Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Patriarch John X's Words at the Divine Liturgy in Athens on October 26, 2014

Translation made from the Arabic version here.

The Words of Patriarch John X at the Divine Liturgy on October 26, 2014 in Athens, Greece

Your Beatitude,

Your Eminences,

"Christ is with us and among us." I say this today, beloved, greeting in you, Your Beatitude, every brother in the Church of Greece. I say this greeting your kind people. As I say this, two phrases are intertwined in my mind: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" and "in whom we live and move and have our being." "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" is well-known to the walls of Damascus, whose street called straight I come to you from. It was known to the Great City of God, Antioch, where the name "Christian" was first uttered. This phrase was engraved deeply in Saul's soul, transforming him into Paul. The spirit of Christ pulsed within him and he arrived here to Greece to bring the people of Athens the good news of their unknown God. He proclaimed His good news in words held by the ears of the Acropolis. He proclaimed the good news of Jesus, "in whom we live and move and have our being." I do not feel myself to be a stranger here, since I am, as my predecessor Elias IV of thrice-blessed memory said, "in the second church established by the Apostle Paul after the Church of Antioch."

I  come to you from Cilicia, which gave us the divine Paul, from the Antioch of Peter and Paul, from the country of Ignatius the God-Bearer, Theophilus and Chrysostom. I come to you from Damascus, which was baptized by Ananias and enlightened by John Damascene. I come to you from Seidnaya which borders heaven and from Maaloula, adopted daughter of Saint Thekla. I come to you from the Beirut of the Apostle Quartus and from Sidon where Jesus visited. I come to you from Aleppo, from the shadow of Simeon's pillar. I come to you from the Homs of Elian and Romanos the Melodist. I come to you from the lands that gave us the saint of repentance, Ephrem the Syrian. All of this is to say that we in Antioch bear the glory of Jesus' Church and we continue to bear it, despite all the difficulties, through the power of our faith in God, our hope in Him, the through the help and support of you, our brothers.

Yes, beloved, I also come to you bearing Antioch's agonies, agonies of people in Syria who demand a life with dignity. A people who are being killed and expelled from their homes. Their children are forced to flee into places without shelter. Their homes, churches and mosques are destroyed. Their children are starving and patients are dying on account of the exorbitant cost of medicine or the lack of care. A crucified people, greatly suffering from terrorism and takfirism. A people yearning-- and they have the right to yearn-- to return to safety first, and then to return to their homes. A people fearing for their fate and for the future of their children.

I come to you with a candle lit for Lebanon, which suffers under this Middle East's cross of misery. I come to you from Iraq, which has suffered and is suffering horrors. We bury all the horrors of this world at Golgotha, at the cross of our Lord. We cover them with the stone of His empty tomb. We forget all obstacles when we remember that our ancestors have been there for two thousand years and that their descendants remain there and shall remain there.

Because I bear the glory and the agony of Antioch, this qualifies me to say that Christians are an essential element of the identity and history of the Middle East. Without them, this region not only loses its identity, but also the particular quality of its cultural existence. This leads me to affirm that the bells of our churches, which have hung from time immemorial, will continue to ring in harmony with the mosques' call to prayer and the teachings of other religions. We Christians of this land were planted here and are rooted like the ceders in Lebanon. We shall remain like the olive trees of the Mount of Olives. There we were born and there we shall remain. We hold its soil to our breast when we depart for eternal life. Therefore, the exodus of Christians from the Middle East is the Middle East's exodus from it own history and being. Their estrangement from it is its estrangement from itself. My message here to the entire world is: stopping the hemorrhaging of Christians in the Middle East depends on efforts to establish peace there. The entire international community and governments must play the role needed of them in order to bring peace, stop acts of terrorism against unarmed civilians and obtain the release of those who have been abducted, especially Metropolitans Yuhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, who were kidnapped more than a year and a half ago amidst a terrifying international silence and commitment to interests at the expense of commitment to humanity.

Between Antioch and Athens there is brotherhood of faith and bonds of history. Between them the logic of debt melts away and is replaced by the logic of sincere, mutually-supportive brotherhood. I have known you personally, Your Beatitude, and I have known in you a dear brother who visited our Church and our homes at a time when many were leaving them during the last days of Patriarch Ignatius. I knew your predecessors Christophoros and Seraphim of thrice-blessed memory. I received my theological education in your country and I lived in its monasteries, where I saw how theology is kneaded with the leaven of humility and becomes incarnate as love and prayer. The Church of Greece has given much to the Church of Antioch. She has welcomed many of our children, opening to them the doors of her institutes and universities and graduating from them priests and bishops to pastor Christ's people in their lands. The Church of Greece has especially accompanied Antiochian Orthodoxy's entrance into the modern era. Balamand is the best evidence for this. The Institute of Theology was launched in 1970 and Antioch benefited from Greek expertise, entrusting leadership of the Institute to Metropolitan Pandeleimon Rhodopoulos. The Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology was tied to the Church of Greece which supported it with her best professors and with Greek language programs. The Greek government also contributed, granting our students the opportunity to come to study theology in the language of the fathers. All of this qualifies us to say that that which unites us to Greece as a country and people is a yearning for apostolic zeal for one, Catholic Orthodox faith, where ethnicities melt in the crucible of Orthodoxy and where different languages and customs are interwoven before the Eucharistic table and its Lord who spoke to us in the language of love, which is poured out upon the pages of His Gospel, which used the language of the time, Greek, to make a home for the Lord in people's hearts.

Brothers, at the level of Orthodoxy, we stand before a great test, the Great Orthodox Council that is to be held in two years. Because we desire the success of this council, we will say that it is important to us that this council issue decisions that go beyond the ordering of sees. It is important to us that it touch on issues of life and faith that not only theologians and researchers-- with all the respect that we have for them all-- but as many segments of society as possible. It is important to us that the council be an embodiment of what we call Orthodoxy. For this reason we are careful to resolve all the disagreements that might prevent brothers from sitting down together, perhaps the most serious of which being the issue of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem's intervention in Qatar and their sending an "archbishop" into Antiochian territory. It is important to us that the council address an issue that is no less important than anything else on the agendas, the issue of Middle Eastern Christianity, which has come to the forefront after the changes that occurred in 2011 in the so-called "Arab Spring". Why must we always watch history as observers instead of acting in it, especially when Orthodoxy in our days is not without strength? Let us go back a hundred years and look at what happened to the demographics of the four Orthodox patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Do the last hundred years and the events of the past three years not call for putting ways to secure Christians in their first homes as the first item on the agenda of the Great Council? Here we are not thinking of worldly glory, since we have no lasting home. However, we have an identity and it must remain.

The success of this council is a single Orthodox witness in today's world. This witness is also the first brick of Christian witness in today's world. We in Antioch are Greek Orthodoxy's gateway to the non-Chalcedonian Churches. What brings us together with these churches is greater than what separates us. We hope and we constantly work so that everyone will come to understand that the logic of geography, history and present theological reality make it imperative for us to draw closer together and actively strive to eliminate all the dross of history. The Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch is also Orthodoxy's gateway to the Arab and Islamic world on account of factors of history, geography and language. This gateway is part of the great Orthodox body whose head is Christ and whose heart is the faith passed down to us by His pure Apostles.

In my name and in the name of the delegation accompanying me, I would like to address greetings to President Karolos Papoulias and to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, lifting up my prayer to the Lord that He will bless their efforts for the good of Greece.

In closing, I thank you, Your Beatitude, and I pray with you for Greece, which is so dear to our hearts. May God remove every distress from this good people and may He crown your efforts in the service of the people of this country with success. We ask you, in the words of Saint Ignatius of Antioch to "pray for the church that is in Antioch and that is watched over by Christ and your love." We ask God most high to send His peace to hearts and to give us an opportunity to welcome you to Syria and Lebanon.

And, once more, Christ is with us and among us. He was, He is and He shall be.

Fr Georges Massouh: When Our Religions Enslave Us

Arabic original here.

When Our Religions Enslave Us

Religious people in general all agree that religions were founded for man, not man for religions. Man is the summit of creation and the noblest of creatures, God created him "in his image and likeness", made him His "vicegerent on earth" and entrusted him with the entire world.

Let us also not forget that man existed for millions of years before the appearance of religions. Man alone, among all the visible creatures, has been promised eternal life by God. Everything will pass away, say the religions, and nothing will remain except for God and those humans He has chosen to live in His presence forever. Then, even the religions, laws and commandments will pass away, because in the presence of God they are pointless.

Nevertheless, historical realities are not so glorious as the intentions of foundational texts and theological theories. History shows us how concepts have been turned on their head. Instead of being the central point of concern for those in charge of religions, man has become a pliable tool in the hands of religious decision-makers. They have exploited religious sentiments among their followers and manipulated them, under the guise of defending religion, in the service of their political  or military alliances with the princes of this world.

Religions, which were founded in principle for the service of man, make man their servant when they transform into ideologies that must be defended at any price. The conflicts that we have seen over the course of history until today have religion as their basic motivating force, under whose banners wars have been waged between nations or within a single country.

In all these wars, man has been crushed in the name of religions. Instead of being master over creation, like God intended, he became a servant to his religious institution through its clergy, jurists, priests and leaders. Man has become a slave to his sheikh and his teacher, like a disciple who has no will of his own, like a ring on the finger of his master. Man became the means instead of the end. Man's death for the sake of religion is the end and it came to no longer be the case that the end is life for man's sake.

As for us Lebanese, we are not different from this description. People are provoked over time in order to protect the honor of the sect or religion. The sect's glory or the religion's honor deserve to have lives sacrificed for their sake. Instead of God being the object of veneration and worship, the religious sect takes God's place. Shirk is not only when one takes another god besides God. Shirk is also when sect or dogma becomes an object of worship alongside God. God created man free, but man enslaves himself of his own will to his religion and its dogmas.

Man is in a state of idolatry, in a state of slavery. He can only be saved from it by reconsidering reason, something praised by all religious texts. Instead of reason, ignorance and superstition prevail. Instead of building the future, the return to a distant past prevails, and the evocation of conflicts.

If religious discourse remains as it is today, inflammatory and divisive for the sake of boosting religions or sects, then people will lose more and more of their humanity that God created them with. Religions will not have any true meaning if people are not liberated from worshiping them and religion does not return to God alone who has no partner.

Monday, October 27, 2014

An Interview with Patriarch John X in Greece

Greek original here.

Patriarch of Antioch: "The Jihadists are a Foreign Body"

Interview with Maria Antoniades | VIMA

In his interview with VIMA, Patriarch John of Antioch highlighted the necessity of international mobilization for peace in the Middle East and the release of the two bishops of Aleppo who were kidnapped 18 months ago on the Turkish-Syrian border. The primate of the Church of Antioch, based in Damascus, lives these tragic circumstances every day and characterizes the two kidnapped bishops as "apostles of peace." Even more tragic is that the drama of the kidnapping takes place within his family, as one of the two abducted hierarchs is not only his spiritual brother, but his brother according to the flesh. "They do not frighten us," he stressed and expressed his love for the Greeks shortly before his meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Patriarch John, who has been on an official visit to the Church of Greece last Thursday as part of the customary eirenical visits as a new primate, is having ongoing meetings with with Archbishop Ieronymos and in the coming days will visit Mount Athos, where he lived during his studies in Greece.

Your Beatitude, you are coming from the most troubled region in the world right now. What is the situation of the Christians in the Middle East?

 First, I want to express all the love, joy and honor I feel to be in Greece. We in the Patriarchate of Antioch, in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, throughout the region, as you know we very much love Greece and the Greek people and we wish you the best. Greece is a beloved place for us. We are living in very difficult conditions. Particularly in Syria, churches, mosques, shrines and monasteries have been destroyed, but our faithful Orthodox Christians remain there. They still live there. We are about 1.5 million Christians in Syria, where we live in every city. And we are living normally, despite the difficulties. We bear them and hope that this cloud will pass as quickly as possible.

Two tears ago, when leaders of the Patriarchate of Antioch stated that the jihadists have nothing to do with the tradition of Islam in the Middle East, many people listened attentively to these statements.

It is a foreign spirit. There was never such a spirit in Syria or in Lebanon. Sadly, this phenomenon has come from outside and certain major powers bear some responsibility for this. This extremist phenomenon, which has reached the point of them killing each other in God's name, had never existed.  It is not accepted by anyone. Neither do Muslims accept it.

Do the Muslims also have problems?

Everyone has. Syria has, Lebanon has. All inhabitants do. All the population, Christians and Muslims. And we as a Patriarchate, you know, we always say that we come from these places. We were born there. Our fathers were there and our grandfathers. We were there before Islam, together with Islam and after Islam. We always say that we all have a common history and a common future. Whatever happens to one happens to the other. For this reason we stress that we all belong to the same country. We have the same rights, every Christian and every Muslim. And you know that in Syria, the Christian feasts, Easter and Christmas, are official holidays...

Those people are fanatics. They are a foreign body. We as a Patriarchate tell the truth. There are special interests. If something happens to an Israeli soldier, then the whole world rises up, but if there are other victims, then there is silence...

Your Beatitude, you have a brother who...

There is  my brother and another bishop. Two bishops from Aleppo who were kidnapped a year and a half ago and the whole world keeps silent. They don't know anything, they say. No country says what is happening. Who knows about this story! Both are lost.

At the same time, we are all talking about human rights. Where are people's rights when you do not speak out? When do you not say a single word about such an issue? And if there are some people who think that such an event will frighten us Christians because they are kidnapping and disappearing our bishops, our priests and members of the Christian communities, they should know that these threats do not frighten us.

Orthodox nuns were also kidnapped.

After six months they were released and returned to the monastery.

What moved you about what they experienced?

These things are not spoken of. They are a matter of monastics' confession to their pastor.

Your Beatitude, what would you wish, how do you see the future of Christians from now on?

We always have hope. We remain standing and strong despite the trials. We do not want to repeat what happened in Iraq, where the Christians slowly started to disappear. Where there had lived 1.5 million Christians, today 300,000 live in the country.

I understand from what you are saying to VIMA, you want an international mobilization to protect the Christians in the Middle East and rescue the two bishops.

This is the main thing that must be done. We need help and support. The two hierarchs are apostles of peace and we hope that their physical condition is good and that we will be together soon.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Day One of Patriarch John X's Visit to Greece

Yesterday, October 23, 2014, Patriarch John X began his official visit to Greece, the third of his official eirenical visits after those to Constantinople and Moscow.

Arabic version of this speech here. Video of Patriarch John delivering it in Greek here.

Patriarch John X's Words at the Prayer of Thanksgiving in Athens on October 23, 2014

Your Beatitude,
Brothers and loved ones,
I am happy to be among you.

This is a visit of peace, peace of the heart  from me to each one of you. Peace to you, Your Beatitude and brother bishops, in my name and in the name of the delegation accompanying me. Peace to you and through you to every individual and every place in Greece. Peace of love from the people of our lands that have been and continue to be wounded by the tumult of wars. Peace from your brothers, the faithful of the Church of Antioch. Peace from victims of kidnapping, martyrs and people expelled from their homes. Peace from our brothers and your brothers, the kidnapped bishops and priests of Aleppo. Peace and a prayer for your kind people and country. Peace of resurrection from the ashes of trial while at the very same time it is a peace of will, hope, determination and conviction that no power on this earth will uproot us from our land, that we cast all our hardships before the cross of our Savior and place them before His crown of thorns.

I have known you personally, Your Beatitude, and I have known you as a dear brother who has visited our Church and our monasteries at a time when many were leaving, during the last days of the reign of Patriarch Ignatius. I knew your predecessors Christodoulos and Seraphim of blessed memory. I received my theological education in your country. I lived in its monasteries and I saw how theology is leavened with the leaven of humility and becomes incarnate as love and prayer.

The Church of Greece has given much to the Church of Antioch She has welcomed many of our children, opening to them the doors of her institutes and universities and graduating from them priests and bishops to pastor Christ's people in their lands. The Church of Greece has especially accompanied Antiochian Orthodoxy's entrance into the modern era.

Balamand is the best evidence for this. The Institute of Theology was launched in 1970 and Antioch benefited from Greek expertise, entrusting leadership of the Institute to Metropolitan Pandeleimon Rhodopoulos. The Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology was tied to the Church of Greece which supported it with her best professors and with Greek language programs. The Greek government also contributed, granting our students the opportunity to come to study theology in the language of the fathers. All of this qualifies us to say that that which unites us to Greece as a country and people is a yearning for apostolic zeal for one, Catholic Orthodox faith, where ethnicities melt in the crucible of Orthodoxy and where different languages and customs are interwoven before the Eucharistic table and its Lord who spoke to us in the language of love.

In the language of love I close today by asking the mighty Lord to preserve you and to preserve Greece and her kind people and that He may take her leaders by the hand and guide them to what is good for her people.

I likewise ask Him to give the lands of Antioch peace so she might welcome you with her kind people who have been endowed with the love of the saints, the remembrance of the Apostles, and the achievements of martyrs, ancient and new.

Many years, Master.

Coverage of Patriarch John's day from by Emilios Polygeni. Go to the links for many pictures..

Greek original here.

Archbishop to Patriarch, "We welcome you as a brother and a witness"

Patriarch John of Antioch began his eirenical visit to the Church of Greece today October 23, 2014, arriving at Eleftherios Venizelos Airport.

Patriarch John was welcomed at the airport by Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece, His Eminence Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki, His Eminence Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Peristeri, president of the Synodal Commission for Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations of the Church of Greece, a representative of the Greek government, the ambassador of Lebanon, and other church and civil officials.

Then, at 11:50 at the Church of Saint Andrew the First-Called, located on the grounds of the Holy Archdiocese of Athens, a prayer of thanksgiving was celebrated for the arrival in Greece of Patriarch John of Antioch and his entourage.

The Archbishop welcomed the Patriarch and others and said, "We welcome you as a brother and as a witness who is to give a Christian witness, an Orthodox witness, a witness of faith."

Archbishop Ieronymos also said, "You are with us here today at a time of persecution, of abuse of human rights, to declare to civilized Europe and international organizations that that you are still on your feet and you have not lost your faith in Christ, that Antioch and Damascus continue to shine out into the world."

The Archbishop concluded, "The Athens of the saints, of the martyrs and heroes, welcomes you as an angel of peace, as a witness to Christ, and as a fighter for the saints and heroes, our Christian brothers, our brothers in the Middle East."

Greek original here

Archbishop Ieronymos, "National bonds are good, but what unites us is Christ"

Patriarch John of Antioch has just visited Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens. The primate of the Church of Antioch was warmly welcomed by Archbishop Ieronymos, who received him in his office. There the Archbishop welcomed the Patriarch, stressing, among other things, "I welcome you to Greece and to the Holy Archdiocese of Athens."

Then the Patriarch of Antioch reported on relations between the two churches and the difficulties experienced in Syria. For his part, Archbishop Ieronymos said, "Your visit brings us a message that love is not something theoretical. Rather, love is actions. It is experience and that is exactly what we we fell right now, that we are one family."

"National bonds are good and we do not deny them, but above all else we have the One who unites us, Jesus Christ. All other things are ideologies. Ideologies come and go, creating huge problems. Our faith, our Christianity, our love, our fathers, what they taught us is the experience of the Church and it is precisely what we are living right now," the Archbishop added.

In conclusion, Archbishop Ieronymos said, "We want to thank you for traveling from your region, which is experiencing a great hardship at this time, but we here are also experiencing difficulties of another form."

Finally it should be noted that Patriarch John of Antioch signed the guest-book.

Greek original here.

The Patriarch of Antioch at the Areios Pagos

His Beatitude Patriarch John of Antioch, who is making an official irenical visit to the Church of Greece, has just visited the Areios Pagos. The Primate of the Church of Antioch came to the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis accompanied by Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece and his entourage. There Patriarch John went up the Hill of Pnyx and toured the site where the Apostle Paul preached to the Athenians.

Melkite Catholic Bishop Nicholas Samra on Catholic-Orthodox Relations in the Middle East (Video)

I'm not sure where Bishop Samra gets his ideas about the history of the use of Arabic in Antioch, which was much more deeply-rooted and earlier than he makes it sound, but this talk is still very much worth listening to in terms of how he sees contemporary Orthodox-Catholic relations in the Middle East, especially some of what comes up in the Q&A at the end.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on Minorities' Need for a Civil State

Arabic original here.

Do not Blame the Minorities

Some people blame members of "minorities" because they prioritize their religious and ethnic identities over other, universal identities. However, most of those doing the blaming start their criticism on the basis of narrow sectarian positions, of a numeric majority that assumes it has the right to impose what it desires on minorities that have no choice but to obey, willingly or unwillingly, the will of the majority.

In reality, Islamic thought has not succeeded in solving the dilemma of minorities. This is because it divides society into two parts: Muslims and non-Muslims. Islamic thought itself is responsible for the phenomenon of minorities and for not bringing about the means that would permit members of minorities to engage in Islamic society and that would push them to be more committed to the issues and aspirations of Muslims. 

The basic problem for those who are striving for an Islamic state lies in their lack of respect for political, social and religious diversity and for their lack of respect for the particularities of the groups that form the national mosaic that incorporates all citizens. The religious state is in no sense impartial. Rather, it is discriminatory because, according to its constitution and law, it classifies people into ranks and turns those who are not joined together by a single common religion into mere subjects, robbed of will and freedom.

For this reason, minorities' fear of the establishment of a religious government is legitimate. They do not want to see sectarian princes ruling in God's name under the cover of a religious jurisprudence at odds with modernity. In the past, the Islamic Umma lived within a single caliphate, but in our own era various states have been established on a national basis the ruins of the caliphate. There has come to be a pressing need for a new vision to cope with new realities, a vision established on the basis of true citizenship with equality for all children of the same nation.

Within the framework of  a civil state, with all that this expression means, it is not possible for there to be a jurisprudence of relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, as was dominant centuries ago. In this issue specifically, the distinction is not clear between so-called centrist Islam or moderate Islam and other descriptors applied to Islam in different places. 

The only viable solution, according to members of religious minorities along with many Muslims, lies in establishing a state founded on full citizenship based on a fair constitution that does not discriminate on a religious, sectarian or ethnic basis. The dictatorial regime that governs with an iron fist is no guarantee for minorities and their existence. It is not what will protect them, since if it is eliminated they are eliminated. The religious regime that governs on the basis of presumed divine right is no guarantee for them, since it denies their citizenship and takes them back to the state of being second-class subjects. The regime based on freedom and equality is the sole guarantee for them and for the future of their children. There cannot be respect for human dignity without the establishment of a just civil state where there is no religious authority that imposes itself and its ideas on all people. The crisis lies in some Islamic thought that has not yet managed to take into account civil-minded people, both Muslim and non-Muslim together, who do not desire religious rule.

The predicament of relations between religious groups, majorities and minorities, is growing every day. However, minorities have the right to long for governments  that have developed on the level of respect for human rights. As for the authoritarian state, whether religious or non-religious, it is a hideous evil that must be rooted out sooner or later.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

as-Safir on the Plight of Orthodox in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Arabic original here.

The Orthodox of Jordan and Palestine... Prisoners of the Balance of Power

By Rania al-Jabary

The Arab Orthodox of Jordan and Palestine, whose patriarchate is tied to the reigning civil authorities, have been forced to remain hostage to political balances of power. If the balance tilts toward the interest of pan-Arab issues, then they are treated fairly. If the balance tilts away from Arabism, they are the first to pay the price.

Today the Orthodox of Jordan and Palestine are paying the price for Greek domination of the Orthodox  Patriarchate, which has lasted for 480 years. As a result, there are not seminaries for the Arab flock and those who desire to study are forced to enroll at Balamand University in Lebanon or to travel to Greece.

The Arabs are collectively paying the price of Greek domination in a more serious regard, as  Arab land is being handed over to Israelis through various means, including the Greek patriarchs' selling or offering long-term leases on lands from the Orthodox endowment to the Israelis.

Strangers in a Region in Flames

The issue of the Arab Orthodox began when  the Ottoman occupation managed to impose the hegemony of Greek patriarchs over the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which had been managed by Arabs prior to 1534.

"Jordan has inherited a complicated issue from the Ottoman and Mandate eras." With this sentence, Fr Dr Hanna Kaldani begins his discussion with as-Safir, explaining that Jordan has not taken any steps to help the Arab flock because of historical, political, international and other complicated considerations.

In his discussion, Kaldani presents many facts, including that Jordan provides the passports for the patriarch and the Greek monks, since Paragraph 19 of the law for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate issued by the Jordanian government in 1958 stipulates as one of its conditions that anyone nominated for the patriarch's throne must have Jordanian nationality. Thus Jordan can use this to apply pressure and bargain on behalf of the Arab Orthodox, insofar as it holds custody over the Christian as well as Muslim holy places. Additionally, Jordan, along with the Palestinian Authority and Israel, grants recognition to the patriarch.

Those who defend the difficulty of Jordan's position reply that if Jordan put pressure on the Greek patriarch, then the latter would turn away and only cooperate with the Israelis and serve their interests.

However, the problem is that today the patriarch has effectively turned his back on Jordan and is fulfilling his promises to Israel. In 2005, Jordan would not not grant recognition to the current Patriarch Theophilos until he signed a promise to apply the provisions of the Jordanian law for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, to cancel all the deals made by the former Patriarch Irenaeus, and to conduct an inventory and engineering survey of real estate belonging to the Patriarchate and send a report on this to the official Jordanian agencies.

What happened in reality is that, nine years after his election, Patriarch Theophilos' agreement with Jordan is still at an impasse and he continues to sell real estate and make long-term leases without informing his flock about the church's financial details. Instead, as the researcher Ali Hattar told as-Safir, Theophilos sold land from the Orthodox endowment that borders the Har Homa (Abu Gneim) settlement. The Israelis have begun to build on it to establish a new settlement.

Jordan's incomprehensible position on the Orthodox issue does not stop here. Despite the fact that the Greek patriarch has completely turned his back on Jordan, the Jordanian government is is intervening in the affairs of the Orthodox community and has asked Archimandrite Christophoros (Hanna Atallah) to obey the orders of Patriarch Theophilos.

The patriarch had issued a decision to transfer Christophoros from the Monastery of Dibbeen in the Jordanian distric of Ajloun to Jerusalem. This has provoked an intense protest from members of the community in the kingdom because they believe that this measure hides intentions to close down the institute that Christophoros had established in the Monastery of Dibbeen or to put someone unqualified in to lead it.

Members of the community expect in the long term that this institute will become a university that teaches theology, instead of those desiring to receive theological education traveling to Lebanon or Greece.

This case of schizophrenia among Jordanian decision-makers becomes complete with the issuing of the law for Christian community councils number 28 of 2014, whih stipulates the necessity of a court of appeals for the religious community council in Jordan according to the lawyer Yacoub el-Farr who told as-Safir that the new law requires the appointment of an ecclesiastical judge who must be proficient in written and spoken Arabic and possess a university degree.

This raises the question of the conditions of the Orthodox community, whose Greek administration practices various forms of neglect toward them. In addition to teaching in Greek but not Arabic, the Arab Orthodox have no universities or institutes in Jordan. Normally, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem prefers for members of the community not to study at Balamand University in Lebanon because it belongs to the Patriarchate of Antioch, which has an Arab administration. If they want to study theology, they must go to Greece and study it in Greek.

In any case, el-Farr points out that the Orthodox community has two years to align their situation with the law. The community was just around the corner from attaining an institute that teaches theology at the Monastery of Dibben (the institute founded by Archimandrite Christophoros) when their country's government intervened in their affairs and is inclined toward the patriarch's decision against Christophoros.

The outline of the Orthodox flock's alienation becomes clear when we add to all the above the various agreements between Israel and Greece. It is sufficient to mention the common natural gas agreement between Greece, Cyprus and Israel. Hattar points out the agreement to store Cypriot gas and the gas that Israel steals from Palestine in Greece in order to reduce Russian gas in Europe will make it impossible for Greece to take a position against the patriarch on behalf of the Arab flock that rejects the sale of Arab lands to Israelis. He reminds us of the importance of a gas agreement for Greece, which is experiencing financial hardship.

Fragmenting Palestinian Christians

Just ISIS is considered the easiest recipe for tearing apart Iraq and Syria, Israel is looking to play the same role by fragmenting the elements of Palestinian Arab society in order to realize its various interests, chief among them the purchase and rental of the Orthodox endowment's lands.

Among their means of tearing apart is a decision in September by the Minister of the Interior Gideon Saar permitting Christians to register under the "Aramaean nationality" in Israel's population records. Israeli newspapers reported that between 130 thousand and 160 thousand Christians are registered.

In this context, Hattar recalls the Zionist experience with the Arab Druze when they included them in military service. He regards the attempt to make the roots of the Arab Christians go back to the Aramaeans can only be interpreted in terms of hidden intentions on the part of the Zionists to rip the Christians away from the Arab social fabric and to justify recruiting them into the ranks of the army of occupation.

Hattar points out that "Gabriel Naddaf, the advocate for enlisting Arab Christians, is close to the Greek patriarch Theophilos."

This issue does not require a lot of imagination, since it is enough for a Christian Arab to become a servant of the army of occupation, then at that point will he refuse or fight against the sale of Orthodox lands in Jerusalem or Palestine?!

A study published by the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies at the beginning of this year indicated that changes are leading to the disintegration of regular armies that had constituted a threat in the past and that the process of the disintegration of states in the region will open up for Israel opportunities to build relationships with different minorities that may gain power in the future. It is clear from the study, entitled "New Borders in the Middle East" that dealing with fragmented entities is much easier that dealing with large national states or pan-Arabist groups with a nationalist ideology that brings them together despite differences of religion or race.

Land ahead of Arabization

Perhaps the only idea that the Orthodox in Jordan and Palestine can unite around is not raising the banner of Arabizing the church at the present time. "I am not one of those who is raising the banner of Arabization today. If Che Guavera came and became patriarch in Jerusalem, i would support him" says Hattar, who repeatedly stresses that he is not struggling for this cause because he is Christian, but on a patriotic basis that brings him together with his Muslim brothers who years ago had formed a committee to protect the lands of the Orthodox endowment in Palestine.

This does not mean that Hattar and those who stand against the policies of the Greek patriarchs are against Arabizing the church. Rather, Arabizing the patriarchate so that it can become like its sister the Patriarchate of Antioch is a far-off dream for them.

Hattar poses the question that "What if I struggled against the Greek administration because it isn't Arab, but then they bring along an Arab patriarch who does not prevent the sale of land to the Zionist enemy? We must first establish the principles that we are calling for."

First among these principles is the demand that the law for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of 1958 be applied. This requires that the patriarch applies transparent accounting standards and that the Arab flock supervise this. According to Fr Kaldani, currently no one knows anything about the patriarch's financial transactions with its money or its endowments. Another one of the principles is preventing the rental or sale of the Orthodox endowment's lands, recovering the land that has gone into Israeli hands, and ending the church's policy that attempts to deliberately leave members of the Orthodox community in a state of ignorance through the establishment of a university that teaches theology in the language of their countries, Arabic.

These principles constitute the real difference between those Orthodox who support the Greek patriarch and those who reject his policies. Those who support him accuse the other side of refusing to grant Theophilos a full opportunity. They are against Arabizing the patriarchate without safeguards that protect the flock and the Orthodox endowment.

The Russians.. a Life-Saver

Like any great power in the world, Russia has its "side-effects" in places around the globe.

"Russia is not looking to 'Russify' us and we have not experienced colonialism from them... This is why closeness to Russia is in our interests". Thus summarizes Fr Kaldani the Arabs' relationship to the Russians.

Starting from the beginning of Russian influence in Palestine in 1850, the Arabs reaped the re-Arabization of the Patriarchate of Antioch in 1899. However, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem was immune to liberation because of the strong Greek influence there. Kaldani recounts in his book "Contemporary Christianity in Jordan and Palestine" that when the first Arab patriarch was appointed in Syria, Constantinople refused to provide the holy oil and so the holy oil was brought from Moscow and that the first person to receive the Eucharist from the hand of the newly-consecrated patriarch was the Russian consul in Damascus.

Kaldani summarizes what happened by saying that the Russians won the round in Syria and lost in Palestine. However, Russia is once more returning and there is talk of re-opening the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society which was closed immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Can the Arab Orthodox hope for a return of their Russian friend who did not ignore their language in the Russian-sponsored schools and who supported their cause?

As an analyst and researcher, Kaldani believes that history is repeating itself. The Russians continue to lose in Palestine and win in Syria. He does not believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel because the Orthodox in Palestine and Jordan are "a negligible amount" who are few in numbers and falling apart and so cannot be looked at as a source of power. Despite his lack of optimism, he still believes that the Arab Orthodox cause is a burning national issue and that any development or change in the structure of this church is held hostage by political events and the decisions of the governments involved.

To put it more precisely, the Orthodox cause is hostage to international equations. Thus the Arab Orthodox, despite their happiness with Russia rising once more, do not hide the fact that in present circumstances the Russians will not confront the Greeks and so the issues remain suspended until there are objective circumstances that call for a confrontation between the two countries. Nevertheless, the spark for such a confrontation exists and its password is "natural gas".