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Winter, 2014
Volume 40, Number 4
  
7 January 2015
Greg Kandra




In this image from 2012, Father John Cox of Dormition of the Theotokos Church in Norfolk, Virginia, throws a cross into the Chesapeake Bay on the Feast of the Epiphany. To learn more about the Orthodox Church in America read this profile from ONE magazine.
(photo: Stephen Katz)


To mark Epiphany, many members of the Orthodox Church take part in the blessing of water. The Orthodox Church of America website explains:

The main feature of the feast of the Epiphany is the Great Blessing of Water. It is prescribed to follow both the Divine Liturgy of the eve of the feast and the Divine Liturgy of the day itself. Usually it is done just once in parish churches at the time when most people can be present. It begins with the singing of special hymns and the censing of the water which has been placed in the center of the church building. Surrounded by candles and flowers, this water stands for the beautiful world of God’s original creation and ultimate glorification by Christ in the Kingdom of God. Sometimes this service of blessing is done out of doors at a place where the water is flowing naturally.

...After the epistle (1 Cor 1:10-14) and the gospel reading (Mk 1:9-11) the special great litany is chanted invoking the grace of the Holy Spirit upon the water and upon those who will partake of it. It ends with the great prayer of the cosmic glorification of God in which Christ is called upon to sanctify the water, and all men and all creation, by the manifestation of his saving and sanctifying divine presence by the indwelling of the Holy and Good and Life-creating Spirit.

As the troparion of the feast is sung, the celebrant immerses the Cross into the water three times and then proceeds to sprinkle the water in the four directions of the world. He then blesses the people and their homes with the sanctified water which stands for the salvation of all men and all creation which Christ has effected by his “epiphany” in the flesh for the life of the world.

Sometimes people think that the blessing of water and the practice of drinking it and sprinkling it over everyone and everything is a “paganism” which has falsely entered the Christian Church. We know, however, that this ritual was practiced by the People of God in the Old Testament, and that in the Christian Church it has a very special and important significance.

It is the faith of Christians that since the Son of God has taken human flesh and has been immersed in the streams of the Jordan, all matter is sanctified and made pure in him, purged of its death-dealing qualities inherited from the devil and the wickedness of men. In the Lord’s epiphany all creation becomes good again, indeed “very good,” the way that God himself made it and proclaimed it to be in the beginning when “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2) and when the “Breath of Life” was breathing in man and in everything that God made (Gen 1:30; 2:7).



7 January 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro




Snow blankets the tents of Syrian refugees on the road between Riyaq and Baalbek in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley, near the border with Syria, on 7 January. (photo: -/AFP/Getty Images)

Three Syrian refugees freeze to death as brutal storm hits Lebanon (Al Akhbar) Three Syrian refugees, including a 5-year-old child, have reportedly frozen to death in Lebanon as a major storm dumped snow and rain on the country, sources told Al Akhbar on Wednesday. Three refugees, 5-year-old Majd Kheir al Badawi, 33-year-old Ammar Ahmed Kammal and Mohammed Ibrahim Abou Daher, were found stuck in the snow and frozen on early Wednesday in Ain al Joz in the mountains by Shebaa…

5.5 million displaced by war in first half of 2014, signaling record (U.N. News Center) War across large swathes of the Middle East and Africa in the first six months of 2014 forcibly displaced some 5.5 million people, signaling yet another record, the United Nations reported today. The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) in its new Mid-Year Trends 2014 Report showcases that of the 5.5 million who were newly displaced, 1.4 million fled across international borders becoming refugees, while the rest were displaced within their own countries…

President Sisi attends Coptic Christmas liturgy in Cairo (Fides) Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi attended Christmas mass at Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, where he greeted Coptic Christians in a speech on Tuesday, 6 January. “The Egyptian President’s attendance at the religious service is a new event in the history of Egypt: in the past, the presidents sent their representatives…”

Palestinians escalate campaign for sovereign statehood (Los Angeles Times) After a disastrous 2014, Palestinians are embarking on a risky new gambit for 2015: seeking to internationalize the Middle East peace process. After decades of American-led mediation efforts, the Palestinian leadership is moving aggressively to court world support for sovereign statehood, despite warnings from within and without that such a strategy could backfire and strengthen Israel’s hand…



Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Palestine United Nations

6 January 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita




Jordanian clerics walk in a procession to the site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River.
(photo: CNS/Jamal Nasrallah, EPA)


My friend and colleague at The Priest magazine, Msgr. Owen Campion, recently invited me to write about the plight of Christians in the Middle East.

“Besieged! Why save the Middle East’s Christians?” is now available online.

An excerpt:

The traumatic events of last summer finally have earned Middle Eastern Christians some attention, if not quite the respect, of the strategic classes inside the Beltway: politicians, candidates, policy wonks and journalists. The headlines are dramatic, betraying a sense of hopelessness: “Beleaguered Christians Make Final Stand,” “The Middle East’s Friendless Christians,” “Christianity in Iraq is Finished.”

“Western countries ought to come together and offer refuge to the tens of thousands [of Christians] who want to leave Iraq,” one observer wrote in The Washington Post in September 2014.

“Yes, this would mean the end of Christianity in this part of the world, where its presence has often served as a bulwark against fanaticism. But it’s over anyway, whatever happens to the Islamic State. It’s time to face that fact and save the Christians themselves.”

But defending — indeed, saving — Christians in the Middle East is not just about saving Christians. It is about saving pluralism, or what remains of it, in the Middle East. It is about building prosperous civil societies. It is about saving the Middle East and civilization, where it first took root.

Read the rest over at “The Priest.”



6 January 2015
Greg Kandra




A frankincense farmer cuts the bark of a tree to release resin. (photo: Ilene Perlman)

Today marks the Solemnity of Epiphany, commemorating the visit of the magi to the Christ child, bringing him gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In 2003, we took a closer look at the history behind these legendary gifts, particularly frankincense:

The Egyptians embalmed their kings with frankincense and considered the fruit of the Boswellia or frankincense tree the perfume of the gods that, when collected and preserved correctly, ensured immortality. Pliny noted in the first century A.D. how control of the frankincense trade had made the southern Arabians the richest people in the world. It was said the trees were so valuable that snakes guarded them.

Today, in Oman’s southernmost region of Dhofar, which borders Saudi Arabia’s vast and empty Rub al-Khali desert to the north and west and the upper curve of southern Yemen to the south, the stubby, thorny trees live where little else will. The trees can only grow when a complex set of conditions has been met: limestone soil and a climate with high humidity in a desert that receives little rain.

In Oman, frankincense accounted for three-quarters of the country’s gross national product until the bottom fell out of what was once a thriving trade. The finest grades of frankincense are still used for high-end perfume manufacturing. But gums of all grades can be found in the local souqs, especially “frankincense alley” in the country’s southern port of Salalah and the perfume market at Mutrah Souq in Oman’s capital, Muscat. The people who buy are local, burning it for its antiseptic purposes, perfuming hair with the smoke, chewing it for digestion.

The frankincense trees release their aromatic amber for only a few weeks in late summer. Gathering the resin has been a family-run business for centuries. Then, as now, the harvesting skill has been passed from father to son.

Read the rest in Scents of Time and Place.



6 January 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro




Syrian children stand in the back of a truck as they flee the contested Bab al Hadid neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo following an overnight rocket attack on 2 January. (photo: Zein al Rifai/AFP/Getty Images)

New year offers little chance for children’s education in Syria, warns UNICEF (U.N. News Center) Recent school closures in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor governorates and parts of rural Aleppo in Syria have disrupted the education of some 670,000 children of primary and lower-high school age, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported today. Briefing the press in Geneva today, UNICEF’s Christophe Boulierac warned that as the conflict enters its fifth year, 2015 will offer little chance for children’s education. Between January and December 2014 alone there were at least 68 attacks on schools across Syria, reported Mr. Boulierac. Those attacks reportedly killed at least 160 children and injured 343. But the real numbers are likely to be higher…

Armenian church head decries Christian persecution in the Middle East (Daily Star Lebanon) On Tuesday, Armenian Catholicos Aram I of Cilicia deplored the targeting of Christians by the region’s extremist groups and called for Lebanon to elect a new a president to safeguard the country from rampant violence…

Patriarch Abune Mathias of Ethiopia to visit Egypt for the first time (OCP News Service) A delegation of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church led by Patriarch Abune Mathias will visit Egypt on Saturday on the invitation of Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria. This is the first apostolic visit of Patriarch Abune Mathias to the Coptic Patriarchate. These two ancient churches of the Oriental Orthodox family have a historic relation between them. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church was ruled by the Coptic patriarch until the 20th century, when autocephalous status was granted in 1959…

Jordan to arm Sunni tribes in Iraq, Syria (Al Monitor) Jordan has adopted a new strategy in the fight against the Islamic State aimed at defending the kingdom against possible incursions by the militant group from western Iraq and eastern and southern Syria. On two separate occasions, King Abdullah declared that Jordan will do its best to support tribes in Syria and Iraq “that are engaging terrorist groups in both countries.” The king told the heads of southern Jordanian tribes on 18 December that Jordan is implementing “a security strategy to confront challenges [on fronts with Syria and Iraq] in accordance with programs that are being followed by the armed forces and the security bodies.” He added that the Jordanian armed forces will not hesitate to carry out their duty toward “Arab neighbors and brethren…”



Tags: Syria Children United Nations Ethiopian Orthodox Church Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II

5 January 2015
Greg Kandra




In this image from October, Ethiopian Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Addis Ababa arrives for the opening session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican. Archbishop Souraphiel, 66, was one of 20 new cardinals named by Pope Francis on 4 January. You can read more about the Ethiopian Catholic Church here. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)



5 January 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro




Syrian refugee children play in the mud after rain in Akkar, Lebanon, on 2 January. (photo: Mahmoud Salih/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

‘I wasn’t afraid, but now I am’: Syrians fear Lebanon’s visa rules (Al Jazeera) mixture of confusion and fear have struck the Syrian population currently residing in Lebanon after a recent announcement about new visa restrictions. Huddled together under the pouring rain in a rundown neighborhood in Beirut, a number of Syrians who have been living in Lebanon for several years kept repeating the same question, “What does this mean for us?” The move by the Lebanese government is unprecedented. As of Monday, Syrians trying to enter Lebanon have to provide documentation identifying their reason for being in Lebanon, highlighting stricter entry procedures for people who, since Lebanon gained its independence in 1943, had been able to move freely across the border…

In Jordan, church struggles to accommodate refugees (Aid to the Church in Need) For years now, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been a haven for refugees from Iraq. However, a critical limit is in view as the country is also forced to accommodate a huge and growing influx of refugees fleeing ongoing war and violence in Syria. Along with Lebanon, the country is threatened by chaos as hundreds of thousands of people displaced from both Syria and Iraq threaten to swamp Jordan’s capacity to cope with the newcomers…

The Arab world’s vanishing Christians (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) This past Christmas, like every Christmas, thousands of pilgrims and tourists traveled to the Middle East to celebrate the holiday in the land of the Bible. In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem led a midnight Mass, while in Syria — where some Christians still speak dialects of Aramaic, similar to the ancient language Jesus spoke — celebrations were subdued, curtailed by the dangers of a war that is tearing the country apart…

Turkey permits first new church in 90 years (Al Arabiya) Turkey’s Islamic-rooted government has authorized the building of the first church in the country since the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. The church is for the country’s tiny Syriac community and will be built in the Istanbul suburb of Yesilkoy on the shores of the Sea of Marmara, which already has Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic churches. “It is the first since the creation of the republic,” a government source said Saturday. “Churches have been restored and reopened to the public, but no new church has been built until now…”

Catholic bishop in Ukraine says situation in war zones ‘catastrophic’ (Ecumenical News) Catholic Bishop Stanislav Shyrokoradiuk of Kharkiv-Zaporizha says the situation in eastern Ukraine is dramatic, with death and hunger in the war zone near Russia. Bishop Stanislav’s diocese encompasses almost the entire eastern part of Ukraine, including areas no longer under the control of the government in Kiev, the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need reports. “The situation in the war zones is catastrophic. There is hunger. More than 80 people have already died of it in Luhansk and Donetsk,” said the bishop, who is also the director of Caritas Ukraine…



Tags: Lebanon Ukraine Refugees Jordan Turkey

31 December 2014
Greg Kandra




Santa Clauses parade through the streets of Thrissur, India, on 27 December. The Archdiocese of Thrissur created a new Guinness World Record when they assembled 18,112 Santa Clauses on the streets and broke the existing record set by Londonerry, Northern Ireland, with 13,000. Read more about this event here. (photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)



31 December 2014
Greg Kandra




A girl sits near Christmas decorations in a basement used as a bomb shelter in Donetsk, Ukraine on 30 December. (photo: CNS/Igor Tkachenko, Reuters)

Ukraine turns away from “the worst year since World War II” (Euronews) People in Ukraine are ready to turn their back what the country’s central bank has described as ‘the worst year since World War II’. Many internally displaced Ukrainians will ring in the new year in Kyiv’s Independence Square where violent protests forced former President Viktor Yanukovych to flee in February 2014...

Number of Catholics growing worldwide (Vatican Radio) The number of Catholics in the world has increased with growth registered across all five continents...

Egypt to expand buffer zone near Gaza (AFP) Egypt said Tuesday work will begin next week to double the width of a buffer zone being built along the border with the Gaza Strip to prevent militants infiltrating from the Palestinian enclave...

Church recalls pastoral workers killed in 2014 (Vatican Radio) 2014 was a grim year for the number of Church workers around the world killed by violence or the deadly Ebola virus. In its annual report, Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, states that 26 pastoral workers were killed — 3 more than in the previous year...

Over 18,000 Santa Clauses set world record in Kerala (Indo-Asian News Service) The archdiocese of Thrissur in Kerala on Saturday created a new Guinness World Record, when it assembled 18,112 Santa Clauses on the streets and broke the existing record set by Derry in Northern Ireland with 13,000. The event, named “Boun Natale 2014”, was the brainchild of Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, who had last year managed to parade 5,000 Santas...



Tags: India Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Vatican Kerala

30 December 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




A sister of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel, one of CNEWA’s partner organizations in India, feeds ducks in Aluva, India. (photo: Sean Sprague)



Tags: India Sisters Indian Catholics





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