Monday, October 15, 2018

Jad Ganem: Holy Leaders

Arabic original here.

Holy Leaders

Today the Catholic Church declared the sainthood of Pope Paul VI, the pope who led the activities of the Second Vatican Council, which gave a pivotal role to episcopal collegiality in the Catholic Church, brought back the relationship of consultation between the pope and the bishops, opened the church to dialogue with the world, and inaugurated work for the unity of Christians. This pope was able to bring warmth back to the relationship with the Orthodox Church and he cooperated with Ecumenial Patriarch Athenagoras to repeal the mutual anathemas resulting from the Great Schism that divided the one Church. Perhaps it is one of the sad ironies of history that the Catholic Church is canonizing Pope Paul VI and bringing back conciliar practice while the Orthodox world is witnessing the systematic destruction of all of Patriarch Athenagoras' achievements, as those who have been entrusted with his legacy reject everything he established to preserve the unity of the Orthodox Church. Patriarch Athenagoras established the golden rule of unanimity which guided relations between the Orthodox Churches, preserved his role as first among equals, and made him a golden voice, speaking a unity born of painstaking consensus. Will his successor realize that the deadly unilateralism, marginalization of others, living in the past, and Orthodox papism that he is practicing and striving along with his group to consecrate will only result in fragmentation and schism? Will we re-discover the legacy of our great leaders and preserve it, or are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes of history? Who will give us holy leaders?

Jad Ganem: Don't Lock the Door

Arabic original here.

Don't Lock the Door

The word "Phanar" means "lighthouse" in Greek and in our time it is the name of the neighborhood where the Ecumenical Patriarchate is located. It is the neighborhood to which Greek families fled after  the fall of Constantinople, before they left it for the diaspora after the tragedies of the past century. Everything in the neighborhood today reminds you of eclipse of Orthodoxy in the capital city whose cathedrals have become mosques and whose institutions are empty except for the janitors who have come from Hatay to work there. Only the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is still a destination for the Orthodox who visit from Greece and other countries, arriving at the Cathedral of Saint George and venerating the relics of Saint Basil the Great and the relics of Saints John Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian, who were persecuted and rejected by the city before they returned to it and became its eternal glory. At the patriarchate is a door that was once the main entrance, but it was locked at Pascha in 1821 after Patriarch Gregorios V was hanged on it after he was executed by the Ottomans as a punishment for the Greek nationalist sentiments that were raging at the time, despite his explicit condemnation of his countrymen's activities. Today, as international media are broadcasting images of the Metropolitan of France reading decisions that only serve to inflame nationalist and ethnic struggles like the one that killed Patriarch Gregory, I pondered that door behind him, hoping that the error of the synod of Patriarch Bartholomew and his bishops will not lead to locking the doors of the Ecumenical Patriarchate after the Phanar has fallen in the conscience of many and lost its role as a beacon in the Orthodox world.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Met Siluan (Muci): Our Challenges in Argentina

Arabic original here.

Our Challenges in Argentina

In the past decade, our church in Argentina has faced various challenges. First among these challenges is clerical vocations, where the archdiocese has been able to accompany the path of two of her youths in their studies at the Saint John of Damascus Theological Institute at Balamand and their consecrating themselves to serving the Church. One of them has married and become a deacon and the other has completed his studies. Both are attached to our cathedral in Buenos Aires.

There has been an effort in our parishes to create sources of income to support the Church's mission. Most of them have worked to establish facilities (a library selling small religious objects, a multi-use parish hall, various activities that produce material income) or to develop their facilities, as has happened in the large parishes (parking lots, expanding school buildings or pastoral centers), where this development is useful for existing pastoral work and insures necessary sources of income to cover the needs of the parish and the archdiocese at the same time. Most of them have been able to realize their plans or are still working to realize them, despite the instability of the economic situation in the country.

Studying the current pastoral situation and ways of making it effective has been the focus of ongoing work through meetings in the parish or at the archdiocesan level. This has taken place through working committees in the parishes (religious education, youth, ladies, parish councils, priests), each individually or gathered together at an archdiocesan conference or at various retreats that the archdiocese has held annually for each committee, where this work has been organized and developed.

 Our church has a good presence in Argentine society. This is not because our Antiochian Church is the most geographically widespread, most numerous (number of priests, number of faithful, institutions and schools) and most active (in parishes and in the archdiocese) compared to the other Orthodox or Eastern churches (though nevertheless we are only a small minority compared to other churches), but rather it is thanks to the engagement of her priests and faithful in society and the openness of the parish and church to interacting with those who come to them. It is worth mentioning that a significant number of Argentinians have converted to the Orthodox faith and in the past two decades they have been a pastoral force in the fields of social services, religious education, and organizing activities in more than one parish. Some of them have efforts to learn the faith more than they did during their catechumenate and so have been involved in religious education programs in Spanish offered over the internet by Balamand University.

The archdiocese has also been able to make slow progress in working with the other Orthodox churches because of the repercussions of events between the Orthodox churches reflected in the work of the episcopal assemblies. She has continued her participation in the ecumenical commission in Argentina and has held its presidency for two consecutive terms. She has an active role in it in joint activities that have brought together Catholics and Protestants and she has been a bridge for making them aware of Christianity in the Middle East and what happened because of the wars in the past decade, especially in Iraq and Syria. The churches belonging to the committee have been strongly sympathetic and their support is very large and important. To this should be added the strength of the church's representative before the Argentine state in simple matters, such as giving a speech representing the Orthodox and Eastern churches at the presidential celebration of the national day on occasion of the centenary of the Argentine flag (2012), the second centenary of independence (2016), and discussion of a new draft law on religions before the relevant committee in the Chamber of Deputies (2018).

These challenges have been a good opportunity for our church to live its vocation as a community that works with each other, starting off from its faith and commitment to serving its parish and its Church, and the contribution of its children in their civil and national commitment. All of this is a source of great joy and consolation for me and I cannot but share it with their brothers in Arabic, so that they may rejoice on account of them. In this way, the joy of all of us increases.

+Siluan (Muci)
Metropolitan of Jbeil and Batroun (Mount Lebanon)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Jad Ganem: The Howling Abyss

Arabic original here.

The Howling Abyss

by Jad Ganem

It's one thing to read about schisms in the Church in history-books. Watching the brisk steps being taken toward it in your own time is something else entirely. For years, stubbornness has been in control of the situation. Voices of caution are raised, but no one wants to listen. Theology is transformed into points of view or, you could say, into arguments justifying the slow crawl towards the abyss of schism. We have witnessed a solid engineering to create an Orthodox papal ideology and sabotage true conciliarity. We have experienced the disavowal and destruction of all the rules that guided common Orthodox relationships. We have seen with our own eyes those who deny what they themselves have said, what they themselves have written, what they themselves have taught. We have dealt with those who assign no value to others' opinions. We have witnessed those who have no concern for building consensus, who have no scruple about fanning the flames of discord, who persist in saying one thing and its opposite according to their whims and interests.

Many gave warnings. Many wrote. Many objected. Many boycotted. But the plan continues. How can you have dialogue with those who only want to hear their own voice? How can you speak according to a churchly logic with those who act like they're an secular NGO? How can you convince those who see the Church as a collection of frozen canons that she is a living body that is not frozen in past times and forms. How can you convince those who have lost their glory that smashing the glories of others will not bring back what they have lost? We fear that those who have engineered the slide toward schism and those who crawl toward the abyss are not concerned about either Christ or His Church so much as they are concerned about their authority and glory. Has the time not yet come to stop rousing small conflicts, enlarging them and deepening the rift between peoples? Who will put out the flames and who will lessen the enmity if the Church has abandoned her role? Are we now in need of someone who will cleanse the temple of money-changers? Come, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Link: Orthodox Synaxis

Since much of the material posted here recently has dealt with Antioch's response to the Patriarchate of Constantinople's attempt to unilaterally create an autocephalous church in Ukraine, I thought this might be of interest.

There's a new blog, Orthodox Synaxis, that appears to be trying to present perspectives on this issue in a manner similar to Antioch's perspective- not a pro-Russian opposition to the possibility of an autocephalous Ukrainian Church, but a rejection of unilateralism on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

It says about itself:

Orthodox Synaxis was created in response to the current threat to global Orthodox unity, which is manifesting itself in a conflict between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Moscow, regarding the ecclesiastical situation in Ukraine. This website is focused on the underlying ecclesiological issues: primacy, conciliarity, autocephaly, etc., as opposed to historical and territorial claims specific to the case of Ukraine. This website will house important primary source texts, as well as relevant analysis.

Of particular interest, is has published the 1993 position papers of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Church of Greece on the issue of autocephaly, autonomy and the manner in which they are granted. To my knowledge, these do not exist in English in an accessible manner elsewhere.

Link to the main page.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Statement of the Holy Synod of Antioch, October 6, 2018

This is the official English version, taken from here. In addition to Arabic, it was also released in Greek, Russian and French.

Statement of the Holy Synod of Antioch

Concerning the Current Developments in the Orthodox World

The Holy Synod of Antioch met in the Our Lady of Balamand Patriarchal Monastery, Lebanon, (October 3-6, 2018) and made the following statement:

The fathers examined the general orthodox situation. They stressed that the Church of Antioch expresses Her deep worries about the attempts to change the boundaries of the Orthodox Churches through a new reading of history. She considers that resorting to an unilateral reading of history does not serve Orthodox unity. It rather contributes to the fueling of the dissentions and quarrels within the one church. Thus, the Church of Antioch refuses the principle of establishing parallel jurisdictions within the canonical boundaries of the Patriarchates and the autocephalous churches, as a way to solve conflicts, or as a de facto situation in the Orthodox World. 

The fathers of the Church of Antioch underline that any approach for granting the autocephaly of a certain church has to be in accordance with the Orthodox ecclesiology and the principles agreed upon by the Churches in a conciliar way in the past years. These principles for granting autocephaly are about the necessity to obtain the agreement of the Mother Church and the acknowledgement of all the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches. The Church of Antioch affirms the necessity to resort to the principle of unanimity concerning the common orthodox work and the stand on controversial issues in the Orthodox world, and this unanimity is a true safeguard for Orthodox Unity. 

The Church of Antioch warns from the dangers of implicating the Orthodox world in the international political conflicts and the resulting harms which come from approaching the Orthodox Church’s issues on the basis of politics, ethnicity, and nationalism.

The Church of Antioch calls upon His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch to call for an urgent Synaxis for the primates of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches, in order to discuss the current developments that the Orthodox world is facing about the issue of granting autocephaly to new churches, and the efforts made to find common solutions before taking any final decisions about this issue.

The Church of Antioch highlights the necessity of spiritual vigilance in this critical period of history, and the importance of preserving the peace and unity of the Church, and to be watchful on not falling into the trap of political entanglement which history has proved to cause the Orthodox Church a weakening of Her united witness in the world.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Carol Saba: Antioch, Ukraine and the Danger of a Schism in Orthodoxy

Arabic original here.

Antioch, Ukraine and the Danger of a Schism in Orthodoxy

"I implore you, let us not demand everything, lest we lose everything." A little less than a thousand years ago, these wise words were written with blazing fire as the estrangement between Rome and Constantinople started to accelerate, leading to the Great Schism in 1054. From that time until today, not a single letter has fallen away from these wise Antiochian words. With these expressions, Patriarch Peter III of Antioch addressed Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople in 1054, asking him in a fraternal letter to distinguish "between what must be avoided, what must be reformed, and that about which silence must be kept" in the dispute with Rome, imploring him to look "with attention to good intention, so if the faith is not in danger, then we must prioritize peace and love over other things because the Westerners are our brothers, even if they very often err." The Patriarch of Antioch closed his letter by saying, "Therefore, I cast myself at your feet and implore you to be more lenient than you have been, lest you too also be one who, desiring to raise one who has fallen, only makes his fall heavier."

This position of Antioch lies at the heart of Antioch's gift and role as a "bridge" between the churches, prophetic Antioch who warns of dangers and calls for unity. How applicable is the position of the wise Patriarch Peter III of Antioch, who did not deviate from the necessity of reforming what is corrupt in faith and dogma and the necessity of leniency in what does not touch on either, to the situation of the Orthodox Church today and to the necessity of distinguishing between what is important and what is more important!

With the acceleration of the process of estrangement between Moscow and Constantinople over Ukraine, which may bring the Orthodox world to a spasm of schism resembling the schism of 1054, the events of 1054 come once more to the fore and the same equation is posed to the conscience of the universal Orthodox Church with the growing dispute between the two poles of Orthodoxy over the issue of granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

After Constantinople's decision to name two Ukrainian bishops as its emissaries in Ukraine for preparing, alongside all ecclesiastical and political parties, for the disputed autocephaly, a harsh response came from the Holy Synod of Moscow on September 14, considering this step to be a violation of the canonical ecclesiastical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, since the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has, by the admission of all Orthodox churches, the system of an autonomous church dependent on the Russian Church. So Moscow decided to "suspend" communion with Constantinople and to not commemorate Patriarch Bartholomew, along with other decisions that will lead, if there are further negative developments, to a "break in communion" with Constantinople.

The situation is very difficult, as both sides are entrenched in hard-line positions. It is a thorny situation in terms of history and canon law, as well. Each side has its canonical arguments and documentation, intransigent in its belief that it possesses all the right and truth. The truth, however, is not entirely with one side or the other. The media war between the two today is fierce. Each side has its articles, historical studies, and ecclesiastical, canonical arguments. They are pursuing statements from the other Orthodox churches here and there, not to mention Western political interventions great and small.

In this climate of gathering storm clouds, the Holy Synod of Antioch is currently meeting in the Patriarchal Monastery of Balamand, presided over by His Beatitude Patriarch John X. On the agenda are Antioch's great worries and concerns, challenges and dangers. There is no space here to delve into the hierarchy of priorities of what is important: -Antioch- and what is more important: -the universal Church-.

What is the required Antiochian position? Is what is required a middle-way, colorless position on the Ukrainian issue? No. Is what is required an Antiochian "compromise" position? Of course not. Is what is required a position that sides with one side or the other? Of course not. What is required, then?

More than any time in the past, the Orthodox world today is lacking systematic, objective and scholarly ecclesiastical mechanisms for resolving conflicts between the churches or between two or more sides among them, mechanisms that at the same time would take into account the Church's geography of the past, geography of the present and geography of the future, not so that the Church may position herself without standards or generally accepted truths, following and imitating today's world, nor at the same time positioning herself in the past as a fossilized museum-piece, without any analysis of the requirements of the present and future with intelligence and pastoral acumen.

What is required, then, is a principled Antiochian position, one that rests on universal ecclesiastical principles, that reminds both sides and everyone involved of the correct ecclesiastical standards and the need for bringing the universal Orthodox Church out of deadly and oppressive internal competition at the expense of mutual complimentary, leading to suicide. This position should remind both parties of the dialectic between what is important and what is more important and should lead to an Antiochian initiative to bring brothers together without taking a position for or against, no matter relative correctness of one side or the other. True brotherhood and love of the Lord and His Church today require of us to return to the equation of Peter III of Antioch who spoke to history and has spoken to us with his golden words to Patriarch Michael, that in today's crisis we might not "demand everything, lest we lose everything."