4 January 2018
A mosaic depicting the adoration of the Magi in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo dates to the sixth century. (photo: CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)
The feast of the Epiphany, also known at the feast of the Three Kings and Twelfth Night, officially brings the Christmas season to a close this weekend — but in many of the places CNEWA serves, particularly those with deep Orthodox and Byzantine roots, it is just as grand a feast as Christmas, with distinct traditions and celebrations.
The word “epiphany” comes from the Greek ἐπιφαίνω
(epi-phaino), which means “to shine forth, manifest, reveal.” The feast celebrates the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem, which is recounted only in the Gospel of Matthew — and even there, with very little detail. Despite the traditions that have grown up around the feast, Matthew does not tell us who these visitors are, where they came from other than “from the East,” or even how many there were. Christian tradition has “filled in the blanks” for 2,000 years and has had as many as 14 visitors, coming from all over Asia and Africa (which is not “from the East”) and even given them different names. Ultimately in the West, Christians settled on the number three because of the number of gifts. San Apolinare Nuovo, a sixth-century church in Ravenna, Italy, has a magnificent mosaic of three Magi, named Balthasar, Melchior and Caspar, indicating that the tradition was beginning to solidify at least in the West just a few hundred years after the time of Christ.
For Matthew, who is writing primarily for Jewish converts to Christianity, it is important to stress the universal mission of the Messiah born in Bethlehem. Regardless of how many there were or where they came from, it is absolutely clear that the Magi are Gentiles. In Matthew’s Gospel the Gentiles are among the first to recognize Jesus. For Matthew the visit of the exotic strangers is truly an epiphany in that the true person and mission of Jesus “shines forth” and reveals itself. Jesus is not merely the hoped for Messiah who has come to save the Jews, but he is also the “shining forth,” the revelation of God’s Son to the entire world, Jew and Gentile alike.
Many local traditions have grown up around the feast of the Epiphany. In many Latin countries, the visit of the Three Kings is celebrated with parades and gift giving. In German villages, there is often a procession through the town. The pastor, accompanied by three children dressed as “Magi,” goes through the town blessing the homes. As each home is blessed, the letters C M B and the year are written in chalk over the main door of the house. The letters C M B stand not only for Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar but also for Christus Mansionen Benedicat — “may Christ bless the house.”
Liturgically since very ancient times, the Epiphany and the end of the Advent-Christmas season was seen as part of a series of epiphanies. The Gospel readings at the eucharistic celebration immediately following the feast of the Epiphany have traditionally dealt with the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan and the Marriage Feast at Cana.
The Gospel accounts of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan are found in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and each recounts a voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be the “Beloved Son.” In all the Gospel accounts, including John, a voice from heaven and the descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove form an epiphany, a revelation of who Jesus is and what his mission is.
The Wedding at Cana appears only in the Gospel of John (2:1-12) and is also an epiphany. At the end of the account of Jesus turning the water into wine, the evangelist comments: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee and manifested (ἐφανέρωσεν from φαίνω, “to shine forth, manifest”) his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
In sum, this period after Christmas is a time of light and revelation — and, really, three epiphanies.
The first epiphany is what we traditionally refer to as “the Epiphany” and is the shining forth of Jesus as a “light of revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32). The second epiphany at the Jordan reveals Jesus as the Beloved Son of the Father and the third and last epiphany of the season is the revelation of Jesus as the worker of might deeds and miracles at Cana.
Thus by the end of the Christmas season the Church through the liturgy not only proclaims that Christ was born in Bethlehem, but also teaches who he is and what his mission is.
4 January 2018
Tags: Christianity Christian
In Egypt, the wrist of a Daughter of Charity bears the traditional tattoo a Christian receives shortly after birth — a mark of faith to the world. Read about how Charity’s Daughters are revealing their faith in other ways and serving the Christians of Egypt in the December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Roger Anis)
4 January 2018
Tags: Egypt Copts Egypt's Christians Coptic
A man prepares tea for customers on a cold morning on 2 January in New Delhi, India. Catholic bishops in the country have called on people to “preserve brotherhood, peace and harmony” in the new year. (photo: CNS/Rajat Gupta/EPA)
Indian bishops urge peace, harmony in 2018 (Vatican Radio) Catholic bishops of India are calling on the people of the country to “preserve the traditional brotherhood, peace and harmony” of the nation against what they described as an unacceptable “terrorism” of “false nationalism”. Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (C.B.C.I.) has issued a press release on the occasion of the new year saying the bishops are “praying for the nation, political and spiritual leaders, and for every Indian, that 2018 may be a year of peace and harmony, of love and fraternity, of inclusive and integral development for all peoples…”
UN: more than half of Iraq’s displaced have returned home (Arab News) More than half of Iraqis displaced by recent conflicts to other parts of the country have now returned to their homes, the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration said on Thursday. At the end of December, more than 3.2 million displaced Iraqis had gone home while 2.6 million still lived away from home, the IOM said…
Syria prepares for return of refugees from Lebanon (Xinhua) Syria’s Minister of Reconciliation Ali Haidar said Wednesday that Syria is preparing for the return of refugees from Lebanon, according to state news agency SANA…
It’s still Christmas in Armenia (Smithsonian) The new year marks the end of the holiday season in the United States, but elsewhere it is just getting started; in Armenia, first comes the new year, then comes Christmas. New Year’s Eve kicks off two weeks of holidays during which Armenians celebrate Christ’s Nativity, his baptism and the Epiphany. From 31 December to 13 January, Armenian families visit family and friends, exchange gifts, and come together to drink and feast…
3 January 2018
Tags: Syria India Iraq Armenia
The Rev. Petro Chudyk celebrates the Divine Liturgy in his church in Tarashcha, Ukraine.
(photo: Ivan Chernichkin)
Journalist Mark Raczkiewycz offers a revealing glimpse at the struggling but growing church in Ukraine in the December 2017 edition of ONE. Here, he explains some of the burdens placed on the local priests.
The only way to describe what I saw on three reporting trips within the central Ukrainian Kiev Eparchy is selfless commitment.
Priests at these nascent, under-served parishes live under the same conditions as the parishioners. The parishes often have to go without a proper prayer space, such as a chapel; also usually lacking is recreational space for activities such as catechism classes or tea and coffee after the liturgies.
Priests usually are based in impoverished communities that often cannot afford to donate enough money to cover basic needs for the liturgies: candles, charcoal, bread, and wine.
As a result, clergymen often draw on their own resourcefulness and creativity to service these communities. It is often trial and error. They must exercise wisdom and patience to explain the church, it customs, holidays and prayers. Again, it is often done on a rudimentary level; 70 years of oppressive Communist rule drained much of the spirituality and religious knowledge from the people.
To a certain extent these communities resemble those of the early Christians in the first few centuries of the Church. They pray wherever they can find space and draw on their own strength to build communities.
Parish priests get some administrative support from the curia. They attend networking events where experience and ideas are exchanged among priests to see what works in different communities.
Charity groups such as Caritas and CNEWA help out as well.
For example, CNEWA donated a $15,000 portable wooden chapel to a parish community in Tarashcha, a district town 80 miles south of the nation’s capital of Kiev.
In December, the Catholic charity Caritas provides gifts to needy children on St. Nicholas Day. Priests look for benevolent sponsors to send parishioners to retreats in the Carpathian Mountains in the western part of the country.
And the curia tries to buy at least four properties a year for its clergyman so that they don’t have to rent living or prayer space.
Still, despite a seminary school having opened in 2010, the Kiev Eparchy can’t keep up with demand. As I write this, 10 communities were awaiting a parish priest.
The Eparchy witnessed a surge of parishioner interest in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church during the so-called Revolution of Dignity in 2014 that ousted a corrupt, Moscow-friendly president. The church was one of the first institutions to provide shelter, food and pastoral care to the freezing protesters that winter.
These tumultuous events spurred people to find answers to deep questions about their faith, their future and the country’s survival. They often turn to the church for guidance and solace.
The result is truly an inspiration.
I saw parish priests meet these challenges with an amazing sense of dignity — albeit under adverse conditions. And the people are eager to be a part of it all.
As one priest told me: “Parishes want to help. The church for Greek Catholic believers has a wider meaning than just to come, pray and leave. They want to build a community around a church.”
For an intimates look at the church in Ukraine, watch the short video below. And read more about Planting Seeds, Nurturing Faith in the current edition of our magazine.
3 January 2018
CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar just returned from spending Christmas in Bethlehem — and shared the above photograph, from a vespers service on Christmas Eve at the Church of the Nativity. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Apostolic Administrator for the Latin Patriarchate, presided. Msgr. Kozar is shown standing, third from the right.
(photo: Nadim Asfour/CTS, courtesy the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem)
3 January 2018
A clergyman reacts to the news of an attack on the Coptic Orthodox Church of Mar Mina in Helwan, Egypt, near Cairo. Bishop Joseph C. Bambera has called for prayers for “our Coptic brethren who are enduring martyrdom for the sake of Christ.” (photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)
Palestinians condemn Trump threat as ‘blackmail’ (BBC) Palestinian officials have dismissed as “blackmail” Donald Trump’s threat to cut U.S. aid over what he called their unwillingness to negotiate with Israel. A spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas insisted Jerusalem was “not for sale” — a reference to Mr Trump’s recognition of the city as the capital of Israel...
Nations look to Holy See for leadership on migration and refugees (Vatican Radio) In this year’s message for 1 January World Day of Peace, Pope Francis focused on migrants and refugees, highlighting the reasons why so many people are on the move and what our response should be. The Rev. Michael Czerny is undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees office at the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development. He talks about the importance of the 2018 Peace Day message — the first one to focus on this key area of international concern...
Bishop Bambera urges prayers for peace after attack on Coptic Christians (CNS) In the wake of a gunman’s attack on a Coptic Orthodox church and a Christian-owned shop near Cairo on 29 December, killing at least 12 people, a U.S. bishop urged Catholics to “pray for peace in Egypt and the Middle East and for all victims of religious and political hatred.” “I especially ask Catholics to renew their support, love and prayers for our Coptic brethren who are enduring martyrdom for the sake of Christ,” said Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs...
W.H.O.: Gaza’s health system close to collapse (The Guardian) Hospitals in Gaza will face an almost total power blackout by the end of February unless funding is secured to keep emergency generators running, the World Health Organization has warned...
Kerala preserving DNA of storm victims (The Hindu) The Kerala government has started preserving the DNA samples of those killed in Cyclone Ockhi as samples of only 42 out of 76 bodies recovered so far have matched with those of their families. An official said that 144 people were still missing and preserving the DNA samples would help the government in extending financial benefits and compensation to the family members as there were chances of the money being cornered by touts and middlemen...
2 January 2018
Melkite Greek Archbishop Georges Bacouni visits some of his flock at St. Vincent de Paul Hospital in Nazareth. (photo: Geries Abdo, courtesy Melkite Catholic Archbishopric)
The December 2017 edition of ONE features a Letter from Galilee, by Georges Bacouni, who serves the people where Jesus lived:
What a blessing, to be in this particular part of the world — where Jesus was born, grew up, proclaimed the Good News, was crucified and rose from the dead.
The Lord entrusted me with the flock of his homeland and to follow in the footsteps of the apostles.
When I was taught how to meditate on a Gospel passage, I was asked sometimes to imagine the places where Jesus lived: Capernaum, Tiberias Lake, Nazareth, Jerusalem.
Now I know all these places, and they remind me of the historical facts. But Jesus is not only part of the history, he is still alive and in the midst of his church.
When you enter Peter’s house in Capernaum, where Jesus healed the paralytic; when you see the place where he fed five thousand people; when you are in a boat in the middle of the lake where he walked on the water; and many other holy sites, I assure you that you feel you are sharing the experience of the apostles and the crowds. You feel privileged being Christian. Visiting these sites — let alone living there — is a spiritual retreat.
Many of my predecessors used to say, “I am the archbishop of Jesus.” I don’t dare say that, but it’s true in a way that the bishop in Galilee is responsible for Jesus’ hometown.
What a blessing! But in the same time, it’s a huge responsibility and difficult mission for many reasons.
Read more in this Letter from Galilee to discover why.
2 January 2018
Worshipers pray during Mass on New Year’s Eve at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Cairo. At least ten were killed in two attacks on the Coptic community Friday.
(photo: CNS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)
Pope expresses closeness to Coptic Christians after attack (Vatican Radio) At least 10 were killed in two separate attacks on the Coptic Christian community in Cairo last Friday. The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for both. After reciting the Angelus prayer in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, Pope Francis expressed his “closeness to the Coptic Orthodox” and prayed for the dead, the wounded and the whole community. He also prayed especially for the conversion of what he called “all violent hearts...”
For New Year, pope urges help for refugees, respect for life (CNS) Pope Francis began the New Year praying the world would demonstrate a marked increase in solidarity and welcome for migrants and refugees. “Let’s not extinguish the hope in their hearts; let’s not suffocate their hopes for peace,” the pope said on 1 January before reciting the Angelus with a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square...
Israeli bill strengthens East Jerusalem occupation (Al Jazeera) Israeli legislators have approved a bill that makes it more difficult to divide Jerusalem. The bill passed early on Tuesday and stipulates that two-thirds support is needed in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, before Israel can relinquish control over any portion of the holy city to a foreign entity, according to local media...
Report: interfaith network of Muslims and Jews working to keep peace in Middle East (The Art Newspaper) A remarkable alliance of Israeli orthodox rabbis and Muslim religious leaders in the Middle East is mediating behind the scenes following the anger and violence sparked by President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month...
Pope prints postcard illustrating the horror of war (CNS) As 2017 was drawing to a close, the horrors of war and people’s yearnings for peace were on Pope Francis’ mind and in his prayers. In an unusual move late on 30 December, the pope had the Vatican press office and Vatican media distribute a copy of a famous photograph from the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki...
Ancient artifact that could support the Bible found near the Western Wall in Jerusalem (Newsweek) A 2,700-year-old clay seal was discovered near the plaza of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem five years after digging through the site started. The ancient find may have once belonged to the governor of the city. On Monday, Israeli archaeologists revealed the ancient artifact was discovered, saying the seal was inscribed with ancient Hebrew script as “belonging to the governor of the city,” reported Reuters...
29 December 2017
Israeli forces fire toward Palestinians near Ramallah, West Bank, during a 20 December protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
(photo: CNS/Mussa Qawasma, Reuters)
Pope Francis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone on 29 December about the status of Jerusalem.
Paloma Garcia Ovejero, vice director of the Vatican press office, confirmed the telephone conversation took place and said the call was Erdogan’s initiative.
The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported that Erdogan and Pope Francis both expressed satisfaction with the U.N. resolution on 21 December calling on the United States to rescind its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The resolution passed 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced Dec. 6 that he was formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordering the State Department to begin preparations for moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Hours before Trump made the announcement, Pope Francis publicly appealed for respect for the “status quo” of Jerusalem and prayed that “wisdom and prudence would prevail to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts.”
The Vatican supports a “two-state solution” for the Holy Land with independence, recognition and secure borders for both Israel and Palestine. While insisting access must be guaranteed to the holy sites of Christianity, Judaism and Islam in Jerusalem, the Vatican, like most nations around the world, believes political control of the city should be settled in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Before giving his Christmas blessing on 25 December, Pope Francis again prayed “for peace for Jerusalem and for all the Holy Land.”
He asked the crowd in St. Peter’s Square to join him in praying that “the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders.”
“May the Lord also sustain the efforts of all those in the international community inspired by goodwill to help that afflicted land find — despite grave obstacles — the harmony, justice and security that it has long awaited,” the pope continued.
29 December 2017
An elderly woman braves the winter weather in Nyírascád, Hungary, a village of 4,400 where Greek Catholics continue to hold onto their traditions as the world changes around them. Read more about Holding on in Hungary in the May 2006 edition of ONE. (photo: Balazs Gardi)