25 August 2015
Dating back to the sixth century, St. Catherine’s Monastery is one of the world’s oldest functioning monasteries and the sum territory of the Orthodox Church of Mount Sinai. (photo: Mohammed El‑Dakhakhny)
Few monuments from antiquity have come down to us unaltered or unharmed. Just yesterday, 24 August 2015, the world learned that ISIS blew up an important monument of the Classical era: the Temple of Baal Shamin in Palmyra, Syria.
In Egypt, in the arid and rocky wilderness of the southern Sinai Peninsula, rests a living link to Byzantine emperors, fourth-century pilgrims, third-century Christian hermits and Moses. The Monastery of St. Catherine of Alexandria is a major repository of the early church’s cultural and spiritual heritage. Deep behind its sixth-century walls, the monastery’s monks — who form the smallest of the churches in the Orthodox communion of churches — revere and guard thousands of rare manuscripts, codices, icons and liturgical objects. Many of these precious relics date to the time of the church fathers.
In the last few decades, especially as the enemies of civilization target its patrimony, there is a renewed interest in St. Catherine’s and its position in the ancient Christian East. Sinai’s monks have shared their treasures, loaning parchment and painted wood to museums throughout the world. And record crowds, surprising even the experts, have responded, waiting in long lines to view ancient relics once preserved in an isolated oasis lost in time and sand. Scholars have flooded the monastery, studying its manuscripts and digitizing their pages. And tourists, thanks to daily bus service from Cairo, challenge the monks in their efforts to preserve their ministry from commercialization and economic exploitation.
On 25 November, St. Catherine’s Monastery celebrates the feast of its patron. (photo: Jean-Luc Manaud/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
“The Holy Monastery,” the monks have written, “is a purely religious institution dedicated to the protection of the Sinaitic pilgrimage sites ... the maintenance of the history of Sinai … the values of the great religious tradition of the monastery [and] to cultivate the development of the exalted moral life through the exercise of the Christian virtue that derives from the first commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God…”
These are objectives that Muhammad appreciated, granting the monastery and its monks his protection after visiting it circa 628:
“No compulsion is to be on them,” the prophet wrote in a letter known in Arabic as the “Ahtiname.”
“Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey his prophet. … They are my allies.”
Click here to learn more about the monastery, its monks and miracles.
25 August 2015
Tags: Egypt Orthodox Church Eastern Churches Monastery Monastic Life
Children in in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, participate in a psychosocial program run by the Department of Service for Palestinian Refugees of the Near East Council of Churches, funded in part by CNEWA. The program is designed to help the children cope better with stress caused by the 2014 war with Israel and the continuing hardship provoked by the Israeli siege of the Palestinian territory. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
A year after war tore apart Gaza, efforts are still underway to help heal the often invisible wounds, especially among children. CNS’s Dale Gavlak reports on one prime example, supported by CNEWA:
Catholic aid agencies having been using various counseling techniques, even a live clown and puppets, to help the Gaza Strip’s children overcome the trauma of lost loved ones and homes in the year since the cease-fire ended the conflict. But they warn that only a political solution can hope to remedy the increasingly desperate situation there.
“Almost everything we do as an international nongovernmental organization — and most peers would say the same — is like putting a Band-Aid on a pretty serious injury,” said Matthew McGarry, Catholic Relief Services’ country representative for Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza.
McGarry and other aid officials told Catholic News Service that the long-festering conflict between Israel and Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, has created a man-made humanitarian and psychosocial crisis that politics alone must solve.
“It’s cumulative. Children as young as 7 have lived through three wars in the past 7 years — that’s your lifetime,” McGarry told CNS of the psychological toll Gaza’s multiple wars have taken on its youngest residents.
The U.N. estimates that at least 370,000 children in Gaza need psychosocial support following last summer’s war, which cost the lives of more than 2,250 Palestinians, 65 percent of whom were civilians. Sixty-six Israeli soldiers were killed, along with six civilians, it said, before the 26 August 2014, cease-fire was reached.
But Catholic aid officials who regularly assess assistance on the ground called the U.N. estimate “low.” McGarry and Sami El-Yousef, regional director for Palestine and Israel for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, said everyone in the war-torn strip is traumatized and needs psychosocial support.
Still, Gaza’s youngest appear to bear the hardest and most-lasting consequences of the seven-week conflict, according to findings by Save the Children, based in the United Kingdom.
Three-quarters of Gaza’s children experience unusual bed-wetting regularly, while 89 percent of parents said that their children suffer constant feelings of fear, reported a study issued by the group in July.
More than 70 percent of children worry that another war will break out. Seven out of 10 children interviewed now suffer regular nightmares.
For the past year, CRS, CNEWA and Caritas have worked with local partners to tackle these problems.
“The program we designed was to reach mainly children, but not exclusively,” El-Yousef told CNS. CNEWA’s psychosocial support became its biggest program to aid post-conflict Gaza, helping more than 20,000 at some 30 schools and other community spaces.
“Some recreational activities were involved, but others needed deep psychological follow-up with specialized counselors, including the transfer to institutions qualified to handle severe cases on a one-on-one basis which were detected during the intervention,” El Yousef said.
A combination of group and individual counseling, puppets, play and art therapy has begun to show some signs of lessening the trauma.
“I was talking with a mother the other day about her 10-year-old daughter, who had been wetting the bed every night and had to be put on anti-anxiety medication by her doctor,” McGarry said.
The girl was enrolled into one of 17 child-friendly spaces CRS has set up in Gaza’s towns hardest hit by the bombardment. There, children draw and paint, play games and talk about their feelings.
Although she still wets her bed from time to time, it’s no longer a nightly occurrence, the mother told McGarry. The doctor has also lowered the medication dosage because he said “she is clearly making some progress.”
The CRS country representative recounted another case of a 12-year-old boy who was acting out violently and being overly aggressive at home.
“He had to be coaxed a bit to come to the child-friendly space and didn’t participate at first. But in time he became more active,” McGarry said. “His mother says he is now gentler and less antagonistic with his siblings. This is what we are looking for.”
CRS introduced puppets for the first time in Gaza as a way to encourage children to express their feelings, work through the trauma and adopt nonviolent conflict resolution practices. So far, 3,000 children have participated in such programs, and more opportunities are planned for them next year.
Caritas Jerusalem has expanded its help beyond psychological staff visits to families and schools. From July until October, Marco Rodari, an Italian clown therapist, is helping healing hearts in Gaza.
Experienced in working with traumatized and sick children, Rodari has created a special program for Gaza’s children.
First, he develops a relationship with children through a comedy and magic show. Next, they become the clowns or magicians performing the tricks. The third aspect of the program will be the start of a “real school of magic” for the children.
Clown therapy enables the traumatized child to forget for a while the horrors experienced, to feel happy emotions and smile again, Rodari told Caritas.
Making theater brings out children’s emotions. While performing simple magic tricks, the child uses different parts of the body at the same time, thus activating several parts of the brain. Rodari said this promotes psychological healing and helps to replace “bad emotions and memories with happy, positive feelings and thoughts.”
25 August 2015
Tags: Children Gaza Strip/West Bank Relief
This image from 2011 shows ultra-Orthodox Jews praying at Joseph’s Tomb, in the northern Palestinian West Bank city of Nablus. (Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP/Getty Images)
Israelis thwart plot to attack Jews at Joseph’s Tomb (The Jerusalem Post) The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced Tuesday that it had busted a terror cell, thwarting a planned attack with improvised explosives and guns on Jews praying at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. Many Jews visit Joseph’s Tomb, surrounded by Palestinian Authority controlled areas, without coordinating with the IDF, and the cell planned to take advantage of that extra vulnerability…
ISIS speeds up destruction of antiquities in Syria (The New York Times) Islamic State militants have razed a fifth-century Roman Catholic monastery and blown up one of the best-preserved first-century temples in Palmyra, the ancient Syrian city that is one of the world’s most important archaeological sites, according to government officials and local activists. And that was just this past week — in one Syrian province. The cumulative destruction of antiquities has reached staggering levels that represent an irreversible loss to world heritage and future scholarship, archaeological experts and antiquities officials say…
Ukraine vows to increase troops (AP) Ukraine’s president vowed to increase troop numbers to fend off attacks by Russia-backed separatist rebels and warned his countrymen that there is still the threat of a “large-scale invasion,” in an impassioned speech to mark Independence Day on Monday. Russia’s foreign minister said Poroshenko’s statements about Russian troops were “unsubstantiated and unscrupulous…”
Poverty-stricken Ethiopia launches its own space program (The Daily Mail) For Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation, the program is aimed to give it a technological boost to aid the country’s already rapid development. “Science is part of any development cycle — without science and technology nothing can be achieved,” said Abinet Ezra, communications director for the Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS). “Our main priority is to inspire the young generation to be involved in science and technology…”
24 August 2015
Tags: Syria Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank Historical site/city
The Temple of Baal Shamin in Palmyra, Syria, a cultural landmark that has stood for nearly 2,000 years, was reportedly destroyed by ISIS. (photo: Wikipedia)
Reports this weekend indicate that the ruthless destruction of priceless antiquities by ISIS is continuing:
ISIS has reportedly destroyed another significant landmark in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria.
The Temple of Baal Shamin stood for nearly two millennia, honoring the Phoenician god of storms and rain, as the BBC reported. Destruction of the site would be directly in line with ISIS’s campaign not just against people of other faiths, but against their culture. “Oh Muslims, these artifacts that are behind me were idols and gods worshipped by people who lived centuries ago instead of Allah,” one militant said of antiquities in Mosul, Iraq, earlier this year.
After the ISIS captured Palmyra in May, Baal Shamin seems to have fallen to the group’s philosophy.
“[ISIS] placed a large quantity of explosives in the temple of Baal Shamin today and then blew it up causing much damage to the temple,” Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s antiquities chief, told Agence France-Presse. “The [temple’s inner area] was destroyed and the columns around collapsed.”
24 August 2015
Tags: Syria ISIS Historical site/city
A serviceman stands watch with a grenade launcher in a position of Ukrainian forces near Avdiivka on 23 August 2015. Sunday, Pope Francis renewed his appeals for peace in Ukraine. (photo: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope appeals for peace in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Following the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis made a new appeal for peace in Ukraine. “With deep concern, I am following the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has accelerated anew in these last weeks,” the pope said. “I renew my appeal that the commitments undertaken to achieve peace might be respected; and that, with the help of organizations and persons of good will, there might be a response to the humanitarian emergency in the country…”
Thousands of migrants from Syria, Iraq rushing to Hungary (Vatican Radio) Thousands of desperate migrants — many of them Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans fleeing bloody conflicts — have spent the night in overcrowded refugee camps in Serbia after they crammed into trains and buses in neighboring Macedonia following clashes with police. That they are trying to enter Hungary where even the capital claims to be overwhelmed by the influx of refugees…
Committee against abuse against Christians set up in Iraq (Fides) A committee of the security forces has been set up with the aim to collect information and provide practical measures regarding the violence and abuse suffered by Christians in Iraq and in particular in the capital. Iraqi sources say the committee was set up on the orders of Prime Minister Haydar al Abadi, and aims to counter in particular the escalation of kidnappings and illegal expropriation of homes and land which in recent months Iraqi Christians have suffered…
Israeli villages near Gaza rebound warily (The New York Times) The border communities are still dotted with fortified bomb shelters, and because the war ended inconclusively, many residents say they can never quite escape the thought that the rockets and mortar rounds will start flying out of Gaza again or that Hamas militants will burst out of surreptitious tunnels right into their midst. Still, life is returning, though more quickly in some places than in others…
Greek Catholic army chaplain ministers in Ukraine (Ukraine Today) Back in June, Father Andriy Zelinskiy came to the Ukraine Today newsroom for an interview. He had just returned from the warzone in eastern Ukraine and recalled his service on the front line. During our last trip to the eastern Ukraine, we decided to visit Father Andriy to see with our own eyes the life of a military chaplain in the combat zone. Father Andriy shows us his Spartan living conditions — his body armor right beside him…
Ethiopian Catholics ask African Union to invite Pope Francis (Vatican Radio) A high-powered Ethiopian Catholic Church delegation met with the African Union Commission Chairperson, Dr. Dlamini Nkozasana Zuma to discuss the strengthening of bilateral relationships. During the meeting with Dr. Nkozasana Zuma, Cardinal Berhaneyesus suggested to her that it would be a great opportunity if the African Union would invite the Holy Father to speak during its one of its plenary sessions…
21 August 2015
Tags: Pope Francis Ukraine Migrants Hungary
In this image from 2003, pensioner Lury Merkvilashvili, 79, savors his only daily meal, thanks to Caritas Georgia. To learn more about the plight of the elderly in post-Soviet Georgia, read Caring for Georgia’s New Orphans from the Summer 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: Dima Chikvaidze)
21 August 2015
Tags: Georgia Caring for the Elderly Caritas Pensioners
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and President Vladimir Putin are seen visiting the restored St. Vladimir Equal-to-the-Apostles Church under the Moscow Eparchial House in June. (photo: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
ISIS demolishes monastery in Syria (BBC) ISIS militants in Syria have demolished a Christian monastery in the town of Al Qaryatain in Homs province. The militants had also moved Christians taken captive in the town to their stronghold of Raqqa, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group…
Russian Orthodox Church lends weight to Putin patriotism (BBC) A raid by Russian Orthodox vigilantes on “blasphemous” artworks in central Moscow has highlighted the influence of traditional, ultra-conservative values in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The Orthodox Church has long had close links to the Kremlin. And during Russia’s standoff with the West over Ukraine that relationship has only grown stronger…
Iraq’s child soldiers (Al Monitor) The world has borne witness to countless crimes committed by ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria over the past year. Iraqi and Syrian children have not been spared from these atrocities. Several reports by international human rights organizations have documented the group’s use of children for suicide operations, executing prisoners, guerrilla warfare and also as human shields…
Turkey awakens to ISIS threat within (The Wall Street Journal) News reports over the weekend revealed that Turkish police recently discovered 30 suicide vests, some ready for immediate use, in raids against the ISIS. The news came one week after an Islamic State social-media account threatened the Turks with an imminent attack. Accusing Turkey’s government of “standing with the crusaders and spilling Muslim blood,” the group warned that the Turkish people would be the ones paying the price for their leaders’ war on the caliphate. Reuters reported this week that a new video calls for the group to conquer Istanbul…
Sisters open new convent in India (Fides) The Salesian Sisters, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians have opened a house in the Indian state of Orissa, in Kandhamal district, which is located in the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar. The district was notorious for the killings and anti-Christian violence that took place in August 2008, promoted by Hindu extremist groups against the faithful. The initiative of the new house comes from the religious sisters of the province of Calcutta, who responded to an invitation of the local church…
20 August 2015
Tags: Syria India Sisters Turkey ISIS
Pilgrims gather in Annaya, Lebanon, to venerate the remains of the revered Maronite monk, St. Sharbel. (photo: Sarah Hunter)
The Maronite Church is not known for its architectural achievements, artistic wonders or musical treasures. Driven into the peaks and valleys of Mount Lebanon — a mountain range stretching along the eastern Mediterranean — the Maronites’ greatest accomplishments are perseverance in the faith, the unique relationship forged between patriarch and people, and their role in the creation of modern Lebanon.
The fortunes of the Maronites are often tied to those of Lebanon; to separate either of these symbiotic entities would do neither of them justice. But equally inaccurate is the suggestion that to be Maronite is to be Lebanese, or vice versa. Some 10 million Lebanese live elsewhere, in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania; as many as half are Maronites.
The Maronite Church is rooted in the asceticism of the desert saints from Asia Minor, Egypt, Palestine and Syria — provinces of the Roman Empire that eventually evolved into Byzantium. Throughout the fourth and fifth centuries, thousands of men and women, following the Gospel’s call to “pray always,” withdrew from society and dedicated themselves to prayer and penance. One such hermit, a priest named Maron, repaired to a hilltop near the Syrian city of Aleppo. According to one fifth-century Syrian bishop, Maron lived a solitary life of fasting and prayer, attaining a “wealth of wisdom.”
Maron died in 410. Carrying with them the skull of the revered priest, his disciples — known as Maronites — formed Beit Maron (Syriac, meaning “house of Maron”), a monastic community near the great city of Antioch. There, the Byzantine Emperor Marcian sponsored the construction of the monastery, which was dedicated in 452.
Seventeenth-century frescoes decorate the apse of a monastery chapel in Lebanon’s Wadi Qadisha, or Valley of the Saints. (photo: Michael La Civita)
The development of the Maronite community coincided with the great debates rocking the early church in the eastern Mediterranean. And as the church, particularly in the East, became intricately linked to the imperial Byzantine state, the positions assumed by competing parties took on political overtones. The early Maronites were Hellenized Semites, natives of Byzantine Syria who spoke Greek and Syriac yet identified with Greek-speaking Constantinople and Antioch.
Where were the monks of Beit Maron in this political, social and theological upheaval? Little evidence remains. What has survived has triggered more than a century of debate among historians, particularly in Maronite circles. The general consensus, however, concludes that the Beit Maron community, as loyal subjects of the Byzantine emperor, accepted the decrees of the ecumenical councils called by the emperors to bring unity to church and commonwealth. They implemented them among the local Syriac-speaking Christian community, forming the nucleus of the Maronite Church.
The Arab Muslim annexation of Syria in the mid-seventh century altered the position of the Maronites. With contacts with Constantinople severed, Antioch in Muslim hands, and its ecclesial situation in disarray, the monks of Beit Maron elected one of their own as patriarch of Antioch. Tradition has it this first patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, St. John Maron, was elected in 685.
Bands of Maronites soon began to settle in the northern reaches of Mount Lebanon, where they established autonomous communities and formed alliances among themselves while pledging fealty to the patriarch. They tenaciously defended their autonomy, repeatedly attacking Arab positions and harassing Byzantine scouts eager to retake the area.
Ironically, the Maronites flourished despite the destruction of Beit Maron in the ninth century and the relocation of the Maronite patriarchate to a monastery near the coastal town of Batroun. In the peaks and valleys of Mount Lebanon, the Maronites terraced the difficult terrain, tilled the soil, planted olive trees and fruit trees and cultivated vineyards. Maronite holy men and women, like their hermitic predecessors, lived and prayed alone, carving hermitages in the rock, inaccessible to predators but accessible to those seeking counsel. Thus for more than two centuries the Maronite Church endured in mountainous isolation.
Read a full account of the Maronite Church from ONE magazine here.
20 August 2015
Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Maronite Church Maronite Eastern Catholic Churches
Sister Imre Ágota begins the day behind her desk, planning. A Greek Catholic Basilian sister, she is working to restore the faith in Hungary after years of Communist domination and suppression. Read more about their ministry in A Sister’s Act from the June 2007 edition of ONE. (photo: Tivadar Domaniczky)
20 August 2015
Tags: Sisters Eastern Europe Hungary Hungarian Greek Catholic
Egyptian policemen stand in front of a damaged national security building in northern Cairo on 20 August. (photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)
ISIS claims responsibility for car bombing in Cairo (The Washington Post) ISIS claimed Thursday it carried out a massive car bombing that targeted Egyptian security forces in Cairo, calling the operation revenge for the deaths of some of its members earlier this year. Six policemen were injured in the predawn attack on a branch of the National Security Agency, the country’s domestic spy service, in the Cairo suburb of Shubra al Kheima, the Interior Ministry said. The powerful blast — which could be heard across several Cairo districts — has raised fears of stepped up insurgent attacks in the Egyptian capital. Islamists and other militants have waged an increasingly deadly campaign against Egyptian security forces since a military coup ousted President Muhammad Morsi in 2013…
Kidnapped Syrian priest released (Christian Today) A priest kidnapped in Syria a month ago has been released but others are still missing. The Rev. Tony Boutros, 50, a Melkite Greek Catholic priest, was taken by unknown assailants on 12 July when he was being driven to church. His driver was also kidnapped. Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch, disclosed the release of Father Boutros. Still missing are Italian Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio and two Orthodox Archishops, Youhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi…
Hamas seizes ‘Israeli spy dolphin’ (BBC) Hamas claims to have captured a dolphin being used as an Israeli spy off the coast of Gaza, local media report. The group says the mammal was equipped with spying devices, including cameras, according to the newspaper Al Quds. It was apparently discovered by a naval unit of Hamas’s military wing and brought ashore…
Inside Aleppo (Newsweek) Over three years, this crude slaughter by both sides has turned Aleppo into a Syrian Stalingrad. It has also divided the city into two distinct halves. In the June attack, the jarra came in such numbers and over such a wide area that they sowed mass panic. Three days before Ramadan, the point of this barrage was to trumpet a major new rebel assault on the regime-held part of the city; the rebel militias, emboldened by new alliances and successes elsewhere in northern Syria, were hoping to break through the stalemate and take Aleppo once and for all. Their new offensive came amid persistent rumors that the Syrian regime might let go of the country’s second most important city, the better to defend its heartlands in the south and west of the country…
Torrential rains threaten historic Orthodox cathedral in Sitka, Alaska (oca.org) For two weeks, Archpriest Michael Boyle and the faithful of St. Michael the Archangel Cathedral here have been praying for relief from torrential rains that have pounded the region and flooded the historic structure’s basement. “While the cathedral, which stands in the middle of the downtown district, has been spared from mudslides, it has been significantly affected by rain — especially over the past 48 hours, during which at times up to an inch an hour fell,” said Father Michael…
Ethiopia restoring its first mosque (The Daily Trust) The history of Negash is one tied to that of Islam in Ethiopia dating back to the seventh century and is home to Africa’s first mosque built then. It has been dubbed ‘The second Mecca.’ Nigerian tourists were educated on the fact that during Haile Selassie’s reign, Muslim communities brought personal, inheritance and family issues before Islamic court. When our reporter visited, renovations were ongoing by the Turkish government as part of preparations to make it a UNESCO World Heritage site…
Tags: Syria Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank Orthodox ISIS