30 July 2015
The children of Father Sharbel Iskandar Bcheiry, a native of Lebanon, watch their father celebrate the Divine Liturgy in their suburban Chicago parish. (photo: Karen Callaway)
Resilient best describes the Syriac Orthodox Church. Persecuted by Byzantines, murdered by Mongols, massacred by Ottoman Turks and caught in the Kurdish-Turkish crossfire, Syriac Orthodox Christians have managed to endure, preserving their legacy while enriching the entire church.
The Syriac Orthodox Church shares in the heritage of ancient Antioch, the commercial, cultural and political center of Rome’s eastern Mediterranean province of Syria. Founded by St. Peter and nurtured by St. Paul, the church in Antioch emerged as the center of the church of the East, stretching beyond the borders of the Christian Roman (or Byzantine) Empire.
The development of the church of Antioch coincided with the confluence of cultures in the eastern Mediterranean world. Debates raged as Antioch’s Christians explored the nature of Jesus, which prompted councils, the decrees of which drove a wedge between Antioch’s Syriac-speaking Christians and Greek-speaking Christians allied with Byzantium.
Syriac Christians generally welcomed the Muslim Arabs invaders, who accepted them as “People of the Book.” Safe from Byzantine authorities, Syriac scholars flourished. Poets fashioned hymns that simplified complex ideas. Scholars translated Greek texts and wrote biblical commentaries. Monks explored grammar, medicine, philosophy, rhetoric and science. Theologians and poets continued the tradition of composing liturgies, borrowing elements from other Christian traditions.
In southeastern Turkey, the area known as Tur Abdin (Syriac for “Mountain of the Servants of God”) remains the heartland of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Every Saturday night, in a small chapel of the Saffron Monastery, a liturgy is celebrated to commemorate the 53 patriarchs and more than 100 bishops who pastored the area’s flock between the fifth and 20th centuries. The seat of the patriarchate was moved from Tur Abdin to Damascus in 1932. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
Drawn by this erudition, the Arabs employed Syriac scholars, who are largely responsible for the Arab world’s familiarity with ancient Greek astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and philosophy — disciplines that eventually reached Europe via Arab Sicily and Spain.
At its height in the mid-14th century, the Syriac Orthodox Church stretched from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan and included 20 metropolitan sees and more than a 100 eparchies. This golden age ended violently with the invasion of the Middle East by Timur the Lame in the 15th century. Those Syriac Christians who escaped death or enslavement retreated into the mountains, huddling in fortress-like monasteries and villages. Though scholarship did not vanish completely, isolation intensified, poverty set in and generation after generation of Syriac Orthodox families abjured their Christian faith.
Scholars estimate that by the beginning of the 20th century, fewer than 270,000 Syriac Orthodox Christians remained in Mesopotamia.
The trials for the church have only intensified in the last 100 years, even as membership has recovered: The church now counts as many as 5 million members, although two thirds live in India. In 1915 — the “Year of the Sword” — soldiers affiliated with the Ottoman authorities murdered more than 13,000 families and 150 priests. Survivors were deported or fled, many seeking refuge in Beirut, Damascus and Mosul. Some later settled in North America’s burgeoning industrial cities.
Many of the families who fled to Baghdad, Beirut and Mosul as provincial peasants are now leaving as professionals for Europe, North America and Oceania. The emigration of Syriac Christians, who once formed the core of Syria and Iraq’s middle classes, has created a regional “brain drain,” as they establish new lives far from their historic center in the cradle of civilization.
30 July 2015
Deen Bandhu Samaj Sisters hold group discussions to empower women in villages across Bastar, India. To learn more about the sisters’ remarkable ministry, read “Serving in the Red” from the Summer 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Jose Jacob)
30 July 2015
A Kurdish man shows the wounds of his donkey reportedly injured in an air strike by Turkish warplanes against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party on 29 July in the Qandil mountain. (photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
Kurd leader attacks Turkey’s ‘safe zone’ plan for Syria (BBC) A “safe zone” Turkey and the U.S. are creating in Syria is an attempt by Ankara to stop Kurds from forming their own territory, says the leader of HDP, Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party. Selahattin Demirtas said Turkey’s operation against Islamic State militants across the border was a cover to target PKK Kurdish rebels. He urged both Turkey and the PKK to return to the peace process…
Patriarch Youhanna X stresses unity, peace at convocation (St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary) On Monday, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary bestowed a Doctor of Divinity degree honoris causa upon Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch and All the East. In his remarks following the ceremony, the church leader called for peace for all peoples in his homeland of Syria and its neighboring countries in the Middle East…
Orthodox sister ‘tortured to death’ in Kiev days after priest’s murder (International Business Times) An Orthodox sister has been found dead in her apartment in Kiev with her hands tied and evidence of torture. The killing came after a 41-year-old priest from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s Moscow Patriarchate died of his injuries after being shot by two unknown attackers in Kiev…
‘Strong evidence’ of Israeli war crimes in Gaza (Al Jazeera) The Israeli army indiscriminately and deliberately targeted civilians during a brutal 2014 assault known as “Black Friday,” according to a new report on last summer’s Gaza war. The joint study by Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture, released on Wednesday, cites “strong evidence” of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity on 1 August 2014, as Israeli forces bombarded residential areas in Rafah in retaliation for the capture of one of its soldiers…
29 July 2015
Tags: Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank War Turkey Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch
This image from 2013 shows an aerial view of the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, the largest camp of its kind in the Middle East. The camp is now three years old. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
Syrian refugees mark third year in Jordanian camp (Voice of America) The U.N. refugee agency reports hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan face an increasingly grim future as the Zaatari refugee camp marks its third anniversary. Zaatari camp’s expansion mirrors the intensification of the war in Syria, which began more than four years ago with a series of anti-government protests. In just three years, Jordan’s Zaatari camp, set up in just nine days, has grown to be the largest camp in the Middle East, housing about 81,000 Syrian refugees. UNHCR spokeswoman Ariane Rummery said the camp, from its primitive beginnings, has become a vibrant, bustling home to the refugees, more than half of whom are children...
Turkey steps up bombing in Iraq (The Guardian) Turkish fighter jets have mounted their heaviest assault on Kurdish militants in northern Iraq since air strikes began last week, hours after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said a peace process had become impossible. The strikes hit six Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets including shelters, depots and caves, the prime minister’s office said. A senior official told Reuters it was the biggest assault since the campaign started...
African bishops launch Year of Reconciliation (Vatican Radio) SECAM, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) is today Wednesday set to officially launch the African Year of Reconciliation (AYR) as it commemorates its 46th Anniversary since it was founded...
Anti-discrimination law advances religious liberty in UAE (L’Osservatore Romano) “Under the new law, “all forms of discrimination based on religion, caste, creed, doctrine, race, colour or ethnic origin" are outlawed. This means that in the UAE, discrimination based on Islam is banned. The Sunni-Shia divide has been a fault-line around which many wars have been fought in the Arab world. With the new law, equality will be guaranteed among people, largely inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “This is a step forward.” These are the words of the Jesuit priest and Islamic scholar the Rev. Samir Khalil Samir, who spoke to AsiaNews about the new law against discrimination recently passed in the United Arab Emirates...
Widows tell the tale of India’s new Christian martyrs (Crux) In the galaxy of contemporary anti-Christian persecution, the martyrs of Kandhamal in India hold a special place, and not just because statistically they died amid the worst outbreak of violence specifically directed at Christians so far in the 21st century. The manner in which many of these Christians lost their lives, almost all of whom come from the Indian caste once considered “untouchable,” was almost unimaginably grotesque — violence more at home in the Bible or early Christian martyrology, seemingly, than the here-and-now...
28 July 2015
The world of the Eastern churches is a complex web of history and culture. CNEWA is privileged to work for, through and with these churches, a mandate given to us when Pope Pius XI founded CNEWA in 1926. But navigating this labyrinth of patriarchs and popes, councils and creeds, can be daunting and confusing.
To help clear up this confusion, we’re launching a new series that we hope will provide our readers with a better understanding of the church and its rich history. Each Tuesday and Thursday, our ONE-TO-ONE blog will feature a short overview for each of the Eastern churches.
Each post will conclude with a link to a fuller account of that particular church as featured in CNEWA’s award-winning magazine, ONE.
We hope you’ll find this journey enlightening and enriching, and come away with a deeper appreciation for the diversity of our shared faith. We also think you’ll come to see, in the midst of all this complexity, a clarity and continuity that truly make us one.
28 July 2015
Father Andrawous Bahouth celebrates the Divine Liturgy at the 18th-century Church of St. Andrew in Akko, Israel. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
Scattered throughout the Middle East — and increasingly, the Americas, Europe and Oceania — a Christian community continues to bear a nickname first coined by its adversaries more than 1,500 years ago.
A Melkite (from the Syriac, malkaya, meaning “of the king”) once referred to a Christian who supported an emperor ruling from the city of Constantinople, now modern Istanbul; spoke Greek; lived in an urban center in the eastern Mediterranean region; and accepted the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon, promulgated in the year 451.
Today, most Melkites are Arabic-speaking Christians, or descendants of Arab-speakers, who belong to a church steeped in the traditions of the Christian East yet accept full communion with the pope in Rome. They are increasingly on the move, displaced from their livelihoods in a volatile Middle East, settling in the West, especially South America, where now more than half of all Melkites live. Though Melkite Greek Catholics constitute a small church within the Catholic communion, they boldly assert their rights, privileges, prerogatives and traditions while actively seeking unity with their Orthodox kin, from whom they have been separated since the early 18th century.
In 2004, Father Elias Hanout greeted children in front of St. Elias Melkite Greek Catholic Church in the southern Syrian town of Ezraa. The church, which dates to the sixth century and is among the oldest churches in the world, is in jeopardy as rebel forces close in on the largely Christian town. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
The Melkite Greek Catholic Church shares in the heritage of the ancient Syrian city of Antioch, now in southern Turkey. Founded by the Apostles Peter and Paul, the church of Antioch — where the followers of Jesus first earned the name “Christian” (Acts 11:26) — became the Christian hub of the eastern Mediterranean.
When the leaders of the churches of Constantinople and Rome excommunicated each other in the year 1054 — the definitive rupture separating what we now call the Orthodox and Catholic churches — the Melkite patriarch of Antioch, choosing no side in the dispute, tried to reconcile the two.
Eventually, the church of Antioch sided with Constantinople. When the Crusaders seized Antioch in 1098, they appointed a Latin patriarch and expelled the Melkite incumbent, who fled to Constantinople. It was during this period of exile that the original liturgical rites utilized by the Melkites and identified as “Antiochene” were replaced by the Byzantine rites of the church of Constantinople.
Based in the war-weary Syrian capital of Damascus, the worldwide Melkite Greek Catholic Church is led by the vigorous Patriarch Gregory III and a synod of bishops not fearful of tackling challenging issues. “Christianity survived in the Middle East because of the married priests,” said one, Archbishop George Bakhouny of Akka in Israel. The Eastern tradition, he said, is “to choose someone who has his own work in the particular village, a good man, a faithful man, a Christian man. He will study a little bit, some theology and philosophy, and he will be ordained.” It doesn’t matter, he continued, if it is impractical to send a married man to the seminary for six years.
“We don’t want all of them to be doctors or theologians,” he said, but witnesses. Priests don’t all have to be well-spoken orators; they could even be fishermen.
Read a full account of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church from ONE magazine here.
28 July 2015
The Rev. Sharbel Bcheiry stands outside the gate of the factory where he works as a machinist.
(photo: Karen Callaway)
The Summer 2015 edition of ONE features a look at a day in the life of a Chicago man who is a husband, father, factory worker — and priest:
As the city of Chicago prepares for bed, the Rev. Sharbel Iskandar Bcheiry prepares to head to work, not the work of a priest &mash; visiting the sick or administering the sacraments — but that of a laborer in a factory, earning money to feed and shelter his family.
A priest of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Father Bcheiry, says some North American parishes can support their priest and his family. But, the 42-year-old priest says, “We have a small parish. We don’t have enough financial support.”
Having earned a doctorate in church history, he had originally hoped to find work at a local university.
“It’s not a choice to go to work in a factory. I have to do it. If not, there is no survival — not for the community, and not for us,” he adds, gesturing to his family.
So this husband and father of two travels an hour each day to work the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift at one of the world’s largest suppliers of forging die steels, plastic mold steels, die casting tool steels and custom open-die forgings.
He started out as a welder-fabricator working the day shift and is now a machinist. But he has not abandoned his academic pursuits; he continues to study and publish books and articles. Indeed, factory work even provides him with a distinctive view of theology.
“It’s the practical theology,” Father Bcheiry says. “How to deal with the daily life. Punch in. Punch out. You have bosses, this one or the other yell at you. There is no privilege.”
To spend a day with Father Bcheiry is to witness a life that might surprise those who imagine priests divide all their time between praying and preaching.
For Father Bcheiry, that is just the beginning.
Read the rest of the story here.
28 July 2015
A Ukrainian serviceman cleans his machine gun on the frontline in the village of Maryinka in the Donetsk region on 21 July 2015. (photo: Anatolii Stepanov /AFP/Getty Images)
Rebels in eastern Ukraine block crucial aid (Vatican Radio) The biggest supplier of aid to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine says its mission could end by Wednesday, if Russian-backed separatists continue to block its convoys, despite concerns over severe shortages for many destitute people, including many children...
Family of kidnapped priest consoled by Pope’s appeal (Vatican Radio) The family of the Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio, the Italian Jesuit priest kidnapped in Syria nearly two years ago, has thanked Pope Francis for offering them consolation in their moment of trial. At this past Sunday’s Angelus, Pope Francis appealed for the release of Fr. Dall’Oglio and of two Orthodox bishops of Aleppo who were also kidnapped during the raging confict in Syria in 2013...
Syrian refugees in Armenia “stumble from one crisis to another” (Al-Monitor) Armenia is currently mired in a grim economic situation of its own that has sent hundreds of thousands of its citizens abroad in pursuit of work — meaning some remaining locals haven’t always welcomed the increased competition for jobs. With unresolved disputes on its borders with neighboring Turkey, and Azerbaijan draining the budget and stymieing trade, the government has found itself ill-equipped to deal with the needs of its 3 million citizens, let alone a smattering of destitute refugees. Nowhere are these difficulties better illustrated than at Yerevan’s “Aleppo market,” where Syrian shopkeepers scrape to make a living in an unassuming pedestrian underpass with low foot traffic near the capital’s central Republic Square...
Photo essay: Gaza residents living without electricity up to 18 hours a day (International Business Times) The Gaza Strip, home to 1.8 million people, has been experiencing up to 18 hours of power cuts a day. The coastal enclave’s only power plant halted production earlier in July in a dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) over fuel tax. Hamas has been paying the PA for imported fuel but was unable to afford the tax bill. Qatar had donated $10m (£6.42m), effectively exempting Hamas from paying the tax, but this has dried up...
27 July 2015
Bishop Gregory Petros XX Ghabroyan — in French, Grégoire Pierre XX Ghabroyan — was elected the new patriarch for the Armenian Catholic Church on 25 July to succeed the deceased Patriarch Bedros Nerses XIX. Read more about his life here. And to learn more about the Armenian Catholic Church, read our profile. (photo: Vatican Radio)
27 July 2015
Turkish tanks patrol close to the village of Elbeyli, near the border with Syria in southeastern Turkey on 25 July 2015, as the Turkey raises its security measures along the borderline
with Syria. (photo: Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Turkey and U.S. plan Syria “safe zone” for refugees (The New York Times) Turkey and the United States have agreed in general terms on a plan that envisions American warplanes, Syrian insurgents and Turkish forces working together to sweep Islamic State militants from a 60-mile-long strip of northern Syria along the Turkish border, American and Turkish officials say. The plan would create what officials from both countries are calling an Islamic State-free zone controlled by relatively moderate Syrian insurgents, which the Turks say could also be a “safe zone” for displaced Syrians...
Pope congratulates new Armenian patriarch (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a message of congratulations to the new Armenian Catholic Paticarch of Cilicia, his Beatiude Grégoire Pierre XX Ghabroyan. In the message Pope Francis expresses his joy at the Patriarch’s election and the hope that his new ministry will bear many fruits. The Holy Father in the congratulatory note also grants his Beatiude Grégoire Pierre XX Ghabroyan the “Ecclesiastical Communion” which the Patricarch requested in an earlier letter...
Officials refuse to let nun in Kerala take exam because of her veil (International Business Times) A Kerala nun was denied permission to appear for the retest of the All India Pre-Medical/Pre-Dental Entrance Test (AIPMT) after she refused to remove her veil and cross on Saturday, 25 July in Thiruvananthapuram. The incident happened at Jawahar Central School in Kanjiramkulam, when Sister Seba arrived at the exam centre with Mother Superior of her convent on Saturday. The incident, in which the school authorities asked the nun to remove the veil, has sparked outrage in different parts of the state...
Aleppo archbishop aims to help Christians stay in Syria (CNA) With half of Syria’s population displaced due to its ongoing civil war, Church leaders in the country are seeking to send a message of hope and support for the persecuted Christian minority who have chosen to stay. “At the time of this writing, Aleppo is undergoing a massive assault by jihadists, and bombs have been falling for hours. It is as if everything is being done to scare people and push them to leave,” Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo wrote in a 17 July letter. “We want to convey a message of optimism, one that encourages perseverance,” he said...
How Gaza’s businesswomen are beating the blockade (The Week) Nine years under an Israeli economic blockade, which Egypt has intermittently enforced too, makes Gaza an unlikely place to find a thriving start-up sector. Parts of the coastal enclave remain devastated after last summer’s war, the worst in modern times, and the third in six years in this narrow strip on the Mediterranean Sea. Energy shortages mean there are only eight hours of electricity each day here and the lack of 3G service also hinders connectivity. Yet a couple of blocks up from the beachfront, a new generation of entrepreneurs is working to rival the regional start-up hubs of Amman, Cairo and Beirut. “We have some people in Gaza who are incredibly smart and are totally comparable to what you see elsewhere in the region,” says Iliana Montauk, director of the Gaza Sky Geeks start-up accelerator...
Tags: Syria Gaza Strip/West Bank Kerala Armenia Turkey