Monthly Archives

August 2012

2012, Articles, Raiati

The Gospel of Paul / 26.08.2012

When Paul speaks about his “Gospel”, he surely doesn’t mean the Four Gospels because those weren’t written at that time. He says to the Corinthians that they have accepted this gospel and through it they take their stand and are saved. It is a complete life and carries a reformation for our behavior. Then, he gives the content of this gospel after saying that he has received it from the first cohort. Its content is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”.

The word “Scriptures” here means the Old Testament because the New Testament wasn’t put into books yet. The core of preaching is that Christ died, was buried and was risen in the third day and that He appeared for Cephas (Peter) and then to the Twelve. He doesn’t mention when did this happen. Mark says that He appeared for the Eleven but doesn’t mention Peter. John might have agreed with these words in the last chapter of his Gospel. As for the five-hundred that He also appeared for according to the epistle, they weren’t mentioned in the Gospel as the appearing for James also wasn’t mentioned. Therefore, we have different stories for the Lord’s appearances that circulate among the first cohort. After that, Paul says: “then he appeared for me also, as to one abnormally born”; the expression refers to an infant that is born dead.

The reason behind giving himself this name is because he considered himself the least of the apostles because he “persecuted the Church of God”. He refers here to his participation in the killing of Stephen and his trip to Damascus to capture believers.

However, Paul didn’t feel desperate from his previous life even if it did sadden him, so he said: “By the grace of God, I am what I am”. Divine tenderness erases all sins and makes the repentant a new man. Then, he doesn’t only say that grace saved him but also pushed him to work more than everyone. However, after finding that he has a great production or preaching moving between lots of important cities around the Mediterranean he spoke humbly and said: “Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed”. He is one with the apostles because they all had the same content to teach and as a result believers believed. This leads us to say that the apostolic tradition or heritage is one and is expressed differently according to everyone’s gift. Every one speaks in a different way, but all messages are delivered equally in their depth thanks to the One Holy Spirit that inspires different expressions according to the readiness of each apostle and according to his mental level and life experience.

We do not have any kind of descent i.e. a divine dictation. We have inspiration which is a strengthening from the Holy Spirit. An Apostle speaks humanly with his words and divinely through his inspiration.

This is why Matthew has his own words and John too. You have the right to love things in Matthew and other things in John and taste every Evangelist according to your gift. According to this, we understand that Christians have different theological tastes: One could be deep in theology and the other could prefer ethical teachings. These are all gifts that integrate and make the Church united and diverse at the same time. The Lord is glorified through the diversity and unity of gifts in the Holy Spirit.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “إنجيل بولس” –Raiati 35- 26.08.2012

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2012, Articles, Raiati

The Family of the Father / 19.08.2012

This archdiocese consists of small and large villages. Each village has families, and man is attached to his family and has the right to love it. When a person goes beyond the conflicts that occur in families, he would get closer to a large family that Apostle Paul called “the Family of the Father”. Such a family is not based on flesh and blood. The great bond between people isn’t based on blood but on knowing that you and people that relate to you or don’t are sons of God. This is the strongest possible bond between people.

We notice in society that a lot of families confront other families to a great extent. The word “confrontation” in Arabic means that two foreheads are facing each other with their bones being in contact, and this is what creates rivalry. The truth of this scene is that every group of people is a minority and man needs to feel supported especially when he feels the necessity of sharing with others, whether they were related to him or not. Therefore, he gets closer to those who are more related to him, i.e. those whom he meets frequently.

Man doesn’t get closer to someone not related to him except by heart, and the heart is a gift from God. If you loved those who are far from you, the Lord would have captured you and gave you His whiffs and let His Spirit descend on you so that your relationship with others would be poured on you from the Lord. If you didn’t love those who are far, your heart wouldn’t have any divine feeling.

Familial cooperation for a human cause is a beautiful thing. However, if you harmed the other because he has harmed you, you wouldn’t be considering him as a brother. In Christianity, every person is your brother, and you should love him exactly as you love your own brother or sister. Christ died for this person, and Christ’s love is the same for him, for your brother, father or mother; there is no difference. Your brother isn’t closer to you than any other human being. Your brother and the stranger both grow through the Lord’s love that descends on them.

In the rural community, you serve all people, and if a person from your family had a conflict with someone from another family, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be on the side of your relative. You’re on the side of the truth and consultation because you want to fix the souls. If your brother or father made a mistake towards the other, your duty is to let him leave his sin. Your concern is to repair his soul and lead it to the truth and purify it by letting him remember forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the real bond between human beings. Whatever we did wrong, the Lord shall forgive us if we repented. Therefore, in front of God, we are classified as people that forgive or don’t. Hateful people aren’t from god’s family. Through hatred, one separates himself from this family, while through forgiveness you join it.

Families in dispute do not constitute a Christian community. Families that hate each other are not close to God. Social bond is nothing. The bonding of a good spirit with another spirit would make it good too. Families that repair themselves become a Church.

My wish is for villages not to remain villages but become a Church. How could you become an enemy for someone that you share with the Lord’s body? We are one in the Lord. If you understand this, you shall revive.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “عائلة الأب” –Raiati 34- 19.08.2012

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2012, Articles, Raiati

Mary in Glory / 12.08.2012

The Dormition Fast will end soon and we will reach the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos on the 15th of this month. We have fasted in order to earn the Theotokos’ care and affection. This affection was declared by the Savior on the cross where Mary was standing with the disciple that Jesus loved. This disciple heard the Lord say to him: “This is your mother”. This motherhood wasn’t only poured on this disciple but also on every believer that is loved by the Master.

Our sense for the Theotokos isn’t only an emotional feeling towards her but is also the Savior’s will to be her sons, i.e. to have Mary in our spiritual life. Honoring Mary was an order from Jesus. He is the one that declared her motherhood for us.

Believers ask about what happened to her after her death. The divine service uses the word “assumption” in the sense that God let her body ascend to Him. In the year 1950, the Western Church declared that the assumption is related to Mary’s body and soul together and said that this is a doctrine.

We did speak liturgically about Assumption; however we didn’t make it a doctrine. Some theologians accept it and others don’t. The icon of Dormition pictures the virgin sleeping and Jesus next to her carrying her soul in the form of a child covered with white clothes as a sign that she is in heaven. Everything for us shows that she is in glory, like martyrs, and that she intercedes for us as we call her “More honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim”.

The common belief in the Church is that Mary is without stain or corruption, i.e. the Church considers her impeccable and calls her “the bride of God” and stresses on her importance in the Divine Incarnation that was fulfilled through her submission to God’s will that was expressed by the Angel’s annunciation where she said: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word for me be fulfilled”. The Divine Incarnation demanded her acceptance for Gabriel’s call in order to carry inside her this great mystery and to be an image of the virgin Church as the author of the Book of Revelation thought (Rev 12).

Yes, Jesus is the only mediator between God and people in the sense that He is the only one that fulfilled the salvation. However, saints and especially the Theotokos are also with Him and around Him praying for us. Jesus gave them the power of intercession for our salvation after being loaded by sin.

In the Kingdom, Mary is above any judgment or conviction. Her son has put her next to Him in the Kingdom to intercede for us alongside all other saints.

This is why she is mentioned a lot in liturgical books, and there exist no service that doesn’t speak about her and with her.

Therefore, she has many feasts with the Dormition being the peak of those where we declare that she dwells in the divine glory waiting for us to gain resurrection on the last day and see her glory next to Jesus’ glory.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “مريم في المجد” –Raiati 33- 12.08.2012

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2012, An-Nahar, Articles

The Symbols and the Truth / 11.08.2012

Symbolism for us is not plain imagination. Spiritual truth does not descend as mere words. It comes in form of images as well. The image of the truth is its symbol. They are not two different things. When the author of the Hebrews speaks of Christ says that He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” [Heb.1: 3; NIB translation]. The glory is in His splendor and He is the representation of [God’s] being.

Whenever you are pigmented by the water of baptism, it does not [merely] signify that you have received salvation. But you receive it in truth. Water does not signify something which it does not have. It gives you what it has, i.e. the reality of salvation which was transferred to it. Material moves from the sensible world to the world of perception. That is why, in communion, whatever seems to you as bread has become in its essence the Lord’s body. Not [merely] signifying the body. It has become a body, i.e. it has moved from the sensible world to the world of perception. We do not say that the body of the Lord is in the bread, or with it, or under it. We say that the bread has become body, and we do not speak about the how.

The mystery in this is that whatever might seem to you as a symbol of something else, it is no longer that. There is not something else. Symbol, in its common use, refers to the symbolized, and there is nothing between the two other than the relationship of imagination. However, in the Christian use of the term the symbol and the symbolized are one. The symbolized is manifested through the symbol, and it is not possible for you to differentiate between the two on the level of existence.

Is it the hand to the hand at the handshake, or it is the heart to the heart, whenever we were honest? When Paul says, “Greet one another with a holy kiss”, what does he mean, other than to say that the kiss should be without deception, or lie? Is the meeting in marital love a symbol or a truth? In the Orthodox Church, when “let’s love one another” is sung, the priest kisses another priest. However, in the past all the congregation used to perform this kiss, denoting that the Church is formed through love. The body carries the soul, which communicates with the other soul, and there should be a bridge between the two, and the body is this stanchion which consists of flesh, blood and bones.

In the same vein it is possible to speak of the constructed church, its music and its paintings. It would have been possible not to have sanctuaries, and to be satisfied by reading the divine Word. However, the large number of believers demanded a vast place for prayer, and it was necessary to perform the liturgies, which are congruous symbols in their meaning and forms. By performing the liturgy, it pours a meaning upon you, and the meaning brings you to its image. And the prayers are words, and the word is at once an image and a meaning.

If you take the Bible, it consists of words, namely the words of a particular language, i.e. you enter into the Bible through the language and the language is [a kind of] illustration. And the Bible is not in one language. It is in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. These languages are symbols, like other symbols, and through them you search for the truth and the truth is in its words. Whenever the interpreters expose a text of the divine book to interpretation, they expose it to the languages, i.e., to the symbols of truth, yet, they aim at the truth. Thus, truth and its images are together, until, on the Last Day, God becomes our only Truth, without images. The great ones in prayer, in my church, reach at a day when they do not speak words. Then, we call their prayers inner prayers. Those have allowed the supplication through Jesus’ name to enter their hearts, and His name would have resided within them. Then, they would not utter a name or a word. They would be in the Presence. Before the Presence, the problem of the relationship between the symbol and the symbolized vanishes.

If we take the Mystery of Holy Unction, we ask: why should the sick person be anointed with oil? Was the oil the origin of some medications or because the root of its name in Greek is of the same root of mercy? What remains from this question is that we are in a holy endeavor, which brings the symbol together with the symbolized. In this, we are not deviating from the human nature.

Further, the talk about the symbols in the church should be concluded by mentioning the icon. What are you doing when you place your lips on it? Is this a kiss to the picture or to the master of the picture? After Yazid had destroyed our icons, John of Damascus wrote that whenever we honor the image (honor and not worship) we honor Christ, or Mary, or the Saint who is pictured, and that is because of the incarnation, namely that the only Son of God has taken a human image, body and blood. Thus, whenever we conjoin the icon we are conjoining Him.

Maybe, to some extent, every one of us is an icon of God, and by our flesh we transcend to God, and nothing remains other than the face of God, which has no symbol. Whenever you can perceive God in this way, without expression, you would have been perceiving perfection.

This would occur on the Last Day (in our expression), or at the Hereafter, in the expression of our brothers and friends. Every community has its expression, whether by images or a book, and the book is an image. After resurrection you would not have a human face, by which you perceive God. You would have a different body and an unwritten prayer, and in your heart, you would not have any imagination, since imagination is an image. Your heart, then, would not differ from the heart of God, in its purport and glory.

We rely now, necessarily, on words, which are imagination, we rely on signs, signals and arts, until the form of this world fades away, and God seizes us by the wings of God’s love to God’s face, about which it is not admissible to speak.

If we can love one another here, that would mean that we can see faces, which are beyond portrayal, since portrayal needs images, and we would have been surpassed those images by the contiguousness of love.

Between the eighth and the ninth centuries, was not the knowledge of those who destroyed the icon revealing to them that the Bible was also an icon, since it leads [the reader] to God through words, which are images? Sheer truth is in your heart whenever your heart imitates the heart of God, and whenever its content transcends to the vision of God.

What matters is that divinity and humanity unites within you, with your subsisting as a human existent. God does not eliminate you. Transcend to God by your words and worship God with all your body, which is held by God.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “الرموز والحقيقة” –An Nahar- 11.08.2012

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2012, Articles, Raiati

The Faith of Peter / 05.08.2012

The incident that preceded Jesus’ miracle of walking on the water in Lake Tiberias was the incident of increasing the number of bread loaves. There were many people, and Jesus had to let them go, so He ordered His disciples to go to the other side of the lake in order to let the crowd go. After doing so, He went up on a mountainside to pray.

Jesus, in His human nature, used to pray for God the Father. He always used to pray alone as the Son of the Father, nobody was with Him. His words to the Father are different from people’s words. He didn’t have any needs to ask for.

He stayed alone on the mountain, and the boat sailed while being buffeted by the waves deep through the night because the wind was against it. Lake Tiberias is very big (12 Kilometers in length) and wind is probable there.

Jesus met the boat while walking on the lake. And when the disciples saw Him, they didn’t recognize Him so He called them saying: “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid”. Tranquility comes from Jesus if we felt disturbed. Only Christ could take us out of fear, because He is the peace.

After the Lord’s words, Peter replied saying: “Tell me to come to you on the water. ‘Come’, He said”. Peter got down out of the boat and walked on water to come to Jesus. Through Jesus’ power, he was able to do like Jesus, walk on water. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and began to sink”. When he was only looking at Jesus, he didn’t feel disturbed by the wind; he didn’t even feel the wind. “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt”. Jesus made peace enter the apostle’s heart so he was again only looking at Christ’s face. Man fears every wind and every weakness that faces him. Only the Savior can make you unaffected by any case of weakness.

When tranquility came back to Peter’s heart, he walked with Jesus to the boat. “And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down”. This means that when Peter felt that he is under Jesus’ protection, he had no more fear.

When the disciples saw the miracle of saving Peter from drowning, they worshiped Jesus, i.e. they confessed that he is their savior from every fear and every fall. “They worshiped Him”, i.e. they confessed that He is the Son of God.

This is the confession that Peter makes after a while: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. This was the disciples’ faith when they were saved from drowning. Peter’s faith is the faith of the community as he is the rock of the Church. Saying that Christ is the Son of the living God is our whole faith. Any other statement is stemmed from it. This is the confession that was adopted by the Nicene Creed in the part that starts with “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.

Translated by Mark Najjar

Original Text: “إيمان بطرس” –Raiati 32- 05.08.2012

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2012, An-Nahar, Articles

Marital Unity / 04,08,2012

How does the unity between two people take place? Is it by passion? That is by human love in its fervor or by the love that Jesus of Nazareth has shown – the love that is founded on a Divine covenant? And the Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard tells us that the commandment saying “Love thy neighbor as yourself” means that you must love your neighbor as yourself. In that we are in the realm of religious duty thus transcending that of desire. So marital unity is not accordingly an “ipso facto” (just a fact); it is a commitment before God.

The first mention of marriage in the course of the Scriptural Texts is what came in Genesis: “God created Man in His image. In the image of God He created them. Male and female He created them”. In this account of the creation, there is a negation of the legitimization or sanctification of the relationship within the single gender or what is called in some countries of the West “same sex marriage”; especially that that Divine word ends by saying: “Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth” not meaning that the purpose of marriage is getting children but multiplying as a fruit of that relationship.

In another account in a later chapter of Genesis, it says that God made of the rib that He took from Adam a woman and He brought her to Adam; so Adam said “this now is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”; and then it says in the chapter: “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one body.

What is the one body? It does not mean the body as the visible expression of the human being since that is impossible. The “body” in Hebrew thought means the “person” or the “entity” itself since the Hebrews had no duality between the soul and the body. In our modern days we say that the male and female are in a unity of two souls or two hearts; an expression used not denoting any desire but emphasizing the realization of a “pure wedding” as the Orthodox say in their wedding ceremony.

The New Testament speaks of marriage as a perennial relationship for life; thus in principle, it denies separation of husband and wife. And Matthew adds to the Old Testament, the phrase “what God has brought together, no man shall put asunder”. The phrase “except in the case of adultery” is not found in the Gospels of Mark and Luke. Maybe it is good to mention here that the Church of Old, gave permission for a second marriage to the less-guilty partner but not to the guilty.

In the Eastern Church of nowadays, there is a certain economia of a practical nature that allows divorce for the two partners but that does not mean that the Church has changed Her doctrinal position concerning the perennialness of marriage. Legal permission for divorce in certain cases does not mean that She has opened the door for the dissolution of the tie of marriage. But in the case of looseness among them the loose partner gets the sanctions or penalty. But we will say nothing further concerning this subsidiary topic.

What makes the marriage bed honorable and clean as St. Paul says is an assertion on Paul’s part that the marriage relationship is from the Lord and is rooted in Him. The epitome of what Paul says is in his letter to the Ephesians: “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church giving Himself for Her”. In fact this is a reciprocal relationship of love between the husband and wife, the content of which is clearly love. It is the love of Christ through His death. Thus there are no limits to marital love; there are no conditions of behavior one puts on the other in order to love him. Both the husband and wife are of the flesh of Christ and His bones (Eph. 5: 30). Paul ascertains that both of them are one flesh but he had said before that each one of them is in Christ and says it later more clearly that both of them together are also in Christ.

This drives me to say that if the above vision of marriage does not come down on the spouses from Above, then their marriage is carnal, in this world and of this world. I say this in the light of what I have experienced with the cases of divorce we have in the region I live in; I have found that the spouses who live in the love of the Lord do not resort to our court of law. They understand that the tie between them has come down on them from Above.

I am not a child to think that families do not go through times of crises of disagreement. You do not get to know your wife before she started living with you. You get to know some of her qualities during the period of engagement when it is long enough. Yet each one of you has “things” that do not show before marriage; or that new defects show in you or in your spouse after the marriage. In orher words, relations get worse due to one discovering the other after marriage. Or the one who seemed innocent before is not so any more and you find it hard to have known all his tendencies before marriage.

That is why homogeneity is difficult sometimes, or if fact what is difficult is the dramatized overemphasis on this homogeneity. That is also due to weakness in temperament, little patience and the conviction as to whether to go on with life of one’s family or not. Recently we hear much of this: “I do not love him” or “I do not love her”. And that is a terrible aggrandizement of desire; and desire does not last long with the same intensity; and alone on that we cannot build marriage after we have built it on both desire and God’s love. And that is mercy from God.

I know that among the psychologists there are marriage counselors. Some of them have helped much; and science is great when it is successful. We do not avoid Science, but our approach to married life is a Divine approach based on the word of the Lord and continuous prayer. Thus the family subsists in its prayer.

When I was a kid, we used to gather around my father and he would tell us about his memories during World War I. And he used to say: “So and so married in the year 1916”. And I used to know that that was a period of famine. So I gathered from the stories of my father that difficult circumstances do not do away with the coming together of a man and a woman in one life. But during the times of those stories, in the 1930’s, my father never told us that people would divorce. And we used to understand that the bride would come “adorned with chastity” to her bridegroom. And It never occurred to her mind to sin against chastity; as if people used to mutually preserve the virtues of each other and their commitments.

We have changed much since the times of my father. And now there is no room to talk about the reasons why that happened. And the reasons are many. But we can refuse to take lightly the sanctity of marriage which is accomplished in the Lord. And we can affirm that it is the pattern for spiritual wholeness and that what the Lord has said before, He has said for all times.

“Male and female He created them” to make the good and blessed human togetherness so that each gender will be made holy through the other. That is the steadfast will of God and His final word.

Translated by Riad Moufarrij

Original Text: “الوحدة الزوجية” – An Nahar – 04,08,2012

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