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Easter celebrations 3: the Middle East

Monday, April 21st, 2014

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

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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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    Easter celebrations 2: a new-ish perspective from Judaism?

    Monday, April 21st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- Seder and Supper, Resurrection and Easter? ]
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    There has been a long dispute as to whether the Last Supper, at which Christ inaugurated the Eucharist, was a Passover seder or not.

    The Gospel of John, 19.14, says that Jesus was taken before Pilate, tried and presumably cricified on the day of “the preparation of the passover” – whereas the three other (“synoptic”) gospels suggest the Last Supper was held on “the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb.” There’s immense poetry in the notion of Christ as the “Psachal Lamb” or “Lamb of God” — and the Lutheran theologian Joachim Jeremias‘ great work, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, which came out while I was studying Theology at Oxford, makes a powerful case for the Supper as Seder view.

    But what of Easter?

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    And on the third day, he rose again:

    Whereas Muslims tend to deny that the crucifixion took place — see Tim Furnish‘s fascinating blog post today about the Ismaili exception to this general rule — Judaism has until recently accepted that Christ may have died as described in the gospels, but asserted that the Easter resurrection concept was foreign to Judaic thinking.

    There’s now at least one scholarly voice, and one piece of evidence, that suggests this may not be the case.

    The burning question, apparently, is whether line 80 of this recently discovered “stone Dead Sea Scroll” known as the Gabriel Stone reads “making the dead live after three days” or “in three days the sign will be (given)”.

    I am fascinated, but by no means scholar enough to debate the question. For more on the topic, see this 2008 New York Times piece. I have not been following the debate as it has unfolded, and am behind the curve on this one — so if anyone has a pointer to more recent scholarly resources, I’d appreciate an update.

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    Mantegna, the Risen Christ:

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    Easter celebrations 1: a duel and a duet

    Monday, April 21st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- Easter, the Ukraine, Putin, and Catholicism -- and wishing a happy Easter to all Zenpundit readers ]
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    United in faith, divided in politics:


    Filaret of Kyiv above, Kirill of Moscow below

    VOA News has the story under the headline Easter Messages From Russia, Ukraine Reveal Divide

    Orthodox Christians in Ukraine and Russia on Sunday celebrated Easter — the holiest day of the Christian calendar — with their nations locked in conflict and Ukraine’s patriarch condemning what he called Russian “aggression” in his homeland.

    In his Easter message, Kyiv Patriarch Filaret said there has been aggression and injustice “against our peace loving nation.” He also labeled Russia an “enemy” whose attack on Ukraine is doomed to fail.

    In Moscow, meanwhile, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill led prayers for Russians in Ukraine and called for peace and cooperation.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin (R), Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s wife Svetlana (L) attend an Orthodox Easter service in Moscow April 20, 2014.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin (R), Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s wife Svetlana (L) attend an Orthodox Easter service in Moscow April 20, 2014.
    He was quoted as calling for an “end to the designs of those who want to destroy holy Russia.”

    Vladimir Putin puts a word in:

    The Easter festivities fill hearts of millions of people with love and joy, inspire for good deeds, serve promoting the eternal values and moral guidelines as caring for people, mercy and compassion in the society.

    It is significant that this year’s Easter is celebrated on the same day by the Orthodox believers and representatives of other Christian denominations. I am sure the celebration will promote social cohesion, harmonization of interreligious relations, enhancement of mutual understanding among people.

    Here in contrast is an excerpt from the impassioned plea of a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, named Ihor Hryhola, as posted on the web by EuroMaidan PR:

    I condemn, and accuse those who are guilty in it: the Russian government, and the Russian Orthodox Church, which did not side with the people of Ukraine. Your rhetorical excuses do not sound convincing to me. I despise and condemn you for everything you have done, and what you have been doing for years. You have been humiliating the people of Russia, and now you started the war against Ukraine. In other words, this war became possible because of your approval, or your compliance.

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    Meanwhile, hre in the States over Easter…

    Divided in schism, united in celebration:


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    Worcester, Massachusetts, will be honoring the historic meeting of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople which took place 50 years ago in Jerusalem — the first such meeting since the Great Schism of 1054 — with Catholic bishop Robert McManus joining Metropolitan Methodios of Boston in Easter celebration.

    I am reminded of Alan Watts, who wrote of the Eucharistic breaking of bread, — and likewise of the breaking of Christ’s body on the cross prior to his resurrection:

    When there is dismemberment in the beginning there is remembrance at the end — that the fulfillment or consummation of the cosmic game is the discovery of what was covered and the recollection of what was scattered.

    One can only hope.

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    A racist form of Odinism and the Kansas shootings

    Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- still convinced we don't known nearly enough about religion -- with a quick look at the Kansas shooting ]
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    The victims:

    The victims of the Overland Park Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom shootings weren’t even Jewish, they were Christians — as the NYT reported:

    A few hours later, a handcuffed Mr. Miller was shouting allegiance to Hitler, while three white people, two Methodists and a Catholic, lay dead.

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    The autobiography:

    Religion is in fact key to an understanding of the events in Overland Park.

    Frazier Glenn Miller, one time leader of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and virulent online Antisemite arrested for the Overland Park shootings shooter appears to have misjudged the religion of those he killed — but if we were to assume he was himself a Christian, we would as surely misjudge his religion. In his autobiography, available online, Miller offers us his own beliefs — a creed not of love but of warrior racism:

    Every book in the bible, except one, was written by Jews, which explains, among other things, why the bible says the Jews are God’s chosen people. If I’d written the thing, my people would be the chosen ones. How odd of God to choose the rats.

    God must be a racist, because He selected a chosen race. And, He practiced racial discrimination when he smited all those gentile men, women, children, and babies on behalf of the Jews. Sampson and God alone killed 10,000 gentiles with the jawbone of a jackass. And I own some valuable ocean front property in Arizona.

    Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What a brilliant recipe to enslave the Shabbos Goyim.

    Christianity is the second biggest trick the Jews ever played on us. The biggest was legalized abortion!

    But, on the other hand, White Christians today represent the best of our Race and the best hope for our racial survival because, generally, they are sober, moral, physically healthy, and idealistic. The Jews too recognize this potential threat and attack Christianity non-stop with the vigor and determination of trained attack dogs.

    I’d love to see North America’s 100 million Aryan Christians convert to the religion invented by their own race and practiced for a thousand generations before the Jews thought up Christianity.

    Odinism! This was the religion for a strong heroic people, the Germanic people, from whose loins we all descended, be we German, English, Scott, Irish, or Scandinavian, in whole or in part.

    Odin! Odin! Odin! Was the battle cry of our ancestors; their light eyes ablaze with the glare of the predator, as they swept over and conquered the decadent multi-racial Roman Empire.

    And Valhalla does not accept Negroes. There’s a sign over the pearly gates there which reads, “Whites only.”

    Oh, Glory day!

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    Shakespeare:

    Humans, we are humans — Jews, Christians, Muslims, lovers, haters. How often and in how many contexts must we repeat Shylock‘s words?

    If you prick us, do we not bleed?
    if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
    us, do we not die?

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    A Resource:

    For a fuller insight into Odinism as a contemporary neo-Pagan faith, and the relation of some though not all forms of that faith to the radical right, I’d recommend the relevant section in:

  • Jeffrey Kaplan, Radical Religion in America: Millenarian Movements from the Far Right to the Children of Noah
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    Religion — or simple decency?

    Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

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

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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