Tuesday, October 21, 2014

We Can Do Great Work!": Interview with SOYO President Jordan Kurzum

Jordan Kurzum is a sophomore Spanish major at the University of Pittsburgh. During the school year, he attends St. George Orthodox Cathedral with Fr. Demetrios Makoul, while staying in touch with his home parish, St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Little Falls, NJ, with Fr. Dimitri Darwich. Jordan oversees all the officers of the Society of Orthodox Youth Organizations (SOYO) at the national and regional level, making sure that they have the resources and information they need. He graciously offered Antiochian.org some time during the Archdiocese's 2014 Youth Month to talk about what motivates him to be involved in the Church through his SOYO leadership position.
With all the demands on your time, why invest in SOYO?
We are constantly busy, but what's wonderful about SOYO is that it is enjoyable—it's not like school work! I really find it fulfilling, interacting with the other officers and serving the local parishes and dioceses. It's a great contrast to school work, and a break from studying, and it encourages me to stay involved in the Church.
I am interested in getting a greater connection to the Church and her people, and the SOYO NAC commitment is an opportunity to start serving now, at an age when many people aren't involved.
As an Orthodox teen, what are your greatest challenges?
Here is a common theme we hear about; today, we are surrounded by the secular world where everything is driven towards a secular ideal. For me, a big challenge is to differentiate between the world and my faith. It's difficult when all the influences are steering you in the opposite direction.
It's also a challenge to align with the right understanding of Christian faith and practice, for there are many Christian groups. Some seem to project messages of hate and intolerance towards people. While we Orthodox don't endorse deviant behaviors, there's a huge difference between our approach to how we treat people who we disagree with on the issues of our day, like war, or homosexuality. We try to demonstrate our faith through our actions, and through loving others. And it's good that we have Orthodox peers and spiritual fathers, so we can talk about these things and encourage one another.
What's been special to you in your SOYO years?
Right now we just finished the Special Olympics fundraiser. I've been a coach at the Special Olympics camp for four years. With the help of the Order we put on this camp, where the volunteers, athletes, and coaches attend for free! It's an amazing and rewarding week for everyone. The counselors take the campers on trips, to baseball games or amusement parks, and even those special outings are free.
You know, it's difficult for the families who are taking care of kids with special needs. When their children are at Special Olympics camp, the parents can enjoy a one week break and be refreshed.
Another great opportunity for me within SOYO, was to recently serve as a representative for the youth in the Archdiocese at the recent Unity Conference in Lebanon. The Patriarchate was specifically looking for a youth representative from North America and this was really an honor—to have been given the opportunity to represent the youth of our continent was remarkable. It was wonderful to learn how well known SOYO is within the Patriarchate as whole.
If you could tell adults in the Church one thing, what would you want to convey?
Please continue supporting your kids and your teens. Parental support and encouragement to get involved is really key; but also, encourage your teens and don't underestimate what youth can do. We are an active, excited, and determined group of people! We have all this energy, and when we are focused, we can do great work. Don't be surprised when we do amazing things, because we can—give us opportunities!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Boasting in Weakness: St. Luke, St. Paul, and the Widow of Nain

            Yesterday was the feast of the patron saint of our parish, the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke.  The Church remembers him as the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.  A Gentile, he accompanied St. Paul on missionary journeys.  He referred to him in Colossians as a “dear and glorious physician.”
            As a Gentile and a healer, St. Luke especially highlighted our Lord’s mercy for people who were considered outsiders or unimportant, who suffered profound difficulties and challenges in their lives. Whether it is the shepherds who received word of Christ’s birth from the angels, the Theotokos who responded with complete obedience to the message of the Archangel Gabriel about the miraculous conception of the Savior, or the poor, hungry, and thirsty who would be blessed in the Kingdom of God,   St. Luke’s gospel gives particular stress to how those considered weak in that time and place found great blessing and strength in Jesus Christ.
            Today’s gospel reading from St. Luke about the Lord’s raising of the son of the widow of Nain proclaims powerfully Christ’s mercy for the lowly and suffering, for He has compassion upon a widow who mourns the death of her only son.  He comforts her, saying “Do not weep,” and then touches the coffin, bringing the young man back from the dead.
            The Lord’s great act of compassion for this woman is a sign of our salvation.  For we weep and mourn not only for loved ones whom we see no more, but also for the broken, disintegrated state of life that the sins of humanity—and our own sins—have brought to us and to our world.  Death, destruction, hatred, fear, and decay in all their forms are the consequences of our refusal to live faithfully as those created in the image of God.  We have worshipped ourselves, our possessions and our pride, and found despair and emptiness as a result, as well as slavery to our own self-centered desires.  So we weep with the widow of Nain for losing loved ones and for losing ourselves.
            In that time and place, a widow who lost her only son was in deep trouble.  She would have no one to provide for her or to protect her.  Poverty, neglect, and abuse would be real threats to her very life.  Who knows what would have become of her as a result?  When the Lord raised her son, He not only demonstrated that He is the conqueror of death, but also of our separation from one another.  In raising her son, Christ restored both his life and hers.      
            The good news of the Gospel, of course, is the compassion of God that extends even to the most miserable and vulnerable human being.  Rather than simply observing human suffering and letting us bear the consequences of our actions, the Father sent the Son to enter into our suffering, into our distorted and disintegrated world, in order to set us right, to stop us from weeping, and even to raise us from the dead into the glory of the heavenly kingdom.  The Saviour touched the coffin of the dead man and he arose.  Christ’s compassion for us is so profound that He also entered a coffin, a tomb, and even descended to Hades, the shadowy place of the dead because—out of love for humankind—He could not simply stand by and allow us to destroy ourselves by bearing the full consequences of our actions. 
             Contrary to what some may teach, Christian faith is not fundamentally about justice or punishment or wrath for sinners.  It is instead about the infinite and holy love of Christ Who will stop at nothing to bring the one lost sheep back into the fold, Who is not embarrassed to welcome home the prodigal son, and Who will even submit to death on a cross in order to destroy death by His glorious resurrection.
St. Paul learned something about Christ’s compassion through his many sufferings.  He barely escaped Damascus with his life, endured beatings, imprisonment and other calamities, and had a “thorn in the flesh” of some kind that the Lord would not remove from him.  Instead, He gave him the word:   “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” St. Paul accepted that, saying “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
            Many of us do not have to look very hard to find our own “thorns in the flesh” or how our lives bear some similarity to the difficult plight of the widow of Nain.  When that is the situation with us, we must take St. Paul as our example.  Instead of abandoning his ministry and holding his problems against God or thinking that he could handle everything by himself, he used his weakness to grow in his awareness of Christ’s power, comfort, and compassion.
            As St. Luke emphasized so clearly, our Lord’s salvation is not a reward for having a life with no difficulties.  Indeed, it was often those who had suffered disease, loss, poverty, and rejection who were most open to the good news of Christ during His earthly ministry.  Surely, it was their humility that opened their hearts and souls to Him.  Those who think that they have it all in life can easily convince themselves that all is well. If they want a religion, it is often one that congratulates them for their accomplishments and never gets beyond worldly ways of thinking.  But those who are aware of their weaknesses, of their failings and their inability to fix all their problems, know that they need help from One Whose compassion is deeper than merely helping those who help themselves.  They need a Savior Who conquers even death itself, Who turns the ultimate weakness of the grave into the triumph of an empty tomb, and Who is not ashamed to remember even the most wretched repentant sinner in His Kingdom.
            When our spiritual eyes are opened to see that that is how we all stand before Christ, we will give up trying to impress Him with how religious we are or judging others for not measuring up.  In fact, we will no longer focus on ourselves at all, but instead we will be transformed such that we extend His compassion to others.  Think for a moment about the widow of Nain and her son.  Surely, they were so profoundly grateful for the Lord’s mercy that they lived the rest of their days showing that same mercy to others.  It would be impossible for someone to go through an experience like that and think that they had achieved it all by their own ability.  No, their life was entirely God’s gift.  In their weakness, they received Christ’s strength, which is precisely the strength of God’s eternal compassion.  If we receive it, if we receive Him, then we must live accordingly, showing the same mercy to our suffering neighbors that we have received ourselves.

            The ministry of Jesus Christ continues to this day through His Body, the Church. In our personal and collective weaknesses, we all have the opportunity to open ourselves to the compassionate strength of our Lord.  In keeping with how our patron St. Luke told the good news of Christ’s ministry, this parish embodies compassion toward people who know that life in our corrupt world is not easy.  Many of us can identify with the shepherds, the poor, the sick, and the bereaved who so powerfully received the mercy of the Lord.  Like them, let us take up our place in extending that same blessing to others.  For Christ’s Body continues to do Christ’s work, His ministry of binding up the wounds of His sick children, conquering death, and inviting them to the life of a Kingdom where the last really shall be first. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dr. Maria Khoury to Visit Boston Area

Dr. Maria C. Khoury, author of Christina Goes to the Holy Land, will be in the Boston area and available for book signings and/or discussions about the Christian community in the Holy Land, from approximately April 23 to May 27, 2015.
If your church is interested in hosting a program, please contact Dr. Khoury directly at khourymaria@hotmail.com.
Description of Holy Land Presentation:
Maria Khoury uses her personal life experiences living in the West Bank, the Palestinian Occupied Territories, to bring greater awareness of how conditions are on the ground for Christians specifically, and Palestinians in general, who suffer day to day under Israeli military occupation trying to do simple things like going to work, school, etc. She speaks from the perspective of being a woman, mother, an Orthodox Christian and community activist. A sample of her opinions can been viewed on one of the interviews on the multimedia page www.saintgeorgetaybeh.org.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Stay Focused and Bear Fruit: Homily for the Holy Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council and the 4th Sunday of Luke in the Orthodox Church

 Titus 3:8-15
Luke 8:5-15
              I am sure that we all waste our time and energy now and then.  Of course, sometimes we need a diversion from our usual cares and there is nothing wrong with taking a rest from time to time.  The problem, however, is when we find excuses not to do what needs to be done.  We do not want to look back on our day, our lives, or our relationships and be saddened because we failed to give attention to what is truly important.
            St. Paul warned in his letter to St. Titus against letting foolish disputes, pointless arguments, or anything else distract us from what needs to be done:  namely, good works, meeting the urgent needs of others, and bearing fruit in the Christian life.  St. Paul reminds us to turn away from all the nonsense that tempts us from faithfulness to Christ, that threatens to distract us from the Lord and the service of His Church.
            That is a necessary reminder whenever we find ourselves distracted from what is truly important.  Perhaps part of the problem is that we forget what is really significant and how richly God has blessed us with His truth and life.  It is fairly easy to ignore things that we take for granted or consider not worth mentioning.  Unfortunately, it is very easy to make our life in Christ one of those assumed things that we end up neglecting.
            The Lord Himself reminded the Apostles not to take what He had taught them for granted.  He challenged them to see its  importance:  “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.” Yes, to that group of fishermen and other rough characters who had no particular importance or standing in that time and place, the Son of God had taught the greatest mysteries of the universe.  Imagine that.  The same is true for us, of course, as members of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  He calls us not to be distracted from the glorious truth that we have received, either by taking it for granted or giving more attention to something else.    Instead, we must respond to Him in a way appropriate to His great gift, which means doing what is necessary for us to grow in faith and bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.
             Our Savior spoke of the word of God like seed cast upon the ground.  But, of course, some of those seeds never even begin to grow because they fall along the wayside and are eaten by birds.  And some who hear the good news of Christ do likewise, for they never even believe.  Some seeds just begin to grow, but the sprouts die as soon as they spring up because they landed on rocks and could not put down roots and receive nourishment.  And some who believe at first fall away quickly, for they never really opened themselves to the strength received through regular prayer, worship, fasting, repentance, communion, and all the other means of support for the Christian life that we experience through the Church.  
            Then there are seeds that grow into plants that do take root; they seem to be healthy, but are eventually choked by thorns and weeds.  And some who make a good beginning in the Christian life allow themselves to be so distracted by their worries, riches, pleasures, and passions that their faith dies.  A gardener who is too distracted by other activities to look out for weeds or to remember to water the plants will probably not be very successful.  Likewise, a Christian who disregards the dangers posed by anger, greed, pride, lust, spiritual laziness, or other passions will not thrive. But some seeds fall on good ground, grow nicely, and yield a large crop.  And some Christians not only hear the word of the Lord, but keep it in their hearts and lives, and bear fruit with patience.  They do what needs to be done in order for them to flourish in the service of the Kingdom.  
            The thrust of this parable is clear:  We have received the fullness of God’s truth, the mystery of the Kingdom of God.  We have put on Christ in baptism, been sealed by the Holy Spirit in chrismation, and nourished by the Lord’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  Christ Himself forgives us when we repent in Confession.   In Jesus Christ, we receive our salvation, our fulfillment, as partakers in the divine nature.  In His Body, the Church, we are taught the whole, complete faith of the Apostles.  We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, the Saints, who inspire us by their examples and help us by their prayers.   In every Divine Liturgy, we join them and the entire heavenly host in the worship of the Holy Trinity.
            God has given us all that we need for our salvation, our growth in holiness, and the healing of our souls.   The problem is not with Him, but with us, for we often take our faith for granted and decide that there are more important matters than prayer, repentance, and serving others in the name of Christ.  We become content with making our spiritual life a low priority to the point that we become sick and weak because we are too lazy or distracted to fight our passions and accept the healing and strength which the Lord gives us through the ministries of His Church.  Too often, we rest content with bearing no fruit at all for the Kingdom.  The problem is that, when we live like that, we become as weak and vulnerable as a plant in an un-watered and un-weeded garden; and then we have very little hope of thriving.   
            Of course, we all have our excuses.  Out of pride, we would like to believe that our particular circumstances are so special that we are somehow justified in neglecting the way of Christ. The problem is that, regardless of our preferences or situation, we make ourselves spiritually weak and vulnerable whenever we do not take advantage of the opportunities we have each day to open ourselves to the presence and healing of the Lord through prayer, Bible reading, fasting, and service toward those around us.  When we put off taking Confession so long that we never take it, we rob ourselves of the spiritual benefits of humble repentance and the assurance of Christ’s forgiveness.  When we freely choose to give our attention to what inflames our passions and turns us away from holiness, we weaken ourselves spiritually and reject the strength and healing of our Lord.   Just as a lazy or inattentive gardener or farmer cannot expect a good crop, we cannot expect to flourish in the Christian life by allowing ourselves to be distracted on a regular basis from the kind of life to which Jesus Christ calls us.
            But if we follow St. Paul’s advice to become so busy with good works that we have no time or energy for foolish arguments or other pointless distractions, we will then be like the seed that landed on good soil, got proper nutrition, and produced a bumper crop.  And despite the trials and tribulations of our lives, we will know already the joy of the Kingdom of Heaven.
            That is the will of the Lord for each and every one of us, no matter how faithfully or unfaithfully we may have lived to this point in our lives.  Through His Body, the Church, Christ has revealed to us all the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, and we all have the ability to respond to our Lord’s great mercy with repentance, love, and faithfulness each day. 

            So even if we have horribly neglected our spiritual garden, even if our souls are so full of weeds that we cannot see a sprout, much less bear fruit in our present condition, we still have hope because at the heart of the mystery of the Kingdom of God is divine mercy toward sinners like you and me.  The good news is that in Christ Jesus there is always hope, there is always the promise of a new life with the blessing and peace of the Kingdom.  We may all become good seed by turning away from distractions and excuses as we do what needs to be done to serve Him faithfully with repentance, humility, and love.  As Christ said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Speaking of divorce, pope refers to practice of Orthodox churches

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Francis spoke to journalists about the need for a stronger Catholic pastoral approach to marriage and to divorced people, he made a parenthetical reference to how the Orthodox churches handle the breakup of marriages differently.

"The Orthodox have a different practice," he told reporters July 28 during his flight back to Rome from Rio de Janeiro. The Orthodox "follow the theology of 'oikonomia' (economy or stewardship), as they call it, and give a second possibility; they permit" a second marriage.

While the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain both use the English term "ecclesiastical divorce" when referring to the use of "oikonomia" to permit a second marriage, Orthodox scholars and the websites of both archdiocese make clear that the Orthodox practice differs from both a Catholic annulment and a civil divorce.

Unlike an annulment, which declares that a union was invalid from the beginning, the Orthodox decree does not question the initial validity of a sacramental marriage and unlike a civil divorce it does not dissolve a marriage. Rather, the Orthodox describe it as a recognition that a marriage has ended because of the failure or sin of one or both spouses.

As quoted on the British church's website, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, an Orthodox scholar and retired professor at Britain's Oxford University, wrote in his book, "The Orthodox Church," that the Orthodox permit divorce and remarriage under certain circumstances because Jesus himself, in upholding the indissolubility of marriage in Matthew 19:9, makes room for an exception. In the translation he quoted, Jesus says: "If a man divorces his wife, for any cause other than unchastity, and marries another, he commits adultery."

The revised New American Bible, used at Mass by U.S. Catholics, translates the sentence as: "Whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery." However, most translations use "unfaithfulness," "fornication" or something similar to "unchastity" for the exception.

Still, Metropolitan Kallistos wrote, "Orthodoxy regards the marriage bond as, in principle, lifelong and indissoluble, and it condemns the breakdown of marriage as a sin and an evil. But while condemning the sin, the church still desires to help the sinners and to allow them a second chance. When, therefore, a marriage has entirely ceased to be a reality, the Orthodox Church does not insist on the preservation of a legal fiction."

"Divorce is seen as an exceptional but necessary concession to human sin," he wrote. "It is an act of 'oikonomia' ('economy' or dispensation) and of 'philanthropia' (loving kindness). Yet although assisting men and women to rise again after a fall, the Orthodox Church knows that a second alliance can never be the same as the first; and so in the service for a second marriage several of the joyful ceremonies are omitted, and replaced by penitential prayers."


Fr. John Behr Presents at Conference on the Gospel of John

Dean is Key Presenter at Theological Conference

25-27 September 2014 • Off Campus
L to R: Fr. Peter Galadza, Dr. David Jeffrey, Fr. John, Dr. Edith Humphries, Michael Waldstein, Dn. Paul GavrilyukL to R: Fr. Peter Galadza, Dr. David Jeffrey, Fr. John, Dr. Edith Humphries, Michael Waldstein, Dn. Paul GavrilyukSt. Vladimir’s Dean The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr recently joined an eminent panel of theologians at the conference, “Engaging the Gospel of John, Engaging One Another: Catholics, Orthodox, and Evangelicals,” held in Simmons Great Hall on the campus of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, AR. The conference was organized by the Paradosis Center for Theology and Scripture, a collaborative group of “Catholics, Orthodox, and evangelicals committed to theology and scripture within the Great Tradition."

“It was one of the most inspiring and rewarding conferences I’ve been to in many years, with real theological engagement, and respectful discussion from all. It has given me much to think about and ponder for some time,” noted Fr. John, who serves on the Paradosis Center's Board of Advisors. The Dean’s talk was focused on the Gospel passage in John 18:28-19:16, in which Pilate poses the question to Christ, “What is truth?”
Five other keynote speakers and twelve respondents rounded out the program, which offered equal time for the discussion of Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox perspectives on the selected passages from St. John‘s Gospel. A total of 18 scholars—six from each tradition—participated, including R.R. Reno, editor of First Things magazine, Fr. Thomas Joseph White, a Dominican priest and Director of the Dominican House of Studies, Dr. Richard Mouw, former president of Fuller Theological Seminary, and Baylor University's Distinguished Professor of Literature and Humanities Dr. David Jeffrey.An informal dialogue between John Brown University students and Paradosis participantsAn informal dialogue between John Brown University students and Paradosis participants

The Paradosis Center’s Director, Dr. Charles Raith II, is also assistant professor of Religion and Philosophy at John Brown. “This conference was deliberate in its efforts to focus on the Gospel of John,” he explained, "but in doing so our similarities and differences naturally surfaced as well. The Center wasn't trying to start a dialogue in this Conference since one is already in place. We did want to direct the conversation in a way that best serves the Christian faith.” In addition to a sizeable number of John Brown students, clergy from the general region also attended.

Listen to Fr. John’s talk 
Learn more about the Paradosis Center

Friday, October 10, 2014

October 2014 Statement of the Holy Synod of Antioch

English translation of a report (Arabic original here) published by the Patriarchate of Antioch:
Under the presidency of His Beatitude Patriarch John X (Yazigi), the Holy Synod of Antioch held its fourth regular session on October 7, 2014. The following bishops were present:
Spiridon (Zahle and its dependencies), Georges (Jbeil, Batroun and their dependencies), John (Lattakia and its dependencies), Elias (Beirut and its dependencies), Iliyya (Hama and its dependencies), Elias (Sidon, Tyre and their dependencies), Saba (Hawran and Jebel al-Arab), George (Homs and its dependencies), Siluan (Buenos Aires and all Argentina), Basil (Akkar and its dependencies), Ephrem (Tripoli, al-Koura and their dependencies), Ignatius (France and Western and Southern Europe), Isaac (Germany and Central Europe).
The patriarchal vicar, Bishop Ephrem Maalouli, secretary of the Holy Synod, was in attendance, along with the Synod’s record-keeper, Economos Georges Dimas.
The following bishops were unable to attend: Antonio (Mexico, Venezuela, Central America and the Islands of the Caribbean), Sergio (Santiago and Chile), Damaskinos (Sao Paulo and Brazil), Paul (Australia and New Zealand), and Joseph (New York and North America). Metropolitan Paul (Aleppo, Alexandretta and their dependencies), absent on account of his captivity, was present in the prayers and supplications of the fathers of the Synod.
His Beatitude briefed the fathers about his pastoral visit to the regions of Wadi al-Nasara and Safita, which concluded in the Archdiocese of Akkar, where he had the opportunity to meet with his children and become familiar with their aspirations, concerns and anxieties.
His Beatitude expressed his great happiness and pride for his children, who are bearing witness to Christ risen from the dead in this part of the world and transmitting their faith from generation to generation in faithfulness to tradition and openness to the future, rooted in the land and holding fast to the values of the Gospel.
His Beatitude thanked His Eminence Metropolitan Basil (Akkar), the bishops and the priests for their pastoral care of their children in this region, along with all the faithful who worked hard for the success of this visit, which allowed our father the Patriarch to meet with his children in an atmosphere of love, intimacy and simplicity.
The fathers reviewed the results of the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue that was held in Amman, Jordan this past September. They stressed the necessity of serious work in order to remove all the obstacles to this dialogue and to the hoped-for unity in a spirit of love and openness, that the Christian world might be able to realize prayer of the Lord “that they may be one.”
The fathers likewise reviewed the work of the preparatory committee for the great Orthodox council which met in Chamb├ęsy, Switzerland at the beginning of October, 2014 and took note of the working paper that it prepared regarding the relationship between the Orthodox churches and the Christian world.
In this regard, the fathers expressed their hope that the preparatory work for the great council will be effective for a united Orthodox witness in today’s world which thirsts for a word of life.
The Holy Synod likewise took note of the recommendations brought to it by the committee that it delegated to reviewing the work of the general Antiochian conference held in June 2014. It decided to charge His Beatitude with forming a specialized committee to put into place a medium-term strategic plan that will take into account what recommendations can be implemented according to Antioch’s priorities, available human and financial resources. This plan should also anticipate the dangers that implementation could face and ways to avoid them.
As soon as it is prepared, the plan will be presented to the dioceses for comment. It will then be presented in its final form at the next session of the Synod in order to take necessary action.
Concern for Jesus’ little brothers was not absent from the fathers of the Synod, who reviewed the relief work being undertaken by the Patriarchate in order to lessen the impact of these evil days upon the needy.
The fathers praised the efforts being made in this regard and blessed those undertaking them. They praised those who are giving generously to help those in difficult circumstances and called on their children to work together to lessen the impact of these difficult days in response to the commandment “bear one another’s burdens”.
The fathers of the Holy Synod decided in this regard to conduct a survey and ecclesiastical census at the level of the See of Antioch in all dioceses in the homeland and the diaspora with the goal of better pastoral care and communication with them.
The fathers reviewed the situation in the dioceses, especially the vacant diocese of Baghdad and Kuwait. They elected Bishop Ghattas Hazim as metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Baghdad, Kuwait and their dependencies.
They also elected Archimandrite Gregory Khoury-Abdallah as an auxiliary to His Beatitude the Patriarch with the title of Bishop of the Emirates and Archimandrite Qais Sadek as an auxiliary bishop to the patriarch with the title of Bishop of Erzurum.
The fathers lingered with great sorrow and regret on the mystery that still surrounds the case of Metropolitans Yuhanna (Ibrahim) and Paul (Yazigi), who were kidnapped a year and a half ago, amidst the world’s blind eye and silence about this legitimate humanitarian issue.
In this regard, the fathers called upon world and Arab society to work seriously to uncover the fate of the bishops, priests, soldiers and civilians who have been abducted.
The fathers lingered on the ongoing tragedies that are afflicting the Middle East and attempting to tear apart its social fabric, wipe out its ancient cultures and enslave its people to violence, fear, misery and ignorance. They stressed that Christians are children of the Middle East and its builders, not visitors or newcomers there. They affirmed that they will remain there as witnesses to Christ because they believe that God embraces all and that He is able to lift them up from this historic impasse that they are experiencing.
The fathers likewise reminded their children that Christ who rose from the dead and conquers death by death is alone the true guarantor of their existence. They called on them not to approach the crisis sweeping their countries from a sectarian or minoritarian logic because this crisis is not a confrontation between religions, but rather between the interests of the powers of this world who exploit religions as a vehicle for their whims, while the religions are innocent of them.
The fathers affirmed that the active Christian presence in the Middle East remains a presence open to Muslims and constantly struggles alongside them for freedom, peace, true citizenship and human dignity and development. It is a presence that rejects extremism and terrorism and clings to this land that was formed by the blood of its sincere children and watered with the blood of the saints who lived there. They laud the positions recently issued by Muslim intellectuals and call on them to realize the necessity of developing a clear teaching that recognizes freedom of religion.
The fathers prayed for Syria and Lebanon and encouraged the international community to work seriously for peace in Syria, whose people are paying an exorbitant price to the language of interests, killing, terror and takfir. They encouraged members of the Lebanese Parliament to elect a president for the Republic who will ensure the constitutional regularity of work there. They prayed that the language of peace will replace the language of confrontation in Iraq, Egypt, Palestine and all parts of the Middle East.
The Antiochian presence throughout the western world was not lost on the fathers. They expressed their appreciation for their constant, living witness rooted in their home countries and especially their solidarity with their brothers in the Middle East during these delicate and fateful circumstances.
The fathers praised the singleness of spirit that brings all together and the constructive work in which the mutual spiritual, human and cultural complementarity between them is made manifest.