Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fr Georges Massouh on Patriarch Ignatius IV

Arabic original here.

Ignatius IV: Apostle of Diversity and Openness

Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim believes that the chief concern of Arab Christians lies in translating Christianity to the Arab world, a Christianity that speaks to the Arab mind and Arab culture, that strives to convey its dogmas in a clear Arabic language that reaches the Arab mind and heart. By this, he does not mean the translation of texts into Arabic, which has been done to a certain extent. Rather, he means, "that we arrive at there being a Christianity whose addressee is the Arab person."

Starting out from his view of the concern that Arab Christians have toward the Muslims of their countries, Patriarch Hazim does not neglect to mention the negative side of the history of Muslim-Christian relations. After enumerating the controversial issues between Muslims and Christians in the past, the most important of which is Ahl al-Dhimma-- "which ensures protection, but is also marginalizing", he believes that these issues "do not prevent Muslims and Christians from cooperating on a popular level and consciously realizing that they are almost one before God, that they have the same trust in God's care-- humility and submission are the same before God."

Thus, the patriarch believes that Muslims and Christians worship one God and that what gathers them together is this one, unique God who has revealed Himself in history in Christianity and Islam. In his address to Muslim leaders in Taif in 1981, he emphasizes the faith of Christians and Muslims in the one God. He opens his address by saying, "Like you, Middle Eastern Christians aim for the face of God... Like you, we long for the Creator of heaven and earth and seek to please God at all times."

He does not hesitate, when he mentions Lebanon and Jerusalem, "where all the servants of God raise up worship to the one, unique, God," to remind that mutual respect between Muslims and Christians is based on diversity: "The religions are called in principle to gather human forces to aim at sanctification and purification by divine grace. In Jerusalem, there is an important core for diverse worship and diverse presence, while in Lebanon, there is a deeply-rooted, wide, and profound space for  practicing this diversity. In Jerusalem, we seek the face of God, and in Lebanon we seek Him also."

In reality, Patriarch Hazim calls for revealing the presence of Christ and the activity of the Holy Spirit, "where it appears to be absent or even rejected." With his affirmation of the presence of Christ in non-Christian religions, the patriarch emphasizes the agreement between Christians and Muslims about God's transcendence. This "divine transcendence" may be the most exemplary point of contact between believers of the two religions, since God remains a mystery that cannot be delved or comprehended and drawing near to Him is not realized except through acts of worship and humility.

In this context, Patriarch Hazim warns against falling into various types of "relativism and dissimulation" that some theologians who deny the distinctions that belong to each of the worlds religions can slip. They judge the externals of things without going into their meanings and purposes. If some religious practices intersect or over lap, here and there, one cannot negate differences between religions, both those that may be accidental and those that are essential.

The thing that might best express the thinking of Patriarch Ignatius IV is this declaration, "We call for diversity and openness and this is from the heart of our dogma." Here the patriarch combines two things that outwardly appear to be contradictory-- dogma and openness-- in order to make them complete each other without conflict. Thus, his intellectual slogan, and also the slogan of the Arab Orthodox Church, is: openness without compromising the faith.

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