Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Carol Saba on Patriarch Ignatius IV

Arabic original here.

Orthodox Words for the Departed Patriarch and the Coming Patriarch

Ignatius IV departed as he lived, in dignity, profundity, and simplicity. I came to know him through books, reading his writings, translating his sermons, and visiting his residence in Damascus in the company of the Orthodox bishops of Paris, and on various occasions. His constant concern was an active and effective Antiochian presence. We cooperated on key issues such as, for example, when he asked me in February 2008 to give a report to the Synod about the situation and challenges in the Diocese of Europe following the repose of Metropolitan Ghufrael Salibi. Last August, we discussed my critical view of the plan for a civil commission for Greek Orthodox in Lebanon. We spoke by phone from Paris at the end of November. He was anxious about the situation in the Middle East and happy about my receiving the French National Order of Merit, which he considered to be a testimony to our Church in the West. One could go on at length speaking of his achievements and positions. He came to us as patriarch in 1979, during the difficult times Lebanon, his second family, was experiencing. His patron, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, became the saint in his exemplary life, establishing an open Antiochian witness, based on authenticity in faith and bold enthusiasm in the world, a witness that speaks the language of modernity, of contact and communication with the other. The departed patriarch, who was of this school, had one great feature and three characteristics that made him one of the great men of the Middle East. The great feature was intelligence in positioning authenticity in tradition and vision. His impetus towards the future always started off from the ground of reality, from profundity of vision and the womb of tradition. He discerned what the Lord asked of him here and now, not as a slave or a hireling, but as a son, active in the Lord's field. As for the three characteristics, they are a dignified presence, profound vision, and a simple existence.

Regarding the patriarch to come, the challenges ahead of him are pivotal and very serious. In the Church, pastoral and evangelical vision must be renewed, communion and and consultation must be established in the Church, along with ways to move forward effectively, with a presence in today's troubled world, a world of contact and communication, and in our troubled Middle East that is experiencing the birth-pangs of a world that strives for true citizenship with equal rights and responsibilities, without religious or ethnic discrimination. In our Middle East today, there are serious dangers, competing national and regional interests and comprehensive plans that kill freedom with a new personality cult and religious or political absolutism that forces the individual who does not belong to submit to it. In this context, the new patriarch will quickly realize that the grace of guiding the ship that will be poured out upon him is, today more than any time in the past, a double-edged sword that must be wielded with firmness of faith and purity of spirit, churchly boldness, rapid discernment, comprehensive thinking, programmatic action, constructive realism for cooperating with modernity, and renewed vision of the world today. He must first of all be a loving father, a perceptive organizer, someone who puts everything into harmony, not a leader in the bureaucratic sense who limits authority to himself and those close to him. He must be inspiring and cultivate discernment among his children, not a manager who dictates from above, turning the Church from being guided by spiritual leadership to being ruled by top-down, worldly authority. In key issues, he must be a speaker and a listener who does not restrict speaking to himself. He must speak last, after listening to what the Spirit inspires to all, and then his world should speak for the entire Church. He must be more than a patriarch. He must be an active prophet, reproaching, disciplining, and showing the straight path. He must engage with the Church and society with a personality, but without falling into a cult of personality. He must be a conscientious organizer who strives to give Church a sound institutional basis, without falling into the trap of institutions that replace the spirit with the letter. If he is the loving father, the head of the council, master of the institution, an organizer of communion and a motivator of talents, then there is no fear that the sword is in his hand, the sword of the Lord that rightly divides the word of truth. At that point we will have a churchly and spiritual framework for an active and pioneering Antiochian Orthodox witness in the Middle East and the world. It will be a witness where our Church's tradition is not a petrified inheritance, sealed and closed in on itself, which we inherited from fathers who were a beacon in word and deed in this Middle East. Rather, it will be a constantly-renewed movement of faith, open to the world and to others, a language of discourse that makes us able to advance national cooperation in our Middle Eastern societies, in the service of man, his freedom, dignity, and the flourishing of his life. We hope to God that our coming patriarch will have authentic faith and intelligence in negotiating all these challenges and that he will speak with our hope.

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