2010, Articles, Raiati

To die Orthodox / 26.12.10

You don’t have an opinion in being born Orthodox. To be raised in this church means to accept my upbringing, to become steady in my church, and to be present whenever it wanted my presence (In Sundays and feasts, during the Lent, and if my work allowed I visit my church if it was open everyday). Our people say using the common language: “I am going to the prayer”, because they feel that the main role of the building of the church is to have prayers.

But in my home, what prayer shall I pray while not having all these huge books that we use? You can at least read in the small Horologion (book of hours) or maybe in the big Horologrion. You can repeat fixed available prayers, and if you had more awareness the priest might guide you into what you pray.

You should participate in the Divine Liturgy in the church of you parish, and if it was far then you go to the nearest church to your home, and do not excuse yourself by going to a temple of a different faith saying that it is the nearest church. Religion is not related to what is near or far. You are a member in the Orthodox Church, and you have to strengthen your membership in it by staying related to it all the time. You cannot simply say: All rituals are alike; it is not a matter of rituals, it is a matter of belonging. If you live according to the Orthodox faith, you go to its center. Others have different beliefs, we respect them and cooperate with them in a lot of issues, we hope to unite together in the time that God sees appropriate in his wisdom and will. You go to the desired unity coming from your church, and you walk towards the unity holed up with what you inherited from the saints where you were baptized. You and the sons of your church together love the other brothers and each one of us and them stands where his brothers and shepherds are.

Moreover, remember that you go to church to learn. Through preaching and meetings or biblical evenings that the responsible people direct you through them, you receive the orthodox teaching that contains our dogma. Others have their dogmas that we don’t argue about; scholars discuss them until the conflict points between us are discovered. You are not launching a war against anyone when you commit to go only to your church.

This stays until your death. I remember that my mother told me several times: “I know that I want to die Orthodox”. I don’t know why she said this and nothing else tempted her. You will not stay Orthodox unless you decided to do that and you had determination to do it. You have to say this for people around you if some of them were from different faiths. To be buried in an Orthodox cemetery is something very important so that your bones will be with the bones of the sons of your religion. They are bodies embraced by the Holy Spirit. Do not accept to be thrown any way.

This is how your loyalty to Christ should be. The Orthodox faith is not a shirt you wear a day and take off the other. It stays with you all your life through faith, understanding, prayer and religious traditions.

The religion that we live in our church is awareness, the awareness that carries you to the heavens.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “أن أموت أرثوذكسيًا” – 26.12.10

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2010, Articles, Raiati

Sunday of the Fathers / 19.12.2010

The sections of the epistle and Gospel carry the content of the Sunday of the Fathers, the Sunday before the nativity of the Lord. The epistle names characters from the Old Testament, Gideon, Barak, and others, in addition to the prophets that spoke in a way or another about the Savior. While the section of the Gospel is taken from Matthew who mentions a lot of important characters that descend from Abraham and that Lord Jesus comes from and ends with Joseph Mary’s betrothed. It ends with Joseph because the descent is for the person who’s believed to be the father as Luke says about him in his ascending list of descent which starts with Joseph and ends with Adam.

The epistle speaks about the virtues of those: “they worked righteousness, obtained promises, escaped the edge of the sword, and out of weakness were made strong”, it also spoke about they spiritual fight “they wandered in deserts and mountains”, “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, that they should not be made perfect apart from us”. This means that there is no perfection until Christ’s advent, and the key word here is faith.

Faith is also a character of those mentioned in the introduction of Matthew’s Gospel; the content of this introduction that we are reading is faith. Matthew started with Abraham the father of the faithful since he is the first person that believed in one God. After that, Moses’ Law comes, and then David the father of Christ.

Why all of these names? Matthew wanted to show that there is a sequence of faithful generations before Christ who didn’t come to destroy but to fulfill. Jesus, in his human nature, descended from a faithful offspring and faith was fulfilled through him.

After mentioning all these descents, Matthew tells the story of the nativity of the Lord from Mary. The virgin shall be with child, and this has been said by prophet Isaiah, and bear a Son and they shall call his name Jesus (Joshua in Hebrew) which means “God saves” through this child who’s not born by the will of man but of his Father who is in the heavens.

Joseph did not know Mary physically before giving birth. He also didn’t know her after that, and she remained a virgin. She is the “ever virgin” as the fifth ecumenical council called her; and the expression “The brothers of Jesus” refers in the Hebrew language to his relatives, and does not necessarily mean that they are from one mother. Here we do not have a chance to expand our talk about it; this is the faith of the church.

How should we welcome Jesus’ nativity? It is a nativity of the salvation that we obtain through his death and resurrection. This is why the church called it “the small feast” and called Pascha “The big feast”. Jesus was born from a virgin and wants to be born everyday spiritually from a virgin soul, i.e. a soul free from sins. The person that loves sin or wants it doesn’t accept Jesus in his soul. The Lord was, physically, related to Abraham and his offspring. The important thing is to be related to Christ through your pure soul. Christmas, then, is accomplished everyday in you if you accepted to remove every deception, lie, impurity, hatred, revenge, and pride. If you gathered the beauties of virtue in your self, Jesus will come out from it to the world to illuminate the world with his grace.

Do not celebrate only by giving gifts to children; there is one gift the Father gave to all humans and it is Christ. If you obeyed him then you abide in him and he abides in you. When you carry the Lord inside your entity he will make you a gift for people. Love is the gift.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “أحد النسبة” – 19.12.2010-Raiati no50

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2010, Articles, Raiati

Sunday of the Forefathers / 12.12.2010

In the Sunday that follows this one, which is the Sunday of the fathers, we mention the Fathers starting from Abraham, the Fathers whom Jesus came from physically according the Matthew’s story. This is the list of the Hebrew Fathers although Abraham was not Hebrew. Matthew addressed in his Gospels Jews that were waiting Christ to come from them. However, the Lord also comes from those who lived before the Jews. This is what Luke will mention as he makes Lord Jesus not only from Abraham but also from Adam. Maybe Luke was from Gentile origins from Antioch or was an intruder on Judaism and wanted to give an overall human impression to the person of Christ.

The church embodied this overall view in this Sunday where we mention Forefathers to Christ which were Gentiles (from the Pagans). We chant in the vespers: “you saved through faith the old fathers, and through them you pre-talked with the people from the Gentiles”. We also chant saying that Christ the savior “Magnified the Forefathers in all nations”. Some of them were clearly Gentile, and some were Jewish. Melchizedek is mentioned; as he has been mentioned in the epistle to the Hebrews.

Melchizedek met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and Abraham gave him a tenth out of everything. “Having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God”. All of this and he is not Hebrew. We mention the Forefathers starting from Adam.

This is why Christ is greater than Israel and is the head of the Israel of God which is the church. So, Paul says in his epistle to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek”. What is meant here is that those coming from the Greek culture have become one in the church with those coming from Israel, the same meaning is found in his saying “neither circumcision (i.e. Jews) nor uncircumcision” (and this is how he names Gentiles that are not circumcised). He also says “neither barbarian nor Scythian”. Barbarians according to Aristotle are people that are not Greek, and Scythians are from Iranian origins and used to live in the south of Russia.

All of these ethnic differences, that the ancient people used to be proud of, do not unite unless combined to Christ. From this angle you would have got rid of the enmity of races; and all that it carried in its paganism from good and knowledge would become ready for the Savior to come. Before Christ’s nativity from Mary, the ancient people have, in a way or another, talked about him and waited him with all the understanding and good that they had. Even if Christ came physically from the Jews, but he was from the moral side the heir of all cultures. He baptized these cultures through the Gospel; everything that was against the Gospel fell from their thought, and everything that was in the Gospel was stabilized.

Christ’s words before the writing of the Gospel were implanted in the cultures of the nations that preceded Jesus and espoused him. So, the Savior inherited what he did from these nations, and while coming to him they threw away everything that’s incompatible with his message, and he became everything for everyone.

When we come to Christ from any cultural heritage, he stays a master over everything we know and feel, and he stays the only pole of our personality and the ultimate way to the Father.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “أحد الأجداد” – 12.12.2010-Raiati no50

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2010, Articles, Raiati

Fruit of the Spirit / 5.12.2010

Spirit here refers to the Holy Spirit, and its fruit is a word that Apostle Paul uses to refer to many gifts. The first gift is love, and he makes it the first virtue in his great words about it in the first epistle to the Corinthians. Then, he continues with joy which is not just a psychological movement but a grace of the Spirit, also peace which is the reconciliation with God and at the same time a description of Christ. After that, he mentions longsuffering and means by it patience over people whatever were they, and expresses himself through kindness which comes from gentleness, and goodness which is inerrancy, and faith in everything God said and if it was true then through it reliance on God. Moreover, he mentions gentleness that’s related to kindness and finally mentions self-control over all impurities.

When he wanted to say that the Law takes the person to these advantages, he expressed it by saying that these have no law against them.

Then Paul’s thought mounts to suggest that those who have these features have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. The Greek word that was translated into “passions” means whims i.e. inner tendencies that lead us into sin.

He ends this section by saying: “If we live in the Spirit (he also means the Holy Spirit), let us also walk in the Spirit”. The Holy Spirit dwells in us and takes us to the good behavior.

After that, he moves into what is bad and warns us from self-conceit i.e. self-esteem in a way being a kind of the kinds of pride. He also warns us from anger that always harms the person that we direct our anger towards, and wants us not to be jealous from each other and to be happy with the goodness that God gives to whom he wants.

Paul knows that even if he advised these virtues, some brothers would still fall, and he wants us to restore them with the spirit of gentleness and not by wigging that might hurt them and make us appear as if we are without any sins. This is why he invited us to look at ourselves and be afraid to fall. Through kind brotherly blame there is no pride. The sinner carries the burdens of his sin in his conscience. This is where his saying comes from: “Bear one another’s burdens”, get tired with the tired, weep with the weepers and the sad. Carry the difficulties of the poor and sick through a real help for them, through providing comfort and staying next to them. He ends by saying: “And so fulfill the law of Christ”. This is a new law because it is the law of love which contains all the virtues.

Love, joy, peace …etc. all of these mentioned in the beginning of the moral section of the epistle to the Galatians become the law of Christ if they met together in the heart and behavior of a person. Therefore, we didn’t stay anymore in the system of ordinances of Moses (what should or shouldn’t be eaten for example), but we went beyond these legitimate laws to commit to the law of love which descends from above and creates all the virtues that Paul mentioned, and invites us to get purified from all the sins that he mentioned. There is, of course, a fight that the soul has to take to keep the love, but before all of this it is the grace from the Holy Spirit that if we changed through it we obtain all the virtues in a sense that we become experienced with them and they take root in us and the illumined heart becomes a fountain that works in us in order to reach through it the eternal life.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “ثمر الروح” – 5.12.2010-Raiati no49

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2010, Articles, Raiati

What is Eternal Life? / 28.11.2010

This man or young man that came to Jesus was a notable according to many translations, which means that he was a member of a Jewish synagogue or of the Jewish leadership (the Sanhedrin). He calls Jesus “good”. This is an excess in praise since he didn’t know that Christ is God and God is the only worthy for this praise or glorification. His question about what shall he do to inherit the eternal life shows that he thinks that he has to do organized or a lot of work in order to gain the eternal life. The Lord mentions to him some commandments as an example. Was the young man looking for something other that the commandments or was he convinced with his righteousness?

The Lord knew that some of the people murmur the commandments but don’t have a true encounter with God. Jesus gives him a behavior that the Jews didn’t know. “Sell all that you have”. The Jews used to think that wealth and property are from God’s blessings.

You are ought not to let the love of the worldly things enter your heart, and to make your heart in the kingdom of God which is the eternal life that you asked for. If you distributed, i.e. if your heart became separated from the love of money and this world, then you shall have a treasure in the heaven. After that, he told him: “Come, follow me”.

Why follow a human being (according to this man’s case his name is Jesus)? If he followed him, he would have understood that this man is not just a human being. This leader was attached to money and maybe to his religious position in the Jewish community.

To get dissociated from everything is a big adventure for him. How could he secure his living and stability? Does he only stay with God? This does not give him a feeling of tranquility, and this is why he got sad and left Jesus. If the liberation from the attachment to the world is a prerequisite to obtain the kingdom, this means that he should choose between the kingdom and this world. This is a difficult thing that the Gospel expressed by saying that this man got sad and didn’t want to adopt the direction that the Lord offered him.

This is why the Lord said: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God”. The hearts of those are in their treasures or their treasures are in their hearts. Then the difficulty became harder when the Lord said: “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”.

For if a person saw that the amount of his money is increasing, he should be aware of the danger on his salvation. This salvation is threatened. If he took his money out of his heart, what does he put in its place? He puts Christ, and deals with the money according to the need. He worships only God then he becomes a free man. In his freedom he can be saved. He distributes a lot so that he doesn’t fall in love with what’s left in his box or bank account. There is no limit for this distribution. The heart that’s inhabited by the Lord can contain a lot, and God, its inhabitant, inspires it to give a lot.

Our situation today in Lebanon is a reminder to the rich and wealthy that there are a lot of poor people and that they need the tenderness of God and this tenderness comes to them from that that has money and love. God will ask you about that person that was close to hunger. If you were able to save his children from death, God will write this for you in the book of life.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “ما الحياة الأبدية؟” – 28.11.2010-Raiati no48

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2010, Articles, Raiati

The Good Samaritan / 14.11.2010

It is one of the most beautiful parables or stories that reflect the free mercy. The story starts with a question from a master of the Law (this what the word lawyer means), and his question came from a bad intention, “what should I do to inherit the eternal life?” The Lord answered with another question: “What is written in the Law (i.e. the Law of Moses)? Give me an answer from the scripture. So the man answers: “Have love for the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and for your neighbor as for yourself”. Actually, this commandment is a combination of two, one from Deuteronomy (4: 6), and the other from the book of Leviticus (18: 19).

In front of Jesus’ words the Law master asked the Lord: And who is my neighbor? So he tells him that a certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he got into the hands of thieves, who stripped him and beat him. In the fourth century, Blessed Jerome confirms that this rugged road was full of Bedouins that rob the passengers. A certain priest from the servants of the temple was going down from there after he had finished his service in the temple, he was going down to Jericho where his home was. Then a Levite passed, and he is from those who used to serve the temple. Both passed and did not care about this wounded person thrown on the road, and they are the people who were supposed to have learnt something from the Law.

Finally, a Samaritan passed and he is from a weird gender and religion or from a deviant Judaism. Samaritans used to accept the Pentateuch and reject the books of the prophets. This Samaritan was a laic, probably a merchant passing from this road. He stopped in front of the scene of the wounded, “when he saw him, he had compassion on him”, and took care of him and of his wounds. He took him to an inn after bandaging his wounds quickly by pouring on them oil and wine, and his hope was that the owner of the inn would continue taking care of him and the Gospel gave details about this.

The master of the Law waited an answer from Jesus, but the Lord had answered his question (who is my neighbor), so the man said “the one who had mercy on him”. The Lord did not say to him who was the neighbor of the person; he didn’t clarify to him who is the neighbor directly. Jesus’ question was:” Which of these three, do you think, was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” We do not say who is the neighbor, instead we push the person to become a neighbor through mercy and love towards any person from his gender or religion or not.

This parable complements the words of Jesus: “Love one another”, although it originally meant love the people of faith, Paul explained it by saying: “Do good to all people, especially to those who are the household of faith”. Love is not limited in one person or category, and has nothing to do with the affiliation of the benefactor to a certain dogma or with the relation between the helped person and a certain dogma or party. The Samaritan who has deviant beliefs helped others.

Do not look into any character found in the person in need in order to give him with love or serve him. Give what you have or give yourself with a love that sees God’s face in the person you helped and loved.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “السامري الشفوق” – 14.11.2010-Raiati no46

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2010, Articles, Raiati

Christ Our Peace / 7.11.2010

Paul’s concern in this chapter from his epistle to the Ephesians is to show the unity that happened with Christ’s death and resurrection between the Jews and the Gentiles. This is why Paul went to say this; he didn’t say that the Lord made peace, but that he is the peace. The Jews used to despise the Gentiles, so Paul came and said that the Lord “has made both one (i.e. the two nations), and has broken down the middle wall of separation (the law separating them), by abolishing in his flesh the enmity which is the law of commandments”. He means here the canonical commandments (Do not touch the dead, do not eat pork) and not the moral commandments especially the ones represented in the Ten Commandments.

Paul did not say in his epistle that the Jews and Gentiles became one nation. It has been said in another place that they became “one new man” which means that they became the body of Christ. And he immediately follows by clarifying that this happened through crucifixion; crucifixion that produces the annunciation of peace.

This unity produces the fact that the Jews and Gentiles could together reach the Father in one spirit which is the Holy Spirit. If you were in one road to God “so then you are no longer strangers and foreigners”, you are all brothers in the church and “fellow citizens with the saints”. He may have meant by this expression the Christians of Jerusalem, and maybe he meant all the faithful. This expression is a synonym to what he called “the household of God”.

“Being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets”. He means here surely the twelve apostles, “And upon this rock I will build my church”. As for “the prophets” he meant the word of the prophets in the Old Testament. And this is what confirms for us the meanings that God intended in the Old Testament which is still read in the church on the evenings of the big feasts, in the prayers of the Lent and in the presanctified liturgy.

Whatever the old or new stones of this house (the church) were, Christ stays “the chief corner stone”. This is what’s called in Lebanon “the closing stone” in a vaulting building; the stone that all the walls of the room use to consolidate. This is why the apostle says “grows into a holy temple the Lord”. Here he does not want the church as a physical building but as the group of the faithful, as a spiritual building.  In this building, you the people of Ephesus, “also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the (Holy) Spirit”.

Through Baptism, Chrism and Eucharist you become spiritual stones in the new building whose organs are well organized by the Holy Spirit. You will also grow everyday in the divine spirit that you took in Baptism. Each one of you shall get the grace of adoption by God, and your group as the sons of God is a result of Jesus’ embracing.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “المسيح سلامنا” – 7.11.2010-Raiati no45

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2010, Articles, Raiati

The Final Glory / 31.10.2010

Paul starts in this part of his epistle to the Ephesians from God’s mercy on people and then transcends to his love that he gave us while we were under the yoke of sins and “sometimes with Christ”. By this he means that we were risen by and with him, we were in the core of his resurrection. And all of this, “being saved by God’s grace”, doesn’t result from us being good. If we had some righteousness or a lot of evil, the grace will always be free. God’s love makes him give us his grace.

Continuing with the subject of being in the core of his resurrection, Paul assures another time that God took us to him in his resurrection and “made us sit with him in the heavens, in Jesus Christ”. We celebrate this truth on the Thursday of Ascension, and this means that when Jesus sat on the right of the Father with his human nature we were with him in the core of this nature.

The Lord sitting on the right of the father promises the faithful humanity that it will have this same sitting. He descended to us through incarnation and went back to the father with the crucifixion and resurrection.

Paul sees that the result of this ascension is that the father shows in all times “the full wealth of his grace”. Paul is in a state of astonishment in front of the greatness of this grace that we received through Christ.

However, so that the reader wouldn’t think that he can ascend to God with his own effort, he confirms again that “we are saved by his grace” and that it descends to us through the faith that God gives freely to his beloved ones. He confirms this by saying: “And that not or yourselves, it if the gift of God”. For him God is always the initiator and he crowns those who received the faith. Therefore, God is also the ultimate.

Paul then moves into an idea related to previous ones: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ”. In this Paul shows that the original creation was given to us by Jesus Christ, and that we have now a new creation through baptism. The point of the initial creation and the second one is that we are made for the “good works” that “God has already prepared for us to do”.

Through grace and obedience we receive the power of the good works. We enter God’s land; we take from its fruits and become divine. The whole power of God becomes in us through faith, and if we knew that faith constitutes us we head towards the giver of this faith: The Holy Trinity.

This is the magnificence of a Christian: that he comes from God; grows in God; and lives in God’s bosom through thanking, praising and through each prayer. When we start the divine service by saying: “O heavenly king” we believe that he is being poured in us and taking all our entity and make it pray. Without God’s pouring in you, you aren’t able to say a single word in order to reach the heaven and chant with the angels for the Glory of God.

Christ is glory, and his resurrection is glory, and if we really believed we become in a state of glory here and in heaven.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “المجد الأخير” – 31.10.2010-Raiati no44

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2010, Articles, Raiati

The New Creation / 24.10.2010

Paul used to dictate to a writer from his assistants probably because he was weak sighted as some exegetes have said. He started this part of the epistle to the Galatians by saying: “See what big letters I make as I write to you now with my own hand”, despite having started the epistle by signing it traditionally. When he says here “See what big letters I make as I write to you now with my own hand”, it means that he has asked the pen from his secretary to write with his own handwriting using capital letters, which are detached from each other in Greek.

He wanted to show them his love, to give an intimate feeling. The issue that he raises is that some Christians that were close to James the bishop of Jerusalem used to see that circumcision was a condition to enter Christianity, while Paul had had a council with the apostles in Jerusalem where they refused circumcision.

The apostle refused to be proud of an overturned circumcision because it was a physical sign between God and Abraham i.e. a relation to an old promise. And there is no more need for it since the new promise between God and us is through Jesus’ blood which ended the need of the old sign between God and Abraham.

So the apostle moved immediately to say: “As for me however, I will boast only about Jesus Christ”. What kind of pride is this? It’s a pride of the cross. When he says “for by means of the cross the world is dead to me” i.e. the world is dead; and “I am dead to the world” this means that if the people of the world thought that they are alive therefore I am dead, and by world he means the evil world.

And he goes back to the issue of circumcision saying: “for neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that matters is a new creation.” You will become this new creation if you were renewed through Jesus’ faith and if you took the baptism that kills your whims and gives you the consequences of Christ’s resurrection as Paul says in his epistle to the Romans.

This new law is not in the sense of legislation but in the sense of the rule of the eternal life. “As for those who follow this rule in their lives; may peace and mercy be with them, with them and with all of Israel”. Here, he refers to the new Israel which is constituted of converts from both Judaism and Paganism which form together the nation of God and the holy people.

Old Judaism with the Talmud that was written 500 years after Christ didn’t remain the Judaism of the prophets. It became hybrid, and those Christians that say that we have one common book with the current Jews are wrong. We don’t care about this – if the Talmud didn’t appear – that we read Moses and the prophets together, because what’s important is to read the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament i.e. directed from God to the vision of Christ.

The cross became the center of our faith in the sense that it showed the salvation and prepared for the savior’s resurrection. And because of the Calvary and the resurrection our aim is to become new creations that live through the faith and the promises of our baptism.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “الخليقة الجديدة” – 24.10.2010-Raiati no43

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