Monday, June 22, 2015

Archbishop Atallah Hanna Responds to Leaked Saudi Document

The Arabic original can be found here.

Clarification issued by His Eminence Atallah Hanna, Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Sebate in Jerusalem

We were shocked yesterday by a document issued by the Saudi Foreign Ministry that has been published across various social media sites. We do not know if it is real or a forgery. This document says that we received funds from the Saudi Embassy in Amman as support from the Saudi government. We would therefore like to clarify this as follows:

1. We have never requested assistance from Saudi Arabia and we have never received any assistance from Saudi Arabia. Therefore what was published in this document is erroneous and absolutely untrue.

2. Our positions are well-known to all and disseminated through all forms of media-- radio, television and print. Our positions are not up for barter. Our positions are not for sale and cannot be bought with money. We do not deny that we have been subject to temptations from certain parties to change our positions, especially with the start of the Syrian crisis. Our position has remained firm and clear. We refuse political money intended for specific political positions. Thus all attempts by those who want to influence us and our positions have failed.

3. We refuse funding that is conditional on political positions, whatever those positions may be. Our positions are patriotic and stem from our personal conviction based on our Arab identity with regard to the issue of Palestine, our primary concern and our concern for all issues of the Arab nation from the Ocean to the Gulf.

4. We have no way of knowing who is behind this document and we do not know if it is forged or real. The party who should be asked about this topic is the Saudi government and so I am demanding that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia conduct a serious investigation about this document, who requested assistance and who received it.

Here I do not rule out this being a case of corruption and serious fraud on the part of one of the officials or employees in the Saudi government. Personally, I have never delegated anyone to speak on my behalf to the Saudi government to request financial assistance and I have never received any financial assistance from the Saudi government.

5. Once more, I ask the Saudi government to conduct a serious investigation into this offensive document which contains information that is absolutely untrue and has absolutely no connection to me.

6. We affirm that what is found in this document has no relation to us. We have nothing to do with the money that is said to have been sent and requested from the Saudi Embassy in Amman, if it is determined who received this money and where it was sent.

7. I have the right to initiate legal proceedings if the Saudi government does not explain what happened, especially since it has become clear that it is an issue of bureaucratic corruption and fraudulently taking money in the name of other people who did not request this money and who of course will never receive it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Wikileaks: Archbishop Atallah Hanna Sought and Received Saudi Funding

So the Wikileaks Saudi Cables, which have just started to be posted online, are going to prove to be very embarrassing for a lot of people. The only cable of interest so far (with 60,000 out of 500,000 documents released) with regard to the Orthodox Church is a cable from the Saudi embassy in Jordan, stating that in 2011, Archbishop Atallah Hanna contacted them with a request for money and they agreed to give him $200,000. The document, also reproduced below, can be found here.

UPDATE: Archbishop Atallah has responded to this document and has categorically stated that he has never requested or received Saudi funding and that this document may be due to financial fraud on the part of someone at the embassy. It should be noted in his favor that the archbishop's political position with regard to the Syria crisis has always been strongly in favor of the Syrian government and against the policies of the Saudis. Please read his response here.

With reference to your cable no. 3772/206 dated 23.10.1432 Hijri [= September 21, 2011] concerning the request for monthly or lump sum financial assistance from the Archbishop of Sebaste of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the bishop in Jerusalem Dr Atallah Hanna.

We inform of the issuance of Royal Decree no. 24965 dated 17.5.1433 [= April 8, 2012] to provide a lump sum personal assistance through the Ministry [of Foreign Affairs] of (200,000) two hundred thousand dollars by the embassy in Amman and to evaluate the results of this on his future positions.

The Ministry hopes that the necessary steps will be taken. Best regards.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: Islam and Religious Minorities

Arabic original here. The immediate context of this article is Syrian rebels forcing Druze to convert to Islam and killing them in Idlib and the threat that they may do so again if they succeed in their current assault on Jabal Druze.

Islam and Religious Minorities

Contemporary Islam has proven its inability to provide effective solutions to reassure members of religious minorities living among Muslims. What was apparently successful, to a reasonable extent, was the dhimmi system of bygone eras, before the age of human rights, citizenship and equality... However, even if, in the past, the dhimmi system contributed keeping the "People of the Book" safe where they live, this does not mean it is appropriate for the present day.

Contemporary Islam has likewise proven its inability to make a real effort towards rapprochement between Islamic sects, indeed, its inability to halt the deterioration of relations between their members. It has become a trend to dig up ancient fatwas that declare some Islamic groups to be unbelievers and permit the spilling of their adherents' blood and to implement them in some places. Some people have gone to lengths that even people in the distant past did not dare approach, declaring Islamic sects to be unbelievers even though the soundness of their Islam has been commonly accepted.

It is not surprise, then, that the issue of religious minorities has come to the forefront in Syria-- and before that, in Iraq.  This country that had been a model of religious diversity has now had its doors open wide to every sort of takfirism, displacement and religious cleansing.

We cannot limit responsibility for what has been happening in Syria to extremist Islamist groups alone. These groups build their opinions and rulings on the statements and codes of jurists and muftis who are recognized within traditional, moderate Islam. Factors that seem to neutralize some of these rulings declaring certain sects to be unbelievers are only present if there is political will, in the absence of which these factors are also absent. In other words, neutralizing these rulings is not based on sound juridical rulings that abrogate or cancel what came before, but most of the time only on the will of the political ruler.

When armed groups in Syria regard those who belong to a given sect as non-Muslims-- and therefore as infidels-- and that they must abandon some of their beliefs and practices and practices and adopt Islamic rulings, they are coming up with these rulings from the content of ancient books. They are not coming up with something new or an innovation of their own making. And here we have, in the fact that members of this sec [i.e., the Druze] who insist that they are Muslim monotheists, are still forbidden from performing the hajj to Mecca a shining example of this impotence that hampers moderate Islam and permits extremists to impose their rulings in the name of Islam.

In reality, both moderate and non-moderate Islamic thought has failed to solve the dilemma of minorities. As we have said time and again and will continue to say, this is because it divides society into two parts: Muslims and non-Muslims. Islamic thought itself is responsible for exacerbating the phenomenon of minorities and for not finding ways that would allow members of minorities to be engaged in Islamic society and that would make them more committed to Muslims' issues and aspirations.

The fundamental problem for those who strive for an Islamic state-- both those who are moderate and those who are not-- lies in their lack of respect for political, social and religious diversity and in their lack of respect for the particularities of the groups that make up the national mosaic that includes all citizens.

This country will not find security and the people of this country will not find tranquility so long as Muslim thinkers will not work for a real renewal of Islamic thought based on bold re-interpretations of the foundation of the Islamic state and a recognition of the right to religious diversity in Islamic society.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Met Georges Kodr on Unity with Druze and Muslims

Arabic original here.

Metropolitan Khodr from Shoueifat: Prove that You are One with the Druze and also with the Muslims

Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Mount Lebanon Georges Khodr presided at the divine liturgy in the Church of Saint Michael in Dhour Shoueifat to bless the building of the Mitri Jirji Murr Social House net to the church. Celebrating with him in the service was the parish priest, Fr Elias Karam and Deacon Georges Shalhoub, with a crowd of parishioners and neighbors in attendance.

After the Holy Gospel and the offering of prayers and blessings for the building project, which is funded by Dr Georges Mitri, Metropolitan Georges gave a sermon in which he said, "I, the head of the Orthodox Church in this region, say-- we are one with the Druze monotheists. You must live this, not just as religious rhetoric, daily in social life, in the relations between families, in friendship and in love."

He added: "You Christians, prove that you are one with the Druze in this region, and also with the Muslims. If you do not do this, I do not recognize you. May the Lord help us all to remain one people."

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Carol Saba: We Need a Prophetic Antiochian Patriarch

Arabic original here.

We Need a Prophetic Antiochian Patriarch who will cry out in the Wilderness of this World in Crisis: Enough!

Until when some Christians celebrate with Christ Palm Sunday, while others celebrate already His resurrection. Who today has the courage for Antiochian Christian unity as a prelude to a united overall Christian witness, since the world today is in dire need of this? Has the time not come for Middle Eastern Christianity to discern the signs of the times, the eschatological meanings of their current suffering and what is needed of them? Two events of late have spoken to us of unity: Patriarch John X's receiving the medal of "Unity of the Orthodox Peoples" from the Patriarch of Moscow in Russia on February 20 of this year and the joint Paschal letter of the Patriarchs of Antioch. Russia's choice of John X, who bears the suffering of wounded Antioch, is appropriate, as he is patiently working to preserve Orthodox unity despite the blows dealt against it. This does not eliminate the question of what Orthodox unity means today. Is it only a unity of faith without a unity of condition and fate requiring unlimited solidarity among all ̄Orthodox? Is it a verbal unity that appears only in photographs of events and then disappears on the ground of reality and hopes? Where are the Orthodox churches when it comes to the fire that is ravaging the body of the Church of Antioch? Where are these Churches of the words of Paul, "If one member suffers, all suffer together"? What have these churches done about the decision of the Church of Jerusalem in 2013 to consecrate its own bishop for Qatar on territory belonging to the Church of Antioch, since this is an attack on Orthodox unity and the canons of the councils on which it is based? What have the churches done-- apart from issuing statements-- to move vigorously globally to end the suffering of Christians in the Middle East? What have they done about the kidnapping of Metropolitans Paul and Yuhanna of Aleppo? Have they called each other to hold open, extraordinary summits or to go to the United Nations to protest and sound a world-wide alarm? Have they set up crisis centers to follow events and raise awareness? What events would be more critical so as to require extraordinary actions? The Orthodox churches are in a crisis. They live as "churches" and not as one Church. This reminds me of the image of Nikos Kazantzakis in his book Christ Recrucified which recounts the struggle among Orthodox who have been expelled from their village in Asia Minor by the Turks and have entered another Orthodox village subject to the authority of a different Turkish agha, which enjoys prosperity and a dignified life. This village that is bloated with worldly acquisitions and whose priest is bloated with authority and worldly interests treats the foreign brothers and their homeless upright, spiritual priest as foreigners and not as brothers in Christ who are suffering, homeless and exhausted. The "bloated" church has only expressed verbal solidarity with the “suffering” church without sharing in her pain and giving her shelter and clothing. It has pushed her out into the outdoors, into distant wilderness.

The situation of the Orthodox Church today is not surprising. There is no critical, spiritual assessment in the Church of purity and holiness. There is no prospective reading of the modernity of today's world and of the requirements of an intelligent witness to the Gospel in it. The logic of maintaining existence overshadows the logic of proclaiming the Good News, of bearing witness and of giving. As for our ecclesiology that supposes communion and the participation of all talents, lay and clerical, in the Church's decision-making process through wider institutionalized consultation, it is not put into practice in the Church. Instead, the Church's governance today is based on a vertical hierarchy of authority that accumulates a great deal of spiritual and professional experience that is not put into use and that is not put to the benefit of the mother churches. Effective unity cannot be based on the churches constantly living "in parallel" nor on their living in the past, where there is a great deal of maintaining a museum but very little intelligent motion for interacting with today's world, a world of networks and interconnectivity. Unity will come down to us if we strive to be engaged together-- without eliminating diversity-- in a plan for a united Christian witness, in which there is tradition and modernity, that will shorten history and hasten the Second Coming.

In the West there is a bold pope who is trying to condense history and expel the money-changers from the Lord's temple. He dealt out harsh words for them when he spoke to the Catholic bishops who "have become administrators with no evangelical joy within them, who are not moved by the Holy Spirit." Is there a patriarch, an Antiochian prophet, who has the courage for Antiochian Christian unity as a prelude to a united Christian witness? I have trust in the youthfulness of John X, who took the first step of holding the Antiochian Unity Conference in June 2014. But terrible breaks were put on the conference by the conservative church, weighed down by accumulations, that has been deserted by pastoral care concerns. The conference and its recommendations came and went and were entered into the archives rather than bringing into our church a program of unity and modernity for shaping the future of the Church of Antioch. Striving for unity requires bearing witness unto death, the death of the cross. There is no resurrection and no role for Antioch in the process of Christian unity unless Antioch is renewed without modernizing. Does Antioch, which has always been at the forefront of pointing the way to what is essential in the universal Church, hear the voice of the Lord who stands knocking at the door? Is John X the prophetic patriarch needed here and now to cry out in the wilderness of this world in crisis with the boldness of John the Forerunner and like him say, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said"?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Met Ephrem Kyriakos on Pastoring

Arabic original here.


After His resurrection from the dead, the Lord Jesus appeared to His disciples in Galilee, as He had already told them, and He gave them the following commandment:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)

Recall also what the Gospel mentions more than once: "Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people." (Matthew 9:35)

Last but not least, He appeared to the disciples on the evening of Pentecost and "breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'" (John 20:22-23)

In these passages from the Gospel and others, He encourages His disciples (and among them, of course, pastoral priests) by way of imitating Him and through His commandments about the necessity of teaching, evangelizing, practicing the sacrament of confession and the forgiveness of sins, and healing soul and body.

We likewise see the Apostle Paul addressing his disciple Timothy and saying, " be an example to the believers" and also "give attention to reading, to preaching, to teaching... take heed to yourself and to teaching" (1 Timothy 4: 12, 13, 16), with the result being the that priest must exert himself for the sake  of preaching and teaching and also for the healing of his own soul and the souls of others.

Of course, each one of us has his talents and his weaknesses. We pastors must know and admit our weaknesses and at the very least control them so that they will not become a stumbling-block. At the same time, we must develop our talents in order to build up the Church, the Body of Christ. In this way, the Church may contribute to the pastoring and healing of souls through us, the spiritual physicians.

                    *     *    *
Here I will address our beloved pastoral priests. A priest who is a pastor does not demand rights-- he only has duties. The prophet Ezekiel says, "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves... You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool... but you do not feed the flock... The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost" (Ezekial 34:2-4).

In the New Testament we precisely see the profound, fundamental work of the pastor in following the example of the Lord Jesus, who alone is the Good Shepherd. He says, "I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep."

The Lord Jesus practiced this type of pastoring with His death on the cross. In the Book of Revelation, He says, "the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them" (Revelation 7:17). "Behold in the midst of the throne stands a lamb as though it had been slain... known before the foundation of the world" (cf. Revelation 5:6 and 1 Peter 1:20).

The Lord practiced this pastoring all through His life on this earth in His sacrifice, as He suffered in secret on account of His love for man and his salvation from the establishment of the world and even to the end of ages. This is the highest model for imitation.

Metropolitan of Tripoli, Koura and Their Dependencies

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III: The EU Should Side with Damascus

Italian original, conducted by Pietro Vernizzi, here.

 Gregory III Lahham: We are Paying for the Mistakes of the EU and Obama

The Italian Episcopal Conference has decided to dedicate the Vigil of Pentecost on May 23 to "today's martyrs". That is, to the Christians who are persecuted throughout the world, a drama without geographical limits, even if it is particularly serious in areas of Syria and Iraq controlled by the Islamic State. After having killed or expelled thousands of Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities, the Caliphate launched an offensive to conquer the Iraqi city of Ramadi. Yesterday Syrian Air Force fighters continued to bomb the suburbs of Palmyra, a Syrian city where violent clashes are taking place between the regular army and ISIS fighters. The ruins from the Greek and Roman periods make Palmyra one of the wonders of humanity, which are now at risk of disappearing if the city falls to the Islamic State. For Gregory III Lahham, a Syrian Catholic patriarch with his see in Damascus, "those who want to destroy the remains of Sumerian civilization, the historic site of Palmyra, and the Christian churches of Syria are not acting against this religion or that but against human values."

On May 23 prayers will be held for all "today's martyrs". How is the situation of Christians in Syria?

The war that is taking place in Syria is a tragedy for everyone, since Christians and Muslims, Sunnis and Shi'ites, Druze and Yezidis are all under attack. The situation is particularly tragic in Aleppo, whose churches have all been destroyed or seriously damaged. The entire city has been turned into an enormous prison that is impossible to either enter or exit.

How is the situation in the capital and surrounding regions?

Damascus is not at risk of incursions on the ground but fears bombardments. The situation in Christian villages like Maaloula at the moment is calm. Currently, the battle is particularly violent around Palmyra and the North is also in danger.

Syria has been experiencing war for four years. How are Christians living during this period?

Christians live in the strong hope of peace shared by all Syrians of good will. It cannot be said that what is happening in Syria is a persecution against Christians. This is what is happening in Iraq, while Syrian Christians are victims of war rather than victims of persecution, even if we Christians, since we are a group that is weaker than others, are more exposed to this tragedy.

What can Western Christians do for their Syrian brothers?

There is need for material aid, so that the Syrian churches can be close to their faithful, especially the refugees. For example, my patriarchate in Damascus has to spend between 40 and 50 thousand dollars a month for refugees. But there is also a need for constant contact between the episcopal conferences of the major European countries and the local church in Syria.

In what way?

I invite the Italian bishops to come and pray with us in Damascus because this would be a symbolic gesture of enormous value. Moreover, helping the Christians means working for peace. The Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, the Oriental churches, the Anglicans and the Protestants should sign a declaration for peace in Syria, in Iraq and in Palestine.

How do you assess the advances of ISIS in Palmyra and Ramadi?

This is a question that should be addressed to a general, not to me. War is war, it goes back and forth. ISIS is strong insofar as it is supported by so many countries, whether Arab or European. The United States should be more serious and help the Syrian government.

How so?

Syria is a nation, not a regime. I do not understand why Washington aids the so-called "moderate" rebel factions, which are made moderate, so to speak. Today we should all recognize that we have no alternative. This Syrian opposition is divided and corrupt and therefore it is useless to aid an element that is so weak, because this makes more victims among the Syrian population.

What do you mean when you state the ISIS is aided by European countries?

We know that every day there are young Italians, English and French who are leaving for Syria with the intention of joining the ranks of fundamentalist groups. I would not call these organizations Islamic because they are purely military groups. It is not a war between Islam and Christianity, but rather a struggle for human values. those who want to destroy the remains of Sumerian civilization, the historic site of Palmyra, and the Christian churches of Syria are not acting against this religion or that but against human values.

What responsibilities do European states have for the young people who are joining ISIS? 

The point is that the European Union lacks a single position and is not working seriously for peace in the Middle East. The EU is indecisive and is not taking effective steps to end the war. If the 28 countries had a single strong position, it would be possible to put an end to ISIS' influence in the Middle East. The Arab world is divided because Europe is divided. The most effective bulwark against ISIS is the Syrian state and therefore if the EU clearly sided with Damascus, it could truly contribute to putting an end to ISIS. There should be a common declaration of the EU in support of the Syrian government.