Sunday, September 24, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Grace of the Holy Spirit

Arabic original here.

The Grace of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the third hypostasis of the Holy Trinity. The grace of the Holy Spirit, or God's grace, is the uncreated energy that comes from the divine hypostasis.

It is within man's ability to participate in this uncreated energy, but he cannot participate in the divine essence.

This energy is what sanctifies man, enlightens him, divinizes him and makes him a temple of God. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul says, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Apostle Paul distinguishes between the natural, earthen man and the spiritual, heavenly man. He says, "The first man Adam became a living being and the last Adam, a life-giving spirit" (1 Corinthians 15:45).

Here we recall that the spiritual, heavenly man is the one who lives by the Spirit of God and not by the spirit of the world.

Someone who is baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is supposed to live according to the Spirit of Christ God and His commandments, while one who is not baptized, who does not know Christ or does not want to know Him, remains a natural man who has lost the divine grace of the Holy Spirit.

Divine grace is like an electrical current which we do not see, of which we only see the effects. It is what gives us tears of repentance, for example, it is what gives us tears of joy, tears of peace and love, and all these things are fruits of the Spirit, as we have previously mentioned.

Here there is an important question to ask: how do we distinguish between the Spirit of God and a spirit that is not of God, that is, for example, from the devil? The Bible says, "By their fruits you shall know them" (Matthew 7:20).

If there is disturbance rather than peace, anger rather than kindness, confusion rather than light and clarity, this means that it is not from God's Spirit.

The most difficult question is how do we know that a person is a deciever? This is known by his not confessing Jesus Christ, by his lack of love and lack of humility: humility is the distinguishing characteristic of men of God and pride is the distinguishing characteristic of people who deceive. Heretics rely first of all on their egotism and pride. The spiritual man confesses his sinfulness at every necessity.

Beloved, the acquisition of the Holy Spirit and His grace takes place according to the commandment of our holy fathers, by preserving the Lord's commandments.

Divine grace is given, first of all and especially, to practicing members of the Church. The Church does not monopolize divine grace, but she does confirm it. One who participates in the divine mysteries in fear, love and repentance has, more than others, the grace of salvation. This is by keeping God's commandments in his entire life.

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

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: There is No Fear in Love

Arabic original here.

There is No Fear in Love

On the shore of the Lake of Tiberias, the Lord joined with the disciples in their daily activities and He used their boats to evangelize. He asked them to move one of the boats a little bit from the shore so that He could address the crowds and talk to them about the kingdom of God. Everything that is ours belongs to God. Our homes belong to God. Every tool, every intellect, every institution should give praise first to God and then treat our private concerns.

After Jesus evangelized in the boat, it went on to perform its own business in the sea, fishing. The Lord was with the fishermen when they caught many fish, after He ordered them to cast their nets in the deep. All things, everything of this world, comes to be by God's word. If they are not according to His word, they are harmful and destroy man.

When Peter and his companions pulled in this great amount of fish, he said to the Lord, "Get away from me, for I am a sinful man." The Lord's passing among us, the Lord's observing us, conscience, the word of the Gospel or prayer must produce the feeling within us that we are sinners. God is strict. Were he not, he would not be saving us. Sometimes God collides with us to the point of causing wounds because pain on account of sin is our starting-point towards eternal life. This feeling existed of old in all peoples and we feel it in the Old Testament: Moses veils his face when the Lord appears to him on Sinai. It is as though Peter started to feel that this teacher who had brought them together is the God whom we fear, before whom we cover our faces. He was overwhelmed by anxiety. He was overwhelmed by trembling, but the Lord said to him, "Do not fear. I will make you a fisher of men." But He made this conditional on his confessing that he was a sinner.

You cannot be a shepherd of Christ's Church if you do not know at every moment that you are responsible before God and before your own conscience. We are not masters over people and we do not rule their consciences. Rather, most of our interest is in strengthening consciences, in drawing their attention to God's will so that people will become masters over themselves. Priests are not masters. They are brothers who rouse the conscience so that man may rule over the universe.

"I will make you a fisher of men" and therefore you must not fear. The fundamental condition is that you do not fear, since you must love. When the Lord appeared to Peter after the resurrection, He said to him, "Simon son of Jonas, do you love me more than these?" Peter said, "Yes, Lord, I love You." So He said to him, "Feed my sheep." That is to say, "You, O Peter, after straying have returned to the perfect faith out of a love renewed. Your love has made you able to be a shepherd." Love is the condition for being a pastor. Otherwise, the pastor is taking advantage of the flock and lording over it out of egotism. If you are able to be kind to people and of accepting them as they are with all their sins, you do not judge them but have mercy on them. If you can do this, then you are pastoring in the way that God pastors, with God's staff, with God's word. Otherwise, you are pastoring them with your own staff, with your own word, with your own lusts.

Do not fear, Peter, because you must love in order to fish men. The Holy Apostle and Evangelist John, who was present at the miraculous catch, said in his first epistle, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18). Therefore, if you love, you pastor without inciting people against each other because you do not fear. If you pastor with love, then people are not diminished because of your words. Instead, they open and reach into the world and are comfortable with their Lord. Someone who lives in fear is someone who cannot forgive. And he who cannot forgive cannot receive God.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Deacon Abdallah ibn al-Fadl al-Antaki

Arabic original here. While some of the information in this article, published unsigned in the weekly bulletin of the Archdiocese of Mount Lebanon, is a bit dated, it pleased me to see interest in this extremely important but still sadly little-known figure in the history of the Church of Antioch who, as Antioch's greatest translator, is something of the patron saint of this blog. Below the article, I've put some links to more recent scholarship on him.

The Deacon Abdallah ibn al-Fadl al-Antaki

He was one of the most prolific writers and translators in the Church of Antioch. He lived in the 11th century, according to indications in some manuscripts, but the writings he left for us will remain his lasting influence. His life story is not known precisely. Most of what has come down to us about his life are a few observations made by copyists and writers who came after him. This is something usual in the history of the Church. Even the lives of great teachers of the Church such as John of Damascus were written centuries after their repose. This means that we know writers from their works that they left for us. Returning to the deacon of Antioch, we find that later copyists gave him titles that shed light on his importance. Sometimes they call him "the holy and wise deacon", sometimes "the holy master" [al-shaykh al-qiddis], "the wise philosopher and translator of the holy scriptures", "the teacher", "the venerable deacon" or "Abu al-Fath" ["the victorious"]. This was the custom of the Christians, which continues until today, to indicate an exalted stature. This clearly demonstrates the intellectual and literary position that Abdallah ibn al-Fadl enjoyed. Something that further emphasizes the position of this writer is what the patriarch of Antioch Macarius III ibn al-Za'im (d. 1676) says about him in the preface to his History from the Era of Adam to the Days of Constantine:

"When God looked upon the patience of the Christians, he had mercy on them and sent them a virtuous man called the deacon Abdallah ibn al-Fadl... He was very knowledgeable in the Arabic, Greek and Syriac languages and he translated for the Christians all the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, along with all their commentaries into Arabic, ordering them to read them on all Saturdays, Sundays and feasts of the Lord, as well as the stories of the saints. He spent his entire life in these good works..."

If we study these brief lines, we can deduce that the Patriarch Macarius considered the Deacon Abdallah ibn al-Fadl as a gift from God, who sent him to the people of the Church of Antioch to help her children stand firm in faith. By virtue of his vast knowledge and his ability with the aforementioned languages, the Deacon Abdallah translated the Holy Bible (this is what is meant when the Patriarch Macarius says "he translated for the Christians all the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, along with all their commentaries"). In fact, Ibn al-Fadl translated the lectionary according to the divisions used in the services of the church. In addition to this, he translated the commentaries on the Holy Bible in order to help the faithful to understand the texts.The patriarch's saying that he "ordered them to read them"is a sign of the central place he occupied in the Church of Antioch. At that time, it was customary in the Orthodox Church for there to be an order of "teachers" in the Church. Not every priest or deacon is necessarily a teacher. (The Church was clear about this in the past and perhaps she should bring back this order once more. A priest might, for example, be excellent at administration or pastoral work but not be gifted at teaching, and the opposite may be true. For this reason, the Church determined who would teach and who would serve and only rarely would all these traits be found in the same person).

Sometimes Ibn al-Fadl was commissioned by bishops to compose a work or translate a text according to the needs of the diocese. It is said that the Book of Psalms is the most famous work he translated for us. The Church of Antioch used it for almost 900 years before the publication of the version by Abdallah Arman in 1954. The latter said that in his translation he also relied on Ibn al-Fadl's text.

The noteworthy thing about this deacon is his use of the Arabic language in his works, despite the fact that he was active during the period when Antioch had been liberated from Arab Muslim rule and brought back under Byzantine rule from 969 to 1084. Perhaps in this the deacon reflects a situation where the Hellenization of the Church of Antioch was rejected.

Ibn al-Fadl's activities were not, however, limited to the translation of biblical texts. Indeed, his range of interests included the commentaries of the holy fathers and spiritual and dogmatic works and he was very knowledgeable in philosophy and logic.

In conclusion, we cannot but say that this deacon of Antioch is a model to be imitated in our Antiochian Church on account of his knowledge and zeal for his Church and his having preserved the Orthodox faith. Our deacon did not want to make himself prominent. Rather, his concern was the glory of the Church's Bridegroom and not himself. Thus he fulfilled the words of the Baptist, "He must increase and I must decrease."

For a complete bibliography of Abdallah ibn al-Fadl's original works and secondary literature about him, see this article, by Fr Alexander Treiger.

For further studies of the history of Patristic translations into Arabic, see this and this by Fr Treiger.

For the Arabic text and English translation and study of his Discourse on the Holy Trinity, see this article by Fr Treiger and Samuel Noble.

For translations of his Essay Containing Ideas Useful to the Soul and Refutation of Astrology, consult Chapter 7 of Fr Treiger and Noble's Orthodox Church in the Arab World.

For a brief study of Ibn al-Fadl's Trinitarian thought, see this article by Noble.

For a study of Ibn al-Fadl's Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, see this article by Fr Ramy Wannous.


For a study of Ibn al-Fadl's Book of the Joy of the Believer, see this article by Floris Sepmeijer.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: The Cross is Our Path to Christ

Arabic original here.

The Cross is Our Path to Christ

How should we understand the cross or how should we translate it into our life? The Lord answered this when He said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." It is as though the Lord wanted to say that there is no way for us to know Him and to see Him except for the way that He Himself chose to reveal Himself to the world: the cross, the tomb and the resurrection. The cross was His path to victory. It was His path to conquering history. It was His path to our heats. We cannot attain anything of truth, anything of light, anything of joy, anything of peace, anything of existence, we cannot have any of this if we do not pass through the cross. We have no choice. The cross was chosen for us and we were cast upon it from the moment we knew Jesus. Whoever belongs to Christ belongs to the wood, belongs to the nails. The nails pierce his flesh; that is, a burden is placed in his spirit and suffering enters into him.

But this path is for us to choose and for us not to choose. If we want Christ, this is His path. But if we want to be comfortable, not to toil, if we want to immerse our bodies in pleasure and go rule over people, then we have no cross and we have no Christ.

Christ warned us of this lethal temptation: for us to mix what belongs to the world with what belongs to Him, for us to accept some sins and some virtues. This is not possible. We cannot accept Christ and the world. Religion and this world cannot be brought together. It is not possible for us to be known and loved by both the good and the wicked, by both the rulers and the ruled, and to belong to Christ. We cannot devour people's wealth, or even just some of it, and belong to Christ. We cannot indulge in illicit pleasures and belong to Christ. We are crucified, we are humiliated, we are killed if we desire Christ. This is our scripture. The path is arduous, planted with thorns. The path ends at the tree upon which the Son of God was cast, crucified, crushed, broken to the point of death and humiliation.

So what comes after this? Those who for three hundred years were killed after their Lord, day after day, who were imprisoned, chased from their homes, devoured by beasts, those who were slaughtered, they became the kings of history and the masters of our hearts. The martyrs triumphed and Nero and his ilk were forgotten in the oubliette of time. This strong is not the one who is pointed out by people. He is not the arrogant, the criminal, the one who loots people's wealth. This one is nothing. But the one who is meek, kind, humble, loving, welcoming, the one from whom is stolen not the one who steals, the one who is cursed and does not defend himself, this one is the master of us all.

The Lord tells us, "If you want to follow me, deny yourself and follow me." The question is: what will become of me if I abandon my lusts, my desires and every one of my whims, if I crush every bit of egotism within me, if I make myself a slave to Christ and a footstool for people, what will become of me? Will people forget me? Of course. But what remains if I am forgotten and crushed in their minds? The Apostle Paul gave the answer in today's epistle: we are alive in Christ Jesus who loved us and gave Himself up for us.

If I empty myself of every semblance of evil within me, then Christ is alive in me. If we cast out the corrupt man within us, then we have engaged in a great trade. We have sold ourselves and bought Christ and no trade is more profitable. The one get from it is vastly more beautiful than what we have cast out. The one we get one who is vastly more clever than the false cleverness that belongs to us. We get one who is vastly richer than the wealth from which we have been saved. We get Christ. We get the Lord, He who alone is good, who alone is wise, who alone is rich, who creates us in every good thing, every mercy and every strength.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Met Antonius el-Souri: The Cross in the Life of the Believer

Arabic original here.

The Cross in the Life of the Believer

The Lord said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). In the original text, the verb "deny" is "ἀρνησάσθω" which literally means to renounce ownership of something, to disown something, or to give up a claim to ownership of something. In this sense, someone who wants to follow Christ must renounce himself completely and choose, with the fullness of his will, to surrender himself to Christ in order to be able to follow Him faithfully. Someone who wants to walk behind the Lord does not claim that his life belongs to him, but rather realizes that he owns nothing in itself and admits this. Following Christ is a constant, daily choice. It is the path of the cross, whose endpoint is the resurrection...

Why does the Lord say that whoever desires to follow Him must take up "his cross", in the sense that each person has his own cross? What do you think is the connection between our own cross and Christ's cross?

"If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God" (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

In Jewish thinking, the cross or the tree is the cruelest punishment because someone who is sentenced to hang on the tree is "accursed" and "impure". That is, he is cast out and expelled from the Jewish people. The cross is the greatest shame for them. Christ knew His fate among His people "for Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

The cross that Christ calls on us to bear is not connected to our sin and its impurity and shame. Rather, it is connected to bearing on our backs in love the impurity and shame of others. The Apostle Paul says, "God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). The cross that I am called to bear is  the one upon which I am crucified for the world just as Jesus was crucified for me. But in order for this cross of mine be for the love of Jesus Christ in man and creation, the world must be crucified within me first, through the cross of Christ. If the world has not died within me through the love of Christ, which He revealed to me on His cross-- that is, if the love of Jesus has not triumphed within me over every other love-- and thus if I have not arrived at the point of renouncing myself in complete obedience to the Lord, then I will not be able to be crucified for the world, because the crucified is one, the cross of salvation is one, and the Lord is one, "who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed" (1 Peter 2:24).

Alone with the crucified God-man, I enter into the crucifixion of my passion, the death of the old man, and my rebirth in the divine love that is in Christ Jesus, in His image, because "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:22). Faith in the resurrection is the foundation of salvation through bearing my cross which is in Christ. Because if the cross that I bear is not connected to Christ, it is a cross of shame and impurity on account of my sins and evil deeds and so it is not a cross of salvation since it is connected to my ego and not to my faith in Christ Jesus and my struggle for purification, my striving for enlightenment, and my longing for the vision of God.

My cross is my death to myself in my struggle for repentance so that I may become pure of heart and know my true self in the light of the divine grace that is in the Holy Spirit, through the Son from the Father. My cross is the struggle of prayer, fasting, charity, training to empty myself and position my soul, so that, when the Lord looks at my seriousness, perseverance, and sincerity, He will grant me new birth in Him through His cross. So my cross will become His cross and His cross my cross, because then I will say with the Apostle Paul, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain."

Let him who is able to endure, endure.

+Antonius
Metropolitan of Zahleh, Baalbek and their Dependencies

Monday, September 11, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: Love is Stronger than Death

Arabic original here.

Love is Stronger than Death

He who loves God sacrifices his entire life, consecrating it to Him. He who loves God strives to constantly abide with Him. He who loves God loves life and does not seek his own death or attempt to hasten it. But he must accept death one day because man cannot live forever. Death becomes for him a transition from life to life. Life on earth becomes a passage to where there is true life. Life on earth becomes a short time in which one is prepared at every moment to face his inevitable destiny. The best preparation is repentance and love for one's neighbor, without which one cannot love God.

It is true that death entered human nature as a punishment from God because of man's fall into sin, but it still contradicts this nature that inclines toward life. So God gave man a covenant and a promise that man would live forever, if he so desired for himself. This human will, whose possessor must refine it so that it will draw closer to God's will, is what made this possible. This correspondence between the two wills, resulting from man's free will, is what makes the encounter between God and man an encounter between lovers who cannot bear to wait for each other.

In this context, we will cite the words of Simeon when he the forty-day old child Jesus in his arms, when Joseph and Mary brought Him to the temple and the Holy Spirit inspired him that he would not taste death before seeing the Lord's Messiah. Simeon said, "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:29-30).

When Simeon saw Jesus, the Savior, the Messiah he had been promised, he became ready to depart for the next life with great joy. He who loves Jesus does not fear death. In the holy martyrs, we have the best examples of this. Their love for Him made them brave enough to face death with great steadfastness and hope. Their love for Him caused them to not betray His Gospel and His teachings. They did not abandon their principles for the sake of this fleeting life, but rather accepted to abandon this fleeting life even if it cost them their life.

The Islamic tradition also takes this approach. There is a story of the Prophet Ibrahim al-Khalil not mentioned in the Torah that is given by al-Ghazali in his Ihya Ulum al-Din in the chapter "On the Servant's Love for God" which goes as follows: 

Ibrahim (peace be upon him) said to the Angel of Death when he came to him to take his soul, "Have you seen a friend kill his friend?"

God (may He be exalted) inspired [the angel] to say, "Have you seen a lover hate his beloved?"

So Ibrahim said, "O Angel of Death, take me now."

We find a similar saying from the famous sufi Sufyan al-Thawri: "Only the doubter hates death, because in no case does the beloved hate to meet his lover."

The struggle between life and death continues and it will go on so long as this world exists. But life if stronger than death because love is stronger than it. Let us love man and sacrifice ourselves for his sake because whether we are believers, atheists or agnostics, in this way, knowing or unknowing, we are loving God.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Met Ephrem Kyriakos on Weddings

Arabic original here.

Weddings

The crown in the Christian marriage service is the one that the holy martyrs receive after having committed to Christ to the point of death during their entire life. Thus we have in the wedding service the hymn "O Holy Martyrs..."

In the past, the crowning took place in the divine liturgy.

If, today, it is sometimes held during the liturgy, it can be very much abbreviated from the usual unnecessary social spectacles.

The Church forbade it from being held on Saturday evenings because marital relations are not proper the night before receiving the Eucharist.

This is in addition to the fact that for the most part the people taking part in the wedding would not come to the divine liturgy on Sunday.

Today, the Church does not prevent the wedding ceremony from being held on Saturday, given the currently predominant social customs known to all. However, she strongly advises the faithful not to get married on Saturday evenings.

*   *   *

On a practical level, there is a harmful confusion regarding the sacrament of marriage and the accompanying preparations and activities that damage the understanding and sanctity of the sacrament.

This includes immodest clothing and wasteful and extravagant spending on dinners, cocktail parties and their accoutrements.

 All these displays have come to overpower the atmosphere of the prayers and the sanctity of the wedding.

The Holy Bible commands women to constantly guard their modesty when it says, "Women should adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing" (1 Timothy 2:9).

In this context, we must remind priests and parishes of the necessity of holding the service of the holy sacrament of marriage in churches, insofar as it is possible in their parishes, and not in resorts or public gardens...

Moreover, they must heed the times when the sacrament cannot be performed, I mean in particular the periods of Advent, Great Lent and the Dormition Fast...

*   *   *
Beloved, these ecclesiastical and paternal recommendations are not intended to overwhelm members of the Church with strict canons. Rather, they are intended to guide our children toward the necessity of keeping our holy Christian traditions and keeping them from being swept away by damaging, worldly social customs.

We must remain the good leaven in this world that is drowning in materialism and harmful lusts.

Try these sound Christian ways, even if they seem narrow in today's world, and you will taste true joy in Christ God, who will never be taken away from you.

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