18 December 2012
The church at Saint George’s Monastery houses rare Arab icons. (photo: Sean Sprague)
This morning, some big news in the Orthodox world:
His Eminence, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Western and Central Europe, has been elected Patriarch of the Great City-of-God Antioch and all the East.
The Patriarch-elect Youhanna X [Yaziji] was elected by the members of the Holy Synod earlier today, 17 December 2012, during a special session held at the Balamand Patriarchal Monastery of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos.
Born in Syria in 1955, the Patriarch-elect received his primary, secondary and university education in Latakiya, Syria graduating with a degree in civil engineering. He earned a degree in theology in 1978 from the Saint John of Damascus School of Orthodox of Theology at the Balamand University and a doctorate in theology (emphases in liturgy and Byzantine music) in 1983 from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. He was tonsured a monk at the Athonite Monastery of Saint Paul on the Holy Mountain, was ordained to the holy diaconate in 1979 and to the holy priesthood in 1983, and in 1981 became professor of Liturgical Studies at the Saint John of Damascus School of Orthodox Theology at the Balamand University. He assumed the position of dean of that theological school from 1988-1991 and again from 2001-2005.
He was elected and consecrated to the sacred episcopacy in 1995 with the title Bishop of al-Hosn. He has served as superior of the Monastery of Saint George al-Humayrah in the Christian Valley (Wadi al-Nasara) in Syria, superior of the Our Lady of Balamand Monastery, and spiritual father to the Convent of the Dormition in Blemmana, Syria. In 2008 he was elected and enthroned as the Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Western and Central Europe.
Last year, we took readers to the monastery where he served as superior:
In its heyday, the monastery was one of the region’s major theological centers. Scores of monks once lived, prayed, studied and worked there, and its seminary trained the region’s priests. But dwindling enrollment forced the monastery to close its doors not long ago. Father Andrew, a priest in the nearby village of Amre, studied at St. George’s.
“We are sad that St. George’s is no longer a seminary,” says the priest, adding, “there is talk to start it up again. There is a convent in the nearby village of Marmarita, where students can study theology for three years and then go on to Lebanon to finish their studies.” But only three monks remain at St. George’s, which has become a favorite stop for bus loads of pilgrims and tourists.
“We get up at 5 a.m. to pray in the chapel and then do various chores like cleaning or working in the library, until breakfast at 8:30,” says Mar Christo, the monastery’s energetic abbot. Cloaked in his traditional black cassock, his woolly hat outlining his pointed beard and laughing eyes, he says that soon after breakfast, “the tourist buses start to arrive, so we show them around.
“Our two big feast days are Saint George’s Day on 6 May and the Triumph of the Cross on 14 September — plus of course Christmas and Easter,” he continues. “On feast days, many pilgrims come to stay at the monastery. A big market is set up outside selling icons and food. On Sundays, the villagers come to the liturgy, but not so many.”
Read more about Syria’s Christian valley in the January 2011 issue of ONE.
17 December 2012
Tags: Syria Christianity Monastery Syriac Orthodox Church
A Christmas tree decorates St. Peter’s Square after a lighting ceremony at the Vatican on 14 December. The 78-foot silver fir tree is from the Italian province of Isernia.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
14 December 2012
A woman visits the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as the West Bank city marks Advent and gears up for the Christmas season. (photo: CNS/Marko Djurica, Reuters)
As Christmas nears, the little town of Bethlehem is approaching the busiest time of the year. In May of 2009, Pope Benedict XVI paid a visit and described the special appeal of this place Christians hold as sacred:
The message of Christ’s coming, brought from heaven by the voice of angels, continues to echo in this town, just as it echoes in families, homes and communities throughout the world. It is “good news”, the angels say “for all the people”. It proclaims that the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of David, has been born “for you”: for you and me, and for men and women in every time and place. In God’s plan, Bethlehem, “least among the clans of Judah” (Mic 5:2), has become a place of undying glory: the place where, in the fullness of time, God chose to become man, to end the long reign of sin and death, and to bring new and abundant life to a world which had grown old, weary and oppressed by hopelessness.
For men and women everywhere, Bethlehem is associated with this joyful message of rebirth, renewal, light and freedom. Yet here, in our midst, how far this magnificent promise seems from being realized! How distant seems that Kingdom of wide dominion and peace, security, justice and integrity which the Prophet Isaiah heralded in the first reading (cf. Is 9:7), and which we proclaim as definitively established in the coming of Jesus Christ, Messiah and King!...
...Here in Bethlehem, a special perseverance is asked of Christ’s disciples: perseverance in faithful witness to God’s glory revealed here, in the birth of his Son, to the good news of his peace which came down from heaven to dwell upon the earth.
“Do not be afraid!” This is the message which the Successor of Saint Peter wishes to leave with you today, echoing the message of the angels and the charge which our beloved Pope John Paul II left with you in the year of the Great Jubilee of Christ’s birth. Count on the prayers and solidarity of your brothers and sisters in the universal Church, and work, with concrete initiatives, to consolidate your presence and to offer new possibilities to those tempted to leave. Be a bridge of dialogue and constructive cooperation in the building of a culture of peace to replace the present stalemate of fear, aggression and frustration. Build up your local Churches, making them workshops of dialogue, tolerance and hope, as well as solidarity and practical charity.
Read the rest of the Holy Father’s message here.
13 December 2012
CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar caught this charming smile during his visit to the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Ethiopia in April 2012. Established to provide shelter for abandoned children, the home is run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus, an order of nuns from Malta, under the leadership of Sister Lutgarda Camilleri. You can read about Kidane Mehret in this article from the September 2001 issue of our magazine. The school underwent improvements, partly through the generosity of CNEWA's donors, in 2003 and 2009. (photo: Msgr. John Kozar)
12 December 2012
Tags: Ethiopia CNEWA Children Sisters Msgr. John E. Kozar
Pope Benedict XVI is assisted by Thaddeus Jones of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications as he sends his first Twitter message during his general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on 12 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
To much fanfare, Pope Benedict XVI sent out his first message on Twitter today. CNS notes:
Pope Benedict XVI launched his very own Twitter account, sending a short inaugural message to his more than 1 million followers.
“Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart,” it said.
His tweet -- 139 characters -- went viral as the number of followers of @Pontifex and its seven other extensions grew by more than 5,000 new people an hour, a Vatican official said. Tens of thousands of followers retweeted the messages in the short minutes after they were posted.
After the pope gave his catechesis and blessing to those gathered for the general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, an announcement came over the speakers saying the pope was about to make his first tweet.
Officials placed a small wooden desk in front of the pope, and staff from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications placed a small tablet computer on top.
The pope put on his glasses as Thaddeus Jones, a U.S. official at the council, showed him the screen that already had the message prepared and loaded. The pope, with a tap, sent the greeting, which in English was just one character shy of the site’s 140-character limit.
The moment was captured on video, below:
11 December 2012
Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Vatican
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!
10 December 2012
Tags: Christian-Jewish relations Jewish Judaism
Michael prepares a cup of flowers for the dinner table as his mother prepares lunch for the family in their small apartment in Amman. (photo: Bryan Denton)
George Jaqamon and Elham Hanania live with their two sons, Michael and Johnny, in the Jabal Webdeh neighborhood of Amman, Jordan. Both are of Palestinian origin. Elham was born and lived much of her life in Bethlehem. George, who was a barber, is unemployed. He works part time as a driver and takes tourists to places like the Dead Sea and Petra. His wife Elham works at the Terra Sancta School located just a few minutes from their house. Making ends meet for the young family is difficult, as the cost of living in Amman has increased dramatically.
Read their story and learn more about the Christians of Jordan in this report from the September 2006 issue of ONE.
7 December 2012
Tags: Palestine Jordan
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.
6 December 2012
Tags: Ethiopia Orthodox
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.
5 December 2012
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine Palestinians Christian
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