Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Book review An Interpretive Account of Belief and Practice in the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church. By Abba Haliegebriel Girma.


An Interpretive Account of Belief and Practice in the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church.
By Abba Haliegebriel Girma.

ISBN: 97814820008791
Price: £7.16 (Amazon)
It is not very common to see a well supported overview of the Tewahedo Orthodox Tradition on major online book stores, especially written in English. Archimandrite Hailegebriel's book comes, therefore, as an unexpected gem amongst a large number of books trying to explain the tradition from an outside and anthropological viewpoint.

The layout of the book contains four sections which cover the structure, doctrines, sacraments and diaspora communities of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church. Considering that the book only spans around 80 pages this is a brave endeavour which generally succeeds in its attempt to give a summary of the Church's stances.

The use of evidence from Scripture and the Church Fathers to support the views is especially well achieved. Almost every aspect of the Faith which is covered in the book is backed up with a Biblical reference to prevent any possible controversy. Many are also placed with explanations from the Church Fathers or the Ethiopian Law of Kings to allow the historical development and practice of Liturgical and Sacramental actions.

Overall the book demonstrates a positive step from the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church, which is sometimes seen as academically lacking in comparison to other Orthodox communities. I would recommend the book to anyone who wants a Theological and Ecclesiological overview of the Church, as it is written for people with a reasonable level of Theological Literacy.

Do not expect an Introduction to the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Faith from the book, as it is not written for this purpose. If you are looking for a brief overview or reference source for the Tewahedo Tradition, this is certainly recommended. When it comes to Theological studies, It is possibly the best guide to Tewahedo Orthodox teaching apart from primary sources, so certainly something to have in your bookshelf.

Subdeacon Daniel

Sunday, 14 July 2013

We must not understand repentance as being something only for a period of time.

We must not understand repentance as being something only for a period of time, or as one of the phases of life. We should rather take it as a complete way of life, life with God.” 
Fr Matta El-Meskeen

Our actions are to be commended in proportion to the renunciation of our own worthiness. image

Our Dignity lies in our deliberate and insistent relinquishment of every dignity, and in surrendering it to those who are less than we. We can no longer uphold claims to leadership or priority or privilege, for the extent to which we humble ourselves before the community is what establishes our righteousness and our true leadership; our actions are to be commended in proportion to the renunciation of our own worthiness.

- Fr Matta El-Meskeen ‘The Righteousness of Humility’

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Orthodoxy and the Crusades

In 1099 the Franks (Al-Franj in the Arabic) invaded he lands of the Seljuk Turks after receiving a request from the Byzantine Emperor Alexios Komnenos to return lost lands to the Christians. 90 before this time, the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim Bi-Amir Allah of Egypt had ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. His reign was a great change from that of the previous Conquerors such as the Caliph Omar who had taken it in 634 and respected the freedom of Religion.

This event helped spark the crusades, leading to a flood of successive armies of Western Christians heading to the Holy Land with the view of reclaiming the city of Jerusalem for Christian. This brought about a problem for the local Christian residents; they had lived with the Muslim conquerors for centuries now but now became the subject of suspicion due this onslaught and threat from their fellow religionists. The Greek and Syriac Communities were expelled from Aleppo and other cities for fear of betrayal though as we will see, the Christians of the Levant had as much to fear as the Muslims did.

In November of that year the Crusaders took Jerusalem and killed all inside.

Raymond of Aguilers, a Chronicler of the Franks described the events:
Wonderful sights were to be seen. Some of our men (and this was more merciful) cut off the heads of their enemies; others shot them with arrows, so that they fell from the towers; others tortured them longer by casting them into the flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was necessary to pick one’s way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon, a place where religious services are normally chanted … in the temple and the porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed it was a just and splendid judgement of God that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies.”

This is supported by the Damascene Chronicler Ibn al-Qalanisi’s account:
The Franks stormed the town and gained possession of it. A number of the townsfolk fled to the sanctuary and a great host were killed. The Jews assembled in the synagogue, and the Franks burned it over their heads. The sanctuary was surrendered to them on guarantee of safety on 22 Sha’ban [14 July] of this year, and they destroyed the shrines and the tomb of Abraham”

From then on, things got worse for the Oriental community and other Orthodox. Again, Ibn al-Qalanisi explains:
One of the first measures taken by the Franj was to expel from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre all the priests of the Oriental Rites - Greeks, Georgians, Armenians, Copts and Syrians - who used to officiate jointly, in accordance with an old tradition respected by all previous conquerors. Dumbfounded by their degree of fanaticism, the dignitaries of the Oriental Christian communities decided to resist. They refused to tell the occupiers where they had hidden the True Cross, on which Christ died… But the invaders were not impressed. They arrested the priests who had been entrusted with custody of the Cross and tortured them to make them reveal the secret. Thus did the Franj manage to forcibly deprive the Christians of the Holy City wherein lay their most precious relics.”

Over the next 70 years the same cycle continued of Frankish raids on cities and both Frank and Muslim accusing the Orthodox community of collaboration with their opponents. In the North, there was also the issue of Latin mistrust for the Byzantines and their Sympathisers.

The most shocking example was to come through the actions of Prince Reynald of Chantillon, Frankish prince of Antioch. After torturing the Latin patriarch of Antioch into financing his military the young Prince decided to invade the Orthodox Kingdom of Cyprus in 1156. After murdering a vast number of the population and plundering the entire Island he committed a heinous act. Amin Maalouf explains:

Before departing with booty; Reynald ordered all the Greek Priests and Monks assembled; he then had their noses cut off before sending them, thus mutilated, to Constantinople.”

Around this time in Egypt, the situation of the Copts was improving. A General of the Damascene Sultan Nur-Ad-Din called Salah-Ud-Din Ayyubi had seized power and eventually united the Islamic world. His general view of the Christians of the Levant was far more lenient than others and he was known for his generosity and trust (Many of his own advisors called him a gullible fool, since he almost bankrupted the palace treasury). Amongst his closest advisors were Copts, who he also hired to help build palaces and fortresses across Egypt.

In 1187 he won a decisive victory over King Guy of Jerusalem and arrived at the gates of the city. By this time the Oriental Community in Frankish Jerusalem had already warmed to him, as is described by the Chroniclers in his forces who said:
One of the Sultan’s chief advisors was an Orthodox Priest by the name of Yusuf Batit. It was he who took charge of contacts with the Franj, as well as with the Oriental Christian communities. Shortly before the siege began, the Orthodox clerics promised Batit that they would throw open the gates of the city of the occidentals held out too long.”

And so Jerusalem fell, Saladin invited the Armenian and Greek Patriarchs back into the city, which was followed by the moving of the Latin patriarchate to Acre. After an agreement with the Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos, Saladin returned the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Which he had turned into a Mosque) back to the Christians. This was the first time that they had been welcomed back since 1099. The Armenians were also given an Equal status in the city to the Greeks.
As for the Armenians, they also faced oppression but not on such a scale, yet it had a far longer lasting effect on the culture.
The books this extract is from is absolutely brilliant for the whole topic of the Crusades through the eyes of the Oriental and Byzantine communities. I would recommend it as well as Aamin Maalouf’s ‘The Crusades through Arab eyes’ which deals with the Syriac view well.

The Oriental Orthodox and the Byzantine Empire

It is well documented that there was mass persecution by the Byzantine Empire against Non-Chalcedonian communities in the East. Only the Chalcedonian Christianity was legal in the Roman Empire and it was therefore seen as the role of the Roman Empire to remove all influence of what they saw as an illegal Heresy from the Empire.

As Fr Peter Farringdon puts it “By 525 AD the imperial policy was that all resisting monks should be driven out of their monasteries. All over Arabia and Palestine the monks had to leave their monasteries, were robbed, put in irons and subjected to various tortures. Those faithful who gave them shelter were treated in the same way”

The persecution by the Final Byzantine Prefect, El-Moquakas (Later called Patriarch Cyrus of Alexandria), of the Coptic Patriarch Benjamin and others shows the extent of this.
“After the Pope had left Alexandria, the Chalcedonian El-Moquakas arrived, and took charge over the country and the church with authority from Emperor Heraclius. He persecuted the believers and arrested the brother of Abba Benjamin and tortured him severely. He burnt his sides, and finally killed him by drowning.”

Another example comes from the life of St Samuel the Confessor, a monk who refused to accept Chalcedon:
“An envoy came to the desert carrying Leo’s Tome  and when the envoy read it to the elders, Abba Samuel became zealous, with the zeal of the Lord. He jumped up in the middle of the gathered monks and seized the letter and rent it into pieces saying, “Excommunicated is this tome and everyone who believes in it and cursed is everyone who might change the Orthodox faith of our Holy Fathers.” When the envoy saw this, he became furious and angry. He ordered him to be beaten with pins and to be hanged up by his arms, and that his face be smitten. One of these strikes enucleated one of St. Samuel’s eyes. Then he was driven away from the monastery.”
Both of these accounts are recorded in the Coptic Synaxarium (Chronicles of the Saints and Martyrs) and read during the Liturgy to remind us of this history. Other examples of attempted forced acceptance byt he state are seen in Jerusalem when Juvenal betrayed his people and accepted Chalcedon, then called the army into the city to stop their protesting.
At the same time, the Syrians had the same situation. A few years ago, HH Patriarch ignatius Zakka of the Syriac Church wrote on the topic, explaining how:

“At the beginning of the 7th century Heraklios (610-641 A.D.) ascended the throne of the East-Roman Empire. After he defeated the Persians and conquered Mesopotamia, he forced his way into Syria in 612 A.D. In 629 A.D. he occupied Damascus. Following that he tried earnestly to restore the religious unity in his empire to unite the Syrians, Copts and Armenians with the Byzantines. This happened on the one hand through promises and on the other hand through threats. Very often he used ruthless oppression through which many Syrians, Copts, and Armenians became martyrs. The persecution of the Syrian Church by the Byzantine Empire did not end until the appearance of Islam.”

He also explains how the Syriac community reacted to the Islamic invasion:
From the above it becomes clear that the religious conflicts in the Christian church, the attempts of the Byzantine powers to force the issues of the council of Chalcedon upon the other churches by force, to throw its members in prison, to kill them, to ban them and to drive them out alienated the Syrian Christians. All these unchristian deeds only sowed hate and aversion in the hearts of the Syrians against the Byzantine powers. The Persian powers in their empire oppressed both West and East Syrians in general to force them under tyrannical policies and Zoroastrian beliefs. Therefore the Syrians under the Byzantine and Persian powers saw the Islamic conquerors as liberators and not as occupiers. The Syrians put great hope in them, not only because the Muslims liberated them from their religious trouble but also because they relieved the Syrians of the burdensome taxes that were placed on their backs. They said, “Praise be to God, who delivered us from the unjust Byzantines and who put us under the rule of the just Muslim Arabs.”

The Armenian situation was a bit different.Due to Armenia being passed and carved up between the Persian Empire and Rome there was never any chance for any Roman religious authority in the territory.The conflicts between Armenians and Rome during the reign of Justinian had little to do with religion either, so again we see not much evidence of issues outside of land and politics.

Regardless of this, there are times when the state and the Oriental communities were at peace, such as the various rules of Non-Chalcedonian Emperors who allowed religious freedom, as well as Non-Chalcedonian Patriarchs of Constantinople (Anthimus, for example) and Rome who at times implemented policies allowing for freedom. Also the change in the political spectrum at times meant Roman armies needed to work more against Persians and Barbarians than these issues.

One more famous example of peace is the time that Saint Severus of Antioch spent in Constantinople, when he was summoned by Justinian, as Theodora was Non-Chalcedonian. He was welcomed there to help form unity between the two parties (the Constantinople Patriarch was also non-Chalcedonian) and even wrote his famous Hymn ‘O Word Immortal’ (O’ Monogenis) there, though was eventually sent away accused of being a “wolf” demonstrating a continuing division.

So generally, there was a large extent of persecution which continued until the Islamic Conquest. This led to the Syians and Copts welcoming the Islamic invaders as liberators. Other than that, there was not much contact between the two. We see some meeting at the time of the Latin Florentine Council but apart from that, Egypt was too far for the Byzantines to ever visit to any large extent.

An overview of Medieval Oriental Orthodox Theology

Before addressing specific thinkers or traditions here are one or two key thinkers for all such as St Severus of Antioch and St Jacob of Serugh, who formed the Post-Chalcedonian Basis of Christology and Theology but Each has its own thinkers:

Due to the dependency of a Abune being appointed by Alexandria, lacked a strong Theological movement in the middle ages. It was only in the middle ages that they had a sufficient number of Priests to serve the nation and only at the request of the Ethiopian Emperor himself.
Some of the key figures in the Tewahedo Church during the middle ages were Saint Tekle Haymanot and Iyasus Moa who are both amongst the Fathers of Monasticism in the Ethipoian Community and lived by the rule of St Pachomius.

A key Theological writer in the Ethiopian Community is Samuel of Dabra Wagag. As with the others, it is mainly his life which is preserved though in books such as “The Acts of Samuel of Samuel of Dabra Wagag” some of his teachings are preserved.

It was only really when the Franj tried to convert the Ethiopians to the Latin faith that Ethiopian Philosophy and Theological Education became a key aspect, since they needed to defend their faith against the ongoing attempts of Jesuits and others. One key Thinker in the 17th Century whose writings remain is Zera Yacob. His Treatises give an idea of the Progress of Ethiopian Philosophy and Theology after the middle ages.

The Coptic Church had many Golden ages and dry spells in the Middle Ages, all dependent on which Dynasty ruled Egypt and which foreign invader was attacking.
Most Medieval Coptic writing is Apologetic, and aimd at explaining the faith to the islamic community and especialy the Islamic Philosophers and Theologians of the Era. This led to a vast Arabic Christian Golden Age.

Some of the Great thinkers of the time include Ibn Kabar, the 4 Sons of Al-Assal and Yayha Ibn Ali, all of whom wrote vastly explaining Christian life, the Nature of God and the Nature of the Church.
Yahya Ibn Ali is the Earliest of these (10th C) and wrote apologetic texts on the Nature of God, refuting many Greek philosophical stances. He is more commonly associated with the Syriac Church as he was based in Baghdad though his writing was more of an influence on the Coptic Church due to its Arabic language.

His most important Theological works are on the Incarnation and his linguistic commentaries on the Gospels, which are extremely in depth as both studies of Christian Etymology and Theology.
The Al-Assal brothers are probably the most influencial medieval Coptic writers, ecpecially Abul Fada’il ibn Al-Assal, who is my favourite Coptic Medieval Thinker (Since the Canons are my field of study). Abul Fada’il ibn Al-Assal wrote the Nomocanon which in the Ethiopian Tewahedo tradition is called the ‘Fetha Negast’ or ‘Law of the Kings.’ It compiles the Canons of the fathers, Medieval Patriarchal Canons and Conciliar Canons into the text which was used as a guide for the Church until very Recently. His works are still widely used in the Ethiopian Tradition which uses the Fetha Negast as its key text in Canon Law.

Abu l-Barakat Ibn Kabar is a third recommended thinker in the Coptic Church. He wrote extensively on Liturgical and ritual life in the Coptic Church with his text ‘The lamp in the darkness’, a guide for the Diaconate in the Liturgy, still being regarded as an important reference for those studying the Liturgy.
Much of the time there was a lack of initiative in the Church to write much other than Apologetics. The key points for Coptic writings tend to fall at the start of the Arab rule (due to being free from Byzantine persecution), the Ayyubid Sultanate (as Salah-ud-din’s successors were respectful) and the Ottoman ocupation (as the Mamluk persecution had ended.)

The Syriac Theological Schools remained strong Throughout the Middle Ages. Two thinkers that I recommend to any Orthodox Theologian are Jacob Bar-Salibi and Bar-Hebraus, both from Malatia.
Jacob Bar Salibi is one of the most well known Oriental Orthodox Theologians and quotes the fathers extensively in his works. His most famous pieces are his Biblical Commentaries.

He also wrote many anti-Heretical treatises. I would recommend his piece “Against the Melchites” to any Byzantine Christian as it explains the divergence of Tradition between EO and OO during these times and gives a good Orental perspective on the issues.
Bar Hebraeus is one of my favourite Theological Thinkers of the Era (along with Abul Fada’il ibn Al-Assal) was a Theologian and the Catholicos of the Syriac Church. he wrote extensively on Theology as well as Scientific texts. Of all his texts, the most Fascinating is the Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, which is a history of the world.

One of his key texts is the “Lamp of the Sanctuary” which is unbublished but has viewable copy in the British library if requested. Most of his Theological views state that the Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian communities have no major Dogmatic differences, something that has been supported by Antiochian and Syriac Orthodox heirarchs to this day.