Monday, December 17, 2012

Paris Metropolitan Elected New Patriarch of Antioch

The Holy Synod of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, meeting in Lebanon's Balamand Monastery of the Dormition, has elected Metropolitan John (Yazigi) of Paris as Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East. Axios!

Born in Lattakia, Syria, in 1955, the future patriarch completed education in Syria before entering Balamand University in Lebanon to complete a degree in theology, after which he undertook a doctorate of theology at Thessalonica's Aristotelian University. Ordained a deacon in 1979, in 1981 Fr. Youhanna began teaching at Balamand, being ordained a priest in 1983, consecrated to the episcopacy as Bishop of al-Hosn in 1995, and in 2001 becoming abbot of the Balamand Monastery. In 2008 he was elected Metropolitan of Paris and Western and Central Europe by the Holy Synod of the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

In a speech after his election, Patriarch-elect John said in part, "Our confidence in our people is very deep and our path is the path of the cross...Christians will remain in Syria and it is their land."

More here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

In Memoriam: Metropolitan Mar Barnabas of New York

Metropolitan Mar Barnabas (Mathews) of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, recently retired Metropolitan of New York and Northeast America, has reposed at the age of eighty-eight. Born K.K. Mathukutty in Perumbavoor, Kerala, on 9 August 1924, the future metropolitan was in 1951 ordained to the priesthood as Fr. Mathews, later being consecrated to the episcopacy in 1978 as Bishop Mar Barnabas.

In 1981 Mar Barnabas was elevated to the rank of metropolitan, and in 1982 he was elected as the first metropolitan of the newly established Diocese of Idukki in eastern Kerala. In 1992 Metropolitan Mar Barnabas was transferred to the Malankara Orthodox Diocese of New York and America, becoming its second ruling metropolitan and shepherding the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in North America until 2009, when new dioceses were created and he became ruling metropolitan of the Northeast American Diocese.

During Metropolitan Mar Barnabas' tenure in North America the Church there underwent a period of significant growth, with new churches being established across the continent. In 2011 he retired as metropolitan to return to Kerala, where he was cared for as his health declined. This past Sunday, 9 December, he fell asleep at the Pampady Monastery at the age of eighty-eight. May Metropolitan Mar Barnabas' memory be eternal! A full account of his life may be found here.

Friday, December 7, 2012

New Armenian Orthodox Bishop Appointed for Australia, New Zealand

Catholicos-Patriarch Karekin II (Nersessian) of the Armenian Orthodox Church of Echmiadzin has appointed Bishop Haykazun (Najarian), who till now had served as patriarchal legate in Central Europe and Sweden, as Bishop of Sydney, Australia, and New Zealand. More in Armenian here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

On Bishop Matthias: Background to the Texts

The following was contributed by a clergyman of the Diocese of Chicago and the Midwest of the American Orthodox Church (OCA).

The REST of the story concerning His Grace Bishop Matthias.

It is important that people be allowed speak out against sexual misconduct in our church in a safe environment, in appropriate contexts and in appropriate ways. Incidents in the not-so-distant past that have been quietly swept under the rug are unconscionable.  Concerns that our Church stay honest and transparent about these issues are genuine and ought to be affirmed.

But has the pendulum swung too far in the other direction, so that it is impossible to get a fair hearing for the accused?  Should there not also be a safe and appropriate way for people to speak out for them?

Our society has come to a regrettable place: so many of us automatically read and hear sexual content and perverse intentions in all sorts of innocent casual discourse.  How tragic that we in the Orthodox Church are doing so well in following the example of the culture around us!  Maybe our propensity for reading sexual content into messages, where there is none, says more about us than we’d like to admit?

When I saw the text messages, I, like many others who’ve been using the internet for more than a week, figured that there was much more to the story than what was being shown to us.  I assumed that the investigation would bear that out, that the Synod of Bishops would look at the entire situation, make a ruling according to the facts of the case, and that would be that.  I naively assumed that the people WITHOUT any facts would listen, even for a moment, to the people WITH the facts.

I could well be wrong, but I am praying that the majority of us in this diocese, who have remained silent about this, have done so because, in spite of how it looked, they knew to be cautious about leaping to judgement without the facts, and they had a suspicion there was more to it - especially so after having met Bishop Matthias and knowing what kind of person he is.  But because Bishop Matthias, to his credit, has not come forward to explain the situation, we are left to wonder, and to trust the process alone.

I don’t think we should need to hear “the other side of the story” in order to trust that our bishops have made the right decision.  But I think it would be a help to those who want to give our bishops the benefit of the doubt, but have been tempted to think otherwise because of the one-sided gossip.

Providentially,  most of the basic facts about this situation were not hard to obtain by doing a little digging, and they are public knowledge in many places, and I present them here in the detail that they are generally known.  The confidentiality of the woman/parish/etc. will still be maintained.

That background is this:

Bishop Matthias had known this woman and her boyfriend for a over a year and half, and the boyfriend was a long-time close friend of Bishop Matthias’ son, Fr. Matthew [Moriak].  When Bishop Matthias would come on pastoral visits to their parish, or parishes in the area, they would always go and visit with him.  Bishop Matthias has always had a great talent for connecting with and ministering to couples in this age bracket, and, as that was also the case here, they began to form a close relationship of trust and mutual respect.

Her parents, who were not even Orthodox, were glad that their daughter and boyfriend had a friend and mentor in Bishop Matthias,  and they had him over to dinner multiple times, including meals as casual as ordering pizza, and they became friends as well.

Later, she was going to take a position in a distant city and, it being the first time she would leave home to live elsewhere, her parents were worried.  Although Bishop Matthias wasn’t right near the city she was moving to, just closer to her than the parents would be, they arranged together for him to help her out as much as possible when he was able, for which they were very thankful.  I offer all that background to explain why Bishop Matthias felt especially obligated to make sure her needs were met, and that she was communed and anointed when sick, etc.

To clarify about one visit specifically mentioned in the complaint, the “item” he wanted to give her was an icon! (as she was newly chrismated).  She had wanted to talk to him about various things in her life after her conference ran late that day, so Bishop Matthias stayed up late and counseled her on various issues, after which she and her boyfriend profusely thanked him!  Likewise there was mention of a boat ride, referring to a large group-tour of Chicago via the river, which she had previously taken and enjoyed so much that she was trying to talk him into taking the ride with her, so his text about that was referring to the request she had already made.

So the friendship of this woman, her boyfriend, Fr. Matthew, and Bishop Matthias continued and became comfortable enough that there was the normal kind of inside jokes and ribbing you might expect.  She would bring him gifts such as CDs or cookies, and he began to consider them a part of his family.

Leading up to the texts in question, the woman became ill and was having difficulty dealing with her sickness.  She contacted Bishop Matthias to talk over her frustrations with her sickness, and she expressed her thanks and gratitude for his willingness to help her through it.  Bishop Matthias had been scheduled to go a meeting, but it was cancelled at the last minute, which freed him up for a few days, so he offered to come visit her, as the local priest had not yet been there for a visit.  She felt quite awful, and he was trying to cheer her up, and was willing to drive all the way there on his free days to do so, which he did for her sake, and also because of the duty he felt toward her parents.  People who know Bishop Matthias would know that he does this sort of thing quite frequently.

As this was going on, the boyfriend knew that Bishop Matthias was going to take this extra effort to visit her, so he teased him a little, via text, about the special care he was offering her, saying that “the word on the street is...”  Bishop Matthias entered into the banter himself and texted her the same phrase he just got from the boyfriend, and he joked about her being his “favorite”, to which she replied with “LOL”, and so he assumed the joke was understood as a joke.  As the banter continued, since she had already used the word ‘crush’ in a previous text, he used it as well, in what we all know now to be a very poor attempt at humor.  That is all there was to it, none of the ridiculous things people have read into it.  After he learned that she had taken these texts in the way she did, he immediately called off the visit.

About not telling the local priest about his visit: this was because Bishop Matthias knew other families in the parish whom he thought would feel slighted if it got out that he had come to anoint and commune her while not visiting with them as well.  I think this is quite common, but for some reason many priests choose to be offended about this, so I mention it.

Concerning sleeping on the floor with an air mattress: this is no mystery to anyone who knows Bishop Matthias.  He’s not much for spending a lot of money on expensive hotels when a little bit of floor is all he needs.  He always travels with an air mattress and uses it whenever he can.  Last summer he came on Project Mexico with us for a week and he slept in a tent on the rocky ground with the rest of us, even though they’d offered him a comfortable bed in the guest house.  Naive as it was, his offer was simply to avoid putting her out at all, since she was sick and had her mother to worry about too.

About the letter that Bishop Matthias wrote to the diocese: people seemed upset that he did not admit to being what they all assumed he must be (some sort of sexually deviant person).  It makes no sense that people should want him to apologize for being something that he isn’t.  If someone took my sloppy communication and accused me of having sexual intentions with it that I did not actually have, why would I apologize for having had intentions that I never had?  On the contrary, it would be all I could do to not get quite angry about it.  He apologized for what he actually did, he did not apologize for what he did not do.  Who would do differently?

Reflecting on all this, among close friends and family there are certain things that are understood as ‘inside jokes’, certain ways we rib one another, and a level of trust and shared experience that we know what kinds of things we can say and not say.  Ever been over to dinner with a tightly-knit family and overheard their camaraderie?  It can sound pretty crazy, or even inappropriate, when you don’t know the history and context of each comment.  And if that’s true in a conversation or an email, all the more so with text messages, which are continually used for all kinds of teasing banter between friends (as anyone under the age of 30 can tell you).

I have several times misjudged a relationship and said stupid things or made jokes that were not appropriate for a particular situation, God forgive me.  If I was kicked out of my parish every time I did so, I wouldn’t have been around for long.  I’m glad those around me can tolerate my mistakes so much better than some in our diocese can tolerate them in our bishop.

I pray that he endures all the continued and unjust slander stirred up against him, and that he returns to continue his episcopal ministry as soon as possible.  I am sure he will be an even better bishop for having gone through all of this.

Bulgarian Orthodox Church to Elect New Patriarch in February

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has announced that it will hold a council, comprised of the members of the hierarchy and representatives of the metropolises, stavropeghial monastic communities, and seminaries, this coming February to elect its next patriarch. Of the current hierarchy of the Sofia Patriarchate two members are ineligible for election, whilst two others have already stated that they will not allow themselves to be candidates for election. More here. H/t to Byzantine Texas for posting this.

First Orthodox Bishop of Brazzaville Consecrated in Egypt

Pope Theodore II (Horeftakis) of All Africa concelebrated the consecration this past Sunday of the newest hierarch of the Alexandrian Orthodox Church, Bishop Panteleimon (Arathymos) of Brazzaville. The service, concelebrated by metropolitans of the Church of Alexandria and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Dorotheus II of Tinos, was held in the papal Cathedral of the Annunciation in Alexandria, Egypt. More here.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Meets With Riga Mayor

In a meeting with the mayor of Riga, Nil Ushakov, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Cyril (Gundyayev) has called upon the Latvian government to recognize Russian as an official language of the Latvian state, noting that nearly half of the Latvian population speaks Russian as its first language and yet have been disenfranchised in the country as non-citizens despite their long residency in it. More here.

New Syriac Orthodox Metropolitans Consecrated in Lebanon, Syria

In keeping with the decisions of the recent session of the Holy Synod of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch two new metropolitans have been consecrated for the service of the Syriac Orthodox Church. In late October Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Zacchaeus (Iwas) consecrated Rabban Nathaniel (Yousif) in St. Gabriel's Church in A’ajaltoun, Lebanon, to the episcopacy as Metropolitan Mor Bartholomew to serve the Syriac Orthodox Church in the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf states. In early November, at the patriarchal Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Ma’arat Saydnaya, Syria, the patriarch concelebrated the consecration of Rabban Matta Fadel (Alkhoury), patriarchal secretary for India, to the episcopacy as Metropolitan Mor Timothy. Axios! More here and here.

Alexandrian Orthodox Holy Synod Establishes Dioceses, Elects New Metropolitans, Bishops

The Holy Synod of the Alexandrian Orthodox Church has held its fall session under the chairmanship of Pope Theodore II (Horeftakis). During the session the assembled hierarchs took several decisions concerning the life of the Church in Africa. The Dioceses of Madagascar and Sierra Leone were both designated metropolises, with the latter being renamed the Metropolis of Conakry and Guinea, and the new Diocese of Brazzaville was erected to serve the Orthodox Church in Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon.

To better serve the Church, Metropolitan George (Vladimirou) of Accra was elected Metropolitan of Conakry and Guinea; Bishop Gabriel of Mareotis, patriarchal auxiliary for the Archdiocese of Alexandria, was elected Metropolitan of Leontopolis in northeastern Egypt; Bishop Sabbas of Bujumbura was elected Metropolitan of Accra; Archimandrite Innocent (Byakatonda), an Ugandan Orthodox clergyman serving at Nairobi's Cathedral of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, was elected Bishop of Bujumbura; and Archimandrite Panteleimon (Arathymos), secretary of the Holy Synod, was elected Bishop of Brazzaville.

On the final day of the session the Holy Synod called for an end to religiously-motivated violence. An account of the recent meetings of the Holy Synod can be found here and here.

Newest Bishop Consecrated for Russian Orthodox Church

During services this past Sunday Patriarch Cyril (Gundyayev) of Moscow concelebrated the consecration of Archimandrite Fyodor (Belkov) in Moscow's Church of Christ the Savior. Axios! Bishop Theodore was consecrated Bishop of Alatyr and Poretskoye to serve a new diocese in the recently erected Metropolitanate of Cheboksary in Chuvashia, a constituent republic of the Russian Federation. More here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ethiopian Orthodox Factions Reportedly Meet in Dallas

It is being reported that a meeting is taking place today in Dallas, Texas, between representatives of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church (EOTC) and the Holy Synod in Exile of the EOTC, founded in the Ethiopian Diaspora by Patriarch Abune Mercurius (Fanta) of Addis Abeba following his removal by the post-Communist Ethiopian government. The two sides are said to be meeting to discuss the possibility of a reconciliation between the two branches of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. More details will be released if and when they become available.

In Memoriam: Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch

Patriarch Ignatius IV (Hazim) of the Antiochian Orthodox Church has fallen asleep at the age of ninety-one. The patriarch, a native of Syria's Hama province and graduate of the American University of Beirut, was in the 1940s a founder of the Orthodox Youth Movement before going on to serve as a clergyman and, later, as an auxiliary bishop to the patriarch and Metropolitan of Lattakia in western Syria. In 1979 he was elected Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. After faithfully shepherding the Church of Antioch for thirty-three years Patriarch Ignatius reposed earlier today in Beirut, Lebanon, after suffering a severe stroke. May his memory be eternal! More on Patriarch Ignatius' life can be found here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Antiochian Orthodox Patriarch in Critical Condition

It has been reported that Patriarch Ignatius IV (Hazim) of Antioch has suffered a stroke and is in critical condition. He was initially transported to a hospital in the Damascus area, but later transferred to a hospital in Beirut, Lebanon. Please remember Patriarch Ignatius in your prayers!

H/t to Notes on Arab Orthodoxy for posting this.