Tuesday, December 22, 2015

An Interview with Bp Qais Sadiq

Originally posted on Pravoslavie.ru, here

You have brothers who love you. Don’t forget us!

A talk with Bishop Qais (Sadiq) of Erzurum by Fares Nofal 

On this day, when the Church commemorates the great saint of Damascus, John, we would like to acquaint our readers with a remarkable hierarch of the Antiochian Church, the Syrian bishop Qais (Sadiq) of Erzurum. Bishop Qais talks with Pravoslavie.ru correspondent Fares Nofal, an Orthodox Syrian living in Ukraine.
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From November 28-30, vicar of the Patriarch of Antioch Bishop Qais (Sadiq) visited the city of Odessa. On His Eminence’s last day in the city, I had an opportunity to talk with this outstanding hierarch of Antioch about earthly war, higher peace, and the fate of Arab Christianity. 

Your Eminence, you are an eye-witness observer of what is happening today in the holy lands in the Near East—the cradle of Christ and Christianity. But before we begin, could you tell our readers a little about yourself?

—First I would like to give thanks to God that He has allowed me to be with you in these holy, blessed lands—lands that have given us so many teachers and instructors. The very people and the Russian Orthodox Church have always supported us both prayerfully and materially—and Christian Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Jordan remember the Russian help given them in the days of the Ottoman occupation. But today also, Christians—Russians and Ukrainians—do not forget to pray for us, giving us their fraternal love, fighting for our Christian presence in the Arab countries.

I became bishop about a year ago with the title, “Bishop of Erzurum”. Erzurum is a toponym that can today be found on the political map of Turkey. Like many other historical dioceses of Antioch, this metropolitinate witnessed the mass extermination of faithful Arab Christians and Armenians. Judge for yourself: according to various accounts, in 1917 in the city of Erzurum there lived about 25-30 thousand Orthodox Christians, while by 1925 the number of local Christians was reduced to zero. They were all the victims of a cruel Turkish massacre; and, unfortunately, both Ottoman ambitions and Ottoman political methods are still just as brutally cruel today.

Besides my obedience as vicar—assistant to His Beatitude Patriarch John X—I by God’s mercy fulfill the duty of director of the Orthodox Center for ecumenical research, which we founded in Oman twenty years ago. The Center’s slogan—“Service and witness”—reflects its essentially missionary aims: we strive to raise the level of religious education of our Arabic parishioners, living under the oppression of circumstances in the Jerusalem Church. Alas, many of the faithful justly complain that Jerusalem is completely in the hands of Greeks, who themselves prefer the pursuit of their own aims, which we don’t understand, over mission and service to the Arab people. I also serve our Romanian flock, which has grown quite significantly over recent years. Today in Bucharest alone there are around 150 Orthodox Arab families, with over fifty families scattered around the country.
Earlier, under the reposed Patriarch Ignatius IV, as a teacher of canon law and Liturgical theology in Balamand University, I fulfilled the responsibility of advisor to the supreme ecclesiastical court of the Antiochian Church and head of the Antiochian department of external Church affairs. This experience turned out to be quite useful later, when I represented Jordan in the UNESCO and UNICEF ethics committees, and the Antiochian Church in over ninety-two countries of the world where the sons and daughters of the Arab East live as permanent residents. 

Yesterday, Sunday, was a day filled with events for you—you met with the bishop of Odessa, Metropolitan Agathangel, and prayed for the first time with the local Orthodox Arab community. What were your first impressions? How do you see the future for the Orthodox Arabs of this city?
—His Eminence Agathangel received us very warmly. We talked for a long time on themes that concern us—in part, we touched upon the question of the past and future relationships of our sister Churches; and his words simply attached me to this blessed land! In the morning, when we were at the Liturgy in the Holy Trinity Cathedral, I couldn’t help but notice the endless amount of children and teenagers approaching the Chalice; after all, you’ll hardly find this in the European churches… In this I see the main proof that fervent faith is still alive in these good-hearted, pious people, the hope of which, after years of oppression and persecution, is preserved in its children—the future members of the living Church.
As for our flocks, I came here only in order to hear their wishes, their voices (and thanks are due separately to Metropolitan Niphon [Saykali], the representative of the Antiochian Patriarch to the Moscow Patriarch, who supported and strengthened me in my desire to come here). Alas, many of them do not understand the liturgical Church Slavonic language of the Russian Church, and I am glad that they have the opportunity to pray here in their native language; this keeps them together, gives them the needed comfort that comes from a trusting communication with their Creator. Unfortunately I had very little time to really talk with them; but tomorrow or the day after tomorrow I will make a report to His Beatitude Onuphry about their needs and cares, which I hope will be the first step towards the ordering of their Church life here, in Kiev and Odessa.

As we know, the whole of the Orthodox Church has decisively judged the first fruits of “Arab Spring”; and now five years have passed since the beginning of the so-called “Syrian revolution”. How do Antiochian Christians view the results of this “revolution”? What is the general essence of their daily struggle?

—"Arab spring” is, in my view, not a revolution but more of an “Arab autumn”, which destroyed our civilization. And it is obvious that running things behind the scenes of the “autumn” are entirely non-Arab hands. I hoped that the micro-revolutions would happen in the Arab countries and direct them to specific, positive changes. But what we see in, for example, Syria, is not a micro-revolution, but a genuine game of blood, controlled from a distance.

President Bashar al-Assad is a very educated man, who well understands the problems of his country. From the very onset of his presidency he strove to open Syria to the world; under his leadership a cultural and economic renaissance began in the country, and he was trying, as they say, to “change the system”. And it is perfectly natural that the process of a “change of system” takes more than twenty-four hours and even more than two or three years. But his labors where buried by the fruits of the London Colonial Conference of 1907, which had dismembered and weakened the Arab world already many years ago. Everything that is happening in the Near East today is the belated gift of the West to its satellites in the region.

And this “gift” destroyed our Christian heritage—our museums have been plundered, and our holy sites have been demolished. The Mongols, who seized the lands of the Caliphate, did whatever they wanted—but they did not touch its stones or spirit; but now the ISIS fighters, supported by the Wahabites of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, radicals in Turkey and American geopolitics, are putting great effort into wiping Eastern Christian culture from the face of the earth—of course, together with both its living and inanimate bearers. It is no surprise that the next target of these powers is Russia. The hirers of terror do not hide this fact: even Kissinger announced the “fall of European walls of peace” as an effective means of opposing the Russian presence… Migrants are coming to Europe from Turkey, and true Christian Syrians comprise only ten percent of the total number of refugees. The result is that everyone is making a living off of our blood, the blood of the true victims, and we are suffering more than everyone!  

You spoke of forced migration—the real tragedy of Arab culture. But Orthodox Russia went through something similar at the beginning of the twentieth century. The “philosophical steamships” again acquainted the West with Orthodoxy. What do you think—does today’s tragedy of Arab Orthodoxy have some chance of becoming the beginning of a new stage in its existence? Perhaps we should be prepared to see an Arabic Saint Serge in Europe?

—Of course, our history also reminds one of a sort of “philosophical steamship”. The second half of the nineteenth century, as we know, marked by a series of genocides in Lebanon and Damascus, motivated many Arab thinkers and artists to migrate to Egypt, and then to North and South America. This is how a whole trend in Arab literature arose—the so-called “literature of the diaspora”, created, in part, in Arabic publications in America, and in te “Arabic clubs” of Brazil and Argentina. And this literature is mostly Christian.

The twentieth century brought the East new wars, distancing ever further new philosophers and poets, theologians and musicians from their historical motherland. Many outstanding doctors, teachers, and professors in the West today are Arab Christian intelligentsia, forced to flee their own homes. We hope that these brothers of ours who have fallen victim to the Islamist’s blind force will not cast Christ out of the soil of their hearts and remain His faithful witnesses. Of course, this is our task: Who if not the Mother Church will gather her children in the countries of diaspora? We must remain apostles of love and truth and confess our Christianity, our Orthodoxy, without being shy. We cannot be a “minority”—we are all in ourselves the very pinch of salt that makes a large amount of food fit for the table. 

Several days ago, ISIS called Ukraine, right after Russia, it’s enemy. As we know, Russia has intervened in the political situation in the region, and some political critics, polemicists, and even clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church have opined that this was a serious mistake. On the other hand, Metropolitan Louka (al Khoury) after his recent prayer in the Mariamite Cathedral in Damascus supported Russian military aid in the struggle against Islamism. How might you evaluate the given situation? What is the role of Russian aide in the struggle of Syrian Christians?

—Of course, we must discern the difference between political and ecclesiastical relationships. As for the latter, the Russian Orthodox Church has never abandoned us: the abundant prayers of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples and their generous gifts have equally reached their mark. Thanks to this support we feel that we are not alone. And just last year the Romanian Orthodox Church also decided to help us, bringing a gift to Antioch of 500,000 euros for the needy. Nevertheless, there is no greater gift than the holy prayers for peace in the East raised in your homes and churches.

From the political point of view, everything is much simpler: every government has its own interests. The Church cannot support wars or lead them, but it is obligated to bless the defenders of its homeland. For us, as Christians, the homeland is the expanse of our witness of Christ. We know that Blessed Augustine blessed the soldiers who defended their city, saying, “Just as each of us has a mother whom we are called to protect, we must defend our common mother—the motherland.” It is our blessed obligation to stand up for our country. Syria has interests connected with Russia, and Russia has interests connected with Syria; but in the final analysis, the Syrian army is receiving help, and this is the army of truth, fighting against the murderers of our history, our thoughts. And this army will hold out.

For several years now the world’s mass media has been painting a picture of the sufferings of the Christian East—and this of course corresponds to reality, for the Antiochian Church is beyond all doubt a suffering Church. But someone might unjustifiably consider it a dead, powerless Church. So that no one would doubt the authenticity of life in Orthodox Christianity of Syria and Iraq, could you tell us about the main events in the chronicles of the Antiochian Church that have happened over the past two or three years?

—It goes without saying that our Church is not dead—it is a Church of witness, a Church of martyrdom. Confessing the Crucified and Risen Christ, today it is walking His way of the Cross from Golgotha to His rising from the dead. We are proud that Antioch is still giving birth to martyrs, living eternally before the Throne of the Most High. They are the ones who manifest the genuine life of the Church. And who if not the faithful children of the Russian Church, piously preserving the holy relics of hundreds upon hundreds of its own martyrs, can understand and perceive this?

Nevertheless, as the Savior said, let the unbelieving “come and see”. Despite everything, regardless of the lack of elementary financing, the Antiochian Church continues to serve both Christians and Muslims of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq with its schools, hospitals, and charitable organizations. Many of these projects were given a second life personally by His Beatitude John X, who although in an extremely unenviable position (one need only remember the afflictions of the flock entrusted to him and his kidnapped younger brother Paul, the metropolitan of Aleppo), continues his service in hope, faith, and prayer. Thanks to him, a new Orthodox university will soon open its doors to the Arab world in Al-Khumaira—the second after Balamand University, which is educating today more than seventy students who have now received their first university degree. Through the efforts of many of the faithful, construction is being completed on the Patriarchal hospital of the Virgin Mary in Balamand. It is no less important for us to give Orthodox youths of Antioch another chance to establish themselves on their land, and therefore we are granting parcels of land near Beirut to families from Lebanon, with deferred pay and ready houses at cost. I hope that our Church will continue to serve its flock by strengthening its last ties with its Holy Motherland.

News about the suspension of Eucharistic communion between Damascus and Jerusalem has shocked many Orthodox faithful around the world. What are the real roots of this conflict? What steps can each side take to resolve it?

—This is a very painful subject. In fact, the steps taken by the Jerusalem Church, which have trampled upon the very foundations of canon law, were absolutely unexpected for us. Firstly, this is a sign of deep rejection of the rights of a sister Church in its presence in the Persian Gulf countries; and secondly, it is a sign of the waning of love in the hearts of our brother hierarchs.

It all began, as usual, with politics. Wishing to “pay off its debt” before the world, the leaders of Qatar decided to demonstrate their openness to dialogue in general and religious dialogue in particular. Having given different confessions land to build churches, the Qatar authorities nevertheless did not forget their aversion to Arab clergy, who were forbidden to be present on the country’s territory on a permanent basis (I know this from my own as well as others’ experience). So, in the 1990s the question of an Orthodox presence in Qatar was decided by the director of the regional office of American intelligence services—earlier the U.S. ambassador to Oman, based upon his personal family history: his mother’s Greek identity was the reason he directed the authorities to the Jerusalem Patriarchate. It was the present Patriarch of the Holy City, then an archimandrite, who was sent to the American embassy, and it was under his direction that that very Orthodox church was built, and the cornerstone of which was placed by then Patriarch Theodore in circumvention of all existing norms of ecclesiastical law. Unlike the Jerusalem Church, absolutely all the other Churches—including the Russian Church—asked according to the prescribed order for permission from Patriarch Ignatius to build churches in for example the UAE. “Your presence on these lands is precious to our own presence on them.” That is how His Beatitude approved the Russian Church representatives’ request to build a church in Sharjah.

But the hierarchs of Jerusalem did not make any request. In 1999, in my presence, in Oman His Beatitude Ignatius asked Patriarch Theodore: “Your Holiness, when you go to visit your brother, you certainly knock at his door and ask his invitation. Why then did you not knock at our door?” No intelligible answer of course ever came. Nevertheless, we humbled ourselves before the completed fact—although the Orthodox Arabs of Qatar were, to put it mildly, not elated over the Greek-speaking priest sent to pastor them. But apparently this was not enough for Jerusalem. The death of Ignatius IV and the catastrophic condition in Syria and Iraq motivated the Jerusalem Church leaders (of course, with the encouragement of Qatar, which is interested in the politics of the region) to choose a bishop for this territory; and despite our plea not to allow such barbarianism, Jerusalem nevertheless consecrated a bishop with a corresponding title.

Here the following question can be justifiably asked: how can we talk about unity when our brothers are doing everything to trample upon this unity? The Russian and Antiochian Churches, alas, have had the same bitter experience: we have not forgotten about the Ecumenical Patriarch’s meddling in the business of the Ukrainian schism. In such cases we must remember if not our love, then at least canon law, which precisely regulates all similar procedures. I hope that on the threshold of the Pan-Orthodox Council, Jerusalem will forget about its Greek politics, that the Ecumenical Throne would fulfill its duty to put a stop to the current conflict, and the Russian and Romanian Orthodox Churches would say their own word—the word of truth—about the current situation.

What would you like to say to our Russian and Ukrainian readers as a good pastor, faithful brother, and son of the Holy East?

—Your land is a holy land, which you yourselves have sanctified. You have won it yourselves. Your numberless martyrs are your great treasure. Your Church was crucified, and now you are witnessing its resurrection. Preserve your people, not the stones; it is the people who are the “temples of the Holy Spirit”, breathing life by their prostrations into the stone churches. You, the living members of the Church, can preserve your faith and pass it on to future, yet unborn posterity. And of course, do not forget that far away from these lands you have brothers who love you, who have never stopped loving you even when the communists were persecuting your saints. Today, with the help of your prayers and your love, we must overcome the same trials. Do not forget us.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: Sunday of the Forefathers

Arabic original here. Presumably, this article, which appeared in the newspaper an-Nahar is at least partly written in response to this, a document that clearly did not take into account the concerns of non-European Christians.

Sunday of the Forefathers

On the Sunday of the Fathers, which follows this Sunday, there is discussion of Christ's descent from Abraham-- that is, from a believing lineage. Today, however, the discussion is about Jesus of Nazareth's descent from those who preceded Abraham-- that is, from the pagan gentiles. Thus, the emphasis in Western Christianity on Christ's descent from the Jews does not reflect the complete picture that He wanted for Himself: His descent from all humanity. The human concern is for us to stress His descent from the prophets of Israel, but not at the expense of the humanity of our stressing that He is the Son of all humanity.

In His flesh, Christ came from Mary-- that is, from the Jews. The Church expresses this on the Sunday of the Fathers. The Bible says that He came from Abraham and Abraham himself came from Ur of the Chaldeans, from today's Iraq-- that is, from the gentiles. Thus Jesus was from the nations that were not Jewish. When the Church established this Sunday and called it the Sunday of the Forefathers-- that is, those who preceded Abraham-- it was because she wanted to say that the Lord is also from the gentiles.

Therefore we do not only descend from the Jews. The greater part of us came from the gentiles and along with the gentiles who became Christian, we have become part of God's People through baptism. After Christianity emerged from Palestine, non-Jews became the majority in the Church and the Church does not ask any of her members if their father was Jewish or gentile. This is an issue that we have completely overcome.

Christ appears on this Sunday as the descendant of the peoples and not only the descendant of the Jewish people. God prepared them to receive Christ through the Gospel.

There is an exaggerated emphasis in the Christian West on Christ's Jewishness, ignoring what Paul said about Jews and barbarians, that is Jews and non-Jews, being one in Christ Jesus. The West certainly emphasized His Jewish origin in order to combat Nazism, which persecuted the Jews. But there is now no need for this after the end of Nazism.

To my mind, we must stress the Sunday of the Forefathers after the Christian West, faced with Hitler, insisted on stressing His connection to the Old Testament. This is a stage of Western thought that we have passed. Our real need, after the modern world has accepted the Jews in its societies, is for us to stress Christ's universality and so to stress the Sunday of the Forefathers with the same vigor as the Sunday of the Fathers.

We must stress Christ's fleshly origin because He is a man who saved us in His flesh-- that is, in His humanity and this does not cause us to forget His divinity. We are saved through both natures.

We do not have a complex about the Jews spiritually, after having gone past them. We hope for their salvation in Christ-- that is, if they come to know Him. Our connection to them remains the same-- in our hope that they will be baptized. Anything other than this is sentimentalism.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Met Saba Esber: The Fathers and Us

Arabic original here.

The Fathers and Us

There are two currents regarding the fathers of the Church that are competing on Antiochian territory and perhaps in other churches. One calls for following the fathers in every matter and regards any departure from their teaching or new interpretation of their sayings and even the act of facing new challenges to the faith to be a sort of deviation from the faith and a departure from correctness of belief and Orthodoxy. Some followers of this current even go so far as to accuse those who disagree with them of heresy. As for the other current, it regards itself as modernist and fashionable with no need for the fathers. It regards them as old-fashioned, obsolete, from the past, or a milestone in history. Followers of this current focus on the present moment, its givens and its challenges. It is open to the theological teaching in other churches, disregarding the rich heritage of the Church.

One current glorifies the fathers and the other does not give them any importance. Which one do you think is correct? In reality, both are mistaken, because both start from untrue premises. They limit the fathers to the past and ignore the continuing work of the Holy Spirit, His continuing sanctifying activity among those who are purified, those who are illuminated, and those who are deified. First of all, who are the fathers? They are great teachers who are found in the Church and who contribute to confirming the correct faith or confronting heresies. They are regarded as saints in the Church because they combine spiritual sophistication, a virtuous life, and illumination with with learning, particularly theological learning. Many of them attained advanced worldly learning and placed it in the service of the true faith. They enriched the Christian tradition and laid its theological foundations. The fathers of the Church faced the social and religious challenges of their times. They taught and worked. For this reason, the Church regards their teaching as an indispensable treasure. It constitutes a great amount of holy tradition, the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

They all combined a life of holiness with theological learning. The fathers of the Church were not theoreticians, even if they commented and explained and some of them excelled in this field or that. They were not leaders of intellectual or even theological schools of thought. They did not start off on the basis of the philosophical thinking that they had mastered, but rather placed it in the service of faith and harnessed it to express the truth that they found in Christ. They spoke in a language appropriate to their times. The Church needs to elucidate and explain the faith to each generation in the language that it understands and the fathers excelled at this.

We may find in some of them, especially those that are distant from us in time, a language that is difficult for us, a style that is not palatable for us, or positions that are not in accord with our present intellectual, social or political concepts. This is due to the difference in styles, theories, concepts and challenges between our time and theirs. The truth is that we cannot speak about them all together because they are not all a single block in all things. Each of them bears the language, the concepts, the science, the customs and the culture of his time. They may differ in their position about a given issue in the Church and this has happened repeatedly in the history of the Church, but they do not differ in the fundamentals of the faith. Let us remember the two different positions taken by the Apostles Peter and Paul and the solution they found for it.

In the 15th century in Russia, there was a great rivalry between Saints Joseph and Nil, to the point that the monks of that time were called either Josephites or Nilites. The central point of contention between them was monasteries' possessions. Is it right for monks to possess land and institutions or not? The Josephites said that it was write to hold possessions in order to put them in the service of the poor in society. The Nilites rejected this because they scrupulously kept to the spirit of monastic poverty and the total renunciation that they had vowed.

The ingenuity and holiness of the fathers lies in their making themselves worthy of God working freely within them and their ability to re-evanelize the people of their time with the true Gospel. The word "evangelism" comes from the word for "gospel" and means planting the Gospel in current society, the here and now. The Church is called in every time and place to use the language of the people whom it is evangelizing and to explain the Gospel to them.

Some limit the age of the fathers to the first eight centuries. This is not the Orthodox teaching in the least, simply because this would mean that the Holy Spirit stopped being active in the eighth century and this is not true. God is still present in His Church and shall remain active in it unto ages of ages. God has never withheld from the Church holy fathers who support mankind with correct teaching and true spiritual nourishment. In this way, we see a chain continuing from the days of the Apostles and Saint Ignatius of Antioch in the first century down to Sophrony Sakharov (d. 1993), whose sainthood has not yet been officially declared.

If we were to study every father separately and compare between the teaching of two who lived in different times, we would find a single content of faith and two different styles of expressing this single content. Certainly, a father in our present age faces challenges that fathers of previous centuries had not faced. The issues that are raised today were not like this in previous centuries, so let us take some examples of them: the relationship of the Bible to ancient cultures, issues of the biological sciences, social and political theories, changes in ethics, etc. After the seventeenth century, humanity began a new manner of intellectual engagement and science has developed a great deal from then until now. This scientific development has made its mark on the human intellect and caused it to deal with all things in critical manner. Those who are concerned with teaching must take these facts into account in order to guard the faith, preserve the faithful, and guide those who are astray.

Should the Church not deal with contemporary challenges, simply because the ancient fathers did not speak about them because they had not yet been posed in their day?

That is not the problem here, so much as it is the manner of dealing with theology. Theological discourse has not been separated from beholding the divine in the Church, specifically in the Orthodox Church. Therefore, the Church's fundamental saying is, "The theologian is one who prays." When a person is sanctified, moving beyond the stage of purification and reaching illumination, he dwells in God an receives His light which enlightens his mind in order to express it in a manner appropriate to his time. If he teaches someone who is not yet illumined, he relies on the teaching of those who have been sanctified and follows their sanctifying path. Theological teaching is not a special intellectual pattern. The Church is not a philosophical school. It it something similar to someone who speaks of love because he has tasted it, known it, an experienced it.

For the fathers, the life of asceticism and prayer was tied to the gift of teaching, guiding and explaining. What they have offered the Church and the world is the result of living experience and not of intellectual theorizing influenced by this or that philosophical school.

For the fathers, the faith supposes that we do not "cherry-pick" their teachings. That is, we do not take teachings and sayings from here or there to prove an idea that we hold or to refute a position that we think is deviant. Rather, we deal with them with what the theologians of our Church call "the mind of the fathers" or "the patristic context." The Church is "patristic" in the sense that the teachings of her fathers are the fundamental basis for understanding her theology, spirituality and way of thinking. Therefore they are indispensable for her. Familiarity with the fathers means imitating their familiarity with Christ and the life of virtue that they lived and absorbing much of their teaching. When you live according to the true spirit of the Church, you acquire an Orthodox (of, if you want you could say "patristic") soul. You look at everything through it and it warns you of errors here and there. However you do not acquire this on your own, but within the assembly of the Church with which you live a unity of faith. The assembly preserves you from extremism or exaggeration and thus helps you to remain on the correct path.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Authority in the Church

Arabic original here.

Authority

"Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant" (Matthew 20:26).

There is no knowledge greater than that which results from love. "Love God with all your heart... and your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:27-39).

There is no love apart from what results from a personal relationship. God is not a stranger to us. We know Him because He became a person. He loved us and we love Him. He said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM is with you" (Exodus 3:14).

The person is made known in the face of Christ. Every person, no matter how poor, no matter how small, made known in Christ is more precious than the entire universe. There is person and there is institution. Each person, no matter how small within the institution, is more important than all institutions. Each unique person has absolute value. The general does not surpass the particular. The Church is not an institution: it is the Body of Christ. Anything that is imposed by force is without value in the eyes of God. Therefore, in the kingdom of God, love-- and not authority-- reigns supreme. In it is the authority of love; its sovereignty is love. How should we understand authority in the Church? Authority (exousia) appears in the Gospels. It was given to the apostles "to bind and to loosen." The devil tried to give it to Christ, but He refused it because He sought something else. The authority that is given to believers is to become children of God. Authority in the Church, then, is a gift of love, not of domination by force.

Hierarchy exists in the state and there is a leader at the top of the pyramid. Christ came to overturn this picture: for Him, the king stands at the base of the pyramid, on an inverted pyramid, bearing the burden of the entire populated world. He is the ruler of all in the sense that he carries the inhabited world by the authority of his humility, his patience, and his love.

"The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).

God for us is a relational being. His true being is the Trinitarian relationship. A relationship of love.Therefore, we must learn how to love, how to deny ourselves, how to efface ourselves for the sake of the other. All of this, because love requires sacrifice. Jesus' life was like this: the service of others. "Our brother is our own life," says Saint Silouan.

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and Their Dependencies

Friday, December 4, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: The Incarnation is the Fruit of God's Generosity

Arabic original here.

The Incarnation is the Fruit of God's Generosity

Christianity believes that Jesus Christ is the pre-existent  Word of God and that He Himself took a body from the Virgin Mary and became perfect man without abandoning His divinity: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled" (1 John 1:1). From its founding, the Church has combated heresies and innovations that claimed that Christ did not take a real body, but rather "an appearance of a body" or "a semblance of a body."

The issue of the incarnation has occupied a distinguished place in Christian-Muslim debate (and dialogue), both ancient and modern. It is still, in the present day, at the top of the list of theological problems on which Christianity and Islam cannot find points of agreement. To say that the Word of God became incarnate as a human being and that the Word is perfect God and perfect man, is not palatable to Islamic thought, which regards the Qur'an as the pre-eternal, uncreated speech of God. Christianity, on the other hand, says that since Christ is the incarnate Word of God, the fullness of divinity dwelled in Him bodily.

When they discuss the incarnation of the Word, Arab Christian writers are in agreement that the incarnation is the fruit of divine generosity. The philosopher Abu Zakariyya Yahya ibn Adi al-Suryani al-Tikriti (d. 974) says, "The most excellent of those who are generous is the one who is generous with the most excellent things in existence. The most excellent thing in existence is the being of the Creator. So it was necessary for the Creator to generously give Himself to us, and this was through His connecting to us." God, who is not only generous but the most excellent of those who are generous, must give Himself generously because that is the best thing in existence. Therefore, He generously bestowed Himself upon human nature, honoring it and raising it up to the divine presence, uniting to it when He became man.

Theodore Abu Qurrah, the 9th century Orthodox bishop of Harran, states that the first reason for the incarnation is for God to draw near to man so that man might be able to come to know God. The second reason, which is no less important, is to redeem man and save him from the devil's grip. For this reason, "God sent His Word and His Spirit to the pure virgin Mary and she bore the light of God which is of God and He appeared incarnate (...) and the Word of God came to be in the likeness of man, without sin, even as He is divine. Christ is the Word of God and His Spirit [this is a deliberate echo of an expression from the Qur'an]. He is of His essence and substance-- Creator, not creature."

Ammar al-Basri, a writer of the 9th century, believes that the incarnation is God's honoring man. He says, "God's generosity, honor, goodness and mightiness, which called Him to bring forth out of nothing, establish and create, are what finally called Him to perfect His charity through His becoming incarnate as a human from His creation. This caused for humankind by His becoming incarnate as a human the lot of His sonship and the sublimity of His lordship." Therefore, the Word has taken a body and through addressed people directly because human nature is the best place for the divine to be revealed. Ammar believes that the incarnation of the divine Word is "the most fitting to God's excellence and generosity and is a clearer expression of His generosity towards them and His honoring them than His appearance (in the Old Testament) in a house of stone, an ark of wood, a lowly bush, and a cloud."

As for Paul, the 13th century Orthodox bishop of Sidon, he regarded the incarnation as the best way that God chose in order to connect to man and to transmit the heavenly message to him. He says, "Because God is generous, it was necessary for Him to be generous with the  most sublime thing in existence. There is nothing more sublime than His Word, that is, His reason. Therefore, it was necessary that He be generous with His word, so that He would be the most generous of those who are generous. Thuis it was necessary for Him to take on a tangible being in order to show His power and generosity through it. Since among the creatures there was none nobler than man, He took on human nature from the purified Lady Mary, chosen over all the women of the world."

The Arab Christian writers criticize those who reject belief in the incarnation of the Word and regard the position of those who reject it as stemming from the miserliness with which man responds to God's generosity. In this regard, Yahya ibn Adi says, "If his connecting with us is possible, if we have in it the ultimate honor, and if He has in it the perfection of generosity, then nothing could prevent it apart from inability or miserliness. These two things are attributes of imperfection and He is greater than such things. Therefore He must connect to us." Ammar al-Basri presents the same proof when he says, "Why are do withhold from your  your Creator that He bring you to the apex of His generosity and His honor-- though it does not diminish His kingship and authority, just as it does not diminish His honor that He has offered you-- as though you want to make Him your equal in miserliness?" 

According to Christian theology, Christmas, which we are making are pilgrimage towards, is the feast of the divine incarnation. The most beautiful gift that God has honored us with is His only-begotten Son, who was born in a lowly manger for animals. Those to whom the gift was first sent rejected it, apart from a very tiny few. In the icon of the Nativity, we see a bull and a donkey surrounding the baby Jesus to warm Him. They symbolize the prophecy from the Old Testament, "The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider” (Isaiah 3:1). Be generous, just as God is generous. That is the feast.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Tragic Incident at the Church of St Andrew, Lattakia

From the Archdiocese of Lattakia's Facebook page in Arabic, posted on November 28, 2015 here

"Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God." (Mark 10:14)

In a tragic incident that took place yesterday evening, a young man threw a stun grenade into the courtyard of the Church of Saint Andrew, as the Rev Fr Elias Sharbak was attempting to remove him and prevent him from throwing the grenade. This led to the death of a five year-old child as well as injuries to some of the young people who were present in the courtyard and light injuries to the priest. 

We implore our children not to believe any rumors or stories about the incident and we call on you to pray for the healing of those injured and for the repose of the soul of the martyred child, that the Lord God may number him in the ranks of the holy angels so that he may sing with them divine hymns to our Lord and God Jesus Christ and intercede for us and our churches, that He may grant us peace and security and send down His divine consolation to the hearts of his parents and relatives.

In a further clarification of the incident in Arabic here, posted on December 2, 2015:

To our beloved children in the God-protected Archdiocese of Lattakia

To prevent any confusion resulting from the circulation of details about the incident that happened at the Church of Saint Andrew and so that we may not come under judgment, we the priests of the Archdiocese saw fit to explain the incident as it happened on Friday, November 27, 2015:

At 5:45 in the evening, a young man in his twenties entered the courtyard of the church, where a special celebration was being held for the feast of church's patron, and started a verbal altercation with a group of the church's young people who were in the courtyard. Following this, one of the church's priests was called to break up the dispute and he removed the young man in a calm and  tactful manner. About an hour later, around 6:45, the young man returned and entered the courtyard of the church with a knife and hand grenade, running into one of the church's pastors. When the priest tried to calm him, he shouted even more, threatening him and attacking him with the knife he was carrying. When the youth of the church, who gathered around the priest, attempted to push him away in order to protect the priest, he threw the grenade he had with him and it detonated. After this, the crowd was able to overpower him and take away the second grenade that he was about to throw. After that, he was handed over to the relevant security authorities. This incident resulted in the death of a child and various injuries to over 35 people. The priests of the diocese flocked to the scene of the incident to see what happened and to visit the wounded in the public and private hospitals in the city of Lattakia. A team from the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch visited the patients and covered their costs at the public and private hospitals, in addition to the Red Crescent's gracious presence to rescue the wounded at the scene of the incident.

We, the priests of the Chuch first of all condemn this criminal act and express our heartfelt sorrow and condolences to the family of the departed child, asking the Lord Jesus to have mercy on him and to anoint the wounds of the souls of his parents and all his relatives with His divine grace. We also ask the Lord to quickly heal all those who were injured.

We also express our gratitude to the medical teams at the public and private hospitals for their speedy response in offering all types of aid. We likewise thank the security officials who have been performing their duties to the fullest since the moment of the incident.

Last but not least, we ask our faithful brethren to pray to ward off every danger and harm and danger from the children of our flock and all our people. We request that all the faithful brethren assist the security officials if they know of weapons in the possession of individuals that have been committing crime and causing harm to all.

May the blessing and mercy of the Lord be with all of you.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Carol Saba on Demonizing Russia

French original here.

On the Dangers of Demonizing or Idealizing Russia

"There must not be a cold war, at any price," declared Nicholas Sarkozy while visiting Moscow on October 29. The former French head of state, who met at length with President Putin, also gave a lecture on political science to the students of MGIMO, the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

In the Russian capital, Sarkozy managed to make his transformation. Sarkozy "the American" became in Moscow Sarkozy "the Russian" and did not hesitate to employ a rather Gaullist vocabulary to demonstrate his closeness to Russia. This is a major indication that the world, which was dominated at the time of his accession to power in 2007 by the unilateralist vision of the American neoconservatives who were then his inspiration, has since changed its geopolitical paradigm. The world of the "hyperpower" (the term originates with former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine) has effectively given way to the apolar or multi-polar world of today, a world beset with a myriad of dangers of an entirely new nature which are developing in a chaotic, dynamic and globalized manner. Obviously, this world is structurally in need of "governance" and better control over dangerous trends.

In Moscow, the former French head of state was able to give a lucid speech inspired by the fundamentals of the logic of geopolitics in today's world. His reading, contrary to a certain Western policy that would like to "isolate" Putin's Russia by constantly pointing fingers at it, right or wrongly, simply warns against the dangers of ceaselessly demonizing Putin's Russia. Russia has managed to once more emerge onto the world stage. It has not lacked for causing fears and anxieties, attractions and repulsions. The most contradictory ambivalences are expressed about it, as well as the most extreme criticisms and the more servile accolades. For my own part, I do not idealize Putin's Russia, but neither do I demonize it. There are many who do it today, rightly or wrongly. From the point of view of those who demonize it, there is no lack of topics. Yesterday Crimea, then Ukraine and today Syria. But dispassionately and objectively, the act of demonizing Russia does a lot more harm than good in this apolar, complicated and broken world of ours.

A political tool as old as the world, demonizing consists of inventing enemies and to force the features of their failure in order to create, justify and perpetuate certain policies of confrontation. It is a dangerous and risky game in today's world which is in search of leadership and governance, a world that is more in need of regulations than confrontations that feed confrontations, fears and wars. It is clear that a distance is widening with the incomprehension and misunderstandings that are developing day in and day out between Moscow and the Western camp.

It is a process of estrangement that could lead in the end to a new cold war. In Moscow, Sarkozy sought instead to build a bridge and reach out in order to avoid this drift toward "a new cold war" which, according to him, "would be devastating." Expressing himself-- and not without emotion-- before students at the "Sciences Po" of Moscow, Sarkozy praised Russia's leading role, stressing its centrality in today's global world. Before speaking about conflicts on the world stage, he highlighted the interdependence of the destinies of Europe and Russia.

"Europe needs Russia and Russia needs Europe," he said, in a variant of the well-known Eurasian Gaullist expression. "Yes, it's Europe," declared General de Gaulle in Strasbourg in November 1959, "from the Atlantic to the Urals, it's Europe that will decide the world's fate!" Sarkozy was also right to say in Moscow that "Russia  is essential to resolving the Syrian conflict..." before vehemently pronouncing sentences mixing politics and feeling: "I believe in Russia... You are a great world power... Russia is indispensable to the world... Without Russia, we cannot meet the challenges and crises..."

Our strategic error is wanting to apply Western norms to Russia! Those who believe that Russia should resemble the West and that it should conform to the West's paradigm are wrong. Since Ivan the Terrible and even earlier, Russia has had its own paradigm. Its destiny is that of a great ambivalence between East and West, between Europe and Asia, between rationality and irrationality, between unity and fragmentation. Did not General De Gaulle refuse to see in the USSR anything other than "a temporary avatar of eternal Russia" and in its government "a modernized form of a fatal autocracy"?

The Soviet period significantly affected Russia. It still needs time to make its transformation and exorcise all the old demons. Still weighing on Russia is its resulting weakening during the years of the collapse of the Soviet system and the troubled years that followed the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1990. This was resented in a country that is so proud and so nostalgic of past grandeur. There are many in Russia who resent what they see as a systematic looting of Russia's economic and financial wealth through the many privatization programs led by the West in the 1990s.

Since then, Russia has been trying-- not without difficulty and at times with many relapses-- to return to the circle of nations and and to effect "its own" democratic transition in an immense country that traditionally has a strong autocratic tradition. Additionally, for many Russians the West has not stopped wanting to surround it and prevent this former great imperial power from reconstituting its forces and capabilities. The phenomenon of Putin and his great popularity can only be understood and deciphered through this lens, that of the Russian historical subconscious that desires "Russia's return." It is obvious that everything isn't black or white in Russia's evolution since the fall of the Berlin Wall. But whatever you say, whether you like it or not, it has proven its capacity to not only to return to the international stage but to restore its offensive and deterrent capabilities and to revive a dynamic diplomacy of influence. Of course, it still has a long way to go in terms of a democratic transition.

But it is not through demonizing Russia nor in demonizing its Orthodox Church-- which is reconstituting itself from its ashes-- that we we can help Russia along this path. Whether monarchist or communist, it pursues a neo-imperial geopolitical model (and is not the only one to do so...), a model based on power that is exported and projected from the center. Rather than isolating or demonizing it, we should understand Russia in all the strata of its historical depth and extend a hand to it as a partner, not as an adversary, reminding it by way of substantive dialogue of truths and fundamentals. I will go even further: let the first power that is without sin and can claim to have guarded its moral virginity intact cast the first stone! The state of desolation in the Middle East, the inability of the powers to resolve conflicts and their capacity for pursuing them with cynicism and interest has sufficiently inoculated us so that we can understand the game of nations, keep a cool head and stay rational! The railway that Sarkozy tried to lay on the Moscow line, to say that demonizing Russia is not game free of risks for the evolution of Russia and the world, is a step in the right direction. Neither demonizing nor idealizing Russia, but a necessary and useful work of convergence with it, for the sake of peace and security in the world and in order to put an end to all attacks on the freedom and dignity of persons and peoples!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: Come, Follow Me

Arabic original here.

Come, Follow Me

A man comes to the Lord to test Him. This man was good because he kept the commandments and followed all of them: thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not bear false witness... Nevertheless, the Lord said to him, "One thing you lack: sell whatever you have and distribute it to the poor... and come, follow Me." That is, you are not perfect if you have only kept the commandments.

If the poor have accept you in their hearts, then My Father will accept you in His kingdom. That is, if the poor are not pleased with someone, then God is not pleased with him. He who pleases the poor pleases God. 

David said in the Psalm about the righteous man, "He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever" (Psalm 112:9). He did not say that he gave one thousand or five thousand lira as charity. He said "He has dispersed." What do we say today when the system is a system of seeking to accumulating money, the financial system and financial abundance? So long as this system exists, how can a person disperse? Our  fathers, great theologians such as Basil the Great and John Chrysostom, said that each one of us is a steward of what he possesses. You are entrusted with your possessions for the common good.

The rich person is really the one in whose eyes God is great. He is fervent like the prophets, not a flatterer and not one who speaks idly. In our minds we must hold the rich and the poor to be equal. We must magnify those who follow the path of the prophets and be attracted to those who are righteous. The weak, the sick, the wretched, the needy and the outcasts in our society are the ones who are made great. 

Why do people jealously guard what they possess? Why do they refrain from giving? It is because they fear death. They fear that they will meet death without any money in their fists. They know that they will go to the grave naked and barefoot, but they still do not learn. He who has seeks more, he who does not have seeks more, and it's all a race to be shrewd. It's all competitions for glory and the game ends in the grave.

So what should we do? We should open hearts to hearts. The issue is not one of us giving a little or a lot. The issue is that the heart must break before the sick, the weak, the outcast and the despised. The great issue is for us to consider ourselves as nothing. He who considers himself as nothing will be made something by his Lord. Hearts are closed and stony because they are proud. But one who wants to resemble Christ should consider himself as nothing. Our Lord was broken on the cross and trampled under the cross and so was lifted up to the highest heavens. Our great calling is to love people-- all people. Our great strength is that we lift them up over our own heads. Our honor is in that we love; it is in that we forget people's transgressions. You are great if people trample you down. When they persecute you, you know that you are loved by Christ. What is your concern with people. That they say something nice about you? This is a satanic temptation. "Woe to you when all people speak well of you" (Luke 6:26). This means that you desire praise. The righteous person rejects praise.

For us to enter into the kingdom means that we behold the good. The kingdom of God means love and truth. For us to enter into the kingdom means that we enter into the domain of truth, the domain of righteousness and that we are truly good. This means that our hearts are broken before all people, that we stand firm, that we love, that we obey, that we reach out in love to the ends of the earth, and that we open our hearts to let enter the poor, the oppressed, the outcasts and those who have no name, no glory and no honor. If they enter into our hearts and we become united to them, love them, and attached to them, at that point we will be like Christ and arrive at the apex of glory.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Individualism

Arabic original here.


"By brother is my life," go the famous words of Saint Silouan the Athonite, meaning that the other, my neighbor, my colleague at work, and all the people that I meet are my life. Let us contemplate these words. Despite the fact that our society is moving in the direction of individualism, our Orthodox faith is an effort in the opposite direction. We Christians believe that humans are closely bound to each other. This is clear in the teaching of our Lord and God Jesus Christ, who said, "I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was sick and in prison-- everything you have done to these My brothers, you have done to Me."

Likewise, there are many parables in the Holy Bible through which Christ wanted to indicate this important fact-- that my brother's comfort and happiness are an essential part of my own comfort and happiness. Indeed, my brother's comfort and happiness at the expense of my own comfort and happiness is the guarantee of my eternal comfort and happiness. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is very clear with regard to this fundamental matter for the success of our spiritual life. The rich man did not notice the existence of Lazarus, the poor sick man at his door, ignoring him completely. Christ condemned the rich man and blessed Lazarus, but why? To be sure, Jesus did not condemn the rich man because of his riches, and the Church does not consider wealth and the acquisition of property to be a sin. Nevertheless, the Author of the Bible warns us of the danger of being rich. Why? Because wealth tries to make us its slaves so that we will rely on it and not on God. Wealth can blind our hearts and make us callous before the sobs of the needy and their need for help. Brothers, comfort and security for ourselves makes us feel that we are invincible and this causes vanity and pride to take root in us. We start by thinking that we have obtained this wealth and this empire by our own personal intellectual abilities and competencies, forgetting that "every perfect gift comes down from God." Thus, we often deceive ourselves when we think that happiness and security come through wealth. Wealth and money are a dangerous temptation because they try to take the place of God and His commandment in our life. From the very beginning, Cain asked God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" God responded with total frankness, "Yes, each one of us is his brother's keeper." This is a practical responsibility that is urgent and necessary in our spiritual life, which is perfected through good works, according to the words of the Apostle James in his Catholic Epistle, and which make perfect everything beneficial for our souls.

Let us always remember that our brothers are our life because they are the image of our God who gave us life and who continues to give us life. Let us share every good thing with others, who are the image of our Creator, so that the Lord may permit us to share in His heavenly kingdom because in all simplicity, if we love His children, then we have loved Him in them. Without loving what is seen, it is not possible to love what is not seen, according to the words of the Holy Evangelist John.

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura, and Their Dependencies

Friday, November 27, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: In Hope of the Resurrection

Arabic original here.

In Hope of the Resurrection

The Church has no bridegroom but Christ because He alone is perfect. The Church is only a perfect bride for Him in terms of hope, because she is of history and because there are sins in her members. In reality, the Church is a hope that is only realized on the last day. All of us are marching in her in hope of the resurrection and eternal life.

In  a real sense, the Church is a plan and a plan by nature is not perfect. The Church is only perfected on the last day, when incorrupt bodies rise. Because it is the plan of salvation, we are within it. We are in it on our way to resurrection.

You arrive at the resurrection if you are enlightened. That is, if you receive the body and blood of the Lord because the Lord said "I am the resurrection and the life." The Bible teaches that those who receive the body of the Savior are called to the resurrection. We have no teaching about those who have not received the body of the Savior here. They are in His mercy. Therefore in hope we say that the Lord extends His mercy to those whom He wills. In faith in the Savior and His mercy we hope for the salvation of those whom He has loved. He receives all people in His mercy. Perhaps His mercy is the resurrection for those who did not know the teaching of the resurrection. They are most of humanity.

In profound, authentic theology we do not have a teaching about the eternity of the soul. This is a teaching of Greek philosophy. Our teaching is about the resurrection of the dead in their bodies, as Paul clearly states. In other words, there is nothing in the Holy Bible about the eternity of the soul. It speaks of the resurrection of bodies inasmuch as there are souls within them. We are not eternal. We are people of the resurrection. That is another teaching.

We pass through death as an inevitable punishment and there is no end to death until the final resurrection. Before that, there is no total victory. The perfect divine order after sin is death, and before the last day the resurrection is a promise. And a promise is about something that will happen.

The resurrection within us today is nothing other than love. Before that, bodies are still in their graves. Through the Holy Spirit who is in us, we become people of the resurrection. That is, we have a foretaste of the power of the resurrection. First of all, repentance is the first resurrection. Through it, we proceed to the resurrection of our bodies.

When you who are in Christ hope, something of your hope is realized through holiness. To speak deeply, holiness is a true anticipation of the resurrection because holiness is the will of God. In other words, holiness is the beginning of the kingdom within you. In it, our unity with the people of heaven peeks through, our holiness and their holiness.

Grace is a promise of what is to come. It is a murmur of the resurrection. Christ who will raise us from the dead raises us up today from sin. "The soul tastes death," but through faith, hope and love it also tastes the resurrection because Christ is alive forever and He causes us to taste His resurrection every day we are live.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: The Foolish Rich Man

Arabic original here.

The Foolish Rich Man

Today's Gospel reading tells us about a rich man who was preoccupied with his wealth. Jesus explains to us in this parable that when someone sets his heart on money, he will not have room in his heart for anything else. And in general, if we place anything or anyone in our heart to rule over us, there does not remain in the heart a place for anything else.

The meaning of this text from the Gospel is that money is subject to man, that money is something that we use, not something that uses us. Money is acquired, not loved. Therefore it must be distributed from time to time, under the current system in which we live, when it becomes an impediment to our moral life.

The Gospel talks about a person who wanted to accumulate possessions for himself without anyone sharing in them. So that they would remain his alone, he wanted to build storehouses and warehouses larger than what he already had. He said to himself, "Enjoy this life. Eat, drink. All of life is food and pleasure. All of life is riches and what they buy."

So spoke this man, whom the Bible describes as foolish. The foolishness is that he only approached pleasures and did not take pleasure in God. He did not love the Creator. His soul was empty of his Lord and full of lust. That is, in reality it was nothing. It vanished with the vanishing of lusts; it degenerated with the degeneration of pleasures.

How is money an instrument and not the goal of our efforts? Everyone knows that they can become possessed by money rather than remaining master over it. Money is in principle a servant which can transform into an object of worship. Because the Master knows this, He said, "You cannot serve both God and money." Whether or not you have much or little money, if you love it like it is the object of your longing-- that is, if you live not only with it but for it-- it takes God's place in your heart. At that point it governs your actions insofar as at the height of your longing for it, it becomes the object of worship in your heart, even if it is hard for you to admit this. This is, however, how things are. Money is the object of worship for many, both rich and poor. They sorrow to the point of fear when they lose it and it is their only real source of happiness; no other happiness is equal to it.

In the actual situation of the soul, it is possible for money to rule over you and for you to lead your life only in order to acquire it, for your happiness to end at that point. In the ultimate fall, you prefer nothing over it, no matter what you claim. At that point, you have no place for emotion and in your great attachment to it, you have no family and no friendship and perhaps you have no place for piety towards them. Money becomes a real god in the sense that it occupies all your interest, all your mind, all your heart and everything else becomes for you a fantasy, a myth or a lie. In the most extreme attachment to it, you will sacrifice all people, even those closest to you. It is like a living person for you. When people say that someone is a 'lover' of money, they are not exaggerating. The word is apt.

Even romantic love fades when it is eclipsed by the love of money.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Terrorism

Arabic original here. Bear in mind that Met Ephrem's flock in Tripoli have long lived in the shadow of terrorism.

Terrorism

The root of the word is "to be terrified [rahiba]" in the sense of "fear" and "terrorize [arhaba]" in the sense of "cause to fear." From this is derived the work "monk [rahib]," one who fears God. The Bible says "the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God."

Terrorism takes the form of violence and killing and often this behavior comes about because of a deviation of thought and belief. Thus the importance of the Apostle Paul's words: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus..." (Philippians 2:5).

Terrorism has become a major concern for the entire world. Very often, it is a "reaction" to injustice (the suppression of freedoms) and poverty. At other times, it is the result of an inner emptiness in a person who is tending toward despair in his life. Or it can also be the result of lust for money and power. Therefore we must treat the roots and causes of terrorism and not content ourselves with combating and exterminating it as all the countries do, pretending that this is effective.

In the Epistle of the Apostle James it says: "Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth... Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!" (James 5:4,9). Here it is speaking of injustice.

Therefore, during this time of terror, the voice of truth must be strong.  Let us say once more that injustice, poverty, and ignorance can be breeding-grounds for extremism.

*   *   *

Extremism in religion, excessive fanaticism for it, is exploited in order to realize political and material interests. 

Today this trend of terrorism is enticing many young men and even some young women and is often the result of a broken family life... A deviant or libertine sexual culture, alongside the consumption of drugs and alcohol, play an important role in creating and inflaming a spirit of revenge against real or imagined injustice or a violent obsession with seeking extreme pleasure that does not fear death and suicide, but rather chases after it.

A person brings forth good or evil after practicing devotion and sacrifice. God is the wellspring of Good and the Devil is the source of evil. Both of them seek sacrifice and devotion. The holy fathers, physicians of the soul, work hard to treat and cure man's illnesses. They guide people in order to transform man's negative powers into positive, constructive powers.

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, Koura and Their Dependencies

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Let us not be Firewood!

Arabic original here.

Let Us not be Firewood!

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser... you are the branches" (John 15:1,5). No doubt, by the Parable of the Vine and the Branches, Jesus intended to "explain to us the importance of love that is connected to Him and the measure of what we gain by being united to Him. Therefore He says that He is the vine as a lesson and a parable. The branches represent those who are united to Him, tied to Him, attached to Him, and who share in His nature by their acquisition of the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Saint Cyril of Alexandria).

"Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:2). Saint Cyril warns the faithful about not tying faith to works and says, "[If we content ourselves with] bare, abstract confessions of faith, without holding it with the bond of unity to courageous works springing forth from Love, then we will be dead and fruitless branches. Faith without works is dead, as the Holy Apostle James says [in his Catholic Epistle 2:20]. So if the branch remains attached to the vine without fruit, know that such a person shall face the shears of the vinedresser. He will cut him off and throw him into the fire, like useless trash." Clement of Alexandria (d. 216) says, "The vine that is not pruned becomes firewood. Such is the state of man. The word is a sword [yes, in the Holy Gospel, the sword symbolizes the word of God] that cleanses the deformation of the branches and drives the soul to bear fruit and to not be absorbed in pleasures."

The sole condition of the bond of unity between Christians is "piety and holiness," not any other worldly thing. Therefore, Cyril himself says, "Christ wants His disciples to be garbed in unity of thought and will and to be united in soul and spirit by the bonds of peace and love for one another. He wants them to enjoy an inseparable and indissoluble unity, that their wills might not resemble that which is in the world, attached to seeking pleasures, but that they maintain the power of love in the unity of piety and holiness." Christian unity must not eliminate diversity, following the model of the Most Holy Trinity, where there is unity in diversity and diversity in unity.

"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me" (John 15:4). Blessed Augustine (d. 430) says, "One who thinks that he bears fruit of himself and not from the vine is not a Christian.... Those who say 'We are righteous of ourselves'... This is the height of pride."

In view of the difficult circumstances through which our countries are passing, we must cite the words of Saint Justin Martyr (d. 165), the philosopher who was born in Palestine, as through he were addressing them to us, so that we might face these circumstances steadfast in faith. Justin says, "It is clear that no one is able to terrify and subjugate those of us throughout the world who believe in Christ. Despite our being beheaded, crucified, cast to wild beasts, chains and fire and every other type of torment, we do not abandon our confession. It is clear that the more these things happen, those who are pious before God increase in the name of Jesus. If someone severs parts from a fruitful vine, it will sprout more branches, flourishing and bearing fruit. This very thing is what happens to us. The vine that Christ our God and Savior planted is His people."

Justin's words come true if Christians remain faithful to their Lord and His teachings and if their unity is not based on plans that contradict their Gospel principles. Christian unity is either based on faithfulness to Jesus Christ or you should call it something else.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Be of Good Cheer, I have Overcome the World

Arabic original here.


Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

Jesus said to His disciples in His farewell address, "These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you" (John 16:1-4).

Under the current circumstances in our pillaged countries where civil strife is constant, sectarian division is sharply increasing, and random, gratuitous killing is rampant... we, the friends of Jesus, return to the word of God in order to be inspired by it, that our behavior may conform to this word so that we do not fall into temptation, but rather remain faithful to the Gospel, the teachings of the Lord, and the witness of the Church. Across the ages, the history of the Church has been a history of martyrs who suffered bitter persecutions and stood firm in hope, faith and love. They did not abandon their convictions. They offered themselves up upon the altar of the Lord. We are called to imitate them, just as they imitated the Lord.

The Lord Christ prophesied to us that we would face many difficulties, tribulations and persecutions, so that even if we are beset with trials, they should not lessen our resolve and we should not submit to despair and frustration. He prophesied to us about all of this, so that we may have courage and take strength in the Lord "at all times." In the days of the Apostles, the Jews persecuted those of their nation who embraced Christianity and expelled them from their synagogues, thinking that by expelling and killing the Christians, they were offering worship to God. The Holy Apostle Paul says of them, "I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge" (Romans 10:2), as though he were saying to us today, "You will endure afflictions from your people, but you must accept them steadfastly. Do not hate them under the pretext of your zeal for your faith." Saint Stephen, the first martyr, prayed for those who sentenced him to death: "Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not charge them with this sin.' And when he had said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:59-60). Those who were zealous for the Law reckoned themselves to be offering worship to God when they went to kill those bearing the message of Jesus risen from the dead.

In this context, Saint Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258) says, "Let no one be surprised if we constantly meet with persecutions, for we are constantly put to the test by many hardships, especially since Christ prophecies about their occurring in the last days. The Lord trained us with His teaching and preaching, how to face these wars. The Apostle Paul also taught us that persecutions would happen in order to test us. So we must look to the example of the righteous ones who came before us and hold fast to the love of God in death and suffering. Christ's name will be blasphemed against, but Christ will be glorified in us."

Building on Jesus' words to His disciples, "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33), Saint Maximus the Confessor (d. 662) warns his audience not to fall into the trap of fear and says, "If we want to be called by the name of God, let us struggle not to betray the Word like Judas, in the passions and let us not deny Him like Peter. Denying the Word is refusing to do good as a result of fear. Our betraying Him is a deliberate sin and an impulse toward sin." Maximus closes by stating, "Glory is the elimination of every sin."

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak" (Matthew 10:16-19). Jesus did not speak these words with the Holy Apostles only, but also with us, the children of this generation, as well, so that we may not sorrow, fear, or despair because our consolation lies in our faith that "the day of the Lord is near." Come, Lord Jesus.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Met Younan el-Souri: The Peacemakers

Arabic original here.

The Peacemakers

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9).

Can a person make peace!? And what do you think peace is...?!

The Lord says, " Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). No one makes peace-- that is, no one gives peace-- apart from those who have peace, Christ's peace. One who has Christ's peace is not troubled and is not afraid existentially, because he entrusts himself to Christ...

*   *   *

What is the peace that the Lord has given us? It is an intrinsic and substantial peace. That is, it is within us and from us in our nature that has been renewed through Christ in the Holy Spirit by the will of the Father. Christ's peace is, in reality, Christ's dwelling within us by divine grace. Wherever Christ rests and settles, there is the fullness of grace. This is an experience that one lives in the heart, where one enters into the company and the knowledge of God. 

He who has not made peace with himself-- that is, who has not repented-- cannot attain peace and so is unable to be a peacemaker. Therefore, one who does not know himself in repentance only knows God according to his passions. That is, he is immersed in himself and incapable of reaching outside himself in the pure love that is from above, from the Father of Lights. He cannot be a peacemaker.

*   *   *

The peace of the world that we hear about is security, a limited reigning-in of evil, as represented by wars, killing, destruction and what results from that. This is what the world calls peace. We do not disparage the importance of this for all human life. But what do we do with the evil lying within souls, such as selfishness, pride, hatred, enslavement to the pleasures of the flesh, love of possessions, vainglory, seeking praise and domination....?! These are the roots of evil in all human life. These are what destroys relationships between humans and sows division, strife and enmity among them. Here is the hiding-place of evil: the human heart "for from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within..." (Mark 7:21-23). 

*   *   *

From divine love springs forth every good thing, joy and peace. In Christ, we are a "new creation." Through the Holy Spirit, the Lord "who is good and the maker of peace" we live in newness of life. We have been granted the grace of the renewal of our existence through the incarnate Son of God and the grace to share with Him the power to create spiritually, since divine grace has become hypostasized within us. Through the breath of the Holy Spirit that is within us, the spirit of peace overflows into the world and we become peacemakers... So let us ask for the indwelling of the Spirit of the Lord within us through the obedience of the Word, loving in God the Father, along the path of true repentance and our abiding in God through our surrendering ourselves completely to Him, so that God may be "all in all"...

Archimandrite Younan al-Souri
Abbot of the Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos-- Bkaftin
[And as of this week, Metropolitan of Zahleh]

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Raising Children

Arabic original here.


Raising Children in the Family


Saint Porphyrios says, "Children's upbringing begins from the moment of their conception. The fetus hears and feels when he is in his mother's womb." A mother must pray much during the period of pregnancy. What sanctifies children and makes them good is their parents' life in the home. Children's behavior is directly connected to the state of the family.

*  *  *

Prayer in the family, in the house and in the church makes a child feel secure because prayer goes into the heart. It is very useful for the family to gather together with the children in order to pray together. A child must be trained to participate with his parents in prayer, even if it is for only a little part or a hymn that he has learned by heart. It is very useful for a child to see his father and mother praying in front of him. This picture in childhood will not leave him during his entire life.

Children today need people who provide them with a model and with prayer. Everything happens through prayer, silence and love: much prayer and little talking for children. If we constantly give them advice, them we will become overbearing to them. Family should not pressure children in order to make them good by force. We must let God speak in their souls. In the Book of Wisdom, Solomon says, "One who watches for Wisdom (i.e., Christ) at dawn will not be disappointed, for she will be found sitting at the gate" (Wisdom of Solomon 6:14) that is, present near him. A good upbringing in the Lord from infancy causes children not to be influenced by any of the bad influences coming from their surroundings.

*  *  *

There is no doubt that the priest has an important role in raising children spiritually, culturally and socially. Today children are absorbed with the lures of worldly things, with consumer society and with attractive modern technology. A priest must know in his wisdom how to guide a child along with his family, so that they will not drown in this consumerist social vortex. He must earn the family's trust, making him a spiritual father to every member of the family. Then they consult him in matters relating to the children and their problems at home, in church and at school. He must make use of knowledge of pedagogy and psychology relating to children and the family.

Here we want to call attention to and stress what what Saint Paisios advised about raising children, in terms of both family and priests. That is, providing the virtue of devotion (philotimia), which requires sacrifice, persistence and patience alongside instruction and guidance so that we may attain healing from all the maladies of sin.

So let us resemble the Lord Jesus Christ who " went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people" (Matthew 9:35).

By the grace of the Holy Spirit, this virtue of devotion makes the one who possesses it into a saint who is capable, by the healing power of the Lord Jesus, to comfort others, cause them to grow, and make them holy. 

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh on Christ with a Whip

Arabic original here.

Christ with a Whip

In order to justify their offenses in general and in particular their wars, some resort to this text from the Gospel: "Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves" (Mark 11:15 and equivalent passages in the other three Gospels). They put themselves in Christ's place in the story and put their enemies in the place of those who deserve to be killed and expelled. But is there a way of reading this text that is closer to the mind of the fathers?

The fathers found in this event a warning for themselves and for Christians in general-- not for others-- that gives them guidance in order not to fall into temptation, in order not to become merchants who traffic in holy things rather than faithful servants of the Church according to God's heart. They found that this event is concerned with them, the children of the Church, more than it concerns others who do not belong to the Church. Contrary to what happens today, they placed themselves in the place of the merchants, not in the place of Christ, so that they might benefit from repentance before Christ comes and expels them.

The fathers, then, asked their followers to be careful not to fall into the trap that the temple merchants fell, lest Christ come and expel them just as He expelled those who preceded them in defiling God's temple. Saint Ambrose of Milan (d. 397) says, rejecting human infallibility, "God does not want His temple to be a market, but a house of holiness. He does not preserve the priestly ministry as a religious duty without sincerity, but as willful obedience... He taught that the Church should not make a place for worldly commerce, and so He expelled the money-changers in particular, those who seek profit from God's money and are unable to distinguish between good and evil."

The Venerable Bede (d. 735), a doctor of the church, also calls believers to repent and to not behave like the merchants and money-changers in the temple so that Christ will not come and expel them. Bede says, "Christ cast the merchants and con-artists and all their lot outside, along with all those who are attached to the goods of commerce... We must avoid evil actions with great care and diligent perseverance, lest Christ come suddenly and find something evil in us as a result of which we will truly be worthy of whipping and expulsion from the Church."

Saint Irenaeus of Lyon (d. 202) affirms this patristic interpretation that calls for cleansing the temple of those who conduct commerce and wreak havoc within it. He employs a symbolic reading of the events and sees in the temple nothing other than the human body. "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). So according to Irenaeus' reading of the event, man is called to expel sin from his body and repent.

Origen (d. 235) has the same reading, as he states that, "He is zealous for God's house in each one of us. He does not want the house of prayer to be a place for money-changers or to become a den of thieves, as He is the Son of a jealous God... These words make it clear that God does not want anything foreign to mix with His will in the soul of any one of us, especially the souls of those who desire to accept the teachings of the divine faith."

According to these readings of the Church, we conclude that the fathers found in this passage a call to purify the Church from the money-changers who exploit their positions within it for their own interests and worldly purposes. Christ did not come to expel the children of foreign nations. He came and expelled from the temple the children of the temple who did not deserve to be children of the temple. This is confirmed by what Jesus said, citing the Old Testament: "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a den of thieves" (Mark 11:17).

Is it permissible to remain silent before the money-changers and thieves who occupy the temples of God? Is it permissible to remain silent before the money-changers and thieves who claim that they are doing Jesus' work since they are expelling other money-changers and thieves in their image and likeness? Is it permissible to remain silent before those who do not clothe themselves in Christ's humility but who use His name as an excuse to launch their wars?