Sunday, August 2, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: Inside and Outside the Boat

Arabic original here.


Inside and Outside the Boat

Today's Gospel reading gives us an image of our constant relationship to the Savior. The storm in Lake Tiberias is like the storm in every place, the storm of life. In our life, the Lord walks on water. That is, He transcends our difficulties, dispels from us the nightmare of evil and causes us to be saved in the boat of the Holy Church, which crosses this life alive in our Lord who dwells within her.

We may wonder why Jesus caused his disciples to head across the lake. Is it perhaps because He wanted to test their faith the next day or that night, during the last watch? Is it perhaps because He wanted to receive them into the secret of His divinity or because He needed this prayer that He made during the night with the Father in order to receive into His humanity all the power from His father? Or is it perhaps because He longed for this conversation with God?

After praying intensely on the hills of Capernaum, He walked on the surface of the water until He reached the disciples' boat. He appeared to them in the fog, when the night had not yet ended. It was as though there was a ghost and they were afraid. If a person is surrounded by the fog of his sins or if the world is blackened in his eyes, he can neither see God as being full of light nor can he see simple things. God must take the initiative and scatter the clouds in the soul and remove all the darkness and mist from our eyes. The Lord Himself is the one who takes the initiative because He is the one who loves.

When Jesus encouraged the disciples saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid,” Peter became excited to go out to the Teacher because he could not stand to wait. He wanted to cleave to the Lord directly and so he said, "Lord, command me to come to you." Peter was an obedient disciple and he did not want to charge out on his own. He wanted to be invited. So the Lord permitted him this.

As long as Peter's gaze was set on the gaze of the Teacher, he walked lightly on the water because he was living through the One who was coming to him. He was strengthened along his way. But when he saw the wind, he started to slip. He had to not see the wind, to transcend every earthly sense that caused him to be bound to the earth, a prisoner of this world. Peter returned to being a prisoner of his troubles. He returned to his doubts and so the world once more appeared overwhelming and powerful. It was only for a few moments that he could see Christ conquering nature, after which he started to sink.

We are all in this state: our lusts and interests dominate us and Christ appears to us like a phantasm-- that is, like He is nothing-- while we claim that we are Christians and have this written on paper. But everything we say and do and the basis for our behavior demonstrates that Christ has not become real in our hearts, that He is still a phantasm. 

However, if we are able to walk on water in Jesus' gentle breeze-- that is, if we overcome the storm and separate ourselves from people's concerns and we cease being captive to anyone, if we submit to the Lord, then He extends His hand to us and keeps us before His face. He brings us into the boat, into the Church of salvation, where we all say to Him, "You are the Son of God." That is, "You are the only king we desire as Lord over hearts that are purified and wills that are strengthened."

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Met Georges Khodr on Hope

Arabic original here.

Hope

God does not force Himself on you. He wants you to desire salvation. The salvation that you hope for is perfect in God, He gives it to you perfect and you accept it. If you accept it, this is faith. Faith is defined as you knowing that God is a shelter for you, that He is your place of safety in that you have no existence outside of Him. This is the mystery, that you subsist in God, that He is the space in which you exist. He is only the space in which you exist-- you are not Him even though you are within Him. All this can only be understood in love. Your being in God also means that you are moving toward Him, because all of our relationship to Him is motion. People of love understand these words because they have been liberated from spacial limitation.

Our existence in God is our motion movement towards Him and movement towards Him is also from Him. This movement is the hope that the Lord places within us, if He so wills. We hope. That is, we are going towards what we hope, because God is coming. He has not only come and his arrival has ended. He is constantly coming. You see Him in every glimpse of Him. You see Him anew. God remains fixed in the sense that He is true to Himself. That is, He never reduces what He gives you, since He never gives you less than Himself. He is the same "yesterday, today and forever". If you hope, you know that what you hope for is in your possession and is with you.

You hope for God. That is, you seek what comes from Him every day because you know that He is faithful to Himself and that He gives you what is in His possession-- that is, everything. Hope is for what will come, but in the God who is coming it has come. That is, you ask for continued divine giving. If faith is precisely resting fixed in God, then hope is what you await of the Lord's constant gifts. The true meaning of your hoping is that you are in motion towards what has come to you because what the Lord gives you has been, is and shall be. We are truly with God, not toward what is coming, but toward that which does not change. We are constantly with God.

Hope is not you waiting for a tomorrow that is better than what came to you yesterday. Hope is true faith in the persistence of divine giving and that that which He gives is the same as what He gave yesterday. You hope because you will have tomorrow what you had yesterday because your Lord is the same and He is one in giving.

When we talk about hope, we are not talking about something we have not known, since God is one with Himself. We want the Lord to be Himself with us, and not to add anything to this. Truly and profoundly, then, hope and faith are one. It is nothing but faith, in the sense that you only hope for what you believe in. That is, you only hope for what exists.

The opposite of hope is acquiescence to that which is mutable. You know that God has not only come, but He is forever coming and He shall come as Himself. That is, in love. You do not believe that tomorrow is better than yesterday. You believe that the divine Always accompanies you and causes you to be in agreement with Him and accompany Him. Hope is trust that God is in agreement with Himself because time does not change Him and he accompanies you over your changes.

Hope is not the conviction that tomorrow and the changes that it will bring is better than today. Rather, it means that God in His love is one with Himself today and tomorrow. From this perspective, hope is nothing other than faith. Because He is God, He give you today what He gave you yesterday. You believe one thing, that God is faithful to Himself. From this angle, it is possible to say that hope is the same as faith.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: An Abundance of Sectarianism... An Abundance of Corruption

Arabic original here.

An Abundance of Sectarianism... An Abundance of Corruption

An abundance of sectarianism, an abundance of religion, an abundance of corruption. This is the state of our country today.

Yes, we have distinguished between sectarianism and religion, since sectarianism has no relationship to religious faith, but rather expresses the group solidarity that emerges between individuals who are only brought together by the sectarian identity that they acquired at birth. As for religion, what is meant here is not only faith, but the manifestations of piety, worship, and rhetoric that have noticeably increased of late.

We have distinguished between sectarianism and religion because sectarianism is the means that the temporal leaders of the sects, in collusion with religious leaders, use to exploit exploit the religious feelings of believers for their own personal interests. As for religion, it is total devotion to God, faith in His teachings, and absolute submission to the will of the Most High.

It says in the Qur'an about the difference between declared religious affiliation and true faith, "The Bedouins say: ‘We believe.' Say: ‘You do not believe. Instead you may say: “We surrender,” but faith has not entered your hearts" (Surat al-Hujurat 14). The explanation of this verse is that the Bedouins outwardly declared that they were Muslims and were outwardly led by it, but true faith did not enter their hearts. Here we may highlight that what the verse is saying about the state of some Muslims also applies to the states of Christians, Jews and followers of other religions.

It is self-evident that corruption reigns in a time of sectarianism since without corruption, sectarianism has no life and no staying power. For corruption to reign alongside an abundance of religion, this is something that should arouse surprise.

Quite unfortunately, it seems that our distinction between religion and sectarianism is purely imaginary and only applies to a conscious society capable of distinguishing between them. Our societies have not yet arrived at this consciousness that is necessary for their advancement and development.

How can religious consciousness prevail with religious leaderships who have not been freed from the authority of kings and princes and which submit to politicians and the wealthy? How can religious consciousness prevail with religious leaderships who are themselves corrupt, making suspicious deals and keeping quiet about what they, those close to them and their entourages commit and, most importantly, who keep quiet about those who hand them money, those with whom they are pleased politically and do not work to displace them?

How could corruption not prevail, with religious leaderships who have excluded from their sphere of interests the poor, the wretched, the sick,  widows, orphans, refugees, and all who are tormented on the earth and have limited their demands to being given their sectarian slice of the state, from the top of the pyramid down to the bottom? How can corruption not prevail when concern for people and the environment is absent from the minds of the religious leaderships?

There is no doubt that the spread of corruption an its acceptance in a given society is evidence of the disappearance of religious and social virtues. However, cooperation on the part of people of good will who belong to civil society organizations-- among whom are believers motivated by the principles of their faiths, just as there are those among them who are not religiously practicing and are motivated by general humanitarian principles-- will inevitably lead to putting an end to corruption. This is what we saw today in the response by civil society organizations to how to deal with the trash collection crisis.

"If the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?," (Matthew 5:13) Jesus said to his disciples.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Love is Mightier than the Sword

Arabic original here.


Love is Mightier than the Sword

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God" (Matthew 5:9). We can say without any hesitation that this verse from the Sermon on the Mount constitutes the essence of Jesus Christ's message. Peace is a concept that has not applied more to any human being from Adam up to today than it applied to Jesus, whom Christianity sees as God incarnate, perfect God and perfect man.

In the shadow of the wars and struggles taking place in our countries and massacres that have claimed thousands of lives and cast millions out of their homes and villages, Jesus' followers must strive for peace if they want to emulate their Lord and Redeemer. No circumstance or incident can be permitted to prevent them from committing to work for peace because all direct involvement in the surrounding sectarian war can only be a scandalous betrayal of Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and the Church's mission in the world. Here it should be stated that the Church must not, at the same time, lose her prophetic voice that speaks the truth without fear of anyone.

Scholars of the Bible agree that peace is not merely the absence of war or the absence of violence, but rather that it is closely connected to the realization of social justice-- the necessities of a dignified life such as food, drink, security, protection, freedom, justice, equality, which bring people tranquility and peace of mind. Violence is not limited only  to wars, battles, military operations, killing, expulsions... it is also when the law of love is not put into practice with regard to those who need our assistance. For example, not sheltering refugees and not feeding the hungry are forms of violence.

There is no peace, then, without caring for the poor, the wretched, the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the prisoner, the refugee, the homeless, the oppressed... and every vulnerable and suffering person on earth. Therefore, those who strive for peace must continuously work hard to aid the needy. Noone's righteousness is complete without this direct commitment to realizing social justice in our societies: "Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow" (Isaiah 1:17).

The New Testament rejects every form of war, violence and vengeance. Christ did not come to establish a state or to enact laws. Rather, he brought one commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you." The principle of love is mightier and more effective than the principle of the sword and therefore Jesus said to Peter on the night he was arrested, "Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). In this context, we may also cite what the Holy Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-21).

Peace is an internal posture resulting from firmly-rooted faith in Jesus, our only Savior. Times of hardship, persecution and wars cannot make believers lose their spiritual peace and their commitment to the Lord's teachings. Our rallying cry is what the Holy Apostle Paul says, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: 'For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.' Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:35-39).

There is no doubt that faith in Jesus Christ requires one to pay dearly. Even one's own life is not more precious than bearing true witness. We are living a time of great trial, so let us not lose Christ under any pretext, even if such a pretext is legitimate according to human instict!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Orthodoxy

Arabic original here.


Orthodoxy

The word "Orthodoxy" means upright dogma,  correct tradition. It is a way of life based on asceticism, on simplicity in life-- "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God" (Matthew 5:3). The poor in spirit rely on God. The true Orthodox person constantly strives along the way of perfection, through purification and illumination to divinization. "Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Yes, Orthodoxy strives for the experience of divinization! It has been tasted fully by the friends of God to whom God has appeared, such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is the experience of the prophets, the Apostles and the saints. This experience informs us that we cannot know God in His essence. Spiritual struggle helps us only to participate in His uncreated energies. That is, what comes forth from Him by way of divine grace.

The Orthodox spiritual father acquires the virtue of discernment between what is created and what is uncreated. He discerns what belongs to God and what belongs to something else, to Satan, for example (cf. Hebrews 5:14 and 1 John 4:1). Heresy is the lack of discernment between the created energies of God and His uncreated energies. That is, between the Spirit of God and the spirit of the Evil One. Heresy comes as the result of a darkened, unenlightened and confused intellect. The darkened intellect starts off from intellectual imagination, not from divine inspiration.

There is a difference between the intellect as the human brain, which God created for humans to order the affairs of their life with, and as the heart, as the tool by which humans may connect with God.

The person who is pure in his intellect and in his heart alone can behold God with His saints through divine grace. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). There are many apparitions and dreams that come from the imagination or from the Evil One.

All of this causes us to give importance to the process of repentance and confession so that we may be purified of our passions.

* * *

The true Orthodox faith is acquired through experience, the experience of repentance, of illumination and  of beholding God, through purifying the intellect and the heart.

The loss and fragmentation of the intellect on account of selfishness, sin and personal interests distances people today from the love and knowledge of God and also from the love of others. From this come wars, stife between nations and people, and indulgence in vices and deviancies which keep people away from the salvation of their souls and from enjoying divine glory.

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, Koura and their Dependencies

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Met Saba Esber Responds to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's Statement

Arabic original here. English translation taken from the Patriarchate of Antioch's facebook page here.

This is in response to the statement issued by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which can be read here.


Your Pardon, my Christ!

A few days ago, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem published a statement "sincerely and truthfully informing the sister Orthodox Churches and its flock" of certain points that contain no truth about its attack on territory canonically and historically belonging to the pastoral care of the Patriarchate of Antioch according to Orthodox order. The first item summarizes the history of the emergence of the Qatar parish until the naming of an archbishop for it. It says in the beginning of the historical narrative that it "responded to an invitation by the Christians of Qatar, a geographical territory within its ecclesiastical jurisdiction," while in reality it is part of "All the East", the title of the Patriarchate of Antioch since the establishment of the first five Apostolic Patriarchates.

Every observer of Church history knows that the Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, held in Chalcedon in 451, decided "out of reverence for the Lord's Passion and Resurrection" to elevate the city of Jerusalem, which at the time was a bishopric subject to the Patriarchate of Antioch, to the rank of patriarchate. Over the course of time, Antioch gave her some of her bishopric so that she could have a patriarchal existence. We could mention, for example, that Haifa remained a bishopric of Antioch until the 18th century.

The statement mentions that services for the Christians of Qatar began "in house churches" and that "the Patriarchate of Antioch had no presence" there. The least that can be said about this is that it is a truth meant to express a falsehood. Services began in homes-- specifically in the home of the American ambassador, who at that time was Orthodox--because Qatar had not yet started to permit Christian religious services. This is what prevented the Church of Antioch, in the person of the shepherd of the diocese overseeing Qatar, Metropolitan Constantine Papastephanou, from providing regular liturgical services. However, he made numerous visits to Qatar, during which he held liturgical services.

If the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, with the support of the American ambassador, was for years only able to provide regular liturgical services in homes and not in a designated building, then how can she allow herself to admonish her sister Church of Antioch and appropriate what is hers? Does not ecclesiastical, canonical and brotherly practice-- not to simply say love-- not require her to ask permission to provide religious services for the faithful living in that country, as the Russian Church did when she sought permission from her sister Church of Antioch to build a church in Sharjah for the Russians who are very numerous in the United Arab Emirates? And this is indeed what happened. Today, at liturgies in the UAE, the Russian priest, in accordance with Orthodox tradition, commemorates the Patriarch of Antioch alongside the Russian Patriarch, which is recognition on the part of his church that it is serving faithful on Antiochian territory. Then, we should wonder whether providing religious services to the faithful through a priest, a brother from a sister church, gives this church the right to consider the territory her own, to consecrate a bishop for it and to regard it as a dependency? Such a thing only happens between conflicting colonial powers!

In addition to this, it accuses the Antiochian Church of ethno-phyletism, when she is the one which serves all Orthodox found in the Gulf coming from various nationalities, using Arabic, Greek and sometimes Russian and Romanian in the Divine Liturgy. In North America and Australia, she uses English and the proportion of converts of non-Arab background is reaching fifty percent. In South and Central America, the divine services have long been translated into Spanish and Portuguese.
The Church of Antioch, which God has preserved from the temptation of ethno-phyletism and is acclaimed worldwide for the significant role she continues to play in realizing Orthodox ecclesiology, is falsely and slanderously accused in this statement of "placing the question on an ethnic-racial basis." Go ahead and laugh. We've really reached the end of times! You'll laugh even more when you learn that Jerusalem's statement bases its accusation on a letter that does not exist, attributed to Patriarch John X, that puts into his mouth words that no Orthodox person with even a modicum of sanity has ever said. They claim that he is demanding pastoral oversight of the Orthodox in Qatar because he "represents the Orthodox Community in all Arab countries, including for example Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Jerusalem, Egypt, Bahrain, the Emirates, Iran." Is Iran an Arab country? We hadn't heard about this. They've exchanged Persian for another language!

Likewise anyone who is in the least familiar with ecclesial reality knows that Egypt and all Africa belongs to the Patriarchate of Alexandria whose foundation is attributed to the Holy Evangelist Mark and is an ancient, apostolic patriarchate having the second place after Rome, before the foundation of Constantinople, which it continues to hold today among the Orthodox. As such, it goes ahead of Antioch, which holds the third place among the Orthodox.

As for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, she cares for the city of Jerusalem and, as we mentioned above, was with time given by Antioch bishoprics in present-day Palestine and Jordan. Among them are ten bishoprics in present-day Jordanian territory that belonged to the diocese of Bosra, which the Patriarch of Jerusalem suddenly woke up and started regarding as belonging to his patriarchate.
If not for the need to defend the right and honor of the Church, we would shy away from talking about these shameful realities.

The most hurtful thing is the false accusation that the Patriarchate of Antioch is lying. This is unprecedented behavior even for countries in conflict with each other, so how can it happen in the Church of Jesus Christ? The statement goes so far as to deny the agreement that was reached in Athens at the Greek Foreign Ministry in early summer 2014. Even uglier than that, it invokes "the testimony of the delegates of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of the Directorate for Churches" of course to confirm the non-existence of this agreement, which was announced at that time in the Greek media.

How far has the Church of Jerusalem, the "Mother of Churches", sunk and why is there this frantic effort to occupy the territory of a sister church?! Instead of practicing the words of the Apostle, "Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?" we find our brother practicing the following saying: "Who is weak and I do not devour him?" It is really a bitter farce, in the face of which words are useless. Whoever said, "Among the Orthodox, active love has become a dull tune," was right. It is no wonder then, that the other religious communities have become a haven for those fleeing the hell of those who claim to be the "Mother of Churches". You are truly a stranger and an outcast in Your own Church, O Lord!

Worst of all, the statement closes by declaring kindness and gentleness that impose continued "commemoration of the sister Orthodox Church of Antioch, for the sake of the unity of the Orthodox Church." As if the unity of the Church were a superficial unity achieved through commemoration alone, apart from truth and love. What unity is this apart from truth!? What unity is this in falsehood and slander?! What unity is this through bullying, using every means that belongs to this world, except the true Gospel of Jesus Christ!?

Do we still wonder why people are fleeing the Church?

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Announcement of an Agreement about Qatar in 2013

Greek original here, from June 21, 2013. Just for reference---


At the initiative of Deputy Foreign Minister Kosta Tsiara, a meeting was held today at the Ministery of Foreign Affairs between delegations between the Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem. The main subject of the meeting, in which a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate also participated, was the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Qatar.

Following the discussions, conducted in a spirit of mutual trust and understanding, the representatives of the Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem confirmed that each Church respects the boundaries of the other's jurisdiction and they agreed to relay specific proposals that serve the common goal of the unity of Orthodoxy to the Holy Synods of the Churches.

In conclusion, the Deputy Foreign Minister praised the mediating role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and thanked them for the agreement and the constructive atmosphere in which the talks were held.