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Volume 44, Number 2
11 December 2012
Greg Kandra

An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish couple lights candles on the third night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, “The Festival of Lights” in Jerusalem on 10 December. In Israel, families gather each evening during the eight-day celebration to light a candle on the menorah, eat traditional foods and exchange gifts. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah began last Saturday night, and concludes this weekend. Last year, Catholic News Service offered an intriguing primer on this feast and its connection to Christianity:

While most Christians know that the Jews are celebrating Hanukkah this season, not all that many know the the story of the festival and the heroic deeds of the Maccabees, the Jewish martyrs who resisted Greek attempts to make them turn away from their ancient faith. Scripture holds that a mother and seven sons chose torture and death rather than renounce their faith. The Maccabees were regarded by the early church as proto-martyrs of the early Christians who died for their faith across the Roman Empire.

In fact, both the Catholic and Orthodox churches even today remember the Maccabean martyrs in their calendars of saints.

The Wall Street Journal noted:

To the martyrs, breaking faith with God is worse than death. In one version, their deaths are interpreted as “an atoning sacrifice” through which God sustained the Jewish people in their travail.

The tone here isn’t the lightheartedness of the Christmas season. The Christian parallels lie, instead, with Good Friday and the story of Jesus’s acceptance of his suffering and sacrificial death. In both the Jewish and the Christian stories, the death of the heroes, grievous though it is, is not the end: It is the prelude to a miraculous vindication and a glorious restoration.

The Roman Catholic tradition honors these Jewish martyrs as saints, and the Eastern Orthodox Church still celebrates 1 August as the Feast of the Holy Maccabees. By contrast, in the literature of the rabbis of the first several centuries of the common era, the story lost its connection to the Maccabean uprising, instead becoming associated with later persecutions by the Romans, which the rabbis experienced. If the change seems odd, recall that the compositions that first told of these events (the books of Maccabees) were not part of the scriptural canon of rabbinic Judaism. But they were canonical in the church (and remain so in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions).

And so we encounter another oddity of Hanukkah: Jews know the fuller history of the holiday because Christians preserved the books that the Jews themselves lost. In a further twist, Jews in the Middle Ages encountered the story of the martyred mother and her seven sons anew in Christian literature and once again placed it in the time of the Maccabees.

“Hanukkah” means “dedication.” Originally, the term referred to the rededication of the purified Temple after the Maccabees’ stunning military victory. But as the story of the martyrs shows, the victory was also associated with the heroic dedication of the Jewish traditionalists of the time to their God and his Torah. If Hanukkah celebrates freedom, it is a freedom to be bound to something higher than freedom itself.

Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish friends and neighbors!

Tags: Christian-Jewish relations Jewish Judaism

10 December 2012
Greg Kandra

Syrian priest welcomed into monastic community in Iraq (Fides) Following his expulsion from Syria, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio SJ, founder of the monastic community of Deir Mar Musa, was welcomed into the newly founded monastery of Deir Maryam el Adhra, which began a few months ago in Sulaymanya in Kurdistan Iraq...

Gaza residents in no mood to celebrate (Los Angeles Times) As tens of thousands of Gazans celebrated Hamas’ 25th anniversary Saturday, Mohamed Mustafa Abdallah huddled by a small fire in a cinder-block shed, assembled from scraps of wreckage from his bombed-out wholesale food business a few feet away. He said he was in no mood to party. His business, near the restive Jabaliya refugee camp where many Gaza Strip militants live, was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike Nov. 17, leaving nothing but broken concrete atop crates of crushed onions, garlic cloves and other goods. It was only a year ago that he finished repairing the damage caused to the building during Israel’s Gaza Strip offensive in 2009. “No one cares about us but God,” the father of eight said...

Former hostage Terry Waite returns to Lebanon to highlight the plight of Christians (The Telegraph) Terry Waite is convinced his meeting with the leadership of Hizbollah, the militant group accused of kidnapping and holding him for five years, will lead to “something positive”. The former hostage spoke for two hours to one of its most senior figures at their stronghold in Beirut, his first encounter with the organisation held responsible for masterminding his kidnapping 25 years ago. Accompanied by The Telegraph, he travelled to Lebanon to highlight the plight of Christians who have fled the Syrian civil war. Now on his return to Britain he denied “political naivety” and said that he was sure his trip achieved something.

Copts in US fear for the faith (Fox) It seems like every Sunday, there’s a new face sitting in the pews of the Church of Saint Verena and the Three Holy Youth in Orange, California. Most are young professionals or families with small children and some have been living in the United States for a just few weeks. “The first waves of immigration,” said Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii...Since the Arab Spring began in early 2011, Department of Homeland Security figures show the number of Egyptians seeking asylum has doubled. Unofficial estimates are that 100,000 Egyptians have so far sought refuge in the U.S. Many of them are believed to be Copts but there are no official statistics on their numbers...

Kerala prepares for Christmas (IBN) The first sign that Christmas is around the corner in Kerala comes in early December, when the mercury dips slightly. That’s when the morning stroll becomes a pleasant experience. Churches and Christian homes begin to put up the traditional Christmas stars, in varying sizes and shapes. Cribs are put up in the second week of December. Now-a-days, these are often ready-made. Nearly 22 percent of the state’s population is Christian, an estimated 32 million people. “Times have changed, so have customs. Gone are the days when the entire family used to get together to make wine, pickles and other food items. These days, who has the time; and then, where are the people to do those things,” asks 75-year-old Santhamma Joseph, a grandmother in Kottayam.

Tags: Syria Iraq Lebanon Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine

7 December 2012
Greg Kandra

Ethiopian Orthodox deacons celebrate the feast of Mary of Zion in Aksum. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Several years ago, we looked at the changes confronting Ethiopian Orthodoxy —and how the role of the clergy, in particular, was evolving:

Traditionally, a priest’s primary duty is the celebration of the Qeddase — in Ethiopia, typically five priests concelebrate — and other liturgical rites, particularly burials. Liturgical festivals feature rhythmic dancing, the chanting of hymns and the recitation of religious poetry. They require the participation of numerous priests, deacons and scribes, or debtera, a class of learned men unique to the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox tradition. Knowledge of Ge’ez, the ancient liturgical language of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches, is required of all clergy.

Monks and priests also function as nafs abbat (spiritual fathers), visiting families and serving as confessors and spiritual guides.

As a rule, parish priests marry and start families. When not attending to their liturgical and sacramental duties, they rear their children (of whom a few are expected to follow in their fathers’ footsteps) and till the soil as farmers. Parish priests survive on freewill offerings and fees for their liturgical duties, but subsist largely on their own earnings as tenant farmers. Traditionally, Orthodox parents offer one or two sons — in rural Ethiopian families, five to six children are the norm — to the local parish priest for the priesthood or monastic life. The boy, called a kollo temari, or “grain student,” joins other boys (all of whom are between 10 and 12 years of age) who gather around a priest or scribe for daily instruction.

The boys are expected to memorize passages of Scripture, the works of the church fathers, liturgical texts and religious poetry: Some priests can recite entire books of the Bible. After a kollo temari masters his subject of study with one instructor, he tackles another field of enquiry with a new teacher, often in a different church or monastery.

This period of tutelage can last as many as 10 years, at which point the student will decide if he wants to commit himself to celibacy and enter a monastery or marry, seek ordination and join the ranks of the eparchial (diocesan) priesthood.

But as Ethiopia changes, the Orthodox laity, particularly among the urban population, are demanding more from their clergy. Long-held religious traditions are weakening. Days of abstinence from meat, fish and dairy products have long been a cornerstone of religious observance. But today, many young Ethiopian Orthodox Christians no longer observe these dietary restrictions.

Read more about Ethiopian Orthodoxy at a crossroads at a crossroads in the November 2007 issue of ONE.

Tags: Ethiopia Orthodox

7 December 2012
Greg Kandra

Children run along a street with rubble from buildings damaged by what activists said was a government airstrike in Aleppo, Syria, on 5 December. Middle East bishops and patriarchs say the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is key to peace throughout region.
(photo: CNS/Aref Hretani, Reuters)

Christian opposition group in Syria appeals for help (Fides) It is urgent to stop the “Jubhat Al Nosra” Salafist group that is spreading terror in Mesopotamia: that is the appeal launched by the new “National Coalition of the Revolution and Opposition” (CNS) from the “Assyrian Democratic Organization” (ADO), a Christian group that is part of the Syrian opposition. In a statement sent to Fides, the ADO said it is “outraged because armed elements of the ‘Jubhat Al Nosra’ Salafist group—that fights alongside the Free Syrian Army— terrorize civilians and confiscate with impunity Christian properties in the region of Hassaké,” in eastern Syria on the border with Turkey...

Patriarchs and Catholic bishops of Middle East issue documents after assembly (Fides) The second Assembly of Patriarchs and Catholic Bishops of the Middle East came to an end on 5 December, in Harissa, with the approval of two documents...The first document, long and complex, offers tips and practical strategies to put into practice the teachings in Ecclesia in the Middle East, the apostolic exhortation that Benedict XVI gave the bishops of the region during his recent visit to Lebanon. According to information collected by Fides Agency, the second document signed by the participants at the assembly in Harissa is an appeal to the international community and all people of good will concentrated on three key points...

Pope sends letter of condolence on death of patriarch (VIS) Benedict XVI has today sent a letter of condolence to the Metropolitan Spyridon of Heliopolis for the death of His Beatitude Archbishop Ignatius Hazim IV, Greek Orthodox patriarch of Antioch and all the East, who died on 5 December at the age of 92. In the text, the Holy Father observes that “during his long life of service to the Gospel, the deceased patriarch offered luminous testimony to faith and charity, working with dedication for the spiritual elevation of the flock entrusted to him and for the noble cause of reconciliation and peace among men...”

Negotiating the price of holy water (NPR) One of the holiest sites in Christendom has also been one of the most contested. The Church of the Holy Sepculchre in Jerusalem lies on the site where Jesus Christ is said to have been crucified and buried. Multiple Christian denominations share the church uneasily, and clerics sometimes come to blows over the most minor of disputes. The Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syriac Orthodox all have a presence in the church. But the most recent conflict at the 4th century church was over something entirely different: an unpaid water bill...

Tags: Syria Lebanon Middle East Jerusalem Pope Benedict XVI

6 December 2012
Greg Kandra

In the Christian village of Taybeh in Palestine, a child plays near Santa suits on the grounds of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. (photo: Miriam Sushman)

Last year, we profiled the village of Taybeh, a devoutly Christian enclave in Palestine that is facing a time of transition:

At most, 50,000 Christian Palestinians live in the West Bank — less than 2 percent of the population. Since 1967, the number of Christians in Gaza and the West Bank has dramatically declined; today, 35 percent fewer Christians reside in these territories. Intermittent war, Israeli blockades, the nearby separation barrier and the resulting economic stagnation have prompted Christians to leave en masse.

Though Taybeh’s residents remain entirely Christian, the village did not survive unscathed. Prior to 1967, more than 5,000 people called Taybeh home. But since then, most have emigrated to the Arabian Peninsula, South America, the United States and elsewhere in search of a better life. Those who stayed behind continue to struggle. Israeli occupation and tight restrictions on movement, particularly in and out of Jerusalem, have devastated the local job market. At present, Taybeh’s unemployment rate hovers at a whopping 40 percent.

“Villagers emigrate every year; the population of Taybeh now is what it was three or four thousand years ago,” says Mary Michael, Mofeed’s mother. An elementary school English teacher, Mrs. Michael also volunteers at the Taybeh Cooperative for Country Development, a women’s organization, where several times a week she coordinates events for senior citizens.

Read more about A Town Named ‘Good’ in the July 2011 issue of ONE.

Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine Palestinians Christian

5 December 2012
Greg Kandra

Anticipating the feast of St. Nicholas on 6 December, a man dressed as the saint attends Pope Benedict XVI's general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Read more about the papal audience here. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Vatican Saints

5 December 2012
Greg Kandra

A Syrian man carries a child as displaced people cross the border from the Syrian town of Ras al Ain to the town of Ceylanpinar, Turkey, on 4 December. (photo: CNS/Laszlo Balogh, Reuters)

Syria’s civil war spills into Lebanon (Vatican Radio) Gunmen loyal to opposite sides in neighboring Syria’s civil war battled in the streets of northern Lebanon on Wednesday. At least 5 people have been killed and 45 wounded from two days of fighting. The conflict, which has spilled out into Lebanon, brought Lebanese troops out in force to the streets of the city of Tripoli to calm the fighting…

New call issued for aid to help Syrian children (Vatican Radio) More than 200,000 Syrian children — many with little more than the clothes they fled the fighting in — are at risk from cold and disease, according to Save The Children. The charity is calling for urgent funding to be made available to prepare refugees for winter and ensure that children and their families have proper shelter and enough warm clothing, warm food, hot and clean water, blankets and heating fuel to survive the cold months…

Clashes in Egypt with anti-Morsi protestors (Vatican Radio) More than 100,000 Egyptians protested outside the presidential palace in Cairo yesterday, fueling tensions over Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi’s seizure of nearly unrestricted powers and the adoption by his allies of a controversial draft constitution. Egyptian police fired tear gas at protestors gathered outside the presidential palace in Cairo…

New film about Jesus in Hindi to debut in India (Fides) It is an initiative that “will help to communicate the Christian faith, to spread the real face of Christ and the Church to the people of India.” This is what Father Dominic D’Abreo, spokesman of the Indian Bishops’ Conference, told Fides about the new film on Jesus in the Hindi language, which has just been released to the Indian public in honor of the Year of Faith…

Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch dies at 91 ( Two days after he was admitted to Saint George Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon, His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch and All the East fell asleep in the Lord on Wednesday, 5 December 2012. Patriarch Ignatius IV had suffered a severe stroke on Monday, December 3, and had been under the care of physicians in the hospital’s intensive care unit. He was 91 years old. Upon learning of the patriarch's repose, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon called upon the clergy and faithful of the Orthodox Church in America to remember him in prayer, that our Lord will grant him rest “where there is neither sickness, sorrow, nor sighing, but life everlasting”...

Tags: Syria India Egypt Lebanon Refugees

4 December 2012
Greg Kandra

Sister Jiji Puthuparambil, D.D.S., makes her nightly rounds in the female ward of Deivadan Center in Kerala, India. To learn more about the remarkable work she and other sisters are doing, check out Peter Lemieux’s story Fearless Grace in the July 2010 issue of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

Tags: India Sisters Kerala Health Care Mental health/ mental illness

4 December 2012
Greg Kandra

A refugee child from Syria stands outside a makeshift shelter in the village of Jeb Jennine, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. No one is sure how many refugees from Syria have already arrived in Lebanon. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

Church in England, Wales launches day of prayer for Middle East (Vatican Radio) The bishops of England and Wales have invited the faithful in the United Kingdom to set aside Tuesday, 4 December 2012, as a day of prayer in solidarity with all those suffering injustice in the Middle East and North Africa. The bishops made the announcement after their November plenary assembly in which they reflected on the tragedy unfolding in Syria and Gaza…

U.S. Warns Syria against use of chemical weapons (Vatican Radio) Intelligence sources in the United States government are saying they have evidence Syrian government engineers have mixed the precursor chemicals to make Sarin gas. The gas could be delivered against targets — including civilian populations — by airplane…

Patriarch: Christians are inspired by ‘Arab renaissance’ of 19th century (Fides) In the great upheavals that are shaking the Middle East, the historical precedent in which even Christians can find inspiration is Nahda, the cultural and political renaissance experienced by the Arab peoples in the 19th century. Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter referenced this in his speech during the opening session of the Assembly of Patriarchs and Catholic Bishops of the Middle East, which began yesterday afternoon, 3 December…

Pope calls for world authority as ‘moral force’ (Catholic News Service) The world authority envisioned by two popes as a way to ensure global peace and justice would not be a superpower, but primarily a moral force with limited jurisdiction, Pope Benedict XVI said. The pope made his remarks 3 December to a plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which was scheduled to meet for three days to discuss the theme of “political authority and global governance.” In his address, Pope Benedict recalled that Blessed John XXIII had called for the “construction of a world community, with a corresponding authority,” to serve the “common good of the human family”…

Church beatifies first lay martyr in India (Business Standard of India) Devasahayam Pillai, the 18th century martyr who sacrificed his life for the faith in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore, was beatified by the Catholic Church on 2 December. Pillai is the first layperson to be elevated to the rank of the “Blessed” in India, one step away from sainthood under Canon Law. Apart from representatives of the Vatican, Indian cardinals, senior bishops, priests, religious and a large congregation of lay devotees attended the function at the Carmer Higher Secondary School operated under the Kottar Diocese…

Tags: Syrian Civil War Middle East Pope Benedict XVI Indian Christians Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter

3 December 2012
Greg Kandra

Pope Benedict XVI, who is known for his love of cats, greets one on Saturday, petting a lion cub during an audience with circus performers in Paul VI hall at the Vatican.
(photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Tags: Pope Benedict XVI

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