Thursday, October 4, 2012

Al-Safir Gives Some Background on the 'Civil Commission' Plan

From yesterday's al-Safir. Arabic original here.

By Ghassan Rifi

The Holy Synod of Antioch is holding its meeting today under the ledership of Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Ignatius IV Hazim at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand with the participation of the metropolitans of Syria, Lebanon, and the diaspora. Although the meeting takes place at its regular date at the beginning of Fall and takes its usual form, it has taken on great importance because it discusses an exceptional item establishing a tranformative stage for the community and for its role on the national level in Lebanon, where it is assumed that the advisory committee that Patriarch Hazim selected at the beginning of this year will put forward its plan which calls for founding a civil commission to organize Orthodox affairs and to esure their active participation in public life.

The committee puts forward its plain amidst a state of division within the community over founding this commission, which is rejected by some Orthodox youth and pastoral organizations which consider it to "constitute a real threat to the unity of the See of Antioch" and that "previous permission to erect representative commissions in Syria and the countries of emmigration will result in a quasi-federation of churches according to each country."

Those who reject it warn "of a dangerous separation between spiritual and temporal matters" as well as "miring the Church into a narrowly sectarian pattern," according to the meeting opposing the civil commission that was held in St Joseph's School in Jbeil on the first.

In  the meantime, sources from the patriarchal advisory commitee indicate to al-Safir that the committe prepared the plan for the civil commission by personal request from the head of the Orthodox Church, and even though it has not gone into effect it will be put forward as a proposal to the Holy Synod of Antioch which will put it under the microscope. It must be mentioned that the Synod has the right to correct it, to add to it, to delete some of its sections, or to put it into practice.

These sources affirm that the plan avoids sectarian logic and is based on a formula that does not exclude anyone, respects existing diversity, and gives a full guarantee to the Church. They indicate that the commission does not have a specifically defined concern, that it is non-political, that there is no political competition within it, that no one will be able to dominate it, and that no one side possesses a decisive vote within it.

These sources say that the plan is for a civil commission that will organize Orthodox affairs in Lebanon and make their participation in public life effective. "This commission will open the path for members of the community to have greater and more effective participation in various positions in the state, in that Orthodox will feel that there is someone gathering them together and taking care of them-- in a sirit of openness far from chauvinism or partisanship, in harmony with Orthodox history, which is completely alien to sectarian chauvinism, isolationism, and insularity."

One of the members of the advisory committee recounts to al-Safir how the idea for the commission came up: "Patriarch Hazim was hearing many complaints from different Orthodox groups about having a weak role, wasted rights, and losing positions. In this regard, he received a number of proposals for creating a commission to represent the Orthodox and to take care of their general concerns. This was accompanied by the creation of groups independent of the Church, distant or critical of it, that raise a voice demanding lost rights in a sectarian manner."

He adds, "At that point, Patriarch Hazim decided to form a personal advisory committee consisting of six people whom he trusts. Meetings started being held under his leadership and with the participation of the Lebanese Orthodox metropolitans. The patriarch requested for an acceptable formula to be prepared to organize Orthodox activity in public life and that it be presented to him. On this basis, lengthy discussions were held and an agreement was reached on ideas that served as the basis for preparing the plan to create the 'Civil Commission'."

Another member of the advisory committee reaveals to al-Safir some of the proposed items and confirms that the commission will be under the Church's patronage and will not be independent from it. It will work under the supervision of the patriarch and its chief concern will be to work to strengthen Orthodox collaboration in the service of Lebanon, especially with regard to participation in bureaucratic positions.

According to the committee member, the commission will be composed of around two hundred people. It will include two types of members: "statutory" members, including deputies, government leaders, general directors, ambassadors, university deans, and those who currently or formerly hold important positions, in addition to twelve members named by the patriarch and three to five members named by the Lebanese metropolitans.

They will constitute two gatherings: the general commission will elect an executive committee which will be in direct contact with the patriarch and will meet under his leadership. It will oversee the development of the Orthodox presence in various fields.

The committee member affirms that the proposed civil commission will not be a replacement for any Orthodox body designated in the canons. Rather, it is a specifically Lebanese body within a specifically defined field. Likewise, it will not be subject to political exploitation of partisanship. Instead, one of its chief concerns will be to demonstrate the political diversity of the Orthodox. 

He says, "We called the commission 'civil' and not 'lay' because the term 'lay' gives the impression of a separation between it and the Church and also because its concerns will be limited to public issues only and not Church matters."

The committee member affirms that opposition to the commission is unjustified as long as it works under the Church's patronage and the patriarch's personal leadership.

It is presumed that when the Holy Synod meets with the participation of the metropolitans of Syria, Lebanon, and the countries of the diaspora, in addition to the civil commission for the Orthodox community, it will discuss general Church matters for a period of two days which may be extended according to the issues that are on the agenda.

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