Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Syrian Islamists Advance Toward Mhardeh

Arabic original here.

Mhardeh Threatened with Forced Expulsions after the Example of Mosul:
The Orthodox Patriarchate Will Not Keep Silent

The fierce position taken by Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East John X regarding Western intervention in Syria is justified, especially in light of information coming from Northern Syria regarding the attempt of armed Islamist units belonging to the Syrian opposition to isolate the city of Mhardeh, hometown of Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim of thrice-blessed memory, and the town of Suqailabiyeh, both located in the Hama countryside near the entrance to the Alawite Mountains.

Mhardeh and Suqailabiyeh constitute one of the largest agglomerations of Greek Orthodox Christians in Syria, with an estimated combined population of 100 thousand people. They contain a dozen churches as well as civil and ecclesiastical economic, social and educational institutions.

Information from clergymen coming from Mhardeh indicates a state of alert and a general mobilization of the people of the two towns following reports from the Hama countryside about the advance of Islamist forces toward the vicinity of the two cities and clashes with the lines of defense and barricades set up by residence in order to defend their existence and prevent a repeat of the expulsions and acts of revenge that happened in Mosul. The information confirms that residents were able to repel the attackers who resorted to rocket and artillery strikes on the two cities, where alarms were sounded.

Sources informed about what is happening confirmed that the Orthodox Patriarchate is moving toward escalating its positions in the face of what is happening and that it will not accept for the crimes  of Mosul to be repeated in Mhardeh or any other place. It will not keep silent about this matter and any silence regarding the unprecedented religious cleansing against Christians is highly suspicious.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Patriarchate of Antioch's Statement on Gaza and Mosul

This translation is unofficial. Arabic original here.Update: now this translation has been officially posted by the Patriarchate.

Statement from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East

Damascus, July 23, 2014

At a time when Syria's wounds have been bleeding for more than three years, amidst the wounds of Iraq, which has experienced  conflict since the 1980's, amidst the unrest that is sweeping countries near and far, and amidst the world's indifference to Palestine's wounds, which have not healed in almost seventy years, these days in particular we are witnessing a multiplication of these wounds in the expulsion of Mosul's Christians and the all-out assault on Gaza amidst a disgraceful international silence.

The cycle of violence sweeping Iraq and Syria, expelling peaceful citizens has not let up, as recent events in Iraq and specifically in Mosul have completed the series of murder, religious prejudice,  and terror. We strongly condemn attacks on any segment of society in this Middle East and we especially condemn the attack on the Christians of Mosul and their being compelled by force of arms to change their religion under the penalty of paying the jizya or abandoning their homes and having their property confiscated. These fundamentalist movements that are trying to become mini-states through force and terror with outside moral and material support are the greatest threat to people in the Middle East and to coexistence there. We ask the international community and specifically the United Nations and all global powers and organizations to take into proper consideration what is happening in Iraq, Mosul and the entire Middle East. We call on them to deal with the current situation courageously, with a genuine language of human rights and not a language of interests that uses the principles of human rights and exploits them in the service of narrow aims and interests. We ask the countries that provide outside support to these groups, whether directly or indirectly, to cease immediately from all forms of material, moral, logistical and military support for these extremist groups and so cut off at its root the terrorism that is first of all a threat to the peace and peoples of those countries. We likewise call for an end to resorting to any form of violence as a means by which citizens deal with each other.

Because we in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East constantly affirm that Christians and Muslims are two lungs of a single Middle Eastern body that stands on citizenship and common life, we reject anything that would first of all hurt Islam's reputation for tolerance, brotherhood and peaceful life, which we have experienced, and secondly disrupts the right of citizens to have a civic presence free from sectarian or racial pressures.

As the world watches what is happening in Mosul, the chain of violence is repeated in the Gaza Strip under various justifications, amidst a frightening international silence. This is happening while the outside world is content to watch a bloodbath that has not spared women, children and the elderly. It is as though the Middle East has become a testing-ground for every sort of weapon and a fertile soil for every sort of plot. It is as though the people of the Middle East are a commodity created to be dough in the hands of the forces of evil, when they are created to be the image of the Lord's splendor and the focus of the Creator's good pleasure, with good relationships with their fellow citizens and fellow humans.

We in the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East understand the common fate that binds us to our Christian and Muslim brothers in Palestine. We implore the international community for a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to the sinful siege on our brothers in Palestine, whose cause remains first of all a humanitarian cause. The attachment of the Palestinians to their land and their longing to return to it is a cause for hope for all those suffering in this Middle East  and a mark of shame upon the faces of those for whom "human rights" end at the hills of Palestine while at the same time that they traffic in these "rights" in order to intervene in the affairs of other peoples.

We pray that God give peace to the world, that He give strength to all those in distress, that He cause peace to be lasting in the Middle East, so that humanity may enjoy well-being and tranquility.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Statement of the Arab Orthodox Clergy of Jerusalem on Reforming the Patriarchate

This statement was drafted as a result of the meeting described here. Arabic original below the jump.

Statement of the Arab Orthodox Clergy for Revival

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

We denounce Israel's genocidal war on Gaza. We condemn the forced expulsion of the Christians of Mosul in Iraq. We pray for peace in Syria, neighboring countries, and the Arab world as a whole. We honor the fallen and the innocent children of Gaza. We come with a message of allegiance and love for His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Hussein, may God preserve him and we affirm our dedication to Hashemite guardianship over the Islamic and Christian Holy Places in Jerusalem.

Out of our zeal for our Church of Jerusalem, the Mother of Churches, and our unshakeable faith in the unity of our Orthodox, Catholic and Apostolic Church, our confidence in the justness of our demands as clergy and laity, we reject the racist domination over our Church of Jerusalem that has been in a state of decline for more than five centuries, caused by the lack of pastoral care of her children; the squandering of her endowments given to her by our ancestors in order to prop up Greek hegemony over our Church of Jerusalem; the non-application of the Church's pastoral regulations in their canonical, pastoral and administrative dimensions; the replacement of pastoral bishops of dioceses with patriarchal vicars; the prohibition on Arab clergy entering the monastic life; the cancellation of their salaries; their being banished from their parishes and monasteries as an act of revenge and personal score-settling simply because they are calling for spiritual revival and setting things right in our national church. This is all to say nothing of the neglect and marginalization of the Arab Orthodox flock who just a short time ago were the only Christian significant community in this country but who now because of the practices of the Church's leadership do not even number half of the Christians.

These practices have continued until today. Our churches are displaced and the monasteries in Palestine have been emptied of their monks. The majority of our Orthodox people have been snatched away or driven out to other sects and heresies. Corruption has become rooted in the organizations and administrations of the Patriarchate. Schools at a lower level than average. Financial administration has gone years without a budget or an audit. Ecclesiastical courts are lawless. Patriarchal assets and income exist in a void, without oversight or accounting.

Today our people are being exterminated by the army of Israeli occupation while a priest comes to us with a plan to compel Christians to mandatory service in the army of Zionist occupation, under the cover and with the blessing of the Greek patriarch who has not once looked at the suffering of his people and his flock. He awards medals to an officer in the army of occupation while our people-- women, children and elderly-- are being targeted by the occupation's artillery.

We are children of this country and did not come to it from outside. We are partners with our Muslim brothers in the unity and defense of our nation. We categorically reject the insinuations of Patriarch Theophilos that we are Greek remnants in our countries. No, we are genuine Arabs, Jordanians and Palestinians, no matter what they say.

Our desired goal is to reform our Orthodox Church, the Mother of Churches, and to restore her lost order in its ecclesiastical and patriotic dimensions, to restore her prestigious position, to rebuild the proper spiritual relationship between of the patriarch and the bishops to the priests and flock. We have often and repeatedly addressed those in charge of the Patriarchate, explaining the state of the flock and proposed the idea of reform, but this has been in vain. Unfortunately, we have faced punishment and marginalization from the patriarch.

Therefore we categorically reject the policy of the Greek patriarch Theophilos and his punitive decisions against us, the Arab Orthodox clergy who call for an Orthodox ecclesiastical revival that preserves the teachings of the fathers, the canons of the Church and her spirituality in its pastoral and patriotic dimensions.

Beloved children of the nation and children of the Orthodox flock,

We the Arab clergy are continuing along the path of our Orthodox revival. We are calling for administrative, canonical and ecclesiastical reform in the Patriarchate and the recovery of the rights that have been denied us. We declare that we have taken a step toward the truth, and the truth shall set us free. There is no going back from our movement, our demands and our ecclesiastical and patriotic struggle that is centered on the teachings of the Church and the Gospel. We cry out together, yes to recovering the rights that have been denied us!

We are a cry for truth, a movement for reform and we will close by summarizing some of our just demands:

1- Recognizing the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher as one of the monastic communities present within the structure of the patriarchate and limiting its activities to caring for the pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land, thus correcting issues in the administration of the Church of Jerusalem by returning to honorable canons for the proper organization and administration of the Orthodox Catholic Church.

2- Enacting a system of dioceses by granting full competencies to the pastoral bishops to undertake their ecclesiastical and pastoral duties, including the right to ordain priests, tonsure monks and nuns, build churches and establish monasteries, Orthodox schools and seminaries as well as permanent membership in the Holy Synod.

3- Working to call the bishops, archimandrites, priests and monks originally from the Church of Jerusalem whom the Patriarchate refused to accept because they are Arab but were accepted by other Orthodox churches outside our nation  to return to their Church.

4- Requiring His Beatitude the Patriarch of Jerusalem to implement the promises and commitments he made at the time of his election as patriarch as regards reforming the state of the Patriarchate and the composition of the Holy Synod and maintaining the properties and endowments of the Church and not squandering or wasting them.

5- Activating the seminary at Sion / Jerusalem and opening its doors to accept sons of the flock after affairs are set right within it, applying a curriculum in Arabic and English in addition to Greek, and opening a seminary in Jordan.

6- Accepting the internal statute of the first Orthodox monastery in Jordan, the women's Monastery of Our Lady of the Life-Giving Spring at Dibbeen, guaranteeing the rights and privilidges of the founder and builder of the monastery, within the applicable canons of the Church.

7- Implementing the Jordanian law pertaining to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, law number 27 of 1958 and acting according to it immediately, especially as regards forming the Mixed Committee.

8- Forming a canonical Holy Synod and drafting an internal statute for the Patriarchate, as well as forming an elected body of clergy and laity to represent the flock, participate in the general administration of the church and supervise the conditions and needs of the churches in cities and villages.

9- Preparing an annual budget for the Patriarchate to ensure the proper spending of money and knowing the instruments by which it is spent.

10- Drafting a canon for regulating ecclesiastical courts and modernizing the canon on personal status.

11- Forming a committee of clergy and laity specialists (including lawyers) to study the possibility of recovering the endowments that have been squandered in the past.

With this we encourage your concern and persistence in moving forward with the spiritual and ecclesiastical revival. We encourage His Hashemite Majesty King Abdullah II, may God preserve and guide him, and His Excellency President Mahmoud Abbas to look into this segment of their people, an authentic part of the country, and to work to realize our just demands...

We shall persevere in our struggle until justice is realized.

The Orthodox Club, Amman
July 25, 2014

Al-Karma on the Local Church in Orthodox Ecclesiology

The following was published anonymously this week in al-Karma, the bulletin of the Archdiocese of Tripoli. Arabic original here.

A Local Church

"One, holy, catholic and apostolic" are the attributes given to the church in our creed. They are attributes that apply first of all to every group that comes together around its bishop in the liturgy, studies the word and evangelizes. They are first of all attributes of the local church. That is, the group of believers within a specific geographic space that witnesses to its faith and sets out from its locality to transmit the Good News to the world. The attributes applied to the church in the creed do not take on their existential dimension except in her evangelistic vocation. The ancient local churches, among them Antioch, did not consider evangelism to be a profit-making vocation, a tool to expand their authority and influence, but rather obedience to the words of the Lord: "Go, make disciples of all nations," so that the Lord might be incarnate in every language, every culture, every thought and every locality. Any evangelistic work governed by a concern for authority and expansionism leads to the destruction of the church and schism.

In the history of the church, the authentic local church has never attempted to use evangelism in order to transform into a "universal" church. Rather, it has always desired to be catholic and to be the mother of other local churches. A mother gives birth in order to rear, make grow, and bring to maturity children who are independent and distinct from her. This distinctness does not negate the fact that they are her children. Is this not what the Church of Constantinople undertook through Saints Cyril and Methodius in their evangelism of the Bulgars, Serbs and other Slavs?

In Orthodox ecclesiology, it is not correct to speak of a "universal" church, but rather of a local, catholic church. The local church is not a distinct aspect of the catholic church, but rather it is the catholic church par excellence. In ancient texts, the term "catholic church" was not used in a quantitative sense or in order to indicate the geographic expanse of the church, but rather to indicate correctness and purity of faith and teaching. It indicated faithfulness to the earliest tradition in contrast to nascent teachings that were distinct and aberrant from what was handed down to us from the apostles, which divided an assembly of believers from the catholicity of having one dogma. Christ's church was in no sense less catholic than it is today when it was limited to a handful of people on the day of Pentecost or subsequently, when it was only a cluster of small islands amidst a vast sea of pagan nations.

In Orthodox ecclesiology, one speaks of a local church that is one, holy, catholic and Apostolic being along with its sister churches one, holy catholic and apostolic in a unity of faith that preserves the individuality and particular characteristics of each member. One aspect of the particular characteristics of the local church is liturgy. Today this particular characteristic has been lost ever since the the Constantinopolitan form of liturgy's domination over them. Liturgical diversity does not reflect a difference in faith or a weakening of  the bonds of unity and catholicity between the local churches. In the early centuries, were the Orthodox churches with their diversity of liturgical forms less unified than the Orthodox churches today with their single liturgical form?

The Church of Antioch is a local church like the other churches and it is the mother of other local churches and of what is called today the Orthodox diaspora. The same is true of all the churches. The pressing need today is for Antioch to be rooted in her locale and not be distracted by an imaginary universality. Her pressing need is to realize in practice her identity and uniqueness, both of which are not found only in the past and not given to us from the treasury of the past, but rather are something that we must discover within the context of constant development and growth in a single geographical space and time.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh: Barbarism Three Times Over

Arabic original here.

Barbarism Three Times Over

Gaza, Aleppo, Mosul. Death three times over. Countries of horror. Land of absolute evil. The time of reaping has come. The scythe slashes through heads and bodies. The vampires will not be satisfied.

Gaza, Aleppo, Mosul. Three corners of a triangle. The borders of the Levant are drowning in the blood of its children. Borders drawn with the blood of human victims. Victims of blind hate. Victims of religious and sectarian extremism. Victims of racism. Sacred texts bear their teeth. Their mouths open wide, thirsting for flesh and blood. Kill. Fight. Exterminate. Expel. Burn. Extirpate. Behead. Slaughter. Take captives. Chase them from their homes... Sacred texts carry the weight of these acts. Multifaceted texts from which the reader selects what suits him and justifies his perverse lusts, ignoring the verses that call for peace, love and mercy...

Texts of ink and paper have become more precious than human flesh and blood. The human person, whom God honors and prefers over all creatures has become a worm crushed by a hateful, murderous butcher-god...

"You are the best community that has been raised up for mankind. You enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency" (Surat Al Imran 110). Has slaughtering Mosul's Christians like sheep and expelling them become the right conduct  that the Qur'an commands? Has protecting their blood, livelihood, and churches become indecency? Did you face Mecca when you slaughtered them so that your sacrifice would be halal and your consciences at ease?

Did you say "in the name of God, the munificent, the merciful" when you slit their throats? How do you believe in the munificent, merciful God yet show no mercy or compassion to humans? How do you cry out "God is most great" yet make yourself greater than God who creates souls and takes them at the hour of His choosing? How do you cry out "God is most great" yet treat humans with pride, arrogance and contempt?

As for "God's chosen people", chosen exclusively be an irrevocable agency!  "You have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the Lord your God is He who has fought for you" (Joshua 23:3). Their god fought for them and exterminated the nations of the land that they occupied. Will their god spare Gaza? In the name that very same god they pick a fight over Gaza and appropriate it.

But the members of ISIS also believe that God fights for them: "You did not kill them, but rather God killed them. You did not throw when you threw, but rather God threw" (Surat al-Anfal 17). The ISISites have returned to a religion from before the Prophet Abraham. God stopped Abraham from offering his son as a sacrifice and sent him a ram from heaven in his place. God rendered human sacrifices null and void and replaced them with animal sacrifices. But the followers of al-Baghdadi continue to lust for human sacrifices. Woe to them and to their worship!

As for Christians, over history they have not hesitated to launch wars and commit massacres in the name of the God of love. This list is long, and we will not mention any of them other than what has happened in Lebanon during the constant sectarian wars over the past century and a half. In the name of defending Christian existence, the Christians were led to commit heinous acts that please neither Christ nor the saints of His Church.

Jews, Christians, Muslims are equal in sin just as in righteousness. The Sunni people of Gaza do not incite Sunni regimes to behave honorably, so how can a handful of Christians in this raging sea incite them to behave honorably?

Gaza, Aleppo, Mosul. Three times over the line is drawn between humanity and barbarism. Zionism, ISIS and sectarianism are merely aspects of the same barbarism.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

An Open Letter from Rodrigue Khoury to the ISIS Caliph

Arabic original here.

An Open Letter to the Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from the President of the Party of the Levant, the Lawyer Rodrigue Khoury

Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?

This is what our God called out to Paul when he was devoting himself completely to tormenting Christians... And this call ushered in his transformation into a Christian and his guiding many souls to the right path.

O Caliph, so far as I can tell you are striving to build a state that pleases God.

So which does God favor: Stoning an adulteress to death and handing her soul over to Satan or caring for her in mercy and giving her good advice so that she becomes pious and righteous and guides other souls to repentance, thus winning her own soul and the souls of many others?

Which does God favor: Cutting off the hand of a thief or caring for him with reform and forgiveness so that he might become righteous and use that hand of his to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or write a testimony of his being rightly guided and so profit his soul and guide others to repentance?

Which does God favor: Crucifying an "apostate" who has left your religion or leaving him to search with his reason for the true religion?

I bear witness to the truth of my faith that is different for yours. Is this not better than me falsely witnessing to your faith when I do not believe it with true conviction? Would that not be a lie and false witness? Which pleases God more, that I bear false witness and proclaim a lie or that I bear witness to the truth, to the truth of what I believe?

O Caliph,

Put yourself in the place of those who have sinned once, while you are subject to many sins: If you committed adultery. If you stole. If you changed your religion...

Would you ask the judges to stone you or to have mercy on you? [translator's note: the difference between "to stone" and "to have mercy" in Arabic is a single diacritic dot]

If you were a Christian in "the lands governed by Islam", would you accept that they drive you off, slaughter you and deny you the most basic human rights?

And so, who are you to judge by fire? Are you not subject to human nature? Are you not subject to weaknesses?

O Caliph,

I call call upon you to imagine a state ruled by the Law of Christ, a state of peace, a state of love and freedom!

A state where a woman does not commit adultery because she loves her husband, not because she is afraid of being stoned to death.

A state where someone does not steal because of his love for his neighbor, not because he is afraid of having his hand cut off.

A state where someone does not murder because he considers his brother's life to be holy, not because he is afraid of being executed.

A state where believers pray and fast because of their attachment to their God, not because of the policeman's baton.

O Caliph,

I call upon you to fully contemplate the law of mercy, love and freedom established by our God incarnate, Jesus Christ, and to compare it to the laws of the gentiles. I call upon you to judge your state by its standards and to embrace Christianity and in doing so save yourself from torment in this world and in the world to come.

Leave condemning people to God.

Do not say "I am an adulterer", since our God is a God of love who accepts the repentant adulteress just as He accepts the righteous woman.

Do not say "I am a thief", since our God is a merciful God who accepts the reptenant thief just as He accepts the righteous man.

Do not say, "I am a paid traitor", since our God is a kind God who accepts the repentant traitor just as He accepts the honorable.

Do not say, "I am a murderous criminal thug", since our God is a tolerant God who accepts the repentant murderer just as He accepts the upright.

Do not say, "I am an Arab" or "a Turk" or... since for our God there is neither Arab nor non-Arab. He accepts all races in order to give them the light of His peace and  to poor out His love upon the entire world.

Do not say "I am a corrupt sinner", since our God is a long-suffering God. He has accepted the repentance of many and returned them to the straight path, making them great saints and preparing them for a great mission in His plan of salvation.

O Caliph,

Who knows? The Lord may have chosen you for such a mission. There is still enough time before you to repent and to know the true light, the light of our incarnate God Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified, the light of the most holy and eternal Trinity.

My love for you drives me to advise you before it's too late. The voice of the conscience cries out to you at all times: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?

Met Georges Khodr on the Prophet Elijah

Arabic original here.

The Prophet

What is the prophet, if he prophesies? How is he in his state of prophesying? He is a man only under God's authority. He does not listen to anyone else. No passion speaks in him. He speaks as though God is speaking because he is God's instrument and God's looking over the universe.

"The word of God was on the tongue of Elijah," as the Bible says. He withheld rain and the heavens were commanded not to rain. The word of God was on his mouth and he commanded the heavens to rain, and they did. The word of God was on his mouth at Zarephath when he visited the widow and blew the word of God into the dead by, and the dead boy rose.

Elijah was alone with the word and he came into conflict with the great and small of the people. He came into conflict with all of God's enemies. He slaughtered the priests of Baal and of Ashteroth, but not because God desires slaughter. In fact He chastised him for this, as we shall see. However, the meaning of the words is that there is no place for false gods if the true God appears. There is no place for worshiping power, for worshiping the body if the true God looks down. However, there must be fiery zeal to the point where false gods and false thoughts are exterminated.

Like every ruler, the king was troubled by him, because rulers are rarely just. They are men of lust and passion and they have followers. Prophets, however, do not have lust or passion and they do not have followers. Thus, when King Ahab came and said to Elijah, "You are troubling Israel," Elijah replied, "Rather, you and your father, you and your house are troubling Israel" because the one who errs in sin troubles the people. Sin alone disturbs people.

When the seductive pagan queen Jezebel wanted the luxury coming from adulterous Phoenicia, when she wanted to suppress the prophet and persecute him, she did an injustice to the entire people. She expelled a poor man named Naboth from his vineyard and sent her husband the king to register the vineyard in her name. She gave every appearance of legitimacy to the crime and so the prophet cried out against her. Is there any supporter of the poor besides prophets and those who resemble prophets?

The queen drove our prophet out into the desert. She pushed him out of the country to die choking on the sands of Sinai. But he ate what was given to him by the angel of the Lord, "and walked by the power of that food for forty days and forty nights." He reached Horeb, where God had appeared to Moses for the first time, and took shelter in a cave. Then he went out and stood on the mountain before the Lord. There was an earthquake and God was not in the earthquake. There was a raging wind and God was not in the raging wind. That is, God does not appear in power or in violence and you were wrong, Elijah, when you slaughtered the priests of Baal. You were not wrong in your zeal but in the way in which you embodied that zeal. We people of God do not slaughter. We get slaughtered. There was a gentle wind and Elijah fell on his knees because God was in the gentle breeze.

After this, there did not remain any place on earth for Elijah, so God seized him in a storm and placed him in a chariot of fire with horses of fire. This is not because a person can sit on fire or because he can be led by fire, but because God Himself is fire. Is not God light and fire at once? Is not God the flame and the light of hearts? God carried Elijah on His shoulders and brought him to heaven. Elijah is alive in his love, in his zeal. "I have been zealous for the Lord of Hosts." Why was he zealous for the Lord of Heaven and Earth? Because he is the one who said, "Living is the Lord before whom I stand." Living is the Lord and the people are dead. The kings are dead and the oppressors are dead. God alone is living and he who knows this and stands before the living God cannot live with the dead.

God remains with those who love Him. Their hearts have been seized with love for the one who sits above, above the people of lust, tyranny and violence because He is the God of heaven, the God of peace, the God of hearts that love peace. For this reason we honor Elijah who was with the Lord on the mountain of the Transfiguration. He was transfigured in zeal and in turn has remained for people and for history flame and light.

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Mercy

Arabic original here

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me."

How many times have we said "Lord have mercy" in its various forms? When we say these words consciously, they presume that we admit our sins and repent of them.

This mercy that is asked for from God transcends justice. It is a call to imitate God. Mercy is one of God's attributes: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36).

Mercy presumes an open heart, love as broad as a womb ['mercy' and 'womb' are almost homophones in Arabic]. It presumes that we embrace others just as God embraces us, and also much patience. The Greek term "makrothimia", longsuffering,  literally means being slow to anger. Open your heart wide until it resembles God's heart. He is the compassionate Father. He is "longsuffering, plenteous in mercy, most compassionate, who loves the righteous and has mercy on sinners, who calls all to salvation with the promise of good things to come."

Mercy does not do away with strictness when it is necessary. Sometimes there must be discipline and rupture on the path to healing. "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed." (Hebrews 12:11-13).

Practice forgiveness. It is the medicine that cures hatred. Forgive your brother who sins against you because he is of Christ's flesh and blood. If our insistent request of  "Lord have mercy" forty times, for example, comes from the cry of the heart, it will attract God's attention. The blind man of Jericho cried out, "Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy!" and others rebuked him to keep quiet. But he cried out more and more, "Son of David, have mercy!" And Jesus finally responded, "See, your faith has healed you." (Cf. Luke 18: 38 and 42)

For this reason, we say many times in our liturgical prayer "Have mercy on us O God according to the greatness of Your mercy we ask You, hear us and have mercy!" All of this, ff we truly believe that the Lord Jesus Christ our God is the Savior, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh: The God who is Silent about Evil

Arabic original here.

The God who is Silent about Evil

"Where is God?" wonder most people. Where is He, when it comes to the tragedies, wars and massacres that are happening in our countries and throughout the world? Where is He, when it comes to children being killed, orphaned, left homeless and starved? Why is He silent about evil, especially about the evil that is committed in His name? Why does He not eliminate people before their crimes get worse? Does His silence mean that he is pleased with what is happening?

When God created man, He created him "in His image and likeness." The Christian tradition is unanimous in saying that the first part of this phrase, "in His image" indicates that God created man free and rational, while "and His likeness" is a call for man to realize the image by practicing the divine virtues through his own free will.

In this context, Saint John of Damascus, Mansour ibn Sarjoun (d. ca. 750) says, "Virtue is sown in our nature by God who is the beginning of every good thing. Therefore, if we in what is according to our nature, we will be in virtue and if we deviate from what is according to our nature-- that is, from virtue-- we are reduced to what is contrary to our nature and come to be in vice." Origen of Alexandria (d. 235) regards man as having taken on the  majesty and splendor  of the "image" in creation but he only receives the perfection of the "likeness" through struggle and and perseverance. Man was given the possibility of perfection at the beginning and he must attain it by performing works of virtue and righteousness.

If God created man good, then were does evil come from? The Damascene responds in the following way: "Evil is the loss of the good and the deviation from what is required by nature toward what is contrary to nature. That which is required by nature is not evil because everything that God does is very good. Anyone who departs of his own will from that which is required by nature and enters into that which is contrary to nature, arrives at evil ... Evil is not a substance and not one of the attributes of substance. It is merely an accident. That is, a transformation from what is required by nature to what is contrary to nature."

So why does God not prevent evil by eliminating evil people or by not allowing them to be born in the first place? The Damascene responds, "If God prevented those who, because of His goodness, will exist from coming into existence because they will become evil of their own will, then evil would be victorious over God's goodness." God desires that man remain good, just as He created him, and that he defeat evil by not being led off of his own free will to break from the highest Good, that is from God.

Between man being good without free will or being good by distinguishing by his own free will, which might lead him to do evil, God chose to create man free. Without despairing, God continues to wait for man to use his freedom to do good. He knows all things before they happen. Had He wanted to prevent evil people from existing on the face of the earth, then he would have prevented every one of us from coming into existence, from Adam to those who are walking the earth today.

And consequently, He would not have created man in the first place.

The Damascene likens man in his relationship with God to one "who receives a wealth and authority from his king and then declares his own authority to be independent of his benefactor. When his master seizes him, he will give him the punishment he deserves if he persists in his transgression and rebellion until the end."

God still wills good for man and that he repent, so that evil may be  eliminated in every place and time.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Arab Orthodox Hold Another Round of Protests in Jordan

As part of a series of demonstrations directed at the Orthodox Church in Palestine and Jordan, the Arab Orthodox youth held a sit-in in front of the bishopric in Amman's Sweifieh neighborhood. In attendance were groups of men, women and youth from the Arab Orthodox flock who protested what they termed the "foreign colonialism" that has been suffocating the Orthodox Church for centuries. This colonialism, currently represented by Patriarch Theophilos and his synod, has been bleeding the Orthodox Church and her flock dry and draining her of her talents and capabilities. It continues to bleed her of what remains of her flock in Palestine and Jordan and is causing her to lose her spiritual and national identity through anti-ecclesial and uncanonical policies. The demonstration began with a prayer read by the priests present for the souls of those killed in Gaza and Occupied Palestine and for the elimination of injustice and spread of peace throughout the world.

Particularly noteworthy at this demonstration and without precedent in Jordanian society is the participation of several Orthodox clergymen in solidarity with the sons and daughers of Orthodoxy. One of the most prominent of these clergymen was Archimandrite Athanasius Kakish, who sent a letter a few weeks ago to His Majesty King Abdallah II concerning the Orthodox situation.

The protesters reiterated their deep dissatisfaction with Metropolitan Venediktos, whom they consider to be a superficial bishop without a position of his own, only representing the policies of the current patriarch Theophilos. They denounced any infringement upon any patriotic Arab clergyman and declared that any decision against them will be considered completely unacceptable. In addition to this, the Arab Orthodox youth exposed all the malicious policies against Metropolitan Atallah Hanna, Archimdandrite Christophoros Atallah and Archimandrite Meletios Bassal, including the arbitrary transfers, discontinuation of salaries and exile practiced by Theophilos and his synod while at the very same time the Patriarchate provides cover for Father Gabriel Naddaf, who encourages Arab Christians to enlist in the army of the Israeli occupation and describes legitimate Palestinian resistance as "terrorism".

Voices were raised declaring that Theophilos' policies have caused him to lose his legitimacy and canonicity as patriarch and have delegitimized his synod. They reiterated that the Monastery of the Virgin in Dibbeen and Archimandrite Christophoros are a red line and that there is no authority that can infringe upon the monastery or remove Father Christopher from his monastery. The speeches that were made affirmed the Christians' Arab identity, that they are fundamental and authentic part of this nation, and that the current policies of the Orthodox spiritual leadership are contributing to emptying the Arab Middle East of its Christians. Demands were made for His Majesty King Abdallah II to intervene personally in this issue, which is being deliberately distorted. Finally, exclamations were made for the Church and her unity and for the long life of His Majesty the king.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Fr Touma Bitar on the Situation in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Arabic original here.

"They cannot ask us to be their followers merely because they have inherited apostolic succession. We must follow the good and distance ourselves from evil successors of the apostles." - St Irenaeus of Lyon

The See of Jerusalem
Submissiveness that Kills

"Do you love me, Peter? Feed my lambs..." The Lord said this to Peter three times. The idea is that Peter is disavowing his denial of the Lord three times though his love for Him. That is, through feeding His sheep. He wept bitterly, with regret and repentance, and God accepts those who repent. But not feeding His lambs is a denial of Him and ungratefulness towards Him that fall under woe. Woe to anyone who causes one of these little ones to stumble! Woe to those who feed themselves but do not feed the sheep!

The lambs of the See of Jerusalem do not have anyone who feeds them! Why? Because they are Arab! Any revival there to rise beyond the level of spiritual impoverishment and ignorance is forbidden!

They are only allowed to move between misery and ignorance, between forced spiritual illiteracy and rituals. This is more reassuring! They have no share in anything more than a few crumbs! Forever treated with suspicion! Neglected and marginalized! Accused of revolting against the See of Jerusalem! Between the hammer of military occupation and the anvil of ecclesiastical occupation, a process is underway to marginalize them, to incapacitate them, to stifle their impetus, to enslave them in their own church, to exclude them from every meaningful decision, whether in their own land or elsewhere!

One of the faithful from Amman came to do a retreat with us. He relayed to us news of the latest chapter in the tragedy of his oppressed church and Christ's rejected flock there. Some of the Arab clergy, out of zeal for the House of god, are working for revival among the Arab Orthodox! This is something natural! In northern Jordan, some renewal has appeared, and people are rejoicing at the return of life of the Church! There is a monastery in Dibbeen named after the Life-Giving Spring. It is about 12 kilometers to the north of Amman. It is as though it was born via caesarian section-- prehaps because it is for women. The people are thirsting for the spring of the Spirit, starving for the word of life. But as soon as there appeared someone to give the Arab Orthodox streams of the water of eternal life and to break for them the bread of heaven, the instrument of the intruders who hold power over the See of Jerusalem acted in order to put a stop to the risk of revival  that was appearing on the horizon, to cast out those who were bringing it about, and to extinguish the flame of the Spirit there! Those responsible for what is regarded as weaving a "suspicious conspiracy" for revival are being driven out and are being replaced with those who will effectively ensure that the Church will be as dessicated as possible among the Arab Orthodox and that nothing will reach the point of revival.

Demonstrations have been held protesting the behavior of those in charge of the See of Jerusalem in front of various church and civil establishments. But is appears that no one wants to listen!

What fault is it for the Orthodox there that they are Arabs? Is it not the case that in Christ there is neither Arab nor Greek, but rather Christ is all in all? It is natural that there are Arabs, Greeks and Slavs in the Church. A person cannot step out of his own skin. We praise God, each in his own language, land and culture, just those upon whom the Holy Spirit descended did in the Book of Acts. However, for the Church to become a vehicle and a support for nationalism and racism, this is unbelief! This is regressing back to the paganism of the ancient gentiles! Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's! If Christ is not the one who brings us together, then nothing brings us together! If we are not prepared to drive every thought toward obeying Christ, then we have no part in Him! At that point, we set up idols next to Him in our faith! At that point, we have come to resemble the words of the One who said, "These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me." At that point, we kill Christ in ourselves and in others, while claiming that we are offering worship to God!

Unfortunately, those who watch over the See of Jerusalem watch more over dust and stones-- and themselves-- while the people are something closer to slaves to them! They hide behind canons while violating their spirit! They trade in power and money! In what way are they any different from the high priests of Israel who conspired against the Lord and gave Him over to the gentiles to be killed?! Are the lambs of Jerusalem not being given over to be slaughtered with negligence? They aggrandize themselves with their robes, their crosiers their titles and their grandiloquent speeches, while the flock is forced to lap at their feet! They traffick in Christ and His sheep, without any feeling for faith or belief! Perhaps some of them submit to the status quo there, feeling pain for the situation of Arab Orthodox, but they do not lift a finger! The issue is not in their hands. This is what the patriarch and his crowd wants! Do not these words of the Lord apply to them, "My house is called a house of prayer and you have made it into a den of thieves"?!

No, we are not supporting the Arab Orthodox in Jerusalem because they are Arab. Nor are we supporting them because we want to Arabize authority and the Holy Places there! The Lord did not die for the sake of soil and stone but for flesh and blood! They are first and foremost our brothers in faith! "You are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells within you"! Our protest is not over authority that has been robbed from us or over Arab culture that is insulted. It is not over political confiscation, even if we reject injustice! Our protest is churchly: it is over the disregard, indeed the abandonment of care for Christ sheep, the abandonment of preaching the Gospel of Salvation! "Feed my lambs," no matter what the flock's cultural identity might be!

The insensitivity and indifference in the Orthodox world toward what is going on in the See of Jerusalem staggering. No one is taking action to motivate those who are indifferent. It is as though this were something that does not concern us! The simplest of our Holy Fathers' teachings is that right belief, wherever it may be, concerns us and concerns us directly! A bishop, for example, is a bishop of of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in every place, not only in that part that he is bishop over! Naturally, no one should intervene in the manner in which a bishop conducts the affairs of his diocese, so long as those affairs are governed according to right belief and the canons of the Church. However, as soon as a bishop strays from the Orthodox faith and the canons of the Church,  every Orthodox bishop in every place should not only be concerned with the infraction in order to correct it, but it is demanded to do this-- and here I stress the word "demanded."

Treating issues in terms of what is regarded as "church politics", as though they are separate from virtue and excellence, is unbelief and treachery! The sees considered to be "Greek" turn a blind eye to the spiritual massacre that is occurring in the See of Jerusalem in order to close ranks amongst themselves, as though they were a worldly political party! They themselves individually know that what is going on in the See of Jerusalem is unacceptable and they will say this in their closed meetings, but they will not admit it openly! In practice, they prefer the bond of their racism to the bond of Christ's Church! What kind of behavior is this? Is it not hypocrisy? Are we entrusted with our nationalism and our racism or are we entrusted with Christ's Church?! The state of insensitivity to this issue is horrible and terrifying! And this is not limited to the Greek sphere. Unfortunately, it goes beyond that to every sphere: Slavic, Antiochian and others! How many of Christ's churches in every place are oppressed on account of the nationalism, racism, politics, tribalism, of groups and leaders within the Church! They are not so much concerned with pastoring the Church as they are with who extends his authority, in the name of Orthodoxy (!), over what and over whom and who makes material and symbolic gains by wielding authority over the Church in this place or that!

The worst examples of exploiting the Church, the pastoral care of the faithful and the preaching of the Gospel in this context is the situation in the diaspora-- and not only the dioceses in North America! We have discarded all ecclesiology so that the so-called "Mother Churches" can keep their hands on the Church there! We use sin as an excuse and we don't even care! They say that they are waiting for the future Orthodox ecumenical council? This will not be able to bring about a solution because it is in an atmosphere of asking who will take control over what, at the expense of the believers. Everyone, unfortunately, treats the diaspora like their milk-cow! Our last concern is the Church! Our concern is with what belongs to us!

For this reason, no good can be hoped to come from any solution, in the foreseeable future, that comes from outside those who are suffering! Our visitor asked me, "What is it possible for us, the Arab Orthodox flock in the See of Jerusalem, to do?" I told him: If you are waiting for a solution to come to you from the outside, then you are mistaken, because nothing is going to come! Those among you who are zealous for Christ in love, righteousness and humility should take their fate and the fate of their church into their own hands! Demand, as you have demanded! Warn, as you have warned! Then, finally, if those in charge of the See of Jerusalem do not pay attention to your demands after one, two, three times, then let them be for you like the pagan and the publican! They are the ones who are fallen and you are the ones who are demanding justice, if you know that you are keeping yourselves loyal to the Lord God! If they insist on their blindness, let them hang in the pit of their sins, but as for yourselves, make the light of Christ your point of reference and walk towards Him! If they hold on to their endowments, leave them and leave the endowments to them! Your Christ is enough endowment for you, His Spirit enough inheritance and His love enough soil!

The same should be said for all the churches that or oppressed or in the diaspora. Those who take up Christ are in the right, while unfortunately no one in this evil time gives them what belongs to Christ in them or is zealous for them in the Spirit. The Church, whether in Antioch, Russia, the Balkans or any other place has never received what is hers except forcibly. They have never been recognized or accepted as sister churches except after a separation. This is the sickness of authority!

The churches of Jerusalem, Alexandria and the diaspora in general-- not to speak of others--  must know and behave according to what it helpful in Christ!  Anyone who supports you also does good for himself. Resist anyone who resists you and tries to bind you to flimsy pillars belonging to this world, and pay him no heed. In truth, however, he might return to his senses because God is with you and the Spirit of the Lord is supporting you! We were not born in Christ in order to be servile, nor for any worldly gain! You know the truth, and the truth will set you free! "I am your inheritance," says the Lord.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite
Douma, Lebanon
July 13, 2014

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Met Georges Khodr: The God of the Heart

Arabic original here.

The God of the Heart

Lord, save me from myself. What is inside me is more dangerous for me than something seeking to seize me. It remains hiding like serpents and I do not know or I do not want to know, out of fear that virtue is needed within me and I do not want to give it everything that it requires, because I have not accepted to sell everything that I must sell within myself in order to become poor before God.

Man's first story is with himself. Nothing enters into him from the outside unless the soul accepts that which will not survive except at death, but before that it takes pleasure in itself. All of our pride pushes us to be content with ourselves, starting with going back to the warmth that the self gives us and which we consider to be the self. But man's first fear is of himself, of his own attacks upon himself. He desires life and death at the same time.

One who has known his Savior or has seen himself walking along the path of salvation will not die, but he does fear falling. I think that Christianity introduced the concept of fear of falling because it remains the heir to the first Adam in knowing the second Adam, which is Christ. This is that for us the believer confronts sin in a manner that does not exist in other traditions. Perhaps this is because of our basic definition of Jesus as the Savior-- that is, the Savior from sin. A long time ago, one of my friends accused me of going overboard with talking about sin. I told him that I know it, and it torments me. He said to me, "You have not committed this or that sin." I said to him, "But I am capable of doing it, because I know very well the beauty of Christ and I have every capacity for denying it. You do not fear a great deal unless it is because you know very much and fear losing a measure of love." 

Our conscience has no other task than to let us know how not to lose a single iota of love, because if you accept to lose any of it, you have made peace with sin and assaulted righteousness. The entire meaning of our existence is our wanting to remain in the love with which God has loved us. After that, all the beautiful things of God come down upon us. One who is spiritually careful is someone who knows how to lock the gates of his mind when an evil spirit has comes to it,  without submitting to evil.

The great fallacy that tempts us is our imagining that we can do without one virtue and be adorned with many other virtues and be okay. No, my friend, you will not be okay. Every sin of any sort sullies you completely deep down, without your knowing it. In the end, each of us should understand that sins are overlapping and intertwined. If you cultivate a single sin and ally yourself with it, you destroy all your good deeds because of the organic interconnection between evil deeds in the soul. You cannot be an ally of God in many virtue while also an ally of the Devil in one thing. The Devil lays waste to God's plan in souls that ally with evil. Thus our earliest fathers in the spiritual life insisted on the fight against what they called the 'passions', the sources within the soul from which sins originate.

The difficulty of the weak or hesitant believer is his not realizing that if he accepts sin into one corner of his soul, it will be brought into other corners too. What is the problem of someone who does not repent before God? It is his thinking that the Lord will arrange a place for him before he perfects all the virtues. Who is unrepentant? It is not necessarily someone who has given himself over entirely to disobedience. It is also someone who keeps a place for disobedience in one of the corners of his soul. He sincerely wants to walk along God's path, but he takes special pleasure in this or that evil deed. In reality, he fears that the heroism of righteousness will kill him. He knows much about God, but he does not want all of it because it has a cost. When the Lord said to the rich young man, "Sell everything you own and come,  follow Me," He wanted to make him understand that he cannot hold on to anything in the world or in himself because everything that is a barrier to Christ is enmity to Christ.

Why did God say to man, "Give Me your heart," meaning "Give Me all of yourself"? It is because the Lord knows that He cannot share the human heart with anything.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh: Paganism is Better and More Honorable

Arabic original here.

Paganism is Better and More Honorable

When I was a student in seminary, my attention was drawn by the words of one of my professors about pagan religions being more tolerant with regard to other religions than the monotheistic, Abrahamic religions. In those times, in each city there was a "pantheon" that included images of all or most of the gods. This was the case in Rome, Athens, Alexandria... and also Mecca.

When the monotheistic religions came, they put an end to the other religions and to freedom of belief and worship. These religions practiced the principles of takfirism, with the power of the state and of law, against all those who disagreed with the religion of the Christian emperor or the Islamic caliph. Pagan temples were destroyed or changed into churches. And in the final stage, the churches were changed into mosques...

The monotheistic religions cannot bear difference of opinion. They rush to declare those who do not believe in their dogmas to be infidels or heretics. So that zeal does not consume the hearts of those who might respond to our words by citing revealed verses, we will state that what we have said has been the reality of religious practice over two thousand years, not what the foundational texts or the prophets say... Unfortunately, in our region we still see argument upon argument for not accepting those who are religiously different or for marginalizing them in public life.

If we make a comparison between our countries, where religion and sectarianism prevails above all else, and the countries of the West where there is a separation between religious and secular authorities, we immediately discover that we are still fighting and slaughtering each other in the name of the one God while Western societies live in peace, security and stability.

For two hundred years we have been hearing hypocrisy like that the West is more scientifically advanced than us, but we are more advanced morally than them. Where is this morality that we possess? Massacres, slaughter, forced migration, people's homes destroyed over their heads, indiscriminate shelling, suicide bombings, kidnapping, sectarian and religious discrimination, takfirism, not accepting the other? Where is this morality when a person becomes a commodity that's not even worth a penny in the bazaar of religions and when he becomes just a number in the tally of those killed?  

It is said that the West has returned to paganism and that the secular system is an infidel system because it separates religion and state. We, however, say that the West's "paganism" is better than our barbarism and backwardness. The West does not outlaw religious affiliation. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists and agnostics practice what they believe with complete freedom and conviction with total equality of rights and responsibilities. They build churches, mosques and temples when and where they want and they live in peace and mutual respect. They do not kill each other on account of religious, racial or sexual affiliation... Where are morals, when the "infidel" secular West chooses its presidents and representatives through democracy, without spilling anyone's blood, while there is no change of government in our countries without large amounts of bloodshed?

At a time when we are returning to the Middle Ages the whole world is following World Cup matches. As people's heads are rolling in our countries at the feet of thugs and murderers, balls are rolling at the feet of footballers. While in our countries countries and organizations are competing with each other in God's name for who can record the greatest number of people killed, the "gods" of football are trying to score the most in their opponents' goal.

Yes, paganism has a sophisticated civilization that accepts diversity and plurality in public affairs and preserves the blood of its children. One thousand times no to those who speak in God's name who have removed God from His throne and sit in His place and permit themselves to spill blood and wreak destruction.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Fr Touma (Bitar): The Mystery of the Heart is Greater!

My translation doesn't do this justice. Arabic original here.

The Mystery of the Heart is Greater!

"Whether people like it or not, there will come a time when all people believe because they will arrive at an impasse and Christ will intervene."

These are unusual words spoken by an unusual person who lived in God's Spirit in an unusual way. By this I mean, the elder Paisios the Athonite.

Every sin, whatever it may be, an error in thought or a stumbling along the path, bears in its folds its own hell. What a person sows, he reaps. Thus the sin that separates from God itself disciplines... from this very moment! How does it discipline? Through anxiety, through pain, through fear, through confusion, through emptiness, through the haunting feeling of needing to escape...! The life of one who has surrendered himself to sin is constant escape! Everything that he deals with, he deals with so as to escape. Even if it is not this way on the outside, it is still necessarily so! Philosophy, knowledge, art, sports, money, and also sex, food, drink, clothing and possessions... But the chief land of escape is the body and the imagination! With the body, one seeks to forget, using it up for enjoyment. This is because there is no narcotic like pleasure and no escape like narcotics. As for the imagination, it immerses you in a world that you make out of your desire, as you desire it, escaping to something resembling outer space without the reality of flesh and blood. The  body is the sinner's consolation and the imagination is his wishful, delusional horizon. If not for the  body and the imagination, the sinner would end in sorrow and despair. Escape is a visceral need for the sinner!

There is no solution for the sinner's problems as long as he abides in his sins. The world, on the one hand, is the theater for sin's struggle among people and on the other hand it is is the agglomeration of the legacy of sin shaped by imagination and sprinkled with truth as though like salt. This causes sin to pile up and multiply causing anxiety to sharpen, pain to increase, fear to reach panic and confusion total chaos! When it looks as if humanity has been used up by sin and gone over to decomposition and decay, we encounter it, in light of the quote from the elder Paisios the Athonite, recoils from sin. First, this is because it has brought humanity to the point of bankruptcy and it is no longer within a person's capability to recover himself from the point of perdition that he has reached. Second, it is because Christ the Lord does not abandon His creation without recourse, but rather He recovers it, since once man has reached the point of boredom, meaninglessness and despair over himself, it is possible to recover the peace of his soul!

This becomes clear when the Lord God allows sin to intensify in someone who is stubbornly unrepentant. Sin is a sort of curse, but in terms of the repercussions it causes in a person's soul, it is subject to a path of self-destruction. The reason for this, on the one hand, is the nature of the human heart and, on the other hand, the nature of God's heart. No matter what inflated dimension sin reaches, the heart, when confronted with great pain, is prepared to cast sin out because it is not of its nature. The heart may long remain unable, but it does not completely lose a feeling of authenticity, even if it is very slight. To put it more clearly, there is no such thing as a person who truly desires to sin before God (Saint John Klimakos)! The heart, in distress, cries out in its near-paralysis and the Lord God hears the voice of the heart that is oppressed, helpless and silent in its own sin. "I cried out to the Lord in my distress and the Lord heard me" (Psalm 119:1). Christ the Lord did not come to the righteous because no one is righteous, not one. Rather, He came to sinners! Man does not need anything more than a groaning in the heart toward the Lord, no matter how weak, for the Lord God to take the initiative! For your Lord, suffering is the home for the cross of salvation! The mystery of the heart requires the mystery of suffering! Thus no one who suffers is far from his Lord, who is love and who knew the cross in the body and identifies with the one suffering! If repentance is the acceptance of suffering and of the cross for the sake of the Teacher, then suffering outside of repentance is fertile ground for bringing about repentance, no matter how dessicated one's soul. Thus it is said, "Cause me to repent and I will repent, for you are the Lord my God... I was humiliated and ashamed because I bore the reproach of my youth" (Jeremiah 31:18-19)!

However, I am given pause by the saying of the Lord, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" At first glance, it seems that the saying means that the door of salvation is shut, or almost so. If we read it in light of Father Paisios' assertion, then perhaps the saying means that a time will come when delusion spreads to the point that it is impossible, except for a very tiny few, to preserve themselves. But this points to the near-total inability of humanity to respond to God's call to faith in Jesus, not to God's inability! Is it not true that everything is possible for God? Even before that, is it not true that God desires that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth? Naturally, the question is right: If man does not come to salvation through faith, then by what does he, if he does? The answer, in light of what we have explained above, is the suffering that results from sin! Sin is not of man's nature, no matter how much it spreads within him! It comes from a perversion, that, in the course of life, changes into delusion, as though from nature or from a sort of second nature. The Shepherd came to bring back the lost sheep! Thus it is sin's fate to reach an impass in emptiness and suffering. It seems that this prepares man for salvation, if repentance has not prepared him! The heart's groaning reaches the ears of the Most High and He takes the initiative to lift  His creature out of the depths of the abyss! "Save me from my hidden stumbling!" On that day, God's love will be completely manifest in man who is paralyzed in his spirit. Arise, carry yourself and your body and go home! This home that is the Lord Himself because in love the beloved only dwells in his Lover, and in Him alone he has rest forever!

A person's choice, in light of the above, is not between faith and the absence of faith or between repentance and the absence of repentance. In reality, his choice is between on the one hand voluntarily suffering pain in the world of sin, with faith and repentance, yearning for the Lord and being filled with the God who is love and on the other hand being immersed in sin, with pain and emptiness intensifying, then crying out to the Lord in his heart. The heart, no matter how much it strays, desires the Lord, even if only weakly. Otherwise it perishes. So the Lord takes the initiative towards him and treats him, filling him with love from Himself! In the worst sinners, God's greatest love is made manifest because it is limitless! Is it not the case that the angels rejoice more over a single sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who have no need of repentance? Repentance is your knowing in the depth of your being that sin does not do any good. There are some people for whom repentance is easier than for others. Then there are some people whose  sins are trickier, harder and more complicated. Even those who have gone to distant lands, far from their Lord, are pursued by their Lord's mercy, even to hell. It does not leave them and does not rest until suffering empties sin in every soul, until the heart repents to its Lord, no matter what it has become, reaching upward like a smoking fuse.

I once asked a man, once when I was on a visit to the Soviet Union, "Do you believe in the Son of God?" How did he respond? He said, "I have a heart." This is equal to speaking the faith, and even more! Every person has a heart, no matter how much he himself, his history, his time, and his world has rebelled against it! Here lies the mystery of existence! Here is made manifest the mystery of salvation!

I convey these words as an opinion, but on the evidence of the spirit manifest in Father Paisios! The truth, even without the quote we started with at the opening of our talk, is that the feeling of the friend of God, no matter how small this friend's stature, is that God is greater in love and as Love, than to allow sin, no matter how great, to snatch away one of the Heavenly Father's beloved (cf. John 10:29)-- and all are His beloved! What was not said does not mean that it is not there. It is implied. I was struck on more than one occasion by a pair of stories. The first is about Saint Gregory the Great, in the West, how he fasted and prayed for one of the ancient emperors of Rome until God granted him the emperor's salvation. The second is about Saint Paisios the Great to whom, on account of his love, humility and prayer, God granted the salvation of a pupil who had perished in his sin and whose master had come to Paisios the Great seeking help. The logic of God's love does away with every other logic if we know and insist on seeking help in God, with God, through God's love! Blessed and exalted is His Name! He is merciful and quick to help in every situation! In ways that You alone know, Lord, have mercy on me and save me, Your unworthy servant, and have mercy on your world and save it!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite
Douma, Lebanon
July 6, 2014

Monday, July 7, 2014

al-Akhbar on John X's Achievements

Arabic original here. The writer's political biases should be obvious enough that some of his commentary can be taken with the appropriate dosage of salt.

Yazigi: A Patriarch Aspiring to be in the Measure of Antioch

When it comes to words, it seems that Orthodox Patriarch John Yazigi is absent compared to others. But when it comes to actions, it seems that Yazigi is the only one present. Last week summed up, in four sessions, discussions that had been suppressed for forty years. Their recommendations will allow him to take his Church-- and its people-- from the present situation to something much better.

by Ghassan Saoud

About a year after the election of Metropolitan Besharra Rai as patriarch of the Maronite Church, Metropolitan John Yazigi was elected patriarch of the Orthodox Church. Since the beginning, it has appeared that the nearly-existential challenges awaiting the first graduate of Balamand to become patriarch were much greater than those awaiting the Maronite patriarch. Organizational disarray is much greater in the Orthodox Church than in its Maronite counterpart. The specter of takfirism hovers over the second largest Middle Eastern church after the Coptic Church, eating away at its body that is spread over the entirely of Syria's territory.

In addition, first of all, is the sensitivity of its positions regarding the Syrian crisis, as it is the largest Syrian church. Second, the multiplicity of poles in the synod of bishops, and the devotion of some bishops during the time of Patriarch Hazim to something resembling administrative decentralization. Third, the division among its flock and the complaint of some of them of their not being properly represented politically. Fourth, the number of lay movements in it, which do not only differ with regard to politics politics but also  with regard to the role of these movements within the Church and their relationship with the clergy.

Perhaps the only positive aspect of Yazigi's position when compared to that of Rai is that Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea are Maronite. Soon, the Metropolitan of Aleppo, the patriarch's brother Paul Yazigi was kidnapped (along with the Syriac metropolitan of Aleppo Youhanna Ibrahim), increasing the pressure and making clearer the severity of the threat to the Church  whose bishops are being kidnapped. Its flock fled from Homs and elsewhere and one of its bishops wears a Syrian army jacket.

Like Rai, Yazigi comes from a monastic background. And monks, as we all know, are more inclined toward asceticism and austerity than other clergymen. However, in contrast to Rai, Yazigi has maintained monastic traditions with regard to media appearances, relations with businessmen and immersion in political problems. Since his election as patriarch a year and a half ago, he has preferred to be active out of view.

Organizationally, he has started to form a media office and several patriarchal departments to follow economic, social, educational as well as ecclesial issues. None of this had existed previously. He convinced the metropolitan of Baghdad to retire on account of his advanced age of 96. He divided the Archdiocese of Europe into three dioceses (Paris, Germany and Britain). He visited the countries that most needed to be visited according to a brief study that had been prepared for him. He spent around fifteen days between Bahrein, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, avoiding Doha, not because it had disappointing him in the negotiations to have the bishops released, but because of a crisis between the Antiochian and Greek Orthodox Churches on account of the Greek Church establishing an archdiocese in Doha (with the support of the American ambassador to Qatar, a Greek Orthodox), despite Qatar being geographically dependent on the Antiochian Church.

Given that Yazigi was metropolitan for the Orthodox of Paris when he was elected patriarch, he is a close observer, like Rai, of the modern organizational experience of the European church. In terms of healthcare, he placed the new cornerstone for the Balamand hospital, ignoring its having previously been named for Prime Minister Saad Hariri. In terms of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, he has organized, particularly with the metropolitan of Homs, the most expansive program for returning refugees to their homes immediately following the Syrian Army's announcement that their neighborhoods were safe zones. In recent months, much of what was destroyed has been rebuilt. Here the Syrian church has benefited, according to one bishop, from the experience of Mount Lebanon and has returned refugees to their homes as quickly as possible. Orthodox broadcasting is one of Yazigi's plans, in addition to recently redoubling his efforts to get a important daily portion of Telelumière. However, more important than all of the above is the Antiochian Conference that was held this past week.

Several weeks ago, Yazigi set up a committee for this conference, being careful to inform its members of the necessity of inviting various people concerned with internal Orthodox discussions, no matter the nature of their relationships with bishops or clergy. He also informed the bishops of the necessity of attending in the company of a delegation not made up only of clergy from their dioceses and including women as well as men. It is worth remembering that the participation of laity in managing the affairs of the Orthodox Church was a burning issue some decades ago, which Patriarch Hazim placed in the locked drawer of the Orthodox Youth Movement. The new patriarch's direction has been rapidly becoming clearer and clearer in the conference's program. The first session was designated for making more effective consultation and synergy between the dioceses and the second was for developing endowments and financial solidarity.

At the appointed time, large European and American delegations arrived. Lattakia-- the patriarch's home town-- was present with a large delegation. Akkar, Homs and Damascus, whose delegation numbered over thirty social, economic and cultural figures, did similarly, while the metropolitan of Beirut sent only five people, led by the former minister Mona Ofeich, the secretary of the Democratic Renewal Movement Antoine Haddad, the metropolitan's secretary, and the wife of a priest. It seems noteworthy that Metropolitan Elias Audi was absent from this great gathering to discuss the state of the Orthodox community, having been struck with illness on Saturday, while the following day he appeared to have been cured and brought back to perfect health. A close associate of Audi's excused himself from giving the main address at the session designated for examining financial solidarity and the development of endowments.

Yazigi was careful that both the former Syrian minister and former ambassador to the Soviet Union Hassah Richeh and the former Lebanese minister Tarek Mitri both gave talks in the session designated for discussing the presence of the Orthodox community in society. Mitri arrived with an entourage of six diplomatic cars. He immediately began playing the Orthodox Youth Movement's favorite tune by calling for the Church to distance itself from conflicts, suggesting to the audience that all that is happening around them is not of their concern, with a philosophy that appeared closer to the Jehovah's Witnesses' belief in the necessity of being indifferent to the concerns of this world. It was only left for Mitri to say that everything that is happening in the region is of no concern to the Orthodox since it is a Sunni-Shii struggle and they have no dog in the fight, and their bishops, churches and people living in the conflict zone will never pay the price. Throughout the discussions he was vigilant to remind participants that their partners in their nations listen to them and should not be provoked, even if it means they cannot say what they are thinking, review facts or express their concerns.

However Mitri, or the philosophical school to which he subscribes, that teaches that one should accept everything that comes without demanding one's rights or defend one's honor, whether in terms of security, seats in parliament or ministerial posts, etc, was not alone this time. This time there were people in the hall discussing and arguing, benefiting from Yazigi's exceptional ability to listen without being effected by his personal passions or feelings that one person is more important than another, even as he maintains the greater part of his predecessor's team, led by Mitri. In the working groups, the discussions branched out and the Syrians expressed all their concerns, completely rejecting the logic of standing back as observers. Other Lebanese participants, such as Raja Badran, went along with them and rejected the logic of political dhimmitude  in Lebanon. In the final recommendations issued by the committees and put together by Former Minister Mona Ofeich, three recommendations were at the top of the hundred items: first, the establishment of what is known among the Orthodox as Millet Councils, which are councils elected in each diocese from among ordinary people whose task is to help the metropolitan in managing the affairs of the Church. Second, the establishment of a central committee to manage dioceses' assets throughout Antioch, which was formally opposed by the Archdiocese of Beirut. It requires that the diocese reveal all of its assets and accounting books and forbids the sale of its lands no matter what the reason. Here it became clear that there is a Syrian law that prevents the Church from selling its endowments. This leads to the preservation of wide green spaces and prevents Christians from selling their lands and then remaining on them. Third, the establishment of a common fund, by which wealthy dioceses can support poor dioceses. In addition to this, there were dozens of items about rebuilding relationships between the dioceses, which are generally divided by no more than a river. There is no mechanism today that allows for holding the Orthodox Patriarchate to account for implementing or not implementing these recommendations apart from Yazigi's insistence on holding the Antiochian Conference with the participation of so many laypeople, his advice to them at the beginning of the conference to not reject each other on account of their opinions, and his clear desire to bring together all Orthdox, as he constantly reiterates. The issuance of recommendations resembling what was written suggests the existence of a new spirit in the Orthodox Patriarchate. If you examine the work of the conference, look at the picture of the patriarchs of the various Antiochian churches at the opening of the Orthodox Synod, and read the statement from those patriarchs, you will realize that there is finally a patriarch who is trying to be in the measure of all Antioch, on the level of the aspirations of all its Christians.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on the ISIS Caliphate

Arabic original here.

What a Difference between "Abu Bakr" and "Abu Bakr"!

With the conquest by armed militias that use religion as a cover to hide behind of vast areas of the Levant, people are haunted with worry for themselves and their future. These militias group together under their banner things that sound logic itself could not hold together, with sectarianism alone as the common denominator. It is a blend of intellectual, social and ideological contradictions motivated by sectarian prejudice in order to put a stop to another sectarian project.

This prejudice reaches its peak with the oath of allegiance by ISIS to its leader as caliph over the Muslims and their territories. However, the majority of Muslims categorically reject this. This declaration also violates the Islamic legal principle that says that the oath of allegiance must come from those in power and the leaders of the Muslims and this is what the self-appointed "caliph" is lacking.

No doubt, bringing back the "Islamic Caliphate" is a dream that seduces many activist Muslims who belong to various currents of contemporary Islam. There is no difference here between the extremists and the moderates except about the necessary means for realizing this dream, violent for the former and non-violent for the latter.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not the only group that believes in the necessity of bringing back the caliphate and of striving seriously to realize it at any time when the conditions for this desired return are met. There are other groups and parties that do not conceal this but rather openly struggle for it with all their might. Among the major authorities in Islam, there is not a single jurist who asserts that the caliphate has passed a way, never to return, in favor of the civil state. We all know the fate of Ali Abd al-Raziq when, in his book Islam and the Foundations of Governance, he dared to say that the caliphate is not necessary and was condemned and expelled from al-Azhar.

History shows us that the great empires embraced and protected ethnic and religious minorities. The Islamic caliphate respected this and legitimized the existence of non-Muslims, especially the Peoples of the Book, Jews, Christians and Sabians, within the framework of the system of dhimmitude. We do an injustice to the caliphate if we neglect to take into consideration the historical context when we regard dhimmitude as unjust. Naturally, with changing situations and the advancement of our modern age, we completely reject this system and we strive for full citizenship with absolute equality between Muslims and non-Muslims.

In reality, the Islamic caliphate preserved religious diversity, especially when it was at the apex of its power and expansion. However, the suffering of non-Muslims was aggravated with the decline of the caliphate in the Second Abbasid Period and it reached its height under Mamluk and Ottoman rule.

Who would have thought that Iraq, which during the height of the Abbasid caliphate witnessed unparallelled Christian flourishing, and Syria, which was much the same under the Umayyads, will see the existence of Christians and other minorities in imminent danger on account of the Caliphate of ISIS?

The  struggle against dictatorial regimes cannot take place through an effort to erect a regime that is no less backward, even if it takes a name that is honored by the Muslim masses. The ISIS Caliphate is a perverse caliphate that has no connection to the Islam to which we are accustomed in this country. And so, what a difference there is between Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the first of the ISIS caliphs, and Abu Bakr al-Sadiq, the first of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

an-Nahar: Antiochan Conference Makes 80 Reccomendations to the Holy Synod

Arabic original here.

The Work of the Antiochian Conference Ends with 80 Recommendations

by Pierre Atallah

The work of Antiochian Unity Conference called by Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X closed with an abundance of reccomandations. According to participants at the retreats on Balamand Hill, they number more than 80 and constitute a remarkable achievement in terms of seeking the opinions of Antiochian Orthodox laypeople spread from Orthodox areas of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq to many dioceses in Europe and the Americas.

This "abundance" represents an achievement for the Antiochian Orthodox Church that, despite the difficult circumstances facing its flocks in Syria and Iraq, was able to seek the opinion of a wide and diverse group that nevertheless is unified by "love for the Church and work for her sake." In this regard, a great responsibility falls upon the Holy Synod of Antioch that will meet tomorrow to examine and discuss these recommendations, decide about their various aspects and their bold approach that touches on many fundamental issues that are of much concern for Orthodox laypeople and are points of vigorous discussion whenever two Orthodox meet. Despite the fact that the Holy Synod holds the right to veto any of the suggestions sent to them by the Balamand conference, any rejection-- if some of the suggestions are rejected-- will need clear and systematic justifications in response to these basic proposals, since they were discussed at length in working groups during the conference and were in the working papers and proposals that were sent to Patriarch John and his team, leaving no subject unaddressed.

Those who participated in formulating the recommendations at various levels state that the importance of "the work of the Orthodox people at Balamand is that they laid out a forward-looking vision for the revival of the Church and something resembling a road map to how things should be, relying on the overwhelming participation from all dioceses throughout the world." They explain, each individually, that the most prominent thing achieved was the recommendations, especially in the "social presence committee", which took into account the tremendous geopolitical transformations happening in the Middle East which concern the existence of the Antiochian Orthodox at their very core, especially as regards dealing with the prolonged violence to which they are being subjected to the point of eradication and extermination. Also raised was the issue of revisiting parish councils and their role in managing endowments, a very important topic of discussion. Many mechanisms were proposed, the most prominent being the establishment of a central authority to oversee the management of basic social, health and educational foundations. This was the subject of considerable debate, due to the enormity of the issue.

Among the basic recommendations made was the establishment of a patriarchal fund so that that outstanding students from the community can study in its institutions of higher learning as well as similar recommendations in the social sphere, to be decided by the Holy Synod in order to make the Orthodox Church "more loving and more humanitarian", as one of the bishops said, describing the conference as a historically unprecedented polling of the Antiochian Orthodox people. However, the most important thing sources said was that Patriarch John X is very serious about the conference and sees it as a significant step in the Church's path.