9 June 2015
This Romanian icon of St. Ephrem the Syrian was written in 2005. (photo: Wikipedia)
Today, 9 June, marks the feast of St. Ephrem in the Latin church (it’s celebrated on 28 January in the East). Often called the “Harp of the Holy Spirit,” Ephrem was born in Nisibis — then in the Roman province of Syria — now Nusaybin, Turkey in 306. He spent much of his life preaching and writing hymns and poems:
Ephrem had a complex and artistic personality marked by a strong tendency to be hot-tempered. But with tremendous self-control, he dominated his fiery nature and devoted his life to asceticism.
Ephrem taught in Nisibis until the city was ceded to the Persians and he was forced, with other Christians, to emigrate to Edessa (now Urfa, Turkey). There, Ephrem continued his teaching at the famous School of Edessa whose reknown, and even founding, has been attributed to him.
An aspect of Ephrem’s unusual personality is evident in the fact that, although ordained a deacon, he never became a priest — avoiding consecration by feigning madness. Although no certain explanation can be found for this behavior, some biographers believe it was due to a feeling of unworthiness.
St. Ephrem died in 373, at the age of 67.
A familiar prayer among the Eastern churches remains this brief invocation for Lent:
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.
At a time when the land so closely associated with St. Ephrem is facing increased turmoil and strife, let us pray that the saint will watch over Syria and Turkey, and help guide all who dwell there on the path to peace.
8 June 2015
Friends and family gather to celebrate an engagement between a young Coptic couple in Australia at Saint George’s Coptic Church in Melbourne. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2007, we paid a visit to Australia to report on a land rich in diversity of faith and culture:
I left the world of peroghi and stuffed cabbage in the back of a black Hyundai Sonata — bearing the customized license plate, “COPT 1” — for the Melbourne suburb of Preston. There, I joined Amba (or Bishop) Suriel, Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Melbourne, Canberra, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and New Zealand, at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church to commemorate the miracle of the Wedding at Cana. After the Divine Liturgy, celebrated in Arabic and Coptic, we traveled further to celebrate the engagement of an Australian Coptic couple.
“We mix with the Anglo-Australian population, and I have Australian friends, though in many ways our lives are quite different from theirs,” said Nariman Eskander, 28, who at age 13 left her native Egypt, home to more than 8 million Coptic Orthodox Christians. Australia’s Copts tend to hang on to their traditional customs and culture, eschewing the drinking and frolicking found in mainstream Australian culture, she said.
The bishop, who is in his late 40’s, noted that parenting has had much to do with the maintenance of such customs among even young Copts.
“My parents had a great influence on me, teaching me to fear God and warning of the traps faced by youth living in Western society,” he said. “My parents realized we must live within God’s commandments in an upright way.”
But even Copts question whether or not their families will remain intact. “Three-quarters of us will probably marry another Copt,” said Ms. Eskander, “though in the future I imagine there will be more intermarriage, and perhaps we will slowly lose our culture.”
Read more about “Diversity Down Under” in the May 2007 edition of ONE.
5 June 2015
In this image from 2008, Bat-El Shmueli plays with her daughter at their home in Haifa.
(photo: Ilene Perlman)
In 2008, we profiled a remarkable group of immigrants in Israel: Ethiopian Jews, some of whom were having difficulty adjusting to their new homeland:
The transition into modern Israeli society has been especially wrenching for older immigrants, said Bat-El Shmueli, E.N.P.’s feisty program coordinator in Haifa and Tirat Hacarmel.
In one of its many programs for Ethiopian adults, Ms. Shmueli helps Ethiopian adults ages 35 to 80 to “learn about life in Israel.”
She said that, for the most part, “they don’t know Hebrew, they don’t have good jobs and they feel distanced from their children who have grown up here and feel and act Israeli.”
Men “often feel powerless, useless, displaced. In Ethiopia they were kings of their homes, villages and communities. Here, everyone tells them what to do.”
According to a recent study by I.A.E.J., 32 percent of Ethiopian-Israeli fathers and 10 percent of mothers are employed; 70 percent of families earn no income, relying
entirely on public assistance. Many of those who work do not clear the poverty line.
The fact that more and more Ethiopian-Israeli children have an education and are finding good jobs “is a source of immense pride to their parents, but also a source of alienation,” Ms. Shmueli added.
Read more about “Challenges for a Land of Immigrants” in the November 2008 edition of ONE.
4 June 2015
Young parishioners at Holy Cross Church take part in perpetual adoration in Purakkad, India. Read more about this serene corner of Kerala in “Purakkad’s Natural Harmony” from the
May 2009 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
3 June 2015
Children at St. John Paul II Maronite Catholic Church created art, which was auctioned off to
help children in Lebanon (photo: CNEWA)
On Sunday, CNEWA took part in a special event held at St. John Paul II Maronite Catholic Church in Sleepy Hollow, New York. The event brought together nearly 30 people — children, ages 4-12, and their parents — who wanted to raise money for one of CNEWA’s projects in Lebanon.
The children were asked to create some art with the theme of charity, which was then auctioned off. A total of $1,145 was raised. All the proceeds then went to the St. John the Baptist School in Lebanon — specifically, to help support art therapy for disabled children.
It was very touching and humbling to see the enthusiasm of kids and how excited they were to know that their donations will be able to help the less fortunate and disabled children.
The idea was part of the school’s Heritage Program, which seeks to teach children about their roots. The crowd present at the event was most American-Lebanese and Syrian families who were supporting their kids and making sure that stay connected with their home countries and cultures.
Today, Lebanon and Syria are facing one of the most challenging periods of their times but in the eyes of kids everything is possible and hope will always prevail.
We would like to thank the organizers and particularly Mrs. Janine Wakim for her devotion, contributions and a successful event!
To learn how you can join the children of Sleepy Hollow and help children in Lebanon, please visit this giving page.
1 June 2015
A sister climbs the stairs at the Good Shepherd convent in Suez, which was burned during an attack in August 2013. CNEWA has just released funds to help rebuild this and other institutions. Read more about the relief effort to help Christians in the Middle East here. And to learn more about the struggles of Christians in Egypt, read “Out of the Ashes” in the Spring 2015
edition of ONE. (photo: David Degner)
29 May 2015
In this image from 2011, altar servers assist in a liturgy at Our Lady of Paradise Cathedral
in São Paulo. (photo: Izan Petterle)
In 2011, we took readers to Our Lady of Paradise in São Paulo, Brazil, spiritual home to an estimated 400,000 people — the largest Melkite Greek community not only in the Americas but in the world. It’s located in the neighborhood of Paraíso (Portuguese for paradise):
Though Paraíso remains the center of Brazil’s Melkite cultural and spiritual life, its demographics have changed dramatically in recent years. Social success and economic prosperity among first– and second–generation Melkite Arab–Brazilians have prompted most to choose more affluent residential communities in São Paulo and its sprawling suburbs.
Fortunately, some longtime residents remain to preserve the neighborhood’s historic Arabic flavor. Strolling Paraíso’s streets, one finds no shortage of Arab–owned restaurants, serving up traditional Middle Eastern cuisine, such as falafel, kibbeh, tajine and hummus. Many of these establishments so far have withstood the test of time, having remained in their families for several generations.
After the liturgy, a small group of parishioners approaches the altar and passes through a door leading to a spacious community hall. There, they gather to socialize and enjoy refreshments. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the sound of casual conversations in Arabic and Portuguese fill the air.
Read more about “Paradise in Brazil” in the July 2011 edition of ONE.
28 May 2015
Over 30 people, including the young man pictured here, recently took part in a special day for Iraqi refugees with special needs. (photo: CNEWA)
Recently, Jordan received a large number of Iraqi refugees, especially from Nineveh plain. Through our encounters with them, we have learned more about their difficulties and sufferings, because they have been forced to leave their homes and their country. Now, they are facing significant challenges at various levels: financially, physically and psychologically.
Their enormous needs are difficult to meet; therefore, this situation invites us to reflect on Christ’s attitude toward the vulnerable and marginalized, the sick and wounded; it also invites us to feel solidarity with all our brothers and sisters who are suffering due to what happened to them. It invites us to go towards them, to participate and support them in their dignity. The church in Jordan, along with several humanitarian organizations, seeks to support and aid everyone according to their needs and abilities.
CNEWA in Amman would like to share with you a day we spent recently with our brothers and sisters, Iraqis with special needs. CNEWA, with the coordination of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, worked and prepared for this event for more than a month. The attendees were 31 people of different ages and disabilities. They were accompanied by the same number of parents.
This event was a huge success.
Four buses traveled from Amman to Madaba to the Sermig monastery, named “Gathering House — Bait Al-Liqa’.”
On arrival, they watched a short movie about the facility; it daily receives more than 100 children with special needs. The facility offers education and rehabilitation, and provides physical and speech therapy. After the movie, participants were divided into three groups to visit with the volunteers, who explained the different activities carried out by the house according to their needs. We were all really astonished, and were deeply moved when we saw the children’s handiworks of paintings, sewing, rosaries, and mosaics.
Later on, the groups participated in activities such as gardening, coloring and making flowers; another group helped in the kitchen. Everyone was happy and enjoyed the activities. They experienced the joy of being useful, and saw that even doing something simple can have great importance and value.
Bishop Salim Sayegh, who happily responded to our invitation, concluded the morning with the celebration of the Holy Mass. In his talk, he sent a message to all attendees, a message of joy in Christ, by saying: the Easter message is to rejoice! The young and innocent children need the adults’ joy, they need to nourish on the joy of Christ. “Your innocent children,” he said, “are unaware of the problems and worries you face, so they should always have the happy image of Christ in their lives!”
We then shared lunch in a spirit of joy and love.
During the evaluation of this day, participants expressed their joy, and expressed that they are not a burden on society, but they have a lot to offer and wish that there be more attention to their situation and that such events and activities to be repeated.
This was a very emotional event for all participants; they learned from each other, they learned to trust more in God and to be more patient and persistent.
It also allowed us to meet Jesus Christ through them. We can only hope they also met him through us.
27 May 2015
Five-year-old Battoul al Hassan stands outside her family’s temporary home in Jounieh, Lebanon.
(photo: Tamara Hadi)
Two years ago, we focused on the plight of Syrians who had fled to Lebanon, and took note of the toll being a refugee was taking on children:
“The children weren’t aggressive or angry when they arrived,” says school administrator Amale al Hawa of the new Syrian students. “But they were quiet and unable to chitchat with the others. We noticed that, in most cases, they were closed in on themselves.”
Such is the case of 14-year-old Nour al Hassan. She has the body and gait of a girl but a depth and darkness in her face that suggests a young woman who has been through a lot — and she has been. With her father, Ammar, her mother, Shams, and her siblings Issa, 13, Moussa, 10, and Battoul, 5, they fled their home village of Al Houla north of the Syrian city of Homs early one morning last September. The shelling had become just too much to bear. Still, Nour misses home.
“The most difficult thing about being here is that I left everything behind,” she says. “My friends, my family, my grandparents, everyone I love. I left them there and we are alone here.”
After school, Nour and her siblings walk down the hill, pass through a chicken coop to a shack their parents have rented from a Lebanese landlord for the exorbitant price of $300 a month. When the temperature drops, they make do with blankets received from neighbors and an electric heater that barely works. Their landlord forbids them from using too much electricity.
Read more about “Crossing the Border” in the Spring 2013 edition of ONE.
And to learn how you can help Syrians under siege, visit this giving page.
26 May 2015
A picture taken on 14 March 2014 shows a sculpture found in the ancient Syrian oasis city of Palmyra, 130 miles northeast of Damascus, and now displayed at the city’s museum. From the first to the second century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Greco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. (photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)
Now that ISIS has gained control of Palmyra — and, some fear, could destroy many of the priceless artifacts in the ancient Syrian city — an important Muslim voice has been raised, calling on the world to protect and defend these treasures.
Al Azhar, one of the oldest universities in the world and a center of Sunni Muslim learning, has declared that “protecting archaeological sites from destruction and plundering is the battle of all humanity.” The Cairo-based institution has called on the world community to prevent ISIS from “destroying the cultural and archaeological landmarks of the city.” As one of the most authoritative voices in Sunni Islam, Al Azhar stated that the destruction of world heritages sites and artifacts is haram — that is, forbidden by Sharia law.
Al Azhar has reason to be concerned for Palmyra.
In March 2001 the Taliban shelled and destroyed the giant statues of Buddha that had been erected in the Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan. Scholars estimate that the statues were built between 507 and 554, before the birth of Muhammad and the arrival of Islam. It was the most widely publicized destruction of antiquities in recent times.
Unfortunately the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was not an isolated example of barbarism in the name of religion. Since 2001 — and with increasing frequency recently — religious extremists have been attacking artistic and ancient artifacts in the name of religion. The most notorious of these desecrators of what the U.N. calls objects of World Heritage has been the self-proclaimed Islamic State, known in the Middle East by its acronym Daesh.
The present rampage of wanton destruction of the art and history of the Middle East is unparalleled in magnitude since the Mongol invasions under Hulagu Khan in the 13th century. The Mongols destroyed Baghdad in 1258 and brought the Golden Age of the Abbasid Caliphate to an end. Ironically ISIS, which claims to have reestablished the caliphate, is behaving in the same way as those who brought the caliphate in that part of the world to an end.
With the fall of Mosul in July 2014 ISIS members sacked the Mosul Museum which had been home to many artifacts dating from the Old through the New Assyrian periods (2015-612 B.C.). While some of the plundered artifacts were sold on the black market, many of the irreplaceable objects were simply and wantonly destroyed.
The world can only hope that the voices of concern raised by Al Azhar will be heard — and heeded.
Tags: Syria ISIS Art Historical site/city