Thursday, October 27, 2016

Carol Saba on the Lebanese Presidency

Arabic original here.

The Presidency is not Anyone's Favor or Consolation Prize

How we wish you were here, Ghassan Toueini, to throw into the face of Lebanon's bankrupt politicians the famous cry you made to the world at the United Nations in 1978: "Let my people live!" The people are bleeding, the state is disintegrating at an alarming pace, and the leaders involved in presidential chatter are not addressing the dangers facing the nation. And there remains the question: whose president? And for what state? There is no talk of re-establishing and correcting the Taif constitution, which was transformed from being a  pluralist, democratic constitution that preserves diversity within a single state into a consensual democracy that has become a confederation of sects.

There is no talk of the future president's vision or his strategic plan in critical matters, nor is there any talk of his capabilities and network of disinterested relationships that would make it possible for him to move with speed and wisdom locally, regionally and internationally in order to ward off dangers and keep Lebanon neutral. Discourse about the presidency dances to the tune of words like agreements, declaration of intentions, and duopolies. All of these are words pertaining to dividing up influence and interests, which negate the constitution in divided state that has not yet been declared to be a confederation.

The drift of governance in Lebanon since Taif has been toward division and confederation and has produced sectarian "duopolies" [i.e., most Lebanese communities are dominated by a pair of simultaneously colluding and competing parties] that today are the constitutive basis and entryway for this state of sectarian quotas. Today the Lebanese state is nothing but a confederal state made up of four sectarian statelets, each based on a duopoly driven by sectarian anxiety. Each of these duopolies has been forced to coexist after having previously shed each others' blood, and each of them rules its sect and limits any diversity to be found in it. It seems that the newly-emerging Christian duopoly has accepted the trajectory of division and confederation and has gotten in line to claim its share from the other duopolies that by far beat it to dominating the reins of what remains of the state.

This loss of way by the Christians is nothing other than an inevitable result of Christian infighting since independence and the Christians' inability to this day to make a critical assessment of their errors and trajectories. Starting in 1943, they seized the reins of power and rejected national cooperation. This was the start of the transformation of the hopes of the secular constitution of 1926 and of the progression towards the abyss. Through political Maronism, they promoted political sectarianism at the expense of national value, then they fell and along with them the First Republic. Taif came in 1989.

The Christians did not understand and they continued their game of dancing at the edge of the abyss, rejecting the balances of the Taif constitution and fighting among themselves. They were the means of entry for the [Syrian] tutelage that exploited everyone, beat them, and altered the balances of Taif. Political Sunnism arose, taking advantage of the Christian retreat. After that, political Shiism arose to take advantage of the Sunni retreat, especially after the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri. So a process of eroding authority and forming duopolies began. After the exit of the tutelage in 2005, there was no critical re-assessment by the Christians and there was no establishment of an expanded Christian base that includes all actors and elites, whose discourse would be "national" and which would put a spring back in the national watch.

So each Christian went in his own direction to support other duopolies that were competing with each other and for the Christian "share". Then there were the lethal steamrollers of March 8 and March 14. The Christians' rolling along did not stop the election of a president by consensus after the Doha Agreement. Until we reached the presidential vacuum. Bkerké completed the erroneous course by limiting the presidency to four poles. This equation, deleterious to the president and the presidency, eliminated two of them and pushed the other two, opposite twins, to form a fragile duopoly. The declaration of intent, mired in generalities and contradictions, conceals more than it declares. How, for example, can the Christian opponent of Hezbollah's project reach an understanding with the party's Christian strategic ally? At the hour of truth, who will eat whom?

A Christian awakening is needed today, so that they do not fall and that Lebanon does not fall once and for all. Bringing back the stolen Lebanese state will not happen by confirming the state of duopolies, but rather through escaping them via a foundational national salvation plan that will re-establish the charter and the formula, put into place a comprehensive national defense strategy controlled by the Lebanese Army, establish policies that will revive the nation of law and fight corruption, draw up an exceptional plan for defending Lebanon and keeping it neutral amidst the region's growing maelstroms on the basis of "Lebanon first", saving its disappearing economy and threatened currency, and resolving the dangerous dilemma of refugees and migrants. At that point, the president will be a plan for a solution and the presidency will not be anyone's favor or consolation prize.

Fr Georges Massouh: Arabism as a Christian Choice

Arabic original here.

Arabism as a Christian Choice

Modern states in the Arab Middle East arose following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, but the churches did not divide according to the newly-established states, but instead insisted on transcending borders and nations. The unity of their children--Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian or Jordanian...-- was too strong for their bonds to be broken by political or administrative boundaries.

This discussion is not coming from partisan premises or from current political choices. Rather, it is rooted in all the churches' awareness of their identity and their witness. No one can cast doubt upon the loyalty of members of these churches to their nations, but most of them see that their national loyalty in no way negates their commitment to the issues of other members of their church who belong to the entire Antiochian land.

During what was called the "Arab Nahda", which lasted from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century, Middle Eastern Christians (or at least most of them) adopted the ideas produced by the European Enlightenment. They saw in citizenship, secularism, socialism, and Arab or Syrian nationalism common denominators-- whether linguistic, civilizational, cultural, national, geographic, social, or humanitarian-- that bring them together with their fellow-citizens and partners in a shared fate, both Muslims and other people of the region. They saw in these ideas a gateway to their liberation from the hegemony of a state garbed in religion which forbade them from their natural rights to practice their full citizenship without any diminution. They were the tip of the spear against ignorance, colonialism and narrow sectarian affiliations and against backwards religious thought and the confusion of politics and religion.

What is striking today is that the grandchildren of the Christians who launched the idea of an Arabism that includes all the people of the region have themselves come to fight against this idea. They ignore the fact that their forefathers, when they adopted Arabism, did not adopt it on a racial or genealogical basis. But rather, they adopted it as a basis for national partnership and equality, far removed from religious-- and particularly Islamic-- rule. For this reason, the Islamists fought the idea of Arabism to the point that some of them declared it to be a form of unbelief-- and these are imitated today by the grandchildren who disown their forefathers for their choices.

The Christians of our land were never a single ethnic nation within a political or social framework. They are a single nation within an ecclesiastical framework: they are "a holy nation," as the Holy Apostle Paul said. They did not, however, constitute a religious or ethno-religious nation and they never strove to establish their own ethno-state in imitation of the Jews who boast of belonging to a primarily religious religious nationality, of the sort of being "God's chosen people."

In our land, Christians have carried the banner of partnership with Muslims, without a nationalist or sectarian concern that would overshadow the spirit of partnership with Muslim fellow-citizens. From the Ottoman Empire to Arab nationalism, Syrian nationalism, or Lebanese citizenship, we find that the Christians adopted these things because they bring them together with Muslims and do not separate them from them. We have a shining example of this in the Orthodox Patriarch Gregorius IV Haddad (d. 1928). He supported the Ottoman Empire, then subsequently supported the Arab movement, "and this was not an ideological choice for him, as it was for the secularist intellectuals," according to Dr Tarek Mitri. Patriarch Haddad said in his speech on the occasion of the Recruitment Act (1908) that made Christians equal to Muslims in the Sultanate, "Praise be to God who brought us together in humanity and citizenship and united us in the Ottoman Empire." He then himself supported the Arab movement, without any contradiction with his previous position since the basis upon which he built both his positions was partnership with Muslims and not conflict.

When the Jews strove for their own ethno-nationalist state on the territory of Palestine, the Christians engaged in universal, secular nationalist options and rejected any sectarian or religious isolationism. Is not the return to religio-nationalist options a betrayal of the mind of Christ Himself who put an end to Jewish ethno-religious nationalism, then the Jewish religious establishment killed Him because it regarded Him as a danger to the Jewish people? Do they not kill Christ a second time by going back to the closed-off walls of their sect? Do they not betray Christ who said, "You are in the world but not of it?"

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh: Is ISIS a face of Islam?!

Arabic original here.

Is ISIS a face of Islam?!

If Muslims don't defend Islam against members of their religion who hurt it, then who will defend it? How can Muslims be pleased with crimes against humanity committed by other Muslims under the pretext that they, like themselves, testify that "there is no god but God"? How can they remain silent in the face of grievous sins committed in the name of their God?

What led me to pose these questions is a statement by a moderate Islamic authority, Sheikh Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Tunisian Ennahda Movement and author of the book Islam and General Freedoms (Markaz Dirasat al-Wahda al-'Arabiyya, 1993), in which he says that one cannot declare members of ISIS to be unbelievers, adding that we cannot declare anyone who says "there is no god but God" to be an unbeliever (the statement made on October 16, 2016).

 As al-Ghannouchi opined on the sidelines of the meeting of the Ennahda Movement's consultative council, ISIS is in a "tense and angry state." He explained that "I am not searching for a justification for them. They are an image of the angry Islam that has escaped from reason and wisdom." He pointed out that "We are Sunnis. We do not declare anyone who says 'there is no god but God' to be an unbeliever, but rather we say to him, 'You are unjust, a sinner, a radical, an extremist.'"

Is it not excusing ISIS's actions to say that they result from an "angry Islam," that ISIS is one of the acceptable faces of Islam? And consequently, that what ISIS members are doing is unambiguously legitimate? If what they are doing were not Islamic, then it would be the duty of Ghannouchi and other Muslim intellectuals to condemn ISIS's actions as clearly outside of true Islam.

Ghannouchi's opinion also causes us to wonder, if not to call into question, what remains of that which distinguishes the discourse of the moderates on the one hand from the discourse of the extremists on the other? The moderate approaches his discourse to that of the extremist to the point that they almost become identical, with even more of an impact on his followers because it is coming from a major authority whose opinions guide many people, not from everyday or marginal clerics with little serious influence.

It seems that, following the "Arab Spring", we have reached the end of what religious etiquette calls Islamic moderation. The confessional sifting that is seen in some confessionally-diverse Arab countries-- among them Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrein-- is pushing many confessional authorities to slide toward more radicalism, to the point of takfirism. In countries devoid of confessional diversity, things are the same. The ascendancy of radicals and Salafists that is being witnessed in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, for example, is also grist for the mill of destroying what we saw to be promising signs in that Spring, especially since the initial spark was in Tunis.
What is noteworthy is that Ghannouchi's words, in addition to being an expression of a profound crisis in Islamic thought (and particularly, the thought of the Muslim Brotherhood)-- is an expression of an intolerable duplicity. At their most recent congress (May 2016), the Ennahda Movement announced that they have adopted the model of a civil party based on democratic authority in the modern sense and the distinction (but not the separation) of their political activity and their religious activity. So which Ghannouchi should we believe?
We also know that the majority of ISIS's victims are innocent Muslims who do not support them, who also testify that "there is no god but God," so how is it possible to defend ISIS's Islam? It is unfortunate that we non-Muslims who are bound to Muslims by bonds of love and national partnership are sometimes more eager to protect the image of Islam than some Muslims.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh: The Living Dead

Arabic original here.

The Living Dead

There is no doubt that war his heinous, especially civil wars. Even if it is true that the foreign interventions in Syria are what is fueling the clashes that move from one area to another, internal factions are not innocent of participation in this hellish inferno. So it is also a civil war.

War is heinous, but despite its heinousness positive things may result from it, such as it being a cause for citizens to come closer together in order to stop an external threat, defending their nation against occupiers, agreeing upon a solid foundation for their society and their life together... But civil war does not result in anything positive. Can any good thing come out of a blazing hell?

The terribleness of civil war lies in the fact that it does not only kill the body, but also the spirit. The Lord Christ said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). In Christian thought, there is no difference between man's soul and spirit. What is meant, of course, by this verse is that one should fear sin more than death.

Our fear is that the civil war, which has caused the death of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, has caused the perdition of the spirits of many who remain alive, living in the body but having lost their spirit-- that is, their true life, their religious principles or their humanity. They are alive in the body, but their values, their virtues and their principles have died. We do not-- God forbid!-- condemn anyone, but we are calling attention to certain practices and emotions that cause us to fear a slide further and further into losing our humanity which distinguishes us from other creatures.

Has he not lost his spirit, the one who is happy and rejoices at the killing of his fellow-citizen killed in an air raid or slaughtered with machetes, simply because the killers are among his allies? Has he not lost his spirit, the one who justifies the killing of children by saying that they were "human shields" used by the opposing side? Has he not lost his spirit, the one who distinguishes between one victim and another on the basis of their sect or religion? Has he not lost his spirit, the one who betrays his religious principles by justifying that which neither religion nor reason can justify?

But the most painful thing is that the victims do not all stand in solidarity in the face of their killers. What we are seeing is that all Syrian citizens, the living and the dead, are victims of a war over their country. But instead of standing in solidarity against the killers coming from every direction, you see most of them weeping over their victims and rejoicing over others' victims. Victims stand in solidarity with killers on one side and other victims stand in solidarity with killers on the other side. Their killers are heroes and others' killers are criminals! This dualism is nothing but an expression of the death of the spirit in them.

For someone to stand in solidarity with victims from his group but not others is simply proof of factionalism. For someone to stand in solidarity with every innocent who is killed is simply proof of his humanity. Unfortunately, as the war goes on, we are getting further away from everything that distinguishes man from other creatures. To condemn what is happening in Aleppo and rejoice at what is happening in Yemen or to condemn what is happening in Yemen and rejoice at what is happening in Aleppo are two sides of the same coin. It is the pinnacle of hypocrisy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Georges Nahas on the Crete Meeting: The Church of Christ and the Fall of Empire

Arabic original here. Georges Nahas is Vice President of the University of Balamand in charge of Planning and Educational Relations and Dean of the Faculty of Library and Information Studies.

The Church of Christ and the Fall of Empire:
The Crete Meeting from the Perspective of an Antiochian Believer

The Problematique
Antioch has never deserved its name of "Great Theopolis" as much as it has recently. This name is not given to to her now because she is the capital of a great earthly kingdom, but because she has defended the Lord's truth and has renewed the pride given to her by the Bible when it mentions that Christians were first called as such there. She is called great because of the "mysterious" leadership for the work of the Spirit in her children and through them in the Holy Synod. She has effectively said what no one has dared to say before: the logic of empire has fallen, never to return. There is no first, second or third Rome. There is no place for the imperial inheritance in a Church whose only inheritance is Christ. There is no right within the community of the Lamb slaughtered from eternity in the Father's bosom apart from the Lord's right in the world.

This is not a sentimental conclusion stemming from an excess of love for Antioch because I belong to her. Rather, these are realistic and scientifically documented words. It is necessary, for history's sake, to shed light on them, so that future generations can build upon them in order to grow the body of Christ and establish its witness in the world. In what follows, we shall attempt to make an objective analysis of everything pertaining directly or indirectly to the Crete meeting since the acceleration of the process calling for it in 2014 until the time of its meeting in 2016. It is only possible to understand Antioch's position and to assess its importance by having the whole picture, in order to reach a sound reading, not influenced by a discourse or captive to an erroneous position: from venerable tradition, first of all, and secondly sanctifying historical inertia. Returning to the topic at hand, what makes us sure that the Antiochian position is a historic and inspired position?

Before going into details, we must state the importance of the consultative manner that the Antiochian synod adopted in preparing, following, and studying the papers. This showed something, a clear desire to regard the faithful, each according to his knowledge and capability, as concerned in what pertains to their church.

On the Name
To clear up any ambiguity, the Crete meeting was nothing more than a meeting of ten autocephalous Orthodox churches. Some vainly attempt to exaggerate the importance of the Church of Constantinople and qualify the meeting as being a council, whether great or not. The quality of conciliarity is always, in right-believing tradition, an expression of unity. This spirit is what gives the ecclesiastical quality called "conciliarity" to any meeting. It is possible for any meeting to remain worldly in scope and content if it is not openly and explicitly connected to this spirit of unity. This is what was clearly decided by all the preparatory efforts that began in 1961, when it was desired that there be a great and holy council in its time. The Ecumenical Councils only came to be such on account of their recognition by the churches. This is not a formality, but rather an expression of unity in the common chalice which brings us together, even if not in a single building of stone. Our unity is the body of Christ. Our unity is not the agglomeration of bodies. It is for this reason that use of the expression "Crete meeting" is an extremely precise usage, based on the following:

1- There was no unity in agreeing on the convocation and the date. Antioch refused to agree to the date for holding it in light of the disagreements that exist between a number of Orthodox churches, which might have a negative impact on the proceedings of these meetings, especially the preparatory ones. Despite this, Antioch's position was not taken into account, contrary to what was stipulated by the decisions taken as fundamental by all the churches.

2- There was no unity of agreement on the agenda for the coming council. Since 2014, Antioch rejected the removal from the agenda the issue of the autocephaly of emerging churches and its replacement with a circumstantial, local issue, that of "the episcopal assemblies in the countries of the diaspora." Antioch's position in the issue is based on ecclesiological principles and nothing else. We will return to this issue.

3- There was no unity of agreement on the internal statute for the coming council. Antioch refused to sign it because it affirmed the dominance of the See of Constantinople over the other Orthodox Churches. This logic had been gradually prepared over a period time and this novel logic requires considering the Patriarch of Constantinople to be "first without equals" (*). In another sense, Antioch rejected a new papism that wants to impose itself on Orthodoxy and to be a Second Rome equal to First Rome.

4- Parallel to the Antiochian position and in some cases in support of it, three other Orthodox churches refused to join the Crete meeting. So it lost the attribute of conciliarity in form and in spirit. The faithful of the churches that were absent (Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria and Antioch) constitutes more than half the number of Orthodox in the world. It is worth mentioning that a number of bishops, priests and faithful of the churches that were represented were also against holding this meeting and expressed this in writing in more than one place.

5- The number of bishops who attended the Crete meeting did not even reach half the number of Orthodox bishops in the world. This is contrary to conciliar tradition, which regards the contribution of each bishop as important in itself on account of the grace that has been poured out upon him. For this reason, representative logic cannot summarize the gifts of the Spirit. So once more, the principle of conciliarity was done away with, especially since the bishops were prevented from voting, since each church spoke in the name of its primate and each had one vote. When we remember that deacons defended the truth faith at the previous ecumenical councils, we realize just how far the Crete meeting was from conciliarity.

Therefore, here we will simply regard the Crete gathering as a meeting of some Orthodox churches, asking God to strengthen the conciliar spirit within each church, so that this spirit may pervade in all universal Orthodox meetings.

The Qatar Dilemma
Many of those who doubt Antioch's principled position say that the issue of the dispute with the See of Jerusalem led our church to take this firm position. We must clarify this matter from the beginning, so that it does not determine the reading of the analysis that follows.

The dilemma of this dispute is extremely important and Antioch cannot show any leniency in it on account of her respect for her history and for what was declared by the fathers of the previous ecumenical councils. This is also connected to Antioch's pastoral care for the entire Arab region, especially since gestures have been made by the See of Constantinople seeking to scale down the See of Antioch so that it will become a geographic region covering only Syria and Lebanon. (**)

A number of Antiochian specialists have made scholarly analyses of the issue, which is not what we are concerned with here and those who desire can make reference to them. However, the intransigence of the See of Jersualem has caused all efforts to put a lasting end to the problem to fail. Nevertheless, Antioch did no cease, in an irenic spirit, to participate in the preparatory activities, which she decided while holding on to her reservations, where necessary. But she was constantly frank about the necessity of ensuring unity in the holy chalice before ensuring anything else because the Slaughtered Lamb is the one who brings us together and preserves our unity. This fundamental (not merely formal) position was one of the important reasons that led the Antiochian Synod to make the decision not to go to the Crete meeting. The synod's communiqué about this is extremely clear and it explains that singling out Antioch's position was only to distort its firmness and to avoid facing a fundamental truth, that Antioch is a bastion of truth in the Church of Christ and she does not bargain this truth away, as we shall see.

We are not defending an identity, an ethnicity or a language. We have been Christians since the age of the Apostles and, despite our failings, we are proud to have given the world great saints who were martyred for their firmness, starting with Ignatius of Antioch, down through John Chrysostom, to Joseph of Damascus.

This is the background to Antioch's approach to the Crete meeting and against this clear and transparent background, today we will read what was issued by this meeting and reveal Antioch's preparatory accompaniment to it.

On the Approved Papers
In an article published in the third issue of Majallat al-Nour for 2016, pages 118-127, I talked about the six texts left remaining for study at the Crete meeting. Despite the positions issued here and there in the churches about these texts, those gathered on Crete only made insignificant modifications to them, so the observations I made about them remain and there is no need to repeat them. For the sake of the faith, however, we must take a look at what Antioch worked for and those documents issued by the Crete meeting that strengthen her position today.

We can classify the texts into texts that have a pastoral purpose, texts that have an organizational purpose, and texts that have a relational purpose. This classification makes it easier for us to present the observations studied by the Holy Synod of Antioch, which constitute the essence of its observations on the proceedings of the Crete meeting. It was clear to the Antiochian delegations to the final preparatory meetings (especially, the fourth and fifth preparatory conferences) that discussion of the texts would be extremely limited, since the Constantinopolitan presidency of the preparatory meetings believed that their importance as lying in the meeting itself and not in its contents and that after all these years of preparation, it was no longer possible to scrutinize the texts, even if some of them were decades old. Nevertheless, a group of experts were commissioned with studying these texts and making proposals about them with the goal of improving them. What follows is a summary of these observations. I hope in the future the faithful will be permitted to examine them.

A- The Two Pastoral Texts
These are the texts related to fasting and marriage. The important thing for the Antiochian proposals was putting these texts in the context of the actual situation of society, the changes it has undergone, and the impact this has had on the life of the faithful. Introductions were given to these texts allowing them to be read against a realistic pastoral background rooted in venerable tradition. For example, the proposed introduction to the text on marriage and the family stressed their centrality to pastoral approaches. The introduction to the text on fasting stressed its social aspects as an integral part of the process of progressing in Christ. It was likewise the intention of our church to put forward renewed positions, so that the principle of economy would not be predominate, since this leads on the one hand to expansion and on the other hand to practices diverging from each other. Our church also hopes that some of these matters will remain open to more profound study in the future, since it does not seem to the reader that the Orthodox Church is obstinate in holding positions that do not allow for connecting with today's youth and their families.

B- The Organizational Texts
These are the texts related to the episcopal assemblies in the diaspora and the management of autonomy and the conditions for granting it. Our church rejects the first one because it would lead to an effective domination of the See of Constantinople over the diaspora and therefore it intended to ask that this arrangement be declared limited in terms of time because it is provisional. This requires reexamining its internal statute. However, the See of Constantinople did not want to examine the issue, which led to the See of Antioch's refusal for it to be included on the agenda. Nevertheless, the Antiochian delegation to Crete was equipped with clear proposals in this regard. As for the text pertaining to autonomy, it is an examination of the form of this arrangement only and it does not mention any of the conditions for granting it, avoiding opening the door to discussion of the difference between autonomy and autocephaly. This was the fundamental question for Antioch: what was the reason for these conditions being absent from the text?

C- The Texts Directed to the Outside
The first text examines the relationship with other Christians and the second text examines general orientations around the problems of peace and man's position in the contemporary world. The Crete meeting did not make any significant modifications to these texts, while the Antiochian synod adopted proposals means to free these texts from wooden discourse. Specifically, they propose in the second text practical, tangible positions that translate the Church's social thought into the domain of everyday life. The Antiochian position is based on our church's pastoral experience and her tragic present. It hoped that the Orthodox Church would take positions that keep pace with the needs of contemporary man and the challenges facing them, but the Crete meeting did not succeed in ensuring the unity that could constitute a starting-point for renewing Orthodox discourse and activity. This was also the state of the second text, which was overshadowed by its procedural character. Antioch was unable to make her voice heard as being the church that has by far the most experience with the issue of coexistence with other Christians and other religions.

By causing Antioch and her experience to be absent, Orthodoxy missed its chance to hear a different voice, a voice that has represented in the history of right belief the incarnational dimension in every sense of the word.

On the Crete Meeting's Final Statement
In the end, I must comment in a personal capacity on the council's closing statement. The Antiochian synod did  not issue any comments about this statement, but took notice of it. In my opinion, however, this statement, which remained at the level of generalities, did not bring anything new. After fifty-five years of preparation, it is not enough to enumerate the problems posed today at every level. It seems this text came to confirm that we have nothing new.

It is painful in this regard that the Orthodox world is full of thinkers capable of bearing Orthodox thought into the world. But does this mean that church leadership is ready to reexamine its vision of the substance of theology, its role in man's life and his relationship with everyday things, and its role in societies? Fr Schmemann once told me that theology must someday come down from its ivory tower. I hope that the time has come for all the Orthodox to realize the necessity of living the Holy Spirit's resting upon them, of speaking publicly and acting openly to employ their gifts, taking from their faith in the Lord and their life in the community as a point of reference so that they may bring the witness of a church of which they are members to a world that is missing it, to a world that is searching for a jewel that we are hiding under our passions and our weaknesses.

* Reference can be made to some speeches and talks by bishops of the See of Constantinople. Likewise reference can be made to the debate that occurred in this regard between Istanbul and Moscow. Professors of history and canon law have assisted the Holy Synod of Antioch with decisive studies in this field.

** These literal words appeared in a presentation by the spokesman of the See of Constantinople to the Orthodox churches.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Raymond Rizk: The Council of Crete: Great and Holy or Stoking Discord?

Arabic original here.

The Council of Crete: Great and Holy or Stoking Discord?

Although I considered it a true grace to be named as a member of the Antiochian delegation meant to participate in the Council of Crete, I must say that it was a cause for anxiety and unease. This is not only because my church did not participate, but because I sensed first of all, while I followed its final  preparatory stage, a wound starting to grow as I listened to the Antiochian representatives to the preparatory conferences and the meetings of the heads of the churches that took place over the last two years, and as I followed the talks with the Ecumenical Patriarch regarding the See of Jerusalem's aggression on the Patriarchate of Antioch's territory in Qatar. The same as I read the texts prepared for discussion at the council and, last but not least, the manner in which this council met. All these things (the preparatory conferences, the issue of Qatar, the texts prepared and the way the council was held) portend the problems that the council will cause for the Orthodox world.

The Preparatory Conferences and "First without Equals"
The Antiochian representatives all stressed the authoritarian climate-- indeed, the superciliousness-- that dominated the way in which the preparatory sessions were managed and the limitations placed on freedom of speech and discussion. This was confirmed by representatives of the other churches. Any opinion that differed from the opinion of the person presiding over these sessions-- that is, the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate-- was rejected, as was any request for more time to discuss thorny issues. Hastiness ruled the day and it required avoiding any issue that would provoke controversy. The intent of the person presiding was to arrive at the minimal level of agreement between the churches, even if this minimal level was at the cost of ignoring fundamental issues. It seems that the important thing was that the council meet at the appointed time, no matter what the cost, as they said "to demonstrate Orthodox unity." But how can there be talk of unity when it is emptied of any real dialogue and agreement about the word of truth and life? For the representatives of the See of Constantinople, the absolutely most important thing was to display the Orthodox churches gathered around the "first without equals," according to the phrase declared by a number of them(*), in contradiction with the traditional expression "first among equals." This novel trend was exhibited in the way that, first of all, the seats of the heads of the churches were placed in the meeting hall of the council, since the Ecumenical Patriarch was singled out with the central seat and the other primates had to sit in two parallel rows to his right and his left. After this arrangement provoked a number of objections-- some in writing, like the one made by the Patriarch of Bulgaria-- it was changed to the traditional form of a semicircle, which was followed by the Apostles in the icon of Pentecost. However, the central seat in the icon remains empty so that Christ may be seated, He who alone presides in every place and time, while on Crete this seat was designated for the Ecumenical Patriarch. One feels a little stupid mentioning things like this, but they are indicative of dangerous, novel trends, especially when they are connected to the unilateral interpretation of Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon, which regards the "barbarian lands" mentioned by the canon to now be nothing other than what are conventionally called today the Orthodox "diaspora." According to this interpretation, all the countries that fall outside the borders of the traditional Orthodox churches should submit to the direct authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople, making him a "global" patriarch instead of being the traditional ecumenical patriarch!

Talks with Constantinople about the Church in Qatar
The Patriarchate of Jerusalem's violation of the canonical territory of Patriarchate of Antioch in 2013 resulted in a break in communion between the two churches and he dispute was brought to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Although the Ecumenical Patriarch admitted in writing that the Antiochian position was in the right, until now he has not issued anything in this matter except polite words. The Patriarchate of Antioch, desiring to maintain Orthodox unity, made a number of irenic initiatives and wrote repeatedly to the Ecumenical Patriarch declaring that it would not be able to participate in the "great and holy" council if it was not possible to take part in the Eucharist-- that is, before the return of communion with Jerusalem, which must inevitably take place before the council would be held. On account of this, Antioch refrained from signing the decisions of the meetings of the heads of the churches in 2014 and 2016, which set the date for holding the council without tying it to a resolution to the conflict between Antioch and Jerusalem. However, out of its desire for the council to be held, and in the hope that the Ecumenical Patriarchate would find an appropriate solution, the Patriarchate of Antioch continued its participation in the preparatory meetings and even announced its list of representatives to the council's secretariat. Therefore, it was shocked by the decision issued by the Holy Synod of Constantinople a few days before the council met, postponing the resolution of the conflict over Qatar until after the council's proceedings. I do not know if it is possible to understand this decision-- for those familiar with the talks between Antioch and Constantinople regarding this matter-- as anything other than a call for Antioch to not participate in the council!

I was present at the meeting of the Holy Synod of Antioch that made the request (for the last time) to delay the meeting of the council on Crete. The decision of the Holy Synod of Constantinople constrained the Antiochian Church and gave her exactly two choices: either going to the council and not participating in the holy mysteries, which would do away with any sense to her participation; or to refrain from going. It was a critical situation in either case. So Antioch had no reason to "boycott" the council, as some voices claimed. All she asked for was to postpone the date in order to resolve conflicts and improve the prepared texts. Inasmuch as the date for holding the council was not changed in response to Antioch's refraining from signing the decision to convoke it, blatantly contrary to the principle of the "holy unanimity" of all the churches, which had been considered a necessary condition for convoking and holding the council, Antioch decided not to participate. Contrary to repeated accusations by representatives of Constantinople, the decision to convoke the council did not enjoy the consensus of all the churches. And contrary to the claims of some commenters in the media who claimed to be "knowledgeable", Antioch's non-participation had no connection to taking a stance "with the Russians against the Greeks." Likewise, it is manifestly clear from what preceded that her decision was taken for purely ecclesiastical reasons that had already been announced to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for years.

Some suppose that Antioch's absence from the council was "intentional" and "provoked" in order to facilitate extending the episcopal assemblies in the diaspora, desired by Constantinople, without any evaluation of how well they are working, as is stated in their statues, "before the date that the Great and Holy Council is held." Others suppose that Constantinople's procrastination in resolving the problem of Qatar is nothing other than a warning about its regarding the countries of the Gulf, including Qatar, to be "barbarian" lands that must belong to Constantinople! The Archbishop of Cyprus effectively paved the way for this by saying that these countries, since they have become Islamic, must be regarded as "barbarian" lands, ignoring the fact that a number of dioceses dependent on the Patriarchate of Antioch continued to exist in the region for many long years after the emergence of Islam and that Isaac the Syrian was born in Qatar.

This situation is extremely unfortunate, because it indicates authoritarian tendencies that are foreign to the brotherhood and unity by which we must live, "so that the world may believe." Of course, the history of the Church and of the councils is not without tragedies such as these. Let us recall that Saint Gregory the Theologian fled from Constantinople following the Second Ecumenical Council on account of the conflicts between bishops that took place there. But the Holy Spirit was active despite their weakness and He inspired those who were in the right to be considered fathers of the Church indeed, in order to combat the heresies and define the dogmas according to which we still live. Their unity in their common struggle and their inspired word was manifest in its fullness in the common Eucharistic service. Where was the Council of Crete in terms of this? Can it be considered a council despite all the disagreements that accompanied its convocation and its meeting and the lack of respect for its own rules? What is this council that ignores, with hurtful arrogance and haughtiness, the requests for a postponement coming from four Orthodox churches? How does this behavior demonstrate the "holy unanimity", so beloved to Patriarch Athenagoras and so valiantly defended by his representative at the preparatory conferences, Metropolitan Meliton of Chalcedon? Our hope and prayer is that the Spirit will overturn the money-changers' tables and, despite everything, turn the Crete meeting into an event for His glory that will not contribute to fragmenting the unity of the Orthodox churches.

The Texts of the Council of Crete
Fasting: This text, which repeats the strict, traditional Orthodox teaching about fasting, will not speak to its lived aspects and its practices, which differ radically between the churches, leaving each bishop to use economy to find appropriate solutions for his people's situation. The council adopted the text as it was put forward. It is strange that no mention was made of the importance of moderation and the asceticism of fasting in our consumerist societies, which requires saying new and prophetic things, as are found in the text put forward by the Antiochian Church in one of the preparatory meetings about fasting, which was not examined.

Marriage: The council discussed the text about marriage even though its rejection, for different reasons, by the Churches of Antioch and Georgia, required it to be removed from discussion out of respect for the principle of unanimity. It discusses the impediments to marriage, repeating some ecclesiastical canons, and simply mentions the pastoral problems posed to our communities by mixed marriages and forms of "marriage" that are permitted by civil law, without giving any guidance apart from saying that in any case "the sanctity of marriage must be preserved." The text was weakened during the course of it being discussed at the council with the removal of the principle of ecclesiastical economy with regard to the marriage of an Orthodox to another Christian, in accordance with the desire expressed by the Church of Georgia, ignoring that such marriages are daily bread for some churches! At a time when Pope Francis has issued his document about marriage, Amoris Laetitia, which treats Christians' real problems in the spirit of the Gospel, the "Orthodox" document is characterized by generalities, repeating theological data that our contemporaries no longer understand, especially when they are imposed upon them.

In studying these two texts, the Antiochian Church considered that they needed radical changes and undertook the preparation of two alternative texts.

Ecumenical Activity: After the discussion of the text "The Orthodox Church's Relations with the Rest of the Christian World", at the council, it acquired the fingerprints of conservative Orthodox who removed the description of other Christian communities as "churches", simply regarding them condescendingly as being called such merely because this name has been applied to them over history! In their position that insists that there only exists  "returning to the Church" (that is, the Orthodox Church) as the sole option for dialogue with Christians, some Orthodox forget the tragedies that this option has caused when it was applied to them in history and that they are seriously impeding rapprochement with other Christians, turning it into a mere "development of peaceful coexistence and cooperation around important social and political problems," as the final text puts it. Even though it was descriptive and filled with generalities, this text, in its original formulation, was the best among the texts prepared for the council, but the changes introduced into it caused it to lose some of its value.

The Church and the World: Each section of this document is prefaced with a theological study that abounds in patristic proof-texts that take the place of real study. They are steeped in a language only comprehensible to those in the know. These prefaces are generally followed by a list of the "evils" of our societies, characterized by general expressions and advice, without providing guideposts for solutions embodied in reality. As for the "evils", they are made up of a summary abstract of the problems of our societies, stressing their negative and "demonic" aspects, without presenting the necessity of facing them with loving attention and respect and of searching for the divine graces that accompany them, despite the strange and unaccustomed forms that these may take. Although the text addresses most of these problems, it remains at the level of an academic compilation. How lovely it would have been if it  had moved from "good intentions" to the level of service in lived reality. It would have been nice if it had proposed joint Orthodox organizations for assistance and thinking about the challenges of modernity. Despite some positive things, this text gives the feeling that the Church still fears the modern world and is still addressing it with a certain amount of condescension. The discussion of pastoral care for youth, for example, simply mentions the need to "teach them" without any discussion of the necessity of listening to them. The text mentions the necessity of creating an economy "that which combines efficiency with justice and social solidarity," based on "ethical principles" without indicating the necessity of freeing the Church and her members from every alliance with the authorities of the world and living a life characterized by sufficiency and simplicity, in order to remain free to criticize them and constantly remind them of the requirements of justice, human dignity and the common good. The text condemns "wars inspired by nationalism" without mentioning the increase in such tendencies in ecclesiastical circles. In any case, the conciliar message that was issued at the end of the proceedings drew on many points that were raised in this document, styling them in a language closer to the people.

The Diaspora
The Antiochian Church intended to draw attention to Latin America, where the bishops of the most widespread Orthodox groups have refrained from participating in the episcopal assemblies for a number of years, something that necessitates an examination of the nature of these assemblies and their practice in order to correct the course and not merely stating, as the council did, that they have been useful and their mission should be extended because "our groups are not yet ready to apply the Orthodox canon" which requires creating one bishop for a single territory. We have the right to wonder about the seriousness of this assumption and whether the churches are still not ready, but when will they be? Must there not be some audacity to impose a new reality in order to end this painful situation of having multiple Orthodox episcopal sees in each of the countries of the diaspora?

The Council of Crete
In its session held on June 27, 2016, the Holy Synod of Antioch decided to regard the Crete meeting as a preparatory meeting for the Great and Holy Council, which must be convoked after more preparation and the resolution of the outstanding problems between the churches that are impeding the participation of any one of them. In order for it to be truly "great and holy", it is better for it to convene the entire Orthodox episcopal body and for the participation of priests, monks and laity to be ensured in a real way, so that it may bring together the fullness of the Church.

We must work and pray that this decision may be taken seriously in order to avoid repeating the bitter experience of the start of the last century, when a council was held in 1923 in Constantinople and another in Moscow in 1948, in a climate of antagonism between the churches. It bears mentioning that the Church of Antioch was among the few Orthodox churches that participated in both councils, thus affirming her traditional conciliatory role, which we hope she will be able to play during the crisis that is coming upon us.

*Among them Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis), metropolitan of Bursa, in a lecture he gave at the University of Fribourg on December 30, 2013.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Carol Saba: Crete 2016 Failed to Read the "Signs of the Times"!

The French original was published in the magazine of the Catholic charity Oeuvre d'Orient in its July-August-September 2016 issue, no. 784, pp. 518-519.

Crete 2016 Failed to Read the "Signs of the Times" (Matthew 16)!

An "objective" reading of Crete 2016, which is giving rise to worrying fractures among the Orthodox, is premature. Subjective readings that embellish the event and make extrapolations on the basis of its texts, which are already under heavy criticism, are feeding the Orthodox conciliar crisis and setting the stage for a possible ecumenical crisis.

Crete 2016, as a moment and a process, was an expression of a longstanding Orthodox "autism", incapable of reading the "signs of the times" (Matthew 16), the original spiritual and conciliar vision put forward by John XXIII and Athenagoras I. The symptoms of the Orthodox conciliar crisis, which are many and easily expressed, were neither "seen" nor identified for an Orthodoxy that is, while very rich, in need of an aggiornamento that would cause it to be renewed without betraying itself.

The twentieth century was a trying time for the Orthodox lands, but also a great moment of theological renewal with the neo-patristic inspirations of the Paris School. The historic ice age that lasted from the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to that of the Ottoman Empire in 1920 was followed by thaw with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990. The Orthodox world abruptly shifted from a static geopolitics toward a dynamic geopolitics, not without tensions, that placed the Orthodox poles more in competition than in complementarity, although the latter is a prerequisite for any strengthening of unity. From hot wars to cold wars, the path to the council was progressively led astray by new issues of Orthodoxy's worldwide governance and the organization of its influential "diaspora", present on every continent. Everything else is just window-dressing, and perhaps in poor taste.

To lay the cards on the table regarding Crete 2016, there is the battle, as much furtive as open, that has for some time pitted the partisans of "primus sine paribus" (first without equals) against those of "primus inter pares" (first among equals). Among the former, there is an innovation of Orthodoxy that seeks to take its governance in a direction it should not go, calling for a different content-- more juridical than honorific, more global than local-- of the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its primate in the entirety of Orthodoxy, separating him from the other primates. Thus it was necessary to move forward at no matter what cost on Crete without concern for the "coming together of Orthodoxy", if that is a barrier to putting into place this new governance for Orthodoxy. We are far from the original vision of Athenagoras I for whom, from 1959, the council was not an end in itself but a "common path" so that "the Orthodox may learn to work together."

Crete 2016 is thus the expression of an unfinished unity of Orthodoxy between the ten autocephalous churches that were present and the four churches (and not the smallest) that were absent for well-founded reasons. Moreover, in the opposition between the "conciliarity" based on the largest number to the traditional conciliarity of the full communion of the pleroma of the fourteen autocephalous churches of Orthodoxy, a worrying rift is expressed, something that is not without consequences for ecumenical dialogue as well.

What should be done to escape the impasse? The biased and triumphalist discourses of Crete 2016 should be replaced by a responsible discernment of the "signs of the times" and of what is needed for unity and rallying together. His Holiness Bartholomew I, a servant of Orthodox unity, has a leading role to play here. A leading responsibility to repair what has been broken.