Saturday, June 24, 2017

Rules for Receiving Holy Communion

This was published in this week's issue of al-Karma, the newsletter of the Archdiocese of Tripoli, without attribution. Arabic original here.

Rules for Coming Forward to Receive Holy Communion

"Behold I come to the holy communion. Do not burn me, O my Maker, as I receive it, for You are a fire burning the unworthy."

Those who desire to come forward to receive the Mystical Sacrifice must prepare themselves according to the rules established by the Church so that they may receive grace instead of judgment. There is no compromise when we come forward to receive the Holy Eucharist. After we receive the Eucharist, we will be in one of two states: either we will have received grace or we will have received judgment.

Preparation for receiving does not begin on the day in which we will receive the Lord's body and blood. It starts several days earlier, which is why we call it preparation.

How do I prepare myself to receive?

The spiritual father who guides us along the path of salvation helps me to develop the appropriate way to prepare myself according to my abilities, my health, and my endurance. Yes, each Christian must have a spiritual father who guides him along the way of salvation. Receiving communion and confession constitute the two fundamental pillars of this.

Confession is an important matter in the life of every believer. Through it, we receive a blessing, through the resting of the Holy Spirit upon us, because confession is one of the mysteries of the Church. Through confession, I reveal to my God, through the spiritual father, the reservoir of suffering and I seek forgiveness and healing from the Physician of souls and bodies. I fight the good fight to cleans myself in order to receive the reward, according to the words of the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Preparation also takes place in my room, particularly through my reading my prayer rule and my reading the prayers of preparation for Holy Communion (metalepsis) found in the daily prayerbook or the Euchologion. If someone does not read the prayers of preparation for Holy Communion, he cannot come forward to receive the Holy Eucharist. Likewise, if someone desires to prepare more, he can choose, in addition to the prayers of preparation, prayers and canons that he may pray individually, such as the Akathist to the Sweetest Lord Jesus, for example, or other prayers.

Seeking forgiveness from those whom we have wronged or saddened is of the utmost importance before receiving Holy Communion because, if we come forward for the Eucharist when we have a quarrel with anyone, we will harm ourselves. The Church teaches us as follows: "If you resolve, O man, to eat the body of the Lord... and drink the divine blood unto communion, first make right with those whom you have sorrowed."

Those who come forward to receive the Mystical Sacrifice must refrain from eating and drinking on the day in which they will partake of the Lord's body and blood. This fast is a form of preparation and this fast differs from one person to another according to each one's ability and health and according to what the spiritual father deems appropriate, as we mentioned above. There are those who will abstain from grease and oil for a week in preparation to receive the Eucharist, those who will abstain for three days or perhaps one day, according to each one's determination. In cases of sickness or disability, there is no impediment to receiving the Eucharist even for those who do not fast, especially if there is a need to take medicine for a chronic illness. As for children, they may receive without fasting, but their families should not forget to train them in fasting, confession and prayer when they are still at a young age.

Presence at the liturgy from its start is something extremely important, as is focusing during the prayer as much as possible. Understanding the divine words, pondering them, and listening intently to the reading of the Epistle and Holy Gospel allows divine grace to dwell within us and makes us worthy to receive the Lord's body and blood and the Eucharist makes us worthy of the kingdom of heaven and preserves us from the tricks and temptations of the Evil One, brings us forgiveness of our sins, and makes us a dwelling-place for the Lord.

Modest dress is an important part, because it makes us worthy to enter into the church without judgment, since we are not permitted to be a stumbling-block for others. Clothing for church should be loose and cover the shoulders, chest, back and legs and it should not be torn as in today's ridiculous fashion. Men should have bare heads, but women should cover their heads, according to the command of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:2-5). When we cover the beauty of our bodies, we are like the angels who surround God, who cover the beauty of their bodies and faces with their wings because they believe that their beauty amounts to nothing before the beauty of the face of God's light.

The prayer of thanksgiving is obligatory after receiving the Mystical Sacrifice. This is so that we are not without thanks, as was Judas Iscariot, who received from the Lord's hand at the Mystical Supper and went on to betray Him. Likewise, the Lord Jesus taught us to give thanks when He asked the leper who came to Him, out of the ten whom He had healed, "Where are the nine  Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" (Luke 17:17-18). How much more so should we sinners whom God has made worthy of this great gift that heals the sicknesses of our souls and bodies and makes us worthy of the heavenly kingdom! We can follow the prayer of thanksgiving in church, if it is read there, or in our home after returning from church.

After we receive the Eucharist, we cannot, as a matter of principle, kiss the priest's hand, because we have received the greatest blessing through our union with Christ Himself through our receiving His body. When we leave the church, we must preserve our prayer and our inner peace, do good works, and fight not to return to sin from which we have been purified, and so become children of the heavenly kingdom.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: Syrian Islam and Syrian Christianity

Arabic original here.

Syrian Islam and Syrian Christianity

When dealing with questions of Muslim-Christian relations, the following observations must be taken into consideration:

1) Relations between Muslims and Christians, their flourishing and deterioration, are not necessarily based on the religious and legal rules of the Islamic and Christian religions. To put it another way, it is not possible to talk about Christian-Muslim relations solely on the basis of what religious texts say.

2) Distinctions must be made between historical experiences in various places and times. It is not possible to generalize specific events that happened in particular places and times to every place and time.

3) Historical Christianity is not one nor is historical Islam one. It is not possible to talk about Christians in general or Muslims in general as though they were a compact bloc with absolutely no diversity. Any religious has various aspects across various denominations, countries and times.

We started our article today by presenting these three observations before we attempt to correct certain objections provoked by our article "A Conspiracy against Christians?!" (an-Nahar, June 10, 2017), where we stated, "Christians will not be eliminated from their homelands so long as they do not contribute to the elimination of their existence and presence. Christians have lived under the Islamic state for thirteen centuries without leaving their country. It is not true that they all took refuge in fortified mountains for fear of being killed by Muslims, since most Christians lived in cities, mixing with Muslims and sharing a common life with them."

When we said this, we were simply presenting historical realities that continue until now. The Christian presence in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Tripoli, Jerusalem and other cities of the Levant has been uninterrupted from the rise of Islam until the present day. Thus there is no comparison between the historical experience in the Levant, where the Christian presence is continuous, and North Africa or Turkey, where the Christian presence has gone extinct.


It is also not possible to reduce the extinction of Christianity in North Africa or Turkey to the religious factor alone. The reductionist view is blind and distorts the facts. Among the reasons for the end of Christianity in North Africa is that the alliance between the religious authorities and the temporal authorities in Rome against the the native people of the country (the Berbers), in terms of the exploitation of lands  and preventing the natives from access to the necessities of life, particularly the exploitation of African grain for distribution to the people of Rome and starving the Africans, the imposition of an oppressive taxation system, is part of what inspired a hatred for Rome and the institution of the Church among the Africans. This is what led the Africans to adopt the new religion as it arrived in their country, since they saw in it an escape from those who were greedy for the riches of their lands (see Fr Paul Decizier, SJ The Reasons for the Disappearance of Christianity in North Africa after the Arab Conquest, Beirut: Dar el-Machreq, 1993, pp. 14-16 [in Arabic]).

As for Turkey, after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, the Christian presence in Asia Minor began to decline. However, Ataturkist "secularism" was no better for Christians than Ottoman Islam. Those who survived the injustice of the sultanate were defeated by hard-line Turkish nationalism with the complicity of the West, especially of France which stripped Antioch and its surroundings (the Province of Alexandretta) from Syria and gifted it to Kemalist Turkey. Here we can mention the role of France, Russia and other countries in the elimination of Armenians, Syriacs, and Greek Orthodox from the whole of Turkey, from Anatolia, Cappadocia, Cilicia and Antioch to every city and village. As for Palestine, where at the beginning of the 20th century Christians constituted around twenty percent of the population, it was Israel that put an end to them and not the caliphate that had ruled the country for thirteen centuries.

Researchers unanimously agree that the extinction of Christianity in these countries is due to numerous causes: political, religious, social, cultural and economic and it is not possible to blame this extinction on a single cause, the spread of Islam or Islamic intolerance. It is true that in some periods, the intolerance of Islamic rulers led to persecutions of Christians, but other reasons also led them to abandon the faith of their fathers and forefathers or to abandon their countries.

In closing, it is necessary to admit the fact that Syrian Islam is different from other Islams, just as Antiochian (Syrian) Christianity is different from other Christianities. Therefore, we still believe in the permanence of the Christian presence in this country and in the possibility of establishing ideal, exemplary relations between the Muslims and Christians of this country on the basis of complete citizenship and respect for equality and general freedoms. We will say once again that Christian-Muslim partnership is an inevitable fate, at least with regard to Christians if they hold fast to remaining in their country, where Muslims and Christians mix no matter what the price.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Met Saba Esber: To the Bishop of Hama

Arabic original here.

To the Bishop of Hama

Offered to His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas Baalbeki

You mastered medicine, in particular surgery, and the path was open before you to get ahead in this world. Your qualities, baptized in the spirit of the Gospel, offered you wider possibilities for success and advancement in the world of bodily healing which you chose at first. But the Physician of souls and bodies, who captivated you from your youth, prepared a different path for you and called you to follow in His footsteps. Perhaps your contact with people's bodily suffering and your knowledge of treating it in soul and spirit led you to immediately accept His call. You chose the more profound path of healing and headed for treating the soul, knocking on the door of the priesthood.

Saint Luke the Physician before you followed these steps. During the era of Russian communism, you would find someone who was a bishop and a surgeon at the same time, practicing his episcopal service and continuing his medical practice with unusual competence. We all know, my brother, that you only very recently ceased practicing surgery.

This well-known intellectual capability of yours, along with your spiritual humility and the purity of your hand and tongue and the warmth of your pastoral care, caused the Holy Synod of Antioch to choose you with almost total unanimity as bishop of this diocese that is great in the piety of its people and their attachment to their Orthodoxy. In turn, it expects a great deal from you after the Holy Spirit delegated you to serve it. Many will push you to work in stone, administration and bookkeeping, which are not trivial fields, but indeed, are necessary for Christ's diocese because its affairs must be conducted "in a fitting and orderly manner." But for us, the stronger hope lies in that even more will push you to reform and heal souls and refine them with the morals of the Gospel.

Building up people ensures the stone and gives it meaning, while by itself the stone is incapable of bearing the good news of the Lord of the Church and so is unable to bear witness. Indeed, it distorts it, particularly when it is in the hands of those who have lost the fear of God. Did not the great Apostle Paul say, "Man is the temple of the Holy Spirit"? Human affairs are strange, my brother! Although their Gospel is very clear, they are for the most part pleased with limiting themselves to tickling their temporary feelings and emotions and not entering into the profundity of the inner man who is called to come to be in the likeness of God.

But what we know about you,  your personal attentiveness to the people of God, your tireless pastoral care from them in any place, and your compassion that has led you more than once to bring some of them to hospitals, makes us confident in your ability to nourish them with the divine, life-giving word and to feed them their daily bread.

How will your diocese transform into what you dream of it being? I leave that to your Lord. When I received my diocese, there was no worldly good in it apart from the absolute minimum. But a handful of the people of God continued to be present in it and for their sake God has poured blessings upon the diocese.

At the enthronement, an elderly woman from the diocese said to an acquaintance of mine, "We are a thirsty land. I hope the new bishop will be a constant rain cloud." I said to myself, what can I offer to the cracked and desert soil when I have no means apart from extending my hands filled with my sins and limitations before God?!

He filled them and they poured out upon the diocese in a way that until now still amazes me. I can find no answer to this apart from continuing to lift them up to Him empty so that He Himself may educate His people using me as a mere instrument. Is He not His people? Amidst the work and the accumulation of tasks, we clergy are tempted to forget this truth, so we take the role of master of the Church, heedless.

Do not worry about the many obstacles that Satan will place in front of you. There is no spiritual revival without various and sundry trials. The demons' darts are aimed at the bishop first, so long as he resists them in his bearing the Gospel. The more the warfare against him increases, the greater the power and the more abundant the success that God grants him.

Nevertheless, we bishops, due to our human frailty, often seek consolation from people other than Him because we need tangible consolations and we need the life of living Christian communion. You will that, because of His overwhelming love, He often consoles us through brothers that He places before us at the appropriate time and place. He often speaks to us through them and shows us what we are looking for by means of them.

Our great consolation remains in the Lord's table. We have no better consolation than the divine liturgy. The Lord's cup is the source of strength and of spiritual and theological understanding. Your lively prayer-- and you are a man of prayer-- will be a strong support for you in your new service. Your focusing on your Lord in frequent retreats will fill you with His presence and you will dauntlessly face hardships with a peace not from this world.

Our people in all the dioceses are the same. They seek from the bishop everything of which he himself is incapable. With the current crises and trials, their feeling of needing a father is increasing. They want him to be a compassionate father, a leader and a protector at the same time. You know, just as I do, that sometimes they ask for what we have no capability of doing, but they do this because they have no other support but us.

Our service is no less than to become another Christ. How does this happen? The answer is mysterious and God alone has it. He is the one who knows, as no one else knows, how He pours His consolations in the heart of the suffering bishop, upon His people and for their sake. You have treated body and soul for many long years and your sense of pain for God's people is more intense because you realize more than others the magnitude of human suffering. This is what causes you to accept God's graces and mercies in abundance. The deeper the love becomes, the more the lover's suffering increases and alongside it the Lord's gifts multiply.

It is right for this people to expect much from you because your Lord has granted you much. Proceed in this hope which does not fail and the Lord will inundate the broad plains of the diocese with a flood of wheat and clusters of grapes so that your diocese will offer it to Him, kneaded in love and leavened with purity and forever become, through your care, His living body pulsing with hot, life-giving blood.




The Meeting of the Holy Synod of Antioch, June 9, 2017

This English translation is unofficial. Official Arabic and Spanish versions are on the Patriarchate's Facebook page.

Communiqué from the Holy Synod of Antioch
Balamand, June 9, 2017

The Holy Synod of Antioch met under the presidency of His Beatitude Patriarch John X Yazigi in its seventh regular session from June 6 to 9 at Balamand with the attendance of the following metropolitans:

Elias (Beirut), Elias (Sidon), Damaskinos (Sao Paulo and all Brazil), Saba (Hawran and Jabal al-Arab), Paul (Australia and New Zealand), George (Homs), Siluan (Buenos Aires and all Argentina), Basil (Akkar), Ephrem (Tripoli and al-Koura), Ignatius (France and Western and Southern Europe), Isaac (Germany and Central Europe), Joseph (New York and all North America), Ghattas (Baghdad and Kuwait), Silouan (the British Isles and Ireland), Antonius (Zahleh and Baalbek).

Ephrem Maalouli, secretary of the Holy Synod, and Economos George Dimas, clerk of the Holy Synod also attended.

Regretting their absences were Metropolitans John (Lattakia), Antonio (Mexico, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean), Sergio (Santiago and all Chile), and Georges (Mount Lebanon). Metropolitan Paul (Aleppo and Alexandretta), absent due to his captivity, was present in the prayers and supplications of the fathers of the synod.

The fathers of the synod prayed for the repose of the soul of Metropolitan Elia Saliba, of thrice blessed memory, who departed on April 1, 2017, asking God to number his soul with the spirits of the righteous and to accept his long service for the Church of Christ. They then examined the situation in the vacant Archdiocese of Hama on the basis of a report prepared by Patriarchal Vicar Nicholas Baalbeki. The fathers of the synod thanked the patriarchal vicar and took note of the names proposed by the archdiocesan conference of clergy and laity that was held in Hama on May 27, 2017. It included the following names: Bishop Nicholas Baalbeki, Bishop Athanasius Fahd, Bishop Elia Tohme, Bishop Ephrem Maalouli, Bishop Constantine Kayyal, and Archimandrite Mousa al-Khassi, which appear on the list of candidates for the episcopate agreed upon by the Holy Synod. After that, the synod nominated three clergymen from the aforementioned list of candidates and the metropolitans went to the patriarchal residence and elected Bishop Nicholas Baalbeki as metropolitan of Hama and its dependencies.

The fathers of the synod welcomed several of their children who hold public office and listened to four presentations offered by the Deputy Prime Minister Ghassan Hasbani, the former ministers Tarek Mitri and Nicholas Nahas, member of parliament Ghassan Mukhaybar, and a number of specialists who informed them about the details of ongoing events, and the political, economic and social challenges facing the Middle East and its Christians in particular.

They weighed the ideas and proposals in these presentations that aim to strengthen the Orthodox presence and make an active Orthodox witness. They stressed the importance of these meetings and their role in determining a united Antiochian approach to the issues and challenges at hand.

The fathers of the synod examined the situation of the dioceses in the homeland and the diaspora, reviewing the achievements of the past year and the challenges facing these dioceses on various pastoral, spiritual, developmental and social levels. They expressed their joy at their children's active participation in the Church, their commitment to her affairs, and their loyalty to the values of the Gospel. They invited them to deepen their commitment and to translate their faith into action in the various sectors of life where they are called to witness. The fathers particularly valued the active commitment of the dioceses of the diaspora on three continents-- Europe, America and Australia-- to their brothers who have been displaced and their embracing them in their parishes. They thanked them for their love and solidarity with their brothers in the homeland and their support for the relief work that the Patriarchate is undertaking.

The fathers examined the state of spiritual courts in Syria and Lebanon and decided to continue the dialogue about this in order to put forward a vision of how to develop spiritual courts on the basis of accumulated experience so that these courts will become more effective and transparent.

The fathers of the synod adopted the special report about developments in the Orthodox world during the past year since the "Council of Crete" and about the work of the episcopal assemblies in the diaspora which takes into account the role of Antioch at the level of the witness of the universal Orthodox Church in recent years.

The fathers also reviewed a number of reports about ecumenical activity, the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, and the work of the Middle Eastern Council of Churches. They reiterated the importance of dialogue with the Christian world and Antioch's open role in this dialogue, with the goal of overcoming the difficulties facing a united Christian witness in today's world which is undergoing rapid and radical changes that require a shared Christian position stemming from the Gospel and the common tradition that brings Christians together.

The fathers did not cease contemplating the difficulties suffered by their children as a result of the wars and economic crises occurring in the countries in which they live. They reviewed in particular the work of the Patriarchate's Department of Development and Assistance which is active throughout Syria as the arm of the Patriarchate in the service of love. They thanked those working in this department, those supervising it and its donors. In light of the worsening economic and living situation, the fathers appealed to all to support this work of solidarity and to support this vital program which shines a candle in the suffocating darkness of this crisis in which a large number of our children are under pressure in various aspects of their lives including housing, healthcare, food, education and others. The fathers examined the state of theological education in the See of Antioch and the role played by the Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology in this field. They stressed the importance f this institute as a nursery for preparing pastors and as an institute that serves Antiochian unity and prepares priests in the Antiochian Church.

In the context of the current session of the Holy Synod, the fathers of the synod sent His Eminence Metropolitan Ephrem Kyriakos (Tripoli) and His Eminence Antonius al-Soury (Zahleh) to His Eminence Metropolitan Georges Khodr (Jubayl and Batroun) to convey the love and prayers of the patriarch and the fathers of the synod for His Eminence and to study the situation of the Archdiocese of Jubayl and Batroun and and their dependencies the possibility of taking specific decisions and actions in their regard.

The fathers were informed about the visit that His Beatitude the Patriarch made to the Archdiocese of Aleppo after the end of the battle to liberate the city. They reiterated their denunciation of the destructive war in which the people of Syria are suffering and which has continued to cause enormous human and material losses and has led to the fragmentation of Syrian society and thousands of dead, wounded and disappeared, just as it has sent forth waves of refugees the like of which the world has never seen. The fathers warned about the blockade and economic sanctions imposed on the Syrian people which have harmed everyone but have most affected the working classes and the poor, who have grown poorer and more miserable and are now unable to secure their livelihood and the most basic requirements of housing, healthcare and education. In this regard, the fathers urge the international community to lift the sanctions imposed on the Syrian people and to work to put a stop to the terrorism, violence, forced expulsion and fragmentation, to work earnestly to establish a ceasefire and to restore civil peace. The Syrian people were not born to be firewood in the struggles of the powers of this world, nor for killing, displacement and emigration, but rather to live in freedom and dignity and to bear witness to the values of tolerance and coexistence as they have done over the course of their history.

The fathers of the synod urged the good people of this world to work to uncover the fate of those who are missing and have been kidnapped and to free them, among them the bishops of Aleppo Paul (Yazigi) and Yuhanna (Ibrahim) whose abduction has become a bewildering mystery shrouded in systematic international silence but whose presence in their dioceses, their churches, and the living conscience of the world remains stronger and more powerful than their absence.

The fathers of the synod welcomed Lebanon's return to its active position in the world after the election of the President of the Republic, the formation of a government and the return of legislative activity in parliament. They stressed the importance of respecting the national covenant and the constitution in adopting an appropriate law for elections that will guarantee sound representation for all sectors and elements of Lebanese society and will strengthen their coexistence and partnership in the nation, transcending the boundaries of the religious communities.

The fathers blessed all the steps intended to fight corruption and put and end to the waste of public money as an essential starting point for lifting oppression from citizens and for every reform in the Lebanese state which has continued to suffer the consequences of rampant corruption. They renewed their call to activate the work of the organs of monitoring, accountability and the judiciary and to free them from the power of the influential and to restore Lebanese citizens' trust in the institutions of the state.

The fathers look forward to a Lebanese system based on citizenship and actual and perfect equality between all elements of the Lebanese people. However, in light of the current system, they express their rejection of the deprivation and marginalization of their children in the administrations of the state and public service. They express their dissatisfaction with the excessive exclusion of Orthodox from positions contrary to established custom.

The fathers of the synod follow with great unease the wars taking place in Iraq, Yemen and other Arab countries, where the people of these countries live in a state of fear and anxiety about their fate, as well as poverty and need. They asked God to have mercy on the peoples of the Arab region and all the peoples of the world and to cause them to enjoy security, people, tranquility and a life of dignity. The fathers also condemned the crimes to which Christians have recently been subjected in Egypt and all the efforts to terrorize them, expel them, and tear them from their land. They appreciated the positions taken by various strata of Egyptian society condemning these barbaric attacks. The fathers contemplated the continued suffering of the Palestinian people and condemned Israeli authorities' efforts to maintain Israelis' domination over the Palestinian people. They welcomed the international positions taken condemning these policies and practices as apartheid and racist. The fathers likewise condemned all forms of terrorism, extremism, and suicidal terrorist operations that have affected many parts of the world and they called on concerted international effort to combat terrorism.

The fathers listened to a study about sainthood and saints in today's world and they mentioned, with the commemoration of All Saints' Day close in their minds, they noted the importance of having a sense of the meaning of sainthood in our own days. They also reviewed some of Antioch's experience in honoring the saints. The fathers encouraged their children to follow the paths of holiness in every aspect of their life. They likewise noted the importance of those Antiochian saints who have gone before in the past and present, emphasizing the importance of the Christian vocation, "as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:15-15).

The fathers concluded by sending the apostolic blessing to all their Antiochian children scattered in every part of the inhabited world.

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on the Spiritual Father

Arabic original here.

The Spiritual Father

Baptism does not change a person mechanically and so it needs to be activated in our life through repentance and confession. Saint Symeon the New Theologian says, "If a person is not baptized in his tears (that is, in repentance), then he has only been washed in water." Just as partaking of communion at times brings about condemnation and death, so too if baptism is not met with good works, then it is a withered tree. The Apostle Paul says, "whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner (for example, without preparation) will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" (see the entire passage, 1 Corinthians 11:23-30). This passage is read on Holy Thursday. Nevertheless, if someone comes to enliven you once more in the Spirit, you become a new creation.

Spiritual activity is not merely a function of one's position. A priest does not become a spiritual father by virtue of his position. If the bishop notices a spiritual gift that has come to dwell in him, then he declares him to be a spiritual father. There is a special prayer for this in the Euchologion. Then he is made worthy for giving spiritual guidance. Then, he profoundly understands (through the Spirit of understanding) the word of the Lord and knows how to confront sins, treat them and heal them. The Spiritual father is the one who begets Christ in his children. Therefore, in the Orthodox Church we have monks and nuns who are not priests but who undertake spiritual fatherhood and guidance. The most prominent example of this today is Father Paisios the Athonite whose sainthood was recently declared: he was not a priest and was unlettered.

Recall what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, "I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors (priests) in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me" (1 Corinthians 4:14-16).

Of course, the sacraments and the word of the Gospel remain the source of holiness. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit gives gifts freely, outside the sacraments, while remaining within the communion of the Church, making use of channels or without channels. The important thing is that the Holy Spirit is present and that we believe that He is active and active freely.

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Monday, April 3, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Joy

Arabic original here.

Joy

The value of every activity lies in the goal to which it aspires. Our goal in the fast is nothing other than the resurrection. Do you see how we follow the path of our struggle without losing sight of the aim of fasting, which leads us to taste the joy of the resurrection of our Lord on the day of Pascha?

The cross only exists because it transforms us for rebirth. We only deal with the passion in the Church because it draws us to joy: this is the joy of children in welcoming the Lord on Palm Sunday, coming for His saving passion and likewise the joy of the mystery of the cross in the middle of Holy Week.

The Lord enters into our life in order to end the sorrow of our suffering. Suffering is also the harmful passions. "From my youth have many passions warred against me, but do Thou Thyself defend and save me, O Savior."

This requires patience and prayer. All of these things are steps of repentance in our struggle of fasting, to the degree that we distance ourselves from worldly cares and focus, more and more, on spiritual struggles: fasting, praying, regard for the other through works of charity. In the world there is pain and adversity. Medicine and psychology do not heal on their own since they require God's resting in the soul of man. Therefore the Church exists for the sake of healing soul and body.

The activity of bearing the cross requires constant motion towards God. Psychology treats the knot in one one's soul, but it does not reach the heart's spiritual rest. Man's perfect healing is not complete without divine sympathy, the visitation of uncreated grace. We Christians madly cling to the sign of the cross because "through the cross joy came into all the world."

On the tree of the cross, Christ was victorious of sin, death and evil.

The Christian's life is an adventure like the adventure of the Lord in His life on earth. In it there is suffering, there are afflictions and temptations, but at the same time there is a foretaste of Christ's passion and resurrection.

The Feast of the Cross in the middle of the fast is an anticipation of Passion Week and a foretaste of the resurrection.

The Apostle Paul says in his Epistle to the Philippians, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice!"

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies  

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Repose of Metropolitan Elia (Saliba) of Hama

According to an-Nahar, the Patriarchate of Antioch has announced that Metropolitan Elia (Saliba) of Hama fell asleep in the Lord this morning, Saturday April 1.

Christ is risen!

Indeed He is risen!


Further information from the Facebook page of the Archdiocese of Argentina:

On Thursday, March 30 His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch named auxiliary bishop Nicholas Baalbaki as patriarchal auxiliary vicar to the Archbishop of Hama and its Dependencies, His Eminence Metropolitan Elia (Saliba) on account of the latter's grave health situation and the state of emergency that the archdiocese is going through due to military activity throughout the province of Hama [a recent al-Qaeda-led offensive reached the outskirts of Mhardeh before being repelled], which caused several families to leave for more secure locations last weekend. Bishop Nicholas was a doctor prior to consecrating himself to the service of the Lord. As a bishop, he was director of the Patriarchal Hospital of el-Hosn before becoming president of the first-degree spiritual court of the Archdiocese of Damascus. Let us pray for both bishops and for the people of this province!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos)'s Message for Lent

Arabic original here.

Message for Lent

During the time of fasting, we refrain from everything that does not pertain to God so that we may be nourished with the bread of heaven. Spiritual life (that is, life in the Spirit of God) is not acquired without hunger, hunger for invisible food. Being sated is to do without God and "excessive luxury leads to sin."

Saint John Chrysostom says that this is the time of repentance and repentance is nothing other than turning to God. In this way we acquire "the mind that is in Christ Jesus," as the Apostle Paul says (Philippians 2:5).

Training the body through fasting and prostrations brings us closer to God, just as it also brings us closer to our brothers, the poor. The fast does not take us away from our body, but rather it takes us away from its lust, from its selfishness, indeed, from the worship of it. There is an intimate relationship between the body and the soul. God became flesh and dwelt among us in His Holy Spirit and we are no longer sated with anything but Him.

The body is trained through bodily exercises, through fasting and prostrations. The soul is one with the body and it is trained through refraining from sin. There is an intimate connection between the soul and the body. Changes in thinking have an impact on the body. The most important thing during the time of fasting is to turn to God, being occupied with Him first of all: how many Christian families until today take an opportunity out of their obligations to make time for prayer?

Being alone with the Beloved is good, especially during Holy Week. They long for Him, so should we not sacrifice some time out of our worldly occupations to dedicate to seeing the Lord, to speaking to Him? How, when we don't see Him? How, when we don't taste Him? "Taste and see how good the Lord is." How, when we don't get to know Him from close by, when true life is with Him!?

This comes through prayer and also through the neighbor.

Yes, our path of fasting leads us to the vision that we enjoy before it comes to us and into us. It is an earnest effort to connect to God in unity with Him. It is a vision of the Savior risen from death, in the hope of our own resurrection from our stumbling, and along with us the resurrection of the world that is despairing of its darkness. Amen.

The time of the fast is an opportunity for us to practice works of charity. The Bible says: "Redeem your sins by works of charity" (Daniel 4:27).

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Friday, February 3, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh on Trump's Muslim Ban

Arabic original in an-Nahar here.

Mr Trump: Mind Your Own Business!*


We are not concerned by the decision of Mr Donald Trump, president of the United States of America, to prevent the reception of citizens of certain countries, including Syria, except insomuch as it distinguishes between Muslims and Christians. His decision is a purely sovereign American matter and only Americans have the right to debate their president and to ask him whether or not his decision is correct. What concerns us, then, is the impact of this decision on relations between Christians and Muslims in our country.

When Trump exempts Christians from his decision, he is regarding them as "minorities" in a state of danger. He plays the role of the protector of persecuted minorities, but at the same time he wants to build a wall to separate from "Christian" Mexico. Why this zeal for Syrian Christians while expelling Mexican Christians? So what concerns Trump isn't the future of Christians and Christianity in the Middle East, but rather American interests. That's his right, since he's the president of the United States of America and not the Pope or the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Most Syrian Christians do not want to be regarded as minorities. They are the people of the country. They were so before Islam and remained so under it, without favors from anyone. Their relations with Muslims have ebbed and flowed from one era to another according to the temperaments of rulers, governors and invaders... but they have proven that they are an essential component of the country. Their presence extends from the furthest north, from Aleppo, Lattakia and al-Hessake, to the furthest south, to Hawran and "Provincia Arabia," passing through Hama, Homs, Tartous, Wadi al-Nasara and Damascus. Therefore it is not possible to discriminate between Syrian Christians and other Syrians.

Syrian Christians do not want Mr Trump to treat them as "Syrian Christians," but as Syrian citizens. Preventing the reception of Syrians in his country is fine, but it's not fine to exempt Christians. Moreover, the decision implies that there is a crisis between Christians and Muslims, that the Christians are persecuted by the Muslims, and that their future in the region is threatened... and this is not true. The crisis of Christians and Muslims began before the appearance of extremist Islamic groups. It began with the tyranny practiced by the current regime. The crisis of Middle Eastern Christians, then, is the same as the Muslims' crisis and one cannot be solved without solving the other. Their fates are inextricably intertwined and it is only in vain that we go searching outside this framework.

There is no doubt that Mr Trump's decision contributes to pouring oil on the fire of racism, prejudice and hatred that is devouring the entire world. But the decision also serves those who the United States and Russia claim to be fighting: ISIS, Nusra and other such terrorist groups. How is it possible to fight Islamic extremism on the basis of regarding all Muslims as a danger to the international community? Is not preventing Muslims from traveling to the United States tantamount to accusing them of being terrorists simply because they are Muslims? Moreover, how can Mr Trump ignore the fact that ISIS does not discriminate between Syrian Muslims and Syrian Christians in their terrorist operations? In this regard-- and only in this regard-- ISIS seems better than Trump, since they don't practice racial or religious discrimination!

This hypocrisy practiced by Mr Trump in his dealing with the situation of Christians in the Middle East isn't new. What did the United States do in order to help the Christians of Palestine and Iraq remain? And what did the West in general do to prevent the Armenian Genocide, or to prevent the Turks, during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, from expelling the Greeks from western Turkey, the Syriacs from Mardin and Diyarbakir, and the Rum from Antioch?

Christians will not be pleased to be pawns in the hands of racists. They are masters of their own fate. They have passed through years and centuries that were much leaner than these days and they were not eliminated. They are here. They shall remain here. This is their country and it shall remain their country. But to Mr Trump we say: mind your own business!*

*Literally: go sew with a different needle.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fr Georges Massouh: Baptism is a Death and a Resurrection

Arabic original here.

Baptism is a Death and a Resurrection

Baptisms abound during the season of Theophany, which is popularly called the "Feast of Baptism", during which Christians commemorate Christ's baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. Most believers wait for the coming of this feast to baptize their children because they believe in the connection between their children's baptism and the baptism of Christ. However, Christian theology, starting from the Holy Bible, says something else. Christians do not get baptized because Christ was baptized, but because Christ died and rose from the dead.

There is a difference between Christ's baptism by John, which was a purification ritual that could be repeated multiple times, about which John was clear when he said to his disciples, "I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:8). And Jesus said to the Pharisee Nicodemus, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again'" (John 3:5-7).

There is no doubt that the Holy Apostle Paul was the first to talk about baptism as participation in Christ's death and resurrection. In his Epistle to the Romans, he says, "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection" (Romans 6:5-3).

The Christian tradition is in agreement, then, in saying that baptism is participation in Christ's death and resurrection and for this reason it is called a second birth. In this regard, Saint John Chrysostom (d. 407) says, "By baptizing the head in water, the old man is buried, is completely drowned in the depths, and is totally hidden. When the head is raised, the new man takes the place of the old." Chrysostom likewise confirms this when he says, "As it is the cross and the tomb for Christ, so it is baptism for us."

As for Saint Ambrose of Milan (d. 397), he says, "Baptism is like death in your descent into the water, and like resurrection in your leaving the water. Just as the resurrection of the Lord, according to the Apostle Paul's explanation, is a rebirth, your leaving the baptismal font is a rebirth." Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386)  says, "Just as Christ, who bore all the sins of the world, died in order to raise you up in righteousness by His crushing sin, you go down into the water and you are buried in it just as he was buried in a tomb, so that you may rise and walk in newness of life." Newness of life is living in the presence of the eternal God, in constant repentance.

Fidelity to baptism requires separation from sin, of which Theodoret of Cyrrhus (d. 466) says, "The mystery of baptism teaches us to separate from sin. Baptism is in the likeness of the Lord's death. In it, we become participants in Christ's death and resurrection. Therefore, we must live a new life." But if one falls into sin, he does not repeat his baptism, but rather repentance is like a constant baptism. One only dies once and so one is only baptized once.

Theodoret offers us a valuable witness to the early practice of baptizing children, something that is rejected by some Protestant sects, when he says, "If the meaning of baptism was limited to the forgiveness of sins, then why do we baptize recently-born children who have not yet known sin? But the mystery of baptism is not limited to this. Rather, it goes beyond this to greater and more perfect gifts. In baptism, there is the promise of the splendors to come. It is the symbol of the coming resurrection, participation in the Lord's passion and resurrection. It is the badge of salvation, the oil of splendor, the badge of light or more aptly, the light itself."

Monday, January 9, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Spiritual Life in the Parish

Arabic original here.

Spiritual Life in the Parish

What does the parish church offer its members in addition to the Divine Liturgy on Sunday and the other sacramental services like baptism, marriage, and funerals and some charitable assistance? Can the priest not add to this serving, spiritually guiding, and healing souls?

Can the doors of the church not be opened more than once a week for the Divine Sacrifice or for vespers, a paraklisis or other prayers? The Divine Liturgy can be held in the evening during the week, but what is more beautiful and more effective than a Divine Liturgy early in the morning before going to school or work? Because spiritual struggle in personal or liturgical prayer is effective and fruitful in the morning when the mind is fresh and we offer the firstfruits of our thought and prayer to God. In the Antiochian Church, we not long ago had the tradition in every diocese of celebrating the Divine Liturgy early every day in a church specially designated for this. This is because the Church's experience tells us that prayer, especially early in the morning, and closeness with the Lord are priorities in the life of the believer and are reflected positively in the family, at school, at work and in society. The Church is the hospital for sick souls, says Saint John Chrysostom. This is because illness is rooted in our mind (nous).

The holy fathers teach us that man cannot be radically healed except through the grace of the Holy Spirit, naturally by way of repentance (metanoia), whose literal meaning is a change of mind (nous), so that it may be attached to the mind of Christ, as the Apostle Paul calls for in his Epistle to the Philippians (cf. Philippians 2:5).

Beloved, the Orthodox Christian witness does not only rely on the intellect, since it also and especially assumes the purification of the heart through confession and repentance. Saint Seraphim of Sarov says, "Acquire the Spirit of peace in your heart and thousands around you will be saved."

Let us not forget, brethren, that we believers are called to bear witness to Christ in our society, which today is diverse in its denominations and religious communities on the one hand, and in its materialist and worldly inclination on the other hand. The Lord Jesus Himself calls us, through His disciples before His ascension from us to heaven in the body, saying, "Go and make disciples of all nations... teach them to keep all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20).

He is the one who went about teaching, "preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people" (Matthew 9:35).

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Time

Arabic original here.

Sermon for New Year's 2017

At New Year's, beloved, we must once again stand and contemplate the meaning of our life, the essence of our existence, and how we spend our time. We must pause over the meaning of time, how we live it and how we should live it.

Generally speaking, we distinguish three aspects of time: the past, the present and the future. If we want to approach the present objectively, we will be sure that it is nothing other than the aspect that overlaps between the past and the future. The present is that tiny finite moment that we cannot separate, but which divides the past from the future. The moment of the present is in reality the only one that is occurring, but it cannot be seized or grasped, since it immediately recedes into the past. A person doesn't live time as moments isolated from each other, but as a broad extension that embraces the past and the future. The present is that station in which the past and future are traversed, in the sense of traversing time and connecting with eternity. In it takes place preparation for eternal life. Time becomes an opportunity to seize eternity. The present is the temporal scope in which man meets God, according to the Elder Sophronius. Prostrations, bowing and rising, express this state: rising from the earth to seek heaven, tying earth's time to eternity. Time, in its present moment, can transform into moments when man encounters God. Time, only in its present moment, can mix with eternity. Thus we can approach time, its meaning, its value and its purpose in its present moment: it grants man the possibility of accessing eternity.

Time is inextricably entangled with the world and with the affairs of the world. It is entangled with life and leads it to death. The sea is this age, the boat is each of our lives, humans are the passengers, the rudder that guides the ship is time, and the destination is death. So it would be ignorance for us to go to death sleeping. Man's lifespan is the time of life that has passed and ended. On our birthdays we rejoice that we have gotten older and that we have added years to our lifespans. Our standard of measurement is, unfortunately, what is gone and passed. Passing time is not the measure of the time of life, but the measure of the time of passing away. But we must be wiser and more wary because we are drawing nearer to death and we do not know when death will open its gates to us. The God who loves humankind has kept the time of death unknown for humans in order to put them in a state of wakefulness and repentance and in a state of expectation: "let your loins be girded about and your lamps burning," especially when they see death knocking at the door for those around them. Unfortunately, however, Christians have come to treat death in an abstract manner where it concerns people around them but not themselves. The logic of Christianity is for the Christian to celebrate the triumph of his entrance into the kingdom, not his entrance into life. For this reason, the Church generally designates the feasts of martyrs and righteous ones on the dates of their martyrdom and repose, not on the day of their coming into life; on the day of their entering into the kingdom, not on the day of their entering into life.

Beloved, we must make this day into an opportunity that we dedicate to remembering God in the time of our personal lives. We must dedicate it to prayer, good works and sacrifice. Let us know that when we offer our present moment to God, we are offering Him our lifespan and our entire life. In this way, we truly live our life as fragrant incense for God, to Him be glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.