August 7, 2020

Distress for Beirut and the Romans

Metropolitans Elias of Beirut and Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

I have been following these days with distress the terrible explosion in Beirut with so many deaths, injuries and with the destruction of a large part of the city and many churches, hospitals and houses. This event reminded many of an older event, that of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with its terrifying effects on people and the environment.

Both of these events took place on those days when we solemnly celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, where the face of Christ shone like the sun and His garments became as white as the light.

What a difference between the Transfiguration of Christ and the terrible explosions! The uncreated Light of Christ on Mount Tabor is the Kingdom of God, while this explosion is the kingdom of darkness. This difference shows the contradiction of our time. Others glorify the uncreated Light and others scatter the darkness of terror.

I have loved Lebanon and Beirut, since I spent a lot of time in Lebanon and Beirut in 1988-1990, teaching at the Balamand Theological Seminary and then visiting it from time to time, and I am closely associated with many Romans living in the area.

We must not forget that we Greek-Romans have many ties with the Arab-speaking Romans of Lebanon.

Lebanon is the ancient Phoenicia, which was successively subjugated to the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, then conquered by Alexander the Great, passed to the Seleucids, the Ptolemies and then passed to Roman authority.

It was a section of the Eastern Christian Roman Empire. In the seventh century, various Arab tribes arrived in the area. In the eleventh century, it became part of the Crusader States, and when the Crusaders left it became part of Egypt and Syria. Between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, it became part of the Ottoman Empire.

After World War I, in 1920, the Lebanese government was taken over by the League of Nations under the tutelage of the French, and in 1926 it became a Republic and a few years later its independence was recognized. With the Franco-British agreement on 23 December 1945, it was decided to evacuate the French and British troops. From the beginning of 1975 until 1990, when a state of war prevailed with upheavals and abatement, more than 150,000 Lebanese lost their lives and 1/4 of the inhabitants were deported.

It is clear that the historical adventures of Lebanon are very similar to our own adventures. We have many common historical routes. The Lebanese, especially the Roman ones, are a suffering people.

Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, is a beautiful city, which has been described as the "Switzerland of the Near East", "Little Paris" or "Paris of the East" and is a cause of admiration.

I first went to Beirut on February 28, 1988, which was the Sunday of Orthodox. Although it was a period of civil war, and in fact towards its end many houses were bombed and hotels destroyed, the city stood like a ruling lady and reminded one of its glorious past.

Beirut is an ancient city, the name itself is Canaanite and means "well". It is referred to in the Egyptian archives of 2000 B.C. In Roman times it became known as a Roman colony. Christianity spread here from apostolic times and was considered the seat of a bishop, which belonged to the Metropolitan of Tyre and Phoenicia.

It is known in the Greco-Roman world for the famous Law School and in fact Tribonian, the legal advisor of Emperor Justinian, was a professor of that school.

Various heterodox missionaries were active in Beirut and worked very hard in education, founding schools and universities.

The Orthodox Christians of Lebanon boast that they are Romans. In their homeland they feel the Christian Roman Empire, they follow all the ecclesiastical traditions, and in their churches one of the two choirs of the chanters sings in the Greek language, although most of them do not know Greek. They do this to show their origin, that they are indigenous inhabitants of the area and were subject to Romania-Byzantium.

The Orthodox Metropolitan of Beirut, Elias, studied Theology in Athens and for many years performed an important pastoral work, with churches, schools and hospitals, which are the best in the city. Unfortunately, as one of my former students and now a professor told me over the phone, most of them were destroyed by last night's terrible explosion.

Beirut, like all of Lebanon, was tormented by the multi-year civil war (1975-1990), which I also experienced up close and knew its consequences, but also from constant unrest.

These tragic days my soul, my mind and my heart are there with the suffering people of Lebanon and wounded Beirut. I pray for the Patriarch of Antioch, John, the Metropolitan of Beirut, Elias, the Dean of the Balamand Theological School "St. John of Damascus", Father Porphyrios, my former students who are now Metropolitans, Bishops, Professors and Clerics in Lebanon, and the simple Romans whom I came to know and connected with feelings of love. I pray to God to alleviate their pain and to enlighten the mighty of the earth to help them effectively.

May our prayers be with them, because they are our brother and sister Romans and generally people who are in pain and suffering.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.