Monday, October 15, 2018

Jad Ganem: Holy Leaders

Arabic original here.

Holy Leaders

Today the Catholic Church declared the sainthood of Pope Paul VI, the pope who led the activities of the Second Vatican Council, which gave a pivotal role to episcopal collegiality in the Catholic Church, brought back the relationship of consultation between the pope and the bishops, opened the church to dialogue with the world, and inaugurated work for the unity of Christians. This pope was able to bring warmth back to the relationship with the Orthodox Church and he cooperated with Ecumenial Patriarch Athenagoras to repeal the mutual anathemas resulting from the Great Schism that divided the one Church. Perhaps it is one of the sad ironies of history that the Catholic Church is canonizing Pope Paul VI and bringing back conciliar practice while the Orthodox world is witnessing the systematic destruction of all of Patriarch Athenagoras' achievements, as those who have been entrusted with his legacy reject everything he established to preserve the unity of the Orthodox Church. Patriarch Athenagoras established the golden rule of unanimity which guided relations between the Orthodox Churches, preserved his role as first among equals, and made him a golden voice, speaking a unity born of painstaking consensus. Will his successor realize that the deadly unilateralism, marginalization of others, living in the past, and Orthodox papism that he is practicing and striving along with his group to consecrate will only result in fragmentation and schism? Will we re-discover the legacy of our great leaders and preserve it, or are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes of history? Who will give us holy leaders?

Jad Ganem: Don't Lock the Door

Arabic original here.

Don't Lock the Door

The word "Phanar" means "lighthouse" in Greek and in our time it is the name of the neighborhood where the Ecumenical Patriarchate is located. It is the neighborhood to which Greek families fled after  the fall of Constantinople, before they left it for the diaspora after the tragedies of the past century. Everything in the neighborhood today reminds you of eclipse of Orthodoxy in the capital city whose cathedrals have become mosques and whose institutions are empty except for the janitors who have come from Hatay to work there. Only the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is still a destination for the Orthodox who visit from Greece and other countries, arriving at the Cathedral of Saint George and venerating the relics of Saint Basil the Great and the relics of Saints John Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian, who were persecuted and rejected by the city before they returned to it and became its eternal glory. At the patriarchate is a door that was once the main entrance, but it was locked at Pascha in 1821 after Patriarch Gregorios V was hanged on it after he was executed by the Ottomans as a punishment for the Greek nationalist sentiments that were raging at the time, despite his explicit condemnation of his countrymen's activities. Today, as international media are broadcasting images of the Metropolitan of France reading decisions that only serve to inflame nationalist and ethnic struggles like the one that killed Patriarch Gregory, I pondered that door behind him, hoping that the error of the synod of Patriarch Bartholomew and his bishops will not lead to locking the doors of the Ecumenical Patriarchate after the Phanar has fallen in the conscience of many and lost its role as a beacon in the Orthodox world.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Met Siluan (Muci): Our Challenges in Argentina

Arabic original here.

Our Challenges in Argentina

In the past decade, our church in Argentina has faced various challenges. First among these challenges is clerical vocations, where the archdiocese has been able to accompany the path of two of her youths in their studies at the Saint John of Damascus Theological Institute at Balamand and their consecrating themselves to serving the Church. One of them has married and become a deacon and the other has completed his studies. Both are attached to our cathedral in Buenos Aires.

There has been an effort in our parishes to create sources of income to support the Church's mission. Most of them have worked to establish facilities (a library selling small religious objects, a multi-use parish hall, various activities that produce material income) or to develop their facilities, as has happened in the large parishes (parking lots, expanding school buildings or pastoral centers), where this development is useful for existing pastoral work and insures necessary sources of income to cover the needs of the parish and the archdiocese at the same time. Most of them have been able to realize their plans or are still working to realize them, despite the instability of the economic situation in the country.

Studying the current pastoral situation and ways of making it effective has been the focus of ongoing work through meetings in the parish or at the archdiocesan level. This has taken place through working committees in the parishes (religious education, youth, ladies, parish councils, priests), each individually or gathered together at an archdiocesan conference or at various retreats that the archdiocese has held annually for each committee, where this work has been organized and developed.

 Our church has a good presence in Argentine society. This is not because our Antiochian Church is the most geographically widespread, most numerous (number of priests, number of faithful, institutions and schools) and most active (in parishes and in the archdiocese) compared to the other Orthodox or Eastern churches (though nevertheless we are only a small minority compared to other churches), but rather it is thanks to the engagement of her priests and faithful in society and the openness of the parish and church to interacting with those who come to them. It is worth mentioning that a significant number of Argentinians have converted to the Orthodox faith and in the past two decades they have been a pastoral force in the fields of social services, religious education, and organizing activities in more than one parish. Some of them have efforts to learn the faith more than they did during their catechumenate and so have been involved in religious education programs in Spanish offered over the internet by Balamand University.

The archdiocese has also been able to make slow progress in working with the other Orthodox churches because of the repercussions of events between the Orthodox churches reflected in the work of the episcopal assemblies. She has continued her participation in the ecumenical commission in Argentina and has held its presidency for two consecutive terms. She has an active role in it in joint activities that have brought together Catholics and Protestants and she has been a bridge for making them aware of Christianity in the Middle East and what happened because of the wars in the past decade, especially in Iraq and Syria. The churches belonging to the committee have been strongly sympathetic and their support is very large and important. To this should be added the strength of the church's representative before the Argentine state in simple matters, such as giving a speech representing the Orthodox and Eastern churches at the presidential celebration of the national day on occasion of the centenary of the Argentine flag (2012), the second centenary of independence (2016), and discussion of a new draft law on religions before the relevant committee in the Chamber of Deputies (2018).

These challenges have been a good opportunity for our church to live its vocation as a community that works with each other, starting off from its faith and commitment to serving its parish and its Church, and the contribution of its children in their civil and national commitment. All of this is a source of great joy and consolation for me and I cannot but share it with their brothers in Arabic, so that they may rejoice on account of them. In this way, the joy of all of us increases.

+Siluan (Muci)
Metropolitan of Jbeil and Batroun (Mount Lebanon)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Jad Ganem: The Howling Abyss

Arabic original here.

The Howling Abyss

by Jad Ganem

It's one thing to read about schisms in the Church in history-books. Watching the brisk steps being taken toward it in your own time is something else entirely. For years, stubbornness has been in control of the situation. Voices of caution are raised, but no one wants to listen. Theology is transformed into points of view or, you could say, into arguments justifying the slow crawl towards the abyss of schism. We have witnessed a solid engineering to create an Orthodox papal ideology and sabotage true conciliarity. We have experienced the disavowal and destruction of all the rules that guided common Orthodox relationships. We have seen with our own eyes those who deny what they themselves have said, what they themselves have written, what they themselves have taught. We have dealt with those who assign no value to others' opinions. We have witnessed those who have no concern for building consensus, who have no scruple about fanning the flames of discord, who persist in saying one thing and its opposite according to their whims and interests.

Many gave warnings. Many wrote. Many objected. Many boycotted. But the plan continues. How can you have dialogue with those who only want to hear their own voice? How can you speak according to a churchly logic with those who act like they're an secular NGO? How can you convince those who see the Church as a collection of frozen canons that she is a living body that is not frozen in past times and forms. How can you convince those who have lost their glory that smashing the glories of others will not bring back what they have lost? We fear that those who have engineered the slide toward schism and those who crawl toward the abyss are not concerned about either Christ or His Church so much as they are concerned about their authority and glory. Has the time not yet come to stop rousing small conflicts, enlarging them and deepening the rift between peoples? Who will put out the flames and who will lessen the enmity if the Church has abandoned her role? Are we now in need of someone who will cleanse the temple of money-changers? Come, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Link: Orthodox Synaxis

Since much of the material posted here recently has dealt with Antioch's response to the Patriarchate of Constantinople's attempt to unilaterally create an autocephalous church in Ukraine, I thought this might be of interest.

There's a new blog, Orthodox Synaxis, that appears to be trying to present perspectives on this issue in a manner similar to Antioch's perspective- not a pro-Russian opposition to the possibility of an autocephalous Ukrainian Church, but a rejection of unilateralism on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

It says about itself:

Orthodox Synaxis was created in response to the current threat to global Orthodox unity, which is manifesting itself in a conflict between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Moscow, regarding the ecclesiastical situation in Ukraine. This website is focused on the underlying ecclesiological issues: primacy, conciliarity, autocephaly, etc., as opposed to historical and territorial claims specific to the case of Ukraine. This website will house important primary source texts, as well as relevant analysis.

Of particular interest, is has published the 1993 position papers of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Church of Greece on the issue of autocephaly, autonomy and the manner in which they are granted. To my knowledge, these do not exist in English in an accessible manner elsewhere.

Link to the main page.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Statement of the Holy Synod of Antioch, October 6, 2018

This is the official English version, taken from here. In addition to Arabic, it was also released in Greek, Russian and French.

Statement of the Holy Synod of Antioch

Concerning the Current Developments in the Orthodox World

The Holy Synod of Antioch met in the Our Lady of Balamand Patriarchal Monastery, Lebanon, (October 3-6, 2018) and made the following statement:

The fathers examined the general orthodox situation. They stressed that the Church of Antioch expresses Her deep worries about the attempts to change the boundaries of the Orthodox Churches through a new reading of history. She considers that resorting to an unilateral reading of history does not serve Orthodox unity. It rather contributes to the fueling of the dissentions and quarrels within the one church. Thus, the Church of Antioch refuses the principle of establishing parallel jurisdictions within the canonical boundaries of the Patriarchates and the autocephalous churches, as a way to solve conflicts, or as a de facto situation in the Orthodox World. 

The fathers of the Church of Antioch underline that any approach for granting the autocephaly of a certain church has to be in accordance with the Orthodox ecclesiology and the principles agreed upon by the Churches in a conciliar way in the past years. These principles for granting autocephaly are about the necessity to obtain the agreement of the Mother Church and the acknowledgement of all the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches. The Church of Antioch affirms the necessity to resort to the principle of unanimity concerning the common orthodox work and the stand on controversial issues in the Orthodox world, and this unanimity is a true safeguard for Orthodox Unity. 

The Church of Antioch warns from the dangers of implicating the Orthodox world in the international political conflicts and the resulting harms which come from approaching the Orthodox Church’s issues on the basis of politics, ethnicity, and nationalism.

The Church of Antioch calls upon His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch to call for an urgent Synaxis for the primates of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches, in order to discuss the current developments that the Orthodox world is facing about the issue of granting autocephaly to new churches, and the efforts made to find common solutions before taking any final decisions about this issue.

The Church of Antioch highlights the necessity of spiritual vigilance in this critical period of history, and the importance of preserving the peace and unity of the Church, and to be watchful on not falling into the trap of political entanglement which history has proved to cause the Orthodox Church a weakening of Her united witness in the world.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Carol Saba: Antioch, Ukraine and the Danger of a Schism in Orthodoxy

Arabic original here.

Antioch, Ukraine and the Danger of a Schism in Orthodoxy

"I implore you, let us not demand everything, lest we lose everything." A little less than a thousand years ago, these wise words were written with blazing fire as the estrangement between Rome and Constantinople started to accelerate, leading to the Great Schism in 1054. From that time until today, not a single letter has fallen away from these wise Antiochian words. With these expressions, Patriarch Peter III of Antioch addressed Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople in 1054, asking him in a fraternal letter to distinguish "between what must be avoided, what must be reformed, and that about which silence must be kept" in the dispute with Rome, imploring him to look "with attention to good intention, so if the faith is not in danger, then we must prioritize peace and love over other things because the Westerners are our brothers, even if they very often err." The Patriarch of Antioch closed his letter by saying, "Therefore, I cast myself at your feet and implore you to be more lenient than you have been, lest you too also be one who, desiring to raise one who has fallen, only makes his fall heavier."

This position of Antioch lies at the heart of Antioch's gift and role as a "bridge" between the churches, prophetic Antioch who warns of dangers and calls for unity. How applicable is the position of the wise Patriarch Peter III of Antioch, who did not deviate from the necessity of reforming what is corrupt in faith and dogma and the necessity of leniency in what does not touch on either, to the situation of the Orthodox Church today and to the necessity of distinguishing between what is important and what is more important!

With the acceleration of the process of estrangement between Moscow and Constantinople over Ukraine, which may bring the Orthodox world to a spasm of schism resembling the schism of 1054, the events of 1054 come once more to the fore and the same equation is posed to the conscience of the universal Orthodox Church with the growing dispute between the two poles of Orthodoxy over the issue of granting autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

After Constantinople's decision to name two Ukrainian bishops as its emissaries in Ukraine for preparing, alongside all ecclesiastical and political parties, for the disputed autocephaly, a harsh response came from the Holy Synod of Moscow on September 14, considering this step to be a violation of the canonical ecclesiastical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, since the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has, by the admission of all Orthodox churches, the system of an autonomous church dependent on the Russian Church. So Moscow decided to "suspend" communion with Constantinople and to not commemorate Patriarch Bartholomew, along with other decisions that will lead, if there are further negative developments, to a "break in communion" with Constantinople.

The situation is very difficult, as both sides are entrenched in hard-line positions. It is a thorny situation in terms of history and canon law, as well. Each side has its canonical arguments and documentation, intransigent in its belief that it possesses all the right and truth. The truth, however, is not entirely with one side or the other. The media war between the two today is fierce. Each side has its articles, historical studies, and ecclesiastical, canonical arguments. They are pursuing statements from the other Orthodox churches here and there, not to mention Western political interventions great and small.

In this climate of gathering storm clouds, the Holy Synod of Antioch is currently meeting in the Patriarchal Monastery of Balamand, presided over by His Beatitude Patriarch John X. On the agenda are Antioch's great worries and concerns, challenges and dangers. There is no space here to delve into the hierarchy of priorities of what is important: -Antioch- and what is more important: -the universal Church-.

What is the required Antiochian position? Is what is required a middle-way, colorless position on the Ukrainian issue? No. Is what is required an Antiochian "compromise" position? Of course not. Is what is required a position that sides with one side or the other? Of course not. What is required, then?

More than any time in the past, the Orthodox world today is lacking systematic, objective and scholarly ecclesiastical mechanisms for resolving conflicts between the churches or between two or more sides among them, mechanisms that at the same time would take into account the Church's geography of the past, geography of the present and geography of the future, not so that the Church may position herself without standards or generally accepted truths, following and imitating today's world, nor at the same time positioning herself in the past as a fossilized museum-piece, without any analysis of the requirements of the present and future with intelligence and pastoral acumen.

What is required, then, is a principled Antiochian position, one that rests on universal ecclesiastical principles, that reminds both sides and everyone involved of the correct ecclesiastical standards and the need for bringing the universal Orthodox Church out of deadly and oppressive internal competition at the expense of mutual complimentary, leading to suicide. This position should remind both parties of the dialectic between what is important and what is more important and should lead to an Antiochian initiative to bring brothers together without taking a position for or against, no matter relative correctness of one side or the other. True brotherhood and love of the Lord and His Church today require of us to return to the equation of Peter III of Antioch who spoke to history and has spoken to us with his golden words to Patriarch Michael, that in today's crisis we might not "demand everything, lest we lose everything."

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Where are the Grown-Ups?

This was posted in Arabic on Facebook and I think it's the most cogent reaction to the whole Moscow-Istanbul mess that I've seen. Translated and posted here with permission of the author.

Where are the Grown-Ups?

by Jad Ganem

Anyone who observes what has been said and written in the Orthodox world in recent days related to the controversy surrounding the Ukrainian crisis is shocked at the low level of theological discourse among leaders and those considered scholars. One can’t but lament their slipping into a language of mobilization and sterile debate to justify one position or another, adopting the manner of court poets.
The average believer can only wonder why those who have been assigned responsibility for preserving unity do not seek to repair the cracks rather than resorting to history-books to justify schism? Why do they ignore the purpose of the official positions and studies that their local churches have prepared about the issue of autocephaly and how it is proclaimed ? Why aren't they publishing these studies for the public instead of competing to publish centuries-old documents? How can a church say something and its opposite? How can a church deny its official interpretation and consistent analysis of the issue of autocephaly for the sake of a momentary project? How can leaders in all the local churches not lift a finger when certain individuals throw down the memory-hole the results of efforts made over generations to find a common approach to the issue of autocephaly?
By your Lord, stop fanning the flames of discord! Stop dancing at the edge of the abyss! Stop being a stumbling-block for the faithful and a laughingstock before the whole world! Stop using God, the Fathers and the canons for your demonic projects! In the eyes of God and of history those who are pressing for schism and those who fall into it will only be servants of the prince of this world. Who will stop our descent into hell? Where are the followers of the One who prayed that they all might be one?

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Majallat el-Nour: Preserving Orthodox Unity

This article appeared in the current issue of Majallat el-Nour, the magazine of the Orthodox Youth Movement.

Preserving Orthodox Unity

by Jad Ganem

1948 was a pivotal year for the Orthodox world. It was the year when the Orthodox church was thrust into the Cold War between America, the Soviet Union and their respective allies. That year witnessed the failure of Stalin's plan to move the leadership of the Orthodox world to the Soviet Union and establish an "Orthodox Vatican" in Moscow, after the decisions of the Orthodox conference held in Moscow in 1948 roused the free world to vigilance in confronting the Soviet Union's plan to use the Russian Orthodox Church to promote Soviet policy and spread Communist thought in the Orthodox world. Political leaders in the West began taking practical steps to contain and confront Soviet expansion in the free Orthodox world. These steps began with pushing the Ecumenical Patriarch Maximos to resign. In his place Metropolitan Athenagoras of America, who was close to the American President Truman, was elected Ecumenical Patriarch. This was possible because the American, Greek and Turkish governments agreed on the election as part of a comprehensive plan to distance the latter two countries from the Soviet sphere, resulting in their joining NATO in 1951. Athenagoras arrived in Turkey in the American presidential plane and immediately upon landing he was granted Turkish citizenship at the airport. Thus, the Orthodox conference in Moscow achieved the opposite result of what its organizers had intended, as it led to the rediscovery of the Ecumenical Patriarch by the Western world. From that time, the West worked to raise his profile and transform him into a weapon for containing and confronting Soviet expansion into Orthodox countries outside the Iron Curtain, especially in Greece and the Ancient Patriarchates.

On both sides of the Iron Curtain, Orthodoxy paradoxically benefited from the circumstances of the Cold War. The Church of Moscow, which in the 20s and 30s had been on the brink of total annihilation under Soviet persecution, was able to reassert its presence within most of its pre-Revolutionary canonical territories and to reconstitute its episcopal body, which had been reduced to only four bishops on the entire territory of the Soviet Union.

During this period this church was likewise able to hold a synod to elect a new patriarch after having been unable for two decades to elect a successor to the martyred Patriarch Tikhon. The church was also permitted to revive a number of monasteries and churches and a some bishops, priests, monastics and believers were released from prisons and gulags as evidence of religious freedom in the Soviet Union.

During this period, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was also able to regain its role in the Orthodox and Christian worlds, which had been sharply diminished following the Greece’s loss in its war with Turkey and the population exchange mandated by the Treaty of Lausanne, which removed almost all Orthodox Christians in Turkey (apart from those living in Istanbul) to Greece. The Ecumenical Patriarchate further lost its freedom of action and ecumenical character when the Greek negotiator accepted that the patriarch’s role be limited to providing pastoral care to the Greek community in Istanbul and its surroundings and that the patriarchs and bishops be required to have been residents of the city before 1920 and of Turkish nationality, in order to prevent moving its headquarters from Turkey to Greece, as desired by the Turkish negotiator. It also was confronted with a schismatic body called the "Turkish Orthodox Church" whose leader occupied its headquarters for a time and called for its transformation into a Turkish national church. This group was even able to threaten the stability of the patriarchate and to take ownership of some of its most important properties in Istanbul for several years. The Ecumenical Patriarchate was, however, able in the mid-40s to regain some of these properties, just as it was able to elicit a degree of recognition of its role outside the borders of the Turkish state.

Changing political circumstances did not allow the period of détente between Constantinople and Moscow to last, as the systematic pogroms against the Greek community in Istanbul on April 6-7, 1955 led to the destruction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's infrastructure and to the emigration of most of its flock. It is said that this led Patriarch Athenagoras to opine that the real fall of Constantinople occurred after these events. Throughout this time, Russian Church continued to suffer the horrors of systematic persecution and discrimination against believers.

Breaks in relations between Constantinople and Moscow and Turkey and the Soviet union, respectively, gave a positive impetus to the Orthodox world and all the churches were able to gather for the first time at a general conference held on the island of Rhodes in 1961. This meeting laid the foundations for arranging relations between the Orthodox churches and defined a shared mechanism for addressing controversial issues. This meeting resulted in an openness on the part of the Orthodox Church to dialogue and joint ecumenical work with the rest of the Christian world. It also inaugurated cooperation between the various local churches to find common solutions to issues that had arisen in the Orthodox world between the wars-- the most important of which were the issues of autocephaly and autonomy and organizing the Orthodox presence in the diaspora.

The Cold War left its mark on relations between the churches during this period, but they cooperated with each other, aware that each needed to adapt to the realities of its context. Political leaders also encouraged these meetings because they were an opportunity for each side to catch a glimpse of what was happening on the other side of the Iron Curtain, not to mention that it provided opportunities for propaganda and influencing the course of events on the other side.

Perhaps one could say that Orthodox activity attained its apex and made its more important achievements during the period of the Cold War. This period saw the Church of Moscow abandon its plan to lead the Orthodox world and accept the leadership role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as first in honor among the patriarchates and churches. It likewise witnessed the start of preparatory work for the Great Orthodox Council, which entailed  a great number of meetings where agreement was reached on the majority of items on its agenda. Three issues remained outstanding: the manner of signing a tomos of autocephaly, the conditions for granting autonomy and the issue of the diptychs. Joint Orthodox work, within the limited margins of freedom available at that time, relied on the fundamental premise of the acceptance by all the local churches of the existing boundaries of the local Orthodox churches, including the Church of Finland, which had separated from the Patriarchate of Moscow in the mid-50s and obtained autonomy from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This work likewise followed the principle of building consensus between the churches and until unanimity could be reached on all the topics.

The end of the Cold War coincided with the election of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who was elected without interference from the Turkish authorities, and the election of Patriarch of Moscow Alexei II by a synod that included all the metropolitans of the Russian Church and representatives from the clergy and laity. The post-Cold War period brought promises of overcoming the difficulties of the past and increased cooperation between the Orthodox churches, especially after the meeting of the first synaxis of the primates of the Orthodox churches at the Fanar, presided by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 1992.

These promises were quickly dashed after Ecumenical Patriarchate decided unilaterally to grant autonomy to the Church of Estonia, which had been dependent on the Patriarchate of Moscow before the Bolshevik Revolution. This step worried Moscow, whose patriarch at the time had previously been Metropolitan of Estonia, as it understood this decision and the course of discussions with Constantinople to indicate a desire on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to change the existing boundaries of the Orthodox churches and to encourage the establishment of national churches within the canonical boundaries of the Patriarchate of Moscow. This step likewise alerted the patriarchs of the other Orthodox churches to a transformation in the Ecumenical Patriarchate's understanding and practice of primacy.

The issue of Estonia led to a break in communion between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Moscow for a number of months in 1996 and to the suspension of joint Orthodox activity for a decade. At the synaxis of the primates of the Orthodox churches in 2008, it was agreed that autonomous churches would be excluded from joint Orthodox activity and that the preparatory work for the Great Orthodox Council would recommence and complete the study of the three outstanding issues on its agenda. In practice, however, agreement was reached on the issue of autonomy and how it is to be granted, while agreement about the issues of the diptychs and the manner of ratifying a tomos of autocephaly was impossible. These two topics were excluded from the agenda of the Great Orthodox Council which, it was decided at the synaxis held in April of 2014, would be held on the Feast of Pentecost, 2016.

There did not appear during this preparatory work, and especially not in the study of the question of autocephaly, any positions implying a refusal to recognize the canonical boundaries of the autocephalous churches or a desire to revise these boundaries. His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch repeatedly affirmed that the Ecumenical Patriarchate recognizes the Ukrainian Church dependent on the Church of Moscow as the legitimate church in Ukraine. Its head took part in the synaxis of the primates of the churches that was held in Chambésy, Switzerland in January, 2016 as part of the delegation of the Church of Moscow, where His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch welcomed his presence.

The request of the churches of Antioch, Russia, Georgia and Bulgaria to postpone the Great Council, followed by their declining to participate in what became the "Council of Crete" in June, 2016, opened a new cold war in the Orthodox world. The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Greece responded by boycotting the celebrations of the centenary of the reestablishment of the Patriarchate of Moscow held in early December, 2017. The issue of Ukraine was re-opened a quarter-century after the schism of Metropolitan Filaret and his declaring the establishment of the so-called Patriarchate of Kiev, which is not recognized by any of the Orthodox churches.

The rhetoric of the Ecumenical Patriarchate changed after the Council of Crete and it started to state in its literature that it is the mother church of the Church of Ukraine and that this church was uncanonically absorbed by the Church of Moscow in the 17th century. On this basis, the Ecumenical Patriarchate declared that it considers itself as having the competency to grant this church autocephaly. Some of its bishops even went so far as to reject the rules that were agreed upon during the joint Orthodox work on the issue of autocephaly and the manner of its declaration and to state that what was agreed upon by all the churches is not valid for dealing with the issues that have been raised to the conscience of the Church in the current century-- especially given the ambiguity that still prevails about their opinion about what is meant by "mother church" with regard to the church in Ukraine, for example. They likewise questioned the principle of requiring the unanimity of the Orthodox churches, regarding it as too difficult to achieve, as demonstrated by experience during discussion of the document on granting autocephaly during the preparatory work for the Great Council. In addition to the issue of Ukraine, the issue of the Macedonian schism has been raised within the Patriarchate of Serbia and it has been suggested that a solution must be found for the issues of the churches in Montenegro and Moldova. A communique issued by the Ecumenical Patriarchate has stated that the mother church of the churches in the Balkans remains the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s statements have provoked a wave of anxiety in the Orthodox world and fears of schism. Several churches and bishops have expressed opinions that are not supportive of it. Senior officials in the Patriarchate of Moscow said that the day after the Ecumenical Patriarchate grants autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine could be likened to the day after the Great Schism between East and West. One of the bishops of the Serbian Patriarchate stated that any individual decision on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate regarding Serbia and Ukraine would be a grave mistake both canonically and spiritually and would be rejected by the universal Orthodox Church. He also stressed that the Orthodox churches regard the Ecumenical Patriarch as first among equals and not first without equal. On the other hand, a number of autocephalous Orthodox churches have kept silent and not taken any public position with regard to these developments, while other churches have expressed their support for the legitimate church in Ukraine dependent on Moscow. The Ukrainian and Macedonian crises have brought the Orthodox world into struggles that transcend ecclesiastical concerns and belong to the conflict between the West and Russia, just as Orthodoxy has embarked on internal conflicts, which observers fear, if allowed to worsen or if inappropriate steps are taken, will lead to schisms between and within the churches.

The Orthodox churches did not escape being influenced by political developments, since political leaders both inside and outside the Iron Curtain resorted to making use of the ancient rivalry between Second Rome and Third Rome over the course of the Cold War. At this difficult moment, when populism and nationalism are on the rise, borders are being redrawn, and a new order is slowly emerging out of the rubble of post-war arrangements designed to contain Soviet expansion, we must be vigilant against the exploitation of existing ecclesiastical disagreements for the sake of ephemeral political interests and nationalist projects. We must avoid the ethnic and political rivalries that have beset the Orthodox Church and fragmented it into national churches from the time of the Greek Revolution, which led to the Church of Greece declaring its autocephaly, an example that was followed as more countries gained their independence. The Orthodox churches must collectively address the notion that “every independent state has the right to an autocephalous church” and that “the borders of the church must change with changes in the political situation", not only because this idea subordinates the Church to political vicissitudes and fragments her into warring tribes, but also because it has never been the rule in the Orthodox world, since it is contrary to the nature of the Church.

The Ancient Patriarchates of the Orthodox Church have since ancient times transcended nations and ethnicities and they continue to do so. At the present, there are autocephalous churches whose territory only covers part of a state, as is the case for the Church of Greece. Other autocephalous churches extend over more than one state, as in the cases of the Church of Serbia and  the Church of Czechia and Slovakia, which remained one church after being divided into different countries. We must also remember that the system of autonomy as an ecclesiastical arrangement does not mean the subordination of a church to another church or another state. It in no way detracts from the sovereignty of a state in which an autonomous church exists. The autonomy enjoyed by the Churches of Finland and Estonia within the Ecumenical Patriarchate has never been regarded as detracting from the sovereignty of those two states, just as the island of Crete’s autonomy within the Ecumenical Patriarchate has never been considered a violation of the sovereignty of the Greek state, despite the disagreements between Turkey and Greece. The ecclesiastical, canonical and even political situations of these churches differ little in principle from the situations of the autonomous Ukrainian Church dependent on the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Macedonian Church dependent on the Patriarchate of Serbia.

The Orthodox Church must pay heed to the dangers that result from feeding nationalist sentiments and tying the future of the Church to political considerations. The greatest responsibility in this regard lies with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In order to fulfill its canonical role, it must put to use the primacy of service that it enjoys in order to assist the Churches of Russia and Serbia in healing the wounds caused to them by the Ukrainian and Macedonian schisms. This can only happen  by recognizing the boundaries of the Orthodox churches that have been established for decades and following the principle that the Mother Church is the church whose Holy Synod includes the bishops who are requesting autocephaly.

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Mercy

Arabic original here.


The word occurs in most prayers and supplications: Have mercy O God, according to Your great mercy, we ask You, hear us and have mercy! Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy great mercy: according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out mine iniquity. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

Here we also recall our favorite constant prayer, the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner:" Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.

All of these petitions, and especially the command "Be merciful even as your heavenly Father is merciful," describe God as merciful and call on us to imitate His great mercy.

Divine mercy [Arabic, ra7ma] is nothing other than God's expansive, infinite love, which resembles the expansive womb [Arabic, ri7m] that accept, embraces and nourishes the fetus.

This great divine mercy always strives for all people to be saved from sin and from death so that they may receive eternal life.

This mercy extends to even embracing enemies, to cooperating with people and loving them without waiting for anything from them in return.

Therefore in the Gospel (Luke 6:35-36), the Lord Jesus commands, "Love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful."

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, mercy is connected to the neighbor. The Lord Jesus asks, "Which of these three (i.e., the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan) do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?" And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” (Luke 10:36-37).

When Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:21-22). This is mercy tied to forgiveness.

Likewise, when Jesus visited Matthew the Publican in his home and spoke with the Pharisees, mercy is tied to compassion for publicans, for sinners, and for the sick: And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9: 11-13).

Last but not least, mercy is connected to love, which first of all means control of selfishness. In the end, this requires sacrifice and looking to what benefits the other, to that which secures the establishment of a life of communion between people and real sympathy for others.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Middle East Eye on the War's Toll on Mhardeh

Middle East Eye is a bit of a mixed bag, as on the one hand they publish a great deal of propaganda for Qatar, while on the other they do frequently publish worthwhile, unbiased articles about the region. This piece on the entirely-Orthodox city of Mhardeh is particularly worth reading. 



Rebuilding Mhardeh

“Mortar, mortar, mortar,” Wakil repeats like a mantra as he drives through the city, pointing out extensive newly tarmacked sections of Mhardeh’s roads, damaged by seven years of bombardment.
Rebel attacks have killed 97 civilians and injured a further 156 over the last seven years but most of Mhardeh’s almost exclusively Christian population have remained in Syria.

This was encouraged by priests and senior members of the community who feared that, if locals fled, they might never be able to return, to an area where Christian communities have lived for nearly 2,000 years.

To ensure the city remained habitable, the local council facilitated the prompt rebuilding of homes damaged or destroyed in fighting, with repairs funded by the community and wealthy locals when families did not have the money themselves.

“We are such a tight-knit community that if you hit one of us, you hit us all,” explains Altouma.
Although the situation inside Mhardeh has stabilised, missiles fired from rebel positions are still able to hit the city, as they did last week, and its citizens live in fear of further attacks.

While morale in Mhardeh remains strong, Syria’s civil war and international sanctions have sent prices of most goods rocketing, and life remains tough. Every week, the Red Crescent in charge of distributing UN-supplied aid, is inundated by residents collecting boxes of essential foodstuffs.

“These aid supplies were very, very important to local people during times of siege by terrorists, when food was used like a weapon,” explains deputy head of the local Syrian Red Crescent, Wael al-Khouri.

“Now people can manage to live without this aid but it is still very helpful and all the items here are long-life so can be stored for future use.”

With the city no longer under siege and the end of the Syrian conflict finally in sight, Khouri says the Red Crescent is now starting to change its focus, upping its support to local widows, the war-wounded and, particularly, the many children who have been affected by the war.


Read the whole article here.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Met Antonius (el-Souri): Asceticism in the Orthodox Church

Arabic original here.

Asceticism in the Orthodox Church

On September first we celebrate Ecclesiastical New Year and Saint Symeon the Stylite.

In our patrimony, there are many stylites who practiced asceticism in many regions. Saint Symeon the Stylite was the first of them in this way of life. One might then wonder: is asceticism the subjugation of the body through unusual methods?

What is asceticism?

In Greek the word used is ἀσκησις, which means 'exercise'.

It is exercise in emptying oneself (κένοσις, cf. Philippians 2:7) of the ego. All passions and sins are tied to the ego and the ego is the source of the fall and estrangement from God and the other.

Most people think that asceticism is only for monks and ascetics, but this is something that is required of all believers. The Church teaches us how to live it through prayer, fasting and repentance according to the Lord Jesus' commandments to us.

Thus asceticism is the life of prayer, fasting and repentance with the goal of emptying ourselves of our ego so that God may become our ego, our life and everything for us.

Asceticism is escape from the self-- that is, from the source of the passions-- through setting aside the pleasures and passions that fight man within himself, his heart and his being, through personal effort, firm and sincere desire, and God's grace.

This is what is called the ascetic struggle or spiritual struggle. It is an activity that is shared between the will of man and the grace of the Holy Trinity, which we call 'synergy' (συνεργία).

Monks have become teachers of the spiritual life because they have left the world and all therein. They have sold it and distributed it in order to follow Christ. The first of them were taught by God directly, as He taught Saint Anthony the Great when an angel appeared to him and taught him to defeat weariness through work, prayer and spiritual reading.

Monks and ascetics, each according to his ability, began to struggle to control the body, acting according to the words of the Apostle Paul: "I discipline my body and bring it into subjection" (1 Corinthians 9:27). Saint Symeon the Stylite invented this manner of living on a pillar in heat and cold and others followed him in this.

Nevertheless, in the Orthodox Church, as we have mentioned above, asceticism is fundamentally the struggle of prayer, fasting and asceticism so that one may become practiced in knowledge of the self and purification of the heart  in order to ascend in his relationship with God and the other until he arrived, through unity with the Trinity, at unity with all creation and the service of God in man.

Beloved, the life, teachings, and traditions of our Orthodox Church are saturated with the spirit of asceticism, prayer and fasting. Our liturgy is filled with spiritual teachings that encourage repentance, humility, judgment of the soul, judgment of sin and love of the sinner.

In our Church we have a treasury of teachings of the fathers about how to combat the passions and confront temptations.

We must drink from the wells of grace that are in our Orthodox Church and the writings of her fathers, so that we may walk as those who came before us walked and become holy as they became holy. There is no Christian life without asceticism.

He who has ears, let him hear.

Metropolitan of Zahle, Baalbek and their Dependencies

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Paul's Final Admonitions

Arabic original here.

Paul's Final Admonitions

Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians ends with the valediction "Maran atha", "come O Lord." He says to the Christian soldier, "Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love" (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).

Let us not forget that great hymn to love found in 1 Corinthians 13.

This summarizes Paul's admonitions throughout the entire epistle. This reflects the divine power that the believer receives in the Lord Jesus, who "is strengthened in the Holy Spirit" (cf. Luke 1:80 and 2:40).

"May your hearts be strengthened" (Psalm 30/31: 24).

 All of this is realized if there abounds love, which is the source of all virtues. After that, the Apostle mentions his helpers, the first of which is Stephen and his house, who are the first people that he evangelized in the region of Achaea. This family served "the saints." That is, the poor of Jerusalem.

His words in the epistle include greetings to Aquila and his wife Priscilla, his assistants in establishing the Church of Corinth and the Church of Ephesus (Acts 18:2 and 18).

Paul insists on the greeting among brothers and asks that this greeting be among them "with a holy kiss." This kiss comes out of the love, kindness and mercy that flow into the Divine Liturgy, expressing union in love and faith. Saint Justin Martyr the Philosopher (2nd century) testifies to this.

Today the bishop and the priests practice it while they are in the altar.

The followers of Christ cry out, "Maran atha." That is, come Lord Jesus, come! Amen. 

Hallelujah! It is said in Paul's Epistle to the Philippians, "the Lord is at hand" (Philippians 4:5) and also in the Book of Revelation 22:20, "Surely I am coming quickly." Come Lord Jesus!

This is the hope of the one to come. 

Do not fear, brothers! Do not fear, humankind: the Lord is at hand! Never despair: the Lord has come, is coming and shall come quickly!

He is the last true king of this world, also and especially king over the hearts of us who believe in Him:

This is the kingdom to come! Seek it first. It comes by way of God's grace. It comes by way of prayer. It comes by way of the neighbor, by way of service to those little ones, the poor. He is the true neighbor of every one of us (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:23).

The apostle's love, embodied in his last greeting, is an image of the Heavenly Father's love. This love never falls (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8).

 Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Archimandrite Jack (Khalil): The Orthodox Tradition

Arabic original here.

The Orthodox Tradition

Many people unjustly accuse the Apostle Paul of innovating in the faith, to the point that some people ignorantly regard him as having established Christianity in its current form.

Objective study, however, makes it clear that the Apostle Paul adhered to the words of the Lord Jesus, which were transmitted by those who had witnessed the Word with their own eyes and served it during the time it was preached earth, just as the Church has preserved it since the Apostolic Era.

The Apostle Paul teaches us in today's epistle [1 Corinthians 15:1-11] to remember that we have received the deposit of true faith by which we are saved if we hold fast to it and preserve it as a guide for our life.

The first thing that we learn from the words of the Apostle Paul is that the principles of the faith are not subjective, in the sense that they do not depend on what we find attractive or what we reject in them. We receive the faith as the apostles handed it down and we must hand it down just as we received it.

Otherwise, its ecclesial character disappears from it and it becomes an individualistic faith. In other words, the orthodoxy of the faith that the Church has taught us across the generations disappears, transformed into the faith of this or that person...

The chosen vessel Paul did not want to innovate a faith particular to himself. Nor did he inquire with his mind about the foolishness of the preaching that the wise men of this age did not comprehend. Rather, he also accepted, as he himself affirms in today's epistle, the foolishness of the cross that the Church preaches.

He accepted the wretched foolishness that brings people heavenly peace and joy and grants them healing, the splendor of salvation and the earnest of the Holy Spirit.

The Church has not known intellectual disdain for the "foolishness of the cross" like what we are witnessing today. Some have called the current era the "post-truth" era, in the sense that truth has become what I myself see to be true, not what has been made as clear as the sun.

People today do not flinch from denying objective truth and offering excuse after excuse to justify what they say and win if someone tries to argue with them.

But their rebellion against God's truth came generations before this and perhaps the truth has lost its luster in our days because people have loved falsehood more than truth and heresy more than the truth of the Gospel.

We preserve our ecclesial identity to the degree that we keep the tradition that we have received.

The orthodoxy of our church has been kept through worldly codes and canons only in name. Orthodoxy of faith is tied to intellectual submission to the apostolic tradition that does not change, does not develop and does not increase or decrease because we have received it from the One who does not change, but rather "remains the same yesterday, today and forever."

Therefore we submit to the faith and do not scorn it. We preserve the faith and do not subject its sanctity to our intellectual pride.

Perhaps our deep understanding of the faith begins with submission to what we have received, so that we may know and understand... A language is not understood if one has not learned it first.

The Apostle Paul hands down to us what he himself has also received and accepted: the Lord Jesus died as was buried and arose victorious.

In response to those who deem these words to be foolishness, the Apostle Paul takes recourse first of all to the proof of the Holy Bible, which had previously witnessed to God's salvific dispensation (cf. Romans 1:1-2).

For those who do not grant any significance to the Bible, the apostle affirms that hundreds witnessed the Lord risen and glorified.

The truth of the Gospel is not an intellectual system. Rather, it is an event that has entered into humans' history, shaped their present and alone guarantees their future.

Archimandrite Jack (Khalil)
Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology