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."

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Spiritual Fatherhood

Arabic original here.

Spiritual Fatherhood

He is the one who begets children in Christ, begets by the Holy Spirit.

The Evangelist John says, "unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

As for the Apostle Paul, he says to the children of the Corinthians, "For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel" (1 Corinthians 4:15).

He adds, "Therefore I urge you, imitate me" (1 Corinthians 4:16).

He begat them by the Holy Spirit. This is the difference between the a teacher and a father: "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1).

This requires humility and self-denial: "My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you..." (Galatians 4:19.

The spiritual father is a mediator and intercessor: an intercessor for the salvation of the souls of his children, especially through prayer. He is also in need of his children's prayers.

By the grace of the Lord Jesus, the spiritual father is a mediator who reconciles his spiritual child with God in Christ Jesus.

He first of all acquires the grace of Christ God and then in turn he reconciles his spiritual child with God the Father in Christ Jesus.

The Apostle Paul says, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them..." (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Every priest should be a spiritual father, an icon of Christ.

He should be a spiritual physician. His work should not be limited to performing the sacraments of the Church such as the Divine Liturgy, baptism... 

What causes him to avoid the monotony of routine in his service is personal prayer as well as reading the Holy Bible and the books of the holy fathers.

It must be pointed out here that there is a difference between a spiritual father and a psychologist.

A psychologist works to bring the patient back to his natural state.

A spiritual father, however, works to reconcile the patient, the sinner, with God. He tries to introduce the spirit of repentance, so that so that the patient, the sinner, will follow a divine, spiritual path (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:45-46).


Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Ovidiu Olar: The Travels of the Patriarch Macarius of Antioch and the Liturgical Traditions of the Christian East

Ovidiu Olar, "The Travels of the Patriarch Macarius of Antioch and the Liturgical Traditions of the Christian East." Revue Des Études Sud-Est Européennes 53.1-2 (2023), 275-287.


This study proposes to demonstrate the importance of the account of the journey of the Patriarch Macarius of Antioch composed by his son, the Archdeacon Paul of Aleppo, as an eyewitness of the liturgical practices and traditions of the Christian East. The passages where Paul describes the multilingual liturgical celebrations are used to highlight the (principal) reason for the existence of two manuscripts held at the Library of the Romanian Academy: BAR Bucharest ms. roum. 1790 and BAR Cluj ms. roum. 1216.

Download and read it here.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Videos from the Conference "The Orthodox Church of Antioch from the 15th to the 18th Century"

The Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology has just finished conducting a major conference entitled "The Orthodox Church of Antioch from the 15th to the 18th Century: Towards a Proper Understanding of History". They have very graciously put up videos of all the sessions on YouTube. I especially encourage you to watch the presentations by Constantin Panchenko (at the end of the Opening Ceremony), Carsten Walbiner (Session One), Hasan Çolak (Session Three), and Ioana Feodorov (Session Four).

Opening Ceremony:

Opening remarks by Fr Jack Khalil and Prof Elias Warrak [in Arabic]

His Beatitude John X: Opening Remarks [in Arabic]

Constantin Panchenko: Unia of Florence and the Church of Antioch, A Retrospect [in English]

Session One: The Historical and Political Context

Tom Papademetriou: The Ottomans and the Orthodox Patriarchates (15th to 18th Centuries) [in English]

Christos Arambatzis: Méthodes d'instauration de l'union écclesiastique et réactions au Proche Orient pendant le XVe -XVIe siècle [in French]

Carsten Walbiner: The Impact of Greek Thinking and Greek Prelates on the Patriarchate of Antioch in the 17th and Early 18th Centuries

Session Two: Relations with the Other Orthodox Churches

Giannis Bakas: The Historical Relations of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the Church of Antioch and their Collaboration, the Case of the Metropolis of Aleppo [in Greek]

Vera Tchentsova: The Relations of Athanasius III Dabbas, Patriarch of Antioch, with Moscow [in English]

Session Three: Relations with other Peoples

Fr Chrysostom Nassis: A View from Without, The Church of Antioch through the Eyes of Seventeenth Century Anglican Divines [in English]

Hasan Çolak: Orthodox Responses to Catholic Missions in the Patriarchate of Antioch, Institutionalization and Centralization [in English]

Andreas Müller: The Greek-Orthodox Church of Antiocheia in Modern Western Literature, An Overview [in English]

Session Four: Intellectual Activity and Culture

Martin Lüstraeten: Which Typikon? The Typikon of Malatiyus Karma as an Attempt to Unify a Liturgical Tradition [in English]

Ioana Feodorov: Printing for the Arab Christians in the 18th Century: Antim the Iberian, Athanasios Dabbas, and Sylvestros of Antioch [in English]

Elie Dannaoui: The Syriac-Arabic Liturgical Manuscripts in the Rum Orthodox Church of Antioch, A Survivor of an Extinct Tradition


Session Five: Domestic Affairs

Fr Bassam Nassif: Pastoral Renaissance under Three Patriarchs of Antioch: Euthymius Karma, Macarius Zaim, and Athanasius Dabbas [in Arabic]

Fr Saba Nasr: Antiochian Manuscripts of a Historical and Theological Response to the Events and Results of Ferrara-Florence [in Arabic]

Fr Harith Ibrahim: "Cutting Sword": An Apologetic Manuscript by Hieromonk Maximos [in Arabic]

Session Six: Patriarch Sylvestros: Life and Works

Symeon A. Paschalides: "A Living Saint of the Church." Patriarch Sylvestros of Antioch (1724-1766) and the Signs of Sanctity in his Church Ministry [in English]

Archimandrite Policarp (Chițulescu): Patriarch Sylvestros of Antioch as a Defender of Orthodoxy: A Survey of his Anti-Catholic Books Printed in Iași (Moldavia) in the mid-18th Century [in French]

Mihai Țipău: The Rediscovery of the Arabic Book of Psalms Published by the Patriarch Silvestros in 1747 in Bucharest [in English]

Session Seven: Relations with Rome

Fr Spiridon Fayad: Unknown Icons of the Iconographer, Patriarch Sylvestros of Antioch (+1766) [in Arabic]

Fr Michel Najim: Uniatism in Contemporary Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue [in Arabic]

Souad Slim: Three Orthodox Manuscripts from Balamand in Reply to the Catholic Claims [in Arabic]

 Session Eight: Roundtable [multilingual]

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Patriarch John X on the History of the Melkite Schism

From here in English and here in Arabic. The speech is quite important, among other reasons, for its clear statement of Antiochian Orthodox ecclesiology.


Opening Speech of
Patriarch John X
In the International Scientific Conference entitled:
“The Orthodox Church of Antioch from the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century:
Towards a Proper Understanding of History”
Balamand 16/10/2023
On this blessed evening, I am pleased to be among you and to inaugurate with you, from this blessed Hill of Balamand, the International Scientific Conference entitled, "The Orthodox Church of Antioch from the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century: Towards a Proper Understanding of History."
As I welcome each and every one of you, beloved brothers and siters, I pray for God's blessings to shower you, and I entreat Our Lady, the Ever-Virgin Mary, patron saint of this place, to embrace you with her tenderness and intercede to her Son for all of us, so that we may live faithfully according to her commandment: "Whatever He says to you, do it."
A proper understanding of history, as mentioned in the conference title, requires adherence to scientific principles. The account of history is not a personal point of view, but a set of facts and events that we ought to study in order to understand what actually happened, and to draw conclusions. Since our topic deals specifically with ecclesiastical history, it is our quest to redeem it, to correct the course anew, to heal wounds, and to reconcile every rift. 
However, what is evil is the changing of the reading of history according to immediate self-interests, so that things are turned upside down, and facts are taken as personal views! Yes, we deeply regret that some are comfortable with the "post-truth era" and consider this as a basis. For some, truth has become synonymous with what the masses believe, i.e., the product of sophistry and populism, while historical facts are left to oblivion. In this post-truth era and the blurriness associated with it, we need, now more than ever, for scientific research to reveal facts. Therefore, we want this scientific conference today to deal with a difficult period in the history of the Church of Antioch, the first church founded by the Apostle Peter, in which "the disciples were first called Christians" (Acts 11: 26). From this Church came Ignatius, the God-bearer (+107 AD), who, on his way to be grinded by the teeth of the lions in Rome, addressed the whole Church with his letters, which are still a universal ecclesiastical reference. Saint John Chrysostom, the teacher of the universe, who was led as a lamb and taken to exile. He yielded up his spirit on the way, as a result of the decisions of the Synod according to the emperor's policies at that time, that is, outside the nave of the church, in which Chrysostom refused to yield up his spirit to his Lord. Saint John of Damascus was the defender of the faith, and whose hand was restored by the Virgin after being cut off for speaking the truth of faith. Let us not forget Patriarch Peter III who sought with all wisdom and strength to prevent the schism between Constantinople and Rome and to keep the dispute between them within the confines of the Church. He wanted differences, especially small ones, not to turn into a reason for distance, division, fragmentation, hostility, and for an absence of love.
In the context of preserving the spirit of Peter III, who saw himself as "a bone of Antioch’s bones and blood of its blood", and in the footsteps of the Apostle Peter, who bore his name and who also succeeded him in the care of the sheep of Christ in the Mother City, the Church of Antioch, the Apostolic Patriarchate and the first See of Peter continues to be the Church of communion, consultation, openness, and peace. She remains a Church with her place and authority among the Churches. It pains and saddens her with every division between other churches. Equally, She is pained by the dismemberment of a segment of her children who violated her authority as a church being the fullness of ecclesiastical entity, and as a church equal in dignity to the second church established by the head of the Apostles. She is a church that is aware that her role as an authority is no different from that of other ancient apostolic patriarchates. She is a church whose Patriarch, Peter III, realized that it was his responsibility to work on avoiding a schism between the two sister churches.
From our predecessor, Patriarch Peter III, we understand the faith of our Church is that true communion can only be achieved through consultation and mutual respect between Churches, through the community's complete obedience to its Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, along with being in harmony and peace that descends from the Holy Spirit, and away from any worldly logic of domination, control, and subjugation of others. Is there anything more beautiful and truer than Patriarch Peter III's analogy of the five patriarchates to the five equal senses, working together in harmony within the body of the Church, whose only head is Jesus Christ, Who promised to be with us forever until the end of the age?
Just as the Antiochian Patriarch Peter III was bold in this ecclesiastical theology, which was contained in his correspondence with Rome and the Latin world, he was equally bold and faithful to the authentic Orthodox ecclesiastical theology in his interaction with the Ecumenical Patriarch Michael Cerularius, when he reminded him that "the Apostolic See of Antioch is not under the See of Constantinople." 
It would have been desirable for the contemporaries of the Patriarch of Antioch to hear his voice and realize that there is no place for lust, power, and domination in the Body of Christ! It would be desirable for our brothers today, who refuse to resort to conciliarity and claim primacy of Sees and their infallibility, hear the words of this Patriarch. Suppressing the conciliar sense is a sin. Conciliarity is the starting point for anyone who wants to maintain unity, and who does not want to isolate and marginalize others.
However, history, even church history, is not always written by the wise and saints, and therefore the wisdom of the Patriarch of Antioch did not resonate with the disputants, and the schism between East and West was perpetuated and deepened with the passage of time, and tragedies succeeded. Antioch was not spared the repercussions of the great schism and the struggle for power, and this part of the Church turned into a land of conquest and capture.
The schism deepened and took on existence and reality with the so-called Crusades that uprooted the Orthodox Antiochian patriarchs from their See and replaced them with Latin patriarchs.
Despite the severe hardships and persecutions that befell us in the Mamluk era and other eras, the leaders of the Church of Antioch never lost sight of the fact that the only response to attempts at unity, through coercion and material/worldly temptations, was total and complete devotion to the spirit of Orthodox conciliarity. Hence Antioch's rejection of the Council of Ferrara Florence in 1439, which was held on the verge of the fall of the Roman Empire. 
The years continued with their cruelty to Christians living in this tormented region of Antioch. With the advent of the Ottomans and the first attempts at Western colonization in the East, Rome sent missionaries to us, not to help persecuted Christians, but to entice them to join it, accompanied by promises of commercial and economic opportunities and political protections by the European powers, so those who became weak under such pressure joined it.
This situation was not because of the accusations that some attach against the Antiochian clergy about the alleged neglect of the parish and the so-called lack of spiritual care for the faithful. The patriarchs of Antioch since the seventeenth century, such as Meletius Karma (1634-1635), Makarios III Ibn Zaim (1648-1672), and Athanasius III Dabbas (1686-1724), spared no effort to educate the parish, secure its needs and preserve the Orthodox faith. Their efforts yielded a pastoral renaissance and cultural and spiritual renewal in the Patriarchate of Antioch. 
The themes of this conference will allow you to appreciate the renaissance vision that the Church of Antioch worked to achieve despite the harsh social situation and the challenges of the living conditions in the Middle East at that time. No matter how much some try to obscure or distort the facts, they are not able to hide what has been achieved in many areas, including: reviewing books, scientific and critical editing of texts, printing them in Arabic in printing presses, criteria for priest selection and for the election of bishops, educating priests in seminaries and theological schools, restoring many church buildings and icons, providing relief funds to needy families, opening schools for children's education, organizing spiritual courts and supervising their work, regulating marriage and personal status laws, and revitalizing monastic life in monasteries. Their labors were mixed with the sweat of perseverance, the tears of prayers, and the blood of martyrdom. They had a clear and correct vision of the ecclesiastical renaissance, and of how to establish the flock in the authentic Orthodox faith, despite the enormous pressure from inside and outside to destabilize Church life and the confidence of the faithful in the Church.
You will have the opportunity to see this renaissance movement carried out by the Antiochian patriarchs and bishops despite all the challenges and attempts to break in and sow dissension, and to carefully research all these subjects and events during the next two days, in order to draw lessons and prevent the recurrence of the same tragedies, especially in these difficult days in our countries, in which many at home seek alleged protections, and many abroad seek to buy consciences and loyalties and win over the needy people or weak souls.
Fraternally, I leave it to those who departed from us and joined the West, in accordance with an agreement that allowed them to preserve their rituals and maintain their patriarchal system, to evaluate the results of their choice, especially since this Balamand hill witnessed, not long ago, an Orthodox-Catholic dialogue and church meeting (1993), which examined the feasibility of this Uniatism as a way to achieve the desired unity between churches and dropped it from consideration as a feasible way in the efforts for unity. Pope John Paul II, with his usual boldness, apologized in 2000 to the Eastern Orthodox Church for the mistakes made by the Church of Rome, in the Middle Ages, towards the Christians of the East that led to Christian fragmentation.
From a paternal outlook, I say that our Antiochian See suffered because of the absence of fraternity and fell under a tutelage that had its own implications, but it was able at the beginning of the twentieth century to enter a new phase inaugurated by the election of Patriarch Meletius Al-Doumani.
In addition, I must thank God, because He has given us, Christians, the ability to be present in this Antiochian scope, to overcome difficulties, despite the twists and ruggedness of history, to bring us closer together, to remove the effects of division from our souls, to make us feel that we are one family of the Father. Our common life in this regard has increased our sense of the importance of our unity. It has made our relationships based on the encounter in Christ Jesus and not on formal courtesies. That is why we will continue to work together, to strengthen the bonds of fraternity and love among our Churches, and for achieving the united witness of Christ Jesus.
In this atmosphere of love, we must, at the Antiochian level, break through the barriers of history, tear down the remaining walls of enmity, abandon emotional courtesies and superficial closeness, translate our love for one another into a sincere revelation, activate local theological dialogue and deepen common historical research, so that we can strengthen our true Antiochian identity through joint scientific works that contribute to the healing of our historical memory. This healing process, as noted above, began on this Balamand hill thirty years ago, when Uniatism as a method to unite with Rome was rejected. Therefore, we hope that this conference, in which we desire to have a proper understanding of our history, be the first pillar, which establishes joint action with our brothers that will allow the history of that era to be read accurately and to dispel all ambiguities that marred it on the way to be fully healed from wounds and be in the service of the desired unity.
We have made great strides in our joint pastoral work, through the agreement between us and the Syriac Orthodox, and we were close to achieving a project of unity between us and the Rum Catholics, but the difference in the understanding of partnership, conciliarity and the relationship with the churches outside the Antiochian scope prevented the realization of this project. Should we give up and abandon the dream of Antiochian unity? Would it not be better for us to have the courage to insist on continuing to work in order to get as close as possible to this unity? Is not the vivid feeling of our children regarding unity of destiny and unity in witness and holiness an incentive to strive for the unity to which we all aspire and whom the glorious Lord Jesus has commanded us to follow? 
As I speak to you about Antioch, I remember the last Feast of Pascha that I held above the rubbles of the Antiochian historic cathedral recently destroyed by the earthquake, inflicting indescribable suffering on the people. Here, I take it as an opportunity to send my peace, love and blessing to our children in this city, and in Alexandretta and Mersin, and with them and through them I assure the world that we are children of hope, that we will rebuild what was destroyed, and we will remain witnesses in this land on which the Apostles walked. This land was sanctified by the blood of the martyrs, including the two hieromartyrs, Nicolas Khashe and his son Habib. Those two were martyred in the last century and their glorification will be studied by the Holy Synod in its upcoming meeting, and whose intercession we already ask for all of us and for this See which is preserved by the holiness of its believers throughout generations.
From this blessed Balamand hill, which is one of the places that has a vibrant presence for our Orthodox Church in our beloved Lebanon, I address all our fellow citizens to work together to formulate a vision that respects the pluralism that abounds in this country and its distinct communities, and to preserve the unity of Lebanon, a unity that highlights our values, and does not turn sectarianism into a tool for corruption and vitiation, to disrupt governance, to hinder the work of the state, and to oppress citizens. Hence, I address the consciences of all officials in this country, and in particular to the members of parliament, calling for the election of a President of the Lebanese Republic who will ensure the regularity of the work of institutions. I ask for divine mercy for the souls of those who died in the Beirut Port explosion, stressing that justice that ought not to be hindered by self-interests finds its way and prevail.
To the civilized world, to people of conscience wherever they are, I ask: Why making the Syrian people starve? What is the guilt of these people which makes you punish them by blocking food and medicine? Is it humane to deprive a human being of electricity, water, heating, and medicine? Is it humane for fathers to be unable to feed their children and mothers to live anxiously in order to secure a morsel of bread? Has politics become so criminal that it watches people die of hunger and oppression and remain indifferent? Isn't it time to lift the blockade on the Syrian people and lift the sanctions on them?
How can I not express the pain in our hearts over the case of the Archbishops of Aleppo, Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi, who have been kidnapped since April 2013? This bleeding wound in the body of the Antiochian Church will not heal until their fate is known, and their kidnapping will remain in our history as a painful picture of the oppression suffered by human beings living in this East.
As we stand here in the vicinity of the eternal Cedars, we must say a word of truth about what is happening in occupied Palestine. Palestine is crucified because of the self-interests of nations. Palestine is bleeding with the Nazarene on the calvary of tyranny. We support the Palestinian right to its land and to the effective establishment of its state. We stand by the side of these displaced people who are suffering from bitterness and siege, imprisonment, murder, and displacement. Peace cannot be formed on the bodies of children and slaughtered men, nor is it imported by shedding innocent blood. What is happening in Palestine is the result of the violation of human dignity, the contempt towards international law and all resolutions, racial discrimination policy, and the persistent imposition of the logic of oppression. Hence, our call is for the immediate cessation of the war on Gaza. The people of Gaza are paying the price of the suffocating siege with much blood. Our call also for us, Muslims and Christians, to see in Jerusalem a way up to the mercies of the Father of Lights. We ask the Holy Lord to send down His divine justice and mercy, and His peace which surpasses all human peace, a peace that cannot be established by blood and fire.
History has been harsh on us in this region, and it continues to be harsh, but we are loyal to this land, because it has been mixed with the soil of our fathers and with the blood of our saints. We are committed to bear love for all the inhabitants of this area with whom we were, and still are, partners in life and death and mistreated like them by external forces. We are the children of this land, and we do not seek foreign protections in it, but we seek to translate the teachings of the Gospel in this land. Let us convey the kindness and peace of Christ wherever we go. We are here to build this country on the values of love and decent morals with all good and sincere people. We are a loving bloc, not a sectarian bloc. We only aspire for the earth to be heaven and for history to be a history of God's lovingkindness, compassion, and love for mankind, not the history of sin.
In conclusion, three hundred years have passed, my dearly beloved, since the unfortunate schism of 1724 AD, which led to a rift in our Antiochian Orthodox Church, resulting in unfortunate and sad social, economic, and political repercussions, which reflected negatively on our parishes. It is our hope that this conference will add to the foundations we have put in place in order to restore unity and harmony between our church and the Rum Catholic church, and that it will also promote the strengthening of fraternal ties between the five patriarchates (which bear the name of Antioch), and stir the spirit of kinship among them so that our witness to the Lord of glory may be one.
May the Lord God bless you and bless this conference for the God’s glory, and for the good estate of the Church and Her unity, and for the prosperity of the country and the people.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Ioana Feodorov: Arabic Printing for the Christians in Ottoman Lands (Open-access Book)

Arabic Printing for the Christians in Ottoman Lands:

The East-European Connection

Arabic printing began in Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Levant through the association of the scholar and printer Antim the Iberian, later a metropolitan of Wallachia, and Athanasios III Dabbās, twice patriarch of Antioch, when the latter, as metropolitan of Aleppo, was sojourning in Bucharest. This partnership resulted in the first Greek and Arabic editions of the Book of the Divine Liturgies (Snagov, 1701) and the Horologion (Bucharest, 1702). With the tools and expertise that he acquired in Wallachia, Dabbās established in Aleppo in 1705 the first Arabic-type press in the Ottoman Empire. After the Church of Antioch divided into separate Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic Patriarchates in 1724, a new press was opened for Arabic-speaking Greek Catholics by ʻAbdallāh Zāḫir in Ḫinšāra (Ḍūr al-Šuwayr), Lebanon. Likewise, in 1752-1753, a press active at the Church of Saint George in Beirut printed Orthodox books that preserved elements of the Aleppo editions and were reprinted for decades. This book tells the story of the first Arabic-type presses in the Ottoman Empire which provided church books to the Arabic-speaking Christians, irrespective of their confession, through the efforts of ecclesiastical leaders such as the patriarchs Silvester of Antioch and Sofronios II of Constantinople and financial support from East European rulers like prince Constantin Brâncoveanu and hetman Ivan Mazepa.

Download the entire book here. 

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos) on the Jesus Prayer

Arabic original here.

The Jesus Prayer

"Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:23-24).

In the Bible, the name is seen and experienced as the presence of God Himself. The name holds a twofold power: on the one hand, feeling the living God , and on the other, knowing Him.

Jesus' name indicates the incarnation:

Before all else, the name 'Jesus' indicates the reason for God's coming in the flesh for our salvation. By taking on our nature, God shows that it is possible for us to also become sons of God. The name 'Jesus' means 'God is the Savior'.

God said to Moses that His name is 'I Am': great is the name of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus is the God-Man. He brings both together in His person and through Him it became possible for us to reach the Father.

Can man ask for anything more than that?

When the personal God, I Am, is revealed to us, the fundamental difference between Him and various deviations like yoga, Buddhism and even Transcendental Meditation, is revealed.

Of course, when our minds are turned away from every image, it is possible for meditation to grant us a sense of rest, peace and liberation from time and place.

But there is no sense of standing before a personal god.

This can lead to a state where the person who practices meditation comes to be content with the psychological results of such experiences.

In this way it turns one away from the living God in order to focus on that "nothingness".

The hesychastic technical method:

The one praying tries, by repeating Jesus' name, to connect the intellect to the heart.

This is after he has already focused on conforming his daily life to Christ's commandments.

The one praying takes an appropriate bodily posture, reciting the prayer while his head is bent towards his chest, taking a breath at the words "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God," and exhaling at the words "have mercy on me a sinner."

In this way, he can keep his focus from wandering.

This method makes it possible for the one praying to keep his attention focused on the heart without resorting to psychosomatic methods.

Nevertheless, it is not possible to acquire true prayer through this technique because this only comes through faith and repentance.

The important thing is that we focus our attention on the name of Jesus Christ and on the words of the prayer.

When you feel the pain of sin crying out, the intellect naturally turns to the heart.

The full form of the Jesus Prayer is, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."

Finally, when prayer becomes an automatic movement, it becomes fixed in the heart without any effort.

After the mind has become focused and at rest, prayer brings blessings. It comes like a delicate flame within us, like inspiration from the Most High, like joy in the heart with a feeling of divine love, delighting the intellect with spiritual contemplation.


Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Friday, September 15, 2023

Maria Mavroudi: Byzantine Translations from Arabic into Greek (Open Access)

Maria Mavroudi, "Byzantine Translations from Arabic into Greek: Old and New Historiography in Confluence and in Conflict," Journal of Late Antique, Islamic and Byzantine Studies 2.1-2 (2023): 215-288.


Scholarly demand to re-evaluate underappreciated cultures has grown since the 1980s. This generated a call to re-write the nineteenth-century narrative on the transmission of knowledge from the ancient Near East to the Graeco-Roman, Islamic, Western medieval, and early modern European world. The paper surveys the modern study of Byzantine translations from Arabic into Greek in order to propose a new narrative frame, no longer linear but attentive to continuous and bi-directional contact between medieval civilisations. The paper offers the contact between Byzantium and various parts of the Islamic world as an example. It discusses the presumed insularity of Byzantine literary culture and its relationship with ancient Greek literary heritage. Problems of dating, localising, and socially contextualising the translations (through information on their authors and patrons) are also examined.

The entire article can be read and downloaded in open access here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Jad Ganem: Two New Saints

 Arabic original here.

Two New Saints

During the divine liturgy that he celebrated for the Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God at the Monastery of Saydnaya, His Beatitude Patriarch John X announced that the Holy Synod of Antioch will discuss at its next regular session declaring the sainthood of the hieromartyr Fr Nicholas Khashsha and his son, the hieromartyr Habib Khashsha, two Damascene priests who were martyred for the faith in the last century.

As a layman, Fr Nicholas was an activist for returning the Patriarchate of Antioch, which had been under Greek domination since the Melkite Catholic schism, to Arab control and was active in establishing and developing schools for the community. He was then ordained to the priesthood, where he served the Archdiocese of Damascus. Patriarch Meletios (al-Doumani) then delegated him as his vicar for the Diocese of Mersin, whose bishop, Alexander (Tahhan) had abandoned it because of its poverty and the disturbances it was experiencing. In Mersin, Fr Nicholas succeeded in reuniting its dispersed flock and caring for and strengthening the faithful, who were subjected to various forms of persecution and ethnic cleansing. The Turkish authorities grew frustrated with Fr Nicholas and arrested him on the basis of slander against him, then tortured him until he was martyred.

Habib, the eldest son of Fr Nicholas, followed in his father's footsteps. Despite his success in business, he decided to be ordained to the priesthood and served as a priest in Damascus and Cairo. His service was distinguished by a life of prayer, devotion to shepherding the faithful with love and self-sacrifice, and his closeness to the poor, who he cared for like he cared for his own family, feeding them with their food and the money that his brothers sent to help them because of his poverty. His life was crowned with a martyric death on Mount Hermon, where smugglers beat him to death because he was a Christian priest, fulfilling his desire to imitate his father.

The faithful have passed down the stories of these two priests and they remain alive in the memory of Antioch because "their blood has attested that the Holy Spirit is in them and because though love they have transcended the barrier of the earthly body and become figures of light." Today, if the Holy Synod decides to declare their sainthood, it is "in obedience to the One of whom they have become worthy."

By declaring their sainthood, the Holy Synod places before the flock and the faithful, at this difficult time, the image of a married priest to whom the Church entrusted the task of shepherding a diocese whose bishop had refused to shepherd it and fled it when its resources became scarce and it started to face difficulties. He shepherded it as though it were his little family. He and his sons lived in it and among its people and he died for it. The Holy Synod also puts forward the image of the son who abandoned worldly success in order to imitate his father and become a shepherd of souls, serving the poor as though they were a little family and dividing his sustenance and that of his family with them. He served them as though they were his masters, not caring about money or worrying about the future, but relying on the mercy and generosity of God, who crowned his life with the crown of martyrdom.

Perhaps, by its effort to declare the sainthood of the hieromartyrs Fathers Nicholas and Habib, following the declaration of the sainthood of the hieromartyr Joseph of Damascus, the Holy Synod desires to emphasize that sanctity is not limited to monks, but rather also exists outside of monasteries, and that the family which is sincerely committed to Christ is also just as much a locus of sancity as anywhere else.

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.

Bp Constantine Kayyal: The Rich Young Man

Arabic original here.

The Rich Young Man

"What should I do to inherit eternal life?" This is the question that every person who aspires to a good life asks, in order to attain the crown of holiness.

The young man in today's Gospel reading is no different from other young men who wish to live a good life, and this desire and longing for a good life is planted in us because we were created in the image and likeness of God.

This is because Jesus waits for all of us. No matter what questions, cares and worries we bear, He wants to hear them with love. He is neither a psychiatrist nor an ethics professor, but rather Lord and Savior, because He is all love and only gives love.

Since doing good deeds and works of mercy does not in itself mean avoiding sin, you must go beyond all these things and follow Jesus, who waits for you. You must become free of your concern for yourself, of your selfishness, of every earthly thing, follow your Teacher and be a living bridge that connects God and people.

Here Jesus focuses on the commandments that order our relationship to our neighbor, among them worship, which requires two things: the first is with regard to God and the second with regard to the neighbor.

In order to proceed towards the kingdom, you must be free of fornication and preserve your life and the life of your neighbor. Otherwise, you are infringing on another's possession. You must be committed to the orphan and honor your parents and support them. The young man responded:

"I have done all this since my childhood. What do I still lack?"

So Jesus said to him, "Sell everything you have and come follow me."

That means, get rid of everything and follow the Lord. Join Him and commit to the path of perfection. But on account of his heart's attachment to what his hands possessed, the young man went away sad.

Therefore, live a life of giving, so that you may feel true happiness. Do not be like this young man who was attached to his wealth. Trust that everything is possible with God and He alone is able to help you, support you and lift you up to Himself.

Yes! The young man went away sad like any person living on earth, while the Christian is a person created for heaven. It is true that the Christian lives on earth, but he is not of the people of the earth. He is a heavenly person born from above, born in water and the Spirit. His concern is heaven and his mind is on heaven.

His faith is translated into good deeds that benefit others so that he may inherit eternal life. But here we must be aware that we do not inherit eternal life while we are sitting in our places, but rather when we are active and act in love, because the kingdom of heaven does not come to us ready-made. The kingdom is taken by force and we must rightly deserve it.

This is eternal life. It is not in obeying the laws and rules and keeping the divine commandments, for the Ten Commandments have no value if word is not attached to deed and if man is not the purpose for which these commandments exit.

Dear reader, always remember the Lord's words in his famous Sermon on the Mount, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Our only treasure is not in banks, in income or in possessions, but rather in heaven. This treasure is good works, mercy and love for one's neighbor. It is faith in God and acting according to His will so that we may inherit the desired kingdom.

Bishop Constantine Kayyal

Abbot of the Patriarchal Monastery of Saint Elias, Shwayya