Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Asad Rustom on Patriarch Athanasius III Dabbas (I)

Translated from: Asad Rustum, Kanisat Madinat Allah Antakya al-'Uzma [The Church of the Great City of God Antioch], Jounieh: Editions St. Paul (1988), vol. 3, pp. 130-135.

 For more information about Athanasius Dabbas' printing activities in Romania, see this excellent open-access monograph, published this year.

Athanasius IV (1720) [III in modern reckoning]

 Cyril III grew old, he developed an ulcer on his leg and the ulcer burst. As his death approached, he conveyed his will. The priest Abd al-Masih, who was one of those who confessed Catholicism, came to him and asked him if he wanted to confess. The patriarch responded, "What have I done? I have not killed. I have not fornicated. I have not stolen. Read a prayer." [For this Rustom cites a letter by Euthymius Sayfi to Pope Clement XI, which apparently was meant to explain why Cyril refused Catholic last rites.] On Wednesday, January 5, 1720, God chose for him to meet his fate, his soul departed and he was buried on Theophany in the tomb of the patriarchs on the Hill of St George. "The period of his reign was forty-seven years, six months, and four days." [This text is inscribed on a wall at the cathedral in Damascus.]

Euthymius was in Damascus at that time. His supporters gathered around him and wanted to declare him patriarch, seeking the support of Euthymius' friend, Uthman Pasha Abu Tawq. They intended to seize the patriarchate by force, but the Latin missionaries Frs Thomas de Campaya and Pierre Fromage opposed them because he was excommunicated by the patriarchs and that he had changed the liturgy and services and abolished the order of the Church, explaining that "He wants to abolish the hot water from the liturgy and require you to eat fish. He feeds meat to your monks in order to denigrate your Church!" Instead, they supported Athanasius because he had previously been installed as patriarch. Euthymius had requested five hundred qurush that he had paid Cyril on the occasion of his having consecrated a metropolitan for Tyre and Sidon, and he was given one hundred gold pieces, sixteen church books and other things. Then Euthymius went to the church and proclaimed the name of Athanasius, saying, "Be at ease in heart and mind."

As for Athanasius, after the reconciliation that took place in 1694 he settled in Aleppo and managed his flock in the best way. "He forbade them from what is not allowed and confirmed among them what should be confirmed, cutting off the causes of evil and establishing the causes of good." The Christians of various confessions loved him and were inclined toward him "because he had a wise and abundant intellect" [both quotes are from the contemporary Maronite metropolitan of Aleppo, Germanus Farhat]. He poured over the books of the fathers, conforming himself to the best path. He was in contact with Constantinople and traveled to Wallachia and Moldavia seeking alms. When Cyril died, a large group of the Christians of Damascus called for Athanasius as patriarch, writing about this to the notables of the community in Aleppo. Athanasius was absent from there, traveling in Wallachia, and Ni'ma ibn al-Khuri Tuma al-Halabi replied in the name of the notables of Aleppo with an ambiguous letter, which he included in his book Rakib al-Tariq li-man Yarda bi-Taqlid al-Talfiq. Here is the most important part:

"With regard to your letters sent by our hand, we send them to His Holiness along with the letters for Islambul. In the case that they arrive, we have taken the care that we should and we have announced the publication of particular and general letters and have put them all in one envelope [...] We have confirmed to His Holiness that he is to be present in Islambul at the appointed time to conduct his business as he desires."

The Council of Constantinople (1722)

Athanasius returned from Wallachia and reached Damascus in early August 1720. Cyril had left all his belongings to the Patriarchal See and when Athanasius settled the matter and found that most of them had disappeared, he was greatly enraged. His rage only increased when he became aware of the activity of the Frankish monks and their intervention into the affairs of the Church.

Since Athanasius' material means did not help him to combat the Frankish monks using their weapons, he raised the matter with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He then traveled to Constantinople himself and took great pains to hold a council to examine what must be done to deal with this issue. This council was held in late 1722 in Constantinople, presided by Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremiah and with the participation of Patriarchs Athanasius of Antioch and Chrysanthus of Jerusalem and twelve metropolitans. This council condemned non-Orthodox teachings, especially those pertaining to primacy, infallibility, procession from the Son, azymes, the fire of Purgatory, the beatitude of the saints, strangled meat, fasting on Saturday, and the withholding of chrismation and communion from children. The acts of this council were issued in Greek and Arabic and published in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. Assemani mentions this in part three of the Bibliotheca Orientalis and Vendotis in the addenda to the ecclesiastical history of Meletius.

The Abbreviation of the Apostles' Fast

Cyril III worked with high Orthodox authorities to shorten the Apostles' Fast. When Athanasius acceded to the apostolic throne, he received a synodicon authorizing the lifting of this burden. He issued a pastoral encyclical in which the Apostles' Fast was made to be twelve days according to the number of the Twelve Apostles. This was "in order that he who fasts not judge he who does not fast and he who does not eat not judge he who eats." He explained the five reasons that necessitated this abbreviation: 1) Those who did this fast did so with grumbling. 2) This grumbling led some to blasphemy. 3) Some of the faithful secretly broke the fast. 4) Some where shamelessly eating animal products. 5) Many people in villages and the countryside were leaving Christianity to join the nations [i.e., converting to Islam] because "the season of the year in which the fast falls is devoid of vegetables, fruits and fasting foods, but abundant in milk, yogurt, cheese and eggs, and the people in the countryside do not have any other foods than these. Thus their children leave them and join their non-Christian neighbors and no Christians remain in some villages."

The Liturgikon and the Horologion

While still "former patriarch", Athanasius was concerned with the liturgy and in 1701 in Bucharest he printed The Book of the Three Liturgies in parallel Greek and Arabic columns. For the Greek text, he relied on what had previously been printed in Venice and for the Arabic text he used that of Meletius Karma. The book was of a medium size and 252 pages. On its frontispiece it states the following:

"Book of the Three Divine Liturgies along with other things necessary for Orthodox prayers. Now newly printed in the Greek and Arabic languages through the care and supervision of His Beatitude Kyriokyr Athanasius, former Patriarch of Antioch, at the expense of the Most Glorious Lord, ruler of all the countries of Hungrovlachia, Kyr Kyr Ioan Constantin Basarab, the honorable voivod, under the episcopacy of His Beatitude Theodosius of the aforementioned countries, at the Monastery of the Theotokos, called "Snagov" in the Christian year 1701, by the Hieromonk Anthim, Georgian by origin."

In 1702, this same press published the Horologion in large Arabic script in red and black ink in around seven hundred pages. The troparia and kontakia for major feasts and the feasts of Pentecost and the Triodion are printed in Greek and Arabic in facing columns.

The Rock of Scandal

Athanasius decided to provide the Orthodox with something that would confirm their faith and make it possible for them to respond to the Frankish monks and their followers, so he translated the book of Elias Meniates into Arabic. He entitled it Sakhrat al-Shakk and published it in a printed edition in 1721, distributing it freely to members of the community. In this book, the origin and causes of the schism, the separation of the Western Church from the East, and the major differences between them is explained. This activity provoked Abdallah Zakher, and he responded in a book he entitled al-Tafnid lil-Majma' al-'Anid, which was also abridged. The Jesuit fathers printed it later in Beirut, in 1865. Later, the priest Niqula Sayegh composed a book in defense of Catholicism entitled al-Hisn al-'Azim muqabil al-Majma' al-Athim, of which there are two copies in Dayr al-Mukhallis.

The History of the Patriarchs of Antioch

Athanasius composed a history of the patriarchs of Antioch from the time of the Apostle Peter until the year 1702 in Greek. It was translated into Latin and published in Vienna. He translated a catechism and the Book of the Salvation of the Sage and Ruin of the Sinful World and wrote about the life of Saint John Christodoulos, abbot of the Monastery of the Apostle John the Theologian on Patmos.

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