He had Made Peace Along the Whole Road so it Can Now be Travelled Without Fear


Jacob of SarugThe Book of Accompaniment is the oldest extant Maronite document which preserves the funeral rites celebrated by the Maronite Church.1,2 Then Msgr. Hector Y. Doueihi, now Emeritus Bishop of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, explains in the introduction,

“[The title and the concept it contains] indicate that the dead, who have ended their journey in this life, are starting another journey in the life beyond. According to the ancient spiritual vision of the early Syriac Churches, the passage to eternal life is hampered by obstacles and dangers. The departed need special support and guidance on their journey. Thus, the funeral rites are a complex of psalms, hymns, Scripture readings and prayers that ‘accompany’ them on this ‘other’ journey. The texts implore the ‘company’ of the Lord and his mysteries for them, and pray for protection and safety on their journey. The funeral rites, are, therefore, rites of ‘accompaniment’ which are celebrated on the road as one begins the journey to new life.”3

Not only do the departed need special support and guidance on their journey, but the living, who mourn the death of their loved ones and are traveling on the same road of faith, seek a message of hope and consolation as well.4 Jacob of Sarug  (ca. 451 – 521), a prolific Syriac Church Father and known as the Flute of the Holy Spirit, provides his readers with such a message. He teaches that it is none other than Jesus Christ who accompanies the deceased and the living on this road traveled by all grudgingly and with fear. The objective of this brief column5 is to share with the reader this powerful insight which Jacob draws from his main source of pastoral, theological, spiritual and poetical insight, i.e., the Bible. Furthermore, this column’s other goal is to encourage the interpretation of the three stations of the Maronite funeral rites, or better yet the three stations of the accompaniment rites, in light of Jacob’s explanation.

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“Thou Who Wast Crucified for us, Have Mercy on us” The Theology of Philoxenus of Mabbug on the Trisagion


Introduction

Philoxenos of MabbugIn a dogmatic letter written to the Monks of Beth-Gaugal,1 Philoxenus of Mabbug (485 A.D. – 519 A.D)2 urged the “hearers” not to be troubled by the statement “God was crucified for us.”3 This assertion was the catalyst that incited the Trisagion controversy.4 The Trisagion, Greek for “thrice holy”, is a liturgical hymn5 that affirms the holiness of the Omnipotent Immortal God in whom Christians believe. At the crux of the controversy lies the Chalcedonian affirmation (451 A.D.) that Jesus’ weaknesses are attributed to his human nature and his supernatural deeds are assigned to his divine nature.6 Philoxenus of Mabbug was among those who rejected this “blasphemy”7 and worked tirelessly to promote the belief in the passion and death of the consubstantial Son, thus bringing to the fore8 and vigorously9 promoting the “theopaschite”10 formula of the Miaphysite Trisagion: “Thou art Holy, God; Thou art Holy, Strong One; Thou art Holy, Immortal One; (Thou) Who wast crucified for us, have mercy on us.”11

The objective of this paper is to explain the theological underpinning for Philoxenus’ Miaphysite Trisagion as elucidated in his dogmatic letter to the monks.

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The Fire of Purgation in Gregory of Nyssa’s De anima et resurrectione


Introduction

Gregory of NyssaFire has had different functions in Christian eschatology. While final destruction is the fate of the unsaved according to Edward William Fudge in his book Fire that Consumes1, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that eternal punishment awaits those who die in a state of mortal sin2. In either case, fire is the main agent that consumes the damned or inflicts eternal punishment on them. Fire also plays an important role in purifying the soul according to the Catechism’s teachings on purgatory where all who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, undergo purification before they enter the joy of heaven. “The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire.3” Long before the Fathers of the Councils of Florence (1414-1418 A.D.) and Trent (1545-1563 A.D.) promulgated the doctrine of purgatory, Gregory of Nyssa (335-394 A.D.) and other theologians4 espoused the teaching of universal salvation in which fire has a central function. The objective of this paper is to explain the notion of fire and its role in cleansing the soul as Gregory of Nyssa propounds in his De anima et resurrectione or “On the Soul and the Resurrection.5

This work begins by exploring the notion of fire as an agent of purification in the afterlife in Gregory’s De anima et resurrectione. Next, a closer investigation of the fire of purgation will shed light on the biblical foundation upon which Gregory relied to expound his teachings. Lastly, this paper will argue that fire is a metaphor for God.

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Abū Qurrah’s Theology of the Christian Practice of Venerating the Holy Icons


Theodore Abu QurrahTheodore Abū Qurrah lived in a world different than his not so-distant ancestors. The hegemony of the Christians in the Near East gave way to a new hegemony that proved challenging culturally and theologically to the “natives.” In a century Syriac and Greek in the Near East yielded their dominance to Arabic1, the language of the Muslims who carried with them a new scripture, the Qur’ān, God’s word delivered to the Prophet Muhammad at the hands of the Angel Gabriel. Christians had established certain practices, which they probably took for granted, by the time the new “liberating” army of the new “Christian heresy”2 arrived at the door steps of the three ancient Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria. However, this was neither a “liberating” army nor a new “Christian heresy” but an expanding army with a new and challenging religious message: God is but one and has revealed his last and “undistorted and uncorrupted” scripture at the hands of Muhammad, the last and final prophet in a series of revered prophets including Jesus, the Son of Mary, whom Christians proclaim to be the Son of God.

Christian practices encompassed a whole list of traditions which were adopted from Judaism and native cultures and religions in which Christians found themselves. No doubt these traditions were adapted to the needs of the Christian faithful to portray certain theological truth and beliefs. One, however, cannot deny Christian innovation in creating new and necessary Christian customs. The heirs of Judaism were able to justify the establishment of a new spiritual movement which called for the veneration of the cross and icons of Christ, Mary, and the saints despite the fact that, on the surface, this practice seemed to defy God’s stern and unwavering commandment,

“I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishments for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation but bestowing mercy, down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Deut. 5, 6-10) Continue reading

My Vision of the Maronite Church


The Family of Maron

  • The Antiochene Syriac Maronite Church is depicted as a Cedar of Lebanon. She is founded on Christ (the cross) who is the cornerstone of all churches and she is nourished by God’s Word as found in both Testaments of the Bible. Her roots are based in Jerusalem (the mother of all Churches), Antioch, Edessa and Nisibis, and Lebanon, the See of the Maronite Patriarch. Continue reading

Growth of the Maronite Church in the United States – Five Necessary Components


Introduction

The Great CommissionI am excited and privileged to be at the forty-seventh Maronite Convention. “The Identity of the Maronite Church” and “Welcoming Non-Maronites into our Faith and Heritage” are two very important topics that are dear to my heart. Instead of treating them separately I would like to address them in the context of the growth of the Maronite Church in the United States – if I may say, “Looking at the whole forest rather than individual trees.”

The Maronite Church in the United States has definitely grown in the last three decades. There is a high probability that this growth is largely due to the influx of immigrants who left their homelands seeking a better life in this country. Thank God for immigrants! Their contribution has been tremendous to our nation and Church, yet the Church’s growth cannot only depend on the waves of immigrants coming from the Middle East. After all, we, as a Church, are called to abide by Christ’s Divine Commission “to make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20). The growth of the Maronite Church in this country might have been limited in part because our congregations have been integrating mostly – if not almost exclusively – (Middle Eastern) immigrants. However, there are many other reasons why the growth of the Church was limited. My objectives are not to enumerate or examine them all, but rather to propose five necessary components that will Lead to the growth of the Maronite Church in the United States. Continue reading

Crisis in the Life of the Maronite Church


Paradigm ShiftThe Maronite Church is going through an identity crisis. In fact, this is a worldwide phenomenon and not specific to the United States. Is the Maronite Church an ethnic Church? Is it a Lebanese Church or an Arabic Church? Does the Maronite Church serve only those who come from Lebanon or the Middle East and by extension those who are married into a Lebanese or Middle Eastern family? Or is it the Church of Christ, in which there is no distinction between Lebanese and non-Lebanese? Continue reading