Thursday, September 30, 2010

Video of the arrival of St. Seraphim's relics

Carol Saba on the 3 D's

The French original, along with other recent Antiochian news can be found here.

An Editorial in Three D's
I D as in Dynamic: The current period is characterized by a certain dynamic. Pope Benedict’s historical trip to the land of the Anglican Church. In the East, the final plans for the Vatican’s special synod on the Middle East. The future of Eastern Christians at the heart of the discussions! On the Orthodox level, a small gathering of primates from the Middle East. A coordination of common witness. But also the challenges which face the Christians of the East are on the agenda. In the middle of August, the Synod of the Orthodox Church of Antioch took place in Damascus. Plenary session. All the metropolitans from all parts of the world took part. This has not happened in quite a while. Many essential issues, both internal and external to the church were discussed. In anticipation of a roadmap for mobilizing the Antiochian charism. Last May, Patriarch Bartholomew was in Moscow. His visit was judged to be “historic” in how it occurred and also possibly in its results. Cooperation seems to take over from confrontation. Then, in June, Constantinople visits the churches of Poland and Bulgaria. The visit to the Patriarchate of Romania will be in October. The process accelerates in anticipation of the Great and Holy Council. The current pan-Orthodox momentum seems favorable. The new Orthodox geopolitical reality is also ready. All the churches are ready to face together the many challenges of our age. So are we now in a dynamic of convergence that will witness that much-anticipated great pan-Orthodox council? In peace let us pray to the Lord that it may be so. The major challenge for such a conciliary encounter? The direct expression of Orthodoxy in today’s world. Beyond difficulties and opposition. Putting the Orthodox witness into the heart of the city, into a positive and daring dialectic with regard to the unity of the Church and the diversities of her expressions and charismas. Is that too much to ask? Is it too much to hope to be faithful to the Nazarene crucified and risen from the dead for us?
II D as in donation of relics. Russian Orthodoxy once again exerts its attraction for the Christian East. The relations between Antioch and Moscow are longstanding. In the 10th edition of the Chronicles, for May 10, 2010 we discussed how from the time of Ivan the Terrible, through Gregory IV of Antioch, who presided in 1913 over the festivities for the 300th anniversary of the enthronement of the Romanovs to the time of Ignatius IV who in 1988 participated in the celebration of the millennium of the Baptism of the Rus. There are the saints who are connected through the new ascetic “momentum” of exchange. Russia sends to Antioch relics of one of her greatest popular saints and Antioch in turn gives her relics of one of her martyred saints from the Mamlouk period who was tortured in the body and was a witness to Christ on that holy mountain of North Lebanon, Hamatoura, today dedicated to the Theotokos, an Athos away from Athos. The bodies of the saints stretch out to create, beyond boundaries, borders, and distance a shield of holiness, an ascetic umbrella, which should be for each of us a call to deepen and revisit these models of holiness Do our prayers not end with the prayers of our holy Fathers? “ By the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God have mercy on us and save us!”
II D as in Discernment. To have the ability to say true and right things. To confront wrong in order to edify. To reorient souls towards the good, the just, the true. To highlight the right path, not that of our attitudes but of the Church, of Her doctrine and her truth. Archimandrite Touma (Bitar), abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan at Douma (North Lebanon) cultivates week after week, on his blog and in his editorials, such a posture of discernment on many different subjects. The governance of the Church, marriage, the relationship between fathers and sons, titular bishops and auxiliary bishops, the organization of spheres of communion within parishes, the participation of all in the edification of the body of the Church, the role of involved laypeople, the Orthodox Youth Movement, its necessary role and the limits of its mission within the Church… As well as fundamental questions posed to the ecclesial conscience of all the faithful who are aware of the requirements of their baptism and the progress of their life in Christ. Geronda Touma’s abundance of writings is welcome. More and more, they are a reference which help to resituate discussions in a good ecclesial and spiritual direction. In the Church, it is important to have the ability to discuss any subject, even those that are controversial, in a spirit of edification rather than in a spirit of partisanship in order to avoid adding to already existing tensions. Speaking the truth in peace, in an irenic, clear, and spefic manner, within a logic of “continuum” and not of partisanship of one against another. It is the confusion of genre, carelessness, and a lack of discernment which rapidly transform a given moment into a confrontation. To resituate things according to the measure of the Church is an absolutely necessary attitude, especially in our times. An attitude which one should cultivate and develop from day to day. Since there is no authentic and just witness “in truth” without such an attitude of discernment. The Church should constantly be in “movement”, constantly in “mission”, to transfigure the world. This can only happen through audacity and discernment. The Church cannot suffer to stay in place without running the risk of being lukewarm. And to be lukewarm is the worst of spiritual attitudes. The Book of Revelation has no place for the lukewarm: “Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16).
Carol Saba is the media and communications director for the Orthodox Bishops' Assembly of France.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fr. Georges Massouh on Religious Freedom

The original can be found here. For more background on the issues under discussion, go here.

Religious Consciousness is a Necessity for Advancement

Wafa, Camellia, Marianne… names which circulate in the Egyptian, Arab and world media. These are names of women, some of them priests’ wives, about whom word has spread that they converted to Islam after having left Christianity. There are conflicting accounts between those who say that these women chose Islam of their own free will and those who say that they were forced to convert to Islam after having been kidnapped and compelled to abandon their original religion. Both sides arm themselves with videos which support their views and both sides claim that part of the other side’s video was filmed under pressure and threats.

The issue of these women has started to threaten civil strife without limits. The competing demonstrations and protests which are motivated by a re-awakening of religious partisanships have become general in churches and mosques. Some are accusing the Egyptian state of bias because they took the women and gave them over to the church, which kept them out of sight or because it failed to search for them women and to find them. Some go so far as to say that the church detained these women in monasteries, prevented any contact with them, and forced them to return to Christianity.

In this regard, the Mufti of Egypt, Dr. Ali Gomaa points to allegations that the Coptic Church detained Camellia Shehata Zakher, wife of the priest Taddaus Sim’an, pastor of the Church of St. George in Deir Mawas after she announced her conversion to Islam, and he affirms that it is under no circumstances permitted to detain anyone who announces their conversion to Islam. Mufti Gomaa said, “If a person converts to Islam, it is not permitted for anyone to compel him to leave Islam and if the person who entered Islam desires to return to his prior religion, then he cannot be prevented from this either.”

We cannot help but to respond positively to Mufti Gomaa’s words about a person’s freedom to espouse the belief that he adopts as his path in this life and the next, and especially when he calls for discussing the subject “objectively and without provocation” while rejecting at the same time “for this provocation to happen on Egyptian territory in such a savage manner”. Our support for the Mufti increases if it is true that Camellia, who has appeared on some internet sites wearing a veil, went to al-Azhar to announce her conversion to Islam in the company of one of the sheikhs, before being seized and handed over to the church where she was kept out of sight.

Despite our affirmation of freedom of belief for every person born of a woman, pure and simple, we wonder about the extent of the respect for this freedom in our Arab societies. The mufti himself continues his discussion by affirming that “Islam permits freedom of religion” with evidence from to verses of the Quran, “let him who desires, believe, and let him who desires, not believe” and “there is no compulsion in religion” and that the account of one who disbelieves is with God on the Day of Resurrection. He points to the non-existence of any text or verse in the Quran which “calls for forcing a person to adopt a specific belief.” So if “Egypt is an Islamic state according to the text of the constitution,” according to Mufti Gomaa’s words, and if Islam does not force anyone to adopt a specific belief, then why is it permitted for one group of Egyptians, the non-Muslims, to change their religious affiliation while Muslims are prevented from this?

Naturally, we are not expecting a response to this question. The response is well known and has been repeated to the point of tedium. We are not calling here for a change in some aspects of Islamic jurisprudence, though we hope for the appearance of great jurists who will develop rules keeping with the times and their challenges. The current state of things, then, shows that there is a discrepancy between the written text and its application on the ground. If the mufti’s words contradict the legal reality in Egypt, and the legal realities of other Arab and Islamic states, which prohibits Muslims from changing their religion, then why does he not ask in the name of Islam for these laws to be rectified so they will grant any Egyptian who desires it the freedom to change his religion?

The issue here is not limited to the failure to establish civil society in the Arab countries where laws are based on the principle of citizenship and where there is true equality between the sons of a single country in rights and responsibilities, “they have what we have and they are obligated to do what we are obligated to do” according to the famous saying. The issue is first of all in the failure of religious institutions to contribute, through preaching and teaching, to bringing their adherents to a deep-rooted and unshakable realization that personal freedom, according to the foundational texts, is holy and is not subject to ambiguity. Our societies will not advance until work is completed to spread religious consciousness into all segments of society. The other alternative is for our countries to continue to witness from time to time other Wafa’s, Camellias, Mariannes , and perhaps even more ferocious social strife.

Fr. Georges Massouh is Professor of Islamic Studies at Balamand University.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Visit from Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory Laham

The Arabic original can be found here on the Patriarchate's website.

On Thursday, September 23, after a long absence on account of his pastoral visit to South America, His Beatitude Gregory III Laham, Greek Catholic Patriarch visited His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim in the patriarchal residence in Damascus to discuss church matters.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tripoli: New Patristics Center and Relics of St. Seraphim

The original can be found here.

The Center's Strategy and Aims

To undertake studies of Patristic personalities.

To research topics connected to the thought of the Church Fathers.

To return to Patristic sources and learn from precious texts and thoughts.

To publish texts and documents.

To organize study groups and intellectual seminars.

The goal of the Pastoral Center for Orthodox Patristic Heritage is to transmit the Tradition of the Holy Faith, "delivered once to the saints" (Jude 3) to the people in contemporary language.The Archdiocese of Tripoli, al-Koura and their dependencies has taken the initiative, whose first goal is to instill Orthodox Patristic culture in our children, both clergy and lay. Acquaintance with the roots of the culture of the Church allows us to have a conscious openness that is fruitfull in our surroundings and in our world today.

The Center's work has two aspects: One is theoretical and centers on bringing to light the Patristic heritage, with special focus on the Antiochian aspect and will include the preparation and publication of Patristic studies. The second is practical and includes the creation of an education center to educate the clergy and laity with monthly seminars which will discuss new and old topics.

And so there will be study, teaching, internal and external evangelization. May the Holy Spirit breathe on us anew for the salvation of our souls and of the world.


Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

And also:

Relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov, a Gift from His Monastery in Russia to the Monastery of Our Lady of Hamatoura and their Reception this Thursday at Balamand Monastery

The Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos at Hamatoura and the Patriarchal Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand are pleased to invite you to participate in the reception of relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov which are arriving from the Patriarchate of Moscow as a gift to the Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos at Hamatoura.

The reception is at the Patriarchal Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand on Thursday Sept. 23, at 5pm and is followed by vespers in the monastery chapel with the blessing of the holy relics.

Update: This is following a visit of Fr. Pandeleimon and some of the monks of Hamatoura to Nizhny Novgorod and Diveevo. News about this visit, with pictures can be found here. A video can be found here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sulayman al-Ghazzi on the Cross

The writings Sulayman al-Ghazzi (or Solomon of Gaza) are one of the great hidden gems of Arab Orthodoxy, though not a word of them is yet available in a western language. I'm doing a little work on them for a different venue, but would like share something about him on this blog. I'll do another post soon about his life in more detail, but he was an Orthodox bishop in Palestine in the 11th century, during the persecution of Christians under the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amrillah. He is the first Arabic-language poet whose poetry was entirely dedicated to Christian religious themes. His Diwan is extensive; it consists of 97 long poems, amounting to over three thousand lines and treats a wide variety of Christian and personal themes. But that will have to wait for another time. Below is his treatise on the Cross, which is interesting, well, because of how weird it is. Connected closely to another of his treatises, On Man as Microcosm, I strongly suspect that they are an apologetic for Christianity aimed at adherents of certain esotericist currents in Islamic thought encouraged by the Fatimid regime. The Italian scholar Paolo La Spisa has a forthcoming article detailing parallels between some ideas of al-Ghazzi's and the Ikhwan al-Safa, for example...

On the Cross

Know, you who abide by the Law of the Cross of Christ, that when you are ignorant of it you become like children who abide by something whose value they do not know and who do not respond to one who asks about the meanings of its mysteries.

If someone asks you, “Do you love what Christ loved or what he hated?”

If you say ‘we love what he loved’ then the Holy Gospel shows you to be liars when it says ‘O Father, if you desire to pass this cup from me, do so’ and this is proof that he did not love to be crucified and he did not choose death. If you say, ‘We love what he hated,’ then you have gone against him by loving what he hated. If you say, ‘We love it because it was the cause of our salvation,’ then you make the instrument loftier than the maker, because Christ was the cause of salvation and the Cross one of his instruments. If you say, ‘The Cross is the image of his death in the flesh, which opened the gate of life,’ this statement is the best by a little.

Anyone who has the slightest knowledge has no doubt that there are two natures in Christ which are brought together in the hypostasis of the Son. One of them is pre-eternal and everlasting and the other come into being after having not existed. The one which hates death is the perceptible human nature which suffered in order to heal us. The one which does not hate death is the divine nature which is imperceptible and cannot suffer. It made the human nature taste the bitterness of bearing to drink the medicine which cured the affliction of death. The latter raised the former after three days unto eternal, everlasting life. By this death God removed from Israel’s neck the yoke of the Law of Moses which judges that he who deserves it should be crucified, and so when this was judged for one who did not deserve it, it saved those who did deserve it, those who were baptized with the death of Christ in the flesh.

The prophecies mentioned beforehand His crucifixion and His death and the nailing of His hands and feet upon the wood, as the prophets prophesied about Him. The first of them was Moses, when he said to the Children of Israel, “You will see your life hanging before your eyes.” The Prophet David said, “They surrounded me like bees and burned like blazing thorns and in the name of the Lord I fought them.” And he also said, “They pierced my hands and my feet and counted my joints and divided my clothes among themselves and cast lots for my robe.” The Prophet Isaiah said, “Truly he suffered for our transgressions and bore our sins. He suffered for our transgressions and was in pain for our sins and by his wounds we were healed. And we are like lost sheep each one of us following his own passion and he cut off all our sins. He was humble and did not open his mouth. Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a ewe before the butcher he was silent, to be taken from the land of the living and for the wickedness of my people he was judged.” The Prophet Zachariah said, “Come let use waste his flesh on the tree and remove him from the land of the living.” He also said, “On that day they shall look upon the one whom they pierced.” The Prophet Ezra said, “The immoral ones who speak evil will speak evil of the Most High and will work great evil. Life will appear from the wood and blood and water will drip from flesh and the voice of the Lord will be heard. On that wood the body will be stretched for six hours and the one who should not be buried will be buried, and a dead man will arise and life will be known among the dead. He will go up from earth to heaven and he will surely be on the right hand of the Most High because he is from before, and before all things he was begotten.” Solomon son of David said, “The footstool of the Holy will be glorified by the cedar, the fir, and the sycamore.” When Jacob blessed the sons of his son Joseph, he placed his right hand on the head of the one to his left, and his left hand on the head of the one to his right, with the sign of the Cross. Likewise God, may He be praised, commanded Moses to strike the sea crosswise, and when the people crossed it, He ordered him to strike it lengthwise, with the sign of the Cross. He also ordered him to crucify the bronze snake, so that all who looked upon it would be saved from the bite of the murderous snakes which afflicted the people. How many signs of the Cross are there among the people of the Children of Israel! The Prophet Habakkuk said, “between the two lives you are known,” meaning the life of the body, that is Christ’s body before His death and His life after His death. If Christ’s body did not die, than the yoke of the Torah’s requirements would not have been loosened from the faithful.

We have found that the wise logicians spoke of the virtue of the Cross when they said that the two double-edged blades, which are cause and reason, became four elements, which are held together by one pole which is the soul. This is the image of the macrocosm, whose borders and sides and natures and elements are four, just like the Cross. They are east, west, north and south; hot, cold, humid, and dry; fire, air, earth, and water; the fifth of them is the pole which is ordered by the Lord.

Some Christians believe that the Cross resembles the tree of knowledge which was the cause of humankind’s death in Adam and which became the cause of life in Christ. Others say that those who believe in Christ must honor the Cross because it because it is their final covenant with Him.

Upon the wood of the Cross, He said to those who were crucifying Him, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up anew.” Just as lovers remember the hour of their beloveds’ farewell and pine for that image, so too Christians remember the hour of their farewell to Christ, when He was on the wood of the Cross.

Among the virtues of the Cross is that none of the Apostles achieved any miracle until they said to the blind, or the leper, or the lame, or the dead, “In the name of Christ whom the Jews crucified in Jerusalem, be healed of your ailment!” and he would then be healed of his ailment immediately. How many kings strove to make them abandon making that sign out of disgust for its ugliness, but they did not obey.

These are the strongest proofs for the majesty of the Cross, which resembles a man standing. Its top is like the upwards direction and its bottom is like the downwards direction. Its front is like the east and its back is like the west. Its right side is like the south and its left side is like the north. The world does not lack the four subtle boundaries which contain all things found within it. Knowledge and clear vision, which are substance, then mass, then living, then breathing, then intellect, which is the pole around which they rotate and which holds them together.

The proof of what we have mentioned is that every rational being is alive and everything alive is breathing and everything that breathes has mass and every mass is a substance. This is its illustration:

God, may His name be exalted, gave to this noble temple—I mean the body—reason by which to order things, in order to rise to higher levels.

Ordering is divided into three parts. The first is man’s ordering of himself, then ordering his family, then ordering his flock. One who orders himself must make himself averse to blameworthy evils, and make himself do specific good things, remind himself of death and cause himself to fear God, and encourage himself toward good works.

One who orders his family must care for them as one who loves, honor them, listen to those of them who complain, and help those who ask for help, teach those who are ignorant, treat those who are sick. He must not be jealous of those who are rich or be haughty with those who are poor.

One who orders his flock must not be unjust in his judgment. He should enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, but he must not forbid something he does himself. He must manage works and inspect the workers’ accounts. He must build fortresses and repel enemies and be awake to uncover what happens. He must protect the weak and honor the ascetic and chaste and punish offenders. He must prepare for excessive ease.

Everyone who is ignorant of what we have said is ignorant of himself and he who is ignorant of himself is ignorant of his Creator and has disobeyed the commandment to honor the precious temple which God raised up to the Kingdom of Heaven in Christ’s human nature. To him is due glory, honor, and respect unto the ages of ages, amen.

The above is translated from the Arabic text, published in "The Prose Theological Works of Sulayman al-Ghazzi", edited by Neophytos Edelby and published in the series al-Turath al-Arabi al-Masihi in 1986, pp. 102-114.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The 18th Century Bishop Anthimos of Irinoupolis

The indispensable Cypriot blog NOCTOC has posted in Greek and English a fascinating article about the Bishop Anthimos, titular bishop of Irinoupolis and aid to the Patriarch Sylvester. It is of high interest for the history of the Patriarchate of Antioch in the period immediately after the Melkite schism, as well as for the history of relations between the Patriarchate of Antioch and the Church of Cyprus. Too little work has been done on the Patriarchate during this historically crucial period, so go and read it!

Click here. (And bookmark NOCTOC...!)

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Sermon on the Cross

The following sermon is taken from this week's al-Karmeh, the bulletin of the Archdiocese of Tripoli. It was published online without a byline, but it was likely written by Met. Ephrem. The original can be found here.

The Cross

The cross is connected to witness because it is a sign of love and a sign of patience. Many are those who are called Christians but there are few who have patience. Perhaps the occasion never comes when people ask you if you love Christ or not, but you are constantly asked and you must respond, not with words but with your comportment. Those who call themselves Christians, how can they allow themselves to be absent from the church many times during the year, not coming forward for communion, for confession and repentance, and not actively striving every day for the love of Christ? This too is witness, but without words. This is a cross, with patience and with concern for every day’s hardships. Because He says: He who wants to follow Me, let him deny himself, that is, let him disregard everything his life and his passions require so that he may have a single desire, to attach himself to Christ. Let him deny himself and carry his cross every day and follow Me at every moment, in every place. How can they call themselves Christians, those who do not wear clothing appropriate to modesty and order, and who need someone to hit them with a stick in order to understand that they are not as they should be. How do they witness to Christ in this nudity and shamelessness? How are they not patient in the face of many difficulties?

The Christian life needs more seriousness. We have become slothful. We have become without foundation, without strength. We are accustomed to words, we associate ourselves with Christ loudly and in a partisan way, but our belonging to Christ is not embracing Him while He is on the Cross. Look, all the disciples loved Christ. Thomas said, “I will go and die with you” but when He was given over to the Cross, they became afraid and went far away. John remained with Christ, the one who perhaps the disciples murmured about with jealousy because he loved more than them. This love is not mere sentiment. It is a commitment resulting from John’s attachment to Christ.

God is not lacking justice in this matter, however He will respond in the measure that you give and that you offer. He gives us more than we offer, because He is patient with our repeated offenses at every moment. We deny Him when we adopt the ideas of the world. We deny Him when we become partisans of mortal men who are without thought and we forget His thought and His teaching and His sacrifice, that He died so that man may live and that it is within His power to give them life. But what can men do besides agitate us and divide us into camps and estrange us from the truth and from Christ.

O beloved, on this Sunday after the Feast of the Cross, Christ calls us to hold fast to His Cross. To hold fast to the Cross means being nailed and suffering, not that we decorate ourselves with it and carry it like a banner. The Cross means death for the sake of Christ. He calls us, then, to hold fast to the Cross, that is to bear witness to Him to the point of death in the sincerity of our life and our behavior until we reach the Resurrection. This requires of us that our life and our comportment be completely upright through these circumstances according to Christ’s teaching in the Gospel so that it is fitting for us to be witnesses to Him. We confess Him not by using many words, but through our firm and steadfast comportment, and when we confess Him He gives us glory and holiness.

May the Cross of the Lord preserve us in our life and sustain us so that we may live as is fitting, glorifying to the Lord, to whom is all praise and glory, amen.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

traduttore traditore

Readers of this blog know that I very rarely give my own thoughts or opinions here. I prefer to provide translations, which is more fitting with my purpose of increasing knowledge and appreciation of Arab Orthodoxy among English speakers. However, I think that the current controversy in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America is a very good illustration of the need for more activity like this, done by more people.

I would suggest that all those interested take a look at Fr. George Aquaro's analysis of the Holy Synod's recent decision. It can be found here. Fr. George consulted quite a lot of knowledgeable people when he was writing it, and from my own point of view it is the most plausible interpretation of the Holy Synod's reasoning.

However, a reader who has only been familiar with the language used in official communications of the Archdiocese of North America might be forgiven for perhaps feeling a bit tricked. After all, how could an 'archdiocese' be an eparchy, and a 'diocesan bishop' essentially be a chorespiscopos? But in my experience, it is common that when communicating between two languages, that both sides agree on the equivalency between two words and both think they are communicating when in fact each side has a completely different notion of what is being said. Another pitfall of the translator's art is to translate a text that is ambiguous in the original into terms that are unambiguous in the translation. This is at times inevitable, but the result is an interpretation, not a translation.

Bearing Fr. George's analysis in mind, and also keeping in mind the Patriarchate's ambivalence about the whole notion of 'autonomy' or 'self-rule', I think it is worthwhile to take a look once more at the text of the 2003 decision of the Patriarchate of Antioch granting 'self-rule' to the Archdiocese of North America. Try to find the Arabic equivalent of 'diocesan bishop'. There's not one. Where the English says 'Recognition of Auxiliary Bishops as Diocesan Bishops and Eparchial Synod', the Arabic says "iqamat al-asaqifa al-musa'idun 'ala usqufiyyat wa-l-majma' al-ma7alli" This is literally "establishment of the auxiliary bishops over bishoprics and the local synod." It's clear from the meaningless switch from the Arabic "local" to the English "eparchial" that the translator was not pursuing literal accuracy. In that case, it's not a big deal. But when it mentions bishops, this is a very big deal, because the English is not a translation of the Arabic but rather an interpretation of what the translator believes is implied by the Arabic text.

So what does it mean to be muqam 'ala usqufiyya? In earlier translations I've done on this issue, I've been translating the word 'muqam' as 'assigned', but it's probably better rendered as 'established' or 'set up' or something like that. The Arabic text, then, is not discussing the recognition of a new status for the auxiliary bishops, but rather their establishment in new roles. Therein lies the ambiguity that is interpreted by the English translation: does the establishment of the bishops in a new role alter their status as auxiliaries? In an October 2003 article in an-Nahar (available in a serviceable but imperfect translation here) Metropolitan Georges Khodr seems to believe so, as he says that they will no longer be auxiliaries to the metropolitan, but rather 'territorial bishops' (asaqifa al-ard) who will have the authority to choose the priests whom they ordain. But notice that he does not use language perfectly corresponding to the English notion of 'diocesan bishop'.

In Metropolitan Basil's study, he makes a big distinction between titular bishops, a practice which the Patriarchate has more or less abandoned, and auxiliary bishops. That is, he assumes that the 2003 decision changed the status of the Antiochian titular bishops, who were canonically auxiliaries to the patriarch, to auxiliary bishops over a territory, who are canonically dependent on the metropolitan and have authority in a defined territory. He is, however, unclear about their exact authority or the authority of the Archdiocesan Synod. In that regard, Met. Basil's own suggestions are quite interesting and it seems to me that his vision of an auxiliary bishop has more authority than American Antiochian 'diocesan bishops' have had over the past seven years. Suggestion six, for example, implies that the auxiliary bishops' territories will have their own finances, out of which they will provide a fixed sum to the Archdiocese.

However, the Patriarchate has not officially spoken on these details, most of which were also left unaddressed in the 2003 decision. Thus Fr. Touma Bitar's frustration at the ambiguity of the recent decision and his appeal for further clarification. To his mind, a bishop cannot be both an auxiliary and established for a territory and a people, and so their status may have been reduced in practice to that of titular bishops. He highlights how the decision was likely cobbled together to include language preferred by parties who were at odds with each other and is thus ambiguous to the point of meaninglessness.

It would not be unwise to expect further clarification. As Fr. Touma points out, this decision effects the life of all the archdioceses of the Patriarchate, not just North America. In this process of clarification, we must be aware of the role that translation, both official and unofficial, plays. We must be aware of its pitfalls and of its capacity for concealing agendas. The act of translation requires trust and familiarity. We must work for broader communication between Arabic and English speakers within the Patriarchate and we must do all that we can to encourage greater familiarity between these two communities, these two nations, lest we allow only a small group of people to act as the sole bond between us.

What can we do to achieve this?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Crucifixion in Islam and Christianity

The Arabic original of this article, by Fr. Georges Massouh, professor of Islamic Studies at Balamand University, appeared in today's issue of an-Nahar. It can be found here.

The Cross as a Subject of Debate
Christianity is based on faith in the resurrection of Christ from the dead after his crucifixion. Someone who denies the Cross or the Resurrection removes himself from Christianity. For this reason, the Cross is considered to be the sign and symbol of Christianity. In contrast, Islam, on the basis of the Quran denies the crucifixion of Christ and adopts an opinion that had spread among certain Christian sects that Christ was not crucified but that it seemed to the Jews that they crucified him. These two beliefs, the Christian and the Islamic, will not and debate among the two sides is useless for changing perspectives or for bringing them closer together.
The “Gospel of Barnabas” will not change the certitude of faithful Christians in Christ’s crucifixion, especially given the consensus of experts that this so-called “Gospel of Barnabas” was written some time during the 14th and 16th centuries, that is centuries after the spread of Islam, and that the book has no connection to the apocryphal books which appeared in the first two centuries of Christianity. Thus it seems bizarre that some Muslims rely on this counterfeit gospel in order to support their belief that Christ was not crucified, when the history of Christian apocryphal literature has many accounts resembling the Quranic account. It is also known that the “Gospel of Barnabas” contradicts certain basic Islamic beliefs, since it says that “the Prophet Muhammad is the awaited Christ,” which contradicts the Islamic account of the Prophet of Islam.
In the first centuries of Christianity, certain Gnostic sects appears which believed that the world of matter and the body is a corrupt world, and so they denied the belief that Christ had a real body, only having “the resemblance of a body.” The most important of these sects was that of the Docetists, or “Resemblancists” who were refuted by St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107) who affirmed the reality of the Incarnation when he said, “If Christ only had an apparent body, then he only apparently suffered and so we only apparently received redemption.”
Likewise St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202) combated the heresy of Basilides who said that Christ was not crucified, but rather Simon of Cyrene who bore the Cross of Christ on the path to Golgotha was the one who was crucified. Basilides said, “Simon was the one who was crucified, unknowingly and erroneously, after his form was changed to resemble that of Jesus, while Jesus’ form was changed to that of Simon and he mocked the leaders.” In the apocryphal book called “the Acts of John”, which was written in the end of the 2nd century, the statement “I am not the one who was hung upon the cross” is attributed to Jesus.
There is also the sect of Cerinthians who followed Cerinthus and believed in the existence of two persons in Jesus Christ: the first person whose name is Jesus who was born of Joseph and Mary like all humans and suffered and died and rose from the dead, while the second person whose name is Christ is a spiritual being who cannot suffer and so Christ was freed of Jesus at the time of the crucifixion and ascended into heaven. So Jesus alone was crucified while Christ was saved from torment.
In contrast, the Quran only treats the question of Christ’s crucifixion in a single verse (al-Nisa 157) where it affirms that the Jews did not kill Christ but rather that this was made to seem to happen to them. In the same verse, it talks about his being raised to heaven. The Quran does not provide information or details about this event, leaving the door open to two readings: either the Jews crucified another person upon whom the image of Jesus had been cast or that the entire event of the crucifixion was made to seem to them to have happened. For this reason there is a large number of differing Islamic accounts about what happened to Christ in the period of time between his being saved from the cross and his ascension to heaven and his second coming.
As for the person who took the place of Christ on the Cross, his name differs according to the account. Al-Razi in his commentary provides five accounts about this person who was made to look like Christ for them: 1- “They took a man and killed him and crucified him and dressed him like Christ for the people.” 2-“Titayus”, one of the companions of Judas. 3- They assigned a man to guard Jesus and God cast his resemblance upon that guard, and they killed him while he said “I am not Jesus.” 4- “When the Jews planned to take him, Jesus had ten of his companions with him. He said to them: Who wishes to purchase heaven by having my resemblance cast upon him? One of them said: I. So God cast Jesus’ image upon him and he was brought out and killed.” 5- A man from among the companions of Jesus was a hypocrite, so God “cast Jesus’ resemblance upon him and he was killed and crucified.” Al-Razi admits that “these accounts are contradictory and confused, and God knows best the truth of the matter.”
Despite the heresies and sects which denied the crucifixion of Christ, Christianity continued to hold fast to the Cross as a basic belief for salvation. And despite the proliferation of Islamic tales about the end of Christ’s life on earth, the Islamic belief remains deeply rooted that Christ was not crucified. However, all this does not prevent Christians and Muslims from working together for the good of humanity.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fr. Touma (Bitar) on Auxiliary Bishops

The Arabic original can be found here.

The Holy Synod’s Statement about Auxiliary Bishops

During the Forty-Sixth regular session of the Holy Synod of Antioch which took place from the 17th to the 20th of August 2010, it appears that the fathers of the Synod worked hard in dealing with many sensitive questions that occupy the Church at the present time, such as the responsibility for religious education and the auxiliary bishops. They succeeded in creating an atmosphere of peace and contentment in their deliberations. This was at least the impression among most of the members of the Synod whose comments we have heard or whose impressions have reached us. We thank God and we hope for success, because matters need further clarification and more complete definition to resolve the debate!

However, when we read the Synod’s report, we felt that ambiguity clouded the text, especially concerning the auxiliary bishops. The feeling one gets after having read the text is that those who wrote the report perhaps ran into obstacles which were subject to debate and that they looked for a way of compromising between various opinions and wound up with unclear words which are open to interpretation and raise more questions about the issue under discussion than they provide answers!

In this article I will limit myself to discussing the paragraph dedicated to “auxiliary bishops” in order to highlight some expressions with the aim of better understanding the text, or the necessity for clarification!

This paragraph mentions the study prepared by Metropolitan Basil (Mansour) about the historical status of the bishop in the Orthodox Church. It gives the impression that in light of the study “lengthy and detailed discussions” were held on the topic, which led to regarding the bishops of the Archdiocese of North America—and this was, as it seems, the original reason for the question—“auxiliary bishops 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 words about the auxiliary bishops being “assigned to dioceses”, “entrusted by the Metropolitan of the Archdiocese to dioceses” and “subordinate to their spiritual point of reference, the metropolitan of the Archdiocese” pile on elements that appear to be disparate. The description of the “auxiliary bishops” as being assigned, entrusted, and subordinate makes one think of things that do not easily fit together. The statement that they were “assigned to dioceses [muqamun 3ala abrashiyyat]” gives the impression that when they were assigned, they were assigned by God and tied to the land and people of these dioceses and that they were named for them. Putting the assignment in the passive voice, “assigned” gives the impression that the mechanism for their assignment is that the metropolitan is the one who proposes their assignment to this or that diocese and the Holy Synod agrees to the proposal. This is effectively what happened, as Metropolitan Basil showed in his study. The matter remains like this, as it is assumed that the assignment of bishops to specific dioceses will in the future be in general subject to the proposal of the metropolitan of the archdiocese with the agreement of the Holy Synod. But if the matter became dependent on the metropolitan of the archdiocese alone, as the current statement seems to say in the communiqué, that they are entrusted by the metropolitan of the archdiocese to dioceses and there is no need, or there is no longer a need, for the agreement of the synod to the metropolitan’s assignment or withdrawal, then the first statement that the bishops are “assigned to dioceses” is no longer useful and the second statement is sufficient and expresses everything. In any case, the matter is in need of clarification, as is the relationship of the auxiliary bishops in North America to the Holy Synod of Antioch! To have two statements each with their own content and their own ambiguity is something that causes unease and makes the text the source of controversy.

From a different angle, the use of the expression “assigned [muqam]” and the expression “entrusted” following each other creates two incompatible images that go in opposite directions. If you say that they are “assigned” then you give the impression that the relationship between the bishops and the metropolitan is within the framework of a local synod, presumably governed by specific and explicit basic internal canons which govern the relationship between the metropolitan and the bishops in pasturing the people of God as well as the relationship between the local synod and the Holy Synod of Antioch. If this is what was originally in mind, then the description of the “bishops” as “auxiliary” creates an equivalency between their being called “auxiliary” and their being named for the land and people to which they were assigned. So then there is no need to characterize them as “auxiliary” but rather to name them the Bishop of Canada, Bishop of Los Angeles and its dependences, Bishop of Witchita and its dependencies, etc… But if you say that they are entrusted by the metropolitan of the archdiocese, then in that case you tie them to the person of the metropolitan. In this case, the permanent relationship of these bishops to a specific land and a specific people and there is no need, or even no justification, for the existence of a local synod in the true meaning of the word. There is only an advisory role for the bishops to help the metropolitan administer the affairs of the archdiocese. He delegates them as he pleases and moves them in the direction he desires. The auxiliary bishops, in this case, are “auxiliary” in terms of their role but necessarily titular bishops in terms of their bishophood since where there is no land and no people you cannot assign a bishop, according to the practice of the Church, except for obsolete bishoprics! And bishops who are assigned to obsolete bishoprics are necessarily titular bishops, even if you don’t call them that, and even if they perform the role of auxiliaries for the metropolitan. The name “auxiliary bishop” is ambiguous and not sound in any case, from the Orthodox ecclesiological perspective because we do not have administrative bishops or bureaucratic bishops. If you did not name them to obsolete bishoprics, then you would have to do this to keep them harmonized with the theology of your church! As for the invention of the rank of “auxiliary bishops”, in different services without a connection, even nominally, to an obsolete bishopric, this would require the decision of an ecumenical council, not local councils, because there is a universal theological aspect to the issue that a local council cannot ignore. There is no doubt that it is a very strange thing to assign bishops in the New World, in North America, where there is a land and there is a people, who in terms of their episcopacy are bishops of obsolete bishoprics whose names are borrowed from the history of the Patriarchate of Antioch, and in terms of their service are auxiliary bishops for the metropolitan for this or that matter! There is no doubt that this is serious regression! The office of the titular bishop, which the Holy Synod cancelled thirty years ago as a sign of backwardness has left the door of the mother church only to re-enter, in practice, through the window of the diaspora in the Archdiocese of North America!

Also, if the emphasis is on the bishops’ being subordinate to their spiritual point of reference, the metropolitan of the archdiocese, “who has general authority over the whole Archdiocese”, then the Holy Synod has brought upon itself a very disturbing precedent which will cause difficulties for the other archdioceses now and in the future. The titular bishops, in the practice of the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, were for a very long time subordinate to the patriarch, and his beatitude the patriarch would designate them to assist this or that metropolitan according to his request or to fill a vacancy that that he could not fill. But now you are confronted with a situation that makes the bishops directly subordinate to the metropolitan! Why this exception for the Archdiocese of North America? Perhaps you will say that currently in North America there is internal independence! But was the internal independence there not connected to the creation of territorial dioceses [usqufiyyat 3ala al-ard] and a local synod and local canons? But if you in effect get rid of the local synod and replace bishops over a land and a people with titular bishops over obsolete bishoprics, then what remains of the internal independence? Every metropolitan in his archdiocese has in any case internal independence understood by the canons of the church and a relationship to the Holy Synod of Antioch. In this situation, what distinguishes the metropolitan of North America from the other metropolitans? He is still part of the Holy Synod and subject to the canons within it! So the internal independence of the Archdiocese of North America has been effectively eliminated even if it remains in theory! The auxiliary bishops, now and in the future, become subordinate to the metropolitan instead of the patriarch in every place.

Again and again the question is repeated: If the metropolitan of North America has the right to have a certain number of titular auxiliary bishops, because his archdiocese is sprawling, then why is it not right for the Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand, for example, to have the exact same privilege? His archdiocese is also expansive and sprawling! Among us, the Archdiocese of Mount Lebanon is in practical need of one or more auxiliary bishops as well! Likewise the metropolitan of Akkar! Then the metropolitan of Baghdad and the Gulf needs an auxiliary, though for another reason. The bishops, if they are considered auxiliaries, then it is assumed that they will assist the metropolitans if they are found to be unable to take up the burdens of their tasks appropriately and in good order, for one reason or another, and this is not unique to North America! This requires re-opening the file on metropolitans and titular auxiliary bishops once more! The question, if we are to understand it along these lines, becomes complicated and we do not see, in the near future, a solution! There is an increasingly thick fog that surrounds the topic and which leaves the field wide open for debate. The text is ambiguous and everyone can interpret it according to his whim, in this direction or that!

To close, I will quote what Metropolitan Basil (Mansour) expressed in his study about the crisis of the subject of auxiliary or titular bishops or those who have territories, call them what you like. He said, “For thirty years the fathers of the Holy Synod of Antioch have affirmed the unacceptability of raising someone to the rank of titular bishop. They believe that it is more appropriate – even necessary – to create a geographic region for a bishop to head, even if he is authorized to perform other tasks. This conforms to the understanding of role of the bishop in Orthodox ecclesiology. We hope that the Fathers of the Holy Synod of Antioch will reach a permanent, conclusive, and appropriate solution to the subject of bishops. If this is done, they will not remain vulnerable to intellectual conflicts or material and temperamental fickleness on various issues by those in ecclesiastical authority. Then, as is the case with heads of archdioceses, a clear and complete canon dealing with bishops will have been codified, defining their relationship with their flocks, their finances, their retirement, and their relationships with the heads of their archdioceses .”

With all love and respect

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan

September 12, 2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Repose of Bishop Dimitri Hosni

On Tuesday, September 7th Bishop Dimitri Hosni of Rio de Janeiro fell asleep in the Lord after a long illness. Born in Homs in 1946, he served as a priest in Mexico from 1986 and in 2000 was elected bishop of Rio de Janeiro. In 2004 he returned to Damascus on account of illness. May his memory be eternal!

ليكن ذكره مؤبداً

More photos of his funeral can be seen on the website of the Patriarchate of Antioch here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Martyr Abdallah of Lattakia (d. 1844)

The Arabic original, by Fr. Touma Bitar, can be found here, along with the complete poem.
The Martyr Abdallah of Lattakia
In Lattakia, Syria some people, especially the aged, still recite lines from a poem in the local dialect, among them:
Allahu akbar, hayya ‘ala al-salat, hayya ‘ala al-falah
I was a priest, performing liturgy in the morning
I bore the body of my Lord and warned the people
When the army of the Tempter entered my head, I transgressed your words, my Lord
Allahu akbar, hayya ‘ala al-salat, hayya ‘ala al-falah
O my soul, be sorrowful, and weep for your failings
And regret, my soul, my excuses, until I die
O my soul, be sorrowful, and lament as one dejected
Allahu akbar, hayya ‘ala al-salat, hayya ‘ala al-falah
O my soul, be wicked, the worst of the people
Bury yourself among the unclean
Your home is there, having traded the jewel of faiths for the hell of flames
The passing of time has erased the details of who wrote this poem and what caused him to reach such a state. However,  Archimandrite Arsenios Hanouk has investigated what is left in the memory of many, and has found information that gives us an image of the priest mentioned in the above poem and he gave this information to me, Archimandrite Touma Bitar in July 1990 and here we publish it for the benefit of the faithful.
The names of those who knew something about the story of the priest Abdallah are many, all of them from the Orthodox community of Lattakia and in addition to what remains in the memory of some of the faithful, we have what is recounted in the book “Athar al-Hiqab fi Ladhiqiyya al-arab” by Elias Salih, on the basis of manuscript 438 at the Patriarchate of Antioch, along with a manuscript of the entire poem that the Martyr Abdallah recited. This was taken from a manuscript found at the Patriarchal Monastery of Seidnayya. The poem as it was sung in Lattakia, given above, is taken directly from the manuscript of Seidnayya. This was composed according to the letters of the alphabet and has 58 lines.
After gathering the information available to us and putting the pieces back together, an approximate image emerges of the Martyr Abdallah, as follows:
It happened when Artemios was bishop of Lattakia, in 1844, that the priest Abdallah, one of the Rum Orthodox priests in Lattakia, announced that he had converted to Islam. The reason for this was that in Lattakia there was an agent for the Greek consul named Demitri. He was married in his home country, and came to Lattakia and claimed that his wife had died and sought to marry one of the local girls named Katrine, the daughter of the priest Mikhail al-Nahhal. Metropolitan Artemios did not give his permission for this. He told him to bring a paper from the metropolitan of his city attesting to the fact that his wife had died. It happened that the metropolitan was absent from the city for a time, and so Demitri could only convince the priest Abdallah to perform the ceremony of marriage with Katrine. We do not know how the priest was convinced to take this action without the permission of his metropolitan. Whatever the case may be, the crowning took place and Demitri took Katrine to his home. Only a few days later, Demitri’s son from his first wife came and was surprised that his father had married because his mother was still living. When the metropolitan returned from his journey and learned this, he excommunicated Demitri, Katrine, the priest Abdallah, and anyone among the faithful who associated with them, spoke to them, or received them in their home. The priest went around to everyone, great and small, asking them to intercede for him with the metropolitan. He only found disappointment, because everyone turned their faces away from him and refused to speak to him. He remained like this for days, until it became too much for him and he could no longer bear it. He went to the Muslim authorities and announced to them that he had converted to Islam. They received him with open arms and threw a celebration for him. Then, a few days after his conversion to Islam, they paraded him around the city on a Sunday in a large crowd, on account of his circumcision, paying musical instruments, beating drums, and firing muskets.
Here the information ends about the Priest Abdallah in the book “Athar al-Hiqab….” What remains in the memories of some, after that, is that the priest, after having become a Muslim returned and regretted it and tried to go back to his previous faith, but did not find a way to. Every day he stood in front of the Cathedral of St. George and said, “O Church of the Lord, your love is in my heart.” Because of the intensity of his feelings, he composed a poem and started singing it, as he had a beautiful voice. The Muslims heard him reciting it while the evening call to prayer was being made in the central mosque, and they threw him from the top of the mosque and he died. The Christians took him and buried him in the Church of St. Sabba. There, some relate that a light was seen over his grave. The healing of many sick people is attributed to him, like the ending of fever and seizures. It is to be noted that the Church of St. Sabba no longer exists in Lattakia because an Orthodox high school was built on the site, and the graves were moved to the cemetery of al-Faros.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Met. Basil's Presentation on the Episcopate

Here is Met. Basil of Akkar's presentation to the Holy Synod of Antioch about the role of the bishop (meaning primarily bishops who are not metropolitans) in the Patriarchate of Antioch. Below is my translation, graciously edited and revised by someone more competent ecclesial Arabic than I am. This document is very important, because it provides the basis for the reasoning behind the Patriarchate's recent decisions about the status of the North American bishops. The Arabic original can be downloaded as a pdf here.

The Office of Bishop in the Patriarchate of Antioch during the Modern Era

Speaking theologically about the office of bishop, it can be said that that anyone who receives canonical consecration to the episcopate is a “bishop.” Differences of rank among bishops are not a matter of priestly order or of dogmatic significance, but depend on the relative authority associated with a particular position. Such positions include the rank of auxiliary bishop (usquf musa3id), a bishop in charge of an archdiocese (sa7ib abrashiyya), a metropolitan (mutran),[1] an archbishop, and a patriarch (or head of an autocephalous church).

There has been no uniform arrangement of episcopal titles by their respective responsibilities in world-wide Orthodoxy to the present day. For example, in Russia, a metropolitan has wider administrative responsibilities and greater authority than an archbishop. In Greece, however, the archbishop is the head of all the Orthodox bishops of the Greek Republic. Likewise, the archbishops of Poland and the Czech Republic bear both the rank of metropolitan and the title of archbishop as heads of autocephalous churches.

The office of bishop developed within the Patriarchate of Antioch and as such it spread everywhere the Gospel reached. The ancient Christian document known as The Didache’ (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), affirms that the Apostles installed a bishop in every place where they won souls for the Lord. There was no differentiation in this earliest period between various forms of episcopacy within the Patriarchate of Antioch.

In time, the Church found it necessary to appoint bishops for rural areas (chorepiscopoi) to support the faithful in the face of spiritual challenges. Furthermore, the metropolitan system developed concurrently with the evolution of the Roman administrative system. This gave the bishop of the capital of a broad region with multiple bishops authority over all the bishops of his region, and subordinated them to him as their metropolitan. Thus the institution of the synod arose, a gathering of regional bishops headed by the metropolitan or by the bishop of the capital.

The metropolitan of Antioch was the first bishop to be called “patriarch” in a fully Orthodox sense. This ought not be confused with the way the Donatists used the title, or the way the term appears in the letters of St. Basil. The latter concerns certain monastic leaders who inappropriately claimed the ecclesiastical description properly given to heads of monastic groups.

The office of bishop in the Church of Antioch passed through two stages. The first stage stretched over approximately ten centuries, up to the time when the rank of rural bishops was practically abolished. The second stage lasted through the twentieth century, including the years between 1900 and 2010. We presented the historical and canonical information that we were able to gather about rural bishops and others in our previous study.

In these last hundred years, however, the situation has been different because the Fathers of the See of Antioch did not mention rural bishops at all in the synods of this period. Rather, they used the title of “bishops” to refer to auxiliary bishops and those who were consecrated to obsolete dioceses[2] (titular bishops). The first study along these lines appeared in canon 24 of the year 1906. It gave the patriarch the right to nominate three names, one of which would be chosen by the metropolitans as a titular bishop. The canon of the year 1929 stated that the agreement of the Synod was required if the patriarch wanted to appoint another titular bishop. The first titular bishop was called the patriarchal vicar, and the second, the head of the divan (ra’is al-diwan, perhaps ‘head-chancellor?’).

Here we must stop to look at history: “It was stated in the Travels of the Patriarch Makarios ibn Zaim that during his absence from the lands of the Christians, he made the Metropolitan of Homs, Athanasius ibn Ofeish, his vicar. Likewise the Patriarch Sylvester asked the Metropolitan of Hama, Neophytos, to be his vicar until he returned from the Holy Mountain. Thus the patriarchal vicar was not at that time the metropolitan of Damascus; the status of patriarchal vicar was given gratuitously. Damascus was the diocese of the patriarch and the use of a (auxiliary) bishop as patriarchal vicar existed in Antioch but had not been long-standing.”

Despite the fact that the canons of the Patriarchate of Antioch are not often concerned with ordering the affairs of (titular and auxiliary) bishops, they do reveal their existence. They also show their status and the status of those nominated for the metropolitanate to be equivalent.

In the countries of the Diaspora, the office of bishop has played a beneficial role in cementing relations between the people, their traditional homelands, and their new nations. Thus the office developed along with the growth of the Antiochian emigration.

Around 1860 groups of the faithful began arriving in the countries of the New World—North and South America, Australia, and finally Europe. The immigrants were concerned from the outset with their spiritual affairs, and thus requested priests from their homeland to perform weddings, baptisms, and services for the souls of their dead. They established churches, charitable organizations, and youth groups to teach the faith. Many of these immigrants created a prominent, visible, and deeply rooted presence in their respective countries of the New World. The first bishop of the immigration was Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny, recently glorified among the saints, who worked as an auxiliary bishop to the Russian metropolitan[3] in America ministering to the spiritual needs of Arabic speaking Orthodox Christians.

News of the emigrants and their successes in the New World eventually reached the ears of the Holy Synod of Antioch. The Holy Synod decided to care for the emigrants who were eager to communicate with their homeland regarding their spiritual affairs. They sent both bishops and metropolitans to them. The latter were dispatched to Brazil, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Santiago, Chile. They also sent bishops as patriarchal representatives to the Arab Orthodox Christians that hailed from territories outside the boundaries of the old country archdioceses. The jurisdictions that were formally created in such places were directly under the authority of the Patriarch. Patriarchal representatives were placed in Chile, Mexico, Australia, and in Rio de Janeiro (according to some, the center of the Archdiocese of Brazil). After the death of Metropolitan Meletios Soueiti, patriarchal representative Kyrillos Doumat of blessed memory was placed in Argentina.

It appears that the Holy Synod of Antioch established representations and chose bishops for them in its regular sessions without creating provisions for their rights and responsibilities, retirement, travel funds, or other needs. Representative bishops, abbots of monasteries, patriarchal assistants, and titular bishops, where they existed, were all considered to be subject to the patriarch. They were personally under his direction as to where he needed them and subject to his wishes. Even Bishop Ghufrail al-Salibi, assistant to the Metropolitan of Beirut, Iliya al-Salibi, was a patriarchal bishop according to the canon that subordinates all (titular and auxiliary) bishops to the patriarch. The same was true of Bishop Elias Najim, auxiliary to the Metropolitan of Mount Lebanon, Iliya Karam – may God have mercy on them.

The status of the dioceses (usqufiyyat) of Tartous and of Pyrgou (Homs), was the same as the rest of the obsolete dioceses whose names were given at the consecration of titular bishops. Both Bishop Basil of Tartous and Bishop Yuhanna of Pyrgou were patriarchal representative bishops to help the metropolitan of Akkar in the two sections of his archdiocese situated within Syrian territory.

The majority of patriarchal dependencies were turned into metropolitanates by decision of the 1996 meeting of the Holy Synod at the Monastery of St. Elias in Shwayya. The last one to be so designated was the dependency of Australia. Similarly, both the dioceses of Tartous and Pyrgou were left vacant after the election of the bishop of Tartous as metropolitan of Akkar (succeeding Boulos Bandaly of blessed memory) and the bishop of Pyrgou as metropolitan of Western Europe (succeeding Ghufrail Salibi of blessed memory). Furthermore, the diocese of New York and All North America was considered to be a diocese dependent on the Patriarchate of Antioch. (Canon of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch of the year 1949). We do not know if this canon was put into effect or not.

The first auxiliary to a metropolitan in the overseas archdioceses of the Patriarchate of Antioch was Bishop Antoun al-Khoury, auxiliary to the metropolitan of North America. Later, the metropolitan of the North American Archdiocese acquired two more auxiliary bishops, Joseph Zehlawi and Basil Essey. Until the decision of the Holy Synod granting self-rule to the North American Archdiocese, these three bishops were patriarchal bishops assisting the metropolitan of North America. After the aforementioned decision, three other bishops were consecrated and assigned to American dioceses agreed upon by the Synod. They were all considered to be members of the synod of the Archdiocese of North America under the leadership of Metropolitan Philip Saliba.[4]

In spite of these developments, nothing was changed in the constitution of the Patriarchate of Antioch. It remained as it was regarding the subordination of all (non-metropolitan) bishops to the patriarch. The canon law of Antioch did not provide for auxiliary bishops dependent on a metropolitan until the Synodal decision of February 24, 2009. On that occasion, an explicit text was released distinguishing between patriarchal bishops and bishops assisting a metropolitan. It stated the latter are responsible to the metropolitan in the diocesan council, and the metropolitan is responsible for them within the metropolitan council.

(Non-metropolitan) bishops[5] do not exist today in the Patriarchate of Antioch other than the bishops of North America and three patriarchal bishops. Even the representation of Rio de Janeiro is not currently led by a bishop because of the illness of its last bishop, Demitri Hosny. The male patriarchal monasteries are led by hieromonks with the rank of archimandrite.

For thirty years the fathers of the Holy Synod of Antioch have affirmed the unacceptability of raising someone to the rank of titular bishop. They believe that it is more appropriate – even necessary – to create a geographic region for a bishop to head, even if he is authorized to perform other tasks. This conforms to the understanding of role of the bishop in Orthodox ecclesiology. We hope that the Fathers of the Holy Synod of Antioch will reach a permanent, conclusive, and appropriate solution to the subject of bishops. If this is done, they will not remain vulnerable to intellectual conflicts or material and temperamental fickleness on various issues by those in ecclesiastical authority. Then, as is the case with heads of archdioceses, a clear and complete canon dealing with bishops (as7ab abrashiyyat) will have been codified, defining their relationship with their flocks, their finances, their retirement, and their relationships with the heads of their archdioceses (as7ab abrashiyyatihim).

At this point, we will propose a few suggestions on the basis of what is stated regarding rural bishops in the ecumenical and local councils and what has appeared in the constitutions of the Patriarchate of Antioch since 1900. Some of these appeared in our historical and canonical study of the rank of auxiliary bishop, and are also based on my experience in the Archdiocese of Akkar as an auxiliary bishop of Metropolitan Boulos Bandaly of blessed memory.

First of all, I see the following necessities:

1. Of identifying the archdioceses which need auxiliary bishops.

2. To define the number of dioceses [usqufiyyat] in each archdiocese in a carefully studied manner.

3. To define the functions which require bishops so that they can be listed.

4. To define the conditions in which auxiliary bishops may be placed in archdioceses which have no dioceses.

After defining matters in the above list, we could proceed to research the right to declare dioceses in archdioceses. Is it the right of the metropolitan synod or is it by its proposal to the Holy Synod of Antioch after a complete study?

A second question may be proposed regarding the promotion of clergy within the archdioceses of the Patriarchate of Antioch: Does this depend on the recommendation of the metropolitan of the archdiocese? Would he present it to a committee of clergy in his See for consent to his recommendation for promotion? Or has the bishop been given the power to do so individually?

As for the bishops, I propose the following:

1. The auxiliary bishop is elected from among the celibate clergy whose names are registered in the list of those eligible for the episcopate.

2. The people of the vacant diocese elect three eligible members of the clergy known for their piety and their pastoral life with the agreement of the metropolitan and the metropolitan council, if such exists. The metropolitan in turn submits the agreed-upon names so that an auxiliary bishop is elected from the names for the designated diocese [usqufiyya].

3. The auxiliary bishops attend the Holy Synod as advisors but they will have full membership in the metropolitan’s archdiocesan synod [abrashiyya].

4. The bishops commemorate the leadership of the metropolitan in the divine services. When he is present with them they commemorate his name, then the priests commemorate the bishop of the diocese [usqufiyya].

5. In cases where the bishop is serving by himself within his diocese, the priests commemorate his name alone, but in the rest of the parishes the name of the metropolitan is commemorated, followed by that of the bishop (for our father and metropolitan ….. and of our bishop… let us pray to the Lord).

6. The diocese annually offers a sum of money to the general fund of the archdiocese to help the metropolitan with his duties.

7. The bishops participate in the election of the metropolitan for their archdioceses [abrashiyyat], if the metropolitan see [markaz al-abrashiyya] for any reason becomes vacant. They likewise participate in the election of diocesan bishops [asaqifa usqufiyya] if there is more than one diocese [markaz usqufiyya] in the archdiocese.

8. The bishops head all organizations within their dioceses and periodically inform the metropolitan on how things are going either personally or in the diocesan council, if one exists.

9. He (the bishop) performs all the episcopal educational and liturgical duties within his diocese.

10. The metropolitan of the archdiocese convenes and presides over the spiritual court. He can also assign one of the auxiliary bishops as his representative.

11. In matters pertaining to the clergy, the bishop does not undertake any action except after the agreement of the metropolitan.

12. In administrative matters, he has freedom in directing existing departments (idarat), but the metropolitan must first agree to the creation of new ones.

13. If it is determined that the bishop is incapable of administering church properties, and that he will endanger them by his behavior, then the metropolitan may forbid him to administer them and form a committee to oversee church properties. This committee is composed of five members, two from the clergy and three from the laity who have expertise in this field.

14. The bishop cannot punish a clergyman in his diocese for more than three months.

15. The metropolitan cannot belong to secret societies or political parties; this also applies to the bishop because the name of Christ is the sufficient and most sure guarantee for our life, our dignity, and our salvation.

16. In case of a bishop’s disability, his diocese has the responsibility to support him until his last breath. The diocese will cooperate with the metropolitan in such matters as placing him in one of the monasteries of the archdiocese or in a care center for the elderly.

17. The canons of the Church and the decisions of both the Synod of Antioch and the Archdiocesan Council apply to everything pertaining to local matters in accordance with the laws of the Church.

18. The bishops have the right to be nominated to fill vacant metropolitan sees.

19. After a specified number of years have passed in honorable service as a bishop, it is possible that he be given the title of titular metropolitan in cases where he is not transferred to lead a metropolitan see.

20. He (the bishop) does not have the right to accept clergy from other dioceses or archdioceses permanently or for a long period of time unless he receives written permission from the metropolitan.

[1] Translator’s note: this could also be rendered ‘diocesan bishop, mutran- metropolitan’. However, throughout the translation I have translated ‘abrashiyya’ as ‘archdiocese’ and ‘usqufiyya’ as ‘diocese’ which seems to be a distinction that the author consistently makes. It is unclear if ‘mutran-metropolitan’ is an appositive for ‘sa7ib abrashiyya’.

[2] Despite the fact that the Holy Synod of Antioch in many of its sessions and constitutions has only mentioned the matter of bishops in a very cursory way, it has mentioned them in passing with much interest. For example in the canons of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch that was decided in the session of the Holy Synod of Antioch that was held at the Patriarch’s complex in Damascus on April 2, 1952 it says the following: “What is said in paragraphs four and five of this canon regarding the election of the bishop and his rights and responsibilities, including the assistant bishop (usquf mu’awin) to the patriarch, his nomination is that patriarch’s” The assistant bishop is called the patriarchal vicar, as decided by the basic canon of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, which was decided by the general Orthodox congress meeting on the November 18-19, 1955. In this same canon it says for the first time that the fullness of the dioceses [kuliyyiat al-usqufiyyat] “is in all the dioceses and the connected agencies”. Here is the question, what are these dioceses? It appears that greater concern and regard for the matter of the bishops is in the internal order of the See of Antioch published on April 7, 1983 which dedicates to the bishop articles 75 to 81, with the content of 81 with the broad parallels it makes between the metropolitan and the bishop in numerous matters.

[3] Translator’s note: This information is erroneous. The Russian bishop at this time did not carry the title metropolitan.

[4] The archdiocesan or metropolitan synod includes the bishops of dioceses with the metropolitan of the capital of the region and meets under his leadership.

[5] Translator’s note: this sentence does not have an explicit subject in the original. Presumably the sense requires the subject to be ‘bishops (usquf)’ in the sense of ‘bishops who are not metropolitans’.