Monday, July 7, 2014

al-Akhbar on John X's Achievements

Arabic original here. The writer's political biases should be obvious enough that some of his commentary can be taken with the appropriate dosage of salt.

Yazigi: A Patriarch Aspiring to be in the Measure of Antioch

When it comes to words, it seems that Orthodox Patriarch John Yazigi is absent compared to others. But when it comes to actions, it seems that Yazigi is the only one present. Last week summed up, in four sessions, discussions that had been suppressed for forty years. Their recommendations will allow him to take his Church-- and its people-- from the present situation to something much better.

by Ghassan Saoud

About a year after the election of Metropolitan Besharra Rai as patriarch of the Maronite Church, Metropolitan John Yazigi was elected patriarch of the Orthodox Church. Since the beginning, it has appeared that the nearly-existential challenges awaiting the first graduate of Balamand to become patriarch were much greater than those awaiting the Maronite patriarch. Organizational disarray is much greater in the Orthodox Church than in its Maronite counterpart. The specter of takfirism hovers over the second largest Middle Eastern church after the Coptic Church, eating away at its body that is spread over the entirely of Syria's territory.

In addition, first of all, is the sensitivity of its positions regarding the Syrian crisis, as it is the largest Syrian church. Second, the multiplicity of poles in the synod of bishops, and the devotion of some bishops during the time of Patriarch Hazim to something resembling administrative decentralization. Third, the division among its flock and the complaint of some of them of their not being properly represented politically. Fourth, the number of lay movements in it, which do not only differ with regard to politics politics but also  with regard to the role of these movements within the Church and their relationship with the clergy.

Perhaps the only positive aspect of Yazigi's position when compared to that of Rai is that Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea are Maronite. Soon, the Metropolitan of Aleppo, the patriarch's brother Paul Yazigi was kidnapped (along with the Syriac metropolitan of Aleppo Youhanna Ibrahim), increasing the pressure and making clearer the severity of the threat to the Church  whose bishops are being kidnapped. Its flock fled from Homs and elsewhere and one of its bishops wears a Syrian army jacket.

Like Rai, Yazigi comes from a monastic background. And monks, as we all know, are more inclined toward asceticism and austerity than other clergymen. However, in contrast to Rai, Yazigi has maintained monastic traditions with regard to media appearances, relations with businessmen and immersion in political problems. Since his election as patriarch a year and a half ago, he has preferred to be active out of view.

Organizationally, he has started to form a media office and several patriarchal departments to follow economic, social, educational as well as ecclesial issues. None of this had existed previously. He convinced the metropolitan of Baghdad to retire on account of his advanced age of 96. He divided the Archdiocese of Europe into three dioceses (Paris, Germany and Britain). He visited the countries that most needed to be visited according to a brief study that had been prepared for him. He spent around fifteen days between Bahrein, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, avoiding Doha, not because it had disappointing him in the negotiations to have the bishops released, but because of a crisis between the Antiochian and Greek Orthodox Churches on account of the Greek Church establishing an archdiocese in Doha (with the support of the American ambassador to Qatar, a Greek Orthodox), despite Qatar being geographically dependent on the Antiochian Church.

Given that Yazigi was metropolitan for the Orthodox of Paris when he was elected patriarch, he is a close observer, like Rai, of the modern organizational experience of the European church. In terms of healthcare, he placed the new cornerstone for the Balamand hospital, ignoring its having previously been named for Prime Minister Saad Hariri. In terms of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, he has organized, particularly with the metropolitan of Homs, the most expansive program for returning refugees to their homes immediately following the Syrian Army's announcement that their neighborhoods were safe zones. In recent months, much of what was destroyed has been rebuilt. Here the Syrian church has benefited, according to one bishop, from the experience of Mount Lebanon and has returned refugees to their homes as quickly as possible. Orthodox broadcasting is one of Yazigi's plans, in addition to recently redoubling his efforts to get a important daily portion of Telelumière. However, more important than all of the above is the Antiochian Conference that was held this past week.

Several weeks ago, Yazigi set up a committee for this conference, being careful to inform its members of the necessity of inviting various people concerned with internal Orthodox discussions, no matter the nature of their relationships with bishops or clergy. He also informed the bishops of the necessity of attending in the company of a delegation not made up only of clergy from their dioceses and including women as well as men. It is worth remembering that the participation of laity in managing the affairs of the Orthodox Church was a burning issue some decades ago, which Patriarch Hazim placed in the locked drawer of the Orthodox Youth Movement. The new patriarch's direction has been rapidly becoming clearer and clearer in the conference's program. The first session was designated for making more effective consultation and synergy between the dioceses and the second was for developing endowments and financial solidarity.

At the appointed time, large European and American delegations arrived. Lattakia-- the patriarch's home town-- was present with a large delegation. Akkar, Homs and Damascus, whose delegation numbered over thirty social, economic and cultural figures, did similarly, while the metropolitan of Beirut sent only five people, led by the former minister Mona Ofeich, the secretary of the Democratic Renewal Movement Antoine Haddad, the metropolitan's secretary, and the wife of a priest. It seems noteworthy that Metropolitan Elias Audi was absent from this great gathering to discuss the state of the Orthodox community, having been struck with illness on Saturday, while the following day he appeared to have been cured and brought back to perfect health. A close associate of Audi's excused himself from giving the main address at the session designated for examining financial solidarity and the development of endowments.

Yazigi was careful that both the former Syrian minister and former ambassador to the Soviet Union Hassah Richeh and the former Lebanese minister Tarek Mitri both gave talks in the session designated for discussing the presence of the Orthodox community in society. Mitri arrived with an entourage of six diplomatic cars. He immediately began playing the Orthodox Youth Movement's favorite tune by calling for the Church to distance itself from conflicts, suggesting to the audience that all that is happening around them is not of their concern, with a philosophy that appeared closer to the Jehovah's Witnesses' belief in the necessity of being indifferent to the concerns of this world. It was only left for Mitri to say that everything that is happening in the region is of no concern to the Orthodox since it is a Sunni-Shii struggle and they have no dog in the fight, and their bishops, churches and people living in the conflict zone will never pay the price. Throughout the discussions he was vigilant to remind participants that their partners in their nations listen to them and should not be provoked, even if it means they cannot say what they are thinking, review facts or express their concerns.

However Mitri, or the philosophical school to which he subscribes, that teaches that one should accept everything that comes without demanding one's rights or defend one's honor, whether in terms of security, seats in parliament or ministerial posts, etc, was not alone this time. This time there were people in the hall discussing and arguing, benefiting from Yazigi's exceptional ability to listen without being effected by his personal passions or feelings that one person is more important than another, even as he maintains the greater part of his predecessor's team, led by Mitri. In the working groups, the discussions branched out and the Syrians expressed all their concerns, completely rejecting the logic of standing back as observers. Other Lebanese participants, such as Raja Badran, went along with them and rejected the logic of political dhimmitude  in Lebanon. In the final recommendations issued by the committees and put together by Former Minister Mona Ofeich, three recommendations were at the top of the hundred items: first, the establishment of what is known among the Orthodox as Millet Councils, which are councils elected in each diocese from among ordinary people whose task is to help the metropolitan in managing the affairs of the Church. Second, the establishment of a central committee to manage dioceses' assets throughout Antioch, which was formally opposed by the Archdiocese of Beirut. It requires that the diocese reveal all of its assets and accounting books and forbids the sale of its lands no matter what the reason. Here it became clear that there is a Syrian law that prevents the Church from selling its endowments. This leads to the preservation of wide green spaces and prevents Christians from selling their lands and then remaining on them. Third, the establishment of a common fund, by which wealthy dioceses can support poor dioceses. In addition to this, there were dozens of items about rebuilding relationships between the dioceses, which are generally divided by no more than a river. There is no mechanism today that allows for holding the Orthodox Patriarchate to account for implementing or not implementing these recommendations apart from Yazigi's insistence on holding the Antiochian Conference with the participation of so many laypeople, his advice to them at the beginning of the conference to not reject each other on account of their opinions, and his clear desire to bring together all Orthdox, as he constantly reiterates. The issuance of recommendations resembling what was written suggests the existence of a new spirit in the Orthodox Patriarchate. If you examine the work of the conference, look at the picture of the patriarchs of the various Antiochian churches at the opening of the Orthodox Synod, and read the statement from those patriarchs, you will realize that there is finally a patriarch who is trying to be in the measure of all Antioch, on the level of the aspirations of all its Christians.


Anonymous said...

Has the test of the 80 recommendations been made public?

Anonymous said...

Let me try that again: Has the list of 80 recommendations been made public?

Samn! said...

I haven't seen a full list. Parts here and there come out with interviews of participants.