Thursday, March 21, 2019

Orthodox Synaxis on "Ottoman Ecclesiology"

This historical dynamic is crucial for understanding current relations between Antioch and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.


In Antioch, the Patriarchate of Constantinople constantly used its position at the Ottoman court to exploit crises until, during the Melkite Schism of 1724, it finally managed to have complete control over the selection of patriarchs and began a process of replacing the local hierarchy with Greeks. As Robert Haddad explains, “During the two centuries before Constantinople’s assumption of direct control there was scarcely a patriarchal reign free of ill-advised Greek influence.”
    From the inception of Ottoman rule in Syria the ecumenical patriarch was established as the sole channel of communication between the Antiochian patriarchate and the Ottoman central government and, subject only to the latter’s discretion, the final arbiter of its civil and ecclesiastical affairs. Had the enormous power wielded by the ecumenical see as a department of the Ottoman central administration been intelligently and decently employed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the effect on the Melkites [i.e., the Orthodox] of Syria might have been salutary. But, for reasons which cannot detain us here, the Great Church in this period was not characterized by a particularly high degree of either integrity or stability. And until Greek prelates designated by Constantinople assumed, in the course of the eighteenth century, direct control over the Syrian see, the Greek Church played something resembling the role of well-paid but dishonest broker between contending factions at Antioch.
Much as in the Balkans, the chauvinism, corruption and mismanagement of Greek clergy proved to be a catalyst for the development of Arab nationalism, which began not among the Muslims of Syria, but the Orthodox. When the Holy Synod of Antioch finally after over 150 years elected a local Arab, Meletios al-Doumani, as patriarch in 1898, the Ecumenical Patriarchate did not respond in the loving and self-sacrificial manner that Patriarch Bartholomew vaunts, but rather petulantly, refusing to add his name to the diptychs and suspending normal relations with Antioch until after his death.


 Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Jad Ganem: The Heartbreak of the Feast

Arabic original here.

The Heartbreak of the Feast

Anyone following news about celebrations of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, particularly in the diaspora, will notice the scale of the harm done by the Ecumenical Patriarchate's decision to unilaterally grant autocephaly to the church in Ukraine, its recognition of schismatics and entering into communion with them.

It is obvious to the public that the Orthodox Church has entered into a state of fragmentation that will be difficult to get past in the near future given the entrenchment in declared positions, the open refuse to resort to conciliarity to find a solution by which the Church might escape her crisis,  which may threaten unity and cement schism.

It is evident from the pictures of the celebrations that have been published that those who have been most harmed by what has happened are the faithful in the countries of the diaspora kept to the parishes of their respective patriarchates and no longer celebrate this feast together, as had been the custom for at least two decades.

Perhaps these images posted on church news websites also presage a disruption of the institution of the episcopal assemblies that were established in 2009 and which, until recently, succeeded in actualizing a unified Orthodox witness in the diaspora under the leadership of Constantinople's representatives, who preside over these assemblies on the basis of the primacy that their church enjoys within the family of Orthodox churches.

Perhaps the most telling image was from Paris, where every year the Greek cathedral witnessed a celebration including all the bishops of France belonging to the majority of local Orthodox churches. This year, Metropolitan Emmanuel celebrated the feast surrounded only by his own auxiliary bishops. He is the one who presided at the so-called "unifying council" and who participated in the enthronement of the head of the newly-established church, whose legitimacy and the legitimacy of whose leaders has until now not been recognized by anyone other than the Church of Constantinople.
In his homily, Metropolitan Emmanuel expressed his regret at the absence of his brothers, the Orthodox bishops of France. Naturally, he did not forget to criticize the Church of Moscow for what he considered to be the way in which it "responded to the granting of the Tomos of Autocephaly to the new church in Ukraine." He likewise aimed his criticisms at the local Orthodox churches which, according to what he said in his homily, "have forgotten the generosity of the Church of Constantinople toward them," after which he stressed the need to unify Orthodoxy in France for the sake of common witness.

The photos and statements eloquently express the profundity of the fragmentation that the Orthodox Church is experiencing in the absence of the conciliarity that had been the foundation of the Triumph of Orthodoxy over the iconoclasts. Constantinople appeared to be along on account of its acting individually. Therefore, confronted with this crises that is unprecedented in its profundity, the true faith requires both refraining from turning churches into pulpits for criticizing others and deepening wounds and taking the initiative to find solutions to dress wounds that have been open for years and which are deepening day after day, so that perhaps we might all triumph over division and next year celebrate the joy of the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

Who will raise us out of heartbreak? Who will bring us into joy?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Jad Ganem: Conditional Love

Arabic original here.

Conditional Love

An Orthodox website has published an English translation of the speech given by His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel, the Ecumenical Patriarchate's metropolitan in France during the enthronement of the head of the church created by the Phanar in Ukraine, Epiphany.

This speech that was given on behalf of His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew repeats the very same positions of the Phanar, which regard the Ecumenical Patriarch has head of the patriarchates and autocephalous Orthodox churches, that he is the sole point of reference for a final judgment in ecclesiastical issues, and that Constantinople is the point of reference for judging between the churches for the sake of the salvation of the faithful.

This speech lingered on the issue of autocephaly and opined, "Only an Ecumenical Council can create a Local Church, as for example the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem and the ancient Church of Cyprus. All the later Local and so-called autocephalous churches which were created by the Mother Church of Constantinople kenotically and out of love, is nothing other than proof that the Great Church of Christ, anxious with spiritual concern and observing the circumstances of the times, did not favor the domination of peoples, but gave various peoples the privilege to manage specific issues of the life of the Church in internal autocephaly, without understanding “autocephaly” as a spiritual and ecclesiastical emancipation, much less as indifference, forgetfulness and ingratitude toward the Mother Church that has granted this status.

One who reads these words cannot help but pause over certain points contained in them, including:

-- The distinction between two kinds of Orthodox churches: the four patriarchates and the Church of Cyprus, which are regarded as local churches and the other churches, which are regarded as so-called autocephalous churches.

-- The belief that the Church of Constantinople is the mother church of the other churches and that these churches enjoy the prerogative of managing their internal affairs by autocephaly alone. The belief that the autocephaly that these churches enjoy is subject to the vicissitudes of history and momentary circumstances.

At the same time, these words raise serious questions, the most important of which are:

-- Why did the Ecumenical Patriarchate refuse to include the issue of affirming the churches' autocephaly during the "Council of Crete", despite repeated requests made by the Church of Serbia regarding this before and during the council?

-- If the Ecumenical Patriarchate believes that an ecumenical council alone has the prerogative to establish a local church, why did it not include the question of granting autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine on the agenda of the "Council of Crete"? And what changed in the situation of the Ukrainian schism between the summer of 2016 and the spring of 2018 such that this matter was not discussed on Crete but a decision was taken by the synod of the Phanar individually, especially given that the schism has existed since 1991?

-- What transformed the Phanar into a loving mother of the Ukrainian people after thirty years of neglect? And why did it not show this love during the "Council of Crete", but instead it remained dependent on Moscow's participation in this council? And is this love limited to one group of the Ukrainian people, which abides in schism and is blocked from the others who remain within the communion of the Church?

-- If an ecumenical council has the prerogative to grant autocephaly, does this not mean a priori that granting autocephaly today requires the participation of the other churches in a mechanism that is closer to conciliarity instead of taking a unilateral decision in this regard?

Perhaps the unfortunate thing is that these words directly confirm that the decision to grant autocephaly to the church in Ukraine comes along with a desire for revenge against the churches that did not participate in Crete, confirming that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has no desire to activate conciliarity in the Orthodox Church and that the future of this Church will remain dependent on the one who controls the council's convocation and agenda. There is no doubt that he prefers to keep playing his role by relying on prerogatives imposed by exceptional historical circumstances, a role that has come to resemble an eastern papacy.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Jad Ganem: On the Future of the Diaspora

Arabic original here.

On the Future of the Diaspora
Metropolitan Emmanuel, metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's archdiocese in France and a figure who is very close to His Holiness the current Ecumenical Patriarch, pointed out in an explanation of the reasons why the Phanar suppressed the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe that the Ecumenical Patriarchate's decision was "a necessary and essential step in order to meet the challenges we are facing today in the organization of the Orthodox diaspora to meet the pastoral needs of our time. With new walls being built today in Orthodoxy and real risks of division, the Patriarch and the Holy Synod wished to make the organization of our communities in the diaspora more in keeping with Orthodox ecclesiology. So that, as the Statement says, 'there would not be two ecclesiastical authorities of the same jurisdiction in the same territory,'" adding also that, "in the jurisdictional disorder prevailing today in the diaspora, the Ecumenical Patriarchate must set an example" and warning that "that the jurisdictional wandering of some ecclesial entities has always been painful. Painful both for themselves and for the Church as a whole."
The metropolitan's words portend that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has resolved to reorganize its dioceses in the diaspora such that there will be only one diocese belonging to it in a given country. Perhaps this is what had previously led Metropolitan Emmanuel to suggest the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe be transformed into a Russian-speaking vicariate within the Greek Archdiocese in France. 
Will what has occurred in Western Europe soon affect the dioceses in North America where four dioceses depend officially on the Ecumenical Patriarchate? They are:
*The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which has eight metropolitans
*The American Carpatho-Russian Archdiocese of North America
*The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA
*The Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America
*Additionally, there are  the Vicariate for Palestinian-Jordanian Communities in the USA and the parishes which belonged to the schismatic Patriarchate of Kiev which, according to the tomos of autocephaly granted to the newly-created church in Ukraine, now belong to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
If the Ecumenical Patriarchate's vision as expressed by Metropolitan Emmanuel is applied in North America and elsewhere in the countries of the diaspora belonging to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, does this mean that all the non-Greek dioceses will be suppressed and turned into vicariates depending on their respective Greek archdiocese? If this happens, would it not be considered a curtailing of the rights of these dioceses that existed and conducted their life with relative independence? In such a case, would it not be better to change the names of the archdioceses of the Ecumenical Patriarchate so that they don't have any indication of a particular ethnicity as is currently the case? Will non-Greek bishops be welcome as members of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate?

The vision expressed by Metropolitan Emmanuel could constitute a way forward for solving the issue of the diaspora if the Ecumenical Patriarchate could get past Greek ethnic concerns and treated all elements of its dioceses on equal footing. But this approach may add to the dispersion and fragmentation in the diaspora and jurisdictional wandering if ethnic considerations are given priority in the management of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's promised single archdioceses.
Will the Ecumenical Patriarchate acquire a renewed ecumenical character, starting with the diaspora, or will it choose to preserve its ethnic character there? Will this step in Europe be a one-off instance imposed by political circumstances? We'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Jad Ganem: The Dead End

Arabic original here.

The Dead End

On February 21, 2019 His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch responded to the letter from His Beatitude Patriarch John X sent on December 31, 2018 calling on him to convoke a synaxis of the primates of the autocephalous Orthodox churches in order to examine the Ukrainian issue and find a Pan-Orthodox solution to it. His Holiness states that "after four Orthodox churches, without reason from an ecclesiological and theological point of view, refused to be present during the work of the Great and Holy Council, for which there is no excuse– and your ancient church was one of them– the Ecumenical Patriarchate has good reason to refrain from such a meeting at the Pan-Orthodox level, which would be useless inasmuch as it would only lead to agreement that the participants are in disagreement with each other."

If we ignore the polemical position in this letter with regard to the four churches' abstention from participating in what was supposed to be the Great Orthodox Council-- and Constantinople appears to be unprepared to conduct an objective evaluation the reasons for this and its own responsibility for not resolving the outstanding issues prior to its convening-- the following is worth noticing in Constantinople's position:

* The insistence on rejecting calls for holding a synaxis of the primates of the Orthodox churches, despite appeals from the majority of them before and after the Ukrainian crisis for His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch to hold this synaxis.

* The insinuation that general Orthodox meetings are useless meetings that only lead to disagreement and fragmentation.
* Tyranny in its approach to ecclesiastical issues, immersion in Realpolitik, and total disregard for the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, that always overcome the difficulties and hardship of history.

* The incoherence of the Phanar's position, which seriously refrains from calling a meeting of the primates of the churches under the pretext of fearing a lack of agreement, while its spokesmen justify convoking the "Council of Crete" with those who attended and reject the rule of unanimity in joint Orthodox work and call for majority rule.

*Denial of the established fact that the Church of Antioch participated in the synaxes of the primates of the churches that were held at the Phanar and Chambésy in 2014 and 2016, despite the decision to break communion with Jerusalem. It ignores that the Ecumenical Patriarchate proceded to convoke the Great Council despite the objection of the Church of Antioch and its declining to sign the decisions of these two synaxes, relying at the time on the principle of majority rule.
Does the above mean that the Ecumenical Patriarchate rejects the call to hold a synaxis of the primates of the churches because the majority of churches opposes what it has done? Or does it mean that His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarchate has come to believe that an Eastern papism is the only way to manage the Orthodox Church? Does His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch think think that the decisions issued by him and his synod are correct decisions merely because they are issued by them? Does his refusal to listen to what "the Spirit is saying to the churches" and the appeals of his brothers and their synods mean that he has come to believe in his own infallibility and the infallibility of his see? Perhaps the biggest question remains what is to be done faced with this limiting of the horizon? Who will take the initiative to correct the course? Who will straighten what has been warped? Who will bring Orthodoxy out of this crisis? Has the time not yet come for all the Orthodox bishops of the world to call upon each other to rightly divide the word of truth for us, after the primus in Orthodoxy has abdicated his role and placed us before a dead end?

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Your Face, O Lord, I Seek

Arabic original here.

"Your Face, O Lord, I Seek" (Psalm 26/27:8)

What is prayer but a constant encounter with God?

What is fasting but disposing with everything that doesn't pertain to God and what is repentance but a return to God, His love and His commandments?

The priest says to the child after his being baptized and receiving chrismation, "You have been justified, you have been sanctified... You have been baptized, you have been illumined, you have been chrismated, you have been washed in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

Despite all this, one goes back to sinning and dies, knowing that God has put an end to sin and death by His being crucified, His death and His resurrection and He has raised us up with Him in baptism from sin and from death (cf. Romans 6:4 and Colossians 3:12).

The fact is that the Lord Jesus, by the abundance of His mercy and His exceeding love, through the mystery of holy baptism, sowed His salvific grace in the depths of our souls.

Saint Diodochus of Photice says in his book On Spiritual Knowledge:

"From the moment of our renewal in baptism, grace is hidden in the depths of the heart and the devil goes out..."

This salvific grace is implanted in the depths of a person since his baptism as a potential energy, relying on the faith of his godparents and family. This capacity awaits the person's free will as a first step for it to be transformed into active energy.

This is what Saint John Chrysostom says. It is the work of constant repentance in a person's life through the practice of prayer, fasting, confession and works of charity... then one has a foretaste of the joy of the resurrection and the kingdom that is to come.

Saint Basil adds in his discussion of the work of divine grace in man, when he talks about the mystical activity of the Eucharist after receiving holy communion and after a person repents of his sins and longs for God:

"Divine grace permeates all the members and ligaments of the body to the outermost senses, so the mind becomes Christ's mind, sight becomes Christ's sight, hearing becomes Christ's hearing..."

Thus one is renewed in his entirety in the image and likeness of God. This transformation is constant for one who believes, struggles, prays constantly and truly repents constantly until death. Then the monastic saying, that is true of all who repent, is fulfilled: "He who dies before dying will not die when he dies."

The believing, struggling Christian lives his whole life long in the constant presence of God.

He sticks to the Lord Jesus Christ and repeats, his whole life long, this constant prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner," until, when he departs this earthly life, he beholds the face of God as radiant, salvific light. Amen.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Pray for Mhardeh and Suqailabiyeh

Arabic original here.

Date: 2.3.2019

Communique from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Hama and its Dependencies

As a result of the current painful circumstances in the Hama Governorate and in the cities of Mhardeh and Suqailabiyeh which are being subjected to continuous shelling and because of the extent of the destruction and devastation occurring there, as they have endured many kinds of devastation, destruction, killing and expulsion, we express our sorrow and intense pain at the catastrophes occurring there and we denounce this targeting of these two secure cities which have constantly been a model of religious, patriotic, moral and humanitarian commitment. We lift up prayers from the heart to the Lord God that He may lessen the pain, suffering and sorrows of our children and our people residing there.

With the blessing of our Father His Beatitude Patriarch John, we ask everyone to take part in lifting up prayers on Sunday, 3.3.2019 for the sake of peace, security, calm and stability in our dear country and in the precious cities of Mhardeh and Suqailabiyeh, that they may be in God's protection.