Monday, June 23, 2014

Met Georges Khodr on the Orthodox in Lebanon

Arabic original here.

The Orthodox in the Country

Don't wait for me to say to you that they are great. They are just like everyone. They are no lesser and no greater. In the classification of religions, they are Christians and for many reasons they are not considered to be something great, even if some have been misled. Are they only a quantity or do they have qualities? No religious community lacks specific qualities because religion, besides being a conviction of conscience, is a culture in itself. This is what is known as a particular culture. So, a Persian Muslim is in some elements not the same as an Arab Muslim. The Syrian or Lebanese Orthodox are not Greek in their civilizational intuitions. Thus it is not correct to the human type to be the same between one Christian and a Christian of another community. Civilization and sentiment might unite a Christian and a Muslim and not unite a Christian with another Christian or a Muslim with another Muslim.

Something that partially establishes this is that each Christian community has its own civilizational horizon. In some parts, you notice that they are distant from the other Christian community and closer to the Muslims. Some Christians do not feel that they have a civilizational or subjective aspect that differs from the Muslims. There are many reasons for this but there is no space to go into it here. Some Christians are more fanatic about identity, even if they are not more profoundly religious. This may have implications in theology and not only in contingent historical events. Your reading of the history of your community might distance you from some members of your religion who have a different historical sense. The unity of the Christian faith among us does not necessarily mean that our understanding of the past is similar or that we have a similar reading of our historical Christianity. The Maronites are a complete culture, as are the Orthodox. In contemporary classification, both are sub-cultures.

Thus the disagreement we have between Christians is not only a religious difference. It is a disagreement over the reading of history and our two different ways of understanding the Muslims. For me this is not an analysis of two different understandings of Arabism, even if that is possible. Between the Catholics and the Orthodox there is a difference in understanding the relationship between the Church and the world. Does the Church annex the world to her own being, as I understand Catholicism, or is the Church in the world as its spirit, as I understand Orthodoxy?

The Rum, as they call us, are Lebanese in nationality and Arab in civilization. They are not a nation. They are a church-- that is, an entity that lives in time its march toward the hereafter, mingling with the world around it. We are not a nation because we are Lebanese in Lebanon and Syrian in Syria. Our unity is as a church, not as a nation. Nationalist sentiment is legitimate, but it remains something for this world. We are one with the Orthodox of the world in faith and one with the people of our country in our belonging to our land and to our history. Perhaps we are well-known for distinguishing things. Our being called "Rum" came from Western historians who divided Christians into Greeks and Latins. But suffice it to say that we are not Greeks, neither by race nor by language. For historians we are called right-believing [i.e., Orthodox] in order to distinguish us from those who deviated from right belief. Naturally, this is a scholarly term about which there is disagreement. It is clear that our being called "Rum" in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine is without a basis in terms of nationality or race. It is based on the view that the Christian world was divided religiously into Rum and Latins. In Arab historical terms, the Rum are the Byzantines and not the people of our country. We were given this name because we were of the same faith as Byzantium. As for the Orthodox of this country, it is well-known to European historians, since it is "Melkites", after the faith of the Byzantine emperor. I do know know why historically the name Melkites fell out of usage for the Rum Orthodox, since they are known by this name in scholarly circles even today.

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