Thursday, November 14, 2019

Christianity in Central Asia Website

Readers of this blog may be interested in the website Christianity in Central Asia, which contains a wealth of information about the history of Christianity in that region, one where the Patriarchate of Antioch had a significant presence in the Middle Ages. The site is maintained by the Polish Franciscan priest, Fr Krzysztof Kukułka. He explains the purpose of the site as follows:

History tells us that the Apostle Thomas travelled from Jerusalem to India, passing through Central Asia in his mission to spread the Gospel to the world. Recent archeological discoveries in Kyrgyzstan have created renewed interest in the traditional belief that the relics of St Matthew were preserved at a monastery on Lake Issyk-Kul. Central Asia – including areas of China, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Azerbejan, as well as the former Soviet Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – has an ancient Christian history of which very little is known outside a small circle of scholars and local Christian communities

From 1990 to 2004 I lived mostly in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and – for a few months – Kyrgyzstan. I visited Turkmenistan and Tadzhikistan and made a short trip to Afghanistan as well. As a Franciscan priest, I was mostly involved in pastoral work in those countries. In Tashkent, I oversaw the reconstruction of a historic Catholic Church. In cooperation with the late Ludmila Zukova, an archeologist who worked for 30 years in the protection of the monuments of Uzbekistan’s history and culture, I was able to assist in the publication of two Russian-language volumes of scholarly articles on Christianity in Central Asia from ancient times to the present. These works can be read on this website, and it gives me great satisfaction to know that many scholars are referencing those volumes in their own studies of the Christian history of Central Asia.

After thirteen years working outside Central Asia, in 2018 I had the chance to return to the region and visit some of the archeological sites connected with the history of Christianity there. These visits piqued my interest in learning more about this largely unknown aspect of the story of Christianity. After some searching online, it became clear that an Internet resource center with a bibliography, articles, books, films, lectures and photographs about Christianity in Central Asia would greatly advance scholarly research and exchange.

Take a look, here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Patriarch John X on the Silver Jubilee of GOPA-DERD

Arabic original here.

Speech of Patriarch John X
At the Silver Jubilee of the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development 

Damascus, November 9, 2019

Beloved,

Though the compassionate Samaritan, the Lord poured out His mercy, treating the wounds of the other man with the wine of love that annointed his afflictionsand the oil of kindness from his heart to the broken heart and from the Good Samaritan and through him, an intercessor and a symbol. The Church of Antioch and All the East has chosen to extend to the world her charitable arm, represented by the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development. The Church of Antioch has chosen and desired to embody God's love, translated into love of the neighbor from any background. The Church of Antioch has chosen to look at man's suffering and pour out upon it the oil of God's mercy, from the One who with whom are gifts, offerings and help. She has desired to sprinkle his wounds with kindness and compassion because she sees in him the holy face of the Creator and an act of charity well-pleasing to Him, may He be exalted,

A quarter-century ago, the Iraq crisis broke out and Iraqi brothers streamed into Syria. This was the birth of this department by the Church of Antioch with the blessing of Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim of thrice-blessed memory and the efforts of many, including his spiritual son Samer Lahham.
Today, after a quarter-century, the Church of Antioch continues, through the Department of Relief , to seek the face of her Lord in the face of man. The Text of the Gospel says, "The Samaritan.. came to [the wounded man] and when he saw him, took pity." And this, brothers, is the essence of our mission. The Church strives first and foremost for and approaches wounded man. The Church is the one to take the initiative, before he even sets out. She comes first, sees and feels the reality, the need and what is hoped for. Then, since she sees and beholds, she has pity and compassion. Her pity and compassion are not a kindness from her, but rather an outpouring of God's compassion, which he pours out upon souls as their Creator and Lord.






Since 2011 and the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, our Church has been striving to attain God's good pleasure in the face of suffering people, no matter what group they belong to. We extend a helping hand as much as we are able to our Christian children and to the people of the Middle East from every community. This is what the Lord wills in the Gospel. The Samaritan in Jesus' parable did not extend a helping hand only to people of his own race, but to the other. This other is our brother. We are enriched by him and he is enriched by us. We may fall short on one side and advance on another. We may sometimes make mistakes and we may sometimes be correct because perfection belongs to God alone. What we seek, however, is to wipe a tear from the face of those suffering.


From the mid-1990s until today, the number of those working in the department has grown and in 2019 it reached 1700 people. The department has expanded from Damascus and has centers in all of Syria's governorates. Amidst the present crisis, and despite communications being cut in some places, the department has been able, through its team, to be in every place and every region of Syrian territory, even in the most dangerous and complicated circumstances. Two martyrs have arisen from its ranks: the martyr Bassam Kanhouche and the martyr Yasar Mu'ammar. Its Christian staff stands side by side with its Muslim staff and its services reach both George and Ahmad. That has earned the trust of international agencies in the field of relief and its motto is what the Apostle Paul says: "God loves a cheerful giver."

Beloved,

We as Christians in this Middle East are an ember of its fire that illuminates and burns all at once. We are from the heart of this Middle East and from its very being. Our Christ's feet walked here and the feet of His Apostles were firmly planted in the soil. From here, His Gospel went out to all the world. We are not here as visitors, but as part of the household. All the clamor of our hardship is effaced before the cross of the Nazarene and His Golgotha. They bind us to our Muslim brother, our partner in the nation, in the kindest relationship. This relationship is over a thousand years old. Despite all the ups and downs, Christianity and Christians in general remain with the Muslims and all strata of society as children of one nation and one house, brothers in history and geography in this Middle East, which God willed to be the womb of heaven in our world. Wars come and go, conflicts and unrest pass, delight and hardship comes along on this earth in every one of its countries and our motto remains despite everything and despite all the emigration, forced expulsion, violence and kidnapping; our motto remains, despite everthing: here we were born, here we live and here we shall die next to the dust of our ancestors.

Our prayer today is also for peace in Syria and stability in Lebanon. Our prayer is for this Middle East in all its countries and for peace in the whole world. Our prayer is for every kidnapped person, homeless person, refugee and suffering person. Our prayer is for our brothers the kidnapped metropolitans of Aleppo Yuhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi who are languishing in the obscurity of kidnapping, disappearance and the farce of their plight being ignored internationally, which epitomizes a little bit of the suffering of the people of the Middle East. All are called, within and without, to adopt the logic of dialogue and political solution as a way to preserve the unity of this country. This is Syria! Our children are from its every region. Look at them, they are our children from every corner and direction, starting from Khabur and the Jazira along the Euphrates to Lattakia, the Bride of the Coast, to Qalamoun, Damascus and Mount Qassioun and the proud, immortal Golan. This country is one, united in the hearts of its children and its geography.

Beloved,

Ask the Old City of Damascus and its walls and alleys will speak to you of our predecessor, the Patriarch of Mercy, Gregory IV Haddad. Ask them, and they will tell you abuot his loaf of bread, which did not distinguish between Muslim and Christian during the days of the First World War. Ask them, and they will tell you about his cross, with which he fed the poor, and since I mention this, I would be pleased to say something about the life of this great man.

Once, Gregory Haddad, who was metropolitan of Tripoli, interceded on behalf of the Muslim qadi of Tripoli, who had been summoned before the governor. Metropolitan Gregory was the only one, among all the people who were certain of his innocence, who visited him in jail and offered him help and money. He did not stop at that, but defended him in Tripoli and in the capital, until his innocence became obvious. After that, years passed and Gregory became patriarch. The qadi died and years passed. The son of that qadi came to Damascus in the company of the notables of his city and visited the patriarch, saying:

"I come from the capital to fulfill the command of my departed father, who said to me, 'Go to Damascus and before your visit to the Umayyad Mosque, go and kiss the hand of the Patriarch of the Rum.'"

When he asked him about his father, he learned that he was the one who had helped him when he was imprisoned. A simple story, but it encapsulates the reality and the history of coexistence that was and remains and which must be experienced. Gregory's hand is the hand of the Church of Antioch, which has only ever reached out to encounter the other and live with him.

In closing, my deepest thanks go to our children in the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development and I first of all salute the efforts of the Rev Archimandrite Alexi Shehadeh, its director and I salute all his assistants and all who have worked there. I salute you, beloved children, with love. Your efforts have been blessed and every soul has been blessed that acquires with its earthly treasure the treasure of heaven. I likewise thank the Syrian government and all the ministries and official bodies that have facilitated the world of the Department of Relief in all governates, and I should not forget all the donors and international organizations in every place.

Congratulations. May there be more giving and advancement with God's help and protection. Amen.

Jad Ganem: Between Yesterday and Today

Arabic original here.

Between Yesterday and Today

What the local Orthodox Churches are experiencing today resembles, to a certain degree, what the Orthodox world experienced in the period from 1923 to 1948 on account of the disagreement about the decision of the Orthodox summit of Istanbul called by Patriarch Meletios (Metaxakis) of Constantinople, to modify the Julian Calendar and issue what was known at the time as the  “Revised Julian Calendar", the adoption of which led, within the small number of churches that participated in the summit, to dividing the Orthodox world between:

    - Churches that supported changing the calendar and adopted it immediately, like the Church of Constantinople.


    - Churches that agreed to the new calendar and adopted it after a short period of time, like the Chuches of Greece, Romania and Poland.


    - Churches that declined to adopt the calendar, considering a change in the calendar to require the convocation of an ecumenical council, like the Churches of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem and the Russian Church Abroad.


    - The Church of Serbia, which signed the decision of the summit to adopt the new calendar, but then went back and rejected it.


    - The Church of Cyprus, which declined to take a position on the matter and endeavored to find a general Orthodox solution to the issue.


This disarray continued until 1930, when the Churches of Alexandria, Antioch and Cyprus gradually retracted their decision and adopted the modified calendar, such that the situation in the Orthodox world has stabilized between the churches that use the old calendar and others that use the revised calendar.

It is noteworthy that, despite the disagreement about the calendar issue and the canonicity of the Istanbul summit's decsions, all the Orthodox Churches remained in communion with each other, even if their supporters started to avoid participating with each other in divine services on account of this disagreement, which continued until 1948, when the Orthodox Conference held in Moscow adopted a provisional solution to this issue:
   
    - The agreement that all the Orthodox Churches would celebrate Easter together according to the Old Julian Calendar on the basis of the Alexandrine method of computation.
  

    - That each church would use the calendar it had adopted with regard to fixed feasts.
 

    - Requiring "the clergy and laity to follow the calendar adopted in the Church to which they belong, to accept it as a tradition of this Church and to respect it as the Holy Canons require as an expression of unity and love."
 

At a time when the local Churches were able to preserve unity and commuion among each other, internal unity was shaken , on account of the disagreement over the calendar, in a number of churches, reaching the point of schism in the Chuches of Greece and Romania, where a number of bishops split from the Universal Orthodox Church and established schismatic entities, called the "Old Calendarists." They are entities that repeatedly had internal schisms and which supported other schisms within a number of local Churches, which lack ecclesiastical legitimacy.
Since it is clear that Constantinople is betting on the pattern that it adopted previously with regard to the issue of accepting the Revised Julian Calendar, focusing on relying on the factor of time to change the position of some Churches, betting that the other local Churches will insist on preserving unity and avoiding schism, attention should be drawn to the possibility matters will procede in a different direction this time, such that the Orthodox schism becomes established between churches that recognize what Constantinople did in Ukraine and others that reject it, leading to schisms within the local churches themselves, as the inevitable repercussions of this larger schism.

 Therefore, the most important lesson that can be drawn from the earlier period remains that only serious conciliarity can save us from tumult, unrest and schisms. Can we learn?

Monday, November 11, 2019

Jad Ganem: Your Own Mouth Condemns You!

Arabic original here.

Your Own Mouth Condemns You!

During the Divine Liturgy at which he presided on the occasion of the Synaxis of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel and All the Bodiless Hosts, Patriarch Theodorus II of Alexandria and All Africa commemorated Epiphany, head of the so-called "Orthodox Church of Ukraine", thus making the Patriarchate of Alexandria the third church to recognize this entity, after the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Church of Greece.

This decision may not surprise those familiar with what's going on behind the scenes in the Orthodox world, those who are skilled in reading the signs preparing the way for this sort of decision, and those who have for some time have noticed:

      - Patriarch Theodorus' total abstention from treating the Ukrainian issue for almost a year, after having been one of the ones to most strongly reject the granting of autocephaly to schismatics and after he visited Ukraine and expressed his clear support for Metropolitan Onufry and the church that he heads.

      - The participation of one of the bishops of the Church of Alexandria in a service with a "bishop" from the schismatics, without the patriarch issuing any protest.

      - The position of the metropolitan of Nigeria, who stated that "The Patriarchate of Alexandria is not and will not be allowed to be a protectorate of the Church of Russia."

If anyone in the Orthodox world is still unsure about the fact that Greek Orthodoxy as a whole does not approach the Ukrainian issue from an ecclesiastical, theological perspective, but rather from a racial-political perspective connected to the role of the "head of the Greek nation"-- that is, the Patriarch of Constantinople-- in the Orthodox world today, and from the perspective of lining up behind him whether he's right or wrong and integrating into the Phanar's politics, which aim to isolate the Church of Moscow, fragment it into national churches and weaken its role in the world, then it is difficult for believers to discover the Patriarch of Alexandria's renunciation of his previous words and positions, especially his statement on September 20, 2018 during the Divine Liturgy at which he presided with the one whom he called at the time "Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine", Onufry, in Odessa on the occasino of the 130th anniversary of the Baptism of the Rus, that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is the legitimate Church, and his appeal to it to stand firm at a time of hardship and difficulty and in the face of schism, telling her faithful to remain united with this legitimate Church and to remain loyal to their Orthodox faith.

The Patriarch of Alexandria addressed the faithful of the legitimate Church, who have been subjected to persecution, saying, "I have come so that the whole world may see that the Patriarch of Alexandria is with you personally in these difficult days." He stated in the press conference, "The Church should be governed according to sacred canons. Politicians have their own considerations, guidelines and instructions but politicians come and go whereas the Church has existed inviolably for already two thousand years now. In this sense, the Patriarchate of Alexandria agrees with the opinion of the Russian Church that political pressure must not be yielded to. It is wrong that when states are divided and then the Church has to be divided too."

Who will remind the patriarch of his words on that day? Who will save the Church of Christ from the great scandal into which its leaders have fallen by surrendering and dociley complying with the politics of this world and abandoning the Law of God? Who will console the faithful in the abject state to which they have been brought today by the traffickers in holy things and temple theives?
The Patriarch of Alexandria has resoundingly fallen and his own words condemn him. His fall is not only a spear in the breast of the legitimate Church and her members, but also a spear in Christ's side. The Orthodox Church shall come forth, renewed and victorious from this side and his lot will be with all those who, over the course of history, have betrayed the faith.

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Angels

Arabic original here.

The Angels

The word 'angel' means 'messenger'. He is a messenger for the sake of service: "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14).

The Angel Gabriel was sent to bring good tidings to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26) and the angel also brought the Apostle Peter out of prison. Then, Peter said, "Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people" (Acts 12:11).

Many fathers state that God created the angels out of nothing before creating the sensible world and man: "For by Him [i.e., Christ] all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him" (Colossians 1:16). 

Their task at every moment is contemplating, praising and glorifying the Creator. They are nourished from God's light. From it they receive the power to serve. The angels stand in prayer before God. Therefore in prayer we imitate the angels before God and through prayer the heart is purified.

A pure heart is what benefits others, much more than various works. A pure heart is what benefits the other's heart.

"Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). The goal is to see God.

Prayer is the last remedy for a lost and turbulent world. There is much commotion in the world, there is much straying. The importance of the angelic spirits is that they bind together the earthly world and the heavenly world.

"Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and goodwill among men." Man alone, in Christ, remains higher than the angels. "What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor" (Hebrews 2:6-7).

Nevertheless, humility remains the foundation and essence of all the good things and abundant virtues among the angels, among whom are Michael (Who is Like God) and Gabriel (God's Might), who are archangels.

Saint John of Damascus says, "In truth, relative to God, every being and every thing is coarse and material."

As for Saint Macarius of Egypt, he says that the angelic spirits possess a subtle body. Our fallen nature prevents us from seeing the angels, while Saint Macarius says that it is possible for every pure Christian, through contemplation or profound sense to communicate with the angels. As for the pure, it is possible for them to see them face to face.

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

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Children

Arabic original here.

Children

"Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:14).

Don't prevent children from drawing near to the Lord Jesus, from coming to church. Some interpreters have seen in these words an echo of the practice of baptizing children in the early Church. Jesus' attitude toward children is not limited to a sentimental concern for children and the family.

Children's rights were trampled on in that era. A child, because he is weak, does not rely on his own capabilities, but trusts completely in those bigger than him. For this reason, he is more able than others to surrender to God's will. Thus the Lord Jesus says, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

Here too the Lord is not content with just a sentimental glance, but rather it is next to the innocence of children that His attitude can be seen, starting off from the fact that each one of us, no matter what his age, must surrender to God's will as an expression of trust and security in his connection to others, with his parents and especially with God. The child and the spirit of childhood accompany the life of a person who seeks the kingdom of God, not only with his own ability or with his own righteousness, as the Apostle Paul says, but also and especially by way of God's grace, which grants us trust, security, innocence, humility. All these things children have naturally in abundance.

In Matthew, the disciples pose the question to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (Matthew 18:1)

That is, who is closest to God. Do you think it is those who are knowledgeable of scripture and the Law? Or is it the great people in this world?

The Lord replies: no! Rather, it is the little ones "like this child" like this simple person who is humble, poor, relying on God alone. When He tells them, "unless you are converted and become as little children..." (Matthew 18:3), he means a process of constant transformation, a process of repentance, a constant return to God and submission to His will. Jesus once told Nicodemus:

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Here too there is a reference to the mystery of baptism, to constant repentance.

He also points to humility when He says, "whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:4). That is, one who feels himself to be small like this child, small before God and before others. Small and humble.

Simple, poor. "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This is the way of childhood that one acquires through divine grace, the way of new birth in the Spirit, the way of salvation with the Lord.

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

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Jad Ganem: Before the Edifice Collapses

Arabic original here.

Before the Edifice Collapses

The prophetic cry of His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Albania in the letter he sent to His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew about the Ukrainian crisis, in which he said, "The expected peacemaking between Ukrainian Orthodox, who have in the past suffered various persecutions by atheistic regimes, has not yet been acheived," fell on deaf ears in the Patriarchate of Constantinople, whose champions have waged a vicisious campaign against him that has reached the point of accusing him of "slander and insolence."

But the development of events inside and outside Ukraine since that letter was written until today have proven the correctness of his position:

- Constantinople's decision has failed to realize the sought-after unity within Ukraine and indeed, it has deepened the wounds between members of the same people as a result of the campaigns of repression to which followers of the legitimate Church has been subjected and by provoking disagreement between followers of Epiphany and followers of Filaret.

- It has led to diferences between the local churches regarding the way in which to deal with Constantinople's decision, especially after the Church in Greece's recognition of autocephaly in Ukraine.

- It has inflamed disputes within the local churches themselves regarding the way in which to deal with this decision, even on Mount Athos itself.

But, even beyond this crisis situation, the universal Orthodox Church will find herself faced with:

- Either the choice of activating conciliarity to find a solution to this issue that is becoming more complicated as time passes, through a call to convene a general Orthodox council tasked with finding a solution that will make a judgment in the dispute after the Church of Moscow has tied the dogmatic struggle with the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Greece.

- Or the choice of consecrating the Orthodox schism and announcing a separation between of the Church of Constantinople and supporters of its decision and the Church of Moscow and supporters of its position regarding Constantinople's decision, especially given that its repercussions are changing the rules for dealing with matters on the level of the Orthodox world.

There is no down that the Church in Greece's recognition, which has provided cover for Constantinople's decision and its vision of its new role in the Orthodox world, has reduced the opportunities for finding a common Orthodox solution to the Ukrainian crisis, which has transformed into an Orthodox crisis opening the way to schism. Perhaps the decision which the fathers of the general Holy Synod of the Church in Greece made, to elevate Hellenic unity over Orthodox unity, will weaken Orthodox unity in the long term, something that will not end until everyone realizes that this dispute has caused Orthodoxy to lose much of its potential, that Greek and Russian Orthodoxy need their unity with each other, and that the split is a tragedy for them both.

Will the other local churches play the role of reminding them of this axiomatic truth or will they be dragged into deepening the split by supporting one side or the other?

Don't let this dispute grow until someone comes along in the future to write the history of this dark era of ours and say that the human errors of the leadership kept them from preventing the schism. By your Lord, don't fall into this trap that the leaders of this world have set for you. Be bigger than your own interests and bigger than your differences. Keep purity of faith and unity so that the whole edifice doesn't collapse on our heads.