Statement of the Holy Synod of Antioch 2023

Statement of the Holy Synod of Antioch
Balamand, October 21, 2023
The Holy Antiochian Synod, presided by His Beatitude Patriarch JOHN X (Yazigi), held its fourteenth regular session and seventeenth extraordinary session in Balamand from October 16 to 21, 2023, in the presence of Their Eminences, the Most Reverend Metropolitans:
Elias (Archdiocese of Beirut and dependencies); Elias (Archdiocese of Tyre, Sidon and dependencies); Damaskinos (Archdiocese of São Paulo and All Brazil); Saba (Archdiocese of New York and All North America); Silouan (Archdiocese of Byblos, Botrys and dependencies); Basilios (Archdiocese of Akkar and dependencies); Ephrem (Archdiocese of Tripoli, Koura and dependencies); Ignatius (Archdiocese of France, Western and Southern Europe); Ghattas (Archdiocese of Baghdad, Kuwait and dependencies); Silouan (Archdiocese of the British Isles and Ireland); Antonios (Archdiocese of Zahleh, Baalbek and dependencies); Nicolas (Archdiocese of Hama and dependencies); Basilios (Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines); Ignatius (Archdiocese of Mexico, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean Islands); Athanasius (Archdiocese of Lattakia and dependencies); Jacques (Archdiocese of Buenos Aires and All Argentina); Ephrem (Archdiocese of Aleppo, Alexandretta, and dependencies); and Nifon Saikali Metropolitan of Philippopolis and Representative of the Patriarch of Antioch to the Patriarch of Moscow. Also in attendance was Their Graces: Bishop Gregorios Khoury, Secretary of the Holy Synod and Bishop Romanos El-Hannat, Patriarchal Vicar.
The Metropolitans who apologized for not being able to attend are as follows: Sergios (Archdiocese of Santiago and Chile); Isaac (Archdiocese of Germany and Central Europe). His Eminence Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi is always present in the prayers and invocations of the Synod Fathers, despite his physical absence caused by his abduction.
The Holy Synod began with the participation of the Fathers in the International Conference entitled: “The Orthodox Church of Antioch from the 15th to the 18th Century: Towards a Proper Understanding of History.” This Conference was organized by the Patriarchate and was held in the Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology from October 16 to October 18, 2023. The Synod Fathers highly appreciated the rigorous scientific efforts exerted at the conference. They asserted that what happened in the year 1724 should inspire lessons. It should incite to refrain from throwing false accusations and to have an objective reading of history, a careful, deep, and acceptable review which ought to be conducive to the desired Christian unity, as expressed in the Balamand Declaration that was the fruit of the Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue in the year 1993.
After invoking the Holy Spirit, and begging for divine mercy, the Synod began its first session on October 19, 2023. The Fathers examined first the case of the Bishops of Aleppo, Boulos Yazigi and Youhana Ibrahim, who have been abducted since April 2013. They addressed their Antiochian children, urging them to keep the abducted bishops in their prayers and never cease advocating that case aloud. The Fathers also denounced the complete international silence for over a decade now about this matter. They called for unraveling the mystery of this care, being an image revealing the continuous sufferings of the afflicted people in the East.
After the presentation of reports from various Archdioceses, the Synod Fathers pondered upon the blood-stained scenery in our beloved East, where the atmosphere of murderous hatred prevails. They urged every human being in the world to listen to the call of the Book of Proverbs (23:26): “My son, give me your heart.” With this call, they appeal to all authorities and decision-makers.
Notwithstanding the calamities that overwhelm us and despite all the frustration and despair, one must be reminded that God entrusted this earth to humans in order for them to turn it into an oasis of peace, not a place of hell.
Hence, in a stance imbued with faith, dignity, and hope, the Synod Fathers announced the glorification of two Antiochian hieromartyrs from one family: Father Nicolas Khasha, martyred in Mersin in 1917 and his son in the flesh, Father Habib Khasha, martyred in Jabal al-Sheikh in 1948. Both lived a fragrant life of holiness and are present in the conscience of the faithful of Antioch. Both of them knew how to protect their hearts from hatred and animosity. They chose martyrdom because of their love for God and their sacrifice for the sake of their neighbor, fighting the good fight and preserving the Orthodox faith. The Synod Fathers set the date of the hieromartyrs’ annual commemoration on July 16 of each year, which is the date when Father Habib was martyred. They called on all the believers of the Church of Antioch to sense the fragrance of holiness in this Apostolic Church, this Church that has been bearing witness to her Lord for two thousand years now. They urged the faithful to ask the intercessions of these saints and to imitate their virtues and apostolic zeal that was best shown through the example of their lives.
The Synod Fathers, at the request of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, added to the Antiochian Calendar of Saints the commemoration of Saint Raphael (Hawaweeny), Bishop of Brooklyn. Morevoer, the Synod Fathers appointed the Second Sunday after the Feast of Holy Pentecost (that is the Sunday following the Sunday of All Saints) as the Synaxis of All Saints of Antioch.
The Fathers also deliberated over the vacancy of the Archdiocese of Bosra, Houran, and Jabal al-Arab, as well as the Archdiocese of Homs and dependencies. After listening to the reports of the Patriarchal Vicars for the two aforementioned Archdioceses, Bishop Youhana Batash and Metropolitan Nicolas (Baalbaki) of Hama and dependencies, the Fathers elected Archimandrite Antonios Saad as Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Bosra, Houran and Jabal al-Arab, and Bishop Gregorios Khoury as Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Homs and dependencies. The Fathers also elected Archimandrite Dimitri Mansour as auxiliary bishop to the Patriarch with the title of “Bishop of Qara.” They also elected Bishop Romanos Al-Hannat, the Patriarchal Vicar, as Secretary of the Holy Synod of Antioch.
The Synod Fathers looked again into the subject of the “family,” a theme discussed in many previous sessions of the Holy Synod. In fact, the Synod issued in its session of the year 2019 the pastoral letter entitled: “Family, the Joy of Life.” The Fathers paid homage to the fragrance of holiness that emanated from the family of the Hieromartyrs Nicholas and Habib Khasha. Theirs is a family which made Christ as the center of its life and served His Church until sacrificially shedding blood. The Fathers reiterated the emphasis for the need to be vigilant in protecting the family, calling on all believers to adhere to faith and ethical principles, and to social values. This adherence protects the family from all the machinations and deviations of this age and from everything that is being diffused in school curricula and elsewhere in the name of freedom and tolerance.
The Synod Fathers are aware of the challenges that face our families throughout the Antiochian scope, especially what is affecting our children and youth. They praised all efforts that the Patriarchate, the Antiochian Archdioceses, and their educational institutions, whether schools or universities, are doing to provide students with financial support and decent education. Indeed, this is the most lasting asset in our societies. The Fathers applauded the financial and charitable support that is provided to help many survive in their homeland, especially in the areas that were exposed to the earthquake in Antioch. On this occasion, the Fathers offered a word of gratitude and appreciation to all donors - whether individuals or institutions - for the aid provided to the Antiochians in these current calamities. The Fathers noted with praise the continuous solidarity among the Antiochian Archdioceses, especially after the recent earthquake.
The Fathers also reviewed the general situation in light of what the Antiochian Church is experiencing in the homeland and abroad. They studied many other topics, such as: the livelihood of priests, unifying liturgical services, and humanitarian aid. They also addressed subjects related to clerical behavior and discipline, and how the clergy must show the face of Christ by performing their service with all humbleness and faithfulness, and ensuring that their ministry is blameless, while acting as good shepherds in their parishes. The Fathers listened to studies and reports on various developments that are occurring in the world and their implications on church life. They also reviewed the work of Spiritual Courts and studied the recent amendments to the Personal Status Law presented by the relevant Synodal Committee. This Committee took into consideration in its study the challenges and issues that arose in the actual work of these courts, emphasizing the necessity of preserving the family. The Fathers addressed the Antiochian situation abroad, stressing the importance of the mission performed by the Antiochians who are bearing witness to Christ in the countries where they live.
As for the public issues, the Fathers reflected on what has happened and is happening in occupied Palestine and what has afflicted and befallen the honorable Palestinian people. The position of the Church of Antioch, expressed by her Patriarchs and Synod since long and until today, is clear, bright, and well-known. It affirms the importance of Jerusalem in the conscience of every Christian and Muslim, and the right of return of the Palestinian people and the establishment of their independent State.
The Church of Antioch condemns the siege imposed today on the Palestinian people and on the Gaza Strip in particular, and strongly denounces the genocide committed there, right before the eyes of the world. The violence that is taking place is the result of violating international laws and resolutions which are intended for the application of justice. It is a continuation of the falsification of the identity of the land and history and an attempt to obliterate the outstanding Palestinian cause.
Therefore, the Synod Fathers offer fervent prayers to the King of Peace and Lord of Mercies, to wipe away every tear from the eyes of the Palestinian people, and to remove all injustice, oppression, homelessness, and displacement. They call on all their children and Antiochian parishes to dedicate next Sunday to praying for justice, and for peace to prevail in the country of peace, and to collect aid for the relief of these afflicted people. Since the current circumstances require intensifying prayer and cooperation, the Holy Synod decided to restore ecclesiastical communion with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and to assign a committee in the Patriarchate to communicate with the brothers at the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in order to find a solution to the issue of the ecclesiastical dispute over the jurisdiction of "Qatar" in a way that preserves the right of ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the See of Antioch over it. The Synod also decided to send a church delegation to visit Amman to express the love of the faithful in the Church of Antioch for the faithful in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and to stand by them in these difficult fateful circumstances.
The Synod Fathers offered their prayers for the stability of Syria and for the end of terrorism against it. They called for the lifting of the vicious economic blockade. This blockade pushes Syrians to emigrate and creates a wave of displacement that affects neighboring countries, and most especially Lebanon. The Syrian person has the right to live in human dignity. This right makes him firmly anchored in the land where he or she was born. The Fathers also prayed for the unity of the Syrian territory and for Syria in all its religious denominations, which pay the bill of terrorism from the lives of its children, as occurred in the military academy recently where blood was shed. Also, the suffocating siege is creating very difficult economic conditions. Our people in Syria have the right to live in peace and not to have their land as the scene of other people's conflicts and the settling of international accounts.
As for Lebanon, in light of the difficult circumstances and the unprecedented economic crisis plaguing the region, the Fathers call on all officials, especially the members of parliament, to elect a President of the Republic who guarantees the well-functioning of all constitutional institutions. They also call to give priority to the spirit of dialogue and consensus instead of entrenching behind the logic of confrontation and imposing the will on the other in all files. The Fathers pray for Lebanon's stability. The Lebanese are paying the bill of recklessness and political infighting, and as a result their life earnings are held in banks. The Fathers pray for the repose of those who died in the Beirut port explosion and stress that justice that must not to be hindered by self-interests finds its way and prevail, in compassion for Lebanon and the Lebanese.
The Fathers pray for Iraq and for all the peoples of the region. They call to give priority to the spirit of dialogue in the region instead of the language of military confrontation, whose victim is the human being of this country. This human being deserves by God’s mercy to live a peaceful life seeking to please his Lord and to have a good relationship with his or her neighbor.
The Fathers reiterated their call for an end to wars and conflicts all over the world, especially in Ukraine, praying for Metropolitan Onufriy, the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, a confessing Church whose children are being persecuted by local authorities for their faith.
The Fathers looked at what is happening in the Orthodox world in general, and call on all churches to come together and be reconciled, stressing that Orthodoxy transcends nationalities in order to proclaim the glory of God in His creation.
Finally, the Synod Fathers express their gratitude and praise for the revealing spiritual works of their children in the homeland and abroad through their daily lives of holiness, and for their achievements at all other levels, through the added value they provide to the societies in which they live: they offer a testimony worthy of what they were entrusted with to glorify the Lord. The Fathers ask Jesus Christ, the Lord of peace and God of all comfort, to eradicate with His mercy the power of war and the wildness of evil, and to heal the wounds of the afflicted and mournful in a world that yearns and longs for His sweet peace, Him the Blessed One forever, Amen.