Every second Saturday of the month, Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1K 5BQ.
4pm Divine Liturgy. Next: 13th November 2021

Very sadly, the Divine Liturgy in English at 9-30 am on Sundays at the Holy Family Cathedral, Lower Church, have had to be put on hold. Until the practicalities we cannot use the Lower Church space. Hopefully this will be resolved very soon. Please keep checking in here for details.

Owing to public health guidance, masks should still be worn indoors and distance maintained. Sanitisers are available. Holy Communion is distributed in both kinds from the mixed and common chalice, by means of a separate Communion spoon for each individual communicant.

To purchase The Divine Liturgy: an Anthology for Worship (in English), order from the Sheptytsky Institute here, or the St Basil's Bookstore here.

To purchase the Divine Praises, the Divine Office of the Byzantine-Slav rite (in English), order from the Eparchy of Parma here.

The new catechism in English, Christ our Pascha, is available from the Eparchy of the Holy Family and the Society. Please email johnchrysostom@btinternet.com for details.

Friday 28 February 2014

Pope Francis in the Holy Land 2014 | This is the official web site of the visit of Pope Francis in the Holy Land, 24-26 May 2014

Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI
in 1964 in Jerusalem
Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I and Pope Francis
in 2013 in Rome

St. Louis deacon: first married Maronite to be ordained as priest in US

See news report film here:

Married St. Louis deacon to be ordained as priest

Ukraine's changing churches: Moscow's (religious) reply to Kiev | The Economist -Erasmus

BC, 26 February 2014

LAST week, I explained in a posting that Ukraine's religious scene is in some ways quite uniform—most people adhere to some form of eastern Christianity—but in other ways complex. I also mentioned that the largest Christian institution is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which is under the broad aegis of the Patriarchate of Moscow but has enjoyed a measure of independence during Ukraine's two decades of political sovereignty. One of the open questions, I said, was whether the church authorities in Moscow would attempt to reassert control of religious affairs in Ukraine.

Things have moved even quicker than anybody expected, though there may be different interpretations of what has happened. On Monday, the ruling synod of the UOC met and named a "locum tenens" to run the institution's headquarters in Kiev because of the incapacity of its elderly leader, Metropolitan Volodymyr (pictured). The synod said it had ascertained that Metropolitan Volodymyr was definitely too ill to carry out his duties. The new acting leader, a certain Metropolitan Onufry from the southwest of Ukraine, certainly looks, from his biography, like a man who will remain in step with Moscow.

Such is his standing in Russian church circles that he was considered at least an outside candidate to be Patriarch of Moscow when the job fell vacant in 2009. The man who did get the top Muscovite job, Patriarch Kirill, signalled his approval of the appointment in Ukraine with a call of congratulations. Furthermore, Metropolitan Onufry has form as a friend of Russia. Back in the early 1990s, when some Ukrainian bishops were calling for a total break with Moscow, he was among those who opposed the move. And in 2008, when Ukraine solemnly commemorated the famine of the 1930s in which millions died as a result of the Kremlin's policy of collectivisation, Metropolitan Onufry said the event should not be allowed to divide Russians and Ukrainians.

On the face of things, Monday's decision amounts to an artful move by the powers-that-be in Moscow to bring a semi-independent daughter church back under control. But maybe it's not quite so simple. Perhaps surprisingly, the synod also signalled that it was accepting a proposal from a rival church organisation, the Kiev Patriarchate, for a dialogue between Ukraine's Orthodox church bodies. The Kiev Patriarchate (unrecognised by global Orthodoxy but respected by patriotic Ukrainians, including unchurched ones) had spoken a couple of days earlier, as the protestors' cause was triumphing on the streets, of "the urgent need to overcome the divisions in the Orthodox church in the country".

Few would have been surprised if the Moscow-aligned UOC had refused even to respond to the Kiev Patriarchate's proposal. The UOC might simply have said: "We are canonical, you are uncanonical, why should we talk to you?" But think about it for a moment. If the new order in Ukraine prevails, and Ukrainian statehood is consolidated, pressure for the creation of a single national church may become almost unstoppable. A new Ukrainian government may shift its powers of patronage in favour of the Kiev Patriarchate. If moves towards a national church are happening, the Moscow-aligned UOC would certainly not want to be frozen out of the process. However Metropolitan Onufry was quick to dismiss the likelihood of rapid progress: "Nothing good will be established in a troubled time," he said. Some will say the UOC is joining the national-church discussions not to promote the agreed goal but mainly to have a veto over the process.

God moves in mysterious ways, and so do His Ukrainian children.

Read online etc.:
Ukraine's changing churches: Moscow's (religious) reply to Kiev | The Economist

Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kievan Patriarchate Creates Commission for Dialogue with UOC-Moscow Patriarchate

The Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) welcomed the decision of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) to start a dialogue with the UOC-KP. In this regard, the Synod of the UOC-KP decided to express its readiness “on a canonical basis to restore the unity and establish a national status for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.” The UOC-KP created a commission for dialogue with the UOC-MP. The UOC-KP also reaffirmed that every nation has the right to a national church for “an independent church in an independent state is canonically justified and historically inevitable.”

Read online here at RISU:
UOC-KP Creates Commission for Dialogue with UOC-MP

Council of Churches Expresses Support for Legitimate Ukrainian Government

27 February 2014

The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO), which over the past three months has consistently defended the peaceful protests against the use of force and punishment, issued a statement on February 26 following a meeting with the leadership of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

It the statement, the church representatives declare their readiness to work with the new government, strongly condemn any attempt to divide Ukraine, and stress the importance of preserving religious peace in the country.

The AUCCRO also called on citizens of Ukraine to “faithfully perform their official and public duties, respecting the current legislation and rejecting excessive emotion or fear of changes, which can only be for a better future,” reads the AUCCRO statement, the Institute for Religious Freedom reports.

See online at RISU here:

Council of Churches Expresses Support for Legitimate Ukrainian Government

UKRAINE - RUSSIA Armed pro-Russian gangs patrol Crimean airports. Appeal of Christian leaders from 13 countries of the former Soviet Union - Asia News

The armed groups wear Russian uniforms and wave Russian flags. Tensions mount with Russian military exercises on the border with Ukraine and the protection given to former President Yanukovych. Kerry and Lavrov determined to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Christian leaders ask for the "fraternal dialogue" and "peace in Ukrainian society", welcoming all nationalities and all religions.

Kyiv ( AsiaNews) - The two most important airports in the Crimea, Simferopol and Sevastopol are being patrolled by armed men. In Sevastopol men are wearing Russian uniforms and in Simferopol the gangs have hoisted Russian flags.

These latest developments further complicate the already delicate relationship between the new Ukrainian government and the mostly pro-European people of the west with the population of the more pro-Russian Crimea. Yesterday, after a new interim government was appointed in Kyiv, Simferopol gunmen occupied the seat of the provincial parliament, hoisting the Russian flag. They also announced from parliament that a referendum on the autonomy of Crimea will be held on May 25.

People of Russian descent are the majority on the Crimean peninsula, which in 1954 was transferred from Russia to Ukraine. However, it is also inhabited by the Tatar population - Muslim - who under Stalin were persecuted and deported. For this reason, the Tatars and Ukrainians loyal to Kyiv, prefer closer ties to Europe and less Russian control.

In recent days, the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov reiterated that Ukraine's territorial integrity will be respected. But the reappearance of former President Viktor Yanukovych in Russia, his rejection of the new government and the Russian military exercises on the border with Ukraine have raised fears that a growing polarization could lead to a civil war or secession of the Crimea.

Meanwhile, the Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic leaders from 13 former Soviet republics have launched an appeal for dialogue and peace "and mutual understanding among all citizens of the fraternal Ukraine, regardless of their nationality or religion".  Christian leaders from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Estonia are asking all the Ukrainian "people to exert every effort to avoid provocations and to preserve in their hearts true love for the neighbours, for their human dignity and religious beliefs. We express our sincere willingness to promote by prayer and deeds the fraternal dialogue and to contribute to the re-establishment of peace in Ukrainian society".

The Christian leaders are worried that the pro- European and pro-Russian divisions will be passed on within the churches, bringing back old wounds of the past and new vendettas. Their chief concern is mainly linked to the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, judged too close to Vladimir Putin and proprietor of many churches, originally belonging to other denominations seized during the Stalinist regime. At the peak of tensions, some groups tried to desecrate some Orthodox monasteries and take over churches. But the Ukrainian faithful and police stopped them.

Read online here:

UKRAINE - RUSSIA Armed pro-Russian gangs patrol Crimean airports. Appeal of Christian leaders from 13 countries of the former Soviet Union - Asia News

Danger of civil war has not passed, says Ukrainian Catholic leader | CatholicHerald.co.uk

We have asked the editor of the Catholic Herald that the courtesy of addressing Patriarch Sviatoslav as Patriarch Sviatoslav instead of by the invented Latin Roman Catholic construct, unknown in the Eastern Church, of "major archbishop", and which is greatly offends the Ukrainian Catholic Church, be respected, especially when they use it to describe hierarchs out of communion with the Roman See which technically does not canonically recognise their patriarchy at all (eg Moscow, Serbia and Kyiv), even though it does so ecumenically. Evidently, to no avail - and the lack of respect extends to spelling Patriarch Sviatoslav's see in the Russian way, which is not how it is gazetted in Catholic records, or how Ukrainian law spells is - it's Kyiv-Halych. This Catholic failure properly to respect the Kyivan primatial see and the largest of all the Eastern Catholic Churches, something which stems from fear of offending the Russian Orthodox Church (which gained its independence from Constantinople only after the union of the Kyivan Byzantines's Church with Rome, and which only less than 100 years ago finally established its own patriarchate) undermines the Ukrainian Catholic Church in dealings with the Orthodox, who think that if Rome does not recognise them, neither need they. In the past this attitude to the Ukrainian Catholic Church lay behind its forced suppression and the expropriation of all its property and dioceses and their allocation to the Russian Orthodox Church, at the same time as the forced conversion and persecution by state-sponsored famine of the priests and lay people and the incarceration and martyrdom of her bishops. The prospect of her suppression was revived a matter of months ago when the deposed regime threatened her once more with state de-registration and legal dissolution. The Ukrainian Catholic Church and people deserve better solidarity and respect from their fellow Catholics than they have been receiving to date.

Nonetheless, we gratefully acknowledge the Herald for this otherwise helpful piece, especially since earlier coverage of the crisis in Ukraine and the threat to the freedom of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the British press, secular and Catholic, has been patchy.

By on Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The three months of protests in Ukraine that ended with government snipers killing dozens of people has strengthened the commitment to democracy of many Ukrainians, but also left the country vulnerable to further violence and division, said the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

“The danger that our neighbour (Russia) will provoke a civil war has not passed,” Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych [Patriarch Sviatoslav, Archbishop of Kyiv-Halych,] told reporters in Rome today, adding that the protests have solidified the Ukrainian people’s commitment to independence, freedom and democracy.

Bishop Hlib Lonchyna, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy in England, told Catholic News Service, “Our Church stayed with the people as the struggle widened from a political one over integration with Europe into a larger one for basic human rights and dignity.

“We hope the Russians won’t try to meddle, since this would create a situation even worse than before. Having once seemed immutable, conditions have suddenly changed — and although dangers still lurk ahead, solutions must be worked out by Ukrainians.”

Snipers opened fire on protesters in Kiev’s [Kyiv's] Independence Square on February 19, killing at least 70 people. President Viktor Yanukovich, who sparked the protests by deciding not to sign an agreement with the European Union but forge closer ties with Russia, left Ukraine’s capital on February 21, and the country’s parliament voted to remove him from office the same day.

“Yanukovich saw his support melting away like the snow when the sun comes out,” Archbishop [Patriarch] Shevchuk told reporters at the Vatican. “The security forces disappeared and so did the president.”

The archbishop [patriarch] described himself “as an eyewitness” to the protests and insisted it was untrue that the protesters were “extreme nationalists.” At first, he said, they were students who dreamed of living in a “free, democratic and European” Ukraine.

When the government tried to use force to end the protest in December, he said, people from all walks of life started joining the students to say, “No to corruption, no to dictatorship, no to the denial of human dignity,” and yes to citizens’ right to decide the future of their country.

Throughout the protest, the archbishop [patriarch] said, the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations supported the protesters’ objectives, pleaded for them to remain peaceful and tried to mediate between them and the government. The council, he said, includes Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim representatives.

Ukraine is diverse, he said. Regions in the east tend to have more people who are Russian speakers or ethnic Russians and belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Ukrainian speakers are concentrated in the west, as are the members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The diversity, he said, is natural for any large country. Each region has its own history, “but all of the people saw themselves as Ukrainians.”

Those seeking power, however, see the diversity as something to exploit for their own purposes, he said, which is why the council of churches issued an appeal for unity and has clearly defined as “morally unacceptable” and “a crime” the attempt to use religious or cultural differences for political gain.

Archbishop Shevchuk [Patriarch Sviatoslav] said there is “no desire within Ukraine” to split the country, “but maybe someone from outside, seeing that he can’t eat the whole pie, would want at least part of it.”

The evening before he met the press, Archbishop Shevchuk [Patriarch Sviatoslav] and Ukrainians working in Rome joined the Sant’Egidio Community for a prayer service for peace. In a packed Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, tears flowed as the archbishop [patriarch] led the singing of the Lord’s Prayer in Ukrainian.

The lay Sant’Egidio Community, known for its promotion of inter-religious dialogue and peace mediation, also runs Rome’s Basilica of St Bartholomew, which serves as a shrine to the martyrs of Nazism and 20th-century communist dictatorships. The basilica’s side altars are filled with the personal belongings of people killed for their faith, including Ukrainian Catholics martyred after their church was outlawed in 1946.

Archbishop Shevchuk [Patriarch Sviatoslav] said the last time he was with Sant’Egidio members was “to give you our treasures — relics of our martyrs. Never would I have guessed that there would be new martyrs.”

All the churches of Ukraine supported the protesters, even setting up chapel tents and leading morning prayer services, he said. Church buildings near Independence Square were turned into first aid stations and, once the shooting began, into operating rooms.

“Before leaving Kiev [Kyiv], I went to visit the clandestine hospitals,” he said. “In the Lutheran church, where at least 10 injured were receiving care, I thanked the pastor. He said, ‘No, don’t thank us. It is Christ we are caring for.’”

“Right now we have thousands of injured” and neighbouring countries have offered to take those with the most serious physical injuries. “But there are also wounded hearts and souls,” he said, and their healing will require prayers and the services of the churches.

Read the article, with pictures, online here:
Danger of civil war has not passed, says Ukrainian archbishop [Catholic leader] | CatholicHerald.co.uk

TURKEY Erdogan's mad ideas for president: reopening Halki seminary and turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque - Asia News

by NAT da Polis, 27-2-2014 - Asia News

Made many times but never kept, the promise to reopen the Halki Theological School is another of the prime minister's mad ideas. So far, his ambitions have been hampered by his own authoritarian streak, allegations of corruption made against him, and the Gezi Park protest movement. Now Erdogan's aim is to get at least 40 per cent of the vote in next month's elections.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) - In order to get enough votes to win the race for the Turkish presidency, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has two major cards up his sleeve, namely reopening the Greek Orthodox Halki Theological School and turning the Hagia Sophia Museum into a mosque.

What for Omer Sahin, a journalist with the Radikal daily, is a dual crazy idea comes in the wake of two huge projects: the construction of the third port on the Bosphorus and of Europe's largest airport.

Yet, nothing seems to have dampened the prime minister's ambitions: Not the bribery scandal that broke out on 17 December 2013 when three ministers in the AKP-led government were forced to resign because of actions blamed on their sons, forcing the prime minister to reshuffle his cabinet; not the clash with Fethullah Gulen, accused by AKP leaders of instigating the Gezi Park protest against the AKP's hold on power; not the recordings recently posted on YouTube in which Erdogan and his son Bilal are heard talking about the use of millions of dollars.

All this has not undermined Erdogan's unlimited desire to move into Çankaya Köşkü, Turkey's presidential palace. This could be done in the elections next August when, for the first time, a Turkish president will be elected by universal suffrage following a referendum Erdogan won by a landslide.

For Erdogan the 'generalissimo' [1], all this might not pay off because he might still be humiliated in next month's local elections. In this poll he will need at least 40 per cent of the vote since he is not likely to get again the 50 per cent support he got in the 2011 elections.

For Turkish journalists, neither a weak opposition nor his penchant for authoritarian rule (as evinced by his outrageous law to censor the Internet that was recently signed by President Abdullah Gul) can guarantee him a 40 per cent threshold.

Hence, in order to become Turkish president, Tayyip Erdogan has come up with his dual crazy idea, that of reopening the Halki Theological School and converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque in May 2014. The latter had been a museum since 1934 on Ataturk's orders.

The first mad idea, that of reopening the Halki Theological School, has been a never-ending saga. Shut down in 1971 after 150 years, the seminary was supposed to reopen on several occasions.

Putting pressure on the European Union and the United States, Turkish leaders said on several occasions that they might reopen it in the name of some vague notion of reciprocity and mutual favours. Yet, when a senior bureaucrat took a position against Turkish leaders, everything was in doubt.

As some Turkish journalists noted, the stakes are too high that even loyal bureaucrats hold their peace.

Erdogan's second mad idea is much more complicated. According to some rumours, he wants to turn Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. Indeed, for some people, "the time has come" for that but no one is able to assess domestic and international reactions if that were to pass.

Under a "middle-of-the road solution" being discussed, the authorities would allow Friday prayers in Hagia Sophia, starting from 30 May, the day after the Turks took Constantinople in 1453. For that occasion, Prime Minister Erdogan would invite leaders from Islamic countries to Istanbul.

The conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque is a dream that right-wing nationalist Turks have entertained for the past 70 years. All right-wing Turkish leaders, from Menderes and Ozal to Erbakan have had to deal with the issue at some point.

A year ago, when members of his party asked when Sophia would reopen as a mosque, Erdogan said, "The Sultanahmet (the Blue Mosque across from Hagia Sophia), is almost empty for Friday prayers. We should think first to fill it before thinking about Sophia."

Read the full article here:
TURKEY Erdogan's mad idea for president: turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque - Asia News

Israeli bill distinguishes Christians from 1948 Palestinians | Al Akhbar English

Published Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Israel’s legislative branch, known as the Knesset, passed a controversial bill into law that defines 1948 Christians Palestinians as “non-Arabs”, Israeli media reported (link to Times of Israel, qv).The new law – passed on Monday with a vote of 31 in favor and 6 against – for the first time differentiates Christian Palestinians from the rest of the Palestinian community, who had survived the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing by Zionist forces, and remained within the 1948 territories.

"This is a historic law. It's the first time there is separate representation for Christians," Likud Beytenu coalition chairman Yariv Levin, who proposed the bill, was quoted by the Israeli press prior to the the vote. "Soon we'll expand on this and give [Christians] all the separate representation they deserve," he added.

Previously, Levin justified the bill as “an important, historic step that could introduce balance to the State of Israel, and connect us [Jews] with the Christians, I am careful not to refer to them as Arabs, because they are not Arabs.” “The community in 1948 will not remain quiet. This is a major move by the forces of occupation and colonization, and there will be mobilizations just like how we saw the creation and continuation of Land Day protests within 1948 lands. We will see protests in the future.”
“We and the Christians have a lot in common. They’re our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims that want to destroy the country from within... We will use an iron hand and demonstrate zero tolerance of Arabs who tend to identify with the terror of the Palestinian state,” he added.
According to reports, the law will enforce a separate representation on the Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunity within the Employment Commission, by extending the number of panel members to ten, adding specific seats for the ultra-Orthodox, Druze, Christian, Circassian populations, and others.

‘Palestinian Christians are Arabs’

CIA statistics put the Arab Christian population living in Occupied Palestine at around 123,000. These people will be directly affected by the new law. Arab members of the Knesset unanimously condemned the bill as a “racist” act and a “divide-and-conquer” tactic. "Colonialists try to separate groups of natives. The prime example of this is South Africa," MK Hanin Zoabi of the Arab political party, Balad, reportedly said to the media after the vote. "We are the natives here and we have a clear identity, [we] are Palestinians, part of the Arab nation, and your law will fail. Part of the Zionist project is to oppress our identity, but I have the right to speak in the name of Palestinians."

Khalid Musmar, an official for the Palestinian National Council, told Al-Akhbar,“The Palestinian Christian community will rebuke this before anyone else. The Palestinian Christians are Arab despite the wishes of anyone in the Knesset or otherwise.”  “They have always said they were Arabs and have fought side-by-side with their Muslim brethren, from the times of the Crusades to today. The Palestinian community, in all it’s colors and creeds, is a unified Arab community confronting occupation. They are struggling for a Palestinian nation with Jerusalem as it’s capital. This will not change by the acts of Knesset or anyone else,” the official said. “The community in 1948 will not remain quiet. This is a major move by the forces of occupation and colonization, and there will be mobilizations just like how we saw the creation and continuation of Land Day protests within 1948 lands. We will see protests in the future.”

“If [Israel] wants to do right to the Palestinians in general and Christians in particular,” said Jumana, from the Galilee region of northern occupied Palestine, during a separate conversation with Al-Akhbar, “let them approve the return of the refugees and internally displaced Palestinians from the two Christian villages of Ekrith and Birem, who already have a court ruling allowing them to return to their destroyed villages.” She added that this law comes at a time when “the government is attempting to make the drafting to the Israeli Army obligatory to Palestinian Christians, [and] this is completely not acceptable, since this is their way of dividing the Palestinian minority and fragmenting the community as a whole.”

In a similar vein, a 1948 Palestinian Christian from Nazareth, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, told Al-Akhbar, “I think [Levin’s comments] are outrageous and untrue. It is part of Israel’s broader attempt to segment and fragmentize the Palestinian community from one another inside Israel. Other examples of this are with the Bedouins and the Druze, and this is part of [Israel’s] attempt to break up what is a cohesive community. It won’t work.”

“I see myself as an Arab and so do other Palestinian Christians. [Levin’s] logic only reaffirms the agenda to separate and break-up minorities within minorities,” she added. “There should be more representation of Palestinians in Israel in general. Christian Palestinians are just as repressed as Muslims.”

See online in Al-Akhbar English (Lebanon) here:
Israeli bill distinguishes Christians from 1948 Palestinians | Al Akhbar English

Eastern Orthodox Hierarchs to meet in Istanbul - News | Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE

OCP News Service – 27/2/14
Prakash Varghese(OCP Delegate -UAE,Gulf and Levant Region)

The Primates, high ranking Metropolitan, Archbishops and other prelates of all Eastern Orthodox Churches will meet in Istanbul on the invitation of His All Holiness Bartholomew the Ecumenical Patriarch. The Meeting will take place from 6th to 9th of March 2014.

The hierarchs will have serious discussion on various topics concerning the life and future of Orthodox Churches particularly the Christin communities in Middle East. There will be discussions on the upcoming Great and Holy Council of Orthodoxy as well as several other important topics.

The following Eastern Orthodox Churches will be represented in the meeting: the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Alexandria Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Antioch Patriarchate, Jerusalem Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Russian Orthodox Church, Serbian Orthodox Church, Romanian Orthodox Church, Bulgarian Patriarchate, Georgian Orthodox Church, Cyprus Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Orthodox Church of Greece, Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Czech and Slovak Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

See news source online here:
Eastern Orthodox Hierarchs to meet in Istanbul - News | Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE

The Divine Liturgy Project

Please note this interesting new blog, aimed at publishing in English a substantial new illustrated resource, to foster the liturgical formation of the faithful, complete with the texts and guides to the services, feasts and other celebrations, as well as a thorough introduction to Byzantine Christianity.

The plan that is now in hand looks a beautiful endeavour.

All the details so far are here:
The Divine Liturgy Project

Thursday 27 February 2014

Syria’s Christian Sheep Among the Wolves | National Review Online

A ragtag militia defends the community against Islamists and the Assad government.

By Andrew Doran

The Christian soldier extends his hand and greets me in Syriac with “shlomo” (peace) as he clutches the strap of the Kalashnikov draped over his shoulder with his other hand. His diplomatic bearing is in sharp contrast with both his combat fatigues and the austere headquarters of the Syriac Military Council, a Christian militia formed in 2013 that fights alongside the Kurds in northeastern Syria. David, a man in his early 30s, has been summoned to translate for the local military commander, to whom he defers with the humility of a natural soldier. That he is more than a mere soldier or translator is self-evident. Here is a man who has sacrificed much to stand with his fellow Christians in their hour of need — he is their khoura, or brother, as the soldiers call one another in Syriac. “We are not afraid,” he says.

Of the millions of diaspora Middle Eastern Christians in Europe, Australia, and the Americas, few have followed in David’s footsteps back to their ancestral homeland. However, in the two years since he returned to Syria, thousands of Sunni Muslim youths from across Europe have flocked there to fight the regime of Bashar al-Assad, many of them joining the ranks of Islamist extremist groups. “We defend ourselves against Islamists and Assad,” David says. “Here we are like sheep among the wolves.”

David explains the military situation and its broader implications as we sip Turkish coffee, its cardamom particularly acerbic. The fighting against al-Qaeda and its affiliates has been tense in recent days, especially in Tal Hamis, Qamishli, and the city of Hasakah. David translates for the commander, a grim but gregarious fellow, whose youthful countenance is contrasted by graying hair — not the only soldier whose hair has grayed prematurely. He pulls out his iPhone to show me photos of a church destroyed by al-Nusra and uses Google Earth to show me detailed mapping of battlefields — somewhat ironic in the midst of the routine power outages that last for hours at a time. “We are fighting to protect our people,” says the commander. “We survived the Ottomans. We will survive Qaeda, ISIS, and Nusra.”

The commander speaks of the battle of Tal Hamis, where he says ISIS ambushed a truck full of soldiers en route from Al Hasakah. “Some escaped. Some exploded themselves rather than be captured,” he explains, adding that they took many ISIS with them. “The regime says that they are retaking Tal Hamis, but these are lies. The regime is letting others do the fighting — the Kurds and the Syriac Military Council.” Attitudes toward the regime, while officially hostile, are in reality more complicated. In our quarters, once a hotel, there hangs a photograph of Bashar al-Assad with his wife and infant daughter. Yet among many “Syriani,” as the Christians are known in Syriac, the Assad government is regarded as oppressive. “The regime uses Christians as a card in his hand,” says one man, who likens the war to a film that the regime is watching from afar.

In early 2013, government forces largely withdrew from the area, giving the predominantly Kurdish Al Hasakah region quasi-autonomy. The principal enemy of late has been less the regime than the foreign extremists — al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and ISIS, a faction too extreme even for al-Qaeda. While these terrorist organizations have a seemingly endless supply of men and weapons and funds from the Arab Gulf states — a problem that antedated the Arab Spring — there is no such support for the Christians.

“People are dying from not getting enough medicine,” says Paul, a Christian who is affiliated with an international organization committed to nonviolence. “There are no doctors left. They all went to the U.S. and Europe,” he adds. “The hospitals are closed. The only border option is controlled by ISIS, who are targeting Christians.” Humanitarian shipments are often intercepted by Islamists at the Turkish border, where al-Nusra and others come and go freely. Even the military commander, who desperately needs weapons, says that humanitarian concerns are paramount for the people here. “We need medical supplies,” he says. Voicing frustration with aid from the U.S. and Europe in particular, he adds, “It doesn’t find its way to those who need it.”

Paul’s views toward nonviolence are representative of those of millions of Christians in the region. In Iraq some days before, a Christian had explained that it was not for prudential reasons that the Christians had refused to take up arms. “It is for their faith, I think,” he said. But some Christians have come to believe that only by taking up arms can they protect their people, now targeted by the Islamists. Yet even the Islamists are seen to have served Assad’s purposes.

The military commander claims that the government has maneuvered to assist the Islamists in Hasakah recently so as to maintain the precarious balance of enemies slaughtering one another, a rumor that has gained traction in recent weeks — and one consistent with the Byzantine machinations of the region. “Assad is afraid that united Kurds and Christians would mean a loss of control over this part of Syria,” he says. The alliance between Kurd and Christian is rooted not only in shared interest but also in common values.

Read the article in full on National Review Online here:
Syria’s Christian Sheep Among the Wolves | National Review Online

“Theological dialogue with Catholics risks failure” - Vatican Insider

The Metropolitan of Pergamon Ioannis Zizioulas [the theologian John Zizioulas] has raised alarm bells about divisions between the Orthodox Churches. Some have reduced Christian unity to an alliance between religious hierarchies formed in order to tackle sexual ethics issues together

Gianni Valente vatican city, 26 January 2014 - with grateful acknowledgment

The theological dialogue between Catholic and Orthodox Churches which was launched with the aim of achieving full sacramental communion, risks stalling permanently. And one of the main reasons for this would appear to be the divisions that exist between the Orthodox Churches and those influential circles within the Orthodox faith – the Patriarchate of Moscow above all – that are refusing to recognise one universal primate as the leader of the Church, founded on a shared and canonical and ecclesial tradition. The alarm was raised by none other than the Metropolitan of Pergamon, Ioannis Zizioulas, a former member of the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, co-President of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

Zizioulas, whom many consider to be the greatest living Christian theologian (his “Eucharistic ecclesiology” is appreciated both by Pope Francis and his predecessor Benedict XVI) restores faith in the upcoming meeting between the Bishop of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem next May. He sees unity among Christians as much more than just an alliance between Church hierarchies to form a “common front” to deal with ethical and sex-related issues. Meanwhile, the direction the Ukrainian crisis has taken raises questions once again over the control the Patriarchate of Moscow exercises over the majority of Orthodox parishes in the Ukraine.

Here follows the interview of Metropolitan John with La Stampa's Gianni Valente

The date of the Pope and the Patriarch’s meeting in Jerusalem is nearing. What can we expect from this meeting?
“It’s going to be a very important event. The intention is to commemorate the meeting between Paul VI and Athenagoras 50 years ago, the first time a Pope and an ecumenical Patriarch had met since the days of the schism. Their embrace sparked hopes of forthcoming unity between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. This has not yet happened. But it is important to show the world that we are continuing to move patiently and determinedly towards unity. We are on our way to achieving this. We haven’t stopped. This is why the upcoming meeting between Francis and Bartholomew in Jerusalem will not just be a commemorative act looking to the past but represents a door that is open to the future.”

A year on from his election, what is the prevailing impression Orthodox faithful and leaders of the Eastern Churches have of Pope Francis?
“Pope Francis surprised all of us in a positive way, because of his style, his temperament, his humility and also because the actions he is taking as Pope could bring the Catholic and Orthodox Churches closer together. The Orthodox have always essentially seen the Pope as the Bishop of Rome. And Pope Francis often refers to this title as the title which allows him to exercise his ministry. The Orthodox used to see the Pope as a figure who put himself on a pedestal and the papacy as a form of ecclesiastical imperialism. They thought the Pope’s intention was to subjugate them and exercise power over them. Now there are many signs which are pointing in the opposite direction. For example, the Pope has stressed on more than one occasion that the Catholic Church can learn from the Orthodox Church when it comes to synodality and the synodal nature of the Church.

Does the creation of the Council of 8 Cardinals and the new impetus given to the Synod of Catholic bishops have anything to do with this? Come into this
“Yes, these are important decisions. Some misunderstand synodality, presenting it as the application of worldly political methods to Church life. But the theological dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches clearly set out the correct way in which synodality should be understood. In the Ravenna document of 2007 we recognised that the primacy is necessary and is deeply rooted in the Church’s canonical tradition.  This is not just for human “organisation” reasons. It must always be seen in the context of synodality. The Church is always a synod and in the synod there is always a protos, a number one, a primate. This does not mean a penetration of secular thought on democracy or the monarchy into the Church. Only theology. It derives from the faith in our Holy Trinity. Ever since the very beginning, Church tradition has had canons which state the following: in the Church there is never a Primus without the Synod and there is never a Synod without the Primus. Harmony between the Primus and the Synod is a gift of the Holy Spirit. This has been our ecclesiology right from the start.”

The Patriarchate of Moscow rejected the conclusions of the Ravenna document you mentioned. Did you read the Russian Church’s pronouncement?
“Yes I did read it. I speak for myself and on behalf of the ecumenical Patriarchate when I say that we do not agree with that document. It claims that the primacy exists and has theological grounding at the local and regional Church level but not on a universal level. We know what the real reason for this is: they want to deny that after the schism in the Orthodox Church too the ecumenical Patriarchate exercised universal primacy. In order to achieve this, they reject the possibility of recognising the Pope’s role as universal primate in a way that is acceptable to the Orthodox Churches as well. In the Ravenna document they managed to reach a consensus on this very point: we recognised that in the Church the primacy is always exercised on three levels: a local level, a regional level and a universal level.”

Are internal divisions within the Orthodox faith compromising ecumenical dialogue?
“I fear that there are going to be problems. Particularly because the position of the Patriarchate of Moscow holds as much weight as a pronouncement by the Synod. These are not positions expressed by single individuals, by Metropolitan Hilarion or by Patriarch Kirill. With a pronouncement like that, it becomes difficult for an exchange of views to take place and this is what dialogue is all about. Imagine if the Orthodox Church today wished to enter into dialogue with the Catholic Church having already made certain synodal pronouncements on the primacy issue, which is the issue currently at the centre of discussion: it would mean there was no room for discussion and that dialogue had ended. The step taken by the Patriarchate of Moscow could have very negative consequences. It could in fact lead to the end of theological dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches which was launched in order to overcome the obstacles that are standing in the way of full communion. I hope this will not happen.”
Will clarifications be made at the synaxis (assembly) of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches in March?
“We also need to discuss issues relating to the Orthodox Churches in the context of the great pan-Orthodox synod. Preparation work for this began several years ago and the event could be announced next year. I hope ecumenical dialogue will also be discussed, if not officially, then at least in private. I want to ask the Patriarch of Moscow whether he is aware of the consequences of the step he has taken. He may not have realised just how catastrophic it could be for dialogue.”
Pope Francis says that the greatest danger the Church faces is self-referentialism. A while back you talked about a “narcissistic self-satisfaction” that has contaminated many ecclesial circles. Why is ecclesial introversion so insidious?
 Pope Francis says that the greatest danger the Church faces is self-referentialism. The Church is there for the world not for itself. The Church gets its light from Christ, as the moon gets its light from the sun. But the light which beams out from the Church is not just for itself: it is for the world, for the life of the world. But what I see now in many ecclesial circles is a growing temptation to set the Church against the sin-filled world and sinful humans. But Jesus ate with sinners. He embraced them. The Church is called to give the same love and forgiveness and not to serve people an ideology caked in Christian words.”

Read online here:
“Theological dialogue with Catholics risks failure” - Vatican Insider

Syriac community receives deed for lands of Mor Gabriel Monastery - Hurriyet Daily News

Okan KONURALP ANKARA / Hürriyet - 27 February 2014
The return of the land of the monastery marks the largest property restoration in the history of the Turkish Republic in terms of size.
The lands of the historic Mor Gabriel Monastery located in Turkey’s southeastern province of Mardin have been returned to the Syriac community, completing an important step in the slow-running restoration of the group’s property.
“The process regarding the 12 parcels of land of 244,000 square meters has been finalized. We are happy to receive back the deed of the land without coming to the European Court of Human Right phase,” said the president of the Mor Gabriel foundation, Kuryakos Ergün.

“Mor Gabriel is one of the oldest monasteries that remain still active in our country. This return of the land will contribute a lot to protecting that monastery and enable it to revive its mission freely. It will have good implications for the Syriac community in particular,” he said, hinting that the move could convince many Syriacs to return to Turkey.

“They will live much more at ease in the land where they belong,” he said.

The return of the land of the monastery also marks the largest property restoration in the history of the Turkish Republic in terms of size.

Ergün also said an ongoing dispute remained regarding a parcel of land measuring 320,000 square meters, which is currently under review at the European court.

“The prime minister’s statement on Sept. 30 included that land as well. He hopes that the necessary steps will be undertaken regarding that parcel so that we will withdraw our case at the ECHR,” Ergün said.

Mor Gabriel is a 1,700-year-old monastery located in the southeastern province of Mardin’s Midyat district. In 2008, the Forestry Ministry, the Land Registry Cadaster Office and the villages of Yayvantepe, Çandarlı and Eğlence sued the monastery for allegedly “occupying” their fields.

The lawsuit ended last year, recognizing the monastery as an “occupier,” but the case was then taken to the ECHR. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had promised during the announcement of a democratization package on Sept. 30 that the land would be returned to the Syriac community.
Read online here:
Syriac community receives deed for lands of Mor Gabriel Monastery - RIGHTS

Lenten Exhortation from Patriarch Gregorios

From Gregorios,

Servant of Jesus Christ, by the Grace of God
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem,
to the Bishops, members of our Holy Synod,
to our sons the priests, to monks, nuns and all the faithful
“called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name
of Jesus Christ our Lord…Grace be unto you, and peace,
from God our Father,
and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 1: 2, 3)

On the Occasion of Great and Holy Lent, 2014

The grace of fasting

“The grace of the Holy Fast is most glorious.”

When I began thinking about the topic of Lent for this year, I opened at random the Triodion (the book of services and prayers proper to the Lenten period), and happened upon a kathisma which begins by underlining the glory of the “grace of the Holy Fast.” I took that as a sign from the Holy Spirit. I heeded it and decided that the topic of my meditation and letter would be on the beautiful meanings of holy Lent.

Indeed, this time of the year in our Christian life is one of the holiest of the year. It holds a privileged place among the faithful of our Church, despite the many dispensations that have lightened the load of the corporal aspect of the rule of holy Lent.

Bodily and spiritual fasting, inseparable
Fasting has two aspects: the bodily or physical aspect and the spiritual aspect. It is not allowed to separate corporal fasting from spiritual fasting. Likewise, it is not allowed to prefer or favour corporal over spiritual fasting, or spiritual over corporal. Holy Scripture, Christian tradition, church custom, natural reason and wisdom show the importance of both kinds of fasting. Both are an obligation for devotion and evidence of our faith in God, besides being an act of love for God and neighbour, especially our poor neighbour, who is needy or weak.

Unfortunately, some say: I’m giving to charity, so I’m dispensed from fasting. Or again: I’m stopping smoking for Lent, so I don’t have to fast. Or again: I’m giving up chocolate for Lent, so I don’t need to fast.
All those things are fine, virtuous works, but don’t dispense anyone from traditional bodily fasting, which they rather complement and express, because they are part of the fast. 
Fasting has a familial, social and pastoral aspect, since not just single persons, but families (parents and children) fast together, as do districts (where there are Christian communities) and parishes. Thus fasting, through its spirituality, aim and all its aspects, enters a person’s heart, soul, body, thought, imagination and every feeling and sense. Mouth, tongue, eyesight, hearing, hands and feet are involved in fasting, for one fasts with all one’s physical and spiritual constitution, with one’s whole being and might. 
That is shown in our prayers, which are concerned with soul and body. This can be seen in the beautiful prayer from the Liturgy of the Presanctified (Proaghiasmena), as follows:
“O God, great and worthy to be praised, who through the life-giving death of thy Christ hast translated us from corruption to incorruption: deliver thou all our senses from deadly passions; setting over them as a good ruler the understanding that is in us. Let our eye have no part in any evil sight; let our hearing be inaccessible to all idle words; and let our tongue be purged from unseemly speech. Purify our lips which praise thee, O Lord. Make our hands to abstain from evil deeds and to work only such things as are acceptable unto thee, establishing all our members and our minds by thy grace… For unto Thee is due all glory, honour and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
Our liturgical prayers abound in this sense. So, at the end of the hours, we say this beautiful prayer: “Thou who at all times and at every hour, in heaven and on earth, art worshipped and glorified, Christ God ... Sanctify our souls, make our bodies chaste. Recover our rightful mind, purify our thoughts and deliver us from every tribulation, sickness and pain ...”
Similarly, we anoint the sick, praying for the “healing of [their] soul and body.”
In its prayers, the Church invites us to stand, sit, kneel and bow our head or whole body, kneel, weep, cry out, cry aloud ... Similarly, we anoint with holy chrism for all the senses and limbs of our whole body: forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, breast, hands and feet. Likewise, children are anointed with oil before being immersed in the water of baptism.
So it is with fasting in both its spiritual and corporal aspects. The practice of the virtue of fasting and the obligation of corporal fasting consists in abstaining from food from midnight to midday, as well as abstaining from certain types of food (meat and dairy products), but also in carrying out good works, such as helping the poor and showing solidarity with others. All these aspects are linked, complement each other and make up the practice and rule of Lent and fasting.
Moral distress and God’s presence in our life
I should like to set forth one of the aspects of the grace of Lent by quoting extracts from the letter for this Lent of the Holy Father Pope Francis:
“How much pain is caused in families because one of their members – often a young person - is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography! How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope! And how many are plunged into this destitution by unjust social conditions, by unemployment, which takes away their dignity as breadwinners, and by lack of equal access to education and health care. In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide. This type of destitution, which also causes financial ruin, is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love. If we think we don’t need God who reaches out to us through Christ, because we believe we can make do on our own, we are headed for a fall. God alone can truly save and free us….
Material distress
“Dear brothers and sisters, may this Lenten season find the whole Church ready to bear witness to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution the Gospel message of the merciful love of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ. We can do this to the extent that we imitate Christ who became poor and enriched us by his poverty. Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.
“May the Holy Spirit, through whom we are ‘as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything’ (2 Corinthians 6:10), sustain us in our resolutions and increase our concern and responsibility for human destitution, so that we can become merciful and act with mercy.”
Liturgical prayers: a spiritual school
The liturgical prayers are a spiritual school: they are our guide towards the grace of spiritual and corporal fasting. The kathisma that I cited at the beginning of this letter (Orthros of Tuesday of the fifth week of Lent) begins with the corporal aspect and moves on to its spiritual aspects. Here is the text:
“The grace of the Holy Fast is most glorious: through it Prophet Elijah found the fiery chariot and Moses received the Tables of the Law; Daniel was magnified and Elisha raised the dead, the Children quenched the fire, and all became reconciled to God; rejoicing in the Fast, let us cry aloud: blessed art thou, O Christ our God who hast so ordained! Glory to thee!”
So we see clearly that fasting is not merely an outward practice but rather a grace, which has spiritual effects on several levels.
  1. Fasting aids spiritual elevation. Its symbol is the chariot of Elijah, who had fasted for forty days before being taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot.
  2. The grace of fasting enables one to enter more deeply into the meaning of Divine Law, the Ten Commandments, which are the practical expression of the ethics and values of the Holy Gospel. The great prophet Moses received them on Mount Horeb in Sinai after having spent forty days in prayer and fasting.
  3. The grace of fasting strengthened Prophet Daniel and inspired his visions.
  4. The grace of fasting works miracles, as when Prophet Elisha raised the dead.
  5. The grace of fasting strengthened the three youths who remained unharmed in the burning fiery furnace of the Babylonians.
  6. The great grace gained by observing the fast is that we become specialists in Divinity! Just as if, throughout Lent, we were taking our bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in divinity, since the topic to which we devote ourselves is God himself!
Our liturgical services invite us to this during the weeks of Great Lent, with their repeated and varied phrases.
These prayers are the expression of a deep, spiritual experience lived by our Fathers during the period of Great Lent which they formulated in prayers. I invite you to the spiritual experience expressed in these prayers.
Communal fasting
I am calling for communal fasting, and encouraging families and young people to fast. I hope that fasting, joined with prayer and reading Holy Scripture, will be able to create in every home an atmosphere of family spirituality thanks to the participation of all family members, and so reinforce and deepen family and social spiritual bonds, and be a factor for their unity. Such unity is the basis of family happiness and enables it to avoid the dangers that threaten it today more than ever.
Christian families are called to a special, important mission, namely to carry out new evangelisation both within and beyond the family. The preparatory paper, entitled “Pastoral challenges to the family in the context of Evangelisation,” of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which will take place in Rome next October invites us to that.
We hope that the time of Lent will provide a good opportunity for families to gather around the icons of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Mother of God, to pray and read Holy Scripture, especially the Holy Gospel. May Lent be a communal and family programme and a road to Christian holiness!
Lent and the current situation
We call upon everyone to intensify the practice of fasting, in both its spiritual and corporal aspects, due to the current, tragic, bloody situation in our Arab countries in general, and more especially in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and the Holy Land. Our fellow-citizens’ suffering is considerable.
More than ever, we need to be armed with fasting and prayer. That is what our Lord, Jesus Christ teaches us when he says, (Mark 9: 29): “This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting.”
We invite you to resort to the weapon of the spirit, the weapon of faith, the weapon of hope, when you are in front of your television set or you catch up on the news through other means of communication. Don’t let yourself be carried away by feelings of despair, depression, disillusion, or the temptation to blaspheme by losing trust in God, his providence, love and mercy.
The Holy Father Francis has called us to that in his Christmas Urbi et orbi message 2013:
 “Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fuelling hatred and vengeance. Let us continue to ask the Lord to spare the beloved Syrian people further suffering, and to enable the parties in conflict to put an end to all violence and guarantee access to humanitarian aid. We have seen how powerful prayer is! And I am happy today too, that the followers of different religious confessions are joining us in our prayer for peace in Syria. Let us never lose the courage of prayer! The courage to say: Lord, grant your peace to Syria and to the whole world. And I also invite non-believers to desire peace with that yearning that makes the heart grow: all united, either by prayer or by desire. But all of us, for peace ...Dear brothers and sisters, today, in this world, in this humanity, is born the Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. Let us pause before the Child of Bethlehem. Let us allow our hearts to be touched, let us not fear this. Let us not fear that our hearts be moved. We need this! Let us allow ourselves to be warmed by the tenderness of God; we need his caress. God’s caresses do not harm us. They give us peace and strength. We need his caresses. God is full of love: to him be praise and glory forever! God is peace: let us ask him to help us to be peace-makers each day, in our life, in our families, in our cities and nations, in the whole world. Let us allow ourselves to be moved by God’s goodness.”
In our turn, we should like to tell you frankly: we are assailed by the same feelings as you. Your bishops and I are also exposed to discouragement, despair and inner revolt. You and we are made of the same stuff: our suffering is the same as yours, as are our griefs and our hopes. We must encourage each other through feelings and appeals. Let us not be overcome by feelings that destroy soul and body. This is also part of the practice of Lent: it must stimulate hope and trust in us.
We pray with the Church (Vespers of Monday, fifth week of Lent):
“The divinely radiant grace of abstinence
Shines on us today more than the sun,
Enlightening our souls, dispelling the clouds of sinful passions.
Let us all hasten to embrace it with joy,
And with good courage persevere in the course of the Fast!
Let us cry out with gladness to Christ:
Gracious one, sanctify those who faithfully fulfil the Fast!”
+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

ASIA/IRAQ - Patriarch Sako: A Lenten Season of fasting and prayer that Christians in Iraq will not emigrate - Fides News Agency

Baghdad (Agenzia Fides) - “I ask you to fast and to offer prayers that Iraqi Christians will remain here in our country and not emigrate”. This pressing call was contained in a brief but heartfelt message, issued by Louis Raphaël I Sako, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon and head of the Head of the Assyrian Chaldean Catholic Church. The message was addressed in particular to Assyrian Chaldean Catholics but also to all Iraqi Christians in view of the approaching Season of Lent. “Our Christian identity” said the message, a copy was sent also to Agenzia Fides, “has been part of Iraq’s history and geography for two thousand years. Our deepest roots and our clearest sources are here in this our country, if we leave, we would be uprooted, cut off from our origins ”. The Patriarch stressed the necessity “to persevere and to keep hope alive”, and not to listen “to those who fill you with fear” or those who with any means urge or press Iraqi Christians to abandon their homeland . “These people” the Patriarch said “are not thinking of your good. We Christians are here because God wanted us here and with his grace, here we will remain to build bridges with our Muslim brothers and sisters and to work together with them for the development of our nation.

In his Message for Lent, the Patriarch also urged Christians to pray for an end to the anguished situations in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the entire region. In Iraq - Patriarch Sako affirmed – it is urgently necessary “to turn a new page with the upcoming elections ", so that our country may once again live in “peace and security for the good of all its people”. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 24/2/2014).

Read online here:
ASIA/IRAQ - Patriarch Sako: A Lenten Season of fasting and prayer that Christians in Iraq will not emigrate - Fides News Agency

Response of Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus to the Moscow Statement on Primacy in the Universal Church

We are most grateful to a friend of the Society's for translating this important and closely reasoned answer to the Moscow Statement in favour of the present efforts of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches

For the Moscow Statement and other responses - visit here first and follow the links.

Primacy in the Orthodox Church
To His Beatitude the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, the Lord Kyrill

In all godliness and with the deepest sentiments of gratitude on behalf of the benevolent clergy and the Christ-loving people of our most holy Metropolis of the naval city of Piraeus, the first port of Greece, I am prompted to offer warm congratulatory greetings and sincere thanks for the text adopted by you at the session of 25-26 December 2013 (minutes section 157), as elaborated by the Synodal Theological Commission concerning the ‘Primacy within the Church at universal level’; to which I also present in this letter a substantial objection at the end.

Your position expresses absolutely the historical-canonical authentication of the constitution of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and crushes the erroneous belief and heresy of modernised Origenism and ‘subordinationism’ which reek of monarchism and introduce gradation of the Persons of the Trinity; a diminishing, in all probability unconscious, of their co-essentiality and a distortion of the divine properties in order to satisfy the worldly idol of a supposed global ‘hieratic authority’ corresponding to the ‘monarchy and primacy of authority of God the Father’.

Such an erroneous belief and heresy of Origen has been condemned in the condemnation, by the 5th Ecumenical Synod, of Origen and his stance, termed ‘tragic’, by which ‘the Word is a second God’ (On John Vol 5.39) and ‘the Father Himself is two Gods, one power’ (Dial. with Heraclides BEP 16.367); ‘cannot be compared to the Father because He is an image, but an image of the goodness of the Father and not goodness itself’ (De Princip. 4.4.1)

The undivided Orthodox Catholic Church, emphasising the divine, spiritual, mystical and invisible element, has not given its organisation any worldly, legal and external character, but a spiritual and mystical one, nevertheless as a sensible and visible communion of living persons it was fashioned by Her Divine Builder hierarchically but not hierocratically.

In the beginning the ecclesiastical hierarchy was composed of the Apostles who received the highest ecclesiastical authority. For this purpose, the Lord ‘appointed twelve to be with Him and to send them out to preach and with the power to heal diseases’ (MK 3.14), and subsequently He ‘appointed seventy others and sent them out two by two’ (Lk 10.1)

Addressing them in His first appearance after the Resurrection, He said ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when He had said this He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20.21), and providing them with spiritual power, He said ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Mt 28.19), confirming that ‘He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me’ (Lk 10.16). In this way the Lord Himself established in the Church the Apostles and through them passed on her teaching and her mysteries and spiritual authority. But this authority was not the personal [possession] of the Apostles but transmissible to their successors.

In the same way the Apostles and the Church in general received from the Lord the authority to ‘ordain rulers (bishops) on all the earth’ (St Basil PG 29.413; St Jn Chrys. PG 52.777), receiving ‘through the laying on of hands the grace of the Holy Spirit’ (Basil PG 32.669) and thereafter through them, Presbyters and Deacons.

The Church consequently was composed of the two orders of the hierarchy and the laity as a spiritual communion composed of shepherds and the flocks of the faithful, inasmuch as ‘the order in the Churches is the existence of a flock and the appointment of shepherds’ (St Greg. Naz. PG 36.185). Both of these orders are absolutely necessary and indispensably united and inseparable constituent elements of the Church.

Wherefore with good reason the Holy Fathers deplore both rule by the clergy and rule by the laity, as well as the separation of the two orders of the Church, and they teach the unity, equality and love as of members of the one and same body, so that they are ‘one in the Lord, the former leading towards the good, the latter following in concord’ (Basil PG 32.820). All the faithful as members of the body of the Church are equal to each other because ‘all have been made worthy of the same honour’ and ‘the most fundamental things of all are common to all - baptism, salvation through faith, having God as Father, all participating in the same Spirit.’ (Jn Chrys. PG 59.75; 62.81). The distribution of various charisms does not remove the equality of honour of the members of the body of the Church, but on the contrary it contributes to the formation and the completion of the one body. According to the great Gregory the Theologian ‘We are all one body in Christ or else individually members of Christ and of each other; for the one rules and presides, the other is led and directed, and neither do both have the same activity, unless to rule is made the same as being ruled, and both become one assembled and composed into one Christ by the same Spirit’ (PG 36.185).

Through the Synodical resolution of the Apostles, Matthias was brought into their number and the first deacons were chosen, in the same way that Paul and Barnabas were brought into apostolic service (Acts 1.15-26; 6.1-7; 13.1-4); so too the disagreement concerning the manner of receiving converts from the Gentiles into the Church was settled by an Apostolic Synod (Acts13.1-4), and in this way the hierarchical synodical system was introduced in to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, by which no bishop is the unique bearer of the entire episcopal authority, but rather the Synod of all the bishops of the Church coming together. Above this external and temporal government, the Theanthropic Lord s recognised as the true Authority and Head of the Church, because He is the ‘head of the body of the Church; He is the Beginning, the First-Born from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent’ (Coloss.1.18).

Beneath Christ the most-high Head, as visible head of the Church, stands the Ecumenical Synod, not constituting any monarchical primacy of authority or monarchical system of administration, and not founded on the despotic primacy of authority of any of the presidents of the local holy Synods of the Autocephalous Churches. Otherwise, as is proven historically. it would be impossible to depose heresiarch first-hierarchs like Macedonius, Nestorius, Dioscorus, Severus, Honorius etc.

Hence particular emphasis is laid in the text on the 34th canon of the Holy Apostles, as rule and charter of the synodical constitution of the Church, through which the unity of the faith and the accuracy of doctrine are preserved.

Otherwise the tragic historical course of the once senior patriarchate of Old Rome and the West, now fallen away and stained by heretical drivel, manifold crimes, most shameful falsifications such as the “Petrine” dogma, the pseudo-Constantinian endowment, pseudo-Isidorian ordinances, pseudo-Clementine and pseudo-Pepinous endowment - all these constitute a glaring example of the distortion of the polity of the Church as handed down by the Apostles and enacted by the Holy and Ecumenical Synods.

As far as concerns the attempt to establish a primacy of universal competence and authority in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, corresponding to the Roman Catholic deviation, I am bound to point out that for the organisation of ecclesiastical affairs there prevailed from the beginning a system related to the political administration for the creation of ecclesiastical provinces.

Large regions were organised according to the 34th Apostolic canon as extensive eccclesiastical departments, having at their head the ‘primate’ for the dioceses of the East (Antioch), Egypt (Alexandria), Cappadocia-Pontus (Caesarea) and Asia (Ephesus); the primates being called ‘Exarchs’. Mention is made of the primates in canons 9 and 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod in Chalcedon. The Exarchs of Alexandria and Antioch were later called Patriarchs, and the title was extended also to those of Constantinople and Jerusalem. In the 126th Novel of Justinian, they are called ‘their Beatitudes the Archbishops and Patriarchs of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Theoupolis (Antioch) and Jerusalem’. From the sixth century, the Patriarchate of Constantinople is called Ecumenical, and in the Synod of Constantinople of 587, St John the Faster was named as ‘Ecumenical Patriarch’. The epithet ‘ecumenical’ was not unknown previously in ecclesiastical usage. The word ‘oecumene’ was endearing and expressive, and the title was not pretentious or egotistical, and on occasions it was used as a decorative epithet given to various bishops, popes and even monks. It is included in Justinian’s Novels and in Synodical documents. It never connoted at any time the exercise in any manner whatsoever of universal catholic authority, and in the case of the Patriarch of Constantinople it corresponded to the political power of the Byzantine state and the belief, founded on the passage of time, that the throne of Constantinople comprises the safe guarantee of the comfortable and healthy prevalence of the teaching of Christ in its orthodox form. In this spirit, moreover, the hymnography of the Church calls the great Fathers of the Church ‘enlighteners of the oecumene’ and ‘ecumenical teachers [universal doctors]’.

In substantiation of the above are the points put forward by the late Archbishop of Athens Chrysostomos Papadopoulos, professor at Athens University, in his scholarly work ‘Ecclesiastical History’ pp.96ff., in which he says ‘Pope Gregory the First, in opposing the use by the Patriarch of Constantinople, John the Faster, of the title ‘Ecumenical’ (although the use of the title was made long before by Patriarchs of Constaninople), sent letters of protest in the first of which, around the beginning of 595 he says, amongst other things the following: that ‘Johnwill find himself without defence at the Second Coming before the Lord, the Head of the Church, because through the title ‘Ecumenical’ he is trying to subject all its members. For with this corrupt word he imitates Lucifer, since what else does he say thereby if not ‘I shall ascend into heaven and place my throne above the stars’? The stars are the bishops of the ecumenical Church, all of whom John seeks to surpass. When with affliction I reflect on all this (he wrote), and with fear I bear in mind the inscrutable counsels of God, I am choked with tears, the beating of my heart is checked at the thought that such a holy man has allowed flattering tongues to seduce him into such conceit that, having appropriated a corrupt title, he is striving to imitate Lucifer, who in wishing to be on a par with God lost even the glory of likeness. For truly the Apostle Peter is the first member of the holy and ecumenical Church, whereas Paul, Andrew, John - what are they but heads over a part of the peoples? And nonetheless, all the members of the Church are under one Head, both the saints before the Law, the saints after the Law, and the saints under grace - all these, fulfilling in themselves the body of the Lord, are numbered together with the members of the Church, and not one of them ever wished to be called ‘ecumenical’.

In like wise, he wrote in 597 amongst other things, to the Emperor Maurice and the Patriarchs Eulogius of Alexandria and Anastasius of Antioch that he ‘regards as a forerunner of the antichrist, or rather as beyond the antichrist one who dares to call himself ‘ecumenical’. Since not only he himself but all the Church was scandalized by the arrogant title which opposes the canons of the Synods and the very commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ. For is it possible for him who appropriates the novel title, contrary to the commandments of the Gospel and the ordinances of the Synods, to be first without humiliating the rest? If anyone in the Church of Constantinople assumes such a name as this, through which he would become the judge of all, the ecumenical Church would be shaken to its foundations. For anyone who calls himself Ecumenical Patriarch annuls the Patriarchal rank of the other Patriarchs. In particular he [Gregory] begged the Patriarchs to pray to God that the living members of the body of Christ should not be poisoned with the venom of this word and that the diabolical invention of this title should not insult the other patriarchs who should neither grant nor receive the title, but take care to ensure that the bishops under them guard themselves against the pollution of this word. If the opposite happens, we who remain ought with all our soul to resist unto death, so that in condemning ecumenicity we are not seduced by any self-seeking.’

From these letters of Pope Gregory, it is clearly demonstrated, as the distinguished Archbishop Chrysostomos Papadopoulos correctly observes in his work (pp.105-8, 320), that Pope Gregory condemned disinterestedly the title ‘Ecumenical’, fearing lest the Patriarch of Constantinople should wish to wield power over the entire Church and disturb the equality prevailing among the Patriarchs. Rejecting any primacy whatsoever in the administration of the Church, he splendidly expounds this equality and struggles on its behalf. He opposes the title ‘ecumenical’ not because he regards himself as Ecumenical Patriarch, but because none of the Patriarchs can claim to rule over the rest. He clearly rejects every form of administrative ‘primacy’ and monarchic authority in the Church. He regards the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch as his own equals as successors of the Apostle Peter without rejecting also the Patriarchal rank of Constantinople. In a private letter of his to Eulogius of Alexandria, who had written to him that in accordance with his command he no longer used the word ‘ecumenical’ for the Patriarch of Constantinople, and who had called him ‘ecumenical Pope’, that truly holy hierarch observed, ‘I beg you not to speak of ‘command’, since I know who I am and who you are - my brother in rank and my father in holiness. I did not command, but simply indicated what should be done. I say that one should not bestow on me the title ‘Ecumenical Pope’ because I do not want rank to be conferred upon me at the expense of my brothers....If you call me ‘Ecumenical pope’ you remove from yourself the status of bishop, since you suggest that I am ‘ecumenical’. God forbid! Far be from us words which pander to vanity and offend love.

In conclusion may I be permitted to suggest a substantial objection to the reference in part 3 of your text, which reads ‘at the level of the universal Church as a community of the local autocephalous Churches... the primacy is defined in accordance with the tradition of the holy Diptychs’, because the primacy of honour of the five senior thrones of the Church does not constitute the tradition of the holy Diptychs, but a canon-law declaration and decree of the Holy Ecumenical Synods, which by the 3rd Canon of the Second Ecumenical Synod in Constantinople of 381, decree that ‘the bishop of Constantinople has seniority of honour after the bishop of Rome, on account of its being New Rome’, and by the 28th canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod, ratify the previous canon: ‘Everywhere following the decrees of the Holy Fathers, and aware of the recently recognized Canon of the one hundred and fifty most God-beloved Bishops who convened during the reign of Theodosius the Great of pious memory, who became emperor in the imperial city of Constantinople otherwise known as New Rome; we too decree and vote the same things in regard to the privileges and priorities of the most holy Church of that same Constantinople and New Rome. And this is in keeping with the fact that the Fathers naturally enough granted the priorities to the throne of Old Rome on account of her being the imperial capital. And motivated by the same object and aim the one hundred and fifty most God-beloved Bishops have accorded the like priorities to the most holy throne of New Rome, with good reason deeming that the city which is the seat of an empire, and of a senate, and is equal to old imperial Rome in respect of other privileges and priorities, should be magnified also as she is in respect of ecclesiastical affairs, as coming next after her, or as being second to her. And it is arranged so that only the Metropolitans of the Pontic, Asian, and Thracian dioceses shall be ordained by the most holy throne of the most holy Church of Constantinople aforesaid, and likewise the Bishops of the aforesaid dioceses which are situated in barbarian lands; that is to say, that each Metropolitan of the aforesaid dioceses, together with the Bishops of the province, shall ordain the Bishops of the province, just as is prescribed by the divine Canons. But the Metropolitans of the aforesaid dioceses, as has been said, are to be ordained by the Archbishop of Constantinople, after the elections have first been conducted in accordance with custom, and have been reported to him.’, and in the 36th canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod they decree: ‘Renewing the laws made by the one hundred and fifty Holy Fathers who assembled in this God-guarded imperial capital city, and by the six hundred and thirty of those who assembled in Chalcedon, we decree that the throne of Constantinople shall enjoy equal seniorities (or priorities) with the throne of older Rome, and in ecclesiastical matters shall be magnified like the latter, coming second after the latter; after which the throne of the great city of the Alexandrians shall come next, then that of Antioch, and after this the throne of the city of the Jerusalemites.’

Consequently, as far as concerns the senior thrones, the primacy of honour is not defined ‘in accordance with the tradition of the holy Diptychs’ but through the force of the divinely inspired decree of the Holy and Ecumenical Synods, and for that reason it is unalterable, eternal, imperishable and unshakeable.

Seraphim of the Piraeus
9 January 2014

LEBANON Francis and Benedict XVI "united in Prayer" for Christians and Muslims in Lebanon - Asia News

by Fady Noun
The Pope Emeritus told Patriarch al-Rahi that he prays every day for the country that gave him "unforgettable moments." Today, major figures in Christian circles and among the elite are dejected for having "worked for nothing," bitter that they "were wrong to stay." Others believe that Islam will not allow them full religious freedom.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Lebanon is part of the "daily prayer" of Benedict XVI, the latter told Patriarch al-Rahi on Sunday, this according to a report from the patriarchal see in Bkerke. The patriarch was told about it in confidence during the first Mass celebrated in St Peter in the presence of newly appointed cardinals. The Pope Emeritus and the Maronite Patriarch were not seated very far from one another, the report said.

Benedict XVI's extraordinary loyalty through prayer to Lebanon has its roots in his pastoral visit to Lebanon, from 14 to 16 September 2012. It was the pope's last pastoral visit before his incisive and farsighted decision to resign. The meeting with spiritual leaders and officials in Baabda, and especially the meeting with young people in Bkerke, were "unforgettable moments" for Benedict XVI, this according to people close to him.

The Lebanese model of coexistence shone in all its glory before the Holy Father and the infectious enthusiasm of youth conquered him. Back then, the pope came to Lebanon to plead for peace and an end to the Syrian conflict. He also warned against "religious fundamentalism," which he described as a "deadly" threat following protests that broke out against an Islamophobic film.

In his Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, which he signed shortly after his arrival, Benedict XVI said that fundamentalism "afflicts all religious communities, and denies their long-standing tradition of coexistence" in countries like Lebanon. These words are of crucial importance today, a few weeks before a new apostolic journey that will bring this time Pope Francis to the Holy Land and Jordan (24 May 2014 ), in the footsteps of Benedict XVI and before him, John Paul II.
Fundamentalism, i.e. the manipulation of religion for political purposes, is behind the suicide bombings in Shia areas. Insidiously, this fundamentalism, which is the spiritual exclusion of others, is wreaking havoc everywhere. One only needs to look at the newspapers or overhear conversations: Lebanon has sunk into melancholy, despair and exclusion.

In Christian circles, and among the elite, major figures are dejected for having "worked for nothing" and bitterly admit they "were wrong to stay." Based on their experience, others do not believe that Islam would give them full religious freedom. What is more, religious clientelism has harmed the bureaucracy. Somehow, the political rot has done its work. Until someone "preserves the achievements of Christians", some segments of the population have been certainly turned off by their homeland. Ten months of governmental crisis squashed all their hopes.

Pope Francis will travel to Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the nuncio said. It is unclear yesterday whether his remarks were intentional. In answer to a question, Mgr Gabriele Caccia said that Lebanon "is not yet" on the Pope's travel plans for this May. Does this mean that it might be? Let us hope so. Words of comfort from one of today's highest moral authorities would not hurt the Lebanese who now doubt their vocation.

It can never be said enough: in a very nice and beautiful way, Lebanon is a cultural masterpiece created by the Maronites and the other communities that joined them to set up Lebanon in 1920. However, the pluralistic masterpiece is not cast in stone, but remains a work in progress.
Today Lebanon is in danger and it would be a shame that a century after its creation, Christians and Muslims gave it up in a moment of despair or lose faith in its sustainability. Lebanon's Christians, said beautifully Imam Mohammad Mehdi Chamseddine, "are the responsibility of Muslims." He was referring here to their security and freedom. The other way round is also true. Muslims in Lebanon and the Arab world are now the responsibility of Christians, spiritual speaking that is.

Today more than ever, Christians, whether in Lebanon or in any other part of the Arab world, are and must remain - spiritually but with the political consequences of this responsibility in mind - the agents of a broad mediation, which we may call love. This is the essence of their faith.

Beyond the literal nature of all religions, where this essence is felt, it is in Christianity that it is offered in the clearest way. Christians must unswervingly hold onto it, helping their respective countries and the torn Arab world that is entrusted to them.

LEBANON Francis and Benedict XVI "united in Prayer" for Christians and Muslims in Lebanon - Asia News

ASIA/IRAQ – Iraq’s Catholic Bishops insist: we must react to the violence destroying our nation - Fides News Agency

Baghdad (Agenzia Fides) – The dramatic situation which Iraq is experiencing has prompted the country’s Catholic Bishops, yesterday in assembly, to urge the nation’s Christians and all Iraqis to react against sectarian violence and clashes between political factions presently pushing the country back into chaos. The meeting, held in Baghdad in the morning of February 25 at the Chaldean Catholic Cathedral of St Joseph, issued a final statement addressed to all political groups and to representatives of government and institutions.

The appeal, a copy was sent to Fides, included urgent recommendations. All Christians were urged to pray during the coming season of Lent to obtain the gift of peace and security for the whole country. Political and social leaders were urged to engage in dialogue to discern prompt solutions to the national crisis and thus put an end to violence. The Bishops addressed also Iraqis who left the country because of instability and fighting, calling all emigrants to return to their homeland. The statement considered also the situation in Syria, once again demanding the release of two bishops and a group of women religious in Maalula abducted in the context of the Syrian conflict. The Bishops expressed deep gratitude for what Pope Francis is doing for the Church, for the world and for peace to be re-established in the many areas devastated by wars and violence, encouraging all Christians to remain in their native country to demonstrate their faith even in times of difficulty.

For the first time the assembly of the Iraqi Catholic Bishops was attended by Superiors of religious orders and religious congregations. The meeting elected a new secretary in the person of Bishop Shlemon Warduni, Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad of the Chaldeans. He will be assisted by Archbishop Yousef Abba, Archbishop of Baghdad of Syrian Catholics.

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ASIA/IRAQ – Iraq’s Catholic Bishops insist: we must react to the violence destroying our nation - Fides News Agency

The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham's dhimmi "pact" for the Christians of Raqqa province - Syria Comment

No public worship, no bells, no cross, no church repairs, no new church buildings - and pay protection money

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

Traditionally, a ‘dhimmi’ in Islam is a Jew or Christian who agrees to live under the authority of an Islamic state, agreeing to pay a ‘jizya’ (poll tax) and enduring a number of discriminatory conditions in return for ‘protection’ from the state. The Qur’anic basis for this arrangement is 9:29. In practice of course, the dhimmi pact, far from being a model of historical multiculturalism and tolerance as hailed by Western Islamic apologists such as Karen Armstrong, is actually equivalent to Mafia racketeering, as failure to pay ‘jizya’, whose financial burdens often proved heavy historically, leads to a loss of ‘protection’ by the state.

For the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS), which has the backing of broad elements of classical Islamic theology in this regard, such a development comes as no surprise, as the group’s predecessors- Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and al-Qa’ida in Iraq- similarly imposed jizya on Christians both in the Baghdad area (al-Dura neighborhood) and the north of the country. In Syria, the group has already imposed dhimmi terms in practice on Christians in Raqqa province, such as in Tel Abyad, where supposed violation of the dhimmi pact was the pretext for ISIS’ desecration of the Armenian church in the fall of last year.

One should also note that this pact has been imposed by ISIS’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and bears his signature as the amir al-mu’mineen (“Commander of the Faithful”- the traditional title of a Caliph, illustrating how ISIS is aiming to build the Caliphate and is projecting its leader as the future Caliph). It would thus indicate that Baghdadi is likely to be in Raqqa province at the moment.

Indeed, such a conclusion on Baghdadi’s location is quite logical, for I would also note how my ISIS contacts within Raqqa province have been referring to Raqqa city in particular as ISIS’ ‘capital’ since ISIS took over the city and most of the rest of the province, with the exception of a Kurdish enclave just west of Tel Abyad and two regime airbases (Brigade 17 and Tabqa military airport). Meanwhile, Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa, FSA-banner groupings, and some Jabhat al-Nusra continue to wage an underground insurgency with sabotage attacks (which are also happening in other ISIS strongholds such as Manbij in Aleppo province), and an underground regime presence, which has existed since Raqqa province largely fell into rebel hands, is beginning to flaunt its presence in the city of Raqqa, for a Raqqa branch of the National Defence Force (NDF) has recently been proclaimed, giving news of raisings of regime flags and displays of pro-Assad graffiti in Raqqa.

Here is my preliminary translation of the relevant excerpts of the first formal dhimmi pact:

“In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful: 
Text of the pact of security the Islamic State has given to the Christians of Raqqa with their embracing the rulings of dhimma. 
Fight those who believe not in God, nor the Last Day, nor in what God and His messenger have forbidden, nor adopt the true religion [Islam], [even if they be] from the People of the Book [Jews and Christians], until they pay jizya with the hand, and feel themselves subdued- Qur’an 9:29.
We bear witness that there is no deity but God alone. He has fulfilled his promise. He has given victory to His servant. He has made mighty His soldiers. He has defeated the parties on His own: there is no deity but God whom we worship, having purified religion for Him even if the kuffar hate it.
And we bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger- may God’s peace and blessings be upon him…and we bear witness that Jesus the son of Mary is God’s servant and His messenger…the Almighty has said: ‘Never would the Messiah disdain to be God’s servant, and nor would the Angels who are near, and whosoever disdains to worship Him and is haughty- He will gather them to Himself together’- Qur’an 4:172.
And for what follows: This is what the servant of God- Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Commander of the Faithful [NB: this is the title of a Caliph] has given to the Christians concerning the pact of protection. He has given them security for themselves, their wealth, their churches and the rest of their property in the province of Raqqa: their churches should not be attacked, nor should anything be taken [by force] from them, nor from their domain, nor anything from their wealth, and there should be no compulsion against them in religion, and none of them should be harmed.
He has imposed these conditions on them:
  1. That they must not build in their town or the periphery a monastery, church or monk’s hermitage, and must not rebuild what has fallen into disrepair.
  2. That they must not show the cross or any of their scriptures in any of the roads or markets of the Muslims and they must not use any means to amplify their voices during their calls to prayers or similarly for the rest of their acts of worship.
  3. That they must not make Muslims hear recital of their scriptures or the sounds of their bells, even if they strike them within their churches.
  4. That they must not engage in any acts of hostility against the Islamic State, like giving housing to spies and those wanted for a reason by the Islamic State, or whosoever’s brigandery is proven from among the Christians or others, they must not aid such persons in concealing or moving them or other such things. If they know of a conspiracy againt the Muslims, they must inform them about it.
  5. That they must not engage in any displays of worship outside the churches.
  6. That they must not stop any of the Christians from embracing Islam if he so wishes.
  7. That they must respect Islam and Muslims, and not disparage their religion in any way.
  8. The Christians must embrace payment of the jizya at every mention upon them: its value is 4 dinars of gold…on the Ahl al-Ghina [the wealthy], and half that value on those of middle income, and half that on the poor among them, on condition that they do not conceal anything from us regarding their state of affairs. And they are to make two payments per year.
  9. They are not allowed to bear arms.
  10. They are not to deal in selling pork and wine with Muslims or in their markets; and they are not to consume these things publicly- that is, in any public places.
  11. They should have their own tombs, as is custom.
  12. That they must accept the precepts imposed by the Islamic State like modesty of dress, selling, buying and other things.
So for them is nearness to God and the dhimma of Muhammad, the Prophet and Messenger of God- may God’s peace and blessings be upon him- even as God brings his command: what they have embraced in the conditions outlined in this document.
But if they disagree with anything in this pact, then they have no dhimma, and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham will deal with them as it deals with the people of war and stubborn enmity.”
Update: After the implementation of this dhimmi pact in Raqqa province, the practice looks set to spread to Hasakah province (Wilayat al-Baraka in ISIS terminology), where ISIS is the dominant force in rebel-held areas. A Twitter account associated with ISIS news from Hasakah province- @barakah53731284- says “After Raqqa province, Christians from Baraka province offer to pay jizya and the Islamic State postpones their matter until it can be made completely possible with a guarantee of being able to implement the dhimmi pact.”

Update 2: In case ISIS’ ambitions to a global caliphate were still not apparent to anyone, ISIS’ official Twitter account for Raqqa province had this to say on the imposition of the dhimmi pact: “Today in Raqqa and tomorrow in Rome.” Rome is traditionally seen as the Christians’ global capital.

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The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham's dhimmi pact for the Christians of Raqqa province - Syria Comment