Monthly Archives

February 2013

2013, An-Nahar, Articles

Lambasting / 23.02.2013

The difficulty of human relationships comes from one’s thinking that he alone has the truth or he possesses the authority. The reign of the dictatorial kings before the constitutional system, is rooted in the belief that reigning is the prerogative of those in power; a belief that dismisses all advice. Advice, when you believe in it, dismisses your belief in the infallibility of the individual and shows that governing people’s affairs is a matter of delegation to more than one. And this is deeply rooted in Christianity in which the believer receives with others the truth which he looks for. This is manifest in the Orthodox Worship when the statement that says: “Let us love one another so that we confess the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” And Augustine saw that when he realized that the one condition for the faith is love.

The “other” is essential for you in order to understand. And modern educators have discovered the importance in the teacher uncovering the truth that he knows to the pupil. The “others” are with you and in you so that you can see and comprehend that the truth does not fall on you vertically but is revealed in communion. God alone is the truth and you receive that truth from Him with others when you love them and love God. That is what Plato found out in the relationship of love between the teacher and the pupil. Understanding comes to you in the course of love. And quite often you love the subject matter you study because you loved the teacher; and the teacher loves you as his student if you receive well what he offers you. Teaching is communal in the sense that it is manifest in the process of teaching and that itself becomes education.

In the Theology Institutes in old Russia, there are specialties as in all other disciplines. You have courses of doctrine, for example, and Church History and the Liturgics. And there was a custom that a teacher would, when he reads a book, summarize it and give the summary to all his colleagues, so that the one teaching history would benefit from the one teaching doctrine; and as such they exchange knowledge. And the importance of such a method is that the teacher of a certain subject matter benefits from the research his colleagues do and so he is more fulfilled and enriched since a teacher cannot read everything on his own.

There is something of that in daily life. You are quite knowledgeable in your profession or intellectual interests, and the other knows little about what you know since his domain of work and interests is in something else. Or you might be excellent in one field while your colleague is average in that field. What type of intellectual meeting point can one have with another of a disparate level of understanding? And they might be of equal intelligence but one deals with uppity with the other. And so, arrogance does spoil the meeting between the two.

One of the most difficult situations in this life is acknowledging another person; this is due to our conviction that we alone have understanding, or that we are convinced that we are more intelligent and knowledgeable. That can also be due to the lack of mental flexibility which makes you difficult to deal with. The claim of infallibility is quite common among the highly cultured unless those are very modest and seek only the truth rather than appearances.

But those who are spiritually closed, they often are closed minded and they find it hard to meet with others; as such they dry up in their closure till they get to dominate others and control them. And domination comes not from the intellectual realm but from the spiritual where one tends to deny the existence of others as intellectual entities. Such intellectual domination is a killing of the other. The whole story of the knowledgeable or those who claim knowledge is the story of Cain and Abel. Each of the brothers gave an offering to the Lord. “And the Lord looked with favor at the offering of Abel but not at that of Cain. So Cain got very angry… and while they were in the fields Cain attacked Abel and killed him. And the Lord said to Cain: “Where is your brother?” And Cain said: “I do not know. Am my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4: 6-9). All what God asks of a man concerning his brother is to acknowledge that the other is his brother; that one is his brother’s keeper. If things are not like that, it means that you have left your brother in the forest, the forest of this society and you expose him to be devoured by the beasts. Finally you kill him or you let others do so. The moral annihilation of others is like the physical one; and it is not less destructive.

The greatest moral annihilation of others is practiced by domineering. Authoritativeness is when you attribute to yourself an authority that is not yours. And authority belongs only to God. And the authority that humans have has been delegated to them by Him whether they deserve it or not. Pilate has killed Jesus by a Divine authority that Christ Himself acknowledged. The Greek word for authority in the New Testament does not denote the authority of a political system but denotes the power of love. The human being submits to the love that pastors him. Outside that relationship is only that of death. You are your brother’s keeper and if you try to evade that responsibility you would be pushing your brother to the authority of the beasts of the jungle, the authority that devours.

Human relationships become ones of violence when what brings them together is money or political reign. If you see the relationship between the man and the woman as a legal relationship then such a view is coercive. But if you see it as a relationship of love, then it is one of free-giving that carries no accounts with it. When a spouse asks me about his/her rights, I gather that they are in disagreement. And if they ask that of their spiritual father before they get married, I gather that the marriage is defected from the start.

One aspect of coercion is lambasting, which takes the form of screaming at the other several times. If the addressee does not understand you when you say things quietly, lambasting then means that you are seeking authority from outside the meanings of the words; and such an “outside” is one of violence no matter what form it takes.

And in a conversation between two or more, imposing one’s authority takes place through violence which is always a move to “outside” the realm of meanings; and in that there is always a coercive relationship; and that is never a communication. With the absence of a moral relationship comes that one of coercion exercised by the stronger on the weaker.

And sometimes that is expressed physically, void of any human touch and any open mindedness on the basis of the principle: “I am your lord, you have to worship me”. The one who addresses considers his addressees his slaves and he their lord. He silences you by frightening you and with that he slays your personal uniqueness and the duality between you as such establishing his own rule as your lord.

And before you get effaced morally, he steps on you and declares his own exclusive existence. And if you remain silent before his arrogance, he needs to annihilate you fully to “reveal” to himself that he exists; but in fact, he has killed himself with his inanity while you stand up and rise with joy.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “الزجر” – An Nahar – 23.02.2013

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2013, An-Nahar, Articles

Antioch: The Great City of God / 16-02-2013

I do not invent “The Great City of God” and it is not a product of Byzantine vain glory; the title is Pagan and during the Christian Era, the Christians just received it as it is. The Christians adopted God’s name which the term “the City of God” contains, a rendering which is close to our hearts. In the history of the name “the disciples were first called ‘Christians’ in Antioch. (Acts 11: 26). What was it in the Christians that made Antioch “feel” them?

Antioch was the capital city in Roman Syria; it was from there that the Gospel went to the world. I think that Christianity there did not put on itself a Greek “garment” – and I did not say that it has been Hellenized – because it had to address Hellenic culture in those days; the culture of the whole world. It had to become cosmopolitan and Hellenic while remaining rooted in the Gospel.

Those statements mentioned above will be hard for you to accept if you think that Christianity took Greek thought as a shell to close on itself. Christianity expresses itself freely without closing on itself. We have said to those who do not believe in our Gospel that we adopt different means of rhetoric to convey the message while holding on to our identity, that is remaining faithful to Christ.

So when we “borrowed” Greek Philosophy to express our belief, we did that to use it as a tool and not as content. The content is handed down to us and that is the Gospel; and we put on the garment we need to make the Gospel show. We connect with cultures but do not mix with them. Theology is only the language for Revelation and not the Revelation.

Those who do not know us, starting with Harnack of Germany all the way to some of the Arabs, we hope that they understand that we do not “philosophize” the Revelation that we have received and that we actually come from the Divine Book and not from Philosophy even though we use it here and there to bring the Gospel message to those with a European frame of thinking or with an Arab frame of thinking who both easily think of us as coming from this modern school of thought or the other.

Some wanted to associate us with what is foreign to the Divine Revelation while we do not acknowledge any other origin for our vision despite our ability in making links with human reasoning yet without submitting to it. To have meeting points with human schools of thought is a type of witness. To have meeting points does not mean that you owe your thought and belief to what is foreign to the Gospel. And such a meeting point with what is human is a sequel to the idea of the “incarnation” (in which God becomes human). He who does not realize that Christianity is open to what has come through human thought knows nothing of it.

Our study of the Hebrew Prophets of the Old Testament and to Paul makes us understand that what we call God’s word is“participation” between God and those carried the Revelation. We do not believe in a Divine dictation or that God is one whose voice you record. We believe, without blaspheming, that God chose the “mouths” of humans to speak through. We come from the Divine Revelation, and so the words that are attributed to Revelation are Divine and Human at the same time; and that does not bring relativism into the Divine Absolute and does not denote a mingling between the meaning that comes down from above and the language that God has “borrowed” (from Man).

Antioch is not foreign to the intellectual and spiritual ambiance of Byzantium.  Antioch with Jerusalem, Damascus and Northern Syria together make one heart- throb in the body of Eastern Christendom. The East, defined as such, is not a geographical extent. It is, in the Fertile Crescent, the meeting place between the Holy Spirit and what is holy. This is why the theology of the Eastern Church is woven of both the Roman sense of this world and asceticism. And our Theology finds a meeting place with Mysticism in the heart of the ascetics and their practices: their sayings or their spiritual rules.

That is not segregation but faithfulness to the theological doctrines. That is a movement of the Divine in the human realm. We find that “movement” in the East of old, and recently in the revival in Greece, Russia, Serbia and the surroundings. And referring to it as “Eastern” does not carry with it a “geographical” denotation, since you find it with the monks who live in the far North or in Syria or Egypt. It is the set of beliefs and practices lived in places that are widespread.

That, if we call it Antioch, draws to itself all that is around it since the Ecclesiastical Antiochian region, nowadays Syria and Lebanon, has carried this spirituality and thought, which together have become known as “Eastern Theology” which is, par excellence, what the Orthodox Church has. With that we re-affirm the above acknowledged geographical extent and the extent resulting from it due to the history of spreading the Gospel.

The “depths” of Eastern Europe comes forth from here (Antioch). Eastern Romanism is not a geographical extent in the sense that it remains alive after the emigration of the Russians to Paris and it survives in Greek Monasteries and in the United States; and similarly the Romanism of the Christian West spread to all the regions of the world. As such the geographical extent becomes meaningless.

And if the above argument is true, then speaking of sects is not also restricted to space. You might be Indian but you can produce good Catholic theology; what is spiritual is carried by people regardless of their sect. So there are European Catholics who have been brought up on Orthodox spirituality while they remain on their doctrinal beliefs. So you can move between spiritualities of sects other than yours to some extent when you are drawn to their profundities and depths.

I was tutored in Islamic Mysticism by Europeans who acquire their spiritual life from all sources, maybe because they are not sectarian and are not Christian. They listen to the sound of Truth wherever its “wheels” go. They have a sect they believe in though they move within all scopes for truth’s sake. When we were students of Mysticism, despite our knowledge of Orthodox Mysticism, we used to consider that Islamic Mysticism is a part of us and we did not restrict it to a religion. I do not know how our Muslin friends behave intellectually. And when we appreciated what they have, we did not feel that we were putting our Christianity aside; and we were greatly fond of studying Mysticism.

We used to get into the Islamic spiritual “gardens” feeling them close to those we know in Christianity. And we were not harmed by the Islamic rigidity of those who hated Mysticism. What did we care about those who exaggerate? And we did not consider the “hearts” of the Muslim Mutasawwif (Mystic) far from our “heart” though we knew the doctrines of both religions.

One thing used to bind us together: that was the Divine love. Of course we knew very well that the Muslim Ulama’a had reservations on the statements of love uttered by the Mutassawifa. We made ourselves close to them and their Islam used to move us. In the region of the “Fertile Crescent”, was Islam appealing to us and was the Christianity the Muslims saw in us good and fragrant? At any rate, there used to be a meeting between hearts, a garden of roses we all enter. If you know the Quran and the names of trees it contains, and you attend an Orthodox funeral, you would feel you are in the same world of “poetry”. One text brings to mind another similar text that you know. There is a unity of an affective nature regarding matters of death. Death draws us to its “texts” in this weeping East.

Will this East give us birth always carrying us to those times that forerun death, those times that converse intimately with God yearning for the Resurrection?

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “أنطاكية مدينة الله العظمى” – An Nahar – 16-02-2013

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2013, An-Nahar, Articles

Civil Marriage / 09-02-2013

The expression “civil marriage” denotes an engagement brought about by the civil society; that is it presupposes the existence of a civil society which in reality is the state. It also presupposes that the state is of an organic social structure which is vested with a legal code that can produce groupings which the citizens can belong to and one of those groupings is the family. So the family exists not only at the emotional level but also systematically under the umbrella of what resembles a structure; and in that we must consider the society as an entity with a legal aspect.

And no grouping can have a legal aspect unless it is an entity that is self-standing, that is it is complete in itself. A whole community is that civil grouping that has no legal partitions. That means that the social entity exists in itself as a whole society and not one composed of parts like religious sects. The latter have their own entities; and groupings of religious sects together do not make a society in the social understanding of the word. And you belong to the social entity as a citizen, and not as one belonging to your religious sect which is grouped together with other sects in that society. Your sect does not give you the “passport” of belonging to the society.

In the Christian view, the subject of belonging is considered dealt with from the point that religious groupings do not make up the civil society. Of course my starting point in that is the Christian view since in Islam the view is different. In Christianity, the Church is not a part of the civil community; Her liaison is with Life Eternal. That is She is not linked to the community of this world. In the Islamic expression, we say that there is “this world” (Dunia in Arabic) and also there is “the hereafter” (Aa’khira in Arabic) and between the two there is no association.

In my Christian conviction I find it necessary to deal with the civil society in one way and with the Ecclesiastical society in another. We need to distinguish between the two levels to understand the problematic we are facing.

There is a civil society in which the religious identity has no consideration. That statement is a Christian statement of course. For me, that is the only view which helps us with a duality which is good and productive; the duality of the civil (this age) and the eschatological (the age to come) even though what is of the age to come is present in the current civil life. This is so because there is no one affiliation or belonging that is not associated with that of the other. You are of “this world” (the civil) and of the “coming world” simultaneously and you move through both of them though they are distinct from each other. “You are in this world but not of this world.” (John 17: 11-16). Those words are from Jesus of Nazareth and through those words He reveals to us that we are in this world, in its hardships and in its delights, and that in this sojourn we are called and drawn to the Kingdom of God. With all our abilities, understanding and strength, we work in this world with the rationale of this world; yet we do that in the expectancy of the world to come as our Holy Books tell us. We do not deny the worldly situation we are in, but we do not sink in it so that we can work for this world and the coming one at the same time. We have in this world the rationale of the coming one and the experience of its beauties and a yearning for them; and at the same time we have to struggle in this world without getting drowned in it. And this world has its systems and laws and we find in this world ways and life in the Holy Spirit through which we taste what is forthcoming of the KIngdom.

The civil society of this world yearns for the age to come but it follows the systems of this age. And speaking of this we understand that the logic of this age leads to the founding in it of institutions one of which is that of marriage. Marriage, though it yearns for the age to come, has foundations taken from this life we are in. Marriage, in Christianity and Islam, has a sanctity that is “managed” by God though the laws of marriage are different between the two religions. So at the start of Christianity, which used to favor forming a family through believer spouses, the Christians were few and mixing with the Pagans in marriage was inevitable; and marriage had no “crowning ceremony” till after the seventh century A.D. Also the Church did not require the Pagan party to get baptized in order to have the ceremony. That does not mean that the first Christians did not consider marriage holy when one of the spouses was not Christian. And it is known that at the start of Christianity marriage, though held as sacred by the believing party did not carry with it a condition for both parties to be Christian.

And it is clear from the letters of St. Augustine who died in 117 A.D. that marriage used to be held at times with a Pagan partner and what we have as the “crowning service” in weddings was not there at the beginning though it was necessary for the spouses-to-be to acknowledge, without a ceremony, before the Bishop their desire and willingness to marry each other; but it was necessary to go through some formalities of the Roman law. So the Church did not have any Church celebration or ceremony for marriage though the approval of the Bishop was necessary. People used to marry before the Roman administration according to Roman law. And that – with the blessing of the Bishop – was enough since the wedding itself was considered sacred. But what we call “the Crowning Ceremony” was used to be a Divine sanctification of the wedding. So the terms “civil marriage” and “religious marriage” were not in the “dictionary” of the Christians. If you loved a girl, whether Christian or Pagan, and married her according to Roman law, after asking the blessing of the Bishop, your marriage would be Christian. So, was that a civil or a Christian marriage? The question here does not stand. You hold a wedding before the civil authorities and then you go to Church to partake of the Eucharist; as such the Christian community knows and understands that your marriage is in the Lord.

So what is known now as the “Crowning Ceremony” did not exist before the Sixth or Seventh Century A.D. But the Christian wedding with the blessing of the Bishop (without a ceremony at the start but later) was the expression of marital willingness and love; and that is the Sacrament.

The early Christians saw marriage as having sanctity in itself; and the Bishop would express that presence of sanctity in the union of the spouses. And marriage starts with a covenant and continues through faithfulness. There is no difference whether it is called “civil” if it had no outer expression or “Ecclesiastical” because it is based on the eternity of love. Every marriage covenant is associated with the state (the Polis) and its systems since the marriage is of this world and it also is associated with the Church which is the Body of Christ. What is important is the covenant we make in marriage and the acceptance by God of that covenant.

We are not against the civil form that exists in the state, but he who sees himself as a member of the Church, we pray for him in his marriage and accept him in his marital love and we make of his marriage an offering; and we both rise through each other to that spiritual marriage that exists between Christ and His Church.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “الزواج المدني” – An Nahar – 09-02-2013

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«Fondness of Feasts» / 02-02-2013

The feasts have gone by and we are back to daily routine. And in the understanding of peoples and religions, feasts break monotony and the aim is to get you out of the routine of time to place you in the eternity of the feast whereby the remembrance (of the feast) is not merely the imagination of something in the past but a summoning of the past to “nail” it to the present in such a way to bridge the gap between the present and the past. As if you get bored with what seems to you futile or morbid in our temporal time and you get to the “rendezvous” (the memory of the feast) and that brings with it the promise of blessings and the revelation of the Divine Beauty; as if the “rendezvous” breaks through the present time and transports you to the mystery of the Eternal and the choice of the Holy.

And so, the feast saves you from boredom and ennui, from the “hell” of morbidity to lift you up to what is above, to the dynamism of beauty in the “people of Abraham” -the Church – who has placed Herself in the beauty that comes down upon her, the Beauty of the Lord. The people of the Divine Book associate themselves with the remembrance of events that started with Abraham “the Father of Monotheism” and formed a holy history framed in the general history of Man; but it is a history that God has wrought in Man’s time; it is not of Man.

The believers see themselves involved with events that God has wrought and meant them to be salvation to people; that is a type of events cast into the Holiness of Eternity. And they are events brought about by God through prophets, as they are called in monotheistic religions, or through Saints who are chosen by God for their holy path in life; God teaches us through them or He writes His acts in them so that we can read Him and not them.

And the believers feel that the life events of Jesus or those of the Prophets or the Saints, are of the spiritual richness that convey to us salvation or reminds us of it as if we could forget about it if we do not remember it. What happens boosts our spiritual life, and we in turn endeavor to keep that “boost” as a stir in us not only on the feast day but in such a way that all the days of the year would be filled by the remembrance of the feast; that is away from languor and fatigue and drawn upwards to the power of God revealed in His saints. We like to pick what we register and keep; do not we accept things slipping with the time which is ever-present and changing as Heraclitus said? How would we soar spiritually if we accept to throw into oblivion the great spiritual happenings that the Savior has accomplished, or those done by His ancestors according to the flesh since Abraham, or those done by the apostles and all those who came from His holiness after He arose from the dead?

What is of interest to the believer is whether his life gathers what is of this time to itself; or Eternity, which is in his present life, gathers what is of Eternity to it. Of course, after the Resurrection, all what is Divine in the life of the Lord is cast on every Divine sigh in the soul of the righteous since it is the Holy Spirit, which He sent from on the Cross and after the Resurrection, Who is the One who establishes the saints.

We imitate each other in the Church, so we become similar to each other because we have received the same Grace and so we make the one core of the holy with various aspects; and we get close to the tradition of the Saints though we have a different expression of saintliness and asceticism knowing that behind the many outer expressions there is one Sainthood.

Thus the feasts of Martyrs has a different significance from that of whom we call the Righteous, that is the ascetic; and the saintliness of the Monk is different in its expression from that of the married person though the meaning of purity is the same in one and the other. And since we seek holiness with all categories of the righteous, we get enriched with its several expressions so that God would illuminate with it every soul.

That spiritual richness seems different, in its external form and not in its content, among the saintly monks and the saintly married people, among the saintly kings and the saintly poor. This variety in spiritual richness and its forms urges us to “feed on” the saintliness of the various groups and all the salvific happenings of the life of the Lord. That is why we choose all what has come in the Gospel and the life of the righteous to make them sundry fountains of Holiness for ourselves. This is why we have multiform paths of holiness from which particular individuals among us can take one path or another as an example for them and as such our spiritual richness is increased and completed.

Due to the variety of aspects and richness of the saintliness we find in those who are righteous, we need all that variety among them so we can do like them and soar through them. And as such the Church finds more richness with every “saint” She discovers, richness in the “newness” of the manifestation of his saintliness. For that we must not neglect the study of a new “saint” to beatify him so that we do not become poor in our knowledge of saintliness. In the life of each Saint, there are particular sayings and details of his way of life which builds us up and lifts us; and we need to know and talk about them so that our spiritual treasure increases. This is why we need to learn about the life of righteous people here and there so we do not become spiritually poor. And we need to spread this knowledge over the days of the year. And so we have a feast, or a few, every day so that the Saints get “uncovered” for us when we remember them and thus each day of the year becomes richer in its spiritual meaning and content.

The feast is an eternity which we see in our present; we see with every “rendezvous” (that is the feasts) we have with time since we long for a rich now-present Eternity. That is why we appoint Feasts and we celebrate with Joy. In life we encounter many sorrows. That is why we long for a “piece of Heaven on earth” which we call the feast. Those who are patient and longsuffering seek it all the time. That is why I always wondered at the stories of those who used to have weddings and celebrations during the First World War. I used to think that it would be difficult for a person to marry during hard times.

During crises, the believer longs for grace that grants him understanding and good conduct; as such his conduct would sometimes be a “feast”. How do we bring down Eternity into the time we live in? How do we render the earth a Heaven and render all the believers a Heavenly sheepfold in spite of our sinfulness? How can all of life become a feast – a realm, on this earth, for God?

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “محبو الأعياد” – An Nahar – 02-02-2013

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