Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Romfea: The Ecumenical Patriarchate on the Issue of Qatar

UPDATE: Antioch's response can be read (in English, Greek and French) here.

Greek original here. Grain of salt-- Romfea often gets details wrong. Also, lest anyone forget, this idea was tried two years ago and Jerusalem reneged on the agreement that was reached...

The Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the Issue of Qatar

A communiqué was issued today, Tuesday, March 31, by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, dealing with issues concerning the Great and Holy Council to be held on Crete in a few days.

Furthermore, the synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate also dealt with the well-known issue of Qatar, which concerns the Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem.

According to the communiqué, the Ecumenical Patriarchate proposed setting up a committee of representatives from both churches immediately after the Great and Holy Council, but under the coordinating responsibility of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Church circles, however, commenting on today's communiqué, said that doing so after Pan-Orthodox Council will be meaningless, since the two primates should celebrate the liturgy together on Crete.

"The issue really should be resolved before the Great and Holy Council..." said an Antiochian metropolitan to Romfea.gr.

Met Saba (Esber) on the Great and Holy Council

Arabic original here.

The General Orthodox Council

I would have preferred if it had been called the Great Orthodox Gathering and not the Council, because of the importance of distinguishing between the two things. It will be attended, as has been agreed, by twenty-four bishops from each of the fourteen Orthodox churches, whereas tradition holds that all bishops, no matter their number, may participate in an ecumenical council. Likewise, an ecumenical council is necessitated by the spread of some heresy that constitutes a threat to the Orthodox faith and a deviation from the true vision of God and this does not currently exist. The Christian faith in general and the Orthodox faith in particular face many challenges. The Church may be required on account of the danger that they pose to examine them and confront them. They do not, however, reach the point of a heresy that affects proper Christian dogma and issues of salvation in the manner of such heresies as Arianism and Iconoclasm which gained a dominant position and forced the Church to hold the ecumenical councils on account of them.

The dangers are very many in our world which is marked by individualism, consumerism, globalization and which appears to be undergoing a radical change in morality. Industrial society and technology has brought boredom, a lack of hope, isolation and loneliness alongside economic ease and scientific advancement. The more technological and scientific development increases, the need of humans increases for searching for the meaning and purpose of life.

What can be reasonably hoped for from this gathering is that it will be an expression of the single communion of faith that exists between the autocephalous Orthodox churches and that it will constitute a blessed opportunity to discuss the challenges that the faithful are facing in our current time. The gathering of brothers is a blessed event and a joy. In the Holy Bible it says, "Behold how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell in unity!" (Psalm 133:1). Nevertheless, as with all gatherings, this meeting also carries within it dangers and caveats.

Some of the faithful fear, for example, that this gathering will issue directives requiring the churches to adopt practices that might be unacceptable to the Orthodox consciousness, especially in the field of ecumenical relations; or that it might issue decisions that do not take into account situations that need time for the churches to discover the ideal and most appropriate formula, such as in the case of the churches of the diaspora; or that it may establish an approach to fraternal relations bearing a centralized orientation contrary to Orthodox tradition, the spirit of consultation, and Orthodox theology. Likewise the global, worldly mentality that is prevalent, globalization-- which has become a means for imposing a particular culture, local reactions that aim for self-protection from the oppressive globalist onslaught, and the hidden presence of local and international politics all constitute factors that necessitate further confronting all the challenges that have been posed with more of the spirit of maintaining purity of faith that distinguishes Orthodoxy, sobriety in dealing with its challenges, preserving right belief in it, starting out on the basis of evangelical truth, and listening to the voice of God through His living saints-- not through those who are called theologians merely because they have studied theology, and seeking the inspiration of the Holy Spirit first of all and last of all.

In principle, this meeting will examine six working papers, most of which are pastoral in nature. However, all pastoral activity is based on the vision that aims to help the faithful to realize their salvation and salvation is not realized apart from a pure and upright vision of the faith. The preliminary meetings that prepared this meeting were limited to the topics of fasting, marriage, the relationship of the Orthodox Church to the rest of the Christian world, her contribution to the contemporary world, the manner of declaring the autonomy of emerging churches, and the issue of the Orthodox diaspora-- which is the most important and the most subject to differences of opinion.
The difficulty in a gathering such as this lies in that it is taking place after more than a thousand years without there having been a gathering on this level. Most of the Orthodox churches have suffered during Christianity's second millenium (and continue to suffer) from extremely difficult historical circumstances. This historical suffering has engendered different mentalities and manners of dealing with pastoral issues and of confronting emerging challenges to the faith. The heavy and bitter history of the Orthodox has helped to make them inclined to hold on to what they have, even if in practice this sometimes turns into the very opposite. Refusing any change, adjustment or reform of practice is still abundantly widespread in all Orthodox milieux. The churches that are coming out of long, horrific persecution refuse to talk about reform and see it as a threat to uprightness of faith. For example, the positions of a church whose people do not know a mixed society or which is seeing itself torn apart from missionary activity by other Christians will not be receptive to dealing with the rest of the Christian world like a church whose people live, in peace, in a pluralistic society amidst diverse cultures.

Thus, historical factors and political circumstances play an influential role in raising the degree of sensitivity in terms of a certain political dimension for any issue under discussion. Likewise, many Orthodox peoples are witnessing a nationalist reawakening, while at the same time the Orthodox faith considers ethno-phylitism to be a heresy that is dangerous for Orthodoxy. This phenomenon will certainly cast its shadow over the meeting's atmosphere, even if only indirectly. Dreams of primacy, centralization, and authority, of First, Second and Third Rome, exist here and there. How will the issue of the Orthodox diaspora in the emigration be treated in such an environment?

The most important question, in my view, lies in the content of the final pastoral message, which the fathers who have gathered together will address to the faithful and to the world. In view of the very diverse and different pastoral visions among the churches, what answers and guidance will the meeting bring to the children of the Church and the world?

There is no doubt that the challenge is great. But faith in the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit is also great. Over the course of history, the Church has been subjected to dangers that almost put an end to her, but her Lord has preserved her through ways that He alone knows and creates. There is no doubt that the Church is full of pure and righteous people in whom the Holy Spirit will work and whom He will use to steer the ship to the best port. Our hope is that the voice of the living saints will be heard.

The gathering in itself, after a millennium, is a major accomplishment. If it does not succeed, then it will have prepared souls and hearts for joint work and the exchange of experiences in a more effective and impactful way in the future. It remains for all the faithful-- those who are enthusiastic about it, those who are apprehensive of it, and those who reject it-- to accompany it with fervent prayer and purity of life so that the Holy Spirit alone may be sovereign over it.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Man

Arabic original here.


"Man is created in the image and likeness of God." In this sense, man is an icon of God and he is called to become a living icon of Christ.

This means that the human being who is separated from the divine Being loses the cause of his existence, because the divine element within us is that which establishes humanity. Man has no existence without God. There is no humanism without theism.

From another perspective, the God in whose image we were created is God the Holy Trinity. Consequently, the divine image that is within each of us is an icon of the Trinity. Thus God, without whom I cannot be truly human, is the God of reciprocal love. He is not a single individual who loves Himself, but three individuals who love each other.

We humans are called, then, to be people who love each other with shared loved (perichoresis).

We must reflect the spirit of Trinitarian communion on earth.

None of us can attain human perfection in isolation. I must love others and be loved by them.

*    *    *

If all of this is not available in society-- in global, human communion-- it creates various forms of pain and suffering  and in the end, the god-man is distorted, as he is present and saved in the person of Christ, with the crown of thorns and the robe of purple, the God-man whom Pilate brought out to the crowd and said "Behold the man" (John 19:5). This is the icon that is usually placed on the divine altar. Then the Jews and the chief priests responded, "crucify Him, crucify, Him... He must die because He made Himself the Son of God" (John 19:6).

"Behold the man:" wretched, tormented, rejected... even the form does not remain. The Book of Hebrews provides us with a hopeful way out in the dispensation of God the Creator in the divine words of the God-inspired Psalm:

"What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor" (Hebrews 2:6-7; Psalm 8: 4-6) "for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone" (Hebrews 2:9).

There is a contrast between Christ's glory and His decent (to hell), between man's glory in creation and the resurrection (the new creation) and man's weakness on account of his freedom, his suffering, his passions, and his inevitable death.

Despite this contrast, man approaches the pure angels and likewise their glory and holiness with dignity, becoming a king of creation, master over all God's works. The Son of man became a suffering, dying man that man might become a glorified god. 

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Met Saba (Esber) on the Orthodox "Diaspora"

Arabic original here and here.

On the Issue of the Orthodox "Diaspora"


It seems, during the course of work on the Great Orthodox Council, that the issue of the "diaspora" will be the most important, in the sense that there is no issue more important than it. Due to serious disagreements that currently exist between the Orthodox Churches, mostly due to historical factors, the other working papers, most of which have been agreed upon, were formulated according to the lowest common denominator of agreement and not at the level hoped for by the people of God. The issue of the "diaspora," however, has remained urgent because it is thorny, multi-dimensional and has an inherent relationship to the Mother Churches. In addition to the theological and ecclesiological problematique, there is the proposal advocated by the Church of Constantinople, which is rejected by the majority of churches not under Constantinople's influence.

A Historical Outline

The term "diaspora" is applied to those Orthodox who have emigrated from their home countries belonging to one of the recognized autocephalous local churches to countries that do not fall within the borders of the historical Church, either due to the absence of a previous Orthodox presence or due to their not yet appearing on the map when the canons setting the boundaries of the churches were issued.

The Christian Churches first emerged in the Mediterranean Basin within the framework of the Roman Empire. Thus, with time, the five ancient patriarchates were established around the chief cities. According to the traditional honorific taxis, they are: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Over the first millennium of Christianity and then some, they remained the chief centers of the Christian world. From them evangelical missions were dispatched to the world lying outside the bounds of the Roman Empire which was, in Church literature, known as "the inhabited world" (ἡοἰκουμένη).

After the Great Schism of 1054, the Orthodox world was limited to the four patriarchates that came after Rome. However, with the growth and spread of Orthodoxy, this world started to witness the birth of new patriarchates such as those of Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, etc. Until now, this has led to the existence of fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches in the world.

The ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church has preserved the concept of the local church and has not known a globally centralized ecclesiastical structure as came to exist in Rome after the schism, especially in the past two centuries. Those Orthodox living in countries that lie outside the boundaries of the autocephalous local churches have been considered a diaspora. Over time, however, they have grown in numbers and have become rooted in their new countries, even as they continue until now to stream into them in great numbers, causing their churches there to multiply and grow.

Very quickly, their mother churches contacted them-- or they contacted their mother churches-- in order to provide them with spiritual service. In the case of Antioch, at least, the emigrants sent for priests that they knew or the priest of their village in order to perform the Holy Mysteries for them. Over time, they gained churches and parishes which remain tied to their mother churches.

It is worth mentioning that the Antiochians who emigrated to North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were, before the Bolshevik Revolution, under the pastoral care of the Russian Orthodox Church which requested from their mother church an Antiochian bishop to shepherd them under the omphorion of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America. This took place and their bishop then was Saint Raphael Hawaweeny.

The current situation of the Orthodox Church in the "diaspora," which started out as a matter of "economy" but has now become an established, permanent presence, is not in keeping with the canonical Orthodox ecclesiological concept. This dogma states, for example, that there should be one bishop for one city, while today there are many bishops in some cities. There is an Antiochian bishop for the Antiochians, a Greek for the Greeks, a Russian for the Russians, etc.

Over the years, the generation that emigrated started to engage with their new societies and have become Americans, Brazilians, Argentines... Moreover, some of the active churches started to attract not insignificant numbers of inhabitants of their new countries who were not of an Orthodox background. That is, they started to practice their apostolic mission in a manner demonstrating a real maturity within them.

The issue of organizing the Orthodox presence in what was in the past known as countries of emigration and is known today as countries of diaspora has been posed for some time and there are numerous opinions about it. It is a thorny issue, especially with renewed waves of emigration after the collapse of the Communist regimes that ruled in many Orthodox countries. Greek and Antiochian emigration has also renewed in recent years as a result of the Lebanese and Syrian wars and the Greek economic collapse.

The Issue at Hand

There is a serious debate among the churches about the theory adopted by the Church of Constantinople based on a particular interpretation of Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which regards the inhabited world (ἡ οἰκουμένη) as restricted to the Roman Empire and those outside of it as backwards. This view was predominant in the fifth century, when the concept of the "inhabited world" was limited to the Roman Empire because it was regarded as the center of civilization.

Following this interpretation, "Constantinople" considers itself to have sole responsibility for providing pastoral care to all those outside the bounds of the autocephalous local churches. This is rejected by the other churches, apart from those who, due to particular considerations, are unable to contradict the Patriarchate of Constantinople on this matter. It should be noted that the Church of "Constantinople" currently shepherds all the Greek-speaking Orthodox outside the countries of Greece and Cyprus.

The Orthodox Church is a universal Church, as the Creed states, and her fathers who gathered in Constantinople in the nineteenth century rejected the principle known as "ethnophylitism." That is, the submission of the Church to racism or nationalisms.

Orthodox ecclesiology advocates the local church, while many may not believe that all the churches of the "diaspora" have reached the maturity that would permit them to become autocephalous local churches, especially after renewed waves of immigration or the phenomenon of mobility from one country to another in the past two decades.

What should we do in the face of the existing contradictory ecclesiological situation? And what should we do in the face of the position of one or more churches that is based on a concept of worldly influence that is sought in word and deed, causing controversy and confusion and, moreover, impeding the communication and communion sought by all the churches? The return of churches that had been under Communist regimes to activity, growth and influence has likewise added a new dimension to the problem, insofar as this new situation has contributed to reviving the struggle between Greeks and Russians in the Orthodox world.

Some Observations on Current Approaches

So the issue of the diaspora is now under the microscope. What appears to be the manner of addressing it allows us to draw certain conclusions:
  • Most views that have been proposed treat the issue from a purely canonical angleand attempt to adapt the canons to fit the perspective of the church making the proposal. Everyone searches through ancient commentaries, twists the facts of the modern situation, and relies on texts composed in bygone eras that differ drastically from our own times.
  • Through the above, the observer gets the feeling about this matter, through studies or teachings or practice, of a hidden ecclesiastical power struggle and the fear of losing flocks in the diaspora. This is what must be respected in light of present circumstances in the countries of the mother churches, in terms of wars and economic and social collapse.
  • There is a growing conviction among many that the mother churches are not prepared to let go of their churches in the diaspora, just as most of the churches of the diaspora still reject such a severing of bonds, especially if the solution entails dependence on one of the autocephalous churches. These positions affirm approaches to this thorny issue that are not based on a theological perspective so much as they are based on providing proofs for the veracity of what they want with regard to this issue
  • Focusing on the canonical dimension in treating this issue reveals the extent to which pastoral care is absent, the great disappointment resulting from the failure to adopt a clear plan for salvifically serving the people, and the profound abyss that exists between the ecclesiastical leaderships and the people in the majority of churches.
  • This matter has been dealt with in a worldly manner that ensures for the churches a worldly influence that is far removed from the presence of Christ at the heart of His Church, such that He becomes a stranger to it.
  • There is a feeling that a papal orientation is on the rise on numerous levels, internally and externally, in one or another of the churches, appearing in positions, dialogues, and various debates. This orientation reveals the extent of Orthodox theology's need for canonical theological frameworks that embody its ecclesiology in history. Effectively, it defines the theory and practice of primacy of honor, the primacy of the head of the local church and the bishop and the manner of expressing synodality between the patriarch and the bishops and the bishops among themselves and also between the clergy and the laity.
  • The absence of a pastoral aspect from most of the current approaches reveals the extent of the danger in this matter. The pain and suffering of earlier and subsequent emigrants is not taken into account. If only we were disagreeing over the best way to provide them with pastoral care, rather than over dividing up the earth and populations!!! This, unfortunately is an expression of the extent to which pastoral service is ignored and its weakness in general, even in the mother churches.
Some Proposals

There is no avoiding the ideal solution based on Orthodox ecclesiology. This solution is embodied in the appearance of new autocephalous churches when the state of the faithful and parishes in those countries reaches the maturity that allows for recognizing their having one church and the necessary conditions for recognizing it.
  • According to the words of Patriarch Ignatius IV during the preparations for the Fourth Preliminary Orthodox Conference, the diaspora “is called not merely to stay alive, as was the case in the past, but to transform into a dynamic and creative element in the place where it exists. Orthodox unity, in the various countries of the Orthodox diaspora, has become a necessity for the preservation of the purity of the Church and the witness of the Orthodox Church.”
  • Here we must raise the question of whether there exist sincere intentions to arrive at the ideal ecclesiastical solution! It appears that the consequences of history and the difficult and bitter situation of the Orthodox peoples on the one hand and a worldly mentality that bends theology to its vision on the other hand, are having an impact on the adoption of the solution based on an authentic ecclesiology.
  • Therefore, there is an urgent need for serious preparation leading to the desired solution, which will not fall from the sky all at once. Rather, it will be a goal and an ideal whose realization requires an agreed upon vision of the future and diligent and clear joint work according to a plan of action that takes into account the reality of providing people with the best pastoral care and developing a palpable sense of Orthodox catholicity. In this context, the proposal of the Antiochian delegate to those same gatherings, Albert Lahham, remains live and realistic: “Let us take small steps together in order to move together towards unity because the people must experience this unity first.”
  • This plan is purely based on an effective and upright theological vision that precludes any concept of influence, dominance or interests that have no part in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Likewise, this is with full consciousness of the suffering experienced by the Orthodox people that continues to force them to emigrate, situations of extreme hardship or persecution, whether economic or in terms of security. The emigration of Orthodox has not occurred only due to seeking employment and education. People have been unjustly forced to seek refuge against their will. This means that we as churches must take into account with all due respect the feelings that these believers have toward their land, their countries, their languages, their customs, and their cultural Orthodoxy. This requires a long-term plan that manages the temporal dimension in order to prepare circumstances, mentalities and souls to accept the realization of the desired goal.
  • The vision is based on the creation of a new ecclesiological reality that takes into account the specificity of these churches of various origins having a relationship with their mother churches. How should we designate this relationship? What are the specificities that distinguish them? How can they exist without affecting the catholicity of the Church? These are the questions that must be raised.
  • These new local churches appear when the Orthodox of the diaspora, who are still pouring into new countries, become conscious of the culture of the new land where they live, interact with it and assimilate to it on the basis of their Orthodox faith. Reaching this consciousness requires a transitional phase with a purposeful pedagogical trajectory that takes into serious account that culture which differs in its foundations from the culture that has historically existed in Orthodox countries. This is fundamental work whose time has come to commence on a pan-Orthodox level.
  • The episcopal conferences, which were declared in 2007, initiated successful work towards unity, even if it has remained on a formal, superficial level and has not transcended, except on symbolic occasions, the bounds of ecclesiastical jurisdictions. However, before this work is cancelled or renewed, it is in pressing need of appraisal. The Orthodox have agreed on its principle, but its practice has been beset, here and there, with numerous errors that have aroused fears among many of the churches and has evinced an effort towards limiting the Orthodox representation in certain countries of the “diaspora” to one particular church. 
  • Knowledge of the history of the emergence of the ancient patriarchates takes on great importance in helping to elucidate the boundaries of the churches that are maturing towards autocephaly. The tie between the autocephaly of churches to nationalism, which appeared two centuries ago, constitutes a danger to the churches. While the emergence of the five historical churches took place in circumstances different from our own circumstances, the experience of having recourse to them is useful for building up the catholicity of the Church today.


There remains hope that the Church’s deliberations about any of the issues on the table at the Great and Holy Council will take into account the salvation, support, and ideal pastoral care of the people of God, with an upright mindset, faith and comportment. Otherwise, the least we can say of the path we are on is that it is not straight (i.e., Orthodox).

Friday, May 20, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh on the Myrrh-Bearing Women

Arabic original here.

Imitate these Women, O Men

Saint John Chrysostom (d. 407), the Syrian Antiochian patriarch of Constantinople, praises the bravery of the noble women who accompanied Jesus during His life and His death. The Myrrh-Bearing Women, as the Church calls them, were did not fear like His closest disciples feared and fled from facing their Teacher's humiliating fate, breaking their promises to share in His fate, or at least to accompany Him... all before the cock crowed.

Chrysostom says, some fifteen centuries before the women's movement, that men must imitate the courageousness of the women who went to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body: "So let us imitate these two women [i.e., Mary Magdalene and the other Mary], O men! Let us not abandon Jesus at the time of trial! They spent much of their money on Him when He was dead and subjected their life to danger. But we men, I will repeat, did not feed Him when He was hungry and did not clothe Him when He was naked. When we see Him begging, we turn our backs to Him. But if you truly saw Him, you would strip yourselves of everything that belongs to you."

Before the Myrrh-Bearing Women, there had appeared a young girl who was more courageous and audacious than them, Saint Mary, the Mother of Jesus or the Mother of God, as the universal Church affirms. This girl accepted, by her free will and her obedience to the word of God, to conceive Jesus from the Holy Spirit without being married. She risked being convicted of adultery and being killed, had her betrothed, Saint Joseph, not rectified the matter and declared her to be his wife before the people without her in fact being his wife. We say that she faced the danger of death by stoning because she believed what the angel of the annunciation said to her, before receiving Joseph's agreement to cover for her before her compatriots. She did not consult any person when the Lord called her to accept her most sublime calling, to give the Son of God flesh.

In both cases there was a Joseph on the scene, Joseph, Mary's betrothed, the great silent figure, and Joseph of Aramathea, who asked for the body of Jesus who had given up His spirit on the cross in order to bury Him appropriately. The first Joseph did not did not hesitate to embrace Mary, who was called to contribute to the divine dispensation by accepting the angel's news, and the second Joseph who dared to ask Pilate to hand over Jesus' body. Chrysostom says of Joseph of Aramathea, "Joseph had previously hidden his discipleship, but he became very bold after Christ's death. He was not obscure or forgotten, but rather notable and very respected, a prominent member of the council. From this it is clear that he was bold and daring. He risked death and incited all to love for Christ."

If we take this comparison into symbolic proofs, then we would repeat with Saint Jerome (d. 420) who observed that Jesus was placed in a new tomb in which no one had previously been placed and said that "the new tomb resembles Mary's virginal womb." Just as Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, so too He emerged from the virgin tomb as a new birth.

Joseph of Aramathea and the Myrrh-Bearing Women were not members of the twelve chosen disciples. The closest disciples denied at their time of trial that they knew Jesus and one of them handed Him over to be crucified. But one who was not of their number dared to openly announce his faith and became a disciple of Jesus. The true disciple of Jesus, whether a man or a woman, is not the one who carries a Christian identity on account of having been baptized, but the one who imitates the courageousness of Joseph of Aramathea, the Myrrh-Bearing Women, and the martyrs who offered themselves up in order to hold fast to their faith... only the courageous deserve to be beloved of Jesus.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Met Georges Khodr: The Constant Pascha

Arabic original here.

The Constant Pascha

Pascha means passage: originally, the passage of the Hebrews from Egypt, the land of slavery, to the Promised Land, Palestine. When Christians adopted the word, they meant their passage in Christ from sin to freedom and salvation. Does the ordinary Christian understand  that the feast is his invitation to seek salvation? If he understands, he does not remain prisoner to the earth, to the things and people of the earth. Christianity is that you sense that you live by Christ, of Him and in Him. That is, that you do not remain attached to anything or anyone of the world. If you are transported to the face of Jesus, you do not remain prisoner to any other face. Do faces distract you? You cannot see them and see Him. In this is the secret of your longing for Him.

This world is distracting. If you pursue it, the you have no Christ. Leave it, then, go away from it, and acquire your freedom. The secret of Christianity is that you do not serve God in thoughts and intellectual achievement, but you worship Him if you see only the face of Christ and faces disappear. The truth is, those who have known divine longing have known Christ, even if they did not give Him a name. The world is distracting. You pass through it and it does not remain, because it is a seductive face. You transcend it, lest you miss the Savior's face.

Go to Him, for His face is the object of pilgrimage. Pass in Christ to Him, for there is nothing after Him. If you can pass by all things without being detained by them, then you sense that you are free. If you reach Him, then you should sense nothing else, because everything else is evil for you.

I did not say not to see faces. I said do not stop at a face. Then you will be in Pascha. On the day of the feast, we recite "Christ is risen" more than sixty times, as though this Church hadn't composed any other hymn. What would you chant, if you wanted? What could be added to "Christ is risen"? Pass always, then, with this hymn until yourself rise from the dead. Then you will see that you live.

In the Byzantine Church, the crucified Christ is depicted with His eyes open. The meaning is that even if He died in the body, death did not defeat Him. Consequently, this means that the Lord remained alive upon the cross. In what is perceived, He died, but dead did not defeat Him. Therefore, let us not stop at Good Friday as though it is His death, but let us see it as a station on the way to His resurrection.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Met Georges Khodr on the Coming Great and Holy Council

Arabic original here. Note that in Arabic, the word for "synod" and "council" is the same. For a succinct expression of a similar understanding of primacy by a medieval patriarch of Antioch, see here. For more discussions of Antiochian ecclesiology, see here and here.

The Holy Synod

It is the gathering  of the regional church, which they call the local church, and in most churches it is made up of their bishops. For example, the churches gathered around the patriarch of Antioch are called the Antiochian Church, those around the patriarch of Alexandria the Church of Alexandria, and so forth. The Orthodox have an Antiochian Church whose unity is represented by the patriarch and the bishops with their people. A group of people along with their spiritual leaders we call a church. Likewise, we call the Orthodox Church in the world a church. We do not have any administrative structure between the regional church, such as the See of Antioch, and the whole Orthodox world. In terms of dignity and essential existence, the churches are equal. Even if there is an organizational taxis, this absolutely does not mean that a given church submits to another church. In order to facilitate cooperation and communication, there has been an agreement explained by ecclesiastical canons since the fourth century whereby we announce the Ecumenical Patriarch first, but this does not mean that he has authority over the other patriarchs. In this sense, the Orthodox Church does not have an administrative center. There is only a taxis of dignity explained by the early councils whereby the Ecumenical Patriarch comes in honor only before his other colleagues if they gather together. This does not mean that he has any authority over them.

The church that we call local is led by a first among equals who has no authority outside the borders of his church. Unity between the Orthodox churches is a unity of faith and an ecclesiastical ordering in a specific taxis canonically since the fourth century, in which there is no executive matter of one patriarch being over another patriarch. Rather, it is based on consultation between the heads of autocephalous churches. According to what we know in history, if the heads of the Orthodox churches gather in friendship, it is because they submit to one set of rules in dogma and order. The Orthodox churches are one in dogma without even the slightest difference, one in order, and realistically one in the fundamentals of theological thinking. Administrative diversity, with the existence of administratively independent churches, never means difference in faith, worship, or cooperation between the clergy and the people. Orthodox unity is very manifest, despite the different administrations between Russians, Greeks, and Arabs. All the Orthodox speak with one voice and have one worship in all their regions and languages.

If the worldwide Holy Synod meets in the unity of the regional churches, then it will demonstrate true unity among us. We see unity in hearts, just as we see it in the process of coordination and cooperation between our churches. We do not look to unity in commands issued from above, but we see it in the Orthodox peoples' receiving what their synods decide. For us, the synod is legitimate if all accept it.

The Holy Synod is not above the Church. It proceeds from her because she proceeds from Christ in the Apostles and tradition. It is true that the bishops have authority, but this is because they come from the holy people. If the synod of bishops departs from truth or right, then there can be no obedience to it. A system only has truth or right if it is a right from the Church. The council has no existence if it does not establish through its acts that that it is faithful to the Church.There is no one in the Church unless he is truly of her, that is, in the content of what he says. You are not above others merely on account of your position, unless you are of them in the content of what you teach.

From this perspective, the synod of bishops is not over the holy people. It is from them and its holiness is in them. If a bishop deviates from the tradition and practices of the Church, then he ceases within himself to be a bishop, even if he does not know it. In principle, the Holy Council is the place where the faithful know that if they come from it, they are coming from the Lord.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Satan, the Ruler of this World

Arabic original here.

Satan, the Ruler of this World

"The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified" (John 12:23).

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain" (John 12:24).

"Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out" (John 12:31).

*  *  *

Satan is the ruler of this world. Where lies his authority to tempt man? It lies in that he is the seducer, who seduces man and his mind.

From the beginning of Jesus' life in the Gospel, He was appointed to combat this seducer and his seduction. There the devil tempted Him for forty days and He finally replied to him after reaching the point of starvation, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God" (Luke 4:4).

The purpose of this temptation of hunger is to create disorder and confusion in the heart of man. In the end, Christ defeated Satan through His death on the cross, and His resurrection on the third day.

Jesus was not only glorified in smashing the devil's authority. He was also and especially glorified in His drawing "all" to Himself-- all people, no matter their nation or race. This final victory did not take place with spectacular worldly pomp, but with His being raised upon the cross. The Lord Jesus, in His divine wisdom, is also a seducer of humankind, through his ultimate love and not like the devil who seduces in order to corrupt.

In the Gospel of John, the Lord says, "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to Myself" (John 12:31-32). By virtue of the cross, God reaches the pinnacle of His dispensation by smashing the power of Satan and liberating man from his seductive shamelessness. So the Lord returns everything to Himself. Thus before giving up his spirit, He says, "It is finished" (John 19:30). 

Therefore, it is enough for us humans now, after this victory, to stand in our life beside the suffering, victorious Jesus Christ, for us to escape from Satan, the ruler of this world. Beloved! How many times has Satan seduced in this world by means of money, so that we think that happiness is in the accumulation and stockpiling of wealth in order to enjoy the pleasures of this deceitful world. But the Lord says to us, "Man does not live by bread alone..." Likewise he deceives us when we chase after worldly positions, glories and authority. But we hear the Lord say, "You shall worship the Lord God and Him only shall you serve" (Matthew 4:10).

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and Their Dependencies

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Constantin Panchenko on the Sunset of Melkite Syriac

From: Constantin Panchenko, Arabic Orthodox Christians under the Ottomans: 1516-1831 (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Seminary Press, 2016), p. 443

The Sunset of Aramaic Writing

In the early Ottoman era came the final decline among the Orthodox of Syriac liturgy and writing. The German semiticist Anton Baumstark presents data about fifty-two Melkite Syriac manuscripts preserved from the sixteenth century, whereas the number of manuscripts is markedly reduced during the last three decades of the century. From the seventeenth century, he reaches a total of nine manuscripts, of which six are from the first two decades, with the latest from 1654.

Some Antiochian hierarchs continued to sign official documents in Syriac or garshuni [i.e., Arabic written in Syriac script]-- examples of this are known until the 1630s. Often, however, this was just a tribute to ancient traditions and the signatories themselves had a weak knowledge of Syriac and poorly remembered the alphabet. In two garshuni signatures on a letter from Antiochian clergy to Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich in 1594, some forgotten Syriac letters are replaced with Arabic.

However, there is evidence indicating that Syriac writing continued in use even after the mid-seventeenth century. The Syriac liturgy was preserved in the area of Maaloula and surrounding villages up to the present day, so accordingly, Syriac liturgical texts were copied. However, the scope of the use of Syriac writing shrank to the narrow limits of liturgical literature and thus acquired a marginal character.

Fr Georges Massouh on National Unity and Religious Difference

Arabic original here.

National Unity and Religious Fabrication

Most clerics, both Muslim and Christian, tend toward a sort of fabrication when they try to deny doctrinal differences between religions or when they try to affirm that religions are in reality one religion. This usually occurs when they try to mix dogmatic religious discourse with unitary national discourse, especially during crises of wars, civil strife, and trials.

It goes without saying, in the manner of "after great effort, explaining that water is water," that the religions are not one religion. It is as clear as the noonday sun that there are many religions and certainly not just one religion. Therefore, it is necessary for those engaging in national discourse to transcend religious differences and stick to the domain in which they want to engage. They can, however, seek inspiration from the values of their faith and their religion without having to search in other religions for what they think is something in common, and so fall into what they should avoid-- that is, fabrication.

It is not a problem for us to disagree about religion. Indeed, the problem lies in slipping into a falsified "national" discourse that separates us from the true diversity that calls us to accept our difference with the other and that this difference does not prevent us from respecting the other in his faith, worship and traditions. What is needed, in order for us to live together, is not a structural rapprochement that leaves us all without an authentic identity. Rather, what is needed is actions inspired by the values that each one of us finds in our scriptures, doctrines, prayers and living heritage, and in our vision of man and his role in the universe.

We do not doubt the sincerity of those who fall into this sort of fabrication, neither their motives nor their good intentions. There is no doubt that through their discourse they are advocating peace, harmony and well-being among their fellow citizens. We cannot, however, tie citizenship to a single religious affiliation, since unity of faith is not one of the conditions for national unity, such that if unity of faith were negated, so too would national unity. Hence the necessity of separating religion and the state among those who call for a civil state.

This fabricated discourse also proves that combining the two forms of unity-- national and religious-- is useless and does not build a firm foundation for citizenship, since it changes with changing circumstances and political contexts. Citizenship is based on equality between all people of the same nation and on equality of rights and responsibilities, regardless of citizens' religious affiliation. The only role of religions is to guide the faithful to serve the nation and humankind, without regarding faith as a requirement of good citizenship. The separation, then, between religious affiliation and belonging to the nation is necessary for sound, correct citizenship. There are non-believers and non-religious people who are good citizens who surpass believers and religious people in their love of the nation and their defense of it and its children.

Religious difference is a source of richness for societies and so it must be preserved in the religious framework and not be cast aside in political or national affairs. Hence the necessity of pointing out that religious difference does not mean that religious people do not love one another. Love does not mean fabrication in matters of doctrine. Love does not mean an absence of honesty, nor does honesty mean an absence of love. Do those who advocate denying differences between religions realize that in doing so, they are not being honest and not practicing true love?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

New Book: Arab Orthodox Christians under the Ottomans by Constantin Panchenko

I am told that copies just arrived to the publisher today... This is a translation of Panchenko's monumental Ближневосточное Православие под османским владычеством. Первые три столетия. 1516–1831 (Moscow: Indrik, 2012). 

Arab Orthodox Christians Under the Ottomans 1516–1831
By Constantin Panchenko
Foreword by John X (Yazigi)

Over the past two decades, society’s attention has increasingly returned to the forgotten world of the Christian East—the whole constellation of bright and now nearly endangered cultures of the Christian peoples of Southwest Asia and Northeast Africa.
                                                                                              -From the Introduction
Following the so called "Arab Spring" the world's attention has been drawn to the presence of significant minority religious groups within the predominantly Islamic Middle East. Of these minorities Christians are by far the largest, comprising over 10% of the population in Syria and as much as 40% in Lebanon. The largest single group of Christians are the Arabic-speaking Orthodox. This work fills a gap in the scholarship of wider Christian history and more specifically that of lived religion within the Ottoman empire. Beginning with a survey of the Christian community during the first nine hundred years of Muslim rule, the author traces the evolution of Arab Orthodox Christian society from its roots in the Hellenistic culture of the Byzantine Empire to a distinctly Syro-Palestinian identity. There follows a detailed examination of this multi-faceted community, from the Ottoman conquest of Syria, Palestine and Egypt in 1516 to the Egyptian invasion of Syria in 1831. The author draws on archaeological evidence and previously unpublished primary sources uncovered in Russian archives and Middle Eastern monastic libraries to present a vivid and compelling account of this vital but little-known spiritual and political culture, situating it within a complex network of relations reaching throughout the Mediterranean, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe. The work is made more accessible to a non-specialist reader by the addition of a glossary, whilst the scholar will benefit from a detailed bibliography of both primary and secondary sources.

"This manuscript fills an important lacuna in the wider history of the Christian Church as it unfolds the presence and extent of indigenous Arabic-speaking believers in the Levant...These are matters of great complexity and a fuller understanding of them will help to shape our understanding of the takfirism against which we now struggle." 
 - from the Foreword by His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East

Now available from Holy Trinity Seminary Press here.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Met. Ephrem (Kyriakos): I am the Resurrection and the Life

Arabic original here.

I am the Resurrection and the Life

Jesus said this to Martha, Lazarus' sister, before the lifted the stone from the entrance to the tomb and He raised her brother from the dead.

Then he continued, "He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die" (John 11:25-26).

Here there is a dialectical movement between the present and the future. "He was and is and is to come" (Revelation 4:11), a movement between the past, the realized present and the eschatological future. 

In another place the Lord Jesus says, "he who believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life" (John 5:24). For the believer, death becomes sleep, or rather a crossing into eternal life. It becomes a Passover.

Here He is speaking about the resurrection that happens in our life here, in faith in Him. The Apostle Paul discusses this resurrection and says that it happens in the mystery of baptism: "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). The grace of the resurrection is embedded in the depths of the heart from baptism, says Saint Diodochos of Photiki, from baptism it is a divine planting, potential energy that awaits, on account of our freedom, the first step in order to become active in our life and become kinetic energy, just as gasoline in a car awaits the driver with the key in order to activate it and drive.

For someone who struggles and loves Christ, says Saint Basil, this grace is active in all his members when we receive the Body and Blood, even in the senses of the extremities. Our eyes become Christ's eyes. Our mind becomes Christ's mind... This is the first resurrection or, rather, a foretaste of the general resurrection.

* * *

Jesus alone is the light, the truth and the life. This light is traced upon us in joyful behavior, kindness and humility. The resurrection translated in the believer is all of life. 

Christian spirituality is a paschal spirituality. Christ's passion is not a site of grief, but a site of joy. The Lord Jesus told His disciples before His passion, "Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy" (John 16:20).

We want the mystery of the resurrection of Christ our God to be realized within us. If, in the likeness of Christ's passion, we enter into the tomb of humility and repentance, He enters into our body as into the tomb, in His union with our souls He raises them, as they are truly dying. And in this way He makes us who are risen worthy with Him of seeing the Glory of His mystical resurrection.


Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and Their Dependencies