Monday, June 27, 2016

Carol Saba: Antioch and the Holy Spirit's Agenda

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

Antioch and the Holy Spirit's Agenda

Volatile Middle Eastern societies in broken states beset with dangers.  An Orthodox world in crisis, wavering between tradition and modernity. A gathering of some of the heads of the Orthodox Churches on Crete-- a council intended to be a "Great and Holy Council" but which turned into a "meeting" for ten local churches, instead of the fourteen that constitute the "togetherness" of the Orthodox Church. The crisis of the Great Orthodox Council before the Council appears acutely in public because it is the product of accumulated issues that bring along dangers of substantial divisions.

In this sensitive crisis situation, the Holy Synod of Antioch is meeting at the beginning of this week in order to take an irenic approach to the gathering of Orthodox Churches that was held on Crete without Antioch, Georgia, Bulgaria or Russia, which is the largest numerically. Whatever may have been said or written about Moscow's hidden or open purposes, the position of the Russian Church remains honorable, since it is in solidarity with Antioch and the rest of the churches not participating on Crete. It also indicates the necessity of applying Orthodox ecclesiology in a sound manner. As for Antioch's position, deep down it is completely removed from any non-ecclesiastical considerations. Deep down, in its essence, it is a right, principled, correct, firm, consistent and cohesive position that calls for the necessity of ordering the Great Council according to conciliarity. The council itself is not the goal, but rather preserving Orthodox conciliarity, lest the council, if it is held under a system that contradicts the true spirit of conciliarity, be an instrument for division and not an act of unity, as is now the case on Crete.

Antioch's contribution to the preparations for the Great Council has always been dynamic and positive at every stage, from the 1960s to this past May, when efforts were still ongoing. Antioch has always been at the forefront of making intellectual and ecclesiastical contributions and in conveying her prophetic voice that points the way to the essence and to the necessity of overcoming disagreements. She was never once stingy with her efforts to bring brothers together and soften the edges. It is therefore a mistake to think that the positions of the churches not participating in the Crete meeting came about haphazardly or by hasty decisions made at the last moment. They all required boldness, thorough examination, and a profound and responsible study of what is important and what is more important. What is happening today is the result of paths that deviated from the proper application of the Orthodox ecclesiology of communion, paths that, if not set aright, may strike at the foundations of Orthodox unity and the essence of its mission in the world of today and tomorrow.

It is a mistake to limit Antioch's position to the issue of Qatar. Of course, Jerusalem's aggression against Antioch's jurisdiction in Qatar is painful and very serious, since the openly expansionist intentions of the current Holy Synod of Jerusalem reach large swaths of territory in the Gulf and the Middle East that belong to Antioch. The Qatar issue is important not only because it is a crisis of ecclesiastical borders between two patriarchates, but because it is an attack on the unity of the Orthodox Churches, which is based on communion of faith and respect for the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils-- including respect for the geography of each church. Antioch repeatedly warned all the churches, first among them the Ecumenical Patriarchate, of the necessity of resolving this problem unambiguously and for good before the Great Council on Crete in order to make it possible for the brothers-- all the brothers-- to partake in the one chalice, the chalice of the Lord. This, unfortunately, did not occur, despite the constant efforts of Patriarch John with his typical Antiochian irenicism.

The most important thing in Antioch's position toward the Great Council was Antioch's indicating fundamental problems in the council's vision and composition-- that is, the necessity of approaching the dilemmas of today's world, developing and revising the texts presented to the council, and, most importantly, the problems of the council's rules and the manner of adopting decisions in it, which Antioch did not sign. Antioch stated the necessity of the council's rules reflecting true Orthodox conciliarity by explicit reliance in the rules on the principle of unanimity: in the invitation, in attendance, in participation and in adopting decisions. The vague word "consensus" on which some insisted is just a cover for veiled politics that want to impose a logic of majorities and minorities in voting at the council. This is unacceptable in the Orthodox ecclesiastical tradition. This is the rule that was followed from the establishment of the five patriarchates in the early centuries of Christianity. When this principle was not accepted, Antioch remained the only church not to sign the decisions of the synaxis of patriarchs in Geneva in January, 2016, but she left the door open for rectification.

What is happening is part of the Holy Spirit's agenda. The politics of competition between the Orthodox Churches-- especially between the Greek and Slavic churches-- has harmed the Church and her unity. What is required today is a return to the ecclesiology of the Apostle Paul: "Now you are the body of Christ and His members." This requires all fourteen Orthodox Churches to put forward a modern basis for "mutual complementarity" among themselves since each of them, as Paul taught us, is not the body in its entirety, but rather a member in it that needs the other members. This is the core of Antioch's prophetic position, with our beloved Patriarch John-- may God grant him many years-- at the forefront.

1 comment:

Tony said...

I was very skeptical in the lead up and start of this Council. I wanted it to be delayed until all the Local Churches were there.

After reading the official documents, I am extremely encouraged and looking forward to the next meeting with all 14 present..