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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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    March 16th: Purim, or Israel vs Iran redux?

    Sunday, March 16th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- still trying to cover some of the major feasts and fasts of the world's religions in calendar time, which can open on occasion into timelessness -- Chag Purim Sameach! ]
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    Jan Lievens, The Feast of Esther, ca 1625

    From the North Carolina Museum of Art site:

    The subject of this painting comes from the Old Testament Book of Esther. Ahasuerus (Xerxes), king of the Persians, took Esther as his queen, not knowing she was a Jew. Haman, the king’s evil minister, plotted to annihilate the Jews by issuing a decree of execution in the king’s name. Esther invited both men to a banquet in order to reveal Haman’s plot to Ahasuerus and to plead for the life of her people. The king’s anger is seen in his clenched fists; soon, Haman would meet his fate on the gallows. Although this picture was long attributed to Rembrandt, its scale, bold colors, and dramatic energy have much in common with others painted by Lievens at a time when he may have shared a studio with Rembrandt in Leiden.

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    I don’t want to get itno too much detail on this one, since Purim caught up with me before I’d done the necessary research to write a properly up-to-date account of its “prophetic” significance in terms of contemporary geopolitics this year — but I would like to point us a couple of years back, to PM Netanyahu’s gift of an Esther scroll to Pres. Obama:

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    I’ve chosen to illustrate that gift of an Esther scroll via blog headlines, then and now, from the site of Joel Rosenberg, popular Christian novelist and apocalyptic influencer of politicians, who clearly finds “signs of the times” in WaPo and NYT — essentially reading with “news / scripture” bi-focals.

    This kind of religious enthusiasm and double-reading is also present in the controversial Gen. Boykin. Accordding to a DOD report of August 5, 2004 titled Alleged Improprieties Related To Public Speaking: Lieutenant General William G. Boykin, U.S. Army Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence“, GEN Boykin gave repeated speeches in which he claimed:

    After telling the story of Esther — a biblical figure who, according to LTG Boykin, became queen of Persia and was told she had been “raised up for for such a time as this” to save her people (the Jews in Persia), LTG Boykin analogized the story to the election of President Bush who, he said, had been placed in the presidency by God. “for such a time as this” (referring to the war on terrorism).

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    The geopolitical influence of rival eschatologies, then, can be found in Netanyahu, Boykin, Rosenberg, and (plausibly at least) also in Khamenei… and is well illustrated in the books of the “Two Joels”:

    **

    Here’s the rub, though.

    When you view the world through apoc-specs, and then influence the policies of Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions (words which have, interestingly enough, their own bi-focal meanings, temporal / terrestrial and celestial / demonic), and the world changes in unexpected ways — Ahmadinejad, with his imminent Mahdist expectation, is replaced by the far more suave and less apocalyptically aroused Hassan Rouhani — it takes some deft footwork to avoid being caught wirthout a chair when the music stops…

    As I observed in the mid-1990s:

    Bernard McGinn makes a shrewd comment on Luther’s process, in his article on Revelation in Robert Alter and Frank Kermode’s Literary Guide to the Bible:

    Earlier interpreters, such as Joachim (but not Augustine), had also claimed to find a consonance between Revelation’s prophecies and the events of Church history, but they had begun with Scripture and used it as a key to unlock history. Paradoxically, Luther, the great champion of the biblical word, claimed that history enabled him to make sense of Revelation…

    So: which direction should theologians “read” the analogy between Revelation and history in?
    Should they, like Luther, start with history and try to “shoe-horn” the Book of Revelation to fit it, or vice versa? There are two very different processes here, and the results may be correspondingly different — but when people today read accounts of Revelation which propose that the “end times” are nigh, they seldom even ask the question: which came first in the interpreter’s mind?

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    Without even getting into the rival eschatologies of Jewish Messianism and Islamic Mahdism, Christian eschatological interpretations themselves are a vastly obscure and complex matter — essentially a sort of verbal Rorshach blot onto which different people in different centuries and on different continents all find it only too easy to project their own circumstances and political beliefs…

    Ezekiel, for instance, is famously hard to understand:

    Is he writing about semi-mathematical angels or flying saucers?

    And what does that map — taken from one of many, many, in Clarence Larkin‘s Dispensational Truth (1918, revised 1920, mine is the 29th printing) — really mean, not in 1918 at the end of World War I, but today, almost a century later?

    I confess I have a fondness for Ezekiel. One of his visions, via the gospel song Dem Bones, gave me the name under which I developed my HipBone Games… and of course his interest as an eschatological visionary helped, too…

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    DoubleQuote sources:

  • Joel Rosenberg, From Ancient Persia to to Hitler’s Germany
  • Joel Rosenberg, Netanyahu gives Obama Esther Scroll
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    On trial in Egypt: then and now, etc.

    Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- there shall be no caging of free speech, right? ]
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    I was struck by the resemblance between these two photos of defendants in Egyptian courtrooms –

    — one of Ayman al-Zawahiri on trial shortly after the Sadat assassination [upper panel, above] the other of al-Jazeera journalists on trial today. While there’s a great deal of difference between the defendants in the two trials, and while we’re familiar with prisoners at the bar behind bullet-proof glass from the cases of Adolf Eichmann [below, upper panel] –

    — and the Pussy Riot grrls [lower panel], conditions for the defendants in Egyptian trials seem to have deteriorated from cages to chicken-coops over the years.

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    Source:

  • Al-Jazeera photo MT @marcellehopkins: Surreal photo of @AlJazeera journalists in #Egypt courtroom cage today. #FreeAJStaff
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    Jottings 10: The rabbi who cried Allahu Akbar

    Monday, February 17th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- expect the unexpected ]
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    I can’t claim to understand Hebrew or Arabic, but the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, a leading Gush Emunim settler rabbi, can clearly be heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” at 5.37 and then repeatedly at 5.42 and following.

    What’s going on?

    **

    I wrote a while back:

    I am hoping to make Jottings a continuing series of brief posts, some serious and some light-hearted, that release the toxins of fascination and abhorrence from my system rapidly, ie without too much time spent in research. Jottings — hey, my degree was in Theology, Mother of the Sciences — derives from the English “jot” — and thence from the Greek iota and Hebrew yod, see Wikipedia on jots and tittles.

    Today, I hope to post four more of them. This one’s the first.

    **

    Rabbi Froman was visiting a mosque that had been desecrated the previous day by a group of his fellow settlers, who had scribbled the phrase “price tag” and some slurs against the Prophet on the walls, then set the mosque on fire.

    Harvard Professor Noah Feldman, in a Bloomberg op-ed titled Is a Jew Meshuga for Wanting to Live in Palestine? explains:

    If Israelis and Palestinians agree on one thing, it’s that more settlements in the West Bank will eventually make a two-state solution impossible. Rabbi Menachem Froman, who died on March 4 at age 68, thought differently.

    Froman was a proud and early settler, a founder of the hard-line Gush Emunim (“Bloc of the Faithful”), theologically committed to permanent Jewish settlement in what he considered historical Judea and Samaria. But Froman also fully accepted the idea of a Palestinian state there — in which he and his fellow settlers would continue to live as minority citizens.

    Crazy, you say — as did just about everyone else in Israel, to say nothing of other settlers. Froman played up the appearance of madness by appearing in Palestinian villages in his prayer shawl, tefillin (phylacteries) and long white beard and blessing the people in Arabic and Hebrew. His acting and speaking like a biblical figure further underscored the impression that he was some sort of unrealistic prophet, whether utopian or dystopian resting in the eye of the beholder.

    But why, really, is it impossible to imagine that religiously committed Jews might live under Palestinian sovereignty as citizens in the way that some Palestinian Arabs live under Jewish sovereignty in Israel proper? Looking at the standard reasons carefully, instead of just assuming their truth, can provide us with a much-needed thought experiment about the viability of the two-state solution, which looks increasingly tenuous to its supporters and critics alike.

    Food for whatever that thing is that hearts and minds do.

    **

    Related readings:

  • Yair Rosenberg, To Save the Peace Process, Get Religion
  • International Crisis Group, Leap of Faith: Israel’s National Religious and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
  • Adam Garfinkle, If Kerry Wants To Make Peace in the Middle East, He Should Just Put God In Charge
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    Allahu Akbar — God is Great. Not such an unexpected sentiment coming from a rabbi, after all?

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    Joyner and the coup

    Thursday, January 16th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a bit disconcerted by what I see looming in the futuristic mist -- your view may of course differ ]
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    Okay, let’s begin this little tour with a recent news flash, to keep us grounded. This comes to you from Indiana:

    Indiana guardsman stopped for speeding in Madison County had 48 bombs, prosecutor says

    An Indiana National Guardsman was arrested outside Columbus on New Year’s Day after a state trooper found nearly 50 bombs and the blueprints for a Navy SEAL training facility inside his car, the Madison County prosecutor said yesterday.

    Targeting the SEALs, hunh? Not, I’d imagine, a soft target.

    **

    I guess there’s something like a buzz or ripple going on, and it concerns me. It crops up in various forms in various places, in fact it’s very various indeed, and varied, and variegated too no doubt. Let’s see…

    There are calls in certain circles for a coup of some kind in the US of A. Here’s the televangelist pastor Rick Joyner

    One of Joyner’s closest military friends is Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin — ex Delta Force, Mogadishu guy, also ex Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence — seen here talking with Joyner:

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    Joyner is one of the more prominent pastors associated with C Peter Wagner‘s New Apostolic Reformation, so it’s worth noting that Wagner doesn’t limit his ambitions to “Christendom” but is working for Christian dominion over the entire world, much as certain trends in the Islamic world look for global Islamic dominion:

    My favorite term is “dominion eschatology.” Why? Because Jesus did not give His Great Commission in vain.

    The battle will be ferocious, and we will suffer some casualties along the way. However, we will continue to push Satan back and disciple whole nations.

    We are aggressively retaking dominion, and the rate at which this is happening will soon become exponential. The day will come when “‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever’” (Rev. 11:15, NKJV)!

    So that’s one part of the context for Messers. Joyner and Boykin, and Joyner’s thoughts about a coup — also for Boykin’s proffered scenarios for foreign policy, which I addressed in a recent post.

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    Then there are the Oathkeepers

    Oath Keepers is instructing its 30,000 members nation-wide to form up special teams and sub-teams in each Oath Keepers chapter, at the town and county level, modeled loosely on the Special Forces “A Team” (Operational Detachment A ) model, and for a similar purpose: to be both a potential operational unit for community security and support during crisis, but also, as mission #1, to serve as training and leadership cadre, to assist in organizing neighborhood watches, organizing veterans halls to provide community civil defense, forming County Sheriff Posses, strengthening existing CERT, volunteer fire, search-and-rescue, reserve deputy systems, etc., and eventually to assist in forming and training town and county militias (established by official act of town and county elected representatives). We want our chapters to organize themselves as a working model that we can then take to other veterans organizations, such as the VFW, American Legion, Marine Corps League, etc. in each town and help them establish such teams within their already existing veterans halls. And likewise, to serve as a model and training cadre to help churches, neighborhood watches, and any other civic organization organize.

    These guys are more about resisting government oppression than endorsing a coup, eh? — but there’s morphing potential between one and the other.

    What I’m up to here, y’see, is not about presenting a coherent argument starting from a premise and arriving at a conclusion, but creating a mini-topography, manpping a landscape if you will, by identifying certain features, with the suggestion that they are somehow related.

    Somehow, I said.

    I am not defining the relationships, which may be quite varied, and also subject to individual interpretation. I am suggesting they may be, very likely are, all features of a common terrain — and worth considering as such.

    **

    Picking up on the theological side of things, we have many people, including legislators like Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who view current events at home and abroad as fulfilling one of the various “end times” scnarios now current in both Christian and Islamic circles:

    People who hold such beliefs tend to take them very seriously, as sanctioned by the supreme authority — and may therefore be strongly influenced by them when making policy decisions. But is Bachmann’s eschatology right, or Netanyahu’s, or Khamenei’s perhaps? Or one of the secular eschatologies, global warming, nuclear winter, heat death of the universe?

    My most recent post on the foreign side of things, A Clash of Messianisms: now let me get this straight, fits in here somewhere, too.

    Policies driven by an erroneous eschatology might make an unstable situation even worse, no?

    Caveat emptor.

    **

    Let’s move from preachers and pols to regular folks like, well, Josie the Outlaw. What does she have to say for herself — and us all?

    This (above) was quite a hit with some of my liberal friends… who mostly didn’t notice the Gadsden Flag on its brief appearance…

    They were in some cases less happy with this one…

    **

    And then of course, it has indeed been said that…

    whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security…

    The question then arising of how much prudence — prudence, the virtue — is in evidence in this day and age?

    **

    This is where I should really soar, with a short yet powerful invocation af all those virtues one might wish for. We’ve almost forgotten their names. Humility? Is that something to do with humiliation? Sure sounds like it. Prudence? I think I have a great aunt Pru…

    Joyner and Boykin — if you believe we’re in the end times, then wait up — no need to go all guns and MRE on us — fast and pray, will you please, and wait for the new heaven and the new earth?

    And the rest of you — call your great aunt, we need her STAT!!

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