Monday, December 30, 2019

The Melkite Patriarchates' Response to the Council of Florence

As we saw in the account of David of Damascus' appeal at the end of the 9th century, the pattern of the 'Melkite Patriarchates'-- Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem-- coordinating their own affairs, with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem at the center is a constant from the earliest period of Islamic rule (or, arguably even earlier, with Jerusalem's role in the struggle against Monotheletism) until the arrival of the Ottomans, which roughly coincided with the foundation of the Hellenic Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher. One of the more consequential decisions taken by these patriarchates was their rejection of the Council of Florence in 1443. As Orthodox Synaxis explains:

In early 1443, Arsenios, the Metropolitan of Caesarea of Cappadocia, which was in Constantinople’s jurisdiction but in territory long under Muslim control, visited Jerusalem ostensibly to venerate the holy places. It seems, however, that his real motivation was the trouble he was having with his suffragan bishops who had been appointed by the unionist Patriarch of Constantinople, Metrophanes II. Once in the holy city,  Arsenios appealed to Patriarch Joachim of Jerusalem against his patriarch and bishops, so Joachim called a council to address the issue, which was attended by Patriarchs Philotheos of Alexandria and Dorotheos II of Antioch. This council ruled in Arsenios’ favor, not only provisionally excommunicating and suspending all unionist clergy from holy orders until an ecumenical council could be held, but authorizing Arsenios to act under their authority to preach Orthodoxy and impose penalties on such clergy anywhere without territorial restriction.

Read the entire account, translated from Archbishop Chrysostomos Papadopoulos' History of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem here.

Friday, December 27, 2019

A 9th Century Appeal by the Metropolitan of Damascus to Jerusalem and Alexandria

The entire new issue of Annales Islamologiques, dedicated to Arab Christianity, is available for free download! Of special interest is Mathilde Boudier's edition and French translation of David of Damascus' 9th century appeal to the patriarchs of Jerusalem and Alexandria, which is especially valuable if you're interested in the social history of the period as well as Melkite ecclesiology and canon law.


This paper presents an unpublished dossier of documents related to the Christians of Damascus in the late 9th century. Preserved through their copy in two manuscripts datable to the 10th or 11th century, these nine documents written in Arabic were issued on the occasion of a conflict that happened among the Melkite Church in Syria in 277/890‑891. The documents prove to have been gathered by David the metropolitan bishop of Damascus, against his adversary Simeon the patriarch of Antioch. The complaint of David of Damascus against Simeon of Antioch, addressed to the two other patriarchs, Elias of Jerusalem and Michael of Alexandria, is edited and translated into French as an appendix to this article.The complaint of the bishop, the answers and legal opinions expressed by the two patri-archs, along with the letter of the people of Antioch (ahl Anṭākiya) and an earlier sentence of the patriarch Theodosius of Antioch, shed light on the Melkite ecclesiastical hierarchy of the time and give new insights into how the ecclesiastical justice was working and the canon law was used. The conflict also implies Christian and Muslim laymen of Damascus about the administration of the Church income and properties, among which a bakery (furn al ‑kanīsa). The Tulunid power remains in the background of a conflict which is mainly handled by the ecclesiastical authorities of the Syro‑Egyptian area.

Read the whole article here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos)'s Christmas Message 2019

Arabic original here.

Christmas Abstinence

"They had all things in common" (Acts 2:44). An experienced elder says that poverty is for the soul what the eyes are for the body. "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Luke 6:20).

This means that for the rich, money constitutes a danger and an impediment to salvation. So one must have detachment from wealth and earthly matters, which makes one worthy of acquiring a sense for spiritual matters, matters related to God and His commandments.

This social, political and especially economic crisis that we are currently experiencing is without a doubt a source of sorrow and suffering for many. But at the same time it is an occasion permitted by God in order to help some faithful people to practice abstinence in their life and to experience something of the poverty that brings them closer to God and to the needy. Likewise, fasting and avoiding any banquets and nighttime parties that have nothing to with God can liberate us from the consumerist society in which we live and bring us closer to God. So let us understand the divine mysteries that spring from God's dispensation in the flesh and the profound meaning of the Feast of the Nativity. How not, when we see the child Jesus, God incarnate born "wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7).

All of this does not mean that we must not rejoice during the feast and eat and drink after the forty-day fast. It means that we limit ourselves at our tables, in our dress and in our gifts, especially during these hard times that we are experiencing in our country, that we think of each other in our parishes, that we think especially of the poor, the needy, those who sorrow, because Christ has put on their garments and has loved them very much!

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Met Silouan (Muci)'s Christmas Message 2019


The Church-Manger: The Visitation of God and the Visitation of Man

"She (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them"
(Luke 2: 7)

Warmth, light, and presence radiate even beyond the manger of Bethlehem. The Guest of the manger makes warmer our ties with His love, illuminates our lives with His grace, and strengthens our determination through His presence. Jesus soothes our hearts because He is with us, gives meaning to our hope, and mobilizes our souls towards faith, love, and solidarity.
The first days of the Guest in the manger of Bethlehem brought together all aspects of the human condition stuck in loneliness, poverty, violence, shortage and isolation. This atmosphere was illuminated by the presence and animated by the spirit of Mary and Joseph, servants of a mystery which is slowly revealed; by the appearance of angels who praise Him whom they worship in heaven; by the wonderful presence of the shepherds; and by the prostration of the magi, the first fruits of a fervent adoration that humanity offers to the Lord. In this way were formed the beginnings of a gospel, which the angels, followed by the first witnesses of the Child born in a manger, began to announce.
Today, our churches are a manger in the center of the world. Among us are Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the magi, and with them the new-born who comes from Above, surrounded by earthly angels who praise him. Our churches are established in countries that experience different, difficult and painful troubles to varying degrees. Each of us strives to serve in a manner that we would not lose sight of the star which leads us to Bethlehem, that our parishes might become the manger that receives the Lord, and that our witness brings forth the good news of God to man, in all its strength, vitality, realism, authenticity and efficiency.
Although the human being suffers today, there are, however, brilliant witnesses which are born from a conscience, an understanding and a sensitivity, which are the result of the suffering and the determination to overcome weakness, laxity, corruption and fragmentation, and which carry the seeds of solidarity, faith in the truth, kindness and unity. They await the dawn of Him who is their source, their inspiration and their benefactor.
I put all my hope that the suffering experienced today becomes a manger, in which we see the birth of the Redeemer in the hearts of those who need Him (and we all need Him), and that it is also an opportunity for us to be His witnesses in love, service and adoration. How much I yearn that the present suffering be a starting point for joy to be revealed because of this double visitation: the visitation of the Lord to us and our visitation to our neighbour!
In the approaching feast, I cannot help but thank the Lord for all these manifestations of solidarity and determination that were expressed by the faithful of the parishes and monasteries of our archdiocese in order to relieve the pain of those who suffer more, thanks to their spiritual, moral, fraternal and material visitation towards their neighbour. I also thank the Lord for the constructive dialogue that many of our young people and our elders opened during this gestation that we are living in Lebanon. In fact, they favoured, within the family and the parish, true love over differences in public affairs which led to nervous and sometimes violent attitudes. They also showed a positive response to the call of our Church to initiate a fruitful dialogue and to encourage a campaign of solidarity in favour of the most suffering, during this last period, a space where the clergy and the parishioners were involved, in which there were many young people, families and secular commissions. I firmly believe that, in this way, we have taken a step together to strengthen the culture of dialogue and solidarity in order to embody divine visitation in human visitation and commit ourselves to serve our brethren and their needs. Thus we live our Christian faith and our authentic humanity, and we consolidate the pillars of our country on the basis of "the Church-manger", the place of God meeting with man, the place of dialogue with Him, of worship to Him, and union with Him.
I join in my prayers to those of my predecessor, His Eminence the Metropolitan Georges (Khodr), who does not cease to pray with his heart immersed in the depth of suffering and the depth of God's mercy as well; I also join them to those of the pastors of our parishes and monasteries, to the monastics and rational sheep of the Holy flock of Christ, in pursuit of the good of our Church, of our country and of the whole world.
+ Silouan
Metropolitan of Byblos, Botrys and Dependencies
(Mount Lebanon)

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Joe Glynias on Syriac Melkite Monasticism at Mount Sinai in the 13th 14th Centuries

This is an extremely valuable article that maps out literary and liturgical use of Syriac among Chalcedonian Orthodox in the Mamluk period.


There are about 80 extant dated Syriac manuscripts, predominately liturgical, from the medieval period that were present in the library of the monastery of Mount Sinai in the modern era. About half were written in the Sinai between 1233 and 1322, while the other half were written elsewhere (10th - 14th centuries) and brought there. I analyze two types of notes found in these manuscripts: the colophons that inform us when, where, and for whom they were written, and the waqf statements that indicate the Sinai monastery’s ownership of them. While previous scholars have analyzed the colophons in isolation and attempted to explain aspects of the Syriac efflorescence on Sinai in the 13th century, I use these notes to provide a more comprehensive picture of the role of Syriac liturgy at the Sinai and of this period of Syriac Melkite monasticism.

Furthermore, I build a model of where Syriac scribes who worked at the Sinai came from over time, in comparison to a model of where the manuscripts from outside the Sinai were produced over time. Because Sinai is such an important modern receptacle for Syriac Melkite manuscripts, I utilize its collection to illustrate the various centers of Melkite Syriac manuscript production from c. 1000- 1300, focusing on the wider regions of Antioch and Mount Lebanon, and monastic sites such as the Black Mountain, Qāra, and Ṣaydnāyā. In conjunction with this, I use the waqf statements that often give the name of a bishop and the institutional beneficiary of the manuscript within Sinai, to reveal the centers of Syriac liturgy at the mountain in the 13th and 14th centuries, and the symbiotic relationship  between Syriac and Arabic manuscripts in locations around the mountain.

Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Sergei Brun on the Patriarchate of Antioch in Medieval Cilicia

This very valuable article sheds light on a largely overlooked period in the history of the Patriarchate of Antioch during the late Crusader and Mamluk periods.

Brun, S. (2018) Chalcedonian Orthodoxy in the Kingdom of Armenia. Բանբեր Հայագիտության=Вестник Арменоведения=Journal of Armenian Studies, № 3. pp. 5-31


There is a widespread opinion, which prevails even in the official historiography of the Antiochian Orthodox and Melchite Greek Catholic Churches, that after the destruction of Antioch by the Mamelukes in 1268, the Orthodox Patriarchs – after a brief period of “wandering” – set up their residence in Damascus. This approach lacks both accuracy and historic memory, since it completely ignores the era of Cilician dominance in the history of the Antiochian Church. It would be far more accurate to say that since the destruction of Antioch (1268), the Orthodox Patriarchs set up their main residence in Tarsus, leaving this city for prolonged visits (of either several months or even years) for their imperial metochia – the Hodegon Monastery of Constantinople, or for the cities of the Phoenician coast (Tyre and Tripoli). Since the War for the Antiochian Succession and the restoration of the Patriarchate of Antioch in the Levant under Prince Bohemond IV, Patriarch Simeon II ibn Abu Shaib set up his residences in Tarsus and Sis. Patriarch Euphymius I spent several years in Cilician Armenia, between his exile from Antioch and his flight to Constantinople. Patriarch Arsenius, being elected in Frankish territory – moved to Cilicia; his proximity to the Armenian King, as was said before, cost him his throne. Patriarchs Dionysius I and Dionysius II, who occupied the Cilician Sees of Pompeiopolis and Mamistra prior to their ascension to the Throne of St. Peter, spent practically their entire tenure in the Kingdom of Armenia. The same was true for the Armenian-blooded Patriarch Ignatius II. 


Read the whole article here.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Christianity in Central Asia Website

Readers of this blog may be interested in the website Christianity in Central Asia, which contains a wealth of information about the history of Christianity in that region, one where the Patriarchate of Antioch had a significant presence in the Middle Ages. The site is maintained by the Polish Franciscan priest, Fr Krzysztof Kukułka. He explains the purpose of the site as follows:

History tells us that the Apostle Thomas travelled from Jerusalem to India, passing through Central Asia in his mission to spread the Gospel to the world. Recent archeological discoveries in Kyrgyzstan have created renewed interest in the traditional belief that the relics of St Matthew were preserved at a monastery on Lake Issyk-Kul. Central Asia – including areas of China, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Azerbejan, as well as the former Soviet Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – has an ancient Christian history of which very little is known outside a small circle of scholars and local Christian communities

From 1990 to 2004 I lived mostly in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and – for a few months – Kyrgyzstan. I visited Turkmenistan and Tadzhikistan and made a short trip to Afghanistan as well. As a Franciscan priest, I was mostly involved in pastoral work in those countries. In Tashkent, I oversaw the reconstruction of a historic Catholic Church. In cooperation with the late Ludmila Zukova, an archeologist who worked for 30 years in the protection of the monuments of Uzbekistan’s history and culture, I was able to assist in the publication of two Russian-language volumes of scholarly articles on Christianity in Central Asia from ancient times to the present. These works can be read on this website, and it gives me great satisfaction to know that many scholars are referencing those volumes in their own studies of the Christian history of Central Asia.

After thirteen years working outside Central Asia, in 2018 I had the chance to return to the region and visit some of the archeological sites connected with the history of Christianity there. These visits piqued my interest in learning more about this largely unknown aspect of the story of Christianity. After some searching online, it became clear that an Internet resource center with a bibliography, articles, books, films, lectures and photographs about Christianity in Central Asia would greatly advance scholarly research and exchange.

Take a look, here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Patriarch John X on the Silver Jubilee of GOPA-DERD

Arabic original here.

Speech of Patriarch John X
At the Silver Jubilee of the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development 

Damascus, November 9, 2019


Though the compassionate Samaritan, the Lord poured out His mercy, treating the wounds of the other man with the wine of love that annointed his afflictionsand the oil of kindness from his heart to the broken heart and from the Good Samaritan and through him, an intercessor and a symbol. The Church of Antioch and All the East has chosen to extend to the world her charitable arm, represented by the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development. The Church of Antioch has chosen and desired to embody God's love, translated into love of the neighbor from any background. The Church of Antioch has chosen to look at man's suffering and pour out upon it the oil of God's mercy, from the One who with whom are gifts, offerings and help. She has desired to sprinkle his wounds with kindness and compassion because she sees in him the holy face of the Creator and an act of charity well-pleasing to Him, may He be exalted,

A quarter-century ago, the Iraq crisis broke out and Iraqi brothers streamed into Syria. This was the birth of this department by the Church of Antioch with the blessing of Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim of thrice-blessed memory and the efforts of many, including his spiritual son Samer Lahham.
Today, after a quarter-century, the Church of Antioch continues, through the Department of Relief , to seek the face of her Lord in the face of man. The Text of the Gospel says, "The Samaritan.. came to [the wounded man] and when he saw him, took pity." And this, brothers, is the essence of our mission. The Church strives first and foremost for and approaches wounded man. The Church is the one to take the initiative, before he even sets out. She comes first, sees and feels the reality, the need and what is hoped for. Then, since she sees and beholds, she has pity and compassion. Her pity and compassion are not a kindness from her, but rather an outpouring of God's compassion, which he pours out upon souls as their Creator and Lord.

Since 2011 and the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, our Church has been striving to attain God's good pleasure in the face of suffering people, no matter what group they belong to. We extend a helping hand as much as we are able to our Christian children and to the people of the Middle East from every community. This is what the Lord wills in the Gospel. The Samaritan in Jesus' parable did not extend a helping hand only to people of his own race, but to the other. This other is our brother. We are enriched by him and he is enriched by us. We may fall short on one side and advance on another. We may sometimes make mistakes and we may sometimes be correct because perfection belongs to God alone. What we seek, however, is to wipe a tear from the face of those suffering.

From the mid-1990s until today, the number of those working in the department has grown and in 2019 it reached 1700 people. The department has expanded from Damascus and has centers in all of Syria's governorates. Amidst the present crisis, and despite communications being cut in some places, the department has been able, through its team, to be in every place and every region of Syrian territory, even in the most dangerous and complicated circumstances. Two martyrs have arisen from its ranks: the martyr Bassam Kanhouche and the martyr Yasar Mu'ammar. Its Christian staff stands side by side with its Muslim staff and its services reach both George and Ahmad. That has earned the trust of international agencies in the field of relief and its motto is what the Apostle Paul says: "God loves a cheerful giver."


We as Christians in this Middle East are an ember of its fire that illuminates and burns all at once. We are from the heart of this Middle East and from its very being. Our Christ's feet walked here and the feet of His Apostles were firmly planted in the soil. From here, His Gospel went out to all the world. We are not here as visitors, but as part of the household. All the clamor of our hardship is effaced before the cross of the Nazarene and His Golgotha. They bind us to our Muslim brother, our partner in the nation, in the kindest relationship. This relationship is over a thousand years old. Despite all the ups and downs, Christianity and Christians in general remain with the Muslims and all strata of society as children of one nation and one house, brothers in history and geography in this Middle East, which God willed to be the womb of heaven in our world. Wars come and go, conflicts and unrest pass, delight and hardship comes along on this earth in every one of its countries and our motto remains despite everything and despite all the emigration, forced expulsion, violence and kidnapping; our motto remains, despite everthing: here we were born, here we live and here we shall die next to the dust of our ancestors.

Our prayer today is also for peace in Syria and stability in Lebanon. Our prayer is for this Middle East in all its countries and for peace in the whole world. Our prayer is for every kidnapped person, homeless person, refugee and suffering person. Our prayer is for our brothers the kidnapped metropolitans of Aleppo Yuhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi who are languishing in the obscurity of kidnapping, disappearance and the farce of their plight being ignored internationally, which epitomizes a little bit of the suffering of the people of the Middle East. All are called, within and without, to adopt the logic of dialogue and political solution as a way to preserve the unity of this country. This is Syria! Our children are from its every region. Look at them, they are our children from every corner and direction, starting from Khabur and the Jazira along the Euphrates to Lattakia, the Bride of the Coast, to Qalamoun, Damascus and Mount Qassioun and the proud, immortal Golan. This country is one, united in the hearts of its children and its geography.


Ask the Old City of Damascus and its walls and alleys will speak to you of our predecessor, the Patriarch of Mercy, Gregory IV Haddad. Ask them, and they will tell you abuot his loaf of bread, which did not distinguish between Muslim and Christian during the days of the First World War. Ask them, and they will tell you about his cross, with which he fed the poor, and since I mention this, I would be pleased to say something about the life of this great man.

Once, Gregory Haddad, who was metropolitan of Tripoli, interceded on behalf of the Muslim qadi of Tripoli, who had been summoned before the governor. Metropolitan Gregory was the only one, among all the people who were certain of his innocence, who visited him in jail and offered him help and money. He did not stop at that, but defended him in Tripoli and in the capital, until his innocence became obvious. After that, years passed and Gregory became patriarch. The qadi died and years passed. The son of that qadi came to Damascus in the company of the notables of his city and visited the patriarch, saying:

"I come from the capital to fulfill the command of my departed father, who said to me, 'Go to Damascus and before your visit to the Umayyad Mosque, go and kiss the hand of the Patriarch of the Rum.'"

When he asked him about his father, he learned that he was the one who had helped him when he was imprisoned. A simple story, but it encapsulates the reality and the history of coexistence that was and remains and which must be experienced. Gregory's hand is the hand of the Church of Antioch, which has only ever reached out to encounter the other and live with him.

In closing, my deepest thanks go to our children in the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development and I first of all salute the efforts of the Rev Archimandrite Alexi Shehadeh, its director and I salute all his assistants and all who have worked there. I salute you, beloved children, with love. Your efforts have been blessed and every soul has been blessed that acquires with its earthly treasure the treasure of heaven. I likewise thank the Syrian government and all the ministries and official bodies that have facilitated the world of the Department of Relief in all governates, and I should not forget all the donors and international organizations in every place.

Congratulations. May there be more giving and advancement with God's help and protection. Amen.

Jad Ganem: Between Yesterday and Today

Arabic original here.

Between Yesterday and Today

What the local Orthodox Churches are experiencing today resembles, to a certain degree, what the Orthodox world experienced in the period from 1923 to 1948 on account of the disagreement about the decision of the Orthodox summit of Istanbul called by Patriarch Meletios (Metaxakis) of Constantinople, to modify the Julian Calendar and issue what was known at the time as the  “Revised Julian Calendar", the adoption of which led, within the small number of churches that participated in the summit, to dividing the Orthodox world between:

    - Churches that supported changing the calendar and adopted it immediately, like the Church of Constantinople.

    - Churches that agreed to the new calendar and adopted it after a short period of time, like the Chuches of Greece, Romania and Poland.

    - Churches that declined to adopt the calendar, considering a change in the calendar to require the convocation of an ecumenical council, like the Churches of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem and the Russian Church Abroad.

    - The Church of Serbia, which signed the decision of the summit to adopt the new calendar, but then went back and rejected it.

    - The Church of Cyprus, which declined to take a position on the matter and endeavored to find a general Orthodox solution to the issue.

This disarray continued until 1930, when the Churches of Alexandria, Antioch and Cyprus gradually retracted their decision and adopted the modified calendar, such that the situation in the Orthodox world has stabilized between the churches that use the old calendar and others that use the revised calendar.

It is noteworthy that, despite the disagreement about the calendar issue and the canonicity of the Istanbul summit's decsions, all the Orthodox Churches remained in communion with each other, even if their supporters started to avoid participating with each other in divine services on account of this disagreement, which continued until 1948, when the Orthodox Conference held in Moscow adopted a provisional solution to this issue:
    - The agreement that all the Orthodox Churches would celebrate Easter together according to the Old Julian Calendar on the basis of the Alexandrine method of computation.

    - That each church would use the calendar it had adopted with regard to fixed feasts.

    - Requiring "the clergy and laity to follow the calendar adopted in the Church to which they belong, to accept it as a tradition of this Church and to respect it as the Holy Canons require as an expression of unity and love."

At a time when the local Churches were able to preserve unity and commuion among each other, internal unity was shaken , on account of the disagreement over the calendar, in a number of churches, reaching the point of schism in the Chuches of Greece and Romania, where a number of bishops split from the Universal Orthodox Church and established schismatic entities, called the "Old Calendarists." They are entities that repeatedly had internal schisms and which supported other schisms within a number of local Churches, which lack ecclesiastical legitimacy.
Since it is clear that Constantinople is betting on the pattern that it adopted previously with regard to the issue of accepting the Revised Julian Calendar, focusing on relying on the factor of time to change the position of some Churches, betting that the other local Churches will insist on preserving unity and avoiding schism, attention should be drawn to the possibility matters will procede in a different direction this time, such that the Orthodox schism becomes established between churches that recognize what Constantinople did in Ukraine and others that reject it, leading to schisms within the local churches themselves, as the inevitable repercussions of this larger schism.

 Therefore, the most important lesson that can be drawn from the earlier period remains that only serious conciliarity can save us from tumult, unrest and schisms. Can we learn?

Monday, November 11, 2019

Jad Ganem: Your Own Mouth Condemns You!

Arabic original here.

Your Own Mouth Condemns You!

During the Divine Liturgy at which he presided on the occasion of the Synaxis of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel and All the Bodiless Hosts, Patriarch Theodorus II of Alexandria and All Africa commemorated Epiphany, head of the so-called "Orthodox Church of Ukraine", thus making the Patriarchate of Alexandria the third church to recognize this entity, after the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Church of Greece.

This decision may not surprise those familiar with what's going on behind the scenes in the Orthodox world, those who are skilled in reading the signs preparing the way for this sort of decision, and those who have for some time have noticed:

      - Patriarch Theodorus' total abstention from treating the Ukrainian issue for almost a year, after having been one of the ones to most strongly reject the granting of autocephaly to schismatics and after he visited Ukraine and expressed his clear support for Metropolitan Onufry and the church that he heads.

      - The participation of one of the bishops of the Church of Alexandria in a service with a "bishop" from the schismatics, without the patriarch issuing any protest.

      - The position of the metropolitan of Nigeria, who stated that "The Patriarchate of Alexandria is not and will not be allowed to be a protectorate of the Church of Russia."

If anyone in the Orthodox world is still unsure about the fact that Greek Orthodoxy as a whole does not approach the Ukrainian issue from an ecclesiastical, theological perspective, but rather from a racial-political perspective connected to the role of the "head of the Greek nation"-- that is, the Patriarch of Constantinople-- in the Orthodox world today, and from the perspective of lining up behind him whether he's right or wrong and integrating into the Phanar's politics, which aim to isolate the Church of Moscow, fragment it into national churches and weaken its role in the world, then it is difficult for believers to discover the Patriarch of Alexandria's renunciation of his previous words and positions, especially his statement on September 20, 2018 during the Divine Liturgy at which he presided with the one whom he called at the time "Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine", Onufry, in Odessa on the occasino of the 130th anniversary of the Baptism of the Rus, that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is the legitimate Church, and his appeal to it to stand firm at a time of hardship and difficulty and in the face of schism, telling her faithful to remain united with this legitimate Church and to remain loyal to their Orthodox faith.

The Patriarch of Alexandria addressed the faithful of the legitimate Church, who have been subjected to persecution, saying, "I have come so that the whole world may see that the Patriarch of Alexandria is with you personally in these difficult days." He stated in the press conference, "The Church should be governed according to sacred canons. Politicians have their own considerations, guidelines and instructions but politicians come and go whereas the Church has existed inviolably for already two thousand years now. In this sense, the Patriarchate of Alexandria agrees with the opinion of the Russian Church that political pressure must not be yielded to. It is wrong that when states are divided and then the Church has to be divided too."

Who will remind the patriarch of his words on that day? Who will save the Church of Christ from the great scandal into which its leaders have fallen by surrendering and dociley complying with the politics of this world and abandoning the Law of God? Who will console the faithful in the abject state to which they have been brought today by the traffickers in holy things and temple theives?
The Patriarch of Alexandria has resoundingly fallen and his own words condemn him. His fall is not only a spear in the breast of the legitimate Church and her members, but also a spear in Christ's side. The Orthodox Church shall come forth, renewed and victorious from this side and his lot will be with all those who, over the course of history, have betrayed the faith.

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Angels

Arabic original here.

The Angels

The word 'angel' means 'messenger'. He is a messenger for the sake of service: "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14).

The Angel Gabriel was sent to bring good tidings to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26) and the angel also brought the Apostle Peter out of prison. Then, Peter said, "Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people" (Acts 12:11).

Many fathers state that God created the angels out of nothing before creating the sensible world and man: "For by Him [i.e., Christ] all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him" (Colossians 1:16). 

Their task at every moment is contemplating, praising and glorifying the Creator. They are nourished from God's light. From it they receive the power to serve. The angels stand in prayer before God. Therefore in prayer we imitate the angels before God and through prayer the heart is purified.

A pure heart is what benefits others, much more than various works. A pure heart is what benefits the other's heart.

"Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). The goal is to see God.

Prayer is the last remedy for a lost and turbulent world. There is much commotion in the world, there is much straying. The importance of the angelic spirits is that they bind together the earthly world and the heavenly world.

"Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and goodwill among men." Man alone, in Christ, remains higher than the angels. "What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor" (Hebrews 2:6-7).

Nevertheless, humility remains the foundation and essence of all the good things and abundant virtues among the angels, among whom are Michael (Who is Like God) and Gabriel (God's Might), who are archangels.

Saint John of Damascus says, "In truth, relative to God, every being and every thing is coarse and material."

As for Saint Macarius of Egypt, he says that the angelic spirits possess a subtle body. Our fallen nature prevents us from seeing the angels, while Saint Macarius says that it is possible for every pure Christian, through contemplation or profound sense to communicate with the angels. As for the pure, it is possible for them to see them face to face.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Children

Arabic original here.


"Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:14).

Don't prevent children from drawing near to the Lord Jesus, from coming to church. Some interpreters have seen in these words an echo of the practice of baptizing children in the early Church. Jesus' attitude toward children is not limited to a sentimental concern for children and the family.

Children's rights were trampled on in that era. A child, because he is weak, does not rely on his own capabilities, but trusts completely in those bigger than him. For this reason, he is more able than others to surrender to God's will. Thus the Lord Jesus says, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

Here too the Lord is not content with just a sentimental glance, but rather it is next to the innocence of children that His attitude can be seen, starting off from the fact that each one of us, no matter what his age, must surrender to God's will as an expression of trust and security in his connection to others, with his parents and especially with God. The child and the spirit of childhood accompany the life of a person who seeks the kingdom of God, not only with his own ability or with his own righteousness, as the Apostle Paul says, but also and especially by way of God's grace, which grants us trust, security, innocence, humility. All these things children have naturally in abundance.

In Matthew, the disciples pose the question to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (Matthew 18:1)

That is, who is closest to God. Do you think it is those who are knowledgeable of scripture and the Law? Or is it the great people in this world?

The Lord replies: no! Rather, it is the little ones "like this child" like this simple person who is humble, poor, relying on God alone. When He tells them, "unless you are converted and become as little children..." (Matthew 18:3), he means a process of constant transformation, a process of repentance, a constant return to God and submission to His will. Jesus once told Nicodemus:

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Here too there is a reference to the mystery of baptism, to constant repentance.

He also points to humility when He says, "whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:4). That is, one who feels himself to be small like this child, small before God and before others. Small and humble.

Simple, poor. "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This is the way of childhood that one acquires through divine grace, the way of new birth in the Spirit, the way of salvation with the Lord.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Jad Ganem: Before the Edifice Collapses

Arabic original here.

Before the Edifice Collapses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Archimandrite Jack (Khalil): Working together with Christ

Arabic original here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 4, 2019

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

Arabic original here. Read part IV here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

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

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

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

Orthodoxy from the Fall of Constantinople to the Rise of Moscow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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