Monday, October 20, 2014

Met Georges Khodr on the Ecclesiology of Councils

Arabic original here.

Commitment to the Truth

I do not think that the Orthodox say that the Holy Synod leads the Church in terms of it being an executive authority as opposed to those who say that the Church has a single person who leads it... They are not prepared to say, if we wish to be precise, that they have an administrative body for spiritual leadership. They reject as a matter of principle any imitation of the civil order. But apart from its statements, they have a sense of collectivity and of concord. This is what they call a holy synod, something for which there is no image in the civil order.

It is not a parliament of bishops. It is a act of making effort for unity. There is no value to numbers in it except as a symbol of the direction being taken in dogma or pastoral practice. That which is desired is God's will in the topic at hand. It is not to advocate a democratic order, since there is no say in it except God's word.

If Eastern Christians talk about conciliarity, they are not setting up a democratic order in place of an autocratic order, if such could be considered to exist in Christianity. The Catholics themselves do not say that the Papal system is autocratic. As in Orthodoxy, it is in principle based on the entire community. However, since collective leadership does not mean that the Church has a democratic system, so-called collective leadership is only a symbolic expression used to indicate the single purpose, and thus it is an act of making effort. For us the group is not a substitute for the individual. It is merely an effort towards being an image of the totality of the faith that has been inherited across generations, the faith handed down to us from the Apostles.

Thus the concept of numbers is meaningless in the council of bishops when they gather. That which is desired is the tradition. That is, authenticity and submission to that which was handed down "one time to the saints". Consensus or quasi-consensus in the Holy Synod is the principle image of commitment to the truth. Relying on a decision based on a majority vote is merely a practical agreement whose aim is to examine the issue. It in no sense means that it binds the conscience of any bishop. Yes, there is a general administrative life that is manifest in agreement or near-agreement. It is not true to say that the council of bishops does not err when it gathers together. The Church has rejected at least one council in the fourth century that brought together hundreds of bishops. Truth or wisdom has nothing to do with the number of voters or electors. It is above councils. The Church strives for it and no one can claim that a council of clergy possesses God's infallibility. This requires universal acceptance by the Church, which comes to be known in the life of the Church years later and after conflicts and it becomes manifest to the pure. I do not know of a single church in the Christian world that claims for its leadership automatic infallibility merely by issuing a dogmatic or pastoral decision. The popular saying that the Orthodox believe in the infallibility of the ecumenical councils in no way means the believer is called to accept a synodal decision merely because it was issued. It means gradual acceptance by believers as a whole, repeated acceptance by council after council and the emergence of a conviction among God's holy nation.

Truth is an act of making effort because interpretation is an act of making effort. We do not have the principles of courts that make you believe automatically any decision issued by a council. There is what we call the consensus of the fathers. How can this be when there is no census and no presentation of facts? The consensus of the fathers comes to be known within history. That is, after it has appeared, gradually and after discussion that may go on for a long time. In the Church there is nothing that resembles civil law on the surface. There is interpretation and exegesis, taking into account the reality of history and the words of the ancients. The truth is received through effort, not through the decision of an authority. This is proven by the fact that every decision of an authority is subject to the interpretation of subsequent authorities. At any time before the last day, truth is an act of effort made in holiness, love and brotherhood. If debate becomes vicious, there is no holiness.

The first ecumenical council, the Council of Nicaea which met in 325 and made explicit Christ's divinity and issued the Creed took generations to be accepted. No council, no matter how holy, is accepted immediately and automatically by the faithful. For us the council is not an authority. It is an image of the acceptance of the faithful, if they accept it. No ecclesiastical authority can say to you "We have gathered, O faithful, and you must accept," since the pure faithful may sometimes reply, "Your gathering concerns you. It does not concern us." Final say belongs to the Church gathered together in the Holy Spirit, not to a human authority in itself. God does not equate any authority to Himself. If it gathers together, if it speaks the truth and the Church recognizes it in her catholicity, it becomes an authority. We do not have a ruler with power on account of his position. Power belongs to what is said, not to who said it. The Christian's only leader is the truth.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Met Ephrem on the Sign of the Cross

Arabic original here.

The Sign of the Cross

Saint Basil the Great says, "In every thing we do, we  make the sign of the cross over our faces...This custom did not come from the Bible [that is, literally in the form of a commandment], but holy tradition is what commands this." By this he meant the tradition of the Apostles, as is also the case with our praying toward the East, which is the name of Christ (cf. Zacharia 6:12 LXX) and the custom of triple-immersion in baptism.

In the view of this father and other holy fathers, the sign of the cross contains the two basic dogmas of the Orthodox Church: first, the dogma of the Trinity and second the dogma of the incarnation. We make the sign of the cross by putting together three fingers and then putting the remaining two fingers close to the palm.

First we put our fingers to the forehead, indicating heaven, then to the belly, indicating the earth, then to the right and left shoulders. Please be careful not to make the sign of the cross over your bodies quickly and carelessly. Let us be conscious of remembering the thee Persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, just as we are likewise aware of the other two fingers, Christ's human and divine natures.

Very often, we tie mentioning glory to the Trinity with the sign of the cross when we say "Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit."

The Evangelist John mentions that Christ indicated the hour of His death when He said, "Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in Him" (John 13: 31) and "With the glory that He had from the beginning" (John 17:5). In his first epistle, the Apostle Peter speaks of Christ who redeemed the world upon the cross with His precious blood as the sacrificial lamb "foreordained before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:19-20).

Christ crucified is a paschal sacrifice: "Our Pascha is Christ who was crucified for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7).

This is the true meaning of the cross. This is the meaning of the divine liturgy, the divine sacrifice.

To all this we add that very often the sign of the cross is accompanied by a small or large prostration known as a 'metania', which means repentance. The small prostration is bending down to one's knees and the large one is down to the ground. We do this, for example, when we enter the church or when we kiss holy icons.

Beloved, make the sign of the cross with forethought, with understanding, with faith, with absolute hope in Christ crucified who loved us to the point of death on the cross. Make it with determination that you will crucify your passions in order to receive the grace of the Crucified One, that your life may be renewed.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, Al-Koura and their dependencies

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on the West's Exploitation of the Middle East's Divisions

Arabic original here.

We Are Willingly Heading toward Civil Strife

Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (d. 1897) and Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905), the pioneers of Islamic reform in the modern era, were in agreement that the source of weakness and decline in Islamic society lies in the loss of unity between Muslims and that the fundamental factor behind the lack of unity lies in the division between Sunnis and Shi'a.

Al-Afghani believed that the enemies of Islam, by which he meant the European colonial powers, benefited from Islamic fragmentation and encouraged conflicts between the Islamic countries in order to weaken and subjugate them. For this reason, al-Afghani called for an Islamic state to emerge that would unite Sunnis and Shi'a under its banner. This would not happen, in his opinion, before urgent and serious effort could be made to bring about rapprochement between Sunni and Shi'i schools of thought.

Much time has passed and the situation has not changed. The enemies of Islam still benefit from intra-Islamic disagreements and exploit them to extend their domination and hegemony over our countries and to plunder our riches... Instead of us uniting to fight the enemies, we find ourselves fighting and slaughtering each other in the very name of God.

Indeed, the situation has not changed. At the end of the 19th century, al-Afghani wrote an article with the title "The West and the East" in which he presents the ways that the West goes about dominating the East. This article is as though it were written today, even though no small amount of time has passed since its writing.

Al-Afghani says, "There is no Western state knocking at the door of an Eastern kingdom that does not use as its excuse either preserving the sultan's rights or suppressing an uprising against the amir... or some other slander, trickery, deception or feeble pretext.

If these lies are not enough for them to remain, they invoke either the pretext of protecting Christians, protecting minorities, the rights and privileges of foreigners, the people's freedom, teaching them the basics of independence, gradually giving the people its right to self-government, or enriching a poor people by overseeing the resources of its wealth."

Al-Afghani continues by saying that the Easterners go back to giving themselves the excuse that the Westerners will fulfill their promise and leave them as "a free people, independent in the management of their own affairs and able to choose rulers from their own sons, those with the purest souls and the best way of life, the most forthright with the truth in word and deed." But what the Westerners actually do is a program that they bring from their own countries about the Easterners, "inert, ignorant, fanatical people fertile land, many minerals [and this before the discovery of oil!], large projects, a mild climate, we [i.e. the Westerners] shall be the first to enjoy it."

Al-Afghani concludes his characterization by saying that Westerners are devising a plan to gain control over the country by "marginalizing every free citizen who is able to openly make patriotic demands and promoting those with the basest concern, the furthest from the discussion of demanding justice. They enter our country by dividing it into sects and factions. They prefer one sect over another such that distrust reigns..."

Indeed, the situation has not changed. The West considers our land, our skies and our seas to be fair game. Once again it is colonizing us, plundering our riches, imposing tyrannical rulers on us. They promise us freedom, sovereignty, independence and human rights.. They lie and lie and lie... However, we can only blame ourselves. The West works for its own interests while we vainly fight with ourselves and willingly head towards civil strife. "Once bitten, twice shy", but here we are being bitten continuously.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh: We Need a True Islamic Enlightenment

Arabic original here.

Fr Georges Massouh: We Need a True Islamic Enlightenment

by Rahil Dendesh

The priest of the parish of Saint Georges, Fr Georges Massouh, was born in Aley in 1962. He received his doctorate from the Pontifical Institute in 1997 with the thesis "Christian Topics in the Works of Muslim Clerics in Lebanon 1975-1996" and then published a book entitled The Good Things to Come: Views on Christian-Muslim Rapprochement". He regularly publishes articles in various scholarly journals and has a weekly column in an-Nahar. He is director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Studies at Balamand University. We met with him to talk about the Arab revolutions and we had a long discussion that dealt with the necessity of reforming Islamic religious thought as an absolutely necessary prelude to undertaking true Arab revolutions.

The revolutions of the "Arab Spring" were not revolutions in the true since of the word according to Fr Georges Massouh. In his view, revolution means "development and forward progress, but we have not seen this in our societies where uprisings have occurred." Massouh believes that the revolutions have not realized what was hoped of them because they need preparation. Here he touches on the European revolutions, including the French Revolution which "came as the crowning and culmination of intellectual and scientific development, the introduction of critical thinking and the rationalization of religious thought that started with the Protestant movement, with Martin Luther who broke down the walls of the Church."

In his opinion, this has not yet happened in the Arab world, where "we do not have an advanced Arabic philosophy or great scientific, literary or intellectual production. For this reason, we see that the revolutions have raised slogans of returning backward and a revolution cannot succeed on the basis of an old promise."

Shari'a is not the Solution

Massouh summarizes the Arab scene in general in terms of intellectual decline, the reason for which is that religion is in a state of backwardness, where no new experiences have been allowed in, especially the contributions of modern science, particularly the human sciences such as sociology, linguistics, psychology and anthropology... These are some of the things that have had no influence on Islamic thought up to today. Consequently, this prevents the undertaking of any true revolution. As for the Arab Nahda, it was thwarted at the beginning of the twentieth century in terms of both secular and religious thought... "Religious thought has reversed course after Muhammad Abduh, which later  produced the  ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. Secular thought, which had been developing over the course of the nineteenth century, suffered a setback on account of the authoritarian regimes." The causes for this reversal of course go back to various factors. First of all, the arrival of the foreign mandates after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and what is called colonialism. This led to the tyranny of reactionary thinking over Islamic thought, with the support of the Arab regimes. Important is the "infamous promise" to establish the state of Israel in 1917. As for the great reversal that has caused us to recede further and further, it came with the defeat of 1967, when the slogans "Islam is the solution" or "Shari'a is the solution" were brought out. Since then,we started to witness the rise of Islamic fundamentalist movements.

The Necessity of Individualism

The open-minded priest does not believe in the existence of a moderate Islam when it comes to the issue of the state because "All Islamists, moderate and immoderate, call for the establishment of an Islamic state, the application of Islamic law and an Islamic constitution."

He cites document from al-Azhar issued in 2011 which talks about the modern constitutional state while taking into account the goals of Islamic law and the proper understanding of Islam as defined by al-Azhar-- pointing out that in this manner al-Azhar is playing the role taken by the guardianship of the jurisprudent in Shi'ism-- to shows that there is no broader horizon, even for moderates. He very quickly indicates that he does not mean to generalize, but rather to talk about those with influence on the street. There are those who have worked and produced important intellectual advancements, such as Muhammad Arkoun, Nasr Abu Zayd and others, but these efforts have had a limited sphere of influence and so the plan of the Islamic state and the system of dhimmitude and everything connected with them remain live issues. Similiarly, Dr Massouh does not see in the fall of the Islamists' governments signs for hope that these legacies that are now quasi-axiomatic will be re-examined, since Islamic rule in Egypt was topped and the power of the military brought back the regime of Hosni Mubarak in a different guise.

"True revolution can neither be through a military coup or through Islamic law, so the problem we have is that democracy is not a universal culture but merely a tally of votes."

In talking about "the people", he points out that the "unenlightened segment of them" is only able to elect fundamentalists or authoritarians, while what we want is a civil state in every sense of the world. He stressed that we cannot take the term "modern" without taking the culture surrounding it. "For example, there are those who say that they are for a civil state but who reject civil marriage. What kind of civil state are we demanding if there is no legislation for civil marriage?" Also, democracy in Europe is based on the principle that the individual is the basis of society, while "for us, the individual does not exist. We have religious, sectarian, tribal and regional blocs." Fr Massouh puts forward the model of Lebanon, which some regard as a positive model, while in his opinion it is "the worst model that could be followed in the world." When we belong to the state, it must be separate from our belonging to a religion. We find that every sect is a state.

This does not mean that this man is calling to impose on our societies western experiences that have their own historical contexts. In this regard he says, "I am not in favor of cloning western or other models. We are eager to fashion our state as we ourselves want it, but we must start from a specific place. This place is religion, since it is a totalizing ideology that wears many garbs." Fr Massouh stresses that when we talk about the state, it is unacceptable for someone to come and speak to us of a religious state. There are new realities on the ground, most prominent of which is the concept of the civil state, while in Islamic thought there is the concept of the umma, which negates the concept of the state. It is impossible for us to take Islamic jurisprudence that is fourteen centuries old and apply it to our age. As long as the state is based on religious and sectarian thinking, "its condition will in no way hold up." Fr Massouh arrives at the pressing need for boldness in conducting Islamic legal reasoning, especially as regards the modern state. This requires there to be clerics who are reliable in their culture and knowledge to bring new legal reasoning and new thinking. In this context, he moves to Muslim-Christian dialogues, pointing out that the greatest responsibility lies on the majority: "Muslims' responsibility is greater than Christians' responsibility."

Monday, October 13, 2014

Carol Saba on Ecclesiology and Church Governance in Antioch

This is lengthy but well worth the read. Arabic original, published before the Holy Synod of Antioch's meeting last week, here.

The Church's Direction and the Opposite Direction
In the East, the Holy Synod of Antioch will meet next week under the leadership of Patriarch John X. We hope-- and this appears to be the case-- that a follow-up on the important Antiochian Conference that was held last June and an examination of its recommendations will be on the agenda. Our hope is great and greater still are the challenges besetting us. In the West, tomorrow Pope Francis is inaugurating the general synod of the Catholic Church about marriage and the family. This synod is the first of its kind of Francis' papacy and the most comprehensive one to treat this critical social-ecclesial issue. More than two hundred bishops from all over the world will participate in its activities and discussions which will last from the 5th to the 10th of October. For the first time, lay men and women, representatives of Catholic organizations, and centers of public opinion will also be participating. The synod will treat all aspects of the problems, challenges, pressures and changes that affect marriage and the family in today's world. The hallmark of this synod is not its form or the fact that it is being held, although this is important in itself as it is a significant attempt on the part of the Catholic Church to closely, methodically and realistically approach the concerns of Christian families and to understand the social transformations that are affecting them today and their repercussions for Christian families as a whole, childbearing and marriage. Its hallmark lies in the way it is  comprehensive, consultative and participatory, between the leadership and base of the church, as the Pope insisted that it be during the preparation for the synod, which took over a year, and its preparatory papers. Observers noted that it is the largest and most expansive in the history of the Catholic Church in terms of bringing together Church leadership, the Church's "base" and all segments of the people of God-- its organizations, representatives, elites, talented laypeople and clergy and the centers of public opinion in motion within them. The path being followed by the Pope to arrive at statements and suggestions that might be inspired by the Holy Spirit and which will be examined by the synod is a bottom-up and participatory path from the base to the synod, via elites, talented individuals and organizations up to the synod of bishops, cardinals and the Pope. Things have not proceeded in the inverse, top-down direction or by declaring things from above, as had happened in the past. That is, Church leadership issuing decisions from above without consultation, dialogue, or prior discussion with the base and with talented individuals in the Church and without allowing them to participate in the Church's decision-making process and the formulation of future ecclesial and pastoral decisions.

The Concept of Ecclesial Revolution, A Revolution against the Self, A Corrective Revolution in Direction and Mode of Action
This comprehensive bottom-up, participatory and consultative path that Pope Francis has followed since his election to the See of Rome-- not only in matters pertaining to the preparation of the Synod on the Family, but also in many other critical ecclesial matters-- is precisely what I meant in some of my previous writings by what I called an "ecclesial revolution" or "an evangelical revolution". By this I did not mean a revolution against anyone or a "turning of the tables", but rather a peaceful revolution, a revolution of love against the self, a revolution in the way of doing work, against the traditional methods that have been followed in the Church until now, but which are no longer appropriate for today's world. These methods have established a rift in the Church between the leadership and the base such that the leadership has come to be distant from its people and does not allow them to participate in making ecclesial and pastoral decisions, while the base, along with the elites and people with talent are forced to watch on in frustration at those "above" and wait to see what they will decide without their communicating with them, as though they were on another planet. Yes, the traditional way of doing things has hurt the Church and the ecclesiology of communion within her, as it has made the Church into a centralized church, which the Church should be expanding out to and into the world. It has made the Church into an institution with hierarchical decision-making, without consultation or participation, while the Church is constituted by spheres of communion and an evangelistic impetus and motion. It is not possible for the Church to be a church unless she is based first of all on consultation and communion and because she moves by this evangelistic spirit. It is after this that she can produce from her evangelistic womb a hierarchy of decision-making that is inspired by God. This path being taken by Pope Francis, which represents a complete change of direction, is thus a "revolution against the self" in the fullest sense. The same holds true for all the churches today, including for glimpses of hope within the Antiochian Church. This is the evangelistic revolution that I called upon our beloved Patriarch John to lead on the level of all of Antioch, along with our Holy Synod and its bishops whom we honor and revere for their undertaking the initiative for this right now and no later, to ward off dangers and to restore the connection between the base and the leadership and put the Church's impetus in the right direction. The recent Antiochian Conference was only a first step and a good beginning along this path. It may bear fruit if we know how to fertilize it quickly and follow up on it. Or it might fall like the seeds that fell by the roadside, if we do not rise to the essence of the God-inspired formula that has set the immobile into motion, thanks to Patriarch John and his boldness, toward the call to the recent Antiochian Unity Conference, despite all the difficult situations facing the region and the Church.

Is the General Antiochian Conference something accidental and unnecessary in the life and governance of the See of Antioch, or is it a pivotal event in the life of ecclesial communion within her?
There is a common saying and formula that has become law in Antioch during the 20th century that says, "The Holy Synod is the highest authority in the Church." This formula may be true in the Church and compatible with the ecclesiology of communion in the Orthodox Church if the life of communion gradually progresses upwards in the Church, in word and deed, within spheres of communion that expand and move forward from the local church (from the smallest to the largest congregation), gradually step-by-step and stage by stage, like the ascent of Moses up the holy mountain to arrive at the spiritual vision described by Saint Gregory of Nyssa in his Life of Moses. This formula may be true if ecclesial life is based on conciliarity in the broad sense-- that is, in constant and continuous participation and consultation. At that point, it will produce a hierarchy of decision-making inspired by the Holy Spirit and expressing the Church's experience in her journey towards the Kingdom. I will not enter here into the debate about the word "authority" and whether this word expresses the essence of the Church as serving. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, the famous Russian bishop of London of thrice-blessed memory and one of the most important theological and patristic figures of the 20th century, did not consider the bishop of a diocese (or the priest in his parish or the patriarch in his church) as "chief" but rather as "foremost father". He did not consider him to be the "director", but rather the "motivator". He did not consider him to be the "decision-maker" in everything, but rather "the final reference" in critical matters. He did not consider him to be the "holder  of authority", but rather "like a responsible servant" who does not hold a monopoly of authority, but rather holds a right to veto in critical matters that if they drifted away from the Church's course, would threaten the Church's unity. Is this not the most soundly Orthodox ecclesial expression of what is meant in the liturgy when we say that the bishop is "rightly-dividing the word of truth"? That is, that he is the sword of truth that divides between two positions, one that is upright and one that has deviated from it, and so the bishop divides them? Talk of authority might cause murmurs in the minds of the faithful, and cause them to believe that in the Church there are those who hold authority and those who do not hold authority, while all of us in the Church are responsible in communion and participation for building her up. When Antioch says that the Synod is the highest authority, it does not mean, in my ecclesiological reading, that it is the only authority in the Antiochian Church. The See of Antioch's statute of councils talks of a hierarchy in the composition of authority in the dioceses and cumulatively in the See of Antioch. So the diocesan conference and community council in each diocese are a necessary part of constituting the governance of the Patriarchate of Antioch as a whole. But where are the dioceses at in terms of implementing this canon? Who is applying this canon today? The statute of councils also speaks, albeit quickly and incidentally, about the "General Orthodox Conference of the See of Antioch and places it on the level of necessity ("when necessary, the patriarch calls for a general Orthodox conference for the See of Antioch..."). It does not establish mechanisms for its activity or whether its nature is advisory or  to some extent mandatory, but rather says that it brings recommendations to the Synod. In our opinion, this conference is a fundamental and pivotal sphere for the governance of the Antiochian Church as a whole and for the life of communion at the level of the See and its governance, today more than at any time in the past.

The Blowing of the Holy Spirit and Conciliarity in the Church
The Holy Synod is the place where Antiochian unity is manifest. It is the final reference for the organs of the Church that make positive conclusions effective and possible in the life of the Antiochian Church. Today there is a lot of talk about the patriarch's relationship to the synod, where the patriarch stands with regard to the synod, and what the limits there are to the patriarch's activity outside the synodal framework, etc. Then, are we a conciliar church, a patriarchal church or a church that is at once conciliar and patriarchal? The picture cannot be limited in this way. We do not want blocs in the synod, whether with or against the patriarch, with or against this metropolitan or that, or blocs of metropolitans supporting the line of this or that metropolitan. The synod is not a place of competition, but of complementarity. It is not a place for positioning-- the positioning of synodal blocs against each other-- but the place of harmony. It is the place where positive ecclesial conclusions are made, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The blowing of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church is not an instantaneous or automatic process that happens merely through the calling down the Holy Spirit. Humans cannot force the presence of the Holy Spirit and the All-Holy Spirit does not submit to the inevitability of our demands and supplicatory prayers for His presence. The Holy Spirit does not blow if this blowing is not translated as a grace that builds up the Church and supports her efforts to perfect the Church's structure here and now. The Holy Spirit's blowing is not limited to a single place (the synod's meeting place) or a single time (the time of the synod's meeting). Rather, it is a constant process of accompaniment and consciousness-raising that never tires and of warning that does not cease. It is a cumulative, bottom-up process in which graces develop and strengthen to the degree that the people of God and their leadership interact with these graces, positively or negatively. To the degree that the soil is prepared, grace grows, develops and bears fruit in the synod. If the soil is not prepared in the body of the Church, then grace falls on the roadside and on ground that is not fertile for the Church. The only thing that reaches the synod is worldly, human division about decision-making, which at that point cannot be anything more than an expression of conflicting worldly concerns, not the result inspired by God. The activity of the Holy Spirit's continuous blowing in the Church is thus before, during and after the meeting of the Holy Synod, as part of the Church's forward march. This blowing does not stop. Its fruits are many and numerous when the Church is allowed to live in an ecclesial state that permits synergy among all spheres of the Church, from the base to the summit, including all the gifts that are found in between. The process of producing positive conclusions inspired by the Holy Spirit is an unceasing, continuous, systematic process in all spheres of the Church to successively raise ideas, recommendations, studies and experiences from the bottom to the top, in which they are scrutinized, studied, shaped and purified before reaching the synod as dough kneaded with the Church's local experiences. The leaders and wise men of the Church-- that is, our bishops-- then study them according to their expertise, wisdom, knowledge and prudence. They correct what needs correcting, praise what needs to be praised, and announce the positive conclusion inspired by the Holy Spirit. This upward path that resembles Moses' ascent up the mountain is the Church's proper path. It permits leavening the ascent toward spiritual vision. This is a process of rising, not a process of announcing from above. This path does not stop with one issue, but rather includes everything-- including the election of bishops in the synod, so that the God-loving people may have a word in the election of their pastors. This is the issue. The choice is not the synod's issue only. The question being raised today to the conscience of the Antiochian Church is: if we continue along the traditional manner that fragments the life of communion in the Church, are we facilitating the Holy Spirit's blowing in the synod or are we impeding it?

Reform or renewal? The logic of centralization, the logic of the network or both? Challenges of the Church's governance in today's world.
The problem in the Church today is not reform or renewal. I believe in the idea of renewal instead of reform in the Church. Renewal does not start off on the basis of reforming that which is corrupt or changing that which must be changed. Rather, it starts off on the basis of the idea of renewal from within. That is, establishing a formula for discussion and outreach between traditionalist actors (those who resist on the basis of what they know or don't know of renewal) and non-traditionalist actors who work for renewal with patience and constancy without "combating" traditionalist actors but rather just the opposite, working to form bonds of trust and cooperation with them in order to achieve results. The first way, the way of confrontation through change and reform, quickly results in burning bridges and then at an impasse, while the way of renewal, which requires building bonds of trust and cooperation in which there is a give-and-take, may take time, but it may also bring results because it does not reject other actors, but rather tries to approach them and build rapprochement between separated elements. In the Church, only the second way is close to the Gospel's formula which does not seek the death of a sinner, but rather to save him and reform his sin. The problem posed in all the churches today, including the Antiochian Church, is the problem of renewing and modernizing church governance so that it will be appropriate to an ecclesiology of communion and to the transformations of today's world so that we will not find ourselves in a state of constant disconnect. The Catholic model of church governance is based on the idea of a pyramid and the absolute centralization of leadership around the Pope, while the Orthodox Church has historically been based on conciliar spheres and on the idea of the patriarch as first among equals. The first model has resulted in a dead end, in the monopolization of everything in the hands of the Pope. It has even resulted in ecclesiological deviation, in its removing the bishop of Rome from the normal structure of the Church and, at the First Vatican Council, granting him infalliability. Here Pope Francis is calling for a return to conciliar roots and a widening of the framework for consultation in the decision-making process. On the other hand, the Orthodox Church, whose tradition is based on conciliarity, the correct tradition ecclesiologically speaking, has for ages been confronted with a problem that in today's globalized world has become manifestly obvious: a problem in managing this conciliarity, in structure, and in the hierarchy of decision-making. There was also a deviation toward a nominally conciliar form of governance, which in fact tended toward one form or another of Caesaro-Papism through patriarchs' efforts to produce loyal majorities in their holy synods that would help them to implement their policies, and so the selection of bishops has been on that basis. The Catholic model has reached a dead end, but so has the Orthodox model in general. Continuing today with absolute centralization (as in Catholicism through infallibility and the institution of the Vatican) or relative (as in Orthodoxy as with the patriarch through a synod of one mind with him that never raises opposition) in the time of all the activities in today's world based on the idea of the network is not only a factor for schizophrenia within the institution of the Church, but also a cause for serious crises. With Pope Francis, the Catholic Church today is working to escape from this crisis-ridden formula. The Church is not entirely found in the center, nor is it entirely found in the network. It is in a model that gives centralization its proper place within the network. That is, in comprehensive conciliarity at all levels along with a hierarchy of decision-making that submits to it. Today there must be a renewed form of governance based on the principle of conciliarity and on the principle of hierarchical decision-making and follow-up on its implementation. The Holy Synod of Antioch must develop its activity and propose these correctives, so that we can bring the Church out of the  sterile contradictions that make her lethargic and unable to move to meet the modernity of today's world. As for the role of the patriarch, it is critical to this equation, especially in a world that demands the image of a leader. Thus there is the idea of the office of leadership that the patriarch must have within, through and in agreement with the synod. The synod must have a new mechanism for action. Faced with tremendous and rapid changes, the Holy Synod of Antioch cannot continue to only hold two meetings a year. It must consider a lesser synod that meets regularly or monthly and an expanded synod. The expanded synod can agree upon the list of matters where the patriarch can act through the lesser synod. In today's world and what it requires in terms of representation, communication, rapid mobility from one place to another and from one continent to another, rapid follow-up with authorities, leaders and churches, the patriarch cannot be limited to specific competencies such as we may want to limit them. If we do so, we will wind up paralyzing the Church. In today's moving, globalized world, leadership is something very important. That which guarantees the Church against any deviation of its leadership toward papal or authoritarian methods lies in the proper structuring of the Church as an institution and in the application of the ecclesiology of communion at every level of the Church.  The participation of all in consultation and the decision-making process, transparency, being systematic, and accountability all ensure that it will not deviate toward authoritarianism or papism.

The Recommendations and the Mechanism for Following up on the Antiochian Conference
Beyond the recommendations, it is necessary to move from a state of non-participation and involving others to a state of systematic and continuous involvement. The Antiochian Conference was a promising beginning, an unexpected grace and a valuable gift from the Lord in these turbulent times. However, if it remains an "orphan" and we return to traditional methodologies within the synod and outside it (even if the synod approves of some of the recommendations brought to it), then we will have eliminated the elements and engines of renewal in the Church. In effect, we will have brought people to the well of living water and then cut the rope. The problem is not one of momentary recommendations that were made at a specific time and were studied by a committee that made a report to the Holy Synod and not to those at the conference. Who ever said that in all their number the recommendations at the recent conference express all the expectations, issues and concerns of the body of the Antiochian Church? A large proportion of the organizations, prominent figures and lovers of the Church were not represented and active at the conference. The conference did not touch on all the sensitive issues and other things that are impeding the work of the Church. Even if the coming synod decides on some of the recommendations, who will debate with the synod and ask by what standard some recommendations are accepted and others not and why some of them are rejected but not others? The recommendations always need to be renewed, brought up to date, developed and revised along with the development of life and new approaches. How do we approach the changes going on in our societies, for example? The same is true for the concerns of the youth, their expectations and ways of moving forward in the world and in the Church today, transformations in the family, new standards of diakonia and renewed pastoral care, the Church and solidarity during the economic crisis and the role of Balamand in all of this. It is a necessary question to ask about a re-evaluation and a total and comprehensive re-formulation of Balamand's role and its renewal in order to be suited to today's challenges, etc. All of these are sensitive issues that were not touched upon by the conference. Thus, we need to move from the idea of the ephemeral conference to a state of "constant conferencing" through a follow-up mechanism that lays the foundation in word and deed, with all the necessary transparency and deliberateness, for a participatory and collaborative state of open dialogue between the leadership and the base.

Finally, Some Proposals:
1. Appointing a permanent secretary-general for the General Antiochian Conference (from the Mother Church and the diaspora), to follow up and expand on its work and to make a dossier of its terms and goals in order to follow up on the work and the collective effort that was made at the conference and to cause it to bear fruit on numerous fronts.
2. Creating a special website for the Antiochian Conference for interaction and communication. All the contributions that were presented at the conference should be posted on it. There should be an electronic forum for expanding on the contributions and an invitation to all to extend the site with recommendations and contributions.
3. An expanded advisory body must be appointed for the Antiochian Church whose responsibilities would be 1) making a total and comprehensive inventory of the place of renewal in the Antiochian Church today on the basis of the recommendations presented by those attending the recent conference, along with the possibility of expanding the spheres of consultation to new actors who did not participate in the conference but whom the committee could listen to and 2) putting together a scientific and churchly methodology for following up on implementing a comprehensive plan  for renewal, with the agreement of the patriarch and the Holy Synod.
4. In sensitive issues such as social changes, the family and public affairs, use should be made of the idea of a "special synod", which would study these issues deeply in all their aspects alongside specialists and all those concerned. It could begin by forming committees specialized in these issues so as to start work on them before the launching of these special synods.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Another Protest by Jordanian Orthodox in Support of Archimandrite Christophoros

Arabic original here.

Orthodox Demonstrate in Support of Archimandrite Christophoros

For the second week in a row, large numbers from the Arab Orthodox Church have demonstrated in rejection of the policy followed by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate at the Monastery of Our Lady The Virgin Mary The Life-Giving Spring in Dibbeen, renewing their absolute support for the Arab Archimandrite Christophoros Atallah and affirming their position rejecting the intervention of the Jordanian government in the internal decisions of the Church. Church members regard the decisions of the Greek Patriarch Theophilos to banish Archimandrite Christophoros, founder of the first monastery in Jordan, as being malicious.

Particularly noteworthy was the presence of current and former, Christian and non-Christian members of the Jordanian parliament who stood alongside church members and Orthodox organizations in embracing the demands of the Orthodox flock.

The MPs denounced the government’s intervention in internal church matters and its failure to apply law number 27 of 1958, which has led to the patriarch unilaterally issuing unfair and inflammatory decisions that do not serve the interests of the Church and are completely contrary to the historical demands of the faithful.

Prominent among those in present at the monastery were MP Jamil Nimri and MP Tarek Khoury, who expressed their absolute support for the legitimate demands being made by the Arab Orthodox flock in Jordan. The MPs stressed the necessity of knowing the government’s motives for intervening in the internal church matter insofar as the Patriarchate of Jerusalem is an institution subject to Jordanian law which must respect all provisions of the law and not merely involve the government when it deems doing so useful.

The president of the Orthodox Association, the engineer Bassem Farraj expressed the total rejection of the decision by Orthodox organizations. He also congratulated the election of the Jordanian Archimandrite Qays Sadek as a bishop in the Church of Antioch.

Various media personalities and writers who were present at the monastery expressed their denunciation of the decision to move Archimandrite Christophoros Atallah away from Jordan under the pretext of promoting him and giving him responsibilities in Palestine. They regard the Greek Orthodox flock in Jordan as having a pressing need for spiritual revival. Via telephone from Jerusalem, Archbishop Atallah Hanna expressed his absolute solidarity with Archimandrite Christophoros Atallah as he is a symbol of the revival in Jordan. He stated that the decision to transfer him is unjust and that it would have been more appropriate to consecrate him as a bishop.

The protesters stressed the maliciousness of the transfer decision, which was publicly announced  in the official newspapers but which, in their view  is part of the plan to drive away and reject Archimandrite Christophoros Atallah, since the Patriarchate did not do anything to announce the other malicious decisions that were issued by the Synod in Jerusalem at the same meeting.

They pointed to the Patriarch’s clear policy of excluding revivalist Arab priests, as the patriarch acted in the same manner to combat Archimandrite Dr Meletius Bassal, putting pressure on the Palestinian Authority to implement the decision to remove Bassal from Ramallah and especially with the pressure on Archimandrite Athanasius Kakish and Archbishop Atallah Hanna to scale back their role.

 Banners of support for the monastery and for Archimandrite Christophoros Atallah, signed by Jordanian tribes, were put up on the monastery’s walls.

More than 1000 of those present then signed a petition urging His Majesty King Abdallah II to intervene and correct the government’s current position, which the protesters believe to be contrary to His Majesty’s approach to support Christians in Jordan. Those present raised their voices in prayer and supplication to the Lord, the refuge of all Christians in Jordan and the region.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on European and Muslim Concern for the Plight of Christians

Arabic original here.

Their Concern about Us Terrifies Us

For a long time there has been concern about Middle Eastern Christians. Since the rise of Islam until the present day, through all the countries that have ruled these lands, there has been concern about Middle Eastern Christians. This concern will remain so long as a single Christian treads the land of this Middle East. But what a difference there is between one kind of concern and another! The concern of Middle Eastern Christians is not the concern of Europeans, which has various causes and is treated differently in its roots. Europeans' anxiety about Middle Eastern Christians cannot be isolated from their own interests and the necessity of preserving something that can be invoked in order to gain a foothold in the conflicts between nations for this region's wealth.

What has France-- and by extention Europe-- done so that the Christians of Palestine, Iraq, and Syria can remain in thier homelands? Have we not heard some circles in Europe encouraging them to leave and preparing to lodge them in the countries of emigration? We know that this is nothing new, as we still have the example of the Armenian Genocide, the flight of the Greeks from western Turkey, the Syriac Christians from Mardin and Diyarbakr, and the Orthodox of Antioch at the time of the dissolution of the Ottoman state and the rise to power by the secularist Turks, the allies of France.

On the other hand, however, it is impossible for us to accept the wooden discourse of some Islamists when they raise the issue of the Christian presence. You see them pulling out some verses from the Qur'an and some reports and accounts from history that talk about Islam's tolerance and acceptance of non-Muslims in Islamic society... It's almost as though we find ourselves today faced with two Islams-- an imaginary Islam that exists in books and a completely different Islam whose news and fatwas we read in the papers and see on the TV screen.

However, the concern on the part of Europeans for Middle Eastern Christians is absolutely not reassuring at all, since countries toss aside slogans when the time comes to measure the benefit they gain from them. This European concern for the Christians of the Middle East worries us more than it reassures us. Nothing will lessen the impact of this worry apart from the sort of citizenship that can preserve for Christians, no matter how few their numbers or how small their proportions, their dignity and their feeling that their presence is vital for their partners in this hoped-for citizenship.

It remains that the anxiety of Middle Eastern Christians over their remaining in their homelands is a real anxiety. However, it has causes that are different from the goals and interests of Europeans. One of the chief causes for this anxiety is the collapse of the dream of a just state that respects total equality between all its citizens, regardless of their sect or creed.

And there is something else, the emergence of a radical Islam that only sees modernity in terms of the return to the righteous predecessors. This does not mean exculpating the moderate Islamic institutions from their serious responsibility for the growing extremism for various reasons, the most important of which is their total submissiveness to the wills of the various regimes holding power.

The crisis of Middle Eastern Christians is part of the crisis of Muslims and there is no solution to one without solving the other. The two fates are intertwined and it is only in vain that we might search for a solution outside this context. However, what is surprising is the absence of any viable Islamic response that would contribute to puting a stop to this humanitarian catastrophe that is effecting Muslims, Christians and others. The basic question is: Is the Christian presence in the Arab Middle East still necessary for Muslims? Or does the flight of Christians not matter to them?