Saturday, September 14, 2013

In Memoriam: Albert Laham, 1924-2013

Unofficial translation. Arabic original here.

Communique from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East
September 14, 2013

"No one is holy like You, O Lord our God. O You who raised up the faithful, O Good One, and established them on the rock of Your confession" (from the funeral service).

Albert Laham, whom the Church of Antioch entrusts today to the hope of resurrection and eternal life, is one of those whom the Lord God established "on the rock of His confession". He became a rock and a cornerstone through which the Church of Christ was strengthened in Antioch. In the 1940's, Albert and his companions stood up and breathed life into the body of the Church the spark of whose spirit had been covered by the roughness of history and the features of whose face had been swept away by the flaccidity of the past.

Albert and his companions founded the Orthodox Youth Movement, which set out from the past to adorn the present with the splendor of Orthodoxy. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East mourns on this blessed day, the day of the Elevation of the Life-Giving Cross, one of her finest sons, who took his talent and multiplied it, working in the field of the Lord. Today she loses one of those who supported her with their generous giving. Today she confers to the hope of resurrection one of those who conferred to her the abundance of their toils. As she extends her condolences to his small family, the Church, his large family, consoles herself with such men who watered the Church of Christ with the sweat of their brow.

Christ is risen. Indeed He is risen.

Raymond Rizk Remembers Albert Laham

French original here.

On September 10, 2013, Albert Laham, one of the principle founders of the Orthodox Youth Movement (MJO) and a great figure in the contemporary Antiochian Orthodox Church, fell asleep in the Lord.

I was barely 16 when I met him at my first visit to an MJO meeting in Beirut. He was giving a lecture. With his typical fervor, he encouraged the young people who were listening to him to not be scandalized by the various shortcomings of their Church of Antioch, still only just awakened from a state of somnolence caused by centuries of Ottoman domination, but rather to join ranks in her service, following Christ and giving Him their heart. I remember that he said that "you do not leave your mother when she falls ill but you love her and care for her all the more." This was the first time that I heard such words. I was enthralled by them. Through Albert Laham, the Lord entered into my life and invited me into the service of His Church.

From then on, he was for the young people of our generation the very model of a layperson engaged in the renewal of the Church. Although still young, he had rediscovered the significance of the royal priesthood and while having filial respect for the hierarchy he also had an acute sense for the responsibility of the laity and of their necessary brotherly collaboration with the clergy in order to ensure a true Christian witness. From the first days of the MJO, already in 1944 he wrote:  "The work of renewal must take place within the Church and send its roots down to the very source...

Our station as members of the Church invested us with a sacred mission and makes us fully responsible for the entire Body. It is not as a result of delegation or condescension on the part of ecclesial authorities that one is allowed to contribute to the Christian effort. Neither is it so one can make up for the inactivity of that authority. In the Body of Christ there cannot be delegation, representation, or substitution... Outside of any mandate... young people are active members of the Church of Christ and possess a sacred mission, having become 'a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim His praises...' (1 Peter 11:3) (Revue Lumière', no. 16, Feb. 1944, in an article entitled "Fondement de notre action").

He was nourished by the Gospel. Father Lev Gillet, whose disciple he was, taught him to find the face of Christ through its texts and to enter into dialogue with Him. He very likely knew the entire New Testament by heart and he constantly referred to it. He was, par excellence, the very model of the first generation of the MJO, who never travelled without having the New Testament on their person. During the many lectures that he gave in the various MJO centers in these last years, the young people were excited by the enthusiasm of this old man (he was older than 80), and left impressed by the way he talked about Jesus. He once told me that he wanted to spend his last years in Lebanon, just to be able to speak to the young people of the MJO, in some sense to win forgiveness for the many years of his life passed far from them, and to share with them his "life in Christ." He was granted that consolation, and despite his physical state of general weakness these past months, he never missed an opportunity to do this.

He strengthened his life in Christ, nourished by the Word of God, through his continual participation in the liturgical life of the Church. Apart from when he was ill, I do not think that he missed a single Divine Liturgy. His attitude at church, often standing in a corner humbly and attentively, gave the same witness. Two days before his death, we were at the same church, where despite his evident tiredness, he was entirely taken up in the encounter with the One to whom he had given his heart.

He had asked that at his funeral a passage from the Epistle to the Romans be read, which gives, I think, a compelling notion of the way in which he lived. It says, "He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s" (Romans 14:6-8). This text characterizes Albert. Yes, in effect, he did not live for himself and he did not die for himself. He always lived, despite his social status, fleeing honors and withdrawn into his hidden life with his Lord, of which one caught a glimpse when he spoke of Him with passion.

During the 1960's he was incontestably one of those who led the struggle within the Church of Antioch between the forces of renewal and those of an arid status quo, tainted at a time of Soviet influence by the intermediary of the Russian Church. He was the spirit of the resistance. An experienced lawyer, head of one of the most important law firms of the city, he was always available when it came to matters of the Church. He became the councilor for all the clergy working for renewal. He received more every day. They were all attracted by the profundity of his thought, his measuredness, his determination to always preach reconciliation without that affecting his firmness when it came to "that which has been given one time for all to the saints." We learned much from his deep sense of belonging to the Church, from his dedication through all trials, from the patience that made us all listen. I remember once, during a meeting of the General Secretariat of the MJO, when we were debating the strategy to take in a matter of importance for the Church. Everyone had their opinion and Albert had his which was different from most of the young people present.

Despite his experience that was recognized by all, his age, and his obvious quality of leadership in such matters, he willingly bowed to the opinion of the majority and began to expand on their proposal. This made a great impression on us. One of the young people present there, Georges Nahas, wrote me to give news of Albert's death: "We passed through difficult days with him; we know how much he was 'consacrated' to the Church. He contributed the most to prepare the ground for the entrance into the episcopate of several 'heavyweights' of the renewal movement, in particular the late Patriarch Ignatius IV and Metropolitan Georges (Khodr), may he be granted to live many years, since he is one of the last representatives of the founding generation of the MJO.

Albert long campaigned for changing the Antiochian canons in order to permit laypersons engaged in the life of the Church to be elected and become members of the Majles el-Milli [diocesan council], called to help the bishop in the management of his eparchy. He was elected to it with a large majority, as many saw in him an authentic representative of the renewal of the diocese of Beirut for which they were calling. He played a leading role there and achieved numerous reforms.

His rootedness in the Church of Christ pushed him to not restrict himself to the Antiochian sphere. He bore witness to the entirety of Orthodoxy and worked for the rapprochement of Christians. One of the founders of Syndesmos, the International Federation of Orthodox Youth Movements, he was for a long time its president and initiated many of its activities. Concerned by the absence of young Russians, he was behind the decision to open membership of Syndesmos to faculties of Orthodox theology in order to allow young Russians to communicate with the rest of the Orthodox youth and to have them share the difficulties that they lived under state communism. Throughout his life, he remained interested in the development of that organization, which he continued to support financially. He was made happy by its successes and pained and saddened by its recent difficulties. He was close to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which he never once hesitated to consult and which named him archon. He also had deep relations of friendship with numerous Orthodox hierarchs and theologians throughout the world, not to mention numerous Catholic and Protestant figures.

His contribution to the preparatory work for the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church, where he represented the Patriarchate of Antioch, was always to bring together different points of view, to always work for more reconciliation and brotherhood between the Orthodox Churches. In doing this, he embodied the age-old irenic tradition of his Patriarchate. He often enjoyed recalling the memory of the patriarch Peter III of Antioch who, in the 11th century, tempered the bellicose attitude of the Ecumenical Patriarch Michael Cerullarius, urging him to forget the little things so as to only consider those differences truly related to the faith.

He was the founder of the Saint Irenaeus group in Lebanon, which was the first circle of ecumenical dialogue there where one would see rubbing shoulders many of those who would later rise to the highest ranks of their respective churches. He was one of the principle organizers, always advocating the healing of our memories in order to go towards the other, adorned only with the presence of Christ.

He was also founder of the Lebanese Cenacle, led by the late Michel Asmar, which wanted to promote a real encounter between Lebanese centered around culture and an irenic approach to religions, where he gave several foundational lectures.

Up to his last days, he continued to listen to the youth. His greatest joy was to discover with them the impulse towards the Lord that dwelled in him from the youngest age. He eagerly read An-Nour magazine, the official organ of the MJO, welcoming the spiritual insights that he perceived there and criticizing what he sometimes considered to be idle chatter.

Out of his desire to continue to encourage, even after his death, authentic initiatives for Christian witness and evangelization, he founded an association to which he left a substantial endowment, in order to use the proceeds to aid the MJO, Syndesmos, numerous churches in Eastern Europe, and renewal projects in the fields of Christian education and publishing.

It is not, however, only these funds that will perpetuate his memory. His memory will remain in the hearts of all those whom he oriented towards not living for themselves, but for the Lord, and through and in Him, for all His brothers. And they are many. All those who turn in prayer to the Lord that his memory may be eternal!

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