Monday, October 22, 2018

Fr Touma (Bitar) on Racism and Orthodoxy's Byzantium Complex

Arabic original here.

Who Governs Whom? 
The Ecclesiastical Institution or those who Oversee It?


Like clerical garb, there are regulations and legislation that have stood still within the ecclesiastical institution over the course of history. Many of them remain untouched by time but nevertheless remain, even if they are outside their original framework and the circumstances that brought them about. They continue to be transmitted for reasons that sometimes appear comprehensible and sometimes obscure, sometimes conventional and sometimes arbitrary. In addition to clerical garb, regulations and legislation, there also remains suspended in the ecclesiastical institution heavy solid deposits resulting from crises of a worldly nature that the Church has suffered in the past and which until today continue to cast their shadow over her. Indeed, the Church and the truth of the Gospel have largely become captive to them and chained by them, sometimes in a tragic manner. Among these crises, two have restricted the Church's movement, distorted her, created within her an abhorrent duplicity and to a significant degree hindered her from existing within the sphere of living spiritual theology and preaching the Gospel throughout the world (Matthew 28:19-20). By this I am referring to the crisis of racism and the crisis of Constantinople.

In principle, the Lord Jesus put an end to racial disputes within the Church. The words of the Apostle Paul to the Romans are clear: "There is no distinction between Jew and Greek because there is one Lord for all" (Romans 10:12). The Byzantine Empire was based on the true faith, citizenship, and equality of rights and responsibilities. This, of course, was at the height of its flourishing. There was no racial distinction between Greek, Armenian, Arab, Syrian, Goth and Gaul... all were Romans. Marriage between people of different races was normal. Mixing between races in the army and administration was an ordinary thing. The emperors were from various racial backgrounds. When the spirit of truth diminished in people's hearts and Western influence took root-- especially in the ranks of the intellectual elite, the centralization of the state was weakened, corruption spread in the administration, the economy was subjected to privatization and thus domestic production stagnated, with dangerous setbacks resulting from this, feudalism flourished, separatist and isolationist tendencies grew, internal conflicts broke out, fragmenting and weakening the state and so its prestige was shaken, the spirit of racism gained strength and ethnic groups entered into disharmony and struggle. As the external threat to the empire increased, politicians pressured the Church to bow to the papacy and Catholicism as a means of securing military support from the West and there were two relapses that had the greatest impact on believers and their dedication to preserving the truth faith: the first at Leon (1274) and the second at Ferrara/Florence (1439). It is true that Orthodoxy stood firm in faith, but the spirit of failure, lethargy and decline spread among the people. As a result of this, internal fragmentation picked up pace within the empire and racism played a wicked role in this. Finally, Mehmed II Fetih was able, at the age of twenty-one, to enter Constantinople with ease on April 29, 1453. The West didn't care about this event. For years, its concern had been to absorb the weakened empire's energies and the Catholics' concern was to gain control over Orthodoxy. Little by little, Constantinople transformed into a corpse. And where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather! In this, there is no difference between the Ottomans and the West.

This is with regard to the racism that grew because of the empire's weakness and contributed to undermining its remaining foundations. As for the crisis of Constantinople, there is no doubt that following the fall of the imperial city, the Church in her entirety suffered and continues to suffer from an ongoing psychological complex with regard to the Byzantine Empire! In what sense? In the sense that here and there, she betrays a profound conviction or submission-- out of fear of internal strife or schism in the Church-- to the delusional hypothetical case that the empire, with all its weight and glory, continues to exist ecclesiastically without any clear boundaries between what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar, until it returns (even if this is after some time). This is something expressed in special scenarios and prophecies that many people repeat. Even 565 years after the fall of Constantinople, Byzantium is still alive, active and influential in the souls of many-- and not only in its virtues, but also in its vices! Nothing is more indicative of this than the words of the Patriarch of Constantinople at the recent synaxis of bishops of the Patriarchate of Constantinople (August 31 to September 4, 2018). "The Ecumenical Patriarchate," he said, "is for Orthodoxy, a 'leaven which leavens the whole lump' (cf. Galatians 5:9) of the Church and of history..." I beg the reader's pardon, so he does not misunderstand what I am saying. God forbid that I be in a position of singling out the Ecumenical Patriarch or any other person near or far. In this essay, I am dealing with a widespread psychological phenomenon which, it is my conviction, has the ugliest influence on the Church, her vivacity, her transparency and her witness. Here in the patriarch's words is a blatant expropriation on the part of the ecclesiastical institution of the Spirit of the Lord's work in the Church and in history. For the institution of the patriarchate to presume in this way, with arrogance surpassing every limit, is alien to the spirit of the Gospel. Without any significant Orthodox population on its territory, it claims authority over the diaspora, relying on a canon (28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451) that stipulates that "the Dioceses aforesaid as are among the barbarians, should be ordained by the aforesaid most holy throne of the most holy Church of Constantinople." For a patriarchate that is in a state of extinction to presume to imagine that it is the leaven of the Church and of history, as though it were at the height of the empire and has authority over the "Orthodox of the diaspora" as though they were "barbarians" is to plumb the depths of a historic insanity that has no connection whatsoever either to the truth of the Gospel or to holy tradition, which itself is not the work of people, but the work of the Holy Spirit in people at every time!

In this way, we find the local ecclesiastical institution weighed down with historical burdens and cares that have been passed down from generation to generation. Our positions with regard to them range from total acceptance, as though they are a sacred heritage, to a profound sense of their illegitimacy, but at the same time also of an inability to effect real change with regard to them. The problem of Ukraine-- the state and the church-- between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Patriarchate of Moscow is the outcome of historical data, accumulations, sensitivities, errors and contradictions that make the conflict raging at present not only exceedingly complicated but also having a psychological character open to all clashes of personality, politics and temperament, that deep down has no connection to the Gospel, theology or ecclesiastical law, even if the sides attempt to use ecclesiastical, pastoral and spiritual issues as a cover. In many places, the Church's position has not gone beyond managing a crisis that has grown to the point of casting its dark shadow upon our generation of those who oversee the ecclesiastical institution and through them upon the entire Church today.

In such a case, it is not a question of whether autocephaly should be given to the Ukrainian Church in the manner of "Constantinople" or if its dependence on the Church of Moscow should be affirmed. The issue is how we may preserve the spirit of unity in the truth of the Gospel in such a state of affairs. The problem of the Ukrainian Church has reached an impasse. We already know the first results of continuing along this path. The Patriarchate of Constantinople's sending two emissaries to directly supervise the process of granting full autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church was met with the Holy Synod of Moscow suspending all relations with Constantinople! What will happen next? The impetus, until now, is for maneuvering and making threats. Do we want to taste something even more bitter? There is no solution to the problem of the Ukrainian Church. In all simplicity, there are problems in the Church that have no solution! We can only live with them in a spirit of peace and love. This is if we have within us zeal for God's house. But if we go searching for enmity, we have no custom such as this in the Church of God. Ukraine is not the target, but Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy will be victorious or those who are temporarily exploiting the Ukrainian issue to hurt the Church will triumph. It is the responsibility of the entire Orthodox world, not just of Constantinople and Moscow! When a dispute broke out between Victor, bishop of Rome (r. 189-198) and a number of bishops of Asia Minor with regard to fasting and Pascha, Victor attempted to cut off Polycratus of Ephesus and others and many bishops violently rebuked him (Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History 5.24), among them Irenaeus of Lyon! He writes, "this disagreement has not originated in our time; but long before in that of our ancestors... Yet all of these lived none the less in peace, and we also live in peace with one another." He finishes his words with this beautiful statement, "Disagreement in regard to the fast confirms the agreement in the faith."

From another angle, in his letter to Victor of Rome, Irenaeus pointed out Victor's predecessors who had dealt with the disagreement in a spirit of peace. Among them were Anicetus, Pius, Hyginus, Telesphorus and Xystus. With regard to Saint Anicetus, who was from Homs in Syria, Saint Irenaeus explains how he and Saint Polycarp of Smyrna did not agree about this issue, but they did not quarrel, instead they both maintained their respective customs and Saint Anicetus "conceded the administration of the eucharist in the church to Polycarp" as a sign of respect for him. In the words of Saint Irenaeus, "they parted from each other in peace, both those who observed [one custom or another], and those who did not, maintaining the peace of the whole church." If we have inherited a problem, we cannot turn it into a sin that we commit, for which the entire Church pays dearly! Squandering the spirit of peace and concord is a terrible thing in the Church!

The Orthodox world today stands before a great challenge: either it preserves the spirit of peace and unity in the Church or it squanders them with its wordiness, laxity, carelessness, obsequiousness, narrow calculations and its being dragged along, wittingly or unwittingly, behind those who seek to fragment Orthodoxy, and how many of them there are today! There is a sacrifice that God does not want. When Cain was very and his countenance fell, the Lord God said to him, "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it" (Genesis 4:7).

This is the Lord's warning: "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:31-32). Let us not participate in the sins of others!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite
Douma, Lebanon

September 23, 2018

Jad Ganem: The Glory of Antioch

Arabic original here.

The Glory of Antioch

Biased parties are not hesitating to suggest that the positions of the Holy Synod of Antioch with regard to recent developments in the Orthodox world are driven by political motives that this church has to take into consideration “for well-known reasons”, hinting to the relationship between Syria and Russia. Antiochians have certainly become accustomed to this cheap propaganda that strips all issues in the Church of their theological aspect and reduces them to political considerations. Because they are immersed in politics, these biased parties are incapable of realizing that the church of Antioch of Patriarch John X and his Holy Synod, even if she is suffering from the horrors of wars in her land, remains a church free from political pressure and the influence of politicians. Her decision comes only from her trust in in the Gospel and holy tradition. Antioch did not participate in the "Council of Crete" because she believes that the Eucharist is the foundation of conciliarity. Antioch did not support the Ecumenical Patriarchate's recent decisions because she does not want to violate the Church's canons, reward schism, deny the role of the autocephalous churches, and establish a papacy that is foreign to the Orthodox mindset. Let the critics of Antioch's position tell us where they stand with regard to the principles set by Patriarch Athenagoras! What is the canonical status of the schismatic groups that Constantinople has recognized? What is the canonical status of Filaret? Is he a patriarch? Over what church? Or is he a metropolitan? Over what metropolis? What is the canonical status of the head of the "Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church"? What is his diocese? Is it the same as Filaret's diocese? How can a patriarch be placed over a non-existent local church? How can bishops who do not meet the condition of apostolic succession be accepted into the episcopate? Those who criticize the akribeia of the Church of Antioch in preserving the Church's unity, tradition and canons in order to cover their own faults and the crimes they have committed against the Universal Church, her canons and her unity must realize that the glory of Antioch lies in her trust in the tradition that they are working to marginalize and that this glory will not be snatched away by calumniators nor by oppressors.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Monk's Mission

Arabic original here.

The Monk's Mission

The monk flees the world not out of hatred for the world, but out of love for it. He will help the world more with his prayer. We are in dire need today of divine intervention. The monk's basic work is prayer.

God wants us to beseech Him to intervene. The faithful people always go to church and offer a candle with their prayer, while the monk makes himself into a candle that keeps watch through the night and melts into prayer love for Christ and all people.

Preparation in the World

Alongside a spiritual father who loves monasticism, you must repeat the Jesus Prayer and avoid places of entertainment in order to preserve chastity of body and soul.

Constantly read the Synaxarion, the Paterikon and Saint Ephrem. First reform yourself through the path of repentance.

The monk flees far from parties, he always seeks counsel from a spiritual father and pursues prayer. The important thing is for the monk to love devotion (philotimia) and not having possessions.

Leaving the World and Renouncing of Worldly Things

By giving our family over to God, the monk's narrow love for his small family is transferred the large family, which is the Church and the entire world. The greatest love comes to be for Christ.

The choice of a spiritual father is important for the monk. The spiritual father must be harsh only on himself and very loving with others, just as he must love silence and prayer.

The monk avoids worldly luxuries. He must abandon many human comforts in order to receive divine consolation.

He takes off the old, worldly man and puts on the new, godly man and so he says, "today is the day of resurrection."

The monk has died to the world. He rejoices because he lives close by Christ.

The angelic life is in repeating:

"Glory to God for I live close by Christ." At that point, the joy of God's grace carries him on. The monk opens his heart to his spiritual father. He discloses to him everything that is in his heart. He does everything that is asked of him. That is, he obeys him.

The monk is attentive to the issue of visitors. He avoids having guests inasmuch as it involves worldly things. He holds fast to divine longing, especially if he is a novice. The monk loves his cell and sees in it, through prayer and solitude with God, his true consolation. It must be decorated with icons. If he goes out into the world, his chotki never leaves his hand. With it, he uses with others the expression "bless" and "may it be blessed."

In his prayer, the monk seeks repentance before all else. Repentance brings humility. And humility brings the grace of God. Prayer does not tire, but rather brings rest.

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

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Bp Constantine Kayyal: Freedom of Reason

Arabic original here.

Freedom of Reason

Man today lives in a state of great separation between God and knowledge. Some behold God, united to Him in the simplicity of their piety, their faith and their surrender to God's self-disclosure, while others attempt to comprehend Him and discover Him through the power of reason, to subjugate Him and to restrict Him to the scope of scientific knowledge.

Today's world needs to be humble and leave room for divine grace to work, so that it may know God's will.

Divine grace supports human freedom and man advances in knowledge. This is the teaching of the fathers! Man cannot advance in knowledge without the activity of grace. This advancement is a progression from disclosure to disclosure.

Freedom is the driving force by which we strive for God and divine grace rests in us and draws us to Him.

Freedom in no way means liberating reason and immersing it in philosophical theories by which it attempts to know God. Our Church believes in reason and its role in us and she also believes that its existence comes from its Creator.

The rational person, as we learn from the teaching of Saint Anthony the Great, "is not someone who thinks and searches, just as he is not someone who is educated and debates. The true rational person is the one who is focused on God."

The Church is no stranger to the ways of science and knowledge. Since she received, at Pentecost, the gift of knowledge and enlightenment of reason, she has been concerned with revealing Jesus to the world, He who is the way, the truth and the light (John 14:6).

Over the course of history, the Church has endeavored to show the truths of the faith through philosophy and dialectic, but she has not made God into an object of rational knowledge. "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24).

This worship is the beginning of knowledge. It is bowing before the activity of grace.

The rational ability that man possesses prepares him to understand that what is created and helps him with this. That is the scope of its work. But with regard to the Creator, it stands helpless and must stand helpless, admitting its helplessness and beholding this mystery in silence.

He who desired to draw us to Himself, in His goodness came to us, perfect in his His divinity becoming man, entered into our life and caused us corrupt ones to participate in His life. This is the God who is incomprehensible. Here lies the mystery.

The rational man is the one who is always pious before God. He strives for complete unity with Him in his soul and his mind. When man strives to attain this longing, he becomes free. With this freedom, he will attain joy and peace and be made worthy to meet Jesus.

The holy Church is the only place of divine disclosure. We who are members of this body-- bishops, priests, monks and believers-- are merely beholders and servants of this disclosure, since by it we live and are divinized.

May the God who loves mankind make us worthy to attain wisdom from Him, so that we may remain faithful to our true faith and become worthy of His glory that was prepared before the foundation of the world.

+Bishop Constantine Kayyal
Abbot of the Patriarchal Monastery of Saint Elias, Shwayya

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)