Sunday, June 29, 2014

Patriarchate of Jerusalem Reacts, Escalating Tensions with Local Believers

Reacting to their letter demanding better spiritual care, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem decided on the evening of June 23 to stop paying the salary of Met Atallah Hanna of Sebastea and to transfer Archimandrite Christophoros Atallah from Jordan to Jerusalem. The latter decision was ostensibly a promotion to be "spiritual adviser" of the patriarchal seminary, but was interpreted both by Archimandrite Christophoros and by the faithful in Jordan as a move to unjustly remove him from the monastery he founded, since the seminary only has seven students, all Greek nationals and has long been beset with rumors of sexual abuse. Almost immediately, protestors gathered at the residence of Metropolitan Venedictos in Amman. They removed the picture of Patriarch Theophilos III from the wall and smashed it. They also delivered a letter for Venedictos to deliver to the patriarch. Yesterday, the 24th, another protest was held at the bishopric at Irbid in Northern Jordan, where Bishop Philomenos responded by taking a position strongly against the children of his Church and their needs. More info about these events can be found in Arabic (with pictures and video) here, in Greek here and English here.

The following day,  a large number of laypeople gathered at the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring in Dibeen, Jordan to show support for its founder, Archimandrite Christophoros, who has refused to be moved from his monastery. They formed a human chain around the monastery, singing "To Thee O Champion Leader" and denounced the arbitrary, oppressive decision taken by Patriarch Theophilos.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Lebanese Press on the Opening of the Antiochian Conference

The official English version of  closing statement of the conference can be read here. Below is a sampling from the Lebanese press about the ecumenical gathering that opened the conference. A full video of it, all in Arabic, can be seen here.

From as-Safir, here.

Yazigi: Religious Difference is not a Reason for Division

by Fadia Daaboul

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East John X Yazigi and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai called for "dialogue, unity, peace and the election of a president for the Republic."

During the opening of the Antiochian conference "Antiochian Unity: Dimensions and Exigencies" held at Zakhem Auditorium in Balamand University, Yazigi also criticized the international community "which is deaf to the kidnapping and violation of holy places that happening in our countries."

In addition to Rai, participating in the conference were: Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem II Karim, Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Lahham, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Yousuf III Younan, and Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Boutros XIX.

Likewise present were papal nuncio Gabriele Caccia, Father Rouweiss Urashlimi representing Pope Tawdoros, Rev Salim Sahyun, and bishops of the See of Antioch in addition to politicians including Deputy Speaker Farid Makari, Deputy Prime Minister Samir Moqbel, Ministers Ramzi Jureij and Elias Bou Saab, president of Balamand University Elie Salem, and former deputy prime miniesters Issam Fares (represented by Gen William Majli), Michel Sassine, Gen Issam Abou Jamra, and current and former members of parliament. Also present were advisor to the president of Syria Collette Khoury and members of the Syrian parliament Maria Saadeh, Maher Qawarma, and Hissan Risha, Russian ambassador to Lebanon Aleksandr Zasypkin, Greek ambassador Catherine Boura, judges, general managers, abbots of monasteries, deans and professors of Balamand University, and Lebanese and Syrian personalities.

The meeting was begun by Dr Marlene Kanaan who was followed by Dr Georges Nahhas. Then Armenian Catholic Patriarch Narses gave a speech in which he called for a return to the spirit of Antioch that is not the monopoly of any one group.

Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Younan criticized western countries for their role in feeding hatred.

Patriarch Gregorios Lahham stated that Antioch created a culture of mediation.

Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem II expressed his hope that full communion would be realized in the single body and chalice. He mentioned the kidnapped metropolitans Yazigi and Ibrahim and his hope for their speedy return.

Patriarch Beshara Rai said, "We are before the great challenge of working seriously for peace and justice through dialogue and mutual understanding, far removed from the language of war, violence, kidnapping and terror. This is our responsibility first of all, especially in Lebanon, to strengthen coexistence and tightening the bonds of unity that are guarunteed by electing a capable and inclusive president." He demanded that parliament elect him "the day before tomorrow". He stated that "electing a president is needed for brotherhood between the Sunnis and the Shiis in order to put a stop to the dangers of war around Iraq and Syria" and that "Our mission is to strengthen the culture of living together and to condemn together fundamentalisms that distort religion."

Patriarch Yazigi said that the conference presents a picture of Antiochian unity "and our unity is not a dream but a reality that we want to strengthen." He pointed out that "Our unity never means insularity, contraction or distancing ourselves from elements of our society and from our Muslim brothers with whom we share more than brotherhood." He remarked that "difference in religion is not a reason for division, since religion belongs to God and the nation belongs to all. But as regards those takfiri movements that we hear about here and their, leave them to be judged by history."

He added, "Our heart beats with prayer for peace in Syria especially. Our hearts are wrenched with pain for every martyr who falls as a victim of terror, takfirism and violence, paying dearly for rhetorical slogans that have brought turmoil. We raise our voice high in international forums that are deaf to the kidnapping, plunder of holy places, and the importation of previously unknown barbarism that is happening in our country. The international community and all forums have until now remained deaf to  the issue of those kidnapped in Syria, including our brothers Metropolitans Youhanna and Boulos. We come together and say that will will bury all these in the soil of our land and we will remain in this land, whether they like it or not."

He also called on Lebanese leaders to always keep in their minds and hearts that they have been entrusted with the lives of those who elected them and chose them primarily for the stability of this country. He added, "When we talk today about unity, we pray that all in Lebanon will be as one hand in the face of those who justify for themselves to toy with people's security. Thus we call on all parties to adopt the language of dialogue and consensus in order to fill the vacancy in the presidency."

From an-Nahar, here.

The Opening of the Antiochian Conference, with General Christian Participation

Yesterday at Balamand University the activities of the Antiochian Unity Conference began with a general celebration of all the parts of the Antiochian Church, east and west, overshadowed by thought about Christians' reality, the suffering they are subjected to in the Middle East, and their insistence on coexistence, moderation, and openness to all peoples of the region. Orthodox Patriarch John X and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai focused especially on the importance of electing a president for the Republic "the day before tomorrow" in a clear message to politicians regarding the most prominent and unique Christian position in the Middle East and within Antioch.

The work of the conference began with speeches by six patriarchs representing the Maronite, Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Melkite Cathoic, and Syriac Orthodox and Catholic Churches in front of a large crowd including Deputy Speaker Farid Makari, Deputy Prime Minister Samir Moqbel, ministers and current and former members of parliament, the papal nuncio, clergymen and representatives of the Orthodox dioceses in Lebanon, Syria and the diaspora, some of them westerners who joined the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

The Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Mar Beshara Boutros Rai called for "strengthening coexistence and tightening the bonds of unity that are guarunteed by electing a capable and inclusive president". He called on parliament to "elect the president the day before tomorrow" and said that the Orthodox Church is a "sister", emphasizing that the Antiochian spiritual, theological and liturgical heritage is a heritage shared by the churches that make up the Antiochian family. He called for the "continuation of active Christian presence in our Middle Eastern world and our Arab nations" and reminded Christians that they have been living in this region for two thousand year, laying the foundations of its cultures and realizing revival within them at every level and that they stand before a great challenge in rebuilding unity between the constituent parts of their nations on the basis of diversity in unity and serious work for peace and justice through dialogue and mutual understanding, far removed from the language of war, violence, kidnapping and terror.

Rai strongly denounced "any delay, postponement or procrastination in electing the president", holding those causing the delay "responsible before history." He opined that "electing a president is needed for brotherhood between the Sunnis and the Shiis in order to put a stop to the dangers of war around Iraq and Syria."

Rai stressed that "the Antiochian churches have inherited opennes and inclusiveness in the Arab world. They have resisted all isolation and closing in on themselves  because the Christian faith calls for living with others who are different." He pointed to the dialogue with "our Muslim brothers, having lived it with them, in its sweet and bitter aspects, for 1400 years. Our mission is to strengthen the culture of living together on the basis of mutual knowledge and respect, being nourished by our particular values, traditions and heritage and sharing together in the life of our nations according to the laws of citizenship. Our mission is to condemn together fundamentalisms that distort religion and atheistic secularism that is hostile to God, His teachings and His commandments. Our mission is to build every day a culture of moderation, cooperation and defense of human rights, especially freedom of worship and belief, opinion and expression."

In closing, Patriarch John X gave a speech in which he talked about the need to express "unity of faith" and the need for members of the Church to be concerned about the state of their nations and to be prepared to play a fundamental and critical role in preparing the future, whether in the homeland or the diaspora. He stated that, "The Orthodox Church, which is present in all the Arab countries, is responsible, along with the people of these lands, for the dignified life of their people and also for the conduct of public life."

He explained that the conference will study some of the issues that highlight Antiochian unity, given the capabilities of modern communications and rapid travel from one place to another and  the developing state of the Church and demographic data. It will arrive at some practical solutions through projects to be implemented in the dioceses in a spirit of unity as well as at the level of the Patriarchate in a spirit of complementarity  and by researching focal points with clear goals to be submitted to the Holy Synod, so that they might help formulate a road map."

The conference's program includes laying the cornerstone for the Balamand hospital at six o'clock and closes on Saturday with the reading of the closing statement. Liturgy will be celebrated on Sunday morning at ten o'clock for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

From L'Orient-Le Jour in French, here.

Ecumenical "Antiochian Conference" at Balamand: Taking Stock and Manifesting Unity

With the aim of demonstrating the power of Christian unity and confirming the attachment of the Christians of the Arab world to their land, an "Antiochian Conference" was inaugurated yesterday at Balamand University.

The conference, an absolute first in the history of the eastern churches, brings together six churches with Antiochian roots in the person of their patriarchs: the Greek Orthodox Church, at whose initiative it is being held, with Patriarch John X; the Maronite Church, with Patriarch Beshara Rai; the Armenian Catholic Church, with Patriarch Nerses Bedros; the Syriac Catholic Church, with patriarch Ignatius Younan; the Greek Catholic Church, with Patriarch Gregory III; and finally the Syriac Catholic Church, with Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem II.

It is a major event on account of the image that it projects. It certainly gives a role and a greater regional scope for the Greek Orthodox Church and in particular for Patriarch John X, who is taking the initiative for it. Even so, his ecumenical and theological objectives remain limited, according to observers, insofar as he only holds part of the desireable means for unity. It will especially serve to take stock of the Christian presence in the Middle East in light of the often-dramatic events that are unfolding there, not to mention the forced exoduses and migratory flux that are emptying some regions of their Christian populations and the major causes in the Arab world at the root of that hemorrhage.

But no concrete measure is expected apart from a recovered solidarity, affirmed or reaffirmed in the face of the dangers menacing the Christian presence.

In their inaugural speeches, the patriarchs in attendance reaffirmed this solidarity tied to a common Antiochian ecclesial source, as well as the desire for unity and openness toward Islam.

More bold, or perhaps more visionary, than the others, the Syriac Catholic patriarch proposed to his counterparts the unification of calendars-- thus the date of the feast of Easter, emphatically demanded by the Christian people-- as well as intercommunion.

Met Georges Khodr on the Apostles

Arabic original here.

Inspired by the Feast of the Apostles

Today the Church commemorates the crowns of the apostles, Peter and Paul and tomorrow, June 30, she commemorates the twelve apostles all together. What I would like to call to your attention is that the apostles, while the Lord was with them, had the task of healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, and raising the dead. Jesus gave them His own power to bring the world back to health-- health of the body and health of the soul. As for health of the soul, it remained their primary task after the Resurrection and it was given to people through the Gospel. The Gospel is health of the soul.

After Pentecost, when they received power from on high, they started to preach the Gospel in their country first, then they went out into the world. Some specialized in evangelizing the Jews and some specialized in evangelizing the pagans. The stories of the apostles show that they spread out through the world bearing the Gospel and the new message that "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

We know that most of them died as martyrs. All of them died after confessing the Savior as Lord and Redeemer, the source of life for them, for believers and for all. Remember that the Lord took them from around the Sea of Tiberias as fishermen and He made them fishers of men.

He taught them by example and they followed it out of obedience and love for three years while He was with them, correcting their efforts and strengthening their faith. He was weak in people's eyes and He remained weak until the night of the Resurrection. But He loved them, was patient with them and opened their hearts to accept the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit came and purified them, they understood the words that the Lord used to speak and they loved Him and obeyed Him even until death. The understanding that was in them was from the Spirit. What knowledge they had was from the Spirit of Holiness placed in them by the Beloved Son.

After they loved Christ alive and risen from the dead,  active in their hearts and in the hearts of their followers, after they felt Him in this way, they translated Him into Gospels and they translated Him in deed, in martyric death. They were pleased, as Paul says, to be like filth in this world, where people despise them and oppress them because they came with a message of love and people do not want love. People want death and to kill, to exercise authority, to oppress, to lust, to drink up the world, to subjugate be subjugated by it and by its authorities. The apostles came with a message of meekness, kindness, giving and universal brotherhood that knows no boundaries.

The first Christians did not say "I'm from this neighborhood and you're from that neighborhood" or "You are from that village and I am from this village" or "You are the son of so-and-so and I am  the son of such-and-such". Names, families, influence and factionalism all divide people. When they met, they would say "my brothers" and they felt that way. People would say of them "See how they love one another." No one would say that his money was his own, but rather everything was shared among them. Thus they sold everything they possessed and cast it at the feet of the apostles. The apostles would distribute it to the needy among them. The needy person was master, the weak person was master , the illiterate was master.

Power that is from the world-- the power of wealth, the power of authority, the power of lust-- all this was cast at their feet. They had the power of love and by it they conquered the world. Thus when we recite in the Creed, "I believe in one, holy, apostolic and catholic Church", when we say "apostolic" we indicate two things. We indicate that we have the faith of the apostles according to what we read in the Acts of the Apostles, "they devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostle." There lies true, Gospel faith without distortion or innovation. This is what we received and what we subsist on. The second meaning of the term "apostolic Church" is that we have apostolic behavior. That is, that we are not pagan gentiles. When we say that we are Christians, we do not mean the party of Christians, we mean those who love Jesus Christ with pure behavior and love for all, for the people of this neighborhood and the people of that neighborhood.

As we celebrate the crowns of the apostles, let us bear witness that we are an apostolic group that has no right over people other than to love them. Its right is to love and its duty is to love, whether or not people love it. Let us proceed in this faith and this witness.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh: Christianity in Unity and Diversity

Arabic original here.

Christianity in Unity and Diversity

Peter loved Paul and Paul loved Peter. They loved each other, despite their disagreement, because they loved the Church and each served her according to his personal ability. They loved each other because they realized that they are members of one body whose head is Christ and because they realized that the characteristic of the body is diversity. Each member has a role and no member can deny the importance of another. The success of the one body results from each member performing its role in harmony with the other members and with the Head.

The great Peter and Paul differed, but neither hurled anathemas or excommunicated the other. Rather, they both listened to each other's criticisms with great humility and they compromised where compromise was necessary in order to preserve the unity of the growing Church. Their concern was to preach  Jesus Christ, not their own ideas.

Peter, to  whom Jesus said "You are Peter (rock) and on this rock I will build my Church... I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 16:18-19), did not act proudly. Rather, he listened to Paul who says of him, "Now when Peter[a] had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed." Then he accuses him of hypocrisy and incorrect conduct, because when he was away from the Jews he would eat with the gentiles, but when Jews were present he would not eat with them, fearing his countrymen (cf. Galatians 2:11-14). Peter retreated before Paul, he retreated before the one speaking the truth. He repented of his hypocrisy and cowardice.

Peter and Paul are together the model of the unity of the Church, based on the principle of diversity and respect for individuality. The condition for unity is diversity and the condition for diversity is unity. Christian dogma is based in principle on faith in the Most Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit: one God. Thus, there can be no correct theology without affirming "diversity in unity" and "unity in diversity". Divine unity does not eliminate the particularity that distinguishes the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Likewise, diversity does not mean individualism, exclusivity, or the absence of creative relationships.

Insofar as there is no value to any dogma that is not translated into the life and behavior of the Christian here and now-- in the present time and place, theorizing and making abstractions has no credibility if it is not made manifest in history. Thus the faithful must live dogmas in every detail fo their daily life. All the dogmas-- the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Cross, the Resurrection... are dry and sterile dogmas if Christians do not live the Trinity as "diversity and unity", the Incarnation as "moral and material commitment", the Cross as "love and sacrifice with nothing in return", and the Resurrection as "a constant struggle against sin."

Christianity, at root, is a way of life that had to formulate dogma, not for dogma's sake, but in order to preserve what can be called "the life in Christ." Peter and Paul did not talk about dogma, insofar as they lived it. They did not talk about the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit but they were able to embody this relationship in their life and their relationship. Just as divine unity does not eliminate the particular characteristic that distinguishes each of the three hypostases, diversity does not mean individualism, exclusivity or the absence of creative relationships. Thus the unity between Peter and Paul did not eliminate each one's particular characteristic...

As the Church celebrates the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Crowns of the Apostles, this coming Monday, she intends to remind us of the importance of respecting diversity, especially the diversity of gifts. The Church is neither Peter alone nor Paul alone... The Church is Christ, her head, Peter, Paul and all together.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Jordanian Orthodox Hold a Third Protest in Amman

The Arabic text, which was sent to me by one of the organizers of the protest,  can be read below the jump.

Arab Orthodox youth demonstrated in the Jordanian capital Amman in front of the bishopric, where they denounced the continued marginalization of the historical demands of their forefathers that are guaranteed by Jordanian law as well as the government's official silence about the Arab Orthodox issue and the outrage connected to their cause, as they are Jordanian citizens under the trusteeship of a Greek patriarch who has been gradually losing legitimacy in the eyes of the demonstrators.

The demonstrators said that they were protesting on account of the continuing state of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the policies being followed by the current Greek patriarch Theophilus in managing the affairs of the Orthodox Church in Palestine and Jordan.

The protestors also expressed their deep dissatisfaction with the role of Metropolitan Benedictus of Amman whom they regard as not taking a position. They believe that the bishopric, which has not met the demands of its flock and does not care about the gravity of current problems, is a "sterile bishopric".

The Arab Orthodox youth support everything in the letter of the Arab monks that was sent to the heads of all the Orthodox churches in the world by Metropolitan Atallah Hanna, Archimandrite Christophoros Atallah, Archimandrite Meletios Bassal and Archimandrite Athanasios Kakish. They warned the patriarch and his synod against opposing Arab clergy who have a patriotic and reformist mindset.

The protesters also demanded that His Majesty King Abdallah II intervene in this affair because the image being projected by the Patriarchate, which is being polished for public opinion,  is contrary to the true, bitter reality.

Met Georges Khodr on the Orthodox in Lebanon

Arabic original here.

The Orthodox in the Country

Don't wait for me to say to you that they are great. They are just like everyone. They are no lesser and no greater. In the classification of religions, they are Christians and for many reasons they are not considered to be something great, even if some have been misled. Are they only a quantity or do they have qualities? No religious community lacks specific qualities because religion, besides being a conviction of conscience, is a culture in itself. This is what is known as a particular culture. So, a Persian Muslim is in some elements not the same as an Arab Muslim. The Syrian or Lebanese Orthodox are not Greek in their civilizational intuitions. Thus it is not correct to the human type to be the same between one Christian and a Christian of another community. Civilization and sentiment might unite a Christian and a Muslim and not unite a Christian with another Christian or a Muslim with another Muslim.

Something that partially establishes this is that each Christian community has its own civilizational horizon. In some parts, you notice that they are distant from the other Christian community and closer to the Muslims. Some Christians do not feel that they have a civilizational or subjective aspect that differs from the Muslims. There are many reasons for this but there is no space to go into it here. Some Christians are more fanatic about identity, even if they are not more profoundly religious. This may have implications in theology and not only in contingent historical events. Your reading of the history of your community might distance you from some members of your religion who have a different historical sense. The unity of the Christian faith among us does not necessarily mean that our understanding of the past is similar or that we have a similar reading of our historical Christianity. The Maronites are a complete culture, as are the Orthodox. In contemporary classification, both are sub-cultures.

Thus the disagreement we have between Christians is not only a religious difference. It is a disagreement over the reading of history and our two different ways of understanding the Muslims. For me this is not an analysis of two different understandings of Arabism, even if that is possible. Between the Catholics and the Orthodox there is a difference in understanding the relationship between the Church and the world. Does the Church annex the world to her own being, as I understand Catholicism, or is the Church in the world as its spirit, as I understand Orthodoxy?

The Rum, as they call us, are Lebanese in nationality and Arab in civilization. They are not a nation. They are a church-- that is, an entity that lives in time its march toward the hereafter, mingling with the world around it. We are not a nation because we are Lebanese in Lebanon and Syrian in Syria. Our unity is as a church, not as a nation. Nationalist sentiment is legitimate, but it remains something for this world. We are one with the Orthodox of the world in faith and one with the people of our country in our belonging to our land and to our history. Perhaps we are well-known for distinguishing things. Our being called "Rum" came from Western historians who divided Christians into Greeks and Latins. But suffice it to say that we are not Greeks, neither by race nor by language. For historians we are called right-believing [i.e., Orthodox] in order to distinguish us from those who deviated from right belief. Naturally, this is a scholarly term about which there is disagreement. It is clear that our being called "Rum" in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine is without a basis in terms of nationality or race. It is based on the view that the Christian world was divided religiously into Rum and Latins. In Arab historical terms, the Rum are the Byzantines and not the people of our country. We were given this name because we were of the same faith as Byzantium. As for the Orthodox of this country, it is well-known to European historians, since it is "Melkites", after the faith of the Byzantine emperor. I do know know why historically the name Melkites fell out of usage for the Rum Orthodox, since they are known by this name in scholarly circles even today.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Lebanese Press on the Antiochian Unity Conference

Arabic original from as-Safir, here.

Balamand Prepares for the Antiochian Conference

by Fadia Daaboul

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East John X Yazigi has stressed "the kinship of Christians and the unity of the Church" and that "the Byzantine Church is at the root of this Arab Middle East."

During his meeting with Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Lahham at Ayn Traz, accompanied by a delegation of bishops from his community, he opined that "the situation of the Arabs demands that attention be paid to the dangers besetting us" and called on Christians "to not emigrate because the Middle East is the responsibility of all of us and because peace in the region is the sole solution for the world's issues."

With this in mind, Balamand is preparing to launch its Antiochian Conference, the first of its kind in the See of Antioch in terms of organization and goals, with the title "Antiochian Unity: Dimensions and Exigencies". The work of the conference begins next Wednesday and will continue for four days. It will close with a liturgy that will bring together more than five thousand Orthodox under an enormous tent specially prepared for the occasion.

Under the guidance and vigorous supervision of Yazigi, preparatory work began month ago at Balamand University, where where a team of around seventy people, divided into committees, is at work. Likewise, the various logistical preparations are almost complete, from the reception for participating delegations from Lebanon and abroad to preparing Zakhem, Hariri, and Fares Halls for workshops in which around two hundred attendees will participate.

The conference's opening and activity will feature speeches from each of the Christian patriarchs, with Patriarch Yazigi at the fore, the laying of the cornerstone for Balamand Hospital, the opening of the Zeenni Technology Center for Engineering and Industrial Research, the inauguration of the new wing of the Patriarchal Headquarters, and the unveiling of the largest mosaic in Lebanon, perhaps the largest in the Middle East.

For the first time, the conference will go beyond the merely academic to include participation of the faithful since it is being attended by representatives from the patriarchate and from each of the dioceses of the See of Antioch. Each dioceses is represented by priests, monks, men, women and youth, in addition to representatives of church educational, health, and charitable institutions.

The conference will attempt to be a first step toward crystallizing general ideas that will take the form of policies and plans that will be brought to the Holy Synod and serve as a long-term roadmap for embodying the idea of "Antiochian unity" that is experienced at every level of the Church's internal life and her witness in the world.

The conferences includes five focal points: making consultation effective in the parishes and dioceses and strengthening synergy between the dioceses, developing endowments and financial support for social work. It will be held simultaneously on five committees and will complete its work by making recommendations and practical proposals for implementation.

The conference will end with a liturgy bringing together all the dioceses on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, founders of the See of Antioch, to give thanks and affirm the Orthodox presence through the single chalice.

Arabic original from an-Nahar, here.

The Orthodox Church and the Challenge of the "Antiochian Conference"

by Pierre Atallah

The most important thing in the Antiochian Conference called by Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East is the call for the conference itself, say Orthodox reformers. They believe that the young patriarch's initiative represents a ray of hope and an internal revolution. This, when in the past any reference to the word 'reform' was merely a dream held dear by sincere children of the Church, clergy and lay, who had tried in vain to raise their voices to demand reform the situation of the Orthodox Church, whose members are proud of their Church's roots, great history, ecumenical relationships and-- mostly importantly-- the close and reliable bond that binds Orthodoxy with Arabism, without that making the Orthodox less Christian or less Arab, as their Arabism goes back to the Ghassanids and all the Arab tribes, something Ghassan Toueini was proud of.

The conference will discuss many questions and sensitive issues that will need not just one but many days at Balamand Monastery, given the magnitude of what is on the agenda for reform. The reformers in the Antiochian Church say, "The call for the Antiochian Conference required courage on the part of Patriarch John X Yazigi. This is because gathering together the entire Antiochian Orthodox Church from all elements, both clergy and laity, is not something desirable for many who are concerned for their own personal interests and view the continuation of the Church's situation as it is to be the best way to ensure those very personal interests, at the expense of weakening the Church as a historical institution containing one of the oldest churches in the Middle East."

In this sense, the call for the conference appears to be a serious and explicit challenge raised by Patriarch Yazigi in the face of the continued subordinate status of the entire community and its being held captive to this or that party, in addition to its exploitation by narrow factional interests. One of the basic issues that the conference will have to address is the slouching ineffectiveness of the Church's clergy and public figures.

The Greatest Challenge

The greatest challenge that the conference will face appears first on the conference's agenda. It constitutes a road map for those gathered to escape the decline and the deteriorating situation that the Orthodox Church is facing. This requires reactivating the presence of laypeople in the Church by making them feel they are an organic and basic part of the universal Church and that they are not merely a flock with no recourse and no say except in giving donations and performing spiritual duties. What is needed in this regard is organizing and managing this relationship in a scientific and systematic manner. A committee of experts should be formed with wide competencies under the supervision of Patriarch John X to take charge of this matter and within a specified period to put forward a concept of how to organize this relationship, which constitutes the cornerstone of building up and developing the Church and her institutions and bringing her into the future.

Moving on, the second step (again, according to the reformers) lies in organizing church institutions and allowing lay participation in the management of the Church's social, medical, educational and humanitarian institutions. This requires making the laity feel that they are not a foreign body within the Church, but rather a basic and organic element of her makeup. In order to make this work effective, it requires forming bodies that support the Church's administrative work, since experience has shown that there are big question marks that need to be clarified and there are files and figures that require calm and sober treatment in order to properly sort things out.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Two Short Unpublished Texts from the Arab Orthodox Tradition

Alexander Treiger, a professor of Religous Studies at Dalhousie University and co-editor of The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, has started what will hopefully be a series of articles in Balamand University's journal Chronos, publishing short, previously-unedited Arab Orthodox texts along with English translations.

In the first of these articles, he presents a text on the origin of the name "Melkite" and an account of one of the several destructions of the Maryamiyya Cathedral in Damascus. Read them here.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Patriarch John X Visits the Melkite Catholic Holy Synod

Apologies for the video being without translation. Arabic original of the text below, here.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X visited Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III in Ain Traz, accompanied by a delegation of bishops from his community. He was greeted according to the Byzantine tradition, with the participation of the bishops of the [Melkite Catholic] Holy Synod and heads of the monastic orders.

After prayers of thanksgiving in the chapel of the complex, Gregorios III gave a word of welcome to the guest and then John X responded with a few words wherein he emphasized "the kinship of Christians and the unity of the Church", affirming that "the Byzantine Church is at the root of this Arab Middle East." He noted that "the situation of the Arabs demands that attention be paid to the dangers besetting us. We encourage all Christians to not emigrate because the Middle East is the responsibility of all of us and because peace in the region is the sole solution for the world's issues."

He left the meeting between the two patriarchs satisfied with the bishops, priests and laity, who expressed their hope for a quickening of the pace towards unity in faith.

The [Melkite Catholic] Holy Synod will continue its annual meeting until this coming Saturday.

Fr Georges Massouh: Is Takfir an Islamic Phenomenon?

Arabic original here.

Is Takfir an Islamic Phenomenon?

In his recently published book, "Takfir: Its Regulations in Islam and Its Application by Muslims", Sheikh Akram Barakat attempts to study the phenomenon of takfir in Islam, presenting this phenomenon from the beginning of Islam to our present day. This book is very timely, given the rise of takfiri movements in all Islamic countries, especially Syria and Iraq.

It is worth noting that the title of the book distinguishes between what Islam says in its foundational texts as they were understood and applied by Muslims over the course of history and how Muslims-- or some Muslims-- apply them at present. The book performs a great service for researchers in Islamic studies since it collects the most important texts about this topic from the Qur'an, prophetic tradition, ancient Islamic tradition, and modern Islamic thought. The author succeeds in eliminating many of the ambiguities relating to legal rulings caused by takfir. He says, for example, that disbelief in itself is not a justification for killing or war, nor does it permit combating the disbeliever except in the case of the disbeliever's attacking Islamic society and declaring war against it.

Sheikh Barakat calls for clear regulations for preventing extremism in Islam, the most important of which is freedom in discussion and legal interpretation, something that is in harmony with Islam's tolerance and openness. The author treats all these issues with a commitment to dogmatic and legal authenticity with regards to takfir in Islam.

Takfir is not a historic era that has passed. In fact, it constitutes the great crisis in contemporary Islamic thought and in Muslims' behavior towards one another and towards non-Muslims. Takfiris do not distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims in their attacks, since anyone who is not with them is against them, even if they make the Islamic profession of faith, pray five times a day, give the requisite alms, fast during Ramadan, and perform the pilgrimage to Mecca.

We believe that the phenomenon of takfirism is not a religious phenomenon, but rather a worldly phenomenon in terms of its content and results. It is not a religious phenomenon because most Islamic jurists, ancient and modern, reject it. It is a worldly phenomenon because it confiscates God and monopolizes Him for itself, denying God's sovereignty over the universe and over humans, doing away with His presence in the world and witnessing against Him. It removes God from His throne and sits in His place and thus it is worldly.

The phenomenon of takfirism is worldly because it is sustained by the powers and tyrants of this world. It forgets the real enemy of all Muslims, the one that expelled the Muslims from Palestine and Jerusalem, the one that is striving to Judaize it and to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque... It aims its forces against Muslims of various sects and against non-Muslims, committing murder, destruction and massacres... Then they want us to believe that it is an Islamic phenomenon! This takfiri thought (or really, anti-thought) can be successfully countered only through the commitment of all Muslims to not be pulled along by a phenomenon that will only lead to  a distortion of the Islamic religion, further shattering it and tearing it apart, contributing to further decline for Muslims. Likewise, there must be serious work done for bold, modern legal reasoning about the Islamic view of the system of government and the place of Islamic law in this system.

In his extensive and comprehensive book, Sheikh Akram Barakat analyzes the root of the affliction in contemporary Islamic thought with the objectivity of a scientific researcher. The treatment of this rampant epidemic, however, lies in the concerted efforts of all Muslims who are zealous for their countries and for their revival to root out this malignant tumor that is almost eliminating any glimmer of hope for a bright tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Carol Saba on Next Week's Antiochian Unity Conference

Arabic original here.

The Coming Antiochian Unity Conference: A Ray of Light towards Long-Awaited Hope

The famous British writer Oscar Wilde said, "Truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style." That is, getting the truth across requires a methodical style. One aspect of the illness of the Arab body that has been shattered since the beginning of the 20th century lies in the inability of the contemporary Arab intellect-- despite its abundant capacities and past glories-- to plan and proactively anticipate critical shifts and challenges. Intelligent impetus in the world requires a critical reading of past approaches, intellectual preparation for understanding present shifts and modern, intelligent ways of confronting them. In his book Being Arab, Samir Kassir says, "The Arabs' malaise stems from their inability to be after having been" [p. 4 of the English edition rather less literally translates it as "their inability to regain the power and global status they once possessed"]. The problem in traditional, conservative societies is not a mater of capabilities. It is a matter of being able to critically review decline and its causes and to make talents effective and fruitful in order to accurately identify sources and engines of renewal. The problem is the loss of a vision of renewal and specific methods for moving forward. The pages of history are filled with the experiences of societies that grew on glories that passed and then fell because they were unable to move forward as societies with intelligence and modernity. Instead, they stopped reading the shifts affecting them, believing that modernity lies in superficial modernization. The modernization rampant in our Middle Eastern societies is advancement on the surface but deep down it is insularity. In conquering everything, it kills "personhood" and promotes "individualism" that wrenches a person out of his history, society, tradition and identity, stripping him bare. Modernity is renewal, confirmation and enrichment of "personal" [in the Zizioulan sense] identity, since it reads tradition as a living element that pulses with vitality. It is not merely a "heritage" that we embrace without growing and developing it. The societies that are unable to "be after having been" deviate toward schizophrenia in their belief that they still live in the glories that they produced even as they center themselves on a deadly, museum-like marginality that impedes any critical review or renewal. With His Beatitude John X leading our way, we do not want Antioch to center on being a "museum", no matter how brightly it has shone. Rather, we want it to "be" with a correct vision, effective action and influential word after "having been" this way, as history bears witness. What Antioch needs today is an "approach to modernity" and not "keeping up with modernization". We have no future if we do not not understand the constant factors and engines of change in the world today and the motion of history and its repercussions for Antioch's situation and if we do not discern from them the paths to move forward toward the future. This is what His Beatitude, our father Patriarch John X, is working for through the Antiochian conference, "Antiochian Unity: Its Dimensions and Exigencies" that will be held at Balamand June 25-29, whose particular goals were explained in his recent press conference. This important Antiochian event is a paradigm shift in the right direction that we have repeatedly sought since the era of Patriarch Ignatius IV of blessed memory, as my articles in an-Nahar attest. The conference, which will take place for the first time with this form and content and with the participation of all the dioceses of the See of Antioch, east and west, will treat five basic points of focus for the witness of the Antiochian Church and her enlightening national role. These include the See of Antioch's church media policy, about which I will give a presentation at the request of the patriarch, and which I can only view in terms of "participatory, communicative media".

The conference is more important than just an operation to "put Antioch's internal house in order". The challenges are many, internally and externally. There must be a historical review of the escalation of the crises in Lebanon, Syria and the Middle East and an analysis of the lessons that we can draw from them. In the face of the challenges of Middle Eastern Christianity, there must be an approach to the challenge and exigencies of Antiochian Christian unity. As regards the Antiochian presence in society and what is needed in order to halt its retreat, there must be an examination of  the historical causes, whose roots go back to the Ottoman millet system that imprisoned the Church within the sectarian community, the community within the minority, openness within introversion, and secularism within sectarianism. With time, both the Church and the community lose any effectiveness in society and this is what has happened. Likewise, there must be an approach to the challenge of institutions and participatory Church governance and its implications for Antiochian unity, solidarity and togetherness, not to mention the pivotal challenge of evangelism and renewed pastoral care that is capable of keeping pace with societal dilemmas in today's globalized world. Amidst the raging flames and rubble that surround us, the danger-zones and the changes in motion, Antioch is called today to make a calm critical review of her ecclesial experience in past decades, to retake the ecclesial and national initiative, and to regain her pioneering role here and now, from the heart of Antioch that is bleeding with pain and leaking hope, unto all corners of the earth where the Antiochian diaspora exists. A British saying goes, "If you fail to plan then you plan to fail." The modern sensibility of the conference lies in the fact that for the first time in Antioch's contemporary history, it is striving to make a critical review, an accurate analysis and an effective plan. What is needed today more than at any time in the past is to leave behind traditional approaches in order to re-center the Antiochian Church, which is beset by dangers and brotherly and unbrotherly ambitions, in a qualitative and strategic manner within the context of today's world and the context of the evangelical revolution to which we were called by the Nazarene risen from the dead: that we be unto the Kingdom its activists and developers, if we know intelligently and with a modern sensibility how to be the Kingdom clothed in enlightened dust, enlightening others and showing the way to that which is to come.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on Holiness

Arabic original here.

The Sinner-Saint

The Bible affirms that God alone is holy. However, it calls each person to attain holiness in his life: "as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:15-16). Peter himself goes even further than this when he calls believers to "become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).

Man's participation in the divine nature was not possible before the Word of God was incarnate and became man. Because of Jesus Christ, God who became man, it became possible for man, according to patristic tradition, to become god by grace, just as the eternal Word of God truly became man.

If holiness is attributed to human beings, this does not mean that they were infalliable from sin or were exempt from error. Rather, it is attributed to them because they realized that they are sinners and so they strove with all the power and strength toward repentance. A saint is none other than the one who admits his sins and decides to depart from them and follow along the path of repentance. This is why in his letters the Apostle Paul addresses living believers in general, calling them saints, in hope. Holiness is constant daily struggle, despite many falls, in order to live the good things to come in our present world.

Thus the Church realizes that holiness is not something exceptional or incidental. It is not a supernatural event. Rather, it is part of her mission and calling in the world. The saints are the shining proof of the ability of every person, no matter what sins and transgressions he has committed, to become a saint through the support of God's grace. The chain of saints includes adultresses, thieves, murderers and others who have committed great sins but their repentance was great to the point of erasing everything they had previously committed. The saints, then, are living examples that keep the faithful from despairing of God's grace, examples of how they, like those before them, can themselves also become saints.

The usefulness of the lives of saints is in taking them as a model for those who struggle today to attain what they attained.

If holiness is something that is not incidental to the Church, then why do people treat the announcement of someone's sainthood as thought it were an exceptional event? Why have we come to be surprised that there are saints in our contemporary world? Why has holiness become the monopoly of a few whom the Church announces to be saints when the expression "the saints" was applied to all who belong to the Church?

On the first Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost, the feast of the Holy Spirit resting on the assembly of the believers, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of All Saints. This is in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of the work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Holiness, in the faithful. The fruit of Pentecost is the holiness that the Spirit gives to those who walk in His ways.

It is good for the faithful to celebrate the saints but it is better for the announcement of sainthood to be a stimulus for all the people to become themselves a people of living saints. If one out of a million people reaches sainthood, it is an occasion that calls for reflection on the state of the million who are not saints more than it calls for taking pride in the one saint alone. How can be faithful be convinced that holiness is something that concerns them as well?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Arabic-Speaking Clergy announce a Final Call for Spiritual Revival

Greek original here.

Final Call for a Spiritual Revival in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem:
 The Requests of the Clergy and People of the Arab Flock

Your All-Holiness,
Your Beatitude,
Reverend Fathers, Your Graces,
Fathers and Brothers,

The content of this letter was written with much anxiety over the fate of the Orthodox faith of the Church of Jerusalem and of the Orthodox Church in general, which today is facing enormous problems. However, these problems are being covered over by the slogan that a group of fanatical Arab Orthodox want to Arabize the Patriarchate of Jersualem.

Instead of being met with thanks, those who are taking the initiative to reveal and explain what is happening in the Church of Jerusalem are bizarrely already being threatened by the leadership of the Patriarchate with deposition and expulsion.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to tell the truth no matter the consequences because our motive is the good of the Church and not personal ambitions, since in the latter case we would have behaved differently, with the hypocritical obedience that is well-known in religious circles.

We are putting our future in the Church in imminent danger for the sake of the truth, so that the world will learn the reality of the problems. Afterward, we leave judgement to God because we believe that other interests are being served by the indifference of those responsible, which causes us to doubt whether they are genuine shepherds for us,  because the good shepherds lays down his own life to save the sheep from the wolves. For this they will answer to God on the Day of the Last Judgment.

Because we are members of the Arabic-speaking congregation and because we live the problems of the faithful and the attacks that they suffer from the heterodox on account of the indifference of the Church's leadership, we have repeatedly reported to our Patriarch Theophilos the concerns and anxieties of the people in the presence of the Chief Secretary and the other hierarchs of the Patriarchate. We waited long enough for the response of the Patriarch and the Synod, but in vain.

We have returned with love and humility, repeating our demands, but we have been met with deaf ears. They have even begun to accuse us of being anti-Greek and of wanting to replace this patriarch with an Arab. We denounce this as a big LIE because we have no nationalistic motivation. We love Greece and we respect the role it has played in protecting the Holy Places and Orthodoxy in the Middle East.

Our demands are purely spiritual, pastoral and canonical.

1. We demand that young men and women from the congregation be able to become monastics. This is something that the current leadership does not allow, instead always keeping a small number of Arabic-speaking monastics, in order to justify the excuse that not many of the locals, as they call us, are interested in monasticism. When one of the Arabic-speaking faithful expresses a desire to become a monk, they create for him a thousand obstacles and wait years to approve his request, while someone of Greek origin is accepted and ordained without any hesitation and without regard for his moral conduct, just because he is Greek. This has caused dozens of clergy and hierarchs, children of the Church of Jerusalem, to serve today in other Orthodox churches. Is this Christian justice and the loving care of the Mother Church?

2. We demand that there be spiritual fathers who know the Arabic language so that all the faithful may be received to the great mystery of Holy Confession, guiding the life of the faithful toward perfection on the path of salvation, in the difficult social environment in which they find themselves.

3. We demand that the first and only women's monastery in Jordan founded by the late Patriarch Diodoros in Dibeen, built from scratch through the labors of Archimandrite Christophoros Atallah and hosting since 1999 several nuns and novices, a spiritual center in Jordan for thousands of believers, be recognized.

4. We demand that there be created a theological school and seminary so that the youth will receive Orthodox Christian instruction, that they be prepared for teaching Christian truth in schools, that they have the resources to combat heterodox propaganda, and that catechetical schools be established in all villages and towns, because what currently exists is not enough. The absence of such schools causes many young people to seek Latin and Protestant schools and to enter the clerical colleges of the Latins and Protestants, to our deepest regret ending up in the ranks of the Latin or Protestant clergy. But the Orthodox leadership does not protest and is not pained, and this makes us wonder whether they are real shepherds who leave the ninety-nine sheep to search for the one who is lost.

5. We demand that there be metropolises or dioceses, so that there will be spiritual activities and pastoral responsibility, without everything waiting for the Patriarch's approval, because unfortunately in our Patriarchate there do not exist pastoral metropolitans but only titular ones. This leaves the flock without a shepherd, which is disastrous for the future of Orthodoxy in our country.

6. We also demand that some members of the congregation have a say in the administration of the Church. Today the Church leadership works with and is represented by certain laymen. Who are they? Individuals who are ignorant of the Church. Even if they are Christians, they do not partake in or understand the sacred Mysteries of the Church. They do not commune after their baptism and they present themselves as "notables" who revel in being honored in society. We demand that faithful individuals who live the sacramental and spiritual life have a say in ecclesial affairs, that they not feel disconnected, like foreigners in their own country and their Mother Church, where today foreign clergy who do not know the customs, traditions and who appear as though they parachuted in have more rights. Some of these foreign clergy-- unfortunately coming to us in recent years as unknown, already ordained clergy who are advanced in years- humiliate the local clergy and faithful with their shocking behavior, to the detriment of the memberless-- and thus nonexistent-- patriarchal school, which was the nursery of our Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher, where Greeks and Arabs coexisted, but today consists of only 7-8 children of Greek origin.

7. We demand the canonical establishment of the Synod. The composition of the current Synod is done in such a way that it only pleases the Patriarch, since he believes that the Synod of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem is nothing more than a committee of higoumens. The Patriarch appoints anyone he deems to be "qualified". Thus the members of the Synod represent neither the people nor the eparchies, since, with the exception of two bishops, they have no flock and many of them are archimandrites. In order to hold onto their seat on the Synod and not fall out of favor with the Patriarch and in order for the archimandrites to become hierarchs, the members of the Synod become silent fish. If any member of the Synod dares resist the opinion of the Patriarch, he is immediately shown to the exit door. What hope then remains for a better future for our Church?

These are the demands that we are making to our spiritual leadership and for which we strive with humility and love for our ecclesiastical Authority, who for years has shut its ears and worse, has misread our intentions and distorted our motivations.

Whether these demands are anti-Christian and anti-Greek, you be the judge, and if you find them to be unjust and irrational from a pastoral and ecclesiological standpoint, then we will suffer any punishment and expulsion.

We are eager for any dialogue that will bring positive results, although we doubt it will be successful, after having tried in vain in recent years.

We know that the local churches do not interfere in the affairs of another Church.

However, here there is a catastrophic decline for the Orthodox Church in the Holy Land, which is a serious matter for the entire Orthodox Church.

If one member suffers then the whole body suffers. This should not be forgotten.

Two years ago, the flock and Orthodox organizations reported the problem to Ecumenical Partriarch Bartholomew in a letter signed by more than 6000 faithful, copy of which is attached.

Therefore, please intervene to put an end to the uncanonical system of administration and arbitrary behavior of the Patriarch in the Church of Jerusalem in any manner that you deem fit, before we mourn Orthodoxy in the ruins of Holy Zion.

Archbishop Theodosios [Atallah] of Sebasteia
Archimandrite Christophoros Atallah
Archimandrite Meletios Bassal
Archimandrite Athanasios Kakish

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Met. Georges Khodr: Living in the Image of the Trinity

Arabic original here.

Living in the Image of the Trinity

On the Sunday of the Fathers who gathered at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea in 325, the Church wants to talk to us about the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in preparation for Holy Pentecost when the Spirit of God will descend upon us.

When people say that God is one, they think it means that He is not two, three, four or ten. That is, they enumerate God. But God cannot be counted. So in this sense it cannot be said that God is one. If you count Him, then you limit Him. God is not one in the numerical sense that we say, for example, that this book is one. There is nothing like God and no number like Him.

In the text from the Gospel that is read today, we see that the Father gave everything to the Son. We do not talk before anything else about God's unity, rather we talk about the Father. He is the beginning. He is the alpha. The Father poured out everything into the Son and in this sense He is one with the Son. God is one because the Father placed all his life in His beloved Son, in the Word of God that comes out from Him from all eternity. They are one because the life of one is the life of the other because the love in one is in the other. "Everything that is Mine is Yours and everything that is Yours is Mine." Likewise, we say of the Holy Spirit that everything in the Father belongs to the Holy Spirit and is in the Holy Spirit. The unity in God is the unity of love. God is one because He is love poured out from  the Father to the Son and to the Spirit. This love that is in the Father constantly orients Him toward the Son and the love that is in the Son constantly orients Him toward the Father. The Father moves toward the Son and the Son moves toward the Father. There is constant movement in God and this is His unity.

The Father sent His only Son who was eternally in Him so that those who believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God put everything in the Son's humanity: all truth, all purity, all majesty. The fullness of divinity became bodily in the Son and God was one with Christ on earth. This is God's unity, that He put His whole self in Christ incarnate in the world.

And what is the role of the Holy Spirit in this? The Holy Spirit is the one who distributes Christ's gifts after He ascended into heaven. He is the one who pours out grace and unites. He is the one who returns the faithful all together to God their Father in prayer, since "the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groanings that cannot be uttered."

Thus unity comes down from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the Church and it returns from from the Church to the Father through the Son who does for our sake, rises victorious and ascends to heaven. Unity comes down from above to earth to be reflected from earth back to heaven.

So how is the unity between the faithful, between one person and another? God is one not in order to remain this way but in order to give His unity to people. God exists to be known, not so that He can take pleasure in His own attributes. Unity among humans is for a person to give God to another person. This is the greatest secret in our life. One cannot give a gift greater than that of giving the God that is in him. So if God is not in us, then we cannot give anything. We remain closed off in ourselves and petrified until we are given God through love and we give Him to others through humility. God reaches people through us and He returns to us from people. When He returns to us, He extends Himself to us and takes us into His glory. This is God's unity in His essence, in His hypostases, in the Church and in the world.

Patriarch John X Announces Antiochian Unity Conference June 26-28

Arabic original here. French translation here.

Press Conference by His Beatitude Patriarch John X

On the Forthcoming Conference "Antiochian Unity: Its Dimensions and Exigencies"
June 26-28, 2014

Dear ones,
I would like to thank you for your presence with us today on this blessed hill of Balamand. We are striving to make this place into a hill of spiritual, intellectual, human and national radiance. Here is where we launch all our good efforts in the service of the people of these lands. Like you, we feel how much our nations are in need of solidarity and of combining the efforts of all their children in order to overcome the trials and challenges that they are facing.

Today we are announcing our general ecclesial conference, the Antiochian Conference which will be held here at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand on June 26-28. We are calling for this conference not only on acount of the need for our children to express their unity of faith, but also so that they can express their concern for the state of their nations and their readiness to play a fundamental and critical role in preparing their future, whether they reside here or in the diaspora. For us, our Church, which is present in all the countries of the Arab region, is responsible alongside all the people of these lands for dignity of life and the proper conduct of public life.

This conference aims to study some of the issues that are at the forefront of the most important fields for highlighting the features of Antiochian unity. With the potential offered today by modern communications and rapid travel and in the context of the way situations in the Church are developing and demographic realities, our people need to feel the contents of this unity within their ecclesial and public life. They need to be active and interactive with these contents. It seems obvious to all who are following the pastoral situations of the faithful that the Church, in all her constituent parts, is called to take the essence of Orthodox thought and its exigencies beyond the theoretical propositions we all agree on and to bring it into the realm of practice, through plans that will be implemented in the dioceses in a spirit of unity and on the level of the Patriarchate as a whole in a spirit of mutual complementarity.

Through examining points of discussion with clear goals, the conference will strive to be a first step toward forming comprehensive ideas that will take the form of policies, workshops and plans that will be submitted to the Holy Synod in the hope that they will help to create a plan that will be built up, brick by brick, in view of a manifest Antiochian unity that is lived at all levels of the Church's internal life and her witness in the world.

At this conference there will gather a wide range of faithful coming from all dioceses in the homeland and the diaspora. Naturally, each diocese will choose its own representatives.

The conference's points of discussion will center on the following five topics:

1. Promoting mutual complementarity between parishes in the dioceses and between the dioceses themselves within the Patriarchate as a whole.

The regulations of the Church of Antioch express the Church's theology. Their purpose is to make it possible to live out the  principle of collegiality in the Church. This point of discussion aims to study ways to develop the process of consultation on the parish, diocesan and patriarchal levels. Likewise, ongoing changes in the geography of the Orthodox diaspora impose on us the necessity of strengthening the relationships of the dioceses of the diaspora with the dioceses of the historic Antiochian territory.

The work of this discussion will be to propose mechanisms, activities and means of constant communication that give a lived dimension to Antiochian unity through arranging occasions where they can express their unity and their common bond, which is reflected in their life in the Church and in the world.

2. Developing endowments and financial solidarity.

Today as pastoral exigencies are increasing, the development of church institutions, pedagogical services, and social work is an urgent necessity. Likewise, it is no less important to arrange the livelihood of those who serve the Church, to preserve our Christian presence in the Middle East, and to support research and efforts that strengthen our presence in society, honoring our history and heritage.

This discussion will attempt to study the practical approaches that can make financial organization into a support for pastoral work. It will propose some development plans and ways of facilitating the process of undertaking development plans in the service of institutions and increasing pastoral, social, educational and medical work on the levels of the dioceses and of the Patriarchate.

3. Social Work

Social work is one of the foundations of Christian witness in society. However, social developments as well as the forced or voluntary displacement of people and economic decline now impose the necessity of adopting new foundations for action that combine efforts and are integrated at all levels: medical and health, social, assistance and emergency.

This point of discussion will approach the social dimension as a basic element of the life of parishes while also working to propose local projects or projects that will help to strengthen solidarity on the level of relationships between the dioceses and the role of the Patriarchate in coordinating this work. The organizational dimension that permits the Patriarchate and the dioceses to rapidly respond to developments affecting the life of the Church and her people es very important, especially right now.

4. Presence in Society

Today our region is experiencing a time in which the conjunction of politics and religion is reflecting negatively on religious communities and believers. Thus the Church sees herself compelled to speak the truth in fields where the image of humanity, religion and Christianity is sometimes tarnished, where the adjectives "Christian" or "Orthodox" are exploited for personal reasons or for reasons completely unrelated to the message of Christianity.

The "quality" of the social presence to which we aspire is a basic focal point for us. We need to study some ideas that can be a point of departure for instruments of consultation that will make our presence in the life of society palpable and more effective. This is something not limited to the geographical boundaries of Antioch. It affects all the other dioceses in the diaspora.

5. Communications

Communication, in all its many forms-- audio-visual, written and relation-- constitutes the cornerstone of transmitting information and interacting with it. Communication is no longer limited to the media understood as merely a technique of transmitting news, opinion or a special event. It has become necessary to look at this new era with a new style, one to which our Church has not yet grown accustomed. Additionally, given the opportunity available to all to rapidly access anything published in the media, communications is an important tool for Antiochian unity. Our initiative in this area will protect the Church from being taken hostage by others' media and give her the ability to take the initiative and demonstrate her particular character.

Studying communication and media policy on the level of the Patriarchate as a whole and treating this policy as an aspect of Antiochian unity and of raising awareness of the solidarity within the Church is something extremely important. We must arrive at concrete mechanisms that can be gradually adopted and can express Antiochian unity through the contribution of all dioceses and technical means that can be acquired in order to make the Antiochian presence effective, both internally and in society.

Last but not least, the work of the conference will be crowned with the service of the Divine Sacrifice on Sunday, June 29 in order to lift thanks up to God for His gifts and for the work of His Holy Spirit in us. I call on all the faithful to participate by being present with on on that day, which is also the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, founders of our Apostolic See. Joining together this way in prayer will be an expression of the depth of our unity in the Lord.

Dear ones,

As you may notice, even if our conference will focus on Antiochian unity, in practice it looks at this unity as emblematic of service to all society. We only see the Church in terms of her being a Church that is active in the world that God loved, for the salvation of which salvation He suffered and rose. We as a Middle Eastern Church-- numerically the largest in the Levant and geographically the most widespread-- are perfectly aware of the importance of the task entrusted to us in these fateful circumstances that our region is going through. The body of our Antiochian Church continues to suffer in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and our Arab humanity is oppressed and homeless in Palestine. Many of our brothers have died or have been cast out of their homes or have been kidnapped-- in particular we do not forget our brothers the metropolitans of Aleppo Youhanna and Paul. The situation is the same for many of our brothers in citizenship. When we affirm our unity, we are eager to assume the role that is our duty, to wipe away the tears, without any distinction between communities or between the children of our societies, Muslims and Christians. We console the sorrowful and we support the poor and the sick. We affirm to the world that our message is for everyone, in word and deed, so that violence may stop and the language of peace may prevail.