Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Met Saba (Esber) on Demons

Arabic original here.

On Demons

There is a strong tendency toward denying the devil and not regarding him as an existent being. Some people, especially those regarded as intellectuals, believe that the devil is a human creation and that evil fundamentally only exists in man and not outside him. But those of this inclination do not sufficiently explain the reason for the inclination toward evil in man and they do not give a clear answer to the constantly-raised question, "Where does limited man get this terribly destructive boundless capacity for evil?"

This is all normal if those who deny the devil's existence are nonbelievers, but it seems in recent times that some preachers and teachers have come to deny the devil or they erase him and his effect on the life of believers. They are motivated in this either by personal conviction, forgetting that they belong to an integrated system of faith, or out of a desire to remove fear of him from the consciousness of the faithful. The influence of worldly thinking has started to invade the Church and what we are talking about right now is just one sign of that invasion.

This tendency is countered by another tendency toward blaming all the causes of evil on the devil,  exculpating man from any personal responsibility for it, and neglecting effort toward explaining actual evils and identifying their various causes. What does the Christian faith say about these two contrary tendencies?

Demons, according to the Christian faith, are living, bodiless beings. They were originally angels who rejected God, so they fell from His presence and became enemies to Him and to anyone who follows Him.

Divine revelation does not disclose to us how and why the demons fell. The Bible merely hints at a great catastrophe at the dawn of creation, before the creation of the visible world and after the creation of the angels, about which we only know the consequences and results. Some angels placed themselves in a position of opposing God, so they fell and became enemies of all that is good and holy. "And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12:7-9).

In the Revelation of John it likewise says, "A great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water" (Revelation 8:10).

Therefore Christian tradition calls the leader of this rebellion "Lucifer," which means "light-bearer," meaning that he was an angel and fell because he transformed by his personal will from his natural state to an unnatural state. He placed himself against God and fell from good to evil.

Denying the existence, activity and influence of the devil is incompatible with the Gospel. The Lord Jesus' teaching is very clear in this matter. He called him "the ruler of this world" (John 14:30) and He confronted him personally during the temptation after His baptism and forty days of fasting (cf. Matthew 4: 1-11, Luke 4:1-13). He likewise spoke frankly of him in the parable of the sower, "The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels" (Matthew 13:38-39).

We will limit ourselves to two citations from the Apostle Paul. "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:11-12). "Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light"(2 Corinthians 11:14).

The word "satan" in its Hebrew and Greek roots means a number of things, all of which relate to evil: the adversary, because he is the enemy of man; the recalcitrant, because he resists God and His will; the divider, because he is behind every schism and division; the swindler, because he defrauds man in order to cause him to fall into sin in countless ways. In the Gospel, Christ calls him "a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44).

The question many people ask is, "Why do we not see the devil or confront him personally?" The Christian response is very simple: he doesn't need to reveal himself to humans. Instead, it is enough for him to beckon them or to suggest an idea to them so that they can easily respond to it. Here response in the sense of human weakness spiritually, not that they invite the devil into their homes personally. Nevertheless, we know from the experiences of great spiritual figures that they confronted him personally and that he opposed and fought them. This is because he could not defeat them with thoughts and suggestions.

All this does not mean that ordinary people do not experience the devil's presence and activity around them and in them. This is because any one of us is capable of observing himself spiritually, of noticing an invisible power that pushes him toward evil, either completely or partially. Decide to give an amount of money to a person in need who deserves it, then notice how many thoughts come to you, pushing you to reduce the amount, from the moment that you make the decision until you carry it out!

It remains a live question, what is the attitude that we should take towards the devil? The Eastern Christian spiritual tradition in particular advises on the one hand that we do not exaggerate his role and on the other hand that we do not take him and his activities lightly. Likewise, we should not use him as an excuse not to look for personal, individual and social causes that lead to evil and misery or for natural causes that lead to disasters, plagues and diseases.

Exaggerating the devil's role and avoiding personal responsibility for the evil that besets us contributes to the growth of the tendency to deny his existence and puts man in a position of being unable to resist him. Likewise, taking the devil and his influence lightly places us unconsciously under his influence and authority. In such a case, he guides us without our being aware.

Our spiritual tradition also advises us not to use him as an excuse to exculpate ourselves from our personal responsibility for the evil that is around us. We believe that man, after the fall of Adam and Eve, became subject to the evil that dominated him. However, we also believe that through Christ risen from the dead we are no longer under the direct authority of the evil one, so long as we do not renounce Christ and our baptism and willingly give ourselves over to the devil.

So the Christian must confront the evil that is within him and strive earnestly to be rid of it, replacing it with the good that is opposite to it. Our spiritual heritage says that it is not enough to uproot evil from the soul, but rather calls for replacing it with the corresponding virtue. Therefore a person's effort to purify and elevate his soul is based on taking care to acquire the virtues. The relationship is positive in this regard: to the extent that you are filled with love for God and the virtues, the evil within you is lessened.

Our world will remain a battleground between the victorious power of God and the powers of the demons until the last day. We face this struggle first of all within ourselves and on a personal level. The Lord taught us with the parable of the sower, where the wheat and the tares will be separated on the last day.

The great spiritual figures attribute every evil in the world to themselves, believing that if they were purified in the necessary manner then things in this world would be better. A contemporary theologian has said, "The problem is not that everyone isn't a Christian. It's that not all Christians are saints." This is how believers deal with the evil one.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Bishops

Arabic original here.

The Bishop: A Spiritual, Patristic Approach

There is a deep bond between the bishop and the local church. He is tied to a specific, real diocese (bishop over a territory).

Saint Cyprian says, "The bishop exists in the church and the church exists in him." Saint Ignatius of Antioch says, "Follow the bishop as  the Lord Jesus Christ follows His father..." (Epistle to the People of Smyrna 8:1-2).

He is the priest par excellence, the successor of the apostles, and the teacher who watches over the upright faith as well as the Orthodox ethos. The word 'episkopos' means someone who watches over, the overseer, the one who preserves and protects. The bishop presides over the eucharistic gathering and distributes the holy mysteries that are the source of grace and life. The bishop remains, despite everything, a mere servant of the mysteries because Christ Himself is the true source of the grace that is bestowed by the Holy Spirit Himself.

The bishop as teacher:

"Rightly dividing the word of truth" (cf. Canon 19 of the Council in Trullo). This responsibility requires of him great humility, simplicity of life, and an upright ethos.

The bishop does not speak in his own personal name, but in the name of the Church. That is, in the name of the community of the Church, the body of Christ, as well as in the name of holy tradition. He receives this grace from Christ Himself through apostolic succession.

The bishop as shepherd:

He is the the shepherd of rational sheep who watches over them: "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). The bishop is the image of Christ when he follows God's will in the Church by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then "obedience to the bishop is obedience to God," as Saint Ignatius of Antioch says in his Epistle to the Ephesians (5:2) and his Epistle to the Magnesians (3:2).

He is the guard who takes care of his sheep. He strengthens the weak, treats the sick, and strives after the lost sheep.

In the prayer of consecration of a bishop we pray, "Grant, O Father, to Your servant whom You have chosen for the episcopate that he may shepherd Your holy flock."

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: Our Call to True Sonship

Arabic original here.

Our Call to True Sonship

Today we commemorate the fathers who gathered at the Fourth Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon 451), who taught that Christ is both God and man and that He has two natures, divine and human. They are our fathers in the faith and they begat us in Christ Jesus. We come from them, from their positions and their words, and we constitute a right-believing Church, which is the Church of Christ.

With regard to those who left the Church because they did not believe in the Most Holy Trinity and in Christ as God and man, the Apostle Paul says in today's Epistle to Titus to stay away from them, turn away from them. Do not have dealings with the heretic, anyone with deviant dogma. You have your path and he has his. Of course, you love him and you serve him, but you do not think like him. You are a child of the living, right-believing Church, which Christ renews in the one true faith.

The faith is upright and pure when you nourish it with your love for Christ, with your obedience to Him and your persistence in the Church. You are a member in the Church and you must practice your membership in her. If you are absent and your absence is repeated, you will not be known as a brother. How are you known to be Christians with upright dogma if you are not present in the gathering of the faithful at every feast and every Sunday morning? Those who are absence have their business, but they are not of us. For this reason in ancient times they said that anyone who is absent three consecutive times from the Divine Liturgy is cut off from the community.

The Church is not a building and walls. It is the people. The building is called a church because the church is where they gather. It is where the faithful people come together. The Church is the body of Christ and this means that Christ looks out to people through those who believe in Him, as He says, "I am the vine and you are the branches" (John 15:5). Christ came, was crucified, died, arose and ascended into heaven, so He is invisible, yet He must be known. He must be preached. Who preaches Christ? Who knows Him? Who loves Him? How do strangers know Him? Christ is known through those who love Him if they are gathered to be renewed by His blood. We need a connection to Him. It is not true that someone who stays at home is connected to Christ. This is an excuse for his laziness. But when we are together in one place we drink from one source, we receive one word, our minds are molded by the words of the Gospel, our thoughts are fused with the dictates of the Gospel, and at that point we are one.

We give life to the Church when we are gathered in her, we follow the same words, and we receive the one body of Christ and the precious blood of Christ into our souls, into our spirits, into our bodies.

When we say in family life, "This child comes from his father's blood and from his mother's blood,"we mean that he is connected to them. He is one with them on account of having the same blood. In this sense we receive Christ's blood in order to be one with Him. If the blood of Christ is not in us, then we do not belong to Him. And if we do not receive Christ's body, then we do not belong to Him.

Therefore the Church is our mother who waits for us at every divine sacrifice, in order to embrace us, in order to feel that we are her children, so that Christ may see from heaven that we are under His banner and under His wings. So we must gather together to say to Him, "We are Your children. We are here with You in Your house, before the Holy Gospel and before the holy chalice from which we are nourished." At that point we are in one spirit and one mind and we look for the benefit of all the brothers, great and small, men and women, and we are truly a single community in love for all, holding fast to daily obedience to Christ in His love.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

al-Monitor: Jerusalem Patriachate Sells Church Lands (Again...)

Read the whole thing here

In Jerusalem, secret sale of church land to developers revealed

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Greek Orthodox Church secretly sold 500 dunams (124 acres) of land in West Jerusalem to undisclosed Israeli developers, giving rise to angry calls for the patriarch to be removed.

The leading Israeli financial newspaper Calcalist revealed the story June 27, though the sale quietly took place in August 2016. The deal is sparking controversy within official and nonofficial Orthodox groups in Palestine and Jordan, and stoking worry among the 1,500 households whose subleases will expire in about 30 years. The church in the 1950s granted a 99-year lease to the Jewish National Fund. Typically, such leases on church-owned property are renewed, and the people who subleased the property, along with their families, had expected to remain there.

The secret deal came to light after the church filed a complaint with the District Court of Jerusalem against the Israeli municipality, seeking documents proving the church is no longer bound to pay taxes to the municipality when ownership is transferred.

The Orthodox community in Palestine and Jordan is accusing Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, Palestine and Jordan of diverting church lands to Israel and is demanding he be removed from office.
In a July 3 meeting, 14 local Orthodox institutions agreed to stop all forms of dialogue with Theophilos III and the synod, and to form a mini-secretariat to follow up on all protest actions and popular movements, calling for withholding Palestinian and Jordanian recognition of Theophilos III.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Met Georges Khodr: Jesus Expels Evil Completely

Arabic original here.

Jesus Expels Evil Completely

Jesus was in Capernaum, on the west bank of the Sea of Tiberius, where He lived and from where He started preaching in Galilee. As though He wanted to confront the devil directly, He went across to the other shore and there appeared two madmen before Him. The devil tormented people and still does, and so many cases of illness were attributed to the devil.

Here the two men were being tormented because they faced the Lord and the evil spirit did not want to surrender, so they said, "What business do we have with you O Jesus, Son of God? Did you come here to torment us before the time?" in the sense of saying, "the time has not come for Your kingdom, so we want to rule in the world." But Jesus the Lord came to scatter the devil's kingdom, to put an end to evil, to erase sin, so He expelled the evil spirits from the two sick men until they asked to be cast into the pigs and were drowned in the lake. It is forbidden to eat pigs according to Jewish law and raising them was prohibited.

Jesus expels evil completely and the symbol of this is that the animals die in the lake and then He returns to Capernaum and preaches.

Each of us harbors evil within. It is not that we have caused the devil to dwell in our hearts, but that sometimes we collude with him and very often our demons seem attractive to us.

Close companionship with the Lord is not pleasant for the heart because the Lord is demanding and insistent. He wants us for Himself and not for our demons. He does not want to share us with anyone. For this reason we often say to the Lord, "Why did you come to torment us? Go back to Your heaven and leave our hearts to us so we can hand them over to demons."

When someone gives himself over to lying, he gives himself over to the devil. When someone gives his soul over to any form of falsehood, aggression or anger, he is simply giving it over to the devil. Every bad thing we do is simply an alliance with the devil. This is why when someone justifies his wicked deeds, it is simply the devil speaking through him.

Everyone who believes in his heart and confesses with his tongue that Jesus Christ rose from the dead will rise. Anyone who believes in his heart and confesses with his tongue that Jesus can raise us up from the dead and that He saves us from our sins today before every temptation is someone who is saved. But the one who claims to be Christian and prays in our churches but justifies wicked things, endorses transgressions, and sings the praises of sins is not being saved and is not a Christian.

Therefore, if we want to be saved and we want to be serious and are not part of this Christianity of empty words, then let us bow down and say to the Lord, "You are the Savior." "Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help" (Psalm 146:3). This is what the Bible says. Humankind does not save humankind. Weapons do not save humankind. Politics do not save humankind. Christ saves humankind.

Give yourselves over to Christ and then your demons will leave you and be cast into lakes and unclean pigs. Then you will be purified. Stay firm in truth, in the purity of the Gospel and do not let your minds be defiled by people's words, but let your words spring forth from the words of the Lord and let your feelings come from the feelings of the Lord. Anyone who feels contrary to Jesus is unclean. A person is responsible for his feelings, through what goes on in his mind and in his heart. Whoever sullies himself with any dark feelings toward another creature for any reason whatsoever is a defiled person. Expel your demons from your hearts and expel them from your minds, that the Lord alone might dwell in your minds and your hearts and you may be children of the Most High.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Met Saba (Esber): The Consolations of Homs

Arabic original, published June 5, 2017, here.

The Consolations of Homs

The Archdiocese of Homs is the second most numerous after that of Damascus. The destruction and displacement that has afflicted the city of Homs has afflicted it. Many of its people have fled it, for the most part heading for neighboring regions that are safer, particularly Wadi al-Nasara. Half of our diocesan complex has been destroyed there. The damage affecting some churches ranges from almost complete to partial, but its great loss is represented by the emptying-out of the Old City and neighborhoods adjacent to it of their inhabitants. Stone brings back people and becomes empty ruins without them.

Therefore her bishop and priests did not leave her. Those who were in the combat zone, along with their parishes, took refuge in safe areas within Homs. He has continued to care for the flock entrusted to him with the strength, ability and acumen given to him.

Despite the current hardship, some of the priests, with the blessing of their bishop and with the cooperation of donor organizations, have initiated development projects in support of those who have been affected. Around 92 people live there: a year-round nursery in the Church of Our Lady (the Armenian Quarter) takes in 150 boys and girls. There is a sewing and embroidery workshop that produces ecclesiastical vestments, a factory for producing sponges and upholstery, a workshop for producing winter clothing, and a cattle farm. It should be mentioned that the income from these projects is dedicated to supporting affected families and to encourage them to set up small businesses.

Needs are great and varied and require enormous budgets. But the believer trades with the balance given to him and offers it to God, who blesses and multiplies honest effort, no matter how humble. Let the believer not forget the words of the Lord, "And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward" (Matthew 10:42).

Likewise the Patriarchate, in cooperation with donor organizations, has launched the "Let's Build" campaign to help the families of the Old City to rebuild their homes and return to them. 751 houses and three schools have been rebuilt in addition to a shelter center as of the time of this writing. By the end of this month, 110 more houses will have been rebuilt.

You may hear some grumbling here and there. Those who lack love justify their laziness with criticism, not caring for those who are exhausted, whose frustration and despair increase on account of his negativity. Those who are thankful and understanding, though they are few, have the blessing of contributing to raising the spirits of those who are exhausted by their examples, strengthening their hopes in their Church and their nation.

The zeal of the priests and the flock, particularly the youth, spreads consolation, lessens suffering, and bears witness to the terrifying destruction and its horrors. From the grave of the martyred Father Frans in his monastery in the heart of the Old City, I raised a prayer for the repose of his soul, for the souls of those who have died, for the strengthening of those who still struggle, refusing to leave their precious land of Syria, watered with the blood of martyrs and saints.

It is recounted in the life of St Paisios the Athonite (d. 1993) that on a visit to Australia he felt, while on the airplane, a powerful spiritual stirring. So he asked his companions, "Where are we flying  now?" The response: "Over Syria." He wept and said, "It is the land of martyrs and saints."

I was blessed to share with the people of Homs in their joy at the return of their diocesan complex to life. The patriarchate, by direction of His Beatitude John X, has taken on the costs of rebuilding the diocesan complex, located in Old Homs, refurnishing it, and restoring its service to what it was before 2012.

The diocesan choir served the prayer of thanksgiving. More than 60 young people, performing impeccably, makes you feel optimistic when you learn that they did not cease their study of music even in the most difficult times through which the city passed. Choirs of adults and young people that would be dreamed of in any diocese.

You could feel in the eyes of the faithful who had come to celebrate the occasion a clear joy that was at the same time mixed with a deep sorrow. There is no doubt that what the people of Old Homs and its surroundings experienced was very bitter and hard to forget. But the desire to return and build anew was stronger for them than the sorrow over what had passed. Their enthusiasm and determination inspires confidence not only in the return of Homs, but of all Syria. There is no doubt that the return of the diocesan complex to serving it, starting from its original location, will encourage many to return to their homes.

The Church of Saint George in the Hamidiyya neighborhood, which was almost entirely destroyed, has a different story. In 2005 the bishop of the diocese laid the cornerstone for a new church that was bigger than the old and crumbling one. By 2012, infrastructure work had been completed. But work stopped as our country entered into its trial and the old church was completely destroyed. As soon as the area was regained and Old Homs was liberated, work to rebuild it began. Many benefactors contributed to this symbolic project and it was brought back better than it had been before it was destroyed. The first liturgy was celebrated in it, after the completion of construction work, this past April 23, on the occasion of the feast day of its patron, Saint George the Victorious.

The church's pastor informed me that approximately 450 families have returned to live in the neighborhood, or about a third of the parish that had previously existed. It is a good number in record time. Despite the many blows that have struck the city, hope still remains strong among its people that she will return to life. In the Old City, you see closed shops and homes beside others that have been rebuilt and reopened. People have come back to live their and to lead their previous life on their land.

Our country has passed through extremely difficult historical circumstances. What it is going through now may be the most dangerous. One who observes the history of the Levant realizes that its fate is to be the battleground of great powers. This has happened on its land since the third millennium before Christ and continues to today. But the Christians have remained there, despite the agony of history and its sorrows for them. It is a great miracle and palpable proof of the activity of the Holy Spirit. Someone rightly said, and this in any case is our faith, that God is the Master of history and that He often bends it at the last minute, turning the course of its evil in the opposite direction.

In light of this faith, we read our history, our present and our future as a message of witness to the power and importance of love and of living witness to the one who conquered death and gave us new life. For you to believe in the risen Christ means that you rise after every fall to live anew.

I was still studying theology at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand in Lebanon when His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV laid the cornerstone of Balamand University. This was in 1988, when Lebanon was ablaze from the war that began in 1975. Journalists asked him, "You're building a university as the country is collapsing?" He replied, "If the fate of others is to destroy, our fate is to build."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on How to Bear Witness to Christ

Arabic original here.

The Perfection of Bearing Witness to Christ is in Martyrdom for His Sake

How do we bear witness to Christ before a hostile world? It happens by way of a calm attitude that accepts such hostility with meekness and love for those who fight against us. What is the motivation for such an attitude? It is our faith that Christ died and defeated death by His resurrection.

There is, among us, a person consumed by vain delusion and another person who longs for eternal life. The comforting good news remains that Christ is risen from the dead and defeated sin, evil, and death. Therefore He is able to raise us up with Him and grant us eternal life anew, that life that we lost in the Fall. And so it is for us to love and so live. Death is no longer before us, it is now behind us!

Today holiness comes by way of repentance, by way of humility and brokenness. Christ Himself became poor for our sake.

In this way we bear witness to true joy, the joy of the resurrection, the joy that springs forth from a heart broken before God and before others.

Have we thus shown service to others freely and with nothing in exchange? Our struggle lasts until death without our waiting for any final triumph. This is because the kingdom is in Christ who will come again outside of time and history, raising us up for good and bearing the fruits of our struggle for His sake. Do you see how we accept upon ourselves such a suffering person and joy at the same time?! This remains our witness before those who are despairing, despondent, broken and weeping. We bear witness through our holiness, through our joy, not through worldly authority and establishing magnificent institutions. The man standing before death, before losing love in this world, how can he not long for life, for love, for true joy?!

Only a praying person can bear witness to the incarnate Word, the Word who became a silent face in whom there is true worship, the presence that is attentive to others, in which there is live, hope and beauty.

The Jesus Prayer is nothing other than an internal cry, a hymn of love by which our heart is enlightened and enlightens others: the witness that God is love challenges others and angers no one. This is love of enemies. The witness is love above everything and before everything, a communion of reunion with others, though which one knows in his live how to speak with one who is suffering, how to console him with the living water that wells up from within him.

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