2000, An-Nahar, Articles

Jerusalem and the Glory / 14.10.2000

Of all the Palestinian scenes nothing has moved me like the Intifadah [insurgency] of stones since its detonation until it was rekindled now. I am amazed how unarmed children (what weapon can the stones be?) are saying no to armed soldiers. This refusal for me is the apogee of martyrdom – as we understand it biblically – and it’s shiniest representative been, in my opinion, the death of the kid Mohammed Al-Dorra, whom I mentioned in my sermon last Sunday saying: “our love and prayers are offered to Mohammed Al-Dorra.”

The night following the Divine Liturgy, I watched the televised interview with Yasser Abed Rabbo [Palestinian Information Minister] who was able, for three hours, to talk about the pain that his nation is suffering without any sign of grudge: the Palestinian resistance has become for many a tradition of love.

It hurts to see injustice, is there still a need to expose it after all this oppression exercised over an entire nation in the scope of the Holy Lands?  And the greater injustice is the support for the continuation of this oppression despite the cries of the prophets.

They always questioned how could Jerusalem become a killer?

How can the Jews today disregard reading the condemnation for murder written in their tradition?  “Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope.” (Is 5: 20) This is a tragedy befalling a monotheist nation like ours — which was called to do justice — meanwhile their devotees are murderers. They summon all nations if oppression befalls upon them—while oppressing the others doesn’t disturb them. This is the tragedy of their religious atmosphere since no one there can discern the disaster in this domain. Rightfully Jeremiah said: “For who shall have pity upon thee, O Jerusalem? Or who shall bemoan thee? Or who shall go aside to ask how thou doest? Thou hast forsaken me, saith the Lord, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch my hand against thee, and destroy thee;” (15: 5-6) Why none of the Western Christians is not using this old rebuke against the present day Israel who, on the contrary, still enjoys the status of the spoiled kid? We declared this truth 52 years ago and kept repeating it over the generations mayhap they shall listen, but they shut their ears as if forcing the blood upon us.

And blood was spilled in the place of worship transforming the souls of the victims to another temple where the blood-sprinkled bodies prostrated a passionate prostration. And the Glory descended upon the Aqusah [Temple Mount]. And God attracted us spiritually to Himself: in martyrdom one passes through heaven. In what meaning Jerusalem becomes a way to heaven? A very complicated say indeed. In some religious literature, Jerusalem is the centre of the world. Of course, this is an image suggesting that, in the cosmic body, Jerusalem is the heart – and one is subsequently included with it in this vision – in the atmosphere of metaphor where one needs the material in order to attain the unseen. From this perspective Jerusalem is the yearned for (Israa in our reading), and the spring of yearning (Meaarag in our reading) at the same time. He who wrote from the exile in Babylon: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!” wasn’t merely longing for his homeland, but was seeking after the Divine presence in its Temple. Later, the Holy City became the image of the Heavenly Jerusalem descending from above as the City of God.

In this spirit, Lady Rabeaat Adawiyah wasn’t seeking the House in her pilgrimage, but the Master of the House. No one seeks after the rocks in the Holy lands but after an icon. And seeking after things on high, Early Christians were not concerned with Jerusalem, which they left before it was captured by the Romans in 70 A.D. Their Saviour was in heaven and here His tomb is empty. Even the Patriarchate of Jerusalem ranked fifth in honour among the other churches since the fifth century. The fact that the Christ did sanctify the land which He stepped upon, is not so critical for the Christians for whom His Gospel and His presence in the Holy Gifts is much more precious than the earth of Jerusalem.

In-depth, despite the historical aspect in which Jerusalem is connected to every religion, the real meeting point for all the monotheistic religions becomes that when the city surpasses itself and stretches forth towards God. But before attaining His face, one remains with the symbols where begins all conflict and political game.

After politicising the symbols, the Hebraic State declares the existence of a Palestinian presence above the earth (the Aqusa Mosque) but an Israeli authority below the earth (the second Temple, despite the fact that this was not archaeologically proved). By artificially migrating from religious symbols to political covetousness everything becomes ridiculously permissible.

There is then an accord between all religions over Jerusalem if we aimed at the meanings, and a disaccord if we pursued the symbols.

The intellectual step that the Arab Christian theologians stepped, starting since the 60’s, was by overlooking the land and focussing on the man. This antinomy was expressed through these words, for the first time by Patriarch Elias IV, who headed back then a joint Orthodox-Maronite delegation to the Islamic summit in Lahore. In a first impression, one is transported from the Holy Places to a no-place—to the face of one’s God. And in a second movement, one descends from the vision of the gracious face of the Lord to the coexisting faces of the inhabitants of the City – this City that becomes holy through the justice – which is their right upon the nations of the earth.

The unity of Palestine, despite all the historic quarrels over the right of existence for this or that party on this or that area, is the essence of justice for both Arabs and Jews only if the Jews abandoned the Zionist idea. We would have then gone to Madrid and to Oslo and the bloodshed would have being spared.

All politics is a compromise, but some compromises are impossible – not only because they are humiliating – but also because they are unviable. Within the frame of a possible political solution today, awaiting the hoped for peace, is:

First, a Lesser Palestine including the West Bank, Gaza and a complete and undivided Eastern Jerusalem.

Second, to stop the expansion of all kibbutzes.       

Third, the return of all the refugees to their hometowns and villages. And the rest is mere details.

This necessitate both parties’ return to the negotiation table, unless the present conflict did not surpass all this deliberation, unless the Hebraic State did not madly insist on its limitless craziness and unless our beloved people in Palestine did not march to the extent of their heroism.

Awaiting this, all Arabs are looking forward towards their upcoming summit. I can’t understand why this summit was delayed, how can they cold-blooded watch the massacres? Is it our destiny to become like the story of Shahrazad [One Thousand and One Nights] awaiting a new story delaying us every night? Arab mentality enjoys the poetry and likes to believe that merely by speech they can substitute the action. The least what can those Arabs who have diplomatic relations with Israel do is to freeze this relation as a symbol of protest. This can be a start for an Arab action aiming at soliciting the mediation of the US to justly interfere between Israel and the Arabs. But most regretfully, the Arab diplomacy can’t understand the impossibility of resisting Israel without the necessity of upsetting the US. This Arabic circus cannot save Palestine. Only one thing can annoy the Americans and that thing is the Arab oil. For the US to keep exploiting limitlessly and without an account the Arab oil – for the US to remain comfortably listening to Arab poetry against her – this means that the US will never cut the “umbilical cord” between her and Israel. The defiance of the entire Arab nation against the American tyranny has no relevance if the oil was not subordinated to serve the Palestinian cause. Arabs themselves must invent a mechanism to limit the American greed in their riches.

Remains all that huddle about sending troops and enlisting volunteers (where from?!) to fight beside the Palestinians and which remains a merely performed song.

None of the Arabs is dying for the Palestinians. No one is saving the Arab dignity except the Palestinian youth in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Gaza and elsewhere. I don’t know the scheme of this salvation, all I know is that it springs from the Palestinian brave hearts, which have signed an eternal pact with life.

Translated by Father Symeon AbouHaidar

Original Text: “القدس والمجد” – 14.10.2000

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2000, An-Nahar, Articles

Homicide / 06.05.2000

Our life is a gift which only God gives forth and which only God takes back. You do not have the authority to kill or harm yourself, and certainly no one has this authority over anyone else’s life. You receive both your life and your neighbour from God. The other person may live as he wishes and it is your duty to direct him, to keep him company, to serve him and help him improve his situation and attain a better life. In doing this, your own spirit is beautified. Consequently, you have no right to kill another person even if he has requested you to, because he doesn’t have the right to put an end to his own life which was bequeathed by God to him. Accordingly, abortion cannot be permissible because a mother doesn’t own her foetus. Similarly, as a doctor, you don’t own your patient and you have no authority to kill him, no matter how bad his condition. You don’t have this authority over your patient’s body. You are not to make the decision to allow death for an unconscious patient, even if his condition becomes a complete coma. This is the greatest perversion to the very secret of existence. Your body is not an object for you to use it as you wish. It is a part of your person; it does not belong to the governor to flog or to the judge to execute. 

In the situation of human dialogue, the body is the medium of conversation. If a human connection cannot be established between you and the other, then your destruction of his body demonstrates your contempt for his human nature and prohibition of the dialogue between the two of you. Both your body and his grow upward together. God draws you with your bodies to Himself where He becomes your union. Your journey is always upward, and the other will only accompany you through his yearning for the higher. If you and the other are not both drawn to God, then the dual relationship between you is severed; it becomes either abuse or slavery. Slave and master both become objects like any other object. A relationship between two beings is impossible outside the embrace of God. A “being” in the depths of its truth cannot exist without openness towards its Creator and accordingly towards other creatures because it ceases then from saying “I” but affirms “we.” The “I” can only be fulfilled in the communion of “we.” The same is true for the body. After its self-transcendence and release from slavery, it extends towards embracing and accepting the other. The moment this triune communion between “I”, “you” and the divine “He” is achieved, then the whole man [body and soul] and all humanity dwell in Him. Killing abruptly ruptures this tri-unity. 

Obviously, by annihilating the other you annihilate yourself in the same measure and you actually renounce the dominion of God over both of you. Every sin is a negation, a denial of one of God’s qualities: a denial of His patience, mercy or love. Killing is an absolute denial of God because it is a denial of His existence as the Giver of Life. You annihilate your opponent because you decide that he is obstructing your plan, your business, your passions, your liberty, and anything which issues from this. You decide to become the sole master of your life and you think that in this alone is your protection and guarantee of dominion. Killing is the last stage of separation by projecting your delusions on existence and considering yourself God. Consciously or unconsciously, you replace God. With each transgression, you substitute God in a way – by killing you replace Him completely. 

In a movie about Joan of Arc, I appreciated what I saw in the episode where she was grieved by the abundance of bloodshed in the lines of the enemies after the victory in the battle of Orleans against England. Despite her belief that she was delegated from heaven to fight this war, she couldn’t endure this waste of blood. The commander explained to her that no war is possible without bloodshed. She had a different logic. I will not analyze here the conversation between a virgin saint and a rationalistic commander, but the horror of bloodshed comes to my mind as I recite Psalm 50. “Deliver me O God from blood guiltiness.” Even if you think it is possible to resist, none of us is far from such a temptation. 

Because of the importance of blood in the Early Church, any priest who, although unwillingly, caused the death of a human was immediately released from the priesthood. Similarly, canon law prescribed that if a priest or a bishop slapped another person he was to be defrocked. Relationship between humans is language, otherwise no relationship is possible. Language [in Arabic logat], from logos, is that which St. John’s Gospel uses to preach the Word. The Word is the relationship between you and the other. Without the Word you annihilate both the other and yourself. 

This brings us to the dilemma of genocide. When a group of people proceeds to exterminate another group on the basis of fear, solely because their victims are “different,” this implies that these scared murderers think they are re-establishing themselves in existence apart from the context of coexistence. Cain (Kabeel in Islam) killed his brother Abel, who was a herdsman, because he had a “different” occupation. If the “other” is not from your country, your race, religion or political party, he is sentenced to death. Because he cannot be put to death legally, you slay him without a court because any trial is a dialogue. In a way, every massacre is a massacre against the name of God as He is worshiped in heaven or on earth. Every massacre is “religious” in the sense that ethnicity or political ideology are religions, and religion by definition can sustain neither sin nor the sinners. “The time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” (John 16: 2). There exists a “liturgy” of extermination. There exist those who permit or prohibit in the name of God, the “chosen of God” whom God assigned the task of eliminating all those who do not belong to their God. 

The logic of genocide is that the world should be of one colour. This is totally different from the logic of the national army, which doesn’t say, “I am going to kill” but says, “I wish, if it is within my power, to restore order and justice and to defend the country without killing anyone and I regret the death of the enemy.” The army has no enemy; it only has temporary opponents. The army is not supposed to do premeditated harm or invade because occupation causes mental harm and humiliation. This is why the greatest leaders were always those who walked the paths of peace because they detested bloodshed. The philosophy of the military is that it defends the entire nation and that it is not, in its essence, hostile to any other nation. Civilized nations do not brainwash their own citizens with hatred and propaganda, and their military exemplar is that of the Byzantine Empire where offensive wars were totally excluded and where the armed forces were solely used as a shield for peace and a defence force. 

Apart from this logic, the militia exists because it is the “military” of a certain group. The militia does not support the general cause of the nation. A militia is always set against another militia. A faction has no cause because it exists specifically for extermination. This is why a civil war, any civil war, is always most difficult to reconcile. Using this philosophy we should put the war which waged in Lebanon on trial. Unless every group which committed a massacre is brought to repentance, none of us can repent to our motherland and to the human integrity it symbolizes. God cannot be the Victor unless every group comes forward and confesses its sins to the other groups in the presence of the entire nation. In the context of this logic, there is nothing worse than this popular saying we use: “God forgave the past!” No, God does not forgive us, and it is not in His nature to forgive unless every one of us has acknowledged and repented from his own sin of murder in thought and deed against the other. Whoever dipped his hands in blood or wished the death, displacement, desolation or diminishment of the other is an accomplice in the sin of extermination. Every victim, no matter what his belief, is innocent because he is a part of God. God does not want anyone to fight in His name. God knows how to put to death whomever He wants. No one is the representative of God in the domain of death. 

He who wants to bring others to life dies himself. This is why Christ is the Life-Giver: His humble submission [“Islam” in Arabic] on the Cross totally destroys any “theology of killing,” any military “sanctification” for any ideology of persecution, any dogma of “revenge,” any punishing “hand of God” and any divine mission using the sword. “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). God did not delegate His authority to anyone. Only He judges the hearts of the people and lets them be free to obey or disobey. He does not yet separate the blessed from the accursed “for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Hopefully, each of us will receive in proportion to his capacity. 

I don’t see any possibility of teaching man peace if he doesn’t believe in God. If God does not exist then you become a god. This should explain the ever-growing wave of murder worldwide where people, individuals and groups alike, worship themselves. Certainly, sometimes restraint from crime may be based upon the fear of punishment, but this remains strictly within the domain of individual relations. Where no punishment is available – in the context of ethnic and religious wars – the only reasonable explanation is that your god exterminates the other god. I mean by this that your understanding of this god embodied or expressed within the movement of your group invalidates the other embodiment and the other movement. 

The concept that came to be called a “multicultural society” is none other than the culture of variety, acknowledging that there may be another understanding of the one God, or that He has multiple revelations within one society composed of a variety of small groups. Today’s so-called “culture for peace” may be very ambiguous especially as it is practised in many countries worldwide where it is basically an acceptance of treason. But the idea in itself, in its pure form, states that every nation must live in freedom to be able to cooperate. Within this same nation, no ethnic or religious group is beyond error and repentance. Repentance is the God-given fruit to initiate dialogue as the means out of trouble, through mutual acknowledgment of one another’s rights of existence. This means that coexistence and mutual life must be based upon something non-pragmatic and I don’t see any foundation other than God. 

God died in our midst and we made ourselves God. This is why we allowed everything. Will God return? 

I believe that when the Gospel says, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,” it demonstrates that your glory to God is conditioned by your love for peace. Peace is one of God’s names in Christianity and in Islam. When will He grant us to love this quality in Him?

Translated by Father Symeon AbouHaidar

Original Text: “القتل” – 06.05.2000

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2000, An-Nahar, Articles

Love and Judgment / 01.03.2000

Two points attract the attention in what the gospels say about judgment: That we will be judged according to how much we have loved; second, we are judged as to how much we have made use of our gifts because they (the gifts) are supposed to be poured forth for others so they (the gifts) become a sacrifice to God; and because we are to be enriched and beautified with what the Lord has bestowed upon us and that we do not bury our gifts like lazy slaves do. And as far as the discourse in which the judgment is mentioned, one would be surprised that the Lord does not ask us whether we have been praying and fasting or not, and He does not mention the ten commandments but He asks whether we have loved or not. And that is not because the Gospel ignores the Mosaic Law, but because the Gospel finds that love, as the completion of the Ten Commandments, is the revelation of a vision of God in the heart and our vision of Man in God. And He who has not that is in need of training in the commandment of love and in the Law.

The New Testament does not cancel Moses. It transcends him. It takes us to the Deep. And wants us to come out of the Deep in order to fast. And before Lent the Church wants us to be in the more comprehensive vision that God is in the “other” and that it would be impossible for you to see God’s face unless you see it in a wounded human face or a famished body or a person who is victim of solitude. We have no contact with God except in that; not through people but in people. And when Jesus says: “No one comes to the Father but by me”, he does not only consider himself the mediator between humans and their Maker but expands the meaning of what he said to mean that no one comes to God unless he finds Him in the “other” human being.

Getting ready for Lent, we read in Church the passage of “the Judgment Day” from the Gospel of Mathew; it starts with “I was hungry and you fed me” and then it mentions “I was hungry and you did not feed me”. At the end of the journey of an individual human being, God judges him according to his heart,  meaning that God is the one who judges what is in the inside of Man and He being the Truth uncovers the falsehood of Man. You cannot “joke” with God. You can play “the crafty one” and “the smart one” here and there and justify what you do and play back and forth in between the grounds of the Divine and of the Devil, and both are in you, but you cannot bluff God neither today nor later, and you cannot, if you were a great saint, aggrandize yourself before Him because it is then that your holiness would break down and you would become a midget like you were before your endeavor to holiness.

What’s important in the idea of judgment is that all people are “small” in the presence of the Lord, stripped from all that can cover their nakedness and without any “passport” to admit them to heaven. But the Lord of Heaven extends His hand from inside to hold them in His mercy. It is not that we die spiritually if we brag about our virtue but that “our righteousness before him is like a menstrual cloth” as Isaiah says. God always reads us and he reads us as ‘ugly’ but He cleanses us with the waters of His affection because He delights in that, then He bestows upon us the habit of light so we can get in to the Light.

The Judgment on the Last Day is clearly mentioned in the four gospels and there is no way we can undo the picture of the God the judge. And God judges his people and give commands that should be carried out. All this is linked to the picture of God as “the awesome”, ‘the punisher” and “the rewarder”.  And God judges humanity with fire on the day of the Lord” as Isaiah says. That’s the picture of the last day. Yet there is before us another picture that only the gospel of John mentions which is that the judgment takes place here and now. “And this is the condemnation: that Light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil”.  John 3:19. The judgment is taking place in the human heart apart from prosecutionary procedures.  The world has been condemned because it killed Christ. The world scandalized itself with that death. And the ultimate meaning for the “crime” that humanity committed on Golgotha is that it insisted to destroy what is Divine in it; that is to destroy love. Except that Jesus gave his death a meaning of regeneration for Man and that was realized in His resurrection.  And with regard to his resurrection you get to belong to Him or to reject Him.

And if the judgment, in its nature and profundity, is in progress in the human soul in the present time, and if it is the true uncovering of the soul in the presence of God and His Truthfulness, then Hell would only be the “burning” of the soul in its desires. There is no fire except the one in you and there is no heaven except the one in you. In the same way, you can be a heaven for others or a hell.

Isaac of Syria said: “All those in hell are scourged by the Divine Love ….. As such Love works in two different ways. It is pain in those who are condemned and it is joy in those who are saved”. God himself is a light to some and a fire to the others. And He alone is the dwelling place if you abide in Him and find peace in Him and you would be the dwelling place when He lives in you as John the beloved says.

But the Lord of the Gospel said something greater: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat”. Here the Christ that Mathew believes is the Son of God, has identified himself with the poor. And also with those in prison and those who are sick. Jesus’ intimate companions are the wretched of the earth. Since their own brothers disowned them, they became Jesus’ own brothers. Jesus confines you when he makes of your closeness to the wretched a condition for your closeness to Him. What hurts Jesus is that those needy ones become estranged.

Man’s ability to adjust to miserable conditions is amazing. One would eat very little and live in a shack and bear illness because he cannot afford to pay for a visit to the doctor. What is worse than such a need is when the arrogant rich uses the misery of others taking advantage of it to reinforce his status of money and power. That hurts Jesus much more.  With great tenderness Jesus calls those “my little brothers”.

But in the Gospel reading of the Judgment He goes beyond that and says that “they are He”. “I was hungry”. He never referred to anything as being “He” except here. He said something close to that: “The words that I speak to you are light and life”.  But He did not say that these words are He even though He meant it.And of the Eucharist He said: “This is my body” but He did not say It is He though He meant it. But in this passage He says that the poor is He.

There remains a legal question of the school of thought of the Nineteenth Century: What is the use of taking care of the poor. What is important is to get rid of poverty and need. Here I do not argue the means of eradicating poverty like through revolutions or dealing with political economics.  My concern is to love now with the means I have and in my surroundings because the poor, my beloved, they are more important than what I give them and I am more important for them than what I offer.

Yet what is given is little because relatively love is always little. And when I do not give the needy anything I am the one who is not loved. In that sense you do not do charity to the poor, they do charity to you when they receive from you. You offer them a service in that they are your master. It is best not to let your left hand know what your right hand does, because you would not have felt that the needy have given you an opportunity to love and in that they have done charity unto you. And St. John Chrysostom felt that when he called giving to the poor “the altar of the brother” thus elevating the deed above the altar of the church though he did not give reasons for his preference. But the Gospel teaches us that truthful giving is the crux of the truthfulness of our relationship with God. And I dare to say that he who truly loves the brethren from the heart will not be condemned. And that is like what the martyrs did; they have attained perfect love and so, according to our Teachers, they will not be condemned.

It hurts me to see that stinginess is rampant in the days of plenty as it is in the days of lack. It is quite shocking to me to notice that religion (Christianity) to most people is just words and to only a few “The Word has become flesh” and according to what we are saying, He has become a gift so we can become Christ to each other and so if we fast from eating we understand that it is an exercise which makes us run to those whom we are bound to make them our Kings (the poor).

Translated by Riad Mofarej

Original Text: “الدينونة والحب” – 04.03.2000

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