Saturday, March 30, 2013

Daily Star: Christians Slowly Fade from Tripoli

Read the whole article here.

Christians slowly fade from Tripoli’s troubled landscape

 by Jana El Hassan

Recent clashes and bouts of violence have flared in Tripoli, fostering negative perceptions of the country’s second largest city, once a paragon of coexistence.

Previous episodes of fighting, dating back to the Civil War period, have pushed the majority of Christians out of the city while many of those who remain are adamant about “maintaining their roots.”
There is no official count of Christians residing in Tripoli, but according to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Tripoli-Koura, the population has declined from 22 percent in the 1970s to 6 percent today.


The frequent clashes in the north have definitely succeeded in driving some Christians out of the city.
In 2007, following several months of battles between Fatah al-Islam, an Islamist militant organization, and the Army in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared near Tripoli, Melissa Rahban and her family decided to move to Koura.

“We moved to Dahr al-Ain and rented a small apartment there. It was supposed to be for an interim period but I was able to get a job in one of the schools here and enrolled the kids,” she said.

“I still go there, of course. I have many relatives in Mina but I don’t think about moving back to Tripoli, It may not be Kandahar, but it certainly isn’t a place to call home anymore.”

Friday, March 29, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh on the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's Behavior

Arabic original here.

Corrupt Ecclesial Agression

The unity of the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, according to the Orthodox understanding, is based on the unity that exists between independent local churches with recognized geographic boundaries. The diocese, which has at its head a bishop who pastors, directs, and manages it, is an independent church and no other bishop or other diocese has the right to intervene in its internal affairs.

From the first centuries of Christianity, the Orthodox Church knew the system of five patriarchates: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Each patriarchate has a holy synod made up of diocesan bishops and presided over by the patriarch who is the bishop of the main city, without him having canonical authority over any of the bishops who belong to the synod.

The Orthodox Church has preserved this independence after the rise of new patriarchates and independent churches: Moscow, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Greece, Albania... But with the spread of Orthodox outside their mother countries and outside the historical geographic framework of the Orthodox churches, there arose the problem of Orthodox parishes in countries of the diaspora. In this way there came to be more than one bishop in a single city and this is an explicit violation of Orthodox tradition, which says that it is not permitted for there to be more than one bishop in a single city.

If the presence of more than one bishop in a single city that is not under the authority of any of the independent Orthodox churches is considered to be an unambiguous theological violation, how much more so is it when one of the churches infringes upon a sister church? This is what happened when the Patriarchate of Jerusalem appointed a bishop as "Archbishop of Qatar", which falls within the historical and canonical boundaries of the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East and is dependent on the Antiochian bishop, the Metropolitan of Baghdad, Kuwait, and the Arabian Gulf Constantine Papastephanou. The metropolitans of the See of Antioch met under the presidency of Patriarch John X and decided that this appointment "violates the canons of the Orthodox Catholic Church because each patriarchate is independent and it is not permissible for one patriarchate to interfere and elect a bishop for the territory of another patriarchate." Patriarch John sent a letter to the Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos XIII in which he expressed his shock at the decision and asked for it to be reconsidered. The letter was then sent to the heads of all the independent Orthodox churches.

Jerusalem's infringement upon the Patriarchate of Antioch is added to the black record of the leaders of the Church of Jerusalem. They-- Greeks and not Palestinians-- undertook to make long-term leases of thousands of acres of Palestinian land from its endowment to Jewish colonists  at symbolic prices in exchange for the Israeli authorities' condoning their domination over the Church of Jerusalem and preventing anything that might return to Christian Arabs their right to manage their local church. They forge an alliance with the Israeli state that oppresses their Arab Orthodox children and pay no attention to the Christian presence in Palestine, content with the religious tourism that brings in wealth for them and for the occupying state.

This "Greek colonialism" of the Church of Jerusalem now has a boundless appetite. Thus this colonialism has appropriated territories of the Antiochian Church. The question is: would the Church of Jerusalem be concerned with the church in Qatar were it not for lust for money? Why did the Church of Jerusalem not think of the poor Palestinian Christians in camps and in Arab slums as they are only interested in Qatar? Will the Holy Light come down, as some Orthodox believe, this year to light the candle of the offending patriarch, knowing that God neither loves aggressors nor their candles?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Independent on the Plight of Syria's Christians

The plight of Syria's Christians: 'We left Homs because they were trying to kill us'

 By Kim Sengupta  

   The red Mitsubishi Lancer GT with "go faster" stripes was a source of great pride to Hamlig Bedrosian. It was the only one of its kind in the city, pointed out on the streets as he roared along, an object of admiration and envy among his friends in Aleppo.

The car may have been the reason why the 23-year-old student was ambushed and taken hostage, along with a female friend, as they were travelling to a shopping complex. The revolutionary fighters with Kalashnikovs who led them away subjected Mr Bedrosian – blindfolded and tied up – to savage beatings and threats of execution before the pair was finally freed in exchange for a ransom.
Or there may have been a different reason for the attack: they were targeted by the Sunni Muslim rebels because they were Christians. Mr Bedrosian did not wait long to find out, leaving – along with his brother – for Lebanon. Others from the Syrian Armenian community followed, abandoning their homes.

The Haddad family had no doubts about why they had to escape from Homs. "We left because they were trying to kill us," said 18-year-old Noura Haddad. She is now staying with relations in the town of Zahle in the Bekaa Valley. "They wanted to kill us because we were Christians. They were calling us Kaffirs, even little children saying these things. Those who were our neighbours turned against us.
"At the end, when we ran away, we went through balconies. We did not even dare go out on the street in front of our house. I've kept in touch with the few Christian friends left back home, but I cannot speak to my Muslim friends any more. I feel very sorry about that."

Mr Bedrosian and Ms Haddad are among thousands who have left Syria as the 20 month-long civil war gets increasingly vicious and increasingly sectarian. The prospect of reconciliation between the Alawites, from which the ruling elite are drawn, and the overwhelmingly Sunni opposition, gets more remote by the day after each round of strife. But now it is the Christians, who have largely sought to remain neutral, who are on the receiving end of abuse and attacks. For many, the choice now is between leaving the country or risking an uncertain and hazardous future.


Read the rest.

Met. Ephrem on the 71st Anniversary of the Youth Movement

Arabic original here.

The 71st Anniversary of the Movement
Mar Elias School, Mina
Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Lord Jesus says in the Gospel of John, "The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:23-24).

These words completely apply to our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for the fruit of our salvation. However, it also applies to us who believe in Jesus if we want to resemble Him and strive to purchase our own salvation and the salvation of those around us today.

The issue is that of our witness. It is no longer limited to and focused on spreading the word, preaching, excessive advertising and controversy on Facebook and emails... We are in need in the Church of people, and especially of youth who in their lives defy the pattern of worldly consumerism in order to embody the Gospel and move beyond these electronic media and even fast from this information technology that often occupies our children without nourishing their souls.

Beloved brothers, let me speak to you frankly and say that the Movement is not a party that is closed in on itself, struggling to persist and continue within the Church. I will day to say what Father Elias Morcos, of eternal memory, once said, "The Movement was created so that a time might come when there is no longer any need for its existence." I do not at all mean that we are not in pressing need today of Movement youth. On the contrary, what I want to say is that we are in need of good leaven in our society today, and good leaven dissolves in order to leaven the entire dough so in the end it will become good to eat. Let us resemble members of the Movement who sacrificed themselves and bore good fruit according to the model of the righteous Metropolitan Boulos (Bendaly) and our beloved brother Elie Obeid who recently departed from us.

The Gospel of the righteous ones whom we celebrate today says, "when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly" (Matthew 3:4-6).

God alone, if He desires to reveal our good work, allows people to see the light on our faces: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

Finally, I will mention what Patriarch Ignatius, of thrice-blessed memory said, "An Orthodox is someone who lives as a monk wherever he is, in the midst of the world." This is what we need today, monks in the midst of the world. This is how I envision the Movement...

Peace and forgiveness, and have a joyous feast!

Metropolitan of Tripoli, Koura, and their Dependencies

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

An Interview with Bishop Luka Khoury on the Situation in Syria

Read the entire interview with Russia Today here.

Outsiders are killing Syrian People, destroying Churches and mosques - Christian Bishop


NK: Do the militants target Orthodox Churches?
BL: They kill people. They do not care about people, about human lives. And that's more important than churches and cathedrals, because if there are no people, there's no need for cathedrals. They do not care about having killed hundreds of our people, let alone destroying churches or mosques. Our churches have been attacked in all provinces. In Saidnaya the monastery was under fire, but, thank God, a miracle happened - the shell landed in the yard, breaking through the wall, but didn't explode. It broke in two, with all the gunpowder in one half of it. If not for this miracle, the shell would've killed 30 orphan girls. I've been there and saw everything. Everywhere - in Harasta, Arbin, Zabadani, Daraa, Aleppo, and around Damascus - our churches and our people have been attacked. They are suffering. Our cathedral in Raqqa has been severely damaged. These outlaws assault parishioners, kidnap and kill priests. Father Fadi Haddad from Qatana was kidnapped and killed when he attempted to rescue his people. They tortured him and killed him. The same happened in Hama. Currently we're trying to rescue the two priests that remain abducted.


NK: What are the sentiments within the parishes of the Patriarchate of Antioch in the USA, Canada and Australia?
BL: Metropolitan Philip Heads the parishes there. He is even a bigger patriot of Syria than I am. He works in the best interests of the whole community - the whole Church of Syria. The Supreme Mufti and I were supposed to pay a visit to the USA, but unfortunately he was denied a visa. To express solidarity for him, I decided to call off the trip. There surely can be a couple of people in any parish abroad who have their own views of the situation in Syria. But overall, there are mainly Syrian patriots within the Patriarchate of Antioch all over the world.

NK: Is there any pressure exerted on the parishes abroad attempting them towards the position of the West on Syria?
BL: There hasn't been any direct Political pressure so far. But there is pressure and a threat of attack by supporters of the Syrian opposition. Some of our parishioners were beaten. Our female Honorary Consul in Montreal was attacked - her chemist's shop was raided and her husband was beaten. Another attack was on a restaurant owner in Ottawa - for his involvement with the Syrian diaspora.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Antiochian Delegation Meets with Archbishop of Athens about Qatar

Greek original here.

Hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Antioch Meet with Archbishop Hieronymus

According to information exclusive to, a delegation from the Patriarchate of Antioch visited with  Hieronymus, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece yesterday [Wednesday, March 20].

The hierarchs from the Patriarchate of Antioch informed Archbishop Hieronymus of their position regarding the dispute with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, following the election of "Archbishop Macarius of Qatar" in a region that is considered the Church of Antioch's "canonical" territory.

The Patriarchate of Antioch's delegation continues its contacts with the heads of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches in order to raise their awareness of the issue.

Nevertheless, in the next days there may even be a meeting between the archbishop [of Athens] with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew about the issue, perhaps by telephone.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Met. Siluan Muci's Meeting with Pope Francis

Met. Siluan of Buenos Aires, himself born in Venezuela, was the representative of the Patriarchate of Antioch at the inaugural mass for Pope Francis. He has been sharing reflections on some of his experiences in Rome on the website of his diocese. Spanish originals here and here.

Pope Francis' Private, Informal Audience with Metropolitan Siluan

March 17, 2013

This first night at the Vatican, Sunday, March 17 was wonderful and unexpected. The location was not so special, rather the meeting with a man who is "great" but also very easygoing in his approach with others.  "Great" men, in the functions and roles that they have always put on-- or rather, we dress them with-- magnificense, grandeur, etc., something that does not cause us to approach such majesty.

All this would change that night for me. This change was important in order for me to find the words that I felt and wanted to express to Pope Francis.

Very simply, during the dinner in the dining room of the "Saint Martha House", I commented to the pope, to whose right I was sitting in the meeting with the Orthodox bishops from Buenos Aires, that I had a letter from our patriarch His Beautitude John X, as well as a personal gift that I wanted to give him. So he offered to receive me directly after the meeting in his apartment. In reality it was not an apartment, but rather a bedroom that they had assigned him during the Conclave, where he is still residing.

He told me the room's number and I went up to see him.

Everything that I wanted to say to convey was said-- this time in Spanish! Some things that we exchanged will remain in the privacy of this meeting, out of respect for the personal thoughts that were brought up there.  This informal papal audience lasted ten minutes. A time outside of time and the protocols that we see in the media: in humility and simplicity. Nothing more.

But I can indeed share some of what we said when I gave him the icon of Saint Silouan. I had written a personal letter to him, thinking that I would not have the occasion to express it personally. I will share it here:

Your Holiness Francis
Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Roman Catholic Church

Your Holiness,

I approach with this very particular "present": it is not a gift, but rather a saint, always "present". It is of the one whose name I bear: Saint Silouan of Mount Athos (+ 1938). I hand you a saint with his prayer, "Merciful Lord, I pray that you may cause all the peoples of the world to know You by Your Holy Spirit." He will accompany you on this path that God's Providence has chosen for you. "

The icon is "simple", but written with Argentine hands, from our Church, with much love and prayer. This way you  will be able to have it in the cell where you pray. I am also including the book of the writings of Saint Silouan in Spanish and a small cross from the place where Saint Silouan lived. It is something "simple" in form but with deep meaning, which I would like for Your Holiness to have have now. May God grant that it be for your benefit, inspiration, and illumination on the paths of the Lord.
This is the best communion that I can offer in response to the repeated supplications that Your Holiness has never ceased to make from the ministry that you occupied and that you now occupy.
May God bless us for the service of His holy name!

+Metropolitan Siluan
Archbishop of Buenos Aires and all Argentina
Of the Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East

Pope Francis' Three Qualities

March 19, 2013

The twofold act of asking and listening is a very enriching experience. This is how one goes about learning and growing.

I want to share such an experience in these lines, that of the three qualities of Pope Francis. I had the opportunity at today's dinner, March 18 2013, where various cardinals were present alongside the Patriarch of Constantinople and the delegation from the Patriarchate of Moscow.

At the table where the cardinals from Cuba, Ecuador, Santo Domingo, etc. were gathered, I wanted to know the opinions that they had of the pope. So each one of them agreed to answer the question: What are the qualities of Pope Francis?

I will share below some of the answers that I received. Some of it I already shared with [Argentine news station] C5N, who asked me to share some of what I experienced here.

One emphasized the fact that the pope is an organizer, who knows where and how to get something done, a man of great simplicity and mercy.

Another emphasized that the pope is a man who understands his surroundings well, who is generous, a man of words who knows how to speak without offending.

A third said that he is a humble man, who is transparent, honest, who knows things in Latin America who will know how to tell those who correspond from each of those countries what he will have to do.

A fourth spoke of the sacramental aspect, of the Eucharistic celebration, of his knowledge of the fact that he is very hard-working.

As for me, something I did not share at the table, I believe that he is a person who deeply loves Jesus Christ, respects every person without discrimination, and who is a person who does not worry about things, whether or not they go well, but rather keeps to prayer and from there waits for strength and the response. He really has faith and knows how to live faith and who also, by his sincerity, inspires others to think that faith is something real, true, and authentic, leaving them the time and the freedom to live it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Orthodox Youth Movement in Michigan, 1948

From Majallat al-Nour,July/August 1949, pp. 166-167.

The Syrian Orthodox Youth Movement in the United States of America

Those who have had the opportunity to examine the spiritual revival in the Orthodox Church in various parts of the world are stunned by this remarkable spiritual movement. The cause for amazement is that it arose in various countries far apart from each other on a single basis and through youth who had generally achieved university education but who had not previously received any Orthodox instruction to speak of. The spiritual maturity of these youths and their true understanding of the goals that they advocate is shown by the fact that, even though in the beginning they undertook the idea of spiritual revival without direction or encouragement from spiritual leaders, they did not think for a single moment of working independently of distantly from the Church and from those who have been raised up by God to pastor her children.

It pleases us to transmit to readers news of a blessed Orthodox revival among Orthodox youth in the United States of America. This was relayed by the zealous Mr. Ibrahim Sayegh, one of the friends of the Movement in Tripoli, who contacted the Rev. Fr. Archimandrite Elias Khoury, the advisor of the Orthodox Youth Movement in America. He provided us with this pleasing news.

The Syrian Orthodox Youth Movement held its first meeting in Detroit, Michigan on April 20, 1948 and called for Orthodox clubs and associations in the western part of the United States to unite efforts, programs, and work under the supervision of one body. Eight of these organizations heeded the Movement's call and decided on the city of Grand Rapids as the chief center for its administration. It adopted for itself a constitution that included its aims and goals, from which we extract the following:

The goals of this movement are:

1. To develop in its members a spirit of attachment to the teachings, order, and rituals of the Orthodox Church.

2. To raise their spiritual level. In this regard, it advises frequently approaching the mysteries of repentance and the Holy Eucharist, individually and as a group.

3. For the Movement to be obedient to the bishops and priests and to cooperate with other Orthodox organizations in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.

4. To contribute effectively in preparing and instructing an educated clergy for work in this country.

5. To provide means and arrange organized programs for studying the teachings, dogmas, music, rituals, and arts (1) of the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Orthodox Church.

6. The Syrian Orthodox Youth Movement is especially concerned with choirs for Church singing and Sunday schools and has adopted unified programs for each of its branches for study and work in these domains. It is worth mentioning with pleasure that the common choir that serves the divine liturgy during conferences and other general meetings is made up of eighty voices.

The secretary general of the Orthodox Youth Movement in Beirut has received a fraternal letter from the secretary general of the Syrian Orthodox Youth Movement, expressing their being pleasedto be aquainted with the Movement in the See of Antioch and their hope that fraternal relations will develop and increase familiarity through correspondance, exchanging news and experiences, and working to realize personal connections through trips from one group to the other.

We rejoice at founding of this blessed movement and hope that our brothers working in the American lands to raise the glory of the Church and spread the Christian message will succeed in their righteous works.

(1) Among these arts are: icon-painting, making holy  vessels and clerical garments, and designing and building churches and monasteries. [Footnote original to the article.]

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Patriarchate of Antioch's Official Decision on the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's Intrusion in Qatar

This is the official translation. Once more, thanks go to Nicholas for passing it along.

Statement issued by the Holy Synod of Antioch

March 13, 2013

The Fathers of the Holy Synod of Antioch held a meeting on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, in the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand. The meeting was chaired by His Beatitude Patriarch JOHN X. The Fathers discussed the situation arising from the election of Archimandrite Makarios by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem as the “Archbishop of Qatar”, on March 4, 2013. This
election is against the Ecclesiastical Canons of the Orthodox Catholic Church. After deliberations and the approval of the Holy Synod Fathers in the Mother lands and abroad (Diaspora), the following statement was issued to be distributed to all the faithful and to all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches.

The Statement

In the midst of much suffering and pain that our region is going through, His Beatitude Patriarch JOHN X convened the bishops of the Holy Antiochian See in the region and deliberated with the bishops who are abroad (Diaspora) about the hurt that has been caused by the election of Archimandrite Makarios as “Archbishop of Qatar” by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. His Beatitude began the meeting by sharing all the steps that he made as soon as he knew about the issue through the media. After discussing the matter with all the bishops of the Antiochian Holy Synod, His Beatitude sent a verbal message to His Beatitude the Patriarch of Jerusalem and His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch. He then sent a written letter to both primates expressing surprise “regarding the decision of the Holy Synod of Jerusalem to elevate the priest sent to Doha city to the office of the episcopate, giving him the title of the ‘Archbishop of Qatar.’ This has been without any contact with the Antiochian Patriarchate. Qatar falls within the geographical jurisdiction of Antioch. It is the lawful prerogative of Antioch to appoint a bishop to that land, especially since we have a canonical
Metropolitan ruling all the Arab Gulf countries, His Eminence Metropolitan Constantine.” His Beatitude pleaded for a reconsideration of this decision, asking “not to allow this episcopal consecration to occur since our Antiochian Apostolic See cannot accept any bishop in its territory, coming from outside its canonical jurisdiction.” He also expressed that, “Our hearts are wide open to
meet with you and deal with this subject, and all other matters, fraternally in Christ’s spirit Who alone unites us.”

Since His Beatitude Patriarch JOHN X did not receive any reply to either of his letters, he later on sent a copy of the abovementioned letter to the primates of all the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches. Despite these brotherly efforts and fraternal approach, the consecration of Archimandrite Makarios occurred on Sunday, March 10, 2013.

The Holy Fathers affirmed all the efforts undertaken by His Beatitude and declared unanimously the following position:

1- The decision of the Jerusalem Patriarchate to establish an Archbishopric on a territory which belongs to the Holy Synod of Antioch is, without question, an illegal interference from the Jerusalem Patriarchate in the territorial jurisdiction of the Antiochian Church, thus breaking the ecclesiastical canons that regulate the relationship among Orthodox Churches.

On the other hand, the Orthodox parish in Doha, Qatar, is composed of Orthodox faithful from various nationalities. We are grateful that Archimandrite Makarios provided all necessary pastoral care to this particular parish, but it was a temporary arrangement to facilitate this pastoral activity, no more and no less. This pastoral arrangement cannot be taken as giving any ecclesiastical privilege, of any sort, to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem or to any other Orthodox Church. Again, the Arab Gulf falls under the canonical and ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East.

The Antiochian Church refuses to accept the action taken by the Jerusalem Patriarchate, and will not recognize any bishop on the territory of the country of Qatar outside the authority of the Antiochian
Apostolic See, and asks that the Patriarchate of Jerusalem should resolve his matter as soon as possible. The Antiochian Church hopes not to have to take a stand leading to the breaking of communion with the Jerusalem Patriarchate. She also hopes not to have to reconsider the principles
governing the Orthodox Church relations and the Geneva agreements which have been set by the preparatory committees of the upcoming Great and Holy Orthodox Synod, especially those dealing with the Orthodox worldwide(Diaspora).

2- The situation which Christians are enduring today encourages us to set aside all that threatens the unity of the faithful and their common witness. The Arab Christians are called to strengthen their intercommunication in order to face the great challenges that threaten their countries, so that they might be the yeast leavening peace and fraternity. The Antiochian Church is aware of Her historic and leading role in the region and elsewhere and will persevere in that role.

3- The continuous disregard of the situation on the ground caused by the consecration of the Archimandrite Makarios as the Archbishop of Qatar will make it inevitable for the Church of Antioch to take certain actions which She is trying to avoid on account of the love that ought to govern the relationship among the Orthodox Churches. Since Love is “patient and kind” (1 Cor. 13:4), and in order to open the way for peaceful efforts to resolve the issues and return them to their natural and canonical state, the Church of Antioch is planning to intensify Her efforts with the Sister Churches in order to explain Her position and work on unifying Her work in facing all the dangers that are threatening the Orthodox Catholic Church.

Issued at the Patriarchal Residence in Balamand March 13, 2013

Issued on March 13, 2013

The Holy Synod of Antioch took the decision to forbid Archimandrite Makarios from performing any ecclesiastical service throughout the canonical territory of the Antiochian See, whether in the mother lands of the Patriarchate of Antioch (including Qatar), or abroad (Diaspora), since he was consecrated a bishop by the Holy Synod of Jerusalem for a territory belonging to the Church of Antioch, taking the title of Archbishop of Qatar. The Holy Synod of Antioch will inform the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, and the Antiochian clergy and faithful about this decision.

Secretary of the Holy Synod

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Syrian Rebels Target Christian Areas of Damascus

By Matthew Barber, writing in Joshua Landis' blog Syria Comment. Read the entire report on sectarianism in Syria, the fall of Raqqa, etc. here.


The Christian District of Damascus
The Christian districts of Damascus now come under daily fire from Syrian rebels. Mortars are fired from Jobar, Qabun, and the area east of Zabladani. The targets are Qasaa’ and Bab Tuma. Within the past few weeks, multiple churches have been attakced. The Chaldean Orthodox [?] church-building was hit by one such projectile, and another nearly-hit the Latin Catholic church. Also in February, two mortars were fired into the French hospital in Qasaa’. Christian-owned businesses in Qasaa’ and Christian homes around George Khuri park have all been hit by various projectiles. One homemade mortar damaged three houses in one shot, terrorizing the entire neighborhood. These attacks are not new; they’ve been occurring for some time. They are now increasing in frequency, however, and currently around two mortars per day are hitting Qassa’. This is in addition to bombings that have targeted Christian areas, such as the October 21st bombing in Bab Tuma that killed 20 people. In the provinces of Homs, Idlib, and Aleppo—regions lacking effective regime protection—numerous churches have already been destroyed.

Rebels have attacked Christian villages, with broad-daylight killings in streets. Monasteries and places of pilgrimage have been bombed and hit with rockets. Each day al-Jazeera airs images of rebels in Jobar pushing toward ‘Abbassiyiin Square, depicted with heroic sensationalism, as if to boost morale and drive them on. On the other side of that front, Christians tremble like peasants behind a crumbling castle wall, hoping that Syrian troops will manage to keep out the advance. Considering recent vigilante justice on the part of rebels in Yarmouk (hanging Palestinians accused of collusion with the regime and executing police at point-blank range), their fear seems warranted.
The Damascene Christians have formed some local militias to try to protect their areas, though they mostly do not carry weapons and are reluctant to display a public presence. They are trying to learn the lesson of the traditionally Druze suburb of Jeremana, where six local Druze patrolmen were attacked and killed. Jeremana was hit several times by car bombs, rockets, etc. When locals erected checkpoints, they effectively created visible targets, something that the Christians are now trying to avoid. The Christian ability to protect themselves is quite limited, however, especially in Qasaa’ which is most vulnerable, having no walls and being surrounded by streets on all sides. The places for launching the attacks are so obviously nearby that the opposition’s tired argument that “the regime is attacking its own supporters to keep them loyal through fear” is no longer convincing.

Many people are terrified of the rise of Islamist power in Syria, and with regular assaults on minority civilian communities, it should not be difficult to understand why they side with the regime, even though many of them have despised the regime their entire lives. When I recently brought up the regime violence in Idlib and Aleppo with one of my Christian friends in Qasaa’, pressing him about the fact that the majority of the FSA are ordinary Syrians from ordinary families, he said, “Look, I know that. But we’re worried about the minority of extremists. 2% of the FSA can kill all the Christians in Syria.”

The idea that sectarian tensions didn’t simmer from the beginning of the conflict—or even before—is absurd. A Christian friend climbed into a taxi in Jobar in the first few weeks of the uprising. The driver asked him what sect he belonged to. He replied, “I’m Syrian” (a typical Ba’thist response, favored by minorities who would prefer to be “Arab” or “Syrian” than feature their vulnerable label—but then that’s what the Ba’ath party is all about…). The driver replied, “Well, at least you’re not one of these Alawi who are oppressing us,” a typical attitude in the uprising’s moments of birth among—not all—but many. And while yes, in general the oft-touted statement that “all groups live together in peace in Syria” was true, anti-Christian sentiment is not new. Aleppine Armenians remember a time prior to Hafez al-Assad (and the brutal suppression of sectarianism so characteristic of Assad rule) when men in trucks with La ilah illa Allah painted on the sides terrorized Armenian neighborhoods with threats that they would kill the inhabitants, shouting the taunt “Ya Arman maskiin, tahat as-skiin!” (Poor Armenians, under the knife-blade!).


From the (very pro-rebel) Daily Star, here.

Rebel fighters have tried in the past to establish bridgeheads in the capital, but were pushed back to the Damascus suburbs by regime forces. Recent rebel mortar fire on civilian targets signals a new tactic in trying to loosen Assad’s grip on his main stronghold.

In the latest attacks, four mortars bombs hit Bab Sharqi, a predominantly Christian area known for its old churches. One fell in a park, two near an ice cream shop and a fourth hit a house nearby, a government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.


Monday, March 11, 2013

The Patriarchate of Antioch Protests the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's Creation of a Diocese in Qatar

The French original, by Carol Saba, can be found here in pdf.

A bishop of the patriarchate of Antioch informs us that the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch has learned with much regret and great sadness of the announcement made by the  Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem regarding the election (and coming episcopal consecration) of the Reverend Archimandrite Makarios--until then performing the office of exarch of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in Doha, Qatar-- as "Archbishop of Qatar."

 Without revisiting the circumstances surrounding the genesis of of the Orthodox parish in Doha, Qatar, served up to now "by oikonomia" by Father Makarios, thus assuring pastoral care for several Orthodox faithful from different jurisdictions working in that country, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East regards the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's establishing such a m"archdiocese" on territory that canonically belongs to the Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East constitutes a flagrant intrusion by one Orthodox church-- in this case, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem-- on the territory of another Orthodox church-- in this case, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East.

A unilateral initiative such as this, taken without consideration for the canonical jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East, the bishop continues, violates not only the practice of the Orthodox Church but also the bonds of love, brotherhood, and of good cooperation that exist between our two patriarchates and that should take precedence in all circumstances, especially during this trying period for all the Christians of this battered Middle East of today, with regard to any decision that could directly or indirectly tarnish these good relations.

His Beatitude Patriarch John X, according to our source, had an official letter of protest delivered to His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos, inviting him and the Holy Synod of Jerusalem in the name of the bonds of love that bind our two churches, to review this decision that not only hurts fraternal relations between the two patriarchates but also violates  the practice of the Orthodox Church. In this context, a letter has also been sent to His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew I, ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople.

It is to be noted that the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East viscerally holds to the unity of the Orthodox Church and constantly works to develop the bonds of love, cooperation, and brotherhood between the different Orthodox churches and especially between the Orthodox churches of this land of the Middle East, so tested by wars and conflicts and which firmly keeps above all else hope and faith. In this regard, the Patriarchate of Antioch regrets the decision taken by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and hopes that the Holy Synod of that church reexamine this decision without delay.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh on Christ's Kingdom and the Civil State

Arabic original here.

The Religious State is Inevitably Totalitarian

Christ the Lord said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). He did not say, "My kingdom is not in this world." There is a great difference between the prepositions "of" and "in" and their implications. Christ refused for His kingdom to be "of" this world. That is, in the image of the kingdoms of this age. As for the absence of the preposition "in" and the presence of "of" in place of it in the verse, it means to the greatest extent it can mean, that Christ's kingdom can be realized-- in a spacial and geographic sense-- in this world.

An objective reading of history confirms that the "Christian state", in its various forms and identities, from its establishment during the time of the emperor Constantine up to our present day, has failed miserably at putting forward an example of a Christian state that reflects what Christ meant in His words about "His kingdom." This state has failed because it was "of this world", and so could not be any different from what was prevalent in other nations. Indeed, Christian kingdoms have perhaps put forward the most perverse example of any states through their brutal practices.

As for Christians, Jesus says of them, "The world hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world" (John 17:14). Christ did not say that they are not in the world or that from today on they live in heaven. He said that it will be assumed that they do not behave according to the mentality of this world. He did not ask them to withdraw support from the oppressed, rather He sent them like sheep among wolves to say the word of truth: "All those who are of the truth heed My voice."

Christ called His followers to be committed to affairs of the world and of people, to defend values and virtues, to realize truth and eliminate falsehood. Contrary to what some people imagine, Christianity is a religion that does not only care about spiritual matters, but rather strives for a better world, ruled by peace, justice, love, and mercy... and this requires struggle against evil and sin. Even though historical experience is frustrating with regard to the inability to establish this ideal, promised kingdom, it is not impossible to achieve, even if it is difficult. Thus when Christ said, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" (Matthew 22:21), He did not call for excluding God from the affairs of this world in general and from the state in particular. Rather, Christ threw a challenge in the face of the ruling authority, which can be summarized in the following question: Can any earthly rule reach the level of the kingdom of heaven? Can the kingdom of heaven be realized in our present world, or is it necessary to wait until the last day to attain this hope? This is the meaning of what is said in the "Our Father", which Christ taught to His disciples. The expression "Thy kingdom come" requires the one saying it to struggle daily to make this kingdom present where he lives, here and now, not to wait with laziness and negativity as though the matter did not concern him. Historical experience in our county has established that all states ruled in the name of religious laws were totalitarian states that treated those who did not believe in their religions arrogantly and practiced religious discrimination against them. The time has come to work to build a civil state that honors the person, respects his freedom, and improves his condition. We dare to say that the civil state, where true citizenship reigns, is what will save religions from authoritarianism and arrogance. The civil state is what will save religions from those who appropriate them and speak in their name.