Saturday, June 11, 2016

"Why Qatar Matters"

From the Facebook group "Pan Orthodox Council," a post by Abouna Mansour...

Most people would have a hard time finding Qatar on the map. Coming in at around 4,400 square miles, Qatar would actually fit inside any large city in America, with enough room to fit in Bahrain as well (which is 295 square miles).

Is it packed with Orthodox Christians? No, it isn't. The Christians who are there are mostly foreign workers, and a very small percentage of an overwhelmingly Moslem country.

It is small. There are not many Christians. But, it is important.

What makes Qatar important to us is that it is in the midst of a prophetic event that will reveal to us many things, some of which we can see clearly right now. Of course, prophesy is not entirely revelatory while it is happening, and usually only makes sense from the position of hind-sight. So, I believe, we will only fully understand this situation once it is resolved. But, in the meantime, we can learn plenty from it right now.

So, what happened?

First, we must remember that the Church of Antioch has traditionally administered the lands of the Arabian Gulf as part of its 'All the East' title. The Fourth Ecumenical Council went as far as to specify that Arabia belonged to Antioch after the infamous 'Robber Synod of Ephesus' in 449 attempted to take Arabia away from Antiochian administration. In the first millennium, Antioch used the Arabic language along side Aramaic and Greek, and essentially became the main ancient Autocephalous Church that administers Middle Eastern peoples as a trans-national church.

Christianity in Qatar has an ancient history: St. Isaac of Nineveh was born there, as were other early Christian figures in what later came to be known as the Nestorian Church. But, by the 9th Century, Christianity ceased to exist there as Islam supplanted Christianity in much of the region. That did not mean, however, that Antioch ceased to have a jurisdiction there, just as no one argues that most of Turkey does not belong to the Patriarchate of Constantinople just because there are no Christians in most of their metropolises.

Up until now, this territory, confirmed by one of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, has never been claimed by any other church. But, then we enter into the modern era.

So, second, we must understand that Qatar is an Sunni Islamic country and, as in the Arabic gulf, Orthodox Christians, along with those from other historical communities, who came to work in Qatar were allowed to open a Christian complex in Doha (the capital city) with the help of both the American and Greek Ambassadors in QTAR. It seemed the problem for Orthodox Christians in Qatar would be fixed. But, as with many things in life, it wasn't so easy.

You see, our Antiochian Church is based in Damascus, Syria. So, Qatar refused to allow clergy from the Patriarchate of Antioch to minister at this new complex. What do you do?

The momentary solution seemed to come in the form of a man named Archmandrite Theophilos, the present Patriarch of Jerusalem, followed by Georgios Mavrogianakkis or, as he was known at the time, Archmandrite Makarios of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The Synod of Antioch and Jerusalem came to an agreement that, since Jerusalem had Arabic-speaking clergy who were not Arabs, they could send a priest that could serve the community and meet the conditions Qatar appeared to be setting.

Archmandrite Makarios, fluent in Arabic and armed with a Greek passport, was easily admitted to Qatar and began to work in the newly established parish. With the ailing Metropolitan Constantine largely bed-ridden, the clergy of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Baghdad, Kuwait and Dependencies (which covers the Gulf States) continued to minister to the people with little supervision. Perhaps this explains what happened some eight years later.

In 2013, Antioch was startled by news from Jerusalem: a new Metropolitan was consecrated by them... for Qatar! It was none other than Makarios, who had served for nearly a decade. Perhaps they sensed that the ailing Metropolitan Constantine would do nothing, or they had be encouraged in some other way. But, nonetheless, they were making a decisive move not only to increase their territory, but also betrayed a Sister Church.

Though Metropolitan Constantine was too sick to act (he retired not long after and recently passed away), the Holy Synod of Antioch was not. Reeling with the effects of the Syrian Civil War, Antioch found itself under attack from one of its closest neighbors, Jerusalem.

Antioch saw this as a betrayal. The most horrible thing was that the Liturgy was served without commemorating Patriarch of Antioch.

Immediately, Antioch declared this consecration was irregular and uncanonical, since this territory belonged to Antioch. Jerusalem refused to relent, and letters flew back and forth. Qatar certainly wasn't going to lose sleep over this, and may have enjoyed watching the spectacle.

Antioch demanded a meeting to work out the problem, but Jerusalem refused to budge. So, Antioch had to consider its options. Who had influence with Jerusalem?

Well, they remembered America. Jerusalem had, at one point, declared North American communities to be under their administration. In 2002, Jerusalem went so far as to declare a “Jerusalem Patriarchate in America” and assigned the Metropolitan of Jaffa to supervise it.

Antioch was annoyed, since this new Jerusalemite presence seemed to specialize in picked up disciplined clergy without proper releases, but there didn't seem to be any way to keep them out. America is, after all, an open playing field, and virtually every Autocephalous Church has claims to parishes here.

Then, something strange happened.

The Jerusalem parishes were, for no clear reason, absorbed by Constantinople's Greek Archdiocese of North America and became the “Vicariate for Palestinian–Jordanian Communities in the USA.”

So, after phone calls and letters to both Jerusalem and Constantinople, Antioch was invited in June of 2013 to send representatives to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Greece. After intense negotiation, Jerusalem relented and agreed to abolish its “Qatar Archdiocese”. Documents were signed and tea was served.

No sooner had everyone's airplanes touched down, and Jerusalem 'changed its mind.' The deal was off.

Antioch pressed the matter, and the Holy Synod voted to break off communion with Jerusalem, but then postponed the decision when it received an invitation from Constantinople in 2014 to attend a “Great and Holy Council.” The hope was that the matter could be brought up before the Primates of all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, since it has been the ancient tradition of the Church that Great Councils have settled territorial disputes.

Yet, even before the 'Council' (and I am purposely putting 'Council' in quotes because the closer we get to it the less like a true Council of the Church is it looking to be) had a chance to review the matter, Constantinople further complicated the matter by appearing to go along with Jerusalem adding “Syria and Arabia” to its title.

This is the new self-styled title for the Patriarch of Jerusalem:

His Beatitude, the Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and all Palestine, Syria, Arabia, and beyond the Jordan River, Kana of Galilee and Holy Sion, Theophilos III.

Notice a problem here?

Well, of course you do! Syria and Arabia were from the very beginning part of Antioch, and were ratified by the 4th Ecumenical Council, which also specified that Jerusalem would be limited to the 'Three Palestines.' One must also remember that the Church of Jerusalem was actually a late construct: prior to the 4th Ecumenical Council, Jerusalem was not only not Autocephalous, but the Bishop of Jerusalem was under the Metropolitan of Caesarea! So, even before Jerusalem became an Autocephalous Church, Antioch had been administering all the East.

Now, we are replete with all kinds of self-imposed titles, such as some bishops using the title “All Holiness.” The problem with titles these days is similar to that of 'grade inflation.' Of course, they make one sound bigger, but the truth behind a title is what something actually is rather than what it sounds like.

That's the problem: just because Jerusalem's patriarch has changed his title to include Arabia and Syria does not mean that he automatically has jurisdiction. He even claimed in a letter to Patriarch John the X that all the 13 Churches in the Arabic Gulf belong to him. Nor can any other obscure trivia points that one may dream up undo the reality that Antioch's territory has been establish by an Ecumenical Council and confirmed by history: Jerusalem never had a bishop in the Arabian Gulf. Even the Patriarchate of Moscow had to request the blessing of Antioch to establish a parish in QATAR to minister its own Russia-speaking congregation.

Anyway, let's get back to the timeline of events leading up to today.

In the mad scramble to hold together the deteriorating situation with the mostly-pan-Orthodox meeting in Crete, the Church of Cyprus decided to lend a hand and offered to broker a deal, but that process broke down.

Now, with the 'super-duper-mostly-pan-Orthodox' meeting right around the corner, and Antioch threatening to pull out because there's no solution, we receive another surprise announcement from Istanbul on March 31 of this year: without prior consultation, Constantinople suddenly announced that, after the 'Council,' it was instructing Jerusalem and Antioch to participate in a yet-to-be-described process under the “coordinating responsibility of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”

It would have helped if Constantinople had called Antioch and asked them if they wanted to participate in this process that they were proposing, though that might have looked:

A) respectful of a Sister Church and,

B) considerate of the necessity that Autocephalous Churches voluntarily cooperate in such a process.

But, then again, it also might have led to questions, like:

A) What will this process look like?

B) Why can't the “Great and Holy Synod” consider the matter in the tradition of the Orthodox Church and officially bless the resolution?

C) Why did you wait until the very last minute to make this announcement?

D) Why are we doing this again, after Jerusalem already signed a document relenting on this?

The situation is changing minute-by-minute, and so by the time you read this, there could be more. But, just based on what has happened so far, what can we learn?

1) Working together is risky business

Antioch has learned that just because someone is consecrated as a bishop that he is not automatically inoculated from the temptations of the passions. Church politics are mostly about the unhealed humanity of the people in the Church, and some bishops are a big part of that.

So, when we think about the lack of trust and cooperation between the Autocephalous Churches, just remember that recent history shows us that genuine cooperation does not always happen. We see some hierarchs of various churches engage in 'ecclesiastical chess' in trying to expand their territories, or checking the expansion of others.

2) In the eyes of some people, an American Church can never 'come of age'

You may think this is a bit of a stretch, but one must only consider the Church of Jerusalem to understand how the diaspora will be treated by hierarchs who share the attitudes of Constantinople and Jerusalem.

Here's a test: I will give you a list of surnames of bishops, and you tell me which Autocephalous Church were talking about-

Hasapakis, Moschonas, Leovaris, Gaganiaras, Peristeris, Liveris, Georgiadis, Hanna, Baltatzis, Blatsos, Kapenekas, Rodousakis, Antoniou, Mahamre, Georgopetris, Antonopoulos, Condogiannis, Margaritis, Saridakis, Tsekouras.
From all of those names, you might have guessed that we are talking about the Church of Greece, or perhaps the Church of Constantinople. But, no, we are talking about the Church of Jerusalem, which serves over 500,000 Palestinian Christians and is one of Christendom's oldest communities.

Yet, all but two of these bishops had to be 'imported' from somewhere else. Specifically, Crete seems to be the most popular birthplace for a Jerusalemite bishop, though it would also seem that anywhere in Greece will do. Only two of these names are from men who were actually born and raised in Jerusalem's canonical territory (even when you include its 'new acquisitions' of Syria and Arabia).

Are you telling me that, after 2,000 years, the Palestinian Christian population is not 'mature enough' to produce its own episcopal candidates?

The faithful peoples in the diaspora need to take a long look at Jerusalem and ask why local Christians are not fit to preside over their own communities. You must also remember that those who perpetuate this ethno-phyletism (which is the new trendy phrase in the Orthodox world) have their sights on presiding over all of our communities in the United States and Canada.

3) For some in the Church, 'Leadership' means bossing people around

One thing is very clear: Jesus Christ is the head of the Church, and after that there are a lot of parts that need to work together. The means 'coordination,' and what coordination demands is 'sensitivity.' A body that does not experience pain will destroy itself.

The lead-up to the withdrawal of Antioch from the Cretan Convention has had a lot of do with the lack of sensitivity not only of Jerusalem but also Constantinople. Antioch has registered its pain over the encroachment of Jerusalem in its territory, but received no sign that from anyone that it is seen as a serious problem.

As the meeting approached, Constantinople stubbornly refused to respond to the other Autocephalous Churches' concerns, just like a leper that has lost feeling in his body. Why not first deal with the obvious suffering in the Church, and then deal with the details?

Only Constantinople can explain why Antioch's concerns are not important.
What is does tell us, however, is that our local concerns in America will likely be even less important than those of an ancient Church. If Constantinople intends to rule here 'without equal,' you can expect more of the same.

4) You can't force people to do what you want
There's an old principle in the military, that if you have to 'pull rank' to get people to listen to you, you probably shouldn't have that rank to begin with. That means if you have to force people to do something, you are not leading. You are 'compelling.'

God does not force us into His Kingdom. He does not compel us to enter the Church.

This means that leadership requires inspiration and cooperation. We don't respond well to demands for obedience, though we are capable of working together with others when we have a common vision and a sense of mutual respect and equality.

When a church unfurls a banner emblazoned with “First Among Unequals,” you already know you have a hard sell ahead for true Orthodox believers. If Orthodoxy is to spread around the globe, it's main message cannot be the supremacy of a person captivated by its society.

We need leadership willing to work gently to gain trust and cooperation. Right now, Constantinople isn't doing that. Instead, it reads its own resumé out loud and then wonders why people aren't falling down in awe. No, we are not impressed. If you had known us, you would know that Americans really don't do history.

We don't have much of one ourselves.

Constantinople is going to have to show that it is capable of leading. That means being able to inspire cooperation and come up with solutions that everyone wants to be a part of.

There is no emperor or pasha to enforce ecclesiastical decrees. If you can't get people to do it on their own, your only other threat is excommunication. And, that is not such a big deal to most Americans, who are used to thousands of denominations and routine schism.


  1. yes, thank you for sharing. I learned a lot.

  2. These guys are behaving childishly, like the two-bit dictators of Banana Republics engaged in petty turf wars, what with their jealousies and their clutchings for the straws of power and grandeur (or whatever is is they are grasping for.) And, of course, Bart is behaving like a Turkish Sultan.

    Absolutely disgraceful. What an example they set for those who struggle to live like Orthodox Christians! Who can respect people who behave like this?

    It was John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron of Acton, who observed: "Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely."

    THANK YOU for the article. It is hard to tell the players (puppets?) without a score card.

  3. I am grateful for this site because it shows people that, in the Middle East, there are Christians as well as a rich Christian history.

  4. My name is Theodosios SKortsis and I am Engineer.
    Although the article tries to enlighten the situation about the matter, it should be better to know the opinion of Holy Patriarchy of Jerusalem.
    What I personally know by living in Qatar for the last five years and trying to be an active member of the local Church is that there was a very active missionary who has created and maintain the local church of Qatar by working continually and humbly for the needs of the believers and the Glory of Jesus Christ. Therefore some thousands of Orthodox Christians can find an oasis in the desert and a shelter in a muslim country. My three daughters can go to an Orthodox Church to attend the Holy Litourgy and celebrate Pasha. What I know is that this man called Makarios fought against all the difficulties and me and my family have a huge gratitude to him and his assistants. At this article I saw a complaint about the title. But I didn't see anyone from the Holy Patriarch of Antiochy to work or even to visit this local church. And at the bottom line what dear author of hte article is preferable to have: 1. a desert land without church which nevertheless belongs to Antiochy or a live church which flowerish in the desert and doesn't belong to Antiochy? I will leave the legal issue to be solved by the Church. And now i have to stop in order to go to the Paraklisi to Virgin Mary in our illegal "according to the author" church.

    PS. I had the honor to be the structural Designer of the new Byzantine church which it's construction is ongoing on top of the current basement. This is the mission...