Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Romania and the Arab Orthodox

The following is from a paper by Romanian scholar Ioana Feodorov, given this year at the 21st International Conference of Historical Sciences in Amsterdam. The full paper, with extensive footnotes is available as a pdf here.

Romanians and Near Eastern Arabs,
Connections through Christian Orthodoxy

Ioana Feodorov, Bucharest


At a time when Christians all over the Ottoman Empire were brought together by aspirations for freedom of belief, cultural progress and national identity, the Romanians shared with Arab Christians a special responsibility: that of being heirs of the Byzantine legacy, always present in the ritual and spiritual life of the Orthodox'. Near Eastern Churches differ in terms of their cultural features (Greek, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, and Arab) and their attachment to the resolutions of the Councils of Nikeia (325), Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) as to the nature of Christ. Of all Christian communities of Arabic expression, the Antiochian Orthodox Church, which uses the Byzantine liturgy and dates from apostolic times (alongside the other four that share this glory - Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome), is the one with which the Romanian Orthodox have had close ties since the 16th century.

Though considered by Muhammad, alike Muslims and Jews, 'People of the Book' (Ahl al-Kitab), Christians were persecuted since the first Islamic century, when the population of Nagran was banished to 'Iraq. After 1516, when the Ottomans conquered the Near East, building churches was repeatedly forbidden, Christians were often forced to live isolated in certain neighbourhoods of the main cities (Damascus, Aleppo, and Mossul) and to take refuge to Mt Lebanon or the Kurdistan, while the tax applied to non-Muslims, gizya, was accompanied by a humiliating status of 'second rank citizens'. Economic difficulties and the repeated vexations from the governors appointed by the High Porte made the Christian Arabs incapable of social and cultural progress, unable to defend their spiritual identity.

In these circumstances the Antiochian patriarchs Makarios III Ibn al-Za'im (1647-1672), Athanasios III Dabbas (1720-1724) and Sylvester of Cyprus (1724-1766) took upon themselves the difficult task of preserving the Christian spirituality in its Arabic expression. The special relationship that certain Eastern Churches had with the Holy See was not encouraging: the authority of the Roman institutions often manifested itself through constraints regarding the attachment to Catholic dogmas. Arabic books printed in Italy required many approvals, lest any "doctrinal error" crept in that would have reflected the creed of a Church other than the Maronite. Biblia arabica had been conceived by Near Eastern scholars based on old local translations, in order to preserve the liturgical traditions proper to Arab Christianity: nevertheless, the Roman theologians ruled for the printing of a new translation of the Vulgata. Liturgical books freely given to the Eastern churches by Catholic missionaries were meant to replace the old Arabic manuscripts that had been used by generations of priests.

The gloomy situation of their communities convinced the hierarchs of the Antiochian Church to look for help in Eastern Europe, where they travelled in search of financial and spiritual help, beginning in the 16th century. The favourable answer that they received from Romanian princes encouraged them to embark on long and perilous journeys. The expectations of these unusual travellers relied on the spiritual solidarity and the benevolence of the Romanian rulers, who had supported the Eastern patriarchates and monasteries since the 14th century." Although kept apart by wide stretches of land and sea, the Romanians and the Antiochian Arabs succeeded in establishing contacts that resulted in important cultural acts. The situation was comparable for the Romanians and the Levantines in many respects, although they were subjected to the Ottoman domination in rather different forms. In the 16th century, acknowledging their Arab identity, Christians of the Antiochian Church (the only Patriarchate were Arabic has been used continuously as official language) aspired to replace the traditional church language-- Greek with the Arabic vernacular". At the same time Romanians were striving to move from the old ritual language Slavonic to their spoken language, Romanian: here too the necessity emerged to spread Liturgical texts through books printed in the people's vernacular.

Moreover, the ties of the Oriental Churches with Eastern Europe helped Christian Arabs assert their role as part of a civilization deeply rooted in spirituality. Unsurprisingly, present-day Lebanon and Syria, lands of many creeds and ethnic groups (with 42% of the population registered as Christian in Lebanon in 1992) were in the front line of the 19th century Arab Renaissance, Al-Nahda, born in Aleppo. Consequently, the French, English and American missionaries found in these provinces the good ground where they set up schools and printing-shops, encouraging the emergence of modern political and cultural movements. The Romanians contributed to these changes readily and fair-mindedly, acting in the spirit of their self-ascribed mission of relief for the Eastern Christian communities.

The first Arab visitor was, presumably, Patriarch Yuwaklrn Ibn Da'wu who crossed the Romanian territory in 1581, heading for Poland, and reported his passage in a poem (unfortunately lost). From 1652 to 1658, Patriarch Makarios III Ibn al-Za'im and his son, Archdeacon Paul ('of Aleppo', Ar. Bulos al-Halabiyy) travelled to the Romanian Principalities, the Cossaks' land and Russia. Athanasius Dabbas, who had temporarily relinquished the Patriarchal see of Antioch to his competitor Cyril Ibn al- Za'rm, visited Wallachia and established durable ties with the local princes and hierarchs. His disciple and successor Sylvester of Cyprus repeatedly sojourned at the princely courts of Bucharest and Iasi, Resuming his forerunners' projects of printing and financial support for the Syrian Christians, he obtained in 1746 from Prince Constantin Mavrocordat the repair and re-consecration of the old church of St. Spyridon in Bucharest, a metochion of the Patriarchate of Antioch.

Following up the research carried out in the 20th century by scholars like Nicolae Iorga, Vasile Radu, Marcu Beza, Dan Simonescu, and Virgil Candea, the considerable crop of literary and historical texts generated by the above-mentioned connections requires further examination. After a long period of neglect, several projects are now promoted by a new generation of Romanian researchers, proficient in Arabic and Greek, aiming to shed more light on the rich information provided by Christian Arabic historical sources.

1. An up-to-date record of the Arabic texts that refer to the Romanians and the Balkan peoples in the 17th-18th centuries.

Considering the eagerness of the Arab hierarchs to bring home spiritually
useful texts, a careful search of Near Eastern libraries and archives (public,
ecclesiastic and private) for surviving copies of journals, letters and literary works will definitely result in interesting finds concerning the circulation of ideas from Europe to the Near East. Catalogues of manuscripts in major libraries of Lebanon have increasingly become available, while recent research focuses on cataloguing and describing documents that reflect the cultural exchanges between Europeans and Levantine Christians. The texts and correspondence that originate in the Arab provinces, dated in the 17th-18th centuries and preserved in Romanian collections, have not been properly investigated yet.

An interesting case is that of Demetrius Cantemir's work The Divan, translated into Arabic by Athanasius Dabbas in 1705, based on the Greek version enclosed in the edition of 1698 (Iasi). Identified in 1969 in Lebanon by the Romanian scholar Virgil Candea as an unknown translation of Cantemir's first printed book, this text has recently been edited and translated into English. Book III of Cantemir's work encloses an entire work written by the Polish Unitarian Andzrej Wiszovaty, Stimuli virtutum, fraena peccatorum, ut et alia eiusdem generis opuscula posthuma (Amsterdam, 1682), a rare example of a Protestant work that reached, via Greek, the Christian Arabic literature.

2. Editions and translations of Arabic works that refer to Romanian history.

During their visits to Eastern Europe Patriarch Makarios III and his son Paul spent nearly four years on Romanian territory. The journal that Paul kept with utmost care and detail survived in several copies of approx. 700 pages each, enclosing unique data on history, politics, society, religious life, personalities, traditions, architecture, etc. This is recognized as an outstanding source of information for the historical research on Romania, as well as Syria, Turkey, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, and Russia. Never edited and translated in its entirety, this text is the object of a research theme conducted at the Institute for South-East European Studies of the Romanian Academy in Bucharest. The end result of this theme will be a complete edition and English translation of the longest and richest manuscript, Ms. Arabe 6016 of BnF-- Paris, in cooperation with Russian researchers (Institutes for Oriental Studies in St. Petersburg and Moscow).

Makarios III also wrote notes and miscellanies that enclose texts on Romanian, Bulgarian, Georgian and Russian historical topics (Magmu' Latif, Magmu' mubarak, a.o.). Two chapters regarding the Romanians were edited and translated by this author, La Chronique de Valachie (J292-1664) and The Arabic Version of the Life of Saint Paraskevi the New. 16 The same collections enclose texts that were adapted from famous works by Paisios Ligarides, Dorotheos of Monembasia, Agapios Landos, Damaskinos Studites, etc., acquired or copied by Patriarch Makarios III durning hiS Journeys.

3. Catalogues of the Oriental manuscripts preserved in Romanian libraries.

After a first step towards a catalogue of the Oriental manuscripts was taken in 1946, the Iranian researcher Mohammad Ali Sowti recorded thirty years later in a catalogue (never published) 721 Oriental manuscripts, including Arabic, preserved in the largest collections in Bucharest and Cluj. The author's hope was that his efforts would be continued: "I have tried to help future research into Turkish and Arabic manuscripts, to the extent that the data I present herewith encloses previously unpublished clarifications and information. In the absence of specialists in Oriental codicology and cataloguing, the record was not brought to completion". The Library of the Romanian Academy is preparing a project concerning the description and online catalogue of its Oriental collections. This requires the cooperation of foreign specialists in codicology, cataloguing and specialized software, alongside support for European funds dedicated to increasing the accessibility of Oriental collections. Completing this record will help both the Romanian research community and the progress of world surveys of Islamic and Christian Arabic manuscripts, which have been under special focus in the last decades.

4. Defining the Romanians' contribution to the beginnings of printing in the Near East.

Around 1700, Athanasios Dabbas travelled to Wallachia several times and was hosted by Prince Constantin Brancoveanu (1688-1714). The Romanian ruler helped him print the first church-books in Arabic script, asking the scholar and master engraver Antim Ivireanul ('the Iberian') to carve a set of Arabic types. Two books were printed in Wallachia in Greek and Arabic: a Liturgikon (Al-Qondaq al-falahi, 252 pp.) in 1701 (Snagov), and a Book of Hours Kitab al-Sa 'at, 711 p.) in 1702 (Bucharest). When leaving the Wallachian capital in 1705, Dabbas received from Brancoveanu the Arabic types and printing implements, installing them at the Metropolitan residence of Aleppo. Eleven books were printed there between 1706 and 1711: the first was the Psalter (Kitiib al-Zabiir al-sarifi, showing on the first page Brancoveanu's coat of arms. Then followed the Gospels (Kitab al-Ingil al-Sarif alTahir wa-l-misbdh al-munir al-lahiry, the Book of the Chosen Pearls (Kitab al-durr al-muntahab) enclosing 34 homilies by St. John the Golden Mouth, and in 1708 a second edition of the Gospels, the Book ofProphecies, the Apostle, a.s.o. These books were later edited again and again in the printing-shops of Lebanese Christians.

In 1745-1747 Patriarch Silvester of Antioch addressed the Prince of Moldavia Ioan Mavrocordat for help in printing books for the Christian Arabs: the Liturgikon, the Aleppo Psalter and several polemical works (among them, The Proof of Truth and Transmission of Justice by Patriarch Nectarios of Jerusalem that Sylvester had translated in 1733 as Qadii al-haqq wa-naql al-sidq). In a recent book devoted to the life and works of Patriarch Athanasios III Dabbas, A. C. Dabbas stated that Patriarch Sylvester re-installed in 1747 at the Metropolitan residence of Aleppo the old press brought by his ancestor. A fourth episode, less documented, is the establishment by the Christian Arabs of the first press in Beirut after 1750, transferring the old one from Aleppo. A symposium held in Bucharest last year addressed the issue of the Romanians' contribution to printing in the Balkans and the Near East, including a paper, by this author, about the Arabic books printed in Wallachia and Syria before the middle of the 18th century. Whatever the particulars of these events (still under scrutiny), they resulted in a transfer of printing technology and know-how from Wallachia and Moldavia to Aleppo and neighbouring areas. Thus, European culture, in its Romanian forms, was "imported" in the Near East in order to fulfill the Christian Arabs' needs, similar to those of all the Sultan's subjects.

At the present time, the model of living together that Christian Arabs and Muslims of the Near East have provided for centuries is becoming increasingly interesting. Long before it was promoted by missionaries sent from Rome, the dialogue between Christianity and Islam was lived effectively, on a daily basis, by the multi-confessional Arab communities of the Eastern Mediterranean lands. Nowadays when attitudes towards Near Eastern peoples are constantly reappraised, the progress of this research is encouraged by an increased interest of the scholarly circles for the Christian Arabs, a diverse but neglected community, spread all over the world. By completing the projects that I have mentioned, Romanian researchers have the opportunity to participate in a truthful and more detailed definition of the Christian Arab civilization in its relationship with South-East Europe.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Our Lady of the Wind

The Arabic original, by Jirji Sassine can be found here.

Our Lady of the Wind

Patron of the Church of Our Lady of the Wind, Enfeh al-Koura

The nuns of Our Lady of Kaftoun painted this icon in December 2001, at the request of the parish of Enfeh, and after having shown preliminary designs to fathers and theologians who gave their blessing. It is an offering from Michel Faiz Touma, for his parents the reposed Faiz and Nejmeh. It measures 90cm by 60cm and it was consecrated by Fr. Zakhour Nimeh, the parish priest of blessed memory. The feast of Our Lady of the Wind is the Feast of the Annunciation, where it takes the place of the icon of the Annunciation, and below it most of the image is the sea and fish (the Feast of the Annunciation is connected to permission to eat fish despite the fast).

An explanation of the icon “O Virgin, calm the tumult of our passions and quiet the storm of our sins…” (from the Paraklisis to the Theotokos).

This is the message of the icon of the Theotokos, Our Lady of the Wind and what is written underneath it. She is lifting up the prayers of the faithful who are drowning in the sea of sorrows and the tempest of temptations to the Lord Jesus who is always present and watching from heaven, which is represented by the sky-blue circles amidst the golden background. He blesses with both His hands in response to the intercession of His mother the sailors who struggle amidst the waves that toss about the fishing boat (and the boat is a symbol of the Church). He leads them to the shore, the place “below the wind” north of Ras Qal’at Enfeh where the church of Our Lady stands. They seek refuge under her serene protection, far from the storms and whirlwinds coming from the sea (a symbol of death and the world of darkness where the dragon plays (the psalm of vespers). The whirlpool which appears along our coasts in the winter is still called “the dragon” by local fishermen and this is reflected in the icon by depicting the storm in this form), from the southwest across from the cliff, but the Theotokos Our Lady of the Wind is standing next to her church, lifting up her left hand in supplication to her divine Son to preserve her children, while with her right hand she repels from them the storm coming from afar.

The icon goes from nature to the site of the church of Our Lady where the bay “below the wind”, which during most of the days of the year is protected from the southwesterly winds which cause storms and batter the cliff. The icon goes from the calm bay which forms a natural harbor for fishermen to the spiritual reality where Our Lady takes those who seek her intercession under her protection.

In the details, the waves appear as a spiral of the colors of the sea and the sky, and this is in imitation of the style of the extant mural icons in the church of Our Lady of the Wind, which probably go back to the twelfth century. They reflect the ambiance of the local sea and among them are fish, so often mentioned in the tradition of the Church.

Likewise palm trees, which decorate the coastline since Phoenician times, are mystically connected to the Virgin (in the Song of Songs and the Akathist) surround the church.

She is the Virgin Lady, the Theotokos who is honored by the faithful in the village and the surrounding region. And here are the ancient churches forming a ring around her church: from the right St. Simeon, St. Michael, and St. Katrina and from the left St. George and the Monastery of St. John the Baptist. Likewise she is surrounded by her monasteries: Deir al-Nouriyyeh drawn at the top of the cliff in the background along with the site of the ancient monastery in the middle of the mountain where Abd al-Masih al-Enfawi practiced asceticism and from which the light of the Virgin shined forth, according to the tradition of the monastery’s name. At the end of the peak is the church of St. Simeon the Stylite. As for the monasteries and shrines to Our Lady in the region for which there was not room to draw in the icon, they are present in a hidden way, and to complete the list they are: Our Lady of the Seas in Batroun, the Horshiyyeh Cave in Hamat, the shrine of al-Rihaniyyeh in Hari, al-Za’tariyyeh in Shaka, al-Zurou’ in Kfarhazim, Sayyidat Fi’, Our Lady of the Spring (al-Na’oura), Sayyidat al-Bazizat (the Nursing), Sayyidat al-Qutrubiyyeh in Enfeh, Sayyidat al-Khazaib in al-Harisha, the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand, and Deir Sayyidat Natour, where the perspective of one looking at the icon stands.

She is the Virgin who herself saves through her intercessions all those sailing through the storms and waves on the sea of life.

She is the Lady of all places—land, sea, and air and is constantly present and protecting all who honor her. Through her intercessions, O Lord, have mercy on us and save us, amen.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Final Report from the Holy Synod

The Arabic original can be found here. As always, this translation is my own and is not official. An unofficial French translation has also been released here.

Final report of the 46th Regular Session of the Holy Synod of Antioch, taking place in the Monastery of St. Christopher, between the 17th and the 20th of August 2010 under the leadership of His Beatitude Ignatius IV.

On Tuesday August 17, 2010 the regular session of the Holy Synod of Antioch was held, lasting until Friday August 20, 2010, under the leadership of His Beatitude Ignatius IV (Hazim) and in the presence of the Fathers of the Synod of Antioch, the metropolitans of the nation and the emmigration. They studied an agenda related to pastoral and ecclesial matters and adopted appropriate decisions related to them.

First, the Synod listened to a detailed presentation by Dr. Elie Salem, president of Balamand University. During it, he explained how the university is developing on the academic and administrative levels. At the end of the presentation, the Fathers thanked Dr. Salem for what he undertakes with the working team at the university and they affirmed the necessity that the university continue fulfilling its role showing the Church's mission of service to all the children of the nation.

This was followed by a presentation by Dr. Georges Nahas, dean of the St. John of Damascus Theological Institute, which covered academic, spiritual, and administrative aspects, especially the new education program and modern and accepted methodologies. He likewise indicated the development of the master's program and the bachelor's in religious studies, and the fathers affirmed the necessity of connecting theological knowledge with pastoral experience so that the priest can bear the image of Christ the Good Shepherd into the world. They also formed a synodal committee to assist the patriarch in overseeing the affairs of the institute.

Pastoral care was a significant concern at this session, and on the second day the Fathers approved of a text prepared by Metropolitan Georges (Khodr) for a pastoral guide for priests to rely on in carrying out their pastoral, apostolic, and sacramental service. The guide contains texts reflecting the pastoral reality that priests live today. This guide, which covers a variety of topics in a simple style, treats in detail situations every priest faces. The guide pays close attention to the steadfastness of Antiochian tradition and reflects modernity. It calls for reliance on the principles of performing the sacraments in the Church while it pays close attention to the circumstances of pastoral practice in all other matters.

After that, the Fathers considered the status of youth work in the See of Antioch, and agreed to clarify the role of the clergy and laity in receiving all the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the sake of unity and peace in the Church. This relationship is based on the fatherhood of the bishop and his assistants and on the sonship of the faithful within the one Church.

With this goal in mind, His Beatitude commissioned the Holy Synod to form a committee under his leadership for the organization of pastoral and educational work on the level of the entire patriarchate.

The Holy Synod hopes that God will inspire all with the purposes of the Lord in the cooperation of all His children, so that love and respect will prevail in the establishment of normal relations between all the members of the Holy Church. The Synod is confident of a renewal of spiritual life for all and it remains clear that the responsibility of Christian education for everyone is the responsibility of the bishop and his leadership, along with the participation of those who have competencies for helping him in this.

The Fathers then listened to a report by Metropolitan Philip (Saliba), Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of North America about the status of the Archdiocese and aspects of apostolic and pastoral work there, indicating the development of the Archdiocese in all fields.

On the third day, in light of a study prepared by Metropolitan Basil (Mansour) about the historical status of the bishop in the Orthodox Church, and after long and detailed discussions, the Fathers affirmed that the bishops of the Archdiocese of North America are auxiliary bishops (asaqifa musa3idun) assigned to dioceses and entrusted by the Metropolitan of the Archdiocese to dioceses. They are subordinate to their spiritual point of reference, the metropolitan of the Archdiocese, who has general authority over the whole Archdiocese.

The Holy Synod then listened to reports about pastoral work in the Archdioceses of Central and Western Europe, Mexico, and Argentina. They praised the work being undertaken there and asked the bishops of these archdioceses to continue their work for the Good of the Church and her development. On the basis of the widening of the work of the Archdiocese of Central and Western Europe into the countries of Scandinavia, the decided to change the name of the archdiocese to "the Archdiocese of Europe".

On the fourth day, the Fathers listened to reports about the preparatory meeting for the general Orthodox council which took place in Chambesy- Geneva and also to reports about the meetings of the Orthodox Churches which took place in the countries of the diaspora and especially in North, Central, and South America. They raised up prayers that the mutual Orthodox work might bear fruits to the glory of Jesus Christ and the good of the Church.

After that, they went on to study the topic of Orthodox-Catholic dialogue and the stages it has reached. They affirmed the desire and effort of the Church of Antioch for the realization of the greatest possible closeness between the two churches, especially on the levels of daily witness and service to the weak. They formed a new Antiochian committee to pursue this dialogue.

Finally, they listened to a report from His Eminence Boulos (Yaziji) about the status of plans for Orthodox media and they asked His Eminence to continue work on the next stage.

The session did not end without the Fathers affirming that the the pastors of the Church are from beginning to end shepherds of the People of God, who suffers the difficulties of life and hard circumstances, and that they continue to be watchful in bearing these children of who thirst for the Word of God in the first of their paternal priorities, supplicating God to bless this good flock and its worship, and to increase upon it grace and blessings.

After the end of the meeting, His Beatitude sent a letter to the President of the Republic, Dr. Bashar al-Asad, the text of which follows:

Honorable Dr. Bashar Hafez al-Asad, President of the Syrian Arab Republic

After the best prayers for your preservation,
We lift up greetings and prayers for your honorable position on the occasion of the session of the Holy Synod of Antioch in Seidnayya. Their Eminences, the members of the Synod join me in doing this.

I express my great gratitude to you for this meeting which expresses your love for our Church and your regard for it as the national church par excellence. This makes us even more confident of our deeply-rooted existence in this country so dear to our hearts, Syria.

We repeat our prayer to God, may He be exalted, for your continual health and success.

Ignatius IV, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East

Sunday, August 22, 2010

More from Damascus

I apologize for not having the time today to translate the entire thing, but the Holy Synod has released its final report for its meeting this past week. While the website of the Patriarchate has been down all day, it is available in Arabic in today's an-Nahar here. I hope to have the whole thing posted by tomorrow evening, but here is the part about North America:

[On the second day], the Fathers listened to a report by Metropolitan Philip (Saliba), Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of North America about the status of the Archdiocese and aspects of apostolic and pastoral work there, indicating the developement of the Archdiocese in all fields.

On the third day, in light of a study prepared by Metropolitan Basil (Mansour) about the historical status of the bishop in the Orthodox Church, and after long and detailed discussions, the Fathers affirmed that the bishops of the Archdiocese of North America are auxiliary bishops (asaqifa musa3idun) assigned to dioceses and entrusted by the Metropolitan of the Archdiocese to dioceses. They are subordinate to their spiritual point of reference, the metropolitan of the Archdiocese, who has general authority over the whole Archdiocese.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Day Two of the Holy Synod's Meeting

The Arabic original can be found here. This translation is of course not in any way official, but it's worth noting that with regard to the discussion of North American bishops, the word 'auxiliaries' was given in English and Arabic.

[Update: This report is no longer posted on the Patriarchate's website. However, it can still be found on the website of the Archdiocese of Tripoli here.]

The Holy Synod continued its work schedule, and approved a text which it will publish to be a pastoral guide for priests, to help them to carry out their apostolic, pastoral, and sacramental service.

The guide includes texts includes texts discussing the pastoral reality that priests live today in addition to various other subjects. It is in a simple style and treats in depth situations that every priest faces.

The guide pays close attention to the steadfastness of the Antiochian tradition and reflects modernity. It calls for reliance on the principles of performing the sacraments in the Church but also proposes reliance on economy in dealing with all pastoral concerns.

The Fathers also studied the state of youth work in the See of Antioch and the integration of the various gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Church, which strengthens the harmony between the fatherhood of the bishop and the sonship of the faithful within the one Church.

With this in mind, the Fathers decided, with the commission of His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius, to form a committee concerned with the organization of pastoral and educational work on the level of the whole Patriarchate.

They then listened to a report from His Eminence Metropolitan Phillip (Saliba), metropolitan of the Archdiocese of North America, about the state of the archdiocese and aspects of the apostolic and pastoral work there, where His Eminence explained the development of the archdiocese in all fields.

The Fathers affirmed, after careful and lengthy deliberation, that the bishops of the Archdiocese of North America are auxiliary bishops, raised up by God and dependent upon the metropolitan who has complete authority over the entire archdiocese. This is on the basis of the study prepared by His Eminence Basil (Mansour) about the position of the bishop historically in the Orthodox Church.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Day One of the Holy Synod's Meeting: Education

So, this is up on the website of the Patriarchate in Arabic, but not in English. So, I figured it was worth translating. The original can be found here.

During the morning session of the Holy Synod of Antioch taking place in the Patriarchal Monastery of St. Christopher, the Synod listened to a presentation by Dr. Elie Salem, president of Balamand University. During this presentation, Dr. Salem explained how the university is developing, with regard to academics and the number of faculties, as well human resources, the number of students and buildings, and the number of university publications. He likewise presented the future plans and budget for the academic year 2010-2011, assuring the Synod that the university is financially sound, which assures stable development.

Dr. Salem put forward a number of suggestions for strengthening the relationship between the university, the archdioceses, and the Orthodox schools.

At the end of his presentation, the bishops thanked Dr. Salem for his work, and especially for the fact that during the past two decades the university has become the equal of the most well-established Lebanese universities in various ways.

The Fathers likewise emphasized the necessity of the university’s role in making the Orthodoxy prominent and the necessity of carrying out this role by promoting Middle Eastern Antiochian Orthodox thought and history, with the knowledge that the university must remain open to all the spiritual families of Lebanon.

During the second session, Dr. Georges Nahas, dean of the St. John of Damascus Institute of Theology gave a presentation covering all academic, spiritual, and administrative aspects. With respect to academics, Dr. Nahas presented the new program in education and modern, accepted methodologies. He likewise indicated the development of the master’s program and the bachelor’s in religious studies for those who are not interested in theological studies.

With regard to student life at the institute, Dr. Nahas indicated the close attention to the daily liturgical life of the students as well as requests to some spiritual fathers to give the students attention. So there is personal attention to each student so that we may be on a level appropriate for clergy. He also pointed out that students are divided into small working groups in their studies, and the launching of a group for recreational and cultural activities during free time.

He then discussed the difficulties that the work of the institute faces, and how they should be addressed administratively, asking the Fathers’ help in applying the institute’s efforts at solving these problems.

He then talked about the presence of the institute in the university as a whole and mentioned that the professors at the institute desire a more effective presence at the university within the fields to which they can contribute. He talked about the presence of the institute on the level of Antioch and in general, through the various activities which it organizes. Dr. Nahas also talked about the development of relationships with Orthodox theological institutions in the world, and the establishment of an important network of external relationships which enable the exchange of academic expertise.

He then presented on the institute’s administrative and organizational affairs and the plans for the future set forward in the ten-year working plan which insures the role of the institute in bringing up students and in revealing the Orthodox identity, and as a center for pastoral care and also for the publication of religious instruction in the Arabic language.

During the discussion that followed, the Fathers emphasized the necessity of connecting theological knowledge with pastoral experience so that the priest is able to bear into the world the image of Christ the Good Shepherd and not fall into theological excess and ignore the pastoral aspect of the priestly vocation.

The accompanying Patriarchal media delegation:

Archimandrite Ibrahim Dawud

Fr. Daniel Nimeh

Dn. Demitrios Mansour

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Carol Saba on the Holy Synod of Antioch

For the full essay in the original Arabic, published in an-Nahar, go here. I don't have time this morning to translate the whole thing... The two paragraphs I left out are a summary of events in the Orthodox world that are well-covered in other English-langauge sources. The pivotal decisions being alluded to here have to do with the two most significant matters that are presumably under discussion today: how to resolve the conflict between the Orthodox Youth Movement and Met. Paul of Aleppo and what to do about the Archdiocese in North America....

The Holy Synod of Antioch meets on the seventeenth of this month at the Patriarchal Monastery of Saydnayya. Active since 547 AD, the monastery is on a hill 25km from Damascus. Many papers seem to be on the table at this ‘pivotal synod’. Issues, concerns and challenges must be met with courage and vision by Church that have always been the basic centers of Antiochian Orthodox witness in the East and in the world.
[He then discusses various developments in the Orthodox world relating to increased cooperation and communication between the local churches, as well as the prospects of increased cooperation with the Catholic Church in Europe.]
As for Antioch, all eyes look with hope to the fathers of the Orthodox Holy Synod of Antioch in which will participate bishops from the diaspora and the Mother Church. The synod looks to me to be pivotal on a number of levels. Serious challenges face the Church, internally and externally. Effort must be made at awareness and discernment so that the Church does not deviate and become “one of the sects”, subject to various squabbles. These challenges are pivotal to our ecclesial life in the East and to our witness to the Nazarene risen from the dead. It is necessary to develop “ecclesiologies of cooperation” in the management of the Church on all levels, canonically and in practice, through constructive cooperation between the priesthood of service and the royal priesthood in order to take the Church from a state of preserving existence to a state of bold witness and in order to develop new frameworks for pastoral care, diakonia, and various gifts in order to address the world boldly and with discernment, whether in politics, media, and economics, or culture and social affairs, etc… This is not according to a principle of being colored by the world, but according to the principle of “you are the light of the world and the salt of the earth.” The Antiochian Orthodox Church bears a great heritage, a diverse patrimony, a living apostolic tradition and theological thought. The Church’s rich gifts make the Antiochian witness a witness of linkage, of connection, of continuity. These are her pivotal gifts in the Church, for the sake of the transfiguration of the whole world. There remains the serious question of how to deal with the current squabbles that rise up from here and there and how to tie together this great diversity and valuable capabilities and many rich gifts that the Church of Antioch possesses to push them forward together. Here is the central role of the Synod, to inspire and to take initiative, to set forth extensive and programmatic frameworks for cooperation between clergy and laity, to gather the gifts and capacities of both, to study different challenges and to face them in an Orthodox manner, to endorse a roadmap for an active and effective Orthodox witness in today’s world. The Church of Antioch will either be a church giving true witness to Jesus Christ or she will not exist. Her witness must either be based on the Middle Eastern, Antiochian tradition, distinguished by its firmness of faith and constant defense of right belief in the face of change, or she will not exist. The gift of Antioch within the universal Church is that it is founded upon Christians’ awareness of their identity in Christ, “they were called there Christians”, that is their awareness that they are Christ’s and His alone. Thus Antioch must be Orthodox, and must say and do no more and no less!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Murr TV Visits Lebanese Monasteries

So, even if you can't understand Lebanese, this episode of a travel show on Murr TV (owned by a politically prominent Orthodox family) is worth looking at. It goes north along coastal highway and visits several Orthodox churches and monasteries. Visually it gives exactly the feeling of a Saturday afternoon drive in the summer up the coast... the soundtrack, however, is left me alternately giggling and wincing... actually, it's the worst soundtrack ever. But don't let that scare you off!

11 minutes in is the absolutely gorgeous Dayr el-Nouriyyeh, one of my favorite views in Lebanon....

Around 26 minutes is the new, fancy, Church of St. Nicholas which is quite beautifully frescoed. Though they don't show it ,I think this is the church that has a fresco of the Last Judgment to the back with a car being driven out of Tripoli and into the jaws of Hell.... Like just about everywhere in the Orthodox world, the unfortunate aesthetic choices of the 18th and 19th centuries are avoided in newer churches and monasteries in favor of the neo-Byzantine style, often enough done by Romanians...

Around minute 29 is Hamatoura.... interestingly, the monks there did not have a blessing to talk in front of the camera, though the cameras were allowed lots of access to the monks' daily life and they were allowed to narrate off-camera...

Around minute 55 is Dayr Natour, which is built almost on top of the water.

So if you've never been to Lebanon or want to have a bit of a nostalgic trip, this video is very pleasant...

Watch it here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New Issue of The Antiochian

Fr. Elia Khalife of the Antioch Centre has just published a new issue his newsletter, The Antiochian. It can be read here.

In it are articles about his recent visit to the United States, a description of a trilingual Arabic-Greek-Syriac icon from Kaftoun, and a meditation on the spiritual significance of working with manuscripts. It is well worth reading and Fr. Elia's amazing work needs to be better known.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Fr. Elia, he is a Lebanese monk now based in Oxford. He is working to preserve and make known the Antiochian Orthodox heritage by cataloging and examining all available manuscripts produced or related to the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. He is especially interested in documenting the use of Syriac and Christian Palestinian Aramaic among the Orthodox. A more detailed paper about his work can be found here and an article about him from the magazine Road to Emmaus can be found here.

Far too many people assume that the division among the churches in the Near East between Melkites (that is, the Orthodox) and Jacobites (today called Syrian Orthodox) was an ethnic division between Greeks and Syrians. In fact, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch was up until comparatively recent times perhaps the most cosmopolitan of the Orthodox churches-- at least until the 18th Century, liturgies were celebrated primarily in Arabic, but also in Greek, Syriac, Christian Palestinian Aramaic, and Georgian.

This is all to say, the heritage of the Orthodox Church of Antioch is deeper and broader than many of us are aware. We should support, encourage and pray for those, like Fr. Elia, who are working to preserve it and transmit it to us!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Deir Mar Elias, Shwayya

The Arabic original, by Fr. Mitri Jardaq, can be found here.

The Monastery of Mar Elias in Shwayya

The Patriarchal Monastery of Mar Elias in Shwayya is perched atop a hill facing the eternal Sannine to the east and guarding the coast of the northern Metn- Antelias, Jal el-Dib, and Dbayya to the west. This history of this monastery goes back deep into history, to approximately the sixth century. From the Middle Ages through modern times, it witnessed the presence of Russian pilgrims coming from the Far East to the Holy Lands, passing through several stops here in the Middle East.

After the Ottoman domination of these lands, the monastery was a destination for Russian consuls, scholars and researchers from Constantine Basili to Constantine Batkovitch and from Agafangel Krimski to the Russian monks who came there in 1913 and left to return to their country in 1915.

Many men of faith have served as abbots of the monastery, leaving their lasting mark on its history. Its longest-serving abbot was the Protopresbyter Makarios, who served the monastery for more than half a century and was contemporary to many important events in the history of Mount Lebanon. Bishop Elias (Najim),of blessed memory, had the second-longest time as abbot. Metropolitan Elias (Kfoury) was named patriarchal vicar to oversee the monastery until an abbot for the monastery could be named. On July 20, 2010, Archimandrite Wadi Shalhoub was made abbot of the monastery.

Who is Archimandrite Wadi?

He is from the village of Douma in the region of Batroun in Lebanon. He studied under His Beatitude in the school of Balamand Monastery. He then went to Greece to complete his studies and to specialize in Byzantine music. After studying with Greek teachers for a long time, he then returned to Lebanon to teach Byzantine music in Arabic at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand in the Institute of St. John of Damascus. In 1975 he was made a deacon in the Archdiocese of Tripoli and al-Koura and then in 1984 he was ordained to the priesthood by Metropolitan Elias Kurban. In 1987 he was attached to the Archdiocese of Jbeil and Batroun and their dependencies (Mount Lebanon), where Metropolitan Georges (Khodr) granted him the rank of archimandrite. He remained there serving in the parish of Douma until he was called by His Beatitude to be abbot of the Patriarchal Monastery of Mar Elias in Shwayya. In addition to Arabic, Archimandrite Wadi speaks English and Greek fluently. He has many publications and recordings about Byzantine music.

Fr. Touma Bitar on Marriage in the Church

The original can be found here.

Churchly Marriage, in All Honesty

I am an Antiochian Rum Orthodox hieromonk. I am often asked my opinion about marriage and about Christian marriage in particular. I would like to start by saying that I do not have a personal opinion in the way that people have personal opinions about issues and questions that they come across. I have a commitment to Jesus Christ in the Orthodox Church as Lord and as God. I derive what I say from the teaching of my Church where there is a clearly defined teaching about a given matter. Wherever the teaching of my Church is not completely defined, I rely on my faith and my ecclesial consciousness, the oral and written tradition of my Church and what I see to be the spirit of this tradition within the framework of lived human, social, and cultural contexts. Here I must point out that my Church rarely legislates on practical spiritual or ethical questions, but rather leaves a wide field for the sentiment and conscience in Christ of the faithful to determine the solutions and positions which are appropriate for their circumstances and which express their faith as truly as possible. In addition to this, they seek the guidance of their spiritual fathers.

I will not be saying anything new today if I say that we are in an age dominated to a great extent by individualism. Familial bonds are gradually being dissolved and the group of the Church is diminishing and is clearly inclining towards fragmentation. People are increasingly concocting their own religions or personal beliefs. Only a few feel that they are obligated by what the Church says and what she teaches and many have come to consider it optional or unappealing or backward. The values in which generations are brought up are rarely derived from the fountain of the living tradition of the Church, but rather from the fountain of worldly tradition, powerfully spread by civil institutions and through the media and the free market of ideas and opinions and customs. Worldliness has even pervaded the practices of the Church. Instead of the faithful going forth with the Spirit of God and the Gospel of Salvation, preaching to the ends of the earth, worldly people burst into the deepest mysteries of the Church with the spirit of the world and the temptations of knowledge, and worldliness rots the heart of ecclesial consciousness among the people. Naturally this does not extend to all the practices of the Church, but it violently and offensively rushes into the heart of the temple of God!

In order not to spend too much time defining the general framework of the subject at hand, I will limit myself to saying that worldly symbols have started to fill more of our pastoral and liturgical practices. What do the faithful think? How do they behave? What do they ask for? What do they expect? What are their concerns? How do they deal with the world and with each other and with the things of the Church? All these questions and more have become saturated with a worldly spirit to the point that in general the relationship between people and the tradition of the Church has become a superficial relationship, one in form that is largely devoid of the spiritual, evangelical content in pastoral and ritual practice. As we are talking about marriage, weddings, for example, rarely become in practice an entrance into the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church, as the Apostle Paul defined it in his Epistle to the Ephesians. Instead they are worldly gatherings dominated by the traits of a party, permeated by the spirit of the world, whether with regard to how they occupy the spirit, or with regard to decorations or clothing or gatherings, or a theatrical spirit, or emotionalism, and so forth.

In these individualistic times, everyone has started to act according to his personal preference. Most personal preferences are permeated by the worldly spirit. The Church, with regard to her nature and composition, does not impose herself and has no right to impose herself on anyone. All have according to their conscience have the freedom to act as they see fit in the matter at hand: to get a civil marriage or to enter into a mixed marriage with a partner from another church or even a non-Christian, to have a religious marriage or a non-religious marriage, to practice legitimate marriage or cohabitation. This has become people’s private concern for those who are considered faithful or more properly members of the taifa. Civil law and the practices of the taifas make things easier for them in what they choose or desire in one way or another, or provide them with legal loopholes. Churches are treated most of the time, by pastors and flock, as though they are shops! People usually find what fulfils their desires and pastors think that by going along with peoples requests they are “keeping them”! The result in practice is that the churchly content is increasingly neutralized and isolated and the arbitrary management of the taifa within the bounds of novel customs has become the norm. Naturally, it is not assumed that the Church will encourage her children, or those who are counted her children, in this. However, pastors treat this tide of current marriage practices as a fait accompli because they do not want to find themselves strangers to the mindset of their people or to not be considered modern, if we do not say that they consider it a very normal and acceptable matter. Most pastors rarely find fault with what they do in this matter. Becoming accustomed to error is a new nature. Thus we often find the work of pastors limited to putting on a formal production, within the institution of the Church, or one could say a legalistic, only-on-paper production. They are rarely concerned about, or able to be concerned about, in the midst of the current emptiness and vanity, the grafting of alien practices onto the true tree of the tradition of the Church and its sacraments. And so a yawning gap has emerged between the tradition of the Church and the worldly practices of the taifa.

One who is carefully rooted in the tradition has the right to wonder in this climate of laxity, emptiness, and perdition: Would it not be worth it for the Church to take the sacrament of marriage, liturgically, out of the market of worldly marriage and to be content with civil marriage for those within the taifa except for a few until a soundly Orthodox churchly climate returns via an awaited re-evangelization of people considered to belong to the Church but are not of it? Do we have the right, or at least is it appropriate for us to neglect holy things or to change marriage into purely a blessing with empty words? I say empty because the blessing has no effect without the faith of the people. In the past the Church faced similar circumstances to what we are experiencing today, with a “spilling” of non-Christians at different times, who brought into the Church many pagan notions that they held previously. What did the Church do? She removed the celebration of the Eucharist from the wedding and later on removed participation in the presanctified gifts and was content to offer the common cup to the couple getting married. Today, the problem is the same once more, even if it is in a different form: should just anyone be admitted to the service of crowning, without regard to the reality of their faith, just because they are members of the Orthodox taifa? This is a descent into chaos and a dissolution of holy things in the acid of the spirit of worldliness! Is it not necessary to distinguish between those who are worthy to undergo the service of crowning and those who are not worthy, on the basis of the content of their faith? Is this question not self-evident to those who are careful, even if today it does not occur to many pastors, since they do not feel that they are mistaken when they consider the faith of the couple being married to be their own private matter and are content with services rather than living liturgy? Naturally, this attitude has something of prostituting the sacraments to it, or in the best cases ignoring them. And so holy things are treated outside their context, in a worldly manner and this pushes the Church to a place she cannot be: within the limits of worldliness, unable to be eschatological!

In the context of this reality, I will say that civil marriage is not healthy for the believer and it is unacceptable from the perspective of the Church. It is only in countries that require civil marriage among their citizens that a believer can contract a civil marriage, however one cannot stop there and must have an actual church marriage. Likewise one cannot contract a marriage with an unbelieving partner. Mixed marriages, that is marriage with a partner considered Christian but not Rum Orthodox, is also unsound and unacceptable from the point of view of the Church. Likewise, marriage to a non-Christian is a falling away from the Church. Even marriage entirely within the taifa, that is between two nominal Rum Orthodox Christians, is inappropriate and delusional from the perspective of the Church. I will say this again leaving everyone the right to act according to his private conviction. However, neither I nor anyone else has the right to dilute what pertains to the Church or to modify it or to use it as a cover for something unconnected to the mind and the Spirit of the Church. “If we live, then we live for Christ…” For the faithful, marriage is in Christ and its final goal is Christ, not man. Otherwise, it is a form of spiritual adultery.

It is not by accident that Canon 72 of the Council in Trullo (692) states that “It is not permitted for an Orthodox man to marry a heterodox woman, nor is it permitted for an Orthodox woman to marry a heterodox man…“ The idea is that there is no mixing in the Orthodox faith and no formalism. Rum Orthodoxy must be wholly adopted or wholly rejected! People’s weaknesses should be regarded from within the framework of total commitment to Orthodoxy, not of a partial commitment. If the effort of the Rum Orthodox family is not towards the fullness of Orthodoxy and within the framework of total effort at preserving this Orthodoxy, then it can only lead to a blow against Orthodoxy and its corruption from within the living primordial cell of the Church itself: the family! If the family is neglected, then the Church is abandoned! The Orthodox ecclesial consciousness is formed in children by the parents within the soundly Orthodox family. The logic that considers mixed marriage to be a virtue out of desire for Christian unity or for civil intermingling, or for humanism among people is not a churchly logic and its outcome is judgment against the Church. Then the subject is not a matter of formal logic but of spiritual logic. The issue is an issue of extending to our children the Orthodox faith in the Holy Spirit, in the Lord Jesus and in His Church, from generation to generation. Laxness in this matter corrupts the ecclesial consciousness and thus Orthodox belief and so distorts and obliterates the true image of Christ! This results in striking Christianity at its heart, that is Christ the Lord, since a distortion of the image of the Lord inevitably leads to toppling his reality and then his presence and finally in erasing the name of the Lord Jesus from our minds or substituting it for something that is not Him. Holding fast to marriage within the framework of Orthodox doctrine, within Orthodoxy, is a necessity for a living church in order to maintain the purity of the tradition and to preserve soundness of faith and to achieve the presence of Christ the Word and to ingrain the Spirit of the Lord within the consciousness! Nothing is accidental and there is no mixing in what pertains to salvation and eternal life!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar),

Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite- Douma

August 8, 2010

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Met. Ephrem's Address to the AOANA Clergy Symposium

This is my own transcription from the audio recording of the address. It can be downloaded, in a slightly awkward file format here or listened to on Ancient Faith Radio here. My own transcript is in no way official, and I can't promise total accuracy by any means. If anyone wants to improve it, let me know.

Your Eminence Metropolitan Phillip, your graces and dear brothers in Christ. I can say again that I am very glad to be here these days. I will try to speak to you about the mission of the Orthodox Church today, the priest and his service. I begin by a passage of Saint Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians. He says, “For I delivered to you first that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and that he was buried and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures. 1 Cor. 3-4. These words written by the Apostle Paul constitute the main core of our mission in the present world, as it was in the ancient world, preaching to all the Gospel, the Evangelion, the joyful announcement, the joyful news, the resurrection of Christ.

The following main points of the subject, mission of the Orthodox Church today will be developed briefly with some not-systematically because of their interconnection. These points are first an appeal for repentance, returning again to God. This reminds me about the magazine Again and reading a lot that this magazine has taught. Second, to deliver man from slavery, from his passions, helping him to get out from different, new idols as I have said in my homily, to get out from his egoism and his individualism, to teach him how to live again in a community, in a Christian family as it was lived in the early Church mentioned in the Acts where they say “as it continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine in fellowship or community, in the breaking of bread and prayers… Now all who believed were together and had all things in common.” Acts 2:42-44. All this struggle to get out from the old man supposes and needs purification of the heart during the illness of the soul. It is a therapeutical method. Third point, to live here with an eschatological view experiencing death before death, resurrection before the last resurrection as a foretaste, progeusis, of the kingdom of heaven and giving signs to people, to all people, that this apparent world is insufficient, is unsatisfying, for to live with the spirit of God, to live with the Spirit of God and not with the spirit of the world, I would mention here some known passages from the New Testament from the Apostle Paul and he says, “for these who live according to the flesh, set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit, set their mind on the things of the spirit, for to be carnally minded is death but to be spiritually minded to life and peace.” Romans 8:5-6. Another passage from the first Epistle of Saint John, he says, “do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world , the love of the Father is not in him for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The world is passing away but he who does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:15-17. This will not make us forget at the same time what Saint John himself writes the in his gospel, “for God so loves the world that he gave his only begotten so that whosoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.” This passage is in the Divine Liturgy, John 3:16. This point, the uniqueness of the Orthodox Antiochian Church, what is unique in our Antiochian Orthodox Church and in her mission and sixth point, another particularity of the Antiochian Church today.

Now after these points, I return to the first point, the Church appears with a prophetical voice, with an eschatological view. All the people, reminding them that the object is repentance in regards to the Kingdom of God. Saint Gregory Palamas says that this present life is a time, an occasion for repentance. kairos metanias. The Church struggles in order to guide all God’s creation for sanctification, which is the aim for our life, sanctification, or glorification if you want. It is not just returning to the first Adam, but more than that it is acquiring the glorification of our nature newly created in Christ. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. “All things have passed away, behold all things have become new.” 2 Cor. 5:17. Now people usually search for physical heaven. We say to each other in Arabic, kif sa7tak, mni7, so it is in material things, they don’t seek purification of their soul, of their passions. They think about the health of our body and they focus very much in our times on the body. The object of life for man, lay people and clergy also, is acquiring money, making business. I remember when I attended the final commencement at the University of Balamand, the greatest number of the graduates was in business administration, while on another part for true Christians the main purpose is supposed to be to acquire the Holy Spirit, as Saint Seraphim of Sarov says. That is why the priest is mainly a spiritual father, that’s why we call him abuna. Before all things, others. He is not just a liturgical servant nor just a teacher. He has to liberate people as we said from their passions, from the fear of death, from the darkness. The one who overcomes things within his heart, I mean the spirit of the world, overcomes death and fear of death. Saint Isaac the Syrian says the one who confesses his sins is more important than the one who raises people from death. And he says also, the one who repents truly resembles the one who has passed from death into life. The present world took out from man the sense of sin. The greatest spiritual illness of the soul is the unawareness towards sinful acts. Sin, in our days, as someone said, a spiritual father, became a something happy, a friend. What characterizes a priest as a spiritual father is that he speaks, he behaves, he thinks with the spirit of God. He is supposed to have the gift, charisma, of discernment between good and evil, between what is from God and what is not. All this supposes simplicity of life, humility. He is not just a confessor, but also a guide, a counselor in all things in life towards repentance. The priest is a spiritual doctor, curing men’s souls those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil Heb. 5:14.

Now we move to another point concerning, now say, another subject, concerning uniqueness of the Orthodox Church and of the Antiochian Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church is built on two pillars- the parish and the monastery, parish life and monastic life. However, His Beatitude the Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius used to say many times that the Orthodox person is the one who lives as a monk in the midst of the world. This tradition is based on the example of Christ and also on the example of the saints who are human beings as Metropolitan Phillip said. They are human beings who incarnate the word of God and follow a deep, serious interior experience of life, training themselves and others to deny themselves and follow the commandments of Christ, to struggle against the passions, purifying their heart from bad intentions, from judging others. The church tries to show and reflect to others the face of Christ to the world, living icons of Christ. This occurs when it is guided by the effective action of the grace of God. It is a synergy, movement gathering the initiative of man and the action of God from another side, the Orthodox Church is mainly an ascetic church, Orthodox man is supposed to live ascetically, simply without too much complications in this life, too much unuseful consummation of materials. All this helps man to focus on spiritual affairs. Also, it helps him to be free in God, to say the truth, the word of God, to be detached from the environment, to have courage, zeal, initiative for what is good .The Orthodox, now, the Orthodox Antiochian church, is neither a national nor an ethnic church because it doesn’t belong to this world. It is evangelical in the sense that it lives literally the incarnated word of God according to the tradition of the school of Antioch.
At the same time, regarding the Kingdom of God with a spiritual and eschatological view. Now another particularity of the Antiochian Orthodox Church it is that is it is the only Orthodox church in the world which uses, at least in the Middle East, the Arabic language. It has a long experience of common social life with Muslim people. It knows the mentality, the psychology of Islam. This is a great opportunity for us to witness to our faith and, who knows, maybe even to the Jews. The Orthodox Antiochian Church is a missionary church even though it is a minority in numbers. However, it can be as a leaven which is put in a meal in order that it will be all leaven. Mat. 13:33.

Now, allow me to speak again about the priest and his service. We said before that the priest is the spiritual father and that he is abuna, abba. He reflects the paternity of God. Saint Paul the Apostle says to the Corinthians “for though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel.” 1 Cor. 4:15. And Saint John Chrysostom explains- the instructor gives his lesson and goes away, but the father follows his son and embraces him continuously. The priest as a spiritual father reflects also God’s compassion. He is the father and the mother at the same time. He is the confessor, the teacher and the preacher, and he will communicate the word of God. He tries to implement, practice, what he is teaching. “Whosoever does and teaches men he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Mat. 5:19. Saint John of Kronstadt says that he is first of all a man of prayer. All these functions, the ministry and the preaching, suppose that he is praying at home with his family. That he is travailing against his own passions in order to cure weaknesses of others. And so as not to hear from others, “physician, heal yourself first” Luke 4:23, he must have, the priest must have, a father confessor as well as spiritual director. Otherwise, how can he hear the confessions of others? If he does not pray himself, how can he teach others how to pray? And finally he must have a great zeal for Christ in order not to hear God’s voice saying to him, “so then because you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot I will vomit you out of my mouth.” Rev. 3:16 Or even another voice, “I know your works, your labors, your patience and that you cannot bear those who are evil and you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not and are have found them liars and you have persevered and have patience and have labored for my name’s sake and have not become weary, nevertheless, I have this against you that you have left your first love. Remember the height from where you have fallen, repent and do the first works.” Rev. 2:2-5.

In conclusion, I would like to recall this passage from Saint Paul the Apostle saying in his chapter on the resurrection, “the first man was of the earth, made of dust. The second man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust, and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are heavenly.” 1 Cor. 15:47-48. Today we need to be detached from the slavery of this secular society, money politics, fashion, mult-media. However not to be indifferent towards others but to face reality by being energized by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. Here comes the role of prayer. We need in our days prophetic words, prophetic voices. How to re-evangelize our own people? Books are profitable but not enough. We need experienced people, enlightened, illuminated. Jesus Christ is the truth. The ministry of the Church is the testimony of the truth. “For this reason I was born for this cause I have come to the world that I should bear witness to the truth.”Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” John 18:37. “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”John 8:32. Finally, Saint basil the great says the responsibility of the bishop is to defend the faith and to keep the Church in the right dogma. If we don’t strive for the welfare of the church as our enemy struggles for destroying it, the right faith, then nothing can prevent faith to be wasted. Amen.


Priest: I am intrigued and fascinated ,and probably time doesn’t allow us, but could you say a little bit more about how we here in America, in our situation, can profit from one of the benefits of being Antiochian that you mentioned, namely that in your area, that part of the world, the special relationship to the Muslims around. How can we profit from that here ,how can we take the experience that the Church has worked out in that setting and profit from it in our setting?
Met. Ephrem: Yes, I take the occasion, this occasion of my presence here, to say really that we need to have more relation between the Mother Church in the Middle East and the church in America. We need this because we are completing each other. Something good here we need it there and something good there, maybe you will need it here. That’s one of the reasons I am here with you also. Because I take profit very much just to see this Antiochian Village. Now for Islam, I suggest also even if it’s a little difficult, that we must know the Arabic language or as much as possible. This is very important in our days to know this language and the Arabic language may help for that. In a way, we have to study this subject and you can take profit from our experience in the Middle East because we are living in peace with Muslim people. This is a great thing and it is really a way of a real dialogue, of an actual living dialogue with Islam, which as you know played a great role in this world now.

Priest: Sayyidna Ephrem, could you comment for us on the correct usage, if appropriate, of using technology in spreading the message of Gospel? Correct usage, appropriate usage of certain mediums, that you have an opinion of?

Met. Ephrem: You see, the modern technology is not an obstacle. I say in my speech here that really a man who has a purified heart in himself can discern how to use all these technical things which are in the world. This, I spoke about this detachment. It’s not the object of the man to have more and more high-tech materials and media. If he has the Spirit, if he can discern what is good, he can choose the good materials and technical things for this mission he is making. The technical things are what we call neutral, they are not good or bad. It depends on how to use them. The important thing is the person himself, and the person as you know by the Bible is his heart. God says, give me your heart. Technical things and even the vestments are secondary.

Priest: Your Eminence, might you educate us for just a moment about the state of monasticism, what you call one of the two pillars of the Church, in our Church?

Met. Ephrem: Well it’s a whole subject we have not now the time to speak about monasticism in our Antiochian Church, but I can say that we have some monasteries and they play for the moment a great role for our people and especially for the young people, for the youth. They help very much and also good priests. That’s why I spoke about the priests and the spiritual father, because young people, as you know, they are living in their own atmosphere and they need someone to hear them and to love them, this is the main point. And they respond to him. They are not far from God, we say that they are far but they are not far.

+Joseph: It’s not a question but I have to say some testimony, how Sayyidna Ephrem, how of the monastic life in a monastery, and how we took part in it. When we were children we visited the seminarians in Balamand, they took us on a tour to a monastery in particular in the mountains. So when we went there, we found some ruins in that monastery so there was nothing at all, no life, no busy, so even if there was life, it was destroyed. So Sayyidna, he started there, with no brothers there, not any monastic life, just like he said. So he started there. And there is one criticism of the monastic, of the brotherhood, that they hide themselves in the monastery. Let me tell you two examples about this monastery, and in particular Sayyidna by himself opened his heart and started visiting the monastery physically but he opened his heart and his mind for the people in that area. You know people in that area now in our parishes, how many people we have at vespers, five ten less more, he brought the whole area, the whole area, people didn’t care about their spiritual life because of the presence, the icons, the love, the care, so he started encouraging people to pray with him. :aypeople, I’m talking about laypeople, not brotherhood. So they joined there. One day, I was in the archdiocese visiting Lebanon, I went to this monastery and he insisted to have me serve, and they serve early and I thought that for the Divine Liturgy, the abbot and two or three brothers would be there. So five o’clock six o’clock, whatever, and I looked after that in that church people from the area, and it was not Sunday, a working day! And they are farmers! So they left everything , like the disciples and they were at worship in the monastery. This is a great impact. The other thing I will switch to something else and please don’t take me wrong, this morning I was about to make the same comment with Father Nicolas. Look at that poster-- diaconate, presbyter, look at that beautiful icon there, the Good Shepherd. We didn’t hear anything about that in the morning. Once father Nicolas was leaving this morning, I was walking there he said “may I say goodbye?” I said, “yes, of course.” So he greeted me because I had known him for many years. He said, “what do you think? I didn’t hear any comments from you.” I said, to be honest you know I am not diplomatic, when I have to say the truth, I say it!I said, “Father your presentation was inappropriate! Because we wanted to hear about the priesthood, we didn’t hear anything about the priesthood.” I said, “the only three beautiful things in your presentation are the names—Saint john the Baptist, Saint john of Damascus, and Saint Athanasius the great. Period. This is the only names I enjoyed in your presentation.” Beloved in Christ, we are here to learn not from presentations and from lectures and from very scholastic presentations, we are here to learn from people like you, Your Eminence, how many times have you heard it, during the time that you were in seminary, that theology is tropos zoes, a way of life? We are here to learn how to live our priesthood .Our priesthood is not a profession our priesthood is not an occupation, our priesthood is a life in Christ. So this is what I wanted to say in the morning but I didn’t want to be offensive to the presentation in the morning, but after I heard this presentation by His Eminence, this is exactly what we are called to do and to live. So thank you again very much for this, and that monastery I tell you, I assure you I may be embarrassed to say it, but I would like to say that that monastery has become not a building with nice windows and doors and everything, has turned from an empty life to a life of a spiritual oasis, a paradise!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Metropolitan Ephrem on Isaac the Athonite

Metropolitan Ephrem’s homily on the twelfth Anniversary of the repose of Archimandrite Isaac Atallah, delivered at the Church of St. George in Hamatoura July 16, 2010-08-04. The Arabic original can be found here.

Be Brave

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Beloved, we have come here on this day to pray and raise a living memorial for the Monk Isaac on the twelfth anniversary of his repose. He lived for a time in this monastery and practiced asceticism here before being forced by historical circumstances to leave to go and be an ascetic on the Holy Mountain.

This memorial is fitting for us, so that we might remember and know all those monks and ascetics who lived and practiced asceticism and consecrated themselves to the Lord, so that we the faithful might know the substance of monasticism, the reason why it came into being and why God permitted it to exist in this world! Monasticism spread strongly from the fourth century and this, as you, is after the end of the first persecutions against Christians and the victory of Saint Constantine the Great and his establishing the Byzantine Empire.

At this point in history many people became Christians according to the faith of their leader. This is well-known. It led to the Christian life becoming colder. For this reason some Christians zealously wanted to closely maintain the life of the Gospel, imitating the Lord Jesus Christ and following the Gospel commandments. Thus some started to leave the cities and the world in order to hasten to quiet. This quiet is necessary for beginners because man is affected by his surroundings because of his weakness. But they went further than that in their imitation of the Lord Jesus and His teachings because they did not only seek external quiet but also interior quiet that is, to quiet their nerves, their desires, their passions. They were helped to achieve this by grace, the grace of God. Through this they are able to be consecrated to the Lord, in the love of the Lord.

Man cannot love God or love his neighbor if he only loves himself! This is why the Lord Jesus said, “he who wants to follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This is the ascetic way that many have walked since the fourth century, and especially in our lands because it arose in Egypt and Syria and extended to Iraq and Mesopotamia and to Iran to the Far East and then to Asia Minor, Turkey and Greece.

What good is this ascetic way for the world?

The monk purifies himself but he also purifies his surroundings! Because when God’s grace ‘sits’ in a person, when it fills the heart, it pours out to others. A single holy ascetic changes his surroundings an builds around himself a whole world! This is what we need today and at all times so that the entire world does not fall into sin and worship idols! That is, worship their passions and all the material things in this word, especially corruption. We need that so that the world worships the living God mentioned in the Gospel today when it spoke about the Prophet Elijah and John the Baptist. This is how man becomes holy.

This is the way in which Abuna Isaac walked! Those who saw him know this, his brothers who are present here today. From his youth he yearned for quiet and he fled from him home to the wilderness where he could be alone with God and be filled with His Holy Spirit. This is the way in which he walked and in which he was raised. God wanted him to go to Balamand Monastery and from there to this Monastery of Our Lady of Hamatoura and afterwards to the Holy Mountain where he ended his life in peace and repentance.

Father Isaac was hard on himself at first because he was persistent and watchful in order to be with God and to follow His commandments. He brought up his disciples in this way, just as he brought other up. His good memory is deep on the Holy Mountain. He was a brave and courageous man who spoke the truth and did not fear.

This way requires courage. This courage can only come from God because man is weak and fearful. However he was not afraid because he was a man who exerted great effort on himself and God gave him this power. For this reason his memory remains deep in all those who knew him. Father Isaac bore witness that God is the only necessary thing. This world and the material things in it, food and drink, none of them are necessary, but God alone is what is sufficient for us. This was the witness of Father Isaac. He was not attached to this world. He showed all that the world does not suffice and that there is eternal life with Jesus Christ waiting for us all, amen.

Metropolitan Ephrem's Visit to the US and Canada

Since I couldn't find it on antiochian.org , I thought I'd share this from the website of the Archdiocese of Tripoli.

Visit of his eminence Metropolitan Ephrem to USA

His Eminence Mt. Ephraim and Fr Gregorios arrived at Pittsburgh airport last Monday July 19th 2010. His Eminence was warmly received by His Eminence Mt. Philip, the diocesan Bishops and the Clergy of the holy protected Archdiocese of North America.

After taking a Journey to the Antiochian Village, the activities of the first evening started with Vespers of Prophet Elias. Then was a welcoming message by V Rev. Joseph Allan, director of the House of studies, who spoke about the service of the Bishop and the Priest as representing Christ the only Priest. Followed by Fr Anthony Yazigi, camp director, who spoke about the eight camps that are held across the Archdiocese, funded by the Order of St. Ignatius.


On Tuesday morning Mt. Ephraim presided the hierarchal Divine Liturgy. In his sermon he said: "I thank God who allowed me to make this visit, I thank my brother Mt. Philip for his kind invitation. I came especially to meet you personally my brothers: Bishops and all the Clergy of this beloved Archdiocese. I came to meet your faces because seeing the face means a lot, and we Clergy should resemble Christ’s face to all our parishioners”… Then he connected to the Prophet Elias whose prayers and living faith should accompany us in our daily life so our prayers like the Prophet’s can be heard.

After the celebration, Fr. John gave an intensive description of the Deaconate office, referring to the Book of Acts and the teaching of the Holy Fathers. Understanding Deaconate office is understanding the Priest and Episcopal example: the Church is depicted as the table of the Last Supper; the deacon will be seen standing around the table to serve the Last Supper.

What an honor! What a supreme service one can be called to do! Deacons can be ordained for the service of the church and all other needs such as youth, administering Holy Communion to sick and elder persons, preaching and teaching...

On Tuesday evening Vespers were held at the Antiochian Village Camp with more than three hundred campers, followed by campers’ presentations.

Later His Eminence Mt. Philip hosted His Eminence Mt. Ephraim who congratulated his host on the accomplishment of the Antiochian Village project especially the children Camp which is a necessity today to attract young children to the Church.

And immediately thereafter.... [here begins my translation]:

On July 27th, 2010, Metropolitan Ephrem visited the Monastery of the Panagia Parigoritissa in Canada. He was accompanied on the visit by Bishop Alexander and a number of priests. Upon his arrival he was received by the abbess of the monastery, Thekla, and the nuns. After prayers of thanks, she served a meal for honored guest and the delegation accompanying. It is worth mentioning that there are two nuns at the monastery from our Antiochian Church, Sister Macrina and Sister Saphina.

More photos can be found here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Qatar Restores Monasteries in South Lebanon

The original can be found here.

Qatar Finances the Restoration of a Number of Churches and Monasteries in Lebanon

During the course of his visit to Lebanon, the Qatari head of state Sheikh Hamad bin al-Khalifa Al Thani was accompanied by the Lebanese President Michel Suleiman on a visit to the village of Deir Mimas in the region of Marjayoun located near the border in southeastern Lebanon.

This comes after Qatar has financed the rebuilding of the village’s [Orthodox] monastery which was destroyed during the Israeli assault in July 2006. Additionally, they financed the restoration of the Greek Catholic church in the same village.

During the reception that took place in the church hall, the Orthodox Metropolitan of Sidon and Marjayoun Elias Kfoury said, “Our shared life is the most important treasure we have in our country.”

After the mayor of the village gave the keys of the village and other souvenirs of the village’s heritage to the Qatari emir, the two heads of state toured the monastery and the church.

Qatar has financed the restoration of over forty churches and monasteries in South Lebanon.

Muslim-Christian Dialogue and the Preaching of the Gospel

This is an old one, but a good read. The original can be found here.

Muslim-Christian Dialogue and the Preaching of the Gospel

In our view, Muslim-Christian dialogue is possible on two levels:

The political level

The cultural level

On the political level, the dialogue is the task of politicians. This, naturally, is with respect to talking about their ordering of society and our ordering of society, their feelings and our feelings

On the cultural level, the dialogue is the task of academics, who discuss the embodiment of religion in the course of everyday life, especially in literature and the arts.

Dialogue on these two levels occurs in various ways whenever there is interaction between people.

As for religious dialogue about dogma between Christians and Muslims, in our view it does not go beyond mutual understanding and self-explanation.

First of all, because Christianity—to speak of what we know—is not of an ideological nature, that is it is not a set of intellectual propositions that can be studied and discussed. Rather, it is first of all it is consciousness and spirit and life.

Second of all, because Christianity deals with the mystery of the Kingdom of God and eternal life (Mark 4:11).

Thirdly, because there are no words about the mystery of the Kingdom of God except through the grace of God and through the wisdom of God (1Cor. 2:7).

Christianity, then, has a theanthropic nature. It is not only human and should not be treated as being simply human. The academy cannot absorb it, even if it has an academic side insofar as it has a human element. Those who preach the Gospel from among us do not trade in words and are not theoreticians. They are apostles in whom abides the Spirit of God. For this reason the word of God streams strongly from their tongues—they speak as one with authority—and they do the works of God. It is through this kind of apostleship and not through trafficking in artificial words (2 Peter 3:2) that the Church has spread in the world throughout history.

As for the insistence on academic, dogmatic dialogue between Christians and Muslims, it betrays a bias towards one or both of the following: it is motivated either by political factors that necessitate the submission of faith to political ideas through religious invention or sectarian agreement, or intellectual factors that necessitate treating faith as a human, civilizational phenomenon. At any rate, both deny the Kingdom of God as a mystery and necessitate a secularized Christianity that is, its submission to worldly concerns. This is to destroy it and to attack Christ.

The book “The Heavenly Books that Make us Wonder” which was published in June 2004 by the Center for Christian-Muslims Studies of the University of Balamand and was distributed by the al-Nur Orthodox Co-op, as it appears, is an attempt of this sort.

The book is the fruit of the effort of a number of Muslim and Christian researchers over the years. It was originally published in French.

When we read in the book, we see suggestions and conclusions like the following:

- “The Christian has no right to require the Muslim to adopt the Christian faith with regard to the divinity of Christ, just as the Muslim has no right to require the Christian to affirm that the Quran is the loftiest manifestation of the Word of God and that Muhammad is the seal of the prophets.” (p. 12)

- “…thus various religious confessions began to understand that it is more appropriate for them to not claim to possess the truth in an absolute and exclusive way and to live together their common, distinct faith…” (p. 29)

- “… the Muslim affirms the truth of the faith and effort and sincerity of the Christians, just as the Christian confirms the truth of the faith and effort and sincerity of the Christians” (p. 159)

- “… the words of Jesus… are human words defined by time and place and are not fitting to express completely the words of God and the mystery of His person insofar as the Word of God is incarnate…” (p. 151)

- “… in short, our Christian and Muslim traditions are in agreement in saying that the Prophey Isa [Jesus] failed in worldly terms…” (p. 199)

- “The Bible is inspiration given to Jews and to Christians, and it allows the inspiration present in the Quran because it is for all humanity together” (p. 206)

When we read in this book such things as these we can only feel sorrow for what is said and what we consider to be offensive and insulting to the wisdom of God in His Church. It is not a part of its consciousness.

For us, Muslims also need salvation through Jesus because “there is no salvation except through Him” (Acts 4:12) and insofar as it is said that “we have seen and bear witness that the Father sent the Son to save the world” (1 John 4:14) and “no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6) and “no one who denies the Son has the Father” (1 John2:23). So it is also necessary to preach the Gospel to Muslims according to the commandment of the Teacher “go out to all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved and he who does not believe will be judged” (Mark 16:15-16).The love of Jesus is for the salvation of all and so salvation has a name and it is Jesus. Preaching the Gospel is a natural result of the life in Christ. Why has preaching stopped, in general, among us? It is because we are no longer transparent enough to the work of God. If our legs walked in zeal and devotion in His ways and our breasts dwelt in His love, then His grace would pour forth from us to all people as waters of salvation. In the life of the Newmartyr Theophanes of Peloponnese, when the Ottomans hanged him on the Cross he cried out, “I am thirsty!” One of them responded, “Become like us and we will give you to drink.” Then he responded, “I am thirsty for your salvation. As for me, Christ will grant me eternal waters.” This is exactly what one feels in his depths when the Spirit of God dwells within him! But coldness and lethargy has taken root among us and eagerness for our own salvation is even lacking among us and we are no longer jealous for the salvation of those who do not know. This ceasing to preach the Gospel in our midst is a mark of great decline and submission to the powers of this world and embarrassment about the truth of eternal life!

Every dialogue that comes when we are like this is only an intellectual effort and it will be of no use on the level of reality. The appearance of revival masks a deep spiritual coldness.

The truth is that we have stopped being concerned with the salvation of others and have little by little departed for our own concerns. Now, we are in the process of establishing a confession of God’s salvation for them but following their path!!! This is how our love for them manifests itself… by washing our hands of them!

After that, how will God save them and us? We do not know! God, as he is active, knows! We only know that God made us heralds of the word of salvation for them and we remain so and are required to be so!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan—Douma

12 June, 2005