Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Jad Ganem: Crucial Questions

Arabic original here.

Crucial Questions

If the message should be read on the basis of its title, then the speech that His Holiness the Patriarch of Constantinople to the archbishop-elect of the Archdiocese of America portends the challenges awaiting the Orthodox presence in that country in the near future. His Holiness addressed the new archbishop in a speech in which he advised him to pay special attention to:

-- reorganizing Holy Cross School of Theology, which is experiencing an acute crisis that threatens to close it;

-- cooperating with universities located in the United States to strengthen education and spead cultural heritage;

-- organizing pilgrimages to Constantinople and visiting this center to foster spirituality and cooperation with the synodal committees concerned with matters pertaining to the Archdiocese of America;

-- establishing better relations with our non-Orthodox brothers and engaging in ecumenical activity;

-- establishing better relations with members of other religions, especially Islam and Judaism, with whom Constantinople has conducted a scholarly dialogue for years.

If one looks at this speech carefully, one will observe that in it His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew dealt with the priorities for the new archbishop's service within his archdiocese and limited them to matters related to the internal life of the archdiocese and relations with society and other religions. He omitted any engagement with or even any sort of hint of the issue of joint Orthodox cooperation within the Assembley of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States and of the issue of common Orthodox witness.

It appears noteworthy, in turn, that the new archbishop did not mention this issue either in his speech in response or in the message he sent to members of his new archdiocese.

Given that its purpose was to send a message to Orthodox in America, perhaps all the above means specifically:

-- that Constantinople no longer cares about the issue of Orthodoxy unity and joint Orthodox witness in the world and that it considers that strengthening its own house, opening channels of dialogue with American society and other religions should be the ultimate priority for new pastors, regarding them as the legitimate representatives of Orthodoxy in the diaspora;

-- that Constantinople still considers the Orthodox diaspora in America to be within its canonical territory on the basis of its interpretation of Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon, and so consequently avoids talking about any cooperation among Orthodox in that country, lest such talk be regarded as an admission of the canonical existence of these churches and an acceptance of the status quo.

In a talk he gave at Holy Cross in Boston in 2009 while still an archimandrite in response to the metropolitan of the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America and Metropolitan Philip Saliba, who had refuted Constantinople's interpretation of Canon 28 of Chalcedon, the new archbishop stated, "With regards to the United States, the submission to the First Throne of the Church, that is, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not only fitting with the American society and mentality but also it opens up the horizons of possibilities for this much-promising region, which is capable of becoming an example of Pan-Orthodox unity and witness." Constantinople chose the advocate of unifying Orthodoxy in the United States within the archdiocese belonging to Constantinople at a time when that archdiocese is suffering from decay and fragmentation. Will it be possible for the premier ideologue of the Phanar's authority to preserve the unity of his archdiocese and regain its former glory? What are the means that he will use to put his old ideology into practice? How will  this ideology be expressed within the the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States? What will be the consequences  of moving forward with this ideology for global Orthodoxy?

These are crucial questions and challenges confronting a global Orthodoxy that is being debilitated by authoritarianism.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Intercession

Arabic original here.


Intercession is supplication on behalf of others or prayer on behalf of others. The attitude of intercession is an attitude of love. Love is manifested in our praying for each other. The Lord prayed for those who believe in Him that they all may be one (John 17:11).

When the Apostle Paul says that "there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5), this is true and it does not contradict the principle of intercession. Here 'Mediator' means the one who accomplished redemption.

Anyone who does not believe in intercession is very far from a profound understanding of catholic love between members of the body of Christ.

As for the claim that the intercession of the saints is worthless because they are dead (as the Jehovah's Witnesses claim), this is refuted by when the Lord says, "the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him" (Luke 20:37-38).

The saints-- including and greatest among them the Mother of God-- are not worshiped. We direct veneration and supplication to them. They are rays of Christ's glory. They are His loved ones and they have the power of intercession in heaven on behalf of the people of earth. Out of their great love for us, the saints pray for us, whether we're living or dead.

On account of her love, the Virgin Mary interceded with her Son when the wine was empty at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.

The mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2:3-5)

And so, when the Apostle Paul says, "for there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5), this does not mean that the Virgin Mary and the saints are no longer intercessors for us, since the Lord Jesus remains the only savior and the saints-- first among them the Virgin Mary-- have liberty of 'provision' with the Lord God Jesus in mediation and prayer for any person who needs God's help.

This is the Church's understanding, the tenacity of the Virgin and the saints who pray and supplicate for the salvation of believers and all people, this salvation that springs forth from the Lord Jesus Christ who alone redeemed the world with His blood upon the cross.

He who does not believe in the intercession of the saints is, I know not from where, a stranger to the concept of divine love. Most likely this position arose out of a rationalistic logic.

But he who lives a spiritual life knows the truth of intercession and its value in his life.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Monday, May 13, 2019

Jad Ganem: An Election Resembling an Appointment

Arabic original here.

An Election Resembling an Appointment

This past Saturday, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople elected Metropolitan Elpidophoros of Bursa, abbot of the Monastery of Chalki, as archbishop of Constantinople's Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America. This comes after accepting the resignation of Archbishop Demetrios, who had been elected to the position almost twenty years ago to succeed Archbishop Spiridon, who had been imposed on this archdiocese by Constantinople after the resignation of Archbishop Iakovos, and who resigned after disagreements and a crisis of trust between him and members of this archdiocese.

Metropolitan Elpidophoros' election confirms the information circulated by sources close to the Patriarchate of Constantinople in recent years, which indicated His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew's desire to see this metropolitan at the head of the Patriarchate of Constantinople's largest and richest diocese.

What was noteworthy in this election, however, is the Synod of Constantinople's total inattention to the opinion of the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council, which requested in an official letter following its recent meeting, that Patriarch Bartholomew:

    --delay the election until the next meeting of the Synod, which would give the archdiocese the opportunity, over a period of thirty days, to conduct the necessary consultations in order to provide the Holy Synod of Constantinople with a list of five candidates, as stipulated by the charter in force in the archdiocese.

    -- appoint during this period the most senior bishop according to ordination on the Holy Eparchial Synod as locum tenens for the archdiocese.

    -- that the Holy Synod of Constantinople give the list of five candidates that the archdiocese provides the importance that it merits in the process of election.

    -- that during the process of election, the Holy Synod give the necessary attention to bishops present in the archdiocese who have served it with dedication over the years.
The Archdiocesan Council in America attempted to raise its voice in the face of the issue of a canned election and the imposition of a bishop on the largest Greek diocese in the world, whose members live in a country that respects democratic principles and values the opinions and desires of its citizens. But the Ottoman mentality that characterizes the practice of Constantinople in our day precluded paying any heed to the opinion of members of the archdiocese, even pro forma. It is as though Constantinople has not learned from its previous experience that this sort of election sets the stage for crises and turmoil within the diocese and weakens the bishop-elect even before he takes the reigns of his diocese, as is shown by the experience of the Archdiocese of America twenty years ago or the experience of the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe in recent years.

Hope remains that the Greek Archdiocese in America will be able to overcome the challenges of this election that resembles an appointment, that the new bishop will be able to overcome the theory of 'first without equals' and the logic of rigid authority, and that he will be able to bear witness to Orthodox conciliarity in all its dimensions in the New World which exalts the values of dialogue, openness, freedom and democracy.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Met Silouan (Muci): Initiatives from Outside the Usual Context

Arabic original here.

Initiatives From Outside the Usual Context
The two old men, Joseph and Nicodemus, entered, without that we be aware of them, into the course of events of Good Friday, in order to bury the Lord's body. The Gospel is not sufficient about pointing out this initiative, but it also informs us about another, a greater one, which was undertaken by the women on the day of the Resurrection, when they visited the tomb in order to anoint the Savior's body.
We have before us two groups that appeared from outside the context of "apostolic legitimacy" in the narrow sense, if one can say this. That is, from outside the role for which the Lord prepared those he chose to bear the Good News, His apostles who were scattered, fearful and in hiding at that time. The initiatives of each of these two groups came in order to shed crucial light on the heart of the divine dispensation, in affirming, on the one hand, the reality of the Lord's death and, on the other hand, His resurrection. And this is really the foundation of apostolic preaching and the witness of the Gospels.
Here we are perfectly aware of how daring these two groups were in what they did-- perhaps lacking the legitimacy or eligibility in the eyes of those endowed with legitimacy, knowledge, truth and custom--, a fact that was essential for the group of apostles to go out of their emaciation, fear and internal corrosion, while failing to meet the demands of their calling to, as well as the futility of their fleeing and hiding from, the light of God's will, the light of their resurrection as a group whose point of reference is Christ crucified and risen. Did these two groups go beyond the designated role for their members? Did their members advocate a rank that was not originally given to them? Did they appropriate a dignity that belonged to others? Have they sinned in taking an initiative that appears to have originated from outside the usual context for us or according to our customs, be it with regard to role, position, place, order or responsibility?
The Church answered these questions for us by commemorating the members of these two groups on the second Sunday after Easter; and by doing so, it fully agrees that what they undertook to do at that time has become eternal. In turn, we thank God for what they did, since they have received their rank today on account of their courage, their daring, their love and their pure intention at a time when fear, paralysis, feebleness and broken promises held sway among those who would become the pillars of the Church and her apostles. We also thank God that those who undertook these two initiatives did not boast about what they did at the time, but rather it is the Church who endeavored on this day to express thanks and gratitude to them.
Is it right for us to approach this commemoration in this way? Did these questions and considerations occupy the minds of the apostolic community and members of the early Church? What is important here is how the community approached its painful and difficult situation at that time in simplicity, love and kindness, without complicating the situation further with many calculations, considerations, analyses and egotistical complexes. These two initiatives from outside the usual context permitted the light of the resurrection to revive the entire community at a time when its circumstances were in no way enviable, and to propel it in the direction that the Lord commanded His disciples before His passion.
Perhaps this approach will revive within us this great hope, through the activity of Christ's resurrection and the uninterrupted work of His Spirit within us, when we observe our situation on various levels-- home, parish, diocese as well as at the level of the universal Church-- and give us the necessary impetus to give room for the Spirit to work within us and among us, so that we may overcome the barriers that we ourselves or circumstances place in front of us. Are we not in need today, in dealing with our worries and cares, of initiatives from outside the usual context, which perhaps will help us to achieve that for which we have mobilized ourselves: constructing the signposts of the kingdom amidst this world?

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos)'s Paschal Message for 2019

Arabic original here.

Bearing Witness in Today's World

"And you shall be witnesses to Me" (Acts 1:8).

For us to be witnesses to Christ today is for us to remind the secularized children of the world of Christ's resurrection from the dead. As for wretched me, I stand before the cross of Christ, before the misery of the world, holding a flame of sincere love.

Salvation does not lie in being freed of the toils of the world, but in the very salvation of the world itself.

Salvation lies first of all in embodying God's word, embodying the words of the Gospel lived out in this world. The meaning of this is serving man by inspiration from God. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). "Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).

As for Christ, "He answered and said to them, 'My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it'" (Luke 8:21).

The commandment of the Lord Jesus, after His resurrection and before departing from His disciples in the flesh, was as follows: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20).

Today our path, our way of life, our prayer, are relationship with others are all much more important than our theoretical knowledge. They are more useful to us for the salvation of the world than abstract theological propositions.

This is what the Starets Sophrony of Essex tells us: our relationship with the community is more important than sociological details. The community is an expression of a family built upon our love for each other. The rule is based on bearing one another, on mutual love, on patience and sacrifice. This is the Paschal Church that is victorious over death, the passage from the suffering of this age to the joy of the Lord trampling down death.

Love in the Lord is effective. It is not authoritarian commands. Activity in secret to console and assist one's neighbor, not pretending, showing off and being puffed up. Your true banner is before God who sees in secret.

I advise you to avoid images and Facebook. They are a vice in many cases, because the devil exploits them for evil. Media kills the truth in many cases. It is only a means for sordid personal materialist and lustful use.

What do you think is the mystery of Christ's resurrection? Saint Symeon the New Theologian says, "Christ's resurrection is our resurrection from the tomb of humility and repentance. This is the mystery that we desire to be completed within us."

The Lord said, "I am the Truth." The Christian's life is saturated with constant inspiration in the Holy Spirit. It is a path from glory to glory. It is a new divine disclosure at every moment.

The life of the Church is replete with joy. It is true life.

It is more sublime than rules and canons. Here lies the profundity of Christianity taken as a unique way of life inspired by God.

It is a spring whose outpouring never repeats itself. A constant miracle, the miracle of creation, the kingdom that is to come the constantly-awaited resurrection.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Met Silouan (Muci) on the 6th Anniversary of the Kidnapping of Met Paul (Yazigi)

Pastoral Letter of
Metropolitan Silouan of Byblos, Botrys and dependencies
on the 6th Anniversary of the Kidnapping of
His Eminence Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo
April 22, 2013-2019

The "Master of Eloquence and Silence"
Between the Silence of Man and the Silence of God
“God finished on the seventh day His work, which He had done:
and He rested on the seventh day of all His work, which He had made”
(Genesis 2:2)

“Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo is on an ecclesiastical mission.” This is an expression that occurred to me in the first days after Monday, April 22, 2013 (the day he was kidnapped), an expression that opened a window through which I have tried to explore the mystery of that great day, a day of God's work in the history of humanity.
Arriving at the threshold of the seventh year of this invisible “ecclesiastical mission,” we notice that infertility and drying up are encircling us; the infertility of hope and the drying up of inspiration.  Consequently, you believe that time is uprooting hope from you, while you have no inspiration regarding how to defend the work of God within us and in us. In that case, how can you possibly defend your hope and your faith, and what may you say regarding this matter? An answer comes to you: “Keep silence!” But how could you manage, with silence, to defend your hope and your faith in this “ecclesiastical mission?”
In seeking a satisfactory answer to this question, you rejoice that the Bible reveals to you the work of God the Creator, when, at the end of the six-day work of creation, It tells us, with majesty and modesty, that “on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made” (Genesis 2:2). This fact makes you dive into the work of God the Creator, as we are on the threshold of the seventh year of that great day, while contemplating, with reverence and perspicacity, the mystery of the work of God Himself in us, since He says, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17) -- and how this work has manifested itself in a paradoxical way, both in expression and in the absence of expression; both in revelation and in the absence of revelation. It is, in fact, the secret of “silence” that appeared on the seventh day, when God the Creator rested from all His works, a silence that the author could not express -- and how could he? Indeed, the expression, “God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:4; 10; 12; 18; 21; 25) accompanies us from the first days of creation, as well as the expression, “that [it] was very good” (Genesis 1:31) at the end of these days.  However, the sacred “silence” of God is present on the seventh day as a blessed seal appended on His words of the previous days.
This biblical reality introduces you to the dynamic of the Bible where the “silence” of God confrontsthe man who meanders in the paths of life, so as to provide him with hope, abundant hope. In this regard, man´s difficulty resides in his lack of forbearance towards such a silence, especially if this silence is prolonged in our eyes, and if we are not sufficiently imbued with the Holy Spirit.  God be praised that His silence is not sterile. Likewise, he who is filled with the Spirit, his silence is not sterile either.  It is clear that the source of this silence is the same one of which the Sacred Scripture spoke to us at the beginning of creation, when It revealed to us the presence of the “Master of Silence,” if it is permissible to speak like that.  This is the Holy Spirit.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2). And we realized that He is also the “Master of Eloquence” because He is the one who inspires and gives the speech, as the Lord, in circumstances similar to those we are talking about, explained to us: “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11).
Is it possible that you are angry and disgusted with silence, the silence of the sterile man, a silence that we are accustomed to describe as the “silence of the grave,” when we refer to this great day? Or is it possible that you rejoice in the silence of God, a silence that turns out to be most eloquent, a silence that is the “language of the age to come,” according to Saint Ephraim the Syriac, a language that comes to you from the age to come, from the One who is Himself “the Master of Silence,” who was hovering over all creation since the dawn of its creation, and which feeds its existence and gives him the ability to speak, to listen and to understand His work in this creation so far?
In fact, on the threshold of this “seventh day,” or rather of the seventh year, you must behold yourself in reverence before the work of God the Creator during these past six years, and watch the manifestation of His work in His repose of all works, which took place in a remarkable silence that cannot be decoded by any word we may say. It is rather a silence that speaks in the hearts of those who accept the “Master of Eloquence and Silence” within them, in an act of prayer, faith or service; in a situation of life or death; in a state of suffering or liberation; in a desperate wait or a quick response; in an absence cruelly felt but that is counterbalanced by a stronger and more eloquent presence than the absence itself.
The difficulty of the seventh day is the “silence” that surrounds it and the length of the duration that accompanies it.  In this case, we cannot do better than rely on the one who became the “master of eloquence and silence” to guide us in our passage through the silence of man and this silence of God concerning this “ecclesiastical mission,” invisible to men's eyes, but alive in the spirit of God and His providence for us.
I thank the Lord for allowing me to write these lines, which I wrote “from here,” “from very near” (for some people), while in the past I have written them from “there,” “from far” (for some others), while praying to the Lord to confirm us all together in the work of the Spirit who unites us in times of adversity and trials, so that He may be glorified in us, and that, consequently, the one who became the master of eloquence and silence” is present among us.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Metropolitan Silouan (Muci)'s Paschal Message for 2019

Paschal Message
of His Eminence, Metropolitan Silouan
of Byblos, Botrys and dependencies

The Ministry of Our Crossing to the Resurrection

The Lord rises from the tomb inviting us to cross from the shore of the old man, well rooted in us, to the shore of our liberation from it, thanks to our constant effort of renewal and regeneration of ourselves. It is a reality that He has sown in the body, of which we are members, a seed that is called to grow in all humanity, as the leaven within the dough (Mt 16:33).
The Lord wants us to be ministers, collaborators and servants of this "Passover" among our brothers and peers. Hopefully, when the body of the Lord, full of sores, is transfigured in the faces of those whose testimonies reflect the light of the resurrection, then, we might receive the reward of the "faithful servants" (Lk 19:11-27). Such a light shines upon us when, in witnessing the members of His body, prevails union (Jn 17:22), fraternal love (Lk 6:35), synergy (Acts 20:35), forgiveness (Mt 6:14), repentance (Lk 15:10) and service according to His commandment: “Freely you have received; freely give” (Mt 10:8).
https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gifIn this paschal "adventure," the joy of the servant manifests itself when his brothers and peers receive their reward from the Lord, such as the reward that the publican received, when He justified and exalted him (Lk 18:10-14), or  the reward that the prodigal son received, when He gave him the best robe, the ring and the sandals, giving him back the dignity of a son (Lk 15:11-32), or the reward that the sheep who served "the least of them" received when He gathered them on His right hand (Mt 25:31-46), or, finally, the reward of those who forgave others, prayed in secret, and fasted happily, when He gave them that "treasure" that does not perish (Mt 6:14-21), that is, the fatherhood of God towards them and their acceptance of the grace of sonship with Him.
Undoubtedly, the joy of this servant -- for the sake of others and not so much for himself and for his own achievements -- is magnified when he remembers the humility of Him who said, "For I have not spoken of Myself; but the Father who sent Me, He gave Me a commandment, what I should say and what I should speak" (Jn 12:49), as well as His commandment, "You also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’"(Lk 17:10). Certainly, this servant has only to follow the steps of his Master, crucified and then resurrected. In this regard, he will live some of His experiences without departing from Him, whatever the circumstance is, while having in view His promise, "Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me" (Jn 12:26).
Every servant, whatever may be the level of his responsibility or the degree of his effort and dedication, can make mistakes, as well as achieve successes while trying to incarnate the will of God in his service and ministry, investing his talents in the real context of his life. Such a servant is preserved in his service thanks to the prayer of the struggling and victorious Church; thanks to the love of his small and of his greater family, the patience of its members, the demonstration of their solidarity and the exercise of forgiveness among them; and, finally, thanks to his own effort so that his service may be carried out with faith, trust in God and discernment of His will. In this atmosphere, the resurrection may grow among the members of the body of Christ, so that it may overcome in each one every weakness they suffered, heal all boasting, arrogance, haughtiness or despair into which they may have fallen, and keep away any division or evil that may have affected their communion.
In the resurrection, let us keep the ardent hope that the Lord will not stop inspiring the members of His body which serve Him in ministering to our crossing to the resurrection. Such a hope nourishes the faith in Him who produces "the willingness and the doing" (Phil 2:13) in those who thrive to do any work of justice, goodness, good, edification, consolation, education and salvation. No doubt, such a witness is a candle lit in the path of our resurrection, as well as in that of our peers in the countries and societies where we serve and give our testimony.
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!