Friday, October 24, 2014

Day One of Patriarch John X's Visit to Greece

Yesterday, October 23, 2014, Patriarch John X began his official visit to Greece, the third of his official eirenical visits after those to Constantinople and Moscow.

Arabic version of this speech here. Video of Patriarch John delivering it in Greek here.

Patriarch John X's Words at the Prayer of Thanksgiving in Athens on October 23, 2014

Your Beatitude,
Brothers and loved ones,
I am happy to be among you.

This is a visit of peace, peace of the heart  from me to each one of you. Peace to you, Your Beatitude and brother bishops, in my name and in the name of the delegation accompanying me. Peace to you and through you to every individual and every place in Greece. Peace of love from the people of our lands that have been and continue to be wounded by the tumult of wars. Peace from your brothers, the faithful of the Church of Antioch. Peace from victims of kidnapping, martyrs and people expelled from their homes. Peace from our brothers and your brothers, the kidnapped bishops and priests of Aleppo. Peace and a prayer for your kind people and country. Peace of resurrection from the ashes of trial while at the very same time it is a peace of will, hope, determination and conviction that no power on this earth will uproot us from our land, that we cast all our hardships before the cross of our Savior and place them before His crown of thorns.

I have known you personally, Your Beatitude, and I have known you as a dear brother who has visited our Church and our monasteries at a time when many were leaving, during the last days of the reign of Patriarch Ignatius. I knew your predecessors Christodoulos and Seraphim of blessed memory. I received my theological education in your country. I lived in its monasteries and I saw how theology is leavened with the leaven of humility and becomes incarnate as love and prayer.

The Church of Greece has given much to the Church of Antioch She has welcomed many of our children, opening to them the doors of her institutes and universities and graduating from them priests and bishops to pastor Christ's people in their lands. The Church of Greece has especially accompanied Antiochian Orthodoxy's entrance into the modern era.

Balamand is the best evidence for this. The Institute of Theology was launched in 1970 and Antioch benefited from Greek expertise, entrusting leadership of the Institute to Metropolitan Pandeleimon Rhodopoulos. The Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology was tied to the Church of Greece which supported it with her best professors and with Greek language programs. The Greek government also contributed, granting our students the opportunity to come to study theology in the language of the fathers. All of this qualifies us to say that that which unites us to Greece as a country and people is a yearning for apostolic zeal for one, Catholic Orthodox faith, where ethnicities melt in the crucible of Orthodoxy and where different languages and customs are interwoven before the Eucharistic table and its Lord who spoke to us in the language of love.

In the language of love I close today by asking the mighty Lord to preserve you and to preserve Greece and her kind people and that He may take her leaders by the hand and guide them to what is good for her people.

I likewise ask Him to give the lands of Antioch peace so she might welcome you with her kind people who have been endowed with the love of the saints, the remembrance of the Apostles, and the achievements of martyrs, ancient and new.

Many years, Master.

Coverage of Patriarch John's day from by Emilios Polygeni. Go to the links for many pictures..

Greek original here.

Archbishop to Patriarch, "We welcome you as a brother and a witness"

Patriarch John of Antioch began his eirenical visit to the Church of Greece today October 23, 2014, arriving at Eleftherios Venizelos Airport.

Patriarch John was welcomed at the airport by Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece, His Eminence Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki, His Eminence Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Peristeri, president of the Synodal Commission for Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations of the Church of Greece, a representative of the Greek government, the ambassador of Lebanon, and other church and civil officials.

Then, at 11:50 at the Church of Saint Andrew the First-Called, located on the grounds of the Holy Archdiocese of Athens, a prayer of thanksgiving was celebrated for the arrival in Greece of Patriarch John of Antioch and his entourage.

The Archbishop welcomed the Patriarch and others and said, "We welcome you as a brother and as a witness who is to give a Christian witness, an Orthodox witness, a witness of faith."

Archbishop Ieronymos also said, "You are with us here today at a time of persecution, of abuse of human rights, to declare to civilized Europe and international organizations that that you are still on your feet and you have not lost your faith in Christ, that Antioch and Damascus continue to shine out into the world."

The Archbishop concluded, "The Athens of the saints, of the martyrs and heroes, welcomes you as an angel of peace, as a witness to Christ, and as a fighter for the saints and heroes, our Christian brothers, our brothers in the Middle East."

Greek original here

Archbishop Ieronymos, "National bonds are good, but what unites us is Christ"

Patriarch John of Antioch has just visited Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens. The primate of the Church of Antioch was warmly welcomed by Archbishop Ieronymos, who received him in his office. There the Archbishop welcomed the Patriarch, stressing, among other things, "I welcome you to Greece and to the Holy Archdiocese of Athens."

Then the Patriarch of Antioch reported on relations between the two churches and the difficulties experienced in Syria. For his part, Archbishop Ieronymos said, "Your visit brings us a message that love is not something theoretical. Rather, love is actions. It is experience and that is exactly what we we fell right now, that we are one family."

"National bonds are good and we do not deny them, but above all else we have the One who unites us, Jesus Christ. All other things are ideologies. Ideologies come and go, creating huge problems. Our faith, our Christianity, our love, our fathers, what they taught us is the experience of the Church and it is precisely what we are living right now," the Archbishop added.

In conclusion, Archbishop Ieronymos said, "We want to thank you for traveling from your region, which is experiencing a great hardship at this time, but we here are also experiencing difficulties of another form."

Finally it should be noted that Patriarch John of Antioch signed the guest-book.

Greek original here.

The Patriarch of Antioch at the Areios Pagos

His Beatitude Patriarch John of Antioch, who is making an official irenical visit to the Church of Greece, has just visited the Areios Pagos. The Primate of the Church of Antioch came to the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis accompanied by Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece and his entourage. There Patriarch John went up the Hill of Pnyx and toured the site where the Apostle Paul preached to the Athenians.

Melkite Catholic Bishop Nicholas Samra on Catholic-Orthodox Relations in the Middle East (Video)

I'm not sure where Bishop Samra gets his ideas about the history of the use of Arabic in Antioch, which was much more deeply-rooted and earlier than he makes it sound, but this talk is still very much worth listening to in terms of how he sees contemporary Orthodox-Catholic relations in the Middle East, especially some of what comes up in the Q&A at the end.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on Minorities' Need for a Civil State

Arabic original here.

Do not Blame the Minorities

Some people blame members of "minorities" because they prioritize their religious and ethnic identities over other, universal identities. However, most of those doing the blaming start their criticism on the basis of narrow sectarian positions, of a numeric majority that assumes it has the right to impose what it desires on minorities that have no choice but to obey, willingly or unwillingly, the will of the majority.

In reality, Islamic thought has not succeeded in solving the dilemma of minorities. This is because it divides society into two parts: Muslims and non-Muslims. Islamic thought itself is responsible for the phenomenon of minorities and for not bringing about the means that would permit members of minorities to engage in Islamic society and that would push them to be more committed to the issues and aspirations of Muslims. 

The basic problem for those who are striving for an Islamic state lies in their lack of respect for political, social and religious diversity and for their lack of respect for the particularities of the groups that form the national mosaic that incorporates all citizens. The religious state is in no sense impartial. Rather, it is discriminatory because, according to its constitution and law, it classifies people into ranks and turns those who are not joined together by a single common religion into mere subjects, robbed of will and freedom.

For this reason, minorities' fear of the establishment of a religious government is legitimate. They do not want to see sectarian princes ruling in God's name under the cover of a religious jurisprudence at odds with modernity. In the past, the Islamic Umma lived within a single caliphate, but in our own era various states have been established on a national basis the ruins of the caliphate. There has come to be a pressing need for a new vision to cope with new realities, a vision established on the basis of true citizenship with equality for all children of the same nation.

Within the framework of  a civil state, with all that this expression means, it is not possible for there to be a jurisprudence of relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, as was dominant centuries ago. In this issue specifically, the distinction is not clear between so-called centrist Islam or moderate Islam and other descriptors applied to Islam in different places. 

The only viable solution, according to members of religious minorities along with many Muslims, lies in establishing a state founded on full citizenship based on a fair constitution that does not discriminate on a religious, sectarian or ethnic basis. The dictatorial regime that governs with an iron fist is no guarantee for minorities and their existence. It is not what will protect them, since if it is eliminated they are eliminated. The religious regime that governs on the basis of presumed divine right is no guarantee for them, since it denies their citizenship and takes them back to the state of being second-class subjects. The regime based on freedom and equality is the sole guarantee for them and for the future of their children. There cannot be respect for human dignity without the establishment of a just civil state where there is no religious authority that imposes itself and its ideas on all people. The crisis lies in some Islamic thought that has not yet managed to take into account civil-minded people, both Muslim and non-Muslim together, who do not desire religious rule.

The predicament of relations between religious groups, majorities and minorities, is growing every day. However, minorities have the right to long for governments  that have developed on the level of respect for human rights. As for the authoritarian state, whether religious or non-religious, it is a hideous evil that must be rooted out sooner or later.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

as-Safir on the Plight of Orthodox in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Arabic original here.

The Orthodox of Jordan and Palestine... Prisoners of the Balance of Power

By Rania al-Jabary

The Arab Orthodox of Jordan and Palestine, whose patriarchate is tied to the reigning civil authorities, have been forced to remain hostage to political balances of power. If the balance tilts toward the interest of pan-Arab issues, then they are treated fairly. If the balance tilts away from Arabism, they are the first to pay the price.

Today the Orthodox of Jordan and Palestine are paying the price for Greek domination of the Orthodox  Patriarchate, which has lasted for 480 years. As a result, there are not seminaries for the Arab flock and those who desire to study are forced to enroll at Balamand University in Lebanon or to travel to Greece.

The Arabs are collectively paying the price of Greek domination in a more serious regard, as  Arab land is being handed over to Israelis through various means, including the Greek patriarchs' selling or offering long-term leases on lands from the Orthodox endowment to the Israelis.

Strangers in a Region in Flames

The issue of the Arab Orthodox began when  the Ottoman occupation managed to impose the hegemony of Greek patriarchs over the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which had been managed by Arabs prior to 1534.

"Jordan has inherited a complicated issue from the Ottoman and Mandate eras." With this sentence, Fr Dr Hanna Kaldani begins his discussion with as-Safir, explaining that Jordan has not taken any steps to help the Arab flock because of historical, political, international and other complicated considerations.

In his discussion, Kaldani presents many facts, including that Jordan provides the passports for the patriarch and the Greek monks, since Paragraph 19 of the law for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate issued by the Jordanian government in 1958 stipulates as one of its conditions that anyone nominated for the patriarch's throne must have Jordanian nationality. Thus Jordan can use this to apply pressure and bargain on behalf of the Arab Orthodox, insofar as it holds custody over the Christian as well as Muslim holy places. Additionally, Jordan, along with the Palestinian Authority and Israel, grants recognition to the patriarch.

Those who defend the difficulty of Jordan's position reply that if Jordan put pressure on the Greek patriarch, then the latter would turn away and only cooperate with the Israelis and serve their interests.

However, the problem is that today the patriarch has effectively turned his back on Jordan and is fulfilling his promises to Israel. In 2005, Jordan would not not grant recognition to the current Patriarch Theophilos until he signed a promise to apply the provisions of the Jordanian law for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, to cancel all the deals made by the former Patriarch Irenaeus, and to conduct an inventory and engineering survey of real estate belonging to the Patriarchate and send a report on this to the official Jordanian agencies.

What happened in reality is that, nine years after his election, Patriarch Theophilos' agreement with Jordan is still at an impasse and he continues to sell real estate and make long-term leases without informing his flock about the church's financial details. Instead, as the researcher Ali Hattar told as-Safir, Theophilos sold land from the Orthodox endowment that borders the Har Homa (Abu Gneim) settlement. The Israelis have begun to build on it to establish a new settlement.

Jordan's incomprehensible position on the Orthodox issue does not stop here. Despite the fact that the Greek patriarch has completely turned his back on Jordan, the Jordanian government is is intervening in the affairs of the Orthodox community and has asked Archimandrite Christophoros (Hanna Atallah) to obey the orders of Patriarch Theophilos.

The patriarch had issued a decision to transfer Christophoros from the Monastery of Dibbeen in the Jordanian distric of Ajloun to Jerusalem. This has provoked an intense protest from members of the community in the kingdom because they believe that this measure hides intentions to close down the institute that Christophoros had established in the Monastery of Dibbeen or to put someone unqualified in to lead it.

Members of the community expect in the long term that this institute will become a university that teaches theology, instead of those desiring to receive theological education traveling to Lebanon or Greece.

This case of schizophrenia among Jordanian decision-makers becomes complete with the issuing of the law for Christian community councils number 28 of 2014, whih stipulates the necessity of a court of appeals for the religious community council in Jordan according to the lawyer Yacoub el-Farr who told as-Safir that the new law requires the appointment of an ecclesiastical judge who must be proficient in written and spoken Arabic and possess a university degree.

This raises the question of the conditions of the Orthodox community, whose Greek administration practices various forms of neglect toward them. In addition to teaching in Greek but not Arabic, the Arab Orthodox have no universities or institutes in Jordan. Normally, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem prefers for members of the community not to study at Balamand University in Lebanon because it belongs to the Patriarchate of Antioch, which has an Arab administration. If they want to study theology, they must go to Greece and study it in Greek.

In any case, el-Farr points out that the Orthodox community has two years to align their situation with the law. The community was just around the corner from attaining an institute that teaches theology at the Monastery of Dibben (the institute founded by Archimandrite Christophoros) when their country's government intervened in their affairs and is inclined toward the patriarch's decision against Christophoros.

The outline of the Orthodox flock's alienation becomes clear when we add to all the above the various agreements between Israel and Greece. It is sufficient to mention the common natural gas agreement between Greece, Cyprus and Israel. Hattar points out the agreement to store Cypriot gas and the gas that Israel steals from Palestine in Greece in order to reduce Russian gas in Europe will make it impossible for Greece to take a position against the patriarch on behalf of the Arab flock that rejects the sale of Arab lands to Israelis. He reminds us of the importance of a gas agreement for Greece, which is experiencing financial hardship.

Fragmenting Palestinian Christians

Just ISIS is considered the easiest recipe for tearing apart Iraq and Syria, Israel is looking to play the same role by fragmenting the elements of Palestinian Arab society in order to realize its various interests, chief among them the purchase and rental of the Orthodox endowment's lands.

Among their means of tearing apart is a decision in September by the Minister of the Interior Gideon Saar permitting Christians to register under the "Aramaean nationality" in Israel's population records. Israeli newspapers reported that between 130 thousand and 160 thousand Christians are registered.

In this context, Hattar recalls the Zionist experience with the Arab Druze when they included them in military service. He regards the attempt to make the roots of the Arab Christians go back to the Aramaeans can only be interpreted in terms of hidden intentions on the part of the Zionists to rip the Christians away from the Arab social fabric and to justify recruiting them into the ranks of the army of occupation.

Hattar points out that "Gabriel Naddaf, the advocate for enlisting Arab Christians, is close to the Greek patriarch Theophilos."

This issue does not require a lot of imagination, since it is enough for a Christian Arab to become a servant of the army of occupation, then at that point will he refuse or fight against the sale of Orthodox lands in Jerusalem or Palestine?!

A study published by the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies at the beginning of this year indicated that changes are leading to the disintegration of regular armies that had constituted a threat in the past and that the process of the disintegration of states in the region will open up for Israel opportunities to build relationships with different minorities that may gain power in the future. It is clear from the study, entitled "New Borders in the Middle East" that dealing with fragmented entities is much easier that dealing with large national states or pan-Arabist groups with a nationalist ideology that brings them together despite differences of religion or race.

Land ahead of Arabization

Perhaps the only idea that the Orthodox in Jordan and Palestine can unite around is not raising the banner of Arabizing the church at the present time. "I am not one of those who is raising the banner of Arabization today. If Che Guavera came and became patriarch in Jerusalem, i would support him" says Hattar, who repeatedly stresses that he is not struggling for this cause because he is Christian, but on a patriotic basis that brings him together with his Muslim brothers who years ago had formed a committee to protect the lands of the Orthodox endowment in Palestine.

This does not mean that Hattar and those who stand against the policies of the Greek patriarchs are against Arabizing the church. Rather, Arabizing the patriarchate so that it can become like its sister the Patriarchate of Antioch is a far-off dream for them.

Hattar poses the question that "What if I struggled against the Greek administration because it isn't Arab, but then they bring along an Arab patriarch who does not prevent the sale of land to the Zionist enemy? We must first establish the principles that we are calling for."

First among these principles is the demand that the law for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of 1958 be applied. This requires that the patriarch applies transparent accounting standards and that the Arab flock supervise this. According to Fr Kaldani, currently no one knows anything about the patriarch's financial transactions with its money or its endowments. Another one of the principles is preventing the rental or sale of the Orthodox endowment's lands, recovering the land that has gone into Israeli hands, and ending the church's policy that attempts to deliberately leave members of the Orthodox community in a state of ignorance through the establishment of a university that teaches theology in the language of their countries, Arabic.

These principles constitute the real difference between those Orthodox who support the Greek patriarch and those who reject his policies. Those who support him accuse the other side of refusing to grant Theophilos a full opportunity. They are against Arabizing the patriarchate without safeguards that protect the flock and the Orthodox endowment.

The Russians.. a Life-Saver

Like any great power in the world, Russia has its "side-effects" in places around the globe.

"Russia is not looking to 'Russify' us and we have not experienced colonialism from them... This is why closeness to Russia is in our interests". Thus summarizes Fr Kaldani the Arabs' relationship to the Russians.

Starting from the beginning of Russian influence in Palestine in 1850, the Arabs reaped the re-Arabization of the Patriarchate of Antioch in 1899. However, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem was immune to liberation because of the strong Greek influence there. Kaldani recounts in his book "Contemporary Christianity in Jordan and Palestine" that when the first Arab patriarch was appointed in Syria, Constantinople refused to provide the holy oil and so the holy oil was brought from Moscow and that the first person to receive the Eucharist from the hand of the newly-consecrated patriarch was the Russian consul in Damascus.

Kaldani summarizes what happened by saying that the Russians won the round in Syria and lost in Palestine. However, Russia is once more returning and there is talk of re-opening the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society which was closed immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Can the Arab Orthodox hope for a return of their Russian friend who did not ignore their language in the Russian-sponsored schools and who supported their cause?

As an analyst and researcher, Kaldani believes that history is repeating itself. The Russians continue to lose in Palestine and win in Syria. He does not believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel because the Orthodox in Palestine and Jordan are "a negligible amount" who are few in numbers and falling apart and so cannot be looked at as a source of power. Despite his lack of optimism, he still believes that the Arab Orthodox cause is a burning national issue and that any development or change in the structure of this church is held hostage by political events and the decisions of the governments involved.

To put it more precisely, the Orthodox cause is hostage to international equations. Thus the Arab Orthodox, despite their happiness with Russia rising once more, do not hide the fact that in present circumstances the Russians will not confront the Greeks and so the issues remain suspended until there are objective circumstances that call for a confrontation between the two countries. Nevertheless, the spark for such a confrontation exists and its password is "natural gas".

Monday, October 20, 2014

Met Georges Khodr on the Ecclesiology of Councils

Arabic original here.

Commitment to the Truth

I do not think that the Orthodox say that the Holy Synod leads the Church in terms of it being an executive authority as opposed to those who say that the Church has a single person who leads it... They are not prepared to say, if we wish to be precise, that they have an administrative body for spiritual leadership. They reject as a matter of principle any imitation of the civil order. But apart from its statements, they have a sense of collectivity and of concord. This is what they call a holy synod, something for which there is no image in the civil order.

It is not a parliament of bishops. It is a act of making effort for unity. There is no value to numbers in it except as a symbol of the direction being taken in dogma or pastoral practice. That which is desired is God's will in the topic at hand. It is not to advocate a democratic order, since there is no say in it except God's word.

If Eastern Christians talk about conciliarity, they are not setting up a democratic order in place of an autocratic order, if such could be considered to exist in Christianity. The Catholics themselves do not say that the Papal system is autocratic. As in Orthodoxy, it is in principle based on the entire community. However, since collective leadership does not mean that the Church has a democratic system, so-called collective leadership is only a symbolic expression used to indicate the single purpose, and thus it is an act of making effort. For us the group is not a substitute for the individual. It is merely an effort towards being an image of the totality of the faith that has been inherited across generations, the faith handed down to us from the Apostles.

Thus the concept of numbers is meaningless in the council of bishops when they gather. That which is desired is the tradition. That is, authenticity and submission to that which was handed down "one time to the saints". Consensus or quasi-consensus in the Holy Synod is the principle image of commitment to the truth. Relying on a decision based on a majority vote is merely a practical agreement whose aim is to examine the issue. It in no sense means that it binds the conscience of any bishop. Yes, there is a general administrative life that is manifest in agreement or near-agreement. It is not true to say that the council of bishops does not err when it gathers together. The Church has rejected at least one council in the fourth century that brought together hundreds of bishops. Truth or wisdom has nothing to do with the number of voters or electors. It is above councils. The Church strives for it and no one can claim that a council of clergy possesses God's infallibility. This requires universal acceptance by the Church, which comes to be known in the life of the Church years later and after conflicts and it becomes manifest to the pure. I do not know of a single church in the Christian world that claims for its leadership automatic infallibility merely by issuing a dogmatic or pastoral decision. The popular saying that the Orthodox believe in the infallibility of the ecumenical councils in no way means the believer is called to accept a synodal decision merely because it was issued. It means gradual acceptance by believers as a whole, repeated acceptance by council after council and the emergence of a conviction among God's holy nation.

Truth is an act of making effort because interpretation is an act of making effort. We do not have the principles of courts that make you believe automatically any decision issued by a council. There is what we call the consensus of the fathers. How can this be when there is no census and no presentation of facts? The consensus of the fathers comes to be known within history. That is, after it has appeared, gradually and after discussion that may go on for a long time. In the Church there is nothing that resembles civil law on the surface. There is interpretation and exegesis, taking into account the reality of history and the words of the ancients. The truth is received through effort, not through the decision of an authority. This is proven by the fact that every decision of an authority is subject to the interpretation of subsequent authorities. At any time before the last day, truth is an act of effort made in holiness, love and brotherhood. If debate becomes vicious, there is no holiness.

The first ecumenical council, the Council of Nicaea which met in 325 and made explicit Christ's divinity and issued the Creed took generations to be accepted. No council, no matter how holy, is accepted immediately and automatically by the faithful. For us the council is not an authority. It is an image of the acceptance of the faithful, if they accept it. No ecclesiastical authority can say to you "We have gathered, O faithful, and you must accept," since the pure faithful may sometimes reply, "Your gathering concerns you. It does not concern us." Final say belongs to the Church gathered together in the Holy Spirit, not to a human authority in itself. God does not equate any authority to Himself. If it gathers together, if it speaks the truth and the Church recognizes it in her catholicity, it becomes an authority. We do not have a ruler with power on account of his position. Power belongs to what is said, not to who said it. The Christian's only leader is the truth.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Met Ephrem on the Sign of the Cross

Arabic original here.

The Sign of the Cross

Saint Basil the Great says, "In every thing we do, we  make the sign of the cross over our faces...This custom did not come from the Bible [that is, literally in the form of a commandment], but holy tradition is what commands this." By this he meant the tradition of the Apostles, as is also the case with our praying toward the East, which is the name of Christ (cf. Zacharia 6:12 LXX) and the custom of triple-immersion in baptism.

In the view of this father and other holy fathers, the sign of the cross contains the two basic dogmas of the Orthodox Church: first, the dogma of the Trinity and second the dogma of the incarnation. We make the sign of the cross by putting together three fingers and then putting the remaining two fingers close to the palm.

First we put our fingers to the forehead, indicating heaven, then to the belly, indicating the earth, then to the right and left shoulders. Please be careful not to make the sign of the cross over your bodies quickly and carelessly. Let us be conscious of remembering the thee Persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, just as we are likewise aware of the other two fingers, Christ's human and divine natures.

Very often, we tie mentioning glory to the Trinity with the sign of the cross when we say "Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit."

The Evangelist John mentions that Christ indicated the hour of His death when He said, "Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in Him" (John 13: 31) and "With the glory that He had from the beginning" (John 17:5). In his first epistle, the Apostle Peter speaks of Christ who redeemed the world upon the cross with His precious blood as the sacrificial lamb "foreordained before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:19-20).

Christ crucified is a paschal sacrifice: "Our Pascha is Christ who was crucified for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7).

This is the true meaning of the cross. This is the meaning of the divine liturgy, the divine sacrifice.

To all this we add that very often the sign of the cross is accompanied by a small or large prostration known as a 'metania', which means repentance. The small prostration is bending down to one's knees and the large one is down to the ground. We do this, for example, when we enter the church or when we kiss holy icons.

Beloved, make the sign of the cross with forethought, with understanding, with faith, with absolute hope in Christ crucified who loved us to the point of death on the cross. Make it with determination that you will crucify your passions in order to receive the grace of the Crucified One, that your life may be renewed.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, Al-Koura and their dependencies

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on the West's Exploitation of the Middle East's Divisions

Arabic original here.

We Are Willingly Heading toward Civil Strife

Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (d. 1897) and Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905), the pioneers of Islamic reform in the modern era, were in agreement that the source of weakness and decline in Islamic society lies in the loss of unity between Muslims and that the fundamental factor behind the lack of unity lies in the division between Sunnis and Shi'a.

Al-Afghani believed that the enemies of Islam, by which he meant the European colonial powers, benefited from Islamic fragmentation and encouraged conflicts between the Islamic countries in order to weaken and subjugate them. For this reason, al-Afghani called for an Islamic state to emerge that would unite Sunnis and Shi'a under its banner. This would not happen, in his opinion, before urgent and serious effort could be made to bring about rapprochement between Sunni and Shi'i schools of thought.

Much time has passed and the situation has not changed. The enemies of Islam still benefit from intra-Islamic disagreements and exploit them to extend their domination and hegemony over our countries and to plunder our riches... Instead of us uniting to fight the enemies, we find ourselves fighting and slaughtering each other in the very name of God.

Indeed, the situation has not changed. At the end of the 19th century, al-Afghani wrote an article with the title "The West and the East" in which he presents the ways that the West goes about dominating the East. This article is as though it were written today, even though no small amount of time has passed since its writing.

Al-Afghani says, "There is no Western state knocking at the door of an Eastern kingdom that does not use as its excuse either preserving the sultan's rights or suppressing an uprising against the amir... or some other slander, trickery, deception or feeble pretext.

If these lies are not enough for them to remain, they invoke either the pretext of protecting Christians, protecting minorities, the rights and privileges of foreigners, the people's freedom, teaching them the basics of independence, gradually giving the people its right to self-government, or enriching a poor people by overseeing the resources of its wealth."

Al-Afghani continues by saying that the Easterners go back to giving themselves the excuse that the Westerners will fulfill their promise and leave them as "a free people, independent in the management of their own affairs and able to choose rulers from their own sons, those with the purest souls and the best way of life, the most forthright with the truth in word and deed." But what the Westerners actually do is a program that they bring from their own countries about the Easterners, "inert, ignorant, fanatical people fertile land, many minerals [and this before the discovery of oil!], large projects, a mild climate, we [i.e. the Westerners] shall be the first to enjoy it."

Al-Afghani concludes his characterization by saying that Westerners are devising a plan to gain control over the country by "marginalizing every free citizen who is able to openly make patriotic demands and promoting those with the basest concern, the furthest from the discussion of demanding justice. They enter our country by dividing it into sects and factions. They prefer one sect over another such that distrust reigns..."

Indeed, the situation has not changed. The West considers our land, our skies and our seas to be fair game. Once again it is colonizing us, plundering our riches, imposing tyrannical rulers on us. They promise us freedom, sovereignty, independence and human rights.. They lie and lie and lie... However, we can only blame ourselves. The West works for its own interests while we vainly fight with ourselves and willingly head towards civil strife. "Once bitten, twice shy", but here we are being bitten continuously.