26 July 2013
During a World Youth Day Mass this week, Pope Francis gestures and shows his chotki,
or prayer rope. (photo: AP via News.va.)
Some Roman Catholics may have wondered what Pope Francis was wearing around his wrist during his visit to Rio de Janeiro this week. But the faithful in the Eastern churches — Catholic and Orthodox — no doubt recognized it: it’s a chotki, or prayer rope. It’s not uncommon to see patriarchs wearing one. It’s almost unheard of, though, to see one in the hands of the bishop of Rome.
The rope is usually used with the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Historically it typically had 100 knots, although prayer ropes with 300, 50, or 33 knots or, less commonly, 250 or 12 can also be found in use today. There is typically a knotted cross at one end, and a few beads at certain intervals between the knots. “The purpose is to help us concentrate, not necessarily to count.”
Its invention is attributed to St. Pachomius in the fourth century as an aid for illiterate monks to accomplish a consistent number of prayers and prostrations. Monks were often expected to carry a prayer rope with them, to remind them to pray constantly in accordance with St. Paul’s injunction in I Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”
Pope Francis, of course, has a close connection to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Shortly after the pope’s election, Patriarch Sviatoslav wrote:
The newly elected Pope Francis was mentored by one of our priests, Stepan Chmil who is now buried in the basilica of St. Sophia in Rome. Today’s Pope, during his time as a student of the Salesian school, awoke many hours before his classmates to concelebrate at our Divine Liturgy with Fr. Stepan. He knows our Tradition very well, as well as our Liturgy.
The last time I had an opportunity to see him was as I was preparing to leave Argentina for Ukraine. I asked him to bear witness to the process of beatifying Fr. Stepan Chmil, to which, he gladly agreed. The Holy Father very well knows not only of our Church, but also our liturgy, our rites, and our spirituality.
Apart from this, Pope Francis, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, was assigned as ordinary for Eastern Catholics, specifically those who at the time did not have members of their own hierarchy. Our Eparchy in Argentina is, let’s say, suffragan to the Archbishop’s seat of Buenos Aires. In this way, Cardinal Bergoglio, always took care of our Church in Argentina; and as a young bishop, I took my first steps in episcopal ministry under his watchful eyes and help. Because of this, I am positive that the Holy Father will be a great help to our Church, and I expect that great things await our Church with this Pope.
25 July 2013
Young men attend a shoemaking class at vocational training center in Minya, Egypt.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
Several years ago, we visited a vocational school in Upper Egypt that was giving hope and opportunity to the handicapped:
The Jesuit Center for the Handicapped is one of several projects in the region funded by CNEWA. The center is dedicated to youths who would otherwise have few opportunities for an independent life.
The center, originally for boys, was founded in 1983. Since 1992, girls have also been admitted. There are now 40 students at the center and admission is equally divided by gender.
Students are bused from surrounding areas and they room at the center from Monday to Thursday. By having a three-day weekend in their villages, respect is paid to both Muslims, who pray on Fridays, and Christians, who worship on Sundays.
Minya’s population is about 20 percent Christian and 80 percent Muslim. Osama Iseq, the center’s director, said there are tensions between the two religious communities, fueled largely by Islamic fundamentalists.
“At first we had problems with bringing the students to the center,” he said. “There was one village we could not even get to because of anti-Christian feelings, but now there is no problem. Here Muslims and Christians get along. That students are eating, studying, living and working together is better than any discussion...
...The center’s two-year course provides vocational training in the morning and literacy and simple mathematics classes in the afternoon. When students are finished with the course, they read, write, do basic arithmetic and are prepared for an independent life with practical job skills.
But while the vocational school is relatively new, the Jesuits have a long history of being educators in Minya. On the same campus as the Center for the Handicapped is a primary and preparatory school founded in 1889. The Jesuit Fathers school also receives scholarship grants from CNEWA.
The 800-pupil school is run by five Jesuit priests and one brother, two of whom are Egyptians, two are Maltese, one is French and the other is Dutch. Also on staff are a number of Christian and Muslim teachers.
Jesuit Father Joseph Mizi, the school’s director, said the school is one of the best in the district even though it primarily serves the poorer children of the area.
Read more about efforts to take young people From Dusty to Dignity in the November 2002 issue of the magazine.
24 July 2013
A mother and child pause for a picture at the Godano Institution, a home for abused girls and women. The women attend classes, learning to sew and work as beauticians. Last year, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar visited and wrote about his experience. Read his moving account of “the Church”s Priority.” (photo: Cody Christopulos)
23 July 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Education Women (rights/issues)
A girl attends the Divine Liturgy at the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Paradise in São Paulo, Brazil. This week, hundreds of thousands of young people are expected to take part in the visit of Pope Francis to Brazil for World Youth Day. Check out our archives to read more about the Greek Catholic Paradise in Brazil. (photo: Izan Petterle)
22 July 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Melkite Greek Catholic Church Melkite World Youth Day Brazil
Pope Francis carries a bag as he boards a plane at Fiumicino airport in Rome on 22 July. He is making his first trip abroad as bishop of Rome to join more than 300,000 young people in Brazil for World Youth Day. (photo: CNS/Giampiero Sposito, Reuters)
19 July 2013
Tags: Pope Francis World Youth Day Brazil
Father Elias Koucos presides over the liturgy at Prophet Elias Church in Holladay, Utah.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)
Three years ago, we visited the Greek Orthodox community in the heart of Mormon-dominated Utah:
From the summit of Ensign Peak in Utah, a mountain Mormons believe sacred, the visitor takes in a panoramic view of the rugged but splendid geography of this unique southwestern American state. To the west, one glimpses the Great Salt Lake and desert; to the south, one looks down upon the Salt Lake Valley, which cradles the state capital, Salt Lake City, and its sprawling suburbs; and to the east, one’s vision is blocked by the Wasatch Mountains, a forbidding, craggy wall towering thousands of feet above the valley. It was through these mountains that the Latter-day Saints first entered the Salt Lake Valley in the summer of 1847 after their long, difficult flight from religious persecution across America’s heartland. Mexican territory at the time, they and their followers nonetheless adopted the valley as their homeland, referring to it as “Mormon Zion,” and began settling what is today Salt Lake City.
A half-century later, the first Greek immigrants arrived in Salt Lake City. They did not come by handcart and oxen-pulled wagons, as did the original settlers, but by railroads built with immigrant labor in the decades before their arrival. Attracted to Utah with promises of jobs on the railroads, most of these Greeks soon began laying railroad tracks themselves. …
The precise number of Utahans of Greek descent is difficult to assess. In the 2000 U.S. Census, nearly 12,000 state residents reported to be of Greek ancestry. Approximately 1,000 active families, or about 4,000 people, belong to the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake. While small compared to the larger Greek-American enclaves in the eastern United States, Utah’s Greek-American community is thriving. According to the 2000 Census, Utah ranks ninth in the nation with respect to the percentage of the population claiming Greek ancestry.
Today, the Greek Orthodox Church is the binding force for Utah’s Hellenic community. Father Matthew Gilbert, pastor of Holy Trinity Cathedral, describes the parish as very active, with no shortage of activities, especially for the youth. Still, says the priest, himself “Greek” by marriage, passing down the faith to the next generation remains a challenge.
“The hardest thing is the spiritual aspect. It’s nice to dance and to play basketball. We have Greek schools, dance programs, Orthodox Christian camps in the summer, Greek camp, Sunday school. We offer everything imaginable, but it’s up to individuals to cultivate their spiritual life. It’s always easier to cultivate the fun things, but a spiritual life is difficult. It takes a lot of work. Being baptized is the easy part. The rest is commitment.”
Read more about Greek Orthodoxy in Mormon Zion from the July 2010 issue of ONE.
18 July 2013
Tags: Eastern Christianity United States Orthodox Church Orthodox
In this image from 2010, a woman and her grandson pose in the village of Aklaimi, Wadi al Nasarah, in the “Valley of the Christians,” near Homs. (photo: Sean Sprague)
The New York Times this week reported on the devastation civil war has brought to the Syrian city of Homs:
Little by little, the central Syrian city of Homs is losing its infrastructure and its landmarks. The national hospital lies in ruins. Rebel-held neighborhoods stretch for blocks without an intact building. Many government offices are closed. The silver-domed mosque of Khalid bin al Waleed — named for an early Islamic warrior particularly revered by Sunnis — stands pockmarked and perforated.
Abandoned cars rust beneath piles of rubble and downed wires.
Homs was an early bellwether of what Syria would become. One of the first cities to rise up in rebellion, it was home to mass demonstrations. As protests turned to armed revolt, the city began to split, largely along sectarian lines, with much of the Sunni majority supporting the uprising and members of President Bashar al Assad’s Alawite sect joining pro-government militias. Now, after more than a year of siege, bombardment and clashes, which have intensified recently as the government has renewed its assault on rebel strongholds, Homs may well be the site of the most concentrated destruction in the country.
But less than three years ago, that part of Syria was very different. We visited the region’s nearby villages in 2010:
Looking out at the idyllic countryside, with its gently rolling hills painted in hues of olive green and gold, its ancient villages and stone churches, it is no wonder why so many natives faithfully return at least once a year.
One such émigré is Lamaan Nahas. On vacation, she is visiting her home village of Alkaimi with her aging mother and three children. Mrs. Nahas left Syria 17 years ago and now lives in San Francisco, California, with her husband, children and, for the past year, her mother. She loves San Francisco and her life there, she says, but she misses her home in the Valley of Christians. Her mother, her gray hair pulled in a bun, smiles broadly, visibly happy to be back home, even if for just a short stay.
As we talked, a couple of girls approached a nearby fountain fed by a natural spring with large plastic jugs brought from home. As they filled them with the fresh cool water, they giggled with delight. The valley has many natural springs and it is not uncommon for each village to have one nearby. Though all homes in the valley are equipped with modern plumbing and electricity, locals often prefer to collect their drinking water from these springs.
Despite the lack of opportunity, many of the region’s remaining residents are clearly happy to live in such a beautiful environment.
Read more about Syria’s Valley of the Christians in the January 2011 issue of ONE.
17 July 2013
Tags: Syria Syrian Civil War War Village life
Msgr. Kozar visits with children at St. Anthony’s Dayssadan, a home for children with physical disabilities run by the Preshitharam Sisters in India. (photo: CNEWA)
Last year, CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar traveled to India and wrote about his experience visiting a home for children:
The place is the St. Anthony’s Dayssadan, a home for children with physical disabilities run by the Preshitharam Sisters. The director of the facility is Sister Tessy, and she is accompanied by six other caring and loving sisters. …
When I walked around to give each of them some candy — as has been the custom during all of our pastoral visits with children — I became very much aware of their physical challenges, as some of them could not put out their hands to accept the candy. Their joy in welcoming me prompted one of them to ask me to pray for all of them. Their response to my blessing was to sing together a lovely hymn, alluding to how God watches over us all. What a powerful life lesson for me.
The sisters here are saints, completely devoted to the care of these special children. I feel that this visit with the sisters and His little ones, was the perfect way to put it all into perspective. God loves everyone: the poor, the disadvantaged, those with special challenges. And we are privileged and have the honor of reaching out to the needs of so many in India. As much as we might do in helping them, we receive infinitely more as we experience their courage, their kindness, their patience, and especially their FAITH. Yes, above all they are filled with faith. Their trust in God watching over them, with a little help from our CNEWA family, is the great equalizer. It not only keeps them going, but it also brings joy and happiness to their lives.
Read more from Msgr. Kozar’s journey In the Footsteps of St. Thomas.
16 July 2013
Tags: India Children Sisters Msgr. John E. Kozar Indian Christians
A mural depicting the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin and Mount Ararat adorns a brick wall in Hollywood’s “Little Armenia.” (photo: Armineh Johannes)
Several years ago, we looked at a thriving group of Christian immigrants from the Middle East who had settled in southern California:
Leaving behind economic hardship, religious persecution and war — and in many cases family, friends and culture — Middle Eastern Christians have flocked to the United States in increasing numbers over the past three decades.
They have been immigrating to the United States and other Western countries since the late 19th century, but migration has increased as political and economic conditions have deteriorated in their home countries. About a quarter of a million Christians have left Palestine since 1948. Roughly the same number has left Lebanon since the end of its civil war more than a decade ago.
In coming to the United States, Christians from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria bring with them rich traditions they hope to preserve amid the dominant American culture, which their children often absorb.
“I would like to think we will preserve our culture and identity and keep that distinctiveness, but that may be wishful thinking,” says Michael Nahabet, an Armenian who emigrated from Syria more than 20 years ago. “The melting pot is a reality and we do not fight it. I believe we should be integrated and not live in a ghetto. It’s not a resistance, but we want to keep our identity.”
Mr. Nahabet and his wife, Nora, an Armenian from Lebanon, send their two children, Eddie and Natalie, to an Armenian school. They speak mostly Armenian in the home, but Natalie says she mainly speaks English with her brother and her friends.
The Nahabets live in the Los Angeles suburb of Chatsworth, not far from another suburb, Glendale, where one in four residents is Armenian. An estimated quarter of a million Armenians — many from the eastern Mediterranean where Armenians have lived since the Middle Ages — live in Southern California. Mr. Nahabet immigrated to the Los Angeles area at age 24 to start a business. He bought a service station, which he operated for 10 years before going into publishing.
Large numbers of Christians — often wealthier, better educated and with more connections to the West than their Muslim neighbors in the Middle East — take advantage of the opportunities available to them in the United States and Europe.
Read more about East Goes West in the January 2004 issue of the magazine.
15 July 2013
Tags: Lebanon Cultural Identity Armenia United States Immigration
Residents pray in the chapel of the Sacred Scripture Social Message Into Living Experience community — or SSSMILE — in Vettikkuzi in southwestern India. The community serves the region’s homeless. To learn more, read A New Home With a New Family from the December 2003 issue of the magazine. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Tags: India CNEWA