A few days ago, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem published a statement “sincerely and truthfully informing our sister Orthodox Churches and its flock” of certain points that contain no truth about its attack on territory canonically and historically belonging to the pastoral care of the Patriarchate of Antioch according to Orthodox order. The first item summarises the history of the emergence of the Qatar parish until the naming of an archbishop for it. It says in the begging of the historical narrative that it “responded to an invitation by the Christians of Qatar, a geographical territory within its ecclesiastical jurisdiction”, while in reality it is part of “All the East”, the title of the Patriarchate of Antioch since the establishment of the first five Apostolic Patriarchates. Every observer of Church history knows that the Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, held in Chalcedon in 451, decided “out of reverence for the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection” to elevate the city of Jerusalem, which at the time was a diocese subject to the Patriarchate of Antioch, to the rank of patriarchate. Over the course of time, Antioch gave her some of her territory so that she could have a patriarchal existence. We could mention, for example, that Haifa remained a diocese of Antioch until the 18th century.
The statement mentions that services for the Christians of Qatar began “in house churches” and that “the Patriarchate of Antioch had no presence” there. The least that one can say about this is that it is a truth meant to express a falsehood. Services began in homes… specifically, in the home of the American ambassador, who at that time was Orthodox… because Qatar hadn’t yet started to permit Christian religious services. This is what prevented the Church of Antioch, in the person of the shepherd of the diocese overseeing Qatar, Metropolitan Constantine Papastephanou, from providing regular liturgical services. However, he made numerous visits to Qatar, during which he held liturgical services.
If the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, with the support of the American ambassador, was for years only able to provide regular liturgical services in homes and not in a designated building, then how can she allow herself to admonish her sister Church of Antioch and appropriate what is hers? Does not ecclesiastical, canonical and brotherly practise… not to simply say love… not require her to ask permission to provide religious services for the faithful living in that country, as the Russian Church did when she sought permission from her sister Church of Antioch to build a church in Sharjah for the Russians who are very numerous in the United Arab Emirates? Indeed, this is what happened. Today, at liturgies in the UAE, the Russian priest, in accordance with Orthodox tradition, commemorates the Patriarch of Antioch alongside the Russian Patriarch, which is recognition on the part of his Church that it’s serving its believers on Antiochian territory. Then, we should wonder whether providing religious services to the faithful through a priest, a brother from a sister church, gives this church the right to consider the territory her own, to consecrate a bishop for it and to regard it as a dependency? Such a thing only happens between conflicting colonial powers! In addition to this, it accuses the Antiochian Church of ethnophyletism, when Antioch serves all Orthodox in the Gulf of various nationalities, using Arabic, Greek, and sometimes Russian and Romanian in the Divine Liturgy. In North America and Australia, she uses English and the proportion of converts of non-Arab background is reaching fifty percent. In South and Central America, we’ve translated the divine services into Spanish and Portuguese.
This statement falsely and slanderously accused the Church of Antioch, which God has preserved from the temptation of ethnophyletism and has worldwide acclaim for the significant role she continues to play in realising Orthodox ecclesiology, of “placing the question on an ethnic-racial basis”. Go ahead and laugh. We’ve really reached the end of times! You’ll laugh even more when you learn that Jerusalem’s statement bases its accusation on a letter that doesn’t exist, attributed to Patriarch Youhanna X, that puts into his mouth words that no Orthodox person with even a modicum of sanity has ever said. They claim that he is demanding pastoral oversight of the Orthodox in Qatar because he “represents the Orthodox Community in all Arab countries, including for example Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Jerusalem, Egypt, Bahrain, the Emirates, and Iran”. Is Iran an Arab country? We hadn’t heard about this. They’ve exchanged Persian for another language!
Likewise anyone who is in the least familiar with ecclesial reality knows that Egypt and all Africa belongs to the Patriarchate of Alexandria whose foundation is attributed to the Holy Evangelist Mark and is an ancient apostolic patriarchate having the second place after Rome, before the foundation of Constantinople, which it continues to hold today among the Orthodox. As such, it goes ahead of Antioch, which holds the third place among the Orthodox. As for the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, she cares for the city of Jerusalem and, as we mentioned above, with time, Antioch gave it dioceses in present-day Palestine and Jordan. Among them are ten dioceses in present-day Jordanian territory that belonged to the diocese of Bosra, which the Patriarch of Jerusalem suddenly woke up and started regarding as belonging to his patriarchate. If not for the need to defend the right and honour of the Church, we would shy away from talking about these shameful realities.
The most hurtful thing is the false accusation that the Patriarchate of Antioch is lying. This is unprecedented behaviour even for countries in conflict with each other, so how can it happen in the Church of Jesus Christ? The statement goes so far as to deny the agreement reached in Athens at the Greek Foreign Ministry in early summer 2014. Even uglier than that, it invokes “the testimony of the delegates of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of the Directorate for Churches”, of course, to confirm the non-existence of this agreement, which the Greek media announced at that time. How far has the Church of Jerusalem, the “Mother of Churches”, sunk and why is there this frantic effort to occupy the territory of a sister church?! Instead of practising the words of the Apostle, “Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?” we find our brother practicing the following saying, “Who is weak and I do not devour him?” It is really a bitter farce, in the face of which words are useless. Whoever said, “Among the Orthodox, active love has become a dull tune”, was right. It’s no wonder then that other religious communities have become a haven for those fleeing the hell of those who claim to be the “Mother of Churches”. You’re truly a stranger and an outcast in Your own Church, O Lord! Worst of all, the statement closes by declaring kindness and gentleness that impose continued “commemoration of the sister Orthodox Church of Antioch, for the sake of the unity of the Orthodox Church”. As if the unity of the Church were a superficial unity achieved through commemoration alone, apart from truth and love. What unity is this apart from truth!? What unity is this in falsehood and slander?! What unity is this through bullying, using every means that belongs to this world, except the true Gospel of Jesus Christ!? Do we still wonder why people are fleeing the Church?
Metropolitan Saba Isber
18 July 2015