SPEECH ON BALAMAND UNIVERSITY
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
The Venerable Saint Clement once wrote that “Ignorance starves the soul, but knowledge nourishes and sustains it.” In the book of Proverbs we read: “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning”(9:9).
I doubt that there is anyone who would dismiss the importance and necessity of education. However, it is quality education that teaches discernment and brings into harmony the synthesis of the mind, soul and human heart. When contemplated, is there any price tag that is too great when one considers the value of a good education?
I want to take this occasion to speak to you about a special educational mission that our Holy Church has undertaken over the past decade. That mission is the establishment and growth of the Balamand University located in Northern Lebanon, on a plateau which overlooks the Mediterranean to the West and the verdant olive groves of the Koura district to the East.
I am sure that most of you are aware of the existence of Balamand through the
Word Magazine, through the written and spoken messages of His Eminence,
Metropolitan PHILIP and from the financial appeals that have emanated from
our archdiocese. Nevertheless, I want you to know the important history of
this institution of higher learning.
The birth of a university often depends on the fortunate confluence of a number of factors. Of these factors, perhaps the most important is the presence of one individual who acts as guide, motivator, and catalyst. Our Father in Christ, Patriarch Ignatius IV, of Antioch, who had served previous to his becoming Patriarch, as the Abbot of the Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology at Balamand, thought the time was right in
1988 to establish a Orthodox University. By then, the confluence of numerous events was calling for action. The Lebanese war, at long last, was coming to an end, and concerned citizens were looking at the legacy of a war that had raged since 1975. Lebanese society was in disarray. North Lebanon, generally marginal in state planning, was further marginalized and impoverished during the long war. Narrow thinking and parochial loyalties were exacerbated, threatening future divisions in the society. Ethical standards and spiritual principles were greatly compromised.
The Patriarch, in consultation with the Holy Synod of Bishops, and leading figures in the community, decided to establish on the Balamand Hill a university that would emanate from the Orthodox community. It would be a full-fledged university serving the cause of knowledge, and the interests of the community, of Lebanon, and the Arab East. Balamand University is dedicated to the study of the arts, the humanities, the sciences and all professional, technical and cultural fields that serve the interests and
needs of the region. It is committed to academic and professional excellence and strives to educate the whole student, giving equal emphasis to intellectual, spiritual, cultural and moral values. Student enrollment is nearing 2000 and represents students from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.
While grounded in the rich spiritual, educational and cultural traditions of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, the University espouses the noble values of tolerance, co-existence and mutual respect for those of other nationalities and religious persuasions.
One of the key aims of Balamand is to provide a holistic antidote to the long years of war and strife to the people of the region. The university strives to prepare its students to live in a society where war and hatred are not acceptable conditions. Therefore, the mission of Balamand is to prepare students not only for a future career, but to think creatively, responsibly, to interact with others constructively and to find equitable solutions to
problems. The recently established SEED Program (Service Experience: Education through Doing) will enable the University to fulfill its important mission of serving the future stability and growth of the local and regional communities.
To date Balamand University offers the following undergraduate and graduate courses of study: Architecture and Fine Arts; Engineering (Electrical, Civil, Mechanical and Computer); Arts and Social Sciences; Business; Sciences; and Health Services. The Institute of Theology, founded in 1970 has an established record for graduating theologians and spiritual leaders before it joined the university. With the efforts of the theological faculty, through which the university delves into Orthodox theology, culture and history, the university hopes to revive the historic Balamand Abbey, that dates back to the 12th Century, as a vibrant spiritual center. The university also houses
the Center for Christian-Muslim Studies and the Institute of History, Archeology and Near Eastern Heritage. One special quality of the University of Balamand is that languages of study are mainly Arabic, English and French. Balamand University has established agreements of affiliation with Boston University and Tufts University in Massachusetts; Nottingham Trent University in The United Kingdom; The University of Montreal and The University of De Laval in Canada along with four Universities in France.
As the extensive Balamand property in the Koura district is under the direct administration of the Patriarchate, the Patriarchate allocated a scenic hill overlooking the Mediterranean to be used for a university campus. The construction of the campus began in 1988, the year the university was licensed by the Lebanese government, and construction is still going on at a rapid pace. Buildings accommodating the Faculties of Arts, the Social Sciences, Engineering, Architecture, Interior Design, and the Sciences have been completed. The library and the student union building are under
construction. Plans to proceed with the Gate House and the athletic facilities are under way. All construction has been financed through the generous donations of Lebanese and Arab benefactors from the region and North America.
The university is governed by a board of trustees of leading Lebanese and Arab individuals. It is chaired by His Beatitude, Patriarch Ignatius IV. The board of trustees elects the president of the university, and upon the recommendation of the president, appoints deans, directors and faculty members in the ranks of associate and full professors.
The immediate agenda of the university is to strengthen existing programs, expand existing faculties, and attract highly qualified faculty and students. As the university is new, it is proceeding in a responsible manner, conscious always of its commitment to inspire a new generation, and to better serve the needs of society.
To inspire and serve future generations. This is the mission of Balamand University. This is the responsibility of all vigilant people today. Next to the care of our own souls, making available a quality education for succeeding generations is one of our great missions. Yet, I’m sure that there are those among us who may think: “Well that is wonderful! I’m glad that there is a university founded on Orthodox Christian principles and leadership. But we have to focus on the needs of our local Church and the
education of our children here.”
No one would disagree with the notion that we have to care for our local needs and children. But let us not loose sight of our responsibility to our greater family in other parts of the world. Especially to those who share our common ethnic and or religious heritage. St. John of Kronstadt, earlier in this Century wrote: “Love for God begins to manifest itself, and to act in us, when we begin to love others as ourselves, and not to spare ourselves or anything belonging to us for our neighbor, who is the image of God”: “For he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has
not seen.” Therefore, my friends, to spare our resources, is not an option from an Orthodox Christian perspective. We have not just a responsibility to help this noble endeavor of Balamand University to prosper and succeed. We have an unique opportunity, yes that’s right, an opportunity to stretch out our helping hand to solidify the good work that is being done at Balamand.
Our help will not only insure a spirit of peace and understanding through education among the people of the region; but will allow for greater prominence of our Holy Orthodox Church in not only Lebanon, but throughout other parts of the world. This is a prominence that our Holy Church does not vainly seek but, in all humility is due. For too long we have been shut out of the opportunity to oversee the education of future generations who will mold the future. The Orthodox Church has not received the full respect given to the Latin and Protestant Churches who have established universities under their auspices. This is an opportunity to be agents of Orthodox principles
and ethics in an ever growing hostile world. Be certain that if Balamand University succeeds, not only our distant brethren will prosper, but that all of us in the Orthodox world will reap innumerable fruits of the seeds that are being sown. It is as we read in Proverbs: “He that waters shall be watered also himself” (11:25).
I will leave you with this thought: We have an opportunity, through our prayers and financial sacrifices, to be agents bringing the light of wisdom that is attainable through the acquisition of good knowledge. As we have freely received from the Lord, may we in like manner freely give!