Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How Patriarch John X Yazigi was Elected: Two Accounts

Both of these accounts should be taken with a grain of salt.

Yazigi New Patriarch of the Orthodox Church

by Ghassan Rifi in al-Safir, Arabic original here.

The bells of Balamand Monastery rang out to announce the election of the Metropolitan of Western Europe, John Yazigi as the new Greek Orthodox patriarch of Antioch and all the East, successor to Saints Peter and Paul and successor to the departed patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim.

The election of John Yazigi, who is the 158th patriarch of the See of Antioch and who will bear the name "John X", was a surprise for all the clergy and laity who were observing it, especially since his name was not listed among the potential candidates since there had not yet been five years since his being named metropolitan (it had been 4 years and 8 months) as the canons require. However, "ecclesial economia accompanied by divine inspiration," according to one of the metropolitans, led the members of the Holy Synod of Antioch to amend the canon to allow for the nomination of all metropolitans. This was in order widen the range of choices and to keep it from being limited to certain people.

It could be said that the "Antiochian coalition" that stretches from Syria to Lebanon, Palestine, and the Gulf, all the way to Antioch, comprising the senior metropolitans who are the founders of the Orthodox Youth Movement and those active in it, put itself in democratic competition with a coalition of some of the archdioceses of the West and Syria.

It was clear that the orientation of the "Antiochian coalition" is to continue along the lines established by the past two patriarchs, Elias IV and Ignatius IV, who laid the foundation for the revival of the Orthodox Church. The metropolitans of this coalition chose John X from outside the list of candidates, since even though he was considered one of the metropolitans of the West, he simultaneously represents a meeting-point for all and a common ground between the older and younger generations of metropolitans. He responds to the desires of the "Church Current" and the Orthodox Youth Movement, especially since he was raised in the thought of the late Patriarch Ignatius IV and his colleague Metropolitan Georges Khodr.

One of the metropolitans says, "The winner in these elections is the unity of the Orthodox Church and of revivalist thought, especially since the new patriarch is a son of Lattakia who knows Syria and Lebanon very well. He is a man of peace and dialog who believes that the Eastern Orthodox Church stretches from Antioch to the Americas. He is able to face the difficult circumstances that the Arab region, and especially Syria, is living through."

How did the new patriarch arrive at the reins of the See of Antioch?

At ten yesterday morning, a meeting of the Antiochian synod met at Balamand Monastery with the participation of eighteen of twenty metropolitans, since the metropolitan of North America, Philip Saliba, and the Metropolitan of Baghdad, Constantine Papastephanou, were absent on account of illness.

When Metropolitan Elias Audi arrived at the monastery, the doors of Balamand were shut so that they could be alone for approximately three hours, during which time no one was allowed to enter. It began with prayer for the soul of Patriarch Hazim and that "God may inspire the metropolitans of the See of Antioch to make the right choice."

Then a consultative session began during which the question of holding the election or delaying it to wait what will happen with the security situation in Syria was held. However, the overwhelming majority was in favor of holding it and the possibility of delay was quickly set aside, so everyone moved on to the process of election.

The election process requries that each metropolitan puts forward the name of three candidates (he can name himself) and then one of those three is elected. If he receives two thirds of the vote, he is named the winner but if he does not, there is an election between him and the next two candidates. The one who wins a majority is named patriarch.

At the beginning of the electoral session, the metropolitans agreed to amend the Church canons to. The amendment opened the door for all metropolitans to be nominated and ended the limitation to only those who have been metropolitans for more than five years.

In the first round, which was a secret ballot, metropolitans John Yazigi (Western Europe), Antonios Shadrawi (Mexico), and Saba Esber (Patriarchal Locum Tenens and metropolitan of Hauran and Jebel el-Arab) were named.

In the second round of the election, it became clear that if both metropolitans Yazigi and Esber--both of whom belong to the "Antiochian coalition", continued in the running, the deciding bloc's votes would be split between them, which would be in Metropolitan Shadrawi's favor. For this reason, Metropolitan Esber took the initiative to announce his withdrawal so that the competition would be limited to Yazigi and Shadrawi.

After the vote and the count, Yazigi's victory became clear with twelve votes against five votes for Shadrawi and one vote for Esber. Immediately, the Synod's secretary, Father Georges Dimas went out and the election of John Yazigi as the new patriarch of the See of Antioch, succeeding the departed Patriarch Ignatius Hazim, calling attention to that the patriarchal departments will take charge of announcing the formal arrangements for celebrating the installation and his receiving the shepherd's staff. Throughout this announcement there were bells ringing, cheers, and applause.

After this the metropolitans, led by Patriarch John X went to the monastery's church amidst the chanting of the Balamand choir. There he put on priestly robes and presided over the prayer of thanksgiving. He gave a sermon in which he stressed that the Gospel, through our prayers, will remain open, and calling on the fathers to pray so that we might be as one hand and so that we may make the Church of Antioch the image that befits the Bride of Christ and the Church. He said, "We realize that our people are good and that serving them is sweet for our hearts. We are from this land, from this country. Our country, our soil, is a part of us and we are a part of it."

He closed by stressing unity and cooperation for the sake of service. He thanked the metropolitans for their trust, confirming his tireless quest to build up a church that is a beautiful bride for all. Then Patriarch Yazigi went to the Institute of Theology. The first to congratulate him was the former vice president Issam Fares who called him from abroad. Brigadier General William Majli also sent his congratulations, as did the president of Balamand University, Doctor Elie Salem and a number of the university's deans. The deputy Robert Fadel was present and said that Yazigi "enjoys the qualities of youth, knowledge, culture, piety, and openness" and that half of him is Lebanese and half Syrian, noting that these qualities are not easily found.

For his part, the patriarch locum tenens Saba Esber told al-Saifr, "The election process was carried out in peace and love and was exceptionally smooth."

Esber thought that the media burdened the election process with more than it could bear. This provoked great buzz around it, but he denied that any political struggle took place and affirmed that the election process was carried out in all responsibility.

The Orthodox Church Renews Her Youth: Yazigi is Patriarch

by Ghassan Saoud in al-Akhbar, Arabic original here.

"Yesterday the Holy Spirit chose the metropolitan of Europe, John Yazigi (born 1955) as patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Antioch." If some of the metropolitans were occupied with prayer instead of their electoral campaigns, they might have heard the voice of Holy Spirit encouraging them to withdraw in favor of Yazigi rather than persist in their candidacy, lest the Holy Spirit dash their hopes by preferring someone else. The day before yesterday, Patriarch John Yazigi dined at the table of the metropolitan of Mexico, Antonios Shadrawi. He heard him speak of his nomination and his plans for the Church in the event that he wins, within him reciprocating the disclosure of his intentions or what awaits him. Thus Shadrawi went to bed a patriarch, without his calculations requiring too much prayer of him. The metropolitans woke with the assumption that there were two competing groups: one with six votes nominating the metropolitan of Hauran Saba Esber, the other with six votes nominating Shadrawi, with the probability of Shadrawi's influence among the six remaining metropolitans.

However, the meeting had barely begun before "the Holy Spirit" began to be active among the two groups, as Church sources prefer to say. The patron of Esber's candidacy proposed that the Synod amend the basic statute of the See of Antioch  that was issued in 1973, in order to permit the nomination of metropolitans who have not yet had dioceses for five years. Thus it became possible to nominate Metropolitan John Yazigi, who was elected metropolitan in 2008. This is with knowledge that yesterday's amendment, like other previous amendments, have been a point of canonical discussion between members of the Orthodox Church. Shadrawi's initial surprise was soon followed by an additional surprise, as some of the metropolitans whom he considered to be on his side moved over to Yazigi's side.

Thus the metropolitan of Hauran Saba Esber, the metropolitan of Mexico Antonios Shadrawi, and the metropolitan of Central and Western Europe John Yazigi led the first election that names the three candidates for patriarch. With Saba attracting most of the block in favor of him to Yazigi, the latter was able to gain the support of a number of metropolitans who had voted for Shadrawi, the most important of them the new patriarch's brother,  the metropolitan of Aleppo Paul Yazigi who had previously withdrawn his nomination in favor of Shadrawi, the metropolitan of Argentina Siluan Muci, his friend bishop Ghattas Hazim, and his spiritual father Metropolitan John Mansour, who had ordained him deacon in 1979 and priest in 1983 in the Archdiocese of Lattakia.

The first group, whose announced candidate was Esber and whose leader was Metropolitan Georges Khodr, first by amending the canon and then by nominating Yazigi, attracted four votes that were considered to be closer to the other bloc. If the other group had realized what  lay in wait for them, they would have first blocked the canonical amendment and then would have nominated Metropolitan Paul Yazigi, who, until his withdrawal in favor of Shadrawi, was one of the most prominent candidates opposing Esber. Thus the Orthodox Church would have witnessed an unprecedented competition between two brothers for the See of Antioch. Thus it might be said that Shadrawi and his bloc were fooled when they thought that Esber was Metropolitan Georges Khodr's only choice. His calculations, and those of Paul Yazigi, were on this basis. Regardless of the exact electoral figures and who voted for whom, the Metropolitan of Mount Lebanon has been successful for the second consecutive time in bringing forward a patriarch whom the Orthodox Youth Movement can claim as an alumnus.

The new patriarch is a monk who has been living in a tiny apartment in the French capital for four years because his metropolitan office was not yet built. Finally, he rented a Church in order to perform the Orthodox liturgy in it. In his first words as patriarch, the graduate of Greek theological institutes and abbot of the Patriarchal Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand from 2001 to 2005 affirmed that, "Christians are staying in Syria. The land is their land. He called for dialog in order to solve the crises. Those who know the former bishop of Wadi al-Nasara say that his political positions will not go beyond the low ceiling that Patriarch Hazim set for his positions and that generally he will be content to give fatherly advice to those fighting to love each other a little more, preferring prayer, fasting, chant, and religious books to everything else.

Update: On the website of the Archdiocese of  Argentina, there is a slightly different account of how the statute was modified to allow for the election of Patriarch John. Spanish original, here.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Holy Fathers opened the question of the list of candidates and decided to include in it Metropolitans John (Europe) and Basilios (Akkar) who each have 4 years and 7 months of ministry [as metropolitans], thus making them eligible for the See of Antioch.


Anonymous said...

Very good two articles especially the one from AL-Akhbar which shed some light to the mechanics of voting. It is clear that the path was set between two Antiochian "renaissance" candidates (SABA and JOHN) with ANTONIOUS Chedrawi (Though I am baffled as to why because he could have done far more for his archdiocese) as the other polar candidate. Previous to Sunday, all media outlets had spoken of three: Paul Yazigi, Saba Isber and Damaskinos Mansour. Thanks to the steadfast will of people like GEORGE Khodr who helped shape the successful election of JOHN.
Nevertheless, JOHN X is truly a prayerful choice by the holy synod. He is a liturgist, theologian, academic, monastic, ecumenical, humble, and non-partisan. He is the best choice for all Antiochians everywhere. He is well respected in Lebanon, Syria, Europe and Americas.
A very good choice on the articles. I compared them to other newspapers and websites including Nahar, MTV, LBC, Al-anwar and Almustaqbal. Thanks for your information. God grant many, many years to our new Patriarch Elect JOHN X.

Samn! said...

I'm often hesitant to translate Ghassan Saoud's articles in al-Akhbar, since while he has good sources, he sometimes has obvious, weird inaccuracies. But in this case there's an air of great plausibility about the article, especially when it's read next to the al-Safir article, which I have more confidence in.

In the Dec 17 al-Akhbar it had been reported that Met. Paul Yazigi had put his support behind Shadrawi. Presumably this is because he realized that he was not politically viable as a candidate-- with regard both to church politics and Syrian politics. For a couple days before that, there had been a weird surge in interest in Shadrawi in the Lebanese press and he was mentioned as a major candidate in last-minute rundowns in a lot of the newspapers. Why either he or Met Damaskinos would want to give up their Latin American fiefdoms for what will be a very difficult patriarchate never made any sense to me.

That there could be an agreement to change the basic statute was in itself something of a surprise. I'm curious as to whether this was made possible by the effective collapse in the day-to-day of the Syrian regime. I had been under the impression that any changes to the statute required at the very least registration with the government. In any case, since John was the only 'patriarchable' bishop affected by this change, it was probably obvious from that moment what was going to happen.

In any case, it was an inspired decision that swept away most factionalism and really did bring about the best man for the job. May God grant him many years!

Anonymous said...

Samn, I'm curious about your statement that "any changes to the statute required at the very least registration with the government". Is that something mandated by the Syrian government and that applies to the Patriarchate since it's based/registered in Damascus?

In my mostly uninformed opinion, and if it's true that the suggestion to allow for an exception/make a change to the statutes came from Met. George Khodr, his admirable oratorical skills and the respect the rest of the Synod has for him could have played a big role in the decision.

Also, I've seen different accounts as to what the exception/modification of statutes that happened was specifically. In Msr. Siluan's Muci's blog/website, he says that the exception was only made to allow Metropolitans John Yazigi and Boulos Nassar (Akkar) to be on the electoral roll since it's been just shy of 5 years since their election. Most other news accounts say that the exception was made for all members of the synod, or that the statutes have been changed in a more permanent way. In such a case, Met. Ephrem of Tripoli would have also been a candidate, and in some circles he would have been a popular candidate.

Samn! said...

The 1973 basic statute had to be registered with the Syrian government. I don't know enough details to know if amendments to it have to be registered as well, but that would make sense. It's similar to how corporate by-laws in the US have to be filed with the state, but in the context of a rather different sort of government. In any case, application of various iterations of the basic statute-- especially with regard to parish councils and how property is managed-- is wildly inconsistent and there are many calls for a complete overhaul. But that's something that will have to wait until the new political reality becomes more clear...

I think Met Ephrem would have appealed to more or less the same people as Met Saba and would have been opposed by the same people. I haven't yet read Met Siluan's account, but I presume it would be the most accurate, since reporters often elide details or get them wrong.