Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Message of Patriarch Theophilos III on the Start of Lent

Although the Arabic text is clearly a somewhat awkward translation, it is not upon on the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's website and,to my knowledge, it has only been published by the Jordanian state news agency, Petra.

The Message of Theophilos III on the Occasion of the Start of the 40-Day Fast

Amman, February 25 (Petra)-- Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Jordan and Palestine, Theophilos III issued a message on the occasion of the start of the forty-day fast, in which he said:

In Greek Orthodox Christianity, fasting is closely tied to the sincere desire to draw near to God and to humble the self before Him.

The fast is intertwined with prayer and supplication to the Creator. Fasting has conditions that appear in the Holy Bible, among which the Book of Isaiah mentions, "Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?" Therefore we believe that fasting in a manner that is acceptable to the Lord is an important and fundamental part of proper human behavior. Although we are called to practice proper human behavior both in and out of the time of fasting, intensifying it during this holy time affirms that fasting is a comprehensive state in which the human person bows to God's desire, is led by His teachings, prays to Him intensely, spreads love, renounces hatred and rancor and expels the whispering of Satan, aided by the spiritual power that results from approaching God through the fast  that gives a mystical dimension to the Christian believer.

As for the unacceptable fast, Christ warned us of this when he said in the Holy Gospel of Matthew, "When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward." With this warning, we distance ourselves from superficial fasting, which loses the true meaning of the comprehensive state of fasting because in true, acceptable fasting there is a basic step toward overcoming the passions and worldly pleasures and it prepares the soul for salvation from evils and sin.

Fasting during one's youth has a special importance because it establishes a lifelong journey of commitment to the teachings of Christ the Lord and His great message. Christian youth, who face enormous challenges-- especially in this region of the world on account of political instability and the loss of peace in many parts of it, economic hardships, and other disadvantages, obstacles and difficulties-- are in need of the spiritual strength that springs from drawing near to God through prayer and fasting. Through fasting, hearts are purified, vision becomes clearer, and forces are united to face challenges and dangers, and new pages are opened in fraternal relations-- especially between the children of  the Greek Orthodox Church and her leadership. May this produce a new start in relations, especially with the young generation, governed by truth, developed by love, and shepherded by God.

Our Greek Orthodox Church places the future in the hands of her Orthodox youth in Jordan and Palestine, this generation who are zealous for its Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Mother of Churches, and look to it as an extension of themselves to their Christian roots that go deep in the Holy Land. Likewise, the Church sees  in her Orthodox youth the rightful heir of her inheritance and history and her positive extension that is active in society in general. The paramount importance of our Orthodox youth cannot be risked and and left undefended, without true Orthodox preaching that springs from the depth of our faith in the message of love that Christ the Lord brought.

So that the contents of this paternal message do not go unapplied in practice, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and its monasteries in all parts of the Holy Land open their arms to all youth from our Orthodox flock to form groups for dialogue and activity to deal with all the issues that have been raised and to lay the foundation for a future that brings together the Orthodox Church with her youth so that we may face all challenges together, armed with grace and divine spiritual power given to us by our faith in Christ, especially during the days of the blessed fast.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Met Georges Khodr on Lent

Arabic original here.

The Fast

You empty yourself of food or of certain foods in order to come to know that you are needy for the bread of God. Abstinence is a symbol of your poverty before Him. It is training the soul in poverty before Him and before others. Therefore tomorrow, the evening when we enter into this training, we ask others for forgiveness in the services of my church because, if they forgive us, they permit us to enter the fast as poor people. This is because if we are hungry, we train ourselves in the fact that we are hungry for God's mercy.

The fast has no meaning unless you practice it by admitting to your sin. This admission is the beginning of your being justified, until God clothes you in Himself. You hunger for God, not for food. All of our practices are training until we are clothed in God by His grace. That is, until He accepts us. You do not acquire God through fasting. He acquires you by His love. He has always been the initiator and the faith for you to accept.

This Sunday evening, each one of us will kneel before those who attend vespers and ask for their forgiveness in clear words, embracing them so that we may enter the fast in love. Abstinence is what is desired. Your repenting to him and together to God makes you worthy of abstinence. Without a god returning to you, you are just doing another diet. Without a face that you love, you are not fasting. Without a face that you love, you have no pascha. Without a face that you love, you are nothing.
For you to abstain this coming Monday from food is for you to abstain from sin, because sin was your food. For you to be abstinent does not mean anything unless after that you desire to encounter a face that is the face of your Lord because He alone sees you in love.

For or abstinence is nothing, however we hope that if we abstain in the love of God, we will encounter Him because in this season we refrain from the food of the body in order to approach the Lord existentially. If Pascha is joy, then fasting is preparation for joy, just as the prayers of betrothal are for us preparation for marriage. We are not against the body. We are for training it. How can we be against the body when Christ clothed Himself in it? We are against wearing the body out with sin because sin is against our love for God.

Those who fast believe in training the body. They are not against it, nor can they be because the Lord clothed Himself in a body. Neither eating nor abstaining is anything. Everything is for you to love God and for us the fast is a means in which we are instructed in this love. It was explained to us at the very beginning of Christianity that you fast in order to give to the poor the price of the food from which you abstained. If you ignore the poor, then you are not fasting.

The Frenchman Pascal, a great man in Christianity, said, "I have loved poverty because Christ loved it." You deprive yourself in order to love. Anything apart from that is just outward form. We are not against pleasure. We are against pleasure-seeking. We are not against the body, but we are against the mad pursuit of the body.

Here the faithful must pay heed to what is truly sought during this season.  It is not merely abstinence. What is sought is the face of God. You train yourself to seek it because it is the first thing that was abandoned. Therefore, we must remind yourselves that our first exercise is not abstinence, but rather reading the word of God. We do not hunger for food.  We are instructed in it. We hunger for the word of God. Therefore we must understand that we abstain from foods in order to eat the word of God. God, God and nothing else. So it pains me when someone abstains from foods but does not listen to the word of God and read it. It is only by this reading that you will repay your hunger.
There is no practice in Christianity that is not for the sake of love, love of God and of others. Everything else is a decoration. Love until there are no more words that must be translated into deeds, including fasting. It is true that the goal of fasting is for God. However, in its implementation it is for our brothers, for giving.

The body, detached from the heart, does not concern us. For us to love God and not to translate this into giving to our brothers is generally a delusion. If you do not love your brother whom you see, how can you love God whom you do not see? You are with the other in the presence of God. If you have banished the other from your love, then you have no god. Take the other with you and go to God. Until you arrive.

The superficial Christian thinks that he will arrive through practices. This is the summit of delusions. You arrive through love because it is the end and the means together. However, do not forget that love does not remain only in the mind. It is embodied by turning to others. If you do not go out from your own room to others, you do not love. This is why Jesus demanded that those who love Him to leave their father and mother-- that is, to shed the material things that keep them from God. You must always leave things and people in order to encounter Christ. You must always strip away in order to see God. If anything of the world is attached to you, you have no vision of God.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth

Arabic original here.

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth"

The Apostle Paul tells us in today's epistle, "The night is far spent, the day is at hand." Behold, we set aside the works of darkness and approach the light, the light that will come at Holy Pascha. However, before Pascha this divine light comes through the efforts that we will undertake by mercy from our Lord and by His favor.

The Evangelist Matthew has spoken to us about the fasting that we undertake for God's sake, which we undertake in secret, without making a show or admitting to it, but we know it as a mercy from our Lord and we fight to acquire the grace of contentment and so that we may be trained in the way of the Lord and the fear of Him.

It is not an issue of refraining from food or drink. These are exercises, practice by which we train for something higher. Of course, we must submit our body to the fast in order to tame it because there is something better than the body and in order to make it feel the presence of the poor. Mercy is one of the dimensions of the fast. The purpose of the fast is for us to be trained in it in the school of mercy.

Today the Lord tells us at the end of the Gospel reading, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal." That means, do not place your reliance on money, but know that there are poor people who need this money and that they have a right to it. Giving is not a sort of optional charity. You do not have a say in whether to give or not to give. It is an obligation because the earth belongs to all people and the riches of the earth belong to everyone.

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth  for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." This means that if you consider money to be your treasure, then your hearts will be full of the love of it and if you consider the kingdom of God to be your treasure, then your hearts will be filled with God. Life must not be a state of confusion between God and the world, where we hesitate between Christ and what is not Christ. Therefore, we enter into the struggle of this fast affirming that Christ is all of life and so we will enter into the calm sobriety of Christ so that we may build for Him a glorious church, not of stone but of hearts living in harmony.

The fast is a struggle that each of us undertakes according to his ability and as his health permits. This is as regards food and drink. However, we all undertake it as regards its spiritual aspect. That is, we are all called to love, to forgiveness, and to hold all people close to our hearts, so that God may hold us close to His heart. If we love people, then we are God's beloved and if we hate people, then we are separated from God. There is nothing in the Christian Church but this: that we love each other and that we strive to remain in this love all our life.

Whatever people say about us and whatever they do, all people are God's beloved and the children of God and so we love them and support them and we fast from gossiping so that we may all have a share in the Lord's love. With these feelings, let us enter Blessed Lent so that God may make it a season of blessings for us and show us at its end a great and glorious Pascha by which we are blessed with love, forgiveness, peace and joy.

Friday, February 20, 2015

An Interview with Patriarch John X in Russia

Arabic original (presumably to be published in Russian) here.

An Interview with His Beatitude John X, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East

Unity Magazine: Your Beatitude, from the very first day of its establishment,  the See of Antioch has been a place of constant sacrifices, of struggle and of trials. From the formation of the first Christian groups, the Christological controversies arose, followed by competition between theological schools, then the tribulations associated with the Islamic conquest in the Middle East. It seemed as though Antioch was living its last days, but the Lord took care of things and the Church withstood and continues until today, bearing witness to the true Christ among her millions of faithful who are not only in the Middle East, but throughout the world.
Today, as her head, how do you view the power of the work of the the Church of Antioch?

His Beatitude: The Church of Antioch is the Church of the Spirit par excellence. Moreover, it is the Church of the Spirit who does not sleep. In Antioch, faith boils with apostolic zeal. It is from this perspective that we read her history, with all its ups and downs. For there to be schools of theology and theological orientations in her and elsewhere, this is is nothing other than a reflection of the freedom of the Spirit and the theology blazing within it. History may have born down upon Antioch and upon its church, but hardship creates men and it creates firm and unshakeable faith in the Lord. Many people in the world may live as Christians, but Antioch and Moscow, like others, have lived and continue to live a Christianity embodied in life. They live it as a movement of life and as the core of their human essence human , not as a purely theoretical faith. The Church of Antioch is trying, as much as it has been given by God to do so in these difficult circumstances, to be at the side of its displaced and afflicted people. It is trying to embody in word and deed the saying of its son, John Chrysostom, "The neighbor is the altar of God." The best thing that this church is offering today is that it is at the side of the sorrowing and needy.

Unity Magazine: It is unfortunate that politics generally determine not only the fate of peoples but also the situation of religion in the world. You were elected patriarch at a historic and tragic time, when there suddenly arose a tense religious situation in the Middle East, with news arriving of mass persecution and the killing of thousands of the faithful and the destruction of Christian holy sites. What possible things must the Orthodox throughout the world do to help the people of your church in Syria and other countries in the region?

His Beatitude: There is no doubt that what is happening in the Middle East is a struggle between the logic of listening to moderation and the logic of extremism and extremist ideologies. We are not exaggerating if we say that the Middle East has known coexistence between all its constitutent elements. Let us go back only four years and remember how things were and how they have become now. There is a tragic situation, no doubt, however tragedy does not mean that we despair and surrendered to a fate that we do not want. There is persecution of Christians and of other voices of moderation. There is the destruction of the monuments of coexistence. We await from the world more than verbal solidarity, because we are fed up with the language of promises and want the language of deeds. The entire world is looking on at the tragedy of refugees, at the tragedy of starving people and instead of encouraging dialogue, we are seeing some of them continue a policy of economic sanctions that are smothering the Syrian people while the arms trade is wide open.
The entire world is looking on at the crisis of our brothers, Metropolitans Yuhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi and it limits itself to solidarity or even silence. We are here in Russia first of all to make our pain at what is happening heard. Let us put this question to the entire world: where are our bishops?
Of course, we thank all those with good intentions and all the good people who are giving their money to help our people and we hope that everyone realizes that the primary aid to Christians lies politically in pushing to bring about peace in our first land and that  the necessary material or moral aid to them and others and to all the sorrowing people in this world is the primary test of Christianity and of Orthodoxy in particular.

Unity Magazine: What are the challenges present in the global system that pose a threat to Christian civilization, especially those that exist in the Islamic world in whose environment your church lives? Is it sufficient for the people of your church to preserve the power of faith, spiritual struggle and humility in a society exploding with evil, as Christians are called agents of the West and of the United States? Is dialogue and mutual understanding between Eastern and Western civilizations possible in the present situation?

His Beatitude: The Christians in the Middle East support their own countries and they are native to them. They are not visitors or the remnants of campaigns. Let that be clear. The Christians have never been agents of anyone, but rather have been at the side of those who want the best for their countries and their nations.
The loadstar of the Orthodox has always been the good of their countries. Their orientation has never been factional or sectarian. It is their right to live in peace in the land of their forefathers and it is their right and obligation to defend it in the face of outsiders.

Unity Magazine: Damascus is not only the city of the Apostle Paul's conversion. It is also the historical place of great ascetics and saints. What is the sitation of the Christians in Damascus? What remains in the people's conscience? What remains of the historical heritage of those times?

His Beatitude: The fate of Damascus is to always be the city of those who are guided along the true path. This is the meaning of the French proverb, "He has found the road to Damascus." The situation of the Christians in Damascus is the situation of those who desire to live in security and peace. We know that the days are hard for us and for everyone. However, we must not forget that the ashes of tribulation cannot obscure the ray of light and the flash of truth. The historical truth is that in the bright days of its history, Syria has known coexistence among all its communities.
If one looks at history, let him be bee that Saint Basil the Great speaks of, selecting the best of the flowers. Let us constantly remember that four years of turmoil should not shake the image of peace and beauty in this Middle East that we love and whose peace we desire.
There remains in the consciousness of the people all the historical heritage of  bygone times.
It remains that our Christian forefathers endured everything and we were nursed with faith in Christ along with our mother's milk. In turn, we shall transmit this faith to our children and we shall transmit along with it our attachment to the land of Antioch, which first marked us with the name of Christ.

Unity Magazine: In 2016 there awaits an important event, the Pan-Orthodox Council in Istanbul. In your view, how has the world changed in the two thousand years since the necessity of holding a council such as this was declared in Jerusalem, and what do you regard as the most important thing among its decisions?

His Beatitude: It is good, indeed it is necessary for brothers to meet together, especially at the present time. And it is good, indeed it is an obligation for their meeting to transcend the level of formalities in order to truly touch upon the concerns of their churches and the concerns of their people. It is necessary for all of us to look to the base of the pyramid, to the people and their needs, before we go on to study the taxis of sees. The standard of the council's success is in the good preparation for it and in removing the barriers that prevent brothers from sitting together. In all simplicity, we hope for a solution to the issue of Jerusalem's assault on the Church of Antioch represented by the installment of an "archbishop" over Qatar, which geographically, ecclesiastically and canonically belongs to the Patriarchate of Antioch. We regret that the Patriarchate of Jerusalem has added insult to injury and causes all attempts at mediating a solution to hit a wall. We believe that the most important deliberations and decisions of this council will be those that examine the issue of the presence of Christians in the Middle East. Their deeply-rooted presence there is a bridge to the Islamic world and elsewhere and it is a necessity and a pillar for Orthodox Christian witness to Jesus Christ in His land and a bridge by which all may come together. We likewise look with interest at the issue of the diaspora, the Christian presence there and the ecclesiastical organization in the countries of the diaspora.

Unity Magazine: Are readers are interested in getting to know you better. How did you, a person passionate about music, choose the path of serving the Lord? What are the wishes and duties that you have set before your eyes? What are the priorities for you, as head of the ancient Church of Antioch?

His Beatitude: I grew up in Lattakia and was raised in the diocese that had been entrusted to my predecessor, Ignatius IV when he was metropolitan there. In 1979, i was ordained deacon by His Eminence Metropolitan John Mansour of Lattakia. I studied at Balamand and completed my theological education in Greece. I was elected bishop of el-Hosn in 1995 and metropolitan of Europe in 2008. The fathers of the Holy Synod of Antioch designated me as patriarch in December 2012. I remember that when I entered Damascus on December 20, 2012 I was given a candle in the Maryamiyya Cathedral. I was asked that day, "What is your program, Your Beatitude?" I responded simply, "To be like this candle. I melt away to the extent of my weaknesses so that the Church of Christ may lift up her people. I melt away in service as much as God has granted.

Unity Magazine: The editorial staff gives you their heartfelt congratulations, Your Beatitude, for your well-deserved award of the Patriarch Alexei II Prize from the International Foundation for the Unity of Orthodox Peoples for your prominent work to strengthen the unity of Orthodox peoples and to support Christian values in the life of society. How do you feel about this decision and what sentiments do you want to express to Moscow?

His Beatitude: I thank the organizers of this celebration. I regard this honor as being for the Church of Antioch and for the people of its lands who are suffering from terrorism and takfirism. I regard the medal placed on my chest as a testimony of esteem which I in turn will place on the chest of our kidnapped bishops Yuhanna and Paul. Their affair remains a mark of shame for those who falsely give lip-service to human rights. I regard it as a medal that I will place on the chest of every suffering person in this Middle East that longs for peace. Therefore I pray for peace in Syria and stability in Lebanon. It is true that my feelings are mixed with sadness over what is happening in the land of the Church of Antioch, but nevertheless, after the cross, resurrection.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Patriarch John X's Letter to the Preparatory Committee of the Great and Holy Council

This translation is unofficial. Arabic original here.

Brother members of the preparatory committee for the Great Orthodox Council who are meeting in Chambésy,

As we prepare for Great and Holy Lent, I address you, beloved brothers, in my name and in the name of the Holy Synod of Antioch, wishing you a blessed fast and calling down blessings upon your preparatory meeting, for whose work I wish all success.

As we approach the date specified for holding the Great and Holy Council, I would like to call your attention to basic points that the Antiochian Church sees as essential for this council that our church has been awaiting for years, for which our predecessors worked hard to prepare, and which must constitute a critical point in our history. It does not come as the closing of a stage but rather it inaugurates a new stage based on cooperation, coordination, and consolidating the shared Orthodox witness in our tormented world which awaits nothing less from us than that we give it Christ, "so that it may have life, and more abundantly."

In this regard, it is our opinion that:

1) Preparatory work must be intensified and the topics must be readied as soon as possible in light of the decision of the primates of the churches delegating the preparatory committee with reviewing the texts that were decided upon by our predecessors and harmonizing them with the requirements of our time, not with reformulating them once more.

2) The issue of the diaspora must be re-examined by a preparatory committee in which bishops from  the diaspora also participate. This is in order to evaluate the work of the episcopal assemblies  and to propose canonical solutions in accordance with Orthodox theology and the requirements of the decisions of the preliminary Orthodox meeting which established these assemblies in order to "prepare the ground for a strictly canonical solution for the problem of the diaspora. This preparation will not extend beyond the convening of the future Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church, so that it can proceed with a canonical solution of the problem of the diaspora."

3) Work must be done to call upon the fifth preliminary meeting to decide on agreed texts before the end of this year so that the people of God can be informed of what was agreed upon, so that the primates may come to the council bearing the concerns of their churches about the issues listed on its agenda.

4) The fifth preliminary meeting must be delegated with presenting the Great Council with proposals for a common mechanism for effecting cooperation in the future between the autocephalous churches and a list of issues that require common study on a pan-Orthodox level so that work can be done to prepare them and decide upon them in a conciliar manner at a future council.

5) Likewise, we must draw your attention to the fact that one of the most important conditions required for the success of conciliar work is that the Orthodox churches-- and at their head the Ecumenical Patriarchate-- must bear their responsibility for resolving outstanding issues between the churches before the meeting of the Great Council, which cannot meet in the absence of any one autocephalous church or if there is a state of ongoing disagreement between two churches about an outstanding issue.

In closing, because your meeting will examine the issue of the contribution of the Orthodox Church to realizing peace, justice, freedom, brotherhood and love among peoples and eliminating racial and other discrimination, we hope that you will contemplate the suffering experienced by the Middle East in general and the Christians there in particular, resulting from the absence of these ideals and the aggravation of violence while the so-called civilized world looks on and continues its double standards. In this regard, a voice must be raised so that the Syrian people may live in freedom and dignity, so that the two kidnapped bishops and all those who have been kidnapped may return,  so that Lebanon and Iraq may be stable and their children grow up, and also so that the Christian presence may be preserved in this Middle East, especially in Palestine, whose people must be rooted and well-shepherded in order to establish them in their land as they suffer from the horror of occupation and the injustice of a world that has been looking on at their tragedies for decades.

May God grant you success for the good of the Orthodox Church and may He strengthen you in your work for the glory of His holy name.

Damascus, February 4, 2015
+John X
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East

Fr Georges Massouh on the 21 Martyrs in Libya

Arabic original here.  In a similar vein, I'd highly recommend reading these two articles recently published in The Atlantic: What Isis Really Wants and Why Obama Won't Talk about Islamic Terrorism.

The Innocence of Islam, not of Islamic Institutions

The apologetic and justificatory rhetoric has become repugnant. The excuse has become more vile than the crime. The pictures of imams and patriarchs coming together have become unconvincing... What happened in Libya-- and before that in every part of this suffering Middle East-- cannot be confronted with a parroted rhetoric about religions' not being responsible for the spread of terrorism in our lands. If it is axiomatic to say that religions are not responsible, this in no way means that religious institutions and their leaders are not responsible for the growth of extremism and the rejection of those who are different, even if they belong to the same religion.

If it is true to assert that Islam is innocent of the crimes and atrocities of ISIS, religious institutions that have not  undertaken their duty to disseminate a culture of mutual respect and total equality between Christians and Muslims are responsible for the dissemination of the culture of religious hatred and rejection of people of other religions and creeds. These same institutions are likewise responsible for disseminating a culture of hatred between sects of Islam, since they have not done enough to eliminate the causes of religious divisions and disagreements between Muslims themselves.

What we are witnessing today is nothing other than the outcome of decades of extremist religious thought. For about half a century, we have been witnessing the spread of takfiri religious discourse and the proliferation of movements that use violence in order to realize their goals. The writings of Sayyed Qutb (the Egyptian thinker executed in 1966) have contributed to the rise of an Islamic ideology that justifies declaring societies that do not rely upon Islamic law in their governance to be unbelievers  and adopting terror as the sole way of arrive at that to which they aspire.

The spread and expansion of ISIS is nothing other than the inevitable rise of this takfiri Islam and of the inability of the official religious institutions to confront takfiri thinking with thinking that is open to modernity. The gate of ijtihad is shut, even if the opposite has been said. Until the present, the state governs its Coptic citizens according to laws and decrees that go back to the days of the Ottoman Empire... As for the religious institutions subject to the current regime, they are silent about the injustice affecting their partners in the nation and make no effort to produce modern legal rulings based on total equality of rights and obligations between Muslims and non-Muslims. We have, for example, the restrictions placed on permission for building churches and the tremendous conveniences for building mosques as a glaring example of the disparity of treatment.

Yes, Christians are the people of the Word [al-Kalima]. They are the people of Jesus Christ and His closest friends. Thus, they are the people of woundedness, and in Arabic al-kalm means "wound". They are neither the people of a book nor dhimmis and they are not pleased with being under anyone's protection [Arabic: dhimma]. However, they realized that they are called to be witnesses to the Word in these blessed lands, even if this requires blood, suffering, torments, and forever-open wounds.

In the context of the dogma of the redemption, the Christian tradition believes that Christ "was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed." Even though it is recognized by Christians that Christ is the only redeemer, Middle Eastern Christians are called today to become words, to become wounds that wipe away the sins and transgressions of this Middle East. They heal it through their suffering in all their tragedies, wars and woes and they spread peace wherever they are found. Only then can Christians celebrate Christ's rising from the dead and so too celebrate their own rising from the hell surrounding them on every side.

The sight of the 21 martyrs has reminded us of the prophecy of Isaiah, "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7). The Christian tradition is unanimous in saying that this prophecy was realized when Jesus Christ was crucified, as He is the slaughtered lamb who redeemed the world with His blood. However, Christ said to His apostles that their fate would not be better than His fate: "They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service" (John 16:2). Blessed are they. They were led like their Master to martyrdom and have passed from life to life.

The martyrs who watered the soil of Libya with their innocent blood have realized within themselves the words of the Psalmist when he said, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They have bowed down and fallen; But we have risen and stand upright" (Psalm 20:8-9). Indeed, they have risen and stand upright in the presence of God. As for the Christians, the descendents of the martyrs and saints, they must stand firm where they are-- geographically, religiously, morally and culturally-- until the trial has passed. This is their life-giving cross, so let them bear it. The resurrection is coming, without a doubt, and it has come.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Rum, Persians, Jews... and Arabs

 Arabic original here.

Rum, Persians, Jews... and Arabs

The Persians are Persians. And the Jews are Jews. But who are the Rum? This is the question that occurred to us when we heard MP Walid Jumblatt's words last Sunday in Aley. We would not have posed this question, had Jumblatt not made a strong connection between the shattering of the Arab dream "into pieces" and the hands of the "Rum, Persians and Jews."

The power of the Byzantine Rum vanished in this country. Their empire ended, thank God, and with its ending the Rum of this country contented themselves with the separation of religion from the state. They contented themselves with the secularism of the state. However, it is certain that Jumblatt did not mean in his statement the Rum of Lebanon and Syria, since they have no power. Rather, he meant the inheritors of the Romans and their empire.

The inheritors of the Persians are the Persians. The inheritors of the Jews are the Jews. But as for the inheritors of the Rum, geographically they are the Ottomans, who have not stopped harming Muslims and non-Muslims and are famous, like the Persians, for their historical assault on everything that is Arab and all who are Arabs. But, if by the Rum he meant the Russians, this would be sensible, as the Russians inherited their religion and civilization from the Romans.

Jumblatt regrets-- and rightly so-- what the situation in our country has become, criticizing the ignorance transmitted throughout the Arab and Islamic world, upon which hope in a better tomorrow is shattered. However, are the Rum and their inheritors, the Persians, and the Jews the only ones who are responsible for the shattering of this beautiful dream? Or are the Arabs-- and especially those with treasures upon the earth and below it-- fundamental participants in the sin and transgression?

Yes, we have returned to the age of ignorance [al-Jahiliyya]. The ignorance of old was without Islam. The proponents of the current ignorance are Muslims. One of the most prominent characteristics of this age of ignorance is abandoning the concept of the single nation "with its Muslims and non-Muslims" in the interest of sectarian, tribal and regional fragmentation and in the interest of mutual hatred, infighting and blood-letting. Is it possible for us to describe the Sunni-Shii struggle as anything other than ignorance? Is killing an innocent person just because he belongs to a different sect not a form of ignorance, resembling the custom of tribes to place responsibility on all members of a rival tribe and so to permit the killing of any individual who belongs to it? Is it part of Islam for Muslims to kill Muslims or is this ignorance?

Returning to Lebanon, there is no doubt that the great ignorance lies in the sectarianism that many praise as the greatest invention of Lebanese genius. The sectarian mentality that regards the religious communities as mere tribes, each with its share of the state, each with its share of corruption and each with its varied external bonds is the mentality that has caused successive wars for over two centuries. It is nothing more than ignorance which eliminates the hope of building the state on the basis of citizenship and equality of rights and obligations among all citizens.

The dream is being shattered. However, those who hold is are responsible before anyone else for its shattering. Rum, Russians, Persians, Jews, neo-Ottomans, Americans, Europeans... they can be blamed, but to no avail, since the language of interests is the only thing that matters for them. The Muslims and Arabs are responsible for realizing their dream and no one else but them will realize it. So then for how long will we continue to believe the saying "Others' war on our land"? Are we so unthinking that we do not realize that there are people playing us for fools?

In order for the dream to become reality, the idols of ignorance must be shattered, the idols of sectarianism, prejudice and religious extremism, the idols of totalitarian, religious and sectarian political parties. The dream begins when it heralds its journey toward changing the actual situation.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Patriarch John X on Christian Unity.

This translation is unofficial. Arabic original here.

The speech given by Patriarch John X in the week of prayer for Christian unity at the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George, Damascus, January 23, 2015:

Today, upon the walls of Damascus we lift up our prayer to Jesus for unity, the unity of Christians. We lift up our prayer to the One who spoke to Paul, taking dominion over his heart and sweeping the walls of his mind, that He may breathe a sweet breeze over this land and surround us with His true peace.

The walls of Damascus that hosted Paul are the ones that embrace us now. The land of Antioch, which imbibed the name of Jesus, is the land that sprouted us forth and which pulses in our veins as a single faith in Jesus. In Antioch, we first bore witness to Jesus Christ and were called by His name. At Antioch we went to seek to receive the “metal” of Christ and it was forged within us and our life was hypostasized in the nectar of his teachings.

We in this land—Rum, Syriac and other communities— do not cast blame on history and do not embellish current reality. However, we affirm and we see with our own eyes that we are progressing along the path of unity. Unity does not mean one vanishing into the other, nor does it mean seizing the other into one’s own fold. Unity is for all of us to say with one voice: We have all sinned and fallen short of the grace of God (Romans 3:23). In confessing this, we lay the first brick. We seize heritage and sift it, placing it in ardent prayer before the Lord Jesus. Christian unity is not an ideology and it is more than a protocol. It transcends merely celebrating feasts on the same day. It goes beyond the question of praying at a single service. It does not know proselytism. It is a lived journey and a life that is carved out so that the edifice of the Church may be complete and so that we can rise together—in spirit, body, mind and being—“to the measure and the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). It is wrong to think that unity is built only on human dialogue, for all its importance. Christian unity is a necessity of existence and it is a proof of Christianity before being the outcome of dialogues. Christian unity is built up and perfected in the measure that each of us strives to be united to Christ and to draw close to Him. I am united to my fellow Christian in the measure that I strive along with him to be in unity with Christ, pulled toward Him, in a way that is not bowed by the circumstances of history and before which the exaggerations of externals melt away, a way that is shaped and supported by true dogma and the faith that has been passed down from generation to generation.

We are brought together today by this common prayer with our brothers in the Syriac Church and with all the communities of the Christian Middle East. We have gathered together to say that we are united in prayer for this tormented Middle East, for these tormented nations that, from the depth of their torment look to firm hope the resurrection. We are brought together by prayer in the face of this utter darkness that will inevitably be cleared away by the power of God and by the power of our patience and our reliance upon Him. We live with you in brotherhood of faith, brotherhood of life, brotherhood of hardship, brotherhood of joy, the brotherhood of the kidnapped pastors Yuhanna and Paul, with whom who are united in prayer with us and with you for their return and the return of all who have been abducted, and for much-desired peace.

Today our hearts burn with prayer for Syria, for Lebanon and for every place in this world. The blood of the children of this Middle East is not worth less than the blood of anyone else. Its people are not tokens in the market of interests. We are here to raise our voice high in the face of those who have allowed themselves to tamper with our life in common. Enough with fanning the flames and importing ideologies that land of this Middle East has not known.  Enough with theorizing, enough with analyzing, enough with contempt for peoples who long for their former era of security. Enough with kidnapping, enough with laying siege to people under false pretexts. Enough with terrorism, takfirism and the forced expulsion of people who are fed up with the drums of war and who long for peace in the land of peace. My question today for all the international sources, all the decision-makers and all those of good will: Is it not time for our bishops to come back? Where are human rights in what has happened with the bishops of Aleppo, Yuhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, and all those who have been abducted? Why do advocates of human rights recoil when any person in Europe gets a scratch and wrap themselves in a burqa of silence when the issue pertains to a Middle Eastern person? Is it perhaps that these rights were written down in order to protect some people and to cast others into oblivion? Or is it that the dignity of our people is not to be treated in terms of human rights, but rather in the market of interests and according to the lofty principles of commerce? I will say it once again: The time has come for the world to wake up to what is happening and to look with a humanitarian eye, not the eyes of interests, upon every drop of innocent blood honorably and sincerely in defense of existence, values and nations that were accustomed to sheltering everyone under their protection and deciding their own fate.

We pray to You, O Jesus, that You might take this land into Your abundant care. O Orient of lights, be with this tormented orient, heal its wounds by the wounds of Your cross. O Jesus, who were given wormwood and gall to drink out of compassion for humankind, be with Your human clay and remove from it the gall of temptations and the bitterness of days. Be, O Jesus, with the victims of kidnapping and the refugees and wipe away the tears of the grieving. Be, O Lord, with us, so that we may be witnesses to the truth to the entire world. By Your purity, bury the recalcitrance of our thoughts and by Your calmness quench the hot coal of anger. Be for us a beacon to light our path to true unity. Enlighten our minds and our being so that we may cast off our slouching selfishness and clothe ourselves in You as God, Savior, a Light that sweeps through our being and causes our souls to shine, and a ship that carries us over the waves of this passing world. Be for us a glow of love and a breath of peace that drives the sails of our life and docks our boat in the harbor of Your salvation. Take our hand that in You we may be one. Be our strength and a pen of love that constantly writes the song of salvation. Be for us the steel that strengthens the structure of our unity along the paths of this world, so that we may be led to you as a Church without any blemish or stain. Tell us, O Jesus, of Your divine prayer and teach us all to call upon God as “our Father” so that we may be in Him always and forever as we are now—brothers and more than brothers, gathered together to you by the pure Virgin, the bashful Mother whom we all imitate and whose intercession before God we ask, with whom we call out to God, asking for His wisdom and the light of the mind as we say:

O illuminate my soul
And my sense of sight, O Lord;
 So that I may clearly see
And proclaim thee as  my God.