Have you ever walked into a place and immediately became aware of its sacredness? I remember standing outside Seville Cathedral in Spain a year ago; it was nine in the morning and I was waiting to enter the doors amongst a mass of people. The city was alive and buzzing around me as I stood. Thanks to a little luck and good planning, I was able to be one of the first people into the cathedral. The second I walked through the doors I could think, breathe, and be. My face turned towards the heavens, following the sound of my footfalls as they echoed up into the highest arches. I could smell the remnants of incense that had been carried through the grand halls, welcoming the Divine to this place. At this moment I understood why these places are called sanctuaries. I understood the desire to be shielded from the world in its strong walls, surrounded by reminders of the holy.
Yet, sanctuary, this sacred and peaceful word comes with baggage. It implies that these holy places are confined, restricted, and separate. I think this does a disservice to both our world and its Creator. I believe that holy spaces surround us… Read more
“I finally understand the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” – Mother Theresa
This is the hardest it has ever been for me to board a plane. I usually run towards the metal bird, eager to begin my journey, but this time my feet drag, slowed by the tear my heart furthered with every step… Step. Remember the bustling souq. Step. Remember the warmth of the hugs from Mom and Dad and Bubba. Step. Remember the depth of the conversations I had here. Step. Remember the laughter of friends in the States. Step. Remember the spontaneity of life in the Middle East. Step. Remember the joys of going to school at Calvin. Step. Remember the amazing smells of spices, incense, and perfumes. Step. Remember vegetables? Step. Remember the sheer class of the abaya and dishdasha. Step. Remember the comfort of jeans. Step. Remember the ways this place helped you grow. Step. Remember that learning is not limited to places or spaces; now it’s your turn to share what you learned with others. Step.
Our classroom is hot. It’s hard to focus. We’ve begun to notice the increasing temperatures outside that hint at the impending heat of summer. Our professor, Ustaadha Latifa, senses our drifting thoughts and makes her way across the whitewashed room and to the window. Her black abaya sways with each step, creating the illusion of floating, which, when paired with her petite frame, is easy to believe. She unlocks the window and allows fresh air into the room. As the breeze flows in, it brings with it the distant sound of the call for prayer, a welcome melody that has been too far from my hearing for too long. I close my eyes for a brief moment and simply listen. I feel the air involuntarily leave my lungs in a satisfied exhale, the kind that only happens in moments of deep contentment. This moment, hearing the call for prayer for the first time since I moved to Ibri, reminds me of our group’s week of prayer back in Muscat…
The sound of devoted believers raises me to consciousness. I don’t have to open my eyes to know it’s 5:30 am and dark outside. I am informed of these facts simply by listening to both my internal clock and the calls for prayer echoing throughout the city. What would it be like to be one of the devoted who wake up every day before 5:30 and make their way to the mosque; those who turn towards Mecca again at mid-morning, noon, mid-day, and sunset? Read more
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
In my time here, I have met many incredible individuals who face the impossible realities of occupation. Providing for their communities, families, and yearning for freedom, I am inspired by the power of the individual in the midst of this intractable conflict.
In this session, Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, CMEP’s executive director, speaks with His Eminence Archobishop Angaelos. On 18 November 2017, His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos was enthroned as the first Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London. He specializes in advocacy work and youth ministry and travels around the world to speak at youth conventions. He was conferred the honor of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Her Majesty The Queen for ‘Services to International Religious Freedom.’
God of mercy and compassion, of grace and reconciliation, pour your power upon all your children in the Middle East: Jews, Muslims and Christians, Palestinians and Israelis. Let hatred be turned into love, fear to trust, despair to hope, oppression to freedom, occupation to liberation, that violent encounters may be replaced by loving embraces, and peace and justice could be experienced by all. – Reverend Said
Father Elias Khoury is a Palestinian Citizen of Israel from the Northern Israeli city of Haifa, where he was raised in the Greek Orthodox Christian community. He graduated from the National School for Practical Engineers from Technion Israel Institute of Technology and then started his engineering career. Fr. Khoury was ordained to the priesthood in 2002 and served until 2011 as an assistant priest in St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Acre, Israel. From 2006 to 2011 he served as secretary and member of the Greek Orthodox Ecclesiastical Tribunal that handles family law matters for the Greek Orthodox community in the Holy Land. He earned a Bachelor of Law degree, LBA, from Ono Academic College in Kiryat Ono, Israel, and a Masters degree in Theological Studies, at the Hellenic College – Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, Massachusetts. Since 2014 he has served as the parish priest at St. Patrick Greek Orthodox Church in Jadeidi Village near Acre. He also holds a position as a culture and religion teacher at Bairuni High School in the village. In his pastoral role, he focuses on interfaith engagement with Muslim religious leaders in Jadeidi, as well as improving community access to theological education through the establishment of an Orthodox church library. He is married with three children.
In the spirit of Father Khoury’s interfaith work and engagement, this week’s prayer comes from Rabbi Sheila Weinberg:
Two peoples, one land, Three faiths, one root, One earth, one mother, One sky, one beginning, one future, one destiny, One broken heart, One God. We pray to You: Grant us a vision of unity. May we see the many in the one and the one in the many. May you, Life of All the Worlds, Source of All Amazing Differences help us to see clearly. Guide us gently and firmly toward each other, toward peace.
V. Rev. Fr. Hrant Tahanian was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec. His great-grandparents were survivors of the Armenian Genocide. After graduating from Soorp Hagop Armenian School in Montreal, he continued his studies in Pure & Applied Sciences at Collège Montmorency, in Laval. He then travelled to the Armenian Orthodox Seminary in Lebanon (the only such institution that survived the total destruction of Western-Armenia, and relocated to Lebanon), where he finished his B.A. in Armenological & Theological Studies. After being ordained a priest, according to the 17 centuries old tradition of the Armenian Church, he served in the Catholicosate of Cilicia in Lebanon, as director of the Cilicia Museum. In 2012, he was appointed to be the pastor of St. Gregory Armenian Church in Vancouver, where he served the community for 5 years, whilst working on a M.A. in Theology at the Vancouver School of Theology (UBC). In 2017, he was appointed to be the Ecumenical and Inter-religious Officer the Catholicosate of Cilicia in Lebanon, where he now lives.
God of all creation, bring justice and peace to our world. Teach us to be peacemakers. Guide us in our pursuit of justice and the common good. Inspire us to welcome all, forgive all, and love all. Direct us as we walk in the shadow of Jesus: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Inspire us to perceive the world through your eyes, that we might find hope and joy each day, supportive of each other, for the sake of your Kingdom. Amen.
Rev. Najla Kassab is President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) and Director of the Christian Education Department for the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL). She received her Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1990. In 1993 Rev. Kassab received the first preaching license offered to a woman by NESSL. In March 2017, she became the second woman to be ordained as a minister in NESSL. She lives with her husband, Joseph Kassab, and three children in Beirut, and her work takes her frequently to Syria.
Creator God, who knows our fears and trepidations, guide us with your presence as we seek to be companions to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. Give the people faith that better days lie ahead, and inspire them to unity in the face of injustice and oppression. Let us pray that soon the day will come when nations will reach out to each other rather than rise up against each other.We ask that you preserve the unity of families, the innocence of children, and the courage of parents. We ask that God accompany the people of the whole region as they seek a period in which kingdoms and republics alike base relationships on mutuality rather than fear, and on the future rather than the past. Amen.
In this session, Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, CMEP’s executive director, speaks with Fr. Ramzi Sidawi OFM. He was born in Jerusalem in 1972. At the conclusion of his maturity studies he entered the Order of Friars Minor where he took his first vows in the year 1996 and the Solemn ones in the year 2000. After completing his formation and studies in Theology, he received Priestly Ordination in 2002, he spent a short period of service in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Transferred to Rome to complete his studies in Dogmatic Theology at the Pontifical University Antonianum, he graduated in 2006 and defended the doctoral thesis in 2010. While preparing to defend the thesis, he was appointed parish priest of the Parish of Saint Anthony of Padua in Jaffa – Tel Aviv, Israel. Along with this assignment, he also began teaching Dogmatic Theology in the Studium Theologicum Jerosolymitanum in Jerusalem. From 2013 to 2016 he was director of the Terra Santa Boys School in Jerusalem and from 2016 he is the General Administrator of the Custody of the Holy Land.
God, Grant us grace in abundance. The land of our Lord’s life and
ministry is filled with violence, fear, and want. As followers of Jesus
Christ, we wish to come together for good and for your glory. Grant us
mercy as we share our pains, fears, and aspirations, that we may listen
and better understand our brothers and sisters in Christ, while we
pursue peace, justice, and restoration. May the walls that divide be
turned, becoming a table by which we seek communion with one another,
and with you. In this spirit of unity, we pray together the prayer of
humble access: We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful
Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your abundant mercy. We
are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table. But
you are the same Lord whose eternal nature is to have mercy. Grant us
therefore, gracious Lord, that we may eat the flesh of thy dear Son
Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may continually dwell in
him, and he in us. Amen.
The next day the large crowd that had come to the Passover Festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the King of Israel!” Jesus found a donkey and rode on it, just as the scripture says, “Do not be afraid, city of Zion! Here comes your king, riding on a young donkey.” His disciples did not understand this at the time; but when Jesus had been raised to glory, they remembered that the scripture said this about him and that they had done this for him. John 12:12-16
The worldwide Easter celebration among Christians begins with the triumphal entry of the Prince of Peace into the holy city. Recognizing the true identity of Jesus as Messiah alongside fellow worshippers is a communal act that bolsters unity in the body of Christ. Over my years living in the Holy Land, I have witnessed scenes of global unity in Christ on the streets of Jerusalem. On Palm Sunday, local Palestinian, Israeli, and visiting Christians ascend the Mount of Olives and walk among the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Thousands of Christian pilgrims representing countries all over the world wave palm fronds and sing praises in different languages while marching down across the valley and into the Old City of Jerusalem. It is by far one of the most joyful scenes in Jerusalem each year.Read more