Source: Notes on Arab Orthodoxy
October 6, 2016
The most recent issue of Majallat al-Nour, the official magazine of the Orthodox Youth Movement, has dedicated several articles to evaluating the Crete meeting and its aftermath. Over the next week or so, I'll try to translate a few of the pieces. The Arabic original can be found here.
Since that time, the Orthodox world has awaited the holding of this general council, until this year a council was held on the island of Crete that did not gain the attribute "great", since not all the Orthodox churches attended. The Council of Crete met in the absence of churches including the Patriarchate of Antioch, and for this reason Majallat al-Nour went to His Eminence Metropolitan Siluan (Muci) of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Argentina, who represented the Patriarchate of Antioch in the preparatory meetings, so that he could shed some light on this council and on its ramifications for the Orthodox world.
Majallat al-Nour thanks His Eminence and makes supplication to God Almighty to make firm his steps in spreading the Good News in the Land of Silver, Argentina.
Could you please summarize the Antiochian position on the Council of Crete.
The decision of the Synod of Antioch, issued on the eve of the feast of our Apostolic See, sets the course aright toward the premises that inspired the Orthodox in the twentieth century, when they resolved to prepare for the great council, as well as to the the principles that they laid in place as the basis for their work. The premises can be summarized with the phrase "one Orthodox witness in the contemporary world" and the principles can be summarized by recourse to "the principle of unanimity" between all the Orthodox churches at all levels of preparation from committees and preparatory conferences to the level of the great council itself.
The Antiochian position toward the meeting that took place on Crete calls on the Orthodox churches to respect these premises and principles because they alone are capable of realizing the hopes that all placed in a single Orthodox witness toward the issues that we are living today.
What is your view of the Orthodox world after the Council of Crete, how will the Church treat the spirit of conciliarity from now on?
Summer came and everyone was exhausted after a painstaking period of work to achieve what everyone wanted to make happen, the great council. It is still too early to know how the churches will treat each other today, those that gathered on Crete and those that were absent from the meeting. The summer will be a period of rest from one perspective, and a period of "preparation" for dealing with the current situation from another perspective. There are preliminary positions that our Antiochian Church and the Church of Russia have expressed, but that does not mean that we are at an impasse.
How will the Antiochian Church deal with the decisions of the Council of Crete?
The conciliar spirit is based on meeting and not excluding responsible dialogue, not on turning a blind eye to its requirements, by respecting for the foundation and the premises upon which the preparatory period was based, not by neglecting them. In its decision issued this past June 6, the Antiochian Church laid the cornerstone upon which the next stage can be built, emphasizing the process of "consensus-building" that the Crete meeting disregarded. This is what truly expresses what all Orthodox want to achieve and what constitutes the ideal tool for achieving it.
What are the practical ways that you are proposing to the other Orthodox churches to convince them that what happened on Crete was a preparatory meeting?
I believe that our Church's role lies in shedding light on the process of "consensus-building" and working to bring together the positions of the Orthodox churches according to this axiom. What happened on Crete can be entered into this process, as one among a series of stages that will not end until and if the great council is held. Everyone is searching for a lasting witness to unity in our world today, not for a momentary or circumstantial witness. In the end, the unity of Orthodox witness requires everyone to rely on the process of "consensus-building" to deal with the current situation.
Will Antioch put forward alternative decisions?
It is very early to talk about new or alternative decisions, insofar as there has not been any movement among the Orthodox churches over the summer. Things need to move with the start of the coming autumn. Right now there are no data calling for a new decision from our holy synod. Its last decision, which was issued on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, is detailed and sufficient.
Will Antioch propose another council in the coming years in order to put forward a more expansive agenda?
The answer to this question is tied to solving the current crisis and returning to the mechanisms upon which the Orthodox churches relied both in examining the issues and in entering them onto the agenda for the great council. All of this enters into the process of consensus-building. Everyone hopes that the great council will be realized and the Church of Antioch has worked from the beginning for this and continues to offer everything she has for this. She will spare no effort to offer what she can in order to realize it. As for expanding the agenda, this should be subject to the mechanisms of consensus that are followed in order to treat issues according to the possibilities of realizing this. Previous experiences during the preparatory period brought us disappointment. The hope today is that things will be dealt with in a better manner during any preparatory period in the future on the basis of previously-acquired experiences, both positive and negative, which are not insignificant.
In your opinion, what are the reasons that led the monks of Mount Athos to oppose the Council of Crete and its decisions?
I have no knowledge of the monks of Mount Athos having opposed the Council of Crete and its decisions. An assembly of abbots of Mount Athos met in a session that lasted for two days, this past May 16 and 17, and issued a document explaining their opinion of the topics and texts included on the great council's agenda. This was after some of the monasteries of Mount Athos sent written responses about this to the standing council of monks of Mount Athos. All of this took place before the Crete meeting. On the other hand, there is a group of Athonite monks who are waging a campaign in opposition to the Council of Crete and its decisions, without that campaign taking on a comprehensive nature-- that is, one that includes all the Athonite monks. This campaign is demanding that there be a meeting of the abbots of the monasteries to adopt their proposals in this regard.
After all the initiatives made by the Patriarchate of Antioch with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem regarding the Qatar dilemma, what, in your opinion, is the solution?
It appears that the decision taken by the intermediary church-- that is, the Church of Constantinople-- last May 31, froze its last initiative (last April) to resolve the Church of Jerusalem's aggression against the Church of Antioch in Qatar, this initiative whose contents received the agreement of the Church of Antioch, accompanied with the details necessary for formulating a final agreement, so as to sign and implement it. The form of this decision provoked surprise for the Patriarchate of Antioch, especially after the long and thorny course in dealing with this attack. Our church made concessions in this regard, which appear not to have received the necessary attention during the last initiative. I have no knowledge of any new movement on this issue and right now I cannot offer any proposals for dealing with the issue, for various reasons.
In Antioch, there is talk of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem attempting to bite off other regions belonging to Antioch. Is this true?
There is a letter from the patriarch of Jerusalem to the patriarch of Antioch that talks about his church's rights to numerous regions in the Arab countries falling within thee historic boundaries of the Patriarchate of Antioch. The is what the Synod of Antioch pointed out last June. From the perspective of the Church of Jerusalem and according to its claims, the issue is not one of "biting off" land, but of rights that it seeks to obtain. From our perspective, this is a blatant expression of a desire for expansion at the expense of our historical and canonical borders. If you will, this is an act of "biting off"!
Historically, the Church of Antioch played a conciliatory role in preparation for the council and it is well-known that she works for unity between the Orthodox churches in the world. What is her plan for regaining this role?
The Antiochian Church must exercise this role today in various historic circumstances, whether at the global level, the Orthodox level, or the local level, especially given the woes and tragedies afflicting her on account of the general situation in Syria especially and the Middle East in general. It must be mentioned that present circumstances do not allow her a wide margin for movement, especially since her priorities today are dedicated to keeping up with the current crisis with all her force, as she waits on all the Orthodox churches to bear witness to their unity with her in her tragedies and in healing her wounds.
Despite all the circumstances, our church has not lost her conciliatory role that was well-known in the preparation for the council. Her latest positions bore a calm tone, calling on people to realize the dangers and deal with the problems before they happen or get worse. The cornerstone of her plan is to launch a process of "consensus-building" and to contribute to it.
The positions of the Patriarchate of Antioch in this regard have constituted a practical expression of this orientation before its critics from the Orthodox churches during the previous period. Its tone was distinguished by preserving witness to the truth on the one hand and, on the other hand, by posing a set of questions to its critics so that by responding to them they could discern, by honestly responding to them, the proper path for dealing with outstanding issues.
In your opinion, what are the proposals that meet the needs of the Orthodox Church today, given that you regarded the texts that were published as not responding to the challenges facing believing youth today? To what does Antioch aspire and what does she regard as addressing today's youth and their hopes?
My participation at the synaxis that brought together the heads of the Orthodox churches at the Phanar in 2014 was the first for me on a pan-Orthodox level. There I became certain that the issues put forward do not correspond to the spiritual and pastoral reality that I am living in my diocese and that many Orthodox in other places are living. One gets the sense that the starting-points for preparation for the great council were limited to concerns that were put forward many decades ago, without reference to the living Church herself in her situation today. Absent from them is concern for living evangelism and trust in the possibility of providing solutions to problems facing believers today. Interpreting tradition and the experience of the fathers in light of questions posed to people's conscience today means drawing inspiration from tradition and dealing with modernity both require a "formulation" inspired by the Spirit who is present in His Church and expressed by expert believers who shed light on these issues through their experience, their studies and their life of prayer and who strive, along with their brothers in all the churches, to formulate these ideas and experiences on a comprehensive level and on a local level, according to the sensitivities and specificities of the issues. This is supported by putting forward the Orthodox Church's theology and spiritual experience and the spirituality of the ancient and contemporary fathers in a manner that helps believers in their daily struggle and enlightens the path of sanctifying their life and their services to their societies through the gifts they have been given. This in itself is an effective provision for the entire world, which nourishes the body of humanity that has been wearied and exhausted by the decline of its humanity to the lowest level and which enriches it with the light that its mind and its heart need, as they thirst for "the light of life."
In my opinion, the Orthodox situation is divided in two: the first is related to the situation of bearing witness in the east, where the Orthodox churches arose; the second pertains to the situation of bearing witness in the west, where many children of these churches went and settled. The challenges that the Orthodox are experiencing in these two situations are not the same, even within a single geographical framework, and this is what became manifest in practice during the preparation for the great council, when it addressed, for example, the issue of mixed marriage in the document "The Mystery of Marriage and its Impediments."
The situation of the Orthodox churches in the west requires an approach and study that treat the manner of living the Orthodox witness on various levels, in a land without a continuous Orthodox tradition or the supports for this living tradition. In a situation like that of our Orthodox church in Argentina, we must shed light on the following levels: liturgical life and its requirements; spiritual life (prayer, fasting and confession); religious upbringing; pastoral life; education; preparing priests; preparing cadres for pastoral, educational, and evangelical work; the Orthodox library (written and audio-visual); evangelism and its requirements; financial solidarity and adopting economic plans...
Some observers expressed their disappointment with the document pertaining to the Church's message in the world today. What is your opinion of it, since you pastor a diocese in a region famous for liberation theology?
The issue is related to relying on consultative seminars and an approach to the situation that takes into account the difference in problems from one place to another. These two things are crowned by the desire for our personal life to be Orthodox in every sense of the word, in word and in deed, with orthodoxy of worship and life, and for the freedom that we have in Christ to push us to bear witness to this freedom before those around us, so that it will be contagious for them, and they will glorify our Father who is in heaven and in turn strive-- with us striving alongside them-- to liberate all those around us from the bondage under which they are languishing and to build up the landmarks of the kingdom, which our Lord calls us to live wherever we abide. It is incumbent upon the Orthodox to live such a commitment and to express it to their brothers in humanity. For me, here lies the challenge that I live wherever the Lord desires me to perform my service, and so I take part in its pains and its blessings along with the fathers and children who constitute a simple working nucleus, by the Lord's grace, for learning the requirements of its faith, its service and its witness, and to grow in the hope placed before us, and to offer the widow's mite in love.
If you have other observations that didn't appear among these questions, please tell us.
I believe that the Lord, when He gave us the Holy Spirit, committed to our path from imperfection to perfection. In light of this divine commitment, the Christian is committed to his fellow man in all fields of life, especially education and upbringing, and the fields of civil, social and political life, and everything that results from this, in terms of embracing reality and committing to the people with whom we live.
This faith, this commitment, and this embrace apply to the effort to realize the great council and to the spirit with which one can approach the Crete meeting and the consensus-building efforts that it entails, as a starting-point for joint Orthodox work and a common witness through which the Orthodox churches help themselves and help the entire world, in order to bring forth the landmarks of the Kingdom that receives its foundation from the streams of this enlightening witness, a witness that the Orthodox have not ceased watering with the blood of its good children in the modern era and in the past eras, near and far, as an affirmation of their trust in those who have believed and as a testimony to their unity, a living guarantee to their neighbors of the principles that govern their path.