Entries with tag middle east .

Abducted Syrian Bishops Serve as Models of Christian Service

This month marked four years since two Christian hierarchs were abducted at gunpoint in Syria. While Metropolitan Paul of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and Bishop John, the Syriac Orthodox bishop of Aleppo, were en route from Antioch to Aleppo, they were stopped by unknown assailants and taken hostage. The deacon driving their car was shot and killed.

The bishops’ whereabouts and status remain unknown. As Syria has been embroiled in a devastatingly violent and multifaceted civil war since 2011, various factions immediately blamed each other for the abductions.

The extended disappearance of the bishops has had a marked and heart-rending effect on the Christian population both in Syria and around the world. Both men were known as prominent and dedicated clerics in their communities.

And there’s one more important detail to the story that I haven’t mentioned yet.

The bishops were returning from a humanitarian mission when they were kidnapped.

In today’s charged political climate, much of the conversation here in the United States and in Europe centers on security over humanity and dignity. Civil authorities endlessly debate the merits of offering humanitarian aid and of safe haven in our own communities, particularly to the victims of violence in the Middle East.

Metropolitan Paul and Bishop John, both residents of Aleppo, probably knew better than anybody how dangerous it was to venture out past their front gates and into the world. And yet they did it anyway.

They took their Christian role as servants very seriously, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

The bishops could easily have decided that it would have been too risky to travel. They could very well have remained secure in their homes, offices and cathedrals.

But they didn’t. They went out into the world to serve.

As Christians, our ambition is to follow the example of Jesus; to live a Life in Christ.

And though we still do not know where Meropolitan Paul and Bishop John are, their service reminds us that our individual and collective potential for helping others is far greater than the power of death.

Indeed, the anniversary of their abduction during this Paschal season emphasizes the power of Christ in the world. Christians, after all, are not deterred by danger; we go out into the world and open the doors to our communities in service for many.

Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the U.N. for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.


Arduous Journeys Across Seas and Deserts

Let’s say you had to move away. Actually, let’s say you had to move far away—like, outside-of-your-country far away.

In this scenario, the economy has gotten so bad that nobody—not even the most skilled individuals—can find work anymore. If you want to live comfortably or even put food on your table, you’ll have to go elsewhere.

Or, you grew up in a low-income family, but you studied hard, defied all expectations and earned a spot at the best university in the world, located somewhere across the sea. This is an incredible opportunity that would forever change your life and that of your family.

Or, there’s violent civil war in your country. The most recent election was hotly contested and the military staged a coup in an attempt to retain power and maintain civil order, pitting faction against faction and neighbor against neighbor. There are bullet holes in your windows and the inside of your house is covered in dust and dirt from the constant artillery shelling in the city. There’s no more electricity and tap water, and several of your family members have already died.

So, what would you do in each of those situations? Would you actually leave?

Those are only a few of the many reasons people might choose to become migrants and leave their homes. Sometimes it’s a conscious choice to leave, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes, the reason for leaving is positive and happy, and sometimes (more often, actually) the reason is not so optimistic.

Right now, at this very moment, there are more forcibly displaced people than there have been since World War II. Many are “refugees,” who were actually able to leave their country in search of new homes and communities where they can live and learn and work. Others are internally displaced, and aren’t able to reach safety outside of their homeland.

or people who didn’t really have a choice when it came to staying or leaving—who probably don’t want to leave but are now looking for new homes and communities where they can live and learn and work.

Tragically, many of them don’t ever reach asylum. Thousands die while trying to reach safety via dangerous land and sea routes just in the last few years.

If you did have to move away—far away—how would you want people to think about you? How would you want them to treat you?

The next time you hear about migrants or refugees in the news or in politics, think about the reality of the situation for these people and their actual lives. Should you welcome them into your community with open arms and understanding (like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau famously did)?

Or, should you reject them on the basis of that they might be dangerous (which isn’t really true)?

In reality, it’s the migrants who have usually faced danger—leaving behind family, friends, relationships and any sense of normalcy to make their way across treacherous terrain in order to reach the border that promises safety.

Which means that migrants are some of the most courageous, resilient and resourceful people on the planet. They are more than people in need—they are people wanting to give and make a meaningful contribution to society.

After all, remember what the most famous refugee, Jesus Christ, went on to do.

International Migrants Day is on Dec. 18. The International Organization for Migration is calling on the international community to come together and remember the refugees and migrants who have lost their lives or have disappeared while trying to reach safe harbor after arduous journeys across seas and deserts.

Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the U.N. for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the U.N. (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.


Pilgrimage or Visit, Aramaic or Hebrew, Francis or Bibi? Jesus, the Languages of His Times, and the Politics of the Media

It was disappointing and dispiriting to see that the American media largely chose to ignore the participation of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the Apostolic Pilgrimage of Brothers that took place in the Holy Land in May.  The meetings between Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis, during the May 23-27 pilgrimage—marking the fiftieth anniversary of the first meeting between Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI in Jerusalem, the historic audience that initiated the modern dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, formally separated since the schism of 1054—represented one of the most important ecclesiastical summits to have taken place in the Christian world in the last half century.  Yet, the Orthodox Church was largely written out of the popular media’s narrative, as was the actual purpose, of the joint Papal-Patriarchal pilgrimage—an official reaffirmation and renewal of the ecumenical dialogue between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. 

The media widely packaged the pilgrimage as “the Pope’s Trip to the Middle East” or “the Pope’s Visit to the Holy Land,” a unilateral junket rather than a bilateral ecclesiastical summit, and a decidedly political, more than a religious, journey.  Indeed, the mainstream media’s approach left the public with the impression that Pope Francis’ counterpart and partner during the pilgrimage was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) rather than Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  Most of the American reportage from Jerusalem overlooked entirely the ecclesiastical dimensions of the pilgrimage, to focus on Francis’ show of support for the Palestinian cause, his calls for resolution of the Middle East’s multiple conflicts through peace, and Netanyahu’s irritation with the Pope’s pronouncements and actions.

The strain between Francis and Netanyahu came out into the open during a tense public exchange between the Israeli prime minister and the Pope over the language spoken by Jesus.  Despite efforts to reframe the incident as good natured, the very undiplomatic verbal sparring was immediately seized upon by the media as the most provocative moment of the pilgrimage, even perhaps eclipsing Francis’ apparent impromptu stop to pray at the controversial Israeli-built wall that isolates and cuts into the occupied West Bank. 

During a seated discussion between Francis and Netanyahu in Jerusalem on May 26, the Pope listened through a translator to Israel’s Prime Minister as he began speaking on the relationship between Christianity and Judaism.  Francis listened intently until the point when Netanyahu said, “Jesus was here, in this land.  He spoke Hebrew.”  Francis looked displeased, interrupted Netanyahu, and corrected the Prime Minister with a curt response: “He spoke Aramaic.”  Flustered, but with a firm retort, Netanyahu insisted, “He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew.”

On its surface, the edgy disagreement over what language Jesus spoke may have seemed pedantic, the stuff of endless debate and speculative interest for historians and linguists.  In reality, for Francis and Netanyahu, their passionate responses to this question were not the product of some sort of arcane academic squabble.  Instead, both men reacted as they did because they understand this issue is a gravely serious and consequential matter loaded with political import. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertions about Jesus’ language were driven by a political agenda.  Specifically, Netanyahu made his comment to emphasize the point that the historic Jesus was a Jew who lived in the land of Israel centuries before the appearance of modern Arab Palestinians.  Netanyahu’s statement was meant to implicitly promote his view that Palestinians—Christian and Muslim alike—are interlopers in all of the lands west of the Jordan River, with no compelling historical link or right to such territory.  Francis reacted strongly to Netanyahu’s claims about Jesus’ spoken language, not merely because Netanyahu was factually incorrect.  Francis abruptly interrupted Netanyahu’s soliloquy because he discerned, and was upset by, Netanyahu’s effort to distort and exploit the historical Jesus and his language for political purposes.  In short, the Pope’s reaction was not simply a nit-picking correction of an historical mistake.  It was an act of political defiance, with Francis breaking polite diplomatic convention in order to communicate clearly to Netanyahu that he would not tolerate such manipulation of Christ in history.    

As to the question of Jesus’ language, the historical evidence and the scholarly consensus are clear.  Centuries before the time of Christ, Aramaic—a Semitic language closely related to both Arabic and Hebrew, surviving today as Syriac, a dialect of the ancient language spoken by many Eastern Christians in the Levant—had flourished, becoming the most common language in the Near East, outside Egypt.  That Jesus spoke Aramaic as his native language is virtually indisputable.  That Jesus may have had more than a superficial knowledge of Hebrew is possible, but uncertain. 

Although some Jews continued to speak Hebrew as their vernacular language during the time of Christ, most probably in parts of Judea, the language had dramatically receded to a largely liturgical role in Jewish society by the first century AD.  Indeed, by the first century, more Jews, especially in Jesus’ native Galilee, spoke Greek than Hebrew.  This fact did not find its way into the disagreement between Pope Francis and Prime Minister Netanyahu, neither, not surprisingly, was it something recalled by the media.  This blog’s next posting will focus on the Greek spoken by Jesus.   

Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.

Middle East Tragedy: Channeling Basketball Commentator Johnny Most

In a recent article published online withThe Huffington Post, Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou suggests that basketball experts could teach us a thing or two about the endgame of the jihadi group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), whose forces have been closing in on Baghdad for some time now.  In the words of the late Celtics announcer, Johnny Most, ISIS has been patiently waging a deadly war, fiddling and diddling between Damascus, the historical seat of the Ummayad caliphate, and now, Baghdad, where the Abbasid Dynasty ruled over a caliphate for half a millennium. The future for Christians, other small religious communities, and Muslims who refuse to live in a sharia state, looks bleak. For the full article, A Basketball Guide to Middle East News, go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-elizabeth-h-prodromou/a-basketball-guide-to-mid_b_5507894.html

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