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.

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.


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.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Fr Touma (Bitar): Our Personal Pentecost

Fr Touma (Bitar) has posted an English-language sermon he gave Thursday, June 13 on the meaning of the sacrament of chrismation to the English- and French-language website of the Holy Trinity Family monasteries. Listen to it here.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Met Silouan (Muci): The Dispensation in the Holy Spirit

Arabic original here.

The Dispensation in the Holy Spirit

The dispensation that God inaugurated at Pentecost through the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples was greater than the dispensation inaugurated by the incarnate Son that was revealed to us particularly in His public preaching. Jesus began His preaching with this call: "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Matthew 3:2), and concluded His dispensation on earth by remaining with His disciples for forty days "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). He began and closed His public preaching by inaugurating the kingdom of His Father and inviting us to it. He told us everything He heard from the Father and did in front of us everything He saw the Father do. He explained His will to us through commandments and parables, and He gave us the true life that is from Him, His life being our life.
In the dispensation that began at Pentecost, which completes the one that preceded it, the members of the body of Christ came to perform "greater" works than those that the incarnate Son performed (cf. John 14:12). Moreover, He has made a bond of kinship between us by letting us bear each other's burdens, and to offer our entire life to Christ, so that it may come to be "hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). He has granted us understanding so that we may penetrate into the meaning of the commandments and the way to abide by them. He has showered us with divine gifts with which we trace the will of the Heavenly Father on earth and build His kingdom within us. He united us and called us to preserve our unity in the bonds of peace and love. He has ordered us to give grace freely and to be His collaborators in bringing the entire human race to knowledge of the true God and the one He sent, Jesus Christ. He taught us how to lift prayer up to God and to stand in His presence. He has asked us to give Him the old man with his suffering, weaknesses, lusts and sins so that we may receive from Him the new man, new leaven that is good for leavening the dough of the very ill humankind. 
The Church has realized that man in general is very ill and totally away from God, the source of existence, life and perfection. Thus it seems that this dispensation in the Holy Spirit is a sort of swimming against the current, because in it the believer confronts himself and confronts the evil, sin and death that have taken root in him and around him, just as he also confronts the evil one. But God desired to console us in the struggle and the effort by giving us someone to guide us on the path, to revive us when we fall, to inspire us in adversities, to teach us what to say and what to do, and to renew life within us, if we take refuge in Him with trust and humility. He has given us His Spirit, in addition to His body, so that we may be nourished from Him and nourish others with Him. Consequently, we will not be separated from Him, but rather be united with Him.
Thus, the second dispensation in the Holy Spirit acts in a similar way to the first dispensation in the incarnate Son. That is, in humility, concealment, and surpassing love. We have known the activity of the Holy Spirit in the souls of the saints in which He came to dwell, and they have given us a model for the signposts of this living kingdom that God the Father has prepared for those who believe in His dispensation in His Son Jesus and by the work of His Holy Spirit.
How beautiful is this prayer that the Church has placed on the lips of the hierarch as he blesses the faithful with the dikirion and trikirion during the Trisagion Hymn in the Divine Liturgy. In fact, he says in the first part, "O Jesus, grant Your servants swift and firm consolation when their spirits are weary. Do not depart from our minds in sorrows or from our souls in hardships, but rather always set us aright," while he says in the second part, "Come near to us, come near, O You who are in every place. As You have always been with Your apostles, so too unite Yourself with those who long for You, O merciful one, so that being united with You, we may glorify and praise Your All-Holy Spirit."
May we praise and glorify Him with our lips, our hearts and our daily life and seek Him at every moment. Nothing is sweeter than His presence within us, even though we are unworthy of Him. There is not enough time for us to thank God for the Spirit's work in us for our salvation and the salvation of the world. If only we could take advantage of time and have the ability to turn our time and our life into a factory that produces goodness, in the Spirit, for everyone who passes through our life, so that the Spirit may catch them and provide knowledge of God, whole-hearted faith in Him and service to Him, just as we serve Him and, indeed, better than we do.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Paul Bacel: Melkite Catholic Liturgical Innovations in the 18th Century

French original here. The author is, naturally, writing from a Roman Catholic perspective in the early 20th century, but this is still a very valuable account of liturgical practices in the 18th century and the trouble that the Latinizing reformers who spearheaded the movement for union with Rome in Antioch had with Rome's desire for them to remain similar in practice to the Orthodox. Footnotes below the jump.

Liturgical Innovations among the Melkite Greeks in the 18th Century

Towards the end of the 17th century, a man who, by his deep erudition, had acquired considerable influence in Syria thought himself authorized to modify, without informing the Holy See, certain usages and certain practices of the Eastern Church, which Rome is unafraid of qualifying as "praiseworthy and very ancient" (1). This was Euthymios Sayfi, Greek Melkite Archbishop of Tyre and Sidon. He had no other goal in doing so than facilitating the conversion of the Orthodox, who were very numerous in his diocese and who disliked some of these practices.

With the goal of repressing certain heterodox beliefs that had been introduced among the Catholics of his metropolis, Euthymios removed from the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom the epiclisis prayer that gives the impression that transubstantiation occurs at that moment, by the invocation of the Holy Spirit over the sacred gifts. He likewise forbade the mixing of zeon (hot water that is poured into the chalice before communion), because the faithful imagined that that the consecrated bread and wine then became the person of the Holy Spirit. He authorized the saying of multiple masses on the same day on the same altar with the same liturgical vessels, while from time immemorial the Greeks required that the altar, the chalice, the chasuble, and the other liturgical trappings all should have fasted, just like the priest. Another practice that was even more ancient and respectable was also abolished. At the hierarchical liturgy, the priests who concelebrated with the bishop commune from his own hand in the manner of deacons. That is to say that they receive the consecrated bread in the palm of the right hand placed over the left hand and then they commune.

In order, we believe, to avoid excessive fatigue, Euthymius Sayfi allowed all the concelebrants to commune themselves, as if they were celebrating the liturgy. He likewise permitted the consumption of fish, which was forbidden during Great Lent and the Advent fast, and he showed himself to be less severe than the Lateran Council of 1215 with regard to impediments of natural kinship.

Rome was alarmed by the news of all these innovations and, on February 6, 1716, it sent the following letter to the Archbishop of Tyre:

The aforementioned rites and customs are praiseworthy rites and customs in practice in the Greek church from time immemorial. Thus it is not fitting to remove from the holy liturgy the prayer of the Greeks employed after the formula of the consecration instituted by Jesus Christ. The Council of Florence gave it an orthodox meaning and the Holy See has never condemned it. So if there is someone who, out of ignorance or bad faith, remains persuaded that transubstantiation takes place by these prayers, it is incumbent on Your Eminence to instruct the ignorant and inculcate them with this truth of our holy faith that transubstantiation takes place through the words of institution and not by this prayer that is authored by man.

Nor does the Holy See approve of your prohibition regarding the mixing of the zeon with the precious blood. In fact, this sacred rite, which signifies the warmth of faith, was authorized by the Holy See for the Greeks of the very city of Rome: it is thus perfectly easy to instruct the faithful about it.

The Holy See makes the same recommendation for you in what concerns the third and fourth Greek rites that Your Eminence has modified. Nihil inovetur! for everything that is new ordinarily brings along with it a great subject of disagreements, scandals, and disagreeable enmities for the faithful.

The Holy See equally disapproves of the consumption of fish authorized by Your Eminence during the days and times when one does not consume it in the Greek church. That Your Eminence had as your goal to attract the Orthodox to the true faith, know nevertheless that only the holiness and truth of our holy faith are capable of attracting them, and by no means the relaxation of the fasts and abstinences of the Church.

Finally, the Holy Apostolic See condemns your perspective with regard to the fourth degree of natural and spiritual kinship which, according to the decision of the Lateran Council, constitutes an impediment to marriage, even for the Greek Catholics of the East. For this conciliar decision was announced to all Christian communities, including the Greeks. Consequently, it is important that Your Eminence submit to it and make sure that this law be observed, that prohibits marriage in the fourth degree of natural or spiritual kinship.

Two years later, on June 1 and 9, 1718, the Sacred Congregation for the Propaganda of the Faith responded to three new questions which, this time, Euthymius Sayfi himself had posed. The archbishop had then come to be in a better mood and only acted after asking Rome's opinion. He asked the Propaganda 1) to authorize the the celebration of several liturgies on the same day on the same altar; 2)  to permit those who had been confirmed by an unapproved priest, whether Catholic or not (2), to receive this sacrament a second time from the hands of the ordinary, at least conditionally; 3) finally, to permit second, third and fourth marriages.

Rome's responses were very categorical. On the first point, he was asked to keep to the decision of February 6, 1716 and to follow the rites and customs practiced in his church. On the second point, he was reminded of the decision of Clement VIII, which requires all who have received confirmation from the hands of an unapproved priest to receive this sacrament again and, if possible, from the hands of the ordinary. Nevertheless, since the sacrament of confirmation is not necessary for salvation, the Propaganda asked the archbishop not to trouble those who had received it in the conditions described above, because it would result in a scandal. Finally, the people should know that second, third and fourth marriages were permitted by the Church, so long as the marriage is performed according to the rules set by the canons.

* * *

There was nevertheless no peace, especially in that vast diocese of Tyre and Sidon, where the discussions of the faithful about religious issues gave their bishop justifiable worries. Euthymios once again resolved to bring the debate to the tribunal of the Propaganda, and twice, in 1722 and 1723, asked an entire series of questions, some of which had been settled previously, on February 6, 1716 and June 9, 1718. Here they are, just as the Rev Fr Charon presented them previously in this journal (3):

1) On Holy Saturday, the Greeks placed a torch below the altar then, after several prayers, the patriarch of bishop entered into the sanctuary carrying the lit torch and showing it to the people, claiming that this was a divine light coming from Christ's Sepulcher. This, as one may see, is nothing but a reenactment of the pseudo-miracle of the holy fire at Jerusalem.

2) On Holy Thursday, the Greeks consecrated a large loaf and then dried it over a stove, reducing it to a fine powder that each priest kept, in a barely decent manner, to use in the viaticum communion of the faithful throughout the year.

3) Moreover, they were persuaded that the sacrament of the Eucharist was celebrated on Holy Thursday in a more worthy manner than any other day of the year.

4) The Greeks believed that it was illicit to celebrate several liturgies on the same altar, inasmuch as the altar, the chalice, the chasuble, and the other trappings broke the fast if they were used a second time.

5) They anathematized those who believe that the consecration was done by the very words of Jesus Christ.

6) The pieces of the host which are taken from the bread when serving at the preparation of the Holy Sacrifice and are offered in honor of the Holy Virgin or the saints become, according to them, the body of the Holy Virgin or of the saints in whose honor they were offered, while only the large piece offered in honor of Jesus Christ became the body of Christ.

7) They likewise believed that the bread and wine became, through the words of consecration, the person of the Father, by those of the epiclesis, the person of the Son, and by the inmixing of the zeon, the person of the Holy Spirit.

8) Finally, they believed that the celebration of the holy mysteries during Lent is illicit except on Saturday and Sunday.

Unfortunately, Rome's response did not arrive until six years after the archbishop's death, when the discussions had doubtlessly already ended, while the patriarch Cyril VI Tanas, Euthymios Sayfi's nephew, had maintained all his uncle's modifications with regard to the rites and practices of the Greek church. The rescript, which is dated to March 15, 1729, contains a very explicit response to all the questions that we just listed.

It first warns the faithful against the alleged miracle of the holy fire, a vulgar deception of the Greeks that merits no attention. With regard to the second and third points, dealing with the Holy Sacrifice offered on Holy Thursday and the practice of conserving the viaticum for the whole year in a barely appropriate receptacle, the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda of the Faith send a decision of Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254) which states that the holy sacrament confected on Holy Saturday should not be saved for a whole year under the pretext that it would then be given as a viaticum for the sick. It is nevertheless permitted to keep the body of the Savior in order to commune the sick, but only for two weeks, for fear that the holy species might rot. A later decision of Pope Clement VIII, on August 15, 1595, says nothing else when it recommends that the holy sacrament that is reserved for the sick be renewed every week or at least every two weeks. With regard to the bizarre practice described in the question, the Propaganda ordered it to be suppressed immediately: "May this despicable custom of drying the the consecrated bread over a stove, reducing it to powder, and mixing it with holy oils on the day of the Lord's Supper be abolished. Likewise, if there exist other superstitious or blameworthy customs regarding the sacrament of the Eucharist, let them be suppressed, taking care to warn the faithful about the dangers they contain for their faith."

The Propaganda also did not want one to celebrate several liturgies on the same day on the same altar, while still recommending that the belief that the altar and its trappings should have fasted like the priest be eliminated. It asked the patriarch-elect, Cyril VI, to erect several altars in the churches when deemed necessary. As for the epiclisis and the pieces of the holy bread, numbers 5 to 7, the Sacred Congregation refers to its earlier decisions asking that all superstitions be abolished. Finally, it required that during Lent the liturgy only be celebrated on Saturday and Sunday, following the ancient canons (4).

Once people were in the habit of asking Rome questions, they continually renewed them, at the risk of annoying the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda by overwhelming it with often useless and almost always untimely questions. Thus the question was raised whether, in case of persecution or urgent necessity, it was permitted to celebrate the holy mysteries in private homes, then whether it was permitted for laypeople and monks to eat fish during Great Lent, then whether the Filioque could be added to the Creed, then finally whether it was suitable to give Holy Communion to the newly-baptized.

The Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda invited priests to address themselves on the first point to their legitimate pastors. It rejected the consumption of fish and tolerated giving communion to children, if that practice had already existed previously. As regards the question of the Filioque, it made the distinction that one already finds in the responses of Saint Leo III. The insertion of the Filioque in the Creed is distinct from the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. The Greeks should believe, like all Catholics, in this procession without being required to mention it explicitly when they recite the Creed. It is only in cases where it would otherwise be a scandal that they too should recite the Filioque in the Creed.

* * *

After his elevation to the patriarchal See of Antioch in 1724, Cyril VI had to renew the relations with Rome that his predecessors, even the Catholic ones, had not been able to reestablish. For six years, he did not cease to ask for his conformation from the Holy See.

On August 13, 1729, Benedict XIII asked Fr Dorotheus of the Most Holy Trinity to, a Capuchin, to receive Cyril's profession of faith in the form prescribed for the Greeks by Urban VIII. Additionally, Cyril had to swear and promise not to modify anything in the rites of the Greek church without prior consultation with the Holy See and examining the issue with the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda. He also had to restore to their original state the rites that had been modified, either by himself or by his uncle Euthymios, the archbishop of Tyre, and to conform to the Propaganda's instructions, which Fr Dorotheus would deliver to him or have a copy delivered to him. Once all these conditions were fulfilled, Fr Dorotheus had the mission of declaring to him that his election was confirmed by His Holiness and to convey to him the pope's congratulations. This encyclical from Benedict XIII was sent following deliberation by the Congregation of the Propaganda and dated March 15, 1729 (5).

Having received the pope's encyclical, Fr Dorotheus went to Dayr el-Mukhallis, where the patriarch was located at the time, and read to him the latest recommendations and requirements from Rome. Cyril VI did all that was asked of him and he immediately swore over the holy Gospels, between the hands of the apostolic delegate, the following oath:

I, Cyril, elected Greek patriarch of Antioch, vow and swear before this venerable assembly and before you my Reverend Father Dorotheus, Capuchin, apostolic delegate from His Holiness Pope Benedict XIII, that if the apostolic Holy See desires me as patriarch and confirms me in this office, I will observe all the rites and customs of the Greek Church and that have been modified by Euthymius, Archbishop of Tyre and Sidon, of blessed memory. I will likewise observe the same fasts, abstincences, quarantines and all customs newly enjoined by the Holy Apostolic See. In addition, I will observe them not only personally, but I will also apply myself to having them observed by the archbishops, bishops, priests, religious and by all the people of my nation. I will not innovate anything. I will not modify anything of the aforementioned things without the explicit authorization of the Holy Apostolic See. I will never permit or suffer that anything be neglected, not even an iota in the aforementioned orders. Finaly, I vow and I swear that I have understood this oath and that to which it obliges me; I will observe it in conformity with the desires of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda and the Apostolic Encyclical that was read in our presence. So may God deign to help me and His holy Gospels (6).

After this solemn oath, Father Dorotheus presented to Cyril the Encyclical from Benedict XIII and withdrew. That was in 1730.

Two years had not even passed before the new patriarch showed himself to be unfaithful to his oath. Strengthened by the support of two bishops, his subordonates, he held on his own a Council in the small town of Joun and once more abolished the three fasts of Nativity, the Holy Apostles, and the Holy Virgin. He notified the faithful with the following encyclical:

Glory to God forever,
Cyril, by the mercy of God patriarch of Antioch and All the East.
May divine grace and the heavenly blessing be granted to all our spiritual children, the Christians, our blessed flock in our Patriarchate of Antioch! May the Lord bless them, their children, their women and all their works by the most abundant heavenly blessings! Amen.
We inform you that we and our brothers, the Catholic bishops whom God has established in these times as shepherds of His rational flock and guardians of His people, after the necessary examination and very great research, we have been forced, to save our conscience (7), to abolish what should be abolished and to permit what should be permitted. And that, in what pertains to the three monastic absences, that is: the abstinence of Nativity, of the Apostles, and of the Holy Virgin. Consequently, we decree that the faithful, our flock, eat meat during these three abstinences, except for the last day of each of them, when they should abstain from meat and dairy products and fast absolutely as during Great Lent, in conformity with our ancient right and praiseworthy customs. We nevertheless decree that the abstinence of Wednesday and Friday of each week as well as the fast of Great Lent be observed in all exactitude, in all piety and with great respect. Thus we have authorized and thus we have decreed, instituted and abolished in our holy synod, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If any priest does not respect our decree, we forbid the faithful from confessing to him, since (in so doing) he will have disregarded our authority. Know this and may the blessing be upon you a second and third time.

Made and written on November 11, 1731.

     Patriarch of Antioch and All the East

The patriarchal encyclical was then sent to the two bishops who supported the one newly-elected [patriarch] with their infuence: Basil Finan, bishop of Bayas, and Clement of Aleppo, bishop of Saydnaya, a former monk of Dayr al-Mukhallis, ordained by Cyril VI in 1731 and entirely devoted to him. The two prelates were asked to affix their signature with their seal and to then publish it.

There was a strong reaction to this news among the monks of Mar Hanna: they organized an open resistance, castigating Cyril's unfaithfulness and standing up, whether in the flesh or in the confessional, against the patriarch's orders, which were in formal contradiction of those with Rome. The Choueirites even wrote to the Propaganda, which had the sending of the pallium until 1744, twenty years after the patriarchal nomination of Cyril VI. Thanks to the intervention of the consistorial lawyer Fracis Scaramuzzi and of Father John Amioni, a monk and Greek Catholic priest, at the time the patriarch's procurer in Rome, on February 29, 1744, Benedict XIV addressed to Cyril VI the Encyclcal Dum nobiscum animo reputamus as well as the pallium.

This was to be delivered to him by the Latin bishop of Babylon, after which Cyril would have renwed in front of him or his delegate his profession of faith and his oath of loyalty to the Holy See, with the promise to observe the constitution Demandatam, sent to him by the Pope the previous year (8). We just mentioned the constitution Demandatam Coelitus of December 24, 1743, addressed to Cyril VI and the bishops of his patriarchate. In it, Benedict XIV settles issues in dispute with regard to the rites of the Greek Church and their conservation. He declares that it is not permitted for anyone, under any pretext whatsoever, whether patriarch or bishop, to change anything in the Greek rites or to impede their exact observation. Consequently, the changes introduced by Euthymius of Tyre were once again repulsed; the patriarch and bishops should make them disappear as well as all the abuses introduced by the ignorance of the schismatics.

The pope then revokes the dispensation granted by Cyril for the fasts of the Apostles, Nativity and the Holy Virgin and he decrees that everything should be restored to its former state. Nevertheless, taking into consideration the needs of the populations, he gives the patriarch the faculty to dispense each year with fasts in the manner that he deems best, but in a prudent manner, so that the ancient rites do not fall into disuse (9).

I will stop here the analysis of Rome's relations with the Greek Melkite Patriarchate, the other instructions that the Holy See published on this topic were directed more to the Latin missionaries and Maronite propagandists. As such, they are of much less interest to us and, moreover, they have already been very well presented by the Rev Fr Cyrille Charon (10).

Paul Bacel,
priest of the Greek rite

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Jad Ganem: Between Alarmism and Commodification

Arabic original here.

Between Alarmism and Commodification

Until the present moment, many people in the Orthodox world have been treating the issue of granting autocephaly to the church in Ukraine according to a logic of alarmism or commodification.
Some dub the council held in Kiev last December a "robbers' council", while its organizers called it the "unification council."

Some think that what happened will lead to conflict between members of the same people and the shedding of innocent blood, while others announce that what happened will establish the unity of the Ukrainian people.

Some promote the notion that bishops, clergy and faithful of the legitimate church that exists in Ukraine will rush to join the newly-created ecclesiastical entity, while others sound the alarm about the pressure and abuse wielded against them and hint that they will defend their church to their last breath.

Some say that what happened has established a schism that may persist within the universal Orthodox Church, similar to the results of the Great Schism, while others think that what happened is a prophetic action and that all will unite around its historical rectitude in the future.

Some believe that what happened is an administrative act of oikonomia undertaken by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in accordance with its historical rights and that it stems from the patriarchate's guarding the soundness of Orthodox dogma and remedying schism, while others believe that what happened is a political action that violates the essence of dogma, runs contrary to all ecclesiology in Orthodoxy, establishes a new papism, undermines conciliarity and empties it of its content.

Some insist that what happened will weaken the Patriarchate of Constantinople and cause it to lose its position of primacy in the Orthodox Church, while others affirm that what happened will permit that patriarchate to reformulate its role as solid and pivotal within the Orthodox world.
Some predict that what happened will greatly weaken the Russian Church and turn it into a merely local church without any weight in the Orthodox world, while others promote the idea that this church will emerge victorious and be able to check the authoritarian tendency of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and those who played a pivotal role in formulating the new Orthodox order.

However, among these simplistic positions that vacillate between alarmism and commodification, many people miss the scope of the complexity connected to the Ukrainian issue, which does not resemble any of the other crises that the Orthodox world has known in its modern history. Even if this issue is not insurmountable, solving it requires honesty and precision in identifying the problem and effort to treat the longstanding pathologies in Orthodoxy that it has laid bare. Perhaps this will not happen before all sides realize that they are all in crisis that is reaching an impasse and that no one can emerge victorious over the other. Can the leaders of the Orthodox Church formulate a solution that will lead to a breakthrough in relations within the Church or will the alarmism and commodification lead to further blow-ups and fragmentation in the crisis-ridden Orthodox world?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Met Silouan (Muci): This is My Father and Your Father

Arabic original here.

This is My Father and Your Father

In the Son's ascending to heaven and awaiting the descent of the Holy Spirit, there is no better opportunity to talk about the Father than the Sunday that falls between the Thursday of Ascension and Pentecost Sunday. The text of the Gospel of the Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod was surprising, since in it the Son speaks about the Father, His Father. Is there anyone who can do this better than Him? Is there anyone else to tell us about the Father, to present Him to us as God and as Father, and to give us a living model of the unity that exists between Them and of the love that flows out upon us from this relationship?
In fact, Jesus started off on the basis of a definition that He alone can authoritatively express and He transmits it to us in the certainty of salvation that lies in the truth that He declares to us and through us, to the entire world: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You [i.e., the Father], the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). He brings you, in simplicity, to the bosom of the One to whom He speaks and He places you in a single rank with His first disciples, just as when we heard the Lord tell Mary Magdalene on the morning of that Paschal Day, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God” (John 20:17). He places us on a single course with those who expressed this experience of theirs by using the expression “the God of our fathers.”
The Lord brings you into the mystical bedchamber where He abides, and He wants us to abide there with Him, like Him, without fear or shortcoming. At that point, you discover that our faith is not based on human “creativeness”, a "religion" like the others, but rather you find yourself before the Son of God speaking to His Father, the Father, introducing you to Him, bringing you to Him, and offering Him to you. Moreover, you become a witness to the relationship that exists between Them. In this perspective, this revelation becomes the content of your faith, your possession (your own), a certainty that you bear, a faith by which you live, a faith that you express, as it is written in our Bible: the experience of “the Kingdom of Heaven” or the experience of “eternal life”. God becomes your God and the Father, your Father, such that we can turn in prayer toward the One about whom Jesus spoke as He taught us, “Our Father who art in heaven...” (Matthew 6:9).
It is only possible to live out this truth if you believe in it and if you offer yourself to Him, in freedom and humility. It doesn't matter if you are broken or you believe that you are wronged, unlucky, complicated, heavy-laden with life's burdens or immersed in sins. Keep in mind: You have one God and Father. You know Him through His Son who told us about Him, gave us Him and placed us before Him. Indeed, we can say more about this: He showed us Him, since He made us witnesses of the relationship between Them, and He did not deprive us from this “intimacy” that exists between Them becoming our irrevocable share, by grace, just as it is His own share. It is the same share for you, if you believe, if you listen, if you repent, if you come to Him.
And so we experience a great adventure, an adventure that touches the hell of estrangement (from God and from our Heavenly Father), as well as it leads you to the heights of the heaven of divine love and adoption. In this effort, your sonship to Him comes into being within you and you experience His fatherhood to you, as a good God (according to the divine and not human standards of goodness), so you receive from His Spirit in order to give Him. At that point, you can truly bear witness to God. We have in this a rule established by the Lord: “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). 
How great is our share if we know the Father through the Son, if we keep His name, if we do His commandments, if we come to Him and help others to come to Him! How hard is it for us to do this, to remain in Him according to His Spirit, to not substitute Him for someone or something else! Jesus taught Martha through her sister Mary when He said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). May we stand firm in Him if we are standing right, or return to Him if we are broken, so we may be together, as one, as a fulfilment of the Lord's act of praying for us: “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (John 17:11).

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Archimandrite Jack (Khalil): "Belive in the Lord Jesus Christ and You Will Be Saved"

Arabic original here.

"Belive in the Lord Jesus Christ and You Will Be Saved" (Acts 16:31)

After extensively expressing the futility of the Mosaic Law for justifying man, focusing his confrontation with the Law on circumcision, which is the sign of the Covenant, the Apostle Paul stressed that faith in Jesus Christ is the sole standard for justification.

He then epitomized this truth, saying "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6). What is this faith that has become the precondition for entering into God's New Covenant?

Faith is man's response to Christ's word (cf. Romans 10:17). Christ speaks, placing His word on the toungues of His apostles (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19-20, 13:3) because the apostle is the servant of God's work (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18), inasmuch as he transmits the call to the peoples to improve their relationship with God. But God Himself is the one who preaches and calls to this (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:13).

When he says, "As though God were pleading through us" and "we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God," (2 Corinthians 5:20), the Apostle Paul is clearly emphasizing that God waits for man to accept His work; God, who loves mankind and is all-good, who made His Son "who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21), did not stop at this sacrifice, but continued His initiative and here He invites man to accept the gift. For this reason, the Apostle Paul does not hesitate to say, "Now all things are from God" (2 Corinthians 5:18) because God offered His Son in order to justify man and instead of waiting for an appropriate offering on the part of man, you see Him inviting man to accept the good things that He offers him freely (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20).

Man's awaited response is not, however, in keeping the commandments that address fleshly man in order to realize justification, lest he fall into an ignorance resembling the ignorance of the Jews who attempted to atattain their own righteousness (cf. Romans 10:3). But in what pertains to God's salvific work, Christ is the standard of justification through faith and the Law alone, without Christ, cannot justify any person (cf. Galatians 3:21 and 8:3), "for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4; cf. Galatians 3:24).

So man must hear Christ's word and learn the word of the Gospel of salvation so that he will end up with strong faith and the open confession that Christ is Lord.

This epitomizes the experience of faith and this experience explains the statement that "faith comes by hearing" (Romans 10:17). The experience of faith begins by accepting the word of the Good News (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:11, 14) and ends with obedience.

Through the interconnected relationship of faith in Christ and obedience to Him, Christ becomes man's Lord and Savior. The Apostle Paul states that he has received grace and apostleship from Christ in order to establish "the obedience of faith" among all the nations (Romans 1:5, 16:26). When man accepts Christ and confesses Him as Lord and Master of his life, his acceptance is then transformed into submission and his confession into commitment to Christ's word. This truth is made even clearer in the Apostle Paul's expression, "... for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ" (2 Corinthians 9:13).

So the Apostle Paul does not consider faith to be mere intellectual acceptance and declaring that "Christ is Lord", but rather faith for him is man consecrating his entire life to God (cf. Philippians 3:7-8) and obeying His word and His will. This is what must be manifest in man's relationships with God, with his brothers in humanity and with creation.

Faith, as obedience, is a different way of life from the path of sin (cf. Romans 6:16-17). When one believes, he is committed to teaching what he has heard and accepted. And faith, as obedience, is man's total submission to the one who has become master of his life to the point that all self-reliance is excluded, lest he falls into bosting of his own abilities, "Where is boasting then? It is excluded" (Romans 3:27).

This faith is the precondition for justification from sins. That is, salvation from sins and the judgment that they entail. Justification is not accomplished by striving to apply the works of the Mosaic Law and all its obligations, but through faith (cf. Romans 3:27) which is, before all else, submission and obedience to Christ, who forgives sins freely.

He who believes in the Lord Jesus entrusts Him with his whole life and so he does not live, from now on, except for Christ who lives in him, and he is saved.

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

Monday, June 3, 2019

Met Silouan (Muci): Bearing Witness to God's Work in Us

Arabic original here.

In the Line of Christ and Bearing Witness to God's Work in Us

The event of the healing of the man blind from birth introduces you into the core of God's work in the world. Here the Lord introduces you into the core of this work when He unveiled to His disciples the state of the man born blind, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him" (John 9:3). Here He is offering us a new approach for dealing with our life and everything in it from the perspective of God's work, which makes us take the attitude of a partner in the glorious works that God has prepared for us and of witnesses to them after having, individually and collectively, passed through the stage of blindness where God's vision, His works and the glory that lies within them are hidden from us as behind a veil.
In this perspective, Christ introduces us into the mystery hidden in this approach. Here he openly says to His disciples: “I must work the works of Him who sent Me” (John 9:4). With these words, He placed His disciples, just as He places us today, in a state of encounter, listening, preparation and longing to seek to gain knowledge of God's will and to work to incarnate it in our life. When the Lord declares “I must”, He takes you out of your situation in all its importance and out of your manner of analyzing it and approaching it, and brings you to a new approach based on the perspective of how God sees us and our life and His presence in the world and His work in it.
One cannot read without there being light. After Christ set to work doing the will of His Father, with His actions a genuine expression of this will, He did not leave us alone and in darkness. By saying, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5), He gave us the light necessary for approaching our life from now on. For us to make Him present, so that the world may continue to have light, the light of Christ's presence and grace, this means that we tie every activity that we undertake to the remembrance of God before we embark on it, as we carry it out, and after we complete it. If we do this, we put ourselves in the line of Christ, who declared to His disciples that He does the works of the One who sent Him, and that we believe that He is the light of the world in the world. In this we reflect that we are eager to seek knowledge of God's will in our life and that we believe that realizing this will is light for us and for the world.
We are surprised in the text of the Gospel by how the man born blind interacted with Jesus. Jesus' asking him, after “they had cast him out,” whether he believed in the Son of God (John 9:35) was met with a practical response from the blind man himself, earlier, at the beginning of his encounter with Christ. In fact, when Christ tested him by increasing his blindness, when he daubed his eyes with clay (that is, making even more impossible his ability to see) and asked him to wash them in the pool, this blind man did not hesitate to put himself in the line of Christ: “So he went and washed, and came back seeing” (John 9:7). We are surprised none nor nothing could separate him from Christ: neither bitter experience since his birth, nor what appeared to him to be the last "trial" in His placing the clay on his eyes, nor even what followed in his parents' and the Pharisees' attitude toward the miracle. And so God's works were revealed in the blind man. He placed himself in the line of Christ and bore witness to Him, before bowing down in worship to Him, in a circular motion that starts from God and is carried out on account of Him, before returning to Him once more through worship and thanksgiving.
Perhaps now you receive a share like the share of the blind man, in case you don't see. In fact, the Lord still does the works of His Father so that the world may see God's works and He has chosen you so that God's works may be revealed in you. Do you not see that? If your answer is affirmative, then do what He tells you; and if your answer is negative, then seek light from Him, since, in both cases, you are in Christ's sights, so that you may in turn see, believe, and bear witness to God's works. At the end, may we sing together, “O Lord, how great are your works! In wisdom have you made them all” (Psalm 103:24).