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University of Balamand > Administration > Presidency > President Salem > Speech26-07-97

At the Banquet of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese Convention Toronto on July 26, 1997

Your Eminence, the Most reverend Metropolitan Philip, my fellow Orthodox:

It is an honor to be with you this evening and to talk about the Orthodox University of Balamand in the context of the issues facing Lebanon and the Arab East.

I owe this honor to my friend and mentor, the vigilant shepherd of our Antiochian Orthodox Christian community in the United States and Canada the Most Reverend Metropolitan Philip.   He was there carrying the standard of the historic Abbey and of the Theology Faculty even before the University was founded.   And he is here now, carrying the standard of the University of Balamand , with its seven Faculties. These are, in addition to Theology:   The Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts (ALBA), Arts and Social Sciences, Sciences, Business and Management, Engineering, and Health Sciences. While Theology is the smallest in numbers, it is the most important to us Orthodox because it prepares the leaders of our Church.  We are considering opening two more Faculties:   Medicine and Technology.   We now have 1700 students, and we hope to have about 4,000 by the end of the coming decade.

Our campus of 33 hectares on the Balamand hill, flowing from the olive groves of al-Kurah to the shores of the Mediterranean , is among the most spectacular in the world.  It is enriched by its proximity to the twelfth century Balamand Abbey, the jewel of Orthodoxy, with which it is in continuous communion.   The Balamand campus now consisting of sixteen buildings, is anticipating rapid expansion. We are proud to say that all our buildings carry only the names of Lebanese and other Arab benefactors.   Your Archdiocese in North America built the School of Theology which you continue to support, and the first men's dormitory in the University's Antiochian Village .  Thank you Metropolitan Philip, and thank you all for your generous support.

University instruction, except for ALBA, is in English and follows the American model of education, and the University's degrees are recognized world-wide.

I am not here to recite facts and figures about the University.   A brochure to this effect is available at the door, and you may take it as you leave this banquet.   I want to reflect briefly on the "who", the "where", and the "why" of this institution.  The "who" is, of course, our enlightened and courageous Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, His Beatitude Ignatius IV. Before him, there were schools and institutions at Balamand, but the vision of a university with national, regional, and international dimensions was his.  Our Patriarch dared at a time and place where others feared to tread.

The "where" is important, as the University sits on a hill joining Muslim Tripoli with Orthodox Kurah. While the "where" is essentially geography, with us it carries also a commitment on our part as Orthodox Christians to generate dialogue between Christianity and Islam and to promote constructive interaction between Christians and Muslims.  Without Christian-Muslim understanding and cooperation there is no peace in the Middle East and no stability for the future world order.

The "why" deserves special attention.  There were some half a dozen universities in Lebanon in 1988 when the University of Balamand was founded.   Why, therefore, one more?  Why Balamand?   It is a good question.

Balamand was founded to inculcate knowledge under God.  We Orthodox believe that when our Lord died on the Cross and rose from the dead he saved mankind and all creation and infused it with holiness and love.   Hence, everything acquires a special meaning under His saving grace, and knowledge becomes associated with humility, with reverence, and love to our fellow men.   As Orthodox with a universal mission we need to better know ourselves, and our history to better define our mission and implement it, and the University is committed to this philosophy.  We are committed to Christian-Muslim understanding.   We believe that true religion leads to tolerance, love, and respect for the other.   We believe in enlightened citizenship which demands a great leap over tribal and confessional loyalties.  We uphold universal democratic values which we believe emerge naturally from our faith.   We are needed because we speak differently, we have something new and important to add.  We got it right.

Our university was founded at height of the Lebanese war.   When so many were destroying churches, mosques, and institutions of state, we opened a university.  When each was focusing on himself, his confession, his partisan political loyalty, we looked above and beyond the fray and saw Lebanon , we saw the Arab World and we saw our valiant emigrants striving, thriving, and excelling throughout the Globe.   We wanted to be in contact with them intellectually, and culturally, and we can only do that effectively through a university of a broad international reach.

We are from the Orthodox community, but precisely because we are Orthodox, we are not only for the Orthodox; we are also for all citizens of Lebanon , for our brethren in the Arab World, and for you, our people across the seas, and for your children, and grandchildren.

As a university we meet the fundamental needs of Lebanon . Lebanon needs citizens who are truly steeped in their religion, and also fully at ease in the technological age.   Lebanon needs a citizenry with authentic roots, yet one which is in communion with the world.  What Lebanon needs is what Syria , Iraq , Jordan , Palestine , and other Arab countries in the region need.  By serving Lebanon we serve the region.

We lived the Lebanese war, we saw the forces of evil that led to it, and we are determined to face and defuse these forces.   We are here to ensure that what happened in the 1970s and 1980s will not happen again.  This is what we are all about.

Then we saw religion exploited by charlatans for short-term political gains. We saw our youth pursuing atheistic ideologies that bear no relation to our values and traditions.      We saw the state robbed of its mission and diverted to individual gains.

We saw and we learned.  Before we saw through a "glass darkly"; now we see "face to face".   Because we had seen these evils and experienced them, we established a university to address them squarely.

We teach arts and sciences, and prepare our students professionally and technically, but more importantly, we teach our students to be citizens and to do things "right".  You want loyalties, we tell them:  fine, but be clear about them.  To your family you owe familial loyalty;  to your village you owe emotional loyalty;   to your confession you owe religious loyalty;  but political loyalty you owe to the state.  To mix political loyalties with other loyalties is a recipe for disaster.

We teach our Lebanese youth to be citizens of Lebanon and to appreciate Lebanon as an independent Arab country. There are some in Lebanon who say that Lebanon is not Arab .We are not of their number.   To us, Arabism is a matter of pride.  We are proud of our Arab culture. We are proud of our Arabic Language, and we proudly identify with our brethren, throughout the Arab World.  We are Christian Arabs.  We were on the scene some six hundred years before the rise of Islam, and we will always be there interacting positively and authentically with our Muslim Arab brethren.  Since Lebanon is our base, we work for an independent, free, and democratic Lebanon .  Only a true democratic order will accommodate the diversity of the Lebanese and make of them a unified people in a unified state.  The future of Christianity in the Arab East depends largely on the continuity of Lebanon as an independent, liberal, democratic state. Lebanon is democratic precisely because it is half Christian half Muslim and because of its long and intensive contacts with the Christian west.

And to keep Lebanon independent and free we, Orthodox, must play a greater role than we did before, because we are uniquely qualified to address the issues with the breadth and depth needed to sustain Lebanon in the future.

Our region, strategically critical since the dawn of civilization, longs for stability and peace.   In making this peace, we must not forget the Palestinians.  We should help them build a state that will restore their pride and their dignity.    No people since the Second World War has been more shattered more maligned, and more misrepresented than the Palestinians.  It is time this wrong is righted.

Part of Lebanon and Syria are under Israeli occupation.  Israel must withdraw from these parts in accordance with international resolutions.   We need to remind all that Christianity has a firm footing in Palestine , and that, against all claims, Jerusalem is a holy to us Christians as it is to Muslims, and to Jews.   Irrespective of Israel ’s claims, Jerusalem is an international city, and its international character must be legitimized by binding international agreements.

We believe that our aspirations for Lebanon and for the Arab World are best fulfilled through strong and continuing interaction between us and North America .  Only in association with the strong, the advanced, and the democratic do we realize our aspirations. It is harmful for North America and for the Arab World to allow Israel to pre-empt this connection and shut us out of it.  It is unacceptable that our image in America is drawn by Israeli and Israel partisans, and not by us.   Correcting our image in America and Canada should be our strategic policy, and one in which our universities should be involved.

We should be able to make our message so effective that people here in North America will know us as we are.  We are a good, generous, cultured, and enterprising people.     We are not the ogres the media portray us to be.   We have values with the weight of centuries behind them.  We were Christians with Christ and the Apostles, long before the pagan West was Christianized.  The West may be faithful, but it is not original.   Originality is ours - as responsibility, as opportunity.

As President of the University of Balamand , I am fortunate to have Metropolitan Philip, the quintessential Balamandian, by my side promoting the first Antiochian Christian University ever.  The University is a historic project, and we are proud to be associated with it.

The Kiev delegation that visited Orthodox Aya Sophia in Constantinople in 987 searching for the right faith wrote;  "we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth ….We know only that God dwells there among men".   Bishop Uri (Ukraine ) who is with us this evening appreciates this testimony.  May I, in the spirit of that delegation, express my own testimonial to your achievements in this Convention in Toronto and to the faith, passion, and joy that permeate this great gathering under God.

The beauty of the Orthodox mass, wrote Dostoyevsky, is not only in its truth, but also in the mystery of its proceedings. While we aim at the truth, we have the pleasure of sharing in the mystery of the proceedings, in building a university and setting it on the right course.   The beauty lies in the effort.   The right course for us is to deepen our faith, and to advance the causes of democracy and human rights, and to walk fearlessly in the path of the Ultimate Reformer, who died on the cross to raise us to the glory of Ultimate Being.

I thank you and thank our beloved Metropolitan, the moving force behind what is happening in this great community.  Under his leadership, you have a great deal to say to us in the Old World .

Often in the course of human events the old must listen to the young, and follow his vision.  In the New World you have freedoms and opportunities we do not have.   We wish to stay in touch with you and to work together in the interest of our community and this great university issuing forth from it.

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