Every second Saturday of the month, 4 pm - Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1K 5BQ. Followed by refreshments.
Next Liturgy: Saturday 13th May, 4pm

To purchase The Divine Liturgy: an Anthology for Worship (in English), order from the Sheptytsky Institute here, or the St Basil's Bookstore here.
To purchase the Divine Praises, the Divine Office of the Byzantine-Slav rite (in English), order from the Eparchy of Parma here.

The new catechism in English, Christ our Pascha, is available from the Eparchy of the Holy Family and the Society. Please email johnchrysostom@btinternet.com for details.












Sunday, 29 December 2013

Coptic Church in Tarshoub, Upper Egypt, Forced to Close Due to Violence From Muslim Brotherhood Backed Aggressors

Copts in the village of Tarshoub, Beni Suef, Upper Egypt, are experiencing intimidation after extremists attacked them on Monday. Aggressors threw stones at Coptic homes, burned a tuk-tuk truck owned by a Copt named Magdy Fathi Rizk and a store owned by Badr Maher.

They also destroyed the fronts of some houses and called for the closure of the church, which dates back more than 40 years in the village.

Father Malak Shehata from the Fashn Diocese told Mideast Christian News that the village of Tarshoub has been served by Father Andrawis, who moved to serve in another location. When the Fashn Diocese delegated a new priest to serve in the village and Copts tried to prepare a residence for him in the church, some Muslims gathered and refused to let the priest enter the church. This was led by Muslim Brotherhood supporters in the village.

Read more here:
Coptic Church Forced to Close Due to Violence From Muslim Brotherhood Backed Aggressors

Thursday, 26 December 2013

U.S. condemns Christmas attacks that kill 37 Christians in Iraq - latimes.com

December 25, 2013, 9:51 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- The State Department condemned twin Christmas Day attacks on Christians in Iraq that killed at least 37 people.

One car bomb, which killed at least 26 people, went off near a church in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad during Christmas Mass. Another bomb exploded in an outdoor market in another nearby Christian neighborhood, killing 11.

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad said the Christian community in Iraq “has suffered deliberate and senseless targeting by terrorists for many years, as have other Iraqis.” It said it “condemns in the strongest terms” the attacks.

No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, but terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda are widely believed responsible for most of the attacks on Christians. Their goal, experts believe, is to drive out the remaining Christians and sharpen ethnic tensions.

There were about 1.5 million Iraqi Christians before the U.S. invasion of the country in 2003, but the numbers have dwindled to about half that, and Christians continue to emigrate.

The Christians who remain celebrate in churches protected by heavy barricades and other security measures.

The Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has made some gestures to try to reassure the Christian community of its place, including making Christmas a national holiday.
The government is also in the middle of a major military operation in the western desert aimed at rooting out the militants who have sent violence in Iraq to the highest levels since 2008. More than 8,000 people have been killed this year, according to United Nations estimates.

Read online here:
U.S. condemns Christmas attacks that kill 37 Christians in Iraq - latimes.com

Christmas Day Bombings Target Christians in Iraq, 38 Killed - Assyrian International News Agency

Baghdad (AINA) -- A car bomb exploded outside of St. John Catholic Church in Dora, a Christian neighborhood in south Baghdad, as worshippers were leaving the church after attending Christmas Mass. The explosion killed 27 and wounded 56. A second bomb exploded in an outdoor market also in Dora, in the Athorien (Assyrian) quarter, killing 11 and wounding 21.

Speaking to the AFP, a police colonel said "The attack targeted the church, and most of the martyrs are Christians. The attack happened when worshippers were leaving the church."

Another policeman told Reuters "A car parked near the church exploded when the families were hugging each other goodbye before leaving. The blast was powerful...Bodies of women, girls and men were lying on the ground covered in blood. Others were screaming and crying while they were trying to save some of their wounded relatives."

The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, H.H. Louis Raphael Sako, issued a statement saying the attack was not directly targeted at the church. Also, Archdeacon Temathius Esha, an Assyrian priest in Dora, told AFP "The church has nothing to do with the attack, the attack was against the market."

The Dora neighborhood was formerly a Christian neighborhood, with over 150,000 Assyrians living there. Beginning in 2004 a sustained series of church bombings, kidnappings and killings by Al-Qaeda affiliated groups forced most the residents to flee, most with literally just the clothes they wore, as they were not allowed to take any of their belongings with them (report). Now there are only about 3000 Assyrians remaining in Dora.

73 churches have been attacked or bombed since June, 2004: 45 in Baghdad, 19 in Mosul, 8 in Kirkuk and 1 in Ramadi.

On October 31, 2010 Al-Qaeda terrorists attacked Our Lady of Deliverance Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad on Sunday evening during a church service. When police raided the church the terrorists set fire to their explosives, ultimately killing 58 parishioners, including two priests (reports, pictures).

Read online, with related links, here:
Assyrian International News Agency

Christmas brings little hope for Syria's Christians - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East

Exerpt from the Al Monitor article:

Most of the displaced Christians fled to safe areas in Damascus, Aleppo and Wadi al-Nasara in the countryside of Homs, as well as to regions on the Syrian coast. They were fleeing the difficult humanitarian situation, just like other displaced Syrians, knowing that there are several Christian charity associations that are trying to secure their living needs.

"At the beginning of the violence in Syria, Christians remained neutral," says a source, who's following the issue of Christians in Syria.

"Given the escalation of events and the rise of Takfiri Wahhabism in Syria, Christians fell pray to displacement, murder, theft and kidnapping. Their factories and houses have been robbed (as happened in Aleppo), they have been denied their sources of livelihood and their ancient artworks have been looted and robbed," according to the source.

"Ancient Christian artworks have been stolen from monuments in the area of Mount Simon. According to reports from there, these artworks have been taken out of Syria via Turkey and then sold on the black market," the source added.

For his part, head of the Monastery of St. Peter in Marmarita, Walid Escandave, who is also deputy vicar-general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Latakia and Tartus, stressed that "after 2½ years, the ongoing war in Syria proved that not only did it target humans and humanity but also destroyed history, civilization and heritage." He further told As-Safir: "There is no doubt that the first and last beneficiary of what is happening is Israel."

Hit by a mortar shell in early 2012, Our Lady of Saidnaya Monastery, one of the most renowned monasteries in Syria, is among the monasteries and churches that have been damaged by the events. It is once again under threat, as armed groups are getting closer to the city of Saidnaya, which has long been relatively safe. As battles intensify and become nearer, waves of displacement have been taking place in the city, which is a part of the countryside of Damascus.

While minor damages were inflicted to the Saidnaya Monastery, the oldest church in the world was destroyed. [Built about 50 A.D.] St. Mary Church of the Holy Belt was destroyed and burnt, similarly to Holy Forty Martyrs Church, one of the oldest churches in the governorate. The church of St. Elias in Qusair suffered the same fate.

Read the rest of the piece online here:
Christmas brings little hope for Syria's Christians - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East

A Grim Christmas for Christians Driven From Syria's Maalula - Assyrian International News Agency

(AFP) -- After fleeing a rebel assault on the historic Syrian town of Maalula, hundreds of Christian families sheltering in Damascus are preparing for a bleak Christmas away from home.
The picturesque hamlet -- where residents still speak the ancient Aramaic of Jesus Christ -- was a symbol of the long Christian presence in Syria's ethnic and religious mosaic, now shattered by war.
The residents of Maalula are among the millions of Syrians displaced by a war that shows no sign of ending, and what should be a joyful holiday season is instead the latest painful reminder of all that has been lost.

"The most beautiful gift I could possibly receive for Christmas would be to return to Maalula," whispered Hneineh Taalab, who fled in early September after jihadist fighters entered the town and is now sheltering at a Damascus convent.

Taalab said jihadists from Al-Nusra Front, a rebel group linked to Al-Qaeda, murdered her 20-year-old son Sarkis Zakhem when they took over Maalula on September 8, after four days of fighting troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

"Al-Nusra also killed my brother and my cousin because they refused to convert to Islam."
The army briefly retook Maalula from rebels, but the troops were again expelled earlier this month as the Al-Nusra Front and other rebels swept into the mostly deserted town.

As Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios Laham III meets with the refugees in a dark and draughty church in Damascus he prays "for the return of love and hope" to Syria and mourns those who have been killed and kidnapped.

Christians, who make up some five percent of Syria's population, have largely avoided taking sides in the conflict, leading hardline rebel groups to charge them with being complicit with the regime.
Some 1,200 Christians are among the estimated 126,000 people killed in the conflict, according to Laham.

Another 450,000 Christians have been displaced, while 60 churches have been destroyed and residents of 24 villages forced to flee, he says.

No one knows exactly what happened to 12 nuns taken by rebels from their Maalula convent in early December, or the two kidnapped Orthodox bishops, or an Italian Jesuit priest who went missing.
"It is terrible. We are all under threat, Christians and Muslims," Laham says.

Laham distributes gifts to children from Maalula and money to "the families of martyrs" as he makes his way through the freezing church in Damascus, where this year's winter has been unseasonably cold.
The Maalulans are listless as they receive the handouts -- this year Christmas is a sealed envelope filled with cash.

'No tree, no manger'

Their thoughts return to Maalula, to an earlier time when the streets were decked with lights and wreaths and the cooking of holiday feasts filled their homes with warmth.

"Christmas in Maalula was joyful. We would decorate the Christmas tree, and friends and relatives would get together for midnight mass. People were happy," says Juliana, a 22-year-old refugee from Maalula.

"This year, we will attend mass of course but there won't be any Christmas tree or manger. We are refugees now."

Before the war tourists would flock to Maalula to visit cave dwellings dating back to the earliest years of Christianity and to escape the summer heat.

Najar Fadel, another refugee, recalls how Maalula was filled with Christmas cheer in previous years.
"Families would gather around their decorated Christmas trees, wreaths would hang from their balconies, they would welcome the New Year with banners everywhere, and the women of the house would spend time cooking a good meal," she said.

"But there's none of that now. Even if there is some celebration, it will be a sad Christmas. We don't have the money anymore, so the churches will take care of distributing gifts to the children."

Read online here:
Assyrian International News Agency

Persecution at Christmastime | National Review Online

Middle Eastern Christians wonder, “If they kill us all, would Western Christians do something then?”

                      
During this holy season, Christians turn their thoughts to that first Christmas and to the early Christians. This year, we should prayerfully reflect on the fact that those church communities founded by Thomas, Mark, Paul, Andrew, and the other disciples of Jesus, communities that have remained faithful for 2,000 years, are now suffering mightily for their faith.

The reason is religious persecution. Christians will always be persecuted, the Scriptures tell us, but the unbearable scope of this wave is due to burgeoning extremism within some Muslim sectors. It now poses an existential threat to Middle Eastern Christians — though it is not limited to the Middle East.

Read the full article here:
Persecution at Christmastime | National Review Online

THE CHURCH ALIVE (Ep.13): The Catholic Eastern Churches


Will Middle East’s Aramaic language survive? - Al Arabiya News

By Dina al-Shibeeb | Al Arabiya News

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The survival of Aramaic, once the Middle East’s lingua franca, is in jeopardy amid regional turmoil.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has listed it as an endangered language in Iraq, Iran and Syria.

“Aramaic boasts an exceptionally long, continuously documented history of over 3,000 years, longer than all other known Semitic languages to which, for example, Arabic and Hebrew also belong,” Paul M. Noorlander, a researcher from Leiden University’s Centre for Linguistics, told Al Arabiya News.

Read more here:
Will Middle East’s Aramaic language survive? - Al Arabiya News

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Greetings on the Feast of the Blessed Nativity 2013: Christ is Born!

To all our friends and companions in the search for unity and fullness of communion in the Body of Christ, whose incarnation we celebrate, we wish you a Happy and Holy Christmas. Christ is Born!

George Carey: Christians, stand up for your beliefs for the sake of your fellow Christians in the Middle East and Africa - Daily Telegraph

The Most Revd Dr George Carey has spent the twelve years of his retirement making constant interventions in the press and public debate by turns undermining or stealing the thunder of his two successors as Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury. Yet now his rightful moral authority and seniority can be called upon, after others' tact and even insistent pleading have fallen on the deaf ears of the UK Foreign Office's incompetent dealings with the Middle East for two decades and its indifference to the special plight of the world's persecuted Christians at the hands of Islamism. See here Peter Oborne's recent critique of the Foreign Office's mystification over the Middle East, and see here an account of the shameful reaction of both Labour and Government front benches to a privately sponsored debate in the House of Commons on the worldwide persecution of Christians as if it were a human rights problem no different from those of others. And see here our post about the enlightened debate in the House of Lords sponsored by Dr Rowan Williams when he was Primate.

On BBC Radio2 yesterday was broadcast the Houses of Parliament choir of Members, Peers, and Palace of Westminster staff singing their Christmas Carol Concert. In the House of Commons, it seems, Christ only matters for an English Christmas - not the survival of Christianity and its people in the land that cradled it - and the Church from which England's derived.

As it is the season of good will, Lord Carey, we will say no more than to note your caricatured dig at Pope Benedict and your implied disdain for Archbishop Williams. Otherwise, thank you for recalling us all not to forget our brothers and sisters around the world, whose lives are at stake merely for loving Christ as its King and Saviour.


The pressure in Britain to keep quiet about our faith must be resisted – and governments have to stop ignoring the persecution of churchgoers by Islamists in the Middle East and Africa

The Prince of Wales’s powerful intervention last week on the persecution of Christians is a reminder that ancient Christian communities, pre-dating Islam, are on the verge of disappearing from their homelands in the Middle East.

After years of bringing together Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in dialogue, Prince Charles admitted that in spite of many such efforts, “fundamentalist Islamist militants” were “deliberately” targeting Christians.
 
This is something that Western governments have been strangely and inexplicably reluctant to confront. In a recent House of Commons debate on the issue, the Government response was full of denial that this was a problem uniquely affecting Christian communities. But, then, successive governments have done little to speak up for Christians facing human rights abuses in Africa and the Middle East.
 
In fact this Government, which has conspicuously sought friendly and co-operative relationships with the Churches, is doing just as much to wash its hands of persecuted Christian communities as any of its predecessors.
 
I imagine that in the West our politicians think that because churches have until recently been in extraordinarily powerful opinion-forming positions, they cannot possibly be pictured as a persecuted minority.
            
Yet far from being important and influential, in many parts of the world Christianity is weak and despised, and Christians are attacked and killed. In Nigeria, churches are firebombed; in Pakistan, churchgoers are prosecuted under draconian blasphemy laws, while in Egypt, they are either marginalised or assaulted.

This is a reminder, if ever we needed one, that Christianity’s uniqueness lies in its ambivalent relationship with power. Nelson Mandela once told me, after some of the shine of being his country’s saviour had become a little tarnished by messy presidential politics, that the economic “apartheid” represented by wealth inequalities was a lot harder to confront than racism.

Politics and the art of wielding power is rarely a simple choice between good and evil, as it was in the case of apartheid – it’s usually a lot more messy than that.

We are constantly faced with the question of where power lies in the business of everyday living. Power is sometimes measured by the wealth you have at your disposal, or by the number of people you employ. But there is also power in the ability to think of big ideas and then to have the ability to put them into action.

If we were making up a story about a leader coming into power to save the world, I doubt very much you would have dreamt up the story of the birth of Jesus as it is recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Let us leave to one side the beguiling questions about the virgin birth, shepherds, angels and wise men and focus on the really interesting question of what it reveals about the nature of the Christian faith.

Christianity’s really unusual insight is into the use of power – or rather its lack of it, as we see in the life of Christ. This Christ forsook the path of the revolutionary zealot and rejected the role of both politician and jurist. Weakness and humility are the values chiefly in the foreground – although lurking in the background lies considerable power to redeem and change the world. At this time of the year some preachers exaggerate Jesus’s lowly origins. He is described as a working-class lad from a poor town who made good. But the narrative suggests otherwise: that he came rather from a middle-class home. Yes, his birth in a stable must have been unpleasant, for his mother at least, but he was only born there because the customary hotels were full.

Later we find the family could flee Herod’s wrath by retreating to Egypt – the really poor could not have done that. It was when he was an adult that Jesus turned his back on comfortable living, embraced poverty and sought to speak up for the poor. Jesus made friends from among the poor – sinners, prostitutes, widows – and he regularly challenged the wealthy over their meanness and complacency.

I cannot be the only Christian who has found this approach dominating our thinking this year. Indeed, the Church is at its best when it is following a Lord who is most at home with those in need.
We began the year with two very significant new leaders. Installed respectively in the Vatican and Canterbury within days of each other, the Pope and Archbishop have had a profound impact already. Pope Francis, Time magazine’s personality of the year, has made headlines not by his scholarship or even profound holiness – even though he is no fool and is certainly a holy man – but by his ability to identify with the people. He has cut through the clutter of ritual, robes and formality to embrace even those disfigured by tumours. And he has always spoken from the heart. He is increasingly seen as the Pope for the poor.

Though the new Archbishop of Canterbury comes from a rather more privileged background, it is his varied life experiences that make a parallel with Pope Francis possible. This is a church leader who has worked in the City and has been intimately involved in the thorny and urgent question of banking reform. He has shown a breathtaking ability to challenge the rich and powerful and to speak for those in need. He has also negotiated with terrorists and defended persecuted Christians. Both Archbishop Welby and Pope Francis are men who have rightly earned the respect and admiration of many.
Of course, there are so many others doing work that is hidden from view. Canon Andrew White is perhaps the Church of England’s best export – working in Baghdad among Christians and Muslims, where he is respected by Sunni and Shiite leaders alike. He has put up with death threats from Islamists who would like nothing better than to ethnically cleanse the Christian community, one of the most ancient of Christian congregations.

Closer to home, I admit I am worried about the future of faith in the West. Many Christians I meet say there is a pressure on them to be silent about their faith. Though there can be no question of a comparison with the powerlessness and weakness of the Church in the Middle East, there is an increasing timidity on the part of churchgoers in the West – about even admitting that they have a faith in the workplace.

Just a week ago, an American, learning that I was going to write this Christmas message, said teasingly: “I hope you will mention the name of Jesus!” Well, that is what Christmas is all about and I cannot but speak his name.

He is Christmas. It is in his name that we give to one another and it is because of his name that the Christian Churches in all their weakness may regain the strength to become strong once more. True power lies in how we use it on behalf of others. This is the meaning of Christmas. And I wish all Telegraph readers a very happy Christmas.

Lord Carey was Archbishop of Canterbury, 1991-2002

Read Dr Carey's article and readers' comments, with photographs, online here:
George Carey: Christians, stand up for your beliefs - Telegraph

Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas in Syria - Damaged Churches - God Protect Patriarch Gregorios and all the Christians of Syria

In spite of the danger, Christian families have sent their children to Church where the Melkite Greek Catholic  Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch said a prayer and offered gifts to the children.

There follows His Beatitude's updated list of the 88 sacred buildings of all the Churches so far damaged or destroyed in the present crisis. Please also see this post, with the Patriarch's plea - "Why attack the places of worship of any faith?"


 
List of Damaged Syrian Churches & Shrines, as at 21 December 2013 (shown by building, affiliation, city, province)
 
  1. Patriarchate and Cathedral of the Dormition, Melkite Greek Catholic, Bab Sharqi, Damascus and district
  2. Church and Monastery of the Franciscan Fathers, Roman Catholic (Latin), Bab Touma Damascus and district
  3. St Paul's Cathedral, Syriac Catholic, Bab Sharqi, Damascus and district
  4. Cathedral of the Queen of the World, Armenian Catholic, Bab Touma, Damascus and district
  5. St Cyril’s Church, Melkite Greek Catholic, Qassa'a, Damascus and district
  6. Holy Cross Church, Greek Orthodox, Qassa'a, Damascus and district
  7. St Anthony of Padua’s Church, Roman Catholic (Latin), Telyani, Damascus and district
  8. St Sergius’ Cathedral, Armenian Orthodox, Bab Sharqi, Damascus and district
  9. St Elias’ Church, Melkite Greek Catholic, Zabadani, Damascus and district
  10. Church of the Dormition, Greek Orthodox, Zabadani, Damascus and district
  11. Church of Our Lady of Peace, Melkite Greek Catholic, Harasta, Damascus and district
  12. St Elias’ Church, Greek Orthodox, Harasta, Damascus and district
  13. St George’s Church, Greek Orthodox, Herbin, Damascus and district
  14. St Paul's Church, Melkite Greek Catholic, Daraya, Damascus and district
  15. St Tekla's Church, Greek Orthodox, Daraya, Damascus and district
  16. St Elias’ Church, Melkite Greek Catholic, Hina, Damascus and district
  17. Sts Sergius and Bacchus’ Monastery, Melkite Greek Catholic, Ma’alula, Damascus and district
  18. St George’s Church, Melkite Greek Catholic, Ma’alula, Damascus and district
  19. St Leontius’ Church, Melkite Greek Catholic, Ma’alula, Damascus and district
  20. St Elias’ Church, Melkite Greek Catholic, Ma’alula, Damascus and district
  21. Sts Cosmas and Damian’s Shrine, Melkite Greek Catholic, Ma’alula, Damascus and district
  22. St Thomas’ Shrine, Melkite Greek Catholic, Ma’alula, Damascus and district
  23. St Saba’s Shrine, Melkite Greek Catholic, Ma’alula, Damascus and district
  24. Holy Cherubim Shrine, Melkite Greek Catholic, Ma’alula, Damascus and district
  25. St Barbara’s Shrine, Greek Orthodox, Ma’alula, Damascus and district
  26. Shrine of St Elias, Greek Orthodox, Ma’alula, Damascus and district
  27. St Tekla’s Church and Monastery, Greek Orthodox, Ma’alula, Damascus and district
  28. Church and Monastery of the Holy Cherubim, Greek Orthodox, Saydnaya, Damascus and district
  29. Church and Monastery of Our Lady, Greek Orthodox, Saydnaya, Damascus and district
  30. Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation, Melkite Greek Catholic, Ar-Raqqah, Ar-Raqqah
  31. Church of the Martyrs, Armenian Catholic, Ar-Raqqah, Ar-Raqqah
  32. Christian Education Centre, Melkite Greek Catholic, Ar-Raqqah, Ar-Raqqah
  33. Family Fraternity (care centre for the disabled), Melkite Greek Catholic, Ar-Raqqah, Ar-Raqqah
  34. Sts Sergius and Bacchus' Church, Melkite Greek Catholic, Al-Tabaqah, Ar-Raqqah
  35. New-style Church, Greek Orthodox, Madinat al-Thawra, Ar-Raqqah
  36. Holy Cross Church, Armenian Orthodox, Tell Abiad, Ar-Raqqah
  37. Autonomous Church, Armenian Orthodox, Tell Abiad, Ar-Raqqah
  38. St Thomas’ Church, Syriac Orthodox, Ras al-Ain, Al-Hasakah
  39. St Gregory the Illuminator’s Church, Armenian Catholic, Deir al-Zur, Deir al-Zur and district
  40. Church and Monastery of the Capuchin Fathers, Latin, Deir al-Zur, Deir al-Zur and district
  41. Sisters’ Church, Latin, Deir al-Zur, Deir al-Zur and district
  42. Church of Our Lady, Syriac Orthodox, Deir al-Zur, Deir al-Zur and district
  43. Church of the Martyrs, Armenian Orthodox, Deir al-Zur, Deir al-Zur and district
  44. Archbishopric, Melkite Greek Catholic, Sahat Farahat, Aleppo
  45. Cathedral of the Dormition, Melkite Greek Catholic, Sahat Farahat, Aleppo
  46. Church of the Forty Martyrs, Armenian Orthodox, Al-jedayda, Aleppo
  47. Monastery of St Francis of Assisi, Latin, Al-azizyah, Aleppo
  48. St Elias’ Church, Greek Orthodox, Aal-fillat, Aleppo
  49. St Michael’s Church, Melkite Greek Catholic, Alazizyah, Aleppo
  50. St Elias’ Church, Maronite, Al-jedayda, Aleppo
  51. Arab Evangelical Church, Evangelical, Sabeh-bahrat, Aleppo
  52. St Kevork’s Church, Armenian Orthodox, Al-Mydan, Aleppo
  53. St Maroun's Church, Maronite, Brad, Aleppo
  54. Church and Monastery of St Joseph, Latin, Al-Qnayyah, Jisr Al-Shugour and district
  55. Our Lady’s Church, Latin, Al-Yacubiyeh, Jisr Al-Shugour and district
  56. Holy Cherubim Church, Armenian Orthodox, Al-Yacubiyeh, Jisr Al-Shugour and district
  57. Church and Monastery of St Anna, Armenian Orthodox, Al-Yacubiyeh, Jisr Al-Shugour and district
  58. Church and Monastery of St Anthony of Padua, Latin, Al-qasaneyeh, Jisr Al-Shugour and district
  59. Church of the Sacred Hearts, Latin, Jisr Al-Shugour, Jisr Al-Shugour and district
  60. Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation, Melkite Greek Catholic, Chakra, Dar’a
  61. Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation, Melkite Greek Catholic, Namir, Dar’a
  62. Sts Peter and Paul’s Church, Melkite Greek Catholic, Rakham, Dar’a
  63. Church of St John Damascene, Melkite Greek Catholic, Dar’a, Dar’a
  64. Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation, Melkite Greek Catholic, Al-Mismyah, Dar’a
  65. Church of Sts Constantine and Helena, Melkite Greek Catholic, Yabroud, Homs and district
  66. Church of Our Lady, Melkite Greek Catholic, Yabroud, Homs and district
  67. St George’s Church, Syriac Orthodox, Sadad, Homs and district
  68. St Michael’s Church and Cemetery, Syriac Orthodox, Sadad, Homs and district
  69. St Elias’ Church, Syriac Orthodox, Sadad, Homs and district
  70. St Theodore’s Church, Syriac Orthodox, Sadad, Homs and district
  71. St Michael’s Church, Melkite Greek Catholic, Qara, Homs and district
  72. Monastery of St James the Mutilated, Melkite Greek Catholic, Qara, Homs and district
  73. St Elias’ Church and Monastery, Melkite Greek Catholic, Rablah, Homs and district
  74. Monastery of St Moses the Abyssinian, Syriac Catholic, An-Nabk, Homs and district
  75. St Moses' Church, Syriac Catholic, An-Nabk, Homs and district
  76. St George’s Church, Melkite Greek Catholic, An-Nabk, Homs and district
  77. Church and Monastery of the Dormition, Melkite Greek Catholic, Al Husn, Homs and district
  78. St Joseph’s Church, Melkite Greek Catholic, Giwar-al-hafes, Homs and district
  79. St John Chrysostom’s Church, Greek Orthodox, Hawash, Homs and district
  80. Church of the Dormition, Greek Orthodox, Deir Atiyah, Homs and district
  81. Our Lady’s Church, Melkite Greek Catholic, Deir Atiyah, Homs and district
  82. St Elias’ Church, Melkite Greek Catholic, Al-Qusayr, Homs and district
  83. Monastery of the Jesuit Fathers, Latin, Bostan Al Dewan, Homs and district
  84. St Charbel's Church, Maronite, Al-hamidieh, Homs and district
  85. Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, Melkite Greek Catholic, Bostan Al Dewan, Homs and district
  86. Our Lady’s Church, Syriac Orthodox, Al-hamidieh, Homs and district
  87. St Elias’ Church, Greek Orthodox, Al-hamidieh, Homs and district
  88. Cathedral of the Forty Martyrs, Greek Orthodox, Bostan Al Dewan, Homs and district

Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity: saving the angels at Jesus's birthplace | Art and design | The Guardian

Italian craftsmen have won the Palestinian Authority's tender to repair the 4th-century church and Unesco heritage site, writes  in Bethlehem, The Guardian,
 
Italian craftsmen have begun urgent repairs to the centuries-old roof of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, first constructed in the fourth century over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born 2,000 years ago.

"Water leaks, earthquakes and incidents that happened here in Bethlehem had a negative impact on the whole structure and especially on the roof of the church," said Ziad Bandak, head of the Palestinian committee overseeing the work.

"The leakage of the water affected the structure, the wood, the walls and the frescoes and mosaics inside."

Read the full report and see the photos online at:
Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity: saving the angels at Jesus's birthplace | Art and design | The Guardian

BBC News - Lives of fear for Egypt's Christians

23 December 2013, by Orla Guerin
 
As Coptic Christians in Egypt prepare to celebrate their Christmas on 7 January, they are still waiting for scores of churches destroyed in August to be rebuilt. Christians - who account for an estimated 10% of Egypt's population of 92 million - have long been easy targets. And for some families this Christmas is a time to mourn, reports the BBC's Orla Guerin in Cairo.

Mariam Ashraf was so excited about going to the wedding that she did not wait for help from her mother. The seven year old dressed herself. She chose fluffy red boots, a black skirt with white embroidery, and a pink top.

Then, for the first time ever, she asked her uncle to take her picture with his mobile phone, showing her outfit from top to toe. It was the last photo ever taken of the polite little girl described by her parents as "an angel walking on earth".

Mariam was one of four people killed by gunmen who sprayed Coptic Christians with bullets outside a Cairo church in October. Her Mother, Nirmeen Magdy, was shot four times. Two months on, her wounds are healing, but not her grief. Mariam was killed right in front of her.

Read Orla Guerin's full article here:
BBC News - Lives of fear for Egypt's Christians

Christian Churches to Be Protected for Christmas in Egypt

Egypt's Interim President Adli Mansour has promised he would secure churches during the upcoming holidays and during the time of the referendum and elections.

Mina Magdi, coordinator of the Maspero Youth Union (MYU), revealed the comments came as the president spoke during a meeting of 50 members of revolutionary and party movements. The president also discussed the future vision of holding the presidential election before the parliamentary election and how the parliamentary elections will be held.

Assyrian International News Agency

Christians left by the world to suffer - Douglas Alexander MP, Sunday Telegraph

Across the world this week, hundreds of millions of us will be singing of that “silent night, holy night” in the town of Bethlehem.

But as Christmas approaches, with its beguiling promise of “peace on earth and mercy mild”, how many of us will reflect on the words of our great Christmas carols and be reminded that Christianity was a faith born in the East? How many of us are aware that, while the first Christmas took place in the Middle East, there today that same faith is under threat?
 
Last week, the leader of the Catholic Church, His Holiness Pope Francis, chose to cast light on this dark story of persecution by taking to Twitter to warn that we “cannot resign ourselves to think of a Middle East without Christians”.
 
Later in the week, Prince Charles warned that “Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately attacked by fundamentalist Islamist militants. Christianity was, literally, born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ”.
 
These were expressions of a growing concern that Christians are being deliberately targeted and attacked because of their faith. But why, when popes and princes are speaking up, have so many politicians here in the UK forsaken speaking out?

Read the full article by the UK Shadow Foreign Secretary here:
Christians left by the world to suffer - Sunday Telegraph

Iraqi government declares Christmas a 'national holiday' - Asia News

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - In a new and important step towards the Christian minority, the Iraqi government accepted a request by the Chaldean Patriarchate to recognise 25 December as an official day of celebration and a national holiday for all of the country's citizens. In Karrada, a neighbourhood on the eastern bank of the Tigris River where Christians, Shias and Sunnis live peacefully together, the authorities had already set up a five-metre Christmas tree.

As a show of "solidarity", the decision sends a signal meant to curb an exodus that has decimated the Christian community in the past ten years.

It comes after His Beatitude Mar Raphael Louis Sako I wrote a letter to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last week, asking him to make 25 December a "day of rest for all Iraqis."

For the patriarch, such a recognition would be a way to acknowledge the value and importance of a community that has for centuries actively contributed to the development of the nation.

In his letter, the Chaldean Patriarch explained that "Jesus did not come just for Christians, but for everyone", stressing the "special respect" Muslims "have for Him."

In response, the Iraqi cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister al-Maliki took this "important decision" yesterday morning.

In Baghdad, local authorities also decked out some areas of the capital with Christmas lights and trees to "show their respect for and closeness to" the Christian community at this time of celebration. After the US invasion in 2003, Islamic extremists targeted the Christian minority, killing hundreds of its members, including a bishop, priests, businessmen, doctors, and politicians.

Because of this, Christians in their thousands have fled the country over the past ten years, reducing the community from more than two million to less than 300,000.

Read online here:
IRAQ Iraqi government declares Christmas a 'national holiday' - Asia News

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Persecution of Christians in the Middle East is a crime against humanity | Tom Holland | Comment is free | theguardian.com

In AD 781, the Caliph Al-Mahdi summoned the leading churchman of his empire to recently founded Baghdad to debate with him the rival merits of Christianity and Islam. Patriarch Timothy did not hesitate. He had no reason to feel nervous. Christianity was thriving in the Middle East. It was Christians, not Muslims, who formed the majority in the Caliphate.

The notion that the future of their faith might lie in the barbarous lands of the west, rather than in the Fertile Crescent, would have struck Timothy as ludicrous. It was in the east, after all, that "Jesus Christ walked in the flesh 33 years on the Earth"; in the east that the church's greatest saints, scholars and ascetics had lived. Even as Timothy debated with the Caliph, missionaries were preaching the gospel to the Chinese and the Turks. A bishopric was planned for "the peoples of Tibet".

How distant now the world of Timothy seems. When Prince Charles, at an advent reception, warned that Christianity was at risk of extinction in the lands of its birth, he was not scaremongering. The calamity has been a long time brewing. The Middle Ages saw Christians progressively lose their majority status in the region. The collapse of Byzantium then confirmed Islam's status as its dominant religion.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Christians represented just over 10% of its total population. Even so, had the Middle East remained what it had been for the previous two-and-a-half millennia, a patchwork of different faiths ruled by distant emperors, they might well have clung on to their ancestral lands.

Read Tom Holland's full report in The Guardian online here:
Persecution of Christians in the Middle East is a crime against humanity | Tom Holland | Comment is free | theguardian.com

Pope to the Roman Curia : Be like St. Joseph, silent and necessary in service to the Church - Asia News

The Christmas Papal Address to the Roman Curia seems to be an occasion when a Pope sets out the something of his defining approach for his pontificate. At one such address, Pope Benedict explored his theory of the Church's renewal in continuity, the famous "hermeneutic of continuity" in contrast with the "hermeneutic of rupture" according to which some say that the Second Vatican Council marks a break with the past and a fresh beginning for the Catholic Church akin to the Reformation for Protestants.



At Christmas 2013, Pope Francis explains what he is in mind for the role of Curia itself: like St Joseph to be of silent service to the rest of the Church as needed, for the support and assistance it calls upon. This will be of great interest to well disposed Orthodox observers (note well the recent remarks of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow that he has "high hopes" of Pope Francis' pontificate for change in the way the Roman primacy is exercised and offered; but will there be corresponding changes to the way in which the Moscow patriarchate is offered and exercised around the world too?), who are heard to remark that, while they understand the case for a universal primatial role in the service of all the Churches and while they see that that role could belong to none other than the Bishop of Rome, the problem is not the office of the Pope but the apparatus and powers of his Curia, which no Orthodox Church would accept. It's fair to say that the Eastern Catholic Churches, too, have needed constantly to assert their integrity and autocephaly - often supported by the Pope himself - in the face of the curial machinery that sees itself as the agent of direct jurisdictional supervision and control. Yet the Pope understands from direct experience the fact of the Eastern Churches' distinct life and governance and that these are enhanced not by jurisdiction, but by communion. His two predecessors said similar things.



We have speculated before about the future of the Oriental dicastery at Rome. If, like the rest of the Roman Curia, it is to be of "silent service as needed" to the Church, is it to be an agent of the Bishop of Rome as primate of the Latin Roman Catholic Church, or as universal pastor for all the Churches of East and West; or is it to be a joint commission of and for all the Eastern Catholic churches and their patriarchs alongside the Pope, precisely for the purpose of "service as needed"?

Depending on the answer to those choices, the next question is, "How does the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity relate to it?" Is the Unity dicastery to be the ecumenical agency for the Pope as Primate of the Latin Roman Catholic Church, or in his role as universal pastor serving all the Catholic Churches of East and West? This is particular importance in respect of those Orthodox Churches which avoid respecting the Eastern Catholic Churches as legitimate, yet are keen on good relations and even advancing unity with the Catholic Church, seen and reflected back to itself as a purely Latin Roman Catholic entity. Thus the ostpolitik of the Catholic Church at the universal level is Latin and leaves out the Eastern Catholics, and the westpolitik of some Orthodox Churches tactically ignores them too. Where, then, does the determined, historic and effective ecumenism of, say the Ukrainian Catholic Church or of the Melkite and Chaldean Churches find expression and engagement in the ecumenism of the Catholic Church at its universal level of operation? Why is this left to the hands of the Latin Church's ecumenists, however well informed of and disposed to the Eastern Catholic Churches they may be?



If the Curia is to be re-configured to be agencies of service to the Church where it lives locally and regionally, as well as at its universal level, attention needs to be focused to on its service to Christian and Church unity. In the spirit of Catholic communion, this must mean a much greater and involved relation between the work of the Eastern Churches and the Christian Unity dicasteries as joint commissions serving the efforts of the churches where they are.



Here is a report on Pope Francis' Christmas address to the Roman Curia, followed by the text:
VATICAN Pope to the Roman Curia : Be like St. Joseph, silent and necessary in service to the Church - Asia News





Your Eminences,
Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Once again the Lord has enabled us to journey through Advent, and all too quickly we have come to these final days before Christmas. They are days marked by a unique spiritual climate made up of emotions, memories and signs, both liturgical and otherwise, such as the crèche. It is in this climate that this traditional meeting takes place with you, the superiors and officials of the Roman Curia, who cooperate daily in the service of the Church. I greet all of you with affection. Allow me to extend a special greeting to Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who recently began his service as Secretary of State, and who needs our prayers!

While our hearts are full of gratitude to God, who so loved us that he gave us his only-begotten Son, it is also good to make room for gratitude to one another. In this, my first Christmas as the Bishop of Rome, I also feel the need to offer sincere thanks to all of you as a community of service, and to each of you individually. I thank you for the work which you do each day: for the care, diligence and creativity which you display; and for your effort I know it is not always easy to work together in the office, both to listen to and to challenge one another, and to bring out the best in all your different personalities and gifts, in a spirit of mutual respect.

In a particular way, I want to express my gratitude to those now concluding their service and approaching retirement. As priests and bishops, we know full well that we never really retire, but we do leave the office, and rightly so, not least to devote ourselves more fully to prayer and the care of souls, starting with our own! So a very special and heartfelt thank you goes to those of you who have worked here for so many years with immense dedication, hidden from the eyes of the world. This is something truly admirable. I have such high regard for these Monsignori who are cut from the same mould as the curiales of olden times, exemplary persons. We need them today, too! People who work with competence, precision and self-sacrifice in the fulfilment of their daily duties. Here I would like to mention some of them by name, as a way of expressing my esteem and my gratitude, but we know that, in any list, the first names people notice are the ones that are missing! Besides, I would also risk overlooking someone and thus committing an injustice and a lack of charity. But I want to say to these brothers of ours that they offer a very important witness in the Churchs journey through history.
This mould and this witness make me think of two hallmarks of the curial official, and even more of curial superiors, which I would like to emphasize: professionalism and service.

Professionalism, by which I mean competence, study, keeping abreast of things. This is a basic requisite for working in the Curia. Naturally, professionalism is something which develops and is in part acquired; but I think that, precisely for it to develop and to be acquired, there has to be a good foundation from the outset.

The second hallmark is service: service to the Pope and to the bishops, to the universal Church and to the particular Churches. In the Roman Curia, one learns in a real way, one breathes in this twofold aspect of the Church, this interplay of the universal and the particular. I think that this is one of the finest experiences of those who live and work in Rome: to sense the Church in this way. When professionalism is lacking, there is a slow drift downwards towards mediocrity.

Dossiers become full of trite and lifeless information and incapable of opening up lofty perspectives. Then, too, when the attitude is no longer one of service to the particular Churches and their bishops, the structure of the Curia turns into a ponderous, bureaucratic customs house, constantly inspecting and questioning, hindering the working of the Holy Spirit and the growth of Gods people.

To these two qualities of professionalism and service, I would also like to add a third, which is holiness of life. We know very well that, in the hierarchy of values, this is the most important.
Indeed, it is basic for the quality of our work, our service. And I want to say here that in the Roman Curia, there have been and there are saints; I have said this in public more than once, to thank the Lord. Holiness means a life immersed in the Spirit, a heart open to God, constant prayer, deep humility and fraternal charity in our relationships with our fellow workers. It also means apostleship, discreet and faithful pastoral service, zealously carried out in direct contact with Gods people. For priests, this is indispensable.

Holiness in the Curia also means conscientious objection to gossip! We rightfully insist on the importance of conscientious objection but perhaps we, too, need to exercise it as a means of defending ourselves from an unwritten law of our surroundings, which unfortunately is that of gossip. So let us all be conscientious objectors; and mind you, I am not simply preaching! Gossip is harmful to people, our work and our surroundings.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us feel close to one another on this final stretch of the road to Bethlehem. We would do well to meditate on Saint Joseph, who was so silent yet so necessary at the side of Our Lady. Let us think about him and his loving concern for his Spouse and for the Baby Jesus. This can tell us a lot about our own service to the Church! So let us experience this Christmas in spiritual closeness to Saint Joseph.

I thank you most heartily for your work and especially for your prayers. Truly I feel borne aloft by your prayers and I ask you to continue to support me in this way. I, too, remember you before the Lord, and I impart my blessing as I offer my best wishes for a Christmas filled with light and peace for each of you and for all your dear ones. Happy Christmas!

Francis

ASIA/SYRIA - Hunger is the biggest danger for Syrians - Fides News Agency

Mareil Marly (Agenzia Fides) - Among the various organizations working in favor of the battered Syrian people, there is the support of the Pontifical Aid to the Church in Need, actively involved in helping refugees. Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the international ACN for the Middle East, does not hide his concern and said: "it is not easy to organize charitable activities in Syria and neighboring countries. Many areas are inaccessible and 11 000 children have already been killed by snipers or as a result of torture and executions. Since the beginning of the conflict we have involved all the institutions of the Church to raise funds for this population". Fr. Halemba stresses that hunger is the biggest danger for Syrians. "80% of them are worried about not having enough food. Without outside help, many people will not survive". "It is estimated that 75 % of the 22 million Syrians will need help in 2014. This year, ACN renews its support to the Christians of the Middle East through an online operation called Cadeaux de Noël messagers, which offers users to become messengers of peace through the internet website www.aed-france.org/cadeaux-messagers. It is a concrete action aimed at raising funds for Christian families who have remained in Syria, and those refugees in neighboring countries. For ACN it is essential to give hope to the remaining Christians in Syria who are forced to live with fear every day. (AP) (Agenzia Fides 20/12/2013)

Donate to AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED through our link to our friends at ACN top right.

Read the above report online here:
ASIA/SYRIA - Hunger is the biggest danger for Syrians - Fides News Agency

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael's Nativity Letter: Amid war and crises, Christmas is the Middle East's real hope - Asia News

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - In the Christmas message His Beatitude Mar Raphael I Louis Sako will address to the faithful during Christmas Mass, which he is sharing with AsiaNews, the Chaldean patriarch focuses on the situation in Iraq, on the suffering of the Christian community as well as the whole population. In it, he calls on the faithful to welcome others through solidarity, unity and hope. He also invites them to look at the child's face, that it may be "a sign for everyone," even for our "Muslim brothers", and a source of "prosperity" for the country and "wellness" for its people.
Hopeful that the festivity will be an opportunity to rediscover the "supernatural presence of God," the Chaldean Patriarch also addresses both priests and the faithful, calling on them to be of "service" so that their churches may become "a real grotto," enlivened "by love and warmth, as well as faith, hope and unity." At the same time, he is also confident that the festivity will generate new "strength" to unite those who have been separated, and bring home the emigrants who left their motherland.
Here is Mar Sako's message:


In the midst of the critical and hard circumstances that we live and experience in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Middle East, our Christmas celebration comes to revive hope within us. Christmas gives us strength and confidence to rebuild what was destroyed during the lean years, and to restore what was deformed, and to join together who were separated, and bring back who had migrated.


The Good News of Christmas night: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on Earth" that the angels proclaimed to all: for Christians and for Muslims and others, is a persistent call to put off and come out of the state of conflict, fighting, worry, fear and poverty, to promote together for the consolidation of peace and brotherhood, justice and equality among all citizens. This matter can be achieved when we open our heart and mind to God and to others and to the universe. And, when we deal with everyone alike respecting their rights and freedoms and diversity, and co-operate with them so that everyone feels that they are children of the one human family and one nation, despite differences of race, nationality, language, religion and opinion.

The Christmas message is clear and required.  Christmas message in our current Iraqi and Middle Eastern situation is: No life without love, and no salvation except through unity.

The Christmas message appeals for us to love each other and welcome each other warmly and share with each other what we have generously and joyfully so that we shall have life, and in abundance. This welcoming is solidarity, unity, hope, consolation and life. In this spirituality, all difficulties can be demolished and new prospects will be opened for us for the future.

Our believe and faith is not measured by the amount of our knowledge, culture, theories and speeches, but measured by our ability to love and to welcome, to share and to unite. Through this faith implies our salvation: National and ecclesial.

From this concept, I call on all our priests and people in service to make from their churches a real grotto that has love and warmth, faith, hope and unity; a grotto (Church) where everyone feels his prestige, importance, and distinctive role, and feels that he is loved!!

Dear Sisters and Brothers, We need to discover in this Christmas in our complex situation, the supernatural presence of God among us in the face of this Baby that is a gift from God.  Isn't every birth a gift from God and joyful occasion? Let the Child Jesus, "A sign for all people" as our brothers the Muslims like to read in their Koran, be a tent that embraces us all, and raises our spirits, nourishes our trust and hope, supports our quest for the prosperity of our country and the well-being of our citizens and preserves their dignity and their freedom.

My warmest compliments to all of you of Merry Christmas and happy New Year 2014.
May Christmas brings us the gift of peace and stability and divine blessings for us and our beloved ones, all year through.

+Louis Raphael I
Patriarch of Babylon, Archbishop of Baghdad, Primate of the Chaldean Catholic Church


IRAQ Chaldean Patriarch: amid war and crises, Christmas is the Middle East's real hope - Asia News

Saturday, 21 December 2013

BBC News - A Point of View: A long winter for Christians in the Middle East

The last decade has been catastrophic for the Middle East's the 14 million Christians, says William Dalrymple.

It won't be much of a Christmas for the Christians of the Middle East. Wherever you go in the region this season, you see the Arab Spring rapidly turning into a Christian winter. Indeed, the entire last decade has been catastrophic for the region's beleaguered 14-million strong Christian minority.

In Egypt, the political upheavals have been accompanied by a series of anti-Coptic riots and intermittent bouts of church burning. On the West Bank and in Gaza, the Christians are emigrating fast as they find themselves caught between Netanyahu's pro-settler government and their increasingly radicalised Sunni Muslim neighbours. Most catastrophically, in Iraq, two-thirds of the Christians have fled the country since the fall of Saddam.

It was Syria that took in many Christians driven out of Iraq a decade ago. Now those Iraqi refugees find themselves facing a second displacement while their Syrian hosts are themselves living in daily fear of having to flee for their lives. Most of the bloodiest killings and counter-killings in Syria have been along Sunni-Alawite faultlines, but there have been some reports of attacks, rape and murder directed at the Christian minority. There are more and more reports of violent al-Qaeda-inspired Salafists taking over the resistance against the Assad regime. The Christian community, which makes up around 10% of the total population, is now frankly terrified. Many are fleeing for Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan. There are tragic reports emerging of the wholesale emigration of the ancient Armenian community of Syria.


About the author


William Dalrymple

  • William Dalrymple is a writer and historian
  • A Point of View is usually broadcast on Fridays on Radio 4 at 20:50 GMT and repeated Sundays, 08:50 GMT


The article ends:
Christmas - the ultimate celebration of Christ's humanity - is a feast which Muslims and Christians can share together without reservation. At this moment when Christians and Muslims find themselves facing off yet again, there has never been a greater need for both sides to realise what they have in common and ... to gather around the Christ child, to pray for peace.

Read in full here:
BBC News - A Point of View: A long winter for Christians in the Middle East

WCC renews call to prayer for peace in Syria

WCC renews call to prayer for peace in Syria
Statue of Saint Thecla near the Maaloula monastery. Photo: Bernard Gagnon

The World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary is calling on the council's 345 member churches and churches around the world to continue to pray for the safe return of the twelve abducted nuns from the Monastery of St Thecla in the historical town of Maaloula on 2 December 2013, as well as the two Archbishops of Aleppo in Syria Mar Yohanna Gregorios Ibrahim from the Syriac Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yazigi from the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch who were kidnapped in April 2013 near Aleppo, Syria on their way back from a humanitarian mission.
“As the Christmas season is upon us, it is important to remember in our prayers and thoughts that the 12 nuns and Archbishop Ibrahim and Archbishop Yazigi remain missing,” Tveit said on Friday.

“The nuns and both archbishops are deeply missed by their church communities and families,” Tveit said. “The pain of this separation has added to the ongoing suffering inflected upon all people of Syria because of the conflict. It is very sad and tragic that thousands of Syrian peoples have disappeared in prisons.”

The WCC calls on all the actors in the Syrian conflict to spare all civilians including religious people and not take them as human shields. The WCC calls also on the international community to stand in solidarity with all victims of kidnappings and forced disappearances and mobilize all their efforts in order to release them and prevent such events from taking place again.

“We continue to pray that God will bring peace to Syria and an end to the suffering of millions of people throughout Syria who have lost their beloved ones, who have been disabled and injured, who have been internally displaced or have become refugees, who have lost their homes, their properties and their places of worship,” Tveit said.



Christmas Epistle of His Beatitude Sviatoslav

 
To the Son, eternally and immaculately born of the Father,
Who—in the fullness  of time—was born bodily, without seed, from a Virgin,
Let us cry out to Christ-God: Holy are You, O Lord,
Who fortified our strength!
(Canon of the Nativity).
 
Christ is born!

At the voice of the angel, calling to the shepherds in the dark of night, let us now hasten to the poor stable in Bethlehem. Here we see in the Blessed Virgin Mary’s arms the Son of God, who came into our world as a man. Together with them, let us rejoice and marvel; let us sing and contemplate the living and true God, who—born in a human body—gives Himself into human hands as a small, gentle and defenceless child.

Our Saviour’s Nativity reveals the depths of Divine life as well as the truth about man. He—who today appears in human flesh—existed before the creation of the world, for—as God before all ages—He is eternally and immaculately born of the Father as a son! This is the ineffable and incomprehensible mystery of Jesus Christ’s divine sonship which today is revealed and preached to all mankind. This feast makes the divine sonship accessible for all through the proclamation that God the Father loves us as his sons and daughters. In His new-born Son, we experience today our nearness to God. We experience the same warm, powerful, real and life-giving intimacy which is the Father’s intimate affection for His first-born.

Gazing into the faces of the Divine Child and His Mother Mary, let us grasp the truth the Nativity teaches us about our humanity and of His humanity, which is a sign of God’s presence: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). This child—the God of Israel, Who—in the fullness  of time—was born bodily from a Virgin without seed. He bestows upon Joseph the Betrothed, the wonderful role of guardian. At the Nativity of Christ, we receive the Eternal God in our own form. For people rightly desire to be cared for and here in Bethlehem, God himself—as a child—is the one caring for the human family!

Humaneness—as a sense of and respect for the sanctity of human life—is a moving and saving path along which—on this mysterious night—the Son of God, the Son of Mary, comes to our homes, to our families, to our nation. And this divine-humanity—the God-Manhood of Incarnate Son of God—gives us a Christmas path to follow in order to love God and neighbour. By celebrating Christmas with travellers and the homeless, or in solidarity with those who are despised and whose dignity is denied, we, Christians, as true guardians and evangelists of God’s presence among us, make our world, our society more humane and dignified for man himself.

The birth of the Son of God, the Eternal Word of the Father, reveals along with the greatness and glory of our God, the Creator and Saviour, the greatness and glory of man as the crown of all creation. In His Incarnation, God reveals the special dignity of man, because He is incarnated in it—that is to say, in his own image. St. Irenaeus of Lyon says: “When the Word was made flesh… He Himself became what His image was… making man like the invisible Father through the visible Word” (Adv. Haer., 5, 16, 2).

Glorifying the dignity of the human person, Christ’s Church today sings out: “Let us cry out to Christ-God: Holy are You, O Lord, Who fortified our strength!” Just as the coming to earth of the Son of God through the Incarnation became the centre of world history, similarly the dignity of the human person is the foundation for a true and indeed humane society. The Church teaches that social institutions and their leaders must respect each human person and their prime duty is to promote the holistic growth of each person. The person can never be a means for the realization of economic, social or political agendas imposed by secular authorities. Rather governments must be vigilant when placing restrictions on freedoms or burdens on a person’s private life to never harm human dignity (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, § 131-133).
There is no future for a society in which man is demeaned. The dignity of the human person is the source for just laws and equitable social order. For in the human person the temporal and eternal, the divine and human, are united. Humanity is the door to eternity opened on Christmas Day by the Son of God’s humanity. So celebrating the Nativity means to keep open the doors of our hearts to human dignity, especially of the weak and defenceless, as was the Divine Child Himself in the arms of the Virgin Mary.

Today once again Ukrainian society is striving to build its future on the foundation of the Christian faith. The new-born Saviour is the fulfilment of the hopes of all mankind for the coming of God’s kingdom—a kingdom of justice, peace and goodness. The birth of the eternal King of Peace was announced by the angel, when he said to the shepherds: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour” (Lk 2:10-11). This historic moment is important to us, for the word of the Evangelist proclaims that Christ Himself is the source of our joy and the end of our fears! In the Nativity of Christ, may our anxiety be transformed into hope, may confusion and uncertainty be directed along the path that leads to the place of our Lord’s birth. On this Christmas Day, when, according to the apostle Paul, the power of God was made manifest in human weakness (cf. II Cor. 12:9), our sense of powerlessness is turned into a realization of our self-worth. Through the action of the Holy Spirit, this realization of our self-worth becomes a force that will enable us to build a society worthy of man. That is why today we glorify the power of the divine-humanity, singing: “Holy are You, O Lord, Who fortified our strength!”

Dearly beloved in Christ! On this joyous feast day of Christ’s Nativity, I wish all of you my sincerest greetings. I wish for you goodness and peace, harmony and health. I desire to knock on the door of every Ukrainian family! With the sound of ancient carols, I wish to cheer every Ukrainian heart! Announcing the great joy of our Saviour’s birth, I want to gather around Bethlehem’s stable all of our church—both in Ukraine and abroad— into one community of God!

Today let us feel like one Christian family in which our Saviour is born. Along the path of humanity and Christian solidarity, we can touch all who defend their own dignity, the dignity of their family and their nation! Let us share our Christmas joy with those who are far from home, in hospital beds or prison bunks. Together, guided by the light of the star, let us make ​​haste towards our neighbours in order to see in the flesh—the Invisible One; in His poverty—the Source of all goodness; in His weakness—the Almighty, as the new-born Christ-God in the embrace of the Theotokos.

Christ is born!
Let us glorify Him!

† SVIATOSLAV


Given in Kyiv,
at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ,
19 December 2013,
on the feast day of St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra, the Wonderworker

Maronite Patriarch Rai denounces conversion to Orthodox Churches or Islam for divorce, but Catholics afforded few choices | News , Lebanon News | THE DAILY STAR

BEIRUT -- Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai denounced Friday lawyers helping Catholic couples divorce by converting to other sects, but some members of the clergy and Catholics say the church needs to offer alternatives.

"Every lawyer who helps a married couple to convert in order to divorce them is banned from representing cases in religious courts," Rai said, addressing a delegation of judges from religious courts visiting him at Bkirki. "We call on religious courts and the courts of two well-known churches to stop committing this sin in return for a fistful of money," Rai added.

Each Lebanese sect has its own personal status law. Legal procedures related to marriage, inheritance, divorce and registration are handled differently in various religious courts. Divorce is strictly prohibited for Catholics, including Maronites. Marriages can only be annulled under a restricted set of conditions. Some Catholics seeking a divorce convert to other Christian sects or to Islam in order to end their marriage. Several leading Maronite officials in Lebanon have adopted this system to divorce and remarry.

Father George Massouh, the director of the center for Christian-Muslim Studies in the University of Balamand, said that Rai was referring to the Assyrian and Syriac Orthodox churches in his speech.
"Whenever there are problems between a husband and a wife, they need to file [an annulment which could take time, so what happens instead is that a gang of bishops, priests and lawyers collaborate and help them convert to another sect and get divorced in return for money," Massouh said. He added that the practice showed no respect to Christian sects because those converting did not do so for religious reasons. Massouh said the religious figures involved in such arrangements justify them on the grounds that the couple would remain Christians, which is presumably preferable to their conversion to Islam.

"This practice affects ties between churches negatively," he said. "Patriarch Rai issued an important and necessary warning today because the church and faith are not a playground," Massouh said, adding that cases of Christians converting to other Christian sects for divorce have increased recently. Massouh said he supported the Catholic Church's strict stance on the matter, but added that civil marriage would solve the problem entirely. "I support civil marriage. Let divorce take place based on civil law," he said, adding that after having a civil marriage, a faithful couple could have a religious marriage at the church.

Those who have had to convert to divorce were more critical of Rai's stance. Nathalie Ayoub is a Lebanese Christian who tried to convert to another Christian sect to get divorced. She explained that in many cases, divorce was better for the family than an unhappy marriage. "People are forced to convert to another sect in order to divorce, [the patriarch] forced us to do so," she said. Ayoub was raised in a Greek Orthodox household but converted to Catholicism more than 20 years ago after marrying a Maronite. Three years ago, Ayoub and her husband were planning to convert to Syriac Orthodox to file for divorce, but her husband left the country before the process was over. "No one knows what secret life he leads ... my children demanded a divorce. My younger daughter told me 'It will be the happiest day of my life when you and dad divorce,'" she said. Ayoub told her daughters she would not attend their wedding if they decided to have a Maronite marriage because the sect prohibited divorce.
She said she was told she should be able to have her marriage annulled because husband had been outside the country for three years, but the process would cost around $25,000. "I have to pay money to the priest and the lawyer," she said. Ayoub said she couldn't afford this amount as she just left her job and was looking for a new one. She explained that she could not remarry until she was officially divorced. "I want to ask Patriarch Rai: does he prefer that I commit adultery?"

Rai denounces conversion for divorce, but Catholics afforded few choices | News , Lebanon News | THE DAILY STAR

ASIA/SYRIA - Bishop Audo: Our Christmas under the bombs - Fides News Agency

Aleppo (Agenzia Fides) - The suburbs of Aleppo, in the hands of rebel forces, have been for days under the bombing of government aviation. According to various sources, the military offensive has already caused more than two hundred deaths. "In the meantime – says the Jesuit Antoine Audo, Chaldean Bishop of the metropolis of Syria to Fides Agency - "in the central areas of the city, mortar fire coming from the outlying areas in the hands of the rebels continue, and continue to cause casualties. Sometimes we hear from afar the thunder of the bombing of the army, but we do not have reliable information with regards to the effects of that offensive. The power shortages do not allow you to connect to the internet or watch television. And of course there are no newspapers".

 Bishop Audo describes a contradictory situation, where there are tragic events and the desire for normality, and testimony of redemption and hope: "I have just finished a meeting of coordination with surgeons who have decided to remain in order to assist people across the city who need surgical operations. The work of Caritas continues, and also the pastoral initiatives in view of Christmas. Last week I started a Bible study, and there were more than fifty children. It seems an incredible contradiction. But we try to encourage our Christian people to live concrete initiatives that are also a strong sign of the will not to give up, to continue to hope even in the absurd situation in which we find ourselves. We will not carry out the Christmas vigil at night for security reasons. The liturgical celebration will take place in the afternoon". (GV) (Agenzia Fides 20/12/2013)

Read the report online here:
ASIA/SYRIA - Bishop Audo: Our Christmas under the bombs - Fides News Agency

Melkite Archbishop John Darwish in Lebanon: 'Arab Spring' Never Was, eyes Syrian Peace Conference in Geneva

Archbishop John Darwish.

Syrian-born Archbishop John Darwish heads the Melkite Archdiocese of Furzol, Zahle and Bekaa in Lebanon. With a population of 200,000 Christians, Zahle is the largest Christian city in the Middle East. His jurisdiction straddles the western border of Syria and is currently home to 800 Syrian Christian refugee families--a total of more than 6,000 people--who have fled their homeland where they were caught in the fighting between the Syrian regime and rebel forces, and where Islamist rebels have been increasingly targeting the Christian community.
There are a total of some 2,000 Syrian Christian refugee families in all of Lebanon. With a small number having left for the US, Europe or Australia, the majority of uprooted Syrian Christians, the archbishop points out, are displaced within their own country, many of them in Damascus and in Syria's "Valley of the Christians." Winter has arrived--refugees and displaced people throughout the region are beginning to suffer terrible hardships.

Archbishop Darwish is on a tour of the United States to raise funds that help the local Church to continue to provide support and humanitarian aid for the Syrian refugees; to call attention to the plight of Christian minorities throughout the Middle East, including Lebanon; and to raise funds for his organizations and projects in the Bekaa valley.

If outright persecution does not drive Christians out of their native countries, the prelate explains, poverty, a lack of educational and economic opportunities and very limited access to social services force many into permanent exile. To help Lebanese Christians, Archbishop Darwish has launched a new charity, with headquarters in both Lebanon and the US: Stream of Hope Mission. The organization supports a local non-profit hospital (Tel Chiha Hospital), a drug rehabilitation center(Emmanuel House for Drugs Rehabilitation) and a scholarship fund (CADA). Archbishop Darwish spoke with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need Dec. 18, 2013, during his visit to New York.

Read more from Aid to the Church in Need's report here:
Melkite Archbishop John Darwish in Lebanon: 'Arab Spring' Never Was, eyes Syrian Peace Conference in Geneva

Chaldean Church: Six Christian families leave Iraq every day | Iraq Society, Al Sumaria

The Chaldean Church in Kirkuk announced on Tuesday, December 17 that about 6 Christian families leave Iraq every day, criticizing foreign consulates and embassies for easily giving visas to these families. The Church also revealed that a successor to Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako I as Archbishop of Kirkuk has been nominated awaiting the Vatican Pope’s recognition.

“Emptying the Middle East from Christians is a great loss. Their presence, competence and liberality are vital to the society and the Muslim majority appreciates that”, said church priest Stephan Banan in a statement to Alsumaria. He also highlighted that: “approximately 6 Christian families leave Iraq daily due to a comprehensive strategy adopted to help Christians flee by giving them visas to foreign countries”.

“Some Christians leave Iraq in fear of being targeted after hearing threats”, clarified the Church’s communiqué, asking “why do Christians leave the secure areas such as the northern parts of Iraq after tens of villages were built for them?”
Read more here:
Chaldean Church: Six Christian families leave Iraq every day | Iraq Society

Slaughter of Christian Women and Children in Muslim Lands: Media, Governments Silent :: Gatestone Institute Autumn Round Up

by Raymond Ibrahim
December 17, 2013 at 4:00 am
 
[Gatestone Institute in New York is a think-tank politically taking a robust pro-Israel line. ]
 

Read more of the update online here:
More Slaughter in Muslim Lands; Media, Governments Silent :: Gatestone Institute's Regular Round Up

Friday, 20 December 2013

Vatican Believes ROC Should Recognize Own Guilt in Addition to Accusing Greek Catholics in Western Ukraine

The conflict between Greek Catholics and Orthodox in Western Ukraine has to be resolved from both sides, said Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. “Only by recognizing this can we move together into the future,” he said December 17, responding to journalists' questions at a press conference in Moscow.

A correspondent from Blahovest-info asked about the cardinal’s attitude toward the issue, which, the Russian Orthodox Church believes, complicates the preparation of a possible meeting between the Moscow Patriarch and the Pope. The journalist quoted statements recently made by Metropolitan Hilarion’s at a Russian-Polish conference: “Even in the twentieth century, we are faced with a situation that is still unhealed – a situation in western Ukraine, where the Greek Catholics at the turn of 1980-90s forcibly expelled the Orthodox from churches and where there are still towns and villages where the Orthodox do not have their own churches.”

“I agree with Metropolitan Hilarion: The situation in Ukraine is very serious. But from my point of view, it has two sides, and Metropolitan Hilarion willingly speaks only of one. I have visited many parishes in Western Ukraine and saw the suffering on both sides. If the blame for what happened just lay on the Greek Catholics, we would have a lot of influence,” he answered in response to a question about the possibility of returning to the Orthodox churches.

“What are the Orthodox guilty of?” a journalist from ITAR-TASS asked. “The Orthodox themselves should answer this. We must not forget that the Catholic Church was virtually eliminated by the Soviets. Greek Catholics were forced to convert to Orthodoxy. And that they came out into the public space after the fall of the Soviet regime is their right. Of course, it is the state’s fault, but it along with the Orthodox has to be concerned about the Greek Catholics getting what rightfully belongs to it,” said Cardinal Koch.

According to him, this situation is also complicated by the presence in Ukraine of several Orthodox jurisdictions. He himself during his visit met only with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. However, in some places the Greek Catholic clergy have are in contact with the Orthodox believers who belong to unrecognized Orthodox Churches, and for them it is “much more difficult not to have contact with those who are not in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church.” “We must do everything so that this tension is reduced. If Orthodoxy in Ukraine was united in one church, that would be a major step toward solving the problem,” the cardinal said.

Read online here:
Vatican Believes ROC Should Recognize Own Guilt in Addition to Accusing Greek Catholics in Western Ukraine

Thursday, 19 December 2013

How many more times can the Foreign Office get it so wrong? - Telegraph

On 18 December, The Daily Telegraph featured this analysis from the excellent journalist, Peter Oborne, on how UK and US foreign policy has been so comprehensively ill informed that it has effectively allied the West with forces inimical to the supposed aims of the Arab Spring - far from liberty, pluralism and democracy, it is the objectives of Islamism and Al Qaeda that have been advanced. Despite Britain's long informed history of understanding the Middle East, its failure with regard to Egypt and Syria has the precedent of two disastrous interventions in Iraq.

As a result, it is the ancient Christian Churches which have been brought to their knees, partly because they are seen by Islamists as agents of the West, and partly because the so-called Christian powers championing human rights have abandoned those of the Christians.

The article deftly tails into the piece immediately below it on the columnists' page: a guest piece by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales on the terrible plight of Christians across the Middle East, written to draw attention to a recent event he held in support of the diaspora Christian communities of the Middle East in the UK, in contrast to the British Government's failure and indeed reluctance to acknowledge the persecution of Christians around the world at a recent debate in Parliament. The Prince how strange it is for this Christian country to be revelling in Christmas, heedless of the suffering of our brothers and sisters and even refusing to lift a finger to help them.



This December has seen the final collapse of British and American policy in Syria. David Cameron’s favourite general, Salim Idris, was meant to unify the rebels, bring down Assad, and vanquish al-Qaeda. Instead his Free Syrian Army has taken to its heels, giving up its equipment to its Islamist rivals, while Idris himself has reportedly gone on the run.



Officially, the Prime Minister still insists President Assad must go. Like an old gramophone record, Downing Street was even yesterday stressing the importance of “a political transition… to bring this brutal regime to an end”.
 
Privately, it is now a different story. The emergence of al-Qaeda and its various allies and associates has led to a sudden change of attitude. At a meeting in London last week, Syrian rebels were informed that removing Bashar al-Assad was no longer the priority. According to the former CIA chief Michael Hayden, speaking in a recent conference in Washington, the survival of Assad, “as ugly as it sounds”, may now be a better outcome than any of the alternatives.
 
We are supposed to have first-class diplomatic and intelligence services. Yet from the start of the rebellion – and there is no other way of putting this – they haven’t had the faintest idea what was going on.
 
First of all, they failed to understand the underlying stability of the regime in Damascus: the strength of the army, the level of support among the population, the loyalty of insiders, and the ruthlessness of its leader. British diplomats repeatedly told ministers that Assad would be toppled in a coup – which never materialised.



HRH Prince Charles' article is in the next post. Read more of Peter Oborne's piece online here:
How many more times can the Foreign Office get it so wrong? - Telegraph