Thursday, October 2, 2014

Arabic original here.

Human Sacrifice and Animal Sacrifice

Eid el-Adha, the commemoration of Abraham's offering his son as a sacrifice, is coming. May it cause us, like every year, to examine the symbolism of this event. We will not delve here into the question of the event's historicity or the question of determining the identity of the child (Isaac according to the Torah and Ishmael according to Islamic tradition) that Abraham intended to sacrifice as an offering to God. The only thing we are concerned with here is answering the question, what does this event mean for us today?

Before Abraham, whom religious researchers estimate to have lived in the fourteenth century before Christ, some Middle Eastern societies, like many societies all over the world, practiced human sacrifice in their worship. The Torah's account of the "child sacrifice" and his replacement with a lamb came, by divine command, in order to put a stop to human sacrifices and to replace them with animal sacrifice. The story of Abraham and his son, then, regardless of the historicity of the event, is a story with clear pedagogical aims, the most important of which is the revocation of human sacrifices and their being regarded as a crime against both God and man.

In the story of Abraham and his son, we also find a call for fathers to refrain from killing their children, not only in the physical sense, but also in the symbolic sense. In our societies, fathers still proceed to kill their children by giving them an inheritance of servitude instead of raising them on freedom and creativity. Fathers cause their children to grow up in inauthentic religious traditions and shopworn societal customs, sectarianism and prejudice.

We likewise find in the story of Abraham and his son a call for fathers to refrain from sacrificing their children, since they have authority over them and decide their fates. Right now, fathers continue to kill their children with this inheritance full of hatred, rancor and the rejection and lack of respect for the other...

The story of Abraham intends to show us the God calls all people to liberation from everything hideous in religious and social history, especially killing. Nevertheless, some still raise in the name of God, may He be exalted, hordes of extremists, fanatics, killers, criminals and thugs. Added to this is the failure of religious institutions to raise generations that are free and capable of openness and of facing the challenges of the age. These institutions have failed because they have estranged their children from reason, this reason that must always strive to discover what is appropriate for each generation. This is because they regard their inheritance, its strengths and its weaknesses, to be sufficient for them. No wonder, then, that we are witnessing a return to barbarity and random killing. Those doing the slaughtering, no doubt, are the products of our societies that are filled with fanaticism, hatred and revenge. They are the products of pursuing whims, passions and lusts. They are the products of the religious backwardness that has led them away from the most weighty thing that God has called us to-- mercy.

With the old Abraham, the Friend of God who listened to God's voice, human sacrifices were abrogated. With the new Abraham, Ibrahim al-Badri, known as "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi" who most certainly does not listen to God's voice, and those like him who justify his actions, the beastliness of sacrifice has returned, the sacrifice of those of whom God said, "We have honored the children of Adam" (Surat al-Isra 70).

We hope in the coming feast that sacrifice [al-adha] will return to its proper meaning and that man will regain his dignity.

Israel Seizes Land from Russian Orthodox Monastery

French original in La Croix here (paywall) or here.

Orthodox Monastery at the Sea of Tiberias Partially Appropriated

The Russian Orthodox Monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene, located in Tiberias (Northern Israel)  on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, has lost part of its land because the Israeli authorities have decided to develop a recreation area there.

This monastery is located close to Magdala (modern Migdal), the town where Saint Mary Magdalene was born and the place where, according to tradition, Christ would have expelled the seven demons who were in her.

On this land, acquired in 1908 by Archimandrite Leonid Sentsov, then the director of the Russian mission in the Holy Land, Orthodox monks built a small church in the 1960's. The garden also has warm springs withe therapeutic properties.

According to the Russian news agency Interfax, residents of the area regularly destroy the property's fence despite a sign reading "Private  Property", in order to swim in the hot springs and hold barbecues, leaving behind trash and unextinguished fires.

Local media even announced that a free beach was opened on the grounds. Celebrities visit the beach on holidays, loud music is played, and visitors behave in a manner that bothers the monks.

In order to prevent people from Tiberias from performing Jewish rites in the monastery basins, the mission's monks put crucifix mosaics in them, but unknown people dismantled them and stole the tiles.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Elias Khoury on Palestinian Christian Identity

Arabic original in al-Quds al-Arabi here. For more on Israel's decision to create an "Aramaean" nationality, see here.

The Aramaean Game

by Elias Khoury

Amidst the host of identity conflicts in the Arab Middle East, the Israeli magician has pulled out of his hat a new identity that he wants to give Palestinian Christians. The Hebrew state, which succeeded in transforming Druze identity into a national identity within Israel-- at least on paper and in enlistment documents-- has discovered a new national identity for Christians, so now they are not Palestinians or Arabs, but Aramaeans! This was the decision of Mr Gideon Saar, the Israeli minister of the interior, with the agreement of the priest Gabriel Naddaf, an Orthodox priest in Nazareth!

I do not know why some orientalist working in Israeli intelligence decided to revive an Aramaean nationality, without any basis outside the Israeli imagination, which always strives to fragment what remains of the Palestinian people in their occupied nation into different nationalities! After the priest Naddaf's failure to convince Christians to enlist in the Israeli army in order to serve the state that stole their land, occupied their homes, and plundered their possessions, his mind or the mind of his employers hit upon the 'genius' idea of creating a special nationality for Christians. Naddaf or his employer can't talk of a Christian nationality that extends from the Vatican to America, since no such thing exists apart from the fact that it would disturb Israelis, so he had to go back to the past and extract some identity from the graveyard of history.

The level of ignorance in the Aramaean proposal is enough to make you feel pity. Mr Naddaf, apart from his ignorance of the history of Palestinian Christian families, most of which come from Hawran, the cradle of Arab Christianity (most believe that the Naddaf family, who have roots in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, are of Hawrani origin), is ignorant of the history of the relationship between the Aramaic language and the land from which it came and the transformations experienced by its speakers.

Anyone who knows the rudiments of Syriac history knows that the coming of Christianity to greater Syria and the rise of the Antiochian Church led Aramaic-speaking Christians to distinguish themselves by adopting the name "Syriac". Syriac is Christian Aramaic. Gabriel Naddaf, who claims to have studied theology, does not know this obvious truth, just as he is unable to invent a Syriac nationality, since the Syriac Christian community already exists in Palestine.

The use of Syriac in church services was not limited to the Jacobites and Maronites. All the Christian churches used Syriac in their prayers until Arabization began and the Church was Arabized. However, the Church did not abandon partial use of Syriac and this even applies to the Orthodox Church to which Naddaf claims to belong. As for the use of Greek in the Church, it came about after the Crusades, when the Eastern Church was subjected to the worst sorts of persecution under Crusader rule and so its leaders fled to Constantinople and when they returned, they came back with Byzantine rituals.

Christians, like all the people of the Levant, used two languages before the Arab conquest, Byzantine Greek and Syriac. With Arabization, Greek disappeared but Syriac filtered into the Arabic language and became a fundamental part of that langauge. Syriac was only preserved partially, in northern Mount Lebanon and among the Surianis or the Syriac Orthodox living in the Jezira. The Syriac identity of the Maronites dissapeared with their Latinization, that is, their incorporation into the Church of Rome, while the Syriac identity of the Surianis has been subjected  to many trials, chief among them the slaughter in their villages in Turkey during the Armenian Genocide.

The Christians of Palestine, like other childreno of the Palestinian people, can be related to a mixture that stretches from the Canaanites to the Arabs, as Palestine in the Torah is called the Land of Canaan. After the establishment of the Hebrew state, there was a cultural and literary movement called the "Canaanites" that called for belonging to the land and not to a Jewish religious identity. It regarded the Muslim and Christian Palestinian peasants as the remnants of the Jewish people who lived in the Land of Canaan. This movement, however, which counted Benjamin Tammuz among its pioneers, quickly dissipated under the dominance of racist Zionist ideology.

Everything I have written above would be unnecessary if Naddaf had any inkling of the history of his country and his people and had not turned into a petty informant whose head is being stuffed with false information by a stupid orientalist in the Israeli intelligence services.

The most amusing thing that I've read is where Naddaf says that we are Greeks and Aramaeans and not Arabs. By Greeks he means the Rum Orthodox community and here his ignorance is most evident. The appellation "Rum" was the name given to the Orthodox Christian Arabs by their Monophysite opponents who accused them of abandoning the Church of Syria, which at that time was the national church, much like the Coptic Church. The Rum are not Greeks and the adjective "Rum" that was attached to them was adopted over time. As for the Greek domination over the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, it is one of the consequences of the Ottoman era and the circumstances of the occupation have prevented this from changing as happened in the Antiochian Church in Syria and Lebanon.

The premise of the Israeli minister of the interior and his follower Naddaf is a pile of imaginary notions. The goal is to fabricate an identity out of nothing in order to promote enlistment in the Israeli army among the Christian youth.

If this Naddaf knew what he was saying, he would go to the villages of Iqrit and Kafrbirim and join in the struggle for the right of their inhabitants to return. Just as a reminder, some of the inhabitants of those two villages are Maronites, who still use Syriac in their religious rituals.

This Naddaf is an embarrassment to the Church and to Palestine. If he just know how the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus of Nazareth has entered into the Arab mosaic and spread its words within it... If he knew how much we love this language, to the point that it is fused with our consciousness and our language... If he knew the staggering number of Syriac words have entered into our daily lexicon...

His problem isn't his ignorance, since someone who doesn't know is able to learn. His problem is called accepting inferiority to the point that it has led him to be a traitor.

As for the buffoonery called Aramaean nationalism, it is destined to be forgotten.

Amidst the madness of sectarian and identitarian death that is leading the Arab Middle East into the abyss, Palestinians know that their unity is the most precious thing that they possess, so they are not facing any problem of identity because they know who they are and do not need a Zionist teacher to guide them to themselves.

Let Palestinians leave questions of identity and racism to the Israelis who are searching for an identity for their nation that they will not find.

As for Palestine, her identity is the land, suffering, freedom and resistance.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh: Life is Preferable to Martyrdom

Arabic original here.

Life is Preferable to Martyrdom

Life is holier than death, even if it is martyrdom. God created man to live, not to die. Life is holier than death, even if death is the doorway that leads to eternal life. Life is preferable to martyrdom. For this reason, Christianity condemns begging for martyrdom at any price and considers it suicide.

When martyrdom comes, it must be accepted. To a person to be martyred for faith and not deny it even when he is subjected to the most horrible tortures is immeasurably more virtuous. This is confirmed by the lives of the holy martyrs throughout the history of the Church.

Martyrdom is a duty if it comes. However, if it is possible to avoid it, then it must be avoided. After warning the disciples of coming persecution and calling them to stand firm until the end, Christ commanded them, "When they persecute you in a city, flee to another" (Matthew 10:23). According to Saint Cyril of Alexandria, in this verse Christ is not teaching His disciples "to be cowards, but rather not to throw themselves into dangers and perish so as to keep those who have yet to benefit from their teaching from losing it."

In the very same context, Saint Jerome states that when the Lord said to His disciples "Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans" (Matthew 10:5), He said it "not because they were afraid of persecution but so that they would avoid it."

However, in the event that it happens, martyrdom becomes an obligation. Christ Himself encouraged His disciples toward martyrdom when He said, "do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10: 28). The essence of man is not the body, because the body passes out of existence and suffers corruption. He who kills the body is only killing that which naturally is passing out of existence, but he cannot touch a person's essence and the morals and values in which he believes. He can tear apart flesh and spill blood, but he will not be able to kill the heart, God's dwelling-place. He can kill a person's exterior, but he will not be able to kill God who dwells within that person.

No power in the world can kill a single person's soul, unless someone kills his own soul and remains alive in his body. There is a single way to kill the soul, which is sin in its various forms. In times of hardship, this sin takes the form of disbelief, compromising the faith and abandoning faith's requirements for the sake of self-preservation.

Christianity believes that the body is holy. The Son of God took a body and became man. The body contributes to human holiness, so in the body a person is baptized, receives the holy things, is sealed with chrism, is anointed with oil, bows down to God, makes the sign of the cross... So the body must be preserved until it naturally returns to the earth. But if a person is forced to choose between his body and his faith, then the Christian choice is clear.

Christianity, in a word, is the constant call to bear the cross. The cross is an instrument of life, not of death. It is better for a person to die for his faith and live forever than to live for the sake of worldly concerns and die forever. Christ died for humankind of His own will, despite the fact that, according to the Christian faith, He was incapable of dying. So then how much more so, will we, His friends, not die for the sake of what we have inherited from the saints?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Carol Saba Assesses June's Antiochian Unity Conference

Arabic original here

An Assessment of the Antiochian Unity Conference at Balamand

Congratulations to the boldness of Patriarch John X for his calling together this exceptional conference, which we have asked for repeatedly over the years. The conference's timing was dead-on because any delay would have subjected the Church to greater fissures. Today we have hope and a framework with which to start building a participatory church structure.

The conference was also right in demonstrating the thirst of the faithful for active participation, so it is incumbent upon the leadership of the Church from now on to take into account the emerging Orthodox public opinion that is in motion, so as to engage it in the decision-making process. It likewise hit the mark in its logistical organization, as everything was appropriate and in order. However, we should be wary of all this going to waste if we do not make an accurate and dynamic analysis of critical challenges, the management of progressive stages, and the methods for following up. A necessary first step is to defuse the minds scattered along the path. "Simplify your life, and fear will go away," says the spiritual father and contemporary saint Paisios the Athonite. His call is not to simplification in the sense of distinguishing between what is important and what is more important. We should not distract ourselves with details that become slogans that move us away from what is fundamental. Putting an end to fear requires on an Antiochian level a critical assessment of successive erroneous paths that have been taken, reflecting the deep reality of things and making clear what is essential. Several criticisms have been made of the conference, including the composition of the delegations, the fact  that its bold studies have not been published (I was among those who presented a study about church media and communication), the fact that the final proposals have not been published, and the absence of mechanisms for following up.

The publication of the studies could have further enriched the conference and eased the frustration of those who were not invited. As for the anticipated follow-up to the conference, it has not yet appeared even though the conference's value lies not in the invitation or the immediate success, but rather in the dynamic follow-up. Merely forwarding recommendations to a future meeting of the Holy Synod without distributing them in their final form for ratification does not constitute a participatory conclusion to the conference. The absence of effective media coverage and official talking points about the conference and its most  important recommendations has subjected it to various interpretations.

Of course, no one has the intention of leading us to a well of living water and then cutting the rope. However, this particular stage requires making the conference bear fruit peacefully, reconciling contradictions in the community and the Church, so that we may preserve and develop unity in diversity. One patriarchal tenure is not identical to another. I am certain that Patriarch John has absolutely no intention of eliminating the achievements of Patriarch Hazim of thrice-blessed memory, who was one of our great men in terms of what he had to undertake and the achievements that he realized. However, in this respect and in others, improper methodologies might impede liftoff, like broken wings, and create ambiguities. We are still moving in a traditional manner and spending time that we do not have, while this stage requires an exceptionally dynamic plan.

As for Antioch's critical concerns, the conference could have been a platform for announcing that the return of the missing Metropolitan Paul and his companion is Antioch's number-one issue. Given its national and regional symbolic importance, it could have asked for an "open" Muslim-Christian spiritual summit and for an international commission of inquiry in order to place everyone before their responsibilities and to present the issue to the diaspora and the media and give it a diplomatic hearing.

While still affirming the principle of not intervening in the affairs of another patriarchate, mention also needed to be made of what is happening in Jerusalem between the church leadership and their children. A message of solidarity and warning needed to be sent to both sides, that the mesure of the Church does not overlap with any form of racism. Mention needed to be made of our struggle with that patriarchate over their consecrating an archimandrite as bishop over the territory of the Antiochian Church in Qatar, as well as of the points of agreement that we arrived at at the Greek Foreign Ministry in Athens in June of 2013, which we have not yet valued in the media. It is the sole grounds for resolving this issue. It was agreed upon at the Greek Foreign Ministry and in the Ecumenical Patriarch's correspondence with the patriarchs.

As regards the crisis of primacy that is sweeping the Orthodox churches, it needed to raise a prophetic Antiochian voice to rebuke the new pharaseeism that is killing evangelism and pastoral care in the interest of authority. Even as Pope Francis is trying to escape papalism, it is sneaking into the Orthodox churches under various forms. Faced with the changes in the Middle East, there needed to be in national terms a critical assessment of the reasons for our retreat in our societies and for the escalation of crises and fundamentalisms and direct material and moral effort to assuage the harm with which we have been afflicted.

Our greatest challenge today is our national challenge, which requires of us intellectual readiness to reassert our national role and demarcate its honorable features, without delay, through fleeing every form of dhimmitude and reinforcing the society of citizenship, coexistence and diversity. In my presentation at Balamand I said, "Give time to our beloved Patriarch John, but do not neglect the concerns of the Church, since great things only come from the great."

Escaping the accumulations of the past requires qualitative change and renewed, non-traditional approaches that speak to the mind of today's world. Pressing forward towards the future requires replacing the logic of a center with the logic of a network in terms of media and with the cooperation of the dioceses and the diaspora. It requires replacing the logic of administration with the logic of evangelism, conservatism with development, exclusivity with participation, unilateral decision-making with consultation, the personal with the systematic, and ambiguity with transparency. At that point, we will be able to hear the voice of the Lord standing at the door, who is still trying to speak to us.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Met Georges Khodr: Three Reflections on the Cross

Arabic original here.

The Elevation of the Cross

These days rotate around the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross. Regardless of the historical occasion for the feast, we turn to the idea of our lifting up the cross, which in general speech is called the Feast of the Cross. In our faith and our prayer, we lift up the cross because we worship the one crucified upon it. In reality, we are magnifying our faith in the Crucified One, in the life that was poured out upon us by the Lord Jesus in the mystery of His death and resurrection.

In the Old Testament it says, "Cursed are all who are hung upon the tree." The blessed Lord took this curse upon Himself when they lifted Him upon the tree in order to lift the curse from us. An instrument of humiliation when criminals are hung upon it becomes an instrument of joy and pride. After the death of the Lord upon it, the cross has become our path to liberation from sin, as it was the Lord's path to His resurrection from the dead.

Thus the curse was voided, fear of death was nullified and the cross has become for us an invitation to our resurrection, just as it was the Lord's starting point toward His resurrection from the dead. We hang it in our churches, in our homes and on our chests in the hope of our liberation from sin, so in the Christian world it has become a symbol of hope and joy.

Christianity introduced a new understanding of the believer's suffering, that it can lead him to the Lord. Our suffering is no longer a sign of God's anger. Rather, it has become an image of his support for us. We are not happy about with suffering and we do not sanctify it. We are content with it in faith so that we may leave it for joy. We do not welcome our suffering but we hope that through it God will turn us toward the light of His face. It is not true that Christianity pursues suffering. It pursues the joy of the suffering believer when he suffers and accepts his situation in the hope of seeing Christ.

There is a widespread erroneous idea that Christianity sanctifies a person's pain. In fact, it accepts the believer's pain as a way-station for him in patience, but always in the hope of the resurrection. We must understand that the depiction of Christianity as a religion of suffering is a depiction that does not give proper weight to Christ's resurrection, which is the goal and the end.

Christian thought's focus on the cross is correct if we understand that it is not a locus for pain but rather a station on the path to freedom from pain. For us the cross is not a place for the Savior's suffering except insofar as it is the starting point for Christ's liberation from death. Our icons depict Christ on the cross with his eyes open in order to show that in death he remained victorious over death. "Death does not overcome Christ," as Paul says. This is the unity between the Lord's death and His resurrection, that death did not overcome him. The Savior passed through it and in this was the end of death.

And so, on Good Friday, during the funeral prayers for the Lord we do not weep. The words of our prayers look forward to Pascha. At the moment when we sing the death of the Savior, we leap forward with many words toward Pascha on account of our faith that death did not put an end to Christ for even a moment, in the sense that it had no effect against Christ, but rather was a leap towards the resurrection.

- - -

Arabic original here.

The Foolishness of the Cross

The cross has many meanings, but I will attempt to summarize the most important among them from what the Apostle Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians, part of which we read today. The apostle found himself in Greece before a great civilization. He was confronted with beautiful sculpture and architecture in Athens, as he was likewise confronted with the widespread philosophical school there, in the public square, the Areopagus, under that great hill in the heart of the city. The scholars spoke and the rhetors addressed the apostle and did not accept him. He headed for Corinth, to the laborers in the port, and these poor and neglected people accepted the faith from him, so Paul realized that no one would believe if he completely held to his intellect, if his intellect did not submit to the Gospel of Christ.

Likewise, the Jews expelled him from all their synagogues, as he would frequent their gatherings in Asia Minor and Greece. They expelled him because they despised the Crucified One. The Jews sought  signs from heaven and miracles. Moses had trained them and they thought that God makes Himself manifest and magnifies Himself through natural miracles. The Jews thought that God is a mighty and brutal tyrant and Plato thought that the gods are beautiful. In Jerusalem they were attached to might and in Athens they were attached to reason and beauty.

Along came Paul, the laborer, the tent-maker who had not read all of Greek philosophy and who was weak in the body, prone to illness as we may deduce from his Letter to the Galatians. He comes before the entire world and says, "The word of the cross to those perishing is folly", foolishness, madness because people do not seek a crucified god. Some of them seek a dominant god, and God does not dominate over them. Others seek a brilliant, beautiful god, but God was not beautiful upon the wood of the cross. Some seek a sign and others seek wisdom, and that is a rational mindset, but for we who are saved, Christ is God's power and God's wisdom. God comes and dwells among the poor. He rejects cruelty. He rejects it forever. He challenges the powerful. He constantly challenges them. He challenges those who are proud of their beauty, their knowledge and their gifts. Christ destroys our delusions and kills our vainglory. We have lived in this Middle East for over fourteen centuries and our glories are in the blood of our martyrs, in worship, and in the strong theology by which we speak of God.

We nailed ourselves to the cross once and for all in order to say that we renounce everything that the world has to give, to say that we are needy for the grace of our Lord and not needy for the wealth of this world. That is, everyone who has adopted the religion of the cross has taken up death. We are alive and provided-for, but we are risking death. That is, at every moment, we are putting our passions to death so that we may live in the Lord Jesus above the sun, according to the words of Paul, "God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom[a] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14).

Crosses are not put up with lights in the streets in order to say that we are here in a neighborhood and others are in another neighborhood. The cross does not divide up the living. The cross is not a division,  but rather a reaching out. It is God's heart, open to the universe. We are triumphant, yes, but we do not go on a crusade for this triumph. We do not fight. We do not slaughter anyone. We are triumphant. There is a victor and there is one vanquished. But the victor is the believer and the vanquished is the believer. How can this be? Vanquished are the believer's passions. You alone are the battlefield. Your Christ is triumphant in you, and your devil is vanquished in you. We are seekers of peace, seekers of joy, seekers of resurrection. Through the cross, we go to the resurrection.

This world is passing away. If you are pleased with this, then you are with the Crucified One. If you want for yourselves to conquer people, then you are with the Jews because the god of the Jews is a conqueror. If you want yourselves to be wise and astute, believing in your minds and your earthly arrangements, with the Greeks, with the pagan gentiles. But if you reject both this and that, if you are mad, if you are able to go mad, if you enjoy the grace of divine foolishness, if they point it you to say that you are fools who do not understand anything, if they belittle you and despise you and cast you aside, then be pleased that you have become like your Teacher, hanging on the tree. However, you must understand that by this tree alone and by this path to death are you triumphant. This is your gospel.

- - -

Arabic original here.

Just as Moses Lifted Up the Serpent in the Desert

The Church established the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross after Saint Helen, mother of the emperor Constantine, found the true cross buried in the ground in the fourth century. In the seventh century, when the Persians occupied Jerusalem, they took the cross and then it was returned by the Byzantine emperor, who raised it up. These two events, the finding of the cross and its return, together constitute the Feast of the Elevation of the Venerable Cross.

In preparation for this commemoration, the Gospel of John told us, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so too must the Son of Man be lifted up so that all who believe in Him may not perish but have eternal life." The event that the Gospel refers to here is when the Hebrews were returning from Egypt, they were bitten by snakes in the desert of Sinai. The people asked Moses to pray to the Lord to remove the danger of the snakes. Moses prayed for the people and the Lord said to him, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live" (Numbers 21:8-9).

For us, the broze serpent is without a doubt a symbol of the Crucified One. Those who look at the Crucified One with faith and take Him as savior will be healed of Satan's sting, from the bite of sin.

After this, John the Beloved continues in his gospel with the words of the Savior, "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life."

Before Christ came, God connected with a people and peoples, with all the peoples. He sent them rain and sun and supported them with philosophy and the good ideas that existed among the pagan peoples. This was a kind of indirect divine support. God sent His prophets to speak to the ancient world of Him, to express His will, to discipline the people and to reform and strengthen them with the word. Then, when the fullness of time set by God in His wisdom came, He sent His Son as one born from a woman, born under the law, incarnate and living among us, tasting the suffering that we taste and loving us. Then he suffered, died for us and rose. Thus, by sending His Son in the body, God became not only close to people as they had known Him of old, not only as one taking pity on humankind, He also came to be among people, one of them, tasting the pain they taste, rejoicing in their joys and giving Himself to them.

In the past, the prophets were given Gods words, but now God Himself has come to humankind and lived as one of us in order to lift us up to God. All of this was in the cross and on the cross. That is, the love with which God loved us found its highest and most perfect expression when He became incarnate and sacrificed Himself as a gift of love. He fell asleep in death, just like people, insofar as all who die finds Christ as their companion. When a person dies, Christ is with him. However, just as Christ raised Himself from the tomb, so too does He raise us all from our tombs. This is not only on the last day; He raises us now from the tomb of sin. Man buries himself in sin, but through repentance, through forgiveness, through the love that guides Him to us, He makes us His peers, His brothers. From now on we are sitting with Christ at the right hand of majesty. Thus when we celebrate the Feast of the Cross next week, let this be a point of pride for us, pride that we are loved, pride in the Lord who gave us Himself in our bodies. We receive the Lord when we take the Eucharist into our spirits and bodies. In this way we enter into God's heart.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on When Armed Struggle is Necessary

Arabic original here.

Love Sometimes Requires Violence

Is it permissible, in Christian terms, to resort to violence in order to resist evil? This is the question being posed by many Christians in our country, especially given the absence of any non-violent means to put a stop to genocide, indiscriminate killing and forced expulsion.

Christians are called to imitate their Lord Christ who forgave his crucifiers saying, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." But would Christ have said the same thing if it was someone else being crucified? Surely Christ would pick up a whip in defense of the person under attack. He would bring him down from the cross, heal his wounds and relieve him from oppression and suffering.

It is true that Christ said, "Love your enemies and bless those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). However, He did not say to love the evil that they do and far be it for Him to say that! For a person to love his enemy with sincere love is to deter him from the evil he harbors. True love assumes speaking out to the wicked, oppressors and aggressors. Love requires resisting and eliminating evil, not making a truce with it or surrendering before it. The commandment to love our enemies does not negate the other commandment to love those for whom God has made us responsible: the poor, the oppressed, the tormented of the earth. "Inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me" (Matthew 25:45). Ambrose of Milan (d. 397) expressed this verse the best when he said, "He who does not repel the injustice that threatens his brother when he is capable of doing this sins no less than the one committing the injustice."

In his book Violent and Non-Violent Struggle to Realize Justice (Beirut: Manshurat al-Nour, 1988), the Orthodox theologian Costi Bendaly affirms that non-violent struggle is the ideal form of resistance, since it realizes the harmony between the ends and the means  such that the ends are realized through the means themselves. Bendaly adds that it is not permissible to absolutize non-violent struggle in such a way as to categorically and in principle reject all violent struggle.

If a Christian arrives at the conviction that violent struggle is the sole means of realizing justice, Bendaly stipulates certain rules to which he must adhere in order not to deviate from his original plan and fall into the passion of senseless destruction and wanton killing. The most important of these rules is limiting violence to the goal of eliminating injustice, oppression and aggression and after their being eliminated the need for forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. Thus it is not permissible to rely on violence as a method and to follow it unconditionally, even if difficult historical circumstances sometimes require its use in order to ward off tyranny, injustice and aggression.

Costi Bendaly arrives at the conclusion that the choice between violence and non-violent forms of struggle cannot be based merely on a position of principle, but rather it must take into account the necessities of the actual situation and the historical context. When evil grows and becomes recalcitrant, it does not leave any other choice in confronting it apart from armed struggle. He gives two examples of this, namely Nazism and Zionism.

The Takfiri movements that are sowing corruption in the land and are wantonly spilling the blood of the innocent and defenseless, apart from resembling Nazism and Zionism in their racism, are no less dangerous than they are. However, confronting these Takfiri movements requires that we shun sectarianism. Any sectarian organizing to confront the Takfiri movements will play into their interests. Is there a universal national institution that transcends sects and is capable of uprooting those who spread corruption in the land other than the Army?