Meetings with His Eminence, Metropolitan BASIL of Akkar and His Eminence, Metropolitan EPHREM of Tripoli; Vespers at St. George Church in Kfaraka, Lebanon - 11/06/10

Akkar and Tripoli, Lebanon

The delegation said goodbye to Syria and crossed the border into Lebanon, where a full day awaited us. Our driver, Samir, zipped us through the streets of Akkar in the north to our first official stop at the Archdiocesan headquarters of His Eminence, Metropolitan BASILIOS (Nassour). He was a former student of His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH and, although the original schedule did not include a stop at the archdiocese, Sayidna BASILIOS insisted we visit him. The group was not disappointed, as he welcomed us warmly.

Metropolitan BASILIOS has the third-largest archdiocese in the Middle East, which is the only one to stretch across Lebanon and Syria. Sayidna explained that he splits his week between both sides to minister to his clergy and laity. He inherited one of the poorest archdioceses, but said that he is working to build it back up, establishing schools, departments and other ministries. Sayidna BASILIOS added that the schools are open to Christians and Muslims alike, providing education for both groups to foster understanding between one another, and that Christians do not continue to flee the Middle East due to lack of economic opportunity. He also said that Syria fears a Christian mass-exodus will lead to the collapse of its society.

After Sayidna BASILIOS treated us to a large, festive lunch at a hilltop restaurant owned by one of his parishioners, the group made its way south along the coast to Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city and northern capitol. Here, we were welcomed by His Eminence, Metropolitan EPHREM (Kyriakos) at his archdiocesan headquarters, a five-story building that includes a chapel, meeting rooms, offices and his personal residence. Sayidna is the newest Metropolitan on the Holy Synod of Antioch, but his experience as a humble abbot and spiritual father spans decades. He took over for the legendary Metropolitan ELIAS (Kurban) of blessed memory, who shepherded the archdiocese for 47 years. Sayidna EPHREM speaks softly, but his message knocks down walls. He taught us that Christians must live in two ways, according to the Bible (in particular St. Paul) and to the Church Fathers: as members of the body of Christ, freely contributing our special gifts to the whole body; yet constantly perfecting ourselves to maintain Christ’s image within us. He called them both sides of the same coin.

Sayidna EPHREM then joined us at St. George Church in nearby Kfaraka, where he presided over Great Vespers. He and Sayidna JOSEPH graciously allowed two of our delegates the honor of chanting the service with the parish choir. They were small in number that night, but their voices, which can be described as “not of this world”, could have filled ten churches. Sayidna JOSEPH then introduced his delegation, some of whom had the unexpected fortune of meeting people from their ancestral villages at a reception next door. The delegation finished the day with another sumptuous meal, then turned in for the night in preparation for a jam-packed Sunday at Balamand.