Monthly Archives

March 2010

2010, An-Nahar, Articles

The Lord Enters Jerusalem / March 27, 2010

This would be the last time Jesus enters Jerusalem “the killer of the prophets and those sent to her”, an event we commemorate tomorrow (Palm Sunday). Jesus knows of the conspiracy of the Jews and that is mentioned more than once in the gospels. We believe that the Lord went to death voluntarily even though He was a political victim. Did not Caiaphas say “It is better that one man dies for the people” (John18:11). This entrance into Jerusalem, which seemed at first to be one of victory and welcomed by the nation and its children, was a path to death. “The cup of suffering that the Father gives me will I not drink it?”

Jesus, despite His meekness, was confrontational par excellence. And whoever studies the gospels realizes that the sort of confrontations he had would have to end in a disaster. One wonders how a poor unarmed man protected by no one opposes, with such serenity and composure on His part, the chief priests and scribes and the powerful party of the Pharisees, who showed ferocious enmity, such that they were able to strongly challenge the Roman Governor and forced him to give up Jesus to be killed!

He enters the Holy City knowing that He offers Himself as sacrifice; but also knowing that He would launch, with His crucifixion, love into this world; a model of all those martyred whose blood speaks till eternity.

The blood of the man from Nazareth tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…”. Humanity, for the first time, realized that God is not a god of armies despite the fact that the people who call themselves by His name have armies. His blood was the only language of love He spoke to the world with. Love made the Son of God Himself come down to tell the world that their God is such that the only way he can tell them that He loves them is with (the language of) blood.

Time, for Jesus, was not wasted from the day he entered Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) till the day he was killed. There is no room to mention here all what He did during this short duration of time; but it was full of strong actions like the casting out of the traders from the Temple; those that made the Temple a den of thieves. Nothing is sacred for the thief. Many of them have taken positions in the Church or the government. Do we cast away the thieves from their positions? Are we concerned for the sacredness of this world in all its aspects or do we take it easy because we believe that we cannot combat corruption?

Another unique manifestation is the washing of the feet of his disciples during the Last Supper. Here John puts us in the course of thought behind this action: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” Then he explained the importance of that: “”Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.”You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” It means that the greatness of those “great” among us is not complete unless they consider themselves and feel that they are at the feet of all people; and that is so because all others are better than them; and if that feeling is not in them, then they do not belong to Christ. That is so because we are here to serve others around us fully till the end of love. Only that can deliver us from our arrogance.

Perhaps the most eloquent manifestation of Jesus, one that remains forever in the Church, and that derives its meaning from his death and resurrection is the event of the Last Supper (Sacramental Supper) which Luke tells in this way: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” That became the Holy liturgy in Christianity. Jesus wanted the effectiveness of His death and resurrection to be realized in that form. And the meaning of His words that carry no other meaning is that when you perform this rite in your Sunday meeting, you become me and I become you. That becomes palpable for those who know what it means to say: “I am that whom I’m in love with and he whom I love is I.”

What justifies the above view is that the body, in Hebrew culture, denotes the person himself. To eat my body means to eat me; to take me into you so that no distance remains between me and you. There is no place here for symbolism and metaphor or any other denotation other than its Hebrew denotation. You take me wholly in the Divine Liturgy. And when he says “my blood”; that (blood) is life in Hebrew culture.  The meaning here is that my life becomes your life and your life becomes mine.

The meaning of this manifestation of Christ in the Holy Eucharist does not reach its full meaning except in farewell discourse which starts in John 4:31 until the end of John17. And that speaks thoroughly of the relation of Jesus with the Father and the Holy Spirit as it also tells of the relationship of the believers with Him. I do not think I would offend the New Testament if I said that the Farewell Discourse is its climax. Here you read what He says of himself: “I am the truth and the way and the life”. Here you get to understand the nature of Christ: “He who has seen me has seen the Father”. And here it becomes needless to talk about the “one nature” or the “two natures”. We got to know that the argument over that is one of words only, since no Christian would not believe that he, who sees Jesus, sees the Father. That there is no Christian who would not believe that his Christ is fully God and fully Man.

With the above there is a difficult commandment: “If you love me you obey my commandments.” And this is repeated several times in various ways. The meaning of the Holy Eucharist in the words: “Abide in me and I in you” contains an answer to all those who say that Christianity is only spiritual and is not related to this earth. My question here is whether the earth is only related to the earth or Heaven brings forth the earth? Is not our behavior a projection of Heaven on to Earth. If you do not adopt the meanings of the Farewell Discourse in your life, you would be the type of Christian who builds church buildings, and holds rituals, and your priests would be those who are dressed in some special clothes, and simply put, you would be of a superficial religion that has nothing to do with God’s bright shining light, and His love that is poured down on you from Christ’s heart. Such as that is the richness you would look for if you want to be a “rich “Christian.

All the passion of Christ, which I will not talk about here, is connected to this discourse. What happened to the Lord is directly linked to what He said. And what He said uncovers the meaning of what He voluntarily went through in His life. All the tenderness He shows in the Farewell Discourse, would show in His suffering, in His patience and in His constant communion with the Father before and during His death.

Here I understand what Paul has said to one of the churches: “I know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified.” 1Cor2:2. If you do not take the crucifixion to become a meaning for your life, it remains meaningless. All what we have has this meaning: which is the manifestation of God in the man Jesus of Nazareth. In Him divinity is shown not as a theory only, but as dwelling in us and a guarantee for us as a Paschal people.

Pascha is this perennial departure from our sins to God’s face; that exodus which, in History, Christ has accomplished in His body and His words. His resurrection is the clear expression that he has risen from the dead alive so that death can no more be effective in Man. So that we would become light and through us also the whole world would become light.

Translated by Riad Mofarrij

Original Text: “الدخول إلى أورشليم” – 27.03.2010

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2010, An-Nahar, Articles

Al-Rum al-Orthodox / 13.03.2010

Their Church has apostolic roots, meaning that there has never been a time since the day of Pentecost when it did not exist and meaning that it was not founded by any human. In the older terminology of the Church, it is said of the Faith that it is Orthodox, which is a Greek word meaning “of right opinion” or “giving right glory.” That is, correct opinion is revealed in worship. Thus, it was not originally called the Orthodox Church. It was only called the Universal Church (“Catholic” in Greek). The Rum Orthodox Church was called Orthodox Catholic in later eras. The two terms are in fact synonymous. So Orthodoxy is the equivalent of Catholicity, and is not dependant on anything linguistically. The Muslim Arabs called what is now the Church of the Rum Melkite, or royal, because they considered them at the time to be of the religious opinion of the Byzantine emperors. This was not always true since we differed with the Byzantine patriarchs for a short time during the reign of Heraclius, who was a supporter of monothelitism, and we differed with the patriarchs who fought against icons, ending in 843.

It remains that the dominant Arabic name was true, because the Rum mentioned in the Quran were the Eastern Romans, that is the Byzantine Empire, which is the Western name for the Romans of the East who considered themselves to be of the Roman Empire, which in their view was still undivided. This is a mistake that Europeans fell into when they translated the term “al-Rum al-Orthodox” as “grec orthodoxe” in French and similarly in English. We are not tiny remnants of Alexander’s Greek army who settled these coasts. Panteleimon al-Jawzi, compiler of the Russian-Arabic dictionary, affirmed that at the coming of Christ’s apostles to Syria or the Fertile Crescent we were Arameans. The expression “Rum Orthodox” thus does not mean that we are of Greek descent.

Liturgical language is a different matter. It was Greek in the cities, the result of Alexander’s occupation, and Syriac in the countryside. This has nothing to do with sectarian differences. All the Christians used Greek or Syriac, according to their region. Our language gradually became Arabized and we have written in Arabic since the ninth Christian century and we have been eloquent in it since the eleventh century, when we debated the Muslims in the court of the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, and their language was no more beautiful than ours. Syriac remained beside Arabic in Church services and priests would use this language according to what their flock knew. That is, the Byzantine liturgy was performed in Syriac for a long time and the Gospel was read in it in our churches until the sixteenth century.


To say that this Church is Arab by blood or by heritage or language would be incorrect. However, it is true that during the time of the Arab Revolution during the First World War she felt her own Arabness. We in Syria and Lebanon supported prince Faysal. This means that we rejected French colonialism and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire that resulted from it.

Once, with Ghassan Tueni, I tried to describe the Orthodox politically, and I said to him:

Nous sommes d’empire. It is not easy to translate this expression into Arabic. I explained to Ghassan that at the beginning of Christianity that we felt that we were within the Roman Empire (which is the same as the Byzantine Empire). After the Islamic conquest, we entered into the Dar al-Islam, in terms of governance but not religion. This is what we explained to the Umayyads when we arranged their finances and when we built a fleet for them in the port of Tripoli even while they forbade our belief and our worship.

However, we did not feel that we belonged to the Crusader principalities that persecuted us to the point of bloodshed. In the Islamic era the system of dhimmitude was not applied at all times. It is not historically true that our mentality was a dhimmi mentality while others did not have this mentality. All the Christian subjects of the Ottoman sultan paid the jizya when there was a jizya. However, it was legally abolished in the middle of the 19th century in the empire when it adopted civil law. I humbly say that I hope that Christians do not compete in denying dhimmitude. Those who implement it abandoned it one hundred and fifty years ago.

The Orthodox do not mix their religious affiliation with their civil governance. During the events of 1958, when fractiousness overtook the country, the Orthodox were one with the Lebanese government against what it considered territorial interference. During the last civil war, they did not have a militia and their Church neither blessed nor condemned any of her sons if they joined one political party or another. It is possible to say, even today, that the entire Orthodox people is Lebanese in Lebanon and there is no crisis in this. One should add that since 1975 the Church has taken explicit positions against Israel all of which appear in the record of the Synod of metropolitans headed by the patriarch and this was done entirely freely. This position was taken out of love for the Holy Places and to sanctify the rights of the Palestinian people. Not once did we talk about the Christians of Palestine, but rather about all Palestinians.

In domestic politics, the Orthodox do not have a single position, because deep down they do not feel themselves to be one sect among others. They know themselves as a Church. For this reason it is ontologically impossible for them to march behind Orthodox political leaders. They never once had a political leader, not because they are divided, but because they have forbidden political benefits for any one believer because they consider these benefits to have nothing to do with eternal life.

Today it is said that they have started to feel themselves cheated in matters relating to government positions. The newspaper al-Liwa recently made this clear with a rather academic list of names and positions. Twenty or more years ago I was talking to an Orthodox minister about this and he said to me that we can’t begin to do anything without taking a census. Perhaps the distribution of government positions took place without regard for the sect of the position-holder. But, a man has the right to wonder why high positions escape the most qualified Orthodox and they are left to be content with crumbs. I think that we in this country have sufficient understanding. But, before we abolish political sectarianism (and important people tell us that this would take two or three further agreements) we are still under the rule of political sectarianism. There are psychological minorities. Do not force this upon the fourth-largest group in the country, which, even if it is humble in its own self-estimation, is inferior to none in love of country and inferior to none in sacrifice for it. The Ottoman governates in greater Syria knew the gifts the Orthodox had for management and finance.

I am not asking for anything right now. And I am not giving advice on the level of spiritual guidance. But, I hope that the government, for its own benefit, will use employ good people. Ali ibn Abi Talib said, “Understanding. Understanding. I hope that we shall have a state built upon understanding.”

Translated from Arabic

Original Text: “الروم الأرثوذكس” – 13.03.2010

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2010, An-Nahar, Articles

The Christians of Iraq and Elsewhere / 06.03.2010

It is very easy to say that they are being exterminated or displaced by the civil war in Iraq. I understand that Sunni and Shii combatants die. This is a rule of war. Or I understand that those who resist the American occupation die. This is a story of arms. But the Christians of Mosul and of elsewhere in Iraq did not take part in the civil war and are not in the resistance. For what reason are they lead to their deaths or to expulsion from the country they love and in whose civilization they have taken part since the times of Sumer and Babel?

What has taken hold in Iraq, a country that was once so attached to Arabism and was at the forefront of the Arab countries in civic consciousness? If the government defends all its citizens without regard to religion or sect, then why are attacks focused on them and why do we calmly watch the spilling of this innocent blood? “whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind (Surat al-Ma’ida 32).” I am not comfortable blaming the death of every Christian in Iraq on al-Qaeda or on any revivalist or fundamentalist movement. Al-Qaeda and similar groups also kill Muslims. Is this a matter or religious enmity, outside the scope of the war? I do not know. It is up to the Iraqi government to investigate this. But who will ask the Iraqi government?

It is forbidden for a Christian to take revenge. By definition he forgives those who attack him. However, I cannot accept Arabs killing Arabs because of their religion. First of all this was not present in principle. And to the best of my knowledge the principle of enmity between the majority and the minority did not exist in Iraq prior to this war. There is wonton killing there that I can only understand as intending the scattering of the Christians in that great country.

Who desires this?

I understand that the Americans are not eager to preserve the minorities. They were not interested in this for a single day. We know where their interests lie. I was counting on the minorities being under the care of the state. It does not appear that this will be realized in this brother country or nor is there any indication that this will be realized. I am no psychologist, but I hope to understand from psychologists that the civil war stirred up feelings among some against the minorities. Does the victim in the moments before he is slaughtered feel that his killer truly became an enemy on account of religious feelings within himself? I have no answer to this. However, this must be made clear in order to heal the future of coexistence if there is any hope of coexistence.


I will mention something that someone said to me: The current situation is one of general confusion and in this atmosphere Christians are being killed. This argument is refuted by the fact that no Christians are taking part in the war. For sincere, thoughtful, people, this is a threat to the state’s existence as a state. But before they speak with their politicians, all Iraqis must cry out and protest out loud in order to purify their consciences and together build a civilized nation after the end of current events.

I do not scour the newspapers to see if there is a single Muslim in Lebanon crying out in the face of these criminals in Iraq. The important thing is that such a man should testify to his brotherhood with the Christians in Mosul, Baghdad, and elsewhere or that he testify to shared Arabness. Silence is murderous. It makes you feel like you’re a foreigner.

A non-Christian in Lebanon asked me: What will happen to us after this attempt at exterminating the Christians of Iraq? I assured him by saying that the Muslims of Lebanon not only love us but are eager for us to remain here with them. I told him this in order to spread peace in people’s hearts and contentment with cooperation with Muslims. However, I would like to be made surer that there is not the strong desire among certain jihadist, takfiri groups to expel the Christians through terror.


What happened in Egypt—I mean the killing of Copts—in terms of means and motive, the main motive being hatred, is nothing new. This has occurred for years and the government also does not act because it seems to fear the masses or some fundamentalist segments. Do you not remember that the Copts were at the forefront of resistance to the English in 1919? Do you not know that the one of the major leaders of the Wafd Party was the Christian Makram Obeid? Have you not read that Pope Shenouda always refused to use the word “minorities” when the Americans were agitating to stir up this question in terms of human rights law? The Christians in historical Palestine have become 2% of the population. Jerusalem, which prior to the occupation had a substantial Christian population while now the Christian population does not surpass one or two large Christian villages in Lebanon.

What is the difference between evacuation and expulsion? Evacuation is a band of silk that does no harm and expulsion is a band of silk that strangles. The solution is in the hands of understanding, pure and strong Muslims. How do you rein in the killing? I do not know. Verbal sympathy is not enough. Loud outcry is not enough. Islam does not reject using power within the state or outside the state. For hundreds of Iraqis to be exterminated is a great problem. For ten or more Copts to be slaughtered every year in Upper Egypt is a question laid before the Egyptian entity and the laws within it. In the face of all these horrors the Islamic conscious cannot just look on, especially since so many tongues and so many pens have talked for a very long time about Islamic tolerance. Does this remain on the wish list or will Islamic societies truly become free societies for all rational creatures within them?

We want to live with Muslims in the European sense of the word “freedom.” We desire God’s peace upon them and for them to flourish in every way. This is at least what pious Christians say. I am not talking here about Lebanon where the hearts are one and in my view they are united whatever the form of the government or its organization may be. I have the right to hope that our Muslim brothers will resist the fanatic movements that work against them with the same power that they work against us. However, the Lebanese model does not protect against the movement that might come from abroad.

This movement needs an Islamic denunciation from here and a Lebanese Islamic movement to teach the Arabs freedom for all kinds of people no matter whether they are close or distant in belief. It is not the place here to point to what happens to Christians in Pakistan and Indonesia. I believe that the Arab Muslims are the teachers or tolerant Islam in the world. However this requires a true belief in complete freedom. How their leaders can derive this from their heritage– that is their concern. I do not have patience for to wait for the God that the Muslims worship to be my assurance.

Translated from Arabic

Original Text: “مسيحيو العراق وغير العراق” – 06.03.2010

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