Thursday, March 21, 2019

Orthodox Synaxis on "Ottoman Ecclesiology"

This historical dynamic is crucial for understanding current relations between Antioch and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

[...]

In Antioch, the Patriarchate of Constantinople constantly used its position at the Ottoman court to exploit crises until, during the Melkite Schism of 1724, it finally managed to have complete control over the selection of patriarchs and began a process of replacing the local hierarchy with Greeks. As Robert Haddad explains, “During the two centuries before Constantinople’s assumption of direct control there was scarcely a patriarchal reign free of ill-advised Greek influence.”
    From the inception of Ottoman rule in Syria the ecumenical patriarch was established as the sole channel of communication between the Antiochian patriarchate and the Ottoman central government and, subject only to the latter’s discretion, the final arbiter of its civil and ecclesiastical affairs. Had the enormous power wielded by the ecumenical see as a department of the Ottoman central administration been intelligently and decently employed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the effect on the Melkites [i.e., the Orthodox] of Syria might have been salutary. But, for reasons which cannot detain us here, the Great Church in this period was not characterized by a particularly high degree of either integrity or stability. And until Greek prelates designated by Constantinople assumed, in the course of the eighteenth century, direct control over the Syrian see, the Greek Church played something resembling the role of well-paid but dishonest broker between contending factions at Antioch.
Much as in the Balkans, the chauvinism, corruption and mismanagement of Greek clergy proved to be a catalyst for the development of Arab nationalism, which began not among the Muslims of Syria, but the Orthodox. When the Holy Synod of Antioch finally after over 150 years elected a local Arab, Meletios al-Doumani, as patriarch in 1898, the Ecumenical Patriarchate did not respond in the loving and self-sacrificial manner that Patriarch Bartholomew vaunts, but rather petulantly, refusing to add his name to the diptychs and suspending normal relations with Antioch until after his death.

 [...]

 Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Jad Ganem: The Heartbreak of the Feast

Arabic original here.

The Heartbreak of the Feast

Anyone following news about celebrations of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, particularly in the diaspora, will notice the scale of the harm done by the Ecumenical Patriarchate's decision to unilaterally grant autocephaly to the church in Ukraine, its recognition of schismatics and entering into communion with them.


It is obvious to the public that the Orthodox Church has entered into a state of fragmentation that will be difficult to get past in the near future given the entrenchment in declared positions, the open refuse to resort to conciliarity to find a solution by which the Church might escape her crisis,  which may threaten unity and cement schism.


It is evident from the pictures of the celebrations that have been published that those who have been most harmed by what has happened are the faithful in the countries of the diaspora kept to the parishes of their respective patriarchates and no longer celebrate this feast together, as had been the custom for at least two decades.


Perhaps these images posted on church news websites also presage a disruption of the institution of the episcopal assemblies that were established in 2009 and which, until recently, succeeded in actualizing a unified Orthodox witness in the diaspora under the leadership of Constantinople's representatives, who preside over these assemblies on the basis of the primacy that their church enjoys within the family of Orthodox churches.


Perhaps the most telling image was from Paris, where every year the Greek cathedral witnessed a celebration including all the bishops of France belonging to the majority of local Orthodox churches. This year, Metropolitan Emmanuel celebrated the feast surrounded only by his own auxiliary bishops. He is the one who presided at the so-called "unifying council" and who participated in the enthronement of the head of the newly-established church, whose legitimacy and the legitimacy of whose leaders has until now not been recognized by anyone other than the Church of Constantinople.
In his homily, Metropolitan Emmanuel expressed his regret at the absence of his brothers, the Orthodox bishops of France. Naturally, he did not forget to criticize the Church of Moscow for what he considered to be the way in which it "responded to the granting of the Tomos of Autocephaly to the new church in Ukraine." He likewise aimed his criticisms at the local Orthodox churches which, according to what he said in his homily, "have forgotten the generosity of the Church of Constantinople toward them," after which he stressed the need to unify Orthodoxy in France for the sake of common witness.

The photos and statements eloquently express the profundity of the fragmentation that the Orthodox Church is experiencing in the absence of the conciliarity that had been the foundation of the Triumph of Orthodoxy over the iconoclasts. Constantinople appeared to be along on account of its acting individually. Therefore, confronted with this crises that is unprecedented in its profundity, the true faith requires both refraining from turning churches into pulpits for criticizing others and deepening wounds and taking the initiative to find solutions to dress wounds that have been open for years and which are deepening day after day, so that perhaps we might all triumph over division and next year celebrate the joy of the Triumph of Orthodoxy.


Who will raise us out of heartbreak? Who will bring us into joy?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Jad Ganem: Conditional Love

Arabic original here.

Conditional Love

An Orthodox website has published an English translation of the speech given by His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel, the Ecumenical Patriarchate's metropolitan in France during the enthronement of the head of the church created by the Phanar in Ukraine, Epiphany.

This speech that was given on behalf of His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew repeats the very same positions of the Phanar, which regard the Ecumenical Patriarch has head of the patriarchates and autocephalous Orthodox churches, that he is the sole point of reference for a final judgment in ecclesiastical issues, and that Constantinople is the point of reference for judging between the churches for the sake of the salvation of the faithful.

This speech lingered on the issue of autocephaly and opined, "Only an Ecumenical Council can create a Local Church, as for example the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem and the ancient Church of Cyprus. All the later Local and so-called autocephalous churches which were created by the Mother Church of Constantinople kenotically and out of love, is nothing other than proof that the Great Church of Christ, anxious with spiritual concern and observing the circumstances of the times, did not favor the domination of peoples, but gave various peoples the privilege to manage specific issues of the life of the Church in internal autocephaly, without understanding “autocephaly” as a spiritual and ecclesiastical emancipation, much less as indifference, forgetfulness and ingratitude toward the Mother Church that has granted this status.

One who reads these words cannot help but pause over certain points contained in them, including:

-- The distinction between two kinds of Orthodox churches: the four patriarchates and the Church of Cyprus, which are regarded as local churches and the other churches, which are regarded as so-called autocephalous churches.

-- The belief that the Church of Constantinople is the mother church of the other churches and that these churches enjoy the prerogative of managing their internal affairs by autocephaly alone. The belief that the autocephaly that these churches enjoy is subject to the vicissitudes of history and momentary circumstances.

At the same time, these words raise serious questions, the most important of which are:

-- Why did the Ecumenical Patriarchate refuse to include the issue of affirming the churches' autocephaly during the "Council of Crete", despite repeated requests made by the Church of Serbia regarding this before and during the council?

-- If the Ecumenical Patriarchate believes that an ecumenical council alone has the prerogative to establish a local church, why did it not include the question of granting autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine on the agenda of the "Council of Crete"? And what changed in the situation of the Ukrainian schism between the summer of 2016 and the spring of 2018 such that this matter was not discussed on Crete but a decision was taken by the synod of the Phanar individually, especially given that the schism has existed since 1991?

-- What transformed the Phanar into a loving mother of the Ukrainian people after thirty years of neglect? And why did it not show this love during the "Council of Crete", but instead it remained dependent on Moscow's participation in this council? And is this love limited to one group of the Ukrainian people, which abides in schism and is blocked from the others who remain within the communion of the Church?

-- If an ecumenical council has the prerogative to grant autocephaly, does this not mean a priori that granting autocephaly today requires the participation of the other churches in a mechanism that is closer to conciliarity instead of taking a unilateral decision in this regard?

Perhaps the unfortunate thing is that these words directly confirm that the decision to grant autocephaly to the church in Ukraine comes along with a desire for revenge against the churches that did not participate in Crete, confirming that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has no desire to activate conciliarity in the Orthodox Church and that the future of this Church will remain dependent on the one who controls the council's convocation and agenda. There is no doubt that he prefers to keep playing his role by relying on prerogatives imposed by exceptional historical circumstances, a role that has come to resemble an eastern papacy.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Jad Ganem: On the Future of the Diaspora

Arabic original here.


On the Future of the Diaspora
Metropolitan Emmanuel, metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's archdiocese in France and a figure who is very close to His Holiness the current Ecumenical Patriarch, pointed out in an explanation of the reasons why the Phanar suppressed the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe that the Ecumenical Patriarchate's decision was "a necessary and essential step in order to meet the challenges we are facing today in the organization of the Orthodox diaspora to meet the pastoral needs of our time. With new walls being built today in Orthodoxy and real risks of division, the Patriarch and the Holy Synod wished to make the organization of our communities in the diaspora more in keeping with Orthodox ecclesiology. So that, as the Statement says, 'there would not be two ecclesiastical authorities of the same jurisdiction in the same territory,'" adding also that, "in the jurisdictional disorder prevailing today in the diaspora, the Ecumenical Patriarchate must set an example" and warning that "that the jurisdictional wandering of some ecclesial entities has always been painful. Painful both for themselves and for the Church as a whole."
 
The metropolitan's words portend that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has resolved to reorganize its dioceses in the diaspora such that there will be only one diocese belonging to it in a given country. Perhaps this is what had previously led Metropolitan Emmanuel to suggest the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe be transformed into a Russian-speaking vicariate within the Greek Archdiocese in France. 
 
Will what has occurred in Western Europe soon affect the dioceses in North America where four dioceses depend officially on the Ecumenical Patriarchate? They are:
 
*The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which has eight metropolitans
 
*The American Carpatho-Russian Archdiocese of North America
 
*The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA
 
*The Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America
  
*Additionally, there are  the Vicariate for Palestinian-Jordanian Communities in the USA and the parishes which belonged to the schismatic Patriarchate of Kiev which, according to the tomos of autocephaly granted to the newly-created church in Ukraine, now belong to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
 
If the Ecumenical Patriarchate's vision as expressed by Metropolitan Emmanuel is applied in North America and elsewhere in the countries of the diaspora belonging to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, does this mean that all the non-Greek dioceses will be suppressed and turned into vicariates depending on their respective Greek archdiocese? If this happens, would it not be considered a curtailing of the rights of these dioceses that existed and conducted their life with relative independence? In such a case, would it not be better to change the names of the archdioceses of the Ecumenical Patriarchate so that they don't have any indication of a particular ethnicity as is currently the case? Will non-Greek bishops be welcome as members of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate?

The vision expressed by Metropolitan Emmanuel could constitute a way forward for solving the issue of the diaspora if the Ecumenical Patriarchate could get past Greek ethnic concerns and treated all elements of its dioceses on equal footing. But this approach may add to the dispersion and fragmentation in the diaspora and jurisdictional wandering if ethnic considerations are given priority in the management of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's promised single archdioceses.
 
Will the Ecumenical Patriarchate acquire a renewed ecumenical character, starting with the diaspora, or will it choose to preserve its ethnic character there? Will this step in Europe be a one-off instance imposed by political circumstances? We'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Jad Ganem: The Dead End

Arabic original here.

The Dead End

On February 21, 2019 His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch responded to the letter from His Beatitude Patriarch John X sent on December 31, 2018 calling on him to convoke a synaxis of the primates of the autocephalous Orthodox churches in order to examine the Ukrainian issue and find a Pan-Orthodox solution to it. His Holiness states that "after four Orthodox churches, without reason from an ecclesiological and theological point of view, refused to be present during the work of the Great and Holy Council, for which there is no excuse– and your ancient church was one of them– the Ecumenical Patriarchate has good reason to refrain from such a meeting at the Pan-Orthodox level, which would be useless inasmuch as it would only lead to agreement that the participants are in disagreement with each other."

If we ignore the polemical position in this letter with regard to the four churches' abstention from participating in what was supposed to be the Great Orthodox Council-- and Constantinople appears to be unprepared to conduct an objective evaluation the reasons for this and its own responsibility for not resolving the outstanding issues prior to its convening-- the following is worth noticing in Constantinople's position:

* The insistence on rejecting calls for holding a synaxis of the primates of the Orthodox churches, despite appeals from the majority of them before and after the Ukrainian crisis for His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch to hold this synaxis.

* The insinuation that general Orthodox meetings are useless meetings that only lead to disagreement and fragmentation.
* Tyranny in its approach to ecclesiastical issues, immersion in Realpolitik, and total disregard for the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, that always overcome the difficulties and hardship of history.

* The incoherence of the Phanar's position, which seriously refrains from calling a meeting of the primates of the churches under the pretext of fearing a lack of agreement, while its spokesmen justify convoking the "Council of Crete" with those who attended and reject the rule of unanimity in joint Orthodox work and call for majority rule.

*Denial of the established fact that the Church of Antioch participated in the synaxes of the primates of the churches that were held at the Phanar and Chambésy in 2014 and 2016, despite the decision to break communion with Jerusalem. It ignores that the Ecumenical Patriarchate proceded to convoke the Great Council despite the objection of the Church of Antioch and its declining to sign the decisions of these two synaxes, relying at the time on the principle of majority rule.
Does the above mean that the Ecumenical Patriarchate rejects the call to hold a synaxis of the primates of the churches because the majority of churches opposes what it has done? Or does it mean that His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarchate has come to believe that an Eastern papism is the only way to manage the Orthodox Church? Does His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch think think that the decisions issued by him and his synod are correct decisions merely because they are issued by them? Does his refusal to listen to what "the Spirit is saying to the churches" and the appeals of his brothers and their synods mean that he has come to believe in his own infallibility and the infallibility of his see? Perhaps the biggest question remains what is to be done faced with this limiting of the horizon? Who will take the initiative to correct the course? Who will straighten what has been warped? Who will bring Orthodoxy out of this crisis? Has the time not yet come for all the Orthodox bishops of the world to call upon each other to rightly divide the word of truth for us, after the primus in Orthodoxy has abdicated his role and placed us before a dead end?

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Your Face, O Lord, I Seek

Arabic original here.


"Your Face, O Lord, I Seek" (Psalm 26/27:8)

What is prayer but a constant encounter with God?

What is fasting but disposing with everything that doesn't pertain to God and what is repentance but a return to God, His love and His commandments?

The priest says to the child after his being baptized and receiving chrismation, "You have been justified, you have been sanctified... You have been baptized, you have been illumined, you have been chrismated, you have been washed in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

Despite all this, one goes back to sinning and dies, knowing that God has put an end to sin and death by His being crucified, His death and His resurrection and He has raised us up with Him in baptism from sin and from death (cf. Romans 6:4 and Colossians 3:12).

The fact is that the Lord Jesus, by the abundance of His mercy and His exceeding love, through the mystery of holy baptism, sowed His salvific grace in the depths of our souls.

Saint Diodochus of Photice says in his book On Spiritual Knowledge:

"From the moment of our renewal in baptism, grace is hidden in the depths of the heart and the devil goes out..."

This salvific grace is implanted in the depths of a person since his baptism as a potential energy, relying on the faith of his godparents and family. This capacity awaits the person's free will as a first step for it to be transformed into active energy.

This is what Saint John Chrysostom says. It is the work of constant repentance in a person's life through the practice of prayer, fasting, confession and works of charity... then one has a foretaste of the joy of the resurrection and the kingdom that is to come.

Saint Basil adds in his discussion of the work of divine grace in man, when he talks about the mystical activity of the Eucharist after receiving holy communion and after a person repents of his sins and longs for God:

"Divine grace permeates all the members and ligaments of the body to the outermost senses, so the mind becomes Christ's mind, sight becomes Christ's sight, hearing becomes Christ's hearing..."

Thus one is renewed in his entirety in the image and likeness of God. This transformation is constant for one who believes, struggles, prays constantly and truly repents constantly until death. Then the monastic saying, that is true of all who repent, is fulfilled: "He who dies before dying will not die when he dies."

The believing, struggling Christian lives his whole life long in the constant presence of God.

He sticks to the Lord Jesus Christ and repeats, his whole life long, this constant prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner," until, when he departs this earthly life, he beholds the face of God as radiant, salvific light. Amen.

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Pray for Mhardeh and Suqailabiyeh

Arabic original here.

Date: 2.3.2019

Communique from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Hama and its Dependencies

As a result of the current painful circumstances in the Hama Governorate and in the cities of Mhardeh and Suqailabiyeh which are being subjected to continuous shelling and because of the extent of the destruction and devastation occurring there, as they have endured many kinds of devastation, destruction, killing and expulsion, we express our sorrow and intense pain at the catastrophes occurring there and we denounce this targeting of these two secure cities which have constantly been a model of religious, patriotic, moral and humanitarian commitment. We lift up prayers from the heart to the Lord God that He may lessen the pain, suffering and sorrows of our children and our people residing there.

With the blessing of our Father His Beatitude Patriarch John, we ask everyone to take part in lifting up prayers on Sunday, 3.3.2019 for the sake of peace, security, calm and stability in our dear country and in the precious cities of Mhardeh and Suqailabiyeh, that they may be in God's protection.

Monday, February 25, 2019

2nd Meeting of the Dialogue beteween the Russian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox Churches

Russian original here.

Dialogue with the Syriac Orthodox Church

The second meeting of the commission for dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church was held on February 8-22, 2019 at the administrative residence of the patriarchs of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Atchaneh, Lebanon.

On the part of the Moscow Patriarchate, the commission includes: Bishop Flavian of Chevepovets and Belozersky, co-chairman; Hegumen Arseny (Sokulov), representative of the Patriarch of Moscow All Rus to the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East; Hegumen Stefan (Igumnov), secretary of the Department of External Church Relations for Inter-Christian relations; and DECR staff members S.G. Alferov and E.A. Bakhtin. On the part of the Syriac Orthodox Church, the meeting was attended by: the patriarchal vicar in charge of the complex of the administrative residence in Atchaneh, Archbishop Chrysostomos Michael Chemoun, acting co-chairman of the commission; Archimandrite Jack Yacoub, head of the Patriarchal Department of Youth Affairs; Archimandrite Roger Yousef Akhrass, head of the Department of Syriac Studies; Deacon Imad Suryani, a staff member of the Patriarchal Secretariat; and Shadi Sarwe, executive director of the St Ephrem charitable foundation.

At the beginning of the meeting, Archbishop Chrysostomos asked Bishop Flavian to convey His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem II's congratulations  to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus on the occasion of his recently-celebrated tenth anniversary as primate.

Then the parties summarized the implementation of the agreements concluded at the commission's first meeting and identified a program of further cooperation to be submitted for the hierarchy's approval.

The commission's priority remains coordinating the cooperation on the implementation of projects to support the suffering Christians of Syria, among whom many thousands make up the flock of the Syriac Orthodox Church. The commission noted with satisfaction the successful implementation of a number of projects in this domain in 2018. Among them are the organization of a visit by a delegation from the Working Group on Assistance to the Syrian Population of the Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations under the President of the Russian Federation to Syria and Lebanon, the distribution of the largest consignment by volume of food aid in February of last year, the Russian Orthodox Church's initiation of a medical rehabilitation program for disabled children who suffered during the hostilities in Syria, and the holding of a meeting of the heads and high representatives of the religious communities of Syria and Russia during the visit of the chairman of the DECR of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion to Damascus; His Holiness Ignatius Ephrem II participated in this meeting. The parties discussed plans to continue cooperation in this domain, including with the participation of the St Ephrem Charitable Foundation, which oversees the humanitarian projects of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

Another relevant area of collaboration is continuing the development of ties in the academic domain. The importance of the participation of the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, Hegumen Arseny (Sokolov) in the symposium organized by the Department of Syriac Studies on the person of Severus of Antioch (Atchaneh, May 25, 2018) was noted. This year, the participation of delegates from Syria in academic and theological conferences organized by higher educational institutions of the Moscow Patriarchate is also expected. Concrete agreements have been reached about starting a student exchange program. In the future, there are plans to develop direct cooperation at the level of theological schools, in particular between the educational institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church and and the St Ephrem Patriarchal Seminary in Saydnaya as well as Antioch Syrian University, which was opened in Damascus in November, 2018 and trains not only future clergy, but also laypeople specializing in the humanities, natural sciences and technical disciplines.

The commission considered it relevant to facilitate contacts between the relevant structures responsible for the development of youth ministry, including exchanges of delegations and joint participation in thematic events, including in the territory of dioceses in the diaspora.

The sides discussed prospects for interaction between representatives of monasticism as well as of continuing to develop pilgrimage projects, noting the positive experience of organizing visits to Russia of pilgrims from the Syriac Orthodox Church in January and July, 2018, organized by the DECR of the Moscow Patriarchate.

The commission recognized the need to maintain the existing level of interaction in the domain of media, including the the provision of mutual informational support in the context of the challenges that the Moscow Patriarchate and the Syriac Orthodox Church are facing today. The Syrian party highly appreciated the initiative of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus to hold consultations with the primates of the churches of the East and West and to adopt a joint statement during the worsening of the situation in Syria in April, 2018. Another significant manifestation of this interaction was the circulation by the DECR during those very days of the text of the joint statement by His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East, His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem II, and His Beatitude Melkite Patriarch Yusuf I Absi.

The meeting's participants noted the importance of the intensifying of contacts in 2018 between the Russian Orthodox Church and the community of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Iraq, whose representative, Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf of Mosul, Kirkuk and the Kurdish Autonomous Region, visited Moscow last November as part of the delegation of the Council of Christian Leaders of Iraq. Before that, in March, Hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov) visited Iraq on the instructions of Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk and also met with the leadership and representatives of the local Syriac Orthodox communities.

At the end of the meeting, a joint memorandum was adopted.

During their stay in Lebanon, the delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate visited the Monastery of the Dormition at Balamand, belonging to the Antiochian Orthodox Church and the theological institute there where, with the blessing of His Beatitude Patriarch John X, it was received by Metropolitan Ephrem of Tripoli. Bishop Flavian asked him to convey the cordial greetings of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus to His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Great Antioch and All the East and told about the dialogue with the Syriac Orthodox Church. For his part, Metropolitan Ephrem noted that at Balamand Monastery they still cherish the memory of the visit there by the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church during his visit to the Patriarchate of Antioch in November, 2011. The two parties also exchanged views about a number of current issues of bilateral and inter-Orthodox collaboration.

The program of the commission's meeting included visits to holy places and historical and cultural sights of Lebanon, including the Cathedral of the Great-Martyr and Victory-Bearer George of the Beirut Archdiocese of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox monasteries of Sayyidat al-Nouriyeh and the Prophet Elijah, and the city of Byblos.

The next meeting of the commission will be held in Russia in the summer of 2020.

***

Agreement on the formation of the commission was reached by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus and His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem II during the primate of the Syriac Orthodox Church's visit to Russia on November 9-13, 2015. In pursuance of this decision, a meeting of the joint working group for the preparation of the dialogue was held on May 11, 2017 in Washington.

On July 29, 2017, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church approved the composition of the commission on the part of the Moscow Patriarchate; in October of that year, the Synod of the Syriac Orthodox Church adopted a similar decision. The commission's first meeting took place on December 7-10, 2017 in the city of Cerepovets (Volga oblast).

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Jad Ganem: The Foot-Soldiers of Hellenism

Arabic original here.

The Foot-Soldiers of Hellenism

In a statement attributed to a representative of the abbots of the monasteries of Mount Athos taking part in a meeting of the governing council of the Holy Mountain a few days ago that was published on the Greek church news website Romfea, it is said that "Hellenism and the Ecumenical Patriarchate have the Primacy in Orthodoxy," that, as Athonite monks they will "remain on the side of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and [...] will not tolerate its humiliation," that "What is important is to maintain the unity of the Holy Monasteries and to send in every direction a clear message that no one will be allowed ‘to instrumentalize’ Mount Athos. Because Mount Athos concerns everyone," that they "want to preserve the peace and unity of the Church. However, as Athonites, we do not accept Hellenism and the Ecumenical Patriarchate to be humiliated by anyone," that "the Holy Community has wisdom and experience so that Mount Athos will not be turned into a tool and a lever of pressure for purposes other than in the general interest," and that "in all national struggles monks preceded to protect Mount Athos, not to put it in the front. Friars martyred protecting the Garden of the Virgin Mary! So, are we going to do the opposite today?" Given that no one has issued a disavowal of these words that many people are sharing and circulating on social media on account of their surprise at their content-- including the head of the newly-created Ukrainian church and eminent metropolitans of the Ecumenical Patriarchate-- we must calmly examine the content of these words which can be summarized as follows:


  • The Holy Mountain stands with the Ecumenical Patriarch whether he is right or wrong, whether he is faithful to the mind of Orthodoxy or deviates from it, whether he is oppressor or oppressed and thus it declares its faith in the infallibility of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
  • The Holy Mountain believes that the Hellenic nationality is superior to other nationalities that exist in the Orthodox world and that the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is a privileged position for members of this nationality alone.
  • The Holy Mountain believes that any difference in opinion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate or any rejection of unilateral decisions that it makes is a sort of humiliation for the Ecumenical Patriarch and for the nationality that he represents.
  • The Holy Mountain does not consider the crisis that Orthodoxy is currently going through to be an ecclesiastical crisis, but rather a nationalistic conflict and it states that it will fight it on this basis in order to protect the mountain.
  • The Holy Mountain believes that there are those who want to ensnare it and instrumentalize it in order to achieve an unspecified outside agenda and it will not permit this.
  • The Holy Mountain believes that there is a battle being waged against the Ecumenical Patriarch and Hellenism but it does not specify who is involved, the nature of the battle, its reasons, or the purposes intended behind it.
  • The Holy Mountain gives priority at the present moment to the unity of its monasteries. It desires to preserve the peace and unity of the Orthodox Church and for the Holy Mountain to remain the point of reference for all Orthodox, without explaining how it can harmonize realizing unity with its nationalistic and racist posturing.
Given the above, it has become clear that the Holy Mountain-- until a condemnation of what has been said is issued-- regards the Orthodox world being two worlds: Hellenic and non-Hellenic; and that any criticism, objection or questioning of decisions made by the Hellenic world is tantamount to a battle or a humiliation. It believes in the superiority of the Hellenic world over the other world and considers right belief to be wherever there is Hellenism, which has on Mount Athos its brave foot-soldiers.

These racist words, which fall under the ethnophyletism that the Church has condemned, are a sad reflection of mountains crumbling and so they must be read and understood well in Antioch, so that her children may know that they have no fixed destination apart from the Mount of the Transfiguration, by the light of whose Christ they may discern the lights scattered in the mountains and valleys.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Jad Ganem: An Answer Has Arrived

Arabic original here.

An Answer Has Arrived

Since the beginning of the Ukrainian issue, many people have been wondering about the position of the fathers of Mount Athos regarding the developments accompanying the "unification council", which reached their apex with the participation of a person that many leaders and theologians of the Orthodox Church consider to be a "layman-metropolitan" in divine services with His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Some optimists thought that the silence of the fathers of the Holy Mountain stemmed from their “lack of desire to participate in the sins of others”, while others thought that realism requires recognizing that the fathers of the Holy Mountain have no ability to confront the Ecumenical Patriarch or to reject what he is doing.

Some refused to discern the reality of the signs being sent by the fathers of the Holy Mountain, which implied the submission of those there to what the Ecumenical Patriarch is doing and which escalated in the following manner:


  • The preparatory visits made by Metropolitan Emmanuel of France to the Holy Mountain and other visits made by various politicians concerned with the Ukrainian dossier.
  • The silence of the fathers of the mountain after the decisions made by the Holy Synod of Constantinople about altering the territory of the Russian Church and the corresponding acceptance of schismatics into ecclesiastical communion with Constantinople.
  • The recruitment of one of the monks of the Holy Mountain to make a calligraphic copy of the tomos of autocephaly.
  • The participation of the Holy Mountain in the Fanar's delegation to the enthronement of the head of the newly-created church in Ukraine and the participation of these monks in the divine mysteries along with the schismatics.
  • Finally, the visit of one of the metropolitans of the newly-created church along with an ecclesiastical delegation to the mountain and his reception at a number of monasteries where he performed divine services and received a celebratory welcome.
Perhaps many did not understand the message encrypted in these events, which reflect a strategic approach aimed at preparing public opinion to adapt to the status quo and gradually accept it. But will those betting on the Holy Mountain being regarded as a fortress of preserving Orthodoxy continue in this position of theirs if the words attributed to one of the monks who participated in the meeting mountain's governing council held two days ago are true, given that he clearly and unambiguously stated that the governing council believes "that Hellenism and the Ecumenical Patriarchate have the Primacy in Orthodoxy", that as Athonite monks they will "remain on the side of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and [...] will not tolerate its humiliation" and that "What is important is to maintain the unity of the Holy Monasteries and to send in every direction a clear message that no one will be allowed ‘to instrumentalize’ Mount Athos. Because Mount Athos concerns everyone... We want to preserve the peace and unity of the Church. However, as Athonites, we do not accept Hellenism and the Ecumenical Patriarchate to be humiliated by anyone."

There is no need to interpret these immaculately clear words which answer many people's questions. Hellenism and its leader in the world-- the Ecumenical Patriarch-- are more important than Orthodoxy and every position contrary to their views is regarded by some Athonites as a humiliation, at the very least.
For those who have not yet understood, let us wait for the irenic letters that will soon descend upon Epiphany from Alexandria, Jerusalem, Cyprus, Greece and Albania...This should not be surprising in a church where the truth, according to some, is linked to men and where men are not assessed according to their respect for the truth.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Nicolas Abou Mrad: First, Second, Third Rome... and the Cities of the World

The Arabic original is in the January issue of Majallat al-Nour, the official magazine of the Orthodox Youth Movement, available here.

First, Second, Third Rome... and the Cities of the World

I started writing this article before the synod of the Russian Church took the decision on October 15, 2018 to break Eucharistic communion with the Church of Constantinople in the context of the ongoing conflict over the autocephaly of the church in Ukraine, which is split into three parts on account of the vicissitudes of history and politics in decades past. My purpose here is not to treat this issue through the lens of "canon law" and the development of relations between the two aforementioned churches and their interaction in past centuries. The present debate is filled with presentations of canonical and historical points of view that draw from legislation formulated in the councils of the Church from the fourth century and various other documents. Indeed, they bring back historical situations belonging to this or that city or polity and their situation in contexts that for the most part have gone extinct and disappeared in bygone eras or have completely changed. What I want to point out in this article is the sad and painful aspect of this problematique, which is resorting to various arguments and sources to support this or that position, while ignoring the wisdom that the Apostle Paul glimpsed when he asked the Corinthians, "to shame them", as he said, "Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?" (1 Corinthians 6:5).

The Apostle mentioned this wisdom in an earlier passage, when he said to his addressees, "We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!" (1 Corinthians 4:10), in the sense that this wisdom does not come to a person unless he is abiding "in Christ" and not in anything else, no matter what it may be. No one abides "in Christ" except through the Gospel which, if we accept it, then the the Apostle's word has begotten us by it "in Christ" (1 Corinthians 4:15), after we have necessarily died to our belonging to any other entity that we may have fashioned over the course of history and in our own time. From the context of the epistle, we learn that the expression "in Christ" is not theoretical, like a platonic idea. Rather, the Apostle means it as a reality, that requires those "born by the Gospel" to behave according to its content, "for the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power" (1 Corinthians 4:20).

I mention this here because the literature of the present debate betrays a striking absence of scriptural teaching about the true meaning of belonging to Christ in favor of a language that unfortunately started to become dominant in ecclesiastical milieus when Christianity became a larger space in the life of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the Fourth Century, when, whether we like it or not, ecclesiastical concerns and political considerations in their imperial extensions began to overlap, to the point that the Church inherited the administrative regulations and bombastic titles of an empire that disappeared, as others disappeared before and after it, and shall disappear until history comes to an end. From one who claims that there is a first Rome, then a second that succeeded it, then a third that took the place of the second to one who says claims that there is only one "new" Rome, which replaced the "old" one, you feel a struggle over power, authority and dominance, even if the latter has taken on what might be called a geographical reaching for one church or another's jurisdiction over a piece of land. No one can deny that in modern times Orthodoxy has been characterized by struggles over jurisdiction here or there in the world, especially in the countries to which Orthodox have immigrated from their original homelands. Struggles of this sort, colored by nationalism in their internecine conflict and exclusion, led to the hobbling of the general Orthodox council that was held on Crete in 2016 in the absence of a number of churches, including our Antiochian Church, as a result of what is called the "Qatar crisis" and the break it caused between Antioch and Jerusalem. This general council, which was expected to bear witness to the faith that the Orthodox Churches bear in their inheritance, before the challenges and vicissitudes of the present time, and to speak to man in our world today that is characterized by disintegration on every level, produced, as a result of these conflicts, documents destined to be quickly discarded into the darkness of oblivion, thus proving their desolation. The matter churches was exposed before themselves and before the world: their unfortunate immersion in a vortex of conflict over primacy, nationalisms, the meanings of expressions that have expired, bear no relation to the deposit of faith and are completely removed from the heart of the Gospel but have nevertheless become fixed in use, like the expressions "primus inter pares", "primus sine paribus" and others, about which much ink has been spilled in explanation, but which, in our present day, are of no benefit to the ordinary believer for living out his faith and his Christianity in daily life.

In this context, I was struck, among what I read about the present conflict between Constantinople and Moscow, by a report from the official website of the Ecumenical Patriarchate about Patriarch Bartholomew's receiving the Patriarch of Moscow at the Phanar on August 31, 2018, right before the acceleration of the crisis between the two churches. The language of the report was dripping with royal expressions like "Chamber of the Throne", "Ecumenical Throne", "Patriarchal Office", in addition to its calling Constantinople-- which is now Istanbul, a city in Turkey-- "the Queen of Cities" and the Church of Constantinople, the "Mother Church". It does not refer to Patriarch Bartholomew by his name, by by his title "His All-Holiness", which is most likely in order to emphasize his position. It is my conviction that the reason for writing the report in this manner-- knowing full well that you can find the exact same news phrased in a different manner on the official website of the Church of Moscow-- in order to suggest that the Russian patriarch was in the presence of someone who had precedence over him "in honor and primacy".

On the other hand, it is striking in the speeches given by the two patriarchs that they affirm "dialogue" as the way to solve problems. In Patriarch Bartholomew's word of greeting, it is "the way God has shown us." Despite his attempt to give "dialogue" a meaning different from the one used by politicians to resolve their problems, Patriarch Kirill remained in the very same framework, stating that "dialogue" is the way to preserve "the unity of the Church". Despite the importance of dialogue as a means of rapprochement, what the Bible teaches about relationships between people is not dialogue which, as has been proven, has been of no use in solving the crisis, but love. Love is not an empty phrase. It is baptized, washed in the blood of Christ, by whose death God revealed His love for the world (John 3:16). It is this mark of distinction that distinguishes disciples of Christ from the world (cf. John 15:12-17). It is what gives every activity in the Church its meaning (cf. 1 Corinthians 13). This is what the martyred Bishop of Antioch, Ignatius, realized when he made the foundation of unity in the Church "love", which he said is "the blood of Christ Himself" (Epistle to the Trallians 10). In love, the unity of the faith is realized (Epistle to the Magnesians 1) and in love "the believing have the character of God the Father by Jesus Christ" (Epistle to the Magnesians 5). If the bishop does not abide in love, Christ's love for the world, the faithful cannot submit to him as they submit to Christ (Epistle to the Magnesians 1).

Perhaps this love is the wisdom mentioned by the Apostle Paul in the passages I cited above, which must distinguish those born in the Gospel so that they may be "in Christ" first and last, not in first, second or third, old or new Rome or in any other city of this world. The basis of the biblical narrative in the books of the New Testament, the exodus that God accomplished for the people from Egypt (the Book of Exodus) and from Babylon (the Book of Ezekiel), from the two most powerful and important cities in the ancient Middle East, which scholars say were the beginning of humans' urbanization after they had been migratory. In the Bible, these two cities symbolize man's hubris and the evil and injustice that "filled the earth" (Genesis 6:6) because of this hubris. From the first city built on earth, from "Ur of the Chaldeans" God ordered Abraham to go forth to a land that He wanted to be the location for the meeting of the peoples in peace, truth and mercy (cf. Genesis 12:1-3). That land is not a city or a civilization built by man, but that open place called "wilderness" that is free of human intervention, where God shepherds those who flock around Him to hear His word. In Ezekiel it is the city that comes down from heaven-- that is, not built by people-- whose name is "the Lord is there" (Ezekiel 48:35), symbolizing God's presence in His word, around which come the Twelve Tribes to hear His word and transmit it to the entire universe. We see this realized on the day of Pentecost, in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2), in the descent of the Holy Spirit who made the twelve apostles speak of the great things of God, with every nation on earth hearing and understanding them. Nationalisms are extinguished so that a group of "disciples" may be established, who will go out, in the Book of Acts, from every city, persecuted (Acts 8:1) and killed (Acts 6-7), to bear witness to the word of Christ who died on the cross, in the image of Stephen who was killed, like his Teacher, because he pointed out the injustice of the city of Jerusalem and its betrayal of the Lord. The way of the Bible is the way of constant exodus: from Ur, Babylon, Persia, Rome, Jerusalem and all the cities of the earth, so that believers may have no homeland except "in Christ."

When will the Orthodox churches arise from their stupor and break out of their imprisonment to history, free themselves from the fetters of empires, and set forth on this path of exodus, making their way not to nationalisms, primacies and archprimacies, titles, thrones, sees, honors and honorifics, but to the cross of Christ, to become truly united in the one head of the Church: Christ? When will they have enough courage to look at themselves critically and submit themselves to the test of God's word, to the test of love, not "dialogue"? When will they shake off formalities that have become an idol, which don't speak to anyone and which no on cares about? The person of today, like the person of every day and era, is confronted with the challenges of rampant evil on the earth. People are starving. They are being killed. People's dignity is violated. Their intellects are belittled. Their livelihood is denied. People are suffering from racial discrimination, from poverty, from marginalization, from exclusion. When will we bear witness to love to the point of blood? When will we be Chrysostoms and Basils? When will the Church return to God's deserts to tremble before the evils of this world? The time has come for the Orthodox Churches to be worthy of their inheritance and the earnest given them, that perhaps a wise man may emerge to render judgment between his brothers according to the love that is in Christ.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Civilization of the Flesh

Arabic original here.

The Civilization of the Flesh

The world today, and especially the West, is more and more inclined toward secular, worldly life.

This means that in its life it departs from the scope of God and is increasingly immersed in material affairs far removed from the Church and spiritual affairs. It is attached to the surface of things, the most important of which is the flesh. There is nothing more common than the greetings "How's your health?", "Your health is poor", "The important thing is health."

People are not content with just that, but they go and focus on physical elegance, concerning themselves with outward appearance and going to the gym, as though they have become worshipers of the body rather than God.

Members of the Church are not an exception to all this-- even priests, bishops, and the construction of churches where "the important thing is the stone, not the people."

All of this is contrary to the rules of religion and the true faith. Among us, one mostly strives after the pleasure of the flesh, the pleasure of food and drink. Life has come to be focused on health and wealth and not on pleasing God first.

The issue is deeper than the flesh. It pertains to man in his confronting life and death. The Book of Hebrews says, "'Here am I, and the children God has given me.' Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity... so that he might free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Hebrews 2:13-15). Of course man has always striven for eternal life.

Today, after the coming of Christ who is risen from the dead, we have become immortal by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the grace of Christ God who has conquered death. Thus the importance of accompanying someone who is sick and approaching death.

It is not enough to comfort him physically and psychologically. We-- and especially the priest-- must prepare him to confront death.

How does a person prepare for death? Is it enough for the priest to pray? To anoint the sick person with holy oil and commune him? This is not enough!

It is necessary to help him to confess as a final repentance, in the hope of the forgiveness of sins and the Lord's mercy for all the wrongs he committed during his life.


+ Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies



Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Fr Jack Khalil: A High Priest Like This

Arabic original here.

A High Priest Like This

Today we commemorate the translation of the relics of the doctor of the Church, John Chrysostom, the faithful shepherd who served and toiled in imitation of the Good Shepherd and the hierarch who served the mysteries of Christ Jesus, the Great High Priest. Therefore the Church has arranged a reading from he Epistle to the Hebrews where the author of the epistle presents Christ's salvific priestly work by His sacrifice that He offered for the forgiveness of sins.

The Apostle compares Christ, the chief priest whose virtue covers the heavens, in whom there is no evil, stain or sin, to the chief priests who served according to the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament, who afterwords resisted Christ's salvific dispensation. The latter are people who performed the law in order to serve the temple made with hands, while people suffer from their weaknesses.

But Christ is completely different from them and no one resembled Him apart from the king of peace, Melchizedek.

In the previous verses, the Apostle had compared Melchizedek, the priest and king, who has no father or mother, alive, a priest forever, and Levi, the father of the tribe of priests who performed the law.

From Psalm 110:4, he concludes that Christ's high priesthood was not established according to the human commandments of the law (Hebrews 17:16), but according to the divine promise to be a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek, to whom the patriarch Abraham submitted.

The Apostle observes in the previous verses that the promise was given after the law, so why did he liken Him to the order of Melchizedek instead of saying according to the order of Levi? In the passage read today, he explains the reason: Christ's priesthood is not like the Levite priesthood.

The Levites performed the law, but He came according to the divine promise. They offered sacrifices daily for their sins first, then for the sins of the rest of the people, but Christ is without blame and without sin and He offered His blood as a single eternal sacrifice.

They serve in a temple made by human hands, but the eternal Son sat at the right hand of the great throne in heaven, performs the liturgies in the true tabernacle, not the shadow of it (that is, the temple of the law), which God established, and grants forgiveness of sins to believers.

Chrysostom was a hierarch. He stood in the place and likeness of Christ. He derived his priesthood from Christ's priesthood because he offered the one, sole sacrifice that Christ offered once, which is forever placed on the heavenly altar in the true tabernacle.

He worked and toiled in Christ's vineyard. He fought the good fight, imitating the God Shepherd and faithful High Priest. So if it is fitting for us to have a High Priest like this who has realized perfection (Hebrews 7:11-19), then Chrysostom refused to be anything but like Him, following every day the way of perfection through the cross. There is no priesthood except that which is in the likeness of the great High Priest and there is no priest except the one who imitates Him, is united to Him, is filled with His Holy Spirit and is pleasing to the Father in everything. We celebrate Chrysostom because he, as a person like us, became a hierarch worthy of serving the sacrifice of the New Testament, which Christ serves upon the heavenly throne.

Archimandrite Jack Khalil
Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology

Friday, January 11, 2019

Fr Touma (Bitar): Fire in the Water

Arabic original here.

Fire in the Water

When the Lord Jesus went down into the water at His baptism, this was a prelude to His going down to hell. And when He rose from baptism, His rising was a sign of the newness of life that the Lord Jesus was to amply bestow upon humanity by the Holy Spirit. Water, as we have begun to discover today, has a memory. Everything that has happened in history is stored up, in one way or another, in water's memory. For the sake of paradox, water on earth does not increase or decrease. Everything that has happened in history, starting with the creation of Adam, is preserved in water. Man himself, his own body is made up of no less than seventy percent water and the water in our makeup reaches ninety percent.

So all God's blessings that He generously bestowed upon humanity were in the water, in a sense. But also all of humanity's sins were stored up in the water. In the water there is what is alive and belongs to God and in the water there is what is dead and belongs to man's sin. So if the Lord Jesus Christ went down into the water, in the fullness of time, this means that He went down into the death that man had sowed in himself and in God's creation since the dawn of history. Jesus did not go down to die as man. He went down to die as God in the flesh! What does that mean exactly? We don't know! This is God's mystery. He died and did not die at the same time. But we know that death died in the life of God incarnate. The rest is your Lord's business.

Jesus went down to man, in the pit of death, because humanity had transformed God's creation into a pit of death. Therefore all the signs of the descent into hell-- and what is meant by "hell" is what is known in Hebrew as "Sheol", the habitation of the dead-- was first at the Annunciation. The angel of the Lord came to Mary, bringing her the good news of the Savior's being born from her. But Jesus was named Jesus because He would save His people from their sins. How does He save His people from their sins? How does He save His people from their death? By taking on everything that had been caused by sin, since the dawn of history. But it was not possible for Jesus to take on sin, because sin is tied to the will and the Lord Jesus' will cannot accept sin. Therefore, the Lord Jesus accepted everything that resulted from man's sin, everything that resulted from the corruption of man's will.

Since the Annunciation, salvation means that  the One who is to come is coming to willingly take on man's mortality, to take one all the corruption that man sowed deep down. This is the good news for those walking in darkness and the shadow of death! He didn't take on death and the events of death, so as to participate in all of its details and then eliminate it. The Lord Jesus didn't take on death in itself, but rather He took on the body; He became man. And as a man, He entered into contact with humanity. In this contact, God loved man completely. With the love that is in Him as God, He emptied Himself existentially. He made Himself a servant to humanity! He serves it in what sense? He serves it by His perfect love for it. There is no value to service if it is not a service of love!

The love in God is boundless. Therefore, when the Son of God emptied Himself, took the form of a servant and became in the likeness of man, He entered into a connection with people, the fullness of which is the service of divine love: total sacrifice for them. This put Him in connection with each person. Love knows no limitation. Love, God's love, in Jesus Christ, God incarnate, touches every one of His creatures. It touches each human of His humanity. It touches every capillary of every member. It touches every tissue of every fiber of every human being. So love is penetrating. It has penetrated into humanity completely. It has penetrated into creation completely. Death is nothing, for the Lord God to take up, to eliminate. But His love, which has put Him in perfect union with every human being, swallowed death. Love is more powerful than death! It swallowed up all the events of death, everything that has a connection to what sin sowed, the sin of man. Love swallowed all of this.


Have you not read how Elijah, when he wanted to offer a sacrifice to God-- and in every sacrifice, in reality, there is an offering of all creation-- when Elijah wanted to offer a sacrifice to God, he prayed-- and prayer is love-- and poured water on the sacrifice to make it impossible for it to catch on fire, according to the standards of people. What happened, what Elijah made happen was by God's power and the fire that came down and consumed the sacrifice and devoured the water, this fire was in reality the fire of God's love. God doesn't have fire like people have fire. With people, fire burns, while for God, first purifies, cleanses, sanctifies, sweeps away uncleanliness and gives life. Therefore, for God, first is water's twin. Water is life and fire, too, for God is life because His love is life!

God, then, in His only-begotten Son, swallowed death by the fire of His great love and devoured the moisture of man's life, which equals his sin. By His going down into the waters of the Jordan, the Lord God, who is a fire of love, cleaned it and returned it two its previous state, by His presence within it, and He made baptism from then on a new birth for all who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus Theophany, today, is a revelation of God's exceeding love which, as I said, appeared at the Annunciation, appeared in the cave, and today appears in a more general form, in the Lord's going down into the waters of the Jordan as a symbol of His going down to the depths of humanity's death, to cleanse it and devour every stain in it and thus to make it glorious once more. Therefore it is said: in baptism we experience death with Christ, so that from then on we may walk in newness of life.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan-- Douma, Lebanon
January 6, 2019

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Patriarch Bartholomew's Letter to the Primates

The Patriarchate of Antioch has posted an Arabic translation of the letter that Patriarch Bartholomew sent to the primates of the local Orthodox churches, requesting that they accept the creation of a new, autocephalous church in Ukraine and commemorate its metropolitan in the diptychs. Since this letter hasn't been available publicly anywhere else in any other language, I thought it might be useful to translate it. Bear in mind, however, that this translation of the Arabic cannot capture the precise wording and technical language of the Greek, which I hope will surface at some point.


Letter from His Holiness the Patriarch of Constantinople
Protocol No. /1119/

Your Beatitude and Holiness Patriarch of the Great City of God Antioch and All the East, dear and very beloved brother in Christ God and concelebrant of Our Mediocrity, Kyr John, we address you with great joy, kissing your venerable beatitude fraternally in the Lord.

We communicate via this fraternal letter of ours with Your venerable and very beloved for us Beatitude and with the Church of Antioch and we endeavor, following our predecessors of perpetual memory and their honorable canonical works, to inform you that for a long time we have received repeated requests for recourse from Kyr Filaret (at the time, of Kiev) as well as Kyr Makarii (of the city of “Lviv” at that time), seeking sympathetic oversight of them by the Great Holy Mother Church of Christ, so that they may join in communion with her, because they bear the same Orthodox faith and faithfully keep the Orthodox terminology, dogmas and beliefs common to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We have likewise received for many years many requests, written and oral, in this regard from the honorable Ukrainian state pertaining to the granting the church of their country a system of internal administrative independence. That is, autocephaly.

We undertook together in our venerable Holy Synod to study all these situations, not only once or in a simple manner, but profoundly and extensively, and we came to the decision that we would move forward in the necessary steps to resolve this worsening situation, which for many years has occupied the body of the Eastern Orthodox Church, for an entire generation millions of Ukrainian brothers who participate with us in the same faith outside of canonicity and communion. Therefore we, by the mercy of God almighty, Archbishop of Constantinople New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, in accordance with the spiritual content of Canons 9 and 17 of the holy and God-bearing fathers who gathered in Chalcedon, have looked upon these the requests of recourse submitted by the persons mentioned above and those with them with a sympathetic eye and have returned them to the hierarchical and priestly ranks that they had previously and to ecclesiastical communion with all of us.

Therefore we cancelled the charter issued by our predecessor of perpetual memory, Dionysius IV, which he had issued under particular historical circumstances and in which the Patriarch of Moscow was given permission to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev elected by the holy clergy-laity council, with a condition that could not be broken, which is the canonical commemoration of the name of each Ecumenical Patriarch. Because of the distortion of the contents of this charter, the description of the the conditions described therein were misinterpreted and the Mother Church endured this until that time, preserving ecclesiastical peace. But, with the changing of external circumstances and the absence of the reasons for this charter, we have returned matters pertaining to Kiev to their canonical starting-point. That is, we have brought these regions back under the omphorion belonging to us once more.

After this decision of ours, we received a request from these returning hierarchs as well as from the state to administratively let go of these regions dependent on us by establishing an autocephalous church. We have likewise received a request to enter under our canonical protection from our brothers Their Eminences Simeon and Alexander, who had previously considered the activities of the Church of Constantinople, the mother of the Russians and the Ukrainians, to be of vital importance, so we likewise entered them into the framework of our canonical authority. On this basis, we called an exceptional clergy-laity council in Kiev on Tuesday, December 15, under the presidency of the exarch designated by us, His Eminence the Metropolitan of France, Kyr Emmanuel, sending an invitation to all the hierarchs in Ukraine without exception. From this clergy-laity council, which explicitly reiterated the request for autocephaly, His Eminence Metropolitan Epiphanius was declared, by a canonical vote, to be the first head of the autocephalous Ukrainian church, and who has sent us his irenical letter.

We write this so that Your beloved Beatitude may be reliably and securely informed.
Therefore, Our Mediocrity and Their Eminences the bishops with us, metropolitan and first in honor,  our beloved brothers and fellow-servants in the Holy Spirit, who constitute the venerable Holy Synod of our Holy Apostolic Patriarchal and Ecumenical See, since we agree, as the order requires, on these matters in a spirit of profound desire to perfect the course of the Great and Holy Church of Christ which at all times in every place under heaven, with sacrifice and self-emptying, of urgent, intractable and difficult-to-solve ecclesiastical issues, and which enjoys exclusively the responsibility of granting autocephaly, something that is manifest in practice in the situations of all the new local sister churches, we recognize the holy Ukrainian Church as a church with autocephaly and self-administration, declaring and respecting the responsibilities and rights belonging to the other autocephalous churches, as a partner in the same uprightness of belief and the same faith in everything and on this basis, as we issue our venerable patriarchal and conciliar tomos, approving and declaring all this, we safeguard this ecclesiastical work, by which dogmatic unity is kept strong and unchanged as likewise the relationship and bond of the holy Ukrainian Church to the holy Great Church of Christ, to the ancient sees of the east, and to the other sister local autocephalous Orthodox churches. Her new head is known by the title “His Beatitude the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

It is anticipated that all these matters will be completed on the sixth of this coming January on the Feast of Theophany, where we desire to give the previously-mentioned tomos of autocephaly and concelebrate with the head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. We Inform your beloved Beatitude of this along with your holy sister church and we express our fraternal trust that Your Beatitude, since you are abundantly aware of the desire that Ukraine has long expressed, as well as of the exclusivity of the responsibility and privilege belonging to the Church of Constantinople to treat all ecclesiastical issues  without limits, you will be in agreement with this things that are taking place and from now on you, along with your Orthodox flock, will recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as an autocephalous church with internal self-administration, commemorating the name of each Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine in the honorable diptychs directly after the name of His Beatitude the head of the Church of Czechia and Slovakia.

On this basis, we fraternally ask your love to pray to our Lord, the Founder of the Church, for the the new holy sister church, according to what has now been decided by you, so that she may remain in the ranks of patristic tradition forever, and so you may serve the unity of the fundamental body and eat mature spiritual fruit from her communion with all of us, who will have no excuse on the Day of Judgment if we want to ignore our brothers who find themselves in hardships in Ukraine before the terrible judgment-seat of the only Scrutinizer of  the hearts and souls of humankind and the Just Judge, our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom belongs glory, strength, honor and worship forever. Amen.

We embrace your venerable and beloved Beatitude with a holy kiss and we close with profound love in the Lord and all honor, praying for you that the twelve coming days will be blessed feasts.

December 24, 2018

The beloved brother in the Lord of your venerable Beatitude,

Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew