Monthly Archives

October 2010

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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2010, An-Nahar, Articles

Humility / 23-10-2010

Again mount Athos, which overwhelmed me in terms of my understanding of watching it. The monasteries are covered or concealed by the length of the trees. Does the tree have the spirit of smashing, or, does the monastery’s scent smash? And the ceiling of the monastery conceals all the monks, while their society strikes their individuality.

[Only] whatever is hidden [truly] is, and whenever you come to the fore in order to show your existence, it is not you who comes out, rather your pettiness. The humble person is the one who does not see him/[her]self above the earth, i.e., he/[she] perceives his/[her] soul smashed. He/[she] might feel the smashing, since he/[she] feels his/[her] soul trampled down and because of being the victim of injustice he/[she] delights and rejoices as the Book says in Matthew. When the Lord had said, “learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart”, (Matt. 11: 29) He revealed that the source of this great virtue is the enlightened heart through Chris. This is to say that one might acquire this virtue after immense purification. There is no place for false glory in the heart of the believer and only the Lord, who humbled Himself unto death, death on a cross, dwells in it. (Phil. 2: 8)

Whenever you perceive this, you understand the words of the apostle: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners”. (1Tim.1: 15) Paul, who had exceeded many in virtues, even was caught up to the third heaven, was thinking of himself as the last of all people. And St. John Climacus [of the Ladder] had said, “Humility is a blessing for the soul, it does not have a name which expresses it, other than the one that those who had learned it through experience have.” Then, the great monk elaborated his speech on the beauty of humility, saying: “whoever unites him/[her]self with humility in a similar way as the unity of the bridegroom with the bride, he/[she] would be always kind,  ardent, thrilled, quite, cheerful, does not sadden anyone, and in a word free of caprices.” Caprice is a term used by the ascetic Fathers and it refers to the source of sin, and it is our irritability that creates it. As if the monk is saying that whoever reaches at the virtue of humility, he/[she] had reached the peak of purity, this would be a person for whom heaven has been opened, while on earth. He/[she] trusts the gifts of heaven and does not trust oneself, rather he/[she] awaits God’s judgment upon him/[her]self. Thus, he/[she] does not pride him/[her]self on any good thing that he/[she] has. A person like this has attained resurrection before the general resurrection.

Does this mean that the humble person does not perceive in him/[her]self merits? Socrates had recommended that the person should know oneself, in order that he/[she] might know his/[her] abilities and serve. And the Lord had said, “you are the light of the world”, and ordered us to enlighten others, and not to put the lamp under a bushel. [Matt.5: 14-15] Your ability of speech e.g., or your ability to manage the public affairs, these could not be hidden to you. Nevertheless, the apostle orders you not to think of yourself as higher than what you ought to, since then you will become nothing. You would not acquire humility, unless you realize that whatever lofty and true within you comes from God. You have been entrusted the above virtues and you are not their owner. You enlighten people by divine light, which owner you are not. You are a channel for compassion, which you give, and you are not the Compassionate one, similar to the canal of water which is not the water. Whenever you are in a state of constant thanksgiving to your Lord, people trace the lights of the Lord which are delineated on your face, and praise God because of you.

Thus, humility does not come to us by the way of nature that we inherit. To be kind, quite, shrewd and humble does not mean, according to St. Isaac the Syriac, that you have reached the height of humility. If once, or at some occasion, you have regretted a wicked thing, do not think that you have attained humility. One cannot attain humility unless one ascends the whole ladder of virtues. The virtues succeed each other and humility is the culmination of the ascent.

It might be that only those who have been the victim of boastfulness, and have got rid of it, the ones who can truly perceive the meaning of humility. Boastfulness is when you consider certain details in your nature, and you think that you have obtained them as the outcome of some works, which you think have honored you. You feel that you have surpassed your measure and you might not know that you have puffed yourself up. Each one of us is a frog, who aspires to be as big as an ox, as La Fontaine’s fable maintained, asserting to him/[her]self that it might be realized, while it won’t, until life strikes him/[her] and then he/[she] blows up.

This prides him/[her]self on his/[her] money and that prides on his/[her] authority, while neither your money nor your authority is you. You perceive yourself through whatever you gain, while you are [truly] the way God sees you, namely that which you have not gained. At a true repentance you shall be stripped from whatever you have gained, and you shall understand that God, through God’s love, fashions you. Hence, you carry your belovedness and become splendid, guiding [others] by it. Why have our masters thought that arrogance is the greatest sin? Since through it you divinize yourself, i.e. you apostatize. Arrogance is apostasy in its density. On the other hand the humble person, who thinks of him/[her]self as nothing, reveals that it is God who shed’s light upon him/[her]. Therefore, he/[she] prides on God and excludes apostasy fully, and thus, becomes of a deified nature, entering the state of deification and carrying out within him/[her]self the characteristics of God.

Humility is the complete tranquility and the complete certitude, since it is the vision of God’s face. [In this state] the person enters the glamor of freedom, i.e. the freedom from the ‘I’. Yes, no one reaches at putting the ‘I’ to death unless at his/[her] death, since the death of the righteous one is the Holy Saturday, on which Christ has rested in the tomb. No one attains the complete rest unless in the tomb, since it is the final baptism.

The ‘I’ does not die completely in this world, since as long as we are in flesh, sin or its delights, i.e., the wavering between righteousness and perversity, attack us. Complete repentance is a yearning, until God takes us to Godself. Great humility brings the yearning to an end and gives us the vision, which we might be given through the vigilance of the soul and the Kingdom, which has started to dwell in us.

In Byzantine Liturgy, we call the communion of the Lord’s body “the Completion of the Kingdom of heaven”, though its author, John Chrysostom, was aware that we might be given completion only after our resurrection. As if he says that if on Sunday morning you unite yourself with Christ, do not expect any other thing yet to come. Whenever God acknowledges you as a humble person in accordance with the image of the crucified one, nothing is required from you other than the completion of love, which John the apostle had made the true name of the Lord, saying, “God is Love.” The humble one loves, since nothing has remained in him/[her] other than God.

Whenever we believe in this, there would be no difference whether you are a minister, a doctor, a carpenter, or a shoeblack. What matters is that you accomplish your duties with obedience to God, and that you do not consider yourself as great if you were from the elite of your community, and do not belittle yourself whenever you were from the little ones. I know people who had gained important status in the society and have not become arrogant. They have not prided themselves neither on the properties in their houses, nor on their wealth. They remained on the humility that they previously had. The inner soul does not fall always by the beauties of the lower world. Nothing corrupts you, whenever you determine to keep the Lord in your heart, since you know that nothing can add one cubit unto your span of life. You might rub out whatever your friends think that you may pride yourself on. You pass through all worldly splendor, you pass through your intelligence, or your beauty, as if they are nothing. The brilliance of your mind, or any other created thing, cannot attract you. Only God’s glory and the glamor of the saints, of which some are alive, arouse your attention. So you live to receive from them, since you believe that you come into being through them, without knowing that you were fashioned through them. You leave your own judgment to your Lord and wait for His compassion. You fear that you might not attain the heaven, since you think of yourself as a sinner. You live with this awe and come closer, “with the fear of God, faith and love”, to the table of salvation on the Sunday morning. Through that you become wholly a new person, and only the Lord knows that you have become new.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “التواضع” –An Nahar- 23-01-2010

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2010, Articles, Raiati

Mount Athos / 17.10.2010

Late in the first millennium, St. Athanasius (July 5th) constituted the monastic life in Mount Athos, which is a peninsula in northern Greece. Twenty independent monasteries were built according to the Orthodox rules, praying and having an ascetic life (they never eat meat). These monasteries have a central administration formed from monasteries’ delegates. In addition to these monasteries there are independent hermitages where a monk or more stay alone.

An Island full of trees especially chestnuts trees which monks use to make what they need from wooden material such as doors and other things.

They wake up two or three hours after midnight and have the long divine services standing, with a correct musical performance. After the morning prayers and the vespers they have two meals, and everyone goes to his work: Handiwork, farming, and theological studies.

Ethnically the Greek element is dominant, but there are also three monasteries from Russians, Serbs and Bulgarians. There are also people that converted to Orthodoxy from different origins.

Beside the divine services they welcome male pilgrims and provide them hospitality as they live in these very beautiful monasteries which differ by their architecture. The colors of the exterior walls are different, and the big and small domes are all over the roofs.  In addition to the main church, there are other churches in each monastery – 4 or 5 or more churches- which monks go to after the matins to have the Divine Liturgy.

Pictures of saints are everywhere especially the icon of the Theotokos the intercessor of the island. The walls of the dining rooms are all full of icons as if you are eating in the presence of the saints.

To this place we went; John (Yazegi) Metropolitan of Europe, Ephraim (Kiriakos) Metropolitan of Tripoli, and I, each with his companion. We went from one monastery to another by car on dirt roads.

We used to communicate by Greek language, directly or by translation, and we had the Divine Liturgy in Arabic, we also had Antiochian theology students with us to facilitate the communication.

The monks were honoring the Antiochian bishops with a warm and unique welcome in the church of each monastery. The linguistic communication was difficult but the hearts’ communication was easy and strong. It seems that Antioch has a special status to them, and the whole orient moves their hearts.

We received a grace after another, and we felt that whoever is able to travel to Greece should visit this holy mountain because it is a one in a million pleasure. If the nature is very beautiful then the piety is even more beautiful.

It is a center for Orthodox worship with an exceptional strength and inspiration. You don’t come back from this great monastic gathering but rich from the piety blessings that appear in front of your eyes.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “جبل آثوس” – 17.10.2010-Raiati no42

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The Beginning of Paul’s Work / 10.10.2010

The apostle speaks in this part of his epistle to the Galatians about his gospel and says that he received it by Jesus Christ’s declaration to him. It is obvious that Paul is not talking about the four gospels that were not written yet. However, we do notice after they were written in the first century that the content of Paul’s teachings is identical to that of the four gospels. Everything that Paul taught, in a way, is about the Lord’s death and resurrection, in addition to a word about his nativity, and the narration of the mystical supper.

After that, the apostle clarifies that God chose him from his mother’s womb and called him by his grace so that he declares his son in him to preach among the nations (Paganism). Paul carries a teaching that he received directly from Jesus, and this is enough to assure the apostle’s credibility.

The apostle talks in this text briefly about his story saying “I persecuted without mercy the church of God” and one example of this is Stephen’s death in Acts which Paul took part in. Nevertheless, Jesus appeared to him on the road of Damascus where he was delegated to go arrest the Christians. With this appearance Jesus changed him completely making him a strong disciple roaming all the earth to create Christian communities and send them his epistles that are known for us in the New Testament and that we read in each liturgy along with other apostles’ epistles.

In this chapter he assures that after the Lord’s appearance he “did not take the opinion of flesh and blood” i.e. he didn’t hesitate to follow Jesus so he continued his way to Damascus so that Ananias baptizes and releases him from Damascus. He says that after meeting Ananias he didn’t go up to Jerusalem to the apostles who were before him in order to validate his faith, “instead, he went at once to Arabia”. Most commentators believe that “Arabia” means “Horan” and it was called “Arabia” in the Roman administration, and there must have been some Christians there.

The Scripture does not say anything about what Paul did in Horan other than praying and studying the Old Testament which he had a strong relation with as we know from his writings. Paul relates his knowledge of Jesus with the different books of the Old Testament.

Then he says “I returned to Damascus”. Why to Damascus? Because this is the place where his first love to Jesus appeared. We do not know the duration that he spent in Horan. When he says that he went up to Jerusalem after three years, does he mean that he stayed in Damascus for three years? Or he means three years in Horan and Damascus together? We don’t know and we don’t care to know. After these three years he says “I went to Jerusalem to visit Peter”. Peter had a big importance in the apostolic community. Paul stayed at Peter’s for fifteen days in which he heard a lot about Lord Jesus that Peter lived with. Then Paul did not see any other apostle except James, the Lord’s brother. All the rest had surely left Palestine for preaching. After that, Paul took off to the world.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “بداءة بولس” – 10.10.2010-Raiati no41

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Love your enemies / 3.10.2010

Many wonder how to love our enemies. Is this possible? The first part of the answer is that an enemy is the one that antagonized you, while you can’t antagonize anyone. You can be sad but not hold any hatred towards him because he is your brother. You cannot love him as the Lord requested unless you considered him your brother regardless of the evil his heart has. God asks you to fix this person’s heart.

Remember the Good Samaritan that found a wounded Jew on the road and healed and took care of him. The Samaritan was the enemy of the Jew religiously, and that hostility was big back then.

He who antagonized you today is wounded, shocked or has a purpose against you. You might not have harmed him, but if you replied by hatred you’ll increase his evil while your goal is to heal him, to heal a person. The lord made you today a Good Samaritan, a doctor for you enemy, and only you are his doctor since you’re the only one that knows his illness.

In most cases he accepts your forgiveness, but if he didn’t then pray for him to accept it. Mention your enemy in your prayers everyday, and let his name be mentioned on the holy altar so that the Lord’s mercy would be on him.

The reading ends with the Lord saying: “be merciful just as your Father is merciful”. The word merciful linguistically means that the heart of the Lord is big enough for all humans. Since God put all his rational creatures in his arms, you should be like him so that your enemy becomes in his arms too, and this way you meet your enemy at the lord that loves both of you.

We cannot meet a person except in the depths of the divine tenderness. The human passion changes according to the mood, but we –as believers– do not act temperamentally but we do act with a divine passion as if our heart was the Lord’s.

Remember that God is love and his heart does not differentiate between these that love him and those that don’t, because they are all his sons. If you had two children, one was nice and kind while the other was naughty; you provide them with the same love. However, there are two ways for raising them, and both ways intend to help and fix your kids.

God is love and this is the only relation between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Love is the divine oneness; it is the name of God.

God acts as a raiser and uses different methods with people, but he wants one Love for all humans. And Christ’s death is the big proof of his love towards us.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “أحبوا أعداءكم” – 3.10.2010-Raiati no40

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