Thursday, February 14, 2019

Jad Ganem: The Foot-Soldiers of Hellenism

Arabic original here.

The Foot-Soldiers of Hellenism

In a statement attributed to a representative of the abbots of the monasteries of Mount Athos taking part in a meeting of the governing council of the Holy Mountain a few days ago that was published on the Greek church news website Romfea, it is said that "Hellenism and the Ecumenical Patriarchate have the Primacy in Orthodoxy," that, as Athonite monks they will "remain on the side of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and [...] will not tolerate its humiliation," that "What is important is to maintain the unity of the Holy Monasteries and to send in every direction a clear message that no one will be allowed ‘to instrumentalize’ Mount Athos. Because Mount Athos concerns everyone," that they "want to preserve the peace and unity of the Church. However, as Athonites, we do not accept Hellenism and the Ecumenical Patriarchate to be humiliated by anyone," that "the Holy Community has wisdom and experience so that Mount Athos will not be turned into a tool and a lever of pressure for purposes other than in the general interest," and that "in all national struggles monks preceded to protect Mount Athos, not to put it in the front. Friars martyred protecting the Garden of the Virgin Mary! So, are we going to do the opposite today?" Given that no one has issued a disavowal of these words that many people are sharing and circulating on social media on account of their surprise at their content-- including the head of the newly-created Ukrainian church and eminent metropolitans of the Ecumenical Patriarchate-- we must calmly examine the content of these words which can be summarized as follows:

  • The Holy Mountain stands with the Ecumenical Patriarch whether he is right or wrong, whether he is faithful to the mind of Orthodoxy or deviates from it, whether he is oppressor or oppressed and thus it declares its faith in the infallibility of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
  • The Holy Mountain believes that the Hellenic nationality is superior to other nationalities that exist in the Orthodox world and that the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is a privileged position for members of this nationality alone.
  • The Holy Mountain believes that any difference in opinion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate or any rejection of unilateral decisions that it makes is a sort of humiliation for the Ecumenical Patriarch and for the nationality that he represents.
  • The Holy Mountain does not consider the crisis that Orthodoxy is currently going through to be an ecclesiastical crisis, but rather a nationalistic conflict and it states that it will fight it on this basis in order to protect the mountain.
  • The Holy Mountain believes that there are those who want to ensnare it and instrumentalize it in order to achieve an unspecified outside agenda and it will not permit this.
  • The Holy Mountain believes that there is a battle being waged against the Ecumenical Patriarch and Hellenism but it does not specify who is involved, the nature of the battle, its reasons, or the purposes intended behind it.
  • The Holy Mountain gives priority at the present moment to the unity of its monasteries. It desires to preserve the peace and unity of the Orthodox Church and for the Holy Mountain to remain the point of reference for all Orthodox, without explaining how it can harmonize realizing unity with its nationalistic and racist posturing.
Given the above, it has become clear that the Holy Mountain-- until a condemnation of what has been said is issued-- regards the Orthodox world being two worlds: Hellenic and non-Hellenic; and that any criticism, objection or questioning of decisions made by the Hellenic world is tantamount to a battle or a humiliation. It believes in the superiority of the Hellenic world over the other world and considers right belief to be wherever there is Hellenism, which has on Mount Athos its brave foot-soldiers.

These racist words, which fall under the ethnophyletism that the Church has condemned, are a sad reflection of mountains crumbling and so they must be read and understood well in Antioch, so that her children may know that they have no fixed destination apart from the Mount of the Transfiguration, by the light of whose Christ they may discern the lights scattered in the mountains and valleys.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Jad Ganem: An Answer Has Arrived

Arabic original here.

An Answer Has Arrived

Since the beginning of the Ukrainian issue, many people have been wondering about the position of the fathers of Mount Athos regarding the developments accompanying the "unification council", which reached their apex with the participation of a person that many leaders and theologians of the Orthodox Church consider to be a "layman-metropolitan" in divine services with His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Some optimists thought that the silence of the fathers of the Holy Mountain stemmed from their “lack of desire to participate in the sins of others”, while others thought that realism requires recognizing that the fathers of the Holy Mountain have no ability to confront the Ecumenical Patriarch or to reject what he is doing.

Some refused to discern the reality of the signs being sent by the fathers of the Holy Mountain, which implied the submission of those there to what the Ecumenical Patriarch is doing and which escalated in the following manner:

  • The preparatory visits made by Metropolitan Emmanuel of France to the Holy Mountain and other visits made by various politicians concerned with the Ukrainian dossier.
  • The silence of the fathers of the mountain after the decisions made by the Holy Synod of Constantinople about altering the territory of the Russian Church and the corresponding acceptance of schismatics into ecclesiastical communion with Constantinople.
  • The recruitment of one of the monks of the Holy Mountain to make a calligraphic copy of the tomos of autocephaly.
  • The participation of the Holy Mountain in the Fanar's delegation to the enthronement of the head of the newly-created church in Ukraine and the participation of these monks in the divine mysteries along with the schismatics.
  • Finally, the visit of one of the metropolitans of the newly-created church along with an ecclesiastical delegation to the mountain and his reception at a number of monasteries where he performed divine services and received a celebratory welcome.
Perhaps many did not understand the message encrypted in these events, which reflect a strategic approach aimed at preparing public opinion to adapt to the status quo and gradually accept it. But will those betting on the Holy Mountain being regarded as a fortress of preserving Orthodoxy continue in this position of theirs if the words attributed to one of the monks who participated in the meeting mountain's governing council held two days ago are true, given that he clearly and unambiguously stated that the governing council believes "that Hellenism and the Ecumenical Patriarchate have the Primacy in Orthodoxy", that as Athonite monks they will "remain on the side of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and [...] will not tolerate its humiliation" and that "What is important is to maintain the unity of the Holy Monasteries and to send in every direction a clear message that no one will be allowed ‘to instrumentalize’ Mount Athos. Because Mount Athos concerns everyone... We want to preserve the peace and unity of the Church. However, as Athonites, we do not accept Hellenism and the Ecumenical Patriarchate to be humiliated by anyone."

There is no need to interpret these immaculately clear words which answer many people's questions. Hellenism and its leader in the world-- the Ecumenical Patriarch-- are more important than Orthodoxy and every position contrary to their views is regarded by some Athonites as a humiliation, at the very least.
For those who have not yet understood, let us wait for the irenic letters that will soon descend upon Epiphany from Alexandria, Jerusalem, Cyprus, Greece and Albania...This should not be surprising in a church where the truth, according to some, is linked to men and where men are not assessed according to their respect for the truth.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Nicolas Abou Mrad: First, Second, Third Rome... and the Cities of the World

The Arabic original is in the January issue of Majallat al-Nour, the official magazine of the Orthodox Youth Movement, available here.

First, Second, Third Rome... and the Cities of the World

I started writing this article before the synod of the Russian Church took the decision on October 15, 2018 to break Eucharistic communion with the Church of Constantinople in the context of the ongoing conflict over the autocephaly of the church in Ukraine, which is split into three parts on account of the vicissitudes of history and politics in decades past. My purpose here is not to treat this issue through the lens of "canon law" and the development of relations between the two aforementioned churches and their interaction in past centuries. The present debate is filled with presentations of canonical and historical points of view that draw from legislation formulated in the councils of the Church from the fourth century and various other documents. Indeed, they bring back historical situations belonging to this or that city or polity and their situation in contexts that for the most part have gone extinct and disappeared in bygone eras or have completely changed. What I want to point out in this article is the sad and painful aspect of this problematique, which is resorting to various arguments and sources to support this or that position, while ignoring the wisdom that the Apostle Paul glimpsed when he asked the Corinthians, "to shame them", as he said, "Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?" (1 Corinthians 6:5).

The Apostle mentioned this wisdom in an earlier passage, when he said to his addressees, "We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!" (1 Corinthians 4:10), in the sense that this wisdom does not come to a person unless he is abiding "in Christ" and not in anything else, no matter what it may be. No one abides "in Christ" except through the Gospel which, if we accept it, then the the Apostle's word has begotten us by it "in Christ" (1 Corinthians 4:15), after we have necessarily died to our belonging to any other entity that we may have fashioned over the course of history and in our own time. From the context of the epistle, we learn that the expression "in Christ" is not theoretical, like a platonic idea. Rather, the Apostle means it as a reality, that requires those "born by the Gospel" to behave according to its content, "for the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power" (1 Corinthians 4:20).

I mention this here because the literature of the present debate betrays a striking absence of scriptural teaching about the true meaning of belonging to Christ in favor of a language that unfortunately started to become dominant in ecclesiastical milieus when Christianity became a larger space in the life of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the Fourth Century, when, whether we like it or not, ecclesiastical concerns and political considerations in their imperial extensions began to overlap, to the point that the Church inherited the administrative regulations and bombastic titles of an empire that disappeared, as others disappeared before and after it, and shall disappear until history comes to an end. From one who claims that there is a first Rome, then a second that succeeded it, then a third that took the place of the second to one who says claims that there is only one "new" Rome, which replaced the "old" one, you feel a struggle over power, authority and dominance, even if the latter has taken on what might be called a geographical reaching for one church or another's jurisdiction over a piece of land. No one can deny that in modern times Orthodoxy has been characterized by struggles over jurisdiction here or there in the world, especially in the countries to which Orthodox have immigrated from their original homelands. Struggles of this sort, colored by nationalism in their internecine conflict and exclusion, led to the hobbling of the general Orthodox council that was held on Crete in 2016 in the absence of a number of churches, including our Antiochian Church, as a result of what is called the "Qatar crisis" and the break it caused between Antioch and Jerusalem. This general council, which was expected to bear witness to the faith that the Orthodox Churches bear in their inheritance, before the challenges and vicissitudes of the present time, and to speak to man in our world today that is characterized by disintegration on every level, produced, as a result of these conflicts, documents destined to be quickly discarded into the darkness of oblivion, thus proving their desolation. The matter churches was exposed before themselves and before the world: their unfortunate immersion in a vortex of conflict over primacy, nationalisms, the meanings of expressions that have expired, bear no relation to the deposit of faith and are completely removed from the heart of the Gospel but have nevertheless become fixed in use, like the expressions "primus inter pares", "primus sine paribus" and others, about which much ink has been spilled in explanation, but which, in our present day, are of no benefit to the ordinary believer for living out his faith and his Christianity in daily life.

In this context, I was struck, among what I read about the present conflict between Constantinople and Moscow, by a report from the official website of the Ecumenical Patriarchate about Patriarch Bartholomew's receiving the Patriarch of Moscow at the Phanar on August 31, 2018, right before the acceleration of the crisis between the two churches. The language of the report was dripping with royal expressions like "Chamber of the Throne", "Ecumenical Throne", "Patriarchal Office", in addition to its calling Constantinople-- which is now Istanbul, a city in Turkey-- "the Queen of Cities" and the Church of Constantinople, the "Mother Church". It does not refer to Patriarch Bartholomew by his name, by by his title "His All-Holiness", which is most likely in order to emphasize his position. It is my conviction that the reason for writing the report in this manner-- knowing full well that you can find the exact same news phrased in a different manner on the official website of the Church of Moscow-- in order to suggest that the Russian patriarch was in the presence of someone who had precedence over him "in honor and primacy".

On the other hand, it is striking in the speeches given by the two patriarchs that they affirm "dialogue" as the way to solve problems. In Patriarch Bartholomew's word of greeting, it is "the way God has shown us." Despite his attempt to give "dialogue" a meaning different from the one used by politicians to resolve their problems, Patriarch Kirill remained in the very same framework, stating that "dialogue" is the way to preserve "the unity of the Church". Despite the importance of dialogue as a means of rapprochement, what the Bible teaches about relationships between people is not dialogue which, as has been proven, has been of no use in solving the crisis, but love. Love is not an empty phrase. It is baptized, washed in the blood of Christ, by whose death God revealed His love for the world (John 3:16). It is this mark of distinction that distinguishes disciples of Christ from the world (cf. John 15:12-17). It is what gives every activity in the Church its meaning (cf. 1 Corinthians 13). This is what the martyred Bishop of Antioch, Ignatius, realized when he made the foundation of unity in the Church "love", which he said is "the blood of Christ Himself" (Epistle to the Trallians 10). In love, the unity of the faith is realized (Epistle to the Magnesians 1) and in love "the believing have the character of God the Father by Jesus Christ" (Epistle to the Magnesians 5). If the bishop does not abide in love, Christ's love for the world, the faithful cannot submit to him as they submit to Christ (Epistle to the Magnesians 1).

Perhaps this love is the wisdom mentioned by the Apostle Paul in the passages I cited above, which must distinguish those born in the Gospel so that they may be "in Christ" first and last, not in first, second or third, old or new Rome or in any other city of this world. The basis of the biblical narrative in the books of the New Testament, the exodus that God accomplished for the people from Egypt (the Book of Exodus) and from Babylon (the Book of Ezekiel), from the two most powerful and important cities in the ancient Middle East, which scholars say were the beginning of humans' urbanization after they had been migratory. In the Bible, these two cities symbolize man's hubris and the evil and injustice that "filled the earth" (Genesis 6:6) because of this hubris. From the first city built on earth, from "Ur of the Chaldeans" God ordered Abraham to go forth to a land that He wanted to be the location for the meeting of the peoples in peace, truth and mercy (cf. Genesis 12:1-3). That land is not a city or a civilization built by man, but that open place called "wilderness" that is free of human intervention, where God shepherds those who flock around Him to hear His word. In Ezekiel it is the city that comes down from heaven-- that is, not built by people-- whose name is "the Lord is there" (Ezekiel 48:35), symbolizing God's presence in His word, around which come the Twelve Tribes to hear His word and transmit it to the entire universe. We see this realized on the day of Pentecost, in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2), in the descent of the Holy Spirit who made the twelve apostles speak of the great things of God, with every nation on earth hearing and understanding them. Nationalisms are extinguished so that a group of "disciples" may be established, who will go out, in the Book of Acts, from every city, persecuted (Acts 8:1) and killed (Acts 6-7), to bear witness to the word of Christ who died on the cross, in the image of Stephen who was killed, like his Teacher, because he pointed out the injustice of the city of Jerusalem and its betrayal of the Lord. The way of the Bible is the way of constant exodus: from Ur, Babylon, Persia, Rome, Jerusalem and all the cities of the earth, so that believers may have no homeland except "in Christ."

When will the Orthodox churches arise from their stupor and break out of their imprisonment to history, free themselves from the fetters of empires, and set forth on this path of exodus, making their way not to nationalisms, primacies and archprimacies, titles, thrones, sees, honors and honorifics, but to the cross of Christ, to become truly united in the one head of the Church: Christ? When will they have enough courage to look at themselves critically and submit themselves to the test of God's word, to the test of love, not "dialogue"? When will they shake off formalities that have become an idol, which don't speak to anyone and which no on cares about? The person of today, like the person of every day and era, is confronted with the challenges of rampant evil on the earth. People are starving. They are being killed. People's dignity is violated. Their intellects are belittled. Their livelihood is denied. People are suffering from racial discrimination, from poverty, from marginalization, from exclusion. When will we bear witness to love to the point of blood? When will we be Chrysostoms and Basils? When will the Church return to God's deserts to tremble before the evils of this world? The time has come for the Orthodox Churches to be worthy of their inheritance and the earnest given them, that perhaps a wise man may emerge to render judgment between his brothers according to the love that is in Christ.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Civilization of the Flesh

Arabic original here.

The Civilization of the Flesh

The world today, and especially the West, is more and more inclined toward secular, worldly life.

This means that in its life it departs from the scope of God and is increasingly immersed in material affairs far removed from the Church and spiritual affairs. It is attached to the surface of things, the most important of which is the flesh. There is nothing more common than the greetings "How's your health?", "Your health is poor", "The important thing is health."

People are not content with just that, but they go and focus on physical elegance, concerning themselves with outward appearance and going to the gym, as though they have become worshipers of the body rather than God.

Members of the Church are not an exception to all this-- even priests, bishops, and the construction of churches where "the important thing is the stone, not the people."

All of this is contrary to the rules of religion and the true faith. Among us, one mostly strives after the pleasure of the flesh, the pleasure of food and drink. Life has come to be focused on health and wealth and not on pleasing God first.

The issue is deeper than the flesh. It pertains to man in his confronting life and death. The Book of Hebrews says, "'Here am I, and the children God has given me.' Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity... so that he might free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Hebrews 2:13-15). Of course man has always striven for eternal life.

Today, after the coming of Christ who is risen from the dead, we have become immortal by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the grace of Christ God who has conquered death. Thus the importance of accompanying someone who is sick and approaching death.

It is not enough to comfort him physically and psychologically. We-- and especially the priest-- must prepare him to confront death.

How does a person prepare for death? Is it enough for the priest to pray? To anoint the sick person with holy oil and commune him? This is not enough!

It is necessary to help him to confess as a final repentance, in the hope of the forgiveness of sins and the Lord's mercy for all the wrongs he committed during his life.

+ Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Fr Jack Khalil: A High Priest Like This

Arabic original here.

A High Priest Like This

Today we commemorate the translation of the relics of the doctor of the Church, John Chrysostom, the faithful shepherd who served and toiled in imitation of the Good Shepherd and the hierarch who served the mysteries of Christ Jesus, the Great High Priest. Therefore the Church has arranged a reading from he Epistle to the Hebrews where the author of the epistle presents Christ's salvific priestly work by His sacrifice that He offered for the forgiveness of sins.

The Apostle compares Christ, the chief priest whose virtue covers the heavens, in whom there is no evil, stain or sin, to the chief priests who served according to the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament, who afterwords resisted Christ's salvific dispensation. The latter are people who performed the law in order to serve the temple made with hands, while people suffer from their weaknesses.

But Christ is completely different from them and no one resembled Him apart from the king of peace, Melchizedek.

In the previous verses, the Apostle had compared Melchizedek, the priest and king, who has no father or mother, alive, a priest forever, and Levi, the father of the tribe of priests who performed the law.

From Psalm 110:4, he concludes that Christ's high priesthood was not established according to the human commandments of the law (Hebrews 17:16), but according to the divine promise to be a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek, to whom the patriarch Abraham submitted.

The Apostle observes in the previous verses that the promise was given after the law, so why did he liken Him to the order of Melchizedek instead of saying according to the order of Levi? In the passage read today, he explains the reason: Christ's priesthood is not like the Levite priesthood.

The Levites performed the law, but He came according to the divine promise. They offered sacrifices daily for their sins first, then for the sins of the rest of the people, but Christ is without blame and without sin and He offered His blood as a single eternal sacrifice.

They serve in a temple made by human hands, but the eternal Son sat at the right hand of the great throne in heaven, performs the liturgies in the true tabernacle, not the shadow of it (that is, the temple of the law), which God established, and grants forgiveness of sins to believers.

Chrysostom was a hierarch. He stood in the place and likeness of Christ. He derived his priesthood from Christ's priesthood because he offered the one, sole sacrifice that Christ offered once, which is forever placed on the heavenly altar in the true tabernacle.

He worked and toiled in Christ's vineyard. He fought the good fight, imitating the God Shepherd and faithful High Priest. So if it is fitting for us to have a High Priest like this who has realized perfection (Hebrews 7:11-19), then Chrysostom refused to be anything but like Him, following every day the way of perfection through the cross. There is no priesthood except that which is in the likeness of the great High Priest and there is no priest except the one who imitates Him, is united to Him, is filled with His Holy Spirit and is pleasing to the Father in everything. We celebrate Chrysostom because he, as a person like us, became a hierarch worthy of serving the sacrifice of the New Testament, which Christ serves upon the heavenly throne.

Archimandrite Jack Khalil
Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology

Friday, January 11, 2019

Fr Touma (Bitar): Fire in the Water

Arabic original here.

Fire in the Water

When the Lord Jesus went down into the water at His baptism, this was a prelude to His going down to hell. And when He rose from baptism, His rising was a sign of the newness of life that the Lord Jesus was to amply bestow upon humanity by the Holy Spirit. Water, as we have begun to discover today, has a memory. Everything that has happened in history is stored up, in one way or another, in water's memory. For the sake of paradox, water on earth does not increase or decrease. Everything that has happened in history, starting with the creation of Adam, is preserved in water. Man himself, his own body is made up of no less than seventy percent water and the water in our makeup reaches ninety percent.

So all God's blessings that He generously bestowed upon humanity were in the water, in a sense. But also all of humanity's sins were stored up in the water. In the water there is what is alive and belongs to God and in the water there is what is dead and belongs to man's sin. So if the Lord Jesus Christ went down into the water, in the fullness of time, this means that He went down into the death that man had sowed in himself and in God's creation since the dawn of history. Jesus did not go down to die as man. He went down to die as God in the flesh! What does that mean exactly? We don't know! This is God's mystery. He died and did not die at the same time. But we know that death died in the life of God incarnate. The rest is your Lord's business.

Jesus went down to man, in the pit of death, because humanity had transformed God's creation into a pit of death. Therefore all the signs of the descent into hell-- and what is meant by "hell" is what is known in Hebrew as "Sheol", the habitation of the dead-- was first at the Annunciation. The angel of the Lord came to Mary, bringing her the good news of the Savior's being born from her. But Jesus was named Jesus because He would save His people from their sins. How does He save His people from their sins? How does He save His people from their death? By taking on everything that had been caused by sin, since the dawn of history. But it was not possible for Jesus to take on sin, because sin is tied to the will and the Lord Jesus' will cannot accept sin. Therefore, the Lord Jesus accepted everything that resulted from man's sin, everything that resulted from the corruption of man's will.

Since the Annunciation, salvation means that  the One who is to come is coming to willingly take on man's mortality, to take one all the corruption that man sowed deep down. This is the good news for those walking in darkness and the shadow of death! He didn't take on death and the events of death, so as to participate in all of its details and then eliminate it. The Lord Jesus didn't take on death in itself, but rather He took on the body; He became man. And as a man, He entered into contact with humanity. In this contact, God loved man completely. With the love that is in Him as God, He emptied Himself existentially. He made Himself a servant to humanity! He serves it in what sense? He serves it by His perfect love for it. There is no value to service if it is not a service of love!

The love in God is boundless. Therefore, when the Son of God emptied Himself, took the form of a servant and became in the likeness of man, He entered into a connection with people, the fullness of which is the service of divine love: total sacrifice for them. This put Him in connection with each person. Love knows no limitation. Love, God's love, in Jesus Christ, God incarnate, touches every one of His creatures. It touches each human of His humanity. It touches every capillary of every member. It touches every tissue of every fiber of every human being. So love is penetrating. It has penetrated into humanity completely. It has penetrated into creation completely. Death is nothing, for the Lord God to take up, to eliminate. But His love, which has put Him in perfect union with every human being, swallowed death. Love is more powerful than death! It swallowed up all the events of death, everything that has a connection to what sin sowed, the sin of man. Love swallowed all of this.

Have you not read how Elijah, when he wanted to offer a sacrifice to God-- and in every sacrifice, in reality, there is an offering of all creation-- when Elijah wanted to offer a sacrifice to God, he prayed-- and prayer is love-- and poured water on the sacrifice to make it impossible for it to catch on fire, according to the standards of people. What happened, what Elijah made happen was by God's power and the fire that came down and consumed the sacrifice and devoured the water, this fire was in reality the fire of God's love. God doesn't have fire like people have fire. With people, fire burns, while for God, first purifies, cleanses, sanctifies, sweeps away uncleanliness and gives life. Therefore, for God, first is water's twin. Water is life and fire, too, for God is life because His love is life!

God, then, in His only-begotten Son, swallowed death by the fire of His great love and devoured the moisture of man's life, which equals his sin. By His going down into the waters of the Jordan, the Lord God, who is a fire of love, cleaned it and returned it two its previous state, by His presence within it, and He made baptism from then on a new birth for all who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus Theophany, today, is a revelation of God's exceeding love which, as I said, appeared at the Annunciation, appeared in the cave, and today appears in a more general form, in the Lord's going down into the waters of the Jordan as a symbol of His going down to the depths of humanity's death, to cleanse it and devour every stain in it and thus to make it glorious once more. Therefore it is said: in baptism we experience death with Christ, so that from then on we may walk in newness of life.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan-- Douma, Lebanon
January 6, 2019

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Patriarch Bartholomew's Letter to the Primates

The Patriarchate of Antioch has posted an Arabic translation of the letter that Patriarch Bartholomew sent to the primates of the local Orthodox churches, requesting that they accept the creation of a new, autocephalous church in Ukraine and commemorate its metropolitan in the diptychs. Since this letter hasn't been available publicly anywhere else in any other language, I thought it might be useful to translate it. Bear in mind, however, that this translation of the Arabic cannot capture the precise wording and technical language of the Greek, which I hope will surface at some point.

Letter from His Holiness the Patriarch of Constantinople
Protocol No. /1119/

Your Beatitude and Holiness Patriarch of the Great City of God Antioch and All the East, dear and very beloved brother in Christ God and concelebrant of Our Mediocrity, Kyr John, we address you with great joy, kissing your venerable beatitude fraternally in the Lord.

We communicate via this fraternal letter of ours with Your venerable and very beloved for us Beatitude and with the Church of Antioch and we endeavor, following our predecessors of perpetual memory and their honorable canonical works, to inform you that for a long time we have received repeated requests for recourse from Kyr Filaret (at the time, of Kiev) as well as Kyr Makarii (of the city of “Lviv” at that time), seeking sympathetic oversight of them by the Great Holy Mother Church of Christ, so that they may join in communion with her, because they bear the same Orthodox faith and faithfully keep the Orthodox terminology, dogmas and beliefs common to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We have likewise received for many years many requests, written and oral, in this regard from the honorable Ukrainian state pertaining to the granting the church of their country a system of internal administrative independence. That is, autocephaly.

We undertook together in our venerable Holy Synod to study all these situations, not only once or in a simple manner, but profoundly and extensively, and we came to the decision that we would move forward in the necessary steps to resolve this worsening situation, which for many years has occupied the body of the Eastern Orthodox Church, for an entire generation millions of Ukrainian brothers who participate with us in the same faith outside of canonicity and communion. Therefore we, by the mercy of God almighty, Archbishop of Constantinople New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, in accordance with the spiritual content of Canons 9 and 17 of the holy and God-bearing fathers who gathered in Chalcedon, have looked upon these the requests of recourse submitted by the persons mentioned above and those with them with a sympathetic eye and have returned them to the hierarchical and priestly ranks that they had previously and to ecclesiastical communion with all of us.

Therefore we cancelled the charter issued by our predecessor of perpetual memory, Dionysius IV, which he had issued under particular historical circumstances and in which the Patriarch of Moscow was given permission to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev elected by the holy clergy-laity council, with a condition that could not be broken, which is the canonical commemoration of the name of each Ecumenical Patriarch. Because of the distortion of the contents of this charter, the description of the the conditions described therein were misinterpreted and the Mother Church endured this until that time, preserving ecclesiastical peace. But, with the changing of external circumstances and the absence of the reasons for this charter, we have returned matters pertaining to Kiev to their canonical starting-point. That is, we have brought these regions back under the omphorion belonging to us once more.

After this decision of ours, we received a request from these returning hierarchs as well as from the state to administratively let go of these regions dependent on us by establishing an autocephalous church. We have likewise received a request to enter under our canonical protection from our brothers Their Eminences Simeon and Alexander, who had previously considered the activities of the Church of Constantinople, the mother of the Russians and the Ukrainians, to be of vital importance, so we likewise entered them into the framework of our canonical authority. On this basis, we called an exceptional clergy-laity council in Kiev on Tuesday, December 15, under the presidency of the exarch designated by us, His Eminence the Metropolitan of France, Kyr Emmanuel, sending an invitation to all the hierarchs in Ukraine without exception. From this clergy-laity council, which explicitly reiterated the request for autocephaly, His Eminence Metropolitan Epiphanius was declared, by a canonical vote, to be the first head of the autocephalous Ukrainian church, and who has sent us his irenical letter.

We write this so that Your beloved Beatitude may be reliably and securely informed.
Therefore, Our Mediocrity and Their Eminences the bishops with us, metropolitan and first in honor,  our beloved brothers and fellow-servants in the Holy Spirit, who constitute the venerable Holy Synod of our Holy Apostolic Patriarchal and Ecumenical See, since we agree, as the order requires, on these matters in a spirit of profound desire to perfect the course of the Great and Holy Church of Christ which at all times in every place under heaven, with sacrifice and self-emptying, of urgent, intractable and difficult-to-solve ecclesiastical issues, and which enjoys exclusively the responsibility of granting autocephaly, something that is manifest in practice in the situations of all the new local sister churches, we recognize the holy Ukrainian Church as a church with autocephaly and self-administration, declaring and respecting the responsibilities and rights belonging to the other autocephalous churches, as a partner in the same uprightness of belief and the same faith in everything and on this basis, as we issue our venerable patriarchal and conciliar tomos, approving and declaring all this, we safeguard this ecclesiastical work, by which dogmatic unity is kept strong and unchanged as likewise the relationship and bond of the holy Ukrainian Church to the holy Great Church of Christ, to the ancient sees of the east, and to the other sister local autocephalous Orthodox churches. Her new head is known by the title “His Beatitude the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

It is anticipated that all these matters will be completed on the sixth of this coming January on the Feast of Theophany, where we desire to give the previously-mentioned tomos of autocephaly and concelebrate with the head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. We Inform your beloved Beatitude of this along with your holy sister church and we express our fraternal trust that Your Beatitude, since you are abundantly aware of the desire that Ukraine has long expressed, as well as of the exclusivity of the responsibility and privilege belonging to the Church of Constantinople to treat all ecclesiastical issues  without limits, you will be in agreement with this things that are taking place and from now on you, along with your Orthodox flock, will recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as an autocephalous church with internal self-administration, commemorating the name of each Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine in the honorable diptychs directly after the name of His Beatitude the head of the Church of Czechia and Slovakia.

On this basis, we fraternally ask your love to pray to our Lord, the Founder of the Church, for the the new holy sister church, according to what has now been decided by you, so that she may remain in the ranks of patristic tradition forever, and so you may serve the unity of the fundamental body and eat mature spiritual fruit from her communion with all of us, who will have no excuse on the Day of Judgment if we want to ignore our brothers who find themselves in hardships in Ukraine before the terrible judgment-seat of the only Scrutinizer of  the hearts and souls of humankind and the Just Judge, our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom belongs glory, strength, honor and worship forever. Amen.

We embrace your venerable and beloved Beatitude with a holy kiss and we close with profound love in the Lord and all honor, praying for you that the twelve coming days will be blessed feasts.

December 24, 2018

The beloved brother in the Lord of your venerable Beatitude,

Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew