Thursday, October 31, 2013

Russian Imperial Orthdoox Society Visits Lebanon

Arabic original here.

The Russians, from Amioun to Baskinta: History Repeats Itself

By Pierre Atallah

The delegation from the Russian Imperial Orthodox Society was startled at its arrival in Amioun by the warmth of the reception: Russian and Lebanese flags, groups of scouts, crowds of locals and believers, Byzantine chant, speeches about the friendship between the Russian and Lebanese peoples and the historical connections that bring together the capital of the Orthodox in the time of the Mutasarrifiya-- that is, Amioun-- and Russia. The sentiment was repeated in more than one place where the delegation visited in Lebanese regions accompanied by the secretary of the Orthodox Gathering, Samir Nuayme, whether at Balamand Monastery or Bkerke, Deir Mar Elias Shwayya or Baskinta, whether with the Orthodox Gathering or with the extremist Levant Party, and especially in the social gatherings organized at the Russian embassy. It did not surprise the delegation, which bears the name of the Imperial Russian Society for the Holy Land and the history of whose founding goes back to the czarist era, that some Lebanese still put up pictures of the czars in old Orthodox homes, especially in Koura and Douma, knowing that some of them exchanged them for pictures of Lenin and Stalin during the Soviet era.

The last time that there were Russian monks and ecclesial institutions in Lebanon was on the eve of the outbreak of World War I, when it is said that around 18 Russian monks and ascetics were living in Deir Mar Elias Shwayya near Dhour Choueir. However they left the monastery and Lebanon for fear that the Ottoman Turks would object to their presence. The Russians left behind impressive works of art at the monastery, the most beautiful of which are ancient icons and banners with the double-headed eagle, the emblem of Russia and ancient Byzantium. The Russians-- namely the Imperial Society-- left the schools that they contributing to building across the area in which there were Christians in the 19th century, starting in Bethlehem and Nazareth in Palestine, then South Lebanon in Reshaya al-Foukhar and Reshaya al-Wadi, then to Mount Lebanon and the North in a series of schools that taught hundreds. The Russian Orthodox initiative at that time constituted a response to the Catholic and Protestant missions that were sent by the West to spread its culture and strengthen its influence, and it should be noted that Socialist Russia or the Soviet Union was not stingy in providing educational grants for the instruction of thousands of Lebanese students in its universities and institutes in various fields.

Members of the delegation do not use diplomatic terms to express their positions. They say frankly that their visit is in order to express solidarity with the Christians in general and the Orthodox in particular, that the singing of an agreement of cooperation with the Imperial Society in Amioun is only the beginning, and that the most important thing for them is to become familiar with and to be in contact with the Orthodox civil institutions in Lebanon, be they political, social, or scouting groups. According to the vice-president of the Society, Elena Gabova, "Our hand is extended to all and we desire good for all Lebanese. However, we are concerned with the members of our Orthodox community."

Members of the delegation recount that Russian public opinion is very concerned with what is happening in Syria and the Middle East. In their opinion, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq Russia's backyard and so there is no room for complacency about Islamic extremism dominating these countries. They point to what was announced about fifty thousand Syrian citizens from the Orthodox community signing a petition seeking Russian citizenship and the protection of the Russian state in the event that they are subject to danger. They believe that in this petition there is more than one reason calling on Russian authorities to intervene before the fear of fifty thousand people for their lives. Gabova pointed out that the Society has set up a special office with the name "Center for the Protection of Christians in the Arab East" that is concerned with gathering information about the situations of Christians in the Middle East and monitoring the abuses to which Christians are subjected in these countries. However, the most important thing is that the Society has returned once more to play its cultural role through reopening the Russian Compound School in Bethlehem and working to include programs Russian literature and culture in curricula. Their opinion is that Russia is a rising economic, scientific and military power and that the Russian literary tradition abounds in literary, poetic and scientific masterpieces.

To summarize talking with members of the delegation, there was a lot of clear speaking and messages in a number of directions: "We have returned after over a hundred years and history is repeating itself for the protection of Christians and the confirmation of the Russian presence in the Middle East. Here we are in Lebanon after Bethlehem. Beirut and Damascus are not very far  from our borders and we will not permit the domination of al-Qaeda and Islamic extremism over these countries. Let this be clear to all."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Met Georges Khodr on God's Weakness

Arabic original here.

God's Weakness

Today's Gospel reading talks to us about a miracle of the Lord that once more shows us that the chief reason that Jesus worked miracles is that he loves people: He took pity on the chief priest and brought his daughter back to life. The miracles in God's Book are not in order to prove something. The Lord did not work them in order to give evidence for His divinity, since He is the one who says, "Believe in Me because of the words I speak to you."

It is the weakest sort of faith for us to follow Him because of miracles, but it is the strongest sort of faith for us to follow Him because of words, because of His divinely giving words that no human had spoken, because of the life that He spent among us, loving even to death. Thus in the Gospel of John miracles are called "signs" because the Evangelist is using them to point to a teaching, to indicate the meanings of the Gospel, and not to indicate power.

Christ did not reveal God's power as the Jews did. He showed God's power in His own way, and God's power was the cross. That is, He revealed weakness so that after the resurrection it could be understood that it was really power. God comes down to humankind and lives with them. This is His power. He can abandon His glory in order to be hidden among people.

Christ came down from His glory and power and abstained from all of this in order to die. Death is something weak. Then His power shines out from this weak thing so that He triumphs in glory.

In this context, He brought the girl back from the dead and handed her to her father. Behind this event, each one of us can look to his own weakness and spiritual death, to his stumbling and weariness and at the very same time look to Christ's splendor because each one of us is dead and Christ says to each of us by name, "Arise."

What each one of us must believe is that Christ, though He is the Savior of the World and thus the Savior of all people, is the Savior of each one of us. Christ is my Savior in the sense that He sends out His life in my death and His power in my weakness. If I realize this, then I have realized the meaning of my faith.

This is Christianity: That I realize my weakness and my sin, and for me to approach the Lord and reveal my weakness before Him. At that point I hear Him say to me, "My child, arise. My grace is sufficient because My power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Then I arise in Christ, from death to life and from weakness to strength.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh: The Syrian Cain and Abel

Arabic original here.

The Syrian Cain and Abel

When Cain (Qabil in the Islamic tradition) killed his brother Abel, God said to him, "The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand... A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth" (Genesis 4:10-12). It is noteworthy here that God did not say, "The voice of your brother cries out to Me," but rather "The voice of your brother's blood..." Here there is an indication of the crime that Cain committed and of the punishment that he would receive as a result of his brother's spilled blood. The reason that led Cain to kill his brother Abel is that he had made an offering to the Lord and "the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell" (Genesis 4:4-5). So he went and killed his brother Abel. God accepted Abel's offering because he did better deeds and was more pious than his brother Cain, so God said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:6-7).

The Qur'anic account of Cain's murder of his brother agrees with the account in Genesis. They both offered a sacrifice to God and " it was accepted from the one of them and it was not accepted from the other. Qabil said, 'I will surely kill you.' Abel answered, 'God only accepts from those who ward off evil'" (Surat al-Ma'ida 27). So God did not accept Qabil's offering on account of his impiety.

When Qabil decided to kill his brother, the latter did not respond to him in a way that contradicted his piety and principles: "Even if you stretch out your hand against me to kill me, I shall not stretch out my hand against you to kill you. Lo, I fear God, the Lord of the Worlds" (Surat al-Ma'ida 28). He did not return Cain's evil with evil. Abel left judgment and retribution to God, since he said to Qabil, " I would rather you should bear the punishment of the sin against me and your own sin and become one of the owners of the fire. That is the reward of evil-doers" (Surat al-Ma'ida 29). Abel preferred being killed to being his brother's murderer.

Saint Ambrose of Milan (d. 397) says, "The sinner is a slave to fear, a slave to avarice and a slave to anger. Even though a person in Cain's position might think himself to be free, he is even more enslaved than someone under the heel of tyranny." Ambrose himself observes that "Cain was afraid of being killed and he did not know where to flee. Evil grows and multiplies the more it is practiced, since it has no bounds or moderation." Thus from time immemorial, from the beginning of history to our own day man has not ceased to kill his fellow man, man has not ceased to prefer slavery to sin and evil has not ceased to invite evil... The teacher Origen sees in the blood of Abel a symbol for the blood of all the martyrs and says, "What is said of Abel, who was eliminated from existence by Cain, the unjust murderer, applies to all those whose blood has been shed unjustly. God's saying, 'The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.' Also applies to all the martyrs."

In Syria today, the Syrian Cain continues to treat as fair game his brother Abel's blood, which cries out to God. Nevertheless, we have not lost hope that the spilled blood of Abel-- which in the Christian tradition symbolizes the blood of Christ-- will triumph over the sword. And it has triumphed.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Met Georges Khodr: You are a Temple of the Living God

Arabic original here.

You are a Temple of the Living God

"You are a temple of the Holy Spirit" because you extend Christ into the world. You are His presence and His face among people. This is why the ancient temples made by human hands were invalidated and all the faithful together have become a temple of the Lord, each part working with the others, with Christ as the cornerstone.

"I will be their God and they will be My people." He is speaking of the future. These words are strange at first glance. The truth is that God is not our God unless we confess Him as our Master. The important thing about God is not that He is the Light of the heavens and the earth-- it is that He is my Light, my Savior, and my Lord. And so, if I connect to Him and make Him Master over me through my obedience to Him, then He will be my Lord, because He loved me and revealed His face to me.

"You will be My people," if you know that I am your Lord, who turns to you, who has mercy on you, who grants you kindness and forgiveness. It is not a question of being registered as His people, to carry it on our identity cards. God does not make records on paper. We are not his people because it is said that way are. We become the people of God if we orient our hearts to Him.

"Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord." If our face is turned to the Lord, this means that our face is turned to Him alone. God wants us completely. He wants our entire being, our entire spirit, our entire body. God does not for a single moment permit us to anyone else. Any face that we seek for its own sake, apart from the face of Christ, is the face of an idol, the face of an enemy. Everything that we desire in this world, the entire world, if it separates us from God, from the face of the sole Beloved, is an enemy. "Be separate, do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you."

The issue is not for us to have stature in the community, since God is not a respecter of persons. God does not have classes. A person is God's or he is not. If he is His, then he is His son. In another place the Apostle says, "you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God." Yes, you are sons, but this does not give you favor. It is not a special distinction, but it does give you a duty. You are not sons so that you will take pleasure in it, not so you will brag to people of it, not so that you will say that you are better than others, since God can raise children for Abraham from stone. If you are sons, then a yoke is placed upon you so that you may perfect holiness.

When we remind one of our children about a spiritual duty, he says, "I'm not a saint. I don't want to become a saint. These things are for saints." As though holiness were something for a small group of people, as though it were limited to monks, as though it were not a call to all of us! Completing holiness, this is our call. Completing holiness in the fear of God. Which fear? What does the fear of God mean? "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God." One who wants to connect to his Lord must fear, because we must perfect righteousness in fear and trembling. Perhaps if we closely, sincerely, honestly search our consciences we will observe that we are not necessarily among those who fear God, that we do not live according to God's will, and that we permit ourselves much. Do we believe that there is heaven, the Kingdom, and eternal punishment? If we truly believe this down to the depth of our faith, we cannot live like we are living. First, perfect holiness in this fear.

There is, however, another fear. "In the fear of God, in faith and love, draw near." After fear, love. Love casts out fear, as the Beloved Apostle says. One who advances to knowledge of Christ does not  fear. Despite this, the Apostle says, "perfecting holiness" --the height of perfection-- "in the fear of God." What fear is this that we are talking about now? We are talking about that fear that afflicts one who loves when he wishes to remain forever with the one whom he loves. The one who loves does not want to depart from the beloved. Our fear is of Christ leaving us. Our fear is of Him not turning to us. This is true death. This is the only calamity. Each of us imagines that it would be a calamity to lose money, health or a loved one. The great problem, the only injury, is for Christ to disregard us, which He does if we disregard Him. Thus the Apostle says, "perfecting holiness in the fear of God." You fear being alone, without Christ.

This is what the Apostle is saying to us, so that we will realize that the most important thing is for God to be our God and for us to become His people, so that we arrive at the holiness for which the Lord came into the world.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Why were the Kidnapped Bishops not Released along with the Azaz Captives?

Like any news, this should be taken with a shaker of salt, but it's consistent with a lot of what was said during the last few days of the negotiations to acheive the release of the Lebanese Shi'ite pilgrims kidnapped last year in Azaz, on the Turkish-Syrian border. The Arabic original can be read here.

What Prevented Metropolitans Yazigi and Ibrahim from Returning with the Lebanese Captives?

by Maher el-Khatib

Despite the great joy that spread over all regions of Lebanon at the return home of those kidnapped in the Syrian city of Azaz, following the considerable efforts of the Director of General Security, Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, and the minister of the interior in the caretaker government, Marwan Charbel, this joy was not complete because of the continuing captivity of Metropolitans Boulos Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim, at the hands of armed groups of Syrian rebels.

In this context, Gen. Ibrahim was clear at the time of his arrival at Beirut International Airport in the company of the nine people who had been freed, where he announced that his mission will not be complete until the two metropolitans and other victims of kidnapping in Syria are released. This confirms that the director of General Security is the one basically delegated with this case, which was established during the negotiations which took place over the last few days.

In a related development, informed sources revealed to el-Nashra that the release of the metropolitans had been expected to take place as part of the deal that led to the release of the Lebanese captives. This did not occur at the last moments, because of certain obstacles that continue to prevent it, although it is hoped that they will end in the coming days, through renewed negotiations.

The informed sources explained  that the basic obstacle is the demand on the part of the Turks for the release of Turkish intelligence officers along with certain members of the Syrian opposition who are detained by the Syrian government to coincide with the release of the metropolitans. It is noteworthy that the Syrian government has agreed to do this and has confirmed its readiness to do so during the negotiations. However, the Turkish side insisted that this take place in secret, something that the Syrian side refused, insisting that it take place openly.

The sources suggested that the Turkish demand was in order to avoid embarrassment, seeing as that the public release of Turkish intelligence officers would confirm Turkey's role in the events in Syria, while it appears that the Syrian side wants to send a message to world opinion by doing this.

Within this context, the sources stressed that this matter will be pursued in a significant manner in the coming few days, especially given that there is a favorable atmosphere in terms of the regional and international situation. They pointed out that this factor was fundamental to the acceleration of negotiations for the release of the Lebanese captives. This evokes the words of the Minister of Labor in the caretaker government, Salim Jarisati, who stated that the Lebanese side seized the appropriate moment.

The sources explained the approaching date for Turkish elections will press Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to offer more help, in order to achieve the release of the intelligence officers, especially given the longstanding difference in orientation between political and military authorities in Turkey, in addition to the emerging role of Qatar, which provided the greatest assistance during the negotiations for the release of the Lebanese captives.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Official Statement from the Meeting of the Holy Synod of Antioch

This is the official English version of the statement, published on the Patriarchate's Facebook page, here.

Statement by the Secretariat of Holy Synod of Antioch

Balamand, October 17, 2013

The Holy Synod of Antioch held its second session from October 15th through 17th, 2013. His Beatitude Patriarch JOHN X presided over the meeting, with the participation of Their Eminences, the Metropolitans and Fathers of the Holy Synod of Antioch: Spiridon of Zahleh and its dependencies; Georges of Jbeil, Batroun and their dependencies; Yuhanna of Lattakia and its dependencies; Elias of Beirut and its dependencies; Iliya of Hama and its dependencies; Elias of Tyre, Sidon; and their dependencies, Damaskinos of Sao Paulo and Brazil, Saba of Hawran and all Jebel al-Arab; George of Homs and its dependencies; Antonio of Mexico and Venezuela and their dependencies; Sergio of Chile; Silouan of Argentina; Basilios of Akkar and its dependencies; and Ephrem of Tripoli, al-Koura, and their dependencies. His Grace Bishop Ephrem (Maalouli), Patriarchal Vicar and Secretary of the Holy Synod, and Economos Georges Dimas, Record-keeper of the Synod, also participated in the meeting.

Their Eminences Metropolitans: Philip of New York and North America; Paul of Australia and New Zealand; and Constantine of Baghdad and Kuwait and their dependencies gave their regrets for not being able to attend. Metropolitan Boulos (Yazigi) of Aleppo and Alexandretta and their dependencies was present in the prayers and invocations of the Synod Fathers, despite his absence caused by his captivity.

After prayer and calling upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, His Beatitude opened the meeting by hoping that the Lord God may shower His blessings upon all the participants, so that they may rightly divide the Word of God’s Truth to the believers and to all those who are thirsting for hope.
His Beatitude gave an account about the Pastoral Visits that he made to the Archdioceses of Lattakia, and to the city of Tartous in the Archdiocese of Akkar, and to the German section in the Archdiocese of Europe. He had the opportunity to meet the faithful, their pastors, and the various archdiocesan committees. His Beatitude expressed the joy which he felt upon seeing the believers abiding on the rock of faith, and living in the love of the Church and Her Master. His Beatitude thanked the Archbishops of these archdioceses for their wise and loving care towards their parishioners. He emphasized the importance of giving continuous care to our good people, through love, thoughtfulness, and vision for their growth in Christ, and steadfastness in their Church and land, and their continuous witness to Jesus Christ wherever they reside.
Also, His Beatitude briefed the members of the Holy Synod about his recent visit to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to participate in the conference on “The Challenges facing the Arab Christians,” and to meet His Majesty Abdullah II, the King of Jordan. In his meetings, His Beatitude expressed the position of the Church of Antioch concerning the events that are taking place in the region, stressing the need to work for peace, freedom and human dignity of the Arab people, and indicating how Christians are well rooted in their homelands, their commitment to their countries’ causes, and how they have interacted with their Muslim brothers throughout history.
Also, His Beatitude briefed the Synod members on his visit to the Vatican, where he met His Holiness Pope Francis I, and participated in the conference organized by St. Egidio Community about "Courage and Hope, Religions and Cultures in Dialogue," where the position of Antioch regarding the issues raised was clearly presented, particularly the suffering of the Syrian people and the role of the Christian witness in the Middle East. The visit was an opportunity to review the prospects for cooperation between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, in order to make more effective the witness of Christians in the Middle East and in the world today, for the dignity and nobility of human beings, and to consolidate the values of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

The Synod Fathers reviewed as well the reports submitted by the delegations that participated in the one thousand and twenty fifth anniversary of the Baptism of Russia and the one thousand and seven hundred commemoration of the Decree of Milan. The Fathers congratulated the Russian and Serbian Churches, lifting up the prayers to God to send them His many graces and embrace their parishioners with His Light, Peace and Love.

The Synod Fathers discussed some issues of concern for the universal Orthodox Church. They stressed the need for continued coordination between all Orthodox Churches in order to promote the Orthodox presence in the world and for a living testimony of Christ for contemporary man. In this regard, the Fathers stressed the need for cooperation between the Orthodox Churches to show the unity of the Church of Christ in a more effective way, and to facilitate the meeting of the Great and Holy Orthodox Synod.

The Fathers discussed the crisis caused by the election of the Church of Jerusalem an Archbishop on Qatar. They sadly contemplated the persistence of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s violation, in spite of all the initiatives and mediations conducted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Government of the Hellenic Republic in order to resolve this crisis in accordance with the ecclesiastical laws and in a peaceful spirit. The Synod Fathers reiterated their desire to give priority to the peaceful solution over other solutions. However, they stressed the need to find a solution to this crisis in no later than two months from today’s date. They delegated His Beatitude, in the event of lack of response from the Church of Jerusalem to the rightful demand of the Church of Antioch to remove the aforementioned violation on its canonical territory, to take all necessary measures including severing of communion with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The Synod also decided to suspend the Church of Antioch’s participation in all the Assemblies of Canonical Orthodox Bishops abroad (in the Diaspora) until the removal of the violation of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

The Synod Fathers discussed the state of the Archdiocese of Europe which became vacant by the election of His Beatitude to the See of Antioch. They recognized that this Archdiocese has a growing number of parishes, a widespread territory a multiplicity of languages used within its territory, and the increasing number of parishioners. All these factors require the reconsideration of its territorial boundaries in order to have an effective pastoral care. They decided to establish three new Archdioceses and a Patriarchal Vicariate in Europe as follows: the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of France, Western and Southern Europe; the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Germany and Central Europe; the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of British Iles and Ireland; the Antiochian Orthodox Vicariate of Sweden and Scandinavian countries.

They elected the following Metropolitans: Ignatius (Al Houshi), Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of France, Western and Southern Europe; and Isaac (Barakat), Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Germany and Central Europe. They also delegated the Patriarch to appoint a Patriarchal Vicar over the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of British Iles and Ireland, until a Metropolitan is elected.

The Synod Fathers listened to a report about the St John of Damascus Institute of Theology presented by Deacon Porphyrios Georgi, the Institute of Theology Dean. Deacon Porphyrios gave a presentation about the current progress of the Institute, its vision and mission. The Fathers thanked the Dean for his presentation and blessed his efforts, giving him their proposals for further growth.

The Synod Fathers looked into the suffering of Syria and its people because of the violence plaguing the homeland, destroying the country and causing the killing and displacement of its people. They stressed that the language of violence and murder is a language alien to the traditions of the Syrian people who aspire to live in freedom and dignity in their own land, under one state, in which everyone is involved in upholding and in consolidating the values of democracy, freedom, justice and coexistence based on respect for others regardless of differences, and the need to follow the logic dialogue and a peaceful solution to overcome all the crises.
The Synod Fathers appealed to their parishioners to abide in the hope “that does not fail," and by the evangelistic values, which calls on them to renounce violence and respect the image of God in every person, wipe away the tears from the face of all the sufferers in the earth, and remain in their own lands, and not give it up in whatever hard circumstances they encounter, because the Lord wants them as witnesses in their homelands. They implored them not to give away their land to solve the current material problems, because this land is mixed with the soil of saints. This land will remain throughout time their only refuge. They encouraged them to intensify their prayers for peace in Syria and in the whole world, and the collaboration among them to mitigate the impact of the crisis, especially on the most needy among them. In this area, the Synod Fathers send their gratitude to the churches and organizations, associations and individuals for their cooperation with the Patriarchate for the relief of the needy brothers. Also the Fathers thanked their parishioners who responded to the call of the Patriarchate and gave generously to support the relief work in the Patriarchate, through their bids on the occasion of the Day of Solidarity of Antioch in order to support the relief work set by the Holy Synod on September 15, 2013. The Fathers remembered their parishioners in the city of Aleppo, which misses its Metropolitans, and asked them to remain firm in the hope, because the ashes of various trials will not conceal the face of the ever Beloved One.

The Fathers addressed the international community, hoping they turn to the pain of the Syrian people and agonies , and take off the fueling of war, and contribute to consolidating the values of peace, justice, and democracy, and invest in spending on rebuilding what was destroyed and develop the potential of the Syrian people, rather than invest in iron and fire. The Synod Fathers urged the international organizations and non-governmental organizations, and all bodies concerned about the displaced, to secure the essential necessities of life for those on the doors of winter, so that they may spend their time and live in dignity while awaiting their return to their towns and villages.

The Synod Fathers reiterated their condemnation of the terrorist operations that affect the peaceful citizens and destruction which does not exclude places of worship, in addition to historical and cultural monuments witnessing to the nobility of the Syrian civilization. They sadly pointed the vagueness of the issue of the kidnapped bishops, Paul Yazigi and John Ibrahim. They called on the Arab and international communities to assume their responsibilities in this regard to establish the truth and to uncover the fate of both bishops and all kidnapped people and their safe return to their families and loved ones. The Synod Fathers prayed for the divine mercy on the souls of the innocent martyrs who died during this devastating war, especially the priests who died while soothing the wounds of their parishioners.

The Synod Fathers turned to Lebanon, and its citizens who are suffering from a severe economic crisis and a deep concern over their fate as a result of the persistent state of the disabling of Lebanese governmental institutions. They appealed to all parties and officials carry out their responsibilities in order to save Lebanon and the advance of its citizen. They encouraged them to maintain the values of democracy, freedom, and the devolution of power that has long characterized Lebanon, and calling them to fortify Lebanon and spare it the risks encompassing it from every direction, through getting over their narrow interests and overcoming their current differences and return to dialogue in a spirit of openness and reconciliation, and national and historic responsibility, through forming a national unity government that is able to ward off risks and maintain stability in order to avoid falling into the vacuum, in preservation of civil peace.
The Synod Fathers discussed state of national activities undertaken by their parishioners in Lebanon, stressing respect for their political diversity and reminding at the same time that the Church, although does not dictate to her parishioners uniformed political positions, but She remains, through the Holy Synod and its head, the Patriarch, the official reference that expresses the position of the Orthodox Church in all that would clarify, in the light of the Gospel, the way for Her parishioners in their commitment to the affairs of their homelands .

The suffering Iraq has not gone unnoticed to the concerns of the Holy Synod Fathers, as well as the wounded Palestine. Let us pray that the Lord God confirm Iraq and Palestine and all the Arab countries on the road to stability and peace. They stressed the need to find a just and comprehensive solution to the legitimate Palestinian issue.

The Synod Fathers asked their parishioners to face the challenges posed by their societies and our contemporary age, in order to test it on the light of the values of the Gospel. They also asked them to work for political, social and economic peace, wherever they are, and to renounce sectarianism and abhorrent racism in all its forms, and to coexist in a sincere way with their co-citizens, and to work for human dignity and freedom, and to stop the bloodshed and commitment to the affairs of the suffering on earth, whom Christ united Himself with.

The Synod Fathers concluded their session by reminding their parishioners about the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians: "Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” ( 2 Corinthians 13:11 ).

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Carol Saba on Pope Francis' Lessons for the Antiochian Church

Arabic original, in today's an-Nahar, here.

Will the Orthodox in the Middle East Match the Bold Transformations of Francis' Papacy?

This week, the Antiochian Orthodox Holy Synod is meeting, presided by His Beautitude Patriarch John X, who has just returned from Rome and the Vatican. Our challenges are great in these evil times for the Arab world and necessity dictates that we move quickly to confront the growing crises, to lay the basis for a forward-looking vision of our presence in the societies of the Arab world. We hope that a conviction has formed among the fathers of the Synod in this direction. Patriarch John, who has started to endorse some of the signs of this desired exceptional Antiochian role, cannot move forward alone. We must move forward as a Church, on several levels.

These exceptional circumstances require an exceptional, comprehensive and programmatic plan for action. It begins first of all with a bold critical review of the Church's work, her positioning, and her discourse in the last half-century, in order to identify her failures and successes, whether internally with regard to the ways of her governance or externally with regard to her engagement in society and issues of public concern. It ends, secondly, with a comprehensive road map for the Church, for a sound ecclesial institution that will take us from concern with maintaining existence to the hope of a pioneering presence in our societies.

The suffering of our people thus requires us to make a critical review and a prospectus for the future, to go from being a sectarian community to being Christ's Church, if we want to remain here with unambiguous freedom and dignity. The minoritarian mindset is growing, even among us, while what is required is a return to the Orthodox being the "bridge community" that strives to build a state based on citizenship and full partnership. Are we in the East correctly reading the activity of Pope Francis in the West? Where are we with regard to the bold and outstanding transformations of the ecclesial revolution that he is leading in the Catholic Church on numerous levels? Our challenges are essentially shared, even if they differ in their rationales. They bring up the issue of church governance and the aspect of it growing out of realistic proportion, modernity, meekness, humility, mutual support and care for the other and the poor, all of which are necessities for preaching the Gospel in a modern way that reflects the challenges of today's world, so that the world may understand and believe.

We must ask ourselves along with Pope Francis: "Are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?" This was the Pope's cry before the youth in Brazil, to indicate the Church's declining state in the world today. For him, the correct solution comes from the correct diagnosis. He says that historical accretions have caused the Church to focus on institutions where a managerial mentality overshadows a bold approach to evangelism. The hierarchy of the temporal organization has overshadowed the vision of divine economy in the Church. The growing neo-Pharaseeism in the Church has killed the warmth of the apostolic spirit in her. Academic theology has replaced the theology of prayer. The mentality of financial management has corrupted many and distanced the Church from the joy of giving. It has become a frozen hierarchical institution, flabby and conservative, unable to understand and address the modernity of today's world and its challenges.

The revolution in the Church being led by Pope Francis requires correcting the ends and the means. He wants to take the Church out of the margins and to return her to the center of the equation, so that the Church may once more be evangelical. He says that the Church is service and not authority. He likens her to a field hospital after a battle and calls her to care for the injured and wounded. He calls for the necessity of conciliarity and consultation according to the model of the Orthodox Church, by which he signals the end of the traditional Catholic hierarchical view, as when he says "We must walk together: the people, the bishops and the Pope." He then boldly and perceptively says, "the Gospel is before dogma," desiring a return to evangelical, apostolic purity, a return to the fundamentals without fundamentalism. The Pope distances himself from all manifestations of ecclesial wealth and liturgical pomp. He practices meekness, simplicity and humility in all things, striving to be a model for all in the Church. He also practices "extending a hand to all", stressing that the Church's task in the world requires it to listen to all suffering. He calls on the Church to address all-- elites and ordinary people, rich and poor, the healthy and those in agony, believers and unbelievers-- with respect and love, following Jesus' example. The famous magazine Time described him as "the people's pope" and "the pope of the poor" on account of his evangelical simplicity and his particular concern for the great and the small, casting aside the barriers of protocol, as he is the one who calls for casting aside the barriers of distance and apathy between the two lungs of the Church, the clergy and the laity. His power is that he appears to be bound only by the requirements of bearing witness to Jesus Christ in today's world. What is happening today in the Vatican goes beyond one man's will; it is a comprehensive critical reading, indeed an evangelical revolution whose aim is to re-focus the Catholic Church in today's world. Will the Pope succeed? Will the Orthodox Churches match  him, from the depth of their suffering, in order to reflect the Universal Church in the brightness and splendor of the image of Christ and His glory in today's world?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

50,000 Christians in Syria Request Russian Citizenship

Russian original, from the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry, here.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has received through diplomatic channels an application from the Syrian Christians from the region of Qalamoun in the province of Damascus, home to the world-famous Christian holy places in Syria. We publish here an annotated translation from the Arabic:

"We, the Christians of Qalamoun, living in Seidnaya, Maarat Seidnaya, Maloula, and Marouna find ourselves, for the first time since the birth of Christ, under the threat of expulsion from our land. We prefer death to wandering in refugee camps. Therefore, we shall defend our homeland, honor and faith and shall not leave the land upon which Christ walked.

The Christians of Qalamoun believe that the goal of the terrorists, who are supported by the West, is the elimination of our native presence by the vilest means, including the murder of ordinary people. 

We see Russia as a powerful force for peace and stability throughout the world. Russia holds a firm line in defense of Syria, her people and her territorial integrity. We have also always felt the support of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Over the centuries, the Christians of the East have known that no one cares about their interests as much as Russia. In times of trial, Russia has always been with us politically, economically, in humanitarian terms, and other ways. 

Since Syrian law allows the possession of dual citizenship, we have chosen to apply for citizenship of the Russian Federation, if it is possible. Receiving it would be an honor for any Syrian Christian who wishes to obtain it. We will be under Russia's protection if we come under the threat of physical destruction from the terrorists. Out of around fifty thousand people-- doctors, engineers, lawyers, entrepreneurs-- who are prepared to sign this appeal, none wants to leave his home. We have everything needed; we are not asking for money.

Our appeal does not mean that we doubt the Syrian army and the government. However, we are frightened by the West's plotting and the hate speech of the fanatics who are waging a brutal war against our country. What happened in Maloula was a lesson for us.

With deep respect for Russia and her leadership and for the Russian Orthodox Church, 

The Christians of the regions of Seidnaya, Maarat Seidnaya, Maaloula, and Marouna. 

October 3, 2013"

The text was signed by representatives of families who have applied for Russian citizenship.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh: God who Speaks in Arabic

Arabic original here.

God who Speaks in Arabic

The Holy Apostle Paul mentions in his Epistle to the Galatians that shortly after he was guided to faith in Christ he went off to "Arabia" and then returned to Damascus (Galatians 1:17). At that time, "Arabia" meant the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan, and southern Syria, all the way to Damascus. It included the kingdom of the Nabateans, Petra, Jerash, Philadelphia (modern Amman), Bosra, and Hawran. It is likely that Paul went to the Arab lands adjacent to Damascus, to that barren and mountainous desert, to Bosra and its surroundings.

At the beginning of the 2nd century, the Roman Empire gave the name "the Province of Arabia" to the lands of the Nabateans after adding them to the territory of the Empire. The city of Bosra witnessed an agricultural, commercial, and architectural after it was declared to be the provincial capital in the year 106 under the emperor Trajan.

There is no doubt that Arabia, and especially its capital Bosra is one of the first regions to accept Christianity. Its location near Palestine, where Jesus lived, attracted the apostles there from the time they first set off bearing the Gospel to all the ends of the earth. In the tradition of the Church it is said that the apostle Timon, one of the Seven Deacons, was consecrated bishop of Bosra. The city's bishops took part in many local and ecumenical councils of the Church. Al-Maqrizi wrote that the Apostle Matthew "Was the first person to proclaim the Gospel in Bosra." Al-Tabari mentions "the bishop of the Ghassanid Arabs."

In the Fifth and Sixth centuries, Christianity reached all the towns and cities of Hawran, such that all the residents of the Province of Arabia had become Christian. Arabia became famous for its ascetic life and monasteries multiplied-- some of these are still in existence or have ruins that still exist. The monks pastored and protected the Ghassanid princes, who founded some of these monasteries at their own expense. The monks had great success in spreading Christian faith among the Arab tribes that accepted Christianity. Numerous bishoprics were established in the Province of Arabia starting in the fourth century and their number multiplied in all the regions and cities dominated by Arab tribes, which in addition to Bosra included Jerash, Amman, Madaba, Derah, Sanmin, Soueida, Shahba, all the way to Harran, Rusafah, Palmyra, and Baalbek... Baalbek, where al-Baladhuri mentions a truce made by the Muslim general Abu Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah with its Christian population, Arab and non-Arab, which proves the presence of Arabs in the city prior to the conquests. From the first moment of the Church, Christianity has spoken the Arabic language. On Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit rested upon the disciples, the day when "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them to speak," the day when those present-- among them Arabs-- were amazed at how they heard the glorious apostles "speaking in our languages, giving glory to God" (cf. Acts 2:1-11), God spoke Arabic.

On that day two thousand years ago, God spoke Arabic. In Arabic God, His Word and His Holy Spirit spread the Gospel in cities and villages, deserts and wastelands, in churches and monks' cells, in prayer and fasting, in hymns and supplications, in the lives of saints, martyrs, righteous ones, ascetics and monks.

God adopted Arabic and made it Christian, so it can bear witness to Him and His Church forever. He baptized it in Spirit, water and blood. Arab Christianity shall remain faithful to this precious trust, this baptism that it received once and forever. No one can remove it from its roots in the past, the present and the age to come.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Met Georges Khodr on Right Belief

Arabic original here.

Right Belief

In our Church, there are a number of commemorations of the Holy Fathers, and this Sunday is one of them. The Fathers are those bishops who gathered at the seven Ecumenical Councils. The heretics who left the Church and broke off from her greatly fought against her, and so there had to be a response to them, from the First Ecumenical Council, which produced the Creed that we recite at the divine liturgy "I believe in one God, the Father almighty..." to the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which taught us to venerate icons.

In this way dogma was accepted and shaped into words. It is the orthodox dogma to which we hold fast. It makes the Gospel clear for us and sets the bounds of faith, insofar as one who adds to this faith departs from it and one who removes something from this faith also departs from it.

The question is why and how heresies spring up within the Church. It is because the human intellect is free and people sometimes read without understanding. There are those who read and understand, but many people falsify what they read because of their sins or for no particular reason they do not understand. This is a tragedy that occurs in the Church. Heresies will inevitably appear and some will inevitably break off from the Church because of their lack of understanding. In the Gospel of Luke we read "Woe to the person by whose hand come scandals. It would be better for a millstone to be tied around his neck and for him to be cast into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to stumble" (Luke 17:1-2). The Holy Fathers, the bishops who gathered between the fourth and the eighth centuries and set down for us these creeds knew that the greatest sin that a person can commit is to split the Church. Anyone who brings forth a dogma that is not recognized by orthodox believers breaks the body of Christ.

There are those who say, "This one Gospel, let us come to an understanding over it." But reality is not like this. The reality is that Saint Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria in the fourth century, had this gospel and understood it as everyone understood it, that Christ is God, eternal and uncreated. In the very same city there was another man called Arius, a priest in the very same Church, who took the Gospel and understood from it that Christ is not God, but rather created. The Gospel is the foundation, but people build on this foundation. Some of them build a well-established house and some build a shaky house because they inject their own thoughts and thoughts from their surroundings or from their passions.

But who speaks the truth? How do we know it? Herein comes consultation. The ecumenical council was a global consultation among the bishops of the Christian world. The bishops were placed by God, as we hear in today's Epistle, to guard dogma and to keep watch over the flock that the Wolf scatters. The work of the bishops is to study and discuss theology and to give the people sound theology so that correct behavior comes from correct faith. A person cannot be saved without faith. The Church's work is not only to build churches of stone. Her work is to build churches where true faith is taught. If we are upright in faith, then we are the richest and most glorious people. We stand in order to preserve the Gospel, to live the Gospel, and to enjoy the beauty of Christ.

As we commemorate the Holy Fathers, we must renew our allegiance to Orthodox dogma and our allegiance to the Church as she is and wherever she may be, in the parish of which we are a part, so that God may remain among us and so that our faith may shine with His love forever.

Fr Georges Massouh: You Have Your God and We Have Our God

Arabic original here.

You have Your God and We Have Our God

When God created man, male and female, He distinguished him from other creatures and gave him preference over them in two things: the manner of creation and breathing into him from His spirit.

In its first account of creation, the Book of Genesis informs us that God said, "Let us make man in Our image and likeness... so God created man in His image. In the image of God He created him. Male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:26-27). However, when He created the rest of the creatures and existent things, God did not say "let us make light (etc.)" but rather, "let there be light." The distinction between man's creation and other creatures' creation is clear, since God brought creation into existence by His decree, but man was made with His hands. As for what is meant by "God's hands", they are not bodily hands, but rather a symbol of God's honoring and dignifying man.

In its second account of creation, the Book of Genesis informs us that the Lord God "formed man from the clay of the earth and breathed into his nostrils a breath of life, and man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7). If man had merely been clay, then he would have been like the other living creatures, but God breathed into him from His spirit and made him greater than the other created things.

Saint Basil the Great (d. 379) says of this, "and He breathed into his nostrils. That means, He brought him a portion of His grace. He received a great dignity on account of his having been created in the image of his Creator, and so he attained an honor that surpasses every other being."

It is noteworthy that the Qur'an matches the Book of Genesis in the very account of Adam's creation. The Qur'anic verse that establishes that God created man from clay "Then He fashioned him and breathed into him of His spirit" (Surat al-Sajda 9). It remains that the God who honored the children of Adam and "preferred them above many of those whom We created with a marked preferment" (Surat al-Isra 70) gave man from His spirit something that He did not give to the other things He created. It is a breath by which God distinguished man and made him worthy of dignity and honor.

It goes without saying that Adam was not Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. He was without religion. He was without a book or a law. God simply loved him and settled him in His garden. When Adam fell, God did not retreat from His love or from His mercy toward all the children of Adam... With the rise of religions, this situation did not change, since the divine breath abides in man, no matter what religion he belongs to or even if he is an atheist, and it does not depart from him. God did not require man to adopt one of the religions in order for Him to place His breath within him. The breath is present in man from the time of his birth and it does not depart from him, even if that man departs from God.

Despite the natural distinction between the Christian and Islamic traditions with regard to this question, they agree in affirming man's uniqueness and that he moved by a divine breath that forever gives him life, even as he inevitably passes through bodily death. Human life, then, is not anyone's possession. No one has the right to put an end to it or to take it away. How much more so when the negation of human life occurs in God's name, in the name of the God who placed a priceless trust in man and asked him to preserve it by honoring and respecting it.

We can say that God the Creator, according to the three monotheistic religions, is the God of life, not a god of death. We do not recognize your murderous god. We do not worship him and we do not bow down to him. You have your god and we have our God.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Fr Touma Bitar: The Boat in the Raging Wind

 Arabic original here.

The Boat in the Raging Wind

The disciples wanted to go across the Sea of Galilee in a boat. Believers are in motion. They pass through. "We have no lasting city here. Rather, we seek the city to come" (Hebrews 13:14). In their passing through the world, they have vicissitudes. At one moment they will have hardship and at another moment they will have ease. In any case, they will have no true peace here! "You will have hardship in the world"! It is enough for them to catch their breath! It is not good for them to be at rest here for very long, lest they grow lax and corrupt! It is fitting for them to always be tense. Like travelers, like wayfarers, like armies at war. Their war is invisible. They are oriented towards the Kingdom. "Your face I seek, O Lord." The Kingdom, however, is not over there. It is not a kingdom of place or time. The Kingdom is spirit. There we will be in a sphere that is not of this world. The Spirit is within us and always draws us to Himself. The motion is a motion of spirit, a motion of the heart, a motion of love! Existence within it is towards Him! This is the habit of divinity. This is why God is love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each within the other and to the other. Stability of being within its passing into being! Depth calling out to depth! This is the meaning of "Your face I seek, O Lord."

The concern is not for what we are passing through, but rather to Whom we are passing in every situation. "Neither life nor death... neither things present nor things to come... can separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). Here, no matter what we do, we cannot stand in place. They sea is tossing! Calm for a moment then for a moment raging! A soft breeze for a moment then for a moment a gale! For a moment pleasant ripples then for a moment crashing waves! For a moment we are cutting through the waves easily and peacefully, and then for a moment our boat strays and almost runs ashore! People have no assurance, no matter how intense their strength. We are all a feather blowing in the wind-- great and small,  rich and poor, wise and foolish. Our contribution is always less than what we need. "If the Lord does not build the house, then the builders toil in vain. If the Lord does not guard the city, then its guardians keep watch in vain!" Dust and ashes! Lumps of clay! Without Me you can do nothing! Blessed is the one who knows his limitation and stops there!

It is as though they are abandoned yet not abandoned! Their Teacher is on the deck of the boat. They say, "He is asleep!" It is not because He is tired and needs to pause from work. Until now My Father labors and I labor! This is a planned sleep, a tactical absence, so that no one may sleep from fulfilling the work of God. "Keep watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation" (Matthew 26:41). We suffer temptation when we are inattentive, when we are heedless, when our wits are dulled. "Lead us not into temptation" is how we ask for God's help against our limitations. Our limitations does not mean our distracting ourselves from God. Rather, that we are expending our utmost effort! Despite this or, more properly, in addition to this, we need God's help because no matter how great our effort, it is not enough! If the Lord does not set a limit to our cares, he inevitably helps us to bear them, to face them, and our strength does not go out and our faith does not perish! The important thing is for our hearts to be oriented towards Him, which resurrects hope within us-- and hope in God does not fail! The Lord God does not want to work in our place, but rather with us! "Where were you?" Saint Anthony the Great asked God, after he struggled to the point of blood in the storm. The Most High replied, "I was hear, watching your struggle, and I bless you!" It is as though the Lord abandons us but does not abandon us, so we may struggle: in prayer, in patience, in attentiveness, in hope! When night is most dark, dawn is about to break! Until our hand is strengthened. Be men and take heart! "That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind..." (Ephesians 4:14). All this effort that we make in order to realize it, God is capable of giving to us in an instant, but He takes joy in our toil and our steadfastness in hope, in our weakness until He comes and completes all things by His power. Whenever one of us grows in effort and sacrifice, he grows in grace and stature!

Along this way, we often find ourselves at the edge of the abyss, on the brink of collapse, but we do not collapse! At times we almost despair, like Saint Silouan the Athonite, but we do not despair! Not even if he said in his heart: God is harsh and unjust! Until he saw the Lord, merciful and exuding sweetness, and was startled by a voice saying, "Place your mind in hell and despair not!" This was the greatest lesson he learned in his life. The burdens are heavy for those whom the Lord desires to fill with grace.  "You will win your souls through your patience!" He does not burden us with a deaf stone that weighs us down. Rather, He burdens us with a living stone, people, so that we can grow in the Spirit, through patience, love and humility!

"Living is the God before whom I stand," said the Prophet Elijah, while the fool said in his heart, "There is no salvation for him in his God"! Everything around us whispers in our ears "There is no salvation for him in his God." God's silence does not mean that He is not present! His being invisible does not ever mean that He is not active!

The winds have raged these days, within and without, so where is the surprise?! Who has risen before dying first? They left weeping, having scattered their seeds, but they will return rejoicing, bearing their abundance! we have been, are, and remain always cast into the winds of this age, until that Day, but we are not perishing. Persecuted, but not abandoned. Bewildered, but not despairing. Troubled, but not crushed. At all times bearing in the flesh the death of the Lord Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will also appear in our flesh (2 Corinthians 4)! He does not depart from us! He is more precious than the pupil of the eye for us! Do not fear! I will not leave you orphaned! A hair from your head will not fall without the permission of the heavenly Father. The One who is within you is stronger than the one who is in the world! He does not make us carry more than we can bear! In trials, He sends grace upon grace so that trials will not overthrow us! He is stronger within us than the world when it revolts against us! This requires something of a childishness of heart, soundness of spirit and purity of conscience so that it will not affect us. Only those who have departed from their Lord-- I do not say those from whom the Lord has departed-- prevent the flow of His grace within them. God does not punish and He does not return like for like. Christ the Lord extends Himself to us so that He can always benefit us. Sacrificed, He sacrifices Himself. If someone isolates himself, this is his own doing and not abandonment by the One who emptied Himself for his sake and for the sake of humankind, taking the form of a servant. They go to far-off countries, thinking that in so doing they will do themselves good, until they go down to the pigsty while their Lord waits, watching over the scent of those loved ones who departed from Him, with a tear in His eye! "'Be astonished, O heavens, at this,and be horribly afraid; be very desolate,' says the Lord. 'For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water'" (Jeremiah 2:12-13)!

This is a time of sifting and so it is a time of purification! This is a season of distress and so this is a season of grace! This is a season of loss and so it is a season of satisfaction! Whlie the sounds of war deafen with panic and the Wicked One strives to seize the little ones with noise and intimidation, rays of light slip through to them from above as grace. Veils are torn in silence, unbeknownst to those who do not know, to strengthen hands that hang down and feeble knees (Hebrews 12:12), so that the hope within them will not be dispersed!

As they stretch the body of Christ the Lord out on the cross as a morsel for their passions and they slaughter Him stretched out in His flock, the angels of the Lord spread a table for those who bore witness to the Christ until the end and who were strengthened in Him as they were cast alone among the beasts as the Comforter comforted them!

Until when? "Be instructed, O Jerusalem, lest My soul depart from you; lest I make you desolate, an uninhabited land” (Jeremiah 6:8)! Emptiness! "Come, Lord Jesus!" Our souls have grown weary! So He arose, rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Be silent!" And there was great quiet.

September 15, 2013
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite- Douma