Monday, February 19, 2018

Met Siluan (Muci)'s Message for Lent 2018

Spanish original here.

The Pastoral Letter for Great Lent by Metropolitan Siluan of Buenos Aires

The Yoke of Forgiveness and the Burden of Repentance

"Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men." (Matthew 12:31)

On the path of preparation for Great Lent, the readings from the Gospel for the four Sundays that precede it show us successively that the Lord is our only justification and teach us how we must live in accordance with this justification.

As a matter of fact, the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14) shows us how the Lord justified the publican but not the Pharisee as soon as both finished their prayer and left the temple. By condemning himself as a sinner and seeking the Lord's forgiveness with contrition, the publican was justified by the Lord, but the Pharisee who wrapped himself in the justification of his own virtue as compared to the sinfulness of others found himself deprived of the eternal justification that only God offers.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) shows us how the prodigal son discovers his father, not for what he has or for what he can give, but for who he is and for his paternal love, and how he in turn discovers himself as a person who does not deserve this love or this filial relationship. When he returns home, is he surprised by how his father justifies him and restores him to the dignity and authority of a son who is no longer prodigal or dead, but who has been found and is alive.

In the Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), the "sheep"who justified themselves as not having done anything for Christ were justified and blessed by the Father because they served Him through the needy, while the "goats", who justified themselves as not having seen Christ to serve Him personally, were condemned and cursed by the Father for not having served Him through the needy.

On the fourth Sunday of the Triodion, Forgiveness Sunday, which inaugurates the beginning of the fast of Great Lent, we hear the Lord Himself, who asks us to go out and justify our neighbor by practicing forgiveness, since if we do not justify and forgive our neighbor, we cannot be justified or pardoned by God. If God indeed justifies us gratuitously, this nevertheless requires us to live and practice this gratuitousness in our daily life.

In daily life, many people are in the habit of justifying themselves with regard to themselves, their neighbor and God. They hurt themselves and they hurt others by not discovering the gratuitousness of the justification that God offers, by not accepting it as a gift from the Lord, and by not living in accordance with it in their daily lives. By holding on to self-justification, they remain locked in the earthly sphere and fail to see the transcendence of their lives in the love of God and in the justification that Jesus Christ offers by His love and His sacrifice on the cross.

In order to escape this vicious circle of self-justification, the Lord exhorts us to accept His "yoke", which is to say the practice of forgiveness, and His "burden", which is to say the life of repentance, inspiring us in the motto of our archdiocese: "Learn from Me... for My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:29-30). On the one hand, forgiveness seems to be a yoke of Christ because as Christians, we cannot escape practicing it, since it is the basis of our prayer, the Our Father, when we ask God to forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (Matthew 6:12). On the other hand, repentance seems to be a burden because we have to constantly watch and correct ourselves without justifying ourselves, but rather seeking the justification that comes from the Father.

Accepting this yoke that is forgiveness and this burden that is repentance, with the practice of love and hope that each one respectively entails, is possible and necessary through the love that the Lord has for us and the hope that we place in the Lord and His mercy. Living in accordance with this lesson, that is, practicing forgiveness and repentance, allows us to live in its fullness the justification that we receive from the Lord every time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy. This is how the procession with the holy gifts is understood, in what is called the "Great Entrance", in their subsequent consecration as the body and blood of Christ, and finally in our partaking of the Holy Chalice with the feeling of the publican, the prodigal son and the sheep at the right hand of the Father. Otherwise, we will be rejecting our own salvation and denying the work of the Holy Spirit and thus we will come under the categorical sentence of the Lord: "Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men" (Matthew 12:31).

God wants us to dedicate ourselves during Great Lent to working decisively for the sanctification of our will, of our intellect and of our heart by duly celebrating the justification that Christ offers us and by participating in it, through the persistent practice of forgiveness and repentance. Amen.

Metropolitan of Buenos Aires and All Argentina

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos)'s Message for Lent 2018

Arabic original here.

Message for Lent

All of us need repentance, a return to God. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32). So enough with demolishing each other! Do not judge, so that you won't be judged: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner..."

The Church's canon and its rules for the fast are not to destroy the person or eliminate him. They are for discipline and education. All of us need discipline. How are we disciplined except through fasting and prayer? "This kind can only be expelled through prayer and fasting." Fasting is nothing less than refraining from everything that does not belong to God.

"O Lord and Master of my life, grant me not a spirit of sloth, meddling, love of power, and idle talk. But give to me, your servant, a spirit of sober-mindedness, humility, patience, and love..."

The purpose of the fast is for us to understand the mystery of God's expansive love. Look at the merciful father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Come to know the Heavenly Father through the Son. That is, through the Lord Jesus Christ who revealed Himself by saying, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest... learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29).

Who of us does not want to truly have rest in his soul?! Who of us does not want to know God truly? To touch His presence in the calm of his heart? "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3)...

"Love seeks nothing for itself" (1 Corinthians 13:5). "Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad" (John 11:51-52).

Today this message of ours must be in the Church and in the world. The Apostle Paul raises his voice and cries, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus... He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2: 5, 7-8).

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Met Georges Khodr: Man's Treasure

Arabic original here.

Man's Treasure

"Where your treasure is, there your hearts will be also." This is the closing to the passage of the Gospel that the Church reads to us today to prepare us for the fast tomorrow. It is as though the whole purpose of the struggle of fasting is for us to be trained in the fact that the Lord is our treasure, so if He truly becomes our treasure, then our hearts will be attached to Him.

What is man's treasure? What does he love? Of course, he loves the flesh, the thing that is connected to him when he is born and which remains, until he is buried in a grave, connected to him. With it he sees, he hears, he senses and reproduces. A terrible, tempestuous force moves the universe. The flesh, then, is something we are attached to. Each of us is attached to his flesh, to one degree or another. The fast comes and tells us to cancel all of this. Man is attached to his flesh because he does not love to die. The believer loves to die, because he meets Christ, his Beloved.

Therefore, we refrain from food until we strike down the authority of the flesh over us, so that we may have authority over it.

What does man also love? Money. All people are attached to money. The saints do not love money; they trample it under their feet. For this reason, the Lord said, "Do not store up treasures for yourself on earth," meaning do not let your hearts be attached to money. What is meant by this is that even if you accumulate money, do not love it, do not desire it, and do not let it rule over your hearts. Let your hearts be free. Everyone needs money and the Lord did not say that you must be poor, but He did say not to be attached to money and that we should not let it have authority over us.

Man's worth is in that he is Christ's beloved and that he tries to implement the Gospel alone. So we have abundant money and give it to the poor. This was the first goal of the fast at the dawn of Christianity.

The third thing that man loves and is attached to is authority, the love of glory, the love of appearances, the love of lording over people. When Jesus confronted the devil in the wilderness, Satan said, "I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth," and Jesus drove him away from His face. Jesus does not want to be king like earthly kings. He wants to be king over hearts. He gained this kingdom at the crucifixion. When He loved, He became king.

And so let us train ourselves in humility as we hold the flesh in contempt and hold in contempt along with it the soul that incites evil, that is greedy and lords over people. We must learn that what we desire might be realized. We must learn not to hold any opinion unless it is attached to Christ by dogma, faith, and that which is not vain.

We must refrain from attachment to our opinion. By denying erroneous opinion or being free from erroneous opinion, we walk with the Lord towards Pascha, so that we may see His light.

We and those preceded us to heaven together welcome Christ. They went to His light and so we commemorated them last week on Soul Saturday, in order to remind ourselves that we and they are one Church.

We train ourselves in the fast in order to arrive at vision of the glory of the resurrection in love. If love remains in our hearts, and you polish and refine it, it will bring us to the Pascha that we hope for.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Review of 'Guide for a Church under Islam'

This review, by Sam Noble, appeared in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 57.1-4 (2016): 309-327. The entire review is available here.

Patrick Demetrius Viscuso, Guide for a Church under Islām: The Sixty-Six Canonical Questions Attributed to Thodōros Balsamōn (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2014)

In 1195, the people of Constantinople were witness to a singularly rare event. Patriarch Mark III of Alexandria (r. 1180-1209), visiting from Muslim-controlled Egypt, concelebrated the liturgy at Hagia Sophia with the Patriarch of Constantinople, George II Xiphilinos (r. 1191-1198), and the Patriarch of Antioch, Theodore Balsamon (r. 1193-after 1195). Much to the shock of his fellow patriarchs, he attempted to serve the traditional liturgy of his see, the Liturgy of Saint Mark but they prevented from doing so. It seems that this incident brought to the attention of everyone involved that practices in the Churches of Constantinople and Alexandria diverged on a wide variety of points and so Mark submitted to the patriarch and synod of Constantinople a list of sixty-six questions for clarification. The end result of this was a series of questions and responses prepared by Balsamon (a native of Constantinople who, though officially the absentee patriarch of Antioch, seems to have never left the city) on the synod’s behalf.

The issue of cultural, linguistic, and liturgical diversity and uniformity is a perennial point of contention in the Orthodox churches and so Patrick Demetrius Viscuso’s translation of Balsamon’s Sixty-Six Canonical Questions under the title Guide for a Church under Islam is a welcome contribution to the history of how the Byzantine Church understood Orthodox Christians living outside the boundaries of the empire. Throughout the volume, Viscuso demonstrates his expertise in Byzantine canon law by thoroughly cross-referencing passages from the Questions to the entire corpus of Balsamon’s works as well as to other pertinent Byzantine legal texts. He also provides extensive notes explaining the reasoning behind some of the more difficult-to-understand rulings, such as the Galenic theory lying behind the prohibition against communing on the same day as having bathed (78-80), as well as several of the rulings related to marriage, sexuality and gender in a manner that is clear and accessible for non-specialists. However, the reader might have appreciated further explanation of two of Balsamon’s more disturbing rulings, permitting a man to sell off a female slave with whom he has fornicated (118) and declaring betrothal to a girl of seven to be valid on the grounds that girls of that age are subject to concupiscence (119)

Nevertheless, even as he expertly explains the peculiarities of the Questions in relation to the broader corpus of Byzantine canon law, Viscuso fails to situate the text within its Middle Eastern dimension. In particular, he does not even so much as cite any of the substantial literature on Melkite canonical collections and the history of the reception of Byzantine legal texts among Middle Eastern Christians. This leads to a reading of the text that, while grounded in the history of Byzantine law, makes very little effort to understand it in terms beyond Balsamon’s own limited horizons. In choosing to give his translation the title Guide for a Church under Islam, Viscuso highlights precisely the dimension of the text that he least examines.


The Questions are doubtless an important source for the history of Byzantine canon law—especially as regards important contemporary issues such as the question of deaconesses, the reception of converts, and relations with the non-Orthodox-- and Viscuso has performed a great service in producing this clear, accessible English translation. Nevertheless, as is very often the case in studies of both Byzantium and the Christian Middle East, we are in need of further basic philological work in order to be able to have a proper understanding of this text. Without a critical edition of both versions of the Questions and a comprehensive comparison between them, it is difficult to tease out what in belongs to Mark and his Melkite Alexandrian context and what belongs to Balsamon. One can indeed discern some echoes of the daily life and problems of medieval Melkites from the text presented in this volume, but by and large these echoes are drowned out by Balsamon’s wholly Constantinopolitan frame of reference. Rather than an authentic “guide for a church under Islam,” what we have here is a foundational text in the Byzantine imaginary of Orthodoxy outside the bounds of empire.

Read the rest here.