Monthly Archives

November 2009

2009, An-Nahar, Articles

Is Surpassing Sectarianism Possible? / 27.11.2009

I think that we have not payed attention and we could not pay attention to the nature of religious feelings and the historical residues in every sect [or denomination] itself. So, in order to facilitate the political cogitation we have considered that there is one such entity called a sect, and we have perceived this entity abstractly or juristically in order to surpass it in the state system. Michel Shiha came to draw up the constitution and to consider the sects [or denominations] as if they were identical. He considered particularly the minorities and sought their freedom in the inventories of the Ottoman past. He thought that a fair balance provides their participation in the state without underestimating any one’s right. However, Shiha did not differentiate between Islam and Christianity in nature. He differentiated in his perception of the societal existence. In Christianity, he did not distinguish between the Maronites and other Christians, or between the Orthodox view of historical Islam and the Maronite view of it.

What I am proposing here is that the abolition of political sectarianism is not enough in order to surpass the sect and move toward that which is beyond it, and which is more firm and constant, namely toward the national state or the nationality. I presume that the nature of national thought is founded upon one’s ability to overcome the sectarian affiliation through national partisan education and cultural values, hence move to a different wider affiliation. This thought follows a western pattern, which was not complicated. For example, after the French Revolution, the people discovered that they were a nation. There was the crust of the united regality with the Catholic Church, which has distanced them from the notion of the nation. Though they were truly a nation, only the veil should have been removed. In our case, however, the nation has to be founded, since we have not yet been a nation.

We have come from the Islamic civilization and from the Maronites’ perception of their own and of the others’ existence. When we hear the Muslim Imams or the Islamist [Muslim] thinkers referring to the nation, they have the Sacred Text in their background: “You were the best nation brought forth to mankind, bidding the right and forbidding the wrong” (Sura Al-῾Imran [The Family of ῾Imran], 110), and this has nothing to do with the notion of a nation in its national sense. Islam is not merely about a spiritual vision. Islam is also about the worldly reality, and the world means politics. I do not say that national conviction is necessary for political unification. Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire did not unite because of their nationality, but because of the state-organization containing several ethnicities. Thus, it is possible to seek only the state in Lebanon. And it is not true that in reality we are statelets. Islam is a worldly and an otherworldly entity at the same time, and it is not a statelet, regardless whether it insists to maintain its personal status. And it does not seem that anyone in Lebanon is ready to surpass the personal status.

In the political movement of the Maronites, and in the depth of their conscience, they have a reading of their own reality and of Lebanon which differs significantly from the reading of Lebanese Islam of itself. In their historical suppression and in their taking refuge on the mountain, the Maronites formed a people in its full sense. And there is nothing in the national unification which hinders the existence of several ethnicities as it is in Belgium and Switzerland. Today, it does not seem that the [Maronite] ethnicity insists on its precedence in the state. Though Islam has no national utterance, nevertheless, its conscience resides in antecedence, since it considers itself the final and the full revelation. However this does not make it an ethnicity, in the contemporary political movement. Maronites, though belonging to Catholicism, which is about unmoving doctrine, nevertheless on the political level Catholicism has begun to discover, albeit slowly, nationalism. The Catholic Church, whenever compared to the Russian and the Greek Orthodoxy [of Greece] with their intense nationality, has started to move toward nationality in all its countries. How could both Muslims and Maronites, as each group is an entity, move toward a state [reality], which is for all people? And how could they admit to all people equal rights, so that they might abolish any feeling of superiority or precedence or historical arrogance or the historical projection of the greatness of [their] faith?

Armenians are a unique phenomenon, since they are of a true nationality in their conscience and of true patriotism toward Lebanon. And this is possible theoretically and practically. They are nationalists, and this is not of the nature of their Christian faith since this does not involve nationalism, but because of their history, since they are proud of being the first Christian state in history. To recent times their literary heritage was of Christian inspiration. In my view the Armenians’ belonging to Lebanon is intact since there is no conflict between their national pride and their loyalty to the Lebanese state.

The Greek Orthodox hardly embark upon the state offices, and it does not seem that they have a noticeable move in it. What distinguishes them from Muslims is that their Eastern Christianity has no say in politics, in its real sense, maybe because their faith does not involve nationality. And maybe their being free of nationality has induced them to join a non-national trend. This deprivation of nationality reveals to me that the Lebanese Orthodox or the Arabs yield to secularism, perhaps because of their complete adhesion to a Church in which they do not perceive any sectarian partisanship. And you find them united on spiritual level, maybe because they are free of tribalism. This leads me to say that they, as a model, present the nearest image for merger into the state. Thus, the one who does not aspire for mini-state presence would not aspire for a personal role in the greater state.

It is no more sufficient to say with Michel Shiha that the sectarian system involves justice or approaches justice. This has not succeeded since the affiliation to a sect was not merely an affiliation to a statelet; rather it was an ideology entrenched in the souls and deeper than the political indication. All who consider these issues among us believe that the solution of the problem is in transferring one’s affiliation from a statelet to a greater state. But how? I know that breaking the sectarian strap by the law, namely the abolishing of sectarian politics, would have a significant impact. Nevertheless, the mere advocacy to contend against sectarianism within the souls would pave the way for abolishing the texts. This assumes that the citizen’s attachment to his/[her] sect [or denomination] does not follow one pattern. We have shown four patterns where feelings, incentives and concerns are different, and there are sects [or denominations] which we have left out.

Here I ask the Muslims, and particularly the Sunnis, whether they consider their liberation from the world, being a component of Islam, as desirable, as the future of Islam in Europe seems to be (Of course there is as well secular Islam). Would they efface the perception of the world as divided to believers [the Muslims] and Christians, who are infidels, and Jews, since they all are citizens? I do not ask the Maronites, since I understand their pains. However I invite them to take their Catholicism seriously in its acceptance of all segments of the society equally.

I do not ask the Armenians or the Greek Orthodox anything since I know that they belong completely to the state. The growth of these two communities in their spiritual and cultural depth is a guarantee of their consolidation in the homeland as equal with all.

What I have attempted to show briefly is that we do not have the same difficulties which distance us from merging into the nation, and the intellectuals have to address that distancing [of the communities from the nation] in its depth. Diversity does not necessarily mean cultural richness. In our case it would sometimes mean separation, since the intellectual and the sentimental unity is not available. Each of our religious segments has its own levels by which it moves toward the state.

This does not mean that I do not appreciate greatly the cultural, societal and political activity, which breaks through the existing barriers between some sects [or denominations] and the state, in terms of theory. I know that some of the Muslims and the Maronites have given up the residues of history and sometimes some of theology. However, I say to the seculars and the nationalists that the issue is not only to break the barriers of the sects [or the denominations], but to address their errors and ills from inside. Lebanese nationality might rise, though superficially, by the abolishing of the sectarian politics. However, it will not take root until after the spiritual and the historical criticism of the sects [or the denominations] be done by the sects themselves.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “هل من تجاوز للطائفية؟” –An Nahar- 27.11.2009

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2009, Articles, Raiati

Grace / 15/11/2009

God enlivened us with the Christ even when we were dead in trespasses. Paul proclaimed in his Epistle to the Ephesians that the Lord has quickened us when the Jews crucified Him. He brought us near to Him, and because He is alive, He abolished our sins. Since then, we have been endowed with the mercy He bestowed upon us.

“It is by grace you have been saved” means that the Law of Moses can no more save you, neither do your works. You have been saved thanks to the grace always conferred by God and received by you in obedience. Those who merely know the truth of faith imagine that it is by good works that one can be saved. Nevertheless, the question is: who enables us to perform good works?

You are the gift of God. You are a fruit. Your salvation is the gift God has granted to you. Not only did the apostle say that God loves us, but also: “God raised us up and seated us with him in the heavenly realms.” This means that it is not only by repentance that we rise today, but that we rose back then and ascended with him to heavenly places.

Therefore, the Lord shows in the coming ages “the riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” The kindness of God has been revealed through the incarnation of His beloved Son and His moving amongst us. We perceived His utter compassion upon His death on the Cross and His resurrection. Here, the conviction the apostle had previously divulged reappeared again, as he proclaimed that we are saved by grace through faith, for faith is first our gift from God, and then comes our obedience thereto.

Paul asserted that faith is the gift of God, so that the reader would not doubt that it is God who initiates faith and confers it to us. For further evidence, he declared: “Not by works, so that no one can boast.” This is why Paul mentioned in his first Epistle to the Corinthians: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The apostle states that we are God’s workmanship, “created in Christ Jesus in the strength of his Holy Spirit.” Are we created randomly to do any work? We are created to do “good works”. This is the aim of our existence; good works which “God has before ordained that we should do them.” This means that at every stage of our spiritual life, it is God who takes the initiative.

Indeed, we do receive the good work as a gift from God. He provides us with it. Since we are creatures endowed with freedom, no one is forced to accept the good work. Our role is to deliberately welcome in our spirits the good work God has proposed to us. Freedom does not imply choosing good or bad. It is a psychological power that exists in us. However, without grace we have no ability to choose good works. “You know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Translated from Arabic – 03/12/2009

Original Text: “النعمة”, Raiati, Issue No.46, 15/11/2009

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2009, An-Nahar, Articles

The Kingdom of Heaven / 14-11-2009

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, said Jesus as he began to preach. What is meant is that the Kingdom has fallen upon with the coming of the King, i.e. Jesus. In reality, the Kingdom has come through his death on the cross, and thus, the human subject has started to love him, which is to say that the human subject has started to see the Kingdom in the torn body of the Nazarene. Is there any Kingdom without that blood? Could we be formed without the poured divinity?

Our scholars of theological discourse claim that the church has emerged since the falling of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, as they were gathered in the upper room for the fear of the Jews. Then, they came out and spoke in tongues, which God has sent them down, since their language at that time was the same Word of God. The slavery of flesh and blood, and the thought that they produce, were relegated. Thus, their mind turned into the mind of God and their hearts into the heart of God. The Kingdom of God means that there are no slaves. “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8: 34) The Kingdom might come whenever the slave is no more a slave, thus, we all might become kings. This is how the writer of the book of Revelation sees us crowned in the presence of God, the King. This is to say that the creature is no longer less majesty [greatness] than the Creator is, though in essence createdness remains less than creativeness. Majesty is what matters.

There is a single place in the world, where the human being unites fully with the Lord, and that is the Divine Liturgy. There you eat the body of the Lord and he eats you, thus you become one not in extinction but in love. Of course, there is a big difficulty between the loving and the loved one; however, the dogma claims the transcendence of God, though we transcend to God through God’s love to us and our love to God.

In which scope does the Kingdom of God extend? Does it have space or time? The first thing must be emphasized is that when the Lord has said: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, he meant that the Kingdom has come through and in the King that is he. In Luke, the Master says, “the kingdom of God is within you”, that is we do not have a space. And in Mathew he has said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, this signifies a spiritual state, which starts here by attaining the virtue and it persists in the dead person, whenever he/[she] keeps it. Thus, there is no such a space above, since whenever we say that God is everywhere we mean that no space delimits God, thus the argument on spatiality does not apply to God.

The sovereignty of God is God’s impeccability of spatiality. Those deceased in God are not taken to any location of God’s dominion. This is articulated in the Liturgy of John Chrysostom to indicate that divinity embraces everything to itself and nothing’s location is changed, whenever embraced by God.

You are in the Kingdom, for us that means, you are of the Kingdom, and that is to say, that God is your Lord. Further, there is no such space or time for you beyond God’s sovereignty over you.

Thus, time here does not confine God’s domination over you. Whenever we say, “Thy kingdom come”, this does not imply that it has not come, rather that it is always coming. Christ “is and … was and … is to be” [Rev.16:5]. When Paul the apostle concludes his first letter to the Corinthians with the Aramaic statement: “Maranatha”, written in adjoining Greek letters, we do not know whether he wrote it “Maran atha” i.e. the Lord has come, or he wrote “Marana tha” i.e. Lord, come [1 Cor.16: 22]. I consider the imperative verb more probable, that is he wished Christ’s return, since this is the meaning stated at the end of the book of Revelation (22: 17).

Hence, we are in the Kingdom, which brought Christ, and we also move toward Him since we ask for Him in the Lord’s prayer and we believe that He comes to us through the holy offerings, as we say in the Byzantine Liturgy that they are the “fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven”. How do we say that those offerings are the fulfillment and after a while, we ask that we might participate in Christ’s first presence (by faith) and second presence (by hope). Everything on this level was, is (unceasing) and will be.

This question has occupied Christian theologians. Where is the church from all this? Is it the Kingdom? Is the Kingdom in it? The answer that I venture to give is that the church, which is the body of Christ, has some kind of relationship with this Kingdom. However, the church is not only the body of Christ, that is the expansion of His existence. It is also human. It consists of human beings who receive the Spirit of God to a certain extent and sometimes they receive a little of it. Those who are called Christians, the baptized ones, are either luminous gleams or darkened people, however, they are all without exception sinners, while the Kingdom does not prevail in the darkness.

The Liturgy is celebrated in the church. Thus, it is the Kingdom to the extent that you swallow or eat up the Liturgy. The Kingdom expels darkness. The essential thing to us is that between us and Christ there is a spiritual conjugality, and this was accomplished on the cross through blood, as it is the case in all conjugality.

Further, those venerations [in our Liturgy] make saints. In those [saints], who are close to perfection, the Kingdom has intensely inhabited. Thus, they are the holders of their weak brothers, the spiritually limp, the marginalized, the deaf and the dumb spiritually, who hope for Christ’s healing. The church is the people of God, namely that which God forms through the Word. The church is existent only since God build it up, but Satan destroys it, divides it and fragmentize it.

Whenever you look at the church, you might see much ugliness in it and you might as well see beauties. In case you can see in it divine splendor you are the happiest of the people, and in case your eyes halt on the filthinesses in it, then you would feel pain if you were a believer.

There is much pain in our life in the church. Filthiness is lasting and cleansing is permanent, and this will remain forever. There are much tears and Christ alone wipes the tears. Very few do console you. The consolations of some are permanent since they are strong. Their souls dwell in blessings and you might taste those blessings if you were eligible. Then, the Kingdom penetrates into you.

However, distresses and disappointments remain your share in the land of the living. Even if your members get smashed in the church of God, you know that the one who healed the lame is able to raise you up from death, in your world. So that you might rejoice before the angels take you to heaven. Only on the Last Day, the church becomes the bride.

The second question, which concerns those literalists and they are many, is, what would happen to the non-Christians with regard to the reality of the Kingdom? We do not claim a saved faction and another perishing one. Our God is a merciful God, and two or three of the Church Fathers claimed that God extinguished hell, but one warned against spreading this teaching. What I dare to say, while waiting for the final revelation, is that I am not dealing now with the issues of heaven and hell, but addressing the Kingdom of God, which is the same as God’s sovereignty over the hearts. The eschatological matters are to be dealt with differently. I limit myself here to speak about the sovereignty of God over the hearts and God’s purifying them; this is also different from addressing baptism. The path for salvation, that God has revealed and has made it an ecclesial mystery, has not bind Godself to it. God has made it binding for those who have received the Gospel message. As for the others, they belong to God, which is to say that they are in God’s economy and freedom. That is why one of our Church Fathers said: ‘The one whom the Church has not baptized (with water), the bridegroom of the Church does baptize him/[her] (Namely Christ)’. Hence, he/[she] becomes from the saved faction, in case we prefer this term.

The main issue is, regardless whether you are a church-member or not, whether you have entered the Kingdom in love or it has penetrated into you through divine mercy. In different terms, Christ is able to make you a member in his body only if he chooses you. Some refer to this by using the term the ‘invisible Church’.

From this perspective, I see two beloved persons to me out of Christianity, in its legal sense, and they are Rabʻa al-ʻadawiyyah and al-Ḥallāj and some of their friends in Islam. I might consider similarly Gandhi, who determined to love to his last breath.

To all of them, and they are part of the world’s beauties, not only of the people’s. The great poetry is in the Kingdom or the Kingdom is in it. I cannot name all the symphonies, neither all pieces of Byzantine or Gregorian chanting, neither all the icons nor the paintings of Europe, China and the Persian miniatures. All mothers’ compassion, which has not been pigmented by the holy water, all wailing of the starving ones in Africa, this young man dying now from cancer while I write these lines, all these are manifestations of Divine Kingdom.

One, a friend of mine has asked me, as we were accompanying together a person, who has passed away, do we hear the Ninth Symphony in heaven? I answered him; there are no voices in heaven. We glean the essence of the Ninth Symphony.

The Kingdom is the people, who carry the meaning of God, God’s love and the denotations of the living words in the world of divine splendor descending on human beings and holding the images of creativity. This was and is to be until we attire together the Majesty of God.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “ملكوت السماوات” –An Nahar- 14-11-2009

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2009, An-Nahar, Articles

Communication / 07.11.2009

Communication among people is not as simple as many think, since people do not speak, in reality, the same language. Language is not merely about words, which meanings are to be found in a dictionary. The word is the meaning within you, which is associated with your culture, feelings, belief and education. A dictionary might facilitate conversation, since it is a book of terminologies, and people have agreed about their denotation. However, when words supersede their sensory meaning, they would not have the same delimitation and the same depth for me and you, and they would not hold their connotation from generation to another. In an environment, for example, love would be understood as appropriation, while in another context it would denote giving. A young man might express his love to a young lady, as his feelings are preoccupied by the sense of domination, while she might not be feeling like being drifted by him, rather she might have mixed feelings with the tendency of being dissolved or merged. Words have colors and tunes. They might seem like dancing for some, while not for others. They either reveal or obfuscate. They give life or annihilate. That is why the word has become occasionally a means for division rather than union.

According to the story in Genesis, in the beginning of creation “the whole earth had one language and the same words.” [Gen.11: 1] Then, people wanted to build for themselves “a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens,” [Gen.11: 4] namely, they have boasted in themselves. And God said: “let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” [Gen.11: 7] In reality this is not merely a description of the divergence of the nation, it is rather a symbolic description of the divergence of individuals. Disagreement has emerged among us, so that we became strangers to one another.

This is not limited to the language, since those knowledgeable among us can make their concepts converge, whenever they read the dictionaries proficiently. The problem does not end here. The problem is that you would destroy the Other with his/[her] language. This is why some of the colonists wanted to eliminate the language of the colonized people, since by one’s language one remains him/[her]self and thus continues to defy. Under the Ottoman colonization of the Balkans, the Turks’ elimination of the Greek language was an essential element of the annihilation of the Greek people. And those who were martyred, among the Greeks, were martyred because of their strive to preserve the language. That is why the revival of a language in any country is the revival of the national identity. The one language was the expression of love.

The mere use of the same terminologies does not always lead us to the purpose. What happens, that whenever you compose a statement according to the grammar of the language and the meaning of the terminologies as they are in dictionaries, the Other misunderstands you? Perhaps there is heedlessness or abhorrence toward the one conversing you, which drives you to distort what he/[she] wanted. Perhaps there is an interpretation of what he/[she] said which imposes upon him/[her] a sense he/[she] would not mean. Language is not [a mere] language. It is “wisdom and spirit”. This is similar to the hands of God the Father, as Irenaeus, the bishop of Lion, said; and they are as well the same for the human being. Wisdom, for us, communicates wisdom and the spirit communicates the spirit. And then the articulation becomes either a tool for convergence or divergence. Whenever it serves for convergence unity between you and the Other occurs, with or without the words of the dictionary. Tools might be eliminated, whenever the heart [communicates] the heart.

We cannot penetrate the depth of this reflection unless we accept the words of “Muḥῑṭ al- Muḥῑṭ” [the Arabic dictionary] in explaining the meaning of language, saying: “it is probable that it has derived from the Greek word logos, and it means word.” This is my contention. And if we come back to the introduction of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word”, “and the Word was with God” [John 1: 1]. The Greek original for “with” means “to” or “towards”, and thus the meaning would be that the word is moving or approaching God. And whenever we project this meaning on the “word” in its human sense, we should understand that the human word does not exist other than through its truthfulness, or its movement toward Truth. And since the human word is not always truthful, this gives rise at least to ambiguity, and at most to a conflict. Communication does not occur between the truthful and the deceptive one, and then, words turn into knives.

In a sense, which I think is close to the Greek purport, [when it is said that someone] talked to another means that he/[she] has hearted the other. And the hurt is painful. Thus, remoteness is not possible between the word and the truthfulness of the honest and pure person. There is no aloofness between what you say and what you are. This is the essence of testimony, whether by the tongue or the blood. Whenever you carry the attribute of purity it would be transmitted through you, and you would become either the one spoken with, i.e. the wounded one, or the speaker. You would articulate your utterance with or without words, but always with love. Love, then, transmits and is transmitted, and itself is communication.

And if you wish, love is communion [or communication in love]. We borrow the word from the sensible to the rational, and as men and women are united through being merciful to one another, as the Qur᾿an says, the person communicates another through honesty and humility. Then, there would be no need for a language. The body has been a barrier for the convergence of thoughts, thus the language was made for the purpose of making encounter possible. However, sometimes the language has become [an instrument for] separation and division. Through it the bond has disappeared and the tongues has been confused because of sins, until from above descends that which brings the tongues together.

In relation to the collapse of the tower of Babel and its city, we read in the Book of Acts: “When the day of Pentecost had come (that is the fiftieth day after Easter), they were all together in one place (which is in contrast to the dispersion in Babel). And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages” (2: 1-4).

My reading of this text is that the language each of the disciples has spoken reflects the tongue of fire which has descended upon him. You either speak of fire or you are about nothing, and this requires that you use your tongue, lips, or it does not require any sensible thing, since your heart would utter. Then, communication would become communion [or communication in love].

There is no language in heaven, since those deified ones have been united with God, and God is relation and does not need any tool. The deified ones look at God, as every one of them sees on the Other’s face the manifestation of the Lord.

Here, we can imitate the heavenly ones whenever language becomes a bind that brings us and the Other together. So we love the Other and we let our language carry the light whenever it hears an utterance or it doesn’t.

Maximus the Confessor, who was martyred in the seventh century in the Byzantine Empire and was born in Golan, said that the words of the prophets are incarnations of God. This is of course an image. However, he, the eastern Christian, knew that the perfect prayer, known as the prayer in the name of Jesus can be the prayer of the heart, that is to say the prayer can be raised without words. In our tradition, whenever the ascetics were outside the Sunday Liturgy, as they were leading an ascetic life in the wilderness, they have fulfilled the prayer of the heart, namely they have dispensed with the words of prayers known to them. It has been told, as part of this literature, that once monks have asked their elder to talk to them and he answered them: “If you have not learned from my voice, how would you learn from my words?”

You keep silent in order that God talks in you and you might preserve God’s mind and God might shape you from within. Whenever this truly happens within you, you become a light and Godself becomes your word. This is why I have heard one of our preachers saying in excitement: “whenever you become living gospels, tear up the written Gospel”. Yes, we pursue the Holy Books, in order that we do not deceive ourselves and think that we have reached perfection. Nevertheless, the aim of that preacher, as I perceived it, was that the purpose behind the word is silence. Our Fathers said: The Word (the eternal Son) has come out of the silence of the Father. And the Son gives Himself to you by the Holy Spirit, who makes you either a writing theologian or a saint who does not write. And the saint, according to our monastic narrative, whenever raises his/[her] fingers in front of the believers, they see them as ten candles, and this would be enough for them to learn. This is the culmination of communication.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “التواصل” –An Nahar- 07.11.2009

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