Thursday, May 28, 2015

Met Georges Kodr on Unity with Druze and Muslims

Arabic original here.

Metropolitan Khodr from Shoueifat: Prove that You are One with the Druze and also with the Muslims

Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Mount Lebanon Georges Khodr presided at the divine liturgy in the Church of Saint Michael in Dhour Shoueifat to bless the building of the Mitri Jirji Murr Social House net to the church. Celebrating with him in the service was the parish priest, Fr Elias Karam and Deacon Georges Shalhoub, with a crowd of parishioners and neighbors in attendance.

After the Holy Gospel and the offering of prayers and blessings for the building project, which is funded by Dr Georges Mitri, Metropolitan Georges gave a sermon in which he said, "I, the head of the Orthodox Church in this region, say-- we are one with the Druze monotheists. You must live this, not just as religious rhetoric, daily in social life, in the relations between families, in friendship and in love."

He added: "You Christians, prove that you are one with the Druze in this region, and also with the Muslims. If you do not do this, I do not recognize you. May the Lord help us all to remain one people."

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Carol Saba: We Need a Prophetic Antiochian Patriarch

Arabic original here.

We Need a Prophetic Antiochian Patriarch who will cry out in the Wilderness of this World in Crisis: Enough!

Until when some Christians celebrate with Christ Palm Sunday, while others celebrate already His resurrection. Who today has the courage for Antiochian Christian unity as a prelude to a united overall Christian witness, since the world today is in dire need of this? Has the time not come for Middle Eastern Christianity to discern the signs of the times, the eschatological meanings of their current suffering and what is needed of them? Two events of late have spoken to us of unity: Patriarch John X's receiving the medal of "Unity of the Orthodox Peoples" from the Patriarch of Moscow in Russia on February 20 of this year and the joint Paschal letter of the Patriarchs of Antioch. Russia's choice of John X, who bears the suffering of wounded Antioch, is appropriate, as he is patiently working to preserve Orthodox unity despite the blows dealt against it. This does not eliminate the question of what Orthodox unity means today. Is it only a unity of faith without a unity of condition and fate requiring unlimited solidarity among all ̄Orthodox? Is it a verbal unity that appears only in photographs of events and then disappears on the ground of reality and hopes? Where are the Orthodox churches when it comes to the fire that is ravaging the body of the Church of Antioch? Where are these Churches of the words of Paul, "If one member suffers, all suffer together"? What have these churches done about the decision of the Church of Jerusalem in 2013 to consecrate its own bishop for Qatar on territory belonging to the Church of Antioch, since this is an attack on Orthodox unity and the canons of the councils on which it is based? What have the churches done-- apart from issuing statements-- to move vigorously globally to end the suffering of Christians in the Middle East? What have they done about the kidnapping of Metropolitans Paul and Yuhanna of Aleppo? Have they called each other to hold open, extraordinary summits or to go to the United Nations to protest and sound a world-wide alarm? Have they set up crisis centers to follow events and raise awareness? What events would be more critical so as to require extraordinary actions? The Orthodox churches are in a crisis. They live as "churches" and not as one Church. This reminds me of the image of Nikos Kazantzakis in his book Christ Recrucified which recounts the struggle among Orthodox who have been expelled from their village in Asia Minor by the Turks and have entered another Orthodox village subject to the authority of a different Turkish agha, which enjoys prosperity and a dignified life. This village that is bloated with worldly acquisitions and whose priest is bloated with authority and worldly interests treats the foreign brothers and their homeless upright, spiritual priest as foreigners and not as brothers in Christ who are suffering, homeless and exhausted. The "bloated" church has only expressed verbal solidarity with the “suffering” church without sharing in her pain and giving her shelter and clothing. It has pushed her out into the outdoors, into distant wilderness.

The situation of the Orthodox Church today is not surprising. There is no critical, spiritual assessment in the Church of purity and holiness. There is no prospective reading of the modernity of today's world and of the requirements of an intelligent witness to the Gospel in it. The logic of maintaining existence overshadows the logic of proclaiming the Good News, of bearing witness and of giving. As for our ecclesiology that supposes communion and the participation of all talents, lay and clerical, in the Church's decision-making process through wider institutionalized consultation, it is not put into practice in the Church. Instead, the Church's governance today is based on a vertical hierarchy of authority that accumulates a great deal of spiritual and professional experience that is not put into use and that is not put to the benefit of the mother churches. Effective unity cannot be based on the churches constantly living "in parallel" nor on their living in the past, where there is a great deal of maintaining a museum but very little intelligent motion for interacting with today's world, a world of networks and interconnectivity. Unity will come down to us if we strive to be engaged together-- without eliminating diversity-- in a plan for a united Christian witness, in which there is tradition and modernity, that will shorten history and hasten the Second Coming.

In the West there is a bold pope who is trying to condense history and expel the money-changers from the Lord's temple. He dealt out harsh words for them when he spoke to the Catholic bishops who "have become administrators with no evangelical joy within them, who are not moved by the Holy Spirit." Is there a patriarch, an Antiochian prophet, who has the courage for Antiochian Christian unity as a prelude to a united Christian witness? I have trust in the youthfulness of John X, who took the first step of holding the Antiochian Unity Conference in June 2014. But terrible breaks were put on the conference by the conservative church, weighed down by accumulations, that has been deserted by pastoral care concerns. The conference and its recommendations came and went and were entered into the archives rather than bringing into our church a program of unity and modernity for shaping the future of the Church of Antioch. Striving for unity requires bearing witness unto death, the death of the cross. There is no resurrection and no role for Antioch in the process of Christian unity unless Antioch is renewed without modernizing. Does Antioch, which has always been at the forefront of pointing the way to what is essential in the universal Church, hear the voice of the Lord who stands knocking at the door? Is John X the prophetic patriarch needed here and now to cry out in the wilderness of this world in crisis with the boldness of John the Forerunner and like him say, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said"?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Met Ephrem Kyriakos on Pastoring

Arabic original here.


After His resurrection from the dead, the Lord Jesus appeared to His disciples in Galilee, as He had already told them, and He gave them the following commandment:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)

Recall also what the Gospel mentions more than once: "Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people." (Matthew 9:35)

Last but not least, He appeared to the disciples on the evening of Pentecost and "breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'" (John 20:22-23)

In these passages from the Gospel and others, He encourages His disciples (and among them, of course, pastoral priests) by way of imitating Him and through His commandments about the necessity of teaching, evangelizing, practicing the sacrament of confession and the forgiveness of sins, and healing soul and body.

We likewise see the Apostle Paul addressing his disciple Timothy and saying, " be an example to the believers" and also "give attention to reading, to preaching, to teaching... take heed to yourself and to teaching" (1 Timothy 4: 12, 13, 16), with the result being the that priest must exert himself for the sake  of preaching and teaching and also for the healing of his own soul and the souls of others.

Of course, each one of us has his talents and his weaknesses. We pastors must know and admit our weaknesses and at the very least control them so that they will not become a stumbling-block. At the same time, we must develop our talents in order to build up the Church, the Body of Christ. In this way, the Church may contribute to the pastoring and healing of souls through us, the spiritual physicians.

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Here I will address our beloved pastoral priests. A priest who is a pastor does not demand rights-- he only has duties. The prophet Ezekiel says, "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves... You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool... but you do not feed the flock... The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost" (Ezekial 34:2-4).

In the New Testament we precisely see the profound, fundamental work of the pastor in following the example of the Lord Jesus, who alone is the Good Shepherd. He says, "I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep."

The Lord Jesus practiced this type of pastoring with His death on the cross. In the Book of Revelation, He says, "the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them" (Revelation 7:17). "Behold in the midst of the throne stands a lamb as though it had been slain... known before the foundation of the world" (cf. Revelation 5:6 and 1 Peter 1:20).

The Lord practiced this pastoring all through His life on this earth in His sacrifice, as He suffered in secret on account of His love for man and his salvation from the establishment of the world and even to the end of ages. This is the highest model for imitation.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, Koura and Their Dependencies

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III: The EU Should Side with Damascus

Italian original, conducted by Pietro Vernizzi, here.

 Gregory III Lahham: We are Paying for the Mistakes of the EU and Obama

The Italian Episcopal Conference has decided to dedicate the Vigil of Pentecost on May 23 to "today's martyrs". That is, to the Christians who are persecuted throughout the world, a drama without geographical limits, even if it is particularly serious in areas of Syria and Iraq controlled by the Islamic State. After having killed or expelled thousands of Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities, the Caliphate launched an offensive to conquer the Iraqi city of Ramadi. Yesterday Syrian Air Force fighters continued to bomb the suburbs of Palmyra, a Syrian city where violent clashes are taking place between the regular army and ISIS fighters. The ruins from the Greek and Roman periods make Palmyra one of the wonders of humanity, which are now at risk of disappearing if the city falls to the Islamic State. For Gregory III Lahham, a Syrian Catholic patriarch with his see in Damascus, "those who want to destroy the remains of Sumerian civilization, the historic site of Palmyra, and the Christian churches of Syria are not acting against this religion or that but against human values."

On May 23 prayers will be held for all "today's martyrs". How is the situation of Christians in Syria?

The war that is taking place in Syria is a tragedy for everyone, since Christians and Muslims, Sunnis and Shi'ites, Druze and Yezidis are all under attack. The situation is particularly tragic in Aleppo, whose churches have all been destroyed or seriously damaged. The entire city has been turned into an enormous prison that is impossible to either enter or exit.

How is the situation in the capital and surrounding regions?

Damascus is not at risk of incursions on the ground but fears bombardments. The situation in Christian villages like Maaloula at the moment is calm. Currently, the battle is particularly violent around Palmyra and the North is also in danger.

Syria has been experiencing war for four years. How are Christians living during this period?

Christians live in the strong hope of peace shared by all Syrians of good will. It cannot be said that what is happening in Syria is a persecution against Christians. This is what is happening in Iraq, while Syrian Christians are victims of war rather than victims of persecution, even if we Christians, since we are a group that is weaker than others, are more exposed to this tragedy.

What can Western Christians do for their Syrian brothers?

There is need for material aid, so that the Syrian churches can be close to their faithful, especially the refugees. For example, my patriarchate in Damascus has to spend between 40 and 50 thousand dollars a month for refugees. But there is also a need for constant contact between the episcopal conferences of the major European countries and the local church in Syria.

In what way?

I invite the Italian bishops to come and pray with us in Damascus because this would be a symbolic gesture of enormous value. Moreover, helping the Christians means working for peace. The Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, the Oriental churches, the Anglicans and the Protestants should sign a declaration for peace in Syria, in Iraq and in Palestine.

How do you assess the advances of ISIS in Palmyra and Ramadi?

This is a question that should be addressed to a general, not to me. War is war, it goes back and forth. ISIS is strong insofar as it is supported by so many countries, whether Arab or European. The United States should be more serious and help the Syrian government.

How so?

Syria is a nation, not a regime. I do not understand why Washington aids the so-called "moderate" rebel factions, which are made moderate, so to speak. Today we should all recognize that we have no alternative. This Syrian opposition is divided and corrupt and therefore it is useless to aid an element that is so weak, because this makes more victims among the Syrian population.

What do you mean when you state the ISIS is aided by European countries?

We know that every day there are young Italians, English and French who are leaving for Syria with the intention of joining the ranks of fundamentalist groups. I would not call these organizations Islamic because they are purely military groups. It is not a war between Islam and Christianity, but rather a struggle for human values. those who want to destroy the remains of Sumerian civilization, the historic site of Palmyra, and the Christian churches of Syria are not acting against this religion or that but against human values.

What responsibilities do European states have for the young people who are joining ISIS? 

The point is that the European Union lacks a single position and is not working seriously for peace in the Middle East. The EU is indecisive and is not taking effective steps to end the war. If the 28 countries had a single strong position, it would be possible to put an end to ISIS' influence in the Middle East. The Arab world is divided because Europe is divided. The most effective bulwark against ISIS is the Syrian state and therefore if the EU clearly sided with Damascus, it could truly contribute to putting an end to ISIS. There should be a common declaration of the EU in support of the Syrian government.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Videos: Christianity in the Near East: Past, Present...Future?

This past academic year, Princeton University held a series of seminars entitled Christianity in the Near East: Past, Present...Future? These can now be viewed online here.

"Melkites and Muslims: the Longue Durée of the Arabic Orthodox Church"
Sidney H. Griffith
Catholic University of America
November 5, 2014 at 4:30pm

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"Like a Tree Planted by the Waters: The Deep Roots of Armenians in Jerusalem"
Roberta Ervine
St. Nersess Armenian Seminary
December 9, 2014 at 4:30pm

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 "The Role of Christians- in the Past - within the Arab-Islamic Society of the Middle East" (Lecture One)
Fr. Samir Khalil Samir
Saint-Joseph University, Beirut
April 29, 2015 at 12pm

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"The Role of Christians - Today and Tomorrow - within the Arab-Islamic Society of the Middle East" (Lecture Two)
Fr. Samir Khalil Samir
Saint-Joseph University, Beirut
May 1, 2015 at 12pm

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Gone is the Glory of Constantinople... But Christ Remains

Arabic original here.

Gone is the Glory of Constantinople... But Christ Remains

Jesus announced that the worship of God is not tied to a specific place as God is not contained by space and He cannot be bound in an exclusive place toward which those who want to be in His presence must pray or make pilgrimage. Thus when the Samaritan woman asked Him, "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain (Gerezim in Samaria), and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship," Jesus answered her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father... the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth" (John 4:20-23).

God is present in every place and there is no place on the face of this earth from which God is absent. God is present where His people gathers in His name. The Apostle Paul affirms this when he says, "I shall dwell in them and walk among them. I shall be their God and they shall be My people" (2 Corinthians 6:16). God is a wanderer who does not settle in one place. He does not require people to come to Him in a specific place. He comes to them whenever they call upon Him and seek Him.

In this context, Saint Basil the Great (d. 379) comments on Jesus' words to the Samaritan woman and says that worship is no longer tied to a specific geographical location since the Holy Spirit has become the "place of worship". Christ also is the place of worship and the Gospel of Saint John clearly speaks of the end of worship in the temple of Jerusalem since Jesus Himself is the new "temple" and there is no need for a temple built in a city or on a mountain.

When the Jews asked Jesus for a sign, He answered them, "'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up... ' But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them" (John 2:18-22). Jesus came. He became man. He destroyed death. He fulfilled the prophecies. He abrogated Judaism. He ended exclusivity. He rejected being closed off. He fought racism. He established a new covenant. He made everything new.

Therefore Christianity does not believe in holy lands as opposed to non-holy lands. All the earth is called to holiness through the effort of those living upon it to sanctify themselves. Holiness belongs to humans, not to land. Man, not dust, is holy. Man-- not mountains, not lakes, not rivers, not plains-- is called to eternal life. Man-- and not any other created thing-- is the image of God, called to be His likeness. Man is the highest value, for the sake of which God created everything, not vice versa.

However, Christianity is a religion that believes in the incarnation and thus in the connection between faith and bearing witness and the local church which exists in a specific geographic space. The Epistle to Diognetus affirms the connection between these two things. This epistle was composed in the late 2nd century by an unknown Christian author for a pagan named Diognetus who held an important position in the Roman Empire and had asked the writer for a letter to explain Christianity and Christians and especially to explain the God of the Christians, how they glorify Him, and why Christians do not fear dying for their faith. The style of the Epistle shows that its author was a cultured person skilled in the Greek language and rhetoric in addition to theology.

The Epistle says, "For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs.For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practice an extraordinary kind of life...  But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvelous, and confessedly contradicts expectation. They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign."

Gone is the glory of Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians. Gone is the glory of Constantinople, the great capital of Orthodoxy. Gone is the glory of Cappadocia, Nicea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, Smyrna, Rusafa and Palmyra... but the glory of the Christians shall not end so long as they hold fast to faith in Jesus Christ and carry Him with them wherever they wander, wherever they are taken, wherever they settle. Jesus alone is their glory.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Met Georges Khodr on Sectarian Prejudice

Arabic original here.

Sectarian Prejudice

Prejudice [al-ta3assub] comes from the word 'nerve' [3asab]. That is, a movement of emotions that is only slightly governed by reason. The deep question is how you can be religious and not love the people of your religion in a special way since there is a deep, fundamental bond between you, the bond of faith. Prejudice does not come about from faith in God, if we understand it to be a kind of social solidarity that does not necessarily indicate any religious feelings that bring you together with your fellow believers or distance you from those with other beliefs. To speak philosophically, prejudice is a tribal feeling that is without content and is based on a knee-jerk solidarity with the people of your religion, whether with much or little understanding.

Prejudice is always tied to ignorance of the other's religion or the reality of what is in the other's heart. Your opinion is based on what you have heard socially about these people or that, about the habits that you attribute to the people of a religion about which you might know little because if you knew much, then you would have to esteem and respect it if you love rightly.

Most often, our knowledge of the situation shows that those who hate people of another religion or have reservations about them only know a little about them and their religion. I am completely sure that if you are a Christian and you know a lot about Islam and love what you know, your heart will embrace the Muslims around you and if you are educated, you will hold in esteem much from their religion and openly recognize the truth that is in their religion.

Then, if your heart expands for good things, you will see that in his religion there is a splendor that you would not see if your hart is shut. The time has come for us to be reconciled to the fact that religions are not pens or political parties and that if you them, you can experience their openness, especially if you love the great people of faith in them because deep down they belong to God. I will even dare to say that they come  from God.So long as you do not understand this, you are relegating God to heaven and have not seem Him on earth.

The rule, then, is for you to love people with the same love, no matter what religion they belong to. Your beliefs are for you and you heart is for everyone. Love goes out from you to every person with the same force. If you distinguish in your love between people of different religions, then you do not have religion. In its activity, reason can discriminate. If the heart is pure, it does not discriminate. If people are brought together by hearts, then they are one. Those whose hearts are not open to all types of people have no god. In your heart, you are no closer to the people of your religion. Did the Righteous Augustine not say, "Love your neighbor and do what you will"? This is because the African saint understood that the one who loves does not err.

I understand very deeply that you who are religious love the good people of your religion. This is a profound kinship because it belongs to God. However, I understand just as strongly that the great Christian loves the great Muslim and vice versa because each of them knows that the other belongs to God. With the surety of my Orthodox faith I say that Christian dogma commands me to embrace Muslims with the same love that I have for Christians and that theological conviction does not divide hearts. This is because as a Christian, if you love all people equally, you see them as one in Christ. Religions are not pens and God does not separate between their people, so if God sees them as one, why do you want them to judge each other? I did not say that the religions are one. I said that people are one because God sees them as one.

It is easy for the believer who has attained great religious culture to love all people with the same strength and to distinguish between what they say. In our Christian theology, if a non-Christian is one in behavior with the Christian, then the Lord looks upon them in the same way. According to the most precise Christian teaching, he is a Christian. There are those who have been baptized by their families with water and there are those whom the Lord has baptized by the Holy Spirit, no matter what religion they belong to. In the deepest sense, the Church is what the Lord sees and there are baptized and unbaptized in her.