Thursday, October 17, 2013

Carol Saba on Pope Francis' Lessons for the Antiochian Church

Arabic original, in today's an-Nahar, here.

Will the Orthodox in the Middle East Match the Bold Transformations of Francis' Papacy?

This week, the Antiochian Orthodox Holy Synod is meeting, presided by His Beautitude Patriarch John X, who has just returned from Rome and the Vatican. Our challenges are great in these evil times for the Arab world and necessity dictates that we move quickly to confront the growing crises, to lay the basis for a forward-looking vision of our presence in the societies of the Arab world. We hope that a conviction has formed among the fathers of the Synod in this direction. Patriarch John, who has started to endorse some of the signs of this desired exceptional Antiochian role, cannot move forward alone. We must move forward as a Church, on several levels.

These exceptional circumstances require an exceptional, comprehensive and programmatic plan for action. It begins first of all with a bold critical review of the Church's work, her positioning, and her discourse in the last half-century, in order to identify her failures and successes, whether internally with regard to the ways of her governance or externally with regard to her engagement in society and issues of public concern. It ends, secondly, with a comprehensive road map for the Church, for a sound ecclesial institution that will take us from concern with maintaining existence to the hope of a pioneering presence in our societies.

The suffering of our people thus requires us to make a critical review and a prospectus for the future, to go from being a sectarian community to being Christ's Church, if we want to remain here with unambiguous freedom and dignity. The minoritarian mindset is growing, even among us, while what is required is a return to the Orthodox being the "bridge community" that strives to build a state based on citizenship and full partnership. Are we in the East correctly reading the activity of Pope Francis in the West? Where are we with regard to the bold and outstanding transformations of the ecclesial revolution that he is leading in the Catholic Church on numerous levels? Our challenges are essentially shared, even if they differ in their rationales. They bring up the issue of church governance and the aspect of it growing out of realistic proportion, modernity, meekness, humility, mutual support and care for the other and the poor, all of which are necessities for preaching the Gospel in a modern way that reflects the challenges of today's world, so that the world may understand and believe.

We must ask ourselves along with Pope Francis: "Are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?" This was the Pope's cry before the youth in Brazil, to indicate the Church's declining state in the world today. For him, the correct solution comes from the correct diagnosis. He says that historical accretions have caused the Church to focus on institutions where a managerial mentality overshadows a bold approach to evangelism. The hierarchy of the temporal organization has overshadowed the vision of divine economy in the Church. The growing neo-Pharaseeism in the Church has killed the warmth of the apostolic spirit in her. Academic theology has replaced the theology of prayer. The mentality of financial management has corrupted many and distanced the Church from the joy of giving. It has become a frozen hierarchical institution, flabby and conservative, unable to understand and address the modernity of today's world and its challenges.

The revolution in the Church being led by Pope Francis requires correcting the ends and the means. He wants to take the Church out of the margins and to return her to the center of the equation, so that the Church may once more be evangelical. He says that the Church is service and not authority. He likens her to a field hospital after a battle and calls her to care for the injured and wounded. He calls for the necessity of conciliarity and consultation according to the model of the Orthodox Church, by which he signals the end of the traditional Catholic hierarchical view, as when he says "We must walk together: the people, the bishops and the Pope." He then boldly and perceptively says, "the Gospel is before dogma," desiring a return to evangelical, apostolic purity, a return to the fundamentals without fundamentalism. The Pope distances himself from all manifestations of ecclesial wealth and liturgical pomp. He practices meekness, simplicity and humility in all things, striving to be a model for all in the Church. He also practices "extending a hand to all", stressing that the Church's task in the world requires it to listen to all suffering. He calls on the Church to address all-- elites and ordinary people, rich and poor, the healthy and those in agony, believers and unbelievers-- with respect and love, following Jesus' example. The famous magazine Time described him as "the people's pope" and "the pope of the poor" on account of his evangelical simplicity and his particular concern for the great and the small, casting aside the barriers of protocol, as he is the one who calls for casting aside the barriers of distance and apathy between the two lungs of the Church, the clergy and the laity. His power is that he appears to be bound only by the requirements of bearing witness to Jesus Christ in today's world. What is happening today in the Vatican goes beyond one man's will; it is a comprehensive critical reading, indeed an evangelical revolution whose aim is to re-focus the Catholic Church in today's world. Will the Pope succeed? Will the Orthodox Churches match  him, from the depth of their suffering, in order to reflect the Universal Church in the brightness and splendor of the image of Christ and His glory in today's world?

1 comment:

The Anti-Gnostic said...

The Ba'athists would never concede or understand the point, but the only solution is a government sufficiently limited in scope to allow for differing creeds in the same polity. To the Muslim, this is putting ontological issues to a vote, a terrible affront.

I'm reserving judgment on the Lebanese solution of giving every sect a big, fat slice of government pie, which seems a great way to assure civil war when the demographics start flipping.