Friday, 29 June 2012

The Copts of Medieval Dhimmitude

What is most interesting when looking at the differece between the treatment of Christians in the Middle East now and in the Medieval Era, it is important to note that a tolerant leader is not so unique as expected.

There is the obvious, Salah-ud-Din. Salah-ud-din’s life is a testament to how Coptic Christians should be treated in their home lands. Over half his court were Copts and they respected him as their ruler. There was none of this discrimination and mistrust that we see today towards them by the Muslims.

He also restored the Coptic, Greek, Syriac and Maronite heirarchs and clergy of Jerusalem in 1187. From 1099-1187 they were expelled from the city by the Crusaders after they butchered most of the inhabitants, christian and otherwise. (See john of Joinville’s account of the entry into the city)

 Later, Salah-ad-din’s successor al-Kamel Naser al-Din in fact met Francis of Assisi and invited him to preach in his court whilst the Armies of the 5th Crusade besieged one of his fortresses a few hundred miles away. historical records show this meeting in a lot of detail, explaining how Francis even tried to convert the Sultan. This very event is something which we would expect to preceed his execution by today’s stereotypes, yet Francis left as a guest and friend of the Sultan, whose court was majority Coptic Christian.

Also, previously, when Caliph Umar I took jerusalem from the Byzantines he showed great respect (though upheld the Jizya.), He was even invited to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by patriarch Sophronius but declines saying that if he prayed there, other Muslims would want to and it would endanger its status as a Christian site. He also allowed the Jews to freely worship, something which the Byzantines had not done in the city for close to 500 years.

Another classic is how the Syrian and Coptic Christian communities both supported the Caliphate on their invasions, as they faced persecution by the Byzantines for their acceptence of Cyrillian Miaphysitism as their Christology. The Syrian patriatch of the time even famously announced “Praise be to God, who delivered us from the unjust Byzantines and who put us under the rule of the just Muslim Arabs.”

The Copts, also under persecution by the Byzantines, accepted the Muslim invasion asa positive. Pope Benjamin I was still in hiding from Persecution by the Byzantines and was promised “safety and fearlessness.” By the Muslims who reported that they were impressed with his dignity as a ‘man of God’, Amr Ibn-Al-As, who led the invasion allowed him to “freely administer the affairs of his Church and people” which he could not under the Byzantines. By comparison with the last years of Byzantine rule, it was amazingly free. They could build Churches and hold liturgies without fear of persecution.

There are loads of examples of Muslim leaders accepting the Eastern Christians, especially Syrian and Egyptian as they were at war with the Greeks, so feared Byzantine Sympathies. The problem now is that history has polarised the situation. ‘Christian = West = Crusaders’ is the formula followed by uneducated members of the Muslim community in the middle east and ‘Muslim=Arab=Terrorist’ is what Christians see in the west. This leaves native communities being targetted by both for being middle eastern yet Christian.

Tragically there are also many examples of cruelty, such as the imprisonment of Patriarchs and public humiliation of Christians, so it is not all sunshine and loving. Either way, if the rulers of middle eastern nations understood how to deal with a religiously mixed community like the better of their medieval predecessors the world would be a better place.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Book Review: The Sublime life of Monasticism – HG Bishop Mettaous.

The Sublime life of Monasticism – HG Bishop Mettaous.

‘The Sublime Life of Monasticism’ is, put simply, a glimpse into modern Monasticism. The book opens up by looking into one of the biggest misunderstandings about Monasticism, asking “s Monasticism a Vocation or a duty?” discussing how someone knows whether they are called, and why some fail to fulfil this calling. The book then goes into great depth on everything from why someone would become a monk, to the importance of monasticism and even gives a detailed description of the daily life of a monk.

The book is split into section detailing what the chapter will cover. The first half of the book is dedicated to the more practical side of monasticism, covering a vast number of issues which someone may encounter on their path to the monastic life. It looks at how one becomes a monk, the difficulties they may face, how one must prepare for the monastic life and a number of other topics related to this. Every question one could have on the practical side of preparation for a monastic life is covered and everything is backed by both Scriptural detail and quotes from the desert fathers explaining the importance of it.

Once he has given us an image of the preparation and build up to a life us monastic, Bishop Mettaous moves on to look at life inside a monastery. HG Bishop Mettaous began writing this book in memorial of his 25th year as a monk in El-Souriani Monastery, so he has plenty of days to choose from. He looks at life as a notice in this section, explaining that the novice monks generally receive the hardest tasks to prepare them for the tough years of spiritual warfare ahead of them. He also uses this section to emphasise the importance of obedience to your abbot and father of confession, since obedience and humility are key virtues of the monastic life. He again provides us with a wealth of wisdom from the desert Fathers and examples of the importance of monasticism in Scripture to allow us to connect with the point of a deeper level.

In the Third section of the book we are introduced to a immensely vibrant collection of areas defining what monasticism is, all beginning with “Monasticism is a life of...” and connecting it to such concepts as prayer, contemplation and pilgrimage. As someone with only a basic academic knowledge and no experience of monasticism on a personal level, this enlightened me to no end. The pure depth of the monastic life is shown through this part of the book. We are introduced to what seems to be the single most fulfilling spiritual life that one can imagine but reminded that with this life of solitude and spiritual hunger comes a life of spiritual warfare and constant vigilance against the evil one and his tricks.

All in all ‘The sublime life of monasticism’ is a book for anyone who wants to know the depth of the monastic life and wants to read about it through the medium of one Bishop’s personal and spiritual journey rather than a flat out, objective academic text. In this book you will not learn the history of monasticism but you will learn of the life of it from those who give their lives as living Martyrs in order to continue their Spiritual warfare. You will see how Monks trace their practises to those of the Israelites in the desert and be reminded as to why the monks are seen as the Angels and guides to all men under God.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Save Eritrea event

Join and Support Save Eritrea Facebook Page

Know More the Sufferings of Christians in Eritrea here

What is Save Eritrea? It is an initiative by the Colt Crew and Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE.

An International online prayer and fast program to be conducted on July 24,25,26 for the people of Eritrea.

Why Save Eritrea? Christians are facing threat, torture, beating sexual assault and imprisonment.Click Here to know more.

How is the Prayer Conducted? Prayers will be in audio sessions and are uploaded to our youtube.

What can i do? Kindly fast on these days. At least leave your breakfast. Join us in the online prayer. Spread this news to your friends and the world. Make you social network dp’s with pic “Save Eritrea”. Write it on your wrist. Write it everywhere on email, sms ,chats and let the world know about it.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Armenian Golgotha by Grigoris Balakian (Review)

HG Bishop Grigoris Balakian - Armenian Golgotha
Vintage Books USA
£11.7 ( as of 23/06/12)

Armenian Golgotha is quite simply the definitive written account of the events which led to the death of close to one and a half million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. The book makes this somewhat controversial subject open up to the reader in a way which I have never encountered through the reading of any official records or accounts by historians. Balakian’s heart and soul are opened to the reader to tell the story of what happened to him and countless others at the time.

Speaking or writing about the Armenian Genocide has forever been a matter of walking on eggshells. The subject is, to put it simply, nearly impossible to speak on without being accused of supporting a certain side. Yet it is still the case that every April 15th Politicians in the UK, US and many other nations will make grand speeches at Memorials before pleading the case against recognition days later.

Accounts of the events which occurred nearly 100 years ago in the then Ottoman Empire are commonly heard and stated to reporters for televised specials in which we will hear a survivor or their family in a flood of tears followed by a young Turkish politician explaining how “it is not Genocide because...” but few of these have a lasting effect on readers who were not touched by the event on a personal level, as I have learn through experience when trying to teach on the subject.
This is where the account in Balakian’s book makes a difference. As a Bishop in the great City of Constantinople and deportee during the Genocide itself, Balakian is well qualified to give a definitive eyewitness account of the events leading to, of and after the genocide. The author, in doing this, opens up the reader to every emotion and thought that passed through his head during that time, with photography from the time to remind the reader that this surreal macabre event is not something from a fiction novel but the man’s life itself.

Balakian’s account opens during the build up the First World War, the then priest studying at a university in Berlin. He relays the events and change in nature of those around him as they went through the transition between wartime and peace. He examines the polarisation of the Germans as they spoke of their hatred for Russia and love of the Ottomans as well as their hostility towards the Armenians for fear of rebellion against the Turks.

He then leads us through his return to Constantinople and witness of the Ottoman deception of the Armenian people through a feigned acceptance, as well as their tragic and naive belief in this. To me, this was one of the most powerful sections as for these thirty or so pages we see the slow web of Ottoman preparation close in on the Armenian people and Balakian’s fear and apprehension of the situation  grow until the deportations finally begin.

Throughout the rest of the book we gain a stark insight into the actions of the Ottoman Military as well as various militia groups against the Armenian community from their forced marches across the Syrian Desert to the frequent massacring of the community under the direct orders of the Ottoman Government. These horrific events are made all the more harrowing through the personal and emotive language of the author constantly reminding you that he was a witness to all of it.

I would certainly recommend Balakian’s book to anyone with even a basic knowledge of the tragedy of the Armenian Genocide as it is a smoother and less dry read than many of the historical accounts of these events available to English readers. I would then recommend that they pass it on to  friend who has not read it since this is a book that cries out to be read. The Events of the Armenian Genocide are far too little known to the western which makes this book a valuable and accessible jewel filled with historical information and personal tragedy.

By Daniel Malyon

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Chalcedon and The Fathers (An Oriental Orthodox Perspective.)

 Most of the Information used in this is taken from fr Peter Farrington's Podcasts on this issue, which are found here.

One of the major issues with the Chalcedonian Definition accepted from the Tome of Leo for Non-Chalcedonian Christians is that the laneguage appears to condemn the teachings of both Saint Athanasius and Saint Cyril, both known for their struggles and victories against heresies. Saint Sauel the Confessor reacts accordingly with his cries of "Excommunicated is this tome and everyone who believes in it and cursed is everyone who might change the Orthodox faith of our Holy Fathers."

So, why and how does the Tome condemn the Church fathers, and what would lead the Monk Samuel to react in such a disgraced manner when asked to acept it? The answer is quite simple; the Tome of Leo states that "It is just as impious to say that the only-begotten Son of God is from two natures before the incarnation as it is unlawful to assert that after the Word became flesh there is one nature in him” In this, it Anathematises those who speak of 'One Nature,' which was the basis of the Cyrilline Miaphysitic Christology and the Alexandrian School.

The worry of this is picked up by Pope Dioscorus of Alexandria at the Council of Chalcedon. He, after his deposition for being a followe of the Cyrilline Formula, Anathematised the council of Chalcedon in 5 sections for various issues which were not addressed. Dioscoros' second Anathema stated that "Chalcedon is anathematised because it has trampled under foot the canons and prescriptions of the Fathers." Bringing up wholey Orthodox Concerns, since the use of "two natures" was feared to be (and is still seen as) using the language of Theodore and Diodore, both who used a Christology incompatable with Cyril's.

Though these concerns were not seen as Heretical by the Chalcedonian Church, they still refused to restore or remove the Anathema on the ‘One Nature’ teaching of Dioscorus. His concerns were in fact addressed late, with the Patriarchs who had opposed Chalcedon and raised these very concerns not being invited to attendance.

Due to the confusion and Theological Protest raised by the Chalcedonian condemnation of Cyrilline Christology it took another 'Ecumenical' Council to fix the errors and misinterpretations of Leo's Tome which arose. One of the Canons from the 5th Council stated that "if anyone shall calumniate the holy Council of Chalcedon, pretending that it made use of this expression [one hypostasis] in this impious sense, and if he will not recognize rather that the Word of God is united with the flesh hypostatically, and that therefore there is but one hypostasis or one only Person, and that the holy Council of Chalcedon has professed in this sense the one Person of our Lord Jesus Christ: let him be anathema."
Regardless of the 5th Council placing Anathema on all who interpreted The Tome of Leo as using the language of Nestorianism, many EO still call OO Heretical for bringing this fear up at the council. Dioscorus was in fact Anathematised for trying to raise these concerns. So why was he so fervent to fight the language of the Tome?

By Anathematising those who refer to the incarnation as "one nature," the Tome Anathematises Athanasius and Cyril, both great thinkers of the Alexandrian School of Christology and Orthodox Church. When speaking of Christ, Saint Athanasius stated that "there is one nature of the incarnate Logos" emphasising that "Jesus isn't two natures , we kneel to one without the other , but one nature is the incarnate Logos, kneeled to him with his body one kneel" 

Saint Athanasius is a strict teacher of the 'One Nature' formula yet ardently Orthodox by the teachings and views of all in the Church. By the ruling of Chalcedon, he would also be under Anathema for his teachings.  

Saint Cyril is the key thinker here. being the great defender of Orthodoxy and man who drove Nestorius out of the Church he is certainly not a Heretic, yet by the Tome of Leo, he is. As shown here, The writings of Saint Cyril also speak of one nature, saying that "we say that the two natures united and from them one Lord and one Son is resulted as we agree by our thought but after the unification the separation to two natures is removed, we believe that there is one nature the Son as One person, one humanized and incarnated"
Cyril and the Council at Ephesus even Anathematised those who speak of Two Natures, saying “If anyone distributes between the two persons or hypostases the expressions used ... and ascribes some to him as to a man, thought of separately from the Word from God, and others, as befitting God, to him as to the Word from God the Father, let him be anathema.” So to reject the Cyrilline Formula of One Nature after the Incarnation was Anathema after the Council of Ephesus, yet to accept it was Anathema after Chalcedon. This cimply brought confusion.

In conclusion, The Oriental Orthodox Rejection of Chalcedon is not based on support for a Heresy but for support for the Church Fathers who taught the same language as those the council deposed and anathematised as heretics.

After the Council had passed this judgement on all who support the idea of one Nature, it caused a Schism which has lasted over 1500 years. In that time, the non-Chalcedonians have called the Chalcedonians Nestorian for their rejection of Cyril’s Formula and the Chalceconians have called the Non-Chalcedonians Monophysite in return. Both are misinterpretations of two clear Christological Positions.

This issue has never been fully addressed and seemingly never will. Chalcedon’s premature condemnation of those following the Alexandrian School of Christology in favour of the Chalcedonian Formula needs to be addressed . The Anathematising of a teaching followed by the Fathers has never been explained, only responded to with accusation of Heresy.

There is a justification for the Oriental Orthodox Rejection of Chalcedon and it is an Orthodox one. As Father Peter Farrington explains, these issues are important, as “reconciliation of the Chalcedonian and anti-Chalcedonian communions still demands that they are treated seriously and eirenically by the Chalcedonians. They are often brushed aside as irrelevant, but a proper understanding of our own tradition requires that they answered.”