Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Asad Rustom on the Era of Patriarch Cyril al-Za'im (I)

Translated from: Asad Rustum, Kanisat Madinat Allah Antakya al-'Uzma [The Church of the Great City of God Antioch], Jounieh: Editions St. Paul (1988), vol. 3, pp. 101-106

 Part II here.

Part III here.

Neophytus and Cyril (1672-1720): Macarius III died on June 12, 1672, as recorded on the engraved stone described by the priest Mikhail Burayk in the Church of Cyprian and Justina in Damascus. It is said that wicked people from the al-Midan neighborhood plotted and gave him poison to drink and he departed to his Lord.

After the death of this man of blessed memory, the Damascenes preferred his grandson Constantine over others out of respect for the esteem of his grandfather and in honor of the piety of his father, the priest Paul, also taking into account his excellent qualities. He was eloquent, intelligent, noble and virtuous. Constantius of Constantinople says about him: "But the Damascenes, from their attachment and love to the blessed man, remembering the good works he had done for the throne, with one voice elected a grandson of the ever-memorable man and a son of Paul, son of the Patriarch, the monk-deacon Constantine, who was in his twentieth year. On his ordination and advancement to the see, he changed his name to Cyril. Although young he was, he possessed the eloquence and intelligence of an old man."

It is recounted by the author of the History of the Archdiocese of Beirut that the Damascenes requested the berat for Cyril and when it arrived he was consecrated patriarch by Gregorius, metropolitan of Hawran; Romanus, metropolitan of al-Zabdani; Leontius, metropolitan of Saidnaya; and Germanus, metropolitan of Pamphilia on July 7, 1672. And if one were to say: "How could the bishops of the See and the people of Damascus choose this very young man, when at that time in the territory of the See of Antioch there were more than twenty bishops? Was there no one competent for the patriarchate apart from this young man?" We would respond: Indeed, he was elected and consecrated for three reasons. First, out of respect for the esteem of his grandfather the Patriarch Macarius, who made enormous efforts to pay off the many debts and during whose time the entire Patriarchate grew more than during the days of his predecessors. Second, out in honor of his father, the priest Paul. He and his father loved the Damascenes and were greatly loved by them. These two virtuous men attended to the patriarchal residence and all the income of the sees of the patriarchate were in the hands of his father the priest Paul, along with the bequests of his grandfather. Third, even if Cyril was young, he had a mature intellect and was adorned with virtue, well-educated, eloquent and intelligent. These three reasons restrained some of the bishops and the rest of the Christians and prevented them from saying anything inappropriate against him, even though they were put off by his young age.

Neophytus (1674-1684): Others-- and perhaps they were the majority-- were displeased at the departure from the canons and tradition, and so they criticized Cyril's young age, denounced his illicit election, vilified his uncanonical consecration and despised his being made patriarch through the intervention of secular authorities. It so happened that during this standoff the Patriarch of Jerusalem Dositheus II, the famous scholar and eminent religious authority, was passing through Damascus and came as a guest to the patriarchal residence, and so had the opportunity to get to know Cyril at the beginning of his tenure as patriarch and to take account himself of the effects of his youth. He said that he was "a little child" and that he "ascended to the see by the power of brute force and tyranny."

Dositheus met with Neophytus, the metropolitan of Hama, and Neophytus expressed to him his displeasure with the consecration and patriarchate of Cyril because it went against the canons. The metropolitans presented a petition in Arabic to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in which they complained about the issue of Cyril and his accession to the Patriarchal See of Antioch. In early November, 1672, the Ecumenical Patriarch Dionysius IV held a council under his presidency attended by the patriarch of Jerusalem. After the council reviewed the petition of the metropolitans of the See of Antioch and various other letters issued, on the basis of Apostolic Canon 30, Canon 3 of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Canon 11 of the Council of Caesarea, and Canon 14 of the Council in Trullo a decision to depose Cyril and expel him from the See of Antioch. The Synod of Constantinople then nominated for the vacant Patriarchal See of Antioch Neophytus, metropolitan of Hama; Gregorius, metropolitan of Caesarea; and Eugenius, metropolitan of Christianopolis. In the end, Neophytus was elected unanimously. The notables of the See of Antioch asked Neophytus in a letter to head to Constatninople and to take over the Patriarchate, just as the synod itself invited him to the reigning city. Neophytus went to Constantinople and was installed as patriarch of Antioch. About a year after his installation, he came to Damascus and took the reins of the patriarchal see.

Then Cyril went to Constantinople and requested a berat from the sultan for the patriarchate and returned to Damascus. The flock was divided, evil increased and the harm multiplied. Neophytus returned to Constantinople and requested a new berat from the sultan, then returning to Damascus and taking hold of the see. The situation continued like this for nine years. Neophytus' debts mounted, so Cyril said to him, "I will pay these debts for you and grant you Lattakia and its dependencies to reside there and benefit from their income." Neophytus was pleased with this and so he went to Lattakia and rested there for a time. He was given the title "Former Patriarch of Antioch" and after four years he died and was buried in the Church of Saint Nicholas, in the chapel of Saint Moses the Ethiopian.

Neophytus left a confession of faith to refute the claims of Calvin. The Jesuit Father Michel Nau approached this patriarch in May 1673, complaining about the Calvinists and asking him to support the Catholics. Neophytus issued a confession of the Orthodox faith and signed it along with Gregorius, the metropolitan of Hawran; Antonius, the metropolitan of Baalbek; and Romanus, the bishop of al-Zabadani, along with fourteen priests, six deacons and a number of lay notables. The Fr Michel presented this confession to Jeramiah, the metropolitan of Tyre and Sidon, and Philip, the metropolitan of Beirut, and they also signed it.

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