3 November 2017
Elizabeth and Hannah Valentine pray at St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Wisconsin.
(photo: Miriam Sushman)
In 2003, we paid a visit to Cedarburg, Wisconsin, just north of Milwaukee, where the people of St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church are preserving ancient traditions and welcoming a diverse flock:
About half of the parish’s 175 members were raised in other church traditions. Others are second — and third — generation Greek or Russian Orthodox. About 40 are Arab. With this kind of a mix, everyone is thankful for the exclusive use of English in the Divine Liturgy.
Three of the youthful members are Chinese and were adopted by a local family. The oldest child is blind. She has learned the liturgy by heart and chants it with the choir. Her father watched her with pride while her siblings squirmed in the pew.
Though the congregants come from different ethnic backgrounds, they are united by their faith and the traditions of the Orthodox Church. “When there is a disagreement, it is never along ethnic lines,” Father [Bill] Olnhausen said.
He takes care to explain again and again the meaning of the church’s traditions for newcomers. Repetition, he explained, reinforces tradition.
Some traditions require more from the congregation than just listening. Prostration is common in the Orthodox Church, and on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross parishioners knelt and bowed during the procession of the cross.
Among the joyful noises on that day were the voices of the youngest parishioners, some still so young they were wrapped in blankets and lay cooing in the pews.
St. Nicholas is child-friendly. A crying room in the back of the church was full of active toddlers whose parents retreated there for a “time out.” Preschoolers attended church school, returning for Communion with the adult parishioners.
Children and adults alike dressed in their Sunday clothes. Ties and white shirts were standard for boys and men and dresses for girls and women.
Community participation is also strong at the church. The church double tithes: 10 percent supports the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. The other 10 percent goes toward charities and needy individuals.
Read more about Serving a Diverse Community in the November-December 2003 edition of our magazine.
3 November 2017
Smoke billows from the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor during an operation by Syrian government forces against ISIS on 2 November 2017. Syria’s army and allied forces have taken full control of the eastern city of Deir Ezzor from the Islamic State group, Syrian state television said.
(photo: AFP/Getty Images)
ISIS ousted from last major city in Syria (CNN) The Syrian army and allied forces have taken full control of the city of Deir Ezzor, the last major Syrian city in ISIS’ hands, Syria’s Defense Ministry and state media said Friday. “Syria’s Army in cooperation with allied forces liberated the entire city of Deir Ezzor from the ISIS after killing a large number of the terrorists, among them foreigners,” the Syrian Defense ministry said in a statement...
Bishop dismisses call to make India a Hindu nation (UCANews) An Indian bishops’ conference official has reacted sharply against a radical Hindu party for trying to negate the secular Indian Constitution. Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Indian Catholic bishops’ conference, also disagreed with their insistence that Hindus in India should get priority over Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities. “India is a secular country and it will also remain so. It was not born out of religion and we do not want it to turn it into some religion-based country,” he said...
Maronite bishops call for refugees’ safe return (The Daily Star) The Council of Maronite Bishops reiterated its humanitarian solidarity with Syrian refugees Wednesday, but called for the safe return of the displaced to their homeland. “If this crisis continues, there will be a generation of refugees with no national identity, so how will they partake in the future of Syria?” a statement from the council, released after a meeting in Bkirki, read...
English Catholic, Anglican leaders call for Palestinian homeland (CNS) Recognition of a national homeland for Palestinians is required to achieve justice and reconciliation in the Holy Land, English Catholic and Anglican leaders announced on 2 November. They used the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, in which Britain declared its support for a Jewish state, to press for a two-state solution to decades of strife between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples...
Historic agreement on Holy Spirit signed in Dublin (AnglicanNews.org) Theologians from the Anglican Communion and Oriental Orthodox Churches have signed an historic agreement on the Holy Spirit. The Agreed Statement on the Procession and Work of the Holy Spirit was signed on Friday at the end of a week of discussions by the Anglican Oriental-Orthodox International Commission (AOOIC) and concludes two years of work on the subject...
2 November 2017
A Yazidi man prays in Lalish, Iraq, near Kurdistan. (photo: Diego Cupolo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Most people in the west had never heard of the Yazidis before ISIS attacked them with genocidal fury in August 2014. Thousands of Yazidi men were captured and killed. Yazidi women and young girls were sold as sex slaves in the market place of Mosul. Many Yazidis took refuge on Mount Sinjar in northwestern Iraq and were threatened with starvation and lack of water. The world watched in horror as entire families faced starvation and death at the hands of ISIS. (There were even accounts of desperate mothers throwing their children from the mountain to keep them from being slaughtered by the Islamic militants.) Thus, the Yazidis entered the consciousness of the West as people of great tragedy and even greater mystery.
The Yazidi religion is not well understood. It tends to be very inward looking and secretive. The five daily prayers — an echo of Islam — are not said when outsiders are present. It is an endogamous faith that allows marriage only between a Yazidi man and Yazidi woman. Anyone marrying outside the faith is automatically considered to have converted to the other religion — and is effectively excommunicated.
Scholars refer to Yazidi belief as being syncretistic — that is, one faith taking over elements of another. This is common among almost all the religions of the world to some extent. (Christians, for example, took over the Roman pagan feast of Saturnalia, “baptized” it and made it into Christmas, despite the fact that the Bible is totally silent on what time of year Jesus was born.) In the Yazidi religion we see elements of Islam (the five daily prayers), Judaism (Saturday as a day of rest and the names of the seven “angels”) and other ancient religions such as Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Persia.
Similarly, their beliefs contain echoes of other faiths. Yazidis believe in one God who is the creator of all. However, their God is a remote deity that has little to do with creation. Rather there are seven “angels” who are emanations of this God; this is a characteristic found in Gnosticism, another ancient religion of the region. Of these angels, the head is Melek Ta’us or the Peacock Angel. Melek Ta’us is responsible for the world and its inhabitants. Two beliefs about Melek Ta’us have proven fateful for Yazidis. Because he is responsible for everything that happens in creation, Melek Ta’us is the source of both good and evil. Even in the earliest parts of the Bible we see a struggle as to who or what the source of evil is (see 2 Samuel 17:14 God overturns the advice of Ahitophel because God wanted “to bring evil on Absalom.”)
In addition, Yazidis have a story about God creating humanity and asking the angels to bow down to Adam. A similar story appears in the Qur’an (2:35 and elsewhere). In Yazidi faith, Melek Ta’us refused to bow; in Islam, Iblis refused to bow. For Yazidis this was a sign of Melek Ta’us’ loyalty; for Muslims Iblis becomes identified with the Shaytan, “Satan.” Because of this, ISIS considers Yazidis devil worshippers worthy of death. While ISIS offers Christians a choice between conversion, paying the jizya tax, exile or death, the choice for the Yazidis is much starker: conversion to Islam or death.
Yazidis also have the interesting belief that, while they are descended from Adam, they are not descended from Eve but through a special creation. Thus they see themselves as unrelated to those tainted beings who are descendants of Adam through Eve.
The origins of the Yazidis and even their name are not clear. While they hold the second Umayyad Caliph, Yazid I (647-683) in high regard, it is not clear what role that plays in either their practice of the faith or their name. The Sufi leader ?Adi ibn Musafir (died 1162) also plays an important role in Yazidism and his tomb not far from Mosul is an important place of pilgrimage.
Yazidis have lived for centuries in the Kurdish parts of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. For the most part, they were ignored and left alone by the Muslim majority. In recent times, however, there has been increasing hostility towards them. It is estimated that there are between 200,000 and one million Yazidis in the world. Many have left the Middle East for Europe, Australia and parts of North America. With the brutal attacks by ISIS, the number of Yazidi refugees has understandably increased greatly.
The Yazidis are very much a part of CNEWA’s world — and we number many of them among those we serve. CNEWA is active in northern Iraq and has a clinic in the city of Dahuk in the Iraqi Province of Dahuk. Many Yazidis make use of the clinic as they try to get their lives back together and face a future that is not only uncertain, but possibly very bleak. If it is true that Christians face the possibility of extinction in the Middle East, Yazidis face the possibility of extinction in the entire world.
Religious Minorities in the East — Introduction
2 November 2017
A large crowd gathered in Eshtia for the dedication of a youth center near the village’s church — a restoration made possible, in part, by CNEWA’s generous benefactors. (photo:ArmenianCatholic.org)
Tuesday, 31 October, was a blustery day here in Georgia — but nonetheless, a large crowd of villagers from Eshtia, along with press and friends from throughout Georgia, gathered for the opening of a youth center located near the village’s landmark church.
Local clergy offered blessings and prayers at the youth center dedication.
The center, once a shell of an abandoned house, was completely rehabilitated in three months, thanks to the great team at Caritas Georgia and the men of the village.
That was then: The abandoned house is shown here last spring, before the restoration work began.
This is now: The finished youth center is shown on the day of its dedication on 31 October.
The center will offer students classes in Georgian and English, computer programming skills, faith formation and continuing education in Armenian traditions, dance, folklore and customs.
Eshtia is one of a number of Armenian villages that salt and pepper the Georgian province of Javakheti.
I was pleased to represent CNEWA at the opening and to express the best wishes and prayers of our benefactors, who helped make this happen.
CNEWA’s Michael J.L. La Civita shared his warm wishes and prayers.
View more images from the dedication here.
2 November 2017
A displaced child, pictured in March 2017, walks through a refugee camp in Zahleh, Lebanon. What does the future hold for the people of the Middle East? Read a reflection by CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, in the current edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
2 November 2017
Pope condemns ‘murderous folly’ of terrorism (CNS) Pope Francis prayed for victims of the terrorist attack in New York, as well as victims of other terror attacks, and condemned the murder of innocent men and women in the name of God...
Syrian opposition rejects Russian dialogue initiative (Al Jazeera) The Syrian opposition attending the latest round of peace talks in Astana has rejected the Russian call for a Congress in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi. The “Syrian Congress on National Dialogue” proposed by Moscow during the two-day talks in the Kazakh capital is expected to discuss the reconciliation between all of the warring parties, political reform and discuss the proposed new Syrian constitution...
Hamas hands control of Gaza crossings to Palestinian Authority (The Guardian) The Palestinian militant group Hamas has formally relinquished security control of key crossings from the Gaza Strip to Egypt and Israel to its long-term rival, the Palestinian Authority, marking the first test of a fragile reconciliation accord agreed last month...
‘Race of Saints’ turns focus on India’s child brides (Vatican Radio) The “Don Bosco in the World” Foundation that organizes the event, wants to draw attention this year to the child brides of India who are forced to marry adult men, with serious health and psycho-physical consequences. The foundation will sent the fund raised by this year’s “Race of Saints” to the Salesians of Don Bosco of the Province of Bangalore, active in the southern state of Karnataka, who have been working to help child brides who are denied their childhood and rights...
Sister’s beatification ‘a joy for India’ (Vatican Radio) The CBCI Secretariat has issued a Press Release on Thursday, ahead of the Beatification of Sister Rani Maria which will be held on Saturday in Indore, India. Sister Rani Maria, professed sister of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation whose cause was cleared for beatification on 23 March 2017 will be declared ‘Blessed’ at a ceremony to be held on 4 November in Indore...