Sunday, December 31, 2023

Ioana Feodorov: Sylvester of Antioch’s Arabic Books Printed in 1747 at Bucharest (Open Access)

Sylvester of Antioch’s Arabic Books Printed in 1747 at Bucharest: Recent Findings 


This article presents the new findings connected to several Arabic books that have been discovered by TYPARABIC team members in libraries around the world, where they were catalogued in insufficient or inaccurate detail, which has led to their being kept hidden from scrutiny until now. Projects of reediting and translating these Arabic books, to allow their study by a larger academic community, are also presented herewith. One of these books is of utmost importance for the discussions that will take place in 2024, when 300 years from the split in the Church of Antioch will be commemorated through conferences and volumes of collected works.

Read the entire article here.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Fr Rami Wakim: The Commentary in the Melkite Lectionary (Open Access)

The Commentary in the Melkite Lectionary

The Case of Patriarch Athanasios III Dabbās’s Lectionary of 1706 


This article investigates a little-known yet highly significant facet of the Arabic liturgical Gospel books – the commentary that was introduced into the Gospel readings from at least the 11th century to the 19th century, notably during the time of Patriarch Athanasios III Dabbās, the last publisher to include this commentary. This study aims to shed light on the origin and evolution of this commentary, categorize its contents, and evaluate its theological importance in the context of the Arab Christian tradition. By offering fresh perspectives on the composition of Lectionary commentaries, this research enriches our comprehension of the history and theology of the Arab Christian tradition.

Read the whole article here.


Saturday, December 23, 2023

An Interview with Met Isaak (Barakat) about the New Antiochian Monastery in Germany

German original, with pictures, here.

The Inauguration of the New Rum-Orthodox Monastery in Dollendorf: An Interview with His Eminence Isaak Barakat


The first monastery of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Germany and Central Europe has recently been established in Dollendorf, a district of the municipality of Blankenheim. The building was inaugurated by the Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Church of Germany and Central Europe, Isaak Barakat, with a traditional ceremony in the monastery chapel.

Metropolitan Isaak Barakat was born in Damascus in 1966 with the name Abdallah Barakat. After being ordained in 1999 as a deacon and one year later as a priest by Patriarch Ignatius Hazim he took the name Isaak after Saint Isaac the Syrian. For the past ten years, he has been the metropolitan of Germany and Central Europe of the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

The origin of the Rum-Orthodox Church are in Antioch, the modern city of Antakya, where the disciples were first called Christians. Its foundation goes back to the Apostles Peter and Paul. When one part of the Antiochian Christians assented to the Council of Chalcedon, the cornerstone of the Rum-Orthodox community was laid. They professed "Jesus Christ as true God and true man in two natures." The term "Rum" in Arabic stands for "Rome", Constantinople at that time, and also for the Byzantines. The Rum-Orthodox Church is also called the Antiochian Church, the Antiochian Orthodox Church, or the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.

In the late 19th century, some Rum Orthodox emigrated out of the Middle East for economic and political reasons. Many of them came to Europe from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq and especially the Province of Hatay. In 1970 the Rum Orthodox finally founded their own parishes. Today the Antiochian Archdiocese of Germany and Central Europe counts around 24,000 members and has its seat in Cologne.

Since 2018, the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Germany and Central Europe consists of 30 communities and now a monastery in Dollendorf.

Ferit Tekbas, the chairman of the Central Committee of Eastern Christians in Germany, spoke in an interview with His Eminence Isaak Barakat about the foundation of the monastery in Dollendorf.

Your Eminence, you recently celebrated the tenth anniversary as metropolitan of Germany and Central Europe, congratulations. What were your most difficult tasks during this time?

Thank you for the kind wishes. In the past ten years, I have dealt with various challenges. During this time, we have achieved many milestones, we have grown and become better known, but perhaps the most difficult task has been that of finding a balanced way to meet the spiritual needs of our diverse community. The balance between tradition and contemporary needs, the promotion of unity in diversity and dealing with social changes have always been challenging aspects of my tenure. Despite the challenges, I am thankful for the communities' support and I view every situation as an opportunity to grow and deepen our faith.

The Antiochian Orthodox Church has acquired its first monastery in Germany. Could you tell us a bit about the story of how the monastery was acquired and where exactly the monastery is located?

For a long time, we had the goal of acquiring a building that we could turn into both a monastery and a center for out communities and faithful. During our search, we came across the building in Dollendorf, Blankenheim. We particularly liked that the building had originally been used as a monastery. Dollendorf is a beautiful, quiet, harmonious place. The church across from it completes the picture.

Thanks be to God, through the support and love of our communities and faithful, we have been able to acquire the building and renovate it appropriately. The renovation is not yet complete, but so far the Monastery of Our Lady of Antioch and the chapel are finished.

We are now in the process of completing the Patriarch Ignatius IV Center, which is certainly a long road and here too we are depending on the love and support of our faithful.

A monastery on the whole is not a simple thing, but it is a necessity and I know that you have been primarily committed to a monastery. Could you tell us the reasons for this?

Yes. My desire for our church has always been to have an Antiochian Orthodox monastery. First and foremost, I wanted a place for spiritual community and deepening. A place accessible both to clergy and to our faithful. Moreover, our church has a rich history and great cultural significance. With the monastery and the Patriarch Ignatius IV Center, we want to maintain this cultural heritage, preserve it, and make it accessible both to our faithful and to the public.

Furthermore, the Patriarch Ignatius IV Center will be used for educational purposes, for theological studies, seminars, and much more.

What condition is the monastery in and does its structure require special restoration in order to better meet the criteria of Orthodoxy?

As already mentioned, the building that we were able to purchase was originally a monastery. Over the course of time, the building was repurposed and used for many other things. It took quite a bit of work to get it into its current condition. At the moment, the monastery and the chapel belonging to it are mostly ready, thanks be to God. They meet the criteria of Orthodoxy. Now, however, we still need to finish the Patriarch Ignatius IV Center. That will require a lot of time, patience, effort and support.

How is everything being financed? Is it being financed though donations or is the Rum-Orthodox Church of Antioch undertaking all the costs?

It is exclusively financed through donations. We were able to complete the acquisition thanks to the great support of our communities. The renovations also require the love and generous support of our faithful. We are still far from finished with the renovations and continue to rely on donations.

What is the significance of a monastery in the Orthodox Christian denomination?

In the Orthodox Christian tradition, monasteries have a special significance. They are places of intensive prayer, of contemplation and of spiritual life. Monasteries preserve the liturgical tradition and serve as spiritual communities where monks and nuns lead a life of devotion. These places are also outposts of prayer for the world, where prayers are made for the church, for people and for the world. Monasteries can moreover hold social activities and are often places of pilgrimage for believers from various regions.

Is there a plan for how the monastery will serve the Antiochian Orthodox community in Germany and Europe in the future and how many monks or nuns will be living there?

The monastery should become a place of transcendent love for God and complete devotion to Him. We hope that we will continue to grow and that our parishes and faithful will associate this monastery with its being a place of calm, relaxation, work, devotion, and above all else, love.

At the Patriarch Ignatius IV Center, we would like to organize conferences, events and similar gatherings for our parishes and faithful.

The monastery is currently a monastery for nuns and we have plans for more nuns to live in the monastery.

What significance has the Rum-Orthodox Church achieved now in Germany?

We are a small church here in Germany, but our origin goes back to more than 2000 years ago. Our church traces its foundation back to the Apostles Peter and Paul, to where the disciples were first called Christians, in Antioch.

Our brothers and sisters came to Germany in the late 60s and early 70s. They founded several parishes full of love, respect and devotion and thus brought our faith to Germany. We now have the status of a  corporation under public law, our communities have grown, as have the number of believers and, thanks be to God, the number of clergy.

We are now better known and we hope that with God's grace we can go further.

How many communities are there now and where are their origins from?

In Germany, the Netherlands and Austria we have a total of 31 congregations and 7 missions, that is, believers who are on the way to becoming a congregation. Thanks be to God.

The origins of our faithful are in Syria, the Hatay Province in Southeastern Turkey whose capital is Antakya, historical Antioch, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Iraq.

What liturgical approaches distinguish the Rum Orthodox?

There is a big difference between the Orthodox Church and other churches. For example, we have the Typikon for the liturgy for the entire ecclesiastical year which ends in August and begins again on September 1.

And in this this Typikon there are prayers for the liturgy for every day. We are the only church that says the Creed at every service. In the Catholic Church, for example, the Creed is not said at every service. But we say the Creed every Sunday, at every liturgy.

Our Byzantine music also distinguishes us. We celebrate the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, on special feasts the Liturgy of Saint Basil, and during Lent the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts of Saint Gregorius Dialogus. Another special feature is that in our services no instruments such as the organ are used.

Your Eminence, is there anything else that you would like to add to our interview or say to our members and readers?

I am thankful for the interest and love that has been shown to us. I would like to thank you very much for your time, your effort and your interest. I would like to thank your members and readers for their continued support and interest. It is an honor for me to serve my church. I encourage you to continue to be actively involved in our church because together we can continue to grow and inspire each one another. May our journey together be characterized by love, understanding and spiritual fulfillment. Thank you.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Jad Ganem: When will We Smash the Idols?

Arabic original here.

When will We Smash the Idols?

Everyone following developments in the Orthodox world today notices that the essence of the crisis afflicting the Orthodox ecclesiastical institution lies in the re-drawing of the map of the Orthodox world on the basis of non-ecclesiastical considerations following a dialectic of "fragmentation and expansion".

Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire last century and the accompanying diminishment of the role of the patriarch of Constantinople as head of the Orthodox millet in that empire, the emergence of local, national churches in Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Serbia and Albania, and Greece's loss in the war with Turkey and the consequent population exchange, Patriarch Meletius (Metaxakis) developed a policy of expansion, creating new dioceses dependent on his patriarchate in Europe and America on the basis of the theory of "barbarian lands" that he invented, in addition to seizing a number of dioceses that had belonged to the Patriarchate of Moscow and granting them autonomy after the fall of tsarist Russia.

In parallel, the Church of Russia practiced its own policy of expansion during the tsarist period, doing away with the independence of the Church of Georgia and incorporating it into its canonical jurisdiction, before turning around and granting it autocephaly at Stalin's request. This church likewise established dioceses in the countries of the diaspora and autonomous churches dependent on it in China and Japan.

Alongside the policy of expansion, Patriarch Meletius (Metaxakis) inaugurated a policy of fragmenting the Church of Moscow by granting autocephaly to the Church of Poland and incorporating the churches in Finland and Estonia into its own jurisdiction. This came as a delayed reaction to the role that the Russian Empire had played in supporting churches dependent on Constantinople in their efforts to obtain autocephaly.

The borders of the Orthodox churches stabilized during the Cold War, until Patriarch Bartholomew resumed the policy of fragmenting the Patriarchate of Moscow in 1996 by establishing an autonomous church dependent on him in Estonia. Since 2016, he has quickened the pace of this fragmentation by granting autocephaly to the schismatics in Ukraine and by creating a parallel church in Lithuania. Moscow responded by establishing an exarchate dependent on it in Africa.

It is clear that the changes to the borders of the local churches according to non-ecclesiastical considerations contradicts the apostolic principle upon which evangelism is based and is instead centered on the principle of expanding influence.

Here we must wonder why the churches that had depended on Moscow must belong to Constantinople. Why should there not be, for example, an autocephalous church covering Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland and Sweden, on the model of the Church of Czechia and Slovakia, such that Constantinople's decisions don't just seem to be acts of revenge against the Patriarchate of Moscow? And why does the Church of Constantinople refuse to treat the Ukrainian issue through a common Orthodox decision that prevents the authorities from persecuting the legitimate church in the country?

Perhaps the most important question for both Moscow and Constantinople is why do they have this attachment to a policy of expanding their influence instead of respecting the apostolic principle of establishing autocephalous local churches capable of managing their own affairs themselves? Would it not be wise to admit that the map of the Orthodox world needs to be re-drawn on new principles which do not focus on dependence on ancient centers that refuse to admit that bearing witness in today's world must be based on the principle of cooperation, mutual complimentarity and respect for the specificities and aspirations of nations? Just imagine if the Apostles had wanted to attach every place where they evangelized to the church in Jerusalem! Or if the Third Ecumenical Council had not taken account of the situation at the time and had refused to create a patriarchate for Constantinople, then the capital of the empire!

When will we smash the idols that we think are the essence of our faith?

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Jad Ganem: No Salvation outside Constantinople?

Arabic original here.

No Salvation outside Constantinople?

Patriarch Bartholomew celebrated the Feast of Saint Nicholas at the church-turned-museum bearing his name in the city of Demre, Turkey. During the liturgy, he gave a sermon that included the following:

"The East is not just the birthplace of great saints but also the cradle of the Church in its present form. Our theology and ecclesiology originated in these sacred lands, within the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It was here that the Ecumenical Synods convened, shaping the ecclesiastical conscience rooted in the ministry of the Lord, transcending national or other distinctions. The wisdom of the Holy Fathers established the pentarchy and its hierarchical order, defining boundaries, principles, and values with profound insight, considering the history and sanctity of each region.

Hence, from Asia Minor, we proclaim in every direction that the genuine and only Mother Church is the Great Church of Constantinople. It exclusively bears the legacy of Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross for all humanity, giving birth to numerous Churches from Bulgaria to Ukraine. This declaration isn’t a modern invention in ecclesiology but an experiential truth and legacy inherited from the Fathers of the Ecumenical and Local Synods.

It is not just a theoretical assertion but a continuous, blessed act of the Church that bestows upon Constantinople the privilege of the Crucifixion’s sacrifice, the path of sacrifice, and the position as the Head of all Churches. It consistently bears the crown of thorns symbolizing the Despotic Passion.

As the humble successors, by the grace of God, to these traditions, we vow to safeguard this sacred trust. We refuse to relinquish the sacred duty and responsibility entrusted to us.

We do not relinquish the mantle of the Mother of the Great Church, a role passed down to us in blood, and we are committed to passing it on unscathed and unaltered. For 32 years, and into the future, we embrace this task joyously, in service to the Most Holy Theotokos.

We do not step down from the Cross to which the Church of Constantinople has devoted itself. We remain dedicated to our calling, honoring our history and the wisdom of the Fathers.

We’ve learned how to lead all peoples, races, and languages to the Resurrection through the Cross. We are willing to endure crucifixion and unite with Christ until the end of time, for the world’s sake."

Observers of Patriarch Bartholomew have become accustomed to his pronouncements lacking basis in the tradition of the Church, which he repeats at every occasion in order to bolster Constantinople's authority and to convince himself, before anyone else, that he has not deviated from tradition and that what he is doing is in accordance with the conscience of Orthodoxy. So there should be no reason to remind anyone that Constantinople has never been nor shall ever be the "mother of all the churches" and this is a settled historical question, right? And that what he calls the "rooted ecclesiastical conscience" that arose in Asia Minor developed for the most part before the existence of Constantinople. And that the system of the Pentarchy places Rome in the first rank and requires consultation between the churches which constitute the Pentarchy and not the imposition of Constantinople's opinion upon the others.

All the titles found in this sermon, however, turn into secondary issues once Patriarch Bartholomew outdoes himself and crosses every line, declaring that "the genuine and only Mother Church is the Great Church of Constantinople. It exclusively bears the legacy of Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross for all humanity."

There is no doubt that this theory of exclusivity stems from the theory of Constantinople as "head of the churches" that Patriarch Bartholomew and his partisans have developed in recent years. It means in practice that there is no salvation outside of union with Constantinople.

Perhaps this is the sermon by Patriarch Bartholomew that is the furthest from the spirit of ecumenism, of which the patriarch claims to be one of the strongest supporters. It is also one of his sermons that is the farthest from the true faith. Will such words find anyone to defend them from among the court theologians? Do you think they will develop a theory that salvation takes place through confessing the primacy of Constantinople and the primacy of its head who is without equals?

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Future Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregorius III Laham on the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem (1992)

 Translated from the French report in: Service Orthodoxe de Presse no. 166 (March 1992), pp. 12-13.

Fribourg: The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem should be recognized as the Mother Church by the other churches of the Holy Land

In one of its most recent issues, the Catholic press agency APIC, based in Fribourg, Switzerland published an interview with Archbishop Lutfi (Laham) vicar of the Melkite Greek-Catholic (Uniate) patriarch of Jerusalem, who held a series of lectures in Switzerland in February. 58 years old and of Syrian origin, Abp Laham evokes the dramatic division of the Christians of the Middle East and in particular calls on the different communities of the Holy Land to recognize that the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem is, from both a historical and an ecclesiological point of view, the Mother Church.

Today the Christian presence in the Holy Land is directly threatened with disappearance. In the 1940s, Abp Laham recalls, Jerusalem had almost 45,000 Christians belonging to 13 officially-recognized churches. Now, they are no more than 10,000. To stop this trend, the Christians of the Holy Land, who are overwhelmingly of Palestinian origin, should be given the confidence to not see emigration as the only solution to escape the harshness of the Israeli occupation and poverty. It is likewise necessary to act upon the cultural factors that cause Arab Christians to be marginalized in an Arab-Muslim society.

Addressing relations between the Christian communities, Abp Laham stresses that the divisions were worsened by the "Anglo-Prussian" missions in the 19th century, which carved up the local Christian community that until that point was made up of Orthodox and Uniates. The Anglican and Protestant confessions could only grow by recruiting believers from the traditional Eastern Churches, since it was impossible for them to convert Jews and Muslims. In this way these believers were estranged from their spiritual roots and cultural identity. The same policy of proselytism had been previously followed by the Latin-rite Catholic Church.

To mend these historic errors, today it must be recognized that the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem is the Mother Church, Abp Laham explains frankly, since all the other churches either came out of her or are churches of pilgrims that developed around holy places, monasteries or neighborhoods, as is the case of the Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian churches. The Christians of the Western tradition established in the Middle East following crusades and colonization, whether Latin-rite Catholics, Protestant or Anglican, should themselves admit that they do not have the same legitimacy as the Mother Church.

The churches of the Western tradition have never recognized this historical reality, observes Abp Laham, but they need to do so. It is not a question of forcing them to become Orthodox, but they should become aware of this state of affairs. For their part, he continues, the Eastern-rite Catholics feel the pain of not being Orthodox: "We have always regretted, not our communion with Rome, but the fact that this communion led us to separate ourselves from Orthodoxy." "We will simply feel at home with the Orthodox when the Orthodox and the Latins come together and we will be ready to resign as patriarch and as bishops to give way to our Orthodox confreres," he affirms again.

Several initiatives have already been made in common by the main religious leaders of Jerusalem in recent years. For the moment, however, these declarations have limited themselves to one-off actions. The plan to create a Council of Christian Churches of Jerusalem, proposed by Abp Laham in 1974, never went forward. Relations with the Orthodox community, estimated at 46,000 believers, are nevertheless good because, unlike what it happening in Eastern Europe, the archbishop explains, "We form a single nation. We do not have any ethnic conflicts, since we are all Arabs, both the Greek Orthodox and the Greek Catholics."