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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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    Sunday surprise 22: bring a gun to a steak dinner?

    Sunday, April 20th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- variations on a theme in The Untouchables ]
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    Duncan Kinder posted a pair of video clips to one of Zen’s FaceBook posts a day or two ago, and since they made a fine DoubleQuote, I thought I’d bring them here.

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    The “bringing a knife to a gunfight” idea seems to have spread from its origins in The Untouchables (upper video above) to multitudinous other moves. Movie site Subzin tracked at least some of these movies, and Movies & TV Stack Exchange lists these movies:

    The Untouchables (1987)
    The Target Shoots First (2000)
    Shottas (2002)
    Duplex (2003)
    The Punisher (2004)
    Waist Deep (2006)
    Dod vid ankomst (2008)
    Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
    The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day (2009)
    The Good Guy (2009)
    Wonderful World (2009)
    Death Hunter (2010)

    with variants found in:

    The Glimmer Man (1996) 00:16:59 It’s kind of like takin’ a screwdriver to a gunfight.
    Black Cat Run (1998) 00:32:40 A crow bar to a gun fight? Drop the fucking crowbar.
    BloodRayne II: Deliverance (2007) 00:28:09 Ain’t it like an Irishman to bring a bottle to a gunfight.
    Urban Justice (2007) 01:27:07 l know you ain’t dumb enough to bring a fist to a gunfight.
    G-Force (2009) 01:12:27 [Speckles] Just like humans. Bringing guns to a space junk fight.
    Unrivaled (2010) 00:28:46 you brought a knife to a bottle fight.
    Cross (2011) 00:08:06 Genius. Brings sticks to a gunfight.

    What’s intriguing about the Raiders of the Lost Ark episode (lower video, above) is that the reference is made without words. The Indiana Jones Wiki has the scoop on this… Apparently Harrison Ford had dysentery at the time, and was finding it difficult to act the longish duel scene, whip against sword, that was called for by the script — and finally suggested that Indy should just shoot the guy.

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    A couple of thoughts that occur to me:

  • Bringing a slingshot to a giant?
  • Bringing a lance to a windmill fight?
  • bringing a knife to the soup course?
  • It’s my good fortune, once again, that my fascinating with the details of one relatively innocuous matter — the “bringing a knife to a gunfight” meme in this case — leads me to another area of interest.

    — in this case to hastilude, the generic name for forms of mock-martial fighting that include tourneys and jousts along with others I hadn’t even heard of — behourds, tupinaires? — thus providing ample impetus for yet further wanderings across the web…

    But it’s time for me to wind up — let’s get back to Raiders of the Lost Ark

    It’s not every day that one can justifiably attribute the origins of a widespread, hilarious yet serious, and blockbusterish money-making meme — to dysentery.

    Freud, however, would have understood.

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    Lizz Pearson on Boko Haram & gender, BBC4

    Saturday, April 19th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- burn the boys & let the girls get married? -- ]
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    Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Nigeria, torched by Boko Haram Feb 2014. Photocredit: AP

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    Lizz Pearson pulls all the right details together to paint a vivid and nuanced picture of Boko Haram and their actions and attitudes with regard to gender differences in an interview with Woman’s Hour on BBC4. It’s a stunning story:

    This is something that has developed really in the last year, and it’s an explicit evolution, really, in the tactics of Boko Haram. The abductions earlier this week in Chibok have made the headlines because of the scale which is particularly audacious, but they have been kidnapping and abducting schoolgirls and other women really since 2013. [ … ]

    The Nigerian government began at the end of 2011 to arrest and detail women and children related to senior leading members of Boko Haram. This is perceived by Boko Haram as a very provocative act. Women are not regarded as combatants by Boko Haram, but they are a way of getting at an enemy, of humiliating an enemy, and they have become pawns, really, in this conflict, in a way that they have been used, both by the Nigerian government security forces in terms of the arrests of women related to Boko Haram — there’s no reason to arrest them for anything they’ve done themselves — and in Boko Haram’s response.

    For Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, this has been a real grievance, and has motivated him in making many statements in video messages of his intention to, in retaliation, kidnap and abduct Christian women and women related to government officials.

    So far the strategy is different. It’s right that the Taliban has been explicitly targeting girls and with execution. With Boko Haram it’s a bit different. They have in fact been sparing women from execution in contrast with the Taliban policy. There was an attack, for example, on a school in Yobe state in February in which they similarly drove into the school in a convoy of jeeps, very heavily armed, everyone was asleep, they were very vulnerable. They locked the dormitories of male students, set fire to those dormitories, and then slit the throats of many men that they found escaping through the windows — but in this instance they spared the women, they said explicitly, Go home, get married, don’t come back here. In that sense they’re not executing them, but they do have this policy now that Shekau has explicitly ordered, of abducting women instead.

    That’s some excellent background — and surprising nuance — to bring to our understanding of the 107 young women recently abducted from their school in Borno State by Boko Haram.

    **

    Ms. Pearson doesn’t mention it, but I suspect there’s a Qur’anic verse somewhere in back of Boko Haram’s notion of retaliation — the same verse which I noted provided the framework for a major bin Laden speech, Qur’an 2.194:

    For the prohibited month, and so for all things prohibited, there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.

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    The “western” mindset sees certain actions as acceptable and others as unacceptable, and international law and various treaties set forth the accompamnying ruleset. Much of Islamic law sets similar limits, eg concerning the treatemnt of prisoners of war, but this verse — like Torah verses about “an eye for an eye” — specifies a diferent method of assessing what is and is not permitted — one which permits the otherwise impermissible on those occasions on which it has been visited upon one.

    In essence, the rule becomes mirroring — with moderation.

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    That a particular class of actions taken by one party in a conflict may in this way serve as a grant of permission for the same treatment to be returned is a feature of human psychology as well — and may be something worth bearing in mind in considering the introduction of any new class of methodologies or targets in warfare or politics. Do as you would be done by…

    What I do may appear to me to be an action: what I may miss is that it is also a potential invitation.

    I’m not sure whether that’s so obvious as to be a tautology, or so obscure as to bear frequent repetition. It’s certainly an aspect of human nature, variously formalized as tit for tat or proportionality — and in Islam, it is embedded both in scripture and in cultural understanding, in Qur’an 2.194.

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