Monday, May 2, 2016

Met. Ephrem (Kyriakos): I am the Resurrection and the Life

Arabic original here.

I am the Resurrection and the Life

Jesus said this to Martha, Lazarus' sister, before the lifted the stone from the entrance to the tomb and He raised her brother from the dead.

Then he continued, "He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die" (John 11:25-26).

Here there is a dialectical movement between the present and the future. "He was and is and is to come" (Revelation 4:11), a movement between the past, the realized present and the eschatological future. 

In another place the Lord Jesus says, "he who believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life" (John 5:24). For the believer, death becomes sleep, or rather a crossing into eternal life. It becomes a Passover.

Here He is speaking about the resurrection that happens in our life here, in faith in Him. The Apostle Paul discusses this resurrection and says that it happens in the mystery of baptism: "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). The grace of the resurrection is embedded in the depths of the heart from baptism, says Saint Diodochos of Photiki, from baptism it is a divine planting, potential energy that awaits, on account of our freedom, the first step in order to become active in our life and become kinetic energy, just as gasoline in a car awaits the driver with the key in order to activate it and drive.

For someone who struggles and loves Christ, says Saint Basil, this grace is active in all his members when we receive the Body and Blood, even in the senses of the extremities. Our eyes become Christ's eyes. Our mind becomes Christ's mind... This is the first resurrection or, rather, a foretaste of the general resurrection.

* * *

Jesus alone is the light, the truth and the life. This light is traced upon us in joyful behavior, kindness and humility. The resurrection translated in the believer is all of life. 

Christian spirituality is a paschal spirituality. Christ's passion is not a site of grief, but a site of joy. The Lord Jesus told His disciples before His passion, "Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy" (John 16:20).

We want the mystery of the resurrection of Christ our God to be realized within us. If, in the likeness of Christ's passion, we enter into the tomb of humility and repentance, He enters into our body as into the tomb, in His union with our souls He raises them, as they are truly dying. And in this way He makes us who are risen worthy with Him of seeing the Glory of His mystical resurrection.

+Ephrem

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and Their Dependencies

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh: Syrians and the Joy of the Resurrection

Arabic original here.

Syrians and the Joy of the Resurrection

"Christ is risen, my joy." This expression never left Saint Seraphim of Sarov. It was his only greeting for the people he would meet day and night.

"Christ is risen, my joy." Where did Seraphim's joy come from? From the hope that Christ's resurrection was meaningless unless its purpose was the resurrection of all people. He was immersed in joy because he realized that he was risen, without a doubt, not only on the last day but from right now. " I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die" (John 11:25-26).

"Christ is risen, my joy" is our only weapon in the face of oppressors. "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 shall have risen and stand upright" (Psalm 20:7-8). Yes, some trust in airplanes, tanks, missiles, machetes and knives... but we shall rise and stand upright. 

We do not know what kind of weapon Cain used to kill his brother Abel. Whatever kind it was, it was ineffective. Abel's blood continued to cry out from the earth. His blood remained alive, crying out. Since Abel, blood has never ceased being shed. But all the murdered and murderers have died. Death is just and is not afraid of any human. Even those who slake their thirst with death will be eaten by death.

However, the Lord of Life does not let His saints see corruption. Life cannot coexist with death. He who has abided in  God from today will not be abandoned by God at the moment of death. He will give him life. He will not leave him in hell. Rather, the death of a righteous person is transport from the earthly hell to eternal joy. These words do not mean that we call for craving death. That is a sin. We must love life and work for the reign of peace, love, gentleness and kindness. However, not remembering death is the beginning of falling into sin and transgression. For someone to think that he is eternal on this earth is shirk [i.e., believing that not-God is God] itself.

"Christ is risen, my joy," we say to all who are tormented on the earth and especially to all Syrians, even if this expression is hard on their ears. What does it mean for us to say these words to those who want salvation from the evil surrounding them from every direction? How do we say this to those who want an imminent salvation, a loaf of bread for their children, a roof to shelter them and their family? In reality, we cannot say these words if we do not love them, honor them, and strive to meet their needs-- that is, to bear their cross, the cross of joy that leads to the resurrection.

Syrians are called to hold firm to hope. Despair is a death that is even more bitter than bodily death. Nothing angers the Adversary more than to see those under attack standing courageous, holding to their principles, clinging to hope, unbowed. There is nothing that angers him more than to see them rising from the dead before they die.


"Christ is risen, my joy." The greeting of Seraphim of Sarov is, without a doubt, the greeting of the bishops of Aleppo, Boulos Yazigi and Yuhanna Ibrahim. They are crying out, wherever they are, along with the Holy Apostle Paul, to all Syrians, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand" (Philippians 4:4). 

No one will snatch this joy away from us. Whether we are in this world or the next, our mark is joy. And by their sign you will know them. Christ is risen, my joy. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Met Georges Khodr: The Cross

Arabic original here.

The Cross

For us, victory in the name of religion is a heresy because the Christian is victorious if they strike him unjustly and he is never victorious if he is the one who strikes. If he strives for freedom, it is not only to liberate himself, but in order to liberate his oppressor as well. He does not liberate himself from those who assault him unless he also liberates them as well. He does not seek to be crucified. Seeking out suffering is not a part of our religion. Liberation from suffering is at the heart of our religion. It is an error to say that we welcome suffering. We only welcome patience in it. For this reason, we have many prayers for the sick. We do not thank God for having permitted illness. We give thanks when He heals it. We are not the ones who said that Christianity is the religion of the sick, the insane, the broken. That is an accusation from Nietzsche. We are a religion of well-being, inasmuch as our religion is fundamentally the religion of the resurrection.

You do not have to seek out suffering. It will seek you out. Proof of this is that Christians were the first to establish hospitals and that the Church established prayer for the sick as one of the cornerstones of worship, with its own night during Holy Week. It is clear in the Gospel that one of the chief tasks of Jesus of Nazareth was that He healed the sick. If you want to give a true definition of the Nazarene, say that He is a teacher and healer of the sick. The great focus on the cross among us is not that it is the site of suffering, but that healing begins there. All those who have taught that we enjoy suffering are wrong. Our true teaching is that our enjoyment is in liberation from suffering.

When I was a boy, I hated it when women would wear the cross openly on their chests. Why this display, when the cross is a sign of Christ's hiddenness? This was not an easy question for me, as the son of a jeweler, someone who made his living from selling jewelry to women, to those who were honorable and to those who were immodest. Women required gold, then, in my childhood. And after childhood, I realized that it was the woman who was showing off and that jewelry is secondary for men.

What does the cross mean, apart from that one must die before he can live? Why was there this focus in Western Christianity on the cross and not on the resurrection? This is the reality of Christians in the West-- I did not say that it is the thinking of their church. I know very well that there is no neglect of the resurrection in Western Christianity. Nevertheless, on a popular level the Western Christian's prevailing concern is with the Lord's defeatedness, even though this is absent from dogma and liturgy. Perhaps this came from people taking pleasure in their suffering, thinking that it was God's having mercy on them. I have absolutely no issue with Catholic services in this regard. They are all pure. My issue is with the masses that love suffering. Perhaps many feel that they will acquire piety through their pain.

Of course, we do not look to make ourselves suffer. That is a sick pleasure. But we must remember that suffering exists and that you cannot flee from it. You do not bear it if it doesn't exist. I know that it is always in your being and resting within you. There is absolutely no distinction between the Christian churches with regard to suffering. No church loves it, even if some take pleasure in their suffering, believing that it will necessarily bring them closer to Christ. It is right to say that I will die in the religion of the cross, if through this death I strive for resurrection.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on the Uncreated Light

Arabic original here.

The Light of God

God's grace is uncreated.

"By Grace you are saved" (Ephesians 2:8).

Salvation from evil, from sin and from death were achieved on the cross and appeared through Christ's resurrection from the dead and His sending the grace of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. This is what we receive first in baptism, and then in our receiving Christ's body risen from the dead.

Saint Gregory Palamas, whom we celebrate today, said that the divine grace that sanctifies us is God's eternal, uncreated light and distinguished between God's essence, in which man cannot participate, and the uncreated divine energies, in which we do participate.

Here, beloved, we must note that man is not made perfect by his own power, by his human capacities. He is in need of God's support and of His divine power. Here is an important indicator of the great struggle waged by our Saint Gregory Palamas in his claim insistence that this divine power that we receive from God by grace is uncreated. That is, the power is not human. It surpasses humanity and perfects it.

It is true that man must participate, must be a partner, in the work of salvation. He must work, participate and strive to combat his lusts and passions. This is what Orthodox patristic tradition affirms in the dogma of synergy "God works and I work." However, total and complete healing of man's infirmities is only achieved by God's power, which surpasses humankind.

The Protestants will say that salvation is achieved through faith in Christ, relying on Ephesians 2:8-9 [" For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."]

However, Saint Clement of Alexandria stresses man's struggle through his "fasting" works, his refraining from the passions, in order to tie salvation to works.

Saint Gregory Palamas says that intellectual knowledge is not independent of purity, of our liberation from the passions. Our true knowledge, divine illumination, does not come from studies, but from purity: purity of body, mind and spirit.

We receive this teaching, which is fundamental to our life and its illumination with God's light, on this second Sunday of the fast. It helps us to increase in purity through the way of repentance and to become more liberated from our lusts, so that we may find ourselves ready to receive the light of the resurrection of Christ our Savior.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

J Edward Walters reviews The Orthodox Church in the Arab World

The new issue of the Syriac Studies journal Hugoye came out today. It includes a valuable bibliography of recent Russian works on Syriac and Christian Arabic, prepared by Grigory Kessel and Nikolai Seleznyov. This issue also features a review of The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700-1700: An Anthology of Sources by J Edward Walters of Rochester College.

Excerpts:

The texts, and thus the history of Arabic-speaking Christians have too long remained out of reach to Western historians of Christianity, sequestered as they are by historical developments that isolated these Christians from the West and the language barrier that Arabic presents. In the present volume, Samuel Noble and Alexander Treiger take a significant step toward filling this gap by offering an anthology of Arabic texts in English translation that display the range and diversity of the Arabic Christian tradition. This range covers both a broad span of time (as the sub-title suggests, roughly 700-1700 CE) and genres. As such, these texts offer a small, but representative sample that displays the vitality of this understudied and undervalued literary tradition. Several of these texts have never before appeared in English translations, and several have never appeared in any Western language.

[...]

In the Introduction, the editors also offer an overview of Christian literature produced in  Arabic. Throughout the course of this overview, the editors place each text included in this  volume within a broader literary and historical context, which is particularly helpful for scholars who are new to these materials. This overview of Christian Arabic literature shows the range of genres that Arabic-speaking Christians adopted. Each text includes a brief introduction by its  translator and a bibliography for further suggested reading.

[...]

All of the texts chosen for this volume are interesting in their own right, but the collection of these sources into a single volume, with helpful introductions and bibliographies, makes this book an invaluable resource for the study of Arabic Christianity and, indeed, the history of Christianity more broadly.

[...]

Henceforth, historians of Christianity will have no excuse to remain ignorant of the Arab Orthodox tradition. The editors and translators are to be commended for creating such a valuable resource and at such an affordable price. And indeed, in the current socio-poltical atmosphere in which there is so much ignorance concerning the history of Christians in the Middle East, their efforts deserve a wide audience.

Read the entire review here.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Patriarch Theophilos at the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring, Debeen

This is a significant sign of reconciliation between Patriarch Theophilus and the Orthodox community in Jordan. Although I'm not sure it was ever officially announced, as can be seen from the video, Archimandrite Christophoros was not only allowed to continue as spiritual father of the monastery but is congratulated by the patriarch for his service in this capacity. Additionally, the nun Irinea was installed as the monastery's abbess. Axia!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh on Francis and Kirill's Joint Statement

Arabic original here

Francis and Kirill... The People of Syria Know Best


There is no doubt that the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Russia, just in its being held, is a historic achievement in relations between the churches and in restoring unity between Christians. A joint statement was issued by the head of the Church of Rome and the head of the Church of Russia in which they agreed on a variety of complex issues. In this article, however, we will only deal with what pertains to Christian-Muslim relations in our countries, which is being subjected to intense tumults due to the difficult conditions that are afflicting all the people of these countries.

The joint statement talks about Christians as being "the victims of persecution" and as being subjected to "extermination" or "expulsion" and that "their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted"... and this is to a great degree true. However, it is an inadequate depiction of the situation, since it limits the victims of persecutions to the Christians. The statement does not use the same expressions when it talks about "he faithful of other religious traditions", but rather is content with stating that they "have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence." This phrasing involves absolute judgments that are imprecise, unfair discrimination, and makes the statement unbalanced.

Christians and Muslims are, without discrimination, equal in sin and righteousness. Some of them persecute and some are subject to persecution. Some are partners with the regime regime, and practice killing and torture. Muslims are not all friends of God and they are not all demons. Neither are Christians all saints, nor are they all devils... the victims of massacres and forced expulsion are Muslims and Christians. There are Muslim cities and villages that have become ruins in the blink of an eye. Thousands of mosques have been destroyed... It would have been better not to use the phrase "who have also become victims" because this has the sense that they have not been victims from the beginning of the troubles and that what is happening to them is only a reaction.

The joint statement limits itself to only mentioning two of the countries in the Middle East, Syria and Iraq. It calls on "the international community" to make an effort to "to end terrorism through common, joint and coordinated action," then directs an appeal to "all the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism to responsible and prudent action" and urges Christians to pray fervently that there will not be another world war. This talk remains general so long as it does not specify certain matters that must be completely clear. Therefore we wonder:

1. Who are "the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism" mentioned by the joint statement? Our reason for asking this is that there is no country left on earth that has not intervened in Syria under the pretext of combating terrorism. Answer us, for God's sake, is what is meant by "the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism" America, Russia, France, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey or Israel? Each one of these countries has been accused by one side or another participating in the war of supporting terrorism.

2. Is what is meant by terrorism what is being done by extremist religious groups such as ISIS and others, or the state terrorism practiced by all the countries implicated on land, sea, and air? Did our countries enjoy peace and well-being before the appearance of ISIS and those resembling it? Has there not been terror ruling there tyrannically for decades?

3. Why does the statement fail to mention democracy or to demand freedom for all the people of these countries, so that they can choose the form of government that they deem appropriate? Is there not in this oversight a hidden statement in support of dictatorial regimes in the region? Is there not in this indirect support for what might be called an alliance of minorities in the face of the Islamic majority?

4. Why does the statement fail to mention the State of Israel and the terror against the Palestinian people that continues to occur there? Do Palestinians not deserve a demand for their right to return to their homes? Or have political alliances with the State of Israel prevented treating this fundamental issue which, if not for it, we would not have reached this point of humiliation?

It seems that this statement, in terms of the ambiguities it raises, provides a justification for those who seek a justification for intervening in Syria to secure their interests under the pretext of combating terrorism. It would have been appropriate for this statement to sound the word of truth.

It is good that the joint statement calls for the release of all captives, among them the bishops of Aleppo Paul Yazigi and Yuhanna Ibrahim. These two bishops are the ones who represent Antiochian Christianity in its deeply-rooted history and singular quality of openness to its Muslim fellow-citizens. No outside intervention will preserve Christians, when over many periods, both recently and in the past, Christians have attempted to call upon foreign interventions but quickly regretted it after seeing their grave consequences.

We have no other path to peace apart from Muslim-Christian partnership based on equality and justice-- that is, based on full citizenship. No solution that is not pleasing to the Muslims will be of any use, especially if this solution uses force. We, the children of Antioch, the Great City of God where the disciples were first called Christians, we know the affairs of our country best. Yes, "the people of Mecca best know its twists and turns" and we the people of Syria best know its twists and turns.