2011, An-Nahar, Articles

The New Earth / 03.12.2011

Is the purpose of one’s profession to make a living? [Surely] it is a means for it since we have to live. Yet, livelihood can be made by any profession. Thus, there is the question of choosing it and the person might be confused in that concern. All professions yield. Thus, there is a taste for this profession or that. There is an element other than the financial one. There is [a possibility for a] work that accompanies our inner reality, i.e., there is an enthusiasm of existence and the feeling of the necessity to produce through certain instruments and with different tastes. In order to obtain money there is the manner for creation, self-realization and the conviction of the person that something calls him/[her] to walk the path, which is part of him/[her]self. Profession is an expansion of the self, similar to the language that we use, or the clothes that you put on.

Thus, there has been the need for creativity, or that which we thought it is; in the sense that it might be frail. However, it is our contribution since there is kind of an inner drive which makes you feel that it is present in the work that you offer. Thus, you emerge through that which you produce and you receive from it some of existence.

Years ago, I have noticed that the food which a woman provides is definitely better than what another presents, though the used materials are the same. What is the difference between the two?

There is kind of creation, a kind of creativity, and a personality that is committed to the food or to its preparation. So are the properties at home. How did these come skillfully, while others appear in a studied manner? There are many innovators in the economic society, except in those huge industries, where there is no big space for subjectivity in production.

In creativity, there is praise to God the Creator; a kind of an expansion of God’s creativity or God’s participation, as Christian theology expresses itself [in these terms]. There is a kind of unity [or commonality] between us and God which elevates the material that we produce to a state higher than its being merely touched by our humanity. If it were other than this there would be a separation between humanity and divinity, and the earth would not have heaven as its goal, or as if there is subject cut-out from its predicate, or an ‘alpha’ which does not expect its ‘omega’, or as if there is a creation which was found in order [merely] to observe.

This is why economics will end up as theology. If it were otherwise, God would not be the source of everything. Is the human being thrown into the world in order to produce or to praise [God], i.e. to praise as he/ [she] produces?

You would be working with others; not only in the case of huge industries, but also in a simple factory for wood-work. Nevertheless, the feeling of unity presumes a spiritual community rather than a dry political society, built on collectivism in place of cooperation. A spiritual community, in a mysterious sense, is one entity or one existent, having an organism, and is to be conceived as one regardless of its plurality. This does not mean falling apart. To fall apart is a sin and it is contrary to sharing and the inner interpenetration among the existents.

What saves humanity is that money does not interfere in all domains, and thus, they do not become blurred. Blessed is the person who does not attach importance to money and acquires only little of it. At that point, one is free and is not forced to lie. When Socrates was asked by those who passed judgment on him, how could you prove your honesty? He said: I am poor. One of the greatest painters, Van Gogh, had died as indigent. This did not prevent the beauty of his works. The great, great ones, in all areas of art, most of the times experience financial lack. The creative one is then free.

All the saints were poor and were striving to live in poverty, in order that they might own the only treasure that is God, through whom they could give up everything. Those did not have something to eat, drink, or something to shelter them or to clothe them. The ‘nothing’ for them was the condition for the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, according to the statement of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Poverty was for them the guarantee for their emergence.

This dispossession is a condition to till the earth, as God has ordered us at creation. God has made it a possession with the condition of work, and in this way the human being comes to be on the image of his/[her] Lord. “My Father is working still, and I am working.” (John 5: 17)

The purpose of work is the human being and not production for its own sake. The purpose of work is the growth of the human being in virtue, and not constructions of thought or stone. This accompanies human advancement, which needs much complexity in order to occur. It might seem that we are after a culture that is about intellectual and material levels established for their own beauty. And the truth is that the purpose behind all our establishing of cultures is the joy of the human being by the angelic [or heavenly] state, which one might attain, and his/[her] establishing cultures is an image of divine life which cares for us from above.

The [notion of] work was in the paradise before Adam’s Fall, and the present world is the recovered paradise, or this is how it is hoped to be. However, this might not be realized unless each one of us does not complete his/[her] existence through that which descends upon him/[her] from above. Thus, that which is heavenly in our hearts unites with the earth that makes us, and at the very end nothing remains in us other than divine light.

Whenever we exclude those who follow a special ascetic method, nothing remains for us other than to work, which makes us think and through it we serve, whenever we aspire [to work] as a path to virtue, which is alone our light.

As we are surrounded by work we become saints, and sainthood [or holiness] is in the relentless pursuit, which knows neither tiresome nor boredom. In modern societies researches revolve around production, so that the rich and their countries eat and remain entrenched to the earth, as if they were independent of heaven. They would let the poor and their countries die. Our Fathers were not mistaken when they said: all sins begin with devouring, since it settles your body and declares it as independent of the bodies of the saints.

We need to construct a new philosophy as the foundation for political economics, which might reveal to us a new human being. That is, we need to bring economics back to God, and the inner reality of the human being to his/[her] virtues and the greatest virtue is love, without which there would be neither earth nor heaven.

You might repent, as you are in your work, whenever you find a way to become a new human being who makes good. Has the time for the Church, the bride, come?

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “الأرض الجديدة” –An Nahar- 03.12.2011

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2011, An-Nahar, Articles

The Face of God / 26.11.2011

God’s face is known only when projected on the face of human beings. And you cannot know yourself unless you see beauty in the face of others, that is if you consider them “beautiful” as you think you are. You come from him (the other) when you realize that he is not “ugly”. And the other will not be yours if you do not accept by faith that God has lifted away from him all ugliness. And the lifting away of ugliness does not come from Man, but from grace, that is it comes down on you. And you establish a kinship with God in the sense that you become related to the Lord. And because He sees Himself in you, He makes Himself your kin conjoining Himself to you and that strengthens your kinship to Him.

Your beauty does not come from outside you for God bestows it on you so you can become what you are called to become; and if you acquire much glory, it becomes the natural means for others to see the Lord in you.

The reflection of the Divine glory on you is impossible if your eyes behold other than God. God is revealed in Nature and it is His mantle. And when you read Him in it, you will “ascend” to Him with that reading; yet the center of nature is the human being, and it is in him, above all, you can “ascend” to the Lord.

Yes God is revealed in nature but His loftiest revelations are in Man. And God offers Man His beauty freely though God is not in need of him; while Man derives his richness from God only, God being the source. And when God pours of His love on one of us, that love reaches to the others but it is not from us. Love is imparted from God to whoever wants and He helps him with it such that if the person builds his reality on that love, then that Love will be able to reach whoever one wants. Man is a carrier of the Divine love after it has acted in him and wrought him in the sense that it is a life that you live such that when others sense it in you they would say: “That’s how the power of God changes people”.

If you do not become a new person who authentically acts in love, you remain one who only speaks of love and not one who has tasted it and been changed by it. If the Lord becomes your ideal that is you have become someone who is turned to Him, you become in His likeness. And he who is illumined, becomes a god, that is a beginner in deification, acquiring the attributes of God and in communion with Him. This entails the dismissal of all false gods and pretentiousness, that is you have to purify yourself always so that you receive from God only what He wants for you in the hope of you giving to others what you have received. And if you look at the faces of the illumined believers, you will behold the one light of the one God who reveals Himself in the same way in this person or that.

The oneness of God is revealed in the oneness of His manifestations; then you are like your brother, yet each one of you keeps his own personality and that unique manifestation of God in it. Holiness does not imply the dissolution of one in another. The one who unites is God, and his manifestations in different people are different. Such a difference accounts for the communion of saints. Communion presupposes variety and plurality in the manifestations of holiness and its actions; one person has a Church rank while another does not, this one is a monk while the other is a married man, this one is a martyr while the other is not. The manifestations of holiness are different yet their essence is one, and it is one in the oneness of holiness since this unity is in the Lord himself who is our holiness and its giver.

Holiness does not mean spiritual perfection. That pertains only to God. But holiness means that you want it (holiness); it means that you seek to be nothing before God and you see yourself as nothing on the path of striving for holiness. That means that you should know that you are a sinner, a broken one on whom God will have mercy.

Yet when the devil suggests to a person to mar his “face” because he is bored of God, then the Light will leave him. His being will be destroyed or at least it will crack. Each one of us is prone to falling, and as far as being virtue is concerned, none is guaranteed. Virtue is the result of daily strife and an awareness of our fragility and God’s protection for us. You have to seek after the Divine help always when you are attacked with seduction of any kind; or we would be getting a ticket to take us to “hell” which will “burn” us in this world and the coming one.

God’s face might shine on you to remove the ugliness that has dwelled in you. That is the business of His love which can make you grateful. And beauty might come back to you suddenly and not in stages. You learn much about sin; it educates you, it makes you cry, it hurts you. Keep what it has taught you in mind; be concerned for the downfalls without panicking because the trust you have in the Lord is more powerful than fright. In that you are pampered by God. You are in the bosom of His Fatherhood until He takes you back to Him and you “sleep” (i.e. die) in His mercy.

Your coming back to God can be of importance in that the brethren can benefit from your repentance; if they find “beauty” in that (your repentance), you would draw them to the beauty of your face when your God was visiting you, and then, with them, you come back to the communion of saints and you would become the Body of Christ.

Then you would know the freshness of what you have been dreaming of as if you have been “kidnapped” to Heaven and all what is in you would sing until you hear the sound of angels making music around the Throne; and you wonder asking “how come the angels sing a new song to the Lord?”

This angelic situation can obtain here in this world as you go about your daily job and service. Heaven is not a place; it is the depth of existence in you or your own depth in existence and those “depths” are God who gives you life as He beholds you. And when His goodwill is on you, do not seek anything else because nothing can be added above that.

I meant to say that, in this world, God is with us and in us and He fills the universe. That does not mean that God is mingled with what is created as in pantheism; He is distinct from the Creation and is above it, but He is “strewn” in the universe or else He would be considered as “absent” from the creation.  Therefore, as the Orthodox say, our relationship with Him comprises our seeing Him in His Energies; and when you see Him in you and in the universe then it means that you have accepted Him. But if you see Him “dissolved” in the material and psychic existence, then it means you had denied Him as Creator.

The issue here is that the Creator is always “up there” and always “down here”. And if you do not receive Him as one with you and in you, then there is no real creation (new birth). Creatorship carries createdness in the sense that the Lord, being the Creator, is in an ongoing movement towards you (the created) and you are always beholding Him. Creatorship has no end. The Lord did not make an object that He would throw away. He shepherds it or else it would become lifeless. All what is of our being of mind, spirit, soul and body exists through the Divine Providence; the former is an expression that implies the continuance of “creation” or in other words the continuance of God’s embrace (lit. bosoming) of the creature.

Between you and your Lord, there must be an encounter; that is your face is towards His face in order that His face would forge yours. And if you become intimate with Him to the point of constant companionship, then that would be a union – one in which there is no dissolution. He would “put you on” and you would “put Him on” as St. Paul says in 1Cor. 6: 17 “The one who joins himself to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him.”

At that words become powerless and tasting (experiencing) takes over.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “وجه الله” –An Nahar- 26.11.2011

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2011, An-Nahar, Articles

Boldness / 19.11.2011

Human relationships are ones of boldness or fear. The one of boldness comes from the faith one has in his power or his prerogatives. Yet our faith in prerogatives and rights does not always lead us to confrontation even though it might lead us to martyrdom; and martyrdom is not always in need of human power but of a conviction in the believer that God who is in us will speak for us defending us even though the defense might lead to the shedding of our blood.

And you have courage because you are certain of your orthodoxy saying what you think in front of other humans being an individual or an audience that you address or write for. That is what the Arabs call moral courage. Yet at times you would be apprehensive of confronting though you are very certain that you are on the side of Truth.

St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “Be strong”, and before him the Lord has exhorted people for martyria in front of kings and rulers; and it is clear that His life was one of confrontation with others from the beginning of His mission until His death. And we also see the courage of the disciples before the Jews and the Gentiles and we know that most of them were martyred and during the three centuries of persecution, millions of believers accepted death enduring fire, and boiling oil and lions, because they were waiting for a better life. For them, life was being with Christ for whom at times we have to give up life in this world.

How come, at times, we fear someone we love? That implies that you would expect him to turn his back on you drawing his mantle of love away from you. Then you would lose the protection of his love. At that you would feel alone and when you get to chide him you would avoid that, fearing that you would lose his friendship. Then you would be cast only on God who takes care of you.

In that situation, your apprehensions would be misinterpreted by others as weakness and lack of faith; yet God reigns and you know it for sure while they do not, because God does not make claims and allegations; He inspires and reveals.

And though love casts out fear as John says in one of his epistles, the one who loves but is afraid feels that he cannot combat and at times loses his case in the argument. This happens much in groupings that in whose dealings there is much craftiness and deception.

The tragic in this is that the righteous are trampled over by the “deceivers” and sin hails as victorious; but it does so only seemingly until, by the grace of the Lord, the real truth is revealed.

You, be on the side of the weak especially the “underdogs” who often have purity of heart and weightiness of opinion while the oppressors “vanish” under the Lord who tramples them over with His wisdom because they try to appease Him to no avail; but the underdogs are the lords in His Kingdom and they are content with such a grace.

A question remains as to how to provide those poor of the earth with the power to combat the evil in this world so that the light of the Kingdom of God does not dwindle but is revealed. Here we call to mind Jesus’ words: “Be as wise as serpents and meek as doves”. The difficulty in this life is that some people are serpents and some are doves. How do we lead the wicked to meekness and how do we bring up the meek on dealing with the traps that some set up, to undo their (the traps) effects. When St. Paul says: “Love believes all”, does he mean that all what you hear others say is true? I do not think so, because we know that Paul had wisdom in how to manage different people differently and how to use Roman law in defense of himself before the procurator of Palestine. “Love believes all” must mean that one could believe, at times, those who usually lie. And what is atrocious is that at times we can do wrong to those who tell the truth (by not believing them). That would hurt them; but the Lord would have accepted their repentance while we do not because we do not believe them. Would that cause them to regret their good action (being honest) because we have considered them among the liars anew?

Learn boldness by seeking it from the Lord; for the fear you have has entrenched itself in you because of the complexes that have intertwined in your being and you have not been able to undo them with your own strength; but you feel that if you progress in the spiritual life you will receive power from above. The only armor you can put on is kindness and the word of God.

Yet many consider kindness a weakness because they measure it with the cruelty they use to gain authority; and authority, they think, makes them great. Be careful not to fall in the desire to oppress others so you can feel yourself powerful. There is nothing in that. Love those who oppose you for that would help them to make themselves better.

Learn how to combine kindness and strictness if you have to pass judgment on matters others oppose you with. You are responsible to bring your “opposer” to the Lord. It is not important to win the argument – or to lose it; what is important is to take your “opposer” by the hand and help him get closer to the Lord.

Yet there are those who know how to defend themselves and those who do not though they know they are oppressed by the other. One has to be careful not to become despotic but to harbor strictness with the compassion that he has. And if he remains weak, and that is not a demerit, then God will be his “mouthpiece” in this world and the one to come. Such a person has God and God alone.

We have learned from the Saints that gradually are trained in righteousness unless the Lord transforms you miraculously to the spiritual summit all at once. But train yourself in this spiritual power through which boldness waxes in you so that you become like the serpent in its cunning and the dove in its meekness; then the Lord will cover you with His wings.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “الشجاعة” –An Nahar- 19.11.2011

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Christianity and Institutions / 12.11.2011

The Church thrived in poor countries without a single institution, according to what the great Russian theologian Sergius Bulgakov said: “The Church is not an institution; She is life in the Holy Spirit”. As if he wanted to say that educational institutions and others do not necessarily make believers of people. It is well known that some of the avid atheists in the West did their studies at institutions run by monks. They say that in those institutions, there is a basic atmosphere of faith which might draw you to believe; this is true. And I know of some secular schools that also draw people to the faith. Recently,I have read somewhere that most of the Maronite priests of a certain Archdiocese have studied in public schools that did not offer any religious teaching.

I am afraid that the Church would feel that Her strength is in the institutions She has while Her power resides in Her holiness. During the Third Century in Jordan, The Church was called the Church of tents; that is, the members of the congregation lived in tents, the Bishopric was a tent and the Liturgy was celebrated in a tent; and there is no evidence that those who enjoyed the great Cathedrals had more piety than the Bedouin Christians. The Danish philosopher Kierkegard says: “No matter how high the walls of the monastery are, sin can still find a way to get in”. Solitude might help one in the spiritual life but not necessarily so for certain. The monks and priests and bishops might put you in a frame in which you remain and thus you do not progress spiritually. Spiritual life is not an insurance company; this life is poured on you from above and only from above. You might choose to be on fire with that life or you might remain frozen cold in your frame.

The big question you are in front of is where are your priorities and where do you expect healing to come from. You either live with the Lord and in Him and for Him and through Him or you have very little of the institutions. I have witnessed spiritual splendor in people who have been pastored by priests who have little education and I have witnessed spiritual lukewarmness in people who had a great spiritual guide. One of the poor parishes in my Archdiocese shows great compassion and care towards the needy among them. “O Man, all what there is but a ‘heart’”. And those of us on whom there is an anointing from the Holy One come from Churches that are not wealthy and bountiful but the Lord gives us the desire of our hearts.

Things in the Church run as if She does not believe that holiness in itself is effective and that there is a need for something to support Her. Everything indicates that the Church wants the language of the world and the ways of the world, and that She considers Herself as an alternative for the State; She even would not hesitate, if the State is weak or absent, to set Herself in the place of the State or to “put on Herself the garment of the State” instead of upholding it (the State) in its constitution and legitimacy.

What is not understood by those in charge of the Church is that Christ came to change the world and the logic of this world. When Jesus was standing in front of Pilate, He told him: “You do not have authority over me had it not been given to you from above”. Heaven has given you to kill me; and though it appears as if I submit to your judgment, but in reality I submit to my Father. If we do not use Christ’s logic, then automatically we are of the mind of the world; and we would adopt the ways of the world and empower ourselves with its power. With that we would be disparaging the logic of Christ (which is in reality, and is supposed to be our logic in the Church) and we would have borrowed a language from this world and believed in its efficacy and would have done away with Christ’s language in order to appear as intelligent as and more effective than our Christ.

Jesus of Nazareth came to change the language of history because He believes in the language that He made putting an end to the language of this world. We are thus in front of one question: Did Jesus come to us with a new language that revives the ear that listens to it and the heart in which it is poured or He brought us a rigid hard one? Would the reader of the Gospels realize that the meanings in there are not just a compilation of words and that the Music within is different from the tunes that mesmerize us and excite our desires?

If Christ dwells in you and works through you and is of your company, then you are an innovator. And I do not refer here to what is poetic in your words but to that which is poetic in your being; that which shakes you and shakes the world. At that you would be praying with the “Bedouins” and follow the “Bedouin” bishop to receive the Body and Blood and dispense with all man-made beauty that has been pushed on you or put in you. At that you become concerned not to betray and not to borrow the beauty of no one, or the words of no one or the uniqueness of no one except that of Jesus of Nazareth.

He incarnated in your flesh and bones – and more explicitly said, He took your being to give you His so you get transfigured even for just few moments. You would become a new human being by just touching the hem of His garment; and only such “touching” is what guides you.

You have to chose to be fully stripped of your world so that God would open for you the gates of His heaven and pour in your inside the garment of light. Those whose language (mind) has not changed would only see you as stripped and do not hear your “new language”; but you would be more splendid than all of them because you have mantled yourself with the mantle of light while they are still dressed in old rags that can cover nothing in them since they would get torn apart little by little.

Do not exchange the Lord’s language with platitudes. If you do, there will come a day when you yourself would forget the “language” of salvation and you might, thinking mistakenly, that you are supporting the Church of Christ with what you have borrowed for Her from this world. If you lose the gift of discernment you would lose everything. Discern what is Christ’s from what is not His, and dispense with the language of this world and its structures so that Heaven will make you a new ‘structure’ that seduces the mind and the heart at the same time revealing you as the icon of Christ. The icon is made with inspiration from above, totally different from human décor and design. What is important is that you avoid believing in external décor and that which is the product of human imagination only.

Christianity hails from the Holy Spirit. Take Him to your inside being so your being would come from above.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “مسيحية والمؤسسات” –An Nahar- 12.11.2011

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Murder / 05.11.2011

In the beginning murder came to be when Cain killed his brother Abel after God had driven Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden. When you place yourself away from the divine care you might be able to destroy your brother whom God shepherds; it is as if you kill God Himself. And Cain killed his brother out of jealousy since God accepted the offering of Abel and did not accept that of Cain, so he became angry with God, that is, he separated himself from God and in turn from his brother. So when he met Abel in the fields, he killed him.

Then came the commandment through Moses: “Thou shall not kill” and as such the life of others is not under your control. That (life of others) would go only to the One who gave it and thus it enters His mercy.

There is arrogance in taking the life of another or in other words, murder comes from arrogance and highhandedness. And highhandedness as such is a type of deification in the sense that God alone is the one who is highhanded and can destroy. Every sin is a self deification and the murderer is the major “destroyer” since he considers the one he is about to kill as not having the right to exist. He (the killer) takes you back to nothingness or he thinks he does that; and afterwards he feels he has returned himself to nothingness and this feeling increases day after day to the point that often the killer despairs of his own repentance.

The cancellation of the other is the feeling that a certain person has to be brought to nothingness by shedding his blood because his existence is intolerable. That is the existence of the other is bothering to the “killer” to the point of stifling. And if you (the killer to be) do not stifle the “enemy”, you will suffocate. The Qur’an describes the inner state of the murderer saying: “…. whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if be had killed all mankind…” Sura 5: 32

Murder takes place primarily in one’s soul. So the aim is to love your enemy since when you keep him existent, both you and he will be glorifying the Lord and Heaven will roll into your heart and his heart. And then you would be able to understand, not in the popular way but with more depth, the meanings in the Qur’an (in Sura 2:191) that ”Oppression is worse than murder”; what God wants you to do is to rid your heart from the seeds of oppression that are in it since that is what spurs your hands to kill. And the aforementioned explanation goes hand in hand with what we find in the Gospel of Matthew 5: 21-22, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. ’But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment”. In the spiritual traditions of the Fathers of the Church, anger is the passion that gives birth to the sin of murder or any form of violence; and as such one of your spiritual goals is to eradicate this passion so it does not turn into sin. And the soul which is free of anger is the quiet (restful) soul; that is the spiritual ascetic school of the hesychasts who work to undo the effect of the passions and appetites in the depth of their being where God alone has full reign.

The load of Murder is quite heavy. A well known journalist of the An-Nahar newspaper once told me about what a sniper of the times of the Lebanese civil war once told him:”I wake up in the middle of every night and I see the ones I killed, their faces and even their clothes, and this makes me very anxious and troubled“. That is in fact the return of that man to his conscience after he had been trained by his military friends to quench that conscience in him. Keep in mind that murder might stay on the conscience of the murderer tens of years or the rest of his life.

Despite all that the murderer remains the sheep that has lost his way in the mountains, and he remains our brother and we are supposed to shepherd his wounded soul so that he can open his heart for the Lord to sow His word in him. And that murderer might be a major one, still tenderness can find a way to his heart and make of him a meek lamb. Repentance is God’s work in the soul, and if one’s soul opens up to it in tears, the Lord will wipe every tear from one’s eyes. Some of our Saints were ultra sinners but the Lord took them in His compassion and tenderness so that nothing remained in them except His invocation and remembrance.

I conclude from this that we have to raise ourselves up on forgiveness; and that brings down on us the mercy of God and His power and puts limits to our waywardness. Such a great conversion can take place through God’s love no matter how deep we have sunk in sin because the human heart is the beloved of God and the human soul is able, when touched by His love, to say with Psalm 33:8 “Taste and see how good is the Lord”. And if we get to the passionate love of God after we have sinned, the Lord will blot out our sin forever. The greatness of the Lord lies in that sin does not find a place in His memory. Is that not His forgiveness?

The above was a discourse on individual murders. What about the killing of communities one the other? What about wars? No doubt, there are countries that hate others; or maybe that was so before World War II after which came peoples who seem for them impossible to fight each other nowadays. So training and taming groups of people not to fight is possible.

There are peoples who have warred due to what seemed to be a religious reason. Yes indeed this happened; and God was “borrowed” for the sake of killing. During the period of Hitler, “God is with us” was written on the habit of the German soldier; and there are peoples who thought that God has commissioned them to kill other peoples and that the killers are God’s militaries. And in that Karl Marx was right when he said that “religion is the opium of the people”. He had witnessed murders in God’s name and the spread of poverty in God’s name. Would one group of people feel sad over another group that kills in God’s name? I have noticed that this rarely happens and as such those that do not feel sorrow in the case I mentioned above, have themselves participated in the killing. How long would it take us to reconcile with and forgive the sin for those who sinned against us?

None of us is God’s agent is shedding blood. And every interpretation or explanation that contains such understandings is from Evil. Cannot the believers in each religion call each other to an agreement or pact of peace that considers killing in God’s name a heresy or even blasphemy?

So, is it not possible to change the ideology of the peoples in such a way that the understanding of the army of a country would be only one of defense in case an attack against it takes place? If you permit me to talk nonsense, I would question saying why shouldn’t the production of weapons be banned altogether? It seems that in times of danger, factories are immediately converted for the production of instruments of death. Why are the peoples afraid? In that, I do not understand how the United States accepts to give permission to its citizens to possess weapons. What would happen if the human being gets angry and agitated?

The citizen is given the weapon of murder; then why is he called to account when he kills? And how is it that they speak of his virtues in such a case? Of course you cannot heal a person of anger and of the possibility that he would destroy another human being unless the grace of God descends on him. The angry person wounds others from his heart. Why then are there those instruments of death? Why is it that we should die apart from God decreeing that?

I understand that what the angels said at the birth of Christ “Gloria in Excelsis and peace on Earth” to mean that obedience to God is what leads to Peace. Is it not the responsibility of the religions and nations of the world to make an effort so that something of that, if not all of it, might be realized? That was the reason behind founding the United Nations. Do we need a political scientific agreement to get to real love or do we seek self purification in order to sow mercifulness among individuals and peoples alike?

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “القتل” – An Nahar – 05.11.2011

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Gossiping / 29.10.2011

When you do not want to confront yourself, that is face the reality of your existence, your tongue becomes a sword with which you kill the others in you since you are unable to eradicate your sins or you probably do not see them so that you will not be frightened by them and thus you remain closed in your own pettiness. When the foreign policy of a country becomes dominated by a high rate of gossiping slandering another country, that is a sign of emptiness in those who are gossiping in the slandering country; and such emptiness is self-inflation. Thus the “other” is the one you bruise or kill since you see yourself as without bruises and wounds and you do not see yourself as the one who is wounded and bruised and that you are about to be destroyed. And you cannot admit your weakness since such a confession is a detection of sin and such detection is the beginning of healing or all of it. And that is the conviction that the “other” is your physician; or that your “health” is a product of his (the “other”) examining you and counseling you.

Gossiping is a “closing in” on one’s self; it is a closing in on emptiness. You cannot tolerate emptiness so you fly away from it and you destroy the “other” not aware that by doing that you destroy yourself. You “destroy yourself” when you feel threatened by discovering your real self when loved by the “other”; and you “love yourself” if you desire to make it better by sharing in the love the “others” have for you. You exist only when you love and when you are loved by those who love the Lord. Perhaps God’s only aim for His creation is this journey of love in Him. Only in that would God be “seen”, as such it (God’s love) is a seeking after the Word (Jesus) who has been since the Beginning.

But if you close on yourself, then it is inevitable not to have inner discourse coming from evil and corruption; as such you get seduced by your passions and I mean here the roots of sin in you. These are the “uncleanness” the nature of which you know, or maybe you do not know but you need to root it out from your heart since it results in harming you even though you have not deliberately desired it. Yet uncleanness has to leave you so that you can dwell in the “other” if that “other” does not stay away from you due to his purity. As such the arrow (of gossiping) does not hit its target but it harms the one who sent it (that is you).

The philosophers of Ethics distinguish between slander and gossip. In the Quran, I only find the word slander; and its meaning is to “invent lies” as it comes in Surah 5: 103 and in Sura 16: 116 “ Do not say about what your lying tongues describe: ‘THIS IS LAWFUL AND THIS IS UNLAWFUL,’ inventing lies against Allah. Those who invent lies against Allah are not successful”.

Lying is a form of fear in the one who lies and a slander of the “other” whom it targets. That is what slander is. But you might say true things about the “other” either because you are a gossiper or because you want to hurt him. For instance you might say “that person steals” and then you mention an episode of that. That is what is called gossip while slander is when you invent lies.

Disclosing the weak points of people does them great harm since this exposes them to be shredded by those who have an interest in that; and such gossip coming from you, might stay with them as long as they live. This is true especially in women, when you make their chastity a matter of libel. People give ear to that quickly without making sure of things. And maybe the gossip might move from one mouth to another and as such might destroy families; you are called to be reticent concerning the sins of others and such silence helps you out of slandering others. Silence is an excellent watch over one’s soul since it allows one to be quiet with the Lord and as such be repentant. But he who gossips does not know what repentance is.

You might be exposed to gossip in social activities. What you hear then is something to be thrown in the “well of your reticence” and you do not give yourself room to reflect on what you heard of the iniquity of others for fear you would plunge into them. The Fathers have warned us not to reflect on our past sins after we have repented so that those sins would not tempt us again. You have to reflect on the virtues and their beauty; perhaps they will draw you closer to them; do not reflect on what is rotten so that you do not think of committing them.

Read this in James 3: 5-13, “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind,but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” If the apostle recognizes the difficulty in having a “chaste” tongue and despite that asks of us to have our tongues be “chaste”, that means that it is possible to have that if we seek it from God.

God wants from you only what is pure; if your purity is strong in you, you become a fountain of purity for others. Each one of us wants to be loved. That is why the “other” would be sad when you slander him. He also would be sad if you tell others what he has confided in you. Make it a principle to consider what one tells you as something he does not want to say to someone other than you, or maybe he does not dare to. Consider all what you hear as “confidential” as the Christians say. But if you realize that spreading some information you got would be of benefit to others and would strengthen them in the truth, then go ahead and spread it, keeping in mind not to disclose information that you are entrusted with by someone who does not wish to have it disclosed.

“The conversations in company are in trusteeship” is a rule of conduct in our society. That means that all what you hear when you are with people should remain there and not go out. This is why reticence is better and of more benefit in most cases. Not all what you get to know should be spread around. Most information is in the custody of those to whom it belongs and of those who have been entrusted with it. So abide by that thus guarding your own purity and the integrity of others and their reputation.

Each person has matters that he keeps to himself; and friendship might permit that he would disclose them (to the friend) if he is able to make sure that what he says is not only unharmful but is of benefit. Fortify yourself with reticence for that would give you eloquence in your silence. Reticence is not always in need of your words in order to transmit the good that you store. Humanity is a communion of love, and love needs witnesses whose lives are according to the commandments of the Lord; and they themselves give life to others with their compassion, kindness and serviceability. For through those the Lord has brought about his compassion.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “النميمة” – An Nahar – 29.10.2011

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The One Love / 01-10-2011

Syria is united and we want it so. Its fragmentation would be a danger for the entire region, and mainly for Lebanon. The French mandate had divided it into three parts; however it soon regained its unity due to the solidarity among its people.

It is possible to reinforce this unity through peace, which assumes that the blood continues to flow in the Syrians’ veins and arteries. “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God.” (Psalm 51)

Neither power nor hope, to withstand the enemy, is possible for the Arab East without a powerful Syria, coherent in all its social spectra, free from the history of its conflicts and holding only its glories. Its dream was a civil rule and this has become recently the dream of Arabs. We aspire that this dream might continue to exist in the souls as a denial of a rigid heritage and of a distinction between divine and human natures or a distinction between divine judgment, i.e. the salvation of the souls, and the human judgment, according to which human beings ask for divine inspiration in their daily issues on earth. The first [i.e. the worldly life] does not turn into the Hereafter [i.e. the life to come], however the first yearns for the Hereafter and it moves toward it, while it continues to impact the worldly life.

This is mainly the concern of Arabism, since it asks one major question about the legitimacy of carrying the human nature, which itself justifies pluralism and the burden of diversity within the one homeland. Pluralism is not dissipation, and alignment in one form without different political colors annihilates the individuals. It kills freedom. Thus you have to choose between freedom that has necessarily sporadic thoughts and the single-party rule. Only God has the right to think that He is the whole Truth.

I hope that Arabs would reach at the conviction that their diversity enriches them and that God has not delegate anyone to run the world. This is what civil rule means. It is the people’s gathering in a country, where they agree to think together, and I did not say that their minds are separated from God. Every group [or body] can think that God inspires it with whatever God’s will is, but it cannot impose on other people what it assumes to be the ground of community life. To me it does not make sense when a country declares its belief in one religion or another. The state is a legal body, i.e. it has an abstract structure. However a homeland is about people who meet, interact and share their affections and their human depths, and from these depths the state takes its drive to proceed. In the homeland you are my brother and together we build the state. Through the encounter and the exchange of our thoughts and convictions we reach together at a rule which you and I can ratify. Though we must disagree, yet our alliance entails that I would not stretch my hand to kill you and you would not stretch yours to kill me. The state, before anything else, is a place for peace.

No one knows the destination of the Arab Spring. It should contain some seeds of democracy, yet it might not be exempt of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism [in its turn] might not be of equal intensity in all countries, yet we must perceive that the dictatorship of a group may be worse than the dictatorship of a person. Facing such uncertainty, questions concerning freedom arise because of the different political philosophies.

However, my concern is not about the potential progress of every Arab Spring, since political Arabism has different colors or different aspects. What happens in Egypt had never occurred during the days of its kings. I have followed, in my youth, king Fouad’s and king Farouk’s rules, and then Egypt designated the Copt Boutros Ghali Pasha as Prime Minister, while Egypt’s revolution against the British was organized by Muslims and Copts alike. That means that Christians’ alliance with foreigners was not known. I don’t know exactly why the attitude has changed after the June-revolution, so that I can give my opinion. Anba Shenouda, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria, had refused absolutely that any Copt would think of a Coptic particularism on the political level. Could one of the causes of strain be that Copts were outstandingly successful in universities and professions, such as medicine and pharmacy? Scientific progress maybe does not serve one. We all remember that Anba Shenouda had forbidden his community to visit Israel, after establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries. And the Coptic theology, similar to Orthodox theology in general, is stringent with regard to Judaism and Jews. Further, it was forbidden for anyone to dispute with Muslims, in case any of them had published a book or an article against Christianity. There is no doubt that Egyptian security bodies are negligent to act upon sectarian calamities. The problem needs a radical solution; since we all want that the beloved Egypt remains a distinctive Arab country. No one from my generation would be influenced by the Arab culture, unless he had been influenced by the Egyptian thought. And whoever knows the spiritual greatness, faith, and serenity of the Egyptian Copts, would be sad for their emigration.

What concerns us in particular is the triad of Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon, where there is convergence in characters and traditions between Christians and Muslims. I don’t know the reason of having such privateness in the Arab world. However, we all obviously remember that the Arab rule, from its beginning, complied with Christians. Only the Mamluks’ rule was harsh may be even on non-Christian communities. The culture of kinship continued to prevail among us, in the Ottoman rule, before our struggle and the implementation of the policy of Turkification in the beginning of the 20th Century. I can say with confidence that mildness was ruling upon the relationships among the different confessions, and our characters would not change easily or hastily. Therefore, I do not see any reason for the fears expressed by some Christians. What has happened in Iraq, which faces a long war, cannot be considered as an example for the danger threatening the Christians. All people there killed each other. In addition to that, our mindset is different than the Iraqi mindset.

Do Christians lack courage and hope? We can stretch our hands to the hands of Muslims as we always did earlier. I understand that some may say that there are new movements, which are unrelenting.

However, throughout all difficulties we live with Christ, who has said that he will always be with us to the end of the age. Fear is the gravest force that drags us out of our place. It always annihilates what is commonly called the minorities, because numbers are everything for them. In addition, I feel that moderate Muslims who love us and wish our stay are more important and powerful than those extremists. And each of us knows a loving friend among them.

The time has come for Muslims to realize that the old charge, which claims that we were cooperating with the foreigner, is not true anymore. Don’t you remember that Charles de Gaulle, who was committed to his Catholic faith, said that France deals with all the Lebanese confessions alike? While the Americans know that a State has no governor who rules forever. And they have never demonstrated that they are friends of Christians. What could we offer to them, while they have strong relationships with Arab countries, where no Christian lives? Besides, the Muslims’ oil is appealing.

In the year 636 Arabs were besieging Damascus. Its Governor, Mansur ibn Sarjun, the grandfather of Saint John of Damascus, realized that he had to open the city gates lest Arabs enter it by force and expose Christians to danger. But when Arabs took over all the State departments, they discovered that Christians were holding all the offices. Thus Muslims maintained Christians in all the departments, because of their knowledge. This is to say that Christians understood that Arabs entered the Levant to become its rulers, and that they should cooperate with them.

Another thing that has to be said is that the Sunnites represent 85% of the Muslims worldwide and that the whole idea about the alliance of minorities is void and useless. This does not mean that we abandon our friendship toward the Shiites. They, first of all, refuse any confrontation with the Sunnites. And to all of them together it has been said: “You were the best nation brought forth to mankind, bidding the right and forbidding the wrong”. We are delighted about the Shiite’s renaissance, and we also like their poets, whether ancient or modern. In theology, we like their open-mindedness and one of their great personages, Imam Musa Al Sadr, has appeared who truly loved us. Thus we responded to their love in our truthfulness. However, we need to realize that we have lived sincerely and with dignity among the Sunnites in the cities, and they do appreciate this matter. I think that we showed courtesy and love to them, which resulted in relating individuals and families together to the present day. We are not factional in our companionship with Muslims, and they are one nation. Our heart is open to all of them, since there is nothing other than love in our hearts, as long as we are devoted to Christ.

Nevertheless, we are, Christians and Muslims, in need of repentance and a continuous purification to embrace the other. And our national unity is an embracement in order not to be affected by dissimulation.

This is a homeland of bestowal founded on hope and constant purification. Muslims have the “wound of Issa [Jesus]”, which is the wound of love, as ̓Ibn ʻArabi called it, and they do not want to recover from it since to it belongs the principality. And we are with them in this love. This is how a homeland might be built.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “الحب الواحد” –An Nahar- 01-10-2011

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Mr. Erdogan! How Well Read Is He? / 24.09.2011

Two sentences stopped me in the speech which the Premier of Turkey, Rajab Tayyeb Erdogan, addressed the Foreign Ministers of the Arab World in Cairo with; the first is “Turkey and the Arabs share the same faith, culture and values.” The Creed referred to here is undisputedly Islam. His words indicate that the Premier does not recognize the presence, in this part of the world, of, at least, twelve million Arab Christians who do not expect to have their national identity be affirmed by a foreigner (Erdogan). In regard to culture, the language that has had a significant impact on the Anatolian language is Farsi. After Mehmet the Conqueror, Constantinople became a pole of attraction for poets of the Arabs and the Persians until the entrenchment of modern Turkish. But in general, and around the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there was no Arab impact left that has not been affected by the Persian influence.

With the emergence of organizations in the Nineteenth Century, Turkey swayed towards the West. And then the Turks became more closed and fanatic with the War of Independence and the Declaration of the Turkish Republic in 1923 until the revolutionary Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963) came to power. After that, the horizons were widened with the translations and the trend towards communal and political thought. What survives now in Turkish literature has no connection to Arabism. But in regard to the values that Mr. Erdogan refers to as “in common” between us and them, some are ancient and some are modern. There is no doubt that what is ancient does not put pressure on us not to make us eager for modernity (which we are) and moreover, we have tasted much of Europe, while the Turks are strongly attached to what is ancient and Europe is for them a hope for political fusion thus complementing the NATO which brings both Turkey and Europe together making Turkey the stronger one in the regions of the Arabs in the hope of an Ottoman-like situation in which the Arabs are only a “small” ally.

But what is more frightful than what he previously said is his statement: “There came in the history of Turkey a young man who put an end to a “black” culture and inaugurated an modern-ancient culture when he conquered Constantinople; and that man is Mohammad (Mehmet)  the Conqueror. I do not argue the greatness of the Turkish culture and its ancience, but I have a question for Mr. Erdogan which is not supposed to shock him. Has he read the Byzantine culture which he calls “black”? The Turks are a strong military people who, with the help of the Western fleets that conspired along with them, were able to overcome the greatest civilization in the year 1453. Yet how is it that Mr. Erdogan wants to convince us that the civilization which is whole and integrated in all its elements, the civilization that is creative, the civilization the spirituality of which reaches the heavens, was BLACK. How can he not see that the Renaissance of Europe emerged only when the brain drain to the West (from Byzantium to western Europe) took place? Such brain drain from which Greek thought was adopted in developing modern thought.

What is most prominent in Byzantine civilization is culture. We have witnessed Greek and Latin calligraphy in the works of Historians, in articles on agriculture and military art, in medicine and veterinary practice, in dream interpretation; and all that constitutes a huge library part of which was that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate which used to contain the works of the Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers of the Church. Besides that there were private libraries which also contained Liturgical books. The rarity of books springs from them being expensive. Only rich families can afford buying books. The elementary school, in which a young child learns arithmetic, reading and writing, used to be overseen by the Bishop. The main book used for learning was the Book of Psalms. Learning how to make sentences took place at school as did also the singing of hymns.

All the children used to go to middle school. People learned what there was in ancient cultures: Homer, architecture, rhetoric and mathematics. The study of philosophy included theology, mathematics, music, astronomy and natural science. Translation of books to Farsi, Arabic and Latin took place in the Thirteenth Century. People adopted the vocabulary of the study of administration from Latin, and from Arabic they adopted the terms used in the art of weaving. The Church used to cling to ancient language. There were several universities in Constantinople and the Patriarchate itself used to offer university education.

Higher knowledge and learning had to include the interpretation of the Scriptures. Also the theological terms used emerged when the creed was defined. Asceticism and Mysticism had their impact on education and the study of the creed focused on the books of John of Damascus. The great mystics of the time were Symeon the New Theologian, Gregory Palamas and Nicholas Cabasilas.; and so here come the lives of the Saints and the liturgical books that were written in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries’; the Orthodox consider those as their daily bread. Also, knowing how to use the Liturgical and prayer books for the different seasons and feasts is a basic aspect of Byzantine culture.

Besides the abovementioned concerning Byzantine culture, we have the written works accomplished by men of knowledge and scientists; and these works deal with History, Geography, Military Art, Rhetoric, Novel Writing, Philosophy, Linguistics and Grammar.

History starts with creation and ends with the time-period of the writer. Moreover there is Greek Philosophy from which Christian thought borrowed terminology that can be used complimentarily with the Revelation which is immutable in essence and several methods were used in building the theological structure. Also there were few main philosophers but there were many of those knowledgeable of ancient Greek literature, many language experts and tragedians and writers for the theatre.

Perhaps some of the most beautiful written works were the religious poems like the Kontakions and others used in the prayers of the Church. Moreover there was in Byzantium popular poets and story writers in both the vernacular and formal dialect.

The Byzantines also knew applied Zoology and Botany and the use of medicinal plants. They also adopted the study of Chemistry to be used in the industry of metals, medicines, dyes and glass.

In the medical realm and health organization, many hospitals were established and the doctors received systematic education and fixed earnings. They were famous for their ophthalmic practice; Paul of Aegina knew much in surgery and gynecology and had an influence on the medical practice of the Arabs. Another has put a dictionary of diseases. They wrote specific books on dentistry and were well known for their knowledge in veterinary medicine and animal nutrition. The study of Pharmacy was a part of the medical curriculum and they had adopted some things from the Arabs and Persians in that.

As for Rhetoric, it was used as a means in political and religious campaigns. St. John Chrysostom was famous for his eloquence in the fourth and fifth centuries in Antioch and Constantinople and we have his sermons in Greek but they were translated to most of the European languages and some to Arabic.

In Graphic Art, icon painting on wood or as murals was popular in the Empire and it was used to teach those who cannot read. As of the Fourth Century, Mosaic art spread in the land; and one of the oldest mosaics (those of St. George and the Theotokou) are now in Thessaloniki. A few were kept in the Aegia Sophia and many icons were discovered during the days of Ataturk. There are also some in Cyprus and still more in Ravenna in Italy. And due to the high cost of making mosaics, murals were painted instead; and this became popular in the Arab world and is now widely spread in Syria and Lebanon. Moreover, books and scripts were adorned with drawings especially the Book of the Gospels. The same was true in textile embroidery and goldsmith industry.

The Church was aware of the importance of the Icon and in the Seventh Ecumenical Council, the Church defined the doctrine governing the veneration of icons. Devotion through icons spread in the year 787 A.D. and homes were full of them. It was St. John of Damascus who first explained its position and function in the Church. He lived in Palestine as a monk; the Church adopted his thought concerning the icon namely that the Divine Incarnation of the Logos leads us into the theology of the icon. The faith of the Orthodox people was kept partly because of the spirituality resulting from venerating of the icons and finding inspiration in them.

All the Byzantines, as historians affirm, were believers; when they meet a monk on their way, they would ask for his blessing. And such a way of life can tell you about their concern and care for the sick and the needy.

Among the emperors of Byzantium were those who were in darkness; but among them also were those who left the throne and joined the monastic life in monasteries. That society, amidst its sinfulness, wanted to inaugurate, in purity of life and orthodoxy of doctrine, the Kingdom of God here on earth; its stamp is the shedding of tears for sins (repentance), kindness, forgiveness, peace, compassion, ungreediness and asceticism. All the aforementioned is wrapped up in one word which is “love for the Lord”.

All what there is in the matter is that one would pay more attention to the internal aspects of one’s person than the external ones. In that sense the belief of the people of that culture was mystical in nature whereby one would dwell in God’s “mysteries” in a dispassionate manner invoking unceasingly in your heart the name of the Lord Jesus until your heart becomes itself the prayer.

Those who know Byzantine worship find in it richness that is above every richness. All the prayers of Matins and Vespers and the Midnight carry in them the certitude which we express on the Sunday of the Resurrection saying:” Christ has risen from the dead”. In the Liturgy, you receive hope from God to have you in the fullness of the Kingdom of God free from judgment on the last day. All those intense, profound and pure prayers as you stand or as you bow down with your body, while your soul is pure springing from the Divine Book so that, with the rest of the community, it (the Divine Book) becomes its verse.

When Mr. Erdogan reads the above, can he say that the great splendor that we described is a “black civilization”? You (Mr. Erdogan) are not excused when you read us and understand us wrongly. You are not excused when you see the light as darkness. The city which your ancestors invaded was known then as the sole bearer of civilization and culture in the world. Render justice to what was glorious before you came and read it well because the responsibility falls on you.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “السيد اردوغان هل يقرأ؟” –An Nahar- 24.09.2011

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Love as Crown and Core / 03-09-2011

There are three ranks [orders] of human existence: the rank of bodies, the rank of minds and the ultimate rank of love, as the great Pascal has said. Before my death, I face all the three ranks distinctively and in their interconnectedness, so that one may conquer the other and God seizes hold of me as God pleases.

The rank of bodies is about the human body, with its beauty and weaknesses, with the complications that it hides, with that which transcends in it and that which falls, with that which brings joy and that which causes pain, until it is buried with the hope of resurrection, if we were believers. The body is a stanchion, just a stanchion, for a mind that either glows or is absent. Through the word ‘body’ Pascal points to all that he owns in this world and its abodes, to all its vanities and delights and whatever is in one’s hands of dissolution and the love of dissolution, which might seem to be existing, while it is not. However, there is in it comfort and enjoyment. Enjoyment is about things through which we stretch out, yet, they make us heedless and they veil from us that which is greater, since the greater is more difficultly accessible, and requires from us great effort to drive away the specter of death. This reminds me with what Paul has said, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” [1Cor. 15: 26]

Thus, we must enjoy. The tragedy is, however, when we stand by these enjoyments and we perceive ourselves in a horrible emptiness, similar to ‘nothingness’, until we reach at the rank of the mind, which encompasses the universe. For us, the universe is about knowledge. It is regretting that you do not know everything. Certainly, you do not know much in life, that of which you might take advantage in your [own] life, especially what concerns your health. There have been, in the past, those who knew everything, like Al- Ghazālī and Leonardo Da Vinci; however, at our times, the encyclopedic knowledge has seized to exist. Thus, the educated is partially educated, while lack of education is widely spread in many countries and continents. This is our reality, the mind is a source of power for practical life, yet it does not lead you to the thought which gives you joy. How is it possible not to be moved, with the whole of your being, when you know that a Maronite priest had memorized one-hundred thousand of verses? How do you not desire all the feelings which endowed this man with life, whenever you are able to memorize only ten verses of poetry? Then, our poets who wrote here since Imru’ Al-Qays are not alive in your thought.

Is not my intellect curtailed, I, the writer of these lines, from whom all the mathematical and natural sciences have remained absent and who is ignorant completely of all electronic education, and thus belong to a civilization which no more exists. The content of my intellect is then little.

Hence, the mind is just an ability and not a core. In addition to this, you do not have enough time to know everything. The human being is a combination of voids put together.

In one of our monasteries, we had with us a Rumanian monk, who mastered several contemporary languages beside old languages, such as the Sanskrit, and he knew all the modern sciences and could cite poetries in their original languages and the New Testament in Greek. I used to sit at his feet for hours during the day, in order that I might learn what I want. I have never known anyone in his intelligence in the whole Orthodox world. This is the mind.

The Middle Ages have known the dilemma concerning the relationship between faith and reason, or between transmission and the mind, as it was displayed in Islam, Catholicism (with Thomas Aquinas) and Judaism. Whoever has read the religious texts of those three religions would realize that the dilemma is one and it is the reconciliation between revelation and reason. In the religious dimension of all these beliefs Aristotle was, indisputably, the first master.

The Eastern Byzantine Church has not experienced this dilemma, maybe because Aristotle had not dominated it. On the other hand, Basil the Great had known that through reason one can know the nature and through revelation one can grow in faith. As if Basil had confirmed two sources for knowledge, and thus he had not perceived the problem concerning the relationship between reason and revelation.

Further, the Orthodox Church views the human mind, similar to all human constituents, as damaged, upon what we call the parental sin (i.e. the sin of the first parents, Adam and Eve). Thus, the mind was not aborted but rather it was damaged. Furthermore, the Church views a relationship between the mind and the heart. Thus, we say that the mind descends to the heart and then it ascends purified. The mind is then the means to know this world.

The importance of reason is not downplayed in the Christian East, however there is [a kind of] inebriation in its regard and the elimination of it would lead to an uncontrolled emotivity, while God is known through faith that is the outcome of the meeting through divine grace between the mind and the heart.

Since his childhood Pascal had started his intellectual life and then he went through technology and he was a great Christian writer, particularly in relation to his book ‘Thoughts’, before he passed away in the age of thirty-nine. ‘Thoughts’ is concentrated on his knowledge of Christ and it was inevitable for him to consider love as the highest rank [order] of human existence. One of our Fathers said that when John the Evangelist in his First Epistle had said, “God is love” he did not refer by it to an attribute of the divine attributes, rather God in Godself.

It might be useful here to recount a conversation between me and the departed Mufti [a Muslim scholar] Nadīm al-Jisr at a funeral. He initiated the conversation saying, ‘you are monotheists’, so I thanked him and then he added, ‘however, you are philosophers’. When I noticed that he is referring to our faith in the Holy Trinity, I answered him: ‘No, we are not philosophers. We are lovers of God.’ Then I explained that there is unity that brings the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together and that unity is love.

We do not distinguish between love [agápe], that is God, and that which descends upon us or indwells in us. I think this is what Pascal had meant when he said that the highest order in existence is love. [Love] might entail death for the sake of the Other, and it does not come neither from the rank of bodies nor of minds. In it you remain yourself, however you become poured to the extent of the death of the solitary I. You become one with the ‘Other’ without dissolving [in the Other].

Love is given to us since eternity and it remains forever as God takes us to Godself or into Godself. Thus we become it and it becomes us and nothing other than it [love] alone endures in the Kingdom.

However, it does not descend upon us unless after great purification and austerity. Then, in us and in all the people of heaven, it takes the image of a fulfilled unity. Love does not replace the mind; rather it elevates it to itself. [Love] does not abort the mind in what it has of particularity, but it transcends and purifies it so that it might give up all distortion and instability, and might become an instrument for discerning God.

Only through this vision, the mind controls the things of the world as they control it. In the last day when all people unite in love, God will be ‘all in all’. God will be revealed as love both in God’s nature and works, i.e. nothing remains in them other than God. Hence, they recognize God as their savior and there would be no trait [of the world] in them but God’s integral descent on it [the mind]. God will make them, like Christ; sit on the throne on his right hand. Love would not become a crown for us unless after it becomes our core.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “المحبة كإكليل وفحوى” –An Nahar- 03-09-2011

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2011, An-Nahar, Articles

The Feast of the Dormition / 13.08.2011

In Christian terminology, it is the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, and “dormition” is the eastern term for death. In the language of worship, the dead are called those asleep, in order to indicate Christ’s victory over death. Their death is because they are embraced by God before the Resurrection on the last day. The origins of the feast are eastern. It was established in the sixth century in Jerusalem where her church stood in Gethsemane. The Emperor Maurice made the feast general throughout the empire. Pope Sergius I, who died at the beginning of the seventh century adopted the feast, and Pope Pius XII announced that the transport of the Virgin to heaven in body and soul is a dogma.

The Orthodox Church has not defined the transport of Mary into heaven as a dogma. Orthodox theologians are divided between those who believe in the assumption of her body and those who do not, since where there is not a synodally-defined dogma, the matter is left to freedom of interpretation. However, the services for the feast are clear in stating that she was transported (“You were transported to life, being the Mother of Life”, that is of Christ). Also in the prayer for the feast we say “You arose after your death to be with your Son eternally” and even more clearly “God… preserved your body in the tomb and your glory is with Him in your divine transport”.

The question that poses itself to eastern Christians is ‘are the texts of the feast binding as dogma?’ The general, basic answer is that worship services reveal a dogmatic position in general, but this does not mean that we are able to extrapolate a binding dogmatic position from the worship services, and so we remain with critical freedom as long as a clear definition is not issued at an ecumenical council made up of all the Orthodox churches.

Taking stock of both the Orthodox and the Catholic positions, we can say that Mary anticipated the Resurrection, that she will not be subject to trial or judgment, and that she abides in glory, that is the state in which we will be after the final resurrection. This is what Saint John of Damascus realized in the eighth century when he addressed her in one of the two sermons he wrote about the Dormition. He said, “I will not call your holy departure death, but rather a dormition or a journey but the best way to call it is an abiding. In leaving the realm of the body, you entered a more excellent realm”.

I said that she abides in the divine glory and that she is not like us, subject to divine judgment on the last day. This is why we greatly magnify her. She is our ambassador to heaven.

She is full of grace, as the angel Gabriel told her at the moment of the Annunciation. That is, that she was free from all sin, submitting to God alone and prepared to accept every word from Him. This is what the angel meant when he said, “The Lord is with you, blessed among women.” These words were the beginning of her path to glory. The beginning of the path is that from her and from the Holy Spirit the Word of God, who existed in the beginning, became incarnate. The angel’s greeting makes it clear to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will rest upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” There is no doubt that the angel Gabriel’s use of the word “overshadow” points to the cloud that accompanied the People of God of old and which later became the temple in Jerusalem. The idea, then, is that Mary is the new temple of God or the first church for Christ and there is no church unless she dwells within it. In the first church, which gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem, where the disciples gathered “continuing with one accord in prayers and Mary the mother of Jesus was with them” (Acts 1: 14). So when the Holy Spirit rested upon them, it also rested upon Mary, just as it had rested upon her at the Annunciation in order for the Word to be made flesh. This Spirit accompanied her until the end of her life on earth. This is the life in glory before her being transported to the heavenly abodes.

There is no further talk about Mary after this in the Gospel, since it goes on to talk about the Holy Spirit’s formation of the Church. The Virgin is an inherent part of the Church since she said, “From this moment all generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). Thus the words of the Gospel show that the humanity that relies on the Gospel as its scripture turns to the Virgin, through whom the Mighty One worked wonders (Luke 1: 49). Those who know of the place of Mary in glory address her, seeking her intercession.

The author of the Book of Revelation looked at her as an image of the Church. He said, “There appeared a great sign in heaven: a woman robed in the sun and the moon is under her feet and upon her head is a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 1: 12). Byzantine art has a pattern by which she is drawn with the Child. She relies on Him for all her splendor. She has no power on her own. She is given what we receive from the Lord. If you love the Lord and go for all His splendors, then He is great in His saints and among them she is the first. Knowledge of Mary is a part of knowledge of Christ.

Perhaps this feast is an occasion for me to say that what is called the intercession or the entreaties or the meditations of the saints are words that do not cancel the single mediation of Christ. Salvation was achieved a single time in the person of the Savior. No one can add anything to that, since there is no power outside this salvation.

We Orthodox do not accept the view of Mary as a partner is salvation. No human can save humans. However, we believe that those in heaven pray, just like the people on earth, because Christ’s Resurrection is active from this moment and by it Christ has trampled down the death of those who have tasted it. Those who have been transported to glory stand in prayer and are not mere bones and ashes. They are alive with their Lord, that is they speak to Him and we speak to them. We accompany them and they accompany us in the vale of tears in which we live. The Church in heaven and the Church on earth is one. Heaven is chanting after divine kindness in the saints. Is it right for you to say that those in heaven are silent and that Mary is absent from the glory of her Son and of her brothers and sisters in righteousness?! She is a word, after the Word dwelt within her and after He gave those invited to the wedding at Cana wine to enjoy. What does it mean when some say “Can God not respond to us directly?” If you entrust grace with Mary, supplicate her, and receive an outpouring from her, is the Savior not working within you directly? In the Kingdom of Love above, what is direct and what is indirect? Are we not, with those great ones who preceded us in arriving at God’s mercy, the single body of Christ, living together in

Translated from Arabic

Original Text: “عيد رقاد السيدة” –Nahar- 13.08.2011

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