Sunday, July 30, 2023

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

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. 106-111

 Part I here.

Part III here.

The beginning of the Jesuit mission: Rome continued to demand unity of the Church by means of submission and obedience to a single bishop, which it considered to be the "bishop of bishops". It sharpened its desire for this unity, according to her resolution at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), and started to prepare for it. In 1553, it issued a bull for the establishment of three colleges in Jerusalem, Constantinople and Cyprus. In 1576 Gregory XIII established the Greek College of St Athanasius in Rome and in 1584 a college for the Maronites was also established in Rome. France set as one of its chief objectives in the Middle East the protection of the "Catholic religion" in the lands of Islam, revealing the concern of its followers to "bring the schismatic Christians back into obedience."

Urban VIII wished to take advantage of the friendship that existed between France and the Ottoman Empire, so he opened discussions with the government of Louis XIII about bringing "schismatic" Christians back into obedience. It agreed with him, and so he issued an order to the Carmelites, Capuchins and Jesuits to send their priests to the Near East, especially Syria, to bring its Christians back into obedience. Louis XIII ordered these missionaries to go and wrote to his ambassador in the Ottoman capital, de Césy, who in turn issued the order to the consuls of France in Alexandria, Sidon, Damascus and Aleppo. The missionaries began their activities in Aleppo, the most important city of Syria and Lebanon at that time, as well as the closest to Asia Minor and Iraq. In the years 1625-1627, they established there centers for their activities, in cooperation with the Franciscans, benefiting from their long experience and advice. They then went out from Aleppo and were active in Damascus, Sidon, Tripoli, Chios, Smyrna and Naxos. "They practiced medicine for free and meddled in the affairs of bishops and priests. They frequented Orthodox churches and the homes of Christians, feigning love, meekness and unity of faith, spreading the idea among ordinary people that their beliefs were Orthodox, no different in any way whatsoever from the beliefs of the Eastern Church, apart from a few unimportant issues. They defended many things in Eastern dogma and ritual that today the Westerners consider to be errors. They publicly declared that they rejected the most important dogmas held by the non-Orthodox. This is what led Patriarch Euthymius IV al-Saqizi to house some of them in the patriarchal residence." He permitted them to teach members of the community, to offer the sacrament of confession in Orthodox churches and to visit the homes of Christians.

These missionaries sowed the sees of their teachings through the sacrament of confession. They did not ask of the simple, ordinary masses of Orthodox believers anything more than the faith of their fathers and the decisions of the councils, but they spoke openly with educated people in specific circumstances, compelling them to return from error. Here is what one of the Jesuit fathers said in 1650 about his method for attracting souls:

"When an Orthodox comes to confess with us, we ask him if he believes what the Greek fathers-- Basil, Athanasius, Gregory and Chrysostom-- taught and he responds 'yes'. Then we ask him whether he repudiates and anathematizes every teaching that is not in agreement with what those holy fathers taught, and he responds 'yes'. Since their Creed only differs from our Creed by the word "and the Son" and since we regard this word as merely an explanation of the Creed, we ask him whether or not he understands the Creed as the fathers of the Church and the holy councils understood it, and he responds 'yes'. Then he recites the Creed and we absolve him. All the intelligent, rational Orthodox confess the primacy of the Pope because they read in their books how Chrysostom took refuge with the Pope during his time of trial and how the Pope returned him to his see, excommunicating the emperor and empress. They then deduce that the Orthodox and the emperor himself submitted to the Pope during the era of Chrysostom."

In this way, while the Orthodox leaders were quarreling and dividing the community, these Latin missionaries were working to draw hearts and minds toward Rome and its pope. The ambassadors and consuls of the Catholic countries did everything in their power to support them with the means to implement Rome's desire to make Catholics.

Athanasius IV [in modern reckoning, III] (1686-1694): The Archdiocese of Aleppo was widowed and its children began in earnest to seek a worthy clergyman. The Latin missionaries were interested in the matter and directed their gaze to Jerusalem, pointing to Procopius, abbot of the monastery of Bethlehem. Procopius (or Paisius) was born in Damascus to Orthodox parents. He grew up there with the name Paul al-Dabbas and studied with the Jesuit fathers, emulating their faith. Embarking on adult life, he practiced the trade of weaving for some time. He was good-looking and "was afraid of being enticed by wicked people" and so left Damascus for Jerusalem to consecrate himself to God. He took the schema at the Monastery of Saint Saba, mastering the Greek language and religious sciences. He was ordained as a priest, then appointed abbot of the monastery of the Greeks in Bethlehem. He came into contact with the Franciscan friars "and among them renewed and consolidated his Roman faith after his laxity in frequenting the schismatics" [both quotes from a work by the contemporary Maronite Archbishop of Aleppo Germanus Farhat]. Lay notables from Aleppo went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, getting into contact with the missionaries' candidate and finding him meek, jovial, mastering the religious sciences and well-versed in both Arabic and Greek. They sought his election as bishop of Aleppo and convinced him to leave the monastery and accompany them there, passing through Damascus to be consecrated on the way. When they reached Damascus and discussed the matter with Patriarch Cyril, he agreed at first and then declined. He detested the Aleppines and so the Franciscans acted, "wanting to establish Procopius as patriarch of Antioch because of his holding the holy Roman faith, in place of Cyril, who was a schismatic. So they worked for this and set him up as patriarch by order of the sultan" [ibid.]. Procopius had an uncle whose name was Mikhail Tarazi, who was one of the local notables, and he went to Constantinople bearing a petition signed by the notables of the community in Aleppo and letters of recommendation from some of the consuls of the Frankish countries in Aleppo to their ambassadors in Constantinople. When he arrived there, he presented his papers to the synod and so the synod deposed Cyril and issued to Procopius the decrees from the sultan as was the custom. The uncle returned to Damascus and informed the governor and the qadi of the sultan's decrees. At the time, Cyril was touring his diocese, and so Procopius' consecration as patriarch of Antioch took place in his absence on Wednesday, August 25, 1686, in the presence of three metropolitans: Leontius, metropolitan of Saidnaya; Joasaph, metropolitan of Nablus; and the metropolitan of Hawran. He took the name Athanasius. When news of this reached Cyril, he wrote to the capital and requested decrees and a berat from the sultan, entered Damascus and took possession of the patriarch's residence. As for Athanasius, he resided in the metochion of Mar Mikhail and then moved to Aleppo.

On April 10, 1687, Athanasius wrote to the ambassador of France in Constantinople, stating that he grew up Catholic in Damascus thanks to the Jesuit Fathers and that a few months previously he had sent his Catholic confession of faith to the Pope in the care of the Franciscans. He then asks the ambassador to be under the protection of the king of France, to receive this protection at the necessary time and to enjoy this protections whenever he asks for it. He adds that he seeks to keep an eye out on his opponents, the opponents of the Roman Church, and to prevent them from causing harm to him at the Sublime Porte.

Athanasius' Catholic confession of faith was written on July 4, 1686, seven weeks before becoming patriarch. It is entitled "The Confession of Athanasius, Patriarch of Antioch for the Community of the Rum" and here are some excerpts, as taken from the book of the [Catholic] priest Constantine Basha, History of the Melkite Community, translating from the original that is kept in Rome:

"I firmly believe and hold everything contained in the articles of faith used in the Holy Roman Church... then [I confess] the Fourth Council of Constantinople which is the eighth general council. I believe that Photius was repudiated there and was justly and truly judged and that Saint Ignatius took his place on the See of Constantinople....  [I confess] the Council of Florence and I believe everything defined at it, namely that the Holy Spirit is eternal from the Father and the Son and that He Himself remains together with the Father and the Son forever that He proceeds from both as from one principle and one breath. For this reason, the phrase 'and the Son' was necessarily and truly put in the Creed in order to explain this great and necessary truth... Now, freely and gladly, with all my heart I believe it and I truly and honestly hold it, free of blame until my life's last breath, firmly with the help of God almighty. I preserve and confess it and seek for it to be held, taught and preached by those who are under my jurisdiction and who are in the flock subject to me. I, Athanasius, Patriarch of Antioch for the Rum community promise, declare and swear, may God help me, by the holy Gospels, praise be to God always."

Evils and strife arose, with some taking the side of one and some the other. Each excommunicated the other. On June 6, 1687 Rome recognized Athanasius as Patriarch of Antioch "despite the irregularities surrounding his election" and "Sylvester Dahhan was appointed as bishop of Beirut, with the idea that he would be installed by Athanasius. And he said, 'Our patriarch is a Frank and I do not wish for my episcopacy to be by his hand." [This latter quote is from the Chronicle of the Metropolitans of Beirut].

This split resulted in great losses, upheavals and disturbances. Some bishops and local notables threatened to elect a third patriarch. "Athanasius was greatly saddened by these events and by the expenses of administration. He desired peace and calm for the Church and so he conceded to Cyril in October of 1694" [this is a quote from Athanasius' own history of the Patriarchs of Antioch, written in Greek]. The two sides agreed that Cyril would have the patriarchate and that the Archdiocese of Aleppo would be given to Athanasius, who would live there and receive its income and the income of Idlib and Kilis, keeping the title of 'patriarch' until one of them dies. Then the other would hold the patriarchate and no one else would be elected. All of this was decided at a council of bishops, with the agreement of the ordinary people of Damascus and Aleppo. Rome, however, was not pleased with this agreement and Pope Innocent XII did not recognize it, but rather encouraged Athanasius to return to the patriarchal see.

After the truce was made between Cyril and Athanasius, Athanasius went to Constantinople, Wallachia and Moldavia to seek support in March of 1700, during the reign of the right-believing Prince Constantin [Brâncoveanu]. The prince was sympathetic and offered gifts. When he learned that the books of the Church of Antioch were still copied by hand, he was seized by zeal and he ordered Arabic type to be produced and Arabic printing was honored with the printing of the Orthodox liturgy and the Horologion.When Athanasius returned to Aleppo, he brought this press with him and it was then transferred to Balamand Monastery. The tradition of Balamand is that this press was later moved to the Monastery of Saint John in Choueir with the monks loyal to Rome who went there, while the Choueirite tradition claims that the press there was independently established by Abdallah Zakhir.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Apostolicity, Again and Again

 Arabic original here.

Apostolicity, Again and Again

On the Sunday of Thomas, Jesus said to the disciples, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:22-23).

"The Holy Spirit is light and life... Spirit of Wisdom, Spirit of understanding..."

Understanding comes from the Spirit. Not from the mind alone and not from knowledge alone, but from the Spirit of holiness.

The saint searches first for wellness of soul. He desires purity and humility. The Gospel is wellness of soul.

The Gospel is translated into action. It is translated into witness and martyrdom.

In the Creed we say, "I believe in one, holy catholic and apostolic Church."

Our Church is apostolic because she preserves the teachings of the Apostles. 

The Apostle Paul says, "You are... fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:19-20).

The message of the Apostles is a message of meekness, kindness and giving.

They do not desire fighting and domination. They have a message of love before all else.

They do not say, "I am so-and-so's son and you are so-and-so's son." Influence and partisanship divide people.

It says in the Acts of the Apostles about the disciples of Christ, "They continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers... all who believed were together, and had all things in common" (Acts 2:42 and 44).

They had the power of love.

Not the power of money, the power of authority or the power of lust.

Apostolicity is based first of all on the faith of the Apostles, the true faith of the Gospel without any innovation. It is also based on an apostolic way of acting, a life resembling the life of the Apostles. 

The love they had was for all.


Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Monday, July 3, 2023

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): The Mystery of the Church

Arabic original here.

The Mystery of the Church

The life of the Church is a constant, ongoing Pentecost.

The Feast of All Saints indicates the transfiguration of humanity over time, until the Second Coming.

Now, at the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, it points especially to the apostolic evangelism, which is another point of distinction of the mystery of the Church.

It highlights the witness to Christ's resurrection by fishing men for Him.

What do you think is the need for the Church?

Is her existence necessary for our spiritual life?

Why is there holy tradition and the orders of the priesthood?

Why exactly does the Church exist?

Can we reach Christ directly without her?

The answer to this is easy, since Christ Himself wanted it this way, since he said to Peter:

"You are Peter and on this rock I shall build My Church" (Matthew 16:18).

And Peter says in his First Epistle, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession" (1 Peter 2:9).

Paul also states that you are "fellow citizens with the saints ... built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:19-20).

Jesus Himself wanted to make us members of His own body, which is the Church, of which He is the head and we are the members.

The Lord wanted to distance us from our individualist and selfish being and the Apostles became the foundations of the Church. As for the priests and bishops, they are in principle living icons of Christ.

This is despite their weaknesses, inasmuch as the Church has not yet entered into her glory at the Second Coming.

The will of Christ is clear from His words: "Whoever listens to you listens to Me; whoever rejects you rejects Me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent Me" (Luke 10:16).

Let us pray, then, at this feast, the Feast of the pure Apostles, let us pray that Christ will distance us from every schism, every heresy, so that we may be able to love each other in one faith, in one Church, and in one earthly nation.

Christ said, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you" (John 15:12).



Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies