Monthly Archives

December 2011

2011, Articles, Raiati

God Adopted us Through Christ / 25.12.2011

“When the set time had fully come”. This is a phrase that could be understood through what precedes it which is a talk about the heir that is subject to guardians and trustees. However, when he matures, the reign of the guardians ends. But after the end of the guardianship period, the set time fully came. Therefore, God sent his Son born of a woman, and we became directly under the Son’s authority or reign, and then, the reign of Moses’ law and its statutes was invalidated.

Paul assured that we became sons. Therefore, “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, Abba, Father”. Here, Paul wrote in Greek letters the Aramaic word and then explained it as “Father”. “So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child”, in a sense that the guardianship system is vanished and you have become as the only beloved son for the Father and you have the same love that this Son has from the Father and this is what explains that you are adopted.

“God has made you also an heir”; God doesn’t treat you anymore as a person from the Old Testament put under guardianship. Your direct relationship with God is “through Jesus Christ”. The sonship of the latter to the Father made you a son. This chapter from the Epistle to the Galatians was taken in order to understand the meaning of the Nativity. In the early Church, this day was celebrated with the Theophany and the meaning of the two remembrances is God’s manifestation through the Nativity and Baptism.

Then we separated the two remembrances and we kept the remembrance of the Lord’s Baptism on January 6th. However, when we read this passage from the epistle to the Galatians, we started to understand what wasn’t very clear in the common feast, which is the fact that we became sons through Jesus Christ’s sonship.

And our sonship started carrying the meaning of the children’s boldness towards their father. A Child talks to his father and mother in the spirit of filiation.

It is true that this feast was called “the small feast” by our fathers, and they called Easter “the great feast” because it is the feast of salvation. However, the divine incarnation launches the salvation. Also, salvation appears in all the feasts of Jesus Christ and his miracles and also Jesus’ teachings show the mystery of salvation.

It is sad that Christmas is confused with idolatrous traditions such as eating and drinking before the Liturgy or on its eve, and it is almost turned into a worldly season. It is time to live it as an ecclesiastic season full of divine meanings in which we are renewed every year.

Do we receive Christ as Mary, the manger and the cave did? Do our poor hearts open for him and we sense the warmth of his love? Do we celebrate the feast in our Churches and not only at our homes?

The feast is not the decoration. It is sharing with the poor so that they know that God loves them through their richer brothers. Christ was poor when he was born and stayed poor. As an honoring and love for him we will ask about the in need so that we satisfy him and get closer to his heart.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “تبنّانا الله بالمسيح” –Raiati 52- 25.12.2011

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2011, Articles, Raiati

Sunday of the Fathers / 18.12.2011

It is the Sunday of the genealogy of Lord Jesus, and Matthew means by this, since the beginning of his Gospel, that Jesus is stemmed from Abraham and David, and the sequence of the names of the Lord’s fathers comes in three phases: The first one is from Abraham to David, the second is from David to Babylon’s Captivity, and the third is from Babylon’s captivity to Christ. After this, the reading reaches the incident of the nativity itself. Luke gave more names in the genealogy that he narrated, and this is closer to the sequence found in the Old Testament. It seems that Matthew depended on a reference that was more common in his days.

Matthew wanted to stress on the fact that the Lord is stemmed from David. This was a common belief among the Jews sixty years after the Savior’s resurrection. In the genealogy there are women, and most of these women have bad behaviors, and one of them is a foreigner. Matthew probably wanted to say that Jesus comes from humanity as it is with its sins and he is the one that purifies it.

There are fourteen names in the first two groups and only thirteen in the third one. We can consider that the fourteen mentioned by Matthew in every group is a symbol for David (in Hebrew, David is written “DWD”: The number of every “D” is 4, and the number of “W” is 6 which sums up to 14).

Matthew narrated the incident of the Nativity. Mary was engaged which means that she was theoretically or legally his wife but actually the marriage doesn’t happen until the girl is wed and taken by the man to his house. Matthew assures clearly that Jesus didn’t have a physical father. The virginity of Mary when giving birth to Jesus is only found in Matthew and Luke. This was sufficient for early Christians to adopt this fixed virginity. The absence of mentioning the virginity in the other Evangelists could be explained by the fact that the common belief in Mary’s virginity saved them from mentioning the thing that was known for everyone.

“And you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins”. In Hebrew, “Jesus” means “Joshua” which means “God saves”. Jewish theology says that the time of Christ is the time of the end of sin.

The word “virgin” that Matthew uses is taken from Isaiah 7: 14 in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and without any doubt, the text that was in Matthew’s hands when he wrote his Gospel in Antioch around the year 80 was the Greek text. In fact, Jesus wasn’t named “Immanuel” in the Christian nomenclature but the word “Immanuel” was to describe Christ and his works.

“But he knew her not until she had given birth to her firstborn son”. The expression “he knew her not”, after going back to the usage of the word “knew”, means that he didn’t have a relation with her in her pregnancy, he denies any sexual relationship between them before the Savior’s nativity, but he also doesn’t suggest, from the linguistic aspect, that there was a relationship after that. As for the expression “her firstborn son”, it was probably added as Christ is called by Paul “the firstborn from the dead”. Also the expression “Jesus’ brothers” doesn’t necessarily mean that the Lord had physical siblings, because the word “brothers” in Hebrew means relatives (first cousins, the children of uncles and aunts).

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “أحد النسبة” –Raiati 51- 18.12.2011

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2011, Articles, Raiati

Piety or Knowledge for a Priest? / 11.12.2011

Choosing between them means that piety or knowledge is sufficient, but we say that every Christian, especially the educated Christian, needs both together because this is what the Holy Book says. The thing that we must not forget is that the essence of piety is faith, and faith has content and Apostle Paul showed this by considering that the content of faith is Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. This means that faith is not an emotion and a personal feeling that you love God and work for him. Feeling accompanies faith but isn’t faith itself.

Faith carries divine talk and this is inspiration. The Scripture said: “I believed; therefore I spoke”. We cannot disable the mind and tongue and claim piety. Therefore, the movement that claims in our days that we only need a pious priest even if he only knew few things is worthless. What does he understand from his prayers in this case? How could he live the words of his prayers?

I am surprised from the absence of insistence on the knowledge of the priest after living a period of ignorance for a minimum of a thousand years. I am surprised from being satisfied by only good behavior. Look at this story: Once, the people of Beirut presented to St. John Chrysostom a man and said that they want him as a priest. The Saint asked them: What are his gifts? They answered: He is pious. He answered: This is something that must exist in all people; a lay man and a clergyman are both invited to have the same piety, but a person must be responsible for teaching.

If a stranger came to ask about our dogma and what does it contain, it is normal to expect to hear our priest. Every nation has teachers, and for us the priest is the first teacher. This stranger expects to hear from the priest that is supposed to know the dogma well and to know how to defend it and to have his main concern to attract people to him. And if we supposed that he invited strangers to our liturgy because it is beautiful, and someone asked about the meaning of a certain phrase and he couldn’t answer, how could this stranger respect us?

I know that there are difficult questions that go beyond the normal teaching that this priest received. This needs specialization. In this case, he can ask a fellow priest or a theology professor. However, not knowing the essentials is completely unacceptable.

However, if knowledge is limited only for the bishop, how could you have him in every occasion? The knowledgeable person should be found in his place so that it wouldn’t be proved that we are a people that only love chanting and that we are a Church that has no renewal or thought and that this Church is just a museum; this is a common accusation for western people that say that the Orthodox Church is the Church of beauty but has no thought because they rarely find someone that can answer a question.

It is obvious that what I meant is that purity of behavior is the most important thing for any of us especially for people with responsibilities, but the Gospel is what is given to people, and consequently piety and knowledge are coherent and accompany each other so that God is glorified through the person that carries both of them.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “تقوى أو عِلْم عند الكاهن” –Raiati 50- 11.12.2011

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2011, Articles, Raiati

The Priest’s Education / 04.12.2011

More than Seventy years ago, while I was a student in a Catholic school, I was in great malaise from the things that I used to receive about Christianity from those monks, and no Orthodox priest was able to tell me a word about our faith. Regardless of the piety of my priest, I missed the Gospel and dogma, and I was sad because I had to go to strangers from my Church in order to know something about Christ.

I am even sadder because the scene of ignorance that we have didn’t end completely even though we have made a lot of progress. During my youth, I didn’t understand how does a bishop that studied in Halki or Athens or Moscow and mastered languages accept this difference in knowledge between him and his priests. He didn’t used to put any effort to teach them something. How did he accept them to have empty minds while his book tells him that there exist teachers and preachers and Church history has revealed to him that Church leaders were St. Basil, John Chrysostom, Gregory the Theologian, John of Damascus and others? Emptiness can only give emptiness. Forty years ago we created a Theological Institute in Balamand, and this is a great achievement, but the number of students that register there is not the required number that we need. This means that we have to ordain illiterate or half-illiterate priests. There is no enough effort put to accept students and the pretext is that we don’t have enough money. Therefore our quest should be to find money to fill the expenses of the institute and we must perform a statistic in order to know the number of priests we need after the death of old priests. Let us assume that in the next twenty years we need to graduate four hundred or six hundred students to fill all vacancies; by that we would have solved the problem of the parishes that wait for educated priests.

The remaining question is: why don’t we receive the required number although we have an obvious spiritual sense in a lot of our young people that are involved in Church service? The only answer for me is that some of those who don’t get involved in this education are afraid from poverty in the life of the priest. Consequently, the problem of the priest’s living is related to the affiliation to the theological institute. Therefore, the main question is how to get ready in all the archdioceses from now to find sufficient salaries to be paid for the four hundred or five hundred priests that we need in a way that we say to the graduate: After four years, you spend a year or two in training for priesthood in a certain Church as a deacon for example or as a clerk for the bishop and you earn a sufficient salary and you do not search feverishly for a rich Church because we must reach a time in which our graduates become ready to be enrolled in any Church in the city or countryside.

This means that the love for studying exists in some of our youth and that the only problem is financial and could be solved on the level of the whole Antiochian Church because of the poverty of some archdioceses. If the Orthodox faith must be nurtured in all places, brotherly love requires that the relatively rich archdiocese helps the archdiocese that cannot pay the salary of the future priest. This requires a great brotherhood and a feeling for the weak brother.

Therefore, let us enter the science of statistics and let Jesus’ love be inflamed in us to find suitable priests for him.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “علم الكاهن” –Raiati 49- 04.12.2011

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2011, An-Nahar, Articles

The New Earth / 03.12.2011

Is the purpose of one’s profession to make a living? [Surely] it is a means for it since we have to live. Yet, livelihood can be made by any profession. Thus, there is the question of choosing it and the person might be confused in that concern. All professions yield. Thus, there is a taste for this profession or that. There is an element other than the financial one. There is [a possibility for a] work that accompanies our inner reality, i.e., there is an enthusiasm of existence and the feeling of the necessity to produce through certain instruments and with different tastes. In order to obtain money there is the manner for creation, self-realization and the conviction of the person that something calls him/[her] to walk the path, which is part of him/[her]self. Profession is an expansion of the self, similar to the language that we use, or the clothes that you put on.

Thus, there has been the need for creativity, or that which we thought it is; in the sense that it might be frail. However, it is our contribution since there is kind of an inner drive which makes you feel that it is present in the work that you offer. Thus, you emerge through that which you produce and you receive from it some of existence.

Years ago, I have noticed that the food which a woman provides is definitely better than what another presents, though the used materials are the same. What is the difference between the two?

There is kind of creation, a kind of creativity, and a personality that is committed to the food or to its preparation. So are the properties at home. How did these come skillfully, while others appear in a studied manner? There are many innovators in the economic society, except in those huge industries, where there is no big space for subjectivity in production.

In creativity, there is praise to God the Creator; a kind of an expansion of God’s creativity or God’s participation, as Christian theology expresses itself [in these terms]. There is a kind of unity [or commonality] between us and God which elevates the material that we produce to a state higher than its being merely touched by our humanity. If it were other than this there would be a separation between humanity and divinity, and the earth would not have heaven as its goal, or as if there is subject cut-out from its predicate, or an ‘alpha’ which does not expect its ‘omega’, or as if there is a creation which was found in order [merely] to observe.

This is why economics will end up as theology. If it were otherwise, God would not be the source of everything. Is the human being thrown into the world in order to produce or to praise [God], i.e. to praise as he/ [she] produces?

You would be working with others; not only in the case of huge industries, but also in a simple factory for wood-work. Nevertheless, the feeling of unity presumes a spiritual community rather than a dry political society, built on collectivism in place of cooperation. A spiritual community, in a mysterious sense, is one entity or one existent, having an organism, and is to be conceived as one regardless of its plurality. This does not mean falling apart. To fall apart is a sin and it is contrary to sharing and the inner interpenetration among the existents.

What saves humanity is that money does not interfere in all domains, and thus, they do not become blurred. Blessed is the person who does not attach importance to money and acquires only little of it. At that point, one is free and is not forced to lie. When Socrates was asked by those who passed judgment on him, how could you prove your honesty? He said: I am poor. One of the greatest painters, Van Gogh, had died as indigent. This did not prevent the beauty of his works. The great, great ones, in all areas of art, most of the times experience financial lack. The creative one is then free.

All the saints were poor and were striving to live in poverty, in order that they might own the only treasure that is God, through whom they could give up everything. Those did not have something to eat, drink, or something to shelter them or to clothe them. The ‘nothing’ for them was the condition for the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, according to the statement of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Poverty was for them the guarantee for their emergence.

This dispossession is a condition to till the earth, as God has ordered us at creation. God has made it a possession with the condition of work, and in this way the human being comes to be on the image of his/[her] Lord. “My Father is working still, and I am working.” (John 5: 17)

The purpose of work is the human being and not production for its own sake. The purpose of work is the growth of the human being in virtue, and not constructions of thought or stone. This accompanies human advancement, which needs much complexity in order to occur. It might seem that we are after a culture that is about intellectual and material levels established for their own beauty. And the truth is that the purpose behind all our establishing of cultures is the joy of the human being by the angelic [or heavenly] state, which one might attain, and his/[her] establishing cultures is an image of divine life which cares for us from above.

The [notion of] work was in the paradise before Adam’s Fall, and the present world is the recovered paradise, or this is how it is hoped to be. However, this might not be realized unless each one of us does not complete his/[her] existence through that which descends upon him/[her] from above. Thus, that which is heavenly in our hearts unites with the earth that makes us, and at the very end nothing remains in us other than divine light.

Whenever we exclude those who follow a special ascetic method, nothing remains for us other than to work, which makes us think and through it we serve, whenever we aspire [to work] as a path to virtue, which is alone our light.

As we are surrounded by work we become saints, and sainthood [or holiness] is in the relentless pursuit, which knows neither tiresome nor boredom. In modern societies researches revolve around production, so that the rich and their countries eat and remain entrenched to the earth, as if they were independent of heaven. They would let the poor and their countries die. Our Fathers were not mistaken when they said: all sins begin with devouring, since it settles your body and declares it as independent of the bodies of the saints.

We need to construct a new philosophy as the foundation for political economics, which might reveal to us a new human being. That is, we need to bring economics back to God, and the inner reality of the human being to his/[her] virtues and the greatest virtue is love, without which there would be neither earth nor heaven.

You might repent, as you are in your work, whenever you find a way to become a new human being who makes good. Has the time for the Church, the bride, come?

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “الأرض الجديدة” –An Nahar- 03.12.2011

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