Every second Saturday of the month, Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1K 5BQ.
4pm Divine Liturgy. Next: 13th November 2021

Very sadly, the Divine Liturgy in English at 9-30 am on Sundays at the Holy Family Cathedral, Lower Church, have had to be put on hold. Until the practicalities we cannot use the Lower Church space. Hopefully this will be resolved very soon. Please keep checking in here for details.

Owing to public health guidance, masks should still be worn indoors and distance maintained. Sanitisers are available. Holy Communion is distributed in both kinds from the mixed and common chalice, by means of a separate Communion spoon for each individual communicant.

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.

Friday 25 February 2011

Newest Saint in the facade of the Vatican Basilica: St Maron

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 24, 2011 thanks to Zenit.org.

Before arriving in Paul VI Hall for the general audience on Wednesday, Benedict XVI made a stop to visit the newest addition to the facade of St. Peter's Basicila, a statue of the 5th-century monk, St. Marone.

The 16-foot, 20-ton statue was recently placed in the last vacant outer niche of St. Peter's Basilica. The Maronite Catholic Church commission the work for the jubilee year that marked 1,600 years since the death of the saint, who is an important figure for the Church in Lebanon and recognized as the father of the Maronites.

Spanish artist Augusto Duenas sculpted the statue out from a single block of Carrara marble. The statue portrays the St. Marone in the act of offering to the world a small Maronite-style church, which he is holding in his left hand. The saint is wearing a long stole and holds a staff in his right hand.

Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, and Lebanese president Michel Suleiman accompanied Benedict XVI for the ceremony. Before blessing the statue, the Pope quoted the Psalms: "The righteous shall flourish like the palm, they will grow like a cedar in Lebanon."
In an interview with ZENIT in October, Lebanese Father Michele Saghbiny, the academic dean of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) in Rome, reflected on the significance of placing St. Maron in a niche of St. Peter's Basilica.

"He is the patron of the Maronite Church, but he is also a Catholic saint and so belongs to all the Church's rites," said Father Saghbiny. "His disciples defended the teachings of the Chalcedonean Council and then found themselves to be the only Chalcedon eans in the area until the reunification of some of the other Eastern rites centuries later.

"The importance of St. Marone and his disciples is their remaining in unity with Rome, the only [Eastern] Church that remained in unity of faith with the bishop of Rome. The Maronite Church is the only [Eastern Church] that does not have two branches -- one orthodox, one Catholic. All the others are referred to as 'uniate.'"

"Also," he continued, "when the Crusaders arrived for the first time in the Middle East, they came into contact with the substantial community of Chalcedonian Christians native to that area, the Maronites. After communication with Rome was re-established at that time, Pope Innocent II recognized the authority of the Maronite Patriarchate of Antioch."

Father Saghbiny noted that the Maronites are most present in Lebanon, which is the only country that is "both Arabic and of a Christian nature."

"It is the only place you can find such a large population of Christians," he added. "The Christians in other Middle Eastern countries count on the Christians of Lebanon. They sustain the other Middle Eastern Christians."

Monday 21 February 2011

New Nuncio in Russia: Benedict XVI promotes dialogue with Orthodox Church

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 21, 2011 thanks to Zenit.org.

Benedict XVI is moving Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič from his apostolic nunciature in Ukraine to the same post in Russia. The prelate comes to Moscow with broad experience in Orthodox-Catholic relations.

The Vatican reported Archbishop Jurkovič's appointment Saturday, just two days after the Pope was visited by the president of Russia, Dimitri Medvedev.

Archbishop Jurkovič succeeds Archbishop Antonio Mennini, who was appointed in December the nuncio to Great Britain.

During his eight-year tenure in Moscow, Archbishop Mennini played a decisive role in improving relations between Orthodox and Catholics. In fact, the day after the papal audience, President Medvedev signed an order conferring on him the honor of the "Order of Friendship," in recognition of his work to improve relations between the Holy See and Russia.

Archbishop Jurkovič is also practiced in Russian Orthodox-Catholic relations, having already worked in the nunciature of Moscow. As well, he had served in the Ukraine -- a territory included in the Russian patriarchate -- since 2004, and from 2001 to 2004, he was apostolic nuncio in Belarus.

Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations and a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow, already knows personally Archbishop Jurkovič.

Ivan Jurkovič was born in Kocevje, Slovenia, on June 10, 1952, and ordained a priest in 1977. In 1980 he entered the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, where priests are instructed for papal diplomatic service. In 1988 he earned a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Lateran University.

After serving in several countries, between 1992 and 1996 he worked as a counselor in the Holy See's representation in Moscow, where he was a canon law professor and published several books on law, including a Latin-Russian dictionary of canon law terms and expressions.

Friday 18 February 2011

Forum 18 in Norway criticises Turkey's repression of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's right to its property, as well as the expropriation of Syriac Orthodox lands


Turkey expropriates land of Mor Gabriel Syrian Orthodox Monastery

By Paul de Maeyer, ROME, FEB. 18, 2011 thanks to Zenit.org.

Not even the Mongols of the 14th century, when they killed 40 monks and some 400 faithful, succeeded in making one of the most ancient Christian convents in the world disappear, but perhaps Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, can.

This appears to be the case of the Syriac Orthodox monastery of Mor Gabriel or "Dayro d-Mor Gabriel," called "Deyrulumur" in Turkish. It is located in the region of Turabdin in the southeast of Anatolia. The convent bears the name of Mor Gabriel (634-668), bishop of Tur-abdin, known for his witness of holiness and miracles.

The foundation of the monastery, which is situated southeast of the city of Midyat, in the province of Mardin, near the border with Syria, dates back to the year 397 A.D. and was the initiative of two monks, Mor Samuel and Mor Simon, who died in 409 and 433, respectively. The complex, which boasts elements built with the help of Byzantine emperors such as Arcadius (395-408) and Theodosius II (408-450), today houses a small community of three monks and 14 sisters.

Mor Gabriel, known also as the "second Jerusalem," is not only a monastery. Mor Gabriel is in fact the See of the Metropolitan Mor Timotheus Samuel Aktas and the cultural and spiritual center of the dwindling Syro-Orthodox community of Turkey and of numerous Syriacs who've emigrated to the West. Just 50 years ago, some 130,000 Syriacs lived in the region of Tur-abdin - the name means "mountain of the servants of God" - but today their number has decreased to just a few thousand.

The monastery is at the c enter of a harsh battle initiated in 2008 by the leaders of three Kurdish villages dominated by a tribe supported in Parliament by one of their leaders, Suleyman Celebi, who is a Parliamentarian with the pro-Islamic ruling party of Erdogan (the AKP or Party of Justice and Development).

Several accusations have been leveled against the monastic community, including proselytism, which is based on the fact that young men study Eastern or Syrian Aramaic at the monastery. There are also claims that the monastery was built on a place where a mosque once stood - an unfounded and even absurd accusation, given that Mor Gabriel well precedes the birth of Islam. The accusation that sticks - at least in the eyes of Turkish officials - is the one upheld by the Treasury Ministry: undue appropriation of land. Even this accusation is not very comprehensible, given that the community of Mor Gabriel regularly pays the taxes on the land in question.

The affair has recently met with, perhaps, its definitive conclusion. With a decision made public on Jan. 27 (but that actually dates to Dec. 7), the "Yargitay" or Ankara Court of Appeals - Turkey's highest appeals court - overturned a verdict issued on June 24, 2009, by the court of Midyat. According to the Yargitay decision reported by Forum 18 News Agency, 12 plots of monastery land with a total area of 99 hectares (244 acres) are to be considered "forests" and hence belong "ipso facto" to the Turkish state.

For Mor Gabriel, the decision is a hard blow. To lose the lands means to lose the means of sustenance necessary for survival. While sources close to the Forum 18 agency described the decision as "highly political and ideological," the whole affair was described from the beginning as "a spectacle trial" or "farce."

"The purpose of the threats and the lawsuit se ems to be to repress this minority and expel it from Turkey, as if it were a foreign object," the head of the Aramaic Federation, David Gelen, told AsiaNews back in 2009. "Turkey must decide whether it wants to preserve a 1,600-year-old culture, or annihilate the last remains of a non-Muslim tradition. What is at stake is the multiculturalism that has always characterized this nation, since the time of the Ottoman Empire."

The decision caused little upheaval in European environments, with the exception of Germany, where several parties, including the Social Democratic fraction in the Bundestag (Lower Chamber) and even Die Linke (the Left), denounced it.

"The fraction of the SPD expressly condemns the expropriation because the surrounding land is fundamental for the life of the monastery. The Mor Gabriel monastery deserves our protection," stated a Feb. 1 communiqué signed by Christoph Strasser and Angelika Graf. Strong word s were also used by Erika Steinbach, spokeswoman of the German parliamentary group for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, who called it a decision that symbolizes "the repression of Christianity in Turkey."

"The negative trend in religious freedom in Turkey is incompatible with human rights," said Steinbach, according to the Assyrian International News Agency.

In an article published Feb. 7 by the Norwegian Forum 18 agency, Otmar Oehring, director of the Human Rights Office of the German Catholic organization Missio, analyzed the situation of various religious communities in Turkey, including the Mor Gabriel affair. According to Oehring, the basic problem is simple: no religious community exists or has ever existed for Turkish law.

"They don't have a legal personality, but they exist," admitted Turkish Vice Premier Bulent A rinc on Jan. 17, commenting on a legal battle over the Buyukada orphanage. (In 2008 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had to return to the ecumenical patriarchate the Buyukada orphanage it had confiscated.)

For now, representatives of many religions prefer to stay silent. They fear -- as the case of Mor Gabriel demonstrates -- attracting the hostility of the authorities and having to face long and above all costly legal battles, only to lose their "de facto" liberty, Oehring surmised. For the author, the only solution to undo this knot that is "completely incompatible" with the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, is a change in the Constitution and criminal code of Turkey.

This was also admitted last October by the then head of the "Diyanet" (Directorate for Religious Affairs), professor Ali Bardakoglu. "The solution is to allow a religious institution to be autonomous. Turkey is ready for this," he said, according to the daily Radikal. The following month, Bardakoglu lost his post.

For the monks of Mor Gabriel, the only way not to lose their land is, therefore, to follow the example of the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople and turn to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Metropolitan Samuel Aktas told the Economist that is just what he's going to do: “I have remained silent in the face of these injustices; but no longer so."

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Christians in Iraq: The Future and the Hope

ROME, FEB. 15, 2011 thanks to Zenit.org.

Here is a translation of the address given by Habeeb Mohammed Hadi Ali Al-Sadr, ambassador of Iraq to the Holy See, at the meeting entitled "Christianity in Iraq," held in Velletri, Italy, on Jan. 29. The talk addresses the present situation of Christians in the country.

Christians in Iraq have been witnesses of a bitter period, that of Saddam, which resulted in wars, embargoes and disasters. Throughout this period, Christians had no voice, for years their will was paralyzed, given that the regime prohibited them from expressing their opinions, from forming parties or nongovernmental associations, which could have taken care of their problems and ensured their continuity, given that their respective leaders reside abroad. As a consequence, in the 90s of the past century, waves of emigrants left the country, fleeing from the inferno of the Iraqi regime. Coming to April 2003, with the fall of that odious "statue," Christians hoped to return to the flourishing garden of a free Iraq. A real paradise in which all hopes could flourish, which up to then had been suffocated, and where their true love for the country could be planted, which even now is full of the most beautiful Iraqi sentiments.

However, the enemies of today's Iraq are the associations of Saddam infidels who, after the capitulation of the regime, took advantage of the vacuum of power created as a consequence of the American decision to dissolve all the structures of the security services. In this way, they were able to sow death and ruin throughout the country. They have done everything to destroy from the beginning the project of the new democratic Iraq. In all this, it is clear that Christians together with thei r Muslim brothers drink the bitterness of this new war, because the country is stubbornly in a new war: the war against fundamentalists and terrorists. It is the most ferocious war of all the ones engaged in by the old regime. In fact, it is a war against ghosts, shadows, which act against the people taking on different appearances that enable them to be present at pre-established times and places and commit their odious crimes without being bothered.

Undoubtedly, what has happened in Iraq has happened in other countries of the world: embargoes, wars, economic paralysis, shedding of blood, the collapse of infrasturctures. This is the painful consequence of the process of democratization, including the challenges entailed in having to confront terrorism. It will be the general situation, which is particular in the true sense of the term, which consequently influences the people negatively affecting all its components.

Because of this, it is neither just nor equitable to analyze the situation of Iraqi Christians, abstracting them from the global situation and not taking into account objective data. Just as it isn't right either to ask the government to create an exemplary climate dedicated to satisfying each component without taking the rest into account, as if the others lived in another planet.

Hence, we hope that our friends in the international community will be able to understand the truth and as a consequence that they will understand that today Iraq is in a phase of its history that might well be the most critical of its existence. It lives, in fact, in a climate of violent war waged against fundamentalist and terrorist forces prepared to use anything that is at hand, from human to economic resources, to triumph in their homicidal intents. However, if this "Iraqi dike" breaks -- God forbid -- the flood of terrorism it would produce would drown the whole world. If this should happen, each and every European would kiss good-bye to the peace and stability they enjoy. The latest attacks in Moscow are proof of what I'm saying. This situation invites us all to support with determination the Iraqi government so that it can address this danger in the best way and contain the epidemic of terror, defending this "dyke" and even making it impregnable.

Deduced from this is that our present war against terrorists is not dedicated solely to defend the security of the Iraqi people, but also to safeguard the security and future of the whole of humanity, that is why it fights in the place of the international family.

For their part, the terrorists have understood that the blood of Iraqi Muslims, which they have shed like rivers, is not so interesting in the eyes of the Western media.

And from the moment in which, pretending to impose a twisted and altogether mistaken idea of the diversity of Iraqi society, and consequently annulling the democratic experience, and striking Christians, they have attained their evil objective. Without realizing it, the media and international organizations have fallen into this mechanism, playing the game of the terrorists, being concerned about the Christians, their future and the society's lack of development. The consequence has been the abandonment by Christians of their homes and emigration.

Individual actions don't necessarily indicate that there is an Iraqi plot geared to the persecution of Christians, to the elimination of their existence, destroying their cultural patrimony as some think. In fact, these individual action don't reflect the profound and secular coexistence between Christians and Muslims, as they do not express either the tolerant essence of the Islamic faith which calls for dialogue, respect of pluralism, rejection of violence, even considering it outside the way of Islam, as is written: "to kill a soul for no reason is to kill the whole of humanity."

Moreover, "[t]he Prophet believed in what descended on him from the Lord and the believers believed in God, in his angels, books and prophets without any distinction among his envoys." In this connection, it is clear that a Muslim fails in Islam if he does not believe in the principles of his faith and in the message of Christ (about peace) and, hence, the Bible. Moreover, in its desire to preserve the Christian heritage of Iraq, the government has given life to a Christian superintendence at the ministerial level. It finances the Church with US$15 million a year from the state budget. In addition, the government has exempted the churches and monasteries from paying the taxes for light and water, as well as restored the churches and all the institutions that the previous government had expropriated, such as schools and universities.

In reality, the Christian component is the object of respect and esteem on the part of Iraq i political and religious leaders. They are all conscious of the fact that they constitute an essential active element in the process of the country's democratization. The official and popular position of the whole country is solidarity with the Christians brethren, especially after the recent and tremendous attack suffered by the church of Our Lady of Salvation. This incident, with all the manifestations of solidarity that it unleashed, witnesses the true essence of the close ties that characterize the national social fabric which has never lost its balance in face of these crimes but, on the contrary, reinforced them.

The electoral law gives Christians an advantage, reserving for them five parliamentary seats in addition to the ones it won in the elections. Christians in Iraq today have parties, circles, NGOs dedicated to the presence of Christians. In addition, they enjoy full liberty of worship, ensured by very rigorous protection which many mosques don't enjoy. They have televisions, radio and newspapers, whether in Syrian or Aramaic. At the political level, Christians have ministers in the new government, dozens of vice-ministers, several ambassadors and directors general.

To put an end to emigration, the government has made different facilities available in the purchase of plots of land, access to loans, in the release of occupied houses and in the reinsertion of employees in their respective jobs, lost previously in the flight from the cities and from the country itself. In addition, it has made every effort to compensate Christians for all damages suffered and to exempt them from customs taxes.

Recently, the presidency of the Republic elaborated a decree related to the establishment of an office that would be concerned with the issues of Iraqi Christians and coordinate the security measures, as well as the economic and social activities entrusted to it. Prime Minister Al Maliki himself swiftly formed a Supreme S ecurity Council to develop the necessary security measures destined to prevent new attacks. In addition he ordered the prompt reconstruction of the church of Our Lady of Salvation, subsidized by the State. Then he himself visited the ruins of the church and met with the bishops. He took part in the prayer for love and peace organized after the attack, visited the wounded in the hospital and gave them presents from the State to express his closeness. But not only this; his government reserves other advantages for Christians, which now await the approval of the Parliament and the approval as decree of law. This calms us in regard to the future of Christians in Iraq, which will be promising and prosperous in the light of the notable improvements that there will be in the country at the level of security and the economy which is already constantly improving. The new president of the Chamber, Al Nujaifi, organized special meetings to study "the Christian question," he also visit ed His Most Eminent Beatitude Cardinal Delly and expressed his support and that of the Parliament to Christian brethren, given that we are all in the same trench.

And we cannot forget either the posture of the president of the Kurdistan region, Masud Barzani, who has made a safe refuge of the whole region for all Christians who have felt threatened in Iraq, ensuring all the services for them: from housing and education to health. The apostolic nuncio in Baghdad, His Excellency Monsignor Giorgio Lingua, transmitted the Holy Father's greetings to President Masud Barzani for the commendable efforts made in this area and discussed with him the possibility of appealing for international support, with the agreement of the Iraqi government, to help the Kurdistan region cope with the weight of the present situation.

For his part Talabani proposed the formation of brigades of special protection, in which young Christians could enroll to collaborate in the protection of places of worship and neighborhoods inhabited by Christians.This idea is supported by Iraq's bishops.

The new Constitution guarantees Christians full equality of rights and duties, also granting them the founding of a private region suggested by them, wherever it is. Our government is also interested, for the good of the country, in reactivating Christian religious tourism and will be delighted to open its arms to Christian pilgrims who come from abroad to visit Ur, in the south of Iraq, where the Father of the Prophets was born (Abraham) peace be to him. It also wishes to develop relations of loving collaboration and understanding with the Holy See in all areas.

To carry out the general rebirth of the Christian reality, it is hoped that Christians will take steps to abandon fear and their present closure. It is also hoped that, persevering with patience in the communion of sacrifices with their fellow citizens, they will reject the idea of emigrating, thus mak ing the plan fail to empty the country of Christians. They also have the duty to guard their apostolic zeal and make a common front to overcome internal discord and safeguard national unity, rejecting all outside protection. Contributing to reinforce the charitable activities, especially in the health and education sector, so that the Iraqi Christians are witnesses of the resurrection of Christ, peace be to him, in this good and fertile land. It is necessary to activate every form of Muslim-Christian dialogue, to spread the culture of respect for the other to arrive at the necessary unity and address the challenges of globalization.

And, finally, believe me, friends, my people can only breathe their identity with two lungs, Muslim and Christian. An Iraq without Christians is an Iraq without identity and symbols. If the Christians of Iraq stay there, they will be fertile sources for eternity, projects of salvation, flames of ideas, paths for the rebirth and hands that plant the good and spread love creating hope. Thus we will have whole stations in raising hymns full of supplications for Iraq so that this country will again be a great tent that welcomes everyone.

[Translation by ZENIT]

Monday 14 February 2011

Coptic Catholic Patriarch's Statement on the Future of Egypt post-Mubarak

This is the statement released on Sunday 13 February 2011 by Patriarch Antonios (Naguib), the Coptic Catholic patriarch of Alexandria, on the new situation in Egypt after the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

The Egyptian Catholic Church joins all Egypt's loyal citizens to thank God Almighty for the wonderful success he granted to the courageous youth of the January 25 movement in which all the loyal citizens participated, by personal presence, emotional participation, or prayer to the Almighty for the good of the Beloved Egypt, or by staying updated on the news with eagerness, anticipation and hope. It was expected to make the change gradually under the constitutional provisi ons, but the will of the youth and the people determined the events’ course. We are sure that all expectations will be met, God willing.

Thanks are due to the crowds of patriotic youth who motivated the spark from which this movement started off and became an erupting volcano that cannot be extinguished and that gathered all the forces that refuse the wrong situation controlling the country for so long, by looking forward to a better and brighter future for the Egyptian civilization, and gathering around one cause which is the love of Egypt and the dignity of its citizens. Egypt has been making its history for 7,000 years with letters of light and fire. And it is now shining with a new radiance.

Greetings are addressed to the souls of the martyrs who offered their lives for the sunshine of this special historical day. May the Almighty have mercy on them and unite them with the loyal righteous, and may He give consolation and peace to their families, and protect them. We also pray that the wounded are recovered, and that the victims of violence and vandalism are able to reconstruct what was lost or destroyed.

Thanks are due to everyone who contributed to the protection of persons, private and public properties in that critical period: the popular committees, the armed forces, and the security forces. This experience has produced a reality that was absent for so long, which is the unity of the citizens, the youth and the old, Christians and Muslims, without any distinction or discrimination, in purpose and action for the good of Egypt, and for the security and safety in the country. We are certain that these feelings that reigned in the hearts will last for the near and distant future.

Now, it is time for the serious, committed and decisive work, so that Egypt would be at the forefront on the social, economic and political levels, and shine again with its deep-rooted civilization that illumined the world over the centuries. With all the Egyptians, we are looking forward to swift steps that bring about what was declared by the supreme council of the armed forces, which is the reconstruction of the nation on sound constitutional bases. 

We want Egypt to have its position among the modern countries. A civil country, a democratic one based on laws, justice and equality, that respects one’s freedom and dignity based only on the citizenship, allows participation for all categories without reducing persons and categories to one member, and achieves what the analysts, politicians and intellectuals have called for in order to prevent divisions that caused distortion in all the fields. Here they are the loyal Egyptians ready for making all efforts for the good of the dear nation. And the Catholic Church with all its institutions will work with them in reconstructing and proceeding along this path for a better future.

God protect Egypt and its leaders, and may He inspi re them with the good of the country for the present and the future.

Saturday 12 February 2011

Zenit Interview with Coptic Catholic Patriarch

Tony Assaf interviews Patriarch Antonios Cardinal Naguib

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt, FEB. 11, 2011 with thanks to Zenit.org.

The people of Egypt, and in particular its Christians, are looking for a better future, says the Catholic Coptic patriarch of Alexandria. Cardinal Antonios Naguib spoke with ZENIT about the current situation in Egypt, which has been embroiled for the past 18 days in civil unrest that has left some 300 dead and brought it's economy to a standstill.  President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country for 30 years, stepped down earlier today.

 Q: What is the position of the Catholic Church regarding what is happening now in Egypt?

ZENIT: Undoubtedly, like the other institutions and organizations present in our dear nation, and which forms part of this same nation, the Catholic Churc h in Egypt firmly denounces the violence and vandalism, and everything that halts the decent and normal life of our compatriots.

At the same time, the Church encourages a climate of national fraternity and constructive dialogue that increases a sense of true affiliation to our nation. We should promote the spirit of active participation in social life, especially through the duty to vote and all the other national duties.

Concerning the current situation, we encourage participation of citizens in the service of the popular committees, in order to protect the families, the properties, and the private and public institutions that are the nation's properties. We are aware that the national position builds relations of collaboration and friendliness among all the citizens. And we hope that the interim government reaches solutions that restore stability and security.

Q: Are there Egyptian Catholics participating in the protests?

ZENIT: Yes, they are present since the beginning of the demonstrations in Jan. 25 and until now. They are participating as Egyptian citizens who seek the good of the country. It's important that they do not say or act in a way that causes violence or vandalism. They also have to know that they should stop an act or an initiative, in case this is required for the good of the country.

We informed our churches of the clear position of the Catholic Church toward the political action. In fact, the [Church] prohibits the clergy from the political action, if it is not related to the protection of the church, or the promotion of the common good. But the [Church] allows the other faithful to exercise this right. Accordingly, they have to participate in the social and political action, express their opinions, and vote in the elections. This gives them the right and allows them to express their ideas and their requests in a legitimate and peaceful way, without any violence. Everyone shou ld freely make before God a decision about what conforms to that.

Q: Did you meet or speak to the president? If yes, did he express his intentions of leaving the country, how is his reaction to the protests?

ZENIT: I called the president's office, and I informed them that the Catholic Church is participating in the prayer so that this period is overcome safely. We also expressed our support to the president's decisions about not standing as a candidate for the presidency after the end of his term next September, dissolving the government, and asking the new interim government to take the necessary measures to change the constitution, and prepare for the coming presidential elections. But I did not have a personal conversation with the president.

Q: During the Friday prayer in Teheran, Ayatollah Khamenei invited Egypt to follow the steps of the Islamic revolution of 1979. Do you see this danger? And if this happens, what is the position of the chu rch?

ZENIT: Of course it's dangerous. The statement issued by the "Muslim Brotherhood" at midnight on Feb. 4, and published in newspapers Saturday, declares that "the group does not have any plans. Their objective is to serve the people, and this is what they have been doing for 80 years. They are making sacrifices for the people's stability, and seeking that the citizens from all denominations get their rights as a legitimate religious duty and a national commitment. They do not aspire to the presidency, or to any authority or post. They count on the progressive popular and peaceful reform." We hope that this reflects their real position and orientation. In this case, it will be normal that they observe the general laws of the parties' foundation, and participate through their representatives in the Parliament and the Shura Council.

Q: Did you meet with the Muslim leaders to unify the voice during the period of instability in the count ry?

ZENIT: No, this did not happen.

Q: The economy of Egypt is growing 7% each year, but the population is not benefiting. Don't you think this is a good reason for the Church to be on the side of the desperate young people protesting?

ZENIT: As everywhere else, and especially in our country, the Church particularly serves the poorest and the most vulnerable and takes care of them. The youth and the other citizens participating in the demonstrations are not poor and desperate. There are people participating from all levels, from university teachers to simple people. We hope that the basic demands of the youth and the majority of the intellectuals and politicians are met by a civil state based on citizenship, justice, equality and democracy; by the constitutional, legislative, administrative and social reforms that achieve this goal practically. This is what guarantees security and safety for all, and allows the social justice and the distribution of public goods to the needy.

Q: How do you see the future of Egypt, and more precisely, the future of the Catholic Church in Egypt?

ZENIT: We are looking for a better future for Egypt, and for all Egyptians. The situation of Christians and Catholics depends on the general situation in Egypt. It also depends on the course taken by the system and its president in the coming period.

[Translation by ZENIT]

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Metropolitan Hilarion: Lecture on Faith and Music at the Catholic University of America

"Music and Faith in My Life and Vision"
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, archbishop of Volokolamsk and a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow

February, 9th, 2011

Mr. President, esteemed members of the Academic Senate, professors, teachers, students, dear friends!

First of all, permit me to express my profound gratitude for this invitation. It is a great honour for me to be within the walls of the Catholic University of America once again and to be addressing you. I was last here five years ago and at that time I spoke on Orthodox-Catholic relations. But today you have invited me in my dual capacity of churchman and a representative of culture. Acknowledging that I am not only a hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church but also a composer, you have asked me to address you on the connection between music and faith as experienced by past and contemporary composers as well as by myself.

Music and Faith
I would like to begin with a thought on the relationship between music and creativity. I am convinced that culture and creativity can enhance faith, but they can hinder it too. The artist, composer, writer and representative of any creative profession, can, through his artistry, glorify the Creator. If creativity is dedicated to God, if the creative person puts his efforts into serving people, if he preaches lofty spiritual ideals, then his activity may aid his own salvation and that of thousands around him. If, however, the aim of creativity is to assert one’s own ego, if the creative process is governed by egotistical or mercenary intentions, if the artist, through his art, propagates anti-spiritual, anti-God or anti-human values, then his work may be destructive for both himself and for those about him.

We are familiar with Fr. Pavel Florensky’s view that ‘culture’ comes from the notion of ‘cult.’ We may add that culture, when divorced from cult, is in fact opposed to cult (in the broad sense of the word) and forfeits the right to be called culture. Genuine art is that which serves God either directly or indirectly. The music of Bach – though not always intended for worship – is clearly dedicated to God. The works of Beethoven and Brahms may not directly praise God, yet they are capable of elevating the human person morally and educating him spiritually. And this means – admittedly indirectly – that they also serve God.

Culture can be the bearer of Christian piety. In Russia during the Soviet years when religious literature was inaccessible, people learnt about God from the works of the Russian classics. It was impossible to buy or find in a library the works of St. Isaac the Syrian, yet we did have access to the writings of the elder Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov, which were inspired by the works of St. Isaac. Russian literature, art and music of the nineteenth century, albeit secular in form, preserved a deep inner link with its original religious underpinnings. And nineteenth-century Russian culture throughout the Soviet period fulfilled the mission which, in normal circumstances, would have been the work of the Church.

Now that religious persecution has ceased, the Church has entered the arena of freedom: there are no obstacles to her mission. A wall, artificially constructed in Soviet times, isolated the Church from culture. But now that it is no more. Church ministers are free to co-operate closely with people from the world of the arts and culture in order to enlighten the world. Church, culture and art share a common missionary field and undertake the joint task of spreading enlightenment.

J S Bach
I would now like to pause and reflect on certain composers whose works exhibit a combination of organic, creative inspiration with deep religious faith. I find the most obvious illustration of this mutuality in the creative work and indeed the destiny of Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach is a colossus; his music contains a universal element that is all-embracing. In his monumental works he manages to unite magnificent and unsurpassed compositional skill with rare diversity, melodic beauty and a truly profound spirituality. Even Bach’s secular music is permeated by a sense of love for God, of standing in God’s presence, of awe before Him.

Bach is a universal Christian phenomenon. His music transcends confessional boundaries; it is ecumenical in the original sense of the word, for it belongs to the world as a whole and to each citizen separately. We may call Bach an ‘orthodox’ composer in the original, literal sense of the Greek word ortho-doxos for throughout his life he learnt how to glorify God rightly. Invariably he adorned his musical manuscripts with the words Soli Deo Gloria (‘Glory to the One God’) or Jesu, juva (‘Help, O Jesus’). These expressions were for him not merely verbal formulae but a confession of faith that ran through all of his compositions. For Bach, music was worship of God. He was truly ‘catholic,’ again in the original understanding of the Greek word katholikos, meaning ‘universal,’ or ‘all-embracing,’ for he perceived the Church as a universal organism, as a common doxology directed towards God. Furthermore, he believed his music to be but a single voice in the cosmic choir that praises God’s glory. And of course, throughout his life Bach remained a true son of his native Lutheran Church. Albeit, as Albert Schweitzer noted, Bach’s true religion was not even orthodox Lutheranism but mysticism. His music is deeply mystical because it is based on an experience of prayer and ministry to God which transcends confessional boundaries and is the heritage of all humanity.

Bach’s personal religious experience was embodied in all of his works which, like holy icons, reflect the reality of human life but reveal it in an illumined and transfigured form.

Bach may have lived during the Baroque era, but his music did not succumb to the stylistic peculiarities of the time. As a composer, moreover, Bach developed in an antithetical direction to that taken by art in his day. His was an epoch characterized by culture’s headlong progression towards worldliness and humanism. Center stage became ever more occupied by the human person with his passions and vices, while less artistic space was reserved for God. Bach’s art was not ‘art’ in the conventional meaning of the word; it was not art for art’s sake. The cardinal difference between the art of antiquity and the Middle Ages on the one hand and modern art on the other is in the direction it takes: pre-Renaissance art was directed towards God, while modern art is orientated towards the human person. Bach stood at the frontier of these two inclinations, two world-views, two opposing concepts of art. And, of course, he remained a part of that culture which was rooted in tradition, in cult, in worship, in religion.

In Bach’s time the world had already begun to move towards the abyss of revolutionary chaos. This tendency swept over all of Europe from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth. Forty years after his death, the French Revolution broke out. It was the first of a series of bloody coups which, conducted in the name of ‘human rights’, stole millions of human lives. And all of this was done for the sake of the human person who, once again, proclaimed himself to be, as in pagan antiquity, the ‘measure of all things.’ People began to forget God the Creator and Lord of the universe. In an age of revolutions people repeated the errors of their ancestors and began to construct, one after another, towers of Babel. And they fell – one after another –burying their architects under the ruins.

Bach remained unaffected by this process because his life flowed within a different perspective. While the culture of his age became more and more removed from cult, he entered ever more deeply into the depths of cult: the depths of prayerful contemplation. As the world was rapidly becoming humanized and de-Christianized and as philosophers achieved further refinement in formulating theories designed to bring happiness to the human race, Bach sang a hymn to God from the depths of his heart.
We citizens of the early twenty-first century can affirm that no upheaval could either shake our love for Bach’s music or our soul’s love for God. Bach’s oeuvre remains a rock against which the waves of the ‘sea of everyday affairs’ break.

The Development of Musical Art after Bach
Some opine that Bach was the last of the great religious composers and that sacred music in general, a legacy of antiquity, belongs exclusively to the past. Bach’s artistry indeed marked the threshold beyond which Western music distanced itself from its religious roots and took the path of secular development. Chronologically, the divorce between music and religion coincided with the Age of Enlightenment, and, having taken this radical step, musicians did not turn back until recently.
This does not mean that church compositions were abandoned in the Classical and Romantic periods. Far from it. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms, to name but a few, wrote, for example, masterly settings of the mass and the requiem. After Bach, Brahms occupies second place in my list of favourite composers, and the third place is Beethoven’s.

I am very fond of the music of the Romantic period – of Schubert, Schumann, and others. Their works, however, bear a secular spirit even when the texts are religious. Undoubtedly their compositions are outstanding, highly emotive, and compelling: nevertheless they are fortified by a worldly air and by styles and forms foreign to associations of sanctity.

During the epochs of Impressionism and the Avant-garde, interest in anything to do with religion seems to have faded altogether. Avant-garde composers renounced the final elements that linked music to faith – the elements of harmony and of beauty as fundamental for musical creativity. Cacophony and disharmony became the constructive fabric with which musical works were built.
The mid-twentieth century saw music styles that turned from atonality and dissonance to aleatoric music and random sonorities, as heard in the works of Stockhausen and Ligeti or in those of John Cage who combined noise with silence. Important and groundbreaking was Cage’s piece entitled 4.33, which is nothing more than four minutes and thirty three seconds of complete silence, accompanied only by natural sounds (for example, the coughing of the audience in the auditorium). The appearance of this work in 1952 bore witness to the fact that the musical Avant-garde had completely exhausted itself – as if it had nothing more to say. Cage’s silence has little in common with the spiritual silence that burgeons from the depths of religious experience: his was simply a soundlessness which testified to the complete spiritual collapse of the musical Avant-garde.

Shostakovich and the Music of the Twentieth Century
It is my personal view that, in the history of twentieth-century music, there is only one composer who, in terms of talent and depth of inspired searching, comes close to Bach, and that is Shostakovich.

Bach’s music is dedicated to God and permeated by an ecclesiastical spirit. Shostakovich, on the other hand, lived at a different time and in a country where God and the Church were never spoken about openly. Yet at the same time all of his creative work reveals him to have been a believer. While he did not write church music and apparently did not attend Church services, his music nonetheless confirms that he felt deeply the disastrous nature of human existence without God and that he experienced profoundly the tragedy of modern society – a godless society – which had renounced its roots. This yearning for the Absolute, this longing for God, this thirst for truth prevails in all of his works – in his symphonies, quartets, preludes and fugues.

Shostakovich was someone who could not be broken by repression or condemnation by the powers that be. He always served the Truth. I believe that, like Dostoevsky, he was a great spiritual and moral example, whose voice, like that of a prophet, cried out in the wilderness. This voice, however, evoked and continues to evoke a response in the hearts of millions of people.

In the twentieth century, the art of music was wrenched from any religious association. Of course, throughout that century spiritual works were written, even in atheist Soviet Russia. Recently, music manuscripts of Nikolai Golovanov, chief conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre and a major figure in Soviet music, were discovered hidden in a drawer. We now know that throughout his entire life he composed sacred music which he knew he would never hear performed. Only today, half a century after his death, are we able to appreciate his works.

Many modern Western composers have written music to religious texts. It suffices to recall Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, and the church music of Honneger, Hindemith and Messiaen.

The real return of composers to the sphere of faith, however, came only at the end of the twentieth century when, in place of discord, formless noise, aleatoric music and content-free silence, there appeared a newly devised harmony for the absolute spiritual silence of musical minimalism. What was least expected in musical art was a religious renaissance, but it was precisely this that surprised and satisfied the hopes of composers and the public. Following the possible and impossible innovations of the Avant-garde, characterized by abundant external effects within a glaring inner emptiness, audiences yearned for a music that united simplicity and profundity – a music simple in language and style but deep in content; a music which would stir people not so much by its strident themes and stark originality, not even one that would necessarily touch the soul, but a music that could transport one beyond the boundaries of earthly existence into communication with the world above.

It is not fortuitous that by the end of the twentieth century the West experienced an upsurge of interest in church music, in particular Gregorian chant. The Canto Gregoriano CD, recorded in 1993 by Spanish monks from the Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos, became an international bestseller: by the beginning of the twenty-first century more than seven million copies had been sold. The producers could only guess as to what drove people to buy this disc and how the unison, monophonic tone of monastic plainchant surpassed in popularity the hits of the stars on the world stage.
Among living composers there are three in the West who enjoy considerable popularity – the Estonian Arvo Pärt, the Pole Henryk Miko?aj Górecki and the Englishman John Tavener. These composers vary in importance; they each write in an original style, each has own signature, his own characteristic, his uniquely recognizable modality. Nevertheless, much unites them both on the musical and the spiritual planes. They have all experienced the profound influence of faith and are ‘practicing’ Christians: Pärt and Tavener are Orthodox; Górecki is Catholic. Their remarkable productivity is permeated by the motif of religion, replete with deep spiritual content and inextricably linked to the liturgical tradition.

Arvo Pärt
Arvo Pärt is a composer whose visionary work is religiously motivated by the language of his music, rooted as it is in church tradition. Pärt is not only a faithful Orthodox Christian, but also a committed church man who lives an intense prayer and spiritual life. The abundance of his inner spiritual experience acquired in the sacramental life of the Church is fully reflected in his music which is sacred and ecclesiastical both in form and content.

Arvo Pärt’s genius and destiny are characteristic of his era. He began writing in the 1960s as an avant-garde composer working in serial techniques. In the 1970s, withdrawing from composition in search of a personal style, he undertook a study of early polyphony. The period of his voluntary silence and seclusion ended in 1976 when he wrote Für Alina for piano and Trivium for organ: his first pieces in a new self-made compositional technique which he labeled “tintinnabulation” (from the Latin tintinnabulum, a bell). In 1977-78 these pieces were followed by Fratres, Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, Tabula Rasa, Arbos, Summa, and Spiegel im Spiegel.

The “tintinnabulation” style, which aimed at utter simplicity in its musical dialectic, is based on the consonance of thirds and developed from the musical minimalism typical of postmodernism. Pärt believes that just one sound, one tonality, and one or two voices are enough to engage the listeners. “I work with simple material – the triad, the one tonality. The three notes of the triad are like bells. That is why I call it tintinnabulation,” explains the composer.

Such an explanation, however, will hardly assist us in understanding why Pärt’s music exerts so strong an impression on listeners, including those unfamiliar with classical music. It may be that the straightforwardness, the harmony and even the palpable monotony of Pärt’s music correspond to the spiritual search of contemporary man. Twenty-first century music lovers, weary of change and self-indulgence, find consolation and repose in these undemanding triads. The listener, having grown out of tranquility, acquires a desired inner calm through these gentle chords. Yearning for “angelic music,” he communes with the world above through this semblance of monody akin to the regularity of church services.

After his emigration from the Soviet Union in 1980, Pärt devoted himself to sacred music composition, but specifically for concert performance. Between 1980 and 1990 he wrote many pieces to accompany traditional Catholic texts, including St. John’s Passion, Te Deum, Stabat Mater, Magnificat, Miserere, Berliner Messe, and The Beatitudes. The influence of the Catholic tradition is evident in his use of the organ and orchestra along with chorus and an ensemble of soloists.
Since the early 1990s, the inspiration of Orthodox Church singing and the Orthodox spiritual tradition has become appreciable in Pärt’s oeuvre. He has produced many compositions on Orthodox texts, mostly for choir a capella, including Kanon Pokajanen (The Canon of Repentance) on verses by St. Andrew of Crete, I am the true vine and Triodion on the texts from the Lenten Triodion. His pieces for orchestra, such as Silouan’s Song for string orchestra, are also marked by a profound influence of Orthodoxy.

Personal acquaintance with the late Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), disciple and biographer of St. Silouan, the greatly revered Athonite elder canonized by the Church, has exerted significant influence on Arvo Pärt. When he lived in the Soviet Union, Pärt met a well known father-confessor who advised him to abandon music and begin work as a church watchman. Following his emigration, Pärt, as yet an unknown composer, encountered Fr. Sophrony, who gave the opposite advice: “Continue to write music,” said Fr. Sophrony, “and the whole word will know you.” And indeed, this is precisely what happened.

In spite of his advanced years, Elder Sophrony maintained an interest in the artistic work of the composer and kept in touch with him. There is a photo of the elder with earphones listening to Pärt’s music. Arvo Pärt used to spend several months a year in a house near the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex, Great Britain, founded by Archimandrite Sophrony. There he attended monastic worship every day.

Silouan’s Song is based on words by St. Silouan: “My soul yearns for the Lord and I tearfully seek him out. How am I not to seek thee? Thou didst seek me out first and granted that I may rejoice in thy Holy Spirit, and my soul loved thee. Thou dost see, O Lord, my sadness and my tears… If thou didst not bring me to thee through thy love, then I should not have sought thee as I now seek thee, yet thy Spirit granted that I may come to know thee, and my soul rejoiceth that thou art my God and Lord, and unto tears I yearn for thee…”

These words are not actually narrated in Pärt's work, rather they seem to be hidden in the melody played by strings. The entire composition is imbued with profound longing for God: grief and yearning for Him. We are left with the impression that the violins and cellos sing songs to God, praise Him and pray to Him.

After the separation of secular and Church music in the Age of Enlightenment, composers seem to have lost the ability to compose in this fashion. Who would have imagined that at the dawn of the twenty-first century the best representatives of the art of music would bring this skill back to God, praising Him “with strings and pipe.”?

My own creative work
Allow me tell you something of my own musical creative work, not because it is worthy of comparison with that of the aforementioned composers, but because the sponsors of my lecture asked me to do so.

My career as a composer has been somewhat strange and unconventional. On one occasion I intentionally abandoned music forever because I was caught between ministry to music and to the Church, so I chose the Church.

My life as a musician began when I was a young child. My parents discovered that I had perfect pitch and decided to send me to a specialist musical school. I began playing the piano at the age of three, and the violin at six. Composing started when I was twelve, and by the age of seventeen I graduated from the musical school’s composition class and entered the Moscow Conservatoire.

It was assumed that I would become a professional musician. However, I began to attend church as well as classes, and with every passing day the church attracted me more and more while music did so less and less. For some years my mind was not exactly divided, but I did ask myself where I should devote my life. Finally, I realized that I wanted to serve the Church most of all.

I was called up during my student years at the Conservatory and, having served in the army, became absolutely clear about devoting my life completely to God; so I took monastic vows. I felt then that I had broken my ties with music once and for all. Renunciation of the world was first of all the renunciation of music. I neither composed nor played musical instruments, nor even listened to recorded music.

I was then in my twentieth year and was possessed by a somewhat radical outlook. I had abandoned music, I imagined, forever. Still, man proposes, but God disposes. I became a priest and spent many years serving God and the Church. The period of radicalism was over, and I began to permit myself to listen to classical music, though I was not actively engaged in music making.
In 2006 something changed in me, and I began to compose again. This is how it happened.
 As ruling bishop of the Vienna diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church I was invited to a festival of Orthodox music in Moscow. A composition written by me twenty years before was on the program. Listening to my own music, something stirred inside me, and I began to compose again almost at once. Apparently, I had lacked some kind of outside impetus. So I returned to creative work. Musical themes and melodies began to proliferate of their own accord and with such speed that I scarcely managed to record them. At first I had no manuscript pages so I scored sheets of paper by hand in order to write down the notes. Before long I equipped myself with staff paper and later mastered a computer programme that allowed me to plot the notes and listen to my recorded music digitally. I wrote quickly, though at odd moments, as I had no special time slot devoted to composition. Some pieces were composed in planes or in airport waiting halls.

I composed The Divine Liturgy and later The All-Night Vigil in this way, as also the St. Matthew Passion, Christmas Oratorio and my latest, The Song of Ascent.

The Divine Liturgy was completed during the first decade of June 2006, when I took official flights from Budapest to Moscow and from Vienna to Geneva. Much music was composed en route: at the Moscow and Geneva airports, and on board a Moscow-Budapest plane. As a church minister I can never be indifferent to the quality of music used in church. I have heard many different choirs during my twenty years of service at God’s altar. Very seldom could singing at the Liturgy be deemed satisfactory. More often than not the sound interfered with prayer, rather than assist at it. In order to focus on prayer I had to distance myself from the choral performances. Typically a precentor would select hymns by different composers from different epochs, written in different styles. This resulted in conflict between the inner structure of the Liturgy as a single whole and the unrelated items being performed. Word and music were entirely disconnected. This is why I decided to compose a full-scale Liturgy for worship. I wanted to compose a kind of music that would not distract either the celebrant, the reader, or the worshippers, all of whom were praying at the divine services. My musical settings of the hymns in the Liturgy are simple, easily memorized, and bear a resemblance to common chant. Worshippers praying at the service and listening to this music would feel that they are hearing familiar sounds. There is nothing novel or strange that would distract the faithful. I followed the same principles in my All-Night Vigil.

The St. Matthew Passion is an attempt at an Orthodox reading of Christ’s passion. Among the forty-eight pieces in the composition there are four fugues for orchestra, four arias, numerous choruses and recitatives. Unlike Bach’s passions, there is no libretto, only the Gospel account which is narrated by a protodeacon in Russian and in a manner familiar in the Orthodox Church. In addition there are texts in Church Slavonic from divine services of Holy Week which are set to choral music. This Passion lasts for two hours and consists of four thematic movements, namely, the Mystical Supper, the Trial, the Crucifixion, and the Burial. Certain pieces in the third movement are performed by male voices and low stringed instruments (violas, cellos, and double-basses). According to some critics, this musical composition for choir and string orchestra is unprecedented in the Russian musical tradition. It follows Bach’s format except that it is filled with Orthodox content. It may well be the case that, to a certain extent, I managed as best as I could, and in all modesty, to make the dream of the great Russian composer, Mikhail Glinka, a reality, namely, to “marry” a Western fugue with Russian church singing. Certainly, it was a risky endeavor, but as this composition was not intended for church use, I thought I could allow myself the challenge. May the public judge how successful this is.
The Christmas Oratorio is shorter than the “St. Matthew Passion.” A musical drama, it lasts some seventy-five minutes and is based on the theme of movement from darkness to light, from the Old Testament to the New. The “Oratorio” begins with rather somber music, meant to guide the listener to the Old Testament. Since the Gospel texts of the Annunciation and the Nativity of Christ are narrated, boys’ voices are introduced. After this, choral and orchestra sections alternate with solo arias. The music is intended to illustrate the entire story of Christ’s Nativity. The composition ends with a jubilant finale in which the combined forces of the two choirs and the orchestra lead into a glorification of the Lord with the words “Glory to God in the highest.” I am pleased to recall that the world premiere of this composition took place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. The Oratorio was performed at the Church of St. John the Baptist in Manhattan, New York, NY, on December 18 of the same year, and at Memorial Hall, Harvard University, on December 20.

My latest composition is called The Song of Ascent. It is a symphony for choir and orchestra and was composed during the course of a week in August 2008, when I was on a short holiday in Finland. The libretto is based on the texts of the last seven psalms in the Biblical Psalter. Two of them are called Song of Ascent in the Bible.

The psalm texts are extremely rich in content and they express a variety of emotional and spiritual experiences such as sorrow, repentance, tenderness, contrition of heart, joy and exultation. In this sense, the Psalter constitutes a universal collection of devotions in which all the fundamental conditions of the human soul flow into prayerful lamentations addressed to God. The symphony has five movements, each with its own drama. Its overriding theme lies in the ascent from the depths of despair to the heights of prayerful exultation to the rapturous praise of God. Written for a large orchestra, it consists of a string group, woodwind, brass instruments, percussion, harp, and organ. A mixed choir divided into men’s and women’s groups is placed on either side of the stage.

The premiere of The Song of Ascent took place at the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in November 2009. The symphony was also performed at the Vatican on 20 May 2010 in the presence of Benedict XVI, Pope of Rome. Carlo Ponti, son of the famous actress Sophia Loren, conducted the Russian National Orchestra and the Moscow Synodal Choir. After the performance, the Pope expressed heartfelt words about the music. He considered that the concert opened a window to the “soul of the Russian people and with it the Christian faith, both of which find extraordinary expression precisely in the Divine Liturgy and the liturgical singing that always accompanies it.” Benedict XVI, himself an accomplished musician, noted the “profound original bond” between Russian music and liturgical singing. “In the liturgy and from the liturgy is unleashed and to a great extent is initiated the artistic creativity of Russian musicians to create masterpieces that merit being better known in the Western world,” added the Pontiff. Drawing a deeper meaning from the concert, the Bishop of Rome affirmed that in music there is already a certain fulfillment of the “encounter, the dialogue, the synergy between East and West, as well as between tradition and modernity.” In his new book of interviews the Pope of Rome speaks very warmly of the performance.

I have said much today about classical and sacred music, as I compose and listen to it. Certainly, I am well aware of the insignificant number of young people who listen to classical music, whereas almost everyone listens to popular music. This I consider to be a real tragedy.

I believe, however, that secular musical art is possible within Christianity, including that which exceeds the limits of classical music which I love so much. Christianity is inclusive; it does not set strict canonical limits to art. Christianity can even inspire a secular artist who, using the means available and known to him and his milieu, will be able to convey certain sacred messages equally in the language of modern musical culture.

This applies also to modern, popular and youth music. There are compositions in popular music imbued with high spiritual content and are written skillfully (for instance, the famous rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar). No doubt, this composition is not in keeping with church criteria, but the author did not purport to present the canonical image of Christ. He achieved his objective outstandingly well by telling the story of Christ’s Passion in a language understandable to the youth and through the medium of contemporary music. I appreciate this music more emphatically than I do the works of many avant-garde composers, since the latter sometimes eschew melody, harmony, and inner content.

Some believe that there cannot be works of art dedicated to Christ except those created within the Church. I do not completely agree with this. Of course, the Church is the custodian of Christ’s teaching and the place of His living presence, but the Church should not seek to “privatize” Christ or declare Him to be her “property.” We should not repeat the mistakes of the Catholic Church made in the Middle Ages. The image of Christ can inspire not only church people, but also those who are still far from her. One should not forbid them to think, speak and write about Christ, unless they are moved by a desire deliberately to distort Christianity and to insult the Church and the faithful.
If a composition is bright, impressive and grips the listeners, if it makes them empathize emotionally with the Gospel events and even weep, if it arouses profound feelings in them, then it deserves high praise. It may be that we meet professionalism and musical skill in works which do not touch our hearts. It may also happen that a composition based on a religious subject turns out to be secular in its content and lacks spirit.

The way to the Christian faith often begins with a discovery of the living Christ, rather than a recognition of the church’s dogmatic truths. Christianity is a religion focused on the living Man, a historic person. The person of this Man appeals astonishingly. It may well be the case that a composition on a Gospel subject, though written by a non-Churchman, is imbued by a veneration of Christ. Many may begin their way to Christ and to the Church through such a composition, even if it were not altogether “canonical”.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Christians and Muslims can be united more than divided

Zenit Interview with Patriarch Ignace Joseph III of Antioch of the Syrian Catholics

DAMASCUS, Syria, FEB. 8, 2010 thanks to Zenit.org.

Last December, Christians and Muslims gathered in Damascus for the 1st International Congress of Muslim-Christian Brotherhood.

The Dec. 15 conference was sponsored by Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, patriarch of the Greek Catholic Melkite Church. The conference was a follow-up to the synod on the Middle East held last October at the Vatican, and view as one of the first "visible fruits" of it.

Some 1,000 people participated -- Christians and Muslims, representatives from Eastern Churches, and participants from Lebanon, Jordan and other Arab nations.

Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan of Antioch explained that the conference was a "positive realization of what the holy synod in Rome called for, especially for Islam and Christianity and the issues of sharing land and country, and some ethics related to daily life."

The patriarch emphasized that participants wanted to show the world that Syria's president "asks that Muslims and Christians should live in peace together and should witness to their common life in Syria in peace to all humanity."

"We are full of hope to cooperate with the grace of God more closely with our Muslim brothers and sisters in the future," he added.

He said that the gathering in Damascus allowed Christians and Muslims to speak of common issues.

"The first and most important issue," Patriarch Ignace Joseph III asserted, "is to condemn all terrorism, particularly terrorism in the name of a religion. And, secondly, I think that there is a need to review the religious speech es given by clerics -- that they abide by spreading peace not hatred, to accept those different from us and to found dialogue and religious relations upon the common values of humanity we share."

Patriarch Younan affirmed hopes that the future will bring further collaboration, "because there are more things that are uniting us than are separating us."

The Syriac Catholic Church is one of the seven Eastern Churches "sui iuris" belonging to the Catholic Church, and hence in full communion with the Holy See in Rome. The liturgical tradition of the Syriac Catholic Church uses the language Christ spoke, which is Aramaic. The Syriac Catholic Church exists particularly in the Holy Land, in Iraq and Lebanon.

[Gabriela Maria Mihlig contributed to this report]

Saturday 5 February 2011

Ukrainian Catholic Seminaries are full

SAMBIR, Ukraine, FEB. 4, 2011, with thanks to Zenit.org.

Ukrainian Greek-Catholic seminaries are having to turn away up to half of the young men seeking to become priests due to a lack of space.

Coadjutor Bishop Jaroslav Pryriz of the Eparchy of Sambir-Drohobych reported to Aid to the Church in Need that in some places, there are three candidates vying for every place in the seminary.

He stated that many young men are attracted to the priesthood because of the examples they see of living a challenging vocation.

"When they see good priests, and when they see the Church living out the social gospel, it inspires them," the prelate affirmed.

He added, "Many young men see the positives and negatives -- t he positive of how the Church serves people and the negative of how hard life is in the streets and the villages."

The bishop recalled the example of Blessed Omelian Kovch, a Ukrainian diocesan priest who helped the Jewish people during the Nazi occupation and was killed in a Majdanek concentration camp on the outskirts of Lublin, in Poland in 1944.

Bishop Pryriz said: "His family tried to free him from prison but he wrote to his family telling them not to worry. He stayed with the Jewish people and died with them."

"The Catholic Church gives a great example of service and suffering," the prelate affirmed. "We need to show people a very great example."

He thanked the aid agency for its support, noting that it "enabled our Church to regain a normal presence in the public life of our country" after the fall of communism.

The bishop sent a message to the agency's donors: You responded to the needs of our Church and God's faithful people, and we, in turn, promise to do all in our power to further the hope we have in common. May God reward you a hundredfold for your generosity of heart, and we assure you, our dear friends, that we will remember you in our prayers.

The agency is offering particular support to the diocese's 86 seminarians and 287 priests.

Bishop Pryriz said, "We are extremely grateful that there are people such as you who understand the important role a priestly vocation can play in today's world and that you put this insight into practice by offering material support for the formation of our vocations."

"Together with you," he added, "we are building the temple of human souls, whose grandeur depends solely on the sincerity of efforts each one of us is making according to personal ability."

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Patriarch Gregorios' Visit to Alexandria and Egypt

Back from Cairo, Gregorios III says, “We are living God’s today.”

H.B. Gregorios III, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, is back from Cairo, where, as usual, he spent the Feasts of the Nativity and Epiphany. Asked about the current  state of affairs in Egypt just one year after the start of the Tahrir Square uprising, the Patriarch remarked that the situation seems calm, with “enough security to allow more or less normal life to go on, though there is still a sense of unease.”

“Life goes on in our schools, institutions, parish centres, but we have to realise and accept that a new wave of departures is hitting our Egyptian Melkite Greek Catholic community. We really deplore the departure of some twenty families, according to the testimony of our parish priests, as this is a significant number for a community already reduced to barely five thousand people,” added Gregorios III, before explaining, “This wave of departure is also hitting Coptic Catholic and Orthodox communities, and it would seem that there have been Muslims leaving too. But it is impossible to be sure and difficult to know how many. They have numbers on their side, so leavers don’t create such a void as among Christian communities.”

“We are living God’s today from one day to the next. We are keeping our little flock, loving and serving it through our pastoral care, our schools and each one of our institutions. Pastoral care, together with our schools, is most important, as it is the foundation of our Church’s life,” the Patriarch asserted, when questioned about the future of the Church in Egypt, for which he “could make no forecast, as the sense of uncertainty is so great, and repeated, “We are living God’s today.”

The Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch’s annual visit to his Alexandrian see is always filled with meetings, pastoral visits and talks with the heads of other Churches and with Muslim or political authorities. This year, given the prevalent state of affairs in the area, Gregorios III’s  visits and trips were less tightly packed than in previous years. He went to Alexandria and Tanta, but had to cut out the traditional visit to Mansurah, for example.

Gregorios III took part in the Coptic Christmas celebrations and greeted Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Shenouda and Coptic Catholic Patriarch, Cardinal Antonios (Naguib). He took part both in the annual meeting of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchy in Egypt, chaired by the Coptic Catholic Patriarch and in the setting up of an ecumenical Christian assembly for Egypt, to promote better co-operation and visibility of Egypt’s Churches. The first meeting of this new Council should take place on 21 February.

Two other meetings marked this stay: one with the Shaykh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb and the other with the Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil Al-Arabi.

Grégorios III hailed the publication by Al-Azhar of three papers on Egypt’s future, especially the one of 8 January, 2012, which declares that Egypt is a Christian and Muslim country, in which “freedom of belief, opinion and expression, and liberty of academic research and creation are guaranteed,” as the paper puts it. The Patriarch was happy to note that his repeated calls to listen people who took to the streets, and understand their slogans and appeals had been correctly understood in the Al Azhar statements.  On the other hand, he hoped that now that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists were in power and the new Parliament has started legislating, they will take a more moderate line.

In his talks with Nabil Al-Arabi, the Patriarch repeated his request for a regional Muslim-Christian summit, with the aim of creating an institution, a permanent secretariat, which, in the guise of a standing council, would work in tandem and close collaboration with the Arab League. The idea and concept were welcomed by the Secretary General of the Arab League and Nabil al-Arabi promised to think about it.  

Rabweh, 27 January 2012

Chaldean Diocese in Iraq Building a Hospital and a University

ANKAWA, Iraq, JAN. 31, 2011 thanks to Zenit.org.

The Iraqi Chaldean Archdiocese of Arbil is moving forward with plans to construct a hospital and a university, providing services and jobs for thousands of Christian fleeing violence in the south.

Today the regional government gave the archdiocese a guarantee that it will gift two pieces of land in Ankawa, a suburb of Arbil in northern Iraq, for the building of these institutions, Aid to the Church in Need reported.

Archbishop Bashar Warda of Arbil told the aid agency that the initiatives are expected to provide employment, training, and other opportunities for the thousands fleeing anti-Christian violence in the Baghdad and Mosul regions.

In particular, he noted that the projec ts respond to the fact that many highly-skilled professionals with expertise in education and medicine have relocated to the north.

The prelate affirmed, "The plans we have been developing over the past few months are symbols of hope for the Christian presence in our country."

"The people arriving here from places of violence are receiving the gift of relative security," he affirmed. "They themselves are willing to offer the gift of their services in a region which cannot cope with the demands of an increasing population."

 The hospital and university will be owned by the archdiocese and run by the Church, but Archbishop Warda underlined the fact that the doors would be open to all people of all religions and beliefs.

The 100-bed hospital will have eight operating rooms, and will occupy a plot of land measuring more than 86,000 square feet. The university will be built on a piece of property larger than 320,00 0 square feet.

The archbishop appealed for economic support from governments, charities and NGOs for the accomplishment of these projects.

He noted that both institutions aim to open their doors within two years.

The prelate expressed the hope that these projects will slow the Christian exodus from that country. "We do not want Christians to leave Iraq," he said.
Archbishop Warda stated, "It is clear that our society here needs schools, universities and hospitals and this provides us with an opportunity to encourage the Christians to build a future for themselves here."

He added that he hopes to initiate similar projects elsewhere in the Middle East.

Christianity & Islam in Contemporary Context - Conference at Heythrop

At the Centre for Eastern Christianity in collaboration with the Centre for Christianity and Interreligoius Dialogue at Heythrop College:

Christianity & Islam in Contemporary Context, 7 to 8 March 2011  
  • ‘An overview of theological thought on Islam and contemporary Muslim-Christian relations: modern historical and contemporary ecclesiological and theological contexts’ - Anthony O'Mahony, Heythrop College, University of London
  • ‘Eastern Catholic (Arab) Perspectives on Islam & Christian-Muslim relations in the modern Middle East’ - Fr Shafiq Abouzayd, Oriental Institute, University of Oxford
  • ‘Love thy Neighbour as thyself even when he is a Muslim: The Greek Orthodox Church between Nationalism and the Love of Christ’ - Gerasimos Makris, University of Athens, Greece
  • ‘Christian response to Muslim presence in Poland: a study in modern history and theology in contemporary context’ - Revd Stanislaw Grodz, Lecturer at the Chair of the History and Ethnology of Religion, John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (KUL), Poland
  • ‘Orthodox Christianity and Islam in the Balkans: Macedonian Case Studies of Mixing at Shrines’ - Glenn Bowman, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent at Canterbury
  • ‘Eastern Orthodox Perspectives on Islam and Muslim-Christian relations in contemporary Bulgaria’ - Peter Petkoff, Brunel University and Fellow of the Centre for Christianity and Culture at Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford
  • ‘St. Francis and Islam in contemporary context for Muslim-Christian relations’ - Scott Thomas, University of Bath
  • ‘The Church of England and Muslim-Christian relations - contemporary Anglican perspectives on Islam and political theology’ - Revd Richard Sudworth, Heythrop College, University of London
  • ‘Islam and Muslim-Christian relations in contemporary Protestant thought and political theology’ - Revd Richard McCallum, Exeter University
  • ‘Liturgy and Interreligious Relations: Eastern Catholic Melkite Perspectives on Islam’ - Fr Robin Gibbons, Kellogg College, University of Oxford
  • ‘Eastern Catholic Perspectives from the Modern Middle East: Mary Kahil and the Encounter between Christianity and Islam’ - Agnes Wilkins OSB, Stanbrook Abbey
  • ‘Eastern Orthodoxy and Muslim-Christian relations between Europe and the Middle East: Olivier Clément's perspectives on theology and eccclesiology in the Christian encounter with Islam’ - Stefanie Hugh-Donovan, Heythrop College, University of London
  • ‘Charles de Foucauld, the eremitical tradition and his contribution to the Christian encounter with Islam’ - Ariana Patey, Heythrop College, University of London
  • ‘Benedict XVI and Islam’ - Fr Rocco Viviano SX, Heythrop College, University of London
  • Divine Liturgy served by Fr Shafiq Abouzayd, rector of the Melkite Greek Catholic Parish of St John Chrysostom, London
There is a small charge to cover costs and refreshments, but all are welcome. To register and for further details, please contact the Centre for Eastern Christianity (see the dedicated page above).