Posts Tagged ‘Virgin Mary’

Book on the Plight of the Embattled Christians of Palestine

April 13, 2019

Said K. Aburish, The Forgotten Faithful: The Christians of the Holy Land (London: Quartet 1993).

Aburish is a Palestinian, born in Bethany, and the author of several books about the Arabs and specifically the Palestinians and their persecution by the Israelis – A Brutal Friendship, Children of Bethany – The Story of a Palestinian Family and Cry Palestine: Inside the West Bank. In The Forgotten Faithful he tackles the problems of the Christians of Palestine, talking to journalists, church official, charity workers, educationalists, businessmen and finally of the leaders of the PLO, Hanan Ashrawi. Christians used to constitute ten per cent or so of the Palestinian population before the foundation of Israel. Now they’re down to one per cent. Much of this decline has been due to emigration, as educated, skilled Christians leave Israel to seek better opportunities elsewhere, and the indigenous Christian future in the Holy Land, the in which Christianity first arose, is uncertain.

Said states clearly the issues driving this decline early in his book – persecution by the Israelis, and particularly their attempt to wrest the lucrative tourism industry from them on the one hand, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism on the other. He writes

Twenty-five years of Israeli occupation have been disastrous for Palestinian Christians. In addition to the widely known closures of schools, imprisonment and torture of children, deportation of dissenters and activists, the expropriation of land owned by individuals and church-owned property, the Christians’ primary source of income, tourism and its subsidiary service businesses, have been the targets of special Israeli attempts to control them. In other words, when it comes to the Israeli occupation, the Christians have suffered more than their Muslim countrymen because they have more of what the Israelis want.

Furthermore, the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism is confronting the Christians with new problems against most of which they cannot protest without endangering the local social balance, indeed their Palestinian identity. Muslim fanatics have raise the Crescent on church towers, Christian cemeteries have been desecrated, the statues of the Virgin Mary destroyed and, for the first time ever, the Palestinian Christians are facing constraints on their way of life. In Gaza a Muslim fundamentalist stronghold, Christian women have to wear headscarves and long sleeves or face stoning, and Christian-owned shops have to close on the Muslim sabbath of Friday instead of on Sunday. 

These combined pressures come at a time of strain between the local Christian communities and both their local church leadership and the mainline churches of the West. The mainline churches in the West are accused of not doing enough to help them financially or drawing attention to their plight, for fear of appearing anti-Semitic and to a lesser degree anti-Muslim. The local church leaders are caught between their parishioners’ cry for help and the attitude of their mother churches and have been undermined by their identification with the latter. In addition to problems with the mainline churches, Christian evangelist groups from the United States, Holland and other countries support the State of Israel at the expense of local Christians. The evangelists accept the recreation of Israel as the prelude to the second coming to the extent of ignoring local Christian rights and feelings, a fact overlooked by Muslim zealots who blame the local Christians for not curbing their insensitive pro-Israeli co-religionists.

Two subsidiary problems contribute towards closing the ring of helplessness which is choking the local Christian communities of the Holy Land. The suffering inflicted on them by others and the direct and indirect results of the neglect of outside Christianity still haven’t induced their local church leaders to cooperate in establishing a common, protective Christian position. The traditional quarrel, alongside other disputes between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, continues and its stands in the way of creating a constructive Christian front. Furthermore, the Israelis make the appearance of favouring them against their Muslim nationals, a divide-and-rule policy which contributes towards inflaming the feelings of ignorant Muslims who do not understand the reasons behind the Israeli actions and use them to justify whatever anti-Christian feeling exists. (pp. 2-4).

The Palestinian Christian community has largely been middle class, assimilated and patriotic. They have provided the Palestinian people with a large number of businessmen and professionals, including a significant part of the membership and leadership of Palestinian nationalism and the PLO, as well as the civil rights lawyers working to defend the Palestinian people from persecution by the Israeli state and military. They have also been active establishing charities to provide for the Palestinians’ welfare. Said visits one, which specialises in rehabilitating and providing training for people¬†physically injured and mentally traumatised by the Israeli armed forces. Visiting a Palestinian hospital, he also meets some of the victims of the IDF wounded and crippled by the IDF, including a young man shot by a member of the Special Forces simply for spraying anti-Israeli graffiti on a wall.

This isn’t an anti-Semitic book, as Aburish talks to sympathetic Israeli journalists and academics, but he describes very clearly the violence and bigotry that comes not just from the Israeli state and army, but also from Jewish religious fanatics. In the first chapter he describes a group of Israeli soldiers sneering at Christian Palestinians, and how he deliberated placed himself between a group of Jewish schoolboys and an elderly Ethiopian nun going through one district of Jerusalem. The boys had first started insulting her, and then began throwing stones at her and Aburish before the local, Jewish inhabitants rushed into the street to drive them away. The churches and monasteries in that part of town are close to an area of Jewish religious extremists. They’re not usually physically aggressive, but they make it very clear they don’t like Christians being there.

Nor is it anti-Muslim. The Christians community itself sees itself very firmly as part of the Palestinians. Many Christian men have adopted the name Muhammad in order to show that there is no difference between themselves as their Muslim fellow countrymen. And historically they have been fully accepted by the Muslim community. Aburish talks to the headman of a mixed Christian-Muslim village. The man is a Christian, and historically Christians have formed the headmen for the village. The Christians also point with pride to the fact that one of the generals of Saladin, the Muslim leader who conquered Palestine back from the Crusaders, was a Greek Orthodox Christian. Aburish is shocked by how extremely religious the Muslim community has become, with Friday services packed and one of his aunts traveling to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to pray. This, like the less obvious religious revival among the Christians, is ultimately due to Israeli pressure and the failure of secular Palestinian politicians. There is no truth in politics, so they seek it instead in Islam and the pages of Qu’ran. And behind this rise in Islamic intolerance are the Saudis. Aburish recommends better Muslim-Christian dialogue to tackle this growing intolerance.

Aburish hears from the Palestinians how their land is seized by the Israelis for the construction of new, Israeli settlements, how people are shot, beaten, injured and maimed, and the attempts to strangle Palestinians businesses. This includes legislation insisting that all tourist guides have to be Israeli – a blatant piece of racism intended to drive Christians out of the tourist business through denying them access to the many Christian shrines, churches and monuments that are at the heart of the industry. Christian charities and welfare services don’t discriminate between Christian and Muslim, but they are oversubscribed and underfunded. And the churches are more interested in defending their traditional institutional privileges than in helping their local flock. They look west, and are more interested in promoting and defending the churches’ response to the worlds’ problems as a whole, while the Palestinians are also being pulled east through their Arab identity. Senior Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox clergy are often foreigners, who cannot speak Arabic and may be to a greater or lesser extent indifferent to the needs and problems of their congregations. The Palestinian Christians are also hampered by the fact that they don’t want to acknowledge that they have specific problems as a minority within the wider Palestinian nation, partly for fear of further antagonising the Muslim majority.

Nevertheless, some Palestinian Christians choose to remain, stubbornly refusing to emigrate while they could get much better jobs elsewhere. And all over the world, expatriate Palestinian communities are proud of their origins and connection to the land. Aburish even talks to one optimistic Palestinian Christian businessman, who believes that Cyprus provides the model for a successful Palestine. There local people have built a thriving commercial economy without having the universities and educational institutions Palestine possesses. And some Palestinian Christians believe that the solutions to their crisis is for the community to reconnect with its oriental roots, reviving the traditional extensive Arab family structure, which has served Arabs so well in the past.

The book was published a quarter of a century ago, in 1993, and I’ve no doubt that things have changed since then. But not for the better. There have been recent magazine articles by National Geographic, among others, that report that the Palestinians are still suffering the same problem – caught between the hammer of the Israeli state and the anvil of Islamic fundamentalism. Christian Zionism, however, has become stronger and exerts a very powerful influence on American foreign policy through organisations like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. Netanyahu’s vile Likud is still in power, and Israeli politics has lurched even further to the right with the inclusion of Fascist parties like Otzma Yehudat – Jewish Power – in the wretched coalition. And some British churches maintain a very determined silence on the problems of the Palestinians. According to one anti-Zionist Jewish blog, the Methodist Church has passed regulations at its synod preventing it or its members officially criticising Israel. Because of the church’s leaders was friends with members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

I am very well aware of the long, shameful history of Christian anti-Semitism and how real, genuine Nazis have also criticised Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and claimed that they’re just anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to provoke further bigotry against the Jewish people. But Israel is oppressing the Christians of Palestine as well as the Muslims, but we in the West really don’t hear about it. And I’m not sure how many western Christians are really aware that there is a Christian community in Palestine, or how its members largely identify totally as Palestinians. Certainly Ted Cruz, the American politico, didn’t when he tried telling a Middle Eastern Christian group that they should support Israel. He was shocked and disgusted when they very firmly and obviously didn’t agree. He made the mistake of believing they had the same colonialist attitude of western right-wing Christians, while Middle Eastern Christians are very much the colonised and know it. Hence the fact that according to Aburish, many Palestinian Christians look for theological support to South American Liberation Theology and its Marxist critique of colonialism. And they also supported Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, as a secular Arab state that would allow them to maintain their religious identity and culture.

The book’s dated, and since it was written the Christian presence in the Holy Land has dwindled further. Aburish describes in strong terms what a catastrophe a Palestine without indigenous Christians would be. He writes

The growing prospect of a Holy Land Christianity reduced to stones, a museum or tourist faith without people, a Jerusalem without believers in Christ, is more serious than that of a Rome without a Pope or a Canterbury without an archbishop. It is tantamount to a criminal act which transcends a single church and strikes a blow at the foundations and the very idea of Christianity.

I thoroughly recommend this book to every western Christian reader interested in seeing an alternative view of the religious situation in Palestine, one of that contradicts the lies and demands of the right-wing press. Like an article by the Torygraph’s Barbara Amiel back in the 1990s, which quoted a Christian mayor as stating that the Christian community welcomed the Israeli occupation. His might, but as the book shows, most don’t. Or that scumbucket Katie Hopkins telling us that we should support Israel, because it represents Judaeo-Christian values and civilisation, a claim that would outrage many Jews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Steeleye Span’s Seasonal Hit ‘Gaudete’

December 29, 2017

I remember when at least one pop band nearly every year during the 1970s and 1980s released a Christmas single. The classic examples are Slade’s ‘Well, Here It is, Merry Christmas’, and one of the other glam rock band’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’. These seem to have disappeared these past few years, possibly due to the collapse of the charts. A friend of mine told me that it was now nearly impossible to compile them in the way that had been done a few decades ago, because the music scene has become very fragmented, with different people listening to a wide number of musical genres. Or it may just be that public taste has changed, and people are no longer interested in buying songs about Christmas. Some of this might be due to the increasing secularisation and religious plurality of British multicultural society, but I doubt it. After all, people still put on school nativity plays, and there’s even been two British comedies about them. This is despite the scare stories run by the Daily Mail about ‘left-wing’ councils or schools banning such plays in case they offend Muslims.

One of the great pieces of British Christmas pop from the 1970s was Steeleye Span’s ‘Gaudete’, which was released in Christmas 1972. Steeleye Span were one of the great folk rock bands, who produced a series of great rock versions of folk songs. ‘Gaudete’ itself is a medieval carol, celebrating the birth of Christ. It’s in Latin. The first line means, ‘Rejoice – Christ is born of the Virgin Mary’.

I found this video of Steeleye Span with their lead singer, Maddy Pryor, performing it on the Park Records channel on YouTube. It was staged as part of the 35th anniversary tour. The band is obviously older, looking very definitely middle aged, but their musical skill has not dimmed with the years.

I realise that not everyone who reads this blog is a Christian, but I hope whatever your views on religion, you can still enjoy a piece of great medieval music, performed by some of the great folk artists of the 1970s.

Here it is. Enjoy!

A Face from Medieval Nubia

June 28, 2013

As I’ve already mentioned on previous posts on medieval Nubia, the churches of the Classic Christian period, including that at Arminna West, were decorated with wall paintings. Faras Cathedral was richly decorated with murals. It had been dedicated to the Virgin in 630, so many of the wall paintings were of her. One of these was of Our lady standing amongst the stars in heaven, holding the infant Christ and with two angels, one standing either side of her. The fesco had the inscription ‘The Holy Mary, Virgin Mother of Christ’. To the right was another inscription, reading ‘Jesus Christ, the Saviour’. There was another wall-painting showing the Virgin and the birth of Christ with the three kings and the shepherds. The two shepherds depicted had the names Arnias and Lekotes. There were other murals of the three kings, the Apostle Peter, and those saints that were particularlyrevered in the Monophysite church, such as St. John Chrysostom, and Ignatius, the archbishop of Antioch. There was also a vast mural of the three holy children, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace as described in the Book of Daniel. The military saints were also depicted as was the the archangel Michael, the patron and protector of the Nubian kingdom of Macuria, whose capital Faras was. The murals also showed the Queen Mother, Martha, under the special protection of the Virgin and God crowning king Mercurius on the church’s foundation stone. The mural’s inscription described the king as ‘Christ-loving’. The tenth century mural of King Georgios II showed him under the protection of both the Virgin and Child.

The murals also showed the bishops, and their staff of archpriest, priests and deacons. These were shown in their vestments, including the stoles and chasubles. These were richly decorated, some covered with jewels. Their vestments were modelled on those of the Byzantine church, but are not very different from the modern vestments of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican church. As a diocese, Faras had the status of Metropolitan, a high status held only by the most important dioceses of the Byzantine Empire. The town itself was under the Eparch, a high official directly subordinate to the king himself in Old Dongola. The Eparch was styled ‘illustris’, a term used only of the highest rank of civil servants Byzantium. One of the churchmen depicted on the murals is of Marianos, who was bishop of Faras from 1005 until his death in 1036. With his broad face and beard, he has been described as resembling King Henry VIII of England. I’ve attempted to depict the mural of him in the drawing below.

Nubian Face Drawing

Clearly Nubia had a rich artistic as well as literary and religious heritage.

A Medieval Prayer for Peace

May 2, 2013

Going through a volume of medieval music, I found this hymn, Stella Celi, written by the English composer Cooke. It’s a prayer for peace to the Virgin Mary. It asks her to bring this about by combatting the malign astrological forces that are causing wars on Earth.

‘Star of heaven who suckled the Lord and rooted out the plague of death that first parent of mankind planted, may the same star now deign to curb the constellations whose wars are killing people by the sore of dreadful death.’

It’s a medieval prayer, written in the fourteenth century at the height of the wars that then raged, that nevertheless speaks to us across the gulf of centuries. Our modern world is also torn by war and violence. Now I don’t believe in or wish to promote astrology. Nevertheless the Bible reminds us that we also strive against the invisible powers of the fallen angels.In that respect its message is both ageless and particularly contemporary. So, let us pray that our Lady and all the saints will join with us in asking her Son, to bring an end to these present wars and guide the nations in the ways of justice and peace.