Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Carol Saba on Challenges facing Patriarch John X

This essay was published in an-Nahar shortly after the patriarch's election. The Arabic text can be read here.

Patriarch John X: Challenges in a time of changes

John X came to us as a shepherd for Antioch, reflecting the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John that tells us about the Good Shepherd who knows the voice of His sheep. I got to know him through his writings as Metropolitan of Europe. Together we experienced harmony and difference. It was a profound encounter, in love of service to the Church. Today the Holy Spirit gave him an appointment with history in motion. His election is a message of light in the darkness of the time and of hope for the resurgence of a renewed Antioch. The process of his election was neither lengthy nor complicated. It was completed in peace and simplicity, with neither hesitation nor haste. There was no lack of concern for the Church's unity. Perhaps the fathers of the Synod deeply realized the danger of the situation and the need for being ready for challenges. The very Church is at stake if stagnant waters do not stir with churchly intelligence so that we might bring back the activity of linking, connection, and leadership in the Middle East. In the Church today there are harmonies and contradictions, revelations and flabbiness, purity and questions, and much that has piled up. The new patriarch, who has experienced both the West and the East, completely realizes the challenges and that the world is changing around us, East and West, radically and rapidly. Globalization, which has both positive and negative aspects, has conquered every place. "Progressive" materialism submits all values and standards to change and questioning. The Arab Middle East is flailing about and living through a phase of great transformation. A whole series of exceptional events require a critical reading, a demonstration of vision, and an exceptional road-map for the Church, so that we as Orthodox may be active within her and not divided and passive.

Five major ecclesial and national challenges stand before us in order for us to rise from "maintaining existence" to "active presence." First of all the challenge of evangelism and renewed pastoral care so that the Church can be in a state of faithful dynamism that speaks to contemporary man and modernity with the language of living faith and not a state of social and cultural nostalgia that revives traditions whose spiritual meaning is lost on new generations. The Gospel is a spiritual radicalism that must be intelligently centered on society in order to build it up. Otherwise it becomes a worldly ideology subject to failure. Then, secondly, the challenge of Antiochian unity, since we do not want merely a slogan but rather effective frameworks for cooperation, coordination, and shared activity between the dioceses, which must be aware that they are members of a single body. Then, thirdly, the logic of service must outweigh the logic of authority, since the Church is not a "pyramid" of authority with a head and a base, decider and implementers. She is a communion of believers who gather together like a ring of links that is consultative and collegial, as rings of charisms, around their patriarch with the bishops in their middle, together taking part in crafting  their present reality and future in the Church, exactly as Christ stood in the middle of the disciples after His resurrection.

The fourth challenge is the sound institutional basis of the Church: canons, departments, research workshops, planning for the framework for services and collaboration, the launching point for the dynamism of the extensive Antiochian Orthodox conference, etc., so that the work of the Church can be coordinated, programmatic, transparent, and universal. At that point, the initiative will be in the hands of the Church instead of being in the hands of Orthodox groups and individuals with their own agendas. Finally, the Church must distance herself from politicization and make herself into a place of encounter, dialog, and initiative for supporting national cohesion and cooperation in our Middle Eastern societies. So let us as Orthodox work to take her out of the logic of sectarianism, minoritarianism, isolationism and into the logic of openness, citizenship, the rule of law, freedoms, and equality.

In the end, all these challenges require the Church to address the world of today through media, a world of connectedness and connectivity, in a studied, contemporary language, in order to convey the words of the Evangelist John, the patriarch's patron, "Come and see."

The initiative today and every day is in the patriarch's hands, since in our Church he is the first bishop among equals, the point of demonstrating unity, the meeting-point of all for consultation, and the starting-point for energetic activity. He is the location of comprehensive catholicity and he wears its symbol, two pectoral icons and a cross. John X, you are the one chosen to be father, leader, inspirer, organizer, motivator, and facilitator between the Orthodox of Antioch and their surroundings as well as with the Orthodox churches, other Christians, other religions, and the entirety of the world today. You have your date with history in the Church of Antioch and with the face of the Lord in her, and from her to the ends of the earth.

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