Sunday, November 19, 2006

This Morning's Church Visit

I visited a Sriac Orthodox Church this morning here in our city. What's that? Glad you asked.

It is part of a family of what are called here Oriental Orthodox Churches. Not to be confused with Eastern Orthodox, these churches did not accept the definition of Chalcedon, which you can check out at New Advent if you like. Other churches in this famiyl are th Ethiopian Orthodox, Coptic, and Armenian Apostolic.

The language there is Syriac. That is, you should not think this is a "syrian" church, in term of the actual nation of Syria. It is named after it's liturgical language. The book of liturgy, which was kindly gifted to me, has three columns: Syriac (with the Syriac alphabet), Syriac (with the Arabic alphabet), and Arabic. Quite fascinating.

Am working on figuring out the contours of the Lord's Prayer in Syriac right now. Then will move on to the Creeds, and then possibly (if I get that far) to the Great Thanksgiving.

People were friendly, and I got to meet the priest and bishop who was visiting. Quite a young man!

Blessings be upon them. It sounded like their community was growing, which is not normal here in the Middle East for Christian communities.

Matt, Gina, & Matthew

The Pope on Islam and Evangelism

Pope urges 'firm, humble' dialogue with Muslims
Nov 10 2:16 PM US/Eastern

Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholics to engage in "firm and humble" dialogue with Muslims, in an address to bishops from Germany, which has a sizable Muslim minority.

Pope Benedict said Catholics should manifest their beliefs with the same conviction as Muslims, who "are attached with great seriousness to their convictions and their religious rites."

The pope, who will travel to mainly Muslim Turkey at the end of the month, said Muslims "have the right to our firm and humble witness for Jesus Christ."

Such dialogue "obviously presupposes a solid knowledge of one's own faith," he added.

Pope Benedict is to pay a four-day visit to Turkey, his first official trip to a Muslim country, starting on November 28.

The planned trip follows uproar across the Muslim world over remarks by the pope in September seen as linking Islam and violence.

From Breit Bart

Monday, November 13, 2006

Islam and Christianity in Europe

Great article here. I wish there were more info on Islam in Europe. I think the percentage of the population in Europe that is Muslim will increase greatly in the coming years.

Demography and Europe

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Liturgy in a Middle Eastern Environment

A Selection from a Work in Progress (WIP)
by Abu Daoud

Before one embarks on the difficult task of evaluating, critiquing, and revising liturgy, it is important to answer two questions (at least): what is the purpose of liturgy? And, how does one evaluate the success of a liturgy?

The word liturgy is derived from the Greek and means the work of the people. The Greek word does appear in the New Testament a number of times. In Luke 1:23 it is in reference to the cultic duties of the Levitical priesthood at the Temple, specifically in reference to Zechariah father of John. It is used in 2 Cor. 9 in reference to the giving of the Corinthian church for the saints in Jerusalem. In Phil 2 Paul speaks of the ministry of the Philippian church to him as a leitourgias. And Hebrews 8:6 and 9:21 refers to the ministry of Christ in the heavenly Temple, of which the earthly Temple was only a shadow, as a liturgy. Thus the usage of the actual word is very diverse in the NT.

It has at once specific cultic and priestly references, but is also used to refer to the collective ministry of communities in terms of charity for fellow saints and supporting the Apostolic mission of Paul.

The role and function of liturgy is dynamic and it is not possible to provide a permanent definition of the word. In general though, the NT supports an etymological generalization wherein a liturgical community is at once working, and a people. According to this observation, the work or mission of the people is informed and influenced by the liturgy, whether in a strictly cultic sense, or within the general sense of the wider ministry of the community. Also, the liturgy creates and sustains “a people.” That is, when successful, it provides, sustains, and passes on an identity. When a person asks the question, “who am I and what is my role within my wider community?” His answer should be informed by the liturgy of his church—if that liturgy is successful. Thus liturgies teach the difference between lay and clergy; Christian and non-Christian; married and single; child, adolescent, or adult; man and woman; and so on.

The idea of the liturgy sustaining a community implies a bifurcation in terms of purpose: at once the liturgy must be strict or delimited enough to forma real identity that is not merely lost among the other identities of the person as a member of an ethnic or national group. The liturgy of the community must sustain the sense of the otherness of this community and why it is special. On the other hand, a liturgy must establish a sense of identity that is willing and hopefully zealous to welcome in others, for the simple reason that most communities that do not welcome in others or have no desire to welcome in others are not giving. Such communities become introverted and their greatest goal simply becomes self-preservation.

A helpful image may be the human family. The identity of the family must be maintained through space and time by a sense of why the family is important, good, unique, and so on. Yet there must also be a willingness to grow, and biologically that means producing offspring with people from other families. Thus identity is paradoxically maintained only with the awareness of a dynamic and shifting construal of itself. Once identity becomes static and cannot develop and grow, it often becomes in itself an idol and people start worshipping Episcopalianism/Anglicanism or Eastern Orthodoxy or evangelicalism, or what have you.

The practical implications of such a theory of liturgy are multiple. Within the context of the Eastern Churches, specifically the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, the twin scourges of Islam and Communism have been absolutely devastating—far more traumatic than anything that the Western Churches, whether Latin or Protestant, have suffered. Communism made certain promises regarding economic equality that it ultimately and dramatically failed to fulfill, thus leading to its general collapse. During its reign it certainly persecuted Christians zealously and effectively. This can be seen from the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church had more martyrs than any other church in any century during the 20th Century. Or consider the fact that communist Albania is the only country in this history of the world to even have been officially declared an atheistic state. But its reign was not sustainable because it failed to tie in the most profound needs of the human being, which are spiritual and transcendent.

Islam has been much more effective in the long term of nullifying the life of the Christian community by striking at the heart of the liturgy: the ability, much less the desire, to welcome in new members. The liturgies of the Eastern Churches certainly became central to maintaining the identity of the Christian dhimmis, this is true whether we are speaking of the earliest dhimmi contract or the elaborate millet system of the Ottoman Empire. If this theory of the liturgy is valid, then baptism actually becomes anti-liturgical once it is accepted that certain people within a community cannot receive it. It is anti-liturgical because it announces the emptiness of the work of the church, and denigrates the people who are working it. The foundation of the Church is openness to others, indeed working towards creating openness to others (what we have traditionally called mission and evangelism). And once a church has closed itself to the other, it has made a decision against the work of the people. For this reason martyrdom is the most profound of liturgical acts within the Church: it is the Eucharist written on the body.

The criterion of success for liturgy does not need to be viewed through a Western lens of church growth and popularity. Continuity of a community is certainly important, and many of the churches in MENA are declining, and some are on the verge of total extinction. Additionally, the commission of Jesus to make disciples of all ethnic groups and nations, as well as the archetypal example of the early church in Jerusalem, certainly implies that over the long term growth and welcoming in people who formerly had not entered into the Kingdom of God was to be normative and mandatory.

Book Meme

From my friend's blog at


The rules are:
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog, along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest!

And I would have to add a 6. to that: don't include dictionaries and atlases, because those were the closest books to me:

Thus Aubrey Moore argues that evolution restored 'the truth of the divine immanence', which Deism had denied--but this led to a pantheistic reaction. In relation to these extremes, orthodox theism could be presented as reasonable, as 'the safegaurd of rational religion against deism and pantheism'. Another attempt to integrate evolutionary theory with previous Christian thought was made in this volume by J.R. Illingworth, who argued that 'the theory of evolution has recalled our minds to the "cosmical significance" of the incarnation', which was a prominent thought in the early and medieval Church.The tone here is different from that of natural theology a la Paley, but also different from that of Essays and Reviews.

The Study of Anglicanism, eds. S Sykes, J Booty, and J Knight. So sad that it turned out to be such a dry selection from a great collection of essays. This was from the essay "Reason".

Let's see if Erik Twist posts something interesting on his blog at Priests and Paramedics

Monday, November 06, 2006

Islam and Victimhood

I found this post to be very englightening:

It is true! The Muslim community understands itself to be unqiuely favored and priveleged before God. Moreso of course than communities of Christians or Muslims should be.

Thus the demand for ever-expanding rights will never cease. Even here in the Middle East where the national constitutions explicitly spell out inferiority of rights under Islam for those communities. And yet, there are many people who would like to see those limitations increased and the already-limited freedom of Christians further curtailed. Why? Allahu Akbar! God is great, thus the greater the humiliation of Christians and Jews, the more God is exalted.

Some Muslims don't agree with this, thanks be to God. But once you get to the core of the matter they will admit that Muslims should and must have superior rights and supremacy than others. That is how Islam has always been and will always be.

++Michael is right.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Meeting with a Mercenary

I met Stephen (Steven?) at XXXXXXXX, a restaurant-bar at one of the big hotels near our place. As I was forging through Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” (more on that later), I noticed that one of my neighbors was speaking with a decidedly un-Arabic accent and we started chatting. Following are excerpts from my rather long conversation with Stephen, a Scottish mercenary, who has just arrived from Baghdad earlier that day:

When I was in Angola, my troops and I would travel around from place to place. And these little kids would somehow find out where we were. They would come and set up camp outside of our camp—the oldest one of them must have been 12 years old. And there was one I liked especially, they called him Babba. I would sit him on my lap and give him good food from my plate. He must have been about two and a half. One day I noticed he was not there, so I called for him and did not find him. I went out into the brush—they would make little canopies from the long grass in the brush to sleep under—and I found him dead underneath the grass. He had been strangled to death. I lined them all up and asked them who had done this. Later one of the African soldiers told me it was my fault because I had treated him with preference. It’s the law of survival. They had killed him because he was getting more food than the rest of them. If they had been adults I would have killed them all right there…

The best weapon is the AK-47, made by peasants, for peasants. You can bury it under sand for a month, and if you dig it up and still works fine…

I asked him: So, having spent time in Iraq, what do you think are the prospects for the country? Not good, he said.

Many Christians in the US are upset because it looks like the Christians will have less religious freedom than before, when Hussein was in power, I said.

I was in Nashville once, and I had nothing to do, and the only book around the hotel was the Bible, so I started reading it. I found many contradictions…

I said, traditionally, I would ask you what those contradictions were and try to explain each of them away. But let me tell you that my experience is that Christianity works because I lived it out. When I became a Christian, I just did what I was taught: respect your parents, or, be kind to those whom no one else likes or respect—the unpopular kids at school. So I started trying to live out these Christians teachings, and saw that they really worked. So, it’s kind of like a puzzle—you don’t need to solve the whole puzzle before you can understand what it portrays…

Keep Stephen and his wife and their two children in mind as he travels back to Scotland tomorrow morning. He will be leaving to go to Afghanistan soon.