Thursday, December 18, 2014

Arab Orthodox Call to Cease Commemoration of Patriarch Theophilos

Arabic original below the jump.

Statement of the Arab Orthodox Youth in Jordan and Palestine and the Orthodox Society

On December 15, 2014, the Arab Orthodox Youth learned that the so-called "Holy" Synod of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem decided at its meeting that day under the presidency of His Eminence Theophilos, Archbishop of Tabor and so-called "Patriarch" to punish the Reverend Archimandrite Chrisophoros, abbot and spiritual father of the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring in Dibbeen, with ecclesial dismissal and expulsion from the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher because of his having asked the illegitimate patriarch to apply the canons of the Church in the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

This decision comes after a series of other arbitrary decisions issued against several priests and monks, threatening them in order to silence the voice of truth within them, which is an  unprecedented approach in the history of the Church. This has come as a result of the illegitimate Patriarch Theophilos' violation of the canons in force in the "Mother of Churches", including his refusal to apply Jordanian law number 27 of the year 1958, his repeated violations of the Canons of the Holy Apostles (numbers 25, 29, 30, 35, 36, 38 and 58), his rejection of the repeated demands by clergy and lay members of the flock to perform his sacerdotal and pastoral duties as patriarch in addition to his many and deliberate abuses against the Arab monks and venerable priests, his many other abuses against the Orthodox Church through disregarding the Apostolic Canons and the canons of the Patriarchate, his unjust campaigns to politicize and Judaize the Church, and his silence about the symbols of corruption within her which have distorted the glorious image of the Church along with her honorable patriotic positions and  has caused scandal and division among the members of the same Church and the same nation.

With this statement, we reply to this uncanonical decision issued by an unqualified synod and declare that His Eminence Theophilos, Archbishop of Tabor, is not the legitimate patriarch of the Church of Jerusalem. He is unworthy of trust and neither he nor his synod represents us or represents the Arab Orthodox flock in Jordan and Palestine. The decisions issued by this synod are void and have no connection to the Church and will be combated. From this very moment, we declare his deposition from being spiritual father of the Orthodox Church in Jordan and Palestine after ten years of his ignoring the demands of the Arab flock, his intransigence, his racism and his flagrant violations of Jordanian law pertaining to the Patriarchate. We likewise ask all sincere priests to refrain from commemorating his name as patriarch at divine liturgies and also to refrain from commemorating the names of Bishops Venedectos and Philoumenos, as they are members of this so-called synod and are direct accomplices in this sinister decision, and to replace the name of Theophilos with that of the Ecumenical Patriarch, as historically he is the first  among equals.

We declare to everyone, near and far, that the Reverend Father Christophoros, pastor of our only Orthodox monastery in Jordan shall remain in his monastery in dignity and honor no matter what, and shall celebrate the divine liturgy at the appointed times and the services of the Church as usual. No harm will come to him so long as we are his flock, as the flock chooses its pastor.

Here we are surprised by the position of the Jordanian government and the Palestinian National Authority which support the unworthy Theophilos who represents a historical colonization of the Orthodox Church with his racist policy against the people of this country. We wonder about the forces that support the so-called Theophilos, push back against the Arab Orthodox cause and flex its muscles against the Arab Orthodox in Jordan and Palestine. We hold the governments entirely responsible for the eventual results of this ecclesial crisis.

As the Arab Orthodox youth in Jordan have submitted to His Majesty King Abdullah bin Hussain a petition containing around ten thousand signatures of Jordanian citizens regarding the Arab Orthodox issue that absolutely supports the position of Father Christophoros, the Arab Orthodox youth appeal to His Hashemite Majesty to intervene immediately and directly to bring justice to the case of Father Christophoros Atallah and the Arab Orthodox flock and to right the injustice and historical slander committed against us by the Greek colonizers.

We ask the patriarchs of the Orthodox Churches in the world to send official delegations to meet with representatives of the Orthodox flock in Jordan and Palestine and to ascertain all the facts with total transparency and impartiality and to provide the prospective recommendations before it is too late.

The Arab Orthodox Youth in Jordan and Palestine and the Orthodox Society

Amman, December 16, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Princeton to Offer Intensive Course on Christian Arabic in May 2015

From here.
Intensive Course on Christian Arabic
Princeton, New Jersey (USA) May 11-15, 2015
Thanks to a number of generous grants from the David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Project, over the last few years the Near Eastern Studies Department at Princeton University has organized a series of short, intensive courses for graduate students on a variety of subjects in the broad field of Islamic studies not normally covered in the Princeton curriculum. In each case, an internationally-recognized expert has been brought in to teach the course over a period of five weekdays.
This year, we plan to offer such a course on Christian Arabic.
The course will take place in May, starting on Monday May 11, and ending on Friday, May 15, 2015. The course is intended primarily for graduate students, both from Princeton and from other universities; applicants should have some knowledge of medieval Middle Eastern history.
The instructor will be Alexander Treiger of Dalhousie University, an expert on Christian Arabic literature, Sufism, and medieval Arabic philosophy. The course will focus on Christian literature in Arabic, with emphasis on the Arabic-speaking Chalcedonian Christians (called “Melkites” or “Rum”). The first part (Days 1-2) will offer a general survey of Middle Eastern Christianity, its ecclesiastical, ethnic, and linguistic divisions, and Christian Arabic Studies as a field of research, central to the study of the Christian Orient and highly pertinent to neighboring fields (Late Antiquity, Syriac Studies, Islamic Studies, Byzantine Studies, etc.). Particular attention will be given to the library of the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai – arguably the richest repository of Arab Christian manuscripts in the world, at least as far as Melkite material is concerned. A special session will therefore be devoted to dated manuscript colophons from the Sinai collection. The second part of the course (Days 3-5) will focus on select genres of Christian literature in Arabic: biblical and patristic translations, apologetic and polemical literature, and world chronicles. Select texts will be read in printed editions (whenever available) and in manuscripts. 

Application process and deadlines
Applications must be emailed to Judy Schedneck ( at the Near Eastern Studies Department at Princeton University by February 19, 2015. The subject line of the email should read, “Application for Christian Arabic Workshop.” Applications should comprise the following:
Letter of application with statement of interest
Names, positions, and email addresses of two referees
All items should be included in a single attachment, which may be a pdf.
Successful applicants will be notified in early-to-mid March 2015 and students accepted for the course but coming from outside of Princeton will receive partial scholarships to help defray travel and accommodation costs. The course itself is free.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Bibliographical Guide to Arab Orthodox Christianity

Dr Alexander Treiger, a professor at Dalhousie University and co-editor of The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700-1700: An Anthology of Sources has posted for download on his page an extremely useful bibliography of scholarly works pertaining to Arab Orthodox Christianity and translations of primary sources into English and other Western languages.

It can be downloaded here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Met Georges Khodr: Your Life is Hidden with Christ

Arabic original here.

Your Life is Hidden with Christ

In the text of the Epistle assigned for us today, the Apostle Paul addresses the Colossians saying, "Your life is hidden with Christ in God... When Christ, who is our life, appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory."

Christ is our life. This meas that every good thing is in Him and every truth is from Him. This expression must be taken literally. These are words spoken between lovers: "You are my life." That is, "I have no existence apart from this constant encounter between us." Thus, says Paul, we have no existence if we are not being constantly transformed into the face of Christ who is our life. Of course, Paul is realistic and he knows that man constantly falls into sin. However, Paul says that those who are in Christ expel sin like healthy bodies expel a foreign body. When there is surgery that requires implanting a new member, the patient remains in danger of his body rejecting the foreign member until that foreign member takes on the characteristics of the healthy body and the patient is healed. It is exactly in this sense that the Apostle Paul says, "Put on the new man." Put on the new man who is healed in Jesus Christ, then you will expel every illness within you. A Christian may commit sins, but if he is truly in Christ Jesus, then the light of Christ will inter into the folds of his darkened soul and show him the ugliness of his condition. Christ is in him, leading him to expel the sin that is in him, to heal and purify himself and to yearn for the new, healed man that he acquired at baptism.

This new man, Paul continues, who was planted in us at baptism, "is renewed in knowledge in the image of his Creator." Thus the constant longing for Christ that is planted in us at baptism is renewed and constantly grows. He is renewed in the image of his Creator. That is, he becomes like God. This is Christianity: the human person extending from earth to heaven. There are no boundaries before the Christian, no ceiling over his head. He pushes up against heaven. He does not want anything less than heaven. The Christian truly strives to become a god. He is renewed in the image of the Creator. As long as the believer's face is constantly toward his Lord, as long as he fixes his gaze upon Him, despite his weaknesses and his sin, then he will be transformed into the glory of Christ's face.

Then Paul goes even further when he goes on to say that if we have this love for Christ, this constant longing for Him, "there is no Jew nor Greek". This means that there is no fence between people and no enmity and so "neither slave no free". Why do people enslave each other? Why is there oppression and tyranny? Why do people despise each other? Because they are slaves to created things, outside the communion of the love of Christ. We cannot ask a person to refrain from sin and from greed, which is idolatry, unless he becomes free in Christ. This is what the Holy Scriptures confirm to us and what the Church calls us to as she takes us to receive the feast that comes to us with blessings.

The Church calls us to try to be people who want to exterminate sin within ourselves: greed, impurity, lust in all their variety. The Church calls us today from slavery to the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus. She says to us that the newborn God is given to us anew at Christmas so that we may know His headship. Let us confess before His light that we are weak, and that faced with this weakness, we want Him to be in us strength and life.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on Sheikh Abdallah al-Alayli

Arabic original here.

Islam according to the Approach of al-Alayli

Sheikh Abdallah al-Alayli (1914-1996) was characterized by boldness and progressiveness where other jurists held back. He published the book Where is the Error? Correcting Concepts of Renewal.... (First printing, Dar al-Ilm li-l-Malayin, 1978; Second printing, Dar al-Jadid, 1992) in which he criticized, from his position as an expert in Islamic jurisprudence [fiqh], various juridical issues that he saw to be at a variance with the correct Islamic method. Very quickly the first printing of his book was prevented from publication and distribution.

Al-Alayli decries the paucity of those who can properly be qualified as experts in jurisprudence. A jurist [faqih] must "possess the gift of acquiring, not of ordering for something. The jurist is not one who memorized what has been said, but the one who deduces and infers from what has been said. His disapproval grows when he deals with traditional jurists who rush to serve the governing authorities and to justify their actions and transgressions. He cites as a glaring example of this the issue of a monopoly over oil, which he views as public property which, on the basis of a prophetic hadith that says, "People are partners in three things: water, pasturage and fire", must be for the benefits of all Arabs and Muslims, not only the countries that produce it.

Al-Alayli also calls for the necessity of active legal reasoning [ijtihad] even in issues where there is a "consensus", especially if it is "of the sort of late consensus that does not stand up to argument unless it is based on conclusive evidence." Therefore, according to al-Alayli, Abu Hanifa did not accept the consensus of subsequent generations with his famous statement "they are men and we are men". By this statement, he meant that each generation has the right to use reason in the issues at hand and to discern the appropriate response by relying on Islamic principles, especially the Qur'an and hadith. Thus al-Alayli does not oppose civil marriage because he sees nothing in the Qur'an or the hadith that prevents the marriage of a Muslim woman to a man from the People of the Book. In this regard he says, "This issue is basically without any proof, except for the practice of the ancients, which became widespread."

With regard to punitive and criminal punishments and their application in Islam, al-Alayli puts forward an ideal rule for dealing with the issue, "The stipulated punishments are not in themselves intended literally, but rather what is intended is their goals." Punishment, according to al-Alayli, "has the purpose of deterrence. Anything that has this effect is equivalent to it. It remains the maximal, most severe punishment to be relied upon when all other deterrents are exhausted" and "it is not resorted to except when everything else is despaired of." However, he affirms that there are rulings that have no basis in Islam and must be eliminated, including stoning. He says, "There is no stoning in Islam... despite what has been spread about regarding it calling for stoning, it relies upon a group of hadiths that do not rise above the rank of hasan [i.e., one step below a 'sound' hadith]."

Al-Alayli's approach is based on his famous saying, "Tradition with error is not conservatism and reform that achieves knowledge is not deviance."  For this reason he came into conflict with the traditional religious establishment that connects the correct path with the literalist preservation of tradition, while he strove to reform the traditionalist viewpoint so that it could be closer to the authentic concepts of Islam.

Al-Alayli placed man at the heart of his thinking about religious renewal. He realized that religion was made for man by the Lord of the Universe out of mercy and kindness, "so Islam respects man in himself, insofar as he is man. .. Islam believes in man comprehensively, as a whole." This is the Islam that we knew in many historical periods in our country and which we hope to know once more in our own days, Islam according to the approach of al-Alayli.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Met Georges Khodr on the Sabbath and the Meaning of the Law

Arabic original here.

The Sabbath

Today's Gospel reading talks to us about the healing worked by the Lord on the Sabbath. The issue of keeping the Sabbath played a very important role in the life of the Lord, since the conspiracy of the Jews to kill Him began when Jesus healed the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (Matthew 16:9-13). From that time, the Gospel tells us, they conspired to kill Him because they believed that He not only broke the Law as they interpreted it, but He was also demolishing the Jewish political order.

If we want to examine the true reason for killing Jesus in the minds of the Jews and their leaders, we find that it is that Jesus wanted to extend the boundaries of the People of God beyond Israel, to bring the gentiles into the covenant between God and humankind, to allow all humankind to enjoy God's sweetness and His blessings and, as a result, to break the Jews' state of insularity and do away with their feelings of superiority.

The Sabbath was a symbol of Jewish exclusionism, of Jewish racism and this is why the Jews took such a hard position against the Lord on account of what they regarded as his having transgressed the Law. The Lord came and wanted the people to transcend their obstinacy. He wanted to make it clear to them that the Sabbath was made for man and that every law was set down for the sake of man. Man was not created for the law. The Law exists for the sake of man, for his growth and knowledge of God. This is why Jesus brought something new in human history: He taught us that man, his heart and his spirit is better than the law and that we may transgress the law for the sake of man.

The days when marriages are not permitted to take place, the days when we must fast, fasting before receiving the Eucharist and so forth... these good, human rules were set forth in the councils, but they are general rules. If there is good for man in transgressing the law, then we should not be attached to general rules. For example, someone may be exempted from fasting and someone may be given the Eucharist even if he did not fast because there is a good in receiving it and this person may be in need of it. Therefore, let us not be attached to the law of fasting with regard to this person in this particular circumstance. This rests on the shoulders of the one who is responsible for discerning situations.

What is important is that our relationship with God be a relationship of spirit to spirit, the relationship of the human heart to God's heart, not a relationship of slaves submitting to an external law. What is important is that we transform the commandment from an imposed law to a beloved law. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Honor thy father and thy mother... These begin as external commandments that a person learns and sometimes feels to be a nightmare because he considers God to be far away and external and assaulting him. But if the believer knows God as his Father and realizes himself to be a Son to God, then he comes to realize that the commandment are not a nightmare that are imposed and are not like the sabbath of the Jews, but rather something beloved that points the way to salvation.

In Christ Jesus was have been transported from fear to live, to hope, to trust. Thus, as we go along our path to Christmas, we must not feel that Christianity is something external to us, merely rituals and social customs, like the sabbath of the Jews. Let us not be content to put a creche under the Christmas tree, but rather let us strive to transform our heart into into a manger to receive Christ. In this way we make the faith in our heart into a vision of Christ, holding close to Him and loving Him, so that Christ may be born in us as a wellspring of goodness and giving, and that our Lord may become everything in our life. In this way, we grow in the love of Jesus until Christ says in Himself, "Every house in this diocese is My house as though I am born in it and in the hearts of its people every day."

Georges, Metropolitan of Jbeil and Batroun (Mount Lebanon)
December 7, 2014

Monday, December 8, 2014

La Croix on Russia's Role Protecting Middle Eastern Christians

French original, by Samuel Lieven, here.

Russia Aims to be the Protector of Eastern Christians

Starting on December 4, Moscow is waging a diplomatic offensive on several fronts to come to the aid of Christians in the Middle East.

A historical legacy, the Russian presence in the region tends to occupy the void left by the Western powers.

As the conflicts in Iraq and Syria continue to bathe the region in blood, Russia plays its cards in the Middle East where more than ever it is positioning itself as the champion of the protection of Christians. After the categorical rejection of military intervention against Damascus in 2012 and 2013, it is now time for the offensive in multilateral forums.

During the course of a ministerial council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Basel on Thursday, December 5 and Friday, December 6 dedicated to the situation in Ukraine and the struggle against international terrorism, Moscow intends to seek that more steps be taken for the Christians of the Middle East and North Africa. Simultaneously in Geneva, a Russian draft resolution for coming to the aid of the Christians of the region may be submitted to the United Nations Council for Human Rights.

There is nothing new about Russian activism on behalf of the Christians of the Middle East. "In the late 19th century, the protection of Orthodox minorities in the region was the workhorse of the Russian Empire, as indeed,  France and Austria were the principal powers protecting the Catholics," remarks Carol Saba, director of communication for the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in France. After the long, anomalous Soviet period and the end of the Cold War, now that France and the United States are less and less present in the Middle East, Moscow is making a return, including in its portfolio the safeguarding of Christian communities.

"The Christian roots of European Civilization have been forgotten."

These initiatives on the diplomatic front are being accompanied by a more general discourse on the defense of Christian values and the struggle against "Christianophobia". In an article published on November 25 on the website of the English-language Russian network, the Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Alexander Yakovenko, called upon European countries to take into account "the Christian roots of the European civilization, which are now often forgotten for the sake of political correctness." "These are two sides of the same coin," says Fr Nicholas Kazarian, an Orthodox priest and a researcher affiliated with the Institute for International and Strategic Relations, "Facing a secularized west accused of having abdicated on values, Russia is positioning itself as the protector of Christianity wherever it is attacked, in the East as in the West."

The Syrian conflict has served to catalyze this policy. "From the beginning, the Russians have taken into account the analysis of local prelates: even if it is far from representing the ideal, the regime of  Bashar al-Asad at least has the merit of protecting Christians in the face of the Islamist menace," summarizes Stanislas de Laboulaye, a former diplomat posted successively to Jerusalem, Moscow and the Holy See.

However, as explains Fr Nicholas Kazarian, it is especially the ancientness of the ties between the Patriarchate of Antioch (the most important church in Syria) and the Patriarchate of Moscow that explains the existence today of a veritable "religious axis" between Moscow and Damascus. This is especially true as regards the ancient Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society: in March 2013, it sent 70 tons of aid to Damascus, to which was added a check for 1.3 million dollars from the Patriarchate of Moscow. Visits at the highest level-- Patriarch Kirill of Moscow to Aleppo in 2011 and Patriarch  John X of Antioch to Moscow in early 2014-- illustrate the quality of the historic ties between the two patriarchal sees.

"It appears for the moment that this solidarity is only a moral solidarity."

However, as in the 19th century, this aid remains selective and primarily concerned with the Orthodox. In October, the Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch received a representative from Patriarch Kirill of Moscow who came to assure him of the "solidarity of his church with the suffering of the Christians of the Middle East." "But for our church, it seems for the moment that this solidarity is only a moral solidarity," according to someone in his circle. Likewise in Iraq, where Petros Moshe, Syrian Catholic Archbishop of Mosul today has taken refuge in Kurdistan along with the majority of Christians from the Niniveh Plain. "Despite all the sympathies expressed in official declarations, I have never seen any Russian aid materialize for Iraqi Christians."

On the ground, reactions to the Russian presence are divided. "Those who have a knife to their throat after having been forcibly displaced, who have lost their relatives and have seen their churches and monasteries burned, are inevitably receptive to talk of the powerful Russian Church that comes to their aid," says someone close to Patriarch John X of Antioch.

Others, while remaining grateful, prefer to emphasize that the future is citizenship, not the protection of minorities. Georges Massouh, a professor at the Orthodox Balamand University, takes a  harsher position. "The US, France or Russia, it's the same fight! Under the pretext of defending minorities, these powers have always put their own interests first: oil, gas, access to warm water ports... It is for us, Christians and Muslims of the region, to rebuild our political contract without intervention from outside."