Monthly Archives

April 2010

2010, An-Nahar

Religious Freedom / 17.04.2010

The mystery of freedom lies in that God has created the human being in a way different from the mechanism and the performance of the animal, since God wanted to create the human being in God’s image. The image of God for some of our Fathers implies God’s freedom. Thus, the human race, with its own will, does not entail the animal nature. Absolute adherence to instinct is not of the human world; rather instinct is directed, controlled or guided. If we consent that human beings are particular kind [or family of specious] on their own, which first is characterized by freedom of choice, we dare to say that this entails the freedom of the human being to choose his/[her] religion, namely to accept it or repudiate it, and this in turn entails our respect to this decision, whether of acceptance or repudiation. This is what we call religious freedom, which involves evangelization and calling.

Your freedom to hold your father’s religion or reject it is the result of your love of truth, and no one else has the right to impose upon you his/[her] perception of truth. It is not possible for any rational creature to tell others that he/[she] thinks for them. God has not authorize anyone to control the conscience of people, namely to enter into their minds as if their choice is not of their own mind.

I understand that one of the rulers of this world might think that his/[her] religion is true, however, I do not understand that he/[she] imposes that religion on the people. Since then he/[she] will be breaking into the people’s minds, namely he/[she] will be invalidating the people’s decision to embrace a different religion. “There is no compulsion in religion”. [Sura Al-Baqara, (The Cow), 256] I accept this as an eternal and final word, which no other consideration can abolish it. It is an antecedent statement to all other statements which resemble it, whether they were issued by the modern legislative statements of the United Nations, or by the philosophers of Enlightenment, or all the ensuing revolutions.

The political philosophy which emerged from these revolutions, or by their own credence, brought to us the notion of religious freedom, as they teach nowadays. Though the first to legislate religious freedom was the emperor Constantine the Great, and after his conversion to Christianity he did not invalidate the freedom of heathenism which was widespread in the Roman Empire. However, the position I am defending here is not founded on the political philosophy.

It is possible that religious freedom has emerged in the modern era, as the Evangelicals (the Protestants) defended through it their existence in the Catholic countries, and later the philosophers and those who enact the laws, in the civilized countries, have apprehended it. My defense [however] is not for constitutions. Rather it is obedience to God. I might have borrowed images from Christian thought in order to transmit a Qur᾿anic expression: “There is no compulsion in religion”. Christian thought, in this concern, is based upon the full unity between what the heart believes and what the tongue confesses, and no one controls or has dominion over your heart, since God alone is its owner. And whenever there is no duality between the heart and the tongue, and you believe within the depth of your existence that God utters in your heart, you cannot repeal your heart so that your tongue may lie and say whatever the strong one [who has authority upon you] wants, who prevents the bond between your inner [reality] and outer [expression].

You cannot silence the tongues, whenever they tell you that they are merely expressing whatever the hearts have transmitted to them. And you cannot subjugate the hearts to your heart, since you do not have a decisive proof that the word of God is in your heart and not in another’s. Your Lord, and not you, beholds the hearts. Thus, you have to accept their resolution.

This makes religious pluralism imperative. Thus, there are mistaken religious dispositions, which God alone rectifies them, and the [religious or missionary] calling either rectifies or harms them. However, mistakes with conviction are better than compulsion, since mistakes are human, while compulsion is not.

Where is the government [the governmental regime] in all this? My answer is that the religious domain does not interfere in the regime, which by its nature is compulsory, and compulsion is tyranny. The government does not govern the hearts. The state might intervene whenever a religion, because of its politicization, harms security or stability, or it was the cause of collision among the followers of religions. However, the government’s way is not self alignment with a religion, but maintaining security. Only then, the government would remain within the scope of politics.

The state cannot be religious. Religion is about people or it is within people, while the state is watching over them. I do not discuss the religions which claim that they determine the worldly matters. This is an opinion and the opinion of one differs from another’s. Scholars of religions might argue. This is their question, and there is no harm in this whenever the pen and the tongue are preserved from revile and denouncement. There is an academic method for discussion and this expands the knowledge and contributes for the immersion of a theology upon another, and makes dialogue possible, and dialogue enable you to cite the other’s words and also to respond courteously.

There is discussion in dialogue; however, it should not necessarily be a distressing rivalry, or denying peace. I know that there is no such fusion among religions. However, communities are not required to be fused at every aspect. There are many elements that unite the communities, such as water, bread, electricity, medical care and livelihood. All these criteria are acknowledged by the modern mind and are agreed upon. Whenever these are available, this would satisfy the state. And you pray according to your own way and another according to his/[her]. The day might come when the person realizes that his/[her] way does not astound him/[her] as it used to do in the past. This is his/[her] question with his/[her] Lord, namely this is about inducing the conscience, and you cannot suspend another’s conscience. Whenever you force anyone you would be saying that only your conscience is true, and thus you would be eliminating the Other, and become a tyrant which exposes you to the use of violence.

You have to make a choice between violence and total freedom, in a way that if you choose violence you would be not only silencing the tongues and the pens but also preventing the hearts to feel as their Lord wanted them to feel. God allows (and does not order) that you feel wrong in order that human dignity might be complete.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “الحرية الدينية” –An Nahar- 17.04.2010

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2010, An-Nahar, Articles

A Single Date for Easter? / 10.04.2010

For a number of years I have heard Christians of different churches declare their agreement on a single date for Easter and they add that coming to such an understanding would unify them. My fear is that many are satisfied that there is no other difference between us than this. What is even more dangerous is that many go so far as to say that the dogmas which separate us are the work of theologians and that some bishops feel threatened by the loss of what people call their centers of power even though the churches are content for the Church in its unified state would not require the bishops to quit– there are a tiny number of them in the world.

Thus my feeling that this rush for a unified date for Easter among some hides an attitude that depreciates the importance of dogmas and so goes beyond the issue of the feast, which is unquestionably at a lower level than the level of dogma.

The unity of Christian sentiments seems to me to be related to problem of Christian unity from the narrowest perspective or from the perspective of someone who is ignorant of the fact that there is a whole basket of disagreements that must be addressed together.

Disagreement over the dating of Easter was known in the second century when the Church was one. In Asia Minor, they celebrated it on the 14th of Nisan while in Alexandria and Rome it was on a Sunday. They worked in unity to establish a single date and arrived at it being on Sunday. They considered a unified date to be preferable, but the difference between the two dates did not constitute a schism.

Of what use has been a single date for the feast among the Catholic Church and the Protestant churches since their disagreements have remained intense for the past four hundred-odd years? In the 1920’s, when the Armenian Orthodox chose the western date for Easter did they then belong to the west on the level of dogma? Of course not. What makes their choosing a common date for Easter with us difficult is their complete unity with the Armenian church in their mother country. The Armenians of Lebanon and the Arab East will not adopt a different date without consulting their mother church and for this reason our Armenian brothers will not be part of any unity for the date of Easter in Lebanon.


The rule for the timing of Easter was set down at the ecumenical council of Nicea in the year 325. It requires that we begin the calculation for Easter from the Spring Equinox that takes place on the 21st of March. Then we wait for the full moon that follows it. The Sunday after the full moon is Easter. This ancient principle was confirmed by the ecumenical gathering that took place in Aleppo in 1997.

After Pope Gregory XIII corrected the Julian calendar in 1582– a correction which was not accepted by the Orthodox Church—the Julian (Orthodox) 21st of March started to be different from the Gregorian 21st of March that was followed by most countries. So Catholics began to follow their March and to wait for their full moon to start their feast and the Orthodox 14th of March is now in this century 14 days after this and they await their full moon and their Easter is the Sunday after this.

So according to the movement of the moon we have two dates or one date for the feast. If the full moon follows soon after the Gregorian 21st of March, then the Orthodox have to wait until the next full moon to have their feast on the following Sunday and for this reason the Orthodox Easter can be far after from the Catholic one. However, if the full moon is far after the Gregorian Spring Equinox, then the feast is on a single day. The problem, then, is that the Catholics adopted the Gregorian calendar while the Orthodox are still on the Julian calendar which Rome abandoned in the time of Pope Gregory XIII.

It seems to me that if we held to the rule of the First Ecumenical Council—that is, the Spring Equinox then the first full moon—then the Orthodox must abandon the Julian calendar. This would require the mutual understanding of all the Orthodox churches in a general council or the exchange of letters between their heads. This appears difficult at the current time because, even if Orthodox decisions originate canonically from the heads of the churches, they tend the sentiments of their flocks. As far as I can ascertain, their sentiments do not seem to me to be very enthusiastic for change. They are composed of flocks and dioceses that are closer to holding to their heritage and who feel that the date of the feast is a part of this heritage. Our patriarchs and archbishops are not masters over their people in an absolute sense because of the system which coordinates between the clergy and the laity.

At this point in history, the Orthodox churches are enmeshed with ethnicities and in places like the Balkans, there has been bloodshed between Catholic ethnicities such as the Croats and Orthodox ethnicities. This is a grouping of different nations that are not prepared for change because they feel that sometimes it goes against dogma. You deal with peoples and not just with churches. Thus I do not anticipate a sudden change among the Orthodox peoples.

It remains that change, even if it is impossible at the present time, is possible on the regional level.


This is what Pope Paul VI thought in the 60’s during the sessions of Vatican II when he allowed Catholic minorities living in countries with an Orthodox majority to follow the Orthodox Easter, and this is what Catholic Christians do in Egypt and Jordan and Occupied Palestine. The Maronites of Lebanon studied this matter and they were almost at the point of celebrating Easter with the Orthodox after a meeting in Cyprus. I remember that their Patriarchate announced that they would consult Maronite people the about this question, but it appears that the patriarchate never undertook this consultation. Or they did and we don’t know the result.

Then there appeared literature coming from some Maronite intellectuals claiming that the Maronites in Lebanon are not a minority and so Pope Paul VI’s permission did not apply to them. The Orthodox patriarchate did not dispute this position. On the other hand, the opinion of many Orthodox was that Lebanon is not an ecclesial unit but rather that the unit is the Antiochene space. That is, one must consider all of the churches existing in the Antiochene space, Syria and Lebanon, together. If we adopted this principle then Pope Paul VI’s guarantee applies and the Catholics of the region of Syria and Lebanon can celebrate Easter according to the Orthodox calculation.

And now we find ourselves at an impasse. On the international level it would be irrational for the local Orthodox (in Syria and Lebanon) to be divided in their celebration from the Russians and the Greeks in their various countries, the Bulgarians, the Serbs and others by choosing a Lebanese day for the feast.

There are many who call for a unified date for the feast in our regions. As I image it, the Orthodox say to the Catholics—“the bond brotherhood between us requires you to celebrate with us as you were given permission to do so. Understand, beloved, that if we say that we cannot separate ourselves in this matter from our brothers in the Orthodox world. You, on the other hand, are not leaving anything since the matter was decided by your first source of authority. No one’s essential being is tied to the date of the feast and unity in a single date is considered by the people to be a concern about brotherly love. Let us then live this love on a region scale if we cannot live it now on the global level.

Translated from Arabic

Original Text: “تاريخ واحد للفصح” – 10.04.2010

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2010, Articles, Raiati

Resurrection / 4.4.2010

The feast of Resurrection is continuous in the church since it is held every Sunday, and this weekly Paschal service precedes having the annual Pascha. The resurrection is not important for us as an event but as a meaning, and this meaning begins on the Good Friday because Christ’s predominance over death appeared on the cross. Glory, in John’s gospel, is mainly what appeared from the Master while hung on the cross according to his saying: “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” Interpreters agree that glory means the crucifixion.

So, since the Calvary we taste the triumph of Christ over death and sin. Likewise, The dwelling Christ in the tomb is not under the dominance of death but dwells in the entire universe since he is victorious.

Christ’s glory shines as his body did not stink. And you could notice that the church in its gospel and worship does not use the term “Christ’s corpse” or “Christ’s remains”.

His body is always in light and never tasted corruption.

We call his body a luminous body according to Paul’s sayings when he spoke in the first epistle to the Corinthians about the resurrection of the dead on the last day: “The body is sown dead; it is raised eternal… it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power, it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body”.

In fact, Paul applied on the resurrection of the dead what he knew about the resurrection of the Savior whose body became “spiritual”. Spiritual does not mean ethereal or gaseous as Jehovah’s witnesses say. Spiritual means that it is not subject to the limitations of the earthly human being whose body is opaque or concentrated. The luminous body which the Master got penetrates barriers. He entered to the disciples while the doors were closed.

And the spiritual body which the Christ got was not recognized neither by the disciples when appeared to them nor by Mary Magdalene in the garden, but he introduced himself which means that he gave their earthly eyes a grace from him to be able to know him. And when he ate with them fish and honey he made himself capable of that (eating) in order to participate with them, since his luminous body was not in need of food.

Based on this, the need to instincts is ended in heaven. This is why the Master said: “They neither marry, nor are given marriage”. This was a trend related to our life on earth. According to all this, we must recognize that Christ will neither die nor will be ruled over by death, this means that he has put a limit to death and entered into resurrection.

This is why we celebrate Pascha for the Lord because his reception of these things is an introduction to our reception of them. In this sense the apostle says: He is the first out from the dead, which means that he launches the vanishing of the kingdom of death so that we could ourselves emerge from it on the last day.

This is what Paul saw when he said: “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom 6: 4). As if he’s saying that Christ put for us the basis of a righteous life that we live thanks to him, because if he hadn’t resurrected we’d be dead forever and without having hope, and the whole world would be drowned in corruption, as if God created us to vanish, and God did not create the world to Vanish. The world vanished itself by sin, and Christ revived it by his resurrection.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “القيامة” – 4.4.2010-Raiati no14

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2010, An-Nahar, Articles

O My Crucified Love / 02.04.2010

O Jesus, “O my love crucified”. You had been hanging on “our sins” before they hanged you on the cross. Our sins killed you as we were amusing with them. We behold you now as having “no appearance that we should be attracted to you “bloody and pierced, yet not broken; an object of God’s love. You condemn our iniquities through your body but you do not condemn us because your heart cannot bear to have any person die in it. We are homeless oh Lord. You have stretched your arms to embrace us so you can bring us back to your Father a pure and whole humanity so that He (the Father) does not pronounce His judgment on us on the that day. And you tell Him (the Father) “What is it with them and death! Forgive the trespasses of those who lie, steal and murder because you love them the same way you love those who are pure. All of them are your children and all are my brethren. You enfold them with your mercy and no one can be saved except through this mercy. You have revealed to the “Beloved Disciple” that “God is love “.That is an understanding that Love is you and you dwell in him who loves. You also dwell in the unbeliever; you only ask him to believe in your forgiveness. That would bring him back to you. You forgive him because you long for him at all times.

You long for him because he is the offspring of your love, the love you want no one to be excluded from. If he ignores your love, then of what importance is anything else? Our great Fathers said that you brought us to being so that your love does not remain a captive of your own being. Father you are a god who reaches out to others embracing them. And you were resurrected in me (Jesus) so Man can know that (the resurrection) and live, becoming aware that he is God’s kin.  I have been his companion even unto death so that his knowledge of you would be new; no more are you “up there” and he is “down here”. There is no distance between him and you anymore. The ancients knew that they were close to you, but when they got to know me they realized that your grace has made them in a better standing; they got to know that they are one with you. And that required that I be wounded. You have ordained that I be wounded so that they would love you and be healed. And when healed, you would become their song and joy. And joy is heaven.

You did not raise any one to You except when You have sent me down to them. In a little while, they will be ascending (to You) with me so that Your joy will be full in us and thus Your kingdom is revealed to them. I have told them that Your kingdom is in them and then I revealed that to them further in my death.

Jesus, take me to that love with which my sins are daily atoned for. Let me not see except your face, for every other face is a distraction. Constrain me in your love so that my passions will not “tickle” me, and people would be able to see your light manifested on my face; but let them know that this light is not from me but is poured on me through your tenderness. You have mixed with us so that we can taste you (experience you) and our relationship with you after you consummated the last supper is that you give us yourself in the form of the bread and the cup so that we will always thirst and hunger for you thus bridging the distance between us and your Father.

And when you come to us in that form (bread and wine) we know we are not brothers in flesh and blood only, but we have become so in your Spirit. We do not bring you to us; you carry us off to yourself. You, you reveal what we receive from the altar of salvation (i.e. the bread and wine) as “You”, the one seated at the right hand of the Father.

We see that your arms stretched on the cross embrace us binding us to you and your Father in the power of your Spirit. We return to your world so that we do not get dispersed in our world; but we return to you, you having become our world, so we do not stray away to another where there is boredom and death.

You have said: “He, who wants to follow me, let him deny himself, carry his cross and follow me.” We know that this is hard on us. But we believe that you have carried our misery; and so we get comfort from every word you have uttered. And you have said: “You are clean because of the words that I have spoken to you”. We become a new creation by listening to what you alone said and to none else. After that we delightfully enjoy your Kingdom.  Jesus, be our Lord so we can be certain that your peace is in us.  The peace you give gushes forth from your wounds healing our wounds waking us from the slumber of death.

This New Life you have called us to is in us and remains there when we keep your commandments. If we stay away from your commandments, we become merely a mirage and then dwindle to nothingness. Lord, do not leave us to the nothingness in which your words are not heard. Pull us out of the mire of our sinfulness that distracts us from beholding your cross and that makes us inclined to listen to the “voice” of deception. And deception is the “lust of the eyes and that of the flesh and pride of living”. We know that all those are “deaths” that obstruct the power of your cross working in us.

Oh Lord, we want you. Do not fail us nor let us be tempted with iniquity. You have decreed that the saints should fly away from that (iniquity). And as we follow you, we do so as if saintliness is a burden or impossibility. Change us into what you desire us to be so that we would want only your will thus becoming profoundly united with you. Make straight our thoughts so we do not miss your will for us, purify our intentions so that we would accept, with joy, what you intend for us; and so we become really your friends. Stay close to us in our weaknesses so that we can obtain your strength and not fear death.

Oh my Lord, keep every shadow of death away from us. And aid us with your resurrection power when the hour of our meeting the Father draws nigh. At our last moments, cast not us away so that the darkness does not overwhelm us. Reveal to us that our departure from this world is the door to your bosom. Remind us of this always so that when we realize that our time is near, we also realize that we are not alienated from your presence. Your face (presence), your face oh Lord is our comfort in this weary world. Permit it not that we despair of the hope of being close to you; such despair is death itself.

Call every dying person to you at the hour of his death because if he does not hear your voice he will remain deaf. Reveal your face to him so that he accepts the bosom of your Father. All those who die enter into His mercy. That was said by our Fathers who had practiced the ascetic feats. Your Mother, oh Lord, cannot stand that any one should end up in the fire (of hell). And you have told your beloved disciple standing at the cross that she is his mother conveying to us that she is the mother of everyone who is loved by you. She does not like anyone to perish for good; so when they get saved they realize that she has interceded for them. That is the meaning of the wedding at Cana of Galilee, oh Lord.

That wedding is the image of your wedding with humanity; a wedding in blood. That itself will be the eternal wedding when you gather those who love you from the ends of the earth; then their sufferings will end and they will exult in you. Those whom you have “kidnapped” to yourself will follow you wherever you walk up there.

All what we have seen of your goodness is but a preparation for this “last day”. The resurrection, of which we have tasted many “resurrections” in the love you have for us, that resurrection you accomplished after your passion, will be revealed to us as an in-gathering of those who have been drawn to your love. After that we will play, with the angels, music on the harps of victory, and each moment of Heaven will be in us a new song for you.

And all that in Heaven is an echo of what we on earth chant: Christ Is Risen.

Translated by Riad Mofarej

Original Text: “يا عشقي المصلوب” – 02.04.2010

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