Net thuis van de Paasmis in ons klooster welke sinds twee jaar op initiatief van het Syrisch Orthodox Jongeren Platform georganiseerd wordt. De oude traditie herleeft en heeft hier en daar een moderner jasje aan. Het is voor sommigen misschien vreemd, raar of zelfs ongepast om voor de mis op zondagochtend het vasten te breken. Maar onze bisschop gaat voor en laat zien dat het kan. Immers, in het land van de voorouders was de viering van de heilige Eucharistie altijd midden in de nacht. Wat het SOJP heeft toegevoegd is een Nederlandse vertaling en hier en daar wat kleine aanpassingen om het beter te kunnen volgen.
Helaas is dit voor een deel van de gemeenschap een schending van de regels. Het is niet en zal nooit anders zijn: er zal altijd weerstand zijn tegen veranderingen in de kerk. Maar heel radicaal hoeft het roer ook niet om. En juist daar waar het schuurt zijn verbeteringen te behalen, en als je tot stil staan wordt gebracht, dan is het tijd voor reflectie.
Zoals de kerken van Urhoy (Edesa, nu sanliurfa) na te zijn verwoest in de vierde eeuw opnieuw zijn opgebouwd, en de Aramese christenen verder bouwden aan hun traditie, zo zullen er altijd tegenslagen zijn die we moeten overwinnen. In Sanliurfa worden sinds enkele decennia geen missen meer gehouden, maar hier en elders in de wereld wel.
Deze les haal ik uit deze Paasviering, onze traditie leeft maar heeft af en toe nieuw elan nodig. Ze is niet gebonden aan een tijd of plek. De kerk heeft veel veranderingen ondergaan, maar de kern is al bijna 2000 jaar hetzelfde, en die was ook afgelopen nacht enorm voelbaar.
Never again was the promise of European countries to each other, that no cause or economic dispute, would lead to the domination of one over the other and the destruction of lives and cultures. Almost 70 years have passed since the end of WWII and Europe has been at peace and prospered (aside from the crisis in the Yugoslavian Republic in the 90s). But today, the 20th of July 2014, we see the world around us burning. It is this day that I stopped reading my Twitter feed for the first time because I couldn’t control my anger and frustration anymore. I can’t read anything anymore on #mh17, #nigeria, #gaza, #israel, #syria and especially I feel all my positive energy flowing away as I can only fathom to understand what has happened in #mosul today. For the first time in maybe 1800 years, there is no Christian living in Mosul, Iraq.
Christians of various denominations and ethnicities build cities throughout the Fertile Crescent, sowed the fields, harvested the crops and tried to survive under Islamic rule. Some harsh spells aside, after the collapse of the Ottoman Republic they enjoyed modest religious freedoms. But for the first time in over 1600 years, no Sunday mass was celebrated in Mosul, as there is no church left anymore. The current war between Sunni’s and Shia’s has torn Syria and Iraq apart, and the various militant groups have made one thing absolutely clear: there is no future for Christians in Iraq or Syria. Christians have few options left: flee their homes, pay a djiza (special protection tax for non-Muslims), convert or die. They survived the Persian, Arabic and barbaric invasions that swept over their lands, but this storm is proving too strong, especially without allies coming to their aid. Their desperate pleas fell on deaf ears, and now they turn to the Kurds (the enemy during the First World War) for protection.
Mor Bar Hebraeus
But not all times were like these. There were times the Arab nobility and caliphs sought the wisdom held in the Christian monasteries, churches and schools in the Nineveh plains. Great polymaths like the Syrian Orthodox Maphrian Mor Gregorius Yuhana bar Hebreaus ( John Abu’l-Faraj) translated the works of Aristotle, Socrates and Plato from Greek to Syriac to Arabic in the 13th century. There were schools in Mosul where the teachings of Mor Jacob of Nisibin and his pupil Mor Ephrem the Syrian were passed on to each and every ruler who loved his own people and allowed them to benefit from the great corpus of Syriac literature and scientific knowledge. What the Islamic State is showing us is that they do not love peace. They do not love freedom and only seek hate and destruction. My frustration comes from the fact that the West did see it fit to remove Saddam Hussein from power, support groups that wanted to topple the Baathist regime of Assad in Syria, but fail to make a stand against a group that is far more evil and dangerous than anything the Middle East has seen before.
The people have fled their homes and are at the mercy of others. Mosul is in the darkest of its times and without its Christian population, will it ever see enlightenment again?
Yesterday I wrote about the Pope’s visit to Palestine and the strange moments Mahmoud Abbas shared with the Pontiff. Monday evening, it was Benjamin Netanyahu’s turn in trying to show some love towards the Christians of Israel. Maybe his mistake of claiming that Jesus spoke Hebrew is a bit less scary than Abass’ antics, but it is exemplary for the tough relationship between Israel and the Church, and between Jews and Christians. The Pope corrected Netanyahu and said that Jesus spoke Aramaic, which Netanyahu quickly confirmed and added “but he did know Hebrew”. As a native Aramaic speaker (more specifically Syriac, the Western Aramaic dialect of Edessa) I was thrilled to see Netanyahu getting his facts served right, but at the same time I realized that we as Christians have a very long way to go in safeguarding our culture and heritage when even the PM of Israel struggles with our history, although Arameans have always lived in Israel.
The struggle is deep, just moments after the Pope’s visit to the Church of the Dormition a fire was discovered in one of the rooms. A couple of wooden crosses and a book in which pilgrims inscribe prayers was lost. No persons were arrested but suspicions point to radical Jews who want to see Mount Zion ‘cleaned’ of non Hebrew influences. Another act radical Jews and Palestinians alike take part in is throwing rocks at people who ‘don’t belong’ in Jerusalem. I had to run for my life after an encounter with Palestinian kids on the Mountain of the Olives last year. These conservative orthodox Jews pose a big challenge for the Israeli government. Some of them don’t recognize the government and refuse to serve in the Israeli Defence Forces, although a lot of military personnel protect the settlements they live in. Read some of stories of ex-IDF soldiers on http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/
Recent changes in applying for military service made it possible for ‘Christian Arabs’ to join the ranks voluntarily. Some christian groups, mainly based in the West Bank, see this as a deliberate attempt by the government to split Christians. Others, like some Aramaic Christians I know personally, welcome this step and even petitioned the governemt a year ago to allow them to enlist. ‘It’s our country too and we need to make clear to everyone that we are not Arabs. This will help us’. It’s a small step in the emancipation of this small group but it’s an important one. Abraham said; ‘my father was a wandering Aramean’ and in the years after, the Syrian Orthodox especially, have always wandered and lived under various rulers. After the fall of city states such as Damascus the people learned how to survive and pass on their culture and identity to this very day. When I introduced myself as ‘Aramit’ to IDF staff at the airports and various checkpoints, their eyes widened and I was treated with admiration even.
The Pope maybe has opened the eyes of Israelis a little bit, but there are still a lot of fires raging threatening the presence of Christians and their culture and traditions. Much more work is needed, but with this Pope, I think we have an excellent advocate.
Pope Francis’ visit to Israel, Jordan and Palestine held a message of peace to the Middle East and the world, but the message PM Abbas of Palestine was awkward at its best. Last December he claimed that Jesus was a Palestinian “who brought the gospel and became a guide for millions worldwide, just as we, the Palestinians, are fighting for our freedom, 2,000 years later. We try to walk in his footsteps to the extent possible.” In his latest attempts to depict Jesus as the Che Guevera of the Palestinian cause, Abbas presented doctored images of famous paintings that try to depict the current suffering of the Palestinian people. An extensive article was written by Paul Alster for foxnews.com: www.foxnews.com/world/2014/05/25/outcry-as-palestinians-present-doctored-christianpaintings-on-papal-route/
How inappropriate these pictures may be, Abbas feels he’s free to use them and express his opinions to the world. I would not deny him this right, but only if he also would consider the same freedom and rights for his Christian countrymen. Two weeks ago I wrote about islamist groups profiling themselves in Bethlehem and Nazareth. By distorting the narrative of the Bible and the image of Christ, Abbas is aiding those who do not allow a Christian presence in the streets, towns and villages where not only Christianity began, but where millions of people travel to experience what it is like to truly walk in His footsteps.
Pope Francis has invited Abbas to visit the Vatican, I would also recommend to give him a crash course on Christianity.
A strange thing occurred in Bethlehem last Saturday: at the entrance to the Nativity Church a group calling itself ‘Dar assalam for introducing Islam’ was handing out free copies of the Quran and other books on Islam. There are two things that are unnerving: first, there is a mosque on the other side of Manger Square, and second, why does Islam need introduction in this particular part of the world? Tensions almost never cease to be high in Israel or the Palestinian Territories, however the remaining Christians could live in relative peace the past years. To the law, they are as mobile and free as their Palestinian countrymen. However, I cannot see this handing out of books in front of one of the most important and oldest churches in the world as nothing short of a provocation. I received comments from Bethlehem that ‘no Christian dares to hand out the Bible in front of a mosque’, and no official institution has commented on the matter since. It is not clear what the true purpose of this organization is, nor what it’s affiliations are. The pictures and texts on their FaceBook page (see link below) don’t seem provocative on first sight, but bear in mind the fragile position of Christians in the Middle East. Some fundamentalist are more subtle than others, but not less dangerous.
Of the 26.000 inhabitants of Bethlehem, some 4.000 are Christian. They are not only the caretakers of various important religious sites, but also the indigenous inhabitants of these lands. Christianity was born here, well before the Arabian conquest of the area. Ever since the first ‘introductions’ of Islam the Christians learned to cope with the constant fear for their safety and freedoms. Whether good or bad will come out of this book sharing organization remains to be seen. However, the West should always consider the religious freedoms of Christians when dealing with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, especially when the local authorities turn a blind eye.
Main source (in Arabic and with pictures): http://www.calam1.org/a/11159/
Update: signs have been posted by this and other organizations in places like Nazareth. The texts are not pro-Islam in nature, but more anti-Christian. See or
From my home in Enschede I can read, see and hear what goes around in this world. Although modern media are within a hand’s reach I also like to travel and learn more about this world we live in. I also like to share my views and thoughts on the matters which captivate me the most: Politics (I have served one term on the city council in Enschede), church (I am a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch) and society (because everything is tied together). Some older posts are only available in Dutch, I preserved them from my previous blog because I think they still hold relevance to these subjects. The views expressed here are my own and you are welcome to comment on them as long as you keep to the subject, not the person who wrote them.