Patriarch of Antioch: I will be judged if I do not carry the Church and each one of you in my heart
Ever since his years in France, Hazeem has been moved not only by a desire to pass on the deposit of the faith, but also to take Orthodoxy out of its unhistorical ghetto by discovering in its holy tradition living answers to the problems of modern life. On his return to the Middle East, he founded the Balamand Orthodox Theological Seminary in Lebanon which he then served for many years as dean. As dean he sought to provide the Patriarchate with responsible leaders who had received a good spiritual and intellectual training and who were witnesses to an awakened and deeply personal faith.
He was one of the founders of the active Orthodox Youth Movement of Lebanon and Syria in 1942, through which he helped to organize and lead a renewal of Church life in the Patriarchate of Antioch. Later, in 1953, he helped to found Syndesmos, the world fellowship of Orthodox Youth and Theological Schools. He was consecrated to the episcopacy in 1961 and elected Metropolitan of Lattakia in Syria in 1970. His style as metropolitan broke with the former tradition of episcopal grandeur and he inaugurated an authentic practice of frequent communion. In July 1979, he became the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, the third ranking hierarch of the Orthodox Church after the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Alexandria. As patriarch he has sought to give a new dynamism to the Holy Synod to make bishops closer to the people and motivated to develop the Church’s ecclesiastic and spiritual life.
The high spirit of religious coexistence and tolerance in Syria was expressed by Pope John Paul II. How does such Islamic-Christian coexistence enhance national unity?
Eastern Christians, more than any others, have knowledge, experience and an understanding of living with Muslims, for they have been in a state of coexistence, cooperation and harmony with them from the rise of Islam in the 7th Century AD until the present. We Muslims and Christians in Syria have established the best of relationships, founded on respect forThe longest Surah appearing in the Noble Qur’an speaks with emphatic respect and appreciation for Christ and his mother Mary.
everyone’s freedom to practice rites as he wishes and according to his belief in the teachings of his religion and the principles of his divine law. This springs from the fact that both the essential and preeminent relationship between Christianity and Islam, and the culture of individual coexistence, have sprung from the East, from this land of sacred religions.
Pope John Paul II praised this coexistence and relationship, which he knew and read about, and which he observed during his historical visit to Syria. The accounts of this visit, what was written and what was said about it have become part of Vatican history and one of the stages of development that the late Pope desired. The relationship of Christianity to Islam and Islam to Christianity is illed with high points consecrating coexistence and mutual respect, recalling in this regard that the longest Surah appearing in the Noble Qur’an speaks with emphatic respect and appreciation for Christ and his mother Mary.
At a time when religious communities are clashing in various parts of the world, a joint church for the Greek-Orthodox and the Catholics was inaugurated in Syria; can you explain this unique event?
The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom. However, there were occasional reports of minor tensions between religious groups mainly attributable to economic rivalries rather than religious afiliation. Achieving Inter-Christian amity has been my preoccupation since I took my duty as the patriarch of Antioch and the whole east church. I said on the occasion: ”I know that I will be judged if I do not carry the Church and each one of you in my heart. It is not possible for me to address you as if I were different from you. No difference separates us. I am an integral part of you; I am in you and I ask you to be in me. For the Lord comes, and the Spirit descends on the brothers gathered, united in communion, as they manifest a diversity of charisms in the unity of the Spirit.”
The East-West Intercultural Youth Dialogue seminar, held in 2007 in Saydnaya broke walls between the two sides. How can such a dialogue deepen East-West understanding?
A lot was learned from the workshops that were conducted by the trainers coming from the UK, the Netherlands, and Syria. We discovered that it is a challenge to overcome our different cultural backgrounds, especially overcoming cultural stereotyping. We were able to deal with those challenges through our thematic workshops and lectures, such as “Diversities of Cultures,” “The Role of Religious and Civil NGOs in Promoting Cultural Diversity,” “Challenges and Perspectives of East-West Intercultural Dialogue,” “Empowering Youth for Dialogue,” and ‘“Developing Common Action Plans.”
What is the role of Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology the lives of both its teachers and students?
All information does not constitute knowledge unless the teacher and the student reach a living and active faith. At the Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology we see clearly that a theological knowledge may be devoid of God although he is its central and inal subject. We also afirm that the purpose of theological study is not to provide a subject matter for debate, speculation or intellectual acrobatics. Theology aims at a personal, existential knowledge of God. Very often one observes in education, particularly in humanities, a process of emptying the contents of a book into the brain of the student. The end result of such an educational process is that information is supplied to the person yet it is not integrated in his personality. The inal outcome may lead to a dualism between the person and the knowledge acquired. The person remains unchanged and knowledge is merely a content of books. Our book, the source of our knowledge, is not made of paper, and information is not constituted of concepts crafted in an abstract way, by the human mind. Our “Book” is a living person, and the knowledge we receive are the principles of living. This knowledge is not juxtaposed onto our person, but is an integral part of it. Our Book is Christ Himself and nothing else: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” At the Institute, we aspire to educate Orthodox spiritual leaders, who are able to go beyond the duality of abstract intellectual knowledge and the personal faithfulness baring witness by words and deeds. A caring and loving spiritual leader is a living witness who brings forth in God’s church the joy of the “good news,” that makes the Christian family a community of resurrection and triumph.
The Palestinian cause is a common one for Arab Muslims and Christians alike. How is the sacred city of Jerusalem speciically important for Arab Christians?
Our faith cannot ind reassurance as long as Jerusalem is in captivity. The issue of Jerusalem should not be postponed nor delayed. Jerusalem is its people; its people are Palestinians who, ever since Jerusalem existed and for countless generations, have lived within it. They have never been severed from it and know no other place as their capital. Separated from its history they do not know themselves.
This position calls for a solution where Arab sovereignty, linking Jerusalem to Palestine, is restored. The holy places remain alive through the people of the Holy City who worship God and seek His blessing, through prayers and prostration and pilgrimage. Without the people, holy shrines would become museums rather than houses of invocation.
No international, Jewish, Arab, Christian or Muslim authority can dispose of Jerusalem’s Christian-Muslim character. Any decision to this effect is void and illegitimate. We condemn Israel’s provocative actions which drive Jerusalemites, Christians and Muslims alike, to emigrate. Jerusalem is turned into a coniscated city while its vocation, in view of its sanctity, history and signiicance, is to be a place of encounter for all. Faced with this situation, we cannot but appeal to the whole world, as we bear trust for our people, their rights and their land.
Peace is the fruit of justice. And peace can not rest, nor be lasting upon injustice and oppression. What we fear most is that the interests of states may coincide to impose a situation where the Palestinian people are deprived of establishing an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital, and where a full withdrawal from Southern Lebanon and the Syrian Golan Heights is not secured.