Thursday, December 19, 2013

As-Safir on John X's First Year As Patriarch

Arabic original here.

Patriarch John X Yazigi... A Year of Challenges

by Ghassan Rifi

Today marks one year that Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East John X Yazigi has occupied the See of Antioch, after his election on December 17, 2012 at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand, succeeding the departed patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim.

Perhaps the questions posed to him immediately after his election, about the fate of Christians in the Middle East in light of the threats to them and about what is happening in Syria and the possibility of moving the See of Antioch from Damascus to another place, confirmed beyond any doubt that John X had come at a difficult time in which the future of Christians would be determined in the wake of the revolutions of the so-called Arab Spring and that he must guide the ship of Middle Eastern Orthodoxy with wisdom, skill and care in order to spare it dangers that it cannot bear amidst the rough waters battering the region.

It was a year of challenges that were courageously tacked by the 158th patriarch of the Orthodox, who graduated from the Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology and is of the school of Ignatius IV. From the moment of his election, he hurried to consecrate the principles and axioms of this school, in order to preserve the identity of the See of Antioch, its Middle Eastern affiliation and headquarters in Damascus and its constant aims of bearing the issue of Palestine and Jerusalem, defending the Christian presence and coexistence in peace with Muslims and all elements of this region.

Dramatic developments did not leave Yazigi space to take a retreat to carefully study all the files relating to the issues and concerns of the Orthodox or allow him to draw up a road map delineating how to deal with them. He suddenly found himself faced with high-caliber challenges, such as the abduction of his brother, Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi along with the Syriac Orthodox metropolitan Youhanna Ibrahim in Aleppo.

Then came the expulsion of a large number of Christian villages in Syria, the destruction of many churches, the entry of Jabhat al-Nusra into Maaloula on two occasions and the attacks on the holy places there, in addition to the abduction of the nuns of the Monastery of Saint Thekla. Amidst all of this was the "intrusion" into Antiochian territory by Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem, through the appointment of a bishop of Qatar, which depends on the See of Antioch, a canonical violation that Yazigi continues to work to address, on the grounds that any action that the churches of Jerusalem, Istanbul, or Alexandria wish to undertake in Antiochian territory requires the prior agreement of the Holy Synod, with Patriarch Yazigi at its head.

These and other challenges have not caused the head of the Antiochian Church to lose his inner peace. He has hastened to reject every form of undisciplined activity called for by some enthusiastic voices for resolving the issue of the bishops, as such activities bear not connection to the character and history of the Orthodox. Despite all the pressures that have been put upon him, he has worked to enforce this peace upon all his children, in order to calm their minds and encourage them to take the path of prayer as the only means to exit this crisis, leaving to himself and to a number of bishops in the diaspora the issue of remedies.

There is not any door that Yazigi has left unknocked and there is not any country with influence in Syria that he has not contacted and encouraged to make every possible effort to achieve the release of the two bishops and, more recently, the release of the nuns. Even if his efforts have so far not borne fruit, despair has not crept into his soul and he continues to make vigorous efforts to reach positive results.

These contacts have not distracted him from overseeing his flock in Syria. He has braved the risks numerous times and traveled to various Syrian towns and has worked to stay in communication with his children and to bring together displaced Christians with their fellow residents through mutually-supportive social activities. This is all in an attempt to bring tranquility to their souls and to preserve their presence in their and and within their churches. He has recently traveled to Syria in order to be in direct contact with the ongoing negotiations for the release of the nuns of the Monastery of Saint Thekla, cancelling a pastoral visit to the Gulf to examine his flock there. He likewise has not departed from his ecumenical mission, after the Tenth General Assembly of the World Council of Churches at its latest session last month elected him president for the Orthodox churches participating in the Council.

In a year of challenges, Yazigi fortifies himself with silence, according to the principle of "work together to meet your needs in secrecy," except for sermons and official statements that call for the principles of holding fast to the land, coexistence, peace, acceptance of the other, the rejection of extremism and the renunciation of violence in all its forms."

The Patriarch of Antioch has distanced himself and his community from entering into the volcano of the Syrian crisis and the conflict raging between its components. He has dealt with Syria as a nation that needs its children, from all communities, sects and religions. He rejects the logic of fighting that will not wind up being in anyone's interest  and he stresses the desire "for Syria to be in a state of peace where her children live as brothers in citizenship, in love and in devotion to their country."

These regional challenges have not deterred John X from following the internal situation in Lebanon. He has opened to doors of his patriarchal residence at Balamand to all Lebanese of all orientations and has been eager to communicate with the leaders of the Christian and Islamic sects in an attempt to create a shared plan of action to defend Lebanon from the conflicts that threaten its security and stability and the vacuum that threatens its form and its existence. Additionally, he has followed up on the rights of the Orthodox in the Lebanese state. With this aim, he has held more than one gathering of ministers and members of parliament from the Orthodox community in order to confirm that "political differences cannot reflect negatively on the Orthodox presence. They must be zealous for their community, which is a part of Lebanon."

Those following Yazigi's career tell as-Safir, "He is a man distinguished by his love for his church and he is working strenuously despite the difficulties and challenges that he has found himself in. However, this has not distracted him from thinking about what makes the Orthodox Church the bride of Christ and a witness to Him in a diverse society and how to make her a meeting-point and a tree were all can seek shelter in her shade, to establish man's peace for man. He extends his hand to all in his church, in his society, in the sister churches, and in the Islamic communities for the sake of cooperation in renouncing violence and spreading the idea of peace between peoples."

They add, "Before this historic juncture that Syria and the region as a whole are passing through and in light of the revolutions of the Arab Spring that until now have not produced stability and calm for the peoples, His Beatitude stands pondering a salvific course based on hope for oppressed peoples that seeks the peace that has been lost in a time of killings, kidnappings and forced disappearances that have affected unarmed clergy, peaceful nuns and orphans and does not distinguish between churches and mosques."

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