Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on the Ascension as an Act of Divine Condescension

Arabic original here.

Love in Condescension

According to Christian theology, the event of Christ's ascension into heaven and sitting at the right hand of God the Father constitutes a link in the chain that inevitably extends from the Son of God becoming human and taking a body, to His crucifixion and resurrection, to His ascension into heaven and His sending the Holy Spirit into the world. The purpose of all these events is the opening of the New Covenant that God Himself initiated, so that man may have eternal life in God's presence.

This New Covenant was founded on a set of divine condescensions required by God's infinite love of humankind. The Son of God's becoming human is nothing other than a condescension that He undertook in order to share in man's created nature.

The Son of God's suffering, crucifixion and death is nothing but another condescension... And with regard to this, the Apostle Paul said, "Christ Jesus, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:6-8).

In all the events that took place around Him, Christ demonstrated great humility, to the point of being crushed. He could have been born in a palace, but He preferred a miserable manger. He could have been born a king, instead of being born "a servant". He could have crucified people, but instead He desired that He Himself be the one crucified. He could have been "forceful, terrible" [cf. Surat Maryam 32] instead of being led like a lamb to the slaughter... He chose for Himself the ultimate condescension. He chose to love and to sacrifice Himself to redeem humankind from sin and death.

Divine condescension reached its apex with Christ's ascension into heaven. Heaven, here, is not a place in outer space. Rather, it symbolizes God's presence. Through His ascension, Christ desired to honor man by calling him to abide with Him forever. He says, "In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:2-3). The purpose of the ascension is to erase the boundary that divides heaven and earth, so that man may be of the house of God.

Yes, divine condescension reached its apex with Christ's ascension and His sitting at the right hand of God the Father, since Christ brought human nature with Him and honored man by causing him to sit at the right hand of God in the most high places. Thanks to Christ, human nature is present in God Himself.

Thanks to Him, God embraced human nature and caused it to dwell in Him. With regard to this, the Apostle Paul addresses the people of Ephesus with the words, " when we were dead in trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:5-6).

It is a cause for astonishment that after the disciples witnessed Christ's ascension to heaven, at a time when they should have been sorrowful over their Teacher departing from them, "they returned to Jerusalem with great joy" (Luke 24:52).

They rejoiced because they were certain that His generosity is boundless and that the one who generously gave Himself on the cross will not be stingy with them in their abiding with Him in the kingdom.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Jordanian Orthodox Respond to Greek Ambassador to Amman

The Greek Ambassador's statement can be read here. This text has been provided directly by the Jordanian Orthodox protesters to this blog. It will soon also appear on Jordanian websites.

Christ is Risen! 
We would like to thank her Excellency the Greek Ambassador for her response. However, she should realize that she was responding to something other than the concerns we actually raised. This in itself is strongly indicative of the deep and dangerous disconnect between the Patriarchate (along with the Greek Foreign Ministry, its advocate) and its flock.
I kindly invite the Greek Ambassador to examine and discuss with us the actual, concrete demands that the Orthodox faithful are making to the Patriarchate and not to divert attention from these issues. Unfortunately, this means that there is a great deal to discuss as there is a great need for reform.
To begin with, we are demanding the Patriarchate to implement the diocesan system, as foreseen in the Holy Canons, according to which dioceses are ruled by diocesan bishops who have full ecclesiastical, pastoral and episcopal authorities and not by patriarchal vicars as is currently the case. We also demand the immediate end to all the current violations of the Jordanian law 27/1958. Furthermore, we demand that monasticism be opened up to our youth in their own country and that the internal bylaws of the Monastery of Our Lady the Virgin Mary the Life-Giving Spring in Dibbeen be recognized. Moreover, a theological seminary be opened in Jordan so that our youth can receive a proper theological education and better serve the Church. Why are all these demands continuously being neglected? Why didn’t the Greek Ambassador address these issues in her response?
It is extremely sad that the Greek Ambassador is asking us to promote unity and tolerance, while the current leadership of the Patriarchate is meting out all kinds of undeserved retributions against the Arab priests. Where is the tolerance in the current situation of the Arab monks who are either languishing outside their countries because they are not allowed to serve in Jordan and Palestine or are suffering greatly here because of unjust treatment at the hand of the Patriarchate?
Her Excellency’s second remark about the current Catholic Pope being from Argentine and not from Italy is a solid proof that Catholicism shows a much stronger tolerance towards clergy from all over the world, something that we seriously miss here in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Not only have our Patriarchs been Greek for the past 500 years, but during this time also any clergyman who is not of Greek origin is mistreated. The Patriarchate perceives any demand by non-Greek clergy for equal rights to be a threat and immediately responds with mistreatment and persecution of those who voice the truth. It is deeply distressing that we have to ask our Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem to learn how to treat its clergy equally from the example of other churches.
Her Excellency’s final remark about the relationship between Jordan and Greece was rather obscure and appeared irrelevant to the context of the sit-in and our current protest.  When Jordanian citizens stand in front of their Prime Ministry and demand that their government enforce Jordanian Law, why would the Ambassador of a foreign country be concerned? This is purely a national issue and only concerns Jordanian citizens. We have no issues with people from Greece. In fact, some of our relatives are married to Greeks and we hold them dearly in our hearts. We are only protesting the arrogance of the Patriarchate and its illegal and un-Orthodox actions towards Jordanian and Palestinian Citizens.
Finally, since Her Excellency has strong connection with the Patriarch Theophilos III, I kindly ask her to set up a meeting between the Patriarch and few representatives of the youth of his flock in her presence, where we can discuss our demands freely and openly. This will be a great opportunity to bridge the deep gap between him and the local flock. I put this urgent request in the Ambassador’s hands before the current status of our Church worsens and more damage occurs. To conclude, our aim is not to criticize anyone “on grounds of their nationality”, but rather demand equal treatment without regard to nationality, so that together we may see a spiritual revival among the Orthodox Christians of this land.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Jordanian Orthodox Continue Protest against Marginalization by Greeks

From here. More pictures here. The Greek Ambassador's somewhat clueless response can be seen here. This weekend, I will try to put up a translation of the full list of the protesters' grievances, including the specific points of canonical and Jordanian law that the Jerusalem Patriarchate habitually violates.

Arab Orthodox Youth Sit-in

AMMONNEWS - Hundreds of Arab Orthodox parishioners staged a sit in on Saturday 05/17/2014 in front of the prime ministry protesting against the intransigence of the Patriarchate represented by the Greek Patriarch Theophilos III, Patriarch of Jerusalem of the Greek Orthodox as the latter failed to perform his mere duties toward the church and the parish by the laws and regulations of the Orthodox Church. According to observers, this new escalatory movement is a courageous approach and is a precedent in the history of the Arab Orthodox objection against the Greek Presidency. However, this is only a slight movement that precedes the imminent future escalation and a continuation of previous protests which began early last April against the arrogance of the Greek patriarch, according to protesters.

Protesters in front of the prime ministry appealed to the Jordanian government to impose pressures on the Patriarchate to fulfill all their historical demands represented in ending all forms of intimidation against the clergy of Arab monks like Bishop Dr . Atallah Hanna, Archimandrite Christophoros Attallah, Archimandrite Dr. Mlatios Basal, Archimandrite Athanasius Qaqeesh and other who have ideology of renaissance and reform as well as their immediate ordination as bishops and including them as members of the Synod like their Greek counterparts. Also, the activation of dioceses system, the application of Jordanian law No. 28 of 1958 on the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, and endorsing the law of the Monastery of Virgin Mary in Dibeen which was built by the Jordanians Orthodox to enable the founder of the monastery , Archimandrite Christophoros Atallah to run the monastery by the ecclesiastical laws and regulations and also adopting a regulatory patriarchal decision to call back all Arab monks of the Church of Jerusalem who forcibly migrated to other Orthodox churches.

The file of Arab church’s endowments and property, which is still exposed to the risk of Judaization because of long-term leases and selling resulting from the complete exclusivity and vague practices exercised by the Greek management in managing this file was also present in this sit-in, in addition to the official stance of the Orthodox Church of promoting and encouraging the recruitment of Arab Christians in the Israeli army.

Protestors appealed to His Majesty King Abdullah II to personally deal with their grievances hoping that His Majesty would direct orders for all concerned entities to abstain supporting the Greek patriarch at the expense of Arab Orthodox parish.

During the protest, deep regret was expressed regarding the decision of Arab Patriarchate of Antioch (Syria and Lebanon) to cut church’s ties with Church of Jerusalem due to the thoughtless and provocative decision of the Greek patriarch Theophilus (according to the protesters) to establish a bishopric in the State of Qatar, surpassing the geographical boundaries of Patriarchate of Antioch. Protesters explained that such conduct issued by the Greek patriarch does not represent them and it is on drawing a wedge among Arab Orthodox parishioners in the difficult circumstances of Arab people in this region.

Finally, the protesting crowds stressed the Arab Hashemite guardianship on all Christian and Islamic endowments and holy sites in the City of Jerusalem. They also welcome and completely support the historic visit to be made by Head of the Catholic Church in the world His Holiness Pope Francis to Jordan during the next few days. They also welcome the visit of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to the Holy Land hoping that he would pay attention to what is happening in the Church of Jerusalem.


Fr Georges Massouh on Christ's Kingdom in this World

Arabic original here.

The Foxes of the Kingdom...

Those who wish that Christians would resign from occupying themselves with the affairs of the nation and of people go to the Gospel to search for verses to support their preconception. One of their favorite verses, besides "Give to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God's" (Matthew 22:21), Christ's saying "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).

It is noteworthy that most of those who cite these two verses do not bother with their context or their profound implications, but rather content themselves with a superficial reading of them. They go on to infer immediately that Christ refuses to have any kingdom on earth and that He calls His followers to have no concern for the world but to be content instead with awaiting the world to come where Christ will rule forever. These two inferences are incorrect: Christ did not call His followers to have no concern for the affairs of the country and of human beings.

"My kingdom is not of this world" is an expression that does not negate the fact that that His kingdom is in this world. Because He confessed that He is a king, He has a kingdom that exists and is present wherever there are those who owe him allegiance. It is a kingdom without geographic, linguistic or racial borders. In it there is no religious, sectarian racial or ethnic discrimination. It's pillars are love, hope, faith, justice, peace and fairness. It is not true that Christ postponed the realization of His kingdom for an indefinite period. He came and from the beginning of his preaching the Good News He proclaimed that the kingdom of God has drawn near, that it is at  the door.

Jesus' followers must follow His example; otherwise they will not belong to His kingdom. He says of them, "the world has 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 they are living in heaven. He said that they do not behave according to the mindset of this world. He called them to rise up against the laws of this world that permit the strong to crush the weak and for the avaricious to eat the possessions of the widows and the poor. Thus "the world has hated them," rejected them, persecuted them. Christ did not ask them to refrain from supporting the oppressed, but rather sent them like sheep among wolves to speak the word of truth: "Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."

Christ's basic concern is to transform the world and to make it fitting to what God desired when He created the first man and granted him authority over the earth. Thus it is an injustice to say that Christ fled from confronting and resisting an evil reality and that He separated life on this earth from eternal life. Everything begins "here and now", as Orthodox theology loves to express the irrelevance of time when talking about the kingdom. The kingdom is coming but at the very same time it is present.

Thus Christ called His followers to be concerned with the affairs of this world and of people, to defend values and virtues and to speak the truth openly. Christianity, contrary to what some may imagine, is a religion that is not only concerned with spiritual matters: it strives for a better world where peace, justice, love and mercy reign... This requires struggle against evil and sin.

Without struggle, any Christian conduct becomes a witness against Christ. He Himself, when He called Herod a "fox" (Luke 13:32), called on His pure ones to have no tolerance for foxes, no matter what mask they wear.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Met. Georges Khodr on the Samaritan Woman

Arabic original here.

A Spring of Living Water

Today's Gospel reading relates to us an enormous dialogue between Jesus and a sinful Samaritan woman, a dialogue that includes all the senses of salvation and in which there is all of Pacha. The incident is that the Lord, while going from Judea to Galillee, South to North, had to cross Samaria, the place that today is called Nablus. There still exists today the well in a place visited by pilgrims.

The Lord sat down in the early afternoon because He was tired. The woman came to Him while the disciples had gone into the city to buy food. The Lord asked her to give Him water to drink and she was amazed because He was Jewish and she was of another religion and another race. The Samaritans are a people of which today there are still around two hundred persons in Nablus and the diaspora. They were originally Jewish, but they mixed their worship with pagan rituals when the Assyrians and Babylonians came and occupied Palestine. They remained in Samaria and did not believe in the prophets. They only believed in the five books of Moses and did not accept the other books of the Old Testament. Thus they were considered foreign in religion and race.

The woman was amazed that this Jewish prophet was speaking to her, as there was a rupture between the the two peoples. The Lord said to her, "If you know the gift of God and who it is who is speaking to you now, then you would have asked Him to give you living water." The woman naturally thought that  He was talking about the water that comes from the well and she was amazed that He thought Himself greater than Jacob, the Father of Fathers, who had given them this well. At that point the Lord brought her up to loftier understandings and said to her what can be understood to mean, "I am not talking to you about material water that is drunk. Rather, I am talking to you about another water, about an invisible water that I give to people. He who drinks of it will never be thirsty. The water that I give to you is transformed in the human person into a spring that wells up from eternal life." This means that one who is united to Jesus becomes in turn a spring of life. It is not only God who is a spring of spiritual life for us, a spring of grace, a spring of giving. Every believer becomes like Christ: the life of grace, waters of consolation, waters of kind words well forth from him. What is important is for each of us to become a living Gospel. Each Christian must be like Christ: His mouth must pronounce words of gold. His eyes must shine forth flashes of divine light. He must be satisfied with what the Lord gives. The matter at hand for us is not eating or drinking, but rather that we are wells. Each one of us is a well. If one knows how to connect to Christ, he is Christ's vicar. Each Christian is a vicar of Christ because each Christian is a spring.

The Samaritan woman was enchanted by the Lord's words and she said, "Give me this water so that I will not have to come again to this well." Jesus saw that He could now transform her from a sinful woman into a holy woman and said to her, "Go call your husband and come back here." She said, "I do not have a husband." He said, "You have spoken correctly. You have had five husbands and the one who is with you now is not your husband. He only lives with you." Then she was startled and said, "Lord, I see that You are a prophet." She then wanted to discuss theology and so she posed Him a question comparing Jews and Samaritans, "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain (Mount Gerezim, upon which today is built the city of Nablus), but you say that worship is in Jerusalem." We hear Jesus saying to her at the beginning, "The Jews are correct and you, the Samaritans, are in error for salvation is from the Jews. But now we are now at a new juncture: there will come an hour-- and now it has come-- when those who truly worship worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. That is, at My coming, there is no more importance for the Jewish religion or the Samaritan religion. There is no place for this silly difference since those who truly worship worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, deep down in the Spirit and in sincerity. The point is for us to become spiritual people, detached from attachment to places, detached from material cares and from animal sacrifices in Jerusalem. This age that was shall end. God, who is spirit, is worshiped in the Spirit. He is worshiped with a pure heart. He is worshiped with an enlightened intellect. The religion of all shall be in the heart." Then the rest of the incident happened. The woman left her pitcher and forgot everything when she recognized the Lord. She went to spread the Good News, going to her people who asked Him to stay with them.

From then on, the Samaritan woman was named "Photini", which is a Greek word meaning "enlightening" or "enlightened". The Samaritan woman was enlightened and she repented of her wickedness, before Jesus, before His love, before His call to her. At this time between Pascha and the Ascension we are like Photini. We spread the Good News of the living, life-giving God, of the God who is a spring from which wells forth streams of water into our hearts. And from our hearts they stream forth to the people around us.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Orthodox Communal Politics in Palestine (1908-1910)

Taken from:  Konstantinos Papastathis and Ruth Kark, "Orthodox Communal Politics in Palestine after the Young Turk Revolution (1908-1910)". Jerusalem Quarterly 56/57, Winter 2013 / Spring 2014, pp. 118-139 Read the entire article in pdf here.

The ideological background of the Greek dominance was the messianic fallacy of “Helleno-orthodoxia.” This is a theoretical formulation of Greek irredentism of the Megali Idea, according to which Greek national identity is intimately tied to the Orthodox religion. This socially dominant ethno-phyletist narrative advocates the primordial, and thus essentialist, equation of Orthodoxy with the Greek nation. In short, an individual can be regarded as a member of the Greek “imagined community” only if he/she is a Christian Orthodox and vice-versa. The Orthodox lay populations in Syria and Palestine, therefore, were not regarded as Arab, but rather as Greek "arabophones". Furthermore, the various shrines in the Holy Land under the custodianship of the Patriarchate were perceived as the tangible continuity of the Greek presence in the historical cradle of Christianity. According to this “invented tradition” of the Greek imagined proprietorship of Palestine’s Christian sanctuaries, these did not belong to the Orthodox commonwealth at large. Rather, the Greek nation was their sole owner. The Holy Places were perceived as national treasures, and as such the non-Greek Orthodox populations could not have a say in the administration of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which was the competent authority for their guardianship. Since Orthodoxy is held to be the true faith expressing God’s word and the Greek nation is represented as being by definition the “rightful” owner of His Holy Places, the Greek people are defined as the “chosen” people, under whose guidance all the ecclesiastical centers should continue to operate, as they had since their establishment. For the advocates of Helleno-orthodoxia, thus, the Patriarchate should be exclusive, and entrance to it should be confined only to Greek nationals or subjects. Consequently, Athens, as the nation-state’s capital, should be the political center par excellence not only of all Orthodox institutions, but also of the Orthodox populations at large, regardless of any other criteria defining their collective identity.

Two strategies were formulated within the Greek ecclesiastical apparatus for confronting the developing local Orthodox movement: a) absolute rejection of lay demands, which were viewed as subverting the Greek character of the Patriarchate and its religious “purity”; and b) the adoption of a controlled concession to the community of some secondary rights without putting at risk the institution’s Greek character and centralized governing structure. The long-standing conflict between these two distinct schools of thought led to a series of crises within the Patriarchate from the end of the nineteenth century onwards. The one under discussion caused a split within the Greek senior clergy with major repercussions for the future of the Jerusalem Patriarchate.

Met. Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Purity

Arabic original here.


Saint John Climacus says, "The perfection of purity is the foundation of the knowledge of God" (The Ladder 30:20). Likewise, the Lord says in His Sermon on the Mount "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). In bodily terms, purity is a body free of dirtiness. In spiritual terms, purity is a soul free from sins. Spiritual purity does not negate the body. Rather, it spiritualizes it.

The spiritual person is one who accepts nothing into his soul except divine seed. That is, God's word and his commandments.

The pure person becomes a bride of God. God is spirit and the pure, spiritual person easily accepts into his soul spiritual seed.

It is then possible for him to accept into his soul not only God's word because he understands it, but also to transmit it to others. In other words, to bear Christ as a living word and to transmit Him to others.

The word is transmitted either through teaching, evangelism and preaching or through action and living sacrifice. That is, sacrifice and free service.

This is what we, the baptized faithful, receive at the Divine Sacrifice. At the Divine Liturgy we receive Christ as an evangelical word through teaching and preaching, just as we receive Him as an offering, as the sacrifice of Christ's body and blood in receiving communion.

What we receive at the Divine Liturgy we give to others if we are pure. That is, if we are always in humility and repentance before God.

I said that the pure person, one stripped of passions and repentant before his Lord, through the divine seed becomes a bride of God. He is capable of embracing others just as God embraces us in His mercy and loving-kindness.

He begets others in faith and love. He becomes a spiritual father-- indeed, a mother who embraces her children in the fullest sense of the word.

This is spiritual fertility. I will say once more that requires emptying the self of all egoism. It does not occur except through the power of the Holy Spirit who alone is able to purify the soul that repents before its Lord.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, Koura and Their Dependencies

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Nicholas Chapman on the Orthodox Youth Movement

I highly recommend listening to this podcast by Nicholas Chapman, director of Jordanville's Holy Trinity Publications, where he discusses an essay by the future Metropolitan Georges Khodr found in a book entitled A Sign of God: Orthodoxy 1964: A Pan-Orthodox Symposium, and contextualizes it both in terms of the history of the Orthodox Youth Movement and its lessons for the Antiochian Archdiocese at this present time of transition. Listen to it here!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Carol Saba to Met. Paul Yazigi: "Return to us, so that our joy may be complete"

Arabic original here.

Will Our Joy be Completed by Your Return? We Still Await You, Sayedna Paul

On a day like this last year, right around the time of Lord's going up to Jerusalem to be crucified and to rise, you were taken away, beloved Sayedna Paul. Even if you are absent from eye and ear, you, "the pilgrim between heaven and earth", are present in your absence, ruling over hearts, minds and hope. There is no fear for you in my heart, you who have meditated on 'the places of the heart's ascent' in the prophetic words that say, "Blessed is the man whose victory is from with You; in his heart he has purposed to go up the valley of weeping, to the place that he has appointed."  This is my third letter to you. My hope is that it will be the last before your return, when we will speak to each other face-to-face at the Lord's  resurrection.

I will not write 'about you', beloved Sayyedna, but like usual I will write 'to you' and each of us will be the one addressing and the one addressed. We will not address you as one absent, since you are the most present of those who have been made absent. Presence is not only in the body,  just as listening to another is not merely hearing.  My words will go over to you through the power of faith, they will reach your ear and land at the places of the heart's ascent, to tell you of my faith and my longing to meet with you once again. Yes, my faith in seeing your face that lights up screens throughout the world, from east to west. According to the Apostle to the Gentiles, your intercessor Paul, we understand faith to be "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).

You who said that living words are kneaded with the dough of faith and the leaven of hope, do you not set off and cross distances and way-stations visible and invisible? Do you not challenge bonds and chains, obstacles no matter how high? Do you not soar high above and land unseen in the places of the heart's ascent, of which you have spoken and have experienced?

I will not speak to you of the state of the universal Orthodox Church. The challenges are still immense and the gap is still enormous between the worldly engines of the Church and the engines of the Church that strive for the kingdom in brotherhood, boldness and intelligence.  I will not speak to you of the evangelical revolution being carried out by Pope Francis, who is trying to shatter the many worldly and institutional chains with which the Catholic Church has bound herself and which have caused her to lose the ability to address the modern world spiritually.

I will not speak to you of the conditions of Middle Eastern Christians. Today they are fractured, battered by every storm. They are still unable to rise up and escape from this sectarian, minoritarian thinking that has gradually cast them into insularity. They are holding on to existence, while what is needed of them is to be leaders and to surpass the challenges-- all challenges-- in order to tirelessly work within their Middle Eastern societies to be an active presence, so that they may bear witness to humanity-- to all humanity-- to their freedom, to their legitimate rights as citizens, and to the foundation of living with dignity.

I will not go into examining the crises of today's globalized world. Speaking of this would go on and on and I want to adress you specifically. You have always dwelt on proclaiming the Gospel in today's world, searching and inquiring about the means to develop evangelism and to expand its scope, so that the Church can address the world's modernity, its questions and its suffering. In bold and intelligent evangelism, the believer in the Lord Jesus is transformed into a meteor of spiritual fire and light, indicating his citizenship in the kingdom starting in this age, and so he does not fall under the warning of punishment that the Lord explicitly declared to us in the Book of Revelation: "Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:16).

Indeed, apathy and the results of relativism are evils that threaten the Church because they attack the evangelical witness within her and turn her into an administrative institution and overwhelm her with all kinds of new Pharaseeisms. The challenge of our Antiochian Church today under the wise leadership of our father Patriarch John-- the challenge of the path of revival and renewal that he prepares for her despite all the storms, calamities, and suffering that plague her and threaten the boat from every direction, both from within and from without, since the time of his election and enthronement-- is for us to once more take stock and gather together clerical and lay leaders, not only to approach systematically all the internal and external difficulties with vision, transparency, boldness and modernity, but also so that we may be a church of pioneering leadership and living, life-giving witness in this Arab world and throughout the world.

Along this path, the first inklings of which will emerge at the First General Antiochian Meeting to be held this June at Balamand Monastery,  we need you. You are the one whose concern has always been to take every earthly thing that the Lord has placed in our hands and to transform it into the flame in the burning bush, which enlightens but does not burn, radiates but does not consume. Are you not the one who wrote to all the faithful and said, "You bear upon your brows the Seal of the Lamb. Your mouths are trumpets of the Word and your legs are harbingers of peace. Redeem the time, for the days are short and one who puts his hand to the plow does not look back"? Come, Paul, you who put your hand to the plow, return to us, so that our joy may be complete, so that we may rejoice together in the resurrection of the Lord and bear witness to Him with boldness, peace and intelligence.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Orthodox Church in the Arab World: An Interview

The Orthodox Church in the Arab World: An Anthology of Sources, 700-1700 is available from the publisher or in paperback or Kindle from Amazon or even in Nook, if you're into that.

Dr. Adam DeVille has graciously posted a pretty long interview with the editors of the anthology, Alexander Treiger and myself on his blog, Eastern Christian Books. An excerpt:


Your introduction notes that “in the Western historiography of Christianity, the Arab Christian Middle East is treated only peripherally, if at all.” This, you note, is a common problem even among scholars of Eastern Christianity. Why do you think that is?
AT: In part, the pervasive misidentification of Arabic and the Middle East exclusively with Islam is to blame. Most scholars of Christianity tend to “write off” the Middle East after the Muslim conquest, because they imagine—needless to say, incorrectly—that in the seventh century Islam simply replaced Christianity in this region. For that same reason, scholars of Christianity do not consider it necessary to learn Arabic, failing to realize that Arabic—much like Greek, Latin, Syriac, Armenian, or Slavonic—is an essential language for the history of the Church.
Another reason for this neglect is the equally pervasive Eurocentrism: the spread of Christianity westward is treated with the utmost attention, while its continuous flourishing in the place of its origin and remarkable spread eastward (in the seventh century Christianity reached as far East as China!) is regarded as an unimportant side story. The study of Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Georgian, and other linguistic and cultural variations of Eastern Christianity has also suffered tremendously from this kind of Eurocentric bias.
SN: I think that to some degree the existence of Middle Eastern—and particularly Arab—Christianity is inconvenient for a lot of lazy narratives of Christian history. It does not fit comfortably with popular notions of Christendom, in the sense of Christianity as tied to a particular European cultural-political sphere. It complicates narratives of Christian-Muslim relations, making monochrome images of convivencia or dhimmitude impossible. The fact that the three fifths of the ancient pentarchy—Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem—lived most of their history under Muslim rule and were speaking Arabic makes it much harder to center Orthodoxy’s story as being synonymous with the story of the Byzantine Empire…. and so on. So, in a way, dealing with the reality of Arab Christianity requires historians to do more work and step out of their comfort zones.

AT: I would add that it’s equally true for Middle Eastern history. There too it’s convenient to disregard Middle Eastern Christians and other non-Muslim communities. Most histories of the Middle East make practically no attempt to do justice to the experience of non-Muslim communities. (Moshe Gil’s A History of Palestine, 634-1099 is one notable exception.) Once, however, you take into account non-Muslim historical sources and their experience and try to integrate accounts of the various communities into a single picture, things inevitably become more complicated—but ultimately much more rewarding.
Read the whole interview here! You can also read an earlier interview we did with Gabe Martini for the blog On Behalf of All.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

St Raphael of Brooklyn on the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher

This is from Fr Michel Najim's translation of St Raphael's Historical glance at the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher, originally published in Arabic in 1893. The entire text, around 50 pages, can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Giving thanks to God, the Holy One and Provider of all good things, asking Him to lead us in the right way and to guide us to arrive at the correct conclusion, we say that the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher is a strange phenomenon in the history of the Orthodox Church, even in the history of all Christian churches. We have described it as a Greek Brotherhood because it is constituted of only Greek members who are from a foreign land and speak a foreign language. For three and half centuries they have embezzled, through their craftiness and deception, the spiritual and administrative authority in the Patriarchal See of Jerusalem from thehands of the indigenous people, and restricted it to themselves alone, so that the Church of Jerusalem has lost its legal independence and its canonical freedom, and it became autocephalous in name only. Because the necessary bond between the shepherds and the flock, which exists in every autocephalous church, has been broken; it became divided into two segments:

1- The Celibate Greek clergy, who came from a foreign land and w ho speak a foreign language, as well as their descendants, who have gained power over all the earnings of the Holy Sepulcher a nd the rest of the Holy Places in Jerusalem and Palestine.

2- The indigenous Orthodox people, who not only were prevented from entering the monastic order, but whose religious and ecclesiastical needs were actually neglected.

The emergence of this Brotherhood in the Orthodox Church is no less strange than the emergence of the Jesuit Brotherhood in the Papal Church. The stranger thing, however, is the simultaneous establishing of these two Brotherhoods, as well as the ways which they used to reach their goals. Just as the Jesuit Brotherhood was established in 1534 at the hands of the Spanish monk Ignatius Loyola, so the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher was established in the same year, i.e., 1534, at the hands of the monk Germanus the Peloponnesian. Both of them adopted a principle contradictory to the spirit of religion and humanity so that they might achieve their ambition, in other words the end justifies the means. In spite of the congruity in the date of establishment and in certain usages, whether lawful or unlawful, to reach their goal, they entertain different views in two areas which give the Jesuits preference from a religious and human standpoint over the monks of Jerusalem. For the goal of the Jesuit Brotherhood was to advocate Papal supremacy for the sake of the glory of the most high God; a goal that does not preclude any one of all the nations under the jurisdiction of the Pope from becoming a member in this Brotherhood. The Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher, however, has only one objective--their self-interest covered under the pretext of Greek nationality. For this reason, it does not accept in its membership anyone who is not Greek.

What helped the founders of this Brotherhood to appropriate the spiritual authority of the Church of Jerusalem from the indigenous people, and to restrict it to its own members, was the great influence of the monks of Constantinople who belonged to the same race. Their influence was also due to their closeness to the Sublime Porte. After eliminating the autocephalicity of the Serbian and the Bulgarian Churches through their enormous prerogatives and their wide spiritual authority which had been granted to them by the late Sultan Mahmmed, the conqueror over all the Orthodox people living within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire. The monks of the Phanar, who were at that time the leaders of reviving Greek nationalism, started helping in every way possible their compatriots, i.e., the monks of Jerusalem, to fulfill their national ambition. Their intent was to abduct the spiritual authority of the Church of Jerusalem from the hands of her indigenous children, coveting the tremendous incomes of the Holy Sepulcher. Through these incomes, the monks of Jerusalem have procured the abduction of the Patriarchal See of Jerusalem, making it a hereditary position to be awarded to a successor in conformity with the will of his predecessor. This took place until the time of Cyril the Patriarch of Jerusalem, when they repealed the tradition of inheritance, and started to appoint the Patriarch by an election restricted to the Greeks. The fact is that the indigenous Orthodox element declined in force to such a degree that it was deprived of any will to challenge the issue of the Patriarchal election. When Greece was liberated from the control of the Ottoman Empire through the revolution, the leaders of Greek nationalism moved from Al-Phanar to Athens. However, when the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher, with the aid of Al-Phanar monks, had achieved its objective in the Church of Jerusalem--in such a manner that it maintained only few Orthodox indigenous members--it pledged to fulfill the same objective in the neighboring Church of Antioch by leaning on the support of the Greek government through its agents in Syria. Unfortunately, since the children of the Antiochian Church did not at first pay any attention to the abominable intent of the Brotherhood, it was able within a short time to somehow reach its goal. It enthroned the following three members on the Patriarchal See of Antioch: Irotheos, Garasimus and the present Patriarch Spirydon. Moreover, it did not spare any effort to, by any means available, replace all the indigenous bishops of the Church of Antioch with Greek bishops. The time came that when all the Antiochian bishops would come from the Brotherhood, thus easily excluding all the indigenous clergy from ecclesiastical offices. This further prevented them from entering a monastic order, as it had already done to the indigenous Orthodox people in Jerusalem.

 We would not have tried to disclose the secret of the Brother hood of Jerusalem and to reveal its deeds--which are contradictory to the spirit of religion and humanity--were it not for its recent ravenous attack upon the Antiochian Church. In order to procure domination over them, it makes light of the Ordinances and disdains the Laws. In such a situation it is our religious and law-abiding duty to reveal the hidden and the concealed things about the origin and the source of the Brotherhood. We must remove the veil from its deeds, plans, incomes and ambitions, by relying on the earnest historians and devout writers of Greek, Arab, and Russian nationalities, so that we can serve our fellow citizens and our fellow believers. We must also awaken those who are unmindful and those who, because of blind-heartedness or imprudent-mindedness, are coveting to obtain unjust earnings. They failed to recognize that they bring shame upon themselves and upon their fellow citizens and their fellow believers.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Holy Synod of Antioch's Decision of April 29, 2014

This is an unofficial translation. I will remove it once the official English version is released. The original Arabic can be found here and the official French translation can be found here.

Communique from the Holy Synod of Antioch

Balamand, April 29, 2014

The Holy Synod of Antioch held an extraordinary session on April 29, 2014 at the Saint John of Damascus Institute at Balamand, presided by His Beatitude John X and with the presence of Their Eminences Georges (Mount Lebanon), Youhanna (Lattakia), Elias (Beirut), Iliya (Hama), Saba (Hawran), George (Homs), Basilios (Akkar), Ephrem (Tripoli), Ignatius (France) and Isaac (Germany).

Participating also were the bishops: Mousa Khoury, Ghattas Hazim, Kosta Kayyal, Athanasius Fahd, Dimitri Sharbak, Iliya Tohme, Nicholas Baalbaki and the patriarchal vicar Bishop Ephrem Maalouli, the secretary of the Holy Synod along with Economos George Dimas.

Absent were Their Emminences: Spiridon (Zahle), Constantine (Baghdad and Kuwait), Iliya (Tyre and Sidon), Antonius (Mexico), Sergius (Chile), Damaskinos (Brazil), Siluan (Argentina) and Paul (Australia).

Metropolitan Paul (the Archdiocese of Aleppo, Alexandretta and Their Dependencies), absent due to his captivity, was present in the prayers and supplications of the fathers of the Synod.

After praying, the fathers commemorated Metropolitan Philip of thrice-blessed memory and all the labors he offered to the Church of Christ, praying to the Lord of the Resurrection to place him to dwell in His light.

The fathers of the Synod reviewed the painful situation that our region is living through, especially in Syria, affirming that they stand beside our people "whose every tear God will wipe away." They renewed their call to preserve the principles of coexistence between Muslims and Christians in Syria, Lebanon and all the Middle East, re-affirming the positions that they had previously announced. The fathers of the Synod renewed their appeal to the world to release the captives, among whom are the two metropolitans of Aleppo, Paul and Youhanna, who have been kidnapped for a year amidst a scandalous silence in the Arab world and internationally.

The fathers called for constitutional requirements to be fulfilled in Syria and Lebanon on schedule and within the constitutional deadline in order to preserve the foundations of the civil state-- sovereignty, stability and coexistence-- which will be for the benefit of these countries and for human development and well-being within them.

The fathers treated  the situation of the Church in general and reviewed the latest developments in the dispute with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Whereas on March 4, 2013 the Patriarchate of Jerusalem elected Archimandrite Makarios as metropolitan of the diocese of Qatar after creating this diocese which is located within the borders of the Archdiocese of Iraq, Kuweit the Arabian Peninsula and Their Dependencies under the Patriarchate of Antioch;

And whereas on April 10, 2013 this patriarchate consecrated the aforementioned archimandrite as "metropolitan" for this newly-created diocese despite the objection of the Patriarch of Antioch to its establishment and the election, which he expressed in a telephone call to the Patriarch of Jerusalem and to His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch;

And whereas His Beatitude the Patriarch of Antioch accompanied his verbal objection with two written letters dated March 6 and 8, 2013, addressed to His Beatitude the Patriarch of Jerusalem and His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch, which did not receive any response;

And whereas the Holy Synod of Antioch held an extraordinary session on March 13, 2013 to examine this issue and its repercussions, where it resolved to consider the actions of the Church of Jerusalem as a violation of the boundaries of the Patriarchate of Antioch and asked the Patriarchate of Jerusalem to "remedy the situation as soon as possible" so that "(the Patriarchate of Antioch) will not be forced to take steps leading to breaking communion with the See of Jerusalem and to re-examining inter-Orthodox relations and the Geneva agreements made by the preparatory committee for the Great and Holy Orthodox Council regarding the Orthodox diaspora;

And whereas Antiochian delegations visited the sister Orthodox churches to present this issue to them and to make way for a peaceful solution, in order to avoid dangers that "could threaten the Universal Church";

And whereas the Holy Synod of Antioch at its first regular session in June 2013 examined the letters exchanged with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem regarding this issue and resolved to accept the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to hold a meeting between the Patriarchate of Antioch and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the Greek Foreign Ministry in Athens on Friday, June 21, 2013;

And whereas this meeting was held on the agreed-upon date, leading to an agreement on a three-point initiative based on returning the situation to the status quo prior to the episcopal consecration and following this an examination of the pastoral presence of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in Qatar according to the established tradition of the Church;

And whereas the Patriarchate of Jerusalem reneged on the aforementioned agreement and persisted in its violation encroachment despite all the initiatives and mediation undertaken by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek government to solve this crisis according to the canons of the Church and in a spirit of peace; at its second regular session held in October 2013, the Holy Synod of Antioch once more discussed this issue and, in order to prioritize a peaceful solution over other solutions, resolved upon the necessity "of finding a solution to this crisis within a period of no more than two months from the date of the Synod's meeting and, in the case of the Church of Jerusalem not responding to the Church of Antioch's request that  it put an end to the encroachment upon its canonical territory, asking His Beatitude to take the necessary actions, including breaking communion";

And whereas the Patriarch of Antioch received the invitation to sit at the synaxis of the heads of the Orthodox churches at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Fanar from March 7-9, 2014, he suspended the implementation of this decision and, in the letter accepting the invitation, asked His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch to work to find a solution to this issue before the synaxis of the heads of the churches;

And whereas this issue was not dealt with at the preparatory meetings for the synaxis of the Orthodox churches, and it was not placed on the agenda of the synaxis, despite the request of the Antiochian delegation;

And whereas every effort to resolve the issue have run into a wall of failure;

The Patriarchate of Antioch decided to suspend its signing the final communique of the synaxis of the heads of the churches and not to participate at the closing liturgy on the occasion of the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

On the basis of all of the above, and faced with the obstinacy of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and its persistence in violating the territory of the Patriarchate of Antioch, despite all the peaceful initiatives made by the latter to avoid breaking communion with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem , and faced with the inability of the Orthodox churches to contribute to resolving this crisis according to the requirements of the canons of the Church;

And faced with the insistence of the patriarch of Jerusalem in his letter dated February 29, 2014 that was sent to the Antiochian delegation to Fanar / the Ecumenical Patriarchate on renewing his claim that "Syria and Arabia" fall within the Patriarchate of Jerusalem;

The Holy Synod of Antioch once more affirms that the Archdiocese of Baghdad, Kuwait, the Arabian Peninsula and Their Dependencies is an archdiocese of the Patriarchate of Antioch that contains within its territory the following countries: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, the Sultanate of Oman and Yemen; and that any Orthodox presence in any of these countries must follow the established tradition of the Church and the rules of Church law that govern relations between churches.

The Synod decided the following:

1. To request that the patriarch of Antioch not to commemorate the patriarch of Jerusalem in the diptychs (the list of heads of the Orthodox churches), when he commemorates the patriarchs and heads of the Orthodox churches.

2. To cancel the second paragraph of Resolution No. 2-5/2013 adopted at the meeting of the Synod held in October 2013, as it has achieved its purpose; and to return the Antiochian presence at the "episcopal assemblies" in the diaspora as they were before the aforementioned decision.

3. To request that His Beatitude address the heads of the sister Orthodox churches to inform them of the circumstances of this resolution and to ask them to move to solve this crisis whose consequences will lead to impeding the witness to Orthodox unity.

4. To authorize His Beatitude to take the necessary measures to implement this resolution  or to stop its effects if the reasons for its adoption cease.

The fathers followed up on other Church issues and examined the issue of forming a clerical disciplinary appeals tribunal and decided that its composition of titular and interim members is as follows: Metropolitan Elias of Beirut, titular president; Metropolitan Isaac of Germany, interim president; Bishop Athanasius Fahd, titular member; Bishop Dimitri Sharbak, titular member; bishop Nicholas Baalbaki, interim member; Bishop Iliya Tohme, interim member; Archimandrite Youhanna Batsh, secretary of the tribunal; Archimandrite Ibrahim Daoud, assistant secretary; and Mr Elias Nicholas Moussi as general ecclesial delegate to the tribunal.

In closing, the fathers of the Synod offered prayer for peace in the Middle East and throughout the world and offered paschal greetings to all their children in the homeland and the diaspora, asking them to pray that God may pour out His peace, that He relieves every soul with the power and hope of Christ who suffers and rises from the tomb, and that He covers all His creation with the light of His glorious resurrection.

Monday, May 5, 2014

John X's Press Conference before Leaving for Bahrain and the Emirates

Arabic original, published Thursday, May 1, here.

Yazigi off to Bahrain and the Emirates

This afternoon, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, John X Yazigi left Beirut for Bahrain on a visit that will last around two weeks covering Bahrein and the United Arab Emirates during which he will meet with members of his flock and on the 10th of this month he will place the cornerstone for a church in the Emirates.

Present to see him off at the airport was Minister of Media Ramzi Jureij, representing the President of the Republic Gen. Michel Sleiman, and the abbot of Balamand Monastery, Bishop Ghattas Hazim. Yazigi was accompanied by the Metropolitan of Germany and Central Europe, Ishaq Barakat, the patriarchal vicar Bishop Ephrem Maalouli, Vice-President of Balamand University, Dr. Michel Najjar, Dr. Walid Moubayed, and a delegation of clergy and members of the press.

At the airport, Yazigi said, "It is a visit to inspect all of our children in these countries. We are one family, and so it is important to undertake this trip to examine their conditions and to pray with them. On the program for the visit, on May 10, the cornerstone will be placed for a new church. On this occasion, from Beirut, we send them all love and every paschal greeting. We say to them: Christ is risen! And we hope to meet with our children there, with whom we hope to remain in constant contact. This is very important for the building up of our country and our nations. It is very important that our children scattered in various parts of the world remain in contact  with their people, their villages and their countries so that we may all contribute to building up our beloved country."

Asked, "To what degree does building new churches in the Gulf countries contribute to strengthening the Christian presence in the Middle East?" he responded, "Naturally, this is something that very much strengthens the Christian presence and we thank God that we now have churches in all regions. This establishes and strengthens us and our ties. It also indicates that for our children who have left the countries of the Middle East in general-- and Lebanon, Syria and Iraq in particular-- for Europe, America and the Arabian Gulf, the first thing we seek is to practice our religious principles and to  have a church and priests who take care of weddings, baptisms, the Eucharist and prayer, since they were brought up in their countries on this tradition and these values that they are not prepared to abandon. These links contribute to strengthening the ties between families and between them and the nation."

Asked, "You will necessarily bring up the issue of the kidnapping of the bishops with those whom you meet. Are there specific parties through which contact can be made to discover their fate, at the very least?" He replied, "We regret that the issue of the bishops' kidnapping and even its story is shrouded in total darkness. We regret even more that this darkness is regional and international, as though the earth opened up and swallowed the bishops and there is no one left in the world-- not even the great nations great and small-- can know their location. However, despite this we are constantly following this issue and we hope that the efforts that are being made with all parties will lead to the hoped-for desire as soon as possible."

Asked, "How do you view what is happening regarding presidential elections in Lebanon? Are you afraid that there will be a political vacuum?" He replied, "We add our voice to the voices of all those who love this country and we by no means want to arrive at any point at what we call a constitutional vacuum, especially in this context since the president of the republic is the top of the pyramid. We have hope, even at the last minute, even thing falter at times, that the elections will happen and that a president will be elected for the republic at the appointed time. This will be for the good of Lebanon and its stability, so that all its children may be well and live in stability, as it should be."

Asked, "You recently visited Maaloula and made an appeal to its residents to return there. Do you believe that it will be easy for this to happen, along with the rebuilding of the churches and monasteries that were largely destroyed?" He replied, "Nothing is easy in this world, but we always remain with faith, hope, perseverance and strength. We prove that we are men, and men do not falter under any difficulty. Naturally, it is not easy but nevertheless we meet every challenge. We want all our children, Muslims, Christians, and those of every community to not have to depart from their homes and for there to be the appropriate circumstances for every family to return to its home, villages and cities. God-willing and according to circumstances, we hope that all our children-- in Maaloula specifically and in all regions-- will return to their villages and cities and life will return as we knew it in Syria, Lebanon and all this region, so that we may live together and also rebuild the country together."

In closing, Yazigi thanked the President of the Republic, Ge. Michel Sleiman for sending the minister of media to represent him at the airport, wishing him "well-being, stability and peace for Lebanon, Syria and all the world and that there may be peace is the hearts of all."