Sunday, November 12, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: The Question of Life

Arabic original here.

The Question of Life

This is the question of life: who is my neighbor? People think that the neighbor is a spouse, a child or an uncle, all those we call "relatives," and people distinguish between neighbors and strangers. A neighbor is someone with whom we share our tastes, our religion, or kinship and a stranger is someone with whom we differ and whom we find foreign.

Here the teacher of the law comes to Jesus, a theologian in Israel who had to have known the answer to the question before asking, and so the Bible says that he came to test Jesus and asked him, "How may I be saved?" Jesus replies, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself." The man knew that the Law of Moses commands love, but it distinguishes neighbor from foreigner. The Law says, "Only love the Jew." Non-Jews are called "gentiles" and Jews had nothing to do with them.

Although the Samaritans lived near the Jews in the land of Samaria, they were regarded as foreigners because they believed only in the five books of Moses and did not accept the Jews' prophets and because their blood had been mixed in marriage with foreign blood. Therefore the Jews regarded them as foreigners, had nothing to do with them and did not care for them.

When the teacher of the law asked Him, "Who is my neighbor?," Jesus told him the parable that appears in today's Gospel reading. Jesus did not answer the lawyer's question directly, but rather responded to the question with a question: who do you reckon became a neighbor to that wounded man? He said, "The one who worked mercy for him." This Samaritan, the hated, damned foreigner, became a neighbor to the injured Jew through love. The barriers between nations dissolved when Jesus came teaching mercy. The barrier between neighbor and stranger dissolved, between one neighborhood and another, between one region and another, between one village and another, between an old family and newcomers.

All of these worldly, self-interested concerns were destroyed by Christ. He said to us, "Before you is a specific person who needs you": the poor or injured or lonely, or the one who feels that no one loves him. God has designated this person as your neighbor, if you go out to him. Thus the question "who is my neighbor?" is irrelevant. Go out to the person who you see in need of you, the one whom circumstances have placed along your path of life, no matter what his nationality, his religion, or... If you go out to him and love him, you make him your neighbor.

The fathers of the Church say that the Good Samaritan is an image of Christ because he is the one one who breaks the barriers between people and goes to all people. He sent his apostles into the entire world to create love between all people. Those who love each other are the ones who became the Church of Christ in love. It is naturally supposed that those who are baptized will love each other, to be a model for people, so that the light that is in them will shine forth and go out to others by way of love. In this way the true Church spreads, the Church of those who love.

The remedy is love. This means that after we encounter each other, we care, we serve, we sacrifice, and in this way the other person gets better because we have loved him.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: George, Saint of Nonviolence

Arabic original here.

George, Saint of Nonviolence

Yesterday [i.e., November 3], the Orthodox Church celebrated the commemoration of the rebuilding of the church of the Holy Great-martyr George in Lydda and the transfer of his relics there. This Palestinian saint took Christ as his sole model in order to live according to His teachings and to bring his life into harmony with them, especially the cross, the distinguishing sign of true Christianity, not of just any Christianity that raises it as a slogan for sectarian mobilization.

George, the officer in the Roman army, was martyred because he refused to offer sacrifices in pagan rites, just as he refused to confess the divinity of the emperor. He willingly accepted martyrdom, abandoning his weapon and casting it aside. He did not resist with violence, but rather his resistance was non-violent, a simple declaration of his faith in Christ the Lord, Redeemer and Savior. He accepted martyrdom in order not to betray his faith and its fundamental principles or act against his firm conviction.

The majority of Christians have made George into a different person who has nothing to do with the martyr George. They have turned his icon, which is rich in symbolism, into a legendary hero and denied his martyrdom. They have made him into a warrior, when he refused to use his weapon against those who tormented him, beat him, and caused him to experience every sort of torture. This legendary icon has contributed to making many people say, as a reaction, that George never lived because he fought and felled the dragon. So if dragon is a legend, then the whole thing is a legend. But George the officer lived under the Roman Empire and was martyred during the era of persecutions (303-304).

There are two fundamental elements that we see in the icon: the dragon, which symbolizes evil, and the young woman, who symbolizes the Church. This dragon (the Evil One) demanded that the people of the city offer him a young virgin every day as a ransom for the entire city. George rejected this communal concession to evil and he endeavored to resist it. He defended the young woman (the Church) that the dragon wanted to kill and destroy. His war was not of this world. It was a war imposed upon him by his zeal for the Church, so that she would not be transformed into an institution of this world. He wanted the Church not to offer any concession, no matter how simple, to the forces of evil, but rather for her to resist them and eliminate them.

There is an essential lesson provided by this icon, which is ignored by many people who act contrary to it. The icon intends to remind the faithful that the essential less of George's martyrdom lies in that his steadfastness in faith and martyrdom and his refusal to submit to his tormentors are what made Christianity endure. The only thing that destroys Christianity is its transformation into one of the institutions of this transient world.

The distortion of George's image was increased through its use in launching wars and massacres that have nothing to do with the Christian faith or the teachings of the Church. If someone wants the great powers of the world to launch a war in the political, economic and military interest of his country, you see him taking the place of George on the back of the horse and killing the dragon. In fact, it would be more appropriate to draw a picture showing a dragon fighting another dragon, not a saint who has committed many crimes against the innocent people of the country targeted for war. But the dragons are many and there is a battle of dragons without saints or righteous ones.

Christianity does not accept any distinction between an ordinary evil and a greater evil. Evil is evil, so putting it into degrees as though that legitimizes the evil that we see as ordinary and acceptable in order to prevent a greater evil, but which others might see as a great evil, and what we see as normal they see as something great that must be eliminated. This happens because we don't agree on what is the ordinary evil and what is the greater evil. So dragons battle with a clear conscience.

Saint George is the saint of nonviolence who through nonviolence defeated the Roman Empire. The empire that wanted to put an end to Christianity was went extinct, while the Church was victorious over the great empire through nonviolence and continues to live by the grace of her Lord. Do not insult us, O dragons of this world, by using the image of Saint George or of any other saint in your wars and assaults. George is nobler than you and immeasurably superior. Leave him in peace, lest your condemnation be multiplied.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Shepherd

Arabic original here.

The Shepherd

The true Shepherd is Christ and so the true priest is the one who resembles Christ because he receives his priesthood from Him.

"The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

The priest is numbered among the clergy. This word indicates ecclesiastical service. In our true reckoning, there are not classes in the church: between the patriarch, metropolitan (or bishop), priest, deacon, and layman...all of these are various vocations according to the service of each one of them. They are all equal before the Lord.

His calling is to lead his children to repentance. That is, continuous transformation into the mind of Christ. He does this through teaching and offering a model of life.

In this process, the priest always respects the freedom of the other. He wins him over with his love and dedication.

The true priest washes the feet of the faithful. We call him "father" because he points us to the fatherhood of God. He begets spiritual children by God's grace. He always strives to speak with God's words.

The prophet Ezekiel says, "'But you, son of man, hear what I say to you... open your mouth and eat what I give you.' Now when I looked, there was a hand stretched out to me; and behold, a scroll of a book was in it... Moreover He said to me, 'Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.' So I ate, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness." (Ezekiel 2:8, 3:1-3).

A priest does not lead anyone to himself, but rather to Christ the Savior. This is the work of every spiritual father. The prophet also says, "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves!" (Ezekiel 34:2) and adds, "I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down. I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment (Ezekiel 34:15-16). He does all of this out of his love.

Beloved, we are in dire need of such shepherds as these today in our age of materialism and selfishness. People today, especially the youth, seek to have a living model to imitate before them, to "leave everything and follow Christ." It is true that a shepherd needs much knowledge of God's word, but what attracts the person of today more than anything else is his free service in meekness and love.

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: Let Us Live with Christ

Arabic original here.

Let Us Live with Christ

In today's Gospel reading, there are two miracles: the first miracle is the healing of the woman with the issue of blood which came about by chance, because the intention was for the Lord to heal the daughter of Jairus, the head of the synagogue, who had died as He was on His way to her.What is important for us is to see that each one of us is represented by the woman with the issue of blood and the daughter of the head of the synagogue at the same time.

The woman had been bleeding for twelve years and has spent all her money on doctors. The Evangelist Luke places us before a desperate accident: a woman who is not healed. The Lord comes and immediately heals her when she touches the edge of his garment and He felt that someone had touched Him and that power had gone out from Him.

In our encounter with the Lord, we must first touch Him, draw near to Him like the lover draws near to the beloved. If it can be said, we must struggle with Him, as God said in the Book of Genesis (32:24), when it talks about Jacob struggling with the angel. We must struggle with Him truthfully, a struggle where we meet His power, a struggle where the Lord acquires us completely, then we are sated by His presence, we are sated by His consolations. Then we are healed. Our broken, tormented, bewildered souls are healed. Every soul, when its adversity increases or adversity strengthens around it in the world, is inevitably cast down, as though into a pit. When a person doesn't know his fate, when he neither lives for today or for tomorrow, he is despairing, his strength is drained and he needs to touch Christ. Christ alone is able to lift the nightmare from us and to place us in His sweet presence.

After death came to Jairus' daughter, the Lord took her hand-- here also we have touch-- and called out to her, "Girl, arise." The power of Christ seeps even into the germs of death. Just as the woman with the issue of blood was immediately healed, so too did the girl's spirit return immediately to her. The Evangelist Luke emphasizes the expression "immediately" because the Lord turns to us with all the power and life that is in Him.

In this regard, death does not appear to be something strange. Death was strange before the Lord came. It was our enemy, oppressing us through sin. But after the Lord died on the cross, we all became companions in His death. Therefore He constantly says to us, "Believing son, son for whom I died, arise, arise from your sin first, for this is the great resurrection."

We have trained to rise from sin. If we live with Christ, do we not also rise with Him? Those who despair along the pathways of death or those who renounce their faith when a beloved face disappears from them, they are people who do not draw near to Christ in their life and so death comes to them as a stranger, just as it came to the people of the Old Testament and pagans. We are a people who are not entranced by life until the end and are not drained by life. We are a people who know and taste that this life is passing because if we have touched Christ, nothing and no one else consoles us. If we come to be familiar with Jesus, then we are strangers to our things and to ourselves. Livelihood may go away without regret. So why does life not go away from us also without regret, if we encounter Him after it.

We give things more value than they deserve and so we are afraid at death. We are attached to people as though they are the source of our life and it is difficult for us to depart this world, as though we are torn from death or illness.

If we place ourselves in eternal life, grace persists upon us in prayer that we send to the Lord. We confide in Him and we are intimates of the other life if it is brought to us. We are companions of Christ who beckons us to His face. Therefore we do not falter when someone or something departs, no matter how dear. While this world ends and people leave, we must know where is our life and where is our goal. If we are certain that Christ is our life, then we desire to be seized away to Him in glory.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Haaretz on the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's Real Estate Deals

Taken from here (Israeli website).

New Details Emerge on Greek Orthodox Church's Massive Asset Sell-off in Israel - and the Mystery Only Deepens

Senior official explains the Greek Orthodox church’s position for first time, insisting that sales of properties throughout Israel at seemingly rock-bottom prices are necessary and financially sensible


By Nir Hasson

The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, is in the midst of an international public diplomacy campaign regarding the management of his church’s lands. On Monday he met with Pope Francis at the Vatican, and over the past two weeks he has met with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. Next week he’s scheduled to meet the Greek prime minister and after that, the head of the Anglican Church.

Theophilos is waging war on three different fronts: Against Israeli politicians who are threatening to expropriate church lands to prevent them from falling into the hands of private developers who will undermine the rights of homeowners; against the right-wing Ateret Cohanim association, which is seeking to seize the assets in Jerusalem’s Old City that it bought from the previous patriarch; and against Christian communities in Israel, which are watching helplessly as the patriarch sells off church properties at fire-sale prices. Of these fronts, what worries Theophilos most is confronting the mounting criticism of his asset sales policy within the church itself.
 
For the first time, a senior church official agreed to explain the church’s position to Haaretz. He insists that the church’s sales of properties throughout the country at seemingly rock-bottom prices were both necessary and financially sensible.

Two weeks ago Haaretz exposed three such sales. The lands were sold at extremely low prices to companies whose unknown are owners because they are registered in tax havens. Some 430 dunams (108 acres) of land were sold in Caesarea for a million dollars, six dunams with commercial tenants at Clock Tower Square in Jaffa went for $1.5 million and an area of Jerusalem's Givat Oranim neighborhood containing 240 apartments was sold for $3.3 million. Even considering that the plots have long-term leases that reduce their values considerably, those prices are still incredibly low.

Other transactions that were conducted seven years ago in Jerusalem have come to light since then. In all cases, the buyer was a company called Koronetti, which is registered in the Virgin Islands and which also purchased the Givat Oranim property. No one knows who the company’s shareholders are.


According to sales contracts obtained by Haaretz, this company purchased a three-story office building on Jerusalem's King David Street, one of the city’s most prestigious locations, for $850,000. Another six-story building on nearby Hess Street, which has stores and the King David Residences luxury residential complex, was bought for $2.5 million; a 2.3-dunam plot in the city's Baka neighborhood was sold for $350,000. All these prices are exceedingly low, despite the decades-long lease agreements for properties there.

“Every square meter here goes for 60,000 [shekels, or $17,000] and there’s potential for 2,000 square meters,” says attorney Yitzhak Henig, whose office is in the building on King David Street. “Someone here won the lottery.”

For the first time since these transactions were publicized, the patriarch is trying to explain his position to the public. He recently engaged a PR firm, Debby Communications. In a conversation with Haaretz, M., a church official who is very close to the patriarch, explains his stance.

“There are no secret transactions,” he says. “There are no shady deals. No one is hiding anything. All the buyers are respected and well-known businessmen who for their own reasons prefer not to be exposed.”

According to M., the church evaluated each property before selling it, got an appraisal and demanded and received a fair price. There are two factors that negatively influence the price of the lands, he says. One is the long-term leasing agreements with the state, some that still have decades to go until they terminate, and the second is the fact that in the future, the state is liable to expropriate the land or otherwise undermine the property rights. The patriarch sees the bill recently proposed by lawmaker Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), under which church lands sold to private developers will be immediately expropriated by the state, as proof of the risk to these church properties in the future.

“We are an organization that’s subject to blackmail in Israel, in the Palestinian Authority and in Jordan,” says M. “Everyone feels they can blackmail us. They’ve turned the patriarchate into a persona non grata.” That’s why he describes these properties as a “disease” that weighs heavily on the church and must be eliminated.

For example, M. says, the original leases signed with the Jewish National Fund for land in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood during the 1950s are like land mines for the church, since they allow the JNF to extend them for many years at very low cost. It seems that the buyers of this land, the Nayot-Komemiyut partnership, don’t agree with him. “We did a terrific deal and I’m not embarrassed to say so,” said attorney Avraham Aberman, who represents the group.

M. goes further in trying to explain the sales. “The patriarchate is an institution spread over three countries; it has no countries behind it, it has no sources of income. Its only sources of income are its properties. It’s an institution that for years bought and sold to fund its expenses. The church owns 10 percent of the land in the Old City and it yields barely a few hundred thousand dollars a year. You ask for rent, but the tenant says, ‘I’m a member of the sect, I’m not paying.’

“When the patriarch assumed his position the church was $40 million in debt; there were properties with liens and in receivership,” M. continues. “He came and instituted a reform. He doubled the salaries of the priests, provided larger budgets to the schools, and for this he needed money. So we have properties that we are interested in from a strategic perspective and there are properties that we sell and from that we support ourselves.”

“We may own the land, but when you have decades-long leases, it’s an abstract ownership,” he says. “Take the deal in Givat Oranim. When we concluded the transaction, there were still 60 years left on the lease. We got an appraisal and we got a price of $6 million. In the end we sold it for $3.3 million but together with the taxes, which the sellers are paying, we ended up getting almost $5 million, which is certainly a reasonable deal. In the Ramle industrial zone we sold 24 dunams for 30 million shekels [$8.6 million]. That’s more than what the Israel Lands Administration is selling for in the same place.”

According to M. the money made through the sales is being invested in yield-bearing real estate in places like Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem and Givat Hamatos in the south of Jerusalem. In both cases, private developers are building hundreds of apartments on church land; in return, the church will get some of them.

Attorney Elias Khoury, a Greek Orthodox Christian and real estate expert, is a sharp critic of the patriarch and rejects M.’s explanations.

“He describes someone bankrupt who wants to sell spoiled goods, but these are the words of someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” says Khoury. “Can you imagine a country selling its lands because it doesn’t want them anymore? These aren’t Theophilos’ private properties, they are the properties of the entire community and they must remain in the community’s hands for generations to come. He’s just trying to minimize the crime they’ve committed.”

In 1999, during the reign of the previous patriarch, Irenaios I, Khoury attended meetings with Rafi Eitan, then the Jerusalem Affairs minister, where they discussed extending the lease on church lands in the Rehavia neighborhood. “Then we calculated that if we took the market value and capitalized it, we would get to hundreds of millions of dollars on Rehavia alone. I told Rafi Eitan to send me the government assessor and he started to laugh. It was clear that the government could never pay that price. Someone trying to get rid of such an asset is a man with no eye to the future.”

Meanwhile, earlier this week, the Jerusalem District Court issued a restraining order on the sale of the Rehavia lands. The patriarchate had filed a petition demanding that the municipality produce a document stating there are no taxes owed on the land. The city argued that it would need a lot more time to gather the information and produce the document. The court accepted this position and froze the transaction for several months.

Next week the patriarchate plans to appeal to the Supreme Court over the sale of three buildings in Jerusalem's Old City to Ateret Cohanim. Two months ago the Jerusalem District Court rejected the patriarchate’s claim that the sales were part of the corrupt operations of the previous patriarch and his treasurer.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: Is the Ecumenical Movement "Heretical"?

Arabic original here.

Is the Ecumenical Movement "Heretical"?

John said, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us." So Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side" (Luke 9:49-51). This discussion comes in the context of the healing of a young boy from an "unclean spirit" that was living within him, after which came John's question and Jesus' reply in the the next two verses.

What is meant by the unclean spirit cannot be limited to illnesses alone. Rather, it means in particular the evil that man commits against his fellow man. The unclean spirit does not enter into a person by its own force. Rather, it is the person who cordially invites it to dwell within him and guide him along the path of evil. When something serious happens, this person rushes to curse the devil responsible for his evil deeds in order to excuse himself, while he is primarily and ultimately responsible for his evil deeds.

Today, in certain circles of the Orthodox Church, a takfiri language is prevalent, one that regards the ecumenical movement as a "Christian heresy." These extremist circles likewise think that those taking part in the activities of this ecumenist church are heretics. Their list of names includes Antiochian patriarchs, bishops and priests, given the fact that that the patriarch of Antioch and All the East, His Beatitude John X, is a leading participant in the World Council of Churches.

We need to start by saying, on a dogmatic level, that in its ecumenical discussions the Orthodox Church has not offered any dogmatic concession in order to please her partners in the Christian faith. One can only pronounce a judgment of heresy against something that touches upon the essence of the faith. That is, what was decided in the Creed and some of the rulings made by the ecumenical councils, such as the decision issued by the Seventh Ecumenical Council regarding the necessity of venerating icons... As for Christians praying together during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity-- that is, outside the mysteries-- this is in no way heresy. Did not Peter and Paul pray together despite their fierce disagreement, so that the Lord might inspire them to the path of peace, reconciliation and love...?

Christ did not ask those who want to cast out demons in His name whether they are His followers or not. He did not ask them to recite the Creed or what church they belonged to. He said one thing: "He who is not against us is on our side.' What is this love-killing pride that wants to monopolize work in the name of Jesus for itself, rejecting that someone else might do work in Jesus' name that it would like to perform? Jesus Himself prevented His disciples from monopolizing this for themselves, when they wanted to monopolize Christ for themselves alone and not for others. It seems like that they are greater than the disciples, God knows.

 Along with our partners in the World Council of Churches, we strive to regain visible unity. In order for this to happen, we must take significant steps, including that they are churches, not merely Christian communities, so that we can sit together and dialogue about what separates us. The Church cannot dialogue except with a church that she recognizes, which with she is together in many things and separated in other things. So why focus on the disagreements in order to confirm division and not recognize the things in common in order to make it possible to solve the disagreements? Moreover, no Orthodox has ever said that the Orthodox Church does not realize the perfect expression of what the Creed confesses, "and in one, holy Catholic and Apostolic Church."

What prevents us Orthodox from casting out demons with people of other the churches-- with the Catholic Church, the non-Chalcedonian churches, and some of the Protestants? The first demon that must be cast out is the demon of the schisms and quarrels that divide us, especially in the East. Are they not demonic, those who refuse to recognize the martyrdom of Copts in Egypt, the Syriacs and Chaldeans in Iraq, or of the martyrdom of Catholics in Syria?

A heretic is someone who does not confess the activity of the Holy Spirit in the world, in Christians and in non-Christians. Therefore let us dare to speak of the madness of those who accuse the ecumenical movement and those who work in it of heresy.




Saturday, October 21, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: Man, not God, Created Hell

Arabic original here.

The Heart is God's Dwelling-Place

What does it mean for us to gather together and perform the divine sacrifice for the soul of a brother of ours who has gone on to God's mercy? What we know about death from the New Testament is that God recompenses each according to his deeds and that one's eternal fate is tied to his actions. What I would like to draw attention to in the saying "Man's actions follow him and God recompenses each according to his deeds" is that it does not mean that God keeps an account, a record in heaven in which man's deeds are accounted to him, whether good or bad. Rather, it is a calling to good work.

The blessed saying that God recompenses each according to his deeds (Romans 5:2-6 and Revelation 22:12) mean that man is purified by his deeds. If you love the Lord and your neighbor and you do good to him, pay attention to him, distract him from his sorrow and distress, are there for him in all situations, and are humble, then your works purify you. It is not that God reckons them. They purify you and lift you up to Him. It is not an issue of recompense or punishment. God does not take revenge and He is not pleased to see people being punished in hell.

The truth that has been declared to us is that God draws man to Himself and that man also approaches God through obedience. Man sees himself loving God and he sees God loving him and it is all love. One who loves is drawn to the face of God. One who does not love goes away from the face of God and remains in his darkness. It is not that God casts anyone into the outer darkness. It is not that God created hell: God did not create hell. Man created hell for himself and he torments himself in his sins. There is no sin that does not bear its own punishment.

God does not punish. Man hates and the hate itself is a torment. Man is not cast into hell haphazardly and arbitrarily, but rather brings hell to himself. It is cast into him and he is not cast into it. Man puts himself in darkness because he does not love, because he does not purify himself. If he loves, he places heaven within himself. Man does not go and come. He does not rise and fall. Man is here in this human heart. He brings God to his heart or he fills it with evil. He rejoices at virtue and it elevates him and makes him beautiful.

If God dwells in the human heart-- that is, if virtue dwells within it-- then it is a heaven. And if we understand that if sin dwells within the human heart and rends it, it becomes a hell, then we have understood everything. There is nothing in this world apart from God. If you love Him, then you are with Him and you are in Him and He is in you. If you love your lust and your sin and you hate people, then you are in hell and hell is in you. You are with the devil and the devil is attached to you and you are far from the face of God because you shrink from Him and because you anger Him with your deeds.

Do not think that a person loves God because he talks about Him and because he prays. This is not the criterion. The criterion is someone loves God if he obeys His commandments and is obedient to his brothers. Prayer, the holy mysteries, fasts and spiritual efforts are all only necessary means for us to arrive at the spiritual beauty within us, which is God's dwelling there.

We gather together in the Divine Liturgy because of our faith that the divine love that was poured out  on the cross is poured out in the Divine Liturgy, which is the celebration of the cross that was completed on Golgotha and the celebration of the Resurrection.

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on the Passions

Arabic original here.

The Passions

The chief passions are three: money, authority and pleasure. Authority is itself legitimate, but domination is not legitimate.

Saint John Climacus says in his book The Latter of Divine Ascent, "God did not invent evil. Those who claim that there are evil passions in the soul have erred, having missed the fact that we ourselves transformed the properties of our nature into passions." The ability to produce offspring, for example, is within us, but we have transformed it into fornication. We have within us desire for food, but we have transformed it into gluttony. We have within us the incensive faculty in order to be angry at evil, but we have turned it to harm our neighbor...

We combat the passions by acquiring the opposing virtue and practicing it. We combat gluttony with fasting, pride and selfishness with humility and brokenness of spirit. Love of sin is replaced with love of Christ: "Longing for Christ has extinguished longing for sin."

The Apostle Paul says, "Everyone who strives for the kingdom is temperate in all things" (1 Corinthians 9:25). Saint Macarius of Egypt says with regard to the spiritual struggle in his book of spiritual homilies:

"When one approaches the Lord, he must compel himself for the sake of good, even if his heart does not want this. He must compel himself in order to love without having love. He must compel himself to be meek without having meekness. He must compel himself to pray without having the desire for it... When God sees his effort, He will then give him pure, spiritual prayer. He will fill him with the grace of the Holy Spirit."

"From my youth many passions have fought against me." Beloved! Sins are works of passions and they produce pain and depression in the soul. Sin is the loss of grace.

A person does not become perfect without God. "This world is not enough." Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is denying grace. It is falling into the corruption of nature, according to Saint Athanasius the Great.

Grace is a free gift whose price is the blood of Christ. It is a gift of pure love.

"We have this treasure in vessels of clay" (2 Corinthians 4:7). In order for one to master his passions, he must compel himself, as we mentioned above, to train himself ascetically in abstinence, to struggle and so be purified: this is Orthodoxy in practice. It begins with repentance, with purification from the wicked passions. Then grace is active in us and we are illumined by God's light.

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

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Fr Touma (Bitar): Why Icons?

Arabic original here.

Why Icons?

Today, brothers, the Holy Church commemorates the fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council which affirmed the veneration of icons after a long period during which those who venerate them were persecuted and most ancient icons that had existed before the eighth century were destroyed.

What is the importance of icons in the Church? First of all, brothers, we honor icons and do not worship them. For this reason, all that can be said about us worshiping idols if we use icons in the Church is false. There is a great difference between veneration and worship. Worship belongs to God and God alone. But man expresses himself with word and image. Man has senses with which he expresses himself. Thus we use incense. Incense, for us, is a sign of venerating the faithful and of worshiping God in the faithful. So too with the Holy Bible. There are words in it, but these words are only vehicles for God's presence among us. We cannot express ourselves in a non-human way. We are human. Thus we express ourselves with sound, with the written word, with icons, with incense... All of these are languages. However, we need to know that the word of God which is read to us, though it has a human garb is not limited to human words. These words bear a divine presence. Thus we call this book the Holy Bible. It is the Holy Bible because it has a human dimension and another, divine dimension. It is different from every other book in the world. All the books in the world are human books, but the Holy Bible is a theanthropic book. In other words, we believe that the Son of God became flesh, that God became human. He is God and man at the same time. The Lord Jesus Christ is both God and man. For this reason, everything that goes out from God to man is divine and human in the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, God and man. The Holy Bible, then, contains human words, but these human words bear the divine presence, just as the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, which He took from the Virgin Mary, bore His divine presence. God was present in it and they were one and the same. Thus the word of God is a human word and a divine word at the same time.

The same thing can be said with regard to icons. In itself, an icon of course has colors. And of course there are shapes and lines. When we draw something, we place its name over the drawing. If there is an image of someone-- anyone at all-- without a name over it, then we do not regard it as an icon and we in no way venerate it. Then, when we are venerating an icon, in practice we regard the veneration as being directed toward the person depicted in the icon. We have here, for example, Saint Barbara. When we prostrate before Saint Barbara, we are not prostrating to the wall, but before the saint who is in heaven and who is present through the icon that we drew of her on the wall. In the same way, we kiss the Holy Bible. When we kiss the Holy Bible, we are kissing God, who was pleased to give us Himself through these human words. So our veneration is not of colors. It is not of wood. Rather, it is of the one who is depicted on the wood. So we venerate God and His saints in human shapes and human expressions. The Church has held fast to venerating icons because venerating icons is based on the incarnation of God. The icon indicates that the Son of God-- the second hypostasis of the Holy Trinity-- became incarnate indeed. He became human in every sense of the word. He became perceptible. God became perceptible in His body. God in the body ate, drank and suffered. So this is something that surpasses human understanding. One cannot understand something like this. But one is allowed to accept this through faith, through this trust that God indeed became incarnate, indeed became perceptible. He who is imperceptible gives us Himself  in a perceptible image in the icon. And He gives Himself in an auditory manner through human words. He gives us Himself through the worship that we perform: through the incense, through the motions, through the words... The priest, for example, is flesh and blood like any human. At some point, this body will become dust. But the Lord God was pleased at the raising of the priest's hand and at his making the sign of the cross in a particular way, to indicate the name of the Lord Jesus. In this way, in practice, he gives the blessing of Christ, who is unseen, in a visible manner. For this reason, people bow, receive a blessing and make a prostration, knowing that this priest is a man like other men. But this man was chosen by the Church, a hand was placed upon him, and God's grace was brought down upon him, that he might become a servant of the Lord God. The priest, when he vests and serves according to the order established by the Holy Church, is not, in practice, the one who is performing the divine service. Rather, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is invisible, is the one performing it through him, who is visible, for the life and sanctification of the faithful. In the same way, we prepare the Eucharist. We prepare the bread, the wine and the water, and we sanctify them. In other words, the Lord God, who is invisible, is pleased to rest, by the Holy Spirit, in the bread and wine. They become, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Christ's body and blood. This is what we partake of when we partake of the mysteries. When we partake of them, we taste bread and wine, but this bread bears Christ as His body. That is, we receive God who is pleased to give us Himself under the sign of the bread. This is what the Lord Jesus did at the Last Supper. When He was with His disciples, He took a loaf of bread and gave it to the disciples, saying, "Take, eat, this is My body." And He took the cup-- the cup of wine at that time-- and said to them, "Drink of it all of you, this is My blood." For this reason, we do what the Lord Jesus Christ did at the Last Supper. Then, by the Lord's Holy Spirit, this bread and wine become Christ's body and blood whenever we gather together to participate in the Divine Liturgy. I cannot explain it, but I accept it. You cannot explain it. You must only accept with faith. This is a truth that surpasses the human intellect. It surpasses human understanding. But it is a certain truth in every sense of the word.

So this is our life in Christ. For this reason, icons are very important and we kiss them and make prostrations in front of them. But this kiss that we press upon the icon is directed at the one depicted in the icon. That is, when we kiss an icon of the Lord and Our Lady, we are kissing the Lord and Our Lady, not just the wood. The wood must be there because we have bodies, because we are of this world, and we can only express what is imperceptible through what is perceptible. God is imperceptible in Himself. God is spirit. Nevertheless, He became perceptible when He became incarnate, in order to give Himself to us in a way befitting us. For this reason, these perceptible things that we use in the Church in order for the faithful to be sanctified through them bear God's presence. Thus we must honor with perfect honor these perceptible things that bear God's imperceptible presence. That is, we must consider the Lord Jesus Christ to be present here and now with us. When I give you a blessing, I am not giving it to you from myself. Rather, the Lord Jesus Christ is the one who is giving it to you through me. I become a sort of human instrument in a sense. Through me, you receive the presence of God who surpasses apprehension and transcends time. In other words, it is the same thing that happened two thousand years ago and still happens now. The difference is that at that time, the Lord Jesus Christ lived among the disciples in the body. Then He ascended into heaven and sent us the Lord's Holy Spirit, so that we may persist in the work He did, by the power of the Lord's Holy Spirit, by regarding God as present-- yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever-- as He is active in our life in every sense of the word. And so the icon is a creed: "I believe in one God, the Father almighty..." Then we say: "And in the Lord Jesus Christ," who became incarnate from the Virgin. So the icon points to God having become incarnate and to man's having been granted to enter into a connection with God through the icon, through the word, through incense, through every perceptible, human thing. Man has become capable of talking with God in his human language. When one says, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your great mercy," he does not only speak words, but also directs words to the Lord God. He says to Him, "Have mercy on me, O God!" Now, as I am addressing you, am I speaking words without any purpose, or am I speaking in order to enter into a connection with you? Words connect people. It is language that ties people to each other. In the same way, when I use words, images, or anything perceptible as an instrument for bearing God, I am entering into a connection with God. I talk with God, just as you speak with God. Each of us is granted to speak with God, to enter into a relationship with God, into a connection with God, through perceptible, material things. We are human and need these things. Can I address you if I do not speak to you? If I do not lift my voice? If I do not transform this speech that is in my mind into words and sound so that it will reach you, so that there will be a link between my mind and your minds, between my heart and your hearts, between my presence and your presence, and then so God's presence will be in me and in you? All of this makes the icon something absolutely fundamental for expressing the nature of the Christian faith. If this was not so, then Christians at that time would not have sacrificed so many martyrs and struggled to keep icons. Without icons, they seem to say that God did not become incarnate. But God did become incarnate. God became man. God became perceptible. He gave us Himself. At every Divine Liturgy, we sense God's presence. We receive Him in a living form, in a perceptible form, in a human form. But at the same time, He is God and He was pleased to give us Himself in this way. For this reason, we receive and we give thanks and rejoice. We hold fast to the faith of the Church and to what our holy fathers have taught us.

The epistle says something very clear: "The man of heresy-- that is, turn from someone who teaches contrary to the teaching of the Church after having been warned time and again, knowing that he has gone astray-- and he is in sin, having condemned himself in himself." So we turn away from the man of heresy if he clings to his heresy, if he clings to his teaching that is strange to the teaching of the Church. For this reason, we the faithful must hold fast to what what the Church teaches us. There is no question of changing words. Indeed, there is a divine presence in these words. Therefore, let us preserve everything we have received from our holy fathers, transmit it to our children, and continue to transmit it with perfect trust.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan-- Douma, Lebanon
October 15, 2017

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Free to Download: Irfan Shahid's Books on Byzantium and the Arabs

Dumbarton Oaks has made free for download all of Irfan Shahid's works on Byzantium and the Arabs, an extremely valuable resource documenting Byzantine-Arab relations and Christianity among the Arabs in the pre-Islamic period.


The Arabs played an important role in Roman-controlled Oriens in the four centuries or so that elapsed from the Settlement of Pompey in 64 B.C. to the reign of Diocletian, A.D. 284–305. In Rome and the Arabs Irfan Shahîd explores this extensive but poorly known role and traces the phases of the Arab-Roman relationship, especially in the climactic third century, which witnessed the rise of many powerful Roman Arabs such as the Empresses of the Severan Dynasty, Emperor Philip, and the two rulers of Palmyra, Odenathus and Zenobia. Philip the Arab, the author argues, was the first Christian Roman emperor and Abgar the Great (ca. 200 A.D.) was the first Near Eastern ruler to adopt Christianity. In addition to political and military matters, the author also discusses Arab cultural contributions, pointing out the role of the Hellenized and Romanized Arabs in the urbanization of the region and in the progress of Christianity, particularly in Edessa under the Arab Abgarids. 

The fourth century, the century of Constantine, witnessed the foundation and rise of a new relationship between the Roman Empire and the Arabs. The warrior Arab groups in Oriens became foederati, allies of Byzantium, the Christian Roman empire, and so they remained until the Arab conquests. In Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century, Irfan Shahîd elucidates the birth of the new federate existence and the rise of its institutional forms and examines the various constituents of federate cultural life: the phylarchate, the episcopate, the beginnings of an Arab Church, an Arabic liturgy, and the earliest attested composition of Arabic poetry. He discusses the participation of the Arab foederati in Byzantium’s wars with her neighbors—the Persians and the Goths—during which those Arab allies, most notably the Tanūkhids, contributed to the welfare of the imperium and the ecclesia. The Arab federate horse galloped for Byzantium as far as Ctesiphon, Constantinople, and possibly Najrân in Arabia Felix. In the reign of Valens, the foederati appeared as the defenders of Nicene Orthodoxy: their soldiers fought for it; their stern and uncompromising saint, Moses, championed it; and their heroic and romantic queen, Mavia, negotiated for it.
Just as the Tanūkhids rose and fell as the principal Arab foederati of Byzantium in the fourth century, so too in the fifth did the Salīḥids. The century, practically terra incognita in the history of Arab-Byzantine relations, is explored by Irfan Shahîd, who recovers from the sources the political, military, ecclesiastical, and cultural history of the Arab foederati in Oriens and the Arabian Peninsula during this period. Unlike their predecessors or successors, the foederati of the fifth century lived in perfect harmony with Byzantium. Federate-imperial relations were smooth: the Arab horse reached as far as Pentapolis in the West and possibly took part in Leo’s expedition against the Vandals. They were staunchly orthodox and participated in two ecumenical councils, Ephesus and Chalcedon, where their voice was audible. But their more enduring contributions were cultural, and may be associated with Dāwūd (David), the Salīḥid king; Petrus, the bishop of the Parembole; and possibly also Elias, patriarch of Jerusalem (494–516), a Roman Arab. The federate culture gave impetus to the rise of the Arabic script, Arabic poetry, and a simple form of an Arabic liturgy—the foundation for cultural achievements in subsequent centuries.
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, volume 1, part 1, Political and Military History is devoted to the main Arabian tribes that federates of the Byzantine Roman Empire. In the early sixth century Constantinople shifted its Arab alliance from the Salahids to the Kindites and especially the Ghassanids, who came to dominate Arab-Byzantine relations through the reign of Heraclius. Arranged chronologically, this study, the first in-depth account of the Ghassanids since the nineteenth century, draws widely from original sources in Greek, Syriac, and Arabic. Irfan Shahîd traces in detail the vicissitudes of the relationship between the Romans and the Ghassanids, and argues for the latter’s extensive role in the defense of the Byzantine Empire in its east.
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, volume 1 part 2, Ecclesiastical History provides a chronologically ordered account of the involvement of the Ghassanids in ecclesiastical affairs in the eastern region of the Byzantine Empire. Tracing the role of Arab tribes both inside and outside the Roman limes, Irfan Shahîd documents how the Ghassanids in particular came to establish and develop a distinct non-Chalcedonian church hierarchy, all the while remaining allies of the Chalcedonian emperors. Ghassanid phylarchs such as Mundir emerge not merely as loyal foederati but devout Christians. Shahîd extensively and critically analyzes the Greek, Syriac, and Arabic sources, including many obscure or unfamiliar texts to illuminate the religious landscape of the Arabs of the sixth century.

Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, volume 2, part 1, Toponymy, Monuments, Historical Geography, and Frontier Studies is a topical study of the military, religious, and civil structures of the Ghassanids. Irfan Shahîd’s detailed study of Arab buildings of the sixth century illuminates how Byzantine provincial art and architecture were adopted and adapted by the federate Arabs for their own use. As monuments of Christian architecture, these federate structures constitute the missing link in the development of Arab architecture in the region between the earlier pagan (Nabataean and Palmyrene) and later Muslim (Umayyad). Drawing from literary and material evidence, Shahîd argues that the Gassanids were not nomadic, as traditionally believed, but thoroughly sedentary both in their roots and in the late Roman frontier zone they inherited. The third of four volumes dedicated to the sixth century, this book extensively depends upon the previous two volumes (volume 1, part 1, Political and Military History; volume 1, part 2, Ecclesiastical History).
Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, volume 2, part 1, Toponymy, Monuments, Historical Geography, and Frontier Studies is a topical study of the military, religious, and civil structures of the Ghassanids. Irfan Shahîd’s detailed study of Arab buildings of the sixth century illuminates how Byzantine provincial art and architecture were adopted and adapted by the federate Arabs for their own use. As monuments of Christian architecture, these federate structures constitute the missing link in the development of Arab architecture in the region between the earlier pagan (Nabataean and Palmyrene) and later Muslim (Umayyad). Drawing from literary and material evidence, Shahîd argues that the Gassanids were not nomadic, as traditionally believed, but thoroughly sedentary both in their roots and in the late Roman frontier zone they inherited. The third of four volumes dedicated to the sixth century, this book extensively depends upon the previous two volumes (volume 1, part 1, Political and Military History; volume 1, part 2, Ecclesiastical History).

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: The Hegemony of Obscurantist Thinking

Arabic original here.

The Hegemony of Obscurantist Thinking

When religious thinkers treat various issues in their writings, they often resort to arbitrary comparisons between religions that are without scholarly or methodological value. They likewise fall into the trap of confusing modern concepts and their insistence on these concepts being rooted in their sacred texts. They do not hesitate to say that all contemporary concepts were described in their sacred texts before the European Renaissance and Enlightenment.

Recently I read a dossier by one of the monthly Arabic journals containing "studies" on the topic of secularism. My attention was drawn to an article by one of the "great Arab thinkers" named Hasan Hanafi, entitled "The Basis of Secularism is in the Noble Qur'an and its Roots are in the Ancient Heritage."This article was illogical, unsystematic and lacked the scholarly foundation demanded of undergraduates (and so how much more should it be required of one of the "intellectual points of reference"!).

There is a deficiency among some thinkers, which is beginning from an inappropriate starting-point. If the rubric for his thinking is "the basis of secularism is in the Qur'an..." then why does he start out with a fierce attack against Christianity as, "the obscurantist, mythological religion, the religion of sin and salvation, of surrounding rational man with a sin he did not commit, the sin of Adam, a salvation he did not work for, and faith in Christ." Does he, for example, want Christians not to believe in Christ? Is he an intellectual or a religious missionary?

On the other hand, Mr Hasan Hanafi says of Islam, "Since Islam is the last of the religions, it contains within itself all the secular values: reason, science, human rights and democratic governance." What is even more surprising is that he said, "If secularism means the centrality of man in the universe, defense of his freedom of will, and the establishment of a free, socialist, democratic society, then these goals spring forth from Islam, since man is God's vicegerent on earth."

Hasan Hanafi does not turn to philosophy, sociology and the other human sciences in order to support his opinion with evidence and logical proofs. Rather, he turns to the Qur'an as the only point of reference to defend his perspective. Hasan Hanafi permits himself to judge Christianity to be an "obscurantist, mythological" religion, while Islam is "the religion of reason." But he quickly falls into a contradiction since he resorts to obscurantist, irrational discourse in order to support his point of view. Or what should we call using Qur'anic verses in a "scholarly study" that does not treat questions of Islamic jurisprudence in worship and ethics, but rather philosophical and intellectual issues with no connection to the Qur'an.

Then we come to the non-obscurantist reality so that perhaps Hasan Hanafi might come to his senses and open his eyes to reality. Theoretical talk is nice. Indeed, it is magnificent. But the reality that refutes the theory makes theoretical discourse sterile and worthless. Where are the intellect, science, human rights and democratic governance in most of our Arab-Islamic countries? The obscurantist mentality dominates an overwhelming majority of our peoples. We are absent from the competition to produce science on the global level. "Human rights" are constantly violated. Democracy is despised by our peoples who are subservient to their rulers.

We're not going to defend Christianity against Islam and we're not going to enter into useless debates and senseless discussions. We understand secularism on the basis of "the separation of the state and religion," which is the only concept that Hanafi did not treat in his "study". The fundamental reason for this lies in confusing scholarly discourse with religious discourse. The beginning of true intellectual activity is separating scholarly discourse and religious discourse.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: The Fathers

Arabic original here.

The Fathers

Today we celebrate the fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787), which defined the veneration of icons. The icons highlight for us people who have become new in Christ. We observe that an icon displays a saint as someone not of flesh and blood. He transcends worldly, bodily existence in order to be seated at in the ranks of light in the heavens, from which he looks down upon us as a new person. Our fathers' every concern is that we become new creatures who have no relation to flesh and blood or to an environment or past time, as though we were created today.

The Apostle Paul said, "You do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel" (1 Corinthians 4:15). Each of us comes from a man and a woman. This is the beginning, but we do not stop at that point. After our mothers give birth to us as slaves, we go on to the freedom of Christ. Every person strives to be a Christian. A Christian is a project. He is baptized so that he may strive over the course of his life to become a Christian. But he does not reach perfection, even in eternal life, because in heaven we become perfect together. Together we become a glorious Church for Christ. Christ casts upon us a garment of light and we become creatures of light through this garment that is cast upon us.

But what happens to us on earth after we have become the project of a person in baptism? There come people in the Church who renew us in Christ Jesus. They have been renewed. They have become free. Every link between them and this body, between them and the selfishness of this world, its domination and its slavery has been broken. They are no longer indebted to any of their lusts or people's lusts. The Holy Spirit now moves them and they are no longer moved by the prejudice of village, town, sect or party. The Holy Spirit blows in them and heaven moves them. The heavenly person is treated as ignoble, a stranger, rejected and despised because he is a reminder to the people of the earth that they are called to become heavenly as they move upon the earth.

The people of heaven, the great believers, are hated by the people of the earth. The people of the earth, who are still tied to dust, to the aims of this world, to the deceit of lust, hate heaven and have no communion with the children of light.

Because of the darkness that prevails over this world, God raised up in the Church fathers capable of generating children of God the Father. There are those who break off people's tie to flesh and blood in order to established a new tie between them and the Lord. God establishes for Himself a family in the Church, which is not the human family made up of a man, a woman and children. I do not mean by this all who are affiliated with Christ by baptism. Rather, I mean those who have become conscious anew that they are a member of Christ's body, a part of Christ.

The time has come for us to know that we were born and are born in Christ's Church and in her we become new people because we follow Jesus and we have been made brothers of the Lord and children of God.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Met Saba (Esber): Lord, Do not Rebuke Us Harshly

Arabic original here.

Lord, Do not Rebuke Us Harshly

Master,

Perhaps the most difficult thing in Your Gospel is that you leave the wheat among the tares until the final judgment. You have made us understand that Your Church on earth is not a collection of saints so much as a group of strugglers who seek holiness.

They may not attain it. They may only see it from afar. Many times, they may not ever see it.

You wanted Your Church to be a group of seekers of truth. You are the Truth and in you it is seen. We are amazed that it is persecuted and contested until the end of the age.

Our struggles and our sins which we attach to You cause us to imagine that we are defending You and Your body on earth.

The reality, however, says: we are for this one or that one of Your servants more than we are for You.

You have also taught us that holiness is only given when it is truly sought on the narrow way.

Thus we have learned that we must be hard on ourselves and not on others and that we must require truth and uprightness of ourselves before anything else.

Then You offered Your life so that truth, purity and sacrifice might have the highest place in Your creation. Your sacrifice was a real translation of Your words.

And because You effaced Your person with Your word, Your whole life was a condescension.

You only went up twice.

The first time was so that the enormous crowd could hear Your teaching, when You went up the mountain to give them the new Law.

The second time was upon the cross. On the hill of Golgotha, You let them raise You as a martyr, to embrace the world with Your hands stretched out to it.

Your being lifted up like this was the apex of condescension, because it led you to the tomb, in a cave of earth.

By this ultimate condescension of Yours, You rose again and caused life to dawn, that light of which You said in Your Gospel, that you came in order to give to us, that we may have its fullness.

But we often act in the opposite way to You.

We love to show off and puff ourselves up, for people to see us as leaders more than as servants and fathers!

We want followers, even if we lead them to perdition!

Because we are small, we make ourselves big not through You but through them in order to feel that we are doing something, that we are influential, that we have status.

If Your children, in their love for us, only know us from the outside, what excuse is this for us when we know ourselves and we know how much stupidity, meanness and filth there is within us?

Did You not teach us, Master, how we should go down in order for You to raise us up?

Do You not direct us towards knowledge of the high station that is fitting for Your people and Your servants?

Is it not enough for us to be at Your feet?

Is not all fullness in our listening to You as Mary did, and she attained the good portion that is not taken from her?

Amidst our intoxication with ourselves and our ego, we often forget You, O Master, and we replace You with our followers.

We are occupied with the demon that dwells in us and we follow his whispers, so we no longer see You or hear You. In this way he leads us to false glory, to our doing what we believe to be the truth, when it is really only our own transgressions.

We no longer distinguish, O Master, between our whims and our zeal for Your house.

My Lord, do not let the turmoil drive us to acting against Your Gospel.

Have pity on us and our hardness of heart. Pour out Your abundant mercy upon us.

You have given us a terrible responsibility because You were pleased for Your Holy Spirit to be in vessels of clay, we who are quick to shatter.

How do we keep our vessels uncracked, when it is very easy to slip and imagine that we are Your followers who have been charged with reforming Your Church, when the world is very seductive?

My Lord, how many times have we been tempted to act against Your Gospel in order to best serve Your Church?

And how many times have we violated Your Gospel when we sanctified a means to an end?

And how many times have we betrayed You when we used You as an instrument for our own interests and desires?

Teach us, my Lord, that we are not better than You because no servant is better than his master.

Help us to accept Your example, the example of the servant who is oppressed and does not oppress.

Strengthen our steps so that You may be our first love.

Make us listen to You move than we talk about You, so that we may distinguish well between Your will and our passions.

Master, over history you have often taught us that You permit outward and inward persecution when we evade the truth and stray from the straight path.

Do not rebuke us harshly, my Lord, because we almost cannot bear it.

Preserve for us a remnant that bears witness to You, to the fullness of the life that You desire, and to the joy that Your angels have proclaimed since You honored our earth with Your visitation.

My Christ, the people of Your Church have grown weary on account of us. Forgive us and lead us to the straight path.

We desire You, my Lord. Do not let us distract ourselves from You with the things that pertain to You.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: I Say to You, Arise

Arabic original here.

I Say to You, Arise

Today's Gospel reading is about a miracle that the Lord performed, which shows us once again that the chief reasons for Jesus' working miracles is that He loves people. He took pity on the widow of Nain and raised her son.

Miracles are not, at root, for the Lord to prove something. He did not do them to give us proof of His divinity, since He says, "Believe in Me because of the words I speak to you. Otherwise, believe because of the works." This is the weakest sort of faith, for us to follow Him on account of miracles, while the strongest faith is for us to follow Him because of His words, because of the divine gift of words that no human pronounces, and because of the life that He spent among us, loving to the point of death. Therefore, in the Gospel of John the miracles are called "signs" because He uses them to indicate teaching. He uses them to demonstrate the aims of the Gospel and not to demonstrate might.

Christ did not reveal God's might as the Jews did. He revealed God's power in His own way. God's power was the cross. That is, He revealed a weakness that was, after the resurrection, determined to be in fact a strength. God comes down to humankind and lives with them. This is His power. He can cast aside His glory in order to be hidden among people. People desire power and it is one of their three temptations. Man is confronted with three temptations: the temptation of money, the temptation of power or glory.

Christ stepped down from all this, He refrained from all of this in order to die for something weak, so that His power might shine and so He might triumph in glory.

In this context, Jesus rose the youth from the dead and sent him to his mother. Here we must notice what Jesus said to this youth: "I say to you, arise." He could have just said "arise", but He said, "I say to you, arise."

From behind the event, if each of us looks at his weakness and his spiritual death, at his fallenness, his decline and his abandonment, at the same time he looks at the splendor of Christ, because each of us is dead and Christ says to each of us by name, "I say to you, arise."

What every single one of us must believe that Christ could have come to humankind even if there were only one human. The important thing is not that we say that Christ is the Savior of the world-- and it is true that He is the Savior of all people-- rather, the important thing is that every single one of us says, "Christ is my own savior." Each one of us can say this if he wants to reveal his weakness before Christ and confess it.

People talk about others and say that they steal and kill and lie and cheat. I have never heard someone complain about himself and say publicly, "I lie. I cheat. I take illicit profit. I have murdered." True Christianity is for me to confess before all people that I am a sinner, an adulterer, a liar, a murderer. This is what the early Christians did when confession was public. They confessed their sins and not others' sins.

When someone confesses that he is a sinner, Christ says to him, "I say to you, arise." And at that moment he arises from his sin to become a new person.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Conference in DC This Week: Byzantium, the Arabs, and the Rise of Islam

For more information, a program and abstracts of the presentations, go here.

Colloquium in Memory of Irfan Shahîd (1926–2016) 
 

“Byzantium, the Arabs, and the Rise of Islam” gathers leading scholars to explore areas that interested the late Irfan Shahîd. Within the broad framework of the relations between Byzantium and its Arab neighbors, speakers investigate a wide array of sources, from epigraphic and archaeological materials to the canon of Arabic poetry. Topics include the religion of the pre-Islamic nomads of Arabia, the Christian presence in the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant, and the possible pre-Islamic Arabic translation of the Bible.

The morning session takes place at Georgetown University in the CCAS Boardroom (ICC 241), and the afternoon session and reception are held at Dumbarton Oaks in the Oak Room, 1700 Wisconsin Avenue.

Participants
  • Ahmad Al-Jallad (Leiden University)
  • Nadia Maria El Cheikh (American University of Beirut)
  • Sidney Griffith (The Catholic University of America)
  • Robert Hoyland (New York University)
  • Walter Kaegi (University of Chicago)
  • Maria Mavroudi (University of California, Berkeley)
  • Jack Tannous (Princeton University)
  • Alan G. Walmsley (Macquarie University/Dumbarton Oaks)
Organizer: Emma Gannagé, Georgetown University

For information, contact the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University (202-687-2735 or arabic@georgetown.edu) or Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (202-749-8269 or events@doaks.org).

Co-organized by the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University and Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. Cosponsored by the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and the Medieval Studies Program at Georgetown University.

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Olive Tree

Arabic original here.

The Olive Tree

The olive tree has been known in our country from ancient times. It is a symbol of peace and mercy. The word 'mercy', eleos, and the word 'olive', elaia, are similar and we repeat in the Church kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy.

The Olive tree is mentioned in the Old Testament, at end of the Flood, when "the dove came to him in the evening, and behold, a freshly plucked olive leaf was in her mouth" (Genesis 8:11). Olive oil and the olive tree are mentioned 140 times in the Bible.

It is mentioned in the Holy Gospel and also in the Qur'an, where a verse says, "God is the light of the heavens and the earth. His light is like a niche in which is a lantern, the lantern in a glass, the glass like a shimmering star,  kindled from a blessed tree, an olive. Its oil almost aglow, though untouched by fire. Light upon light! God guides to His light whomever He wills..."*

Here let us recall that in the Mystery of Baptism, we anoint our children with oil upon which the priest has prayed, saying, "The servant of God (name) has been anointed with the oil of gladness in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen... for the healing of soul and body (on the chest and back), for hearing the faith (on the ears), (on the hands and feet) to work and walk in Your ways O Lord." Then the child is plunged into the water and rises three times, as a symbol of death and the resurrection. This reminds us that soldiers' bodies were anointed with oil before going off to battle and death so that they might be saved from the enemy's arrows.

The olive tree can live for over a thousand years and is evergreen. Olive oil is extracted from it, which is good for eating, in addition to being used in the production of soap. Olive wood is used to make household utensils, as well as being used for heating, as is what is left over from the fruit after pressing.

We will also mention here other benefits of olive oil and the olive tree for other occasions and purposes, including welcoming the Lord Christ on Palm Sunday, during the famous procession, with palm and olive branches decorated with flowers.

Additionally, people who fast during days of fasting, when they refrain from animal products, rely on olive oil for meals based on plants that the earth produces in springtime. Last but not least, we will mention that olive oil is used as the oil of chrism, "the oil of holy anointing", which grants the gifts of the Holy Spirit, indicating the divine virtues and eternal life. Let us not forget that it is used as a medicine in prescriptions: remember the Good Samaritan who used oil and wine to dress the wounds of the man who fell into the hands of thieves (Luke 10:34).

I say all of this, beloved, in order to remind you to preserve this tree, the olive tree blessed by God, which constitutes a precious, valuable inheritance for us in al-Koura. We who live on this land must never neglect the olive trees. Let us always have this concern form them, based on faith and not only on financial benefit, so that we may care for our livelihood and participate with our hands in our livelihood from the olive tree. The Lord always rewards us with this work in order to assure our sustenance and, especially, our salvation and the well-being of our country.

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

*Here (and always on this blog), I use Tarif Khalidi's translation of the Qur'an. You should too. It's far and away the best in English.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh on Suffering

Arabic original here.

The Treatment for Suffering is Love

Man's inevitable fate is, sooner or later, bodily death. Young and old stand equal before death. Death does not distinguish between children and the elderly. Is there a solution for this inevitable fate that is death? No, even if medical science and new drugs could prolong human life and reduce suffering, they will not reach the point of ending the inevitability of bodily death.

If bodily death is inevitable, then what about suffering? Why does man suffer? Is suffering part of human nature or is it something alien to it? There are many questions that both believers and unbelievers have about the suffering that all humans experience without exception.

To start with, it must be said that suffering does not only result from illness, but rather it results from many factors, so the source of suffering is not single but multiple. There is suffering that afflicts those who are physically healthy but who suffer from emotional, psychological, financial or intellectual (not achieving desired intellectual ambitions), or spiritual disappointments... Man does not live without suffering: this is the golden rule.

According to the Christian faith, death and suffering are alien to human nature. God, the source of every good thing, created man eternal. That is, not dying and not suffering... but man, in his rebellion against God-- that is, in his rejecting the source of life and departing from Him-- sentenced himself to death, suffering and torment. The coming of Christ, His submitting to death on the cross and His resurrection restored the relationship between God and man. But suffering and death remained the two-edged sword at the throat of all mankind.

Metropolitan Georges Khodr states that God is not the cause of everything that happens to us on the face of this earth. Khodr says in his conversation with Samir Farhat, "There are factors in nature and in the essence of humanity. If God liberated us from the responsibility of suffering, then it would be possible for us to be liberated from the dark image of this god, the god who delights in tormenting humankind. The natural inclination, particularly in the East, is that the good and the bad in life comes from God. In the New Testament, after Jesus bears mankind's suffering, God is no longer the cause of human suffering. We are transported from a purely philosophical, theoretical position to a position of participating in Christ (This World is not Enough, Ta'awuniyyat al-Nur al-Orthodoxiyya lil-Nashr wal-Tawzi', p. 207).

Christ came to redeem man and to release him from sin so that he may live with Him forever. Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice on the cross after having shared in the suffering and torments of humankind. Nevertheless, He gave this humankind great hope, He who is the resurrection and the life with God forever. Therefore we can say that suffering is an inevitable aspect of life on earth. The solution to it for believers is nothing other than to accept it as a bitter reality that is only mitigated by the belief that it is a path to purification from sin and attachment to Christ, who redeems this suffering through His suffering and raises us from the dead to eternal life, "where there is no pain, no sorrow and no sighing."

It remains that we treat suffering as a place where the most sublime love between man and his fellow man becomes manifest. Love alone is what can mitigate suffering. For a suffering person-- whether he is sick, hungry, widowed, orphaned or a refugee-- to see that there is someone concerned with his pain, who will perhaps cause him to feel others' pain, is the beginning of holiness. Love can do anything. Love can move mountains. Love is the great marvel.

Met Georges Khodr: Mercy

Arabic original here.

Mercy

Mercy is when a person embraces others, when he places them within his heart. But how do we treat people in actual reality? First we have an image of them that might come from their behavior and might come from our imagination. It is not true that we have precise knowledge of every person. We imagine that this person is such a way because we were told that he is from such-and-such a town and the people of that town are miserly or generous. We can't hold a man to his town's reputation. Then we say that his grandfather treated us in such-and-such a way and so he must be like his grandfather. The Bible has taught us that a person does not bear his father's sin and that everyone is his own person.

In addition to this, in our environment, we think that a person behaves in a certain way because he belongs to a certain religious community. This is not true. A given religious community is not all the same. Of course, someone might find a difference between himself and other people and be unable to bear such differences, wanting people to all say the same thing as him, whatever that might be.

Mercy is our taking everyone as he is and seeing his behavior as it is, not because he is from this village or this religious community. There are good people in every place and every society who may belong to any number of different countries or creeds. It is not true that they are wicked or fanatical merely because they belong to one of them. So mercy today means first and foremost that we see the person as he is and interact with him as he is, without regard to what groups he belongs to.

The person before us may be weak, and so we interact with him on this basis. The person before us may be a cheat, a liar or a thief, and so we interact with him on the basis of the Christian mindset that is in the Gospel. We do not keep silent about evils, but rather we resist them with gentle persuasion, with mercy, with affection, with goodness. We resist evils with good behavior, as the Apostle Peter says in his first epistle, " not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing..." (1 Peter 3:9) 

We do good to another person with good behavior and so, without judging him, we condemn with kindness. The person before us whom we cultivate with this spiritual beauty that is within us is vexed because the liar, the cheat and the thief are troubled if they are faced with a good person. His existence stands as a rebuke to them. And so begins hostility toward every upright person: "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12).

The Lord Jesus' answer to all of this is "be merciful." This is the secret. Why must we be merciful with those who are hostile to us? Because we have been delegated with shepherding them. Every person is someone's shepherd. Following the example of the compassionate Samaritan woman, each one of us takes care of the other, saves him.

God made us each other's shepherds or, to put it in other words, each one is the other's physician. Why must I have mercy on my enemy? The answer: because you know his fault. His enmity has brought him near to you. You know his shortcomings and you treat them. Each one of us must purify his heart from all enmity and see the other because he is one of God's children.

We do not have enemies. The people around us are all God's children and God's children have in them good and bad. Christianity is a realistic religion. It is a religion of treating people with love and mercy.

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