caused them to realize the mystery of the cross, to realize that the cross is the path or resurrection for Christ and for us.

Which means that it is within our ability, even in this present life, to have a foretaste of seeing the Lord's eternal face.

The great joy that lies in seeing God is the uncreated light.


Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Hasan Çolak: When a Catholic is invested as the Orthodox patriarch of Antioch (Open-Access)

Hasan Çolak, "When a Catholic is invested as the Orthodox patriarch of Antioch: Serafeim/Kyrillos Tanas and the Ottoman central administration in 1745," Collectanea Christiana Orientalia 20 (2023): 29-55.


While a lot has been written on the earlier phases of the Antiochian Schism of 1724, the rivalry between Serafeim/Kyrillos Tanas and Silvestros in the 1740s is mostly noted in passing. This article introduces the unpublished and often-ignored Ottoman documents relating to Kyrillos’ brief tenure, most notably his berat of investiture preserved in the Ottoman Archives. The article has three major purposes: First, it establishes a solid chronological context, which adds a more global nature to this episode. Second, by contextualizing the episode with special focus on the Ottoman dynamics, it searches for the major reasons for Kyrillos’ appointment by the Ottoman administration through a discussion of his discourse presenting himself as a reliable partner with the Porte. Third, it analyzes Kyrillos’ unpublished berat in comparison with the earlier and later berats and a contemporary French translation preserved in the Archives nationales in Paris.
Read and download the entire article here.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Asad Rustom on the Era of Patriarch Cyril al-Za'im (II)

Translated from: Asad Rustum, Kanisat Madinat Allah Antakya al-'Uzma [The Church of the Great City of God Antioch], Jounieh: Editions St. Paul (1988), vol. 3, pp. 106-111

 Part I here.

Part III here.

The beginning of the Jesuit mission: Rome continued to demand unity of the Church by means of submission and obedience to a single bishop, which it considered to be the "bishop of bishops". It sharpened its desire for this unity, according to her resolution at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), and started to prepare for it. In 1553, it issued a bull for the establishment of three colleges in Jerusalem, Constantinople and Cyprus. In 1576 Gregory XIII established the Greek College of St Athanasius in Rome and in 1584 a college for the Maronites was also established in Rome. France set as one of its chief objectives in the Middle East the protection of the "Catholic religion" in the lands of Islam, revealing the concern of its followers to "bring the schismatic Christians back into obedience."

Urban VIII wished to take advantage of the friendship that existed between France and the Ottoman Empire, so he opened discussions with the government of Louis XIII about bringing "schismatic" Christians back into obedience. It agreed with him, and so he issued an order to the Carmelites, Capuchins and Jesuits to send their priests to the Near East, especially Syria, to bring its Christians back into obedience. Louis XIII ordered these missionaries to go and wrote to his ambassador in the Ottoman capital, de Césy, who in turn issued the order to the consuls of France in Alexandria, Sidon, Damascus and Aleppo. The missionaries began their activities in Aleppo, the most important city of Syria and Lebanon at that time, as well as the closest to Asia Minor and Iraq. In the years 1625-1627, they established there centers for their activities, in cooperation with the Franciscans, benefiting from their long experience and advice. They then went out from Aleppo and were active in Damascus, Sidon, Tripoli, Chios, Smyrna and Naxos. "They practiced medicine for free and meddled in the affairs of bishops and priests. They frequented Orthodox churches and the homes of Christians, feigning love, meekness and unity of faith, spreading the idea among ordinary people that their beliefs were Orthodox, no different in any way whatsoever from the beliefs of the Eastern Church, apart from a few unimportant issues. They defended many things in Eastern dogma and ritual that today the Westerners consider to be errors. They publicly declared that they rejected the most important dogmas held by the non-Orthodox. This is what led Patriarch Euthymius IV al-Saqizi to house some of them in the patriarchal residence." He permitted them to teach members of the community, to offer the sacrament of confession in Orthodox churches and to visit the homes of Christians.

These missionaries sowed the sees of their teachings through the sacrament of confession. They did not ask of the simple, ordinary masses of Orthodox believers anything more than the faith of their fathers and the decisions of the councils, but they spoke openly with educated people in specific circumstances, compelling them to return from error. Here is what one of the Jesuit fathers said in 1650 about his method for attracting souls:

"When an Orthodox comes to confess with us, we ask him if he believes what the Greek fathers-- Basil, Athanasius, Gregory and Chrysostom-- taught and he responds 'yes'. Then we ask him whether he repudiates and anathematizes every teaching that is not in agreement with what those holy fathers taught, and he responds 'yes'. Since their Creed only differs from our Creed by the word "and the Son" and since we regard this word as merely an explanation of the Creed, we ask him whether or not he understands the Creed as the fathers of the Church and the holy councils understood it, and he responds 'yes'. Then he recites the Creed and we absolve him. All the intelligent, rational Orthodox confess the primacy of the Pope because they read in their books how Chrysostom took refuge with the Pope during his time of trial and how the Pope returned him to his see, excommunicating the emperor and empress. They then deduce that the Orthodox and the emperor himself submitted to the Pope during the era of Chrysostom."

In this way, while the Orthodox leaders were quarreling and dividing the community, these Latin missionaries were working to draw hearts and minds toward Rome and its pope. The ambassadors and consuls of the Catholic countries did everything in their power to support them with the means to implement Rome's desire to make Catholics.

Athanasius IV [in modern reckoning, III] (1686-1694): The Archdiocese of Aleppo was widowed and its children began in earnest to seek a worthy clergyman. The Latin missionaries were interested in the matter and directed their gaze to Jerusalem, pointing to Procopius, abbot of the monastery of Bethlehem. Procopius (or Paisius) was born in Damascus to Orthodox parents. He grew up there with the name Paul al-Dabbas and studied with the Jesuit fathers, emulating their faith. Embarking on adult life, he practiced the trade of weaving for some time. He was good-looking and "was afraid of being enticed by wicked people" and so left Damascus for Jerusalem to consecrate himself to God. He took the schema at the Monastery of Saint Saba, mastering the Greek language and religious sciences. He was ordained as a priest, then appointed abbot of the monastery of the Greeks in Bethlehem. He came into contact with the Franciscan friars "and among them renewed and consolidated his Roman faith after his laxity in frequenting the schismatics" [both quotes from a work by the contemporary Maronite Archbishop of Aleppo Germanus Farhat]. Lay notables from Aleppo went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, getting into contact with the missionaries' candidate and finding him meek, jovial, mastering the religious sciences and well-versed in both Arabic and Greek. They sought his election as bishop of Aleppo and convinced him to leave the monastery and accompany them there, passing through Damascus to be consecrated on the way. When they reached Damascus and discussed the matter with Patriarch Cyril, he agreed at first and then declined. He detested the Aleppines and so the Franciscans acted, "wanting to establish Procopius as patriarch of Antioch because of his holding the holy Roman faith, in place of Cyril, who was a schismatic. So they worked for this and set him up as patriarch by order of the sultan" [ibid.]. Procopius had an uncle whose name was Mikhail Tarazi, who was one of the local notables, and he went to Constantinople bearing a petition signed by the notables of the community in Aleppo and letters of recommendation from some of the consuls of the Frankish countries in Aleppo to their ambassadors in Constantinople. When he arrived there, he presented his papers to the synod and so the synod deposed Cyril and issued to Procopius the decrees from the sultan as was the custom. The uncle returned to Damascus and informed the governor and the qadi of the sultan's decrees. At the time, Cyril was touring his diocese, and so Procopius' consecration as patriarch of Antioch took place in his absence on Wednesday, August 25, 1686, in the presence of three metropolitans: Leontius, metropolitan of Saidnaya; Joasaph, metropolitan of Nablus; and the metropolitan of Hawran. He took the name Athanasius. When news of this reached Cyril, he wrote to the capital and requested decrees and a berat from the sultan, entered Damascus and took possession of the patriarch's residence. As for Athanasius, he resided in the metochion of Mar Mikhail and then moved to Aleppo.

On April 10, 1687, Athanasius wrote to the ambassador of France in Constantinople, stating that he grew up Catholic in Damascus thanks to the Jesuit Fathers and that a few months previously he had sent his Catholic confession of faith to the Pope in the care of the Franciscans. He then asks the ambassador to be under the protection of the king of France, to receive this protection at the necessary time and to enjoy this protections whenever he asks for it. He adds that he seeks to keep an eye out on his opponents, the opponents of the Roman Church, and to prevent them from causing harm to him at the Sublime Porte.

Athanasius' Catholic confession of faith was written on July 4, 1686, seven weeks before becoming patriarch. It is entitled "The Confession of Athanasius, Patriarch of Antioch for the Community of the Rum" and here are some excerpts, as taken from the book of the [Catholic] priest Constantine Basha, History of the Melkite Community, translating from the original that is kept in Rome:

"I firmly believe and hold everything contained in the articles of faith used in the Holy Roman Church... then [I confess] the Fourth Council of Constantinople which is the eighth general council. I believe that Photius was repudiated there and was justly and truly judged and that Saint Ignatius took his place on the See of Constantinople....  [I confess] the Council of Florence and I believe everything defined at it, namely that the Holy Spirit is eternal from the Father and the Son and that He Himself remains together with the Father and the Son forever that He proceeds from both as from one principle and one breath. For this reason, the phrase 'and the Son' was necessarily and truly put in the Creed in order to explain this great and necessary truth... Now, freely and gladly, with all my heart I believe it and I truly and honestly hold it, free of blame until my life's last breath, firmly with the help of God almighty. I preserve and confess it and seek for it to be held, taught and preached by those who are under my jurisdiction and who are in the flock subject to me. I, Athanasius, Patriarch of Antioch for the Rum community promise, declare and swear, may God help me, by the holy Gospels, praise be to God always."

Evils and strife arose, with some taking the side of one and some the other. Each excommunicated the other. On June 6, 1687 Rome recognized Athanasius as Patriarch of Antioch "despite the irregularities surrounding his election" and "Sylvester Dahhan was appointed as bishop of Beirut, with the idea that he would be installed by Athanasius. And he said, 'Our patriarch is a Frank and I do not wish for my episcopacy to be by his hand." [This latter quote is from the Chronicle of the Metropolitans of Beirut].

This split resulted in great losses, upheavals and disturbances. Some bishops and local notables threatened to elect a third patriarch. "Athanasius was greatly saddened by these events and by the expenses of administration. He desired peace and calm for the Church and so he conceded to Cyril in October of 1694" [this is a quote from Athanasius' own history of the Patriarchs of Antioch, written in Greek]. The two sides agreed that Cyril would have the patriarchate and that the Archdiocese of Aleppo would be given to Athanasius, who would live there and receive its income and the income of Idlib and Kilis, keeping the title of 'patriarch' until one of them dies. Then the other would hold the patriarchate and no one else would be elected. All of this was decided at a council of bishops, with the agreement of the ordinary people of Damascus and Aleppo. Rome, however, was not pleased with this agreement and Pope Innocent XII did not recognize it, but rather encouraged Athanasius to return to the patriarchal see.

After the truce was made between Cyril and Athanasius, Athanasius went to Constantinople, Wallachia and Moldavia to seek support in March of 1700, during the reign of the right-believing Prince Constantin [Brâncoveanu]. The prince was sympathetic and offered gifts. When he learned that the books of the Church of Antioch were still copied by hand, he was seized by zeal and he ordered Arabic type to be produced and Arabic printing was honored with the printing of the Orthodox liturgy and the Horologion.When Athanasius returned to Aleppo, he brought this press with him and it was then transferred to Balamand Monastery. The tradition of Balamand is that this press was later moved to the Monastery of Saint John in Choueir with the monks loyal to Rome who went there, while the Choueirite tradition claims that the press there was independently established by Abdallah Zakhir.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Apostolicity, Again and Again

 Arabic original here.

Apostolicity, Again and Again

On the Sunday of Thomas, Jesus said to the disciples, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:22-23).

"The Holy Spirit is light and life... Spirit of Wisdom, Spirit of understanding..."

Understanding comes from the Spirit. Not from the mind alone and not from knowledge alone, but from the Spirit of holiness.

The saint searches first for wellness of soul. He desires purity and humility. The Gospel is wellness of soul.

The Gospel is translated into action. It is translated into witness and martyrdom.

In the Creed we say, "I believe in one, holy catholic and apostolic Church."

Our Church is apostolic because she preserves the teachings of the Apostles. 

The Apostle Paul says, "You are... fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:19-20).

The message of the Apostles is a message of meekness, kindness and giving.

They do not desire fighting and domination. They have a message of love before all else.

They do not say, "I am so-and-so's son and you are so-and-so's son." Influence and partisanship divide people.

It says in the Acts of the Apostles about the disciples of Christ, "They continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers... all who believed were together, and had all things in common" (Acts 2:42 and 44).

They had the power of love.

Not the power of money, the power of authority or the power of lust.

Apostolicity is based first of all on the faith of the Apostles, the true faith of the Gospel without any innovation. It is also based on an apostolic way of acting, a life resembling the life of the Apostles. 

The love they had was for all.


Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Monday, July 3, 2023

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Mystery of the Church

Arabic original here.

The Mystery of the Church

The life of the Church is a constant, ongoing Pentecost.

The Feast of All Saints indicates the transfiguration of humanity over time, until the Second Coming.

Now, at the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, it points especially to the apostolic evangelism, which is another point of distinction of the mystery of the Church.

It highlights the witness to Christ's resurrection by fishing men for Him.

What do you think is the need for the Church?

Is her existence necessary for our spiritual life?

Why is there holy tradition and the orders of the priesthood?

Why exactly does the Church exist?

Can we reach Christ directly without her?

The answer to this is easy, since Christ Himself wanted it this way, since he said to Peter:

"You are Peter and on this rock I shall build My Church" (Matthew 16:18).

And Peter says in his First Epistle, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession" (1 Peter 2:9).

Paul also states that you are "fellow citizens with the saints ... built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:19-20).

Jesus Himself wanted to make us members of His own body, which is the Church, of which He is the head and we are the members.

The Lord wanted to distance us from our individualist and selfish being and the Apostles became the foundations of the Church. As for the priests and bishops, they are in principle living icons of Christ.

This is despite their weaknesses, inasmuch as the Church has not yet entered into her glory at the Second Coming.

The will of Christ is clear from His words: "Whoever listens to you listens to Me; whoever rejects you rejects Me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent Me" (Luke 10:16).

Let us pray, then, at this feast, the Feast of the pure Apostles, let us pray that Christ will distance us from every schism, every heresy, so that we may be able to love each other in one faith, in one Church, and in one earthly nation.

Christ said, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you" (John 15:12).



Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies  

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Asad Rustom on the Era of Patriarch Cyril al-Za'im (I)

Translated from: Asad Rustum, Kanisat Madinat Allah Antakya al-'Uzma [The Church of the Great City of God Antioch], Jounieh: Editions St. Paul (1988), vol. 3, pp. 101-106

 Part II here.

Part III here.

Neophytus and Cyril (1672-1720): Macarius III died on June 12, 1672, as recorded on the engraved stone described by the priest Mikhail Burayk in the Church of Cyprian and Justina in Damascus. It is said that wicked people from the al-Midan neighborhood plotted and gave him poison to drink and he departed to his Lord.

After the death of this man of blessed memory, the Damascenes preferred his grandson Constantine over others out of respect for the esteem of his grandfather and in honor of the piety of his father, the priest Paul, also taking into account his excellent qualities. He was eloquent, intelligent, noble and virtuous. Constantius of Constantinople says about him: "But the Damascenes, from their attachment and love to the blessed man, remembering the good works he had done for the throne, with one voice elected a grandson of the ever-memorable man and a son of Paul, son of the Patriarch, the monk-deacon Constantine, who was in his twentieth year. On his ordination and advancement to the see, he changed his name to Cyril. Although young he was, he possessed the eloquence and intelligence of an old man."

It is recounted by the author of the History of the Archdiocese of Beirut that the Damascenes requested the berat for Cyril and when it arrived he was consecrated patriarch by Gregorius, metropolitan of Hawran; Romanus, metropolitan of al-Zabdani; Leontius, metropolitan of Saidnaya; and Germanus, metropolitan of Pamphilia on July 7, 1672. And if one were to say: "How could the bishops of the See and the people of Damascus choose this very young man, when at that time in the territory of the See of Antioch there were more than twenty bishops? Was there no one competent for the patriarchate apart from this young man?" We would respond: Indeed, he was elected and consecrated for three reasons. First, out of respect for the esteem of his grandfather the Patriarch Macarius, who made enormous efforts to pay off the many debts and during whose time the entire Patriarchate grew more than during the days of his predecessors. Second, out in honor of his father, the priest Paul. He and his father loved the Damascenes and were greatly loved by them. These two virtuous men attended to the patriarchal residence and all the income of the sees of the patriarchate were in the hands of his father the priest Paul, along with the bequests of his grandfather. Third, even if Cyril was young, he had a mature intellect and was adorned with virtue, well-educated, eloquent and intelligent. These three reasons restrained some of the bishops and the rest of the Christians and prevented them from saying anything inappropriate against him, even though they were put off by his young age.

Neophytus (1674-1684): Others-- and perhaps they were the majority-- were displeased at the departure from the canons and tradition, and so they criticized Cyril's young age, denounced his illicit election, vilified his uncanonical consecration and despised his being made patriarch through the intervention of secular authorities. It so happened that during this standoff the Patriarch of Jerusalem Dositheus II, the famous scholar and eminent religious authority, was passing through Damascus and came as a guest to the patriarchal residence, and so had the opportunity to get to know Cyril at the beginning of his tenure as patriarch and to take account himself of the effects of his youth. He said that he was "a little child" and that he "ascended to the see by the power of brute force and tyranny."

Dositheus met with Neophytus, the metropolitan of Hama, and Neophytus expressed to him his displeasure with the consecration and patriarchate of Cyril because it went against the canons. The metropolitans presented a petition in Arabic to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in which they complained about the issue of Cyril and his accession to the Patriarchal See of Antioch. In early November, 1672, the Ecumenical Patriarch Dionysius IV held a council under his presidency attended by the patriarch of Jerusalem. After the council reviewed the petition of the metropolitans of the See of Antioch and various other letters issued, on the basis of Apostolic Canon 30, Canon 3 of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Canon 11 of the Council of Caesarea, and Canon 14 of the Council in Trullo a decision to depose Cyril and expel him from the See of Antioch. The Synod of Constantinople then nominated for the vacant Patriarchal See of Antioch Neophytus, metropolitan of Hama; Gregorius, metropolitan of Caesarea; and Eugenius, metropolitan of Christianopolis. In the end, Neophytus was elected unanimously. The notables of the See of Antioch asked Neophytus in a letter to head to Constatninople and to take over the Patriarchate, just as the synod itself invited him to the reigning city. Neophytus went to Constantinople and was installed as patriarch of Antioch. About a year after his installation, he came to Damascus and took the reins of the patriarchal see.

Then Cyril went to Constantinople and requested a berat from the sultan for the patriarchate and returned to Damascus. The flock was divided, evil increased and the harm multiplied. Neophytus returned to Constantinople and requested a new berat from the sultan, then returning to Damascus and taking hold of the see. The situation continued like this for nine years. Neophytus' debts mounted, so Cyril said to him, "I will pay these debts for you and grant you Lattakia and its dependencies to reside there and benefit from their income." Neophytus was pleased with this and so he went to Lattakia and rested there for a time. He was given the title "Former Patriarch of Antioch" and after four years he died and was buried in the Church of Saint Nicholas, in the chapel of Saint Moses the Ethiopian.

Neophytus left a confession of faith to refute the claims of Calvin. The Jesuit Father Michel Nau approached this patriarch in May 1673, complaining about the Calvinists and asking him to support the Catholics. Neophytus issued a confession of the Orthodox faith and signed it along with Gregorius, the metropolitan of Hawran; Antonius, the metropolitan of Baalbek; and Romanus, the bishop of al-Zabadani, along with fourteen priests, six deacons and a number of lay notables. The Fr Michel presented this confession to Jeramiah, the metropolitan of Tyre and Sidon, and Philip, the metropolitan of Beirut, and they also signed it.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Fr Touma (Bitar) on Academic Theology and True Theology

 Arabic original here.

 Theology and the Other Theology

"If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory..." (John 7:17-18)

A strange title, right? People think that theology is theology, and not something else!

This is because theology, in people's minds, means some things and it does not mean something else. In our tradition, the theologian is one who prays or one who loves or one who keeps the commandments... Such a one knows theology and is able to teach it.

As for theology, for most people it is an academic subject or set of subjects whose topic is God and divine things. It is taught like other academic subjects are taught in the humanities, sciences or other academic fields.

Theology is taught in institutes or in faculties for those who want to receive an education in it or who want to prepare for teaching or service in the Church, here, there or in some way.

In such a case, theology (or perhaps we should say, the study of theology) is covered with an academic veneer: lectures, studies, research, readings, publications, etc. If you say "theologian" your interlocutor will generally understand you to mean someone who is experienced in the study of theology and has received degrees in it, someone who has become a teacher of it or the author of theological studies.

But there are those who connect the study of theology to voluntary or mandatory prayer, pastoral activities and other such things as a way to prepare for service or specific services connected to the church or group that the students belong to.

In the ecumenical context, students seek to delve deeply into one of the fields of theology in prestigious centers of education or prominent universities without belonging to the ecclesiastical groups or sects behind those centers: biblical studies, church history, philosophy of religion, dogmatics, ecumenical theology, etc.

This and similar things is the predominant understanding of theology for most people. Within such a framework of treating theology academically and ecumenically, the students range from people who to different degrees practice lifestyles within the churches or sects to which they belong or where academic achievement is considered a prerequisite for assuming pastoral positions (the episcopacy, the priesthood, etc.)-- people who run the centers-- and people who have no relationship to prayer, pastoral activity or responsibilities in those institutions, and even no connection to faith in Christ the Lord! They have, perhaps, their convictions and their opinions, but they have no relationship, except academically, to the tradition of the community to which they are assumed to belong-- or perhaps do not belong-- inasmuch as their approach can be purely cultural.

For us in Orthodoxy, as I have known it, in its tradition, this approach to theology is dominated by a Western mindset derived from the scholastic movement that started to prevail in Catholicism and the Church in the West beginning in twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Naturally, some of this was perhaps useful, but it does not belong to the core of our tradition, nor do we belong to the rational approach it takes, which determines the framework within which theology is treated as theology. With regard to it, we are in a strange place, as though we are not on our own territory!

Theology [NB: in Arabic the word 'lahut' means both 'theology' and 'divinity'], as I have seen it in the Church, in my church, is the Holy Trinity. It is the Heavenly Father as the Son has revealed Him in the Holy Spirit, as he says, "All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him" (Matthew 11:27).

Theology, then, is declared (or, shall we say, is revealed) by the Son. "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9)! "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30)! "I am in the Father and the Father in Me" (cf. John 10:38)! Jesus' words in general to Peter, the disciples and everyone were, in practice: "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this" (John 13:7). This is what the Lord said to Peter when He was washing the disciples' feet. When, afterwords? This is what the Lord Jesus revealed in Chapter 4 of the Gospel of John: "The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 14:26).

So long as knowledge of theology depends on knowledge of the Son and what the Son reveals to us, then theology is not known through the mind but "in the Spirit"! I do not say "through the Spirit", but "in the Spirit". The Spirit, the Lord's Holy Spirit, is not an instrument of knowledge, but knowledge itself. We are in Him and He is in us! We and Him are one! The Apostle Paul's expression "in Christ" is the fruit of the apostle's knowledge of the Lord's Christ. If the knowledge is "in Christ",  then it is also "in the Spirit" and "in the Father". According to John, "Just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us" (John 17:21). Knowledge of God is for you to be in Him, because He is in you!

This knowledge, then, is not of something or of an idea, but a profound existential encounter! We know Him-- God. We do not know about Him or of Him. This is eternal life: "that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3)! After that, if we speak of it, what we say is a witness. If you speak of the Lord's Christ with your tongue and are not in Him, you have transformed into a parrot or a bodily organ, even if you sing various tunes! Action (praxis), according to St Joseph the Hesychast, is a condition for teaching or to speak of God or to speak of theology! Satan doesn't know God, but rather knows about Him. From this angle, he is the greatest theologian!

In authentic theology, there is no separation between the way, the truth and the life. Everything apart from it is vain. And your Lord is the one who brings you to Himself. That is, to the truth. So He Himself is the way. And since you know the way-- that is, since you know Him-- you are freed from everything that can separate you from Him-- that is, sin. At that point, you find that the truth brings you to Jesus, the life. That is, to eternal life. The Apostle Paul did not say that life comes from Jesus or through Jesus, but "life for me is Christ." Therefore, the Lord Jesus-- to Him be glory-- has given us Himself to eat. His body-- that is, in effect, Himself in the body-- is true food and thus He is true knowledge.

Even if you've piled up degrees in theology, so long as you do not know God and His Christ in the Spirit and flesh-- this practical, personal, existential knowledge-- you are ignorant of Him! You might transmit, in a literal manner, what the Church says and what one or another of the holy fathers says. This might perhaps make you a transmitter. But the way in which you read what is in your hands, the way you translate and explain its contents, which stops at the limits of your own understanding, which perhaps for you is on the level of conviction and certainty, but it is no more than a set of speculations coming from your personal ignorance of the Lord's Christ and of what the Lord's Holy Spirit inspires, on account of your pride and the effects of your passions! This scope, in the state you are in, is the demonic, psychological, frivolous scope, which perhaps you consider to be valuable, scientific positions and opinions with a wide sphere of influence, while the driving factor behind them is nothing other than the passions at work in your heart! This is what makes theological discourse that is limited to what reason can see, analyzing and synthesizing, in theological topics, to be a liberal scope for contradictory opinions at the expense of living faith active in love. This spreads confusion among believers in the Church and estranges the reader from the living, spiritual, apostolic tradition, which alone embraces that which the Lord's Spirit is pleased to reveal with regard to theology.

There is, then, a cerebral, intellectual, academic theology and there is a spiritual, existential theology that has an intellectual, revelatory expression. The first comes from data and passion in the soul, while the second is from personal, existential knowledge of the Lord's Christ and of the exalted divinity.

And so we hold that theology, in terms of speech about God, is divine revelation in human expression. There can be no approach to divine things through humanity, but "in humanity", since the Lord's Holy Spirit abides in us and is active with us. Purely academic theology is foreign to the mind of Christ in the Orthodox Church! Therefore, rationalistic theology is indeed something alien to Christ's Church. We treat theology just as we treat holy things and giving witness. The true theologian is someone who reads, writes or speaks God, not about God! He bears witness. Otherwise, it's better for him to keep silent.

Talking about God is dangerous!

Archimandrite Touma (Biter)

Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan the Athonite

Douma, Lebanon

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Thursday, June 15, 2023

al-Karma: The Church's Challenges between Extremism and Wisdom

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

The Church's Challenges between Extremism and Wisdom

There are many challenges that the Church faces today throughout the world, and there is a great responsibility placed upon her priests to confront these challenges, especially with regard to preserving both the faith and the faithful from the blemishes that can filter into the life of the faithful and the Church.

There is no doubt that the spirit of the world, which is contrary to the spirit of the Gospel, is the greatest danger to members of the Church and to the Church's existence, since it is like water that enters into a boat through a little hole, sinking it.

In this way, the spirit of the world and the logic of the world unfortunately seep into the minds of the faithful and the thinking of the Church, which gradually leads to a transformation of the Church into a worldly church and turns her into a worldly social, humanitarian institution, depriving her of her fundamental purpose and mission in this world, for which she was founded: sanctifying and saving souls.

For this reason, the Orthodox Church is concerned with preserving her members from strange teachings about her upright, patristic faith, which she has passed down from generation to generation.

The way the Church confronts this situation must be decisive and indisputable. But at the same time, in order for this confrontation to succeed, it must be conducted with discernment and wisdom, placing before us on the one hand the goal of protecting the flock, and on the other hand attracting others to the truth.

In order to do this, we must acquire a language for speaking with the children of this age. We must know how to approach them, in a world that uses every means to deceive them and draw them to itself.

In this regard, we can say that the excessive zeal shown by certain pastors and members of the faithful leads to the opposite effect. Instead of defending the flock, we scatter it, and instead of drawing others to the truth that we are defending, we cause them to flee from it.

Therefore, if we want to defend the truth in the faith, we must be "as wise as serpents" (Matthew 10:16) and acquire the wisdom that the Lord Jesus Christ had. So let us take as our model his encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4:4-42). This woman was an adulteress, as well as being a heretic according to the Jews' understanding. But the Lord did not use any hurtful word with her, neither with regard to her sin or with regard to the error of her faith. Instead, He roused her conscience with gentleness and tenderness. He told her the truth with gentle words far-removed from any hurtfulness when He explained to her that salvation is from the Jews and not from the Samaritans. But at the same time, by His love and His wisdom, He saved her from her previous life and her erroneous faith and brought her to faith in Him.

Likewise, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) the Lord showed that the Samaritan, whose dogma was in error, surpassed in his goodness the priest and the Levite, who belonged to the Jewish faith, since he behaved correctly when he acted with mercy toward his brother in humanity!

When He healed the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19), the Lord praised the Samaritan leper who alone returned to give thanks!

What's more, the Lord praised the faith of the pagan Canaanite woman:"O woman, great is your faith!" (Matthew 15:28). He likewise praised the faith of the pagan centurion: "

The Apostle Paul acted with this wisdom when he addressed the pagans of Athens, since he did not hurt them by calling them pagans, infidels or unbelievers, even though this was the case, but rather, seeking to catch them for the Lord and draw them to the truth, with skill and wisdom he told them:

"As I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:23). Was Paul lying or compromising the truth?!

Always, like a skillful fisher of souls, he wanted to attract them to true faith in the Son of God.

And so our duty is to hold fast to the truth that is with us. Our responsibility is to proclaim it to the whole world, but with discernment, wisdom and respect for others' freedom, this freedom that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself respected when he said: "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!" (Matthew 8:10).

"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16: 24), so anyone who does not so desire is free!

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Saints and Holiness

 Arabic original here.

The Saints and Holiness

The Saint is an Example and an Intercessor for Us

The true, uncreated holiness in which man participates is a bush that burns but is unconsumed, a divine, uncreated fire. "I came to send fire on the world, and how I wish it were already kindled!" This is God's love, which sometimes leads to bearing witness or to martyrdom, and which is usually accompanied by humility.
The question, in the end, is of participating in God's life and in His uncreated grace.
Indeed, the saints reflect the divine life, the presence of a power that is not of this world.
What do you think is the fate of a person who is deprived the intercession of the saints?
There is a great consolation that the believer acquires in his prayer to the saints and in requesting their help, as well as when he venerates their relics.
Do we read the stories of their lives?
Do we imitate their virtues?

Love, humility, devotion and sacrifice... for the sake of God and for the sake of others?!

Saint John Climacus says on the topic of holiness:

"Holiness does not belong to specific people, but to all people." There is no favoritism with God (cf. Romans 2:11).

Climacus adds:

"One who abandons wealth for God's sake is great, but one who abandons his own will is holy. The first receives his wealth back one hundredfold, while the latter shall receive eternal life" (Chapter 17:9 of the Ladder). 

The saints are the people of God. "Be holy, just as I am holy."

Holiness gives a foretaste of the kingdom.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies