Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Met Saba (Esber) on Demons

Arabic original here.

On Demons

There is a strong tendency toward denying the devil and not regarding him as an existent being. Some people, especially those regarded as intellectuals, believe that the devil is a human creation and that evil fundamentally only exists in man and not outside him. But those of this inclination do not sufficiently explain the reason for the inclination toward evil in man and they do not give a clear answer to the constantly-raised question, "Where does limited man get this terribly destructive boundless capacity for evil?"

This is all normal if those who deny the devil's existence are nonbelievers, but it seems in recent times that some preachers and teachers have come to deny the devil or they erase him and his effect on the life of believers. They are motivated in this either by personal conviction, forgetting that they belong to an integrated system of faith, or out of a desire to remove fear of him from the consciousness of the faithful. The influence of worldly thinking has started to invade the Church and what we are talking about right now is just one sign of that invasion.

This tendency is countered by another tendency toward blaming all the causes of evil on the devil,  exculpating man from any personal responsibility for it, and neglecting effort toward explaining actual evils and identifying their various causes. What does the Christian faith say about these two contrary tendencies?

Demons, according to the Christian faith, are living, bodiless beings. They were originally angels who rejected God, so they fell from His presence and became enemies to Him and to anyone who follows Him.

Divine revelation does not disclose to us how and why the demons fell. The Bible merely hints at a great catastrophe at the dawn of creation, before the creation of the visible world and after the creation of the angels, about which we only know the consequences and results. Some angels placed themselves in a position of opposing God, so they fell and became enemies of all that is good and holy. "And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12:7-9).

In the Revelation of John it likewise says, "A great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water" (Revelation 8:10).

Therefore Christian tradition calls the leader of this rebellion "Lucifer," which means "light-bearer," meaning that he was an angel and fell because he transformed by his personal will from his natural state to an unnatural state. He placed himself against God and fell from good to evil.

Denying the existence, activity and influence of the devil is incompatible with the Gospel. The Lord Jesus' teaching is very clear in this matter. He called him "the ruler of this world" (John 14:30) and He confronted him personally during the temptation after His baptism and forty days of fasting (cf. Matthew 4: 1-11, Luke 4:1-13). He likewise spoke frankly of him in the parable of the sower, "The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels" (Matthew 13:38-39).

We will limit ourselves to two citations from the Apostle Paul. "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:11-12). "Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light"(2 Corinthians 11:14).

The word "satan" in its Hebrew and Greek roots means a number of things, all of which relate to evil: the adversary, because he is the enemy of man; the recalcitrant, because he resists God and His will; the divider, because he is behind every schism and division; the swindler, because he defrauds man in order to cause him to fall into sin in countless ways. In the Gospel, Christ calls him "a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44).

The question many people ask is, "Why do we not see the devil or confront him personally?" The Christian response is very simple: he doesn't need to reveal himself to humans. Instead, it is enough for him to beckon them or to suggest an idea to them so that they can easily respond to it. Here response in the sense of human weakness spiritually, not that they invite the devil into their homes personally. Nevertheless, we know from the experiences of great spiritual figures that they confronted him personally and that he opposed and fought them. This is because he could not defeat them with thoughts and suggestions.

All this does not mean that ordinary people do not experience the devil's presence and activity around them and in them. This is because any one of us is capable of observing himself spiritually, of noticing an invisible power that pushes him toward evil, either completely or partially. Decide to give an amount of money to a person in need who deserves it, then notice how many thoughts come to you, pushing you to reduce the amount, from the moment that you make the decision until you carry it out!

It remains a live question, what is the attitude that we should take towards the devil? The Eastern Christian spiritual tradition in particular advises on the one hand that we do not exaggerate his role and on the other hand that we do not take him and his activities lightly. Likewise, we should not use him as an excuse not to look for personal, individual and social causes that lead to evil and misery or for natural causes that lead to disasters, plagues and diseases.

Exaggerating the devil's role and avoiding personal responsibility for the evil that besets us contributes to the growth of the tendency to deny his existence and puts man in a position of being unable to resist him. Likewise, taking the devil and his influence lightly places us unconsciously under his influence and authority. In such a case, he guides us without our being aware.

Our spiritual tradition also advises us not to use him as an excuse to exculpate ourselves from our personal responsibility for the evil that is around us. We believe that man, after the fall of Adam and Eve, became subject to the evil that dominated him. However, we also believe that through Christ risen from the dead we are no longer under the direct authority of the evil one, so long as we do not renounce Christ and our baptism and willingly give ourselves over to the devil.

So the Christian must confront the evil that is within him and strive earnestly to be rid of it, replacing it with the good that is opposite to it. Our spiritual heritage says that it is not enough to uproot evil from the soul, but rather calls for replacing it with the corresponding virtue. Therefore a person's effort to purify and elevate his soul is based on taking care to acquire the virtues. The relationship is positive in this regard: to the extent that you are filled with love for God and the virtues, the evil within you is lessened.

Our world will remain a battleground between the victorious power of God and the powers of the demons until the last day. We face this struggle first of all within ourselves and on a personal level. The Lord taught us with the parable of the sower, where the wheat and the tares will be separated on the last day.

The great spiritual figures attribute every evil in the world to themselves, believing that if they were purified in the necessary manner then things in this world would be better. A contemporary theologian has said, "The problem is not that everyone isn't a Christian. It's that not all Christians are saints." This is how believers deal with the evil one.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Bishops

Arabic original here.

The Bishop: A Spiritual, Patristic Approach

There is a deep bond between the bishop and the local church. He is tied to a specific, real diocese (bishop over a territory).

Saint Cyprian says, "The bishop exists in the church and the church exists in him." Saint Ignatius of Antioch says, "Follow the bishop as  the Lord Jesus Christ follows His father..." (Epistle to the People of Smyrna 8:1-2).

He is the priest par excellence, the successor of the apostles, and the teacher who watches over the upright faith as well as the Orthodox ethos. The word 'episkopos' means someone who watches over, the overseer, the one who preserves and protects. The bishop presides over the eucharistic gathering and distributes the holy mysteries that are the source of grace and life. The bishop remains, despite everything, a mere servant of the mysteries because Christ Himself is the true source of the grace that is bestowed by the Holy Spirit Himself.

The bishop as teacher:

"Rightly dividing the word of truth" (cf. Canon 19 of the Council in Trullo). This responsibility requires of him great humility, simplicity of life, and an upright ethos.

The bishop does not speak in his own personal name, but in the name of the Church. That is, in the name of the community of the Church, the body of Christ, as well as in the name of holy tradition. He receives this grace from Christ Himself through apostolic succession.

The bishop as shepherd:

He is the the shepherd of rational sheep who watches over them: "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). The bishop is the image of Christ when he follows God's will in the Church by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then "obedience to the bishop is obedience to God," as Saint Ignatius of Antioch says in his Epistle to the Ephesians (5:2) and his Epistle to the Magnesians (3:2).

He is the guard who takes care of his sheep. He strengthens the weak, treats the sick, and strives after the lost sheep.

In the prayer of consecration of a bishop we pray, "Grant, O Father, to Your servant whom You have chosen for the episcopate that he may shepherd Your holy flock."

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: Our Call to True Sonship

Arabic original here.

Our Call to True Sonship

Today we commemorate the fathers who gathered at the Fourth Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon 451), who taught that Christ is both God and man and that He has two natures, divine and human. They are our fathers in the faith and they begat us in Christ Jesus. We come from them, from their positions and their words, and we constitute a right-believing Church, which is the Church of Christ.

With regard to those who left the Church because they did not believe in the Most Holy Trinity and in Christ as God and man, the Apostle Paul says in today's Epistle to Titus to stay away from them, turn away from them. Do not have dealings with the heretic, anyone with deviant dogma. You have your path and he has his. Of course, you love him and you serve him, but you do not think like him. You are a child of the living, right-believing Church, which Christ renews in the one true faith.

The faith is upright and pure when you nourish it with your love for Christ, with your obedience to Him and your persistence in the Church. You are a member in the Church and you must practice your membership in her. If you are absent and your absence is repeated, you will not be known as a brother. How are you known to be Christians with upright dogma if you are not present in the gathering of the faithful at every feast and every Sunday morning? Those who are absence have their business, but they are not of us. For this reason in ancient times they said that anyone who is absent three consecutive times from the Divine Liturgy is cut off from the community.

The Church is not a building and walls. It is the people. The building is called a church because the church is where they gather. It is where the faithful people come together. The Church is the body of Christ and this means that Christ looks out to people through those who believe in Him, as He says, "I am the vine and you are the branches" (John 15:5). Christ came, was crucified, died, arose and ascended into heaven, so He is invisible, yet He must be known. He must be preached. Who preaches Christ? Who knows Him? Who loves Him? How do strangers know Him? Christ is known through those who love Him if they are gathered to be renewed by His blood. We need a connection to Him. It is not true that someone who stays at home is connected to Christ. This is an excuse for his laziness. But when we are together in one place we drink from one source, we receive one word, our minds are molded by the words of the Gospel, our thoughts are fused with the dictates of the Gospel, and at that point we are one.

We give life to the Church when we are gathered in her, we follow the same words, and we receive the one body of Christ and the precious blood of Christ into our souls, into our spirits, into our bodies.

When we say in family life, "This child comes from his father's blood and from his mother's blood,"we mean that he is connected to them. He is one with them on account of having the same blood. In this sense we receive Christ's blood in order to be one with Him. If the blood of Christ is not in us, then we do not belong to Him. And if we do not receive Christ's body, then we do not belong to Him.

Therefore the Church is our mother who waits for us at every divine sacrifice, in order to embrace us, in order to feel that we are her children, so that Christ may see from heaven that we are under His banner and under His wings. So we must gather together to say to Him, "We are Your children. We are here with You in Your house, before the Holy Gospel and before the holy chalice from which we are nourished." At that point we are in one spirit and one mind and we look for the benefit of all the brothers, great and small, men and women, and we are truly a single community in love for all, holding fast to daily obedience to Christ in His love.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

al-Monitor: Jerusalem Patriachate Sells Church Lands (Again...)

Read the whole thing here

In Jerusalem, secret sale of church land to developers revealed

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Greek Orthodox Church secretly sold 500 dunams (124 acres) of land in West Jerusalem to undisclosed Israeli developers, giving rise to angry calls for the patriarch to be removed.

The leading Israeli financial newspaper Calcalist revealed the story June 27, though the sale quietly took place in August 2016. The deal is sparking controversy within official and nonofficial Orthodox groups in Palestine and Jordan, and stoking worry among the 1,500 households whose subleases will expire in about 30 years. The church in the 1950s granted a 99-year lease to the Jewish National Fund. Typically, such leases on church-owned property are renewed, and the people who subleased the property, along with their families, had expected to remain there.

The secret deal came to light after the church filed a complaint with the District Court of Jerusalem against the Israeli municipality, seeking documents proving the church is no longer bound to pay taxes to the municipality when ownership is transferred.

The Orthodox community in Palestine and Jordan is accusing Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, Palestine and Jordan of diverting church lands to Israel and is demanding he be removed from office.
In a July 3 meeting, 14 local Orthodox institutions agreed to stop all forms of dialogue with Theophilos III and the synod, and to form a mini-secretariat to follow up on all protest actions and popular movements, calling for withholding Palestinian and Jordanian recognition of Theophilos III.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: Jesus Expels Evil Completely

Arabic original here.

Jesus Expels Evil Completely

Jesus was in Capernaum, on the west bank of the Sea of Tiberius, where He lived and from where He started preaching in Galilee. As though He wanted to confront the devil directly, He went across to the other shore and there appeared two madmen before Him. The devil tormented people and still does, and so many cases of illness were attributed to the devil.

Here the two men were being tormented because they faced the Lord and the evil spirit did not want to surrender, so they said, "What business do we have with you O Jesus, Son of God? Did you come here to torment us before the time?" in the sense of saying, "the time has not come for Your kingdom, so we want to rule in the world." But Jesus the Lord came to scatter the devil's kingdom, to put an end to evil, to erase sin, so He expelled the evil spirits from the two sick men until they asked to be cast into the pigs and were drowned in the lake. It is forbidden to eat pigs according to Jewish law and raising them was prohibited.

Jesus expels evil completely and the symbol of this is that the animals die in the lake and then He returns to Capernaum and preaches.

Each of us harbors evil within. It is not that we have caused the devil to dwell in our hearts, but that sometimes we collude with him and very often our demons seem attractive to us.

Close companionship with the Lord is not pleasant for the heart because the Lord is demanding and insistent. He wants us for Himself and not for our demons. He does not want to share us with anyone. For this reason we often say to the Lord, "Why did you come to torment us? Go back to Your heaven and leave our hearts to us so we can hand them over to demons."

When someone gives himself over to lying, he gives himself over to the devil. When someone gives his soul over to any form of falsehood, aggression or anger, he is simply giving it over to the devil. Every bad thing we do is simply an alliance with the devil. This is why when someone justifies his wicked deeds, it is simply the devil speaking through him.

Everyone who believes in his heart and confesses with his tongue that Jesus Christ rose from the dead will rise. Anyone who believes in his heart and confesses with his tongue that Jesus can raise us up from the dead and that He saves us from our sins today before every temptation is someone who is saved. But the one who claims to be Christian and prays in our churches but justifies wicked things, endorses transgressions, and sings the praises of sins is not being saved and is not a Christian.

Therefore, if we want to be saved and we want to be serious and are not part of this Christianity of empty words, then let us bow down and say to the Lord, "You are the Savior." "Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help" (Psalm 146:3). This is what the Bible says. Humankind does not save humankind. Weapons do not save humankind. Politics do not save humankind. Christ saves humankind.

Give yourselves over to Christ and then your demons will leave you and be cast into lakes and unclean pigs. Then you will be purified. Stay firm in truth, in the purity of the Gospel and do not let your minds be defiled by people's words, but let your words spring forth from the words of the Lord and let your feelings come from the feelings of the Lord. Anyone who feels contrary to Jesus is unclean. A person is responsible for his feelings, through what goes on in his mind and in his heart. Whoever sullies himself with any dark feelings toward another creature for any reason whatsoever is a defiled person. Expel your demons from your hearts and expel them from your minds, that the Lord alone might dwell in your minds and your hearts and you may be children of the Most High.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Met Saba (Esber): The Consolations of Homs

Arabic original, published June 5, 2017, here.

The Consolations of Homs

The Archdiocese of Homs is the second most numerous after that of Damascus. The destruction and displacement that has afflicted the city of Homs has afflicted it. Many of its people have fled it, for the most part heading for neighboring regions that are safer, particularly Wadi al-Nasara. Half of our diocesan complex has been destroyed there. The damage affecting some churches ranges from almost complete to partial, but its great loss is represented by the emptying-out of the Old City and neighborhoods adjacent to it of their inhabitants. Stone brings back people and becomes empty ruins without them.

Therefore her bishop and priests did not leave her. Those who were in the combat zone, along with their parishes, took refuge in safe areas within Homs. He has continued to care for the flock entrusted to him with the strength, ability and acumen given to him.

Despite the current hardship, some of the priests, with the blessing of their bishop and with the cooperation of donor organizations, have initiated development projects in support of those who have been affected. Around 92 people live there: a year-round nursery in the Church of Our Lady (the Armenian Quarter) takes in 150 boys and girls. There is a sewing and embroidery workshop that produces ecclesiastical vestments, a factory for producing sponges and upholstery, a workshop for producing winter clothing, and a cattle farm. It should be mentioned that the income from these projects is dedicated to supporting affected families and to encourage them to set up small businesses.

Needs are great and varied and require enormous budgets. But the believer trades with the balance given to him and offers it to God, who blesses and multiplies honest effort, no matter how humble. Let the believer not forget the words of the Lord, "And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward" (Matthew 10:42).

Likewise the Patriarchate, in cooperation with donor organizations, has launched the "Let's Build" campaign to help the families of the Old City to rebuild their homes and return to them. 751 houses and three schools have been rebuilt in addition to a shelter center as of the time of this writing. By the end of this month, 110 more houses will have been rebuilt.

You may hear some grumbling here and there. Those who lack love justify their laziness with criticism, not caring for those who are exhausted, whose frustration and despair increase on account of his negativity. Those who are thankful and understanding, though they are few, have the blessing of contributing to raising the spirits of those who are exhausted by their examples, strengthening their hopes in their Church and their nation.

The zeal of the priests and the flock, particularly the youth, spreads consolation, lessens suffering, and bears witness to the terrifying destruction and its horrors. From the grave of the martyred Father Frans in his monastery in the heart of the Old City, I raised a prayer for the repose of his soul, for the souls of those who have died, for the strengthening of those who still struggle, refusing to leave their precious land of Syria, watered with the blood of martyrs and saints.

It is recounted in the life of St Paisios the Athonite (d. 1993) that on a visit to Australia he felt, while on the airplane, a powerful spiritual stirring. So he asked his companions, "Where are we flying  now?" The response: "Over Syria." He wept and said, "It is the land of martyrs and saints."

I was blessed to share with the people of Homs in their joy at the return of their diocesan complex to life. The patriarchate, by direction of His Beatitude John X, has taken on the costs of rebuilding the diocesan complex, located in Old Homs, refurnishing it, and restoring its service to what it was before 2012.

The diocesan choir served the prayer of thanksgiving. More than 60 young people, performing impeccably, makes you feel optimistic when you learn that they did not cease their study of music even in the most difficult times through which the city passed. Choirs of adults and young people that would be dreamed of in any diocese.

You could feel in the eyes of the faithful who had come to celebrate the occasion a clear joy that was at the same time mixed with a deep sorrow. There is no doubt that what the people of Old Homs and its surroundings experienced was very bitter and hard to forget. But the desire to return and build anew was stronger for them than the sorrow over what had passed. Their enthusiasm and determination inspires confidence not only in the return of Homs, but of all Syria. There is no doubt that the return of the diocesan complex to serving it, starting from its original location, will encourage many to return to their homes.

The Church of Saint George in the Hamidiyya neighborhood, which was almost entirely destroyed, has a different story. In 2005 the bishop of the diocese laid the cornerstone for a new church that was bigger than the old and crumbling one. By 2012, infrastructure work had been completed. But work stopped as our country entered into its trial and the old church was completely destroyed. As soon as the area was regained and Old Homs was liberated, work to rebuild it began. Many benefactors contributed to this symbolic project and it was brought back better than it had been before it was destroyed. The first liturgy was celebrated in it, after the completion of construction work, this past April 23, on the occasion of the feast day of its patron, Saint George the Victorious.

The church's pastor informed me that approximately 450 families have returned to live in the neighborhood, or about a third of the parish that had previously existed. It is a good number in record time. Despite the many blows that have struck the city, hope still remains strong among its people that she will return to life. In the Old City, you see closed shops and homes beside others that have been rebuilt and reopened. People have come back to live their and to lead their previous life on their land.

Our country has passed through extremely difficult historical circumstances. What it is going through now may be the most dangerous. One who observes the history of the Levant realizes that its fate is to be the battleground of great powers. This has happened on its land since the third millennium before Christ and continues to today. But the Christians have remained there, despite the agony of history and its sorrows for them. It is a great miracle and palpable proof of the activity of the Holy Spirit. Someone rightly said, and this in any case is our faith, that God is the Master of history and that He often bends it at the last minute, turning the course of its evil in the opposite direction.

In light of this faith, we read our history, our present and our future as a message of witness to the power and importance of love and of living witness to the one who conquered death and gave us new life. For you to believe in the risen Christ means that you rise after every fall to live anew.

I was still studying theology at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand in Lebanon when His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV laid the cornerstone of Balamand University. This was in 1988, when Lebanon was ablaze from the war that began in 1975. Journalists asked him, "You're building a university as the country is collapsing?" He replied, "If the fate of others is to destroy, our fate is to build."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on How to Bear Witness to Christ

Arabic original here.

The Perfection of Bearing Witness to Christ is in Martyrdom for His Sake

How do we bear witness to Christ before a hostile world? It happens by way of a calm attitude that accepts such hostility with meekness and love for those who fight against us. What is the motivation for such an attitude? It is our faith that Christ died and defeated death by His resurrection.

There is, among us, a person consumed by vain delusion and another person who longs for eternal life. The comforting good news remains that Christ is risen from the dead and defeated sin, evil, and death. Therefore He is able to raise us up with Him and grant us eternal life anew, that life that we lost in the Fall. And so it is for us to love and so live. Death is no longer before us, it is now behind us!

Today holiness comes by way of repentance, by way of humility and brokenness. Christ Himself became poor for our sake.

In this way we bear witness to true joy, the joy of the resurrection, the joy that springs forth from a heart broken before God and before others.

Have we thus shown service to others freely and with nothing in exchange? Our struggle lasts until death without our waiting for any final triumph. This is because the kingdom is in Christ who will come again outside of time and history, raising us up for good and bearing the fruits of our struggle for His sake. Do you see how we accept upon ourselves such a suffering person and joy at the same time?! This remains our witness before those who are despairing, despondent, broken and weeping. We bear witness through our holiness, through our joy, not through worldly authority and establishing magnificent institutions. The man standing before death, before losing love in this world, how can he not long for life, for love, for true joy?!

Only a praying person can bear witness to the incarnate Word, the Word who became a silent face in whom there is true worship, the presence that is attentive to others, in which there is live, hope and beauty.

The Jesus Prayer is nothing other than an internal cry, a hymn of love by which our heart is enlightened and enlightens others: the witness that God is love challenges others and angers no one. This is love of enemies. The witness is love above everything and before everything, a communion of reunion with others, though which one knows in his live how to speak with one who is suffering, how to console him with the living water that wells up from within him.

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: The Levantine Flavor

Arabic original here.

The Levantine Flavor

Leave aside religions, their teachings and their dogmas when you want to talk about the behavior of their adherents in history. All of them-- without regard for what their holy texts and religious traditions say-- are equal in righteousness or blameworthiness. Most of them subordinate their religious texts to the service of their greed, personal interests, and whims, to the point of making good evil and evil good.

The behavior of believers, especially in social and political matters, is not based on rules rooted in what their texts say, positively or negatively. Rather, it is based on what the interests of secular and religious leaders require. No religious or dogmatic reading of texts can claim neutrality because they are usually forced to take into consideration the inclinations and desires of rulers before issuing rulings or deciding between permissible and impermissible.

The religious reading of texts is not comprehensive. Instead it is selective and does not take into account the various aspects of interpreting any text in terms of justifications, rationales and contexts... Most who desire to support their opinions with religious text simply go to their books and their written tradition in order to select something that gives them additional proofs to support their pre-existing position and ignore what might be contrary to their opinion. So they don't look for what their religious texts are saying to them in all their aspects, but rather only look for what sates their whims and inclinations or what pleases their rulers and patrons.

Religious rulings and attitudes toward them change, even within a single denomination, with the changing of time, governments, and circumstances. The sole constant is dogma and worship. The rest is neither fixed nor essential and is subject to modification. If we take as an example the Crusades, the Latin Church considered them to be holy wars and their legitimacy with support from the Bible and the Christian religious tradition, but now it considers them to have been a historic error for which it must apologize to Muslims...

So we will state once more that Christianity is not one in historical experience, nor is Islam. For this reason we can talk about a historical experience by which Muslims and Christians from the Levant are distinct from other Muslims and Christians, due to a number of considerations:

1) The Levant witnessed the birth of Christianity and its roots go deep into the Levantine consciousness. The roots of Levantine Christianity are for the most part Arab and Aramaean (i.e., Syriac and Assyrian), while Greek culture predominated in the cities due to the Byzantine Empire's dominance at that time. This cultural diversity, alongside the presence of an Arab element and the transfer of the caliphate to Damascus under the Umayyads and a Levantine way of life differing from the predominant way of life in the Arabian Peninsula helped establish relations between Muslims and Christians that are different from relations in other countries and regions.

2) The Levant differs from the Arabian Peninsula, especially the region of Hijaz, the cradle of Islam, where the Christian presence was weak and dominated by scattered groups lacking the culture of the people of the Levant in their various denominations, alongside a predominant Jewish presence, which Islam distinguished somewhat from its view of Christians, or, in the language of Islam, the Nasara.

3) The Levant is that land that has witnessed the most important Islamic and Arab revival over the course of the centuries, since the most important translation movement, for the most part undertaken by Christians, started there and science and philosophy was transmitted from Greek, Persian and Sanskrit into Arabic, causing Muslims and Arabs to be more scientifically advanced than others. The Christian presence at that time was useful for the Islamic state and this lent a sort of Levantine flavor to relations between Muslims and Christians.

4) Over thirteen centuries of Islamic rule, Levantine Christians did not establish their own states and most of them-- particularly residents of cities-- did not fight alongside invaders, particularly the Franks, against the Islamic state. Therefore we can talk about the particularity of Christian-Muslim relations in the Levant.

These are some observations that have permitted us to say that Levantine Islam is different from other Islams, just as Antiochian (Levantine) Christianity is different from other Christianities. For this reason it is not possible to make an analogy on the basis of good or bad relations between Muslims and Christians in one specific geographic region and generalize it to all regions of the world. This is the Levant and this is its true spirit and it will not be ended.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: Be Bearers of Light

Arabic original here.

Be Bearers of Light

"If your eye is simple, then your whole body will be full of light and if your eye is wicked, then your whole body will be full of darkness." If we translate this verse into language comprehensible for us today, we would say that if your vision of things is good and comes from Christ's simplicity, then your entire being is full of light and if your vision of people and things is confused and comes from the evil in your soul, then you cast darkness upon people, only see them as darkened and you darken your own being as well.

Your vision of things must be simple. That is, direct, such that we stick to immediate reality. Does this mean that the Lord calls us to be simple-minded such that we be like children? We must be children in terms of heart, not children in terms of intellect. One can be an intellectual giant and at the same time be like a child in simplicity and innocence. The Gospel calls on us to see the light in people, since people are all bearers of light.

God made us in His image and likeness and we are called to brush away the dust that covers the image, to perceive the divine element that lies in every person to the point that if we see the beauty that is in them, we can awaken the God who is in them and return them to God the Redeemer who is within them.

Then the Lord said, "You cannot serve two masters, God and money." Divine lordship attracts, we worship it because we know it to be the source of life, from which we draw our being. But man quickly crafts other gods for himself. So it has been since the dawn of history. Man makes graven idols for himself and worships them, in reality worshiping his passions. He worships the flesh and creates a god for the flesh. He loves war, so he erects a god of war. Idolatry is passions that well up within us, for which we establish idols. Therefore when the one God wanted to smash the idols, what He really wanted was to erase the passions that created them.

When the one God appeared, radiant and mighty, in Jesus Christ, all the idols were broken. God was manifest upon the cross and in the resurrection and because of this people's passions were erased, but they became diffuse within people's souls and they established invisible idols for themselves. Because the Lord knew this and because of His certainty that His disciples would erect for themselves a great idol, a great imperceptible golden cow, He warned them, saying, "You cannot serve two masters, God and money."

The Lord chose money out of all the passions because it is the greatest and deadliest of them all. Our Lord chose money in order to fight man's worship of it. The love of money is deeply rooted in the soul because it is a refuge in which we take shelter. It protects against death, or so we think. Throughout life and throughout history, man lives fear. He fears death, sickness and isolation and so he makes storehouses of money to protect him from sickness and deprivation or to bring him healing from sickness, or so he reckons.

But the Lord is the one who protects us from the evil of deprivation, the evil of sickness and the evil of death, since the believer is safe in his Lord, trusts in his Lord, stands with his Lord, he shall not die. But man does not believe completely in the resurrection of the Savior and so he crafts in his life corners where he can reassure himself and warm himself. Man establishes in his heart a dark corner for the idol of money.

How do we fight this devouring passion? By giving. God said through the Prophet David, "He has dispersed, he has given to the poor, his righteousness endures forever." 'Dispersed' means that nothing remained for himself.  This is how we should practice giving. When I feel money in my pocket clinging to me so that I seek solace in it, the idol has begun. So I take it and trample it. I break the idol at its beginning. I give it to those who need it.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Rules for Receiving Holy Communion

This was published in this week's issue of al-Karma, the newsletter of the Archdiocese of Tripoli, without attribution. Arabic original here.

Rules for Coming Forward to Receive Holy Communion

"Behold I come to the holy communion. Do not burn me, O my Maker, as I receive it, for You are a fire burning the unworthy."

Those who desire to come forward to receive the Mystical Sacrifice must prepare themselves according to the rules established by the Church so that they may receive grace instead of judgment. There is no compromise when we come forward to receive the Holy Eucharist. After we receive the Eucharist, we will be in one of two states: either we will have received grace or we will have received judgment.

Preparation for receiving does not begin on the day in which we will receive the Lord's body and blood. It starts several days earlier, which is why we call it preparation.

How do I prepare myself to receive?

The spiritual father who guides us along the path of salvation helps me to develop the appropriate way to prepare myself according to my abilities, my health, and my endurance. Yes, each Christian must have a spiritual father who guides him along the way of salvation. Receiving communion and confession constitute the two fundamental pillars of this.

Confession is an important matter in the life of every believer. Through it, we receive a blessing, through the resting of the Holy Spirit upon us, because confession is one of the mysteries of the Church. Through confession, I reveal to my God, through the spiritual father, the reservoir of suffering and I seek forgiveness and healing from the Physician of souls and bodies. I fight the good fight to cleans myself in order to receive the reward, according to the words of the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Preparation also takes place in my room, particularly through my reading my prayer rule and my reading the prayers of preparation for Holy Communion (metalepsis) found in the daily prayerbook or the Euchologion. If someone does not read the prayers of preparation for Holy Communion, he cannot come forward to receive the Holy Eucharist. Likewise, if someone desires to prepare more, he can choose, in addition to the prayers of preparation, prayers and canons that he may pray individually, such as the Akathist to the Sweetest Lord Jesus, for example, or other prayers.

Seeking forgiveness from those whom we have wronged or saddened is of the utmost importance before receiving Holy Communion because, if we come forward for the Eucharist when we have a quarrel with anyone, we will harm ourselves. The Church teaches us as follows: "If you resolve, O man, to eat the body of the Lord... and drink the divine blood unto communion, first make right with those whom you have sorrowed."

Those who come forward to receive the Mystical Sacrifice must refrain from eating and drinking on the day in which they will partake of the Lord's body and blood. This fast is a form of preparation and this fast differs from one person to another according to each one's ability and health and according to what the spiritual father deems appropriate, as we mentioned above. There are those who will abstain from grease and oil for a week in preparation to receive the Eucharist, those who will abstain for three days or perhaps one day, according to each one's determination. In cases of sickness or disability, there is no impediment to receiving the Eucharist even for those who do not fast, especially if there is a need to take medicine for a chronic illness. As for children, they may receive without fasting, but their families should not forget to train them in fasting, confession and prayer when they are still at a young age.

Presence at the liturgy from its start is something extremely important, as is focusing during the prayer as much as possible. Understanding the divine words, pondering them, and listening intently to the reading of the Epistle and Holy Gospel allows divine grace to dwell within us and makes us worthy to receive the Lord's body and blood and the Eucharist makes us worthy of the kingdom of heaven and preserves us from the tricks and temptations of the Evil One, brings us forgiveness of our sins, and makes us a dwelling-place for the Lord.

Modest dress is an important part, because it makes us worthy to enter into the church without judgment, since we are not permitted to be a stumbling-block for others. Clothing for church should be loose and cover the shoulders, chest, back and legs and it should not be torn as in today's ridiculous fashion. Men should have bare heads, but women should cover their heads, according to the command of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:2-5). When we cover the beauty of our bodies, we are like the angels who surround God, who cover the beauty of their bodies and faces with their wings because they believe that their beauty amounts to nothing before the beauty of the face of God's light.

The prayer of thanksgiving is obligatory after receiving the Mystical Sacrifice. This is so that we are not without thanks, as was Judas Iscariot, who received from the Lord's hand at the Mystical Supper and went on to betray Him. Likewise, the Lord Jesus taught us to give thanks when He asked the leper who came to Him, out of the ten whom He had healed, "Where are the nine  Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" (Luke 17:17-18). How much more so should we sinners whom God has made worthy of this great gift that heals the sicknesses of our souls and bodies and makes us worthy of the heavenly kingdom! We can follow the prayer of thanksgiving in church, if it is read there, or in our home after returning from church.

After we receive the Eucharist, we cannot, as a matter of principle, kiss the priest's hand, because we have received the greatest blessing through our union with Christ Himself through our receiving His body. When we leave the church, we must preserve our prayer and our inner peace, do good works, and fight not to return to sin from which we have been purified, and so become children of the heavenly kingdom.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: Syrian Islam and Syrian Christianity

Arabic original here.

Syrian Islam and Syrian Christianity

When dealing with questions of Muslim-Christian relations, the following observations must be taken into consideration:

1) Relations between Muslims and Christians, their flourishing and deterioration, are not necessarily based on the religious and legal rules of the Islamic and Christian religions. To put it another way, it is not possible to talk about Christian-Muslim relations solely on the basis of what religious texts say.

2) Distinctions must be made between historical experiences in various places and times. It is not possible to generalize specific events that happened in particular places and times to every place and time.

3) Historical Christianity is not one nor is historical Islam one. It is not possible to talk about Christians in general or Muslims in general as though they were a compact bloc with absolutely no diversity. Any religious has various aspects across various denominations, countries and times.

We started our article today by presenting these three observations before we attempt to correct certain objections provoked by our article "A Conspiracy against Christians?!" (an-Nahar, June 10, 2017), where we stated, "Christians will not be eliminated from their homelands so long as they do not contribute to the elimination of their existence and presence. Christians have lived under the Islamic state for thirteen centuries without leaving their country. It is not true that they all took refuge in fortified mountains for fear of being killed by Muslims, since most Christians lived in cities, mixing with Muslims and sharing a common life with them."

When we said this, we were simply presenting historical realities that continue until now. The Christian presence in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Tripoli, Jerusalem and other cities of the Levant has been uninterrupted from the rise of Islam until the present day. Thus there is no comparison between the historical experience in the Levant, where the Christian presence is continuous, and North Africa or Turkey, where the Christian presence has gone extinct.


It is also not possible to reduce the extinction of Christianity in North Africa or Turkey to the religious factor alone. The reductionist view is blind and distorts the facts. Among the reasons for the end of Christianity in North Africa is that the alliance between the religious authorities and the temporal authorities in Rome against the the native people of the country (the Berbers), in terms of the exploitation of lands  and preventing the natives from access to the necessities of life, particularly the exploitation of African grain for distribution to the people of Rome and starving the Africans, the imposition of an oppressive taxation system, is part of what inspired a hatred for Rome and the institution of the Church among the Africans. This is what led the Africans to adopt the new religion as it arrived in their country, since they saw in it an escape from those who were greedy for the riches of their lands (see Fr Paul Decizier, SJ The Reasons for the Disappearance of Christianity in North Africa after the Arab Conquest, Beirut: Dar el-Machreq, 1993, pp. 14-16 [in Arabic]).

As for Turkey, after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, the Christian presence in Asia Minor began to decline. However, Ataturkist "secularism" was no better for Christians than Ottoman Islam. Those who survived the injustice of the sultanate were defeated by hard-line Turkish nationalism with the complicity of the West, especially of France which stripped Antioch and its surroundings (the Province of Alexandretta) from Syria and gifted it to Kemalist Turkey. Here we can mention the role of France, Russia and other countries in the elimination of Armenians, Syriacs, and Greek Orthodox from the whole of Turkey, from Anatolia, Cappadocia, Cilicia and Antioch to every city and village. As for Palestine, where at the beginning of the 20th century Christians constituted around twenty percent of the population, it was Israel that put an end to them and not the caliphate that had ruled the country for thirteen centuries.

Researchers unanimously agree that the extinction of Christianity in these countries is due to numerous causes: political, religious, social, cultural and economic and it is not possible to blame this extinction on a single cause, the spread of Islam or Islamic intolerance. It is true that in some periods, the intolerance of Islamic rulers led to persecutions of Christians, but other reasons also led them to abandon the faith of their fathers and forefathers or to abandon their countries.

In closing, it is necessary to admit the fact that Syrian Islam is different from other Islams, just as Antiochian (Syrian) Christianity is different from other Christianities. Therefore, we still believe in the permanence of the Christian presence in this country and in the possibility of establishing ideal, exemplary relations between the Muslims and Christians of this country on the basis of complete citizenship and respect for equality and general freedoms. We will say once again that Christian-Muslim partnership is an inevitable fate, at least with regard to Christians if they hold fast to remaining in their country, where Muslims and Christians mix no matter what the price.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Met Saba Esber: To the Bishop of Hama

Arabic original here.

To the Bishop of Hama

Offered to His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas Baalbeki

You mastered medicine, in particular surgery, and the path was open before you to get ahead in this world. Your qualities, baptized in the spirit of the Gospel, offered you wider possibilities for success and advancement in the world of bodily healing which you chose at first. But the Physician of souls and bodies, who captivated you from your youth, prepared a different path for you and called you to follow in His footsteps. Perhaps your contact with people's bodily suffering and your knowledge of treating it in soul and spirit led you to immediately accept His call. You chose the more profound path of healing and headed for treating the soul, knocking on the door of the priesthood.

Saint Luke the Physician before you followed these steps. During the era of Russian communism, you would find someone who was a bishop and a surgeon at the same time, practicing his episcopal service and continuing his medical practice with unusual competence. We all know, my brother, that you only very recently ceased practicing surgery.

This well-known intellectual capability of yours, along with your spiritual humility and the purity of your hand and tongue and the warmth of your pastoral care, caused the Holy Synod of Antioch to choose you with almost total unanimity as bishop of this diocese that is great in the piety of its people and their attachment to their Orthodoxy. In turn, it expects a great deal from you after the Holy Spirit delegated you to serve it. Many will push you to work in stone, administration and bookkeeping, which are not trivial fields, but indeed, are necessary for Christ's diocese because its affairs must be conducted "in a fitting and orderly manner." But for us, the stronger hope lies in that even more will push you to reform and heal souls and refine them with the morals of the Gospel.

Building up people ensures the stone and gives it meaning, while by itself the stone is incapable of bearing the good news of the Lord of the Church and so is unable to bear witness. Indeed, it distorts it, particularly when it is in the hands of those who have lost the fear of God. Did not the great Apostle Paul say, "Man is the temple of the Holy Spirit"? Human affairs are strange, my brother! Although their Gospel is very clear, they are for the most part pleased with limiting themselves to tickling their temporary feelings and emotions and not entering into the profundity of the inner man who is called to come to be in the likeness of God.

But what we know about you,  your personal attentiveness to the people of God, your tireless pastoral care from them in any place, and your compassion that has led you more than once to bring some of them to hospitals, makes us confident in your ability to nourish them with the divine, life-giving word and to feed them their daily bread.

How will your diocese transform into what you dream of it being? I leave that to your Lord. When I received my diocese, there was no worldly good in it apart from the absolute minimum. But a handful of the people of God continued to be present in it and for their sake God has poured blessings upon the diocese.

At the enthronement, an elderly woman from the diocese said to an acquaintance of mine, "We are a thirsty land. I hope the new bishop will be a constant rain cloud." I said to myself, what can I offer to the cracked and desert soil when I have no means apart from extending my hands filled with my sins and limitations before God?!

He filled them and they poured out upon the diocese in a way that until now still amazes me. I can find no answer to this apart from continuing to lift them up to Him empty so that He Himself may educate His people using me as a mere instrument. Is He not His people? Amidst the work and the accumulation of tasks, we clergy are tempted to forget this truth, so we take the role of master of the Church, heedless.

Do not worry about the many obstacles that Satan will place in front of you. There is no spiritual revival without various and sundry trials. The demons' darts are aimed at the bishop first, so long as he resists them in his bearing the Gospel. The more the warfare against him increases, the greater the power and the more abundant the success that God grants him.

Nevertheless, we bishops, due to our human frailty, often seek consolation from people other than Him because we need tangible consolations and we need the life of living Christian communion. You will that, because of His overwhelming love, He often consoles us through brothers that He places before us at the appropriate time and place. He often speaks to us through them and shows us what we are looking for by means of them.

Our great consolation remains in the Lord's table. We have no better consolation than the divine liturgy. The Lord's cup is the source of strength and of spiritual and theological understanding. Your lively prayer-- and you are a man of prayer-- will be a strong support for you in your new service. Your focusing on your Lord in frequent retreats will fill you with His presence and you will dauntlessly face hardships with a peace not from this world.

Our people in all the dioceses are the same. They seek from the bishop everything of which he himself is incapable. With the current crises and trials, their feeling of needing a father is increasing. They want him to be a compassionate father, a leader and a protector at the same time. You know, just as I do, that sometimes they ask for what we have no capability of doing, but they do this because they have no other support but us.

Our service is no less than to become another Christ. How does this happen? The answer is mysterious and God alone has it. He is the one who knows, as no one else knows, how He pours His consolations in the heart of the suffering bishop, upon His people and for their sake. You have treated body and soul for many long years and your sense of pain for God's people is more intense because you realize more than others the magnitude of human suffering. This is what causes you to accept God's graces and mercies in abundance. The deeper the love becomes, the more the lover's suffering increases and alongside it the Lord's gifts multiply.

It is right for this people to expect much from you because your Lord has granted you much. Proceed in this hope which does not fail and the Lord will inundate the broad plains of the diocese with a flood of wheat and clusters of grapes so that your diocese will offer it to Him, kneaded in love and leavened with purity and forever become, through your care, His living body pulsing with hot, life-giving blood.




The Meeting of the Holy Synod of Antioch, June 9, 2017

This English translation is unofficial. Official Arabic and Spanish versions are on the Patriarchate's Facebook page.

Communiqué from the Holy Synod of Antioch
Balamand, June 9, 2017

The Holy Synod of Antioch met under the presidency of His Beatitude Patriarch John X Yazigi in its seventh regular session from June 6 to 9 at Balamand with the attendance of the following metropolitans:

Elias (Beirut), Elias (Sidon), Damaskinos (Sao Paulo and all Brazil), Saba (Hawran and Jabal al-Arab), Paul (Australia and New Zealand), George (Homs), Siluan (Buenos Aires and all Argentina), Basil (Akkar), Ephrem (Tripoli and al-Koura), Ignatius (France and Western and Southern Europe), Isaac (Germany and Central Europe), Joseph (New York and all North America), Ghattas (Baghdad and Kuwait), Silouan (the British Isles and Ireland), Antonius (Zahleh and Baalbek).

Ephrem Maalouli, secretary of the Holy Synod, and Economos George Dimas, clerk of the Holy Synod also attended.

Regretting their absences were Metropolitans John (Lattakia), Antonio (Mexico, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean), Sergio (Santiago and all Chile), and Georges (Mount Lebanon). Metropolitan Paul (Aleppo and Alexandretta), absent due to his captivity, was present in the prayers and supplications of the fathers of the synod.

The fathers of the synod prayed for the repose of the soul of Metropolitan Elia Saliba, of thrice blessed memory, who departed on April 1, 2017, asking God to number his soul with the spirits of the righteous and to accept his long service for the Church of Christ. They then examined the situation in the vacant Archdiocese of Hama on the basis of a report prepared by Patriarchal Vicar Nicholas Baalbeki. The fathers of the synod thanked the patriarchal vicar and took note of the names proposed by the archdiocesan conference of clergy and laity that was held in Hama on May 27, 2017. It included the following names: Bishop Nicholas Baalbeki, Bishop Athanasius Fahd, Bishop Elia Tohme, Bishop Ephrem Maalouli, Bishop Constantine Kayyal, and Archimandrite Mousa al-Khassi, which appear on the list of candidates for the episcopate agreed upon by the Holy Synod. After that, the synod nominated three clergymen from the aforementioned list of candidates and the metropolitans went to the patriarchal residence and elected Bishop Nicholas Baalbeki as metropolitan of Hama and its dependencies.

The fathers of the synod welcomed several of their children who hold public office and listened to four presentations offered by the Deputy Prime Minister Ghassan Hasbani, the former ministers Tarek Mitri and Nicholas Nahas, member of parliament Ghassan Mukhaybar, and a number of specialists who informed them about the details of ongoing events, and the political, economic and social challenges facing the Middle East and its Christians in particular.

They weighed the ideas and proposals in these presentations that aim to strengthen the Orthodox presence and make an active Orthodox witness. They stressed the importance of these meetings and their role in determining a united Antiochian approach to the issues and challenges at hand.

The fathers of the synod examined the situation of the dioceses in the homeland and the diaspora, reviewing the achievements of the past year and the challenges facing these dioceses on various pastoral, spiritual, developmental and social levels. They expressed their joy at their children's active participation in the Church, their commitment to her affairs, and their loyalty to the values of the Gospel. They invited them to deepen their commitment and to translate their faith into action in the various sectors of life where they are called to witness. The fathers particularly valued the active commitment of the dioceses of the diaspora on three continents-- Europe, America and Australia-- to their brothers who have been displaced and their embracing them in their parishes. They thanked them for their love and solidarity with their brothers in the homeland and their support for the relief work that the Patriarchate is undertaking.

The fathers examined the state of spiritual courts in Syria and Lebanon and decided to continue the dialogue about this in order to put forward a vision of how to develop spiritual courts on the basis of accumulated experience so that these courts will become more effective and transparent.

The fathers of the synod adopted the special report about developments in the Orthodox world during the past year since the "Council of Crete" and about the work of the episcopal assemblies in the diaspora which takes into account the role of Antioch at the level of the witness of the universal Orthodox Church in recent years.

The fathers also reviewed a number of reports about ecumenical activity, the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, and the work of the Middle Eastern Council of Churches. They reiterated the importance of dialogue with the Christian world and Antioch's open role in this dialogue, with the goal of overcoming the difficulties facing a united Christian witness in today's world which is undergoing rapid and radical changes that require a shared Christian position stemming from the Gospel and the common tradition that brings Christians together.

The fathers did not cease contemplating the difficulties suffered by their children as a result of the wars and economic crises occurring in the countries in which they live. They reviewed in particular the work of the Patriarchate's Department of Development and Assistance which is active throughout Syria as the arm of the Patriarchate in the service of love. They thanked those working in this department, those supervising it and its donors. In light of the worsening economic and living situation, the fathers appealed to all to support this work of solidarity and to support this vital program which shines a candle in the suffocating darkness of this crisis in which a large number of our children are under pressure in various aspects of their lives including housing, healthcare, food, education and others. The fathers examined the state of theological education in the See of Antioch and the role played by the Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology in this field. They stressed the importance f this institute as a nursery for preparing pastors and as an institute that serves Antiochian unity and prepares priests in the Antiochian Church.

In the context of the current session of the Holy Synod, the fathers of the synod sent His Eminence Metropolitan Ephrem Kyriakos (Tripoli) and His Eminence Antonius al-Soury (Zahleh) to His Eminence Metropolitan Georges Khodr (Jubayl and Batroun) to convey the love and prayers of the patriarch and the fathers of the synod for His Eminence and to study the situation of the Archdiocese of Jubayl and Batroun and and their dependencies the possibility of taking specific decisions and actions in their regard.

The fathers were informed about the visit that His Beatitude the Patriarch made to the Archdiocese of Aleppo after the end of the battle to liberate the city. They reiterated their denunciation of the destructive war in which the people of Syria are suffering and which has continued to cause enormous human and material losses and has led to the fragmentation of Syrian society and thousands of dead, wounded and disappeared, just as it has sent forth waves of refugees the like of which the world has never seen. The fathers warned about the blockade and economic sanctions imposed on the Syrian people which have harmed everyone but have most affected the working classes and the poor, who have grown poorer and more miserable and are now unable to secure their livelihood and the most basic requirements of housing, healthcare and education. In this regard, the fathers urge the international community to lift the sanctions imposed on the Syrian people and to work to put a stop to the terrorism, violence, forced expulsion and fragmentation, to work earnestly to establish a ceasefire and to restore civil peace. The Syrian people were not born to be firewood in the struggles of the powers of this world, nor for killing, displacement and emigration, but rather to live in freedom and dignity and to bear witness to the values of tolerance and coexistence as they have done over the course of their history.

The fathers of the synod urged the good people of this world to work to uncover the fate of those who are missing and have been kidnapped and to free them, among them the bishops of Aleppo Paul (Yazigi) and Yuhanna (Ibrahim) whose abduction has become a bewildering mystery shrouded in systematic international silence but whose presence in their dioceses, their churches, and the living conscience of the world remains stronger and more powerful than their absence.

The fathers of the synod welcomed Lebanon's return to its active position in the world after the election of the President of the Republic, the formation of a government and the return of legislative activity in parliament. They stressed the importance of respecting the national covenant and the constitution in adopting an appropriate law for elections that will guarantee sound representation for all sectors and elements of Lebanese society and will strengthen their coexistence and partnership in the nation, transcending the boundaries of the religious communities.

The fathers blessed all the steps intended to fight corruption and put and end to the waste of public money as an essential starting point for lifting oppression from citizens and for every reform in the Lebanese state which has continued to suffer the consequences of rampant corruption. They renewed their call to activate the work of the organs of monitoring, accountability and the judiciary and to free them from the power of the influential and to restore Lebanese citizens' trust in the institutions of the state.

The fathers look forward to a Lebanese system based on citizenship and actual and perfect equality between all elements of the Lebanese people. However, in light of the current system, they express their rejection of the deprivation and marginalization of their children in the administrations of the state and public service. They express their dissatisfaction with the excessive exclusion of Orthodox from positions contrary to established custom.

The fathers of the synod follow with great unease the wars taking place in Iraq, Yemen and other Arab countries, where the people of these countries live in a state of fear and anxiety about their fate, as well as poverty and need. They asked God to have mercy on the peoples of the Arab region and all the peoples of the world and to cause them to enjoy security, people, tranquility and a life of dignity. The fathers also condemned the crimes to which Christians have recently been subjected in Egypt and all the efforts to terrorize them, expel them, and tear them from their land. They appreciated the positions taken by various strata of Egyptian society condemning these barbaric attacks. The fathers contemplated the continued suffering of the Palestinian people and condemned Israeli authorities' efforts to maintain Israelis' domination over the Palestinian people. They welcomed the international positions taken condemning these policies and practices as apartheid and racist. The fathers likewise condemned all forms of terrorism, extremism, and suicidal terrorist operations that have affected many parts of the world and they called on concerted international effort to combat terrorism.

The fathers listened to a study about sainthood and saints in today's world and they mentioned, with the commemoration of All Saints' Day close in their minds, they noted the importance of having a sense of the meaning of sainthood in our own days. They also reviewed some of Antioch's experience in honoring the saints. The fathers encouraged their children to follow the paths of holiness in every aspect of their life. They likewise noted the importance of those Antiochian saints who have gone before in the past and present, emphasizing the importance of the Christian vocation, "as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:15-15).

The fathers concluded by sending the apostolic blessing to all their Antiochian children scattered in every part of the inhabited world.

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on the Spiritual Father

Arabic original here.

The Spiritual Father

Baptism does not change a person mechanically and so it needs to be activated in our life through repentance and confession. Saint Symeon the New Theologian says, "If a person is not baptized in his tears (that is, in repentance), then he has only been washed in water." Just as partaking of communion at times brings about condemnation and death, so too if baptism is not met with good works, then it is a withered tree. The Apostle Paul says, "whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner (for example, without preparation) will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" (see the entire passage, 1 Corinthians 11:23-30). This passage is read on Holy Thursday. Nevertheless, if someone comes to enliven you once more in the Spirit, you become a new creation.

Spiritual activity is not merely a function of one's position. A priest does not become a spiritual father by virtue of his position. If the bishop notices a spiritual gift that has come to dwell in him, then he declares him to be a spiritual father. There is a special prayer for this in the Euchologion. Then he is made worthy for giving spiritual guidance. Then, he profoundly understands (through the Spirit of understanding) the word of the Lord and knows how to confront sins, treat them and heal them. The Spiritual father is the one who begets Christ in his children. Therefore, in the Orthodox Church we have monks and nuns who are not priests but who undertake spiritual fatherhood and guidance. The most prominent example of this today is Father Paisios the Athonite whose sainthood was recently declared: he was not a priest and was unlettered.

Recall what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, "I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors (priests) in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me" (1 Corinthians 4:14-16).

Of course, the sacraments and the word of the Gospel remain the source of holiness. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit gives gifts freely, outside the sacraments, while remaining within the communion of the Church, making use of channels or without channels. The important thing is that the Holy Spirit is present and that we believe that He is active and active freely.

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Joy

Arabic original here.

Joy

The value of every activity lies in the goal to which it aspires. Our goal in the fast is nothing other than the resurrection. Do you see how we follow the path of our struggle without losing sight of the aim of fasting, which leads us to taste the joy of the resurrection of our Lord on the day of Pascha?

The cross only exists because it transforms us for rebirth. We only deal with the passion in the Church because it draws us to joy: this is the joy of children in welcoming the Lord on Palm Sunday, coming for His saving passion and likewise the joy of the mystery of the cross in the middle of Holy Week.

The Lord enters into our life in order to end the sorrow of our suffering. Suffering is also the harmful passions. "From my youth have many passions warred against me, but do Thou Thyself defend and save me, O Savior."

This requires patience and prayer. All of these things are steps of repentance in our struggle of fasting, to the degree that we distance ourselves from worldly cares and focus, more and more, on spiritual struggles: fasting, praying, regard for the other through works of charity. In the world there is pain and adversity. Medicine and psychology do not heal on their own since they require God's resting in the soul of man. Therefore the Church exists for the sake of healing soul and body.

The activity of bearing the cross requires constant motion towards God. Psychology treats the knot in one one's soul, but it does not reach the heart's spiritual rest. Man's perfect healing is not complete without divine sympathy, the visitation of uncreated grace. We Christians madly cling to the sign of the cross because "through the cross joy came into all the world."

On the tree of the cross, Christ was victorious of sin, death and evil.

The Christian's life is an adventure like the adventure of the Lord in His life on earth. In it there is suffering, there are afflictions and temptations, but at the same time there is a foretaste of Christ's passion and resurrection.

The Feast of the Cross in the middle of the fast is an anticipation of Passion Week and a foretaste of the resurrection.

The Apostle Paul says in his Epistle to the Philippians, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice!"

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

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Repose of Metropolitan Elia (Saliba) of Hama

According to an-Nahar, the Patriarchate of Antioch has announced that Metropolitan Elia (Saliba) of Hama fell asleep in the Lord this morning, Saturday April 1.

Christ is risen!

Indeed He is risen!


Further information from the Facebook page of the Archdiocese of Argentina:

On Thursday, March 30 His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch named auxiliary bishop Nicholas Baalbaki as patriarchal auxiliary vicar to the Archbishop of Hama and its Dependencies, His Eminence Metropolitan Elia (Saliba) on account of the latter's grave health situation and the state of emergency that the archdiocese is going through due to military activity throughout the province of Hama [a recent al-Qaeda-led offensive reached the outskirts of Mhardeh before being repelled], which caused several families to leave for more secure locations last weekend. Bishop Nicholas was a doctor prior to consecrating himself to the service of the Lord. As a bishop, he was director of the Patriarchal Hospital of el-Hosn before becoming president of the first-degree spiritual court of the Archdiocese of Damascus. Let us pray for both bishops and for the people of this province!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos)'s Message for Lent

Arabic original here.

Message for Lent

During the time of fasting, we refrain from everything that does not pertain to God so that we may be nourished with the bread of heaven. Spiritual life (that is, life in the Spirit of God) is not acquired without hunger, hunger for invisible food. Being sated is to do without God and "excessive luxury leads to sin."

Saint John Chrysostom says that this is the time of repentance and repentance is nothing other than turning to God. In this way we acquire "the mind that is in Christ Jesus," as the Apostle Paul says (Philippians 2:5).

Training the body through fasting and prostrations brings us closer to God, just as it also brings us closer to our brothers, the poor. The fast does not take us away from our body, but rather it takes us away from its lust, from its selfishness, indeed, from the worship of it. There is an intimate relationship between the body and the soul. God became flesh and dwelt among us in His Holy Spirit and we are no longer sated with anything but Him.

The body is trained through bodily exercises, through fasting and prostrations. The soul is one with the body and it is trained through refraining from sin. There is an intimate connection between the soul and the body. Changes in thinking have an impact on the body. The most important thing during the time of fasting is to turn to God, being occupied with Him first of all: how many Christian families until today take an opportunity out of their obligations to make time for prayer?

Being alone with the Beloved is good, especially during Holy Week. They long for Him, so should we not sacrifice some time out of our worldly occupations to dedicate to seeing the Lord, to speaking to Him? How, when we don't see Him? How, when we don't taste Him? "Taste and see how good the Lord is." How, when we don't get to know Him from close by, when true life is with Him!?

This comes through prayer and also through the neighbor.

Yes, our path of fasting leads us to the vision that we enjoy before it comes to us and into us. It is an earnest effort to connect to God in unity with Him. It is a vision of the Savior risen from death, in the hope of our own resurrection from our stumbling, and along with us the resurrection of the world that is despairing of its darkness. Amen.

The time of the fast is an opportunity for us to practice works of charity. The Bible says: "Redeem your sins by works of charity" (Daniel 4:27).

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

Friday, February 3, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh on Trump's Muslim Ban

Arabic original in an-Nahar here.

Mr Trump: Mind Your Own Business!*


We are not concerned by the decision of Mr Donald Trump, president of the United States of America, to prevent the reception of citizens of certain countries, including Syria, except insomuch as it distinguishes between Muslims and Christians. His decision is a purely sovereign American matter and only Americans have the right to debate their president and to ask him whether or not his decision is correct. What concerns us, then, is the impact of this decision on relations between Christians and Muslims in our country.

When Trump exempts Christians from his decision, he is regarding them as "minorities" in a state of danger. He plays the role of the protector of persecuted minorities, but at the same time he wants to build a wall to separate from "Christian" Mexico. Why this zeal for Syrian Christians while expelling Mexican Christians? So what concerns Trump isn't the future of Christians and Christianity in the Middle East, but rather American interests. That's his right, since he's the president of the United States of America and not the Pope or the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Most Syrian Christians do not want to be regarded as minorities. They are the people of the country. They were so before Islam and remained so under it, without favors from anyone. Their relations with Muslims have ebbed and flowed from one era to another according to the temperaments of rulers, governors and invaders... but they have proven that they are an essential component of the country. Their presence extends from the furthest north, from Aleppo, Lattakia and al-Hessake, to the furthest south, to Hawran and "Provincia Arabia," passing through Hama, Homs, Tartous, Wadi al-Nasara and Damascus. Therefore it is not possible to discriminate between Syrian Christians and other Syrians.

Syrian Christians do not want Mr Trump to treat them as "Syrian Christians," but as Syrian citizens. Preventing the reception of Syrians in his country is fine, but it's not fine to exempt Christians. Moreover, the decision implies that there is a crisis between Christians and Muslims, that the Christians are persecuted by the Muslims, and that their future in the region is threatened... and this is not true. The crisis of Christians and Muslims began before the appearance of extremist Islamic groups. It began with the tyranny practiced by the current regime. The crisis of Middle Eastern Christians, then, is the same as the Muslims' crisis and one cannot be solved without solving the other. Their fates are inextricably intertwined and it is only in vain that we go searching outside this framework.

There is no doubt that Mr Trump's decision contributes to pouring oil on the fire of racism, prejudice and hatred that is devouring the entire world. But the decision also serves those who the United States and Russia claim to be fighting: ISIS, Nusra and other such terrorist groups. How is it possible to fight Islamic extremism on the basis of regarding all Muslims as a danger to the international community? Is not preventing Muslims from traveling to the United States tantamount to accusing them of being terrorists simply because they are Muslims? Moreover, how can Mr Trump ignore the fact that ISIS does not discriminate between Syrian Muslims and Syrian Christians in their terrorist operations? In this regard-- and only in this regard-- ISIS seems better than Trump, since they don't practice racial or religious discrimination!

This hypocrisy practiced by Mr Trump in his dealing with the situation of Christians in the Middle East isn't new. What did the United States do in order to help the Christians of Palestine and Iraq remain? And what did the West in general do to prevent the Armenian Genocide, or to prevent the Turks, during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, from expelling the Greeks from western Turkey, the Syriacs from Mardin and Diyarbakir, and the Rum from Antioch?

Christians will not be pleased to be pawns in the hands of racists. They are masters of their own fate. They have passed through years and centuries that were much leaner than these days and they were not eliminated. They are here. They shall remain here. This is their country and it shall remain their country. But to Mr Trump we say: mind your own business!*

*Literally: go sew with a different needle.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: Baptism is a Death and a Resurrection

Arabic original here.

Baptism is a Death and a Resurrection

Baptisms abound during the season of Theophany, which is popularly called the "Feast of Baptism", during which Christians commemorate Christ's baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. Most believers wait for the coming of this feast to baptize their children because they believe in the connection between their children's baptism and the baptism of Christ. However, Christian theology, starting from the Holy Bible, says something else. Christians do not get baptized because Christ was baptized, but because Christ died and rose from the dead.

There is a difference between Christ's baptism by John, which was a purification ritual that could be repeated multiple times, about which John was clear when he said to his disciples, "I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:8). And Jesus said to the Pharisee Nicodemus, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again'" (John 3:5-7).

There is no doubt that the Holy Apostle Paul was the first to talk about baptism as participation in Christ's death and resurrection. In his Epistle to the Romans, he says, "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection" (Romans 6:5-3).

The Christian tradition is in agreement, then, in saying that baptism is participation in Christ's death and resurrection and for this reason it is called a second birth. In this regard, Saint John Chrysostom (d. 407) says, "By baptizing the head in water, the old man is buried, is completely drowned in the depths, and is totally hidden. When the head is raised, the new man takes the place of the old." Chrysostom likewise confirms this when he says, "As it is the cross and the tomb for Christ, so it is baptism for us."

As for Saint Ambrose of Milan (d. 397), he says, "Baptism is like death in your descent into the water, and like resurrection in your leaving the water. Just as the resurrection of the Lord, according to the Apostle Paul's explanation, is a rebirth, your leaving the baptismal font is a rebirth." Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386)  says, "Just as Christ, who bore all the sins of the world, died in order to raise you up in righteousness by His crushing sin, you go down into the water and you are buried in it just as he was buried in a tomb, so that you may rise and walk in newness of life." Newness of life is living in the presence of the eternal God, in constant repentance.

Fidelity to baptism requires separation from sin, of which Theodoret of Cyrrhus (d. 466) says, "The mystery of baptism teaches us to separate from sin. Baptism is in the likeness of the Lord's death. In it, we become participants in Christ's death and resurrection. Therefore, we must live a new life." But if one falls into sin, he does not repeat his baptism, but rather repentance is like a constant baptism. One only dies once and so one is only baptized once.

Theodoret offers us a valuable witness to the early practice of baptizing children, something that is rejected by some Protestant sects, when he says, "If the meaning of baptism was limited to the forgiveness of sins, then why do we baptize recently-born children who have not yet known sin? But the mystery of baptism is not limited to this. Rather, it goes beyond this to greater and more perfect gifts. In baptism, there is the promise of the splendors to come. It is the symbol of the coming resurrection, participation in the Lord's passion and resurrection. It is the badge of salvation, the oil of splendor, the badge of light or more aptly, the light itself."