Shepherd's word - Bribery

The sacred laws are very strict against the one who buys his painting with money, “making from the grace...

10 words about my best vacation

Nowadays, a family is simply a network of people who care for each other. It can contain hundreds or...
1992, Lectures
Shepherd's word - Bribery
10 words about my best vacation
2013, An-Nahar, Articles

The Eighth Day / 11.05.2013

On the Sunday, the eighth day after the resurrection, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them. Jesus opens what is closed. He opens all horizons before the eyes and the minds. He breaks open blocks and walls of this world so we can go with Him to all realms; so we can expand with Him to the infinite; to roam this world and what is beyond it; to break into the doors of Heaven since we are no more afraid of those who have been His enemies and those who, out of ignorance, make themselves His enemies.

He appeared to them while the doors were locked. He opens all what is locked and He opens Death to Life. When you behold Him, you stop looking for anything else. That is because He is the one who comes today and tomorrow and no one succeeds Him. In the Orthodox Church, the Church of the roots, we do not say that He has a successor since succession implies time in it, and Christ is beyond time. Time receives its meaning and content from Him. He did not become Man so that He would have a successor; a successor is usually the one who comes after, but Jesus has no one before Him, and after Him there is no one. Anything said about Him other than the above would be the words of humans who try to understand history while He has “kidnapped” all histories to Himself.

He appeared to them while the doors were locked; they were locked in themselves, but the doors were not locked for Him. And when He went through them, He told those He loved “Peace be with you”. That seems to be a greeting but in fact He wanted to give them Peace, that is reconciliation with God and with existence; and that requires the descent of the Lord to the kingdom of death to uproot it and establish the Kingdom of Life.

The locked doors between people are not opened in their times, but Christ broke them because there is much resentment in the hearts which are in need of  Jesus entering them to remove resentments; and so, hearts do not come together unless Grace is poured upon them to bring about that meeting. Man is not a machine when it comes to the affairs of his life. He needs the God who puts in him (Man) His tenderness so that the hardness goes away. If the Lord does not dwell in Man’s heart, then he would easily receive beauties which are fake. The person, whom God has not filled with His presence, is liable to welcome to himself all what is ugly.

We believe that the one who opens the heart of humans is Jesus of Nazareth the meek and humble of heart; and, in the Divine Mystery, that means that He pours His heart in the hearts of those who are meek to make them like God’s heart.

Jesus stood among them while the doors were locked and said: “Peace be upon you”. “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give you.” The issue between you and God is that you are His “enemy” due to sin. And sin does not leave unless God removes it through His peace; that is when He puts you in a state of peace with His Father.

After the Lord greeted them they rejoiced at beholding Him. The Lord beholds us first with a tenderness from Him so that we become able to behold Him. What did they see? And how did they see Him? The Bible says that they saw Him with the marks of His wounds. And since one of them was in doubt, the Savior appeared to him and told him: “Put your finger here and see my hands and put your hand and see my side and do not be unbelieving”. The Savior accepted that Thomas should believe in Him not by just believing, but by touching Him. The Lord goes down to the state of doubt the disciple was in, not minding that he would ask something from Him. That is the meeting between the One who grants us faith and the person who doubts.

Jesus did not deal with the doubt by reprimanding doubter. He brought Himself down to the state of the doubter because He meets the sinner where he is and grants him peace as He gave peace to the prostitute saying: “Go in peace and sin not anymore.” He did not cover her sinfulness. He mentioned it in the second part of what He told her. After Jesus puts the sinner at ease and makes peace with him, He reminds him that his times to come are days of repentance. And repentance is a “shake” before one is put at ease. And repentance is a language, one of turning back to God’s face; and that means a leaving of all the aspects of sin. And if it is not a total breaking up with sin, repentance then would be just “jesting”. Repentance is tough in that it does not accept to co-habit with any form of sin. There is no room in repentance to make peace with any “particle” of evil. You either break up with evil or you do not. And if you remain with one aspect of sin, you die.

What is difficult with our life with God is that He does not accept to dwell with any other god. And all other gods are false since they come from the deadly lusts that are in us.

It seems that God forms “deserts” in our hearts. And you remain in the desert if you do not seek the waters that He makes to spring in that desert. And you dwell with your God in the dryness that is around you or the one that is in you. You dwell with the Lord just as you are, without any condition on your part. If you get to that, then no locked doors would remain in you. All blocks would fall down and you would walk towards Him in the freedom He gives. And that walk itself would be lifeless unless you throw yourself in the bosom of the Lord totally and finally. For all what there is in the world is to behold Him and that is stronger than faith; that is love. And with total love you will have the Lord fully, and He takes away from you all the traces of fear since “Love casts out fear”.

It is not wrong to want to “touch” (like Thomas), but there is no real “touching” except through love. Is not love in its true meaning a “touching” of the Lord? In that sense Love is more powerful than faith. St. Paul says that our state is as such until we get to see Him face to face. And the “seeing” is cleaving to Him. Tradition says that the vision in its full state is coming; and that does not hold us from anticipating the “seeing” with love. “Seeing” is cleaving, and that is the highest level among the levels of love.

For us who follow Jesus of Nazareth, love comes from His resurrection because the resurrection is the victory over death. And that victory is the continuity of His resurrection in us and in the world. I understand those who do not believe in His resurrection when they tell me “Is not there for us a spiritual life that descends on us directly from God? Why does it have to go through Christ to reach us?”

I do not deny anyone the descent of Grace on him, but I have heard the Nazarene say: “No one comes to the Father but by me”. And I tried to go after that word of His. Who am I to deny the faith of those who say that they get to His Father without Him? To get to the Father directly or to get to Him through Christ as the way, is an option that does not mean anything to me. Since I see that any course to God has Christ in its core. For me, the Nazarene’s Face and that of His Father do not make an option for me. They are the same. “Who has seen me, has seen the Father”.

Every meeting with Christ has in it a revelation of God’s face. It is true that St. Paul said that Christ is the mediator between us and God. That is a statement concerning His humanity, but His Book also says that He (Christ) is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Is the Father the End of Ends? No doubt, it is there that we are lulled and rested.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “اليوم الثامن” – An Nahar – 11.05.2013

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The Feast Has Come / 03.05.2013

“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”. [John 6:54] This does not need much interpretation. Our noble teachers have said that flesh is the self and blood is the life. There is no need for further hermeneutics. Who am I to add anything? No further utterance is needed. Is His body His words? Whenever we understand the philosophy of the good Book we believe in this and we realize what is deeper, that His words were He.

There is no debate in this. The Saints who have interpreted that His body is the offering [namely the offered elements at the Holy Communion], they were right, and whoever has said that it is His teaching they were also right. If His teaching was Himself, then the offering is also Himself. In the mystery of your person, is there any unity between the words of your Gospel and whatever you have called as your body and blood? Whoever knows the depth of God’s thought knows that the talk [of the Lord] about His body and blood is a talk about His self and there is no further talk beyond the talk on His self, until on the Last Day we understand everything.

However, only the intimate ones might understand all this. Make us Lord from those intimate ones, so that I might understand something of Your self. Whenever you graciously forgive our sins we would be given to understand. You have said: “My son, give me your heart.” [Pro. 23: 26] And by that you wanted that we empty the heart from anything other than You, so that understanding might not be hindered.

The Feast comes to the Easterners after few days and we accept it in anticipation of the love since we know that we live through it. We live with the longing that Christ will annihilate our sins, namely with the assurance that victory is coming in us through the promise of the life which is transmitted from Him to us and to the world.

Everything in Christianity is an event and a promise. Faith is faith on a reality which brings you salvation. And reality is partly a past event, which could be historically proven by witnesses. Logically, an event does not need more than a real proof through witnesses and documents. Nevertheless, the New Testament insisted to consider the death of Christ a faith issue, namely that which is more than a historical event. [The historicity of the event] would be asserted by any atheist historian had he / [she] lived at that time. Hence, any claim which negates the death [of Jesus] would not be a historical statement, rather a creedal [doctrinal] position and there is no room [here] to discuss that.

Hence, we do not have to respond to those who claim that He did not die. This would be the case whenever we comport ourselves with the logic of a historical reality. However, if we do not comport with this logic, then we would need to abandon the historical methodology in order to assume a dogmatic methodology.

In their claim of the death [of Jesus] Christians base their argument on the Roman pagan sources, and they support this argument with their historical documentations, and not merely as part of their dogmas. The Gospel, whether you believe in it or not, as a historical reference from the first century and partly from the beginning of the second century, is a well-established document with the testimonies of the witnesses and their followers, who left their traces to us from that time. Thus, [here is] the difficulty of falsifying the early Christianity [especially that] it has stated incidents evidenced by manuscripts. You cannot prove scientifically that the one whom the disciples met “after resurrection” is the same crucified one, since this is a question of faith. However, if you were educated, and you were not subject to a dogmatic position you cannot deny His crucifixion as a physical event. Hence, [in an attempt to understand resurrection] you will have to rely on what you think is revelation, i.e. an interpretation of a dogmatic text. And then, interpretative texts would be set opposite to other texts which you consider as interpretative.

The essence of Christianity is the belief that the death of Jesus the Nazarene was a physical/[historical] event which occurred under the mandate of Pontius Pilate over Judea about the year thirty-six A.D. About this there is no discussion. The importance of the Christian position, concerning the death of the Nazarene, is in that Jesus the Nazarene’s execution by Pilate does not only depend on the testimony of the Gospels.

The strength of the Christian position, concerning the [historical] reality of the Nazarene’s death, is that it is grounded not in your faith, but in the avowal of the Roman pagan records which indicate this death.

You are free not to accept to believe in Christ as Lord and Savior, since this is not of history. However, you are not free not to accept that He died, unless you take a position which the historical reality does not acknowledge. Christians add to this saying that His death is a question of faith, since they perceive in this death a salvific value.

We do not come to the reality of His death from our faith, but we construct our faith upon the reality of the cross, and it is mentioned in the Roman texts.

Our question with those who do not think as we do is that we are a religion, the reality of which is established in its sources. Yes, reality does not require any kind of faith from you; however, whenever faith does not rely on reality it would be independent completely of history.

We are a religion of which the crucifixion of Jesus the Nazarene is an essential element, His wonders in Palestine and His teachings. Much of this has already become material for historical examination and some of it is object of [faith] ratification. I say here that the resurrection of the Savior belongs to [faith] ratification, since you cannot prove rationally that the one whom many disciples have met after resurrection is the one actually raised [from the dead]. This belongs to faith. Faith does not oppose science, however it neither originates in science nor does its method resemble the scientific methods.

All faith ratification is in the heart of the believer. This does not mean that faith is irrelevant to the facts. Nevertheless, if faith has no contact with reality it would be the creation of imagination.

From this perspective, what does the resurrection of Jesus the Nazarene mean to us? The Gospels tell that this whom His followers saw, the One who died, is the same who has risen. They do not tell anything else. They do not speak of a revivification of a corpse. They do not describe Jesus’ transition from a state of death to a state of life or of resuscitation. They say that this whom you see now alive is the one hanged on a wood. But how this transition, from a state of death to a state of life, has taken place the texts have not mentioned this.

The Gospels were concerned to ascertain that after the complete slaughter of Jesus the Nazarene on the cross, He has appeared alive, He ate and drank and stayed alive and He appeared to His brothers and they touched Him. He inaugurated a new life in the world, and different kind of humans. He willingly has challenged death with amazing courage and with longing toward resurrection. This is possible [however] only through love of Jesus’ the Nazarene.

All the journeys of early Christians, and the later ones, indicate that many of the pleasures of the world did not attract them. From all the Roman and the Soviet documents on the martyrs you might see that that which kept Christians alive was greater than death, they carried [within themselves] a mystery which is not possible to explain psychologically. How did they die in the Roman Empire, generation after generation, crushed, and expecting nothing other than an unseen glory? What is the mystery [or the secret] behind their acceptance to live in poverty and remain the beloved ones of the Lord, being exposed to hatred of their persecutors and the mocking of many?

How do beasts eat your meats and you do not wail and your wives tell their children not to weep because of their being preyed upon? All this remained mystery, closed to the minds, until the martyrs, in the voice of Ignatius the Antioch, asked to be ground with the teeth of wild beasts so that they might become “an acceptable sacrifice for Christ”.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “أتى العيد” –An Nahar- 03.05.2013

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Jesus toward Jerusalem / 27.04.2013

Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem, in tomorrow’s remembrance of the Eastern Christians, signifies His acceptance of death, which He came to actualize as the result of His love of us. His death was to make humanity live in Him after He has prayed that they might be one with Him as He is one with the Father.

There is no doubt that one of the Easter’s meanings is that we become one with the Father, who is the Beginning and the End. The Father has been most of the times forgotten by common Christians, while the Father is the First and the Last. Christ, as the suffering humanity, is not the end of everything. If you have forgotten that He is the way to His Father you misunderstand His salvation. He could have also shown you that at the end of His path He consented to die in order that you might be with Him and you might inherit the life which He has poured forth through His resurrection.

The start of His path was with Palm Sunday, namely His entrance to Jerusalem so that humanity kills Him there. The whole humanity, which is represented by the Jews, had killed Him. The destiny of the Son of man, as the Father has planned, was that people would kill Him, since His acceptance of death was the sign of His love and the passageway to His resurrection.

Nothing other than Jerusalem would kill Him, as it killed the prophets and those sent to it. It was in the Father’s purposes that the Son is killed by people and because of the [Father’s] love. This is, then, the conduct of people, on the one hand, and the conduct of God, on the other. The divine purpose was that humanity and its Savior meet through blood and then, through emancipation from blood, forever. The Son of man entered the city of God on Palm Sunday in all His humility, as a king over humanity, which would kill Him by authorizing the Jews to kill Him. This was in the divine purpose, since Christ was slain before the foundation of the world.

This is the concealed mystery since ages that humanity has committed a crime and has killed God’s Christ; [however] later on, the crime has been forgiven since God’s response to crime is love.

Jesus the Nazarene enters the guilty city since His Father has foreordained to Him a death, which was for the salvation and the resurrection of all people. Jesus told Martha, the sister of Lazarus, and this was new: “I am the resurrection and the life”. [John 11: 25] All that was said before these words were promises from God to endow people with life. Jesus the Nazarene said about Himself that He is the life. And He came up with this paradox that He must die, and then He resumed that He will rise [from the dead].

However, He did not describe His resurrection as merely an event, but He also has said: “I am the resurrection and the life”. [John 11: 25] This, in language, has no meaning. He did not merely say that He gives resurrection. He said about Himself that He is the resurrection. Namely, He did not say: ‘I am who will rise [from the dead]’, rather: ‘if you were in me I will bring you into the same resurrection’. In the language of reality this has no sense, however, Jesus the Nazarene puzzles you as He moves you from your conventional reality in order that you might participate in His reality.

The blessed Lord was not part of life. He was the fullness of life, and you cannot grasp that with rational elaboration. His Mystery has to penetrate within you in order that you may understand. And the beginning of understanding [is to see that] He has entered Jerusalem to be killed, since He knew that by His residing in Jerusalem, Jerusalem will slay Him as it had slain the prophets before Him, and that in this is His glory and Jerusalem might be also glorified, whenever it repents. By His death all residence here on earth ends, since through this death we have inherited eternal life, which is present in us through His Spirit from now on, until the vision is fulfilled by faith and the acquisition of the Spirit.

Before Jesus the Nazarene there were heroic testimonies and in their magnitude they were images of the glory of Christ, that which has appeared upon Him as He was hanged on the wood. In His crucifixion and resurrection all glory has become ours.

His glory has brightened in His humility as He entered Jerusalem. And Jerusalem did not become the city of God unless at His resurrection from the dead, since then His glory has eloquently brightened. The exaltedness of Christ has first appeared when he was hanged on the cross. And the wonders were a disclosure of this glory. However, His victory over sin and death has been evidently disclosed at His death. His resurrection is a different expression of the glory which was fully upon Him as He was raised on the wood of humiliation. He is the one who changed the humility of death to victory. From this, there is no difference in the efficacy between his death and resurrection. Death has never surmounted Him. His emanation [resurrection] was the result of the death that He wanted to die. His resurrection from the dead was the uncovering of a victory that He accomplished on the cross and with the cross joy has come to the whole world. Thus, Easter is the disclosure of a victory which has been fulfilled in it and diffused to the worlds. At His death victory has been completely achieved and it was proclaimed by His resurrection, since salvation has not occurred merely from death. Salvation was in His person.

By His entering Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets, He has demonstrated His journey toward death. And later we have understood that the Palm Sunday has paved the way for Easter. Various events were revealed to be related through His love. They were different stages of the one love, hence, you cannot neglect any incident between the Palm Sunday and the Easter dawn. The whole thing is one Easter, since through these incidents different expressions were revealed, [which demonstrate] His embracing us in the movement of the one love. He has accepted the will of the Father to walk one salvation way in its different manifestations between the Last Supper and His rising at the dawn of the great Sunday. However, and because of your love [toward Him] and because of the weaving together of the events, you cannot without collecting all incidents in your memory, which were mentioned in the dear Book, since [the events] from the night of His submission to His victory on the Easter morning makes one prospect.

You may not fasten your attention on one incident of the salvation events, since you should accompany the Master throughout the different stations which the Book mentions. And after each of those events we recite in prayer that He has accomplished that event for our salvation, as though salvation were a journey ends with resurrection, and for us resurrection becomes a promise about the Holy Spirit. That is why whenever we indicate any incident at the Passion Service we say that He has accomplished it for our salvation.

Thus, you have to delight spiritually in all stages of salvation without disregarding a work that He has done, since contemplation in all the works of the Lord is your consideration of the sanctity and the uniqueness of each and every work. Blessed is the one who can move through the different stages of the Lord’s journey with one joy, and can halt at every station since whatever is written is written for our salvation. Thus, our full joy pours forth from every event that has occurred to the Lord and from our accompaniment to all what the Master has done, specially, but not exclusively, from the Last Supper to the instant of resurrection in expectation of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, and upon us in every divine liturgy.

The Lord is blessed in all His works of salvation, and may God help us to taste all God’s works, and every single one, till the dawn of resurrection which is the joy of the whole world.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “يسوع إلى أورشليم” –An Nahar- 27.04.2013

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Those in Need of God / 20.04.2013

The poor are those are in need of God. One may ask why Carl Marx was bothered by that. If God is the source of existence for those who believe, no one would deny the believer the right to resort to God except those who believe, like Marx, that God is the invention of Man. Those who are in need of God are not so because of material poverty, but because they feel deeply that the Lord is the one who fully satisfies them, not with money but with life. Those who, with all their being, are in need of God, come to the Lord because they need His tenderness. And let us say that they come to Him out of poverty, what is wrong with that? The Lord takes us to Himself from where we are at. So if He receives us to Himself due to our poverty, why should that bother Marx? Does that mean that we have invented Him because we have felt that we are in need of Him? Does need necessarily stir up the imagination, or is it that what we are asking for does actually exist?

Why do the Marxists insist that we have invented God so that we can have our needs satisfied? Who told them that the need they are talking about does not really exist in Man’s heart or nervous system? And are the heart and the nervous system imaginary things? And do the Marxists want evidence stronger than that of the heart? I always get shocked at the claims of atheists, skeptics and those who waver in their faith, that they base their claims on human logic; they think that they really base things on logic while what they claim are only ideas they opted to believe in; and as such they misguide people that those ideas they opt to believe in spring from Man’s logical intellect.

The big lie of the atheists is fooling people in making them think that what is not of faith is then of logic while it can be of myth. And if we suppose that whatever is outside belief is from logic, who says that all human logic and thought is sane and superior? There is no logic in the absolute. My logic and your logic are related to what you and I have in the depths of our beings. There is not one same entity of logic that you can refer to in all humans. Each intellect and each mind is well knit to whom it belongs to with all what he has of beliefs, imaginations and illusions. There is no fixed criterion called the mind or logic. All minds can come from a religion they have inherited or from their political choices.

The lie of the skeptics is their claim that they want you to base things on the mind and logic. When they deny the faith, they want you to remain in disbelief; and that is a “faith” they have chosen for themselves. The unbeliever decided that God does not exist; while in reality he has another God which is the mind or money or a political party or sex. There is no human being who is not drawn to something outside him. No religion can be based except on a god who is not you. This is why we say that we are in need of a god who not only enriches us with His grace, but also raises us from every nothingness we plunge ourselves in since everything but He is nothingness.

“Blessed are the poor”. That was said by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, and the interpreters say that Jesus is beatifying the poor with that. And if poverty in itself is not a grace, then why would the Lord have said so? The general atmosphere predominant in Palestine when Jesus of Nazareth said that was the understanding that poverty was basically to be in need of God. Maybe some of them are still like that until now. But if some of us have become “rich”, we have to get ourselves poor in need of God; that is we have to consider Him to be our existence and that of everything else is due to the reality of His existence.

It is hard for the rich to feel that they are in need of God. This requires of them to touch the reality that all what they have is nothing. For money to become a “nothing” for the rich man, is itself a miracle, if it happens; most probably heaven would have come down upon him if that happened. He would become like Jesus on the cross, naked. For him, God would have become all of existence. Then his need for God would be realized. Man does not become so unless he severs himself from the love of this world. Those who know the love of God and are satisfied with it would need nothing else since the Lord becomes the fullness of their hearts. That means that when you love someone or something else (other than God), your love for God remains one and undivided. The least that can be said about that is that you do not put your love for creatures at the same footing with your love for God though love, quality-wise, is the same.

How can the heart be wholly God’s when one embraces people or things of this creation? I think the answer to that is with the Saints since ordinary people tend to share their love for God with other things. But the one who has been carried in God’s glory does not fall into sharing God with others because he can see no face other than God’s, thus loving Him with love that is undivided.

Our need for God is due to His grace which enables us to see only Him. And that goes with the principle that says that the Lord is the one who starts the Divine life in us. And the need for Him is complete when Grace is complete. And that means that there is nothing in you that can be added to God since He is the initiator of existence and all of what there is.

If you are able to empty yourself from yourself, that, in itself, would be a calling on the Lord so He would become the fullness of yourself. Then no confusion remains between you and Him or between what is yours and what is His. Those who have gone beyond pure logic and got to the Divine vision say: That is a question that does not occur to those who, by having the same vision as He, have become one with the Lord. Perhaps it is allowable that it remains a philosophical question and not a spiritual one since you and God become one spirit as Paul affirms. Thus the philosophical question that says “How can two become one?” is no more; and we arrive to the spiritual affirmation that says: “You and God have become one in Love”.

And beyond love there is no need for the affirmation of anything because God is the light through which we see all things.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “الفقراء إلى الله” – An Nahar – 20.04.2013

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The Others / 13.04.2013

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help.” (Psalm 146: 3) To trust [another] makes him/[her] a steward and an advocator for you at God, since you admit yourself to be poor and you fear your incompetence to perceive God and to consider God as your only help. Thus, in your unity [with God] you aim at a duality, while it is not sufficient to overcome your seclusion. Duality implies the encounter of two faces, and whenever each of the two is frail, then, you would be casting yourself into two frailties.

You might be thinking that you would attain wholeness through another, however, for a reason of unfulfilled existence, he/[she] might be unable to bring you to the wholeness of your being. He/[she] might be merely supporting you, and whenever his/[her] consolidation is not great, then both of you would collapse. Two incomplete [beings] are unable to attain unity, while whenever you get united with God, realizing your being God’s beloved one, you become one in God. Through love, you do not add a thing on God; rather, you become perfected in God. You become perfected relatively before you perceive the Kingdom. However, this vision here precedes the perfect being when you will perceive God through death. Then, you would have accomplished your endeavor.

All perfection on earth is only [to be viewed as] endeavor until the Lord crowns you on the Last Day. Hence, we attain a complete vision neither before death nor after it, since it is not possible for you to attain perfection unless with the saints, whenever they meet their Lord on the Last Day. Salvation is for all together. Before that we are in endeavor.

You would be perfected through the weak ones, whenever you love them and you raise them up. The whole humanity is a marginalized group of people, who behold their glory only on the Last Day. You are within this group, whenever you join it through love. You are of that group and toward it in hope; I mean your hope toward God. Not a word in the Book promises you to be loved whenever you love. The Book has not maintained that your love would be responded by a reward. As response to love you might get a wrongful hatred, of which you are not the source. And if you were a great believer you would expect isolation, and it might save you, since you have a share in God’s love, who does not permit one do die from thirst or to get saddened for nothing. I have not said that your only calling is to depart from every face, since then [also] you would not find perfect consolation. It is right that you pursue to dwell in your belovedness, namely that you live with that love which you are given. However, it is not legitimate to be satisfied with this, since you might find yourself exiled to “the desert of love”, as François Mauriac says, i.e., you become subject to the decree of isolation that those, whose love you expect, have pronounced against you. It is your right to ask for attention, yet, I mean by this that people might consolidate into the love of God, and not to you. You become great whenever you endeavor for that pure divine unity, which gathers its eremites to their Lord.

Our sorrow is in that when we continue to be vulnerable in our human nature, since we have not reached at heaven. This, in itself, is a fair sorrow, since piety anticipates paradise here in divine love.

The problem is that we could not reach at the Kingdom here unless with the pure ones, and I mean those who love us in the Lord without any condition. The power of our endeavor is in the vision for which we aspire, and our path is the yearning till death. The pure ones are rare and I mean those who surround you with divine love, which does not depend on any condition in you, but it comes to you from free brotherly love, which is a reflection of divine love that is free by its nature.

It draws my attention that whenever Jesus has spoken about love in the Gospel He said that you give it, and He never promised you that you might be given it. He has experienced the human consolations which He has received from the group of people surrounding Him, especially from Peter, John and Jacob. However, He did not want us to rely on those consolations. All His teaching, from this [particular] perspective, is that you give without calculation, i.e., without expectation of a reward. You become [or you exist] through the love which you give hoping that it might be received, since you exist only if you give. And whenever you give, it does not [necessarily] mean that people have received it. This is why it has been said: “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” (Psalm 112: 9) Love does not require a condition in the Other. You give without calculation, namely you do not expect any exchange and you do not expect loyalty. Your heart gives whenever it is open to give, and there is no expression in the Book implying that your heart is open to take. They might commute the same feeling of you, and whenever they get disturbed from you, or despaired, or they turn away from you because of some brusqueness in their souls, you remain determined about giving, since through them you give your Lord and you wait today and afterward, and it is sufficient for you to accompany your Lord, since He alone is the bestowal.

I know what the response to this might be. It might be said that you are asking for a complete desert in our hearts. I do not ask for a complete desert. I have seen the desert actualized in the saints, who gave freely since they perceived the face of God on every face, and it was to this drawn face that they gave and they refused to look at the ugliness. They were accustomed that every human face is perfect in beauty, whenever you read on it the splendor of Christ.

Every human heart is exposed to become a den of snakes, as François Mauriac says. You do not love the snakes, rather the human heart which continues to be on the image of God, though it might contain snakes. Our teaching is that divine love does not depart the distorted image of God in every one of us, rather it embraces it. And if you adhere to the hope, namely the hope for God, God descends to the soul because God loves it, and not for its splendid beauties. We have to be trained concerning this challenging hope, that every soul, which would taste death, is beloved to God until God receives it.

You have to be educated that God loves every soul. And there is no doubt that God would refine it continuously, since God loves it always. You have to love every soul, even when it falls. And maybe you have to love it more whenever it is excessive in falling.

In life, whenever we were from the believers, probably our difficulty would be to perceive the fall continuously in us and in people. We would reach at extreme naivety whenever we conceive this existence as a paradise. The paradise is inhabited by the souls of those who arrived at the great endeavor [or struggle], that is the endeavor of the soul, and who had known that the soul is the dwelling place of God, regardless of the joys of this world.

Maybe the climax of the endeavor is to perceive yourself as nothing and to perceive others with you, whenever you have loved them, i.e., you perceive yourselves as the beloved ones of God. You do not need to rate the love of God for someone. What matters is that you believe in divine love, since we live by it. You are poor to divine love, whenever faced with it, since it is that which gives you existence and educates you according to its own essence.

But if you think that you have become something, you will lose everything. And if your faith, that grace gives you life and forgives your sins, falls then you become a nullity or almost a nullity. You do not need to understand how God uses you for God’s glory. You are given [grace] and God uses you for God’s glory as God wills. “The [true] religion with Allah is Islam [meaning submission].” [Surat Al-ʻImrān, 19] There is deep meaning in this saying. Come and swim in the sea of God and God will teach you everything and will use you for God’s glory in accordance to God’s will.

God perceives you in relation to God’s glory, while you do not know. The Savior has said to you and to your companions: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” [Matt.11: 28] Then, do not fear the burden that is thrown upon you. You might fall on the way as the one who carried His cross fell on His way to Golgotha. He must be supplying you with someone to help you on the road of suffering, since He wants you risen with Him on the Third Day.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “الآخرون” –An Nahar- 13.04.2013

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The Times to Come / 06.04.2013

You have often planned your future according to your current interests which you see at the present time without seeking to fill that future with what comes down upon you of inspiration concerning the affairs to come. As such, your future at the present, appears to be revolving around yourself without expecting anything from God. In Christianity, hope dwells in faith because it is the expectation of what God’s grace would bring into the future.

It is foolish to think that the future times are better than what you are at in the present. The betterment of your affairs does not come from the running of the days but from the improvement of your present through what is eternal. Escaping a present reality to one that is better is not in your capacity.

The days to come your way are often like those of your present time. They are of the fabric of this world or the fabric of people in your life; and they would be people who either love you or hate you in case you do not make of your future a realm for a truth that descends on you from above, a truth which will be a salvation for us all. If your sufferings do not lead you to God’s face, your life will be dissipated in the “fogginess” of this world. What is steadfast is not the world but what descends on it from above. If it is true what the Bible says that “every human being is a liar” then you have to deal with the “liars” as they are, an inseparable part of this world or, as the Apostle says, you have to exit this world.

We live our hope that comes down on us from above in this world, but we have no hope from this world since we are not of it and it is not of us.

They blame me for being pessimistic. When you see people as they are, you are going to find ugliness in some of them. But is there such a problem with the pure in heart who fly away from the ugly and as such the Lord has made them to dwell in Light?

If you have a penetrating vision of things you will see the ugliness of this world. And that is not wrong. What is wrong is to let that vision of the ugly become an obstacle between you and hope. And hope in Christianity is not some wishful imaginative thinking. It is to be drawn to the face of the Lord who sculpts our faces according to His face and through that sculpting, He makes us divine. His face is all; and also what is “drawn” of Him on us.

When Jesus of Nazareth says: “Take courage, I have overcome the world”, does He mean to say that He has overcome the ugliness of the world as Bible interpreters say or does He mean to say that He is the One who establishes beauty in this world in place of its ugliness?

God did not create the world in His image. He only created Man in His image in the sense that Man is like God since Man is free like Him; that is how some of the Fathers interpreted that. And some others of them said that to be in God’s likeness is to be loving. And some others also said that Man is free like God or He is loving like Him. In Orthodox theology, Man in fact has all the qualities of God except that of creating; but being creator is not a quality. Being creator is an action. The truth is that you do not have any quality that is considered noble unless it is like its counterpart of God so that Humanity is realized, not only in the individual, but also in the bonding of the community together and in its seeking together the Divine Promises which have been foretold by the prophets and also promised by the Savior.

All times are similar in what they have of good or evil and what they have of love and violence. Perhaps with us the bad is inevitable so that we can hope for Truth to descend upon us from Heaven. This is Man’s tragedy: his presumption that he can create himself by himself and that he can till the ground with all what it has of power. Unbelief is making God so distantly high that you do not feel His bending over on you with His kindness. There is in the Bible words about God’s transcendence and His self-emptying in Christ Jesus. And the One who emptied Himself is the One who soared up; and you also soar up with Him. “He who descended is the one who ascended” to the highest heavens and He gives us to sit with Him on the throne at the right hand of His Father because the incarnation of the Son of God leads us to our deification without which His incarnation becomes meaningless and purposeless.

The uniqueness of Christianity is that God would not have moved towards Humanity except to move Man from “below to above”. And the aforementioned moves were realized through Jesus Christ. All talk about a god who stays way up on the mountain is talk of ancient Greek thought and also of Judaism.

In Christianity, this God we are talking about, though He remains above, became Man like each one of us so that no chasm remains between God and Man forever.

The whole question related to our bond between us and God is the following: Does God, who remains in Heaven, after He has descended in the flesh in His only Son, still descend to us in a move which we call Grace? And do we ascend to Him in a reciprocal move so that we sit with Him on the throne? If the throne is not God’s goal and also ours, then we cannot say that we have bonded with Him.

Is Divinity only above or is it below also? That is the question. And Christianity has provided an answer to that saying: “No one has ascended to Heaven except He who has descended from Heaven, the Son of Man who is in Heaven”. The matter is not a move in space and time since God is not defined in a space or in time. The whole matter is the descent of Grace.

And that is not an indwelling of God in His essence or nature, or else we would fall into paganism. That is an indwelling of love, and love does not break God down or makes Him plural. Love speaks of His love and does not fall apart. Love alone reveals Him as one. Love stretches Him but does not make Him many. God spreads Himself by His giving and remains one in essence. Grace spreads but remains concomitant in Him. So if He spreads, He remains in Himself at the same time. His love spreads. It does not get dissipated with time. Time gets filled with God and in this He pastors it though its essence remains temporal.

Time comes in with all its historicity and creativeness and God is in it but time is not God; but what is produced in time is from God. And on the Last Day, God takes “time” to Himself and gathers humanity with all what He has generously bestowed on them in all times to Himself; and in that sense God ends history and completes it in reconciling all in the human body of Christ.

And the ending of History is its crowning in the glory that God pours down on it; and when History enters the glory of God that would be the change of “time”; and as such we inherit the “Kingdom which was prepared for us before the beginning of the world.”

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “الزمان الآتي” – An Nahar – 06.04.2013

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The Door to Heaven / 30.03.2013

My years run from one disappointment to another. Of course there are consolations, but few of them come from humans. People benefit you whether they are like you or better than you. And you can rarely change what is commonly. And you might discover things against you in what appears as friendly. Much of this world is knit with hypocrisy. “Is this how our hopes always come to an end” until the Lord takes us out of this world? And after we pass away from this world, we become a “forgotten oblivion”; and in that is mercy from the Lord.

And the goodness of people is little and appears to be mixed with their falsehood. And oftentimes one cannot distinguish between their falsehood and honesty and you live appreciating what they offer of sincerity and also expecting it; but there remains for you a small group that comforts you because they are God’s and you also seek to be His. David says: “All humans are liars” and he goes on saying: “How do I reward the Lord for all what He has given me”? How are the two phrases related? If every human is a liar, I would expect nothing from any man. But I know myself as a believer, that is a man in whom there is no falsehood, and in the core of my being and in the midst of my pain– which is not a problem for me, is honest in that no matter how people behave towards me, I steadfastly remain in the presence of the Lord due to His presence “on my tongue” (in what I say) and in my vision.

No pain is left in my heart because of the hatred that some have for me – I am not specifically speaking about myself here – but this is a general principle in my life. And I would not say that there is jealousy in that; who am I to judge and who said that I have such goodness and virtues that would solicit jealousy? People are like that. The loving ones are few and you deal with those few until the Lord takes you to Himself where no lying is heard. The great advantage of Heaven is that God is honest and He sees you as you are; and He makes those in Heaven see your honesty and so you forget about the lying of the people of earth. I would expect that those who know me would wonder concerning what the causes of sadness and pain which I mention in my article are. God lifts up sorrow from whomever He wants and gives joy to whomever He wants. He does not give you joy that is not founded in the truth. You find it good to find joy in the flesh, but the flesh is from dust and often it smells of dust until the Lord lifts you up to the Kingdom. Our situation on the earth is one of closeness to what is unclean in it, until we leave this earth at death. “Every human is a liar” because he tries to hide the uncleanness in him so he appears “white” to others. But those who are great in spiritual life get concerned with how God sees us. And those live by that view of life they speak of.

Your destiny in this world is that you live by yourself or with some good people who rejoice at your progress in spiritual life. That statement is foreign to most people. If you have fear of God, you find yourself alone. People usually have fear of one another and keep fearing God till later in life since they consider that they live from the bounties of the earth. You might have sorrow in you due to that difference since you find that people are not earnest for the Kingdom of God while you are; they are not sad over their own condition and are not sad for you since they “got their reward”.

Disappointments never end but you should not perish because of a shock and you should not expect an end to shocks. You are stranded on the cross that you were promised and often you get consolations in that. And so you go from one “resurrection” to another. Our resurrection with Christ is accomplished at our crucifixion, in the same way it took place with Him. And we embrace our cross knowing that it is the path to our resurrection. Our life in Christ comes with our tiredness of this world and with our prayer life; that is it starts with a cross which the believer sees as the basis of his resurrection.

And that is the path of all of life since there is no life in one’s course except from death; and I mean by that the evanescence of worldly glory and vain boasting. The Lord crowns you with glory from Him if He finds you deserving of the crown. And falling removes from you all glory and places you at the bottom of shame.

“There is no life except from death” means that you refuse to have the glory that comes your way in life and you seek only the glory of God. In this world there only is vain glory which comes our way from the transient pride of life. I feel that people believe only in what is of their world since they have preferred their world to that of God; that is they feel that goodness comes their way from this world since the end of their life is “delayed” – or they put it off – and so they enjoy it only in hope since, at the present, they feel it is not under their control.

The sorrow of most people is that they do not seek anything from Heaven at the start of their lives, and they consider that this world is empty of the blessings of Heaven or that this world can “open the door of Heaven only slightly”.

If there is nothing of the Kingdom in you, you cannot see it. You have nothing in that which is coming unless that has started with you and in you in this world. Have not you read what the Bible says “The Kingdom of God is in you” (Luke 17: 21). Be of Heaven at the present time, or you will not be so in the days to come. Christ has come and will come again.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “باب السماء” – An Nahar – 30.03.2013

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Sunday of Orthodoxy / 23.03.2013

Linguistically, the word Orthodoxy does not denote one of the sects of those that are in the Lebanon. It is a Greek word that signifies “the right faith” to those who have embraced Orthodoxy, or the soundness of what they have received from the Fathers. Those who are not sound in their faith would not be the heretics who have diverged from the “right faith”, but they would be the “others”, as we say in Greek also. But those who only use the linguistic term “orthodox” to call themselves with – while they are not – are not called in Greek by what denotes the “Kuffar” (the blasphemers) in Arabic, but we just call them “the others”. So the Christians have perhaps described them, in their ecclesiastical and historical writings, as those who have diverged from the true faith; but in our common church usage of the word, we call them “others”. Perhaps with that there is a respect for those who deny the beliefs which are thought to be sound.

When you describe your faith and the content of your faith as a creed, you mean to say that it is The Creed in the absolute; otherwise, you are considered as unserious in your position. By using that expression “The Creed”, you would be also considering that other contravening positions are ones of error.

My attention is drawn to how in Lebanon people insist, for a nationalistic reason, to secure all people in their doctrines and “their crosses and churches” as the first Muslims did in respecting the freedom of others. And that is an acknowledgement of their right of freedom, that is even the freedom of staying in error; unless we want to consider all those (religious sects), according to the Quranic expression, as all being the people of Abraham based on the understanding of the Quranic verse “You are the best nation produced for mankind.” . (Al Imran: 110). Maybe that position was established on the understanding that if one were a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim, one would not be different from the other since the children of Abraham are all one. Is this thought of equality within the plurality – using a modern expression – a statement of the Quran?

It bothers me when superficial people or those who are stupidly fanatic, object to our saying that: “This is Orthodox and that is “the others”. My Church has this propriety in not calling the “others” heretic. In the Greek, the word “heretic” does not carry in it a connotation of cursing. What is meant by it is “the others”. Of course you imply that those others do not believe in what I believe in; they are “the others”. I have to embrace them in brotherly love; though they are embraced, yet they are not brothers while the “Orhtodox” is what I am according to the saying of some Muslim Sufis: “I am those I love and those I love are I; we are two souls who live in one body”.

Why? Is the above propriety out of place? Cannot I call the others “the others”? Do I have to say we are one and there is no criterion on which our oneness can be acknowledged?

I know that I am one with every human being. And that is love. And we are in disagreement if we say or believe differently. He who undermines the importance of the differences is like saying that the difference is not a difference. And I say to him whom I disagree with that I love him as much as I love him who is one with me in Creed because love is given to him who believes like you and him who differs from you in the faith. In loving, St Paul did not distinguish between him whose belief is like yours and others.

Cannot we understand that we have matured in love so that I do not feel that I have to kill the one who is different? Is it not time yet that I embrace in one embrace, both those who are near and those who are far?  Humanity will remain a group of people who are in disagreement as to their creeds, but are able to love one another because they are the ones who remain in their greatness and in their shame.

Do we express our love to people according to their creeds? Why should I express less love to those of a different creed than mine when in fact I am able to love people the same regardless of their physical appearance, languages and political affiliations? But when Jesus of Nazareth said “love your neighbor as yourself”, He meant to say this: “Here I see you before me and that is enough for me to love you without asking you about your religious convictions; that is enough for me to embrace you since what I am embracing is your Lord who is in you.”

Paul said that dissension is inevitable (1Cor. 11: 18). And so you are together in the love that God has poured down on you in the gratuitousness of His love. Differences among people do not result necessarily because of some mal-intention in us. It is the result of the differences in our intellects and logic; and such difference among us is acceptable since we receive ourselves from the Divine mind.

The religions will not get united. They are expressions and are adorned with more expressions; and such differences in expressions among the different religions will not melt one into the other or one finds its reference in the other. Every doctrine exists in itself and is like an independent entity in people’s minds. And minds remain in disagreement or in difference though they get close to each other at times. If you are not of the same opinion as mine, it is enough for you to love God and thus I will join you there in His love. And that is more important than having all agree on one opinion. But in the Church, the opinion is one since the faith (Creed) is one.

The Church in Her councils sought to have one creed expressing the faith because using the same words ensures having the same content (of the doctrine). Confessing one Creed shows the unity in the faith among those who say it. That is why we are adamant on expressing the faith using the same words thus ensuring the soundness of the faith and doctrine.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “أحد الأرثوذكسية” – An Nahar – 23.03.2013

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Man and Woman in God / 16.03.2013

Why do you fast? Because you are in dire need of God. And in the Christian understanding, because you are hungry for Him as your food, as His Son has said: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger.” (John 6: 34). Is the Quran verse “He has brought down to us a table from heaven that is a feast for our beginning and our end.” (Al Mai’ida:114) The orientalist Massignon saw that the above two quotes are synonymous. This ongoing feasting has been changed by the ascetics to ongoing fasting in which there is abstinence from food since they consider that their food is the remembrance of God. They did not know the distinction, present in Western theology, between the natural and the supernatural. You would be surprised when you read them to find out that they did not accept what is common and they did not consider the extent of their abstinence and the fortitude in it as supernatural or miraculous.

I am always amazed, when I read them, at the fact that they did not focus on human nature and the power it has though they have spoken against exaggeration. But, nowadays, when we consider what they have accomplished, we find it unbelievable. According to the laws of Natural Science they were supposed to die; but they did not die. In our standards they have breached all the principles of Science to the point that drives us to ask: why did they do all what they did? Was that asceticism necessary?

Knowing that all the pagan religions of the East arose from the worship of sex (Aphrodite, Ishtar and Ashtarout), we can understand why our Fathers kept themselves away from that worship and practice and we can understand why the Fathers were so keen on chastity and on being alert as to the ways of the body and the flesh. For instance it was such alertness that made them say that if you do not control greediness for food, it would be hard for you to attain to other virtues. And Freud said that in his psychoanalysis which has nothing to do with religion. Our Fathers have said that all passions work together, one leading to the other before the modern thinkers said that. They knew through their spiritual experience what modern science has discovered. With that experience they spoke of the correlation that is found among the pleasures and they said that when one fights extravagance and indulgence in food, he would be fighting all other enticements of the flesh since all pleasures are interconnected.

I feel offended by the ignorance of those who accuse Christianity of being “against the body” while Christianity only speaks against the wantonness of the flesh and uncontrolled desires. Was not the body first portrayed in Christian art? Was not the trumpet for the medical care of the body blown high in the civilized Christian countries? But the enticement of the body and the flesh has been the common industry of other cultures also other than Christianity. Does not the book “Kitab al Aghani”, collected by Abu Al Faraj Al Isfahani and composed by non-Christian authors , go deep into the “bodily” and the “fleshly”? Is not the least that one can say of the saying that the East is spiritual and the West is erotic that it is untrue and inaccurate?

At that we cannot but say that we did not import that worship of sex from the West. One would find it strange that erotic poetry (Al Ghazal) dominates the literary poetic expression of the Arabs since the Sixth Century A.D., while, during the first Millennium, one finds no trace of it in the literary expression of the Christian peoples. Going back to pagan worship in Phoenicia and Mesopotamia, and to love-making practices in the our East like the marriage among siblings in ancient Egypt, we notice that our people in the East were not as chaste as other peoples were. In literary expression, the ones who innovated erotic poetry were the Hebrews, and after that came the erotic poetry of the Arabs. “And the poets are followed by the debauched” (Al Shua’ara’a 224). Singing the praises of the body started here in the East at a time when Europe was still pure. While there was no censure over the erotic writings of the East a millennium ago, the Catholic Church used to fight against the culture of the theater.

Some of the “fables” invented by the contemporary critics are that the Church has always been against the body. The truth is that the Church is against fornication and adultery and not against the wholesome love that exists between the male and the female. I have never seen a greater “praise” of marriage than that which we see in the marriage celebration in the Christian Church. The matrimonial prayers in our Church is “poetry”. You might want to consider marriage as a contract, but this is the minimal type of a bond between a man and a woman. And you hear read in Church in the wedding that marriage is an icon of what we call the “sacramental bond” (that is the one that exists in the mystery of God) and that mystery is reflected in the coming together of the bride and the bridegroom.

In Cristianity, we do not have a mere contract. Everything in it is a Divine Mystery; that is a covenant between God and Man. And God is the one who initiates the covenant and establishes it. In Christianity, we do not have one aspect of our life that is merely civil or human and another which is only Divine; in Christianity all is divine and human at the same time. All that we have construed as theology is according to the image of the incarnated Lord; and when we say that Man comes from God, we mean to say that he is in the image of what the Christ would be like, that is an incarnated God.

We are not in the image of Christ as the incarnate God, nor are we in His mere human image since that is our image. We are in the image of the incarnated God in that we are apt to receive the Divine eternal grace. In the likeness of Christ, we come from God and we go back to Him but He has taken one body and we are in another. And as He went back to His Father in His resurrected body, we likewise go back to Him first at death and second at the last resurrection. And our death is the beginning of “tasting” the resurrection.

The woman and the man are one, but they are so in the Lord. I do not deny the oneness they have as both being human, but that is not revealed at its depth and breadth unless it is in God. There is no separation in our Church between what is on the natural plane and what is on the supernatural plane. The Lord ties this nature with that which transcends it and elevates it so that it would become the language of God and His tool.

Psychologists speak of the complementarity between the two sexes. Yet if that is not in God the relation between them can turn into one of feuding to the point of complete breakdown. They also speak of a tension between the two sexes. What is important to know here is that the attraction between the sexes is threatened by an enmity between them which often appears in married life.

The natural attraction is not enough in bonding people; there is the desire in one to dominate the other between the two sexes. Natural attraction is the other face of the coin of natural enmity which can develop into murder. The man is not a guarantee for the woman nor is she that for him. That relationship is flavored at the least with good education and at the most with spirituality. The human being is not a machine; he would be one if the Spirit does not move him. The human being is first a natural entity that is a body; but he is called to receive God in him.

Man is the fruit of God through a calling or else nothing in him is. With that he is raised above this earth. And his earthliness is brightened with the Divine splendor when he accepts God’s rearing of him.

Humanity is a term used for man and woman together. And Genesis has identified humanity as both, male and female. The intention of the writer of that book is that humanity is complete with both male and female being together. But the danger in this is that the accomplishment of humanity is in their mere togetherness. Their togetherness should be that of love. And love does not proceed from their nature. Love comes from the heart and not on its own. It is planted there by Divine Love. As such the heart becomes whole because of the Lord who dwells in it.

That was to affirm that man and woman in their togetherness which is according only to nature is lacking. God makes the male human through his love for the female and vice versa. God remains ‘creating’ after the creation has been over with; that is He is always renewing it. We are perennially in the bosom of the Father; otherwise we would die of lack of “warmth”.

Warmth is only in God. Before we truly get to God, all is but a mirage. Nothing in this world can be realized unless we see ourselves as being in the bosom of God.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “الرجل والمرأة في الله” – An Nahar – 16.03.2013

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At The Doors of Lent / 09.03.2013

What do we seek as we knock at the doors of Lent? We abstain from food so that the Lord would feed us His rich mercy; that is, we pray Him for mercy to nourish us. As we walk the course to Pascha, we struggle to believe that we are able to be nourished with the Heavenly Food and to believe that the Lord instills in us hunger for Him. We must desire the Heavenly Food so that God grants us to desire Him. We will not be satiated unless we yearn for the Lord as our nourishment. Is our voluntary abstinence from the food of this world a way to desire “the Bread that comes down from Heaven” which is the Divine food par excellence? The Lord nourishes us with every word that He utters; His word is Himself.

Other than that there is much food that we eat that does not give us salvation “because food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, and the Lord will destroy both”. I think that it is important to believe, as we fast, that all what enters the mouth will be destroyed with our flesh.

There is variety in the ways of fasting among the Christians. They have differences as to the quantity of food eaten and its knids but they all agree that it is essential for the human being that, in his life, he exercises control over his desires so he does not find his identity in them. Christianity, when you obey it, saves you from the harmful desire and puts you in the moderation that builds you up. Fasting in our Church is not a kind of “diet”, but it is the human being as master of the impulses of the flesh and as a journeyer to the Bread of Heaven, that is, to the Word of God from which he receives life and to the Lord in whom the good deeds he does are done.

What is important is that one learns from his fasting that food passes away as the body does. “The Kingdom of God is neither food nor drink”. The totality of our life is important for one to learn that “The Kingdom of God is righteousness and holiness”. What do we learn from abstaining from food? What is important during fasting is what you learn for your salvation. All things in Christianity are an upward progress to God; other than that there is nothing. We need to transcend the “diet mentality” to “dieting from sin” thus protecting ourselves from wrongdoing so we can see God’s face; and if we do not seek and get to that “face” we would have misled ourselves into unrighteousness.

I am surprised at those Christians who question the importance of fasting knowing that they have not experienced it or have been through it. They obey the medical practice when they are told by a doctor to abstain from eating much meat for the betterment of their health, but they do neglect the abstinence which is of benefit for them both health-wise and spirit-wise. And they make a distinction between Jesus’ clear call to fasting and the great order of fasting set by the Church.

To avoid fasting in the pretext that the Lord Jesus did not regulate Lent but only called for fasting as a principle, is a belittling of the existence of the Church which exists because of Christ in that it undertakes the matters of salvation on earth.

The claim that fasting is not binding because the Lord Jesus did not define a method or timing for it is not accepted because the Savior usually gives us the principle and so we build on it; He did not organize the Church with all Her administrative details but left that to the disciples and those who come after them. That is He left that to the period of time that follows His death, His resurrection, Pentecost and the establishment of the Church. The Church is alive and She manages the times with Her wisdom in what brings benefit to the believers; She is not a “law” that is strict and rigid. Jesus gave us His living word and He did not lay systems for us. And what is referred to as an ecclesiastical law is not like the conditional law which is liable to constant change; in the Church, there is that which undergoes change and that which does not. What in the Church is truly Divine is enduring. What is merely of a historical nature can be modified.

There is no life without a form. The question is how to change the form without losing the life contained in it. The intricacy in Ecclesiastical forms makes them have both, the Divine and the temporal, at the same time. And so, do not strike the Divinity of the institution when you bypass something of its temporal history. History and time also carry God in them. What is eternal is linked to what is temporal and so do not modify the temporal in such a way that what is eternal is subdued. From that scope, you cannot modify the ways of fasting in such a way that you temper with the eternal that they contain. That is the wisdom of the Church: that you can reconcile between what is steadfast and what is mutable without having one overcoming the other. So if the Church sees that fasting is one of those immutable elements which, if removed, would cause the passing away of the institution, then you cannot change it unendingly.

Making changes in institutions is a very sensitive matter. Orthodox scholars have studied the matter of change in the system of fasting and decided not to continue in that. In Geneva, I participated in the meetings for the preparation of the Synod which was commissioned to study the modification of some systems in the Orthodox Church. We refused, then, to modify anything in the procedures of fasting. The general sense that prevailed among the conferees, of Bishops and laypeople, was that fasting in its Orthodox form was something that all of them felt good about.

Nothing prevents the situation to change in the present time. And the Church has the right to modify its general systems. And we have done that during the civil war in Lebanon, but the believers kept the fasting procedures as they are in our Church.

Any approach to the matter of fasting and its procedures will not be “healthy” if not accompanied with a spiritual awakening or renewal based on the Divine Book or on Holy Tradition. Discussing the matter of modifying the fasting system should be based on a profound understanding of fasting; so it does not become a discussion of changing the current eating system with a new one, but the discussion and the change should be accompanied with a sweeping spiritual renewal.

Fasting Lent is a yearning for Pascha and for the Light that is profusely poured on us. Approaching that great Light requires abstinence from sin and an onrush to the Divine Brightness which when we put on, we would have overcome the world. Fasting is an endeavor that signifies for us our unconditional plunging in that Brightness which removes all darkness from the folds of the soul and calls it to become a vast enterprise of light.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “أبواب الصوم” – An Nahar – 09.03.2013

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