Monthly Archives

March 2011

2011, Articles, Raiati

Bowing Down Before the Cross / 27.03.2011

The expression means bowing down before the crucified. This produces a relationship between Jesus and the believer, and this relationship starts by following the Lord. How can this be? Who wants to be this person? He who wants to follow the master must deny himself, get rid of his ego, and from his self-worshiping and then he should carry his cross and passions, endure the difficulties of his life and follow him wherever he wants. After that, the Lord explains these words in a clearer way: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it”: There is no salvation without fatigue and effort.

“But whoever loses their life (i.e. through fighting and fatigue) for me and for the gospel will save it”.

Then, we reach the peak: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” The salvation of your soul through the love of Jesus and the acquisition of biblical virtues is worth the whole world (Money, power, and pleasures). You should throw away everything that harms you and have power over all your desires.

Jesus summarizes these words by saying: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels”. This is a sign of the judgment. Jesus won’t acknowledge you if you didn’t acknowledge him: Judgment is not a joke.

When you meet Jesus here and after your death, your words and behavior in this world shouldn’t have had any blemish. If you have agreed Jesus in everything, he shall give you his glory.

At the end of this reading, Jesus says to those who love him: “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power”. The probable meaning intended by the Lord is that some of those who were hearing him will not die until they see the Savior’s resurrection. Glory will be poured on them.

This Gospel that is read on the third Sunday of the Lent, which is the Sunday that opens the mid-lent, invites us to the austerity that we taste in this season that raises the level of asceticism and strictness in the love of Christ and makes us sense the beginnings of joy.

Today’s epistle also speaks about the crucified as it names the Son of God a High Priest. Jesus has achieved this (i.e. being the high priest) in his death on a piece of wood where he was tempted in every way except sin.

After that, the writer says that he “did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest”, but God has glorified him when he said: “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”.

This means that Christ, who is the Son of God in his eternal essence, was also declared a son in his humanity when he was elevated on the cross as a confirmation to what the Father told him: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek”.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “السجود للصليب” – 27.03.2011

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I, Who Am I? / 25.03.2011

The human being in his/[her] human skin is what he/[she] is, and, for us, there is no other way to know the person apart from one’s skin. You start to know the person through one’s body. You find in one’s eyes the eyes of his/[her] father or mother. Though people differ in description, yet the truth is that the newborn is attached. Genetic science teach you what is accurate, until this child comes to an age which shows the cognation in natures between him/[her] and his/[her] parents, and the cognation in certain movements, in the walk and the sitting down. Then, you perceive the unity and the distinction, until the body is, or almost becomes, completed. And whenever you look at, with great scrutiny, you will see the resemblance either increases or decreases. Such as in this family duplicity is stronger, and in that it is weaker.

In the genetic science it has been noticed, more than in the past, that resemblance is not only confined to the form, and to the skin, but rather it is about the depth of the soul, i.e. the inner formation of the human being. And then, the great dissimilarity has been revealed, i.e. the rift between you and your parent, since the souls are not cells that might resemble or accumulate. Your father might be rational, moderate or balanced, and you, would be on great or little contrast to him. You might say, for the sake of interpretation, that it is because of the environment. But you cannot analyze why and how the impact of environment came to be. You cannot relate between environment and the change that you brought about. There is something that interferes this existence from above it, or from below it, or from its sides. There is something other than the inherited skin. There are violations within you concerning what you have been touching. Your father might have been very quick-tempered while you come to be quite. What has touched you? What has occurred within you, in order that you seem to be disrupted from your father and mother? Are you the son/[daughter] of one of the people, or you are not the son/[daughter] of this earth?

Has duplicity been affected with a factor outside this human skin? The human subject becomes one whenever he/[she] feels his/[her] belovedness. One comes from one’s mother’s womb, and from all the elements that form the person, and later when the umbilical cord is cut one moves toward independence and toward his/[her] unity. As one’s feelings become harmonized, one comes to sense that he/[she] is able to say ‘I’. This state is not in opposition of the other ‘I’. Rather, one does not want to dissolve in the others, but [also] one does not isolate oneself from others. One’s ‘I’ is one’s own self in its harmony. This is what we call the dialectic of unity and multiplicity. The personality stabilizes through unity and distinction, accompanying one another. The fear is [however] in the clash [that might result] between them.

Synergy is not only among the living ones. There is no greater evidence of the continuation of the soul, after death, from that it still gives, or, you still receive from it. How many dead ones accompany your life strongly, in a way you have not experienced as they were alive? From where has this communion come? This is not a verbal dialogue. This communion does not occur as emotional interference, since such interference demands a face. Faces have disappeared. The body is no more a foundation for anything. There is neither imagination nor emotion in this issue, as we could have been felt. You are merged unity, however, it is a unity that has received different fountains, and thus, it also has to become a fountain. The one human being is humanity, though he/[she] is not a crowd.

From all this we might conclude that every one of us is unique, in the sense that there is nothing like oneself. However, to be unique does not give one any privilege. Rather, he/[she] gives you the privilege, in order that you might become through him/[her]. And one might provide you with that which one does not know, and you take according to the gift of taking, within you, and you love and know what to love in the Other. Your friend knows what to take, and in his/[her] turn, he/[she] grows through you and advances. This is the education in which no one brags about being the teacher. This is the integration of equals, where everyone complies the Other as better than oneself, since one views the Other as a giver.

To the extent of being aware of this mystery friendship is built. Someone being asked about the mystery of his relation with his friend has said: we are like this because he is he and I am I. Namely, there is that which is deeper than mental knowledge. The relationship is built through that which transcends you nature and the nature of another. This is pure love, through which alone we grow.

Other than the human element, and if you were a connoisseur, beauty might cultivate you. Some of us come from their love of nature, and some come from their love of modern or antique houses, or arts. Your personality, then, is flourishing and it can save you from grief and drought. You are the endowment of nature and you are affluent with it, or you are the endowment of art. In this way, the fountain within you gets nourished and your draught disappears. And hence, heavens [or gardens] might be implanted within you.

The ‘I’ is then both universal and sentimental. There are some who take little from nature and arts, but they take much from human beings. Whatever were the resources, the human being is manifoldly affluent and you have to discover his/[her] beauty. You might develop your ability to assimilate whatever you are eligible to receive, since, in origin, you have no limits. You are you, but you are also that which you will become.

Though you have no limits in the path that you have chosen, yet you cannot do everything. Thus, accept what you are given and expand in it, since you are called to return the multiple of every talent [or gift] that you were given to God the bestower and to the people surrounding you. God has distinguished you by that which God has not distinguish another. Thus, make use of what you have, since the ‘I’ of the Other has to grow within you your concern, in order that the world might not dry out. You cannot sleep whenever you are talented; since the Lord dislikes that the world gets deserted.

You are born of your father and mother, and then of the environment of nature, science, art and life-experience. However, above all you are born of God, who alone embraces the whole of your person to Godself. Through birth, you get separated from your mother. Birth is a departure. Nevertheless, whenever you are born of God through God’s grace, God would have been granted you some of God’s existence. The scholars of my Church say that you would come from God’s eternity and that God loves you by the same love as God loves God’s Christ. God brings about a new ‘I’ other than this which you have received from your mother. From her and from your friends you become different in degree. Only through God you become different in nature. You become deified and you would not remain only a body emerging from a body. Only “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” [John 3: 6], namely of a different being than the one which one’s mother brought to the world. One becomes of a different world, that which descends upon you through divine love.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “أنا من أنا؟” –An Nahar- 25.03.2011

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Healing of the Paralyzed / 20.03.2011

After preaching in Galilee, Jesus came back to Capernaum, the city that he took as his residence after Nazareth. “News spread that he was at a home” or “at home”, so, was he living with Peter or was that a house he rented? In this place, a paralyzed man was brought to him carried by four men that couldn’t enter the house because of the crowd at the door. They went up to the roof, made a hole in it and let the man down on what was called in the text “his mat”.

In Palestine, as in Mount Lebanon, and not from a very long time, we used to have houses with wooden roofs covered by soil, and we used to use the roller to stack the soil in order to avoid rain leakage.

Jesus’ word to the sick person: “My son, your sins are forgiven” made the Jews say that this was blasphemy because it indicates a human that made himself a God, and for them Jesus was only a man. No man in the Old Testament- even a prophet or a Master of the Law- has ever said to another person: You sins are forgiven.

When they were shocked by this, the Lord told them: “Is it easier to say to this paralyzed man, ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’?” However, the Master wanted to prove his words so he said to the paralyzed: “I tell you, get up, pick up your mat, and go home”.

Why did Jesus say first: Your sins are forgiven? The answer is that forgiveness of sins is more important than healing, and the Jews used to think that illness results from sin. But the New Testament doesn’t say that: In the text of the man born blind (in the Gospel of John), the Lord says about him: “His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sins”.

The miracle happened and everyone saw it.

One of the lessons that we learn from this miracle is to be convinced that spiritual healing is more important than the physical one. If we had an illness, we should first ask the Lord to save us from sin and to constantly repent. Another lesson is that we should take every sinner to Jesus as the four men took the paralyzed man; and like they carried him, we should carry the sinner through our good behavior so that he learns from it or from our good words and he leaves his sin.

We shouldn’t only blame the sinner, but also, through the spirit of humility, preach him with good speech and show him the advantages of the virtue that he went against. The danger falls on us when we discipline him harshly; harshness contains arrogance. We should discipline the person that fell in a very kind way to avoid letting him stay in his sin. We should daily remember him in front of Jesus; we should cry for him so that Jesus receives him in his mercy.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “شفاء المشلول” – 20.03.2011

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The Awe of Death / 19.03.2011

There is no such a thing that inspires awe within us as death. The reason behind this is that death is the foe, though there are other foes, yet death remains without a rival. Perhaps it is possible to refer the enmity between us and death to the fact that we are unable to anticipate it, since we do not know the day or the moment at which it may come to us. It happens that a terrible disease occurs to a person, yet he/she remains in life, while another who has not undergone such a disease vanishes.

Usually relatives and friends think of their loss as a punishment from God. They say that “God gives life and causes death”, since life and death cannot occur apart from the command of the one who is the cause of everything in life. Isn’t it the responsibility of the Creator to be the cause of everything, i.e. of existence and nonexistence? However this approach implies that God has two different plans: one to reduce existence to nonexistence and another plan to keep life going on. This further means, and in simple words, that God eternally has been keeping a notebook in which God has written the name of a person and the reason of God’s taking care of him/her until one reaches the hundred years or more in life, or the reason of God’s abandoning of another person, as it is commonly said. Isn’t the claim of God’s abandoning a person a claim of God’s favoritism to some over others?

In reality we do not know the divine intentions and we are somehow left to face a mystery as we encounter the reality of death, from which we cannot escape. I admit that this is frightening; however it is much more frightening to say that God is the cause of one’s departure from life. Our approach is completely altered whenever we believe that God wants us to continue living and that God does not make arbitrary decisions, God does not have our names in a notebook and God does not search for one’s name and the time of one’s departure from this life. God is not a temperamental God and on the level of human feelings death remains an obscured mystery until the mystery is disclosed at the last day.

In sūra 39 [al-zumar], v.42 it is written that “God receives the souls at the time of their death”. This verse distinguishes between death, i.e. the soul’s departure from the body, and God’s receiving of it. God withdraws what has been entrusted to the human soul. This is the work of God. However, for what reason does God withdraw the soul from the natural world, this seems to be an unanswerable question.

I don’t want to enter into the question of divine predestination, rather I prefer to hold on a free reading of the text, which allows me to see the difference between the death of the souls, or their departing the bodies, and their being received by God. What I want to say is that the souls find their way to God and God receives them through God’s mercy. This is what really matters for the believer.

There is no way to comfort a believer by trying to explain the biological reasons behind death. That will not change the believer’s grief about a relative or a friend. It must be further said that biological knowledge about death is based on presumption. Scientific presumption however is unable to comfort the person, whenever one’s beloved had departed life, since one would not want the beloved to depart.

The whole story is that we do not appreciate absence. The reality that a beloved person is no more within our sight causes pain to us, since for us the meeting of the eyes, and of the other senses, is important. Existence is in adhering and being near to the beloved ones. No one can be reconciled with absence and the shock that it causes in the person differs based on the measure of love one carries within oneself toward the departed. The whole universe is not founded on rational understanding and the shedding of the tears is nothing else than a sign for lacking understanding.

Whenever one is able to disperse the departed person from one’s sight and memory, one would be able to free oneself from an image that seizes him/her. It is not enough to move the departed person from one’s sight to one’s discernment, since this keeps one within the grip of death. One has to free oneself from the departed ones because life itself is in God’s hands. Whenever we trust the departed ones to the divine care and to the truth of divine love, we elevate them to Truth as such. We usually hear about war-disasters and we here some claim that this martyr or that is alive in their lives. If this is true and if that martyr is alive in a person it means that the person is the slave of that martyr. Rather we are called to be free from all the departed ones. We are to meet them only in prayer, through which we bring them to God, since they do not need us, but they need divine inclination toward them.

The communion of saints, as Christians call it, has nothing to do with remembering the departed ones. Rather, it is a communion in holiness solely. Those churches which believe in intercession do not claim an emotional excitement, rather they draw upon the Holy Spirit that purifies the souls and makes out of all souls the one Church.

Based on what has been said one has to make the effort to see the departed one leaning on the teacher’s chest. The Last Supper is a lasting event and in our detachment from the world we are inclined to listen to the heart of the Lord and only then we begin to understand and be elevated to the Father. In the presence of the Father we rest only on divine mercy, i.e. the range in which we can be truly in God. In the Kingdom we can have some taste of resurrection, while resurrection is not about time rather it is compassion and tenderness. At the moment in which we yearn for forgiveness, it descends upon us from above since it is not possible at the time of departure merely to encounter nothing. From the very beginning we experience resurrection as we approach the Easter event.

Our paschal reality (the Easter event) is not a delayed event. However the general resurrection is to be announced at the last resurrection and then God’s love to us and our love of God will brightly shine.

In this sense divine glory is not dispersed, rather it is abundant fullness. Whoever is able to live this reality with complete conviction never dies.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “رهبة الموت” –An Nahar- 19.03.2011

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Sunday of Orthodoxy / 13.03.2011

After starting the Lent last Sunday, we went through some fasting and austerity; and after intensifying our prayers, the church decided to devote this Sunday to remind us that we fast in order to strengthen our faith, so it named this Sunday as the Sunday of Orthodoxy which is a Greek word that means “the straight dogma”. If you faith in God wasn’t straight, your fasting will be worthless.

The church mentioned in today’s epistle saints from the Old Testament, and reminded us of their passions (jeers, flogging, beating, imprisonment, stoning, and killing by the sword). The epistle said that all of those were commended for their faith.

In addition to that, the church put in the second Sunday of the Lent a remembrance for St. Gregory Palamas (14th Century) who clarified the Orthodox faith in a strong way through his teaching about the uncreated divine grace.

The chosen Chapter from the Gospel contains the calling of the apostles as told by John. The first one mentioned among them is Philip that was from Bethsaida (different from the Lebanese Saida). Also, Andrew and his brother Peter were from this city. The apostle finds another person that would join Jesus and become one of the twelve: The person that believes passes the faith to others. The fourth called apostle was Nathanael who refused that a prophet can come from Nazareth.

However, Jesus accepted him. The Lord revealed himself for the person that doubted and therefore the latter confessed saying: “you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel”. The Lord’s comment was: “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man”.

Christ combines the heavens and the earth, and he is the only mediator between God and men. This is our faith; Orthodoxy can be summarized in these words.

The fathers of the Old Testament looked at Christ and believed in that. We have only believed that he has come, and both faiths are the same. However, the old fathers “none of them received what had been promised; since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect”. No one shall be saved before seeing the crucifixion and resurrection. The fathers of the Old Testament saw Christ through prophecy, while, we have seen him through his Gospel, i.e. through what has been achieved.

The apostles and the brothers saw him through their eyes. We did not see him that way. We accepted him through the apostles that preached us about him through the Gospel and we believed in the church that he embraces; the church that transmits him through preaching and the Holy Sacraments.

The Sunday of Orthodoxy combines those who saw him physically with those who didn’t. We hope that God would protect us in the Orthodox faith and prevents from us heresies, delinquencies and falling into deviations. All of this needs fighting in order to continue in frequent religious readings, participation in divine services, and praying especially in this blessed season that shall prepare us for the glorious Pascha.

Therefore, we are invited to a good fasting and reading that sanctifies the soul and renews its intellect. God shall be pleased if we fasted as brothers with all the church in order to walk together towards Resurrection.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “أحد الأرثوذكسية” – 13.03.2011

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The Word and the Spirit / 12.3.2011

The human soul is an arena for the tension between “rising” and “falling”. It can rise and it can fall. What is Good does not go along with Evil. They clash. “Bad things”, without knowing from where they come, proceed from you even though you are intrinsically bent towards what is good and are a dwelling for God. No other being nests in you. There is a transmittance into you of what is diabolic but there is also that which is divine until you are healed.

The matter is not one of good and evil tendencies that work themselves in the soul with one outweighing the other. The issue concerns what resides in your depths. The question the Lord pauses for you is: “Are you on my side, are you with me?” And the question is so for us on Judgment Day. The issue is not how well you have applied yourself to the Ten Commandments. These can only signify as to whether you are God’s friend or one of His enemies.

Your repentance in this life is not merely a transition of a moral nature from being “bad” to being “good”. This takes place through ongoing rigorous repentance; your repentance is a shift from your depravity to the presence of God; from you holding back from Him to His self-revelation to you. Being in evil, you cannot have your deeds acknowledged as good unless you seek God’s face; that is you enter into His love. Then He takes away your sins. The issue is not what you seek, but whom you seek. And if you happen to seek mercy, forgiveness and compassion, you are in fact seeking God; because your soul will not be satisfied except with Him.  He fills all of His “beauties”. “And of His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”(John 1: 16). Thus there is a variety of “graces” bur they all proceed from the Divine Fullness. It is not an over statement if I say that the sinner moves from a state of rejection of God to one of befriending Him. Without that relationship we inherit nothing and we see nothing.

This close relationship removes the remoteness existing between your power and God’s. The closeness might develop to union; one between “the Creator” and “the created” in such a way that the relationship of worship of the Creator by the creature remains. Without this closeness you remain “thrown” purposelessly in this universe. So it is necessary that God intervenes with Man to bring about salvation.

God comes down to you with Divine Love. The only thing that can exist between you and Him is communication. Love is a bond of unity between us and God though each remains in his own statehood independent of the other. If you believe, you can bring yourself to this encounter with Him.

In a dialogue, the two dialoguing parties are equal and of the same standing. This is not the case in our relationship with the Lord unless He condescends to make us so in His love. This is so in Christianity because of the Incarnation. God, in the incarnation, has put upon Himself the mantle of equality with us. And that is a genuine and voluntary act of condescension on God’s part; this is met with an ascending act on our part. That is the type of “dialogue” between God and Man. In reality, that means surrendering yourself to Him and submitting to His Word.

In this dialogue, God does not “give and take” with you; He only commands you. And it is so in matters of sin and temptation. He commands you to “silence” temptation and to say “No” to sin the moment it springs up in your mind. You do not “give and take” with the devil. You only renounce him from the start. Do not discuss things with him; just renounce him.  You take refuge in the Word of God only. Get filled with it in your heart so it flows in you and stand in the face of temptation so that you do not get in a dialogue with it (temptation).

The pleasure of sin can attract you. Only the light of Jesus, when it comes upon you, can pull you out of the attraction of pleasure to the joy of the intimacy with Christ. Thus you put away one pleasure for one that is greater. When the joy of the Lord draws you to Jesus, the choice (between sin and God) becomes easier. Rejoice in the Lord always so that your joy, having been made strong, becomes a source of resistance (to temptation) at times of trouble. You have to be intimate with the Lord so that He becomes your shelter and in that shelter you are helped.

Here comes the question about the training of the will. The human being is made strong every time one says “No” to temptation and seeks the power of the Holy Spirit. That is not only a training of the will; the Fathers tell us of the training of the “whole being” through asceticism, fasting, prayer and studying the Word of God.

Abstinence from eating and drinking and amusement and all that is not of benefit in the times we are in, makes us receptive of Grace. And being immersed in Grace, we become a “living word”, and we are empowered to reject what hinders His Word, and transforms us in feelings and thoughts to a divine mind and a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “الكلمة والروح” –An Nahar- 12.3.2011

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Sunday of Forgiveness / 06.03.2011

Tomorrow, Monday, we hope that God would let us enter the Lent with his grace because no person can fast without the power of this grace. Apostle Paul reminds us saying: “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here”. The light in the coming weeks of spiritual fight will be poured over us and we shall walk step by step towards the brightness of Pascha and to satisfaction in God’s eyes. In the epistle, Paul invites us to fight the harmful desires, and in the Gospel we have a part that speaks about forgiveness and a second one that speaks about fighting the evil lust for money.

What is the reason behind the words about forgiveness? The reason is that you fast with others and for others. Fasting is not a matter of eating or not eating, it is a matter of love. You should put the other always before you, you are purified for him. If you forgave him for what he has done to you, this shall push him into the Lord’s love and might make him accept you in a similar forgiveness. Your goal is to heal the person that offended you and not take revenge.

If your brother has done wrong towards you, this could be his revenge for something bad done to him. He would feel that he is paying for the wounds he has been through. When you don’t forgive, you would be keeping the other in his evil and adhering to your shocked pride. While if you forgave, you’d have gotten over this shock. Leave everything for God and he shall heal you and the other.

This way, you will be free from yourself and from hatred’s control over you. You are also free from your fasting: you shouldn’t feel that you have gained a merit in God’s notebook. This is why the Lord tells you: “when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”. The whole relationship between God and you exists in the heart and on heaven’s edge, while the outside shallow world has no value. Fasting is an exercise for a soul that asks its unity with the Lord.

The deep unity with the Lord, according to the Gospel of Matthew, is the freedom from money’s control over us: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth …But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven”. Nothing can to deprive us from our internal freedom as money can: Food can also control and lead us into slavery. What benefit does fasting give you if you were captured by this desire?

The chapter ends with Jesus’ saying: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. God’s authority over the heart isn’t compatible with money’s authority. Therefore, try not to make your treasure from money because it will then become a master over your heart.

Go into your fasting and do not reach satiety because food- even if it was Lenten food- is not your whole life. Chastity is when you are convinced that you should abandon everything. Getting liberated from everything you thought was necessary is the first step of your ascension on the ladder of divine ascent. When you do so, you’d have accepted God’s authority over you. Pray a lot so that nothing can have control over you; this is your first exercise in this Great Lent.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “أحد الغفران” – 06.03.2011

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