The first thing I thought of was “Here is ecclesiastical candy.”
Here is a unique Christian tradition with the 2015 Blessing of pomegranates by His Holiness, Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians in the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. It is a tradition on New Year’s Eve (or day).
The custom of blessing fruits was known among the Israelites; the Jewish custom originated in that the first harvest was offered to the temple: harvest gifts included wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey.
Pomegranates are considered by many faith traditions to be the fruit of the tree of knowledge and they are also a symbol of plenty and life.
In the Christian Church, the pomegranate symbolically represents the Church. “The seeds of the pomegranate, though separated by thin membranes yet hold tight together, same way Christian Church holds all Christians around the world together in Christ’s love; though separate but not divided. Pomegranate shows unity in diversity. The crown of Pomegranate represents Jesus’ crown and His sovereignty over the world. The red color symbolizes His Salvific Blood that was shed for All. It also contains 365 seeds as the number of days in a year symbolizing new life in Christ the new year.”
Armenia accepted Christianity as its official religion in AD 301.
Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Democracy and Global Women’s Issues
December 9, 2014
Madam Chair, Ranking Member, members of the committee: My name is Francis Kalabat and I serve as Bishop of the Chaldean Diocese of St. Thomas in North America, which includes 12 churches in Michigan and Illinois representing more than 175,000 Chaldean Catholics in communion with Rome and His Holiness Pope Francis.
Thank you for allowing me to testify before you today. As I speak, the process of the eradication of Christians in Iraq and throughout the Middle East continues. Ten years ago, in Iraq alone, there were over 350 Churches; today there are fewer than forty. Many have been bombed or destroyed; others, especially in the historically Christian villages of northern Iraq, are being used as Islamic State facilities.
I am here today to give testimony to the suffering of our people in Iraq and throughout the diaspora in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, and to seek further assistance from this body, Congress as a whole and the executive branch. The United States has a unique role and obligation in this conflict. Not only because we are the standard bearer and protector of international human rights, but also because the plight of Christians in Iraq today is a direct result of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
That effort, the poorly planned and executed goal of regime change and the more recent withdrawal of U.S. troops, left in its wake a weakened and decentralized national government, sectarian warfare and the practice of government by tribes or in some cases government by gang. The lack of national unity and a tepid Iraqi military has left a dangerous void—a void filled, hopefully only temporarily, by Islamic State—a group that is the anathema to the West, to Judeo-Christian values and to civilized international norms. This has meant devastating consequences to the people of Iraq, especially Christians who are being systematically uprooted from their homes in the historical birthplace of Christianity.
A couple hundred thousand Christian Iraqis have fled their homes since the militant Islamic State group swept through much of the north in June. Islamic State has been turning churches into prisons in the Iraq city of Mosul, which used to be the site of a large Christian community before it was driven out by this terrorist group. As an example, Fides News Agency reported last Tuesday that a number of detainees were recently sent to the ancient Chaldean church of the Immaculate Conception in the eastern part of the city. Sources have shared that the historically important St. George Monastery in the north has also been turned into a place for female detention, raising fears that women might be abused. Our Churches have been destroyed and many of our ancient manuscripts dating back to the tenth century have been destroyed in an effort to wipe out our identity.
Mosul has been emptied of Christians who, under the implementation of Sharia law, have been forced to convert to Islam, pay a tax, leave their homes or die for their faith. Many have been killed in the name of religion.
Allow me to quote from a letter from Sr. Maria Hanna, Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq.
“After four months of exile there are no signs of hope that the situation here in Iraq will be resolved peacefully. Unable to think or make decisions, everything is vague and we feel as if we have been living a nightmare. Christianity in Iraq is bleeding; so many families have left, and many are leaving to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, preparing themselves for second immigration and an uncertain future. We know not how long these families will be able to tolerate the burden and survive financially.
“The conditions remain the same for those of us in Iraq. Many still are forced to stay in unfinished buildings on construction sites. In one place, a mall has been remodeled to accommodate families, with the hall divided merely with partitions. Although they are better than tents, they resemble dark, damp cages with no ventilation. Most difficult of all is the lack of privacy.
“There have been some attempts to provide containers and rent houses and flats, but this is not enough as the number of displaced people increases each day. Many come from cold mountainous places. Psychologically, people are tired, worried, confused, and irritated – who would blame them? They are jobless, their children do not attend school, and young people are still waiting to start their academic year at the university – some tried to register at Kurdish universities, but they were not accepted. All this is causing tremendous strain on the families, and the result is abuse and relationships that are unhealthy. The problems are totally overwhelming, and it seems as if our efforts are amounting to nothing.
“People have been stripped of their dignity….”
Members of this Committee, I submit to you that when people lose their dignity, they despair and despair is a dark, lonely place. But as our Savior Jesus Christ has taught us, “Where there is despair, he will bring hope.” But it is incumbent on us—the United States, western nations and all God- loving people everywhere, to be the tools and the manifestation of this hope. Therefore, I call on this sub-committee and the United States government to resolve the following:
humanitarian aid to the displaced Christians and other minorities in the regions of Erbil and
Dohuk in northern Iraq.
must immediately be liberated with U.S. military assistance and refugees provided safe
passage to return to their villages and homes.
under the supervision of either the U.S. or United Nations, if other governments will participate. The air strikes alone are accomplishing very little and costing taxpayers a bundle.
Senators, I submit to you that the U.S. must finish what it started; Islamic State must be defeated quickly and permanently. They are a menace to the Iraqi and Syrian people and will be a permanent threat to the West if they are not dismantled. The situation that the ancient Christian people of Iraq find themselves in today is the direct result of 20 years of failed U.S. policy in Iraq. An additional 2.2 million Christians in Syria are facing the same fate. Our response and future actions as a government cannot be borne just from a sense of humanitarian responsibility but rather the moral obligation that accompanies the direct role that the U.S has played in the destabilization of Iraq and the region.
Today, the Catholic Church in America witnessed the beatification of a woman Sr. Miriam Teresa –the fourth American-born woman to be beatified. This is the first time a beatification ceremony happened in the USA. The Mass and rite was offered by Cardinal Angelo Amato in the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ.
Interesting, our new blessed was a member of the Eastern Catholic Church in the United States. She was a member, however, of a religious order of the Latin Church, the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth. Her feast day is May 8. The Blessed’s book, Greater Perfection, published after her death remains germane to those interested in the spiritual life.
The Vatican Radio interview with Bishop Kurt Burnette (eparchial bishop of the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Passaic) notes very well the importance of Blessed Miriam Teresa for us: her understanding of the sacrament of Baptism, her teaching on prayer, her desire to be of complete service to the Triune God. As the bishop says, Americans are known for their activism; and the other American blesseds and saints are known for their activity in building up the Mystical Body of Christ –the Church, but her God has chosen to raise up for us a model of holiness who is a contemplative.
“Bishop Burnette reflected on the impact of her legacy on Eastern and Western spirituality.
“One of the remarkable things about her writings, I believe, is that she brings an Eastern Christian spirit of unity into the Western analysis. The Western theology tends to be analytical. For example, when she talks about prayer, in the West they had divided prayer up into three stages. What they called the purgative, the illuminative and the unitive. But Sr. Miriam Teresa claims that prayer always includes all three parts.”
Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to Sr. Miriam Therese when a young boy who lost his eyesight due to macular degeneration was cured after prayers through her intercession. For Bishop Burnette, this miracle along with her profound humility, spirituality and insight are clear signs of God’s confirmation of her sanctity. “I don’t believe we really choose who is going to be canonized, God does,” he concluded.
The title of this blog post is a very broad and provocative question. But what do I mean by it? Well, when we think of the universal Church, her catholicity in the widest sense possible, you will experience division, feel a lack of cohesion and yet we profess faith in one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, even share in fact that we have a valid priesthood and the sacraments (mysteries, as Eastern Christianity calls them) but truly unity lacks –and I am only indicating a local context for the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Andrew Stephen Damick, an Orthodox priest, wrote a superb article for First Things online, titled, “Are you Greek?“ He writes as having not been raised as cradle Orthodox person but as a convert and as a priest struggling with the question of Christian unity from within his own ecclesial context. I highly recommend the article because he raises the identity question in a way that makes sense. We want a less confused, a more united Church where discipleship is not the object of human manipulation.