Confronting the challenges facing Syrian and Lebanese Christians will top the agenda of the new Greek Orthodox patriarch, who’ll be elected this month to succeed Patriarch Ignatius Hazim. At least 18 bishops from Antiochian Greek Orthodox dioceses around the world will meet at Balamand Monastery near Tripoli before Christmas to elect a new head for the Church. According to officials familiar with the meetings taking place between the bishops, the unrest in Syria, its negative repercussions on the Syrian Christian community, and plans on how to face the current crisis, would carry significant weight during the talks. Metropolitan Saba Esper of the southern Syrian regions of Bosra-Houran, Jabal al-Arab, and the Golan was elected as patriarchal locum tenens at a meeting last week devoted exclusively to the organisation of a patriarchal election.
At his residence in Rabieh, Metropolitan Archbishop Antonio Chedraoui Tannous of Mexico and Central America told The Daily Star, “No doubt, there are great difficulties in Syria today. What happened in Lebanon during the Civil War is taking place in Syria. The new patriarch will be elected soon and the new patriarch will lead the Christmas celebrations”. Chedraoui said that all bishops were aware of the present challenges and the difficulties facing Christians in the Middle East, stating, “All the bishops are ready to face these challenges in the proper way”. Chedraoui, 80, has been Mexico’s bishop for the past 46 years; he said that he had no intention to leave the Americas and become patriarch, noting, “The Mexicans are part of my life. The diocese I serve is part of my life and leaving them isn’t easy, but I’m a soldier in the Church. If the Church’s decision is to appoint me as patriarch, then, I have to abide by the decision. What’s important for us is the interests of our religion, the interests of the Church, and the difficulties the region is going through”.
Officials said that many favour Saba, a Syrian, to succeed Ignatius, who was laid to rest in Damascus earlier this week after serving 33 years as the Church’s First Hierarch. Nineteen bishops from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, and Europe will meet in Balamand Monastery to elect the new patriarch. Each will nominate three bishops to succeed Ignatius. In the second round of voting, the patriarch will be elected from amongst the three bishops who receive the highest number of votes from the first round. The contest is mainly between two groups of candidates… Saba and George Khodr of Mount Lebanon on one side, and Damaskinos Mansour of Brazil and Boulos Yazigi of Aleppo on the other. However, according to one official, the electors could reach a compromise by choosing another bishop as patriarch. Metropolitan Archbishop Philip Saliba of North America, who won’t take part in the election for health reasons or Mexico’s Chedraoui could be elected as a compromise measure.
Meanwhile, in Beirut, a group of Greek Orthodox Lebanese issued an open letter to the next patriarch, calling on him to tackle the serious dangers facing the community in the country. The Orthodox Gathering called on the church’s next patriarch to develop a framework that would allow the patriarchate’s religious and lay figures to share decision-making, stating, “There are clear imbalances in the relation between religious and lay persons … Fixing these imbalances requires active participation from both sides to make us one body under one church”. The statement added that the patriarchate was about to enter a dangerous phase that could affect the future of many Greek Orthodox Lebanese.
Chedraoui said, “Patriarch Ignatius succeeded in bringing peace into the Church after all the disputes and disagreements … He united everyone in one person”. The bishop added that the Church would continue its productive mission despite Ignatius’s passing, observing, “He’ll certainly be missed, we’re all affected, but the Church isn’t dependent on one person; all the bishops form one family. History has shown that a patriarch’s death doesn’t mean the end of the Church’s continuity”. Asked about the fate of Syrian Christians after the collapse of the embattled Syrian régime, Chedraoui said that the Christian presence is in decline in the entire region, not just in any particular country, saying, “Look at Jerusalem, how many Christians are still in Jerusalem? Look at Iraq, how many Christians have left Iraq in the past decade? The Christian presence is in decline in the entire region, and that’s why we need to remain in our lands and not give up on them … This happens by bringing the Church and the people closer to each other. We came from the East, so, we need to preserve our presence whatever the costs are”. Criticising those who use violence in the name of religion, Chedraoui said, “Those who hate have no religion. I’ve said before, and I say it again, we should be religious because being religious ensures love and forgiveness, not hatred and sectarianism, as some claim. Religion can’t be used for destruction or murder, but only for building love and unity”.
14 December 2012
The Daily Star (Lebanon News)