Friday, November 30, 2018

Carol Saba: Speak Now... Or Forever Hold Your Peace!

French original below the jump.

Speak Now... Or Forever Hold Your Peace!

"You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18)

The Orthodox Church, which is the Body of Christ, shall never be defeated by the gates of hell. We should, however, admit that the state of world Orthodoxy, which is supposed to reflect the condition and manner of divine life, is badly damaged. A sort of generalized chaos seems to be establishing itself under the cover of the "canonical" theses of some and the "canonical" antitheses of others. They invoke the spirit of unity, while their actions here and there betray and dismantle the Church's witness, discrediting it. The Orthodox Church has certainly experienced better and worse since the glorious resurrection of the Lord, which we tend to box off, at the risk of losing all the meaning and power of the Savior's life-giving Cross.

The Orthodox Church, which has experienced in history worse moments than today, appears to be badly damaged, from the inside out. At the moment when the accelerations of globalization, of the digital revolution and of communication should have appeared to her as a vast field of mission and as manna fallen from heaven, a divine opportunity to bear witness to her unity, Orthodoxy seems to give itself over to the spirit of this world and every form of internal competition, offering itself to every form of political instrumentalization by the powers of this world and every possible form of wrangling, which risk causing schisms and tears within it.

A deleterious showdown from another era appears to be establishing itself between Orthodoxy's poles of "communion", transforming them into poles of "competition" and even of clashes. A warlike language appears to have replaced that of the Gospel. The logic of trench warfare appears to have the upper hand over the dynamic of conciliarity and that of the mutual responsibility of all the autocephalous Churches, a subject dear to the heart of Patriarch Daniel of Romania, of which he recently reminded Patriarch Bartholomew during the consecration of the "national cathedral." 
We build enormous stone churches, but we forget Christ, who suffers from out internal quarrels, as if Orthodoxy were a "game of thrones". A christ of this world appears to overshadow our Lord and our God, who rose from the dead for the life of the world. A ball of fire appears to tumble along at lunatic speed, burning everything in its path. Instead of raising up, it crushes. Instead of enlightening the world with the unfading light of Christ, it worries the little flock...

Should we keep silent and let the leaders on all sides of this descent into hell act? Or should we proclaim to the primates loud and clear their responsibility, regardless of what might otherwise be the validity of their pretexts for justifying their deleterious enterprises when they desire good but do evil?

I am certain that if discernment is set in motion, if the audacity of those in charge of the Lord's flock today was on display for bearing witness to what is essential, to the one thing needful, for mutually correcting and considering each other-- truly and not just in the nice words of nice speeches pronounced in beautiful cathedrals-- as members of one Body, then we shall see the beautiful Face of faces of Christ the Savior and the Cross of the Lord who has already triumphed and shall triumph once more!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Jad Ganem: When Silence is Golden

Arabic original here.

When Silence is Golden

I read an interview with a bishop whom the Ecumenical Patriarchate had imposed on a diocese in Western Europe from outside the list of candidates presented to it by the diocese's nominating conference. At the time, many likened the behavior accompanying his selection-- the deletion of the names of candidates and the addition of his name, followed by his election-- to the behavior of the Ottomans against the Ecumenical Patriarchate during the days of persecution. Perhaps Constantinople took this step out of faith in this person's capabilities and talents. But after some time, it went back and realized it had made the wrong choice, after the aforementioned bishop became an adversary of most elements of his diocese and after his being its head started to threaten the departure of its faithful and the closure of its longstanding institutions, especially given that they had been established and developed in the most dire circumstances and, with the passing of time, were able to make their glory.  The Patriarchate of Constantinople's response to the complaints of the faithful and its taking the decision to transfer him to an administrative job where he would have no direct contact with clergy or ordinary believers came as a tacit admission of his inability to function as a pastor.

Today, in the context of the crisis facing the Orthodox Church, the aforementioned bishop has become a spokesman for the Phanar and has given a television interview in which he expresses severe and irresponsible positions, positions based on legalistic approaches to relationships within the Church that run contrary to her nature, deepen the estrangement between members of the one body, and lack any pastoral sensitivity. I do not know if they express the position of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, but I do know that it is not possible to trust someone who failed in administering a small diocese and led it to the brink of breaking apart with issues that have serious repercussions for the unity of the universal Orthodox Church. In these circumstances, we need the pastoral guidance of experienced men who know that their fundamental role is to preserve the unity of the Church and who work to dress her wounds with the boldness of physicians, the wisdom of saints and the determination of apostles. These difficult times do not call for lawyers who justify schism and glorify unilateral action or juveniles who think that altering reality takes place at the stroke of a pen or through imperious decisions. The faith of millions is in the balance, so enough with irresponsible talk! Enough with scandalizing the faithful! At a time when unity is in danger, "Silence is golden, since there's no danger in it."

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Jad Ganem: The Silence of Mount Athos

Arabic original here.

The Silence of Mount Athos

The voice of the Holy Mountain has long resounded at every important and fateful juncture in the Orthodox Church. The monks of Mount Athos have long addressed the Church's leaders every time they sensed a deviation in practices, a departure from the faith or a threat to unity. Today, in light of the current crisis that the Orthodox Church is experiencing, the faithful are missing the voice of the fathers of the Holy Mountain and are wondering about the reason for their silence. They are missing their voice with regard to what has been said about the papism that is filtering into Orthodox theology and practice. They await their word related to the way of accepting schismatics into the Church, the validity of the ordinations that took place during the schism, the Church's position with regard to a married patriarch and bishops being returned to communion with the Church, and the relationship between Church and state and everything that is being said about the right of presidents, politicians and parliamentarians to impose their agenda on the Church. They await their word on this mess we have gotten ourselves into. They wonder why the monks of the Holy Mountain have refrained from playing this role today. Is it  because their position is different from that of the ecclesiastical authorities on which they depend? Is it because of a difference of opinion about these issues also exists among them? Or is it because they are waiting for the anger of the Lord to pass and for souls to be calm in order to speak their mind?

No matter the reasons, the eyes of the faithful, which are wounded by what is happening today in Christ's Church, look to the holy Mountain. Their prayers embrace its monks' unceasing prayers, that God may keep troubles and schisms away from His Church and that He may send a voice to "rightly divide the word of truth" and bring us from Babel of politics and legalism that is dividing our church to the holy Pentecost.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Jad Ganem: Double Standards

Arabic original here.
Double Standards

The joint statement issued by the Patriarchs of Antioch and Serbia following the irenic visit by Patriarch John X to the Church of Serbia recalled the "Athens Agreement" regarding to Jerusalem's violation of Antioch's territory in Qatar  that was reached under the sponsorship of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The agreement included the following items:

"The Patriarchate of Jerusalem will give another title to the Archbishop of Qatar-elect Makarios.

The Patriarchate of Antioch will accept the presence of an archbishop from the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in Qatar bearing another title.

From now on, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem will in no way attempt to raise demands of an ecclesiastical presence belonging to it in the Arabian Gulf.

A joint committee will be constituted of delegates from the two patriarchates with the presence and participation of representatives from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in order to define the current status of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's presence in Qatar and to formulate the text of the agreement between the two churches."

As is well-known, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem did not keep the content of this agreement, which caused the Patriarchate of Antioch to break communion with it. From the beginning of this violation and through the breaking of communion, the Ecumenical Patriarchate continued to affirm to the Patriarchate of Antioch that its position that Qatar depended ecclesiastically on it is the correct position. It did not, however, take any public position, neither during the preparatory meetings for the Great Council nor at any other occasion, indicating the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's responsibility for the violation or calling it to keep what had been agreed upon with regard to it in Athens. Instead, in May of 2016 its holy synod shockingly adopted a decision, the contents of which Antioch became aware of after its being published on the internet, calling for "forming a committee of representatives from the two concerned patriarchates, which Ecumenical Patriarchate will take responsibility for coordinating so that it will meet immediately following the Great and Holy Council, with the goal of studying the issue and finding a solution acceptable to both parties." It appears that Constantinople's zeal for keeping the canons and its devotion to ensuring the unity of the Church are focused only on dealing with schismatics within the territory of the Patriarchate of Moscow and do not include those patriarchates in the Phanar's orbit. Its actions do not reach the level of confronting the Patriarchate of Jerusalem with the truth and calling on it to implement the agreement reached under the Phanar's sponsorship.  Hope remains that Constantinople will change and no longer be the Patriarchate that applies double standards.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Confession

Arabic original here.


They say that the Orthodox Church doesn't have confession.

But how can this be, when Saint Isaac the Syriac says, "One who confesses his sins is greater than one who raises the dead"? He adds, "One who confesses his sins, repenting of them, is like one brought from death to life."

The Lord Jesus Himself, after the resurrection, appeared to the disciples and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:22-23).

The mystery of repentance and confession is the renewal of our baptism. The priest first of all performs this mystery-- I mean, hearing the confessions of his spiritual children-- by providing them spiritual guidance, keeping up with their life and forgiving their sins.

I know very well that many people go to monasteries and take monks as their spiritual fathers. This is blessed and the Church does not prevent this. But this never negates the fact that the priest of their parish is expected to be, before anyone else, a spiritual father for them in every sense of the word.

The priest's duties are not limited to performing prayers, most importantly the Divine Liturgy, and performing religious duties such as the mystery of baptism, weddings, and funerals. He must keep up with things in the life of his parish from every angle, naturally with the assistance of the members of his parish council.

He is the one primarily responsible for providing instruction, by gathering his flock under the shelter of the Orthodox Church: children, youth and families...

Each parish has an obligation to have continuous weekly instruction of children, youth and families.

Likewise the priest must get to know his parish closely and keep up with the situation and problems of each family, especially problems in marriages, before disputes build up between husband and wife and they resort to the spiritual court.

Of course, he can cooperate with those whom he finds capable of helping him: parishioners, members of the parish council, and specialized diocesan departments.

I will say it again: the priest's calling is first and foremost to be a "father" according to the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, "For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel" (1 Corinthians 4:15).

Of course, the Church saw fit to grant, by way of the bishop, the priest to become a spiritual father and to perform the mystery of confession, on the basis of his discerning and supervising talents.

Beloved, today we live in an age where new difficulties have multiplied for young people and families, whether with regard to electronics and social media or through the spread of heresies and deviant practices.

Therefore we must remain eager to keep the tradition of our holy fathers in our Orthodox Christian Church in which the priest plays a leading role, not only in matters of material administration, but also and especially in matters of social and spiritual behavior.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Friday, November 2, 2018

Jad Ganem: A Prophetic Stance

Arabic original here.

A Prophetic Stance

In a lecture by Patriarch Ignatius IV of blessed memory about "the feelings of the eastern churches" that he gave in Vienna, he lingered on the situation of the Church in Antioch, which "is made up of five churches, each with its own juridical organization and each with its own adherents, synod, patriarch, bishops, liturgy, holy canons and variants in what pertains to the faith and its institutions." He then outlines the historical reasons and crises that led to this situation "without any form of current or retroactive hostility" before summing up by saying, "Let us state it directly: Antioch would not have divided into five patriarchates if an Antiochian council had been held to face each of the crises that we have mentioned, free from any outside political or ecclesiastical pressure." He adds, "Conciliarity must be the starting-point for the new Antiochian unity because the cause of every blow-up was the effacement of the sense of conciliarity. At the foundation of every rift lies a wound in the communion of love, followed by or initiated by opposition in the formulation of the faith. Instead of the pastors' love dressing this double wound, it considered it untreatable and moved on to the level of the canons. The churches on each side withdrew themselves into a sort of canonical self-justification." This prophetic stance, these golden words that do not grow old no matter how much time has passed, must be read by the leaders of the Orthodox world today. Perhaps they might learn a lesson and hurry to hold a Pan Orthodox council that would be free from political pressure and complexes about numbers, a council convened in an atmosphere of prayer, accompanied by the fervent prayer of the faithful, a council open to the activity of the Holy Spirit, whose members lay aside the language of "rights" and go forth like doctors to dress the wounds and work to heal them, a council that transforms the current difficulty into an opportunity to leap forward. Perhaps we will not go on to fragmentation, but rather depart to chant in a harmonious voice, "Christ is risen!"

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Fr. Georges Massouh on Pipe-Dreams of Empire

I am re-posting this article by Fr Georges Massouh, of blessed memory, as it seems pertinent to much that is happening in Orthodoxy today. The Arabic original, published in Majallat al-Nour, can be found here.

Orthodoxy or Pipe-Dreams?

Some Antiochian Orthodox are haunted by dreams of an awakening that sends them off on flights of fancy and estranges them from the surrounding reality. These dreams of an awakening prevent those who are having them from facing reality and cast them into the arms of fanciful illusion that satisfies hidden desires that they cannot satisfy in real life. They flee reality in search of a lost paradise that cannot be realized. They search for an imaginary paradise. But their dreams remain an incoherent collection of images and ideas that reflect symptoms of complexes and psychological problems.

Dreams have led them astray and caused them to search for a useless and pointless role. They chase after a tempting and deceitful mirage like people afflicted with sunstroke. They try to tap into it, but they will only find utter failure. The mirage of empty glory, the lure of power, and the temptation of lucre are what they are seeking under the compelling and noble banner of the Church. Satan clothes himself in a robe of light, is this not what the Apostle Paul says?

There are those who dream of restoring the glory of the Byzantine Empire and its capital Constantinople and proof of this is that they raise the banner of the Byzantine state as their emblem, as though the Orthodox faith were not true without the return of an empire whose behavior was no better than "the kings of this world." How many massacres, crimes, and occupations were committed in the name of Christianity? How many times did the Fathers of the Church, chief among them Saint Ambrose of Milan and Saint John Chrysostom, clash with the emperors on account of their excessive use of power and negligence of the Gospel's teachings.

The Antiochian experience of the state differs from subsequent Byzantine and Russian experience. The Church of Antioch has never ruled in our country, thank God. The Church of Antioch did not sully herself with the stain of this world, its strongmen and tyrants. She could not do anything other than take care of her countries and peoples and to work to realize the Kingdom in the here and now, where she lives awaiting the announcement of the Kingdom that is to come. She could do nothing other than bear witness to her Teacher, her Master, her Redeemer in word, thought, and deed. She did not deny her cross. She bore it in order to be crucified for love, not in order to hatefully crucify others for the sake of earthly glory.

The Orthodox Church has realized that holiness does not belong to land or cities or places. All these things are just dust. Rather, true holiness is a lofty goal that human beings, flesh and blood, are called to acquire. "Neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall you worship the Father... Those who truly worship the Father worship in spirit and in truth," said the Lord firmly to  the Samaritan woman. There where the Church (that is, the group of believers called from that place) is, there the Lord will be among them. Judaism did not comprehend these words and it continued to work to return to Palestine. The price of its return was the removal of an entire people from their land after wars, conflicts and massacres that claimed thousands of victims. How great would the price of a return to Constantinople be, if the means were available? How great do those people estimate the price would be of restoring the glories of their empire?

These fantastical dreams that take the form of associations, groups, and parties seek after an Andalus  that is lost and will never return. They are pipe-dreams at high noon, when laziness and drowsiness overcomes weak souls: "Save us, O Lord, from the noonday demon." Instead of the Orthodox working to fix their presence in Beirut, Tripoli, Akkar, Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, and Hama... and instead of urgently striving to return to villages from which they were expelled in the mountains near Beirut, and instead of working to halt the exodus to countries with strong economies, you see some people entertaining pipe-dreams that do not eliminate hunger.

Particularly deserving censure is the fact that the people who have these fantasies do not hesitate to use holy names which they confer upon themselves, especially the word "Orthodox" and its derivatives, which they hawk in the market of hateful sectarianism that dominates hearts and minds in Lebanon. There is a "Party of God" and a party that appropriates the cross, a party that claims to speak in the name of the Christians, and parties with Islamic names... and now some Orthodox have taken their turn to change the Church of the Lord, which He redeemed with His blood, into a sectarian party. Orthodoxy is far too precious to be distorted and have its history fabricated by a few people who seek to take their turn at the expense of a living tradition marked by true witness to Christ God our Redeemer.