The Advent season is the time when we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus. Isaiah 9:6 says:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Yet when we look at the Middle East today, peace seems to be absent, if not impossible to achieve. The brutal civil war in Syria, the destructive actions of ISIS, and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians are just a few reasons why peace seems so far away. This past week, President Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the Capital of Israel without regard for final status negotiations or the aspirations of the Palestinians, contributes to this chaos. Read more
In the season of Advent, the Christian community around the world anticipates with great expectation the birth of Christ. Yes, Christ came 2,000 years ago, but we observe his birth today to remember there are still areas of the world where it feels as though he has not yet come. There is still so much pain, suffering, and loss. It is easy to see the challenges and brokenness in the Holy Land, particularly the situation of Christians in the broader Middle East, as those types of places.
This Advent – as we observe a time of waiting and wondering in a world filled with very real pain, suffering, and loss – we invite you to Choose Hope. While optimism falters in the face of these realities, we know Christmas will arrive and Emmanuel, God with us, will be born. We Choose Hope not because we ignore the realities of pain and conflict, but because we know that Emmanuel walks with us as we do the work of peace and justice God has called all of us to do. Read more
Submitted by a CMEP Partner
What images come to mind when you hear the words “little town of Bethlehem”? Idyllic, holy scenes of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus alongside friendly barnyard animals? For a North American living in Bethlehem, this cozy scene feels like a childhood dream. The reality of Bethlehem today disrupts such heart-warming visions with disturbing sights. For those who manage to get off the tourist track and visit the real Bethlehem, the image grows dim with three refugee camps, lack of access to natural resources and no freedom of movement for the city’s residents due in part to the separation barrier, constructed in 2002. And yet, like anywhere else, the people here feel a deep connection to and pride in their hometown.
The people of Bethlehem claim a hometown heritage stretching back thousands of years, documented in the Christian Bible and celebrated around the world by people who sing of its significance as the place where God arrived in human form on earth. For today’s Bethlehemites, geo-political realities of the past few centuries have added a heritage of pain that reaches back beyond the earliest memories of the city’s elders. Understandably, a narrative of pain and hopelessness consumes many. Read more
The organic farm on which the Tent of Nations project runs is known as ‘Daher’s Vineyard’. Owned by the Nassar family, this land stretches 100 acres and is situated 9km southwest of Bethlehem. Since 1991, the family has been fighting a legal battle to keep hold of the land since it was classified as ‘Israeli State Land’ and thus threatened with confiscation. The struggle is ongoing. However, with a commitment to peaceful resistance and through the solidarity of those who have visited the land, much has been achieved. Tent of Nations continues to work to protect and develop the farm as a place where people can meet, learn, work together, and inspire one another. Read more
Mosaic in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
The sun kissed the tips of cathedral crosses. It was just after 5 a.m. Shadows shortened as we walked the narrow streets towards the gates of the Old City. Our local Palestinian guide shouldered our large, wooden cross. Fellow U.S. travelers held solemn prayers that carried the promise of a full day dawning in Jerusalem.
This was the Sunday that twenty-eight of us had crossed the Atlantic to experience. We yearned for the geographical reality and spiritual grace in the Land of the Bible. This was the early light that guided our steps as we would pray through the Way of the Cross where Jesus Christ was forced to his own crucifixion during Roman times.
We continued silently moving single file past unopened shops. Once in a while, looming iron gates connected imposing, modern rock walls as we approached Herod’s gate that would allow us into the Old City. Both sides of the street blocked us out, yet gave us glimpses of random ruins peaking above the soil beyond these walls. Some places had been excavated sixteen feet below to expose Herod’s roads and walls in Jesus’ time. These old rock walls and roads were coffins holding onto the past. Even coffins eroded like shifting sands. Where were those roads heading? What were these walls blocking in or out? What’s in our nature that still wants to build a wall? We kept walking as I reviewed in my mind each sorrowful Station of the Cross: Jesus was judged. He received His Cross. He fell for the first time. Jesus met His mother. Simon of Cyrene helped Him carry the Cross. Veronica wiped Jesus’ brow. He fell for the second time. He talked to the weeping women. He fell for the third time. He was stripped of his garments. Jesus was crucified. He died on the Cross. Jesus’ body was taken down from the Cross. Jesus’ body was placed in the Tomb. In a way, I felt humanity had walked this mystical path for centuries by carrying burdens in our cracked feet and ailing hearts. We were all citizens of Jerusalem, yet were caught together in a net of dire conflict and contradictory justice. Today we would physically move as one body through the painful stages that led to ultimate healing and Jesus’ resurrection. We were searching for the outward, visible signs that pointed to Christ’s inward, spiritual grace.
Above: Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem
Joint Statement from the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches
“Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed…” Isaiah 1.17
In July 2017, we, the heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, were compelled to issue a public statement of concern regarding breaches of the Status Quo that governs the Holy Sites and ensures the rights and privileges of the Churches. This Status Quo is universally recognised by both religious authorities and governments, and has always been upheld by the civil authorities of our region.
We now find ourselves united once again in condemning recent further encroachment on the Status Quo. In such matters as this, the Heads of the Churches are resolute and united in our opposition to any action by any authority or group that undermines those laws, agreements, and regulations that have ordered our life for centuries.
There have been further actions that are a clear breach of the Status Quo. The judgement in the “Jaffa Gate” case against the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which we regard as unjust, as well as a proposed bill in the Knesset which is politically motivated that would restrict the rights of the Churches over our own property, are further assaults on the rights that the Status Quo has always guaranteed.
We see in these actions a systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and to weaken the Christian presence. We affirm in the clearest possible terms that a vital, vibrant Christian community is an essential element in the make-up of our diverse society, and threats to the Christian community can only increase the troubling tensions that have emerged in these turbulent times.
Such attempts to undermine the Christian community of Jerusalem and the Holy Land do not affect one Church only; they affect us all, and they affect Christians and all people of good will around the world. We have always been faithful to our mission to ensure that Jerusalem and the Holy Sites are open to all, without distinction or discrimination, and we are unanimous in our support of the actions, including a High Court appeal, against the judgement in the “Jaffa Gate” case and in our opposition to any proposed law that would restrict the rights of the Churches over our properties.
We therefore, as those to whom Divine Providence has entrusted the care of both the Holy Sites and the pastoral oversight of the living, indigenous Christian communities of the Holy Land, call upon our fellow Church leaders and faithful around the world, as well as the heads of governments, and all people of good will, to support us in order to ensure that no further attempts are made from any quarter to change the historical Status Quo and its provisions and spirit.
We cannot stress strongly enough the very serious situation that this recent systematic assault on the Status Quo has had on the integrity of Jerusalem and on the well-being of the Christian communities of the Holy Land, as well as on the stability of our society.
We, the Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, stand resolutely together in working for reconciliation and for a just and lasting peace in our region, and we ask God’s blessings on all the peoples of our beloved Holy Land.
The Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem
+Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
+Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate +Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator, Latin Patriarchate +Fr. Francesco Patton, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
+Archbishop Anba Antonious, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem +Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Aba Embakob, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate +Archbishop Mosa El-Hage, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate
+Archbishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East +Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land +Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
+Msgr. Georges Dankaye’, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
We thank you for the work of your Spirit in the city of Jerusalem, from the time of the disciples until today. We know that amid strife and conflict you are still moving. We pray for the church leaders and Christians in the Holy Land, and especially in Jerusalem. Give them peace and perseverance in the face of trials and give them hope in the face of conflict. At a time when Christian presence in the Middle East dwindles, we pray that you would strengthen and encourage those who remain. Help us who are distant from conflict to continue in prayer and to pursue justice with our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem and beyond. Let us all be united in the task of bearing witness to your love.
In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Photo and prayer by Michael Santulli
Michael Santulli is a research intern at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).
CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.
Thy Kingdom Come
By Elli Atchison and Molly Lorden
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5: 1-10
Jesus was no stranger to the Kingdom of God. He began his earthly ministry proclaiming his purpose to bring good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:17-18). He lived his earthly life doing all of these things. After he departed to heaven he sent the same Spirit that anointed him to us, on the day of Pentecost. Today, Christians around the world celebrate the sending of the Spirit, because it is through the Spirit that we follow Jesus in proclaiming the Kingdom of God on earth.
The Dead Sea, which, in fact, contains life. Things are not always as they seem. Photo: Kyle Anderson Photography
Jesus did not come to immediately bring an end to sadness and suffering or poverty and injustice. He did not come to overthrow a government or to end political occupations. He came to show us a better way to live, amidst the many tribulations that plague our world. He came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God on earth, and to invite us to live by its rules here and now. Read more
Jesus Was No Stranger to Persistent Hope
Written by Molly Lorden
Sea of Galilee. Photo: Kyle Anderson Photography
“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.”
Luke 24: 1-10
Early in the morning, a group of women, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others, walked to the tomb where Jesus had been buried. I imagine them walking in silence, some of them with tears running down their cheeks, others in a daze. Their eyes are still adjusting to the morning light. One of them is carrying the spices they had prepared the night before, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. As they approach the tomb, they see the stone rolled away. This, in and of itself, would be cause for alarm. Who had been there before them? They cautiously walk into the tomb and find it empty. What happens next would cause anyone to be terrified. Two men in dazzling clothes (AKA angels) stood beside them and began to speak to them. These heavenly beings remind the women what Jesus had told them about how he would rise again on the third day. Immediately after their conversation, the women return to the eleven disciples and tell them everything that had happened. Hallelujah! What terrific news! Read more
Jesus Was No Stranger to Persecution and Pain
Written by Elli Atchison and Molly Lorden
“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’”
Luke 23: 44-47
Jesus was no stranger to persecution and pain. Though he was unjustly accused and tried in court, “Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge” (Matt. 27:12). He faced an angry mob who chanted for his death, even though the ruling governor found him to be innocent. He was handed over to Roman soldiers who brutally flogged his flesh, beat his body, and mocked his holy name. Finally, Jesus endured the shame of a criminal’s death by hanging on a cross. (Matt. 27:12-44)
Throughout this evil tribulation he never once defended himself. He could have called on his Father to send more than twelve legions of angels to defend him (Matt. 26:53). But he did not. He did not raise his hand or even his voice in self defense. His meekness was the truest sign of strength that the world will ever know.
Checkpoint in Hebron. Photo: Kyle Anderson Photography
It is difficult to find a place where the conflict is more palpable, than in the city of Hebron, in the West Bank. A Jewish settlement was established within the city almost 50 years ago. The settlers are a small minority of Hebron’s population, but their presence is strongly felt and heavily protected. At any given time, there may be hundreds of soldiers patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints within the city. The Palestinian people’s movements are closely watched and restricted. There are separate streets, like Al-Shuhada in the heart of the Old City, that Palestinians are not allowed use. And despite the powerful military presence in Hebron, Jewish settlers are actually permitted to openly carry large weapons as they move freely throughout the city. Read more
Jesus Was No Stranger to Humble Service
Written by Molly Lorden
“Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”
Jesus was no stranger to humble service. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus continually putting aside his privilege to care for others out of humility. When tempted by Satan in the wilderness, he put aside his ability to be rescued by angels, and to turn rocks into food (Luke 4:1-13). Immediately after this, he returned to Galilee to begin his earthly ministry, proclaiming the good news to the least of these, and healing the sick. Once again, he shows us what it means to humbly serve. Knowing who he is, and what was to happen, his response was to serve his disciples, even the one who would deny him only hours later. He humbled himself to the status of the lowest servant in the house, washing the grime and muck from a day of walking off of the disciples’ feet. Read more