Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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

Italian original, conducted by Pietro Vernizzi, here.

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





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

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

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

How is the situation in the capital and surrounding regions?

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

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

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

What can Western Christians do for their Syrian brothers?

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

In what way?

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

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

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

How so?

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, May 15, 2015

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

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


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


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


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


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

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

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

Arabic original here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Met Georges Khodr on Sectarian Prejudice

Arabic original here.

Sectarian Prejudice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr Georges Massouh: A Spring without Colors

Arabic original here.


A Spring without Colors

In all of our countries, the dream of establishing a true civil state in which any mention of religious law is erased from constitutions and legislation is retreating. It is obvious that we are inevitably heading towards more religious militancy and sectarian extremism and more random killing, destruction and displacement...

Putting an end to dictatorships rapidly fell into the trap of obscuritanist groups that take shari'a as a cover for attaining their goals of seizing power and setting up a totalitarian religious regime that does not recognize religious diversity or civil liberties in place of a notionally  civil totalitarian regime that does not respect civil liberties and does not recognize political diversity... two regimes, whether in the name of religion or in the name of secularism, that deprive man of all the rights granted to him by international law, especially the Bill of Human Rights.

The "Arab Spring" was aborted before it even began. How can a spring flourish when it is supported by regimes that are no less dictatorial and obscuritanist than the regimes that the revolutions are revolting against? How can a spring bear fruit when it is supported by regimes that consider revolt against the ruler to be disobedience to the will of God? How can a spring bear fruit when it is being supported by regimes with expansionist and imperialist ambitions?

As the word "spring" implies colors and diversity, a monochrome spring is a horrendous spring. How can the elimination of religious and sectarian diversity, the elimination of political diversity, or the elimination of one military regime by another military regime be called a spring? A single color, even if it is the most radiant color, does not a spring make. Spring is the appearance of a rainbow, announcing hope and life.

Do we expect groups that disdain philosophy,  the positive and social sciences, and the humanities to create progress and flourishing in their societies? How can someone who says that all science is contained in religious knowledge or in a single book make a bright tomorrow? How can those who disdain humanity contribute to giving dignity to the humans that they disdain?

Two centuries ago, when Europe reached its "spring", in the Enlightenment it had also passed through bygone centuries. Its spring did not come out of a vacuum, out of nothing, out of ignorance, out of backwardness... Its spring came from philosophy, thinking, culture, science and civic life. Its spring came from scientists, philosophers, men of letters, thinkers, renewers and critics. We are in dire need of such labors-- especially in the area of religious thought-- in order to arrive at our own flourishing spring. There will be no spring in our societies so long as it is not preceded by a "religious spring" especially in what pertains to the state and the separation between religion and the state. Are such things impossible? God knows best.

We will not be content for our choice to be limited to being between two regimes, both of which disdain us and do not respect our humanity or our human dignity. Both of them shall disappear when the coming true spring inevitably dawns. Colors are welcome when they come to settle in our lands.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh on Doctors

Arabic original here.

Partners in the New Creation

For Nadim, Bassem and many others.

According to the Christian tradition, God created man "free, rational and logical". God distinguished man from all other creatures in that He mad him "in His image and likeness." These three things:  freedom, reason and logic are God's image in man. If these three things are absent, then man is no longer man.

God called upon man to multiply the gifts he was given for the sake of service, service to faith and service to man. " Now concerning spiritual gifts... the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit..." (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:1-11).

Every useful gift that is particular to man is a spiritual gift whose source is the Holy Spirit and are therefore attributed to Him and called spiritual. As for the gift of the Holy Spirit, according to Orthodox theology it is nothing other than the Holy Spirit Himself. This is because the Holy Spirit gives Himself completely, not partially, since he is the Generous One who is generous with the best of things, that is Himself. The gift of God cannot be made into parts or divided.

It is an error to posit an opposition or contradiction between reason or science on the one hand and faith on the other hand. Believers are called, according to the faith, to use all the talents and mental, physical and spiritual powers that they possess for the good of the country and its people. Therefore we can say that science is a gift from God if it is put into use for the good of humanity and its best service.

Sometimes we do not pay attention to the fact that when God grants gifts to humans, He makes man through the gifts that He grants him into a partner in renewing and sustaining creation. God has handed over to man the earth and everything upon it as a trust, that he may care for it, benefit from it, and to manage it in the best way, not to neglect it and turn it into a desolate wasteland. Man is called to do God's work on the earth, until God inherits the earth and everything upon it.

Man's history with God shows us that there are people who, by using their gifts, have been able to realize God's work on earth, to the point of working wonders. Here I do not mean by the word "wonders" the miracles recognized by believers, especially the miraculous healings performed by saints. Can we not regard the discovery of a new medicine for a widespread disease that heals millions of people to be a great wonder? Is not the discovery of a new medicine that heals millions incomparably more important than a miracle performed by a saint-- despite its importance-- that only heals one person? Is not eliminating though medicine-- that is, thanks to science-- a disease that kills millions not more important than the occurrence of a supernatural miracle that may not be of any benefit for humankind?

The tradition of the Church singles out doctors over other professionals-- or people with vocations, for those who want their profession to be a vocation-- by reminding them that through the gift that they have refined through science, knowledge, study, tireless effort, and specialization, they can become God's partners in creation. Doctors are the part of God's creation that are most in contact with the fateful moments in which life or death is determined by their immediate decisions.

Doctors are wonder-workers when the sick see in them the hands of God who grants healing through them. They are wonder-workers when they participate in the renewal of creation, when they return life to a body that is inevitably dying, after a time that may be long or short. It is enough holiness for them that they spread hope and love in the hearts of the sick. It is enough holiness for them that they are the reason for the sick thanking God and glorifying Him for the healing that took place by their hands.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: The Ongoing Genocide

Arabic original here.

The Ongoing Genocide

The first centennial of the Armenian Genocide is of paramount importance this year, not only because it is the hundredth anniversary of the event, but because it comes amidst the oppressive circumstances when we are witnessing the continuous decline of the Christian presence in their historical homelands, or most of these homelands.

During the past hundred years, the Christian presence in Turkey has declined to almost nothing. Turkey, which had a diversity of Christians including Greeks, Syriacs and Armenians living in its most important regions-- Cappadocia, Anatolia, Cilicia, Constantinople, Antioch, Smyrna, Diyarbakr, Mardin, Edessa-- has seen its Christian presence reduced to ruins.

In Palestine, the cradle of Christianity, the land where Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate God of the Christians, the Zionists came to annihilate those who believe in Him as Lord and Redeemer and to crucify those who believe in His crucifixion and resurrection. Almost a century after the Balfour Declaration (1917) of evil memory, the number of Christians in historic Palestine has fallen from around 20% to less than 1%.

In Iraq, Iraq of the Mundhirids and Hira, of Mosul and Baghdad, of Nineveh, of the Tigress and Euphrates, Iraq of Arab, Syriac and Assyrian Christianity, the presence of Christians has been coming to an end over the past century, amidst a suspicious silence on the part of those near and far.

The reasons behind this steady decline in the number of Christians varies by time, country, circumstances and context. There are international interests, a policy of "divide and rule", nationalist intolerance, exploitation of the religious and sectarian factor in political struggles, religious extremism, political and military alliances, economic factors and Zionist hatred...

These reasons, however, do not exculpate Christians from responsibility-- or at least from partial responsibility-- from their fate on account of certain decisions that they made and certain paths they took over the course of the past century. Likewise, when we talk about the suffering and decline of Christians, this does not mean that we deny the suffering of their partners in these lands, Muslim and non-Muslim. Each of us is paying the price and we are all victims of ourselves.

The Armenian Genocide, whose victims include Syriacs and other Christians, remains the greatest symbol of Christian martyrdom in the 20th century. Thus it must be recognized so that it will not be repeated in one form or another and so that its crucified and slaughtered victims will cease weeping and crying out for justice and peace.

In this context, it must be stated that diverse factors led them to commit the Armenian Genocide. There is no doubt that a mixture of nationalist feelings of a racist character and extremist religious feelings on the one hand and the interest of the powerful European states along with an Ottoman Empire in flames all joined together against the Armenians and members of other minorities.

The Ottoman Empire and the modern Turkish state that was built on its ruins are both responsible, one after the other, for the Armenian Genocide. The direct causes that led to the Genocide are not important. Are they religious or nationalist motives that led to the Genocide? That is not the salient question today. What must be declared today is an affirmation that the state that was ruling at the time, whatever its identity, is responsible.

The issue, then, is not merely commemoration of a genocide that took place a century ago. The issue is that the genocide has been continuing for a century and has succeeded in uprooting the majority of Christians from the countries that witnessed the first green shoots of Christianity. The beginning of recognition of the genocide and apology for its infamy should be refraining from supporting the terrorists who continue to exterminate the grandchildren of the Armenians, Syriacs and Christian Arabs and to return right to those to whom it belongs.