Thursday, November 20, 2008

Report on St Philip's Fast

Hat tip to Josephus Flavius for this article on St Philip's Fast. The original link is here.

I'm only giving a few snippets from Josephus' coverage so you will check out his blog - always a good read. Note his citations of emphasis.

11/18/2008 (The Bulletin) - In a few short days most Americans will be sitting down to a sumptuous dinner. In most cases that includes turkey, dressing, special potatoes, cranberry sauce and so on. However, there is a minority of Orthodox and Greek Catholic Christians whose food these days consists of no meat, no eggs no dairy products. Dining this past Sunday with Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Cyril Bustros at Holy Transfiguration Church in McLean, Va., we enjoyed some salmon on rice with special potatoes, kibbe, with raw fruits and vegetables. On a week day we would only be permitted shellfish.

Why the fast now? Christmas, when God became man, is one of the two most important feasts of the Church. Christmas is the only feast which originated in the West and was adopted in the East. All of the other feasts originated in the East and was adopted by the West.

The Jesus Prayer

Иисycoва молитва-The Jesus Prayer

Found quite by accident.

The Jesus Prayer is the epitome of Byzantine contemplative prayer.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

On the Suffering of Palestinian Christians

From comes this important report on the suffering of Palestinian Christians. In the US, the word "Palestinian" is often synonymous with "muslim" and, until 9-11, "terrorist". In fact, some Palestinians are Orthodox Christians and Greek Catholic Christians. (Remember Sayidna Elias Zoghby of blessed memory.)

Palestinian Christians Suffering ‘Severe Blows’ From Muslims, Muslim Says
Friday, November 14, 2008
By Julie Stahl

Manger Square in the West Bank City of Bethlehem. (Photo by Julie Stahl/
Jerusalem ( – Palestinian Christians are suffering “severe blows” at the hands of Muslims, a Palestinian wrote in an exceptionally candid column about the situation of Christians in Arab countries.

“Let us be honest with ourselves and courageously say out loud that Palestinian Christians are taking many severe blows, yet are suffering in silence so as not to attract attention,” wrote Abd Al-Nasser Al-Najjar in the P.A. daily Al-Ayyam. (A translation was provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute this week.)

Muslims and most Christians in Palestinian areas tell journalists that they are all Palestinians. Publicly, they usually deny that there are any problems or differences between them. They say that they get along fine and the main problem is the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank.

Privately, however, some Christians admit to job losses, land seizures, attacks on churches, intimidation, torture, beatings, kidnappings, forced marriage and sexual harassment of Christian women. Some Christians have been killed.

But examples of inter-religious tension rarely make it into the Palestinian or Arab media.

In his column on October 25, Al-Najjar, who is himself a Muslim and a regular contributor to the official P.A. newspaper, criticized the Muslim persecution of Christians in Arab countries, particularly in Palestinian Authority-administered areas.

Al-Najjar said Christians are suffering, not because of the Israeli “occupation” but because of the confiscation of Christian property, especially in theWest Bank cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Al-Birah.

What makes the situation worse is that those who are plundering the property of Christians are either powerful themselves, or they are backed by powerful people, including “high-ranking military officials or influential members of large clans,” he wrote.

Attempts by political leaders or the judiciary system to rectify the situation have failed, Al-Najjar said.

“Over the past few years, several of my Christian friends have told me of the harm they have suffered, including various threats, even death threats, for trying to gain access to their lands after they were taken over by influential Bethlehem residents.

“Furthermore, there has been an attempt to marginalize Christian culture in Palestine, even though it is rich and deeply rooted [there]. This began with [accusations] of unbelief [against Christians] -- a move that ultimately harmed Palestinian society as a whole,” Al-Najjar wrote.

Despite the injustices against Christians, no one in the government, non-government organizations or political factions has taken constructive action to stop it or to defend the Christians, he said.

Such action should have been forthcoming, “not out of kindness and compassion” but because Palestinian Christians are indigenous to the land and “no different from us, with the same rights and obligations” as Muslims.

“We continue to instill a horrific culture in our children, one that sees Christians as infidels,” Al-Najjar wrote. He called for a “national awakening” to restore the rights of the Christians and preserve the “demographic balance.”

Tens of thousands of Arab Christians have fled the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the years. In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, the Christian exodus has been most acute. In 1990, 60 percent of the population there was Christian. Today, some estimates say 20 percent or less of the city’s population is Christian. Only 1.5 percent of the population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is Christian.

“[Let us] remember that the tribes of Arabia were Christian. The best writers and poets were Christian, as were [many] warriors and philosophers... It is they who bore the banner of pan-Arabism. The first Palestinian university was established by Christians.

Al-Najjar called for tyrannical rulers to be presented with “progressive attitudes” and “truth” – “so that clerics and old men will not be the only Christians left in the Holy Land and in the city of [Jesus'] birth.”

Al-Najjar also mentioned recent attacks on Christians in Iraq, many of whom have been forced to flee after a series of killings over the last several months. Hundreds of thousands of Christians are estimated to have fled the country since the U.S.-led military invasion in 2003.

Just this week, two Christian sisters were murdered by gunmen identified as Islamic extremists in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

“Christians are being persecuted not only in Iraq, but in most Arab countries, regardless of their numbers there. They are subjected to every possible kind of discrimination, as well as expulsion,” Al-Najjar wrote.

Not only do Arab officials remain silent but so do Arab intellectuals, elites, non-government organizations and private sector leaders, he wrote. He also mentioned Egypt, Lebanon and Algeria as countries with the same “rampant” anti-Christian problem.

Al-Najjar’s assessment of the situation is backed up by the State Department’s 2008 International Religious Freedom Report.

In Algeria, government respect for religious freedom has declined, the U.S. says. “There were many claims of government restrictions on worship, including the arrest and sentencing of converts to Christianity, ordered closure of churches, the dismissal of a Christian school director for allegedly using a school for evangelizing, and confiscation of Bibles,” the report said.

In Egypt, respect for religious freedom also has declined, amid violent incidents and attacks on Christian institutions, the report said.

In Lebanon, the report noted that over the past 60 years, “there has been a steady decline in the number of Christians as compared to Muslims, mostly due to the emigration of large numbers of Maronite Christians and a higher than average birth rate among the Muslim population.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Stability in a World Out of Control

What follows is a reflection I have submitted to the local newspaper. I have no idea whether they will print it.

It seems the world is out of control. We find ourselves living days of ever mounting anxiety as we read of terrorists, wars, diseases, economic panics, and worries that the earth itself faces ecological disaster. When we look to our society, it seems rudderless. Everywhere there is the sense that institutions, long the bulwarks of order and stability, are failing. The buzzwords of the day are ‘collapse’, ‘decline’, ‘uncertainty’ and ‘fear’. It is not just that we have come to fear the stranger; we seem to have become strangers to ourselves.

Our fears are not groundless. We have gloried in our technological and societal accomplishments and, as if embracing Wittgenstein’s image of casting down the ladder, our society has turned away from all the old ‘superstitions’ and ‘ignorant ways’ of history. Instead, we attempt to build a new society based on vague egalitarian principles. Science, which in its essence is no more than an empirical process to advance a technological end, has come to supplant the roles of ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics and theology. Because these disciplines refuse to be restricted to the vocabulary of Science, they are charged with ‘meaninglessness’ rather than exposing the limitations of scientific methodology. And yet, we sense the gnawing feeling that the promise of Science to provide us all the answers is itself empty and lifeless.

“Trust ye not in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return unto his earth. In that day all his thoughts shall perish.” (Psalm 145 LXX)
The Psalms have always been essential to Jewish and Christian worship and reflection. In these ancient hymns we discover not just truths about God but truths about ourselves. As we reflect on our current fears and the condition of our society and world, the Psalter uncovers a common thread in our humanity that remains stable no matter what changes we face socially or technologically. I discover that the fears and hopes I experience today are actually the same as those experienced by the shepherd tending his sheep four thousand years ago. The vanity, humility, pettiness, joy, repentance and anxiety of human existence –it is no different today than it has ever been.

Of course, the Psalms address our humanity in the context of adoration of God. This itself reveals that our humanity in its fullness is discovered only in relationship with God. In the fifth century, Blessed Augustine wrote of this relationship: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” (Confessions I.1) Our worship of God, our experience of Divine Love, a Love that is unearned, generous and life-giving, awakens within us a true understanding of who we are. The shackles of position, family, class, race, gender, and circumstance melt away in the integration of our personhood. We discover that we have infinite worth because we are loved by God; that we possess a dignity that cannot be lessened by loss of social standing or economic crash. This dignity gives us new eyes to see those around us in a new spirit. It is not what one possesses that makes one worthy, it is who one is. And we, transfigured by the love of God that we experience, cannot fail to see others as also beloved of God and therefore also possessing infinite dignity.

Yes, there are many reasons to fear in today’s world, yet there is also hope. That hope is in God and in worship. In the Byzantine Christian Tradition, changeless worship comforts and enlightens while allowing participants to turn aside from the false-self imposed by society and live in the true personhood of Divine Grace. Ancient rituals become vehicles of self-realization and transcendence. Hymns whose melodies are from another time speak to the heart in a language contemporary music cannot match.

Indeed, the worshiper not only finds a center in his/her own life, but also a link to the thread of continuity that unites all humanity throughout history. Unlimited potential is unleashed in a fountain of love and solidarity with others that refuses to be stifled by ‘modern’ definitions. Eastern Christians come to truly experience Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever, and in that encounter discover themselves. It is in that experience and discovery that doubt is transformed into hope fear is resolved into peace.

As we look to the future with all its uncertainties and anxieties, we need not fear. The same God who walked with the shepherd boy four thousand years ago is here for us today. Spend some time with him today and allow yourself to be amazed that in meeting him you will also discover yourself.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

OCA Elects new Metropolitan

The Orthodox Church in America has elected a new Metropolitan to lead its North American flock. In what is considered a surprise, the Bishops have chosen Bishop Jonah of Fort Worth, an Abbot who has been Bishop for less than two weeks. The new Hierarch has a formidable task; the OCA has been subject to a financial scandal for the past few years, the investigation of which has revealed a pattern of corruption going back decades.

That said, Metropolitan Jonah is not, perhaps, such an odd choice. On the one hand, his history of ministry and piety (in the good sense of the word) truly commends him. And on the other hand, as one of the rotation of Bishops answering questions put forth by participants in the All American Council, he gave this address the day before his election. Listen to it all, then play it again (Sam). It's worth pondering no matter from what tradition you hail.

PS, in case you missed it; the link to his address is here.

PPS, here's what Rod Dreher has to say about then-Bishop Jonah.

PPPS, and here's the Pittsburgh Post=Gazette's story on his election.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Touchstone and friends on partial-birth abortion

Touchstone Magazine's Mere Comments blog references a blog by an Anglican minister who has written a scathingly logical and accurate argument against "partial-birth abortion".

Touchstone's piece is here.

The original blog entry is here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Comment on the Election...

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Please note, that I have posted this before the votes are counted.

At this time, the sources I read indicate it could go either way.