Monthly Archives

January 2011

2011, Articles, Raiati

Zacchaeus the Tax Collector / 31.01.11

He was the chief of tax collectors; he was responsible for the taxes paid for the Romans: The Roman authority assigns him and in exchange he pays a certain amount of money, he assigns assistants that help him in collecting taxes from people. These collectors used to choose the amount of taxes according to their will, this way they used to make huge personal extra profits. For example, the chief of tax collectors in Jericho could be assigned and asked for ten thousand Dinars, so he goes on, collects twenty thousand and keeps the difference in his pocket.

Zacchaeus the tax collector was the chief of collectors in Jericho. The Gospel says that he was a rich man, but doesn’t say that he was a thief like most tax collectors in the Roman authority.

Zacchaeus had the curiosity to see Jesus when he knew that the Lord was meant to pass through Jericho. Did he just have curiosity to see a personality that has become famous in the country, or was there more spiritual depth?

All that we know is that he made an effort as he climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus because he was of short stature. Did Luke purposely describe Zacchaeus as short and tell us that he climbed a sycamore in order to show us that we have to overcome all spiritual difficulties in us if we wanted to meet Jesus?

When Jesus saw Zacchaeus sitting on the tree branch, he told him: “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house”. The Lord wanted to go into a conversation with the man that would take hours of the night.

Here the Gospel said: “So he made haste and came down”, it didn’t simply say “he came down”. He did exactly what Jesus wanted him to do. Then it says: “he received him joyfully”. Zacchaeus knew that this new teacher had things from God to say, words for his repentance. After entering the house, the shocking word from Zacchaeus came: “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold”.

Who gives half of his goods to the poor? And why “fourfold”? Doesn’t this mean that he was afraid not to return everything he might have taken by false accusation through tax collecting?

After that, the saving verse comes from Lord Jesus: “Today salvation has come to this household”. Today, through the repentance of this man his old life is ended. Then the promise comes: “for the son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost”. No person could be considered convicted or lost if he loved the Lord more than every humanly thing in him.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “زكا العشار” – 31.01.11

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2011, Articles, Raiati

“Sinners of Whom I am Chief” / 23.01.11

Who is this Timothy, the person that two letters were sent to? From the book of Acts we see that Paul met him in Lystra and made him his best helper. His father was Greek, which means Gentile, while his mother was a Jew that became Christian. Timothy studied the Holy Books (the Old Testament) since his childhood.

Timothy used to have health problems (malaises) so Paul took care of his health and circumcised him in order to avoid problems caused by Judaizers. He was ordained by church elders. This epistle is one of the Pastoral Epistles that reflect Paul’s theology.

In the first epistle to Timothy, his teacher Paul says that “This is a faithful word and worthy of all acceptance”; this word is the word that the apostle used to teach and he calls it his Gospel that he took directly from the Lord when he appeared to him on the “correct road“. The content of this Gospel is that Christ came to save sinners, each one of us, as Paul introduces himself as “the chief” of the sinners. This is the way every one of us should speak about himself since no one is allowed to compare himself with others saying that he’s better than them through this or that virtue; we have to consider ourselves the last between people because only Lord can condemn people according to “my gospel” – as Paul says – in Jesus Christ.

No person can say about himself anything except that mercy descends to him and saves him from all his sins. If God gave him his mercy, this would be through his patience. Therefore, when people see God’s mercy on a person, they know that it could also come to them and they will gain eternal life that starts in Baptism and stays with us through all the Holy Sacraments and faith.

“Now to the king eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever”. This is the act (movement) of us being “caught up” to him through praise. The first movement towards God is request and asking. For if we obtained this request that would be for our salvation, we thank God, and this is the second movement towards him. After that, the only thing left is praise.

These three movements are prayer. We ask God what’s for our salvation. We can ask for health and means of living, but without forgetting that it should only be leading us to God. Health, food and drinking are not purposes; they are ways for the salvation and purification of the soul. Through this we dwell with God in this world and the coming one. Being in a daily relation with God is the salvation itself.

To live in the request of forgiveness and humility is a result to what the Lord said: “Men always ought to pray”. We cannot pray all the time, but we ask the Lord to raise our hearts to him all the time; and this is a speechless prayer. If we reached this level of relation with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we shall be in heaven from now, we become a home for God, free from all harmful lusts, and attracted to the face of the Father who is the beginning and the end.

This is not accomplished for anyone unless he considers himself like Paul did “last between people”, i.e. when he becomes humble and this is the virtue of all virtues. Humility qualifies us to say with Paul that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save the sinners, of whom I am chief”. Then, God will raise us to his throne.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “الخطأة الذين أنا أولهم” –Raiati no4- 23.01.11

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2011, Articles, Raiati

The New Man / 16.1.2011

Christ’s appearance that was mentioned in this section of the epistle to the Colossians is his appearance in the last day. The apostle wishes that we appear with Christ in the glory produced from our purity. Therefore, Paul assures, immediately after this, that we should “put to death our members”. Of course, he doesn’t mean to destroy this or that member, but he uses this image of the member of the body metaphorically to speak about our sins that we have to put off as if they were parts of us.

He mentions five lusts and emphasizes on covetousness considering it idolatry; his words here are echoes from the Bible that forbids us from worshiping God and money together. After that, he mentions sins from another kind, sins that have the mouth as their tool (malice, blasphemy, lying).

Paul related all these to the “old man” in us, the man of sin that wasn’t renewed through grace. The contrary of this, is the “new man” who’s constantly renewed through grace, moves towards the knowledge of God through love and obedience, and the image of the creator is renewed in him since he has been created according to this image.

For if all of us reached this, there shall be no difference between Greek and Jew, i.e. between Christians coming from Paganism and others coming from Judaism; these were differences with racist backgrounds that were found in the ancient church. Jews were circumcised while Gentiles were not. Therefore, Paul wanted to confirm the symbol of the difference saying: “neither circumcised nor uncircumcised”.

Then he mentions another cultural difference denying the conflict between Barbarians and Scythians. Barbarians were the non-Greek people, and were uncivilized according to Greeks. Scythians, on the other side, were people that had little civilization living in southern Russia.

However, the big conflict (difference) in that time was between free people and slaves. Slaves did not have a legal personality and weren’t allowed to get married legally while they were allowed to cohabitate.

Post-Pauline Christianity, despite his words concerning this, wasn’t able to get rid of slavery. A Christian could be a slave according to the Roman law, but in the church he’s a brother of the free man sharing with him Holy Communion. In his epistle to Philemon, Paul raised the status of slaves.

If all of these differences vanish from church’s dealing with people, Christ shall appear as everything and in everything. The Church has revealed a new unity through Christ’s blood. 

Unfortunately, and despite the New Testament’s warnings concerning differences between people, we still see a big gap between man and woman, i.e. superiority, we also find a difference between a man and his servant or maid in addition to injustice towards servants including violence, oppression, and beating. We see a preference in the way the church treats the rich and the poor. The difference between classes has sometimes its effect on the faithful that share the Holy Grail. We also find a difference between the educated and the ignorant although they are one according to God, or we find contempt for the disabled and maybe a differentiation between people on the basis of beauty and age although people are equal according to God’s opinion and love for them.

If Christ was everything for you, people shall become all equal for you as they are for him.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “الانسان الجديد” – 16.1.2011

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2011, An-Nahar, Articles

Eastern Christians / 15.01.2011

The above expression is of no geographical significance but a theological one. It sets the distinction between the theology that developed in the West during the thirteenth century from the Eastern theology that remained faithful to the Patristic thought. But in this article we refer to all the Christians who live in the Arab East; those Easterners that have adopted Roman Catholic thought and systems and those who have not. This is so because there are common components in all the Churches of the East namely the system of the Patriarchate or that of the Synod, or the predominance of an ancient language like the Syriac, the Coptic, the Armenian, and Ethiopian, in the worship services; also, even though these Churches have an ethnic character, yet the use of Arabic is common in the service of worship and prayer. And Except for Ethiopia, we find these people living in the Arab East.

Then the Evangelical Protestant movement appeared in this land during the first three decades of the nineteenth century; this movement played an important role in the Arab renaissance and in spreading the principles of the Protestant Reformation and in establishing university education.

The above mentioned churches have branched from the ancient root but have some differences and disagreements; yet what brings all these Christians of this region together is their faith in Christ and their following of one Gospel and one Creed. This provides a legitimate foundation for their unity. Needless to say, they are experience unity in loving one another, and their experience of God and in mutual cooperation in what concerns them. So if one group among them becomes lame for one reason or another, they all limp with them. And a weakness that befalls one group is felt by all. Hence their vision for Christian unity in the East. A rough estimate of their number in the Arab world would not be less than fifteen million. The Chrisrians spread in this region of the world, after Christ’s death and resurrection, with the disciples carrying the Gospel to the different parts of this region.

The Christians in general have been in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Asia Minor and Egypt before the Gospels were written. The Christian presence in the East has been from the start and never ceased; and according to some historians they made 75% of the people of Syria and Lebanon in the mid-thirteenth century and even 30% not too long ago.

More important than numbers and quantities, is that Ancient Syria and Alexandria use to carry the whole of Christian thought and theology at a time Europe was not even into that. Christianity in its doctrine, asceticism and monasticism has been HERE. It is sufficient to read the Acts of the Apostles to see that Christian faith was carried by missionaries who traveled to the West from Antioch the capital city of the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Also Christianity spread along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea from Tyre.

That is why those who do not know history associate Christianity with the West. WE, the Christians of the East, have “given birth” to the West in Christ and brought it up in right doctrine and life. We were never the allies of the West in their wars against the East when they terminated Christians, Armenians and Muslims alike. And during the last Crusade which they waged against Constantinople in the year 1204, they destroyed the city and desecrated the Agia Sophia church. One wonders why that crusade changed its target, Palestine, to fight a Christian kingdom. In that, we the Christians of the East were never the allies of the West and we did not take part in the termination of Muslims.

So when Ayman al Thawahiri of Al Qaeda calls us “crusaders”, he in that is not reading history properly or he might be ignoring it. There is no reason why we should pay for the folly of the West. And there is no reason for some to think of us as a community grafted on the East and not one of its origins. O Lord when will you grant them justice to make them trust us when we have not ruined anyone? There is no reason for being accused of being the allies of the colonizers; we did not invite the “foreigner” to occupy our country. It is well known that the British and French colonization of our land was based on the Sykes-Picot decision to divide the Ottoman Empire among them. We did not show accord to or pleasure in having our land be occupied by France and Great Britain and Russia.

What does the Christian presence in the East mean to all its inhabitants? Christians should realize that their cause is more precious than having a share in government. Their share is a divine one in that they are the builders of the country. They are a gift from the Spirit for every spirit and they are an outpouring of love for every heart because in their giving they aspire to what the Gospel’s message is in Paul’s mind and that is that each one of them should become a living gospel written not with pen and ink. And if they do not sense this responsibility, then they had better leave. There is no place for them on the “soil of the country” unless they see themselves as coming to it from the bosom of God.

This does not mean that with the above they defend only themselves, but they also defend every person from his ignorance. And in this there is no room for boasting in the flesh and the luxury of living or richness of culture. And, in the Middle East, the Christians are not privileged over others culturally in that we will be happy if all enjoy such vastness of culture.

If the Christians adorn themselves with purity, honesty, faithfulness to their country, will that bring safety to them? Purity has always been associated with martyrdom and death. Those who have the Spirit receive safety from the Spirit only. If they seek holiness, God will dwell in their hearts. In that case whoever assaults them would be assaulting God himself. If they seek to participate in the divine nature, they will be deified and that is done in them feely; but if they do not seek deification their life runs to emptiness.

When we say “Lebanon without Christians is of no benefit” we imply that the Christians are asked to be great in holiness. And whoever asks that of them would himself have been transformed in seeking holiness and his heart set to music with melodies from Heaven.

When the flesh takes precedence, then one remains earthly; but our flesh, “given to God”, puts on the fragrance of Christ. And thus we remain witnesses to Him in the truth. Our savor is that of love until the Kingdom of God settles on all of humanity. And we become one humanity known by the “New Life”.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “المسيحيون المشرقيون” –An Nahar- 15.01.2011

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2011, Articles, Raiati

Grace / 9.2.2011

God offers himself to us through grace. As he made us exist in the first creation, he also does that again in the second creation which is the salvation completed through his son and carried to us through the Holy Spirit in the church. Apostle Paul expresses this descent of the grace on us by saying: “When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men”. This means that when he ascended with his body to the heavens, he sent us his Holy Spirit that distributes to us the gifts of the Holy Trinity. The apostle confirms this meaning by saying that Christ descended to the lowest parts of the earth through his death and burial, and after that the Holy Spirit came at the Pentecost.

After the ascension of Lord Jesus, he fills everything from his grace which is the gift of holiness and the distribution of our responsibilities in the church. He made “some to be apostles”, i.e. the first twelve apostles in addition to those that he send to their local churches in order to remind these churches about God’s requirements and raise in them repentance. He made others “prophets” in the New Testament, and their role is to urge the church in order to make the love for Jesus Christ increase and guide the church to him. “Some Evangelists” that say the word of God and explain it based on the word of the Holy Book.

“Some as pastors”, this means priests or bishops that take care of the faithful through God’s word and not words according to their mood. They only say the word of God. While the “teachers”, are those that know the dogma in a coordinated and unified way. The dogma should be your base in order to be able to preach and urge people to repent.

The purpose of all this is “equipping of the saints”, i.e. the faithful that carry this name after being sanctified through Baptism, Chrismation, taking Christ’s body (Eucharist), and understanding the word. All of these together perform one service that has different forms. The group of these faithful builds Christ’s body. They are Christ’s body and his full presence in the church and society.

Paul’s saying: “till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God” means that we don’t split and don’t let anti-biblical thoughts enter the group; these thoughts are the heresies that the church refuted. If we became Orthodox, we believe in what’s said in the Nicene Creed and the teachings of our fathers, we become “a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. This means that we aspire to spiritual perfection that makes us grown as the stature of Christ, become one in him and to his measure, we become completely similar to the blessed Lord in a way that makes people see Christ when they see us.

This text is read in its relationship with the Theophany in order to say that Baptism is the beginning of a new life in Christ. It is the promise of perfection and of the appearance of the new man similar to that of Christ as we “put on Christ” in baptism in order to become like him. Also, in order to understand that baptism was not a transient ritual but a continuation of the gifts that descended on us through the Holy Spirit when we were anointed with Myron.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “النعمة” – 9.2.2011

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The Killing of Christians in Egypt / 08.01.2011

It is not possible for anyone to know who finances the killing of the Christians in the East. The matter is big and political enough that I cannot be convinced that these crimes are carried out by street people who consider Christians heretics and cannot tolerate their presence. In the same way I cannot be convinced that the crimes are merely political. On one side, it is a mixture of politics the nature and depth of which is unknown to me, and on the other it is a clear hatred of an obvious religious nature. To attribute this to a merely political move void of hatred of a religious nature, is naïve; also, one is not convinced that the crimes originated in religious anger. One does not express his anger collectively unless such expression is stirred by those intelligent “stirrers” who dwell in anger or politics or both.

It is not convincing to attribute that to extremists or extremist movements. We are acquainted with extremism that is expressed at the level of intellectual writings or speeches. But such has never been a door to mass eradication. People used to remain friendly and at peace with each other though the religion of the other might not be fully in their favor; one would embrace what he likes in the religion of the other or ignore what he chooses without that leading to a conflict of a personal nature.

Nowadays only decadence in moral standards can explain the massacring of Christians in Iraq and Egypt. And though some accuse Israel of that, yet they (the killers) are morally unjustified in going along with that without any guidance from their leaders. And when guidance is not given, it remains the right of all of us to remind those responsible for them to offer proper guidance to them so that they do not toy vainly with those around them and that the harm they inflict on others does not spread in the world making their language that of death. We do not desire them to be murdered for the sake of the murderers’ own sanity and peace; we will always tell the murderers that God, whose mercy we know, loves them in the same way he loves us. We will always honor them and endear them wanting them to be at the highest level of civilized humanity living with and honoring each other so that none would remain under the mercy of lunatics.

Mass killing due to religious belonging is not merely an internal political matter but a CRIME which should be denounced publicly in any country where it takes place. And a country cannot be a sound one unless it is involved in keeping the safety and existence of those that inhabit it. We need to hold on to the moral standards we embraced since the start of civilized living.

The question that naturally lends itself is why the procrastination on the part of the Egyptian government in the face of such massive crime. Is the government paralyzed with fear? Fear of whom? The Copts who are an easy to deal with, amazingly pious, good and extremely patriotic people are effaced from the political scene –none of them is elected. Killing the Copts is not due to wrong behavior on their part or to a kind of disloyalty to the country. Nothing at the level of internal political life justifies the killing.

The question that comes to mind is whether such killing spreads to other Arab countries where the Christians are citizens. I am inclined to think that the there is no fear that this would happen in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine; the citizens in those countries accept each other with deep conviction and believe that they are in cultural dialogue with each other; they also live in unity with each other and have a sense of need of each other. Our emigration or evacuation is of no benefit to anyone.

However, I think that there is a possibility that some powers are against us wanting to us to diminish. The more intelligent among those powers is Israel who has a special open dislike to the Christians, evident in Zionist literature.

Safety measures for the Christians who go for prayers is not enough. These are measures that can be easily breached and the nations are limited in the number of soldiers mobilized to do that service. And that affirms to the Christian that his safety comes from the government or the Non-Christian citizen; the Christian does not beg for that since he is also a citizen par excellence.

The Arab world should get done with the feeling of the presence of a majority and minorities; and it is important that no group of citizens feels that it protects the other. God did not entrust people to each other; we are all brothers to each other and are supportive of each other; and this is not only a commission from God, but from a human right of a civil nature in which religion has nothing to do. Any human is born equal to the others; he is judged when he attacks others and if he considered himself above others.

In front of the danger that one group can incur on another, the religious leaders of each of these groupings should offer guidance to their people as to what God says concerning killing so they can understand that killing is a catastrophe and sin leads us into continuing in it and that it causes us to annihilate the other.

Our prayers go for our loved ones in Iraq and Egypt so that they remain steadfast in their faith and for them to entreat God to plant forgiveness in their hearts for those who had slain their relatives because “they did not know what they were doing”. I join them in prayer asking God not to hold the killings as sin against the killers. This is the Lord’s commandment to us; and it binds us. We also pray to our God to stop every murderer from crime as he stopped Abraham from killing Isaac his son.

Those killed for God’s sake are witnesses to the Truth and they dwell in divine glory. They have become light so that we keep ourselves away from hatred. Yet we speak loudly of our just case and those of others so that all humans can get to the freedom of the children of God in purity of heart. Someone said: “The cross is not made of steel but of wood”; that is we do not inflict a cross on ourselves, but we accept it when it comes our way without complaining. At the same time we do not refuse any service of love towards us coming from anyone who safeguards his noble-mindedness. And as we want to lift oppression from us we seek to free all who are oppressed; we are the allies of all those oppressed in the world. Morally, we are murdered with those murdered and we appeal to those who have knowledge and piety in all religions to urge those who have knowledge and piety of the other religions to remain brotherly with each other and to nurture a sense that they are all one in a refined humanity that seeks the good for all.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “مقتل المسيحيين في مصر” –An Nahar- 08.01.2011

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2011, Articles, Raiati

Instructions to Timothy / 2.1.2011

In his second epistle to Timothy, Paul asked from him several things in the read chapter. He asks him first to be watchful about everything; himself and the people (the parish) since the two things are inseparable. Second, he tells him to endure afflictions that include taking care of every person he is responsible for, all families… He had a lot of malaises, many diseases including one in his stomach. The third instruction was to do the work of the evangelist as Timothy had learned to preach especially when he was Paul’s secretary helping him write several epistles and the apostle assigned him for special missions in Macedonia.

The expression “fulfill your ministry” invites Timothy to perfection in ritual service in the region of Lycaonia in Asia Minor (Turkey today).

After that, the apostle goes on to talk about what he expects for himself saying: “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand”. He made himself as a sacrifice; they used to pour wine, water or oil over sacrifices in the Old Testament. The apostle expected his martyrdom; he felt that his death is near. Then he talks about himself: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith”. One phrase summarizes Paul’s life. After talking about his fight he finishes with “I have kept the faith”. Faith for Paul is the attachment to Lord Jesus especially to his death and resurrection. “We preach Christ crucified” (1Cor 1: 23). Crucifixion for him was, along with the resurrection, the whole Christian faith.

After his conviction that he has kept faith he said: “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that day”. This is God’s promise to the faithful that love him; this is the heritage of glory. He finishes by saying: “Not to me only but also to all who have loved his appearing”. Through this word he included all those who live for the eternal life: Together they love Christ’s appearance in his second coming. The word “appearing” here invited the church to read this section of the epistle on the Sunday that precedes the appearance in the baptism of Jordan River, and the liturgical name is “The Feast of the Holy Theophany” (the holy divine appearance).

This appearance is present in the Baptism of Christ (called Theophany), and the church used to celebrate these two feasts in one day. This appearance is a preparation to the second and final one.

These words said to Timothy are words directed to every priest and bishop. Every one of us is asked to fulfill his ministry through fulfilling the sacraments, teaching, preaching and pastoral care. All of these are works that carry full presence. A clergyman can’t think that if he served liturgies, funerals and marriages then he completed his job. We do everything that -through word and practice- delivers the message of the Gospel. It is requested from everyone, especially those who are ordained, to feed the faithful through Lord’s Gospel in order to make each one of them a living Gospel so people see through him Christ’s face.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “توصيات إلى تيموثاوس” – 2.1.2011

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