2005, An-Nahar, Articles

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself / 19.11.2005

This commandment ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth in fact is found in Leviticus of the Old Testament as such: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”(Lev. 19: 18); this can be interpreted to mean that you only love those of your own people. The New Testament broadened the meaning of that commandment by calling us to love all people. Yet the commandment is in the imperative revealing that love is a divine commandment and not only a sentiment; you might sense a feeling on the inside towards the other and you also might not do so. So “to love” is a law understood as such: you should love your neighbor as yourself. The underlying idea in the Old Testament is that those who love are tied together as the Law-Keepers forming together in this context the “Holy Nation”; the human-divine entity of the Jewish people.

Not so is the case in Christ. In Him one does not belong to a nation. By loving, we become the people of the “loved ones”. So Jesus offered the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to the doctor of the law who asked him: Who is my neighbor? To this question, the Lord answered by another: Which was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? The doctor said: He who has practiced mercy, Jesus said to him, and you also do likewise (Luke 10.9-37). He meant that every man remains a stranger if you do not take into consideration his pain and loneliness. Do not ask therefore about the one you show mercy to. Just have compassion generously and simply. He who is shown mercy by you is loved by you. And thus the “nation” of the beloved is built with love.

The Law of Moses presents loving as a command so that, in loving, one is not left to his own caprice and passion; for if one leaves this world with resentment and animosity to others, he separates himself from others and thus the ties of love in the Holy Nation are undone. And if you refuse to love someone, you would find yourself out of love; in the same way, you alienate God from the relation between you and your enemy if you do not love him as Jesus commands: “love your enemies”. If you love your enemy you remove enmity from your heart and you might be and instrument in removing it from him; but in all cases you would bring him out of loneliness and alienation.

Since one’s love for the other is a commandment, that means that it does not spring from the lovability of the person to be loved. The other might be ugly by all means; still you have to love him. You do not love the other because he deserves your love or because you expect him to reciprocate your love. He might have nothing to offer. Do not expect anything; sufficient is the grace that comes down on you from God to give you life; and that alone can change your desert into an oasis. If God is your sufficiency you will have the fullness of life whether you have others around you who share their love with you or whether you find yourself in the desert of love; in that desert, as Mauriac says, you also will enjoy fullness of life if you know that you are God’s beloved.

The love of God saves us if we appropriate it as coming down on us personally and as sufficient for us in our lives. Sometimes we feel that the affection someone shows us is a reflection of the affection that God has for us; perhaps the ultimate value of emotional love is that it makes us feel God’s fatherhood for us. God can be seen through everything that exists in this world. The world is a great book. Blessed are those who manage to see God in what is around them.

If we explore the meaning of the commandment further, as Jesus wants us to, we find that the neighbor is he on whom we have mercy and serve till the end; and so love your neighbor as yourself would mean love your neighbor above yourself. It is ridiculous to say that the meaning of the commandment is to feed the neighbor in the same way you feed your own body. At times we have to deprive ourselves of food and clothing in order to give the other; that is the meaning of the commandment. Keeping a balance between what we have and what we give is not “love till the end”; the balance ascertains our existence for us while love might mean that we deny our existence so the other would live.

That commandment reaches its full dimension only with Him who loves all humans above himself that He gave himself to death, death on the cross. And because He preferred others above himself, He makes us understand the commandment as “love your neighbor above yourself”. You, having known the love God has for you in Jesus, have died or have “killed the world” in you so you do not feel that you exist in yourself but that Christ has called you to existence. And this new life in you, when imparted to another person, makes him live and exist after having been only meagerly existing.  You should love the other regardless of his qualities whether good or bad. He might be ugly like Christ’s face was on the cross. You do not love the other because of any beauty in him. Anyway you should not gather him to yourself but to Jesus. You have no hold on him whom you love in Christ. He might be in need of you today but not so the next day. That could be for a long time or maybe for a short time only. Someone else might be in need of your mercy. For you, the ‘other’ is Jesus who said: “I was hungry and you gave me food”. Needless to say He was referring to those who are hungry and not to himself. Having a servant’s heart, you follow up on those you serve. You comfort, you feed, you clothe others and give them guidance; all this you do because you, for one reason or another, got to know about the need of the others, so you approach them and you pour out yourself for them.

Those whom you serve might be moved by the care you give them and give you back with heartfelt genuine affection. The problem here is that that might make you aware of your own importance as a “giver”. You should not let your service make you great in your own eyes or feel important. You should love with the only purpose that those you give would know that they are loved by God. If he pays you back your love, you would have received your reward. That is all right to happen but is not of importance. What is important in people loving one another is that they should get close to God in being drawn to Heaven above.

In fact when you give, you give to Christ Who dwells in the one who is needy. Christ is the ultimate and absolute poor who took nothing from the world except rejection. So you are with Him in all those who suffer. The one who loves and the one loved are one in Christ who, by giving His blood, disseminated all “giving” that ever springs from God’s heart. He, alone, who dells in God can bring God to dwell in others. But if you make yourself dwell in others, you do not impart to others only what is good in you but also what is ugly. So you should impart only God and your faith in Him to others. I do not deny the joy there is in the exchange of affection between the hearts of people, for that is rewarding. But do not grasp on to the one you give to, because your goal is that he should turn his face to God’s face to thank Him; and so he will obtain Life.

Translated by Riad Mofarrij

Original Text: “تحب قريبك كنفسك” – 19.11.2005

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2005, An-Nahar, Articles

The Church and the Prophets / 20.08.2005

It was common in the conservative societies not to say that the Church is in the wrong because the Bible and the Creed say that She is holy. And She is so because Christ Her head sanctifies Her. But the Holy Fathers and namely the Syriac among them, called her a prostitute because She has betrayed Christ, her bridegroom.

Those viewed her through her historical and social aspects and not through her Head who preserves her by His grace. The difficulty in talking about her wrongdoing in history – and not only about the wrongdoing of her members – makes us ascertain that She is forever holy and that she being a body is liable to fall. From this perspective the late Pope John Paul II dared to apologize on her behalf; he did not only apologize for the wrongdoing of Popes who came before him.  And in that he showed great humility. I think that humility is the condition for dialogue with the others. Yes She is the body of Christ but She is so because of the Eucharist that She performs and celebrates. Yet the glory She is in, does not stop us from noticing that She is also a sociological body where evil runs across. She is in what is visible and what is invisible. This holy side of her, her heavenliness, makes you live in her and from her and through her. But that “rotten” side of her makes her – as far as she is a body existing in space and time – liable to criticism; thus you cannot be ostrich-like not wanting to acknowledge that the fallenness you see in her is from her.

There are certain periods when the brightness mounts high and there are periods when the darkness is manifested. There is that going back and forth between darkness and light, between what comes down on you from God and the pitfall of mud you fall into. All this is in one body, so do not be in denial of her “divinity”, but also do not blind yourself to what you see of her decaying “humanity”. 

You cannot breathe outside the Church, you have no life without all the great things coming forth from the Saints and accumulating over the years; and there cannot be a meeting between you and the Lord if you do not offer praise through all the golden words (of the Saints in the Church) that have been accumulated for two thousand years. You cannot exist outside the magnificent prayers and teachings that make you see the beauty of the Lord. He who has not tasted that beauty finds it easy to say that “he prays on his own” and that the spiritual side of his life is private. No man is an island; in that sense that naive or deliberately-ignorant person does not know that he can pray on his own only because he is the product of this book (the Bible) and that his blood is of the blood of the Martyrs and that he is unable to utter any word had it not been for Paul and his company and Ignatius and Chrysostom and all those that have been enchanted by Jesus of Nazareth. None of us was born in a desert; we all have drunk from this living water (the Church’s life). He, who thinks he is outside this, might very much be inside; yet there are those who think they are of those inside but in fact they are outside.

Falleness is not restricted to those in positions of responsibility; but because of the authority given to them by God to manage the financial and legal matters of the parishes and their taking hold of the decisions, and the possibility of abusing authority, their decadence spreads and the Church seems “ugly” because of them. And I have no doubt that the “sins” of the Church are historically their sins. And if you track the history of Christianity, you will find that alongside the Beauty of the saints, there are accounts of divisions and of grudges; and surely there is no division without deceitfulness and individual uppity or one elevating one’s self over the other.

The Church as a slice of the society, and has in her all the sinfulness one can imagine. This is why the writer of “The Shepherd of Hermas” saw her as an old woman wearing rags and from another perspective he saw her as a young bride in splendor. There is in the Church great tyranny hidden behind the sacredness of authority. Nowadays you have “polite” ways of “polite” excommunication of certain believers that are not of less spiritual knowledge and piety than others. Each one with authority is threatened with being abusive and despotic. 

The problem is that the bishop is human and what he says is doubtful and you do not have a criterion with which you can tell whether what he says is from God or from the whims of the man; from his tendency to despotism or from his caprice. He alone when he cleanses himself and repents and turns away from being fond of this world and of himself, he can get closer to God’s will and convey it to you. This requires great detachment from and modesty concerning authority. He is supposed to practice authority being aware that he has been entrusted with it, and that he would be free of passions in practicing it and that he be ready to set straight any crookedness in him. When Paul says that the apostles have been entrusted with God’s mysteries, he means that they do not have a word of their own because they have been entrusted to speak God’s word rightfully and justly.

The First among the people is supposed to ask of God the wisdom needed to deal with a certain circumstance in what is good for building the community. He commands according to God’s word and the benefit of the person asking for advice or service. He makes decisions according to what makes people better and closer to the knowledge of God. He is merely a bridge to God.

And if he finds he has to take a position in one situation or another, he has to say what his Book (the Bible) says; that is to listen to “what has been handed down to the saints once and for all” and interpret it according to the situation. He might be very creative with what he says, but all his words are from the Tradition and those who are “in the Tradition” would feel close to him. This is why he does not stereotype any one nor does he show favoritism of some over others and he does nor take sides; he is free of all, a servant for all. And like his Master, he washes feet not counting for anyone his sins.

Not long ago I read, on a panel on the main street of my town, a prayer by some of the faithful asking God for holy priests. And I thought to myself that those brethren have longed for holy pastors due to some shocks they have had. And I think that a parishioner can forgive his priest the lack of theological education but it is more difficult to forgive a mishap that has wounded him.

Our problem is that the Church is founded on legal organization and administration and the problem of problems lies in when many use the authority for their own benefit and get puffed up with it and dominate not considering the hurt resulting from them, being in charge, but dealing with the “divine matters” out of their lustful desires and not out of obedience to God. The Church in its historical predicament is a place where the Antichrist can be as the Bible says and the Antichrist, acceding to the understanding of some of our Fathers, is not necessarily a definite individual but can be the phenomenon of deception (of one’s self and others).

I remember when we established The Orthodox Youth Movement 62 years ago that some of our elders told us “who are you to teach us”. And, out of politeness, the concealed and un-uttered response was: “who are you not to learn from others.” And I expect the reader of my words nowadays to tell me : “who gave you the prerogative to talk about the leadership of a Church you are a part of.” My clear response this time is: I preach because I get preached to. And who told you my friend that I am not exhorting myself first when I exhort others or the whole Church. I am meticulously observant of your matters and those of mine and I cannot stand the wasting of faculties and capacities whether that takes place through you or me, and my hope is that you pardon my pain so that you and I will not be in death but rise from it today to a new life. The Church is not one man’s property that I should be quiet about Her being torn apart.

And when I see this decadence I cannot stop myself from believing that the Holy Spirit is the one who leads His Church generation after generation. He is aided by “human instruments” who are traitors from the beginning or they have learned betrayal by custom. That there would be good intentions is not my concern. Only God justly examines the heart. But I feel sad over the great harm that has occurred in humanity age after age because of those who were supposed to be the “light of this world”.

What do I expect of today’s Church? I expect that Her Divine Bridegroom would renew Her through some miracle. And He has renewed Her every now and then through those who, though few, but are pure. And the crafty ones marginalize the few so that their reproaching silence of the few does not destroy them.  How has the Church crossed the desert of passions without suffocating? How has she shed off the shabby clothes and asked of the Lord to clad her with “the wedding dress”? How has the Church torn apart the wedding dress and become stripped like the prostitute?

Who whispers in the ears of the pure to speak the truth openly with that disposition of Jesus when He said to Pilate”: “I came to witness to the Truth”.  “O God I testify that I have accomplished all” and let whoever dies as a martyr does so and whoever lives does so. “Come Lord Jesus” for the “branches” have dried up and everybody is against the “sap” (that can give life). And if you send your prophets –and the New Testament mentions them –the tyrant will kill them; yet we live of the blood of the Martyrs and apart from such Martyrdom everything is “jesting”.

Will you not send down your Word anew so that the cancer of un-truth will not spread and so that our existence here will not turn into a theatrical play? Can the world go on as if you have not dwelt in it? We know who crucified you then. And you know who crucifies you nowadays.  You manage your affairs as you know, and until that great Day of renewal you do not ask us not to suffer. You do not ask of us not to cry.

You do not want us to pacify people with falsehood. You do not expect us to do less than what you did when you drove out the traders from the Temple. You do not accept to have except pristine splendor in your Temple. Did not you say once through one of your prophets “the breath of our mouth is the Christ of the Lord”?  Yes, we will cry out and tire our voices, and many will rejoice over our tiredness till they close their ears; but also in our silence we remain witnesses to you.

Before that “the new heaven and new earth” might tarry; we have become acquainted with dryness and have learned much from it. Yet our hope is that abundant waters will gush forth in the wilderness to water the few flowers that you have planted. And until those springs flow, we remain in forgiveness and prayer.

Translated by Riad Mofarej

Original Text: “الكنيسة والانبياء” – 20.08.2005

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2005, An-Nahar, Articles

The Lust for Power / 12/02/2005

Power is a responsibility predicated on love. He who is more capable of love and understanding is more capable of holding authority, which is but the station for service. And insofar as Christ made himself a washer of feet, he wanted, by this act, to go down the path all the way until death, thereby becoming a servant of mankind as a whole. Indeed, the Lord did recognize his subjection to Pilate’s authority when he said that it was granted to him from above. Virtuous, just authority is the lover of the icon of God before us. I shall not take up the topic of resistance to haughty, abusive authority which has been dealt with in Western thought (Thomas Aquinas) and the legal scholars of the schools of Islamic thought. Yet the principle put forth by the Apostle Paul is that the ruler attains the reigns of power for the sake of good because he does not show favoritism towards the men of rank. If he resorts to good deeds, he will be a ruler in the name of God.

Nonetheless, the allure of status, any position of note, exposes its holder to temptation, so that power (as-sulta) turns into domination (tasallut), leading from a serving of people to a nourishing of personal interest by him who (ab)uses people with authority. By personal benefit I do not mean to refer to pecuniary exploitation in pursuit of money only; rather, I mean to refer to the act of domineering due to the ruler’s worship of himself and his desire to turn people into servants of him.

The just ruler, if God is to consider him his ruler or if he obeys the law on account of his respect for its issuer, he will be attached to his country as a moral value (except when this country turns into an aggressor). Thus the just ruler does not ask for anything for himself, nor for his family or sect, that is to say he is completely chaste in this world and content with his salary, not accepting any gift, because all of us are obliged to the gift-giver. The ruler may have his share of friends if he knows that they do not expect any fee for their friendship, or if he is confident to possess the firmness which protects him from his friends. The great ruler, especially the judge, lives in an emotional isolation lest emotion makes him stray from (administrating) justice. If you are in a position of responsibility you do not seek to placate anybody, you only seek to please he who sits firmly on the throne.

I do not deny that the drive to attain a central position could reflect a genuine desire to serve the community, and this is a matter which has its own ethical prerequisites. Yet I see that, very frequently, the race for positions is tantamount with personal interest, even if there may be disciplined parsimoniousness in monetary matters, since what has come to dominate your considerations of power is greed sui generis, which is not necessarily nourished by the greed for money. “All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Perhaps there is some exaggeration in this saying since the humble may be able to sit on the thrones. As a consequence, I warn about the dangers of status and positions; any endeavor to occupy them should proceed in fear and trembling. You are not able to rule except if you are in a state of prayer, or as if in prayer in that your heart is devoted to your divine ruler and his verdict and judgment.

If I speak about governing I do not confine myself to the men of politics, but also of he who has taken upon himself responsibility, great or small, in the church. He who becomes prideful or oppressive in the Church of God does not worship a god but has rather made himself a deity, even if he speaks with words of indigence. And oppression in the Church may indeed be fraught with greater peril than oppression in the state, since its initiator is speaking in the name of God and believes, whether deliberately or out of greed, that he represents the will of God. The same may be said about the owner of a shop or a factory, or the lord of the house who subjugates his children to satisfy the desire for domination within him. These sick men may lord over a country or something else, yet they only love themselves in the strict sense of the word, that is, they do not love anybody except for themselves upon having decided that there is no real existence to the any other. This is one facet of the vice which our fathers in asceticism named the love of self. To be sure, the spiritual vision does demand that you love your self which is rooted in God, and that you love God who is rooted in yourself. Yet if this deviates in you it becomes an egotistic love, that is to say a love for your fallen ego which lusts after the sensible world, or the world of governing for the sake of governing.

The dominator does not express himself by issuing decrees only, but in two other domains as well: money and sex. Money is not an agent of evil in and of itself, but it becomes such if and when you seek to buy and bribe the loyalty of others with it. And sex is the domain in which man seeks to dominate woman and woman man. In the final analysis, it is the temptation of power which is the strongest temptation in us. It is a temptation analogous to that which Adam yielded to, and that is to be like God. This is what casts the dominator into a terrifying void because in the final analysis he does not only not love anybody, but he does not even love himself. Indeed, he “is infatuated with himself against himself” as Maximus the Great put it. He hates himself in the true sense of the word and does not know that God alone is his livelihood. And if all his lusts mix he destroys himself by himself. The hope to be with the others – who God calls his brothers – eludes him. In frantic desire to eliminate others, he who craves for the preeminent position is bound to live according to the false glory of hubris. He is infatuated with himself and praising himself. I speak of hubris because you cannot self-aggrandize except by disparaging and despising the other whom you consider a non-entity. He is the person of continuous presumption who rests self-content and who, as soon as he occupies a position of prestige, will purport that he knows everything and that he is always in the right. We often see this in the father who will not see any virtue in one of his sons and will regularly criticize him, or with the teacher who practices an overwheening arrogance and hubris towards one or many of his students, or on the part of the cultured man of letters who deems all people below him in culture stupid. Such is the superciliousness amongst some of the ostensibly knowledgeable, who are nonetheless ignorant of their blemishes and of the limitation of their knowledge. Those people, regardless of their affiliation, reject all criticism, blame or subjection to orders. Therefore they always fall prey to enmity and sarcasm, at times motivated by a desire to humiliate so as to affirm their standpoints whatever they may be.

Let us now return to politics, the great arena for the lust for power. What does the scripture tell us? When Jesus announced his death for the third time, Jacob and John approached him requesting that one of them be seated to his right, and the other to his left during his glorification whereupon the savior told his disciples: “You know that those who are deemed the heads of nations lord over them, and the greatest of them dominate them (as tyrants). But it is not (to be) so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among, let him be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the son of man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 42-45).

To you, whether you are a deputy, minister or important employee, I address these words: Human beings are not a flock of sheep. Your ability to perform justifies your assumption of the position of responsibility. It did not summon you to benefit and brag. A job is not a matter of strutting and showing off. Rather, it is a matter of self-effacement while serving the others who thereby will be elevated.

Perhaps you are known on account of your position, yet this does not in any way warrant a pandering to you out of fear of your overbearing self-inflation. And beware of the truth of the verse: “Say: Oh God! Lord of All Possessions. You give power to whom you please and you strip power from whom you wish, you bestow honor on whom you wish, and you humiliate whoever you want” (Sura Umran, 26). In other words, know that people do not possess when they own because God may strip them of their possession whenever he wants, even as he may honor you if you humble yourself in His presence and before people. Humiliate yourself before Him and do not humiliate people lest that your Lord humiliate you. You may consider yourself to have ascended to a prominent position, while in truth you have become abject; and the people will notice this and despise you, even if they elected you or sought a ministerial seat from you, for you become nothing in the eyes of God, after you have fancied yourself to be everything.

For you to consider yourself superior is oppression in and of itself. For the people are cherished by the Lord, and become more esteemed than you in His eyes if you belittle them. Such disparagement is pure ignorance. Do not forget what happens to a rubber ball if you blow it up to its outer limits: it tears and breaks.

He who gives you repose and returns you back to your true size has not been touched by fraudulent glory and uninhibited presumption. You are not residing in glory so why do you demand it from people? Go and defend the oppressed and the destitute of this earth, and confront every power in the country so it may become aware of its fragility. Know that you are but dust.

And beware in this your fragile earthly state that the key distinction is not between this and that political faction, but rather between the servants of the country and those who dominate it. If you want to join a party, then do so. The truth shall free you of all lust. And once you are liberated, you become capable of policies which are pure and uncorrupted.

I am not oblivious of this or that decision which is part of the life of politics. Politics is about decisions as much as dissension is unavoidable. So choose your disagreement but don’t make it your legacy, for in doing so you would loose the love which alone is the mainspring for your service. And if you become politicized for the sake of your deity, let the latter be the dignity of your country which is a setting for the Lord. And if the powers that be do not know this, then they know nothing.

Be simple in politics as God is simple and transparent. And lay down your life for the nation as the redeemer died. In this act lies your resurrection, and the resurrection of those to whom you have enslaved yourself with sincerity. Repel and banish arrogance, the desire for domination and empty glory so that God alone may become the one who is honored.

Translated by Prof. Mark Farha, Georgetown University SFS-Q

Original Text: شهوة السلطة – Nahar- 12/02/2005

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