The Unknown Saint of Armenia – The Devout and Beautiful Hrispime
Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon
During my September 2022 travels to Armenia, I had the opportunity to visit ancient churches and learn about the oldest Christian State. Armenia’s king converted to Christianity and made Christianity the state religion in the early 4th century. Proud of their Christian lineage, the Armenian Orthodox Church centers the community around the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, considered by many to be the oldest cathedral in the world. Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Ecumenical Director and Diocesan Legate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) led our delegation from Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). Our purpose was to learn about the late 19th and early 20th century of genocide against the Armenians and to have a better understanding of the current conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. I did not expect how spiritually moving I would find our pilgrimage, which included the sharing of some of the early stories of faithfulness and deeply rooted Christian faith in the ancient country of Armenia.
My favorite piece of Armenian history is that of Saint Hripsime (pronounced Rip-se-may). Hripsime lived during the third century, a beautiful woman who escaped from the clutches of an evil emperor in Rome and committed herself to live a simple life of Christian mission in response to her love of Christ.
The Work of Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem
By: Father John Paul, Rector of Tantur
The Tantur Ecumenical Institute can trace its foundation to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s. Few people realize that this historic Council had a number of Protestant theologians and church leaders serving as “observers” as well as advisors to those writing the documents of this Council, especially on Ecumenism. The momentum in ecumenical dialog and conversation was further enhanced in 1964 with the historic meeting, in Jerusalem, between Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Beatitude Athanagoras. Flowing out of that meeting was the desire to found (in Jerusalem) a center for theological study, dialogue, and research that would continue to build bridges of understanding and reconciliation between the various churches in Western Europe as well as the Orthodox and Oriental Churches in the East. Thus, the Vatican was able to obtain from the Knights of Malta a hilltop overlooking Bethlehem and establish this Ecumenical Center.
Learning Through Experience
By: Debbie Dean
Do dreams really come true? Well, mine did! On January 3, 2023, I boarded a plane bound for Tel Aviv. Bucket list item #1…check. I booked this tour a year and a half prior and told anyone who would listen that I was going to The Holy Land: I was going to Israel.
I have a very dear friend, Hassan, who is an American of Palestinian descent. In the Summer of 2022, my husband and I were on our way to Arkansas with Hassan and his wife Jennifer to see their son play baseball. During that long drive, I told them the news that I would be going to Israel on a pilgrimage to The Holy Land.
Hassan snapped his head around and glared at me as though I had just cursed his mother. Jennifer quickly interceded with, “She is going to The Holy Land… It’s a tour of The Holy Land.” I couldn’t understand Hassan’s reaction, so I asked him to explain, and he proceeded to tell me of how his grandparents were forced to leave their homes and businesses. He relayed to me the stories his mother would tell of how they were able to bring very few possessions, which were put in the back of a truck and taken to Jordan. Hassan’s mother knew she was born in January, but her birth certificate was left behind with the rest of her family’s belongings, so she never knew the day. I could not imagine these things happening; I did not know the history of Palestine and some things he was telling me just weren’t sinking in. Hassan told me to simply go on the trip and see for myself. He said that when I returned, we would talk.
What I saw and learned on that trip was beyond my imagination. On the first day of our trip, we were in Bethlehem. Tensions were very high throughout the entire city. We would find out later that this was because a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. The unarmed child was killed because he did not respond to the soldier’s command fast enough. We were told about the different license plate colors, one for Palestinian cars and one for Israeli cars, and the problems these plates can create for border crossings. We were told that many Palestinian families keep the keys to their old homes, which they were forced to leave decades ago, in the hopes that they will someday be allowed to return. This simple idea of keeping keys filled me with such sadness, hopelessness, and despair. I learned about the Nakbah, where military forces entered Palestinian homes and forced the inhabitants to leave, while new families moved into these same houses under the watchful protection of the same forces.
The Work of the World Council of Churches in Jerusalem
By: Yusef Daher – Coordinator of the WCC Jerusalem Liaison Office*
The World Council of Churches’ Jerusalem-based programs include the very successful Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine Israel (WCC-EAPPI) which was created in 2002, based on a letter and an appeal from local church leaders to create an international presence in the country. EAPPI is a continuous presence of 25-30 Ecumenical Accompaniers on the ground who serve for three months in accompanying, offering protective presence, and witness. There are now almost 2000 former Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs), of whom many keep involved and interested in working towards a just peace in Palestine and Israel. These former EAs have served, lived and accompanied communities in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, North West Bank and the Jordan Valley throughout these years. This has meant monitoring checkpoints, accompanying children to school in front of a settlement, or accompanying field owners and shepherds to their lands within closed military zones or behind the separation barrier.
Lessons Learned Through the Nassar Farm
By: Rev. Charlie Lewis, Co-Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Snohomish, Washington
The day I met Daoud Nassar and the Nassar family, I felt an instant connection. Land is something sacred to Palestinians and, having grown up on a third-generation family farm, I have experienced the sacredness of the land as well. The Nassar’s grandfather instilled in his family a keen awareness that the land is a part of their identity, that they belong to the land. When I hear Daoud or his family speak about their land, it seems like they are referring to a member of their own family.
The Nassars founded the Tent of Nations, a peace project established in 2001 on a portion of their 100 acres of grape, apple, olive, almond, and fig trees about six miles southwest of Bethlehem in the West Bank. The land, purchased by their family in 1916, has been cultivated for over 100 years, passing down responsibility from generation to new generation. For over three decades, Daoud (Arabic for David) has been involved in a David-and-Goliath struggle to hold onto the land through active, non-violent means.
May Prayers from CMEP Team
By: The team at CMEP
We at CMEP believe in putting faith into action; in the pursuit of justice and peace, it is important to remember that prayer is action. We want to encourage all to join us in praying over the Middle East, and over the different issues that weigh heavy on our hearts. Below are some of the thoughts and prayers from CMEP staff. Please be encouraged to add your own prayers below this blog in the “comments” section.
Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, Executive Director:
When I was in Palestine last, a fog came over Bethlehem where it was hard to see where you were going. This picture (right) is the road to Beit Jala heading up the hill. The fog felt so synonymous to what hope looks like right now. We can barely see it in the distance. Pray that darkness would clear and peace would find a way forward. Pray for hope to manifest and justice to prevail.
Jennifer Maidrand, Outreach Manager
Creator God–God of sun and wind and water and fire, God of land–we thank you for the gift of life that we all have been given today. With the breath of your spirit in our lungs, we cry out to you, oh Lord, for justice. We pray specifically that the Nassar family’s court date will be heard on Monday and that their family will be allowed to re-register for their land. God of the oppressed, we pray that you strengthen the Nassar family and those throughout Palestine, Gaza, and Israel who have committed themselves to loving their enemies and working fervently for justice. Equip and sustain us to continue knocking on the door of justice. For all who have had to battle for their land and their home, for all the children who have died before their time, for the soldiers who allow their uniform to strip them of their humanity, for the healers who are denied the opportunity to use their gifts, Lord, hear our prayer.2 Oh God of radical forgiveness and love, let us continue to practice a resurrection kind of living and build together your vision for the kingdom of heaven on earth.
- This prayer was shared by Jennifer Maidrand at the virtual prayer gathering for the Tent of Nations on May 12, 2023.
- This line was adapted for an anonymously authored Prayer for Victims and Perpetrators of Injustice, which can be found at https://www.xavier.edu/jesuitresource/online-resources/prayer-index/justice-prayers
On Pilgrimage to Jerusalem
By: The Very Revd Canon Richard Sewell, Dean of St George’s College Jerusalem
St George’s College Jerusalem is the Anglican Centre for Pilgrimage in the Holy Land. It was founded in 1920 and was intended to operate as a theological college for the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem. In the last thirty years, we have become more of a pilgrimage centre where engagement with the Land, the history and the people are taken more seriously than in many pilgrimage organisations.
St George’s College runs pilgrimages for Anglicans and Christians of other denominations around the world. Our pilgrimages are predominantly religious in nature but we are committed to ensuring that people engage in the political realities of Israel and Palestine today. We highlight the injustices experienced by Palestinians as a day-by-day reality. We deal with modern history as well as ancient history. We make sure that our pilgrims engage with the Wall of Separation and understand the real impact of it on Palestinian lives. We also make sure that people hear and understand Jewish narratives and not always in a negative light. However, we do not simply set up a cheap equivalence. We are clear that Israel’s occupation is an injustice which, whilst it continues, is a barrier to constructive talks.
The work of the World Student Christian Federation- Middle East (WSCF-ME) in the pursuit of peace and Christian unity throughout the Middle East.
By: Mira G. Neaimeh
WSCF-ME (World Student Christian Federation- Middle East) has been and still is engaged in the peace processes in the Middle East since its inception 60 years ago. As an integral part of this region, WSCF-ME found itself automatically involved in the advocacy for the rights of its members and youth, as well as the education around the different aspects of peace and their ways of implementation within specific communities. Thus, peace processes are all part and parcel of our identity in this turbulent area, with a tireless quest for this so-called “peace” and its manifestation in our different countries alongside church and local communities.
Hallelujah. He’s risen. Hallelujah!
by Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon
Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6 🌿 Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 🌿 Colossians 3:1-4 🌿 John 20:1-18
After the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb… there they encountered an angel that said to the women:
Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead…” (Matthew 28:1-7)
Practice: Imaginative Reading
by Rev. Aune Carlson
Job 14:1-14 🌿 Psalms 31:1-4, 15-16 🌿 1 Peter 4:1-8 🌿 Matthew 27:57-66
Choose one of the scriptures of today’s lectionary passages and engage in the practice of imaginative prayer.
Find a comfortable place with few distractions to sit. Still yourself and pray for God to meet you in your imagination; pray the Holy Spirit would guide your wonderings and prevent that which may call your attention away. Perhaps rest your hands, palms up, on your lap as a physical sign of openness.
As you read, do so intentionally, slowing to picture interactions or phrases visually. Imagine you are the director of a video clip. What is the geography surrounding you? What noises would you hear? Is it light or dark? What emotions arise as you sit with the scripture passage? Consider all the sights and sounds, emotions, tastes, and scents, and ask God to meet you there.
There is no need to get stuck in the details; if you’re not struck with an image or a sense of something, continue reading and ask the Spirit to pique your curiosity and spark your imagination. Consider how our brothers and sisters in the Middle East might encounter these scriptures today.
God, we thank you for your presence in our lives and for the gift of imagination. We believe you, we give thanks, and we ask you to meet us in our times of darkness and despair.