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Last Sunday was Forgiveness Sunday, the last Sunday before the season of Great Lent. In order to avoid hypocrisy or lingering resentment at a time when we should be focussed upon prayer, Christians are advised to make their peace with those whom they are in dispute, and any tensions between lay people and their spiritual fathers are to be resolved before Great Lent begins.

Despite the many difficulties experienced in Georgia currently with a weakening economy and regional tensions, we are fortunate that we can go about our daily lives peacefully and unmolested for the most part. Regrettably this is not the case in many parts of our immediate neighbourhood. Conflict in Eastern Ukraine between people of the same faith and in some cases from the same towns and neighbourhoods is a great tragedy that may take decades to heal.

Only a few hundred kilometres away, Islamic State terrorists in recent days have kidnapped several hundred Assyrian Christians in Syria; such actions in the past have generally ended with martyrdom of the captives. Assyrians are a people native to Syria, Iraq, Iran and south-eastern Turkey, whose presence in the region predates the Arab conquest by millennia. Assyrians typically belong to various churches in communion with Rome, or to Oriental Orthodox communities (in communion with the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church), or to the Church of the East (a Nestorian church). The so-called Syrian Fathers of the Georgian Church were most likely Orthodox monastics from this nationality.

The genocide of the Ottoman Empire’s Christians in 1915, resulting in the mass deaths of Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians throughout the empire, resulted in many survivors fleeing to the Russian Empire as refugees. Many of Georgia’s Armenian, Greek and Assyrian people can trace their ancestries to such refugees; this short documentary explains the perambulation of one persecuted Assyrian community from Turkey to Iran to Georgia during the First World War.

Greek villages in Kvemo Kartli’s Tsalka district and the Assyrian village of Dzveli Kanda in Mtskheta-Mtianeti region are populated with the descendants of such refugees, and Armenian communities in Samtskhe-Javakheti, Kvemo Kartli, Shida Kartli and Tbilisi have many ancestors who fled from Turkey in 1915.

With the 100th anniversary of a genocide of the Ottoman Empire’s Christian citizens approaching in late April, tensions are running high between the Turkish government, which claims that no genocide happened or that it was hugely exaggerated, and descendants of the victims, Greek, Armenian and Assyrian, seeking acknowledgement and contrition. No likely agreement is in sight and bitter feelings on both sides are likely to persist for some time; forgiveness is difficult to give if the counterparty expresses no contrition. That being said, sometimes such gestures of contrition are offered at times and places when least expected. This very well written story by an Armenian-American journalist combines interviews with a Kurdish mayor of a small town in southeastern Turkey, trying to make amends for the murders of Armenians that his community’s ancestors committed, and the author’s family history associated with the same small town.

Most of us would have recently seen excerpts of chilling footage of the murder of 21 Coptic Christians on a beach in Libya by Islamic State terrorists. Anger, resentment, hatred and a desire for revenge would be natural emotions for the families of the victims to endure. While no doubt the families would be enduring tremendous grief at losing their loved ones, the brother of two of the victims, speaking on talkback radio in Egypt, amazes all who listen to him by blessing those who killed his brothers and praying for their salvation.

While we may be frustrated with day-to-day conflicts and harbour ill-feeling for those we feel treat us with contempt or disrespect, we could all afford to put our concerns into perspective and consider the example of forgiveness and compassion set by the mother of the two Coptic martyrs of Libya. The courage and steadfastness shown by the martyrs should also be an inspiration to us.

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Georgia’s large Armenian Minority adhere to what is known as the Oriental Orthodox faith through their Armenian Apostolic Church, in common with the Copts, Ethiopians, Eritreans and Jacobites. Their bishops reject the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon‘s ruling on the nature of Christ (451) , accepted by all Eastern Orthodox Christians. As a result, the Church of Georgia and the Church of Armenia are not in communion with each other, although they do engage in dialogue frequently. The following article from “Notes on Arab Orthodoxy” details an early 20th century conversion of a Jacobite (Syriac) bishop to Eastern Orthodoxy, and provides a neat summary of theological differences between the churches.

Notes on Arab Orthodoxy: A non-Chalcedonian Bishop Converts to Orthodoxy in 1912

A Non-Chalcedonian Bishop Converts to Orthodoxy in 1912

The following is a translation from Asad Rustum’s History, vol. 3 pp. 357-362. It is not only interesting in terms of the description of the ceremony, but also because the conversion seems to have occurred through the Syriac bishop’s contact with Russian pilgrims. Recalling this moment of hope for Christian unity in Syria– just 100 years ago– can only bring sadness, as Christians have now been virtually eliminated in Homs. The catastrophe that brought Bishop Boutros’ Syriac community to the brink of extinction is now being completed.

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via Notes on Arab Orthodoxy: A non-Chalcedonian Bishop Converts to Orthodoxy in 1912.

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A neat summary of the Church’s position on new claims of Christ’s supposed “marriage”. We went through all this a few years ago in the wake of “The Da Vinci Code” but here we go again….Academics’ scepticism of documentary authenticity reported here

Sep 20, 2012

Christ the Lifegiver An announcement about an ancient text in which Jesus is reported to have spoken about “my wife” has received extensive attention in the media.  The text comes from a small papyrus fragment about 1×3 inches in size, judged to be of the fourth century AD, which apparently had broken off from a larger page of a document presumed lost.  The text is still in the process of linguistic and chemical analysis to determine if it is actually a fragment from a fourth-century manuscript.  When the papyrus fragment was discovered, and under what circumstances it has passed from hand to hand until the public announcement, are presently unknown.

Written in ancient Sahidic Coptic script, the text is perhaps a translation of an earlier Greek document.  Because the lines on all four sides of the fragment are broken and incomplete, transcription of meaningful sentences is impossible.  But the names of Jesus and also Mary, presumably, Mary Magdalene, are reported to occur, and also certain phrases, including Jesus using the expression “my wife.”  Mary Magdalene has been portrayed as an intimate disciple of Jesus, but not a wife, in other ancient writings already known to the Fathers of the Church and designated as apocrypha and fraudulent.  These works were composed by small circles of heretical teachers concerned to disseminate their own and often bizarre teachings.  For example, a few years ago the discovery of “The Gospel of Judas” caused a stir in the media.  This document was known to St. Irenaeus in the late second century AD.  Among its strange teachings is that Judas was the only disciple who truly understood Jesus and that his treachery was a good thing in itself because it helped Jesus to be crucified; except that by that time the real Christ had (weirdly) departed from Jesus and that only Jesus the man was crucified!

Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School who made the announcement about the new text cautioned that its reference to Jesus’ wife is no historical proof that Jesus was actually married but only an indication that Christians in the fourth century debated the issues of marriage and celibacy.  The Gospels and most of the other books of the New Testament are extensive documents of the first century AD and provide no hint that Jesus was ever married.  There would be no reason to hide such a fact because marriage was viewed as a sacred covenant in Judaism and Christianity.  It should be noted that St. Peter the Apostle, as well as other apostles were married (Mark 1:30; 1 Cor 9:5).  The Bible and the Orthodox theology confirm that marriage is instituted by God, it is honorable and holy, one of the sacraments of the Church.  Just as the Church honors a celibate life dedicated to God, so also it celebrates marriage as a workshop of God’s kingdom–a journey to God.

 

From the Greek Orthodox Archiocese of America

 

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