Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Met Antonius (el-Souri): Why the Cross?

Arabic original here.

Why the Cross?

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" (Revelation 5:12)

Our God came to us humbly, knowing that He would be slaughtered for our sins. He came knowing that we would crucify Him. Nevertheless, He did not refuse to die for us because He loves us. "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name" (Philippians 2:9).

God, who is glorified in Himself, was brought low to the point of death, the death of the cross, so the cross became the throne of His glory. God does not need us to glorify Him: He is glorified in Himself. He does not need us to love because He is love lived in the unity of the Trinity.

It adds nothing and takes nothing away if we exist or do not exist. He does not need us for anything, but rather we need Him in order to exist and despite that, He made Himself into a "beggar" out of love for us:

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me" (Revelation 3:20). The Lord knocks on the door of our heart. If we open it to Him, He enters and if we do not open it, He continues to stand and knock. This is infinite love and ultimate humility, God seeks us in His mad love, and what do we give in return? This is the cross in God's heart, the lamb slaughtered from the foundation of the world.

"My people, what have I done to you..." In this way the Church expresses the pain of the Lord who sacrificed Himself for His own, who did not know Him (cf. John 1:10-11). Love is crucified in this world because because humankind does not know how to love. Love for them is possession, domination, consumption. This is not how God loves us. He reaches out to us and we refuse Him. He sacrifices Himself for us and we flee from Him. He gives us Himself and we turn away from Him... What is this man, who has in this way become subject to his passions, enslaved by imaginary pleasures?

God's love accepted nothing less than to save man. Therefore, the cross of Christ became a victory for divine love over the hatred, enmity and jealousy of the devil and those who follow him. The cross snapped the thorn of the death of sin and enslavement to the passions. He who desires to live in love-- that is, to follow Christ-- must bear the cross.

This is not a question of masochism, but rather one of walking in the path of pure love-- that is, love which has no ulterior interests in the other, but rather is realized in the live-giving reaching out, which generates joy in the soul on account of building up a real relationship and connection with the other because this other is loved on account of himself, since man is a being created to realize unity in distinction with God and with every human.

This is what Christ God realized in Himself and granted for us humans to participate in through our union with Him or rather, His union with us. Christ on the cross united earth to heaven and mankind to each other in Himself.

He who follows Him out of love upon the cross is worthy of glory.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

+Antonius
Metropolitan of Zahle, Baalbek and their Dependencies

Friday, March 20, 2020

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Thoughts during this Time

Arabic original here.

Thoughts during this Time

This is a golden opportunity for us to purify ourselves of our faults through fervent prayer, fasting and austerity.

I have contemplated a great deal seeing Christians wanting to close the churches during a time of distress.

Pray and do not weary: this is an opportunity that God allowed for us to be chastened and indeed, for us to be sanctified.

We do not judge anyone.  The Lord alone judges. He is the Judge. We want the leaven to stay true upon this earth. "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).


Do not fear the one who kills the body, but fear the one that kills the soul.

Yes, we have sinned. We have departed from God. Awaken from your misstep: the Lord is generous, the Lord is sweet: "taste and see how good is the Lord."

How can they prevent us from tasting Him?! He is the source of life! We Christians have departed from God, not only here but throughout the world. We have longed for the world. We have longed for science alone. We have forgotten the Creator. We have ignored Him.

What remains for us but spiritual death and also bodily death or repentance, repentance so that we may be saved?!!!

Tripoli, 20.3.2020
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies
+Ephrem

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Fr Georges Massouh: Health, Sickness and Closeness to God

Arabic original here. This was originally published in an-Nahar on October 28, 2017, a few months before Fr Georges reposed in the Lord on the Feast of Annunciation, 2018 following an extended struggle with cancer.

"Brother Georges, your struggle is a path to God, like health. Don't miss the grace that is coming to you from the struggle. Your trial is one of the ways of this world. You get along with it just like you get along with health. The rest is on the Lord." - Metropolitan Georges Khodr of Mount Lebanon

Metropolitan Georges Khodr, the beacon of Orthodox theology, does not limit his theology to just the theoretical aspects, since theory remains sterile if it does not come down to the ground of human reality. What is the use of talking about, for example, the cross and its theology if it is not connected to reminding Christians of the Lord's words: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24)? Bearing the cross is the best jihad.

Metropolitan Khodr believes that there is one struggle and we are all called to bear the arms of righteousness and piety, so he makes no distinction between one whose body is healthy and one who is sick. They are both required to strive in the struggle against sin. The trial of sickness is one of the ways of this world, so Metropolitan Khodr does not consider it important because the most important thing is the struggle to walk in the path to God, who crowns this struggle with eternal life. A person lives in health imagining that it will last forever, but everything of this world will end because this entire world will end. So how can something temporary give eternal life to something temporary?

"Don't miss the grace that is coming to you from the struggle." In general people think that worldly sustenance is "grace from God", even if it is acquired by crooked means. "Grace" for them is limited to material aquisition, good health, exceptional beauty or high intelligence. There is no doubt that "grace" like these graces increases the pride of people who possess them and makes them think that they are gods who will not some day pass away. This is the fantasy in which man immerses himself, but he only reaps the dust scattered by the wind.

True grace, however, is that which "comes to you from the struggle", the struggle over which nothing else is a priority: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). The fruit of the good struggle is the kingdom of God, the heavenly kindgom in which man lives unto life eternal. True grace is that which lasts unceasingly, while the graces of this world disappear with the passing of the present world. The true believer is the one who believes that grace in life is with God and His saints because God created man to love Him and live with Him forever.

"Redeem the time, for the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:16), says the Apostle Paul. Time races and man races, but time only stops on the last day but man's time stops when his hour comes. So man must redeem his time, whatever his situation in terms of health and wealth, with deeds that are good in the eyes of the Lord. Time has mercy on no one and the days are evil, increasing their evil day after day. Thus the necessity of struggle not to let our time run out.

The believer is the one who can "get along with sickness just like he gets along with health", so health and sickness are not the standard in God's eyes, but rather the struggle under any circumstance to reach the loftiest goal. "And the rest is on the Lord."

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Icons and St Gregory Palamas

Arabic original here.

Icons and St Gregory Palamas

The veneration of icons is tied to the mystery of the incarnation. In the Old Testament, God was invisible, so at that time he forbade us to make an image of Him, lest we fall into idolatry. Through the incarnation of the Son of God, God became visible to us, "he who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).

With regard to St Gregory Palamas, this saint struggled with all his strength throughout his teachings and life to affirm that it is possible for man in his body, soul and spirit to be united to God and not only to depict Him.

"God became man so that man may become divine," says Saint Athanasius the Great. Christianity is not limited to good morals. Rather, before all else it is God's gift in Christ, His giving the Holy Spirit after the Resurrection, this gift which completes the economy of our salvation.

Today, in the heart of every baptized Christian, there is a divine light hidden in the depths of the heart, a power capable of making us christs by grace.

After thirteen centuries, the Church placed her seal on the complete, true Christian dogma.

This took place through the Ecumenical Councils which were held over the years: she first fought the various main heresies such as Arianism (and today's Jehovah's Witnesses), as well as all those who opposed the holy icons and she confirmed the Orthodoxy of Saint Gregory Palamas' teaching. She added nothing to the Gospel, but expressed the purity of the Christian faith and cast away from it and from us every heresy that would corrupt it.

The fourteenth century was distinguished by the appearance of great saints, as the Byzantine Empire was falling to the Turks. This holiness branched out on Mount Athos, whose monks unleashed the practice of the Jesus Prayer in all its spiritual dimensions.

Among them was Gregory Palamas, who became Archbishop of Thessalonica after having been an ascetic monk on the Holy Mountain.

There was also Saint Gregory the Sinaite, who brought together the spiritual experience of Sinai and of the Holy Mountain an, through the Jesus Prayer, passed their torch to the Slavic lands: Bulgaria, Russia, Romania and Serbia.

Saint Palamas established the theological principles of  Hesychasm when he spoke of the divinization of the Christian, enlightened by the divine, uncreated energies of the Holy Spirit which radiate from the tomb of Jesus Christ risen from the dead. This divine radiance illumined the apostles on Mount Tabor at the Divine Transfiguration when the power of the Holy Spirit covered Christ's human body.

This spiritual tradition, which goes back to the fourth century with the monks of the Egyptian Desert, was brilliantly awakened in the fourteenth century when Orthodoxy was clothed in all her splendor.

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

Saturday, March 7, 2020

New Book: Arabic and its Alternatives

The new volume Arabic and its Alternatives: Religious Minorities and their Languages in the Emerging Nation States of the Middle East (1920-1950), edited by Heleen Murre-van den Berg, Karène Sanchez Summerer and Tijmen Baarda,  has just been released by Brill in open access. About it:

Arabic and its Alternatives discusses the complicated relationships between language, religion and communal identities in the Middle East in the period following the First World War. This volume takes its starting point in the non-Arabic and non-Muslim communities, tracing their linguistic and literary practices as part of a number of interlinked processes, including that of religious modernization, of new types of communal identity politics and of socio-political engagement with the emerging nation states and their accompanying nationalisms. These twentieth-century developments are firmly rooted in literary and linguistic practices of the Ottoman period, but take new turns under influence of colonization and decolonization, showing the versatility and resilience as much as the vulnerability of these linguistic and religious minorities in the region. 


Two articles about the Orthodox community in Palestine are of particular interest:

"United by Faith, Divided by Language: the Orthodox in Jerusalem" by Merav Mack

The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, known also as the Greek Orthodox or Rum Orthodox Church, is home to a number of ethnic communities speaking different languages, including Greek, Arabic, Russian, Georgian, Romanian and Serbian, and more recently Hebrew as well. This chapter focuses on the grassroots of the two main communities, the Greek-speaking Hellenic community and the Arabic-speaking Palestinian one, in the first decades of the twentieth century.

The first half of the twentieth century was a period of growing tension between the leaders of the Arab community and the senior Greek clergy, i.e., members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre and the Synod of the Church; the scope and depth of this tension is well analysed by Konstantinos Papastathis in his contribution to this book. In this chapter, however, I would like to shift the attention from the leadership to the members of the community and ask: how does a community function when united by religion but divided by language? In other words, I question the relationship between the Greeks and the Arabs at the community level, with an emphasis on the role of the language barrier between them. The focus is on the axis of religion and language and examining the Greek community against migration theories and the studies of language shift and language loyalty, and I concentrate on three expressions of the language divide: the choice of churches, liturgical preferences, and naming patterns.

[...]


"Arabic vs. Greek: the Linguistic Aspect of the Jerusalem Orthodox Church Controversy in Late Ottoman Times and the British Mandate" by Konstantinos Papastathis

The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem has had a continuous historical presence in Palestine, recognized by the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451) as the fifth See in the hierarchy of the Christian Church. It enjoys extensive custodianship rights over the Holy Places according to the so-called status quo agreement, and up until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the great majority of the local Christians belonged to the Orthodox creed. From early Ottoman times, the patriarchate was institutionally structured as a monastic brotherhood. This means that the Patriarch, i.e., the Head of the Fraternity, exercises more or less absolute power over all the affairs of the institution. Moreover, during Ottoman times the Patriarchate acquired an ethnically Greek character, to the detriment of the other national Orthodox groups, and especially the indigenous population. Theoretically any Orthodox individual can become member of the brotherhood. In practice, however, since the mid-nineteenth century the basic criterion for admission to the Brotherhood has been loyalty to the Greek national idea. Overall, the Arab Orthodox movement represented the great majority of the native lay members of the Church from all over Palestine. It was closely related to the Arab national cause, which explains partially its close bonds with the Muslim element of the population as well. In the Mandate period, the native Orthodox were organized in local clubs and were represented at a central level by the Arab Orthodox Executive, except of a small minority that formed the so-called “Moderate party.” The Arab Orthodox viewed the Greek rule as cultural imperialism and demanded their emancipation from Greek control, as well as the abolishment of the centralized structure of the institution via Arab inclusion in decision-making processes. Overall, the Arab Orthodox demands were for: a) the establishment of a mixed council for the administration of communal affairs, including finances; b) the free admission of Arab Orthodox people to the patriarchal organization; and c) active participation in the electoral processes of the high clergy. The role of Russian diplomacy and religious apparatus in the affair was crucial, and fuelled the intercommunal division along ethnic lines as a means to strengthen the Russian position with regard to the inter-Orthodox power competition, as well as to promote Saint Petersburg strategic goals in relation to the Ottoman Empire.

[...]

Monday, March 2, 2020

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Message for Lent

Arabic original here.

Message for Lent

The Prophet Isaiah makes it clear to us when he said of old,  "Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?" (Isaiah 58:6-7).

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself confronted the devil after fasting for forty days and told him, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). It is true that the period of the fast is based on spiritual struggles, but they begin with liberation from the overwhelming desire for food. This is because the fast is based on man's unity as body, soul and spirit.

The fast is exercise in purity of body and soul for forty days so that one may be completely wakeful.

The fast also and especially nourishes the freedom of faith, making one charged with the Holy Spirit, so that one may bring many to the faith and salvation. During this fast and these difficult circumstances that we are experiencing today, we must be humble, austere. We must suffer a little on account of our sins and the sins of others. This is so that the Lord may bestow upon us material relief and spiritual forgiveness and allow us to enjoy the joy of Pascha.

Today man is drowning in the pleasures and lusts of this world. For the most part, he lives far from God.

Civilization today is the civilization of slavery.

In it, man has become a slave to money and ever-increasing consumption. A slave to the body, to lusts and intoxicants. Vice appears to be a banner of freedom, the culture of death and corruption.

During this fast, the Church invites us to return to the bosom of the Heavenly Father, like the Prodigal Son who by returning gained true freedom: returning to God's love and mercy. One of the Fathers says that eternal life exists at every moment in which we feel God's love and that we are created by God the Father who thirsts for the love of His Son and for the love of each one of us. The Book of Proverbs says, "My delight is with the sons of men" (Proverbs 8:31).

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


Saturday, February 29, 2020

Jad Ganem: A Turning-Point?

Arabic original here.

A Turning-Point?

The fraternal meeting in Amman, which hosted several primates of local Orthodox churches or their representatives and which was called and hosted by the Patriarch of Jerusalem with the goal of "the resumption of dialogue and the strengthening of unity between brothers within the Orthodox communion" constitutes an expression of "anxiety about the danger of looming schism for the Orthodox Church."

The communique from this meeting contained, in addition to thanks to the King of Jordan and the Patriarch of Jerusalem for hosting the meeting:

-- A declaration that this meeting is for strengthening the bonds between brothers and between local churches, to spread the bonds of peace in Christ between them, and to strengthen the unity of the Orthodox churches and preparation for dialogue and the achievement of reconciliation.

-- An expression of the participants' agreement that important Orthodox issues, including the granting of autocephaly to churches, must take place after pan-Orthodox dialogue and through the unity and general consensus of the churches.

-- The view that the ecclesiastical issue in Ukraine requires pan-Orthodox dialogue in order to acheive healing and reconciliation.

-- Emphasis that the issue of Northern Macedonia must be treated through dialogue with the Church of Serbia with pan-Orthodox support.

-- Urging the competent authorities in Montenegro to respect the Church's right to property ownership, especially as regards churches.

-- An agreement to hold another fraternal meeting before the end of the year in order to strengthen bonds and effectuate dialogue.

-- Hope that the Patriarch of Constantinople, who enjoys primacy of honor, will attend this fraternal meeting of primates of the local Orthodox churches.

It is clear from the above that this meting constituted a critical juncture and an advanced stage of resolving the crisis from which the Orthodox Church is now suffering, since:

-- It consecrates the right of the primates of the local Orthodox churches to meet on the basis of an invitation from any one of them when the need arises and it treated them as equals by using a round table for the meeting.

-- It unequivocally affirmed the primacy of honor enjoyed by the Patriarch of Constantinople in the Orthodox world, refuting all the theories saying that this patriarch enjoys a "primacy without equal."

-- It revived the rules that were agreed upon during pan-Orthodox work on the granting autocephaly, which require the agreement of all the Orthodox churches, blocking attempts to act unilaterally on this important issue and stressing the mother church's role in the matter.

Those attending the meeting in Amman managed to pull the breaks on Constantinople's ambitions and demonstrated to the world that the Orthodox Church is governed collectively, with no place in it for unilateral action or monopolizing decision-making. It reexamined the rules that govern relations between the Orthodox family of churches, which had been subject to violation in order to create a new Orthodox world.

For this reason there remains hope that this meeting will not become a factor for further fragmentation and disagreement and that it will build upon its achievements in the future to avoid schism and realize the hoped-for reconciliation which many of those who did not attend its proceedings desire.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Jad Ganem: Regarding Some Aspects of Antioch's Position

Arabic original here.

Regarding Some Aspects of Antioch's Position

The Church of Antioch's decision to refrain from participating in the "fraternal consultative meeting" which took place in Amman on February 26 was no surprise for those who follow the positions of this church regarding the current ecclesiastical crisis, since Antioch's position, which is contained in the communique of February 23 and states that "the Church of Antioch reiterates Her firm position that the "unanimous consensus" between the Churches, based on the Holy Scripture and the Holy Tradition, is the essential rule in the Orthodox Church, with regards to general decisions on the universal Orthodox level, as well as in resolving outstanding issues," is in harmony with the positions that this church has previously declared:

-- Before the outbreak of the crisis, when the Holy Synod of Antioch met at Balamand between October 3 and 6, 2017-- that is, a few days before Constantinople granted autocephaly to the Ukrainian schismatics, that "any approach to granting autocephaly to a specific church must be in accordance with Orthodox ecclesiology and the principles agreed upon by the unanimity of the churches in recent years, whether with regard to the agreement of the Mother Church or with regard to the recognition of all the autocephalous churches of this decision" and "the necessity of following this principle of unanimity in what pertains to pan-Orthodox activity and controversial issues in the Orthodox world, as an effective guarantor of the unity of the Orthodox Church."

-- After the Patriarch of Antioch received from Metropolitan Christophoros of Amman the invitation to participate in the "fraternal consultative gathering" called by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, when he "welcomed this initiative and reaffirmed the firm position of the Antiochian Church announced by the Holy Antiochian Synod, which calls for the necessity of a meeting ΣΥΝΑΞΗ of the heads of the local Orthodox Churches, so that all Orthodox Churches collaborate in solving Orthodox issues."
Nevertheless, this decision, which comes in the context natural to the Church of Antioch's approach to pan-Orthodox activity, through its focus on building consensus between the churches in order to "preserve Orthodox unity," as still been subjected to certain simplistic or purely political readings, sometimes by seeing it as oriented against the Russian Church and sometimes by seeing it as succombing to pressure from Constantinople.

But if one reads this position closely, one will notice that:

-- It relies on the very same approach that Antioch took towards the "Council of Crete", which insisted on either providing the circumstance for all the churches to participate in its activities or delaying its meeting until "consensus is built among everyone" about it.

-- It stresses that the issue of granting autocephaly to any new local church is an issue that requires the unanimity of all the Orthodox churches and does not belong the the Patriarch of Constantinople alone.

-- It indicates that the Church of Antioch will not be satisfied with any sort of approach to the issue of Ukrainian autocephaly that treats it as though it were a purely political issue and that Antioch will continue to stress the importance of resorting to "venerable tradition" and the ecclesiastical canons pertaining to the reception of schismatics whose ordinations lack apostolic succession.

-- The Church of Antioch will not abandon the rules that have governed relations in the Orthodox world for decades, especially the principle of unanimity, which gives an equal role to all the local Orthodox churches and prevents any church or group of churches from acting unilatarally and attempting to impose their view on the others, which leads to polarisation and schisms.

In recent years, the Church of Antioch has been subject to many malicious campaigns, the misrepresentation of her positions, and attempts to minimize her agency and treat her as part of the politics of Orthodox polarization. However, the decision not to participate in the Amman meeting on account of the absense of the element of unanimity affirms once again that she is zealous for the unity of the Orthodox world and faithful to the principle that governs relations in it and that she does not approach ecclesiastical issues from a political, partisan or racial perspective, but rather according to the requirements of the Gospel. The Church of Antioch has said "I am not of Paul" and "I am not of Apollos" but "I belong to Christ."

Monday, February 24, 2020

Jad Ganem: Antioch's Position on the Amman Meeting

Arabic original here.

Antioch's Position on the Amman Meeting
 
On December 28, 2019 the Antiochian Orthodox Media Center issued a communique from the Antiochian Church following the visit of His Eminence Metropolitan Christophoros of Amman, who was sent by Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem to visit Patriarch John X in Damascus and deliver a letter to him about holding a meeting of the primates of the Orthodox Churches in Amman with the goal of "preserving Orthodox unity," which has been damaged by the Ukrainian crisis.
This communique states that the Patriarch of Antioch "welcomed this initiative and reaffirmed the firm position of the Antiochian Church announced by the Holy Antiochian Synod, which calls for the necessity of a meeting (synaxis) of the heads of the local Orthodox Churches, so that all Orthodox Churches collaborate in solving Orthodox issues."

It is noteworthy that when the Church of Antioch received this invitation:

-- It accepted it and welcomed it, contrary to the positions claiming that the right to convoke such meetings belongs exclusively to the Patriarch of Constantinople.

-- It stressed the position it defended during the preparations for the Council of Crete, which holds that pan-Orthodox action requires inviting all the local Orthodox churches to take part in it, acceptance by these churches to participate, and adopting all decisions by complete consensus among those presence so as not to lead to fragmentation.

-- It implied that it respects the Patriarch of Constantinople's primacy and his role in presiding over pan-Orthodox meetings.

Consequently, one may deduce from this very carefully-formulated communique that the Antiochian Church did not agree to attend the Amman meeting in the absence of any of the local churches.
When combined with what was said in the press release from the Patriarchate of Jerusalem regarding constructive dialogue between the two patriarchates about the Qatar issue, leading to "concrete understandings" for resolving the disagreement, this communique perhaps indicates that the Patriarchate of Antioch made an effort to find a solution to its disagreement with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem during the period following this invitation in order to provide the "fraternal meeting" with every opportunity for success, with the aim of "inaugurating dialogue, achieving reconciliation and preserving the unity of Orthodoxy. And perhaps by this it intended not to be the reason for a loss of the necessary Orthodox unanimity as a foundation for solving the dangerous crisis that is being experienced by the family of Orthodox churches.

Based on the above, after several local Orthodox churches have made the decision not to participate in the fraternal meeting called by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, it can be deduced that the Church of Antioch's declining to participate in the Amman meeting because of the lack a unanimous Orthodox consensus about it is something natural, even as it continues to work in the future with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem to complete the "negotiations to arrive at a final agreement about the Qatar issue," with the goal of creating the appropriate conditions for preserving Orthodox unity.

It is therefore unambiguously clear that Antioch's firm position on the one hand strives to resolve the disagreement with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem through the existing bilateral dialogue and on the other hand avoids entering into the politics of competing poles and insists on the agreed foundation for pan-Orthodox action, which remains the sole guarantor of Orthodox unity.
 

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Jad Ganem: The Press Release from Jerusalem

Arabic original here.

The Press Release from Jerusalem

The Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has issued a press release following its latest meeting, presided by His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III, which treats what it calls "the pending matter with the Patriarchate of Antioch relating to Qatar" on account of Jerusalem's violation of the territory of the Patriarchate of Antioch and ordination of a bishop bearing the title "of Qatar" which is within the territory of the Archdiocese of Iraq, Kuwait and the Gulf of the Patriarchate of Antioch.

According to the press release, during this meeting Patriarch Theophilos asserted that " that since the two Primates met together mid last year in Cyprus dialogue has been taking place between the two Patriarchates on the matter" and clearly stated that "a resolution between both Patriarchates, regarding Qatar, had not yet been concluded." The press release also expresses the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's hope that "a final agreement on the matter of Qatar" will be reached with the Patriarch of Antioch during the fraternal gathering of primates of the local Orthodox Churches that will be held in Amman on the 26th of this month.

If one reads this press release closely and examines its content and purpose, it becomes clear that:

-- The Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem have entered into bilateral negotiations regarding the issue of Qatar after the meeting between the Patriarchs of Antioch and Jerusalem on Cyprus.

-- These negotiations have made some progress on certain aspects of the crisis but they have not yet reached a final solution to it.

-- The Patriarch of Jerusalem does not wish to find a solution to this crisis before the meeting of the "familial gathering" which he has called in Amman.

-- The press release used ambiguous language with the purpose of distracting from the points above and implying that a solution to the crisis over Qatar has been reached.

A close reading of the press release leads one to conclude that:

-- It was issued in violation of the most basic principles of responsible and transparent interaction between local churches.

-- It constitutes a covert attempt to exert moral pressure on the Church of Antioch to force it to take part in the Amman meeting.

-- It aims to lay upon the Church of Antioch responsibility for not reaching an agreement on the Qatar issue in the event that it chooses not to participate in the Amman meeting for reasons of principle.

Therefore, by attempting to delay resolution of the Qatar issue, trying to pressure Antioch by holding it publicly responsible for refusing to find a solution to this issue and insisting on using this issue for leverage to get Antioch to take part in this meeting, the Patriarch of Jerusalem deprives himself of the role he desires of fostering "dialogue, reconciliation and the preservation of Orthodox unity." Perhaps this is what has led a number of local churches to decline his invitation. It may also indicate the eventual fate that awaits the meeting in Amman, which will not succeed in achieving its purpose if it is approached in the same way that the Patriarchate has approached the Qatar issue.

Jad Ganem: The Return of Unanimity

Arabic original here.

The Return of Unanimity

In a noteworthy but expected reply, the Patriarch of Georgia declined the invitation from the Patriarch of Jerusalem to participate in the "fraternal consultative meeting" that will be held in Amman at the end of this month with the goal of "preserving unity in Eucharistic communion."

He stated:

"We understand very well that your efforts are conditioned by your care about the unity in the Church and your desire to help heal wounds. It is also felt from your letters that you have not spared your efforts to achieve consent from the Ecumenical Patriarch to participate in it. However, as he and some of the primates of churches did not respond positively to this invitation, your objective, which is also the wish of us all, may have impediments on the way to its accomplishment.

We share your position and according to the seriousness of the present circumstances and in connection with the problematic issues, we consider that the convocation and mutual discussion is very necessary. However, if we seek the attainment of the desired result, it should take place with the participation of every Church; but if this consent cannot be attained, we will refrain from coming to the gathering.

Here we should also note that we would be gladly participating in any of the events organized within the framework of religious celebrations or international conferences as we have always done.

We hope that with God's blessing the synaxis of the primates of the Orthodox Churches will be attained, and the issues, which do harm to our unity, will be evaluated according to the canonical norms of the Church. Also, we should add here that it will be the best outcome for us all if the goal is achieved before long."

From this letter, which was composed with great care and precision, it appears that the Patriarch of Georgia:

-- does not consider the right to call pan-Orthodox meetings to belong exclusively to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, contrary to the positions issued by the churches of the Greek world and the Archbishop of Albania.

-- believes that there must be a return to the principle of unanimity which had guided relations between the churches and which Constantinople demolished during the Council of Crete when it held this council in the absence of four churches representing the majority of the Orthodox world.

There is no doubt that the Patriarch of Georgia's position stems from a fundamntal axiom that has been stressed by several local Orthodox churches, including the Church of Antioch: the unity of the Orthodox world requires consensus-building with regard to shared issues and anything that has repercussions for the entire Orthodox world. Departure from this consensus only leads to inflaming conflicts and increasing fragmentation.

Does Constantinople understand the importance of this position and realize that it must return to the principle of the unanimity of the local churches when approaching common issues when there is no posibility of pan-Orthodox councils based on the principle of majority vote? Does it understand that there is no life in Orthodoxy for decisions based either on the absolute authority of the primate or on the principle of victor and vanquished within the family of local churches?


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Jad Ganem: Unholy Battles

Arabic original here.


Unholy Battles


In a church in Istanbul dedicated to the Icon of the Belgrade Mother of God, Patriarch Bartholomew stood and listened with pride as Metropolitan Maximos of Selyvria gave a speech addressed primarily to those present in which he said:

"Let us place our hope in the [Mother of God] and fervently pray to her all-holy person to always protect her Church, her city and the Patriarch of the Nation who, with a great sense of fatherly responsibility, struggles day and night for the promotion of the Ecumenical See and principally for the defense of its rights and privileges."

The patriarch then listened to the part addressed directly to him, which said:

"Your All-Holiness, you who have as an invincible shield the Belgrade Mother of God and know that she stands by your side in your fight against those who call into question the role and function of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as the first see of the Church, among them the ingrate Church of Moscow. Do not be discouraged and do not grow weary. You have the grace and the help of the miraculous Icon of the Belgrade Mother of God. They are unleashed against you on account of your just combat for the stability of all Orthodoxy. The Mother of God, however, sees and approves of your combat and she prays to her Son. After all, this is the way of the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is living and nourished by the grace of God, the Mother of God and the saints. This is why it exists, because God wills it, because He strengthens it, because it exists by divine right-- which is to say, by heaven, in accordance with the divine will, by the grace of the Holy Spirit-- which is to say, by the decrees of the holy Ecumenical Councils."

As soon as the bishop ended his speech, the patriarch replied with a speech in which he said, "Let us preserve together the sacred and holy places of our Nation in the City of our fathers, of which there is no question of us abandoning. Nor is there any question of the Patriarchate departing from here, nor is there any question of its adversaries ever being victorious, those who you mentioned, Your Eminence... Truth and justice are on the side of the Ecumenical Patriarchate."

It is manifestly clear from these words that Patriarch Bartholomew and his distinguishd disciple Metropolitan Maximos belive:

-- That the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the church of the Greek nation and that the Patriarch of Constantinople is that patriarch of that nation.

-- That any Orthodox presence in this patriarchate by anyone not of the Greek race is a grave danger to it and to its future.

-- That their task is not to spread the Orthodox faith, but to promote the Ecumenical Patriarchate, its rights and privileges and the prerogatives of its patriarch.

-- That they speak in the name of God, the Mother of God and the saints and they have exclusive possession of them for their nation, their prerogatives and their programs.

-- That the age of the Ecumenical Councils has ended and that the councils that previously changed the borders of patriarchates and churches are no longer valid today for ordering the situation of the Orthodox world today in accordance with new historical realities.

Perhaps the above indicates that Patriarch Bartholomew and his disciples have fallen not only into the heresy of ethnophyletism, but also into blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, Whom they make into a vehicle for themselves and their passions and a tool in their unholy battles. Who will tell these people: enough with the blasphemy and frivolousness? Orthodoxy is greater than you, your nation, your cities, your prerogatives and your priviledges. It is greater than all nations, cities, peoples and races. God is not and will not be a party in your vain combats. Reach up to Him and do not make Him in the image of your ugliness and hatred!





Sunday, February 16, 2020

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Reconciliation

Arabic original here.

Reconcilation

Again and again this topic is raised today in public and private, whether in the world of politics, the domain of the Church, in the universal Church or especially in our local church.

The Apostle says, "Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24).

Do you see that the Lord has permitted this global and local crisis, internal and external, in order to chasten us to refrain from our passions and lusts?! So we will be liberated by faith and works.

And what is the climate of this upright faith if not what the Apostle also explains when he says, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus... There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26, 28).

All of this frees us from the sourge of racism: there is neither Russian nor Greek... neither Syrian nor Lebanese...

The Apostle Paul elaborates this topic more and more deeply when he says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation... God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself...
and has committed to us the word of reconciliation" (Galatians 2 Corinthians 5:15-17).

The Evangelist John explains after his own manner, "When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).

This spirit of truth is this word:

The word of reconciliation, the spirit of meekness, humbleness of heart, the spirit of peace, not of enmity and partisanship (saying 'I am for so-and-so and not for someone else,' even if he is a great leader or even a famous spiritual father), the spirit of love, not of hatred, jealousy and revenge, the spirit of sacrifice and dedication, not of pride and egotism, the spirit of self-denial and taking up the cross of Christ, the spirit of faith in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

The word 'good' [salih] appears in the verse "No one is good but One, that is, God" (Matthew 19:17). The word 'prerogative' [salahiyya] in the ecclesiastical sense is that no leader has any prerogative apart from self-sacrifice, love and service.

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

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Jad Ganem: A Golden Opportunity

Arabic original here.

A Golden Opportunity

Meeting on February 12, 2020, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church took a decision regarding the crisis that the universal Orthodox Church is experiencing on account of Constantinople's decision to grant autocephaly to the schismatics in Ukraine.

In this regard, the Synod repeated its previous decision, which called for the necessity of "the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Moscow resuming dialogue in order to arrive as soon as possible at a solution to the problem of the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, so as not to deepen the polarization between the two sides: one of pro-Constantinople Orthodox Churches and another of pro-Moscow Orthodox Churches."

Likewise the Synod decided to support "granting autocephaly to the entire Orthodox Church of Ukraine (not to only one part), however this can only be realized through agreement between Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Moscow and Pan-Orthodox consensus."

The Synod also addressed the invivation by the Patriarch of Jerusalem to hold a fraternal meeting for consultations in Amman on February 25-27 in order to preserve Orthodox unity. Since it observed that this is not a synaxis of the primates of the Orthodox Churches, but rather merely a "fraternal meeting where ways of reconciling and reestablishing eucharistic communion between certain sister autocephalous Orthodox Churches will be discussed," it decided that the Church of Romania would not be represented at the meeting by the patriarch, but rather by a patriarchal delegation. It stated that, "This participation of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the fraternal meeting in Amman is motivated by the fact that all autocephalous Orthodox Churches have the responsibility to work together for maintaining, defending and promoting Orthodox dogmatic, canonical and eucharistic unity according to the Gospel and the holy Orthodox canons."

There is no doubt that this decision is extremely important for the Orthodox world today, since it:

-- recognizes the right of the faithful in Ukraine to obtain autocephaly.

-- stipulates that this autocephaly come as the result of consultations between the Churches of Moscow and Constantinople and that it be achieved with the agreement of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches.

-- avoids making the Romanian Church a party to the current conflict.

-- recognizes the role of the Orthodox Churches in taking initiatives to resolve conflicts and to preserve dogma and unity when they are endangered, even if the Patriarch of Constantinople refrains from calling such meetings.

-- preserves the prerogative of the Patriarch of Constantinople to call a synaxis of the primates of the Orthodox Churches, but it does not shut the door to meetings that aim to effect mediation when this patriarch is a party to the conflict.

The most important part of this decision is that in practice it does not recognize the tomos of autocephaly that Constantinople granted to the schismatics and it opens the way to a reexamination of the conditions for granting autocephaly to Ukraine in agreement with the Church's dogma and canons and which lead to real Orthodox unity in Ukraine and a recovery of the universal Orthodox Church's unity.

Is this decision a roadmap for the solution that will result from the meeting in Jordan? Will the Churches of Constantinople and Moscow accept this solution which makes Ukraine's autocephaly a reality and limits the role that Constantinople claims for itself in the Orthodox world? Or will this decision remain a voice crying out in the wilderness against the split that is liable to become a schism? Whatever it may be, the local Churches are called to work in this direction, especially when it comes to the details and the devils in them.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Raymond Rizk: Are we before the Spectacle of a Church Disintegrating?

This article is translated from Majallat al-Nur 57.8 (December, 2019), 401-408. Alongside this article, it is also worth reading Rizk's reflections on the "Council" of Crete, as he had been designated one of Antioch's delegates to the council.



Are we before the Spectacle of a Church Disintegrating?

It is a cry expressing heartbreak leading to the loss of hope, if the Grace of God were not sufficient and  strength made perfect in weakness (1 Corinthians 12:9). This heartbreak comes from the current schisms in our Orthodox Church and the great distance of her behavior from the image her theology wishes to project, of being the Early Church.

After examining the characteristics of the early Christian community and the deviations to which it has been subjected, past and present, we can examine the problems that are tearing our Church apart today and what awaits her in the future.

The Early Community

Christians were called in particular “saints” and “brothers” and their community was called the “brotherhood.” How not, when Christians are equal brothers in the body of Christ, sharing together in the building up of this body, each according to the gifts given to him by the Spirit. The Apostle Paul distinguishes between the brothers he calls episkopos (that is, overseer) and presbyteros (that is, elder) and he relies on them in addition to the diakonos (that is, servant) for taking care of the communities that the apostles founded. Most modern translations of the New Testament use the terms “bishop” and “priest” to indicate the episkopos and presbyteros under the influence of the Church’s modern situations. In reality, the term “priest” is not found in the New Testament except with reference to the priests of the Jews. It is also applied to the Lord Jesus “the chief priest forever” (Hebrews 6:19) and to the collective priesthood of believers in the expressions “the royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) and “kings and priests” (Revelation 1:6 and 5:10). The apostolic communities gathered around the episkopos or presbyteros who led the service of the Eucharist which the community of the faithful performed along with him, according to its royal priesthood.

The Apostle Paul believes that the responsibility of the “overseer” lies in pastoring “the Church of God” (Acts 20:28) and keeping watch over the unity of the people of God, taking notice of the gifts of the children of God and reminding them “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) that in baptism they have obtained "an annointing from the Holy One" (1 John 2:20). As for the faithful, Paul urges them "to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 5:12) and to bear each other's burdens, forgive each other and, before all else, "
put on love, which is the bond of perfection" (Colossians 3:14).

A Christian does not Exist Alone, but rather Exists with his Brothers

A Christian loses the characteristic of being a Christian if he departs from the communion of the community of brothers. He realizes himself in his connection with the other-- any other—within and outside the community. His love for others leads him to encounter God because “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). For this reason, Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) said, “In the Church, we tell each other, ‘I need you in order to be’… Therefore, members of the Church do not use ‘I’, but ‘we’.”[1] We do not say in our prayers ‘Lord have mercy on me’, but rather ‘on us.’ During the prayer of consecration, which is the apex of the Divine Liturgy, the priest says: ‘We offer You this rational worship… and we ask, we pray and we entreat You…’ Then, the people present who are participating in offering the ‘Sacrifice of Praise’ confirm this prayer with their resounding amen.[2]

The Mystery of the Eucharist

When the faithful receive from the hand of the bishop or from the priest delegated by him the precious Body and Blood of the Lord, this mystery represents the mystery of the Church’s unity par excellence. There is no real unity among Christians apart from that which ensures Christ’s presence in each one of them, transforming them into true brothers because the Lord “was honored to be their brother”[3] and makes from them His Church. Within this understanding, the bishop is the elder brother, “first among equals” in the family of the Lord’s brothers. Unfortunately, however, this Eucharistic understanding is not generally experienced in our ecclesiastical communities. Most of the time, we find in them understandings that divide them into two groups, clergy and laity, and we hear in them talk of the “authority” of the clergy and the “rights” of the laity. There is also a lot of talk of obedience, primacies and prerogatives.

The Bishop: Beginnings and Deviations

When the Apostle Paul described the characteristics and responsibility of the bishop, he was aware that this responsibility would be subjected to deviations, since he says to the bishops, “ Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock… For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:28-30). This prophecy came true time and again in the Church’s history, not only because of the heresy of some bishops, but also on account of those who put themselves above the people of God and treated them with the authoritarianism of this world, determining their fate without referring to them.

All authority in the Church is in order to grow love in the community and to serve its unity. Otherwise, it turns into authoritarianism. All obedience is obedience to Christ and thus to the faithful brothers, including the bishop. Obedience is always reciprocal: I obey you because I love you and I know that you are ready to obey me in the Lord. There is no authority and no obedience in the Church apart from an atmosphere of love, dialogue, mutual listening and loving attentiveness. Our fathers teach us that the purpose of authority and obedience in the Church is nothing other than holiness, the holiness of those who wield authority and the holiness of those who obey. Whenever holiness weakens, authority inclines toward authoritarianism and obedience to enslavement, and “the salt is corrupted.”

Some ecclesiastical texts that were composed in the early centuries[4] describe gatherings of the early Christian community as family gatherings. One of them presides and the equal brothers participate with him. It seems that this situation started to change after the first persecutions, since a greater focus on the bishop in ecclesiastical services is noticed then. There is no doubt that this better helped to defend the faith, but it created “a certain inflation in the sacramental hierarchy and a disruption of the ecclesiastical balance.”[5] Then, unconsciously at first, certain fissures started to appear, not at the level of theological vision but in lived reality and the Church started to become more centralized around the clergy and infused with legal concepts.

These inclinations grew when the Church became the church of the empire and was forced into a number of “compromises”. The following two texts clearly indicate the change that occurred in the position of the bishop, in his consciousness of himself, and his image in the eyes of the faithful.
We read in the Didascalia, “If a poor man or woman should come… and there be no place for them to sit, do thou, O bishop, with all thy heart provide a place for them, even if thou have to sit upon the ground.”[6] A similar passage in the Apostolic Constitutions says, “If a poor person comes… and does not have a place to sit, let the deacon do all he is able to find a place for him.”[7]

So we see, in the course of less than half a century, the bishop being removed from personal concern for the poor and his delegation of this responsibility to the deacon. The bishop is no longer the first brother among equal brothers who gives an example by serving the needy, but rather becomes one who does not “come down” from his throne to help the poor. The Apostolic Constitutions were composed after the empire’s conversion to Christianity, and the bishops had grown accustomed to rubbing shoulders with patricians and grandees. It came to be customary to call the bishop “master” despite the explicit request by Christ Himself that no one on earth be called master because “your one Master is Christ and you are all brothers…” (Matthew 23:8).

Other canonical texts[8] show how the bishops gradually reduced the role of prophets, teachers, readers and other forms of ecclesiastical service or delegated priests (who took the place of elders) or deacons to undertake some of them. We see that service in the Church is no longer the result of a divine gift that the bishop and the community notice in one of its members, but rather accepting a designation by the bishop alone.

Likewise the Apostolic Constitutions say to the bishops: “You are to the laity prophets, rulers, governors, and kings; the mediators between God and His faithful people, who receive and declare His word, well acquainted with the Scriptures. You are the voice of God, and witnesses of His will.”[9] It also tells the laity that the bishop is “next after God, your earthly god who has a right to be honored by you… let him preside over you as one honored with the authority of God.”[10] The bishop is very clearly no longer the “elder brother”, but the king and master, who exclusively holds all gifts in his hands and the hands of the clerical class who depend on him, which is likened to the Levitical priesthood[11] in the Old Testament.

In the Apostolic Constitutions there is another recommendation to the bishop which says, “Be of one mind, O you bishops, one with another, and be at peace with one another; sympathize with one another, love the brethren… that there may be no schisms among you.”[12] It seems that this recommendation has rarely been honored, given the wrangling and quarrels among bishops that have been commonplace in the Church’s history.

As for the laity, although they continue to be called in the Apostolic Constitutions “the chosen Church of God… the holy and sacred Church of God, enrolled in heaven, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, a bride adorned for the Lord God,”[13] the Constitutions empty these expressions of their meaning and in practice leave nothing to the laity apart from obedience. They ask them to not “do anything without the bishop”[14] and to provide his livelihood, “and the livelihood of those clergymen with him.”[15]

It is clear that “the corruption of the salt” began in the second part of the third century and that the church of the “empire” lost its semblance to the Early Church. The Early Church was not of this world, but the church of the empire slid deep into this world. This slide was accompanied by the reception of a large number of new converts without sufficient preparation, which led to a weakening of the community’s spiritual life. It was left to its best elements, the founders of monasticism, to preserve the original way of life. We find in the Apostolic Constitutions a certain amount of contradiction and confusion since it sometimes preserved old standards and at other times adapts them to the changing situation.

The Holy Fathers

Many holy bishops, monks and pious laypeople rose up against the laxity of Christian communities and called for a return to the principles of the Gospel and various stages of the Church’s history. We call them the Holy Fathers. The Orthodox are generally happy to parrot their sayings, but without imitating their life. Their sayings are many, but two of them will suffice us.

Saint Basil the Great wrote in a letter to a bishop, “It is right for us bishops to cease and for the churches to live in mutual concord, since we see how our silly and petty conflicts harm the people of God.”[16] The Blessed Augustine says to his lay flocks, “It scares me what I represent for you, but I am put at ease by that in which I share with you. For you, I am the bishop. But with you, I am a mere Christian. The title ‘bishop’ indicates a responsibility that one bears. But the name ‘Christian’ is the name of the grace granted to us all. We bishops are your servants and your companions at the same time… We are your leaders and those led by you at the same time. We stand at your forefront only if we contribute to your wellbeing. If the bishop does not behave in this way, then he will not remain a bishop in reality, but rather bears the name improperly.”[17]

Contemporary Fathers

The age of the fathers has not ended and some of them still rise up against deviations, like the growing state of clericalism, the unilateralism and authoritarian behavior of bishops, and the Church’s use of the ways of the world in her activities. Daniel Ciobotea (currently Patriarch of Romania) wrote, “The structure of the Church must only be a structure of participation and service, since her chief purpose is not establishing a regime in the legal sense of the term or even unity of an administrative sort, but rather creating harmony in brotherly love and consequently a participatory unity based on reciprocal self-sacrifice according to the model of the reciprocal self-sacrifice of the hypostases of the Trinity.”[18] He says of obedience, “We must be careful to remain obedient, on the condition of bringing back the ecclesiastical sense of obedience, since it seems that there are deviations in the prevailing understanding of it. The purpose of obedience in the Church is never to preserve the system by eliminating brotherly love or the personality of the ‘little ones.’ Obedience is not elevating the one who commands and abasing the one who obeys, but rather for the life of both parties to become self-sacrifice through liberating, reciprocal service and joint responsibility for the edification of the Church.”[19] In truth, Christian obedience is always reciprocal, as one of the Desert Fathers said, “Obedience in return for obedience: for He who obeys God, God obeys.”[20] Anba Pimen drew attention to the fact that “he who leads must always be a model and not a legislator.”[21] Does the sight of what many of the leaders of our churches are doing constitute a model?


The Painful Reality

Looking at our current ecclesiastical reality objectively makes us consider the words of our fathers as though they come from another world. Father Nikolai Afanasiev expressed this painful reality when he said, “History introduced massive alterations into ecclesiastical life and invented forms that differ radically from earlier forms, sowing strange concepts.” He added, “We must struggle today to be rid of the forms to which we have grown accustomed and return to the ancient forms that appear strange to us.”[22]
 
This discourse is not unique. Many of the people of God in our days are aware of the danger of where we have arrived and the necessity of returning to the Church’s living tradition, this tradition that has been drowned out by human traditions and historical missteps into a whole set of prohibitions cast in a language that does not speak to people. We have made human traditions, certain canons and typica—the interpretation of which has been left to people’s whim—into holy degrees that generally take the place of the decrees of the Gospel and the Apostles. Our Church practically lives in the past and fears every new thing and change, even if it requires returning to the sources. Many times it has become a museum whose treasures have been covered by a great amount of dust.

What can be said at the sight of the schisms of our churches and the disputes of their bishops over the “rights” of sees or persons? The attachment of certain of our churches to their racial affiliation surpasses their affiliation to Christ. Are we really experiencing such blatant heresies and no one seems concerned?! Metropolitan Georges (Khodr) once cried out, “This group that eats the Lord’s body eats away at itself with hatred.” How right he was! What is there to do, then, when this “salt” is corrupted?!

The Holy Spirit and the Council

We cannot do anything by ourselves. Only the Holy Spirit can prevent the salt from being corrupted and bring back its original flavor. He alone gives life to the Son’s Church, if the people of God refrain from imprisoning Him in the chains of their egotism. This people must desire it, because the Holy Spirit is always ready. Our problem is that we do not rely on Him who brings all newness, but rather on our longstanding habits. Our point of reference is the system of “masters” that our sins have brought us to!

No parish, diocese or independent church remains the Church of Christ if it rejects the newness of the Spirit, closes in on itself, takes pride in its achievements, and thinks that it is able to continue to be this Church despite ignoring others. Although every bishop and every Eucharistic community is rooted in a specific place, they are in communion with all the other Eucharistic communities and bishops at the regional and global level. This communion appears in the synod which includes the bishops of a specific geographic region inasmuch as they represent their Eucharistic communities. It appears at the global level in the ecumenical council. Each synod must have a “first among equals” (primus inter pares) and not a “first without equals” (primus sine paribus), as a newly-coined heresy claims.[23]

Contemporary Heresies

This and similar heresies, especially that which pertains to racial affiliation, led to a break in Eucharistic communion between two churches in 1996—for the first time in modern Orthodox history, not for dogmatic reasons, but on account of an administrative dispute over prerogatives and geographic boundaries in Estonia. This was not resolved before another break in communion occurred in 2010, decided by the See of Antioch with regard to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. This was also for an administrative reason related to geographic boundaries. It is noteworthy that this break in communion was limited to clergy, as though they represent a separate body from the rest of the faithful! Despite several efforts, until now this problem has not been resolved and it seems that the Orthodox world has forgotten it or ignores it. Finally, the Church of Russia has broken Eucharistic communion with the Church of Constantinople, also on account of an administrative dispute about Ukraine. This break has been extended to the Church of Greece and the Patriarchate of Alexandria, which have recognized the entity established by the Ecumenical Patriarch in Ukraine. It is feared that the break will extend to other “Greek” churches if they follow Constantinople’s example.

I have no intention of delving into the reasons for these schisms and the responsibilities of all the churches in them. They are a mix of canonical propriety, disputes about “prerogatives”[24] of the heads of the churches and political reasons. If they indicate anything, they indicate how absorbed our churches are in the mindset of the world, where one imposes economic sanctions on anyone who disagrees. As for us, unfortunately, we impose a prohibition from the Heavenly Provision, as though we own it!

It is a sad situation to be Orthodox today! It is unfortunate to observe that the affairs of the Church are generally not conducted according to the mind of Christ, but rather are completely removed from the love that is supposed to be the only “weapon” available to those who believe in Him. Basil the Great wished that one of the bishops would “cast off the idea that he does not need to be in communion with another one. Because no one who lives in love or strives to keep the Law of Christ can break communion with his brothers.”[25] He wrote in another letter, sent to Athanasius the Great, “You must be attentive that no schism occur between the churches… out of fear that the Orthodox people divide into various parties and follow the leaders in their schisms. We must make every effort for peace to prevail before all else.”[26] Is anyone listening?!

Questions

We have the right to wonder whether the leaders of some of our churches take seriously the “Law of Christ,” of which Saint Basil speaks, or whether they consider their own interests and centers of power to be more important. Do they really believe that the Eucharist itself forms their church and the church of their brothers in faith before they break communion?

The Council

All matters of dispute must be examined in a council, as happened in the Byzantine period. There is, however, no longer an emperor to call such a council. On the other hand, the experience of the “council” of Crete was ineffective. The Orthodox Church today is at a real impasse. We stand before two competing visions of the concept of the Church: Constantinople emphasizes primacy “without equals” while others emphasize equality between the churches. It is a fruitless debate for those who want to be Christians who believe in unity in diversity. It seems that this quarrel will go on in an atmosphere of mutual distrust and political interests, which the leaders of the churches lack the boldness to resist. The schism will go on as long as God wills, unless the other Orthodox churches decided to intervene and “force” the rivals to agree to a council.

Orthodox Brotherhoods?

The Orthodox Church has experienced analogous tragic situations in the past, where bishops abandoned their responsibilities and left their flocks. One of these occasions occurred in the 16th century, in a region that is mostly located in modern Ukraine and Belarus. The Church was saved at that time through the activity of brotherhoods that included monks and laypeople who mobilized to defend Orthodoxy and were granted God’s help.

We ask the Holy Spirit to inspire some of our bishops, monks, theologians and laypeople to such activity. They must pray together without splitting into competing rival parties and partake together in the Holy Things (despite the restrictions) in order to create, with God’s help, awareness among the Orthodox that their Church is disintegrating and that the time has come to turn the tables on those who traffic in holy things, just as the time has come for us all to repent and prepare to affirm “the joy that is in us” (1 Peter 3:15).  


[1] In the keynote address he gave at the recent conference of Orthodox theologians in Romania.
[2] Basil the Great says that the “amen” boomed in his church like the sound of thunder.
[3] Blessed Augustine, Sermon 25
[4] Especially the Didache (early 2nd century) and the Tradition of the Apostles (ca. 215) and the Didascalia Apostolorum (early third century).
[5] Fr Sergei Bulgakov, one of the great Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century, in his book L'épouse de l'agneau (L’Age d’Homme), 214.
[6] In Section 12.
[7] The Apostolic Constitutions are a collection of Christian regulations composed by a bishop in Northern Syria around the year 380. It relies in some passages on the Didache and the Didascalia Apostolorum.
[8] For example, the Clementine texts, which are pseudepigraphic texts composed in the first part of the third century incorporating texts of a Judeo-Christian character from the end of the second century.
[9] Book II, 25.7
[10] Book II, 26.4
[11] Book II, 25.7
[12] Book II, 44.2
[13] Book II, 26.1
[14] Book II, 26.1
[15] Book II, 24.3
[16] Letter 204.7
[17] Sermon 22
[18] In an article on the mystery of communion and freedom in a world marked by sin and limitedness, 1985.
[19] ibid.
[20] From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.
[21] From the article by Ciobotea.
[22] L'Église du Saint-Esprit (Cerf, 1974), 247.
[23] The first to write about it was Elpidophoros, Archbishop of the Greek Church in the United States, who is close to the current Ecumenical Patriarch.
[24] No church leader has any prerogative apart from self-sacrifice, love and service.
[25] Letter 65
[26] Letter 69