zenpundit.com » syria

Archive for the ‘syria’ Category

Easter celebrations 3: the Middle East

Monday, April 21st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- third and last of three Easter posts ]
.

**

Voice of Russia reports:

The Holy Fire has been descending in the Holy Sepulcher Church, in a small chapel called Kuvuklia, for more than one millennium. The famous Church Father St. Gregory of Nyssa is believed to be one of the first to mention the miracle back in the 4th century.

The church service of the Holy Fire begins about 24 hours before the Orthodox Easter begins. This year it coincides with the Easter celebrations of other Christian confessions. Traditionally at 10-11 a.m. on Holy Saturday the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem clad in inner-rason brings a big icon lamp where the Holy Fire is expected to descend and 33 candles – the number of the years of Christ’s earthly life. After a series of rituals, the priest stops near the entrance to the chapel. His chasuble is taken off, and he is left wearing the linen chimer only for everyone to see that he is not taking any matches or other fire-making devices with him. The Patriarch goes inside, and the doors behind him are sealed with a big piece of wax and a red ribbon.
Then light is switched off in the church and anticipatory silence follows as believers pray, confess their sins and ask God to grant them the Holy Fire. When the Holy Fire finally descends, then the doors of Kuvuklia open and the Patriarch comes out to bless the believers and gives them the fire.

A group of pilgrims will deliver late on Saturday the Holy Fire from Jerusalem to the central Russian cathedral.

**

For the dismal wider Middle Eastern context, Phillip Smyth tweets:

I usually wait for 2 times in a year when media remembers Mid East Christians exist: Easter and Christmas. Coverage today has been light. The stories which are run usually encompass 2 main themes: “They’re still there, but shrinking” or “Uncertainty for __ community”. In honor of the lack of Mid East Christian coverage (despite fact it’s Easter), I’ll go through some trends which impact communities.

  • Increased Iranian (via proxies & from Tehran) messaging to craft sense of minority (Shi’a) alliance with Christians.
  • Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has also pushed this “minority alliance” theme. Christians are viewed as group(s) to be utilized.
  • The Kurdish-Christian relationship has grown & changed depending on actors. #Syria/#PYD is the place to watch vis-a-vis cooperation.
  • Identity politics within Christian communities will continue to grow, create difficulties, and eventually settle a bit–just not now.
  • Lebanese Christians are ones to watch–Will certain communities (looking at Armenians/Syriacs) grow more involved in Syria?
  • My perception is sense of decline in influence for Christian groups is far more ‘palpable’ among those in upper-echelon poli circles that doesn’t mean those circles want that, but accepting that reality has been hard for many ideologues.
  • I expected there’d be a bit more “unity” btw Levant Christian groups & Copts. Not much change there. Albeit,expats a little different
  • Intra-Christian sectarian/ethnic identities will probably further a continuing state of disunity. Likely no fix to that.
  • BTW, since it’s Easter, I find it really unnerving & sick when AQ lovers who follow me, “favorite” material about Christians leaving M.E.

    **

    Phillip Smyth also points us to Suzannah George‘s NPR piece, ‘A Wound That Doesn’t Close’: Armenians Suffer Uncertainty Together:

    At St. Elie Armenian Catholic Church in downtown Beirut, Zarmig Hovsepian lit three candles and slowly mouthed silent prayers before Easter Mass. After reciting “Our Father,” she added a prayer of her own: “For peace, for Lebanon and the region,” she said, underscoring the deep sense of apprehension beneath the surface of otherwise festive Easter celebrations.

    Next door in Syria, violence recently displaced thousands from the historic Armenian town of Kessab, which rests in northwestern Syria, along the Turkish border. Groups of Syrian rebels, including some with ties to al-Qaida, swept into the Latakia province last month, seizing a number of towns in the strategically important mountains.

    **

    Hope and hatreds.

    Bringing our varied strands together we have the Economist, with a piece blog-friend Michael Robsinson pointed me to titled The fire every time:

    Water, soil, wind, the sun, salt… in religious language, all the primordial elements of human experience have taken on new layers of meaning, as prophets, preachers and scribes down the ages, inspired or otherwise, struggled to express their intimations of the divine. Often the same element (water, for example) has two or more opposing meanings, standing either for nurturing or for retribution. And so it is with fire.

    Over this weekend, more than a billion Christians round the world are proclaiming their belief in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; this happens to be one of the years when the Christian West and the Christian East (which use different computational systems) are marking their faith’s defining event on the same Sunday. And especially for Christians of the East, one of the defining symbols of Easter is fire — not the fire of retribution but the redeeming, death-conquering power of a God-man who, they believe, freely submitted to all the trials besetting humanity, including mortality, and overcame them.

    { … ]

    As in all recent years, the flame was whisked by air to Russia by an organisation with close presidential ties; this year it is also being taken to Crimea in celebration of its annexation. In Athens, a row broke out after a sceptical writer, Nikos Dimou, complained over the public funds that are used to air-lift the flame to Greece “with honours befitting a head of state”, escorted by a government minister. Presumably the faithful managed to celebrate Easter before the age of air travel, added Stelios Kouloglou, another well-known journalist. But Mr Dimou resigned from a newly founded political movement after his words earned him a rebuke.

    Meanwhile, in other places where the Jerusalem flame cannot easily be air-lifted, there were equally impressive celebrations as candle light cascaded through darkened churches and exhausted but eager choirs sang hymns like “Shine, shine, O New Jerusalem, the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.” In Damascus, Easter ceremonies were decently attended despite the muffled shell-fire in the background. In Kiev, Easter messages were mingled in some cases with denunciations of Moscow. In the Turkish-controlled Cypriot port of Famagusta, the holding of a Good Friday ceremony for the first time in over half a century offered a glimmer of inter-communal hope. And in the Ulster Protestant stronghold of Ballymena, Erasmus can report, about 200 Romanian migrants lit one another’s candles at midnight with nostalgic pleasure. The flame remains the same, but the world it touches keeps changing.

    Share

    Religion — or simple decency?

    Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- baruch hashem, exomologoumai soi, alhamdulillah ]
    .

    **

    In the upper panel, Rev. David Buck, an Episcopal priest, sits on the bench outside his church in Davidson, NC, that’s part of sculptor Timothy Schmalz‘s bronze piece, Homeless Jesus that he’s bought and installed there:

    The Christ figure is shrouded in a blanket the only indication that it is Jesus is the visible wounds on the feet.

    In the lower panel, we see Fatima Qassem, age 6, another victim of the warfare in Aleppo, who was wounded by machine-gun fire in both knees. As the AP report puts it:

    Two months into the battle for Syria’s largest city, civilians are still bearing the brunt of the daily assaults of helicopter gunships, roaring jets and troops fighting in the streets.

    Fatima’s doctor, Dr. Osman al-Haj Osman, works twenty-hour days, and is reported as saying:

    My life is just the wounded and the dead.

    **

    I composed this post yesterday from two images I ran across, each of them showing a different figure in roughly the same pose. The similarities between them once again raised the question in my mind whether religion is no more than the shell of a nut whose kernel is loving-kindness, or whether it is more — the very tree itself perhaps?

    For myself I tend to think that while loving-kindness may be the essence, religion continues to bring us a wealth of tradition and imagery from which to draw inspiration:

    But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

    As one who is a wayfarer at heart, and who has been received with hospitality in many traditions, those words from Isaiah are waybread indeed.

    **

    Sources:

  • Statue Of A Homeless Jesus Startles A Wealthy Community
  • Wounded flood hospitals in Syria’s largest city
  • Both articles are worth reading in full.

    **

    In my own view, the “proof text” Rev. Buck quoted in the article, Matthew 25.40, is of critical importance not because of the ontological status of the person who spoke it, nor because it was included in a canonical collection of sayings by and about him that was gathered and officially sanctioned in the centuries following his death, nor indeed with regard only to an “actual homeless person” in a single neighborhood in North Carolina — but because it rings high and true, semper et ubique:

    Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

    Share

    Lovescape crucified: in memoriam Francis van der Lugt SJ

    Sunday, April 13th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- from one Jesuit to another across centuries ]

    **

    The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote these lines in his incomparable poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland, in 1875 — an ode on what was for the poet a deeply moving current event, though the world was not ripe for such a poem, and it was not until 1918, almost thirty years after his death, that the poem was finally published:

    Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
    Drawn to the Life that died;
    With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance…

    The poem is dedicated to five Franciscan nuns drowned in a shipwreck as they fled the Prussian anti-Catholicism of the Falk Laws for safe haven in England — but his words apply with equal force to his fellow Jesuit, Francis van der Lugt, killed and now buried in his garden in Homs.

    **

    A quick round up of blog and press reports will give us something of the flavor of the man, and include some pertinent details along the way.

    In a blog post titled The good fight ends, Dutch Catholic blogger Mark de Vries writes:

    An exemplary icon of steadfast dedication to those in need is no more. Father Frans van der Lugt was abducted, shot and killed this morning in Homs, Syria, the city and country that was his home for more than four decades. The Dutch Jesuit priest did not think of leaving his home and the community he was a part of – consisting not only of the few Christians in the city, but also, especially in later years, of his Muslim neighbours in the widest sense – as civil war engulfed Syria and cut off the part of Homs where Fr. Frans lived from the rest of the world.

    The Telegraph reported:

    During more than three years of war, Father Francis Van der Lugt, 75, had insisted on remaining in the destroyed Old City of Homs, risking starvation and near constant shellfire, until every last civilian could be evacuated from the district.

    The Jesuit priest – of the same order as the Pope – had helped to keep the plight of the Old City’s residents in the international spotlight by writing letters to his church order in Holland, and posting video messages from inside his monastery in the besieged Bustan al-Diwan district.

    The DC Laus Deo blog:

    Christians used to make up 10% of the Syrian population before the Civil War, but Christians have been brutalized for their faith during the conflict Fr. van der Lugt reasoned that he was the only priest remaining to minister to his people so how could he leave.

    The Washington Post reported:

    The Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans called Fr van der Lugt “a Syrian among Syrians” who refused to abandon his adopted people even when it meant risking his own life…

    Khaled Erksoussi, head of operations at the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said of him:

    He was one of the very few people who could cross the front lines in Homs. Whoever killed him is hindering any effort for peace. Whoever killed him knew he had good relations with almost everybody.

    **

    For Pope Francis this was the death of a fellow priest, a fellow Jesuit, and a namesake of his papal name. He spoke of his feelings at a General Audience in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday:

    Last Monday in Homs, Syria, Fr Frans van der Lugt one of my Dutch Jesuit confreres was assassinated at the age 75. He arrived in Syria some 5o years ago and always did good to everyone generously and with love. He was therefore loved and highly esteemed by Christians and Muslims.

    His brutal murder has deeply distressed me and has made me think again of the many people who are suffering and dying in that tormented country, my beloved Syria, which for too long has been the prey of a bloody conflict that continues to reap death and destruction. I also think of the many people who have been kidnapped, Christians and Muslims, Syrians and those from other countries, including bishops and priests. Let us ask the Lord that they may soon return to their loved ones and to their families and communities.

    From my heart I invite you all to join me in prayer for peace in Syria and the region, and I launch a heartfelt appeal to the Syrian leaders and to the international community: Please, silence the weapons, put an end to the violence! No more war! No more destruction! May humanitarian laws be respected, may the people who need humanitarian assistance be cared for and may the desired peace be attained through dialogue and reconciliation.

    Let us ask our Mother Mary, Queen of Peace, to give us this gift for Syria, and let us all pray together. Ave Maria

    And he made this appeal, this prayer to the Virgin beloved of Christians and Muslims alike, after offering a short discourse on wisdom:

    In the Bible we are told that Solomon, at the time of his coronation as King of Israel, had asked for the gift of wisdom (cf. 1 Kings 3:9). And wisdom is precisely this: it is the grace of being able to see everything with the eyes of God. It is simply this: it is to see the world, to see situations, circumstances, problems, everything through God’s eyes. This is wisdom. Sometimes we see things according to our liking or according to the condition of our heart, with love or with hate, with envy…. No, this is not God’s perspective. Wisdom is what the Holy Spirit works in us so as to enable us to see things with the eyes of God. This is the gift of wisdom.

    To see the world, to see situations, circumstances, problems, Muslims, Christians, everyone and everything through God’s eyes — this is wisdom.

    **

    Fr. Francis’ own words, sent to colleagues to alert the world:

    We refuse to die of hunger in Homs. We Christians and Muslims love life and want to live.

    [...]

    Christians and Muslims are going through a difficult and painful time and we are faced with many problems. The greatest of these is hunger. People have nothing to eat. There is nothing more painful than watching mothers searching for food for their children in the streets.

    **

    Today as so often, Christians are killed, Muslims are killed, innocents are killed and not so innocents — for as the saying goes, all have fallen short of the glory — yet there are those among us too who have loved, fallibly yet with strong assurance, loved even those who would kill them, those such as Fr. Francis, such as Fr. de Chergé and the monks of Tibhirine

    There’s a stubborn grace that comes from long love of neighbor, a grace that stands its ground under fire, that will not budge, for in its simplicity it shares the hardships of others in its own flesh, undivided and inseparable from its place in time, its neighborhood.

    Fr. Francis van der Lugt did not budge. This is love in full bloom, the rest is tentative.

    **

    Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
    Drawn to the Life that died;
    With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his
    Lovescape crucified

    Share

    My lunch with a jihadi 2: enter the Mahdi

    Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- more food for thought -- same article, different topic ]
    .

    Here’s the part of the conversation where we hear about the Mahdi. IMO, it’s well worth your time to read it… the first part is more serious, the second part more light hearted.

    Now it was Abu Hassar who laughed right in my face. “For your government, it’s no worse a position than the one they’re in now. We used to be friends, remember, in Afghanistan, in the ‘80s. If we went from being allies to enemies that means we can go from being enemies to allies.”

    “Okay, so how does that end?” I asked. “My government arms the Islamists. Tell me how that ends?”

    “You really want to know?”

    I nodded.

    “The Prophet predicted all this,” began Abu Hassar, speaking as if from some place of deep personal knowledge. “He said it begins with the boys, writing and speaking messages of a new future in the streets.” Abu Hassar stopped and looked at Abed for a moment. In that look, it seemed Abed and the democratic activists of 2011 were the boys Abu Hassar was speaking about. “The messages spread, breeding outrage and a war fought by the men. This is what we see now. In that war, an Islamist Army rises, uniting to destroy all others. Then a tyrant is killed. This is Assad. His army will fall. Afterwards, among the Islamists, there will be many pretenders. The fighting among them will go on.”

    Abu Hassar looked down at my notepad. I hadn’t been writing anything down. This seemed to bother him. “You know all this?” he asked.

    “It’s all happening right now,” I said. “The infighting, the rise of the Islamists, how does that end?”

    “The Syrian people thirst for an Islamic State,” said Abu Hassar. “After so much war, they want justice. After Assad falls and when there is fighting among the pretenders, a man will come. He is a common man, but he will have a vision. In that vision, God will tell him how to destroy His enemies and bring peace to all peoples. That man is the Mahdi.”

    I wrote down the word: Mahdi, a heavy and dissatisfied dot above the ‘i’.

    “You don’t believe me?” said Abu Hassar.

    I stared back at him, saying nothing.

    “You think as poorly armed as we are, we can’t defeat Assad and his backers?”

    “It’s not that,” I said.

    Abu Hassar continued: “Our weapons don’t matter as much as you think. Even Albert Einstein predicted what’s happening now. He said that the Third War would be a nuclear war, but that the Fourth War would be fought with sticks and stones. That’s how we beat you in Iraq, with sticks and stones. Whether we are helped or not, this is how we will create our Islamic State even with the super powers of the world against us.”

    “So the plan is to wait for the Mahdi?”

    “He walks among us now, a simple man of the people, the true redeemer.”

    I shut my notebook. Our waiter was lurking across the room. I caught his eye and made a motion with my hand, as if I were scribbling out the bill for our lunch. He disappeared into the back of the restaurant.

    “What will you do if this is true?” Abu Hassar asked me.

    “If the Mahdi comes?”

    He nodded.

    “That means there will be a peaceful and just Islamic State?”

    Again, he nodded.

    “Then I’ll come visit you with my family.”

    “And you will be welcome,” said Abu Hassar, grinning his wide ear-to-ear grin and resting his heavy hand on my shoulder.

    We’d been sitting for hours, and it was early afternoon. Abu Hassar excused himself to take the day’s fourth prayer in a quite corner of the restaurant. Abed, seemingly exhausted from translating, stood stiffly and went to use the bathroom. I sat by myself, the empty plates of our lunch spread in front of me.

    “Syrie?” he asked, pointing to where Abu Hassar and Abed had been sitting.

    I nodded.

    Our waiter pointed to where Abu Hassar had been sitting. He stroked his face as if he had a thick and imaginary beard, one like Abu Hassar’s. “Jabhat al-Nusra,” he said.

    I shrugged.

    “Amerikee?” he asked, pointing at me, seemingly confused as to why an American would spend so much time sitting with two Syrians, especially one Islamist.

    “New York,” I said.

    He shook his head knowingly, as if to intone the word ‘New York,’ were to intone a universal spirit of ‘anything goes’.

    I handed over the money for lunch. Abed and Abu Hassar returned and we left the restaurant. Outside the gray morning rain was now gray afternoon rain. The cafés were still full of people sitting on green Astroturf lawns, sipping tea that steamed at their lips. Nothing had changed.

    We piled into the black Peugeot and returned to the road. For a while, we didn’t speak. We were tired of our own voices. There was just the noise of the broken wiper in front of me, stuttering across the windshield. Above us, the overcast sky lost its light. Below, Akçakale camp spread in all directions, as gray as a second sky. Something heavy and sad came over Abu Hassar and the heaviness of that thing came over me. He and I had spent the day somewhere else, in a different time. Now he’d go back to the camp and I’d go back to the road.

    But we weren’t there yet. With about a mile left to go, Abu Hassar put his hand on my shoulder. “So you will come visit when the war is over?” he asked.

    “Of course,” I said. “If it’s safe for someone like me.”

    “It would have to be. You would never pass for a Muslim,” said Abu Hassar. He pointed at me and spoke to Abed: “He is such a Christian, he even looks like Jesus!”

    I took a look at myself in the rearview mirror. I hadn’t shaved in a couple weeks. My face was a bit gaunt, my kinked hair a bit unkempt. “Maybe I look like Einstein?” I answered.

    As we pulled over by his brother’s shop, Abu Hassar and I were still laughing.

    “If I look like Jesus,” I said, “you look like the Prophet Muhammad.”

    Abu Hassar shook his head. “No, I don’t look like the Prophet, peace be upon him.” He opened his door and a cold breeze filled our car. I could feel the rain outside hitting my neck. Abu Hassar grabbed my shoulder with his thick and powerful hands. He pushed his face close to mine. Again he was grinning.

    “I look like the Mahdi.”

    That comment, “He and I had spent the day somewhere else, in a different time” is particularly interesting from psychological, anthropological and theological angles.

    Share

    My lunch with a jihadi

    Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- food for thought ]
    .

    From the article titled My lunch with a jihadi by Elliot Ackerman yesterday on The Beast:

    When I was first in the jihad, I was like a starving man feasting on the action. When I got older, I learned to eat more slowly, to be more patient. Even Al-Qaeda’s best men became too aggressive in Iraq. When they began to kill Christians and Jews who weren’t actively against the jihad, this was a mistake. In the Qu’ran it says not to do this. In the Bukhari, it is even written that the Prophet once left his armor in the possession of a Jew so it would be protected!

    Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 45, Number 690:

    Narrated ‘Aisha:

    Allah’s Apostle bought some foodstuff from a Jew and mortgaged his armor to him.

    Bewley’s more colloquial translation gives:

    It is related that ‘A’isha said, “The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, bought some food from a Jew on credit and left his armour as security.”

    That’s it, folks.

    Share

    Switch to our mobile site