2008, An-Nahar, Articles

The Judgment / December 6, 2008

One way God is viewed is that He is a Judge. Man was commissioned to care for this earth so that its resources will be means of sustenance for him and consequently an offering to God in that all creation is drawn to Him with power and glory. And what is of the earth will put on light on that day so that the Lord will acknowledge that this is His creation. The Creator, as judge, asks His creature to give an account of the nature, degree and infiniteness of the fruitfulness of his working and care of the earth he was entrusted with. That makes Man realize that he is made in the image and likeness of God.

The creation and Man are one. And the question he has to answer for on the last day is “What have you done with yourself and others and the earth I have given you dominion over to serve it so it serves you in return? Have you neglected yourself, your brother and the world causing aridity to prevail in this creation which I was pleased with when I created it?” “And God said ‘Let there be light and there was light; and God saw that the light is good.”(Genesis 1: 3, 4). And that light, in my opinion, is not only material light, but it is the grace of this Brightness on all creation, which when illumined, does bring about the other creatures one finds in Genesis. And what comes down on the creatures is good because it is brought down on them from above; after that you mix that with the earthliness you and the other creatures are of. And Man can “become fire” when he accepts that his createdness is by the Word. In the account of the creation, all what there is came to be by God’s word and after some time the Word came through the prophets whereby you become a stage only for God striving to keep God the only Landlord on that stage. But your striving is acceptable only if it is done with the “weapons of light” since God is the one who would teach you the art of that spiritual war. He teaches you everything and that is what we call Grace. So if you refuse to fight His war you would have given yourself over to the enemy.

You are the one responsible to use the divine armor the Lord has given you in fighting this war; if you hold on to it you save yourself or else you go into nothingness.

And what we call the judgment is the question the Lord has for you then: “Have you used the armor I have given you or have you left the battle leaving the enemy to overcome you? Have you been faithful to what I have delegated to you knowing that I have commissioned only with what you are able to do and I do not ask you to account for more than that? There are those who are more able than you and I have entrusted them with more; and I will ask them for a greater account but that is not your business. Only I can make judgment on that.

And I would judge you because all what is yours is from me. It is I who has entrusted you with them. Abusing them is called unfaithfulness by humans. I hope you do not rely on my compassion without giving consideration for my judgment. But as for how I am able to reconcile between judgment and compassion, this is a matter you have no notion of and will not be revealed to you until it takes place on the last day; if it does.

You cannot tell the angel who leads you for judgment: “Why do you not spare me this stand?”  One person I hold in great esteem once said: “It is fearsome to fall into the hands of the living God”. And God says: “How can you avoid judgment if I have given you light and you get back to me with darkness? How can I consider your darkness light when it is not so? Do you call this tenderness, compassion and forgiveness?  I have spoken to you of forgiveness so that you do not fall into a depression when you are faced with your own brokenness and fragility. I am able to have mercy on you as you live in this world but I do not invade you by force. You are the one who has to call me to yourself; and that is what I call repentance. But your unconcern for yourself makes you put off repentance and that is because you wrongly depend on my forgiveness. You are called to work with me. You need to be flexible in this. Because you are created, I have given you freedom and I would not be a substitute for it. When you taste my love, it will guide you into all the truth; but be careful not to think that I will drag you to it by force because in that there is a violation of your personal freedom which I have instilled in you as an instrument you would make use of in order to meet me. Someone said that I have given you talents which you can make use of. I will ask you about those. If you have not made use of them as diligently as those in the world make good use of their money, you will be denied the greater talents I have prepared for you had you been obedient.”

“I will ask you about every good and evil deed committed, because you are supposed to eradicate the evil that comes from you. Do not tell me that you had circumstances that forced you into sin. Have you forgotten that I have provided better circumstances for you, those of my grace, and that I have loved you with love greater than the one you love yourself with? But you do not know how to love yourself properly; and you have loved sin more than yourself.”  

“Do not think that I gave those I sent my commandments to make life difficult for you. It is not in my nature to inflict suffering on those I love; and I have loved you but you did not understand and I have served you and you did not sense that. Your sin is that you are not aware of me while you have been aware of the fantasies of your mind and the lust of your belly. And you exalt yourself with your beauty; and what you think is beautiful in you is all manmade.”

“When the angels bring you in my presence, I will remind you of the pleasures that you have yielded to, and that you have not yielded to the joy that comes from the virtues that I have told you can make you great. “

“I will tell you that to raise you from the long “coma” that has fallen on you so that you can see yourself as you are, something you do not like to do. I will reveal yourself to you in your deeds, your words and your thoughts because you close your eyes so that you do not see yourself as you are.

On the last day I will show you yourself as you really are. You will probably tremble at that, because one cannot see ugliness and remain alive. I am the God of knowledge (spiritual) and I do not save those who are ignorant. This is why, on the last day, you need to see yourself as I see you (thus receiving knowledge)“.

“And after you see your ugliness and could see a glimpse of light on my face, you would ask me to dispel your ugliness and I do so purifying you with the waters of my final words: ‘l love you because you are my son though you have been quite negligent thus hurting me. I will create anew in you a love for heavenly Beauty. You are now standing naked before me. I will ask my angels to put on you that mantle of Gold which makes you eligible to enter the company of the saints who have pleased me; and I would make you one with them though you did not please me with your life on earth. And when I meet you as I am crossing the heavens, I would see you only as the one dressed with the golden mantle having realized then that it is I who has thrown that on your nakedness”.

“Come now beloved of mine; though I have brought you before me for judgment, yet I pronounce no condemnation on you”.

Translated by Riad Mofarrij

Original Text: “الدينونة” – 6.12.2008

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Holiness / 6.9.2008

Holiness is our aim. The great things that come with and after the first ‘breeze of Grace’ are all accomplished with much effort. You are the one to desire Grace, receive it and work on its fruitfulness in your life, since you are the ground for it. And this is possible for you because God loves you and you are able to obey Him even to the shedding of blood in case He asks that from you.

When we call someone to holiness he often responds by saying: “What? Do you think I am Christ?” meaning to say that holiness is something exceptional reserved for an elect and especially those who are in monasticism. People think this way maybe because most of those whose holiness has been announced, except those who had been martyred, are monks. Yet we have in our church many saints who are married; among them are kings, soldiers and farmers since the Christian life is not in the quantity of prayers said, but in the purity of heart, and right belief and in humility, forgiveness and love. For righteousness is not the monopoly of the monks and Church ministers; it is a quality of life of domesticating the harmful desires and enkindling those that build one’s self and others. It is in having one’s heart and intention become a living Gospel; so that whenever Christ is revealed in someone through word and behavior, the Gospel message is there written but in human life.

Those who are associated with the Lord and are attached to Him from the beginning of Christianity until now, those are the Church. Those had the Holy Spirit teach them when their priest did not or were at times harmful. Most of those in the Church are like human litter, and only the few who are purified have been reared by God from Heaven. They achieved such purity by applying themselves to practices, though done by others without spirit, understanding and conviction, but by them (the pure) with a loving heart driven by divine strength.

This does not mean that we do not consider others who can be an example for us. We can imitate those in whom we see Christ. There is a tradition in acquiring righteousness which monasticism is founded on; it is that the beginner is raised by a spiritual father (guide) who helps him grow in Christ. The same applies to those who are not in monasticism, but in both situations it is based on repentance and spiritual warfare. Yet not every priest can be a spiritual guide (father). In our liturgical books, the title “spiritual father” is given to the priest, but often this was far from reality in the sense that not every priest can “give you birth” in Christ. Besides, St. Nilus who lived in the wilderness of Soura in Russia says that if you do not find a spiritual guide (father), take the Holy Scriptures as your father because there is enough guidance in it. That implies that you become by God’s grace a “devourer” of His words imbibing them so fully into your being that you become the Word itself.

Thus those who desire holiness flourish in it and wax spiritually either with him who has acquired the heritage of righteousness (i.e. the spiritual guide) or through the word of God directly.

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” 1Thess.4: 3. These words are for all in the Church, and not only for a few who hold certain positions and responsibilities. God also says in 1Peter 1: 16: “Be holy as I am holy.” That verse does not refer to the Saints the Church has already proclaimed; there are many saints in Heaven who were nor proclaimed so by the Church and there are many saints in this world who are ordinary working people. And holiness is asked of all generations and age groups. And it is not true that the righteous ones come from among the elderly, since holiness is not bound by age and God’s intervention is possible in the hearts of people of all ages according to the degree of one’s obedience to God’s commandments since God desires all people to exert the effort of seeking Him and all people of any age can follow after Purity.

Holiness is not a “dispassion” or in being above human weaknesses and falls, but it is in rising after every fall. But what is important is that one should not yield to his passions and base desires and to believe that the rising of the soul from sin is ever possible. We know that our Holy Fathers suffered many temptations and that the glory they had and the “risings” were not indelible as if taking place in an unbreakable linear sequence; they had their falls and their comebacks or risings. What is important is that the believer knows the grammar of rising and make sure to repent with all his heart and to determine to receive the Lord in his heart after every temptation that befalls him. One is not to make peace with a sin he fell into; he is to hate it with all his heart. Moreover, he has to love intimacy with the Lord and living with Him. “How sweet is coming back to God” someone said. It is important that one finds his joy in Christ and to feel torn inside when he sins. The aim here is that one should seek to be a Paschal Person where there is no place for pleasure with evil and to hate sin in every other person so that we all can exit to the Resurrection since the Resurrection is Freedom.

And where there is freedom there God’s Spirit is; and we become one spirit with Him. Then there is no place for our serfdom to evil. It is not true that Man is primarily inclined to evil. There are those who love the good and overcome the base inclinations in them. There are those who sparkle with the divine love and make it their ongoing baptism no matter how much it costs them to stay righteous. This is so because righteousness is costly and putting it on as a mantle is a great consolation. With holiness, even though our feet touch this earth, but we are really bound to Heaven. And our head reaches its thresholds every day until the day when the Kingdom carries us off with joy that surpasses this world.

The Lord does not prevent us from enjoying appropriately the joys of this world, but He does not want them to have a hold on our hearts. He is adamant to be the sole inhabitant of the human heart. As such we use what is in the world but we do not let the world use us. We master what we have because whoever has God as his Lord is the master of all things. And the spirit of this world is understood to be that of money which Jesus warned us not to worship because God is one and He does not accept partnership with Him. We enjoy marriage, and the wife is a sister and a companion and she also is a partner in the love of the Lord. The enjoyments we have can be used to bring us closer to the Lord. God is the ultimate object of our love; and having a body we are not angels, but we have to seek to be like God and be deified through His grace.

Thus we become one with all the Saints who are in Heaven and on Earth. We have a heart to heart dialogue with them and so our joy is full in them. That is what we call the communion of saints. And the Saints are God’s kin and so we are saved from agony though we are afflicted with sickness and ordeals. And this is the cross without which no one can attain to the resurrection and itself (the cross) is the beginning of the resurrection in this world. Christ is the center of our existence whether we are in good health or in bad health, or whether we are cultured or uncultured. When the heart is illumined with the Holy Spirit, the mind will have peace from God, the peace that dispels complexes, confusion and doubt; with that one has what Paul calls ‘the mind of Christ’.

And with that mind we dismiss every contradictory idea and we understand existence the way God sees it. With that we become of Christ’s flesh and bones and the intimate companions of God. With that understanding according to our Tradition, each or the ‘holy ones’ becomes himself a Christ. The mind then is ‘christened’ and also the heart and we become beings of light, from whom earthliness has been swept away; at the end, we become mere light and God sees us through His light. And on the last day, due to the illumining of people, the material world becomes light as Maximus the Confessor says, and our light meets the light of the world and the whole universe becomes light; there God dwells.

That is the holiness which we know from the Divine books and the Tradition of the Pure. And God insists that we put on the Light as He does. We are grateful to Him for this gift of Light and we cannot be satisfied with anything less because no desire remains in us except for it.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

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

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Death / 16.08.2008

From the beginning of creation death is inevitable. You surmount any event through hope except this one, though you might be hoping for “the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting”. Whenever you place your head on a pillow, you do not know if you would wake up in the morning or no. Then, you would pray, if you were from the believers. The question that poses itself is that God “gives life and He causes death” as the Book [the Quran: Al-Tawbah 9: 116, or the Old Testament: 1Sam 2: 6] says, in the sense that God is the cause of both departure and survival. We do not find this verse repeated in the New Testament. However, the best that is said in this concern is: “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6: 23). Here, the apostle speaks of death in two senses: the physical and the spiritual deaths. The rest of the verse proves this: “but the free gift of God is eternal life”.

In several Qur’anic verses it is mentioned that the Lord gives life and He causes death. Does this mean that God is the direct cause of the death of every person, or the causality of God is a general saying, in relation to the whole humanity, due to the fact that death is a law? However, what does Sūra 39 [al-zumar], v.42 mean, “God receives the souls at the time of their death”? According to the interpretation of Imām Al-Rāzī, God receives the souls, at the time of their death, means that God takes hold of them and does not return them to the body. Thus, this great commentator does not consider a difference between taking life [i.e., God’s reception of the soul] and death. Here, the commentator has considered the relative pronoun ‘and’ as joining two synonyms, while ‘and’ might have the sense of the option of choice as saying “she has distanced herself, thus, choose for her patience and morning”, i.e. one of them. From this point of view, there is no linguistic reason that prevents [the consideration] of divine reception of the soul as the work of God, while death as a biological event concerning the human being. Nevertheless, I understand that Al-Rāzī could not move away from divine causality.

Evidently, divine address does not treat the contrast between the divine and the biological. And if we cling to the natural law, that does not prevent Christians to maintain that the human being was created to live eternally and that death is a punishment. Thus, nothing invalidates the truth that God has revealed through Paul that “the wages of sin is death”. That is why Orthodox Christians say that the natural law appeared after sin and that God watches over this order. Therefore, from a divine perspective, nothing prevents the death of the body, because of this deficiency, which has entered this chemical laboratory, which is the body.

Yes, because of purposes God has, God prolongs the life of this or that person, improving the biological functions as God wills, and I am completely confident that this improvement in the case of the elderly is a chance to repent. In this sense, God cares about the particulars, since the calling is for eternal life. Yet, to say with the common people that the age of this person or that is written down in eternity, by God, and that God sends the diseases, until the end of time comes, this is what I do not think, as it is affirmed in the Book, in which I believe.

[It is possible to explain death as] a human situation and a divine favor, in order that the human being dies with blessings, contentment, and readiness for departure. This seems to me to be a possible configuration between that which is in heaven and which is on earth.

It is incorrect what most Christians say that God has reconciled us with death, since Paul says, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1Corinthians 15: 26) Christ has reconciled us with God through His death, not ours, and the final reconciliation will be accomplished at our rising from the dead, for Christ’s death is life for us. This is the paradox, that the second Adam had to die in order that His life might work in us.

As to why do we escape the physical extinction, through food, sport and medicine? That is because life on this earth is a responsibility and care about those surrounding us, since “every person is a guardian” as Imām Alī Ben Abī Ṭāleb said. The service that we do to ourselves and to others is the fulfillment of this responsibility. It is not prohibited to seek death, but it is impermissible to be disappointed from the difficulties of life. God might want you sick or disabled and broken. That is not of your concern; you need to cure yourself as if you would live eternally, whenever the means of life were available to you. As to surrender to poverty, sickness, and idleness, whenever you could overcome them, that would never be the will of God.

God has granted us life and called us to keep it and preserve it with all the earnestness and the sincerity we have, toward God and the beloved ones, whom we consider seriously.

We are called to contend against death in all possible ways, until we witness that God is alive, and that God’s will is that we live until the time of our departure to God comes. Then, we would recommend our soul to God with contentment, because of our knowledge that God is in control of the world and wants to save us from suffering. The Creator responds to contentment with compassion, since compassion is the only entrance to the Kingdom. There we would meet those whom God has liberated from the oppression of this world and has filled their hearts with divine mercy, and this is the full joy.

If this is the condition of our relationship with God, then, there is no room for wailing. This is so, since our wailing would mean inherently that we opt for the dead person to remain in life, while the truth is that we feel sorry about human love and consolation, i.e., we opt for an unveiled face, rather than a face covered from our sight by compassion.

Natural grieves continue to exist and the Lord does not reject them, and Jesus Himself cried for His friend Lazarus. What is important is that we do not cut our relations with anyone and that we continue the service and we perform the benefactions and the holy recitations until wholeness descends upon us. Wholeness is our connectedness with the one taken from us to the abode of the saints and we truly hope for his/her salvation and the final liberation from the burden of this world. The union between those, whom God has received, and us is peace [that is possible through the bond of wholeness.].

Further, we inherit the virtues of those who have departed us, in the sense that we might perceive those values today, while they were concealed from us [earlier]. Thus, we might be sanctified through the dead ones. There is the remembrance of the virtues that we perform in the worship services. And in these services of remembrance communication takes place, until God brings us together on the Last Day.

Hence, we do not live this remembrance with irritability, but with prayer and imitation of the virtues of those whom God has concealed from the sights. You do not live with those asleep in the Lord unless with the one wholeness, which God has bestowed upon them and us. In this sense, they have not been separated [from us].

Furthermore, there is the cultural aspect, which makes you the inheritor of writers, intellectuals and scientists, whose legacy provides you with whatever they have achieved through their research, poetry, literature and the different sorts of art. From this perspective, you could say that Al-Mutanabbi, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Beethoven and others have not die. Their [own] articulation is present in the Kingdom and the extension of their articulation on earth.

Once, as I was walking with a great friend, who was knowledgeable in music, and he asked me, what remains from the Ninth Symphony? I said, the timbre vanishes, but the essence remains.

These are different features of receiving [God], the Lord, in the world beneath, with the hope of meeting God in heaven. This makes [the acceptance of] death easier and enhances your contiguousness to the dear Lord. And if your soul has become a bride of God, then your soul and the Spirit would say, Come. At that time, the kingdom of death vanishes within you.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “الموت” –An Nahar- 16.08.2008

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The Light and You / 10.08.2008

I do not want to go deeper into the theological controversies, which have divided both the Muslim world and the Christian one, each in itself, concerning the subject of the word. In Christianity, which is historically precedent [to Islam], the major statement is: “In the beginning was the Word” [John 1: 1]. Which beginning was this? There is no doubt, for most commentators, that John the Evangelist as he opened his Book with this statement he pointed to the beginning of the Book of Genesis, which says: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” [Gen.1: 1] If John has said that in the beginning of this creation the Word was, then, the Word would be previous to creation, and he supports this interpretation at the end of the first verse, saying: “and the Word was God.” The term [Word] indicates Christ before His descent to the world. And this has remained the used designation until Arius, in the fourth century, said that the Word is the first creature and the mediator between God and the universe. And the Church’s objection to Arius was about his claim concerning the createdness of the Word or the Son. This was – in my perception of the history of heterodoxies – the major heterodoxy which has divided the Church for the following decades, and it has not returned strongly, to my knowledge, unless with the emergence of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in similar terms or meaning.

It is neither my intention nor within my capability to show the debates that took place in Islam concerning the createdness of the Qurʼan, or its uncreated nature as the words of God. In order to identify the eternal nature of the Qurʼan, it should have been settled that the words of God are ancient, since they come from the Eternal Existent, and consequently they are not temporal. Large group of Muslims maintained the necessity of relating the eternal words with the Qurʼanic verbal template, and thus the ‘Knowledge of the Occasions of Revelation’ [ʼasbāb al-nzūl] has emerged which is about the circumstances in the life of the Prophet, nevertheless, [it maintains that] they were in the knowledge of God and thus, it does not abolish the eternity of the divine word.

The eternity of the Qurʼan and the eternity of the Word (or the Son), for the Christians, are two similar issues which the believing mind had to encounter. Those who maintained the eternity of the Word, for the Christians, and the eternity of the Qurʼan, they faced two real questions, which is the same question for the believing mind.

However, the problem is more complicated in Islam, since it is the problem of the relation between the word and the words which revealed to the prophet and are expressed through his voice, and then these words were written or preserved, heard and recorded. The question is: what is the role of the prophet in the embodiment of these words, whether verbally or by reciting them? Was he merely a man who received the words and transmitted them, or the meanings [of the words] were revealed to him and he had to find their verbal expression? All this has raised much inquiry, and schools have varied upon them.

However, as I maintained earlier, this is not my concern in this hasty work. Today, I am not arguing with anyone, yet, I presented the dilemma in order to reach at a human objective, starting from the sayings of the ancient Christian Fathers that the Word incarnated (from the Holy Spirit and Mary) in order that the body (and they mean human existence) becomes a Word. I ignore now the consideration of the eternity of the human image in [the form of] energy, based on the words of those who say that every creature is [originally] a word, which later on took the form of a creature. Both the people of the East and the West have addressed this question. However, for the intricacy of the subject I will not wade into it.

What concerns me is that you might become a divine word, in simpler terms. I want you to imitate God’s word, to become God’s utterance, or a reflection of God in work, speech, intention, and that you might be free from every human word, which derives of human inspiration. In reality, the American translation of the Bible which maintains that the Scripture is inspired by God carries, in my opinion [in Arabic], the adoption of the Islamic word ‘inspired’, ‘inspire’ and its derivatives. However, the Greek term carries the meaning that there is in all the Scripture the whiffs of God. Hence, the problematic is not about a disagreement between Christianity and Islam, since each has a statement concerning God’s relation to the text. In Christianity, the Word of God is Christ, himself, and not a compilation of books; and the Spirit has provided the evangelists, and the prophets before them, by the Spirit’s power in order to write words about Christ, before His incarnation, or after it.

What I want here is to talk about the human relations in the light of the divine power that is within the human being. If your behavior was fully identical to that of God, and to what God has said, you become God’s word, since you reveal God to the people, hence, whoever sees you sees God. In this sense, you are the son of God, and you call God Father not because you have emerged from God’s essence, and in the essence God has no partner. Rather, God’s light has been reflected in you, and there are no two lights in existence. God provides you with God’s light. In this sense, you alone, in creation, are a divine light. Irrational creatures might inspire you about God’s existence, as our Fathers have said; however, they are not the vision [of God]. The light, in ancient physics, is in the eye. And when you behold God you perceive the light. This is the relationship between God and the human being.

Nevertheless, if your soul becomes gloomy and the light of your eyes extinguishes, you would not see God. God, in existence, is independent from you. And if you disobey God you would perceive nothing at all, as it is mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” [Matt. 5: 8] And heaven, as we call this encounter between God and the human being in Christianity, is that the light of the Lord meets the light in the person, so that at the end “God may be all in all” [1Cor. 15: 28], as Paul says. It is not that God’s Being becomes confused with yours, but God’s eternal power intersects yours and embraces it to itself. Heaven is, then, a sea of light, through which all the lovers of God move. This starts here, whenever God dwells in your heart. Hence, the “here” and the “there” do not really differ, though the Hereafter is better for you than the First [life] [cf. Sūrat al-Ḍuḥā 4]. However, in the divine depth, i.e. is in God, God is willing to receive you, and no mark of disgrace will remain upon you, and your sins will not be recalled, and God will not recall them. Heaven is not only the eradication of transgressions, but also the eradication of their memory in God and in you. The demise of sins here is the repentance. However, repentance is about toil and diligence every day and every moment, until there is no trace of sin. And whenever sin is eradicated from you your soul becomes a mirror for those who behold God, and hence, they see themselves in you. Thus, slavery, which is the drift between your light and your Lord’s, vanishes in you. I know that there is a drift between the Creator and the creature, in relation to the essence or the being. And I know that obedience is required. However, in the heavenly junction, which is your heart, the beloved does not call for other than the beloved, and God becomes contiguous to you.

You would experience this whenever you were from the lovers. I do not call you to neglect the word descending upon you from God, through interpretation or through other means. However, I call you to the state of love, in which there is no speech. And in heaven the tongues of angels invalidate the words which have been poured upon us, for a reason of teaching. Reminding is the outcome of knowledge. God does not disappear in the higher Kingdom, however the reminding of God will fade away, since you would not need human words, and the language of the angels is silence.

In the world, there are means of subsistence and means of learning. However, all this remain at the level of mediums. As for love, love is not a medium [or instrument], rather it is the baptism of luminance, after which there is nothing other than its layers. Then, you will live of the blessed face of God, and the vision will grow in your spiritual eyes and God will exceed in brightness, since God is not a rigid picture. The living one does not have a portray. In the world, the living ones are subject to time, which hardens them. God is complete luminosity. God’s light oscillates in God in order to make you alive, and you walk not following this light, since it is within you, in order that you might live forever in an indescribable lucidity.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “النور وأنت” –An Nahar- 10.08.2008

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Meekness and Humility / 26.07.2008

In Orthodox mysticism, freedom from desires is called tranquility, at which the Spirit of the Lord is active and you are a receptive. That is to say that another founds humility within you. When John Climacus, the author of the Ladder of virtues and the great ascetic of the Sinai desert, wrote about tranquility, he said that it is the lack of caprices. He defined this in terms of perfection, which imitates God and the earthly heaven and the resurrection of the soul, before the general resurrection. No word might be said after this word, since whenever you attain such transcendence, you would not need any linguistic expression.

St. John Climacus explains, in the eighth article, that humility lies in the quietness of the soul and its acceptance of offences and favors similarly. Then, he elucidates in describing the contrary vice, which is according to him anger, and as he defines humility by tranquility, he defines anger by perplexity. At the time of insult, you keep silence. This is a first level of goodness. The second level, you get saddened for the one insulting you, and the highest level is when you can think of the hurt that insulting has caused in the insulter, and you cry for his/[her] sin warmly.

Maybe the most important of our virtues is the recognition of the Other. Humility is a Trinitarian virtue, par excellence, since you do not meet the Other as the Other, unless because of your recognition that God has made you because God has made the Other. [To say that] God has made the Other, means that God has made his/[her] character. And you, in your turn, preserve this character, since God wants it in that way. You dwell in tenderness, i.e., in that abandonment of conflict, about which you would not regret unless because of your upheaval.

Anger, and its kinds, is seemingly of dual opposition, while in reality it is of a unity of extermination. As for tenderness, it is your abandoning of your ‘I’, in order that the Other might exist, not in his[her] ‘I’, but before, God who makes him/[her] through God’s grace, on one hand, and the tenderness that grace has poured upon him/[her], on the other.

Tenderness is not merely the recognition of the Other, rather, it is the willingness of the configuration of the Other, since harshness would exterminate him/[her]. Whenever tenderness becomes evangelical humility it refutes violence in the soul. However, it does not imply a promise concerning the inevitable salvation of the Other, since the humble ones are being killed. They are viable to death in a way or another, because they are the messiahs of God. At any rate they are to fall into utter oblivion, since holiness does not write history, it rather writes the Kingdom. The evil ones write the times, until, at the end, God dwells in the Kingdom of humility.

In our daily lives there is nothing like tenderness which unites the generations. You might be complaining about your son, who is crying. Let him cry, and be happy for his growth. Once, a mother complained to me about her baby’s breaking the plates. I said to her, this is how your son grows. Tell your husband to set apart a share of his budget to buy whatever your son breaks. Further, nothing like tenderness unites the couples, who frequently yell [at each other]. Whenever you feel oppressed because of yelling, it would be difficult to return to union, or else, it would be a frail union.

The quick-tempered person would be out of mind, since he creates a world, other than the beautiful world which is the atmosphere of our normal living. This state of being out of mind lies in your living in a world of your creation. And whenever you acquire tranquility, you must pray for that which arouses in you pure prayer, as John Climacus [of the Ladder] maintains. In this way you habituate yourself to have patience, purification of the soul and forgiveness. Thus, pray for those who infuriate you, in order that they might be brought to reason. On this Isaiah said, “this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit” [Is. 66: 2]

Whenever you go to meet a person, who is meek, you know beforehand that he/[she] will not prey upon you, that you are accepted from the very beginning, and that your chance of convincing the person is good, or strong, since the Other will listen to you. If all people were meek, then the whole humanity would be one person, since nothing breaks the human unity other than anger. The call for unity implies unity in purity and trust, since love trusts. The countries write treaties, because they do not trust each other. And because of sin, the debtor writes an official document to the creditor, to be acquired by the court, i.e., by the fear of power. That is because the society needs compulsory arrangements, whenever tenderness is lost. This meditation brings us to another meditation, prescribed for us through Christ’s saying, “learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart”. (Matt. 11: 29) Why is this correlation [between gentleness (or meekness, as in KJ version) and humility]? It seems to me that what brings the two words together is that both tenderness and humility imply the death of the self. Paul’s saying supports this: “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, [he deceives himself.]” (Gal. 6: 3) Humility is that you descend to the underside of existence, or even you consider yourself as non-existing, and that whatever good you have done, it is God who has done it in you and through you. God passes through you in order that you might reach the Other, and you do not reach the Other unless you rub out the ‘I’ within you. On this Paul said, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are”. (1Cor.1: 27-28) The meaning of the last statement, as I understand it, is that God chose whoever has thought of him/[her]self as non-existing, in order that whoever thinks of him/[her]self as existing might be abolished.

You do not exist unless when you rub out yourself before God and before Others. Thus, we read in the Gospel of Luke, “[God] has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree”. (Luke 1: 53) [In this verse] the “mighty” are those who think of themselves that they are so. Those [mighty ones], God removes them from God’s presence, and sees only those who do not think of themselves as great, and hence, they exist before God. In this vein, one of Moldavia’s princes had written, in the fourteenth century, to the crown prince (who was going to rule the emirate): “Do not covet to become a bishop, an abbot or a prince. Do not covet, since all this is the glory of the world.” For the glory of God is within you, i.e. the virtues. The glory of God is the only glory. You do not perceive it, but your Lord reveals it. During our journey to the Kingdom, God abolishes whatever was vain glory. This is so, since darkness (i.e. the vain glory) and light (i.e. the glory of God) do not meet in the contemporary person.

Yes, you should be aware of the grace that has descended upon you, as St. Symeon the New Theologian commands us. However, you should refer this grace to God and know that it passes through you, without you being its originator. You are only a path, in order that you might deliver it to others. The Saint does not acknowledge him/[her]self as a saint, and his/[her] ignorance of that raises him/[her] to the rank of sainthood. This happens to whomever thinks of him/[her]self as a servant, who is entrusted with the grace, while he/[she] is not its owner, since God alone is the owner of existence, and grace is the radiation of God alone.

Tenderness first and then humility, both converge in order that they make together an upright person. This is possible for the poor and the rich, the satisfied and the hungry, for the regular citizen and the one who represents him/[her] in the government. At no human condition tenderness is impossible and with it humility. Sublimity is given only to those upon whom meekness and humility have descended, since they are alone the people of God.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “الوداعة والتواضع” –An Nahar- 26.07.2008

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Old Age / 07.06.2008

Aging is not the end; it so only apparently. It might be a new beginning or a fresh start. It would be so if we hold that the body is only one constituent of the human being and not all. And so Man has to realize that the vision of Truth and Light is possible at any stage of one’s life. Old age is not supposed to be the stage where one waits for death to come. Being ready for death is a matter we need to look after in every stage of our life.

Each age has its splendor. Youth for instance, is the age of dynamism, ambition and great hopes; yet hope is not confined to youth. And if old age is the time of maturity, it is also the age of forgiveness and magnanimity and the milding of lusts; in old age, what is good hails into our life, like the yielding to Grace and to the capacity to love. And love is God’s name itself, as St. John says, and as such it is a “touching” of Heaven and an invocation to receive its blessings.

When old age sets, there comes with it a great benefit of the long term experiences of life, of which is the purification from all of what hinders Grace to dwell in us. Though one runs the risk of sorrows and life’s heavy difficulties that can burden us heavily, yet the body can rise, or better, be raised by God – according to His will – who renews it with hope as He does to youth.

The different stages of life are not separate from each other; the elderly often “leap ahead”, as youth do,  and have the expectation of many years of life filled with the same goodness of life. In that sense, the goodness of one stage of life does not cease with it but extends into another.  As such Man, like an expanse in time, lives in hope and does not get necessarily discontinued with sickness; while sickness, for him, can be a time of purification, quietness and a new start towards God. And God, in His will, grants us years in this life or He can call us to Himself, for the Heavenly Mansions are full of joy; as it says in Romans 6: 7 “…For he who has died is freed from sin”.

At times, God breaks us in our flesh to chastise us with the ‘breaking’ and to make us transparent by Grace, in such a way that others behold in us that Grace (transparency) rather than the brokenness of the body. And in Heaven such transparency is called “light”; such light is in proximity with the divine light and almost mingles with it; as such the divine light is then of both: God who is its source and those He shines on with His light thus having almost no distinction between the Lord and those who love Him.

Due to that, the elderly like us to love them so that their liveliness increases and so that the youth would seek after the wisdom of the elderly and hold on to it as such the different “ages” are mingled together in creative love making us a united humanity founded on different age-leaps, all having the same nature that of love.

And in case the end of life comes, the elderly who loves the Lord prepares himself to meet Him having faith that a better life awaits him as he moves on to glory. But this is not the end. This is only another race in which the last victory is won.  The elderly does not experience a severance from` the reward awaiting him, for he knows that his heart will be infused with the love of God in such a way that these “bones will be raised on the last day”. The believer is a traveler but not for far because Heaven is not far. Heaven has dwelt in his heart. Heaven has held him in comfort; and at a profound level he moves from himself to that self of his in which a greater presence (God) will dwell renewing it.

There is no discontinuity; if you had been the dwelling of God then God will be your dwelling there. That is if you had been one with your Lord in this world you will remain one with him in His world and one with the community of the saved. And you will dwell there in the good that is beyond description. And if you had been close to the Perfect and had yearned for Him and was filled with Him and taught others to yearn for Him too, then you become whole there and would be perfected.

Life is that yearning for God; and often that yearning grows stronger as we get close to leave this world. And such yearning is life and bliss. And if that fills us then God will answer us and have compassion on us and carries us to Himself before death; we also know that our loved ones who went to Him before us will ask for mercy for us because those who have departed remain one with those who stay on this earth since unity is not a matter of space and time but is in the togetherness of the hearts of those in whom God dwells.

Old age is a grace for those who are in the Spirit of God and those who keep their hearts and minds pure, away from resentments and grudges. Perhaps God’s will is to keep the elderly away from lusts thus they grow not only in age but also in the real rest and peace. And then comes an end which is only a beginning of the perfect quietude which awaits us in Paradise. And if we dwell in it we become renewed by God wiping away all tears from our eyes.

According to many experts in the world, it is preferable for the elderly to remain in their own homes than to be moved to an “old people’s home”. There they are isolated from the affection they need to receive from their family. I know that this demands much care for their health and that in a home where both, husband and wife go to work, no one might remain at home; in this case the “old people’s home” might be the better solution for health care. But there is no doubt that being in the “old people’s home” brings sorrow and a feeling of loneliness. In fact, if it is financially affordable, it is better that one of the spouses would stay at home so the elderly can live in peace and joy. But if moving to an “old people’s home is inevitable, then the elderly should be visited regularly by his family.  Thus it is advisable that he be in a nearby place to make visits easy and regular so that the family can relieve him from the sense of loneliness as much as possible.

So one finds in some countries institutions that help the elderly who have bad health conditions to go on with their lives by being comforted through religious or other means.  Such institutes are necessary everywhere.

It is important that humanity embrace the elderly joyfully. He has not left this life yet and he is eligible to right living not only in physical health, but also in what concerns psychological and spiritual well-being.

The number of the elderly will increase in the years to come and the responsibility is going to be immense. Yet this should be the concern of the whole community. And there might be the need to come out with new means so the elderly do not feel that they are a nuisance to those who are young or that they are a burden on the community.

The elderly are the beloved of God; and this is our basis of dealing with them.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “الشيخوخة” –An Nahar- 07.06.2008

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Suffering / 12.04.2008

No question is more painful than that about suffering; its causes, its purpose, its nature and its place in Man’s existence. The person suffering can understand his own pain or he might not due to circumstances. Others might watch or explain and all they can give is compassion and affection. But the other cannot be in the shoes of him who suffers physically or morally because he cannot carry the pain of others.

There are some I know who carried several blows for decades; some blows were carried daily and others intermittently. There are some who live with suffering which the medics call an inability, like the bone maladies; and the doctors, in order to pacify him, tell the person that he would carry this pain to the grave. Concerning that Isaiah says: “At this my body is racked with pain, pangs seize me, like those of a woman in labor; I am staggered by what I hear, I am bewildered by what I see”. This is accompanied with sorrow; and sorrow can bring one to inner pain and almost to despair. Added to those are worry, anxiety and tension. Such inner chagrins beside the physical ones reveal to us that they are exceptions to Man’s basic criterion of living, that of wholeness and good health. This is so if you consider God’s purpose in the Creation and Man’s condition before sin. But what we have now is that every rational creature is stricken in soul or body or both at one stage of his life or throughout all of his life. One does not live the first wholeness of the creation but the defect that took place realizing that wholeness is only granted on the last day.

As you live on this earth you hope for the good and when you are wounded the loving folk around you help you morally and the doctors help you physically. Before that you are partially or fully defected in body, heart and soul and you do not move on towards good health and wholeness. Such wholeness is foreign to nature. But in Orthodox theology we know that the aim of our spiritual efforts is to reach Hesychia or quietness and peace associated with the freedom from lusts and thus one is freed morally from the impact of pain brought about by the defected body. And those who have reached such freedom are called the Hesychasts. So if you are free from the pressure of pain though you are crucified for it, you get to the first condition of the creation as if you are in Paradise before the fall of Adam or better still, you are in the coming Kingdom from now, or you are a beholder of Jesus Christ. There are those who have been granted salvation in this world; this does not mean that they do not experience temptation after such a transfiguration but when they go back to the transfiguration, they become of the Kingdom anew.

After death, we find Peace since it is not possible to fall after that; and the mercy of God receives us in its folds. But the man of Peace remains on this earth, and also those who have no peace, until the love of God is poured on them profusely. Yes there is that grace of patience and we need to practice it as we discipline our soul so that we do not hurt others by complaining. You cannot tell your trouble except to those who are close to you because they can feel with you even though only the Lord is our healer.

One’s end is not fated in the sense that you do not decide on it. Yes, we all fear death and many know that it is close but in general, no one can determine the time. In that sense death is a mystery that no one can breach. Someone I know had cancer and was told by the doctors that he had only three or four days to live. Fifteen years have gone by and the man is still alive. Did the doctors make a mistake? Did a miracle happen? Would God free man from the laws of nature? What is the law of nature? In my Church we believe that it is the order that God has set after the fall; and according to that law He runs our fallen nature except that He can free one from that law with His love thus carrying him to the condition of man before the fall, that in Paradise. This humanity is a field planted with wheat and tares and God will separate them on the last day. That same admixture is in the human heart also, but it is done away with through true repentance.

The question that often comes on the mouth of the afflicted is “why am I stricken? What have I done to God?” Thus people live their pain as a punishment. But it is not a punishment. And since God does not know hatred, anger and enmity, He does not throw you in the furnace of pain. God does not know revenge.

There is nothing wrong in saying with the Old Testament that God chastises with pain. But then this understanding is something between the afflicted and God and it is not right for you to read the suffering of others as chastisement. That is hatred and revenge on your part. Thus says Ezekiel: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “‘the parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? ………….. The one who sins is the one who will die.”Ezek 18: 2, 4.

Does that mean that death has got to human nature because of sin? Here Paul says in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death. So the Bible says that every man is a sinner called to repentance. We do not know man except in the condition after the fall. We cannot believe that God has created man for death. Some would argue that death is a matter of potassium and mineral compounds and some diseases here and there; but both, the sick and those who are not sick die in similar ways: first their brain dies then the heart dies and so death remains a mystery for all. Actually Paul says that the wages of sin is death in the context of a discussion on holiness. He says in Romans 6: 20-23”When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So Paul’s concern was not to link what is biologically natural in us with sin, but to urge people to freedom from sin in the new life in Christ.

The Christians do not have a philosophy of evil. We only know it as a lack of the good. We do not explain it or expound on it. All what we say is that there is evil and it is bound for death. That is why Jesus went down to the realm of death and remained there three days and trampled down death by his death. And when the Divine Life in Christ entered the realm of death, He placed in that realm of death Life Eternal. Our position therefore is not philosophical but one of spiritual warfare in the sense that when you are Christ’s friend through repentance, He pours down on you His divine power and would raise you from the dead and would forgive your sin. We only affirm that (Rev. 21: 2) “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

The problem of suffering in the Orthodox Church is resolved by that understanding mentioned above; as Christ trampled down death so your death now is trampled down in Ultimate Compassion in the Resurrection. This is why, in the afflictions of soul and body we have in this world, we should have our eyes on the One who has utterly overcome death and is able to overcome it in us; then we become a glorified body as he is; then we are in Christ.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “الوجع” –An Nahar- 12.04.2008

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Lights on the Mind / 08.03.2008

The question that has been asked by both simple people and [more] educated ones is: If the mind rules us, how could we reach at revelation? The space is too narrow here to look at Ibn Sina [Avicenna], Al-Farabi [Alpharabius] and Ibn Rushd [Averroes] from the Muslims or at Thomas Aquinas, who were engaged with the relationship between the Holy Books and philosophy and they had different answers. Thus, I will not raise the question of the relationship between revelation and reason. In Christianity, and among the different denominations, there is no one answer. The Catholic Church has stated at the First Vatican Council (1870) that God can be known by reason alone, while in the Orthodox Church there is no such attempt to reach at reason apart from any power within us. The independence of reason, from any other power within us, is inconceivable by my understanding of faith.

The skeptical ones depart from the point that every person should perceive the truth. If this was true, why then people differ in everything? Why does a person change his/[her] mind from time to time? Truth exists in itself and it reaches you through means already present within you. However, is there only one mediator between you and Truth and that is reason? or is it the heart, or a union between both? so that reason descends to the heart in order to be purified in it and thereupon rises to its rank purified, and then it can know God.

An attempt to respond to this research is that God “breathed into his [the man’s] nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2: 7) The soul is the whole inner human existence, including the feelings, the mind and the will. And if we consider Darwin’s theory on the origin of species, we find out that there is a big chasm between the animal and the human being, since the human spirit, with all its energies, has no parallel with the animal. The human being is a speaking being not in the sense that he/[she] can utter or speak, but in the sense that his/[her] speech is unified and he/[she] can communicate with another making use of his/[her] rationality and all these powers merge in him/[her] to express about the human being in a unified way. Thus, there is no such pure rational expression, or pure psychic expression, rather all these energies interact and receive reason by viewing the light and it coveys this view through words, behavior and attitudes.

It has been written by Paul, “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam (i.e., Christ) became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical”. [1Cor. 15: 45-46 (RSV version)] (NJB version: ‘natural’ [in place of ‘physical’]) Both translations of the word are incorrect. The Greek term ‘Psuchikos’ [yuciko,j] is related to the soul or the psychic. Adam was born with a soul in the sense of a natural person, while the spirituality of Divine Spirit descends upon him later on through Christ. Paul did not say a rational being, or a speaking being, in the sense of being able to pronounce words. The emphasis of the New Testament is that the inner power facing the body is not the mind, rather the soul, which involves the mind and other things with it (feelings, will).

At ancient times, the Greek had said that the human mind is distorted by the desires. Thus, the mind is susceptible to disturbance. The human being does not speak only out of mere, pure mind. He/ [she] speaks [also] out of affection and intention. In Christian Orthodox theology the mind, like all our inner powers, has been stricken by the ancestral sin (the first ancestor), thus it is incurred like any other energy in the soul. The human being is not mind, rather he/[she] is endowed with mind. However, we might say that the human being is a soul, since it embraces all its energies.

Once, in a religious conversation, a friend of mine has insisted on the mind. I responded to him telling that there are thousands of things we do without using the static closed mind, thus without [making use of] all our energies. Then, I added, was your marriage the result of a mental procedure?

If truth is the light that God has thrown into the heart, the heart might become free of its caprices, i.e., God molds your soul in order that you might see, since your soul must approach the innermost divine so that it might perceive. Thus, if a believer is asked to give rational evidence, you may try some ways, and here perception might support your mind. However, most of the times, you would not be able to elucidate fully whatever is happening within you.

First, you submit your heart to God, and whenever you believe, then, you would be brought to reason. Thus, it is not that you come to reason first and then you believe. People have told me more than once: prove to us the existence of God. I have said I cannot, since I start with God. God is my proof, and I do not reach at God through decisive proofs. God does not need proofs to reveal Godself to you and you do not need proofs in order to embrace God. There is an inner understanding to which Christianity refers as the grace of the Creator. And the Book says, “[God] who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1Tim.2: 4) This is a biblical testimony that God bestows grace upon all humanity, and that some accept it, since their soul is in a state of receptivity of the light, other souls are not; and no one provisions the secret of one’s own self or of others. We, the believers, can witness and the testimony is either attained or not. You have seen, heard, accepted, settled for and obeyed, thus, you have lived the new life as if you have moved, from now, to the face of God. There are however those who are still in need of the Savior’s touch so that their eyes might open and see.

You believe in God because something has moved in your soul, while your Lord has founded [that thing] within you. St. Maximus the Confessor, who had lived in Palestine and most probably was an Arab, said that you read God in the universe, who made everything in it through the Word, which was from the beginning. Truly, the universe is [of] words. Justin Martyr (second century), the philosopher from Neapolis [today’s Nablus], said that before the New Testament God has sown God’s words in creation and in Greek philosophy. These were somehow divine incarnations before God has accomplished the incarnation of the Son of God in creation. Maximus concluded that the Holy Spirit is everywhere, and whenever you try to clarify his thought he would be saying that the Divine Spirit is disseminated everywhere. You have to search for it in this or that Christian or non-Christian, to search for it in persons, whoever were they. Maximus had denounced Judaism as a religious system; however, he did not deny the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Jewish persons.

You might perceive this Spirit in all people surrounding you, whenever they were devout, and you might observe their ascent to the Truth. This does not mean that Jesus of Nazareth reveals Himself to them through His Gospel, since God has ways through which God reveals Godself to the ones God has loved. In this sense the Church is not limited to the ones baptized, rather it extends to all whose Lord [God] has chosen them through God’s compassion. They might be Monotheists, Hindus or Buddhists. And God will elucidate at the Last Day who are God’s, and God’s are all whom God had touched through God’s Spirit and had put God’s Word according to God’s volition.

It remains that there is evangelization or calling whenever you think that whatever you believe in is the proper way, [however] this is based on the reality that people are free. They might see what you see, yet, you should neither condemn anyone nor pronounce judgments concerning the other ways [of different religions] or any human being, who does not believe in what you believe. Thus, do not pass a judgment concerning the way anyone pursues [in faith], rather share life with him/[her] in love and peace. Love is the culmination of revelation, while peace accompanies freedom.

This presumes the coexistence of people from different religions. Thus, do not kill anyone, do not suppress anyone and do not impose a life, or orders from your own on him/[her], and God will not give an opinion in the religion of anyone of us on the Last Day, rather God judges the person as a person. Do not condemn anyone to fire, since the Creator has not entitled you to pronounce such judgment. God [the Creator] manifests Godself to every creature on the Last Day and saves him/[her] from suffering, whenever he/[she] was not among those condemned to suffering.

“When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves” (Rom. 2: 14). Your conscience rules over you and if you were sincere to God, God perceives you as belonging to God and tells you this on the Day when God judges the inner depth of every person. Then, this glory comes.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “أنوارعلى العقل” –An Nahar- 08.03.2008

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Humility / 16-02-2008

Those who admire their own person are many. All of them find in themselves values which spring from their own reality. They always pride themselves composing themselves out of a series of merits, since they think that without these merits they are nothing and the human being does not opt for nothing. Thus, it is inevitable that most people make up an image for themselves and usually they think that nothing resembles them. The human being fears moral death before fearing the physical death. That is why through these beauties, which appear to the person, he/[she] lives. This is conceit, which is followed by pride, in which the human subject regards his/[her] own self as above all people. There is, therefore, a kind of worship of the self. There is always a kind of a polytheism concealed to the person him/[her]self. Pride in its culmination is contempt of the other and the realization and the laudation (whether spoken or non-spoken) of the self.

Arrogance might occur as the outcome of praise, and by praise pride is brought about, and the avidity for the first position in this or that domain. We read by St. John of the Ladder: “An old man once admonished spiritually a proud brother, who answered him, “Forgive me, father, but I am not proud.” “My son,” said the wise old man, “what better proof of your pride could you have given than to claim that you were not proud?”.

Every person is the victim of illusion. And from this follows that the arrogant person despises the meek ones. The detestation of those is a detestation of the ones intimate to God, since God is meekness. Thus, our Fathers have not mistaken when they thought that pride is the greatest sin, since it denotes that in your conscience you think that no one is like you and that you are becoming like God, as Adam believed.

The problem of the arrogant person is that most of the times he/[she] does not know his/[her] self. In addition to that, whenever grace does not descend on the person from above, he/[she] becomes unable to differentiate in him/[her]self and thinks that only he/[she] is gifted, disregarding that he/[she] is inflated concerning his/[her] talents; while he/[she] would never think so. Hence, one needs some virtues, such as benevolence, so that one might improve oneself whenever one believes that benevolence is a divine inspiration. One might perform good deeds since those could increase his/[her] exaltation, unknowing that the ones toward whom he/[she] does a favor are generally better than him/[her]. The spiritual beauties should be founded on humility; otherwise they would become veiled frailties. One might consider that he/[she] does not commit adultery, does not steal, does not lie, nevertheless, these prohibitions are of no good whenever they strengthen one’s pride. Those sanctified ones have taught us that whenever you practice abstinence, yet you remain an unloving person, you would disgrace your chastity, thus you are nothing. Love alone strikes arrogance and tears it apart since it is an admission concerning the Other and this admission alone makes you. Our Bible shows us how to flee fornication and the other sins. Our Fathers have set laws to tear sin apart. However, sin continues to exist, whenever you think that you became virtuous because you practice abstinence. Abstinence is nothing whenever it is not clothed with love, through which hearts do not break.

Some might think that you are arrogant, because you might have a manner of handling things that they do not understand or like, or, because of your liveliness, they think you do not address them for you are bumptious. Examine yourself after every utterance. What matters is how God would see you on the Last Day, or before your passing away. However at the end you would not realize your conceit unless your conscience rebukes you for that, since arrogance would be finally broken in order that it might be replaced by love.

In contrast to this magnification of the self and the continuous life in illusion, humility seems to be an imaginative contraction of the self, even if the humble person is the greatest man on earth. He/[she] might find in him/[her]self natural virtues, such as beauty, intelligence and others, yet they remain within their [original] range since the person does not pride him/[her]self on them. All the natural virtues we have come with creation, or we inherit them from the righteous ones, who are oriented toward changing the universe. You thank for a possession or a privation. Though the way differs, yet, both are divine inclination.

The humble does not dwarf him/[her]self, since he/[she] does not deprive people from their rights and at the same time he/[she] does neither judge nor scourge him/[her]self. He/[she] receives with thankfulness and lacks with thankfulness. Concerning divine generosity no word is left for you other than what the tax-collector has said in the Gospel, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” [Luke 18: 13] The two states are true for you, that you are a sinner and that God is compassionate, and whenever you perceive God’s compassion you are released from any guilt however great it was. Whenever the sinner perceives God’s grace descending on him/[her], swallowing up completely his/[her] guilt, he/[she] perceives him/[her]self as nothing, while perceiving God’s compassion as everything. This is the humble person.

For Christians Jesus is the prototype of the humble person, who said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11: 29). Since years this verse has been challenging me. It raises in me the question: why had the Master referred only to these two virtues, while he has innumerable virtues. Maybe He perceived in humility the culmination, since it can advance to that which is above it, while you cannot reach at it unless you trample on all desires. And in the artistic domain humility is [represented] in the Orthodox Church through the icon of Christ – the bridegroom, who is painted as descending to the tomb naked, in order that He might completely disappear in flesh and rise from the dead. Christ is the bridegroom (or Khatan in Syriac [which means the son-in-law]) since he abides by the will of God, not His human will and through His death He marries the whole humanity.

Here is what the great saint Isaac the Syriac, who was born in Qatar, maintained: “To speak of humility is to speak of God. It is the raiment of the Godhead. The Word who became human clothed himself in it, and he spoke to us in our body. Everyone who has been clothed with humility has truly been made like unto Him who came down from his own exaltedness and hid the splendor of his majesty and concealed his glory with humility.”

What does this statement mean for us? It means that God’s life is hidden within us and it “what we will be has not been revealed yet”. [1Jo 3: 2] At such hiddenness you cannot reveal God unless you hide yourself. God reveals Godself through you whenever you conceive the measure of hiddenness; I mean the measure of your considering yourself as nothing.

I had a great Syrian friend, settled in Switzerland. I had raised him in his youth on Orthodox faith and our youth had been flaming by the Spirit. Then, he became the friend of Arab leaders, from all different countries, and he had been hosting several of them at his residence. Once, after his death, one of his daughters has invited me at her table. She said to me, my father has been treating the servants at our home with the same politeness and respect that he used to treat the leaders of Arab countries.

Whether you were rich or great among the educated ones, remember what has been stated in Mary’s song according to the Gospel of Luke, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree.” (Luke 1: 52) If you say: I am an honorable person among my people, then, you would be making an attestation about your education or leadership. God alone raises you and whenever you consider yourself above another, then, you hurt him/[her]. That is why Jesus connected meekness [or gentleness] to humility, since meekness becomes in the Other an honey in his mouth, clearing all protrusions between you and Others, as it is the result of humility or the way for it. Who are your people?  “Surely the people is grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever.” (Is. 40: 7-8)

The one who consider him/[her]self highly would say that he/[she] is speaking and the Other does not speak, since whoever speaks becomes something, while the Other, from the beginning, is nothing. Arrogance is a moral invalidation of the Other, i.e. a kind of extermination. [If] you are arrogant, you set for yourself a throne that you have not inherited it, or let us assume that you have inherited it. You remain on your earthly reality, your bones and flesh, and all of them are perishable. Until, through repentance, your Lord raises you from the spiritual death here. Thus, you might know that you are inferior to all people.

In the fourteenth century, the prince of Moldavia had written to the crown prince (who was going to rule the emirate): “Do not covet to become a bishop, an abbot or a prince. Do not covet, since all this is the glory of the world.” On the Last Day you will be given glory, whenever you resolve to distance yourself from the glories of this world. And God might destroy the throne, which your imagination has constructed it for you, in order that you might become from those who have hunger. Yearn for God so that God might sit you on God’s heavenly throne.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “التواضع” –An Nahar- 16-02-2008

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2008, An-Nahar, Articles

Between Friendship and Love / 26-01-2008

Friendship is your relatedness to another in a specific way and it is reciprocal in honesty and abundant in intimacy, without [pursuing] any benefit in this world. [Friendship] is a mystery, since you do not know how it befalls, and in French literature we read, “This is my friend, since he is he and I am I.” The two sides [of friendship] are recipient of divine love. [Friendship] has no condition other than the continuous virtue of the two friends and it is [founded] on truthfulness alone, while itself has the power of its own endurance. In this sense, though it might look like a dual relationship, yet God, whether you name God or no, is in its midst. God strengthens and nourishes it, so that both sides might reach at complete transparency.

[Friendship] exists among people, since none of us can live in isolation. Everyone needs integrity and a supportive communion in order that he/[she] might perceive his/[her] existence, not only in his/[her] own characteristics, but also in the Other’s, which support him/[her]. It is a communion of life and collaboration. You are in need of someone who takes care of you and supports you, someone who purifies you and raises you from spiritual death, whenever it strikes you. Thus, it is a resurrective power because of the joy it brings and because of the one you receive. Joy comes from the paschal essence inherent in every human being.

There is disclosedness in being truthful, since you are looking for help, and [you desire] to free yourself and rise. There is no such breaking of the commitment [that you have made] to give [to one another], so that you might not become confined and return to your desert, falling into despair. Aristotle had said, “O my friends, there is no friend.” No, there are truthful people, who desire to become more virtuous and they choose the noble ones to raise them up. No doubt, not all friends enjoy equal friendliness, however there would be a friend whom you need, similar to your need of a spouse. Friendliness has levels, and those who are abundant in both friendliness and purity are rare, since virtues are rare and arduous. And whenever they become deficient in the person, then, the relationship vanishes and your choice become wrong.

However, when friendship lasts it means that it has descended from heaven and thus, it is not a passing intimacy. And here we must refer to love [in its divine sense], which does not carry the sense of specification, rather it brings all together. Its goal is any human being, whether he/[she] gave you [something] or no, whether he/[she] returned your service back or didn’t. It is absolutely free, i.e., it is not based on any reciprocity or exchange. You love someone since he/[she] needs you, or more accurately, since he/[she] needs divine giving present in you. You might serve him/[her] and leave, and you might not return to him/[her] unless you know that he/[she] is in need of you and you of him/[her]. He/[she] is a mere human being, who cries, suffers, or is isolated and you become his/[her] savior, since God has delegated you for a saving act at an appropriate time, and then God might delegate you to save another. You walk in the desert of existence to come to the aid of an abandoned person, and you become indigent of him/[her] whenever you give. You might become completely, or almost completely, indigent in materialistic sense, since existence belongs to the Other, who is with you, and through giving him/[her] you are giving (or lending) God, as the Bible maintains [See: Proverbs 19: 17]. This is the perfect giving, since you were wiped out to ascend the Other in order that he/[she] might not be wiped out by the hardness of the hearts.

Thus, it does not matter for you whether he/[she] follows the same religion as yours, or a different religion, or whether he/[she] is embellished by divine glory or the devil’s ugliness, since you have decided to see God in him/[her]. Doctrines are different and love is one for all people, since through that you became the friend of God.

In the gospels, there are many references to generous [free] giving. We cite from Luke this saying: “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” (Luke 6: 35) And here we have a theological point that free giving raises you from the rank of slaves to the rank of children. And the subsequent point is that the wicked ones are also children, since in God’s view all people are equal in value and their rank as children is freely given.

This reading of mine is founded on his saying after the previous words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. … A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” When you give, God gives you abundantly. God deals with you in a way better than the way you deal with others. The Gospel passes over calculation.

Therefore, he could say, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good”. (Luke 6: 45) Thus, you do not look [to the Other] through human wisdom, which tells you to look at your treasure and give whatever you could in order that something is left for you. Rather, divine wisdom that is within you tells you to look through your loving heart and give whatever your heart orders you to give, so that your heart might pour forth. And if you were not bound to one penny, you hand that penny over to the Other and give in order to save your heart from death, of which parsimony is one side. Parsimony is to defend that whatever you have is essential for you. However, nothing in world is essential unless you devote it to the Other, and God will recompense love by love. And in case you were not essentially set aside for divine love, whenever you give, God will endow you with personal love since you are a son/[daughter] as all children and God is free with God’s friends. In this sense, God is not the beloved of those prestigious ones; rather God is their lover. The lover of God might reach a point where God does not perceive him/[her] as merely a lover, rather as the essence of love [in the sense of eros], as St. Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 117) had said about Christ, “Christ, my Eros, has been crucified”.

The Holy Bible has borrowed both terms: compassion and compassionate [in Arabic: raḥma; raḥīm] from the womb [raḥm] of the woman. The root of the words [in Arabic] is one, thus, the rational meaning is taken out of the sensible. The compassion of the heart involves the amplitude, which gives birth for many children, and if we were all the children of God, after we were set free from the slavery of sin, we receive compassion through God’s nature, without measuring, distinction or judgment. That is why our ascetic Fathers, who fought the good fight, [who were exposed to] non-stopping hardships, have all said that you do not enter heaven by your own strive, rather by the compassion of God, i.e., God is who accepts you with mercy, since, through belovedness that you have received, you became from the family of the Father.

Hence, God does not count your sins; rather you count them in order to repent to God, feel owe and restrain. Then, you would not remain merely an earthly human being. The Lord knows that you are made out of the earth; however, God would not look at your earthly nature, rather to what has emanated from God to you, i.e., the inherent light in you. God sees whatever God wants to see, and God’s eyes are God’s. A day will come on the way of your salvation, when you will say, “in thy light do we see light.” (Psalm 36: 9)

What mystery is all this about? The gospels have told about compassion, divine kindness, humility and meekness of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the face of God for us. One person, and that is John the Evangelist, had said, “God is Love”. At a first reading, he sounds saying that love brings together, or summarizes, all God’s attributes. At a final, refined reading, I have to say that God in God’s essence is love and not only in God’s attributes. God is love in Godself and in God’s work. All the love you have for others, far and near, pours forth within you into this love and then you will be deified or deific.

Before that, nothing is required from you here other than to love. Through the one Divine Love, you embrace both your enemy and your friend. You call upon [God] your Lord, and God responds to you, since God has nothing other than that which is in God’s essence. And in your heart remains no distinction between heaven and earth, or more accurately, whatever from the earth you have in your heart you make it a heaven, thus the Kingdom of heaven would have entered within you. Whenever you admit that [God] the Creator reigns over you, God confers upon you the Kingdom and brings you into God’s grace, sitting on God’s right side upon the throne, since Christ has sit on the Father’s right side in order that you might sit with Him.

This requires obedience from you and compassion from the Father, a calling from compassion to obedience and from obedience to compassion.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “بين الصداقة والمحبة” –An Nahar- 26-01-2008

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