Saturday, October 19, 2019

Jad Ganem: Before the Edifice Collapses

Arabic original here.

Before the Edifice Collapses

The prophetic cry of His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Albania in the letter he sent to His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew about the Ukrainian crisis, in which he said, "The expected peacemaking between Ukrainian Orthodox, who have in the past suffered various persecutions by atheistic regimes, has not yet been acheived," fell on deaf ears in the Patriarchate of Constantinople, whose champions have waged a vicisious campaign against him that has reached the point of accusing him of "slander and insolence."

But the development of events inside and outside Ukraine since that letter was written until today have proven the correctness of his position:

- Constantinople's decision has failed to realize the sought-after unity within Ukraine and indeed, it has deepened the wounds between members of the same people as a result of the campaigns of repression to which followers of the legitimate Church has been subjected and by provoking disagreement between followers of Epiphany and followers of Filaret.

- It has led to diferences between the local churches regarding the way in which to deal with Constantinople's decision, especially after the Church in Greece's recognition of autocephaly in Ukraine.

- It has inflamed disputes within the local churches themselves regarding the way in which to deal with this decision, even on Mount Athos itself.

But, even beyond this crisis situation, the universal Orthodox Church will find herself faced with:

- Either the choice of activating conciliarity to find a solution to this issue that is becoming more complicated as time passes, through a call to convene a general Orthodox council tasked with finding a solution that will make a judgment in the dispute after the Church of Moscow has tied the dogmatic struggle with the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Greece.

- Or the choice of consecrating the Orthodox schism and announcing a separation between of the Church of Constantinople and supporters of its decision and the Church of Moscow and supporters of its position regarding Constantinople's decision, especially given that its repercussions are changing the rules for dealing with matters on the level of the Orthodox world.

There is no down that the Church in Greece's recognition, which has provided cover for Constantinople's decision and its vision of its new role in the Orthodox world, has reduced the opportunities for finding a common Orthodox solution to the Ukrainian crisis, which has transformed into an Orthodox crisis opening the way to schism. Perhaps the decision which the fathers of the general Holy Synod of the Church in Greece made, to elevate Hellenic unity over Orthodox unity, will weaken Orthodox unity in the long term, something that will not end until everyone realizes that this dispute has caused Orthodoxy to lose much of its potential, that Greek and Russian Orthodoxy need their unity with each other, and that the split is a tragedy for them both.

Will the other local churches play the role of reminding them of this axiomatic truth or will they be dragged into deepening the split by supporting one side or the other?

Don't let this dispute grow until someone comes along in the future to write the history of this dark era of ours and say that the human errors of the leadership kept them from preventing the schism. By your Lord, don't fall into this trap that the leaders of this world have set for you. Be bigger than your own interests and bigger than your differences. Keep purity of faith and unity so that the whole edifice doesn't collapse on our heads.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Archimandrite Jack (Khalil): Working together with Christ

Arabic original here.


Working together with Christ (2 Corinithans 6: 1-10)

Today's Epistle reading comes directly after a very profound theological teaching.

It is preceded by a touching discourse on the faith, in which the Apostle explains the greatness of God's grace that is directed to all humans so that they may transform out of their selfishness and fleshly self-love through participation in the event of Christ's death and resurrection. Our God in whom we believe is the God who came down and became "sin" and "condemnation" for our sake, so that in Him we may become God's righteousness (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).

This event constitutes the essence of the Gospel to which the Apostle Paul was consecrated to preach and from which he draws all his decisions.

Therefore he says at the beginning of this Sunday's reading, "We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain."

These words epitomize the Apostle of the Gentiles' feeling of responsibility because of his certainty that his partner in work in none other than the almighty God and that his sole purpose is for grace to be fixed in those who have accepted the Gospel and have started the path of change in their life and their priorities. For their part, the believers must not disparage the grace of salvation that they have attained "at an acceptable time" for God.

When grace descends, we must not oppose it. The Apostle Paul reminds us of this, that we are not the ones who determine the appropriate time for God's work in our life and the time of our repentance.

The matter of times and seasons is in God's domain, since He is the one who is pleased, "at an acceptable time and in the day of salvation," to incline toward our misery and rescue us.

When grace touches our hearts, we must not harden our hearts, we must not procrastinate or delay. The Apostle continues, highlighting the responsibility of the evangelist to uphold believers in grace.

He says, "We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed." That is, that there not be suspicions about the motives for service that would scandalize the faithful and limit the enthusiasm of their commitment to their baptismal vow. For this reason, the Apostle informs the faithful of Corinth about his constant eagerness, along with his companions, to be truly servants of God. To achieve this endeavor, the Apostle does not care about his own personal needs, his circumstances or the hardships he is subjected to, since his inspiration his Christ who came down for our sake.

On the other hand, the Apostle struggles so that the clay vessel of his body may be pure, "in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left."

In this way, there does not remain any doubt about the credibility of his message to the faithful, who see his devotion, his self-denial and the holiness of his way of life among them. The enthusiasm of his spiritual struggle springs from his apostolic zeal and his love for the one who sent him, Jesus Christ, and nothing separates him from them.

He bears human ignominy for the sake of divine glory, curses and evil report for the sake of the praise that comes from God.

Perhaps some of them thought he was deluded, but he was truthful. He did not strive for fame, but rather wanted to remain unknown, so that he may be "known by God," as he says elsewhere.

He realizes very well that life is not in scrambling for money, power or lusts, but rather in dying to sin with Christ.

No matter how painful and burdensome the persecution and punishments, they will never be able to destroy him. He likewise proudly expresses his happiness at the sorrows that afflict him and the poverty that he experiences because of the grace of God that passes through him in order to reach people is a fortune by which many are enriched.

People see him stripped of the possessions that give their owner a sense of security, but he possesses the heavenly treasure, "here neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:20).

We learn from the Apostle Paul that the service of the New Testament requires a firmer dedication than the consecration of the Levites and priests in the Old Testament. It requires wakefullness, struggle and holiness in order for us not to set obstacles before God's holy work. The Apostle Paul teaches us the priorities that must direct our thoughts and behavior. If these prevail among brothers, then peace be unto them and blessed are they, because their light will shine out before people and they will be confirmed in grace and will praise our Father in heaven.

Archimandrite Jack (Khalil)
Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology

Friday, October 4, 2019

Carol Saba on the Ukrainian Crisis and Orthodoxy's Impasse (V)

Arabic original here. Read part IV here.


An Orthodox Church or Churches?
Elements for Escaping the Crisis of Universal Orthodoxy

The crisis is unprecedented. Moscow boycotts the "council" of Crete in 2016 and Constantinople responds in its own backyard by granting autocephaly to the schismatics in Ukraine at the expense of legitimate Orthodoxy there, which has been tied to Moscow for three hundred years. Moscow rejected the decision and broke communion with Constantinople. The Orthodox churches were flabbergasted and their activity was paralyzed. Appeals to the Ecumenical Patriarch to hold an emergency synaxis received no response. This state of schism spoils communion between the Orthodox Churches and hurts their credibility as one, indivisible body.

In the twentieth century, Orthodoxy became globalized and went from being "Eastern" Orthodoxy to being "global" Orthodoxy  on all continents, without revsing its tradtional governance in order to catch up with this new geopolitical situation. The crisis today is two crises: a crisis of governance that is producing intractable crises (Estonia, Qatar, Czechia, Crete, Ukraine, etc.) and the crisis of an absence of mechanisms for conflict resolution.

The most difficult thing right now is that Constantinople is both plaintiff and judge. Exiting the impasse requires diagnosing the roots of the illness. Is Orthodoxy one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church or competing ethnic churches with no complementarity among them, despite Paul's request to the Corinthians, "...  there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other"? Yes, Constantinople fell before falling due to nationalist self-interest. And with time, the Orthodoxy of faith transformed into a nationalist Orthodoxy that searches for God's history in books of geography, geopolitics, and affiliations.

Metropolitan Georges Khodr foretold in August, 1991, as he was analyzing Orthodoxy's maladies, what is happening today in Ukraine: "Can the official Church which is subject to Moscow religiously preserve this allegiance if the Ukrainian Republic splits?" He continued, "No one can see the future because the historical custom, since the last century, is for those who obtain independence nationally to become independent ecclesiastically." "The historical custom" for Sayyidna Georges is only a painful indicator of the influence of nationalisms on Orthodoxy, which was condemned at the council in Constantinople in 1872.

Nationalism is not the criterion, but rather communion of faith. Until now, this "historical custom" has never been applied in Antiochian experience. The Orthodox in Lebanon did not seek to establish their own national church at Lebanon's independence and it is my hope that they will not seek it today. And they won't, despite all the talk about imminent dangers to Antiochian unity and that Antioch, like Serbia, is the target after Ukraine. Of course, there are problems of governance, sensitivities and estrangement, but they must all be dealt with under the roof of Antiochian unity, so dear to Christ.

Here lies the seriousness of the Ukrainian crisis: as an attempt to subject the governance and geography of the Church-- today more than ever-- to variable nationalist and geopolitical considerations. Did not the new president of Ukraine, Zelensky, withdraw from the invervensions of his predecessor, President Poroshenko, in the Church?

Historically, the Ancient Patriarchates were centers of communion of faith for circles of communion for flocks that transcend national, geographic and political considerations. Apostolic Canon 34 expresses this in the most marvelous way. However, with the rise of ideologies of national liberation in the 19th century under Western influence, there came the theory of the inevitability of ecclesiastical schism upon national indepdence, against the backdrop of the Greek national revolution.

The ideologue of this equation, which states that the boundaries of the Church, like the boundaries of the nation, should follow political boundaries and not the opposite, was the Archimandrite Theoklitos Farmakidis, the theorist of Greek autocephaly, which was declared in 1830 and recognized by Constantinople in 1850. Greek independence from the empire was also independence from Constantinople, which the leaders of the Greek Revolution accused of being dependent on the Sublime Port. But Farmakidis' analogy reversed the ancient ecclesiastical rule and subjected the church to variable geopolitical considerations, opening the way for nationalist Orthodoxies and the intertwining of the ecclesiastical and the political in Orthodoxy, especially for Constantinople and Moscow in the context of their struggle over leadership.

For example, the correspondence of Harry Truman's advisor Myron Taylor with Truman and the American ambassador in Turkey, as well as other documents of correspondence with the Vatican, show that during, before and after the election of Patriarch Athenagoras, there was an ongoing relationship between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the American administration in order to oppose Russia, Communism and, at the time, the Soviet Union. This relationship continues until today and one might point out statements from the US State Department in support of Constantinople's decision in Ukraine.

On the other hand, many documents also demonstrate the exploitation of the Church in Russia by the Soviet state and today the Church in Russia is accused of identifying with the politics of the Russian state.

Escaping the crisis requires both sides and all the Orthodox Churches to look critically at the intertwining of the ecclesiastical and the political in Orthodoxy, to make nationalist Orthodoxy submit to the Orthodoxy of faith rather than the opposite, and to put into place modern practices and rules for participatory clergy-lay governance that constructively and productively connects the dialectic of primacy and conciliarity.

As for escaping the Ukrainian crisis, this requires historical boldness and sacrifices on both sides for the sake of the higher Orthodox good. It requires:

1) A decision by Constantinople to "freeze" the tomos of autocephaly.

2) A decision by Moscow to suspend the decision to break communion in order to open the way for a meeting, discussions and negotiations between the two sides.

3) A decision by both sides for the necessity of cooperating with the request for Ukrainian autocephaly in an open, churchly manner through joint agreement on the terms and conditions of this autocephaly: including the special relationship with Russia and the historical relationship with Constantinople, bearing in mind both sides' historical rights and preventing any political exploitation of the issue.

It remains to wonder: the people of God or peoples of God? Church or churches? The future is close at hand. Kyrie eleison.

Carol Saba on the Ukrainian Crisis and Orthodoxy's Impasse (IV)

From yesterday's an-Nahar. Arabic original here. Read part III here and part V here.


The Suffering of the Orthodox Church during the Twentieth Century:
Internal and External Dangers Alike

The twentieth century was crueler to Orthodoxy than previous centuries. All the Orthodox churches were-- and continue to be-- along geopolitical fault lines, pulled in different directions by various countries' interests and hot and cold wars. After Eastern Orthodoxy's imprisonment in the Ottoman cage for four hundred years, there came the First World War, which started in the Balkans and went on to weigh heavily on all Orthodox societies.  This was followed in 1917 by the atheistic Bolshevik Revolution, which struck Russia, the largest Orthodox nation, and Orthodoxy was crushed between the anvil and hammer of Communism.

Before Stalin resorted to Orthodoxy and nationalist sentiment in 1941 to save Russia from the Nazi steamroller, around 600 bishops, 40,000 priests and 120,000 monks and nuns were killed and thousands of cathedrals, churches and monasteries were destroyed. Communism was defeated in 1988, and Gorbachev asked Patriarch Pimen to jointly organize the celebration of the thousandth anniversary of the Baptism of the Rus. Then, Orthodoxy in Eastern Europe was liberated from the Soviet cage when the Berlin Wall fell in 1990.

As for Greek Orthodoxy, it suffered repeated blows: in 1923, with the ethnic cleansing of the Greeks of Asia Minor; with the bloody events of September, 1955 against the Greeks of Istanbul to expel them; the invasion and occupation of Northern Cyprus in 1974; the Greek economic crisis and its being under international trusteeship since 2008; and the efforts by the radical socialist, atheist government of Tsipras to tame the Church of Greece by force.

The rise of radical, Salafist Islamism on account of the weakness of Arab civil society has threatened the Middle Eastern churches and pushed their members to emigrate.  And let us not forget the suffering of Serbia, the Yugoslav wars since 1991, and NATO's campaign against it; the hostile situation for Serbian Orthodoxy and its historic sites in Kosovo; the seizure of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli struggle since 1948; "others' wars in Lebanon," in the words of Ghassan Toueini, since 1975; and the ongoing tragedy in Syria. Efforts to enervate and divide Orthodoxy continue with the Ukrainian crisis and attempts to split Orthodoxy in Macedonia and Montenegro from Serbia. In this way, the lines of fire shifted within the Orthodox space over the course of the twentieth century and they continue to do so, their flames biting at the body and flesh of Orthodoxy.

Blows have come from within and from the outside. Internally, with Orthodoxy's inability to coalesce and anticipate and cope with the transformations of the globalization of the twentieth century, and on account of the rivalry, deadly for universal Orthodoxy, between Constantinople and Moscow, which has opened the door for global powers to exploit the weaknesses of nationalist Orthodoxies, which has damaged the the Orthodoxy of faith which, even if the arrows have struck it and it has become a martyr, continues to bear witness. In the midst of these transformations (the West seeking to seize the East, religious radicalism, atheistic Communism and irreligious, secularized and globalized liberalism), Orthodoxy has tried to break the bonds around it.

Within the context of attempting to strengthen the Ecumenical Patriarchate because of the transformations that were weakening it, Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis called for a Pan-Orthodox Congress in Istanbul in 1923. He was also the originator of the idea of saying yes to Orthodox unity in the diaspora, but under the banner of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which was rejected by Moscow and a large portion of the Orthodox Churches. There followed meetings at Vatopedi Monastery on Athos in 1930, the first conference for Orthodox theological institutes in Athens in 1936, and the Moscow conference in 1948, which was held amidst difficult international circumstances and a growing cold war for leadership between Moscow and Constantinople. The latter rejected Moscow's right to call for Pan-Orthodox meetings and boycotted the conference, along with the churches of Jerusalem, Cyprus and Greece.

Then came the election of Patriarch Athenagoras, who opened a window of hope and whose star shined in the Orthodox space like a man of peace, striving "to bring the Orthodox together into one house, albeit with many windows." The path toward the Great Orthodox Council began on Rhodes in 1961 with hope and tribulations. It was followed, over some decades, by several Pan-Orthodox conferences and synaxes of the primates of the Orthodox Churches which should have, were it not for the pathologies of competition and primacy that prevented attention from being paid to the common good and to finding solutions to crucial ecclesiastical problems-- among them, the issue of Jerusalem's violation of Antioch's jurisdiction in Qatar. Confrontational positioning between the churches grew at the expense of true conciliarity, which accompanies and proceeds slowly and deliberately. The Crete meeting of 2016 was fragmented and not universal, given the absence of four large churches: the apostolic Church of Antioch, Moscow, Bulgaria and Georgia.

The competition and blockage has continued through the Ukrainian crisis of 2018.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Carol Saba on the Ukrainian Crisis and Orthodoxy's Impasse (III)

Arabic original here. Part one , part two and part four.

The Transformations of the 19th Century:
Laying the Groundwork for the Competition and Rivalry of the 20th Century

Istanbul, 1872. Let's go back a little... "In the Church of Christ, which is a spiritual communion that aims, through her Head and founder, to encompass all nations in one brotherhood in Christ, considers Phyletism and discrimination on the basis of ethnic and linguistic origin to be something completely foreign to the concept... when each ethnic church strives to realize what is particular to it, is a deadly assault on the dogma of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church..."

Thus spoke the fathers of the famous Synod of Constantinople, which met in 1872 in response to the conflict that had been raging since 1856 between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Bulgarian dioceses in the Ottoman Empire, which were striving for ecclesiastical independence from Istanbul. For the Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément, this was "the last council of the Pentarchy." That is, the Church's ancient system of governance based on the principle of five patriarchates: Rome (which left it in 1054), Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. As for the Russians, they regarded it as a "Greek council" because all the patriarchs of the East and all the bishops who attended it were of Greek origin, an indication of the Greek ethnicity's domination over the patriarchates of the East.

Competition and rivalry in the twentieth century had as background the ongoing struggle between Moscow and Constantinople, which had become deeply rooted since the rise of ethnic and nationalist chauvinisms and European and Russian interventions in the Ottoman Empire shortly after the issue of the famous Ottoman Hatt-ı Hümayun in 1856, which spoke of reforms to the system and the rights and responsibilities of every millet, whetting the appetite of the Orthodox of the empire for independence from the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

After the fall of Constantinople and the Sultan Fetih's recognition of its patriarch as the sole leader of all the Orthodox of the "Rum Millet" in the empire, Constantinople tightened its control over the empire's patriarchates and bishoprics, from the Middle East to the Balkans, including the Bulgarian lands. Theories developed, declaring that the Ecumenical Patriarch had inherited the Byzantine Empire and the Orthodoxy of Constantinople came to be a synonym for the "Hellenic nation", which encompassed many ethnic groups and languages. Greek became the holy language of Orthodoxy and any move towards independence was an attack on this Orthodoxy.

A "gerondist" (in Greek, geronda means 'elder' or 'senior') movement developed in Constantinople, establishing a conservative ecclesiastical aristocracy, which regarded the continued existence of the Ecumenical See over the course of history as being due to resisting change and preserving traditions and inherited prerogatives. It resisted all reformist movements in the See, accusing their followers of being creatures of western politics. And so Constantinople came to be "the Great Church" and "the Mother Church" which, even if it reluctantly accepted the independence of the empire's churches from it under the pressure of circumstances, continued to regard them as daughters dependent on it. These established relations characterized by an attitude of superiority and paternalism toward the churches, which continues until today, in defense of the prerogatives of byegone Byzantine and Ottoman times.

Nevertheless, movements of national liberation arose in the East, due to the European Enlightenment and Western influences, which threatened these methods of Constantinople's. Ideas of "national" independence from the Ottoman yoke developed among the peoples alongside ideas of ecclesiastical independence from submission to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The leaders of the Greek Revolution in 1821, which in 1830 won independence for Greece from the empire, demanded and declared ecclesiastical independence in 1833. They accused the Patriarchate of Constantinople of being attached to and dependent upon the Sublime Porte. Constantinople did not recognize the autocephaly of the Church of Greece until 1850 and there continue to be disagreements on various thorny issues between the mother and her daughter.

Greek independence whetted the Bulgarians' appetite. The shifting tides, the ecclesiastical, political and diplomatic negotiations and interventions and tug-of-war between Constantinople and Moscow continued from 1856 to 1870. Constantinople attempted to prevent the Bulgarian autocephaly that was declared unilaterally by the Bulgarians in 1870 and in 1872, the Holy Synod of Constantinople came out against the Bulgarian schism, to which it gave its assent in 1945.

The competition and rivalry over this issue testifies to the struggle between Moscow and Constantinople starting in that time, as does the role of the Russian ambassador to the Ottomans, Nikolai Ignatiev, in the Bulgarian issue. Then came Serbian autocephaly in 1879, which was recognized by Constantinople in 1920.

As for Antioch, the election of Meletius Doumani in 1898 as the first Arab patriarch of Antioch since 1724 provoked a crisis of his recognition by Constantinople, which saw Moscow's fingerprints on this election under the cover of Arabization. This delayed the sultan's confirmation of the patriarch for a year, so that his enthronement in Damascus took place on December 31, 1899.
Will the 20th century be any less cruel for Orthodoxy than those that preceded it?

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Carol Saba on the Ukrainian Crisis and Orthodoxy's Impasse (II)

 Arabic original, from today's an-Nahar here. Read part one here and part three here.

"O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance."

Orthodoxy from the Fall of Constantinople to the Rise of Moscow

"O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance." This lament for Constantinople upon its fall is like weeping by the rivers of Babylon, words that mourn with nostalgia, sorrow, pain, tears and grief over the holy Queen City. Byzantium rose with Constantine the Great, it flourished and its wealth amassed for more than a millennium. It established a civilization that Europe has inherited. With its defeat on the walls of Constantinople on May 29, 1453, the earth shook and a deep wound was opened in Orthodoxy that still bleeds today.

Orthodoxy entered into the Ottoman era and experienced a state of historical stasis, during which its powers declined, its immune system weakened, and factors of worldly anxiety grew within it. The Ottoman sultanate encompassed it and enfeebled the Eastern Patriarchates and the churches of the Balkans over the course of four hundred years.

Nor was the West absent from efforts to weaken Orthodoxy, absorb it, and drain it of its blood through missions, biting off chunks, poaching, efforts to dominate the East and effectuating schisms within it. The Orthodox became strangers in their homelands and their theological and leadership capabilities for recovery and renewal declined. Their worldly anxiety pushed them to develop ethno-phyletist politics based on wedding Orthodoxy to nationalist chauvinism as a means of liberation from the Ottoman cage. The Orthodox were transformed from being masters of the house to being a closed-off protectorate. After having been the "people of God" in harmony with its patriarchal and imperial leadership, according to the idea  of "Byzantine symphonia" upon which Justinian's empire was based, the Orthodox turned into the Rum ethnic millet, which was seen as a minority that was closed in on itself and subject to certain privileges granted to it by the Muslim Ottoman Empire.

The Ecumenical Patriarch inherited the position of the Byzantine Emperor. A crown of imperial majesty, studded with precious stones, was placed on his head. There began a transformation of the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch along with an effort to further develop canonically his inherited authority by way of the Patriarch Gennadios' agreement with Sultan Mehmet II Fetih immediately after the fall of Constantinople. The latter recognized the former as patriarch and "ethnarch". That is, as the temporal and religious leader of the Rum Millet.

After the fall of the empire, the Ecumenical Patriarch comprised in his person two authorities: ecclesiastical and temporal. He became the symbol of the double-headed eagle, responsible for defending religious and historical Orthodoxy. Over time, his synod was transformed into a "permanent synod" that incorporated the Orthodox patriarchs of the East, who were forced to reside in Istanbul for long periods of time because the Ecumenical Patriarch was their gateway, passage and intermediary before the Sublime Porte, because he was the only one recognized by law for Orthodox affairs in the sultanate.

The Greek element overwhelmed the leadership of the Eastern Patriarchates and the Ecumenical Patriarch became a "super-patriarch" who decided as he saw fit. In practice, this established a quasi-papal canonical hierarchy of ecclesiastical authority far removed from the universal Orthodox conciliarity that had constituted its governance since the time of the Apostles. The governance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate was ottomanized and it became a "court" where Byzantine and Ottoman courtly practices and traditions were mixed. The patriarch became a sultan and he was characterized by sultanic manners of acting, which became for them an involiable Orthodox tradition.

In contrast, the rise of tsarist Russia began as the largest Orthodox nation numerically. The baptism of Prince Vladimir and his people, which took place in Kiev in 988, came as the result of Greek missions that had been evangelizing the Slavic peoples since the time of Saints Cyril and Methodius. The growth of the influence of Muscovy and its prince, however, came after Tatar invasions in the thirteenth century and the transfer of the princes of Rus from Kiev to Moscow.

Constantinople hesitated very much to grant independence to the very influential metropolis of Moscow that was dependent on it and which had for some time begun to elect its own bishop locally. Constantinople's recognition of Moscow as a patriarchate took place in 1589 after the mediation of Patriarch Joachim V of Antioch, "who visited Moscow in 1586," as Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim of thrice-blessed memory informs us, "and supported Tsar Boris Godunov's request to turn the Church of Russia into a patriarchate. He raised the issue with Patriarch Jeremiah of Constantinople, who after that visited Russia in 1589 and took part in the election of Job, the first patriarch of the Russian Church." Appended to the historical document of the tomos of autocephaly is his signature, in addition to that of Jeremiah of Constantinople and Sophronius of Jerusalem.
Thus, as Moscow rose, its military, diplomatic and political influence was magnified and its role as protector of the Eastern Orthodox grew, talk began of Moscow as "Third Rome", which laid the basis for the competition and tug-of-war between Moscow and Constantinople in the Orthodox world. This, alongside the transformations of the nineteenth century and the rise of ethnic chauvinism, continues to menace Orthodoxy's purity, its evangelistic momentum and the edifice of its catholic unity.

Jad Ganem: The New Tormentors of Christ

Arabic original here.

The New Tormentors of Christ
During the visit he made as the head of a delegation from his diocese to the Phanar, the bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Australia, Makarios, stated, "today we are living through a dark era in the the history of our church, where a number of our brother believers challenge our patriarchate because they do not accept the existence of a protos in the Orthodox Church." He indicated that all the problems that have arisen are "because of this erroneous notion regarding the protos in the Orthodox Church. They propose holding a Pan Orthodox synod to solve the issues that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has seen to over the centuries."

There's no hiding the fact that these words of His Eminence deal with the Ukrainian crisis and its repercussions, which have led to a break in communion between the Church of Moscow and the Church of Constantinople after the latter undertook to change the boundaries of the Russian Church and cancelled, at the stroke of a pen, three hundred years of history, ignoring the existence of the legitimate Church and granting-- in an act without precedent in the history of the Church-- autocephaly to schismatics who do not have apostolic succession. He also criticizes the position of most of the local churches which have called for holding a Pan Orthodox Synod to find a solution for this issue and the churches which have rejected the theory of primacy "without equals" and accept the primacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople as first among equals.

Therefore, perhaps the best response to His Eminence is what Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) quoted in the section on the Great Schism in his book The Orthodox Church from an Orthodox author of the twelfth century, Nicetas, Archbishop of Nicomedia, where he expressed the Orthodox position regarding the papacy in a wonderful manner:

"My dearest brother, we do not deny to the Roman Church the primacy amongst the five sister Patriarchates; and we recognize her right to the most honorable seat at an Ecumenical Council. But she has separated herself from us by her own deeds, when through pride she assumed a monarchy which does not belong to her office... How shall we accept decrees from her that have been issued without consulting us and even without our knowledge? If the Roman Pontiff, seated on the lofty throne of his glory, wishes to thunder at us and, so to speak, hurl his mandates at us from on high, and if he wishes to judge us and to rule us and our Churches, not by taking counsel with us but at his own arbitrary pleasure, what kind of brotherhood, or even what kind of parenthood can this be? We should be the slaves, not the sons, of such a Church, and the Roman See would not be the pious mother of sons but a hard and imperious mistress of slaves."

Does His Eminence realize that the Orthodox world's problem is not with the Patriarch of Constantinople's primacy, but with Constantinople's distorted understanding of it and with the pride, haughtiness, cruelty, arrogance and ignoring others-- all others-- that have become the hallmarks of Constantinople's practice? Does he really think that primacy is exercised through sultanic firmans that are hurled upon the churches from on high and made known through the media? Does he really think that primacy is exercised outside of conciliarity, by a minority over the majority?

Has the time not come for him and for those like him to refrain from theorizing rigid authoritarianism and the self-importance of thrones in the name of history and special prerogatives? Has the time not come to refrain from dividing the faithful and stoking ethnic rivalries among them in support of one church or another? History will have no mercy for those who fuel the flames of schism and mutual estrangement, whether in the name of authority or under the pretext of numerical superiority, after they have become the shame of Orthodoxy and the new tormentors of Christ.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Carol Saba on the Ukrainian Crisis and Orthodoxy's Impasse (I)

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

The Ukrainian Crisis: 
The Apogee of the Crisis of Impasse in the Orthodox Church 
Part One

The new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, recently visited the Phanar, headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul. He is someone who knows the importance of Russia's geostrategic reach in Ukraine and is working, contrary to his predecessor, President Poroshenko, to reach an understanding with it. After his meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew, Zelensky refused to sign a joint declaration with him, stating that "the state must not intervene in ecclesiastical affairs." In addition to the fact that the Ukrainian presidential delegation was purely secular, this position  may be considered to be a radical change contradicting the behavior of his predecessor, who openly interfered in the affairs of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, spurring Constantinople with pressure, promises and concessions to grant "autocephaly" unilaterally.

Geopolitical and ecclesiastical politics and interests intersected and on January 6, 2019 Constantinople granted a tomos of autocephaly to schismatic Ukrainian groups without any legitimacy, at the expense of the legitimate Ukrainian Church tied to Moscow, which had been granted autonomy and is recognized by all the Orthodox Churches.

Thus, despite the warnings of the Orthodox Churches, Constantinople imposed a new ecclesiastical reality in Ukraine, hoping that parishes would attach themselves to it and that it would be recognized by the Orthodox Churches. This has not yet happened, despite enormous pressure.

Moscow responded by breaking Eucharistic communion with Constantinople and withdrawing from all Episcopal Assemblies, committies and organizations in which the latter's bishops were present. This put the entire Orthodox world into a state of stasis and unprecedented crisis and no one knows how it will end. The struggle between Moscow and Constantinople is not a product of the moment, but is rather the end result of historical accumulations and the politics of competition for primacy between them over the twentieth century, which is impairing Orthodox conciliarity and leading the Orthodox Church off along papist paths that are ruinous for her.

Who is using who, the Church or international politics? The ambiguous geopolitical-ecclesiastical overlap in Ukraine, which is seriously damaging the credibility of universal Orthodox spiritual witness, has blown up the global Orthodox crisis and fanned its flames. Constantinople's critics speak of the intersection between its attack on Moscow in Ukraine and Western Atlanticist policies seeking to encircle Russia politically and ecclesiastically by separating the Church of Ukraine from the Patriarchate of Moscow to which it has belonged since the agreement signed by Ecumenical Patriarch Dionysius IV and the members of his Holy Synod in 1686 and sent to the tsars of Russia, the protectors of Orthodoxy at that time. Moscow's critics, on the other hand, speak of the necessity of preventing the expansion of the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is the largest, accuse it of greed to be "Third Rome" and identify it with the Kremlin's diplomacy.

Constantinople's offensive in Ukraine can, however, only be understood through an analysis of the factors behind the decline of its leading role and its transformation over the twentieth century on account of various geopolitical factors, the fall of the bipolar world and the Berlin Wall, and Russia's political return to its previous glories, as well as the engines of globalization, especially "Orthodox globalization", which brought its churches, on account of forced emigration, from the geography of the East to a worldwide geography on all continents.

Constantinople started to fear for the exclusivity of its declining primacy, especially after the Havana summit in February, 2016, between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis and after the "Council of Crete" in June, 2016 failed to be a universal Orthodox council, a council of unity, after four large churches--Antioch, Moscow, Georgia and Bulgaria-- backed out. And so it started to behave confrontationally according to the principle of "cutting off my nose to spite my face."

But Constantinople's strike in Ukraine was not only painful for Moscow, but for the entire Orthodox world. Things took place without any agreement between the Orthodox Churches, but rather by a unilateral decision of Constantinople, as if the intention of the intersection of the geopolitical with the ecclesiastical is to remake a new global role for Constantinople that would give its primacy hierarchical content, as canonical leadership over the other Orthodox Churches, far removed from honorary primacy.

The new theory of the Ecumenical Patriarch's primacy worldwide is defended by Constantinople's new champions. At their forefront is the Ecumenical Patriarchate's new bishop in America, Archbishop Elpidophoros, who hold Turkish nationality, is avid to become the next patriarch and has strong American and Western relationships. This theory goes beyond the primacy of honor that the Ecumenical Patriarch has according to Orthodox tradition to a global "canonical" primacy that makes him "first without equals", where he is the one who knows the highest good for Orthodoxy and he is the one who decides without referring to his brothers, the leaders of the local Orthodox Churches and their holy synods, while they are to follow him...

How did Orthodoxy arrive at this crisis point?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Creation (And New Creation in Christ)

Arabic original here

Creation (And New Creation in Christ)

God created man immortal. "God did not create death and He takes no pleasure in the destruction of the living" (Wisdom 1:13).

He enjoyed freedom because he was an immortal, spiritual soul. He created him to stand before Him in communion of love. This means that man was the purpose of all creation. So before sin, there was no death. But after the fall, Christ the God-Man became the purpose of creation.

God created man in God's image.  After the fall, humankind became one body cast out from divine grace. For this reason, our fathers call this humanity "Adam" and Saint Gregory of Nyssa calls it "the lost sheep" for whom Christ came. Of course, all people did not commit the sin of Adam.

We did not inherit original sin in itself. But Adam bequeathed to all of us, to all humankind, a mortal character. The West calls this "original sin". In His eternity, God saw Adam's sin and desired to remove it through the incaration, through the death and resurrection of the Word. The incarnation, the cross and the resurrection were all in God's mind when He encountered Abraham. Humanity's salvation was in His eternal mind. He knew that man, who was created in His image, would not remain faithful to the aim of his love.

In His human body and soul, Christ took on all the results of sin: suffering and death. He took on humanity in its entirety. Therefore He died for every human, no matter his nationality, race or even religion-- past, present and future.

He is Son of God and Son of Man all at once. He made His suffering and death a sign of perfect love towards His Father and towards all people.

Thus, He put an end to suffering and death: "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends" (John 15:13).

He cancelled the power of suffering and death by His death on the cross and all these things became decisive signs of the resurrection and eternal life.

For this reason, we say, "Through the cross, joy came into the whole world."

With Christ, the cross became the sign of victory over our passions and death, victory over our selfishness through sacrificing ourselves out of love for God and for all our brothers in humanity.

All of this causes us to say once more that through His incarnation, suffering, death and resurrection,  Christ the God-Man became the purpose of all creation. He is the purpose of our life. 

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Ethnophyletism, the Universal and the Particular

These words are quite relevant to the situation in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem:

[...]

Greek culture or language cannot be a universal culture precisely because it is a real culture of real people. It is embodied, not an ideal or an abstraction, let alone a mission civilizatrice. Claims of the universality of Hellenism, rooted merely in the fact that it was the prestige culture of the Eastern Mediterranean from Alexander to Muhammad, are just as absurd as 19th and 20th century claims by French, Russian and American imperialists about the universality of their cultures.

In the end, only Christ’s Gospel is universal. The early Christians’ acute awareness of this fact is demonstrated by their insistence on the possibility of translating scripture and liturgy into any language, on the fact that Christ’s universal message can be fully available to all in any language– a claim that is all the more remarkable when compared with attitudes toward translation in Judaism and Islam. The second century author of the Epistle to Diognetus perfectly expressed how the universality of the Gospel is expressed in the particularity of individual Christians across all cultures:
Inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.
Awareness and acceptance our own particularity while embodying Christian universality is a necessary condition for being able to accept and embrace the other. If we seek to be universal, to transcend the constraints of concrete particularity and so place ourselves above all others, we have given in to a desire which, as Pope Saint Gregory the Great reminds us, springs from pride not unlike that of the Antichrist.

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Jad Ganem: Have We Committed a Crime?

Arabic original here. A complete English translation of Patriarch Bartholomew's letter can be found here.

Have We Committed a Crime?

Since the outset of the Ukrainian controversy, which has led to a break in communion between the Patriarchates of Moscow and Constantinople, Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus has worked to find a solution that would keep the Orthodox Church from schism. He worked in cooperation with the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem to launch an initiative to preserve Orthodox unity and undertook to visit a number of primates of local churches in order to head off any unilateral decision that would deepen the schism.


But his initiative ran into fierce opposition from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which expressed its  displeasure in a patriarchal letter delivered by Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, who read it during the festal liturgy celebrating the patronal feast of the Church of Cyprus last June.
 

The letter, which was sent in a rude manner, contains, in addition to the blame directed at the Archbishop of Cyprus for his initiative, a set of claims, among them that the Church of Constantinople believes:

- that it is the Church "who birthed all the newer [churches]" and that it has "the responsibility of caring for every other Church, both the ancient sisters and the newer daughters who were weaned from our Canonical body, in toil, deprivation and distress, but also with concern and care, so that they could have their own internal autocephaly. "


- that it is "common Mother and caretaker of all" and "mistress among the churches."


- that it is the church that preserves the autocephalous status of the Church of Cyprus, granted by the Third Ecumenical Council.


- that the Orthodox unity that was prevalent is "false".


The letter likewise reminds the Archbishop of Cyprus and "all those who hate us and love us" that "The Phanar lives because the Lord of Glory wills it...  it has the prayers of the God-bearing Fathers of the holy Councils, which granted it sacred, inviolable and non-negotiable privileges of service." and that it is "the loving heart and clever mind of the Orthodox Church."


This letter caused the Archbishop of Cyprus to refrain from going further in his initiative and he has recently stated that, "We took the first step and we tried to meet with the primates of the local churches, but we discovered the the Ecumenical Patriarch does not want anything like that. We then wondered: have we committed murder? And we stopped at that point."


The mediation undertaken by His Beatitude was a point of light and hope for many during this dark night of crisis in inter-Orthodox relations. But his giving up and submitting to the Phanar's pressure, its authoritarian pronouncements and the stubbornness of its patriarch and ceasing his effort to avoid schism is itself a crime of murder against Orthodox unity, which seems no longer to be a priority for the "Primus sine Paribus" in the race toward schism.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Jad Ganem: A Sacrificial Lamb?

A couple days late, but still important. Arabic original here.



A Sacrificial Lamb?


The Patriarchate of Constantinople and its Holy Synod-- a synod whose members are unilaterally appointed by the Patriarch without any fixed canonical order, but rather as he personally sees fit, continues to behave in an Ottoman manner in its treatment of the Russian Exarchate in Western Europe. This is damaging not only to the Phanar's image in Europe, but to the image of Orthodoxy as a whole, whose members wherever they are found are embarrassed by the situation their Church has come to be in.


Among the recent firmans issued from the Sublime Porte of Patriarch Bartholomew is a letter of release for Archbishop Jean, which states: "By this patriarchal letter, in recognition of your profound desire to place yourself under the omphorion of His Beatitude the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, as you have expressed multiple times in word and deed, we release you, solely on a personal level, from our very holy patriarchal and apostolic Ecumenical See, and we paternally wish you to be guided by the blessings and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that His infinite mercy always be with you.
This means that at the present, Your Eminence is are no longer in any way whatsoever responsible for the affairs of the parishes of Russian tradition in Western Europe."

Naturally, Metropolitan Emmanuel matched his teacher with another letter addressed to members of this Exarchate, in which he stated that "Archbishop Jean no longer possess any spiritual or administrative authority over the communities over which he previously had charge" and that the Patriarch had appointed him as locum tenens, asking all the parishes belonging to the Exarchate to commemorate him in the divine services. His Eminence likewise repeated his previous proposal to establish a vicarate for these parishes within the Greek Archdiocese in France, stating that he would invite the diocesan council to meet in the near future.

The Exarchate naturally responded to these decisions by confirming the meeting of the General Assembly on the agreed-upon date, September 7, and modified the agenda so that it included only one item, to accept the agreement that had been reached by the joint committee of the Exarchate and the Church of Russia.

Anyone who examines the letter of release, which Archbishop Jean did not request, cannot help but be surprised at its tone and content. In practice, this letter is to be regarded as expelling him this Patriarchate that believes that he wants to belong to the Church of Russia.

One can only marvel at the distortion of the facts that it contains, as it grants all responsibility to this bishop who has, since the moment Constantinople made its decision, attempted to dissolve the Exarchate whose General Assembly rejected him in favor of holding negotiations with it and with other churches in order to find a solution to this crisis caused by Constantinople with its sudden and hasty decision without any prior discussion with its pastors or flock.

Since his election as head of the Exarchate, Archbishop Jean has dealt with crises that have caused for it and its members by the sultanic decisions of the Phanar, ever since it removed the names of candidates that the Exarchate had nominated and imposed the election of a bishop who was not pleasing to its members. And he continues today, in a transparent manner, to deal with the crises and impediments that continue to be placed in its way. Perhaps he will be able, with his typical courage and devotion to Christ, to preserve this archdiocese that has been at the forefront of spreading Orthodoxy in Europe.

There remains hope that the upcoming General Assembly will transcend all historical political considerations and escape falling into the trap set by the Phanar and so make the appropriate decision and prevent the bishop who has preserved its unity from being turned into a sacrificial lamb on the altar of the dispute between Constantinople and Russia, which he has kept clear of throughout his long priestly service.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Transfiguration

Arabic original here.

The Transfiguration

At the moment of the Transfiguration, the Apostles' heart was enlightened by the Holy Spirit and they saw Christ as He is in reality, not merely a man walking with them along the byways of Palestine, but as the Son of God. They saw human nature transfigured, even before the Resurrection, pierced by the fire of the divinity dwelling within it.

Perhaps someone might say, "Christ is no longer visible in the body among us so how can we see Him with a heart enlightened by the Holy Spirit, as the Bible says, 'He who has seen Me has seen the Father'?!" (John 14:9)

Today Christ is no longer close to us. If our eyes were open, we would be able to discern Him through the mysteries of the Church, through our neighbor. There is also the Gospel, God's word.

The Apostle Peter, who was with James and John on Mount Tabor, tells us:

"And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:19).

So it is important for us to behold the face of Christ through the divine word. Yes, we have the example of this treasure-- I mean the Holy Bible-- which points us to Christ. Saint Jerome says, "He who is ignorant of the Bible is igorant of Christ."

Saint Irenaeus says, "The purpose of man's life is to see God, to see the face of Christ. There lies joy.  There lies true happiness. Your face, O Lord, I seek."

The Lord revealed His true face to the three apostles before the Resurrection so that they would accept the mystery of the cross, so that they would understand that the cross is the path of resurrection, for Christ Himself and for us too.

We also have in turn the possibility, while we are still on earth, to have a foretaste, as was the case for the three apostles, of seeing God, of seeing the uncreated light, whose fullness is preserved in eternity. Hear last but not least what Saint Silouan says: "The light of humility makes us see through t the light of Christ."

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies 

Friday, July 5, 2019

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on Romans 5:1-5

Arabic original here.

On the Epistle

It says in the epistle reading, "We have been justified by faith" (Romans 5:1).

"Tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:3-5).

Faith inspires trust, in obedience or submission to the Lord and His teachings, which brings us to resemble him and to take the Lord Jesus as a model for us. Blessed is the believer, for he accepts this tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle Paul says (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6).

Tribulation comes from persecutions, but it also comes, as we witness today, from difficult material possibilities.

The world today has become accustomed to excessive consumption in everything, but economic circumstances have become difficult, jobs and opportunities for work have become sparse and austerity has become necessary in all areas.

Thus the current tribulation in the family and in society. Blessed is the one who can persevere without losing his faith and his reliance on the Lord. This is what the epistle reading means when it speaks of patience and hope in the love of God that "has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 5:5).

This is also because "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

In times of tribulation we feel our weakness in overcoming the present difficulties through our own efforts, which guides us, if we have kept our faith, to rely on God Almighty to bring us out of the present difficulties.

 This causes us in the present tribulation not to despair, but rather to experience more the power of God who can bring us out of this difficult situation in order to bestow upon us great hope and glory.

The believer prays and feels in his fervent prayer that he is cast into God's hands. This is when he falls into the temptation of his tribulations and physical and mental suffering.

Experience will show him that no obstacle that he encounters will cause him to abandon his faith and his struggle. This is because he experiences that his patience in struggle leads him to victory and to greater assurance in preserving his faith and his attachment to the Lord and indeed, to greater joy (and glory) by the power of the Holy Spirit who is in him.

Tribulation, physical, mental and material trials are a school that trains us in patience and it depends on the power of faith in God Himself (cf. Colossians 1:11).

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Monday, July 1, 2019

Jad Ganem: A Message of Repentance?

Arabic original here.


A Message of Repentance?

His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew addressed the president of the Republic of Montenegro with a letter in which he dealt with the issue of the support that the president has expressed for the establishment of an autocephalous church in this country. In this letter, His Holiness expressed the Patriarchate of Constantinople's great anxiety about this matter and its denunciation of the draft law prepared by the government that requiers the nationalization of all Orthodox churches and ecclesiastical properties that date from before 1918.

He indicated as well that the above means that the state would "expropriate the churches and property of the Holy Metropolis of Montenegro, as well as of another three Eparchies of the Orthodox Church of Serbia."

His Holiness clearly and unambiguously stressed, in the same letter:

     - that the Patriarchate of Constantinople and with it all the local Orthodox churces only recognize the legitimacy of the church headed by the Serbian Metropolitan Amfilohije.

     - that "Church of Montenegro has never been autocephalous."

     - that "today’s co-called ‘Orthodox Church of Montenegro’ under Miraš Dedeić does not belong to the Orthodox Church. Mr Dedeić is not a Bishop of the Orthodox Church, but a person defrocked by the Ecumenical Patriarchate."

     - that "the sole canonical Hierarch there is our brother Metropolitan Amfilohije, who belongs to the Patriarchate of Serbia, which is recognized on a Pan-Orthodox level."

Perhaps the most striking thing in this lettter is the patriarch's statement that "we address this message to you because we do not want our beloved people in Montenegro to reach thee point of ecclesiastical isolation and severance from the body of the entire communion the Orthodox Churches, inasmuch as no single Church among them will recognize or support tha anti-canonical fabrication of Dedeić... and we are convinced that you will realize the danger constituted by Dedeić to the spiritual harmony of the people in Montenegro."

There is no doubt that the language of this letter puts the reader in a state of confusion and bewilderment, as it raises a stream of questions, among them:

     - Why is there such a difference between the approach described in this letter and that followed in the Ukrainian issue, despite the precise match between these issues with regard to schism, illegitimate ordination and the threat to the people's spiritual unity?

     - Why is there such a great focus in this letter on the role of the family of local Orthodox churches, while this role is ignored and denied with regard to the Ukrainian issue?

     - Why did His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew not practice self-restraint in dealing with the Ukrainian schism and warn the authorities in that country that the schism places them in "of ecclesiastical isolation and severance from the body of the entire communion the Orthodox Churches"?

      - Why did he not state to the president of Ukraine, as he did with the president of Montenegro, that the sole legitimate metropolitan in the Ukrainian Church is Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev?

     - Will His Holiness disavow the contents of this letter in the future, just as he disavowed what he said in front of the primates of the local churches about Ukraine, with the excuse of "a change in political circumstances"?

It is difficult to answer all these question. There is, however, no doubt that the content of this letter portends a radical paradigm shift in Constantinople's attitude and it can be interpreted as true repentance for the error that was committed in Ukraine. Will the local churches receive this message, regarding it as a turning-point  in Constantinople's position, and work with it to formulate a solution to the Ukrainian issue and to Constantinople's role in the orthodox world, on the basis of the positive elements in it?

Without  a doubt, "hope never fails"!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Met Silouan (Muci): Our Local Church and Holiness

Arabic original here.

Our Local Church and Our Holiness
The Sundays of the Gospel according to St Matthew start with the Lord's inviting the disciples to follow Him, to preach the good news of the kingdom, to pastor His flock, to heal man and invite him to return to God the Father. In short, He invited them to the holiness in which He exists and to bring their brethren to also enjoy it themselves. If a letter is read from its title and the sowing is known from its fruits, then this is indeed what we have celebrated and openly declared on the Feast of All Saints, on the Sunday that follows our celebration of Pentecost.
We know in our ecclesiastical practice that on the Sunday that follows the Sunday of All Saints some local churches commemorate their own saints, as is the case, for example, in the Russian Church, which commemorates the saints who have shone forth within her, or the Holy Mountain of Athos, which celebrates all those who have practiced asceticism in its monasteries and caves or who have been martyred, or the Diocese of Thessalonica, which celebrates its saints who number more than a hundred.
Starting off from this lived reality in various places in our Orthodox Church, perhaps we can draw on this tradition to celebrate on this day our Antiochian saints, known and unknown. By this we do not desire to boast, but rather the motivation is to lift up thanks to God for the seeds of holiness that have sprouted over the course of history, ancient and contemporary, in our land and among the faithful of our church, perhaps as a local model to inspire believers, give joy to their hearts, and sharpen their interest and desire to live in faith and bear witness to Christ where they live, learn, serve and die. Perhaps the attraction of the existence of local saints will make the good news more incarnate in their life, so that we may be joyfully aware that Christ has found for Himself in our environment, our culture and our educational, social, political, economic and material circumstances in their various forms, a place within us where He can dwell in this century, last century and the centuries that preceded them.
Such a commemoration would help us to take responsibility for living in faith more seriously, especially when we put it in the context that the Lord announced to His disciples that the apostles would sit on the thrones of the twelve tribes of Israel and judge the world (Matthew 19:28). Some fathers explained the meaning of this verse by saying that the saints in every generation, because they persevered in the faith and sanctified themselves, will judge their contemporaries in their generation, so that no one will have an excuse for his failure to strive to sanctify himself when another was able to sanctify his life in the very same circumstances.
Our land has received the seeds of the good news of the Gospel and it has suffered much to spread it and make it firm in other lands, since the age of the apostles. That which our predecessors and ancestors received freely, they gave freely (cf. Matthew 10:8) to subsequent generations. That which the Holy Spirit taught them by explaining the divine word, guiding their souls to knowledge of the truth, self-sacrificial service to one's neighbor and orthodox worship, we have received from them, we strive to crystalize it and make incarnate it in our life and we raise our children in it.
One is greatly affected when he sees a handful of believers, small or large, living their Christian faith as a constant and natural choice, in the simplicity of the experience that love, joy and thankfulness must not be absent from the believer in adversities, sicknesses and hardships. Having this perspective allows you to receive the spirit of wisdom, gentleness, peace, love, calm, consultation and communion, and your soul will be lifted from its fall and freed from its chains. You will find a beacon that illuminates your path, and you will find salt that gives flavor to your life. You will discover this especially in unusual circumstances, such as wrenching poverty, displacement and forced emigration, temporary sicknesses, the early loss of children, patience with straying children, etc. With their constant prayer of the heart, these ones still inspire the spirit of holiness among us and in us. We favor these living, hidden soldiers in our church, in our growth, in addition to others among our teachers and fathers in virtue, prayer and service. All of them have our great thanks on this day and we ask that the Lord sanctify them and sanctify us in them.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Met Silouan (Muci): Holiness

Arabic original here.


Holiness
The believer's holiness is the fruit, expression and reflection of the incarnation of the Son of God. He became like us so that we may become like Him. Taking inspiration from His example, as well as from the model of the saints, whose synaxis we commemorate on the Sunday of All the Saints, we can get a realistic image of holiness. Here is some of what holiness means with regard to ethical behavior in its various forms:
That you hear and listen. This means that you empty yourself so that you may be ready to listen to the other. That you take him seriously. That you respect and honor him according to his worth, that is, to the degree that Christ honors him. In the same context, it means that you learn to listen to God who speaks to us through various means in order to reveal to us His will and His love.
That you speak such that your words become a reflection of your building up the edifice that God desires to be His dwelling-place, an edifice not made by hands, whereas the human person is a repository and vessel for the Holy Spirit. That when you address the other, you feel that you are addressing God on his behalf or addressing them on God’s behalf, so you place bonds of love and God's will as the framework within which your desires and your will move. Prayer and addressing others has a single final purpose, which is to sanctify souls, to strengthen harmony and to persist in faith in the incarnate Son and the Father who sent Him.
That you work so as to assume part of the responsibility for the site of the service or commitment that you have taken upon yourself or that events or circumstances have imposed on you, such that you strive for your work to be compatible with God's will and an expression of love for God and your neighbor.
That you behave and act such that your words and deeds are a translation of your faith, without separation between word and deed. That is, without hypocrisy. Believing in Christ means that I believe in Christ the chaste, in Christ the servant, in Christ the humble, etc. This is what calls me to practice chastity, to serve and to be humble as the Lord has given us a model in Himself.
That you love such that you give yourself, so you weep with those who are weeping and rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and you give yourself to God and to your neighbor according to the divine commandment. This love is accompanied by suffering because you are not perfect and neither are others, because you are weak and selfish and do not realize God's will. The goal of holiness is striving for love.
These elements crystalize one's spirit according to God's Spirit, which touches us and through us touches all existence, in order to sanctify it, guide it and lead it to wellsprings of life. This Spirit listens to the groaning of all existent things: rational, living and inanimate. He is the one who speaks and grants wisdom, understanding and discernment. He is the one who does the Father's will among humankind, guides them to what Christ commanded and leads humanity to the day when the Son will come again in the glory of His Father. He is the one who consoles the believer in the labor pains that strike when giving birth to the new man within him and giving birth to the signposts of the kingdom among us, where there is justice, love, peace and meekness. It is the Spirit of God that we emulate every day of our life. When He settles within us, we can palpably feel God's holiness in everything.
Is holiness possible today? Yes, if we commit to learning humility and meekness, as Jesus asked us to do: "Learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29). Let us not be afraid to seek this rest that comes by bearing the cross of commitment. That is, struggle, toil, self-restraint and setting forth at every moment, even from rock bottom, for the Lord repays everyone with divine justice and mercy.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Holiness

Arabic original here.

Holiness

The saint lives, in the end, outside of time and place. He is the person who was able, with the Lord's help, to transcend "the principle of pleasure" and "the principle of selfishness."

For him, love of self is inverted into love of God and love of others. For him, the neighbor is no longer one individual among others, he is a unique person, an icon of Christ, "my joy," as Saint Seraphim of Sarov called him.

The holy person sees each one. He values everything in the light of Christ. He sees the meaning and purpose of life through the life and teachings of Christ.

"Be holy for I am holy," says the Bible (Leviticus 11:44). Holy means set apart, dedicated to God. This only occurs through the Holy Spirit. "Leave everything and follow Me." This is also from the apostles.

"Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Perfection is following the path of perfection, and this path passes through the renunciation of lusts and harmful passions: worship of money, worship of authority (and authoritarianism), worship of pleasure (and sexual deviance): the whole spirit of this world.

All of this is for the acquisition of the Holy Spirit: the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of understanding...

The way along this path is perfected in giving glory to God and acquiring love that "does not seek its own" (1 Corinthians 13:5) and also acquiring humility and meekness: "Learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29).

The Christian youth is characterized by courage and boldness. He rejects worldly compromises. He dares to say "no" before all these challenges and compromises. This is how the holy martyrs were.

All of this helps him in the spirit of piety and the practice of the prayer of the heart, the Jesus prayer: remember the name of Jesus constantly according to the saying: do not forget to remember God, to remember the name of the Lord constantly. Amen.

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies