Monthly Archives

December 2010

2010, Articles, Raiati

To die Orthodox / 26.12.10

You don’t have an opinion in being born Orthodox. To be raised in this church means to accept my upbringing, to become steady in my church, and to be present whenever it wanted my presence (In Sundays and feasts, during the Lent, and if my work allowed I visit my church if it was open everyday). Our people say using the common language: “I am going to the prayer”, because they feel that the main role of the building of the church is to have prayers.

But in my home, what prayer shall I pray while not having all these huge books that we use? You can at least read in the small Horologion (book of hours) or maybe in the big Horologrion. You can repeat fixed available prayers, and if you had more awareness the priest might guide you into what you pray.

You should participate in the Divine Liturgy in the church of you parish, and if it was far then you go to the nearest church to your home, and do not excuse yourself by going to a temple of a different faith saying that it is the nearest church. Religion is not related to what is near or far. You are a member in the Orthodox Church, and you have to strengthen your membership in it by staying related to it all the time. You cannot simply say: All rituals are alike; it is not a matter of rituals, it is a matter of belonging. If you live according to the Orthodox faith, you go to its center. Others have different beliefs, we respect them and cooperate with them in a lot of issues, we hope to unite together in the time that God sees appropriate in his wisdom and will. You go to the desired unity coming from your church, and you walk towards the unity holed up with what you inherited from the saints where you were baptized. You and the sons of your church together love the other brothers and each one of us and them stands where his brothers and shepherds are.

Moreover, remember that you go to church to learn. Through preaching and meetings or biblical evenings that the responsible people direct you through them, you receive the orthodox teaching that contains our dogma. Others have their dogmas that we don’t argue about; scholars discuss them until the conflict points between us are discovered. You are not launching a war against anyone when you commit to go only to your church.

This stays until your death. I remember that my mother told me several times: “I know that I want to die Orthodox”. I don’t know why she said this and nothing else tempted her. You will not stay Orthodox unless you decided to do that and you had determination to do it. You have to say this for people around you if some of them were from different faiths. To be buried in an Orthodox cemetery is something very important so that your bones will be with the bones of the sons of your religion. They are bodies embraced by the Holy Spirit. Do not accept to be thrown any way.

This is how your loyalty to Christ should be. The Orthodox faith is not a shirt you wear a day and take off the other. It stays with you all your life through faith, understanding, prayer and religious traditions.

The religion that we live in our church is awareness, the awareness that carries you to the heavens.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “أن أموت أرثوذكسيًا” – 26.12.10

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2010, Articles, Raiati

Sunday of the Fathers / 19.12.2010

The sections of the epistle and Gospel carry the content of the Sunday of the Fathers, the Sunday before the nativity of the Lord. The epistle names characters from the Old Testament, Gideon, Barak, and others, in addition to the prophets that spoke in a way or another about the Savior. While the section of the Gospel is taken from Matthew who mentions a lot of important characters that descend from Abraham and that Lord Jesus comes from and ends with Joseph Mary’s betrothed. It ends with Joseph because the descent is for the person who’s believed to be the father as Luke says about him in his ascending list of descent which starts with Joseph and ends with Adam.

The epistle speaks about the virtues of those: “they worked righteousness, obtained promises, escaped the edge of the sword, and out of weakness were made strong”, it also spoke about they spiritual fight “they wandered in deserts and mountains”, “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, that they should not be made perfect apart from us”. This means that there is no perfection until Christ’s advent, and the key word here is faith.

Faith is also a character of those mentioned in the introduction of Matthew’s Gospel; the content of this introduction that we are reading is faith. Matthew started with Abraham the father of the faithful since he is the first person that believed in one God. After that, Moses’ Law comes, and then David the father of Christ.

Why all of these names? Matthew wanted to show that there is a sequence of faithful generations before Christ who didn’t come to destroy but to fulfill. Jesus, in his human nature, descended from a faithful offspring and faith was fulfilled through him.

After mentioning all these descents, Matthew tells the story of the nativity of the Lord from Mary. The virgin shall be with child, and this has been said by prophet Isaiah, and bear a Son and they shall call his name Jesus (Joshua in Hebrew) which means “God saves” through this child who’s not born by the will of man but of his Father who is in the heavens.

Joseph did not know Mary physically before giving birth. He also didn’t know her after that, and she remained a virgin. She is the “ever virgin” as the fifth ecumenical council called her; and the expression “The brothers of Jesus” refers in the Hebrew language to his relatives, and does not necessarily mean that they are from one mother. Here we do not have a chance to expand our talk about it; this is the faith of the church.

How should we welcome Jesus’ nativity? It is a nativity of the salvation that we obtain through his death and resurrection. This is why the church called it “the small feast” and called Pascha “The big feast”. Jesus was born from a virgin and wants to be born everyday spiritually from a virgin soul, i.e. a soul free from sins. The person that loves sin or wants it doesn’t accept Jesus in his soul. The Lord was, physically, related to Abraham and his offspring. The important thing is to be related to Christ through your pure soul. Christmas, then, is accomplished everyday in you if you accepted to remove every deception, lie, impurity, hatred, revenge, and pride. If you gathered the beauties of virtue in your self, Jesus will come out from it to the world to illuminate the world with his grace.

Do not celebrate only by giving gifts to children; there is one gift the Father gave to all humans and it is Christ. If you obeyed him then you abide in him and he abides in you. When you carry the Lord inside your entity he will make you a gift for people. Love is the gift.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “أحد النسبة” – 19.12.2010-Raiati no50

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2010, Articles, Raiati

Sunday of the Forefathers / 12.12.2010

In the Sunday that follows this one, which is the Sunday of the fathers, we mention the Fathers starting from Abraham, the Fathers whom Jesus came from physically according the Matthew’s story. This is the list of the Hebrew Fathers although Abraham was not Hebrew. Matthew addressed in his Gospels Jews that were waiting Christ to come from them. However, the Lord also comes from those who lived before the Jews. This is what Luke will mention as he makes Lord Jesus not only from Abraham but also from Adam. Maybe Luke was from Gentile origins from Antioch or was an intruder on Judaism and wanted to give an overall human impression to the person of Christ.

The church embodied this overall view in this Sunday where we mention Forefathers to Christ which were Gentiles (from the Pagans). We chant in the vespers: “you saved through faith the old fathers, and through them you pre-talked with the people from the Gentiles”. We also chant saying that Christ the savior “Magnified the Forefathers in all nations”. Some of them were clearly Gentile, and some were Jewish. Melchizedek is mentioned; as he has been mentioned in the epistle to the Hebrews.

Melchizedek met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and Abraham gave him a tenth out of everything. “Having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God”. All of this and he is not Hebrew. We mention the Forefathers starting from Adam.

This is why Christ is greater than Israel and is the head of the Israel of God which is the church. So, Paul says in his epistle to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek”. What is meant here is that those coming from the Greek culture have become one in the church with those coming from Israel, the same meaning is found in his saying “neither circumcision (i.e. Jews) nor uncircumcision” (and this is how he names Gentiles that are not circumcised). He also says “neither barbarian nor Scythian”. Barbarians according to Aristotle are people that are not Greek, and Scythians are from Iranian origins and used to live in the south of Russia.

All of these ethnic differences, that the ancient people used to be proud of, do not unite unless combined to Christ. From this angle you would have got rid of the enmity of races; and all that it carried in its paganism from good and knowledge would become ready for the Savior to come. Before Christ’s nativity from Mary, the ancient people have, in a way or another, talked about him and waited him with all the understanding and good that they had. Even if Christ came physically from the Jews, but he was from the moral side the heir of all cultures. He baptized these cultures through the Gospel; everything that was against the Gospel fell from their thought, and everything that was in the Gospel was stabilized.

Christ’s words before the writing of the Gospel were implanted in the cultures of the nations that preceded Jesus and espoused him. So, the Savior inherited what he did from these nations, and while coming to him they threw away everything that’s incompatible with his message, and he became everything for everyone.

When we come to Christ from any cultural heritage, he stays a master over everything we know and feel, and he stays the only pole of our personality and the ultimate way to the Father.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “أحد الأجداد” – 12.12.2010-Raiati no50

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2010, An-Nahar, Articles

The Human Descent of Jesus and Our Ascent / 11.12.2010

There are two different genealogies of Jesus; one is in the Gospel of Matthew and the other in Luke. Their difference is not of interest for me here, since neither of them was concerned to draw on the family tree of Jesus in precision, rather each of them had a theological treatise, hidden behind the names which had appeared in the history of the Old Testament. Thus, there is a relation between the treatises and the Old Covenant, which implies certain theological meanings associated to the genealogy, and in general are associated with the humanity of Christ. It had not occurred to the early readers of the Gospel to confirm the humanity [of Christ]; however, it had occurred later, as some people had denied the reality of his body, and others had denied his divinity. These two lists had appeared as supportive of the doctrine in this or that time.

The theological difference is clear between Matthew and Luke, because of the difference of the purposes both had. Luke starts with Joseph, who “as was supposed” – these are Luke’s words – was Jesus’ father [see Luke 3:23]. Referring to what was “supposed” at that time, Luke aims at asserting the virginity of Mary, as it was mentioned in the tradition prior to his writing, and was stated clearly in Matthew’s writing. We do not know if Luke had read Matthew, since both, as contemporary scholars assert, had written their gospels between the years eighty to ninety of the first century.

However, Luke had written from the position of the whole humanity, while Matthew [see Matt. 1: 1-17] from the Jewish position. Luke starts with Joseph and closes with Adam, while Matthew starts with Abraham and arrives at Joseph. Matthew’s contention is that Jesus Christ is the anointed one, for whom the prophets had hoped, and who completes the [line of the] descendents of faith, which had started with Abraham. Luke, on the other hand, wanted to show that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world, and thus, he closes the genealogy with Adam. However, after mentioning this, he said about Jesus that he is the Son of God.

In both genealogies Abraham does not belong to Israel. Abraham says about his father: “A wandering Aramean was my father”. (Deut. 26: 5) Thus, Israel had not begun with him. Israel was the name of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. In the Byzantine Liturgy the day of tomorrow is called the Ancestors’ Sunday [the Sunday of the Holy Genealogy], and Melchizedek is one of them, who was not from Israel and had blessed Abraham. Thus, at least Jesus is associated with two people, who were not Hebrew. He is associated to this Canaanite king, without having a physical bond to him. And here we should search for the Church’s intention, which perceives a kind of affinity for two people who do not belong to Israel. What about this bond [or affinity]?

The Book says about Melchizedek that he was the king of peace, or the king of Jerusalem, before David had made it the capital of his kingdom. Melchizedek is an image or a paradigm of Christ. In today’s language, we say that there is a cultural bond [between the two], not a religious one.

In different terms, Christ is the heir of those with whom He had no blood relationship. By this I do not propose that the Lord has taken over something from the gentiles of Galilee, who used to speak Greek, however, the Church has known Him as open to those who preceded Him, who were outside the Jewish people. This is not limited to those who had preceded Jesus, rather his Church is open to those who were contemporary with her [the Church] after Him, and they are actualized in her, whether they know it or no. Thus, the Gospel puts on itself other religious cultures without betraying itself, and it takes the proper way to express itself whenever it enters different religious and cultural domains.

It is here that Christian mission meets the Greek thought. The Gospel does not include the word ‘essence’ by which we describe divine nature, it also does not include the word ‘hypostases’ [or divine person]. However, this does not mean that Christianity became Greek in the First Ecumenical Council (of Nicaea), which brought about the Creed of Faith, that gathers all Christian churches together. Rather, the Church wanted to enter the Greek civilization in order that it might spread within the Hellenistic educated milieus. The Fathers, who had Greek education, had known that they had not betrayed the Gospel, but they were conveying it through the language of their age.

Is it not possible that the Hellenistic culture becomes a garment for the Gospel, which had put on itself the Hebrew culture, at the times of its writing? It is as well a human culture. In every era Christians were faithful to a Gospel which had put on itself Hebrew robe. Why not, that in a different era, the Gospel puts on itself the garment which it needs?

Why does not the German philosophy, for example, or the philosophies ensuing it, become clothing for the Gospel-revelation, in the sincerity of every generation to the one Revelation?

After the Pentecost, all the apostles had spoken different languages, mentioned in the book of Acts, to tell about whatever had been revealed to them in their own languages. Thus, languages are many but Revelation is one.

Similarly, you have in Christianity different liturgies, however the Church had emerged as one, it had different kinds of worship, yet the core of worship is also one.

We baptize cultures as we baptize the person. Whenever the mature person accepts baptism, he/[she] casts sin off, including all thought that contradicts [the mind of] of Christ, yet, one’s inner nature remains, and also one’s good dispositions, since one discards only the evil dispositions. One does not cast off one’s vocation, languages, national identity, and such a person would not have any proper belonging. In baptism one is not attached to any human identity, rather one is renewed into a new being, though safeguarding the old that is good in him/[her].

Christianity compiles all advantages of cultures and discards only their disadvantages. The human being is renewed in the depth of his/[her] inner soul, and he/[she] is in accordance with the image of God before baptism. The wrongs that one caries were not part of the image of God, by which he/[she] was made. The Christian is renewed by the newness of Christ and is [at the same time] ancient as the ancientness of Adam. He/[she] continues to be the son/[daughter] of Adam, though he/[she] becomes the son/[daughter] of God through faith.

The beauty of the human being is in that which he/[she] has inherited from both his/[her] Lord and Adam. God does not exterminate in us our humanity, and our humanity receives divinity and they unite without division, separation or confusion. In our belief “the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” [St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3] God’s move toward us was a descent, while our move toward God was an ascent, and this is what we mean when we say that He “has seated on the right hand of the Father”, i.e., His humanity, because of His death and resurrection, deserved to be the courtier of the Lord on the throne. This is a continuous move toward God through God’s grace, benevolence and gratification, and we remain creatures, nevertheless, new creatures. God, through God’s Word, continues to descend to the end of the ages, and the human being continues to ascend, through the power of the same Word, and the mystery of this lies in God’s love to the human being.

Once, a friend of mine, who was knowledgeable in music, asked me, do we hear the Ninth Symphony in heaven? I answered him, you glean the essence of the Ninth Symphony, without voice or timbre, i.e., the heart continues to carry all the riches of the mind and we do not return to the ignorance in which we were before we receive knowledge.

Heavenly things do not extinguish earthly realities, in which God’s Spirit has dwelt. History, with all its glory, is inscribed in eternity. We were not given eternity, that is in us, at the moment of our acquiring it, since whatever we have acquired has descended upon us from that who has no beginning, that is why there is no end for the human being, whom God has glorified by resurrection. This implies that we are in heaven here, as we have received it through love, and whatever comes to us through love accompanies us after resurrection, and probably itself is the cause of resurrection.

Thus, we are resurrectionists through whatever we derive from goodness and understanding, since they are of the truth which divine favor has poured upon us.

Christ, in His humanity which has inherited all the beauties of history preceding Him, and has embraced the beauties of the history ensuing Him, is an image of our destiny.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “تحدر يسوع البشري وارتقاؤنا” –An Nahar- 11.12.2010

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2010, Articles, Raiati

Fruit of the Spirit / 5.12.2010

Spirit here refers to the Holy Spirit, and its fruit is a word that Apostle Paul uses to refer to many gifts. The first gift is love, and he makes it the first virtue in his great words about it in the first epistle to the Corinthians. Then, he continues with joy which is not just a psychological movement but a grace of the Spirit, also peace which is the reconciliation with God and at the same time a description of Christ. After that, he mentions longsuffering and means by it patience over people whatever were they, and expresses himself through kindness which comes from gentleness, and goodness which is inerrancy, and faith in everything God said and if it was true then through it reliance on God. Moreover, he mentions gentleness that’s related to kindness and finally mentions self-control over all impurities.

When he wanted to say that the Law takes the person to these advantages, he expressed it by saying that these have no law against them.

Then Paul’s thought mounts to suggest that those who have these features have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. The Greek word that was translated into “passions” means whims i.e. inner tendencies that lead us into sin.

He ends this section by saying: “If we live in the Spirit (he also means the Holy Spirit), let us also walk in the Spirit”. The Holy Spirit dwells in us and takes us to the good behavior.

After that, he moves into what is bad and warns us from self-conceit i.e. self-esteem in a way being a kind of the kinds of pride. He also warns us from anger that always harms the person that we direct our anger towards, and wants us not to be jealous from each other and to be happy with the goodness that God gives to whom he wants.

Paul knows that even if he advised these virtues, some brothers would still fall, and he wants us to restore them with the spirit of gentleness and not by wigging that might hurt them and make us appear as if we are without any sins. This is why he invited us to look at ourselves and be afraid to fall. Through kind brotherly blame there is no pride. The sinner carries the burdens of his sin in his conscience. This is where his saying comes from: “Bear one another’s burdens”, get tired with the tired, weep with the weepers and the sad. Carry the difficulties of the poor and sick through a real help for them, through providing comfort and staying next to them. He ends by saying: “And so fulfill the law of Christ”. This is a new law because it is the law of love which contains all the virtues.

Love, joy, peace …etc. all of these mentioned in the beginning of the moral section of the epistle to the Galatians become the law of Christ if they met together in the heart and behavior of a person. Therefore, we didn’t stay anymore in the system of ordinances of Moses (what should or shouldn’t be eaten for example), but we went beyond these legitimate laws to commit to the law of love which descends from above and creates all the virtues that Paul mentioned, and invites us to get purified from all the sins that he mentioned. There is, of course, a fight that the soul has to take to keep the love, but before all of this it is the grace from the Holy Spirit that if we changed through it we obtain all the virtues in a sense that we become experienced with them and they take root in us and the illumined heart becomes a fountain that works in us in order to reach through it the eternal life.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “ثمر الروح” – 5.12.2010-Raiati no49

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2010, An-Nahar, Articles

Life / 04.12.2010

Life, in its plain sense, is the span which extends from the moment of birth to the hour of death. Life has many aspects, and we should become acquainted with some of them in order to have a comprehensive understanding of it. I start with whatever is at the surface of existence, namely the body. This is the clearest proof of our existence. Our body-parts are in it or from it. We feel it healthy or sick. Our mood fluctuates with its changes. Through it we express a lot of our feelings. In it every thought of our reflections, whether we think of good or of evil, is preserved. It is our kin, and sometimes our friend. It astonishes us greatly whenever we realize its functions and the amazing bond between them.

Flesh and bones, blood and air, how do all this correlate and straighten up? This sensible entity contributes to lead the people to God, though material is unable to produce life in its finest sense. How could your deficiency accompany you and you remain in the mystery of your unity and in great or little integrity, until your unity perishes as God recaptures you to God’s mercy.

Maybe the enchantment grows whenever you contemplate on the way two bodies meet and another body is produced, namely a new life. This brings to them both growth, revival, pleasantness and freedom, rather than a detraction. You see and do not understand that the whole of the person is in the embryo, in its biology and complexions, and in its aptness for education.

However, the macrocosm is not one body. It has now about seven billion persons, of all colors and statures. Every one of them is different from the other, in every part of his/[her] visible or invisible parts. On the lowest level of existence you may know people through their eyes, hands and so forth. This is the first level of knowledge in which no contempt is incorporated to any one, where the strong and the weak, the upright and the disabled are equal. All people, whether they realize or no, are in a state of praise to God. One of our Fathers said that the body with the soul is according to the image of God. The Lord in the New Testament has never talked about beauty that some have, and the reason for this is that all His children, however they appear, are equal for Him and for His love of them. God places within every one of us God’s splendor and this has nothing to do with whatever one considers as distinction in him/[her].

Greater than the body is the mind, by which we delve into the mysteries [of our humanity] and the mysteries of the universe. The ancient ones said that the human being is a talking animal, and by this they referred to the mind, since by it the human being is distinguished from all creatures. This is based on the brain, but [in fact] it is not the brain. The mind in Arabic refers to the correlation, and it is known as logic, and in language it is the space which unifies the thought, namely discovers the vision and makes the human being the master of creation, after God, since he/[she] comprehends it as everything is brought together in his/[her] mind.

Knowledge is composed through us and we seek to bring [its details] together in order that it attains unification. Hence, the work emerges through which we might change the world and mold its parts and this is what God desired when God called us to have dominion over the world. In the language of God our share is not pride but service and through service the universe rises as we bring it to our human reality. In this we become humble. The dominion that we have is about humility, through which the universe becomes greater in us and we become greater in it.

We enter the universe; we do not break through it. And whenever we come with softness we are trained to be tender. The mind might be a path to the heart. Without the heart the mind becomes tyrannic, while through it the mind escapes its own probable arrogance which would make it an instrument for destruction and death for us and others. Thus, we do not agree with the saying of Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri that there is no imam other than the mind. The intelligence of our great poet should have held him back from this assurance, through which he wanted to fight superstitions. However, a sound mind is free from superstition. It is [only] in need of blessings from above in order to be liberated from its partiality against the torsion which comes from every aberration in thought.

At the minimum, the mind is adornment, as the public say [in Arabic]. However, it is more important than that. It is our construction in its amplitude and inclusiveness, though the knowledgeable and the ignorant are equal in front of God. Yes, the ignorant might disturb you whenever you were perceptive, nevertheless, you should embrace him/[her] since he/[she] is the beloved of God and he/[she] helps you not to boast about thought. Divine grace descends upon whomever it wills. It is not your achievement, but God’s, that God pours upon you the radiation of your existence. Arrogance is a great sin which distorts the image of God within you. However, you might like the gathering of the intelligent ones. These all might bring growth to you and to them and it might be the start of fraternity, through which God is glorified.

This would bring about talents and their diffusion. Thus, let truth come from wherever it can and to whoever accepts it. The mind which revolves around truth is what the Lord wants for you. You are not the purpose of your intelligence; it is rather God and your companions. Do not look at your mind as in a mirror. Look at only to those whom you serve.

The Orthodox say that the mind has to descend to the heart in order to get purified and then ascend in order to become a good mind. One of the Sufis (Al-Hallaj) said to God: “Your place in my heart is the whole of my heart”. The heart is then, for our elders, not the center of emotional affection, it is the center for understanding whenever God descends to it. As if our elders say that God is the source of understanding.

This takes me to the Gospel of John, the story of the Last Supper. The Evangelist says: “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, “Lord, who is it?”” (John 13: 23-25, [NKJ]) In Hebrew perceptions the bosom was the place of emotion where the beloved disciple was received. However, as he leaned back on the breast of the Master he reached the heart, namely the place of understanding.

You understand when God speaks to you. And when God embraces you to Godself, you own your heart and God indwells in it. God’s understanding becomes yours. Then, you embrace the universe to yourself and you understand it as the heart and the mind meet.

One transcends the most whenever one loves and accepts the mind in him/[her]self. God within you is the one who understands.

Human formation starts with the body, which is of the earth, and the soul, which God has breathed in it. Thus, we have dust and mind, and the earthly reality transcends to the mind. And whenever the mind rests in the heart and receives love from it, it becomes purified. Then, you take the cover of love, since “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant … it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” (1Cor. 4-6)

The human being is a body which transcends toward the mind, and a mind which rises by the heart. These together form the ascending existence which aspires to perfection, so that whenever God sees it, God knows that you have completed your strive on earth, and nothing befits you, after this, other than heaven.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “الحياة” –An Nahar- 04.12.2010

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