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).

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.