Saturday, December 20, 2014

al-Monitor Interviews Patriarch John X

If you do not already regularly read al-Monitor, do so!  Full interview here.

Syrian patriarch: To help Christians, stop flow of weapons

Al-Monitor:  Metropolitan Joseph has been described as a “son of Damascus” with a particular interest in protecting Christians in the Middle East. Do you foresee the US church playing a greater role in addressing the plight of Christians in the region?

John X:  We have a huge archdiocese here, with about 270 parishes, 500 priests and deacons, and nine bishops. We have a lot of hope for the ecclesiastical work this archdiocese can make for all our people to bear witness to Jesus Christ. We are one church, one family and all our people here have roots in Syria or Lebanon or Jordan or Palestine or Iraq and they help spiritually and financially. On the financial side, they send [aid] to the patriarchate to help our people there, in Syria especially these days. There are about 2 million Christians in Syria [and] we have a lot of needs these days. We try to help all without distinguishing between Muslims and Christians — we give to the Muslims and the Christians.

Al-Monitor:  Earlier this year a conference focusing on protecting Christians in the Middle East was held in Washington. Has it had any impact?

John X:  We are waiting. We are waiting. We are waiting to see some action. We finished the conference with a communique [urging] the governments [of the world] to find a peaceful solution, a solution through dialogue, not through other kinds of ways — the most important issue is to press all to find a peaceful solution for Syria.
Al-Monitor:  What has been your message in your meetings with US and other officials?

John X:  Our message is for peace, how to find a peaceful solution for Syria — that’s the most important thing. And the second is that we as Christians, we are not transients — we are not visitors. We are from these countries, and we live there, and we will still live there. Everywhere we go they ask us, are you remaining in Syria, or Iraq, or Lebanon? It’s a very sensitive and difficult topic. But we believe the solution is not to send war ships or ships for transportation to take us abroad. We ask all the governments to push for peace. If you want to help us as Christians, to protect us as Christians, you have to find a peaceful solution for Syria and for the Middle East. You can’t protect me only, if my neighborhood is not well.

Al-Monitor:  A key aspect of US policy is to empower so-called moderate rebels to help achieve such a political solution. What is your view on this?

John X:  We hope to find a peaceful solution through political dialogue, and to cut off all these sources of money and weapons to all these rebels.

Al-Monitor:  You’ve personally been impacted by the violence. Have you had any news of your brother [Paul Yazigi, Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo] and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, who were kidnapped last year? Have you found out who is responsible?

John X:  Unfortunately, we do not have any news. We are afraid because we see this international silence. All [foreign officials] say to us is they do not know anything, unfortunately. It’s a shame for all the world, for all the governments, because they’re speaking about human rights and about democracy, but in this case where is the democracy and where are the human rights? Some governments have information, absolutely, but they don’t give it to us.

Al-Monitor:  How are you counseling other victims of violence? Are you worried about a cycle of sectarian revenge?

John X:  We believe the only way to live with the other is in a peaceful way, and to accept the other. We do not believe in extremism or takfirism or this kind of thinking. For these reasons as Christians we try to remain in our homes, in Syria and Lebanon and all the Middle East, and we do not believe that you can use the religion to divide families, to divide brother from brother. For these reasons we have to live in this spirit and to accept the others, to respect the others. We still live this sprit [and] have a very good relationship in our patriarchate with the Muslims.

Al-Monitor:  What kind of support do you need from the US and the rest of the world to achieve peace?

John X:  We still hope that we will have a good result and we will find a solution, despite all these catastrophes and tragedy. We still hope. And we still hope that some governments and institutions in the world want truly to find a solution. This encourages us to continue our mission, our work. We live with this hope that after the cross there is the resurrection. We are passing now in a very difficult cross, but we believe in the resurrection. We ask the international community not to think only about their interests in the Middle East — to know that the people of the Middle East is a lovely people, and they seek and ask for peace. And to help us to live all together peacefully.

Al-Monitor:  What are you doing to get across this message that the situation is salvageable?

John X:  We try to communicate [how] we try in the patriarchate to help the others, not only the Christians but the Muslims. That is the way we express our mission; that’s what we are, that’s what we believe. It’s very important for the outside world to know this is true. And I think they know.

Al-Monitor:  The Antiochian church is among the oldest Christian churches in the world. What are some of your plans for its future?

John X:  The church always has to be alive. And when we say has to be alive, that’s two things: You have roots in the past, your traditions for example, and you have a vision for the future. And you have to connect the past with the future. Now the youth have mobile phones, iPads. We have to change and speak their language. That is not a problem for us, because the truth is the truth. It’s the same content, in a different way. We have a lot of converts — Protestants, Anglicans. They realize they don’t have the true meaning of a lot of things in their life and they find it in the orthodox church, because we have this kind of thinking to connect the past with the future.

Met Georges Khodr: The Divine Child

Arabic original here.

The Divine Child

What shall we offer to the divine Child who is born for our sake after the magi recognized Him in their traditions as God, King, and one prepared for sacrifice? What more can we say than this, when the texts read to us at matins have taught us that what Christ wants from us is expressions of correct theology, that we confess Him as Redeemer, eternal God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made. I say these things that we confess because some people here and their claim that they were raised Christian, do not confess this faith, do not celebrate the birth of God Incarnate or His Theophany, but rather commemorate Him as a great man.

There are many even in our midst who, if you asked them, would say that Christ was a prophet, a great man, a social reformer or expressions like this. However, we who gather in His temples come together to confess Him first as God and to accept Him as Lord. We affirm  that God alone can redeem man, that man is stumbling in ignorance and death and that if we want to escape this cycle of despair and spiritual death, then we only have to confess that the table is prepared for us at every feast we celebrate and at every divine liturgy, bringing grace from God Himself to heal us. Christ brought good news of this grace, poured it out on the cross, and caused it to dawn in the resurrection. The birth that we celebrate today is nothing other than the beginning of that path that He will follow from cave to cave, from the cave of birth to the cave of death: Christ in swaddling clothes, then Christ in graveclothes. Christ is a sacrifice from beginning to end, in order to show people a light that shines upon them as fire. In Arabic, light [nur] comes etymologically from fire [nar]. He in whom the love of Christ is aflame is in Christ the light of the world.

If we know this, then we will surmise from it the words of the Apostle that are read to us in the Epistle on Nativity, where he said "When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born[a] of a woman, born under the law,  to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). This means that Christ is the fullness of time and that we are not waiting for any time other than Him. We are not waiting for any place where we can live apart from the place of Christ. We are not waiting for any other idea. We are not waiting for another feeling. All things have been realized and now there is nothing we must do other than to receive, other than to listen to Him, to contemplate His face, to live from this face and to inspire others to Him.

Why are we able to live in the face of Christ and to extend Him to others around us?! This is because in Him we have become children of God. He has breathed the Holy Spirit into us, who will cause us to call Him "Abba", by which Jesus means "Father". This is a word of tenderness, a word of familiarity from a child to his father and mother. Therefore, we have entered into God's family. After having been born into a family of flesh and blood, we have been transported from everything that is earthly and fleshly and from every relationship in flesh and blood to a relationship of worship. In Arabic, worship [3ibada] is from slavery [3ubudiyya]. That is, we have made ourselves slaves of God. It is not that we are slaves, but that we have made ourselves slaves of the One whom we love insofar as we look at God Himself alone and obey Him. In this way we are born anew. We are born of the vision of love by which we see God. If He looked at us as we are in our sins, we would die, but He looks at us with mercy and encounters us in His fatherly heart.

Let us proceed in this way to the blessings of Christmas, born anew in a world that does not know God, that does not know the beauty of the Gospel, so that we may be a little bit of light in a darkened world and that people may see our works and praise our Father in heaven.

Friday, December 19, 2014

How Bishop Qais Sadeq Entered The Patriarchate of Antioch

From an interview in this month's Majallat al-Nour. Arabic original in pdf here.

Who is Qais Sadeq?

I was born in Amman, Jordan in 1954. My father is Fuad bin Georges Sadeq who put on the robe of Christ in the baptismal font of the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus in Kousba, al-Koura, the village of his fathers and grandfathers. My mother is from Ramlet al-Bayda, Palestine. I received my general Jordanian secondary diploma in literature in 1972 from Taj High School in Amman. On the Feast of the Cross, September 14, 1986 Patriarch Ignatius IV ordained me as a celibate deacon at Holy Cross Cathedral in Damascus and as a priest in the same cathedral on September 14, 1988. I was elevated to the rank of archimandrite by Patriarch Ignatius IV on March 11, 1990 and was appointed as an advisory judge for the spiritual appeals court in Damascus (Patriarchal Decision no. 84/1990). On May 6, 1992, I was appointed pastor of the Church of Saint George in Damascus and pastor of the Romanian Orthodox in Damascus. With the blessing of Patriarch Ignatius IV, I returned to Amman to be a consultant at the Crown Prince's Office for Christian Affairs (1995-1999).

How did you come to the Patriarchate of Antioch?

In June, 1972, I came to Balamand from Jordan for the first time to participate in summer training workshops held by the Orthodox Youth Movement. Among those I met there were the Metropolitan of Mount Lebanon, the engineer Michel (now Metropolitan Ephrem) Kyriakos, Hani (now Patriarch John X) Yazigi, members of the Holy Synod of Antioch and senior members of the Youth Movement.

After two months, with the blessing of Patriarch Elias IV I returned once more to Balamand as a patriarchal student at the Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology. Among those under whom I studied were Patriarch Ignatius IV of thrice-blessed memory, then Metropolitan of Lattakia and dean of the Institute; His Eminence Metropolitan Elias (Audi), his assistant; Sayyedna Georges Khodr; Nadim (Fr Paul) Tarazi; and Dr Adib Saab. Among my colleagues during my studies then were Metropolitans Elias (Kfoury), Samih (Mansour), Georges (Abu Zakhem) and Paul (Bendaly) of blessed memory. However, God's will was that I leave Balamand before the end of the first term and go to Bucharest in order to receive theological instruction at its theological institute as a student from the Patriarchate of Antioch.

How did you come to Romania?

Through the World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth  Movements (Syndesmos) and with the blessing of Patriarch Justinian of thrice-blessed memory (the patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church), I received a scholarship to do theological studies at the Orthodox seminary in Bucharest, Romania. Because of the position of the Orthodox spiritual leadership of Jerusalem toward Arab members of the Church, the bishop of the diocese (Diodoros, later patriarch of Jerusalem) refused to grant me a certificate of his blessing, claiming that the Church of Jerusalem was not in need of theologians and that the priests and servants that it already had were enough for it. Because of Patriarch Justinian's understanding of the pastoral situation in the See of Jerusalem, he regarded me as a member of the Romanian Church and so did away with the need for a recommendation from Jerusalem. With the blessing of Patriarch Elias IV and the encouragement of the dean of the Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology at the time, Metropolitan Elias (Hazim), the future patriarch, I entered the Orthodox seminary in Bucharest at the end of the first term as a member of the Antiochian and Romanian Churches. This provoked a protest from the Church of Jerusalem, headed by Patriarch Venediktos, his vicar Metropolitan Basilios and the bishop  of Jordan, Diodoros against the Church of Romania. However, the unity of the position of Antioch and Romania resolved the issue.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Arab Orthodox Call to Cease Commemoration of Patriarch Theophilos

Arabic original below the jump.

Statement of the Arab Orthodox Youth in Jordan and Palestine and the Orthodox Society

On December 15, 2014, the Arab Orthodox Youth learned that the so-called "Holy" Synod of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem decided at its meeting that day under the presidency of His Eminence Theophilos, Archbishop of Tabor and so-called "Patriarch" to punish the Reverend Archimandrite Chrisophoros, abbot and spiritual father of the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring in Dibbeen, with ecclesial dismissal and expulsion from the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher because of his having asked the illegitimate patriarch to apply the canons of the Church in the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

This decision comes after a series of other arbitrary decisions issued against several priests and monks, threatening them in order to silence the voice of truth within them, which is an  unprecedented approach in the history of the Church. This has come as a result of the illegitimate Patriarch Theophilos' violation of the canons in force in the "Mother of Churches", including his refusal to apply Jordanian law number 27 of the year 1958, his repeated violations of the Canons of the Holy Apostles (numbers 25, 29, 30, 35, 36, 38 and 58), his rejection of the repeated demands by clergy and lay members of the flock to perform his sacerdotal and pastoral duties as patriarch in addition to his many and deliberate abuses against the Arab monks and venerable priests, his many other abuses against the Orthodox Church through disregarding the Apostolic Canons and the canons of the Patriarchate, his unjust campaigns to politicize and Judaize the Church, and his silence about the symbols of corruption within her which have distorted the glorious image of the Church along with her honorable patriotic positions and  has caused scandal and division among the members of the same Church and the same nation.

With this statement, we reply to this uncanonical decision issued by an unqualified synod and declare that His Eminence Theophilos, Archbishop of Tabor, is not the legitimate patriarch of the Church of Jerusalem. He is unworthy of trust and neither he nor his synod represents us or represents the Arab Orthodox flock in Jordan and Palestine. The decisions issued by this synod are void and have no connection to the Church and will be combated. From this very moment, we declare his deposition from being spiritual father of the Orthodox Church in Jordan and Palestine after ten years of his ignoring the demands of the Arab flock, his intransigence, his racism and his flagrant violations of Jordanian law pertaining to the Patriarchate. We likewise ask all sincere priests to refrain from commemorating his name as patriarch at divine liturgies and also to refrain from commemorating the names of Bishops Venedectos and Philoumenos, as they are members of this so-called synod and are direct accomplices in this sinister decision, and to replace the name of Theophilos with that of the Ecumenical Patriarch, as historically he is the first  among equals.

We declare to everyone, near and far, that the Reverend Father Christophoros, pastor of our only Orthodox monastery in Jordan shall remain in his monastery in dignity and honor no matter what, and shall celebrate the divine liturgy at the appointed times and the services of the Church as usual. No harm will come to him so long as we are his flock, as the flock chooses its pastor.

Here we are surprised by the position of the Jordanian government and the Palestinian National Authority which support the unworthy Theophilos who represents a historical colonization of the Orthodox Church with his racist policy against the people of this country. We wonder about the forces that support the so-called Theophilos, push back against the Arab Orthodox cause and flex its muscles against the Arab Orthodox in Jordan and Palestine. We hold the governments entirely responsible for the eventual results of this ecclesial crisis.

As the Arab Orthodox youth in Jordan have submitted to His Majesty King Abdullah bin Hussain a petition containing around ten thousand signatures of Jordanian citizens regarding the Arab Orthodox issue that absolutely supports the position of Father Christophoros, the Arab Orthodox youth appeal to His Hashemite Majesty to intervene immediately and directly to bring justice to the case of Father Christophoros Atallah and the Arab Orthodox flock and to right the injustice and historical slander committed against us by the Greek colonizers.

We ask the patriarchs of the Orthodox Churches in the world to send official delegations to meet with representatives of the Orthodox flock in Jordan and Palestine and to ascertain all the facts with total transparency and impartiality and to provide the prospective recommendations before it is too late.

The Arab Orthodox Youth in Jordan and Palestine and the Orthodox Society

Amman, December 16, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Princeton to Offer Intensive Course on Christian Arabic in May 2015

From here.
Intensive Course on Christian Arabic
Princeton, New Jersey (USA) May 11-15, 2015
Thanks to a number of generous grants from the David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Project, over the last few years the Near Eastern Studies Department at Princeton University has organized a series of short, intensive courses for graduate students on a variety of subjects in the broad field of Islamic studies not normally covered in the Princeton curriculum. In each case, an internationally-recognized expert has been brought in to teach the course over a period of five weekdays.
This year, we plan to offer such a course on Christian Arabic.
The course will take place in May, starting on Monday May 11, and ending on Friday, May 15, 2015. The course is intended primarily for graduate students, both from Princeton and from other universities; applicants should have some knowledge of medieval Middle Eastern history.
The instructor will be Alexander Treiger of Dalhousie University, an expert on Christian Arabic literature, Sufism, and medieval Arabic philosophy. The course will focus on Christian literature in Arabic, with emphasis on the Arabic-speaking Chalcedonian Christians (called “Melkites” or “Rum”). The first part (Days 1-2) will offer a general survey of Middle Eastern Christianity, its ecclesiastical, ethnic, and linguistic divisions, and Christian Arabic Studies as a field of research, central to the study of the Christian Orient and highly pertinent to neighboring fields (Late Antiquity, Syriac Studies, Islamic Studies, Byzantine Studies, etc.). Particular attention will be given to the library of the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai – arguably the richest repository of Arab Christian manuscripts in the world, at least as far as Melkite material is concerned. A special session will therefore be devoted to dated manuscript colophons from the Sinai collection. The second part of the course (Days 3-5) will focus on select genres of Christian literature in Arabic: biblical and patristic translations, apologetic and polemical literature, and world chronicles. Select texts will be read in printed editions (whenever available) and in manuscripts. 

Application process and deadlines
Applications must be emailed to Judy Schedneck ( at the Near Eastern Studies Department at Princeton University by February 19, 2015. The subject line of the email should read, “Application for Christian Arabic Workshop.” Applications should comprise the following:
Letter of application with statement of interest
Names, positions, and email addresses of two referees
All items should be included in a single attachment, which may be a pdf.
Successful applicants will be notified in early-to-mid March 2015 and students accepted for the course but coming from outside of Princeton will receive partial scholarships to help defray travel and accommodation costs. The course itself is free.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Bibliographical Guide to Arab Orthodox Christianity

Dr Alexander Treiger, a professor at Dalhousie University and co-editor of The Orthodox Church in the Arab World, 700-1700: An Anthology of Sources has posted for download on his page an extremely useful bibliography of scholarly works pertaining to Arab Orthodox Christianity and translations of primary sources into English and other Western languages.

It can be downloaded here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Met Georges Khodr: Your Life is Hidden with Christ

Arabic original here.

Your Life is Hidden with Christ

In the text of the Epistle assigned for us today, the Apostle Paul addresses the Colossians saying, "Your life is hidden with Christ in God... When Christ, who is our life, appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory."

Christ is our life. This meas that every good thing is in Him and every truth is from Him. This expression must be taken literally. These are words spoken between lovers: "You are my life." That is, "I have no existence apart from this constant encounter between us." Thus, says Paul, we have no existence if we are not being constantly transformed into the face of Christ who is our life. Of course, Paul is realistic and he knows that man constantly falls into sin. However, Paul says that those who are in Christ expel sin like healthy bodies expel a foreign body. When there is surgery that requires implanting a new member, the patient remains in danger of his body rejecting the foreign member until that foreign member takes on the characteristics of the healthy body and the patient is healed. It is exactly in this sense that the Apostle Paul says, "Put on the new man." Put on the new man who is healed in Jesus Christ, then you will expel every illness within you. A Christian may commit sins, but if he is truly in Christ Jesus, then the light of Christ will inter into the folds of his darkened soul and show him the ugliness of his condition. Christ is in him, leading him to expel the sin that is in him, to heal and purify himself and to yearn for the new, healed man that he acquired at baptism.

This new man, Paul continues, who was planted in us at baptism, "is renewed in knowledge in the image of his Creator." Thus the constant longing for Christ that is planted in us at baptism is renewed and constantly grows. He is renewed in the image of his Creator. That is, he becomes like God. This is Christianity: the human person extending from earth to heaven. There are no boundaries before the Christian, no ceiling over his head. He pushes up against heaven. He does not want anything less than heaven. The Christian truly strives to become a god. He is renewed in the image of the Creator. As long as the believer's face is constantly toward his Lord, as long as he fixes his gaze upon Him, despite his weaknesses and his sin, then he will be transformed into the glory of Christ's face.

Then Paul goes even further when he goes on to say that if we have this love for Christ, this constant longing for Him, "there is no Jew nor Greek". This means that there is no fence between people and no enmity and so "neither slave no free". Why do people enslave each other? Why is there oppression and tyranny? Why do people despise each other? Because they are slaves to created things, outside the communion of the love of Christ. We cannot ask a person to refrain from sin and from greed, which is idolatry, unless he becomes free in Christ. This is what the Holy Scriptures confirm to us and what the Church calls us to as she takes us to receive the feast that comes to us with blessings.

The Church calls us to try to be people who want to exterminate sin within ourselves: greed, impurity, lust in all their variety. The Church calls us today from slavery to the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus. She says to us that the newborn God is given to us anew at Christmas so that we may know His headship. Let us confess before His light that we are weak, and that faced with this weakness, we want Him to be in us strength and life.