Monthly Archives

February 2005

2005, Articles, Raiati

Church and Bad Weather / 20.02.2005

I was alarmed in the blizzard that struck the country as I was having a big meeting and many were absent. I excused the sick and those who couldn’t take the road because of the snow. However, I didn’t excuse those who were afraid of the severe cold. We love God in cold and warmth and we reflect this through a required presence.

After that, and in the midst of the storm, I celebrated the Divine Liturgy in one of the villages which wasn’t in the high mountains and its roads were passable with some soft rain. I excused the elders but I didn’t excuse young people.

I wonder today: Why do people endure the discomforts of the climate to visit a friend or a lover and cannot tolerate any trouble to visit Christ in his word that they hear in their Churches? How do they deprive themselves from receiving his precious body and blood? Isn’t he the beloved one that misses us and we must exchange with him the same yearning? As if the absent person is saying: I postpone my visit to Christ because he invisible, while my lover is visible.

One of the priests of the archdiocese told me that a doctor asked an old woman not to go to Church on Sunday in order not to be exposed to bad climate or stumble while walking, so she replied: I prefer dying on my way to Church or in Church over dying in my bed.

I do not wish for anyone to catch the flu but this life has choices. If the care over our health became a huge obsession or a severe fear, then there is a defect in us. Here I would like to talk to you about the spiritual father that used to guide me in Paris when I was studying theology there in the mid-twentieth century. This priest-monk used to love me and welcome me every afternoon for a cup of tea. I entered once and his forehead was covered with a wipe. I asked him about his health. He said that his temperature was 39 degrees Celsius. I sat in my place and after several minutes, the phone that was in the hallway that leads to the room where I was, rang. He left me and went to take the call and I saw him coming back to me as he took the wipe off his head. So I said: “What happened to throw the wipe?” He replied: “There is a sick student in the tubercular hospital and he asked me to go and give him the Lord’s body”. So I asked him about the distance between the institute of theology (where we were) and the hospital. He replied: “sixty kilometers”. I told him: “so you have to pass 120 kilometers in addition to the distance of the Metro while being in your condition. Isn’t it better to rest tonight perhaps your temperature would decrease and you go next morning to our friend?” He replied: “Our friend might not live until tomorrow, he must have communion tonight”. My spiritual father went and came back feeling indifferent towards his health and he was cured from his sickness.

Some excuses for not going to Church are: “I am tired this week and I don’t have any other time to rest except on Sunday morning; I want to take my family to the mountain; or I want to take them to the beach…etc.”

A person told me that the mother of a young man died, so she was buried on Saturday and this young man didn’t accept condolences on the morning of the next day because he couldn’t breathe without the Divine Liturgy. I imagine that this person carried his mother in his prayer and didn’t drown in his grief. I know that some Africans drive their cars for four hours to reach the nearest Church. Their bodies get tired as all bodies. However, they are aware that this is the bread that descends from heaven and that without it their bodies would be fed with only bread and vegetables.

My soul was sorrow to death when I celebrated the Divine Liturgy that I told you about and I was looking at the void in the Church, i.e. I was looking at nothing and people are afraid of the cold. The absence made me in a more severe and painful coldness from theirs.

When will we understand that our love for God, which we claim, should be reflected?

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “الكنيسة والطقس الرديء” –Raiati 08- 20.02.2005

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2005, An-Nahar, Articles

The Lust for Power / 12/02/2005

Power is a responsibility predicated on love. He who is more capable of love and understanding is more capable of holding authority, which is but the station for service. And insofar as Christ made himself a washer of feet, he wanted, by this act, to go down the path all the way until death, thereby becoming a servant of mankind as a whole. Indeed, the Lord did recognize his subjection to Pilate’s authority when he said that it was granted to him from above. Virtuous, just authority is the lover of the icon of God before us. I shall not take up the topic of resistance to haughty, abusive authority which has been dealt with in Western thought (Thomas Aquinas) and the legal scholars of the schools of Islamic thought. Yet the principle put forth by the Apostle Paul is that the ruler attains the reigns of power for the sake of good because he does not show favoritism towards the men of rank. If he resorts to good deeds, he will be a ruler in the name of God.

Nonetheless, the allure of status, any position of note, exposes its holder to temptation, so that power (as-sulta) turns into domination (tasallut), leading from a serving of people to a nourishing of personal interest by him who (ab)uses people with authority. By personal benefit I do not mean to refer to pecuniary exploitation in pursuit of money only; rather, I mean to refer to the act of domineering due to the ruler’s worship of himself and his desire to turn people into servants of him.

The just ruler, if God is to consider him his ruler or if he obeys the law on account of his respect for its issuer, he will be attached to his country as a moral value (except when this country turns into an aggressor). Thus the just ruler does not ask for anything for himself, nor for his family or sect, that is to say he is completely chaste in this world and content with his salary, not accepting any gift, because all of us are obliged to the gift-giver. The ruler may have his share of friends if he knows that they do not expect any fee for their friendship, or if he is confident to possess the firmness which protects him from his friends. The great ruler, especially the judge, lives in an emotional isolation lest emotion makes him stray from (administrating) justice. If you are in a position of responsibility you do not seek to placate anybody, you only seek to please he who sits firmly on the throne.

I do not deny that the drive to attain a central position could reflect a genuine desire to serve the community, and this is a matter which has its own ethical prerequisites. Yet I see that, very frequently, the race for positions is tantamount with personal interest, even if there may be disciplined parsimoniousness in monetary matters, since what has come to dominate your considerations of power is greed sui generis, which is not necessarily nourished by the greed for money. “All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Perhaps there is some exaggeration in this saying since the humble may be able to sit on the thrones. As a consequence, I warn about the dangers of status and positions; any endeavor to occupy them should proceed in fear and trembling. You are not able to rule except if you are in a state of prayer, or as if in prayer in that your heart is devoted to your divine ruler and his verdict and judgment.

If I speak about governing I do not confine myself to the men of politics, but also of he who has taken upon himself responsibility, great or small, in the church. He who becomes prideful or oppressive in the Church of God does not worship a god but has rather made himself a deity, even if he speaks with words of indigence. And oppression in the Church may indeed be fraught with greater peril than oppression in the state, since its initiator is speaking in the name of God and believes, whether deliberately or out of greed, that he represents the will of God. The same may be said about the owner of a shop or a factory, or the lord of the house who subjugates his children to satisfy the desire for domination within him. These sick men may lord over a country or something else, yet they only love themselves in the strict sense of the word, that is, they do not love anybody except for themselves upon having decided that there is no real existence to the any other. This is one facet of the vice which our fathers in asceticism named the love of self. To be sure, the spiritual vision does demand that you love your self which is rooted in God, and that you love God who is rooted in yourself. Yet if this deviates in you it becomes an egotistic love, that is to say a love for your fallen ego which lusts after the sensible world, or the world of governing for the sake of governing.

The dominator does not express himself by issuing decrees only, but in two other domains as well: money and sex. Money is not an agent of evil in and of itself, but it becomes such if and when you seek to buy and bribe the loyalty of others with it. And sex is the domain in which man seeks to dominate woman and woman man. In the final analysis, it is the temptation of power which is the strongest temptation in us. It is a temptation analogous to that which Adam yielded to, and that is to be like God. This is what casts the dominator into a terrifying void because in the final analysis he does not only not love anybody, but he does not even love himself. Indeed, he “is infatuated with himself against himself” as Maximus the Great put it. He hates himself in the true sense of the word and does not know that God alone is his livelihood. And if all his lusts mix he destroys himself by himself. The hope to be with the others – who God calls his brothers – eludes him. In frantic desire to eliminate others, he who craves for the preeminent position is bound to live according to the false glory of hubris. He is infatuated with himself and praising himself. I speak of hubris because you cannot self-aggrandize except by disparaging and despising the other whom you consider a non-entity. He is the person of continuous presumption who rests self-content and who, as soon as he occupies a position of prestige, will purport that he knows everything and that he is always in the right. We often see this in the father who will not see any virtue in one of his sons and will regularly criticize him, or with the teacher who practices an overwheening arrogance and hubris towards one or many of his students, or on the part of the cultured man of letters who deems all people below him in culture stupid. Such is the superciliousness amongst some of the ostensibly knowledgeable, who are nonetheless ignorant of their blemishes and of the limitation of their knowledge. Those people, regardless of their affiliation, reject all criticism, blame or subjection to orders. Therefore they always fall prey to enmity and sarcasm, at times motivated by a desire to humiliate so as to affirm their standpoints whatever they may be.

Let us now return to politics, the great arena for the lust for power. What does the scripture tell us? When Jesus announced his death for the third time, Jacob and John approached him requesting that one of them be seated to his right, and the other to his left during his glorification whereupon the savior told his disciples: “You know that those who are deemed the heads of nations lord over them, and the greatest of them dominate them (as tyrants). But it is not (to be) so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among, let him be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the son of man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 42-45).

To you, whether you are a deputy, minister or important employee, I address these words: Human beings are not a flock of sheep. Your ability to perform justifies your assumption of the position of responsibility. It did not summon you to benefit and brag. A job is not a matter of strutting and showing off. Rather, it is a matter of self-effacement while serving the others who thereby will be elevated.

Perhaps you are known on account of your position, yet this does not in any way warrant a pandering to you out of fear of your overbearing self-inflation. And beware of the truth of the verse: “Say: Oh God! Lord of All Possessions. You give power to whom you please and you strip power from whom you wish, you bestow honor on whom you wish, and you humiliate whoever you want” (Sura Umran, 26). In other words, know that people do not possess when they own because God may strip them of their possession whenever he wants, even as he may honor you if you humble yourself in His presence and before people. Humiliate yourself before Him and do not humiliate people lest that your Lord humiliate you. You may consider yourself to have ascended to a prominent position, while in truth you have become abject; and the people will notice this and despise you, even if they elected you or sought a ministerial seat from you, for you become nothing in the eyes of God, after you have fancied yourself to be everything.

For you to consider yourself superior is oppression in and of itself. For the people are cherished by the Lord, and become more esteemed than you in His eyes if you belittle them. Such disparagement is pure ignorance. Do not forget what happens to a rubber ball if you blow it up to its outer limits: it tears and breaks.

He who gives you repose and returns you back to your true size has not been touched by fraudulent glory and uninhibited presumption. You are not residing in glory so why do you demand it from people? Go and defend the oppressed and the destitute of this earth, and confront every power in the country so it may become aware of its fragility. Know that you are but dust.

And beware in this your fragile earthly state that the key distinction is not between this and that political faction, but rather between the servants of the country and those who dominate it. If you want to join a party, then do so. The truth shall free you of all lust. And once you are liberated, you become capable of policies which are pure and uncorrupted.

I am not oblivious of this or that decision which is part of the life of politics. Politics is about decisions as much as dissension is unavoidable. So choose your disagreement but don’t make it your legacy, for in doing so you would loose the love which alone is the mainspring for your service. And if you become politicized for the sake of your deity, let the latter be the dignity of your country which is a setting for the Lord. And if the powers that be do not know this, then they know nothing.

Be simple in politics as God is simple and transparent. And lay down your life for the nation as the redeemer died. In this act lies your resurrection, and the resurrection of those to whom you have enslaved yourself with sincerity. Repel and banish arrogance, the desire for domination and empty glory so that God alone may become the one who is honored.

Translated by Prof. Mark Farha, Georgetown University SFS-Q

Original Text: شهوة السلطة – Nahar- 12/02/2005

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