Wednesday, June 29, 2016

as-Safir: The Church and Ramadan in Lattakia

Arabic original here.

The Church and Ramadan in Lattakia: 
Sharing the Loaf in this Good Country

by Bilal Salitin

Since the beginning of Ramadan, Georgette has been working with a group of women to prepare food for people who are fasting at the kitchen of the Church of Saint Barbara in the Ali Jamal neighborhood of Lattakia, which every day prepares hundreds of meals that are distributed to the needy.

The kitchen is part of a series of initiatives that have been launched in Syria with the start of the month of fasting and has been taken up by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East in cooperation with the local community in the coastal province, which has witnessed significant community activities of late.

Every day, the kitchen offers hundreds of hot meals before the time for breaking the fast, so that they will be on the tables of those fasting, both those newly-arrived in Lattakia and native residents. The meals vary daily and include rice and bulghur plates, freekeh and mansaf, alongside dates and yogurt, the favorite food during Ramadan.

The kitchen's work regimen is based on fixed principles that do not require those who are fasting to come in order to get their meal. Instead, they are brought to their homes by a group of volunteers who go around target neighborhoods, handing out cards to specific families in cooperation with local leaders and the imams of mosques. The following day, they come back with meals that are delivered and they take back the cards in order to distribute them to other families the next day, such that those who benefit change every day and the geographic area of those who receive food is widened.

The kitchen carries many messages. Its operators have given it the name "Sahn [dish]," which they follow with "from the goodness of this good country." Mike Awad, one of the volunteers in this initiative, says that "this country is rich in natural goods and human giving. We are not offering what we offer at the kitchen in our own name or in the name of the Patriarchate, but in the name of Syria and the Syrians."

Katia Khasho, who lost her son during the Syrian War, is eager to be with her colleagues in the kitchen on the anniversary of his passing, which this year falls on the third day of Ramadan, to cook food with them, pack it, and distribute it with her own hands. Khasho tells as-Safir, "The best thing I can do for the soul of my son is to volunteer to serve Syrians and to do everything in my ability for the comfort and happiness of the children of my country. This kitchen run by the Patriarchate has given me the opportunity to take on this role, with great happiness."

This initiative embraces volunteers from all religions and communities who share in efforts that are in creating in strength thanks to the local community, which offers its support. Fasting does not prevent volunteer Nour Matraji from taking part in this work, which gives her "increased capacity for patience and work."

The Patriarchate's initiative is not unique in Latttakia, as several similar initiatives and open kitchens have developed, but its particularity lies in the fact that it is an initiative from the Church, while war rages and the weight of incitement multiplies.

The priest George Hosh states that "This is our Middle Eastern culture. Today the Orthodox Church is not just for the Christians, but for all Syrians, whose pain she regards as her own pain."

Hosh adds, "What the Patriarchate is doing is part of Middle Easterners' culture of a shared life, which goes back in history to Patriarch Gregory [IV Haddad] the Damascene, who distributed bread to Muslims and Christians when Damascus was under siege from the French. He insisted on this, despite the threat of the patriarchate's stores running out of flout. His motto then was sharing the loaf between the children of the same country and the good land."

It should be mentioned that charity meals during Ramadan are considered a community tradition in which Syrians have persisted for decades. Despite the difficulty of present circumstances, civil society and religious organizations in Lattakia are offering thousands of meals to those who are fasting every day.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Carol Saba: Antioch and the Holy Spirit's Agenda

Arabic original in today's an-Nahar, here.

Antioch and the Holy Spirit's Agenda

Volatile Middle Eastern societies in broken states beset with dangers.  An Orthodox world in crisis, wavering between tradition and modernity. A gathering of some of the heads of the Orthodox Churches on Crete-- a council intended to be a "Great and Holy Council" but which turned into a "meeting" for ten local churches, instead of the fourteen that constitute the "togetherness" of the Orthodox Church. The crisis of the Great Orthodox Council before the Council appears acutely in public because it is the product of accumulated issues that bring along dangers of substantial divisions.

In this sensitive crisis situation, the Holy Synod of Antioch is meeting at the beginning of this week in order to take an irenic approach to the gathering of Orthodox Churches that was held on Crete without Antioch, Georgia, Bulgaria or Russia, which is the largest numerically. Whatever may have been said or written about Moscow's hidden or open purposes, the position of the Russian Church remains honorable, since it is in solidarity with Antioch and the rest of the churches not participating on Crete. It also indicates the necessity of applying Orthodox ecclesiology in a sound manner. As for Antioch's position, deep down it is completely removed from any non-ecclesiastical considerations. Deep down, in its essence, it is a right, principled, correct, firm, consistent and cohesive position that calls for the necessity of ordering the Great Council according to conciliarity. The council itself is not the goal, but rather preserving Orthodox conciliarity, lest the council, if it is held under a system that contradicts the true spirit of conciliarity, be an instrument for division and not an act of unity, as is now the case on Crete.

Antioch's contribution to the preparations for the Great Council has always been dynamic and positive at every stage, from the 1960s to this past May, when efforts were still ongoing. Antioch has always been at the forefront of making intellectual and ecclesiastical contributions and in conveying her prophetic voice that points the way to the essence and to the necessity of overcoming disagreements. She was never once stingy with her efforts to bring brothers together and soften the edges. It is therefore a mistake to think that the positions of the churches not participating in the Crete meeting came about haphazardly or by hasty decisions made at the last moment. They all required boldness, thorough examination, and a profound and responsible study of what is important and what is more important. What is happening today is the result of paths that deviated from the proper application of the Orthodox ecclesiology of communion, paths that, if not set aright, may strike at the foundations of Orthodox unity and the essence of its mission in the world of today and tomorrow.

It is a mistake to limit Antioch's position to the issue of Qatar. Of course, Jerusalem's aggression against Antioch's jurisdiction in Qatar is painful and very serious, since the openly expansionist intentions of the current Holy Synod of Jerusalem reach large swaths of territory in the Gulf and the Middle East that belong to Antioch. The Qatar issue is important not only because it is a crisis of ecclesiastical borders between two patriarchates, but because it is an attack on the unity of the Orthodox Churches, which is based on communion of faith and respect for the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils-- including respect for the geography of each church. Antioch repeatedly warned all the churches, first among them the Ecumenical Patriarchate, of the necessity of resolving this problem unambiguously and for good before the Great Council on Crete in order to make it possible for the brothers-- all the brothers-- to partake in the one chalice, the chalice of the Lord. This, unfortunately, did not occur, despite the constant efforts of Patriarch John with his typical Antiochian irenicism.

The most important thing in Antioch's position toward the Great Council was Antioch's indicating fundamental problems in the council's vision and composition-- that is, the necessity of approaching the dilemmas of today's world, developing and revising the texts presented to the council, and, most importantly, the problems of the council's rules and the manner of adopting decisions in it, which Antioch did not sign. Antioch stated the necessity of the council's rules reflecting true Orthodox conciliarity by explicit reliance in the rules on the principle of unanimity: in the invitation, in attendance, in participation and in adopting decisions. The vague word "consensus" on which some insisted is just a cover for veiled politics that want to impose a logic of majorities and minorities in voting at the council. This is unacceptable in the Orthodox ecclesiastical tradition. This is the rule that was followed from the establishment of the five patriarchates in the early centuries of Christianity. When this principle was not accepted, Antioch remained the only church not to sign the decisions of the synaxis of patriarchs in Geneva in January, 2016, but she left the door open for rectification.

What is happening is part of the Holy Spirit's agenda. The politics of competition between the Orthodox Churches-- especially between the Greek and Slavic churches-- has harmed the Church and her unity. What is required today is a return to the ecclesiology of the Apostle Paul: "Now you are the body of Christ and His members." This requires all fourteen Orthodox Churches to put forward a modern basis for "mutual complementarity" among themselves since each of them, as Paul taught us, is not the body in its entirety, but rather a member in it that needs the other members. This is the core of Antioch's prophetic position, with our beloved Patriarch John-- may God grant him many years-- at the forefront.

Carol Saba: Return, O Paul, so that Aleppo may once more...

Arabic original in an-Nahar here.

Return, O Paul, so that Aleppo may once more be a Place of Diversity and Encounter!

Master, you who are a prisoner for Christ and yet released while even still in captivity, the first year passed and then was followed by the second and the third has passed while you are still absent and hidden with your companion Metropolitan Yuhanna Ibrahim somewhere in this Middle East in forced imprisonment by worldly hands that have no pity and do not comprehend the profundity of spiritual fatherhood and its implications. We and Aleppo still wait for you. Although you are bound, your freedom remains. You journey between earth and heaven, set free, soaring like an eagle in the heights whose freedom cannot be bound by worldly bonds or human chains.

Aleppo the Gray, master, Aleppo the white city, still waits for you. Aleppo, the meeting-place of religions, cultures and civilizations that have followed one after the other, still waits for you. She does not forget that every civilization that has tried one way or another to swallow her, Aleppo herself absorbed with her accustomed cleverness and opened to it heart and mind together. Aleppo drank from them and they drank from her vineyard and the vineyard of her good character, so Aleppo became a place of unity in diversity and diversity in unity. Aleppo-- the strategic eastern crossing by land, the inescapable open passageway, from inside the Middle East, from outside, and to it-- still waits for you. Aleppo-- the rallying-point for rising influences coming eastward from the Mediterranean and westward from the Syrian interior, the deep Middle East and Mesopotamia-- still waits for you. Aleppo, the sweetheart of culture, the colors of thought, the art of speaking and speech-making; Aleppo, the diverse Middle-Eastern Music, poetry and figures that raise the spirit a magic lever, still waits for you. Aleppo-- the mental geography for the art of eating well, where foods and cuisines, perfumes, spices and aromatic herbs are wed-- still waits for you. Aleppo, director of trade along the Silk Road and meeting-point of industries in the present day, still waits for you. Antiochian Aleppo-- intrinsically bound to the geography of Antioch, the Great City of God, where Christians were first called Christians, which became Christianity's passageway to the world and the world's to Christianity-- still waits for you. The Aleppo of Simeon Stylites and his beautiful cathedral, the finest masterpiece of fifth century Byzantine architecture, the Aleppo of Simeon Stylites, father of the stylites east and west, who tied earth to heaven and was also, like you, a traveler between earth and heaven-- still waits for you. The Aleppo of Nizar Qabbani-- who regretted his great mistake "when he did not put her on his poetic map," before admitting in front of God and man that "she was always on the map of his emotions" and that "she was hiding in in his arteries like kohl hides on a dusky eye"-- still waits for you.

All Aleppo in her numerous numbers, in her churches and mosques, in her muezzins and bells, in her narrow streets and neighborhoods, in her ancient markets and green spaces, all of her, master, still waits for you, longing for you and missing you. Her torrents of tears have become a sea watering the rivers of tormented Syria. Aleppo, master, standing resolute and silent in woundedness and suffering, waits for your return so that she may forget the time of trial and suffering, so that she may forgive and cast aside and shake off the dust of years of separation. She has not grown accustomed to your separation ever since you were joined to her, through thick and thin, since 2000, when you ascended he throne of her episcopacy in Christ. At that time the Lord yoked you together and you received her as a woman to care for, protect, preserve and honor like a wife, for you to nurture her in youth and old age. She received you as a guardian angel, a protector of the Lord's land in her. Aleppo, whom you loved "just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her," as your patron the Apostle Paul wrote to the people of Ephesus (Ephesians 5:25),  is still waiting and longing.

My friend and master, you must know in one way or another, of the passing of your mother Rose, mother also of His Beatitude our father and beloved Patriarch John, to the heavenly abodes to encounter the Face of Faces, the Lord of Lords, the Master of Masters. The entire Church, visible and invisible, present and hidden, was in attendance in the coastal city of Lattakia, adjacent to the sea and what lies beyond it, in the Cathedral of Saint George the Dragon-Slayer. You were the greatest absence and the one who was most present at that prayer that accompanied to the house of the Father the one who offered Him her own flesh and blood as servants of His holy altar and His holy word. She has departed and she is also a traveler between earth and heaven. Her heart weeps and bleeds. Her wounded heart hopes and knows the prayer of ceaseless hope, the hope of seeing you return safe and sound, hale with many days to rightly divide the word of truth, hope that you will return to your flock, your Church, your diocese. Your absence was like a sword drawn at her heart over the past three years. Though she has passed to her Lord, this sword has not dared to pass into her heart and our hearts. Her hope was stronger and so too is our hope. Her wait is still our wait and we still stand firm in hope, waiting for you.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Met Georges Khodr on All Saints

Arabic original here.

Sunday of All Saints

The Apostle Paul calls all believers saints, in the sense that they are being sanctified in the Holy Spirit. After a long time, this name was limited to some of those who had died and whose intercession the Church began to seek. A general commemoration was established for them in every church, and in the East it is called the Sunday of All Saints.

In the Orthodox Church, there is no reason to give this name to those who have died apart from what the Church sees in their life. As for their true position with the Lord, He alone knows this. Designating a day to seek the intercession of all saints is because He alone knows them all and they are not all mentioned on the Church's calendar. Our belief is that those who died for Christ, whom He knew and in whom He knew us, are in a state of prayer in the kingdom, speaking with Him in confidence. In our prayer, we do not know them all, since this only happens in hearts. In other words, there are people in the Kingdom of the Lord that we do not know, and if we stand on Sunday and commemorate all saints, we will have commemorated them.

It is important for us to be for them all as they are for us. Therefore, we designated one Sunday a year for them, lest we ignore one of them in prayer. Blessed is the one in the Church who knows that all her saints are for him and he is for them and that he does not pray alone if he prays on the earth because others are praying for him in heaven.

One of the greatest consolations in the churches that commemorate the saints-- that is, the Western Church and us-- is that believers rely on them in prayer and know them as supports for them in heaven and they have friendships with them. It is true that Christ is the center and He is Master of our life, but it is good for you to know that you have friends with Him. Christ does not leave you and His friends do not leave you. This gives you courage in the struggle.

Arabic original here.

Who is a Saint?

A key sentence in this passage from the Gospel is: "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters... for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life."  The condition for cleaving to Jesus is that you leave what you were attached to, because Christ and not-Christ cannot be brought together. There are things in the world that you use, but do not let your heart ever become attached to them. Only Christ dwells in the heart.

It is as though Christ is warning us when He says, "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me," as He knows very well that man often wavers between his idolatrous affections and that sole affection that he must turn towards, affection for the Lord. It is no surprise if man hesitates between God and not-God, between that which belongs to heaven and that which belongs to the earth. If he torn, man is caught between his earthenness and his spirituality.

But he who wants to follow the Mater, who wants to put every force and momentum into obedience to Him in order to strive toward Jesus' face, is called to break the clay he is in so as to strive to crush the passions that consume him. It is one gesture from man towards God that makes him a saint, and constant gestures from him towards the world that make him frivolous.

Jesus does not want us to associate Him with what is not Him. What does this mean? Does it mean that we are not called to love our wife or livelihood or homeland or other such created things? Christ responded to this when He said, "He who does not leave wife or children or fields does not deserve me." What does it mean to leave when we live with our family and own what we own? At the time that the Lord was talking, monasticism did not yet exist, because it would not appear until three centuries after the Annunciation. So it cannot mean to leave for monasteries. This is what good monks have achieved and they will remain examples for us. But in general, God wants us to remain in the world. He wants us to persist there and to know its beauties because He wants us to rise from their beauty to the splendor of His face. He who has not tasted beauty in the world does not see the face of God.

The Lord categorically does not want us to neglect our wives and children, as He is the one who calls us to shepherd. But He wants us to be rooted in Him, not rooted in the people of the world and what they possess. He wants our hears to be turned towards Him, taken with Him. If they interact with Him, then they contain all humankind in Him. But if the heart is divided, then there is no room in it, neither for Christ nor for not-Christ. If a heart is not made like Christ, then it does not love any person.

One who loves God to the end, to leaving, to leaving that which is created, returns to that which is created with independence from it. He returns from above and draws created things to himself decisively. It is only then that he brings together in one heart love for God and love for people.

This is holiness. Holiness is not a sackcloth and it is not asceticism, even if asceticism is a necessary means to it. Holiness, however, is love. He who loves until death or until being prepared to die has realized holiness.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Met Ignatius (al-Houshi) on Qatar and Antioch's Absence from the Council

Translation made from the French version, here.

What are the Reasons for the Patriarchate of Antioch's not Participating in the Great Council on Crete?

We need to point out, first of all, that from the moment when the idea for convoking a holy council was proposed, the Patriarchate of Antioch was greatly interested in it and completely understood its importance. Since then, it has played a great role in promoting the advancement of the preconciliar work that took place during the sixty years of preparation for the council.

Nevertheless, the violation and transgression of the territory of the Patriarchate of Antioch by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem disturbed the relationship between the two churches.

What is the Qatar issue? It is a purely ecclesiastical issue and is in no way geo-political, as some people are characterizing it. Qatar is an Arab country in the Arabian Gulf, part of the territory of the Patriarchate of Antioch, which has been recognized on the basis of a decision of the Fourth Ecumenical Council. On this territory [i.e., the Persian Gulf region], there is an archdiocese that functions normally, with numerous parishes served by priests of the Patriarchate of Antioch.

On March 5, 2013, we were surprised to learn through the media that the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem had elected, without giving prior warning, an archbishop of Qatar. As soon as we learned of this act of agression, we spoke to the Ecumenical Patriarch so that he might intervene for its resolution. In June of the same year, a meeting was held in Athens, during which it was agreed that first, the Patriarchate of Jersusalem recall the newly-elected bishop of Qatar; second, that it changes his title; and third, that it agrees not to further violate the territories of the Patriarchate of Antioch.

Today, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem does not recognize this agreement, which forced us to not place our signature below the decisions of the Synaxis of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches that was held at the Phanar in June, 2014, thus demonstrating the existence of a serious problem at the heart of the Orthodox world. That is when it was agreed to convoke the Great Council in 2016.

We have exhausted all attempts by bringing up the issue without cease, so that we would not be prevented from participating in the council. Moreover, all the other Orthodox churches have repeatedly assured us that Qatar belongs to the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch and it was promised more than once that the issue would be resolved before the council.

We took part-- out of economy-- in the Synaxis of January, 2016 in Chambésy, during which we once more brought up the question. It was ignored and no importance was given to it. We should emphasize here that we mentioned in writing that we were of a contrary opinion and that, among other things, we were not in agreement with the content of two texts, the one concerning marriage and the one concerning the internal order and decisions of the council.

At the beginning of April, the Ecumenical Patriarchate made a new initiative to resolve the Qatar issue, but while he recognized that we had made other concessions so as not to endanger the unity of Orthodoxy, we received an official letter from the secretariat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate dated May 3, informing us that the search for a resolution to this problem was postponed until after the council, thus depriving us of participation in the council's eucharistic liturgies.

It is therefore clear that our decision was not taken at the last minute and, furthermore, there was in no way consensus during the two years of preparation for the council.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh: The Syrian John the Baptist

Arabic original here.

The Syrian John the Baptist

The Lord Christ was an advocate of peace. He believed that each generation that man has the capability of realizing peace in the here and now, in the present world, for each generation that has passed upon the earth from His time until our present day. But all the generations have failed to spread peace to all corners of the inhabited world for every generation that passed on the earth down to our present day. But all generations have failed to spread peace to all corners of the inhabited world. The world still witnesses struggles, conflicts, civil and foreign wars and the occupations, massacres and ethnic cleansing that result from them.

But should seekers of peace be silent before injustice, repression, aggressions, occupations, and corruption? Or should they boldly speak the world of truth? Is peace surrender before the tyrants and strongmen of the world or is it arming oneself with courage and daring to repel oppression and stop the oppressors? Are not silence and turning blind eye towards abuses participation in the crime?

Saint John the Baptist realized his destiny when he proclaimed the truth in he face of Herod, who violated the law. John realized that he would die if he persisted in rebuking Herod. Nevertheless, John did not give in, remaining determined to remind Herod of the requirements of the law and the teachings of the prophets until Herod cut John's head off and offered it on a platter to adulterers and beautiful women.

According to the Gospel account, Herod ordered that John be beheaded at the request of Herodia, his brother Phillip's wife. He scolded Herod, denouncing his disgraceful moral laxity which caused him to have a relationship with Herodia and to live with her without guilt or embarrassment. Her fury raged against John's boldness and his calls to truth, so she instructed her daughter Salome, after a wild party where she danced, to ask Herod to give her John's head on a platter.

The historian Josephus, however, gives a different account, in which he attributes John's murder to Herod's fear that John's call would be taken as a pretext for a revolutionary movement that would oust him. So the matter preceded the order to behead him. The corrupt Herod was not concerned with people's moral opinion of him, but rather feared for his throne on account of John's popularity and from the transformation of his moral position regarding him to a revolutionary position that would oust him.

Syria is John's wilderness here and now. Herod is not yet sated nor will he ever be sated. How many Johns have been beheaded, while Herod has not been quenched by torrents of blood. In Syria today, there is not just one Herod, but many Herods committing massacres, murdering, chopping heads and expelling people. All the Herods of the world have come together against the Syrians like hungry vultures hovering over corpses. Syrian, Arab and foreign Herods-- or, you could say, the Draculas of this age, only thirsting for more Syrian blood.

"Those who seek the Child's life have died." With these words the angel of the Lord brought good tidings to Joseph, the betrothed of Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ. The angel brings good tidings of the death of Herod, grandfather of the Herod mentioned above. The death is a beautiful good tiding brought by the angel, the angel of the annunciation, to Joseph. Yes, news of Herod's death was joyful news that brought happiness to many, including Joseph and Mary. We are not committing a sin if we rejoice with them and are completely happy.

When will those who seek the child's life die? This is not just a question. It's a fervent prayer that we lift up on the Feast of Saint John the Baptist (June 24). When will they die? A question as a prayer comes from the heart that bears hope-- and we are the children of hope-- that there will be an end to the shedding of the blood of innocents. No one will prevent us from rejoicing when we hear that one Herod has died-- and how much more so when it is all of them!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Romfea: Antioch never agreed for the Holy Council to Meet!

Greek original here. To see an image of the document go to the original posting on The scanned document reads, in the place left for Antioch's signature: "The Church of Antioch has a contrary opinion and therefore is not signing."

Document: Antioch never agreed for the Holy Council to Meet!

Much noise has been made about the Patriarchate of Antioch's absence from the Great and Holy Council.

This absence has also provoked the absence of the Moscow Patriarchate which insisted that "if even one is absent,  then the Great and Holy Council should be postponed."

At the Ecumenical Patriarchate, they are insisting: since all signed for holding the Holy Council, they had to come and now they are exposed.

Characteristically, in a recent interview the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate said that all 14 churches had signed!

Had they all actually signed? reveals: NO, they did not all sign!

From the first moment, the Patriarchate of Antioch had its reservations!

They requested that the council's rules of procedure and the disagreement with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem be resolved first, and then, without differences with the Sister Church of Jerusalem, they could participate in the Council of Crete.

"We never signed that we would take part. We asked that our differences be resolved and the Ecumenical Patriarchate told us that we would start a dialogue after the Great and Holy Council, something to which we could not agree... As you see, there was never consensus, so what unanimity is His All-Holiness talking about?" a representative of the Patriarchate of Antioch told

In the photograph published today by, it is clear: Patriarch John of Antioch, through his representative, did not agree in January in Geneva for his church to participate in the Great Council.

And this absence also brought about the absence of the Russians, as they had warned, with the result that this Great and Holy Council will, unfortunately, have conspicuous absences.

Moreover, for reasons of their own, the Patriarchate of Georgia and the Patriarchate of Bulgaria are absent.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Met Siluan (Muci): Why Antioch did not Sign the Decision to Convoke the Council

This is from a series of videos Metropolitan Siluan (Muci) of Buenos Aires has done for the Patriarchate of Antioch's Facebook page in Arabic and Spanish, explaining Antioch's position with regard to the council on Crete. The Spanish original can be seen here. A transcript (which I made, so unofficial) is below the jump.

In order for the council to exist, it is necessary first of all to convoke the council, to have an order of the day, an agenda for the council. Who is able to do this?  The meeting of the primates of the Orthodox churches. A meeting was held in Geneva in January 2016, when the primates of all the Orthodox churches met to see if it is possible to convoke the council. The text of that meeting's decision was not signed by the Patriarchate of Antioch because we had two fundamental issues to which we objected, with reason.

The first issue is that the council's internal rules needed an essential clarification. We would like, as a patriarchate, to ensure that the guiding theme of the council, the unity of the Orthodox churches, the manifestation of this unity, be made concrete within the text of the council's rules, in three aspects: First of all, in the convocation of all the churches, in the participation of all the churches, and in the unanimity of the decisions that are taken-- that were going to be taken-- by the council on the part of the fourteen Orthodox churches. No one should be absent from these three moments: from the convocation, from participation, and from taking decisions unanimously. This is what we would like to be inscribed within the rules. It was not done in this way.

The other objection that we had was within the text of the decision. It is that in the agenda there is one topic out of the six listed that does not present the required unanimity of all the churches. One of the documents did not have the signature of two of the fourteen churches. Moreover, the text of the decision of he primates talks about the diaspora with an assessment that was very brief, for which we would like to do a more precise, timelier job on the issue of the diaspora. Therefore, the representatives of our patriarchate at that meeting were unable to sign the text of the decision.

This decision is very fundamental. In a technical and legal sense, it is the decision that allows the council to be convoked, that allows one to know what is agenda to be treated and, finally, how the council's proceedings will be organized during the days in which it will take place.

In the text of the decision taken by the Holy Synod of Antioch on June 6, there were other issues that we would like to be a a part of the council's agenda, such as for example the topic of unifying the date of Pascha, the topic of the ecclesiastical calendar of the Orthodox Church. This topic, unfortunately, is not part of the council's agenda. Another important topic, which had been discussed in the preparatory stage but was not realized, is to evaluate the topic of dialogues between Christians, between the Christian churches-- the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant churches-- in order to determine what state these dialogues are in. Such an assessment would to some degree allow an approach to relations with other Christians in the document included on the council's agenda.

The Church of Antioch had as a paramount objective that unanimity be explicit, be clear. Why this insistence by the Orthodox Church on the issue of the convocation, participation, and unanimity in the decisions? Because there is a golden rule that, from the beginning of the work on the idea of the council, for more than fifty years, has been respected. That is to say, we want to manifest the unity of the Orthodox, the unity of all the Orthodox churches in certain aspects of our life. In faith, we are one, but we needed to bear witness to unity of other aspects of what we are living today. It is in order to preserve this criterion that was followed from the beginning that the Church of Antioch wanted, on the one hand, to insist on the theme of unanimity in those three points-- the convocation, participation, and making decisions-- and, on the other hand, to be able to include in the council's agenda topics that are important for us in our pastoral practice. For us, this is of paramount importance.

These are essentially the reasons the Holy Synod wanted to transmit to the other churches and which prevented signing the decision taken by the primates of the Orthodox primates in Geneva this past January.

Met Georges Khodr: The Holy Spirit

Arabic original here.

The Holy Spirit

It is hard to talk about the Holy Spirit because He does not have a visible face like Christ's face.

In the beginning, creation was desolate and empty. The Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the waters, and through Him heaven and earth were brought from chaos into something ordered. Then there were the prophets. God chose out of the Children of Israel people whom He set apart for Himself and sanctified by His word, placing in them breaths of His Spirit until the Word of God came, died and arose. We read in the Gospel today that "the Holy Spirit was not yet given because Jesus had not yet been glorified." That is, when divine love reached its ultimate point in death, the Holy Spirit went into the world.

On this feast, fifty days after Pascha, when God sent His spirit in the form of tongues of fire upon each of the disciples, we have entered into the divine flame, where there is the life-giving word, where the waters become fire that illuminates in baptism. That is, the Spirit becomes personal life for each one of us, inasmuch as it becomes God who leads the universe, a personal God for me. The Holy Spirit is that hypostasis, that person who gives breath to the words of the Gospel, words that give motion, words that give life. In Him, Christ is no longer only Savior of the world-- He becomes my own Savior too.

This movement from the universal  God of whom the philosophers speak to the God who faces me and Whom I face, moves my heart and it becomes a resting-place for God. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Each of us needs, today and tomorrow, for Christ to become his Christ and the Lord of the world his Lord. Each of us needs to shed his belief in a god who only dwells in heaven. God does not only dwell in heaven. This we have said many times over. God dwells in people's hearts, but people push Him away to the heavens, so that they will no longer have a relationship with Him. Because if God is in heaven, man remains free on earth and he acts according to his lusts. This is why thinkers say that God is in heaven so that the earth will remain theirs alone. But if heaven does not exist for the senses, as is the case, and if the heart alone is heaven, then each person's lot is to become divine, moved by God.

Then the earth is God's possession and it is man's possession if he is from God. The earth is violated and man sickens and sins. Man is not a god, but he is nominated for divinity. You on your own are not a god, but you are a god with all. If you do not love all or all does not love you, you cannot heal your wound. You must heal people's wounds.

For the sake of this, the Holy Spirit is the "Comforter," because He is the Spirit of redress, the Spirit of hope, because He balms our wounds so that all may return to the Father. The Holy Spirit is not a comforter in the sense of replacing people and replacing people's faces, but He is the one who makes people's faces whole again. He is the one who makes people's faces beautiful. He is the one who traces God's splendor on the face of every person because He has sealed with the touch of holiness.

Receive today the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Let us not Deepen the Rift!

This message was sent to me by an Antiochian layperson whose voice should be heard but who wishes to go unnamed. The Arabic original is below the jump.

Let us not deepen the rift, because tomorrow we will have to rebuild conciliarity and repair unity!

The Pan-Orthodox Council will convene at the beginning of next week on the Greek island of Crete under the shadow of the absence of a number of autocephalous churches which, numerically, represent the majority of the Orthodox around the world. His Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, will preside over this council, surrounded by a number of leaders of Orthodox churches who came to Crete. On Saturday before Pentecost, those gathered on Crete will pray for the dead who participated in the preparatory work over the decades, while many of the living faces who worked to prepare this council-- some for many long years-- will be absent from the Sunday liturgy and from the opening of the council.

Since each group is sticking to its positions, it seems clear that Orthodoxy has lost the opportunity to witness to its conciliarity and its unity in today's world, regardless of the canonical legitimacy of this or that position (and this is something that will be examined later).

Perhaps the mutilated image of Orthodoxy that will be presented to the world when the council convenes will be difficult to repair. Or at the very least, repairing it will take a long time in the case that those gathered on Crete decide not to take any decisions in the absence of the churches that are not participating. But if they consider it is possible for them to take decisions in the absence of their brothers and go ahead with it, then the impact of this decision will be difficult for the entire Orthodox world, especially for those churches taking these decisions, since they will quickly find themselves faced with internal opposition movements. This could lead in the end to the believing people, across the spectrum, not accepting this council, which they had expected to crown the stage of successful Orthodox preparatory work, bear witness to  conciliarity and Orthodox unity, and activate its mechanisms that developed and evolved during the process of preparing for it.

Questions remain that haunt those who participated in the preparatory work in its final stages and/or who are participating today in the work of the council in the absence of others: Where did we go wrong? What did this happen? Why did we not avoid this situation?

It is easy to cast blame upon others only, but perhaps it is beneficial for us to evaluate this experience in love, humility, openness, sincerity and transparency after the council ends, so that we may draw lessons and heal the wounds.

But there is no doubt that today repentance is required of us all. Repentance means a change of mind-- that is, after having spoken a great deal in support of our various positions, today we must stop all the media campaigns and enter together into a stage of holy silence. We have all been and shall remain members of one body and after the council we will have to rebuild the unity and conciliarity that have been lost. This requires us now to not deepen the wounds because tomorrow we will have to treat them...

This requires courage, prayer and openness to the Spirit who will realize our Pentecost on the rugged terrain of our present days and through our failures toward each other-- of which there are many.

--A believer from Antioch

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

George Ghandour: Is there a Need for the Council Today?

This is the final chapter of George Ghandour's book The Road to the Great Orthodox Council, published (in Arabic) by the Patriarchate of Antioch in June, 2015.

The Final Chapter: Is there a Need for the Council Today?

 Having reached the closing chapter of this book, I am unsure how to evaluate the preparatory work of the council that has been accomplished up to now and on which I have attempted to shed some light in the book's previous chapters. I am at even more uncertain when I try to answer this question, which I and many others have posed: will the Great Orthodox Council convene at the specified time or will "extenuating circumstances" once more cause to be delayed? I am at yet even more puzzled when I think about the need for convening the council in these circumstances and the prospects that await the Church after it meets, which is to happen soon.
As I try to respond to these questions in an analytical and scholarly manner, my memory is crowded with images of the people I have known closely, some of whom I have studied under, people who worked hard and diligently and employed their knowledge, capabilities, time, talents and money so that this council might be held, that the Orthodox Church might be able to speak her unified word about the challenges that the world is facing and that she is facing, that she might be able to rise up from the prevailing inertia and deadly petrification and speak to the hearts of her children and the world in a living language comprehensible to the people of this age who are anxiously searching for true life.
As I ponder the lives of those fathers who burned the midnight oil preparing for the Great and Holy Council, crisscrossing the Orthodox world to overcome difficulties, opening avenues that no one had previously taken, patiently working so that the Church may speak Christ in the language of the age in which they lived and not in the language of bygone eras, I realize the importance of this conciliar work and what it has realized until today for the universal Orthodox Church. I likewise feel in the lives of these people who "sowed in hope" a call to not waste what has been achieved up to today, to work to preserve the conciliarity of the Church, and to faithfully express it here and now, despite all the difficulties. The fathers who worked until the last moment to prepare for the council's meeting and who passed before it could meet after fighting the good fight so that it might meet, teach us to not turn back and to continue to strive faithfully for the unity of the Orthodox world. As for those whose dreams were dashed against the rocks of the Orthodox world's current petrified state, they went back to prayer and teaching and were content to work within their local churches or their narrow circles in order to work for the hoped-for renewal, so they too  teach us the necessity of serious, local work to prepare minds and hearts to bear witness to Christ who is risen and victorious over death and who gathers us into one union, that they may perhaps accept the renewal brought by the Great Council when the time for holding it has come.
I see myself concluding that holding a general council remains necessary for the Orthodox Church because the difficulties cannot affect the nature of this Church, which remains the conciliar church par excellence and because ecclesial conciliarity can only be expressed through practicing it because it is not a theoretical system, but rather life in Christ and in His Church. Perhaps the past preparatory stage, with all the reversals and difficulties that it witnessed and despite the amount of time that it took, made it unambiguously clear that the Church has been able, through the preparatory and preliminary meetings for the Great Council, to undertake joint work of a conciliar nature in matters pertaining to a great number of the questions that one wanted on the Great Council's agenda.
So with a quick but not hasty glance, it is possible to conclude that the relationship of the Orthodox Church to the rest of the Christian world is no longer an issue of dispute, even if some voices have been raised here and there in objection to some of the practices of other communities and some local churches have from time to time refrained from participating in this or that dialogue. Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement has, despite some of the difficulties opposing it-- for which work is ongoing to create joint solutions according to the logic of dialogue and acceptance of others, insofar as there is no escaping working with other Christians to ready the environment for the hoped-for unity. As for the principles related to Christian witness nowadays, such as freedom, justice, brotherhood, equality and ending racial discrimination, confirmation of their Orthodox understanding has been reiterated and the agreement has been implemented in the world without entering into direct conflicts with the regimes that violate these teachings.
In the matter of fasting, the preparatory work has explained its spiritual and ascetic importance and has stressed the necessity of keeping to its rules, lightening them when the need demands, relying on the principle of economy, in which the Orthodox Church is distinguished. The very same principle of economy was applied in the matter of impediments to marriage, especially mixed marriages.
As for the issue of the calendar, the Orthodox agreed not to argue over it and affirmed that for them, celebrating Easter together remains more important than scientific precision, without shutting the door to future efforts that would permit all Christians to celebrate Easter together.
In the matter of autonomy, the Orthodox agreed that this is an issue that remains tied to the local churches themselves and they defined the conditions and manner of announcing it. They likewise reached an agreement on the concept of autocephaly without agreeing on how to sign the tomos of autocephaly and the content of this tomos. The preparatory work was likewise unable to reach an agreement on the issue of the Holy Diptychs.
Finally, with regard to the issue of the Orthodox diaspora, an agreement was made for a provisional solution requiring the establishment of episcopal assemblies in the countries of the diaspora that come together with the goal of cooperation and coordination under the leadership of the first among the bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in anticipation of the Great Council endeavoring to find a final solution for this issue that is not contrary to Orthodox ecclesiology, which states the necessity of there being one bishop per city.
All these topics that we have reviewed above prove that the preparatory work has realized tangible results and that the universal Orthodox Church, in all the local churches that constitute her, has accepted that which has already been agreed upon at the level of the local synods and at the level of the believing people in general. This leads us to believe that there is no need to convene the Great Orthodox Council in order to adopt decisions that have been accepted in principle by all the churches, but rather, it is possible for the decisions issued by the preparatory conferences to be accepted by the local synods of the autocephalous churches only.
If we pause over the content of the final decision of the Promates of the autocephalous Orthodox churches (March 2014) to convene the council, where it was agreed that each church will be represented by its head and 24 bishops, that the council will treat issues not agreed upon during the preparatory work, and that those issues that have not been agreed upon will be left to a later stage, our conviction grows that there is no need to hold this council at the present time and that convening it will be only a formality for the sake of a commemorative photo and nothing else. This causes enormous disappointment for the generations of Orthodox who have waited for it to be held because it will be incapable of speaking to them or of addressing their concerns and pastoral needs. It will constitute a betrayal of the vision of the successive generations that have prepared so that this council might be a stop along the way to renewal and for leaping forward towards a living Orthodoxy that takes the future by storm, makes it, and renews the world.
It should be added that a lack of participation by all Orthodox bishops in the work of this meeting and reliance on the principle of one vote for each autocephalous church runs contrary to Orthodox conciliar tradition and Orthodox ecclesiology, which states that each bishop is head of the local church (diocese) to which he was consecrated and that the council is the meeting of the churches where the bishops sit in their capacity as pastors of a specific people and guardians of the upright faith of the universal Church. Perhaps this solution, which was invented to maintain the balance between Constantinople and Moscow, constitutes a grave danger for Orthodox ecclesiology, as it effectively cancels the theology of the local bishop, replacing it with a theology of the collectivity of bishops of a single autocephalous church, which is presumed to have homogenous opinions-- indeed, one opinion-- and this is something that Orthodoxy has absolutely never known in its history.
Perhaps the above, if it is added to the ecclesiological crisis that the Orthodox church is suffering from with regard to the issue of organizing the diaspora, will inevitably lead to postponing the Great Council to a later time and settling at the present time for holding a meeting of the heads of all the churches and their accompanying bishops to declare in celebration what has been agreed upon during the past preparatory period and to launch new mechanisms for activating joint Orthodox cooperation with regard to the issues that are still outstanding on the agenda as well as other issues that may confront the Church in the future.
As for the Great Council, let the matter of its convening be left for a stage when the Orthodox Church is prepared to witness to her faith and her ecclesiology in a manner far removed from considerations of nationalism, politics and power.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Fr Touma (Bitar) on the Ascension

Arabic original here.

From the Ascension upon the Cross to the Ascension to Heaven

When the Lord Jesus was suspended upon the cross, the whole economy of salvation was completed. This is why He said, before giving up His spirit, "It is finished." This does not only mean that what appears in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms was completed, but also that the economy of salvation was completed. What we have witnessed, after the crucifixion, is a series of expressions of the completion of salvation: the Lord Jesus' resurrection and ascension to heaven and finally the descent of the Holy Spirit on glorious Pentecost.

What is the importance of the Feast of the Ascension today? Was it not enough for Lord Jesus to rise from the dead? Why the ascension? Before He became incarnate, the Lord Jesus was in heaven, sitting at the right hand of the Father and He remains at the right hand of the Father because He is the Son of God. So who is it who ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father? The one who ascended is the one who came down and the one who came down is the Son of God: He came down and was incarnate of the Virgin Mary. He came down as God and ascended as God incarnate. That is what is new: the Lord Jesus, who took our body and became a human like us while remaining Son of God. He took our humanity and raised it up to Himself. The Lord Jesus did not take our humanity to raise it up above as though it were something foreign to Himself. Rather, He united with our humanity. He became a human, in every sense of the word. Therefore, our humanity ascended in Him who caused Himself to unite to us. So our humanity ascended in Him to heaven and sat at the right hand of God the Father. This is what is new: that man, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, took the first place with God. This is the meaning of the Lord Jesus Christ's sitting at the right hand of God the Father. All of this means us, we who have been given, in human nature, this astounding privilege.

Man, then, by sitting in heaven in the person of the Lord Jesus, becomes, in all simplicity, divine. Jesus is the Son of God who united with our humanity and granted to us to become united to His divinity. The life which is in Him, which is in the Son of God, the Lord God gave to us, so that it itself may be our life. In the beginning, we were created, but in Jesus Christ we were divinized-- that is, we were granted that God's life might abide in us. This means that we become gods, because God's life is not created. This body is created. Man, as the Lord God made him in the beginning, was created. But, after the Son of God took our humanity, our human nature, after uniting to us in nature, we who are created came to bear within ourselves God's uncreated life. Therefore, the Lord God granted us to become gods by grace, by blessing. This is the grace that the Lord God bestowed upon us. At one time, we did not have this grace. Then later, after the Son of God became incarnate, we were granted to become like that, to acquire God's life, God's grace, God's Spirit. For this reason, in the ascension the work of the economy of salvation was truly completed, for man, in the Lord Jesus Christ. After that, the Holy Spirit was sent to rest upon humanity and to realize in humanity, in all those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, what the Lord Jesus Christ realized in His own person. The Holy Spirit was sent to us from above, so that that which the Lord Jesus Christ realized for man in Himself could be realized in us. Therefore, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, acting according to His commandments, imitating Him, following Him, and bearing the cross upon which He was suspended-- I mean the cross of perfect love for God, man, and creation-- all this, in the Holy Spirit causes each one of us to acquire, personally and in actuality, that which the Lord Jesus Christ realized in His body.

The Lord Jesus ascended upon the cross for no other reason than that He desired to bring us up to heaven. The Lord Jesus only sat upon the throne of glory that is the cross because He desired to seat us upon God the Father's throne of glory, at His right hand. The glory of the Lord Jesus was realized, on earth, through the cross. For this reason, the cross is the sign of glory. Before Jesus, the cross was the sign of the curse. With Jesus, the cross became the sign of glory. Before the Lord Jesus was handed over to the Jews and then over to the Romans to be crucified, He spoke about the hour having come for the Son of God to be glorified. This means to be crucified, because the cross is what demonstrated the perfect glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. And His glory is His love for humankind. This is His glory. He went in His love for humankind, in revealing His glory, to the end, since He was pleased to accept man's death, He was pleased to die, to completely unite Himself to man. It would not have been possible for this union to happen had the Lord Jesus Christ not been suspended upon the cross. On the cross was manifested that of which the Apostle Paul spoke in his Epistle to the Philippians, that the Lord Jesus Christ "emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave and becoming in the likeness of man." That is, He became a man completely. He became a slave to man. He did not only become a man, but became a slave to man because He came "to serve and not to be served." He enslaved Himself completely to man in order to save him, to rescue him from sin, from pain, from suffering, from death. Therefore He cleaved to him completely, in death. Had this cleaving in death not happened, then no real union would have occurred between God and man. The Lord Jesus had to die. Mankind does not truly unite except in death. They unite first to God, in death and they unite to each other in death. This means that their love for each other is not perfect love, exuding God's glory, unless one is prepared to die for the sake of God and then for the sake of his brothers. Thus the Lord Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends."

Therefore, today's feast is an unveiling of the true joy that came through the cross. When it was said "by the cross joy came into the world," this joy is completed, now, in the ascension and the seating at the right hand of God the Father. Therefore, the Feast of the Ascension is a fundamental feast in Christ's Church. The resurrection would have had no value, had there been no ascension. Even Pentecost was only given to us so that we might be able to participate, actually and personally, in the act of the ascension, which was accomplished by the Lord Jesus in His body. Therefore, today we find ourselves in the midst of heavenly joy. Man is seated, in the person of the Lord Jesus, in heaven, at the right hand of God the Father. This is true joy and there is no greater joy than this joy. If we fix our eyes upon that which the Lord Jesus realized today in the ascension, then we realize-- in the Spirit and not by reason-- the greatest joy, which has been bestowed upon all humankind. Amen.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite-- Douma, Lebanon
June 12, 2016