Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Desecration of Churches in Yabroud

From Al-Akhbar English, here.

The churches of Yabrud in ruins

Although the gunmen are gone, their sectarian fingerprint on Yabrud remains. All you have to do is visit St. Mary's Greek Catholic Church to see the destruction. Icons have had their faces scratched out, church pews have been broken, statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ have been smashed, and the church Bibles have been burned.

Photos here.

An-Nahar Remembers Met. Philip Saliba

Arabic original here.

Metropolitan Philip Saliba

By Fr. Emil Yacoub (Mojaes)

The pastor of the Archdiocese of North America, Metropolitan Philip Saliba departed yesterday. With his departure, a dear page closes in the bright story that goes from the sleeepy village of Abu Mizan in the North Metn of Mount Lebanon to New York in the United States, headquarters of the Archdiocese, to... eternity.

He is Abdallah Elias Saliba, a son of the village of Abu Mizan and its small, historic church of Saint George where he would participate in the religious ceremonies and church services when he was a small child. One summer day, at the end of the 1940's, Patriarch Alexander Tahhan made a pastoral visit to this village dependent on the Monastery of Saint Elias- Shwayya, the summer residence of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, in Dhour Choueir. He wanted to pray in the ancient Church of Saint George there and so he headed for the village riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey, because the road did not yet reach there. He very much wanted to support the people of the village and to get acquainted with their affairs and concerns and to put them under his pastoral care, especially since they were partners in the monastery and worked its land.

After the Divine Liturgy, he headed to the home of Elias Bu Khalil Saliba, with whom he had a bond of friendship, since he chanted in the monastery's church and in the village church. All the people of the village circled round the patriarch to receive and blessing and have some coffee... One of those present lept up and said, "Sayyedna, this child (poyinting to Abdallah) has a beautiful voice." So the patriarch asked Abdallah to let him hear him chant and so he obeyed and started to chant one of the well-known hymns of the Church. The patriarch was filled with joy and gladness and was impressed with him. He said, "Who is he?" The one who had pointed him out replied, "He's the son of your friend Elias." So the patriarch looked at Elias Bou Khalil Saliba and said in a loud voice that all could hear, "Bou Nasif, the Church asks for this spiritual child, if you have no objection." Bou Nasif replied, "How can I have an objection when the Church is asking for my son to serve in the Lord's field?" The patriarch answered, "So take your son to the monastery tomorrow so that he may join with those who will become servants of the Church's flocks."

When the boy's mother became sure that it was inevitable and there was no going back, and after she had used all means at her disposal to try to convince Bou Nasif to change his earnest opinion, she wept bitterly because she could not bear the absence of her son! Roads were not like they are toay and moving from one place to another-- especially to monasteries-- was difficult.

The next day, Bou Nasif accompanied his son Abdallah to the monastery and put him into the care of Patriarch Alexander. The patriarch asked Abdallah once more to chant a piece of music for him and he heeded the request. The patriarch was even more impressed with him and his desire to educate him increased.

The father returned to his home in the village of Abu Mizan, joyful and sorrowful at the same time-- joyful because his son  had been adopted by the Church and sorrowful because he was away from him. With the start of studies at the Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand, the patriarch sent Abdallah there to join the brothers would learn the principles of theology and the preparatory curriculum for students just as in all schools, so that they could perform the church services and master the art of Byzantine music.

After some time, Metropolitan Iliya Saliba of Beirut came to Balamand. He heard the young man chanting and he was impressed with his voice. He asked the patriarch's permission for Abdallah Saliba to be one of his students in Beirut. This is what happened. He was ordained deacon and remained in the diocese of Beirut for around two years. He then traveled to London to finish his studies in philosophy and theology at one of the universities there. From there he corresponded with Metropolitan Anthony Bashir of America, who hastened to invite him and enroll him at Saint Vladimir's Seminary, under the Russian patriarchate. After that, Metropolitan Anthony Bashir ordained him as a priest for the parish in Cleveland. There he got to know the people of the parish and began his spiritual, human and social-- and also political-- path, especially as pertaining to the mother country, since he took part in most Arab-American conferences dealing with Middle Eastern issues. After the passing of Metropolitan Anthony Bashir, the council of the Antiochian Archdiocese chose him from among seven candidates to be the thrice-blessed Anthony's successor, giving him an overwhelming majority of the votes. The Holy Synod of Antioch unanimously elected him metropolitan of the United States and all North America. Patriarch Theodore Abourjaily was very familiar with him, with his pastoral activities and with his loyalty to the Mother Church of Antioch and the churches in the Holy Land-- Jeruslam, Bethlehem and the other cities and villages where Christ the Lord walked... How could he not, when he had taken Saint Philip as his namesake and intercessor, since this saint was from Sidon and Tyre, where Christ had also set foot?

Patriarch Theodore VI delegated Metropolitan Elias Korban of Tripoli and al-Koura to go to America and raise the priest Philip Elias Saliba to the rank of archimandrite and to accompany him to Lebanon, to the Patriarchal Monastery of Saint Elias- Shwayya, where the patriarch consecrated him metropolitan of the United States and all North America. In 1966, the year when he received the diocese, there were around 60 churches in America. Today, after over 45 years and due to his pastoral care, activity and concern, the Antiochian Church in North America has around 260 churches, reaching all the way to Alaska, in addition to the exemplary Antiochian Village...

Unto eternal life, Metropolitan Philip... there where reside the righteous, the saints and the fathers of our glorious Antiochian Church.

Friday, March 21, 2014

al-Akhbar Remembers Met. Philip

Arabic original here.

The Passing of Metropolitan Saliba: He wanted More July Victories

by Nizar Abboud

Yesterday the Orthodox Church mourned the passing of the Metropolitan of North America, Philip Saliba. Metropolitan Saliba was known for being one of the Christian personalities most dedicated to his Arab nationalism, even though he spent most of his years in the diaspora, between Europe and North America starting in the 1950's. He built sturdy bridges between the Orthodox community and the other Christian and Muslim communities on the basis of the complimentarity of the heavenly religions and their unanimity in insisting on justice and tolerance.

He regretted, in a recent interview with al-Akhbar, "that there is Christianity but there are no Christians and there is Islam but there are no Muslims." He said, "If Muslims read their Qur'an, especially the suras Imran, al-Ma'ida and Maryam, then they would not carry out acts of kidnapping, murder and other heinous things."

Saliba was very worried about the Middle East. He described the "Arab Spring" as "an Autumn of jaundiced rage." He hated fighting with weapons and slogans or even by burning tires and closing streets, just as he hated intellectual darkness. He longed for the wind of tolerance, love and dialogue, freedom and democracy, which he believed that the Middle East had not yet felt.

He worried about the future of the Christians in the Arab world, on account of the rise of fanatical Islamic movements in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and other countries. He told al-Akhbar, "We Christians will cling firmly to the Middle East and we will fight to the end  so that Christians remain as witnesses to their civilization and their great heritage, to the civilization to which they contributed to building before the coming of Islam. No one can remove us from this region."

Over the three years of the Syrian Crisis, Metropolitan Saliba took stances and made contacts in order to stop foreign--especially American-- intervention from fueling the conflict. After the kidnapping of the two metropolitans of Aleppo, Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi, he had a meeting with the former ambassador of the United States in Damascus, Robert Ford, and he asked him, "Where are the two bishops, Mr. Abmassador?" The latter replied, "I'm sorry. I have no good news about them. I do not know anything about them." Saliba told al-Akhbar, "He was lying. I believe he knows, that the CIA knows, and also the international community. But they don't care. Western Christians, other Westerners, and the international community don't care about what we're suffering in Syria especially." He accused the United States of being behind the destruction of Syria, pointing out that "Our government [i.e., the United States] is the one sending weapons to the rebels in Syria in order to prolong this absurd, ridiculous, senseless war." He believed that there is a plot against Syria because it is in agreement with Iran and Hezbollah.

Metropolitan Saliba was impressed with the Resistance in Lebanon and by its victory in July 2006. He stressed that he wanted there to be more July victories against the enemy. He wrote poetry about the Resistance, including a poem about Sana'a Mehaidli that he memorized and would repeat whenever he talked about heroic deeds in the Middle East.

Metropolitan Saliba was born in the Lebanese town of Abu Mizan on June 10, 1931, the fourth of five children. He did his elementary studies at the school in Choueir and completed his studies at Balamand, near Tripoli. He finished his secondary school studies at the Orthodox school in Homs.

Met. Siluan (Muci) Appointed Patriarchal Vicar for North America

From earlier posts on this blog about Met. Siluan-- 
His friendship with Pope Francis
Fr. Touma (Bitar)'s praise of Met. Siluan as being an ideal candidate for patriarch.

From, here:

Patriarchal Decision # 19

We, JOHN X, the Orthodox Christian Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, according to the provisions of the Primary Rule of the Antiochian See of 1973, especially its articles 28 and 29, the Rules of Procedure of the See of 1983, especially articles 61, 64, 65, and 66, and also according to the constitution of the Archdiocese of North America which was approved by the Holy Antiochian Synod at its thirty-seventh Synodal meeting that took place at the Patriarchate Headquarters in Damascus, 13-15 of October 2004, especially the first article, fifth item (5: paragraph a, b, c, d), We decided:

Article 1:
The appointment of His Eminence Metropolitan SILOUAN (Moussi) of Buenos Aires and all Argentina as the Patriarchal Vicar in the Archdiocese of New York and All North America.

Article 2:
The Patriarchal Vicar executes all the tasks entrusted to him according to the Ecclesial Canons, the aforementioned rules, and the rules of the Patriarchate of Antioch.

Article 3:
This decision is effective immediately, is to be published, and is to be promulgated to all concerned.
Patriarchal Headquarters in Balamand

March 20, 2014
Patriarch JOHN X,
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East 

The official biography of Met. Siluan, from here:

Metropolitan Silouan was born in Maracay, Venezuela, in 1967, from a Lebanese father, Jaudat Muci, and a Syrian Mother, Souad Georges. He has one brother and a sister.

He graduated in 1985 from the College des Frères de la Salle in Tripoli, Lebanon. Then, he studied engineering at the École Supérieure d´Ingénieurs de Beyrouth (E.S.I.B.) of Saint Joseph University in Beirut, from where he graduated in 1990 as an electrical engineer with major in Computer Engineering. He worked in Beirut and Paris as analyst and chief project in developing software for Banks and Financial Institutions in the Middle East and Europe.

He resigned from work at the end of 1994, and started studying theology by correspondence at the Saint Serge Institute in Paris, before traveling to Thessalonica, Greece, in 1995 where he studied theology at the Faculty of Theology of Aristotle University. He graduated with honors with a bachelor (2000) and a master (2001) in Theology.

He was ordained to the deaconate in 1996 by His Eminence, Metropolitan Youhanna of Lattakia, Syria, and to the holy priesthood in 2000, with the rank of Archimandrite, by Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo, Alexandretta, and Dependencies. Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch of thrice-blessed memory consecrated him to the holy episcopate in October 2006.

He served as a priest in 2001 for a short time in Sydney Australia, under His Eminence, Metropolitan Paul of Australia, New Zealand and Philippines. Later on, he served in Aleppo under His Eminence, Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo until his election by the Holy Synod of Antioch as Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires and all Argentina, which he is serving since December 2006.

Metropolitan Silouan has dual nationality, Venezuelan and Lebanese. He is fluent in Arabic, French, English, Greek and Spanish. He translated into Arabic books on Orthodox spirituality such as “The Life of Saint John of Kronstadt” (Balamand, 1998); “The Life and Writings of Saint Nil Sorsky” (Balamand, 1999); “The Interpretation of the Divine Liturgy” (Balamand, 1999); “The History of Balamand Monastery” (under publication); and “The Interpretation of the Epistle of Saint Paul to Philemon” (Balamand, 2004). He also published these books in Arabic: “The Mystery of the Incarnation” (Al Nour, 2006); “The Mystery of the Resurrection” (Al Nour, 2006); “The Mystery of the Passion” (Al Nour, 2007). He is author of numerous unpublished articles and translations in Spanish.

In addition, Metropolitan Silouan is member of the “Synodal Committee of Candidates to the office of Metropolitanate and Episcopacy”. He is also president of the Ecumenical Commission of Christian Churches in Argentina (C.E.I.C.A.). He was secretary of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in South America. He represented His Beatitude, Patriarch John X of Antioch in March 2013 at the enthronement of His Holiness, Pope Francis in the Vatican, and in early March 2014 at the Synaxis of the Primates of Orthodox Churches in Constantinople (Istanbul). Patriarch JOHN X appointed him as the Patriarchal Vicar of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America on March 20th to administer the Archdiocese until the election of a new metropolitan by the Holy Synod of Antioch.

His Eminence, Metropolitan Philip of thrice-memory, invited Metropolitan Silouan to attend the 50thArchdiocesan Convention in Chicago in 2011, the 17th Clergy Symposium in 2012 held at the Antiochian Village, and the 51st Archdiocesan Convention in Houston in 2013. The Word Magazine published his addresses to the assembly on these occasions.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Archbishop Niphon (Seikaly) and the Antiochian Representation in Moscow

From Majallat al-Nour, original Arabic in pdf here.

The Antiochian Presence in Russia
An Encounter with His Eminence Archbishop Niphon Seikaly

Majallat al-Nour met with His Eminence the Antiochian Patriarchal Vicar in Moscow, Archbishop Niphon (Seikaly) and discussed the Antiochian metochion in Russia. First we will present a brief history of this edifice.

The establishment of the Antiochian Metochion in Moscow, 1848

There appears in a marginal comment in a Euchologion, "Patriarch Methodius, along with the metropolitan of Beirut and the metropolitan of Akkar visited Balamand Monastery and consecrated Neophytos for the country around Baalbek on Wednesday, August 12, 1842."

After Catholic and Protestant teaching and missionary activities in dioces of the Antiochian See expanded and Patriarch Methodius did not see in the Three Holy Hierarchs School that he had founded in Beirut something that would fend off the danger, he contacted Russian intermediaries. They asked him to send a bishop to tour their country and collect funds to repair churches, establish schools and publish books. In 1842, he sent Metropolitan Neophytos of Baalbek, along with Archimandrite Sophronius, the hieromonk Anthimus, and his secretary, Youhanna Papadopolou. In the patriarchal message, it stated that the Antiochian Church had long suffered from poverty and humiliation and so was surrounded by dangers coming from the Catholics who were spreading their doctrines, taking the best churches and monasteries and plundering houses of worship, which became empty as the faithful were languishing on the threshold of ignorance. That which they would collect from the Russian faithful would be consecrated for establishing schools and printing-presses and repairing the Church of Saint Nicholas in Damascus, along with other churches and monasteries. This statement was signed by Patriarch Methodios and Metropolitans Methodius (Homs), Benjamin (Beirut), Ioannikius (Tripoli), Armimius (Lattakia), Zachariah (Irqah), Barnabas (Hama), Jacob (Seleucia) and Isaiah (Tyre and Sidon). The Antiochian Church enjoyed the sympathy of Russian government and people.

When Metropolitan Neophytos Halabi of Baalbek arrived in Moscow in 1842, he was welcomed by Metropolitan Filaret of Moscow, who greatly loved the entire Orthodox Church. He asked that the Church of the Ascention and Saint Hypatius, in Moscow near the Kremlin, be given to the See of Antioch and the Synod accepted this. The decision was brought to the czar and it gained acceptance on December 22, 1848.  The following year the church, along with all its possessions and properties was handed over to the See of Antioch for he building of a patriarchal metochion in Moscow. The Holy Synod of Russia stipulated that the income of this metochion be used for educating the Antiochian clergy and laity. Metropolitan Neophytos purchased a house near the metochion from his personal funds and in turn sent everything that the metochion received to the See of Antioch. He remained head of the metochion for five years and died and was buried in Moscow in 1853, leaving behind twenty thousand rubles. According to his wishes, this money was put in the bank and its procedes were sent to the See of Antioch to be spent on schools.

After Neophytos, the metochion was headed by Archimandrite Anthimus. In 1862, Patriarch Hierotheus of Antioch named Archimandrite Ghufrail Shatila as head of the metochion. After he was elected, it was headed by Metropolitan Cyril of Palmyra, but he fell ill and returned to Damascus where he died. Despite this, Cyril sent enormous sums of money for the renovation of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Antioch.

Leadership of the metochion was subsequently held by a Father Isaias and some Russian monks, until 1879, when the patriarch of Antioch named Archimandrite Christopher Jabbara, a Damascus native, as head. He increased the metochion's income and erected numerous buildings with the help of Metropolitan Makarii of Moscow. In 1887 the patriarch of Antioch recalled him and until 1889 the metochion was led by the priest Nikon, followed by Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny.

In 1900, Patriarch Meletius Doumani appointed the priest Alexander Tahhan who, on April 7, 1902 was elevated to the rank of archimandrite. His accomplishments included improvements to the metochion's building as well as the addition of storehouses and houses. After his election as metropolitan of Cilicia, Archimandrite Ignatius Abu el-Rus was appointed in 1903 and afterward Archimandrite Antonius Mubayyed, until 1920.

For political reasons, from 1920 until 1948 management of the metochion was handed over to the Russian Church and at the end of 1948 it was returned to the Antiochian Church by Patriarch Alexei I of Russia. Leaders of the metochion included Metropolitan Basilius Samaha (Metropolitan of Bostra, Hawran and Jebel el-Arab 1962-1999) and  Metropolitan Alexi Abd el-Karim (Metropolitan of Homs 1963-1999).

Who is His Eminence Archbishop Niphon (Seikaly)?

He is the son of the priest Ghufrail Seikaly and his mother worked as director of the American School in Cairo.

He was born in the city of Zahle in the Bekaa, though his family is from Beirut. He grew up in Zahle and studied at the Evangelical School and then continued his studies at the Haigazian Institute in Beirut.

He was sent to Moscow to continue his theological studies by the then-metropolitan of Zahle, Niphon (Saba). He worked as Metropolitan Niphon (Saba)'s secretary and in 1959 was ordained deacon.
In 1964 he graduated from the Institute of Theology in Moscow and was ordained priest and archimandrite at the Church of Saint Nicholas in Zahle in the presence of Metropolitans Boulos (Khoury) and Sergius (Semneh) and the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Mar Jacob and he became the metropolitan's assistant. After the death of Metropolitan Niphon, he stayed with the new metropolitan, Spiridon (Khoury) for ten years. In 1977 he went to moscow as archimandrite and patriarchal vicar.

In 1988 he was consecrated bishop and in 2010 as archbishop. He lived in Russia during years of persecution, when the Antiochian Church was the only one to baptize the faithful without giving the government a list of names. He did not submit to political pressure during this period. He caused all to respect him and changed the face of interaction between the metochion and Moscow.


What are the activities undertaken by the Antiochian metochion in Moscow?
The number of Antiochians in Moscow can be counted on one hand, but attendence at the Divine Liturgy is excellent. 99% of the faithful are Russian. Thus, activities are relatively limited. We at the Antiochian metochion offer food as charity every week or two weeks, according to the funds available.

We preach at every Divine Liturgy. The metochion offers the Russian Church the sum of two thousand dollars in support every year, like all the other churches of Moscow.

In the last century, the metochion's role was to help Antiochian churches. What happened after that?
The metochion was re-opened on this basis, but it was exploited politically by the state, which sent funds to spiritual leaders in order to politically exploit them. However, from the time that I received leadership of the metochion, I have refused all assistance from the state and from the Russian Church. It is better this way. We do not need to ask for money from the outside. Antiochian benefactors have become many, thanks be to God.

How do you see the role of the metochion in the future?
We believe that the Antiochian metochion in Russia should be a bridge by which young people from the two churches meet through conferences, mutual encounters and the exchange of news between both groups. We are prepared to offer all assistance for this.

What are the sources of income and the endowments of the metochion?
All Lebanese from every sect who come to Russia  visit the metochion and are not stingy. Assistance comes to us from the Orthodox of Beirut, as well as Maronites and Catholics. God does not abandon us as long as we are with Him and rely upon Him.

With personal donations offered by foreign benefactors, I have purchased two apartments to rent out, which provides us with an income that is not large, but which provides part of our needs.
We have a church named for the Angel Gabriel and another named for Saint Theodore Stratelates, which was built to commemorate the Russian army's victory over Napoleon.

How many priests and workers are there at the metochion? Are they all Russian?
We have four priests and two deacons, all of them are by nationality Russian, along with a choir of fifteen members, guards and employees.

How do you assess the general situation in Russia with regard to pastoral care, guidance and evangelism of the youth, youth activities, spiritual life and monasteries?
The pastoral situation has greatly developed since the time of Patriarch Alexei. One can clearly see this revolution, since the Church has become a center for care, assistance, education and concern for the poor. In every church there are people charged with pastoral care and giving religious instruction.
In all the churches the priests preach and most of them are good preachers.

Evangelical work is very active. For a time, Patriarch Cyril had been in Japan where there is an Orthodox church dependent on Moscow. Likewise in Vietnam, Cuba and South Africa, where evangelical work is active and many churches are being built. In Kazakhstan, for example, there are 4.5 million Orthodox with twelve bishops. All of this is on account to evangelization in Russia and abroad. There is a special office in the Moscow Patriarchate that oversees evangelical work.

His Beatitude Patriarch Cyril has consecrated 65 bishops in a period of three years. He has recently issued a decision to build 200 new churches in Moscow. The Church has recovered its buildings, lands and monasteries but has not yet made use of all of them. It is in a rebuilding stage.

With regard to pastoral care for the youth, there is a special bishop for youth named Ignatii. He is responsible for youth movements. There are Divine Liturgies and spiritual meetings for them. This office is very active. There are very many demands for ordination, whether to the priesthood or to monasticism.

Is the Russian Church Orthodox-nationalist or is she truly Orthodox Christian?
It is a national, patriotic church par excellence. All the Russians are Orthodox, while the Muslims are from among the Tatars, whose number reaches 25 million. The Catholics are Germans and foreigners. The Orthodox Church stands in front in its estimation.

There are many heresies in Russia. How does the Church confront them?
Spiritual life is active and heresies have no value today. The problem for these heresies is that they talk against the Virgin, and for Russians the Virgin has an enormous place, so no Virgin means no religion.

The Church is active and alive. His Beatitude Patriarch Cyril is active, speaking and logical. He has made the Church a center for gathering the Russians together.
There are courses for religious instructions for both children and adults.

Russian society is suffering from poverty and many social problems such as abortion and moral decline. How does the Church deal with this reality?
In the Moscow Patriarchate today there is a special office concerned with care for the poor. In every church there are centers for care, assistance and education. The Church is always helping.
Regarding abortion, atheism and the western concept of human rights has impacted people, even in Russia and so many abortions are conducted.

Social stratification has historically existed in Russia since the time of the czars and people have become accustomed to this. What we see as poverty, they do not regard as such.

How does the Russian Orthodox Church deal with Catholic and Protestant missionary activity?
Western missionary activity does not threaten the Church in Russia. Foreign embassies are reducing the number of their employees in Moscow on account of the economic situation in Europe and so funds are not flowing to Russians to entice them.

Where does Russia stand with regard to the World Council of Churches?
It is more of an observer than a participant. It places conditions, such as rejecting homosexual marriage or women's ordination, for example. The Russian Church engages in institutions and organizations according to its spiritual values. Recently, there has been cooperation between it  and the Catholic churches in Europe to spread the authentic spiritual values of the Gospel in order to confront secularism.

How would you describe the Russian Church's relations with the Vatican?
With the Vatican there is a strong disagreement on account of the Ukranian Church and the current schism there. It is well-known that the Catholics in Ukraine have taken around 700 churches from the Orthodox Church and this has had a catastrophic effect on the situation between the two churches.

How do you see the future of Christians in the Middle East, especially after the visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI?
In my opinion, the Christians' future is murky. His Holiness the Pope's visit gave strong momentum, but for how long?

In the past, Russia was charged with protecting the Orthodox. Is there still concern for this issue? How does it face Christian emigration from the Middle East? What is the role of the Russian Imperial Palestinian Society in this regard?

The situation today is different from how it was in the past and the Russian state and the Russian Church are not concerned with the issue unless they are asked to be. The patriarch's visit to Antioch strengthens Christians in Lebanon after the increase in Islamic extremism. Today there is no one charged with protection and also there are no local initiatives undertaken by spiritual leaders. As for the Society, it has taken a political orientation and its goals are different from what they were in the past.

How do you assess the relationship between the Russian Church and Islam?
Islam is a traditional religion in Russia and has been present for a long time, especially in the former Soviet states. The Church is cautious in dealing with Islamic extremism, but she believes in a dialogue of civilizations and participates in all the conferences. Love is glory and intolerance is death.

Is Russia participating in the preparation for the Great Pan-Orthodox Council?
Yes. However, there are difficulties on account of some problems between the Orthodox churches and our lack of love. Patriarch Bartholomew I is a kind man. I saw him when he visited Russia. He was humble. Those around him are the hard-liners.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Met. Ephrem (Kyriakos) on how Christians should React to Terrorism

Arabic original here. One should remember that Met. Ephrem's city of Tripoli has been in a state of low-grade civil war for well over a year now and is home to many jihadist gangs. Headlines like this are common.

Terrorism from the Church's Perspective

Today it appears very clear that Satan is "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31).

Everything inclines toward evil, even politics and religion. Everyone who opposes the status quo is boarding this speeding train, whether they are on the Left or the Right.

Contemporary world civilization produces people who are not pleased with the prevalent situation. Instead of rising up against themselves, against their passions and the illnesses of their souls, they take revenge on others, even the innocent. They think in terms of criticism and are inclined to tear down rather than to build up. Naturally, there are those who suffer from extreme poverty and there are those who do not accept good morals and values. So how then can we be surprised when they reject their religion or deviate from it? In many cases, they are correct in their opinions, even if they practice satanic actions-- this is when they denounce the contradiction of political and media calls for peace and justice, for example, while in reality there comes aggression and self-interest. Violent, destructive behavior, whether its motives are nationalist or religious, is nothing but another image of selfishness, as are individualistic behavior and the breakup of the family. In all of this there is the weakness of the upper self (the expansive heart) and the dominance of the lower self (lusts and passions).

Now how can we Christians approach this terrorist wave that  is sweeping the world and our country? How can we, if possible, deal with it on the personal or collective level?

Now in these days of fasting, I will content myself to state an opinion that springs from the experience of some of the holy fathers, even if you consider them to be deficient or the result of weakness or the lack of strength. The modern Russian saint Seraphim of Sarov says, "One human being becoming holy is enough for him to bring along behind him hundreds of people." Saint Ephrem the Syrian, who composed the famous prayer of repentance "O Lord and Master of my life..." says, "The saints are those who repent to God and return to Him."

It is enough, then, for us Christians to repent. Look at the whole world, how many Christians retreat from their faith, leaving their churches empty of worshipers! Many claim that they are civilized and champions of technology while families are broken up and people deviate from the natural life that God intended. What is needed, then, is a revolution against the self, a return to Christian moral values, a return to God's commandments and His Gospel. This is repentance. Saint John of Damascus defines it by saying, "True repentance is the return from Satan to God. It does not happen without struggle, pain and tears" (On the Orthodox Faith, Chapter 47). Yes, we are in need of many tears in these difficult days, so that our Lord and God Jesus will save us through his plentiful mercy from emigration and extinction.

Despite all this, the merciful Lord does not leave us orphaned and despairing, since He says to us, "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mother Thekla (Awad) and the Monastery of St John the Baptist

Arabic original here.

Mother Thekla Brings Life Back to the Historic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Enfeh through Renovations and Building New Sections

by Zeina Isa

The historic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist is located in the town of Enfeh, on the ruins of a Byzantine church. Nearby are stone crypts that go back to the early centuries of Christianity. Over the years, this monastery has undergone many changes. For many years, the monastery was ruined and abandoned. The people of the village would visit it once every year to celebrate the feast of its patron on July 7. In 1974, work was begun to renovate the monastery by people from the town and zealous youths. Then, in the 1980's, the Orthodox Youth Movement undertook additional renovations in order to turn the monastery into a center for the Movement's gatherings and activities. Between 2005 and 2006 the stones of the church were cleaned and put in order and the icons were restored. This was done by Metropolitan Elias Kurban of thrice-blessed memory.

Father Germanos Abdallah Tadros, who lived until 1920, was the last abbot of the monastery. He was from the town of Enfeh and there still exist prayer books copied by his hand. It is worth mentioning that two of these manuscripts exist at the Monastery of Saint Jacob the Persian in Dedeh, al-Koura. Today, after the passing of many long years, Mother Thekla (Awad) lives there. She herself is a daughter of the town and was assigned by Metropolitan Ephrem (Kyriakos) of Tripoli, al-Koura and their Dependencies as abbess of the monastery. He has also delegated a special committee to oversee the work of restoration, building new buildings and improving and beautifying the surrounding lands.

At the end of last year, during my visit to the town, I met with Mother Thekla, who received me with an eager embrace and spoke to me about her work in the monastery, her future aspirations and her spiritual life. She took me on a tour of the monastery and explained its history. She showed me to a small crypt under the sanctuary that contains three stone sarcophagi. The monastery's reception hall goes back to the Middle Ages, when the Crusaders built an oil press there.

Mother Thekla completed her postgraduate studies in 1979. In that year, she abandoned everything in this world in order to pray for the world. She entered the monastery where she stayed for 17 years and then, by divine providence, she moved to the United States, where for 13 years she undertook missionary activity among the Arab community and other communities. On July 7, 2010 Metropolitan Ephrem (Kyriakos) asked her to return to take over leadership of the abandoned Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Enfeh and to establish a women's monastery there.

After her return and with the blessing of Metropolitan Ephrem, Mother Thekla set up a workshop for repairs and undertook many improvements, including preparing furnishing a room in the old building for receiving visitors from among the faithful and holding spiritual retreats. Perhaps her most important achievement was building the Saint Elizabeth House for nuns. She hopes, when it is completed, to attract nuns who want to share in life at the monastery so that monastic life will once again return to it. For this work, Mother Thekla relies entirely on donations and so work is being completed slowly, "The plan is being completed with the help of benefactors, one step at a time, by God's providence."

When I asked about her reason for choosing the monastic life, Mother Thekla replied:
"Everything is passing, but Jesus' love remains forever. When I graduated from university and wanted to take up monasticism, it raised a stir in town. Many people wondered why, believing that I was wasting my future and my life. But at  that time I was wondering within myself, 'Married life will give me one family, but monastic life will give me a countless number of families and this is the Lord's will.'"

She added, "The spiritual father Porphyrios would always repeat the saying 'Sanctify the time'. He would pray for us in the monastery and he had three hopes: that a monastery for women be built before his death, that the monastery's bell be rung every hour so that the Lord will be remembered no matter where the nuns are, and-- his final hope-- that the word of the Lord spread throughout the world through the use of new technology, that would allow the nuns to help members of the flock through prayer and advice. I would like to live out these three hopes with the blessing of Sayedna Ephrem, the pastor of the monastery and its spiritual father. We must seek out Christ through the Jesus Prayer which the fathers repeat, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me Your sinful servant.'"

During her time in the United States, Mother Thekla undertook missionary activities and strove to help members of the Arab community and foreigners spiritually and materially. She felt people's pain and became familiar with their problems, "The Lord Jesus solves problems. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. My strength is perfected in Christ." After returning to Lebanon, she stayed in contact with members of the flock in the diaspora through modern technology, which made it possible for her to help all those seeking spiritual advice and prayers. "Every era according to its own requirements. In this era, we must open the horizons of thought and use the internet to communicate with all who love God and the Church."

Through her hard work and perseverence, Mother Thekla is trying to realize those three hopes. As much as is possible, she tries to knock the simandron every hour, even as she lives alone at the monastery, hoping that the day will come when some nuns will share her life there after the completion of the Saint Elizabeth House for nuns. Mother Thekla does not hide her love for the land and for gardening, since she has a garden with many types of vegetables and trees, including "Olive, for the production of holy oil, rose for the production of rosewater, and lavender." As for the vegetables, they're for the consumption of the monastery's inhabitants.

Since moving to the monastery, Mother Thekla has been searching for a simandron to replace the simandron that had been lost, in order to praise the Name of the Lord every hour. Now, for the first time, there is also a bell at the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist, which was installed on Saturday, November 16.

Today the monastery attracts many faithful visitors from various places, especially on the feast of its patron on July 7, when there are prayers and vigils.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on the Orthodox Youth Movement

Arabic original here.

"I'm Now 72 Years Old"

In the first half of the 20th century, with the death-throes and eclipse of the Ottoman Empire, the Antiochian Orthodox Church was striving to come out of the intellectual, religious and spiritual decline that dominated her. The reasons for this decline are many, first among them the decadenence that was general in the Ottoman Empire, whose impact on the religious communities living on its territory no one can deny.

However, the most important of these reasons is ignorance of the Church's living theology and tradition, which led to an invasion of the Orthodox space by Catholic and Protestant missionaries, who practiced proselytism to draw Orthodox into the Western churches. They succeeded to a great extent in achieving their goal, seducing the Orthodox to abandon the faith of their ancestors and adopt Papism or Protestantism through their use of schools, universities and social foundations that they built for the sake of proselytizing.

Some of the Orthodox youths who were students at missionary schools rose up against the slander that the missionaries practiced against their Church and her tradition. They rallied and on March 16, 1942 established  the Orthodox Youth Movement. What brought them together was the effort to re-discover the treasures of their Orthodox faith, to revive it and spread it. They set their sights on "wiping the dust off of ancient patristic books" and examining the latest theological literature that was  missing from Arabic libraries. And so they published Majallat al-Nour and founded Manshourat al-Nour.

The founders agreed on naming the Movement, and according to one of them, a young Georges Khodr, "We say 'Movement' because we are not nor shall we ever be a sectarian association in the customary sense, with a particular temporal task. We are not forming a body that is frozen and static in its thought and work." Khodr continues to define it as a movement, saying, "The Movement invites all children of the Church to the revival because every Orthodox-- boys and girls, men and women, laity and clergy-- are responsible for her because there is no reform without joint work among all of them."

The Movement did not give itself the mandate of being an Orthodox political party, a faction within the Church, a distinct team, or an independent institution... Its members derive their membership from their commitment to the Church, their practicing the faith and worship, especially the Divine Liturgy, wherein is realized the union between Christ and the faithful. Each one serves the Church according to the talent he is given by the Holy Spirit.

A quarter century ago, Metropolitan Georges Khodr said at one of the gatherings of university students that every student who was present is responsible  for establishing the Movement "today, here and now." His point was that young people must not live on the glories of the past, but rather each one must have the mentality of the founder who is responsible for once more spreading the Spirit in the Church, as though the Movement does not exist and so he is called to call upon the Spirit to blow within it.

This year, the General Secretariat of the Movement launched the slogan "I'm now 72 years old" to signify that each member of the Movement, from child to elder, is the same age as the Movement. Through this the Movement is trying to say that the accumulation of years has no value if it does not include a real commitment to the Church as a place for sanctification and for life with Christ. However, the most beautiful thing at the anniversary celebration this year is the presence of the founder, Metropolitan Georges Khodr, the elder who is once more a child, the Oak Tree under whom many find shade.

Monday, March 10, 2014

As-Safir on the Negotiations Leading to the Nuns' Release

 Arabic original here. Cf. the report in Al-Akhbar English here and the Daily Star here.

The Nuns' Journey from Yabroud to Freedom

by Muhammad Ballout

Shortly before midnight yesterday the suffering of the thirteen nuns of Maaloula and their three helpers ended with their release and so ended another file of kidnappings in Syria as a clone of the scenario of the freeing of the Lebanese captives in Azaz, whether in terms of the pressure applied in the field, which tightened the noose around the kidnappers, the role played by Lebanese General Security and regional intermediaries, and the details of the exchange deal. The next question is: what about the two kidnapped bishops?

The nuns' journey to freedom was not easy, as it was interrupted by many pauses and the raising and lowering of expectations before its chapters were completed late last night with their arrival in Jdeidat Yabous, where awaiting them was the mediator who played a fundamental role in their affair, the director of General Security, General Abbas Ibrahim, in addition to a delegation representing the Orthodox Patriarchate, the Syrian Minister of Endowments, Bishop Luka Khoury, the governor of Rif Damascus and a number of those who had been following this affair from A to Z.

This result came as the culmination of a long trail of thorny negotiations  that continued over three months in which various countries participated, especially Qatar, and which were conducted by General Abbas Ibrahim under the auspices of the Lebanese President Michel Sleiman.

The freed nuns arrived at Jdeidat Yabous at the point located within the Syrian border, accompanied by General Security, one of whose patrols received the 16 nuns and helpers in Wadi Atta in the heights outside Arsal after the release operation had stalled for some time yesterday night due to pressure put by kidnappers at the last moment to modify the terms of the deal. This almost undid the outcome of the agreement with them before they came back around to abide by it, after a decisive response that they received from General Ibrahim, rejecting any attempt to fragment or repudiate any of the terms of the agreed-upon deal.

It has come to be known that during the last 15 minutes the kidnappers proposed an increase in the number of female detainees whose release they sought and the fragmentation of the deal such that  first 8 of the kidnapped nuns would be released then the others as part of a second deal while the Syrian authorities would release dozens of detainees in their custody in two stages as well. However, this proposal was rejected by Ibrahim, who conveyed to them his decisive position: either stricly implement the deal and release all the nuns at once or the operation will be completely cancelled.

Ibrahim's position was tied to officers from General Security leaving the point where they were waiting for the nuns in the hills  outside of Arsal. Before they could head for Beirut, they received new instructions from General Ibrahim to return to the agreed-upon point after the kidnappers backed down from their requests, their renewing contact with the Qatari mediator and his announcing his readiness to to continue the deal without modifications.

What helped to give impetus to the negotiations is that the Syrian Army stipulated the nuns' release within 24 hours, in conjunction with facts on the field in the vicinity of Yabroud where the nuns were being held, which  pushed the gunmen to agree to a fait accompli deal.

According to the information, the Maaloula nuns' liberation came within the context of of a package that released female detainees in Syrian prisons (more than 150 according to Ibrahim) and handing over 16 million American dollars to the kidnappers, paid by the state of Qatar, the head of whose intelligence services, Ghanem el-Kubaysi, had been in Lebanon since Saturday night (he had been following the negotiations since Thursday from Istanbul in daily coordination with General Ibrahim, who cut short his visit to Moscow and quickly returned to Beirut).

Details of the Deal

But what about the labor that preceded the happy ending and how was the deal brewed to free the nuns? As-Safir publishes the entire story in stages:

Sporadic and complex negotiations were held between the time of the Maaloula nuns' kidnapping on December 3, 2013 and yesterday evening. Three different channels negotiated with the deputy amir of Jabhat al-Nusra in Qalamoun, Abu Azzam al-Kuwaiti, at his headquarters in Yabroud before reaching the final agreement.

In the wake of the kidnapping, two negotiation tracks were launched on the basis that the nuns were guests who could easily be freed and not hostages, which were repeated in order to give political cover to the kidnapping by pillars of the Syrian opposition such as Michel Kilo who, following the kidnapping, said that the nuns of Maaloula were guests staying with a friend in Yabroud and not kidnapping victims.

During the first few weeks, before the Qataris entered into the negotiations, Abu Azzam el-Kuweiti (deputy to Abu Malik el-Telli, the amir of al-Nusra in Qalamoun) had taken over from the first kidnapper and former fugitive between Syria and Lebanon, Mithqal Hamama, one of the leaders of the Sarkha Brigades, the group that kidnapped them during the second attack on Maaloula on December 2.

The kidnappers initially tried the office of the United Nations in Damascus and its head Mukhtar Lamani. Lamani refused to go to Yabroud to negotiate directly with Jabhat al-Nusra after talking over Skype with Abu Azzam el-Kuwaiti. New York had instructed Lamani to refuse any direct contact with Jabhat al-Nusrah, which is on the terrorism list, and so negotiations came to a halt.

A second track was opened parallel to the faltering United Nations track. Georges Haswani, a businessman and native of Yabroud played a prominent role in the negotiations. He was not a mediator in the precise sense of the word, but Haswani, who is close to the Syrian government, sometimes transmitted proposals and the responses to them in coordination with General Ibrahim. At times he returned matters with the kidnappers to their proper framework in order to gain time, in response to his constant and continuous negotiating partner, Abu Azzam el-Kuwaiti, who did not remove his suicide belt for a single second as he talked to him over Skype.

During the negotiations, the kidnappers and their hostages moved their residence to the home of Georges Haswani in Yabroud, which al-Nusra had confiscated in his absence. The businessman, paid the cost of the kidnappers' residence in his three-story home in order to improve the conditions of the nuns' detention and to make it easier to talk to them daily (over the course of three months, the nuns appeared twice on videotape).

The kidnappers repeated that they were not seeking any monetary ransom and that the greater part of their concern was focused on female detainees in Syrian government prisons. At the start, they put forward lists that included hundreds of names before becoming more modest and reaching the threshold of 138 names of Syrian female detainees. They stipulated that in order for the negotiation process to be complete and before arriving at a final resolution, the government should offer a gesture of goodwill and release an Iraqi prisoner called Suja Hamid el-Deilami, the wife of an Iraqi al-Qaeda leader whom the Syrian authorities had detained along with three of her children during one of the operations in the Damascus countryside. 

The Syrians rejected the condition regarding Suja el-Deilami because she is not one of the Syrian detainees and replied that the names that Abu Azzaz al-Kuwaiti had put forward are not all held by the government and that among 137 names, there was no information about 66 names, 10 of the detainees whose names appear on the list had been released and 23 others could be released. Among the names were Roueida Kanaan, Qamar el-Khatib, Randa el-Hajj Awwad, Zahiya Abd el-Nabi, Yasmine el-Bushli, Dallal el-Kurdi, Houriya Ayyache, Hanadi el-Hussein and Majdoline el-Bayer.

The demand emphasized Suja el-Deilami, which convinced those following the negotiations that Abu Azzam el-Kuwaiti was only a public front and that the real negotiators were elsewhere because at no point during the negotiations was al-Kuwaiti capable of responding to the proposals forwarded to him. Thus it became clear afterward that he was no more than an intermediary in the negotiations which were being determined by other parties in Jabhat al-Nusra, which is led remotely by Abu Muhammad al-Jolani, the amir of al-Nusra in the Levant.

Negotiations stalled on the Syrian track at the beginning of this year and the Qatari channel started to be activated. Last month, Qatari envoys visited the mountainous region around Arsal and began to speak directly with the kidnapping groups, but without the slightest progress. The kidnappers provided a list of names of detained Syrian women, including no less than 1000 names, to General Ibrahim but Syrian authorities did not agree to negotiate about it, not considering it to be serious.

It is noteworthy that the list contained around 150 names of Islamist detainees in Roumieh prison [in Lebanon], most of whom are non-Lebanese nationals. General Ibrahim's position, in coordination with President Michel Sleiman and former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, firmly refused to negotiate the release of any prisoner at Roumieh.

Situations in the Field Motivated Renewed Negotiations

The Syrian official who was following the negotiations said that they received new life several days ago after significant developments took place regarding the situation in Yabroud, similar to those surrounding the Azaz deal.

The Battle of Qalamoun has been raging for the past two weeks and militant groups, which include thousands of fighters on all fronts, have been dispersed. The first kidnapper, Mithqal Hamama was killed in one of the Syrian Army's ambushes in the region, which freed the hand of the other negotiators.

A week ago the kidnappers decided to leave the house of Georges Haswani in the city, since the Syrian army was drawing near and strategic hills around Rima farms around Yabroud were falling to Hezbullah and the Republican Guard. The nuns were divided up among a number of locations in Yabroud. The issue of the nuns was again in force, in order to barter them for something more than ransom. Two days ago "Abu Yazan", leader of Liwa al-Ghuraba in Qalamoun renewed contact with the Syrian government via Qatari channels, asking for the completion of the deal to be sped up and stipulating the delivery of 16 million dollars, the release of those whose names were on the list and once more adding the name of Suja el-Deilami, her three Iraqi children and her husband. Abu Yazan opened the military and security side of the negotiations, asking for a ceasefire around Yabroud and and end to it being shelled. He also requested that safe corridors be opened for the withdrawal of 1500  men from Yabroud towards Rankous and Arsal, however this condition was categorically rejected.

A Syrian source says that the Qataris paid the ransom and that the Syrian authorities agreed to release the detainees, but the military and security side of things was completely excluded from any of the negotiations.

Via as-Safir, General Ibrahim expressed his thanks to the Syrian leadership, which provided all the necessary facilities for accomplishing this deal. He likewise singled out for thanks the Qatari leadership, who accompanied the deal. He said that the Lebanese president accompanied him constantly at all stages of the process of negotiations, which were extremely painstaking and during which Lebanon refused to offer any concession that would affect its sovereignty.  He stated that he will not retreat from the task he had sworn to before Lebanese popular opinion, working to free the two kidnapped bishops.

Ibrahim affirmed that "the nuns of Maaloula are well and are in good health." He said, "We committed ourselves to everything we promised, but the kidnappers attempted to abandon the agreement in the last hours. However, we refused any bargaining."

Patriarch  John X Yazigi contacted General Ibrahim, thanking him for the efforts he made for the nuns' release.

Former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri welcomed "the step of releasing the nuns of the Monastery of Maaloula and their safe return to their church and their families." He opined that "all kidnappings and detainments contradict the most basic human rights and bring condemnation upon their perpetrators, regardless of their pretexts and rationales."

Prime Minister Najib Mikati congratulated the nuns on their freedom, expressing hop for "an end to the cycle of violence in Syria."

Video of the Process of Releasing the Nuns

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Nuns are Free!!!!!

Pray that the Nuns of Maaloula will be Released Today!

All over but the shouting.

In the past two hours, there has been a spate of reports in the Syrian Lebanese media that the nuns of the Monastery of Mar Thekla in Maaloula will be released today, possibly during a cease-fire in Yabroud set to begin at sundown. Pray that this will happen!!!

Media summary (I'll continue to update this as best I can):

As-Safir,Al-Mayadeen: : The nuns have been released and are in the care of Lebanese security forces.

Murr TV:  The nuns have been handed over to Lebanese security forces.

 As-Safir : Abbas Ibrahim-- No reason for worry or pessimism. Talks to release the nuns are ongoing and have not gone backward.

 Al-Mayadeen: After leaving their positions, the convoy ready to receive the nuns is back in the agreed-upon location. An-Nahar: The process is back on.

Reports are all over the place. Some reports are saying that the process of releasing the nuns has failed. Some reports are saying that Abbas Ibrahim says that they have not. Al-Jadeed is saying that negotiations faltered but have now resumed.

An-Nahar: The talks  to arrange the nuns' release is faltering. Soldiers claim to have seen the nuns at the Arsal checkpoint before this happened.

 An-Nahar: Abbas Ibrahim: The nuns will be released tonight. The reasons for the delay are logistical.

 Al-Mayadeen: A high-ranking Qatari official has arrived in Arsal to oversee things. The location of the hand-off will not be announced until it happens because circumstances are constantly changing.

An-Nahar : Heavy rains and dirt roads in the outskirts of Arsal may make the logistics of transporting the nuns difficult.

  Al-Mayadeen: The nuns will be handed over in Chtaura (there's been a lot of discussion about security issues around Arsal, which harbors large numbers of jihadis). They will then have the choice of heading to Beirut or Damascus.

Radio Voice of Lebanon: The nuns will not be released until 7PM Beirut time.

As-Safir: Lebanese security will accompany the nuns into Syrian territory, transported by bus.

Al-Akhbariyya: Syrian news report on Youtube from the crowd at the border awaiting the nuns, here.

An-Nahar-- The nuns have been handed over the the Qataris, who will take them to Arsal.

 Al-Mayadeen: Abbas Ibrahim is now in Masnaa awaiting the nuns.

LBC: Abbas Ibrahim- The nuns will be handed over in Arsal to a Lebanese and a Qatari security officer, and from there they will be taken to Masnaa.

  Al-Mayadeen : Jabhat al-Nusra demanded a sum of money for the nuns' release. Preparations are being made to transport them, in the company of Lebanese security personnel, from Lebanon to Jdeidet Yabus (the Syrian side of the Masnaa border crossing).

 Al-Mayadeen: Any moment now.

Al-Manar: The nuns will be released through the Lebanese border-town of Arsal, where the chief of Qatari intelligence arrived earlier today.

An-Nahar: The nuns'  release is very close. Work is being done to fulfill the kidnappers' demands, including safe passage of their convoy and a cease-fire in the area where the nuns are being held.

Al-Jazeera TV has confirmed that the process of releasing the nuns has begun.

Radio Voice of Lebanon: Extensive security convoys in the Bekaa, preparing for the nuns' release.

Al-Manar: Abbas Ibrahim-- The decision to release the nuns has been made. We're working out logistical difficulties now.

Al-Nashra: Abbas Ibrahim-- We're working to overcome some last-minute complications for the nuns' release.

RT Arabic: The process of releasing the nuns has begun.

Lebanese state press release: The President of Lebanon, Gen. Michel Sleiman and the Director of General Security, Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, are following the situation regarding the nuns' release.

Radio Voice of Lebanon: The Syrian Ministry of Information has asked journalists to come to the Syrian-Lebanese border (presumably the Masnaa crossing).

Al-Nashra: A delegation of Orthodox clergymen have arrived at the Judaydat Yabus-Masnaa crossing to wait for the nuns, who will be brought to Lebanon.

Al-Akhbar EnglishMaaloula nuns to be freed, Greek Orthodox Council says

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Antioch Withdraws from Synaxis after Jerusalem Refuses Mediation

This is the official translation released by the Patriarchate, posted originally here. Please disregard my earlier translation. Arabic original here.

The delegation of the Antiochian Patriarchate has participated in the Synaxis of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches and its preparatory meetings held at the Headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople from March 6 to 9, 2014. The delegation, consisted of Their Eminences Metropolitan Saba (Esber) and Metropolitan Silouan (Moussi), and Father Porphyrios (Georgi),has worked with great joy and clear dedication to make this Synaxis succeed. His Beatitude Patriarch JOHN X was absent from the Synaxisdue to health reasons.The Antiochian delegation raised the conflict between the Antiochian and the Jerusalemite Patriarchates.The delegation endeavored,under the direct guidance of His Beatitude Patriarch JOHN X, and in collaboration with His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch, to find a solution for this conflict according to the agreement which was drafted at the meeting held in Athens– June 2013 – and attended by the representatives from the Churches of Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem.

WHEREAS, all the efforts made by HisAll-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Antiochian Delegation to find a solution with His Beatitude the Patriarch of Jerusalem were met with failure;

AND WHEREAS, the Church of Jerusalem still insists on creating an archdiocese and setting up an archbishop within the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Antioch; 

AND WHEREAS, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem is refusing any solution for this conflict which does not present the current situation as a fait accompli, and not recognizing that the majority of the Orthodox Churches acknowledge the rightness of the Antiochian position;

AND WHEREAS, the Patriarchate of Antioch has exhausted all peaceful solutions, and withheld the decision of her Holy Synod to severecommunion with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, with the aim of opening the wayto make everything possible for the success of the Synaxis of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches, and with the hope that this conflict be resolved with the spirit of brotherhood and peace during this Synaxis;

AND WHEREAS, upon the Patriarch of Jerusalem's rejection of the mediation of His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch to resolve the conflict according to the terms of the Holy Tradition and ecclesiastical Canon Law;

THEREFORE, the Patriarchate of Antioch resolved to:

1- Withdraw herdelegation from the Synaxis of the Primates of Churches, held in Constantinople between the 6th and the 9th of March, 2014, and suspend putting her signatureon its closing statement until a resolution for the crisis is reached;

2- Not participate in the closing Divine Liturgy service which will be held on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, as an expression that Orthodox unity cannot be realized under the violation of one Church the canonical boundaries of a Sister Church, and herrefusal to acknowledge the agreement which took place through the good and loving care of the Ecumenical Patriarch;

3- Raise the issue again in the meeting of the Antiochian Holy Synod meeting which will be held on 27th of March, 2014, in order to take the measures which the Synoddeem appropriate,taking into consideration the recent situation.

In conclusion, the Antiochian Patriarchate cannot but entreat the Primates of the Sister Orthodox Churches to work on resolving this conflict, as
soon as possible, according to the precepts of the Ecclesiastical Canon Law, in order to avoid any impediment toward Orthodox unity that this matter leads to.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Orthodox Church in the Arab World 700-1700: An Anthology of Sources

Now available from the publisher here or from Amazon here. Read an interview with the editors here. Table of contents below the jump.

The Orthodox Church in the Arab World (700–1700)
An Anthology of Sources
Edited by Samuel Noble and Alexander Treiger
Foreword by Metropolitan Ephrem (Kyriakos)
A publication in the Orthodox Christian Series
Orthodox Studies/Literature
ISBN 978-0-87580-701-0

Paperback jacket copy:

“This collection makes an extremely important contribution to the history of medieval Christianity and the history of the medieval Near East, inasmuch as such Arabic Orthodox materials are not widely available. There is, so far as I am aware, no other comparable book on this subject in English.”
—Stephen J. Shoemaker, University of Oregon

“This book is impressive in both content and presentation. The editors have marshaled a team of leading scholars in the field to produce a series of translations of significant Christian Arabic works and have added an introduction that forms a comprehensive history of Christians within the Muslim world. They have produced a book that will be of immense help to the further understanding of Eastern Christianity and the history of relations between Christians and Muslims.”
—David Thomas, University of Birmingham

Christian literature in Arabic is at least 1,300 years old, the oldest surviving texts dating from the 8th century. Yet in the Western historiography of Christianity, the Arab Christian Middle East is treated only peripherally, if at all. The first of its kind, this anthology makes accessible in English representative selections from major Arab Christian works written between the 8th and 17th centuries. Until now, several of these important texts have remained unpublished or unavailable in English. Translated by leading scholars, this anthology encompasses the major genres of Orthodox Christian literature in Arabic.
Included are representative samples of the most important Orthodox works written in Arabic: an 8th century Apology for the Christian Faith; a work by Theodore Abu Qurra on discerning the true religion; a disputation of the monk Abraham of Tiberias with the Muslims; lives of little-known saints and martyrs; the world history of Agapios; the devotional poetry of Sulayman al-Ghazzi; philosophical works of ‘Abdallah ibn al-Fadl; the mystical treatise the Noetic Paradise; a treatise on the priesthood by Agathon of Homs; the Letter to a Muslim Friend by Paul of Antioch; the unpublished notebook and diplomatic correspondence of the Patriarch Macarius; and Paul of Aleppo’s travel account that sheds light on the history of the Orthodox Church in the Ottoman Empire, Southeastern Europe, and Russia.

Samuel Noble is a doctoral candidate in religious studies at Yale University.

Alexander Treiger is associate professor in the Department of Classics and Program in Religious Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Metropolitan Ephrem (Kyriakos) is the Orthodox Metropolitan of Tripoli, al-Koura, and their Dependencies. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on Dhimmitude and Islamic Law

Arabic original here. For more about ISIS imposing a dhimmi pact on Christians in Northeast Syria, see here.

On ISIS's Reprehensible "Protection"

It is not surprising that the group "The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" is imposing the provisions of dhimmitude on the Christian citizens of al-Raqqa. It is also not surprising that what this group has done has been met with censure from most Muslims. ISIS has brought back to life a system that had been in practice in many periods of history and which has many justifications in Islamic jurisprudence, which does not admit either in the past or today, to the equality of rights and duties of citizens in a state based on Islamic law.

This jurisprudence, even if it claims to adopt citizenship as a basis of rule, continues to discriminate between citizens on a religious and sectarian basis. When some Islamic legal scholars and thinkers talk about citizenship, you see them making legislative exceptions or reservations regarding the participation of non-Muslims in the Islamic state.

Today, the positions of Islamists vary with regard to the issue of applying the jizya in Islamic countries where groups of "dhimmis" live. These positions waver between bringing back imposition of the jizya, since it is established in the Qur'an and cancelling it or changing its name if it disturbs "dhimmi" citizens.

Islamists consider the principle of the jizya to be a distinction for the People of the Book established in the Qur'an, which distinguishes between People of the Book-- including Christians-- and polytheists. So while the Qur'an places polytheists between two choices, either entering Islam or being killed, it calls Christians only to pay the jizya, in exchange for being kept safe and sound. Thus they deduce that Islam has only given Christians a distinction, since it imposed on them the jizya while it commands Muslims to fight polytheists until they submit.

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a pillar of moderation, insists on raising religious bonds over any other ties. Thus he rejects tolerance and openness that are based on "diluting" religion under the pretext of "nationalism or patriotism" since he considers it to be utter hypocrisy to elevate the patriotic or national bond over the bond of religion or to elevate secularism over the bond of religion. For him, "It is not tolerance for Muslims to hold back from the decrees of their religion and from the law of their Lord, to nullify its boundaries and to dissolve its way of life for the sake of non-Muslim minorities, so as not to cause them worry or hurt their feelings." For him, tolerance is based "on the good neighborliness commanded by both religions, love of the good for all, and the obligation of justice with all."

Sheikh Said Hawwa of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, follows precisely the same tendency when he rejects abandoning Islamic principles for the sake of a non-Islamic formula that brings together Muslims and non-Muslims in a single state. He says, "The peoples of the Islamic Umma will not abandon Islam. History bears witness. The facts bear witness. And so non-Muslims have a choice: leave or make an agreement with Muslims on the basis of a just formula. If they want a third option-- for Muslims to abandon their Islam-- neither they nor anyone else shall have this." Hawwa then warns non-Muslims that Islam inevitably will rule and so he advises them to hurry "to find formulas for an agreement with Muslims that pleases all sides before the day comes when this agreement is unilaterally imposed on them."

The system of dhimmitude is not an invention of ISIS. Indeed, it lies at the heart of Islamic jurisprudence. We now have a pressing need for Islamic juridical innovations that admit to national partnership and total equality between citizens without any reservations, be they legislative or anything else.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Met. Georges Khodr: Where are Your Treasures?

Arabic original here.

Where are Your Treasures?

The Apostle Paul said to us in today's Epistle, "The night is over and the day draws near." Now we set aside works of darkness and approach the light, this light that will come to us on Holy Pascha. But before that, this divine light will come to us through these struggles that we undertake with mercy and favor from our Lord.

The pure Evangelist spoke to us about a fast that we undertake for God's sake. We undertake it in secret in that we do not make a show of it and we do not make claims about it, but we know it as a mercy from our Lord and we struggle until the grace of God's good pleasure reaches us and until we have been trained in the Lord's behavior and the fear of Him.

The issue is not one of refraining from food or drink. It is not only refraining from meat. These are exercises by which we train for something loftier. Naturally, we must subdue this body through fasting in order to tame it and teach it that there is something better than the body and in order to make it sensitive to the existence of the poor. In early Christianity, fasting was primarily based on this idea: one refrains from food in order to distribute its value to the poor. Christians would fast as long as they knew that someone among them was in need and they fasted when they wanted to provide food to the poor. This is why mercy was one of the aspects of the fast. The point of the fast is for us to be trained in it in the school of mercy.

Thus the Lord said in today's Gospel reading, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal." That is, do not be reliant on money, but know that there are poor people who need this money and that they have a right to it. The money that you possess it not yours in the end-- it belongs to those who need it. Giving is not optional. You must give. This is not charitable giving; this is a duty because the earth belongs to all people and the earth's wealth belongs to all people.

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth because where your treasure is, there your hearts are also." That is, if you consider money to be your treasure, then your hearts are overflowing with love for it and if you consider the kingdom of God to be your treasure, then your hearts have become full of God. Life must not waver between God and the world, as we see ourselves continuing to hesitate between Christ and that which is not Christ. This is why we enter into the struggle of this fast, recognizing that Christ is all life and consequently we will inter into the sobriety of Christ in order to build for Him a glorious church, not made only of stone, but also of hearts in intimate harmony.

This struggle of ours is undertaken by each one according to his ability and as his health permits, in terms of what pertains to food and drink. However, we all undertake it together in terms of what pertains to the spiritual aspect. That is, we all together are called to love, to forgiveness and to join all people to our hearts so that God may join us to His heart. If we love people, then we are God's beloved and if we hate people, then we are banished from God. There is nothing in the Christian Church other than us loving each other and us struggling to remain in this love throughout life.

No matter what people say about us, no matter what they do, people are all God's beloved and children of God and so we love them, we support them and we fast from slandering them so that we all may have a share in the Lord's love.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Met. Ephrem's Message for Lent

Arabic original here. If any reader would be kind enough to correct my translation of the hymnological terms in the first paragraph, I would much appreciate it.

Cheesefare Sunday is followed by the start of the blessed forty-day fast, when we grasp divine words through readings, chants and hymns. I would like to draw your attention to the passages known as the penitential hymns (الخخشوعيات)--the idiomela of the apostichon and the sitchera of the tones-- found in the great book of the fast, the Triodion. We hope that  every committed believer has access to this book, which is available in all church bookstores.

The fast is not limited to refraining from certain foods, despite the importance of controlling the desire of the belly. It goes further than that, to what is known as the process of repentance-- that is, the return to God even as we stumble through this corrupt world.

Today's Gospel reading (Matthew 6:14-21) calls us first to ask forgiveness from all those we have saddened, since the fast is the fast of the community. It is the return to God and the return to our neighbor in purity and love.

Today's Gospel passage is taken from Christ's Sermon on the Mount. He calls us with all the Beatitudes to enjoy the joy of the Lord. The fast is a path to true joy: " Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! ... The Lord is at hand" (Philippians 4:4-5).

Today's Gospel reminds us that fasting is tied to communion with others. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth." Give of what you possess to the needy. It is an opportunity for the needy to share in our bread and our wealth with us, so that we may have treasures as deposits for salvation, in heaven. Share your possessions with others-- this is the practical dimension of the struggle of the fast, which reminds us of the Lord's words: "Break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor" (Daniel 4:24).

The Christian's primary need, especially in these difficult and wicked days, is to return to Jesus. We are in a state of spiritual war more intense and more important than the World War. Let us first of all break our passions with the weapon of the fast and the power of the prayers of the Church, so that we may enter into longing for God and subdue longing for this world. The fast places us in a struggle between the Lord and His enemy, the Devil. Let us ally with the Lord through our struggle of fasting, so that we may enjoy the joy of the resurrection at the longed-for time of Pascha.