Saturday, December 23, 2023

An Interview with Met Isaak (Barakat) about the New Antiochian Monastery in Germany

German original, with pictures, here.

The Inauguration of the New Rum-Orthodox Monastery in Dollendorf: An Interview with His Eminence Isaak Barakat


The first monastery of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Germany and Central Europe has recently been established in Dollendorf, a district of the municipality of Blankenheim. The building was inaugurated by the Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Church of Germany and Central Europe, Isaak Barakat, with a traditional ceremony in the monastery chapel.

Metropolitan Isaak Barakat was born in Damascus in 1966 with the name Abdallah Barakat. After being ordained in 1999 as a deacon and one year later as a priest by Patriarch Ignatius Hazim he took the name Isaak after Saint Isaac the Syrian. For the past ten years, he has been the metropolitan of Germany and Central Europe of the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

The origin of the Rum-Orthodox Church are in Antioch, the modern city of Antakya, where the disciples were first called Christians. Its foundation goes back to the Apostles Peter and Paul. When one part of the Antiochian Christians assented to the Council of Chalcedon, the cornerstone of the Rum-Orthodox community was laid. They professed "Jesus Christ as true God and true man in two natures." The term "Rum" in Arabic stands for "Rome", Constantinople at that time, and also for the Byzantines. The Rum-Orthodox Church is also called the Antiochian Church, the Antiochian Orthodox Church, or the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.

In the late 19th century, some Rum Orthodox emigrated out of the Middle East for economic and political reasons. Many of them came to Europe from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq and especially the Province of Hatay. In 1970 the Rum Orthodox finally founded their own parishes. Today the Antiochian Archdiocese of Germany and Central Europe counts around 24,000 members and has its seat in Cologne.

Since 2018, the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Germany and Central Europe consists of 30 communities and now a monastery in Dollendorf.

Ferit Tekbas, the chairman of the Central Committee of Eastern Christians in Germany, spoke in an interview with His Eminence Isaak Barakat about the foundation of the monastery in Dollendorf.

Your Eminence, you recently celebrated the tenth anniversary as metropolitan of Germany and Central Europe, congratulations. What were your most difficult tasks during this time?

Thank you for the kind wishes. In the past ten years, I have dealt with various challenges. During this time, we have achieved many milestones, we have grown and become better known, but perhaps the most difficult task has been that of finding a balanced way to meet the spiritual needs of our diverse community. The balance between tradition and contemporary needs, the promotion of unity in diversity and dealing with social changes have always been challenging aspects of my tenure. Despite the challenges, I am thankful for the communities' support and I view every situation as an opportunity to grow and deepen our faith.

The Antiochian Orthodox Church has acquired its first monastery in Germany. Could you tell us a bit about the story of how the monastery was acquired and where exactly the monastery is located?

For a long time, we had the goal of acquiring a building that we could turn into both a monastery and a center for out communities and faithful. During our search, we came across the building in Dollendorf, Blankenheim. We particularly liked that the building had originally been used as a monastery. Dollendorf is a beautiful, quiet, harmonious place. The church across from it completes the picture.

Thanks be to God, through the support and love of our communities and faithful, we have been able to acquire the building and renovate it appropriately. The renovation is not yet complete, but so far the Monastery of Our Lady of Antioch and the chapel are finished.

We are now in the process of completing the Patriarch Ignatius IV Center, which is certainly a long road and here too we are depending on the love and support of our faithful.

A monastery on the whole is not a simple thing, but it is a necessity and I know that you have been primarily committed to a monastery. Could you tell us the reasons for this?

Yes. My desire for our church has always been to have an Antiochian Orthodox monastery. First and foremost, I wanted a place for spiritual community and deepening. A place accessible both to clergy and to our faithful. Moreover, our church has a rich history and great cultural significance. With the monastery and the Patriarch Ignatius IV Center, we want to maintain this cultural heritage, preserve it, and make it accessible both to our faithful and to the public.

Furthermore, the Patriarch Ignatius IV Center will be used for educational purposes, for theological studies, seminars, and much more.

What condition is the monastery in and does its structure require special restoration in order to better meet the criteria of Orthodoxy?

As already mentioned, the building that we were able to purchase was originally a monastery. Over the course of time, the building was repurposed and used for many other things. It took quite a bit of work to get it into its current condition. At the moment, the monastery and the chapel belonging to it are mostly ready, thanks be to God. They meet the criteria of Orthodoxy. Now, however, we still need to finish the Patriarch Ignatius IV Center. That will require a lot of time, patience, effort and support.

How is everything being financed? Is it being financed though donations or is the Rum-Orthodox Church of Antioch undertaking all the costs?

It is exclusively financed through donations. We were able to complete the acquisition thanks to the great support of our communities. The renovations also require the love and generous support of our faithful. We are still far from finished with the renovations and continue to rely on donations.

What is the significance of a monastery in the Orthodox Christian denomination?

In the Orthodox Christian tradition, monasteries have a special significance. They are places of intensive prayer, of contemplation and of spiritual life. Monasteries preserve the liturgical tradition and serve as spiritual communities where monks and nuns lead a life of devotion. These places are also outposts of prayer for the world, where prayers are made for the church, for people and for the world. Monasteries can moreover hold social activities and are often places of pilgrimage for believers from various regions.

Is there a plan for how the monastery will serve the Antiochian Orthodox community in Germany and Europe in the future and how many monks or nuns will be living there?

The monastery should become a place of transcendent love for God and complete devotion to Him. We hope that we will continue to grow and that our parishes and faithful will associate this monastery with its being a place of calm, relaxation, work, devotion, and above all else, love.

At the Patriarch Ignatius IV Center, we would like to organize conferences, events and similar gatherings for our parishes and faithful.

The monastery is currently a monastery for nuns and we have plans for more nuns to live in the monastery.

What significance has the Rum-Orthodox Church achieved now in Germany?

We are a small church here in Germany, but our origin goes back to more than 2000 years ago. Our church traces its foundation back to the Apostles Peter and Paul, to where the disciples were first called Christians, in Antioch.

Our brothers and sisters came to Germany in the late 60s and early 70s. They founded several parishes full of love, respect and devotion and thus brought our faith to Germany. We now have the status of a  corporation under public law, our communities have grown, as have the number of believers and, thanks be to God, the number of clergy.

We are now better known and we hope that with God's grace we can go further.

How many communities are there now and where are their origins from?

In Germany, the Netherlands and Austria we have a total of 31 congregations and 7 missions, that is, believers who are on the way to becoming a congregation. Thanks be to God.

The origins of our faithful are in Syria, the Hatay Province in Southeastern Turkey whose capital is Antakya, historical Antioch, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Iraq.

What liturgical approaches distinguish the Rum Orthodox?

There is a big difference between the Orthodox Church and other churches. For example, we have the Typikon for the liturgy for the entire ecclesiastical year which ends in August and begins again on September 1.

And in this this Typikon there are prayers for the liturgy for every day. We are the only church that says the Creed at every service. In the Catholic Church, for example, the Creed is not said at every service. But we say the Creed every Sunday, at every liturgy.

Our Byzantine music also distinguishes us. We celebrate the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, on special feasts the Liturgy of Saint Basil, and during Lent the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts of Saint Gregorius Dialogus. Another special feature is that in our services no instruments such as the organ are used.

Your Eminence, is there anything else that you would like to add to our interview or say to our members and readers?

I am thankful for the interest and love that has been shown to us. I would like to thank you very much for your time, your effort and your interest. I would like to thank your members and readers for their continued support and interest. It is an honor for me to serve my church. I encourage you to continue to be actively involved in our church because together we can continue to grow and inspire each one another. May our journey together be characterized by love, understanding and spiritual fulfillment. Thank you.

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