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Summer, 2015
Volume 41, Number 2
  
4 August 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita




According to tradition, the sacramental bread made for the eucharistic liturgy in the Church of the East is made and consumed the same day. The leaven used in the bread, called malka, is derived from the bread that Christ shared with his disciples at the Last Supper. A portion of the sacramental bread is reserved and added to subsequent loaves each time the liturgy
is to be celebrated. (photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)


Barbaric describes best the ferocity unleashed in Iraq and Syria. Ironically, these “nation states” largely correspond to the lands of ancient Mesopotamia — the cradle of civilization. There, thousands of years before the birth of Christ, the world’s first complex human societies emerged between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

It is less commonly known that Mesopotamia is also the cradle of the Christian faith. In its fertile soil, the seeds of Christianity took root quickly and eventually spread like wildflowers throughout Asia, reaching Afghanistan, China, India and Mongolia. But the Church of the East, the driving force behind the missionaries took the Gospel east via the Silk Road, has all but vanished. While a handful of the church’s members — who identify as Assyrians — remain in Mesopotamia, more than a third live in North America. The headquarters for the church of 400,000 people has been moved to a Chicago suburb, but increasingly its members are settling in Oceania and Scandinavia.

The origins of the Christian faith in Mesopotamia are obscure. An ancient legend connects a sickly king of Edessa to Jesus. Others credit St. Thomas the Apostle with evangelizing the region’s Jewish merchants as he traveled to India. That Edessa is the likely source of the faith in Mesopotamia is supported by linguistic evidence: The Aramaic dialect of Edessa, commonly called Syriac, became the literary language of the non-Greek-speaking Christian community in the Middle East.

Syriac Christianity flourished in a divided Mesopotamia. While Syriac Christians living in Byzantine-occupied territories participated in the great debates of the early church, Syriac Christians living in Persian areas developed independently. By the year 410, the Syriac bishop of the Persian capital (near modern Baghdad) emerged as the senior hierarch of the Persian church.


Pope John Paul II and Church of the East Catholicos-Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV exchange gifts after signing a historic Christological agreement in November 1994. The declaration, which acknowledged that the two churches share a common understanding of Jesus, ended nearly 1,600 years of isolation between the two churches. (photo: L’Osservatore Romano)

Commonly referred to as the Church of the East, this community retained its ties to the churches of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Yet, it grew under the suspicious eyes of the Persians — followers of the prophet Zoroaster — who suspected Christians of harboring loyalties to Christian Byzantium. By the end of the fifth century, as war raged between Byzantium and Persia, the Church of the East severed union with its sister churches in the Christian West.

Nevertheless, the Church of the East became renowned throughout the Christian world for its scholarship, especially in grammar, history, logic, mathematics, philosophy and theology. Arab Muslims, who conquered the Persian Empire in 634, turned to its scholars, who are largely responsible for the Arab world’s familiarity with ancient Greek astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and philosophy — disciplines that eventually reached Europe via Arab Sicily and Spain.

At its height in the 14th century, the Church of the East spanned most of Asia and included some 30 metropolitan sees and more than 200 eparchies. But the church’s successes were nearly destroyed overnight. Although the Crusades upset the Middle East’s carefully balanced Middle East societies, the near deathblow came from the east. At the end of the 14th century, Timur the Lame and his army invaded the Middle East, sacked its cities, massacred the inhabitants and leveled what remained. Those Christians who escaped death or enslavement retreated into the mountains, hunkering down in remote monasteries and mountainside villages. Isolation intensified, poverty set in and generation after generation either abjured their Christian faith and embraced Islam or became Catholics as contact with Latin missionaries increased.

During World War I, up to a third of those who belonged to the Church of the East were murdered by agents of the Ottoman Turkish sultan, which governed most of Mesopotamia. Survivors fled to the British-held cities of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra — and points farther west.

War and emigration have nearly decimated the presence of the church in the cradle of civilization. Yet, the sufferings of the Church of the East have brought to light not just the existence of this ancient community, but the richness of a tradition that unknowingly influenced the cultures and churches of the West.

Read here a full account of the Church of the East from the pages of ONE magazine.



4 August 2015
Greg Kandra




Hamaspyur Nazaretian greets visitors at her shelter in Gyumri. The Summer 2015 edition of ONE includes a personal and poignant “Letter from Armenia.” Read about life among the elderly there at this link. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)



4 August 2015
Greg Kandra




In this image from March, Mustafa Abdülcemil Kirimoğlu, leader of Crimean Tatars, speaks at the U.N. in New York. According to reports, he’s announced the creation of a special military unit of Muslim soldiers to protect Crimea. (photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Ukraine to create Muslim military unit (International Business Times) Ukraine will create a unit of Muslim soldiers to protect the Crimean border and monitor imports and exports amid an increasingly violent battle with pro-Russian rebels, a Ukraine leader said Monday. The Muslim battalion will be formed of Crimean Tatars, Kazan Tatars, Uzbeks, Chechens, Azeris, Meskhetian Turks and other Muslim groups, said Mustafa Abdülcemil Kirimoğlu, leader of Crimean Tatars, according to local media reports. The Muslim battalion is part of growing relations between Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians and will report to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, said Kirimoğlu. Crimean Tatars are an ethnically Turkic and religiously Sunni Islam minority group that has faced decades of religious and political persecution under Russian rule...

Pentagon ramps up airstrikes in Syria (Los Angeles Times) U.S. officials Monday confirmed an expanded bombing campaign in Syria that increases the risk of confrontation with forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, possibly drawing Washington more deeply into that country’s punishing four-year war. The Obama administration authorized the Pentagon to use force to help defend a small, U.S.-trained Syrian rebel unit against other insurgent factions — or against fighters allied with the Syrian government, officials said...

Facing threat from ISIS, Iraq digitizes its national library (AP) The dimly lit, dust-caked stacks of the Baghdad National Library hide a treasure of the ages: crinkled, yellowing papers holding the true stories of sultans and kings; imperialists and socialists; occupation and liberation; war and peace. These are the original chronicles of Iraq’s rich and tumultuous history — and now librarians and academics in Baghdad are working feverishly to preserve what’s left after thousands of documents were lost or damaged at the height of the U.S.-led invasion...

More children doing dangerous work in cotton fields in India (Fides) The number of children working in cotton fields continues to rise. According to a survey by the Indo-Dutch Committee and the private body Stop Child Labour Coalition, in India this activity involves some 200,000 minors age 14, minimum legal age for labour in the country. This year India is expected to become the world’s largest cotton producing country. It is to be noted that the number of children working in the cotton industry in India today is 100,000 higher than in 2010, the survey said, adding that working conditions in the fields are still dangerous and the children are exploited...

Ethiopia jails Muslim activists (Reuters) An Ethiopian court sentenced 17 Muslim activists on Monday to prison sentences ranging from seven to 22 years on charges they plotted to create an Islamic state in the majority Christian country. A journalist for a Muslim newspaper was also sentenced for conspiring with the activists, the court in Addis Ababa said. The defendants, who all denied the charges, were arrested in 2012 on charges of plotting to stage attacks to create an Islamic state in Ethiopia, which has a sizable Muslim minority...



3 August 2015
CNEWA staff




The Summer edition of ONE is now available online. You can check it out at this link.

And Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWA’s President, has a special preview below.



3 August 2015
Greg Kandra




Girls practice English at a Caritas day care center in Tbilisi. Learn more about efforts to help children in Georgia by reading “A Child’s Rights Restored” from the March 2012 edition of ONE.
(photo: Molly Corso)




3 August 2015
Greg Kandra




The Vladimir Cathedral stands near the ruins of Chersonesus, which Vladimir Putin has said is as sacred to the Orthodox as the Temple Mount is to Muslims and Jews.
(photo: Vatican Radio/Reuters)


Russia fights Islamic militants (Vatican Radio) Russia’s counterterrorism agency says its forces in North Caucasus have killed eight militants who had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group, including a local leader...

Putin puts “Temple Mount of Orthodox Christians” under federal control (Vatican Radio) Russian President Vladimir Putin has placed a major archaeological site in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine, under federal control. The move comes amid turmoil over the appointment of a director over what Putin views as the Temple Mount of Orthodox Christians. The Kremlin said the president ordered the area in the ancient Greek city of Chersonesus to be placed under federal oversight. The site is located just outside Sevastopol, the main port city in Crimea, the Black Sea Peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine last year...

Hotels in Greece filling with Syrian refugees (Greek Reporter) Syrian refugees have flooded numerous hotels in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, according to Greek newspaper “Ethnos.” Refugees that can afford to stay at hotels, book one or two nights as a layover in their trip to central or northern Europe. The long-suffering Middle Eastern country quickly rose to 5th place in the ranking of customers arriving at Thessaloniki hotels in the first half of 2015, from the 30th place they occupied during the same period last year, noted the newspaper, based on data released by the city’s hoteliers association...

Report: U.S.-led airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians in Iraq, Syria (AP) U.S.-led airstrikes targeting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria likely have killed hundreds of civilians, a report by an independent monitoring group said Monday. The coalition had no immediate comment. The report by Airwars, a project aimed at tracking the international airstrikes targeting the extremists, said it believed 57 specific strikes killed at least 459 civilians and caused 48 suspected “friendly fire” deaths. While Airwars noted the difficulty of verifying information in territory held by the Islamic State group, which has beheaded journalists and shot dead activists, other groups have reported similar casualties from the U.S.-led airstrikes...

Finding Ethiopian cuisine in Jerusalem (Roads & Kingdoms) There are now an estimated 130,000 Ethiopians living in Israel, a majority of them Jewish and Israeli citizens. Most of them or their families immigrated over the past three decades as part of Israel’s push to bring in Ethiopia’s Jews living in hardship. Their status as citizens is different from the smaller number of Israel’s Ethiopian Christians, many who made the journey, sometimes via smuggling routes through Sudan and Egypt’s Sinai, to find work and opportunities, or to seek refugee and asylum status. Ethiopians are now a very visible part of the fabric of Jerusalem. But the cuisine, as food trends go, has remained largely off the map...



31 July 2015
Greg Kandra




Displaced Iraqis celebrate the liturgy in a tent church in Kasnazan, in northern Iraq. It’s been almost exactly one year since ISIS drove many of them from their homes. Read what has happened since in the Summer 2015 edition of ONE. And to support them, and CNEWA’s work in this part of the world, visit this giving page. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)



31 July 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro




Sisters, along with Iraqi Christians who fled the violence in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, attend a Divine Liturgy celebrating the coronation of the Virgin Mary, on 31 May in Erbil. (photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)

After one year stranded in Kurdistan, women religious speak (Aid to the Church in Need) The date of 6 August will mark the one-year anniversary of the expulsion of a group of Dominican sisters from their convent in Iraq’s Nineveh Plane to Erbil, capital of Kurdistan. Discovering that Kurdish militia had fled the ISIS assault, the sisters decided to leave their convent in Qaraqosh and march to safety along with thousands of refugees; they had just 30 minutes to pack their things. “We were panicked when they told us ISIS had gotten into the roads, so many people left with even just their nightgowns on,” recalls Sister Lyca…

Melkite patriarch criticizes West’s Middle East policies (Aid to the Church in Need) The worldwide head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church has charged that support from the West earmarked for moderate opposition groups in Syria is ending up in the hands of ISIS and other Islamic extremists. In an interview, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III, head of the largest Catholic community in Syria, said money and weapons given to allegedly moderate groups are being repeatedly seized by ISIS…

Christian population in the Middle East is dropping rapidly (AINA) Christians now face the worst religious persecution in over a thousand years in the Middle East, reports Christianity Today, based on a study conducted by the Pew Research Center…

Assyrian Christian woman shares story of captivity by Islamic State (Al Monitor) An Assyrian Christian woman released recently agreed to meet with Al Monitor at her daughter’s home in the outskirts of Beirut and tell her story of those months living as an ISIS hostage, and what she could learn about her captors and their identities. For security reasons, her name will not be disclosed. Sitting on her mattress on the floor, she says she is safe now, but the rest of her family is still held by ISIS in Syria’s Shaddadeh. As far as she knows her family is still there, where they had all been kept since February, when the villages were attacked…

Will Indian court ruling help ‘reconversions’ of Dalit Christians? (UCANews) A Hindu leader who promotes religious conversions in a southern Indian state says plans to convert some 100,000 Christians this year to Hinduism will be easier because of a recent court verdict. Radical Hindu groups have been conducting public “reconversion” ceremonies. The movement, known as Ghar Vapasi, or homecoming, claims to bring Christians “back” to Hinduism. Church leaders have pointed out that Hindu groups call it “conversion” when people convert to Christianity, but when Christians convert to Hinduism they call it “homecoming…”

Testing the limits: How many refugees can Germany handle? (Der Spiegel) More Germans than ever before are positively disposed toward asylum-seekers. This year, Germany is expecting to receive around 400,000 new refugees, a figure that may test the country’s new welcoming culture…



Tags: Syria Iraq India Middle East Christians Indian Christians

30 July 2015
CNEWA staff




Msgr. John Kozar, President of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, meets meets Ukrainian Christians, Jews and Muslims in Univ, Ukraine. (CNS photo/John E. Kozar, CNEWA)

Catholic News Service has just posted this report by Mariana Karapinka on Msgr. John Kozar’s recent visit to Ukraine:

It’s not often that Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox Ukrainians from different ethnic backgrounds get together in Ukraine.

But when 37 young adults joined an immersion program, The Ark, for a week in mid-July to learn about one another's culture, religion and history, they came away with greater understanding of respect for one another.

At one point when pork was served for dinner and Jewish participants could not partake, Muslim students shared their chicken dishes with them.

Seminar participant Alim Umerodzha, a Crimean Tatar activist and a Muslim, said diversity should be perceived as richness and not a reason for division.

“In every lecture and every conversation, I unexpectedly discover something that we have in common,” he said.

Such understanding is gratifying to Msgr. John Kozar, head of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which supports the program hosted by the Eastern Catholic Studite monastery in Univ and is sponsored by the Ukrainian Catholic University, the Federation of Polish Organizations in Ukraine, the Polish Consulate in Lviv, the Tkuma Ukrainian Institute for Holocaust Studies and the nongovernmental organization Crimea SOS.

“Never undervalue the benefit of bringing two strangers or even two enemies together. Because the first thing that happens, they realize that they are not that much different and want the same things,” he told Catholic News Service.

“This program is not typical for CNEWA,” he added. “We usually accompany Eastern Catholic Churches” activities, help with some renovation and educational programs.”

Msgr. Kozar’s trip included visits with chaplains, Caritas Ukraine, communities displaced by the violence in eastern Ukraine, orphanages, seminaries and the village of Zarvanytsia, one of the country’s most revered pilgrimage sites.

The interfaith seminar is one of several activities confronting religious persecution and promoting interreligious tolerance in Ukraine. CNEWA and its Ukrainian partners received a $175,000 grant from the Canadian government’s Office of Religious Freedom for the program, which includes student exchanges among the regions, summer schools, panel discussions, lectures and media publications.

Myroslav Marynovych, who helped establish the seminar in 2006 as a summer school for young Ukrainians, including those who are Jewish and of Polish descent, said the seminar’s goal is to help students not only understand the past but understand and feel the pain rooted in ethnic and religious misunderstanding.

In 2014, after the Russian annexation of Crimea, seminar planners decided to accept Crimean Tatars, who are Muslim.

The seminar also allows participants to reflect on the challenges posed by the ongoing clashes between Ukrainian armed forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Seminar organizers specifically chose the Studite monastery to host the program. During World War II the monastery, with the help and encouragement of the Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, hid and saved more than 100 Jewish children from the Nazis.

Igor Shchupak, director of Tkuma Ukrainian Institute for Holocaust, said the monastery is a holy place not only for Ukrainian Catholics but also for Jews and Poles.

Participant Christina Shandrak, a Roman Catholic of Polish descent living in Lviv, admitted “there were many issues in the past among Poles and Ukrainians.”

“Some of them are still not resolved,” she said. “I feel personally that I have issues that I need to talk through with Ukrainian colleagues, understand and maybe to forgive.”

Vlada Haidenko, a Jewish student from Kryvyi Rih, was making her first trip to Western Ukraine to participate in The Ark program. She said she was eager to deepen her knowledge of the history and culture of the region.

“I learn a lot from other participants but also I’m very glad to share with others about our culture,” she said.

The participants learned about Kashrut, Jewish dietary laws, and participated in Shabat celebrations.In 2014, the seminar met during Ramadan, and many students were able to learn about Muslim fasting and other traditions.

Kiril Alfeyev, another Jewish student from the same town, said staying at the Studite monastery and seeing its many crosses, Christian icons, and statues seemed a bit strange at first, but that he became accustomed to the symbols of Christianity.

“It’s interesting to talk to other people, what their values, goals, and priorities are. We all live in one country and need to understand each other better,” he said.

For Mykola Asenishvili, an Orthodox Christian enrolled at Donetsk University, the program allows participants the chance to “pay attention to details and to learn more about the other.”

It’s that search for unity that is important to Shandrak, the young Pole from Lviv. “Differences are interesting but finding the common ‘spine or rod’ is more important,” she said.

“Being united, we will be able to build new country and write a new history,” participant Vlada Haidenko agreed. “No one would be able to split us.”



30 July 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita




The children of Father Sharbel Iskandar Bcheiry, a native of Lebanon, watch their father celebrate the Divine Liturgy in their suburban Chicago parish. (photo: Karen Callaway)

Resilient best describes the Syriac Orthodox Church. Persecuted by Byzantines, murdered by Mongols, massacred by Ottoman Turks and caught in the Kurdish-Turkish crossfire, Syriac Orthodox Christians have managed to endure, preserving their legacy while enriching the entire church.

The Syriac Orthodox Church shares in the heritage of ancient Antioch, the commercial, cultural and political center of Rome’s eastern Mediterranean province of Syria. Founded by St. Peter and nurtured by St. Paul, the church in Antioch emerged as the center of the church of the East, stretching beyond the borders of the Christian Roman (or Byzantine) Empire.

The development of the church of Antioch coincided with the confluence of cultures in the eastern Mediterranean world. Debates raged as Antioch’s Christians explored the nature of Jesus, which prompted councils, the decrees of which drove a wedge between Antioch’s Syriac-speaking Christians and Greek-speaking Christians allied with Byzantium.

Syriac Christians generally welcomed the Muslim Arabs invaders, who accepted them as “People of the Book.” Safe from Byzantine authorities, Syriac scholars flourished. Poets fashioned hymns that simplified complex ideas. Scholars translated Greek texts and wrote biblical commentaries. Monks explored grammar, medicine, philosophy, rhetoric and science. Theologians and poets continued the tradition of composing liturgies, borrowing elements from other Christian traditions.


In southeastern Turkey, the area known as Tur Abdin (Syriac for “Mountain of the Servants of God”) remains the heartland of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Every Saturday night, in a small chapel of the Saffron Monastery, a liturgy is celebrated to commemorate the 53 patriarchs and more than 100 bishops who pastored the area’s flock between the fifth and 20th centuries. The seat of the patriarchate was moved from Tur Abdin to Damascus in 1932. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)

Drawn by this erudition, the Arabs employed Syriac scholars, who are largely responsible for the Arab world’s familiarity with ancient Greek astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and philosophy — disciplines that eventually reached Europe via Arab Sicily and Spain.

At its height in the mid-14th century, the Syriac Orthodox Church stretched from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan and included 20 metropolitan sees and more than a 100 eparchies. This golden age ended violently with the invasion of the Middle East by Timur the Lame in the 15th century. Those Syriac Christians who escaped death or enslavement retreated into the mountains, huddling in fortress-like monasteries and villages. Though scholarship did not vanish completely, isolation intensified, poverty set in and generation after generation of Syriac Orthodox families abjured their Christian faith.

Scholars estimate that by the beginning of the 20th century, fewer than 270,000 Syriac Orthodox Christians remained in Mesopotamia.

The trials for the church have only intensified in the last 100 years, even as membership has recovered: The church now counts as many as 5 million members, although two thirds live in India. In 1915 — the “Year of the Sword” — soldiers affiliated with the Ottoman authorities murdered more than 13,000 families and 150 priests. Survivors were deported or fled, many seeking refuge in Beirut, Damascus and Mosul. Some later settled in North America’s burgeoning industrial cities.

Many of the families who fled to Baghdad, Beirut and Mosul as provincial peasants are now leaving as professionals for Europe, North America and Oceania. The emigration of Syriac Christians, who once formed the core of Syria and Iraq’s middle classes, has created a regional “brain drain,” as they establish new lives far from their historic center in the cradle of civilization.







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