A Response to the Real Problem
by Mr. Ziad Baroudi
I am a Lebanese emigre living in Australia. I am writing this to correct some of the claims made in the article entitled “The Real Problem” by an anonymous Antiochian priest.
I will not make any statements regarding the American Archdiocese, as I am not qualified to do so.
In the parish that I attended in the northern suburbs of Beirut, we had daily services (Matins and Vespers) in Arabic. We had several monastic style all-night vigils every year. We used Arabic almost exclusively. I say almost because we chose to have some Greek (Agios O Theos, Kyrie Eleison ...). This should not have been possible according to the article which claims that "the Patriarchate has never bothered to translate services aside from the bare necessities for Sunday services into Arabic. Weekday services in English are available to those who want them as many parishes do, but they are impossible in Arabic because they have done so little."
Our parish did a lot of work with Orthodox refugees. We provided free medicines and food supplies. We also ministered to their spiritual needs and started a low cost primary school which was attended mainly by their children. Our Metropolitan, +George (Khodr), visited to celebrate services, deliver lectures and attend meetings of our youth and young adult groups. We would save some difficult questions for such visits. I remember very vividly his comprehensive answer to a question I asked on behalf of the senior high-school group. Again, this is contrary to the claim that “the bishops of the Holy Synod do practically nothing”.
At one stage, members of my family fled to the North of Lebanon. There I had the privilege of meeting a wonderful man, Mr. Elie Bandali, who spent his weekends missionizing Orthodox villages where political parties had taken root and prevented the Church from doing Her work among the young. He was doing this with the blessing of Metropolitan +Elias (Korban) who has recently fallen asleep in the Lord. I remember being blown away by the wonderful youth work in that Archdiocese. Metropolitan +Elias was no micro-manager, he allowed people to use their talents and provided them with moral support and resources. Yet another member of the Holy Synod who does not fit the image portrayed in the article.
Our parish priest, Fr Dimitri (my dad, for the sake of disclosure), started a mission to the Orthodox who had gone into areas with no history of Orthodox presence (keserwan). Their bishop did not simply tell them to “go anywhere to receive communion” as stated in the article.
Another priest who did wonderful work in our parish was Archimandrite Touma (Bittar). The latter is the author of the Arabic Synaxarion and "Forgotten saints in the Antiochian heritage", to name but a few of his works. He is a major figure in the monastic renewal that has taken place since the end of the war. His Metropolitan showed a lot of courage when he blessed an Essex-style community for monks and nuns in Lebanon. It is the faith of the people and the support of their bishops that has seen many historic monasteries reclaimed for our Lord and new ones established.
Having visited Lebanon this year, I could see that the Churches of Mount Lebanon that had been demolished during the war are now rebuilt, even though most of the refugees have not returned to those villages yet. The area where our priest had started a mission now has two beautiful Orthodox Churches (St Nicholas and the Annunciation). An episode of Fr Joseph Honeycutt’s featured two American priests who had visited an Archdiocese in Syria, where they were impressed by the mechanism they had for establishing new Churches. So much for the claim that "no new Churches are founded".
What of the statement that “a priest in North America is translating into Arabic St. John Chrysostom for the first time”? To be fair, the author qualified this by saying he’d heard that that was the case. Let me say that there were works of the great saint (and other Fathers) available to us, such as On the Priesthood on Letters to Olympia. More translations of his works are being published. That these translations are a work in progress is hardly scandalous. It is not as though the Orthodox are behind the compendia of Patristic works in English. It is thanks to the likes of Philip Schaff and Robert Hill that we have entire series of Patristic works. Besides, there are far fewer Arabic-speaking Christians who have enjoyed their intellectual freedom for a far shorter time than Christians in the West. This is not to mention the fact that most educated Arab Christians can read French and/or English.
I am not claiming that the "Old Country" is perfect or to be emulated in every respect. Everything isn't rosy, let alone holy. I simply wanted to correct some of the claims made in the article. I trust that the author has been misinformed or is generalizing from a visit to one inactive diocese and is not deliberately misinforming the readers of this website. Forgive me if I have caused offence to anyone.