Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Carol Saba on Demonizing Russia

French original here.

On the Dangers of Demonizing or Idealizing Russia

"There must not be a cold war, at any price," declared Nicholas Sarkozy while visiting Moscow on October 29. The former French head of state, who met at length with President Putin, also gave a lecture on political science to the students of MGIMO, the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

In the Russian capital, Sarkozy managed to make his transformation. Sarkozy "the American" became in Moscow Sarkozy "the Russian" and did not hesitate to employ a rather Gaullist vocabulary to demonstrate his closeness to Russia. This is a major indication that the world, which was dominated at the time of his accession to power in 2007 by the unilateralist vision of the American neoconservatives who were then his inspiration, has since changed its geopolitical paradigm. The world of the "hyperpower" (the term originates with former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine) has effectively given way to the apolar or multi-polar world of today, a world beset with a myriad of dangers of an entirely new nature which are developing in a chaotic, dynamic and globalized manner. Obviously, this world is structurally in need of "governance" and better control over dangerous trends.

In Moscow, the former French head of state was able to give a lucid speech inspired by the fundamentals of the logic of geopolitics in today's world. His reading, contrary to a certain Western policy that would like to "isolate" Putin's Russia by constantly pointing fingers at it, right or wrongly, simply warns against the dangers of ceaselessly demonizing Putin's Russia. Russia has managed to once more emerge onto the world stage. It has not lacked for causing fears and anxieties, attractions and repulsions. The most contradictory ambivalences are expressed about it, as well as the most extreme criticisms and the more servile accolades. For my own part, I do not idealize Putin's Russia, but neither do I demonize it. There are many who do it today, rightly or wrongly. From the point of view of those who demonize it, there is no lack of topics. Yesterday Crimea, then Ukraine and today Syria. But dispassionately and objectively, the act of demonizing Russia does a lot more harm than good in this apolar, complicated and broken world of ours.

A political tool as old as the world, demonizing consists of inventing enemies and to force the features of their failure in order to create, justify and perpetuate certain policies of confrontation. It is a dangerous and risky game in today's world which is in search of leadership and governance, a world that is more in need of regulations than confrontations that feed confrontations, fears and wars. It is clear that a distance is widening with the incomprehension and misunderstandings that are developing day in and day out between Moscow and the Western camp.

It is a process of estrangement that could lead in the end to a new cold war. In Moscow, Sarkozy sought instead to build a bridge and reach out in order to avoid this drift toward "a new cold war" which, according to him, "would be devastating." Expressing himself-- and not without emotion-- before students at the "Sciences Po" of Moscow, Sarkozy praised Russia's leading role, stressing its centrality in today's global world. Before speaking about conflicts on the world stage, he highlighted the interdependence of the destinies of Europe and Russia.

"Europe needs Russia and Russia needs Europe," he said, in a variant of the well-known Eurasian Gaullist expression. "Yes, it's Europe," declared General de Gaulle in Strasbourg in November 1959, "from the Atlantic to the Urals, it's Europe that will decide the world's fate!" Sarkozy was also right to say in Moscow that "Russia  is essential to resolving the Syrian conflict..." before vehemently pronouncing sentences mixing politics and feeling: "I believe in Russia... You are a great world power... Russia is indispensable to the world... Without Russia, we cannot meet the challenges and crises..."

Our strategic error is wanting to apply Western norms to Russia! Those who believe that Russia should resemble the West and that it should conform to the West's paradigm are wrong. Since Ivan the Terrible and even earlier, Russia has had its own paradigm. Its destiny is that of a great ambivalence between East and West, between Europe and Asia, between rationality and irrationality, between unity and fragmentation. Did not General De Gaulle refuse to see in the USSR anything other than "a temporary avatar of eternal Russia" and in its government "a modernized form of a fatal autocracy"?

The Soviet period significantly affected Russia. It still needs time to make its transformation and exorcise all the old demons. Still weighing on Russia is its resulting weakening during the years of the collapse of the Soviet system and the troubled years that followed the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1990. This was resented in a country that is so proud and so nostalgic of past grandeur. There are many in Russia who resent what they see as a systematic looting of Russia's economic and financial wealth through the many privatization programs led by the West in the 1990s.

Since then, Russia has been trying-- not without difficulty and at times with many relapses-- to return to the circle of nations and and to effect "its own" democratic transition in an immense country that traditionally has a strong autocratic tradition. Additionally, for many Russians the West has not stopped wanting to surround it and prevent this former great imperial power from reconstituting its forces and capabilities. The phenomenon of Putin and his great popularity can only be understood and deciphered through this lens, that of the Russian historical subconscious that desires "Russia's return." It is obvious that everything isn't black or white in Russia's evolution since the fall of the Berlin Wall. But whatever you say, whether you like it or not, it has proven its capacity to not only to return to the international stage but to restore its offensive and deterrent capabilities and to revive a dynamic diplomacy of influence. Of course, it still has a long way to go in terms of a democratic transition.

But it is not through demonizing Russia nor in demonizing its Orthodox Church-- which is reconstituting itself from its ashes-- that we we can help Russia along this path. Whether monarchist or communist, it pursues a neo-imperial geopolitical model (and is not the only one to do so...), a model based on power that is exported and projected from the center. Rather than isolating or demonizing it, we should understand Russia in all the strata of its historical depth and extend a hand to it as a partner, not as an adversary, reminding it by way of substantive dialogue of truths and fundamentals. I will go even further: let the first power that is without sin and can claim to have guarded its moral virginity intact cast the first stone! The state of desolation in the Middle East, the inability of the powers to resolve conflicts and their capacity for pursuing them with cynicism and interest has sufficiently inoculated us so that we can understand the game of nations, keep a cool head and stay rational! The railway that Sarkozy tried to lay on the Moscow line, to say that demonizing Russia is not game free of risks for the evolution of Russia and the world, is a step in the right direction. Neither demonizing nor idealizing Russia, but a necessary and useful work of convergence with it, for the sake of peace and security in the world and in order to put an end to all attacks on the freedom and dignity of persons and peoples!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: Come, Follow Me

Arabic original here.

Come, Follow Me

A man comes to the Lord to test Him. This man was good because he kept the commandments and followed all of them: thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not bear false witness... Nevertheless, the Lord said to him, "One thing you lack: sell whatever you have and distribute it to the poor... and come, follow Me." That is, you are not perfect if you have only kept the commandments.

If the poor have accept you in their hearts, then My Father will accept you in His kingdom. That is, if the poor are not pleased with someone, then God is not pleased with him. He who pleases the poor pleases God. 

David said in the Psalm about the righteous man, "He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever" (Psalm 112:9). He did not say that he gave one thousand or five thousand lira as charity. He said "He has dispersed." What do we say today when the system is a system of seeking to accumulating money, the financial system and financial abundance? So long as this system exists, how can a person disperse? Our  fathers, great theologians such as Basil the Great and John Chrysostom, said that each one of us is a steward of what he possesses. You are entrusted with your possessions for the common good.

The rich person is really the one in whose eyes God is great. He is fervent like the prophets, not a flatterer and not one who speaks idly. In our minds we must hold the rich and the poor to be equal. We must magnify those who follow the path of the prophets and be attracted to those who are righteous. The weak, the sick, the wretched, the needy and the outcasts in our society are the ones who are made great. 

Why do people jealously guard what they possess? Why do they refrain from giving? It is because they fear death. They fear that they will meet death without any money in their fists. They know that they will go to the grave naked and barefoot, but they still do not learn. He who has seeks more, he who does not have seeks more, and it's all a race to be shrewd. It's all competitions for glory and the game ends in the grave.

So what should we do? We should open hearts to hearts. The issue is not one of us giving a little or a lot. The issue is that the heart must break before the sick, the weak, the outcast and the despised. The great issue is for us to consider ourselves as nothing. He who considers himself as nothing will be made something by his Lord. Hearts are closed and stony because they are proud. But one who wants to resemble Christ should consider himself as nothing. Our Lord was broken on the cross and trampled under the cross and so was lifted up to the highest heavens. Our great calling is to love people-- all people. Our great strength is that we lift them up over our own heads. Our honor is in that we love; it is in that we forget people's transgressions. You are great if people trample you down. When they persecute you, you know that you are loved by Christ. What is your concern with people. That they say something nice about you? This is a satanic temptation. "Woe to you when all people speak well of you" (Luke 6:26). This means that you desire praise. The righteous person rejects praise.

For us to enter into the kingdom means that we behold the good. The kingdom of God means love and truth. For us to enter into the kingdom means that we enter into the domain of truth, the domain of righteousness and that we are truly good. This means that our hearts are broken before all people, that we stand firm, that we love, that we obey, that we reach out in love to the ends of the earth, and that we open our hearts to let enter the poor, the oppressed, the outcasts and those who have no name, no glory and no honor. If they enter into our hearts and we become united to them, love them, and attached to them, at that point we will be like Christ and arrive at the apex of glory.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Individualism

Arabic original here.

"By brother is my life," go the famous words of Saint Silouan the Athonite, meaning that the other, my neighbor, my colleague at work, and all the people that I meet are my life. Let us contemplate these words. Despite the fact that our society is moving in the direction of individualism, our Orthodox faith is an effort in the opposite direction. We Christians believe that humans are closely bound to each other. This is clear in the teaching of our Lord and God Jesus Christ, who said, "I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was sick and in prison-- everything you have done to these My brothers, you have done to Me."

Likewise, there are many parables in the Holy Bible through which Christ wanted to indicate this important fact-- that my brother's comfort and happiness are an essential part of my own comfort and happiness. Indeed, my brother's comfort and happiness at the expense of my own comfort and happiness is the guarantee of my eternal comfort and happiness. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is very clear with regard to this fundamental matter for the success of our spiritual life. The rich man did not notice the existence of Lazarus, the poor sick man at his door, ignoring him completely. Christ condemned the rich man and blessed Lazarus, but why? To be sure, Jesus did not condemn the rich man because of his riches, and the Church does not consider wealth and the acquisition of property to be a sin. Nevertheless, the Author of the Bible warns us of the danger of being rich. Why? Because wealth tries to make us its slaves so that we will rely on it and not on God. Wealth can blind our hearts and make us callous before the sobs of the needy and their need for help. Brothers, comfort and security for ourselves makes us feel that we are invincible and this causes vanity and pride to take root in us. We start by thinking that we have obtained this wealth and this empire by our own personal intellectual abilities and competencies, forgetting that "every perfect gift comes down from God." Thus, we often deceive ourselves when we think that happiness and security come through wealth. Wealth and money are a dangerous temptation because they try to take the place of God and His commandment in our life. From the very beginning, Cain asked God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" God responded with total frankness, "Yes, each one of us is his brother's keeper." This is a practical responsibility that is urgent and necessary in our spiritual life, which is perfected through good works, according to the words of the Apostle James in his Catholic Epistle, and which make perfect everything beneficial for our souls.

Let us always remember that our brothers are our life because they are the image of our God who gave us life and who continues to give us life. Let us share every good thing with others, who are the image of our Creator, so that the Lord may permit us to share in His heavenly kingdom because in all simplicity, if we love His children, then we have loved Him in them. Without loving what is seen, it is not possible to love what is not seen, according to the words of the Holy Evangelist John.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura, and Their Dependencies

Friday, November 27, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: In Hope of the Resurrection

Arabic original here.

In Hope of the Resurrection

The Church has no bridegroom but Christ because He alone is perfect. The Church is only a perfect bride for Him in terms of hope, because she is of history and because there are sins in her members. In reality, the Church is a hope that is only realized on the last day. All of us are marching in her in hope of the resurrection and eternal life.

In  a real sense, the Church is a plan and a plan by nature is not perfect. The Church is only perfected on the last day, when incorrupt bodies rise. Because it is the plan of salvation, we are within it. We are in it on our way to resurrection.

You arrive at the resurrection if you are enlightened. That is, if you receive the body and blood of the Lord because the Lord said "I am the resurrection and the life." The Bible teaches that those who receive the body of the Savior are called to the resurrection. We have no teaching about those who have not received the body of the Savior here. They are in His mercy. Therefore in hope we say that the Lord extends His mercy to those whom He wills. In faith in the Savior and His mercy we hope for the salvation of those whom He has loved. He receives all people in His mercy. Perhaps His mercy is the resurrection for those who did not know the teaching of the resurrection. They are most of humanity.

In profound, authentic theology we do not have a teaching about the eternity of the soul. This is a teaching of Greek philosophy. Our teaching is about the resurrection of the dead in their bodies, as Paul clearly states. In other words, there is nothing in the Holy Bible about the eternity of the soul. It speaks of the resurrection of bodies inasmuch as there are souls within them. We are not eternal. We are people of the resurrection. That is another teaching.

We pass through death as an inevitable punishment and there is no end to death until the final resurrection. Before that, there is no total victory. The perfect divine order after sin is death, and before the last day the resurrection is a promise. And a promise is about something that will happen.

The resurrection within us today is nothing other than love. Before that, bodies are still in their graves. Through the Holy Spirit who is in us, we become people of the resurrection. That is, we have a foretaste of the power of the resurrection. First of all, repentance is the first resurrection. Through it, we proceed to the resurrection of our bodies.

When you who are in Christ hope, something of your hope is realized through holiness. To speak deeply, holiness is a true anticipation of the resurrection because holiness is the will of God. In other words, holiness is the beginning of the kingdom within you. In it, our unity with the people of heaven peeks through, our holiness and their holiness.

Grace is a promise of what is to come. It is a murmur of the resurrection. Christ who will raise us from the dead raises us up today from sin. "The soul tastes death," but through faith, hope and love it also tastes the resurrection because Christ is alive forever and He causes us to taste His resurrection every day we are live.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: The Foolish Rich Man

Arabic original here.

The Foolish Rich Man

Today's Gospel reading tells us about a rich man who was preoccupied with his wealth. Jesus explains to us in this parable that when someone sets his heart on money, he will not have room in his heart for anything else. And in general, if we place anything or anyone in our heart to rule over us, there does not remain in the heart a place for anything else.

The meaning of this text from the Gospel is that money is subject to man, that money is something that we use, not something that uses us. Money is acquired, not loved. Therefore it must be distributed from time to time, under the current system in which we live, when it becomes an impediment to our moral life.

The Gospel talks about a person who wanted to accumulate possessions for himself without anyone sharing in them. So that they would remain his alone, he wanted to build storehouses and warehouses larger than what he already had. He said to himself, "Enjoy this life. Eat, drink. All of life is food and pleasure. All of life is riches and what they buy."

So spoke this man, whom the Bible describes as foolish. The foolishness is that he only approached pleasures and did not take pleasure in God. He did not love the Creator. His soul was empty of his Lord and full of lust. That is, in reality it was nothing. It vanished with the vanishing of lusts; it degenerated with the degeneration of pleasures.

How is money an instrument and not the goal of our efforts? Everyone knows that they can become possessed by money rather than remaining master over it. Money is in principle a servant which can transform into an object of worship. Because the Master knows this, He said, "You cannot serve both God and money." Whether or not you have much or little money, if you love it like it is the object of your longing-- that is, if you live not only with it but for it-- it takes God's place in your heart. At that point it governs your actions insofar as at the height of your longing for it, it becomes the object of worship in your heart, even if it is hard for you to admit this. This is, however, how things are. Money is the object of worship for many, both rich and poor. They sorrow to the point of fear when they lose it and it is their only real source of happiness; no other happiness is equal to it.

In the actual situation of the soul, it is possible for money to rule over you and for you to lead your life only in order to acquire it, for your happiness to end at that point. In the ultimate fall, you prefer nothing over it, no matter what you claim. At that point, you have no place for emotion and in your great attachment to it, you have no family and no friendship and perhaps you have no place for piety towards them. Money becomes a real god in the sense that it occupies all your interest, all your mind, all your heart and everything else becomes for you a fantasy, a myth or a lie. In the most extreme attachment to it, you will sacrifice all people, even those closest to you. It is like a living person for you. When people say that someone is a 'lover' of money, they are not exaggerating. The word is apt.

Even romantic love fades when it is eclipsed by the love of money.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Terrorism

Arabic original here. Bear in mind that Met Ephrem's flock in Tripoli have long lived in the shadow of terrorism.


The root of the word is "to be terrified [rahiba]" in the sense of "fear" and "terrorize [arhaba]" in the sense of "cause to fear." From this is derived the work "monk [rahib]," one who fears God. The Bible says "the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God."

Terrorism takes the form of violence and killing and often this behavior comes about because of a deviation of thought and belief. Thus the importance of the Apostle Paul's words: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus..." (Philippians 2:5).

Terrorism has become a major concern for the entire world. Very often, it is a "reaction" to injustice (the suppression of freedoms) and poverty. At other times, it is the result of an inner emptiness in a person who is tending toward despair in his life. Or it can also be the result of lust for money and power. Therefore we must treat the roots and causes of terrorism and not content ourselves with combating and exterminating it as all the countries do, pretending that this is effective.

In the Epistle of the Apostle James it says: "Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth... Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!" (James 5:4,9). Here it is speaking of injustice.

Therefore, during this time of terror, the voice of truth must be strong.  Let us say once more that injustice, poverty, and ignorance can be breeding-grounds for extremism.

*   *   *

Extremism in religion, excessive fanaticism for it, is exploited in order to realize political and material interests. 

Today this trend of terrorism is enticing many young men and even some young women and is often the result of a broken family life... A deviant or libertine sexual culture, alongside the consumption of drugs and alcohol, play an important role in creating and inflaming a spirit of revenge against real or imagined injustice or a violent obsession with seeking extreme pleasure that does not fear death and suicide, but rather chases after it.

A person brings forth good or evil after practicing devotion and sacrifice. God is the wellspring of Good and the Devil is the source of evil. Both of them seek sacrifice and devotion. The holy fathers, physicians of the soul, work hard to treat and cure man's illnesses. They guide people in order to transform man's negative powers into positive, constructive powers.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, Koura and Their Dependencies

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Let us not be Firewood!

Arabic original here.

Let Us not be Firewood!

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser... you are the branches" (John 15:1,5). No doubt, by the Parable of the Vine and the Branches, Jesus intended to "explain to us the importance of love that is connected to Him and the measure of what we gain by being united to Him. Therefore He says that He is the vine as a lesson and a parable. The branches represent those who are united to Him, tied to Him, attached to Him, and who share in His nature by their acquisition of the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Saint Cyril of Alexandria).

"Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:2). Saint Cyril warns the faithful about not tying faith to works and says, "[If we content ourselves with] bare, abstract confessions of faith, without holding it with the bond of unity to courageous works springing forth from Love, then we will be dead and fruitless branches. Faith without works is dead, as the Holy Apostle James says [in his Catholic Epistle 2:20]. So if the branch remains attached to the vine without fruit, know that such a person shall face the shears of the vinedresser. He will cut him off and throw him into the fire, like useless trash." Clement of Alexandria (d. 216) says, "The vine that is not pruned becomes firewood. Such is the state of man. The word is a sword [yes, in the Holy Gospel, the sword symbolizes the word of God] that cleanses the deformation of the branches and drives the soul to bear fruit and to not be absorbed in pleasures."

The sole condition of the bond of unity between Christians is "piety and holiness," not any other worldly thing. Therefore, Cyril himself says, "Christ wants His disciples to be garbed in unity of thought and will and to be united in soul and spirit by the bonds of peace and love for one another. He wants them to enjoy an inseparable and indissoluble unity, that their wills might not resemble that which is in the world, attached to seeking pleasures, but that they maintain the power of love in the unity of piety and holiness." Christian unity must not eliminate diversity, following the model of the Most Holy Trinity, where there is unity in diversity and diversity in unity.

"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me" (John 15:4). Blessed Augustine (d. 430) says, "One who thinks that he bears fruit of himself and not from the vine is not a Christian.... Those who say 'We are righteous of ourselves'... This is the height of pride."

In view of the difficult circumstances through which our countries are passing, we must cite the words of Saint Justin Martyr (d. 165), the philosopher who was born in Palestine, as through he were addressing them to us, so that we might face these circumstances steadfast in faith. Justin says, "It is clear that no one is able to terrify and subjugate those of us throughout the world who believe in Christ. Despite our being beheaded, crucified, cast to wild beasts, chains and fire and every other type of torment, we do not abandon our confession. It is clear that the more these things happen, those who are pious before God increase in the name of Jesus. If someone severs parts from a fruitful vine, it will sprout more branches, flourishing and bearing fruit. This very thing is what happens to us. The vine that Christ our God and Savior planted is His people."

Justin's words come true if Christians remain faithful to their Lord and His teachings and if their unity is not based on plans that contradict their Gospel principles. Christian unity is either based on faithfulness to Jesus Christ or you should call it something else.