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. 

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.