"Orthodox Church has a privileged place in Mexican society"
A talk with Metropolitan Antonio (Chedraoui Tannous) of Mexico, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean (Patriarchate of Antioch)Metropolitan Antonio (Chedraoui Tannous) was born on January 17, 1932 in Tripoli, Lebanon. He studied at the Balamand Seminary of the Antiochian Patriarchate and the Orthodox College Saint Elias in Tripoli. He studied Ancient languages for two years in the Seminary in Corinth (Greece).
20 July 1952 – He was ordained deacon. Then, he studied theology and philosophy in the University of Athens. During 1957-1958 he was personal secretary of Metropolitan Theodosius (Abourjaily) of Tripoli (1889-1970), the future Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Theodosius VI, and head of the diocesan spiritual court.
29 August 1958 – he was ordained priest and elevated to the dignity of Archimandrite.
From 1959 to 1962 he was superior of the Bkafin Monastery. In 1962, he was appointed secretary of the Archdiocese of Bosra and Hauran in Syria. In 1964, he was appointed Vicar of Metropolitan Elias Karam (1903-1969) of Mount Lebanon and head of the diocesan spiritual court. He issued the religious journal Harake (Movement).
5 June 1966 – ordained Bishop of Caesarea, the same year appointed Patriarchal Vicar of Mexico, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean.
In 1994, he received Mexican citizenship.
12 June 1996 – The Holy Synod of the Antiochian Church elevated the Diocese of the Mexico, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean into Archdiocese and Bishop Antonio became Metropolitan.
– Your Eminence, whom you can call your spiritual father?
– My spiritual father was a married priest, Fr. Georges Haydar, parish priest of the district of Tripoli where my family lived. Then he was sent to Australia where he died.– What influenced you in your decision to become monk and priest?
– Our family doctor Alexander Ghorayeb, a deeply religious man, belonging to one of the best families in Tripoli, had a considerable role. We used to talk about religious topics for hours and every time he said: “You have no idea how I want to see you a hierarch of our Church and kiss your hand”. The dream of Dr. Ghorayeb didn't become true, because he died when I was still deacon.
I must say that I am not a monk, but a celibate priest. In the Church of Antioch is not necessary to be monk in order to be bishop.
– How do you feel in Mexico? Which Latin American countries have you visited?
– Mexico is my second country, I have lived here longer than in my homeland – Lebanon. I feel Mexican more than any other Mexican. For the years of my service I have traveled around the whole continent – from Canada to Argentina.– How long does the Arab Orthodox diaspora exist in Mexico? What are the parishioners working?
– An Arab colony was formed in Mexico in the 1880s or even earlier. Its population is about 50 000 people. We have lost many spiritual children, due to certain prejudices, as well as the fact that we, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, do not to have own schools and other public institutions.
Most of the diaspora work in the industry and commerce. There are also doctors, lawyers, engineers and teachers in our community. – Which events in the history of the Archdiocese of Mexico, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean do you consider most important?
– The first event which should be mentioned is the arrival of Hieromonk Simon (Issa) in Mexico in the late 19th century, who took under his spiritual care the Antiochian community. Father Simon had to work in the production and selling of cheese to earn his living.
In 1930s, an Orthodox Benefit Society was established in Mexico to support the needs of the faithful of the Orthodox Church. The occasion for its creation was the death of an Orthodox girl, left without a livelihood. At that time, Mexican parishes of the Patriarchate of Antioch, belonged to the Archdiocese of Toledo (Ohio).
In 1944, the Cathedral of Saint George the Great Martyr was consecrated in Mexico City.
In 1966, I was appointed Vicar of His Beatitude the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East in Mexico, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean. Prior to that, a bishop from the Church of Antioch had never served in the region on a permanent basis. In October 1966, I arrived in the capital of Venezuela Caracas and due to the complicated political situation I was unable to enter Mexico until December 28.
In 1985, the Primate of our Church His Beatitude Ignatius IV visited Mexico and Venezuela.
In 1996, the Holy Synod of the Antiochian Church elevated the diocese into Archdiocese and me to the dignity of Metropolitan.
In 2006, a reception was hosted in my residence in honor of His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, who was visiting Mexico and other Latin American countries. – How many are your parishes? In which countries are they?
– There are 10 parishes in our Archdiocese: three in Mexico, three in Venezuela, one each in Guatemala, Honduras, Puerto Rico and the island of Antigua. Besides, we have a monastery of Saint Anthony the Great in a suburb of Mexico City, as well as an orphanage in Tijuana, which is in the Mexican state of Baja California. There is also an orphanage to the Holy Trinity Convent in Guatemala. There is another orphanage to the trilingual school dedicated to St. John the Holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist of our Lord in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Currently, we are building a church in Mexico City, which will be dedicated to the holy, glorious and all-laudable and foremost of the Apostles Peter and Paul, founders of the Church of Antioch. There will be also rest home and social center. In Honduras, we are starting the building of a rest home.
– What is the place of the Orthodox Church in the religious and social life of Mexico?
– The Orthodox Church, primarily the Antiochian Church, has a privileged place in Mexican society. This is confirmed at least by the fact that the Leader magazine, which is published in Mexico City, included the name of the Antiochian Metropolitan in the list of the 300 most influential people in the country (where his name is among the first twenty people).
In Venezuela, as well as in Mexico, representatives of the Antiochian colonies are in the forefront of politics, business and education, thus enjoying great prestige.
– How does the local Orthodox churches in Mexico cooperate?
– First of all, I must say that the Antiochian Church was the founder of Orthodoxy on Mexican soil. Our Cathedral of St. George is the first Orthodox church that was built in Mexico. It was more than 30 years later when other local Orthodox Churches began to build their own churches.
Relations between the Orthodox Churches in Mexico are fraternal and mutually respectful. Our Church supports the formation of the Episcopal Assembly in South America, in which the ruling bishops of the various jurisdictions will be able to exchange views, without claims to primacy, to develop cooperation in the name of the consolidation of the Orthodox faith in the New World.
Antiochians constitute the majority of the Orthodox faithful in Latin America, but our church does not have sufficient resources not only for the missions, but also for the pastoral care of their spiritual children. We, the Antiochian bishops, are ready to work in the Episcopal Assemblies in a spirit of brotherhood and expect the same from our brothers from the other Churches.– You have met and befriended prominent clerics, politicians and public figures. Which of them has made the greatest impression on you?
– I knew many of the Primates of Orthodox Churches: His Holiness Patriarch Athenagoras of blessed memory (1886-1972), His Beatitude Patriarch Alexander III (1869–1958) of Antioch and All the East, His Beatitude Pope and Patriarch Christopher II (1876–1967) of Alexandria and All Africa, Their Beatitudes Patriarchs of Jerusalem Timothy (1878–1955), Benedict (1892–1980) and Diodoros (1923–2000), who was my classmate at the University of Athens.
I was fortunate to meet Their Holinesses Patriarchs of Moscow and All Russia of blessed memory Alexius I, Pimen (1910-1990), Alexius II (1929-2008) and the current Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church His Holiness Patriarch Cyril. His spiritual father His Eminence Metropolitan Nicodemus of Leningrad and Novgorod of blessed memory (1929-1978) was my old friend.
I knew most of the Archbishops of Athens and All Greece. Visiting Cyprus, I have met His Beatitude Archbishop Makarios III of blessed memory (1913–1977) and Chrysostom I (1927–2007), who was my classmate at the University of Athens.
I have communicated repeatedly with His Holiness Pope John Paul II (1920-2005).
As for politicians, I knew personally all Presidents of Lebanon, since its independence in 1943. I have met the King of Greece Paul I, his son King Constantine II and his daughter Sofia, who is currently Queen of Spain. I have maintained good relations with the presidents of Mexico since 1966. I have met other Heads of States in Latin America – Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
Among those who made a special impression to me – the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, a very brave man who showed Orthodoxy to the world. He had the courage to break the wall that divided the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and to meet Pope Paul VI (1897-1978) in Jerusalem. I have to mention Patriarch Alexander III of Antioch and All the East, a courageous, sincere, wise hierarch; Patriarch Benedict of Jerusalem, a sober-minded church leader; Patriarch Alexius I of Moscow and All Russia, who managed to break the wall that stood between the Church and the Soviet State; Metropolitan Nicodemus of Leningrad and Novgorod through whom the Moscow Patriarchate cooperated with almost all Christian churches; Archbishop Makarios III of Cyprus, who provided an example of patriotism. And in conclusion I would like to mention Pope John Paul II, wise and charismatic shepherd and traveler.
The interview in Russian - http://www.pravoslavie.ru/guest/34132.htm