Monthly Archives

October 2009

2009, An-Nahar, Articles

That the Bishop be Blameless / 17.10.2009

The one who views himself as nothing exists, whenever spiritual ones tell him so. No one approaches Divine glory by his own power. Divine glory draws the human being and whenever the person approaches it, he feels that he is nothing and he remains effaced in his own eyes until the Day of Reckoning. Indeed, each one of us needs to know his own talents because in this there is an admission about the divine gift, while the one who thinks that his talents are his own, will perish. Those talents exist through divine gratification, which He might remove whenever He wills so.

Thus, we accept every responsibility in the Church of God as a delegation. This is the meaning of service and service descends upon you from on high. If you are charged with a responsibility, it does not give you the feeling that you deserve it. This is the meaning of divine creativeness, i.e. your Lord makes you every day a “new creation”. And whenever you think that you have become a vessel for God, do not forget that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels”. Blissful are you if you can keep the treasure which you have been entrusted with, and woe to you if you think of yourself that you are more than earthly clay.

In the light of what has been said I read the words of Paul: “If a man desires the office of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless”. (1Timothy 3: 1-2) At the moment I am not discussing the position of what today we call “bishop” [̓usquf]. At the time of the writing of the epistle, the distinction between the bishop and the priest did not exist, and the arrangement of orders was not yet the same in all the churches. Nevertheless, in our reading today of the “office of the bishop” we must understand that it also means the position that we call in colloquial Arabic the muṭrān, which comes from the Greek metropolite, meaning the bishop of the capital city.

Be that as it may, this does not mean that Paul was praising the desire to the office of the bishop, encouraging the people to want it. Rather the bishop’s office is a gift from God and desire as such is contrary to any divine giving. The meaning, as it seems, is that if you desire it, then know that you desire something great. Thus, you must be without blame. And the spiritual ones-not you-will discover if you are blameless.

It is not admissible to anyone to claim his worthiness of any position, since then he would consider himself to be something, and would consequently become nothing. While the one who was “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet” (Revelation 12: 1) is viewed by the highly spiritual ones as they view the sun. Those who pursue the concerns of election for high positions within the people of God, or in the world, they testify whether the person is without blame.

As for the one who has been witnessed committing a filthy act, of the work of the devil, it is not permitted to pause at his name for a single moment, since the one who pauses for a moment has entered into filthiness. The one who is afflicted with filthiness leads in filthy things, because a corrupt person is necessarily himself corrupting. The one who comes from a corrupter has benefit with the corrupter, similar to the relationship between the one who calls and the one called.

Among the patterns of blamelessness, Paul mentions that a candidate for spiritual leadership must be “vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker … but patient, not a brawler”. The one in whom these virtues do not abound is subject to blame. There is not space here to discuss every virtue in detail. The bishop must be vigilant, watchful of himself, possessing self-control; this is a condition to awaken others to choose the path of the Lord. There is no place for those who sleep in the Church, rather alertness is essential in prayer and attentiveness to it, also love for all people and bringing the holy community together in repentance and constant sacrifice for the brothers. But as for those asleep, the Church is not their bed.

Further, the person should be apt to teach. Christianity is about knowledge and teaching, since “[i]n the beginning was the Word.” The church that is satisfied with rituals of which no one understands anything is worthless. And the one who is not given the gift of teaching and preaching is not worthy to be thought of for the offices of a priest or a bishop. Such one should be content to be a cantor or a silent monk or a servant in the temple, and these are blessed responsibilities, and those appointed to them could be content. Christianity, however, explains the divine Book, the worships and the tradition. It is a school with all different classes which last a lifetime. If an ordinary believer is demanded to confess with his tongue, as the Apostle says, then it is appropriate for a servant of the Word, as we call him during ordination, to testify to this Word. For this reason, our Church of Antioch requires that one who advances to the episcopate must have completed his theological knowledge and have kept company with scholars. A mute person has no vocation in the Church, even if his holiness is loftier than all those who hold positions. When some faithful brought a man to John Chrysostom in order for him to make the man a priest, he asked them what they knew about him. They said that he was pious. He replied that this is not enough, since all Christians must be pious. He must be knowledgeable.

“[N]o striker … but patient, not a brawler”, since the Lord said: “learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.” Why did the blessed Lord choose these two virtues to describe himself? Because they are the loftiest. Only if you are lowly God will raise you, and you will raise others by your lowliness. Only if you have desired meekness and have lived it you will be ready to face the destiny of being sacrificed as the Savior did.

I do not know the denotational difference between gentleness and meekness. In the epistle to the Galatians, the apostle mentions both virtues as belonging to the fruits of the Holy Spirit in us. And if we relate this to the previous words of the apostle, we understand that the Spirit of God incorporates in us a spiritual way of life.

Paul said that the bishop should not be a brawler, i.e. a fighter. Throughout the decades of my ministry I have discovered that the sharpest rebuke for a believer is one that is not accompanied with anger, and that even a better way would be simply to remind the person. Resentment is usually accompanied by domination, while by reminding another, both your and the other’s souls return to God.

When the Bible says that the bishop should be blameless, it means that such a person exists and that there are some issues that are not open for raillery. The ones who are in charge should search for this person with immense light and study in detail the lives of those nominated and elected. They must set up barriers to advancement to high positions. Barriers would mean that you do not make a blameworthy man a deacon, and if you make a mistake in ordaining him, he should not advance to the priesthood, and if you make a mistake, he should not then advance to the episcopacy. A worthless bishop subjects the church, which he watches over, to worthlessness. And the money-lover makes bribers approach the leader, and likewise robbers, and so the temple becomes a den of thieves.

Since the Ecclesial Law perceived the possibility of such mistakes, it referred to priests’ and bishops’ trial, as result of which defrocking, i.e. expulsion, could occur. To me, the Church which does have the possibility of trial cannot be ruled by virtue. The Church is the place in which we are purified. Jesus wanted us to be purified through the apostles and their successors, while the corrupt one is the inheritor of his own sins, not of the saints.

Church reformation should start from its leaders. The Church does not wait long for its priests and bishops to repent. It does not allow the aggravation of the sins of those who had great fall. Those would end up with expulsion.

Once, Saint Basil the Great defrocked a priest for his committing adultery. After many years, this priest attended a funeral. He approached the coffer and touched the dead man and the dead man rose. The defrocked priest went to Basil and said to him, “Do you need a greater proof than this for the holiness that I have acquired in order to send me back to my flock?” The Saint replied, “Your holiness is between you and God, however I cannot bring you back to your flock because you caused it to stumble. Thus, you do not deserve to be its pastor again”.

Who gives us exemplars like Basil the Great so that we might feel that the body we are a part of is truly the Church of Christ?

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “أن يكون الأسقف بلا لوم” –An Nahar- 17.10.2009

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2009, An-Nahar, Articles

Vain Glory / 10.10.2009

Whoever thinks high of himself, whoever feels he is of importance in politics or in academia or in a church or in a mosque, has fallen in vain glory. He who brags about his family gains only littleness that steals from him any splendor he may have and gives him no highness at all. He who has knowledge is so for the sake of truth and helping others and not to brag about what he knows. Truth charms the righteous and draws him to itself because it refines us; no one is the sole custodian of Truth. Those who are overtaken with what they own should know that we are not ‘owners’ but only ‘trustees” of what we have. Those who consider themselves close to God on their own, are cast away from Him; and those who seek positions will fall from them because they think they deserve them.

When I was sixteen years of age and have graduated from High School, I applied for a job, in one of the big companies, to earn my living; I was surprised that I was not offered the job except after I had a test. I was surprised because I had thought that my academic degree was more than enough to qualify me (but it was not) for the job, but at the same time I was happy because the administrators in the company were seeking the adequate competence of those they employ.

Few days ago, someone came asking me to vote for one of the priests to make him bishop of one of the cities. Of course, I am familiar with those who consider themselves eligible for a post of that sort. But does that brother who asked me know how Christian in spirit is that man or knowledgeable of Christ he is, or how loving he is and ready to offer himself for the sake of the brethren washing their feet and as such emptying himself as he shares his life with them?

What drives certain citizens to seek the office of deputy? Does not this self- soliciting person know that he does not know how to acceptably present a bill? The Directory General of Petroleum often comes to mind; if we established that here in Lebanon, would we choose the qualified person who has earned a degree in that from a renowned institution? Does the one seeking marriage know how much he/she is willing and ready to share one’s life with another? Does the one seeking monasticism know how much he is willing and able to free himself from the lusts of the flesh? Is each one of us in the ‘right’ place as Plato wanted things to be?

Our world is one sick with vain-glory.

One of the Princes of Moldavia, in the fourteenth century, wrote to his successor: “My son. Do not desire to become a bishop or the head of a monastery or a prince (the office he was supposed to occupy after the death of his father) because all that is of the glory of this world. Accordingly I do not understand how some priests desire to become bishops thinking that they will gain power, when they do not know the difficulties of this mission and the oppression they get exposed to quite often. Why this rivalry among them? Does not rivalry hide under it a feeling that they are superior to their peers? Where did they get that from? You as a monk should remain in your monastery until your Patriarch sends you news that the Holy Synod has chosen you as Bishop, and then you get to your office by God’s grace.

In this world, you go through much study, and you excel and become well known, then your folk would push you for a position of responsibility, or you might get called by the government or a certain party or a political grouping to hold a certain office. But in our country, you push yourself. All this rivalry is pride. I have always liked how in the Catholic monastic communities, someone would be given the highest office that could be held but after that he could be back to the ‘lowest’ office in that order. Here, being ‘head’ is a service and the lowest office is a service too. Do not let glory knock at the door of your heart. With that you become a slave to glory. But if you empty yourself from such passion, God would come to you and dwell in you. The whole matter is in this question: “Is God the lord of your life or that ‘self’ of yours which is hard and self-centered”?

Our story with the self is how much we realize that nothing can be added to it; and that if it humbles itself, it becomes the whole of existence. That is what Jesus of Nazareth meant when he said that you cannot add to your height anything. In that sense you cannot fill yourself except from what it (the self) offers.

As such if you give your money to the needy then “your righteousness will remain forever” as the psalm says. And if you need it, you would consider that you are not the only one in need of it. You are a part of this world and whatever is outside yourself is a slave to you. And the slave does master you. You are its master because you are free of it. Understand what our Fathers in the Church said: “You are entrusted with the money because it does not belong to you”. You manage it to make it at the service of those in need of it. Through such giving, those become your brothers. Only love makes you feel that you are a brother of those around you. Therefore rid yourself of every lust because each lust breaks you up and fragments you.

More damaging than the love of money is that of power. A ‘giant’ in the spiritual life said:”Every type of power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Certain situations put you in a position of power. Exercise it being free from it; in that sense you are one who only reminds those you have power over, and that should be done in love. But if you dominate them, you sever yourself from them; that makes them hate you. Keep in mind that you are not a god, and that only with kindness you can draw people to their God.

It is your duty to face others with matters, discuss them with them and bring out for them the truth which they would surely find to be beneficial and saving. In revealing the truth comes agreement and harmony and pure human interaction. Consider that every man has the right to truth. Free people from yourself, and they become lovers of God. Do not seek to be loved, but seek only to love. Often you are reciprocated that love with a greater one; but you, do not ask for it. Bring others to seek their Lord; He will bestow upon them the grace of spending himself for others. Sufficient for you to have your life in the others, as such your glory will be in God’s heart.

Learn what the Scriptures say: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; vanity of vanities, all is vanity”. ECCLES 1: 2. All is vanity except you and the brothers. Existence is in one’s being, and that ‘being’ does not oppose those who want to dominate. Real being meets others in their ‘poverty’ for God and for each other since nothing is outside the heart. The Kingdom of God is in the heart and it is one with it; and so each heart becomes His (God’s) throne. Then Real Glory descends on them (the hearts). That is God’s countenance in them.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “المجد الباطل” –An Nahar- 10.10.2011

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2009, An-Nahar, Articles

The Conciliar System in the Eastern Church / 03.10.2009

The system of administration in the Orthodox Church is the embodiment of a theological teaching. For us, the people as a whole preserve the teaching of the Church. That is, the vision of the entire life of the Church is the vision of the whole of the faithful, the bishops among them. In keeping with the importance of the place in which the bishop sits, he listens to what the Spirit says to the whole of his flock. This does not mean that he relies upon the mass of his flock, but rather upon the pious and the actively practicing among his flock. They are the ones who are truly the Body of Christ insofar as they constitute Christ on earth.

However, the bishop is not only connected to the whole of the flock with which he is entrusted. He his connected as a member to the other metropolitans who govern the church that we call ‘local’ or ‘regional’ just as he is united to the right-believing bishops of all the world. However, current, day-to-day events determine the actions of the local church, like the Church of Antioch.

This Church is governed by the Holy Synod, comprising all the bishops of regions and is presided over by the patriarch who is the first among equals. The single mystery of priesthood makes them a single gathering, and it is hoped that they are of one mind, which is assumed to be the mind of Christ. This is the togetherness that they constitute, and which we hope the Holy Spirit breathes out and extends, so that it will serve with one spirituality all the faithful by way of the spiritual units that we call dioceses. Because of the unity of its members, a single synod, like the Holy Synod of Antioch, oversees all the regions because we assume that the bishops are joined to the mind of Christ and that they do not speak according to whim, and that they are striving for Christ, with the Gospel as their point of departure. For this reason they place the Gospel book in the hall where they gather in order to remind them that they are speaking His words and that they have no say apart from Him when they make a decision or put together a plan of action or clarify the faith or elect a new bishop or judge a bishop to have transgressed the canons of the Church.

For us, the patriarch is the guarantor of unity because he has achieved dispassion. By virtue of this purification they regard him as the first among them and they remain eager to honor his place, just as he is eager to build up their place. For this reason they do not gather without him and if God calls him to Himself, they do not gather except to choose his successor. There is no synod in the absence of the patriarch and no patriarch without a synod. In the event of schism, those who depart from the synod do not constitute a synod, no matter what their numbers may be- a minority, in a time of schism, which is presided over by the patriarch, is the synod.

Naturally, this system has no analogue in any worldly institution, be it a parliament or anything else. Thus, it is not true to say that Orthodoxy is a democracy. It is the concord or the harmony of the Holy Spirit. Just as you obey your bishop because God raised him up through the laying on of hands (that is, his consecration), so too you obey the Holy Synod not because it is an authority set up over you in a legalistic manner, but rather because hands were laid upon the head of each bishop on the day of his consecration. “The bishop is an icon of Christ,” as St. Ignatius of Antioch said. In obeying him, you obey Christ.

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However, bishops are humans and errors can creep up on them. If an error comes that damages the teaching of the Church, it is your responsibility to not obey, and here the synod makes a complaint to the other Orthodox synods. If your local bishop sins against the teaching of the Church and teaches an innovation then you must cut off his prayers and take up the matter with his colleagues, especially the patriarch. However, this occurs extremely rarely and in the past hundred years we haven’t seen such a matter, because the definition of the teaching of the Church is particular to ecumenical councils, not to the local synod.

The synod may not be wise in a pastoral or administrative matter. This is discussed in a session related to a complaint or to a justifiable objection and matters are settled locally.

Here pious priest, well-versed in the tradition of the church and wise and faithful laymen play a large role. The customary spirit of fatherhood sets matters right, especially because the teaching of the Church is that the clergy and the faithful are one body who deal with each other as its members in the Word of salvation which is defended with good intention and an upright heart.

There is no value in the Church for numbers. You do not obey the Synod for this reason. You accept it because it is an expression of the Church that is engaged in purification, that is, the entirety of those who pray. In the first centuries, the Church rejected synods made up of more than four hundred bishops and called them robber’s synods, though they only decided what they considered to be inspired by the Spirit of God. The synod is not its own master on account of its merely gathering but because we are sure that it is tied to the Lord. When God governs the synod by grace, it is a godly synod and you are only bound by that which is godly. Bishops are those to whom the divine mysteries are entrusted, as Paul says. If they act against that trust then they become nothing, since there is no ruler in the Church save God. In the Church of the seven ecumenical councils, a later council confirmed the truth of the council previous to it and in this way we draw close to certain truth. Certain truth is confirmed by the acceptance of the whole faithful when the bishops bring it forth when they gather. The great councils were not known just for their wisdom and for great theology, and for this reason we commemorate the holy fathers who gathered in Nicaea or in Constantinople. The holiness of those gathered constitutes the truth of their belief because there is no separation between belief and purity of life.

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Those upon whose purity we rely are called to an election when one of the dioceses is vacant on account of a death. In some churches, like in Russia for example, the clergy and the laity participate in the election directly. In other churches, there are nominating committees composed of priests and laymen who undertake nominations, that is, they present to the Holy Synod a list of names, one of which the synod will choose. In our country, the nominating committee is the diocesan assembly. If it does not meet, then the synod itself begins by putting forth nominations then performs the election in accordance with the nominations. Naturally, there are conditions that a nominee must fulfull, the most important of them are his spiritual life and his morals, then his attainment of an degree in theology, then the age requirement and his progress in service.

However, if all of these conditions are fulfilled, they are an approximation of an ideal and not a guarantee. You may choose, for example, a person who appears to you to be chaste and humble and the experience of power may corrupt him and make him oppressive to you. If you look at his academic theological achievement you may think that he is knowledgeable, but it becomes clear to you afterword that he is weak in his application of theological acumen. The good qualities that abound in a priest may not be enough to determine his suitability for the episcopate. New virtues may appear in him on account of his new vocation, so it is inevitable that members of the synod will differ in their choice. One may focus on the theological acumen of a candidate and another on his pastoral gifts, if such is known. Another may emphasize his administrative skill. But what is administrative skill?

We must not be surprised when our leaders differ in their criteria. One may be attracted by the intelligence and knowledge of a candidate. Another may be interested in his experience. Because the matter depends on the assessments of individuals, the unanimity that is in principle sought may be difficult. However, what will set you free form uncertainty is to seek in the one that you call to the episcopate a deep and firm love of the Lord. Learning should be added to this because what is sought in a man is precise knowledge of the matters of faith in order for him to preach and teach. As for what we call management of the Church’s property and income and wealth, the early Church saw fit for the elected bishop to name an administrator to oversee these matters, since a person who is steeped in theological knowledge does not necessarily have experience with things of this world. As for one who does especially have experience with them and does not have knowledge of God and his Word, he is unable to improvise the Word at all. Thus, good intentions and insightful opinions can center on the choice of a man who is full of the wisdom of God and he will additionally be given other kinds of wisdom in which the people and the times are well informed as long as he relies upon the wise and the pious among his flock.

The great problem is that the Gospel of Christ was given to people surr

ounded by the weakness because of their human nature and those of great spiritual stature are very few. The Church in this world has not reached the kingdom and we know, as Paul said, “We have this treasure in jars of clay.” In order to keep safe what is entrusted to you until the coming of the Lord, you must keep long vigil and bear hardships with the consolation that comes down to you from above.

Original Text: “النظام المجمعي في الكنيسة الشرقية” – 03.10.2009

Translated from Arabic

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