Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Al-Safir Interviews Archimandrite Christophoros

Arabic original here.

Archimandrite Christophoros to al-Safir: Our Goal is to Set the Church's Path Aright

by Rania al-Jafari

Six months passed between the promotion of Archimandrite Christophoros Hanna Atallah by Patriarch Theophilos to the position of spiritual director of the Greek Orthodox patriarchal schools in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories and his punishment of being cut off from the Church and expelled from the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher.

According to a statement issued by the Patriarchate, the punishment comes as a result of Christophoros' violations of the canons in force in the "Mother of Churches", including rejecting successive decisions of the Church to transfer the location of his activities.

Al-Safir met with Archimandrite Christophoros and tried to shed some light on aspects of an ancient struggle that is being renewed between the Greek administration of the Church of Jerusalem and the people of the Arab Orthodox flock.

What is the extent of your relationship with the Orthodox Church?
I was born in Jerusalem, but I am from the town of Jaffna in Ramallah. I returned to Jerusalem when I was nine years old in order to study in the school for clergy. When I finished my theological studies, I came to Jordan in 1989. I started studying sociology, psychology and law and since that time I have been continuously serving in Jordan.

What does the decision to cut you off from the Church of Jerusalem, after a lifetime of service?
Expelling me from my church means expelling me from my country. In order for me to preserve my priesthood, I must emigrate to another church in Greece, Cyprus or another country. I do not want to emigrate. I have no other choice but to confront this decision and I will remain here.

This is the reason why the Orthodox people took the decision to disobey the patriarch?
The people took this decision, but we the clergy are still examining the ecclesial steps that we will take. This is why we need support from all institutions and patriotic parties in our battle, because it is a battle for existence.

What are the consequences of regarding Theophilos as "not worthy"?
This is simply a popular demand that the name of the patriarch not be commemorated during prayers. When the patriarch's name is commemorated, those praying will cry out "not worthy... not worthy", which may lead us to a step-- which has not yet come-- regarding the priests, for them to refuse to commemorate the patriarch's name at prayer. This step, if it occurs, would mean that the Patriarchate is going through an ecclesiastical crisis requiring everyone to stop and listen to the demands of the Orthodox people.

What is the number or the proportion of priests in Jordan and Palestine who are in solidarity with you?
To be honest, the great majority of priests believe in the necessity of radical reform in our Church and believe in the impossibility of our Church continuing as it is. However, there are impediments before us, including that the priests today are the product of a situation in the Church that wanted to choose weak priests so that they will permanently remain under the authority of the leadership. So these priests bear the onerous legacy of ignorance and simpleness, though at the same time dedication to service, in addition to financial dependence on the patriarch. Usually a priest feels that he lacks any support apart from the salary that come from the Patriarchate. It's as though we are confronted with total colonization!
On the other hand, there is a dangerous movement represented by Fr Gabriel Naddaf who seeks to tear Christians out from their Arab social fabric. We have information that four priests are supporting him in secret, promoting the idea that the Christians' roots are not Arab. Unfortunately, there are young Christians who have come to believe this and this corresponds with Zionist schemes saying that the Christians' roots are Aramaic, not Arab. So Christians living in Palestine today are experiencing a crisis of identity and existence... I ask why Fr Gabriel Naddaf is not cut off from the Church. He remains, while I am cut off!

What is the proportion of priests in Jordan and Palestine that stands with you in your movement?
95 percent of the priests of Jordan and Palestine are with us, but in secret. Openly, the proportion standing with us is around 20 percent and those against us are no more than 20 percent.

In Jerusalem, what is the position of the Arab bishops and religious leaders?
Sadly, they are troubled and displeased with the Church's policy, but claim to be incapable of doing anything about it.

We hear voices saying that what is happening in the Orthodox Church is only a concern for Christians.
My being cut off from the Church is not only a Christian matter. I believe that the Jordanian state is committing an error out of its concern for the person of the patriarch since it honors and respects him him because it wants to maintain a bond with the Church. However, I believe that the bond should be through protecting this institution and ensuring the existence of this component of the nation in accordance with canon law. Indeed, the patriarch's behavior needs to be monitored by the Jordanian state and by the body of the Church and this should not be considered an intervention into Christian affairs.

During your service, did you object to decisions that you felt to be unjust?
When I was the deputy of the bishop of Amman, they sent me out of the capital. Afterwards, I was named deputy to the head of the ecclesial court and in 2009, they dismissed me in a humiliating manner. I only learned about the decision for my dismissal through lawyers. Then, they made me patriarchal vicar in Northern Jordan without responsibilities. In 2013, I was stripped of all my duties and they placed me in Dibbeen Monastery, which they did not recognize as a monastery. The goal of the decision to promote me last June was to keep me away from the monastery. Finally, there was the decision to cut me off from the Church. Moreover, my salary from the Church was ended nine years ago.

Why this war against the Monastery of Dibbeen by Patriarch Theophilos?
Monasteries come within the system of reforming the Church. Successive Greek administrations have undertaken to dismantle the monasteries. Now we have no monasteries or monks. Arabs are stigmatized as wanting to marry and not wanting monasticism, but this is not true. In my experience, during my service thirty young people have taken up monasticism in Jordan under my guidance... If I had a monastery, there would be something more like a hundred monks. The monastery is the Church's lung and the place where monks are born.

The fear of Arabs becoming monks comes from the fear that they might reach the rank of patriarch. This summarizes the Greek-Arab conflict over administration, does it not?

We are not against the Greeks. We are against a policy of the Church and we are calling for reform. We have asked to open a channel with the Greek state to affirm to them that we are not against Greeks. Rather, we are against policies of the Church that could be practiced by any individual, whether Arab or Greek. In short, we want our Church to remain in harmoney with its patriotic Arab line, that members of the flock have a role in the Church, and that its endowments not be diverted to the Israeli enemy.

The the goal of the escalation the retraction of the decision to cut you off from the Church?
No, not at all. I cannot be the goal. Perhaps cutting me off is a trap so that we will be distracted from reforming the Church. I will use my meeting with you to put out this message: I am not the issue, rather I am just a part of it. I am being targeted because I have taken up the issue. Our true goal is ecclesial reform and setting the Church's path aright... As for me, I will return to the Church.

What are the main points of church reform that you are calling for?
Our Church has abandoned its local, national context. We are being persecuted. The flocks of our Church are being made ignorant so that they will leave the Church. It was our duty to offer proposals to the Church based on the Church's canons and to offer solutions. Among them is the re-establishment of the system of dioceses. Each geographical region must have a bishop possessing all competencies to build churches, monasteries and ecclesial and social institutions. He should be the head of the local church in such a way as to allow him to maintain its revival. This bishop should be a permanent member of the Holy Synod. This brings us to the second defect,  the Holy Synod which is no longer made up of diocesan bishops, but rather its members are appointed by the patriarch, who is given final say. The Orthodox Church should be administered by the Holy Synod, which is a clerical body but it represents the people and so, consequently, it is the clergy and people who govern. Let's imagine if the system of dioceses existed, then no bishop in the Holy Synod would dare to vote to sell or rent land to the Israeli enemy because the Orthodox people in Jordan and Palestine would not accept that.

Why are there no seminaries in the Church of Jerusalem?
This is an important arena for reform. I presented to the patriarch a nine-page letter that included this request, but I did not receive any response. Knowing that the patriarchate will not pay for these schools, the flock in Jordan will take this matter into their own hands.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I do not know who is right or who is wrong; I will only say this:

Do not let your thoughts be influenced my nationalism. Nationalism is our enemy, and it is the tool with which our enemy uses to divide us and attack our Faith.

Think carefully on this.

Merry Christmas my friend.