Monday, September 15, 2014

Carol Saba Assesses June's Antiochian Unity Conference

Arabic original here

An Assessment of the Antiochian Unity Conference at Balamand

Congratulations to the boldness of Patriarch John X for his calling together this exceptional conference, which we have asked for repeatedly over the years. The conference's timing was dead-on because any delay would have subjected the Church to greater fissures. Today we have hope and a framework with which to start building a participatory church structure.

The conference was also right in demonstrating the thirst of the faithful for active participation, so it is incumbent upon the leadership of the Church from now on to take into account the emerging Orthodox public opinion that is in motion, so as to engage it in the decision-making process. It likewise hit the mark in its logistical organization, as everything was appropriate and in order. However, we should be wary of all this going to waste if we do not make an accurate and dynamic analysis of critical challenges, the management of progressive stages, and the methods for following up. A necessary first step is to defuse the minds scattered along the path. "Simplify your life, and fear will go away," says the spiritual father and contemporary saint Paisios the Athonite. His call is not to simplification in the sense of distinguishing between what is important and what is more important. We should not distract ourselves with details that become slogans that move us away from what is fundamental. Putting an end to fear requires on an Antiochian level a critical assessment of successive erroneous paths that have been taken, reflecting the deep reality of things and making clear what is essential. Several criticisms have been made of the conference, including the composition of the delegations, the fact  that its bold studies have not been published (I was among those who presented a study about church media and communication), the fact that the final proposals have not been published, and the absence of mechanisms for following up.

The publication of the studies could have further enriched the conference and eased the frustration of those who were not invited. As for the anticipated follow-up to the conference, it has not yet appeared even though the conference's value lies not in the invitation or the immediate success, but rather in the dynamic follow-up. Merely forwarding recommendations to a future meeting of the Holy Synod without distributing them in their final form for ratification does not constitute a participatory conclusion to the conference. The absence of effective media coverage and official talking points about the conference and its most  important recommendations has subjected it to various interpretations.

Of course, no one has the intention of leading us to a well of living water and then cutting the rope. However, this particular stage requires making the conference bear fruit peacefully, reconciling contradictions in the community and the Church, so that we may preserve and develop unity in diversity. One patriarchal tenure is not identical to another. I am certain that Patriarch John has absolutely no intention of eliminating the achievements of Patriarch Hazim of thrice-blessed memory, who was one of our great men in terms of what he had to undertake and the achievements that he realized. However, in this respect and in others, improper methodologies might impede liftoff, like broken wings, and create ambiguities. We are still moving in a traditional manner and spending time that we do not have, while this stage requires an exceptionally dynamic plan.

As for Antioch's critical concerns, the conference could have been a platform for announcing that the return of the missing Metropolitan Paul and his companion is Antioch's number-one issue. Given its national and regional symbolic importance, it could have asked for an "open" Muslim-Christian spiritual summit and for an international commission of inquiry in order to place everyone before their responsibilities and to present the issue to the diaspora and the media and give it a diplomatic hearing.

While still affirming the principle of not intervening in the affairs of another patriarchate, mention also needed to be made of what is happening in Jerusalem between the church leadership and their children. A message of solidarity and warning needed to be sent to both sides, that the mesure of the Church does not overlap with any form of racism. Mention needed to be made of our struggle with that patriarchate over their consecrating an archimandrite as bishop over the territory of the Antiochian Church in Qatar, as well as of the points of agreement that we arrived at at the Greek Foreign Ministry in Athens in June of 2013, which we have not yet valued in the media. It is the sole grounds for resolving this issue. It was agreed upon at the Greek Foreign Ministry and in the Ecumenical Patriarch's correspondence with the patriarchs.

As regards the crisis of primacy that is sweeping the Orthodox churches, it needed to raise a prophetic Antiochian voice to rebuke the new pharaseeism that is killing evangelism and pastoral care in the interest of authority. Even as Pope Francis is trying to escape papalism, it is sneaking into the Orthodox churches under various forms. Faced with the changes in the Middle East, there needed to be in national terms a critical assessment of the reasons for our retreat in our societies and for the escalation of crises and fundamentalisms and direct material and moral effort to assuage the harm with which we have been afflicted.

Our greatest challenge today is our national challenge, which requires of us intellectual readiness to reassert our national role and demarcate its honorable features, without delay, through fleeing every form of dhimmitude and reinforcing the society of citizenship, coexistence and diversity. In my presentation at Balamand I said, "Give time to our beloved Patriarch John, but do not neglect the concerns of the Church, since great things only come from the great."

Escaping the accumulations of the past requires qualitative change and renewed, non-traditional approaches that speak to the mind of today's world. Pressing forward towards the future requires replacing the logic of a center with the logic of a network in terms of media and with the cooperation of the dioceses and the diaspora. It requires replacing the logic of administration with the logic of evangelism, conservatism with development, exclusivity with participation, unilateral decision-making with consultation, the personal with the systematic, and ambiguity with transparency. At that point, we will be able to hear the voice of the Lord standing at the door, who is still trying to speak to us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would change the title over this.
"Carol Saba Gives Gentle Nudge to Holy Synod: Please Don't Ignore Your Own Unity Conference."