Friday, November 29, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh on Suicide Bombers and Lebanese Society

Arabic original here.

Suicide Bombers and the Lebanese Miracle

Some were surprised that Lebanese society could produce suicide bombers who go of their own will to their death, taking along with them their targets and innocent people trying to make a living for themselves and their families, and that the suicide bombers were not deterred by the fact that among their victims were members of their own sect. All they see is that they are passing immediately from this world to the promised paradise, where all their desires will be fulfilled.

However, those who observe Lebanon and the Lebanese with an objective eye will not be surprised that Lebanese society produces this criminal phenomenon. The suicide bomber bearing Lebanese nationality or who grew up in Lebanon was not raised and educated abroad and did not come from Mars. He is a child of his society and his environment in which he lived. He is a child of this society where most people regard sectarian affiliation to be above any other form of belonging, especially above belonging to the nation.

The Lebanese suicide bomber is a legitimate son of what is called "the Lebanese miracle", which is praised by poets, singers, theorists, politicians and clergy. The true miracle is that this sectarian order does not beget more suicide bombers who hasten their own death and that of others for the glory of their sect and in the interest of those holding power in the sect. A society immersed in sectarianism cannot shirk its responsibility for producing these suicide bombers.

For a century and a half or perhaps more, our country has lived off of mutual sectarian resentment, sectarian trafficking, and internal wars and conflicts. Instead of putting an end to the ailment at its root, the stirring of sectarian tension, you see us wallowing more and more in incitement and playing with religious feelings, exploiting them in the political arena.

How could a society like this one not produce suicide bombers when the spirit of malice and hatred towards the other spreads through the souls of its children? How can it not produce timebombs and landmines made of flesh and blood, when its children grow up on blind prejudice? How can it not produce suicide bombers when the Lebanese feed from birth on the milk of sectarian discrimination?

So it is natural, then, for suicide bombers to come out from out midst. They are genuine children of this society where instincts have taken the place of reason, sectarianism has taken the place of true religiousness, hatred and malice have taken the place of love and mercy, the god of passion has taken the throne of the One True God, religious prejudice has taken the place of human brotherhood, national belonging has been eliminated in the interest of narrow sectarian affiliation, and neighbors have been replaced with enemies.

The suicide bomber is also a victim of this society that tries to exculpate itself from its responsibility for this phenomenon. The suicide bomber is the victim of religious ignorance caused by some of those standing at the pulpits, the victim of the state that forgoes its responsibility for development and improving living conditions, the victim of politicians who use sectarian discourse to entrench their power and influence, the victim of factional media that works to provoke civil strife.

The suicide bomber does not produce himself. He is the product of society. All of society contributed to producing him and it cannot deny its paternity. Putting an end to this phenomenon cannot happen except by removing the vile sectarian cancer that holds all of the dismembered national body in its grip. The suicide bomber is our mirror. He is one of us.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Met Georges Khodr on the Rich Young Man

Arabic original here.

If You Want to be Perfect

There is no doubt that this passage of the Gospel is very hard. The Lord says of the rich that their entrance into the kingdom of heaven is difficult-- indeed, he makes it so difficult that "It is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."

Of course, indulgent commentators  have tried to belittle the matter for people and say that the "eye of the needle" isn't really an eye of a needle, but rather a gate in Jerusalem, and so the camel would be able to bow its head and enter it. There are even sentimental interpretations by which the rich wanted to make things easier for themselves.

However, this is not what is meant by the divine text, since in every context and every utterance, the meaning is that it is extremely difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom and that it is humanly impossible. However, the Lord made an exception when He said, "What is impossible for people is possible for God." So how is God's miracle and how does the rich person enter the kingdom of heaven? The Bible did not say that he enters the kingdom while remaining rich. But But God can cause the one who was rich to enter the gate of the kingdom, through his effort. So what remains of the rich person's wealth? Does this wealth remain vast, great, enormous, without anything in this person's behavior changing yet despite that God forces him through the eye of the needle? This is, of course, not what the Bible said and so we must search for another way.

It does not appear that the Bible, and God who speaks in it, gave the rich silk cushions to sleep on. Christ is not a silk-seller. He was gentle, firm and harsh all at once and His expressions are extremely precise.

So what was the conversation between the young man and the Teacher? The young man was externally perfect. He fulfilled all the laws without being proud. He simply said, "I have preformed all these commandments since my childhood, so what am I still lacking?" He came to learn. He came to do something better than the commandments. So Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and come, follow Me."

Here again come the mercenary commentators who live off of the important people of the world and say, "Why do you want to be perfect? It is not necessary for every person to be perfect. It is enough for us to do the commandments and this perfection is only for monks, not us." No. Jesus didn't talk about monasteries, bishoprics, or anything of that sort. He said to this rich young man who was in front of Him, "You can be perfect." He did not say to him, "Leave your situation to go to another situation, to live in another place." He said to him, "You live in this world. This is what you want. You can be perfect here." Jesus did not advise perfection but rather commanded it, since He said, "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."

If you want to be perfect, follow Me. If you want to move from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, which is the covenant of perfection, then distribute your possessions. Is it not written in the Prophet David, "He has dispersed, He has given to the needy and His righteousness endures forever" (Psalm 112:9). The Old Testament itself indicates the distribution of possessions, perfect giving.

You are not what you own. You are a steward. You have been given what you have been given, so receive it until I come. God delegated you with affairs of this world and you receive them as a faithful steward, for God's benefit, for the benefit of the one who entrusted you with them.

And how do you keep God's possessions? For the good of those you care for? The important thing is that what you possess is a trust and not absolutely sacrosanct property. Only humans are sacrosanct. You are a steward and you must make the deprived your masters. That is, you must feel the hunger that they feel. This is entirely an issue of love: give and feel along with others. Go out to them in their hunger, nakedness and deprivation. This means personal suffering and stripping away the self. True giving is first of all the pain of stripping away the self and cleaving to Christ who is in every person. In this way we confess the truth that the Son of God became human and that in the deprived He is Master over us. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fr Touma Bitar on the Commandments

 Arabic original here.

What are the Commandments?

The young man asked, "What are the commandments?" Commandments, in principle, are everything that the Lord God asks of us. Here, the Lord repeats to him some of the commandments. Jesus said, "Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and your mother. Love your neighbor as yourself." The Lord chose these commandments because someone who follows them truly cannot but arrive at the commandment of all commandments, the great commandment, "Love the Lord your God..."

First, a person must not kill. Killing does not ever only mean depriving others of their life. Killing primarily means for a person to eliminate others. If, for example, you eliminate someone near you from your life, you have killed him within yourself. Killing means eliminating others. So, "Do not kill!" That is, do not eliminate anyone! You must give each person his due, because he is in the image and likeness of God.

Second, "Do not commit adultery." This means, do not leave the range of love in your relationship with your spouse. You know that, in those days, adultery meant for a man to betray his wife or for a woman to betray her husband. When the Lord says, "Do not commit adultery," this means that one must be perfectly faithful in marriage. That means that a husband must love his wife and a wife must love her husband. Adultery is the opposite of marital love. Where there is adultery, there is no marital love. And where there is marital love, there will be no more adultery! Do not ever think that marital infidelity means having an affair with someone that is not one's spouse-- it is not just this! One who lusts in his heart for someone other than his wife is also committing adultery because the commandment says, "He who looks at a woman in order to lust after her has committed adultery in his heart." And so, in a profound sense, adultery means when a person surrenders to his thoughts, to his desires. These desires can remain on the inside and not necessarily ever come out. Saint Basil the Great says, "I have not known a woman but despite this I am not chaste." This means that he looks within, he looks at his thoughts, he looks at his desires! If a person looks inappropriately and with lust, this is adultery because if one accepts to look at a woman with adulterous lust, this means that adultery has come to exist within him. After that, it's a question of circumstances. If circumstances present themselves and he has accepted adultery in his heart, then he will very easily accept it in the body. The issue, then, is purifying one's heart from the spirit of adultery first.

The third commandment that the Lord chose to talk about was "Do not steal." What does this mean? We can say that the meaning of this is, "Do not go and steal people's possessions. Do not steal what is not yours." But the intended meaning here is deeper than that. The commandment, "Do not steal," means that you must be completely faithful with what belongs to others. What does that mean? For example, if there is an employee working in a company and he treats his work as though it is not his own, or if he wastes time at work, or if he allows himself to use the telephone for private calls, or if he allows himself to read the newspaper during work, or if he starts silly and inappropriate conversations at work... then this employee is stealing. In other words, someone who is not completely faithful with what belongs to others is stealing. One must always treat things that belongs to others faithfully just like one treats one's own things. One must be perfectly faithful with things belonging to others. At that point, we move out of the framework of theft and are no longer stealing. The Lord is not speaking hear about appearances! No! The Lord touches things at their root, in the depths of one's heart, whether in regard to killing, adultery, or theft.

After that we come to the fourth commandment that the Lord Jesus cited, "Do not bear false witness." Perhaps a large proportion of us have never entered a court in their life and perhaps never will. However, by this commandment they are required to, "not bear false witness." Bearing false witness means not bearing witness in truth. What is truth?!  Truth is loving others with perfect love. This is truth for God! When a person loves others with perfect love, he is in truth and so when he speaks about others he bears witness in truth and does not bear false witness. For example, if I spoke about a person and perhaps I say something good about him but mention in passing some bad things, the Lord God looks at my internal motivations. Very often, I speak about others with a spirit of jealousy! My motivations are not pure and so my witness about them is not true, so I bear false witness about others. Whenever I speak about someone that I do not love with perfect love, my words are like a false witness against him! Everything that wounds the love of others is not in truth and so it is false. Thus, "Do not bear false witness!" this is the root of false witness.

The fifth commandment that the Lord cited is, "Honor your father and your mother." This  commandment does not just mean that you give them a hundred dollars a month and not just that you honor them when you see them. Honoring your father and and your mother means that you obey them in Christ! Today, the great problem in our society is that we do not honor our fathers and our mothers! We are no longer obedient. Each one of us does what he wants! If he does a good deed for his other or his father, he thinks he has done something great, an act of charity! For a person to honor his father and his mother means that he obeys them in Christ, that he loves them because he came into the world through them and they are the ones through whom Christ came into his life. Then, this does not just mean fathers and mothers in the flesh, but also fathers and mothers in the spirit. Each one of us has a father and a mother who begat him in the flesh. However, we have many people who beget us in the spirit. We must duly honor them. This particularly means honoring our fathers in the Church of Christ. Let us duly honor the fathers of the Church who have reposed and who are still alive! For this reason do not disdain someone who approaches a priest, makes a prostration, and says, "Father, bless" because in this simple action God's blessing passes through the spiritual father or mother to the spiritual son or daughter. If we do not learn to break ourselves before everything related to those who bring us into life and those who bring us into the kingdom of heaven, we do not honor anyone and consequently we cannot honor God! He who cannot honor people cannot honor God! When a person is immersed in his personal honor, which places himself above every consideration, he does not honor anyone and so he does not honor God. We must learn to be humble. We must learn to be obedient. We must learn to be broken before others, great and small! In reality, honor is due to all because each person in this world builds me up with a word, and so has become like a parent to me. Each one of us is granted to be a child to others and to be a parent to them in Christ, in the sense that he learns from others and obeys God in others and at the same time adopts others and considers them to be his own in Christ, considering himself responsible for them. We, as humans, have been granted to beget each other in Christ and for each one of us to be a father and mother to others. Thus, the issue goes beyond being an issue of fatherhood and motherhood in the flesh.

All of these lead to the sixth commandment that the Lord Jesus cited, and it is the stream into which all the other commandments flow, with regard to our relationship with each other. Thus the Lord said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." If one knows to not kill, not commit adultery, not steal, not bear false witness-- in the sense that I expressed-- and if he honors his father and his mother, then at that point he will be able to love his neighbor as himself. This is on the human level. This is how things begin. We can never undertake direct contact with the Lord except through others. For this reason the commandment was first, "Love your neighbor as yourself." When we have learned to love our neighbor as ourselves, then at that point we can soar in the heights and love God with all our heart, soul and strength. This is why the second question that the young man asked is, "I have kept all these from my childhood, so what am I still lacking?" Here, when one learns to love his neighbor as himself, he arrives at the threshold of perfection: "If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me!" This is something terrifying! First: "If you want to be perfect"-- this means that a person can be perfect! This is exactly what the Lord Jesus said, "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect!" Second: "Go, sell everything you have." That is, you must not have any attachment whatsoever to anything in this world. "And give it to the poor," meaning that you will open your inner depths to the poor and wretched, in keeping with the Psalm, "He has freely given to the poor. His righteousness endures forever." When one opens his inner depths to God's wretched ones without reservation, then he has loved his neighbor as himself. And when he has loved his neighbor as himself in this sense, then he will have treasure in heaven. Then he will become a perfect disciple of the Lord Jesus: "Come and follow Me." This is the simplest expression of faith in the Lord Jesus. Faith in the Lord Jesus means for one to be an ascetic completely, in everything connected to this existence. He does not want anything: "Your face, O Lord, I seek! [And I do not want anything else at all]." When one's heart is no longer attached to anything, when one is freed from attachment to the things of this world and slavery to it, when one opens himself completely to others-- to God's poor, and all of us are poor for God-- then he will have reached faith. That is, he will have given himself over to God completely, just as the Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself over completely into His Father's hands when He was nailed to the cross and was about to take His last breath. At that moment He said, "Into Your hands I commend My spirit!"

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan- Douma
November 24, 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh on Loving our Neighbor

Arabic original here.

Man, More Glorious than Churches and Mosques

The Apostle Paul commanded the people of Rome, the greatest city of that bygone time, to devote themselves to "extending hospitality to strangers." By this he meant hospitality for the poor, who found themselves thrown into the streets of a city that looked down on them and rejected them with its haughtiness as cold as marble.

When addressing the people of the great city of Rome, Paul stresses that the essence of the entire Law lies in realizing the commandment to "love your neighbor". He reminds them that "The commandments are all summed up in this saying, namely, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (cf. Romans 13:8-10).

But who is the neighbor who must be loved? In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christ emphasizes that one's being a neighbor is not based on familial, ethnic or sectarian affiliations or on any other form of prejudice. Rather, it arises from specific circumstances, when one encounters someone in need of a helping hand. Being a neighbor, then, is not a matter of flesh and blood. It is a process of becoming based on mercy. Every passer-by, every displaced person, every refugee, every vulnerable person on earth becomes our neighbor.

It is not for us to "please ourselves", says Paul to the people of the great city of Rome, but rather "for each of us to please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification." Our pleasing God remains meaningless and of no avail if we have not pleased our neighbor, especially the foreigner who "has fallen into the hands of bandits"-- indeed, into the hands of tyrants, murderers and thugs. Prayer, fasting and every form of worship becomes useless if its purpose is not serving man and embracing him in crises of hardship and distress. 

It is also possible for us to say that man is the place where God prefers to be worshiped. The man in whom God dwells is more glorious than temples, churches and mosques. To serve God is to serve man, in whom God breathed from His Spirit and so, "The Spirit of God dwells within you." Thus man becomes the qibla and the mihrab. Pilgrimage to him becomes like pilgrimage to the holy places, to Christ's sepulchre. God does not dwell in stacked stones and no roof covers His head. He prefers to dwell in warm hearts. "Give me your heart and that is enough."

The Christian tradition holds that "the Good Samaritan is none other than Christ Himself." Christ is the perfect neighbor who saves the world from the grip of the Evil One. Thus Origen of Alexandria (d. 235), following the Apostle Paul, who said "emulate me as I emulate Christ" (1 Corinthians 4:16), calls us to emulate the good Samaritan "who is an image of Christ." He says, "We can imitate Christ and have mercy on those who fall into the hands of robbers, go to them, dress their wounds, anoint them with oil and wine, carry them on our donkeys, and lift their burdens from them." Emulating Christ means being committed to others, regardless of their identity.

We are called, then, to take upon ourselves the cares of contemporary man, his troubles, his wounds and his many problems. We are called to see his destitution and his oppression, and especially the cares of people in crises of war and displacement. We must be committed to care for them and aid them until the end of this evil crisis. Our loving God absolutely requires us to constantly strive to fulfill the sole commandment that He gave us to follow: "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). Our loving God requires that we first love man, every man.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Patriarch John X's Speech at the Enthronement of Met Ignatius Elhoshy

This took place on Sunday, November 17, at the Antiochian Church of Saint Helen in Vaucresson, a suburb of Paris. The French original can be read here. Photos of the enthronement can be seen here.

Your Eminences and Excellencies, Reverend Fathers, dearly beloved children, I would like first of all to give thanks to God for having once more given me the occasion to receive you in this beautiful country that is France. A few years ago, we gathered around our late, venerable Patriarch Ignatius IV who  came to enthrone me as metropolitan of the Antiochian diocese in Western and Central Europe.  The ceremony took place in the Church of St Stephen, at the time given for our use by the generous hospitality of the Greek community of Paris. I will also use this occasion to ask my dear brother in Christ, Metropolitan Emmanuel, to give our love and respect to our dear brother in Christ, His Beatitude Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and I offer Your Eminence this engolpion, a symbol of my love.

Over the years that I passed in this diocese, I learned to discover the treasures of this country and I allowed myself to be challenged by the problems caused by modernity for the faithful who live here, as well as the numerous opportunities that it offers for better pastoral care and greater openness toward our fellow Orthodox and other Christians. In all humility, I would like to say that I learned a lot here, and I admit that I was not the same man when I left the diocese.

In the meantime, many things have changed. The parishes of Antiochian origin have grown in number and reached new countries. In the hope of more effective pastoral care, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Antioch has just established, within the old diocese, four independent entities, respectively covering essentially the Anglophone, Francophone, Germanophone, and Scandinavian countries, as well as the countries bordering them. This decision should allow the pastor of each of these entities to be closer to the People of God and more able to listen to them.

Thus I come to enthrone in our own church, here in Vaucresson, Mgr Ignatius, the new bishop, reminding him of the immensity of the task that awaits him and calling all of you to greater cooperation, so that the name of Christ will be blessed by all. Be united in love, so that you may heed the pressing call of the Lord, so that you will truly be His witnesses among those around you. Your witness should first of all manifest that which Antioch has passed down to you through her heritage of saints and martyrs and it should ensure that you do not forget the suffering that she is currently experiencing. Along with your fellow Orthodox from all the jurisdictions, you must work towards an always more perfect Orthodox unity and show the world through your real, shared brotherhood the eternal message of Orthodoxy. On this occasion I would like to greet the very appreciated presence of Their Emminences, the leaders and representatives of these Churches and to assure them that we hold them in our heart.

Mgr Ignatius, you, along with your faithful and the other Orthodox, must not miss any occasion to tell our fellow Christians that we must speak together with the same voice and shed the same tears for all the afflicted of the earth. Be proud to recognize in all those who venerate Jesus Christ your brothers and members of your family.

I would like to thank the representatives of the Catholic and Protestant Churches of France for their presence and I would like to tell them that we want to be, in this land of the West, a humble leaven from that land of the East that the Lord has trodden but which is sadly being emptied of its Christians. We ask their fraternal aid to stop this migration and these abuses.

My beloved, we are here in Paris and our heart suffers for Syria. In body and spirit we are with our brothers in Syria, demanding Jesus' peace. We invite dialogue, the sole means for deliverance. Our hearts are with the apples of our eyes, the children and parents who were shelled in the schools of Damascus. We are here accompanied by our loved ones who never forget our brothers, the kidnapped bishops John and Paul, and all who have been kidnapped. Our heart also remains with Lebanon, praying that it remains the country of peace and dialogue and hoping that all will work for the good and stability of that country. The love of our East flows in our veins, for we are people who do not live apart from the motherland, for the motherland remains in us and dwells in our hearts.

I would also like to address the young people, to entreat them, like the Apostle, to " not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord... and hold fast to that good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us." You are the Church's ambassadors to modernity. Help your brothers through your engagement and your example to give a good witness.

Finally, I end by saying to the new metropolitan, also in the words of the same Apostle, to be prepared to "suffer for the Gospel", to "strengthen himself in the grace of Jesus Christ", to "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness", to "preach the Word in season and out of season", "with all longsuffering and teaching" and with great respect for the holy liberty that the Lord has granted us.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fr Touma Bitar on Martyrdom and Bearing Witness

 Arabic original here.

The Lineage of Martyrs

Brethren, since Christ became incarnate and lived among people, He did not grant them to be at ease. Rather, in this world he granted them to be in hardship. He did not grant them to be strong in this world, but rather He offered them the cross! "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" and so "it is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of heaven." Those who seek comfort in this world will not be able to believe in the Lord Jesus, and likewise those who seek strength, glory, authority, money, and pleasure.

Brethren, we are a flock of sheep cast amidst a world of wolves. The logic according to which we act is the opposite of the logic according to which this world acts. And so we are considered fools with regard to this world! Our wisdom is unacceptable in this age. We have no choice but to be met with what Christ was met with, since the student is not better than his teacher. The great temptation that we face in this world is the temptation of compromise, the temptation of fabrication. The meaning of compromise is that we depart, a little or a lot, from the truth in order to conform to the evil of the world around us, seeking some concessions in this world. The meaning of fabrication is when we mix truth and falsehood, divine wisdom and human wisdom, poverty before God and wealth before the world. Compromise and fabrication are the two temptations to which the faithful are subjected as long as they are in this world. The Evil One pressures us, as too the world pressures us, our neighbors pressure us, and strangers pressure us also. Even within the Church, among those who are called believers, fabrication and compromise are considered wisdom, know-how,  diplomacy, pastoral economy! Those who completely hold firm to faith in God are considered, even by their families, to be obstinate, narrow-minded, beset with complexes, fundamentalist! This was true in every generation and it is especially true today. Today, madness strikes most of those who are considered believers, not to even speak of those who are outside the fold of the Church! People in Christ's Church for the most part retreat from faith in God in God's name. Of course, this is under the cover of modernity, thought, and good pastoral care, but deep down most people who are considered Christians no longer have a relationship with their Christ, their Lord, in Spirit and in truth! Most have a relationship with God in form, but the content is undisciplined, left to people's passions, to people's discretion, as though the Church, to a great extent, is no longer one Church, but has become as many churches as there are people. Each person develops his own church in his own way, taking a little from here and a little from there, infusing it with whatever pleases him from his own thinking and his own passions, accepting one commandment and ignoring another, accepting one practice and ignoring others... Thus it is as though each person invents his own private church. The deep reason for this fragmentation, for this perdition, for this madness, is that only very few are prepared to bear the cross of Christ and follow Him to the end. Most people come down from the cross. They replace the cross itself with its use as an ornament, its cosmetic use, using the cross as a good omen to ward off the evil eye, unclean spirits, diseases and catastrophes... but the Church is in her martyrs! There is no Church except in the martyrs. This passage from the Gospel that was read to you, it is the Gospel passage read on the feasts of the martyrs and thus these words are directed at all who are still crazy enough to bear the cross of Christ and to follow in the footsteps of the martyrs of Christ.

"Beware of people,  they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony... You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death." Whether or not they kill us in the body is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that they will kill us morally. They will do away with us. They will persecute us. They will pressure us in every way to follow in their ways and accept their wisdom! "You will be hated by all [by all, without exception!] for my name's sake." It is as though He says, in other words, that the Church is in a state of revival when the faithful within her are subject to persecution and harrassment but remain firm in faith until the end. Those who are not prepared to bear the cross of Christ are never able to bear the cross of others! They cannot be prepared  to bear the cross of love, the cross of mercy, the cross of cooperation, the cross of sacrifice! And so, without a cross, a person will inevitably enter into dishonesty in relation to people and speak empty words! Words go in one direction and deeds in another! Because most do not love the truth, the Lord God gives them to believe falsehood as though it were truth. Many today-- and I am speaking of those in Christ's Church, not of those outside her-- believe falsehood because they do not believe truth and are not prepared to sacrifice in order to preserve the truth, in order to walk in the way of truth, for the sake of faith in the truth. Thus they invent lies and pass around lies among themselves, insisting that this is the truth!

For this reason, brethren, we must be careful, lest we fall into this hole, into this abyss. Each one of us must be wary,  lest he fall into making compromises, making fabrications: lest he abandon the Cross of Christ. Of course today, perhaps more than in many times in the past, we must endure hardship. Silence, then, becomes a burden because when a person wants to hold fast to faith in God amidst those who are not ready to hear the word of truth, he finds himself obliged to keep silent! Why would he speak?! A person speaks when there are those who are ready to hear. But if there is no one who is ready to hear, then one walking in the path of faith in God keeps silent! Perhaps he will wait for a favorable time to speak. In any case, he holds firmly to prayer, practices silence, and acts humbly. Whatever they might say about him, it's not important! His first and final concern is to please God, to act according to his conscience. This is true witness. This is witness in the most difficult sense! Those who are killed in the body are killed once. But those who are persecuted because they hold fast to faith in God die every day. However, the Lord God gives them life every day. He gives them the Spirit of consolation. He makes them firm. He gives them strength! It may appear that they are weak, but the power of God dwells within them. It may appear that God has abandoned them, but God preserves them with a guardian angel day and night. Brethren, we must keep faith in God so that the line of martyrs can continue in us and in those who come after us. In the Church, there are martyrs or there is nothing. Bearing witness comes from this faith, from this cross. This is how the Church was preserved until today and this is how it will remain preserved until the final hour.


Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan-Douma
November 17, 2013 (This sermon was given on November 2, 2013.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh on St John Chrysostom

Arabic original here.

Golden Mouth, Golden Heart

Saint John Chrysostom (d. 404), whose feast is today, is the greatest preacher that the Church has seen in her history and for this reason, he was given the nickname "Golden-Mouth". He was born and raised in Syrian Antioch on the Orontes and excelled in his studies. It is noteworthy that he did them with Libanius, one of the greatest teachers of rhetoric of the age. He became patriarch of Constantinople, the capital of the empire, but did not hesitate to denounce the extravagance and opulence of the rich and the corruption of the bishops who flattered the emperor at the expense of speaking the truth and bearing witness to Christ.

However, we could add another name for John's personality, the "golden-hearted". He realized that Christianity is based on two things that complete each other: the mind and the heart. Or, expressed in other terms, the harmony between knowledge and daily behavior, which includes worship. "Here you have the meaning of our love for Christ that requires us to do everything out of love for God."

John's prayers did not remain at the level of rhetoric and eloquence, but rather he lifted them up to the level of life. John's fame was not limited to preaching, but rather he practiced on the ground what his golden tongue pronounced. He was not intoxicated by the beauty of his language and his rhetorical style, but rather he remained conscious that he was responsible for the life he preached to his people and his flock. Preaching through practice is incomparably more important that merely preaching with words. People trust deeds more than they trust words.

John was certain that the best way to evangelize in his age, when Christians and pagans mingled, is to preach through practice, not with wonders, miracles, and words. He says, "When the Gospel had not yet spread, miracles inspired wonder, and rightly so. But now there is no need for wonder at life." In this context he also says, "The Holy Scriptures were not given so that we would keep them in books, but so that we might engrave them, through reading and contemplation, on our hearts. The Law must be written on tablets of flesh, on our hearts."

John was the best model for people, especially in obeying the commandment to love, Christ's only commandment to His disciples. He loved the poor, not only in word but also in deed, and the story of his life tells us that he sold the patriarchate's possessions and distributed them to the poor. In one of his sermons he says, "However much you have fasted, however much you have slept on the ground, however much you have tasted ashes and shed tears, you have done nothing if you have not been of use to others."

John did not find a connection to Christ only through prayer, fasting and worship, but rather he found Him in every poor and needy person. He did not search for Christ in the heights and heavens, but rather he found Him in the huts of the marginalized in Constantinople, where extreme wealth was side by side with utter poverty. Christ is still alive in every person who needs the love of his fellow man. Indeed, every needy person is himself Christ.

John appears to be addressing us today, the children of this rebellious country, when he says, "Have a room to which Christ may come... Let the most faithful of your servants be the one entrusted with this office, and let him bring in the maimed, the beggars, and the homeless... Receive them in the upper part of your house, but if you won't do this, though it be below, though but where your mules are housed and your servants, there receive Christ."

Update on the Attacks on Schools in Damascus

There has been a series of updates and new media reports about the rebel shelling of schools in Damascus. It appears that, contrary to initial reports, either 8 or 11 children were injured at the St John of Damascus school, but none were killed. 5 children, however, were killed when a school bus at the Risaleh school in a Christian neighborhood of the Old City was hit.It is possible that when there were reports of four children being killed, and then a fifth, this was confused as being two separate death counts for the two attacks that had occurred almost at the same time.

The most recent English-language reports:


 Statement on Syria by Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East 

 Mortar attacks on schools kill 9 children in Damascus; 29 students injured in the past three weeks

Damascus, 12 November 2013 – The killing of innocent children continues in war-torn Syria. UNICEF is outraged by the latest deadly attacks on schools in and around Damascus.

Yesterday, five children were reportedly killed and 11 injured in their classrooms when shells hit St. John of Damascus School in the suburb of al-Qassaa. On the same day, four children and their driver were reportedly killed after a shell hit their school bus in Bab Touma.

Yesterday’s shelling follows a string of attacks on Damascus schools over the past three weeks. On 6 November, a shell hit Aicha Al Sidika School in the Al Midan area of Damascus, reportedly injuring four children. On 22 October, 14 students and a teacher were reportedly injured when shells hit two schools – Fayez Saeed and Nazeh Monzier – in Jaramana, Rural Damascus.

These barbaric acts must stop. All those with influence in Syria have a moral obligation to respect the sanctity of children’s lives and ensure that schools remain a place of safe refuge.

AP/Washington Post: 

Families grieve in Damascus after attack on Christian school as mortar attacks accelerate

Families in a central neighborhood of the Syrian capital wept quietly Tuesday as they retrieved the bodies of four children and their bus driver killed in a mortar attack on their school in a predominantly Christian area a day earlier.

The strike was the latest rebel reprisal to hit Damascus as government troops press ahead with a crushing weekslong advance into opposition-held suburbs, often relying on indiscriminant artillery fire themselves. Such mortar attacks by rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad have been on the rise.

“Those children were angels,” said Marwan Qabalan, a family friend picking up the body of nine-year-old Vaniciya Mekho from the morgue. He said the girl’s parents couldn’t bear to see her, still dressed in a school uniform and covered with blood.

Often-random rebel mortar fire has hit shops, churches, homes and embassies in the capital this year, killing dozens of civilians. But Monday’s shelling of Risaleh school in the Bab Sharqi neighborhood shocked residents in particular because the casualties were children.

A fifth pupil died early Tuesday, raising the number of children killed to five. Four other children and two supervisors were also wounded in the strike, and another mortar attack the same day on nearby John of Damascus school wounded 11.

LA Times (the only English-language report not from a wire service, but filed from Beirut):

U.N. denounces mortar attacks on schools in the Syrian capital 

 The United Nations on Tuesday denounced as “barbaric” a series of recent mortar attacks on schools in Damascus, Syria's capital, that have left at least four students dead and dozens others injured.

“These barbaric acts must stop,” Maria Callvis, director for the Middle East and North Africa for the United Nations Children’s Fund, said in a statement. “All those with influence in Syria have a moral obligation to respect the sanctity of children’s lives and ensure that schools remain a place of safe refuge.”

No one has taken responsibility for the attacks, but rebel forces based on the outskirts of Damascus daily fire mortar shells at the capital, which is firmly under government control. Civilians often are killed or injured.

The government blames “terrorists’’ — its term for armed rebels — for the mortar barrages.
It is not clear whether  the attackers are aiming at specific targets or firing randomly into neighborhoods deemed to be largely loyal to the government of President Bashar Assad. Attacks Monday killed and injured schoolchildren in two mostly Christian neighborhoods, whose residents are generally regarded as pro-government. The mortar shells and home-made rockets being fired into the capital from rebel-held suburbs are not especially accurate, experts say.

Human rights groups have regularly condemned large-scale government bombardment of civilian districts under rebel control. The daily shelling of Damascus by rebels has not generated comparable levels of international censure. But the rising number of casualties among schoolchildren prompted UNICEF to voice its outrage.

The government said Monday that four children were killed and four were  injured when a mortar round struck a school bus in the Bab Sharqi [Eastern Gate] district of central Damascus. The bus driver was also killed, and two school administrators were injured, according to official accounts. The bus was struck in front of the Risala school, the government said.

Also on Monday, mortar rounds struck St. John of Damascus School in the Qassaa district, injuring 11 children, the government said.

They were the latest in a string of mortar attacks that have hit school facilities in Damascus in recent weeks, injuring more than two dozen children, the U.N. noted.



Damascus School Denies Children Killed in Shelling

The principal of a Christian school in Damascus denied on Wednesday reports that shelling there two days earlier had killed any of its students.

However, four pupils and driver were killed when a shell hit a school bus in the Christian Bab Sharqi area of the city on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

That same day Syrian state television said fire had killed five people, "all of them children", and wounded 27 at the St John of Damascus school in the Qassaa district.

On Wednesday, however, the school's principal, Father Stefano, told AFP "eight of our pupils were wounded, but none killed".

Meanwhile, the Britain-based Observatory said the shell in Bab Sharqi had struck near a military building.

Government newspapers also reported on Wednesday that "four schoolchildren and a driver were killed" at Bab Sharqi.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Rebels Shell Orthodox Elementary School in Damascus, 9 Children Killed

See important updates on this story here.

Damascus (AFP) - Nine children were killed and 27 people wounded when mortar rounds hit a school and a school bus in the Syrian capital Damascus on Monday, state television reported.

"The toll in the terrorist targeting of the St. John of Damascus school with mortar rounds has risen to five dead, all of them children, and 27 injured," a news alert on Syrian state television said.

Another four students were killed when a mortar hit the vehicle they were in, in the central Bab Sharqi district of the capital, state news agency SANA said, adding that the driver was also killed.

Six others inside the bus, including four more students, were wounded in the "terrorist attack," SANA said.

The website of the school can be found here.

The Patriarchate has published the following pictures, here:

Also today, according to reports here, two mortars struck Holy Cross Church, the largest church in Damascus, and the Melkite Catholic Church of St Cyril.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Fr Touma Bitar on Violence

Arabic original here.

The Sword

We do not know God as a killer. God is love. No killing is from Him. Killing is from the one that Jesus said was a murderer, that is Satan. Satan the murderer is also the liar and the father or lies. So he pushes people to kill and falsely attributes killing to God in order to distort the image of God and confuse them.

The God worshiped by those who attribute killing to God for any reason is the god of war. This is something that does not exist. This is an idol and an idol is something made by people's passions. When they worship the god of war, they are only making a god of their passions and sanctifying their selfishness, individually and collectively. The worship of idols, stone and intellectual alike, is, according to the Book of Wisdom "The worship of idols not to be named is the beginning and cause and end of every evil" (Wisdom 14:27).

In the Old Testament, the sword was a human projection onto God, because people's hearts were hard. They only understand the language of the sword. How do you take a people out of their darkness and bring them into the light of life? God providentially emptied Himself and dwelt in people's darkness, even though the darkness did not comprehend Him (John 1:5). There, in their darkness, He spread His light among them. They thought that He was an ally for them, and a God for their darkness. If not for this, they would not have accepted Him. They attributed killing and their wars to Him. In their eyes He became a God for them, who would give them victory over their enemies. He emptied Himself in the sense that He let them treat Him in this way. Why was He pleased to do this? Because, in His heavenly wisdom, to the goals that would be achieved in them, to the fullness of time, to the completion of the plan of salvation in Jesus Christ. His plan was nothing other than to train them to keep the law. "Thou shalt not kill," He said to them absolutely in His Ten Commandments, so how can He be a killer? In His prophets, on account of their hardness He spoke His word to them, "I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts" (Isaiah 65:2). However, at once He reveals His purposes to them and presses them to joy. Thus He says, "behold, I create new heavens and a new earth and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create ... The wolf and the lamb shall feed together ... They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, says the Lord" (Isaiah 65:17-18, 25).

"When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). Some of them accepted Him. "As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12). Some of them did not accept Him. Those are the ones who clung to the worship of the god of war. They crucified Him after He showed Himself to be meek and humble. He disappointed them. As they saw it, it was not possible for Him to be the Lord's awaited Messiah who would give them victory over the peoples of the earth, even though the Prophet Isaiah had already described Him to them, "He has no form or comeliness and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief ... He was despised, and we did not esteem Him" (Isaiah 53:2-3). Their god of war, their idol, he is the one who killed Him.

Jesus' words about the sword are clear and explicit: "All those who take up the sword die by the sword." There is no end to the language of the sword other than the cessation of being. Violence is not remedied with violence. Evil is not resisted with evil, but rather with good. Perhaps one might object that when He was about to be handed over to crucifixion He commanded his disciples, "He who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors’" (Luke 22:36-37). These words have another meaning. "And He was numbered with the transgressors" is from Chapter 53 of the Prophet Isaiah, in his words about the servant of Yahweh. So the prophecy is realized, but not formally. What Jesus wants is to appear with His disciples as though He was the leader of a gang. Why? Because He wanted to confirm the Jews in their error on account of the hardness of their hearts after they rejected Him. The Lord God will strike those who insist on sin with blindness, as He is the one who says through the Prophet Isaiah, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them” (John 12:40). So here Jesus gives them over to error, so that their conviction will become entrenched that He is not the Messiah but rather a gang member. But to those who want to hear and so that we will understand the truth of His attitude toward the sword, He said to Peter after he unsheathed it and struck the chief priest’s servant and cut off his right ear, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

However, those who bear the name of Christ have a complete weapon with which they can withstand in the evil day (Ephesians 6). First of all, our enemy is Satan. The people who imitate Satan’s character are his instruments. They are swords and the one wielding them is Satan. For this reason we do not resist the sword with the sword, but rather we resist the one wielding the sword with the complete armor of God. Our strength is from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. This is why it is said, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness” (Ephesians 6:10-12). God’s complete weapon is not the weapon of humans. First, we gird our waist with truth. Second, we put on the armor of righteousness. Third, we shod our feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. Fourth, and above all, we carry the shield of faith with which we are able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Fifth, we take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. We arm ourselves with all this and we keep watch, praying with each prayer at each time in the Spirit and we persevere in the request for the sake of all the saints.

We say these words as violence grows fiercer, killing multiplies and the abuse of believers in the name of the truth and in the name of God grows in every place. People are falling like autumn leaves. Do you think that there are sheep and wolves in the world and that the battle is a battle with swords for the sake of truth? This is not the case. The struggle is between wolves and wolves. The battle is between falsehood and falsehood. The devil toys with people, annihilating them. And people, because of their hate and the violence of their passions, offer themselves and each other as firewood for Satan. Each one has gods and instruments of war and the one result is destruction. Tears fill the earth and so we look for the time when God wipes away every year and death is no more and there is no more sorrow, crying and pain (Revelation 21).
“Come, Lord Jesus.”

Archimandrite Touma Bitar
Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan- Douma
March 9, 2008

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh on the First Lebanese Born without a Sect

Arabic original here. More about the significance of baby Ghadi can be read here.

For Nidal, Kholoud and Ghadi

When I received the first identity document for my eldest daughter, I smiled and wondered why they noted on the line for religion "Greek Orthodox" when she had not yet received the sacrament of baptism, which alone makes her officially belong to the Greek Orthodox Church. As someone dedicated to his Church and about to become a priest, I disapproved of this, regarding it as the state through its laws and with the complicity of the religious leaders encroaching on something that pertains to faith and turning it into mere membership in one of the Lebanese tribes that are called sects.

It is not the state's business to indicate in its official documents the membership of its citizens in a sect or religion. In doing so, it discriminates between them, without any regard for the most important of the rights required by citizenship: equality of rights and responsibilities for all citizens.

When the state mentions sectarian affiliation in its official documents, it does so in order to consecrate its sectarianism and in order to further the practice of sectarian discrimination that leads to inequality between citizens according to their sectarian affiliations.

At the end of September, Ghadi Darwish was born, the first Lebanese citizen who was not assigned to one of the sects in his first identity document. He is the first Lebanese who deserves to be described as a citizen in the full meaning of the word.

He is purely a Lebanese citizen. The distinction has been made between his national affiliation and the sectarian affiliation of his parents. He is the first Lebanese whose religious individuality and freedom is honored by the state.

Not mentioning religion on an identity document by no means implies that its bearer has no religious or sectarian affiliation. It does not necessarily mean that its bearer is an atheist, an infidel, an agnostic or is indifferent, just as mention of a religion certainly does not imply that the document's bearer is necessarily a believer... The purpose an identity document is to demonstrate citizenship and only information that is related to this citizenship. Its purpose is not to demonstrate religious affiliation, who one believes in or what one believes.

Religious affiliation is a personal matter between an individual and his Lord, or between an individual and himself if he is not a believer. Naturally, people have the right to raise their children according to what they believe. However, faith is not inherited in the same way as nationality or a last name. Thus it is a violation of one of the basic human rights, the right to freedom of belief. There are many who mock the sect to which their official documents say that they belong, even though they feel themselves forced to accept  this affiliation for various reasons.

God does not need the testimony of the state in order to recognize those who believe in Him. He will not ask anyone for their papers in order to know what religion they belong to. Likewise, He does not need the testimony of those zealous for faith or the hatreds of the takfiris in order to establish His judgment on the last day. He will not interrogate anything other than a person's heart, the love hidden therein, and the mercy that he did for his fellow human beings.

The birth of Ghadi is blessed. May it be a first blossom, bearing tidings of the birth of a civil state governed by civil laws in word and deed, a state that respects human rights and rights of citizenship. Building a better future requires a constant struggle, a struggle that longs for eternity.*

*The names Nidal and Kholoud literally mean "struggle" and "eternity".

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A God of Dialogue

The Arabic original, from al-Karma, the bulletin of the Archdiocese of Tripoli, can be found here.

The God in whom be believe is a God of dialogue. We believe in Him as one God with three hypostases: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we believe that the relationship that exists between the three hypostases is a relationship of love. The three hypostases reciprocate love among themselves through an unceasing dialogue of love. Dialogue, then, exists at the heart of the Trinity. For us, creation was the first initiative of dialogue undertaken by our God whom we worship and through it He announced Himself, from eternity and unto the ages, as a God of dialogue. God created His creation, at the peak of which is man, and from the time of creation He has entered into a dialogue of love with man. Through disobedience man fell, but, despite this, the Creator did not cut off the dialogue of love with him. What is the plan of salvation that begins with Abraham and passes through the Law, then the prophets, all the way to Jesus Christ, if not proof of this, perhaps the most convincing proof? We have no doubt that our God whom we worship crowned His dialogue with man with His Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, who paid with His blood shed on the Cross, to save the dialogue of love that exists between the Creator and creation. Our Lord Jesus Christ, through His salvific life on earth and finally through His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead, crowned the dialogue of love that God inaugurated with the act of creation. Jesus sealed his salvific life on earth with the seal of the dialogue of love. Thus we see Him addressing His apostles, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15), as we also see Him do similarly with the Canaanite woman and the Samaritan woman.

So if our God has announced Himself to be a God of dialogue, then it is incumbent upon us as well to be this way. We are created in His image and likeness, thus we are people of dialogue.* God's will is for us to have dialogue. He created us face-to-face with each other, so that among us we might be mind-to-mind and heart-to-heart, which, by definition, is dialogue. That is, dialogue when is you enter with the other into free, intellectual dialogue that does not deny the other, after having emptied yourself, mind and heart, from anything that would distort or

All this makes dialogue a pedagogical problematic, in the scientific sense of the term, a continuous educational endeavor that begins at home in early childhood, crystallizes in school, and then continues in society and public life, generally lasting one's entire lifetime. In all of this, we are still falling short and so we do not yet possess what we called above "a culture of dialogue."

The bulk of what we become proficient in is conversation. We exchange speeches where each side frankly expresses its position, without that necessarily reaching the point of mutual understanding or agreement. It is hard for us to have a conversation without becoming excited, and so we have conversations without listening to each other.

Our dialogues, whatever their context or nature may be, are for the most part doomed to failure. Usually they end before they even start. Why is this? It is because we usually come to dialogue as the prisoners of preconceived notions, intentions, stubbornness or all these things at once. So our dialogue quickly fails because it began emotionally and not rationally. So, we have dialogue but instead of listening to each other, each one of us listens to his internal monologue and so the dialogue is fruitless.

This is not dialogue. True dialogue requires that you place yourself in a position to accept the other with whom you are dialoguing and then in a position to listen. It is when you try to go over to understand the other's mind and he goes over to understand yours, such that the bridge between you is pure thinking, untainted by ulterior motives or emotion. Dialogue might bright you together with a person you had known previously, since we all carry around thoughts and preconceptions about the other, but despite this you meet him in his sincerity, and he does likewise with you, lest preconceptions stand as a barrier between you. Preconceptions must fall away in order for encounter to take place. In this way a dialogue of minds occurs, open to the movement of love that exists at the heart of the Trinity. 

*This is a pun in Arabic, where dialogue is "hiwar"  and the Qur'anic word for Jesus' disciples is "hawariyyun".