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7 January 2014
A boy in a live Nativity scene carries a dog as Pope Francis visits the display at the Church of St. Alfonso Maria dei Liguori in Rome on 6 January. Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar are celebrating Christmas on 7 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Millions celebrate Orthodox Christmas (RT.com) Millions of Orthodox Christians across the globe are celebrating Christmas on Tuesday with one of the most revered Christian relics: the Gifts of the Wise Men, brought to Moscow after leaving Greece for the first time in more than 500 years. 7 January is Christmas Day for Russian Christians, the Jerusalem Orthodox Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, as well as for some Protestants who use the Julian calendar. According to the Julian calendar, the holidays come 13 days after the Christmas festivities in the Catholic Church. One of the most important Christian relics, the Gifts of the Wise Men to the newborn Jesus, were delivered from Thessaloniki to Moscow on the eve of the Orthodox Christmas. The holy Gifts have left the Agiou Pavlou (St. Paul’s) monastery on Mount Athos for the first time since the 15th Century. The sacred relics brought from Greece are to be displayed in the Russian capital until 13 January. At present they are drawing queues of five hours...
Latin Patriarch hopes pope’s visit will be a “cry for peace” (Catholic News Service) Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem welcomed the announcement of Pope Francis’ May visit to the Holy Land and said he hopes the pilgrimage will be a “cry for peace,” particularly for Palestinians, Israelis, Syrians and others beset by conflict...
Russia ramps up security in Sochi (Vatican Radio) Russia says it has launched one of the biggest security operations in Olympic history, after two suicide attacks killed dozens of people. The announcement comes a month before the start of the Winter Olympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Russian authorities say they are deploying more than 30,000 police and interior ministry troops and limiting access to the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Yet, protecting the expected thousands of athletes and spectators at a time of suicide bombings in the country has become a major challenge, officials acknowledged...
Syrian rebels battling for control of key city (Los Angeles Times) Syrian rebel groups battled one another Monday for control of a provincial capital, part of a vicious round of score settling targeting an Al Qaeda affiliate that gained stature fighting President Bashar Assad but alienated many by imposing strict Islamic law. Fighting for control of Raqqah followed several days of heavy clashes in rebel-held territory farther west in which disparate militias advanced against fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In March, Raqqah was the first major Syrian city to fall completely to rebel forces, and it has been one of the main bases of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Why Christians are crucial to the Middle East (National Catholic Register) Thomas Farr is the director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center and a visiting associate professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. A former American diplomat, he is a leading authority on international religious freedom. In December, the Religious Freedom Project hosted a Rome-based conference titled “Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.” “From Cairo and Damascus to Tehran and Beijing, religious freedom is under siege. Ironically, it is Christianity — a faith that contributed decisively to the rise of religious liberty — that now finds itself increasingly persecuted around the world,” the conference organizers noted. On 30 December, Farr offered further reflections on the reasons for the sharp rise in anti-Christian violence in the Middle East and the West’s failure to intervene...
6 January 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War Russia Patriarch Fouad Twal
In this 1996 photo, Abune Paulos, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, douses a crowd with holy water. Abune Paulos passed away in 2012. (photo: Asrat Habte Mariam)
Christians around the world are celebrating Epiphany today. Several years ago we explored how this feast is observed in Ethiopia:
Since time immemorial, Ethiopians have worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus, the Apostles and saints. According to an ancient tradition, Menelik, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, carried the Ark of the Covenant off to Aksum, the ancient capital of Ethiopia. This same tradition holds that the Ark, which the Hebrews believed symbolized the presence of God among them, remains in Aksum, enshrined in the cathedral complex of St. Mary of Zion. Within the sanctuary of every Ethiopian Orthodox church, a tabot rests on the altar, a reminder of God’s revelation in word and sacrament.
As evening drew near, the city’s clergy, balancing the sacred tabots, slowly converged on Jan Meda, the “Field of the King.” In my youth Jan Meda was considered the preserve of the monarch. Situated on this majestic field is the Pool of Temqat. This pool, considered holy by believers, was to be blessed by the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Paulos, after vespers and an all-night vigil.
Elaborately decorated tents, erected on the field for the occasion, housed the sacred tabots. Meanwhile, two rows of priests, deacons, monks and debteras were formed. Separated by a patch of earth, but facing one another, the clergy began to chant the psalms rhythmically, the pace set by a priest-drummer. Throughout the night, in the tents where the tabots rested, the clergy recited prayers and chanted the holy office while the laity kept vigil in the open air.
Early on the morning of the feast Abune Paulos arrived at Jan Meda. Dressed majestically in white, and surrounded by his retinue of bishops, the patriarch took the place of the emperor, the “King of Kings, Conquering Lion of Judah,” the central figure of these ceremonies when Ethiopia was considered a Christian realm.
The celebration began with a series of sermons, which contemplated the meaning of Jesus’ baptism and the significance of God’s words: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Delivered by monks from the country’s remote monasteries, these often lengthy reflections were followed by prayers and hymns.
Finally the patriarch, encircled by his clergy, solemnly blessed the waters of the Pool of Temqat with a golden cross. The rite was simple: the patriarch plunged the cross into the waters while the assembly chanted hymns and antiphons. The crowd stirred when the patriarch sprinkled the dignitaries and faithful with the blessed water — with a hose!
Read more about this celebration in Temqat: Celebrating Epiphany in Ethiopia.
6 January 2014
Tags: Ethiopia Ethiopian Orthodox Church Ethiopian Christianity Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch Abune Paulos Epiphany
Syrian refugees drink tea as they sit in front of their tents at Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, on 31 December. Pope Francis will dine with Syrian refugees during his 24 May visit to Jordan on a trip that also will include Israel and the Palestinian territories. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
Pope to visit Middle East, meet Orthodox leader (Voice of America) Pope Francis is to visit biblical sites in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories in May, his first trip to the Christian Holy Land as pontiff and only the fourth by a pope since biblical times. The 24-26 May trip to Amman, Jerusalem and Bethlehem will mark the 50th anniversary of a historic trip to the region by Pope Paul VI. Pope John Paul II visited in 2000 and Pope Benedict XVI went in 2009. Apart from its significance for Catholic relations with Jews and Muslims, Pope Francis’ trip will hold major importance for relations among Christians because it will include a meeting in Jerusalem with the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians, as well as Anglican and Protestant leaders…
Bishop William Shomali on pope’s visit to Holy Land (Vatican Radio) The auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, William Shomali, told Vatican Radio that expectations are high for the pope’s planned visit. “Christians, Jews and Muslims [in the Holy Land] are counting on this visit to intensify the ecumenical and the interreligious relationships,” he said. You can listen to a recording of the bishop’s remarks at the bottom of the article…
Thousands march for refugee rights in Israel (Al Jazeera) Tens of thousands of African asylum seekers and their supporters continued a three-day protest Monday on the streets of Tel Aviv demanding that the Israeli government recognize their refugee status and end the policy of detention without trial. “More than 30,000 demonstrators marched peacefully,” police spokeswoman Lubra Samri said when the protest began on Sunday, which would make the action the largest such rally by migrants in Israel’s history. The protest comes after a December mass walkout from a detention facility by hundreds of asylum seekers who are detained there during the night and barred from seeking work during the day. Those caught breaking the strict rules risk arrest and confinement in a closed prison…
Fire of extremism devours decades-old library in Lebanon (Middle East Online) A decades-old library owned by a Greek Orthodox priest in north Lebanon’s majority Sunni city of Tripoli was torched late Friday, a day after a sectarian scuffle, a security source said. “Unknown assailants torched the Saeh Library in Tripoli, destroying two-thirds of some 80,000 books and manuscripts housed there,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The attack came a day after “a pamphlet was discovered inside one of the books at the library that was insulting to Islam and the prophet Mohammad,” said the source…
Egypt’s interim president visits Coptic pope (Independent) On Sunday, Egypt’s interim president on Sunday made a rare visit to see the pontiff of the nation’s Orthodox Christians at St. Mark’s Cathedral, the papal seat in central Cairo, according to a brief statement by the church. The highly symbolic visit to Pope Tawadros II by President Adly Mansour was made ahead of Coptic Christmas, which falls on Tuesday, 7 January. On his part, Pope Tawadros had taken the unusual step of publicly criticizing the president, rejecting an Islamist-tilted constitution adopted in 2012 that, in his view, was discriminatory and compromised the human rights of Egyptians…
2 January 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Refugees Middle East Violence against Christians Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II
A Christian farmer works the fields near his home in northern Egypt. (photo: David Degner)
In the Winter issue of ONE, now online, writer Sarah Topol visits one family of farmers in northern Egypt and recounts the difficulties they face:
Muslim extremists vandalized some 70 Christian homes in Abu Qurqas in a week of clashes that began on 18 April. The struggles of this small Catholic farming community of 6,000 located about 160 miles south of Cairo mirror the events taking place in Coptic communities across the country (ethnic Egyptian Christians are known as Copts, which derives from the Greek, “Aigyptios,” meaning Egyptian Christian). And though the Labib’s situation is extreme, their story is representative of the perils facing many of Upper Egypt’s Coptic families in these turbulent times.
Since the January 2011 revolution that toppled Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, sectarian attacks in the country’s south have mushroomed. These days, Egypt’s Copt minority, which makes up roughly 10 percent of the population, feels a sense of anxiety as never before. Amid the general atmosphere of instability, rising prices and chronic shortages, the threat of extremist Muslim groups — both in organized politics and on the streets — has triggered sectarian attacks, along with a fear that the next bout of violence is just around the corner.
“They worry about everything related to stability; they don’t feel secure,” says Father Haidar, the pastor of the church of the Virgin Mary in Abu Qurqas. “This is their own country — they were born here, but they don’t feel safe.
“It’s the situation of Christians in the whole country,” he adds, “not just the situation of this village.” …
Father Haidar says [a] lack of accountability and justice has led many to be even more fearful, staying home and engaging even less with the society around them.
“They have been through many challenges and struggles since the revolution,” he explains. “They have lost many things — material things, as well as spiritual and psychological things,” he says of his parish community. And this loss bleeds into their faith.
“It’s not only in their daily life, it’s also in their spiritual aspects — their beliefs. We need to convince them God is with them and going to help.”
Read more about Seeds of Survival in Egypt in the Winter 2014 issue of ONE.
2 January 2014
Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Farming/Agriculture Copts Egypt's Christians
Residents search for survivors after what activists said were air strikes by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in Aleppo 28 December. (photo: CNS/Jalal Alhalabi, Reuters)
Missile strike kills at least 20 people in Aleppo (Los Angeles Times) At least 20 people were killed in Aleppo on Wednesday when a residential building was hit with a rocket from a warplane as the government’s daily bombardment of the northern Syria city continued, activists said. More than 500 people have been killed across Aleppo province in two weeks of a fierce government offensive with rockets and destructive barrel bombs, local doctors and human rights groups reported. Now approaching the end of its third year, the conflict in Syria has left more than 130,000 dead, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition rights group, this week. Nearly 12,000 of those were women and children…
Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop speaks about Syrian Christians (Aid to the Church in Need) Syrian-born Archbishop John Darwish heads the Melkite Greek Catholic eparchies of Furzol, Zahle and Bekaa in Lebanon. With a population of 200,000 Christians, Zahle is the largest Christian city in the Middle East. His jurisdiction straddles the western border of Syria and is currently home to 800 Syrian Christian refugee families — a total of more than 6,000 people — who have fled their homeland where they were caught in the fighting between the Syrian regime and rebel forces, and where Islamist rebels have been increasingly targeting the Christian community. Archbishop Darwish spoke with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need on 18 December, during his visit to New York…
Pope Tawadros cancels catechesis on day of constitutional referendum (Fides) As the people of Egypt are preparing for a referendum to express their opinions on the text of the new constitution, the patriarch of Alexandria of the Coptic Orthodox, Pope Tawadros II, decided to cancel the traditional Wednesday catechesis that was supposed to be held in conjunction with the referendum. The constitutional referendum is scheduled on 14-15 January…
Powerful explosion rocks Beirut (Al Jazeera) A powerful explosion has rocked southern Beirut, sending smoke rising from the stronghold of the armed Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, according to local residents. Five people were killed and others wounded, according to the country’s Health Ministry. Thursday’s blast is the latest sign of heightened sectarian tensions in the country, already soaring because of the civil war in neighboring Syria…
Armenian Apostolic patriarch commemorates new year with message (Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin) Noting that 2013 was a year of progress, Patriarch Karekin II says: “There were also difficult times in the homeland as well as in the diaspora. We are facing deep-rooted problems such as making our country prosperous, defending our rights, reinforcing our statehood and improving our national and religious life. We are concerned with the predicament of the Armenian people living among the conflicts in the Middle East. We are hopeful that the children of Armenia will unite in the name of love for the homeland and nation. … On this New Year’s Day, I exhort our beloved people to fill their lives with spiritual healing and pilgrimage this year…”
Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Armenian Apostolic Church Beirut Aleppo