Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Carol Saba on the Holy Synod of Antioch's Current Meeting

Arabic original in the October 1 an-Nahar, here. Carol Saba's prose is pretty maddeningly difficult to translate, but bear with me here. He's an important voice and in some ways representative of Antiochians in Europe. His call for an all-Antiochian clergy-laity assembly is something that should be discussed more in Anglophone Antiochian circles. I apologize for not providing more translations about the current controversy over whether or not to form a "Civil Commission for Greek Orthodox in Lebanon." I will try and rectify this soon.

Tomorrow the Antiochian Orthodox Holy Synod meets at Balamand Monastery. Its agenda is weighed down with many issues. The pivotal stage-- and the most dangerous, most difficult, and most portentious for the Patriarchate and for our Arab East-- is  the one that treats the dangers that threaten the basis of diversity, cultural wealth, and coexistence in the Arab East. Serious challenges face everyone in a Middle East that is in the throes of an unprecedented political transformation. All people of good will, Muslim and Christian, are searching in the eye of the storm for the right direction we must take in order to bolster the culture of coexistence and to canonize "national cooperation" in our pioneering free, democratic societies, that will elevate the dignity and freedom of the Arab person. In view of this crisis of Arab transformation, many issues are brought up now regarding the place of the Orthodox community in Lebanon. This angle, in its importance, appears to me to be a mere detail in comparison to the great challenges that face us as Orthodox. The question of founding a "Civil Commission for Greek Orthodox in Lebanon" has become, even before being studied by the Synod, a controversy and point of contention between those who support this plan and those who oppose it. What is the essence of this contention? Are the Orthodox in Lebanon a sectarian community or a church? There are those who point to the danger that the Commission poses for the Church which, if it is in some way weak, may fall into the "snare" of the sectarian community and take on its features rather than raising it up to the standards of the Church. There are those who call for returning "the rights of the community" and who argue for starting on the basis of the Lebanese sectarian reality and for working with it in a sectarian manner, curing it by that which was the ailment!  Two approches, distant from each other in principles and standards. Discussion between them has become a dialogue of the deaf! Demanding rights is necessary. Every effort for gathering the capabilities of the Orthodox and coordinating them is welcome. But the Orthodox in Lebanon and in this Middle East are not a sectarian community like the other sectarian communities: they are the Church of Christ. This is not merely words-- this is the central equation of faith that requires of them, in unity and diversity,  commitment to building up a Church which the world imitates, not which imitates the world. The constructive relationship that we hope for is harmony between the Church and the community. It is one in which the community takes on the characteristics of the Church, and not the opposite. The decisive question is why are the Orthodox in need of a civil commission today when in the past there was no need for one in order for them to flourish in society? Without one in the past, they were a pivotal, diverse community that produced an elite for the nation that was non-sectarian, with diverse capabilities that courageously reflects present reality and reads the future with confidence and sound thinking, pioneering in ecumenism while being rooted in Middle Eastern reality and advanced in reflecting Western modernity without repudiating their Eastern and Arab identity. When ecclesial society is weak, sectarian chauvinism becomes strong within it and Orthodox identity, as we are hearing today, becomes a socio-political identity. When the Church is spiritually and institutionally strong, then the community falls under its banner and becomes an outstanding instrument for making the Church shine in society. The Orthodox were one of the most active elements of the Lebanese and Middle Eastern social fabric, a bridge over which innovative ideas passed, advanced on account of transmitting their talents to other communities and their ecumenical view of things. Enormous and valuable contributions were articulated in many spheres in the Arab world. They were at the forefront of forging new concepts and political regimes that transcended sectarianism in order to build up Arab societies with a strong, constructive, and open nationalism. Has the time come for them to retreat into sectarianism on the grounds that everyone is sectarian? Instead of being a proactive model for obliterating the hateful sectarianism that has metastasized in the Lebanese body like an inevitably lethal cancer? The problem today is not a problem of rights and offices. It is a problem of the Church's viewpoint and charting a daring path forward to produce an Orthodox elite who will respond to current challenges and create hope for the future, returning the Orthodox to their exemplary role and interpreting fundamental changes in Arab society in an appropriate manner, with the essence of the Orthodox, their history, their traditions, and their constructive viewpoint for reviving society. What is required today is to elevate sectarian sentiment up to the standards of the Church, not to dissolve the Church into sectarianism. What is required is to secure a pioneering role and effective witness for the Orthodox in Lebanon and the Arab East. Everyone today describes the state of the Orthodox as they like, as they see it, or as they would like to see it! All are subject to a particular point of view. Only an Antiochian Assembly that includes both the Mother Church and the diaspora will be able to establish a comprehensive reading of things. There is an urgent need to keep abreast of developments in Lebanon and changes in the region. What is necessary today is to institutionalize the work of the Church and to apply an ecclesiology of communion within her through systematic frameworks for overt work for Antiochian unity. Starting with the dialectic, "Are we a sectarian community or a Church?" and finding a way to make the  two things overlap positively, then moving on to issues of the Church's "governance", managing its affairs, administering its institutions, resources, and endowments, making its role in society prominent, and reviewing the Church's canons in order to make them more harmonious with tradition and the pastoral requirements of the the world today and the necessities of a "participatory" relationship between clergy and laity in the Church, on up to the essence of our "enlightening" role in the nation and the need to stand at the forefront of this historic stage of history  when the Arab world is in need of developing political and legal systems that support and encourage the concepts of "common life" and "common citizenship" between Muslims and Christians that are realized in law and in practice, total equality of rights and responsibilities for all, with the preservation of everyone's peculiarities. Let us depart from the narrow sectarian starting-point that has always been distant from the struggle of our great men who, in word and deed, drew the outline of a great Antiochian flourishing.

Our call today, again and again, is for the Holy Synod to move the Church from a "detailed approach" to a "comprehensive approach". This means calling for a general Antiochian Orthodox clergy-laity assembly that will meet in 2013 in order to establish Antiochian elan in the future.

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