Sunday, June 22, 2014

Lebanese Press on the Antiochian Unity Conference

Arabic original from as-Safir, here.

Balamand Prepares for the Antiochian Conference

by Fadia Daaboul

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East John X Yazigi has stressed "the kinship of Christians and the unity of the Church" and that "the Byzantine Church is at the root of this Arab Middle East."

During his meeting with Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Lahham at Ayn Traz, accompanied by a delegation of bishops from his community, he opined that "the situation of the Arabs demands that attention be paid to the dangers besetting us" and called on Christians "to not emigrate because the Middle East is the responsibility of all of us and because peace in the region is the sole solution for the world's issues."

With this in mind, Balamand is preparing to launch its Antiochian Conference, the first of its kind in the See of Antioch in terms of organization and goals, with the title "Antiochian Unity: Dimensions and Exigencies". The work of the conference begins next Wednesday and will continue for four days. It will close with a liturgy that will bring together more than five thousand Orthodox under an enormous tent specially prepared for the occasion.

Under the guidance and vigorous supervision of Yazigi, preparatory work began month ago at Balamand University, where where a team of around seventy people, divided into committees, is at work. Likewise, the various logistical preparations are almost complete, from the reception for participating delegations from Lebanon and abroad to preparing Zakhem, Hariri, and Fares Halls for workshops in which around two hundred attendees will participate.

The conference's opening and activity will feature speeches from each of the Christian patriarchs, with Patriarch Yazigi at the fore, the laying of the cornerstone for Balamand Hospital, the opening of the Zeenni Technology Center for Engineering and Industrial Research, the inauguration of the new wing of the Patriarchal Headquarters, and the unveiling of the largest mosaic in Lebanon, perhaps the largest in the Middle East.

For the first time, the conference will go beyond the merely academic to include participation of the faithful since it is being attended by representatives from the patriarchate and from each of the dioceses of the See of Antioch. Each dioceses is represented by priests, monks, men, women and youth, in addition to representatives of church educational, health, and charitable institutions.

The conference will attempt to be a first step toward crystallizing general ideas that will take the form of policies and plans that will be brought to the Holy Synod and serve as a long-term roadmap for embodying the idea of "Antiochian unity" that is experienced at every level of the Church's internal life and her witness in the world.

The conferences includes five focal points: making consultation effective in the parishes and dioceses and strengthening synergy between the dioceses, developing endowments and financial support for social work. It will be held simultaneously on five committees and will complete its work by making recommendations and practical proposals for implementation.

The conference will end with a liturgy bringing together all the dioceses on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, founders of the See of Antioch, to give thanks and affirm the Orthodox presence through the single chalice.

Arabic original from an-Nahar, here.

The Orthodox Church and the Challenge of the "Antiochian Conference"

by Pierre Atallah

The most important thing in the Antiochian Conference called by Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East is the call for the conference itself, say Orthodox reformers. They believe that the young patriarch's initiative represents a ray of hope and an internal revolution. This, when in the past any reference to the word 'reform' was merely a dream held dear by sincere children of the Church, clergy and lay, who had tried in vain to raise their voices to demand reform the situation of the Orthodox Church, whose members are proud of their Church's roots, great history, ecumenical relationships and-- mostly importantly-- the close and reliable bond that binds Orthodoxy with Arabism, without that making the Orthodox less Christian or less Arab, as their Arabism goes back to the Ghassanids and all the Arab tribes, something Ghassan Toueini was proud of.

The conference will discuss many questions and sensitive issues that will need not just one but many days at Balamand Monastery, given the magnitude of what is on the agenda for reform. The reformers in the Antiochian Church say, "The call for the Antiochian Conference required courage on the part of Patriarch John X Yazigi. This is because gathering together the entire Antiochian Orthodox Church from all elements, both clergy and laity, is not something desirable for many who are concerned for their own personal interests and view the continuation of the Church's situation as it is to be the best way to ensure those very personal interests, at the expense of weakening the Church as a historical institution containing one of the oldest churches in the Middle East."

In this sense, the call for the conference appears to be a serious and explicit challenge raised by Patriarch Yazigi in the face of the continued subordinate status of the entire community and its being held captive to this or that party, in addition to its exploitation by narrow factional interests. One of the basic issues that the conference will have to address is the slouching ineffectiveness of the Church's clergy and public figures.

The Greatest Challenge

The greatest challenge that the conference will face appears first on the conference's agenda. It constitutes a road map for those gathered to escape the decline and the deteriorating situation that the Orthodox Church is facing. This requires reactivating the presence of laypeople in the Church by making them feel they are an organic and basic part of the universal Church and that they are not merely a flock with no recourse and no say except in giving donations and performing spiritual duties. What is needed in this regard is organizing and managing this relationship in a scientific and systematic manner. A committee of experts should be formed with wide competencies under the supervision of Patriarch John X to take charge of this matter and within a specified period to put forward a concept of how to organize this relationship, which constitutes the cornerstone of building up and developing the Church and her institutions and bringing her into the future.

Moving on, the second step (again, according to the reformers) lies in organizing church institutions and allowing lay participation in the management of the Church's social, medical, educational and humanitarian institutions. This requires making the laity feel that they are not a foreign body within the Church, but rather a basic and organic element of her makeup. In order to make this work effective, it requires forming bodies that support the Church's administrative work, since experience has shown that there are big question marks that need to be clarified and there are files and figures that require calm and sober treatment in order to properly sort things out.

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