Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: Baptism is a Death and a Resurrection

Arabic original here.

Baptism is a Death and a Resurrection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 9, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Spiritual Life in the Parish

Arabic original here.

Spiritual Life in the Parish

What does the parish church offer its members in addition to the Divine Liturgy on Sunday and the other sacramental services like baptism, marriage, and funerals and some charitable assistance? Can the priest not add to this serving, spiritually guiding, and healing souls?

Can the doors of the church not be opened more than once a week for the Divine Sacrifice or for vespers, a paraklisis or other prayers? The Divine Liturgy can be held in the evening during the week, but what is more beautiful and more effective than a Divine Liturgy early in the morning before going to school or work? Because spiritual struggle in personal or liturgical prayer is effective and fruitful in the morning when the mind is fresh and we offer the firstfruits of our thought and prayer to God. In the Antiochian Church, we not long ago had the tradition in every diocese of celebrating the Divine Liturgy early every day in a church specially designated for this. This is because the Church's experience tells us that prayer, especially early in the morning, and closeness with the Lord are priorities in the life of the believer and are reflected positively in the family, at school, at work and in society. The Church is the hospital for sick souls, says Saint John Chrysostom. This is because illness is rooted in our mind (nous).

The holy fathers teach us that man cannot be radically healed except through the grace of the Holy Spirit, naturally by way of repentance (metanoia), whose literal meaning is a change of mind (nous), so that it may be attached to the mind of Christ, as the Apostle Paul calls for in his Epistle to the Philippians (cf. Philippians 2:5).

Beloved, the Orthodox Christian witness does not only rely on the intellect, since it also and especially assumes the purification of the heart through confession and repentance. Saint Seraphim of Sarov says, "Acquire the Spirit of peace in your heart and thousands around you will be saved."

Let us not forget, brethren, that we believers are called to bear witness to Christ in our society, which today is diverse in its denominations and religious communities on the one hand, and in its materialist and worldly inclination on the other hand. The Lord Jesus Himself calls us, through His disciples before His ascension from us to heaven in the body, saying, "Go and make disciples of all nations... teach them to keep all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20).

He is the one who went about teaching, "preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people" (Matthew 9:35).

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Time

Arabic original here.

Sermon for New Year's 2017

At New Year's, beloved, we must once again stand and contemplate the meaning of our life, the essence of our existence, and how we spend our time. We must pause over the meaning of time, how we live it and how we should live it.

Generally speaking, we distinguish three aspects of time: the past, the present and the future. If we want to approach the present objectively, we will be sure that it is nothing other than the aspect that overlaps between the past and the future. The present is that tiny finite moment that we cannot separate, but which divides the past from the future. The moment of the present is in reality the only one that is occurring, but it cannot be seized or grasped, since it immediately recedes into the past. A person doesn't live time as moments isolated from each other, but as a broad extension that embraces the past and the future. The present is that station in which the past and future are traversed, in the sense of traversing time and connecting with eternity. In it takes place preparation for eternal life. Time becomes an opportunity to seize eternity. The present is the temporal scope in which man meets God, according to the Elder Sophronius. Prostrations, bowing and rising, express this state: rising from the earth to seek heaven, tying earth's time to eternity. Time, in its present moment, can transform into moments when man encounters God. Time, only in its present moment, can mix with eternity. Thus we can approach time, its meaning, its value and its purpose in its present moment: it grants man the possibility of accessing eternity.

Time is inextricably entangled with the world and with the affairs of the world. It is entangled with life and leads it to death. The sea is this age, the boat is each of our lives, humans are the passengers, the rudder that guides the ship is time, and the destination is death. So it would be ignorance for us to go to death sleeping. Man's lifespan is the time of life that has passed and ended. On our birthdays we rejoice that we have gotten older and that we have added years to our lifespans. Our standard of measurement is, unfortunately, what is gone and passed. Passing time is not the measure of the time of life, but the measure of the time of passing away. But we must be wiser and more wary because we are drawing nearer to death and we do not know when death will open its gates to us. The God who loves humankind has kept the time of death unknown for humans in order to put them in a state of wakefulness and repentance and in a state of expectation: "let your loins be girded about and your lamps burning," especially when they see death knocking at the door for those around them. Unfortunately, however, Christians have come to treat death in an abstract manner where it concerns people around them but not themselves. The logic of Christianity is for the Christian to celebrate the triumph of his entrance into the kingdom, not his entrance into life. For this reason, the Church generally designates the feasts of martyrs and righteous ones on the dates of their martyrdom and repose, not on the day of their coming into life; on the day of their entering into the kingdom, not on the day of their entering into life.

Beloved, we must make this day into an opportunity that we dedicate to remembering God in the time of our personal lives. We must dedicate it to prayer, good works and sacrifice. Let us know that when we offer our present moment to God, we are offering Him our lifespan and our entire life. In this way, we truly live our life as fragrant incense for God, to Him be glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.