Saturday, December 15, 2012

Patriarch Ignatius IV on Antiochian Orthodox Identity

This is taken from an article by Fuad Daaboul in his newspaper al-Anwar, but I have seen bits and pieces of it cited elsewhere. The original context is the late patriarch's response when Elie Salem, a former minister in the Lebanese government and now president of Balamand University asked him, "Who are we?"

We are Antiochians, the descendants of the original Church that Saint Paul founded. We are the Church of the Middle East, one hundred percent Middle Easterners. Here in the Middle East we are in our home. Our hopes are the hopes of our region. Its tragedies are our tragedies, when there is tragedy. We are the original Christians. The others came to us as guests. We welcome them and work with them, but we do not forget our originality and uniqueness. Certainly, the past has been harsh to us. Empires came, threatened, destroyed, then left. We remained, firm in our faith, humble but proud and daring in our convictions.

The Antiochian spirit is an apostolic spirit, leavening like yeast in dough. We are the leaven of this land. We shape the quality and value-- we are not quantities.

The Antiochian spirit affects man in his capacity as bearer of divine truth and the dwelling place of unlimited and unconditional love.

We are Arab Christians. We were here in Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon long before Islam. When the Arabs took over, bringing the message of Islam to this land, we cooperated with them and contributed to building the Arab-Islamic civilization that flourished in the Umayyad era (650-750) and the Abbasid era (750-1257). We were the scientific and intellectual intermediary between them and the Greek world. However, we were not only intermediaries. We also made contributions in various fields.

The Arabic language has been our liturgical language for centuries. We played a role in the history of Classical Arabic, just as we played a prominent role in the Arab reform movement that began in the 19th century, following the Ottoman tanzimat reforms.

The future of Jerusalem is the future of the Palestinian people and of the Arab Christians who share with them a long past and limitless future.

For us, Jerusalem is a symbol of man's emancipation, despite oppression and crucifixion. Of all the peoples of the earth, we are the people who most belong to Jerusalem. In the most profound sense of the word, Jerusalem is ours. But it languishes under Israeli occupation and because of repression, the number of Jerusalem's Christians has greatly diminished. The tragedy that is happening in Jerusalem is happening in Palestine as a whole under Zionist occupation. As Orthodox Christians, we do not only bear witness to our own tragedy. We also bear witness to the tragedy of our Muslim brothers in Palestine. The least we can do is to bear witness to truth and justice, the two universal values that are being violated in Palestine.

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