Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Syrian Islamists Advance Toward Mhardeh

Arabic original here.

Mhardeh Threatened with Forced Expulsions after the Example of Mosul:
The Orthodox Patriarchate Will Not Keep Silent


The fierce position taken by Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East John X regarding Western intervention in Syria is justified, especially in light of information coming from Northern Syria regarding the attempt of armed Islamist units belonging to the Syrian opposition to isolate the city of Mhardeh, hometown of Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim of thrice-blessed memory, and the town of Suqailabiyeh, both located in the Hama countryside near the entrance to the Alawite Mountains.

Mhardeh and Suqailabiyeh constitute one of the largest agglomerations of Greek Orthodox Christians in Syria, with an estimated combined population of 100 thousand people. They contain a dozen churches as well as civil and ecclesiastical economic, social and educational institutions.

Information from clergymen coming from Mhardeh indicates a state of alert and a general mobilization of the people of the two towns following reports from the Hama countryside about the advance of Islamist forces toward the vicinity of the two cities and clashes with the lines of defense and barricades set up by residence in order to defend their existence and prevent a repeat of the expulsions and acts of revenge that happened in Mosul. The information confirms that residents were able to repel the attackers who resorted to rocket and artillery strikes on the two cities, where alarms were sounded.

Sources informed about what is happening confirmed that the Orthodox Patriarchate is moving toward escalating its positions in the face of what is happening and that it will not accept for the crimes  of Mosul to be repeated in Mhardeh or any other place. It will not keep silent about this matter and any silence regarding the unprecedented religious cleansing against Christians is highly suspicious.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Patriarchate of Antioch's Statement on Gaza and Mosul

This translation is unofficial. Arabic original here.


Statement from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East

Damascus, July 23, 2014

At a time when Syria's wounds have been bleeding for more than three years, amidst the wounds of Iraq, which has experienced  conflict since the 1980's, amidst the unrest that is sweeping countries near and far, and amidst the world's indifference to Palestine's wounds, which have not healed in almost seventy years, these days in particular we are witnessing a multiplication of these wounds in the expulsion of Mosul's Christians and the all-out assault on Gaza amidst a disgraceful international silence.

The cycle of violence sweeping Iraq and Syria, expelling peaceful citizens has not let up, as recent events in Iraq and specifically in Mosul have completed the series of murder, religious prejudice,  and terror. We strongly condemn attacks on any segment of society in this Middle East and we especially condemn the attack on the Christians of Mosul and their being compelled by force of arms to change their religion under the penalty of paying the jizya or abandoning their homes and having their property confiscated. These fundamentalist movements that are trying to become mini-states through force and terror with outside moral and material support are the greatest threat to people in the Middle East and to coexistence there. We ask the international community and specifically the United Nations and all global powers and organizations to take into proper consideration what is happening in Iraq, Mosul and the entire Middle East. We call on them to deal with the current situation courageously, with a genuine language of human rights and not a language of interests that uses the principles of human rights and exploits them in the service of narrow aims and interests. We ask the countries that provide outside support to these groups, whether directly or indirectly, to cease immediately from all forms of material, moral, logistical and military support for these extremist groups and so cut off at its root the terrorism that is first of all a threat to the peace and peoples of those countries. We likewise call for an end to resorting to any form of violence as a means by which citizens deal with each other.

Because we in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East constantly affirm that Christians and Muslims are two lungs of a single Middle Eastern body that stands on citizenship and common life, we reject anything that would first of all hurt Islam's reputation for tolerance, brotherhood and peaceful life, which we have experienced, and secondly disrupts the right of citizens to have a civic presence free from sectarian or racial pressures.

As the world watches what is happening in Mosul, the chain of violence is repeated in the Gaza Strip under various justifications, amidst a frightening international silence. This is happening while the outside world is content to watch a bloodbath that has not spared women, children and the elderly. It is as though the Middle East has become a testing-ground for every sort of weapon and a fertile soil for every sort of plot. It is as though the people of the Middle East are a commodity created to be dough in the hands of the forces of evil, when they are created to be the image of the Lord's splendor and the focus of the Creator's good pleasure, with good relationships with their fellow citizens and fellow humans.

We in the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East understand the common fate that binds us to our Christian and Muslim brothers in Palestine. We implore the international community for a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to the sinful siege on our brothers in Palestine, whose cause remains first of all a humanitarian cause. The attachment of the Palestinians to their land and their longing to return to it is a cause for hope for all those suffering in this Middle East  and a mark of shame upon the faces of those for whom "human rights" end at the hills of Palestine while at the same time that they traffic in these "rights" in order to intervene in the affairs of other peoples.

We pray that God give peace to the world, that He give strength to all those in distress, that He cause peace to be lasting in the Middle East, so that humanity may enjoy well-being and tranquility.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Statement of the Arab Orthodox Clergy of Jerusalem on Reforming the Patriarchate

This statement was drafted as a result of the meeting described here. Arabic original below the jump.


Statement of the Arab Orthodox Clergy for Revival

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

We denounce Israel's genocidal war on Gaza. We condemn the forced expulsion of the Christians of Mosul in Iraq. We pray for peace in Syria, neighboring countries, and the Arab world as a whole. We honor the fallen and the innocent children of Gaza. We come with a message of allegiance and love for His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Hussein, may God preserve him and we affirm our dedication to Hashemite guardianship over the Islamic and Christian Holy Places in Jerusalem.

Out of our zeal for our Church of Jerusalem, the Mother of Churches, and our unshakeable faith in the unity of our Orthodox, Catholic and Apostolic Church, our confidence in the justness of our demands as clergy and laity, we reject the racist domination over our Church of Jerusalem that has been in a state of decline for more than five centuries, caused by the lack of pastoral care of her children; the squandering of her endowments given to her by our ancestors in order to prop up Greek hegemony over our Church of Jerusalem; the non-application of the Church's pastoral regulations in their canonical, pastoral and administrative dimensions; the replacement of pastoral bishops of dioceses with patriarchal vicars; the prohibition on Arab clergy entering the monastic life; the cancellation of their salaries; their being banished from their parishes and monasteries as an act of revenge and personal score-settling simply because they are calling for spiritual revival and setting things right in our national church. This is all to say nothing of the neglect and marginalization of the Arab Orthodox flock who just a short time ago were the only Christian significant community in this country but who now because of the practices of the Church's leadership do not even number half of the Christians.

These practices have continued until today. Our churches are displaced and the monasteries in Palestine have been emptied of their monks. The majority of our Orthodox people have been snatched away or driven out to other sects and heresies. Corruption has become rooted in the organizations and administrations of the Patriarchate. Schools at a lower level than average. Financial administration has gone years without a budget or an audit. Ecclesiastical courts are lawless. Patriarchal assets and income exist in a void, without oversight or accounting.

Today our people are being exterminated by the army of Israeli occupation while a priest comes to us with a plan to compel Christians to mandatory service in the army of Zionist occupation, under the cover and with the blessing of the Greek patriarch who has not once looked at the suffering of his people and his flock. He awards medals to an officer in the army of occupation while our people-- women, children and elderly-- are being targeted by the occupation's artillery.

We are children of this country and did not come to it from outside. We are partners with our Muslim brothers in the unity and defense of our nation. We categorically reject the insinuations of Patriarch Theophilos that we are Greek remnants in our countries. No, we are genuine Arabs, Jordanians and Palestinians, no matter what they say.

Our desired goal is to reform our Orthodox Church, the Mother of Churches, and to restore her lost order in its ecclesiastical and patriotic dimensions, to restore her prestigious position, to rebuild the proper spiritual relationship between of the patriarch and the bishops to the priests and flock. We have often and repeatedly addressed those in charge of the Patriarchate, explaining the state of the flock and proposed the idea of reform, but this has been in vain. Unfortunately, we have faced punishment and marginalization from the patriarch.

Therefore we categorically reject the policy of the Greek patriarch Theophilos and his punitive decisions against us, the Arab Orthodox clergy who call for an Orthodox ecclesiastical revival that preserves the teachings of the fathers, the canons of the Church and her spirituality in its pastoral and patriotic dimensions.

Beloved children of the nation and children of the Orthodox flock,

We the Arab clergy are continuing along the path of our Orthodox revival. We are calling for administrative, canonical and ecclesiastical reform in the Patriarchate and the recovery of the rights that have been denied us. We declare that we have taken a step toward the truth, and the truth shall set us free. There is no going back from our movement, our demands and our ecclesiastical and patriotic struggle that is centered on the teachings of the Church and the Gospel. We cry out together, yes to recovering the rights that have been denied us!

We are a cry for truth, a movement for reform and we will close by summarizing some of our just demands:

1- Recognizing the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher as one of the monastic communities present within the structure of the patriarchate and limiting its activities to caring for the pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land, thus correcting issues in the administration of the Church of Jerusalem by returning to honorable canons for the proper organization and administration of the Orthodox Catholic Church.

2- Enacting a system of dioceses by granting full competencies to the pastoral bishops to undertake their ecclesiastical and pastoral duties, including the right to ordain priests, tonsure monks and nuns, build churches and establish monasteries, Orthodox schools and seminaries as well as permanent membership in the Holy Synod.

3- Working to call the bishops, archimandrites, priests and monks originally from the Church of Jerusalem whom the Patriarchate refused to accept because they are Arab but were accepted by other Orthodox churches outside our nation  to return to their Church.

4- Requiring His Beatitude the Patriarch of Jerusalem to implement the promises and commitments he made at the time of his election as patriarch as regards reforming the state of the Patriarchate and the composition of the Holy Synod and maintaining the properties and endowments of the Church and not squandering or wasting them.

5- Activating the seminary at Sion / Jerusalem and opening its doors to accept sons of the flock after affairs are set right within it, applying a curriculum in Arabic and English in addition to Greek, and opening a seminary in Jordan.

6- Accepting the internal statute of the first Orthodox monastery in Jordan, the women's Monastery of Our Lady of the Life-Giving Spring at Dibbeen, guaranteeing the rights and privilidges of the founder and builder of the monastery, within the applicable canons of the Church.

7- Implementing the Jordanian law pertaining to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, law number 27 of 1958 and acting according to it immediately, especially as regards forming the Mixed Committee.

8- Forming a canonical Holy Synod and drafting an internal statute for the Patriarchate, as well as forming an elected body of clergy and laity to represent the flock, participate in the general administration of the church and supervise the conditions and needs of the churches in cities and villages.

9- Preparing an annual budget for the Patriarchate to ensure the proper spending of money and knowing the instruments by which it is spent.

10- Drafting a canon for regulating ecclesiastical courts and modernizing the canon on personal status.

11- Forming a committee of clergy and laity specialists (including lawyers) to study the possibility of recovering the endowments that have been squandered in the past.

With this we encourage your concern and persistence in moving forward with the spiritual and ecclesiastical revival. We encourage His Hashemite Majesty King Abdullah II, may God preserve and guide him, and His Excellency President Mahmoud Abbas to look into this segment of their people, an authentic part of the country, and to work to realize our just demands...

We shall persevere in our struggle until justice is realized.

The Orthodox Club, Amman
July 25, 2014


Al-Karma on the Local Church in Orthodox Ecclesiology

The following was published anonymously this week in al-Karma, the bulletin of the Archdiocese of Tripoli. Arabic original here.

A Local Church

"One, holy, catholic and apostolic" are the attributes given to the church in our creed. They are attributes that apply first of all to every group that comes together around its bishop in the liturgy, studies the word and evangelizes. They are first of all attributes of the local church. That is, the group of believers within a specific geographic space that witnesses to its faith and sets out from its locality to transmit the Good News to the world. The attributes applied to the church in the creed do not take on their existential dimension except in her evangelistic vocation. The ancient local churches, among them Antioch, did not consider evangelism to be a profit-making vocation, a tool to expand their authority and influence, but rather obedience to the words of the Lord: "Go, make disciples of all nations," so that the Lord might be incarnate in every language, every culture, every thought and every locality. Any evangelistic work governed by a concern for authority and expansionism leads to the destruction of the church and schism.

In the history of the church, the authentic local church has never attempted to use evangelism in order to transform into a "universal" church. Rather, it has always desired to be catholic and to be the mother of other local churches. A mother gives birth in order to rear, make grow, and bring to maturity children who are independent and distinct from her. This distinctness does not negate the fact that they are her children. Is this not what the Church of Constantinople undertook through Saints Cyril and Methodius in their evangelism of the Bulgars, Serbs and other Slavs?

In Orthodox ecclesiology, it is not correct to speak of a "universal" church, but rather of a local, catholic church. The local church is not a distinct aspect of the catholic church, but rather it is the catholic church par excellence. In ancient texts, the term "catholic church" was not used in a quantitative sense or in order to indicate the geographic expanse of the church, but rather to indicate correctness and purity of faith and teaching. It indicated faithfulness to the earliest tradition in contrast to nascent teachings that were distinct and aberrant from what was handed down to us from the apostles, which divided an assembly of believers from the catholicity of having one dogma. Christ's church was in no sense less catholic than it is today when it was limited to a handful of people on the day of Pentecost or subsequently, when it was only a cluster of small islands amidst a vast sea of pagan nations.

In Orthodox ecclesiology, one speaks of a local church that is one, holy, catholic and Apostolic being along with its sister churches one, holy catholic and apostolic in a unity of faith that preserves the individuality and particular characteristics of each member. One aspect of the particular characteristics of the local church is liturgy. Today this particular characteristic has been lost ever since the the Constantinopolitan form of liturgy's domination over them. Liturgical diversity does not reflect a difference in faith or a weakening of  the bonds of unity and catholicity between the local churches. In the early centuries, were the Orthodox churches with their diversity of liturgical forms less unified than the Orthodox churches today with their single liturgical form?

The Church of Antioch is a local church like the other churches and it is the mother of other local churches and of what is called today the Orthodox diaspora. The same is true of all the churches. The pressing need today is for Antioch to be rooted in her locale and not be distracted by an imaginary universality. Her pressing need is to realize in practice her identity and uniqueness, both of which are not found only in the past and not given to us from the treasury of the past, but rather are something that we must discover within the context of constant development and growth in a single geographical space and time.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh: Barbarism Three Times Over

Arabic original here.
 

Barbarism Three Times Over

Gaza, Aleppo, Mosul. Death three times over. Countries of horror. Land of absolute evil. The time of reaping has come. The scythe slashes through heads and bodies. The vampires will not be satisfied.

Gaza, Aleppo, Mosul. Three corners of a triangle. The borders of the Levant are drowning in the blood of its children. Borders drawn with the blood of human victims. Victims of blind hate. Victims of religious and sectarian extremism. Victims of racism. Sacred texts bear their teeth. Their mouths open wide, thirsting for flesh and blood. Kill. Fight. Exterminate. Expel. Burn. Extirpate. Behead. Slaughter. Take captives. Chase them from their homes... Sacred texts carry the weight of these acts. Multifaceted texts from which the reader selects what suits him and justifies his perverse lusts, ignoring the verses that call for peace, love and mercy...

Texts of ink and paper have become more precious than human flesh and blood. The human person, whom God honors and prefers over all creatures has become a worm crushed by a hateful, murderous butcher-god...

"You are the best community that has been raised up for mankind. You enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency" (Surat Al Imran 110). Has slaughtering Mosul's Christians like sheep and expelling them become the right conduct  that the Qur'an commands? Has protecting their blood, livelihood, and churches become indecency? Did you face Mecca when you slaughtered them so that your sacrifice would be halal and your consciences at ease?

Did you say "in the name of God, the munificent, the merciful" when you slit their throats? How do you believe in the munificent, merciful God yet show no mercy or compassion to humans? How do you cry out "God is most great" yet make yourself greater than God who creates souls and takes them at the hour of His choosing? How do you cry out "God is most great" yet treat humans with pride, arrogance and contempt?

As for "God's chosen people", chosen exclusively be an irrevocable agency!  "You have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the Lord your God is He who has fought for you" (Joshua 23:3). Their god fought for them and exterminated the nations of the land that they occupied. Will their god spare Gaza? In the name that very same god they pick a fight over Gaza and appropriate it.

But the members of ISIS also believe that God fights for them: "You did not kill them, but rather God killed them. You did not throw when you threw, but rather God threw" (Surat al-Anfal 17). The ISISites have returned to a religion from before the Prophet Abraham. God stopped Abraham from offering his son as a sacrifice and sent him a ram from heaven in his place. God rendered human sacrifices null and void and replaced them with animal sacrifices. But the followers of al-Baghdadi continue to lust for human sacrifices. Woe to them and to their worship!

As for Christians, over history they have not hesitated to launch wars and commit massacres in the name of the God of love. This list is long, and we will not mention any of them other than what has happened in Lebanon during the constant sectarian wars over the past century and a half. In the name of defending Christian existence, the Christians were led to commit heinous acts that please neither Christ nor the saints of His Church.

Jews, Christians, Muslims are equal in sin just as in righteousness. The Sunni people of Gaza do not incite Sunni regimes to behave honorably, so how can a handful of Christians in this raging sea incite them to behave honorably?

Gaza, Aleppo, Mosul. Three times over the line is drawn between humanity and barbarism. Zionism, ISIS and sectarianism are merely aspects of the same barbarism.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

An Open Letter from Rodrigue Khoury to the ISIS Caliph

Arabic original here.


An Open Letter to the Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from the President of the Party of the Levant, the Lawyer Rodrigue Khoury

Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?

This is what our God called out to Paul when he was devoting himself completely to tormenting Christians... And this call ushered in his transformation into a Christian and his guiding many souls to the right path.

O Caliph, so far as I can tell you are striving to build a state that pleases God.

So which does God favor: Stoning an adulteress to death and handing her soul over to Satan or caring for her in mercy and giving her good advice so that she becomes pious and righteous and guides other souls to repentance, thus winning her own soul and the souls of many others?

Which does God favor: Cutting off the hand of a thief or caring for him with reform and forgiveness so that he might become righteous and use that hand of his to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or write a testimony of his being rightly guided and so profit his soul and guide others to repentance?

Which does God favor: Crucifying an "apostate" who has left your religion or leaving him to search with his reason for the true religion?

I bear witness to the truth of my faith that is different for yours. Is this not better than me falsely witnessing to your faith when I do not believe it with true conviction? Would that not be a lie and false witness? Which pleases God more, that I bear false witness and proclaim a lie or that I bear witness to the truth, to the truth of what I believe?

O Caliph,

Put yourself in the place of those who have sinned once, while you are subject to many sins: If you committed adultery. If you stole. If you changed your religion...

Would you ask the judges to stone you or to have mercy on you? [translator's note: the difference between "to stone" and "to have mercy" in Arabic is a single diacritic dot]

If you were a Christian in "the lands governed by Islam", would you accept that they drive you off, slaughter you and deny you the most basic human rights?

And so, who are you to judge by fire? Are you not subject to human nature? Are you not subject to weaknesses?

O Caliph,

I call call upon you to imagine a state ruled by the Law of Christ, a state of peace, a state of love and freedom!

A state where a woman does not commit adultery because she loves her husband, not because she is afraid of being stoned to death.

A state where someone does not steal because of his love for his neighbor, not because he is afraid of having his hand cut off.

A state where someone does not murder because he considers his brother's life to be holy, not because he is afraid of being executed.

A state where believers pray and fast because of their attachment to their God, not because of the policeman's baton.

O Caliph,

I call upon you to fully contemplate the law of mercy, love and freedom established by our God incarnate, Jesus Christ, and to compare it to the laws of the gentiles. I call upon you to judge your state by its standards and to embrace Christianity and in doing so save yourself from torment in this world and in the world to come.

Leave condemning people to God.

Do not say "I am an adulterer", since our God is a God of love who accepts the repentant adulteress just as He accepts the righteous woman.

Do not say "I am a thief", since our God is a merciful God who accepts the reptenant thief just as He accepts the righteous man.

Do not say, "I am a paid traitor", since our God is a kind God who accepts the repentant traitor just as He accepts the honorable.

Do not say, "I am a murderous criminal thug", since our God is a tolerant God who accepts the repentant murderer just as He accepts the upright.

Do not say, "I am an Arab" or "a Turk" or... since for our God there is neither Arab nor non-Arab. He accepts all races in order to give them the light of His peace and  to poor out His love upon the entire world.

Do not say "I am a corrupt sinner", since our God is a long-suffering God. He has accepted the repentance of many and returned them to the straight path, making them great saints and preparing them for a great mission in His plan of salvation.

O Caliph,

Who knows? The Lord may have chosen you for such a mission. There is still enough time before you to repent and to know the true light, the light of our incarnate God Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified, the light of the most holy and eternal Trinity.

My love for you drives me to advise you before it's too late. The voice of the conscience cries out to you at all times: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?

Met Georges Khodr on the Prophet Elijah

Arabic original here.

The Prophet

What is the prophet, if he prophesies? How is he in his state of prophesying? He is a man only under God's authority. He does not listen to anyone else. No passion speaks in him. He speaks as though God is speaking because he is God's instrument and God's looking over the universe.

"The word of God was on the tongue of Elijah," as the Bible says. He withheld rain and the heavens were commanded not to rain. The word of God was on his mouth and he commanded the heavens to rain, and they did. The word of God was on his mouth at Zarephath when he visited the widow and blew the word of God into the dead by, and the dead boy rose.

Elijah was alone with the word and he came into conflict with the great and small of the people. He came into conflict with all of God's enemies. He slaughtered the priests of Baal and of Ashteroth, but not because God desires slaughter. In fact He chastised him for this, as we shall see. However, the meaning of the words is that there is no place for false gods if the true God appears. There is no place for worshiping power, for worshiping the body if the true God looks down. However, there must be fiery zeal to the point where false gods and false thoughts are exterminated.

Like every ruler, the king was troubled by him, because rulers are rarely just. They are men of lust and passion and they have followers. Prophets, however, do not have lust or passion and they do not have followers. Thus, when King Ahab came and said to Elijah, "You are troubling Israel," Elijah replied, "Rather, you and your father, you and your house are troubling Israel" because the one who errs in sin troubles the people. Sin alone disturbs people.

When the seductive pagan queen Jezebel wanted the luxury coming from adulterous Phoenicia, when she wanted to suppress the prophet and persecute him, she did an injustice to the entire people. She expelled a poor man named Naboth from his vineyard and sent her husband the king to register the vineyard in her name. She gave every appearance of legitimacy to the crime and so the prophet cried out against her. Is there any supporter of the poor besides prophets and those who resemble prophets?

The queen drove our prophet out into the desert. She pushed him out of the country to die choking on the sands of Sinai. But he ate what was given to him by the angel of the Lord, "and walked by the power of that food for forty days and forty nights." He reached Horeb, where God had appeared to Moses for the first time, and took shelter in a cave. Then he went out and stood on the mountain before the Lord. There was an earthquake and God was not in the earthquake. There was a raging wind and God was not in the raging wind. That is, God does not appear in power or in violence and you were wrong, Elijah, when you slaughtered the priests of Baal. You were not wrong in your zeal but in the way in which you embodied that zeal. We people of God do not slaughter. We get slaughtered. There was a gentle wind and Elijah fell on his knees because God was in the gentle breeze.

After this, there did not remain any place on earth for Elijah, so God seized him in a storm and placed him in a chariot of fire with horses of fire. This is not because a person can sit on fire or because he can be led by fire, but because God Himself is fire. Is not God light and fire at once? Is not God the flame and the light of hearts? God carried Elijah on His shoulders and brought him to heaven. Elijah is alive in his love, in his zeal. "I have been zealous for the Lord of Hosts." Why was he zealous for the Lord of Heaven and Earth? Because he is the one who said, "Living is the Lord before whom I stand." Living is the Lord and the people are dead. The kings are dead and the oppressors are dead. God alone is living and he who knows this and stands before the living God cannot live with the dead.

God remains with those who love Him. Their hearts have been seized with love for the one who sits above, above the people of lust, tyranny and violence because He is the God of heaven, the God of peace, the God of hearts that love peace. For this reason we honor Elijah who was with the Lord on the mountain of the Transfiguration. He was transfigured in zeal and in turn has remained for people and for history flame and light.