Sunday, May 29, 2016

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Man

Arabic original here.

Man

"Man is created in the image and likeness of God." In this sense, man is an icon of God and he is called to become a living icon of Christ.

This means that the human being who is separated from the divine Being loses the cause of his existence, because the divine element within us is that which establishes humanity. Man has no existence without God. There is no humanism without theism.

From another perspective, the God in whose image we were created is God the Holy Trinity. Consequently, the divine image that is within each of us is an icon of the Trinity. Thus God, without whom I cannot be truly human, is the God of reciprocal love. He is not a single individual who loves Himself, but three individuals who love each other.

We humans are called, then, to be people who love each other with shared loved (perichoresis).

We must reflect the spirit of Trinitarian communion on earth.

None of us can attain human perfection in isolation. I must love others and be loved by them.

*    *    *

If all of this is not available in society-- in global, human communion-- it creates various forms of pain and suffering  and in the end, the god-man is distorted, as he is present and saved in the person of Christ, with the crown of thorns and the robe of purple, the God-man whom Pilate brought out to the crowd and said "Behold the man" (John 19:5). This is the icon that is usually placed on the divine altar. Then the Jews and the chief priests responded, "crucify Him, crucify, Him... He must die because He made Himself the Son of God" (John 19:6).

"Behold the man:" wretched, tormented, rejected... even the form does not remain. The Book of Hebrews provides us with a hopeful way out in the dispensation of God the Creator in the divine words of the God-inspired Psalm:

"What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor" (Hebrews 2:6-7; Psalm 8: 4-6) "for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone" (Hebrews 2:9).

There is a contrast between Christ's glory and His decent (to hell), between man's glory in creation and the resurrection (the new creation) and man's weakness on account of his freedom, his suffering, his passions, and his inevitable death.

Despite this contrast, man approaches the pure angels and likewise their glory and holiness with dignity, becoming a king of creation, master over all God's works. The Son of man became a suffering, dying man that might might become a glorified god. 

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Met Saba (Esber) on the Orthodox "Diaspora"

Arabic original here and here.


On the Issue of the Orthodox "Diaspora"
 

Introduction
 

It seems, during the course of work on the Great Orthodox Council, that the issue of the "diaspora" will be the most important, in the sense that there is no issue more important than it. Due to serious disagreements that currently exist between the Orthodox Churches, mostly due to historical factors, the other working papers, most of which have been agreed upon, were formulated according to the lowest common denominator of agreement and not at the level hoped for by the people of God. The issue of the "diaspora," however, has remained urgent because it is thorny, multi-dimensional and has an inherent relationship to the Mother Churches. In addition to the theological and ecclesiological problematique, there is the proposal advocated by the Church of Constantinople, which is rejected by the majority of churches not under Constantinople's influence.

A Historical Outline
 

The term "diaspora" is applied to those Orthodox who have emigrated from their home countries belonging to one of the recognized autocephalous local churches to countries that do not fall within the borders of the historical Church, either due to the absence of a previous Orthodox presence or due to their not yet appearing on the map when the canons setting the boundaries of the churches were issued.
 

The Christian Churches first emerged in the Mediterranean Basin within the framework of the Roman Empire. Thus, with time, the five ancient patriarchates were established around the chief cities. According to the traditional honorific taxis, they are: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Over the first millennium of Christianity and then some, they remained the chief centers of the Christian world. From them evangelical missions were dispatched to the world lying outside the bounds of the Roman Empire which was, in Church literature, known as "the inhabited world" (ἡοἰκουμένη).
 

After the Great Schism of 1054, the Orthodox world was limited to the four patriarchates that came after Rome. However, with the growth and spread of Orthodoxy, this world started to witness the birth of new patriarchates such as those of Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, etc. Until now, this has led to the existence of fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches in the world.
 

The ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church has preserved the concept of the local church and has not known a globally centralized ecclesiastical structure as came to exist in Rome after the schism, especially in the past two centuries. Those Orthodox living in countries that lie outside the boundaries of the autocephalous local churches have been considered a diaspora. Over time, however, they have grown in numbers and have become rooted in their new countries, even as they continue until now to stream into them in great numbers, causing their churches there to multiply and grow.
 

Very quickly, their mother churches contacted them-- or they contacted their mother churches-- in order to provide them with spiritual service. In the case of Antioch, at least, the emigrants sent for priests that they knew or the priest of their village in order to perform the Holy Mysteries for them. Over time, they gained churches and parishes which remain tied to their mother churches.
 

It is worth mentioning that the Antiochians who emigrated to North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were, before the Bolshevik Revolution, under the pastoral care of the Russian Orthodox Church which requested from their mother church an Antiochian bishop to shepherd them under the omphorion of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America. This took place and their bishop then was Saint Raphael Hawaweeny.
 

The current situation of the Orthodox Church in the "diaspora," which started out as a matter of "economy" but has now become an established, permanent presence, is not in keeping with the canonical Orthodox ecclesiological concept. This dogma states, for example, that there should be one bishop for one city, while today there are many bishops in some cities. There is an Antiochian bishop for the Antiochians, a Greek for the Greeks, a Russian for the Russians, etc.
 

Over the years, the generation that emigrated started to engage with their new societies and have become Americans, Brazilians, Argentines... Moreover, some of the active churches started to attract not insignificant numbers of inhabitants of their new countries who were not of an Orthodox background. That is, they started to practice their apostolic mission in a manner demonstrating a real maturity within them.
 

The issue of organizing the Orthodox presence in what was in the past known as countries of emigration and is known today as countries of diaspora has been posed for some time and there are numerous opinions about it. It is a thorny issue, especially with renewed waves of emigration after the collapse of the Communist regimes that ruled in many Orthodox countries. Greek and Antiochian emigration has also renewed in recent years as a result of the Lebanese and Syrian wars and the Greek economic collapse.

The Issue at Hand
 

There is a serious debate among the churches about the theory adopted by the Church of Constantinople based on a particular interpretation of Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which regards the inhabited world (ἡ οἰκουμένη) as restricted to the Roman Empire and those outside of it as backwards. This view was predominant in the fifth century, when the concept of the "inhabited world" was limited to the Roman Empire because it was regarded as the center of civilization.
 

Following this interpretation, "Constantinople" considers itself to have sole responsibility for providing pastoral care to all those outside the bounds of the autocephalous local churches. This is rejected by the other churches, apart from those who, due to particular considerations, are unable to contradict the Patriarchate of Constantinople on this matter. It should be noted that the Church of "Constantinople" currently shepherds all the Greek-speaking Orthodox outside the countries of Greece and Cyprus.
 

The Orthodox Church is a universal Church, as the Creed states, and her fathers who gathered in Constantinople in the nineteenth century rejected the principle known as "ethnophylitism." That is, the submission of the Church to racism or nationalisms.
 

Orthodox ecclesiology advocates the local church, while many may not believe that all the churches of the "diaspora" have reached the maturity that would permit them to become autocephalous local churches, especially after renewed waves of immigration or the phenomenon of mobility from one country to another in the past two decades.
 

What should we do in the face of the existing contradictory ecclesiological situation? And what should we do in the face of the position of one or more churches that is based on a concept of worldly influence that is sought in word and deed, causing controversy and confusion and, moreover, impeding the communication and communion sought by all the churches? The return of churches that had been under Communist regimes to activity, growth and influence has likewise added a new dimension to the problem, insofar as this new situation has contributed to reviving the struggle between Greeks and Russians in the Orthodox world.

Some Observations on Current Approaches
 

So the issue of the diaspora is now under the microscope. What appears to be the manner of addressing it allows us to draw certain conclusions:
  • Most views that have been proposed treat the issue from a purely canonical angleand attempt to adapt the canons to fit the perspective of the church making the proposal. Everyone searches through ancient commentaries, twists the facts of the modern situation, and relies on texts composed in bygone eras that differ drastically from our own times.
  • Through the above, the observer gets the feeling about this matter, through studies or teachings or practice, of a hidden ecclesiastical power struggle and the fear of losing flocks in the diaspora. This is what must be respected in light of present circumstances in the countries of the mother churches, in terms of wars and economic and social collapse.
  • There is a growing conviction among many that the mother churches are not prepared to let go of their churches in the diaspora, just as most of the churches of the diaspora still reject such a severing of bonds, especially if the solution entails dependence on one of the autocephalous churches. These positions affirm approaches to this thorny issue that are not based on a theological perspective so much as they are based on providing proofs for the veracity of what they want with regard to this issue
  • Focusing on the canonical dimension in treating this issue reveals the extent to which pastoral care is absent, the great disappointment resulting from the failure to adopt a clear plan for salvifically serving the people, and the profound abyss that exists between the ecclesiastical leaderships and the people in the majority of churches.
  • This matter has been dealt with in a worldly manner that ensures for the churches a worldly influence that is far removed from the presence of Christ at the heart of His Church, such that He becomes a stranger to it.
  • There is a feeling that a papal orientation is on the rise on numerous levels, internally and externally, in one or another of the churches, appearing in positions, dialogues, and various debates. This orientation reveals the extent of Orthodox theology's need for canonical theological frameworks that embody its ecclesiology in history. Effectively, it defines the theory and practice of primacy of honor, the primacy of the head of the local church and the bishop and the manner of expressing synodality between the patriarch and the bishops and the bishops among themselves and also between the clergy and the laity.
  • The absence of a pastoral aspect from most of the current approaches reveals the extent of the danger in this matter. The pain and suffering of earlier and subsequent emigrants is not taken into account. If only we were disagreeing over the best way to provide them with pastoral care, rather than over dividing up the earth and populations!!! This, unfortunately is an expression of the extent to which pastoral service is ignored and its weakness in general, even in the mother churches.
Some Proposals

There is no avoiding the ideal solution based on Orthodox ecclesiology. This solution is embodied in the appearance of new autocephalous churches when the state of the faithful and parishes in those countries reaches the maturity that allows for recognizing their having one church and the necessary conditions for recognizing it.
  • According to the words of Patriarch Ignatius IV during the preparations for the Fourth Preliminary Orthodox Conference, the diaspora “is called not merely to stay alive, as was the case in the past, but to transform into a dynamic and creative element in the place where it exists. Orthodox unity, in the various countries of the Orthodox diaspora, has become a necessity for the preservation of the purity of the Church and the witness of the Orthodox Church.”
  • Here we must raise the question of whether there exist sincere intentions to arrive at the ideal ecclesiastical solution! It appears that the consequences of history and the difficult and bitter situation of the Orthodox peoples on the one hand and a worldly mentality that bends theology to its vision on the other hand, are having an impact on the adoption of the solution based on an authentic ecclesiology.
  • Therefore, there is an urgent need for serious preparation leading to the desired solution, which will not fall from the sky all at once. Rather, it will be a goal and an ideal whose realization requires an agreed upon vision of the future and diligent and clear joint work according to a plan of action that takes into account the reality of providing people with the best pastoral care and developing a palpable sense of Orthodox catholicity. In this context, the proposal of the Antiochian delegate to those same gatherings, Albert Lahham, remains live and realistic: “Let us take small steps together in order to move together towards unity because the people must experience this unity first.”
  • This plan is purely based on an effective and upright theological vision that precludes any concept of influence, dominance or interests that have no part in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Likewise, this is with full consciousness of the suffering experienced by the Orthodox people that continues to force them to emigrate, situations of extreme hardship or persecution, whether economic or in terms of security. The emigration of Orthodox has not occurred only due to seeking employment and education. People have been unjustly forced to seek refuge against their will. This means that we as churches must take into account with all due respect the feelings that these believers have toward their land, their countries, their languages, their customs, and their cultural Orthodoxy. This requires a long-term plan that manages the temporal dimension in order to prepare circumstances, mentalities and souls to accept the realization of the desired goal.
  • The vision is based on the creation of a new ecclesiological reality that takes into account the specificity of these churches of various origins having a relationship with their mother churches. How should we designate this relationship? What are the specificities that distinguish them? How can they exist without affecting the catholicity of the Church? These are the questions that must be raised.
  • These new local churches appear when the Orthodox of the diaspora, who are still pouring into new countries, become conscious of the culture of the new land where they live, interact with it and assimilate to it on the basis of their Orthodox faith. Reaching this consciousness requires a transitional phase with a purposeful pedagogical trajectory that takes into serious account that culture which differs in its foundations from the culture that has historically existed in Orthodox countries. This is fundamental work whose time has come to commence on a pan-Orthodox level.
  • The episcopal conferences, which were declared in 2007, initiated successful work towards unity, even if it has remained on a formal, superficial level and has not transcended, except on symbolic occasions, the bounds of ecclesiastical jurisdictions. However, before this work is cancelled or renewed, it is in pressing need of appraisal. The Orthodox have agreed on its principle, but its practice has been beset, here and there, with numerous errors that have aroused fears among many of the churches and has evinced an effort towards limiting the Orthodox representation in certain countries of the “diaspora” to one particular church. 
  • Knowledge of the history of the emergence of the ancient patriarchates takes on great importance in helping to elucidate the boundaries of the churches that are maturing towards autocephaly. The tie between the autocephaly of churches to nationalism, which appeared two centuries ago, constitutes a danger to the churches. While the emergence of the five historical churches took place in circumstances different from our own circumstances, the experience of having recourse to them is useful for building up the catholicity of the Church today.

Conclusion

There remains hope that the Church’s deliberations about any of the issues on the table at the Great and Holy Council will take into account the salvation, support, and ideal pastoral care of the people of God, with an upright mindset, faith and comportment. Otherwise, the least we can say of the path we are on is that it is not straight (i.e., Orthodox).


Friday, May 20, 2016

Fr Georges Massouh on the Myrrh-Bearing Women

Arabic original here.

Imitate these Women, O Men

Saint John Chrysostom (d. 407), the Syrian Antiochian patriarch of Constantinople, praises the bravery of the noble women who accompanied Jesus during His life and His death. The Myrrh-Bearing Women, as the Church calls them, were did not fear like His closest disciples feared and fled from facing their Teacher's humiliating fate, breaking their promises to share in His fate, or at least to accompany Him... all before the cock crowed.

Chrysostom says, some fifteen centuries before the women's movement, that men must imitate the courageousness of the women who went to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body: "So let us imitate these two women [i.e., Mary Magdalene and the other Mary], O men! Let us not abandon Jesus at the time of trial! They spent much of their money on Him when He was dead and subjected their life to danger. But we men, I will repeat, did not feed Him when He was hungry and did not clothe Him when He was naked. When we see Him begging, we turn our backs to Him. But if you truly saw Him, you would strip yourselves of everything that belongs to you."

Before the Myrrh-Bearing Women, there had appeared a young girl who was more courageous and audacious than them, Saint Mary, the Mother of Jesus or the Mother of God, as the universal Church affirms. This girl accepted, by her free will and her obedience to the word of God, to conceive Jesus from the Holy Spirit without being married. She risked being convicted of adultery and being killed, had her betrothed, Saint Joseph, not rectified the matter and declared her to be his wife before the people without her in fact being his wife. We say that she faced the danger of death by stoning because she believed what the angel of the annunciation said to her, before receiving Joseph's agreement to cover for her before her compatriots. She did not consult any person when the Lord called her to accept her most sublime calling, to give the Son of God flesh.

In both cases there was a Joseph on the scene, Joseph, Mary's betrothed, the great silent figure, and Joseph of Aramathea, who asked for the body of Jesus who had given up His spirit on the cross in order to bury Him appropriately. The first Joseph did not did not hesitate to embrace Mary, who was called to contribute to the divine dispensation by accepting the angel's news, and the second Joseph who dared to ask Pilate to hand over Jesus' body. Chrysostom says of Joseph of Aramathea, "Joseph had previously hidden his discipleship, but he became very bold after Christ's death. He was not obscure or forgotten, but rather notable and very respected, a prominent member of the council. From this it is clear that he was bold and daring. He risked death and incited all to love for Christ."

If we take this comparison into symbolic proofs, then we would repeat with Saint Jerome (d. 420) who observed that Jesus was placed in a new tomb in which no one had previously been placed and said that "the new tomb resembles Mary's virginal womb." Just as Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, so too He emerged from the virgin tomb as a new birth.

Joseph of Aramathea and the Myrrh-Bearing Women were not members of the twelve chosen disciples. The closest disciples denied at their time of trial that they knew Jesus and one of them handed Him over to be crucified. But one who was not of their number dared to openly announce his faith and became a disciple of Jesus. The true disciple of Jesus, whether a man or a woman, is not the one who carries a Christian identity on account of having been baptized, but the one who imitates the courageousness of Joseph of Aramathea, the Myrrh-Bearing Women, and the martyrs who offered themselves up in order to hold fast to their faith... only the courageous deserve to be beloved of Jesus.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Met Georges Khodr: The Constant Pascha

Arabic original here.

The Constant Pascha

Pascha means passage: originally, the passage of the Hebrews from Egypt, the land of slavery, to the Promised Land, Palestine. When Christians adopted the word, they meant their passage in Christ from sin to freedom and salvation. Does the ordinary Christian understand  that the feast is his invitation to seek salvation? If he understands, he does not remain prisoner to the earth, to the things and people of the earth. Christianity is that you sense that you live by Christ, of Him and in Him. That is, that you do not remain attached to anything or anyone of the world. If you are transported to the face of Jesus, you do not remain prisoner to any other face. Do faces distract you? You cannot see them and see Him. In this is the secret of your longing for Him.

This world is distracting. If you pursue it, the you have no Christ. Leave it, then, go away from it, and acquire your freedom. The secret of Christianity is that you do not serve God in thoughts and intellectual achievement, but you worship Him if you see only the face of Christ and faces disappear. The truth is, those who have known divine longing have known Christ, even if they did not give Him a name. The world is distracting. You pass through it and it does not remain, because it is a seductive face. You transcend it, lest you miss the Savior's face.

Go to Him, for His face is the object of pilgrimage. Pass in Christ to Him, for there is nothing after Him. If you can pass by all things without being detained by them, then you sense that you are free. If you reach Him, then you should sense nothing else, because everything else is evil for you.

I did not say not to see faces. I said do not stop at a face. Then you will be in Pascha. On the day of the feast, we recite "Christ is risen" more than sixty times, as though this Church hadn't composed any other hymn. What would you chant, if you wanted? What could be added to "Christ is risen"? Pass always, then, with this hymn until yourself rise from the dead. Then you will see that you live.

In the Byzantine Church, the crucified Christ is depicted with His eyes open. The meaning is that even if He died in the body, death did not defeat Him. Consequently, this means that the Lord remained alive upon the cross. In what is perceived, He died, but dead did not defeat Him. Therefore, let us not stop at Good Friday as though it is His death, but let us see it as a station on the way to His resurrection.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Met Georges Khodr on the Coming Great and Holy Council

Arabic original here. Note that in Arabic, the word for "synod" and "council" is the same. For a succinct expression of a similar understanding of primacy by a medieval patriarch of Antioch, see here. For more discussions of Antiochian ecclesiology, see here and here.

The Holy Synod

It is the gathering  of the regional church, which they call the local church, and in most churches it is made up of their bishops. For example, the churches gathered around the patriarch of Antioch are called the Antiochian Church, those around the patriarch of Alexandria the Church of Alexandria, and so forth. The Orthodox have an Antiochian Church whose unity is represented by the patriarch and the bishops with their people. A group of people along with their spiritual leaders we call a church. Likewise, we call the Orthodox Church in the world a church. We do not have any administrative structure between the regional church, such as the See of Antioch, and the whole Orthodox world. In terms of dignity and essential existence, the churches are equal. Even if there is an organizational taxis, this absolutely does not mean that a given church submits to another church. In order to facilitate cooperation and communication, there has been an agreement explained by ecclesiastical canons since the fourth century whereby we announce the Ecumenical Patriarch first, but this does not mean that he has authority over the other patriarchs. In this sense, the Orthodox Church does not have an administrative center. There is only a taxis of dignity explained by the early councils whereby the Ecumenical Patriarch comes in honor only before his other colleagues if they gather together. This does not mean that he has any authority over them.

The church that we call local is led by a first among equals who has no authority outside the borders of his church. Unity between the Orthodox churches is a unity of faith and an ecclesiastical ordering in a specific taxis canonically since the fourth century, in which there is no executive matter of one patriarch being over another patriarch. Rather, it is based on consultation between the heads of autocephalous churches. According to what we know in history, if the heads of the Orthodox churches gather in friendship, it is because they submit to one set of rules in dogma and order. The Orthodox churches are one in dogma without even the slightest difference, one in order, and realistically one in the fundamentals of theological thinking. Administrative diversity, with the existence of administratively independent churches, never means difference in faith, worship, or cooperation between the clergy and the people. Orthodox unity is very manifest, despite the different administrations between Russians, Greeks, and Arabs. All the Orthodox speak with one voice and have one worship in all their regions and languages.

If the worldwide Holy Synod meets in the unity of the regional churches, then it will demonstrate true unity among us. We see unity in hearts, just as we see it in the process of coordination and cooperation between our churches. We do not look to unity in commands issued from above, but we see it in the Orthodox peoples' receiving what their synods decide. For us, the synod is legitimate if all accept it.

The Holy Synod is not above the Church. It proceeds from her because she proceeds from Christ in the Apostles and tradition. It is true that the bishops have authority, but this is because they come from the holy people. If the synod of bishops departs from truth or right, then there can be no obedience to it. A system only has truth or right if it is a right from the Church. The council has no existence if it does not establish through its acts that that it is faithful to the Church.There is no one in the Church unless he is truly of her, that is, in the content of what he says. You are not above others merely on account of your position, unless you are of them in the content of what you teach.

From this perspective, the synod of bishops is not over the holy people. It is from them and its holiness is in them. If a bishop deviates from the tradition and practices of the Church, then he ceases within himself to be a bishop, even if he does not know it. In principle, the Holy Council is the place where the faithful know that if they come from it, they are coming from the Lord.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Met Ephrem (Kyriakos): Satan, the Ruler of this World

Arabic original here.

Satan, the Ruler of this World

"The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified" (John 12:23).

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain" (John 12:24).

"Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out" (John 12:31).

*  *  *

Satan is the ruler of this world. Where lies his authority to tempt man? It lies in that he is the seducer, who seduces man and his mind.

From the beginning of Jesus' life in the Gospel, He was appointed to combat this seducer and his seduction. There the devil tempted Him for forty days and He finally replied to him after reaching the point of starvation, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God" (Luke 4:4).

The purpose of this temptation of hunger is to create disorder and confusion in the heart of man. In the end, Christ defeated Satan through His death on the cross, and His resurrection on the third day.

Jesus was not only glorified in smashing the devil's authority. He was also and especially glorified in His drawing "all" to Himself-- all people, no matter their nation or race. This final victory did not take place with spectacular worldly pomp, but with His being raised upon the cross. The Lord Jesus, in His divine wisdom, is also a seducer of humankind, through his ultimate love and not like the devil who seduces in order to corrupt.

In the Gospel of John, the Lord says, "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to Myself" (John 12:31-32). By virtue of the cross, God reaches the pinnacle of His dispensation by smashing the power of Satan and liberating man from his seductive shamelessness. So the Lord returns everything to Himself. Thus before giving up his spirit, He says, "It is finished" (John 19:30). 

Therefore, it is enough for us humans now, after this victory, to stand in our life beside the suffering, victorious Jesus Christ, for us to escape from Satan, the ruler of this world. Beloved! How many times has Satan seduced in this world by means of money, so that we think that happiness is in the accumulation and stockpiling of wealth in order to enjoy the pleasures of this deceitful world. But the Lord says to us, "Man does not live by bread alone..." Likewise he deceives us when we chase after worldly positions, glories and authority. But we hear the Lord say, "You shall worship the Lord God and Him only shall you serve" (Matthew 4:10).

+Ephrem
Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura and Their Dependencies

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Constantin Panchenko on the Sunset of Melkite Syriac

From: Constantin Panchenko, Arabic Orthodox Christians under the Ottomans: 1516-1831 (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Seminary Press, 2016), p. 443

The Sunset of Aramaic Writing

In the early Ottoman era came the final decline among the Orthodox of Syriac liturgy and writing. The German semiticist Anton Baumstark presents data about fifty-two Melkite Syriac manuscripts preserved from the sixteenth century, whereas the number of manuscripts is markedly reduced during the last three decades of the century. From the seventeenth century, he reaches a total of nine manuscripts, of which six are from the first two decades, with the latest from 1654.

Some Antiochian hierarchs continued to sign official documents in Syriac or garshuni [i.e., Arabic written in Syriac script]-- examples of this are known until the 1630s. Often, however, this was just a tribute to ancient traditions and the signatories themselves had a weak knowledge of Syriac and poorly remembered the alphabet. In two garshuni signatures on a letter from Antiochian clergy to Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich in 1594, some forgotten Syriac letters are replaced with Arabic.

However, there is evidence indicating that Syriac writing continued in use even after the mid-seventeenth century. The Syriac liturgy was preserved in the area of Maaloula and surrounding villages up to the present day, so accordingly, Syriac liturgical texts were copied. However, the scope of the use of Syriac writing shrank to the narrow limits of liturgical literature and thus acquired a marginal character.