Monday, December 24, 2012

Patriarch John X's Christmas Message

Here is the official translation, h/t Fr. Andrew Damick, here.

With God’s mercy JOHN X
Greek Orthodox
Patriarch of Antioch and all the East
To my brethren, the Shepherds of the Holy Antiochian Church
And my children who belong to this Apostolic See

We approach these Holy and Blessed Feasts as we witness the crucial events our Antiochian Church has gone through recently, first and foremost with the departure of our Father, Patriarch Ignatius IVth who ministered the Church with patience and faithfulness for several decades. His memory shall remain alive in our minds and hearts, and shall be eternal before the Lord Whom he served all his life. At this time, our Church and our people are experiencing dramatic situations caused by violence and troubles shaking our region.

The Holy Spirit has willed that I be elected by my brothers, the members of the Holy Synod, to succeed this great Minister, in spite of my unworthiness. However, I rely on God and on you, my brothers and children of my Church, and this shall make me expect, with great hope, divine help, which will enable us to overcome these hard tests and look for a better future.

In the midst of these events, you have left in my heart the feeling that you have lived in this period as the people of the living God; you have expressed this reality in three responses: You were deeply moved at the departure of our great Patriarch; You maintained your fasting, prayers and hope before the elections; and finally you showed joy, exultation and peace after the elections. For all these three responses and your care, allow me to express my deep thanks to you, convey my pride in you and my steadfast hope in the one body of our Church.

Behold, the Child Who is coming to us in the cave to die for us; is reminding us that He is with us, talking to us, and entrusting us with conveying the message of peace and love, which He addressed to each and every one of us and to the whole world. He is coming to us as a humble one, knocking at the door of our heart with gentility as if He wanted to be born in it. The feast of Nativity is not a mere remembrance of Jesus’ birth in a cradle from the Virgin Mother of God; it was meant to be the feast of His birth in us, a birth that can only occur if we seek the purity that distinguished the Virgin Mary. The Birth of Jesus in us will invite us to renew our commitment to His teachings, and our struggle to become His unblemished Church, a Church that is free of weaknesses, pure in everything, and shining with the Holy Spirit. Together we shall be aware that the Church of Christ is our mother, and that the shepherds and the believers are called to be Christ’s messengers inviting their brethren in the world to reconciliation and to the rejection of violence so that His peace may prevail.

The world will not be convinced unless it feels that it is much loved by the followers of Jesus and that they are its servants.

The Church is our mother. Each and every one of you is important and has a unique position in it. You have the right to be ministered by its shepherds. All ministers, at all ranks, should go out to you, listen to you, to your problems, and should seek to help you and answer all your crucial questions.
You have the right, as believers who submitted themselves to the Word of God and sought to be like Him in everything, that you be included in consultations and the resolution of its issues; all the children together with the father, are supposed to keep vigilance for the future under God of the family.

We approach this feast as many of the children of our Church are displaced, away from their homes, enduring much suffering. Our duty as brothers and sisters is to support them and give them consolation, not only with money and necessary material help, but also by showing them care, love and compassion.

We approach the feast as our people are facing many changes and challenges in a world that is departing increasingly from traditional concepts, making violence, consumption and possession a new law for this life. Needless to say, the luxury with which we celebrate this feast, the feast of the poverty of Bethlehem, is a clear sign that we, also, have adopted this law in the conduct of our lives. As we are accustomed to exchange gifts in the manner of the kings who visited the Lord Jesus at His birth, let us express our love to the Divine Child, coming to us, by feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, offering a shelter to the homeless and doing whatever we can do.

We approach this feast as many in our countries are asking what might happen to them.

Brethren, the Child of the cave is saying to us: “Do not fear, I am with you. Do not fear because your brothers and sisters are called to help one another and support one another. Do not fear because you are the people of this region, in which God willed you to be born since ancient times. Do not fear, because you have in it many brethren who believe in love and peaceful co-existence.

Do not fear, lest you lose your dynamism; instead go to meet all with love, joy and full trust in your God, who is the God of love, Who is love itself. Be the heralds of reconciliation, and of a dialogue in depth.”

We celebrate this feast with our other Christian brethren. We pray to God that he may give us to deepen our dialogue with them all, in order to reach the unity God desires, the unity without which the world will not believe that Jesus was sent by God.

Let us also celebrate with our Muslim brethren who look highly at Jesus Christ and confess his birth from the Virgin Mary according to the will of God. This feast is in common with them if we know how to make with them a dialogue of life and co-existence on the notions that bring us together in our religion and in our world.

Brothers and Sisters, bow down before the Child of the cradle who willed to dwell in you.
I cannot but think here of our children who are awaiting us all over the world, our children in the Arab Gulf, Europe, Australia and the Americas. You are in my heart since I met you during my journeys and during my ministry of your churches. You are a real expression of the apostolic spirit of Antioch in the countries in which you are living. Your love for Antioch and the faith you are living makes me feel, more than ever, the necessity of working together in the service of the Church and of offering a living witness to our unity and love.

Thus we become true witnesses to the Lord in the world, and thus our Antiochian Church becomes faithful to its history which shines with the light of the martyrs and the saints. We have no other way but holiness, which makes everything possible.

I send to you the apostolic blessing assuring you that I carry each and every one of you in my heart, asking God to make me His faithful servant in you and to enable us to work together so that God may be glorified in the humanity he loved and in the Church which carries His name in this world.

Addressed from our patriarchal residence in Damascus.
On 20th December 2012.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Fr Georges Massouh on Patriarch John X

Arabic original here.

Patriarch John of Antioch

"Feed my sheep." "Watch over my flock." "Feed my sheep." Three expressions taken from the Gospel of John the Theologian that the Lord said to the Apostle Peter after His resurrection. They are the last commandment that He gave to the shepherds of His Church. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who sacrifices Himself for His flock. Through their struggle and and their complete self-dedication, those shepherds who are established by Him strive to achieve the Good Shepherd's example.

Patriarch John X (Yazigi) of Antioch, "the Shepherds of Shepherds" and "the Father of Fathers", as the Church calls him, is the shepherd who fits the word of the Lord, "I know my flock and my flock knows me." Yes, the new patriarch knows well the flock of Christ, their concerns and their needs. The children of the Church know him as a shepherd, a vigilant father, and a leader who is capable, with God's help, of leading them to a safe harbor.

John X, "the Thirteenth Apostle", successor to the Apostles, successor of Saints Peter and Paul over the Great City of God, Antioch, "where the disciples were first called Christians," is the scion of the tree of Antioch that has born fruit in many fathers of the Church, martyrs, righteous ones, ascetics, and theologians... who left their mark on the Church of Christ with their holiness and their good memory. He is the son of this great heritage that stretches from the holy martyr Ignatius of Antioch, the direct disciple of the apostles, to the current era.

The living heritage of Antioch is based on the realized hope that the Lord cannot abandon His Church as long as there are laborers prepared to volunteer and work in His field. The Antiochian Church has passed through difficult circumstances, painful events, wars and invasions from the East just as much as from the West. She and her children were almost wiped out, if not for the hope that is in her, almost wiping out Christianity from her. But she persevered, by virtue of her belief that her witness requires her to cling to her home and persist in gratuitous love toward those who dwell in her historical land, Christians and non-Christians.

Without a doubt, the patriarch who comes from this heritage realizes that the primary concern expected of him is to exhort Antiochians-- Lebanese, Syrian, and Iraqi-- is to believe in the possibility of remaining in their cities and villages despite the savagery and barbarity that is going on. These countries are their countries and they are responsible for their resurrection and revival. Just as their ancestors were a good leaven in days gone by, they too can be this leaven in our own day. This requires complete commitment on the part of the Church to social issues, especially with regard to housing refugees and ensuring the minimum elements of decent living for them.

Patriarch John X is the model of the Antiochian with no guile in him. He is the upright theologian in whom is the spirit of John of Damascus. He is the teacher, preacher and man of prayer in whom is the spirit of John Chrysostom. He is the hesychast ascetic in whom is the spirit of John Climacus. He is the chanter in whom is the spirit of Romanos the Melodist. He loves peace according to the example of most of the patriarchs who preceded him upon the see of Antioch. We are not exaggerating if we say that in him is the spirit of that martyr to speaking the truth, Saint John the Baptist and the spirit of that soaring eagle, Saint John the Evangelist.

The Orthodox Church believes the the Holy Spirit is the one who grants gifts. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Himself, she has decided that Patriarch John is the one who possesses the gift of leadership-- here and now. May God make sure your steps, my patriarch, in every good work for the benefit of the Church, the people, and the country.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Patriarch Ignatius IV and Education

Arabic original here, for this week.

Ignatius IV: A History-Making Patriarch

by Dr Elie Dannaoui

When talking about education in Lebanon, the Russian consul in Beirut (1865-1882) Konstantin Petkovich describes in his memoirs the deteriorating situation of the Greek Orthodox community in comparison to other Christian communities. The diplomat explains "this strange phenomenon of ignorance and negligence on the part of the upper spiritual leadership of the Orthodox community, since they were not concerned with opening any popular Orthodox schools or defending their flocks from the influence of Protestant missions and engaging it."  The consul continues his analysis, "... in this matter, also at fault are the wealthy Orthodox who prefer-- on account of their miserliness, the weakness of their patriotism, and their lack of ambition-- to send their sons and daughters to the Catholic or Protestant educational institutions that are active in Mount Lebanon or Beirut, instead of operating their own schools. To the sum of money that they pay can be added the sums of property and real estate that the monasteries and others could offer for this goal, enough to open the best Orthodox schools."

Perhaps these words were true in the second half of the 19th century or earlier times when the Orthodox, like other Christians and Muslims of Lebanon, suffered, even if to relative degrees, from various kinds of intellectual impoverishment. However, it is certain that after Ignatius IV such words are not true of the "Orthodox community", as the Russian consul called them. This is not to say that educational institutions began during the time of Patriarch Ignatius IV of thrice-blessed memory. It is only to point out the creative dimensions that this patriarch gave to the Church's mission in society, as exemplified by his view of the role of the Church's spiritual leaders, the role of the faithful, and their relationship with each other. These aspects meet the three weaknesses indicated in the Russian consul's memoirs-- the ignorance and negligence of the spiritual leadership, the faithful's reluctance to give, and the "negative role" of Western missions among the Orthodox through the activity of educational institutions.

Patriarch Ignatius read history with incarnational eyes, rooted in Antiochian theology. He loved the history and heritage of his Church. He did not stop at the threshold of understanding, but rather used it as a gateway to a new history that he created with his word and deed. He provided a model for the educated, educating bishop, in contrast to the picture painted by the Russian consul. By establishing an Antiochian institute for teaching Orthodox theology at Balamand, he strove to sew the seeds of change by preparing priests in whom are joined piety, knowledge, and culture. The contours of this image are embodied in a comprehensive approach, the least that can be said of which is that it contains an integrated, revivalist plan whose axis is the mind enlightened by knowledge and the heart beating with faith. On this solid basis, Ignatius IV pushed ahead with operating and establishing monuments to knowledge, starting with Annunciation School in Beirut, then the Saint John of Damascus Theological Institute and the dream university on Balamand hill. He went against the flow of history and in this way he made history.

Perhaps the Russian consul hit upon one of the aspects of the crisis of all Lebanese during the 19th century, when their poor lacked the help and support of the well-off members of their communities. However, it is certain that many elements of this equation changed with Patriarch Ignatius. He taught all to give and they gave generously and unconditionally. The heart of the matter is that he is the one who gave. He is the one who took initiative. He is the one who to a great degree contributed to demonstrating the Church's boundless giving. More important than all this, he gave himself to the other, in the image of his Teacher. He proved that personal conviction about the matter was enough to convince others of it and that one who has consecrated his life to a noble cause and has given of it limitlessly, to him should be given limitlessly in return.

The second thing that I would like to pause over is represented by his view of the other. To return to the Russian consul's memoirs, Mr Petkovich calls for the establishment of Orthodox schools and faculties for teaching the children of the Orthodox and helping them to avoid the "danger" of western teachings in missionary schools. Patriarch Ignatius IV was not a traditionalist who based his choices on reaction. Rather, he was innovative, always taking things to a higher level. In this way too he went against the path of many and perhaps this was the most outstanding aspect of his thinking and activity. Yes, he founded schools, faculties, and a university, but it was not only for instructing the children of the Orthodox. It was also to defend them against the real danger: insularity and isolationism. In word and deed, the patriarch made the institution of the Church into an oasis that testifies to the Lord who redeemed humankind without discrimination. He wanted her to be a meeting-place for brothers and a forge of national unity.

One might ask how this patriarch was different from the others. I think that simplicity is the distinguishing characteristic of this historic personality, a simplicity that contained a consistent combination of seemingly contradictory elements. The patriarch was able to offer them to others so that they could serve a single purpose. At a time when people waver between calls for a return to a certain authenticity, others for facing a desired future, and yet others that try to clarify a blurry present, Patriarch Ignatius addressed the confused people of today in simple words, but that those who know history realize that they spring from a well that goes back deep in history. Others grasp these words looking forward to the future. However, the most important thing is that they benefit people of today through the witness of all those who knew thim. He knew the truth and was set free.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How Patriarch John X Yazigi was Elected: Two Accounts

Both of these accounts should be taken with a grain of salt.

Yazigi New Patriarch of the Orthodox Church

by Ghassan Rifi in al-Safir, Arabic original here.

The bells of Balamand Monastery rang out to announce the election of the Metropolitan of Western Europe, John Yazigi as the new Greek Orthodox patriarch of Antioch and all the East, successor to Saints Peter and Paul and successor to the departed patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim.

The election of John Yazigi, who is the 158th patriarch of the See of Antioch and who will bear the name "John X", was a surprise for all the clergy and laity who were observing it, especially since his name was not listed among the potential candidates since there had not yet been five years since his being named metropolitan (it had been 4 years and 8 months) as the canons require. However, "ecclesial economia accompanied by divine inspiration," according to one of the metropolitans, led the members of the Holy Synod of Antioch to amend the canon to allow for the nomination of all metropolitans. This was in order widen the range of choices and to keep it from being limited to certain people.

It could be said that the "Antiochian coalition" that stretches from Syria to Lebanon, Palestine, and the Gulf, all the way to Antioch, comprising the senior metropolitans who are the founders of the Orthodox Youth Movement and those active in it, put itself in democratic competition with a coalition of some of the archdioceses of the West and Syria.

It was clear that the orientation of the "Antiochian coalition" is to continue along the lines established by the past two patriarchs, Elias IV and Ignatius IV, who laid the foundation for the revival of the Orthodox Church. The metropolitans of this coalition chose John X from outside the list of candidates, since even though he was considered one of the metropolitans of the West, he simultaneously represents a meeting-point for all and a common ground between the older and younger generations of metropolitans. He responds to the desires of the "Church Current" and the Orthodox Youth Movement, especially since he was raised in the thought of the late Patriarch Ignatius IV and his colleague Metropolitan Georges Khodr.

One of the metropolitans says, "The winner in these elections is the unity of the Orthodox Church and of revivalist thought, especially since the new patriarch is a son of Lattakia who knows Syria and Lebanon very well. He is a man of peace and dialog who believes that the Eastern Orthodox Church stretches from Antioch to the Americas. He is able to face the difficult circumstances that the Arab region, and especially Syria, is living through."

How did the new patriarch arrive at the reins of the See of Antioch?

At ten yesterday morning, a meeting of the Antiochian synod met at Balamand Monastery with the participation of eighteen of twenty metropolitans, since the metropolitan of North America, Philip Saliba, and the Metropolitan of Baghdad, Constantine Papastephanou, were absent on account of illness.

When Metropolitan Elias Audi arrived at the monastery, the doors of Balamand were shut so that they could be alone for approximately three hours, during which time no one was allowed to enter. It began with prayer for the soul of Patriarch Hazim and that "God may inspire the metropolitans of the See of Antioch to make the right choice."

Then a consultative session began during which the question of holding the election or delaying it to wait what will happen with the security situation in Syria was held. However, the overwhelming majority was in favor of holding it and the possibility of delay was quickly set aside, so everyone moved on to the process of election.

The election process requries that each metropolitan puts forward the name of three candidates (he can name himself) and then one of those three is elected. If he receives two thirds of the vote, he is named the winner but if he does not, there is an election between him and the next two candidates. The one who wins a majority is named patriarch.

At the beginning of the electoral session, the metropolitans agreed to amend the Church canons to. The amendment opened the door for all metropolitans to be nominated and ended the limitation to only those who have been metropolitans for more than five years.

In the first round, which was a secret ballot, metropolitans John Yazigi (Western Europe), Antonios Shadrawi (Mexico), and Saba Esber (Patriarchal Locum Tenens and metropolitan of Hauran and Jebel el-Arab) were named.

In the second round of the election, it became clear that if both metropolitans Yazigi and Esber--both of whom belong to the "Antiochian coalition", continued in the running, the deciding bloc's votes would be split between them, which would be in Metropolitan Shadrawi's favor. For this reason, Metropolitan Esber took the initiative to announce his withdrawal so that the competition would be limited to Yazigi and Shadrawi.

After the vote and the count, Yazigi's victory became clear with twelve votes against five votes for Shadrawi and one vote for Esber. Immediately, the Synod's secretary, Father Georges Dimas went out and the election of John Yazigi as the new patriarch of the See of Antioch, succeeding the departed Patriarch Ignatius Hazim, calling attention to that the patriarchal departments will take charge of announcing the formal arrangements for celebrating the installation and his receiving the shepherd's staff. Throughout this announcement there were bells ringing, cheers, and applause.

After this the metropolitans, led by Patriarch John X went to the monastery's church amidst the chanting of the Balamand choir. There he put on priestly robes and presided over the prayer of thanksgiving. He gave a sermon in which he stressed that the Gospel, through our prayers, will remain open, and calling on the fathers to pray so that we might be as one hand and so that we may make the Church of Antioch the image that befits the Bride of Christ and the Church. He said, "We realize that our people are good and that serving them is sweet for our hearts. We are from this land, from this country. Our country, our soil, is a part of us and we are a part of it."

He closed by stressing unity and cooperation for the sake of service. He thanked the metropolitans for their trust, confirming his tireless quest to build up a church that is a beautiful bride for all. Then Patriarch Yazigi went to the Institute of Theology. The first to congratulate him was the former vice president Issam Fares who called him from abroad. Brigadier General William Majli also sent his congratulations, as did the president of Balamand University, Doctor Elie Salem and a number of the university's deans. The deputy Robert Fadel was present and said that Yazigi "enjoys the qualities of youth, knowledge, culture, piety, and openness" and that half of him is Lebanese and half Syrian, noting that these qualities are not easily found.

For his part, the patriarch locum tenens Saba Esber told al-Saifr, "The election process was carried out in peace and love and was exceptionally smooth."

Esber thought that the media burdened the election process with more than it could bear. This provoked great buzz around it, but he denied that any political struggle took place and affirmed that the election process was carried out in all responsibility.

The Orthodox Church Renews Her Youth: Yazigi is Patriarch

by Ghassan Saoud in al-Akhbar, Arabic original here.

"Yesterday the Holy Spirit chose the metropolitan of Europe, John Yazigi (born 1955) as patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Antioch." If some of the metropolitans were occupied with prayer instead of their electoral campaigns, they might have heard the voice of Holy Spirit encouraging them to withdraw in favor of Yazigi rather than persist in their candidacy, lest the Holy Spirit dash their hopes by preferring someone else. The day before yesterday, Patriarch John Yazigi dined at the table of the metropolitan of Mexico, Antonios Shadrawi. He heard him speak of his nomination and his plans for the Church in the event that he wins, within him reciprocating the disclosure of his intentions or what awaits him. Thus Shadrawi went to bed a patriarch, without his calculations requiring too much prayer of him. The metropolitans woke with the assumption that there were two competing groups: one with six votes nominating the metropolitan of Hauran Saba Esber, the other with six votes nominating Shadrawi, with the probability of Shadrawi's influence among the six remaining metropolitans.

However, the meeting had barely begun before "the Holy Spirit" began to be active among the two groups, as Church sources prefer to say. The patron of Esber's candidacy proposed that the Synod amend the basic statute of the See of Antioch  that was issued in 1973, in order to permit the nomination of metropolitans who have not yet had dioceses for five years. Thus it became possible to nominate Metropolitan John Yazigi, who was elected metropolitan in 2008. This is with knowledge that yesterday's amendment, like other previous amendments, have been a point of canonical discussion between members of the Orthodox Church. Shadrawi's initial surprise was soon followed by an additional surprise, as some of the metropolitans whom he considered to be on his side moved over to Yazigi's side.

Thus the metropolitan of Hauran Saba Esber, the metropolitan of Mexico Antonios Shadrawi, and the metropolitan of Central and Western Europe John Yazigi led the first election that names the three candidates for patriarch. With Saba attracting most of the block in favor of him to Yazigi, the latter was able to gain the support of a number of metropolitans who had voted for Shadrawi, the most important of them the new patriarch's brother,  the metropolitan of Aleppo Paul Yazigi who had previously withdrawn his nomination in favor of Shadrawi, the metropolitan of Argentina Siluan Muci, his friend bishop Ghattas Hazim, and his spiritual father Metropolitan John Mansour, who had ordained him deacon in 1979 and priest in 1983 in the Archdiocese of Lattakia.

The first group, whose announced candidate was Esber and whose leader was Metropolitan Georges Khodr, first by amending the canon and then by nominating Yazigi, attracted four votes that were considered to be closer to the other bloc. If the other group had realized what  lay in wait for them, they would have first blocked the canonical amendment and then would have nominated Metropolitan Paul Yazigi, who, until his withdrawal in favor of Shadrawi, was one of the most prominent candidates opposing Esber. Thus the Orthodox Church would have witnessed an unprecedented competition between two brothers for the See of Antioch. Thus it might be said that Shadrawi and his bloc were fooled when they thought that Esber was Metropolitan Georges Khodr's only choice. His calculations, and those of Paul Yazigi, were on this basis. Regardless of the exact electoral figures and who voted for whom, the Metropolitan of Mount Lebanon has been successful for the second consecutive time in bringing forward a patriarch whom the Orthodox Youth Movement can claim as an alumnus.

The new patriarch is a monk who has been living in a tiny apartment in the French capital for four years because his metropolitan office was not yet built. Finally, he rented a Church in order to perform the Orthodox liturgy in it. In his first words as patriarch, the graduate of Greek theological institutes and abbot of the Patriarchal Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand from 2001 to 2005 affirmed that, "Christians are staying in Syria. The land is their land. He called for dialog in order to solve the crises. Those who know the former bishop of Wadi al-Nasara say that his political positions will not go beyond the low ceiling that Patriarch Hazim set for his positions and that generally he will be content to give fatherly advice to those fighting to love each other a little more, preferring prayer, fasting, chant, and religious books to everything else.

Update: On the website of the Archdiocese of  Argentina, there is a slightly different account of how the statute was modified to allow for the election of Patriarch John. Spanish original, here.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Holy Fathers opened the question of the list of candidates and decided to include in it Metropolitans John (Europe) and Basilios (Akkar) who each have 4 years and 7 months of ministry [as metropolitans], thus making them eligible for the See of Antioch.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Met. Georges Khodr's Two Tears

From the December 18, 2012 al-Safir. Arabic original here.

As Patriarch John X was elevated upon the throne at Our Lady of Balamand, presiding over the prayers of thanksgiving after his election to the See of Antioch, the "architect" of the Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Georges Khodr, let two tears stream from his eyes.

The first tear was for his life-long friend, Ignatius IV Hazim. Yesterday, Khodr realized that he had departed for good and that he had lost someone very dear, with whom he had worked over the decades to construct an Orthodox revival that produced vibrant institutions like Balamand University and with whom he fought to preserve the unity of the Church and to open her to dialogue with other religions.

The second tear was a tear of joy and confidence in the "right-believing" Church, who entrusted the reins of her authority to one of the pupils who drew from his well and from the well of his life-long friend Ignatius IV, and who grew up on the sound thinking of the Orthodox Fathers.

Georges Khodr seemed satisfied, yesterday, at the election of John Yazigi as patriarch, because with him and through him is ensured the future of the Orthodox Church, from Antioch to all the corners of the earth. He expressed to al-Safir his great longing for Patriarch Hazim and his overwhelming joy for the one who, with his faith and profound spirituality, is able to guide the path of the Orthodox Church to a safe harbor. Khodr states that, "In our canons and our theology, there is no continuation to the program from one patriarch to another. Each patriarch has his own program and his own administrative style, within the one faith."

Patriarch John X Yazigi: Axios, Axios, Axios!

Today, Metropolitan John Yazigi of Western and Central Europe was elected the 158th patriarch of Antioch and all the East. 

مستحق مستحق مستحق

His biography can be found here. Some of his homilies and pastoral letters can be read in English here.

From his words upon his election, Arabic original here.

Brother bishops, honorable fathers, members of the Holy Synod,

Beloved, what do you think a person should say at a moment like this, when he is established in the Spirit by the hand of our Holy Synod of Antioch to be in this position of service?

I do not forget the first day I was consecrated bishop, like other bishops, when you bow before the holy table and the Gospel-- the word of the Lord-- is opened over your head, then the patriarch and metropolitans call upon the Holy Spirit. This Gospel, in your prayers and your love, is open over my head... It tells me and reminds me what the Lord said to Paul: Do you love me? He said yes. He said, pastor my sheep... It is what is put over my head that draws me close to you. I do not forget my Lord who was lifted upon the cross. This service is a cross... My fathers and brothers, I ask for your prayers and supplications so that hand in hand we will make God's Church of Antioch a fitting image of the Bride of Christ and the Church that we all know she is. What I want to say and what I'm satisfied to say about this blessed service to which we have raised is for me to ask for your prayers, that my Lord will strengthen me in this service to which I have been entrusted. We all realize that our people are are a good people and that their service is sweet for our hearts. We are from this country. Our soil is a part of us and we are a part of it. I say to you, let us remember the prayer of our Lord to His Father, "Make them one as We are one." Let us be one, so that we may pastor our people, so that we may strive to make our Church that Church that is adorned in a white bridal garment that testifies to our Lord, so that people will see this Church and praise our Father who is glorified in heaven. I ask for the prayers of all, grown, young, and children... I am thankful for the love, trust, and prayers of the bishops. By God's grace I will rely  upon Him as we fight the good fight to build the Church as a beautiful bride for Christ, who is blessed and glorified unto the ages. Amen.

From his remarks at the press conference following his election, Arabic original here.

This service is a great service and an enormous responsibility. If one thinks about it, he cannot say anything. With the grace of God and relying upon my brothers in the Holy Synod, the monks, the nuns, and the people. We rely on the Lord to undertake this mission with which we have been entrusted today. Mankind continue to pass through harsh and difficult circumstances from all sides, but through our love and our continual openness to the other, and our faith that we are one family in the society and the country in which we live, it is possible for us to open our hearts and to remember this mission that comes from heaven: If we make our heart a home for the One who comes from heaven, this will strengthen us and help us.

The Orthodox Church has given this mission to all. We are one heart. The brothers on the Holy Synod work through the Spirit of the Lord. I thank my brother bishops for their great trust and love. In the Church, great work is before us and our path is the building up of man. We have great work in the fields of education, youth, schools, and universities.

We are very concerned with relations with the other Christian churches and we will work on this with our Muslim brothers in this country. We are one family with one destiny. We have great trust in our people. Our way is the way of the cross-- offering ourselves up and serving the people. God will strengthen us along this path. I ask for the prayers and love of all, just as I ask for us to be as one hand in this country. We work, as always, for the common good and the building up of a good society that bears witness to the truth. We remain, the Christians remain, and the land is their land. Our country has been subject to very difficult times through history and many have passed through difficult times. However, we are present and we remain. We have great trust in each other.

We live in continual hope. Hope does not fail in our hearts. We in Lebanon and Syria are one family and one Church. We believe that the Church of Christ is one and one family. All of us strive, as the Church of Antioch also strives, to be one with each other. The institutions, plans, and everything we undertake is for the sake of humankind and within the context that they must be put in place for the sake of humankind.

We studied at the hands of our master Patriarch Ignatius. The root of our concern will be everything that concerns the Church and the people. Our mission is to bear witness to peace and love for all humanity. We strive to mend the gap that has emerged within man, whether it is in his relationship to his Lord or in his relationship with other men. For the sake of this, and within the work of the Church, there are internal concerns and the Church is concerned with arranging the inside of the house, with regard to church education, administration, spirituality, institutions and with other churches.

The Church's work is diverse. The Lord will strengthen us all. I stress that we in the Church are one and we want to utilize all talents so that the Church can take up the illuminating role and the yoke that belongs to her.

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.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fr Georges Massouh on Patriarch Ignatius IV

Arabic original here.

Ignatius IV: Apostle of Diversity and Openness

Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim believes that the chief concern of Arab Christians lies in translating Christianity to the Arab world, a Christianity that speaks to the Arab mind and Arab culture, that strives to convey its dogmas in a clear Arabic language that reaches the Arab mind and heart. By this, he does not mean the translation of texts into Arabic, which has been done to a certain extent. Rather, he means, "that we arrive at there being a Christianity whose addressee is the Arab person."

Starting out from his view of the concern that Arab Christians have toward the Muslims of their countries, Patriarch Hazim does not neglect to mention the negative side of the history of Muslim-Christian relations. After enumerating the controversial issues between Muslims and Christians in the past, the most important of which is Ahl al-Dhimma-- "which ensures protection, but is also marginalizing", he believes that these issues "do not prevent Muslims and Christians from cooperating on a popular level and consciously realizing that they are almost one before God, that they have the same trust in God's care-- humility and submission are the same before God."

Thus, the patriarch believes that Muslims and Christians worship one God and that what gathers them together is this one, unique God who has revealed Himself in history in Christianity and Islam. In his address to Muslim leaders in Taif in 1981, he emphasizes the faith of Christians and Muslims in the one God. He opens his address by saying, "Like you, Middle Eastern Christians aim for the face of God... Like you, we long for the Creator of heaven and earth and seek to please God at all times."

He does not hesitate, when he mentions Lebanon and Jerusalem, "where all the servants of God raise up worship to the one, unique, God," to remind that mutual respect between Muslims and Christians is based on diversity: "The religions are called in principle to gather human forces to aim at sanctification and purification by divine grace. In Jerusalem, there is an important core for diverse worship and diverse presence, while in Lebanon, there is a deeply-rooted, wide, and profound space for  practicing this diversity. In Jerusalem, we seek the face of God, and in Lebanon we seek Him also."

In reality, Patriarch Hazim calls for revealing the presence of Christ and the activity of the Holy Spirit, "where it appears to be absent or even rejected." With his affirmation of the presence of Christ in non-Christian religions, the patriarch emphasizes the agreement between Christians and Muslims about God's transcendence. This "divine transcendence" may be the most exemplary point of contact between believers of the two religions, since God remains a mystery that cannot be delved or comprehended and drawing near to Him is not realized except through acts of worship and humility.

In this context, Patriarch Hazim warns against falling into various types of "relativism and dissimulation" that some theologians who deny the distinctions that belong to each of the worlds religions can slip. They judge the externals of things without going into their meanings and purposes. If some religious practices intersect or over lap, here and there, one cannot negate differences between religions, both those that may be accidental and those that are essential.

The thing that might best express the thinking of Patriarch Ignatius IV is this declaration, "We call for diversity and openness and this is from the heart of our dogma." Here the patriarch combines two things that outwardly appear to be contradictory-- dogma and openness-- in order to make them complete each other without conflict. Thus, his intellectual slogan, and also the slogan of the Arab Orthodox Church, is: openness without compromising the faith.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fr Touma (Bitar) on Who Should be Chosen as the Next Patriarch

Arabic original here. As is typical in Fr Touma's writing, you have to discern for yourself the line between waxing quixotic and prophesying...

Anew the Antioch of the Spirit

"The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God shall stand forever." (Isaiah 40:8)

On Wednesday, December 5, Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim of Antioch and all the East fell asleep in the Lord following a stroke. He lied in state in the upper church at the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Beirut during the following days, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, so that the faithful could receive his blessing. Today, Sunday, December 9, they will pray over him at noon. He will be transported to Damascus' Maryamiyya on the same day and will be laid to rest the following day, Monday in the burial-place of the patriarchs. May God's mercies be upon him. May his memory be eternal.

In effect, the See of Antioch is vacant. If the departure of His Beatitude has left sadness in the hearts of many, it is fitting not to delve into who will succeed him while his body, filled with years and toils, lies amidst the faithful. However, everyone-- within the Church and outside her-- is asking and wondering automatically, "Who is to come?" This is natural. The election of a patriarch happens once or twice in a lifetime. His Beatitude occupied the See of Antioch since 1979. One who was 37 then is now in his sixties. The custom is for a patriarch to remain in his see until his death. Naturally, this has advantages and disadvantages.

Whatever the case may be, a very important issue is before us for the foreseeable future. Its importance only grows when we realize the centrality of the image of the patriarch has for us in tradition and in the ordering of unity between the faithful and the Holy Synod.

In reality, questions and discussion about this matter have been going on for some time, especially since His Beatitude, today, is over 92 years old. He enjoyed pointing out, in his love for life, that both his parents lived over a hundred years. But no one chooses their time of death-- every hour could be the hour!

Because of this, discussions have been going on, here and there, about who and when and how? Today the issue is multiplied and arguments are being made about filling the position. In the coming days we must, with God's permission, quicken the pace. Possibilities are opening up. Interests are overlapping. Calls are being made. Maneuvers are being made. Statements are being issued. Names are being proposed. There are trial baloons. The pulse is being taken about some. Gifts and favors, at inappropriate times, play the role of implicit simony! Politicians and powerful men are suggesting this or that name! Likewise, perhaps, some government organs are wining and dining in secret as, perhaps, are some ambassadors and church leaders from outside Antioch. The point is that the affairs of the Church are being treated like one of the playthings of the gentiles!

Others have their proposals and opinions but we, as the people of God, have our say that we derive from what has come down to us from the tradition of the holy fathers.

Before delving into who is to come, we must define how the one who is to come should be.

There are opinions that are put forward.

One of them calls for a patriarch who knows how to deal tactfully with thorny sectarian and political matters. On the one hand, he should preserve the community's unity and works to ensure their rights that are wasted vis-a-vis other communities and the government. On the other hand, he should strive, to keep members of the community safe from the dangers of the political and sectarian conflict that is raging among us and attempting to embroil us, despite ourselves, in issues that do not concern us, neither on the level of our community or on the level of our belonging to the same nation, even as we are situated in the midst of it.

There is another opinion that calls for a patriarch who has good relations with Muslims and the Vatican and other sects, as well as with politicians and the current regime and the opposition. This comes within the context of looking for a patriarch who is open and who will do away with fundamentalism, closed-mindedness, and reactionary thinking!

There is an opinion that calls for an administrative patriarch, one who is eloquent, well-versed in sociology, capable of dealing with all the communities, groups, and interests in the nation, and who is extraordinarily ecumenical in his relations!

There are those who desire a patriarch who, naturally, performs Byzantine chant well, is knowledgeable, scientific, organized, in tune with modernity, liberal in outlook, of a pragmatic tendency, a good social pastor, a man of institutions...

These opinions overlap in some elements to produce an image that varies from one person or group to another.

But what do we say?

We are a church. We have no right to forget this or to ignore it, not even temporarily! We are not a municipality. We are not a charitable society. We are not a political party. We are not a social club. If we did not say church, we would say a group with a theanthropic nature, not a purely human group. Our concern is that we have a patriarch who is first of all and last of all a man of God. This does not come from peoples' choices and arrangements. This comes from God's choice that the faithful grasp through purification, fasting, and prayer and then make their own and announce it! Otherwise, there is no meaning to when God says, "God must be obeyed, not men" or to when the Lord Jesus said to His disciples, "Ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers to His vineyard." The people, no matter what heights they reach, cannot guide what belongs to God. It is God and God alone who guides what is His, and only in those who are trained in saying to Him, "Amen!" Thus, any deliberations or maneuvers outside of this context are corrupt and to be rejected, completely worthless before your Lord and in His Church!

The one whom your Lord desires comes from His Spirit and His Book. The important thing about the one who is to come is that you ask, what if his faith is like the faith of Abraham? What if his gentleness is like the gentleness of Moses? What if his childhood, humility and repentance are like the childhood, humility, and repentance of David? The most important thing is that you find an echo in him of the theology of John the Beloved, of the love of Paul. Even more important is that you examine him to see if he bears the cross of his Lord every day. If you do not find that he is poor in worldly things but does not care, because for him wealth is from above, then he is of no use! Closely examine his patience: If you sent him into the desert, would he flee? Would he melt in fire? Or would he consider the desert a divine oasis and fire like the dew upon the three youths? It is not a problem-- indeed, it is better and more appropriate-- if he has a plain appearance and is without form or beauty like the Suffering Servant. The important thing is that the power of the Spirit of God is thick within him, so that he can destroy the Devil's strongholds along with the people of God and so he can drive every thought toward obedience to God. What concerns us also is that the man of God be of the same stuff as his Master, that he not snap a damaged reed, that he not snuff out a smoking wick, that no one hears his voice in the streets. That he is gentle and long-suffering! That he rejoices with the joyful and weeps with those who weep. That he is small with children, youthful with those growing up, middle-aged, elderly... that he be all things to all people so that he might spread hope in God to all. That he not snuff out the Spirit but that he breathes it into those languishing in darkness and the shadow of death-- and how dark it is today! A man of prayer and fasting. A man who has the aroma of Joseph's chastity in the land of Egypt. Who knows how to make supplication. Who is well-versed in giving thanks. Who is pleased with everything that comes to him and accepts every flock without complaint. Persisting, with the people of the house of God, in hope until dawn shatters the shadows of temptation. One who is firm in faith until the end. One who is Orthodox in doctrine and worship. One who neither shows favor nor compromises. One who loves to teach and to mobilize talents in the service of preaching the Gospel, bringing salvation, and spreading the Word and the joy of the Lord. One who is careful, not to unify the people and the Synod, but to draw all to the One in every situation so that our unity may be preserved in Spirit and in truth. After this, everything follows. What he lacks will be given to him by the Spirit of the Lord in its time. If he is young, grace will increase his wisdom. If he has little experience in a given matter, the Spirit of the Lord will illuminate for him the paths of salvation. We are in need of one who will raise us up, through his sweat and tears, from our falls. We need one who asks about our suffering. We need one who helps us to leave behind our scandals. He alone is a man of God, a man for all seasons! For the springtime of ascent. For the summer of temptations. For the autumn of maturity. For the winter of hardships. One who distributes his Master's food without pay. One who pastors us with the behavior of the Good Shepherd and who disciplines us with God's mercies.

Where can we find a patriarch like this?! The Lord God has not left His people, for whom He sacrificed His blood, without a witness, even for a day! Far be it for Him to relinquish them to Azazael! There is always a way out! The grass withers and the flower fades, for a time, but the Word of our God shall stand forever!

Thus, brothers, fathers, bishops and metropolitans, unleash the candles of your consciences, and search out for us a man of God! Today or tomorrow you will die, just as His Beatitude our Patriarch Ignatius died, God's mercies be upon him. Do not look for a patriarch for us who will be the stepson of your moods, your honors, your alliances, and your worldliness! Give us a man who will shepherd us according to God's heart or do not give us anyone at all! The spirit has grown old in Antioch and the heritage has been scattered. But the time has come for the spirit to be renewed and for scattered things to be gathered! “O Lord, O Lord, look down from heaven and behold, and visit this vineyard, and perfect that which Your right hand has planted.”

By no means let us be like Moses who doubted God's power to shepherd His people and so did not enter into the Promised Land and whose bones lie on a hill overlooking it. The man whom the Lord desires for you stands among you! Open the eyes of your heart and you will find him!

Indeed, behold the man! I did not know him. I discerned the Spirit of the Lord in him once and I wrote about it, but did not mention his name!

Who do you think he is?

With all the force of my conscience in Christ, I will say his name! I will not only say his name. I will call for him to be named the new patriarch of Antioch and All the East: Metropolitan Siluan Muci, bishop of Argentina! Place your hand upon him and make him your servant brother and patriarch! He is the chosen one of Christ and His consolation for you!

Siluan for patriarch!

In the Lord's love,
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan the Athonite-- Douma

December 9, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Met. Georges Khodr's Eulogy for Patriarch Ignatius IV in Damascus

Arabic original here.

You go up from Antioch to the heaven that the righteous have chosen as their homeland. This is because you have gone from glory to glory, with what the Spirit, the Lord has brought you. I said the Spirit who descended upon your native intelligence and the intelligence that shined within you was a human ascent. But the Spirit came down upon you In Him you had rest and by His favor you reached high levels of knowledge, in depth and balance, and through it you revealed the Gospel to those who were prepared for it. He is avid for the souls who were entrusted into your care as as service to the great Shepherd of our souls.

By His grace you became bishop of Syria, if we can borrow the expression from your patron, who felt that he was called to look over the entire country. The country you are from was the heart of the Christian world for many centuries after the light of the Gospel dawned. Your Lord wanted you to bear the riches of Ignatius of Antioch, Romanos the Melodist, Elian of Homs, Chrysostom, the Damascene, and that great wonder, Maximus the Confessor, who was from Hauran.

As we now bid you farewell, we feel that in one way or another you come from them and that we want to come from them forever, and from you, in the measure that you are their inheritor. Over the course of many generations, master, Antioch was the primary theater for the Gospel and I do not exaggerate if I say that that Christian word, aside from a few lights in Alexandria, was spoken here and that the people tasted its crumbs in other regions.

The great Christian glow in this land  was brought to us by the Gospel, through the great men who sanctified this country. The Lord came to us through you after we came to know you as a servant of the Word.

You were not intoxicated by philosophy, which you learned well. You lived by the Gospel in every thought, to the point that it is possible for me to say that you did not stop at human opinion, since you knew that humans are temporary or transitory, just as you knew that we, the people of Antioch, do not subsist through our bodies, but through every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Indeed, we do not claim that our human aspect is something great. However, we contend that those lasting things within us have come to us from this Gospel that stands beyond the ages and that you yourself only wanted to serve it.

For this reason, from the time when you were teaching children and youth, you desired to focus all your intellectual effort on what God said in His good Book, since you were not patriarch of the Rum, but rather God's patriarch for the Rum. Your Lord did not call them by this name, but rather He breathed this saying into the Book of Acts: "The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch." These dear words mean that there is an unbreakable connection between Christianity and Antioch-- intellectual heritage was trained in asceticism and keeping watch in exercises, day and night, so that your Lord might be glorified from the desert of Syria to our coasts. You watched over all this expanse. The Lord's eyes were upon you and upon us, so that we might remain sincere bearers of the cross of glory toward each resurrection in the heart and mind, so that the face of Jesus may appear, and through it we might live unto ages of ages.

You were born of pure water and the Spirit and you grew up in Orthodox belief and worship such that you trained your taste to lead us in singing. When you came to Beirut as a teenager, you were one of the leaders because of this aspect of worship that was impressed upon your being, such that one can say that with your training in acquiring knowledge, people could discern in your thinking and your words the stamp of the Church.

You took up the clerical robe at the American University and you were distinguished in it and were insistent upon it when you went to France for theological instruction. Upon your return, you were entrusted with the Annunciation School in Beirut. It shined on account of you and you became known as an educator and administrator. This became clear to the spiritual leaders and they entrusted you with lofty responsibilities at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand until you were given authority over the Archdiocese of Lattakia and then sat upon the patriarchal throne, to shepherd all of Antioch. You lift us up to where you are seated now, in order to seriously follow the path you never strayed from at any stage of your life. Much seriousness comes from this mind, and your Shepherd Christ the Lord is the mind of the Father.

We hold on to everything you have given us, hoping that the Lord will keep us sincere. We shall meet with you, if the Lord desires to perfect us in mercy.

Met. Georges Khodr's Eulogy for Patriarch Ignatius IV in Beirut

Arabic original here. I will also try to translate the eulogy Met. Georges gave in Damascus.

As the Church on earth was receiving great effort from you, the Lord called you to the wedding of the Lamb and to the Church of the righteous so that you can taste their splendor and ever-lasting joy. You speak to us from above to say to us that if we have not sought the lasting good things, we have cast ourselves into nothingness. Your departure was a lesson for us to keep company with those in heaven, so that something of their beatitude might come down upon us.

You want us to keep watch over the word that you have entrusted to us, lest we be tempted by meaninglessness. If we look to you, we know that you raise our eyes to your Lord.

It may be difficult to practice for departure, but you have taught us that there is no chasm between those who belong to Christ. You went ahead of us to the kingdom that is to come, to keep company with the saints. We long for you and for them, and we are eternal through the dwelling of the Holy Spirit within us.

After being armed with it, you invite us to desire nothing but the face of God. Because you stand before Him, our companionship with you is strengthened and through your voice we come to the pure ones' abode.

In your companionship with them, you would always go back to Christ simplicity, which eliminates any distinction among the bright. What is true intelligence other than the shining of the divine intellect within us? You were not deceived by appearances and their concepts because the remembrance of God was close to you, even though you are of dust like us and knew this. However, you also believed that are called to transcend in order to be robed in light, as the dear Book says, "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." It is not easy for anyone to abide with his entire being in God's light. But you knew that human intellects-- and with your culture you were among them-- amount to nothing at the decent of the divine Word.

This is on the level of thought, but you understood that you were destined to go beyond all intellect through the outpouring of the Word of God upon you, so that you could be beyond all words. This only happens for one who has robed himself in the mind of Christ.

I say this exhaustively, because you would think over things deeply before speaking about things divine. In the education that you received and the ideas on which you were raised, you started from your own way of being as the place of ascent to things divine. The Antiochian Church, in the ages of its beauty, always in a unique way emphasized human effort in its asceticism, and its striving to speak about God, who cannot be spoken about except after training in love.

Speaking about divine love, which alone is the subject of theology, can only come to you if you have been existentially overcome by love and at that point understand the relationship between obedience to God and speaking about God. However, something remarkable about you is that you did not separate the experience of God within you and speaking about matters of God in the human intellectual terms in which you grew up.

But if the mind is independent, this means that it has not been nourished with inspiration and that it remains attached to the body and the world. Each of us knows that your first cultural garment was philosophy and those who observe you know that this world and its philosophy is not enough and that we are not able to live unless theology is our garment.

This is what was written upon you or written within you, so that it appeared to all that you are also a man of the heart. It was the source of amity within you and you loved some people by the power of the strong feelings that graced you.

This was not only your nature, but part of the very Christian depth of your being. You let your friends enter your heart and you loved them in simplicity. Perhaps this was the predominant virtue for you, and with it you looked upon children and the elderly. With these blessings, we reckoned that you would long remain among our elders, but the Lord takes unto Himself those that He loves very much.

Say to the Savior that we rely on nothing but His mercy for His Church. When will she become, through His mercies, the longed-for bride? Greet those who love for us to join them. May the blessed Lord listen to your whisper that draws us to His mercy.

Carol Saba on Patriarch Ignatius IV

Arabic original here.

Orthodox Words for the Departed Patriarch and the Coming Patriarch

Ignatius IV departed as he lived, in dignity, profundity, and simplicity. I came to know him through books, reading his writings, translating his sermons, and visiting his residence in Damascus in the company of the Orthodox bishops of Paris, and on various occasions. His constant concern was an active and effective Antiochian presence. We cooperated on key issues such as, for example, when he asked me in February 2008 to give a report to the Synod about the situation and challenges in the Diocese of Europe following the repose of Metropolitan Ghufrael Salibi. Last August, we discussed my critical view of the plan for a civil commission for Greek Orthodox in Lebanon. We spoke by phone from Paris at the end of November. He was anxious about the situation in the Middle East and happy about my receiving the French National Order of Merit, which he considered to be a testimony to our Church in the West. One could go on at length speaking of his achievements and positions. He came to us as patriarch in 1979, during the difficult times Lebanon, his second family, was experiencing. His patron, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, became the saint in his exemplary life, establishing an open Antiochian witness, based on authenticity in faith and bold enthusiasm in the world, a witness that speaks the language of modernity, of contact and communication with the other. The departed patriarch, who was of this school, had one great feature and three characteristics that made him one of the great men of the Middle East. The great feature was intelligence in positioning authenticity in tradition and vision. His impetus towards the future always started off from the ground of reality, from profundity of vision and the womb of tradition. He discerned what the Lord asked of him here and now, not as a slave or a hireling, but as a son, active in the Lord's field. As for the three characteristics, they are a dignified presence, profound vision, and a simple existence.

Regarding the patriarch to come, the challenges ahead of him are pivotal and very serious. In the Church, pastoral and evangelical vision must be renewed, communion and and consultation must be established in the Church, along with ways to move forward effectively, with a presence in today's troubled world, a world of contact and communication, and in our troubled Middle East that is experiencing the birth-pangs of a world that strives for true citizenship with equal rights and responsibilities, without religious or ethnic discrimination. In our Middle East today, there are serious dangers, competing national and regional interests and comprehensive plans that kill freedom with a new personality cult and religious or political absolutism that forces the individual who does not belong to submit to it. In this context, the new patriarch will quickly realize that the grace of guiding the ship that will be poured out upon him is, today more than any time in the past, a double-edged sword that must be wielded with firmness of faith and purity of spirit, churchly boldness, rapid discernment, comprehensive thinking, programmatic action, constructive realism for cooperating with modernity, and renewed vision of the world today. He must first of all be a loving father, a perceptive organizer, someone who puts everything into harmony, not a leader in the bureaucratic sense who limits authority to himself and those close to him. He must be inspiring and cultivate discernment among his children, not a manager who dictates from above, turning the Church from being guided by spiritual leadership to being ruled by top-down, worldly authority. In key issues, he must be a speaker and a listener who does not restrict speaking to himself. He must speak last, after listening to what the Spirit inspires to all, and then his world should speak for the entire Church. He must be more than a patriarch. He must be an active prophet, reproaching, disciplining, and showing the straight path. He must engage with the Church and society with a personality, but without falling into a cult of personality. He must be a conscientious organizer who strives to give Church a sound institutional basis, without falling into the trap of institutions that replace the spirit with the letter. If he is the loving father, the head of the council, master of the institution, an organizer of communion and a motivator of talents, then there is no fear that the sword is in his hand, the sword of the Lord that rightly divides the word of truth. At that point we will have a churchly and spiritual framework for an active and pioneering Antiochian Orthodox witness in the Middle East and the world. It will be a witness where our Church's tradition is not a petrified inheritance, sealed and closed in on itself, which we inherited from fathers who were a beacon in word and deed in this Middle East. Rather, it will be a constantly-renewed movement of faith, open to the world and to others, a language of discourse that makes us able to advance national cooperation in our Middle Eastern societies, in the service of man, his freedom, dignity, and the flourishing of his life. We hope to God that our coming patriarch will have authentic faith and intelligence in negotiating all these challenges and that he will speak with our hope.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Videos of the Funeral of Patriarch Ignatius IV in Beirut

Footage of the liturgy this morning in memory of His Beatitude Ignatius IV Hazim, at St Nicholas Church, Ashrafiyya, Beirut:

Footage of the funeral that followed immediate after the liturgy:

Footage from the funeral in Damascus:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Raymond Rizk Remembers Patriarch Ignatius IV

French original here.

In Memoriam: Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch (1921-2012)

I will leave it to others, and they are many, to talk about the achievments of Patriarch Ignatius over his long career as bishop, then as patriarch of our Church of Antioch. I prefer to limit myself to the man who hid, in shyness and discretion, behind various guises that sometimes gave a false impression of his true personality. I prefer to give a personal testimony about the one whose affection I have never lacked.

The furthest back my memory can take me, I see Father Hazim, as he was called then, playing an important role in initiating a large number of us into Orthodoxy and our engagement in Church activity. One of the oldest members of the Orthodox Youth Movement, at the beginning of the 1960's he had become a must for all those who were concerned with the renewal of the Patriarchate of Antioch. At the time he was director of the Orthodox School of the Anunciation in Beirut which had become, thanks to his dynamism and his efforts, one of the country's best schools. He was overflowing with activity. He could be found everywhere, not only within the local Orthodox church, but also through Syndesmos, the friendships forged at the Institute Saint-Serge in Paris and his participation at various international conferences within the universal Church. Alongside his peers, he represented our church in cultural and ecumenical circles, which at the time were taking their first steps in Lebanon. He played a driving role in the committee in charge of the Saint John of Damascus Orthodox Theological Instititue at Balamand, which he directed for years thereafter. Then no one was talking about an Orthodox university, but I suspect that he already had the idea and was waiting for its hour to come.

Many people who, like me, joined the ranks of the Orthodox Youth Movement at that time, especially in Beirut, had him as their spiritual father, 'team leader', and inspired and inspiring director. Alongside Father Georges (Khodr- now metropolitan of Mount Lebanon), the late Archimandrite Elias (Morcos- founder and abbot of the Monastery of Saint George at Deir el-Harf), Albert Laham, Costy Bandaly and his late brother Father Paul (who became metropolitan of Akkar), Youhanna Mansour (now metropolitan of Lattakia), and Spiro Jabbour (now a deacon and monk at Deir el-Harf), he was one of the most striking living incarnations of the Antiochian revival. His returning to God today and this list that I just cited remind me of all those luminous faces, these 'elders', our 'fathers', whose memory will remain alive in our heart and our Church for many years. With pain in my heart, I realize that soon the Lord will have called all of them to Himself and that we will have to be worthy of the inheritance that they have-- or will have-- left us.

Still at university, we would meet with him every week as a group to meditate on the Gospel, to discuss various issues in society and the Church, or just simply to listen to him. Unaware of the time and forgetting his many other responsibilities, we made these meetings go on, without any objection on his part.

Sundays and every Wednesday during the week, we attended the liturgy he celebrated at the church attached to the Annunciation School, where many faithful from other parishes would come just to hear his sermons. Always concise, clear, insisting on a key idea, they reminded us that the Gospel's message concerned everyone. At that time sermons were rare in our churches. When they did have them, they were packed with ideas and sometimes banalities, as thought if by saying too much, one could say everything.

During the summer, he was the parish priest in a resort town, Sofar, where some of us would spend the summer. This proximity during the long months of vacation and the fact that he took part, in addition to the liturgies and meetings, in our outings and other social activities, brought us and our families even closer to him.

This 'companionship', which lasted many years, allowed us to know that he lived an ascetic life. If we had only seen him eat so little, we might have doubted it. But I would like to share an experience that made a lasting impression on me. I had gone to his home, at the school, to accompany him to some meeting. He was always on time and he always taught us to respect schedules. But, that night, contrary to his habit, he seemed to want to draw things out. Since I was pressing him, telling him that people were waiting for him, he simply admitted to me that he was waiting on his only pair of shoes, that he had sent to get repaired, to be returned to him! Subsequently, I had many occasions to realize that, despite the honors that surrounded him, he knew how to keep the simplicity of life that he experienced in his native village in Syria. Having become bishop, then patriarch, he rubbed shoulders with the 'greatest', but he never lost his humble approach to people and things. Consumer society exasperated him. Through his way of life, he wanted to teach us that one could oppose it and limit its excesses. What more can be said? I believe that this humility and this simplicity of life will be much more important in the eyes of God than the achievements and works that he undertook, without denying their merit.

To conclude, I would like to call attention to some little-known writings of Patriarch Ignatius regarding relations between the Orthodox Churches, the diaspora, and relations with the Church of Rome. I think that they will shed new light on his thought and his activity and will show that certain initiatives, subsequently taken in the Orthodox and Christian world, had their origins with him.

In a letter, addressed to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew September 20, 2001, he writes about the situation of the Church on the American continent:

"If we earnestly and prayerfully desire the day when God will grant us (the mother-churches)  to define together the outlines of a single church on the North American continent, present and future relations between each jurisdiction and its mother-church should not be perceived as simply administrative and jurisdictional relations. They should rather be oriented towards a reinforcement of the profound and vivifying tie that these jurisdictions maintain with apostolic tradition through the intermediary of their mother-churches. We should remember that the path towards Orthodox unity in America lies in going forward with a stricter application of the decisions of the pre-conciliar conference and attempting to developing them by leading SCOBA to create even more platforms for encounter between Orthodox in order to encourage more exchanges between theological institutes, dialog between monasteries, maximum coordination between youth movements, a common English translation of liturgical texts, a systematic creation of sister-parishes, etc. Unity should be made through small steps, certainly around SCOBA but also on the level of all the people of God. These initiatives will have to be accompanied by a deepened reflection on the ties that must be maintained with the mother-churches and the richness that they bring to all the jurisdictions, if they desire to share among themselves. In this domain, we must develop in continuity. Working for unity on American soil does not mean cutting off ties with the mother-churches, but redefining them in a dialog of charity and in communion. All these initiatives will create a true dynamic of unity on American soil, at the same time anchored in apostolic tradition and insuring that the graces acquired in the New World will bear fruit. It is this dynamic that will lead our faithful to welcome with praise and joy that unity at the time when the Lord judges good to give it to us."

In another letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch on November 8, 2001, he admits that, "The situation of discord and lack of real harmony that prevails within each of the Orthodox churches and among them is an object of scandal, not only for their own faithful, but for all Christianity."

He continues, "Before the seriousness of the present situation of our holy Orthodox Church, the countless divisions that tear Christ's garment, and the urgent need to put an end to internal dissentions, I permit myself to 'prostrate myself in spirit before you and supplicate you' to take the necessary initiatives for a general reconciliation of the Orthodox patriarchs and churches, whatever the price. The credibility of our witness in the eyes of our faithful and the world is at stake. We must bear witness in our actions and not only in words to the hope that is in us. Today history is knocking at our doors. Will we turn a deaf ear?"

Regarding relations with Rome, he states in a letter to Cardinal Kasper on November 7, 2001, "Let us join together in listening to the Spirit to dare to go forward more earnestly along the path of our reunion in the Lord... I am convinced that our one and only Lord will continue to 'lend a hand' and that He will know how to guide us along the path of unity."

In a letter to Brother Enzio Bianchi, prior of the monastic community of Bose on October 26, 2001, he reaffirms that we must not "give up, but rather go forward so that God's will may be done in each of us and in each of our churches. May it give us the courage to wait for the day to come-- and we hope that it is near-- when each of us will discover that the Christ who dwells in his heart is the same Christ who dwells in the hearts of others and that we have no other choice but to recognize each other as brothers."

In his November 2001 letter to Patriarch Bartholomew, at a time when the work of the mixed commission with the Catholics was deadlocked, he said, "The current deadlock... should not prevent us from trying to go forward together in elaborating a common witness and tackling the problems that are tearing people apart. And trying to lead our respective faithful to remove from their heart any worldly hate or animosity. In order to do it, it would be necessary to promote a culture of friendship and love. It would be necessary to encourage brotherly relations in actual reality. Our theological statements about that which is common to us-- and it is enormous-- should be translated into life through the recognition of the other as brother in the Lord Jesus, despite differences or mishaps. Prophetic gestures, heavy with symbolism, need to be put into place. The Christian people should be given strong signs of hope. These signs and these gestures should be found together... It is at this price that consciences will be shaken and that hearts of stone will rediscover that they are made of flesh. It is at this price that we will help the churches to escape this status quo that could not distance us any more and make our evangelical witness less credible."

In an address given before Pope John Paul II at the Vatican on October 22, 2001, he spoke of the necessity of condemning terrorism, but continued, "It is also necessary to condemn the violence that some states wield against individuals and against other states, especially violence against the poor. We equally need to sympathize with the oppressed who seek their liberation through resisting the occupier and to work to end the massacre of innocents in countries where children and elderly, as well as other human beings, are dying freely. Justice and not vengeance must be done... This quest for justice must be promoted along with all men and women of good will... rejecting reckless compromises and initial reactions.

Let us preach the conviviality of nations... The current troubles could last and lead to even more afflictions. The churches' witness is called to be more eloquent, more pressing, and more effective. Our most ardent desire is to bring together all those who want to live as Christians, according to the spirit of the Gospel, in prayer and fasting, so that God will have mercy on us and grant us to combat the grip of evil that seems to us to be increasingly dominating humanity."

These eloquent and prophetic words are better than any other testimony about Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch. There is nothing left for me to do but to pray from the heart, "May his memory be eternal."

Met. Saba Esber's Vision of the Church and the Youth Movement

From the March issue of Majallat al-Nour.

The context here is soul-searching about the place of the Orthodox Youth Movement, occasioned both by the 70th anniversary of its founding.Although it is specifically about the Youth Movement, this essay gives an understanding of how Met. Saba understands the Church of Antioch today.

The Movement in the Heart of the Church

These words are about the Movement. They are not an analysis or a description. Rather, they are some of what I experienced in it as a youth, a priest, and a bishop and what I hope for it.

I came to know the Movement shortly after entering secondary school. From that time, I began to get a feel for my Orthodox Church, which I was living outside of at that time. I found in the Movement a specifically churchly environment, which rooted me in my Church. Everyone loves the Church and looks to her as the bride of Christ, without blemish or defect. The Movement's weekly meetings involved doing the prayers of the Church as a group. In order to become a member, you must first attend the divine liturgy for three consecutive weeks. Then you are accepted into it, so that you can participate with the brothers in the program of life based on morning and evening prayers, daily reading from the Gospel, participation in the divine liturgy with the brothers once a week, in addition to a common agape fund.

I did not find in the Movement religious instruction in the school sense, so much as I found an effort toward a common Christian life that uses religious knowledge as one of the ways to arrive at the desired communion. This is not to deny the strong concern for spiritual, theological, and intellectual revival that I found there. However, the experience of the Church as true communion among the faithful was its most prominent feature. It is what drew me to be involved with it and caused me to love the Church. From there, I began to feel my calling to the priesthood.

We (I and some of the brothers and sisters) had the blessing of experiencing true brotherhood in Christ, in every sense of the word. The expressions of this palpable brotherhood were in prayer, shared thinking, material support, visiting each other, and serving the Church within our range of abilities. It is one family whose head is Christ-- glory to Him. The Church is its mother who nourishes it with the divine mysteries, especially the mysteries of repentance and the Eucharist. Harmony and solidarity between the members, the leaders, and the spiritual fathers (the priests).

In it I got to know priests, monks, nuns, and faithful who are no less consecrated to their faith and their Church. I also came to know the uniqueness and originality of my Church. In its spiritual activities, I became acquainted with the mystery of confession and began to practice it. I did not find there some phrases I started to hear later, which still today seem strange to me, like "the Church and the Movement", "the Movement within the Church or outside her", "clergy and laity", "lay movement", or... which indicate tension or error in understanding or practice.

The environment I grew up in was churchly in every sense of the word. By the word "churchly" I mean that we did not feel while we were in the Movement that we were not in the Church or even in a place near the Church, but rather completely within her.

From this angle, I will try to look at the Movement today, seventy years after its establishment in the See of Antioch. I understand the Movement, as I have experienced it, as a group of faithful who are aware that one does not become a true, active, faithful member in the Church on his own, but rather within the communion of the Church. In order for the understanding of this communion to remain alive, the faithul must truly and continuously live it and experience it with brothers and sisters who share with them in this Christian life and churchly vision. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Met. Saba Esber of Hawran Elected Locum Tenens

Various news outlets have reported that Met. Saba Esber of Hawran has been elected patriarchal locum tenens. It should be remembered that this role has no other responsibility than to facilitate the election of a new patriarch. Although Met. Saba has been mentioned in some media speculation as one of the more likely candidates for the patriarchal see, being elected locum tenens has not historically been an indicator of being a preferred candidate-- in 1979, the relatively young Met. Elias Kurban was elected locum tenens prior to the election of patriarch Ignatius IV.

Three brief essays by Met. Saba, originally published in Majallat al-Nour, can be read here:

Some Words about Going up to Receive

 The Poor are our Gateway to the Kingdom

The Movement in the Heart of the Church

From the website of the Archdiocesse of Hawran and Jebel al-Arab (slightly edited), a biography of Met. Saba:

Bishop Saba Esper
Is the Metropolitan of Bosra Horan and Arab Mountain since 1999

Holds a Civil Engineering degree from Tishreen Univeristy 1984

Holds a degree in Theology from Saint John the Damascene Institute in Balamand University in 1990

Became an instructor in Saint John the Damascene Institute and became a priest in 1988

Became the priest of St. Michael Church in Lattakia in 1990
Promoted to be an archbishop and was assigned to be Patriarchal representative in 1999

Was elected by the holy Antioch council to be the Bishop of Bosra, Horan and Mount Arab Parish

Started Al-Arabia periodical which is issued from the Parish publication house

Is working on renovating the historical Saint George church which celebrates its 1500th anniversary in 2015

Has numerous articles and theological and biblical studies in Al-Nour and Al-Arabia periodicals as well as the parish periodical. The Archdiocese of Bosra Horan has witnessed a great revival affecting human resources level. Several chanting choirs and religious study groups were established in many villages for children and the youth. The revival has also tackled the construction level. Many churches were built and many other churches were renovated. Bishop Saba has established many productive projects that proved to be beneficial for the parish in general.

Established Al-Farah publication and translation house. Al-Farah publishing house has issued tens of religious and educational books as well as Al-Farah children magazine in both Arabic and English. This is the only Orthodox magazine for children in Antioch.

The parish has produced a documentary called “The Forgotten Church” which highlighted the importance of Horan region fo the Church of Antioch as well as for civic history.