Monthly Archives

March 2009

2009, An-Nahar, Articles

The Church and the State / 28.03.2009

Can the church, as a structure, be alongside the state, in a way that we can bring the two together with the conjunction ‘and’, for the purpose of distinction, separation and confrontation of the two? In the New Testament the only book which refers to divine condemnation upon the Roman state is the Book of Revelation. Nero in this book is the beast. In the Gospel, Herod is a fox. This was a divine verdict concerning two governors. However, as the Gospel was spread and as Rome had to confront heathenism, Peter and Paul have spoken about submission to the authorities and they have not addressed the rights of the church in relation to the state, nor of an integral relationship between the two. This relationship has not started until Constantine, in the beginning of the fourth century, and particularly with his dynasty. As Constantine converted to Christianity, he has known that the church is something else since it cares about the inner things, i.e. the spiritual matters, the sacraments and the doctrines, while the emperor is “the bishop of the outer things”.

The Roman emperors’ worry was to organize the kingdom. And here the theological controversies have to be considered, since they were dividing the kingdom, and the emperor used to intervene in favor of what he considered orthodox against the holders of heresies. Then the notion of ‘synergy’ has spread namely the consistency [or the harmony] between the church and the state, with the consideration of each one’s independence. The Eastern Roman Empire is the continuation of the ancient Rome that is why it considers itself as standing on its own, though the people are Eastern Romans on the one hand, and Orthodox Christians on the other.

Russia has followed this manner until Peter the Great came and subjected the church to the state. And now after the fall of the communist regime Patriarch Cyril, who is newly elected, speaks of the consistency between the state and the church, however, each as independent of the other.

I will not speak of the West which in general has followed secularism, with its different spectra, which does not consider the religious affiliation of the citizens; however, it might support the church as in France and elsewhere. Nevertheless, the philosophy of cooperation in Eastern Europe would not have been possible except for the fact that the citizens were from the same religious background, so that there could have been a common language between the church and the state. But whenever the state is multi-religious, then, how could discourse occur between the state and the religious minorities? Then, there would not be a religious discourse between the denominations and the governing authority. And if the government is based on a religion, then, some of the arguments of a religious discourse would be invalidated between the religious communities and the government.

Then, we would have to return back to the apostolic era, when the church was not addressing the state; rather all believers were subjects to the state, even the persecuted heathens.

This is the case concerning history. However, from the doctrinal perspective there is no theoretical confrontation between the church, which exists in the heart of God moving toward eternal life, and the state which governs the human times or is governed by the human times. These are two realities which are not related by any conjunction.

It is through the individual believer that the spirit of the Lord is disseminated to the people gathered in a state. These are prophetic whiffs. Thus, the structured church and the structured state do not meet. The prophets, namely the ones inspired by the spirit, change the people, and it is from the people that laws originate and the political engagement arises. And if the state is multi-religious, then, diverse whiffs appear from the followers of the religions, which sometimes are convergent, and some other times are divergent, and the national texture comes to be multicolored.

Thus, it is not possible to bring the state and the church of Christ into an encounter, whether of association or dissociation, since there is no such encounter in principle. Though some countries consider working with denominations and this makes secularism truncated or relative in those countries. Nevertheless, it seems that in France [for example] there are tendencies for working with religions, since they are carried out by ethnicities of strange origins, which have not been integrated into the French society.

An accountable answer concerning this relationship [between state and religion] from the Christian side will not be given unless the church is perceived as moving toward eternal life, while its children utilize this world and witness in it. And the testimony is left to everyone of them based on his/[her] own analysis of the political situation of his/[her] country. One of the believers might come up with an analysis different than other believers, and thus, he/[she] might take a different practical position [than others]. Political fragmentation in the church community is not only possible but also it is spiritually sound, since it signifies maturity, and variety is the fruit of maturity. However, whenever church leadership strives to convene its children upon that which is different than the Gospel, the doctrine and the inner purification, this would mean that it has forgotten the unique nature of Christianity, which soars above the obsolescent. The church exists in time, and by this it is the expansion of Christ’s presence in it, however, it is not of this world, as the Gospel of John tells.

No doubt the church observes what is going on in the world, however without any competence, since its members work with competence in society. The rulers and the legislators have studied politics and its branches as a science and they are practicing politics as they have studied it. While those, responsible for the salvation of the souls, have studied, so to speak, the art of the salvation of the souls. And whatever is void of science [or knowledge] is expressed in an experimental or approximate manner. And thus, they do not meet the people of science.

Therefore in this matter the clerical referentialities do not mean much to me. Their work is sanctification itself and the purification of the believers. And whenever they delve into the political discourse they would be saying, or as if they are saying, that they do not have confidence in the efficiency of the Holy Spirit, which they are entrusted to convey to their communities. They do not believe in the efficiency of the Spirit and [thus] add to it the efficiency of the political discourse.

Similarly, the so-called lay-people (i.e. non-priests) are not capable of delegating their spiritual leader for a task other than the calling by which God has called him/[her]. This does not prevent that the bishop or the priest is from those who carry the Holy Spirit. This, however, is not of the sacramental priesthood. Rather, this is of prophesy, in the sense used in the New Testament, meaning that the bishop or the priest, through grace, can address the kings, the governors and the presidents in the name of the Lord, and not on behalf of one’s denomination, nor in the name of the country. The bishop or the priest can advocate for the oppressed and the weak from any religion or denomination and can uphold the endurance and the unity of the country, since this is a matter of love of all the people of the country.

You work and teach in the name of Christ, namely in the power of the Gospel and not of the numbers or the ancient mythologies. Christians are not privileged in any country, and they should not be so, since then they would be conceited while they should be washing the feet of the poor and the weak of every religion and denomination. Christians are not a denomination or a group of denominations. This is rather because of Lebanon’s sociological system. Christians are only the body of Christ and not the accumulations of history. Thus they are not on any side since Christ was not on any particular side. And whenever they do not have a power from above they will be wasting their and others’ time if they were searching for a power that comes to them from the texture of this world. They have to decide whether they are of the Gospel or no. While they contrive their stay on this earth with wisdom, which might be of this world since endurance is the condition for witnessing, but death also is of witnessing. The one crucified was a king, and He was raised on the wood bleeding till the end. I do not call anyone to being crucified; however those capable of it are the partners of the Lord in creating a new world.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “الكنيسة والدولة” –An Nahar- 28.03.2009

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2009, An-Nahar, Articles

Sunday of the Cross / 21.03.09

Tomorrow we would be halfway through Lent and the Church places the Cross in front of us to encourage those who might have become bored or tired of the struggle in fasting. The Cross is placed in the midst of different kinds of fragrant flowers and plants; the cross is also surrounded with three candles pointing to the eternal sacrifice of Christ where-by the Father had seen His Son crucified before the creation of the world ready to offer life to the world through Love.

Each of the Faithful walks over to the center of the church, where the Cross is, kisses it and receives from the priest a flower denoting that the Cross that has been accepted is our way to Paradise and Joy. And to make sure that the faithful do not think that Joy comes to them from much ease and a base sense of exhilaration, the Church reminds us through the Gospel reading of what Jesus says: “He who wants to follow me let him deny himself, carry his cross and follow me”. The Lord says “If you want to follow me” because nothing can force you to seek Jesus and commit yourself to Him. Freedom is your kingdom and from there you choose to go to either salvation or perdition.  And God is happy with your freedom though He does not desire your destruction. You cannot be in His image if you do not act freely like Him, for God did not create human robots to amuse Himself with what they do. The un-coerced free person is the one that goes to God and commits himself to Him or rejects Him.

“Who wants to follow me let him deny himself”. That means let him consider that his “I” does not exist. In that he is a slave though Jesus has said: “I do not call you slaves anymore”. There is slavery only in the world of sin. God has canceled our slavery after He made us sons in His beloved Son. Even though there is the risk of lazing as sons, yet God is pleased with the relation of Fatherhood after He has lifted His wrath from us in the Beloved Son Jesus with all what it entails of an adventure because there is no other alternative for sonship except slavery.

You throw away your “I” according to what Paul has said:” It is nor I who lives but Christ lives in me.” You are “He” through love and He is “you” even though your natures are different from each other and the persons are also distinct from each other.

“Let him deny himself, carry his cross and follow me”. Here the evangelist speaks of the many “crosses” that come your way in your life. According to the Old Testament, the cross is an abomination since it says: “Cursed is he who is hanged on a tree”. Christianity is realistic since it considers you crucified on the existence we live. Christianity is not a rose garden. It can become so if you choose to make your daily sufferings, the physical and the psychological, a path for you to see the Light. We suffer pain not considering it as coming from God in order to purify us or test us. God is not whimsical and tyrannical as some policemen are. You throw yourself into God’s bosom the way you are, and after that you lean on His breast as John did during the Last Supper.  Jesus in turn will take away your cross from you and He would nail Himself on it though He does not find it pleasant; but He has become “drunk” with you with what you are about of misery and He wants you to be with Him so you can savor His Splendor. The Lord ends His call by saying “and follow me”. That is that you would have enough of His mind so you would follow Him to the end of His earthly course which is Calvary. And so when you sit at His feet, you would receive all of your life and existence from Him.

Jesus confirms this course by saying: “For what benefits Man if he gains the world but he loses himself”. If you accept your crucifixion, it is that the Savior would take away from you all what you have or what you think you have or what you consider is yours. Thus there is complete emptying of self such that there is no décor in you, no gold or prestige or power that brings you joy, no beauty tempts you, and you are not ashamed of your poverty and the limitations of your intellect and your culture, and you would be ready for hunger and scorn and mistrust and disrepute coming from those who are jealous of you, and when you are insulted by those who insult God and speak ill of you; if you can bear all that with a loving heart for the sake of Jesus’ little brothers, you would be thus losing this world and gaining yourself in the true reality which is the reality of Christ.

With that you would have moved out of this present time to the one coming though your body is still here. It is not important for them to kill you but to overcome you thinking that with that they can efface you; they do not know that you efface them.

Man is at a loss thinking that what he owns can make of him a good human being or can make him more important. All those who think that Man’s value is a function of his externals make a great mistake. When Jesus says: “What can a man give for himself”, it is as if he is saying that nothing can amount to the inner being, or real Joy, or the divine dignity that is poured on Man. The choice is between real being and additions to that. When God “creates” you, you do not put on any other garment and cannot add anything to what He has wrought in you.

Strange is the saying of the Saints that “poverty is richness”. Perhaps this is what Paul meant to say by “all those who are baptized in Christ have put on Christ”. Ant this is told to the newly baptized while they are still naked. One wonders at those Christians who believe that they have a garment of gold on them when in fact they are clothes-less.

Whoever speaks about the cross has to understand the above speech or else he does not belong. We (Christians) are as such and that is all what we have. When we preach Christ crucified, we would have preached him as having risen from the dead. That is a dual action pursuant to Jesus’ words “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him”, or when He says somewhere else “Glorify me Father with the glory that I had with you before the beginning of the world”. In both sayings His glory is in the love He has revealed to his disciples in voluntarily dying for them. The moment He willed to die, He achieved victory. And the appearances to His disciples afterwards were only a conveyance of this victory. Telling of His death as we are commanded by St. Paul is a proclamation fo His resurrection and a living in it and through it free of death.

Translated by Riad Mofarej

Original Text: “أحد الصليب” – 21.03.09

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