Monthly Archives

May 2012

2012, Articles, Raiati

The Priest, the Shepherd / 27.05.2012

The job of a priest is to lead people to God. His purpose from fulfilling the Liturgy and sacraments is to let the believers taste the Lord and get closer to him. The community cannot just say: Our priest died, and we need to have a liturgy; therefore let us search for someone who could fulfill the divine service and has a good voice even if he knew nothing about religion. This was a phase in history and we got rid of it.

When we say that this man has to be gifted in pasturing, we mean that he should be able to deliver the Word of God. This Word could be effective by itself when a person hears the Gospel; however, in human reality, it requires to be carried by someone who had acquired it in his understanding in order to be able to deliver it to others’ understanding through preaching, human communication, conversations, visits or counseling. Christianity is based on the fact that God has become a man in order to speak with humans. He has put Himself on their level. The person that only fulfills the Divine Liturgy would be making it audible; however its meaning might not be delivered.

God’s word is a table with food that was prepared by God for His beloved ones. However, there should be a servant to deliver this food to you. In hotels, there are professional workers. In your house, this is the job of the lady of the house. Depending on the effectiveness of the Word without having someone to deliver it would be an adventure that prevents you from studying and from transferring the Word to your entity, heart and mind and from transferring it to the heart and mind of others too. The Church is based on mediation that cannot exist unless there were priests that know their responsibilities.

The common way in our days to find this mediator is a theological school or institute or a priesthood preparatory education. However, we cannot get a person from his profession and make him a priest without any educational preparation. There are also other cases such us people who had contact with spiritual youth movements and spent years there contacting counselors and reading lots of books. Such a person could be tested by the bishop who would evaluate his readiness to teach.

We speak a lot about visiting individuals and families. A priest cannot consider that he is a shepherd for simply going to a family and asking about their health and their children’s education: This is only a social contact and not pastoral care because the latter should be based on God’s words. If this priest didn’t say divine words such as verses from the Holy Book or from a life of a saint and if he wasn’t able to answer the questions people ask, this visit would be a waste of time. A shepherd is a person that leads the flock to green pastures to eat and drink, because if they weren’t given nutrition they would become weak and die.

When Jesus said about the good shepherd and Himself that: “his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10: 4), we could conclude from this sentence that the shepherd has a voice while a tongue-tied persons doesn’t. And when He says: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10: 14), we understand that the priest should at least know all families if he couldn’t know all individuals and every individual must know the shepherd. Tens of people have told us: I live in this village since years and no priest has ever entered my house. Of course, they should have gone to the priest and told him: We live in your parish now. However, if they didn’t, he is responsible to search for them to let them be with Christ more than before and get them to the pastures of salvation and lead them to the gate of the Church and advice them to own the Book of God and other Orthodox books. Every one of us needs counseling and visiting, every one of us needs love.

To what extent should the priest ask about people? The answer is in John: “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10: 15). This means that I should die for them. Priests have died in Lebanon when the Plague disease was spread because they refused to leave the parish. Diseases don’t come every day, and the priest won’t get tired if he visited several houses every day. However, if a person always nags about being tired, he would convince himself that he is doing more than enough. This person shouldn’t have become a priest.

Perhaps, someone among the brothers haven’t heard this before and thought that the whole thing is about rituals. When reading these lines, this person should understand and know that he is dedicated to God and to His service through His Word. If this person didn’t have enough knowledge, let him start studying for the first time. I have some priests that have become excellent after understanding this and recognizing that priesthood cannot be separated from fatigue. This is what carrying a heavy cross means, but our love for Jesus goes beyond all difficulties.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “الكاهن الراعي” –Raiati 22- 27.05.2012

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2012, An-Nahar, Articles

Humanity and Divinity Together / 26-05-2012

Last Thursday is called [in our liturgy] the Ascension Day, and that is from the Biblical statement in Luke that Christ, after resurrection, blessed his disciples, then “he parted from them and was carried up into heaven”. While in the book of Acts and its author is again Luke, we read, “he was lifted up”. This took place forty days after resurrection, as it appears in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles.

What does it mean that he “was carried up into heaven”? What is heaven? Heaven is not a place. We have seen in the Lord’s appearances, narrated in the Gospels, that after resurrection Jesus was not bound to a place, rather he was entering the place or he was seen in a place. In the course of narrating the ascension, it is said, “a cloud took him out of their sight.” The ‘cloud’ must be taken metaphorically. In the Old Testament, the cloud accompanies the divine presence and reveals it. The idea is then that the body of Christ was carried up to the Father or it was seated on the Father’s throne. (Acts 2: 30) The meaning is of course that the seated one is Jesus, the one resurrected from the dead by his body. This is what the Confession of faith in the fourth century affirmed, he “is seated at the right hand of the Father”.

When the head of a folk seats you on his right hand it indicates that he admits to you the same dignity he has, and if he seats you somewhere else, that does not say anything about your dignity or your being equal to him. The whole New Testament speaks about the equality of the Son with the Father and that the Son did not leave the bosom of his Father when he descended to this earth.

Ascension is meaningless if we consider that Christ’s divinity is equal to the Father’s because of their being identical. Rather, there is some other aspect in Christ’s divinity, and that is his humanity, which was fulfilled through his sufferings and was declared one with the divinity of the Father. Christ is not less than the Father. In the First Ecumenical Council (325), Arius was declared a heretic, since he claimed Christ to be less than his Father and a created being. The claim about Christ being created invalidates the whole mystery of salvation and abolishes the efficacy of the cross. Without the divinity of the Master the whole redemption turns to be a literal thing, void of meaning.

Christianity, as belief, is about the only Son of God, who shares in the eternity of God, who incarnated yet remained God throughout his life on earth. His divinity accompanied him on the cross, though death did not befall on it, and also in the grave and after it, in the sense that the flesh did not limit his divinity. At the Son’s incarnation, his body did not confine his divinity. Divinity has continued to fill the heavens and the earth. Similarly, at his burial it has continued to fill the heavens and the earth.

Whenever Christ enters a human entity, through eating the precious flesh and drinking the blood of Christ, the human being does not confine Christ, rather Christ continues to fill the heaven and the earth. Similarly, the heaven does not confine Christ, since it is not a space.

The heavens are known by Him, and not the other way around. Whenever we say that the saints are in heaven, we do not suggest that they are in a place; rather they are with God or in God. Their ‘being-with’, that is their being united with God, is itself their heaven which is a term denoting their joining the Lord or their entry into the Lord. This is the meaning of the statement “in Christ”, which Paul repeats several times.

God, as God is in Godself, does neither ascend nor descend, rather the human being ascends to God through grace and departs God by sin. Thus, ascension is one’s heaven and the descent is one’s hell, unless one’s Lord saves him/[her] through compassion. There is neither above nor below, since God is in you and you are in God. This is a long topic. You might not truly be unless you are in God, after you were behind God. In any case you remain in your createdness, but it can be luminous or darkened. If your soul is darkened, then as if it is nothing. In its essence, as your soul is created, it exists and it remains beloved whether in luminosity or darkness, until darkness is dispelled through repentance. Then, the Holy Spirit dwells in your soul as light and it would be as if it is created from the beginning of Genesis, in accordance to the Word of God,  “’Let there be light’; and there was light”.

Here I must refer to the Qur’an, without being exhaustive. After saying: “they did not kill him for certain; rather Allah raised him unto Him.” (Sūrat al-Nisā’ [Women]: 158) After this directly he speaks of his death and that was confirmed in Sūrat Mariam: “Peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die and the day I rise from the dead.” (Sūrat Mariam [Mary]: 33) Did God raise Christ before his death, as it is implied in Sūrat al-Nisā’? In this case, why had he to die, since God has confirmed his death? There is no possibility in this limited space to expose the different interpretations of his death. Mainly, I wanted to reveal that the Qur’an refers to God raising Christ to Godself.

Divinity and humanity are consorted [are one] in the Savior without division, without separation and without confusion, since whenever divinity has descended upon Mary it has put up humanity. This is not a ‘becoming’, since divinity does not become. It is an indwelling. This does not assume the charge of pantheism, as one of my great friends wanted to accuse me. I told him that divinity does become human. Rather it accompanies humanity, it intervenes in it and unites itself with it, yet the two natures remain without any of them losing its characteristics, even when they meet with the other’s characteristics. Christ is in the cosmos and out of it, in the space where he was and beyond it where he came to be through his ascension. He is a humanized God in a divinized embodiment.

All this is reflected in us according to what our humanity is capable of. This is why the great St. Athanasius said: “He assumed humanity that we might become God.” There is much explanation about this in Orthodox Theology, since what is meant by it is not that you gain the essence of God, the Creator, rather the meaning is that you participate in divine eternal powers, as we claim the eternity of grace.

Thus, you might have (within you) some non-created-thing; otherwise, you would not be able to ascend. No highness is achievable for you by your human self; rather highness is possible to you from a divinity indwelt in you in an unknown manner.

Any claim other than this means that there is no adherence between you and God and that God has not bridged the chasm between heaven and earth. Any other claim would mean that God is above and you are below and that God rules over you by the Word, that which cannot enter you without it becoming love [for you]. The Word would not become love simply because God has uttered it. The Word was in the beginning and had to descend to our flesh and bones.

The ascension of the Lord Jesus to the heavens is the reason of our transformation into Him. He “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body”. (Philippians 3: 21) Since through his raising he made us resurrectionists, we can yearn for the glory where we shall indwell at the Last Day.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “البشرية والألوهية معًا” –An Nahar- 26-05-2012

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2012, Articles, Raiati

The Sustenance of the Priest / 20.05.2012

The Lord wants the priest to be dispassionate from the love for money, because once he fell in this love believers would stumble over this and might leave the Church. This fall might come from the lack of resources or his salary. However, God wants your spiritual resistance in front of temptations. Even if the problem of the salary was solved, the person that is passionate for money might not be changed automatically into a dispassionate person. This transformation is the fruit of grace only. The priest must not nag about a difficult situation.  Lots of people are in this situation, and solutions might not come easily. However, we must study the situation of the priest in a serious way starting from finding a satisfying salary which might not be possible if the small parish was responsible alone for the sustenance of the man and his family. There must be a central procedure in which the servants of small and big parishes would become equal or almost equal. Maybe, one solution would be to gather all salaries in the archbishopric and then divide them in the most possible fair way. If large parishes insisted on their complete independence, the problem cannot be solved.

If we couldn’t give all the money to the archbishopric, we could at least pay for a common account a percentage of our resources in order to sustain the priests of poor parishes. I am sure that some parishes, at least a few, store amounts of money that stay for years without benefiting anyone. They only let the parish gain some interest while other servants of the Altar live in great difficulty.

When will we understand that we are brothers and that it is a shame on those who have extra money to leave some brothers in severe need. We cannot escape forever from organizing a free or mandatory brotherhood in order not to let others feel isolated.

I didn’t force a mandatory system because I depended on the fact that sharing is spontaneous and this way I could make the most possible fair distribution. However, it is not too late; we could still get inspiration and become closer to each other.

While waiting for a complete organization, there is still the income that comes from the “Epitrachelion” i.e. when the believer pays his priest in occasions such as weddings, baptisms or funerals. Our people are used to this. There is no problem in this until we reach a full reformation. However, this system – the Epitrachelion – cannot succeed unless by having a lot of generosity and the negative point in it is that every believer is baptized only once and gets married and dies also once. This means that he pays three times for the man that fulfills the service. In addition to that, our people are not frequent practitioners, they are seasonal i.e. they attend the services in big feasts. Even in those feasts, not everyone attends. If money trays (that are collected in services) do not collect a lot of money, how can the priest’s salary be collected? Therefore, we still have a problem.

Nevertheless, a partial solution exists and it is to be generous towards our priest in occasions in order for us not to die in our stinginess and for the in need priest not to feel sad with his children who are also our children. Why is it destined for many altar servants to feel, with their sons and daughters, misery or poverty that is very close to misery?

Think together about these situations and then tell me what have you thought about in order to try to find solutions.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “معيشة الكاهن” –Raiati 21- 20.05.2012

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2012, Articles, Raiati

The Samaritan Woman / 13.05.2012

This biblical chapter contains one of the most beautiful conversations of the Lord. The incident that precedes this passage is when Jesus was still in Judaea, the district that surrounds Jerusalem, and felt that there is a machination from the Pharisees so He decided to move to Galilee, his land. Therefore, He had to pass on his way through Samaria. He arrived in a city named Sychar which is very close to Nablus, the city that still exists in our days. In that village, Jacob’s well (or spring) existed and also this well still exists today and an Orthodox Church is built there.

It was the sixth hour, i.e. noon, when a Samaritan woman came. In our country, when I was a child, they used to use this timing and call it “the Arabic clock”. The woman had a pottery jar and the well was 32 meters deep and she was able to draw water. Jesus had no bucket to draw water. The Lord asked her to give Him a drink but she refused because He was Jewish and Samaritans were a sect that split from the Jews for dogmatic and racial differences as their race was mixed with foreigners. When she refused to give Him water to drink, He told her: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water”. The woman replied: “Where can you get this living water?” Then Jesus said: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst”. What water did He mean? She didn’t understand anything.

The Lord wanted to wake her up spiritually and asked her to call her man (the word used in the American translation is “husband”). Our translation is better because she had no husband but had lived in the past with five men and now she lives with another one. She saw that Jesus knows her situation, so she said: “I can see that you are a prophet”. She also asked Him a theological question: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain (Mount Gerizim), but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem”. Then, He explained to her that worshiping God is neither here nor in Jerusalem. God doesn’t care about the location. “God is worshiped in the spirit and in the truth”; which means in the heart and in the depth of human entity. The expression “in the truth” means worshiping in God Himself; i.e. a direct worship that needs neither the hill of Zion (where there Temple was) nor this mountain that used to have a temple for the Samaritans (It was destroyed before Christ’s coming to this world).

This conversation is the most important part in today’s Gospel. The woman left her jar which was the reason she came for (getting water) and started preaching her people and prepared them for the preaching of the apostles that is mentioned in the Book of Acts. The Church named this woman “St. Photini” and our Arabic usage for the name is “Photin” which means “enlightened”.

May God help us to be guided from all our hearts, as this woman did.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “السامرية” –Raiati 20- 13.05.2012

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2012, Articles, Raiati

Parish Councils / 06.05.2012

In the early seventies of the previous century, when the Holy Synod made the law for parish councils, they thought that it is good to have a committee of several people monitoring the issues of a parish from the spiritual, educational and financial aspects. In every community, the possibility to be active in work exists but also carelessness could exist too; you could find there good tempered or bad tempered people. Now I am not evaluating the success or failure of this law, because this could vary between different places and different piety levels in people.

Among the difficulties that exist is that the bishop cannot know all people that he appoints, and believers never agree on directing the bishop to the best options. Also, in some villages of the Archdiocese people do not accept that the priest is the head of the council. Those want to monopoly the management of affairs and to limit the role of the spiritual father to fulfilling prayers without having any opinion in his salary for example or in helping poor people who are under his care at the first place. The purpose of these lines isn’t to criticize the existence of these councils because the synod made them legitimate and there is no possibility to cancel them. However, how do we act if the management committed mistakes? How can the council have a good management instead of being simply a management machine?

The real question is: How do the members of the council live with each other? Our answer is that there is no living except in love, tolerance and forgiveness in a way that none of them would be stubborn in his opinion but accept the right one.  An Orthodox believer isn’t only a human being that belongs through baptism to the Church of Christ, but he is the one that carries the righteous opinion. Therefore, if you felt during a conversation that your colleague has a more righteous opinion than yours, you should dump your opinion and follow his because this person might have gotten more inspiration from Christ or might have been directed to the right position because of his experience. It doesn’t matter if you were the leader of the thought or not; the important thing is for the truth to be inspiring for everyone in order for all of us to be sons of the truth.

What happens with us sometimes? Conflicts that are based on familial reasons or on the policy of the village occur, knowing that in this archdiocese we are a group of villages. If we carried love, we would love all families because they all belong to Christ who loves them all equally. The Church is not composed of families but of individuals. If you loved the truth, you would stand against your brother if he was against it.

The love for appearing, control and power comes from the devil. The humble person disappears; he suppresses his pride and doesn’t claim that his family is great or better than others. God judges all people: He doesn’t judge families but individuals. Your father might be a saint while you are bad. The only familial connections we have are among the good and the righteous. The bad man is a stranger for you. However, serve him well because he is Christ’s lamb.

Do not divide the parish council into cliques or groups in conflict. Unite them: Let your method be uniting the brothers. You must be one body in the council if you wanted to serve the community or if you willed to become a united community through Christ’s blood.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “مجالس الرعية” –Raiati 19- 06.05.2012

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