2009, An-Nahar, Articles

The Origins of Christ / 12.12.2009

The Orthodox Church calls the Sunday of tomorrow the Ancestors’ Sunday, and by the ‘Ancestors’ it refers to those who had laid the origins of Christ from the beginning of creation. In the Gospel, we have two genealogies for Christ. The first is in the beginning of Matthew, and it starts with Abraham, while the second starts off with Jesus the Nazarene to reach at Adam. Through an informed reading, it would be clear that Matthew, as he wrote down his book around the year eighty in Antioch, was a Jew by birth and had grown up in Palestine, and he adhered to Hebrew theology as he compiled the first Gospel in the capital city of Syria. He had determined to tell the Christian community – Jewish by origin – in Antioch that this man, in whom they have believed was a descendent of Abraham. And that His true origin does not go back to Moses, who was not mentioned in the genealogy, but to the first believer in God, Abraham, according to whose faith Paul had said that the humanity will become righteous, in the image of Abraham’s righteousness, and not in the image of the righteousness of the law. It is possible also that Matthew wanted to comfort the converted priests of the temple, who were reduced to poverty because of the loss of their salaries from the temple. He wanted to assure them that in their poverty they had gained Christ, since He is the end of their prophets and the realization of their visions. Thus, through Him the Torah becomes an image of the One to come, a representation of the paradigm, who is Jesus the Nazarene.

This is Matthew’s genealogy. To this the Lord was traced in the work of Luke, the Syrian physician, who had been a disciple to Paul and had written his Gospel after the period of discipleship in Rome, the capital of the world, where the hope for a Savior has developed. Luke had to establish a bond, which relates Jesus not only to Abraham, but to Adam, in order to maintain that the ancestors of Jesus were not only from the Jewish race, but from the whole humanity. Thus, He would be inscribed in His Marian [human] existence and in God’s eternal plan to be the fruit simultaneously of both ancient humanity and its origin.

The Savior of the Jews and the Savior of the gentiles, this was what allowed Paul to write “there is neither Jew nor Greek”. [Gal.3: 28] Since the dividing wall, which was separating among the one people of God has broken down. [This wall] was dividing between the people of God, who had no philosophy and those people of philosophy, who had no one God. Through Him, the wall, separating reason from revelation, would be destroyed; so that whenever reason is drawn to love, becomes itself the place where revelation descends.

Matthew carries the pure spiritual movement which has arisen from Abraham. Luke extends it to Adam and from him to the intellectual capacities which had human aspirations in ancient philosophy. Perhaps those enlightened ones oscillate between these two poles, so that they might be united in Jesus Christ.

According to Matthew, all righteous ones descending from Abraham, in addition to three adulteresses, rise from Him. Thus, the evangelist might indicate that the body of Christ saves the righteous ones, and the sinners together. Further, the evangelist also maintains that the nature, which the Son has attained through incarnation, is subject to corruption. However, Christ had preserved it from corruption. This has been the approach of some Church Fathers, and not all of them. Matthew’s genealogy maintains inherently that Christ carries the sins and that He is the Savior of those who preceded Him and those who followed Him, in order that He might become “all in all”.

According to Luke, all nations will inherit Christ, [and among them] first are the Greeks. This is so in order that the evangelist might maintain that all the splendor of the Greeks, from the time before Socrates, are not up to His majesty, [which could have been actualized] only through perfect giving, which the Nazarene has bestowed on humanity by His death.

If the Savior is related to the whole descendents of Adam, is he related to the religions of Eastern Asia? Some of the Western theologians, both Protestant and Catholic, have maintained this. They perceived in these religions some elements which are close to the Gospel; not because they have permeated the Gospel or have impacted its formation, rather that there is cognation between those religions and the content of the Gospel. Others have pursued Hinduism as mystic platform, yet remained on the Christian tenet. What I wanted to draw out from this standpoint is that the followers of Jesus perceive Him in some of the things [or the events] which had preceded Him, without there being any continuity of texts. Jesus had acquired nothing from Buddhism; there is no doubt in this, especially that we know nothing precisely about the history of His emergence. Asceticism in Indian religions and austerity are pleasant to Christians.

Before more than forty years I was studying Hinduism with Evangelical pastors in Switzerland by a Hindu professor – both as nationality and belief. After some days he asked me, why do you apprehend my [words] more than your friends? And he did not refer [by this question] to intelligence, but to the spiritual perception. I answered him: There is cognation between the Eastern Church and you, on aspects of asceticism, spirituality and the heart.

If there was a kind of cognation between Christ and what had preceded Him, what is then the relationship between Him and those who are near to Him? Today, and since several decades, there are new religious callings, which are arousals of Gnostic trends, or those which advocate gnosis (not in its Islamic sense) and tendencies which are influenced by Hinduism in a way which destroys our spiritual heritage, and attempts at compensating the tradition by a denial of revelation. Among these trends are those related to Nietzsche, and others, and the remnants of atheistic existentialism and the Zionist Christians in America. That is to say that there is much paganism with different forms. And our position in their regard is critical, or dismissive, or sifting, as it was in regards to old paganism and to some aspects of Plato’s thought and Neo-Platonism.

Surely there is a major deviation in the core of Western civilization and its apparent expressions. There is a clear departure from Christ; this, if we look merely at the thought, without considering the depraved, careless morals, which are in themselves injuring the purity of Christ.

We had, from the beginning, a fierce attitude concerning faults and a loose attitude toward philosophies or the movements, which carry within themselves what prepares for the truth of Christ. In different terms we do not have forgery, or syncretism, i.e. a system which brings together different beliefs, from here and there, and constructs a false approach. We reject relativism in religious order and we do not say that we are parts of dispersed truths. But we say that we welcome cognation wherever we find it and we build bridges, whenever possible. We do not quarrel and we do not assort freely. “Test everything; hold fast what is good”. (1Thess. 5: 21)

It remains that we strive to see the good elements in the others. And since we see the whole of truth in the Christ of the gospels, we welcome the cognation which is relevant to the human nature of the Master, regardless whether this took the shape of direct communication or indirect mental compatibility.

The line of Christ is not only the one descending from Abraham, according to Matthew, or the one ascending from Christ to Adam; rather it is also the radiating line from Him to those who come after Him, or those who meet Him without a direct relationship. We do not gather only the historical traces of Christ; rather we are after the cosmic Christ, who is luminous here and there through means that we know and others that we don’t.

The expansion of Christ from one side and the outpouring of thought in Him are the two faces of our new perception of the Ancestors’ Sunday, which we will have tomorrow. We need great precision, i.e., the uprightness of opinion, so that we can distinguish between that which belongs to Jesus Christ and that which belongs to the depraved or the foolish spirit of the world. The walls of the Church are not barriers between us and Others. The Church is a place for purification, so that we might urge in dignity, purity and truth. The walls in the Church have doors, through which the King of glory enters and with Him all the multitude of the pure ones on earth enter, as they carry wisdom, humility and righteousness.

Next Sunday, our allegiance to Christ increases, proceeding from the ascription of our allegiance, and from his lineage to Abraham, until we leave everything on the Feast Day [of Easter], facing His great constriction and great glory.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “أصول المسيح” –An Nahar- 12.12.2009

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2009, An-Nahar, Articles

Saint John of Damascus / 05.12.2009

Saint John of Damascus, who was called Mansur ibn Sarjun in the world and took his monastic name in the Monastery of Saint Sabbas which still stands today near Bethlehem, was the grandson of Mansur ibn Sarjun who worked for the Byzantines in Damascus, governing the city. In the Caliphate of Mu’awiya the elder Mansur was appointed to manage the treasury. This was a matter with serious and profound ramifications and the office extended to his son and then to his grandson who bore his name according to this custom in those lands of naming a child after his grandfather.

It is clear that the Umayyads maintained the Christians in the positions they had occupied during the Byzantine period, because the various bureaus kept their records in Greek until they were arabized under Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. At that time, Greek was still the language of the people in the cities, just as Aramaic was the language of the people in the countryside. In the time of Yazid ibn Mu’awiya, Orthodox Christians had management over the treasury, even though the Jacobites (that is, the Syriac Orthodox) were the majority in Syria. The only explanation I have for this is that the Arabs maintained those whom they found in the bureaus during the Byzantine period and these were necessarily of the religion of the Byzantine rulers.

At the time of the conquest, the Arabs were not able to have administrative positions on account of their ignorance of the language of administration, which was Greek. The political situation was such that the Arab rulers had control over the caliphate and the army. That is, the Arab Muslims were entirely dependent on Christians in their administrative centers to the point that Mu’awiya put the elder Mansur ibn Sarjun in charge of the building of the first Arab fleet at Tripoli, with the goal of occupying Constantinople. In other words, Mansur’s responsibility was to build a fleet in order to attack the capital of the Orthodox world. It was not pleasant for a man who attended the liturgy in the port of Tripoli on Sunday to prepare the Muslim Arab army to attack Constantinople. This was not something easy for him, but he and the sons of his Church understood that the Muslims conquered Syria in order to stay there and that the Christian people of the land had no hope of the Byzantines’ regaining Syria.

To what people did the family of Sarjun belong? I have no evidence that they belonged to an Arab tribe, though there were Arabs among the Christians of Syria prior to the conquest. My opinion is that they were of old Syriac stock and had adopted the Greek language on account of their culture. (Syriac does not mean that they were of the Syriac Orthodox creed, as they were Chalcedonians and both churches used the two main languages).

The fact that Saint John did not write a single line of Arabic does not mean that he was completely ignorant of the language, especially since he and his family mingled with the Umayyad caliphs on account of their administrative work. The reason that John of Damascus did not use Arabic was that this language had not yet become the language of the Christians. But how did Mansur ibn Sarjun the younger, whose name became John of Damascus, address the Caliph Yazid when he would see him every day for consultation about matters of the treasury, when Yazid only knew Arabic? It seems to me that Mansur ibn Sarjun at the very least spoke to the caliph in colloquial Arabic, and everything points to the existence of a colloquial dialect among the Muslims. Saint John of Damascus composed a “Dialogue between a Christian and a Muslim” that has been read by Christian and Muslim men of culture since it was translated from Greek into Arabic and published in Egypt around sixty years ago. This proves to us that John of Damascus knew something about Islam from his friends. Despite that, I do not think that he read Surat al-Ikhlas, which he cites, since he makes a mistake in his translation of a verse. However, there is no doubt that he talked about Islam with Yazid, since he was not particularly pious. That said, Saint John of Damascus did not write anything else about Islam, despite what some scholars have thought.

In the end, the two men parted ways because Yazid attacked some Christian leaders, which caused the saint to leave Damascus for Palestine, where he became a monk. There in the Monastery of Saint Sabbas he composed the Fount of Knowledge which comprises a hundred chapters and is his book about the Orthodox faith. He begins it with a philosophical preface. German orientalists say that it was the foundational source for Islamic philosophy, which began in the Umayyad period. The philosophical problematic in the history of Islamic thought rests on the basis of the Fount of Knowledge.

John’s value in that book is that he is the first writer to put in writing the framework of thought of Christian theology. That is, a writing arranging all Christian thought. Before him, there had only been various compositions on this topic or that, one person writing on the topic of the Trinity, another on the incarnation or redemption, but John summarized all of Christian thought in interrelated chapters.

It becomes clear to one who examines this book that its author knew the early Fathers very well and that he compared them and chose from them as he saw fitting and that he depended in philosophy on Aristotle. Specialists have debated his creative power. No doubt he was less innovative than the greatest of the fathers. Perhaps that is the lot of one who receives a well-established intellectual tradition tied to logic. However, it is his merit that he was the first Christian to cast the faith in one book. He was the initiator of systematic theology. Thomas Aquinas drew on him frequently and in the Summa Theologica he cites him hundreds of times.

It was not enough for Saint John of Damascus to be erudite in theology, because he also practiced asceticism and mystical contemplation and composed numerous church services, including the Paschal hymns that all the Orthodox of the world chant to this day. Besides these texts, he composed the eight tones that till today dominate our chant after there having previously been another system of music. He was thus not simply a man of abstract intellect, but rather his heart was filled with the presence of the Lord.

Naturally, the determination of the family of Mansur in two matters draws our attention. First, that they held fast to their faith completely and with knowledge, and second, that they remained in their faith while honestly serving the government in a state that had become dominated by Arabness at all its levels. I think that the behavior of John of Damascus and his father and grandfather is a model for the stance of Orthodox Christians in an Islamic state, whether or not it accepts them with complete sympathy. They act based on their morals and the state according to its morals.

What is important in this behavior is that the inspiration for these eastern Christians was not based on a nationalism that had not yet been discovered then. Love alone was what motivated them and profound knowledge supported this love. Before the language of the Christians became arabized in Syria, and that took a very long time, the family of Mansur appeared there in complete harmony with the state and they historically received the glory that they deserved.

Translated from Arabic

Original Text: “يوحنا الدمشقي” – 05.12.2009

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2009, An-Nahar, Articles

Is Surpassing Sectarianism Possible? / 27.11.2009

I think that we have not payed attention and we could not pay attention to the nature of religious feelings and the historical residues in every sect [or denomination] itself. So, in order to facilitate the political cogitation we have considered that there is one such entity called a sect, and we have perceived this entity abstractly or juristically in order to surpass it in the state system. Michel Shiha came to draw up the constitution and to consider the sects [or denominations] as if they were identical. He considered particularly the minorities and sought their freedom in the inventories of the Ottoman past. He thought that a fair balance provides their participation in the state without underestimating any one’s right. However, Shiha did not differentiate between Islam and Christianity in nature. He differentiated in his perception of the societal existence. In Christianity, he did not distinguish between the Maronites and other Christians, or between the Orthodox view of historical Islam and the Maronite view of it.

What I am proposing here is that the abolition of political sectarianism is not enough in order to surpass the sect and move toward that which is beyond it, and which is more firm and constant, namely toward the national state or the nationality. I presume that the nature of national thought is founded upon one’s ability to overcome the sectarian affiliation through national partisan education and cultural values, hence move to a different wider affiliation. This thought follows a western pattern, which was not complicated. For example, after the French Revolution, the people discovered that they were a nation. There was the crust of the united regality with the Catholic Church, which has distanced them from the notion of the nation. Though they were truly a nation, only the veil should have been removed. In our case, however, the nation has to be founded, since we have not yet been a nation.

We have come from the Islamic civilization and from the Maronites’ perception of their own and of the others’ existence. When we hear the Muslim Imams or the Islamist [Muslim] thinkers referring to the nation, they have the Sacred Text in their background: “You were the best nation brought forth to mankind, bidding the right and forbidding the wrong” (Sura Al-῾Imran [The Family of ῾Imran], 110), and this has nothing to do with the notion of a nation in its national sense. Islam is not merely about a spiritual vision. Islam is also about the worldly reality, and the world means politics. I do not say that national conviction is necessary for political unification. Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire did not unite because of their nationality, but because of the state-organization containing several ethnicities. Thus, it is possible to seek only the state in Lebanon. And it is not true that in reality we are statelets. Islam is a worldly and an otherworldly entity at the same time, and it is not a statelet, regardless whether it insists to maintain its personal status. And it does not seem that anyone in Lebanon is ready to surpass the personal status.

In the political movement of the Maronites, and in the depth of their conscience, they have a reading of their own reality and of Lebanon which differs significantly from the reading of Lebanese Islam of itself. In their historical suppression and in their taking refuge on the mountain, the Maronites formed a people in its full sense. And there is nothing in the national unification which hinders the existence of several ethnicities as it is in Belgium and Switzerland. Today, it does not seem that the [Maronite] ethnicity insists on its precedence in the state. Though Islam has no national utterance, nevertheless, its conscience resides in antecedence, since it considers itself the final and the full revelation. However this does not make it an ethnicity, in the contemporary political movement. Maronites, though belonging to Catholicism, which is about unmoving doctrine, nevertheless on the political level Catholicism has begun to discover, albeit slowly, nationalism. The Catholic Church, whenever compared to the Russian and the Greek Orthodoxy [of Greece] with their intense nationality, has started to move toward nationality in all its countries. How could both Muslims and Maronites, as each group is an entity, move toward a state [reality], which is for all people? And how could they admit to all people equal rights, so that they might abolish any feeling of superiority or precedence or historical arrogance or the historical projection of the greatness of [their] faith?

Armenians are a unique phenomenon, since they are of a true nationality in their conscience and of true patriotism toward Lebanon. And this is possible theoretically and practically. They are nationalists, and this is not of the nature of their Christian faith since this does not involve nationalism, but because of their history, since they are proud of being the first Christian state in history. To recent times their literary heritage was of Christian inspiration. In my view the Armenians’ belonging to Lebanon is intact since there is no conflict between their national pride and their loyalty to the Lebanese state.

The Greek Orthodox hardly embark upon the state offices, and it does not seem that they have a noticeable move in it. What distinguishes them from Muslims is that their Eastern Christianity has no say in politics, in its real sense, maybe because their faith does not involve nationality. And maybe their being free of nationality has induced them to join a non-national trend. This deprivation of nationality reveals to me that the Lebanese Orthodox or the Arabs yield to secularism, perhaps because of their complete adhesion to a Church in which they do not perceive any sectarian partisanship. And you find them united on spiritual level, maybe because they are free of tribalism. This leads me to say that they, as a model, present the nearest image for merger into the state. Thus, the one who does not aspire for mini-state presence would not aspire for a personal role in the greater state.

It is no more sufficient to say with Michel Shiha that the sectarian system involves justice or approaches justice. This has not succeeded since the affiliation to a sect was not merely an affiliation to a statelet; rather it was an ideology entrenched in the souls and deeper than the political indication. All who consider these issues among us believe that the solution of the problem is in transferring one’s affiliation from a statelet to a greater state. But how? I know that breaking the sectarian strap by the law, namely the abolishing of sectarian politics, would have a significant impact. Nevertheless, the mere advocacy to contend against sectarianism within the souls would pave the way for abolishing the texts. This assumes that the citizen’s attachment to his/[her] sect [or denomination] does not follow one pattern. We have shown four patterns where feelings, incentives and concerns are different, and there are sects [or denominations] which we have left out.

Here I ask the Muslims, and particularly the Sunnis, whether they consider their liberation from the world, being a component of Islam, as desirable, as the future of Islam in Europe seems to be (Of course there is as well secular Islam). Would they efface the perception of the world as divided to believers [the Muslims] and Christians, who are infidels, and Jews, since they all are citizens? I do not ask the Maronites, since I understand their pains. However I invite them to take their Catholicism seriously in its acceptance of all segments of the society equally.

I do not ask the Armenians or the Greek Orthodox anything since I know that they belong completely to the state. The growth of these two communities in their spiritual and cultural depth is a guarantee of their consolidation in the homeland as equal with all.

What I have attempted to show briefly is that we do not have the same difficulties which distance us from merging into the nation, and the intellectuals have to address that distancing [of the communities from the nation] in its depth. Diversity does not necessarily mean cultural richness. In our case it would sometimes mean separation, since the intellectual and the sentimental unity is not available. Each of our religious segments has its own levels by which it moves toward the state.

This does not mean that I do not appreciate greatly the cultural, societal and political activity, which breaks through the existing barriers between some sects [or denominations] and the state, in terms of theory. I know that some of the Muslims and the Maronites have given up the residues of history and sometimes some of theology. However, I say to the seculars and the nationalists that the issue is not only to break the barriers of the sects [or the denominations], but to address their errors and ills from inside. Lebanese nationality might rise, though superficially, by the abolishing of the sectarian politics. However, it will not take root until after the spiritual and the historical criticism of the sects [or the denominations] be done by the sects themselves.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “هل من تجاوز للطائفية؟” –An Nahar- 27.11.2009

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The Kingdom of Heaven / 14-11-2009

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, said Jesus as he began to preach. What is meant is that the Kingdom has fallen upon with the coming of the King, i.e. Jesus. In reality, the Kingdom has come through his death on the cross, and thus, the human subject has started to love him, which is to say that the human subject has started to see the Kingdom in the torn body of the Nazarene. Is there any Kingdom without that blood? Could we be formed without the poured divinity?

Our scholars of theological discourse claim that the church has emerged since the falling of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, as they were gathered in the upper room for the fear of the Jews. Then, they came out and spoke in tongues, which God has sent them down, since their language at that time was the same Word of God. The slavery of flesh and blood, and the thought that they produce, were relegated. Thus, their mind turned into the mind of God and their hearts into the heart of God. The Kingdom of God means that there are no slaves. “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8: 34) The Kingdom might come whenever the slave is no more a slave, thus, we all might become kings. This is how the writer of the book of Revelation sees us crowned in the presence of God, the King. This is to say that the creature is no longer less majesty [greatness] than the Creator is, though in essence createdness remains less than creativeness. Majesty is what matters.

There is a single place in the world, where the human being unites fully with the Lord, and that is the Divine Liturgy. There you eat the body of the Lord and he eats you, thus you become one not in extinction but in love. Of course, there is a big difficulty between the loving and the loved one; however, the dogma claims the transcendence of God, though we transcend to God through God’s love to us and our love to God.

In which scope does the Kingdom of God extend? Does it have space or time? The first thing must be emphasized is that when the Lord has said: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, he meant that the Kingdom has come through and in the King that is he. In Luke, the Master says, “the kingdom of God is within you”, that is we do not have a space. And in Mathew he has said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, this signifies a spiritual state, which starts here by attaining the virtue and it persists in the dead person, whenever he/[she] keeps it. Thus, there is no such a space above, since whenever we say that God is everywhere we mean that no space delimits God, thus the argument on spatiality does not apply to God.

The sovereignty of God is God’s impeccability of spatiality. Those deceased in God are not taken to any location of God’s dominion. This is articulated in the Liturgy of John Chrysostom to indicate that divinity embraces everything to itself and nothing’s location is changed, whenever embraced by God.

You are in the Kingdom, for us that means, you are of the Kingdom, and that is to say, that God is your Lord. Further, there is no such space or time for you beyond God’s sovereignty over you.

Thus, time here does not confine God’s domination over you. Whenever we say, “Thy kingdom come”, this does not imply that it has not come, rather that it is always coming. Christ “is and … was and … is to be” [Rev.16:5]. When Paul the apostle concludes his first letter to the Corinthians with the Aramaic statement: “Maranatha”, written in adjoining Greek letters, we do not know whether he wrote it “Maran atha” i.e. the Lord has come, or he wrote “Marana tha” i.e. Lord, come [1 Cor.16: 22]. I consider the imperative verb more probable, that is he wished Christ’s return, since this is the meaning stated at the end of the book of Revelation (22: 17).

Hence, we are in the Kingdom, which brought Christ, and we also move toward Him since we ask for Him in the Lord’s prayer and we believe that He comes to us through the holy offerings, as we say in the Byzantine Liturgy that they are the “fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven”. How do we say that those offerings are the fulfillment and after a while, we ask that we might participate in Christ’s first presence (by faith) and second presence (by hope). Everything on this level was, is (unceasing) and will be.

This question has occupied Christian theologians. Where is the church from all this? Is it the Kingdom? Is the Kingdom in it? The answer that I venture to give is that the church, which is the body of Christ, has some kind of relationship with this Kingdom. However, the church is not only the body of Christ, that is the expansion of His existence. It is also human. It consists of human beings who receive the Spirit of God to a certain extent and sometimes they receive a little of it. Those who are called Christians, the baptized ones, are either luminous gleams or darkened people, however, they are all without exception sinners, while the Kingdom does not prevail in the darkness.

The Liturgy is celebrated in the church. Thus, it is the Kingdom to the extent that you swallow or eat up the Liturgy. The Kingdom expels darkness. The essential thing to us is that between us and Christ there is a spiritual conjugality, and this was accomplished on the cross through blood, as it is the case in all conjugality.

Further, those venerations [in our Liturgy] make saints. In those [saints], who are close to perfection, the Kingdom has intensely inhabited. Thus, they are the holders of their weak brothers, the spiritually limp, the marginalized, the deaf and the dumb spiritually, who hope for Christ’s healing. The church is the people of God, namely that which God forms through the Word. The church is existent only since God build it up, but Satan destroys it, divides it and fragmentize it.

Whenever you look at the church, you might see much ugliness in it and you might as well see beauties. In case you can see in it divine splendor you are the happiest of the people, and in case your eyes halt on the filthinesses in it, then you would feel pain if you were a believer.

There is much pain in our life in the church. Filthiness is lasting and cleansing is permanent, and this will remain forever. There are much tears and Christ alone wipes the tears. Very few do console you. The consolations of some are permanent since they are strong. Their souls dwell in blessings and you might taste those blessings if you were eligible. Then, the Kingdom penetrates into you.

However, distresses and disappointments remain your share in the land of the living. Even if your members get smashed in the church of God, you know that the one who healed the lame is able to raise you up from death, in your world. So that you might rejoice before the angels take you to heaven. Only on the Last Day, the church becomes the bride.

The second question, which concerns those literalists and they are many, is, what would happen to the non-Christians with regard to the reality of the Kingdom? We do not claim a saved faction and another perishing one. Our God is a merciful God, and two or three of the Church Fathers claimed that God extinguished hell, but one warned against spreading this teaching. What I dare to say, while waiting for the final revelation, is that I am not dealing now with the issues of heaven and hell, but addressing the Kingdom of God, which is the same as God’s sovereignty over the hearts. The eschatological matters are to be dealt with differently. I limit myself here to speak about the sovereignty of God over the hearts and God’s purifying them; this is also different from addressing baptism. The path for salvation, that God has revealed and has made it an ecclesial mystery, has not bind Godself to it. God has made it binding for those who have received the Gospel message. As for the others, they belong to God, which is to say that they are in God’s economy and freedom. That is why one of our Church Fathers said: ‘The one whom the Church has not baptized (with water), the bridegroom of the Church does baptize him/[her] (Namely Christ)’. Hence, he/[she] becomes from the saved faction, in case we prefer this term.

The main issue is, regardless whether you are a church-member or not, whether you have entered the Kingdom in love or it has penetrated into you through divine mercy. In different terms, Christ is able to make you a member in his body only if he chooses you. Some refer to this by using the term the ‘invisible Church’.

From this perspective, I see two beloved persons to me out of Christianity, in its legal sense, and they are Rabʻa al-ʻadawiyyah and al-Ḥallāj and some of their friends in Islam. I might consider similarly Gandhi, who determined to love to his last breath.

To all of them, and they are part of the world’s beauties, not only of the people’s. The great poetry is in the Kingdom or the Kingdom is in it. I cannot name all the symphonies, neither all pieces of Byzantine or Gregorian chanting, neither all the icons nor the paintings of Europe, China and the Persian miniatures. All mothers’ compassion, which has not been pigmented by the holy water, all wailing of the starving ones in Africa, this young man dying now from cancer while I write these lines, all these are manifestations of Divine Kingdom.

One, a friend of mine has asked me, as we were accompanying together a person, who has passed away, do we hear the Ninth Symphony in heaven? I answered him; there are no voices in heaven. We glean the essence of the Ninth Symphony.

The Kingdom is the people, who carry the meaning of God, God’s love and the denotations of the living words in the world of divine splendor descending on human beings and holding the images of creativity. This was and is to be until we attire together the Majesty of God.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “ملكوت السماوات” –An Nahar- 14-11-2009

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Communication / 07.11.2009

Communication among people is not as simple as many think, since people do not speak, in reality, the same language. Language is not merely about words, which meanings are to be found in a dictionary. The word is the meaning within you, which is associated with your culture, feelings, belief and education. A dictionary might facilitate conversation, since it is a book of terminologies, and people have agreed about their denotation. However, when words supersede their sensory meaning, they would not have the same delimitation and the same depth for me and you, and they would not hold their connotation from generation to another. In an environment, for example, love would be understood as appropriation, while in another context it would denote giving. A young man might express his love to a young lady, as his feelings are preoccupied by the sense of domination, while she might not be feeling like being drifted by him, rather she might have mixed feelings with the tendency of being dissolved or merged. Words have colors and tunes. They might seem like dancing for some, while not for others. They either reveal or obfuscate. They give life or annihilate. That is why the word has become occasionally a means for division rather than union.

According to the story in Genesis, in the beginning of creation “the whole earth had one language and the same words.” [Gen.11: 1] Then, people wanted to build for themselves “a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens,” [Gen.11: 4] namely, they have boasted in themselves. And God said: “let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” [Gen.11: 7] In reality this is not merely a description of the divergence of the nation, it is rather a symbolic description of the divergence of individuals. Disagreement has emerged among us, so that we became strangers to one another.

This is not limited to the language, since those knowledgeable among us can make their concepts converge, whenever they read the dictionaries proficiently. The problem does not end here. The problem is that you would destroy the Other with his/[her] language. This is why some of the colonists wanted to eliminate the language of the colonized people, since by one’s language one remains him/[her]self and thus continues to defy. Under the Ottoman colonization of the Balkans, the Turks’ elimination of the Greek language was an essential element of the annihilation of the Greek people. And those who were martyred, among the Greeks, were martyred because of their strive to preserve the language. That is why the revival of a language in any country is the revival of the national identity. The one language was the expression of love.

The mere use of the same terminologies does not always lead us to the purpose. What happens, that whenever you compose a statement according to the grammar of the language and the meaning of the terminologies as they are in dictionaries, the Other misunderstands you? Perhaps there is heedlessness or abhorrence toward the one conversing you, which drives you to distort what he/[she] wanted. Perhaps there is an interpretation of what he/[she] said which imposes upon him/[her] a sense he/[she] would not mean. Language is not [a mere] language. It is “wisdom and spirit”. This is similar to the hands of God the Father, as Irenaeus, the bishop of Lion, said; and they are as well the same for the human being. Wisdom, for us, communicates wisdom and the spirit communicates the spirit. And then the articulation becomes either a tool for convergence or divergence. Whenever it serves for convergence unity between you and the Other occurs, with or without the words of the dictionary. Tools might be eliminated, whenever the heart [communicates] the heart.

We cannot penetrate the depth of this reflection unless we accept the words of “Muḥῑṭ al- Muḥῑṭ” [the Arabic dictionary] in explaining the meaning of language, saying: “it is probable that it has derived from the Greek word logos, and it means word.” This is my contention. And if we come back to the introduction of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word”, “and the Word was with God” [John 1: 1]. The Greek original for “with” means “to” or “towards”, and thus the meaning would be that the word is moving or approaching God. And whenever we project this meaning on the “word” in its human sense, we should understand that the human word does not exist other than through its truthfulness, or its movement toward Truth. And since the human word is not always truthful, this gives rise at least to ambiguity, and at most to a conflict. Communication does not occur between the truthful and the deceptive one, and then, words turn into knives.

In a sense, which I think is close to the Greek purport, [when it is said that someone] talked to another means that he/[she] has hearted the other. And the hurt is painful. Thus, remoteness is not possible between the word and the truthfulness of the honest and pure person. There is no aloofness between what you say and what you are. This is the essence of testimony, whether by the tongue or the blood. Whenever you carry the attribute of purity it would be transmitted through you, and you would become either the one spoken with, i.e. the wounded one, or the speaker. You would articulate your utterance with or without words, but always with love. Love, then, transmits and is transmitted, and itself is communication.

And if you wish, love is communion [or communication in love]. We borrow the word from the sensible to the rational, and as men and women are united through being merciful to one another, as the Qur᾿an says, the person communicates another through honesty and humility. Then, there would be no need for a language. The body has been a barrier for the convergence of thoughts, thus the language was made for the purpose of making encounter possible. However, sometimes the language has become [an instrument for] separation and division. Through it the bond has disappeared and the tongues has been confused because of sins, until from above descends that which brings the tongues together.

In relation to the collapse of the tower of Babel and its city, we read in the Book of Acts: “When the day of Pentecost had come (that is the fiftieth day after Easter), they were all together in one place (which is in contrast to the dispersion in Babel). And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages” (2: 1-4).

My reading of this text is that the language each of the disciples has spoken reflects the tongue of fire which has descended upon him. You either speak of fire or you are about nothing, and this requires that you use your tongue, lips, or it does not require any sensible thing, since your heart would utter. Then, communication would become communion [or communication in love].

There is no language in heaven, since those deified ones have been united with God, and God is relation and does not need any tool. The deified ones look at God, as every one of them sees on the Other’s face the manifestation of the Lord.

Here, we can imitate the heavenly ones whenever language becomes a bind that brings us and the Other together. So we love the Other and we let our language carry the light whenever it hears an utterance or it doesn’t.

Maximus the Confessor, who was martyred in the seventh century in the Byzantine Empire and was born in Golan, said that the words of the prophets are incarnations of God. This is of course an image. However, he, the eastern Christian, knew that the perfect prayer, known as the prayer in the name of Jesus can be the prayer of the heart, that is to say the prayer can be raised without words. In our tradition, whenever the ascetics were outside the Sunday Liturgy, as they were leading an ascetic life in the wilderness, they have fulfilled the prayer of the heart, namely they have dispensed with the words of prayers known to them. It has been told, as part of this literature, that once monks have asked their elder to talk to them and he answered them: “If you have not learned from my voice, how would you learn from my words?”

You keep silent in order that God talks in you and you might preserve God’s mind and God might shape you from within. Whenever this truly happens within you, you become a light and Godself becomes your word. This is why I have heard one of our preachers saying in excitement: “whenever you become living gospels, tear up the written Gospel”. Yes, we pursue the Holy Books, in order that we do not deceive ourselves and think that we have reached perfection. Nevertheless, the aim of that preacher, as I perceived it, was that the purpose behind the word is silence. Our Fathers said: The Word (the eternal Son) has come out of the silence of the Father. And the Son gives Himself to you by the Holy Spirit, who makes you either a writing theologian or a saint who does not write. And the saint, according to our monastic narrative, whenever raises his/[her] fingers in front of the believers, they see them as ten candles, and this would be enough for them to learn. This is the culmination of communication.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “التواصل” –An Nahar- 07.11.2009

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That the Bishop be Blameless / 17.10.2009

The one who views himself as nothing exists, whenever spiritual ones tell him so. No one approaches Divine glory by his own power. Divine glory draws the human being and whenever the person approaches it, he feels that he is nothing and he remains effaced in his own eyes until the Day of Reckoning. Indeed, each one of us needs to know his own talents because in this there is an admission about the divine gift, while the one who thinks that his talents are his own, will perish. Those talents exist through divine gratification, which He might remove whenever He wills so.

Thus, we accept every responsibility in the Church of God as a delegation. This is the meaning of service and service descends upon you from on high. If you are charged with a responsibility, it does not give you the feeling that you deserve it. This is the meaning of divine creativeness, i.e. your Lord makes you every day a “new creation”. And whenever you think that you have become a vessel for God, do not forget that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels”. Blissful are you if you can keep the treasure which you have been entrusted with, and woe to you if you think of yourself that you are more than earthly clay.

In the light of what has been said I read the words of Paul: “If a man desires the office of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless”. (1Timothy 3: 1-2) At the moment I am not discussing the position of what today we call “bishop” [̓usquf]. At the time of the writing of the epistle, the distinction between the bishop and the priest did not exist, and the arrangement of orders was not yet the same in all the churches. Nevertheless, in our reading today of the “office of the bishop” we must understand that it also means the position that we call in colloquial Arabic the muṭrān, which comes from the Greek metropolite, meaning the bishop of the capital city.

Be that as it may, this does not mean that Paul was praising the desire to the office of the bishop, encouraging the people to want it. Rather the bishop’s office is a gift from God and desire as such is contrary to any divine giving. The meaning, as it seems, is that if you desire it, then know that you desire something great. Thus, you must be without blame. And the spiritual ones-not you-will discover if you are blameless.

It is not admissible to anyone to claim his worthiness of any position, since then he would consider himself to be something, and would consequently become nothing. While the one who was “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet” (Revelation 12: 1) is viewed by the highly spiritual ones as they view the sun. Those who pursue the concerns of election for high positions within the people of God, or in the world, they testify whether the person is without blame.

As for the one who has been witnessed committing a filthy act, of the work of the devil, it is not permitted to pause at his name for a single moment, since the one who pauses for a moment has entered into filthiness. The one who is afflicted with filthiness leads in filthy things, because a corrupt person is necessarily himself corrupting. The one who comes from a corrupter has benefit with the corrupter, similar to the relationship between the one who calls and the one called.

Among the patterns of blamelessness, Paul mentions that a candidate for spiritual leadership must be “vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker … but patient, not a brawler”. The one in whom these virtues do not abound is subject to blame. There is not space here to discuss every virtue in detail. The bishop must be vigilant, watchful of himself, possessing self-control; this is a condition to awaken others to choose the path of the Lord. There is no place for those who sleep in the Church, rather alertness is essential in prayer and attentiveness to it, also love for all people and bringing the holy community together in repentance and constant sacrifice for the brothers. But as for those asleep, the Church is not their bed.

Further, the person should be apt to teach. Christianity is about knowledge and teaching, since “[i]n the beginning was the Word.” The church that is satisfied with rituals of which no one understands anything is worthless. And the one who is not given the gift of teaching and preaching is not worthy to be thought of for the offices of a priest or a bishop. Such one should be content to be a cantor or a silent monk or a servant in the temple, and these are blessed responsibilities, and those appointed to them could be content. Christianity, however, explains the divine Book, the worships and the tradition. It is a school with all different classes which last a lifetime. If an ordinary believer is demanded to confess with his tongue, as the Apostle says, then it is appropriate for a servant of the Word, as we call him during ordination, to testify to this Word. For this reason, our Church of Antioch requires that one who advances to the episcopate must have completed his theological knowledge and have kept company with scholars. A mute person has no vocation in the Church, even if his holiness is loftier than all those who hold positions. When some faithful brought a man to John Chrysostom in order for him to make the man a priest, he asked them what they knew about him. They said that he was pious. He replied that this is not enough, since all Christians must be pious. He must be knowledgeable.

“[N]o striker … but patient, not a brawler”, since the Lord said: “learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.” Why did the blessed Lord choose these two virtues to describe himself? Because they are the loftiest. Only if you are lowly God will raise you, and you will raise others by your lowliness. Only if you have desired meekness and have lived it you will be ready to face the destiny of being sacrificed as the Savior did.

I do not know the denotational difference between gentleness and meekness. In the epistle to the Galatians, the apostle mentions both virtues as belonging to the fruits of the Holy Spirit in us. And if we relate this to the previous words of the apostle, we understand that the Spirit of God incorporates in us a spiritual way of life.

Paul said that the bishop should not be a brawler, i.e. a fighter. Throughout the decades of my ministry I have discovered that the sharpest rebuke for a believer is one that is not accompanied with anger, and that even a better way would be simply to remind the person. Resentment is usually accompanied by domination, while by reminding another, both your and the other’s souls return to God.

When the Bible says that the bishop should be blameless, it means that such a person exists and that there are some issues that are not open for raillery. The ones who are in charge should search for this person with immense light and study in detail the lives of those nominated and elected. They must set up barriers to advancement to high positions. Barriers would mean that you do not make a blameworthy man a deacon, and if you make a mistake in ordaining him, he should not advance to the priesthood, and if you make a mistake, he should not then advance to the episcopacy. A worthless bishop subjects the church, which he watches over, to worthlessness. And the money-lover makes bribers approach the leader, and likewise robbers, and so the temple becomes a den of thieves.

Since the Ecclesial Law perceived the possibility of such mistakes, it referred to priests’ and bishops’ trial, as result of which defrocking, i.e. expulsion, could occur. To me, the Church which does have the possibility of trial cannot be ruled by virtue. The Church is the place in which we are purified. Jesus wanted us to be purified through the apostles and their successors, while the corrupt one is the inheritor of his own sins, not of the saints.

Church reformation should start from its leaders. The Church does not wait long for its priests and bishops to repent. It does not allow the aggravation of the sins of those who had great fall. Those would end up with expulsion.

Once, Saint Basil the Great defrocked a priest for his committing adultery. After many years, this priest attended a funeral. He approached the coffer and touched the dead man and the dead man rose. The defrocked priest went to Basil and said to him, “Do you need a greater proof than this for the holiness that I have acquired in order to send me back to my flock?” The Saint replied, “Your holiness is between you and God, however I cannot bring you back to your flock because you caused it to stumble. Thus, you do not deserve to be its pastor again”.

Who gives us exemplars like Basil the Great so that we might feel that the body we are a part of is truly the Church of Christ?

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “أن يكون الأسقف بلا لوم” –An Nahar- 17.10.2009

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Vain Glory / 10.10.2009

Whoever thinks high of himself, whoever feels he is of importance in politics or in academia or in a church or in a mosque, has fallen in vain glory. He who brags about his family gains only littleness that steals from him any splendor he may have and gives him no highness at all. He who has knowledge is so for the sake of truth and helping others and not to brag about what he knows. Truth charms the righteous and draws him to itself because it refines us; no one is the sole custodian of Truth. Those who are overtaken with what they own should know that we are not ‘owners’ but only ‘trustees” of what we have. Those who consider themselves close to God on their own, are cast away from Him; and those who seek positions will fall from them because they think they deserve them.

When I was sixteen years of age and have graduated from High School, I applied for a job, in one of the big companies, to earn my living; I was surprised that I was not offered the job except after I had a test. I was surprised because I had thought that my academic degree was more than enough to qualify me (but it was not) for the job, but at the same time I was happy because the administrators in the company were seeking the adequate competence of those they employ.

Few days ago, someone came asking me to vote for one of the priests to make him bishop of one of the cities. Of course, I am familiar with those who consider themselves eligible for a post of that sort. But does that brother who asked me know how Christian in spirit is that man or knowledgeable of Christ he is, or how loving he is and ready to offer himself for the sake of the brethren washing their feet and as such emptying himself as he shares his life with them?

What drives certain citizens to seek the office of deputy? Does not this self- soliciting person know that he does not know how to acceptably present a bill? The Directory General of Petroleum often comes to mind; if we established that here in Lebanon, would we choose the qualified person who has earned a degree in that from a renowned institution? Does the one seeking marriage know how much he/she is willing and ready to share one’s life with another? Does the one seeking monasticism know how much he is willing and able to free himself from the lusts of the flesh? Is each one of us in the ‘right’ place as Plato wanted things to be?

Our world is one sick with vain-glory.

One of the Princes of Moldavia, in the fourteenth century, wrote to his successor: “My son. Do not desire to become a bishop or the head of a monastery or a prince (the office he was supposed to occupy after the death of his father) because all that is of the glory of this world. Accordingly I do not understand how some priests desire to become bishops thinking that they will gain power, when they do not know the difficulties of this mission and the oppression they get exposed to quite often. Why this rivalry among them? Does not rivalry hide under it a feeling that they are superior to their peers? Where did they get that from? You as a monk should remain in your monastery until your Patriarch sends you news that the Holy Synod has chosen you as Bishop, and then you get to your office by God’s grace.

In this world, you go through much study, and you excel and become well known, then your folk would push you for a position of responsibility, or you might get called by the government or a certain party or a political grouping to hold a certain office. But in our country, you push yourself. All this rivalry is pride. I have always liked how in the Catholic monastic communities, someone would be given the highest office that could be held but after that he could be back to the ‘lowest’ office in that order. Here, being ‘head’ is a service and the lowest office is a service too. Do not let glory knock at the door of your heart. With that you become a slave to glory. But if you empty yourself from such passion, God would come to you and dwell in you. The whole matter is in this question: “Is God the lord of your life or that ‘self’ of yours which is hard and self-centered”?

Our story with the self is how much we realize that nothing can be added to it; and that if it humbles itself, it becomes the whole of existence. That is what Jesus of Nazareth meant when he said that you cannot add to your height anything. In that sense you cannot fill yourself except from what it (the self) offers.

As such if you give your money to the needy then “your righteousness will remain forever” as the psalm says. And if you need it, you would consider that you are not the only one in need of it. You are a part of this world and whatever is outside yourself is a slave to you. And the slave does master you. You are its master because you are free of it. Understand what our Fathers in the Church said: “You are entrusted with the money because it does not belong to you”. You manage it to make it at the service of those in need of it. Through such giving, those become your brothers. Only love makes you feel that you are a brother of those around you. Therefore rid yourself of every lust because each lust breaks you up and fragments you.

More damaging than the love of money is that of power. A ‘giant’ in the spiritual life said:”Every type of power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Certain situations put you in a position of power. Exercise it being free from it; in that sense you are one who only reminds those you have power over, and that should be done in love. But if you dominate them, you sever yourself from them; that makes them hate you. Keep in mind that you are not a god, and that only with kindness you can draw people to their God.

It is your duty to face others with matters, discuss them with them and bring out for them the truth which they would surely find to be beneficial and saving. In revealing the truth comes agreement and harmony and pure human interaction. Consider that every man has the right to truth. Free people from yourself, and they become lovers of God. Do not seek to be loved, but seek only to love. Often you are reciprocated that love with a greater one; but you, do not ask for it. Bring others to seek their Lord; He will bestow upon them the grace of spending himself for others. Sufficient for you to have your life in the others, as such your glory will be in God’s heart.

Learn what the Scriptures say: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; vanity of vanities, all is vanity”. ECCLES 1: 2. All is vanity except you and the brothers. Existence is in one’s being, and that ‘being’ does not oppose those who want to dominate. Real being meets others in their ‘poverty’ for God and for each other since nothing is outside the heart. The Kingdom of God is in the heart and it is one with it; and so each heart becomes His (God’s) throne. Then Real Glory descends on them (the hearts). That is God’s countenance in them.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “المجد الباطل” –An Nahar- 10.10.2011

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The Conciliar System in the Eastern Church / 03.10.2009

The system of administration in the Orthodox Church is the embodiment of a theological teaching. For us, the people as a whole preserve the teaching of the Church. That is, the vision of the entire life of the Church is the vision of the whole of the faithful, the bishops among them. In keeping with the importance of the place in which the bishop sits, he listens to what the Spirit says to the whole of his flock. This does not mean that he relies upon the mass of his flock, but rather upon the pious and the actively practicing among his flock. They are the ones who are truly the Body of Christ insofar as they constitute Christ on earth.

However, the bishop is not only connected to the whole of the flock with which he is entrusted. He his connected as a member to the other metropolitans who govern the church that we call ‘local’ or ‘regional’ just as he is united to the right-believing bishops of all the world. However, current, day-to-day events determine the actions of the local church, like the Church of Antioch.

This Church is governed by the Holy Synod, comprising all the bishops of regions and is presided over by the patriarch who is the first among equals. The single mystery of priesthood makes them a single gathering, and it is hoped that they are of one mind, which is assumed to be the mind of Christ. This is the togetherness that they constitute, and which we hope the Holy Spirit breathes out and extends, so that it will serve with one spirituality all the faithful by way of the spiritual units that we call dioceses. Because of the unity of its members, a single synod, like the Holy Synod of Antioch, oversees all the regions because we assume that the bishops are joined to the mind of Christ and that they do not speak according to whim, and that they are striving for Christ, with the Gospel as their point of departure. For this reason they place the Gospel book in the hall where they gather in order to remind them that they are speaking His words and that they have no say apart from Him when they make a decision or put together a plan of action or clarify the faith or elect a new bishop or judge a bishop to have transgressed the canons of the Church.

For us, the patriarch is the guarantor of unity because he has achieved dispassion. By virtue of this purification they regard him as the first among them and they remain eager to honor his place, just as he is eager to build up their place. For this reason they do not gather without him and if God calls him to Himself, they do not gather except to choose his successor. There is no synod in the absence of the patriarch and no patriarch without a synod. In the event of schism, those who depart from the synod do not constitute a synod, no matter what their numbers may be- a minority, in a time of schism, which is presided over by the patriarch, is the synod.

Naturally, this system has no analogue in any worldly institution, be it a parliament or anything else. Thus, it is not true to say that Orthodoxy is a democracy. It is the concord or the harmony of the Holy Spirit. Just as you obey your bishop because God raised him up through the laying on of hands (that is, his consecration), so too you obey the Holy Synod not because it is an authority set up over you in a legalistic manner, but rather because hands were laid upon the head of each bishop on the day of his consecration. “The bishop is an icon of Christ,” as St. Ignatius of Antioch said. In obeying him, you obey Christ.

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However, bishops are humans and errors can creep up on them. If an error comes that damages the teaching of the Church, it is your responsibility to not obey, and here the synod makes a complaint to the other Orthodox synods. If your local bishop sins against the teaching of the Church and teaches an innovation then you must cut off his prayers and take up the matter with his colleagues, especially the patriarch. However, this occurs extremely rarely and in the past hundred years we haven’t seen such a matter, because the definition of the teaching of the Church is particular to ecumenical councils, not to the local synod.

The synod may not be wise in a pastoral or administrative matter. This is discussed in a session related to a complaint or to a justifiable objection and matters are settled locally.

Here pious priest, well-versed in the tradition of the church and wise and faithful laymen play a large role. The customary spirit of fatherhood sets matters right, especially because the teaching of the Church is that the clergy and the faithful are one body who deal with each other as its members in the Word of salvation which is defended with good intention and an upright heart.

There is no value in the Church for numbers. You do not obey the Synod for this reason. You accept it because it is an expression of the Church that is engaged in purification, that is, the entirety of those who pray. In the first centuries, the Church rejected synods made up of more than four hundred bishops and called them robber’s synods, though they only decided what they considered to be inspired by the Spirit of God. The synod is not its own master on account of its merely gathering but because we are sure that it is tied to the Lord. When God governs the synod by grace, it is a godly synod and you are only bound by that which is godly. Bishops are those to whom the divine mysteries are entrusted, as Paul says. If they act against that trust then they become nothing, since there is no ruler in the Church save God. In the Church of the seven ecumenical councils, a later council confirmed the truth of the council previous to it and in this way we draw close to certain truth. Certain truth is confirmed by the acceptance of the whole faithful when the bishops bring it forth when they gather. The great councils were not known just for their wisdom and for great theology, and for this reason we commemorate the holy fathers who gathered in Nicaea or in Constantinople. The holiness of those gathered constitutes the truth of their belief because there is no separation between belief and purity of life.

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Those upon whose purity we rely are called to an election when one of the dioceses is vacant on account of a death. In some churches, like in Russia for example, the clergy and the laity participate in the election directly. In other churches, there are nominating committees composed of priests and laymen who undertake nominations, that is, they present to the Holy Synod a list of names, one of which the synod will choose. In our country, the nominating committee is the diocesan assembly. If it does not meet, then the synod itself begins by putting forth nominations then performs the election in accordance with the nominations. Naturally, there are conditions that a nominee must fulfull, the most important of them are his spiritual life and his morals, then his attainment of an degree in theology, then the age requirement and his progress in service.

However, if all of these conditions are fulfilled, they are an approximation of an ideal and not a guarantee. You may choose, for example, a person who appears to you to be chaste and humble and the experience of power may corrupt him and make him oppressive to you. If you look at his academic theological achievement you may think that he is knowledgeable, but it becomes clear to you afterword that he is weak in his application of theological acumen. The good qualities that abound in a priest may not be enough to determine his suitability for the episcopate. New virtues may appear in him on account of his new vocation, so it is inevitable that members of the synod will differ in their choice. One may focus on the theological acumen of a candidate and another on his pastoral gifts, if such is known. Another may emphasize his administrative skill. But what is administrative skill?

We must not be surprised when our leaders differ in their criteria. One may be attracted by the intelligence and knowledge of a candidate. Another may be interested in his experience. Because the matter depends on the assessments of individuals, the unanimity that is in principle sought may be difficult. However, what will set you free form uncertainty is to seek in the one that you call to the episcopate a deep and firm love of the Lord. Learning should be added to this because what is sought in a man is precise knowledge of the matters of faith in order for him to preach and teach. As for what we call management of the Church’s property and income and wealth, the early Church saw fit for the elected bishop to name an administrator to oversee these matters, since a person who is steeped in theological knowledge does not necessarily have experience with things of this world. As for one who does especially have experience with them and does not have knowledge of God and his Word, he is unable to improvise the Word at all. Thus, good intentions and insightful opinions can center on the choice of a man who is full of the wisdom of God and he will additionally be given other kinds of wisdom in which the people and the times are well informed as long as he relies upon the wise and the pious among his flock.

The great problem is that the Gospel of Christ was given to people surr

ounded by the weakness because of their human nature and those of great spiritual stature are very few. The Church in this world has not reached the kingdom and we know, as Paul said, “We have this treasure in jars of clay.” In order to keep safe what is entrusted to you until the coming of the Lord, you must keep long vigil and bear hardships with the consolation that comes down to you from above.

Original Text: “النظام المجمعي في الكنيسة الشرقية” – 03.10.2009

Translated from Arabic

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Feast of the Elevation of the Cross / 12.09.2009

Soon is the feast of the Elevation of the Cross. Two incidents wrought it. The first is in the fourth century when Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, found the Savior’s cross which was covered with earth and the second incident is when the Emperor Hercules brought that cross back to Jerusalem from the Persians who had taken it from Jerusalem. The Christians find joy in those two incidents and see them as an act of mercy from God towards them. I will not comment on the above because I want to pass on from what is temporal concerning them to what is essential.

I would like to say that the cross without Him who was crucified on it is of no significance. All religions have symbols and use symbolic language to convey their content. It is of no concern for me whether the relic you hold around your neck is really from the real cross of Christ or not. No one can show evidence for that. But your concern as a Christian has to be in the profession that the death of Jesus and his resurrection is the heart of Christianity; and that every ritual or worship service or doctrine is there to point to that Death and Resurrection.

That is our foundation and that is our scope and to that we witness. Historically speaking, no one can dismiss the historicity of the Gospel story. In that sense the veracity of Jesus’ death has evidence outside the gospels. The gospels are the journals of those times; three of the four evangelists were eyewitness to what happened and the fourth one researched what those said. You can ignore believing in the crucifixion of Jesus as an act of redemption and salvation, but you cannot but admit that that man from Galilee was arrested, put on trial by the Jews and the Romans and was given over by Pontius Pilate to be nailed on a cross which was lifted on the hill of Golgotha; moreover He was stabbed with a spear in his side to make sure He died and then Pilate gave His body to be buried.

The crucifixion is significant for the faith due to its meanings. Your true faith is based on accepting its meaning. The meaning of the death of Jesus is that He accepted to lift the sin of the world; that he should become sin so who believes in Him will live without sin and so that one can be resurrected daily from the wrath of God and thus he abides in the Divine Favor.

A cross made of two pieces of wood; one is vertical and the other horizontal. The vertical which Christ was laid on signifies that the Lord was “outstretched” from Earth to Heaven and those who love Him are “outstretched” in the same direction. As for the horizontal beam on which His arms were outstretched, that speaks of Jesus’ arms embracing the whole universe and gathering it to him always. And because Jesus is always elevated, we called that feast as that of the elevation of the cross. That is quite symbolic, but in reality the ‘elevation’ of the crucified (Jesus) is for the life of the world.

There are misleading phrases in the Old Testament that must be read In the light of the New Testament. For example the word ‘atonement’ – which on the outside means that Jesus died in our place – when read with the juridical sense of the word (which is well known in our Penal Code) might make the reader stumble. This has no basis in our belief. It was said in the West during the middle Ages that sin has elicited God’s wrath and that wrath cannot be removed unless God removes it by bringing evenness between God’s anger and His atonement. Many still hang on to this interpretation, those who desire to put an end to revenge through a ransom as the habit goes in tribal regions. That also has no basis.

We use the word ‘redeemer’ – translating it from the Greek – meaning ‘deliverer’ and not in the juridical context described above. Jesus delivers us from the fear of death as it says in the letter to the Hebrew: “And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” If you overcome the fear of death you dwell in Life”. Christianity is founded on the antinomy between life and death; and what is meant here is not only spiritual death and spiritual life, but the antinomy between the death of the body and the resurrection given us on the Last Day.

The only thing Man fears is death. He fears car accidents, sickness and going into coma; and all that is death. And if he cannot face that in a realistic fashion, he is utterly in fear ever. No one is comforted when told that this is “something that has to happen”. God is the lord of “what has to happen”; in that, He can put an end to death here and now. How can you be rid of death when it is going to show itself in your body some day? There is no escape from death except through belovedness (being loved). And for you to feel loved, you need to be loved by a god. No one can substitute for God as the source of your life. This was made known by Jesus of Nazareth in a most eloquent fashion in that He brought the life that was in Him into the kingdom of death. He blew up death from the inside; “He trampled death by death” as the paschal hymn goes.

And as Christ was bringing life into the realm of death, He brought in Love with it. And Life is Love. Only through that you can exit nothingness. The voluntary yielding of Jesus to death is an expression of what came in the Bible in John 3: 16: “So much God loved the world that He gave His only Son…..”

With that there is no more room for the questions: “Why should God do all that? Why this Divine strategy? Why this Divine stir? Could not God have shown His love in a different way?” God did things that way because His wisdom is in that way. His wisdom is revealed in the incarnation of the Logos so He can be united with Man to explain to him that God has filled the chasm that is between Him and His children. Is there a more eloquent means than that? That God would share with us our world, in a body like ours with its weaknesses, its death and entombment? That a Christian knows that His Christ is his companion in every pain, and that when laid in the coffin, he is not alone, and that there is something in him that the grave cannot destroy. The Christian knows that he is not a slave to the world. He can fall into sin but he can also rise to righteousness because he carries in himself the power of love; and he can always forgive and taste Joy in the middle of his illness and taste wholeness in the middle of his handicap; he can experience in the Liturgy the fullness of the Kingdom of God and the confidence before God which is not for judgment or condemnation because he has been lifted through the resurrection of the Savior from death to life.

That is what the feast is about.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “عيد ارتفاع الصليب” –An Nahar- 12.09.2009

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2009, An-Nahar, Articles

Fasting / 29.08.2009

The arrival of Ramadan is delighting for me, since in that month Muslims are purified. [In Ramadan] the great ones in piety receive eminence from their Lord, and there is no doubt that they become closer to the depth of prayer, and in their recitations they seek nearness to the gracious God.

This period is a [chance for] perfect solitude in order to endorse truth and patience. And whenever you bear your hunger and thirst patiently you would also be receptive of people, especially that they walk the same path as you. And maybe the splendor of this commitment is what is mentioned in the Hadith, on the lips of God: “Fasting is for me and I shall reward for it.” This is a spiritual pilgrimage not to the House [Mecca], but to the Lord of the House, as Saida Rābi῾a al-῾Adawiyyah said. It is a [spiritual] exercise, which seeks the face of God, and nothing other than it remains. Our worldly desires fail as they encounter it. And the Prophet says: “God, the almighty, is proud about the young worshipping man; and says: O young man, who is renouncing his desires for my sake and exerting his youth for me. You are to me as one of my angels.” [Hadith]

Those who pursue the obligations, the laws and the rules for break-fast ifṭār know that this is not the ultimate [end]. Some people are of great awareness and spiritual strive that is deeper than what appears. What matters is the purpose from this, which is possible to be viewed as the greatest jihād. [The purpose] should be putting on the divine attributes, namely the eternal nature, since whoever holds fast to his/[her] purity of heart inclines to the realm of angels. And whoever imitates the angels approaches his/[her] Lord, thus, the light of the Lord’s eternity reflects upon him/[her].

As the believer longs to the climax of this spiritual exercise we have to note the truth in the saying of Imam Ghazali: “Fasting is of three [successive] grades, namely, the common fasting, the distinctive fasting and the distinguished of the distinctive.” The common fasting is about complying with the known obligations, which may be summarized by abstaining from the desire for food and the marital relations (at the time of fast). For the distinctive fasting all senses refrain from sins, the tongue is to be guarded and the ear should refrain from listening to what is abhorrent “because that which is prohibited to speak about is also prohibited to listen to.”  A beautiful saying by al-Ghazali is: “one should not demand much of the lawful food at the break-fast, such as one’s abdomen is full, since there is no more detestable vassal to God than from an abdomen filled with lawful food.” The meaning of this rule of al-Ghazali is that the fasting person should eat whatever he/[she] used to eat every night if he/[she] was not fasting. And the prominent in distinctive fasting is the one who, after the break-fast, does not know whether his/[her] fasting was acceptable or no. The issue is not automatic in Islam.

As for the distinguished of the distinctive, their fasting is “the fasting of the heart from the worldly worries and thoughts and its complete unconcern with anything but God … and thus the breaking of the fast (al-fiṭr) occurs by thinking about anything other than God, mighty and majestic, and about the Last Day, as well as through the concern with this world, except in so far as it promotes religion”.

This tells us that each of Islam’s pillars is founded upon determination and sincerity. Thus, we should not be disappointed whenever we think that this or that person is satisfied with pretense. God alone judges the hearts. We pray that God might grant those, whom we find superficial in their exercises, depth in their piety so that the common in his/[her] faith might become from the distinguished or maybe from the distinguished of the distinctive. Perhaps his/[her] fast becomes similar to Mary’s fast associated with silence and tranquility. She said: “’I have vowed to the Compassionate to fast, and so I shall not talk today to any human being’” [Sura Maryam [Mary], 25]. And in this the truth of this saying is manifested:

Whenever the person fasts from the world all the months, which he/[she] lives, those months become months of fasting.

The whole path is a path of compassion, as this prayer says: “O my God, the fasting ones have wined, and we are Your sinful servants. Have compassion upon us for Your mercies’ sake, grant us from Your grace and kindness. Forgive us all by Your mercy, O most merciful of the merciful ones”. Whenever this comes to be true for a person, he/[she] becomes a window to the inclusive divine love.

All believing nations, who feel that through fasting they might appeal to the manifestations of truth, practice fasting. Buddies practice asceticism, purification and repression of desires and these, for them, lead to death. In the Gospel it is a recommendation and not a divine order. In different places in the New Testament fasting is associated with prayer. Fasting does not desist from prayer, rather, as if it sustains prayer. This tradition has continued in the First Church, as we read in the Book of Acts that the Holy Spirit addressed the Church of Antioch as it was holding the Divine Liturgy and fasting, and asked from it to send Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13: 1-6).

At this first journey there was no rule to specify the kinds of food people should abstain from, but Epiphanius of Cyprus in the fourth century speaks of abstaining from meat and its derivative products. He speaks of one meal per day, and this is confirmed at the council of Trullo [A.D. 692] at the end of the seventh century. While at a time I could attain, the break-fast has been for Christians after the sunset prayers.

And since fasting has been a church-provision, our Fathers have considered it mandatory. The churches have differed in the form of their disciplines. Today, in Orthodox Church, fasting implies abstaining from food at certain hours and refraining from meat and dairy products. However, this no longer has remained on its sternness as in the past. In Middle Ages the Orthodox Church allowed the fruits of the sea, for the lack of vegetables and herbs in certain areas. Other churches have expanded the period of fasting and elaborated on the kinds of food. The Evangelicals alone have voluntary individual fasting, not bound to a specific period.

Fasts have varied in every church. The Orthodox have four fasts in addition to the Wednesdays and the Fridays and at some feasts. Nevertheless, not only the type of fasting but mainly the intensity of prayers is perceptible, [particularly at] what is called the Lent, which prepares for the Easter.

Lent remains the most important fast in its significance and strives; since it is associated with the preparation to what we call the Holy Week or the Passion Week, which ends after Resurrection, “the Feast of the feasts and the Season of the seasons”. As for the significance of Resurrection [or the Easter, it is possible to say that] every important feast is derived from it.

As for its perception, fasting, for Jews, is concentrated on repentance, namely the seeking of God. For Christians and Muslims fasting is the plea for the face of God, and this [also] involves repentance. Thus, the fast of the Monotheists is distinguished from the Buddhists’, who do not have faith in God. And I do not doubt that the one and the only God accepts the fasting of the Buddhists as God accepts the fasting of the Abrahamic religions.

And whenever we want to read fasting at our times, we understand that it is a protest against the excessive use of food prevalent in this era of consumption. It is a confirmation of the words of Christ: “One does not live by bread alone” (Matt. 4: 4).

The human being lives first by the Word of God, and the rest is given to him/[her] as supplementary.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “االصيام” –An Nahar- 29.08.2009

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