Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Orthodox Patriarchs and Pope Francis make and Appeal for Peace

This is the English text provided by the Patriarchate of Antioch, from here.

Published below is the text of the peacemaking appeal, which was agreed upon during a telephone conversation between Pope Francis of Rome and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia on April 14, 2018.

The text was signed by His Beatitude Pope and Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria and All Africa, His Beatitude Patriarch John X of the Great Antioch and All the East, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos of the Holy City of Jerusalem and All Palestine, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, His Holiness Tawadros II the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark in All Africa and the Middle East, and His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch and All the East.

Joint Statement

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God (Mt 5:9)


Impelled by a sense of responsibility for the millions of Christians that God has entrusted to our spiritual care and for the wellbeing of the entire human family, which shares a common destiny, we join together to speak out at this time of heightened international tension.

The ongoing hostilities in the Middle East, which in recent years have brought immense suffering, claimed the lives of many thousands of people and caused the flight of millions of refugees, now threaten to turn into a global conflict.

Our world has reached a point where there is a real danger of a breakdown in international relations and cooperation for the common good of the human family.

Clearly, the horrors of the world wars of the last century can hardly be compared with the dire consequences of a world war at the present time.

In the face of this terrible threat, we appeal to all world leaders to recognize their responsibility before their respective nations, before mankind and before God.

We likewise appeal to the countries of the United Nations, and particularly members of the Security Council, to recall their duties towards the family of nations, and we implore them, in the name of God, to overcome their disagreements and to work together for peace in the world.

Together we call upon the political leaders to avoid a further escalation of tensions, to eschew confrontation and to embrace dialogue.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Orthodox, Catholic Patriarchs of Antioch Condemn the Attack on Syria

This is the official English version of the statement, available here.

God is with us; Understand all ye nations and submit yourselves!

We, the Patriarchs: John X, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East; Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East; and Joseph Absi, Melkite-Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, condemn and denounce the brutal aggression that took place this morning against our precious country Syria by the USA, France and the UK, under the allegations that the Syrian government used chemical weapons. We raise our voices to affirm the following:

1. The brutal aggression is a clear violation of the international laws and the UN Charter, because it is an unjustified assault on a sovereign country, a member of the UN.

2. It causes us great pain that this assault comes from powerful countries to which Syria did not cause any harm in any way.

3. The allegations of the USA and other countries that the Syrian army is using chemical weapons and that Syria is a country that owns and uses this kind of weapon, is a claim that is unjustified and unsupported by sufficient and clear evidence.

4. The timing of this unjustified aggression against Syria, when the independent International Commission for Inquiry was about to start its work in Syria, undermines the work of this commission.

5. This brutal aggression destroys the chances for a peaceful political solution and leads to escalation and more complications.

6. This unjust aggression encourages the terrorist organizations and gives them momentum to continue their terrorism.

7. We call upon the Security Council of the United Nations to play its natural role in bringing peace rather than contribute to escalation of wars.

8. We call upon all churches in the countries that participated in the aggression, to fulfill their Christian duties, according to the teachings of the Gospel, and condemn this aggression and call to their governments to commit the protection of international peace.

9. We salute the courage, heroism, and sacrifices of the Syrian Arab Army which courageously protects Syria and provides security for its people. We pray for the souls of the martyrs and the recovery of the wounded. We are confident that the army will not bow before the external or internal terrorist aggressions; they will continue to fight courageously against terrorism until every inch of the Syrian land is cleansed from terrorism. We, likewise, commend the brave stand of countries which are friendly to Syria and its people.

We offer our prayers for the safety, victory and deliverance of Syria from all kinds of wars and terrorism. We also pray for peace in Syria and throughout the world, and call for strengthening the efforts of the national reconciliation for the sake of protecting the country and preserving the dignity of all Syrians.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Patriarch John X Deplores American Threats against Syria

Arabic original here. This is an unofficial translation.


Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East:

We condemn America's recent statements and threats against Syria which are based on mere unsubstantiated allegations of the use of prohibited weapons. We deplore any potential American aggression against our people, which will bring more destruction to the country and the region.

April 12, 2018



See also this more recent statement here.

Fr Georges Massouh: The Holy Light and the True Miracle

Arabic original, first published on April 18, 2010, here.

The Holy Light and the True Miracle

When the Pharisees asked Christ the Lord to perform a miracle in front of them, He answered them rebukingly, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:39-41). In this response of His, Christ meant to indicate the prophecies pertaining to His resurrection from the dead after His crucifixion and burial. We find an echo of this rebuke in what the Apostle Paul wrote in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, "Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). Here the Apostle chastises those who still, after Christ's resurrection, ask for a miracle, a sign, or a word of wisdom. The resurrection is the miracle of miracles. It is not in need of additional proofs so that people might believe in it, especially after the multiple testimonies transmitted by witnesses of the resurrection that are found in the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles.

Nevertheless, some people are still waiting for an inevitable "miracle" to occur, as the believe, every year on Holy Saturday right before Pascha. On the morning of that Saturday, the Orthodox patriarch enters into the Holy Sepulcher, where the candles that he is holding light spontaneously, in a "miraculous" way. Those who believe in this miraculous phenomenon, the "Holy Light", resort to attempting to prove the historicity of this miracle by taking it back to the first Christian century, but the proofs that they rely on are weak and borrowed from secondary sources. Either they lack objectivity or they cite texts whose meaning is not clear or which do not confirm the miracle, as in the diary attributed to the pilgrim Egeria during her travels in Palestine.

This phenomenon has become prevalent in Lebanon recently and a crowd of people eagerly awaits it. What we fear in this context is that this acceptance has become popular amidst the growth of popular religion at the expense of theology and correct ecclesial thinking. By popular religion, what we mean is religion that stirs people's feelings with sensual and exotic things that have the feel of magic and often rouse buried impulses. We also fear that the phenomenon of the Holy Light might be placed within the framework of confirming religious identity by reassuring those who believe in the truth of their faith, their superiority over everyone in other churches, the validity of their timing of Pascha and the error of the rest of the Christians, something that strengthens feelings of superiority and arrogance. "Know O you nations and be defeated, for God is with us!", with the decisive proof shining forth from the Holy Sepulchre!

On the other hand, those who believe in this "miracle" forget that God is not the god of a tribe and that He has proven false the belief that He is the god of one nation and not of others. They forget that this "miracle" legitimizes a patriarchal leadership in the hands of a junta of Greek nationalists who exclude Arabs, the people of Palestine, from church leadership. How can God leave  Jewish exclusivism only to enter into Greek exclusivism? That the Holy Light only descends on the Greek patriarch and not other patriarchs, as the Greeks claim, limits God's activity in the universe to them. Is this our holy, living God?

At a time when Arab Christians in Palestine are suffering from the impact of the Israeli occupation and from emigration that has reached the point of the ctotal elimination of their presence in the land of their fathers and forefathers, we find ourselves supplicating God to send down to them what will benefit them and to establish them where they were born, spent their youth and middle age, and grew old. What use is the Holy Light if the land of Christ is emptied of those who believe in Him? Did Jesus not have pity on the widow of Nain and raise her only son from the dead, bringing life back to her? If we want a miracle that truly bears fruit, let us implore Him to raise the victims of the occupation from the dead, especially the children, so that they may bear stones to pelt the army of occupation, that the shameful wall separating members of  the same family may collapse, that He may bring life back to the olive and orange trees that the soldiers cut down, that Palestine may return to her children.

Some people busy themselves with things that don't deserve attention. "Martha, Martha, you worry about many things but one thing is needful." The one thing needful is man. Everything apart from that is vain. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Met Georges Khodr's Eulogy for Fr Georges Massouh

Arabic original here. A video of it is available here.


The eulogy of Met Georges Khodr at the funeral for Fr Georges Massouh on Monday, March 26, 2018 at the Church of Saint George in Aley, Lebanon

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

O tiller of the earth!

This is what the name "Georges" means in Greek.

You cultivated this vineyard of Christ in this town and elsewhere and you were faithful to the inheritance that you received from the saints, and you only knew the saints.


We brought you to this good parish so that you might cultivate it and you did. You walked before them, as sheep blessing Christ the Lord. You walked before them in righteousness. This is the life of a priest, to be righteous first of all and then after that to serve and chant and so forth.

But the fundamental task is to be righteous and pure for Jesus Christ.

You were righteous and the many discussions we had, you and I, focused only on righteousness, on the purity with which we pastors must be garbed and which we must give to the faithful. We both understood this, until the blessed Lord allowed you to be brought to Him. This is His will. May His will be blessed.

Go then and pray there above, where you watch over us, along with the angels.

Go and tell the Lord: those over whom I was entrusted, I tried to raise, for them to be Yours and for You to know if they are Yours.

Our task, O Georges, is to be a flock of Christ's. He knows if we attain this or not. But we will also try to imitate you, so may the priests and laypeople all know that you were a leader on this good journey in the Holy Spirit and that you brought us to the port, to the good haven after you nourished us with things divine.

You are above!

We are here!

Remember us because we are weak.

Remember us, until God removes each one of us from this earth on the day of His choosing.

Georges Massouh is a rare man!

You think that you are sitting with a human like yourself, then you see yourself sitting with an angel in the flesh.

Georges Massouh soared in heaven, in the presence of God constantly, by the power of the blessings that he received from this anointment [misha, a play on the name Massouh]. He lived by the holy anointment.  He went with us behind him, following him in his virtues and trying to get him to stay here with his virtues.

He went, leaving us a great inheritance, with his good example, so that we may not fall behind or grow weary, so that we may be patient and walk behind the saints.

May God alone be in all of this, as He supports you all, as you are with each other on the journey to God's face.

May God be with you in your holy experience, as all of us together pray that the Lord God may accept the priest Georges Massouh in His greatness, His righteousness and His holiness.

May God be with him and with us unto the ages. Amen.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Fr Georges Massouh (1962-2018): Memory Eternal!

Fr Georges Massouh, professor of Islamic Studies at Balamand University and parish priest in Aley, Lebanon fell asleep in the Lord early this morning. He is survived by his wife and three daughters. May his memory be eternal!

Christ is risen!
Indeed He is risen!


An archive of his writings that I've translated over the years can be found here. Below I'm re-posting an essay of his from 2017, Love is Stronger than Death.

Arabic original here.

Love is Stronger than Death

He who loves God sacrifices his entire life, consecrating it to Him. He who loves God strives to constantly abide with Him. He who loves God loves life and does not seek his own death or attempt to hasten it. But he must accept death one day because man cannot live forever. Death becomes for him a transition from life to life. Life on earth becomes a passage to where there is true life. Life on earth becomes a short time in which one is prepared at every moment to face his inevitable destiny. The best preparation is repentance and love for one's neighbor, without which one cannot love God.

It is true that death entered human nature as a punishment from God because of man's fall into sin, but it still contradicts this nature that inclines toward life. So God gave man a covenant and a promise that man would live forever, if he so desired for himself. This human will, whose possessor must refine it so that it will draw closer to God's will, is what made this possible. This correspondence between the two wills, resulting from man's free will, is what makes the encounter between God and man an encounter between lovers who cannot bear to wait for each other.

In this context, we will cite the words of Simeon when he the forty-day old child Jesus in his arms, when Joseph and Mary brought Him to the temple and the Holy Spirit inspired him that he would not taste death before seeing the Lord's Messiah. Simeon said, "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:29-30).

When Simeon saw Jesus, the Savior, the Messiah he had been promised, he became ready to depart for the next life with great joy. He who loves Jesus does not fear death. In the holy martyrs, we have the best examples of this. Their love for Him made them brave enough to face death with great steadfastness and hope. Their love for Him caused them to not betray His Gospel and His teachings. They did not abandon their principles for the sake of this fleeting life, but rather accepted to abandon this fleeting life even if it cost them their life.

The Islamic tradition also takes this approach. There is a story of the Prophet Ibrahim al-Khalil not mentioned in the Torah that is given by al-Ghazali in his Ihya Ulum al-Din in the chapter "On the Servant's Love for God" which goes as follows: 

Ibrahim (peace be upon him) said to the Angel of Death when he came to him to take his soul, "Have you seen a friend kill his friend?"

God (may He be exalted) inspired [the angel] to say, "Have you seen a lover hate his beloved?"

So Ibrahim said, "O Angel of Death, take me now."

We find a similar saying from the famous sufi Sufyan al-Thawri: "Only the doubter hates death, because in no case does the beloved hate to meet his lover."

The struggle between life and death continues and it will go on so long as this world exists. But life is stronger than death because love is stronger than it. Let us love man and sacrifice ourselves for his sake because whether we are believers, atheists or agnostics, in this way, knowing or unknowing, we are loving God.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Theosis

Arabic original here.

Theosis

The purpose of the Christian's life on earth is theosis.

Theosis is our participation in the very life of God. This is accomplished through the divine grace that is active within us after we are purified from passions and lusts: "those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24). According to Saint Maximus the Confessor, God made us in order for us to become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). The sin of contemporary man is that he wants to be self-sufficient without any relationship with God his creator. In the end, this constitutes his real death. Here we recall the words of Saint Irenaeus, "God became man so that man might become a god" (through the uncreated divine grace).

This patristic issue stands against the challenges of rationalist thought. The true challenge lies in the Christian experience that desires a true renewal of man from within. Of course, man's participation in the life of God is possible for human creation. But this human mind, with the struggles of body and soul, is closely linked to the work of divine grace. This leads to the descent of the mind into the heart and to the enlightenment of the mind and the heart through prayer and fasting. That is, through the uncreated divine energies.

This communion with God through divine grace-- that is, theosis-- preserves God's absolute transcendence, something that is called apophatic theology. When we say that God is good, merciful, just... this does not reveal God's true nature. That is, His essence. Rather, it expresses what is around this nature and the positive attributes that come forth from it, in which man participates, but it does not touch upon God's ineffable essence. Participation in what comes forth from God is possible, but God's essence or His true nature completely transcends our perception: this is apophatic truth.

This explanation does not quench the thirst of the human soul that longs for God. It is merely an intellectual preamble, encouragement for the practice of the ascetic spiritual life in this blessed Lenten season, that we may touch God's hand in our life and have a foretaste of the joy of the kingdom.

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies