Thursday, September 12, 2019

Jad Ganem: Have We Committed a Crime?

Arabic original here. A complete English translation of Patriarch Bartholomew's letter can be found here.

Have We Committed a Crime?

Since the outset of the Ukrainian controversy, which has led to a break in communion between the Patriarchates of Moscow and Constantinople, Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus has worked to find a solution that would keep the Orthodox Church from schism. He worked in cooperation with the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem to launch an initiative to preserve Orthodox unity and undertook to visit a number of primates of local churches in order to head off any unilateral decision that would deepen the schism.

But his initiative ran into fierce opposition from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which expressed its  displeasure in a patriarchal letter delivered by Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, who read it during the festal liturgy celebrating the patronal feast of the Church of Cyprus last June.

The letter, which was sent in a rude manner, contains, in addition to the blame directed at the Archbishop of Cyprus for his initiative, a set of claims, among them that the Church of Constantinople believes:

- that it is the Church "who birthed all the newer [churches]" and that it has "the responsibility of caring for every other Church, both the ancient sisters and the newer daughters who were weaned from our Canonical body, in toil, deprivation and distress, but also with concern and care, so that they could have their own internal autocephaly. "

- that it is "common Mother and caretaker of all" and "mistress among the churches."

- that it is the church that preserves the autocephalous status of the Church of Cyprus, granted by the Third Ecumenical Council.

- that the Orthodox unity that was prevalent is "false".

The letter likewise reminds the Archbishop of Cyprus and "all those who hate us and love us" that "The Phanar lives because the Lord of Glory wills it...  it has the prayers of the God-bearing Fathers of the holy Councils, which granted it sacred, inviolable and non-negotiable privileges of service." and that it is "the loving heart and clever mind of the Orthodox Church."

This letter caused the Archbishop of Cyprus to refrain from going further in his initiative and he has recently stated that, "We took the first step and we tried to meet with the primates of the local churches, but we discovered the the Ecumenical Patriarch does not want anything like that. We then wondered: have we committed murder? And we stopped at that point."

The mediation undertaken by His Beatitude was a point of light and hope for many during this dark night of crisis in inter-Orthodox relations. But his giving up and submitting to the Phanar's pressure, its authoritarian pronouncements and the stubbornness of its patriarch and ceasing his effort to avoid schism is itself a crime of murder against Orthodox unity, which seems no longer to be a priority for the "Primus sine Paribus" in the race toward schism.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Jad Ganem: A Sacrificial Lamb?

A couple days late, but still important. Arabic original here.

A Sacrificial Lamb?

The Patriarchate of Constantinople and its Holy Synod-- a synod whose members are unilaterally appointed by the Patriarch without any fixed canonical order, but rather as he personally sees fit, continues to behave in an Ottoman manner in its treatment of the Russian Exarchate in Western Europe. This is damaging not only to the Phanar's image in Europe, but to the image of Orthodoxy as a whole, whose members wherever they are found are embarrassed by the situation their Church has come to be in.

Among the recent firmans issued from the Sublime Porte of Patriarch Bartholomew is a letter of release for Archbishop Jean, which states: "By this patriarchal letter, in recognition of your profound desire to place yourself under the omphorion of His Beatitude the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, as you have expressed multiple times in word and deed, we release you, solely on a personal level, from our very holy patriarchal and apostolic Ecumenical See, and we paternally wish you to be guided by the blessings and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that His infinite mercy always be with you.
This means that at the present, Your Eminence is are no longer in any way whatsoever responsible for the affairs of the parishes of Russian tradition in Western Europe."

Naturally, Metropolitan Emmanuel matched his teacher with another letter addressed to members of this Exarchate, in which he stated that "Archbishop Jean no longer possess any spiritual or administrative authority over the communities over which he previously had charge" and that the Patriarch had appointed him as locum tenens, asking all the parishes belonging to the Exarchate to commemorate him in the divine services. His Eminence likewise repeated his previous proposal to establish a vicarate for these parishes within the Greek Archdiocese in France, stating that he would invite the diocesan council to meet in the near future.

The Exarchate naturally responded to these decisions by confirming the meeting of the General Assembly on the agreed-upon date, September 7, and modified the agenda so that it included only one item, to accept the agreement that had been reached by the joint committee of the Exarchate and the Church of Russia.

Anyone who examines the letter of release, which Archbishop Jean did not request, cannot help but be surprised at its tone and content. In practice, this letter is to be regarded as expelling him this Patriarchate that believes that he wants to belong to the Church of Russia.

One can only marvel at the distortion of the facts that it contains, as it grants all responsibility to this bishop who has, since the moment Constantinople made its decision, attempted to dissolve the Exarchate whose General Assembly rejected him in favor of holding negotiations with it and with other churches in order to find a solution to this crisis caused by Constantinople with its sudden and hasty decision without any prior discussion with its pastors or flock.

Since his election as head of the Exarchate, Archbishop Jean has dealt with crises that have caused for it and its members by the sultanic decisions of the Phanar, ever since it removed the names of candidates that the Exarchate had nominated and imposed the election of a bishop who was not pleasing to its members. And he continues today, in a transparent manner, to deal with the crises and impediments that continue to be placed in its way. Perhaps he will be able, with his typical courage and devotion to Christ, to preserve this archdiocese that has been at the forefront of spreading Orthodoxy in Europe.

There remains hope that the upcoming General Assembly will transcend all historical political considerations and escape falling into the trap set by the Phanar and so make the appropriate decision and prevent the bishop who has preserved its unity from being turned into a sacrificial lamb on the altar of the dispute between Constantinople and Russia, which he has kept clear of throughout his long priestly service.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Transfiguration

Arabic original here.

The Transfiguration

At the moment of the Transfiguration, the Apostles' heart was enlightened by the Holy Spirit and they saw Christ as He is in reality, not merely a man walking with them along the byways of Palestine, but as the Son of God. They saw human nature transfigured, even before the Resurrection, pierced by the fire of the divinity dwelling within it.

Perhaps someone might say, "Christ is no longer visible in the body among us so how can we see Him with a heart enlightened by the Holy Spirit, as the Bible says, 'He who has seen Me has seen the Father'?!" (John 14:9)

Today Christ is no longer close to us. If our eyes were open, we would be able to discern Him through the mysteries of the Church, through our neighbor. There is also the Gospel, God's word.

The Apostle Peter, who was with James and John on Mount Tabor, tells us:

"And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:19).

So it is important for us to behold the face of Christ through the divine word. Yes, we have the example of this treasure-- I mean the Holy Bible-- which points us to Christ. Saint Jerome says, "He who is ignorant of the Bible is igorant of Christ."

Saint Irenaeus says, "The purpose of man's life is to see God, to see the face of Christ. There lies joy.  There lies true happiness. Your face, O Lord, I seek."

The Lord revealed His true face to the three apostles before the Resurrection so that they would accept the mystery of the cross, so that they would understand that the cross is the path of resurrection, for Christ Himself and for us too.

We also have in turn the possibility, while we are still on earth, to have a foretaste, as was the case for the three apostles, of seeing God, of seeing the uncreated light, whose fullness is preserved in eternity. Hear last but not least what Saint Silouan says: "The light of humility makes us see through t the light of Christ."

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies 

Friday, July 5, 2019

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Romans 5:1-5

Arabic original here.

On the Epistle

It says in the epistle reading, "We have been justified by faith" (Romans 5:1).

"Tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:3-5).

Faith inspires trust, in obedience or submission to the Lord and His teachings, which brings us to resemble him and to take the Lord Jesus as a model for us. Blessed is the believer, for he accepts this tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle Paul says (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6).

Tribulation comes from persecutions, but it also comes, as we witness today, from difficult material possibilities.

The world today has become accustomed to excessive consumption in everything, but economic circumstances have become difficult, jobs and opportunities for work have become sparse and austerity has become necessary in all areas.

Thus the current tribulation in the family and in society. Blessed is the one who can persevere without losing his faith and his reliance on the Lord. This is what the epistle reading means when it speaks of patience and hope in the love of God that "has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 5:5).

This is also because "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

In times of tribulation we feel our weakness in overcoming the present difficulties through our own efforts, which guides us, if we have kept our faith, to rely on God Almighty to bring us out of the present difficulties.

 This causes us in the present tribulation not to despair, but rather to experience more the power of God who can bring us out of this difficult situation in order to bestow upon us great hope and glory.

The believer prays and feels in his fervent prayer that he is cast into God's hands. This is when he falls into the temptation of his tribulations and physical and mental suffering.

Experience will show him that no obstacle that he encounters will cause him to abandon his faith and his struggle. This is because he experiences that his patience in struggle leads him to victory and to greater assurance in preserving his faith and his attachment to the Lord and indeed, to greater joy (and glory) by the power of the Holy Spirit who is in him.

Tribulation, physical, mental and material trials are a school that trains us in patience and it depends on the power of faith in God Himself (cf. Colossians 1:11).

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Monday, July 1, 2019

Jad Ganem: A Message of Repentance?

Arabic original here.

A Message of Repentance?

His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew addressed the president of the Republic of Montenegro with a letter in which he dealt with the issue of the support that the president has expressed for the establishment of an autocephalous church in this country. In this letter, His Holiness expressed the Patriarchate of Constantinople's great anxiety about this matter and its denunciation of the draft law prepared by the government that requiers the nationalization of all Orthodox churches and ecclesiastical properties that date from before 1918.

He indicated as well that the above means that the state would "expropriate the churches and property of the Holy Metropolis of Montenegro, as well as of another three Eparchies of the Orthodox Church of Serbia."

His Holiness clearly and unambiguously stressed, in the same letter:

     - that the Patriarchate of Constantinople and with it all the local Orthodox churces only recognize the legitimacy of the church headed by the Serbian Metropolitan Amfilohije.

     - that "Church of Montenegro has never been autocephalous."

     - that "today’s co-called ‘Orthodox Church of Montenegro’ under Miraš Dedeić does not belong to the Orthodox Church. Mr Dedeić is not a Bishop of the Orthodox Church, but a person defrocked by the Ecumenical Patriarchate."

     - that "the sole canonical Hierarch there is our brother Metropolitan Amfilohije, who belongs to the Patriarchate of Serbia, which is recognized on a Pan-Orthodox level."

Perhaps the most striking thing in this lettter is the patriarch's statement that "we address this message to you because we do not want our beloved people in Montenegro to reach thee point of ecclesiastical isolation and severance from the body of the entire communion the Orthodox Churches, inasmuch as no single Church among them will recognize or support tha anti-canonical fabrication of Dedeić... and we are convinced that you will realize the danger constituted by Dedeić to the spiritual harmony of the people in Montenegro."

There is no doubt that the language of this letter puts the reader in a state of confusion and bewilderment, as it raises a stream of questions, among them:

     - Why is there such a difference between the approach described in this letter and that followed in the Ukrainian issue, despite the precise match between these issues with regard to schism, illegitimate ordination and the threat to the people's spiritual unity?

     - Why is there such a great focus in this letter on the role of the family of local Orthodox churches, while this role is ignored and denied with regard to the Ukrainian issue?

     - Why did His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew not practice self-restraint in dealing with the Ukrainian schism and warn the authorities in that country that the schism places them in "of ecclesiastical isolation and severance from the body of the entire communion the Orthodox Churches"?

      - Why did he not state to the president of Ukraine, as he did with the president of Montenegro, that the sole legitimate metropolitan in the Ukrainian Church is Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev?

     - Will His Holiness disavow the contents of this letter in the future, just as he disavowed what he said in front of the primates of the local churches about Ukraine, with the excuse of "a change in political circumstances"?

It is difficult to answer all these question. There is, however, no doubt that the content of this letter portends a radical paradigm shift in Constantinople's attitude and it can be interpreted as true repentance for the error that was committed in Ukraine. Will the local churches receive this message, regarding it as a turning-point  in Constantinople's position, and work with it to formulate a solution to the Ukrainian issue and to Constantinople's role in the orthodox world, on the basis of the positive elements in it?

Without  a doubt, "hope never fails"!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Met Silouan (Muci): Our Local Church and Holiness

Arabic original here.

Our Local Church and Our Holiness
The Sundays of the Gospel according to St Matthew start with the Lord's inviting the disciples to follow Him, to preach the good news of the kingdom, to pastor His flock, to heal man and invite him to return to God the Father. In short, He invited them to the holiness in which He exists and to bring their brethren to also enjoy it themselves. If a letter is read from its title and the sowing is known from its fruits, then this is indeed what we have celebrated and openly declared on the Feast of All Saints, on the Sunday that follows our celebration of Pentecost.
We know in our ecclesiastical practice that on the Sunday that follows the Sunday of All Saints some local churches commemorate their own saints, as is the case, for example, in the Russian Church, which commemorates the saints who have shone forth within her, or the Holy Mountain of Athos, which celebrates all those who have practiced asceticism in its monasteries and caves or who have been martyred, or the Diocese of Thessalonica, which celebrates its saints who number more than a hundred.
Starting off from this lived reality in various places in our Orthodox Church, perhaps we can draw on this tradition to celebrate on this day our Antiochian saints, known and unknown. By this we do not desire to boast, but rather the motivation is to lift up thanks to God for the seeds of holiness that have sprouted over the course of history, ancient and contemporary, in our land and among the faithful of our church, perhaps as a local model to inspire believers, give joy to their hearts, and sharpen their interest and desire to live in faith and bear witness to Christ where they live, learn, serve and die. Perhaps the attraction of the existence of local saints will make the good news more incarnate in their life, so that we may be joyfully aware that Christ has found for Himself in our environment, our culture and our educational, social, political, economic and material circumstances in their various forms, a place within us where He can dwell in this century, last century and the centuries that preceded them.
Such a commemoration would help us to take responsibility for living in faith more seriously, especially when we put it in the context that the Lord announced to His disciples that the apostles would sit on the thrones of the twelve tribes of Israel and judge the world (Matthew 19:28). Some fathers explained the meaning of this verse by saying that the saints in every generation, because they persevered in the faith and sanctified themselves, will judge their contemporaries in their generation, so that no one will have an excuse for his failure to strive to sanctify himself when another was able to sanctify his life in the very same circumstances.
Our land has received the seeds of the good news of the Gospel and it has suffered much to spread it and make it firm in other lands, since the age of the apostles. That which our predecessors and ancestors received freely, they gave freely (cf. Matthew 10:8) to subsequent generations. That which the Holy Spirit taught them by explaining the divine word, guiding their souls to knowledge of the truth, self-sacrificial service to one's neighbor and orthodox worship, we have received from them, we strive to crystalize it and make incarnate it in our life and we raise our children in it.
One is greatly affected when he sees a handful of believers, small or large, living their Christian faith as a constant and natural choice, in the simplicity of the experience that love, joy and thankfulness must not be absent from the believer in adversities, sicknesses and hardships. Having this perspective allows you to receive the spirit of wisdom, gentleness, peace, love, calm, consultation and communion, and your soul will be lifted from its fall and freed from its chains. You will find a beacon that illuminates your path, and you will find salt that gives flavor to your life. You will discover this especially in unusual circumstances, such as wrenching poverty, displacement and forced emigration, temporary sicknesses, the early loss of children, patience with straying children, etc. With their constant prayer of the heart, these ones still inspire the spirit of holiness among us and in us. We favor these living, hidden soldiers in our church, in our growth, in addition to others among our teachers and fathers in virtue, prayer and service. All of them have our great thanks on this day and we ask that the Lord sanctify them and sanctify us in them.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Met Silouan (Muci): Holiness

Arabic original here.

The believer's holiness is the fruit, expression and reflection of the incarnation of the Son of God. He became like us so that we may become like Him. Taking inspiration from His example, as well as from the model of the saints, whose synaxis we commemorate on the Sunday of All the Saints, we can get a realistic image of holiness. Here is some of what holiness means with regard to ethical behavior in its various forms:
That you hear and listen. This means that you empty yourself so that you may be ready to listen to the other. That you take him seriously. That you respect and honor him according to his worth, that is, to the degree that Christ honors him. In the same context, it means that you learn to listen to God who speaks to us through various means in order to reveal to us His will and His love.
That you speak such that your words become a reflection of your building up the edifice that God desires to be His dwelling-place, an edifice not made by hands, whereas the human person is a repository and vessel for the Holy Spirit. That when you address the other, you feel that you are addressing God on his behalf or addressing them on God’s behalf, so you place bonds of love and God's will as the framework within which your desires and your will move. Prayer and addressing others has a single final purpose, which is to sanctify souls, to strengthen harmony and to persist in faith in the incarnate Son and the Father who sent Him.
That you work so as to assume part of the responsibility for the site of the service or commitment that you have taken upon yourself or that events or circumstances have imposed on you, such that you strive for your work to be compatible with God's will and an expression of love for God and your neighbor.
That you behave and act such that your words and deeds are a translation of your faith, without separation between word and deed. That is, without hypocrisy. Believing in Christ means that I believe in Christ the chaste, in Christ the servant, in Christ the humble, etc. This is what calls me to practice chastity, to serve and to be humble as the Lord has given us a model in Himself.
That you love such that you give yourself, so you weep with those who are weeping and rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and you give yourself to God and to your neighbor according to the divine commandment. This love is accompanied by suffering because you are not perfect and neither are others, because you are weak and selfish and do not realize God's will. The goal of holiness is striving for love.
These elements crystalize one's spirit according to God's Spirit, which touches us and through us touches all existence, in order to sanctify it, guide it and lead it to wellsprings of life. This Spirit listens to the groaning of all existent things: rational, living and inanimate. He is the one who speaks and grants wisdom, understanding and discernment. He is the one who does the Father's will among humankind, guides them to what Christ commanded and leads humanity to the day when the Son will come again in the glory of His Father. He is the one who consoles the believer in the labor pains that strike when giving birth to the new man within him and giving birth to the signposts of the kingdom among us, where there is justice, love, peace and meekness. It is the Spirit of God that we emulate every day of our life. When He settles within us, we can palpably feel God's holiness in everything.
Is holiness possible today? Yes, if we commit to learning humility and meekness, as Jesus asked us to do: "Learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29). Let us not be afraid to seek this rest that comes by bearing the cross of commitment. That is, struggle, toil, self-restraint and setting forth at every moment, even from rock bottom, for the Lord repays everyone with divine justice and mercy.