2005, Articles, Raiati

The Heart of the Priest / 11.12.2005

A young man I know, having a lot of knowledge in theology, came to me years ago and asked me about my opinion concerning him desiring priesthood. I hesitated in giving a direct response as I told him that studying takes from him a lot of time and that priesthood also requires a lot of time and it is difficult to write volumes while taking care of the parish.

Many of you might not be interested if I talked to you about theology professors and about them needing to make use of all their time. But you are interested to know your priest’s attention towards you assuming that he is a lover of Jesus and that he entered this service because of this love. The time of mercenary priests is gone, and the time of big sacrifices and giving all the time of the priest to the parish has come. You know that the liturgy takes time, and not only on Sundays; other evening services in the lent, vespers, weddings, funerals and baptisms also take a long time especially if there were a lot of families. However, the main issue is not an issue of time. It is an issue of the heart of the pastor. Is his heart with Christ? Priesthood is a full commitment to the Gospel’s case in a way where it is not allowed for the priest to have any more place for another work.

In the immemorial past, they used to see that the village’s priest could be a farmer, and then we allowed priests in cities to have an extra job because of the few resources or of the small size of their parishes. However, when the priest is responsible for a big parish, he doesn’t have any free time for another job unless more than one priest  gather in one church. This church must also have one free leader.

However, and regardless of these details, the priest’s heart must be for God and he needs at least two hours a day to study the Holy Books and read theological articles. In addition to that, there are the visits, and their purpose is not only to ask about the sick and the sad but to also know the spiritual situation of the house especially the marital understanding and the development of the members in knowing the Lord. Of course, this cannot be done in details in big parishes, and therefore, we need new priests that can know the situation of every individual as much as possible: “I know my sheep, and my sheep know me. And I call my sheep by their names”. We cannot continue having large parishes just to satisfy the priest and keep the big living he makes. These issues must be arranged with laws and regulations but I cannot sacrifice the spiritual need for the sake of the financial comfort of the priest.

Then we have visits: There are “in group” visits and family visits. In group, biblical meetings in houses are essential as explaining the divine word is inevitable because we live through this word and it can get some people back to the Divine Liturgy that they are neglecting. It is also important to distribute “Raiiati”. This is a minimal level of reading and a love bond between us.

However, these meetings cannot replace the personal encounter that the priest makes with the person that asks his guidance or the priest’s interference to transmit Jesus’ spirit in every believer. This doesn’t mean that a layman cannot take care of another person, guide him and direct him towards religious books. Therefore, it is important to organize spiritual sessions in which people meet and their souls flare with the love of the Savior to worship God in every place and spread his word.

I feel amazed when I see parents taking care of their children. I feel amazed by the long continuous effort until the kids grow up, become nourished, play, speak and understand. This thing happens on the level of the body and the upbringing; we need a similar thing on the level of spiritual understanding, Christian education, continuous pastoral work and taking care of every soul.

And all of this descends from the priest’s heart that is flaring with Jesus’ love. God is able to make for him a new heart.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “قلب الكاهن” –Raiati 50- 11.12.2005

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Transferring the Priest / 13.11.2005

It is common for people to say: This priest is ordained for the church of a certain village. The 6th law of the fourth Ecumenical Council (451) has clarified that a priest is appointed for an ecclesiastic service in a city, a village, a memorial place for a martyr, or a monastery. The name of the city or village was mentioned in public during the ordination by saying: “The divine grace ordinates (the priest’s name) to the service of priesthood in (the name of the church) in (the name of city or village)”. This means that a clergy is not ordained in a general way, and this was the wish of the council to forbid priests from moving easily from a place to another and violate the law.

Sometimes, if a church had a few number of people, a priest might be appointed for this church and another one at the same time. It was common for us, and is still applied, that a priest stays in his village until he dies or becomes healthily unable unless a disciplinary decision was taken against him or he started a schism or problems in the parish, then he must be transferred to another place. Facts showed that if he didn’t succeed in this church, he might succeed in another one.

Sometimes, a priest might want, for personal reasons, to move into another archdiocese so he takes the permission of his elder to do that. In this case he will be appointed for a different church from the one he was ordained to originally. In addition to that, pastoral experience taught us that transferring a priest that showed maturity and piety from a very small parish to a big one could be beneficial for the parish. Eventually, the bishop is the responsible pastor for everyone and knows the situations of the archdiocese and knows where each priest might be beneficial. In other words, he knows whether a priest could manage a smooth parish or a parish that has some difficulties.

The archdiocese is one church and has one administration that works through consultation between everyone especially between the priests and bishop. This is based on the faith that the bishop is the father of everyone because he has no earthly benefits and his only wish is for Christ to become the head of the community, and in this context the priest is left in his place or transferred to another one.

During war, our priests were either displaced or became sick or died and in some cases they filled empty churches. All of this imposed changes between people. But now, and after things returned to their normal state, it was necessary to organize things again in order to decrease the number of churches that have the same priest. Limiting several parishes under one pastor will make him unable to pay good attention to all churches. This is beyond man’s energy. This will make pastoral care a nominal thing. The situation could barely develop to become ritual through doing the Divine Liturgy and some prayers. But does anyone ask about families and teach and take care of children? A part of this will surely become weak.

This is the basis: When the size of the parish becomes smaller, pastoral care will become greater as we move from quantity to quality. We need a high quality of care and a constant presence of the priest in a specific community, in a certain village of this Mount.

Moreover, we have a big number of theology students and the bishop of Mount Lebanon must put each one of them in a place. It is not possible to give two or three churches for one priest and throw this student after his graduation on the street especially if he was a lover of Christ and an active discerning young man.

My policy is to narrow broad regions and increase the number of servants of the temple so that the word of truth becomes heard in all places and we embrace our children and build new temples. More than one new church awaits us. We already have the piece of land for some of these churches (for example “Hadath”) or we have bought the land (for example “Naccach”) and in other places we will buy because hundreds of families don’t have a pastor. Remember God’s words: “I will strike the shepherd (or cancel the shepherd), and the sheep will be scattered”. God will sustain the priest if his region became smaller and his soul will become greater because his brother took his place seriously.

In addition to that, we face today the issue of aging priests that need a colleague to help them. We don’t want anyone to leave his church unless he became physically unable to serve. However, another priest or a deacon must help him and he must accept this with love.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “نَقْلُ الكاهن” –Raiati 46- 13.11.2005

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Forgiveness / 06.11.2005

When you forgive the other in his presence and accept his qualities that differ from you, you would be admitting that God allowed him to be as he is, this means that he could be worse than what you want him to be. However, this is the world, and in this world people are formed according to how they came from their mothers, to how they grew up in their societies, and to the various experiences they had.

A person being as he is, means that you should expect him to behave according to the way he knows and you might not like that. You shouldn’t be satisfied from forcing yourself to accept him, but you should accept him and hope to reform him. Humanity is a painting, in which every color is different from the other, and God wanted us this way, different, because we are free and there is no model through which humans are formed. For if you accepted the other, you would have accepted God’s will in his worshipers; and his unfathomable will is diversity.

Accepting the other results in cooperating with him if he was close to you, I mean if he was in your environment or if your profession forced you to cooperate. Of course, you must know whether he was straight or a thief, an honest person or a liar. You have the right not to deal with him in your profession. This professional cooperation doesn’t force you to love him; you should stay in your straightness and honesty.

Forgiveness requires not killing the other because Christ is present in every person you deal with and because He who gave man his life is the only one allowed to take it back. This means that you should never be angry, because anger is the source of cursing, harming and then killing. This also means that you shouldn’t be angry but be a friend of the person you’re dealing with, because friendship is a side of love that could do anything.

One of the aspects of forgiveness is accepting the person coming from another religion or from outside your church. People have their religions from their birth, so you must be merciful with them and not mock their religious positions, and if you argued, do that with full respect. Do not agree verbally on positions that your church doesn’t accept; don’t be flattery especially that you might not know all their beliefs.

Our country is a diversified society. You should confront but not challenge. You should be happy in their feasts and for the good thinking they have, but you should have your precautions on things when you should. Do not argue a lot, and if you did, do it politely because we should pay attention to our fellowship and have with them a human unity after our religious or doctrinal unity became impossible.

You shouldn’t be affected by anyone and shouldn’t have any maliciousness or spite. Give a service wherever you can because serving softens the hearts. And if the person you wanted to make closer to you became sick, stay next to him for this shall make him closer to you if he was gentle. And his enmity towards you might disappear if some of his enmity was lost. Burn his bad qualities with clear and active love. Remember the words of the Lord: “whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also”, i.e. destroy the enmity of his soul with unlimited kindness and maintain his status and reputation and praise him in his absence if he deserved it because this shall encourage him and enhance his ethics. And if we supposed that he remained evil, remember what the Lord said: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you” because the purpose is to live in love on earth as a beginning to the Kingdom of God.

Lenience becomes mutual forgiveness between you and the other, and God becomes the bridge between you. This would be your victory over yourself and an invitation for the other to enter Christ’s zone.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “المسامحة” –Raiati no45- 06.11.2005

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Patience / 23.10.2005

Patience is not getting defeated in front of difficulties, it is not submission. The patient person doesn’t say: “I can’t do anything because things happen this way and this way they will stay”. Each one of us gets sad if he was shocked from things, but the patient person does not stay in his sadness forever because he is steady in God. The patient person is wounded like you but he hopes that God will heal his wounds and give him attentiveness and condolences. He might wait a lot but the condolence will eventually come to him.

He doesn’t wait the change to happen with time, because time doesn’t heal everything. A believer knows the importance of the divine grace and that it initiates in our salvation. He endures in order to keep this grace and not lose it through amusement. He believes that God is his father and that he doesn’t leave him a lot of time with pain or bore.

In daily life, you bump into a lot of walls but you hang on in front of them because faith can move mountains and walls so that no wall stays in front of you. If you stick to God you would let them move. Didn’t the Lord say: “He who endures to the end will be saved”? Why did he say “to the end”? Because true faith conserves you to the end. As much as you can empty yourself from disbelief and from sins, the doors of heaven will open in front of you and the Lord will shower you with his grace.

If you follow God in every word from him, then he will follow you. Stay in the spiritual attentiveness and do not sleep to death. Stay in your spiritual activity through keeping the bible and prayer. Do not nag, complain, and curse so that God’s name will stay dwelling in you. Stay calm and remember death because it might surprise you. Get over the harmful pleasures that could harm you if you chose them. You might be sad for a second if you didn’t choose it, but you will be happy after a moment since the Holy Spirit would have come upon you. The communication between you and God makes you watchful on yourself, observing your mind and heart with the power of the divine word and prayer which is the power that makes you a confronter to each distress.

This is why the apostle said: “When you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently this is commendable before God” (1 Peter 2: 20). You will then understand that, after Christ makes himself in you, patience will come from the inside. This spiritual building that you have done inside you makes you the owner of yourself in everything and firm in front of anything; and what you ask from all saints is “the Kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1: 9).

Patience does not freeze nor stonify you. On the contrary, it makes you wonderfully energetic in this world; it makes you change people and things that surround you. Being patient, you are remarkably mobile, enduring prisons, torture and the persecution of some people to you because your soul doesn’t know desperation since you constantly have hope.

A lot of what surrounds us is full of evil. You might not change your entire environment, but you can change yourself and some people around you. You can teach a lot of people patience, so do not be afraid if a lot of things don’t change in your life, family, environment and country. Your fight and that of the people that are with you is the only guarantee for the change. Naggers and complainers don’t change anything. Those who curse you are abusing themselves only.

Stay on your morals and in the humble service and in silence in front of gossipers and green-eyed people because this way you might save them. Know that you are situated on the rock which is Christ and that what awaits you is a kingdom prepared only for those who crucified themselves with the desires. You are promised with the light of Christ today and tomorrow.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “الصبر” – 23.10.2005

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Giving the Priest / 25.09.2005

Loving the priest of your parish will not make him embarrassed because of money. Help him so that he doesn’t have to beg and become arrogant and care about the earned money and so that money wouldn’t become his obsession. When you do so, he will not complain anymore from the dereliction of the parish. Help the theology student or the spiritually intellectual person to enter the service of priesthood without worrying about feeding the family that he will form.

We tried in several places to use the idea of institutes so we made a salary for priests. We didn’t put enough effort to make this salary sufficient in all places. I do understand that small villages are excused for their dereliction. And this means that a central fund must be created in order to take care of the priests of small parishes. However, I believe that the priest’s needs won’t be fulfilled unless we adopt the system of familial or personal subscriptions. When I ask a parish council about the reason for only paying two or three hundred thousand Lebanese pounds for the priest, they answer that this is the amount we are collecting in Church. In principle, the active priest that has a mission influences our people to come back to their churches, but this might take a long time and also some might still not come. Relying on what is collected in church in Sunday’s liturgy doesn’t solve any problem.

I am not in the process of talking about financial organization, but I am talking to you about your love to the priest and expressing this love through giving money. Traditionally, the local pastor is given money for serving Sacraments. After a long thinking, I do not find any problem in keeping this tradition in the places where it became dominant. Very few people don’t give anything. In this case, I hope that the spiritual father doesn’t remind these people of their duties towards him. “You have taken for free, therefore give for free”. The priest should obviously serve the poor and the rich with the same enthusiasm.

For me, it is important for the believer not to think that the parish council pays the priest enough money. Most people don’t know that the status of the priest is usually mediocre. And I don’t think that anyone lives in affluence. It is not your job to tell him to be austere. He imposes austerity on himself, but he cannot impose it on his children. If you had a generous soul, you would wish a life of dignity for everyone you love. And this implies that your pastor must be free from heavy burdens so that he doesn’t sadden his family and become distracted by his quest to make money because, in this case, his spiritual determination will be weakened. Ancient Civilizations used to facilitate the living of people that used to give them intellectual production. Your priest is ashamed to search for a funeral and a wedding in places outside his parish. Don’t make him do that. You, as an individual, can allocate a monthly amount of money for him, even if this amount was small in order to remember that “It is more blessed to give than to take” and to feel that there is a spiritual bond with him that is expressed in a tangible way.

Some people might have a list of families that they help and this is a good thing. Write the name of your priest on this list and on the top of it. If you waited for your son’s baptism to give and waited for your wedding and for someone to die in your family, you might not give your priest more than 10 or 15 times in your whole life and this is a small amount. Give in order to feel that a power went out of you and to feel that you have participated with the servant of the word because he will wish for you every good, success and health.

This is some of the generosity that you redeem yourself with; God becomes happy with you because you are trained, through this, to have vastness. If you put an effort and felt that you have helped, you will feel something greater which is God’s sympathy towards you. What reaches the hands of the priest shouldn’t be the topic that the faithful talk about in their meetings. This issue would be cut once all of you become convinced that the priest prays for you and for your families. Honor him at least with a nominal amount if you were in need and generously if you were affluent in order to become, through giving with love, one body of Christ.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “أن تعطي الكاهن” –Raiati 39- 25.09.2005

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Faith and Confession / 24.7.2005

In today’s epistle to the Romans: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved”. Here Paul summarizes the faith to be the belief in the resurrection of the Lord. He said this because the resurrection is the peak since it means the complete trust in Jesus and in what he inspired for us in his Gospel and in what the church passed onto us in dogma and worship. Other than the movement of the heart there are all the truths of the inspiration: The Trinity, the incarnation, the Holy Spirit, the Church, the sacraments and “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”.

The church reveals these things through teaching and preaches you with them so that they enter your heart and mind together, and these two are not separated in orthodoxy. Apostle Paul and the fathers after him did not think that only the mind is illumined. The heart also flares with the love of Christ. Paul reduced all the content of the faith by saying “God raised Jesus from the dead”. The church is tightened to this; this is why it celebrates Resurrection every Sunday as it does in Pascha and after it until the Pentecost.

Faith produces Confession through the tongue. At least, you cannot in the presence of strangers to faith say its contrary. This is blasphemy. The faithful heart appears through the tongue, since you have to spread the message of Christ and preach it. Every Christian is a preacher because he is happy with his Lord and he bursts his tongue by speaking about his master and he wants every person to love Lord Jesus so that he is saved and the church grows.

This is the testimony of the Christian: “You shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”. With what shall we testify? You do not testify simply by reading the Gospel to people and explaining it. The Gospel should be stabilized inside your soul or else it shouldn’t go out through your tongue. This is why it has been said: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning Word of life- the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us” (1John 1: 1 – 2).

It is obvious here that Apostle John in the beginning of his first ecumenical epistle has tasted Christ and that his word entered his entity and he felt it, therefore his tongue burst with this internal experience so he wrote. This is why the scripture said: “For in him we live and move and have our being”. Christianity is real in the internal entity and then it becomes words and work.

The peak of the testimony is that of the blood which the faithful sanctified through Jesus not only during the Roman persecutions but also in every time and place. It is when you insist that Christ is our savior and that he is “the way, the truth, and the life”. It is when you say that and show it even if this will result in your killing from oppressors (Blind nations or crowds). In our concept, your heart and tongue are always harmonious so that you are not separated from the master on any level of your entity. We are attached to Jesus in our life and death because “for if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord”.

The contrary of our position is that which is expressed by the word “Pious”, where you believe in your heart and you disbelieve through your tongue being afraid from death. This is permissible in this religion or that but for us it is complete blasphemy. We are lovers of Jesus not only if we were in peace or bliss, but we stay lovers even if we had to pay blood to express that.

Because of the duty of confessing, we have next to the martyrs a group of confessors, which are saints that were tortured because of their faith but did not reach death. However, they witnessed Jesus in their sufferings and took part in his resurrection.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “الإيمان والاعتراف” – 24.7.2005

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Bad Supposition / 10.07.2005

“The eye is the lamp of the body”. The beginning of today’s Gospel (Matthew 6: 22–23) focuses on the old physics that believed that the eye has light in it and this light emerges from it in order to see. I borrow this old physical concept to understand the statement of the Lord: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,your whole body will be full of light”. This means that if you see through the divine light in you, your whole entity would be enlightened and you would see that the other person is a divine creature even if you analyzed his behaviors and realized that they were bad. If you behaved divinely, you would let light descend on the other; you would baptize him through light and go beyond what annoys you in him.

You cannot, of course, close your eyes if you were sure that the other carries any evil, lying, exploitation, or a will of exploitation or a desire to humiliate you, surround you or destroy a benefit of yours.  Know that you should see the reality and not be stupid or idiot. Knowing the reality of the other is a condition for you not to be, while dealing with each other, the oppressor or the oppressed.

However, the first encounter between you and the other should be based on good supposition in order not to be unjust; and if cooperation showed that the other has any evil or bad intention, then you would behave according to what was revealed to you. Nevertheless, you begin with good supposition.

Yes, there are people with innocent natures that could quickly lose and be fooled by others. The person that has this innocent nature must learn wisdom according to what the Lord said: “Be as shrewd as snakes”. However, this doesn’t imply constant caution, because this constant caution makes you unable to meet with people and deal with them, and this way you will also lose. The basis is to be able to combine between good supposition and shrewdness.

On the other hand, continuous bad supposition would make you see all people as bad people or enemies, and you would then need a lot of effort to change into the pure vision that goes along with the love that you freely give. Some people find it hard to understand others and to differentiate; they are worried from dealing with people so they run away from them especially if they expected problems or complications. However, confrontation is a must for healthy encountering to be achieved.

Things get more complicated in marital relationships. Here, bad supposition makes you drown in horrible imaginations. Here, you must understand the nature of your partner in the marital life, for if the other partner had a fun nature or was open minded and smiled for a person from the opposite sex, do not let bad supposition enter you in order not to go into this sick state in which you keep eye on the other partner in every motion and every word he or she says. A person might be pure or smooth with others so sometimes warmth would appear in his conversation with the other sex. We cannot stay enclosed and dry in our humanly behavior in order for the home not to be destroyed. You cannot be in constant monitoring over your wife and vice versa. You might have a state of spiritual or intellectual sympathy towards a woman and your wife might not be on the same level of this sympathy. Do not put your woman in a cage! Do not put your man in a cage! This would destroy the marital relationship. Nothing can kill the familial life more than jealousy.

Also, do not constantly doubt your son or daughter; believe them when they tell you where they were until the contrary is proved. Do not put your children in a cage for them not to choke and see that you are a dictator. You are their shepherd and not a police officer; taking care of them comes from love and trust.

When you show trust towards people that you deal with in your home or in your work, such as trusting your employees, you would make them in a state of peace and calmness and strengthen their personality and increase their love. Then, they would return your trust with trust also. Life is being together.

Trust is the basis. When the Lord loved us in Christ, he knew our ability to overcome our tiredness and sins. When people trust you because of your good supposition towards them, they would be getting closer to trusting God.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “سوء الظن” –Raiati no28- 10.07.2005

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Desiring Priesthood / 05.06.2005

“Whoever aspires to be a bishop desires a noble task. Now the bishop is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled…” (1Timothy 3: 1).

The word bishop and the word priest are synonyms in their use in the New Testament, and each of them could be used in place of the other. At the end of the apostolic era, the position of the bishop started to appear independent from that of a priest. Regardless of this differentiation, we always noticed that there are people who desire being bishops thinking that it has some glory and power (and maybe some money). This is what pushed some to what we call Simonism, which is bribing in order to win votes in the Holy Synod. However, I am not talking now about this lesion but about desiring priesthood.

This is a very new thing as we never heard anyone wanting this responsibility for himself as greediness to gain some profit (and it is a small profit in our region) or as a desire to serve or as a fulfillment of repentance. In the Ecclesiastic history, it is know that the person in quest for repentance becomes a monk and this is something that has no glory, profit, or fame. But the deviation occurs when you desire priesthood to sanctify the soul. Sanctifying the soul happens for the laic exactly as it does for the priest and maybe in an easier way.

The old Orthodox tradition when a priest dies or when people want more than a priest is that the parish notices someone that shines with piety and it asks the bishop to ordain him for the parish. The bishop used to commit to teaching this person the divine service in the archbishopric or in a monastery. However, this method was related to the weakness in theological education and consequently the inability of priests to preach. But God prepared us to have a theological institute in Balamand which students join in order to become ready to accept priesthood. These students come from the active and God loving youth of the Church. And it is normal for the bishop to choose among them the appropriate people for priesthood. This way, instead of the parish advising the spiritual elder about a pious man in it, the institute would be the side giving this advice. Nevertheless, the theological diploma is not enough as the bishop must test the spiritual and ethical qualifications and the maturity and safety of the personality. The diploma for us is just a sign of readiness and doesn’t oblige the bishop to ordain.

What is the divine call that is mentioned in this issue? The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews when talking about the high Priest in the Old Testament he says: “And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was” (Hebrews 5: 4). What does this mean in our Church?

There are a lot of writings in the Latin Church concerning the internal feeling of the person wanting Priesthood especially that this is related to virginity for them. The spiritual father comes to the young man that believes to be called and tests him and also tests his readiness to virginity as if he is saying – in our way – that he is qualified to live single. This is not a subject for us because the parish priest must be married at the first place.

Our belief is that the call of a man to join this service is heard through the lips of the bishop. He tells him that God is calling him after hearing witnesses from the parish and after having one or several conversation with this young man and feeling that this call is valid. Of course, mistakes can happen, but the bishop must make sure that these witnesses are Christ-lovers and do not give familial or bias testimonies. The bishop gets close to the truth, and future practice shows whether the priest was really called from God or facts show that he is not qualified for this position. However, as much as the bishop is wise, mature, and not affected by people’s opinions, his choice will be right.

If the student got the chance to have a theological education and practice worship in the institute and live under the supervision of the responsible, the bishop’s choice will be as near as possible to the right choice.

In Orthodoxy, the expression “I love to become a priest” has no meaning. The church chooses you, and you obey. You appear, and then the faithful, starting from the bishop, see that divine light has descended on you.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “اشتهاء الكهنوت” –Raiati 23- 05.06.2005

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Education Through Prayer / 22.05.2005

If you wanted a Christian education and if you wanted spiritual meanings to be renewed in you, you have to persevere in services other than the Divine Liturgy. The Liturgy is a place for understanding the word and for participation and sanctification. However, keeping up with remembrances of Saints and especially meditating in the Lord’s Resurrection requires your presence in the Matins service every Sunday morning and also on Saturday and feast evenings’ Vespers.

Particularly, Sundays’ and Feasts’ Matins get you into the core of the Paschal meaning, as the Matins’ Gospel, which is the center of this service, is a narrative of the Lord’s manifestations. Chanting (Evlogetaria and other chants) is also very Paschal. And Sunday is a remembrance of the Resurrection through teaching it. This teaching is intensified and varies partially from a Sunday to another. And if you understood, you will not get bored. Boredom results from you not knowing the structure of the Matins service and from not being aware of its meanings so you find yourself displaced and distracted.

If you were filled with the meaning of Resurrection you enter the Divine Liturgy which gives you the remembrance of the Savior’s death and emission from death. The Liturgy is an activation and participation in the holies, but the Matins, being very Paschal, qualifies you to enter the Liturgy.

Also, Saturday evening’s Vespers take us directly to the meanings of Resurrection and this service opens the liturgical day. You notice if you wanted to celebrate feasts, that the Vespers service launches the feast. The liturgical cycle must organize its services in a way that most people would be able to attend if they were feast lovers. So the Vespers is postponed to 5 or 6 p.m. and the Matins begin in a time that makes the believer able to come relatively early so that the Liturgy ends in a reasonable time.

Our main education occurs in worships especially that our people rarely read the Holy Book and religious books in general. The Liturgy alone cannot educate you especially that from what I see, when I arrive to a Church on a Sunday I see two or three people and then minutes pass and you see after a while that they have become ten and then twenty and not all believers are present before the Gospel reading. How could you have communion without hearing the Lord’s Word to repent through it. And sometimes you notice people coming to communion from outside the Church as if it is an automatic process.

Our Liturgy is not long for the person that knows and understands it. Boredom comes from not knowing the faith and not knowing books. Of course, the priest must not prolong the rhythm and especially the chanter must not chant with long intonation as it is better to read the Epistle with intonation than to chant it because this gives a chance to understand. Words disappear in the tune especially for a person that doesn’t know the words. The step that I find successful today is that some people carry “Raiiati” and read the Epistle and Gospel.

If God’s Word was “A spirit and life” then we must reach it through methods that we mentioned some of or else we die from starvation or drought.

The thing that we said is the origin of everything. There is no reformation in our Church without understanding its meanings, all of these meanings. “Feast lovers” and those who revive through prayer must gather and ask their priest to celebrate all services at their times. The priest is there for this reason. Rituals, for us, carry the word of life and perseverance in these rituals is contacting life. “With you is the fountain of life O Lord”.

If we were five or ten daily in the Vespers, and more than that at the beginning of the Matins, and if we opened our ears to understand the books and we felt the spread of the Word in our various prayers and chants, we would have put a solid basis for our contact with the Lord. We shouldn’t dig for ourselves “broken cisterns that cannot hold water” but solid basins in which springs fall into so that every one of us becomes “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” that we live from today.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “التربية بالصلاة” –Raiati 22 – 22.05.2005

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2005, Articles, Raiati

Church and Bad Weather / 20.02.2005

I was alarmed in the blizzard that struck the country as I was having a big meeting and many were absent. I excused the sick and those who couldn’t take the road because of the snow. However, I didn’t excuse those who were afraid of the severe cold. We love God in cold and warmth and we reflect this through a required presence.

After that, and in the midst of the storm, I celebrated the Divine Liturgy in one of the villages which wasn’t in the high mountains and its roads were passable with some soft rain. I excused the elders but I didn’t excuse young people.

I wonder today: Why do people endure the discomforts of the climate to visit a friend or a lover and cannot tolerate any trouble to visit Christ in his word that they hear in their Churches? How do they deprive themselves from receiving his precious body and blood? Isn’t he the beloved one that misses us and we must exchange with him the same yearning? As if the absent person is saying: I postpone my visit to Christ because he invisible, while my lover is visible.

One of the priests of the archdiocese told me that a doctor asked an old woman not to go to Church on Sunday in order not to be exposed to bad climate or stumble while walking, so she replied: I prefer dying on my way to Church or in Church over dying in my bed.

I do not wish for anyone to catch the flu but this life has choices. If the care over our health became a huge obsession or a severe fear, then there is a defect in us. Here I would like to talk to you about the spiritual father that used to guide me in Paris when I was studying theology there in the mid-twentieth century. This priest-monk used to love me and welcome me every afternoon for a cup of tea. I entered once and his forehead was covered with a wipe. I asked him about his health. He said that his temperature was 39 degrees Celsius. I sat in my place and after several minutes, the phone that was in the hallway that leads to the room where I was, rang. He left me and went to take the call and I saw him coming back to me as he took the wipe off his head. So I said: “What happened to throw the wipe?” He replied: “There is a sick student in the tubercular hospital and he asked me to go and give him the Lord’s body”. So I asked him about the distance between the institute of theology (where we were) and the hospital. He replied: “sixty kilometers”. I told him: “so you have to pass 120 kilometers in addition to the distance of the Metro while being in your condition. Isn’t it better to rest tonight perhaps your temperature would decrease and you go next morning to our friend?” He replied: “Our friend might not live until tomorrow, he must have communion tonight”. My spiritual father went and came back feeling indifferent towards his health and he was cured from his sickness.

Some excuses for not going to Church are: “I am tired this week and I don’t have any other time to rest except on Sunday morning; I want to take my family to the mountain; or I want to take them to the beach…etc.”

A person told me that the mother of a young man died, so she was buried on Saturday and this young man didn’t accept condolences on the morning of the next day because he couldn’t breathe without the Divine Liturgy. I imagine that this person carried his mother in his prayer and didn’t drown in his grief. I know that some Africans drive their cars for four hours to reach the nearest Church. Their bodies get tired as all bodies. However, they are aware that this is the bread that descends from heaven and that without it their bodies would be fed with only bread and vegetables.

My soul was sorrow to death when I celebrated the Divine Liturgy that I told you about and I was looking at the void in the Church, i.e. I was looking at nothing and people are afraid of the cold. The absence made me in a more severe and painful coldness from theirs.

When will we understand that our love for God, which we claim, should be reflected?

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “الكنيسة والطقس الرديء” –Raiati 08- 20.02.2005

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