His Grace Bishop ANTOUN, member of the group of Archdiocese bishops that visited His Beatitude Patriarch IGNATIUS IV in Damascus, Syria, last week, has prepared the following reflection on the journey:
After a long flight from New York’s JFK airport, myself with Their Graces, BASIL, MARK and THOMAS (Bishop JOSEPH traveled separately) arrived safely in Damascus on Tuesday, June 2. We were greeted at the airport by a delegation from the Patriarchate and went immediately to take the blessing of our father in Christ, His Beatitude, IGNATIUS IV, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. His Beatitude greeted us warmly and lovingly and thanked us for making the long journey on such short notice and for such a short period of time. At that time, we all went to rest and Bishop BASIL had a private meeting with the Patriarch.
On Wednesday morning at 9:00am, we had coffee with the Patriarch and he explained to us the meaning and functions of bishops, priests and deacons within the life of the Church. He reminded us that we are all there to help each other no matter where we are called to serve, be it as bishops, priests or deacons. This led to a discussion about the February 24th decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch. The Patriarch again emphasized our function as clergy in the lives of the people and cited many examples during our morning together. Our meeting lasted about three hours.
After our meeting, a statement and picture was released , and we all had lunch together. After lunch, Bishops BASIL, THOMAS and MARK left with His Eminence, Metropolitan SABA of Houran and Jabal Al-Arab to be his guests for the night while Bishop JOSEPH and I remained in Damascus with family and friends.
The next morning, we went to have coffee with the Patriarch, thinking our official meetings had ended. To our surprise, however, he met with Bishops THOMAS and MARK privately and then we all joined together along with Metropolitans GEORGE of Homs and SABA of Houran for a final session. Questions were raised as to what our titles would be if we were no longer diocesan bishops. His Beatitude again stressed that we are there to help wherever needed for the benefit of the Archdiocese. He told us, you are bishops and you have been neither demoted nor promoted. A bishop is a bishop, no matter where he serves and there is only one man married to that Archdiocese. Finally, the Patriarch was interested in how the North American bishops were compensated and I explained to him this process based on our Archdiocese budget.
In the end, the Patriarch promised to bring our concerns to the Holy Synod meeting later this month. We thank His Beatitude and his entire staff at the Patriarchate for their love, warm hospitality and kindness during our brief, but important visit. We pray that God will continue to grant our Father in Christ many years as he continues to shepherd our Church of Antioch.