Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pray for His Beatitude John X, who is Undergoing Eye Surgery

 The Patriarchate of Antioch has released the following official statement (this translation is unofficial, of course):

Balamand, October 28, 2015

Social media sites have spread various reports about the health of Patriarch John X, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East.

In this context, the Antiochian Orthodox Media Center wishes to transmit to you the following message from His Beatitude:

To my beloved and my faithful children,

In the face of all the destruction, forced expulsion and killing that is happening in the region, our bodily pain remains nothing in the face of the difficulties that are good people are passing through.

God permitted that an accident happen, where my foot slipped and my left shoulder and left eye were hurt. I am in good condition, thank God, and in need of a period of healing and recovery.

From the beginning, we did not want to burden you with what happened to me, but since the news was published in Greek and then spread on Facebook, I bow before your sincere love and ask God to protect you from every evil and to heal your wounds.

I ask for your prayers.

John X

Greek original here.

Patriarch of Antioch Injured in the Eye after a Fall

by Andreas Loudaros

According to information exclusive to orthodoxia.info [later confirmed from other sources], Patriarch John of Antioch suffered an accident that nearly caused serious damage to his eye.

The accident happened early Friday morning at the Holy Monastery of the Panagia of Evros in Makri, Alexadroupoli. Just as the patriarch arrived at the monastery church to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, he stumbled and fell.

The fall broke his glasses, injuring his eyes.

The patriarch was immediately taken to the University Hospital of Alexandroupoli, where he underwent tests. According to orthodoxia.info's informed sources, the doctors felt that they should perform surgery on one eye so that it could recover.

After this, the patriarch returned to Athens, where he underwent further ophalmological tests. He may need to visit Paris, where there are physicians who have in the past performed surgery on his eye and know his medical history.

Kyr John has not suffered any further injury after his fall.

as-Safir: The Church is a Bridge for Dialogue in Syria

Arabic original here.

The Church is a Bridge for Dialogue in Syria

by Wissam Abdallah

Since its very beginning, the Church has been influenced by the political, social and economic situation in Syria.

With the country's descent into its latest crisis, the Church has had a variety of positions, from the view of the authorities, represented by the three patriarchal sees in Damascus, to the opinions of Christians which may agree or disagree with the viewpoint and role of the spiritual authorities.

An ecclesiastical source tells as-Safir that the Church's role during the crisis has been to be a bridge for dialogue between various parties and has not been with one side against the other. He adds that, "Ecclesiastical authorities have not exercised their role in the manner demanded of them. They were not a bridge to other groups, so the point of departure was not good and they were unable to effectively raise the awareness of the youth."

The source explains that "From the beginning of the crisis, there was a call to the bishops of various communities to bring together intellectuals, both supporting and opposing [the government], for dialogue and discussion and even debate, so that we could help them to accept the other." He continues, "If we look at most Lebanese and Syrian villages, apart from the entirely homogeneous ones, there are always basic elements, one of which is in the majority Christian. This is proof that the Christian community is a safety valve and open to all. What is needed is to provide humanitarian assistance to all and not, for example, to help rebels buy weapons."

The names of many monks and bishops have become prominent during the crisis for various reasons. The fate of Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo and Alexandretta Paul Yazigi and the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo Yuhanna Ibrahim is still unknown over two years after their kidnapping. In Homs, the Jesuit priest Frans van der Lugt was martyred one day before a ceasefire agreement was reached in the Old City of Homs. He had refused to leave his monastery and preferred to remain and offer help to those taking refuge in it. The priest Paolo dall'Oglio, however, was controversial on account of his political positions in support of the Syrian opposition. Reports indicate that he was kidnapped and is being held in the Syrian province of Raqqa. Priests in Homs also had a role in concluding the ceasefire in the Old City by being present in the buses transporting the rebels to the area of al-Dar al-Kabira. Monks remained in their historic monasteries in Qalamoun even when the rebels arrived there, as in the Monastery of Saint James the Persian."

The churches have organized centers to provide assistance to refugees from various regions. In hotspots such as Homs, Aleppo and Qamishli, churches have transformed into key centers for collecting aid and even provide housing in their halls.

The ecclesiastical source believes that despite the importance of what has been provided, it has not been at the level needed. It would have been possible for one of the church authorities to sell or offer some of the real estate it owns to assist refugees and provide work centers." He points out that when Pope Francis called on every parish or house to receive a refugee family, this appeal was heard in Europe and heeded in various countries, but in our region we have not heard about anyone participating in heeding this call that was issued by the highest authority of the Catholic Church in the world.

Keeping Christians in their land is the primary concern in the Church, which is fundamentally based on the "Christian people." The source explains that the foundation for this is providing a living, the first and most important step to supporting the Christians. He adds, "We can sell them words at conferences, we can give them their fill of lectures about hope, but if there is no economic effect in their daily lives, there is no use to all this talk." He adds that, "The Church is capable of creating initiatives, if it wants to do that. What is needed from various disparate groups, from associations, foundations, etc. is to help each other to strengthen the [Christian] presence and to develop a voice and integrated action. The Church must share in their suffering and sorrows and provide support for job opportunities. The Church is capable on its own of creating these projects."

Fears abound that the war will bring the Lebanese experience to Syria, with the Christians having a Christian leader, party or movement, however the ecclesiastical source states that this is unacceptable. He says, "We are not with a Christian party, but if things go in the direction of stability, then perhaps the state may call for a new constitution after Geneva 3 and call on the various religious communities to contribute to its formulation. We must have a clear vision written out for the new Syria." He adds, "We refuse to be a repeat of the experience of the Lebanese Christian parties and turn into parties that fight each other."

There has been a lot of talk about the Russian military forces in Syria launching a "holy war", but the informed ecclesiastical source, who is in contact with the Russian Orthodox Church, states that what has been said is not an accurate portrayal of the Church's position.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Met Georges Khodr on Political Authority

Arabic original here.


I do not believe that the thought of the Apostle Paul sanctifies political authority absolutely, as might be understood from a superficial reading of his Epistle to the Romans, after he gives a judgment that appears absolute, "there is no authority except from God" (Romans 13:1). The Apostle is not offering a position of principle. He is addressing the Romans according to their situation. For him, authority is Roman authority and he sees it as being in the service of God and cannot imagine that it might not be like that.

We cannot regard Paul's words in this epistle as sanctifying every political authority, no matter how it behaves. The state is under God's rule and if it departs from that it has no sanctity. An authority is invalidated if it removes God's authority over it. Do we necessarily rebel against a political authority if we are convinced that it has removed God's authority? The issue is open and thorny. However, it is proven for us that Christian thought says that the sanctity of authority is not constant. It comes and goes. This raises the issue of rebellion against authority.

Therefore there is no absolute value to any state. It is dependent on its behavior. Authority disappears when there is injustice because it has contradicted the purpose of its existence. Must you eliminate it when it does this? That is an open question. The first answer in principle is that the country's peace is fundamental and so sometimes you accept injustice because it is not the worst thing. I am simply saying that no regime is sacrosanct. The important thing is first of all justice among people and secondly internal peace. Therefore, no regime in place is sacrosanct. The people's peace and justice is sacrosanct. No authority receives its legitimacy from itself. Its legitimacy rests on the sanctity of its actions. Therefore ethicists sometimes permit removing an authority. Their standard is the good of the nation. No ruler is good apart from his actions. That is to say, the political entity is no sacrosanct. Holiness belongs to people and not to regimes. Therefore, in principle, it is possible to remove the regime if it violates people's welfare or freedom.

In the end, authority does not lie with those persons who rule. It lies with justice and when there is unjust tyranny, you are entitled to remove the authority, since it has lost its legitimacy.

Paul assumes that authority is in the service of God for good (Romans 13:8). Therefore it is not true that we submit to the rulers in place merely because they are in place. Authority and goodness are not synonymous. For this reason, ethicists permit rebellion against political authority in some cases. The entire philosophy of democracy is that you judge the authority that is in place. You submit to the authority that is in place if it is in fact with God. However, there is no sanctity to the one who sits in power just because he is in power. The only question is whether the ruler is with God.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: Life in the Holy Spirit

Arabic original here.

Life in the Holy Spirit

In the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul says that Christ is alive in him. In our dogma, we say that Christ is alive in us through the Holy Spirit. Just as the Holy Spirit is in Christ's body in His death and resurrection, He came to be in us through baptism, which is putting sin to death and a new life in the Holy Spirit.

Our unity with Christ is not through another incarnation. Our participation in Him is through the Holy Spirit, in the sense that He is in Him and in Us. He is in His corporeal being that lives after death. The Holy Spirit is not only in the divine being in Christ, but also in His body and so in the Church. The Holy Spirit descended upon Christ's body and He descends upon the Church and dwells within.

God's unity with Christ is a unity of essence because Christ is uncreated in His divine being. He is in the Church, giving Himself to us. We become one with Him by His grace. That is, He makes us one with Him. You are not His partner in essence because your essence is created, but you are with Him by the grace that He sends down upon you. What is this togetherness between you and God? It is that the Holy Spirit, who is one in essence with Christ becomes one with you by His grace. That is, by your sharing in the grace that is in Him. And grace is uncreated.

Here we are in the perfect mystery. We cannot humanly understand how the uncreated dwells in the created without becoming it. How does God enter into us and remain above? How does God's unity with man occur?

A question with no human answer. The divine given is that Christ dwells in us and we do not know how. Christianity says that love is God's dwelling-place with people and that Christ's only word to us is "Love one another even as I have loved you."

In my contemplations, it occurred to me that baptism, marriage and death are all words for one love and that this love is Christianity in the sense that any ecclesiastical order or church hierarchy adds nothing to love. The priesthood, marriage, burial, etc. are all ways of expressing one love.

But in the world, there's need for language. You do not need a language to speak with God. He is your language. In the world, you are forced to write theology because people speak. But fundamentally, if you love you have entered into dialogue. It is all speech.

God's speech to you is in the Gospel and in your spirit He gives you true speech, which is in accordance with God's speech. This is a mystery, how you can say words that theologians regard as belonging to God when they come out of you. The truth is that God speaks in you through the Holy Spirit. Your meaning conforms to His meaning. This is a mystery, how it can be both God's and yours. The answer is that the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit is in you in splendor. He inspires you and the words come from your heart which is filled with the Holy Spirit. This means that your heart is sanctified through the Spirit of God who speaks in words which in reality come down to you from above.

Friday, October 23, 2015

an-Nahar on Amioun's Special Relationship with Russia

Arabic original here.

Amioun Meets the Russians

by Roula Hamid

Building on the twin cities agreement between the towns of Amioun in Koura and Mishovsk in Russia, the Imperial Orthodox Lebanese Cultural Society is preparing to open its first Russian language class.

The twin cities agreement, which was signed between the two towns in 2013, provides for cooperation in culture, economy and tourism-- including religious tourism and pilgrimage.

The society's president, Jirji Barakat, former mayor of the municipality, says that his society has obtained 20 annual scholarships for students wishing to pursue upper-level specialization in Russia and the ground must be prepared for them by providing them with familiarity with the language before they move to Russia.

Russia has focused on the region in an attempt to promote its culture and language and has founded schools in various parts of the Middle East, the number of which has reached 114 schools-- including 35 in Lebanon-- with 15 thousand students. These schools have contributed to the development of the societies in which they are found by providing free modern education as well as the necessary books and supplies.

Amioun as a Model

Many regions of Lebanon have played an important role in interaction with the Russians and no region is without a Russian school. However, the town of Amioun in Koura is considered the capital of Lebanese Orthodoxy, as its residents are proud of saying, and has historically had the most interaction with Russia.

In recent years, some of the people of Amioun started to frequent Russian authorities and the Russian Cultural Center. With time, there awakened the relationship that has tied Amioun to Russia. "Our relations are friendly. Our mutual visits have established a close relationship between the Russians and us inspired by the relations that prevailed in the late 19th century between Amioun and the Russian Empire," as the former mayor of Amioun, Jirji Barakat, tells an-Nahar. He has contributed to reviving the relationship with the Russians by establishing in 2013 an "Amiouni" society with a group of his friends called the Imperial Orthodox Lebanese Cultural Society.

Barakat explains the development of these relations and says, "We started by exchanging ideas about the joint work that we could undertake through these relationships. The twinning between the city of Amioun and the city of Mishovsk in Southern Russia presented itself and the embassy helped with this. All the meetings have taken place through the embassy."

He discussed the dimensions of the twinning, saying that it "incorporates a large group of economic, artistic and sports relationships and various visits involving Russians and Lebanese in general, so that the Russians can learn about our civilization, our situation, and everything connected to our history and also so that we can get to know Russian civilization in its various aspects. The twinning has created a sort of friendliness and friendship between us, especially in the town of Mishovsk."

Barakat then talks about the pillars of the relationship, which he divides along three axes: "The touristic axis has investigated along with the mother society, the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society, about Koura and Amioun being a location for pilgrims who are coming to visit the Middle East."

According to Barakat, the economic axis pertains to "the agricultural produce of Koura in particular and Lebanon in general because the society exists at the level of Lebanon and the whole Middle East. At this level there is an agreement to export products, particularly olives, soap and olive oil products to Russia."

The third axis is cultural, which includes religion. Barakat continues, "In our being Orthodox and our being Middle Easterners, we feel a longing for Russian Orthodoxy, which contributed to the creation of a social and cultural renaissance in the late 19th century, when it adopted and ran the school in Amioun in 1895 and it took in 450 boys and girls."

Regarding further development of the relationship, Barakat says, "We have found great interest in our relationship with the Russians. Through Russia's entering Syria, we find that they would like to re-establish their role that prevailed in the past. There is no doubt that Russia's entry into the war in Syria is not temporary. It will perhaps last for a long period like the other major countries like America, Britain and France, which search for roles in the region. There is no doubt that the aim of the major countries is primarily economic, with gas lines being the main goal."

As for Amioun, he says, "We have the spiritual line that we believe is likely one of the reasons for bringing us together."

In closing, Barakat presents the trip made by a large group from Amioun and Koura which included about 70 people. During it, they visited the city twinned with Amioun during the celebration of the Russian victory over Napoleon, and concluded with a visit to the Kremlin, where the delegation was met by a representative of the Russian President Putin.

Barakat proudly quotes what Putin's representative said to the delegation: "We left the Middle East in 1914 and we thank Jirji Barakat who brought us back one hundred years later."

as-Safir Interviews Met Georges Khodr

Arabic original here.

Metropolitan Khodr: Who Said the President Should be Maronite?

by Gracia Bitar al-Rustum

The "kingdom" of Georges Khodr is not of this world. True, the nonagenarian theologian watches over the affairs and concerns of 94 villages throughout Mount Lebanon, but in reality "He is not here. You seek him and he is not here."

These words from the Holy Gospel come quickly to mind in the presence of the Greek Orthodox metropolitan of Mount Lebanon, Georges Khodr. He erects a sturdy barrier against a barrage of questions related, whether closely or indirectly, to the crisis of Lebanon and its neighbors. "I only have time to read and to follow the affairs of my diocese," says Bishop Khodr. Does this mean that the rumors about dividing the diocese are out of the question? He responds firmly and somewhat sharply: "This is a lie. There is no basis whatsoever for this talk. The whole of Lebanon is just a small spot on the map of the world and they are talking about dividing the diocese!" He continues, removing more of the cloud around what is being said: "None of the assistants takes the place of the bishop who manages everything to leave the little details to the assistants." He stresses that "There is no arrogance in our church between the bishop and the flock."

"God's beloved", as the Orthodox call him, of whom it is said that he "writes theology as poetry" brings to mind the Apostle Paul who said, "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God." He seems haunted by this idea. "There is no joking in that moment before the Almighty and we must prepare the way well." Icons are not in their material but "in the one that they recall."

As "the old bishop" understands it, talking about politics is "a slip-up". He is content to pray for "a miracle from God" so that the general paralysis besetting the country will come to an end. He advances a brief sentence and the merits of its eloquence is clear: "The dangers threatening Christians in the Middle East threaten all inhabitants of this region without exception. As for the presidential crisis in Lebanon, who said the president should be Maronite? The important thing is that he be Lebanese and look to the poor in this country."

Bishop Khodr affects not to comment on the confusion that accompanied the Russian Church's statement about "holy war" in Syria, but he states that "according to Christian principle, there is no such thing as what might be called holy jihad."

Bishop Khodr is silent for a while after we set politics aside. He folds his hands together and states, "In my life, I have not read any book more important than the Gospel." "Love one another as I have loved you" is the passage in the book that is closest to his heart. He sees in beauty "the agreement of lines in man, animals and inanimate objects." He describes the nation as "feeling for a particular land and its people." As for betrayal, it is "the loss of love" and treachery is "the elimination of love." Love, in his view, is God "not explained, but lived."  He realizes that some will not accept what he says about woman, but he says in all the frankness of a clergyman, "she is the perfect being. Man's partner and perfecter in life, the locus of his love."

He looks back with his clear blue eyes at his over ninety years (he was born in 1923) to see "a life lived for love. Years and days are given to us to love others. In response to those who hate us, we have no other way to deter them except by returning them even more kindness. Love alone heals." He does not regret anything in his life. "I suppose I made my own choices consciously."

His entry into theology came through "getting to know my religion through study. This led me to go from knowledge of the Christian faith to striving to serve this faith completely through the priesthood." He studied law at the Université Saint-Joseph before fully engaging in the world of the priesthood, for which he studied in Paris at the Institut Saint-Serge.

Bishop Khodr is reserved about his own stories. He responds in French that they are "a secret". But he states that he has not experienced a love story like any ordinary man. At that time, he enjoyed the songs of Umm Kulthum and the Rahbani brothers, but memory no longer serves him to recall some things. He regularly visits his hometown of Tripoli every weekend, in addition to visiting the villages of his flock throughout the week.

Since 1914, the Orthodox Church has sent its clergy to study in Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Istanbul. He rejects the idea that the majority of them are being sent to Greece specifically. He does not believe that the Greek nationality of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who is selling off lands belonging to the indigenous Christians, is what is causing him to do this, but rather "human lusts." In his opinion, "The issue is not about nationalism so much as about the Patriarch being of his people's nationality and that he dedicate himself to serving the Word."

Bishop Khodr's presence is raucous in its calmness. Who were you influenced by in your life? He responds, "I was not influenced by anyone." Isn't that narcissistic? He comments, "That's an accusation. But I don't feel this in my view of myself. I am a Christian and so I don't worship myself. So who is Georges Khodr? Nobody." Bishop Khodr eats very little. He reads a great deal from the Church Fathers, from Chrysostom to Gregory the Theologian, Basil the Great, and Maximus the Confessor as well as contemporary Orthodox such as Bulgakov, Vladimir Lossky and others. But he does not currently have any book coming out. He once wrote that although he was born in July, it is not a birthday since "a person's feast is his death. We celebrate the saints on the day of their death. That is, the day that their witness to Christ is manifest."

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: I did not Come to Bring Peace, but a Sword

Arabic original here.

I did not Come to Bring Peace, but a Sword

Those people who rush to the Bible in order to justify their words and deeds that are not in accordance with Christ excel at producing some verses in support of their errant opinions, but only after cutting the passage off from its context and distorting it from its true intent. Quite a few have resorted to this method in order to back up their opinions about what is falsely and slanderously called "holy war".

 Jesus' saying, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword" (Matthew 10:34) is the verse most commonly cited among supporters of the idea of holy war. However, if we continue reading the passage in which this verse occurs we will discover-- if we allow ourselves to be guided by the exegesis of the Fathers of the Church-- that it has no connection to military wars or struggles or battles. The text continues with Jesus saying, "For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Mathew 35-39).

What is meant by the sword, then, is not the chopping weapon used in wars, but rather the word of God that cuts between good and evil, between righteousness and iniquity, between goodness and sin... Likewise, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). In his explanation of the verse, Saint Hilary of Poitier (d. 367) says, "When we are renewed by the water of baptism by the power of the Word, we are separated from the root of our sins and our will. We are cut off from our unbridled attachment to father and mother, as by the sword of God, and are separated from them."

As for Saint Jerome (d. 420), it appears even more clearly in his exegesis of the passage, and he recalls that after Jesus said "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword", He divided a man from his father, mother and relatives "so that he will not place family allegiance ahead of faith ... We must preserve this order in all our relationships. Love your father, your mother and your children, on the condition that your love of family does not come into opposition to your love of God and it becomes impossible for you to hold on to both at the same time. Rejecting your family is better than rejecting God."

Blessed Augustine (d. 430) is of the same opinion, so after mentioning that the father says to his son "I begot you" and the mother says to her son "I bore you", the father says, "I reared you" and the mother says "I sustained you", Augustine commands each one of his readers to say to his parents, "I love you in Christ, not instead of Him. You are with me in Christ, but I will not be with you apart from Him." But if the parents say, "We do not care about Christ," then for Augustine the choice is clear: "Say to your parents, 'I care about Christ more than I care about you. How can I obey the one who reared me and lose the one who created me?'" 

As for when Jesus said, "He who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one" and His disciples responded, "It is enough" (Luke 22: 36-38), Saint Ambrose of Milan (d. 397) says, depicting the Holy Apostle Peter saying to Jesus, "Why do you order me now to buy a sword when you forbade me from using it? Why do you order me to possess what you forbade me to unsheathe?" Then comes the response according to Ambrose, who continues: "You said, O Jesus, to Peter when he offered two swords, 'It is enough'... This seems evil to many, but the Lord is not evil. Despite his ability to take vengeance, He chooses to be crucified. There is a spiritual sword to sell what you possess and buy the Word."

Those who want to go to the Bible to extract what suits their lusts and desires will inevitably be frustrated. The true believer is the one who goes to the Bible to search for what the Bible wants to say to us. We do not make it say what it does not say after distorting it, chopping it up and fragmenting it. To those who want to justify their holy wars, we say in colloquial Arabic, "Go knit with a different needle!"

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Talks between Antioch and Jerusalem Planned then Cancelled?

To be read with a very, very big grain of salt and awareness of the source's biases, naturally. Greek original here.

The Meeting of the Patriarchs about Qatar Cancelled: What Happened Backstage

October 20, 2015
by Andreas Loudaros

It appears that this time the attempt to find a solution to the dispute between the Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem over the issue of jurisdiction over Qatar has run aground.

Informed sources tell orthodoxia.info that until yesterday afternoon there was strong optimism that the two primates would finally sit at the same negotiating table to resolve their dispute. The meeting was scheduled for this morning at 10AM.

According to information verified by orthodoxia.info, both Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and the deputy foreign minister for ecclesiastical affairs, Ioannis Amanatidis were in contact with the two primates and managed to wrangle their consent for the meeting.

It was agreed that the planned meeting would be attended by the two patriarchs and their collaborators, the Patriarch of Alexandria and the Archbishop of Cyprus as observers, and Deputy Minister Ioannis Amanatidis on behalf of the Greek government.

The goal was to bring the two churches as close together as possible in order, if feasible, to find a final solution.

A room at the hotel where the international conference is being held in Athens was even closed so that the primates could conduct their negotiations undisturbed.

The optimism began to fade, however, when Patriarch John of Antioch changed his attitude yesterday afternoon following the meeting he had with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. He did not attend the musical event held for the conference nor the dinner hosted in honor of the primates and foreign representatives by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Although everything was ready for the start of talks today, it was impossible to make any contact with the side of the Patriarchate of Antioch.

The fact that everything was prepared for the meeting, which ultimately never took place, was confirmed to orthodoxia.info by senior politicians and ecclesiastical figures.

Eventually the Patriarch of Antioch and his attendants appeared at the hotel shortly after the meeting he had at the presidential palace with [Greek President] Prokopis Pavlopoulos, just minutes before the Patriarch of Jerusalem's scheduled departure for Israel.

Thus another great opportunity was lost literally at the last minute in a manner similar to how the representatives of the Patriarch of Antioch refused to sign the joint declaration of the Synaxis of the Primates in Istanbul.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Jean-François Colosimo on Putin's Visit to the Vatican

French original here

Colosimo: "For the Pope, the primary enemy is jihadism, not Russia."

FIGAROVOX/GRAND ENTRETIEN -Ukraine, Bashar al-Asad, Middle Eastern Christians: Jean-François Colosimo gave an expansive interview with FigaroVox in which he analyzes the geopolitical issues behind Vladimir Putin's visit to the Vatican.

This Wednesday afternoon, Pope Francis is meeting with Vladimir Putin at the Vatican. Why are they organizing such an in-person meeting now?

The historic meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and Pope Jean Paul II opened the way. This meeting between Pope Francis and Putin, the second after their first meeting in November 2013, has become almost imperative, faced with the events that are sweeping Europe and the Middle East.

In fact, various reasons explain the urgency of this audience.

The first relates to the resolution of the Ukrainian conflict. In the 8th century, there occurred a major division in the heart of Europe. The confrontation between Byzantine and Frankish missionaries would lead to a rupture between Constantinople and Rome, Greeks and Latins, anticipating the separation between the Orthodox and the Catholics. This gives rise to the line of fracture running from Riga, through the Baltic states, to Split in the former Yugoslavia, which crosses through the middle of Ukraine. It is obvious that the opposition between Eastern and Western Ukrainians, without being a religious war, involves this long memory. In this way, this border country is divided between contradictory mentalities born of the Christian East and West and of their dispute over the imperial heritage, whence the strong tensions between Brussels and Moscow. Eastern Rite Ukrainian Catholics, who originally came from the Orthodox Church but who have been united to the Catholic Church for several centuries, make up a minority concentrated in the west, in the region of Lviv, are very active and of a nationalist inclination. Through its power to moderate them, the Holy See has genuine leverage to ease the crisis.

As for the second reason, this audience is equally motivated by the dramatic situation of Middle Eastern Christians. As his statements in Sarajevo on the present climate of a "Third World War", the pope is doubtlessly defending the idea of a "primary enemy." This is jihadism and not Russia.

The third reason comes out of the first two. For Vladimir Putin, this meeting represents the opportunity to escape his diplomatic isolation, particularly with regard to the European Union. During the private part of this tête-à-tête, the Pope will not fail to address thorny questions of the risks to peace posed by the Kremlin's diplomatic offensive and the threat to basic freedoms in Russia. But Peter's successor also means first of all for this meeting to come within the context of the quickened pace of ecumenism that marks his pontificate.

A source at the Vatican told La Croix that "The Holy See understands that a solution to the conflict in Syria inevitably involves Russia..."

That's the informed, sensible and reasonable position to take with regard to the situation in the Levant. It is unfortunate that the realism of the Vatican's diplomacy is absent from the French government and, more broadly, from the European Union.

There can in fact be no lasting resolution to the conflict now burning in the Middle East without the cooperation of Russia and Iran. These two countries have a long history, centuries of diplomacy, and networks in the region because they have strategic, even vital interests in the region.

Ever since Russia entered onto the stage of international relations in the 18th century, it has desired to guarantee its access to warm water and has acted through the Orthodox communities. This policy of influence was continued by the USSR through the socialist Arab regimes. Moscow, which possesses military bases in Syria, represents not only active support for the regime of Bashar al-Asad but also a key interlocutor with Tehran. The United States itself has come to realize the indispensability of Iran's participation on the ground for countering the advance of ISIS, which cannot be stopped only with bombings.

Might the Pope support authoritarian regimes like that of Bashar in order to address the threat of ISIS?

Frances is facing the tragedy that is unfolding before our eyes, which can be calculated in the hundreds of thousands of victims and millions of refugees or displaced persons of all confessions before the indifference of the international community-- which is coming to resemble more and more a sort of passive complicity. For him, this certainly involves averting an imminent, irreparable catastrophe that would do harm to the very meaning of humanity.

As for the rest, there can be no doubt about the Holy See's struggle for freedom of conscience and democratic freedoms across the five continents. To think so would be to subject it to unworthy judgment. For half a century, we have been able to notice that Vatican diplomacy, moving forward patiently and sometimes secretly, has been able to reverse situations that we thought were unchangeable. Thus, with regard to the states that are still communist in Asia and Latin America or are newly fundamentalist in Africa and the Middle East, Rome's action remains invariably positive, unknotting what is circumstantial while remaining uncompromising on the essentials. Moreover, every day in the world there are Christians struggling and dying for the dignity of all.

So the Holy See's position with regard to Bashar al-Asad amounts to a policy of the lesser evil?

I don't think there is a particular desire to preserve Bashar al-Asad or any indulgence for his crimes. It only comes from the imperative to put a stop as quickly as possible to the growing barbarity and from the lucidity to admit that during the current chaos of the Middle East-- to which America and Europe have carelessly contributed-- there will be no magical solution. Whether we want it or not, the Alawite regime, for lack of anything better, has become the rallying-point for a great number of communities that refuse for Islamism to come to power. The Holy See's policy stems from real knowledge of history and the present. Knowledge that is sorely lacking in the inconsistent humanitarianism that has now taken hold over the foreign policy of France and the European Union.

Some are already talking about a trip by the Pope to Moscow. Is a Vatican-Moscow axis credible?

The only axis that we can really speak of today, renewed and strong, is that which exists thanks to ecumenical dialogue, which is ever more supported, between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. It also passes through Constantinople and Patriarch Bartholomew.

Pope John Paul II, a world traveler, was not able to visit Russia. A visit by Pope Francis to Moscow, but more likely a meeting with Patriarch Kirill in a symbolic location, equidistant from both sees, would be an encouraging witness for all Catholic and Orthodox believers who are sincerely engaged in the concrete search for unity.

Does the Pope have real diplomatic influence, or is he content with ministry of the word? 

This echoes Stalin's famous question, "How many divisions does the Pope have?" The USSR isn't there anymore. The Vatican is still there. Due to its good fifteen centuries of existence, its network of international relations that is first in the world with its countless nunciatures, and its status as an observer at the UN, the diplomacy of the Holy See, led by the Pope, represents a true force of information and influence.

It especially has the prophetic ministry of the Bishop of Rome as a servant of the Gospel. More than ever, globalization which combines a deadly consolidation of the market at its center and the deadly explosions of identities at its periphery experiences the vital need for a word of life. By going to the Parliament in Strasbourg, to Lampedusa to rescue migrants, and to Istanbul to call for military intervention within the limits of just war, this is what Francis is tirelessly doing.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Met Elias Audi: Our Church Does Not Bless Wars

Arabic original here.

Met Audi: There is No Holy War and Our Church Does Not Bless Wars

The Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Beirut, His Eminence Elias Audi, presided at the Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of Saint George and after the Gospel he gave a sermon in which he said:

Jesus said to His disciples, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you and falsely say all manner of evil things against you for My sake. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven..."

When the Lord says these words or lives this life before us, it is in order to strengthen us and cause us to live a life in which we respond to evil with good and injustice with love. This is why He said to His disciples and those who believe in Him: If you want to be My disciples or if you are truly My disciples, you must act like Me and be in My image because you are united to Me. For this reason, the Church absolutely does not bless those who fight others or those who harm others. The Church does not bless those who kill others because human life is the possession of the Lord and when someone kills another person, it is as though he wants to kill God. In reality, the one who is killed goes to the Lord, while the killer's heart is unjust. The unjust is inhabited by Satan and Satan will not enter the kingdom of God. Therefore the Church also does not bless wars and does not say of them that they are holy. That is, it does not sanctify wars and does not accept such a statement. Every church must be like this if it teaches the Lord's teaching or if it hears His words. For this reason, we Orthodox, especially in Antioch, even as we suffer, are expelled from our homes, and are reviled, we do not fight our enemies. And as we see, our people in this region are leaving and abandoning their homes and living a miserable existence and some are even departing, but they are not returning evil with evil. Therefore, let it be clear that our Orthodox Church in which we are members does not bless and does not sanctify wars and does not say of any war that it is holy. I doubt that anyone who has said such a thing has heard the words of the Lord Jesus, "Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you. Do good to those who hate you..."

Met Georges Khodr: On Anger

Arabic original here.

On Anger

David's "Be angry and do not sin" means to me that if someone provokes you to the point of anger, don't remain angry. You have nothing against the one who provoked you. Do not sink under the provocation. They want to provoke you so that you will sin. In this case, the Bible says "Be angry and do not sin" in the sense that reacting to harm done to you is reasonable, but reacting against the one who caused it is a sin.

When the Psalmist says "Be angry and do not sin," he does not make anger permissible, but rather he desires that if it comes about, that you do not take it to the point of hatred because forgiveness is a commandment. It is as though David is saying that he understands that anger happens but he limits it to the one who is angry and does not want it to spread. To put it more clearly, do not be angry at others because there is harm in this. Provocation is possible and natural. However, for it to be directed at another is a sin. In my experience of watching myself and others, I do not know of anger that is not harmful for the one who is angry and for others. It is an illegitimate response to a wound that has occurred, since God does not accept any response apart from forgiveness. The one who is angry with you wounds himself first. You should sorrow for his having wounded himself and have God as your comforter. If someone provokes strong anger in you, then weep for the salvation of your soul and your soul will remain free from it. When you anger, weep for your soul, not for the one who made you angry because what God wants is his healing. In many cases, the reality of anger is that someone has hurt you and injured what you refer to as your dignity.

When you react to anger that has been directed at you, you may magnify the wound that you have suffered. You will become weakened and will not have saved the one who is angry. If someone wounds you, remember that in reality he has wounded himself first. You are only struck by the blow that was directed at you if you want to become its victim.

If someone is angry at you, take pity on him and allow that he is in need of your kindness in order to be healed. By hurting you, the one who hurts you comes to be in need of you. Call upon your Lord for his sake. As he harms you, he remains your brother, even if he does not know it. The one who harms you is the person who most knows that he is in need of God's kindness through you.

The one who is angry does not know the viciousness of the harm it does to himself. The one who is the object of anger feels that he alone is wounded but the reality is that two are wounded. "Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven and whose transgressions are covered."

If someone is angry with you, have pity on him first of all, because he has hurt himself before hurting you. The wound of the one who is the object of anger is his knowledge that he has been driven out of existence or at least that you have driven him out of your heart. The one who has been deprived of love may be in the most extreme sadness. Do not put anyone in the desert. He might die there of asphyxiation.

an-Nahar: The Russians have come to Achrafiyeh

Arabic original here.

The Russians have come to Achrafiyeh

by Pierre Atallah

The Russians have come to Achrafiyeh. It doesn't seem that they want to limit their presence to the Hmeimim airbase in Northern Syria since they're building a cultural rather than military bridgehead in the heart of Beirut with the start of a course of Russian language instruction organized by the Orthodox Gathering, led by the former Orthodox MP for Aley, Marwan Abu Fadel, who does not hide his support for the Russian military campaign and sees it as a way "to save the Orthodox Christian minority in Syria from extermination and from meeting the fate of the Christians of Khabour and the Jazira in Northeastern Syria. Hundreds of them have been kidnapped by ISIS and their fate is still unknown, while their churches have been destroyed and those who still live in the shadow of the Caliphate have been subjected to the Conditions of Umar."

The Russian course in Achrafiyeh has around 25 students in attendance, not all of whom are Greek Orthodox. Some of them are from other communities and it includes doctors, university professors, businessmen, bankers, teachers, journalists and others. It is directed by Dr Tareq Chouman, director of external relations at the Russian Cultural Center and an expert in presenting the language of the czars to Arab students. He says that there are Russian language courses every day at the center taught by Lebanese and Russian instructors and that there are hundreds of students taking beginning and advanced Russian language courses, each of whom has his own reasons for studying it.

Chouman explains that "Russian is the sixth most spoken language in the world after English, French, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese and it is an eastern European language that does not resemble any of the languages in the West, apart from its resemblance to the Greek alphabet." He also recounts to new students that the Russian alphabet is inspired by Greek letters, on account of Cyrill and Methodius, who established the Russian alphabet in the tenth century. In the eighteenth century, Czar Peter the Great modified the alphabet and called it the national alphabet. It continued this way until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918, when the Ministry of Culture made some modifications, eliminating some Greek letters and introducing other elements to bring it closer to the language of the people. Chouman also explains that, "280 million people in the world speak Russian according to the latest statistics, the majority of which are in Eastern Europe and among the Slavic nations."

The important thing about the Russian alphabet is that it is made up of 33 letters, some of which resemble the Latin alphabet and others that are completely different and particular to it. And so the students of the Orthodox Gathering's class will have to expend great effort to immerse themselves in this language of the czars. Chouman is not unaware of the difficulty in acquiring this language. He explains that mastering it requires hard work and a lot of effort and that the course he is teaching at the Gathering is only introductory, so that the students will be able to communicate with any Russians they meet using basic greetings and words of courtesy.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: What a Miser You Are, O Man!

Arabic original here.

What a Miser You Are, O Man!

Jesus told the following parable: "A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold." Then Jesus explains to His disciples what He meant by the parable and said, "The seed is the word of God" which brings forth fruit or dies according to the soil in which it is sown (cf. Luke 8:5-16).

God's word, then, may die if it does not find good soil that takes it in and embraces it, if it does not find a person who strives to be good soil in order to accept God's word and act according to it. God gave Himself as ransom for man and handed over to him the divine word, so that he may make it live if he acts according to it or make it die if he shies away from putting it into action.

How great is the generous God who gave His Word-- that is, Jesus Christ Himself, who is the "Word of God" according to the Gospel of John-- to humankind. But humankind returns this divine generosity, this divine liberality, with miserliness and stinginess. In return for divine generosity, human miserliness. Jesus Himself, who is God according to the Christian faith, died on the cross for the sake of the world and this is the ultimate generosity, since there is no greate love than this. But man, whether Christian or non-Christian, has only returned this generosity with miserliness. He is stingy with himself, pleased to see people die by the thousands and the millions so that he may remain alive. What wretched miserliness!

Lately the icon of Saint George, the holy martyr who offered his life for his faith, refusing to offer sacrifices to Roman idols and to worship the emperor, has become popular. George, the Palestinian from Lydda, was an officer in the Roman army who willingly abandoned his weapons and gave himself over to his tormentors. He could have resisted and risen up against them and even killed some of them, but he faced them with the Word, his breast bare, and became a martyr whom the Church remembers from generation to generation, for eternity. By your Lord! Who is more courageous, George carrying a spear or George who met the spear with his breast bare? Christianity is clear in this matter. The courageous one is the one who stands firm in his principles and does not betray them in the time of adversity. O Saint George, if you could see-- and you do see!--what has become of those who pervert your message!

Christians kill God's word when they say that now is not the time to act according to God's word. As if the Word had appropriate and inappropriate times, according to the weather! The Word, as we said, is Jesus. So they put Him to death, they crucify Him for a second and third time... They drive Him out of the world when they neglect His word under various pretexts, the excuses of sin...

Christians are called to be like their Teacher, not to make their teacher in their own image. They must be good soil, soil clear of stones and thorns. This requires struggle to purify one's self from the cares of this suffocating world. No one will come to clear another person's soil. Everyone is responsible for cultivating his own soil, for reforming himself. If he does not smash the stones within himself and if he does not  pluck out the thorns within himself, he will not bear fruit and he will not be of any good to anyone.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

an-Nahar on Russia in the Middle East

Arabic original here.

The Russian Bear is Cutting off the Serpent's Head Here:
Many Equations are Going to Change!
by Hala Homsi

Beware the bear, namely the "Russian bear". For those who know Russian affairs, "when it rises up, it doesn't just shake the inside of the house, but the entire world," president of the Open University: Dialogue of Civilizations in Moscow, member of the Russian Academy of Education and Professor of Western Thought and Philosophy of Civilizations at Lebanese University, Dr Suheil Farh, tells an-Nahar. For the Russian bear to rise up finally and be active militarily in Syria in the air and on the ground. It is no surprise for those who have mastered reading Russian body language. In taking account of the front, defeat is forbidden, as though the battle is for the defense of the land of Russia itself. "Historically, no country has been able to defeat Russia."

Historically also, "the Middle East or the Arab East has had a special place in Russian strategy over the decades," says Farah. The evidence is well-documented and Russia's interest in the Middle East has proven serious, rising and falling over the decades. If the Russian military has finally intervened in Syria, "then this is in order to use them to supress those elements that may be standing in the way of finding a political solution there," says Farah. He continues, "We have arrived at a stage where all paths were coming to an impasse and the situation became unsupportable... The Russians took this position after the Western militaries failed in striking ISIS. Major regional and local players entered into a hellish and futile game and no one was able to bring it under control until the Russian bear came."

"Russia is coming to the Middle East, motivated by the deep wounds it has from terror after having been struck by it on its territory. The terrible events of Chechnya and the entire Caucasus, the massacre at the school in Beslan, bombs at theaters and on trains and suicide bombings still rage in the Russian memory. First of all, Russia is coming today to defend itself here, before the serpent goes back to its country. It wants to strike it or cut its head off here. Secondly, it is coming to attempt to strengthen Russian institutions in the region as much as possible. Those who think that the person of the Syrian president Bashar al-Asad is its priority are mistaken. What currently terrifies Russia the most is for Syria's fate to be like that of Libya."

Those Implicated.... Marginalized
The equation is clear and the scenario is almost certain. "If the Rusian military intervention succeeds, many equations are going to change, not only on the level of Syria, Iraq and the entire Middle East, but also on a global level," says Farah. A Russian success places "Russia in a stronger position in more than one regard. It will be able to negotiate and pressure more to impose its conditions. If it succeeds, all those who have been financing ISIS' terrorism in the region, both states and other parties, will be marginalized because they are implicated."

Farah knows what he is talking about. He tells skeptics that "Russia is not sentimental, but rather pragmatic." This Lebanese academic is also a Russian citizen and has high stature in his second country. In 2011, the former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev awarded him the Pushkin Medal in the Kremlin. He was awarded the title "Person of the Year in the Field of Scholarship" in 2011 for his role in developing a theory of dialogue between civilizations. He has also received various other Russian awards. He stresses Russia's pragmatism in order to affirm "its eagerness to have normal relationships with all Arab communities across all sects and so by definition Russia makes for the strongest guarantee for preserving Middle Eastern Christianity and minorities in the Arab countries."

Warm Relations
Russia was one of the first to be in the region. Its roots run deep and are historically strong in various fields, from trade to politics and culture and even spiritual relationships. Farah continues, "Historically, Russia belongs to Eastern Christianity and today, Islam has become a fundamental part of its identity, with the presence of around 20 million Muslims there." In terms of spiritual matters, "The relationship between Russia and the Middle Eastern Orthodox is deep and warm. The relationship is strong between the Orthodox Churches of Russia and Antioch. Few know that it was the Antiochian Church that brought Christianity to Russia, and not, as some think, the Greeks," he says.

In historical terms, a number of stages reflect the depth of the relationship between the Orthodox of Russia and those of the Arab Middle East. "Mikhail Sirin, 'the Syrian', was the first Orthodox metropolitan of Kiev, the Russian mother-city, after the Baptism of the Rus and he contributed to the spiritual establishment of warm relations with Russia. Likewise, the Patriarch of Antioch Joachim V undertook a historic journey to Russia, during which he signed an important document during the reign of Czar Feodor Ivanovich, allowing for the establishment of an independent patriarchate in Moscow in 1589. The Patriarch of Antioch Macarius made repeated journeys to Russia from 1655 to 1667 and he composed with his son and archdeacon Paul a book about Orthodox Russia which is still today one of the most important religious-historical sources about that era. No less important are visits by later patriarchs of Antioch, including Gregory IV, Alexander III, and Ignatius IV,"* as well as the current patriarch, John X.

Given these warm spiritual relations between Russia and the Middle East, Russian interest in the region is only natural and to be expected. "Today there is an intimate relationship between the regime and the Russian Church, more intimate than it was during the period of the czars, and it strengthens both parites," says Farah. The open support that the Russian Church has demonstrated for the Russian military intervention in Syria reflects the strength of this relationship. "[The Church's] position also comes in a broader framework that includes along side it the organizations of different religious communities-- Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Buddhist. For these communities to support the regime in combating terror is a natural position. We must not forget that the Church's position is also the position of more than 20 million Muslims, the majority of whom are Sunni."

Great Emotional Power
As for using the expression "holy battle" by one of its spokesman, "it is a mistake." "In the raging inferno in the media and among people, it fell flat... The reactions are understandable, but at the same time they reflect a very great emotional power, especially for the Middle Eastern mentality. In this regard, it must be emphasized that all enlightened minds in religions acknowledge that terrorism is synonymous with ignorance and every sort of mental and behavioral backwardness. As for religion and faith in general, it is what raises man up to heavenly things that bring everyone together."

Farah knows very well that "the religious factor has come to take an important place in Russian geopolitical thinking." He says, "Today Russia wants, on a global level, to follow a policy that is antithetical to the unrestrained liberal values in the West and that attempts to adhere to traditional, conservative values that are historically tied to the institution of the family and the positive cultural heritage of nations as an alternative to unrestrained liberal values. The Russian Church is playing an important role in this context and is filling the Christian spiritual void in Russia."

But beware, warns Farah, "because in addition to the positive aspect of this role, there may be another, negative aspect, as the politicization and ideologization of religion reflects negatively on it and on the Christian message." And this goes both ways: "The Christian Church and the religion of Islam must make use of their capacities for providing spiritual food for believers and to avoid the politicization and ideologization that is very harmful for both Christianity and Islam."

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

an-Nahar on Lebanese Christian Parties' Silence about the Russian Intervention

Arabic original here.

Systematic Christian Silence on the Russian Intervention,
in order to prevent the repeat of tragedies and civil wars

by Pierre Atallah

All Christian political parties, movements, and blocs are avoiding taking any public position about the Russian military intervention in Syria, despite the fact that the division between Christians over the Syrian crisis is clear, as is their division over every issue. There are those who support the regime and hope for its victory and there are those who are still betting on the victory of the opposition and the defeat of the regime, in addition to a a third group who see both the regime and the opposition as having failed. With the exception of a lone statement by the leader of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, that the Russian intervention is in order to prevent the fall of the regime in Damascus, the other parties such as the Free Patriotic Movement, the Phalange, the National Liberal Party, and even the institutional Church are still keeping a systematic silence about the issue. Policy statements issued by them are deliberately ignoring the whole issue without even making a hidden reference to it.

This political Christian silence does not mean that public opinion is unconcerned about what is happening. The matter is on everyone's lips in Christian circles. The statement attributed to the Russian Orthodox Church only sharpened the debates and raised them to unprecedented levels in a society that just a short time ago was fearful of the arrival of takfiris and ISIS in the Lebanese arena. This terrifying prospect, to which is added images and reports in the media about the suffering of Iraqi Christians and Yezidis and the humiliation to which they were subjected after their women were sold in slave markets, in addition to being treacherously murdered by their neighbors. All of these reports have contributed to lowering morale and raising tension.

In the opinion of political activists the policy of silence among Christian parties is justifiable, since no one wants to make a public bet on one side or the other while the Syrian conflict rages, repeat the tragedies and civil wars that occurred in the past, and pay the price in damage to economic and trade interests and damaging Lebanon's relations with the Arab countries which, despite their crises and divisions, have room to distinguish friend from foe. What is spreading over social media only belongs those posting it on a personal level, not groups or parties. More importantly, nothing is a foregone conclusion in the Syrian conflict and the limits of the Russian intervention are not clear, nor is the feasibility of this intervention resolving the conflict for the whole of Syria and re-imposing the regime on regions outside of its control. Will Russian and Iranian forces remain permanently deployed in Syrian cities and villages in order to preserve the regime?

Before analyzing the position of the parties and the silent Christian leadership, one must examine the position of the churches of all denominations, both Catholic and Orthodox, which have not been pleased-- so as not to say disapproving-- of the behavior of the "Syrian Opposition", especially after the direct harm done to Christians in Syria, including the abduction of Metropolitans Paul Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim and dozens of priests, in addition to the dozens who have been kidnapped by ISIS since its assault on Assyrian towns and villages in the Khabour region of Syria. In this sense, the churches cannot stand with those who kill their members and threaten their very existence and so they are in favor of every effort that will lead to the return of order and remove the threat to Christians in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. The position of the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov during his meeting with Orthodox figures at the Phoenicia Hotel last year is still fresh in people's ears: "We shall not let the Christians fall and be exterminated in the Middle East." At the time, many didn't realize that the Russians weren't joking.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Holy Wars... Ridiculous!

Arabic original here.

Holy Wars... Ridiculous!

"My kingdom is not of this world" and not "My kingdom is not in this world" was Christ's response to Pilate when he interrogated Him before handing Him over to be crucified. Christ denied that His kingdom was "of" this world-- that is, in the image of this world, in the image of the kingdoms of this world.

Christ did not despair, despite His objectivity, of man's ability to attain perfection. He did not want to completely close the door in man's face. Rather, He wanted him to try to establish a kingdom that would be up to the standards of the Gospel. The "Christian state" in its various forms and identities has failed, from its establishment under Constantine the Great down to our present day. This state failed because it was "of this world"and was unable to be different from what prevailed among the nations. Indeed, with their brutal practices and the atrocities that they committed, Christian kingdoms have perhaps provided the ugliest examples among nations.

Christ realized this before it happened. He realized that nations are not built on sincere intentions, on righteousness and piety, or on lofty teachings. A state in this world means a state of this world. He did not have the slightest doubt that when Christians obtained power, they would be like all people who obtain power. They would be scornful, exploitative, despising the vulnerable. The logic of the state is not the logic of the Gospel. The Gospel calls for tolerance, forgiveness, love, and giving freely. The state calls for punishment, prison, law and taxes...

Christ realized this when He disdained and mocked political authority. On the day when He was crowned as a king, the day of His entrance into Jerusalem, unlike the custom of ancient or modern kings, He rode a donkey. He rode a donkey after having previously fled from the crowd when they wanted to make Him king. His closest disciples, like that crowd, did not understand Christ's logic, since they asked Him who among them would sit at His right and His left in His glory and almost quarreled over this question. They asked for an authority for themselves that they did not receive from Him.

Christ realized this, and nevertheless He called on Christians to be committed to the affairs of the world and of people, to defend values and virtues and proclaim the truth. Christianity, contrary to what some may imagine, is a religion that is not only concerned with spiritual matters but also strives for a better world where peace, justice, love and mercy reign... This requires struggle against evil and sin. Even though historical experience is discouraging in terms of the possibility of this promised, ideal kingdom, its realization is not impossible, even if it is difficult. A church historian once said that Christian emperors ruled more harshly than pagan emperors because a pagan emperor considered himself to be a god among many gods, while a Christian emperor considered himself to be the one God's sole representative on earth.

Christ did not establish a kingdom "of" this world that launches holy wars led by His successors, heirs or followers. There have existed what some consider "Christian" empires, but even apart from their assaults on non-Christians, they committed massacres against Christians opposed to them and their policies. The [Holy] Roman Empire launched Crusades that targeted Eastern Christians alongside Muslims. The Byzantine Empire persecuted Syriacs, Copts and even Chalcedonian Orthodox (during the reign of Heraclius), just as the Byzantines and Bulgars slaughtered each other while both were unquestionably Orthodox and Protestants and Catholics slaughtered each other in Europe... and in the modern era--- and here we have no desire to open old wounds-- we can point to the Christians in Lebanon fighting and slaughtering each other in the name of Christianity...

In reality, today there is no "Christian" state and no "Christian" president or leader in the image and likeness of Christ on the face of the earth. Therefore the wars of this state and this ruler are not in any way "holy". People are free, in matters of politics, to support this or that state in their wars, but not in the name of Christianity or in the name of the Church and not under the pretext of protecting the existence of Christians or under the pretext of defending minorities. The logic of the Church must be other than the logic of this world.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Carol Saba on "Holy Wars"

French original here

Russian "Holy" War in the Eastern Mediterranean and Syria?

The Middle East is once again demonstrating its international geopolitical and geostrategic centrality at the intersection of Asia, Africa and Europe. This is shown by the start of Russian intervention and airstrikes in Syria, but also by the forces of the Western coalition, the Chinese navy, without mentioning the consequent regional military forces of Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and so on. This center of the world that is the Middle East constitutes a strategic crossroads of influences that pivot on a central geopolitical line of three B's-- Berlin, Byzantium and Baghdad-- that can cut the world in two.Since the earliest times, this center has not ceased to be a crucible where the appetites of the great powers manifest themselves, meet and kill each other.

Today, the confrontation between all these powers that are gathering in the Eastern Mediterranean around the Syrian conflict, raging in this threatened and threatening region, is at its peak under "open skies". An impressive deployment of fleets, friendly or hostile, that are concentrating unprecedented military resources, whether logistical, intelligence-gathering or command posts. A theater of operations where nations and their most divergent interests oppose each other and where the most voracious passions and tensions are growing. A veritable inferno stoked by explosive regional and international embers, threatening the region with general conflagration at any moment.

There is, of course, the context of the internal Syrian conflict, but also the conflict against Syria. There is also the regional context of an Arab world imploding from within with nation-states long dominated by dictatorships and draconian autocracies. Nations-states of the Arab world that were unable to remedy the situation with a liberating Arab Spring are today decaying and giving way to a vacuum that is being filled by an extreme religious radicalism that gleefully wields unspeakable terror on a regional and international level and does not hesitate to reawaken all the old demons. Thus it reawakens and stirs up at will the old internecine wars of Islam, between Shiites and Sunnis. Thus it exploits the sacred for political purposes without restraint and disenters the old demons of the historical subconscious of this region that is still traumatized by the memory of the Crusades and colonialism, associating the Western coalition fighting it with the Crusaders.

Entering into this powder-keg context a few days ago came a communication from the spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, commenting on the military operations that his country has commenced in Syria from the point of view of the Russian Orthodox Church. These statements were repeated, commented upon and crossed the world like lightening, launching a war of the airwaves. Some did not hesitate to carry over into his comments a language of "holy war", while for others it was not a question of "holy war" but of a fight against terrorism that the spokesman described as a holy struggle. In any case, the unfortunate statements which were corrected by a subsequent declaration by His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow, provoked a terrible shokewave and over-excitement in the media, on social networks, and in public opinion both East and West, with extreme opposing reactions of approval and disapproval, with some not hesitating to compare the Russian deployment to a Muscovite crusade in the manner of ISIS.

Clearly, this unfortunate incident highlights the risky nature of any attempt to use the sacred in the current explosive context of the Middle East, something that can only unleash murderous passions. More than ever, we must pay attention to the power of the words that we use because words, in our world of digital revolution, are weapons that kill long before the guns kill! More than ever, churches must maintain a positive distance from these risks in order to avoid any unfortunate amalgam that could result when the interests of nations and powers are at play. More than ever, churches must keep intact their fundamental capacity, in accord with their evangelical mission, to act intelligently and courageously for peace and reconciliation.

No, there is not nor can there be in Orthodoxy any theological, strategic or tactical legitimization of war, even if it is described according to the situation and the era as "holy", "just", "justified" or "justifiable". Clearly, for every Orthodox Christian, every war is reprehensible and should be condemned because they are and only can be the expression of evil in the world. War is at once a failure and an evil. The Lord reminds us in Matthew 26:52-53, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?" Did Christ not have the possibility of calling upon legions of angels to save Himself from death? His Church is called in every era and according to the specifics of every situation, to intelligently and sometimes pragmatically follow His absolute Model and One Thing Needful, remembering that true "holy war" is that which is invisible, spiritual warfare, the pnevmatikos polemos that Saint John Chrysostom so often mentioned in his homilies. 

I will conclude by evoking the words of the late Patriarch Pavle of Serbia who reposed in 2009, a saint of our time, who in his time as patriarch during the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo, had to face the terrible trials of war and the irrational and murderous passions that it unleashes. His teaching to his own flock was always imbued with the spiritual tension that the Christian must keep within himself in order to "remain human even amidst those who are not."

"It is our responsibility," he said,"to do everything in order to be really prepared, even among wolves, to be Christ's sheep. God sends us so that through our life and our faith we may lead the wolves to become, if they so desire, Christ's sheep. But, in any case, the most important thing is that we do not become wolves. This principle will allow us to subsist both biologically and morally. And if we must disappear, we accept to disappear, all while remaining human to the end."

In the Fall of 1992, he had to intervene with the Serbian population of Eastern Bosnia so that they would let through a humanitarian convoy bound for the Muslims of Sebrenica. It was in these eloquent terms that speak for themselves that he addressed them: "It is as a father that I beg the Serbs of the Drina region to clear the way for the international humanitarian aid convoy bound for Sebrenica. Even if you think that this aid is more necessary for yourselves and your suffering families, it is better to suffer injustice for the moment than to inflict it yourselves on others, on your brothers of a different religion who are just as miserable as you. Let us all be human beings, children of God, and let us have more trust in His justice than in our own anger, however justified it may seem. In the name of the evangelical love of God and of our Holy Church who teaches it, I send you my blessing with faith that aid will also arrive to relieve your suffering, insofar as crime does not respond to crime, and that before the most terrible trials we may behave as a Christian people, the heirs of Saint Sava."

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Il Folgio on Middle Eastern Catholic Bishops' Support for Russian Intervention in Syria

Italian original here or here.

The Middle Eastern Bishops Deployed with Putin: A Problem for the Vatican

by Matteo Matzuzzi

In an interview with Swiss television, the Melkite Greek-Catholic archbishop of Aleppo, Jean-Clément Jeanbart, praised Vladimir Putin's military action in support of Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. As he explained it, the Kremlin's escalation "is a source of hope for the country's Christians." Putin, in the opinion of the bishop, "serves the Christian cause" and the presence of Russian troops in support of Damascus represents "renewed confidence" for the entire non-Muslim community in the region. The Russian president "is solving the problem," he added. This is a position that contrasts sharply with the line taken by the Vatican's Secretary of State, who is geared towards reducing to a minimum any tensions (even verbal) with the parties involved in the delicate chessboard of the Middle East, starting precisely with Russia and the United States, especially after the unauthorized overflight of Turkish-- and therefore NATO-- airspace by two of Moscow's warplanes. In late September, the Secretary of State, Pietro Paolin, had met with his American counterpart John Kerry at the White House.

The evolution of the situation in Syria and Iraq likely dominated that meeting, even though nothing was revealed to the press, not even the traditional communiqué drafted in order to summarize the contents of the conversation in brief. Of course, given the long letter sent in September 2013 by the pope to Vladimir Putin, at the time president of the G2, it is in the interest of the Holy See that the tensions between the United State and Russia be quickly resolved. Yesterday, opening the General Congregation of the Synod, the pope addressed the issue, calling on the fathers to dedicate the morning prayers to "the intention of peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. We are painfully affected," said Francis, "and we follow with great concern what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Jerusalem and the West Bank, where we see an escalation of violence that involves innocent civilians and continues to fuel a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions."

The secretary of state himself revealed how the problem was "truly complicated" and "probably no one has the solution at their fingertips." The prelate spoke about the issue of immigration but added that "there are so many simultaneous causes of this phenomenon" and also "so many solutions that can be immediately realized and others that need more time." Tones and arguments quite distinct from those of bishops from the Middle East, including the bishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, who already last winter asked Great Britain to send its troops to the region. Paolin, however, insisted on the need to "resume everything possible, including from the diplomatic point of view." The Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, Louis Raphael I Sakko, currently in Rome as a father of the synod, has also taken a clear position. "In his latest book, Stronger than Terror, published in Italy by Emi, the prelate lambasted the silence of senior Islamic authorities before the slaughter and devastation perpetrated by the militias of the so-called caliphate and called for soldiers on the ground to put an end to the chaos.

"The military solution is inevitable in order to overcome ISIS. There is a need for immediate and precise action," he said in an interview with the news program Tv2000. Sakko went further, judging bombing to be "ineffective" and hoping for the immediate deployment of ground troops to Iraq and Syria. The street, in his opinion, could consider "requesting a contribution from Arab countries which know the mentality and the language." In any case it should be clear that "apart from chasing ISIS away, it is also necessary to destroy that terrible ideology."

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Newly-Elected Metropolitan of Zahleh: Younan el-Souri

Arabic original here.

Archimandrite Younan (el-Souri) Metropolitan of the Diocese of Zahleh

On the second day of the Holy Synod of Antioch's session held at the patriarchal residence at Balamand, the members of the Synod elected the abbot of the Monastery of Our Lady of Bkaftine, Archimandrite Younan (el-Souri) as metropolitan of the Diocese of Zahleh, Baalbek and Their Dependencies.

Who is Metropolitan Younan (el-Souri)?

Antoine el-Souri was born in Mina, Tripoli on June 20, 1970. He studied at the National Orthodox School Mar Elias in Mina.

In 1994, he graduated from the Faculty of Engineering of the Lebanese University, receiving a degree in electrical and electronic engineering.

He studied theology by correspondence with the Institut Saint-Serge in Paris through the Diocese of Mount Lebanon. He graduated from this institute in 2006 with honors.

He worked at various jobs before entering the priesthood. On June 24, 2001, he was ordained subdeacon at the church of the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Douma by His Eminence Metropolitan Georges Khodr.

On March 20, 2005, he was ordained deacon at the Cathedral of Saint George in Mina by Metropolitan Elias Kurban of thrice-blessed memory.

On July 24, 2005 he was ordained to the priesthood in the parish of Mina. He was priest for the youth in the Diocese of Tripoli and Koura.

On September 7, 2008 he was elevated to the rank of archimandrite during the service of vespers for the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos at the church of the metropolitan's residence.

A member of the Youth Movement from childhood, he was active in the group under the guidance of Costi Bendaly. He held various positions in the Orthodox Youth Movement, including:

2001-2003: Assistant General Secretary to Raymond Rizk.
2001-2003: Responsible for mentoring programs in the general secretariat.
2002-2004: Head of the Mina branch.
2004-2008: Head of the Tripoli center.

He was vice president of Syndesmos, the international league of Orthodox youth movements. He participated in several local and regional conferences.

He was active in the choir of Mina and was trained by the Protopsaltis of the See of Antioch, Dimitri Coutya.

On June 19, 2011 he became abbot of the Monastery of Our Lady of Bkaftine. Since that time, he has conducted significant renovations of its buildings. He prepared a small church dedicated to Saints Anthony the Great, Arsenius the Cappadocian, and Nectarius the Wonder-Worker. About two months ago, he restored the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos in the monastery.

On June 16, 2012, he received the angelic great schema, taking as his patron the Prophet Jonah, during the divine liturgy celebrated by His Eminence Metropolitan Ephrem Kyriakos.

He collaborated with the publishing house Ta'awwuniyyat el-Nour to publish a documentary entitled "The Monastery of Our Lady of Bkaftine: Holiness and Ancient Roots" about the history of the monastery from its foundation to today and its pastoral and cultural role in the region of Koura.

He is the author of several articles in Majallat el-Nour, including "Youth and Life", "Between Proselytism and Evangelism", "Meditations on Monasticism", "World Orthodox Youth Day", "The Issues of Homosexuals in the Priesthood".

He is the author of theological articles and studies in al-Karma, the bulletin of the Diocese of Tripoli and Koura.

He has taught various subjects, including Old Testament and the Epistles of the Apostle Paul at the department of theological preparation at the Pastoral Center for Orthodox Patristic Heritage in the Diocese of Tripoli.

On October 7, 2015, he was elected by the Holy Synod of Antioch as successor to Metropolitan Spyridon Khoury as metropolitan of the Diocese of Zahleh, Baalbek and Their Dependencies.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: Love for All

Arabic original here.

Love for All

Today's Gospel reading speaks to us about our love for all, even our enemies, and makes love something that does not seek anything in return when it says "be merciful even as your Father in heaven is merciful."

 Christianity is merciful. We must realize its essence in order to make use of it, for it not to remain just a slogan, something we brag about in front of people. The question posed to us every day is: what is the source of our love? By what power are we able to love? It is not within us foundationally, since man tends toward ruthlessness and revenge. Man is hostile and hostility is ingrained in us. Man is inclined to antagonize people and the Lord asks of us something beyond nature. He insists that we love and that we love always, the we love our enemies. He tells us that it is possible, but not from the dust from which we were shaped. It is, however, possible from the Holy Spirit if it flows upon us from His bounty.

Christianity alone teaches love. You can wander all over the world and read all the books and teachings, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone is what has revealed love in all its great dimensions that we know. It is what made love unconditional-- that is, independent of people's emotions. Jesus says to love people whether they love you or hate you. Your love is not focused on flesh and blood or people's emotions. Love is not from you or from them. It comes from your Father in heaven. Love is possible in Christianity alone. Elsewhere there is compassion and mercy. In the Gospel of Jesus love is perfect, constant, unceasing. Love comes to us from God's heart and it remains in us as long as God is in our hearts.It is what changes the face of the world and that to which the world aspires. It is the end of everything. If someone obtains it, he does not strive for anything else. The development that people talk about, the advancement that they seek, has the goal in the end of people living in love. If we realize love, we have arrived at the goal of human development and advancement and we have no need for anything else.

"Love one another as I have loved you." This is the secret of the entire process: "As I have loved you." That is-- I have loved you unto death. I have revealed to you that God is love and that if you are in Him, then you love. But if He is hidden from you or if your sins have hidden Him from you, then you are not able to love. Love found its perfection in Christ's death. A person who as faith in Christ's death, in His perfect sacrifice, then this is a person who loves because he knows that the other person before him is weak and in need of treatment.

Since Christ is the Physician of humankind, He made those who belong to Him physicians for people. If a sick person is brought to a physician, the physician might not know his name. He might not see his face and ask about his identity, his religion, his race, or his background but he has before him a sick person that he treats. Then another sick person comes and he treats him with the same care and attention. In this way each of us is a sick person. Each of us is spiritually sick and the other person, the person in front of us or near us-- our neighbor, our friend or our enemy-- has been appointed a physician by God to give him attention and care. So it does not matter for us whether or not they spoke ill of us, whether or not they beat us, whether or not they treated us unjustly. The person before us was put there by God for care. Love in Christianity is care.

Christ came to save people but He wants each one of us to follow up on the mission of salvation, to be a savior to those around us. Christ is not only active from heaven: all of us are His hands and His eyes and He has given us the Gospel so that within us and at our hands it will become a glorious reality. In this way, if we love people, then they feel that God loves them. We love so that people may draw near, not only to us but to God. We do not love in order to be loved ourselves. We love so that God may be loved.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Die Welt: Islamists Threaten Christians in German Refugee Centers

German original here.

Islamists Threaten Christians in Refugee Centers

In German asylum centers, Christian refugees are exposed to assaults from fanatical Muslims who live according to Sharia. Fundamentalists are even threatening them with murder.

by Freia Peters

Said from Iran sits below a picture of Jesus on the cross around which is Persian writing. It is a quotation from the Bible: John 8:12, "I am the light of the world. He that follows Me shall not walk in darkness."

Said is a kickboxer. He crossed Turkey on foot. He never would have thought that his problems would only really begin in Germany. "In Iran, the Revolutionary Guards arrested my brother in a house church. I fled from the Iranian secret police because I thought that in Germany I could finally live my religion freely," says Said. "But at the home for asylum-seekers, I cannot openly admit that I am a Christian. If I did, I would feel threatened."

Said lives in a home for asylum-seekers in southern Brandenburg, near the border with Saxony. It is one of the so-called "jungle-homes", without any connection to a bus line. Mainly Syrian refugees live there-- mostly devout Sunni Muslims. "They wake me up before dawn during Ramadan and say that I should eat before the sun comes up. If I refuse, they say that I am 'kuffar', an infidel. They spit on me." Said says that he has called the security service. They were not interested in his problems. "They are also all Muslims."

Pastor Gottfried Martens sits beside Said in the community hall of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Berlin-Steglitz, a stack of papers on his lap. They are his letters to the heads of various refugee centers, to the office of social security, to the Berlin State Office for Health and Social Services, which allocates the refugees to temporary shelters. The writings are cries for help, in which Martens asks them to protect members of his community or to move them to another home. "Sometimes the director of the home tries to help. Sometimes I get no answer," says Martens.

Around 600 Afghans and Iranians belong to his church. He baptized most of them himself. Almost all of them have big problems in their homes," says Martens. "Devout Muslims teach the view their that 'where we are, there rules Sharia, there rules our law.'" Christians cannot cook their food in the kitchen. Those who do not pray towards Mecca five times a day are bullied. "Above all, Christians who have converted from Islam have to suffer as a minority," says Martens. "And they ask themselves the question, 'What happens when the devout Muslim refugees leave the home? Must we as Christians in the future hide ourselves in this country?'"

The fanatics sound like the murderers of the Islamic State.

Said's story is one of many in recent weeks. In Hemer, Sauerland, Algerian asylum-seekers attacked an Eritrean and his pregnant wife. Both were wearing their baptismal crosses around their necks. One of the Algerians struck the Eritreans with a glass bottle.

A young Syrian in a preliminary refugee center in Giessen reported threats. He is concerned that among the refugees there are followers of the terrorist group the Islamic State. "They shout verses from the Qur'an. They are the words that the Islamic State shouts before they cut off people's heads. I cannot stay here. I am a Christian," he says. In Ellwangen, Baden-Wurttemburg, there was a mass brawl between Christians, Yezidis and Muslims during Ramadan.

The case of an Iraqi Christian family housed in a refugee center in Freising, Bavaria is especially dramatic. The father told a television crew from Beyerische Rundfunk about beatings and threats from Syrian Islamists. "They yelled at my wife and beat by child. They say, 'We will kill you and drink your blood.'" The family lived like prisoners in a room of the home until they were no longer able to bear it and returned to Mosul in Iraq.

However in the meantime, Christians can no longer live in Islamist Mosul. The family was displaced a third time and have moved with two small children to Erbil in Northern Iraq. "They are doing very poorly," says their lawyer, Christian Salek from Munich. "I would have liked to help them and I have written to the Ministry of the Interior, but there is no way to bring them back to Germany." Anyone who applies for asylum and then leaves the country has to sign that they will not ask to be received a second time.

The underreporting of cases is high.

"One might have been able to protect the family," says Simon Jacob of the Central Council of Eastern Christians. Stories like this no longer surprise him. "I know of very many reports of Christian refugees who are under attack. But that's just the tip of the iceberg," says Jacob. "The number of unreported cases is high. We must anticipate further conflicts that refugees bring to Germany from their homeland. Between Christians and Muslims. Between Shiites and Sunnis. Between Kurds and extremists. Between Yezidis and extremists." Jacob argues that refugees should initially be accommodated separately by religion. But this could not be a long-term solution.

Jacob calls for formulating a guiding principle for Germany, in which are anchored the fundamental values of democracy and a pluralistic society. Freedom of religion. Freedom of expression. Equality between men and women. "We need a clear statement as well as orientation for refugees, also to help them differentiate themselves from extremists," says Jacob.

"Of course, refugees bring along their own experiences of conflict, for example between Shiites and Sunnis or Christians and Muslims," says the renowned historian and researcher on migration, Klaus J. Bade. He calls for socio-political vision and future-oriented concepts for the imminent issues of integration. He also calls for an enhanced guiding principle, with which Germans and also the refugees can and must identify. "This is the price that each immigrant who wants to live in Germany must pay. Bade calls for an integration course tied to orientation help, tailored to the respective country of origin.

Christians and Yezidis are most at risk.

"Frequently the aggression comes from Afghans or Pakistanis, who are often even more Islamist than some of the Syrians and Iraqis," says Max Klingberg of the International Society for Human Rights who has been active in caring for refugees for 15 years. He believes that the violence in the refugee centers will continue to increase. "We must rid ourselves of the illusion that all those who arrive here are human rights activists. No small proportion of the current new arrivals are at least at the level of the Muslim Brotherhood in their religious intensity."

The closer people live together, the sooner religious and political conflicts break out. "Reports are being made of threats of decapitation by Sunnis against Shiites, but the hardest hit are Yezidis and Christians," says Klingberg. Among Christian converts who do not conceal their faith, the likelihood of becoming a victim of assault or bullying is about 100 percent."

The only state that is currently trying to accommodate refugees separately by origin is Thuringia. The decision was made by Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow (Left Party) after an outbreak of violence in a refugee center in Suhl last month.

Implementation is difficult. "We pay attention to conflict-sensitive housing and try to distribute people from different countries on different floors," says the Justice and Migration Minister of Thuringia, Dieter Lauinger (Green Party). "In the current crisis situation, this is only possible in a restricted way, but we want to expand it, once the influx once again arranged in an orderly way."

However, Lauinger believes that a separation according to religion is wrong: particularly intensely religious Muslims must learn to live with other religions. "It is a balancing act between providing separate accommodation to prevent conflicts and the clear requirement to tolerate other cultures and religions."

Ali Reza Rahmani from Iran wears his baptismal cross around his neck and a multicolored ribbon around his wrist. Because he no longer feels safe in the home, Pastor Martens has given him shelter in the church. "I can no longer hide the fact that I am a Christian," says Rahmani, who in the church is called by his baptismal name Elia. "As a Christian, I'm not safe in the asylum center."

The hostility toward Said and Elia are not isolated cases, says Martens. "It has long been a problem nationwide." In the church, the refugees feel safe. But this cannot be a permanent situation. Nevertheless, Martens has bought new mattresses on sale.