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Volume 44, Number 4
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

6 December 2012
Michael J.L. La Civita

This icon depicting St. Nicholas, dating back to the late 14th or early 15th century, hung in the Church of Dormition in the village of Kuritsko. It is held in the Icon Museum of Veliky Novgorod. (photo: Sean Sprague)

In May 1997, I traveled to Puglia, Italy, to visit my father’s family. While there, I visited Bari, home to the Wonder Worker, good ole St. Nick. Here’s how I concluded an article on that visit, which coincided with another Feast of St. Nicholas, which we celebrate today:

“One Russian family caught my eye. The father watched his youngest child as his wife and daughters, their heads covered in colorful scarves, lit candles, kissed icons, pressed their heads to the sacred images and prostrated themselves before the altar. Although they abstained from the Eucharist, this family and the other Orthodox pilgrims who were in attendance rushed to the iconostasis to receive the blessed bread and to be anointed with the holy myron, or oil, of St. Nicholas.

“The holy myron of St. Nicholas is a clear substance that, according to Byzantine accounts, has oozed from the remains of St. Nicholas since his burial in the early fourth century. Many Barese families still possess the elaborately painted bottles that were blown to hold the sacred oil.

“After the completion of the liturgy I went to the chapel where Nicholas lies buried under a simple stone altar. While the Italians were busy throwing their offerings of lire through an iron gate, my Russian family — who were now joined by other Russian pilgrims — stood near the tomb of their beloved saint and wept.

“This quiet scene was interrupted by a deafening sound. High above the basilica, Italian fighter planes soared, leaving trails of green, white and red smoke. Fireworks were set above the harbor to delight the pilgrims.

“I returned to the somber facade of the basilica and encountered Russian pilgrims bending low to pay homage to the Wonder Worker. After all, it was devotion, not spectacle, that had brought them to this shrine.”

Follow the link to read the rest of the story on Bari’s Borrowed Wonder Worker.

Tags: Saints Italy Italo-Byzantine Catholic Church

6 December 2012
J.D. Conor Mauro

A refugee child's drawing depicts the violence from which hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled. The drawing was made in a psycho-social support group in Kamid al lawz, a town in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

Clashes over Syrian war continue in northern Lebanon (Lebanon Daily Star) Fighting intensified Thursday between opponents and supporters of President Bashar Assad in northern Lebanon, as sniper shots left people ducking for cover in downtown Tripoli, raising concern that the fighting might take over the whole city. Fighters exchanged rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun fire in the city for a third day while rockets fired from Syria landed in nearby Lebanese border towns. Security sources told The Daily Star on Thursday that the death toll rose to eight from the fighting between the neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen, whose residents largely support Assad, and Bab al Tabbaneh, where residents oppose the embattled Syrian leader…

Opposing camps clash in Cairo (Der Spiegel) Late into Wednesday night, followers of President Mohammed Morsi battled on the streets of Cairo with opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood leader. For hours, the two camps fought in front of the presidential palace, with both sides throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. People were savagely beaten and several cars were set on fire. At least five were killed in the overnight clashes and some 450 were injured. On Thursday morning, the Egyptian army was deployed in front of the presidential palace, including several tanks and other military vehicles, to protect the compound…

King of Jordan visits West Bank in support of Palestinian statehood (Washington Post) Jordan’s King Abdullah II paid a rare visit to the West Bank on Thursday in a show of support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s successful bid for the United Nations’ recognition of a Palestinian state. The Jordanians spoke out sharply against Israel’s latest plans to build thousands of new settler homes in response to the Palestinian move, including initial plans to revive a contentious project east of Jerusalem. The project, known as E1, would separate the West Bank from east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital, and drive a big wedge between the northern and southern flanks of the West Bank. “The settlement policy is not only rejected from our side as Arabs and Palestinians, but also by the whole world,” said the king’s foreign minister, Nasser Judeh…

Ethiopian prime minister willing to reopen dialogue with Eritrea (Al Jazeera) Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia’s prime minister, has said that he is willing to hold talks with neighboring Eritrea, with whom Addis Ababa fought a border war that ended in 2000. If Desalgen follows through with Wednesday’s statement, it will be the first time a leader in Addis Ababa has held talks with Issaias Afeworki, the Eritrean president, since the end of the conflict which left at least 70,000 people dead. The two countries remain at odds over the flashpoint town of Badme, awarded to Eritrea by a U.N.-backed boundary commission, but still controlled by Ethiopia. “The most important thing for us is to fight poverty ... to have regional integration. If we two do that, it will be much more productive,” Hailemariam added. Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year struggle, that is considered among the continent’s longest and most bitter…

Bishop Zaki cautions church leaders on referendum boycott (Fides) The new Constitution, for which President Morsi seeks a popular referendum on 15 December, “divides the country” and fails to properly represent the diverse interests of the nation, says Bishop Adel Zaki, O.F.M., apostolic vicar of Alexandria in Egypt. Nevertheless, the bishop adds that it is not appropriate that church leaders give direct indication to boycott the referendum. “Churches must enlighten consciences and encourage discernment based on principles of justice and safeguard the common good,” warns Bishop Zaki, “but then everyone has to choose according to their conscience, in full freedom. Churches cannot ask Christians to boycott the referendum”…

The precarious state of religious freedom in Ethiopia (Nazret) A statement issued by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) last month expressed “deep concern about the increasing deterioration of religious freedoms for Muslims in Ethiopia.” According to the USCIRF Statement, “since July 2011, the Ethiopian government has sought to impose the al Ahbash Islamic sect on the country’s Muslim community, a community that traditionally has practiced the Sufi form of Islam. The government also has manipulated the election of the new leaders of the Ethiopia Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC). Previously viewed as an independent body, EIASC is now viewed as a government-controlled institution. The arrests, terrorism charges and takeover of EIASC signify a troubling escalation in the government’s attempts to control Ethiopia’s Muslim community and provide further evidence of a decline in religious freedom in Ethiopia.” The ruling regime has produced no evidence to support its claims of subversion, terrorism and other allegations of criminality by those protesting official interference…

Tags: Egypt Lebanon Ethiopia Syrian Civil War Palestine

5 December 2012
Michael J.L. La Civita

In April 2010, the CNEWA Board of Directors, led by Archbishop Timothy Dolan, right, visited the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Ignatius IV Hazim at the Latin Patriarchate in Damascus. (photo: CNEWA)

The CNEWA family learned today of the death of one of its primary partners in the Middle East, Patriarch Ignatius IV of the Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Antioch. On Monday, he suffered a stroke and was rushed to St. George Hospital in Beirut, where he died today. He was 91 years old.

Since the 1940’s, he had been in the forefront of pastoral activity. He founded a youth movement dedicated to catechesis and formation. He reached out to the New World and set up structures here to encourage growth among the Antiochene Orthodox community. Back home, he reached out to non-Christians, establishing strong relationships with the Alawi, Druze and Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities. But it is perhaps his commitment to healing the ancient church of Antioch, once led by the Apostle Peter, for which he is known and loved.

Elected in 1979, Patriarch Ignatius established a warm relationship with the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius I, who was elected in 1980 and also lived in the Syrian capital of Damascus. The two worked together to understand the Christological nuances of their particular tradition — nuances that have divided the Antiochene church since 451 — agreeing to provisions for intercommunion of the faithful and even the concelebration of the eucharistic liturgy.

He deepened, too, ties with the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which shares the same rites and traditions and remains in full communion with the church of Rome. The “Church of Antioch Initiative” pushed the ecumenical envelope for the healing of the church. Such advances include the sharing of churches, including the 2005 construction of Sts. Peter and Paul in the Damascus suburb of Doumar, which CNEWA assisted in developing.

Antioch’s Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholic patriarchs, Ignatius IV and Gregory III, jointly consecrated Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Doumar, Damascus, in February 2005. (photo: CNEWA)

Another highlight during his patriarchate was the visit of Pope John Paul II to Syria in May 2001. The pope was cohosted by the Greek and Syriac Orthodox patriarchs, as well as the Melkite Greek Catholic patriarch, Gregory III. Msgr. Robert Stern, then CNEWA’s secretary general, participated in the trip and wrote that the pope was welcomed to the Antiochene Orthodox Patriarchal Cathedral of the Virgin Mary, where he was “warmly welcomed by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Ignatius IV. Two other patriarchs of Antioch stood at his side: Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I and Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III.

“The packed cathedral included not only the Catholic and Orthodox bishops of Syria, but most of the other Catholic patriarchs, many of the Greek and Syriac Orthodox bishops of the two patriarchates from other countries around the world and an enthusiastic congregation.

“Beautiful symbols of unity were a joint profession of the Creed, warm and loving words from both the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and the pope, a mutual embrace or kiss of peace and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer by all.

“Sometimes,” he concluded, “we talk so much about the need for Christian unity we almost forget how much real unity already exists.”

May this loving apostle of unity rest in the peace of Christ.

Tags: Middle East Unity Ecumenism Orthodox Church Patriarchs

5 December 2012
Bradley H. Kerr

Syrian children are seen at the Turkish border fence as members of the Free Syrian Army and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party exchange gunfire in northern Syria. (photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)

Vatican Radio today reported on the deepening crisis in Syria, with special attention devoted to the suffering children. The report noted that more than 200,000 children are at risk from cold and disease. Charities are calling for urgent funding — and that includes CNEWA.

We started sending aid to Syria when the crisis developed last spring. Our first focus was Christian children and families who were cast out of the city of Homs. But as more Christians flee from other cities, we are enlarging the scope of our concern. As of the last report I’ve seen, we’ve helped to provide emergency aid to 1,851 families and an additional 2,514 babies and children.

I’m especially pleased we’ve started to give away Winter Survival Kits — enough warm clothes and heating oil to protect a family from the winter cold. So far, 350 vulnerable Christian families have gratefully received these kits.

And that is only the start. We aim to help at least 2,000 families before the worst of winter is here. But we’ll need $210 to help each family before it’s too late. Please check out our special page devoted to the crisis in Syria to learn how you can help.

Tags: Syria Refugees Children Syrian Civil War Relief

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

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