Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Asad Rustom on Patriarch Athanasius III Dabbas (I)

Translated from: Asad Rustum, Kanisat Madinat Allah Antakya al-'Uzma [The Church of the Great City of God Antioch], Jounieh: Editions St. Paul (1988), vol. 3, pp. 130-135.

 For more information about Athanasius Dabbas' printing activities in Romania, see this excellent open-access monograph, published this year.

Athanasius IV (1720) [III in modern reckoning]

 Cyril III grew old, he developed an ulcer on his leg and the ulcer burst. As his death approached, he conveyed his will. The priest Abd al-Masih, who was one of those who confessed Catholicism, came to him and asked him if he wanted to confess. The patriarch responded, "What have I done? I have not killed. I have not fornicated. I have not stolen. Read a prayer." [For this Rustom cites a letter by Euthymius Sayfi to Pope Clement XI, which apparently was meant to explain why Cyril refused Catholic last rites.] On Wednesday, January 5, 1720, God chose for him to meet his fate, his soul departed and he was buried on Theophany in the tomb of the patriarchs on the Hill of St George. "The period of his reign was forty-seven years, six months, and four days." [This text is inscribed on a wall at the cathedral in Damascus.]

Euthymius was in Damascus at that time. His supporters gathered around him and wanted to declare him patriarch, seeking the support of Euthymius' friend, Uthman Pasha Abu Tawq. They intended to seize the patriarchate by force, but the Latin missionaries Frs Thomas de Campaya and Pierre Fromage opposed them because he was excommunicated by the patriarchs and that he had changed the liturgy and services and abolished the order of the Church, explaining that "He wants to abolish the hot water from the liturgy and require you to eat fish. He feeds meat to your monks in order to denigrate your Church!" Instead, they supported Athanasius because he had previously been installed as patriarch. Euthymius had requested five hundred qurush that he had paid Cyril on the occasion of his having consecrated a metropolitan for Tyre and Sidon, and he was given one hundred gold pieces, sixteen church books and other things. Then Euthymius went to the church and proclaimed the name of Athanasius, saying, "Be at ease in heart and mind."

As for Athanasius, after the reconciliation that took place in 1694 he settled in Aleppo and managed his flock in the best way. "He forbade them from what is not allowed and confirmed among them what should be confirmed, cutting off the causes of evil and establishing the causes of good." The Christians of various confessions loved him and were inclined toward him "because he had a wise and abundant intellect" [both quotes are from the contemporary Maronite metropolitan of Aleppo, Germanus Farhat]. He poured over the books of the fathers, conforming himself to the best path. He was in contact with Constantinople and traveled to Wallachia and Moldavia seeking alms. When Cyril died, a large group of the Christians of Damascus called for Athanasius as patriarch, writing about this to the notables of the community in Aleppo. Athanasius was absent from there, traveling in Wallachia, and Ni'ma ibn al-Khuri Tuma al-Halabi replied in the name of the notables of Aleppo with an ambiguous letter, which he included in his book Rakib al-Tariq li-man Yarda bi-Taqlid al-Talfiq. Here is the most important part:

"With regard to your letters sent by our hand, we send them to His Holiness along with the letters for Islambul. In the case that they arrive, we have taken the care that we should and we have announced the publication of particular and general letters and have put them all in one envelope [...] We have confirmed to His Holiness that he is to be present in Islambul at the appointed time to conduct his business as he desires."

The Council of Constantinople (1722)

Athanasius returned from Wallachia and reached Damascus in early August 1720. Cyril had left all his belongings to the Patriarchal See and when Athanasius settled the matter and found that most of them had disappeared, he was greatly enraged. His rage only increased when he became aware of the activity of the Frankish monks and their intervention into the affairs of the Church.

Since Athanasius' material means did not help him to combat the Frankish monks using their weapons, he raised the matter with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He then traveled to Constantinople himself and took great pains to hold a council to examine what must be done to deal with this issue. This council was held in late 1722 in Constantinople, presided by Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremiah and with the participation of Patriarchs Athanasius of Antioch and Chrysanthus of Jerusalem and twelve metropolitans. This council condemned non-Orthodox teachings, especially those pertaining to primacy, infallibility, procession from the Son, azymes, the fire of Purgatory, the beatitude of the saints, strangled meat, fasting on Saturday, and the withholding of chrismation and communion from children. The acts of this council were issued in Greek and Arabic and published in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. Assemani mentions this in part three of the Bibliotheca Orientalis and Vendotis in the addenda to the ecclesiastical history of Meletius.

The Abbreviation of the Apostles' Fast

Cyril III worked with high Orthodox authorities to shorten the Apostles' Fast. When Athanasius acceded to the apostolic throne, he received a synodicon authorizing the lifting of this burden. He issued a pastoral encyclical in which the Apostles' Fast was made to be twelve days according to the number of the Twelve Apostles. This was "in order that he who fasts not judge he who does not fast and he who does not eat not judge he who eats." He explained the five reasons that necessitated this abbreviation: 1) Those who did this fast did so with grumbling. 2) This grumbling led some to blasphemy. 3) Some of the faithful secretly broke the fast. 4) Some where shamelessly eating animal products. 5) Many people in villages and the countryside were leaving Christianity to join the nations [i.e., converting to Islam] because "the season of the year in which the fast falls is devoid of vegetables, fruits and fasting foods, but abundant in milk, yogurt, cheese and eggs, and the people in the countryside do not have any other foods than these. Thus their children leave them and join their non-Christian neighbors and no Christians remain in some villages."

The Liturgikon and the Horologion

While still "former patriarch", Athanasius was concerned with the liturgy and in 1701 in Bucharest he printed The Book of the Three Liturgies in parallel Greek and Arabic columns. For the Greek text, he relied on what had previously been printed in Venice and for the Arabic text he used that of Meletius Karma. The book was of a medium size and 252 pages. On its frontispiece it states the following:

"Book of the Three Divine Liturgies along with other things necessary for Orthodox prayers. Now newly printed in the Greek and Arabic languages through the care and supervision of His Beatitude Kyriokyr Athanasius, former Patriarch of Antioch, at the expense of the Most Glorious Lord, ruler of all the countries of Hungrovlachia, Kyr Kyr Ioan Constantin Basarab, the honorable voivod, under the episcopacy of His Beatitude Theodosius of the aforementioned countries, at the Monastery of the Theotokos, called "Snagov" in the Christian year 1701, by the Hieromonk Anthim, Georgian by origin."

In 1702, this same press published the Horologion in large Arabic script in red and black ink in around seven hundred pages. The troparia and kontakia for major feasts and the feasts of Pentecost and the Triodion are printed in Greek and Arabic in facing columns.

The Rock of Scandal

Athanasius decided to provide the Orthodox with something that would confirm their faith and make it possible for them to respond to the Frankish monks and their followers, so he translated the book of Elias Meniates into Arabic. He entitled it Sakhrat al-Shakk and published it in a printed edition in 1721, distributing it freely to members of the community. In this book, the origin and causes of the schism, the separation of the Western Church from the East, and the major differences between them is explained. This activity provoked Abdallah Zakher, and he responded in a book he entitled al-Tafnid lil-Majma' al-'Anid, which was also abridged. The Jesuit fathers printed it later in Beirut, in 1865. Later, the priest Niqula Sayegh composed a book in defense of Catholicism entitled al-Hisn al-'Azim muqabil al-Majma' al-Athim, of which there are two copies in Dayr al-Mukhallis.

The History of the Patriarchs of Antioch

Athanasius composed a history of the patriarchs of Antioch from the time of the Apostle Peter until the year 1702 in Greek. It was translated into Latin and published in Vienna. He translated a catechism and the Book of the Salvation of the Sage and Ruin of the Sinful World and wrote about the life of Saint John Christodoulos, abbot of the Monastery of the Apostle John the Theologian on Patmos.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Asad Rustom on the Era of Patriarch Cyril al-Za'im (V): The Excommunication of Euthymius Sayfi

 Translated from: Asad Rustum, Kanisat Madinat Allah Antakya al-'Uzma [The Church of the Great City of God Antioch], Jounieh: Editions St. Paul (1988), vol. 3, pp. 125-130. 

Arabic original online here. It's amusing to note that, while the characterization of Euthymius Sayfi's vicious personality in his excommunication might sound over the top, it's not all that different from what the Maronite Metropolitan of Aleppo, Germanus Farhat, as well as some of the Latin missionaries, had to say about him. It's quite hard to overstate how loathed he was by most of his contemporaries outside of the "Salvatorian" monastic order he created.

Part I here.

Part II here.

Part III here.

Part IV here.

 Cyril and Euthymius

Euthymius plunged into Catholicism and refrained from sending the nuriya tithe to the patriarchate, instead offering "saltwater fish or forty wheels of Cypriot cheese." After the death of the metropolitan of Aleppo, he communicated with the Emir Haydar Shihab, asking his permission to attach Beirut and its dependencies to his diocese. He coveted the Archdiocese of Acre and encouraged the Christians in Hawran and Transjordan to enter into obedience to him. The patriarch of Jerusalem complained about him to the other patriarchs, bringing to their attention his "writings and correspondence." They sent these letters to Cyril, requesting that he curb Euthymius and warn him not to infringe upon the eparchy of Jerusalem. The patriarch of Antioch sent all this to Euthymius, asking him to refrain from these actions, but he paid no heed. Euthymius made accommodations in matters of marriage, removing certain restrictions, thus acting contrary to Orthodox law. When the patriarch forbade unlawful marriages, he would permit them. In the history of the patriarchs by Ghattas Qandaloft, he states that Euthymius embezzled funds designated for the patriarch.

The Patriarchs Excommunicate Euthymius (1718)

Euthymius insisted on his position and a synod was convened in Constantinople in the Fall of 1718, under the presidency of Patriarch Jeremiah III of "New Rome" to examine Euthymius' case. It ruled that he violated the law in seven ways: 1) permitting marriage in the fourth degree [i.e., of first cousins]; 2) ordaining people outside of his diocese; 3) abolishing the homilies of John Chrysostom in his church; 4) permitting the eating of fish during the fast; 5) abolishing certain ecclesiastical regulations; 6) abolishing use of zeon in the liturgy; 7) wearing a miter and other things without permission. The patriarchs of Jerusalem and two former Patriarchs of Constantinople, Athanasius and Cyril, also agreed to it. The synod excommunicated Euthymius, expelled him from the ranks of the priesthood and requested a firman for his excommunication. All these decisions were translated into Arabic at the Patriarchate of Jerusalem [however, in the document below copied from the original manuscript, it is stated that the translation was made by Patriarch Cyril himself] and were sent to the See of Antioch with the Greek original.

Upon reviewing the decisions of the synod of Constantinople, Cyril informed Euthymius of its contents and advised him to appease the responsible leaders either in his own person or through an intermediary that he would delegate. Euthymius refused. Cyril remained silent for seven months The leaders blamed him and accused him of complicity, saying "You want to ruin four patriarchates!" The patriarch of Antioch was forced to announce the decisions of the synod of Constantinople in all the dioceses of his patriarchate. Patriarch Cyril transmitted all this to the French consul in Sidon, stating, "But, my dear, if there was a Catholic in your country who was disobedient in matters of religion and he was sentenced to excommunication, they would not be able to excommunicate him until they examined his conscience for obedience, repentance and regret, and in your understanding this is sufficient for the whole affair."

In a letter written by Euthymius himself to the Propaganda Fide in late January 1720, he states that Cyril incited the patriarchs against him and that he relied on the friar Thomas to show his submission before him, so he went to Damascus, kissed the patriarch's hand, and "did obedience to him." So the patriarch blessed him and declared it in Hasbaya, Beirut, and Tripoli and he advised him to leave Sidon and hide in the Chouf.

The Patriarchs' Excommunication:

Jeremiah, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch

To the holy Father of Fathers and Chief of Chiefs, Kyr Cyril, Patriarch of the Great City of God Antioch and All the East, and to the God-loving metropolitans and archbishops who are under Your Holiness' obedience, our elect brothers in the Spirit and concelebrants of the divine mysteries, and to the pious priests, our beloved children, the honorable archons and notables and the rest of the Orthodox Christians who are resident in the eparchy of Antioch, our beloved children in the Lord.

Peace and joy to all of you, and the mercy of God, ruler of all, blessing from Our Mediocrity, and may you all obtain full forgiveness, amen.

You know that it is necessary for every person to keep his faith received from our right-worshiping and orthodox fathers intact and unshaken and for you to keep it and tightly preserve it as it was decreed by the law of the holy Apostles and the divine fathers who spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that is, the laws and canons of the Church, and as it is recorded in the holy scriptures.Therefore, we must assiduously preserve our dogma with all effort, free of blemish, fleeing from evil thoughts and and rejecting the enticements of the world. We must keep the Orthodox faith brightly shining with all witness and confirmation, since if a person deviates in his belief and glorifies himself, saying inappropriate, transgressive words, which are statements of heresy and blasphemy about what has been passed down, then these things are all vain. Unheard-of discourse that is heedless of it and contrary to it is meant to destroy people and disturb the heart, since it is said, "Do not change the traditions of the fathers." A disturbed heart has no rest and is a sounding trumpet. One who has such a disturbance is from every perspective acting according to the devil and has departed from reason, with the help and delusion of the hater of truth who always gleefully strives for contrariness and does not strive for those who apply his opinion, but rather always fights against the orthodox and places doubts in them. He is hated, rejected and sent away, along with those who follow his diabolical deeds and he is expelled from the Church of God because the Creator is among the righteous. He who desires to repel from himself demonic delusions, let him ponder within himself and know truth from falsehood. Such a one is crooked, deceitful and quarrelsome, his speech is inappropriate, he condemns others and opposes the truth, he sows his wicked thoughts that no intellect can comprehend.

Such things as these have made his delusion and blasphemy clear to us. This has been confirmed for us from the writings and letters and from trustworthy, honest witnesses and from the writings bearing his name and signature, which were revealed at this holy synod of ours, those of the one who, with God's leave, became the hierarch who is the wretched and wicked Euthymius, metropolitan in name but not in deed of Tyre and Sidon, this deluded liar who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, who harbors falsehood in his heart and in his soul. Now his lies, his delusion which disturbs the flock and rational sheep of Christ, trampling upon them and leading them astray in falsehood and slander, has become evident.

He was not content with that, but he called himself "Orthodox" and advertised that he was steadfast in the belief of the Eastern Church, all in order to trick the pious and perversely lure them into falling. He published his own books, manufacturing testimonies as he wishes and attributing them to the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church. Those who have examined them as is necessary understand them and know their meaning.

Then, a report has reached us also that he composed writings against the all-memorable Kyr Dositheus, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who was zealous for the Orthodox religion and whose piety, religiousness and knowledge has become famous throughout the inhabited world and whose good reputation has gone out into the whole world, who resembles the Holy Apostles, as is attested by the books he wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and with great toil about Orthodoxy, which he knew very well and taught day and night, preaching it throughout the inhabited world.

This unfortunate person shows himself to have transgressed the holy laws and holds in contempt that they are established according to truth and orthodoxy. He did not understand their meanings as is necessary, but rather leads astray many simple people with little knowledge, in their lack of understanding and coarse minds, who nevertheless pride themselves on their knowledge. They do not know anything and are ignorant of the path that leads to salvation, since it is narrow and not broad. Therefore, they accepted this deluded man's permitting for them things that do not provide benefit. He enters into the sheepfold as a shepherd on the outside, while on the inside he is a rapacious wolf who slaughters and scatters to the extent of his vain ability. He increases in delusion, corruption, falsehood, vanity because he knows that they are simple and illiterate and do not understand anything. He creates innovations and thinks that they are from holy scripture. All of this is because of his haughtiness, vanity and pride.

He says in all his letters 'from the lowly metropolitan', that is, from the unworthy, without understanding that this matter was not given to him, but rather it was given to patriarchs and autocephalous archbishops and not to others, as has been set by the divine teachers.

This was not enough for him, but in his great stupidity and ignorance he trespassed into other eparchies, preaching there without permission or the authorization of the eparch. From this it is clear that he does not act according to the law and it is not appropriate and orderly for hierarchs to step into others' sees without their permission, as is explained in Canon XX of the Holy Quinsext Council, which mentions that it is not fitting for a hierarch to enter or teach in a diocese other than his own. Anyone who dares to do that is cut off from his priesthood.

Also, in Canons XIX and XXIX of the Council of Great Antioch, it explicitly stipulates that every hierarch who performs an ordination outside of his diocese or preaches without the permission of the eparch or without a letter from him, such an ordination is void and the one who was ordained is cut off from all ranks of the priesthood.

Therefore, the words and deeds of this unfortunate Euthymius having been confirmed to us, as well as his deviation and blasphemy against proper worship and against the holy canons, and his impudently and shamelessly abolishing them, since he has transgressed the holy canons because:

1) He permitted marriages of the fourth degree and the marriage of two sisters to two brothers.

2) He ordained people outside of his diocese.

3) He abolished the interpretations of John Chrysostom and said "they are hierarchs and I am a hierarch like them."

4) He permitted the eating of fish on Wednesdays and Fridays, during the Great and Holy Fast and during the other fasts and he condemns those who do not eat fish during fasting periods.

5) He abolished the regulations of the Church and added and subtracted from her canons.

6) He removed from the Divine Liturgy putting the zeon, warm water, and raising it up.

7) In his pride with himself and haughtiness, he dared to have a miter fashioned for himself without those metropolitans who preceded him in that see having ever worn one, doing this without permission or consultation with his teacher, and without authorization. 

He made himself independent and transgressed the holy canons, as well as other things that are vile to recount. Therefore, our synod has truly ruled that he is worthy of excommunication and he is cut off from all ranks of the great and angelic priesthood.

In as much has he has not remained upright, but rather has prided himself on his knowledge and has imitated the rank of the angels who fell from heaven. It is necessary for every hierarch to be pure, not only in word but in deed, so that his flock does not even make a tiny word of complaint about him and so that the holy Name is not slandered. Indeed, he should be like one of the Apostles in word and deed. Anyone who does the contrary of this opinion and teaches people contrary to it, deluding the minds of the simple, like this man should fall from his rank. This deluded person should be expelled from among us. He should be expelled like a stone from a slingshot, as in the law of the Apostles.

Now may everyone reading this and hearing our message know and believe that, after a profound examination and meticulous verification at this synod in the presence of the ever-memorable patriarchs, our brothers Kyr Athanasius and Kyr Cyril, former patriarchs of Constantinople, and in the presence of our brother the most glorious father Chrysanthos, patriarch of Jerusalem, and in the presence of those of our hierarchs, the God-loving metropolitans and bishops, our concelebrants who are with us, whose names we shall mention below, we have all ruled that this wicked Euthymius, metropolitan of Tyre and Sidon is excommunicated, deposed, cut off from all ranks of the priesthood and stripped of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. May he be deposed and outside the rank of the metropolitanate. May he be deposed and expelled from the whole of his diocese. As for the books composed by him, they are to be rejected and are void. No one has authorization from the right-worshipping to pay attention to them or to act according to them. [This seems to be in reference to his highly Latinizing recension of the Divine Liturgy]. Any Christian who transgresses this and follows the aforementioned liar and distorter of Christ's Orthodox Church, the rational flock, who resembles the devil, whoever he may be, is excommunicated.

This wretched and unfortunate person does not have property in his diocese and no longer has authorization to lay claim to his church or to touch its income from the Christians. He has no authority to wear the vestments of a hierarch, or to act and serve as one, because he is cut off, deposed and the grace of all ranks of the priesthood is removed from him. From now on, he is only known as "Euthymius" and nothing else and he is as one cast out. Any priest or hierarch who knowingly concelebrates with him is cut off from his priesthood and deposed. Any layperson who honors him as a hierarch and kisses that unclean hand, filled with falsehood, in order to receive a blessing, may his sins be unforgiven if he does this knowingly. Whosoever among you or anyone else who helps him and receives him into his home or helps him in his activities, whoever it may be, great or small, is excommunicated. From now on, anyone who is consecrated by his hand is cut off. Let those who agree with him and declare that they are in agreement against the truth be excommunicated with him, and may their lot be with the crooked, as the Prophet David says. All those who are contrary and schism, inclining toward his delusion and blasphemy, let them receive wrath and be excommunicated in this age. May they inherit incurable leprosy always. May they be shaken like Cain and perish, not receiving the necessary sustenance, blotted out from the Book of Life. May they receive wrath from the 318 fathers and all the fathers of the councils.

But all Orthodox Christians who heed to commands of the Church and act according to them and not contrary to them or fleeing them, following the traditions and ordinances of the holy fathers, successful in every good work, may they inherit the kingdom of heaven. Amen, amen, Amen. Issued in October, 1718, the Second Indiction.

[A list of signatures follows.]

Copied from the Greek language into Arabic in Damascus by the Father of Fathers and Chief of Chiefs, the Shepherd of Shepherds, Kyr Cyril, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East.

Monday, July 1, 2024

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Saints

 Arabic original here.

The Saints

The Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier, transmitting divine life to people.

This especially takes place through the saints.

The saints are models for us and intercessors before God. They are filled with divine, uncreated fire, with divine love accompanied by humility. They have become like burning coals, filled with divine life, divine relics that exude a precious fragrance.

From Saint Irenaeus to Saint Gregory Palamas, the holy fathers say that at baptism we receive a divine seed, divine, uncreated energy that enters into the depths of our hearts.

Because of our freedom, Christ God does not act within us-- that is, this hidden potential received at baptism is only transformed into kinetic energy by our own will.

Saint Basil the Great says:

"Our eyes, our vision, become Gods eyes and vision, our ears, the Lord's ears... even our thoughts become the Lord's thoughts."

In this way the saints understand, explain and live the work of the Holy Spirit in man.

In this way, the person in whose life the Holy Spirit works can act according to the model of Jesus Christ, the perfect God-man in his daily life at home, in the family, at school, at work, living the Christian virtues such as "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).


Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The Patriarchate of Antioch in 1992: An Interview

 Translated from: Service Orthodoxe de Presse no. 168 (May 1992), pp. 10-12.

A Visit to the Orthodox of Syria and Lebanon by Sister Irène and Sister Laetitia

Nuns of the monastic Community of the Resurrection in Conques-sur-Orbiel (Aude), received into the communion of the Orthodox Church in 1989, Sister Irène and Sister Laetitia have just spent almost three months in Syria and Lebanon. Invited by Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch, under whose canonical obedience their community falls, they had the opportunity during their stay to visit most of the dioceses and monastic communities found in these two countries.

What impressions did you get from this immersion in the life of the Church of Antioch?

What first emerges from this stay is the joy of having touched the place of our filiation from the Church of Antioch in the person of its patriarch and to have felt, in contact with the bishops and faithful, a deep spiritual affinity, the fruit of the grace of these long years that we have lived the Antiochian tradition [NOTE: the nuns had previously been Melkite Catholics before converting to Orthodoxy], to the point that several people, priests and laity, were astonished to realize that we had the same approach as they did to important problems.

We had the good fortune to meet frequently with Patriarch Ignatius IV and to hear him express his thought about ecclesiastical life. It is always a wonder to approach such a man of God, with such a rich personality: at once capable of prophetic intuition and rigorous reasoning, a man of asceticism and great compassion, a church leader who always has the feeling of being at the people's service, remaining accessible to all.

What's very striking is the great simplicity of the bishops and clergy and their closeness to the people. In several dioceses, we noticed how easy it was for the faithful to come greet the metropolitan and to present their problems to him. It is true that, in these countries governed by personal law, the bishop must also take on an entire social, administrative and judicial role.

Antioch, one of the most ancient Christian churches, founded by Saint Peter even before that of Rome, where, according to the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples of Jesus first received the name "Christians"... How is it now?

One of the things that also struck us was that everywhere one touches Christianity's continuity since the beginning of the Christian era: Damascus, site of Saint Paul's conversion; Maaloula, where Saint Thecla, Paul's disciple, lived and died; in the ruins of ancient churches that go back to the fourth century in Hawran and to the fifth century in Northern Syria; and finally in the permanence of Christianity: the foundation of several current monasteries goes back to the sixth or seventh century. Thus it's a land where Christianity has always been alive down to our own time and where it has known how to keep the integrity of its faith beside Islam. Still today Syria is 20% Christian Arab, the great majority of whom are Orthodox. These Christians, for the most part, are descendants of the first Christians, just like in Lebanon.

We have seen that today these communities are very much alive. The first thing that catches the eye, both in Syria and Lebanon, is that the churches are full, that young people go to them in just as large numbers, if not more, than older people and that the faithful commune in droves. In Syria, the divine liturgy is celebrated in all parishes on Friday (the weekly day off) and on Sunday. There's almost as many people in the church on both days. Nevertheless, the number of churches is doubtless insufficient for the number of Christians.

One also feels the continuity of Christianity in the fierce determination of many Antiochians to preserve the best of the tradition of the Fathers while nevertheless not being closed to new forms that questions of history and the modern world often require of any authentic witness. Due to our ignorance of the Arabic language, we were unfortunately not able to have access to the impressive number of books, magazines, parish bulletins, etc. published by various dioceses, by the monasteries, or by the Orthodox Youth Movement, the MJO, which transmit the thought of this new "School of Antioch", the first fruits of which we can find in the books by Patriarch Ignatius, the articles of Metropolitan Georges Khodr, and some articles already translated or written in French.

This language problem also did not permit us-- especially in Syria but also in Lebanon-- to have the all the contact we would've liked to have had with all the youth engaged in the life of the Church, who know longer know a foreign language, but who in many dioceses are entirely devoted to pastoral or missionary activity.

We have also perceived continuity in this desire to remain in this land, despite the vicissitudes of history, both ancient and recent, and thus, in these ambitious construction projects (Balamand University, new monasteries, churches, many recently-opened schools, hospitals and social centers, etc.) launched by the patriarchate and other dioceses just to help the Orthodox people (and their fellow-citizens) to better overcome the temptation to emigrate which exacerbates the worsening of the economic situation, especially in Lebanon, as well as fear of the future.

How are things exactly in Lebanon? Were you able to notice a real recovery?

We were touched to see the extraordinary vitality of the Orthodox institutions despite the difficult conditions of life (almost no public services, which is to say only a few hours of electricity per day, little or no mail distribution, very poor telephone service, roads in bad condition, etc.). In this context, it is amazing to see the marvels of imagination deployed to find resources and at the same time to innovate in charity work. For example, a workshop for producing uniforms that depends on the Diocese of Beirut and at first worked exclusively for Saint George's Hospital, today has fourteen employees: it furnishes uniforms to various establishments of the city and with its profits allows clinics to be financed.

You have certainly had a lot of contact with the new monastic shoots that are appearing in the Patriarchate of Antioch. What can you tell us about them?

First off, let me tell you how much we felt at home in all these monasteries, received with great brotherly love.

As you say, it's true that new communities are currently appearing in Syria and Lebanon, to say nothing of the monasteries that are a little older such as Saint Jacob, near Tripoli (it's the most important, with 18 nuns) or Saint George at Deir el-Harf. There are young communities that are still small in number, often with no more than three to five monks or nuns. In these beginnings, most of these monasteries were inspired by Athonite monasticism, with a rather marked ascetic character, but which dos not impede these lively and very frequent contacts with the people of God and in particular the youth, among the most engaged in the life of the Church.

The abbots of several of these monasteries do work of real spiritual fatherhood: they receive many and gladly leave their monastery to make regular visits to different dioceses or centers of the MJO in order to hear confessions, lead spiritual retreats or participate in one or another gathering. The abbots of the main monasteries have been regularly gathering together for the past several months and have started to publish a collection of ascetical and spiritual works (two volumes of about 100 pages each have appeared in the past four months).

Although many people are convinced that these shoots that are faithful to traditional monasticism will, in maturing, reveal more and more of the riches particular to Antioch's monastic tradition, many laypeople have expressed to us a desire for another form of religious life as well. Some of them hope for a visible religious presence-- a sign of the physical presence of the Church-- in the Orthodox institutions (hospitals, schools, etc.). Others emphasize the necessity of pastoral activity among women that could only be carried out by consecrated women (several studies and research seem to have been conducted on reestablishing the order of deaconesses). More generally, one feels the need for a monastic witness that is accessible to people and which can help them to live in a Christian manner.

How will your monastery follow up on the contacts established during this visit?

The patriarch envisages a stay in our monastery for young women from Syria or Lebanon who are thinking about the religious life. We hope to be able to help them as much as possible to develop their vocations which they will live out in their own country in the service of the Church.

His Beatitude also hopes that all the Antiochian Orthodox living in France will know that our monastery is their monastery, that despite the current cramped location they will be welcome if they visit us and that we hope that in the future we will be able to expand our welcome, if God gives us the means.

(Interview conducted by Raymond Rizk)

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Unity in the Church is Conciliar

 Arabic original here.

Unity in the Church is Conciliar

Conciliarity is a movement, a movement of love and a movement of diversity.

God is one, and for the Church communion must be at the same time perfect unity and perfect diversity.

The head does not impede the freedom of the members. He does not lord over them. He remains in coordination and conciliarity with them.

Unity is a bond of love, a bond of communion. Therefore, God is love.

The Church is a communion of love in the image of the Holy Trinity. What is her conciliar character that leads to unity?

The Church is the body of Christ. She is the community that the Lord redeemed with His blood. She works to bring together all those divided as one.

This unity is embodied in the mystery of the Eucharist.

It is there where the bishop gathers together with the faithful. The bishop is always in the midst of God's people. He cares for his church, that is, for God's people, through the truth of the word, the word of Christ.

He uncovers the members' talents and bears them in his prayer. He is not concerned first of all with material gain or idle glory.

"Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;  nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2-3).

The entire people of God preserves the faith. The bishop's mission is to declare the word and act upon it.

The council of bishops is also a face of unity. Each bishop there bears his church's experience and weaknesses.

On the other hand, the people bear the bishop in their prayers, so that decisions will come that are pleasing to God and salvific for every element of the Church.


Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Monday, May 6, 2024

Fr Touma (Bitar): Holy Week in a Word

Arabic original here.

Holy Week in a Word

Homily given on Holy Monday, April 29, 2024

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Before the Fall, creation was for the glory of God, and for human happiness. Everything was for joy. Everything was for giving praise to God.

The fig tree that the Lord God cursed, He cursed outside the season for figs. In human terms, this is unacceptable, for people. So why does the Lord God curse the fig tree outside of its season? Perhaps we might think that there is an allegory in the fig tree, as though the Lord wanted to tell man that there is no special season for God's work. Any time is time for bearing fruit, with regard to God's work. We might say that. That that is not necessarily inappropriate or untrue. But in paradise the Lord God granted man that the trees and plants would bear fruit constantly. There was no season there, in paradise, when the earth would not give forth its fruit. The Lord God is coming from there and pointing to what is there, to what is to come. And naturally, He points to what is beyond that, because we are no longer at the level of the things of paradise. We have come to be at the level of the things of the Kingdom.

After the Fall, the Lord God wanted to save us through that which produced the Fall. Within the framework of the Fall, creation is no longer for the glory of God or, consequently, for human happiness. Following the Fall, creation in human eyes came to be for the glory of man and, consequently, no longer for the delight of humankind, since humankind has sunk into something new, when it occurred to humans that it is possible to enjoy creation according to their whims. This new new that humankind invented in its fall into sin is envy. Envy took away everything that could lead to human happiness. Perhaps man might have pleasure and enjoyment. But he does not know joy, does not know happiness. He lost these in the darkness of his sin. And what resulted from envy? All humankind suffers. The rich are not satisfied and the poor die hungry.

Therefore, the Lord God only wanted to give us a cross, so that we might be saved by it. He put all His power in the cross. The cross became God's force for salvation. The cross became pride. It became happiness. It became dignity. It became salvation. It became the kingdom. The cross became the new creation. Therefore, through the cross God wanted joy to come into the whole world. Your Lord has nothing left to give humankind besides the cross. "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him take up his cross, every day, and follow Me." After the fall, all people either thrived in wealth or desired wealth. Everything they did, they did for the sake of wealth. After the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, all those who want to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be characterized by following His Spirit, must receive-- with the very same force that fallen man received wealth-- something entirely new and completely irrational, which completely challenges man and completely demolishes everything connected to the Fall in man: the spirit of poverty. Man cannot acquire what the Lord Jesus achieved unless he seeks from the depths the spirit of poverty. In the state in which man revels, it is impossible for him to escape this state except through death. Therefore, our Lord Jesus Christ's invitation to all those who believe in Him is an invitation to death, every day. He who is not prepared to die-- not only to the world, not only to material wealth, and not only to possessions-- he who is not prepared to die every day to himself is not in a position to bear a cross that is an extension of the Lord Jesus' cross, and it alone is what can grant man to have a share in the great salvation.

Salvation is not from anything from the situation in which man found himself. Salvation is in something new, represented by the incarnation of the Son of God, because the Lord God, in receiving man, in His incarnation, wished to unite Himself to him, in great love. This is an invitation for man to enter into intimacy with God, in the very same love in which the Son of God became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and thus from humankind. The psalm speaks of deep calling unto deep. God is a bottomless depth because His love is beyond imagining, and He calls unto man, his depth, his heart, his being, his spirit. He Himself, in the depths of his depths, calls unto man. What He calls with is the sole opportunity for humankind's salvation. But when man is pleased to address his Lord in the way his Lord addressed him, he not only enters into intimacy with God and not only escapes the Fall, but just as God became human, man becomes divine. The cross is the sign of salvation. The cross casts its shadow over everything related to man, so that it may be the cross that the Lord Jesus experienced. We must receive the spirit of the cross in every matter, in every action, in every thought, in every word. This is what the spirit of poverty represents. This is what man's participation in the Lord's death represents, so that he may have the opportunity to participate in His resurrection. This is what this Holy Week gives us. This alone leads us to Him. The rest is details. The important thing, in the end, is not that we eat at Easter, but that we abide, in Spirit and in truth, in God's heart.

 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan the Athonite

Douma, Lebanon

May 5, 2024

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Met Antonios (el-Souri): The Model of Hope in Repentance... Mary of Egypt

 Arabic original here.

The Model of Hope in Repentance... Mary of Egypt

Talking about repentance is easy, but achieving it is something miraculous. The best penitent is not the one who talks about repentance the most. Rather, the true penitent is the one who lives it in mystery and in secret. The call to repentance is constant, because in this world man fights sin in his very existence and being, since sin and the passions have become a second nature that humankind put on after the Fall...

Repentance is according to hope, because the ability to complete it is tied, on the one hand, to man's will, and on the other hand to the power of God. The difficulty lies in departing from habit, because the passions are habituation to sin and consequently there is an organic link between man and sin. In order to break with a passion, you must accept to die to yourself, your enjoyments and the consolations that come from them... Is this possible for a person? Thus, the life of righteousness is constant effort towards virtue in repentance. Of course, this presumes that I know my sins and my passions. Hence the great difficulty... for me to truly accept that I am a sinner, not only that I say these words with my lips, like a false image of piety, since one who truly knows that he is a sinner suffers from his sin and seeks to be liberated from it. Anything other than that is a faked attitude of repentance.

Mary of Egypt is a very great model for penitents and her return to God is something miraculous because the mind and heart of someone like her who is immersed in pleasures is darkened and their body is always confused and therefore their opportunities for repentance are rare. Can someone who has become accustomed to pleasure abandon it by a clear and simple choice? Purity is an icon of the age to come, and the faithful are called to acquire it starting now. Therefore, repentance is a gift of divine grace and through it alone can one repent. So long as a person is not given repentance, he cannot achieve it. That is, one's will and desire along to change one's mind, path, life and priorities is not enough without the power of God's grace.

Repentance is a way of life. We must ask God for it and desire it with every fiber of our being. It is a real moment that one experiences with all one's being, which opens to him the path of change and grants him the grace to proceed along it. Starting at this moment comes one's role in keeping this grace through determination and perseverance in this change and holding on to the grace given to him through following the new path that has been opened for him.

The Holy Church gives us models of men and women who have repented in order to encourage and strengthen us, so that we will not despair of our salvation. The model of Mary of Egypt is very important, especially for the generation of young people in this era, when the temptations of various lusts are increasing around them and upon them, even those contrary to nature. Mary of Egypt is an encouraging model for young people and for every believer not to fear and despair of God's mercy and a motivation for those following the difficult and blessed path of repentance, the path of freedom, joy, and true peace that comes from God's Holy Spirit.

Our mission as Christians is to renew creation by imitating Jesus Christ. Our path to this new creation in Jesus is repentance by the power of divine grace and the communion of the Holy Spirit, by means of the Holy Mysteries, especially the mystery of the Eucharist combined with the mystery of repentance and confession...

Let him who has ears, hear.


Metropolitan of Zahle, Baalbek and their Dependencies