Thursday, September 24, 2015

as-Safir Interviews Met Silouan Oner

Arabic original here.

The Bishop of Britain to as-Safir: The Christians of the Middle East will not Melt Away

by Bilal Slaytin

In calm and confident language, the Bishop of Ireland and the British Isles Silouan Oner responds to as-Safir's questions in his first interview with the press following his consecration. He does not hesitate to say what he wants and he does not like secrecy or shying away from reality in his responses about issues that are sensitive for Christians, especially those that preoccupy public opinion, chief of which is the issue of Christian emigration from the Middle East.

The first bishop of the Diocese of Britain, newly created by a patriarchal decision, does not deny that the emigration of Christians from the Middle East played a fundamental role in Britain becoming independent from the Diocese of Europe. The number of parishes there has grown "and we must as a church do good by them, follow up on them, and be attentive to their spiritual needs," says Oner. The new situation and the geographic breadth of the Diocese of Europe means that there are two new dioceses, Germany and Britain, alongside the Diocese of France, while Sweden remains a vicarate dependent on the Patriarchate in Damascus.

The decrease in the number of Christians in the Middle East saddens Oner, but he does not fear for their existence. He says, "They are decreasing but they will not melt away from the Middle East," affirming that "they remain and remain and remain." He then looks at the walls of the bishopric in Lattakia, which is 1400 years old and adds, "Christians will not disappear from the Middle East. Nothing overcomes the Church. She remains forever. Christianity is like the leaven that leavens the place. Christ is present and He will not allow the Christians to melt away." The former vicar of the bishop in Lattakia responds to questions about the role of clergy in reducing emigration by saying that their hands are tied in the face of this thorny issue and they are incapable of preventing it. If they tell a person not to go, he might come back a few days later and blame them for the killing of his child in the war and if they tell him to go, then they are helping to reduce the number of Christians in the Middle East. Therefore they keep silent in response to the question of emigration, even as they hope that all will remain and no one will live.

Many in the Middle East see Bishop Oner as possessing an open mind, which will help him in his new responsibilities. He is going from a sentimental Christian community to a rationalist, materialist Christian community and this is the great gamble that awaits him from the moment of his arrival. He also sees the West as thinking in a different manner than the Middle East, recalling the events that happened centuries ago when the Eastern Church split from the Western Church, explaining that, "the West, in its mentality, was the cause of the schism."

In Oner's view, the Christian mentality in the Middle East is different from that in the West. At the same time, however, he believes that the Orthodox community to which he belongs exists in every corner of the world with one mindset and one creed and so he is going to pastor Orthodox of the same mindset. If they have westernized a little from the proper Orthodox mindset in his estimation, he will work to return them to authenticity. He puts an emphasis on the phrase "if they have westernized" as a large proportion of his diocese's flock are Orthodox from a British background who joined the Antiochian Church during the time of the late Patriarch Hazim.

During the conversation, Oner stresses that "atheism is is the result of the Western mindset which relies only on the mind and excludes the heart, including that which has spread to a certain degree in the Middle East, where the Western mindset has started to invade the younger generations because of emigration and contact." Taking pride in his Easternness, he adds, "Our problem in the Middle East is a lack of trust in what we possess and the ease with which we lap up what others possess and so become influenced by them, thinking that in doing so we have become civilized, instead of us civilizing the West with the Eastern mindset. Westerners do not feel God's presence in their hearts and Easterners arrive at atheism when they estrange God from their hearts."

However, the bishop who is heading to Europe goes back and says that the Church is one throughout the world and it cannot be limited in a place, referring to the call for the unity of the Church.

Oner dismisses the objection that he is creating a conflict between the mind and the heart in the human person, using himself as an example, as he holds a doctorate in engineering. He says, "Here I relied on the mind, but in my relationship with God, I combined mind and heart and I placed God in my heart," adding that he "will carry with himself to Britain the love of God, the warmth of a relationship with Him, the mindset of the Antiochian fathers, chief among them John of Damascus, and he will convey the pain and suffering of the Middle East in order to be a witness to all those who are suffering."

Throughout the conversation, Bishop Oner, who is proud of his Syrianness, speaks classical Arabic, but suddenly he switches to a spontaneous, colloquial Arabic when the conversation turns to Syria. He says, "I have great faith in her... Love will be victorious there." He explains that he is departing Syria but that she will continue to live in him. He finds in his new responsibilities an opportunity to communicate with the West and to tell them that they erred in forming their opinions about Syria. He then expresses doubt that they will listen or that they will want to listen, particularly the politicians.

Oner continues to speak with emotion, saying, "I will speak of the suffering that the Middle East is experiencing, part of which could be stopped by a position or decision on the part of the West. I will give them an inside picture of what is happening in my country and I will not cease to speak about it. I will explain to them precisely that if they desire the good of Syria and of the Christians, then they must work to secure for them ways to remain and not help them to emigrate."

The operator of the Orthodox website al-Manara, a clergyman steeped in Middle Eastern thought and known for tendency to make eye contact and touch when speaking, closes by saying, "we must not shy away from the generations that have become closely tied to technology," and calls for investing in what he metaphorically refers to as a Pentecost in transmitting the word of the Gospel to the entire world. Working with technology is not a mistake. Rather, the mistake lies in avoiding it because that leads to avoiding the generations that are the extension of the Church.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Claiming to Speak in the Name of Christians

Arabic original here.

Claiming to Speak in the Name of Christians

In his Epistle to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul mentions two currents that tug at Christians when he makes a distinction between those who boast in the flesh and those who boast in the cross: "For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ... for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus" (Galatians 6:13-14, 17). Christianity, according to the Apostle Paul, is not measured by the number of those belonging to it through baptism, but by the number of those who bear in their bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus. Therefore the Apostle warns Christians about falling into playing a numbers game, as Christianity has a qualitative value, not a quantity of  bodies that can be enumerated. Thus we realize why Christ did not call Christians to brag about their numbers, but rather spoke about the "little flock", calling on it to not fear the world.

The Apostle Paul warns Christians not to fall into the trap of those who are only concerned with boasting about their numbers. He speaks clearly about those who "do not keep the Law" but despite this want Christians to practice the Law so that they can boast in their numbers. He once again points out that the true Christian is not the one who has only performed the Law, but the one who bears the cross without interruption, the one for whom the cross has become a part of his body.

The Apostle Paul did not bost of the number of those who were baptized at his hand, although they were many. Instead, he reminds his audience that the sole thing that causes him to boast is "the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." For Paul, what is meant by the cross is not an object made of gold, silver or wood... but rather the heavenly things that the cross symbolizes, chief of which are love, martyrdom, self-sacrifice and unlimited giving...

Paul closes his discourse about the cross by eloquently pointing out that he himself bears "the marks of the Lord Jesus" in his body. By mentioning this, he means to once more recall the words of the Lord Jesus: "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mark 8:34). No one can be a disciple of Jesus if he does not deny himself. The precondition for speaking in the name of Jesus is that a person must renounce himself and his deadly ego. The true disciple of Jesus is the one who crucifies himself for the sake of the world, not the one who wants to crucify the world for the sake of pleasing himself and his lusts.

Many are those, clergymen and politicians, who claim to speak in the name of the Christians. Many are those who want to boast in the Christians' numbers and not boast in Christianity. What a difference there is between those two things! Those who boast in the Christians' numbers are not concerned with the holiness or moral corruption of the Christians. Boasting in Christianity is boasting in the living saints who still struggle upon this earth against sin, greed and corruption.

Those living saints are not concerned with what religious leaders or political leaders say and they are not concerned with demanding "the rights of Christians" and their shares of corruption, deals and appointments... This is because they have realized that the Christians' true weight is not defined by the weight of the blood, flesh and bones of their bodies, but rather by the love that they bear in their hearts toward their brothers in faith, citizenship and humanity. No one can claim to speak in the name of true Christians. Truth alone speaks in their name.

The entirety of what concerns these saints is that they have born the cross and that they have loved to the end.  They wait with a true longing for martyrdom. Anything else is worthless.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Met Georges Khodr: Towards the Unity of Mankind

Arabic original here.

Towards the Unity of Mankind

Those who love one another do not flee from one another. We remain together and we always try to be committed to one another. Remaining with others when we know their sins or their weekness is difficult. However, God has revealed to us that we are brothers and that we are called to remain His family-- that is, one family in Him. You make people your brothers if you love them. There is always a distance between people because of differences of convictions and temperaments but God has commanded us to see that brothers are one, even if they forget that fact.

How do they live together in peace if they do not believe that the Lord loved them and made them one? This is hard work in many cases, but it is what God has demanded so that we may know that we are His children. Temperaments have differed among people since creation and the difficulties of life have become more varied but humankind cannot live in combat or hatred. Love is an effort. You do not have it from your mother's womb. It comes to you first by God's grace and second by your effort. That is, it increases if you so desire and if your Lord so desires.

You belong to your Lord and to the people with whom you live. It is for them first of all that you make an effort. Those who are closest to you in location are the ones whom you love first. You are not a world unto yourself. You are not closed off. You love people and they love you and in this way you live together. You must draw near to them so that your love for them will increase and so that their love for you will increase. A believing society is those people who know that they are brothers or whom God has made brothers. In this way they become one family, God's family.

Different mothers bore us, but we must become God's family through love. My father is not your father and my mother is not your mother, but the Lord sees us as one and inspires us to feel that we are brothers.

Living among people is an effort, a coming together. It is you and I and I am not imposed upon you. You and I are different from the start of our effort. What is needed is our unity, despite differences of temperament and convictions. That is, the only thing that is needed is the love that transcends the difference into which we were born or raised.

Perfect unity between people is not possible. It is an effort, but it is a fundamental effort if we do not want to fight or slaughter one another. Our mothers bore us free to strive for our unity in love, since there is no other unity. Goodwill towards all, intellectual development and love are our common endeavor if we do not want the human race to perish.

Our unity, if we are believers, is God's work through His grace, but along with this it is the work of our desire for the good of all people. God created the world and left it for us to make through our love. The universe does not develope organically from itself. It is human beings who cause it to perish through their sins or make it live through their love.

The unity of mankind comes through our love for one another. We perfect it every day by gratuitously doing good works for all people, since they all need them and through them become new humans.

Met Georges Khodr: Deny Yourself and Follow Me

Arabic original here.

Deny Yourself and Follow Me

In today's Gospel reading, the Lord talks about self-denial when He says, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." Then He says, "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"

The question posed here is this: how does the Lord want people do deny themselves and then gain their souls? As if these two things are mutually contradictory.

His saying in the first passage, "let him deny himself," means for a person to free himself from his lusts, from all his passions and his worldliness. He thought that his soul, that is his essence, is in the world, which he gulped down, ate, mastered and glorified in. This person thought that he existed if he acquired possessions or became great among his people. This person finds himself in the eyes of others. They see him as great, so he is great. They see him as clever, so he grows in greatness. However, if he stood alone before the Lord, he would see himself as empty. The hollow man fills himself with everything in this world in order to be able to know that he exists.

Each of us is struck with this affliction to varying degrees and so the Lord says: Deny yourselves. Reject your wealth. Reject your glories. Glories may come to you, but count them as nothing. Wealth may come to you, but count it as nothing. Various sorts of pleasures may come to you. Refrain from them and consider them fleeting. In this way you will overcome the world even as you are in the world.

Do not think that you are something important, as any ailment could beset you in an instant. One who knows that he will die knows that he is as nothing in his life. If you arrive at denying not only your sins and lusts, but at denying yourselves, then you will gain your souls because you will have said to the Lord: "Lord, we have understood that we are nothing and You are everything. Come, Lord Jesus, and fill our souls with Your presence." If you receive, you will taste this presence. It will begin to give you being. You will come into being from God. You will become new people. Everything you have and everything within you is from Him and you are grateful to Him at all times.

This compels us to follow the Teacher until the end, for each one of us to take up the cross and follow the Master. This is the cross: that we put to death everything that impedes our path to Christ and he path does not end at Golgotha. But how do we die with Christ? We mortify this body and its passions. He who has the power to consider all of life as nothing, to obliterate it in his eyes, in his heart, draws near to self-denial. If we do not do this, we remain bewildered between God and Satan. Why must we love the cross? Who loves the instrument of his torture? The cross is suffering and the Lord asks us to accept suffering gladly or to be pleased with it because of what awaits us after it, because of the joy that will dwell within us if we embrace the Crucified One, if we abstain from this world.

"Deny yourself and follow Me." A person does not love another person until the end. Usually a person does not die for the sake of another person. Each of us dies alone. But there is one person who loved us until the end. Christ was able to come down to earth not only for all of us, but for each of us individually. Each of us is loved individually and therefore we can bear the cross of the One who loved us and gave Himself up for us.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Sectarianism or Secularism?

Arabic original here.

Sectarianism or Secularism?

The erudite bishop Georges Khodr states that he and the Orthodox are, in general, "strategically secularist, currently living within the sectarian system, participating in it without harm or prejudice because it is the current face of the state." He then reminds himself that "Historically and theologically, the Orthodox cannot be an ethno-religious party taking direction and commitment to a single political policy from the bishops or from those who are delegated with the worldly affairs of the Orthodox. We do not forget that we are only an ecclesial society and because we are this way, our presence has its particular aspect in politics. It is to be present with all and for all, on the basis of our faith commitment" (al-Kanisa wal-Dawla (Beirut: Manshourat al-Nour, 1982), p. 42).

There is a basic definition that can be agreed upon by those who call for secularism, however much they might differ in how they define it. This is the separation of religious and temporal authority and the independence of each of these authorities from the other such that each one respects its proper sphere. The political authority does not impose upon religious institutions anything that violates their beliefs and religious authorities do no expert legal tutelage over people and society.

Our position with regard to the state, whether it is religious or non-religious, believing or atheistic, is only based on the extent of its respect for the freedom, rights and dignity of man. The description of the state does not concern us as much as the standards it relies upon in governing. Many secular states are far more advanced than states with a religious character in terms of respecting human rights. There are states that have no religion that respect fundamental religious values more than religious states.

The secularism that we long for is that neutral and impartial space, that shared space that does not follow any religious or non-religious ideology, in which every individual citizen lives out his freedom through acting in accordance with his conviction in such a way that does not affect the rights of his partners in the one nation. The secularism that we long for is that secularism that respects religious, cultural, ethnic and political diversity...

On the other hand, most Lebanese agree that sectarianism is the fundamental reason for the country's constantly passing from one crisis to another. They agree that even if sectarianism is not the chief reason for the outbreak of internal conflicts, it is the fuel used by those interested in fanning the flames of these conflicts and transforming them into wars that have affected all Lebanese, who have paid dearly with their lives and livelihoods.

It has already been decisively proven that, in order not to slip into internal strife from one decade to another, the Lebanese must pass from a condition of sectarianism to a condition of citizenship where in political society and the state, national identity and national loyalty take precedence over other identities and sectarian loyalties. The primacy of national loyalty in no way erases other loyalties, which each have their own scope and sphere. In national affairs there is a shared loyalty and in religious affairs there are other loyalties and these cannot be mixed.

In the current social and political situation, we cannot deny that sectarian loyalties have a growing influence on the formation of relationships between Lebanese. At the same time, however, we cannot live in a state of flagrant contradiction between what we say and what we actually do. A sort of schizophrenia dominates the discourse prevailing in political circles in terms of affirming the importance of eliminating political sectarianism while at the same time eagerly working to entrench it. However, before eliminating political sectarianism, a number of necessary steps must be taken, without which it is impossible to truly put an end to sectarianism and instead we would just change to a new state of sectarianism even worse than the first where sects that are numerically the majority would dominate minorities.

What is surprising, however, is the belief some people hold in the usefulness of sectarian solutions to the problems sweeping our country. The sectarian ailment cannot be treated with more sectarianism. Therefore sectarian governance based on a sectarian division of spoils is not a rational solution but rather will only exacerbate the problem. What our country is witnessing is the logical result of what we failed to achieve over the past century, building a state of citizenship, institutions and law. We failed to build a state that upholds the rights and general freedoms of citizens, not the corruption of the authorities in power or the "rights of the sects". We have failed to build a state in which all citizens feel themselves as belonging, without feeling injustice or persecution. We have failed to build a state in which no one is rejected for not belonging to the dominant sect or to one of the large sects that monopolize authority in it.

The great Georges Khodr had the first word and he will have the last word: "It seems to me that the secular state that respects every religion and welcomes all citizens as equal in the status appropriate to their service is the closest to God's heart... Let us not forget that a state for Christians or a state for Muslims can be the entities the furthest from freedom and justice and that in the name of religion they can negate every human value and make their society into a terrible prison. The religious state is terrifying because we do not know of any state in history that was truly God's rule on earth but we know of theocratic states controlled by clergymen, by whatever name, rule according to texts attributed to or associated with their god and give reign to their lusts" (al-Kanisa wal-Dawla, p. 39-40).

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Met Georges Khodr on the Elevation of the Cross

Arabic original here.

The Feast of the Elevation of the Cross

"Through the cross, joy has come into the world." This is a paradox for those who look at the surface. The cross is death, but in its meaning and its reality is the site of the resurrection-- I did not say the way to the resurrection. This is that the body of Christ hung upon the wood of the cross is His starting-off point in the sense that His resurrection on the third day was nothing other than the revelation of His victory that was realized on the wood of the cross.

This is the paradox in Christianity for those who want to understand it, that the Savior brought us new life in the moment when he was hung upon the wood of the cross and therefore we live in Him in death. That is, through putting our passions to death and repenting of them. This is the mystery that you who believe in Him do not have any life unless you put your harmful lusts to death and are raised up in righteousness and ardent, divine love to His kind face. What struck the pagans during the era of persecution was that they saw our numbers increase the more they killed us. According to arithmetic, we should have gone extinct, so why did we not go extinct but instead increase numerically? The secret is that the love that the martyrs demonstrated by their martyrdom of blood drew the pagans to the faith. That is, the pagans wondered how they could see the Christians smiling and joyful as they were on their way to die.

This is the mystery of Christianity, that through your suffering for Christ's sake joy appears upon you. Christians would wear white when one of them died. They did not know mourning. Everything was a Pascha for them. The symbol of this is that if you go forward to kiss the cross on one of its feasts, the priest gives you a flower.

During our seasons in which the cross is mentioned frequently, there is no indication of sorrow. There is no divine service in our rites in which there is weeping. You make no distinction in meaning between the prayers of Good Friday and those of Pascha. We are people of Pascha at every feast.

When a child is baptized, a cross is hung around his neck in order to show that he is called to follow a Paschal path and accompany Christ from His crucifixion to His resurrection in one procession. This is why we have great celebrations for our martyrs without any trace of mourning or weeping for them. When the cross is hung around your neck at baptism, it is to show that you are called to death and life all together. Or, to use a clearer image, you are called to a new life through your death.

If we celebrate the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, we understand that we are all called to the resurrection of the Savior. We pass through death and transcend it in a single moment.

Therefore it is a mistake to imagine that Christianity is a religion of suffering. It does not welcome suffering; it observes it. Pain is a part of life. Christianity transcends it through the hope of the new life we have received through the resurrection of the Savior.

Met Georges Khodr: The Foolishness of God

Arabic original here

The Foolishness of God

In  today's epistle, the Apostle Paul says to the Galatians, "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). Does the Apostle want us to take pride in a piece of wood? Of course not, what is meant is not the wood. What the Apostle Paul is enjoining us here is to take pride in the love that was poured out upon the wood, in a love that is not like the love that people have for each other. The love that people have for each other is in the best case reciprocal. We love because others return the love. But there is a singular, mad love that is God's love for people.

People do not deserve much of anything. Man is more decadent than we think. Every person is more ridiculous than we reckon. Despite this, God loves man and sacrificed Himself. God did not sacrifice money like people do. He did not sacrifice courtesies, which are all just words. God's love for man cost Him His blood. It made Him reach out to these humans, to you and to me. He came not to judge, but to save.

People love, condemn, judge, hold accountable, examine and admonish. They want an exchange, closely tied to others' feelings, which makes them always lie in wait for each other. They do not hold back from anything because in their view the whole world belongs to them.

God's love is completely different from this love. In the cross, God says to us: The world is not for Me. The world is for the world. Man is for himself. I came to serve him and to save him as he is-- in his poverty, his ridiculousness, his decadence.

This is what the Apostle wants us to take pride in and in the reflection of the mystery of crucified love upon us and in our daily life. To put it another way, he wants us to be thankful for every weakness, every infirmity, every fallback, secure in the fact that God is supporting us in this and is our companion.

The Apostle wants us to take pride in precisely that which human reason and human lust does not take pride in. He wants us to take pride in the cross, as though we are madmen, as he said in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). This Christian madness is true wisdom and true intelligence "because the foolishness of God is wiser than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25). Man must retreat from much of what puffs him up and everything that he boasts of. He must be humble, become simple, not lie in wait, not admonish, not examine, not judge and not condemn. He must do all of this so that the cross that we celebrate this week might be elevated, not only on the hill of Jerusalem, but in our hearts.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Let Christ Defend Himself

Arabic original here.

Let Christ Defend Himself

Christ is upon the cross. The soldiers braided a cross of thorns and placed it on His head. They bowed before Him, mockingly. They spat on Him. They whipped Him. They nailed Him to the cross. Transgressors blasphemed Him. The chief priests and elders mocked Him. The thieves reproached Him. But He forgave those who crucified Him saying, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."

If Christ had wanted to defend Himself, He would not have needed choirs of angels. He would not have needed the Apostle Peter's sword. He would not have needed an army of this world. He would not have needed high priests or priests. He is all-powerful. If He had wanted to defend Himself, He would have wiped all those who hurt Him from the face of the earth.

But He was faithful to His teachings, His words and His Good News. He did not retreat from His principles for worldly gain. Did He not say to His disciples, "Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who hurt you and persecute you..."?

Christians, however, or at least most of them, always want to prove that they are in total opposition to their Lord and Master. They live in a deadly dualism combining opposites that cannot come together. This is the dualism that receives its legitimacy from  the tyranny of sectarian thinking over churchly thinking, or indeed, the total absence of churchly thinking in order to defend the interests of the sect and those leaders and plutocrats who control its affairs.

Christians, or at least most of them, are furious with those who curse Christ or mock Him but are silent before an unjust ruler who kills children and permits bloodshed and destruction. They are not content with this, but regard this unjust ruler as their protector and the guarantor of their remaining in this miserable Middle East.

Christians, or at least most of them, rise up against those who insult the saints but they pledge allegiance, with or without elections, to war criminals, perpetrators of massacres, strongmen, leaders, ministers and members of parliament. Indeed, they raise them to the ranks of the saints. They rise up against those who insult the saints, but they elect corrupt men who steal public money and plunder the state treasury. They are furious with those who insult Christ with words, but they have no problem with electing leaders who have soiled their hands with blood or money.

Christians, or at least most of them, rise up against those who insult a symbol of Christianity but are silent before the persecutions suffered by their brothers, the poor, widows, orphans and refugees...

There is no doubt that the problem lies in the exploitation of the sectarian factor to stir people up and provoke them against each other. This is why those who really are insulting Christ are ignored-- that is, those who insult man and his dignity-- and attention is drawn away from them toward people with no power or influence.

Christ will not be affected by a person who mocks Him, but rather He will pray for him. However, Christ will certainly regret the sight of a hungry child, a bereaved mother, or a man without shelter... Christ is insulted in them. Let those who want to defend Christ love those who wander about the lands of God with empty bellies, blanketed by the sky and with stones for pillows... Christ is not in need of politicians to recover His honor. They are in need of Christ who is present in the poor in order to regain their human dignity.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Met. Saba (Esber)'s Words to the New Bishop of the UK & Ireland

Arabic original here.

To My Brother in the Episcopate

When the Patriarch of Antioch placed his right hand upon your head and lifted up the Holy Gospel, brought by the hands of your brother bishops, he called down up you the Spirit of God to perfect your human imperfection, heal your infirmities, and release you into the service of His Church.

The bishop, my brother, is the primary guardian of the Lord's most precious deposit, His Church. From now on you have become a watchman guarding over the purity and uprightness of this Church militant. Keeping watch over your soul and keeping watch over the Church are always inseparable.

Inasmuch as you are vigilant about the purity of your soul and are attentive to its salvation, it will be a factor for the purification of the Church of the Lord and an instrument for the salvation of the children of your diocese whom He has placed in your custody. They are His children and they become your children inasmuch as you are truly a child of God. A child bears the attributes of his father. Thus you emulate your Heavenly Father. We humans, including us bishops, are your brothers. However, we bear our imperfect humanity and remain without a model. You are what you have and our stumbling. Always fix your gaze on the Model and rely on the activity of the Lord, here and there, among your weak brothers.

You are going to a foreign land. Good. This will remind you of your authentic home: the Kingdom of Heaven. There you will serve a people who were born in the Orthodox faith and who have the usual freedom of a son of the house that may reach the point of irreverence, and have disadvantages as well as advantages. You will also serve people who came to Orthodoxy after a journey of searching and study.

Be a father to all. The people of today are in dire need of a father. Our world today has lost its fathers. You will come across many in your new sojourn who do not understand the fatherhood of God because they have not had a father on earth. For them your fatherhood will be an image of God's fatherhood. If they sense your compassion, your watching over them and your sternness with them when necessary, then they will see fatherhood and will turn to God exclaiming "Our Father". Europe threw away its heart long ago and its mind took total control, while the East suspended its mind, leaving its heart captive to passions and the effects of emotion.

You are called to serve both in your diocese. Perhaps God wanted you there because He knows the balance and harmony between the two that He has given you. Treat them all as your children and love them as your children. A father loves, educates and rears. This mission of his succeeds when it is based on love, setting a good example, and sobriety. Whatever we may teach and do, people are still most affected by our example and our love. You will devote yourself in your diocese to spiritual service. There is no integration in that part of the world between the world and religion, as we have here. The people there do not need the Church for their basic necessities. However, they are in need of meaning, the meaning of their existence, the meaning of their life. Your mission is to bear witness to them of the fullness of life, that which Christ unleashed within you as soon as you were aware of His empty tomb and the work of His presence within you. The world is enticing, but it does not fill and it never satisfies those who chase after it. The world is in need of true witnesses to the true joy of the Lord.

You will be a witness to His joy, His peace and His presence. At the beginning of your new pastorate, you will lack a personal pastoral role, but you will make up for this by first of all tending to the priests. The bishop, my brother, is responsible first of all for tending to the priests, so that they may tend to the people of God. They live alongside the people and are with them in the details of their life. However, the bishop sets their pastoral policy and directs them in the steps to implement it. He watches over them and assesses them so that, if they serenely dedicate themselves to pastoral service, they bring into it inner peace and tranquility.

Now you are bishop over a diocese and responsible for it. However, through your presence on the Holy Synod of Antioch, you do not limit yourself to only your own diocese. The episcopate is universal. Every bishop is a universal bishop, in the sense that he bears the pains and challenges of the Church and is sensitive to them. We have been given the duty of facing and solving them, wherever they may be, naturally according to the canons of the Church. Do not limit yourself to your own diocese and become isolated from your brothers and their dioceses. Even if you are geographically far away, contribute to strengthening the bonds of unity between our dioceses. Our people long for a situation that makes them feel that they are embraced by their family of faith. Is it right for us to be members of Christ's family and be entirely concerned with just a part of this family? You come from a people that is wounded and broken but still standing. You come to your dioceses with the suffering of your Antiochian people in your heart and there you will bear witness to their faith and spiritual strength. The experience of suffering catches the ear of humanitarians, and for them it may be an entryway to knowledge of Christ who embraces all, who only asks in return for it "that we have the fullness of life" (cf. John 10:10).

You will contribute to Christ's being Master of the hearts of the people of that country. Your children who have come from other churches to Orthodoxy came to it seeking the spiritual fullness that they have found in it. You know that the West has come to be materialistic to a terrifying degree, but people still search, in every place, for some spiritual fullness. In that you have been brought from your upbringing in a purely Orthodox environment, you are called from now on to embody what you experienced in a new land and in new souls. In the beginning, you will need to listen, have patience, and very often keep silent with keen attention. This is so that you will be able to understand their culture, their way of thinking and how to speak to them. You will learn this quickly inasmuch as God has granted you intelligence, peace and love.

Put everything before Him and start out with trust. It is enough for you that He called you and you yourself never once sought the position you are now in. He who accompanied Tobias with an angel and delivered him safely shall alone accompany you and make firm your steps so that you may always be according to His heart.

Siluan Oner was consecrated Metropolitan of the United Kingdom and Ireland on August 30, 2015 at the Patriarchal Monastery of Saint George Humayra.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Christ's Rights and Christians' Rights

Arabic original here.

Christ's Rights and Christians' Rights

The Christians [in Lebanon] and their leaders continue to demand their disregarded rights. Insofar as they are demanding what they call "the rights of Christians", then their rights as Christians must necessarily be the same as the rights of the one to whom they belong-- that is, Christ. But what a difference there is between these two things! If their rights were in accord with His rights, then they would be demanding a just state that does not discriminate between citizens on a sectarian basis. Christ worked-- indeed, was the first to work-- to bring into contempt the narrow national-religious affiliation of His people, the Jews. He tried to bring them out of their isolation and pride over other peoples and they killed Him and did not allow themselves to be corrected. Is not the Christians' demanding the rights of their religious community not a sort of return to that racist and discriminatory Judaism? Is not this demand a sort of revenge, two thousand years later, against Christ and His revolution?

If Christians' rights were the same as Christ's rights, then they would demand a just state in which the bases of social solidarity exist to provide bread, electricity, water, fuel and material needs for all poor and needy people, as well as free education, health insurance and old-age pensions for all, and equality between all Lebanese where this equality is lacking between members of different communities and between men and women-- in the granting for citizenship, for example-- but also between Lebanese and non-Lebanese, especially the refugees who have found in Lebanon an oasis of security that shelters them from the wars and occupations that have brought death and destruction in their own countries. I might add, finally, the right to live in a clean environment, free from garbage...

If Christians' rights were the same as Christ's rights, then they would be the same as the rights of Muslims, Jews, Sabians, Yezidis... those without religious affiliation, atheists and every single citizen. Are not His rights, as He said in His Good News, the rights of the poor, the wretched, the meek, the sorrowing, the hungry, those who thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the poor of heart, those who strive for peace and the persecuted? Do we not find each of these among all members of the human race, no matter what their affiliations may be?

The concern of the Christians and their leaders, both political and non-political, has come to be elsewhere. Their concern has come to be providing opportunities to improve the rights of Christians in the authority for which Christ only had contempt. Did not Christ, the "king entering Jerusalem" not mock kings when He rode a donkey while the symbol of royalty is riding horses? Did He not declare to His disciples, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves" (Luke 22: 25-26)?

The "Christians' rights" have come to have no connection to Christ. The hope of Christians has come to be elsewhere. Christ is no longer their king. Did not those who supported crucifying Christ cry out before Pilate, who had pity for Him, "We have no king but Caesar"? Yes, the crowds preferred the emperor of Rome to Him. They preferred tyranny in order to get rid of Him. For them, Christ constituted a danger to mankind greater than tyranny because He called for abandoning slavery to worldly things and all their trappings. He called for accepting the cross, love, and sacrifice and for hating money and authority. Between Christ and Caesar, they chose Caesar.

If Christians wanted to demand their rights, then they must either demand the Christ's rights, their Lord and Master, the rights mentioned in the Gospel, and thus be faithful to their belonging to this Redeeming God or, if they want to continue with their political demands by which they obtain leadership positions and important offices in the state, then we will ask them: is Christ pleased that they are demanding what they are demanding in His name, disregarding what He called for? Of course not! What a difference there is between Christ's rights and Christians' rights!