Friday, January 11, 2019

Fr Touma (Bitar): Fire in the Water

Arabic original here.

Fire in the Water

When the Lord Jesus went down into the water at His baptism, this was a prelude to His going down to hell. And when He rose from baptism, His rising was a sign of the newness of life that the Lord Jesus was to amply bestow upon humanity by the Holy Spirit. Water, as we have begun to discover today, has a memory. Everything that has happened in history is stored up, in one way or another, in water's memory. For the sake of paradox, water on earth does not increase or decrease. Everything that has happened in history, starting with the creation of Adam, is preserved in water. Man himself, his own body is made up of no less than seventy percent water and the water in our makeup reaches ninety percent.

So all God's blessings that He generously bestowed upon humanity were in the water, in a sense. But also all of humanity's sins were stored up in the water. In the water there is what is alive and belongs to God and in the water there is what is dead and belongs to man's sin. So if the Lord Jesus Christ went down into the water, in the fullness of time, this means that He went down into the death that man had sowed in himself and in God's creation since the dawn of history. Jesus did not go down to die as man. He went down to die as God in the flesh! What does that mean exactly? We don't know! This is God's mystery. He died and did not die at the same time. But we know that death died in the life of God incarnate. The rest is your Lord's business.

Jesus went down to man, in the pit of death, because humanity had transformed God's creation into a pit of death. Therefore all the signs of the descent into hell-- and what is meant by "hell" is what is known in Hebrew as "Sheol", the habitation of the dead-- was first at the Annunciation. The angel of the Lord came to Mary, bringing her the good news of the Savior's being born from her. But Jesus was named Jesus because He would save His people from their sins. How does He save His people from their sins? How does He save His people from their death? By taking on everything that had been caused by sin, since the dawn of history. But it was not possible for Jesus to take on sin, because sin is tied to the will and the Lord Jesus' will cannot accept sin. Therefore, the Lord Jesus accepted everything that resulted from man's sin, everything that resulted from the corruption of man's will.

Since the Annunciation, salvation means that  the One who is to come is coming to willingly take on man's mortality, to take one all the corruption that man sowed deep down. This is the good news for those walking in darkness and the shadow of death! He didn't take on death and the events of death, so as to participate in all of its details and then eliminate it. The Lord Jesus didn't take on death in itself, but rather He took on the body; He became man. And as a man, He entered into contact with humanity. In this contact, God loved man completely. With the love that is in Him as God, He emptied Himself existentially. He made Himself a servant to humanity! He serves it in what sense? He serves it by His perfect love for it. There is no value to service if it is not a service of love!

The love in God is boundless. Therefore, when the Son of God emptied Himself, took the form of a servant and became in the likeness of man, He entered into a connection with people, the fullness of which is the service of divine love: total sacrifice for them. This put Him in connection with each person. Love knows no limitation. Love, God's love, in Jesus Christ, God incarnate, touches every one of His creatures. It touches each human of His humanity. It touches every capillary of every member. It touches every tissue of every fiber of every human being. So love is penetrating. It has penetrated into humanity completely. It has penetrated into creation completely. Death is nothing, for the Lord God to take up, to eliminate. But His love, which has put Him in perfect union with every human being, swallowed death. Love is more powerful than death! It swallowed up all the events of death, everything that has a connection to what sin sowed, the sin of man. Love swallowed all of this.


Have you not read how Elijah, when he wanted to offer a sacrifice to God-- and in every sacrifice, in reality, there is an offering of all creation-- when Elijah wanted to offer a sacrifice to God, he prayed-- and prayer is love-- and poured water on the sacrifice to make it impossible for it to catch on fire, according to the standards of people. What happened, what Elijah made happen was by God's power and the fire that came down and consumed the sacrifice and devoured the water, this fire was in reality the fire of God's love. God doesn't have fire like people have fire. With people, fire burns, while for God, first purifies, cleanses, sanctifies, sweeps away uncleanliness and gives life. Therefore, for God, first is water's twin. Water is life and fire, too, for God is life because His love is life!

God, then, in His only-begotten Son, swallowed death by the fire of His great love and devoured the moisture of man's life, which equals his sin. By His going down into the waters of the Jordan, the Lord God, who is a fire of love, cleaned it and returned it two its previous state, by His presence within it, and He made baptism from then on a new birth for all who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus Theophany, today, is a revelation of God's exceeding love which, as I said, appeared at the Annunciation, appeared in the cave, and today appears in a more general form, in the Lord's going down into the waters of the Jordan as a symbol of His going down to the depths of humanity's death, to cleanse it and devour every stain in it and thus to make it glorious once more. Therefore it is said: in baptism we experience death with Christ, so that from then on we may walk in newness of life.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan-- Douma, Lebanon
January 6, 2019

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Patriarch Bartholomew's Letter to the Primates

The Patriarchate of Antioch has posted an Arabic translation of the letter that Patriarch Bartholomew sent to the primates of the local Orthodox churches, requesting that they accept the creation of a new, autocephalous church in Ukraine and commemorate its metropolitan in the diptychs. Since this letter hasn't been available publicly anywhere else in any other language, I thought it might be useful to translate it. Bear in mind, however, that this translation of the Arabic cannot capture the precise wording and technical language of the Greek, which I hope will surface at some point.


Letter from His Holiness the Patriarch of Constantinople
Protocol No. /1119/

Your Beatitude and Holiness Patriarch of the Great City of God Antioch and All the East, dear and very beloved brother in Christ God and concelebrant of Our Mediocrity, Kyr John, we address you with great joy, kissing your venerable beatitude fraternally in the Lord.

We communicate via this fraternal letter of ours with Your venerable and very beloved for us Beatitude and with the Church of Antioch and we endeavor, following our predecessors of perpetual memory and their honorable canonical works, to inform you that for a long time we have received repeated requests for recourse from Kyr Filaret (at the time, of Kiev) as well as Kyr Makarii (of the city of “Lviv” at that time), seeking sympathetic oversight of them by the Great Holy Mother Church of Christ, so that they may join in communion with her, because they bear the same Orthodox faith and faithfully keep the Orthodox terminology, dogmas and beliefs common to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We have likewise received for many years many requests, written and oral, in this regard from the honorable Ukrainian state pertaining to the granting the church of their country a system of internal administrative independence. That is, autocephaly.

We undertook together in our venerable Holy Synod to study all these situations, not only once or in a simple manner, but profoundly and extensively, and we came to the decision that we would move forward in the necessary steps to resolve this worsening situation, which for many years has occupied the body of the Eastern Orthodox Church, for an entire generation millions of Ukrainian brothers who participate with us in the same faith outside of canonicity and communion. Therefore we, by the mercy of God almighty, Archbishop of Constantinople New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, in accordance with the spiritual content of Canons 9 and 17 of the holy and God-bearing fathers who gathered in Chalcedon, have looked upon these the requests of recourse submitted by the persons mentioned above and those with them with a sympathetic eye and have returned them to the hierarchical and priestly ranks that they had previously and to ecclesiastical communion with all of us.

Therefore we cancelled the charter issued by our predecessor of perpetual memory, Dionysius IV, which he had issued under particular historical circumstances and in which the Patriarch of Moscow was given permission to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev elected by the holy clergy-laity council, with a condition that could not be broken, which is the canonical commemoration of the name of each Ecumenical Patriarch. Because of the distortion of the contents of this charter, the description of the the conditions described therein were misinterpreted and the Mother Church endured this until that time, preserving ecclesiastical peace. But, with the changing of external circumstances and the absence of the reasons for this charter, we have returned matters pertaining to Kiev to their canonical starting-point. That is, we have brought these regions back under the omphorion belonging to us once more.

After this decision of ours, we received a request from these returning hierarchs as well as from the state to administratively let go of these regions dependent on us by establishing an autocephalous church. We have likewise received a request to enter under our canonical protection from our brothers Their Eminences Simeon and Alexander, who had previously considered the activities of the Church of Constantinople, the mother of the Russians and the Ukrainians, to be of vital importance, so we likewise entered them into the framework of our canonical authority. On this basis, we called an exceptional clergy-laity council in Kiev on Tuesday, December 15, under the presidency of the exarch designated by us, His Eminence the Metropolitan of France, Kyr Emmanuel, sending an invitation to all the hierarchs in Ukraine without exception. From this clergy-laity council, which explicitly reiterated the request for autocephaly, His Eminence Metropolitan Epiphanius was declared, by a canonical vote, to be the first head of the autocephalous Ukrainian church, and who has sent us his irenical letter.

We write this so that Your beloved Beatitude may be reliably and securely informed.
Therefore, Our Mediocrity and Their Eminences the bishops with us, metropolitan and first in honor,  our beloved brothers and fellow-servants in the Holy Spirit, who constitute the venerable Holy Synod of our Holy Apostolic Patriarchal and Ecumenical See, since we agree, as the order requires, on these matters in a spirit of profound desire to perfect the course of the Great and Holy Church of Christ which at all times in every place under heaven, with sacrifice and self-emptying, of urgent, intractable and difficult-to-solve ecclesiastical issues, and which enjoys exclusively the responsibility of granting autocephaly, something that is manifest in practice in the situations of all the new local sister churches, we recognize the holy Ukrainian Church as a church with autocephaly and self-administration, declaring and respecting the responsibilities and rights belonging to the other autocephalous churches, as a partner in the same uprightness of belief and the same faith in everything and on this basis, as we issue our venerable patriarchal and conciliar tomos, approving and declaring all this, we safeguard this ecclesiastical work, by which dogmatic unity is kept strong and unchanged as likewise the relationship and bond of the holy Ukrainian Church to the holy Great Church of Christ, to the ancient sees of the east, and to the other sister local autocephalous Orthodox churches. Her new head is known by the title “His Beatitude the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

It is anticipated that all these matters will be completed on the sixth of this coming January on the Feast of Theophany, where we desire to give the previously-mentioned tomos of autocephaly and concelebrate with the head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. We Inform your beloved Beatitude of this along with your holy sister church and we express our fraternal trust that Your Beatitude, since you are abundantly aware of the desire that Ukraine has long expressed, as well as of the exclusivity of the responsibility and privilege belonging to the Church of Constantinople to treat all ecclesiastical issues  without limits, you will be in agreement with this things that are taking place and from now on you, along with your Orthodox flock, will recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as an autocephalous church with internal self-administration, commemorating the name of each Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine in the honorable diptychs directly after the name of His Beatitude the head of the Church of Czechia and Slovakia.

On this basis, we fraternally ask your love to pray to our Lord, the Founder of the Church, for the the new holy sister church, according to what has now been decided by you, so that she may remain in the ranks of patristic tradition forever, and so you may serve the unity of the fundamental body and eat mature spiritual fruit from her communion with all of us, who will have no excuse on the Day of Judgment if we want to ignore our brothers who find themselves in hardships in Ukraine before the terrible judgment-seat of the only Scrutinizer of  the hearts and souls of humankind and the Just Judge, our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom belongs glory, strength, honor and worship forever. Amen.

We embrace your venerable and beloved Beatitude with a holy kiss and we close with profound love in the Lord and all honor, praying for you that the twelve coming days will be blessed feasts.

December 24, 2018

The beloved brother in the Lord of your venerable Beatitude,

Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

On Georgian Autocephaly

This is mostly a reminder-to-self, but I've been meaning for years to write a post on the Patriarchate of Antioch's historical relationship to the Church of Georgia [in the meantime, read this about the Patriarch Macarius III ibn al-Za'im's description of Georgia here.]. Someone should hold me to that. In any case, this recent post by the must-read site Orthodox Synaxis on the acknowledgement of Georgia's autocephaly by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1990 is worth reading. Among the many oddities of this acknowledgment is that it did not in any way involve Georgia's mother church, the Patriarchate of Antioch.

The Case of Georgian Autocephaly


In recent months, various representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have spoken about how Constantinople has granted all 19th and 20th century autocephalies, including among them the Church of Georgia. In the case of that church, however, things are much more complicated, as Georgia’s autocephaly was originally granted at a very early point by Antioch, a fact recognized in the medieval canonical literature. While the autocephaly of the Georgian Church was suppressed by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1811– an action that could hardly be considered legitimate– it was reasserted in 1917 and recognized by Moscow in 1943. Recognition from Constantinople was a more difficult process, as the Georgian Church’s history poses obvious problems for the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s claims to have the exclusive right to grant autocephaly.

[...]

Read the rest here.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Patriarch John X's Reply to the Letter from Patriarch Bartholomew

Translated from the Russian version here. I have been able to confirm its authenticity and accurate portrayal of His Beatitude's letter. For the letter this is in response to, see here.

[UPDATE: An official English translation of the full letter is now available here.]







His Beatitude Patriarch of Antioch John X:
It is Unreasonable to End a Schism at the Price of the Unity of the Orthodox World

Responding to Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew's letter regarding his intention to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, His Beatitude Patriarch of Antioch and All the East John X stressed that these events are worrisome not only because of the disunity that they provoke in the Orthodox world, but also because the opinion of the local Orthodox churches was not taken into account in this situation.

"We wish to see the unity of the Orthodox world strengthened and consolidated," said the head of the Antiochian Orthodox Church to Patriarch Bartholomew. "From your letter it appears that you have decided to continue the process of granting autocephaly... Therefore we urge you not to make any decisions about which there is no consensus of the autocephalous Orthodox churches. For it is unreasonable to end a schism at the price of the unity of the Orthodox world."

His Beatitude Patriarch John expressed confidence that "the most beneficial thing for the peace of the Church, for her unity and for the common Orthodox witness in our world today is to suspend and postpone this process until the Ukrainian problem is examined and a pan-Orthodox solution found."

"Therefore, we implore Your All-Holiness to call upon Your brothers, the primates of the Orthodox churches, to study these questions in order to protect our Church from dangers that will not lead to peace and harmony, neither in Ukraine nor in the Orthodox world."

"Our love for your Orthodox Church and for Your Beloved Holiness prompts us to write these words in the hope of seeing the Orthodox world united, especially in your remarkable era, bearing witness to the truth of our Lord Jesus, who is incarnate for the salvation of the world," stressed Patriarch of Antioch and All the East John X.

Met Silouan (Muci): The Image from Christmas to Theophany

Arabic original here.

The Image from Christmas to Theophany

I was recently asked to talk about the Feasts of the Incarnation and Theophany and about their connection to both our life and the life of Christ. The idea occurred to me for a meditation on the meaninc of "the image"--that is, since we are created in God's image-- that is earthly and spiritual for our encounter with God.

I have to discuss the background of our civilization a bit, which has come to focus on sight more than on hearing, to the point that you can tell that what people seek the most in their daily life is to receive or to see images. I don't know what image each person wants for himself or what image he has of himself. Of course, true self-knowledge helps us heal our burning desire in this regard. And this is necessary if a believer wants to live an honest and authentic spiritual life. Here I mean the bond that brings together God and man.

The bond is clear in our Holy Bible. It speaks to us about the "image" in which God has seen us since the beginning. We are created in His image (Genesis 1:27). This takes you from talking about how people see you or how you see yourself to talking about how God sees you. If you take this matter seriously and examine it carefully, a new horizon will be revealed to you, in which you can learn to see yourself with the right eyes. That is, with the eyes of God the Creator. The result of this is that your entire life changes, since it brings you abiding joy because you realize that you are beloved of God, who has granted you to become much greater than yourself, to become like Him by grace! This is the final "image" for man.

So that we do not exert too much in our study and make the mistake of using inappropriate theories or picking images that do not agree with us, God has granted us to "see" our true image. His Son became incarnate and we have seen in Him the perfect union between the image and the likeness, the image of perfect man and perfect God. At Christmas, we saw how He took our body-- that is, He took the image that He created. And at Theophany, we saw how the Father announced that the one who had " increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52), who now is the one being baptized in the Jordan, is Himself His "beloved Son" (Matthew 3:17). God showed us this union in the person of Jesus Christ.

At that point, the "image" on the basis of which I was created becomes the arena for a heart-to-heart encounter with my Creator, an image within me upon which I was based, but it is an image called to be transfigured in all the splendor that God has given for me to be in. "The image" is my connection to my Creator and Lord. I bear it in a vessel of clay. It is this existence that groans and strains for glory to be manifest in it and through it. That is, the likeness which is realized whenever we strive to receive the word of God and have it bring forth within us behavior, life and a mind like the mind of Christ. It is the "space" in which we encounter God and become united to Him, if we truly believe in Him. It is our launchpad into a process of becoming that never ends, which the Bible told us about and for which it gave us many names, such as "eternal life".

Between the Feasts of Christmas and Theophany, we stand in humility before the majesty of the image and likeness before our eyes. So we strive for the "beloved Son" just as we strive for the beloved that our souls search for. At that point, we realize ourselves in a certain way, a way whose splendor we see in those who have robed themselves in light and have put on God and become christs in word and deed, one christ after another, in the likeness of Christ, the Lord and Savior. This is what we hope for ourselves, for each other, and for all those created in the image of God.

Silouan
Metropolitan of Jbeil and Batroun (Mount Lebanon)

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Theophany

 Arabic original here.

Theophany

"Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?'" (Matthew 3:13-14).

Did John know Him previously? Chrysostom says that he had heard of Him but he became sure of knowing Him at the baptism.

"I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God" (John 1:33-34). This is the testimony of John the Baptist.

When Jesus was baptized-- say Matthew and Luke-- He came up from the water and behold, the heavens had opened to Him. Mark mentions that "He saw the heavens parting" (Mark 1:10).

This is a human, symbolic expression of the Father's pain over His Son's death in the body on the cross.

Perhaps Mark heard this from John the Baptist who alone with Jesus saw the wondrous sight: the mystery of the Trinity, the appearance of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Hear we must mention the expression "parting" when "the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom" (Mark 15:38) [the word for "parting" and "torn" is the same in the Arabic] at Christ's death upon the cross.

The second part of inspiration lies in the expression of the voice of the Father: "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased" (Matthew 3:17), an expression that appears in the three synoptic Gospels. It reminds us of what is said in Psalm 2: "You are My son and today I have begotten you. Ask Me, and I will give you the nations as an inheritance."

Also in the Book of Hebrews: "For to which of the angels did He ever say: 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You'?" (Hebrews 1:5).

The author of Revelation takes the words of the Psalms and applies them to Jesus, saying of the woman "She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron" (Revelation 12:5).

The second part, "in whom I am well-pleased" is taken from Isaiah:

"Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him" (Isaiah 42:1). This is the Spirit coming down in the form of a dove. Isaiah goes on about Christ:

"He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench." Matthew recalls these words literally in chapter 12:18-21. This is the image of the suffering Son for the Prophet Isaiah.

The Trinitarian image in Jesus' baptism renews faith in the Trinity in us, just as it reminds us that it is necessary for us to live out our baptism by imitating Christ who suffers and rises:

"Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4).

God's manifestation in this world takes place through the Holy Spirit. Then, God can say to each of us, "You are my son, in whom I am well-pleased."

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

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Jad Ganem: The Stubbornness that Destroys Unity

Arabic original here.

The Stubbornness that Destroys Unity

In a much-awaited and expected position, His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew responded to His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill of Moscow during a New Year's Eve celebration at the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He confirmed that Constantinople will proceed with implementing what it has started, despite "fierce opposition" to its initiative from the sister churches. He emphasized that "Whatever the case may be, this opposition will not be an impediment to us because our decision is based on the holy canons, the privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the order and tradition of the Orthodox Church." He ended by saying, "We pray that the sister churches that incorrectly oppose the decisions and initiatives of the Mother Church of Constantinople will finally start to think in a more logical and just manner and with great respect and gratitude to the Ecumenical Patriarchate."

One who looks closely at the words that he used will have to notice that they spring from a firm belief that the Ecumenical Patriarch and his Holy Synod constitute a church over the family of Orthodox churches gathered together and form a holy synod that governs all the other holy synods and that the one speaking these words considers himself and the synod around him to have a monopoly on the truth and to be infallible. Perhaps these words that cut off any path to dialogue and reject all the calls that have come from the heads of sister churches to deal with the Ukrainian issue in a conciliar manner not only constitute a rejection of the conciliar system, but also betray a pyramidal vision of the Church and presage the establishment of what could be termed "the infallibility of the Phanar" if it persists and is not stopped by the universal Church.

Who will remind His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch of Orthodox theology, which holds that the word of the bishop, no matter what is rank, is neither sacrosanct in itself nor due to his position; that he is subject to error and misjudgment, just like every creature because passion can mix with godly purposes in man, who may regard himself as God's representative when he is in fact being led along by his own desires; that one who does not open his mind and his heart to the views of his brothers is satisfied with his own thoughts, which are filled as much with his ego, his whims and delusion as they are with inspiration or true insight.
Who will urge the Phanar to believe and accept that divine grace is not subject to the logic of ranks, hierarchy and sees, that it may come through the least in the Church and speak in them and through them, and if it did not it put itself in stubborn rebellion against the truth. Who will remind them that there is no witness more powerful than the witness of unity among the heads of the Church. Unity among them is for them to agree on what pleases God in the circumstances in which they are living. Has the time of talk ended and have we entered the time of stubbornness against the truth?