Sunday, August 20, 2017

Met Georges Khodr on the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Arabic original here.

Forgive Your Companion as I have Forgiven You

This Sunday is the midpoint between the Feast of the Transfiguration and the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross. In the transfiguration, we were promised that we will shine with the light of the Gospel just as Christ shined on the mountain. In the cross, Christ will be victorious and forgive us. But in order for us to be transfigured and forgiven, we must love as the parable from the Gospel has taught us.

The Lord told us this parable about a king who was owed ten thousand talents by his servant. This is equal to hundreds of millions in modern currency. That is, it is a very large debt. It is as though the Gospel means that the king is God Himself and that we owe Him an immeasurable sum. We owe Him first of all life and we owe Him something even more important than life, the redemption worked by Christ on the cross, eternal life, and forgiveness of sins when we repent of them.

God, as the servant said, takes His time. That is, He does not punish a person if the person asks for respite, if he realizes his sin and wants to correct it. The Lord desires all His children, even if they are sinners, because He loves all His children. "For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). People of various sorts, of various believes and various behavior enjoy the same good things that God gives to His beloved ones in various ways. God is a master who treats us according to love.

The servant whose great debt was forgiven held a trivial debt, a hundred dinars, from another servant. Three thousand dinars equals one talent. He started beating him, almost killing him, and put him in jail.

The lesson that Jesus draws from this story is that if you want mercy from your Lord, you must in turn be merciful to people. If you love, your heart grows larger, so that you will be large-hearted with people and have mercy on them.

Why must our hearts grow larger and why must we show mercy? Because people are alone. Every person is alone. Every person is wretched. Not matter how happy we are, in the end we live in isolation and nothing but God can bring us out of our isolation. Everything we have comes to an end: family, livelihood, wealth. God alone is a friend. Every person wants to be visited by another, for the face of another to turn to him, for a neighbor to look out for him, but the one who truly looks out for us is God.

How do we see the Lord? We do not see God's face, but we hear His word and we feel His grace. God looks out for us through others and He is one of the people that we visit. If they visit us, we feel that God has visited us. If they love us, we know that God has loved us. Others want us to love them in hard times, and therefore we console each other and rejoice with one another. Sometimes this might be out of hypocrisy and flattery our out of habit, but a person wants true, sincere feeling.

A person is in hard times not only when he has lost a loved one. He may be having psychological difficulty, so if we see the signs of ennui and irritability on our relative or neighbor, then we should visit him. This is particularly necessary in family life. We must be merciful toward people so that the Lord will have mercy on us.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Met Saba (Esber): Meditations on the Transfiguration

Arabic original here.

Meditations on the Feast of the Transfiguration

The Feast of the Transfiguration is the feast of glory. It is the feast of glorification, of man's glorification by his return to how he was in paradise, before the fall of Adam and Eve. Indeed, it is the return to the perfection of glory that they would have attained had they not fallen.

If man was created to live for some number of years on earth and then to do, what is the meaning of his life? He was created for divine glory. He was created to put on this glory.

Knowledge of glory is the deepest and most deeply-rooted need in man's heart. It is his need that is constantly attached to his nature. Even children long for glory, even if it is without knowledge, as when they want to stand out. Adults find in it a motive for excelling and for great deeds or, if they are wicked, a motive for evil deeds.

Man cannot be satisfied with his situation and accept it. He constantly longs for something better. Man is better than his situation, even if he doesn't know this. Within him is a beauty that he covers with ugliness. But he senses this beauty and feels it in special cases. He strives for it by seeking glory but, far from God, he continues to long for it, no matter what glories he achieves.

There is glory and then there is glory: the glory of the world and the glory of the kingdom, the glory of man and the glory of God, momentary glory and eternal glory, outward glory and inner glory, glory established upon the cross and glory established on the crucifixion of others, glory that comes through the cross and glory that rejects the cross. Do you know what kind of glory you desire?

The glory that God has promised us is to "partake in the inheritance of the saints" (Colossians 1:12). It is the glory of holiness, which God has made possible for us through the cross. "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18) and "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17). Therefore Moses and Elijah spoke with Him "of His exit which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem" (Luke 9:31).

The word "exit", in Greek "exodos", indicates His death. Christ's death is intimately tied to the glory of the transfiguration because Christ is glorified in His death (cf. John 12:23). In the annual liturgical cycle, the Feast of the Transfiguration comes forty days before the Feast of the Cross, demonstrating the connection that exists between Christ's glory and the cross. The word "exodos" reveals that Christ's passion is the realization of the Passover of the Old Testament and the true exodus from slavery to salvation.

The unveiling of this divine glory likewise confirms that Christ's imminent death is not something forced on Him by outside powers, but rather a free offering of love, because no soldier would have been able to resist such a glory, when Jesus was arrested, had Christ not remained silent (cf. Matthew 26:53). We chant in the kontakion for the feast, "Your disciples, insofar as they were able, beheld Your glory, so that when they should see You crucified, they would remember that Your suffering was voluntary."

The account of the event of the transfiguration is preceded by the Lord's speaking to His disciples about His impending passion and of the value of self-denial for salvation. The account begins with the words, "After this discussion..." This is an indication of the connection between the cross and the resurrection. The event of the transfiguration was an anticipatory revelation of Christ's glory in order to strengthen the disciples who saw Him and make firm their faith in their teacher and His being the Messiah. The Gospel recounts that the Lord took His chief disciples, Peter, James and John, so that they might see this glory of His.

The troparion for the feast says, "When You were transfigured on the mountain O Christ God, You revealed Your glory to the disciples as much as they were able." This confirms that the disciples saw to the degree that they were able to see. The Holy Spirit had not rested upon them yet.

This glory is attained by one who has passed through the glory of the cross. That is, one who has been freed of the hateful ego and from self-love. Rejecting the cross causes a person to seek glory in self-affirmation, and so his glory then remains a worldly glory destined to fail. It does not give him the fullness and satisfaction that he seeks. This is evident in his dissatisfaction with any profit that he gains and in his constant striving for more of what he already has.

"For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things" (Philippians 3:18-19). "The things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18). We do not limit the word "eternal" to the life after death as it also includes earthly life too.

Earthly glory is by definition passing, a mirage in the life to come, and a cause for perdition. But the promised glory, the glory of man's transfiguration in God's light is the perfection of the image with the divine likeness, is the lasting and original glory, the reason for the creation of man. If this glory, the purpose, does not exist, then what justifies human life? And what makes people bear their personal suffering and the suffering of others? And what gives them the capability to continue with the painstaking effort of life? Life without this divine purpose becomes a heedless passing between strangers who uselessly go along their way, life "from the belly to the grave." History becomes merely a succession of vain mirages. Life, the life of every person, is a short series of events with no justification for its past, no meaning to its present, and no possible end to its suffering. Mention of human suffering and the torments of humanity becomes something unbearable and impossible to bear.

But we know that this is not the case. God declares this in His having also become human. He will show His disciples the transformation that will happen to mankind in His kingdom of heaven, when they too will enter into glory. "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it... For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works" (Matthew 16:25, 27; cf. Luke 9:24, 26) and also, "But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:27), "till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom" (Matthew 16:28). 

The transfiguration, then, is a sample of man's natural state. It is the beauty of humanity restored, the beauty of original, undistorted creation. Many new this beauty, this glory and experienced it here on earth. The Prophet Moses knew it when his face shined and the Hebrews were not able to look upon him. Many enlightened persons knew it, those who in the purity of their life and their struggle were liberated from the corruption of their fallen nature and became temples for the indwelling of God, such as Saint Seraphim of Sarov and many others.

May God make us worthy to seek this glory. Amen.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: The Body of the Martyr is a Living Eucharist

Arabic original here.

The Body of the Martyr is a Living Eucharist

After years of work, Dr Elias Rachid Khalil and a team of researchers have published, at the initiative of Association of Alumni of Maronite Seminaries in Lebanon, an Encyclopedia of the Martyrs of the Churches in Asia Minor, the Middle East and North Africa (one volume, 1072pp.). This scholarly encyclopedia, which received the blessings of the heads of the Orthodox and Catholic churches in the Middle East, is distinguished by something new in the history of the Church, which is that it has brought together the lives of the saints who are celebrated in each of the churches. As for the importance of this encyclopedia, the letter from His Beatitude Patriarch John X at the beginning of the book says it best: "We find in this new work a fundamental step towards greater acquaintance with our shared Middle Eastern heritage, a reminder of the history of the Church militant in our country and a confirmation of our united witness in this stormy time."

Below are selections from my study "The Body of the Martyr is a Living Eucharist: The Witness of the Rum of Antioch" published in the encyclopedia.

The history of the Church celebrates the accounts of the holy martyrs who did not fear death but faced their tormentors with resolve and courage beyond description and did not flinch from declaring their firmness in faith in the Lord Jesus as Lord, God, Redeemer and Savior. The causes of their martyrdoms varies across circumstances, contexts, eras, regions and states. The first of them, Saint Stephen (cf. Acts 7), was killed by the Jews. Some were victims of the pagan Roman emperors, some were martyred under the Islamic caliphate, some were martyred in our present era under states based on the principle of "secularism", and some met their fate at the hands of other Christians who regarded them as heretics who must be punished with death.

Archimandrite Touma Bitar, who has the distinction of having published the Orthodox Synaxarion in Arabic, states that, "The first of those to forge the path to being honored in worship were the martyrs. The faithful honored them in the places where they had been tormented  or were martyred and buried. Their remains were kept with care as the most precious treasures, not necessarily because they had miraculous effects, but because they had fought the good fight, completed their struggle and kept the faith (cf. 2 Timothy 4:7). They offered their bodies as a holy living sacrifice pleasing to God (cf. Romans 12:1). They imitated the Lord's death (cf. Philippians 3:10). They bore the marks of the Lord Jesus on their bodies (Galatians 6:17). They are those who no longer live, but Christ lives in them (cf. Galatians 2:20).

It goes without saying that honoring the martyrs began at an early phase of the Church's history. In the account of the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (d. 158), the author mentions the Christians' celebrating the first commemoration of his martyrdom. One of the witnesses recounts that Polycarp's killers refused to hand his body over to the Christians for burial and then burned it. But those who loved him collected his bones, which for them were "more precious than gold and silver." From this arose the holy tradition that continues to this day which requires churches to be built over the graves of martyrs or the placing of pieces of their relics in them. The Council of Carthage (397) ordered the destruction of churches that were not constructed over the graves of true martyrs, while the canon seven of the Seventh Ecumenical Council says, "Let the remains of holy martyrs be placed in the churches that were built without them and let him who consecrates a church without any remains of martyrs be deposed for his violating the traditions of the Church."

It is possible for us to say, then, that in Christianity, it is the martyr who celebrates the liturgy, offering his body as a living Eucharist in place of bread and wine. His body is transformed into the body of Christ. His body is transformed into the "Church" in every sense of this word. Did not the Holy Apostle Paul liken the Church to the "body of Christ"? Therefore we honor his relics because they have become a holy Eucharist. In the life of Saint Eubulus (d. 204), it confirms this prevailing belief, as the saint cries out in the face of his tormentor who asks him to offer sacrifices so that he could pardon him and he could stay alive, "Yes, I will offer a sacrifice. But I will offer myself up before Christ God and I do not have anything else to offer."

In this context, Metropolitan Georges Khodr says, "The early Christians performed the sacrifice over the bodies of martyrs because the martyrs are alive and the liturgy is new life... All this means that the martyr or the saint is alive with his Lord and contributes to giving us life." But with the spread of churches and the lack of relics of martyrs, the Church deemed it proper that "the remains of the saints and martyrs be places in the foundations of a new church and likewise the altar. There we make a small hole where we place these remains during the consecration of the church and then we cover the altar with a covering." Metropolitan Khodr closes his discussion of this topic by stating that "the relics of the saints are not merely bones. They are the body of someone in whom holiness has dwelt, the body of someone longing for the resurrection."

As for the necessary conditions for declaring the sainthood of a believer who is witnessed to be upright, it is not a matter of a formal decision being taken by the Orthodox Church after a process of investigations, examinations and interrogations. Rather, each local church may declare the "sainthood" or "glorification" of a new saint. This is because honoring the saints begins with the people who call upon them, honor them, and visit their tombs. Then the spiritual leadership recognizes the truth of this popular movement and declares the sainthood of the person in question. It is worth mentioning that the Orthodox Church does not require miracles as a measure of sainthood, but rather two things must be determined, as Metropolitan Georges Khodr says:

1) The one whose beatification is sought must be of upright belief if he wrote anything. Someone whose beliefs deviate cannot be declared a saint even if, according to his outward behavior, he was a good person.

2) He must have great virtues and have no crime attributed to him.

When talking about Christian witness, we must recall the centrality of the cross in spurring Christians to bear witness to the truth and to keep themselves from bearing false witness. The cross is the essence and epitome of Christ's teachings. Christian behavior cannot be sound without accepting the cross as the sole standard for life in the world and the sole path to the perfection to which are called those who believe in the crucified and risen one. Therefore, the cross is not merely a banner that we raise here and there. It is a way of life and an imitation of the life of Christ the Lord from its alpha to its omega.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Fr James Babcock Reviews Arab Orthodox Christians under the Ottomans

This was published some months ago, but it only came to my attention today. For another, more scholarly review by Heleen Murre-van den Berg see here. For the original of Fr Babcock's review, see pp. 34 and 36 of the January 2017 issue of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton's journal Sophia, here.

Book Review: Arab Orthodox Christians under the Ottomans
by Archimandrite James Babcock

Admittedly I was both intrigued and suspicious when I saw the title and then the publisher of Arab Orthodox Christians under the Ottomans: 1516-1831 by Constantin A. Panchenko. This book lifts the veil covering the hidden years of the Patriarchate of Antioch during Ottoman rule in Lebanon/Syria, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt.

What seemed suspicious was the publisher: Holy Trinity Seminary Press, Jordanville, New York. This monastery is under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia, the most traditional (and anti-Catholic) part of the Russian Church. I suspected a possibly slanted report.

Yet as I began to read, I quickly discovered that this tale would be reported with an even and balanced hand. To a Melkite, the chapter of greatest interest was “The Catholic Unia,” covering the time of the unfortunate division of the Patriarchate of Antioch in 1724. The author’s impeccable research brings to life the events of those heady days and the regrettable and pretty much unnecessary hostility that arouse out of those events.

To quote the author, “It was a time of active economic and religious expansion of the Catholic world in the Levant [and] was one of the key periods in the history of the Christian East . . . leading to a dramatic rift in the Middle Eastern communities.” Panchenko chronicles the events and activities of the Roman (Latin) Catholic Church among the Melkites.

It should be noted that the term “Melkite” originally referred to all Orthodox Christians in the Middle East. In this sense “Melkite” and “Orthodox” are synonymous. After the division, the term “Melkite” was appropriated by the members of the Antiochian Patriarchate who entered into communion with the Church of Rome. This mixing of names can be a bit confusing as one reads the history of the events.

Panchenko paints a portrait of the sorry state of the Church of Antioch as well as the other Patriarchates (Jerusalem and Alexandria), which did vary from Church to Church, each Church’s circumstances being somewhat different. The bulk of the story, however, unfolds in the Patriarchate of Antioch, a Church already weakened by divisions in earlier centuries.

The history begins with the Arab conquest and the life of the Christians under the Umayyad Caliphate in the sixth century and the fading inertia of the Byzantine culture. In the early years, the culture of the Melkites continued as before; however, when the situation began to deteriorate, the Christians revolted, which resulted in harsher conditions for them. Collection of the jizya tax became more exacting and Christian civil servants were dismissed. A catastrophic earthquake added to the suffering. From the ninth to the eleventh century the Middle East entered into what some historians call “the dark ages.” During this time the “Arabization” of the
Melkites began to take place. Christian scholars began to write in Arabic, and Arabic began to creep into the celebration of the divine services, replacing the traditional Greek.

As the Islamic dynasties shifted from the Abbasid to the Fatimid, for a brief time Byzantine influence began to re-assert itself. This influence ended abruptly with the rise of the Caliph al-Hakim. Severe persecution broke out, resulting in the destruction of the churches and the hierarchy. In Egypt only one Melkite bishop survived.

Soon a new challenge arose for the Melkites—the Crusades. The balance of power shifted from Islamic to Western (Latin) Christianity. Antioch was captured and later Jerusalem. The Latins installed bishops and patriarchs who replaced the Melkite bishops.

With the defeat of the Crusader empire and the rise of the Ottoman empire, the fate of the Christians of the Middle East shifted again. The Ottomans did not try to change the traditional way of life of the population but instead established various means to control it. This resulted in the establishment of the Millet system, wherein each ethnic or religious group was given broad governing powers over its own people with the provision that the leaders pay the jizya, which kept increasing year after year.

Now the spiritual leaders of the church also became civil leaders. This also increased the role of the laity in the governance of the church. Geographical demographics also played a role in the development of the churches. Mount Lebanon became a Christian reserve during this time. Panchenko thoroughly examines the role of the shepherds and their flocks.

A chapter on the role and importance of monasteries and monasticism adds depth to the understanding of the powerful influence they exerted on the life of the church. Here we begin to see the origins of how the division of the Patriarchate of Antioch began.

The author shows the origins of the struggles over the Holy Places of Jerusalem and Bethlehem and the despicable fights that would break out between the monks and spiritual leaders. The chapter on foreign relations shows the beginning of the powerful influence of the Russian Church.

Finally, we arrive at the time of the division of the Patriarch of Antioch into Catholic and Orthodox jurisdictions. Many ugly events unfold and the reader begins to see that this is more of a power struggle, highly influenced by a desire for a more comfortable life which European culture could provide, than a dispute over any kind of ecclesiastical or theological differences.

A brief historical summary, maps, and photos are included. Arab Orthodox Christians under the Ottomans: 1516-1831 is a must-read for all who love the Antiochian church and who lament its regrettable division. Knowledge brings understanding and wisdom, two elements required for the re-establishment and reunion of our church, Melkite and Orthodox.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: Prayer and Fasting

Arabic original here.

Prayer and Fasting

After the Church has entered us into the mystery of the Transfiguration and we have seen Christ's glory on the mountain, the divine word instructs us today that man is healed by prayer and fasting. Let us go past the healing of the young man afflicted with epilepsy and pay attention to Jesus' words after the disciples were unable to perform the miracle: "If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move." By this He meant that if your faith has a mustard seed of warmth, then everything is possible. Impossible things are possible, since nothing is possible for God. But you go back to ingratitude and doubt.

The apostles whom the Lord accused had this ingratitude because they still had not witnessed His resurrection and had not received the Holy Spirit. They were prey to the dust that was in them. They were prey to the passions nestled in their souls. The Lord wanted them to look to God and to His power which was capable of transforming them into new people, as though they were the Lord Himself.

The Teacher wanted them to practice faith in two aspects: in the aspect of prayer first and then in the aspect of fasting. My intention is for us to arrive at the core meaning of these two words. The essence of the prayer that makes us capable of miracles is that by which we know ourselves to be capable of attaining God Himself. God has entered into discussion with us. He has entered into dialogue inasmuch as He has made Himself possible for us. If it is right to say it, He has condescended from His almighty power in order to make us capable of standing before Him and with Him, so that we in turn are creators and renewers of this nature, transformers of our own hearts and of the hearts of people.

Prayer is our being in contact with God such that He acts if we act and He speaks if we speak. When the Bible says that God answers, it is not because we are beggars but because we are sons. God responds because we ourselves in the house of the Father are able to change what must be changed. We are given authority over the house of God, which is the universe. God answers and saves us. When one has the sweetness of God, this sweetens everything. When one has God's kindness, this makes the world kind and it in turn becomes gentle.

As for fasting, its purpose is not only abstinence from food. The ultimate intent of what is called fasting here is chastity. Chastity is our abstaining from a lust that rules over us so that we may give God sovereignty within us. Fasting is our giving control over to God so that we do not speak out of whim, but rather we say what God says by our tongues and we express the grace that God has cast into our hearts. Through fasting, man becomes poor before God and knows himself to be be such. Because of this, if he is chaste he is capable of having his prayer heard.

God dialogues with those who are of Him. Those who have acquired God's grace come to be within God and speak to God from within Him. If we become a chaste, praying people, kind to others, loving them, if we want this then God makes us capable of being transfigured with Him on the mountain and of looking out over our life and the life of all people.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Mary

Arabic original here.


Mary is the Mother of God. She gives birth to Christ God into the world (the Third Ecumenical Council, Ephesus 431).

Mary was the house of God. She is the servant of the divine mystery, "the mystery hidden for ages and unknown to the angels."

Mary is both mother and virgin-- a virgin, that is, the bride of God, consecrated to Him and to no one else. "Rejoice, O bride unwedded." At the same time, she is our mother in giving spiritual love. "Behold, your mother," says the Lord Jesus upon the cross to the disciple John whom He loved (cf. John 19:26-27).

We read in the Gospel passage for the Dormition (Luke 10:38-42), "Mary (the sister of Lazarus) sat at Jesus' feet and listened to His words... one thing is needful" (cf. Luke 10:39 and 42).

This is how the Virgin Mary was. When His mother and brothers came to Him and they said to Him, "Your mother and brothers want to see You," He replied, "My mother and brothers are those who listen to the word of God and do it" (Luke 8:21). There is listening and obedience.

In the Epistle for the Dormition (Philippians 2:5-11) it says, "He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8).

"Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).

Mary is the image of every pure person. The pure person is the one who only accepts into their heart God's seed, the divine word, not a corrupt human word.

They do not place anything within their soul alongside Christ-- not money, not station (that is, authority or vainglory), not the body (and the pleasure of the body). They worship only God. "You cannot worship two masters, God and money." Christ alone is the bridegroom of the soul. Mary is the bride of God.

Death is participation in the faulty human nature that we have all received. The Virgin received this fragile nature, but she remained impervious to willfully falling and so she was glorified and became a model for us.

Why does she have obedience to God? Because He is her Creator, the one who continuously glorifies our nature and our life. He is all of existence. Without Him I do not exist.

The Lord rewarded her at the end of her life, since she was transported to Him and glorified in the body above the angels, like Elijah.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Friday, August 11, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: For How Long will the Emperor be Treated as a God?

Arabic original here.

For How Long will the Emperor be Treated as a God?

If Christianity were a religion that permitted taqiya, which is "outwardly pretending what one does not actually believe out of fear of oppression," then the Roman Empire during the first four centuries of Christianity would have accepted the Christians as good citizens and pardoned them and would not have undertaken persecutions against them.

There is no doubt that the Roman Empire of that time was not concerned with the Christians' dogma so much as with Christians' loyalty to the emperor. The sprawling Roman Empire permitted religious diversity on the condition that "No person shall have any separate gods, or new ones; nor shall he privately worship any strange gods, unless they be publicly allowed" (Cicero, De Legibus). According to the great legal thinker Cicero, the state had the right to recognize new religions or to refuse to permit their existence.

Why, then, was Christianity not recognized before the edict of the Emperor Constantine in 312, which granted the Christian religion the right to be active in the empire? There were multiple reasons, but most prominent explanation by far is that the chief reason for the persecution is the Roman state's response to the Christians' attitude toward the state and the incompatibility of its national and political conduct with Christian values...

The persecutions lasted for around two and a half centuries, from the year 64 (under the reign of Nero) to the year 311 (under the reign of Constantine), interspersed with periods of calm, during which there succeeded many emperors who continued the policy of persecutions, which had a political rather than religious character. In 235, the Emperor Maximian undertook to expel the heads of churches since he regarded them as responsible for "a religion that weakens the empire by dissuading those who belong to it from serving in the army." In 250, Decius was the first to organize persecution in every part of the empire, requiring every citizen to participate in offering sacrifices to the pagan gods.

The Roman state jealously protected honoring its gods since it saw these gods as the protectors of the empire against all its enemies. For this reason, honoring the pagan gods was not only a religious obligation, but also a civic obligation and this is what came into conflict with the strictly monotheistic faith of the Christians." The Christians did not accept to worship the Roman emperor and resisted it. They respected the emperor and obeyed him insofar as he was the high authority in the state, but they refused to recognize him as a god. The emperor, however, regarded the Christians' refusal to participate in the imperial consensus as though it were a rebellion against the empire itself, a betrayal of its principles, and an attack on the greatness of the Roman people.

There is no doubt that the Church's position regarding the state has changed from state to state and era to era. For example, service in the army has become permissible since worship of the emperor and the pagan gods has been permanently done away with. In reality, however, it is evident that the relationship of people in our countries to leaders still mimics to a great extent the relationship that existed between the peoples of the Roman Empire and their emperor who made himself into a god.

We find this mimicry in many expressions that are still current today. In ancient times it was said in justification of the persecutions that "Christianity weakens the empire," while today it is said that "this critical thinking discourages the national spirit" or "weakens the nation." In ancient times "the greatness of the Roman people" was evoked as a pretext for the imperial consensus, while today slogans are brandished in every country about "the greatness of such-and-such a people" as a pretext for national consensus....

It goes without saying that emperor-worship is still practiced in most of our countries. The two-faced emperor-- his first face is apparent and only for show and the second, real one is hidden in the background-- is infallible. He is infallible, as are all who follow his orders. His is infallible along with his entourage, his companions and his courtiers. Worshiping him is necessary, required for obtaining a testimony of good citizenship. Not worshiping him is treason, an apostasy incurring execution and death.

Do the Christians of our time practice taqiya in dealing with the emperor? Do they, out of taqiya, stay silent about his actions even if they go against the teachings of the Gospel? The early Christians, as we have seen, rejected the principle of taqiya and preferred to speak the word of truth over anything else, doubtlessly paying dearly. We must also pay heed to the fact that there is a price to taqiya that must one day be paid. So let the price be paid instead for the sake of the truth of the Gospel and not upon the altar of the emperor who makes himself into a god.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Nour al-Sharq interviews Carol Saba

Arabic original here.

The lawyer Carol Saba, an expert in the affairs of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, told the program Waqfa wa-Mawqif, "Christians, especially the Orthodox, must regain their national role and establish a partnership of life and citizenship."

He spoke to Léa Adel Mehmari.

Commenting on the gathering of Eastern Catholic patriarchs, the lawyer Carol Saba, an expert in the affairs of the Antiochian Orthodox Church and a close advisor to Patriarch John X, observed that, "The crisis of Middle Eastern Christianity is a crisis of decline whose roots go back to the start of the transformations in the Arab Middle East in the early twentieth century. Where once the Christians formed the core of the thinkers and engines of the Arab Nahda that heralded a promising future for the Arab world, today they have arrived at a crisis of decline that gradually grew over the course of the twentieth century alongside the rise of the crisis of the state and the crisis of governance in Arab societies. The Christian role gradually receded on account of the rise of various political radicalisms in the Arab world, from a concern for an active Christian 'presence' in Arab societies to a concern for preserving 'existence' and abdicating from every national role to the point of decline, insularity and seeking protection."

Carol Saba's spoke during his appearance on the program Waqfa wa-Mawqif and said, "Despite this path of regression and its consequences of frustration and emigration, there remain the writings of Christian thinkers like Georges Khodr, Youakim Moubarac, Gregoire Haddad and others to point to the necessity of arriving at Arab systems of governance based on the civil state which separates religion from the state without separating it from society, so that it can be a society that embraces an active Christian presence in the Middle East."

According to his analysis of the current situation of growing sectarianism in our Arab societies and the repercussions of the rise of religious radicalism, Christians, especially the Orthodox, must "regain their national role and the initiative and break into public affairs with enlightened ideas in order to overcome the state of rampant sectarianism and to partnership of life and partnership of citizenship that makes everyone equal in terms of rights and responsibilities and which protects by law all elements of our Arab societies. Only the civil state that allows everyone to preserve their specificities can prevent the emigration and hemorrhaging of Middle Eastern Christians and make Christians secure here in their land, as they are one of the historical elements of this region."

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: The Light of the Transfiguration

Arabic original here.

The Light of the Transfiguration

The Lord took Peter, James and John to a high mountain, perhaps Mount Tabor in Galilee or perhaps Mount Hermon (Jebel al-Sheikh). There He showed them what they could not really realize. He showed them His glory, a glory that He possessed and that was in Him, but which had been veiled, which He had veiled deliberately. Jesus did not want to overwhelm humankind with His glory, so He hid it in order to act among us as one of us and so that we may arrive at His glory at the end of our pilgrimage on earth.

If we see the cross, there His glory is made manifest to us and if we witness the resurrection, then His glory shines in us. Before this, it was necessary for Him to be veiled, but He nevertheless wanted to make clear to His disciples that He is the true appearance of God, that He is the only-begotten Son. So He brought Elijah and Moses from heaven, from their rest, to reveal to humankind that the Law of Moses has gone extinct and Judaism has ended. If the glory of Christ has shown forth, then the glory of Moses may be proud. And if His light has been made manifest, then His light grants us to understand the prophecies represented by Elijah.

Through His transfiguration, Jesus intimated to the apostles that prophecy had been fulfilled in Him, that His is the awaited one and so we are not in need of prophecy because everything the prophets said He said, since He demonstrated on the cross that God is love and He showed them this by His death.

As for Peter, when he saw this great scene, he said, "It is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah." Jesus did not accept this offer. He refused for them to remain on the mountain because the mountain of the transfiguration was a stage on the way to death. Death is important and even more important is the resurrection. For this reason the Lord said to Peter, "Peter, you do not know what you are saying. It is not permitted for you to seek glory like this in a cheap and effortless way."

Glory is only given to those who are prepared for death. The glory that people talk about and seek from each other is a cheap glory. Jesus did not come for such glory. He gave people another glory, a glory from their faith and from their love for the Father. He gave them a beloved glory.

The greatest of the great, the ones who enjoy their Lord's favor, the prominent ones in the kingdom are known by no one. They have no palaces. They make no show. People do not talk about these possessors of true glory. The poor are possessors of glory. The persecuted are possessors of glory. The ignorant who neither read nor write, if they belong to Christ are glorified. But those who claim to be cultured, who are merely puffed-up, do not inherit the glory of the kingdom. The clever person does not go up to heaven because he is clever but because he is humble and chaste, loving the Lord and loving the poor.

Jesus said to Peter, "I will give you glory from upon the cross. In blood, in death, in the death of martyrdom." Those who truly belong to Christ die as martyrs just as Peter died-- beaten without beating anyone, humiliated without humiliating anyone. Christ Jesus did not claim, did not make a show of glory. He died a death that He accepted in obedience to the Father.

God wants to be manifest in our life, for the face of every person to become shining like the sun, for Christ to be traced upon our faces, upon the face of each one of us because he lives according to the Gospel and becomes a christ.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Bishops, part 2

Arabic original here. Part one can be found in English here.

The Bishop (part 2)

The Bishop as Father and Servant:

We know that a person's temptations can be outlined in three things: money, authority and pleasure. The hope is constant that the bishop will not fall into the temptation of authority and become domineering, even if he carries the staff that is fitting for being a pastor. He must follow the advice of the Lord Jesus to His disciples when He told them:

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you... whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:25-28).

The bishop's authority is the authority of love. Fr Serge Boulgakov said, "When the bishop exercises authority, he acts with the Church and not over her because the latter constitutes a spiritual body for love."

The Bishop as the Image of Christ:

At the Divine Liturgy, only the bishop does not participate in the great entrance. He waits in the temple, in front of the royal doors and receives the offerings in order to offer them to God in the likeness of Christ offering to God the Father.

Likewise, when he looks out from the royal doors with the trikirion and dikirion, when he represents Christ in a wonderful, clear image, bearing the icon of the Trinity (the three candles) and the sign of Christ's two natures (the two candles), He is like Christ facing God the Father and says in his prayer, "O Lord, O Lord, look down from heaven and behold and visit this vineyard and perfect that which Your right hand has planted!"

Likewise, when the bishop stands at the throne, as at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy or at the prayer of Great Vespers before the blessing of the five loaves, he stands among his priests in the likeness of Christ among His apostles.

We recall here that the true head of the Church remains Christ. The bishop is only an image of Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:23).

The Virtues of the Bishop:

Some of these virtues appear in Paul's First Epistle to Timothy (3:1-8) where he says, for example: "A bishop then must be blameless... not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous...."

Saint Cyprian affirms the importance of humility for the bishop, "because Christ and the apostles were humble."

We will also mention that the bishop is an element of unity in his flock. This is manifest in the Eucharistic service. The antimension on the holy table is an important symbol of the unity of the diocese through the bishop who grants the antimension by signing it.

He is also a symbol of unity between the local church and the universal Church for the unity of faith and common participation in the holy mysteries. This Church is the body of Christ extending through the centuries.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Monday, July 31, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: Let Us Make Palestine in Our Image and Likeness

Arabic original here.

Let Us Make Palestine in our Image and Likeness

Since the first Jewish settlers and colonialists set foot in the land of Palestine, the Christians have been aware that those coming from every corner of the earth are not heralds of peace and brotherhood among the people of that land, but armies willing to commit the most heinous crimes in order to gain control over the land by force. They want the land and nothing but the land and so they permitted attacks on people and property, they committed massacres, they emptied towns and villages of their people... and they continue the same policy.

Christians and Muslims have stood together to defend their right to exist and their right to return to their homes. They stood side by side when the struggle was dominated by a nationalist orientation and total cooperation on the basis of equality. The Christians' resolve did not waver when the struggle for Palestine started to take on an Islamic orientation. However, they took a principled stand in 2010 and openly stated their opinion that they were with the right to resist but, at the same time, they declared that they were against the establishment of a religious state, whether Islamic or Jewish, in Palestine.

Kairos Palestine is a document issued in 2010 by a select group of Palestinian Christians, clergy and lay, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant, in which they agreed unanimously on the right of the Palestinian people to peace, justice, and freedom and their right to an independent civil state for all its citizens. We return to this document today, given what is happening in Jerusalem, in order to recall that the Christian struggle is not incidental. It is not merely an emotional response to current circumstances. Rather, it is rooted in Christian thought, life and present reality. Permit us here to cite an article of ours entitled "Thank You, Palestine" (an-Nahar, March 14, 2010) in which we summarized what pertains to the right to resist and the right to full, undiminished citizenship.

As we re-read the document more than seven years after it was issued, we find that certain practices of the Israeli state have not changed. As we read the introduction, we think that it presents the Palestinians' current reality of deprivation of freedom, dividing walls "turning our cities and towns into prisons", settlements "seizing our land in the name of God and the name of force", daily humiliation "at military checkpoints", the impossibility of reaching holy sites, camps filled with refugees, prisons full of prisoners, stripping residents of Jerusalem of their identity cards, the seizure of homes, Arab impotence, human rights violations, and emigration... The document rejects the Israelis' claim "justifying their actions as self-defense" and regards this claim as inverting the actual situation. The document affirms Palestinians' right to resist since "if it were not for the occupation, there would be no resistance."

The document then calls on Christians to stand firm in resisting the occupation, "since resistance is a right and duty for Christians." However, this resistance is subject to a logic of love and not responding to evil with evil. Therefore it relies on non-violence as its means for regaining land, freedom, dignity and independence. The document recognizes the usefulness of civil disobedience, the economic and commercial boycott of the occupation, and withdrawing investments from it... but it reserves all respect and esteem "for those who have given their life for the sake of the nation." The document adopts a program of non-violence, but at the same time it does not condemn the armed resistance. It is a call for pluralism in the resistance that permits each individual to resist in the manner appropriate to his convictions.

The Christian choice for the promised Palestinian state or for the State of Israel is clear, since the document rejects "the religious state, whether Jewish or Islamic." The religious state is "a state that favors one citizen over another, makes exceptions, and divides its citizens." The document calls for a state that will be for all its citizens, a state "based on equality, justice, freedom, and respect for diversity, not or numeric or religious dominance." There is no doubt that the document here expresses Christian general opinion, which rejects the religious state no matter what its name is. It is committed to the struggle against Israel as a racist religious state, not so that its place will be taken by an Islamic state that will diminish their citizenship, but rather so that they may live in a civil, secular state that respects their rights as full citizens who have what other citizens have and must do what other citizens must do.

The image that brought Christians and Muslims together in Jerusalem is not an image for memory or a passing image. It is a deeply-rooted image that expresses the unity of the Palestinian people in defense of their right to life. Their image reminds us of God's words "Let us make man in our image and our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). God's image in man, according to the tradition of the Church, is nothing other than freedom. Your image, people of Palestine, is the image of God regained. It is freedom. Be this image, so that you may have freedom.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: Love and Giving

Arabic original here.

Love and Giving

We understand from today's Gospel that the Lord was with the people, He was attentive to them. After He healed their illnesses, He saw that they were hungry and took pity on them and multiplied the bread. Relations between people, in order to be meaningful, must be based on tenderness. It must not only be a relationship of law, so we do not say that these are my boundaries and those are your boundaries, this is might right and that is your right. This language is current among the people of the world, but it is not sufficient. The healing language is the language that comes from the heart and goes to the heart.

Jesus had pity on them, then He took five loaves and two fishes. We notice that the two things that He took were from the people's life. Around the Sea of Tiberias, people ate bread and fish. But the Gospel goes further than this, since bread is taken later on to become Jesus' body and the fish is adopted by the early Christians as a symbol for the Lord, an image of Him because the five letters of the word "fish" in Greek are the first letters of the words in the phrase "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior".

Jesus wanted to prepare them for the fact that He would give them something greater than bread and fish. The Gospel indicates this symbolic meaning when it says, "He blessed, broke and gave," which are the words it uses at the Last Supper, when He gave the disciples His body and blood.

John the Beloved notes in the fourth Gospel, when he presents the miracle that we read about today from the Gospel of Matthew, that it means something beyond the multiplication of bread. For this reason he presents a sermon known as the sermon about the bread that comes down from heaven: not like your fathers who ate and die, but he who eats of this bread will live forever. He then explains to them that He will remain with them and they will remain with Him if they know that He is the one who will redeem mankind and He will leave to His disciples His presence among them in the form of bread and wine.

Here let us pay attention to the fact that Jesus looked up to heaven then gave. A person only gives from heaven. What comes out of one hand is placed in another hand and what comes out of a heart is placed in another heart. But what comes from the heart can be impure. Out of the abundance of the heart the tongue speaks (cf. Luke 6:45). The heart gives purity or it gives corruption. The heart has the entire world within it, its storms, its lusts. Therefore it doesn't mean anything if I say to another person, "I love you with all my heart." I may love him with a self-interested, acquisitive, totalitarian, lustful love. The important thing is that God comes out of our heart, that the Holy Spirit pours out from our heart so that we may love. For this reason it says, "He blessed, then He broke and gave." The important thing is that we give while we are in a state of blessings, in divine grace, in holiness. Any other giving is simply scattering, a whim, or exploitation.

The important thing is not that I remain in people's hearts, since I am passing. The important thing is that they turn to God who gives to them, that they know that they have received the bread through a miracle. The encounter is not between one person and another, the encounter is between God in a person who transmits Him to another person, if he loves him. Material giving is only a symbol, a style, a preparation so that our hearts may be trained for total giving, the giving of love and purity from a heart that has become divine to a heart that we wish to become divine.

Any giving apart from this has no value. For us to give means that we give everything: our attention, our concern, our health, our days and our nights. We give our whole life in imitation of the Teacher or it is not giving.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pantelis Kalaitzidis on the Patriarchate of Jerusalem

From the French version, here. The title of this article was apparently chosen by the editors of the Service Orthodoxe de Presse. It originally appeared in Greek in the newspaper Thessalia on March 29, 2005. For another article on Middle Eastern Christianity by the same author, see here.

The Current Situation in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem:
An Ecclesiastical Neocolonialism?

by Pantelis Kalaitzidis

After various stormy events and the revelations regarding the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, we will dare to wonder: does not the most glaring scandal of recent times ultimately lie in the impermissible contempt evinced by the Greek leadership of the the Patriarchate of Jerusalem toward the Arabic-speaking faithful and in the reduction to zero of the "theology of the local church" in favor of a"Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher" which, imposed from the outside and constituted on the principle and basis of the (Greek) national community of origin of its members, pursues the defense of the corporate interests of a closed group of celibate clergy? Does the scandal not thus lie in the replacement of the "ecclesiological" criterion with "national" and economic interests which go so far as the sale of lands and the transfer of the Patriarchate's lands and properties on behalf of Israeli economic interests in the (Arab) Old City of Jerusalem?

As many here have said and claimed in all the debates about this situation, the scandal of international dimensions that is rocking the Patriarchate of Jerusalem represents a "taboo subject" and a "delicate national question" that is better not touched or delved into further. Reasons of national interest, which are constantly evoked, prohibit almost any discussion of the background and especially avoid touching the taboo of the Patriarchate's "Hellenism", which should be maintained at any price, even at the price of measures that run contrary to its "ecclesiality." It is characteristic that the most tenacious adversaries of the ecclesiastical hierarchy in Greece (which has also been very recently criticized and severely challenged on the basis of the implication of certain of its members in moral and financial scandals) and the most radical anti-clerical criticism in Greece in no way consider challenging this famous "Hellenism" of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which all consider to be a national "cause" or "patrimony", while the progressive or enlightened theologians, for their part, until now avoid broaching the question, contenting themselves with general considerations about a "universal Hellenism"-- which they affirm is different from nationalism-- and a "universal Byzantine tradition" to which the current patriarchate is one of the heirs.

In this way we close our eyes to the fact that this concept of "Hellenism"-- and its concrete application-- not only breaks apart and dissolves the Body of Christ (and introduces into it as definitive the criteria of nation, race, language, civilization, etc. which divide its unity) but moreover also reduces the Arabic-speaking faithful to the rank of second-class Christians, to ecclesiastical "subjects", good for serving the uniqueness and longevity of a cultural or even phyletist Hellenism, for assisting the servants of this Hellenism, the Greek upper clergy. With methods and processes that leave nothing to envy over the worst periods of colonialism and imperialism, the latter, the members of the "Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher" are imposed upon the body of Arabic-speaking faithful of the Church of Jerusalem, systematically and by every means excluding from the episcopate the native Orthodox of the Holy Land, out of fear of an Arabization of the Patriarchate, without taking into account that in proceeding this way they only accelerate it.

So why do we still today persist in denying the Orthodox of Palestine and Jordan their natural right to choose their pastors themselves and for how long will we continue to organize the recruitment of celibate clergy, sent from Greece, in order to administer the Patriarchate of Jerusalem? For how long will we continue to evoke the delicate question of the status of the Holy Places in order to prolong-- at the expense of the Palestinians, whose national rights we are supposed to be defending-- a "Greek" ecclesiastical dominance in Palestine and Jordan? Would it not be good for us to remember everywhere those words of Christ: "whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them" (Matthew 7:12)? How would we behave, we "haughty Greeks," if someone imposed on us here an imported sort of ecclesiastical administration of a colonial type?

Are we unable to perceive that the Palestinian Orthodox, these distant heirs of the first Christian community of Jerusalem, may resent it when, after so many occupations, martyrdoms and persecutions, they are experiencing the domination and occupation of "Greek Orthodoxy" and have become strangers and servants in their own home, deprived of any responsibility or any participation in the life of their Church, all because we present ourselves as the sole and ultimate heirs of Byzantium, as the defenders and heralds par excellence of Orthodoxy? Indeed, in the name of what logic or what historical reality can one justify the notion that the Christians of Palestine are less "Byzantine" and less Christian than us? So are we consistent with our proclamations-- either naive or triumphalist--  such as that Orthodoxy has always respected the local traditions and peculiarities of peoples and that is never had the least resemblance to any colonialism? Yes or no: does the ecclesiological situation of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem represent an ecclesiastical colonialism and a cultural imperialism?

Does the fact that one endeavors to assure at any price Hellenism  in the Holy Places and to keep sites of Christian pilgrimage under Greek control bear witness to our ecclesiological sensibility and to the priority given to theological criteria or does it not rather confirm the subordination of these criteria to priorities of a national, neocolonialist, racist, and, in the final analysis neo-pagan sort? Are we incapable of understanding that Arabization cannot be avoided and is already under way? And that the faster and more smoothly it takes place, the less the price that "Greek" interests will have to pay, while the more it is delayed the more the justifiable anger of the Arabic-speaking Orthodox masses grows, as well as the inevitable exploitation of their feelings by Russian "ecclesiastical" diplomacy? Are we really incapable of learning all the lessons from what happened, in a context of tensions and disputes, during the Arabization of the Patriarchate of Antioch a century ago? Do we know that through the racist and neocolonialist behavior that we display, we are denying the Palestinian Orthodox community the cultivated elites, the clergy, the theologians, and the intellectuals of which they are in urgent need? Have we realized the dire consequences, of which there will be no lack, of the proselytism carried out among the Arabic-speaking Orthodox by the Roman Catholic Church which, for many decades, has encouraged the promotion of Arabic-speaking clergy to the highest ecclesiastical offices and which, contrary to the smug and pretentious behavior of our "Greek Orthodox" monks, has really contributed to the advent of a theologically-formed clerical and lay Palestinian elite and has truly put itself-- without hijinks or dubious transactions-- shoulder-to-shoulder with the Palestinian people?

I think that the moment has come to answer courageously and sincerely a whole series of crucial questions such as these: To what should we ultimately grant priority, to "the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?" (Matthew 23:17). In other words, to impersonal principles-- such as the "Hellenism" of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem-- or to living images of God? To guarding the "Holy Sepulcher" or to the spiritual growth and maturation of the "living body of Christ"? To the idols of nation and race or to the truth of this God who illumines the truth of man? To the longevity and safeguarding at any price of Hellenism in the Holy Places or to the rebirth of the local Church? It is, of course, entirely possible that the long-awaited rebirth of the local Church in Palestine and Jordan will be accompanied by phenomena of rejection-- as in almost all the local Churches that surround us-- that is to say, by a religious nationalism and an identification with the state. As condemnable and regrettable as these phenomena may be, they will ultimately be less repugnant than the  neocolonialism or religious imperialism which, imposed in the name of Christ and Orthodoxy, aim to transform living icons of God, baptized members of the ecclesiastical body, into house slaves and objects of domination and power.

Fr Georges Massouh on Giving

Arabic original here.

The Theology of the Morsel

Christ was generous, giving, unsparing, bountiful, distributing freely... His disciples were miserly, slow to give, closed-fisted, lovers of money... The saints and righteous ones among them sacrificed like their Master, imitating Him in all things, but most of them, including those who held primary positions in the early Church, remained stingy, tight-fisted and insensitive to the poor.

This is what led Saint Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), in his commentary on the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and the feeding of the five thousand men and their families (John 6:1-15), to say, "We find in the beginning that the disciples were by their nature hesitated to give to the hungry, but the Savior gave them an abundance from which there was a surplus of crumbs. This teaches us also that if we give a little money for the glory of God, we will receive richer grace... Therefore we must not be hesitant regarding sharing love towards the brothers, but rather we must cast off  hesitation and fear which lead to being ungenerous to the guest and put on good courage. Thus we stand firm in hope in firm faith in God's ability to multiply the smallest of our good deeds."

There are three pillars in Christianity: faith, hope and love. The destructive temptation that might shake any one of these or all three and so shake the entire faith is the temptation of money. The miser, if he prefers miserliness to love of the poor, cannot rely on love. The rich and self-satisfied person lacks hope. The faith of both the miser and the rich person is stronger in what they own than in God: "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24). There is either faith in God or faith in this perishing world.

What Jesus' disciples failed to do was done by the poor widow whom Jesus praised with these words: "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had" (Luke 21:3-4). This box was dedicated to helping the poor and needy and was there anyone who was poorer than a widow who had no support and no provider? Nevertheless, a poor widow gave everything she had for the sustenance of the poor. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Christianity!

Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan (d. 397), sees that the widow symbolizes the Church. She is a symbol of the entire Church. The Church is not a church if she is not like the widow who gives everything she possesses to the poor. Ambrose says, "The widow symbolizes the Church because she cast into the holy treasury a gift by which she heals the wounds of the poor and eases the sighing of every wayfarer." We may add to Ambrose's words the persecuted, those expelled from their homes, the victims of wars, and refugees...

Blessed Augustine, bishop of Annaba [i.e., Hippo] (d. 430), believes that prayer has two wings, without which we cannot reach God. In his explanation of the Lord's words "Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you" (Luke 6:37-38), Augustine surmises, "These are the two wings of prayer by which it flies to God. Forgive wrongdoers what they have done and give to those in need... What do you want from the Lord? Mercy. Give, and  it will be given to you. What do you want from the Lord? Pardon. Pardon, so that you may be pardoned."

From beginning to end, at no point is there in the Bible a single word that justifies not giving. Any discourse that calls for not giving and excuses the hesitancy of the reluctant to show mercy and love is not a Christian discourse, even if it is pronounced from the highest pulpits of teaching in the Church. "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). This, ladies and gentlemen, is Christianity!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Met Saba (Esber) on Demons

Arabic original here.

On Demons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Bishops

Arabic original here.

The Bishop: A Spiritual, Patristic Approach

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

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

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

The bishop as teacher:

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

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

The bishop as shepherd:

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

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

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

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Monday, July 17, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: Our Call to True Sonship

Arabic original here.

Our Call to True Sonship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

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

Read the whole thing here

In Jerusalem, secret sale of church land to developers revealed

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

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

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

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

Read the rest here.