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.


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 scourge 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.

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.