26 April 2013
In Eritrea, a young Orthodox monk — wearing a modern digital watch — chants from an ancient manuscript. To learn more about the Orthodox faithful in Eritrea, read Ancient Church in Young Nation from the November 2003 issue of the magazine. (photo: Chris Hellier)
25 April 2013
Children play basketball outside of St. Elias Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Ezraa, Syria. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
While we await word on the fate of the two archbishops abducted earlier this week in northern Syria — and offer our prayers — we plumbed through our archives and unearthed an interesting story from a gentler time about the ancient Christian villages of the plain of Houran in southern Syria.
In 2004, writer Marlin Dick and photographer Armineh Johannes spent a week in the Houran capturing in word and film the lives of these Christians who tilled the same soil as their Roman ancestors, inhabited Roman houses and worshiped in ancient Byzantine churches.
Christians and Muslims in one village, Ezraa, together venerate St. George, “the patron saint of the town’s Greek Orthodox church, built in 512, and the oldest functioning church in Syria,” the author writes. He continues:
Like their Muslim neighbors, Christians often refer to the church as “Khudr Ezraa,” or St. George of Ezraa, using its Arabic name.
“Islam and Christianity both revere Khudr,” says the village’s Melkite Greek Catholic pastor, Father Elias Hanout. “Muslims and Christians here all study together and work together. Today we have a better understanding of each other. We visit each other, attend each other’s funerals and weddings.”
What seemed like a matter of routine in 2004 is today, just nine years later, exemplary. The Houran now hosts some of the fiercest fighting between government forces and rebels. And the fate of its peoples, churches and mosques remains unknown. What we have left are words and pictures, and in my own case, the memories of a memorable visit in autumn 1998.
After I had spent a long day visiting CNEWA-supported projects in the area, an elderly parish priest and his wife welcomed me into their home. I recall fondly their delightful company, and I can still taste the anise-flavored arak, the sweet stuffed eggplant and the succulent tomatoes from their tiny kitchen.
May the Houran’s fields bring forth fruit once again, and God preserve its people.
24 April 2013
Tags: Syria Cultural Identity Unity Village life Houran
Catechism and Bible study are priorities for Indian-American Christian communities. (photo: Maria Bastone)
Indian Christians can be a rare sight in the United States — and several years ago, we looked at the ways many struggle to fit in:
Ask an Indian Christian how Americans react to this particular combination of nationality and religion and almost everyone has a story. Most stories are benign, some even comical with Americans’ inquiries ranging from curious to clueless.
“Many people want to know when I converted,” said Father Saji George, a 35-year-old Syro-Malankara Catholic priest in Hempstead, New York, explaining that most Indian Christians, particularly those from the southern state of Kerala, were born into the faith.
Susamma Seeley, a 29-year-old Syro-Malankara Catholic from Elmont, New York, is always a little shocked and amused when “people ask what tribe I’m from.”
Because most of India’s one billion people are Hindu, the country is internationally regarded as such. As a result, an Indian man named Samuel Abraham or an Indian woman dressed in a colorful sari carrying a Bible may elicit surprise among Americans.
Like other immigrants, Indian Christians have to work at establishing new homes for their faith and culture — much as Italian-Americans created Little Italy, observed patronal feasts and danced the tarantella at weddings.
Read more about the New World Children of St. Thomas in the May-June 2003 issue of our magazine.
23 April 2013
Tags: Cultural Identity United States Indian Christians Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Immigration
This icon of St. George, from a 14th century Constantinople workshop, is exhibited in the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens. (photo: Wikipedia)
At the Vatican today, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the Feast of St. George, for whom he was named. The saint is a figure honored not only by Catholics and Anglicans — he’s the patron of England — but also by the Orthodox and even some Muslims. Little is known about St. George beyond the fact that he was a Greek who lived in Palestine shortly before the time of Constantine and that he was martyred for being a Christian.
In his homily, the pope spoke of suffering and persecution in the early days of the Church:
And so the Church goes forward, as one saint says — I do not remember which one, here — “amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of the Lord.” And thus is the life of the Church. If we want to travel a little along the road of worldliness, negotiating with the world — as did the Maccabees, who were tempted, at that time — we will never have the consolation of the Lord. And if we seek only consolation, it will be a superficial consolation, not that of the Lord: a human consolation. The Church’s journey always takes place between the Cross and the Resurrection, amid the persecutions and the consolations of the Lord. And this is the path: those who go down this road are not mistaken.
You can read the full text of the pope’s homily today at this link.
22 April 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Orthodox Byzantium
In this image from last November, a statue stands outside a destroyed church in Homs, Syria, Activists said the church had been bombed by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar Assad.
(photo: CNS /Yazan Homsy, Reuters)
Reports from Syria and its Christian minority indicate that the situation in Syria is continuing to deteriorate. Today, sources in Syria report that the Greek Orthodox archbishop of Aleppo, Paul Yazigi, and the Syriac Orthodox archbishop of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim, were seized by “a terrorist group” as they were “carrying out humanitarian work.”
Reuters reports that “a Syriac member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Abdulahad Steifo, said the two men had been captured when Ibrahim went to collect Yazigi after he crossed into rebel-held northern Syria from Turkey.”
CNEWA works closely with the Greek and Syriac Orthodox churches in Syria, partnering with its priests and religious to deliver aid to the families impacted by Syria’s ongoing civil war. Please pray for the safety of these shepherds and of their flock. Click here to learn how you can help.
19 April 2013
Tags: Syria Georgian Orthodox Church Syriac Orthodox Church
A Kisti girl dances a Chechen dance during an exhibition of Chechen-Kisti culture. Kists are ethnic Chechens who have lived in Georgia for several hundred years and inhabit the valley of Pankisi Gorge near the Chechen border. War in Chechnya brought thousands of refugees into the region. (photo: Justyna Mielkikiewicz)
Early reports indicate that the two suspects in the Boston marathon bombing have roots in Chechnya.
Several years ago, we profiled some of the cultures that make up the region:
The Caucasus is a place of imprecise boundaries and identities. The borders dividing its land and its people vary from indiscernible to impenetrable. Diaspora and migration further complicate matters. Its strategic location and valuable resources have made the Caucasus the object of desire for several empires. Accordingly, its many ethnic and linguistic groups have developed strong identities by adapting to change while adhering to tradition.
Broadly speaking, the Caucasus is the size of Spain. Anchored by the Caucasus mountain range, it lies between the Black and Caspian seas, with Russia to the north and Turkey and Iran to the south. Its mountains feature Mount Elbrus, which is located on the Russian side of the Georgian border. It was there that, according to Greek mythology, the gods exiled and chained Prometheus as a punishment for stealing fire. On that mountain, he was tortured every night by an eagle that pecked at his liver. Indigenous Georgian mythology features a similar tale. Mount Ararat, sacred to the Armenians but located across the border in Turkey, lies in the far south of the Caucasus. According to tradition, Noah’s ark rested on its slopes after the great flood. These myths and traditions have helped perpetuate the allure and significance of the Caucasus.
Geographers often divide the region by north and south. Today, the North Caucasus usually refers to the republics of the Russian Federation. These include Adygea, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Karachay-Cherkessia, Krasnodar Krai and North Ossetia. The independent nations of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are often referred to as the South Caucasus. Distinctions between east and west persist, too. There is a more Persian flavor in the east than the Turkish-influenced west. …
Militant Islam is also an ingredient in current conflicts, notably in Chechnya, where the struggle for independence from Russia has attracted radical Muslim fighters from throughout the world. For the United States and its allies, the geographic proximity of the Caucasus to Afghanistan, Iraq and the Persian Gulf commands attention. …
Most Chechens are Sunni Muslims. There is a large Sufi minority. Chechens have been seeking independence from Russia since the 19th century. A significant diaspora fuels the ongoing conflict. Chechens also share cultural, ethnic and linguistic ties to the predominantly Sufi Kist in Georgia and Ingush in Ingushetia (a Russian republic bordering Chechnya). …
The almost incomprehensible diversity of the Caucasus contributes to its persistent allure and mystery. Historically, the location of the Caucasus at the nexus of Asia and Europe has generated imaginative mythology and romantic exoticism. The struggle of its people to define their distinct identities reveals the complex syncretism that continues to shape these populations and this region.
You can find the full story, Where Europe Meets Asia, in the November 2009 issue of ONE.
18 April 2013
Tags: Cultural Identity Russia Georgia Caucasus
An elderly couple dance at an event organized by a local social club in the Slovak village of Jakubany. To read how the village is holding on to its Greek Catholic heritage, check out Those Who Remain Behind in the January 2009 issue of ONE. (photo: Andrej Bán)
17 April 2013
Tags: Cultural Identity Village life Greek Catholic Church Slovakia
Sisters who belong to India’s Daughters of St. Thomas process at the beginning of the liturgy at their novitiate near Palai. The sisters, based in Kerala, have done extraordinary work in a region that is only about 20 percent Christian. Read more about them in Kerala’s Daughters from the November 2004 issue of ONE. To learn how you can help sisters like these, visit this page to support the good work of sisters. (photo: Sean Sprague)
16 April 2013
Tags: India Sisters Kerala
People comfort each other after explosions went off at the Boston Marathon on 15 April. (photo: CNS/Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters)
In the wake of yesterday’s bombing, Pope Francis sent a telegram today through his secretary of state to express solidarity and sympathy with the people of Boston.
The Vatican text:
His Eminence Cardinal Sean O’Malley
Archbishop of Boston
Deeply grieved by news of the loss of life and grave injuries caused by the act of violence perpetrated last evening in Boston, His Holiness Pope Francis wishes me to assure you of his sympathy and closeness in prayer. In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy, His Holiness invokes God’s peace upon the dead, his consolation upon the suffering and his strength upon all those engaged in the continuing work of relief and response. At this time of mourning the Holy Father prays that all Bostonians will be united in a resolve not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21), working together to build an ever more just, free and secure society for generations yet to come.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
Secretary of State
Yesterday, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, traveling in the Holy Land, sent his own message:
The Archdiocese of Boston joins all people of good will in expressing deep sorrow following the senseless acts of violence perpetrated at the Boston Marathon today. Our prayers and concern are with so many who experienced the trauma of these acts, most especially the loved ones of those who lives were lost and those who were injured, and the injured themselves.
The citizens of the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are blessed by the bravery and heroism of many, particularly the men and women of the police and fire departments and emergency services who responded within moments of these tragic events. Governor Patrick, Mayor Menino and Police Commissioner Davis are providing the leadership that will see us through this most difficult time and ensure that proper procedures are followed to protect the public safety.
In the midst of the darkness of this tragedy we turn to the light of Jesus Christ, the light that was evident in the lives of people who immediately turned to help those in need today. We stand in solidarity with our ecumenical and interfaith colleagues in the commitment to witness the greater power of good in our society and to work together for healing.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and chair of CNEWA, posted the following statement on his blog:
While we wait for additional details, my thoughts and prayers are certainly with those who died, with the families who lost loved ones, and with those who are injured. Our Lady of Mercy, pray for us!
We join our prayers with those of the world, and ask God’s mercy on all the suffering, the grieving, and the deceased.
15 April 2013
Tags: Pope Francis United States Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan
An Egyptian girl wants a closer look at Verbo Encarnado Sister Maria de la Santa Faz. Sister belongs to the Verbo Encarnado (“Incarnate Word”) Congregation, serving Egypt’s neediest children. Read more about the great work they’re doing in Building a Brighter Future from the November 2004 issue of ONE. (photo: Mohammed El-Dakhakhny)
Tags: Egypt Children Sisters Education Poor/Poverty