Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fr Touma (Bitar) on Who Should be Chosen as the Next Patriarch

Arabic original here. As is typical in Fr Touma's writing, you have to discern for yourself the line between waxing quixotic and prophesying...

Anew the Antioch of the Spirit

"The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God shall stand forever." (Isaiah 40:8)

On Wednesday, December 5, Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim of Antioch and all the East fell asleep in the Lord following a stroke. He lied in state in the upper church at the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Beirut during the following days, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, so that the faithful could receive his blessing. Today, Sunday, December 9, they will pray over him at noon. He will be transported to Damascus' Maryamiyya on the same day and will be laid to rest the following day, Monday in the burial-place of the patriarchs. May God's mercies be upon him. May his memory be eternal.

In effect, the See of Antioch is vacant. If the departure of His Beatitude has left sadness in the hearts of many, it is fitting not to delve into who will succeed him while his body, filled with years and toils, lies amidst the faithful. However, everyone-- within the Church and outside her-- is asking and wondering automatically, "Who is to come?" This is natural. The election of a patriarch happens once or twice in a lifetime. His Beatitude occupied the See of Antioch since 1979. One who was 37 then is now in his sixties. The custom is for a patriarch to remain in his see until his death. Naturally, this has advantages and disadvantages.

Whatever the case may be, a very important issue is before us for the foreseeable future. Its importance only grows when we realize the centrality of the image of the patriarch has for us in tradition and in the ordering of unity between the faithful and the Holy Synod.

In reality, questions and discussion about this matter have been going on for some time, especially since His Beatitude, today, is over 92 years old. He enjoyed pointing out, in his love for life, that both his parents lived over a hundred years. But no one chooses their time of death-- every hour could be the hour!

Because of this, discussions have been going on, here and there, about who and when and how? Today the issue is multiplied and arguments are being made about filling the position. In the coming days we must, with God's permission, quicken the pace. Possibilities are opening up. Interests are overlapping. Calls are being made. Maneuvers are being made. Statements are being issued. Names are being proposed. There are trial baloons. The pulse is being taken about some. Gifts and favors, at inappropriate times, play the role of implicit simony! Politicians and powerful men are suggesting this or that name! Likewise, perhaps, some government organs are wining and dining in secret as, perhaps, are some ambassadors and church leaders from outside Antioch. The point is that the affairs of the Church are being treated like one of the playthings of the gentiles!

Others have their proposals and opinions but we, as the people of God, have our say that we derive from what has come down to us from the tradition of the holy fathers.

Before delving into who is to come, we must define how the one who is to come should be.

There are opinions that are put forward.

One of them calls for a patriarch who knows how to deal tactfully with thorny sectarian and political matters. On the one hand, he should preserve the community's unity and works to ensure their rights that are wasted vis-a-vis other communities and the government. On the other hand, he should strive, to keep members of the community safe from the dangers of the political and sectarian conflict that is raging among us and attempting to embroil us, despite ourselves, in issues that do not concern us, neither on the level of our community or on the level of our belonging to the same nation, even as we are situated in the midst of it.

There is another opinion that calls for a patriarch who has good relations with Muslims and the Vatican and other sects, as well as with politicians and the current regime and the opposition. This comes within the context of looking for a patriarch who is open and who will do away with fundamentalism, closed-mindedness, and reactionary thinking!

There is an opinion that calls for an administrative patriarch, one who is eloquent, well-versed in sociology, capable of dealing with all the communities, groups, and interests in the nation, and who is extraordinarily ecumenical in his relations!

There are those who desire a patriarch who, naturally, performs Byzantine chant well, is knowledgeable, scientific, organized, in tune with modernity, liberal in outlook, of a pragmatic tendency, a good social pastor, a man of institutions...

These opinions overlap in some elements to produce an image that varies from one person or group to another.

But what do we say?

We are a church. We have no right to forget this or to ignore it, not even temporarily! We are not a municipality. We are not a charitable society. We are not a political party. We are not a social club. If we did not say church, we would say a group with a theanthropic nature, not a purely human group. Our concern is that we have a patriarch who is first of all and last of all a man of God. This does not come from peoples' choices and arrangements. This comes from God's choice that the faithful grasp through purification, fasting, and prayer and then make their own and announce it! Otherwise, there is no meaning to when God says, "God must be obeyed, not men" or to when the Lord Jesus said to His disciples, "Ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers to His vineyard." The people, no matter what heights they reach, cannot guide what belongs to God. It is God and God alone who guides what is His, and only in those who are trained in saying to Him, "Amen!" Thus, any deliberations or maneuvers outside of this context are corrupt and to be rejected, completely worthless before your Lord and in His Church!

The one whom your Lord desires comes from His Spirit and His Book. The important thing about the one who is to come is that you ask, what if his faith is like the faith of Abraham? What if his gentleness is like the gentleness of Moses? What if his childhood, humility and repentance are like the childhood, humility, and repentance of David? The most important thing is that you find an echo in him of the theology of John the Beloved, of the love of Paul. Even more important is that you examine him to see if he bears the cross of his Lord every day. If you do not find that he is poor in worldly things but does not care, because for him wealth is from above, then he is of no use! Closely examine his patience: If you sent him into the desert, would he flee? Would he melt in fire? Or would he consider the desert a divine oasis and fire like the dew upon the three youths? It is not a problem-- indeed, it is better and more appropriate-- if he has a plain appearance and is without form or beauty like the Suffering Servant. The important thing is that the power of the Spirit of God is thick within him, so that he can destroy the Devil's strongholds along with the people of God and so he can drive every thought toward obedience to God. What concerns us also is that the man of God be of the same stuff as his Master, that he not snap a damaged reed, that he not snuff out a smoking wick, that no one hears his voice in the streets. That he is gentle and long-suffering! That he rejoices with the joyful and weeps with those who weep. That he is small with children, youthful with those growing up, middle-aged, elderly... that he be all things to all people so that he might spread hope in God to all. That he not snuff out the Spirit but that he breathes it into those languishing in darkness and the shadow of death-- and how dark it is today! A man of prayer and fasting. A man who has the aroma of Joseph's chastity in the land of Egypt. Who knows how to make supplication. Who is well-versed in giving thanks. Who is pleased with everything that comes to him and accepts every flock without complaint. Persisting, with the people of the house of God, in hope until dawn shatters the shadows of temptation. One who is firm in faith until the end. One who is Orthodox in doctrine and worship. One who neither shows favor nor compromises. One who loves to teach and to mobilize talents in the service of preaching the Gospel, bringing salvation, and spreading the Word and the joy of the Lord. One who is careful, not to unify the people and the Synod, but to draw all to the One in every situation so that our unity may be preserved in Spirit and in truth. After this, everything follows. What he lacks will be given to him by the Spirit of the Lord in its time. If he is young, grace will increase his wisdom. If he has little experience in a given matter, the Spirit of the Lord will illuminate for him the paths of salvation. We are in need of one who will raise us up, through his sweat and tears, from our falls. We need one who asks about our suffering. We need one who helps us to leave behind our scandals. He alone is a man of God, a man for all seasons! For the springtime of ascent. For the summer of temptations. For the autumn of maturity. For the winter of hardships. One who distributes his Master's food without pay. One who pastors us with the behavior of the Good Shepherd and who disciplines us with God's mercies.

Where can we find a patriarch like this?! The Lord God has not left His people, for whom He sacrificed His blood, without a witness, even for a day! Far be it for Him to relinquish them to Azazael! There is always a way out! The grass withers and the flower fades, for a time, but the Word of our God shall stand forever!

Thus, brothers, fathers, bishops and metropolitans, unleash the candles of your consciences, and search out for us a man of God! Today or tomorrow you will die, just as His Beatitude our Patriarch Ignatius died, God's mercies be upon him. Do not look for a patriarch for us who will be the stepson of your moods, your honors, your alliances, and your worldliness! Give us a man who will shepherd us according to God's heart or do not give us anyone at all! The spirit has grown old in Antioch and the heritage has been scattered. But the time has come for the spirit to be renewed and for scattered things to be gathered! “O Lord, O Lord, look down from heaven and behold, and visit this vineyard, and perfect that which Your right hand has planted.”

By no means let us be like Moses who doubted God's power to shepherd His people and so did not enter into the Promised Land and whose bones lie on a hill overlooking it. The man whom the Lord desires for you stands among you! Open the eyes of your heart and you will find him!

Indeed, behold the man! I did not know him. I discerned the Spirit of the Lord in him once and I wrote about it, but did not mention his name!

Who do you think he is?

With all the force of my conscience in Christ, I will say his name! I will not only say his name. I will call for him to be named the new patriarch of Antioch and All the East: Metropolitan Siluan Muci, bishop of Argentina! Place your hand upon him and make him your servant brother and patriarch! He is the chosen one of Christ and His consolation for you!

Siluan for patriarch!

In the Lord's love,
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan the Athonite-- Douma

December 9, 2012


Anonymous said...

Metropolitan Siluan (Murci) is an excellent choice. How about Metropolitan Ephrem (Kyriakos)?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1, I believe Metropolitan Ephrem is not technically eligible as he was elected Metropolitan 3 years ago and hasn't served the required 5 years. Samn, I'm trying to find the list of members of the Synod and those who are eligible, and I haven't found sources I can trust. Do you have a trusted source with a good list?

Samn! said...


Met. Ephrem is unfortunately not eligible to become patriarch because he has not been a member of the Holy Synod for five years yet.

Regarding the eligible members, the Lebanese press has done a terrible job with giving lists-- al-Safir even published a completely unhinged rant by Michel Kilo warning of dire consequences if the (ineligible) Bp Louka Khoury is elected patriarch.

The best list I can manage is, in order of seniority:

North America - Philip Saliba

Iraq and Kuweit - Constantine

Zahleh and Baalbek- Spiridon Khoury

Jbeil and Batroun- Georges Khodr

Lattakia- Youhanna Mansour

Hama- Elia Saliba

Beirut- Elias Audi

Tyre and Sidon- Elias Kfoury

Brazil- Damaskinos Mansour

Homs- Georges Abou Zakhm

Chile- Sergius Abed

Australia, New Zealand, and the Philipines - Paul Saliba

Mexico- Antonius Chadraoui

Hauran and Jebel el-Arab Saba Esber

Aleppo - Paul Yazigi

Argentina- Siluan Muci

Almost all predictions are that it's a decision between Met. Paul Yazigi and Met. Saba Esber, with an outside chance for Met. Damaskinos Mansour. But, these things can't really be predicted...

Ochlophobist said...

This is one of the most refreshing statements I've ever read from a cleric writing on ecclesial political matters. Not just reiterating generic themes, but actually putting money on a horse.

Metropolitan Siluan Murci - what a background! I can't help but wonder what, if any, his political postures are being from Venezuela.

Richard Barrett said...

According to a friend of mine (the nephew of Met. George of Homs, in fact), the three candidates are in fact Mansour, Yazigi, and Esber.

Anonymous said...

Respectfully, a stressful NO to Paul Yazigi as he has a questionable background. Also he has Not been a voice of impartiality during the conflict in Syria, particularly Aleppo. Damaskinos Mansour is not impressive and not that religious or pious figure we ought to have as the chief shepherd of our Church. Esber is the most realistic, from the Syrian candidates due to his non-political agenda. Mousa and Louca will pay eventually for their siding with the outgoing Baath. Even Tarek Mitri sees no value of these two auxiliary bishops. A good candidate in my humble opinion is Kfoury, Paul of Australia and Silouam.

Fr John W Fenton said...

This phrase is hard for me to understand: "If you do not find that he is poor in worldly things but does not care because for him wealth is from above, then he is of no use!"

Might it mean something like this?

If you do not find that he is poor in worldly things and is indifferent that his wealth is from above, then he is of no use!

Mind, I don't know and can't read Arabic. However, on the basis of my knowledge of other languages and the art of translation as well as considering the context, I'm simply thinking that this might capture some of essence of what is written.

Samn! said...

Fr John,

I might should've used more commas there. The point is something like,
"he should be materially poor but not care about it, because he knows that riches are from above. Otherwise, he's useless."

Fr John W Fenton said...

Ah! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

May the Holy Spirit convict the hearts of the Holy Synod to do the right thing for the right reasons. A very well written article.

Anonymous said...

Maybe if Fr Touma didn't refuse his election as a Metropolitan he would have his say in the Holy Synod. Otherwise he should leave it to those who are members of the Synod to decide.