Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Hero Saint George

Saint George is a great hero whose feast "St. George's Day" is April 23. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Saints, George suffered at Lydda in Palestine and died a martyr for Christ around 303 AD where his tomb was shown. Some historians believe that George was born to a Christian officer who was a friend of Diocletian the Roman Emperor. When Diocletian turned against Christians and started his persecution, George was one of the Christian soldiers who refused to worship the Roman god but because of his father's friendship with Diocletian, George was given a second chance to convert to the Pagan Roman religion. As George insisted on worshiping Christ, he was decapitated, suffered, and ended a martyr. St. George's cult is both ancient and widespread with feasts in the East where he was called 'megalomartyros' and in the West where he occurs in the Martyrology of Jerome and the Gregorian Sacramentary. Churches were dedicated to him in Jerusalem and Antioch in the 6th century and from early times invoked as a patron of the Byzantine armies. Britannica Encyclopedia, which is not religious, has an article about St. George where it is written "George was known in England by at least the 8th century. Returning crusades likely popularized his cult (he was said to have been helping the Franks at the Battle of Antioch in 1098)" [Cf. George, Saint. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved April 21, 2017, from Encyclopaedia Britannica 2006 Ultimate]. Other online sources abound with information about Saint George. Read it for example here. In Renaissance, artistic works flourished around building and renovating churches - One legend shows St. George, a knight on his white horse, defending the Church against Satan.The popularity of St. George continues to amaze people of every faith. Muslims venerate him under the name Al-Khidr. Churches, States and cities have been named after him in many places from the Republic of Georgia in the East to the State of Georgia in America. St. George is highly venerated in Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Greece, Italy, France, England, and others. In Egypt alone, there are more Churches dedicated to St. George than any other saint except the Blessed Virgin Mary. In a few of old churches such as "Mar Guirguis" Coptic Orthodox Church in Old Cairo, people attend a retreat on St. George's Day where it is believed that St. George comes at night and heals persons afflicted with Satanic possessions.

For me, St. George's intercession sought by my mother - of venerable memory - is, at least partially, the reason why she conceived, and gave birth to, me. Our grandmother, my mother's mother, told us the story: My mother was having her first pregnancy. Scared that it was hard she implored Saint George and made a vow that her first son will be called George. On the other hand my pious dad - of venerable memory - so much loved his mother and father that he wanted to name his first son by the name of his dad 'Shaker'. God, in his abundant love to both, created two persons or a twin in the same womb. But wait! On delivery my mother was so tired that my dad had to call the doctors home. At home Dr. Zakhary performed a cesarean surgery and started to close the womb. This is when his assistant Dr. Leon told him that he sees somebody else in the corner. At this point I was delivered to my beloved mom. And from there started another big responsibility for the parents of both Shaker and George who called me joujou - the nickname in Lebanon for George!

Today some young friends joke with me so I tell them: You must first call me joujou!!!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ibrahim El-Haddad: Light from the Depth of Death !

Note: Words in blue color are useful links for background.

I have accumulated so much in the past week of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ...On Holy Thursday at Holy Rosary Roman Catholic parish in Toronto, Msgr. Robert Nusca, gave a homily on Christ's serving his Apostles, washing their feet, and exhorting them to serve each other as he, the Master, bowed to serve them - because "he loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end" (John 13;1). Msgr. Nusca emphasized how important it is for us today to serve the needy and pointed to the programs that the parish runs including "Out of the Cold" and helping St. Vincent de Paul Society as well as other social programs for the lonely and elderly people.

On Good Friday at the Byzantine Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Toronto, I prayed with the Melkite Catholic parishioners of Jesus the King and others as the distinguished  Homsy Choir sang the hymns of the burial of the Crucified Jesus Christ in anticipation of his Resurrection, Echoing earlier words of the Holy Father Francis, Fr. Ibrahim El-Haddad reminded the congregation of Jesus' saying (John 12: 24) that if a grain of wheat dies in the depth of the earth, it produces much fruit. The death of Jesus was necessary to release the Church to all nations and restore heaven to all of them. The victorious Christ is the light from the darkness that enlightens all nations...

Fr. Georges Farah (with a doctorate in philosophy and another in theology from the renowned Sorbonne) shared with me an article by Robert Kennedy Jr. in which he shows that the leading nations of the U.N. and regional powers are fighting against or with ISIS for control of oil resources and pipelines in the Middle East (see it here). If every one of the above nations fights militarily for its own prosperity at the expense of other people, there will be a huge price paid by humanity. And I remembered the homily of Palm Sunday by Msgr. Samuel Bianco (here). The leaders of the U.N. may be hiding things or manipulating other nations. The independence of each nation is good as long as it does not infringe on other nations rights to survive and flourish. But the latest news that we hear involve military confrontations and/or economic sanctions from/against America, Russia, China, European countries, and North Korea...The human globe continues to live in suspense...

In spite of the above,  I remembered that the Gospel reading started with the Word "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1: 1). Professor Msgr. Paul Feghali interpreted it as the cornerstone of Christian  faith. It is great that the Fathers of the Church chose it for the Resurrection since this elevates it to the highest veneration.

And two homilies give me hope: In the mid-night Mass of Easter at the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, Fr. Ibrahim El-Haddad showed us that true joy is not in the food and gifts that we prepare for feasting, but is in the risen Christ who brings us eternal life in heaven. What is the value of freedom if at the end we are dead? he questioned. And answered "When Christ is revealed - and he is your life - you too will be revealed in your glory with him" (Colossians 3:4) and again "For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from, heaven comes the Saviour we are awaiting for; the Lord Jesus Christ; and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body" (Philippians3:20-21).

And in Alexandria, Egypt, the Jesuit scholar Fr. Henri Boulad went further in his homily on Easter Sunday (see it here in French). Each of us creatures has life but Jesus IS LIFE - Life of everything living in the cosmos since he is the origin. Then when he died and crossed death he resurrected to eternal life! What do I benefit from his Resurrection? Christ opens eternal life to us. He had to die like the little grain that dies deep in the ground to be fruitful in order to open life for those who seek it. The word "Pasche" means "passage". God saved Moses and his people when they crossed the Red Sea symbol of death to the Promised Land. Jesus saves us when he leads us to eternal life. Christ has risen from the dead and by his death he has trampled upon death and has given life to those who were in the tombs (Byzantine chant)! In Teilhard de Chardin, the risen Christ is the Cosmic Christ. The whole cosmos is restored to the Father in the risen Christ. Christ is victorious because love - his love - must be victorious!

And above all, the Christian East and the Christian West celebrated the Resurrection of Christ together in 2017. We hope this is a new step in the ecumenical dialogue for Christians to be one in one universal Church!

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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