Monday, April 14, 2014

Met. Elias (Audi)'s Sermon for Palm Sunday

Arabic original here.

Audi at the Palm Sunday Liturgy: I Want a President who  Loves Lebanon, without Hatred or Malice in His Heart

Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Beirut and its Dependencies, Elias Audi, presided at the liturgy for Palm Sunday at the Cathedral of Saint George in Nejmeh Square in the presence of a large crowd of the faithful who carried palm and olive branches and children.

After the Gospel, Audi gave a sermon in which he said, "Beloved, next Sunday we shall see the Lord rising from the dead after having suffered excruciatingly, having suffered unto death. Today, however, we see Jesus coming into Jerusalem as the people welcome Him as a king and as the Son of God, the Christ whom they awaited. But this king did not come on a horse or a chariot, but rather on a donkey, in order to teach Christians who follow Him that power does not come from any authority other than the authority of humility, meekness, love and brokenness. [...]"

He continued, "Talk has been focusing lately on who will be the next president of the Republic and who they will place in this position or that. However, I have not once heard an official emphasizing that you must be a true citizen. That is you must love your country first and your brother first, and afterward seek positions. I want those who address our children to build them up with morals and to teach them how to be good citizens. The nation is not a nation except through its citizens. This is why in Lebanon we need schools that teach citizenship. Then there will be no need for talking about sectarianism because the citizen will become a brother to every citizen. We have not yet cast our robes before God, before Jesus who became incarnate for our salvation."

He said, "They often ask me, 'Why do you not speak?' My reply: I am not a politician. I am a man of religion who teaches the teachings of Christ who did not talk about politics. Why don't we go back to the book that inspires us on how to talk, how to behave, and how to be Christians in the image of Christ? We hear a lot of talk and speeches about politics, but we have not heard a single speech about morals or citizenship. [...]"

He added, "I was recently asked, 'Who do you want to be president of the Republic?' I said: I want a president who loves Lebanon. I want him to be peaceful, a man of peace, without hatred or malice in his heart, but rather as the Apostle Paul said, I want him to be pure, just, faithful to his nation, someone who loves people. And I want all his helpers to be like this. Beloved, if you are truly Christians then Jesus is your king. If you follow Him, then you will not even fear death because the apostles who followed Him did not fear death. A few days ago we heard that a brother priest [i.e. Fr Frans van der Lugt] been killed. He knew he  was in danger but he did not leave his monastery, his parish and those he cared for. When we sense danger we flee. [...]"

He concluded, "We must thank God for all the graces that he has given us and continues to give us, even as we ask Him to preserve Lebanon and to grant its children the grace of thankfulness for all things, the grace of love, citizenship, giving, of reognizing the other and respecting his freedom and dignity."

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Met. Georges Khodr: From Death to Resurrection

 Arabic original here.

From Death to Resurrection

Today everyone flocked to see Jesus who raised Lazarus from the dead. A plot had been hatched against the Teacher because the Jews could not bear for it to be said that Jesus had raised someone from the dead and because they could not bear for the new Teacher to appear with power. But He wanted to complete His path and His path was to death, since it was necessary for Him to be sacrificed for our sins and out of love for us. This love of His led Him to the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus lived the most beautiful love story because His love was completely pure and it was great. He did not seek for Himself, but rather He sought for others. Jesus is the only person who has lived for the sake of others, while each of us lives for his own desire, great or small.

He entered Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and those sent to her, since He had to die in the heart of His country. He had to be killed by the "pious" or those considered to be so because the tragedy is that Jesus was killed by the Law, by the Law of Moses, or He was killed by those zealous for the Law because they reckoned that He had violated the Sabbath and did not keep to the ways that they had manufactured for themselves to prove their devotion to their Judaism.

Jesus knew that the plot that had been hatched over three years had to be implemented in Jerusalem. He went from Galilee to Judea, passing through Bethany where He raised His friend Lazarus, by this showing that He Himself was able to rise. Yesterday He inaugurated His resurrection with a miracle that signaled to the world that He would rise. He signaled to people that they would all rise, and not only on the last day, because He said to Martha when she affirmed that her brother would rise on the last day, that He was not talking about Judgment Day but rather about an immediate resurrection: "I am the I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live" (John 11:25).

They instigated against Jesus at the beginning of His preaching life, at the outset of the three years He spent among people. They instigated against Him because He healed the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. The plot started because He loved and because people did not love Him. They  did not accept for there to appear among them a person who loves until the end, a person in whom there is no treachery and no deception, who is wholly pure for the sake of God and others.

However, before that He had to die because love kills. He had to descend into the pit of death, to the lowest abysses of death. He had to taste death out of love for the dying, so that no longer would anyone die but rather all of us will live through our faith in Him and our love for Him and Him alone. Then each one of us rises from his sin, rises from his stumbling, rises from his death.

He could have entered Jerusalem riding on a horse, like kings and great men, but He said in the Gospel, "Those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve" (Mark 10:42-44). Jesus wanted to become a servant, even as He was King of Kings and Lord of heaven and earth. He rode upon a donkey and entered in the manner of the humble into the city of the proud. He touched a beast in order to release us from beastliness. He touched an animal so that nothing animal would remain in man. He entered the city after some little ones and some of His sincere friends greeted Him. He knew that the rest of the people would be bought and bribed and would call for Him to be killed. He entered and the children were joyful because they are pure but the leaders of the people wanted to implement their plot. He entered into the temple, His Father's temple, into the heart of Jerusalem and there he saw money-changers and people selling doves trading in money, and He cleansed the temple of them. As we enter into Holy Week, let us remember that the Lord touched a small donkey so that there would be nothing animalistic left in us, so that sin would be erased and we might become pure. If we follow this path, without a doubt we will arrive there. And if we do not follow it, we have no true feast. The only thing left for us is pagan revelry.

Fr Georges Massouh on the Attack on Kasab

Arabic original here.

Escaping the Captivity of "Minorities"

The events that occurred in the Syrian city of Kasab along the Turkish border have brought back to the forefront the issue of religious "minorities". The Armenians who were targeted with attacks alongside other Syrian citizens roused feelings of solidarity with them among their fellow Armenians scattered all over the world, just as it evoked feelings of fear and anxiety about a repeat of the massacres that Turkey perpetrated against their grandparents at the beginning of last century.

Christians refuse to be treated as "minorities" since they have been striving, from before the fall of the Ottoman Empire until this very moment, to live full citizenship on the basis of equality with their Muslim partners. They have done everything in their power to destroy the dividing wall erected by the system of dhimmitude between Muslims and other "subjects" of the Islamic state. We can state that this effort of theirs has manifested itself in the demand for the separation of religion and state.

At the time when France, the colonialist state, divided Syria into four states: the State of Damascus and the State of Aleppo with Sunni majorities, the Alawite State and the Druze State, Christians were scattered over all four states and did not possess their own entity. This indicates the Christians' profound commitment to a single, united Syria and so they did not demand their own state which would be like a second "Israel" in Arab lands.

In the Middle East, the concept of "minorities" is not a Christian invention. It was imposed upon them that they be "minorities." From its inception, the Islamic state has divided society into two groups: Muslims, who have all the privileges and "dhimmis". If dividing society up according to religious affiliation is something natural and acceptable in ancient times, in the East and in the West, it our own era it has become something repugnant and unacceptable, contrary to the times and indeed, contrary to nature.

Christians have longed and continue to long to escape from the captivity of "minorities". They desire freedom from the bonds of narrow sectarian affiliation. However, the general situation has not helped them to break out of this captivity. Neither did the Islamic state allow them to be free, nor were the dictatorial military regimes faithful in applying true secularism, nor do the plans now proposed bring them any hope of emancipation. Instead, they bring frustration since they promise to return them to medieval systems that lag far behind what they long for.

Some frown upon the solidarity that Christians have for their fellow Christians in Syria each time they are subject to attacks, considering it to be a type of malicious sectarianism. At the  very same time, however, they opt for sectarian choices and condone support for their brothers in religion with weapons and money. If only they would have solidarity with every victim, every displaced person,  and everyone whose person and livelihood has been assaulted.

Armenians in Syria are Syrian citizens. They are not a "colony" as  they have been described by some television stations. They do not want to be "subjects" of the sultan once more. What the Ottoman sultan and his secular Ataturkist heirs did to the children of their church is still engraved in the depth of their consciousness and their living memory.

During the first half of the 20th century, Northern Syria likewise witnessed the annihilation of the Christian presence in most of its Turkish regions. The Orthodox were expelled from Antioch and the Sanjak of Alexandretta, which colonialist France gifted to her ally Ataturk. Syriac Christians were expelled from Diyarbakr, Mardin and other ancient Syriac cities... And so you wonder why Christians are haunted with fear and anxiety about the future?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh: Silence about Sin is a Sin

 Arabic original here.

Silence about Sin is a Sin

There is something worse than someone who commits sin. Someone who is content with sin, who regards it as something normal or natural is worse than someone who commits sin. All of us have fallen and fall into sin's trap, but we realize that by committing sin we are doing something contrary to the logic of what we believe in, so we must judge it and not fall into searching for ways to justify it or for something that will cause us to remain silent about someone who is committing it.

Saint Ambrose of Milan (d. 397) says, "One who is silent about injustice is a partner in injustice." We can say the same thing, substituting sin for injustice-- One who is silent about sin is a partner-- indeed, is implicated-- with those committing it.

If silence about sin is a sin, what of those who defend it? What about those who raise their voice in Christ's name to defend it? Indeed, it is incumbent upon us according to the tradition of the Church to love the sinner and hate the sin. But in no sense does our loving the sinner mean that we surpass his sin and turn a blind eye to its enormity. Our love for him means that we strive with all the power we have been granted and that we pray for him, for him to return to the right path and to walk in the path of repentance.

Butrus al-Bustani, in his dictionary Muhit al-Muhit quoting the Kulliyat of Abu al-Baqa', defines the word "apology" (عذر ) as follows: "An apology is when a person tries to erase his sins by saying 'I didn't do it' or 'I did it for such-and-such a reason' or 'I did it and will not again'. This third one is repentance." There are three kinds of apologies, then,  and not all of them are praiseworthy- only one is. An apology can be when a person who did something denies having done it, and this is bald-faced lying. An apology can justifying a great sin by minimizing it for churchly, patriotic or general human reasons and motivations. This is fleeing from facing the naked truth. An apology can also be repentance in the sense of openly confessing it and promising not to commit it again. This apology is perfect and praiseworthy. All repentance is an apology, but not every apology is repentance.

The author of al-Muhit says, "He apologized ( اعتذر ) for what he had done and by his action he demonstrated his apology. He justified himself." Apology can have the sense of self-justification. That is, creating justifications for having harmed others to the point of denying responsibility. Apologizing can also include lofty and noble arguments for doing something despicable and outrageous, and this is the greatest hypocrisy and blasphemy. It is blasphemy for someone to say that good is pure evil and  that evil is pure good or to attribute to God doing evil and to the devil doing good.

In Christianity, there is no apology except in the sense of repentance and not going back to commit what has been pardoned. In Christianity there is no apology that does not lead to reform. "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24). Standing at the altar-- that is, at the liturgy-- is an occasion for reform and repentance, not for confrontation and for excusing sins and mistakes. Christ's bema is not a pulpit for self-worship, but rather as the Apostle Peter when Christ performed the miracle of the wonderous catch before him and he cried out, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (Luke 5:8). Peter benefited from the Lord's presence before him and he was not pleased with himself. Rather, he revealed how much of a sinner he was and repented, and this was the purpose of the miracle. The liturgy, which is an act of standing in Christ's presence, is an occasion for taking account of oneself, not for self-admiration for sins and offenses that have been committed.

In Christianity, there is not apologizing but rather compunction. The act of compunction, according to Bustani, means "regretting, sorrowing, repenting... doing something and then having revulsion at it." The Apostle Peter, after denying that he knew Christ and then revealing his sin "wept bitterly" (Luke 22:26). The pre-Islamic poet Labid almost matches the Gospel when he says, "One who has wept for a full moment has apologized." Peter did not try to justify what he did by saying that he was afraid that the Jews would seize him and that he would meet the same fate as his Teacher Christ the Lord. Rather, he was sorrowful and he regretted with all his heart. He confessed with conviction that he had sinned and he would never again deny Him.

Christ opened a new covenant between God and man, consisting of a new life based on continual repentance. One who has not expressed revulsion at the evils committed by his own hands has not yet seen repentance and has not become a child of the new covenant.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Constitution of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America

As per here, the version of the constitution of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America that is in effect is the one approved by the Holy Synod at the meeting of October 13-15, 2004. Since that text, in English and Arabic, is a little bit hard to find online, it can be downloaded in pdf here.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on Syrian Refugees

Arabic original here.

Between the Murderer and the Thief, They Were Crucified

The Apostle Paul commanded the people of Rome, the greatest city of that long-ago time, to be committed to giving hospitality to strangers. By this he meant giving hospitality to the poor who find themselves cast into the streets of a city that looks down upon them and rejects them with its pride as cold as its marble. Is it merely a coincidence that the same glory of palaces and tombs is in marble?

 You, Syrians taking refuge in God's mercy, have "fallen into the hands of thieves." Murderous thieves, bloodthirsty thieves-- you fled from their mortars, their barrel-bombs and their machetes and have fallen into the hands of new thieves, wolves in sheep's clothing. You fled from those who allow you to be oppressed and your blood to be shed, and you were received by those who want to trade in your bodies and permit your honor to be taken.

However, we who fear God and His judgment cannot say "let us please ourselves", as Paul himself says to the Romans, "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification." Our pleasing God remains meaningless and futile if we do not please our neighbor, especially our neighbor who has "fallen into the hands of thieves"-- under a hail of deadly artillery and missiles. Prayer, fasting and all worship is in vain if man is not also the place where God is worshiped, especially man who seeks refuge with us.

"The Spirit of God dwells within you" and you have become the direction of prayer for all those who seek God's face. We have made a pilgrimage to you, as to holy thresholds, to Christ's tomb. You have become the Holy Land, after murderers profaned the land, the land of Syria, for which our eyes and our hearts yearn until we see her purified, when her anguish is over. God does not dwell in stone. He prefers to dwell in warm hearts. "Give me your heart and it is enough."

You were a stranger and you became a neighbor, or even closer than a neighbor. Kinship here, in this instance, is not "kinship of flesh and blood." Our standards for determining who is a neighbor are not of this world. For us friends of the Nazarene, kinship is a process governed by compassion. Every refugee, displaced person and vulnerable person on earth, no matter what religion, sect or nation he belongs to, is my neighbor.

When the Samaritan, an outcast within Jewish society because he is considered to be  unclean on account of having mixed with the gentiles and deviated from the faith, helped the man left half-dead by robbers, he did not ask the name of the person who needed him. He did not ask his religion or his nationality. Instead, he bandaged his wounds, put him on his pack animal and took him to an inn, where he ordered that he be taken care of and he paid two dinars to the innkeeper for this. The Syrian citizen who is fleeing from hell, seeking a safe roof to shelter him and his family, is here and now the one whom God has placed along our path in order to become our neighbor. We shall be asked about our treatment of him on the Day of Reckoning.

It is shameful and embarrassing that politicians are exploiting a humanitarian issue, the issue of Syrian refugees and practicing their racism and their repulsive sectarianism in order to create excuses for their refusal to give shelter and aid to the refugees. As for those who support welcoming the Syrians, they also do so on the basis of sectarian bigotry when they make their arguments. But if most of the refugees belonged to a different sect than the one that predominates now, then perhaps we would find those opposed in the position of those in favor and those in favor in the position of those opposed!

Both sides are equal in their racism, sectarianism and blind bigotry. When will human dignity become the sole motivation for our behavior?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Desecration of Churches in Yabroud

From Al-Akhbar English, here.

The churches of Yabrud in ruins

Although the gunmen are gone, their sectarian fingerprint on Yabrud remains. All you have to do is visit St. Mary's Greek Catholic Church to see the destruction. Icons have had their faces scratched out, church pews have been broken, statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ have been smashed, and the church Bibles have been burned.

Photos here.