Monday, September 11, 2023

Asad Rustom on the Era of Patriarch Cyril al-Za'im (III): Euthymius al-Sayfi

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. 111-119.

Part I here.

Part II here.

Rome completes its mission: Athanasius kept to the truce and was unable to return to the patriarchal see, so Rome undertook to complete its plan and in 1697 the attention of the Jesuit priest Verseau was drawn to Balamand Monastery because he was familiar with the monks and "the schism has a great affair there because they all belong to the Rum millet." Fr Verseau repeatedly attempted to enter Balamand in order to expound on the Catholic faith, but he failed. Then two disciples of the Jesuit fathers felt the monastic calling and chose Balamand as their place to serve God, "and Fr Verseau started to visit them and guide them, warning about the danger in that monastery." It was then confirmed that they were firm in their Catholicism and so he took them on as a tool for Roman propaganda among the monks. He increased his visits to the monastery and became acquainted with all the monks, taking part in the monastery's gatherings without any impediment. "In order to please them all," he praised Saint Basil the Great and read accounts of him to them. He then put into the hands of his two friends books by Fr Clisson and Fr Nau. In 1704, five of the monks of Balamand sent a petition to the Congregation de Propaganda Fide that included the following:

"We present to Your Resplendent Majesty that we are your servants, numbering five people from the millet of the Arab Rum, monks of the path of Saint Basil the Great, who were reared from our childhood in the Catholic religion, always submitting to the Supreme Pontiff, His All-Holiness. Nevertheless, in these lands we have not found the freedom to perfect the way of life for salvation of the soul as is necessary in monasticism due to the country's lack of stability and the rule of the nations over it and the disorder of the monasteries and monks. We have presented our situation to Your Resplendent Majesty so that if you decree and command us, we will come before you about this matter. We ask that you grant us, out of the charity of the Holy Church, a humble place where we may take refuge alone, either in Rome or outside it and for you to grant us there the necessary food and ascetic drink sufficient for the body and nothing else, so that we may serve God in our place as much as possible and pray for Your Resplendent Majesty.

Balamand, in the region of Tripoli of Syria on November 1, 1704. Your servant, the hieromonk Macarius. Your servant, the hieromonk Gerasimus. Your pitiful servant, the hieromonk Hanania. Your pitiful servant the hieromonk Nasrallah. Your servant the hierodeacon George."

The Monastery of Saint John, Choueir: At this very moment, two young men from Aleppo arrived at Balamand, desiring to practice chastity and asceticism. Father Nasrallah from Aleppo advised them "to go to Mount Lebanon and search for an empty place. Afterwards, we will come to you and make a canonical monastic order, because in this monastery one cannot live in freedom of faith because in it there are recalcitrant people and associating with them is not beneficial." They heeded his advice and went and found a monastery called Mar Yuhanna al-Choueir, and sent them news about it.

This monastery was humble in the beginning, only containing a small church named after John the Baptist and a humble room that was home to an ascetic from the Sawaya family of Choueir. Choueir was suffering from a feud between its two big families, the Maja'is and the Sawaya. When the dispute arose between the two patriarchs, Athanasius and Cyril, one group sided with the former and the other with the latter. The Maja'is supported Cyril, so the Sawaya decided to support Athanasius. The Maja'is won over the majority of the families of Choueir and the Sawaya were prevented from praying in the Church of Our Lady, the village church, so they began to pray in the Church of Saint John mentioned above. In this way, the Monastery of Saint John is not named merely after its being found in the area of Choueir, but also after the Choueirite ascetic who founded it and his Choueirite family members who made its church their place of worship, defending those monks claiming obedience to Rome who took refuge there.

Rome's Only Man: One of the individuals in obedience to Rome, submitting to its bishop, was Euthymius al-Sayfi, metropolitan of Tyre and Sidon (1682-1723). He was born in Damascus around the year 1643 with the name Mikhail ibn Musa al-Sayfi, growing up there. He studied in the community's school at the patriarchal residence and received special attention from the priest Jirjis Bariq, imbibing Catholicism from his youth. This priest Jirjis had traveled to Rome and adopted Catholicism there. When Mikhail was young, he frequented the monastery of the Jesuit and Capuchin fathers and they attracted him to themselves, increasing his obedience and submission. He became close with the patriarchal vicar Neophytus al-Saqizi, learning Greek and the art of Byzantine chant from him. Perhaps Neophytus himself ordained Mikhail as a deacon and then priest in 1666.

Jeremiah, the metropolitan of Tyre and Sidon died around 1680 and the Latin missionaries encouraged the Rum notables in Sidon to elect the priest Mikhail al-Sayfi. Patriarch Cyril III agreed and consecrated him as metropolitan of Tyre and Sidon in 1682, giving him the name Euthymius. The first activity that this new bishop undertook was that he hurried to send a copy of his confession of the Catholic faith to Pope Innocent XII, with the Capucin father Accursio. This father Accursio was the teacher of the new bishop's confession in Damascus. Part of what is contained in the confession is as follows:

"I have rejected the error and schism of the Rum for some time and I have confessed the Catholic faith at the hands of the missionary monks in Syria. Now, by the grace of God, I have become bishop over the See of Tyre and Sidon and I must offer the necessary obedience to you and reference to your holy see, imitating the holy fathers Athanasius the Great, John Chrystostom and all the holy fathers whom the Roman Church has received in the time of their struggle and persecution. I do not need to mention the rejection, imprisonment, humiliation, loss of money I have endured and the enmity from the Muslims, along with some of the Rum and their clergy, especially their patriarch called Cyril, on account of my confession of the Catholic faith."

The archdiocese of Tyre and Sidon was large but not very populated, so the new bishop worked to populate it by encouraging migration there. He agreed in May of 1686 with the Rum notables in Sidon to write to those Christians who were willing, to invite them to reside in Sidon. The qadi of Sidon issued a deed for this that still exists to this day. He then rebuilt the Church in Sidon with his own money and formally issued a deed for this on April 11, 1690. It is no surprise that such a deed was necessary because Islamic law forbids the construction of churches and monks' cells but permits the renovation and preservation of old ones.

The most important thing that Euthymius undertook during this initial period of his episcopacy was that he established the Salvatorian monastic order to spread the principles of union with Rome and submission to its bishop. This work started in Sidon where, before 1700, he gathered together a number of monks to live a common, canonically-ordered life with him at the Machmoucha farm near Joun. The Salvatorian priest Constantine Bacha believes that the metropolitan's disciples numbered, at the end of the 17th century, no less than ten and that they were unable to live in Sidon and its surroundings without being subject to every accusation and every hardship from the army and others, so they rented the Machmoucha farm from its owner, the qadi Sheikh Qablan, to live and work there. They did not do this for long before, by the care of the Savior, their monastery in His name was established in 1711. Euthymius composed a special rule for its monks, news of which spread among people until it reached Aleppo. His letter to a friend in Aleppo preserves some of what the Salvatorian monks practiced in the beginning and some of the principles that Euthymius had in mind. His friend, a bishop, wrote in objection to Euthymius' permitting his monks to eat oil and fish during fasts. The latter responded:

"It does not escape your knowledge, if you ponder and see the weakness and decline of the millet and its lack of the necessary knowledge and spiritual sciences. We have seen many with weak temperaments and good zeal, who had a little knowledge and wanted to have a pure life, ordered by keeping the three vows that are the foundation of all monastic orders, so that they might benefit their millet by their activity and knowledge. But they forsook entering monasticism on account of its harshness of living now among us and so fell short of completing their good intention. When I realized that this particular reason was preventing the universal good, I used the authority of binding and loosening given to me by God and His Church to issue an order, indeed to issue a compulsion, known to all on account of its being issued and entering into force. This was so that worship in this manner would be something by choice rather than compulsion. It is not as it is now, practiced by others openly and rejected by the majority in secret. Moreover, so that we would not imitate the harshness of some previous shepherds who used their authority to bind and not to loosen, nor even less should I curse rather than bless those in whom God's words through the Prophet Micah are fulfilled: 'Eat the meat of my people and break their bones.'For this reason, we see their state as they have caused great losses for this pure path and for the excellent Christian faith. My intention as well, if it so happens, is for such as these to be separated from the other monks only in their abode and means of living, and to agree with them in keeping the three vows and the rest of the other rules, since they are under the obedience of one leader. If our intention is not achieved with them, then God has proof against the stubborn."

Euthymius, Bishop of those Submitting to Rome (1702): Some of the bishops rejected the harm that had come to the Church on account of the schism and arrogance stormed in their minds, so they wrote to Euthymius around 1694 so that he would be their leader and the flock would have one shepherd. Then an understanding was reached between Athanasius and Cyril and Cyril became the sole patriarch. His heart was set on hindering the activities of the missionaries and not facilitating their interests. He refrained from sending to the sultan recognition of the priests who befriended the missionaries and worked under their guidance. Athanasius went back on what he had promised Rome at the beginning of the affair. In 1700, Clement XI (1700-1720) took charge of the See of Rome. Euthymius wrote to congratulate the new pope and renew his submission. On February 24, 1701 he composed a new letter in which he explained the situation in the Patriarchate of Antioch and requested to be the "vicar of the pope in the East" in order to give him the authority to recognize Catholic bishops outside his diocese. He mentioned the desire of the metropolitans to install him as patriarch of Antioch and he attached the document that they had signed, but he said that he had little reach and could not accept their request because he was subject to "the authority of the Muslims." Therefore he only sought "the authority of the dhimmis."

The Propaganda Fide studied Euthymius' request in a session held for this purpose on December 6, 1701 and accepted the metropolitan of Tyre and Sidon's request for a period of seven years by a decision brought before the pope. Clement XI accepted the congregation's decision and ordered that it be acted upon and the following message was sent to Euthymius:

"To sayyid Euthymius, metropolitan of Sidon and the Rum in all the Patriarchate of Antioch where there are no Catholic bishops: On Wednesday, July 19, 1702 in the regular audience of the revered father assistant, the Most Holy Father granted, according to what was presented to him, to the aforementioned petitioner these rights for a period of seven years, such that he may in no way exercise them outside the boundaries of the aforementioned patriarchate or in dioceses in which there are Catholic bishops."

The Book al-Dalala al-Lami'a (The Shining Proof, 1710): The Jesuit father Michel Nau resorted to writing in order to convince the Rum to obey and submit to Rome and during the time of the Patriarch Macarius he composed a book entitled The Argument of the Holy Roman Church for its Orthodoxy and Right Worship. The Orthodox fathers were not convinced by this, particularly the monks of the Holy Sepulcher. At the beginning of the 18th century, they translated into Arabic a letter by Zacharias, bishop of Adana, in defense of the holy traditions, explaining Rome's program and revealing the secret falsehoods of its manner of action. They then distributed it in the territory of Antioch and it was on everyone's tongues and was circulated about. On June 10, 1704, Euthymius wrote to the Propaganda Fide saying, "The schismatic members of the eparchy of Jerusalem have prepared the book of Zacharias, the bishop of Adana, which is filled with blasphemies against the opinion of the Church of Rome. They have translated it into Arabic and published it in our country, in the jurisdiction of the See of Antioch, to spread the poison that is found within it." Euthymius adds that he undertook to write a book that "elevates the honor of the Holy Roman Church and puts her opponents to shame." He asked to be supplied with the writings of John Cariafili [?] refuting Zacharias, the refutation of Neilos [Kabasilas] of Thessaloniki, books by (Cardinal) Bessarion, the metropolitan of Nicaea, the books of Demetrius Kydones, and the book of Pierre Courfois [?] about the service of the mysteries and purgatory because they were necessary for him. Euthymius sent his manuscript to Rome and it was approved by Cardinal Barberini and so "The Shining Proof between the two poles of the Universal Church, containing the agreement of the Eastern Rum Orthodox Church with the Universal, Western Church of Rome and their unity in one opinion and one Christian faith" appeared in Rome in 1710 with a subvention from the Propaganda Fide.

It was distributed and so in 1712 the oikonomos of the Church of Aleppo refuted it in a letter which, as it appears, remains in manuscript. This oikonomos was known to Euthymius as "someone with knowledge, keeping the rites of the Rum perfectly, supporting and defending them." The book al-Dalala al-Lami'a attracted the attention of the Orthodox patriarchs and metropolitans and they mention it in the excommunication that was issued in 1718 against Euthymius and those who strayed with him, because he "composed books on his own and drew on testimonies as he saw fit and attributed them to the Holy Eastern Church."

Euthymius Gets Ready: Euthymius issued commands according to whim and in September 1713 observed that "the eparchy of Antioch is good soil in need of workers" and that its patriarch, Cyril, was "a man lacking knowledge who hates the Roman Church" but he did he did not dare to offer offer obedience before the patriarchs of Constantinople and Alexandria. He believed that the bishop of Saydnaya, Gerasimus al-Shami, was "a man at God's gate, his holiness is a measure of wine and the wine remains in his cell, Christ be pleased with him;" that the bishop of Maaloula and Qara was "a recalcitrant, heretical Cypriot;" that the bishop of of Baalbek was "a Cypriot with good intentions, if God blesses him with a teacher he might agree with everything we want;" that the bishop of Homs was "hapless in religion and this world;" that the bishop of Hamat was "a Cypriot strong in unbelief and in insulting the religion of the Church and of us. For two years, he has been present with us in activities of his. We honored him and gave him abundant charity and advised him as much as possible. From that day, he ceased the insults but he remains in his unbelief;" that the metropolitan of Beirut "previously believed in the Church and honored and glorified the Church of Rome. For this reason, we conferred upon him some charitable support and invited him to Sidon. We explained to him the shortcomings and the error that has befallen the Church of the Rum after the schism;" that regarding the bishop of Tripoli "some of the missionary monks have testified that he is Catholic, but I have not discerned any signs of Catholicism in him. Perhaps he had confessed the truth under the influence of a certain hope and when the hope was lost, he returned like a dog to his vomit;" that the metropolitan of Lattakia was a "heretical Chiot, ignorant of religion. He barks and snaps with heresy without being aware of it;" that regarding the Patriarch of Aleppo [i.e., Athanasius Dabbas] "he is known in Rome as a Catholic and is known to me as a climber [? مساقل ];" that the metropolitan of Adana was "an insolent Cypriot, an enemy of God and His Church;" that the metropolitan of Diyarbakir was likewise a Cypriot, that the metropolitan of Erzerum was from its eyalet and the metropolitan of Cyprus was from the eyalet of Erzerum. It is well-known that this traffic was widespread at that time and existed on both sides.

In this way, Euthymius, Rome's only bishop in the dioceses of Antioch, attempted to attract bishops to Catholicism with methods that might not all be legitimate. As for the Jacobites, attracting them was far-off in his view "and would be more attainable through force." Here it should be remarked that true unity is not achieved through money and force, but through the Holy Spirit and love, which does not seek for itself and does not think ill, but takes its time, accompanies, trusts and is patient.

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