Friday, October 14, 2011

A Hellenocentric View of Orthodox Politics in Lebanon

Cypriot friend of the blog NOCTOC provided this translation from Greek
of a rather less commonly-heard viewpoint on the political and ethnic identity of Lebanese Orthodox. I feel safe saying that it is a minority viewpoint, but it is still an interesting read nonetheless.

October 3. 2008
A call for help by the Greeks in Lebanon
By Rodrigue (Dimitri) El Khoury

■ Orthodox Party (Lebanon)

The Lebanese society as we know, is a pluralistic society. There are Syrians, Arab Muslims and Greeks, known as Rum. It is true that they all now speak Arabic, after the Arab conquest, but these communities have maintained their identity.

The Greek Orthodox community in Lebanon, has many connections with our own people in Greece, since we have the same history,the same national heroes, the same faith, the Greek language in our liturgies, the same saints.In addition, many Greek saints are from Antioch. We reserve up until today a frank and sincere dedication to modern Greece. A testimony of our Greekness is the language of our religious ceremonies. Up until today we use Greek, alongside Arabic. We also know that many areas of Lebanon have Greek names.Delete

The Arab conquest succeeded to obligate our community to speak Arabic, but even today we retain the consciousness that we are Greeks who have been forced to become Arabized. The danger today is that the Arab propaganda has managed to convince some of the Orthodox of Antioch, that they originate from pre- Islamic Arab populations and that we should maintain this identity in the present and in the future. This propaganda is been made by political parties in the region, and from this our youth are been put into risk. Why? Due to the failure of the existance orthodox political parties.

Each community here have their own parties, the Maronites have the party of the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb, the FPM, the Marada, the Sunnis also have some partie (future Islamic organizations), the Shiites have Amal and the Hezbollah, the Armenians have Tashnak and Hanshak, the Druze the PSP, the Democratic Party and Attawhid. Only the Orthodox do not have parties. For this reason, our youth have been enclaved to all of these parties. Adopting at the same time the stand of these parties on our identity. There is no political party in Lebanon, saying to the Greek Orthodox youth that they are the successors of the Greek Antiochians, and that they are Greeks from the Hellenistic era. Most of these parties say we are Orthodox Syrians or Arabs.

What we are trying to do is to find a political party for the Greek Orthodox community, which aims to:

■ Go back to our true identity, the Greek identity.
■ Strengthening our presence in the Lebanese political scene.
■ Connecting the Greek Antiochian youth with our own people and brothers in Greece.
■ We need to teach the Greek language to our youth.

We should insist on Hellenism and Orthodoxy, to save our nation from Arab and Islamic assimilation. The problem is that some priests and bishops who were swept away by Arab propaganda, have become proponents of Arab nationalism and say to the Greek Orthodox Youth that they are Arabs, not Greeks. And some others who have been affected by the propaganda of the Maronites, say to our youth that they are Syrian and not Greek.

Our community in Lebanon is as follows:

■ constitutes about 7% of the total population.
■ is the second largest Christian church, and the fourth largest religion in Lebanon.
■ Our effectiveness in the political field is lacking.
Our community, like most Lebanese communities is living in poor economic conditions. So our orthodox youth have been absorbed in non-Orthodox parties in order to recieve money from them.

The Lebanese political reality is sectarian. Every religious community has some power. The president is a Maronite, the prime minister is a Sunni, and the chairman of parliament is given to the Shiites. The Greek Orthodox have the deputy prime minister and the vice-president of parliament, but do not have any significant power under the Constitution. The Electoral Act calculates several communities of Lebanon, but does not calculate the Orthodox. Why? Because we do not have an organized political body to speak on behalf of our community, as with other communities.

I am communicating with you on behalf of the Greek Orthodox community of the areas belonging to the Patriarchate of Antioch and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in an attempt to create a party or an organization that will work for these purposes. I've also finished a book in Arabic on the Greek identity of the Orthodox Church of Antioch (with over 100 historical bibliographical references).

In fact the lack of a party is the cause of forcing our youth to join Arab parties and are now saying that we are Arabs and create problems between our Greek brothers and the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Land, supported by the Arab parties and ploted by the Jews.

If you support us will become stronger. Do not forget that a large number of your people live here. If we forget that Greece might lose another piece of the vast empire built on blood and sacrifices of our Greek ancestors.

Thank you listened to our appeal.


John (Ad Orientem) said...

This conflation of Orthodoxy and Hellenism which exists in certain quarters runs perilously close to the sort of phyletism that periodically crops up in Serbia and Russia. It needs to be condemned, and strongly.

Drew said...

It doesn't seem that the author of the letter makes much a case. What will be the consequences of failing to reinforce Hellenic identity among Lebanese Orthodox (aside from failing to reinforce their Hellenic identity)? Is he concerned that they will be eventually Islamicized, or reconciled with Rome perhaps?

NOCTOC said...
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John said...

NOCTOC: Forgive me, but I think you have missed John's point. John wasn't suggesting that Russians or Serbians make a claim to hellenistic/Greek heritage like the author of the article makes about Arabs and Greeks. He was suggesting that the author's argument reflects a phyletist perspective that elevates one ethnic expression of Orthodoxy above others, and that Orthodox of other ethnicities sometimes do the same thing. As we know, equating ethnicity and Orthodoxy or asserting that any ethnic expression of Orthodoxy is by definition superior (nationalism) has been condemned by the church as heresy (Synod of Constantinople, 1872) and lamented by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as an ongoing problem. John's point was simply that the author manifests something of this problem in his article.


Fr. John Cox
Dormition of the Theotokos Orthodox Church
Norfolk, VA

NOCTOC said...
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Jon Marc said...

A very narrow view of Antiochian Orthodox Christians' ethnic background - what of the rich Syriac heritage of the Church of Antioch?

NOCTOC said...
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NOCTOC said...
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Samn! said...

Actually, Syriac was in pretty wide liturgical use in the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch throughout its history up until at least the 17th-18th century... Take a look at the link to the Antioch Centre in the sidebar for links to academic articles about this, but if you go through the manuscript catalogs, Sinai's in particular, there's quite a lot of Orthodox liturgical material in Syriac. The speed at which Greek disappeared from use among Orthodox in the region after the Muslim conquest relative to the lasting power of Syriac demonstrates the importance of the latter in everyday usage. The Orthodox switched over to Arabic so much faster than any of the other Near Eastern Christians particularly because they were already comfortable with using a foreign language as their vehicle of culture. That is, switching from Greek to Arabic for their literature and often but not always their liturgy was an easy swap of one foreign, international language for another.

In the Patriarchate of Jerusalem prior to the Muslim conquest, Christian Palestinian Aramaic seems to have been the usual liturgical language of the bulk of local Christians, while again Greek was more the language of culture and international pilgrimage.

Samn! said...

A fair number of Sinai's liturgical manuscripts are digitized and available freely online. To browse them, go here:

Fr. Stephan J. Koster said...

THANK YOU, Samn!!! Setting a period at the end of this painfull debate. This whole debate thinks ethno-religious and cultural reality of the Middle East in a very static way, bypassing the fact of the 'high-mobility' of Middle-Eastern christian society in regard to migration and inter-marriage within christian communities, despite confessional bounderies, and this over centuries.
St. John Chrysostom in Antioch, as is reported, availed himself of a translator of his greek sermons into Syriac, the vernacular of the country-dwellers; thus the population was multi-ethnic, as all of us are today, as is LEbanon in particular, in the latin adage: ET - ET, as well, as. And that is incredibly liberating and wonderfull.
I love to go to Mariamiyeh Cathedral in Damascus, whenever I have the grace to be there. The Patriarchal Liturgy always has two choirs, on the North side a greek one, on the south side an arab one, sharing the liturgical parts. Antioch was and is multi-ethnic and cultural to this day; cfr. St. John Chrysostom's practice called for, acknowledging the reality of his flock.
There is a most legitimate claim for a third component of the antiochian flock; todays many great roum-orthodox and catholic families stem from Damascus, especially after the massacres of 1860, and especially of definitely arab Hauran - all of it today being exclusively roum-orthodox resp. catholic; legitimately claiming to be descendants of the Ghassanides who first were Monophysites, "speaking arabic, but praying in syriac". Do not forget either, the Arabs are mentioned being present at the Pentecost-Event in Jerusalem. Keep in mind the battle for the Patriarchal throne in 1891, resp. already in 1724; all about 'phyletism'.
Antiochian heritage is for the most part ethnically and culturally three-partite in different degrees, Hellenic, Syriac and Arabic - in all communities stemming from her: Roum, Syriac and Maronite - today five Patriarchs claiming the Throne of Antioch (cfr. the greek reminscences in their respective liturgies); ecclesiatically, liturgically in origin Antioch being the Mother of Constantinople and not her daughter.
Here Christians received their name - here the Church's mission to the gentiles takes it's way. Antioch still, despite the devisions since the 4th ecumenical Council, as a message - a most important one: Ina pantes en ôsin

Samn! said...

Fr. Stephan,

Is there any way I can email you off-list?

I agree with much of what you have to say, especially about the cosmopolitanism of the Patriarchate of Antioch. I was once in the Maryamiyya while they were preparing for a service where the Russian ambassador would be in attendance....

I do not think that phylitism properly comes onto the scene in Antioch until at least 1821. For example, I've even worked with Arabic writings by the Patriarch Sylvester. I think that Manteqiyya, especially between Damascus and Aleppo, is a better lens for understanding the disaster of 1724. As a rule, I prefer to take stated ideological differences on face value before accepting ethno-linguistic or cultural differences as a base cause. Though, the class element in 1724 is hard to deny.

I think among the Rum, both Orthodox and Kathulik, the path of recovering tradition is an uphill road, and recovering the Syriac element of that tradition needs to be a major priority. Identifying all manuscripts associated with the Antiochian tradition is very important, a task begun by Fr. Joseph Nasrallah, and now hopefully continued by Fr. Elia Khalife's Antioch Centre.....

CK said...

While I am not here to debate whether or not antiochan christians have 'ethnically' greek ancestry, I don't see any problem with the orthodox christians identifying with the cultural heritage left by the greeks in the area.
Of course there are very strong arabic and syriac elements to the orthodox tradition in lebanon. This cannot be denied, neither can the ethnic & genetic uniformity amongst practically all people from the different religious sects in lebanon.

Nevertheless, I don't see anything wrong in wanting to associate with the hellenic heritage left in lebanon by its predecessor in the area (the byzantine greeks as the most recent one), especially amongst those who practice the antiochan orthodox faith. To a large degree, there are indeed other groups, including cypriots (who are not so far from lebanon) are not 'ethnically' greeks, but rather hellenized people of the island who naturally identify strongly with the hellenic culture.

At one time, this element was no doubt present in lebanon, and still remains with a portion of its community, and while I disagree with the author in turning this into a political agenda, I do not see anything wrong in looking at this in a cultural/heritage/ancestral (however you wish to call it) way.

NOCTOC said...

In reply to CK:

Stating that the Cypriots are not "ethnically" Greeks is a great exaggeration, as it would be for me to state that they are pure blooded Greeks. Greekness does not derive from purity of blood but the sharing of a common civilazation: culture, religion, language, self-idendification, and history.
Greeks have moved to Cyprus and colonized the island in mass numbers from 1200 BC during the the invasion of the Doric tribes into mailnad Greece. During that time Mycenaeans moved to the coast of Asia Minor and formed city-states, while others continued on to Cyprus, where they settled and formed Greek city States on the island. Most of the Greeks who had settled in Cyprus came from Arcadia in the Peloponnese. They brought with them their language, culture, religion, and civilazation. From them also derives the arcado-cypriot dialect which was spoken on the island during ancient times.
The Eteocypriots (there are also Eteocretans in Crete) were the original inhabitants of Cyprus but they were hellenized during the Greek colonization of the island. There were also Phoenicians living in Cyprus and they were also hellenized, but the dominant trait of the Cypriots has always been Greek for over 3,000 years now. As a matter of fact, due to its distance from Balkan countries, it was never invaded by Slavs as it happened in Greece, and the slavic bloodtype is absent from the island as opposed to Greece. Also due to their isolation, the Greek Cypriots have maintained up to the present day, a dialect which has 2.500 ancient Greek words while in Greece, they have disappeared and replaced by modern Greek. Cypriot Greek is more close ancient Greek than any other form of the Greek language.

CK said...

Thank you for the reply NOCTOC. I must admit I am not highly familiar with the ethno-cultural history of cypriots, so I do appreciate the information!
From my understanding (having recently taken a genetics test), cypriots seem to be fairly genetically close to lebanese (at least in terms of my results anyway).
Though I am only 1/4 lebanese (of the greek orthodox sect), I noted that my y-dna paternal line seems to be found predominantly in the balkans (FYROM/Albania) then lebanon. I also discovered that I seem to have some genetic link (however distant) to some people from that region.
Maybe I am over-reaching, but is this possibly an indication of pre-modern connections between greek roots & lebanese (in my case at least)? Or are there any historical indications that greeks have made a significant imprint in lebanon? Or perhaps I just have some balkan ancestor who came to lebanon during the ottoman period.

Kind of an esoteric question I am asking, but since the topic in this thread is that of a 'greek' identity in lebanon, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that.
Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

I don't know about the situation in Lebanon but i read about Cypriots and since i know i would like to inform you.Cypriots are ethnically Greeks and have always been since antiquity(i mean these of the legan Cypriot State,not the Turkish part of the island that is occupied by force-that'a another story).Nobody can claim absolute blood purity but nobody can claim that the indigenous people of a place suddenly got extinc because of a conquest or other causes(this could be a long discussion).To me,culture matters more and according to this Cypriots are undoutedly Greeks..I would like to clarify sth more.Cypriots have a wonderful dialect like many other Greeks but we should take into accoun that all modern greek dialects have evolved from koine greek with only the exception of tsakonika that has evolved from the doric form of ancient greek.I challenge you to search the correctness of what i am writing on your own just to be sure and please do not write about things you don't know (just like i didin't write about Lebanon).